Friday, July 25, 2014

Members of Theology Faculty of St. Thomas University, St. Paul: We Need "New Leadership at the Archdiocesan Level, Leadership That Includes Individuals Who Are Neither Perpetrators Nor Enablers of Abuse"

Brian Roewe reports today that five members of the theology faculty of St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minnesota — Cara Anthony, Corrine Carvalho, Sherry Jordon, Sue Myers and Kimberly Vrudny — have issued a call for "new leadership at the archdiocesan level, leadership that includes individuals who are neither perpetrators nor enablers of abuse." The letter does not name specific persons in its call for new leadership, but obviously addresses the crisis of leadership in the archdiocese under its current archbishop, John Nienstedt.

Two points in the letter (as summarized by Roewe) that speak strongly to me:

We teach a tradition that proclaims a God of love who cares for the downtrodden, and we find it difficult when that biblical message is met with skepticism and resistance in our classrooms because of the behavior of clerics who abuse their positions in the church.


We recognize the hypocrisy of the clergy when they judgmentally rebuke congregants for sexual behavior they deem deviant when some of them are pedophiles, and when some of them have abused their positions of power to protect child molesters.

What the five theologians tell the officials of the archdiocese in this letter brings to mind a letter I wrote to Bishop William Curlin of Charlotte on 22 October 1998. This was five years following the destruction of my career as a Catholic theologian by Belmont Abbey College, in the diocese of Charlotte. It was also following the college's hounding of Steve out of a position, and then a purge that the monastic abbot mounted when he seized the reins of the presidency of the college, and fired a slew of gay and lesbian faculty and staff, providing specious reasons for the mass firing.

I wrote Bishop Curlin to say the following:

Many among us are appalled at the anomalies in our church today, its willingness to use insinuations about sexual orientation to destroy the careers of lay ministers while sheltering priests who molest little boys and while collecting millions of dollars from the laity to pay hush money to those who bring forth such charges. Many among us are appalled that bishops can appoint to their staff priests who are widely known to be gay, who will then willingly participate in the ugly political games their bishops play with the lives of gay persons, to advance their own ecclesiastical careers. 
Such stories sicken the best among us, and cause them to withdraw from the church in anger and sadness.

This was, of course, a number of years before the story of the abuse crisis exploded in the media with the revelations that came out of the archdiocese of Boston in 2002, when legal actions opened some of the archdiocesan files about the abuse cover-up. But by the latter half of the 1990s, I had already begun to feel in my bones that something of great importance was coming down the pike vis-a-vis the cover-up of sexual abuse of minors by the Catholic hierarchy, though, as an outsider to the clerical club, I only had intimations that such abuse was occurring and was being covered-up.

I never dreamed of the extent of the abuse and the extent of the cover-up until the Boston stories began to open my eyes, as they did the eyes of many Catholics and of the public at large. I did, however, try to warn Bishop Curlin of what I sensed (in my bones, in my soul) was coming, in a number of letters I wrote to him in the latter part of the 1990s pleading with him to meet with me and discuss what had been done to Steve and me, and the unjust destruction of our careers as Catholic theologians. 

(He never met with me. He never responded to any of my letters except on one occasion when he sent a curt note to me acknowledging receipt of that letter. I never met him. He has never seen my face, though I repeatedly pleaded with him to meet me so that I could receive his pastoral counsel as a theologian whose career —and faith — were being shattered.)

I told him in these letters that the price would be very high for the hierarchy when the cover-up of clerical child abuse was made widely known, and that people would not look favorably on the way in which gay Catholics like Steve and me (who never made any public declarations about our relationship or even our sexual orientaiton) had been hounded out of jobs, out of the church, by Catholic pastoral officials sheltering child abusers even as they hounded their gay brothers and sisters and destroyed our careers — particularly when many of those same pastoral officials were themselves gay and closeted.

I felt very much like a voice crying in the wilderness in the late 1990s, especially when Catholic publications like National Catholic Reporter told me in no uncertain terms that they would not touch Steve's and my story. I feel less like a voice crying in the wilderness today, as I read statements like the preceding ones by the five theologians of St. Thomas University.

The graphic is a photo by PandaMerah at the deviantART website.

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