Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Remembering Bishop William G. Curlin of Charlotte As Eminently Pastoral (There's Still No Room in the Inn for You Queer Catholics)

Tim Funk, the Charlotte Observer religion commentator, remembers Charlotte Catholic bishop William G. Curlin, who died on Christmas eve, as someone known as "a pastoral bishop" who followed Mother Teresa in reaching out to people considered untouchable lepers. As Funk notes, Curlin's tenure as bishop of Charlotte was, however, "not without controversy." Speaking as if the abuse crisis in the Catholic church in Charlotte is over and done with, Funk says that Charlotte never had the volume of abuse cases found in places like Boston:

But N.C. members of SNAP – Surviviors’ Network of those Abused by Priests – and others criticized Curlin for not being transparent about priests and other men accused of sexual misconduct who were allowed to work in the diocese without the public knowing about their past.

Funk then goes on to speak of the case of Mark Doherty, a deacon whom Curlin hired to teach religion at Charlotte Catholic High School in 1997 even though Curlin's friend and close associate Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston* warned Curlin not to hire Doherty, due to allegations made about Doherty and sexual abuse of minors. As the brief Wikipedia biography of Bishop Curlin sums up his legacy as a pastoral leader,

In 2003 it was revealed that Curlin knowingly endorsed the transfer of an alleged pedophile, Mark Doherty, into the Charlotte Catholic School system. Cardinal Bernard F. Law of Boston warned Curlin of the allegations against Doherty, yet Curlin stated that he was "willing to take a chance".[2] In 2009, Charlotte priest Robert Yurgel was charged and sentenced with second-degree sex offense with a minor. It was revealed in court documents that Curlin had known about the allegations against Yurgel prior to the lawsuit, yet "instead of trying to determine if the teen had been molested or notifying law enforcement, the lawsuit alleges, Bishop William Curlin, who then headed the diocese, contacted the Franciscan Friars in New Jersey and arranged a “rush transfer.”[3]

Here's the pastoral legacy of Bishop Curlin as it is summarized at the Bishop Accountability website, capturing what was known of that legacy when the Dallas Morning News published a scathing exposé of the cover-up of cases of sexual abuse by two-thirds of U.S. Catholic bishops in 2004:

In March, he said that he had "zero tolerance for child sex abuse," that the only Catholic clergy-abuse case he knew about in the area occurred more than 50 years ago and that the diocese had never sent money to another diocese to settle a molestation claim. A month later, however, a local newspaper showed that Bishop Curlin had reassigned the Rev. Damion Lynch in 1997 after paying a settlement to one victim's family. The bishop then acknowledged that Father Lynch had told him in 1995 of an "indiscretion" involving the boy and had undergone psychological testing. The priest was removed from ministry in 1998 after the victim's parents sued, alleging that another son had also been abused. In 2000, Bishop Curlin wrote a reference letter for the Rev. Richard Farwell - who was seeking a job with a Catholic charity in South Florida - even though the previous year Father Farwell had been accused of molesting a child two decades earlier. The bishop wrote the recommendation after the diocese determined the allegation was not credible, a spokeswoman said. The allegation was recently reiterated, and Bishop Curlin suspended Father Farwell, who was fired from the charity.

The case involving Bishop Curlin that touches directly on my own life — which is, along with all these other cases, ignored by Tim Funk's summary of Curlin's pastoral legacy and his statement implying that the abuse crisis in Charlotte was never very serious and is over and done with — is the case of Rev. George Berthold, who was hired to be my successor in the theology department at Belmont Abbey College after that college gave me an unexplained one-year terminal contract in 1993, and I resigned from that position when I was stonewalled as I sought to obtain an explanation of why my tenure-track position was being terminated despite my glowing evaluations as a teacher, scholar, and member of the campus community. 

It was at this point that I asked repeatedly to meet with Bishop Curlin, who repeatedly refused to meet with me. He never met with me, never saw my face, though I told him in the letters I wrote asking to see him that I wanted to meet with him as the chief pastor of the Charlotte diocese, to obtain his spiritual counsel when my faith in God was being radically undermined by the injustice being dished out to me, the lies told to me, the way my reputation was being trashed and smeared by a Catholic institution. Through his chancellor, Bishop Curlin replied to me that he had nothing to do with making decisions about what happened at Belmont Abbey College, a Benedictine institution, and could do nothing to assist me — or to listen to me. Or to meet me as a hurting member of his flock.

And then the following happened: when the disclosure process in the Boston abuse cases opened up files that Cardinal Law and the archdiocese of Boston had sought to keep sealed, showing the extent of the cover-up of cases of sexual abuse of minors by priests in that diocese, Bishop Curlin and the officials of Belmont Abbey College popped up in those files. 

On 15 May 2002, the Boston Globe wrote an article indicating that Rev. George C. Berthold was hired to chair the theology department of Belmont Abbey less than two years after he had been removed from his position as dean of St. John’s Seminary in Brighton for making sexual advances to a seminarian. As Tulsa World reported the following day, the seminarian was 19-year-old Christopher J. Sellars of Tulsa, who had gone to Boston to study at St. John's Seminary in Brighton in 1995, and who reported to Berthold's supervisor Msgr. Timothy J. Moran that Berthold had shown an inordinate interest in him, had made unwanted advances to him, hugging him in long full-body hugs, and when Sellars confronted Berthold, had kissed him on the mouth, saying to him, "You can call me 'Daddy,' and I'll call you 'my little boy.'"

The 15 May 2002 Boston Globe article about Berthold's hiring at Belmont Abbey College states, "Officials at Belmont Abbey expressed irritation that they knew nothing about the episode until a Globe reporter called it to their attention last week." On 16 May 2002, the Charlotte Observer interviewed Belmont Abbey professor Janette Blandford, who had chaired Berthold's hiring committee, and who "expressed outrage" that no one had told the committee about Berthold’s past when the committee interviewed him and recommended his hiring.

Then this happened: on the same day, 16 May 2002, the Charlotte Observer reported that Boston’s archdiocesan spokeswoman had told the Boston Globe the preceding day that it had, in fact, informed both the college and the diocese of Charlotte (i.e., Bishop William G. Curlin, who had told me through his chancellor that he could not ever meet with me because he had nothing to do with hiring and firing at Belmont Abbey College) "verbally and in writing" of the proven allegations against Berthold. 

On 16 May 2002, the Boston Globe reported that Blandford had stated on the 15th in an interview that Abbot Placid Solari, who was dean of Belmont Abbey College at the time Berthold was hired, "assured the committee that there were no problems in Berthold's background." The same day, The Independent of Concord, North Carolina, reported that Belmont Abbey's media spokeswoman Teresa Sowers McKinney had stated, "If there was any kind of allegations against him, the college should have known about them."

Then this happened: the following day, on 17 May 2002, the Charlotte Observer reported that the Charlotte diocese (i.e., Bishop William G. Curlin) had "acknowledged that it allowed a priest from Boston to serve even though it knew he was the subject of allegations of sexual misconduct involving adults."

And then this happened: on 18 May 2002, in an article entitled "Belmont Abbey College Reverses Statement: Abbot Admits He Had Heard of Allegations," it is stated that Abbot Placid Solari, chancellor of Belmont Abbey College, "acknowledged Friday that he had been told about allegations of sexual misconduct by a Boston priest before he hired the priest to teach at the college." Belmont Abbey spokeswoman McKinney said that, in denying anyone at the college knew Berthold's past when he was hired, she had responded to questions in good faith based on information supplied to her at the time. Belmont Abbey's board chair said that he believed "honest miscommunication" had occurred between Solari and McKinney.

The same day — 18 May 2002—the Boston Globe reported that a Boston church official who asked not to be identified told the Globe on the 17th that the archdiocese had written "two allegations involving adults" on the form it filled out to facilitate Berthold's hire by Belmont Abbey. Documents from the Boston case files now available online at Bishop-Accountability.org confirm that Law did, in fact, inform Charlotte diocesan officials and Abbey officials of Berthold's past and discouraged them from bringing him to Charlotte.

On 18 May 2002, the Gaston Gazette (Gastonia, North Carolina) reported that Solari had admitted knowing of the allegations against Berthold at the time he hired Berthold, and had kept this information from the school's hiring committee. The article notes that Blandford confirmed that Solari did not pass on the allegations to her committee, and she found this a double standard, since, in the case of a layperson being hired, she suspected that such information would be shared. Blandford states, "They [i.e., clerics] treat their own differently than everyone else."

In summary: The word I keep trying to wrap my head around here is the word "pastoral." 

"I go out and meet the lepers of the world like Mother Teresa.

But, no, I will certainly not meet with you. I do not have anything to do with hiring and firing at Belmont Abbey College. 

Good-bye. Keep warm and well fed and don't let the door hit you on the way out."

The word I just can't make any sense of in Father James Martin's remembrance of Bishop Curlin or Tim Funk's article is the word "pastoral." How is any of the preceding legacy, which is painstakingly documented in many sources about which surely both Martin and Funk know, eminently "pastoral"?

And you know what else I can't make any sense of in this whole story? After I was given my one-year terminal contract at Belmont Abbey College and both the abbot of Belmont Abbey, who was then Oscar Burnett, and the bishop of Charlotte William G. Curlin, refused to meet with me to discuss what was being done to me, Abbot Oscar gathered the faculty and staff to speak about what was happening at the college, and he spoke of how diseased limbs needed to be lopped off trees to make them healthy. (In case it's not perfectly obvious, I was a diseased limb being lopped off the college tree, and this is why I was being terminated — and not being told why I was being terminated, since there's no point telling a diseased limb that it's diseased.)

Around the same time, the then president of Belmont Abbey College, Joseph Brosnan, met an adult student on campus, and, when that student told Brosnan how disturbed he was that I was being fired, Brosnan told him that there were "lifestyle issues" underlying my firing. At about the very same time, the son of the faculty senate president told a number of theology majors that "Lindsey is a homosexual who had to be fired, because he might have put his arm around a male student and we cannot let that happen at our Catholic college." A faculty member close to the faculty senate president told me that the reason the college could not disclose its reasons for firing me because I had perhaps sexually harrassed a student. And as I replied to him, if I had done that, then the college would have had clear contractual grounds to terminate my position and would not need to have lied and pretended and refused to disclose any reason for terminating me.

And then the very people saying all this about me and doing all this to me (because they could do so; because gay employees of Catholic institutions have long been treated as trash to be dumped by the roadside when it's convenient to act that way) turned around and hired a priest to replace me, knowing that that priest had, in fact, made sexual advances to a seminarian?

The story underlying the story here is, of course, that those in the know — abbots and cardinals and bishops, many of them closeted and/or self-hating gay men — already knew by the early 1990s that sexual abuse by priests was rampant in their church, and they were already busy crafting a plan, in unison with Cardinal Ratzinger in Rome and Pope John Paul II, to lay the abuse crisis at the feet of gay priests and gay theologians. They were already laying the foundations for a diversionary witch-hunt that would draw attention from their own complicity in covering up cases of sexual abuse by priests by pointing the finger at the gays.

They wanted the reputation for being pastoral and building bridges to the LGBTQ community — ministering to gay men as they were dying — but they certainly did not intend to pay the price for any kind of real bridge-building that would put them face to face with real-life gay folks who might tell them inconvenient truths they did not wish to hear. Much easier to call those real-life gay folks and their testimony "uncharitable garbage" and go on pretending that all of the above is "pastoral" and the "uncharitable garbage" has gotten what it deserved by opening its ugly mouth and speaking out.

It's something, all right. But "pastoral" is decidedly not the word for it.

*The Boston case files regarding Cardinal Law's cover-up of abuse in that archdiocese contain notes and letters showing that Curlin and Law were close personal friends who vacationed together and made a point of meeting each other at annual meetings of the Knights of Malta, to which both belonged.

Note: this is the first in a two-part series of postings. The second part is here.

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