Monday, September 21, 2009

Large Anonymous Gifts and Unrestricted Funds: Bishop Lori on Bridgeport Catholic Diocese's Battle to Keep Files Closed

Isn't it interesting that, even when dioceses like the diocese of Portland, Maine, are closing churches due to lack of funds, they can still find mysterious slush funds to foot the bill as they launch attacks on gay people?

Or that dioceses like the diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, which have been fighting tooth and nail to keep their files about clerical sexual abuse of minors closed, and which also use gay people as political weapons in their cynical games to try to avoid transparency and accountability re: their financial records, seem always to find "unrestricted funds" to pursue such ends?

Recently Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport held a behind-closed-doors meeting with priests and deacons to discuss the possible media fallout if the Supreme Court chooses not to hear an appeal from the diocese to keep its abuse files closed. I have blogged about this story previously, noting that Justice Ginsburg has already refused to hear an appeal of the Connecticut court decision requiring the diocese to open its files.

The diocese subsequently appealed to Justice Antonin Scalia, who has passed the appeal on to the whole Supreme Court. Bishop Lori's meeting with local clergy was apparently a meeting to consider the fallout of the worst-case scenario in which the Supreme Court will refuse to hear the appeal, thus upholding the Connecticut court's order to the diocese to open its files.

I've also blogged about Bishop Lori's choice to play the gay-bashing card to rally local Catholics last spring, when it appeared the Connecticut legislature might entertain legislation to place parish finances under the control of lay finance committees and not parish priests. When word got out that such legislation might be brought to the legislature, Bishop Lori opined that the legislation, which had gone to a committee headed by two openly gay Catholic Connecticut legislators, was pay-back for the church's opposition to same-sex marriage.

He was seconded in this opinion by Archbishop Chaput of far-away Denver, who made the homophobic subtext of Bishop Lori's resistance to the legislation even more explicit.

And now, as Bishop Lori informs his priests and deacons that there will no doubt be very bad publicity for the diocese if the Supreme Court refuses to hear the diocese's appeal, sources who attended that meeting say that Lori spoke of "large anonymous gifts" given to the diocese to fight the legal battle to keep its files sealed, and of "unrestricted funds" the diocese has on hand to assist with the legal battle:

Large anonymous gifts. Unrestricted funds. No amount given for the unrestricted funds.

This story sounds uncannily like the one that has emerged this summer in the diocese of Portland, Maine, as the diocese pours money into the battle to remove the right of marriage from gay citizens of Maine.

There, too, there seems to be an influx of "large anonymous gifts," with "unrestricted funds" on hand to attack gay people, while the diocese is crying poor mouth as it closes parishes and schools. And there, too, there seems to be great uncertainty on the part of diocesan officials about where the anti-gay money is coming from, who's donating it, and precisely how it's being used. Mysterious uncertainty about the sources of such large sums of money . . . .

What ties these stories together? Homophobia. Vicious, institutionally driven attacks on the rights and humanity of a targeted minority, by Catholic leaders. By shepherds of the Catholic flock, who speak of Jesus as the Good Shepherd who seeks out every last sheep to bring into his fold.

What ties these stories together? Shady, unethical financial wheeling and dealing, in which a church pursues overt political goals while claiming tax-exempt status, and while it hides the identity of wealthy right-wing donors and shields its fiscal records behind the church-state separation line.

What ties these stories together? A total lack of financial transparency and accountability, which runs right through the heart of the clerical sexual abuse crisis. As well as through the Catholic church's current stepped-up assault on gay human beings.

It's perhaps no wonder that some folks have concluded that, in its operations surrounding the clerical sexual abuse scandal, the Catholic church has come to behave more like a crime syndicate than a redemptive faith-based organization modeling itself on Jesus and the gospels. And it's perhaps no accident that many gay people are hardly surprised to discover that church leaders are capable of criminal behavior as they hide priests abusing minors, transfer them from parish to parish without disclosing their identity, and play ruthless legal hardball with victims of such abuse.

We who are gay have long seen that face of the church in action. And it doesn't surprise us, though it saddens and pains some of us, to see it in action yet again in the dioceses of Portland, Maine, and Bridgeport, Connecticut.