Saturday, September 24, 2011

In the News: U.S. Catholic Bishops Blast Obama re: DOMA, Pavone's Finances

Bits and pieces of Catholic news, as the week ends: 

In this week in which the state of Georgia executed a man, when there were thorny unresolved questions still under examination, re: the fairness of his trial and the way in which his case was handled, and in which the suicide of another gay teen bullied to death made the news, what burning moral issue did the Catholic bishops of the U.S. choose to address through their USCCB president Timothy Dolan?

The bishops went off on Mr. Obama for his administration's decision no longer to support the (unconstitutional, in the view of many folks) federal ban on same-sex marriage, the Defense of Marriage Act.  Dolan's hyperbolic letter, which says that the president is creating the conditions for a monumental showdown between church and state, is here (this is a pdf file).

The U.S. Catholic bishops can't open their mouths to say a single word about the bullying to death of one gay or gender-questioning teen after another.  They can't say a single word about the role that the ugly, defamatory, death-dealing anti-gay rhetoric of some people of faith plays in this social epidemic.

They can't speak out unambiguously against capital punishment.  They won't cross swords with the large numbers of their allies in the religious right who not only do not oppose, but actively defend, this barbaric, anti-life practice that was more or less condemned by Pope John Paul II.

But they can go to bat for an immoral federal law that unconstitutionally sets an entire group of citizens up for discrimination?!  If this is moral leadership, I want none of it.  This is dirty political game-playing on the part of the USCCB, as the 2012 election cycle gets into full swing.  It's no accident that they've saved this salvo up for some months after the administration made its decision about defending DOMA and have chosen to release their anti-Democratic ammunition as the GOP debates are underway.

And one tiny, but to my mind, highly significant, postscript to a previous story about which I have posted once: this is the story of the mandate of Bishop Zurek of Amarillo to the high-profile anti-abortion (and pro-Republican) activist priest, Frank Pavone, to return to the Amarillo diocese.  And to answer questions about the use of finances by his organizations Priests for Life, Rachel's Vineyard, and Missionaries of the Gospel of Life.

As David Gibson reports now in Washington Post, Priests for Life's 2010 audit was released this week, and it shows the organization's income dropping last year to $10.7 million, whereas it had moved from $9.3 million in 2007 to $10.8 million in 2008 and $12 million in 2009.  And so Priests for Life has evidently been operating from a deficit, though the group loaned Gospel of Life some $879,000 in the same year in which its revenues declined by over $1 million.

I gather from this news that there was, indeed, a bona fide reason for Pavone's bishop to request financial disclosure and transparency from Pavone, re: the three organizations over which he holds sway.  If nothing else, that reason would seem to be the need to place the organizations' finances on a sound footing, and to assure proper fiscal management of the three groups.

Gibson quotes conservative Catholic blogger Phil Lawler of the Catholic World News site, who says,

For years Father Pavone has run PFL as his own personal fiefdom.  He has been answerable only to the PFL board of directors — on which he and his paid subordinates have formed a solid voting majority. That long run of complete autonomy is now coming to an end.

The question that continues to perplex me when I read stories like this: how does it happen, over and over again, that these high-profile rock-star, who seem answerable to nobody much other than themselves, and who are almost uniformly out-in-the-open Republican political activists--how does it happen that they keep on keeping on?

When will enough be enough, in American Catholicism, so that we as a Catholic people stop enabling these shenanigans, through our lavish donations to these political activists disguised as religious authority figures?  And what kind of effective oversight are the American bishops exercising over these big-name players, if news stories like this continue to break?

Wheeling and dealing with big sums of money, when you as the high-profile figuring garnering the sums are almost the sole check and balance to assure fiscal propriety: that's predictably a formula for financial scandal in almost any institution.  The fact that those wheeling and dealing with the big sums happen to be wearing a Roman collar: that's no ipso facto assurance of financial integrity. 

(And I'm not saying Pavone is guilty of anything at all in making these observations.  I'm just saying: there are better, more transparent and accountable, ways of doing business within American Catholicism.)

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