Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Jason Berry on Evangelii Gaudium and the Catholic Clerical Sex Abuse Crisis

Jason Berry

Another take on Evangelii Gaudium, this by Jason Berry, who deserves tremendous credit for his persistence in reporting about the Catholic clerical sex abuse crisis long before anyone else dared to write about this: Berry notes that Francis and his pastoral formulation of Catholicism are enjoying great popularity in Europe, where unemployment for Spanish and Greek young people is now at Depression-era levels. But he also points out that the stress on open doors and on the need for a decentralized church which places service to the least among us first on its agenda will cause people to ask questions about how he intends to address the abuse crisis.

Berry writes,

Francis’s reference to a church "clinging to its own security" came on the same day a clergy abuse survivors’ group in Milwaukee, Wis. released a letter drafted by Father James Connell, a canon lawyer and former diocesan official, to the Congregation for Clergy in Rome, asking the Vatican to nullify a controversial $57 million transaction by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, as archbishop of Milwaukee six years ago, burying the money in a cemetery trust to avoid paying settlements to clergy abuse victims. 
In 2007, Dolan shifted the $57 million from general funds into a special cemetery trust as lawsuits by abuse victims mounted. Dolan soon went to New York to become archbishop and subsequently a cardinal. In Milwaukee, the diocese faces 550 victim cases. The diocese filed for federal bankruptcy relief three years ago in an effort to bargain down the settlements; the bankruptcy turned into grinding litigation in which church lawyers challenged the validity of the victims’ claims. 
A group of sympathetic clergy rallied to the cause of the victims. The letter that Father Connell wrote as part of the Survivors and Clergy Leadership Alliance, asks theVatican to rescind the $57 million transfer, approved by Cardinal Claudio Hummes, who was prefect of Congregation for Clergy at the time.
The Vatican policy on clergy abuse, such as it is, encourages bishops to report crimes to law enforcement and work within a given country’s laws. But with bishops bound by canon law to seek approval for shifts of funds over $5 million from Congregation for Clergy, the Vatican is in a position of de facto micromanaging certain decisions that bear on large settlement issues.
A federal appeals judge in Milwaukee, who has relatives buried in the diocesan cemeteries, uphold the church’s position. His ruling is now under appeal. 
But issues like the $57 million in Milwaukee stand in high relief from Francis’s rhetoric of moral responsibility to victims of abuse.

And, of course, the question about what Francis will do re: the abuse crisis--and about the disconnect between his powerful language condemning exclusion of anyone from the human community, and how the Catholic church has long treated abuse survivors--grows only more intense, as the outgoing leader of the U.S. Catholic bishops keeps rubbing salt in the wounds by presenting himself to the public as the moral voice of the U.S. Catholic church. Unlike a wise or holy man, Cardinal Dolan will not shut up.

Though he's now a lame duck, he continues to hog the television screen to issue moral pronouncements about issues like same-sex marriage that no one with a head on her shoulders or much moral acumen at all believes. Since how can we believe anything His Eminence says, when we know he has been willing to lie boldly to us about his knowledge of pay-offs to priests abusing minors in his former archdiocese of Milwaukee?

One would think that a chastened man, one aware of his own moral shortcomings, would be less inclined to shoot off his mouth about the perceived moral shortcomings of others. And would be interested in praying and moving out of the limelight as his successor prepares to take over the reins of the USCCB.

Instead, what we get is more Dolan. On t.v. Unable and unwilling to stop talking.

Right after the pope himself has captured the attention of the world with a pastoral statement whose principles Dolan's behavior for years now has belied.

American Catholics have been very badly served, indeed, by the crop of leaders given to us by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. 

The photo of Jason Berry is from a book-signing in 2011 at Octavia Books in New Orleans.

No comments: