Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Legacy of St. John Paul II: This Is Leadership?!

As I continue reading about the preparations for tomorrow's canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, I keep thinking — I'll be honest — This is leadership? I'm not referring specifically to the two popes as I ask that question. 

I'm referring quite specifically to the legacy of the John Paul II era in my church: This is leadership? How can I possibly read the following stories and not ask that question — how can I read these stories and fail to ask what the saint-to-be did to my church as he set into place top pastoral leaders who are offering the church the kind of leadership that is critically dissected (and with very good reason) in the following articles?

1. At Wild Reed, Michael Bayly calls on St. Paul-Minneapolis archbishop John Nienstedt to resign, after Nienstedt's recent deposition was published and showed him to be either "astoundingly inept" (Michael's words) in handling abuse cases in his archdiocese, or mystifyingly oblivious. Over and over, Nienstedt testified that he just didn't know, couldn't remember, was fuzzy about the details of this or that.

But as Michael points out, all the while that Nienstedt claims he was just not informed about or aware of salient facts wildly important to those concerned about young people who were being or who might be sexually molested by priests under his episcopal charge, there was this going on — he was leading his flock in the following quite specific way: 

From the very start of his tenure as archbishop (in fact, even well before he was appointed coadjutor archbishop) John Nienstedt has been obsessed with demonizing consensual sexual relationships between same-sex couples and working to ensure that such relationships are in no way legally acknowledged or recognized. In terms of the latter, he has failed completely. The anti-gay "marriage amendment," which he tirelessly championed, was defeated and, shortly after, both the Minnesota House and Senate passed marriage equality legislation. Same-sex couples now have the same civil right to marry as opposite-sex couples. During the often contentious marriage amendment "battle," many Minnesota Catholics opposed Nienstedt's anti-gay activism. In 2013 they celebrated the victory of marriage equality in the civil sphere. 
Here's the crux of the matter: The time and energy that Nienstedt expended on demonizing gay relationships and attempting to deny such relationships legal recognition in civil law, could and should have been focused instead on creating a local church reflective of gospel values, including confronting and dealing with the many issues relating to clergy sex abuse within the archdiocese; issues, which Nienstedt openly admits in his deposition, he was "out of the loop" about (emphasis in original).

This is leadership?! Not knowing, not appearing to care about, the fact that priests under a bishop's direct charge are sexually violating minors, while obsessing about expensive, futile, self-defeating, embarrassing "battles" against people seeking the same civil right to marry that other citizens enjoy?

This is leadership?! —this bitter culture-war legacy of the pope who will be canonized tomorrow, which has brought the Catholic church into such richly deserved disrepute in the public square, as our pastoral leaders strain the gnat of human rights for women and gay folks while swallowing the camel of clerical sexual molestation of children?

2. Grant Gallicho at Commonweal on Nienstedt's deposition:

Reading the transcript, you can't help but wonder whether Nienstedt has been keeping track of the stories that put him in front of Jeff Anderson. During a lengthy exchange about Shelley--the priest whose computer contained "borderline illegal" images--Nienstedt is fuzzy on basic facts about the case, such as which of his employees advised him to do what with those photos. For several pages of testimony, he claims that the archdiocese turned over the files to the police in 2004--that's why, he says, he didn't immediately have the material sent to the cops when Haselberger discovered them in 2012. "It was taken as a fact," Nienstedt testified, "that that had already been turned over to the police and the police had made a decision on it." But in fact they had not. Nienstedt later corrected his mistaken, but curiously detailed account. He got confused, he explained, because the archdiocese had hired a retired law-enforcement officer to review the images. 
And when Anderson questioned Nienstedt about Wehmeyer, again the archbishop seemed oddly uninformed about the case. He repeatedly claims that Haselberger warned him that Wehmeyer shouldn't be promoted to pastor because he's "same-sex attracted," that he had propositioned two young men at a bookstore. What about Haselberger's concern about the cleric's diagnosis of sexual addiction? Anderson asked. "I don't recall that." And: "I don't remember that at all." Which is odd, because Nienstedt said that he read the report from the treatment facility Wehmeyer was sent to after his misconduct came to light. Nienstedt also can't recall that Wehmeyer was trying to pick up teenagers at a gas station. (There's more to say about the Wehmeyer case--especially the question of when the archdiocese learned of the first allegation and how long it took to report it to police. To be continued.)

This is leadership?!

3. Patricia Miller on the perplexing statements the leader of the U.S. Catholic bishops, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, made on television last weekend, in which he claimed that if women want birth control, no problem! All they have to do, by Lord, is walk into any 7-11 in the land and buy all the slut pills they need:*

As usual, the Catholic bishops are tying to undercut support for the continuum of women’s health care needs by treating contraception, and the women who use it, with contempt. Happy Easter Cardinal Dolan. 

This counterfactual silliness — contraceptives on sale beside the candy bars (not!) at 7-11 — is leadership?!

4. Thom Curnutte and Peter Montgomery (the excerpt below is from Montgomery) on the Easter message of the Catholic bishop of Jimja diocese in Uganda, Charles Martin Wamika, to his flock:

Charles Martin Wamika, Catholic bishop of Uganda’s Jimja Diocese, reportedly used his Easter message to praise those who have worked to free the land of gays and to encourage parents of gay children to turn them over to authorities. According to a post from human rights activist Melanie Nathan, a young Ugandan reported, "He said throughout human history the catholic church has fought evil and blood has been shed, he called on all the Christians to do whatever they can in their own means to clean this city."

This is an Easter message? Calling on the faithful to support purges that target minority groups who should be swept from the land?

This is leadership? These men are what the Catholic church calls pastoral leaders at this point in history, due to the decisive leadership offered to the church by the man who led it throughout the end of the 20th century and into the next century,  the man to be canonized tomorrow? The way in which these bishops and archbishops and cardinals exercise leadership is directly rooted in the ecclesiastical vision and style of the pope to be canonized tomorrow.

If any of this is pastoral leadership or even plain institutional leadership pure and simple, I'll, well, I don't know what I'll do. I certainly won't be celebrating tomorrow. That I do know for sure. What I suppose I'll be doing instead is wondering where the capacity to feel shame has gotten away to in one Catholic leader after another these days, and in far too many complacent Catholic lay folks, who permit ourselves to be "led" in such a shoddy way by pastors who are anything but leaders and who are the very antithesis of good shepherds of their flocks.

*Note that the phrase "slut pills" is me being facetious, and certainly not something Cardinal Dolan said. Please see my clarifying note about this to Heimerm in the comments thread below.

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