Saturday, September 27, 2014

Gay Music Director of Parish Who Marries? Scandal; Priests Who Engage in Sexual Improprieties Sitting on Marriage Tribunals? Not So Much

How's this for news? A headline in yesterday's Star Tribune (Minneapolis) reads, "Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis Assigns Accused Priests to Marriage Annulment Panel." Jean Hopfensperger reports that the marriage tribunal for the archdiocese, which makes rulings on the fate of the troubled marriages of Catholics who turn to the tribunal for annulments, has had sitting on its judgment bench priests known to have engaged in sexual improprieties.

Like Father James McConville, who's currently sitting on the tribunal, and who was sued for sexual harrassment in 2004 by a female staff member at St. Peter's church in St. Paul, and then placed on restrictions by the archdiocese. Or like Father Daniel Conlin, who was chief judge of the tribunal in 2004 when he fathered a child with a married church employee. According to Hopfensperger, Conlin left the tribunal in that year, but returned to work on it from 2011 to 2013.

Or like Father Joseph Wajda, who joined the tribunal in 1991 months after settling one of two lawsuits involving allegations of sexual abuse of boys in his parish, and who was the chief judge of the tribunal when he left it in 2002.

A few days ago, when the archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis, John Nienstedt, forced the resignation of Jamie Moore, music director of St. Victoria parish in Victoria, Minnesota, after Moore married his partner, Nienstedt told Minnesota NPR, 

I can share that all church employees are bound by the Code of Conduct which states "The public and private conduct of church employees can inspire and motivate people, but it can also scandalize and undermine their faith. Church employees must, at all times, recognize and accept the responsibilities that accompany their ministry."

A gay music director who marries his partner is not fit to serve as a music director because he has become a source of scandal by marrying. But a priest who has sexually harrassed a female staff member of his parish, or one who has fathered a child with a married woman in his parish, or one who has sexually abused boys in his parish — all stories well known to the public — is fit to serve in the very public forum of the archdiocesan marriage tribunal.

He's fit to make judgments on the validity of the marriages of lay Catholics.

Tie together the threads of the preceding two stories about the St. Paul-Minneapolis marriage tribunal and the forced resignation of Jamie Moore with the story told in today's New York Times by Trip Gabriel, which opens with this statement:

Details of child sexual abuse that led to charges against a Roman Catholic priest on Thursday were reported to his Pennsylvania diocese nearly five years ago, court records show, but the church authorities did not remove him as a pastor.

Gabriel reports that Father Joseph D. Maurizio Jr., has been charged in federal court with possessing child pornography and engaging in illicit sexual conduct. In the years in which he made repeated visits to a boys' orphanage in Central America, credible reports came to the ears of the orphange's sponsor, FundaciĆ³n ProNiƱo in Virginia, that Maurizio was sexually molesting boys in the orphanage. 

The foundation maintains that it alerted the authorities of the Altoona-Johnstown diocese to these reports, but the reports were ignored. Maurizio remained at his post as pastor of Our Lady Queen of Angels parish in Central City, Pennsylvania, until this month, when, due in large part to the activism of, federal agents raided Maurizio's parish home and chapel. 

At which point, the diocese issued a statement saying it was "profoundly disturbed by the allegations" about Maurizio. Allegations it has known about and not acted on for five years, until the federal raid took place . . . .

As I say, tie together the threads of these three stories, and I think you cannot avoid concluding that something is profoundly morally awry in the governance structures of the U.S. Catholic church right now. The church is governed by bishops who repeatedly ignore the mandate of their own national episcopal body to remove from ministry priests credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors, and who are found again and again to have lied to the public about what they have known as abuse stories become public. And yet it's those very same pastoral leaders who assert their authority to define the choice of a gay employee of a Catholic institution to marry as a sinful choice that results in scandal warranting the firing of that employee.

Something is seriously awry in an institution governed by leaders who imagine they assert compelling moral authority as they shout and stomp about the imaginary sins of gay others while they themselves live in glass houses whose filth is visible for anyone with eyes open, is it not? And it's not getting any better while bishops like my own bishop issue shouting and stomping denunciations of marriage equality that compare same-sex marriage to incest, and call for popular votes to determine the civil rights of a minority group — in a state in which interracial marriage was outlawed right up to the point when the Supreme Court struck down the ban on miscegenation in the late 1960s. In a state whose citizens would have resolutely continued to deny the right of marriage to cross-racial couples through popular referenda, if the highest court in the land had not put an end to this particular form of tyranny of the majority over a despised minority group . . .  .

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