Friday, March 29, 2019

Footnote to Story re: Resignation of Chancellor of Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, Mauricio West: The Damage Clericalism Does in the Catholic Church

As I think about the story I shared with you today — yesterday, it was announced that the chancellor of the Catholic diocese of Charlotte, Msgr. Mauricio West, had resigned after the diocesan review board found credible allegations that he made repeated sexual advances to a student when he was Vice-President of Student Affairs at Belmont Abbey College in the 1980s — I keep revisiting in my mind some crystallizing incidents involving West that for me epitomize the rank, ugly clericalism that is the root of the abuse crisis in the Catholic church. As I noted this morning, West was previously a Benedictine monk at Belmont Abbey monastery, which owns Belmont Abbey College. He left the monastery in the early 1990s and was immediately made chancellor of the Charlotte diocese by Bishop William Curlin, and was then retained in that position by Bishop Peter Jugis.

I have shared in previous postings that, when Belmont Abbey College presented me with a terminal contract for which I could not receive any explanation in 1993, I made repeated requests to speak with the then abbot at Belmont, Oscar Burnett, and with Bishop Curlin. Both gentlemen refused to meet with me. 

Curlin, however, sent West as a kind of emissary to give me the illusion that he was receptive to hearing my story and concerned about it. It quickly became apparent to me that this was a game and that both Curlin and West intended to do nothing at all except assist Belmont Abbey in stonewalling me regarding my terminal contract. It was in that period when West was meeting with me to discuss what had happened to me at Belmont that I had those epiphanic experiences which showed me in a decisive way how ugly clericalism is and what a powerful root of abuse it is in the Catholic system.

As I've thought about those experiences this morning, I've reviewed a letter I sent at some point in March 2003 to a local journalist who had reached out to me to discuss the Belmont Abbey situation. My copy of the letter is undated, but references in the letter allow me to date it in March 2003. 

My letter tells the journalist,

I’ve also been thinking back to the chain of correspondence in the past decade, in which I told Placid, Curlin, and Mauricio West what was coming — that their secrets would be revealed, and that it was incumbent on them to be honest about what they did to me in 1993, to apologize. I’ve told them that apologizing and making amends would perhaps protect them from further embarrassing revelations. 
I knew what was coming not because I am such an insider that I have precise knowledge of the inner mechanisms of the church, or because I can predict the future. I simply know, as a believer, that there is a moral law at work in the universe: folk wisdom calls it "what goes 'round comes 'round." People cannot trample other people down, act as if those folks don't exist, lie about and to them, and not reap the rewards of their behavior at some point in their lives. It is the church itself who teaches us this. God never stops watching….

And then I go on to tell the journalist that I had been  reviewing letters I had written in the past several years to Mauricio West, Placid Solari (now the abbot at Belmont), and Curlin as I prepared my responses to the questions the reporter was asking. As I told the journalist, on 24 March 2002, I had written Curlin to say the following: 

I have been meditating on the recent disclosures of widespread priestly abuse of children— abuse that has been condoned and kept secret by our "pastoral" leaders — and what this situation indicates regarding the state of our church. You and your fellow bishops have asked us, your flock, to believe that you represent Christ to us. You point to a Lord who embraced the outcast, and ask us to follow that Lord. Even as you have proclaimed that message, you and your fellow bishops have taken countless millions of dollars from us, and used them to pay those who have experienced abuse, to buy their silence. 
As you have done this, you have silenced theologians and laypersons who asked for open, respectful dialogue in the spirit of Vatican II. When theologians and laypersons have pointed out that a priesthood that functions as a closed, secretive, privileged club does not serve the best interests of the church, you have told us that we may no longer speak. You have even deprived some of us of a livelihood, shutting us out of the vocations to which God called us, with no explanation.

I'm providing this information to frame two memories I want to share with you of my interaction with Mauricio West when he was representing Curlin as a kind of "emissary" to hear my story. On one occasion, I said to him that a very deep clericalism lies behind the choice of a group of monks — all well-fed, with secure roofs over their heads, secure incomes, jobs that will not be taken away from them, assured healthcare coverage — to take from two lay theologians their incomes and healthcare coverage, destroying their reputations, never giving a reason, while those two theologians are caring for the mother of one of the two, who is suffering from progressive dementia.

West responded, "Oh, clericalism is dead."

Several weeks after this, he invited me (with Steve) to visit him and see the new house the parish he was serving while he was diocesan chancellor had provided for him. To which he drove us in a car that he told us a wealthy layman in the Charlotte diocese had given him ….

When we arrived at his house, he showed us one room aftter another full of elegant, expensive furniture, beautiful state-of-the-art appliances, telling us that everything had been given to him by well-to-do women of the diocese.

I remember thinking, as we toured his house and heard this spiel, "Can he possibly not realize he's talking to people who are wondering if they'll have to take bankruptcy due to the decision of a group of monks to destroy their vocations, take away their salaries and healthcare coverage, without providing any reason at all for doing this?!"

This is the very quintessence of clericalism: nothing is too good for the ordained, while what happens to lay Catholics when the privileged clerical club chooses to make us pawns in their power games appears to touch their hearts or consciences hardly at all. This is the root from which the abuse in the Catholic system springs: the system itself is abusive in its very foundations. It turns lay Catholics into objects, while it vastly inflates the egos of the ordained as it assures them that they have been elevated to an ontological status superior to that of the lay Catholics they treat as negligible, dispensable, beneath their notice as fellow human beings and fellow members of the body of Christ.

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