Saturday, February 1, 2014

Diocese Of Helena Files Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

The Cathedral of Saint Helena is one of my favorite places in town.  The stained glass is awesome.


The Diocese of Helena is my home diocese.  It's a small diocese in which someone always knows someone who knows the bishop personally.  I can say I graduated from the same college Bishop Thomas did and I played softball with his sister---which in the normal way around here makes me highly connected. Although she was a very good first basemen, the truth is, while I met others in her family, I never met Bishop George Thomas and don't know him at all. This is in spite of the fact he was a senior when his sister and I were sophomores.  I do however, know the chancellor of the diocese from back in those same college years.  He probably wishes I didn't remember him quite so well.  In any event,  I give this information as a sort of disclosure.  I may not be the most objective reporter on this bankruptcy--but on the other hand, I am also very familiar with the abuses that went on in the Native American boarding schools.  I have met quite a number of those victims while participating in Native ceremonies across the State---and also as clients in therapeutic settings.

This LA Times article gives a pretty good overview of the numbers. The Helena situation is not exactly the typical case of a diocese avoiding transparency or payouts by declaring bankruptcy--like Listecki in Milwaukee.  In the Helena case most of the names came out in the settlement with the Northwest Jesuit Province, and the respective victims attorneys have listed others.  It's also not exactly about reams of diocesan priests being hidden and transferred from one parish to another.  In this particular settlement about 12% or just under 40 of the 362 victims, accused diocesan priests;  a little over 20% accused one or another Ursuline nun, and the rest were victims of the Jesuits who ran the Native mission schools and parishes.

Under Montana law, those victims who were compensated in the 166 million dollar Jesuit settlement, which included about 2/3rds of the plaintiffs in the Helena settlement, will receive money from the Helena settlement if their individual amount exceeds what they received in the Jesuit settlement.This helps explain why the mediated settlement was 15 million rather than a higher sum.  However, the operative word in that last sentence is 'mediated'.  This was not a confrontational process from the beginning.  The National Catholic Reporter ran a story about this mediation process.  It is worth reading.

The hang up in the mediation was not on the part of the Diocese or Bishop Thomas.  It was on the part of the Ursulines who eventually opted out of the mediated settlement, and various insurance companies who kept going to court to lessen their liability.  The Ursuline court case will be one of the very few that have involved religious orders of nuns in the US.  That in itself is interesting in that the Ursulines were far from the only order that ran boarding schools or orphanages.  The Ursulines may have felt that they were better off distancing themselves from the Helena Diocese settlement because they wanted to play the nun sympathy card and would rather take their chances with a jury.  Good luck, I'm sure the media spotlight will be very bright once their case comes to trial this summer.  I also have to admit I am glad they chose to go to trial because for once, Americans may actually get a glimpse of the day to day life in the Native American boarding schools.  For those whites of Anglo or European descent who grew up in fear of ruler wielding nuns, the truth of the Boarding Schools should give them some perspective. Where as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have issued government apologies for the misery their boarding schools inflicted on their Indigenous populations, the US has not uttered a peep.  If the Ursuline trial sheds some light on this very dark corner of US policy, some good may actually come from a truly horrible situation.

The Diocese of Helena is a very small potato in the Church garden.  Demographically Catholics are about 45,000 people in a Diocese covering half the State of Montana. If Montana follows the national trend, only about 1/3 of those 45,000 are practicing Catholics.  Given those numbers and the lack of real capital assets, I am not surprised the Diocese wound up in bankruptcy.  Scuttlebutt says the Diocese was heading towards bankruptcy before the law suits were filed, and that's scuttlebutt I can believe.  One need only drive through Butte, which was the heart of Catholicism in this area, and count the closed parishes. It's a micro picture of the macro Church in the Anglo and European worlds.  It may not be exactly what Pope Francis means by his 'poor church for the poor' concept, but it is a poor and shrinking church.

In closing, I believe Bishop Thomas is genuine about his apologies and his desire to see as much justice as can be done for victims.  I don't know anyone who hasn't been devastated when meeting victims face to face and really hearing what their lives were like in the Mission schools.  The guilt and shame become personal if only because one is a white Christian.  No one deserved the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse these kids went through and I truly believe Bishop Thomas cares.  Another bishop might have fought tooth and nail since most of the plaintiffs listed religious order abusers as opposed to diocesan priests, but the truth is, it was the system and the culture itself that carries the blame and Bishop Thomas is one of the few bishop who acts as if he gets it.

32 comments:

  1. Funny you mention the three lines of the children of Abraham. I have 'seen' that necessity over and over and over again. This is one area you could be right about Pope Francis. He was influential in stopping further US action in Syria and I actually look forward with some hope to his upcoming trip to the Middle East.

    It would certainly be fruitful to get all the politics out of it, but politics and religion have been adulterous bedfellows for eons.

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  2. Great-so encourage millions of sub-literates from Yucatan to come in and soon even more of the US will be like New Jersey and Miami and East LA?
    If you thought "Jersey Shore" was a taste of Greater Naples, why not even more Latins to screw things up further?

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  3. One of the comments from the LA Times link really is worth posting here.

    QUOTE: jt gardiner at 1:39 PM February 01, 2014

    Why is it only the diocese and not the entire church responsible for these molestations. The entire catholic culture of priests has either participated in or allowed it by turning a blind eye away from this horrible travesty. It would be like falling down at a local McDonalds, that one McDonalds files bankruptcy and the corporation keeps trucking on. Until this church wakes up, makes real changes, and pays for its mistakes, it will be doomed to die off and become a non factor.

    http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-montana-diocese-bankruypcty-sex-abuse-20140131,0,1494388.story#ixzz2s8P0SQbU



    This puts all the burden on the diocese when it is the entire Church's responsibility. I totally agree. It is not just a local problem.


    Have the perpetrators and enablers been brought to justice? What has the Church put into place so that this never happens again?


    Colleen, this story in light of your recent blog of the doublespeak or deception in Pope Francis' recent lack of focus of reform of the priesthood is really not looking too good for the Catholic Church right now.


    For years progressives have been commenting at NCR about this issue of predator priests and their enablers not being accountable and the responses from some within the Church are still not convincing enough for the laity to trust the clergy that are in seminaries now. The Pope really is doing a terrible job, imho, if he does not address this. He should meet with SNAP and victims, not to say he is sorry only. He should seriously follow the counsel of those who have tried to heal the victims. Enough of the sweet talk from the Pope. That will only go so far and then it is just cheap talk to not really deal with this problem of sexual perverts anointed with salad dressing. A real SHAME.


    Damn it. How dare the RCC do this and then preach to anybody?!! It is sick, psycho, nuts! Burns me up!


    And I feel terribly sorry for the good priests that are out there who are truly trying to be honest and loving and caring priests. This scandal makes us all look bad. Rome should pay. Sell off some artwork or something.

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  4. Because they believe in infallible doctrine, they do not listen to the authoritative scholars in all the various schools of thought. After all if you know it all why listen?

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  5. Or Fred, why not more Garvins? Perhaps they have a great amount of education??!

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  6. Personalities disorders are not uniquely found in males in general, but they are found in a large percentage of the political animals that become Bishops. They are also found in a large number of priests that believe in the current clerical structure.

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  7. sylvesterpatsteffenFebruary 2, 2014 at 4:00 AM

    Precisely.

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  8. sylvesterpatsteffenFebruary 2, 2014 at 4:29 AM

    Colleen, thank you so much for your informed insights in this specific situation. As the scenario unfolds it may well serve to be sadly emblematic of the Catholic Church problem, but also hopeful for an honest response to it. We can only pray this will be the case.

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  9. Most of the predators in this case are dead as the documented abuses range from the 30's to the 70's. As far as enablers, I don't know how much the Diocese would have known about the abuses committed by the Jesuits and the Ursulines, but I suspect none of the enablers will wind up being punished, since most of them would be dead as well.

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  10. I agree sylvester. I think the approach taken by +Thomas in Helena, and +Cupich in Spokane are hopeful for a different model of dealing with historic abuse. I also have to give some credit to plaintiff's attorneys who have gone the extra mile to get settlements both in Spokane and Helena. The victims are up in years and long drawn out settlements would not have been in their interests.

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  11. BronxirishcatholicFebruary 2, 2014 at 8:39 AM

    The idea that Pope Francis plays to his immediate audience, without thought as to how it can affect others, shows a real failure to understand the current media environment. There is no way for a public figure to deliver a message that isn't conveyed to everybody.

    Mitt Romney could offer some advice on that, though President Obama has stepped into that minefield as well.

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  12. Ah, evasion. Typical of the religious when cornered.

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  13. The church is the assembly.. maybe for him, church are also the one's out of it. He sees what this could be, the vision.. not the present reality. How can I live my faith alone?... if we are two, we are Church.

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  14. I can get that Bronx, especially the Romney gaff, but in Pope Francis' case he's not just playing to a particular audience, he's contradicting himself. Maybe it's just another indication of how divided this Church is theologically.

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  15. Since the predators & in this case are dead, maybe at their tombstones there should be devil's horns attached to it with a special inscription written to bring attention to who they were in very large letters - P R E D A T O R P R I E S T.

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  16. I am happy that the approach of some is better than most. The real story is here: http://ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/doyle-rebuts-cardinal-george-regarding-chicago-abuse-files

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  17. Dennis, I'd be really curious what Tom Doyle thinks of the Helena efforts. It was most certainly not the Chicago effort, as Bishop Thomas met with every single abuse survivor who wanted to in the last two years. This was mediation and pastoral effort from the get go and people really have to understand that the vast majority of abuse victims were abused by the Ursulines and the Jesuits in the Mission schools.

    This is not to say there weren't diocesan priests who abused, but they were defrocked long before 2002 and Bishop Thomas was not even in the seminary.

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  18. It is important to get into the news that a few diocese have proceeded with integrity. I would be interested as well to have Tom Doyle look at the Helena diocese. He has been the most objective of all the canon lawyers to speak on the terrible job that so many Bishops all over the world have done with this injustice. I still believe that the Church leadership is probably not fixable, but it is perhaps not without hope.

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  19. I find it especially infuriating that the Least Reverend Cardinals involved in the McCormack case were dealing with his nefarious behavior by returning him to duty in 2005-2006 and later, just a few years after the "zero tolerance" policy adopted by the nest of vipers at the USCCB. The Great Sex and Embezzlement Scandal has not been diminished in any way.

    Apparently the "zero tolerance" was meant only for the victims and their families, and not to the criminals-in-priest's-clothing.

    This is one reason I have such a hard time with the episcopacy, not just in the U.S., but everywhere; when they speak of Justice it is only in terms of guilting money from parishioners for the purposes of lining their own pockets or promoting their own careers, all under the guise of helping the poor - but actual Justice is a concept lost to them completely. They dressed themselves up in clerical garb only to be unmasked as pure politicians.

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  20. Smartuckus, I think that's what makes the Helena and Spokane dioceses different. They went first to mediation and met with the plaintiffs on an individual basis. I admit the lawyers in both of these settlements were the same--for the most part--but they were also involved with the 166 million dollar settlement with the Jesuits and have stated how different the process was between the Jebbies and these two bishops.

    I think there is hope, but then I look at Finn still sitting in Kansas City/St Joseph and have no hope for Rome....And Africa is still under the radar.

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  21. Dennis, I hope those few bishops who have shown integrity don't convince the laity that the same is possible for the whole system. They are not the exception that proves any bishop can change spots.

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  22. Another posthumous justice idea for predator priests and/or their enablers: Erect a jail cell around their grave site. Another one might be to place a pitchfork in the ground at their grave site so that it would stand out at the cemetery like a tall pole on a shopping cart.


    I only bring up these ideas for posthumous justice to bring the message home, raise the consciousness of all Catholics that this is a serious problem in the RCC.

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  23. But once again, here is the real story:

    http://www.latimes.com/world/worldnow/la-fg-wn-un-catholic-church-abusive-priests-20140205,0,3036334.story#axzz2sU7ATb2D

    And:

    http://ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/un-sex-abuse-report-holds-bishops-accountable

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  24. Here is a comment from the LA Times article:

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  25. Recent comment from LA Times article:

    omega10 at 10:41 PM February 05, 2014

    No other Christian religion is as centralized as the Roman Catholic church. Money flows from local parishes& on to Rome which sets Church policies, manages its vast assets,directs priests' careers, sets the tone& is supposed to investigate wrong doing by clergy according to church laws. As residents& property owners in the U.S.they're also obligated to follow our laws. Though they are exempt from paying taxes, they are not intended to be exempt from our laws& must face local justice. Church authorities made themselves complicit when they failed to report abuse to local authorities and made it worse by quietly transferring offenders& allowing them to abuse some more. The soul searing emotional pain& damage inflicted on victims when they were betrayed again, not believed, shamed, blamed& ostracized by church officials is all on the Catholic hierarchy. The decades of secrecy& obfuscations over who's responsible were to protect the church ABOVE ALL. THEY chose who to protect& what moral obligations to ignore. All roads lead to Rome.

    Those who nurture children must be held to higher standards, not lower. Ideas of priests being directly connected to God & the Pope as infallible put them in the most powerful, sacred role imaginable when children are taught to revere& trust them. The resultant power inbalance leaves the children completely vulnerable& the situation ripe for abuse

    http://www.latimes.com/world/worldnow/la-fg-wn-un-catholic-church-abusive-priests-20140205,0,3036334.story#ixzz2sY0eeqRb

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  26. Why not answer the question: if a society is dysfunctional, why should we encourage contact with its members? Or immigration from that society into ours? Why hang around and be influenced by an inferior, dysfunctional culture?

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  27. "Its" not "it's".

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  28. "Its" angry, vindictive male god", not "it's".
    I can't take religion seriously at all, especially the freakishly disproportionately gay clergy.

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  29. Then why not get rid of the tax breaks and clergy housing allowance?
    You want to pretend to be "relevant" ? Great-put your money where your mouth is.

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  30. sylvesterpatsteffenFebruary 14, 2014 at 6:56 PM

    That's a hard question to answer, and perhaps only time can tell. A lot of conversion has to happen at many levels. Maybe a little stumbling at the top is a sign that something is beginning to change. Space for conversation is created when a person is self-contradictory. A hopeful sign?

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  31. About 4 years ago I joined Concerned Catholics of Montana. We invited Bishop Thomas to a "listening session" here in Missoula, MT. The program started promptly a 7 PM and lasted well after 10 PM. When Bishop arrived he began meeting the more than 70 members present. During the presentation of 15 statements read by members of our group he sat quietly and took notes. These statement covered our concerns of the new liturgy, family issues, the voice of women in our Church, the Vatican's way of infantilizing the laity, the Vatican's war on the Sisters, and the sexual abuse by a cleric and its coverup scandals. During the social of coffee and goodies Bishop Thomas again spoke with more members.until every member had the opportunity to speak with him one on one.

    In my statement concerning the culture of clericalism and it effects on the cover up scandal and how it effected me personally I asked Bishop Thomas to put the victims/ survivors first and fore most in the then up coming civil trial. Bishop chose to answer our concerns than and there. He spoke of what he was allowed to do under the current reign of Pope Benedict XVI and what was disallowed, ie, he couldn't talk about the ordination of women. He also pledged that the survivors would be listened to by him with compassion and justice.He also pledged that he would not let diocesan attorneys strong arm any survivors or their families.

    Bishop George Leo Thomas has lived up to this pledge in his choice to have this civil trial mediated instead on pursuing a long drawn out trial..The subsequent bankruptcy of our diocese is to ensure that each survivor is awarded a just equity.

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  32. montanandontplayMay 23, 2014 at 5:46 PM

    Suspected C. O. $. attorneys..

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