Friday, March 26, 2010

Demanding Credibility From The Pinnacle Of Priestly Power Is A Fool's Mission

There will be no accountability from Constantine's successor--err I mean St Peter's---as long as this man truly believes in the exalted status of the sacramental priesthood.

Credibility gap: Pope needs to answer questions
Excerpt from an Editorial - National Catholic Reporter - 3/26/2010

The first reported clergy sex abuse stories, dating back in NCR to 1985, focused on the misconduct of priests who had been taken to court by parents of molested children -- parents who had gone to church officials, but received no solace. Instead, what they received from church officials was denial and counter accusation.

Almost from the beginning of the coverage of these trials, it was clear the clergy sex abuse story had two consistent components: the abusing priest and the cover-up by the bishop.
The story grew as more survivors of abuse came forward. What soon became evident was that this was not primarily a story of wayward priests, but of an uncannily consistent pattern by individual bishops. In nearly every instance, bishops, faced with accusations of child abuse, denied them, even as they shuffled priests to new parishes, even as they covered up their own actions.

The story was first flushed out in the United States and soon across Canada. By the year 2000, sex abuse accusations were turning up across the globe. In the United States, the scandal flared anew in 2002 when a judge released thousands of pages of documents dealing with the sex abuse scandal in the Boston archdiocese. Suddenly, ordinary Catholics had access to the patterns involved in the cover-up and to the unfiltered language of memos and legal depositions and letters that outlined how church officials sought to protect perpetrators and marginalize their victims. All at once, the public outrage was commensurate with the hierarchy's outrageous behavior. The story would repeat itself around the country: Wherever documents were released or legal authorities conducted investigations, the depth of clerical depravity and the extent of hierarchical cover-up were far greater than previously acknowledged by church authorities.

Knowing they had an unprecedented crisis of credibility and facing potential multibillion-dollar liability, the U.S. bishops met in Dallas in June 2002. The whole world, represented by more than 800 members of the press, was watching.

There the prelates unveiled what came to be a "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People." It was intended to protect children from molestation, establishing a "one strike and you're out" policy for offending priests. It did nothing, however, to hold accountable individual bishops who engineered the cover-up. (A study done by a Dallas newspaper put the figure of 63% on the number of American bishops who engaged in this strategy of cover up. A super majority is not likely to accept any official sanction for the problem.)

By early 2001, responsibility for managing the church's response to the ongoing crisis was delegated to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by Cardinal Ratzinger. The Vatican, by then, viewed the crisis as beyond the boundaries of any one national church.

Crisis crosses borders

In the last decade the story has not gone away. Rather it has continuously reared its head in nation after nation, especially in those countries with a free press and independent judicial system. A dominant characteristic of this story is that where and when it has emerged it has done so without the aid of church hierarchy. To the contrary, it has taken lawsuit after lawsuit, investigative report after investigative report, to bring this horrendous story to necessary light.

Another part of the pattern of this dispiriting tale is that church officials have never been in front of the story. Always late, always responding, and, therefore, at every step of the way losing credibility. This seemed to be the case once again with Benedict's pastoral letter to Irish Catholics.

By the time he issued the letter, the story had moved to his native country, Germany, and had touched him personally. In the past two months, there have been more than 250 accusations of sex abuse in Germany. From the German Catholic viewpoint, the pope's failure to mention anything about these abuse cases has pained them deeply and added to suspicions that the former archbishop of Munich has lost touch with his people.

Inexorably, a story that began with reports on trials in a few U.S. cities a quarter century back has now moved up the Catholic institutional ladder -- from priests to bishops to national bishops' conferences and to the Vatican itself. This last step is the one we see emerging this month. The new focus is unlikely to end anytime soon.

Time for answers

The focus now is on Benedict. What did he know? When did he know it? How did he act once he knew?
The questions arise not only about his conduct in Munich, but also, based also as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. A March 25 Times story, citing information from bishops in the United States, reported that the Vatican had failed to take action against a priest accused of molesting as many as 200 deaf children while working at a school from 1950 to 1974. Correspondence reportedly obtained by the paper showed requests for the defrocking of the priest, Fr. Lawrence Murphy, going directly from U.S. bishops to Ratzinger, then head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, now the Vatican secretary of state. No action was taken against Murphy.

Like it or not, this new focus on the pope and his actions as an archbishop and Vatican official fits the distressing logic of this scandal. For those who have followed this tragedy over the years, the whole episode seems familiar: accusation, revelation, denial and obfuscation, with no bishop held accountable for actions taken on their watch. Yes, there is a depressing madness to this story. Time after time, this is a story of institutional failure of the deepest kind, a failure to defend the Gospel of Jesus Christ, a failure to put compassion ahead of institutional decisions aimed at short-term benefits and avoiding public scandal. (But ultimately it was all done to protect the clerical culture and it's place in the scheme of things.)

The strategies employed so far -- taking the legal path, obscuring the truth, and doing everything possible to protect perpetrators as well as the church's reputation and treasury -- have failed miserably.

We now face the largest institutional crisis in centuries, possibly in church history. How this crisis is handled by Benedict, what he says and does, how he responds and what remedies he seeks, will likely determine the future health of our church for decades, if not centuries, to come.

It is time, past time really, for direct answers to difficult questions. It is time to tell the truth.


The story of Fr. Murphy and his two and half decade spree of abusing deaf children is another one of those individual stories to that so hi lights the entire problem. Very much in the same vein as Fr. Brendan Smyth. I am having a very difficult time getting my head around the fact that this man was left in place for twenty plus years with accusations beginning in the fifties, to prey on defenseless deaf kids. I can't get the picture out of my mind of Fr. Murphy brazenly picking out his victims at night knowing perfectly well no can hear him and better yet most of them can't communicate well enough to get accusations heard or understood by non deaf authorities. What a deal for him.

What kind of mind set lets this man continue in this setting? Effectively allowing the sinner to stay in the midst of his greatest temptation is not my idea of a pastoral spiritual decision. It's the same mindset that abuses pastoral authority in order to deny innocent children their rights as baptised Catholics to get at 'sinful' parents. It's a mindset that truly believes the foundation and bedrock of the Church is the clerical system. It's a mindset that truly believes that salvation history can not be enacted without the clerical priesthood. It's the sort of mindset that limits God by demanding we believe we can't get to Jesus unless it's through an ordained priest.

The theology of the priesthood even says the state of the priest's individual soul has no effect on his ability to 'confect' the sacraments or the Eucharist. Jesus works just as efficaciously through a predator priest as he does a saintly one. This is a neat loophole the size of Manhattan. I maintain it's the loophole that was the basis for many decisions which make no sense in terms of secular law---or justice or truth or meaningful accountability. 'Reducing' priests to the lay state mitigates against this notion. Better to hide their indiscretions and move them elsewhere. The Magic will work just as well some place else.

It's this notion of the priesthood which divorces the truth of the man from his sacramental actions which is in my way of thinking, a real heresy. Especially when those same special men use their special status to link innocent children with the 'sins' of their mothers. Somehow children are entangled in the odor of the sin of their parents, but neither Jesus nor clerical abuse victims are entangled in the sins of priests.

When I looked at the painting I posted yesterday I did have a very strange reaction. It took me awhile to realize I didn't see Peter, I saw the Pope. I saw Jesus in a state of despair, as if He clearly saw this current future when the whole notion of Peter and his primacy would lead directly to core violations of His teachings. Jesus said "What you do unto the least of these, you do to Me." "Unless you are an ordained priest", is not part of that teaching.

There will be no meaningful change in Catholicism until the tradition and theology of the Sacramental priesthood is looked at and changed. There must be real and meaningful accountability in the exercise of the priesthood. Until there is, changing add on doctrines like celibacy, are small band aids covering a huge cancer.

No such process will happen under this Pope. So far his solutions have been generated from this theology of the priesthood and are specifically designed to underscore the theology. He is bound and determined to create his 'leaner and meaner' Church primarily to keep it's exalted priesthood in tact.

Catholicism been engaged in a sort of cold war over the theology and power of the priesthood and resultant clerical system since Vatican II. It's time to disengage from the tactical battles over liturgy and sex and engage in the greater strategical issue. If that strategic battle isn't resolved, the rest of the tactical battles will never be resolved.
At this point I'm not sure that the best resolution isn't to completely vacate the battle field and let the clerical cancer kill what's left, but you never know, miracles have happened on battle fields before. I think that's probably how we got into this mess to begin with---way back in the days of Constantine--a miracle on a battle field in which the odds were definitely stacked in favor of the opposition.


  1. I had a similar reaction to the NCR editorial today, though not as well developed as yours Colleen.

    After reading your blog, I thought that demanding Benedict tell the truth is like asking someone on the battlefield who is on the other side to drop their weapons, even as they come charging at you.

    The great loophole the "size of Manhattan" for keeping pedophiles priests in positions to molest children and to represent Jesus Christ warrants a response from the People of God, for the Pope, like you point out Colleen, is not going to change his idea of the priesthood or to tell the truth.

    I am horrified by the Pope's response. Our response should be to tell the truth, not expect truth from liars and deceivers who are ignorant.

  2. I think we need a constant drum roll insisting that Jesus taught the necessity of leaders as SERVANTS!

    I also think that if we take this proactive stance, insisting that leaders follow Jesus as SERVANTS, it will be hard for the Vatican to attack that.

    Servants do not abuse. They do not order. They do not judge. They do not quibble and place burdens on the backs of those they serve.

    If they want want credibility, let them SERVE!

  3. Colleen,

    Frank Cocozzelli suggested I might enjoy your blog. I do.

    This morning James Carroll was interviewed on (Canadian) CBC Radio One. ( )

    He put this crisis into perspective much as you have done. JP2 and Benedict have almost completed a counter-reformational repudiation of Vatican 2.

    It will take something on the scale of Vatican 3 to truly address the problem. Carroll says that inclusion of the laity, especially women, is essential.

    Oh how the "orthodox" want to blame this whole mess on the "Liberals" in the Church.

    We're in for difficult times. I don't have the energy to fight something that should be considered in an arc beyond one's own life. After all it took centuries for the Vatican to fully accept the Copernican revolution. I don't have that long.

    It would be much easier for me to join the Anglican Church, although it is not without problems.

    So much for the 800 years of Catholicism in my family.


  4. 1.If we are to believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ....remembers him?....then ANY construct of the Imperial Papacy or that bishops & priests are somehow beyond reproach MUST be seen as a complete antithesis of the Gospel.

    ..and thus are a rejection of the Christ who made it VERY clear that His Apostles & all those who would want to follow Him......must FIRST be SERVANTS of & to all. That - and only that - is to be the focus of the "ministerial & sacramental priesthood". Not the use of Christ as a corporate logo, & the ammassing of wordly power & money as they have done since the Council of Nicea.


    2. Christ clearly warned against "those who would come preaching another gospel'. By definition, this overtly implicates the Vatican & its Administrators - over many centuries. Both for the topics covered in this post & in more other horrid spiritual deception & MALfeasance then can fit here.

    3. In Catholic school, I was taught that it is a mortal sin to hit a priest. CLUE: it is a mortal sin to strike ANY of my brothers or sisters! ANY of them. Yet, Priests & religious do NOT have any exalted 'touch-me-not' status by virtue of their job.

    An understanding of how the Will of God works would make clear that if violence were to come upon a priest.....perhaps he has done something to merit God lifting his protective hand, thus 'allowing' it by His Passive Will.....!

    3. Bearing this in mind, were the victim or parent of an abuse victim to decide to take the law into his/her own hands.....the offending priest would have brought this evil upon himself. Sin though violence may be - eventually it could happen.

    4. If one bothers to read Scripture & takes seriously the (MANY!) warning messages of Our Lady, indeed such 'revenge' will come upon the 'touch-me-not' clerics.

    ".....not one stone will be left upon another...Behold: your house shall be left to you, desolate".

    5. Finally, one needs to contemplate the concept of the Antichrist. I leave to readers to pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in this. But it sits in the Temple of God preaching another Gospel & demanding worship. That which is opposed to & the opposite of Christ. Which presents itself like a gentle lamb, but is full of lies & hate. Judge not by its words, but its deeds. It is a man.

  5. There is no god.
    You are talking to someone who doesn't exist. Stop wasting your time on "spirituality"; you're going to die whether or not your pray, light candles, say the rosary, pray to saints, go on pilgrimages.
    Do you remember the time before your were born? The time after you die will be just like that.

  6. How about this for a starter; take away all religions' tax breaks? Think that might get their attention? Why do we have an ambassador to a "country" smaller than many city parks? How about if we saved some money by not having two ambassadors in one city?

  7. Hello Brad Evans. You say "There is no god." The god you speak about does not exist. Your very notion of god is false.

    A true God does exist and many bear testimony to this truth. Our witness is true and there is no life but for the fact that God exists.

    You speak about god and bring up death. Our God is not about death, but is all about life.

    If I am not of spirit, forget about spirituality, I am no longer living and already dead.

    The time after I die? Oh, you mean when the flesh dies. How do you explain if a dead person can hear your thoughts and come back to life?

    Wasting one's time is in denying there is a God. Seek and you shall find.

  8. Energy can neither be created nor transformed, it can only be changed. Human consciousness is a form of energy. The trick to meaningful spirituality is to remember who we are, and it's not our ego.

  9. I see the famous 'sad Brad' has found your blog. Troll alert.

  10. Years ago in the days of the first Mayor Daly, there were stories about the Chicago police, priests driving recklessly, being stopped, and about to get a ticket; only to be told to move on when the police saw the driver's roman collar. Yes, there was and still is a big loop hole.