Joliet Priest Removed …Again

Last week sometime we reported about Fr. F. Lee Ryan who had been removed from ministry for allegedly abusing a 16 year old (although some say 14) and then was restored to ministry again after the CDF said that Canon Law didn’t require his removal.

Bishop Conlon restored him to ministry, but exiled him to a remote area that was basically cornfields and a limited population.

That decision has been once again reversed by Bishop Conlon, the Bishop of Joliet.

From Deacon Greg and the Herald News:

In a written statement, Conlon said, “Last week I announced that Father F. Lee Ryan would be permitted to exercise a very narrow priestly ministry. Subsequent discussions that have occurred since that decision have highlighted that any action needs to fulfill the larger need of the Church to confront the scandal of child abuse in its midst and diligently restore trust.

“For the sake of the greater good of the Church, I have decided to revoke my earlier permission and once again place Fr. Ryan on full administrative leave.”

Conlon said he would “initiate further conversations with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,” the panel in Rome that found Ryan not guilty based on a church law in place at the time of the alleged abuse. That law refers to discipline against priests who engage in adultery or improper touching with people under the age of 16.

The accuser has said he was 14 at the time of the alleged incidents.

I will applaud this decision to stand behind the Dallas Charter and to look into the case further.

The Hague Asked to Prosecute Vatican for Abuse

The New York Times has the scoop on this doozy of a story that even if it doesn’t happen is sure to make waves:

The formal filing of nearly 80 pages by two American advocacy groups, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, was the most substantive effort yet to hold the pope and the Vatican accountable in an international court for sexual abuse by priests.

“The high-level officials of the Catholic church who failed to prevent and punish these criminal actions,” the complaint says, “have, to date, enjoyed absolute impunity.”

A spokeswoman at the court said the prosecutor’s office would examine the papers, “as we do with all such communications.” The first step will be “to analyze whether the alleged crimes fall under the court’s jurisdiction,” Florence Olara, the prosecutor’s spokeswoman said.

Complaints about the Vatican and child abuse by Roman Catholic priests have been received at the court before, court records showed. But Ms. Olara said details were not normally disclosed by the court unless a case went forward.

Lawyers familiar with the international court said it was unlikely the complaint against the Vatican would fit the court’s mandate to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the spokesman for the Vatican, said he had no comment.

And if you didn’t think that was a big deal in terms of bad publicity…It was the second most read story on the Times website.

There needs to be something done even more publicly to show remorse than there was been thus far. Like a giant Super Bowl ad begging forgiveness or something very public in the U.S. the next time the Pope comes to visit. Let’s not forget that this Pope wasn’t at the helm when all these things were going on, but he was in his former role. I’d be more apt to hold people like Cardinal Law responsible for this, but the problem is much more systemic without one person to blame.

Today let’s simply pray that victims can be released from pain and that justice can be served in a way that brings peace.

Seminary Application: Question #1: Are You Gay?


The New York Times has an unbelievable story today about the seminary application process and the concentration on whether someone is homosexual or not. Here’s a snip with a few snarky comments of my own in parentheses.

Msgr. Stephen Rossetti, a psychologist at Catholic University who has screened seminarians and once headed a treatment center for abusive priests, said the screening could be “very intrusive.” (Ya think?) But he added, “We are looking for two basic qualities: the absence of pathology and the presence of health.” (Pathology, here, is defined as gay.)

To that end, most candidates are likely to be asked not only about past sexual activities but also about masturbation fantasies (OK, THAT’S going to be awkward), consumption of alcohol (Better search a lot of rectories, Catholic schools and homes first), relationships with parents and the causes of romantic breakups (Wow! So if she broke up with me because she didn’t think I was ambitious enough, would that be a negative?). All must take H.I.V. tests and complete written exams like the 567-question Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, which screens for, among other things, depression, paranoia and gender confusion (good to know that they weed people out who have treatable mental illnesses too). In another test, candidates must submit sketches of anatomically correct human figures (I’d fail on this part alone. I can’t draw a straight (or gay) line WITH a ruler, never mind a penis or vagina).

In interviews by psychologists — who are usually selected because they are Catholic therapists with religious views matching those of the local church leadership (What a surprise!) — candidates are also likely to be asked about their strategies for managing sexual desire.

“Do you take cold showers? (Only in Nicaragua and Miami)Do you take long runs? (Not if I can help it! And not since the last time the cops were chasing me.)” said Dr. Plante, describing a typical barrage of questions intended both to gather information and to let screeners assess the candidate’s poise and self-awareness — or to observe the tics and eye-avoidance that may signal something else.

Yeah, because the creepy people asking these embarrassing questions will make candidates want to look you right in the eye. And if the candidate is able to answer in that manner –then good Lord, RUN FOR THE HILLS!

Harvard’s Mark D. Jordan hits the nail on the head later in the column:

“A criterion like this may not ensure that you are getting the best candidates,” said Mark D. Jordan, the R. R. Niebuhr professor at Harvard Divinity School, who has studied homosexuality in the Catholic priesthood. “Though it might get you people who lie or who are so confused they do not really know who they are.”

Bingo. And guess who those people are most likely to become?

Yep, you guessed it, PEDOPHILES.

Wake up, Bishops. You are STILL asleep at the switch. Perhaps the folks at the Dallas Charter might want to take some time to write a nice little op-ed here?

And since they haven’t answered that call, Fr Jim Martin has and has done so admirably here.

Benedict Deserves Better


The NY Times Ross Douthat really understands what I’ve been trying to say about Pope Benedict’s record on the sexual abuse scandal.

The church’s dilatory response to the sex abuse scandals was a testament to these weaknesses. So was John Paul’s friendship with the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ. The last pope loved him and defended him. But we know now that Father Maciel was a sexually voracious sociopath. And thanks to a recent exposé by The National Catholic Reporter’s Jason Berry, we know the secret of Maciel’s Vatican success: He was an extraordinary fund-raiser, and those funds often flowed to members of John Paul’s inner circle.

Only one churchman comes out of Berry’s story looking good: Joseph Ratzinger. Berry recounts how Ratzinger lectured to a group of Legionary priests, and was subsequently handed an envelope of money “for his charitable use.” The cardinal “was tough as nails in a very cordial way,” a witness said, and turned the money down.

This isn’t an isolated case. In the 1990s, it was Ratzinger who pushed for a full investigation of Hans Hermann Groer, the Vienna cardinal accused of pedophilia, only to have his efforts blocked in the Vatican. It was Ratzinger who persuaded John Paul, in 2001, to centralize the church’s haphazard system for handling sex abuse allegations in his office. It was Ratzinger who re-opened the long-dormant investigation into Maciel’s conduct in 2004, just days after John Paul II had honored the Legionaries in a Vatican ceremony. It was Ratzinger, as Pope Benedict, who banished Maciel to a monastery and ordered a comprehensive inquiry into his order.

So the high-flying John Paul let scandals spread beneath his feet, and the uncharismatic Ratzinger was left to clean them up. This pattern extends to other fraught issues that the last pope tended to avoid — the debasement of the Catholic liturgy, or the rise of Islam in once-Christian Europe. And it extends to the caliber of the church’s bishops, where Benedict’s appointments are widely viewed as an improvement over the choices John Paul made. It isn’t a coincidence that some of the most forthright ecclesiastical responses to the abuse scandal have come from friends and protégés of the current pope.

Has Benedict done enough to clean house and show contrition? Alas, no. Has his Vatican responded to the latest swirl of scandal with retrenchment, resentment, and an un-Christian dose of self-pity? Absolutely. Can this pontiff regain the kind of trust and admiration, for himself and for his office, that John Paul II enjoyed? Not a chance.

But as unlikely as it seems today, Benedict may yet deserve to be remembered as the better pope.

Any thoughts?

Are The Wounds Too Deep For Jesus?

I think there’s a bit of Doubting Thomas in me this week…and I suspect that there’s a bit of Thomas in all of you as well.

I have doubted this week because it’s been hard for me to have confidence in our church’s leaders when story after story of priests and others who have abused children in our church have been in the headlines. I have doubted this week because it angers me that nobody thought it would have been a good idea to get the Pope on a plane to Ireland and then to Germany to meet with those who were abused and to develop a plan for reparation and reconciliation.

I doubt because I can’t believe that our church might last through all of this scandal, especially when the Pope gets named as someone who possibly knew about the child abuse in Germany and didn’t place the protection of children above the maintenance of clerical culture.

I’ve received dozens of e-mail comments and phone calls. I’ve seen some students troubled by the news. And I’ve seen priests embarrassed and saddened by the actions of their brothers.

Is there cause for doubt this week? I think rightly so. I’d be surprised if we didn’t doubt this church this week!

But isn’t “the church” larger and stronger than all of this? If we are all the church than those that abused others are far from the majority and shouldn’t the majority be able to stand with those who have been drastically hurt and make it a priority to give healing where it may be needed?

Perhaps we don’t doubt the church, perhaps we doubt ourselves. Is this problem so huge that we don’t think we together can overcome it? Has so much damage been done that we have a hard time thinking that we just don’t have enough time to give to those people who have been taken advantage of? While we haven’t committed any sins here, we are a family after all. And when members of our family make a mistake, it’s important for all of us to share a bit of responsibility for the sake of the family name–and show to others that we’re sorry and that we don’t want this to continue.

But instead, we often choose to be like Thomas.

The scripture tells us that Thomas was not present when the other disciples first saw Jesus. Well, where was he then? Some scholars praise Thomas for having the strength to have gotten up out of the upper room and overcoming his fear of imprisonment and death.

But perhaps Thomas just decided to get on with his life? Perhaps Thomas had given up on this Jesus? Perhaps it was all too overwhelming and Thomas threw it all to the wind?

But then he hears the news and he doesn’t buy it. I can just hear him. “I’ve been in this room for days and nothing happened and now you tell me that He’s back!? I don’t believe you. You just miss me and want we back in the fold. I get that. But unless I can put my fingers in his wounds I ain’t going to buy any of this.”

And then Thomas meets Jesus. The wounded Jesus. The rejected Jesus. The Jesus that he doubted could come back from those wounds and that death on a cross.

And don’t we meet that Jesus too? Don’t we find a bunch of wounded people who were abused by the religious authorities of our day. I’m sure people doubted those people too when they came forward with their stories.

And we doubt that they’d want to be back with us in our church because let’s face it, their wounds are too deep for us to try to overcome.

Our doubt leads us to hopelessness and hopelessness often leads to inertia. And in that inertia, our church stays locked in the upper room afraid to even say that we are Catholic because we know we have questions that others want the answers to. Questions that frustrate us and questions that we don’t want to answer and that we shouldn’t have had to answer if not for the dreadful sins of a few.

But most of us are Thomas. We just walk away and blend in with the crowd. Most people have forgotten that we were even followers of Jesus and we can easily go about our business without fear of retribution or even a question or two.

Do we have the courage today to continue to be Thomas. To look at the deep wounds that those who have been abused have and to probe into that pain and offer to be able to see the suffering Jesus in them.

For it will be in that moment that others will see that our faith is not based in human beings who are doomed to make mistakes, even horrible ones.

No, our faith is based in the wounded one who defeated death and who redeems all suffering and sin.

Can we continue to see Jesus and to come here each week and proclaim that Jesus is enough for us to overcome this once again. Can we come here each week and dare to become what we receive for others–and not just for those who have faced sex abuse but for the homeless, the pregnant teen and her unborn child, for those on death row and for all those people that nobody will dare to love.

Can we do it?

Can we believe?

I hope we can. For when we show our belief in Jesus, that just might allow others to see that same Jesus, who redeems suffering in us.

And when they meet that Jesus they too, might be able to then utter the words of Thomas:

“My Lord and My God.”

And those words are enough for all of us.

Papal Preacher is No Fr. James Martin, SJ

Fr. Jim Martin, SJ had words that everyone should have read yesterday:

Good Friday, though, reminds us that Jesus went to his crucifixion freely and surrendered his life for something greater, which came on Easter Sunday. This profound image may help the Catholic Church meditate on what it is invited to do. But that means that something has to die.

What needs to die is a clerical culture that fostered power, privilege and secrecy. An attitude that placed a priest’s reputation above a child’s welfare. A mindset in which investigations of dissident theologians and American Catholic sisters were more swiftly prosecuted than investigations of abusive priests. What needs to die is a certain pride. All this needs to be surrendered freely.

I think Fr. Jim should be promoted to “papal preacher” especially when we heard this from the actual papal preacher yesterday. (From the London Telegraph)

The “coincidence” that Passover falls in the same week as Easter celebrations, said Rev Cantalamessa, a Franciscan, who offers reflections at Vatican Easter and Advent services, prompted him to think about Jews.

“They know from experience what it means to be victims of collective violence and also because of this they are quick to recognize the recurring symptoms,” the preacher said.

Quoting from the letter from the friend, who was not identified, the preacher said that he was following “‘with indignation the violent and concentric attacks against the church, the pope and all the faithful of the whole world.”‘

“The use of stereotypes, the passing from personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt remind me of the more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism,”‘ Cantalamessa said his friend wrote him.

Better start vetting the homilies now. Talk about a stupid statement! Let me not pile on here except to say that death and extermination does not and never will equal character assassination. While the Pope has come under attack for his own role in allowing the abuse of children and perhaps has been treated unfairly by some in the media, this should not ever be compared to the Holocaust.

Apologies from me today to our Jewish brothers and sisters, especially my sister and brother in law and their children.

And a note to the papal preacher. Get a clue and think about what you’re really saying when you try to equate two tragedies.

Despite the Sex Scandal, I Remain Catholic

A friend recently asked me to talk to him about how I’m able to stay Catholic despite the sexual abuse scandal that has reared it’s ugly head in Ireland and soon in Germany.

I thought it was a good question and I’m sure it’s one that many have pondered, especially during lent when more attention seems to be on the Catholic Church.

So here’s my response:

I stay Catholic because well…first of all, I am Catholic. I can’t really change that about myself just as I can’t change my DNA. It’s part of who I am and has contributed to much of my own worldview, moral development and personal prayerlife.

Now that being said, there’s a lot that I find troubling about the church too. I find just as many troubling things about fundamentalism (a lot more here actually), mormonism, Judaism, Buddhism, etc. All religions are man-made developments of what they think God is about and being less than God they are inherently flawed. We just need to admit and deal with that.

Tip O’Neill once said “all politics is local” and the same is said about the church in many ways. Part of my life as a Catholic has been being able to find parish communities that give me life, feed me spiritually and allow me to use my own gifts and talents to serve others. More importantly, I’m able to find those communities or help build them when they don’t exist. Sometimes they change and sometimes I feel the need to move on.

I’m not a mere consumer though. I tend to think beyond the parochial and believe strongly that God is saddened by the sins that are committed by local bishops and priests. But isn’t God just as sad at the sins that I commit as well? So while I’m not a child abuser, I’m sure I have my own failings and so I try to remind myself that I often don’t think I deserve God’s forgiveness but it’s offered to me anyway.

Secondly, we need to remember that human beings are sinful and that includes priests and bishops. Perhaps we’ve placed our expectations of them way too high and when they disappoint us even in small ways (as well as in horrifying ways) we quickly throw the entire church to the wind for a small faction of people who did a lot of bad things.

When it comes to those who enabled the abusers, I tend to put myself in the bishops shoes and realize that the systemic problem is that nobody has trained them in administration. Priests simply get promoted to pastor and bishop and very few know how to do the job and fewer have the gifts for it. That’s a stupid way to run a billion dollar organization, even one that is spiritually based. And it is something that is slowly changing. It’s up to the lay folk to call for greater lay participation in the more temporal affairs of the church.

Secondly, some have scapegoated gay priests when it’s actually the closeted straight priests that have caused the major issue. Pedophillia really isn’t the issue. It’s ephebophilia, which means the following:

There are priests who haven’t integrated their sexuality in a healthy way. Some didn’t deal with the fact that they have same sex attraction (probably during their teen-age years) and thus, they have stunted their sexual development at that level. Which psychologically speaking, means that they remain attracted to that age group and can’t get past that point in their lives. Their sexual development stopped at that age, if you will. It’s a serious problem and while most of the abusers have sought out young boys to act out with, they also for the most part, claimed to be straight men while doing that. There are many good priests with a homosexual orientation who are integrated in a healthy way and remain true to their vow of celibacy. And just as sure as there are married men who cheat on their wives there are also priests, straight and gay, who fail at remaining celibate. We far more forgiving of married men, however, than we are of priests who “cheat.” (not in reference to child abuse here of course, which is indeed different).

I refuse to let people hijack my faith, scapegoat others, or simply stop serving the needs of the poor and the spiritual needs of parishioners.

We are the church…together. And that means that things are often messy. I know I’ve made a bunch of mistakes that I wouldn’t want the Ny times to know about too. So I do my part and hope it’s enough.

I stay because I am part of a family. And at the Thanksgiving meal that happens each week that we call Eucharist, we are sure to find disagreement, horror stories and dysfunction. It’s who we are, warts and all.

And somehow God loves us anyway. Perhaps, it’s too hard for all of us to stay. That’s understandable when it comes to those that have been abused. But it’s not going to help anyone spiritually to simply close the door and turn our backs for good. We need each other and it’s time for all of us to reach beyond our pain, our anger, our disappointment and instead reach out to heal, to welcome, to reconcile and most of all to pray together around the altar where God gives us all of his pain, disappointment and anger and still remains with us…

Even though we hung God from a tree.

Today let us pray for the abused and let us pray for the abusers. Let us pray for our bishops and for our communities of faith. Most of all, let us pray that we notice God in our lives and that we can bring the healing that God offers to us into the lives of others.

Photo credit: Sr Jeremy Midura

We All Knew

And speaking of lying and reputations…

Cardinal George spoke to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at their recent meeting and spoke directly about how they have a tarnished reputation and they too, have a need to reconcile with the Catholic faithful and continue to lead us as Bishops into the next decade.

If there is a loosening of our relationship between ourselves and those whom Christ has given us to govern in love, it is for us to reach out and re-establish connections necessary for all to remain in communion….

Our pastoral concern for ecclesial unity does not diminish our awareness of our own mistakes and sins. There are some who would like to trap the Church in historical events of ages long past and there are others who would keep the bishops permanently imprisoned in the clerical sexual abuse scandal of recent years. The proper response to a crisis of governance, however, is not no governance but effective governance.

Loss of trust, we know, weakens relationships and will continue to affect our ministry, even though clerical ranks have been purged of priests and bishops known to have abused children and the entire Church has taken unprecedented means to protect children and to reach out to vicitms.

In any case, the sinfulness of churchmen can not be allowed to discredit the truth of Catholic teaching or to destroy the relationships that create ecclesial communion.

Amen! We are one church! All of us together in the muck and dregs that we call sin. While we are often all-too-quick to point fingers at the Bishops when it comes to sexual abuse of children, one of the big responses that I heard throughout the abuse scandal was not one of surprise, but one of sadness for a lack of response from those with power.

But if the fact that little and not so little children were abused by clerics were not surprising to us as laity, then why did we not take more rigorous action? We too bear some responsibility here and I’ll point the finger back at my own family and myself to start. I hesitate to share this information but the timing is right.

As a teen-ager I was always around the church as an altar boy. A priest, (who I won’t name here, and he has indeed been removed from ministry) took an interest in me and in some of my friends. He was friendly and had a humorous tone at all times. I enjoyed his company when we spent time together in the sacristy before mass. I remember at a parish party when he had a few glasses of wine and he put his arm around me and nuzzled his head on my shoulder. I was about 15.

It was then that I got the heeby-jeebies. And more important, so did my mother. It seemed a bit familiar and intimate. While I hug most of my friends and colleagues that I know well, even today, this seemed to be a bit odd.

Fast-forward a number of years, and my mother told me a hair raising story. At the height of the scandal I got word that this priest had been accused and found guilty of molesting many young boys. I called Mom and told her the sad news. She replied:

“Did I ever tell you that “Fr. X” called me and told me that he thought you had a vocation and that he wanted to take you on a trip to Rome? He thought that would have solidified your call to the priesthood.”

Yikes! God bless a mother’s intuition in not allowing her young boy to go off to Rome with someone she found suspect.

And while she protected me, perhaps she needed to do a bit more? She didn’t call a pastor or a bishop (and reports mentioned that his religious order ordained him even though they knew of a past history of abuse). She didn’t report the suspicion that he might very well be a predator. Perhaps she had no proof and perhaps it may have fallen on deaf ears, and while uncomfortable, perhaps something more should have been said?

Who knows? Hindsight is always 20/20. But let’s face it: We knew Mark McGwire was juicing and we didn’t want to let ourselves see that. We knew that some priests were a bit odd and inappropriate with children and perhaps not well sexually integrated, even though they’d say openly that they were straight celibate men. We knew. We all just didn’t want to say that we did and were taken aback when some of the bravest amongst us did in fact, make accusations.

And therein we have our conundrum. It is us that want to have heroes, people of repute that we look up to and often, our heroes fall short of the reputations that we’d like them to have. Be they Presidents or Popes, Bishops or Batters, Prophets or Parents, our heroes often fall from grace.

Indeed it is up to us to not merely point fingers but also to help mend fences. How do we point ourselves in new and healthier directions to bring the church out of disrepute and into a place where people see us as honorable and justice-seekers? I think that’s where Cardinal George is hoping to lead the Bishops.

And it is my prayer that they lead all of us to embrace that same challenege.

What a Surprise- VOTF..going broke

Voice of the Faithful, the reform and advocacy group that emerged in 2002 in the wake of the clerical sex abuse revelations in Boston, has announced that it may be forced to close its national offices unless it receives a quick infusion of cash.
In an e-mail sent to members and media representatives, the organization said it was “at the crossroads of financial survival” and is looking to raise at least $60,000 by the end of July in order to continue operations.

You want to know why their funds are low…?

No people in their 20s and 30s belong to voice of the faithful. It is a baby boomer organization at best.

Why is that the case? You would think that they would find the cause of supporting those who have been abused laudable, no?

Well…

I would offer a few thoughts here.

1) Most of the younger adults I know don’t really have a problem with the church, rather the church isn’t even on their radar. It’s simply not part of their life and when they see all the infighting that happens with their older compatriots–many of whom are their own parents, the church looks even less attractive, much less an organization that calls the irrelevant organization to task.

2) Younger people simply don’t have the time for an organization like this. As an example, a young man I know was asked by his baby boomer mother why he wasn’t more of a voice for change in his own parish? His response was simple:
“Mom, I just don’t have that kind of time. It’s just not worth it to me. I’m going to do all this work and NOTHING is going to happen because, pastor, bishop, etc is going to do what he wants anyway.”

Can’t say I disagree with him.

3) Lastly, I think there’s clearly a perceived agenda with Voice of the Faithful that goes beyond the scope of the sex abuse scandal and into other issues like women’s ordination, optional celibacy, and a more democratic decision making process in different areas. Younger people tend to see more value in religious organizations that actually do good work in the areas of social justice, global change and even prayer and sacraments–the so called passing along of the tradition. When they see infighting that is the clear death knell and simply is translated as a waste of energy.

I wish VOTF well. I know that these people are faithful Catholics for the most part who see the challenge of today in developing priests that we can depend on as trusted sources and not suspects. It’s an area that they have little control over however and the fact that many Bishops have outsided them from their diocesan property doesn’t help either.

But their lack of success, financially at least is not a surprise to me. Everyone is struggling and VOTF is not just one more struggling religious organization. They are one more organization that seems to raise the level of suspicion past the point of something to which young people can see a value to contributing their time.

Ireland’s Holocaust?


The sex abuse scandal in Ireland is starting to be termed a “holocaust” which in this humble blogger’s opinion is a bit much and a bit condescending to our Jewish brothers and sisters. But nonetheless, it is a huge tragedy and has seriously damaged and abused far too many children. The Pope weighed in with Ireland’s two senior clerics who reported his thoghts.

From Independent.ie

POPE Benedict was “visibly upset” by horrific revelations of sexual, physical and emotional torture of children uncovered by the Ryan inquiry, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin revealed yesterday.

The Pontiff also told Ireland’s two most senior Catholic clerics that the victims of abuse must get justice.

In a Vatican meeting with Cardinal Brady and Archbishop Martin last Friday, Pope Benedict reiterated his call for the Church hierarchy to make amends to the thousands of children who suffered at the hands of abusive priests, brothers and nuns.

“He (the Pope) was very visibly upset to hear of some of the things told in the Ryan report and how the children had suffered from the very opposite of the expression of a love of God,” the Archbishop said.

a h/t to Whispers.