Bishops have lost generosity of spirit

Commentary in The Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, MA)

By Robert M. Kelly


LEE: St. Joseph's grammar school on North Street, now demolished, consisted of eight grades packed neatly into a two-story brick cube. My mid-1950s tenure might be counted a success since the nuns drilled into my head at least one doctrine: that each person on the planet, rich or poor, strong or weak, fortunate or not, has dignity and an equal claim on our solicitude. The Catholic people are kind and even-handed. We have a duty to be so.

How then can we reconcile this generosity of spirit with the reaction of our Catholic hierarchy to the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage? The leader of the American bishops, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, called the decision a "tragic error" and said that "the nature of the human person and marriage remains unchanged and unchangeable." He and other bishops plan to mobilize their objections "as citizens," to quote Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley, Archbishop of Boston. Their campaign will undoubtedly include attempts to activate the Catholic vote for legislation which they favor.


The reconciliation of our bishops' attitude with the generosity of spirit mentioned above is complex, but a timeline can be established. It begins with the events around 1776. The Catholic Church had been dominant in some countries and a minority religion in others. But, in America, religious pluralism was the native condition under a constitutional government of limited powers. The founding documents acknowledge a supreme being, but our founders allowed for religious belief without mandating it. Governmental care for religion would consist in allowing all religions to follow their spiritual mission, provided they respected the rule of law.

The other great revolution of the 18th century in France was the first exercise in totalitarian democracy, a horrific result that church leaders were anxious to avoid. The 19th-century popes, notably Leo XIII, believed that natural law and divine revelation confirmed the rightness of Catholic dominance in society. The thesis, or ideal, was that every person in every country should be Catholic. When the church could not achieve dominance, the hypothesis — tolerance — came into play. Under this rule other religions could be tolerated, if it was not possible to exterminate them, that is, to force their doctrines and influence outside the bounds of society.

Catholic progress toward cooperation with government and other religions was painfully slow. Leo XIII even pronounced an anathema on "Americanism" around 1900, but fortunately this heresy based on the separation of church and state was short-lived. By the mid-20th century an aptly-named document of the Vatican II conference, "Dignitatis humanae" (Of the Dignity of the Human Person) finally conceded that all people should enjoy freedom of religion, even where the Catholic church was dominant. This new doctrine rejected coercion in favor of humility and restraint. Meanwhile, the American experiment had proven many times over that a limited government without religious uniformity could be stable and productive.

The political part of this story came to a head in 1993 with the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which created new rights for religious believers. Where the 1990 Smith decision of the Supreme Court had respected "neutral laws of general applicability" this legislative reaction, led by Senators Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch, enshrined belief over actions.

Under RFRA, according to a recent statement by the U.S. bishops, "any exercise of religion" must prevail in a conflict of interests whether that exercise or belief was "acceptable, logical, consistent, or comprehensible." The broad sweep of the definition explains why, even though the federal RFRA has been found unconstitutional as applied to the states, new RFRAs at the state level are continually being proposed.

A pitched battle over RFRAS, state by state, looms. It's too early to tell if the bishops' civil strategies to support them will prevail. The Catholic culture within each state where RFRAs are proposed will be important, perhaps even decisive.


But, even if the bishops win the civil argument, and help pass legislation which legitimizes intolerance, there is still the matter of the moral consensus within the Catholic community, which is far from resolved. It's not so much that the bishops are on the wrong side of history. It seems to this observer that they seek to float above history, unencumbered by and unconcerned about the evolving needs of those around us.

Surely this is not the Catholic way as taught by the Sisters of Saint Joseph on North Street.

Robert M. Kelly is an occasional Eagle contributor.


from: National Survivor Advocates Coalition News, June 9, 2015



Thomas P. Doyle, J.C.D., C.A.D.C.

May 26, 2015

          Recently a prominent psychologist with over two decades of intense experience helping clergy abuse victims said that the most morally compromised group of people he knew of were the attorneys who represent the Catholic Church in the abuse cases.  The recent pronouncement of Francis LoCoco, lead lawyer for the Milwaukee Archdiocese, confirms this opinion.  "Let's spend the money" he is quoted as saying, in reference to the 56 million dollars that Cardinal Dolan illegally and immorally tried to divert in the notorious Milwaukee bankruptcy proceedings.  Lest the lawyers bear the brunt of the blame, the main culprits are the present archbishop, Listecki, and his predecessor, Dolan.  The squadron of attorneys work for them and not the other way around.
          When abuse survivors call attention to the stonewalling tactics and often-vicious attitudes of the Church's lawyers, its not uncommon for the bishops to plead innocence, claiming that it's the lawyers doing their job.  But the lawyers are hired by and work for the bishop and not vice versa.  The disgusting charade going on in Milwaukee was cooked up by and has been sustained by Dolan and Listecki.  Thus far the Milwaukee lawyers have spent over $20 million dollars to stonewall the victims.  Some bishops and church cheerleaders in this case and others have regularly tried to blame the victims and their lawyers, claiming they are only in it for the money.  This is nonsense.  The Church lawyers get paid by the hour, win or lose.  Victims' lawyers are paid on the contingency that the case will end in favor of the victim.  I have known lawyers who represented victims who took major cuts so that their clients would end up with some respectable compensation.  How many of the Church lawyers work sex abuse cases pro bono? The money the archbishop is encouraging his lawyers to squander comes from the People of God of the archdiocese.    
          The bankruptcy process was initiated over four years ago, on January 4, 2011 to be exact, two days before the archbishop was scheduled to be deposed.  The church's lawyers are challenging each and every claim of the 570 victims who have come forward. Many of the claimants were among the 200 deaf boys sexually violated by Fr. Lawrence Murphy at St. John's School for the Deaf.  These victims have been fighting for decades for some form of justice and what they have received instead has been vicious, dishonest and certainly unchristian revictimization.
          The archbishops of Milwaukee going back to Cardinal Albert Meyer have all played a key role in making the Milwaukee Church unique in its hypocritical and narcissistic response to the havoc caused by its priests.  Meyer was told about Lawrence Murphy way back in the mid fifties and sent him on retreat for a month.  The Redemptorist priest who reported Murphy to Cardinal Meyer also reported his behavior to the Apostolic delegate in Washington so the Holy See effectively knew about Murphy way back then.
          Archbishop Cousins, whose tenure lasted from 1958 to 1977, knew about Murphy and not only did nothing, but he threatened one of the deaf boys who reported Murphy and forced him to sign a letter of retraction.
          Rembert Weakland was archbishop from 1977 to 2002.  He was faced with reports not only about Murphy but several other Milwaukee priests.  Weakland's track record in responding to victims is far from stellar but at least he tried to get Murphy laicized with no success, thanks to former Pope Benedict and his cohort, Cardinal Bertone who refused Weakland's request and allowed Murphy to live out his days in the dignity of his priesthood while his victims lived out their days in the agony of his abuse.  Then came Dolan in 2002.
          Dolan tried to deal with the sex abuse nightmare primarily with his "hail fellow well met" personality but his rhetoric and back-slapping fell flat in the face of what he was really up to.  Bankruptcy was being used by some bishops as a way to avoid trials and the revelation of the truth that comes with them, as well as a way to limit the compensation given to victims.  Although he would be gone when the bankruptcy process started Dolan obviously knew where it was all going.  He diverted approximately $56 million dollars into a cemetery trust in 2007.  When accused of trying to hide the money in 2011, he lashed out at victims' attorney Jeff Anderson and accused him of spreading "groundless gossip."  Dolan's lie was discovered when a letter he wrote to the Vatican in 2007 came to light....a letter in which he sought permission to transfer the $56 million to a restricted trust.            Why? To quote his own words "I foresee an improved protection of these funds from and legal claim and liability."   A local judge, Rudolph Randa, ruled that the transfer was protected by the first amendment and that "removing some or all of these funds from the trust and placing them in the bankruptcy estate would undoubtedly put substantial pressure on Archbishop Listecki to modify his behavior and violate his beliefs."  Over two years later a federal appeals court ruled that Randa was not only wrong but should have removed himself from the case.  The $56 million was back on the table.  Now LoCoco and his fellow lawyers have declared that they plan on spending it all in litigation. Is this protracted and obscenely expensive process about achieving justice and assuring fair compensation for victims, as Archbishop Listecki has claimed in attempting to justify it?  Not by a long shot!
          In his narcissistic arrogance Listecki openly invited all who were sexually abused to step forward:  "nothing will prevent me from making every possible effort at moving forward toward healing and resolution with those who have been harmed."  His real plan was to get them all to step up so that he could have his lawyers do everything possible to have their cases thrown out of court.  The best comment on this comes from one of the victims:  "These victims have already been betrayed by the Church in the most damaging ways imaginable.  How could the archbishop, a man of God, then proceed to try to throw each and every one of their cases out of court? This action in effect re-abused and betrayed these fragile victims yet again."
          Judge Randa said that putting the cemetery trust millions back on the table would put pressure on Listecki to violate his beliefs.  What beliefs?  There is nothing even remotely Christian or even Catholic about the travesty he is presiding over.  He's a civil lawyer himself so he knows well that the millions spent thus far represent countless billable hours for the lawyers defending his strategy.  This is tons of money they will take home whether they win or lose.  The only belief that seems to be in danger of violation is the belief that the victims whose lives have already been severely damaged by the negligence of his predecessor, must now be pounded into the ground and defeated once and for all.
          The Milwaukee bankruptcy has been a mockery of the American judicial process. It is an unconscionable abuse and subversion of the legal process, using it as a weapon to punish and further traumatize the victims. It has surely justified the pessimistic and negative image of civil attorneys and it has also made a mockery of the office of bishop.  It is an example of the virus of clericalism at its virulent worst.  What Dolan, Listecki and the phalanx of attorneys have completely lost sight of, in addition to the objective meaning if justice, is what this is really all about:  several hundred young boys and girls who were believing and trusting Catholics and who were betrayed and violated in the worst imaginable ways by the very men they trusted.  As their lives unfolded they had the courage to take the risk of confronting the Archdiocese.  Rather than act like the Body of Christ, the leaders of this Church have come at the victims with every resource available to punish them for having had the audacity to demand that which their Church incessantly preaches about, justice and charity.