Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Offer declined


In the midst of another round of pedophilia scandals involving the U.S. Catholic Church…with the archdiocese of Philadelphia putting on leave 21 priests accused of sexual abuse of minors—and this following a blast to Philadelphia ecclesial authorities by a local grand jury which accused the hierarchy of allowing 37 deviate…the only proper word to apply to their behavior… clerics to remain around children despite “substantial evidence of abuse”—came a highly revelatory revelation that turned up in a discussion I had last week with Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke. Yes, she and I are often to be found on different pages of theology—but this, my friends, is not theology but moral conduct.
You will remember that she was a leader of the so-called “Board of Review” that was set up by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) following the explosive findings about laxity in handling clerical pedophilia in Boston. She never made permanent Chair because she refused to be rolled by the ruling prelates. Instead she and Robert Bennett, the prominent Washington lawyer who had spent $1 million of his own money to ferret out abuses, were stonewalled by the ruling junta installed at the USCCB’s marble palace and went to Rome to interview then Josef Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
When she returned Justice Burke was confronted by Bishop Wilton Gregory, bishop of Belleville, Illinois-- then president of the USCCB--for supposedly exceeding her authority. It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to appreciate why Burke was never made Chairman of the Board…Gregory having been earlier a Chicago auxiliary bishop skilled soothing the roiled waters of controversy as only a Chicago-inured Squid-influenced operative can.
It was Burke who got the lesson of her life in ecclesiastical duplicitousness when she personally interviewed each prelate on his familiarity with deviant goings-on in his diocese. She interviewed one supposed paragon, who when asked if he knew of any associations with people who were convicted of sexual abuse stoutly declared he did not. When it turned out that one deviant was actually living at the archbishopic mansion… “doing research”…she called him in and said “you lied to me, didn’t you?”
(I wrote this up at the time in The Wanderer , the nation’s oldest national Catholic weekly).
No, he said. The man you have reference to was not convicted—but confessed.
How’s that for parsing?

The other day she told me flat-out and gave me permission to use it publicly that Bennett who draws $5,000 an hour for his legal services, had offered to make his services available to Gregory for one year free of charge—but was turned down.
This Church I love and believe in has survived for 2,000 years because, as convert Bob Novak said, it is divine. Else how could it have managed through eras of bad, intemperate and sacrilegious popes all the while saints like Francis of Assisi and Thomas Aquinas blossomed in moral and spiritual life…and now is floundering through a cycle of personally dedicated and highly intellectual popes but still inattentive for one reason or another while the seminaries and priesthood have been flooded with lavenders? A litany of prelates wailing that the system is crying to heaven for vengeance has produced only a laggard tide of lying, deviousness and irresponsibility.
She has postulated in a series of speeches a rigorous program of penance for prelates—the shedding of royal capes and garments to underscore their high office…the reliance on black cassocks.
To which I add another possibly very confrontational and controversial one. Why, I ask, are we rushing through the likely canonization of John Paul II when, regardless of whose fault it has been, so many abuses were allowed to go unpunished and fester on his watch? When so many weak vessels were appointed to the bishopric despite the fervent pleas of many people in the pews who knew their records? When it is commonplace that the prelates who were picked came from the casual approval of the top paper on a stack one-inch high…which was attested to me personally by a priest who had been on hand and working at the Vatican—which could signify at the least a disregard for investigation and probity?
Can it not be seen as a travesty of accommodation when a pontiff appointed to almost supreme position by his predecessor then presides over the elevation to canonization in a remarkably short time after death? I fully acknowledge the role John Paul II played in the harnessing of the forces of good against Communism. I met him briefly and was edified…but folks we’re not talking worldly honors here—but canonization.
I have asked this earlier and ask it now: What is the rush? What are the motives behind moving so swiftly? Is this an attempt to add yet more garish folderol…swinging sweet incense burners…to use all the perfumes of Arabia to sweeten the atmosphere?
Again…I have the greatest admiration for John Paul II…for his amazing charisma, his undeniable sanctity in the face of so many trials…for his certitude and forbearance. I accuse him of nothing but possibly in the case of inability to root out deviant sin that indubitably extended far before his time—sin of which he could well have been unaware since he came from a period of persecution in Poland where Communist overlords calumniated good priests—causing him to doubt such charges.
But I say again…what’s the rush behind what could be a terrible precedent for appearance sake—predecessor names successor…successor leads canonization for predecessor. The job of canonizing some people of great sanctity who lived in the Middle Ages is on indefinite hold. Why JPII and why now? Do we have an assembly line process here? Have we checked out the appointment of bishops…or are we relying on George Weigel who wrote two authorized biographies about which bishopric appointments are either unmentioned (Vol. I) or glossed over (Vol. II)?
Okay—now you can douse me with a gallon of Holy Water to chase away this cynicism…and call the exorcists—but I mean it and while I support infallibility of pronouncement on faith and morals… am not impressed with the Holy See’s worldly perspicuity. After all we still have the same mopes running L’Osservatore Romano don’t we—the paper that either is the official voice of the Church in Rome….some say it is because it gets exclusive crack at publishing all papal pronouncements…and some say it isn’t because it cooks up its own formulae for end-of-life disquisition at odds with theological canons…that and running lists of the great 100 rock-and-roll albums of all time. Why has that been allowed to go on? Because some Cardinal’s nephew is in the higher ups? Don’t be too quick to knock that one in the head.

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