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March 8, 2011

Eternal Catholic Scandal

Roy Meachum

My first Frederick column on sexual assaults in the Roman Catholic Church appeared 20 years ago. It was in defense of Archbishop Joseph Bernardin whom I knew in Washington.


Then the ordinary in charge of Cincinnati, I could not believe the South Carolina-born cleric was capable of the allegations raised against him. His chief and loudest accuser recanted, so I felt comfortable in my decision. Joe Bernardin went on to take the red hat as cardinal of Chicago. My journalistic apologia was rewarded with a dinner from an old friend, Atlanta Archbishop John Donoghue, a native Washingtonian; we knew each other for years since John shared the house assigned to Cardinal Patrick O’Boyle.


Maybe I was too quick. But seven years in a Catholic boarding school and my numerous contacts personally and on assignments as a journalist bred no suspicions. Being from New Orleans, I certainly knew about homosexuals. There were a couple of Roman collars I wondered about.


But seducing and viciously sexually attacking children in their charge was totally beyond my ken; for all the wandering gay clerical eyes I considered them good men and women, drawn to a religious call.


Friday’s New York Times slapped me back to reality. Katherine Q. Seelye reported three weeks after a “scathing grand jury report,” the Philadelphia archdiocese had done little about the 37 priests named in an indictment. Most of them “remain active in the ministry.” Four are due in court next Monday on charges of rape or assault.


Not incidentally, a spokesman for Cardinal Justin Rigali, Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Thomas, publicly speculated about the latest scandal’s impact on attendance and collections. In Ms. Seelye’s account, no mention of the victims appears. The spokesman did not offer comfort to them or their families; or, if he did, his sympathy was drowned out by clacking calculators, estimating how much would this cost a church with hundreds of millions robbed from charities and other good works.


On that score, Bishop Thomas hustled donations: “He said money for the (current) capital campaign goes specifically to help the church fulfill its charitable mission; it cannot go toward the defense of priests or legal fees, he said, and so only the poor, the sick and the needy would suffer if those donations dried up.”


For all my second thoughts, Joe Bernardin went to his grave legally exonerated; he was buried in holy ground. Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law was personally blessed while his communicants damned to litigations to receive compensation for their fiendish treatment by “holy” men and women. Nor is this state of living hell restricted to the United States.


The shielding of sexual predators – never to be mistaken for homosexuals – begins in Rome; it’s gone on, by record, since Pope Paul VI, in the 1970s. With an alarming drop in clerical vocations, the current pontiff, like his predecessor, is absolutely right: letting priests to marry is no solution.


John XXIII and chief advisor, Cardinal Augustin Bea, hoped the Roman Catholic Church would reorganize into a modern institution (aggiornamiento). I have been wrong consistently; the men who scuttled their plans were not conservatives. They were scared, terrified at losing the perks of their offices. Philadelphia’s Cardinal Justin Rigali joined their ranks, maybe before he received the red hat.


New Market’s Grace Episcopal Church and Braddock Height’s The Church of Transfiguration, also Episcopal, I visit Sundays alternately. I consider myself Catholic; I still wear the medals that are appropriate for my heritage.


But about what happens in Rome, Boston, Philadelphia and many Catholic environs, I wash my hands, while still protesting in columns and in life.


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