Laity Must Oversee Congregation for Bishops

At 10:30 a.m. on July 30, 2001, Martin “Marty” Baron walked into his first meeting as the new editor of the Boston Globe.  For several weeks before beginning his new job, Baron read the Globe daily to acclimate himself to the style of writing used by Globe reporters and its readership.  The day before he began his job, Baron read an article published in the Globe’s July 29, 2001 edition.  The article Passing the Buck, written by Eileen McNamara, a Globe reporter, was about:

A civil suit brought by 25 plaintiffs who were children when (Reverend) Geoghan allegedly raped them in parishes to which Law transferred him between 1985 and 1993. Geoghan retired in 1993 after a 28-year career in which he is alleged to have molested more than 100 children. He was not defrocked until 1998, two full years after the charges became public. He faces a criminal trial in September.

McNamara’s article was important to Baron for two reasons: (1) the topic of sexual abuse by priests and the cover-up by bishops was disturbing; and (2) The placement of McNamara’s article in the Globe’s Sunday edition.  In an interview with Sarah Larson on December 8, 2015, for the New Yorker, Baron expressed shock that the article was placed “In the Metro section, and at the end of the column, she (McNamara) said something to the effect ‘The truth may never be known because the documents are sealed.’ I was really struck by that.”  Baron believed it was important for the Globe to take on the responsibility of investigating the priest abuse problem, its coverup by bishops, and to unseal the sealed court documents.

The sexual abuse activity and the cover-up compelled Baron to ask the Globe’s editors what was being done to gain access to court records.  In an interview with Susan Gonzales for Yale News, spotlight editor, Walter “Robby” Robinson said: “Everybody said to Baron, ‘What are you talking about? Judges seal records.’”

Later that same day, Baron called Robinson and Ben Bradlee Jr., then an assistant managing editor for the Globe, into his office to ask the Spotlight team to investigate the case involving the claims against Father Geoghan as reported by McNamara.

After a year of searching through decades-old information and meeting with victims of abuse, the Globe’s Spotlight team of reporters Matt Carroll, Sacha Pfeiffer, Michael Rezendes, and Robinson published their first article on January 6, 2002.  Gonzales reported that:

The first story in the Boston Globe revealed how more than 100 people had come forward with tales of abuse by Geoghan over a 30-year period. By the time the team completed its series on the church scandal, it reported on sexual abuse involving some 250 Catholic priests in the Boston area.

Once the Spotlight article was published, victims all over the world came forward to talk about how they were abused by priests and no action was taken by their bishops. As the scandal grew, the universal Catholic Church made a solemn promise to its one billion followers that it would investigate all of its dioceses and remove all priests and bishops accused of abusing children and young adults as well as those who had protected the identity of abusive clerics.

The problem for the Catholic Church today is that the Holy See and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) either lied to the faithful or did a lousy job of investigating its priests and religious men (known as brothers) since this story broke in 2002.

Many American Catholics and non-Catholics ask, “How did the Catholic Church in America get to such a low point in their 2000-year history?”  A closer look at the abuse problem points to the American members of the Congregation of Bishops as a good place to begin.

The Congregation for Bishops is considered to be one of the most important Roman Curial agencies since the Congregation was founded in 1588.  Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit priest and the author of “Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church” said in a 2013 New York Times article, “The Congregation for Bishops is the most important congregation in the Vatican. It decides who are going to be the bishops all over the world.”

Cindy Wooden gives a more in-depth explanation of the process and the role of the Congregation in a July 6, 2016 article for Catholic News Service:

Nuncios, or Vatican ambassadors, around the world, conduct the initial search for priests suitable for the office of bishop and forward their names to the congregation. Congregation members review the biographies of potential candidates and comments and recommendations collected by the nuncios before making their recommendations to the pope.

The congregation also advises the pope on the establishment of new dioceses or the consolidation of old ones; advises bishops’ conferences on their work; coordinates the joint activities of military ordinaries around the world; and organizes the “ad limina” visits that bishops regularly make to the Vatican to report on the status of their dioceses.  The congregation is tasked with supporting the work of bishops in their dioceses, a function regularly carried out with the review of reports prepared in conjunction with the “ad limina” visits. But it also is responsible for organizing apostolic visitations of dioceses where particular tensions or controversies have arisen.

In 2009, America magazine article published an article further describing the Congregation consisting of:

About 30 other cardinal and bishop members of the Congregation for Bishops, which meets regularly every two weeks. The meetings last all morning, and typically bishops’ appointments for four dioceses are reviewed at each session. Before the meeting, congregation members are sent abundant documentation on the candidates for each diocese, information collected by the apostolic nuncio in the country where the diocese is located. A large part of the packet consists of written evaluations prepared on request by some 30 to 40 people who know the candidate.

The Congregation presents their final recommendations to the pope who rarely questions the final list of names.  Despite the importance of the Congregation’s role and its review process, the general public has little access to the information.  This is precisely where lay Catholics can help minimize problems with clerics.  Sexual abuse is a societal problem and not just one among Catholic priests.  My recommendation is to name a committee of lay Catholics from around the world whose sole responsibility would be to oversee all of the decisions made by the congregation.  How many times have lay Catholics either heard or read about the Vatican’s or USCCB’s desire to involve lay Catholics in the administrative processes of the Church?  I am confident this committee’s role would improve relations between Church officials and the Catholics who no longer attend Mass, those on the fence as to whether or not they will return to the Church and those who never left.

Since 2000 there have been two prefects or leaders of the Congregation of Bishops: Giovanni Battista Re from 2000 to 2010, and Marc Armand Ouellet, PSS who still holds the position which he assumed in 2010.

Re was born on January 30, 1934, in Borno (Brescia), Italy. He was ordained for the Diocese of Brescia on March 3, 1957, and holds a doctorate in canon law from the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome.

Ouellet born on June 8, 1944, in La Motte, Abitibi Regional County Municipality, Quebec, Canada. Ouellet is a member of the Society of St. Sulpice religious order. Unlike other religious orders, such as the Jesuits, Dominicans, Marists, Christian Brothers, and Franciscans who take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the Sulpicians do not profess any vows. They make two promises: to live a chaste life and be obedient to the Church.  This point is emphasized in the Sulpicians website which says the Society is:

Not a religious community but a society of apostolic life, associations in the Church whose members pursue a common mission without taking vows and who live as a community under Church-approved regulations called constitutions. So, when you join the Sulpicians, you remain a diocesan priest—and become a member of a community of diocesan priests dedicated to priestly formation.

Re was appointed prefect of the Congregation in 2000 by Saint John Paul II; Ouellet was appointed in 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI.  Under both Re’s and Quellet’s leadership, their Congregations of Bishops have provided recommendations to Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict XVI that have raised at least one set of eyebrows – mine.

Under Re’s direction, perhaps more importantly under John Paul II and Benedict XVI papacy, the appointment of Cardinal Timothy Dolan exemplifies just how rigged the system is to ensure the appointments of conservative bishops and archbishops in dioceses across the nation.

In 2001 Re recommended then Monsignor Dolan to become the Auxiliary Bishop of St. Louis which Pope John Paul II approved and Dolan accepted.  Dolan’s tenure in St. Louis lasted only one year before John Paul II elevated him to be the Archbishop of Milwaukee, replacing Archbishop Rembert Weakland, OSB, who resigned on May 24, 2002 after “it was revealed that he had given $450,000 in 1997 to a man with whom he’d had an “improper relationship” in 1978.”  This little nugget of information was found in the publication Adoremus, Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy.  As bad as Weakland’s actions were, Laurie Goodstein writes in a July 2013 article for the New York Times editorial board that:

Files released by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee on Monday revealed that in 2007, Cardinal Timothy F. Dolan, then the archbishop there, requested permission from the Vatican to move nearly $57 million into a cemetery trust fund to protect the assets from victims of clergy sexual abuse who were demanding compensation.

Goodstein went on to say:

Milwaukee harbored some of the nation’s most notorious priest pedophiles, including the Rev. Lawrence Murphy, whom a church therapist assessed as having molested as many as 200 boys during his two and a half decades teaching and leading St. John’s School for the Deaf in St. Francis, Wis., and Sigfried Widera, who faced 42 counts of child abuse in Wisconsin and California. Father Murphy died in 1998, and Father Widera committed suicide in Mexico in 2003.

The act of transferring money shows Dolan’s compassion for victims abused by priests is a lie.  Perhaps Dolan’s actions for saving the Archdiocese of Milwaukee money resulted in Benedict XVI approving Dolan in 2009 to be the Archbishop of New York; and a year later, Dolan was elected to serve a three-year term as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) while maintaining his job as Archbishop.  To this day, Dolan still serves as the chair of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities.  Dolan’s good fortune continued into 2012 when Benedict XVI announced he was appointing Dolan to the College of Cardinals, the group that appoints new popes.

In 2011, the Congregation of Bishops included Americans cardinals: Bernard F. Law, Raymond L. Burke, William J. Levada, and Justin F. Rigali.  The information in the paragraphs should make every Catholic publicly voice their concerns about the process for appointment to the Congregation of Bishops.  How these four cardinals were members of the Congregation of Bishops at the same time is disconcerting.

Law is the infamous Archbishop of Boston who was at the heart of the Boston Globe’s Spotlight investigation.  The Globe’s reporting confirmed Law covered up abuse cases for years, allowing priests to be transferred from parish to parish.  In April 2002, CNN reported that Law attempted to resign his position as Archbishop of Boston, but John Paul II rejected his resignation.  CNN went on to report that on December 9, 2002, 58 priests signed a letter requesting Law resign.  Two days later, Law resigned as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Catholic University of America, and on Friday the 13th of December, Law resigned as Archbishop of Boston.

The remaining years of life for Law were nothing in comparison to the victims of abuse. In April 2004, Law was made archpriest of the Patriarchal (now Papal) Liberian Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome, earning a $12,000 a month stipend and all the while maintaining his position as a member of the Congregation for Bishops.

From 1986 to 2005 then-Archbishop William Levada oversaw the archdioceses of Portland and San Francisco respectfully.  Jeff Anderson and Associates, attorneys for victims of sexual abuse wrote on their website:

As of January 2004, the Archdiocese of San Francisco had 66 pending child sexual abuse lawsuits against it, all of which were filed during the one-year legislative window allowing survivors of sexual abuse to bring claims which were otherwise time-barred by the statute of limitations.

On May 13, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI appointed his good friend Levada as his own successor as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  One of the duties of this position is to oversee cases of sexual abuse.  In 2006, Benedict XVI elevated Levada to the College of Cardinals.

New York Times reporter Michael Luo writes on May 5, 2010, that when Levada was in San Francisco on leave from Rome:

For eight strenuous hours, the cardinal was pressed to explain why he had decided to return priests who were confirmed sexual abusers back to ministry. He acknowledged that he had failed to notify the authorities of allegations of abuse. He struggled to recall why he had chosen not to share information with parishioners.

The irony as Luo points out is that since Levada was in the position of Prefect:

That put him in charge of adjudicating sexual abuse cases involving priests worldwide, as Benedict had been before him. And like Benedict, whose handling of delicate cases before he became pope has come under scrutiny, Cardinal Levada often did not act as assertively as he could have on abuse cases.

Justin Rigali was appointed Archbishop of Philadelphia by John Paul II on July 15, 2003. Not even two months into his position Rigali was named a Cardinal.  In 2007 Benedict XVI appointed Regali to the Congregation of Bishops.  On the surface, Rigali looked as if he was doing a good job.  Michael Sean Waters, a reporter for the National Catholic Reporter, contradicts this assessment when he writes on December 16, 2013:

He (Regali) has ruined everything he ever touched, as one archbishop reportedly said to a friend of mine. He left Philadelphia a mess, a string of Grand Jury reports detailing malfeasance in dealing with clergy sex abuse that rivaled the pro-Dallas Charter days. Rigali left St. Louis a mess.

National Public Radio’s Barbara Hagarty reported in July 2011 that:

In February, (2011) a grand jury report alleged that as many as 37 priests who had been accused of abuse were still in active ministry (under Regali). The report also charged several other priests or former priests in a sex abuse scandal.

Hagarty went on to say:

Initially, Rigali said none of his priests had been credibly accused of abusing children, but a few weeks later, he suspended a record number of clergy, 21. On Tuesday, he announced that the Vatican had accepted his resignation, and he sounded almost relieved.

On the day Rigali was removed by Pope Francis from the Congregation of Bishops so too was another controversial character, Cardinal Raymond L. Burke who was nominated to serve on the Congregation by Benedict XVI.  During Benedict’s papacy, Washington Post reporter Justin Moyer writes in 2014:

Former St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Leo Burke was riding high. A conservative leader in a conservative Catholic Church under a conservative pope, he seemed to fall into the Vatican’s favor after taking a few high-profile stands against the godless.

In 2008 Benedict XVI appointed Burke as head of the Vatican’s Supreme Court.  Two years later Benedict XVI makes Burke a cardinal.

Burke’s appointment is interesting because everyone seems to have issues with him. For starters, Burke is the most publicly outspoken cleric against female involvement in the Catholic Church.  Burke is so adamantly opposed to women having any role in the Church that he blames them for preventing men from getting involved in the Church.  Burke is quoted by Madeleine Teahan in a blog she writes for Catholic Herald on Thursday, 8 Jan 2015:

Women are wonderful, they are ubiquitous in the Church: Apart from the priest, the sanctuary has become full of women. The activities in the parish and even the liturgy have been influenced by women and have become so feminine in many places that men do not want to get involved.

Even today, Burke was among the first of a small number of bishops to come out publicly in support of Archbishop Viganò’s denunciation of Pope Francis. Burke is a guy who believes the priest abuse situation is caused by homosexual priests and the culture of today.  Burke never takes any responsibility, instead, he places the blame directly on Pope Francis.  As Thomas McKenna, a reporter for Catholic Action for Faith and Family writes:

It is the Roman Pontiff, the Holy Father, who has the responsibility to discipline these situations, and it is he who needs to take action following the procedures that are given in the Church’s discipline. This is what will address the situation effectively.

Burke’s suggestion that Pope Francis alone must address the sexual problem is self-serving because Burke was responsible for placing many controversial bishops in dioceses.  In a December 16, 2013 article in the New York Times, reporters Jim Yardley and Jason Horowitz write:

The pope’s decision to remove Cardinal Raymond L. Burke from the Congregation for Bishops was taken by church experts to be a signal that Francis is willing to disrupt the Vatican establishment in order to be more inclusive.

Unfortunately for Francis, his decision to replace Burke with Cardinal Donald Wuerl was a decision that did not turn out well.  Yardley and Horowitz describe Wuerl as “an ideological moderate with a deep knowledge of the Vatican but also with pastoral experience.” Although it is unknown at this time whether Francis knew that Wuerl played a role in the abuse scandal, the Associated Press reported on August 14, 2018, that:

Wuerl approved transfers for priests instead of removing them from ministry, oversaw inadequate church investigations and concealed information when priests were reported to law enforcement. The report also says he advised parishes not to publicly announce or acknowledge complaints and offered financial support to priests who were accused and later resigned.

Even Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, who was elected in 2016 as president of the USCCB and retains his position as Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, has been accused of covering up abuse cases.  Lee Rood with the Des Moines Register wrote in a September 27, 2018 article:

Daniel Nash, a Jefferson, Iowa, native now living in Ithaca, New York, told Reader’s    Watchdog that DiNardo has failed to stop or defrock priests who have faced multiple  allegations of abuse — starting with his early days as a bishop in Sioux City, Iowa, all the way to his present work as a top church leader in Texas.

In 2002, Nash told the Register he was molested at least 30 times when the Rev. George McFadden served at St. Joseph Parish in Jefferson from 1969 to 1972.

McFadden served in Jefferson and four other western Iowa parishes from 1953 to 1992.   He was accused of abuse by dozens of victims, McFadden was never defrocked.

McFadden admitted committing “harmful acts,” but he never made a public apology. He continued to receive a pension and to celebrate Mass daily in Sioux City’s largest church after he retired in 1991.

“The people of Jefferson still have not forgotten DiNardo lying to them there,” said Nash, now 60.

Matt Stevens reported in the New York Times on September 14, 2018:

The cardinal, Daniel N. DiNardo, of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, has been accused of knowing about at least two episodes of sexual abuse by a priest, who was allowed to remain in ministry for years.

During the course of more than a decade as pastor of a Texas church, the priest, Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, was also appointed by Cardinal DiNardo to a leadership role in the archdiocese as episcopal vicar for Hispanics.

The scrutiny of Cardinal DiNardo comes after Mr. La Rosa-Lopez, 60, was arrested on Tuesday night by the police in Conroe, Tex. — a city roughly 40 miles north of Houston. He is accused of sexual misconduct by a man and a woman who were children at the time. He faces four counts of indecency with a child; each count carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

On August 24, 2018, I wrote an email letter to Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Cardinal DiNardo, and Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States.  I received a letter from O’Malley on October 3, 2018.  He writes expressing condolences for the emotional, psychological, and spiritual abuse I endured in a high school where I taught theology.  O’Malley also writes that he was not aware of the problems at the high school.  Initially, I thought O’Malley was not telling the truth, but further research confirmed that it is very possible that O’Malley did not know what was occurring at the high school.

My colleague wrote to O’Malley on April 23, 2015, describing the retaliation my colleague and I were facing because we went to the Superintendent of Education to the Archdiocese of San Francisco to inform the superintendent of immoral behavior on the part of the principal.  On July 8, 2015, Reverend Robert T. Kickham, O’Malley’s secretary addressed a letter to my colleague advising him to address our concerns directly with Reverend Salvatore Cordileone, Archbishop of San Francisco.

On July 26, 2011, Boston Catholic Insider, an anonymous blog by authors closely associated with the Archdiocese of Boston reported:

Most people are aware that Fr. Robert Kickham is one of two priest-secretaries to Cardinal O’Malley, and he plays an important behind-the-scenes role as gatekeeper to the Cardinal. That means he controls a) Information that either makes it to the Cardinal for his review and action or does not make it to the Cardinal and b) Access to the Cardinal,   meaning some people can get time with him and some people cannot get time with him.

Cordileone is super conservative. Appointed on March 23, 2009, by Benedict XVI as Bishop of Oakland then three years later, on July 27, 2012, as the Archbishop of San Francisco.  Cordileone was a key force behind California’s 2008 ban on same-sex marriage.  Cordileone’s dislike for the gay and lesbian community was documented in a June 4, 2015 article in the Huffington Post which said: “Those initials keep getting longer and longer,” he added, referring to debates over whether the LGBT acronym — for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender — should include other categories.”

I am holding out hope that O’Malley will be the voice of change and at least begin having a dialogue about involving the laity with the Congregation of Bishops.  O’Malley is the chair of the Vatican’s Commission for the Protection of Minors and he appears to be one of the few Archbishops in the United States with immense credibility.  As a member of the Order of Friars Minor, Capuchin Order, O’Malley takes a vow of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  O’Malley is highly regarded in the Catholic Church, especially by Pope Francis and the Society of Jesus (Jesuits).  In 2015, the Jesuits presented O’Malley with the Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (To the Greater Glory of God) Award.  As noted in the Jesuit Magazine Spring, 2015:

He (O’Malley) and the Holy Father are kindred spirits. Cardinal Seán has a deep concern for the poor, the neglected, those on the fringes, for life at the peripheries. He regularly celebrates Mass at local prisons, visits shelters for the homeless and he has even distributed Communion through a wall at the Mexican border.

In conclusion, it is very hard to be a member of the Catholic faith today.  This paper if anything exemplifies the problems many Catholics are facing today in terms of who to believe?  Does the priest give a homily truly believe what he is saying?  Is the priest offering the body and blood of Christ during communion carrying the sin of abusing children?  I am broken hearted because no one has an answer how to piece the Catholic Church back together.  I hope I have offered one possible solution by involving lay Catholics as an oversight to the Congregation of Bishops.

As someone who changed careers to be a Catholic educator, who spent a lot of time and a great deal of money getting a master and doctoral degree in order to teach and hopefully one day be an administrator in a Catholic school, I pray things to change, otherwise, I guess it will be shame on me.  I have put my name out there to help heal the Church on my own dime no less, but no one has taken up my offer?

Abraham Lincoln once said in a speech, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” The Catholic Church is a divided house, and if Catholics both lay and religious cannot come together to reinforce its foundation then there will be a schism in the Catholic Church and what a sad day that will be for everyone.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s