Rod Dreher

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Bishops Without Chests

The chest of Cardinal Donald Wuerl (Archdiocese of Washington video)

These tweets should make it clear that among those suffering from the Catholic bishops’ failures are good parish priests, who are being dragged down into the muck with the rest. What Father DeVous says in No. 7 is one of the enduring mysteries of this whole thing: why bishops do not act like normal human fathers in the face of this monstrous evil. Look at this excerpt from a Q&A on the website of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops:

The language is about managing anger, in particular about finding compassion for the abuser, and training yourself not to talk to others about it. The bishops speak in a language you might describe as Corporate Therapeutic.

Consider this August 7 column by Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, who had his vacation marred by the rabble talking about the late unpleasantness:

As I write this column, I’m just home from some restful days back in Massachusetts, where I lived for 58 of my 72 years until I was called to Maine and then Western New York.  It is always a grace to reconnect with cherished people and places, and to enjoy for a few days the beautiful and calming sight, sound and smells of the Atlantic Ocean.

I must admit that this year, unlike others since I’ve come to Buffalo, my time away for R&R was clouded by the challenges we are facing right now in our diocese.

Apparently some of the laity are withholding contributions to protests the way bishops handled the abuse crisis. Bad laity! Bad!:

On a positive note, I am so very grateful to all the good people whose compassion and generosity helped us to reach our $11 million Catholic Charities Appeal goal. It was a unique struggle this year as a result of the abuse crisis. I fully understand and share the disappointment, disgust, anger and betrayal so many people feel over the shameful violations of trust perpetrated in the past by a number of priests of our diocese. With changes in policies and procedures both nationally and in our diocese over the past several years, we are responding to abuse complaints better than in the past. We will continue that commitment going forward.

Regarding the Catholic Charities Appeal, though, I do not understand, and cannot accept, the logic behind the decision on the part of some individuals to express their dismay by holding back on their contributions to Catholic Charities – a decision that only harms those people who look to us for necessary assistance in times of serious need. My heartfelt thanks to those of you who did not succumb to such unfortunate and, I believe, flawed thinking.

We’ve got new policies and procedures, so what more do you people want? Just pay up and let’s get back to being “people of hope” (he really does use that smarmy phrase).

It takes a layman to say the bleeding obvious:

I honestly wonder, though, if the system that grooms bishops selects for men without chests. Reader Sam M. admires his bishop, Persico of Erie, Pa., who, he says, fired the lawyers telling him not to cooperate with the grand jury probe, and instead has tried to be transparent, unlike his corrupt predecessors. It seems much more common that bishops respond like Malone, or like Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who had a fancy website built and ready for launch when the grand jury probe dropped. Here’s some Corporate Therapeutic for you, from that site:

The Church in the United States has attempted to confront child sexual abuse, taking responsibility for the wrongs of the past and committing to doing all that we can to prevent the tragedy of abuse from happening again.  Over the past three decades, bishops in the United States have put in place strict requirements for reporting allegations to civil authorities because we recognize that abuse is not only a sin, but also a serious crime.

While I served as Bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, and as our understanding of child sexual abuse increased, the Diocese worked to strengthen our response and repeatedly amended the Diocese’s safeguards and policies.  The Diocese worked to meet or exceed the requirements of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the reporting requirements of Pennsylvania law.  We showed pastoral concern by reaching out to victims and their families, while reporting allegations to the authorities so they could investigate crimes.  The Diocese’s goal was to be transparent and accountable to the public, and to our faithful, for what had occurred within the Church.

Even if all these things are true, do you see the problem? He’s talking about this like a CEO. That narcotic Corporate Therapeutic talk is meant to anesthetize you in the face of facts like this about the Diocese of Pittsburgh, taken from the grand jury report (pp. 233-35):

George was raised as a Catholic and attended Catholic School from first through twelfth grade. While at St. Adalbert’ s on the South Side of Pittsburgh, George served as an altar boy.

George became friends with [Father] Zirwas in the mid -1970’s. Zirwas would spend time at George’s home and take George to lunch or dinner on occasion. George’s family encouraged the contact with Zirwas based upon the belief that Zirwas would be a good influence on George. George noted that that his Catholic family looked at priests as “very truth worthy, very elevated.”

As George was transitioning from middle school to high school, Zirwas took him on trips, took him to see St. Paul Seminary, and, even taught him how to drive. Over time, Zirwas began to take George with him as he carried out priestly duties and on his visits with parishioners. Zirwas started introducing George to his “friends” who were priests who seemed to share similar interests. On one occasion, Zirwas took George to a parish rectory in Munhall where the following priests were present: Father Francis L. Pucci, Father Richard Zula, and Father Francis Luddy of the Diocese of Altoona -Johnstown.

The priests began a conversation about religious statues and asked George to get up on a bed. As the priests watched, they asked George to remove his shirt. They then drew an analogy to the image of Christ on the cross, and told George to remove his pants so that his pose would be more consistent with the image of Christ in a loincloth. At that point, the priests began taking Polaroid pictures of George. As the picture taking continued, the priests directed George to take off his underwear. George was nervous and complied.

George recalled that either Zula or Pucci operated the camera. He stated that all of the men giggled and stated that the pictures would be used as a reference for new religious statues for the parishes. George testified that this occurred before he turned 18 -years -old and that his genitals were exposed in the photographs. George stated that his photographs were added to a collection of similar photographs depicting other teenage boys.

George recalled that each of these priests had a group of favored boys who they would take on trips. The boys received gifts; specifically, gold cross necklaces. George stated, “He [Zirwas] had told me that they, the priests, would give their boys, their altar boys or their favorite boys these crosses. So he gave me a big gold cross to wear.” The Grand Jury observed that these crosses served another purpose beyond the grooming of the victims: They were a visible designation that these children were victims of sexual abuse. They were a signal to other predators that the children had been desensitized to sexual abuse and were optimal targets for further victimization.

It is not known whether or not Bishop Wuerl knew about the pedophile ring, but he certainly knew that Father Zirwas was a problem. Wuerl took over as bishop in 1988. From the grand jury report:

The Grand Jury learned that the Diocese was aware of complaints against Zirwas for sexually abusing children as early as 1987. Additional complaints were received between 1987 and 1995. However, Zirwas continued to function as a priest during this period and was reassigned to several parishes.

Father Zirwas, by the way, lived with his boyfriend in Havana, where he called himself “the Grand Duchess” and hosted transvestite lip-synch parties. Read about his life and death here. 

When faced with revelations of this astonishing depravity, all Cardinal Wuerl can muster is a slick website and a stout dose of Corporate Therapeutic. It ain’t exactly kneeling penitentially in the snow at Canossa.

There’s a story from Italy this morning about a parish priest who finally resigned after his bishop would not back the stand he took on a gay marriage that took place in his parish. Rather than support the priest, the bishop reassigned him. Reader Giuseppe Scalas observes archly of the bishop, “And those are the ones who should teach us to march to martyrdom with no fear… .”

If ever the Catholic Church should attempt to reform itself, it will have to deal with why its bishop-making system typically selects for men without chests. The phrase is C.S. Lewis’s, from The Abolition of Man:

We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

This is a serious problem. A very serious problem.

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The PA Catholic Sex Abuse Horror

Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington damned by grand jury report on his days as Pittsburgh bishop (Archdiocese of Washington screengrab)

The Pennsylvania grand jury report is out: read it here. It examines 70 years of child sex abuse by Catholic priests in six of the state’s eight dioceses, and 70 years of cover-up. Josh Shapiro, the state Attorney General, said in his press conference this afternoon that “over one thousand child victims” were identified in the investigation, but grand jury estimates there were thousands more. From the report:

Most of the victims were boys; but there were girls too. Some were teens; many were prepubescent. Some were manipulated with alcohol or pornography. Some were made to masturbate their assailants, or were groped by them. Some were raped orally, some vaginally, some anally. But all of them were brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institution above all.

It’s a very long report — 900 pages. I’m going to be posting on it throughout the afternoon, as I read it. Please keep checking back for updates. We’ll start with this, from the introduction, in which the grand jury identified the strategy the Catholic Church used to, in the AG’s words “protect their institution at all costs.”

The strategies were so common that they were susceptible to behavioral analysis by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. For our benefit, the FBI agreed to assign members of its National
Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime to review a significant portion of the evidence received by the grand jury. Special agents testified before us that they had identified a series of practices that regularly appeared, in various configurations, in the diocesan files they had analyzed. It’s like a playbook for concealing the truth:

First, make sure to use euphemisms rather than real words to describe the sexual assaults in diocese documents. Never say “rape”; say “inappropriate contact” or “boundary issues.”

Second, don’t conduct genuine investigations with properly trained personnel. Instead, assign fellow clergy members to ask inadequate questions and then make credibility
determinations about the colleagues with whom they live and work.

Third, for an appearance of integrity, send priests for “evaluation” at church -run psychiatric treatment centers. Allow these experts to “diagnose” whether the priest was a pedophile, based largely on the priest’s “self -reports,” and regardless of whether the priest had actually engaged in sexual contact with a child.

Fourth, when a priest does have to be removed, don’t say why. Tell his parishioners that he is on “sick leave,” or suffering from “nervous exhaustion.” Or say nothing at all.

Fifth, even if a priest is raping children, keep providing him housing and living expenses, although he may be using these resources to facilitate more sexual assaults.

Sixth, if a predator’s conduct becomes known to the community, don’t remove him from the priesthood to ensure that no more children will be victimized. Instead, transfer him to a new
location where no one will know he is a child abuser.

Finally and above all, don’t tell the police. Child sexual abuse, even short of actual penetration, is and has for all relevant times been a crime. But don’t treat it that way; handle it like a personnel matter, “in house.”

More to come. I’ll update this post throughout the afternoon.




I’m at this moment going through the section on the Diocese of Erie. It’s previous Bishop, Donald Trautman, demonstrates what to me indicates depraved indifference to the harm his pederast priests did. Trautman did not hesitate to lie to the public to protect his priests. It beggars belief that such a man as Bishop Trautman truly believed in God. The kind of numbing one has to do to one’s conscience to justify behaving like this is breathtaking. It’s like children and families weren’t real; only priests were.

Alan Jacobs notes:

Even when the priests knew they were doing terrible things, even when they wanted to be held accountable, even when they desperately desired for children to be protected from them, the bishops refused. Faced not only with horrifically abused children, but also with abusers who cried out to be restrained, they did nothing. They all but forced the abuse to continue — they could not have done more if they had themselves desired above all things the destruction of lives.

The Lord, who sees in private, will reward.

I don’t know how many of these bishops are still alive, but they should be afraid to show their faces in public for the rest of their lives, and spend every waking moment weeping for their sins. In a just world, they would all be in jail.

More to come. I haven’t yet reached the Pittsburgh section, to see what the Silver Fox, Washington’s Cardinal Wuerl, did when he was Bishop of Pittsburgh.


UPDATE.5: The Pittsburgh section begins on page 207.

Check this out. Next time a Catholic integralist tells you that entwining Church with State is something devoutly to be wished, remember this:

On page 222, the grand jury notes that in 1989, then-Bishop Donald Wuerl wrote to the Vatican to warn about pedophile priests and the dangers they pose, and to say that parishioners deserved to know about such priests in their midst. And yet, in 1991, Bishop Wuerl approved pedophile Pittsburgh priest Father Paone’s assignment in the Diocese of Reno-Las Vegas. That priest continued to work there — without Pittsburgh telling them that they knew he was a pedophile — until the Boston scandal broke in 2002. Only then did Wuerl withdraw his faculties. According to the report, “The Grand Jury noted that only this external force generated the action which should have occurred decades earlier.” More:

And my God, look at this from Pittsburgh:

Here’s the story of what this ring did with a middle schooler named “George”:

Zirwas started introducing George to his “friends” who were priests who seemed to share similar interests. On one occasion, Zirwas took George to a parish rectory in Munhall where the
following priests were present: Father Francis L. Pucci, Father Richard Zula, and Father Francis Luddy of the Diocese of Altoona -Johnstown. The priests began a conversation about religious statues and asked George to get up on a bed. As the priests watched, they asked George to remove his shirt. They then drew an analogy to the image of Christ on the cross, and told George to remove his pants so that his pose would be more consistent with the image of Christ in a loincloth. At that point, the priests began taking Polaroid pictures of George. As the picture taking continued, the priests directed George to take off his underwear. George was nervous and complied.

George recalled that either Zula or Pucci operated the camera. He stated that all of the men giggled and stated that the pictures would be used as a reference for new religious statues for the parishes. George testified that this occurred before he turned 18 -years -old and that his genitals were exposed in the photographs. George stated that his photographs were added to a collection of similar photographs depicting other teenage boys.

George recalled that each of these priests had a group of favored boys who they would take on trips. The boys received gifts; specifically, gold cross necklaces. George stated, “He [Zirwas]
had told me that they, the priests, would give their boys, their altar boys or their favorite boys these crosses. So he gave me a big gold cross to wear.” The Grand Jury observed that these crosses served another purpose beyond the grooming of the victims: They were a visible designation that these children were victims of sexual abuse. They were a signal to other predators that the children had been desensitized to sexual abuse and were optimal targets for further victimization.

The report goes on to talk about a Father Rich Zula, who was part of that ring. Zula eventually was sentenced to prison, but the grand jury notes correspondence between him and the diocese in which he threatens to reveal to the police more names of priests involved in pedophilia. Upon his release, Zula eventually received a generous level of support from the diocese — strange, considering his crimes.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl should resign today, as should Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik, who served Wuerl when Wuerl was the ordinary there. After this, they do not have the moral authority to lead.



Let’s consider the Diocese of Scranton now. This passage jumped out at me about its onetime bishop, James Timlin:

Bishop Timlin — now there’s a name I haven’t thought about in a while. I interviewed him for a 2002 National Review Online article I was doing about the Society of St. John, a new conservative priestly order he had welcomed into the diocese, but which stood accused of being more or less a homoerotic cult preying on schoolboys from St. Gregory’s Academy. I interviewed Timlin about it, and he told me that there were no problems with the Society. I published the story anyway, with Timlin’s denial, but also quoting accusers. That set Father Richard John Neuhaus off. I recalled what happened next on my Beliefnet blog back in 2009, after Neuhaus died:

I was writing fiercely about them at National Review, and was getting angry calls from Fr. Neuhaus telling me to knock it off. In truth, I don’t remember the rationales he offered, but I will never forget his telling me I had no business writing for NRO this story and this follow-up about the Society of St. John, a weird Catholic men’s order in the Diocese of Scranton that had been credibly accused of sexual misconduct with minor males. Fr.Neuhaus was quite put out with me for having published it. I asked him why I ought not to report these things. He said that then-Bishop Timlin had told me that there was nothing to the story, and that was that.

“Father Neuhaus,” I said. “Why should I believe Bishop Timlin?” Mind you, this was well after all the episcopal lies in Boston had been revealed, and not only in Boston.

Neuhaus literally yelled at me: “Because he’s a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church!”

Several years later, the sex abuse lawsuit against the Society and the Diocese of Scranton was settled and the new bishop suppressed the Society. Timlin was shown to have been not credible, to put it with undue charity.

I tell you this story not to speak ill of Father Neuhaus, certainly, but to shed light on his complex character. He was not, as readers of his column know, a patsy for the bishops. But I do think he was an example of the extreme difficulty many Catholics, even good ones — even sophisticated ones (perhaps especially sophisticated ones) — had in seeing what was right in front of their nose in those days. Neuhaus had so much invested in the authority of the Church that he really did believe that the word of a bishop should be enough to settle matters.

The grand jury report produces a letter Timlin wrote to Rome asking for leniency for one of his priest who had impregnated a minor, then helped her procure an abortion. That automatically suspends a priest under canon law. Timlin wrote to the proper figure in the Vatican asking him to waive the penalty so the priest could return to ministry.

A priest who impregnated a minor then helped her get an abortion.

Most of the report involves detailed individual cases. I gave up trying to read them all. It’s like walking through raw sewage. The entire grand jury report is here. 

In their summary, grand jurors wrote:

The press, and Judge Constance Sweeney, who refused the Archdiocese of Boston’s request to keep the records under seal.

Though the grand jury notes that significant improvements have been made since 2002, I don’t understand how anybody can trust the institutional Church to police itself. In the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, Bishop James Conley took Father Charles Townsend out of St. Peter’s parish last year, telling people Townsend left for “health reasons” — sound familiar? — and then returned him without telling people the real reason for his forced departure. The only reason it came to light at all, and Townsend was removed, was because of readers of this blog. 

So when can the bishops really be trusted?

The rot goes so deep, and goes back so long. If there were similar investigative grand juries empaneled in every state, what would they find? Do we really believe that Pennsylvania is an island of corruption unto itself?

UPDATE.7: A reader points out the identity of a featured speaker at the World Meeting Of Families later this month in Dublin:

Not sure how much that unctuous fraud Donald Wuerl has to contribute to the discussion of family welfare.

UPDATE.8: There was a rumor that Wuerl would resign in Washington by week’s end. If that’s true, there’s no sign of it. He’s come out swinging. This was sent to priests of the Archdiocese of Washington today:


UPDATE.8: This from Rocco Palmo, in Philly:

UPDATE.9: This woman is a member of the Pittsburgh diocese:

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‘Francis Is A Dictator Pope — Thank God’

This is a big deal. Father Thomas Rosica is a Canadian priest tapped by the Vatican as a representative to the English-language media. He is also a fervent booster of Pope Francis. Here’s a passage from a tribute Rosica wrote to Francis and his governing style:

That passage seems to have been edited out of the online version of Father Rosica’s column (linked above) after it caused a big stir online. What Rosica claims in it is exactly what more conservative Catholics have said about Francis: that he rules as a dictator unbound by Scripture and Tradition, guided only by personal whim. In fact, a sensational book highly critical of Francis was titled The Dictator Pope  — and here, one of Francis’s biggest supporters is saying the same thing, though he’s thrilled about it!

Like Ross Douthat warns, Francis is causing a major, totally unnecessary crisis in Church authority. Don’t just listen to the pope’s critics on this — listen to his friends.

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Why It’s Personal

Today we are going to get the much-anticipated release of Pennsylvania grand jury documents detailing 70 years of child sex abuse in six Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses. Those who have seen it already say it will be hideous. There’s a rumor that Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, who will figure prominently in the report, as he was previously bishop of Pittsburgh, will take a big hit in its pages. One rumor has it that he will resign by week’s end.

Last night, I was texting with a new Catholic friend, and realized that he doesn’t know why I have so much passion for this issue. There are several reasons. First, it was the one story I’ve covered in my career that radically changed my life, so it’s hard to let go simply from a professional point of view. Second, it is a massively important religion news story, one that is rocking the US Catholic Church to its foundations (the McCarrick phase of this story is going to be extremely perilous for the Church — if the media trouble themselves to start uncovering his secrets). Third, and relatedly, the crumbling of Catholic authority under the weight of the hierarchy’s inability to purge sexual corruption from clerical ranks is one of the most, and perhaps the most, important American religious story of our time.

All of those are reasons I keep at this story. By far the most important reason has nothing to do with the Church at all. It has to do with the summer of 1982, and a school trip to the beach. I was 15. One evening, I was standing at the margins of a crowded hotel room filled with kids from our group, when suddenly, a scrum of older boys grabbed me, threw me to the floor, and held me down while they tried to take off my pants. Their girlfriends stood on the bed watching and laughing.

I begged them to stop. There were two adult chaperones in that room — moms of some of the teenagers on the trip. Help me, I pleaded. They stepped over me — literally, stepped over me — to get out of the room. They weren’t going to stop the fun of the cool kids. I will never, ever forget that helpless, abandoned feeling, watching those adults leave the room.

In the end, the boys did not take my pants down, and let me go. That was the start of a year of bullying, though. Back home, when school started that fall, that same crew made my life miserable at every turn, only because they could. Thank God I had the opportunity to get out at the end of that school year, and go to another school for my junior and senior years.

When I was writing about the scandal in 2002 and right after, some people, noting my passion for the story, asked if I had ever been sexually abused. I told them no, I hadn’t been. Finally I told someone the story of what happened in that hotel room. She said to me, “That was sexualized abuse.” Maybe it was, I don’t know. All I know is that I know what it is like to be terrorized, and to have the adults in authority refuse to help. Watching those two moms step over me as I begged them to help me, and to leave the room — that radicalized me. Just about the only thing I hate more than the strong who prey on the weak are those who could stop them, but don’t.

That’s the reason I’m passionate about this story. If there’s a particular aspect to it that involves the Church, it’s only because I’m especially angry when the people who stand for God — our loving Father and our refuge — turn what should be sanctuary and a place of healing for the weak into an instrument of their persecution, and in many cases destroy the ability of the suffering to know God.


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The Cancer Of The Cover-Up Mentality

Father Joseph Maskell (screenshot from ‘The Keepers’)

When the seven-part Netflix documentary The Keepers came out last year, a number of readers e-mailed to tell me I should watch it. Set in Baltimore, it centers on the unsolved 1969 murder of a young nun, Sister Cathy Cesnik, and the search led by two amateur sleuths (former students of Cesnik’s) to find her killer. Their investigation uncovers a 1960s-era sex abuse ring involving a now-dead priest, Father Joseph Maskell, and a cover-up in the Cesnik murder investigation by both the Baltimore police and the Archdiocese of Baltimore. I knew that much without watching the series, and I judged that I didn’t have it in me to enter into that world.

But after interviewing Stan Schulte last week, and hearing him talk about how watching The Keepers inspired him to come forward with his own story of abuse at the hands of his uncle, a Catholic priest of the Lincoln diocese, made me decide to watch it.

It is a stunning piece of work. I won’t discuss it in detail, because I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t watched it (it’s still streaming on Netflix). There is an explosive surprise in the final episode that reveals the worst about the Church and how it handled the matter, especially when a couple of Maskell’s victims filed a civil suit in 1994. This isn’t ancient history. This is Baltimore under Cardinal William Keeler.

One of the film’s conclusions is that if the Archdiocese had acted to stop Maskell the first time his sex abuse was reported to them, Sister Cathy would probably still be alive, and over 30 more victims would never have been raped. The Keepers is about institutions and systems — in this case, the Church and the State (in the form of the police) — conspiring to keep terrible secrets buried. Two observations made by figures in the film stand out to me.

The first was at around the 28-minute mark in Episode 4 — something a professor of psychology says when she recalls going to see her friend Father Maskell in a rectory near the end of his life. He was very sick. The 1990s-era civil suit brought to light allegations that he raped teenage girls at Keough High, the Catholic girls’ school where he had been assigned as a chaplain and counselor. The professor had not known these things about her friend Joe. She says she asked him if it was true that he had done those things. He did not answer. She asked him then if he thought it was moral. She said:

“He told me he thought it was moral because he was protecting the Church at the time. I think the worst moral thing for Joe would have been to get the Church in some sort of problem.”

The second comes at around the 54-minute mark in Episode 7. The wife of a man who might have had something to do with Sister Cathy’s murder says that she’s confident that her husband is innocent. But:

“If there were ever any remote possibility that he had been involved in something criminal, I would want that brought to light. The truth is more important than some story that we tell ourselves to keep our lives untroubled on the surface.”

Those two points deeply resonate with the kinds of things we’ve been talking about in this space since the McCarrick story broke — in particular, with events in the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska. As I’ve said, Lincoln was a shock to me, because I have always believed, both as a practicing Catholic and as a former Catholic, that it was an island of solid orthodoxy. Things broke open there after I published two weeks ago former Lincoln priest Peter Mitchell’s essay about his experiences in the ideal conservative diocese. Mitchell wrote that it was a mistake to say the scandal is isolated to liberal dioceses:

I went to Lincoln when I was 20, believing that by going to a “conservative, traditional” seminary program I would find a place immune from the systemic problems that I knew infested “liberal, progressive” seminaries. I could not have been more mistaken.

When I arrived in Lincoln to be a seminarian, I was introduced to the vocation director and told I needed to follow his directions if I wanted to become a priest. This man, Monsignor Leonard Kalin, was the vocation director for the Diocese of Lincoln and pastor of the Newman Center at the University of Nebraska for an entire generation (1970-1998) under two bishops with a reputation for impeccable orthodoxy. When he died a decade ago, Kalin was remembered publicly as a good and holy shepherd of young souls. It was a façade.

After Mitchell’s essay appeared, more stories emerged, not only about the late Monsignor Kalin but also concerning contemporary priests — including  Father Charles Townsend, sent away last year for dubious “health reasons” but put back into parish life without warning parishioners. Bishop James Conley has been on the defensive. He admitted error in that particular case, and is having to deal with lay Catholics who are angry at him for what they consider to be covering up to protect the Church, and other lay Catholics mad over what they believe to be his unfair treatment of Father Townsend.

It’s been shocking to me to learn this stuff both about the Diocese of Lincoln and Bishop Conley, a man I have long respected. Granted, this is scarcely in the same universe as the kind of things that have happened in other dioceses, much less the horror story told in The Keepers. Nevertheless, if there’s any lesson that the Catholic Church (and the rest of us) should have learned since 2002, it’s that lies that minimize sexual abuse for whatever reason, and that leave others vulnerable to predators, are wicked, and must be cast out. A lie to cover for a priest becomes no more justifiable if it is told by a “good” diocese, or if the sin and the crime being covered for is less outrageous than systematic rape. The truth is more important than some story that we tell ourselves to keep our lives untroubled on the surface.

I read on this blog over the weekend the following comment on the Church’s mess. I know the author, who is a conservative Catholic:

I’m a pessimist on this and the catastrophe may not be the one you’re thinking of. I think one of the hopes people have for this crisis is that at least something as monstrous as McCarrick’s abuse will unite orthodox Catholics in such a way that real change can come about. If anything, the McCarrick and Conley cases have deepened divisions among conservative Catholics. There’s a large number of people who are alarmed that all the focus on the crisis will drain energy and focus needed for the new evangelization and political activism. In particular, they’re worried that taking out a guy like Conley whom Weigel talent-spotted at UD and brought to Chaput’s attention years ago to secure his appointment as auxiliary in Denver and who now as bishop contributes behind the scenes to conservative causes in many ways will damage the cause of orthodox Catholicism for years to come. If anything, this latest round of allegations has left upper-middle class Catholic lay intellectuals as divided as I’ve ever seen. And the worry is that once the orthodox Catholic united front cracks on these issues, secularists and liberal Catholics will have a wide opening to push through all sorts of changes. It’s been really hard to even raise these issues in conversation and a lot of friendships have frayed or snapped because of this. At this point, I don’t see anything constructive coming out of this.

That’s news. I had not thought about the extent to which the orthodox Catholic case depends on the Diocese of Lincoln, with its vibrant orthodoxy and relatively large number of vocations, being a showplace of how to be faithfully Catholic. If the political and evangelical cause of conservative Catholicism requires one to turn a blind eye to clerical wrongdoing in Lincoln, and poor governance by one of the most beloved conservative bishops, then what good is it? Why should people trust them with power?

By his own admission, Bishop Conley erred in the way he handled Father Townsend, who has now resigned his pastorate. Why couldn’t the bishop have been straightforward with the people of St. Peter’s parish, who had a right to know what was going on with their pastor? The only plausible explanation I can see is that he kept it quiet “for the good of the Church.”

Having watched The Keepers, I can see why it inspired Stan Schulte to go public with his abuse claim. Schulte had first gone to Bishop Conley with testimony that his priest-uncle had molested him, and Conley took it so seriously that he imposed restrictions on that priest (who denies the charges, by the way). But Schulte was unnerved by seeing his uncle interacting with minors on Facebook, and in turn by how vulnerable minors who interacted with his uncle might be owing to the shield of silence. The restrictions the diocese imposed on the accused priest amounted to saying: “Trust us” — an imperative that, in the matter of priest sex abuse, no diocese has the right to expect anyone to obey any longer. As Schulte told me:

I have been fighting all by myself for the past nine months. These unknowing parents are sitting there, with the children as Facebook friends with my uncle the priest. The diocese has not warned them about him. We have such blind trust for priests. He has access to their children. They don’t even know what’s going on because the diocese has hidden it under ‘health issues.’

I think Stan Schulte acted in the spirit of the woman in The Keepers who said that truth matters more than the stories we tell ourselves to keep our lives untroubled. I also think, though, that Bishop Conley acted out of what is apparently a deep impulse within many clergy, at least older ones: that the moral worth of an action depends on whether or not it protects the Church. And by “protecting the Church,” they don’t mean protecting the people of the Church, especially its children, who are the most vulnerable; they mean protecting the image of the Church, most of all its clerics.

You might have seen this by now infamous clip of eager-beaver Father Thomas Rosica’s powder-puff interview with Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington. At the 3:36 point, Fr. Rosica says that out of the McCarrick catastrophe, the Church now sees that bishops have to be able to care for bishops, and cardinals for cardinals. Cardinal Wuerl agrees.

This Catholic theologian had no particular person in mind when he tweeted this below, but it brought to my own mind the Wuerl- Rosica conversation:

In that spirit, why did Bishop Conley bring to Lincoln and put to work Bishop Robert Finn, who failed so badly in Kansas City that he had to resign after being convicted of not reporting child sex abuse. According to a January 2016 article in the Lincoln Journal Star:

A Catholic bishop who was the first American priest convicted of not notifying police of suspected child abuse in a timely manner is now the chaplain at a Lincoln convent.

But Lincoln’s bishop said Robert Finn paid for his mistake by completing two years of probation and deserves mercy.

Finn became chaplain of Lincoln’s School Sisters of Christ the King convent in December after serving as bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph for 10 years.

He cited personal reasons when he resigned as a bishop in April in the aftermath of a child pornography scandal involving one of his priests, Father Shawn Ratigan, and a subsequent Vatican investigation into Finn’s effectiveness as a leader.

As chaplain for the School Sisters of Christ the King, Finn celebrates Mass, hears confessions and serves as spiritual adviser to the more than 30 nuns who live in the convent. He succeeds Monsignor Myron Pleskac, who died Jan. 2.


Finn was the first American priest to even be indicted for failing to report suspected child abuse to police “in a timely manner.”

He learned in December 2010 that Ratigan had child pornography on his computer involving children in the Kansas City diocese. According to reports, Finn immediately removed Ratigan from the school and ordered him not to have contact with children.

But the photos were not reported to police until five months later, and by that time, Ratigan had taken more photos of another young girl in the diocese. Ultimately, he was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

Finn and the diocese were each indicted on two misdemeanor counts of failing to report the abuse. A judge found Finn guilty of one count and sentenced him to two years on probation. The diocese paid a $1.1 million civil fine for violating the terms of a 2008 civil settlement regarding the Kansas City diocese and a history of child sex abuse.

Bishop Conley told the newspaper that his invitation to and reception of Bishop Finn was an act of mercy:

“It is a grace to welcome Bishop Finn to our diocese, to continue his priestly ministry as chaplain to the School Sisters of Christ the King,” Conley said in a written statement. “Priests and the faithful of our diocese have told me how glad they are to have him here. Bishop Finn has been a longtime friend to the School Sisters — and in God’s mercy, he arrived just as their beloved chaplain passed away.

“Of course, Bishop Finn has faced legal issues related to administrative decisions, he’s addressed them appropriately, and they’ve been resolved. The faithful of our diocese can be confident that his ministry as a chaplain to the School Sisters of Christ will be a grace for all of us, and a witness to God’s enduring mercy.”

Emphasis mine. “Legal issues related to administrative decisions” is a rather cold-blooded way of characterizing the Shawn Ratigan affair, which led to Finn’s conviction and, after a Vatican investigation, forced resignation. Here is a summation from the Kansas City Star (9/6/2012):

Those facts included an acknowledgement from Finn that he is a mandated child abuse reporter under Missouri law. The stipulation also contained a long recitation of the now-familiar facts of the case with several new insights.
Those included:

• A June 2010 conversation between Finn and Ratigan, in which the bishop told his priest that “we have to take this seriously,” after a Northland Catholic school principal complained to the chancery that the priest was behaving inappropriately around school children.

• A chancery computer manager’s determination in December 2010 that only four or five of the hundreds of lewd photos found on Ratigan’s laptop had been downloaded from the Internet. The rest appeared to have been taken with a personal camera.

• Ratigan’s denial, while hospitalized for a suicide attempt, that he had sexual contact with children or had any images of children involved in sexual acts on his computer.

• A statement from a Pennsylvania psychiatrist, who found that Ratigan was not a risk to children, which appeared to support the priest’s contention that he was the victim of mistreatment by a school official who complained about his conduct around children.

• A note that Ratigan’s “treatment” with the Pennsylvania therapist in early 2011 consisted entirely of telephone conferences.

• A letter from Ratigan to the bishop in February 2011 in which the priest admitted having a pornography problem. “I am going to give you a brief summary of how I got to where I am with my addiction to pornography,” Ratigan wrote.

• Finn’s acknowledgement in a March 2011 email that Ratigan had issues around children. “I am quite concerned about him attending” a sixth-grade girl’s party, Finn wrote. “I think this is clearly an area of vulnerability for” Ratigan.

• Finn’s statement at a meeting with other priests after Ratigan’s arrest that he had “wanted to save … Ratigan’s priesthood” and had been told that Ratigan’s problem was only pornography.

The stipulation also explained Murphy’s decision to call authorities in May 2011. Murphy complained that he was not receiving direction from the diocese’s lawyers and had misgivings about the diagnosis of “loneliness” from the Pennsylvania psychiatrist. Murphy said he had become “horrified” of the prospect that the photographs were not merely downloads from the Internet but were images of children that Ratigan had abused.

“I thought this is just moving along with no direction, and I thought I have got to do something,” the documents quotes Murphy as saying.

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said after Thursday’s trial that Murphy had taken an important, if belated, step to protect children, and acknowledged that her office had agreed not to prosecute him in exchange for his cooperation in this case.

“But for the acts of Monsignor Murphy, we’d never know,” Baker said. “And Father Shawn Ratigan would not be in a federal prison awaiting sentencing.”

Ratigan, 46, pleaded guilty in August in federal court to five counts of producing or attempting to produce child pornography.

And there’s this detail:

In January 2011, Finn had removed Ratigan as pastor and sent him for evaluation and counseling. But by late winter, Ratigan was assigned as a chaplain to a sister’s convent and living with a group of Vincentian priests in a suburb east of Kansas City.

There was no known supervision of Ratigan and he remained in contact with families from his former parishes, attending family gatherings and meals. It was later learned that Ratigan used these occasions to take images of children using his cell phone, some of them questionable.

Ratigan was found guilty in federal court in September 2013 of producing child pornography and sentenced to 50 years in jail. He was laicized in January 2014.


The costs of Finn’s legal defense totaled $1.39 million, the diocesan paper reported in 2012. At that time, the diocese had spent nearly $4 million for other clergy sexual abuse claims.

In March 2014, an arbiter ruled the diocese had violated five of 19 child safety measures it agreed to as part of a 2008 settlement that awarded $10 million to 47 plaintiffs. In August of that year, a Jackson County circuit judge upheld the arbiter’s decision that the diocese pay $1.1 million for breaching the terms.

“There can be no doubt that the diocese, through its leadership and higher-level personnel, failed in numerous respects to abide by the terms,” Jackson County Circuit Judge Bryan E. Round said in his decision then.

Let’s not be bloodless about this. Here, from the diocese’s own investigative report (which I quoted at greater length in this 2011 entry), is what investigators found on Father Ratigan’s laptop:

Julie found the following: hundreds of photos of girls mostly under the age of 10  with  some  clothing  (swimsuits,  underwear,  etc),  photos  of  one  female between  2‐3  years  of  age  showing  full  vaginal  exposure  and  full  buttocks
exposure,  multiple  saved  Flickr  links,  multiple  links  to  young  female Facebook  pages,  a  “favorite”  to  a  spy  pen  that  allows  you  to  take  photos (looks like a ballpoint pen) and a “favorite” for two way mirrors (no longer a valid website so we were not able to identify purpose of site).
In  the  hundreds  of  photos  it  became  obvious  the  viewer  is  focusing  on  the female  pelvic  region.  It  is  also  obvious  that  some  photos  were  taken from a camera positioned under a table in which girls were sitting in their swimsuits or under playground equipment in which girls were climbing above.  There is
also a photo with a little girl sleeping and someone has changed the location
of her hand  and  clothing while  she  sleeps  to  take  the photos.    It  appears  that
4‐5 photos were downloaded while the others seem to have been taken from
a personal camera…

The photos of the 2‐3 year old female “‐‐‐‐‐‐” were in a separate folder titled
with  her  name.    These  photos  are  the  only  photos  that  were  found in which
you see full vaginal shots and a buttocks shot.

Understand that Bishop Finn and his team knew this, but still thought it worth leaving Father Ratigan in ministry, though in another assignment. The bishop made this call after having Ratigan evaluated by Philadelphia psychiatrist Richard Fitzgibbons, who, like Bishop Finn, is a member of Opus Dei. Fitzgibbons concluded that Ratigan was not a pedophile, and that his enthusiasm for pictures of little girls’ crotches was because of “loneliness” and “depression.” On the basis of that evaluation, Finn sent Ratigan to live with the Vincentians, where he got in trouble again. More from this report on his sentencing:

Three of the counts for which he was sentenced Thursday involved him touching children while posing them for pictures, according to prosecutors.

In an incident involving a 2-year-old victim in the choir loft at St. Joseph Church in Easton, Mo., Ratigan touched the girl’s buttocks. He touched the inner thigh, buttocks and labia of another 5-year-old victim who was photographed, prosecutors said.

In a third incident involving a girl who was 8 or 9 at the time, he touched her inner thigh, buttocks and labia.

“Ratigan also touched her buttocks through her clothing for the obvious purpose of obtaining more sexually explicit photos,” prosecutors said in their memorandum.

In arguing for a lengthy prison sentence, prosecutors said that after the first photos were discovered, diocese officials ordered Ratigan to have no contact with or photograph children and not use a computer.

“Within months, he was violating every one of the above restrictions,” prosecutors wrote.

Prosecutors said that even after Finn confronted Ratigan about the violations, Ratigan used his cell phone to take non-sexual photos of prepubescent girls, including pictures of the crotch area of minor who was visiting his residence on Easter Sunday.

Bishop Robert Finn’s judgment was disastrous. If you go back and look at this 2011 piece from me, you’ll see that Finn and his team relied on extremely legalistic readings of the law and procedures to justify keeping Ratigan in ministry. It is hard to conclude other than that they were eager to give the benefit of every doubt to this troubled priest, and little to no consideration to his potential and actual victims. That piece has a report on a Kansas City layman who declined to be ordained to the diaconate because he could not trust Bishop Finn in light of all this.

After leaving behind Kansas City in disgrace, Finn found refuge in Lincoln. Bishop Conley, in a Journal Star column defending the move, wrote:

I invited Bishop Finn to Lincoln because he desires to spend his retirement serving the Church. He does not have a position of authority, administration, or oversight. He has a purely religious role, in an appropriate adult setting, which he has undertaken in humility. He is not paid by the Diocese of Lincoln; his role of chaplain provides him only room and board. Bishop Finn has not ever been accused of sexual abuse of children. His ministry as chaplain does not represent an issue for anyone’s safety.

The anger of former abuse victims or their relatives is understandable. Their pain is real, and the Church has an on-going duty to help them heal. But those who have acknowledged and paid the penalty for past actions, who seek to serve in humility, and who pose no on-going danger to anyone, have a right not be harassed and disparaged once justice is served. To do otherwise is not justice; it is malice. And it is not worthy of our community.

Again, legalism! Finn served two years probation on his conviction. The concern of Lincoln laity would not be that Finn might grab their children; there’s no reason to believe that. I could well be punitive (that he wasn’t made to suffer sufficient consequences for his failures in Kansas City) and/or protective: that a bishop or a priest so demonstrably insensitive to child sex abuse shouldn’t have a diocesan role.

Bishop Finn’s primary role in Lincoln is to serve as chaplain to a group of nuns who teach in local Catholic schools. It does not strike me as malicious to wonder if a bishop of Finn’s manifestly poor judgment is a good choice to spiritually advise nuns who oversee children. Finn has expanded his ministry in Lincoln, having given a retreat for catechists, and, I am told, doing confirmations.

Is it really malicious to be bothered by the presence of Bishop Finn in a ministerial capacity in one’s diocese? Why is it harassment and disparagement to say so? It’s fair to ask whether or not the Finn case is about bishops sticking by bishops through thick and thin, or about defending the Catholic faith and the flack through thick and thin. I have no doubt that Bishop Conley believes the latter. But then, as we have seen over these last years, clericalism, to borrow a concept from Jonathan Haidt, binds bishops and priests into teams, but also blinds them to reality.

What is the role of theological orientation in all this? I wrote last week about how startling it was to see leader of the Napa Institute, a conservative Catholic organization, issue a strong call to holiness and episcopal accountability while at the same time hosting the failed Archbishop John Nienstedt, who left Minneapolis in disgrace over sex abuse-related corruption in his archdiocese. Nienstedt is a conservative, which apparently covers a multitude of sins and failures in some eyes.

Granted, the cornfields of Nebraska aren’t the same as the vineyards of Napa, but was Finn given a soft Midwestern landing from his Kansas City fall because Bishop Finn, like Bishop Conley, is a staunch theological conservative? Finn really had done a lot of good in Kansas City when he first arrived, making the diocese more orthodox — a fact that magnifies the tragedy of his Ratigan failure, but does not obviate it. Ratigan was himself a theological conservative, which makes one wonder if that had anything to do with the kid gloves with which Bishop Finn treated him.

Similarly, the fact that Bishop Conley is such a strong conservative, admirable in many ways, magnifies, but does not obviate, his recently exposed failures in Lincoln.

Catholic conservatives angry over what Conley’s travails do to the wider project of promoting Catholic orthodoxy ought to be honest with themselves. The damage is done not by victims and critics telling the truth, but by the efforts to conceal for the alleged good of the Church. I’ll end on this.

Remember Richard Fitzgibbons, the conservative Catholic psychiatrist who badly advised Bishop Finn that Father Ratigan wasn’t a pedophile?  Though I had written about his involvement in the Ratigan case, I had forgotten about it until researching today.

In 2002, I was tipped off that Dr. Fitzgibbons was one of the Catholic laity who flew to Rome before Newark Archbishop Ted McCarrick was moved to Washington, a cardinatial see. I was told that he was one of the group of Americans who warned the Vatican not to move McCarrick, because he was a molester.

I phoned Dr. Fitzgibbons in Philly back then to ask him if he had been on this trip. His answer: “If that were true, I wouldn’t tell you for the same reason that Noah’s sons covered their father in his drunkenness.”

He didn’t confirm or deny his participation in the trip, but by referencing the story from Genesis 9, Fitzgibbons was saying that protecting the image of the Church justified being silent about Cardinal McCarrick. Note well that McCarrick is a progressive, and Fitzgibbons is a conservative — but protecting the Church’s image was more important to him.

All of this about McCarrick could have come out in 2002, and been dealt with, had Fitzgibbons, among others, cared more about truth and accountability than shielding the cardinal from the consequences of his moral drunkenness.

This cover-up mentality is a cancer.

UPDATE: In a piece about Cardinal Angelo Sodano — aside from the Pope, the most important Vatican power broker — John Allen gets to the mentality I’m talking about here. Excerpt:

To begin with the clearest case, “zero tolerance” obviously implies that the direct commission of sexual abuse requires swift and stern discipline, and we now know that standard holds even for Princes of the Church due to the example of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

We also know, at least in theory, that covering up abuse by others is also a violation of the “zero tolerance” policy, meaning that it, too, is supposed to draw sanction – though proving such knowledge, as opposed to suspecting it, is often surprisingly difficult.

Where it gets stickier is when the charge isn’t committing a crime or a cover-up, at least not directly, but simply being on the wrong side of history – showing such poor judgment, such tone-deafness and insensitivity, as to suggest ignorance of the magnitude and depth of the abuse crisis, thereby rendering the Church’s response weaker and less convincing.

Allen points out that Sodano has never been accused of sexual abuse himself. More:

On the other hand, there’s little question that the cumulative weight of Sodano’s career suggests an official who’s been unwilling, or unable, to take on board the real nature of the clerical abuse crisis, and he hardly inspires confidence in terms of a robust commitment to reform.

Granted, Sodano is now 90, yet he remains the Dean of the College of Cardinals, and if Pope Francis were to die tomorrow, he’d still preside over the daily meetings of cardinals in the run-up to the conclave to elect a successor. Moreover, Sodano is active despite his age, and is widely seen in Rome as exercising significant behind-the-scenes influence through an extended network of friends and proteges, especially in the Secretariat of State.

As Francis ponders what “accountability” for the abuse scandals implies, sooner or later he’ll likely have to consider figures such as Sodano – officials who may not be guilty of a crime or a cover-up, but whose choices and statements have left many observers, especially abuse survivors, wondering exactly how serious the system truly is about “zero tolerance.”

It’s about accountability, and how seriously Church officials take the seriousness of the horror of child sex abuse.

UPDATE.2: A reader sends in a strongly skeptical analysis of The Keepers by someone who thinks that recovered memory is fraudulent.

UPDATE.3: Stephen Brady, head of the (now defunct) conservative Catholic activist group Roman Catholic Faithful, wrote in 2007 that Bishop Finn reassigned to parish work a priest who had been found by police to have a huge trove of gay porn — though no child porn. Cops investigated after a parishioner of Father Anthony Pileggi’s found pornography on his computer, and alerted police. No charges were filed because the porn turned out to be legal. But a police report was filed, and RCF investigators obtained a copy of it. Brady recalls:

In November 2006, RCF sent one page of the police report to parishioners at both parishes and included a cover letter, which stated (in part):

Once you read the enclosed information, I am sure you will understand the need to write. RCF believes, as the Church teaches, in the infinite value of each and every soul. As a father of seven children, I am especially concerned about damage that can be done by a priest who does not accept Church teaching and/or lives a life of filth. Any bishop who would place such a priest in a position of authority at a parish or school is not fit to be a bishop. He shows a complete disregard for the souls of the unsuspecting faithful.

One week after RCF’s letter was received at both parishes, Finn removed Pileggi and sent his own letter to parishioners which stated (in part):

It is with great sadness that I write to you today. As many of you know from letters sent by an Illinois based group [Roman Catholic Faithful], Fr. Anthony Pileggi cooperated fully with an inquiry conducted by the Missouri Highway Patrol last spring. …Law enforcement found no evidence of criminal activity and doctors report that he has no sexual attraction to children or inclination to child pornography.

…As bishop, I take seriously any allegation of improper behavior by people serving in the name of the Church. In consultation with my advisors and Fr. Pileggi’s doctors, I came to believe that he could serve the faithful of Our Lady of Lourdes. …Now, with the release of the internal documents of the Highway Patrol, the controversy has been magnified. Because of my care and concern for everyone involved, Fr. Pileggi will no longer be your pastor and will leave the parish.

According to the bishop’s letter, it seems there was nothing wrong with appointing Pileggi as pastor of a parish and school as long as the parents did not know of his past. Would a ‘good’ bishop do such a thing?

Strangely enough, I wrote about this in 2011 on this site, in a post asking when a clergyman should lose their position. That post began:

I mentioned in an earlier post that in the Orthodox Church in America, an archdeacon who left his position to go to California to “marry” another man was restored to active ministry after he came home and reportedly repented. My view is that even if a cleric who does that repents and is restored to full communion, he still should not be in ministry. How can he be taken seriously as a spiritual leader after that? Should one forgive him and receive him back as a fellow sinner and communicant of the Church? Yes, absolutely, no question. But not as a deacon, or as a priest. To whom much is given, much is expected.

We ought not to expect our priests and deacons to be perfect, but when they commit serious sins that speak to a graver disorder impairing their Church ministry, they rightly lose the confidence of the faithful. When bishops allow priests and/or deacons who have transgressed in particularly egregious ways to remain in ministry, it shows a certain contempt for the faithful, in my view, or at least an stunning lack of sensitivity. The primate of my church, Metropolitan Jonah, was wrong to have signed off on this when he was in charge of the Diocese of the South — though to his credit, he later tried to reverse it when this was pointed out to him. The bishop who currently has authority over this situation, Bishop Nikon of Boston (locum tenens of the Diocese of the South), is aware of it, and has done nothing.

But where do you draw the line? What are the “unforgivable sins,” so to speak, from which an ordained minister cannot recover his ministry, and ought to be removed?

I believe use of pornography is one. A pastor who has a pornography addiction, or even simply a hobby, is not trustworthy as a spiritual leader. At least, I couldn’t respect or trust him. Could you? Would you trust him to hear the confessions of your children? Me, not for a second.

The conservative Catholic writer Matt C. Abbott tipped me off then to what Finn did with Pileggi, and to Stephen Brady’s column. In it, Brady asked rhetorically if people would trust their children to play in the yard of a neighbor who was preoccupied with gay porn. I added:

No, of course not. Nor would I allow my children to spend time in the house of a heterosexual neighbor who was sexually attracted to young women and spent hours a day viewing straight porn. It is morally insane that a bishop would find this behavior not disqualifying from the ministry (and for the record, Fr. Pileggi serves today at a parish in Kansas City). [UPDATE 8/14/18: I can’t find any record of him in ministry today — RD]

The faithful in all churches — Catholic, Orthodox, and otherwise — have to be able to trust our leaders to deal with moral clarity and resolve in cases like this. People don’t want  and don’t need to know the personal problems of our clergy — unless we can’t trust the bishops to be looking out for the interests of the whole church, instead of the clerical class. There are surely some exceptions, but as a general matter, I don’t believe we can. The breakdown of trust is profound, and I don’t know how it gets fixed. Putting programs and procedures in place is not enough. In the end, you have to be able to trust the judgment of the bishop. Good luck with that. Honestly, I have never understood why a situation in which the right thing to do is clear to a garbageman or a check-out clerk is not clear to a bishop. I guess it takes advanced theological education and ordination to the episcopate to believe that a priest addicted to gay porn is still fit for ministry, or that a deacon who flees his post to marry a man but changes his mind can be restored to the altar, as if it never happened.

Once again, this is evidence of clericalism. Bishop Finn back then saw what was good for Father Pileggi — keeping his priesthood — as more important than what was good for the Catholic laity of his diocese. The Father Ratigan thing was yet to come, but the instinct to put the supposed good of the priest over the greater good of the Church was already present.

By the way, another Diocese of Lincoln priest has been removed from his post by Bishop Conley, who had previously told this priest not to be alone with females.



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‘We Need A New St. Francis’

St. Francis of Assisi, pleading to God (gabriele gelsi/Shutterstock</a)

An extraordinary e-mail from a Pennsylvania Catholic reader awaiting the bombshell grand jury report on priest sex abuse there, which will be released either today or tomorrow. She’s writing about Catholics, but what she has to say applies to all Christians in post-Christian America:

A “spiritual healing Mass” by the International Fraternity of Priests was held last week. Most of the priests present were Americans, however several were from the Caribbean and Africa. The difference between them could not have been more clear. The American priests were flippant, jovial, irreverent, constantly in motion and restless, clapping and pumping their arms in the air, full of slapstick light-heartedness.

The priest from Trinidad who delivered the homily was a sharp change; solemn, reverent, head bowed, voice grave and kindly; myself and the other Americans I was with all instantly gravitated to him. There were no self-congratulatory jokes or substance-less “enthusiasm.” What he said in his homily was challenging, memorable, and profound. I wish I didn’t have to qualify this as not an indictment of all American priests, but one cannot seem to make an observation without someone else taking personal offense and offering a counter-example, as if one swallow a summer makes. Not all US priests are irreverent or seem to feel a constant pressure to behave like a sitcom character; but many are, and many actually celebrate those very characteristics while the pews empty.

Later in the evening one of the jokey American priests shared the anonymous healing requests submitted by attendees. About three times thickly veiled references were made to the current sexual abuse scandal; his voice dropped a bit to convey seriousness. The attendees all politely cheered, as they did each prayer request, though there was some emphatic nodding.

All in all, the evening was well-heeled and well-dressed, a collection of people no doubt suffering in many ways, no doubt in need of healing, but coming together in an atmosphere of almost self-congratulatory worship. The music was particularly depressing: mushy songs that occasionally bordered on heresy, seeking emotional exaltation and release. We were diving deeper into our own feelings and desires rather than looking outward to God. I can sing along to plenty of bad hymns; I have heard guitar music done that is an aid to contemplation and devotion. This was religion feeling transmuted via advertising aesthetics. It was entirely manipulative, turning healing and belief into a product for consumption to validate the believer’s “brand.” Is this not the story of 20th century religious development?

A few evenings later around 11 o’clock I was leaving a parish festival in a residential neighborhood. Families with young children and older couples walked along quietly to their cars. About 25 yards behind me two women in their late teens walked behind me. I say walked when contorted is more accurate. They howled obscenities and threats, gyrated, leered. The neighborhood has a bit of juvenile delinquent activity, so I ignored it and kept walking to my car as these women were quite capable of violence. One saw me put my head down and gave a mock charge at me, cursing. Their attention span is short if their rage is not engaged, so by ignoring them they lost interest and did not continue pursuit. People in the neighborhood have complained about the church bells being rung; I wonder if any of them had any thoughts on the shrieking profanities in the street? A bell-less world may be more miserable than they realize.

Can you imagine an older person saying something to these young women? A figure of authority meeting these young women crying out for limits in their abandonment? I cannot; I was too cowardly to do so myself. I see it all the time, and it’s frightening. There but for the grace of God go any of us. Children left to a revolving series of adults, surrounded by the constant drone of advertising and pop culture, a nihilist society that offers them nothing but self-gratification, and adrenaline can be, after all, a form of pleasure. Shock value has its appeal.

Theology on Tap does not help these tormented souls. There are parishes working very hard to help those who are lost, but this problem has dwarfed the ability of any bureaucratic program to heal them. They are on the fringes, not loitering around after Mass waiting for a kind word. Is the faith of the Church made visible, constantly, to these people? Perhaps our laity has already retreated too much, not into the Benedict Option but into the brunch or ToT option, where like-minded people celebrate their faith over the fruits of this world. I know a lot of these people (and to some degree am one myself); while their faith is beautiful, I do not think any of them know how to talk to someone in the grips of the culture of death, fueled by the death music of XXXTentacion. Heck, I used to think I was good at that, but the changes of the pop culture in the past ten years have overwhelmed me.

We need good, holy priests, men, to go out and meet them and point them to the beautiful, to the God who alone can heal their hearts. Who is doing this? Or are we drowning our few good priests in bureaucratic paperwork?

What is the way of life that distinguishes us from the secular culture? I see very few differences, except a few more intact families and the means to commit to regular activities like youth sports. Who really believes the things it means to be Catholic? If being Christian means we have transformed our lives, have given up the world, who looks like that is really true? It’s gym clothes all the way down; the vestments of a culture whose highest good is “energy.” Energy for what, though?

The solution will not come from the laity, because the laity has been handed over to Wall Street and Madison Avenue long ago. I do not believe the solution can come from American priests, because they are either compromised themselves or under constant attack. The idea of bishops reforming things are a joke. The seminaries cleaning up their act? Only if enough influential lay journalists hammer them. That may do something, but unlikely.

The truth is, I think we are seeing the playing out of a chiastic pattern. Far be it from me to deride Constantine’s achievements, and I consider myself an integralist, but at the end we all may be paying too much attention to this world. The collapse of vestments signaled something quite real. The success of American Catholicism in the early 20th century was its downfall; it did not transform America, but was transformed by American values of expedience, materialist success, and ephemeral emotions.

When someone has fully placed their dependence upon God rather than our twitter celebrities, when someone rejects our norms and dons a sackcloth and ashes, then reform will have begun. We cannot compromise with this culture and maintain our faith. Its goods are blood goods, its works stand between us and God. Our desire for material comfort leads us to reject manna, and the repentance that allows us to throw ourselves upon God’s will. Whether its Catholic socialism or neocon free trade, our focus is perpetually on distribution and progress. Repentance, if we mention it, is something someone else should do.

If your faith depends upon standing shoulder to shoulder at your Catholic high school football game, your faith will be broken. If your faith depends upon being respectable, it will be broken. If your faith depends upon a genealogy of immigration that roots you in a rootless culture, I get it, but it will be broken. If your faith depends upon the world commending you for being compassionate, it will be broken, because who is defining what makes for compassion? I do not mean to put myself out of this equation; if Catholicism becomes the religion of 10,000 people in the world, intensely lonely and persecuted while the world offers wealth and peace, will I stay with the Eucharist? I pray I will, but I do not live my faith deeply enough to be completely rooted there.

We need a new St. Francis. Previously I thought we needed a new St. Thomas Aquinas, but I think I was wrong. The arguments of Aquinas are beyond us, drowning in plastic, unable to get a foothold. We need a St. Francis to simply open our eyes and kick us into re-encountering God once again. We need to change our way of experiencing the world before we can articulate it. We need someone who will go to the public square and hand his father back the dead fruits of the world. We need someone who recognizes we cannot be full upon bread alone; who fasts and preaches the goodness of Creation, not the glut of satisfaction after an Amazon binge. We need someone who seeks out God’s voice, rather than drowning it out.

Only a total rejection of the worship of the tools of man, of the works that are not God’s creation but our own, will bring renewal. We do not need more oatmeal mush or Rockwell-kitsch or felt banners or emotional highs or thinkpieces on utopias. The Kingdom of Heaven is here, if only we dare to put down the world, not compromise with it. We are dying of false highs and “offering it up” language. We need penance, real, severe, and public, to acknowledge that sin is not outside us but within us. Perhaps it really was a catastrophe to remove the need for fasting after Vatican II, particularly as the world had never known such wealth. We need our outward selves to match our inward selves. The laity, the bishops, the priests: we all need a new St. Francis to make visible the terms of the choice between the wealth of the world and the joy of God.

Sure, the Pennsylvania report will be a problem. But those who want the Church to be entirely conformed to the world can wait it out. The real problem is the laity has been misled, those who have the strength to be angry are outnumbered, and we ourselves are so compromised and dependent upon the secular apparatus that we do not even know where to find a sackcloth.

Extraordinary. Prophetic. Thoughts, readers?

UPDATE: An Evangelical reader posts:

An extremely powerful letter, the anguish in this dear woman’s missive is palpable. Take comfort sister in knowing we serve the one true God, never changing despite the worldly rot that surrounds us.

As an evangelical things are no different in much of the Protestant world. “Church” services are now filled with laser shows, smoke machines, and giant TV screens projecting the pastor’s face like that of a Hollywood movie star. Services are designed by church growth consultants, designed to bring in the “unchurched” by appealing to their worldly desires and impulses.

The Bible, if it is taught at all, is selectively preached with pick and choose quotations designed to appeal to the latest secular trends while completely bypassing anything considered the least bit judgmental or divisive. Conveniently ignored is the central fact that Christ was the most “divisive” figure in history, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man shall come to the Father except through Me”. (John 14:6)

Most modern Protestant worship songs are generated by a few megachurches (Hillsong, Bethel, Elevation, etc.) that dabble in borderline heresy such as prosperity gospel or “slain in the spirit” emotionalism. Much of the music lyrics lack any sort of coherent theology and are instead filled with repetitive feel good fluff. Not every song needs to be a Spurgeon sermon, but where is the substance? Every time we sing one of these songs in church (even if we are careful to choose only songs with biblically-sound lyrics) we still are contributing to these organizations through licensing fees. It is a mess.

There is a rot in the western church that extends across denominations. Our family has been very fortunate that we’ve found a traditional Bible-centered church that teaches the whole counsel of God. Our church is thriving because of its traditionalism, not in spite of it. There is a deep hunger for sound Bible teaching and worship that glorifies God rather than “services” that pander to worldly feel-goodism and virtue signaling. These churches exist but we must use our God-given discernment in seeking them.

Despite all the rot, take comfort and hope brothers and sisters as we know how the story ends with Christ’s victorious return. Trust in Him, pray for revival of His church, and look to Him for peace.

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UK Universities Attack The ‘Olds’

Cultural revolutionaries coming to set old white men straight in UK universities (John Lock/Shutterstock)

This item from the UK is a shocking example of leftist identity politics in power:

Male, pale and stale university professors are to be given “reverse mentors” to teach them about unconscious bias, under a new Government funded scheme.

Under the project, white men in senior academic posts will be assigned a junior female colleague from an ethnic minority as a mentor.

Prof John Rowe, who is overseeing the project at Birmingham University, said he hoped the scheme will allow eminent professors to confront their own biases and leave them “feeling quite uncomfortable”.

So they’re going to use tax dollars humiliate senior professors by assigning young commissars, no doubt fully educated in leftist identity ideology, to shadow them and undermine them. What a terrible idea — and a racist and sexist one.

Or … not, according to Chris Mohney, writing on the NBC News website, and contending that it is not possible to be racist against white people. 

Racism is a mechanism of maintaining an imbalance of power — making it literally impossible, by definition, to be racist against white people, or to tell a racist joke about a white person.

So, a culturally Marxist ideology that says an entire group of people have less dignity than others, simply by virtue of the color of their skin, is what is replacing old-fashioned liberalism within institutions. In some UK universities, you can be a distinguished senior professor, but because you are white, the Party has assigned a commissar to follow you to re-educate you ideologically. Shades of the attack upon the “Four Olds” feature of the Maoist Cultural Revolution.


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Omarosa Loop-De-Loops White House

Omarosa punks John Kelly (Evan El-Amin/Shutterstock)

Omarosa Manigault Newman hijacked the White House Situation Room and flew loop-de-loops around it this morning on Meet The Press, playing audio of Chief of Staff John Kelly firing her.

Nobody cares that Kelly fired her, and her credibility is pretty shaky anyway. But if she’s telling the truth about having recorded that conversation in the White House Situation Room, that’s a shocking security breach.

I know the Trump White House is a clown car, but still, this is shocking. It’s not hard to sneak a smartphone into the Situation Room. It’s assumed that White House employees have too much integrity to do that. But that was pre-Trump standards. Besides:

I’d be willing to guess that there are a non-trivial number of conservatives whose voting behavior this fall will be driven in part by weariness in the face of this kind of garbage.

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View From Your Table

Matane, Gaspé Peninsula, Québec, Canada

I have a bunch of VFYTs I need to post, and was holding them to make a mega-post. But one of you asked in the comments for a James C. VFYT to break the gloom. So, here you go. He sent this today, explaining:

An assiette au pêcheur (fisherman’s plate) with pétoncles, crevettes, palourdes et morue (scallops, shrimp, clams and cod).

Happy? Happier, at least? I am. Thank you, James C.

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The Uncle Ted Optics Are All Wrong

Quest is an LGBT support and advocacy group for British Catholics. Their conference is going on now. Matthew Schmitz points out something creepy in their poster: flanked by a rainbow flag and a Vatican flag, a child’s hand is “walking” towards a man’s:

Yuck. Whose idea was that image? What could they possibly mean by it? I’m trying to think of plausible positive connotations, but the fact is, it shows a child and an adult man coming together across a “bridge” in the context of homosexuality and Catholicism. Maybe I’ve got too much Uncle Ted McCarrick on the brain, but that is just creepy.

Father Martin, who advocates for the normalization of homosexuality within Catholicism, is having a bit of a PR problem these days:

Cardinal Tobin is the Archbishop of Newark, and the one who approved a settlement with a Newark abuse victim of his predecessor, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick — my mistake; that was Archbishop John Myers who approved the settlement. Cardinal Tobin surely learned about it upon becoming Archbishop of Newark, but he did not disclose it.

Cardinal Kevin Farrell worked under McCarrick as an auxiliary bishop in Washington, and has credited McCarrick with being a mentor. He claims to have been innocent of knowledge of McCarrick’s sexytime behavior.

In 2016, psychologist Richard Sipe hand-delivered a letter to San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy, informing him (among other things) that Cardinal McCarrick was an abuser.

UPDATE: Some are saying that the hand on the left is not a child’s, but a woman’s. I can see that, I guess, but that is very far from clear. This is a big messaging fail.

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