It’s happening again. In 2002, when I was looking into claims that Washington’s Cardinal McCarrick had, in previous episcopal postings, sexually exploited seminarians and priests, I didn’t have a lot of trouble finding people who claimed to know about what he had done. Many of them told me in detail. I had absolutely no success getting anyone to go on the record making their claims, or to provide me with any documentation.
I phoned one conservative Catholic layman who, I had been informed, had made a trip to Rome with a group to warn Vatican officials not to make McCarrick a cardinal because he was an abuser of seminarians. The man audibly gasped when I put the question to him, and said, “If that were true, I wouldn’t tell you for the same reason that Noah’s sons covered their father in his drunkenness.”
That was 2002, at the beginning of the scandal that would engulf the entire US Catholic Church. After all that time, and after the catastrophic damage the cover-ups have done to the moral authority of the Catholic Church (not to mention its finances: in May, the Archdiocese of St. Paul Minneapolis announced a $210 million settlement with victims; there have been 19 bankruptcies of dioceses and religious orders over abuse) — after all that, you’d be forgiven for wondering why people in the know still protect men like McCarrick.
They’re still doing it, I am learning. I’ve been reliably informed that one very good source who told me a lot in 2002, but who wouldn’t go public then, is now prepared to do so with a journalist from a major news organization. Thank God! But most people are still keeping secrets. Everybody knows, but nobody talks. Why?
I ran across this October 2017 column in the Independent, explaining how this principle protected Harvey Weinstein for many years. Excerpt:
Weinstein was well-acquainted with the fact that so long as enough influential people continue to support you in the Hollywood film industry – so long as they rally around at the opportune moment – then you can be protected from almost anything. [Emphasis mine — RD] Indeed your star can continue to rise: consider the serious allegations of child abuse made against Woody Allen, which made headlines but didn’t prevent him from continuing to make films with the industry’s great and good. Kate Winslet is currently collaborating with him on his latest film (“I don’t know anything, really, and whether any of it is true or false,” she said when asked if the claims about Allen’s conduct with his daughter had given her pause for thought. On Weinstein this week she said she’d heard things in the past but “I had hoped that these kinds of stories were just made-up rumours. Maybe we have all been naïve.”)
Weinstein wasn’t a fool to believe that the help of his well-connected friends could quash the scandal. It’s been claimed that a 2004 article exposing multiple sexual harassment allegations against him was prevented from running in The New York Times after pressure from Hollywood stars including Matt Damon and Russell Crowe. The journalist who says she was writing the piece, Sharon Waxman, said this week that she had travelled to two countries and overcome “immense challenges to confirm at least part of the story”, but then was contacted “directly” by Damon and Crowe and had her article spiked shortly after. If what Waxman reports is true, it’s certainly not the first time we’ve seen Hollywood stars close ranks to prevent damaging news from leaking and potentially destroying another industry heavyweight’s career.
Why would people like Matt Damon and Russell Crowe protect someone like Harvey Weinstein? Possibly because they feared the consequences if they didn’t. It’s no secret that Weinstein, a powerful executive behind films such as Shakespeare In Love, Pulp Fiction and Gangs of New York who co-founded Miramax, had the power to make or break careers. The reasons why men may have worked to keep allegations of Weinstein’s sexual harassment out of the media – or at the very least remained silent on issues which clearly crossed a moral line – are most likely the same reasons why so many women who have now shared their stories didn’t do so before: fear, and the knowledge that the problem was systemic rather than individual.
If you work in an industry where accepting sexual harassment is part of the landscape, you stop remarking on it. [Emphasis mine — RD]
I want to focus on those last two lines. Back then, in 2002, and even today I hear from Catholic readers — priests and laity — who are torn up with anger and frustration over the cover-ups, but who still won’t talk about it publicly. If all they know are rumors, then that’s understandable. But many of them know more than rumors. I can tell you from reading my e-mail that even Catholics who are in the laity, and whose priesthood cannot be affected by telling what they know, are still afraid, because their livelihoods depend on not offending the institutional leadership.
Back in 2002, one of the most heartbreaking stories I dealt with was that of a woman in a Midwestern diocese who had to clean up a filthy mess on the altar of her parish church, left behind by a sex act the priest had committed there. She went to the bishop with her evidence. He outed her to the priest, who told her (she claimed) that he could do anything he wants “because I have [the bishop] by the short and curlies.” He faced no sanction from his bishop, but was finally caught abusing children. I traced that priest to prison.
The bishop who did nothing had risen in the hierarchy since then, and was leading a more powerful diocese, where he had come under severe criticism for his mishandling of sexually abusive priests. I asked the woman to go on the record with me. She very nearly cried, but said she couldn’t. She was a single mom. Her husband had left her, and their child depended on her income. She worked for the church, and couldn’t put her job at risk.
That’s a particularly egregious case, but I keep running into the same kind of thing with informed laity. Nobody in the church threatened them, but they know — or are pretty sure that they know — that if they blew the whistle, they would lose their jobs, or their businesses would dry up.
This is part of what kept Harvey Weinstein in business for so long. Earlier this year, Rosanna Arquette told NPR that after she rejected Weinstein’s advances, she “had a completely different career.” Harvey had the power to do that to those below him. It’s not even that he had to do it directly. Everybody in Hollywood owed Harvey something, or stood to benefit by staying in his good graces. So it is with McCarrick and the hierarchy. Note well that this is not just a Hollywood thing, or a Catholic Church thing; this is how human organizations and systems work.
The most interesting point from the Independent column to reflect on in light of the McCarrick situation is the columnist’s observation that potential whistleblowers who perceive that the problem is systemic, and is just part of the landscape, will be discouraged from speaking out. I hadn’t quite thought of the Catholic situation in that way until I read this piece, but boy, is it true.
When you start writing about the broader story of sexual corruption in the Catholic Church, it’s like going through the looking glass. People on the inside — priests and laity both — will tell you detailed stories of how networks of sexually active gay priests exercise control over Catholic institutions. Michael Rose’s 2002 book Goodbye, Good Men tells that story well, in a particular context (that is, the vetting from seminaries of candidates thought by gay leadership to be threats), but the phenomenon is fairly widespread, in my estimation. I say this based on countless conversations with priests and lay Catholics who have seen it and lived with it.
It had not truly occurred to me until thinking about the situation in a Weinstein framework that this is exactly what so many of those sources have been telling me over the years: that the reality and the power of these networks is systemic that they don’t see much chance of it ever being dealt with. When accepting the power of predatory gay priests, or priests who keep each other’s destructive secrets and punish those who threaten to reveal them, is part of the landscape, you stop remarking on it. Or at least you refrain from remarking on it to anyone who might expose it.
In the past few days, I’ve heard from a few younger priests who say that their seminaries had a reputation for being hotbeds of gay sex, but had been effectively cleaned up after 2002. But I’ve also heard from two former seminarians who say they left because they were sick and tired of being sexually propositioned by other seminarians, and seminary professors — and because they knew that their bishop understood exactly what was going on, and was determined not to do anything about it. This is not the kind of story that the media are eager to tell — they much prefer stories about how Catholic parishes are flying rainbow flags — but it’s a hugely important story about the internal processes of the Catholic Church.
In 2000, Father Donald Cozzens, a seminary head, published a widely-praised book called The Changing Face of the Catholic Priesthood, in which he discussed the astonishingly high percentage of priests who are gay. From a Boston Globe story about it:
Cozzens addresses a wide variety of concerns plaguing the priesthood, including “the relentless demands of pastoral ministry” and oversight by bishops, some of whom “encourage and reward an unthinking docility.” But it is his comments on sexuality that are garnering the most attention.
Cozzens did not conduct his own social science research, but he cites published studies and articles, as well as his own firsthand impressions, in declaring that: “At issue at the beginning of the twenty-first century is the growing perception — one seldom contested by those who know the priesthood well — that the priesthood is or is becoming a gay profession.”
Cozzens does not address the question of whether gay or heterosexual priests are honoring their vows of celibacy, but he does say that the number of gay seminarians is high enough to make some heterosexual seminarians uncomfortable.
“Not infrequently . . . the sexual contacts and romantic unions among gay seminarians create intense and complicated webs of intrigue and jealousy leading to considerable inner conflict,” he writes. ” . . . The straight seminarian, meanwhile, feels out of place and may interpret his inner destabilization as a sign that he does not have a vocation to the priesthood.”
This is not about “homophobia.” This is about seminarians who want to live a priestly life of fidelity and integrity, but having to decide if they can endure a culture of sexual corruption within the priesthood. Take a look at this 2011 story by, of all sources, the late Gawker, which explores the wide-ranging gay subculture of the Archdiocese of Miami under its longtime archbishop John Favalora. Their source? A huge dossier put together by Christifidelis, a lay-run group that was sick of the corruption, and wanted to force the Vatican’s hand. Gawker describes it this way:
What follows are hundreds of pages of documentation divided into nine chapters and four appendices, consisting mostly of anonymous testimony accusing various diocesan priests of wanton promiscuity and financial misdeeds over the course of Favalora’s reign. These testimonies were compiled with the help of concerned Floridian Catholics, priests and laity alike, with a great deal to lose if their involvement with Christifidelis became public. Which is why the accusations are generally accompanied by statements like this one: “The primary source for this information is the above-mentioned priest-brother, whose name and contact information will be made available upon request.”
Gawker’s link to all the documents is now dead. [UPDATE: Here is a working one.] In the report, the website says that Christifidelis decided not to release the dossier after the Vatican retired Favalora and sent in conservative Thomas Wenski to clean up his mess. But a member of Christifidelis leaked the report anyway, which is how it got into Gawker’s hands.
I googled to see if Christifidelis was still active in Miami, and turned up this May 2016 story about how its members at one parish had been chastised by Archbishop Wenski for discoveries they made about their pastor’s relationship with the parish’s maintenance man, who was once arrested for allegedly soliciting oral sex from a Miami cop. The group, which says it’s not the same as the earlier Christifidelis group, though it operates from the same set of beliefs, hired a private investigator to follow Father Pedro Corces after he fired the nuns who ran the parish’s school, and fired the parish’s janitorial staff and hired his friends. You can read the long Christifidelis documentation of their pastor’s corruption, sexual and otherwise, here [NSFW] The local New Times paper reported on the story here.
After the controversy aired, Archbishop Wenski asked Fr. Corces to resign — but also blasted the parents in the parish who led the campaign against him! From the Miami Herald:
“This unfortunate chain of events has fractured the spirit and unity at this long established parish and school,” wrote Archbishop Thomas Wenski in a May 26 letter emailed to parents Thursday afternoon. A printed copy of the letter was being sent home in students’ communication folder Friday.
But far from calming parents’ concerns, the letter angered the group, which calls itself Christifidelis. The Wenski letter blames the fracturing of the parish on a small group. “Slanderous gossip, calumny, detraction — all sinful behaviors — have fomented division in the parish and school communities,” he wrote.
Miami attorney Rosa Armesto, who has children at the parish school in Miami Shores, is representing Christifidelis. She met with Wenski on May 16.
“It’s such a shameful letter. The archbishop is not upset at what the priest has done but that it has been uncovered,” she said. “The church isn’t upset by the sins of their priests but by the fact that the faithful have had the audacity, the temerity, to bring this up.”
Later that summer, the Archdiocese said it had cleared Father Corces of allegations of sexual impropriety, and intended to reassign him. If you read the dossier linked to above, and look at the photos the private investigator hired by parishioners took, it becomes very hard to accept this conclusion.
According to the Archdiocese of Miami’s website, Father Corces is now serving as parochial vicar of Our Lady of Divine Providence parish. But the parish’s website does not list him.
Now, here is why all this is not just gossip. From 1996 to 2006, under Archbishop Favalora, Father Corces served as vocations director for the Archdiocese of Miami. He explained what he did in this 2006 profile in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:
His role was to help people in the discernment process of becoming a priest. If a man chose to enter the seminary, Corces would then act as a liaison between the seminarian and the Archdiocese of Miami.
“I would look for people who were flexible and willing to adapt to different cultures,” he said. “I would look for a man of prayer with a rich inner life and someone who loved the church.”
Six years later, testifying in a molestation case, Father Corces had to explain why the seminary staff recommended for a teaching job a seminarian who confessed many times to his desire to molest kids — and who was on trial for going on to molest four boys there:
More details are emerging about what church leaders at the Archdiocese of Miami knew about Miguel Cala and his expressed sexual desire for children before it gave him a job at a Catholic school working with children.
A priest also revealed how Cala was recruited to South Florida by a Miami priest who would later be accused of molesting children and then reassigned to yet another priest also accused of child abuse.
From 1996-2006, the Rev. Pedro Corces was the vocations director for the Archdiocese of Miami. His job was to recruit people into the priesthood and screen applicants. He is currently a pastor at St. Rose of Lima Church in Miami Shores.
What he said during his deposition with the attorney for the alleged victims of Cala, Jeff Herman, seems to suggest the Archdiocese violated its own internal policy when it came to information Cala said he shared with leaders while a seminarian.
In fact, Corces said it would have been the obligation of the person Cala claimed to have spoken to, to share that information with a team of people in order to protect children.
After leaving the seminary because leaders told him he needed counseling to deal with anxiety, church leaders offered him a job teaching music at St. Andrews in Coral Springs.
In his deposition, Corces calls it a “very sad coincidence” that the seminarian Mala was passed from working with the priest who recruited him (and later left the priesthood after child molestation accusations) to working with another priest who would leave the priesthood after child molestation accusations. Yes, a very sad coincidence.
This guy, Father Pedro Corces, was the chief gatekeeper to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Miami, deciding who would be admitted to seminary, and who wouldn’t be, for a decade. His conduct in 2016 — not in 2002, not in 2006, but in 2016 — was so outrageous that his own parishioners hired a private investigator to document it. And when they went public with what they found, they were rebuked by their own archbishop for speaking ill of a priest!
If you work in an industry where accepting sexual harassment is part of the landscape, you stop remarking on it. If you are part of a system where accepting that gay priests are going to have diverse and unusual sex lives, and look after each other in so doing, and be protected by the bishop for whatever reason, you stop remarking on it.
This is how everybody knows, but nobody says.
UPDATE: Back in 2009, the writer “Diogenes” wrote this at the Catholic Culture site:
“Hollywood has the best moral compass, because it has compassion,” Weinstein said.
That pearl dropped from the lips of Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood impressario, speaking to the Los Angeles Times. Read it again. Let it sink in.
The compassion to which Weinstein referred is directed, in this case, toward film director Roman Polanski, who is facing felony charges for raping a 13-year-old girl. Weinstein is proudly leading the Hollywood brigade in a charge to the defense of their colleague and friend. Polanski made beautiful movies, he wrote in The Independent, and there were “legal irregularities” in the case against him. Criminal prosecution for such a sensitive soul? “It is a shocking way to treat such a man.”
Whoopi Goldberg has chimed in with the memorable defense that Polanski’s offense was “not a ‘rape’ rape”– presumably because the director wasn’t actually brandishing a gun as he drugged the little girl and forced himself on her despite her pleas. You’ve heard that argument before, haven’t you? Defenders of predator-priests occasionally suggested that those 13-year-old boys were probably asking for it. And it’s true that Polanski’s case dates back to the 1970s, just like so many of the cases against Catholic priests. So it makes sense that Hollywood celebrities, who were so outspoken in their defense of the Catholic priesthood a few years ago, should now come to the defense of…
What? What’s that you say? You don’t recall hearing Hollywood celebrities speaking out in defense of priests? Oh, my mistake. It couldn’t be Hollywood’s mistake, because, as you now know:
Hollywood has the best moral compass.
The best. Moral. Compass.
[Terry] Teachout’s essay [about Hollywood defending Polanski] is especially interesting in that it provides an instructive parallel between Hollywood’s circling of the wagons around Polanski and the Catholic bishops’ defensiveness in their handling of the priest abuser crisis. It’s not simply that the eminence of the chief players puts them out of touch with the moral concerns of ordinary folks, but the nobles live and move in a world in which no one tells them the truth about themselves. Read Teachout’s paragraph below, mentally projecting it against an ecclesiastical background:
The unseemly rapidity with which Mr. Polanski’s friends lined up to support him is also a demonstration of the extent to which Hollywood is isolated from the rest of the world. It’s a company town, a place where the powerful can go for months at a time without hearing anyone disagree with them about anything. It was no joke when Mel Gussow gave the title Don’t Say Yes Until I Finish Talking to his 1971 biography of Darryl F. Zanuck. Anyone who lives in a tightly sealed echo chamber of self-congratulation, surrounded by yes-men who are dedicated to doing what he wants, is bound to lose touch with reality sooner or later. Can there be any doubt that this is what has happened to the signers of the Polanski petition? Like Mr. Weinstein, they sincerely believe that whatever they think, say, do or want is right. In fact, I’m sure that most of them will be staggered to learn (assuming that their flunkies have the nerve to tell them) that when it comes to preying on teenage girls, most people think otherwise.
How can Hollywood execs snort away the rape of a 13-year-old as unworthy of notice? By virtue of the same isolation that allowed bishops to shift the Shanleys and Geoghans and Harrises from parish to parish and victim to victim. Power corrupts. And where power includes the power of declaring when it has been used responsibly, the circle is immutably closed. If you don’t want to be vexed by certain problems, your toadies will collude in the fiction that these problems simply don’t exist.