Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Today In The Bishops’ Reckoning

Straight fire from Catholics sick and tired of the episcopate's failures

You can easily go broke betting on whether or not this or that thing in the ongoing Catholic Church abuse scandal will be the event that will cause real reform. But in 17 years of observing and writing about the scandal, I have never seen the kind of anger in the laity that I’m seeing now — and it’s all directed toward the bishops.

A prominent and well-respected Catholic conservative e-mails to say, in fierce language that I can’t print here, that he and his wife have decided that they will no longer be giving money to their diocese, but will instead direct their tithe to Catholic ministries and causes not connected to their bishop — a bishop whose name has not been mentioned in the latest round of scandal. He added that he trusts none of them now. I cannot remember ever hearing that kind of talk from anyone of that stature before.

Matthew Walther, a young traditionalist Catholic who writes for The Week, is on fire today. I can’t say I endorse all his conclusions, but I do think this level of righteous anger is appropriate to the gravity of the situation. Excerpts:

As a Catholic, I believe that the Church was founded by the apostle St. Peter at the behest of Christ Himself. I also believe that it was for many years and will for many more still remain a cesspool.


McCarrick’s wickedness cannot be appreciated in isolation. It is one of thousands of cases of evil men betraying their vows and violating the most basic tenets of morality, aided and abetted by a vicious alliance of so-called conservatives who thought that the problem would take care of itself and who cared more about bad publicity than about the souls of the young and modernists who, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, and its spirit of openness to the world, agreed with contemporary liberal psychiatrists that child rapists needed therapy and new surroundings rather than criminal sentences. This careerist nihilism and heresy were reinforced by the old-fashioned “Father knows best” prejudices of Catholics, especially in the urban ethnic enclaves of the United States.

The Catholic laity needs to wake up. The same brain-wormed clericalism that made the sexual assault of James possible must disappear — forever. A good start would be to stop responding to your annual bishop’s appeal for money. If yours is a good pastor, put a suitable amount of your week’s pay in the envelope on Sunday. But find other worthy causes within the Church — missionary work, women’s religious life, charitable enterprises, priestly societies committed to traditional liturgical practice and devotion — rather than add to the grotesque hordes of the diocesan bureaucrats. More important: Demand that in every diocese throughout the world a full account is made available in every weekly bulletin in every parish giving precise and detailed information whenever an abuse settlement is made. The reports should name names of criminals and include both dates and amounts. And more important still: Insist that in the future there be no more settlements, at least not settlements that preempt the involvement of the criminal justice system while masking the identity of these wolves.

Michael Brendan Dougherty, also a young Catholic traditionalist, writes in the same lava-heated vein today at National Review.  Below, he reacts to these two tweets from a conservative bishop, on the McCarrick affair:

To which MBD replies:

Tobin’s reaction would be appropriate if it had just come to light that an archbishop had been a scofflaw on his parking tickets. It is utterly perverse when applied to the revelation that his nation’s leading Catholic official — the public face of the Church’s response to the abuse crisis — turns out to have been a pederast well-known within the Church as a serial sexual harasser and groomer of seminarians. Bishops should not be fearing and tamping down the feeling of scandal and anger among the laity; they should be promising to boldly and angrily confront the injustice, immorality, and crime in their own ranks. Tobin’s tweets read as the shrug of a man who long since gave up on the idea of actually protecting the flock from the wolves, and has taken to telling the surviving sheep not to be too disheartened that their friends and children continue to be devoured by his colleagues.

The lack of courage is everywhere corrupting. Even in the defense of orthodoxy, I’ve heard of Catholic bishops encouraging the more obstreperous journalists like myself to continue the fight, while excusing themselves from more dramatic or risky maneuvers by saying, “I’m just a simple country bishop. All I can do is pray.” Actually, successors to the Apostles can and ought to act as well as pray. The Church calls its priests to be celibates, not eunuchs.

So the notion that sitting back and waiting for inertia to do its work would solve the crisis has always been a lie. It is an excuse for good men to be silent, to get along, and do nothing risky with their vocations. It is the way in which would-be reformers are turned into merely “collegial” men who protect the institution. It is the way in which good priests absolve themselves from the difficult work of destroying the culture of abuse and impunity within the Church. We need more saints, and very few saints until recently were praised for merely “getting on.”

Read the whole thing. MBD says that the “biological solution” of the Church being restored when the Vatican II generation dies out — a theory favored by conservative Catholics — is empty. This crisis cannot be waited out, he argues; it must be faced and dealt with actively, not passively.

Here was J.D. Vance’s response to the Tobin tweets:


Here’s something from an “open letter” to Tobin published in Catholic World Report today, by Christopher Altieri:

You have all failed us.

You, personally, and all your brother bishops have failed Christ’s faithful. You have failed our children. You have failed our clergy. You have failed the people searching for the Lord, who have a right to the Gospel and therefore a right to the Church as Christ intends her to be, rather than as you have made her; you have failed us all.

I hope you are not one of the “few”, who knew something and yet did nothing – but candor compels me to tell you that, for the present purposes, I do not care.

Your duty as a bishop is to know, and to act.

Bishop Tobin retired today from Twitter, saying that it was for him an “occasion of sin.”

Several readers have sent me this quote from St. Basil the Great (330-379), who was Bishop of Caesarea Mazaca:

Compare and contrast. St. Basil was a holy man and a true father. These other guys?

Though I have been away from the Catholic Church for 11 years now, the scandal returned to me in a personal way this evening. A reader forwarded to me a PDF copy of a letter the Catholic sociologist Richard Sipe, one of the leading experts on clerical sexual behavior, sent in 2016 to Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego. Sipe reproved the bishop for declining to meet with him to discuss the systemic nature of sexual corruption within the Catholic clergy.

WARNING: Sexually graphic descriptions follow.

Here is an excerpt from Sipe’s letter:

Bishop Raymond J. Boland (1932-2014) was a priest and pastor also in Washington, D.C. until 1988 when he was appointed bishop of Birmingham AL, and subsequently, in 1993 bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph. I was involved for several years in advocating for several victims that Boland violated when he was a pastor. The accounts of the victims are among the most horrendous from the point of view that exemplifies how deeply sex even with minors is integrated within the clerical culture.

Cardinal James Hickey and bishop William Lori [formerly auxiliary bishop of Washington, now Archbishop of Baltimore — RD] fought with particular fury the allegations that ended in the suspension of several priests and a financial settlement with some victims.

The victim quoted here from his report to the Archdiocese refused the settlement offered by the Archdiocese. The whole process from 1994 to 2004 spanned the reigns of Hickey, Mc Carrick and Wuerl.

Fr. Frank Swift (+1974) and Fr. Aldo Petrini (+late 1980s) were named as abusers.

Msgr. Paul Lavin was named as an abuser of several minor victims and was finally removed from the ministry by Cardinal McCarrick in 2002.

These D.C. priests formed a coterie of sexually active clerics from the seminary to connections with officials in Vatican offices. Some of the victims were assaulted together. Two victims refused financial settlements. Others were constricted by confidentiality clauses.

This tangle of clerical sexual abusers demonstrates the operation that infests the systemic operation of sexual activity from top to bottom. Many more facts about this group are on record. Following are quotes from the reports in files submitted to the offices of the
D.C. Archbishops and their lawyers:

A 10-year-old boy at Mount Calvary Catholic Church in Forestville, MD in 1967 was sodomized by Fr. Raymond J. Boland and then deacon Paul Levin. [sic]

The boy asked Boland why they were doing this and he responded, “God makes special boys and girls for pleasure, and you are certainly one of them.” When he saw the erect penises of his abusers he was told, “See what you have done”.

They said they were going to make him a “big boy” and show him how much God loved him. And breathlessly told him that it was, “the ultimate sign of love when a man ‘came’ with a special boy; that gave him, “the seed of life”.

Lavin [sic] said, “when I was 12-years-old that I would be taken on retreats were spiritual bonding between older men and younger boys took place.”

They assured him the pain would go away, gave warnings to keep secret and delivered threats of dire consequences if he told anyone. (He did tell his mother who slapped him and told him never to talk that way about a priest or nun.)

He made a first suicide attempt with aspirin.

Three weeks after the assault by Boland this boy contacted a priest in his home parish—Fr. Perkinson. (who was ultimately a patient at St. Luke’s Institute Suitland, MD.) [A place where abuser priests are treated — RD]

When he told the priest his name Fr. Perkinson said, “Oh, you’re the special little boy Fr. Boland told me about.” He said he had been in the military and “sex between two guys was normal”.

The priest then proceeded to expose his penis and forced it into the boy’s mouth. “He told me to lick it like a popsicle and swallow the precious gift he was going to give me.” He added later how special a boy I was and encouraged me to swallow the semen that was “the seed of Christ and the source of all life-—and a sin” to refuse. “God loves you and so do I.”

[This victim spent several years in the major seminary where he experienced and recorded the sexual connections between seminary, parish priests, chancery and Rome. The string of abusers was reported to Cardinal Hickey. Some were retired or left the area.]

While this assault was in progress the pastor opened the door, simply looked and closed it. (this behavior by other priests is reported in other instances—e.g. Gaboury, litigated in Fall River, MA; in a case litigated in D.C. the pastor seeing the boy bound and being sodomized simply said, “you will have to repair that wall”. (The victim had punched a hole in the wall while bound and thrashing around.)

Boland’s victim made a second suicidal attempt and was treated in a hospital.

This is by no means the most horrendous of the records I have reviewed, but its elements of seduction, assault, sexualizing spirituality, and self-justification under a “celibate” mantle and cover up are paradigmatic of a system of behaviors in the Catholic clerical culture.

The record of one priest abuser relates how he anointed the foreheads of his boy victims with his semen.

Another priest who was having sex with a 13-yer-old of girl touched her genitals with what he said was a consecrated host to show her “how much God loves you”.

The credibility of the documents is unquestionable and recorded in church and legal documents.

Bishop Boland died in 2014. In the year 2000, when the Kansas City Star ran a series documenting the unusual number of Catholic priests dying of AIDS, Bishop Boland told the newspaper that the lesson of these clerical AIDS deaths is that priests are human too:

“Much as we would regret it, it shows that human nature is human nature,” he said. “And all of us are heirs to all of the misfortunes that can be foisted upon the human race.”

It’s everybody’s fault, in other words. That self-protecting monster.

Anyway: Father Paul Lavin, who denied the accusations, was my pastor when I was a new Catholic living on Capitol Hill from 1992-93. He was my usual confessor, though we really didn’t have a relationship. I had no reason to conclude that he had ever been any kind of abuser, but I concluded early on that he was no kind of spiritual father, and wasn’t going to be any help to me in fighting the main spiritual battle that I, as a new Catholic and a single man in his 20s, had to face: living chastely. He didn’t seem to take my confessions seriously, and in my recollection, if ever he talked about sexual morality and integrity, it was to downplay its seriousness.

It was listening to a Father Lavin homily one day in my first year of living as a Catholic that I had a thought that occurred to me many times in my life as a single Catholic man: Why don’t these priests want to help Catholics like me? I was trying back then to repent of sins that had nearly wrecked my life prior to my conversion, and to learn to live faithfully and chastely. The teachings of the Catholic Church, and of Pope John Paul II, had been a lifeline to me, pulling me out of the pit. It was in Father Lavin’s parish that I first began to learn that if you’re a single Catholic trying to live out the teachings of the Church in your sexual life, then you’re pretty much on your own as far as priests are concerned.

I had not expected that. But then, I was naive and idealistic about a lot of things back then.

UPDATE: Cardinal Farrell speaks out, said he was “shocked” to learn these things about McCarrick:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6DcnV-R2im0&w=525&h=300]

I have no trouble believing that Farrell did not know about McCarrick’s abuse of minors. That was a surprise to me too. I had never heard that he had done that. I do not believe that Farrell never heard that McCarrick slept with seminarians. Of course it is possible that he didn’t, but I think highly unlikely, because this knowledge was so widespread in Catholic circles, especially on the East Coast. Notice well that Farrell does not specify what information surprised him about McCarrick, nor is he asked to on camera in this video from Catholic News Service. One presumes he’s speaking about the abuse of minors which, again, I find it easy to believe that he didn’t know. Cardinal Farrell will be credible to me on the broader question of McCarrick’s abuse of seminarians when and if he is asked, and answers, those questions when put to him by non-church media in an uncontrolled environment. This clip has the air about it of an “official statement.”

UPDATE.2: The more I think about it, the more I disbelieve all of this staged presentation. The cardinal seems sincere, but then again, so did McCarrick in his televised appearances. And again, Farrell is not answering questions in a press conference, or from non-church media, but is answering a question in a controlled and edited environment. At this late date, he does not deserve the benefit of the doubt.

In 2002, Richard John Neuhaus thundered at me on the phone that I should believe then-Bishop James Timlin’s implausible denials that there was anything bad going on with what turned out to be a homosexual cult, the Society of St. John (which had to be thrown out of the diocese by Timlin’s successor). I asked Neuhaus why I should believe the bishop’s denials, and he roared, “Because he is a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church!”

Those were more naive times. It is clear now what bishops do with that credulousness. Cardinal Farrell may be telling the God’s honest truth here, but I won’t believe it until he answers those questions in a less safe environment. I remind you what dear old Uncle Ted told Tim Russert on February 28, 2004: