Being Catholic Now, Q4: Two Letters

Jenny Grosvenor Daily Beast
(photo from The Daily Beast)

In October of 1994, Jenny Grosvenor received a letter from the priest-principal of her late husband’s Catholic high school. It was obviously a form letter. It had no salutation, no “Dear…” Instead, the letter began…

We have been informed that you and your family have suffered the loss of a loved one during this past year.

Jenny’s “loved one” had died four months earlier, at the age of 32. By suicide. Her husband. The father of their four young children.

The letter continued…

Prayers were offered for the repose of the soul of your loved one at his alma mater. As the years have passed, Stepinac High School has lost track of many of her former students, so we ask that you share this announcement with all interested parties and please call our Development Office.

Now, it’s a little hard for me to imagine a priest doing something so callous and obtuse. Sending a form letter to a widow in her early thirties with four babies.

But it’s worse than obtuse. Under the unctuous veneer, the letter actually communicates dismissive contempt. Father would have shown more respect if he had simply written what he meant, in a straightforward manner, like…

I really don’t care about you or about your dead ‘loved one.’ Send some money.

But guess what? We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of the contempt involved in Jenny’s situation. The word “contempt” doesn’t even capture it. Jenny puts it better, in an article she just published: conspiracy of pedophiles.

Jenny’s husband Peter killed himself because: a criminal sex-abuser priest who worked at the high school had destroyed part of his soul. Father Donald Malone (now deceased) dealt Peter a mortal blow. Peter wrote in his suicide note: “This thing has been in me for years, it was time to come out.

And the priest who wrote the “condolence” fundraising form letter? Also a criminal sex-abuser of minors. The now-laicized Monsignor John J. O’Keefe.

In her masterpiece of an article, Jenny explains her decades-long attempt to understand her husband’s untimely death. She recounts her dealings with the Reconciliation Program of the Archdiocese of New York (about which I wrote last year.)

Jenny tells us how she snuck into the high-school priests’ residence, to visit the place where the criminal had abused her late husband. She confronted the priest running the school. He called her a liar.

Concluding her story, Jenny writes that she “wishes she could let it go, let it be.” But, she goes on:

Truth is, I can’t. Stories surfacing daily in the news and on social media of ongoing priest abuse, the Pope’s inaction, and victims’ continuing harm and suffering won’t let me.

This conspiracy of pedophiles must end. I must do something, anything to find and help others suffering in silence, to somehow catalyze the telling of stories, to ease this debilitating shame brought upon countless victims of this diabolical, predatory abuse.

In the Divine Office this week, we read St. Ignatius of Antioch’s writings. His early-second-century letters bear witness to the hierarchical structure of the original ancient Christian Churches, founded by Jesus’ apostles.

St. Ignatius was martyred, devoured by lions in the Roman Colosseum. Prior to his death he wrote of a particular priest: 

Ignatius
St. Ignatius of Antioch

I continue to take delight in him because he is obedient to the bishop as to the grace of God… Holy priests defer to the bishop with the prudence which comes from God, or rather not to him but to the Father of Jesus Christ, the bishop of all. So then, for the honor of Him who loves us, it is proper to obey…

Be zealous to do all things in harmony with God, with the bishop presiding in the place of God… be united with the bishop… you must do nothing without the bishop.

Our bishop here, Barry Knestout, opened his letter to the people of Martinsville and Rocky Mount with a quote from St. Ignatius of Antioch. Then Bishop Knestout condemned me for “pushing the faithful to animosity against the Apostolic See and his bishop,” by keeping this blog on the internet.

Jenny’s article will make people hate the Catholic clergy.

Why? Because we deserve that hatred?

Can we honestly say that we don’t? Can we find a way to be Catholic that reverences both St. Ignatius’ truth and Jenny’s? Don’t we have to find a way?

 


Nota Bene

Allow me to correct the record on one matter. It is a minor point. But Dr. Francesco Cesareo, one-time chairman of the USCCB National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People, deserves this correction.

In April of 2020, I wrote about the formal complaint made to the Review Board by the Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests, in Tennessee. The complaint asked that the Diocese of Knoxville not receive certification by the board for conformity with the rules of the 2002 Dallas Charter (which is supposed to govern all the dioceses of the US).

I explained how my friend Tom Doyle had written a brief supporting the complaint. Tom demonstrated how a “non-disparaging agreement” that the diocese had forced upon a sex-abuse victim violated the rules of the charter.

When Tom and I discussed the situation, he told me that the Review Board had not even acknowledged the complaint, much less responded to it.

It turns out that Dr. Cesareo did in fact acknowledge the complaint. He reported to SNAP that he had forwarded their complaint to Bishop Timothy Doherty of Lafayette, Indiana, the chairman of the committee charged with enforcing the charter. (Click HERE, and scroll down, if you want to see Dr. Cesareo’s letter.)

Over a year has passed since then, and Bishop Doherty has not responded.

3 thoughts on “Being Catholic Now, Q4: Two Letters

  1. Somehow, I’m not at all surprised. Isn’t this consistent with everything else about the way the church has handled abuse?

  2. I am not surprised at the lack of a response.

    While I can only speak from my experience in the Episcopal Church, I have now had not one, but five, bishops state that they will not get involved in the situation involving my former rector, Bob Malm, who committed perjury in a lawsuit he brought against me. And they have seen firsthand the facially obvious evidence of Bob’s perjury.

    The ability of church hierarchies to avoid dealing with issues they don’t like is nothing short of astonishing,.

  3. Bishop Barry’s quote from St. Ignatius of Antioch really takes some nerve. Telling a man who was ordained by a child molester to just shut up and follow the bishop?! Give me a break.

    And he’s deflecting when he talks like the blog itself is the problem, as if he’d be okay with you criticizing the Church from the pulpit so long as you took the blog down. Everyone knows his problem is the message you’re helping get out, and not the format of delivery.

    Besides, if he cared about victims the way he ought, he’d INSIST on you keeping the blog and say, “I’ll take all the criticism Fr. Mark can dish provided his online blog convinces just ONE victim to come forward so the Church can provide justice to that victim and who knows how many others.” But it appears that he, like many bishops, lives in fear of new victims coming forward. It must really eat them up inside. One wonders how they sleep.

    Can’t wait to see you for the talk Monday evening in Richmond.

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