This fresco has comforted and encouraged me for decades. Then I stepped into one of the small, dark cells in the friary of St. Mark’s last month, and there it was: the original. Painted for the benefit of the one novice who occupied that particular cell.
…Thank you for praying for a successful outcome at our meeting in Richmond on Friday.
I believe that heavenly grace moved us in a good direction. More to come about what happened, in a few days.
I rode the Metro daily for decades. In 1976 my brother, my father, and I rode the first-ever Metro train run, along with the mayor. (My dad worked for him at the time; I was five and my brother three.)
Last month I rode the train through Tuscany, where they make train cars. It reminded me of the service problems the Washington Metro experienced during the early years.
There weren’t enough train cars. The first order of rolling stock for the Metro came from Georgia. But then we waited, through the early- and mid- of the 1980’s, for a second and third order, both from Italy.
In the early eighties, you often had to wait 20-30 minutes for a Metro train to come. Then the Italian orders arrived, and everything changed: trains every few minutes. Ridership began to grow steadily, right alongside the growth of the metro area, until 2008.
(I just checked, and there are 280 cars still in service in the Washington Metro, from the order of 290 that arrived from Italy in the mid-eighties.)
Thank God those 280 old cars are still around, since Metro announced this week that the entire 7000-series of rolling stock, acquired in 2015, will have to be taken out of service for an indefinite period of time because of a safety problem.
D.C.'s Metro system abruptly pulled more than half of its fleet off the tracks after a train derailed three times in one day last week. @AdamTuss talked to metro employees who say they've known about the safety issues for years. pic.twitter.com/B6HfxSBoH9
I noted back in the summer of 2009, after the heartbreaking crash, that things would never be the same for the Washington Metro. They haven’t been. Ridership has decreased since then, even as metro-area population has risen. In 2008, the Washington Metro system averaged 752,000 trips per weekday. Then ridership began declining annually. When it plunged 85% last year because of coronavirus shut-downs, that drop actually fit into the longer-term trend.
And now this: Yesterday morning during rush hour, the system had only 23 trains running, on six lines. It is a sad, sad spectacle. The doldrums of the early 80’s have returned, but without the promise of a better future this time.
I remember watching this now-quaint little movie as a kid, at the public library down the street from our house.
[The author uses the pen-name B. Phil. He wrote this poem ten years before he began to process the trauma of having been sexually abused as a child, by two priests of our diocese. He is now trying to find a hopeful future… Thank you for sharing this with us, B. Phil.]
Not ask “Why?”
Thoughts of suicide have run in my mind
as long as I can remember, that is what I find.
I have always thought of ways for me to die-
for most of my life I have always wanted, for good, to say “Goodbye”.
I had never realized that daily thoughts of death
were not common for others, until I talked to a nurse named Beth.
The thought of having Peace, of being happy, loved, joyous and free;
I honestly felt I didn’t deserve it, NO, not me.
I have tried to die many times and in many ways;
a few attempts put me in the ICU for numerous days.
Over most of my life, I can’t remember many times of happiness
unless I was on the soccer field or in post-orgasmic bliss.
The first time I ever tried to take my own life,
I wasn’t even a teenager and yet had that much strife.
I was so ashamed of who I was and wanted to die,
I put a 12-gauge to my head but couldn’t reach the trigger…God knows why.
The ineradicable feelings of shame and having no worth or value…
not even my own family ever really had a clue.
Being swept under the rug, bullying and numerous types of abuse
were ingrafted into my life; they nearly destroyed me while trying to seduce.
The next few times were quite feeble attempts,
that is why I don’t count them, they are exempt.
I don’t discount the shame, worthless and hopeless feelings,
for they grew and grew, infiltrating almost all of my dealings.
Next came the times that no one can understand
why I lived through them…I have NO doubt that it was God’s Hand.
I overdosed two times on meds because I didn’t think that I could face
the shame and pain; ideas of the future, I never could embrace.
There is a Divine reason behind why I am still alive
for six attempts at suicide, I should not have survived.
I despised God, for a time, for not letting me die…
From now on, I am going to Love Him and others, do His Will and NOT ask “Why?”
Today we keep the Memorial of Pope St. John XXIII, on the 59th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. [Click HERE for a little compendium of my homilies commemorating the 50th annversary.]
You may not know, dear reader, that Pope St. John was actually the second John XXIII to summon the world’s bishops to Rome for an ecumenical council. (You might not know this unless you have traveled through the cities of Tuscany and read all the historical markers in all the churches.)
When Giuseppe Roncalli took the name John at the end of the conclave in 1958, he mentioned to a French Cardinal that he had chosen this name “in memory of France and in memory of John XXII who continued the history of the papacy in France” (We know about this private remark from Peter Hebblethwaite’s biography, John XXIII: Pope of the Council.)
The pope to which newly elected Pope John referred was: the pope who occupied the Chair of St. Peter from 1316 to 1334. John XXII did not occupy it, however, in Rome. He occupied it in the Provencal town of Avignon. John XXII was, in fact, the first pope to both get elected and die in Avignon.
John XXII’s predecessor, Clement V, had moved the papacy from Rome to France. (More to come on the why and how of this, plus a thorough digest of our Catholic faith in the papacy, in a subsequent post.)
Pope John XXII gave us the prayer “Soul of Christ,” which I daily recite after Holy Communion. He also taught erroneously about the beatific vision (though not in a magisterial utterance), and he had to recant later in life. William of Ockham developed his skeptical philosophy largely because of Pope John XXII’s often wild statements.
But no one despised John XXII, and the money-grubbing papal bureaucracy in Avignon, more than the aging Dante Alighieri. In Paradiso XVIII, the poet wrote of the pope and his courtiers:
Watch, [o heaven of justice], wherefrom issues the smoke
that tarnishes thy ray, that once enkindled wrath
may come on the hucksters in the temple that was
raised and walled with miracles and martyrdom.
O host of Heaven I contemplate, be heard your prayers
to aid all those on earth, led on by bad example…
Thou who recordest but to obliterate [Pope John, who was forever excommunicating people, then lifting the excommunication],
consider that Peter and Paul, who died to save
the vineyard thou hast spoiled, are living yet.
Thou can’st well say, “So ardently do I crave
Florentine coins that I know not the Fisherman nor Paul.”
More to come on the Avignon papacy. But to get to the first “John XXIII…”
You may not imagine that an old book called The Age of the Great Western Schism by a 19th-century Episcopalian churchman could be a can’t-put-it-down page-turner. But it is.
In 1376 the seventh Avignon pope, Gregory XI, finally departed France to return to the city consecrated by the blood of Saints Peter and Paul. He reached Rome in early 1377. After Gregory’s death soon thereafter, however, the Cardinals divided into two parties. (More later on why.) In 1378 two conclaves elected two popes. Urban VII reigned in Italy; Clement VII reigned in France.
Now you might thus surmise: The first John XXIII succeeded Clement; therefore not a real pope. Good guess. But the real history has more twists.
Two popes, each with a valid claim to legitimate election: the schism lasted for a generation. Finally Roman Pope Gregory XII and Avignon “Pope Benedict XIII” agreed to meet near Genoa, with both parties of Cardinals. Both popes promised to resign; then the conclave would choose one pope.
Last month I found myself on the Ligurian coast, just south of where the meeting was supposed to have taken place. When the Roman pope did not arrive, the Avignon pope continued journeying south. He made it to La Spezia (where I changed trains). Meanwhile, Pope Gregory made it as far as Lucca (where I spent two lovely days.) Then Gregory balked. Didn’t have the heart to resign as promised.
At this point, the Christian world lost patience. Gregory’s Cardinals left him in Lucca and met up with some Avignon Cardinals in Pisa. They summoned an ecumenical council there, in the sublimely beautiful duomo with the famous leaning campanile.
Yes, you read that correctly. The Cardinals, along with other churchman and reigning monarchs, summoned an ecumenical council, on their own authority. Christendom came together in 1409 (minus the two competing popes).
The Council Fathers enjoyed referring to Gregory not as Gregorius but as “Errorius” and to Benedict not as Benedictus but as “Benefictus,” in honor of his practice of selling benefices, or church offices, for cash.
The Council of Pisa condemned and deposed both. Then the Fathers chose another pope, who took the name Alexander V. (Now the world had three popes.) Alexander soon died. His successor: John XXIII.
This 15th-century Pope John attempted to hold an ecumenical council in Rome, just like the 20th-century Pope John ultimately would. But Pisan-pope John XXIII’s effort failed abysmally; hardly anyone came. Then the emperor of Germany convinced him to summon a council north of the Alps.
The Council met in Constance, accepted the resignations of both Gregory XII and “John XXIII,” deposed “Benedict XIII,” and elected Pope Martin V, who then returned the papacy to Rome. He lies now in the confessio of the papal cathedral, the Basilica of St. John Lateran.
Now, I hold unflinchingly to our Catholic faith in the papacy. (As I mentioned, I will delve into that soon.) That Catholic faith in the divinely instituted office of the Successor of St. Peter stipulates: an ecumenical council can only be convoked by the pope, or at least with the explicit permission of the pope.
We faithful Catholics have to acknowledge, however: Were it not for the Council of Pisa–manifestly not convoked by any pope–we might not know for sure who the pope is.
Yes, it’s true: the Lord in His Providence could have solved the problem of the Western Schism in some other way. Other, that is, than the Council of Pisa choosing a pope, who then had “John XXIII” for a successor, who then called the Council of Constance, which then gave us the indubitable Pope Martin V. The Lord could have saved the day by some other design, some course of events that did not include Cardinals and other senior churchmen calling a Council without a pope.
But the fact is that it happened the way it happened. Which explains why the Council of Pisa in 1409 is found neither on the list of official Catholic Ecumenical Councils nor on the list of condemned, not-real Councils.
Former French priest, Father Bernard Preynat, spent over a decade abusing boys in a scout troop. A quarter-century later, some of the survivors of Father Preynat’s crimes found each other, and they organized a group.
Their courage in speaking about what had happened to them ultimately led to the production of a movie, By the Grace of God.
All of this made the 2018 “Catholic Summer of Shame” particularly intense in France. That fall, the French bishops’ conference (known by the French acronym CEF) ceded to intense public pressure and commissioned an independent study on the problem of sexual abuse in the French Catholic Church.
The independent commission came to be known as CIASE. The Church provided 2.6 million euros; the members of the commission gave 1.2 million euros-worth of volunteer time. Their final report, released this past Tuesday, has generally been called Le Rapport Sauvé in France, after Jean-Marc Sauvé, the career government official who chaired the commission.
This sounds like our American “John Jay Report” of nearly two decades ago. But Le Rapport Sauvé contains much more information and insight. Our John Jay researchers worked only with information provided by US dioceses, and all the documents handed over to them had all names blocked out. (And let’s not forget that the most-prominent churchman involved in commissioning the John-Jay report was Theodore McCarrick.)
The CIASE in France, on the other hand, apparently had free access to all diocesan and religious-order archives, including secret archives. And the CIASE also beat the bushes for victims to come forward.
This transformed the CIASE’s effort into something fundamentally different from what the John Jay researchers did here in the US. The John Ray report gives statistics without any human connection to the victims; Le Rapport Sauvé, on the other hand, became primarily a means for survivors to speak the truth about what had happened to them.
The CIASE, therefore, is not blind to the fact that, even if representatives of the French Catholic Church wanted the Commission to be set up, it is mainly thanks to the determined action of victims of violence that it actually came to be created, and it is beholden to these people to study their cases.
International news organizations have covered the release of the CIASE report, and for good reason. These media reports have focused primarily on the statistics provided by the CIASE.
The CIASE report grants that its staggering estimate of over 300,000 total victims of sexual violence does not square easily with the number of perpetrators reported. It would work out to 70 victims per criminal, a number higher than is generally thought to be normal.
On the other hand, though, experience has taught us that almost all statistical analyses of criminal sex-abuse actually under-count the real totals.
The report notes:
Such statistics must be treated with caution. The silence of the victims and of the Church inevitably limits our knowledge of the facts.
Our friend Chris O’Leary has done a helpful short video to explain how the average criminal priest sex-abuser could in fact have 70 victims or more in total:
But Le Rapport Sauvé offers much, much more than just numbers. It appears to contain genuine insight into the problem, offered with both humility and conviction. I for one believe that this report is one of the best things to happen in our Church in our lifetimes.
The CIASE promises that a full English translation of the report will be available on-line by the end of the year. In the meantime, I offer some quotes from the 30-page English summary.
Faced with this scourge, for a very long time the Catholic Church’s immediate reaction was to protect itself as an institution, and it has shown complete, even cruel, indifference to those having suffered abuse…
It was only from 2010 that the Church began to recognize victims when it started reporting cases to the judicial system, imposing canonical sanctions and accepted that dealing with aggressors should no longer be an internal affair.
It is not that the violence was organized or accepted by the institution (although this did happen in a very small number of communities or institutions), rather that the Church did not have any clear idea how to prevent such violence or indeed even see it, let alone deal with it in a fair and determined manner.
The Church did not have any clear idea how to prevent such violence or indeed even see it, let alone deal with it in a fair and determined manner.
This past summer, we took note of how our Holy Father revised the Code of Canon Law. The CIASE, however, finds the revision wholly inadequate to deal with the reality of the crisis:
In analyzing factors specific to the Catholic Church which might help explain the sheer scale of the phenomenon, and the Church’s inappropriate reaction to it, the Commission firstly looked into the specificities of canon law, as to a certain degree the inadequacy of the Church’s response to the phenomenon lies in the shortcomings of this law.
Canon law was conceived, above all, to protect the sacraments and reform the sinner. The victim has no place in this law. Canon law, even its criminal aspect, is totally ill-adapted to the repression of sexual violence, which, incidentally, it never refers to by name. The Commission reached the conclusion that canon law is entirely inadequate with regard to fair-trial standards and human rights in a matter as sensitive as the sexual abuse of children.
Despite taking into account the reform of the criminal section of the Code of Canon Law due to come into force on 8 December 2021, in the light of the bleak observations made in the second part of the report, the CIASE nonetheless pleads for a wide-ranging overhaul of canon law in criminal matters, and in dealing with and sanctioning offences. This should begin with a clear definition of the offences in the Code of Canon Law and their implementing legislation, specifying applicable reference standards by establishing a scale of the gravity of offences and by distributing a collection of case law in the matter.
Secondly, canonical criminal procedure needs to be reworked and aligned with basic fair-trial rules, thereby giving victims a place in canonical procedure, which is not the case today.
The Seal of the Confessional
In France, this has quickly become the most controversial part of the report:
The Church must issue precise directives to confessors regarding the seal of confession. Confessors must not be allowed to derogate, on the grounds of the sanctity of the seal of confession, from the obligations provided for by the [French] Criminal Code, which are compliant with those of natural and divine law, which provides for the protection of a person’s life and dignity, to report to the competent authorities cases of sexual violence inflicted against a child or a vulnerable person.
This is not to question the seal of confession generally; but within the scope of sexual violence inflicted against children, a reminder is issued that the letter and the spirit of the law of the French Republic (Articles 223-6, 226-14, 434-1 and 434-3 of the Criminal Code) apply to every single person on French territory.
[The French laws cited require anyone aware of imminent danger of physical harm to another to alert the authorities.]
The French Bishops’ Conference quibbled with this recommendation. I think that we should recognize the point: It is precisely the inviolability of the seal of the confessional that produces a forum in which a criminal might confess everything. (And in which a victim might begin the process of speaking the truth about what happened.) Without the absolute secrecy, such conversations cannot happen.
I think this particular controversy will blow over. The French government issued a finding in 2004 that the secrecy of the confessional does not infringe on mandatory-reporting laws.
In another context–implementing Child-Protection policies–the CIASE adds this sensitive observation:
While it is convinced of the merits of such policies of prevention and practical provisions, the CIASE is not blind to the risk entailed by undue rigidity and “protocolization,” so little in keeping with the vocation of the Church–indeed with any healthy human relationship–and which could potentially asphyxiate relationships. Similarly, too much transparency can be detrimental to intimacy and lead to a paradoxical climate of surveillance and suspicion. The balance is fragile but necessary in order to clamp down on risk without distorting human relationships.
The content of seminarian training should include the importance of critical thinking, particularly about issues of authority and obedience…
During all types of catechism, the faithful, particularly children and teenagers, should be taught the importance of listening to one’s conscience with critical intelligence under all circumstances.
The recommendations made by the CIASE to try and overcome the trauma caused by sexual violence, and the shroud of silence covering it, are not conceived in a spirit of “turning the page,” because in all the testimonials–which the Commission very much hopes echo loudly through its report–the first cry is for justice.
In other words, before proclaiming “it must never happen again,” the “it” has to be recognized, acknowledged, and described, those responsible for “it” need to be designated and, in as far as is possible, reparation for “it’s” consequences need to be found.
Before proclaiming “it must never happen again,” the “it” has to be recognized, acknowledged, and described, those responsible for “it” need to be designated.
It is not enough for the Church to claim awareness, albeit too late in the day. Or to claim that the past is the past and that for today’s and tomorrow’s children and vulnerable persons the same mistakes will not be repeated. For such a discourse which is consistent with the logic of “helping” victims of historical abuse, more often than not time-barred by the [French] Criminal Code, perpetuates an attitude of non-recognition or denial of what really happened, characteristic of the Church during the period analyzed, and is used as an escape from genuinely dealing with the phenomenon.
This is why the Commission insists on the Church’s need for a process of truth and reparation and that it has to begin with the acknowledgement of responsibility which has so far been avoided.
I think the insight in these paragraphs is profound. Let’s give Chris O’Leary the last word here. He produced another video, reflecting on the CIASE report. It offers a stirring exhortation:
The patron of the Catholic parish in Rocky Mount, Va: we mark the 795th anniversary of his death today.
This Caravaggio painting hangs in the museum attached to the Capuchin Church of St. Mary of the Conception, in Rome.
I had the chance to gaze upon the painting, shortly before I flew home from Italy. It falls in my favorite category of paintings: St. Francis memento mori.
To be honest, I didn’t make a special trip to the “Bone Church” this time. I just stopped-in to kill an hour. The nondescript-looking building sits around the corner from the pharmacy where I had managed to get an appointment to have a coronavirus test. (I needed a negative, in order to board the plane the following day.)
I had prayed in the Bone Church before, twenty years ago. It enraptured me then. It is an artistic masterpiece.
This time, though, I came away with a different thought.
The graves that the anonymous 18th-century Franciscan artist disturbed, in order to decorate his unique chapels–those graves should have been left in peace. Yes, we need to remember how short life is, every day. But not by disturbing other peoples’ bones.
…Before I got to Rome, I visited a number of ancient cities in Tuscany. I encountered monuments from the 14th and 15th centuries, monuments that turned my little Italy trip into An Adventure in the Western Schism.
Back in 2013, we remembered Pope Celestine V, the last Roman pontiff to abdicate, prior to Benedict XVI.
(Do not confuse Celestine V with Celestine III, who reigned during St. Francis’ lifetime. The earlier Celestine wanted to abdicate, but the Cardinals talked him out of it.)
We have this in common with the great Florentine poet Dante: living through a period with two living popes. One reigning, one retired. Dante was 29 when Celestine renounced the throne of Peter, in 1294.
In the Divine Comedy, Dante puts Celestine V in the antechamber of hell. There dwell…
the souls unsure, whose lives earned neither honor nor bad fame…
neither rebellious to God nor faithful to Him.
[They] chose neither side, but kept themselves apart.
Now heaven expels them, not to mar its spendor,
and hell rejects them, lest the wicked of heart take glory over them.
Mercy and justice disdain them.
About Celestine himself, Dante writes:
I beheld the shade of him who make the Great Refusal,
impelled by cowardice, so at once I understood beyond all doubt that
[in this upper circle of hell we find]
the dreary guild repellent both to God and His enemies,
hapless ones never alive.
Anyway, Pope Boniface VIII succeeded Celestine V in late 1294. And thus began a dramatic century+ of history–history that unfolded, in part, in the cities I got to visit last month.
Ecumenical Councils were attempted in Pisa and successfully accomplished in Florence; the pope resided for a decisive week in Lucca; Rome had the first-ever jubilee year, with hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city–and shorlty thereafter the papacy moved to France, for three-quarters of a century.
Nota bene: Richard spoke to us here in Virginia in July. He grew up in New Orleans. His article contains hard truths for Catholics and Saints fans alike. But I think we need to understand his experience, and he helps us by expressing it eloquently.
Richard concludes by mentioning the guardian angels. Today’s their feast day.
The Catholic Church and the Art of the Cover-Up
It was the summer of 2011, and I was summoned to the office of a psychologist in Dallas by Raymond Fitzgerald, the President of Jesuit High School, who flew from New Orleans to attend. Jesuit paid for the psychologist as a part of their due diligence, to determine if I was telling the truth about my childhood sex abuse at the hands of Peter Modica, a janitor, and Cornelius Carr, a Theology Teacher at the school.
Before Fitzgerald arrived, I was very nervous. I asked the psychologist, Ronald Garber, how long it would take for him to make his determination. He responded “I already have, you cannot control the nervousness of your hands, you are rocking back and forth.” He continued “When you described to me the first time you were abused, you said that you ‘froze up,’ and that’s what all victims of childhood sex abuse do, and someone who is not telling the truth doesn’t know to say that.”
Father Fitzgerald arrived, and he showed me a photo lineup of many priests, and asked me which one was my abuser. I pointed him out, and Fitzgerald said, “That goes further to confirm what you said was true,” that there were other accounts of sexual abuse against him.
I asked if he wanted me to reach out to the other victims. He immediately responded “No!” When I asked why, he said that “some people don’t want to be found.” I ultimately signed an agreement with a confidentiality clause–which was actually forbidden by the Church, because of the Dallas Charter years before.
What Fitzgerald didn’t know was that I recorded everything…
Up until that point, there were the occasional civil suits, but the victims were always referred to as “John Doe” or a “Jane Doe.” The Church would publicly lament in the media; “Who are these great accusers who are out to destroy our Church?” when they damn-well knew what they had done and what they were doing. In that same breath, they were privately settling cases, and requiring our silence. I no longer had emotions of shame, but I felt angry and guilty. It had occurred to me that because I had signed away my voice and was summoned to silence, that I was complicit and part of the cover-up, while the Church was publicly taunting victims for not naming themselves.
That, along with a confluence of other extraordinary events, would result in me coming forward, and going public with my real name and likeness. I released the audio recordings and agreement to the press, and I was interviewed by The Advocate and Fox 8 News in New Orleans. This would be the catalyst for the scandal in New Orleans to reach a fevered pitch, as victim after victim after victim came forward, now finding the courage to publicly tell their stories of abuse at the hands of the Archdiocese of New Orleans and the Jesuit Order.
And what does a “Great Accuser” look like? Victims of childhood sex abuse live a life of misplaced guilt and shame, and thus, they keep it a closely held secret. Because it is a secret, they do not reach out for help. Without exception, all victims have PTSD, clinical depression, and anxiety disorder. Because they can’t tell anyone, they self-medicate with alcohol and/or drugs. And when that doesn’t work, and it will stop working, they commit suicide, in numbers. I myself tried to commit suicide when I was nineteen, and I ended up at Charity Hospital in New Orleans, in a coma for five days.
One of my childhood friends was abused by the same man at Jesuit. His sister walked in, broke it up, but never said a word. When my story went public, she pulled back the plunger on the syringe full of more heroin than it takes to kill an elephant, while her brother feverishly tried to beat the locked door down to save her, and she committed suicide. Her last vision was the “lovely rose” that author William S. Burroughs described.
When you sexually abuse a child, not only do you kill the child, but you kill their entire family. When my parents found out about my abuse, my Father stopped coming around, and my Mother fell into a deep depression from which she would never recover.
That is the spectrum of the damage and suffering of the Catholic Church’s crimes against our precious children, for which they alone are responsible. What’s worse, victims and survivors will suffer the results of their abuse for the rest of their lives, until they draw their last breath in the world. There is no cure for what we have, the only thing we can try to do is successfully manage it.
Later, the New Orleans Saints would be accused of assisting the Church in the cover-up, to manage the fallout, to gain control of the narrative, when almost 300 documents and emails between the organizations were discovered. The Saints claimed that they only offered advice to the Archbishop, to be honest and upfront about the abuse. That’s a simple phone call, not volumes of documents. In fact, a local reporter said publicly that while he was interviewing the Archbishop, that Greg Bensel of the Saints was present, and was shooting down a lot of his questions. A reporter from Sports Illustrated did an in-depth story on the scandal, and she confided in me that they flat-out lied to her about the extent of their relationship.
Both the Church and the Saints, with their very long train of very expensive attorneys, argued to seal the documents and were initially successful, as the court appointed “Special Master” recommended that they be sealed. But before the judge could finally rule on the motion, the case was moved to bankruptcy court, where they remain sealed today. Of course the victims and survivors were desperate to know what the documents contained. On their behalf, I asked an attorney, and he told me “Richard, I can’t tell you what is in them, but I can tell you what is not in them, and that is any regard whatsoever for the victims and survivors of their crimes.”
The cover-up continues…
The Archdiocese filed bankruptcy, saying this was to consolidate all the claims and to ensure that all victims would be compensated for what happened to them. This was devastating to the victims. I asked myself “If the Church is exempt from taxes and does not contribute to the tax base, why are they allowed to avail themselves of the courts for relief?” Well, the Church is indeed not insolvent–which is why the court and bankruptcy laws exist. A motion to get the bankruptcy thrown out on those grounds was denied by the court.
I viewed the bankruptcy filing as a litigation tactic. There were many, many cases in civil court at the time. Attorneys were chomping at the bit to depose the Archbishop. He avoided these depositions by citing health reasons, and in one case because the weather was bad. When the Archbishop was finally compelled and ordered to testify by the court, the Bankruptcy case was promptly filed. Now the Archbishop doesn’t have to testify after all, and all those cases become moot and moved to the Bankruptcy court, where they will settle with the victims for pennies on the dollar. All that effort and work by the attorneys, the pain and suffering of the victim’s participation in these cases–all destroyed. Justice denied once more.
Victims were granted a very short period to file their claim in the Bankruptcy. I asked several of them why they didn’t file in time, and they confessed to me that writing down their accounts of their abuse was re-traumatizing, and they simply did not have enough time to painfully describe the horrors they endured at the hands of the Church. If you believe that all the victims in the Bankruptcy are accounted for, I can confidently look you in the eye and proclaim that is simply not true.
The cover-up is well-established…
When I co-founded Survivors of Childhood Sex Abuse (SCSA), we quickly learned of a courageous state representative, the Honorable Jason Hughes, had introduced a house bill asking for the civil Statute of Limitations to be extended from 10 to 35 years for sexual abuse committed against children. IRS code states that a Nonprofit 501(c)(3) like SCSA can lose their tax-exempt status for lobbying legislation. But it did not preclude us from sending busloads of survivors willing to testify before House and Senate committees. Their testimonials were devastating and very compelling.
During the House committee hearing, those present were allowed to submit their support or opposition to the bill, by filling out either a green card for support, or a red card for opposition. At the end of hearing, the cards are tallied and read out loud. A priest in the gallery seemed nervous. Green card and after green card was read. At the end, a single, lone red card was read, filed by the priest on behalf of a council of Bishops in Louisiana, of which Archbishop Aymond is the Chairman. The priest sunk in his chair. Not even the very powerful Insurance lobby, who would have to pay for these claims, opposed the bill.
The bill was adopted unanimously, and we got more than we asked for; the Legislature eliminated the Statute of Limitations for sex crimes against children completely, and they included a “look back window” for three years, allowing all previous victims an opportunity for justice. Governor Edwards signed the bill into law. In response, the Archbishop, knowing full-well what he had done in opposition to the bill–which is now a matter of public record–released the following official statement:
“As a Church we remain committed to doing all that we can for the healing of survivors of abuse. This legislation allows those abused not only in churches and schools but in their families, playgrounds, workplaces, youth organizations, and other public businesses where children and teenagers should be safe to pursue their claims in court regardless of when it occurred.”
The cover-up of the cover-up is self-evident…
That, in essence, is the playbook of the Archdiocese, the Archbishop of New Orleans, and the other Orders of the Church: to conceal their crimes and escape responsibility. I never thought I would see the day when the cover-up would actually eclipse the initial acts of sex abuse. What’s even more frustrating is that the survivors are the very ones who are doing the heavy lifting required to fight this abuse. We will no longer make the distinction between those who assist, are complicit, or cover up these crimes, and the Church who committed these crimes against our children in the first place. We will hold you in the same pathetic esteem as the Catholic Church itself.
Greg has blood on his hands. He is directly responsible for his own actions and that of his Church, in their intentional crimes which are the institutionalized, systematic, and the wholesale rape of our precious children. I do not call the Archbishop by his first name out of disrespect, but to emphasize that he is human, and he and the victims and survivors will both be judged by the same criteria when we are all delivered to Saint Peter by the loving arms of the Angels. The only unanswered question remaining is who will get the clouds, and who will get the coals?
I have received a notice from Bishop Knestout. He intends formally to charge me with two canonical “delicts,” that is, Church crimes. He tells me that he intends to pursue an “extrajudicial penal process.” (Not sure what that means.) He intends to “resolve my situation” by “invoking II Special Faculty.” (Don’t know what that means, either.)
The charges are: 1. disobedience 2. incitement.
According to the canon, disobedience = “not complying with the legitimate precepts or prohibitions of the Apostolic See or the ordinary [ie. bishop].”
Precept. I believe that, in November 2019, Bishop Knestout signed a ‘precept’ concerning this blog. On the 21st of that month, the bishop surprised me after daily Mass and read at least part of that precept to me.
The situation that day was far from calm; I did not catch every word of what the bishop was reading to me. I didn’t worry about that, though, because I assumed that I would receive a written copy.
When bishop finished reading, however, he informed me that I would not receive a copy of the document. I was dumbfounded.
I am assuming that the Bishop intends to accuse me of disobeying this particular precept of November 2019, in this “penal process” now begun. I certainly hope that I will have the opportunity to hold the document in my own hands and read it with my own eyes, before I am put on trial for disobeying it. I hope that I will have some time to consider its contents carefully.
None of us are in the dark, though–at least I don’t believe we are–about the basic thrust of this mysterious document. The precept compels me, under pain of losing the office of pastor in Martinsville/Rocky Mount, to remove this blog from circulation entirely and to withdraw completely from publishing anything.
In March of last year (2020), my canon lawyer wrote to Bishop Knestout, pointing out that I needed more information from him in order to understand his problems with this blog and to make adjustments to satisfy him. We never received any response to my lawyer’s letter.
Then last summer my lawyer argued that the precept in question appears not to be in harmony with the teaching of the popes, when it comes to priests using the internet to communicate.
My lawyer made this distinction:
On the one hand, we acknowledge the prerogative the bishop has to guide me in what I would publish here. I have, in fact, repeatedly sought such guidance. On the other hand, the bishop’s demand that I cease entirely to communicate over the internet violates my basic freedom as a human being, and it contradicts the law and the teaching of the Church.
This past March, I wrote to Bishop Knestout. I re-iterated my offer to work with him–or with someone delegated by him, or with anyone approved by him–to try to solve the problems that this blog has caused in our relationship. I remain willing, as I have been all along, to correct any errors I have published here. I expressed my desire to serve the diocese in some priestly ministry that might be helpful.
Bishop Knestout responded by urging me to seek laicization. Then he informed me that he himself had petitioned the Holy See to expel me from the clergy.
Apparently that petition was returned to Bishop Knestout at some point this summer, without any action taken on it in Rome. Perhaps because I have never been given due process and the opportunity to defend myself. Indeed, I have never been clear on what exactly the bishop believes I have done wrong, other than continuing to keep this weblog in existence.
To return to the charges that have now, at long last, been made a little more clear… The second one is brand new. I don’t have any record of the bishop ever accusing me of incitement, until last week.
According to the canon, the crime of incitement = “publicly stirring up hostilities or hatred against the Apostolic See or an ordinary [bishop] on account of some act of ecclesiastical power or ministry, or inciting subjects to disobey.”
I have no awareness whatsoever of ever having done this.
I have freely shared my own point-of-view, on topics that cause a lot of thoughts and emotions. But I believe that I have always left it to you, dear reader, to determine how you react to what I write.
For my part, I bear no ill will towards Pope Francis or Bishop Knestout. To the contrary, I pray for both of them with love every time I celebrate Holy Mass. I have at times been angry with both of them, but that anger cooled long ago.
It seems to me that expressing yourself in a proper forum about highly debatable matters of Church governance ≠ incitement to hatred or disobedience.
I do not think that I myself have wrongly disobeyed; I know for certain that I have never urged anyone to disobey the Church’s law or any particular ordinance of Bishop Knestout.
Two weeks from today my canon lawyer and I will meet with the bishop and Judicial Vicar to initiate this “extrajudicial process.” I pray for humility and honesty. Apparently the bishop will present evidence to support his charges; may I have a mind open to see the whole matter as clearly as possible.
If I have in fact done wrong in the ways that the bishop contends, I pledge myself to do whatever I can to repair the damage.
Today we keep the anniversary of St. Therese of Lisieux’s holy death. On the day of the meeting in Richmond, we will remember Therese’s spiritual mother, St. Theresa of Avila. Let’s pray to these two Doctors of the Church. May a miracle of peace and mutual understanding occur.