John XXIII, Old and New

John XXIII Vatican IIToday 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.)

Some background:

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.

Age of the Great Western Schism Clinton Locke

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.”

dante

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.

20210914_071920.jpg

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.

Pisa duomo and tower

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.

st john lateran painting

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.

Hamlet’s Ghost Inside Chris O’Leary

10026065~Hamlet-Speaks-with-His-Father-s-Ghost

Shakespeare’s Hamlet begins like this: A terrible crime lies hidden. Brother has secretly killed brother, and the killer has gotten away with it. Life in Denmark continues, as if nothing evil has happened. The murderer has inherited the crown, and insists that things proceed happily as before. Everyone conforms; even the widow queen agrees to marry the secret murderer.

Everyone conforms, that is, except young Hamlet. He languishes in grief. And the murdered man’s ghost doesn’t conform, either. He haunts the cold Danish nights.

In other words, some interior force of nature rebels at the patina of normalcy. It won’t allow such a terrible injustice to remain hidden. A crime like this cannot pass un-reckoned into forgetfulness and oblivion. So the ghost’s weary footsteps shake the earth, drawing young Hamlet into the hidden mystery of what actually happened.

Sacrificed Chris O'LearyHamlet perceives the ghost of his murdered father and hears his demand for justice.

But is it real? Can the young man trust his midnight vision? How can he prove to himself that the ghost speaks true? This force from beyond the shaky peace of day-to-day life has confirmed something that the prince vaguely suspected. But how to make sense of it? What really happened?

The drama of the play then unfolds, and the royal family convulses through a confused agony of reckoning.

At 35 years of age, Chris O’Leary had fond childhood memories of Father Leroy Valentine. Two-and-a-half decades earlier, Father Valentine had made the young Chris feel special, paid attention to him, gave him fun things to do–when Chris’ father was distracted making partner at his law firm.

But something was rotten in the Denmark of Chris’ grown-up soul. He had anxiety about living in his hometown of St. Louis, but he couldn’t move away for good, either. He had zig-zagged through his twenties, never quite settling down and developing his career.

In March of 2002, after the Boston Globe uncovered the decades’-long sex-abuse cover-up in the Archdiocese of Boston, the New York Times ran an article on the subject. The article mentioned Father Leroy Valentine of St. Louis. Father groomed his victims by paying special attention to them when their dads were absent. He started with wrestling and proceeded to sodomy. (The article also mentioned that Valentine denied having done anything wrong.)

Boston Globe 2002Chris saw the article, reprinted in a St. Louis paper. He wondered, ‘Might Father V have abused me, and I can’t clearly remember? But he’s one of my favorite people on earth! How could he have done that?’

Chris called the Archdiocese of St. Louis. The new auxiliary bishop, Timothy Dolan, called him back. Chris’ old friend. Father Dolan had lived in the parish rectory with Father Valentine, when Chris was finishing elementary school.

“Bishop Dolan, maybe Father V molested me? I have memories of wrestling moves that touched my privates, and of being on Father V’s couch…”

“No way, Chris! I know Father Valentine–have known him since seminary. He could never do anything like what they say he did.”

So Chris thought: Ok, that’s that. Cross that one off the list of possible reasons why I can’t think straight, or remain calm with my wife and kids, or get along with my older boss. My memories, thank God, do not mean that I was molested by my favorite priest. Phew. Maybe I have Asperger’s or adult ADHD.

Case closed? No. The Hamlet’s ghost within Chris would not–could not–tolerate a heinous crime passing into forgetfulness and oblivion.

Chris had a panic attack at his daughter’s first confession. Then at his son’s first confession a couple years later. Then he saw an altar boy in a cassock and surplice–like he himself had worn, serving for Father V years earlier–and Chris had a psychological meltdown worthy of Prince Hamlet himself.

Twelve years had passed since Chris’ conversation with Bishop Dolan. By relentless investigation, Chris discovered that the bishop had received two other phone calls from victims of Leroy Valentine that same month, March, 2002.

The Archdiocese knew that Valentine was guilty. They just didn’t tell Chris. A force of nature inside Chris told Chris, over the course of a decade of agony.

Foul deeds will rise, though all the earth o’erwhelm them, to men’s eyes. (Hamlet, Act I, scene 2.)

SCG: Anointing, Holy Orders + An Emmy?

Fra Angelico ordination

Extreme Unction:

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 73

Holy Orders:

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 74

Back in February of 2020, Kerri O’Brien of ABC8 News in Richmond came to visit St. Joseph’s in Martinsville, to report on the situation.

They have nominated Kerri and her producer for an Emmy Award for the report! Congratulations. Hope you win it, Kerri 🙂

A Case Study in Group Self-Deception

[This is Part III of the series of posts about the Rodney-King beating that I am doing in honor of my father, on the fifteenth anniversary of his death. Click for: Part I and Part II.]

On March 3, 1991, three Los Angeles police officers–under the supervision of a fourth–beat Mr. Rodney King with batons and kicked him.

King never fully recovered from the injuries he suffered.

George Holliday made a video of the beating, as he stood on his apartment balcony across the street. His video became world-famous. Holliday, however, was not the only witness from that building.

Another resident saw what happened from his balcony, and he also had a video camera in his apartment. But he thought of the camera too late and only managed to capture the aftermath of the beating. Other residents of the building just watched with horror from their balconies.

They were all shaken and disgusted by what they saw. All of them.

Last month, in the prosecution’s closing argument in the Derek Chauvin case, attorney Steve Schleicher spoke to the jury, who had seen multiple videos of George Floyd being killed. Schleicher said: “Believe your eyes.”

In 1992, prosecutor Terry White used the same words in his closing argument before the jury in Simi Valley, California. They had seen Holliday’s video.

“Believe your eyes,” White told them.

In Minneapolis last month, the jurors did believe their eyes, and they convicted the criminal of the crime. Three decades ago, however, the jurors did not convict, and riots ensued.

Why didn’t the jury convict the officers that assaulted Mr. King? What had happened during that trial in Simi Valley?

ap_9103140118

In the last post on this topic, we considered the change of judge and “venue” for the trial.

The California Appeal Court ordered the trial moved out of Los Angeles County. The new judge, Stanley Weisberg, chose the brand-new east-county courthouse in neighboring Ventura County. The idea was to find jurors less involved in Los-Angeles politics, and thereby more capable of impartiality.

They did not, in fact, find such jurors. As Marvin Zalman and Maurisa Gates put it, in a Cleveland State Law Review article:

The court asked whether the defendants could have received a trial by an impartial jury within Los Angeles when it should have asked whether the defendants could have received a trial by an impartial jury anywhere in the state. By not thinking what “impartial” meant in a situation like the Rodney King case, the Court of Appeal simply replaced the demographics, values, and prejudices of Los Angeles County by those of another place, which turned out to be Ventura, just over the county line.

Moving the trial from Los Angeles County to Ventura County influenced the outcome: it favored the defense. In fact, the venue change influenced the outcome so decisively that many observers came to regard it as the crucial fact for understanding the not-guilty verdict.

Consider this:

The federal government put the officers on trial a second time the following year. Wasn’t that “double jeopardy?” Our U.S. Constitution prohibits re-trying someone for the same crime a second time.

The American Civil Liberties Union has traditionally opposed any possible instance of double jeopardy. But the Southern-California chapter of the ACLU supported the second, federal trial anyway, on the grounds that the Simi Valley jury was not a true jury, because of the wrongful change of venue. Therefore the first trial was not really “jeopardy” for the officers. So the federal trial did not involve double jeopardy.

An interesting argument.

But the actual facts of the trial tell a different, more-complicated story. The change of venue did not, in and of itself, determine the outcome.

For one thing, the Simi Valley courthouse actually sat closer to the scene of the crime than the courthouse in downtown L.A. The beating took place in the suburbs.

Historians and legal scholars have lamented the absence of black jurors on the Simi-Valley jury. But there was never any guarantee that any black jurors would wind up in the jury box in L.A. county, either.

And, according to multiple accounts: Most, if not all, of the Simi Valley jurors showed up on Day One of the trial thinking that the four police officers were guilty of assault.

The jurors arrived thinking that because they had seen the videotape, just like most Americans had.

police night stick batonThe videotape shows, with very little ambiguity, that officers Powell, Wind, and Briseno assaulted King for no good reason, and they did it under Koon’s supervision.

Not only that. Other evidence supported the conclusion that the officers had committed a crime. This evidence had found its way to the general public, before the trial started.

Officer Powell had, in a conversation with another officer earlier that evening, referred to blacks as “gorillas.”

After the beating, he sent a text message to the same officer: “Oops… I haven’t beat anyone that bad in a long time.”

After the arrest, Powell and Wind took King to the hospital, where nurses treated him for his extensive injuries. With nurses listening, Powell talked to his victim about Dodgers’ Stadium, then referred to the game of ‘hardball’ that they had just played.

In other words, additional damning evidence supported the idea that George Holliday had captured on film an accurate depiction of what had occurred. A group of thugs in uniform, legally carrying the weapons they used, beat a defenseless man nearly to death.

Now, King had indeed evaded a legitimate traffic stop–because he had violated his parole by speeding on the highway, and he panicked.

The thugs took the opportunity that situation presented, and they beat up a defenseless person, on the pretext that he did not immediately obey their commands. (King likely did not hear their commands at all; one of the parked squad cars had its siren blaring, and a police helicopter circled overhead.)

The officers had no doubt in their minds that they could get away with it. They held all the cards, after all.

Then, however, KTLA put Holliday’s video on air. The officers now found that they had to concoct an explanation for what everyone had seen with their own eyes. They had to come up with an alternate storyline, one that would keep them out of jail.

In the initial episode, they had brazenly beaten their victim. Now they proceeded brazenly to pull off a magnificent deception, all in accord with correct judicial procedure.

Four Los Angeles police officers

Sergeant Stacy Koon took the stand first, as the defense began to make its case in the Simi Valley courthouse, a year after the beating had occurred.

As Koon testified, he studiously avoided using the word “he” to refer to King. He repeated “Rodney King” over and over.

At one point in his testimony, Koon referred to King as a “bear” with super-human “Hulk-like” strength.

Referring to the parts of the videotape in which King writhes around on the ground under the officers’ baton blows, Koon never said that King “bent” his leg, he always said that King “cocked” his leg, like a gun.

(Koon’s attorney went on to say, in closing argument, that Rodney King appeared to the officers like “something out of a monster movie.”)

Koon told the jury that the officers had concluded that King was high on the street drug PCP (a psychoactive drug that had been popular in big cities in the mid-1980s). Koon held firm to this, even though PCP was never found in King’s system. The sergeant insisted to the jury: what mattered was, we thought he was high on PCP; we thought he was “dusted.”

The officers feared for their lives, Koon said. He then proceeded to regale the jurors with urban legends about PCP users. They can have a death grip. They can kill without remorse.

Then Koon told the jury that King attacked officer Laurence Powell.

(There was never any clear evidence of this.)

Rodney King had control of the situation, not us. If I hadn’t Tased him, I would have had to shoot him. If we hadn’t used our batons, we would have had to use our guns.

We were reacting appropriately, according to procedure, according to training. We had to subdue a dangerous ex-con. We had no choice.

Sergeant Koon took full responsibility for the actions of the subordinate officers, including the other three defendants. But Koon would not take responsibility for the beating captured on the the videotape.

Rodney King is responsible for what happened.

Koon did everything he could to project an air of professionalism. He emphasized his extensive experience and the wisdom he had gained over his years on the street. He explained the proper procedure for “escalation and de-escalation of force” in the course of making an arrest.

(Sergeant Koon went on to publish a book which argued that the LAPD’s prohibition of the “choke hold” caused the Rodney King beating.)

Koon got the jury to begin doubting their own eyes. As the jury forewoman, Dorothy Bailey, would later put it, in her memoir of the trial:

Sergeant Koon gave us a complete, detailed account of what happened. It was the first time that I had seriously considered the officers’ perceptions and their possible fears…

There’s no superhuman strength, because there’s no such thing as super-humans. Those exist in comic books.

–Steve Schleicher, talking about George Floyd in his closing argument last month, at the Derek Chauvin trial

[More to come on this.]

 

“By Strong Hand and Terms Compulsatory”

William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act I, scene 1

[This is Part II of my series in honor of my dad, on the fifteenth anniversary of his death. Click HERE for Part I.]

Rodney King tape

During the midnight hour on Sunday, March 3, 1991, three Los Angeles patrol officers brutally beat a defenseless man. The three officers acted under the direction of a sergeant.

The officers’ names are: Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, and Theodore Briseno. The sergeant was Stacey Koon. The defenseless man was Rodney Glenn King.

George Holliday made a video of the beating, from the balcony of his apartment across the street.

King had two passengers in the car with him. The police detained the passengers at the scene briefly, but then released them without taking them anywhere.

Holliday must have crossed the street and told the passengers–Rodney King’s friends–that he had videotaped the beating. One of the passengers told King’s brother, Paul, about the videotape.

The following day, both Paul King and George Holliday went to the police to report the unlawful beating. Paul King mentioned the videotape.

Both complaints were immediately filed as “requiring no further attention” by the LAPD. Holliday and Paul King knew they had been totally blown off.

So Holliday then took his videotape to KTLA, and within 36 hours the rest of America had seen the beating on the news.

For freedom Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1). But a criminal forfeits that freedom and subjects him- or herself to compulsion. By lawful authority.

Four Los Angeles police officers
The officers awaiting arraignment on Friday, March 22, 1991 (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

I.

Rodney King had subjected himself to compulsion by lawful authority, in the midnight hour of Sunday, March 3.

A California Highway Patrol vehicle saw King’s Hyundai going 120 mph on the San Fernando Freeway. The officers tried to pull King over. He had a duty to obey, to stop on the shoulder. He did not do so. He led the officers, and other patrol cars that joined in pursuit, on an eight-mile chase.

By doing this, King apparently committed the crime of “felony evading.” (He was never charged for this, or any other crime.) When King finally pulled over, next to a park, the officers in pursuit identified the situation as a “high-risk stop.” Which means that they had the right, in the interest of their own safety, to order all the occupants of King’s car to get out with their hands up. King and his two friends had a duty to obey such an order.

At this point in the unfolding story, we reach the moment where we might question the way the officers tried to compel King and his passengers, under the color of lawful authority.

It apparently was the policy of both the California Highway Patrol and the LAPD, at “high-risk stops,” to order the motorist and passengers to lie down flat on the pavement, arms spread wide, face turned away from the approaching officer.

police night stick batonThis was to allow for a relatively low-risk approach by the officer, to handcuff the motorist, and any passengers.

(Whether or not this policy of demanding a “prone position” has changed since 1991, I do not know.)

Granted, if you have led police officers on an eight-mile high-speed chase, I think we can say that you have forfeited your bodily freedom at least for the moment, and you must submit to handcuffing.

But ordering someone to lie down, prone on the asphalt, face turned away? Maybe that crosses a line out of the realm of officer safety and into the realm of undue humiliation?

Anyway, as a practical matter: At about 12:40am on March 3, 1991, Rodney King did not comply with the order to lie prone on the ground, and for good reason.

For one thing, King likely did not hear the order over the sound of the helicopter overhead. Secondly, he would have had trouble understanding the word “prone,” even if he did hear the order. Lastly, while he did get down on all fours, he did not appear able to lie the whole way down. Was it because he was too proud? Maybe. Was it because he was intoxicated and confused? Almost certainly.

King never made any violent action; he posed no threat. He never even directly evaded getting handcuffed. He was pretty clearly drunk and confused. And then suddenly he was in fear for his own life.

II.

Officers Powell and Wind proceeded to beat King mercilessly with their metal batons. Officer Briseno kicked him. Sergeant Koon gave the orders.

scales_of_justiceAs we mentioned, George Holliday captured it on tape. The overwhelming majority of the people who saw the tape in the ensuing days regarded the police officers’ actions as criminal.

According to two different polls, 90% of the residents of Los Angeles County saw Holliday’s videotape, and 92% of those who had seen it believed the officers had used excessive force. Eighty percent thought the officers had committed a crime.

The officers, in other words, put themselves into the position that Rodney King had put himself in, by speeding on the freeway and not pulling over. The officers made themselves subject to compulsion by lawful authority.

Lawful authority did not respond with violence this time, but with due process. An L.A.-County grand jury indicted the four officers for criminal assault.

Due process requires a fair trial. The long, hot summer of 1991 saw some stunning developments in the pre-trial business.

California County map

III.

I don’t know who made the decision to try all four officers together. I don’t know if putting them on trial separately was ever even considered as an option.

The decision in Minneapolis last year to try Derek Chauvin separately from the other officers involved in George Floyd’s murder–that certainly seems like a wise decision, indeed.

The circumstances in L.A. three decades ago were different. Sergeant Koon never personally laid a hand on Rodney King. He did, however, order his officers to beat the defenseless man mercilessly.

I would say that putting all four officers on trial together proved to be the first, and probably greatest, of the prosecution’s mistakes. That is, if it was their mistake. Perhaps it was simply a fait accompli, for legal reasons I don’t understand.

By putting the officers on trial together, the prosecutors wound-up having to contend with four different, highly skilled defense lawyers. The defense ultimately managed to dominate the trial. If the officers had been tried separately, maybe that wouldn’t have happened.

The Superior Court of Los Angeles County assigned the case of People v. Powell et al. to Judge Bernard Kamins. (In California, the trial courts are called “Superior” courts.)

The defense immediately petitioned to have the trial moved outside of Los Angeles, on the grounds that the officers could not get a fair trial there.

At that time, Los Angeles County had 6.5 million eligible jurors. For the officers to have received a fair trial in that county, the court would have had to find twelve among those 6.5 million who could listen impartially to testimony and review evidence, leaving a final conclusion about guilt or innocence until the end.

Jurors must presume criminal defendants to be innocent of the charges against them, then wait to see or hear proof, proof that overcomes every reasonable doubt about the defendant’s guilt.

California law stipulates that a criminal trial should occur in the county where the crime took place, unless a compelling reason calls for a “change of venue.”

The defense argued that the daily news coverage of the event had “contaminated” the objectivity of the L.A.-County jury pool.

Judge Kamins concluded that this was not a compelling reason to move. Because: the same could be said about the jury pool in every county in California.

They simply could not conduct the trial in a county where the potential jurors would show up for duty not having heard about the case. No such county existed. Therefore, this was no reason to change the venue.

Los Angeles Superior Court

…As spring turned into summer, Judge Kamins became ever more eager to move the trial forward.

I don’t presume to know the judge’s mind, but what little I know about the steps he took lead me to see him as a humble, practical man. He recognized that the best thing for everyone involved was to move the trial forward as expeditiously as possible. But the judge’s humble practicality got him into trouble.

The defense insisted on a change of venue and appealed over Judge Kamin’s head, to the California Court of Appeal.

Kamins had set June 19 as the day to begin the trial. On June 12, the Appeal Court put an “indefinite stay” on moving forward with jury selection, until the higher court had considered the defense petition for a change of venue.

Kamins tried to negotiate his way out of the impasse by putting a possible change of venue back on the table for discussion by the parties. The judge communicated informally, departing from the strict rules that govern court communications. It seems clear that Kamins did this in order to get the trial moving sooner rather than later. But his effort backfired completely.

The defense petitioned to have Judge Kamins removed, on the grounds that his off-the-cuff communications had given the impression that he was partial to the prosecution.

In high summer 1991, the California Court of Appeal made two decisions that deserve to go down in infamy.

On July 23, the Appeal court unilaterally ordered a change of venue. That particular Appeal Court decision is known as Powell v. Superior Court.

In this decision, the Court of Appeal granted that the “media saturation” argument did not suffice to compel a move. But the Court of Appeal introduced another consideration: the contamination of the L.A.-County jury pool by political allegiances to either the mayor or the police chief.

A “coup,” so to speak–put into motion by the police commission, and backed by the mayor–had tried to oust Chief Gates. The City Council protected the chief, and the “coup” failed.

But:

Neither the mayor nor the chief were directly involved in People v. Powell et al.

And:

All other political issues in L.A. paled in significance to the trial itself. The allegiance of the citizens was not really to either Mayor Bradley or to Chief Darryl Gates. If either of those two gentlemen had suddenly moved to Tahiti, it would not have had anywhere near the political impact that the ultimate verdict of this trial would have.

The Appeal Court’s stated goal was to prevent the “average person on the street” from thinking the trial unfair. So, on August 21, in Briseno v. Superior Court, they removed Kamins from the case.

Fall arrived, and the Appeal Court’s two interventions had delayed the trial by six months. Courtroom testimony didn’t actually begin until a year after the beating. And that testimony unfolded in front of a Ventura-County jury that had not one single black person on it.

Ironically enough, it was the Appeal Court itself that managed to make the average person on the street start to think that things were not right, not fair, not above-board. Something rotten in the state of Denmark, as Hamlet put it.

To be continued…

 

My Dad, George Floyd, Rodney King, and Some Posts to Come

la-riots-rodney-king-beating-cant-we-all-get-along

Fifteen years ago today, my father died.

He grew up in Washington, D.C., a fifth-generation native of the city. He became a lawyer and dedicated his whole career to urban land-use law. That is: the orderly growth and prosperity of his city.

When my father was working as a young lawyer, not long before I was born, Washington, D.C. erupted in riots. After Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated, the city burned.

This had a big impact on our family life. Some of my earliest memories involve driving around the damaged neighborhoods, my father explaining to my brother and me what had happened.

By my late teens, I knew the streets of Washington better than any cabbie. My seminary classmates at Catholic University had a game: They would look at a map of town and randomly name an intersection. I would then describe all the buildings located there, from memory.

dad3I could do it because of love. My dad taught me that love.

I was a young man myself when Los Angeles, California, burned at the end of April and the beginning of May, 1992. My dad was still with us then. He had not yet suffered the debilitating stroke that would render him an invalid for the last decade of his life.

The LA riots were more brutal than the riots of the 60’s. On tv sets all over the world, people saw senseless beatings take place live.

In our home, we were stupefied with deep, crushing sadness. I have never been as profoundly upset as I was during those four or five days. We hardly slept; we spent most of the nights watching the news. The devil was dancing on the face of the earth.

The innocent blood of the dead in the streets stained my young, idealistic dreams. My dad had taught me to cultivate hope for American urban life and peace among races. The things that he stood for, the things for which he had dedicated his whole life–they lay broken in front of our eyes, like a shattered window on the asphalt.

LA Times Rodney King verdict front page

One week ago today, on the other hand, things went differently. Like the jurors in People v. Powell et al. in 1992, the jurors in State v. Chauvin had seen a video. (In fact, in Minnesota, they had seen several videos.)

This time, the jurors believed their own eyes. They had seen a murder committed on video, so they reasonably proceeded to convict the murderer of the crime.

The prosecutors in State v. Chauvin had calmly and diligently made their case. They presented several credible eye-witnesses to the murder. They presented experts on the use of force by police. They testified that what Derek Chauvin had done was certainly wrong and criminal. The prosecutors presented medical experts who explained the cause of death; their testimony successfully removed any reasonable doubt that George Floyd died by homicide.

At the Chauvin trial, black witnesses and white witnesses spoke about Floyd as a human being. They spoke to a jury of Floyd’s peers, themselves willing to see Floyd as the human being that he was.

In other words, the prosecution in the Chauvin trial had a slam-dunk case, and they held the ball firmly in both hands and sprang towards the basket with the steady self-control of a well-trained athlete. They dunked the ball.

Chauvin is in jail, awaiting sentencing, and the world recognizes that justice has been done.

What happened thirty years ago was altogether different. I have reflected on this extensively, and I think I have identified one particular aspect of what happened in Los Angeles that we should try to understand now. This will take a few days, and a few posts, to get through, so bear with me as I try to lay out my thoughts.

Here comes Part I:

Cellphones existed in March of 1991, but they most certainly did not have cameras, and they were the size of a loaf of bread. The only person I knew with a cellphone then was my business-executive aunt. She kept the thing in her car, in a large leatherette pouch.

People did have camcorders in 1991. Portable hand-held video cameras that recorded on magnetic tapes.

Mr. George Holliday, who lived in the Monte Vista apartments on Foothill Boulevard, near the San Fernando Freeway, in Los Angeles, owned a new camcorder.

The sound of sirens and a helicopter awoke Holliday from his Saturday-night slumber at 12:45am on Sunday, March 3, 1991. He looked out his window and saw an arrest unfolding across the street. A large number of police officers had converged.

Holliday thought of his new video camera sitting by the tv in the living room, went to get it, and stepped out on his balcony to film what he saw. His 81-second videotape captured three LAPD officers–under the direction of a fourth–brutally beating a defenseless man.

There was no way to “upload” the video since a. it wasn’t digital and b. there was no internet to speak of at the time. Instead, Holliday took the tape to a local television station the following day. The station broadcast it on the evening news. By midnight Tuesday, every station in the Western world had broadcast the video.

People who saw the video spontaneously thought of the beating and scourging of the Lord Jesus by the Roman soldiers. In fact, when Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ came out, I wondered if he had staged the scourging scene to look like the Rodney King tape, because there are so many similarities in body movement by Jesus in the movie and King in the video.

In many communities, tv stations had to apologize for airing the Rodney King tape at times when children could have been watching. It caused nightmares. Watching the nine minutes of Derek Chauvin killing George Floyd is sickening, but the brutality of the Rodney King beating is actually a great deal harder to endure, even though King did survive. That King survived was a miracle in and of itself, as was clear to everyone who watched Holliday’s video.

Passion of the Christ scourging my heart is ready

So, significant difference #1 between State v. Chauvin in 2021 and California v. Powell et al. in 1992:

In 1992, there was only one videotape. Over the course of the last month, the jury in Minnesota saw over twenty different videos, shot from different cameras. Over a dozen bystander cellphones, street security cameras, police body-cams.

When Rodney King got beaten, there was only the word of the people involved, the police reports which manifestly did not recount what had happened, and George Holliday’s video. (During the thirty hours between the incident and the public airing of the video, the officers did everything they could to cover up the beating.)

I don’t pretend to understand all the events that unfolded in the short-term aftermath of George Floyd’s murder last year. I shared some thoughts at the time, but I don’t claim to have a comprehensive view.

On the other hand, I do have a pretty good understanding of what happened after the Holliday video became public in early March 1991.

The video presented compelling evidence of criminal police brutality. As a police-commission report put it, the following July: “All segments of society condemn the Rodney King beating.”

ap_9103140118

But the political situation in Los Angeles was far, far from stable. What was then known as “south-central” was a largely lawless world of gangland violence. The white police chief and black mayor were at odds. Chief Darryl Gates nonetheless acknowledged after seeing the Holliday tape that the officers should face prosecution for criminal assault with a deadly weapon.

Warren Christopher was a widely respected elder-statesman California lawyer. (He went on to become President Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State.) He chaired a joint commission formed out of the two separate commissions that the feuding mayor and police chief formed. The joint commission became the “Christopher Commission.”

LAPD patrol cars in 1991 had a rudimentary form of text messaging called Mobile Digital Terminal communications, or MDTs. The Christopher Commission studied all the MDTs of the previous six months, as well as thousands of other records, and conducted interviews with hundreds of officers and citizens. The commission concluded:

There is a significant number of officers in the LAPD who repetitively use excessive force… Our computerized study of complaints filed in recent years shows a strong concentration of allegations against a problem group of officers. Graphic confirmation of improper attitudes and practices is provided by the brazen and extensive references to beatings in the MDTs. The problem is aggravated by racism…

The LAPD’s failure to analyze and act upon these revealing data evidences a significant breakdown in the management and leadership of the Department… The Department not only failed to deal with this problem group of officers but it often rewarded them with positive evaluations and promotions.

As Christopher put it, it was a “blunt” report. It clearly identified a serious problem of organizational racism. The report took for granted that the Rodney King beating involved a heinous crime.

Meanwhile, however, other wheels started turning in the exact opposite direction. The four charged officers began to mount their legal defense.

The officers would never acknowledge any personal wrongdoing. In the summer of ’91, the officers’ lawyers successfully impeached the impartiality of the first judge assigned to the case. He had refused a “change of venue” petition. The replacement judge then agreed to move the trial to a suburb. The criminal case would be tried in Simi Valley, Ventura County, a bedroom community for many LAPD officers. Meanwhile, all this legal wrangling consumed months of time.

In Simi Valley, the jury pool for the Rodney-King-beating trial consisted of predominantly white suburbanites. They finally reported for voir dire, to a brand-new county courthouse, in January 1992. The parking lot hadn’t even been fully paved. After the whittling down of candidates, the final jury panel did not include a single black person.

To be continued…

Holy Week Movies + Chris O’Leary

If Jesus Christ can do what He did, entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to a certain and known fate, then I can do this.

–Chris O’Leary, priest sex-abuse survivor and podcaster

Passion of the Christ Today you will be with me

Many of us Catholics have the annual ritual of watching The Passion of the Christ during Holy Week.

Mel Gibson said that he made his movie as a cinematic Stations of the Cross. Some Jews have taken offense at Gibson’s depiction of the high priests, especially the way the movie connects them with Satan. Also, Gibson included numerous allusions to Anne Catherine Emmerich’s visions of the Passion. I don’t think that aspect of the movie has aged well; it makes some scenes needlessly difficult to understand.

We can recognize the movie’s shortcomings, though, and still appreciate it as an aid to our devotion. After I saw the movie for the first time, in Lent 2004, I spent hours on my knees. During my teens and twenties, I meditated on the Passion over and over and over again–and still I had to reproach myself for how abysmally I had failed to do it justice. The movie left me overwhelmed with gratitude and love.

Some Christians find Gibson’s movie too violent to watch. Who can blame them? I nearly faint every time I watch it.

But The Passion is certainly not more violent than the reality. They really did practically beat and scourge Him to death, before they made Him carry the 165-pound cross and then nailed Him to it. Death by crucifixion involved physical sufferings we can hardly even begin to imagine.

The movie also captures the pivotal moment of the Passion as well as any work of art I have ever seen.

“Are you the Messiah?” (Jim Caviezel deserved an Oscar just for the way he used his one open eye in this one scene.)

Now, allow me humbly to suggest: our Holy Week routine also ought to include watching a second movie. Spotlight. The cinematic account of the Boston-Globe investigation into the sex-abuse cover-up in the Archdiocese of Boston.

Mel Gibson gave us a gift. So did the Boston Globe, and the movie-makers who depicted the journalists’ work. Seems to me like the honest Catholic, trying to keep Holy Week in AD 2021, should meditate carefully on all the reality depicted in both movies.

…Speaking of keeping reality firmly in mind: Mr. Chris O’Leary has also given us a great, great gift. His podcast series, Sacrificed. (He also kindly publishes the text, if you prefer to read, rather than listen.)

Call me grandiose to say this, but I know it to be true: Someday we will look back at this period in Church history in which we now live (hopefully, please God, from heaven), and Chris O’Leary’s Sacrificed will stand out as the most honest and insightful document that any of us have produced.

Listening to Chris tell his story–and I hope he doesn’t mind me calling him Chris–is like watching The Passion, only more painful and more real.

Sacrificed Chris O'Leary

As ‘cover art,’ Chris has a picture of himself outside the cathedral, taken by a photo-journalist. He is being shunned by a line of concelebrating priests. The occasion was the “Mass of Reparation,” after the Pennsylvania grand-jury report came out in 2018.

The priests were there to reckon with the reality of sexual abuse by clergy. And there was a survivor, holding photos of himself with the priest who had abused him. They all ignored him. The Archbishop ignored him.

I had Chris in mind when we went to our cathedral for the Chrism Mass last year. We received the same treatment.

There we were, at the annual Mass dedicated to the communion of priests and people with the bishop. I had been unjustly suspended from ministry for publishing this blog, and our parishes had been deeply wounded. We stood outside the cathedral.

The bishop and concelebrating priests ignored us. (Two priests came to shake my hand, for which I remain grateful. Otherwise: ignored.)

Richmond Cathedral WRIC screenshot2

At this time of year, many Catholics return to the Church. Holy Mother Church endures everything, and remains there for us to come back to.

That has always been the most deeply gratifying thing for me, as a priest: to be a part of that, to represent the Mother who is always there for everyone to come back to, including all us poor prodigals who have wandered far, far away. To represent the place where God opens His merciful door to His children.

Who preaches this Gospel these days, with the most eloquence? Not the higher clergy, to be sure. They seem only to know how to isolate the Church from the world, making our community look like some kind of indefensible cult.

No, the evangelical heroes of our day are the dogged alter Christuses who have suffered in the flesh with Jesus, and have lived to tell their tale.

Mr. Chris O’Leary and Co. The survivors.

 

Anniversaries and Things that Don’t Change

Last year on Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent), we had our first ‘virtual’ Mass. We meditated on this:

By believing in Christ, we share in His experience. The eternal Father has made Jesus the heir of all things. Our Lord receives His inheritance as the gift that it is. He offers it back to the Father as a sacrifice of love.

By believing in Jesus, we share in this divine communion of the eternal Father with His incarnate Son. Through thick and thin, we have our share in that communion.

On St. Joseph’s feast day last year (March 19), our bishop here publicly accused me of harming the Church’s unity. He provided misleading evidence to support the charge. Shortly thereafter, he suspended me from ministry and locked me out of my house. I have had to celebrate Holy Mass in solitude ever since. It’s been a year now since I celebrated Mass “with the people.” Not easy.

…Now, imagine the Lord sent an angel to speak with me. “Mark, you’ve had a rough year. What’s one thing we can do up here in heaven, to ease the burden for you a little?”

If that happened, I would not even have had the presumption to ask: “Can you make the Georgetown Hoyas win the Big-East tournament in Madison Square Garden?”

Georgetown Hoyas Big East tournament champions

Our Father in heaven knows the good things we need, before we even ask Him. 🙂

On the other hand, I might have asked: “Could you have the bishop call me on Holy Thursday? And make him say, ‘Mark, it’s the day of the priesthood. I have thought things over. It’s been a year since the problems we had. I will give you your place back now.'”

Problem is, he might then say: “April fool!”

…A couple weeks ago, we kept the 1,985th anniversary of St. Peter’s arrival in Antioch, Syria, in the third year after the Lord Jesus’ Ascension into heaven. The word “Christian” originates from Antioch, which served then as the capital of the eastern Roman empire. Peter governed the Church from Antioch for a few years. Then he went to Rome and governed the Church from there. He suffered martyrdom under emperor Nero and thereby established Rome as the Apostolic See, the See of St. Peter, the city of the pope.

We keep an annual feast on the anniversary of Peter’s arrival in Antioch, February 22. To celebrate the Feast of St. Peter’s Chair, Dom Prosper Gueranger wrote:

Our Lord will not receive us as His children, unless we shall have lived in union with Him by the ministry of pastors lawfully constituted. Honor, then, and submission to Jesus and His vicar! Honor and submission to the vicar of Christ, in the pastors he sends.

Dom Prosper Gueranger
Dom Gueranger

…Yesterday the Vatican made an announcement, and a reporter at WFXR in Roanoke called me. The Vatican announcement hardly came as a surprise–namely, two people of the same sex cannot get married by a Catholic clergyman, and no bishop, priest, or deacon can “bless” the “union” of two men or two women.

The Vatican announcement did not engage the underlying question: Are physical relations between two people of the same sex always a sin? Church teaching has taken for granted from time immemorial that such relations cannot be right. But these days the question sits squarely on the table, with a lot of devout Catholics proposing that the answer might be more complicated. The magisterium of the Church has not addressed the matter since 1986.

One thing I said to the reporter that didn’t make it into the broadcast is this: I think a lot of people find it hard to credit the Vatican with honesty and good will on this subject. The prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, who issued the decree yesterday, himself ducked a subpoena to testify in a French court about his role in covering up sexual abuse by a Lyon priest.

Just in time for this little controversy, I finished reading Confessions of a Gay Priest by Tom Rastrelli. It is one of the most compelling and heartbreaking books I have ever read.

Rastrelli and I are contemporaries. He opens his book with the story of how a squirrel got electrocuted on a transformer outside the cathedral shortly before his ordination ceremony was to begin. They continued in candle light, without air conditioning. That was in June of 2002.

Tom Rastrelli photo credit Frank Miller
Tom Rastrelli (photo by Frank Miller)

I had heard the whole story before, because I was in the same cathedral exactly a year later, for the ordination of a good friend of mine. Everyone was talking about the hot, candle-lit ordination of the year before.

Rastrelli and I both studied for the priesthood under the Sulpician Fathers, he at their seminary in Baltimore, me at their seminary in Washington. We both went to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, in August, during our seminary years, and stayed with the priests there. Rastrelli and I know dozens of people in common.

In his book, Rastrelli communicates his experience of sexual abuse at the hands of priest “mentors” with crushing humility and honesty. He thought he was in love; in fact, he was being abused.

Rastrelli is such a good writer that he conveys all the confusion, all the self-doubt. As he put it in an interview about his book, “Most victims don’t know they’re victims at the time. That’s how predators operate, by that kind of mental manipulation.”

When you finally reach the end of Confessions of a Gay Priest, and then consider the stunning way in which the Church has not dealt with the McCarrick scandal, or with the sex-abuse problem in general, you’re left with this: The Catholic clergy is one big closet of confused, compulsive, and dangerous self-hating gays.

A lot of people think that, and we have given them good reason to think it.

Rastrelli has given us a gift. A painful one to receive, to be sure. I cannot exactly recommend reading the book; it made me both cry and vomit. But I salute Mr. Tom Rastrelli as a mesmerizing writer, a brother seminarian I wish I had known in person, and a truth teller with a message we need to consider with the greatest care.

Meanwhile, your humble servant believes more than ever that: the Holy Mass celebrated at our altars–the altars of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church–is the religion that God Himself gave us, by sending His only begotten Son to be our brother.

Someday things will make more sense. In God’s good time.

Laetare pic 2021
Laetare Sunday, 2021

The Exact Whitewash Used in the Vatican McC Report (with Compendium)

whitwash

The Vatican’s McCarrick report is a fundamentally dishonest document. Accepting it at face value, as an exercise in “transparency,” would require the reader to suppress his or her common sense. The anonymous author(s) of the report have applied a particular whitewash to the actual facts. Let me explain.

First, here are links to the posts I have written so far about the report:

Regnum Christi Memory Turned Painful

More-Readable Report?     My Interviews on TV

Capone De Niro
Robert De Niro as Al Capone in The Untouchables

Al Capone McCarrick

McCarrick Report Literary Genre

My Offer to Help with the Report

“Innocent” Bed Sharing?     Cover Up?

McCarrick Men and One Thing the Report Doesn’t Say

Throughout his adult life, Theodore McCarrick preyed sexually on innocent people. He damaged his victims’ faith, their relationship with the Church, their sense of themselves as human beings, their capacity for trust and openness in relationships, their earning potential, their interior freedom, and much more. He did damage like this over and over again.

We do not have a full reckoning of the damage. The Vatican report does not even pretend to offer such a reckoning.

In fact, the report even has a hole when it comes to something as “documentable” as legally binding financial settlements. As I alluded to in an earlier post, the report unwittingly shows that we remain altogether in the dark about multiple McCarrick settlements. (See the quote of Archbishop Myers of Newark on page 227, as well as footnote 815 on page 242.)

This lacuna, however, is far from the central whitewash that the Vatican report tries to slather in front of our eyes.

First, let’s call to mind the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologica, pars II-II, question 60, article 5, reply 1. This question in the Summa explains how to make fair judgments; the article discusses giving the benefit of the doubt. The reply reads:

He who interprets doubtful matters for the best may happen to be deceived more often than not. Yet it is better to err frequently through thinking well of a wicked man than to err less frequently through having an evil opinion of a good man, because in the latter case an injury is inflicted [on the misjudged innocent man], but not in the former.

The Vatican report offers a thesis that would resonate with this teaching of St. Thomas. “The popes did not have clear evidence of guilt, at least not until they somehow obtained it in 2018. They rightfully gave McCarrick the benefit of the doubt until then.”

The report quotes Pope-emeritus Benedict about the doubtfulness of the matter, as things stood in November 2005, when the Vatican demanded of McCarrick that he resign as Archbishop of Washington. The pope-emeritus recalled: “There were suspicions regarding McCarrick’s prior conduct but a dearth of concrete evidence.” (See footnote 798, on page 233.)

This understanding of the situation, as Pope Benedict expressed it, produced the “foolhardy conspiracy” to which I referred in a previous post. The idea governing Vatican policy towards McCarrick under Pope Benedict was this: McCarrick says he’s innocent, and we believe him. But the danger of scandal hovers like a terrifying cloud, because ‘numerous voices’ have ‘raised red flags.’ We must make McCarrick vanish from the public eye.

st-thomas-aqPapal representative Gabriel Montalvo went to an early grave after having to pursue this policy. Then Montalvo’s successor, Pietro Sambi, complained about having McCarrick “always at my door,” looking for permission to continue his globe-trotting (page 308).

Sambi, too, died an early death, with the McCarrick situation still pending.

Both of these earlier nuncios, however–premature as their demises may have been–got off easy compared to their successor in office, Carlo Maria Viganò.

In both 2006 and 2008, Viganò–while still working in the Vatican–tried to convince his superiors that the “hiding McCarrick” strategy would not work. Viganò suggested that the pope should put McCarrick on trial, canonically (as ultimately, the pope did have to do.) Viganò proposed that they make an example of McCarrick, to indicate to the whole Church that McCarrick’s abuses were intolerable.

Now, with its McCarrick report, the Holy See has thanked Archbishop Viganò for having been right–by making him out to be the dishonest villain of the story.

Be all that as it may, the ‘hide-McCarrick’ policy pursued under Pope Benedict did not actually resonate with the teaching of St. Thomas on giving the benefit of the doubt in uncertain matters. At the time, McCarrick called the Vatican’s bluff on that score.

All the Vatican’s communiques to McCarrick (until 2018) conceded that he was, in fact, innocent. (Even after two Metuchen victims gave sworn testimony about McCarrick’s sexual harassment.) Nuncio Sambi told McC that “no one believes the truth of the accusations,” and Cardinal Re, Prefect for Bishops, wrote to McC in June 2008; Re referred to the “unfounded reports” about McC.

So McCarrick made a reasonable answer. In a September 2008 letter to Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Bertone, McCarrick wrote, “I have asked for a complete investigation and have offered to submit to a lie-detector test.”

Ironically enough, therefore: McCarrick and Viganò agreed. Justice requires a thorough investigation which will result in a definitive conclusion of guilt or innocence. The policy based solely on an indeterminate fear of people finding out–that does an injustice to everyone involved. The judge must reach a clear decision.

Anno Fidei inauguration Benedict XVIAccording to canon law, only one authority in the Church can judge a Cardinal. The pope.

I speculated extensively about the McCarrick affair, prior to the release of the Vatican report. Turns out that I gave Pope Benedict a great deal more credit for perspicacity in this matter than he deserved.

I thought that Benedict understood the commitment to zero tolerance for sexual abuse that the American bishops had made in 2002. After all, they made that commitment in direct consultation with Vatican officials, including then-Card. Ratzinger.

I figured, therefore, that Pope Benedict recognized that he betrayed that principle with his “hide McCarrick” strategy, but that the pope felt he had no choice. McCarrick had just served as the public face of the Catholic Church in America during the biggest sex-abuse scandal ever. That made McCarrick ‘too big to fail,’ so to speak.

I speculated that Benedict thought to himself: “Yes, it is wrong for us to cover this up. We ought to judge and condemn McCarrick openly. But we can’t, because that would destroy the Church in the U.S.”

Now, I don’t mean to say that I thought such a line of thought made sense. To the contrary, in my speculations I concluded that Pope Benedict deserves the lion’s share of the blame for the McCarrick catastrophe. But I still managed to give the pope emeritus too much credit.

Pope Benedict apparently experienced no interior strife over orchestrating a cover-up. The Vatican report shows that he never really grasped the implications of the supposed zero-tolerance policy in the first place.

Benedict did as pope the same thing he had done as Archbishop Ratzinger of Munich, in the early 1980’s. The same thing that countless bishops have done, all over the world–thereby reducing our Church to the state of zero credibility: He pushed the whole business away from himself. He refused to deal with it. He left if for others. While the McCarrick case lingered, unresolved, for a decade, Pope Benedict focused on writing his books.

Pope Benedict had, after all, received a large bribe from McCarrick: $200,000 cash, in the spring of 2005. The Vatican McCarrick report insists, on page 4, that:

The examination [of all records involving McCarrick] did not reveal evidence that McCarrick’s customary gift-giving and donations impacted significant decisions made by the Holy See regarding McCarrick during any period.

This may be the most truly laughable sentence in the report.

Little Women drawing
Drawing from the original edition of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, 1868

We still, however, have not brought into focus the precise whitewash used in this report.

To return to St. Thomas’ principle: In cases of doubt, it is better to be deceived by a wicked man than to think ill of an innocent man. The supposed ‘doubt’ in the McCarrick case was: Some say he has acted inappropriately, that he has harassed, that he has abused. He states categorically that he has not.

But this much was never in dispute, never in doubt: McCarrick slept in the same bed with seminarians, young men, even teenage boys. With none of these bedfellows did McCarrick have any blood kinship.

McCarrick acknowledged the truth of this set of facts repeatedly; the written record of this acknowledgement begins with his August 6, 2000, letter to Pope John Paul II’s personal secretary (see page 169 of the Vatican report). McCarrick knew he could not deny his bed-sharing and remain even remotely credible, because too large a circle of people knew about it.

As I tried to explain in an earlier post, no honest person in the 1980’s, 90’s, or 2000’s could construe these facts as ‘innocent.’  An Archbishop sleeping in the same bed with a young priest of his diocese, or a seminarian, or a young man, or a teenage boy: that was, in and of itself, clearly wrong. An abuse had occurred. Even if no other facts were known, the bed-sharing was enough to justify the conclusion that McCarrick deserved clear and decisive punishment.

In other words, the popes, their ambassadors to the U.S., and their department heads in Rome never actually found themselves in the situation considered by St. Thomas in ST II-II q60 a4 reply1. They had enough evidence to clear up any doubt. They had this evidence all along.

Now, none of the popes, nor their close co-workers, have been dumb or naïve men. They all knew that you cannot really extend the benefit of the doubt to someone who has himself acknowledged sleeping in the same bed with his subordinates and with minors.

The Vatican report expects the reader to reject this clear fact from his or her mind. The report only makes sense if you take refuge in a dream world where popes and experienced priests can calmly think that McCarrick shared his bed with his targeted victims just like the sisters shared a bed in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.

The popes and Vatican officials did not, in fact, think that. They knew better. That’s the ugly reality hidden beneath the whitewash. Scrape away that whitewash, and we see:

With its McCarrick report, the Vatican clearly declares to the world that bishops may freely abuse their subordinates, so long as there’s no big stink about it. Just don’t get caught. Keep it quiet. As long as you manage to keep it quiet, the Successor of St. Peter and his men will gladly look the other way.

Songs of Pitiful Discontent

Colin Roach protest

Have you have whiled away some of these long, dark evenings with the latest season of Netflix’s The Crown? Have you found yourself reminiscing about the 80’s? And struggling with the cruel platitudes of Thatcherism?

The fifth episode of The Crown, season 4, ends with a ska song. We Americans called the band “The English Beat.” In England, they called them simply “The Beat.” The song: “Stand Down Margaret.”

As Thatcher protest songs went, that was a mild one. Very mild.

Sinead O’Connor made a Thatcher protest song about the police-custody death of a black Englishman, thirty-seven years before George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.

“Black Boys on Mopeds” lives in sub-basement #10 of my little mind. Tears come to my eyes just listening to it, remembering old friends and the car rides when we sang it together. The song refers repeatedly to the gospels.

O’Connor’s song, however: Mild. Compared to the mother of all Thatcher protest songs, “Tramp the Dirt Down.”

Elvis Costello prays that he will live long enough to stomp on the Prime Minister’s grave (after she dies of natural causes; there’s no incitement to violence in the song.)

[WARNING: Bad word in the video’s intro.]

I have known every word of every song on Costello’s Spike since he released the cassette in 1989.

I saw a newspaper picture from a political campaign. A woman was kissing a child who was obviously in pain. She spills with compassion, as that young child’s face in her hands she grips. Can you imagine all that greed and avarice coming down on that child’s lips?

Here’s my point: They hated it, these protest musicians. They hated what they saw as the degradation of their nation.

The musicians lapsed into self-righteous unkindness. They did not sympathize with the complexities of a politician’s life. They made enemies for themselves, even among good people.

What they did not do, however, was try to compel anyone to do anything. Costello put it like this:

“We’re allowed to express ourselves. We’re not asking anything of anybody.”

We Catholics have more than enough reason for pitiful discontent with the incumbent regime. The Attorney General of New York State has lodged a lawsuit to put the diocese of Buffalo into moral receivership for the next five years.

Click to access complaint_final_version_redacted.pdf

A.G. Jones’ lawsuit demonstrates how the diocese has failed to comply with the rules adopted by the U.S. bishops in 2002. Buffalo now joins the diocese of Springfield, MA in this category: Proven by independent investigators to lack the competence necessary to abide by the Dallas Charter.

Here’s a priest in Buffalo, reacting to the news of the lawsuit:

…A different whistleblower priest in Buffalo was suspended from ministry a year ago, for trying to expose the very corruption that the AG documents in her lawsuit against the diocese.

He remains suspended.

…Will the Attorney General here in Virginia lodge a similar lawsuit against our diocese? Time will tell. We can imagine that Mr. Herring has enough evidence in hand.

One of the kind editors of my book told me that I need to acknowledge this: some of my blog posts have understandably offended the bishop. The kind editor is right. I have done some “Thatcher-Protest-Song”-type posts that failed in kindness and sympathy, and I am sorry about that. In the end, Elvis Costello did not rejoice when Margaret Thatcher actually did die, twenty-four years after his song about it.

But communities need to have room for protest songs, even edgy ones. Especially when reasons for discontentment with the regime keep piling up daily. Margaret Thatcher and Elvis Costello co-existed for decades. England survived.