We touched briefly on the Bransfield affair last September. The bishop of Wheeling-Charleston WV turned 75, had his resignation swiftly accepted by Pope Francis, then found himself the subject of an investigation led by the Archbishop of our province, William Lori of Baltimore.
Turns out that Bishop Bransfield spent freely, drank heavily, and groped while in his cups.
How do we know this?
Your humble servant, as well as anyone else who spent any amount of time in the sacristy of the National Shrine during Msgr. Bransfield’s nineteen-year tenure there as rector, could have told you: that’s what the man is like.
Another person who could have told you that, at any point during the 1990’s: William Lori.
I daresay that everyone involved in putting Michael Bransfield’s name on the list of candidates for an episcopal see with a $200 million+ endowment (thanks to a nineteenth century heiress)–everyone knew perfectly well what their old friend Monsignor Bransfield was like.
Yesterday, Archbishop Lori, wrote to the people of our sister diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. His letter highlights some of the grievous shortcomings of Michael Bransfield’s free-spending, free-drinking “normal.”
Now, what moved Archbishop Lori to write to the Catholic people of West Virginia yesterday?
If you answered, Zeal for their souls! you missed an important simultaneous event. Someone on the team that had investigated Bransfield sent two copies of their secret report (completed in March, and heretofore unremarked-upon by Archbishop Lori) to a reporter for the Washington Post.
In our @washingtonpost investigation of alleged coverup and financial misconduct at the highest levels of the Catholic Church, we simply didn't have room to list everything but specific spending is jarring so read this thread https://t.co/5iesCnXdmU
Today at Holy Mass, we read the conclusion of Christ’s “priestly” prayer. He ministers as High Priest of all creation, offering Himself, the Eternal Word, in union with His human flesh and blood.
All Christians share in Christ’s priesthood. We all find communion with God, and with each other, by offering ourselves to the heavenly Father along with the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus.
We base our entire lives on this offering of ourselves with Christ. It gives our lives their true meaning. Our participation in Holy Mass situates us in the universe properly. It makes prayer possible. One Christ, Head and members, glorifying the Father with the eternal and infinite sacrifice of love that Christ revealed on the cross.
Now, for this offering to occur, Christ instituted the sacred priesthood of the altar. He chose from among His disciples those who would minister at the celebration of the Eucharist. Those who would stand in His place, to bring about the union of the Head and the members of the Body of Christ. The sacred priestly ministry of the altar.
My dear Protestant mother and I have been locked in argument lately about this. The sacred priesthood, conferred by the laying on of hands through succession in office, going back to the Apostles. The indelible sacramental mark that makes a man a priest.
We Catholics rightly recognize that in the upper ranks of the hierarchy, a false sense of superiority has produced a class of arrogant and detached men, men who seem incapable of governing the Church honestly and effectively.
So a lot of people rightly question the whole idea of a sacred priesthood. The whole idea that Jesus Himself chose from among His whole flock a “clergy,” a group of men who stand apart, consecrated shepherds, with a unique authority. Why not just have a ‘democratic’ Church?
Now, the building is on fire, to be sure. But that doesn’t mean that the basic idea of the foundation is wrong, or even really changeable. The Son of God did, in fact, start the sacred priesthood of the New Covenant at the Last Supper. He did so in order to make it possible for all of us Christians to exercise our baptismal priesthood as members of His Body. And He made the celebrant at Mass the shepherd.
Certainly there’s a better way to do this, better than the dispiriting mess we’re living through now. But we could search high and low, combing the Scriptures and the countless tomes of learned theology, and we will never a find another, better “constitution” of the Church of Jesus Christ. Jesus gave us our “Constitution” when He walked the earth, when He celebrated the first Mass, when He breathed the Holy Spirit upon the original Apostles.
Our task is to serve Him, to obey Him, to trust Him. To offer ourselves to the Father, in union with Him.
Don’t tell me he’s “just one bad apple.” The entire orchard of the Catholic hierarchy is rotten: bishops who ruin the careers of priests who serve under them without offering a single reason for doing so; bishops who punish other clergy without trial, without showing that wrongdoing exists; bishops who hold secret trials, reporting neither the evidence nor the results; bishops who hear a young seminarian say about his priest, “He ran his hands over my genitals,” then send the priest for counseling and then back into a parish, either keeping no record or hiding the record in a broom closet.
Roman Catholics: if you’ve been paying attention, if you’ve been reading, and if you do not pretend to yourself that the church is okay, you know these things. Someone has to have the power to say yes or no to all-powerful bishops. Don’t tell me it’s the pope. Obviously he’s done nothing about the problem.
A Catholic historian has shown that in medieval and early-modern times, local aristocrats and monarchs restrained bishops for their own purposes. No longer. Today’s presidents and dictators don’t give a fig about Roman Catholic bishops.
Today the church needs a “separate power” to check the bishops’ power. For the U.S. church, I propose a Senate of Priests, a group of priests elected by all U.S. priests for a specified term, to meet regularly to review and correct the work of U.S. bishops. Individually, in the church hierarchy, priests are subject to bishops. With this separation of powers, bishops are subject to priests when priests act collectively as the Senate of Priests.
Is such a separation of powers un-Catholic? No doubt. Does it seem like pie in the sky? No doubt. Is it necessary for the church? Yes, without the slightest doubt in the world. The church needs it desperately.
“I have called you friends,” says the Lord. (John 15:15)
Sixteen years ago today, I had an explanation in my mind for the state of the Church in America. Over the course of last summer, 2018 quickly became the worst year in the history of American Catholicism. But before that, 2002—the year before my ordination—held the title.
We had learned just how many millions upon millions upon millions of dollars the Catholic bishops of the USA had paid out in hush-money, to cover up crimes.
As I knelt to be ordained, I thought I had a plausible explanation for this. A Romanian-priest friend of mine had pointed out to me: In Romania, people would never hold the diocese responsible for the crime of a single priest. They would hold the priest himself responsible.
In America, my thinking went, dioceses had to contend with the deep anti-Catholic prejudice of our country. The typical American conceives of the Catholic Church as a suspicious foreign enterprise. So American courts treat the Church unfairly. The bishops really had no choice but to pay big settlements.
After all, we all knew too well how much anti-Catholicism this country harbors. During 2002, the lampoonists of press and screen had open season on Catholic priests. Everyone refrained from any caricature of Muslim leaders, for fear of a cruel backlash after 9/11. But you could mock Catholic priests en masse, as twisted sexual perverts, with total impunity. Just like you can now.
Today, however—sixteen years later—I know different. We all know that anti-Catholicism does not explain the endless settlements paid by dioceses in sex-abuse cases.
The revelations of the past year have taught us: the bishops did not make all those payments to protect the victims, or the Church—or because prejudice stacked the legal deck against them. The bishops paid the hush-money to protect themselves. They had everything to lose, if the truth about their dereliction of duty came out. The bishops paid to “protect” people from scandal—not scandal about the sins of priests, but scandal over their own incompetence as enforcers of ecclesiastical law.
One bridge spans the sixteen years I have been a priest: the cover-up of the crimes of the very man who ordained me. His successor in office, Donald Wuerl, knew fifteen years ago that McCarrick had sexually abused seminarians and young priests. This past Tuesday, Wilton Gregory, the newly arrived successor in Washington, praised Donald Wuerl as “above all, a true Christian gentleman.”
But let’s imagine a true Christian gentleman, reading the sworn testimony of one of McCarrick’s victims, in the fall of 2004. Wouldn’t a true Christian gentleman, in Donald Wuerl’s place, think to himself: I need to see justice done here. I have a duty to this poor soul. May God help me to do right by him.
Instead, Wuerl obsequiously sent the whole thing to Rome and washed his hands of it. In the Vatican, they masterminded the McCarrick cover-up. And Wuerl has hidden behind the supposed virtue of filial obedience to the pope ever since.
Lord Jesus calls us His friends. Friends don’t let friends betray what they supposedly stand for. Friends don’t let friends cover up crimes of sexual abuse—even if one of those friends is a Cardinal, or even the pope.
On Tuesday, Donald Wuerl strode in last, at the end of the procession, when his successor was to be installed. The end of the procession is, of course, the place of honor. Fitting that Cardinal Wuerl took that place. He presides, with unique distinction, over the College of Lying Cowards that sat there in their miters in the Shrine on Tuesday.
…Sixteen years in, and this is the priest you have, my dear ones! Let’s keep loving God and His Christ together, one day at a time. Jesus reigns. The One to Whom we must answer, when everything is said and done, is He.
“Christ” means… same as “Messiah”… Anointed. Almighty God put His Spirit on this man. Mary of Bethany anointed Him at the beginning of Holy Week, for burial. But the triune God anointed the Christ at the moment of His conception in His mother Mary’s womb. Jesus always was, and always will be, The Christ.
All Christians revere Holy Week and keep it sacred. But of course it is especially sacred for us priests. The Lord drew us intimately into His work of salvation by choosing all of us, as He sat at table with His Apostles. And gave the world the Holy Mass.
All Christians receive the anointing of the Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation. But we priests have also received an anointing on our hands. We have to use our minds and our voices to do our work, to be sure. But also: the hands. To hold the Host and Chalice.
In our Liturgy, the symbol of the heavenly anointing is an oil called… Sacred Chrism. Every Holy Week, we priests concelebrate Mass with our bishop to consecrate new Chrism for the year to come.
Baptized babies will receive anointing with the Chrism on the crowns of their heads. Christians ready to spread the reign of Christ will receive anointing with the Chrism on their foreheads. And the priests to be ordained in June will receive anointing with it on their hands.
Now, one hundred seven years ago today, the Titanic sank. Last year, Holy Mother Church struck an iceberg. And by all worldly estimations, She’s going down.
I never thought I would walk into the cathedral for a Chrism Mass, with the reasonable man in the back of my head thinking: Dude, you’re like one of those violinists on the deck of the Titanic.
But here I go, up the road to Richmond, knowing full well what all reasonable observers know, during Holy Week 2019: Holy Mother Church is sinking. And the men on the bridge have no idea how to save the ship.
But we have more than worldly estimations to consider in this Church. We have Jesus, the Christ.
Just put a letter to Archbishop Gregory into the mail…
In 2001, when Theodore McCarrick took possession of the Archdiocese of Washington, he did so as a criminal fleeing justice. He had sexually abused seminarians and at least one minor.
By late 2004, Donald Wuerl and Joseph Ratzinger, among others, knew beyond any reasonable doubt that the sitting Archbishop of Washington was a criminal. No written law explicitly condemned what they knew McCarrick had done to some of his seminarians. But every honest churchman would have recognized the criminal acts. As Pope John Paul II so famously put it, in 2002: “There is no place in the priesthood for those who would harm the young.”
The Apostolic See had a clear duty: put McCarrick on trial. Didn’t happen.
By this time of year in 2006, McCarrick had turned seventy-five, Ratzinger had become Pope Benedict, and the nuncio called Donald Wuerl. Everyone involved entered into a dishonest pact.
Just a few years earlier, Wuerl had participated in the common promise of the American bishops never again to cover-up clerical sexual abuse. Pope Benedict had been a party to that promise as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. But in the case of Theodore McCarrick, they broke their recent promise. Pope Benedict, Pope Francis, and Donald Wuerl proceeded to cover-up the crimes of Theodore McCarrick for the ensuing twelve years. They ended the cover-up only when forced to do so, by circumstances beyond their control.
If Donald Wuerl were an honest man, he would have told Pope Benedict back in the spring of 2006: I will not accept the Archdiocese of Washington as my pastoral charge until we make good on our promise and deliver public justice against McCarrick. Had that happened, Wuerl could have entered St. Matthew’s cathedral without dishonesty. As it was, he sat on the throne in Washington with a lie under the cushion for twelve years, complicit in that lie with two popes.
Sir: Do not enter St. Matthew’s with this same lie burdening you. Insist that the pope acknowledge these known facts. Recognize that the Apostolic See has grievously wronged the faithful of Washington. From at least 2004 until 2018, Rome failed to exercise due vigilance over Theodore McCarrick. Pope Francis must openly acknowledge this, and Donald Wuerl must openly acknowledge his complicity in it. Neither of these men deserve anyone’s trust until they publicly acknowledge these known facts.
Until these admissions take place, do not enter St. Matthew’s in the company of Donald Wuerl, and do not accept the apostolic mandate from Pope Francis. I know you didn’t ask for my advice. But I advise you as a brother, anyway.
Christ always offers us a fresh start. But we have to live in the truth. The truth: McCarrick entered St. Matthew’s a dishonest criminal. Donald Wuerl entered a liar. Two popes lived in this lie for years.
Archbishop of Atlanta to be transferred to: Archbishop of Washington.
Seems like a demotion. Fewer Catholics in Washington than in Atlanta. Fewer parishes. The Metropolitan of Atlanta exercises vigilance over three entire states–Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina; the Metropolitan of Washington, D.C., presides over part of one state, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
But for whatever reason, the ecclesiastical mafia will view Archbishop Wilton Gregory’s transfer as a promotion. Meanwhile, blind Catholics in the Archdiocese of Washington, or those who listen only to the radio or to podcasts, will not notice any change, from the old Archbishop to the new one.
I re-read Archbishop Gregory’s statement regarding Theodore McCarrick, from last August. The incredible thing: Nothing has changed since then. Seven long months have passed. McCarrick still lives the same life, in the same place. If we know more about the hidden evils of our bishops now than we did then, no one currently serving in the hierarchy did anything to enlighten us.
Some have argued that George Cardinal Pell never abused anyone. Perhaps he did not. He has appealed the ruling against him.
But the legal procedure according to which George Pell was found guilty and sentenced–there is no question of that procedure’s fundamental soundness. We know what happened. The jury believed the accuser and convicted Pell according to clear laws.
What happened in the Vatican trial of Theodore McCarrick? What laws? What facts? We have no earthly idea.
…Yet a third Cardinal was convicted in court. In a civil court in Lyon, France. Not for criminal abuse, but for failing to report criminal abuse, in accordance with the law.
Perhaps one reason why Cardinal Barbarin did not report the abuse: The Cardinal Prefect in Rome (the same one who presided over McCarrick’s Vatican trial) had written to Barbarin, telling him to avoid scandal. The court had subpoena’d the Vatican Cardinal who wrote the letter. The Vatican refused to deliver the subpoena. Barbarin took the fall.
After his conviction, Cardinal Barbarin traveled to Rome to offer his resignation–like a man of some honor might do, under the circumstances. The Pope refused to accept it, citing “the presumption of innocence.” (The Cardinal had already been found guilty.)
The pope has dismissed Theodore McCarrick from the ranks of the clergy. You might imagine, gentle reader, that I have a great deal to say.
I. Dark Night.
Speaking as one of many men McCarrick ordained, let me first say: this has broken our hearts. I imagine the same goes for all those he confirmed.
Most of us never thought, as he lay his hands on our heads to consecrate us, that a day like this would come. We never imagined any such thing. We believed in God, and in His Christ. We believed in the mission for which we had been chosen–the mission of divine love for which then-bishop McCarrick consecrated us, by the laying on of hands.
McCarrick consecrated us as a successor of Christ’s Apostles. We received our consecration with faith. We cherish the grace of this consecration as the great prize of our pilgrim lives. For such a day as this to come–when the successor of St. Peter has expelled our father in God from the sacred ministry… Well, this is a trial of faith. It is a gut punch. I know none of us would this wish on anyone.
Same goes for all those who worked closely with McCarrick–worked with him to further the cause of Christ, trusting him and believing in him. My memories of 2001-2006 abound with countless such good, earnest people. May God comfort us all.
II. Crime and Punishment
McCarrick stands accused of crimes of the gravest kind, and he has never publicly denied the accusations, at least not in any meaningful way. Fact is, if they weren’t true, he owed us a vehement public denial a long time ago.
Desecrating the confessional with the sexual abuse of a minor. Sexually corrupting seminarians and young priests under his fatherly care. Victimizing helpless souls.
These victimized souls have this right: Never to have to endure seeing this priest ascend the altar again. Never to have to see this cruel manipulator stand in the place of the gentle and true Jesus.
Holy Mother Church owes McCarrick’s victims this sentence–his permanent expulsion from the sanctuary. She owes that to all the victims of priestly sexual abuse. May God help all victims find a way to believe in the Holy Mass again.
III. The tribunal of justice
We need to remember two things about the presiding judge, and the appellate judge, in McCarrick’s defrocking case.
ii. Archbishop Viganò accused the appellate judge in this case–the sitting Roman pontiff–of personal involvement in covering-up McCarrick’s crimes. The pope has never answered these charges; he has never denied that he participated in covering-up for McCarrick.
So if the reigning pope had any real integrity as an honest judge, he would have recused himself altogether from the McCarrick case. He would have acknowledged that he had no business sitting in judgment under such circumstances, and he would have appointed a different judge to substitute for him–someone with no personal connection to the matter at hand.
Now, assuming that McCarrick intended to dispute the accusations against him–which his lawyer had repeatedly said that he did intend to do–the verdict has come much more quickly than it reasonably should have.
We know something about Mr. James Grein’s testimony, since James has spoken openly about it to multiple journalists. I see no reason to doubt the accuracy of James’ accusations. It seems fairly clear that McCarrick is guilty of the charges that James has leveled.
But, by the same token, James has said plenty of opaque, unintelligible things. The statement he made today, inspiring in its courage and faith, also contains generalized charges that cannot be verified.
Also, the Vatican’s statement today refers to other accusations. About which we know little or nothing. Did McCarrick have adequate time to respond to all the charges?
In other words: This judicial process manifestly lacks integrity. Lacks it profoundly.
If it were an honest and fair trial, then why not release all the documents? (With names of victims blacked-out, if they so choose.) After all, buzzwords like “transparency” flow forth from our prelates’ lips like water these days. Here is a perfect opportunity! Show the world the Church’s true openness by publishing the entire contents of the McCarrick trial record, for the world to read and learn from.
Why not do that? At this point, nothing whatsoever remains of Thedore McCarrick’s privacy. He lost the right to the protection of his privacy when he assumed the bishop’s throne anyway.
No, the only reasonable explanation for the near-total opacity of the Holy See’s announcement of the verdict is this: If the trial record were published, it would not withstand the scrutiny of honest judges and lawyers.
Actually, questions immediately arise, even with respect to the paltry public revelation that the Vatican has made:
In addition to his crimes against James (and perhaps another minor), McCarrick stands convicted of sins against the Sixth Commandment with adults. According to what legal criteria was he found guilty of this crime? What makes a sin against the Sixth Commandment between a priest and an adult a crime?
Perhaps the beginning of the answer lies here: The Vatican announcement continues “with the aggravating factor of abuse of power.” How did the court establish the presence of this aggravating factor? What criteria determine whether or not this factor is present, in any given case?
Also: Considering the fact that many bishops and three popes have known for decades that McCarrick broke the Sixth Commandment with adults who were not really free to resist him, why didn’t anyone try and convict him of this crime long ago?
These immediate questions, and many more like them, will receive no answer anytime soon. Because: these days dangerous, dishonest mafiosi run the one, true Church of Jesus Christ. McCarrick’s sentence does not mean a new beginning. Quite the contrary. The mafiosi have simply passed private judgment on one of their own, because it suited their craven purposes at this particular moment.
In the last twelve hours, I have learned about one of Father Munley’s sex-abuse victims. The victim also has died. He died young, perhaps owing to some degree to the abuse he suffered.
If anyone else wants to talk over anything about Father Munley, I am at your service as always. May the good Lord help us and steady us. Christ’s love and mercy endures forever, and His justice is perfect.
I learned from a former parishioner of St. Joseph that another former pastor’s name appears on the list: Father Harris Markam Findlay, pastor from 1955-1959. He died in 1980, while serving in the Diocese of Arlington.
During Father Murphy’s tenure at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Salem (1985-86), he would travel to Rocky Mount to celebrate Mass at the local Episcopal church, for the benefit of the Catholic people in Franklin County. Those were the days of St. Francis of Assisi parish’s nascency.
Let’s use our imaginations. A couple of fairy tale characters.
One: A hard-hearted scheming bishop. He hates some of his priests. He wants to see them suffer. So he includes their names in a published list of sex abusers.
Two: A princely, zealous, loving bishop. He longs for the faithful people of his diocese to live in open, pure chastity. Free of sexual abuse.
The princely bishop carefully studies all the clergy files, to determine if any contain information that would help the public. When he finds something against a priest, he gives the accused the chance to answer.
Then he publishes a list. It helps people heal. And it puts fear into the hearts of potential predators.
Trick is: How to tell these two characters apart, in real life? In a fairy tale, the one would wear a black cape and twiddle his fingers together maniacally. The other would look like Tom Brady in a Roman collar.
But we don’t have the luxury of type-casting. Here in the real world, we must seek evidence, in order to distinguish villain from prince.
The bishop of our beloved Diocese of Richmond summoned us priests to a mandatory meeting. Last week, his Vicar-General wrote us:
“Bishop Knestout will provide pastoral resources to assist in responding to questions and concerns relating to the release of a list of the names of priests who have served in our diocese and have a credible and substantiated accusation of sexual abuse of a minor.”
His Excellency himself did not attend the meeting today. Too busy.* He provided us with the “resources” via certain members of his staff.
If you’re like me, dear reader, you would arrive at such a meeting with questions, like:
When will the diocese publish the list?
What information will it include? Just names? Summaries of specific cases? Will any additional documents accompany the publication of the list? Legal proceedings, etc?
Why did His Excellency decide to publish this list? And why now?
Guess what? Nope. No answers to any of these!
Okay. So the prince won’t tell us: when, what, or why. How about: Who or how?
Who exactly is working on the compilation of this list? The Vicar for Priests? No.
Who then? Some skilled people.
Will the diocese’s list include only those clergymen tried and convicted in a court of law (or admittedly guilty)? Or will it include any priest accused by anyone ever? Or is there some clear criterion in between, which will settle the question of what names appear?
Does “sexual abuse of a minor” include “grooming” activities?
Have we asked victims whether they want to see this list published?
Actually: Some victims say that publishing lists can help heal souls. Others say that it’s just a publicity stunt that only makes the victims feel worse. Do we have any evidence to go on, to try to settle that dispute?
…Dear reader, you may remember that our Virginia State Attorney General recently opened an investigation into the dioceses of Virginia. And he published a hotline for victims to call.
Has that hotline received calls? A lot of calls? Involving new cases or old ones?
Has the diocese even asked the Attorney General about that?
Answers from the diocese at today’s mandatory priests’ meeting:
…Now, the fact is: good people have already worked hard to give the public a great deal of information about sexual abuses that have occurred in our diocese. The bishop-accountability list I mentioned above has links to newspaper articles. And you can go to the “tapatalk” of the Survivors’ Network, and search the names on the bishop-accountability list. Lots of information.
But information is only as good as the trustworthiness of the person who provides it. Who can we trust? Do we have a supreme judge in our diocese whom we can trust to do the right thing? About criminal violations of the Sixth Commandment?
Forgive me for slipping into cynicism. But the entire exercise of today’s mandatory meeting, and the imminent release of the list–it all seems to me like a smokescreen, intended to divert attention from something else.
Our bishop came to us a year ago. In our cathedral, he sang the praises of his mentor, the prelate who had ordained him to the episcopacy. Donald Card. Wuerl.
We Catholics desperately want to trust our shepherds. We want to trust that they know what they do. And do it honestly.
But today’s mandatory meeting? I would sin against honesty if I did not report this: It consisted of morale-sapping groupthink propaganda. I left the meeting as dispirited and angry as I have ever been in my life.
This is “transparent?” If so, what does opaque look like?
* Bishop’s brother died today. May he rest in peace.