The Cruel Massachusetts Cesspool

[A long and complicated story, dear reader. And painful.

But true. And important.]

In volume III of her historical study Rite of Sodomy, Randy Engel describes how she began an extended personal correspondence with an inmate of a Texas prison. Mr. William Burnett is serving a sixty-year sentence for murder. Their first exchange of letters occurred in February, 2002.

In 1995, Burnett had written to the then-bishop of the Diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts. Burnett had described the sexual abuse he had suffered at the hands of a number of priests and bishops, during the 1950’s. The list of those who had abused him included: Springfield Bishop Christopher Weldon. Also, Worcester Bishop, and later Cardinal of the Roman Curia, John Wright.

Unfortunately for Burnett, the man who received his 1995 letter–Bishop Thomas Dupré–was himself a serial sexual abuser of minors. In 2010, lawyers attempted to depose Dupré for a civil lawsuit against him, which claimed damages for sexual abuse. At the deposition, Dupré stated his name and date of birth, then pleaded the fifth.

Bishop Christopher Weldon Springfield MA
the late Bishop Christopher Weldon of Springfield MA

In 2005, Burnett found a lawyer willing to work with him in prison. He sued the Diocese of Springfield. Burnett took a polygraph test on his claims about Bishop Weldon. The test found Burnett truthful. Twice.

When Burnett filed his lawsuit, David Clohessy, of the Survivors Network of the those Abused by Priests, commented on the credibility of a convicted murderer, when it comes to a claim of sexual abuse as a minor:

If you told your spouse you were in a horrific accident on the highway and then walked in the house without as much as a scratch, then that would raise credibility concerns. The same can be said for victims of clergy abuse.

The diocese said they had no records whatsoever that could corroborate Burnett’s charges.

Later, in 2018, Mr. E.J. Fleming published his thorough investigation into the death of one of his childhood friends, Death of an Altar Boy. The boy’s case remains unsolved to this day. In his book, Fleming documents how Dupré destroyed all the sex-abuse records in 1977, shortly after Weldon’s death. Dupré served as chancellor of the diocese at the time. So, of course they could find no records, in 2005.

In 2005, the Diocese of Springfield dismissed Burnett’s claims as not credible.

In 2014, another man–let’s call him John Doe–approached the Diocese of Springfield to allege that multiple priests had abused and brutally raped him, including Bishop Christopher Weldon.

Nearly four years then passed. The diocese did nothing, reported nothing to anyone. Even though Doe had spoken to diocesan employees who had a legal obligation to report what they had heard to law enforcement.

In 2018, John Doe again asked the diocese for some kind of justice. He had a hard time getting the diocesan sex-abuse review board to hear him. But finally, in June of 2018, he had the opportunity to recount everything, at a review-board meeting.

In September of that year, the chairman of the review board, Mr. John Hale, wrote to John Doe, informing him that the board found his charges credible. Hale’s letter stipulated that all further action lay in the hands of the sitting bishop, Mitch Rozanski.

As we know from our own experience here in the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia: The prelates of the American Church went through a sequence of generic actions after the crushing summer of 2018. Feeling public pressure because of McCarrick and the Pennsylvania Grand-Jury Report, many of the American bishops proceeded to hold “listening sessions” and to publish lists of “credibly accused clergy.”

Randy Engel
Randy Engel

Rozanski marched in step with this. At one “listening session,” Mr. Doe apparently spoke, in Rozanski’s hearing, about what he had suffered. This took place months after Doe had received his “you’re-credible” letter from the diocesan review board.

Then the Springfield diocese dutifully published its list of credibly accused clergy. Bishop Christopher Weldon’s name did not appear on it.

At this point, John Doe had had enough. He went to a newspaper reporter.

Thus began the truly alarming events of June 2019 in the diocese of Springfield MA. Even though its own review board had written to Mr. Doe the preceding September, declaring his allegations credible, the diocese insisted to the Berkshire Eagle newspaper that no one had ever accused Bishop Christopher Weldon of sexual abuse.

Hearing this from the diocese, the newspaper reporter got busy. He found a member of the review board willing to go on the record. She confirmed what Mr. Doe had told the reporter. The board had heard him, and they had believed him.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the board, who had written Doe the preceding September, told the reporter the opposite of what he had told Doe in his letter. “We never found him credible on that claim,” Hale said. (Mr. Hale has since declared that he longer considers himself Catholic.)

Bishop Rozanski, rightfully embarrassed by this utter mess, claimed he wanted to know the truth.

A little strange for him to say that: The bishop had received his copy of the review-board letter the previous September, declaring Doe’s accusation credible. According to the rules for American dioceses established in 2002 (after the Boston Globe forced the bishops to do something about sex-abuse cover-ups), the process to determine the truth of John Doe’s claim had already occurred. Long since.

But Rozanski had shown precious little interest. Until bad press came his way.

Rozanski proceeded to hire a retired judge, Peter Velis, to perform a thorough review of John Doe’s allegations against Bishop Weldon. After a year-long investigation, the judge found, among other things, that…

1. The investigator retained by the diocese to look into sex-abuse claims had produced two different versions of his final report on John Doe’s allegations, in June of 2018.

Both versions of the diocesan investigator’s report are alarmingly short. And scant on details.

That said, even more alarming is this: One version included the name of Christopher Weldon. The other did not.

Judge Velis could not find anyone who could explain this.

2. The only record of the diocesan review-board meeting at which John Doe recounted his abuse was: The hand-written notes of the board’s secretary. She worked as Administrative Assistant to the bishop’s Vicar General.

She typed up her notes and then destroyed the original. She died while the judge was conducting his investigation.

3. The retired judge, after conducting his own investigation, concluded that John Doe’s accusation that Bishop Weldon raped him, when Doe was a nine-year-old boy, was unequivocally credible.

Old StL postcard with King Louis statue

Mr. Jesse Bogan of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published an article yesterday outlining the problems with the Springfield tenure of St. Louis’ Archbishop-elect.

Rozanski’s tenure in Springfield coincides almost exactly with the period of time during which the diocese “chronically mishandled” John Doe’s case and failed “this courageous man.”

“Chronically mishandled.” Those are Rozanski’s own words about the situation.

Strangely, Bishop Rozanski has not added any words about his own personal responsibility for the fiasco. Even though he was in charge the whole time.

Given the facts–facts crushingly embarrassing for any Catholic–I would think a responsible leader would say something like: “I resign as bishop. And I ask the Holy Father to choose someone else as the next Archbishop of St. Louis.”

mccarrick and wilton gregory
The Vatican, April 24th, 2002 (Photo by Eric Vandeville/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Jesse notes in his article in the St. Louis newspaper: The 2002 efforts to create transparency haven’t gone far enough to give victims justice.


Judge Velis’ report on the John Doe case reads like a careful, systematic exposé of the inadequacies of the USCCB’s Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

From 2018 to 2020, the Diocese of Springfield MA simply did not know whether or not a victim had credibly accused former bishop Christopher Weldon.

The most-charitable interpretation is: The right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing. A detached incompetent sat at the top of the organization. No one took responsibility.

Other, less-charitable interpretations would also stand to reason.

The fact remains: If a newspaper reporter had not gotten involved, Mr. John Doe would still have to live his private agony, with no comfort and no justice from holy Mother Church.

As we mentioned: In 2005, Mr. William Burnett accused Christopher Weldon, and other Massachusetts prelates, of sexual abuse, in civil court. At that time, the dioceses of Springfield and Worcester expressed dismay that the memories of their esteemed former bishops had to suffer such scurrilous damage. The accused have died; they cannot defend themselves! Unfair!

In his report, Judge Velis explained how you do justice to a dead ‘defendant’–who indeed deserves the presumption of innocence.

You vindicate the right to a good name that the deceased person has by investigating the charge as thoroughly as you can.

The deceased defendant, just like the living accuser, deserves more than the vague claim that ‘dead people can’t defend themselves.’ Rather, a deceased ‘defendant’ receives ‘due process’ when the living conduct a thorough investigation of all the available evidence.

Why has the Church hierarchy never engaged this insight? Why do we not have good procedures in place for evaluating charges against dead clergymen?

After all, the dead ‘defendants’ have long since gone to their final judgment. They have nothing to fear, nor to hope for, from any human tribunal. The human forensic enterprise exists to benefit us, we pilgrims still struggling on earth.

So: William Burnett… Don’t his ‘incredible’ claims look a lot more credible now? And doesn’t the evidence produced in Fleming’s book–namely, that the Diocese of Springfield not only covered-up serial sexual abuse by priests and bishops, but also the murder of one of the victims, by his priest abuser–doesn’t that evidence look a lot more important, and helpful to the cause of truth, now?

Shouldn’t the diocese acknowledge the importance of Fleming’s work, and thank him for it? Shouldn’t the diocese reach out to William Burnett?

Shouldn’t they finally do these things? Now that the Diocese of Springfiled MA has gotten itself forcibly dragged to the point where it has had to acknowledge, twenty-five years after Burnett first wrote to Bishop Dupré: Bishop Christopher Weldon was a brutal criminal.

Back when Randy Engels began publishing her huge study, a decade ago, I ignored her work. I disregarded it, classing it among the ravings of the Church’s angry lunatic fringe.

I was, clearly, dead wrong about that. The ‘angry lunatic fringe’ has gotten vindicated over and over again, these past couple years.

We have to face it: When Engels began corresponding with the incarcerated William Burnett in 2002, she did a far more heroic act of Christian charity than any of the bishops did, during that turbulent year for our Church. Englels was a lot closer to the right track than the bishops who gathered in Dallas.

St. Louis MO and Springfield MA

(with promises of three future posts)

Old StL postcard with King Louis statue

Louis IX reigned as king of France from age 12, in 1226, until he died at age 56, from dysentery during one of the Crusades, in 1270.

King Louis, illustrious in his own right, had an even-more illustrious contemporary. St. Thomas Aquinas walked the earth for just about the same span of years (1225-1274). The two saints’ paths crossed in Paris, including at Notre Dame cathedral, then under construction.

King Louis did many magnanimous things. He invented the presumption of innocence in criminal courts. He forgave rebels. He lived such a humble and prayerful life that they clamored for the canonization of the “monk-king” immediately upon his death.

Centuries later, they named St. Louis, Missouri, after him. An equestrian statue stands in front of the St. Louis Art Museum, in Forest Park: The Apotheosis of St. Louis. The statue represented the city, as its emblem. That is, until they built the now-more-famous Gateway Arch on the Mississippi River.

Apotheosis literally means, ‘making a god out of.’ Figuratively it means: an artistic depiction of a human subject as a heavenly citizen. Another example: the U.S. Capitol dome has the painting Apotheosis of George Washington, by Constantino Brumidi. (That artist lies buried just a few yards from the grave of my dear dad.)

Last month some citizens of St. Louis started a petition, urging the removal of the statue of the king-saint. The petition insists that King St. Louis IX “was a rabid anti-Semite” and “vehemently Islamophobic.”

Owing to this controversy, groups of people have gathered at the statue frequently in recent weeks. At one point, young Father Stephen Shumacher tried to defend the honor of the saint. He had a hard time getting through to anyone. But we have to admire him for his bravery.

Now, did King Louis do evil in north Africa during the Crusades? Only if waiting too long to retreat, and getting himself captured, counts as ‘doing evil.’

Unpacking the Crusades morally would overwhelm our efforts at this moment. But I think we can safely say that King St. Louis IX bears no particular stain there. No one can number him among those who abused the mission the Crusaders had.

But: As a young king, Louis did order the wholesale burning of Jewish holy books.

From what I can tell, Father Shumacher never had the opportunity to defend King St. Louis on that point. Perhaps the young priest could have offered a defense. He could rightly have pointed out that the term “anti-Semitic” does not fit. King Louis did not despise the Jews because of their ethnic origins. He simply despised their Talmud.

In 1240, the king heard a public debate between a former Jew, who had converted to Catholicism, and Rabbis Judah and Yehiel of Paris. It was not a fair fight. The former Jew claimed that the Talmud says evil things–evil things which it manifestly does not say. (Reminds me a little of a situation I have found myself in recently.)

The Dispute by Trebacz
“The Dispute” by Maurycy Trebacz

After the debate, in the square in front of the Louvre, they burned thousands upon thousands of carefully transcribed pages of ancient text, in an open bonfire. King Louis, acting under the orders of the Pope Gregory IX, had ordered the confiscation of every Talmud in the kingdom. They burned over twenty cartloads of hand-printed Hebrew books.

To this day, faithful Jews lament this event with an annual fast in June.

I find myself lamenting it as well. It hits very close to home, since a Catholic authority has ordered the “burning” of the very words you are reading right now. (Not that I’m comparing this goofy weblog to the ageless wisdom of the Talmud.)

My hero St. Thomas Aquinas hadn’t finished his teenage years when the 1242 Talmud burning took place. He was still growing up, in what is now Italy.

But the Angelic Doctor cannot altogether escape association with the evil of that day. His teacher, St. Albert the Great, participated in the Talmud disputation in Paris. And St. Thomas, in his Summa Contra Gentiles, quotes from a spurious text in order to accuse Jewish theology of an error it doesn’t actually have. Aquinas quotes from the “extractions” from the Talmud written up by the ex-Jew who argued dishonestly for the holy book’s destruction.

We will come back to this. The debate that preceded the Talmud burning has some illuminating aspects. The arguments made by Rabbi Yehiel, in defense of the Talmud, deserve our careful consideration. A scholar at New York University wrote an informative paper about this, which I will summarize for you, dear reader, soon.

King St. Louis
St. Louis brought the Crown of Thorns to Notre Dame in Paris (statue in St. Louis MO cathedral)

…The city of St. Louis will have a new Archbishop on the anniversary of the king-saint’s death, August 25. The new archbishop will come to St. Louis from the diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts, over which he has presided for six years.

Years ago, Archbishop-elect Mitch Rozanski served as the pastor of a cluster of inner-city Baltimore parishes. I taught middle-school in a neighboring ‘hood at that time. I used to say a little prayer to the Lord in the tabernacle when I ran past then-Father Rozanski’s parishes on my evening jogs.

Thing is: The aw-shucks Baltimorean arrives in St. Louis just as a controversy of enormous significance unfolds in the diocese he’s leaving. A retired judge in Massachusetts has published a report about the inner-workings of the Catholic Diocese of Springfield.

We cannot overstate the significance of Judge Velis’ report. It reveals in detail the profound problems in the way our Church’s diocesan bureaucracies treat sex-abuse survivors. I will soon provide you, dear reader, with a full digest of Judge Velis’ report. It is a document that can guide our discussion here for months, or even years, to come.

The Catholic people of St. Louis deserve better than what this situation will do to their sense of confidence. They have a new archbishop coming to them from a diocese where a clamor is growing that he ought to resign. He presided over an utterly heartbreaking debacle.

That said, we know something about good Catholic people deserving better than what they get at the hands of the hierarchy these days…

Thirdly: We have to face another name change. One that cuts me to my very heart. More on that soon, too.




The St. Bede, Williamsburg Affair

[written 1/16/20]


God made us male and female. God became a baby boy, who grew up to be a man. The Scriptures conclude with the wedding banquet of the Lamb.

Lord Jesus made the marriage of a man and a woman a sacrament of the New Covenant. The celebration of Mass involves a nuptial mystery. A priest does not preside at the altar in order to attain some kind of personal primacy or honor for himself; he celebrates in the person of Christ the Bridegroom of the Church.

Men are not “better” than women. Man and woman, coming together, give life. In the nuptial mystery that gives life, man and woman must co-operate. They are not interchangeable in their distinctive roles.

Same goes for the priesthood and the celebration of Holy Mass. God became a man in order to save and sanctify the entire human race by His so coming. It’s not like the heavenly Father just flipped a coin to decide if His eternal Word would become a man or a woman. No: the maleness of the Christ comes from the great divine design. The maleness of the ministerial priests of the New Covenant does also.

Being a man doesn’t make anyone better than anyone else. Being a priest doesn’t make anyone better than anyone else. But to be a priest, you have to be a man. Because Christ celebrates the Holy Mass as the Bridegroom of His Church, in the person of His ministerial priests.

All this is essential Catholic doctrine. We say it pertains to the essence of the religion of Christ. We rely on the authority of the popes in this matter. As well we should, since the divine mysteries involved transcend our human reason.

Meanwhile, Anglican and Episcopalian Christians disagree. (Or at least many of them do.) They do not accord the authority of the pope the deference that we do. Indeed, our doing so offends their Articles of Religion, as does our veneration of holy images. They have women priests and bishops.

Susan HaynesThe Episcopalians of Virginia are our friends. We Catholics owe them a debt of gratitude. Even though certain aspects of our religion offend theirs, they let us use their church buildings for years, when many of our nascent parishes had no property.

We had a controversy in Williamsburg. The pastor of the parish of St. Bede, with the approval of our bishop, had offered the use of our church to the Episcopalians of the Diocese of Southern Virginia. So that they could have the consecration of their new bishop in a suitably large church building. (They have no cathedral, and St. Bede seats more people than any of their churches.)

Their new bishop is a woman. To us, this seems impossibly strange. To them, it is normal.

We do not call Episcopalians heretics or schismatics. We do not charge the spiritual descendants of those who separated from the Church with the act of separating. We seek the fellowship of all brother and sister Christians.

Friends can and do disagree on the gravest matters, but nonetheless remain friends.

It appears that the new Episcopalian bishop learned that her coming to St. Bede would distress some Catholics, so she found another place to use for her consecration.

We lost a chance to re-pay our friends some of the debt of gratitude we owe them, for their hospitality to us in the past. The pastor of St. Bede, and our bishop, missed a chance to explain clearly why the Catholic Church doesn’t believe in the ordination of women.

Sad situation all around, in my book.

There is Always Hope

This scene is not in the book (like a lot of the movie version of Two Towers). But it is pretty sweet.

cover…Did you know that when a man is ordained a bishop, two deacons hold the book of the Gospels open over his head?

Meanwhile, the ordaining prelate prays the consecratory prayer.

…Speaking of hope, here is today’s homily…

Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two…He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave from there. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.” (Mark 6:7, 10-11)

The Lord Jesus sent the Apostles out to teach the human race about getting to heaven. The Apostles preached repentance and healed the sick. They were able to restore those who believed to moral and physical health.

Continue reading “There is Always Hope”

The American Thomas More?

APTOPIX Obama Bulls Wizards Basketball

John Salmons
John Salmons
Discussion Question #1: Are the Georgetown Hoyas the most disappointing ballclub in the nation this season?

President and Bulls fan Barack Obama was at the Verizon Center this evening, as was Moses-beard-wearing Bull John Salmons.

Both were disappointed. The Wizards managed to beat the Bulls by 23 points. (Not a typo.) Let’s hope the President comes to more Wizards games!

…Not long ago, the Bishop of Wilimington, Delaware, sent his people a pastoral letter about Abraham Lincoln. The title of the letter is a quote from President Lincoln’s first inaugural address. The quote concludes with the famous phrase, “the better angels of our nature.”

Continue reading “The American Thomas More?”

Plenty to Look Forward To, Provided We Can Get There

dejection1Don’t get mad at me: I was hoping for the Chargers to beat Pittsburgh. Just to make it a clean sweep of upsets for the weekend.

What do football fans BOTH in Dixieland AND near the Empire State Building have in common? They are all wondering how their powerhouse teams managed to let it slip away.

Meanwhile, we mid-Atlantic-ers have the pyrrhic consolation of having two teams left. But there is no joy in it when one of those teams is the Philadelphia Eagles.

flaccoThis Flacco guy is good. When I lived in Mexico, they called me “flaco,” which is Spanish for ‘skinny.’

Whoever wins the AFC is going to win the SuperBowl. And we Redskins fans have to deal with the frustration that the NFC Championship game will be played by two teams we beat.

Here is a homily for yesterday’s Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

Continue reading “Plenty to Look Forward To, Provided We Can Get There”

Is There a Choice?

I think that everybody knows that I vote pro-life. No issue could be more grave than the protection by law of the innocent, defenseless unborn. I will vote pro-life until Roe v. Wade is overturned, until the day when, as the director of Vitae Caring Foundation Carl Landwehr put it in a speech I heard him give the other night, “abortion becomes unthinkable.”

As someone who shares in the shepherding ministry which the Lord entrusted to the Bishops of the Church, I hold myself responsible for clearly teaching not only that abortion is an evil of enormous gravity, but also that the right to life of the innocent unborn must be a part of the fundamental plan of any truly just society.

Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, formerly of Washington
Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, formerly of Washington
Considering all this, you would think that I would applaud the recent letter of our former Auxiliary Bishop Kevin Farrell, now Bishop of Dallas, and his brother Bishop Kevin Vann of Ft. Worth. These bishops spell out the morality of voting with admirable clarity.

They assert something, however, that I am afraid to say I do not think is true.

The Bishops carefully explain that the right to life of the innocent unborn is not a matter of prudential judgement, not something that can be weighed against other considerations. It MUST be decisive. Yes. I applaud the making of this crucial point. Thank God. This takes courage.

Then the Bishops go on to write that: “To vote for a candidate who supports the intrinsic evil of abortion or ‘abortion rights’ when there is a morally acceptable alternative would be to cooperate in the evil—and, therefore, morally impermissible.”

Bishop Kevin Vann of Ft. Worth
Bishop Kevin Vann of Ft. Worth
Now, morally impermissible means what it says it means. We cannot do morally impermissible things. If we do morally impermissible things knowingly and freely, our souls are in danger of damnation.

One can cooperate in evil in one of two ways, either materially or formally. Someone who vacuums the carpets in a medical office building where a doctor performs abortions participates materially in those abortions. But unless he intends to support the work of doing abortions by vacuuming the carpet, he does not formally cooperate. He might just be trying to earn a living, and this is the only job he could find. It is not a good situation, but at the same time it is not ipso facto a sin on his part.

If someone’s material cooperation in evil is “remote,” that is, not closely connected to the evil, then they do not bear moral responsibility for the evil.

Remote participation is permissible provided the person does not intend to be a part of the evil business. I could sin by intending to cooperate with something evil even if had practically nothing to do with it. An absurd example: If I planned to take a trip to a particular city BECAUSE they allowed same-sex “marriage” in that city, that would be a sin. But it is not a sin to go to San Francisco to see the Golden Gate Bridge.

Anyone who votes for a pro-“abortion rights” candidate participates materially in the evil. But if the voter does not vote for the candidate for this reason, but rather votes for the candidate for another reason, he or she does not formally co-operate with abortion. I would think that the material cooperation of a voter in an election for the President of the United States is certainly far enough removed from actual abortions themselves to qualify as “remote.”

Therefore, it is morally impermissible to vote for a pro-abortion candidate BECAUSE he is pro-abortion. Likewise, it is negligent to vote without considering the gravity of the right to life of the innocent, defenseless unborn. But I think that it is incorrect to say that anyone who votes for Obama commits a sin.

It is clearly a sin to vote for him because he supports legal abortion. But there are other reasons why people might choose to vote for him. I do not claim to sympathize with those reasons; I would be delighted to argue them calmly.

I think people ought to vote for the more pro-life candidate.

But I am NOT telling anyone how to vote. My point is exactly the opposite. We HAVE to avoid committing serious sins. But we do not HAVE TO vote for one candidate or the other. What we have to do is to stand before God and do what we believe is right.