Seminarians Suffer, and the Pope Does Not Care

When you come to the seminary to seek God’s will, you do not expect…

1. that the bishop will develop a lustful crush on you, and

2. give you love-bird type gifts, like cologne, and

3. ask you about your sexual history and penis size, and then

4. sneak up behind you in the seminary kitchen, grab your crotch, kiss you on the neck, and thrust his pelvis into your buttocks,

and then, for years, repeatedly

5. demand, under “obedience,” with threats of expulsion, that you massage his, neck, back, and buttocks, while he groans in sexual pleasure, as you grudgingly submit, and then

6. you wake up in your dormitory bed with him sitting next to you, his hand on your upper thigh.

When you think the Lord might be calling you to the priesthood, you have to go to seminary, because the alternative would be a life estranged from your Maker.

When you go to seminary, you have to please the bishop, because he alone–a successor of the Holy Apostles of Christ–can make you a priest.

Dear reader, do you know that the earth is littered with wounded men who tried to follow a vocation from God, but ran into an insecure, power-mad, sexually abusive predator with authority under the seminary roof?

Many of my dearest friends belong to this suffering class of men.

pope francis mccarrick
September 23, 2015

Theodore McCarrick left his trail of broken lives. My book, Ordained By a Predator, will soon see print. It attempts to document McCarrick’s spiritual war crimes. I present my work to the great International Criminal Court in heaven, where justice always prevails.

But my book hardly scratches the surface of McCarrick’s crimes against humanity. Yes, a great deal of documentation has become available these past four years. But most of McCarrick’s collateral damage remains hidden, because the powers-that-be in the Church continue to keep most of McCarrick’s secrets.

Ordained By a Predator also tries to document the crimes of McCarrick’s crony Michael Bransfield.

Again, the mitered mafia did everything possible to bury all the evidence. But, as long-time readers here remember, a brave soul on the inside leaked a secret report in the spring of 2019, and the Washington Post published the whole thing in December of that year.

Because of the courageous leaker–and also a Bransfield victim who spoke out–we learned the truth about how the bishop of West Virginia destroyed priestly vocations by endless drunken abuses of power, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. (Not to mention sexual abuse of minors, of which Bransfield is likely guilty, though it has never been adequately investigated.)

We sadly know that the ecclesiastical system as it now exists does not have a mechanism to deal with this problem. Pope Francis seems not to understand the problem. Or, rather, perhaps he understands it all too well.

The six-step ordeal that I outlined above: At least a dozen seminarians in northern Argentina suffered it, between 2013 and 2017, at the hands of Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta.

As we mentioned earlier this month, Pope Francis has known Zanchetta for years. The pope heard numerous complaints about Zanchetta, from Catholics whose faith Zanchetta had gravely wounded. But the pope protected his old friend.

McCarrick, Bransfield, Zanchetta: similar m.o.’s. But here’s the difference, which we will explore in some detail today:

McCarrick and Bransfield have suffered nominal ecclesiastical discipline, with most of their secrets kept.

Zanchetta has never been censured by the Church in any way. But an Argentine court has now thrown him in jail. And the court has produced thorough documentation of the case.

Zanchetta verdict
Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, hearing the verdict in his case, in a courtroom in Salta, Argentina

The Spanish-speaking public can read the document published by the court at the conclusion of the criminal case. Gustavo Zanchetta convicted of sexual abuse.

Argentine law defines the crime in article 119 of the Criminal Code. Sexual abuse = violating the sexual integrity of anyone under 13, or anyone who cannot freely consent to sexual contact, as a result of a relationship of authority and/or dependence. If the crime is committed by a minister of religion, that aggravates it and calls for a stiffer sentence.

In their legal analysis of the case, the three-judge panel outlines carefully how the crime of sexual abuse is understood in Argentine law. (See pages 88-91 of the court doc.)

The “legal good” protected by the law is: personal sexual integrity. That is, free sexual self-determination as a person. As the judges explain it, Argentine law requires everyone to respect the dignity of other persons, which includes the freedom to accept, or to reject, sexual contact. To treat a person as a thing, used for sexual gratification without free consent, is a crime.

Catechism-of-the-Catholic-CHurchNow, it so happens that the judges’ explanation of Argentine law echoes the definition of chastity found in the Catechism (para. 2337).

The judges go on, in their explanation of the law as it applies in the Zanchetta case:

Groping, unchaste embraces, kisses with sexual significance, touching under duress, or compelling the victim to touch–these all violate the law, when the victim cannot consent, owing either to surprise, or to the relationship of authority. Or in this case, both of those.

I’m no lawyer, of course. But it seems to me that Argentine law reflects our Catholic understanding of sexual integrity more comprehensively than our U.S. law does.

Maybe some states have laws like the Argentine law; I don’t know. But I’m afraid that the former seminarians who denounced Zanchetta to the Argentine D.A. would not have gotten anywhere with a criminal prosecution in the U.S. They would have had to hire their own lawyer and undertake a civil case, and Zanchetta would not have faced the prospect of imprisonment.

In addition to the legal reasoning, the Argentine court document contains the testimony of 35 witnesses. Plus Zanchetta’s defense.

The two former seminarians who went to the police in early 2019 offered consistent and coherent testimony.

Their accusations against Zanchetta were corroborated by the eyewitness testimony of eleven other seminarians. Four additional seminarians didn’t see the abuse, but heard it about it from eye-witnesses at the time.

The accusations were further corroborated by the office employee who found gay pornography and naked selfies on Zanchetta’s phone in 2015, as well as by this man’s co-worker, and by Zanchetta’s chauffeur.

Zanchetta had tried to pressure the employees not to testify. On the stand, the chauffeur said this:

Bishop Zanchetta behaved as if he were God… I have worked for the Church for twenty years. I understand the authority structure. But it’s not blind obedience. Sometimes you cannot obey.

Francis and Zanchetta

As we noted before, Pope Francis–while he was still Cardinal Bergoglio–received documentary evidence of Father Zanchetta’s dishonesty, back in 2011.

In 2013, Argentine Catholics spiritually wounded by Zanchetta begged the new Pope Francis not to elevate such a dangerous man to the rank of bishop. And in 2015, Francis received, via hand-delivery by a Cardinal, a thumb drive with the gay porn and naked selfies inadvertently found on Zanchetta’s phone by the office employee.

Zanchetta, however, continued to abuse seminarians with impunity for two more years. He regularly told his victims that he was an untouchable “friend of the pope.” He told the seminarians that he had “talked with the pope about them.” He said, when returning from Rome, that “he had been in the pope’s bed.”

(Apparently Zanchetta used this last expression figuratively, to indicate great closeness, rather than literally. The seminarians took it that way–that is, figuratively.)

The priest in charge of the seminary had become aware of Zanchetta’s crimes and sought relief through ecclesiastical channels. There were also apparently serious financial irregularities–like with Bransfield and McCarrick. None of Zanchetta’s misuses of money have ever been fully disclosed (like with Bransfield and McCarrick). But there is a pending Argentine court case about the money.

Zanchetta suddenly resigned from office in mid-2017, “for health reasons.” Pope Francis transferred him to a position in the Vatican.

In the spring of 2019, the pope gave a long interview that I have cited here before. In that interview, Pope Francis defended how he had handled the Zanchetta affair. He said that Zanchetta had a strong answer to the charges against him. But he conceded that a Vatican trial was needed, and the wheels of justice were turning, and people just needed to be more patient.

More patient? The pope gave that interview three years ago.

In the meantime, Zanchetta stepped away from his Vatican position because of the investigation into his conduct, then returned to his position. The Vatican never censured Zanchetta in any way. Nothing about his Vatican trial has ever been made public–that is, made public by the Vatican itself.

In his defense before the Argentine court, as the court document outlines, Zanchetta maintained that the charges against him all stemmed from a plot, concocted by his enemies among the priests of the diocese. They disagreed with his decisions as bishop, so they conspired to destroy him.

“The accusers have not spoken on their own,” Zanchetta insisted. “There is something behind them.”

Zanchetta accused his ‘enemies’ among the clergy of violating their solemn promise of obedience.

He then added, regarding the charge that he had entered seminarians’ bedrooms without permission, “The bedrooms of seminarians are like the bedrooms of the children in the parents’ house.”

[That’s the sound of steam coming out of my ears, dear reader.]

Zanchetta also told the court:

In the canonical investigation, it became clear that the charges of sexual abuse against me were induced by the angry priests.

Now, regarding this canonical investigation…

1. As noted above, Pope Francis said it was underway three years ago. The following year, Zanchetta’s canon lawyer told a reporter that the process was “almost over.”

2. The Argentine court repeatedly asked for the Vatican’s findings. The judges in Argentina did not want to begin hearing witnesses until they had the Vatican documents, so they waited.

After almost two years of waiting, they finally gave up and started the trial without anything from the Vatican. Then, while the hearings were underway, a portion of the Vatican Zanchetta dossier arrived.

3. The pages that came contained canonical testimony given by seminarians and former seminarians in the aftermath of Zanchetta’s 2017 resignation.

(One of the seminarians who corroborated the accusers in the Argentine court case was actually one of the accusers in the canonical case.)

The Argentine judges found that the seminarian testimony in the Vatican dossier lined up with the testimony they heard in court, so they counted the Vatican pages as an additional proof of guilt.

The Argentine judges rejected Zanchetta’s defense. In their document, the judges point out the numerous implausibilities implied in the defense theory.

Why would former seminarians, who now have no connection with the Church, perjure themselves as part of some intra-Church feud? And how could so many perjuries cohere so well in painting a clear picture of Zanchetta’s sexual abuses?

Also, if the man really needed so many neck and back massages for health reasons, why didn’t he go to a masseur? Or a doctor?

Zanchetta maintained in his defense that the victims waited too long to go to the police. But the judges point out in their analysis: hadn’t the seminarians tried to communicate up the chain of command in the Church, but to no avail? Hadn’t they given testimony in a canonical process, only to see their testimony covered up by the Vatican?

As we noted at the time, the court found Zanchetta guilty and sentenced him to 4.5 years in prison. This happened on March 4.

The incumbent bishop of Orán (Zanchetta’s successor) released a lame ‘apology’ to the victims, full of euphemisms. The Argentine Bishops’ Conference did, too.

From the Vatican: total silence.

The day after the verdict, Zanchetta’s canon lawyer, who had been sent to Orán by the Vatican, gave a press conference. He insisted that there was in fact a plot against Zanchetta, and the bishop is innocent.

So it seems like there is only one way to interpret the total Vatican silence of the past three weeks :

The canonical trial exonerated Bishop Zanchetta. He was found not guilty. (According to canonical rules, that would mean that there would be no further public reference to the case.)

But now the Argentine court has produced a thorough written record demonstrating the man’s guilt, with both overwhelming evidence and careful legal reasoning–itself based on Catholic principles. The soundness of the Argentine court’s work shows clearly how unsound the Vatican’s pretense of justice has been in this case.

Granted, this last part is purely speculation on my part. But if the Vatican had found Zanchetta guilty of anything, we would know. If the canonical trial were still underway, we would know.

No. They exonerated him. A predator guilty of ruining at least a dozen priestly vocations. And guilty of alienating God-only-knows-how-many Catholics from the Church.

Pope Francis mate.jpg

Why has Pope Francis never visited his homeland?

For five centuries, we had Italian popes. When they stepped out onto the St. Peter’s loggia, they were already in their homeland.

Then we had a Polish pope. He went home, to a hero’s welcome, during the first year of his papacy.

Then we had a German pope. He went home, also to a hero’s welcome, within four months of his election.

Now we have an Argentine pope. After nine years, he has not visited Argentina, and has no plans to do so. (He has visited Chile, Brazil, Paraguay, Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru.)

When a law firm investigated Pope Benedict’s record in dealing with sexual abuse in his homeland, they found significant ethical lapses and cover-ups.

What, O God, would a team of investigators find in Argentina? Are there enough thumb drives in the world to hold it all?

Spain Follow-Up + Answering CIASE Criticisms

Shepherd One
Shepherd One, where El País handed over the info

The Spanish newspaper El País has collected testimony from well over a thousand victims of clergy sex-abuse. Earlier this month, one of the reporters presented 385 pages of information to Pope Francis. On Sunday, El País made all of this public. The paper added: The Vatican and the Spanish Bishops’ Conference will investigate all the cases.

I expressed some misgivings about El País’ confidence in an ecclesiastical investigation. On Monday, the Spanish Bishops’ Conference confirmed my skepticism. The Spanish bishops published a defensive, less-than-honest press release. They referred to a “lack of rigor” in El País’ investigation. The bishops offered multiple justifications for not investigating anything.

Juan Cuatrecasas, president of the Stolen Childhood victims’ association reacted with outrage:

That these gentlemen speak of rigor is offensive. Let them interview each victim in that report and tell them face-to-face, looking in their eyes, that what they say is not ‘rigorous.’

Speaking of embarrassing ecclesiastical defensiveness, I promised to consider the criticisms that a group of French Catholic intellectuals have made against the comprehensive report on sex-abuse published in October–the Rapport Sauvé, or CIASE report.

Jean Marc Sauve CIASE France abuse

The CIASE report gathers the testimonies of sex-abuse survivors; it reviews the records of dioceses and prosecutors; and it reports the results of an on-line survey of the general population of France, about sex-abuse.

Based on these various sources of information, the report estimates that 216,000 young people have been sexually abused by French Catholic clergymen, since the 1950’s.

The French-intellectual critics insist that this staggering total cannot be supported by the information that is actually available. They point out that the percentages garnered by the on-line survey are too small to be extrapolated from, since they are smaller than the margin of error.

This is, no doubt, a valid point, in and of itself. But it is not a convincing criticism in this case.

First, because the CIASE report freely acknowledges that the extrapolated total does not tally easily with the hard data collected by other methods of investigation. CIASE estimates a maximum of 3,200 abuser clerics during the time period. To reach a total of 216,000, the average abuser would have over 60 victims–not a conclusion that is easy to feature, as the CIASE itself acknowledges.

The critics insist that the CIASE should have reported 24,000 victims, starting with 3,200 abusers and multiplying by the CIASE’s own estimate for average number of victims per criminal, which is 7.5.

But this would disregard altogether the insight given by the on-line survey of the general population.

Let me put it like this: the Catholic intellectuals’ criticism here is unconvincing because:

1. 24,000 victims is itself a staggering number.

2. The problem might not be that the total of 216,000 is too high, but that the estimate of 3,200 criminal clergy abusers is too low.

3. 216,000 actually fits reasonably into the overall picture of sex-abuse in France:

5.5 million French people have been sexually abused in childhood, since 1950. (This number is not in dispute.) If only 216,000 of those 5.5 million were abused by Catholic clergymen, that actually makes the incidence of Catholic clerical sex abuse lower in France, as a portion of total sexual abuse, than in other largely Catholic countries.

The critics dwell on the admittedly uncertain total estimate because they want to dispute the CIASE’s conclusion that sex-abuse of minors is a “systemic” problem in the Catholic Church. The Catholic intellectuals accuse the CIASE of inflating the number in order to shock the public into accepting the idea that the problem is systemic, without any further debate on the point.

Again, an unconvincing criticism, because: Even if the CIASE total is significantly off, would that somehow make the problem less ‘systemic?’ If there are actually only 108,000 victims, wouldn’t that still be a systemic problem? Or even if we stuck with the number that the critics themselves suggest–24,000. Isn’t that total enough to justify the conclusion that there is a systemic problem?

The criticism of the estimated total seems more like a quibble intended to obfuscate the matter, rather than an engagement of the real issues at hand. The clear fact is: criminals have hidden in the Catholic clergy for decades, in order to prey freely on minors, and then go unpunished for it by their superiors. Something definitely needs to be done about this. The question is not if something needs to be done; the question is what.

Charlton Heston Ten Commandments Moses

The critics further obfuscate the matter by trying to play both sides of the sexual-morality issue.

On the one hand, the critics rightly point out: It is precisely the teaching of the Church that tells us just how wrong the criminal sexual abuse of minors is.

This is true, and amen to it. No one has ever suggested that it would solve the Catholic sex-abuse crisis if the Church stopped teaching that sexually abusing minors is wrong and a sin.

But then the critics bring up the fact that, in the 1970’s, some prominent Frenchmen, including the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, publicly proposed that pedophilia be de-criminalized. It was part of the crazy ‘sexual revolution.’

Pope Benedict XVI Castel Gandolfo good night

(Pope-Emeritus Benedict used another version of this same argument in his unconvincing 2019 essay on the sex-abuse crisis.)

The critics then go on to suggest that the thinking of the 70’s influenced the Catholic clergy of the time–even though it contradicts perennial Church teaching, not to mention the basic moral instincts of the human race.

But if this were, in fact, true–namely that Jean Paul Sartre & Co. managed to confuse the French clerical establishment about sexual morality–wouldn’t that actually suggest an even-more-serious systemic problem in the Catholic Church in France?

The criticisms outlined so far, however, are all secondary issues in the dispute between the Catholic intellectuals and the CIASE. The central point of conflict is this:

Catechism-of-the-Catholic-CHurch

The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers an image to explain the role of the clergy in the life of the Church. We clergymen exercise sacred ministry in persona Christi capitis. In the person of Christ the Head.

The whole Church of the baptized = the mystical Body of Christ. But we ordained clergy operate in the person of Christ the Head of the Body.

Now, not even Protestants say that this is out-and-out wrong. After all, you can’t have a community without leaders. Plus, in the Church, the leaders do something unique. We give Jesus Christ to the community.

That is something no human community could ever give to itself. The Son came from the Father, not from Europe, or Africa, or Asia. God incarnate was born of the Virgin in Bethlehem, in an altogether unique event. And that’s where this unique thing called the Church started.

All that conceded, the CIASE nonetheless recognizes: The image of in personal Christi capitis–used to identify what a Catholic clergyman is–it may be a necessary image, but it is still dangerous. The idea can be cruelly exploited, with disastrous consequences. The justifications that have been used to exploit the image must be identified clearly. And unequivocally condemned.

We read in the Rapport Sauvé:

The Commission believes that it is necessary closely to examine the hierarchical constitution of the Catholic Church in view of the internal disagreement concerning its own understanding of itself: between communion and hierarchy; between apostolic succession and synodality; and, essentially, affirmation of the authority of preachers and the reality of grass roots practices which are increasingly influenced by democratic practices.

Granted, these ‘discussion points’ require a vast range of reflection on the part of us Catholics. There are no immediately evident ‘action items’ here.

But who could deny that we do, in fact, very much need to reflect carefully on these very points? I myself have been meditating daily on these ‘internal tensions’ in our religion for the past three years. And it has done me an enormous amount of good.

But the French-intellectual critics of the CIASE can only dismiss this thoughtful recommendation with a sniff. They write: “We can hardly see what practical approach can be suggested by this motley enumeration.”

Motley? How about: Profound, insightful, and deeply challenging–for good reason.

canon law codex canonici

The critics then proceed to poke holes in the CIASE’s concept of ‘reparative justice’ for sex-abuse survivors. The critics explain–with perfect plausibility–that the legal systems now in place, both civil and canonical, cannot be used to obtain the outcome that the CIASE envisions, because the cases are mostly too old.

Again, in their defensiveness, the critics only manage to beg the question. One of the CIASE’s contentions is, in fact, that the canon-law system we now have is inadequate to deal with the problem.

To conclude. In their essay, the CIASE’s critics make a fundamental mistake, the same mistake made time and again by well-meaning Catholics facing the sex-abuse crisis. They see an enemy, where a friend is actually trying to help.

Again, it all seems painfully familiar to me. So let me make a distinction, when it comes to “enemies” of the Church.

Publicly to “incite hatred or animosity” against the ecclesiastical hierarchy, or to “provoke disobedience against them”–this is a crime under canon law, punishable by severe penalties.

But isn’t this canon missing a necessary qualifying phrase? For a real crime to occur, wouldn’t the criminal have to intend to damage the Church?

Without this qualification, the law runs the risk of criminalizing virtuous acts. What if a bishop or pope does something unjust, or even criminal? Was it a crime against the Church when one of McCarrick’s victims went to a journalist in the early 2000’s, to try to get his story out–after he had been brow-beaten and gas-lighted by multiple prelates?

The Chancellor of the Diocese of Dallas, Texas, recently published an article interpreting the canon in question here (canon 1373). Chancellor Caridi tsk-tsks public critics of the hierarchy and suggests that we deserve penal sanctions. He writes:

The Church is not an institution instilled with the values of self-governance or a right to protest.

But wait. Isn’t this a straight-up contradiction of the teaching of all the post-Vatican II popes? Don’t we Catholics think that it is precisely our Christian vision of the human person that has given rise to the realm of free speech, open debate, and freedom of conscience that we have traditionally called “the Western world?”

We believe that the magisterium of the Church delivers to us the truths of Divine Revelation, in which we put our absolute faith. But that doesn’t mean that prelates cannot err in their acts of governance. There is no charism of infallibility when it comes to governance.

When it comes to clerical sexual abuse, our prelates have erred in governance–as a body–so grievously, and over such an extended period of time, that reasonable, good people have lost confidence in their judgment.

If open debate about this evident fact results in penal sanctions in the Church, that does not serve good order or Church unity. To the contrary, it only serves as further proof of ecclesiastical misgovernment.

 

Update on My Canonical Case

canon law codex canonici

I have received a notice from Bishop Knestout. He intends formally to charge me with two canonical “delicts,” that is, Church crimes. He tells me that he intends to pursue an “extrajudicial penal process.” (Not sure what that means.) He intends to “resolve my situation” by “invoking II Special Faculty.” (Don’t know what that means, either.)

The charges are: 1. disobedience 2. incitement.

According to the canon, disobedience = “not complying with the legitimate precepts or prohibitions of the Apostolic See or the ordinary [ie. bishop].”

St Francis of Assisi Rocky Mount
St. Francis of Assisi, Rocky Mount, Virginia

Precept. I believe that, in November 2019, Bishop Knestout signed a ‘precept’ concerning this blog. On the 21st of that month, the bishop surprised me after daily Mass and read at least part of that precept to me.

The situation that day was far from calm; I did not catch every word of what the bishop was reading to me. I didn’t worry about that, though, because I assumed that I would receive a written copy.

When bishop finished reading, however, he informed me that I would not receive a copy of the document. I was dumbfounded.

I am assuming that the Bishop intends to accuse me of disobeying this particular precept of November 2019, in this “penal process” now begun. I certainly hope that I will have the opportunity to hold the document in my own hands and read it with my own eyes, before I am put on trial for disobeying it. I hope that I will have some time to consider its contents carefully.

None of us are in the dark, though–at least I don’t believe we are–about the basic thrust of this mysterious document. The precept compels me, under pain of losing the office of pastor in Martinsville/Rocky Mount, to remove this blog from circulation entirely and to withdraw completely from publishing anything.

In March of last year (2020), my canon lawyer wrote to Bishop Knestout, pointing out that I needed more information from him in order to understand his problems with this blog and to make adjustments to satisfy him. We never received any response to my lawyer’s letter.

sacredheartcathedralrichmond

Then last summer my lawyer argued that the precept in question appears not to be in harmony with the teaching of the popes, when it comes to priests using the internet to communicate.

My lawyer made this distinction:

On the one hand, we acknowledge the prerogative the bishop has to guide me in what I would publish here. I have, in fact, repeatedly sought such guidance. On the other hand, the bishop’s demand that I cease entirely to communicate over the internet violates my basic freedom as a human being, and it contradicts the law and the teaching of the Church.

This past March, I wrote to Bishop Knestout. I re-iterated my offer to work with him–or with someone delegated by him, or with anyone approved by him–to try to solve the problems that this blog has caused in our relationship. I remain willing, as I have been all along, to correct any errors I have published here. I expressed my desire to serve the diocese in some priestly ministry that might be helpful.

St Peters

Bishop Knestout responded by urging me to seek laicization. Then he informed me that he himself had petitioned the Holy See to expel me from the clergy.

Apparently that petition was returned to Bishop Knestout at some point this summer, without any action taken on it in Rome. Perhaps because I have never been given due process and the opportunity to defend myself. Indeed, I have never been clear on what exactly the bishop believes I have done wrong, other than continuing to keep this weblog in existence.

To return to the charges that have now, at long last, been made a little more clear… The second one is brand new. I don’t have any record of the bishop ever accusing me of incitement, until last week.

According to the canon, the crime of incitement = “publicly stirring up hostilities or hatred against the Apostolic See or an ordinary [bishop] on account of some act of ecclesiastical power or ministry, or inciting subjects to disobey.”

I have no awareness whatsoever of ever having done this.

I have freely shared my own point-of-view, on topics that cause a lot of thoughts and emotions. But I believe that I have always left it to you, dear reader, to determine how you react to what I write.

For my part, I bear no ill will towards Pope Francis or Bishop Knestout. To the contrary, I pray for both of them with love every time I celebrate Holy Mass. I have at times been angry with both of them, but that anger cooled long ago.

It seems to me that expressing yourself in a proper forum about highly debatable matters of Church governance ≠ incitement to hatred or disobedience.

I do not think that I myself have wrongly disobeyed; I know for certain that I have never urged anyone to disobey the Church’s law or any particular ordinance of Bishop Knestout.

Two weeks from today my canon lawyer and I will meet with the bishop and Judicial Vicar to initiate this “extrajudicial process.” I pray for humility and honesty. Apparently the bishop will present evidence to support his charges; may I have a mind open to see the whole matter as clearly as possible.

If I have in fact done wrong in the ways that the bishop contends, I pledge myself to do whatever I can to repair the damage.

Today we keep the anniversary of St. Therese of Lisieux’s holy death. On the day of the meeting in Richmond, we will remember Therese’s spiritual mother, St. Theresa of Avila. Let’s pray to these two Doctors of the Church. May a miracle of peace and mutual understanding occur.

The Cult of Secrecy

On November 21, 2019, Bishop Barry Knestout appeared unexpectedly at St. Francis of Assisi parish in Rocky Mount, Virginia. He insisted on meeting privately with me. (The bishop had the Vicar General with him.) The bishop then ordered me to turn off my cellphone.

St Francis of Assisi Rocky Mount
St. Francis of Assisi, Rocky Mount, Virginia

The bishop then read a document aloud to me, a “decree” he had written about my blog. As he read, I struggled to take it all in. The circumstances had jarred my nerves. I did not panic about missing some of what he read, however, because I assumed I would be able to read the document later at my leisure.

After reading the document aloud, the bishop rose to leave the premises. He informed me, to my great surprise, that I would not receive a printed copy. He said something about how I might be able to read it, but I didn’t catch what he said. All I remember is that under no circumstances whatsoever would I be allowed to make a copy.

It has been over a year and a-half since that visit. I have never laid eyes on the document the bishop read.

On May 5, 2020, Bishop Knestout suspended my priestly faculties. He forbade me celebrating the sacraments publicly.

In his letter to me that day, the bishop threatened me with an “interdict” if I published his correspondence to me. I’m not sure what that threat even means, to be honest. Nonetheless, he threatened it. If you publish my letters, you will be punished severely.

confessional

A penitent sinner going to confession has a right to expect secrecy from the priest.

Most sins are private. Only rarely in my priestly life has anyone confessed a sin to me that was also a crime. Under those circumstances, when the situation called for it, I told the penitent before absolution that he or she must do something to restore public justice–including submitting to the criminal justice system, in one case I remember.

Because a crime not only damages the soul of the sinner, it also disturbs public justice. A crime is not a private thing. That’s why “The People” or “The Country” or “The State of…” or “The United States” prosecutes crimes in court. Sins may be private, but crimes affect everyone.

Also not a private matter: the question of who will serve as the pastor of a parish, or whether a not a priest can celebrate the sacraments publicly.

Why would Bishop Knestout imagine that his removing me from office or suspending my faculties is a private matter? I was the pastor of two busy, medium-sized parishes. I celebrated the sacraments with people dozens of times a week. His removing me from office and suspending my faculties affected the lives of hundreds of people.

I bring all this up because Mr. Kieran Tapsell has written a helpful, concise analysis of the Vatican’s recent revision of the Code of Canon Law. Tapsell participated in the the Australian Royal Commission report on Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which made recommendations about revising canon law.

canon law codex canoniciAs Americans we tend to take for granted that legal proceedings–especially criminal prosecutions–are public. It’s hard for Americans even to grasp how inherently secretive the Church’s canonical process actually is.

In our country, and countries like ours, trials take place in open court. Many take place in front of cameras. Reporters tell the public what happened. The general public has the right to read the final decisions, with attendant documents.

We take all this for granted because we think of court business as something that pertains to us, the body politic. We think that it pertains to us because it does.

The Australian Royal Commission recommended to the Vatican that canonical cases involving child sexual abuse be published, for the general public to read, with the identity of the victim(s) omitted.

mccarrickI made a similar plea early in 2019, regarding the McCarrick canonical case. I argued: the criminal ecclesiastical prosecution of a Cardinal Archbishop is not a private matter. The crimes involved affected the lives of thousands of Catholics.

When the pope defrocked McCarrick, the Vatican published less than one full paragraph of information about the case. To this day, we do not know on what evidence McCarrick was convicted and dismissed from the clerical state.

And the Vatican has rejected the Australian Royal Commission recommendation about child-sex abuse cases in general. The revised Code of Canon Law does not make any provision for giving the public any information about ecclesiastical criminal cases.

Tapsell laments:

The Vatican spokesman said, “Today the atmosphere is different, [when it comes to actually punishing criminal priests.]”

But it remains to be seen whether the Church’s courts actually agree with the spokesman’s claim. As the Church has not adopted the Royal Commission’s recommendation as to the publication of canonical court decisions, we will probably never know–until the next time the Church is required to hand over its records by another civil inquiry, or the United Nations.

The maintenance of secrecy over the Church’s disciplinary actions will not restore its reputation.

My friend Mark Vath has written an open letter to law enforcement officers in Louisiana. The occasion for Mark’s letter is this:

In December of last year, lawyers questioned a serial pedophile priest in a court deposition. The judge then ordered the deposition sealed, in deference to the bankruptcy proceedings of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

Since law-enforcement agents have the right to look at the sealed deposition of Father Lawrence Hecker, Mark urges them to do so. Assess whether a felony cover-up has occurred. Make the information public.

Mark asks:

How can the public make an objective, logical, and rational decision as to the level of corruption involved, if the documents and testimonies remain sealed and locked away from public view?

Mark will speak, along with Richard Windmann, here in Virginia next month. They will speak in Martinsville on Sunday, July 25th and in Richmond on Monday, July 26th.

More details to follow, and don’t forget Chris O’Leary’s talks in Martinsville and Roanoke this coming Sunday and Monday 🙂

You’re Welcome, Your Holiness

pope francis mccarrick
September 23, 2015

In 2015, Pope Francis declared a “Year of Mercy.”

The following year, the pope published a book, The Name of God is Mercy.

On Ash Wednesday, 2016, the pope dispatched “Missionaries of Mercy.”

Shortly thereafter, the Vatican Secretary of State received a letter from then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

McCarrick referred to his dealings with the Holy See over the course of the previous decade. The Vatican had attempted to get McCarrick to disappear quietly from the public stage. McCarrick had not co-operated with the cover-up scheme.

But in his March 8, 2016, letter to Cardinal Parolin, McCarrick offered to “retire to a holy place and pray for the salvation of my soul, instead of wandering around the world.”

Cardinal Parolin mentioned McCarrick’s letter to Pope Francis.

The pope already knew that McCarrick stood accused of abusing his authority to force seminarians into his bed. Archbishop Viganò, as well as Cardinal Becciu, had alerted the pope to McCarrick’s predations. The Vatican file contained testimony about McCarrick forcing a seminarian to put on a sailor suit and get into bed with him.

Pope Francis told Cardinal Parolin not to accept McCarrick’s March, 2016, offer to disappear.

“Maybe McCarrick could still do something useful,” the pope said.

[All of this is documented on pages 429-430 of the Vatican McCarrick Report.]

In September of 2018, I published an open letter to Pope Francis. (Before McCarrick was laicized through a secret procedure.)

I wrote:

Holy Father, you have spoken over and over again about the primacy of mercy. You misinterpreted what the moment demanded. For over a generation, no one has had any doubt that the Church knows how to act with mercy. The obvious problem we have is: the Church has forgotten how to act with severity. How can you not see that your former-Cardinal-Priest Theodore McCarrick has–in his brazen recklessness–exposed this colossal weakness?

What did the moment demand, when the first of McCarrick’s brother bishops learned of his predations? Mercy? Hardly. What did the moment demand, when you learned of it? Mercy? No. The moment demanded the just application of strict rules.

Do you not see how desperately the Church needs a severe father right now? A fearless and exacting enforcer of rules. A man whom sinners behold, and tremble.

Pope Francis Annuarium pontificum

Last week, the Holy Father published a decree revising the Code of Canon law.

In his letter announcing the change, the Holy Father wrote.

In the past, great damage was done by a failure to appreciate the close relationship existing in the Church between the exercise of charity and recourse — where circumstances and justice so require — to disciplinary sanctions.

This manner of thinking — as we have learned from experience — risks leading to tolerating immoral conduct, for which mere exhortations or suggestions are insufficient remedies. This situation often brings with it the danger that over time such conduct may become entrenched, making correction more difficult and in many cases creating scandal and confusion among the faithful.

For this reason, it becomes necessary for bishops and superiors to inflict penalties. Negligence on the part of a bishop in resorting to the penal system is a sign that he has failed to carry out his duties honestly and faithfully.

You’re welcome, Your Holiness. For the idea.

Allow me to point out, however, that you accuse yourself with your own words.

You were McCarrick’s bishop, his priestly father in God. From 2013 onward, only one man on earth had authority over Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

You.

You were negligent. You failed to carry out your duties honestly and faithfully, just like Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II failed to do, before you.

canon law codex canonici

Another person who deserves a big apology from the mitered mafia: Father Lauro Sedlmayer.

McCarrick abused his authority over Father Sedlmayer during the 1990’s, to obtain sexual gratification from the young, naive, foreign-born priest.

Sedlmayer tried to denounce McCarrick for his crimes. In response, the Diocese of Metuchen NJ and the Archdiocese of Newark proceeded to sue him in court.

On May 17, 2013, two months after Francis became our pope, the then-Bishop of Metuchen Paul Bootkoski wrote to Father Sedlmayer. The bishop insisted that Father had “violated Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s rights.”

According to Bootkoski, Sedlmayer had “calumniated” McCarrick, because Sedlmayer publicly referred to McCarrick as a “predator.”

Bootkoski went on to stipulate in his letter: Sedlmayer could not continue in ministry as a priest unless he underwent intense supervision, therapy, and “spiritual direction.”

Meanwhile:

The Vatican knew perfectly well that calling McCarrick a “predator” did not involve calumny, or a violation of McCarrick’s rights. When Father Sedlmayer blanketed a parish parking lot with fliers calling McCarrick a predator, he spoke the truth, with justice.

The Vatican had more than enough evidence in hand to vindicate Father Sedlmayer in his accusations against McCarrick.

What did they do?

In the Vatican.

While a bishop mercilessly persecuted a priest who spoke the truth about Theodore McCarrick, the truth that they knew full well?

Nothing. Nothing at all.

In 2016, Bishop Bootkoski reached the normal retirement age, and the pope accepted his resignation, without any reference whatsoever to McCarrick, or to Father Sedlmayer’s decades of suffering at the hands of prelates who abused their authority.

Kinda makes you wonder:

Would they be doing anything at all at the Vatican, about McCarrick, now? Except that circumstances outside their control forced them to do something?

Last week’s revision to the Code of Canon Law changes canon 1395.3, which defines a crime, namely: A clergyman forcing someone to perform or submit to sexual acts by force or threat. The revised law adds the phrase “or by abuse of his authority.”

The pope first introduced that phrase into the rules in May of 2019.

I pointed out then:

I guess we could call this “The McCarrick Law.” Apparently, he clearly abused his authority to get sex. After all, the pope convicted him of breaking this law (even before it was on the books) in a summary administrative procedure, without a full trial.

But: If it was as clear as all that, why wasn’t McCarrick convicted by Pope Benedict, back in 2006? We generally regard Pope Benedict as a sober, upright man. Why didn’t he recognize a case of criminal abuse, if the matter was so crystal-clear?

McCarrick ordained me a transitional deacon 18 years ago today [May 13, 2019]. On that day, I thought of him as an amazingly talented, crushingly self-centered, charming tyrant. He gave the Archdiocese of Washington a huge amount of energy that it had not previously had. He appeared utterly uninterested in anything having to do with theology. He was a flawed man. He was no walking demon.

On May 13, 2001, many churchmen, who we then regarded as at least somewhat reasonable–including Pope John Paul II–knew something about McCarrick’s sexual life. They had not concluded that his actions amounted to crimes.

My point is: I think anyone who has ever served in the military knows: The line between criminal abuse of authority in a sexual relationship, on the one hand, and a consensual affair, on the other: by no means crystal-clear.

In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth do grave evils. Who convinced whom to do them? Did Macbeth abuse his authority over his wife? Or did she seduce him into committing murder–to satisfy her ambition? The answer is: Yes.

Criminal laws on paper accomplish nothing without competent investigators, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges–and principles of application of the laws, based on acquired experience. Pope Francis has given us: the paper. We don’t have the rest.

Fort Lee, Marriage Law

We have a Fort Lee down here in Virginny, too, you know. I pass the exit for it every time I have to drive from Martinsville to Richmond for a meeting. Never encountered a single backup…

Last month, our humble cluster of parishes discussed the famous questions about Holy Matrimony posed by the Apostolic See in preparation for the Synod on the Family, which begins in the fall.

I said at the time that the one question that really interested me was:

Could a simplification of canonical practice in recognizing a declaration of nullity of the marriage bond provide a positive contribution to solving the problems of the persons involved? If yes, what form would it take?

If I might, I would like to spell out what I think about this. Indulge me as you will. Continue reading “Fort Lee, Marriage Law”

Arch-Conservatives and Whoopi Together


Boy am I out-of-it. Did you know that they made a movie about Dr. King’s speech? Apparently, it is really good, won an Oscar, and stars someone named Colin Firth, who I don’t think is even black.

But I am not completely out of it. I do know that last week Whoopi Goldberg opined on the subject of Governor Cuomo of New York receiving Holy Communion.

But look. This is a golden opportunity for a metaphysical analysis of a moral choice.

For obvious reasons, I will approach it here from the point-of-view of the person giving out Holy Communion.

Crucial point #1: Whenever moral evil of any kind presents itself, perhaps the first question a person should ask himself is, “Whose conscience is this going to be on?”

Aha! We have found the Original Metaphysical Principle for morals: I am morally responsible only for those acts or omissions which are imputable to me.

(In my limited experience with helping people exercise moral discernment, the clarification of who is morally responsible resolves the matter 95% of the time.)

Let’s apply this to the matter at hand. If I am giving out Holy Communion, there are various ways I could do evil. Interiorly, I could doubt the Real Presence or fail to adore the Lord in the sacrament. I could let my mind wander. If I weren’t a priest, I could absurdly think of what I am doing as “my” ministry, rather than as a simple act of charity to help Father in the interest of time or convenience. I could vainly focus on myself instead of trying to disappear behind Christ.

Exteriorly, I could imprudently misjudge my physical or psychological capacity to perform this ministry. I could be negligent in my handling of the vessels. Probably the gravest evil I could do—short of intentionally desecrating the sacrament—would be to act out of human respect in giving out communion. It pretty much goes without saying that the duty of a minister of Holy Communion is to minister the sacrament to those who approach to receive it, no matter who they are, what they look like, how they smell, how they are dressed, etc.

Continue reading “Arch-Conservatives and Whoopi Together”

Red Rocks + Sunday Homily

Voice of the Caps
Voice of the Caps
Cannot tell you what a comfort it is to turn on the radio and listen to the eager Canadian voice of Steve Kolbe.

The Caps are tearing it up, people!

God made them male and female.

…A man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two become one flesh…

What God has joined together, no human being must separate.

(Mark 10:6-8, 12)

In his teaching, our Holy Father Pope Benedict insists on certain ideas over and over again. One of them is: Religion is not purely private.

Continue reading “Red Rocks + Sunday Homily”