The Unrepentant Syndicate

This is the first of the two posts I promised, proving that the current ecclesiastical hierarchy continues to operate according to this long-debunked, wrong-headed principle:

Sexual abuse is a shameful private matter that should be kept from the public eye. If people know that clergymen have committed this crime, they will lose the faith. Therefore, it should be hushed up, at any cost.

Anyone who sexually abuses a minor commits a crime. The victim of the crime suffers a grave injury. One significant dimension of that injury: Crippling shame, which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to communicate with others about what happened.

scales_of_justiceIndeed, there may be even more to this than many of us have thought. I spoke recently with a sex-abuse survivor who recounted how he had no memories whatsoever about being abused in his childhood, until the summer of 2018. Then the headlines about priest six-abuse shook loose in his mind an avalanche of memories. He thinks that his abuser knew how to cause the suppression of the memories. Some abusers may have that twisted psychological-manipulative skill.

Back to justice under law: The problem here is, criminal investigations and prosecutions generally rely on “warm” evidence. Investigating crimes committed in the distant past poses huge challenges.

Hence, we have “statutes of limitations” or “prescription periods.” (The latter is the term used in ecclesiastical law.) You can’t open a criminal investigation into a crime that happened decades ago.

A civil suit, on the other hand, differs in some important respects from a criminal case. The injured party sues the wrongdoer for damages. In such a case, the plaintiff does not seek a guilty verdict per se; the community itself is not mounting the case for the sake of preserving public peace. Rather, the injured party asks the judge to find the malefactor liable for the damage caused, which would require restitution.

Again, however, the passage of time makes the whole thing more difficult. It is harder for the court to establish facts. So there are statutes of limitations on civil cases, too.

All of this seems to leave sex-abuse survivors in a Catch-22.

Ken Feinberg and Camille Biros
Camille Biros and Ken Feinberg

Last year we considered the “Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program” of the Archdiocese of New York. At that point–February 2020–our beloved diocese of Richmond had just begun a similar program.

In New York, the IRCP ostensibly gave sex-abuse victims an opportunity to return to the Church and receive some modicum of justice, even after many decades had gone by. The survivor who blew the whistle on Theodore McCarrick for criminal sexual abuse did so by approaching the NY IRCP in 2017.

Something always seemed fishy, however. For one thing, the reconciliation program called itself ‘independent,’ even though the Archbishop established it and hired the lawyers to run it. For another, the IRCP refused to consider the question of guilt or innocence; payments were made with no admission of wrongdoing by anyone. Third, the program required sex-abuse survivors to sign away the right to sue, thereby protecting the archdiocese forever from the public scrutiny of a courtroom.

When the New York IRCP began, in late 2016, most sex-abuse survivors did not have the right to sue anyway. At that time, New York had one of the most limiting statutes of limitations on sex-abuse cases in the US. You only had until age 23 to sue.

newly renovated St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York

In late 2019, however, that changed. New York State revised its law. Now you have until age 55 to sue. And the legislature also opened a one-year window for sex-abuse lawsuits, no matter when the abuse occurred. They have since extended the window for an extra year, since the virus closed the courts for long stretches of time last year.

It will take years for all the hundreds of new lawsuits to run their course. At least three of the eight dioceses of New York have filed for bankruptcy in the meantime (Rochester, Buffalo, and Long Island.)

This development–the extension of the statute of limitations–has led many of us to wonder about Cardinal Dolan’s real motivations in establishing the IRCP in the first place. Did he launch the program to try to pre-empt the legislative extension of the statute of limitations? Had the Cardinal come up with a last-ditch gimmick to prevent ecclesiastical bankruptcies? (Which ultimately failed to work.)

In last February’s post on this topic, I quoted a New-Yorker journalist extensively. He had asked Cardinal Dolan about why he established the IRCP. Through his spokesman, Dolan replied: “To help victims of sexual abuse, and for no other reason.”

Turns out the Cardinal had other reasons.

In December 2017, the lawyers that Dolan hired, Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros, spoke on a conference call. They were pitching the IRCP model to the diocesan lawyers in Syracuse, Buffalo, and Rochester. Feinberg and Biros outlined the program’s benefits. Not benefits for the victims, but for the institution.

“I think Cardinal Dolan feels it is providing the [Church] lawyers in Albany with additional persuasive powers not to re-open the statute of limitations,” Feinberg said.

He went on:

“The whole point is to get the release [from any future lawsuit.] So we offer $10,000. In Buffalo, maybe $5,000. Get the release. We want to be able to show [the legislators in the state capitol in] Albany that people are accepting the money and signing releases. You don’t need to change the statute.”

Feinberg explained the approach they took with survivors:

“If you don’t take what we’re offering, you don’t have to, but what is the alternative? Maybe Albany will change the law, but they haven’t yet.”

Biros went on to explain the IRCP’s strange definition of ‘independent.’

“I just want everyone to be aware that once we take over and implement the program, it remains an open dialogue with the diocese.”

Feinberg noted that the Archdiocese of New York had created both the rules for the IRCP and the “compensation matrix.”

Now, we would know nothing about this secret conference call of over three years ago, were it not for someone on the inside who finally ran out of patience with the endless ecclesiastical subterfuge. A few weeks ago, that person, whoever it is, handed over a copy of the transcript of the Feinberg-Biros conference call to ABC News. The quotes I have cited come from the ABC News report. (No one involved has disputed the transcript’s authenticity.)

From a purely craven, corrupt-businessman point-of-view, the ulterior motives behind the New York IRCP appear reasonable enough. ‘We can get a jump on the problem. The victims will take quick money, especially since right now they have no alternative. This will keep us out of bankruptcy.’

The holy Church, however, holds Herself up as something other than a corrupt business intent on maintaining flush bank accounts. The Church of Jesus Christ actually proposes to teach the world the true meaning of human dignity, as revealed by God in the mystery of Jesus Christ.

Spotlight movieMitchell Garabedian, the lawyer portrayed by Stanley Tucci in the movie Spotlight, put it like this:

“The statements reported by ABC place Cardinal Dolan in a compromising light and are disrespectful to survivors of clergy sexual abuse.”

The Survivors Network put it like this:

We have long known that Independent Reconciliation Programs like the one launched by the Archdiocese of New York in 2016 are designed less to support victims than they are to protect the assets and reputation of the Church… The backbone of the Church’s strategy is to appear to be working on behalf of victims when they are really trying to silence them…

We hope this leaked transcript will encourage survivors around the country to work towards reform that allows survivors to have their day in court… The Church-run programs aim to protect the institution at all costs.

The whole business reminds me about how eloquently Becky Ianni spoke, regarding our Richmond reconciliation program last October. Money helps. But the most important thing is information.

The incumbent prelates continue to bend every effort to prevent information about sex-abuse cases from becoming public. This serves their interest: self-preservation. If we knew the full extent of the facts about all the sex-abuse cases that remain covered-up, we would not hesitate to insist on many, many episcopal resignations.

Parable of the Two Debtors

Two people were in debt to a certain creditor; one owed five hundred days’ wages and the other owed fifty. Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both. Which of them will love him more? (Luke 7:41-42)

Leave it to the one and only divine Messiah to fill a brief episode during a dinner party with so much meaning.

We gather that, upon arriving at the Pharisee’s house, the Lord received only the bare minimum of polite welcome.

Herein we discover Lesson #1: The lowest pit of hell holds all the people who have received the divine Messiah with curt politeness. Better to spit on His feet than to treat Him merely as a marginally respectable intrusion into my precious life. The better course of action is, of course, to bathe His feet with kisses and tears of repentance for all my sins.

Returning to the episode: The Lord proceeded to say to the nervous Pharisee, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” To which the Pharisee responded, “Tell me, teacher.”

Lesson #2: There is hope for this Pharisee yet. He listened.

I may be nervous. I may be judgmental. I may be a gossiping snob who hides behind icy good manners. But if I am prepared to listen to the words of Jesus Christ, then there is still hope for me.

Then the Lord proceeded to tell a very short parable, which only makes sense one way. It only makes sense if: 1. We are all sinners, and I am the worst. 2. Jesus is God, Who is prepared to forgive any sin. 3. The best way to respond to all this is to bathe the feet of Christ with my kisses and tears of joy in His goodness.

Simon managed to deduce the meaning of the Lord’s parable. Quite frankly, the meaning of the parable is perfectly obvious. Another lesson: Confessing our sins and receiving God’s pardon does not require rocket science. Few things can be accomplished more easily. All it takes is a priest, an act of contrition, and a firm purpose of amendment.

The Lord Jesus concluded the episode by telling the woman with the sweet-smelling oil that her faith had saved her. Have peace, your faith has saved you.

What did the woman believe, exactly? She believed that the loving Heart of Jesus is the loving Heart of Almighty God, the loving Heart of the One just Judge, Who can and does forgive sins.

Approaching the Altar

When the Lord Jesus referred to “the altar” in the Sermon on the Mount, He meant the altar of the Old Covenant, since He had not yet inaugurated the New Covenant in His Blood.

The altar of the Old Covenant, though, and that of the New, have this in common:

We approach it as the place of peace and communion with Almighty God.

Approaching the altar pertains to the practice of religion per se, to the basic life of a human being. The altar stands as the point where we meet God, having stepped up, out of the ordinary into the grand and everlasting.

And the point the Lord makes about coming to the altar in peace and harmony with my fellowman: this point binds us all at all times.

The priest has the special privilege of physically kissing the altar with his own lips. But this represents what we all do when we assist at Holy Mass with faith and devotion. The priest’s kiss symbolizes our emergence together from the confusing rough and tumble of ordinary life into the realm of permanence and truth.

To kiss another human being with anything less than pure intentions is to disrespect and demean that person. How much more, then, must our hearts rest tranquilly in the truth when we approach the altar? How could we kiss the altar honestly if we walked into the church having lied, cheated, taken advantage of someone, torn someone down? How could we give such a kiss if we had so much as honked the car horn impatiently at anyone?

I hate to put it this way, but don’t we run the terrifying risk of kissing the altar like Judases? He kissed Christ with his lips, but not his heart.

The altar does not stand to cater to our convenience. We stand to serve the Master to Whom we offer our service at the altar. He reigns as Lord; we beg as desperate suitors. May we beg His favor with honest words and humble hearts.

Completing the Prophets’ Picture

The saints who wrote the four holy gospels had an enormous task, namely to present to us the Person of Jesus Christ, the God-man.

The evangelists’ primary literary means for doing this was to recount the ways in which Christ fulfilled all the prophecies that had foretold His coming.

The prophecies express the beautiful vision of salvation. And yet, the picture does not come fully clear in the Old Testament books. Only when they were fulfilled in Christ did the meaning of the prophecies fully emerge.

The evangelists grasped this, and wrote their books in order to complete the Bible, to make the Old Testament make sense by writing the New.

The vision of the prophets included the healing of the blind and deaf, and many other miraculous works which transcend the fallen state of created nature.

Above all, the prophets foresaw the New Covenant as a whole: the state of reconciliation and friendship between sinners and the Creator, Who had previously been justly offended by sin.

This is why the four evangelists narrate the miracles worked by Christ as a series of preludes, leading up to the miracle of His death and resurrection. Faith in the New Covenant made in Christ’s blood is the ultimate miracle. It is the miracle of the restoration of the original friendship between God and man. This friendship, which we have by faith in Christ, is itself the foundation of all the many other gifts of the Creator, like sight and hearing, knowledge and wisdom.

The Lapsed

During the third century A.D., the Roman emperors repeatedly persecuted the Church. The Emperors Decius, Valerian, and Diocletian ordered that all Christians must renounce the faith and offer pagan sacrifices. Registries of compliance were to be kept in all provinces. Recusants could be punished by forfeiture of property or death.

Human beings being human beings, a mad whirlwind of attempted scams ensued.

By the third century, the Empire was home to many well-to-do Christians. These did not relish the prospect of offending God. But neither did they want to be impoverished or executed.

So they paid their slaves to offer pagan sacrifices on their behalf. Or they bribed officials to produce false certificates, saying they had sacrificed, even though they really hadn’t. Or they lent their identification documents to a pagan, who would then offer sacrifices under the assumed name.

The Christians who employed these stratagems to save their hides came to be known as “the Lapsed.”

The persecutions of the third century came in fits and starts; they lasted for a time, but then the Church would enjoy a few years of peace. St. Cornelius was Pope, and St. Cyprian a prominent bishop, through a couple of these cycles.

During the intervals of peace, a question inevitably arose: Could the Lapsed be forgiven? They had failed to exercise the heroic faith and courage of the martyrs. But, at the same time, they had never stopped believing in the Trinity and in Christ.

Now, of course, neither Cornelius nor Cyprian ever lapsed. Both of them eventually went to their deaths as martyrs. But, before they themselves were killed, they had to deal with the question of what to do with the conniving Lapsed who wanted to go to communion.

Perhaps we might think that, since Cornelius and Cyprian proved to be heroic martyrs themselves, that they would have insisted on Christian heroism. But the opposite is the case. Both of them were roundly criticized by other bishops for being too lax.

Cornelius and Cyprian both taught: We believe in the forgiveness of sins. Let the Lapsed confess their sins, do penance, and be reconciled. The martyrs are our heroes. The Lapsed do not pretend to have been heroes. But they are our brothers nonetheless. Let’s gather around the altar together, so that we can all learn to be heroes next time.