What went wrong in Philadelphia?

“Apparently Philadelphia’s bishops don’t fully grasp that by failing to speak openly from the outset they will continue to pay a higher price, in terms of both credibility and cash. If only they would have followed the example of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago. Confronted with an accusation against him, Cardinal Bernardin openly, humbly, and without a prepared text, answered all the questions he was asked. That’s the sort of response the people of Philadelphia expect and deserve.

So why haven’t they gotten it? In a word, clericalism. In his book Clericalism: The Death of the Priesthood, George B. Wilson, SJ, articulates “unexamined attitudes” typical of clerical cultures: “Because I belong to the clergy I am automatically credible. I don’t have to earn my credibility by my performance.” And: “Protecting our image is more important than confronting the situation.” And: “We don’t have to be accountable to the laity. We are their shepherds.” Over the past few months, that’s how some Philadelphia Catholics and review-board members have perceived the attitude of Philadelphia’s bishops. When will bishops exemplify the teaching of Lumen gentium that laity and clergy are equally responsible for building God’s kingdom on earth? What will it take for bishops to accept that their attitude of superiority and privilege only harms their image and the church’s?”

— “The Fog of Scandal” by Ana Maria Catanzaro

The author is the chair of the Review Board for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

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16 responses to “What went wrong in Philadelphia?”

  1. As I have posted before on this blog, I was “bred and buttered” in Philadelphia.

    When the 2005 Report was published, I was devastated. I knew three of the priests accused (one always gave me the creeps) and several of the archdiocesan officials. I also know one of the archdiocesan legal team.

    Please do not think that I am name-dropping. I am citing my personal connections to indicate how personally painful this issue is to me. It is hard to express my outrage.

    What really angers me is this:

    “The archdiocese developed the Prayer and Penance Program, a residential facility for credibly accused priests who have accepted a supervised life of prayer and penance in lieu of laicization.”

    I do not doubt the validity of their orders but these men consecrated the Eucharist and heard confessions. That fact contributes to my outrage. So, now, their penance is to become one of us, the laity. (“Thanks, but no thanks” as some prominent political person has said in an acceptance speech.)

  2. God have mercy on Philadelphia – and on all of us really. The situation is completely mystifying and outrageous, heartbreaking and damaging and so much more.

    The culture of clericalism is a challenge. Like anything, it can have more than one side and what is good easily can become less so and slide from there.

    It is such a mess, who even knows where to begin?

  3. As a native Philadelphian, all I can say is how sad all of this makes me. It’s no surprise that the bishops are so closed about all of this. Sorry to be bishop-bashing, but I recently heard a homily of Cardinal Rigali of Philadelphia (Ash Wednesday may be? I can’t remember.) To me, it sounded as though a lawyer wrote the homily, and not a spiritual leader.

    Right now, all the Church – and especially the bishops – can do is take our lumps. I just wish we as a Church could say, “We really messed up. We did the wrong thing, and people got very hurt because of it. ” As Christ silently took His punishment for crimes he did not commit, the Church needs to silently take our punishment for crimes committed in her name.

  4. Deacon Greg,

    The invocation of Cardinal Bernardin’s case in the context of this article is puzzling:

    “If only they would have followed the example of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago. Confronted with an accusation against him, Cardinal Bernardin openly, humbly, and without a prepared text, answered all the questions he was asked. That’s the sort of response the people of Philadelphia expect and deserve.”

    While true that Bernardin answered all questions, he did not remove himself from office or from priestly ministry, nor did his brother bishops here or in Rome seek to treat him as priests are now treated under the Dallas protocols. In fact, there was never any thought that he would leave active ministry. How, then, was this NOT clericalism in the context of the 37 being allowed to stay in ministry? At the time, many thought the charges against Bernardin to be credible as well.

  5. Since it is well documented that it was more important to cover up these crimes than to protect the lives of these children of Philadelphia, I wonder if these high ranking clergy have considered denying themselves communion?

  6. I never met Cardinal Bernardin but I knew a lot of folks in South Carolina, Cincinnati and Chicago. None of them believed the charges against him either.

  7. Philly Catholic here. It hurts to read this, but it’s on point.

    Cardinal Rigali is 75 and will be replaced soon. The Holy Father’s record of appointing bishops so far has been stellar – men who are orthodox in their faith and strong in their Catholic identity, and also possessing a truly pastoral heart and a real kindness and compassion. Philly needs just that kind of a man, our own Timothy Dolan. Let us all continue to pray for the suffering Church throughout the world, and for the appointment of sound leaders who can approach this scandal with the sensitivity and honesty and transparency that is required.

  8. I would submit that you cannot ascribe any one motivation on why this is happening. There are multiple interpretations. Some of it good and not just bad – some of it human.

    I find it hard to heap the blame on Cardinal Rigali which many seem to want to do. As a person in a position of authority myself, it is hard to know the truth of what goes on. If you get too involved after you delegate – you micromanage and everyone hates you. If you stand too far off, you are to blame. And looking from afar it is hard to know what the Cardinal’s individual responsibility is. But I do recognize that because we all see him as a “boss”, he has the target on his back.

    Frankly because of the nature of the situation, there is nothing any bishop can do or say that would make it better for people. I, for one, don’t believe anything Cardinal Bernadin said so to start with him as the example makes me laugh. That’s not to say you shouldn’t, it just isn’t persuasive to me. I know I didn’t know the Cardinal so I don’t know if my attitude is justified or not – just like I don’t know if we should be so critical of others in the same position.

    Because of this maybe instead of bishop bashing we should pray, be vigilant etc. Have any of us used the spiritual weapons the Pope suggested – friday penance, eucharistic adoration, etc or do we leave the healing to others and take up the rock throwing as the weapon of choice. Not accusing – trying to provoke us to use powerful weapons that are being neglected especially when faced with the unknown and unknowable predicament we face.

  9. Bishop Michael Fitzgerald, who oversees the Office of Child and Youth Protection, is also the Founder, Office for Legal Services, Archdiocese of Philadelphia (now Office of General Counsel) 1991 – 2004

    Shortly after the release of the First Grand Jury Report in Sept. 2005, I contacted Msgr. Fitzgerald in his office at St. Charles Seminary in order to find out what happened in the Office for Legal Services during his leadership when allegations of clergy sexual abuse were delivered to his office. After numerous messages and faxes, his assistant informed me that Msgr. Fitzgerald wanted me to know that such allegations of clergy sexual abuse were not handled by his Office for Legal Services.

    I’m sorry, Msgr./Bishop, but your statement is just not believable. At the time of your appointment as Founder of Legal Services in 1991, you were a civil attorney for nearly 20 years. Within the next two years, you will be a civil attorney for 40 years and are responsible for the Office of Child and Youth Protection. With your professional training and experience in legal matters, who else would the Cardinal trust with such potentially devastating legal concerns as clergy sexual abuse allegations?

    Why have we had three Grand Jury Reports over this time, arrests of clergy, and the violation of the bodies, minds, and souls of our youngest Catholic parishioners which continues to this day?

  10. I think what happened in Philadelphia is the same thing that happened in so many dioceses: those who should have been serving Christ chose instead to serve themselves.

  11. HMS – The misdeeds of a Priest, no matter how horrendous, do not invalidate the consecration of the Eucharist. Any more the worst evil can invalidate God. Light is more powerful than darkness. Since darkness is merely the absence of light.

  12. Has anyone ever stopped to think, that the heirarchy itself was part of the problem. And I don’t mean an organized cover up. It seems like it was anything but organized. In all of these cases, it seems like no one knew who had jurisdiction over what and whom. Let’s remember these are priests and bishops, they are not professional prosecutors. Law enforcement is responsible for making arrests, not the clergy. And thus far no one has been charged with obstruction of justice, so let’s stop throwing around the term “cover-up” until there is actual proof of it. Some people did horrendous things, I am not making excuses for that. And others did not take the correct actions to stop it. I’m sure they deeply regret that. But please stop tarring everyone with the same brush, and leaping to judgement. More importantly as a society we should learn from the mistakes. But we haven’t, the same abuse that took place in the Church 30 years ago, is taking place in our schools today. And teachers unions and principals are being equally inept at preventing it.

  13. Ray:

    My comment was not meant to undermine the validity of the sacraments. It was meant to be a criticism of the arrogance of those priests, who were consecrating the Eucharist and hearing confessions, while they committing such violence against children.

  14. HMS – Yeah, it is sickening. I heard one case where they said he would abusing a kid before Mass. Made me want to throw up.

    I just wish we could reach out to the victims and help heal them. Instead of having them turn to an organization like SNAP who feed off of their anger and hurt, using them as instruments to attack the Church, and then tossing them aside. Its really like they are being raped again.

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