Mailbag

Fr. Robert Johansen (who recently wrote a very good review of Goodbye! Good Men!) writes:

In regards to your reactionary reader, the Church indeed does place mercy above the Law. That’s because God does. Canon law provides many exceptions or relaxations of the strict discipline of law under extraordinary circumstances. That’s why, for example, a priest may give general absolution to those aboard his airliner as it is about to crash into a mountain. Christ came to give us God’s mercy, so we could escape the unrelenting judgment due to us under the old Law. Those of a pharasaical bent should see Canon 1752 (the last canon) which says “the salvation of souls…is the highest law of the Church.”

Or to paraphrase Jesus: “Canon law was made for man, not man for canon law”. Amen, padre.

*****

Here’s a letter from somebody in the trenches, weathering an abuse scandal in her own parish:

I’ll take the opportunity to share this with you – a very large-sized shoe dropped in my parish this week. My Franciscan pastor, Fr. Gus Krumm, was removed from the pastorate at Ascension Catholic Church in Portland after he voluntarily disclosed to his provincial that he had been involved in “indiscretions” with teenage boys back in the late ’70s and mid-’80s. (He made the front page of the Sunday paper - great.)

The last two weeks in the parish have been very strange. Events seem to have followed the pattern that I’ve seen as I’ve read the accounts that you, Amy, and the other bloggers have linked on your sites.

For us, it started at the end of Mass on May 19, when Fr. Gus read a statement from the pulpit in regard to a story published that weekend in the Orange County Register (the paper of Fr. Gus’ old parish) about an allegation of abuse made back in the ’80s by a student at St. Anthony’s Minor Seminary. This allegation was investigated twice, we were told, and Fr. Gus was exonerated on both occasions. Fr. Gus also read a statement of support from the provincial, Fr. Finian McGinn, and as the parish staff went forward to stand on the platform with Gus as a show of support, the congregation rose up as one with applause for a full two minutes at least. Since I was cantoring at that Mass, I was already standing to the side of the platform, and I joined in the applause – half-heartedly, I admit. In my reading about all of these priests who had led double lives and had done awful things to young boys and to those who tried to bring them to account, I would come across reports of parishioners who didn’t believe the allegations, who went on record as supporting their pastor, saying he’s such a good guy, he couldn’t possibly be guilty of such things – and I would think, “How could they not have seen through him – that he was such a monster, and they didn’t see it?” So, it was a surreal moment for me – here I am in my church, with my warm, friendly pastor at the ambo reporting allegations, and the congregation on its feet cheering… it gave me pause. I thought, Am I now one of those trusting parishioners that had one put over on them?

It just so happened that the following evening, the Social Action Committee (which Gary, my husband, chairs) had planned an open forum meeting for the parish to discuss the priest abuse scandal. The tenor of the meeting was very different from what we thought it might be going into it – as it happens, Ascension has a reputation for being the most liberal parish in the city (which is saying something for Portland), and in my three short years of being a Catholic, I’ve realized that I think very differently than many people in my parish. I was afraid it was going to turn into a knock-down, drag-out, fisticuffs-and-dirty-words ragefest. As it happened, the discussion was very tightly focused by the moderating panel that we had, consisting of Gary, another long-time parishioner, a social worker, and our associate pastor, Fr. Chuck Talley. We heard from people who had been abused in the past (not by Gus), parents of children who had been abused in the past, fellow Franciscan brothers of those who had perpetrated some of the abuse in the St. Anthony’s Seminary case. Although there were a few who engaged in the seemingly requisite bishop- and Pope-bashing, the meeting actually seemed to help us deal with our feelings a little and be encouraged by each other.

Fast forward to just over a week later… Gary and I were out of town the 22nd through the 29th, and we heard the day we came home that Gus had admitted to these other “indiscretions” and had been removed. Zip, poof, gone. (It’s weird to think that I may never see him again.) The linked story appeared, as I said, on the front page of the Oregonian on June 2, and one of the other Franciscan brothers in our parish gave the homily at all the Masses that weekend – basically apologizing to us all. Another open forum meeting was announced, described as a “listening session”.

This meeting was held last night in the parish conference room. The discussion was similarly tightly controlled, focused on exactly what had gone on with Gus, again except for the requisite bishop-, tradition-, and Pope-bashing. (I had the feeling that if we all really started to air our differing opinions about what the root cause of the problem was, it would turn ugly, and so I was OK with not going there – I just didn’t have the stomach for it last night.) Kristina Kallen, mentioned in the article, was there – I was pleased to see her and hear her stand up for her take on the particular situation she was involved in. (She shared some chilling things about what the man that Gus wanted for youth minister said to her in an interview.) Fr. Chuck told us we’re supposed to get a new pastor next month.

I don’t really feel my personal faith shaken so much, although I suppose I’m still a little shellshocky. Having been raised Protestant and steeped in the teachings of Vatican II and of the St. Catherine of Siena Institute, I’ve realized from the beginning of my Catholic walk that priests are human, like me, and that Christian leadership and the sacerdotal priesthood don’t necessarily map one-to-one. So… it’s just kind of weird. Gus just seemed like an ordinary Berkeleyite card-carrying-liberal priest – “Vatican II means we can do whatever we want”, etc. I liked him, actually – he was a nice guy, and a good preacher (although I didn’t always agree with his homilies, he was always at least thoughtful and never dull).

There are things that echo louder in my head now, things that I remember being said by other Franciscans in our parish and by this guy Gus wanted to hire. I remember chuckling when I first heard them, but they kind of creep me out now:

“You just need to know how to get around diocesan policy.”

“It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission.”

“Vatican II means we can do whatever we want” – sort of an epitaph for an era of AmChurch silliness. What strikes me (again) is that the people of Ascension parish who were betrayed by their priest have only the theological resources he and others like him gave them in order to meet the crisis thrust suddenly upon them. It’s like the Stockholm Syndrome where hostages imprint on the people who hold them hostage and fight against their rescuers. It has left them naked before the storm. Thus, when they get together for their listening session, it doesn’t seem to occur to people that the problem is not the Tradition or the Pope who teaches that Tradition, but the clever “Vatican II means we can do whatever we want. You just need to know how to get around diocesan policy. It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission.” mindset of those who don’t give a fig for the Tradition. Like sheep without a shepherd, many American Catholics can only repeat the stale canards of those who withheld the Tradition from them, even as they were betraying them.

I note, as well, that the policy of just yanking the priest in the dead of night continues (“Zip. Poof! Gone!”)_ No chance for the betrayer to face the wounded. No chance for the wounded to face him and vent their wrath or begin the process of forgiveness. No cross. We Americans don’t get it.

Alas, for our poor suffering Church. O Lord, come quickly.

*************

A reader writes:

I think it’s a misreading of Michael Kelly’s column to say he is advocating a “bureaucratic” concept of the Church. He’s simply pointing out the most important fact:

The church’s real problem is that its superior officers deliberately allowed these relatively few priests to remain — in the face of powerful and mounting evidence of criminal wrongdoing — in positions where they could exploit their priestly privileges and continue to prey on the young and the vulnerable.”

He’s right. Horrendous as the molesting, abusive priests are, the real problem is that our Bishops did not manage to discern this evil under their noses. The real problem is corrupt and/or ineffective exercise of authority, specifically moral authority

How blind can you be?! Or, some of them maybe discerned but tried to hide, but, besides the craven weakness or, worse, complicity that suggests, it’s also another failure in discernment. Only a fool could think this could be kept under wraps.

Or, a lifelong practitioner of bureaucratese.

No disagreement there.

You and your priest friend say that one possible reason JPII is leaving the current group of Bishops in place so that they get a chance to carry their Cross. Who knows, but if that’s the plan, so far I think it’s come a cropper. Maybe one could hope (in one’s wildest dreams) that these bishops will learn to be true shepherds and surely that’s what should happen. But I’m not convinced so far.

Mahoney is hiring PR firms, Cardinal Law is trying to claim – what? – freedom of speech or of the press, I forget which in his deposition — and other cardinals are allowing an aggressive legal strategy of blaming parents or implying that victims were complicit. (I assume that amid all of the genuinely horrible true tales of abuse there are also some liars trying to cash in and I certainly wouldn’t rule out the Church mounting a vigorous defense in some cases.)

I’m going off memory here, but I recollect that your priest friend described the situation where the transgressor-priests had to confront their victims and listen to the pain and damage they had wreaked, etc. If that is what is happening to the Bishops, then okay, leave ‘em in place. But, they are not enduring that. They are lawyering up. It looks like to me that the seeming piety of “let them carry their cross” gives aid and comfort, unintentionally, I’m sure, to the truly corrupt and corrupting bureaucracy that pretends to be shepherds. A pious shield for evil.

As with all things human, the Pope’s strategy here involves a risk and a gamble. The bad bishops may never get it. But what about the many good bishops (you know, all those bishops you haven’t heard about, who are struggling to shepherd their flocks in Podunk, Iowa or wherever)? What if they do? Also, of course, there is the reality that 20 or 30 years of habit are not broken in a fortnight. I freely grant that several of our shepherds are apparently opting to think with lawyers and PR firms rather than the Tradition. It’s a brand new thing for several of them to have to face the consequences of their actions and it takes some getting used to. Plus (and this should be obvious) we don’t want to embrace the Cross. Pain hurts. But we’ve seen some promising things too. I was impressed with Weakland’s willingness to name his sin as sin and to come clean about the theft of money from the Archdiocese. Lying is a hard habit to break. So I give him credit. Egan appears to me to still be doing the legal hardball thing (“Priests are independent contractors. Not my responsibility.” Feh!) Mahony also appears to be focusing on image over substance. BUT, I don’t know what else they are doing and they may be working very hard to, as Steve Jobs says, “Think different”. It’s hard for old dogs to learn new tricks. So I will watch to see how the draft gets revised so that bishops take responsibility for *their* part in this debacle. For, as you and Kelly (and Catholic World Report and Deal Hudson and every other sentient Catholic) note, that’s the real scandal.

You write:

“As Kelly notes, there is no particular mechanism in place in this proposal for what to do if a bishop doesn’t bother with implementing the proposed plan. Right. And I agree this suggests rather strongly that our bishops still are not willing to take responsibility for the wrong they have done. However, even if they were ready to take full responsibility tomorrow, the only conceivable mechanisms for dealing with unserious bishops that I can think of are a) Caesar throws the bishop in the pokey, b) the Pope yanks the bishop from his office or c) both of the above. What else is there? Lynching? Laity can (and should) make life hell for a neglectful bishop (as we’ve seen).”

But, Kelly doesn’t use the term ‘mechanism’ or call for a mechanism. He just notes, quite correctly, the Bishops, as a group, took no notice of their own culpability or how they plan to atone for it, correct it, promise never to do it again, acknowledge it, refer to it in passing, anything at all?

Kelly, like Amy Welborn and Mike Dubruiel, wants defective Bishop A replaced with shiny new bishop B. That, he thinks, is the appropriate solution to the problem. I maintain that this is a bandaid solution, since the real problem is a failure to grasp what the office of bishop is and means. I think the bishops are (and will for the rest of their lives) be paying for what they have done. I also think we all will be since we are all members of one another in Christ. It’s called carrying the cross. For the foreseeable future (meaning my lifetime) no bishop, good or bad, will enjoy the sort of respect he once did. Nor will priests. Sin wounds indiscriminately. Law, Mahony, O’Connell, Egan, Weakland and whoever else is discovered to have reassigned, shuffled, stonewalled, preened, lied, oppressed or whatever, will be the song of drunkards and the laughingstock of their generation till the end of their days. That’s not a wish, it’s simply a fact. Just watch Leno. They are carrying their cross. They have now to learn how to bear it willingly or be broken on it. Installing shiny new bishop B will not fix anything if bishop B has just as defective a conception of his office as they did.

Kelly writes:

“But the real failing is not what is in the proposal but what is not. Not the slightest mention is made of any intention to investigate or punish the high church officials — bishops, archbishops and assorted superiors and ecclesiastical bureaucrats — who, it has been redundantly shown, have systematically aided, protected, hidden and promoted known predator-priests. They are the missing guilty, still.”

I don’t think Kelly expects them to be arrested or for there to be a lay-led impeachment and institution of the People’s Republic of Heaven. He’s just saying, the bishops are getting off easy and they don’t address their own lack of shepherding in their document. He’s right. You could say that Kelly hasn’t offered a solution and of course, he hasn’t, at least not a four-point plan – but, um, wouldn’t that be bureaucratic?

I grant that they don’t (yet) address their own gross lack of shepherding in the draft document. I also note that it’s a draft and, as I say, there’s a certain learning curve when trying to undo 2 or 3 decades of “oil the machine” institutionalism and learn an entirely new paradigm. Some may never round that curve. But I’m not going to despair because a draft is deeply flawed. I’m going to hope in the grace of the sacrament of Holy Orders. Maybe later today I’ll post my edited version of the draft. Might even send it to Abp. Chaput (who appears to be one of the good guys).

The bottom line is: not matter who we slice it, the bishop is the one in charge of governing his diocese. The only conceivable way of holding him accountable if he decides to blow off whatever policy is enacted is via the sword of Caesar or the crook of Peter. That’s it. Oh, but there is one other (and best) way: true conversion of the heart. That is still our last, best hope.

What are the solutions, at least immediate and practical ones? (Holiness is the ultimate, but it’s long term.) There’s only the two you mention, Caesar or the Pope, and clearly the Pope is the only one Catholics can obey or place faith in. Now, the Pope just “yanking them” as you term it, is a solution and I wish it was one that was being taken seriously.

“Yank them” is a revealing formulation. It sounds so unrealistically, unsophisticatedly direct – so lacking in politesse and not something that is actually done in the real world. I think “yanking them” isn’t taken seriously as an option because we are too much like the secular institutions – it’s almost impossible to imagine making the powerful and well-protected pay for their crimes just like the weak and craven.

Rank has its privileges, after all. Just like in the world. Just like in a bureaucracy.

And yet I believe in my bones that this is not an adequate explanation for JPII’s actions. I think he’s trying to *save* these guys in the profoundest sense of the word. They are paying for their sins in a very real way. Would *you* want to be in Mahony’s or Law’s shoes right now? God knows I wouldn’t. There are worse penances than jail. And the point of punishment is, after all, salvation not just dues paying.

I am highly confident that the genie is out of the bottle with respect to the previous way of doing business in the matter of sexual abuse by priest. We will, I am quite certain, *never* return to the bad old days. Pain has been an excellent educator for these guys in that matter. So what is left. More than “not doing evil” they must learn to do good, which is to say “to do their office”. Some may never learn (and who knows, may lose their office thereby). But many will and have learned from watching confreres whose mission in life was to serve as a warning to others. I’m willing to let that learning process work for a while before saying, “It’s been two months and still the habits of 30 years have not been broken completely in every single ecclesiat!”

You write:

“Therefore, laypeople must not let them get away with not learning their office and living it. Bishops (and we) must carry the cross. That’s why, I am convinced, JPII leaves them in office: to learn it. Otherwise, we opt for bandaid solutions and never get to the heart of the problem, which is refusal of the cross. If we fail to understand this, we will not be replacing defective bishop A with shiny new bishop B.”

Maybe replacing Bishops is a band-aid. Personally, I think that many of these guys only understand one thing – power. Earthly power. And, it would be the best thing to happen to the institution and, quite possibly, their souls, if they were to lose that power. I’m not sure they can start this “learning to be a shepherd business” until someone talks to them in a language they understand. Here’s a cross someone could carry the rest of their life: admitting that they lost their power, position and prestige because they were unfit to exercise moral authority.

And, if a Bishop or two were removed or at least publicly chastised by Rome or something, it would put those in line for the bishopric on some kind of notice that taking moral stands is part of the job description. (Who’da thought it?)

For myself, a more simple, straightforward, full-throated confession of blindness and failing would be a start. I get very frustrated when ordinary folks like Kelly can see clearly and with no trouble what evil incompetents some (not all) of the Bishops have been. In contrast, the Church has been much slower than its “worldly” counterparts to figure out evil, denounce it, and flee it.

It is in this context that, while I understand that you and your priest friend are as outraged as anyone by this scandal, that the argument of let them stay in place and carry their Cross sounds like wishful thinking traveling under a banner of piety.

I quite agree that the AmChurch leadership appears to be infected with a lack of faith and a dependence on earthly conceptions of power. I don’t agree on the solution, however. The cross remains a scandal even today. Miscreant bishops left in their posts are going to be feeling nails a lot more than they feel power. They are, as Jeremy Lott put it, bleeding respect. And that will only continue. They will carry this shame to the end of their days (and we with them). But that is the cross, and its the only way of salvation. Of course, some will naturally view that as phony piety. So be it. Nonetheless, the fact remains that bearing the stigma of the shame while enjoying none of the perks of the office is the only way to discover the true nature of the office. The respect is gone for the rest of this generation at least. If they do not learn the true nature of their office, it could be gone forever (and Caesar will find ways to exploit that weakness, since Caesar also wishes to have no other gods before him). So the bishops will have to either open themselves to revelation or watch their lampstand be removed. That’s the great question. But it seems to me the only way out of this.

I’m not sure if Kelly is correct to call this the Church’s “greatest existential crisis since the Reformation.” It is awful. But the Church has been around a lot of centuries and has seen a lot of awfulness. But, Kelly and other secular pundits seem to have grasped much more clearly the sheer evilness of this circumstance and the gravity of the moment than many who speak for or from the Church’s vantage point. None of the responses by the Church have, so far, communicated the visceral moral outrage that these evils deserve. (at least, not to me.) It’s not complicated. Some of these Bishops have utterly failed in their responsibility and they should be relieved of that responsibility. Period.

Okay, but John Paul II, he of evident holiness and wisdom, is not taking the more drastic route that seems deserving to me (at least for a few of the Bishops). In addition to his moral character and long experience, he has years of experience shepherding the Church through communism. He has always been long on patience and endurance. Maybe he thinks persevering or even muddling through is the right thing in this situation. Maybe he’s right. On the other hand, even holy and wise men make mistakes.

My thought is, I don’t know how the Church retains credibility as an authority, indeed THE authority, on things moral and spiritual unless it can show the discernment and sheer nerve to get rid of those who are misusing the teaching authority the Church has entrusted them with. (Well, it will retain credibility for many Catholics, but it’s surely tarnished in the culture at large.)

Well, we know the gates of hell will not prevail, so, God put us all on the side of the (good) angels (and Peter).

I’m pretty much with you here. I think JPII is taking a calculated gamble and trusting in the grace of the sacrament of ordination to enlighten the minds of the shepherds here. I dearly hope they will start taking some responsibility for their part in this instead of making it sound like there was a sudden outburst of priestly abusers that had nothing to do with them. That’s the next step. I suggest writing Abp. Chaput (who’se looking for input) to make it clear that this is what’s needed.

*****

Here’s something different. Canon lawyer Pete Vere bring together three of his favorite topics — Canon Law, post-Vatican II schisms, and light horror fiction — into a collection of short stories called “Schism and Other Short Stories“. Sort of Stephen King meets Andrew Greeley.

Oh, and Pete corrects my scribblings on Roman vs. Anglo-Saxon conceptions of Law:

if you don’t mind a correction on the Roman vs. Anglo law thing, the difference between the two systems is really the reverse.The Anglos tend to legislate for everything, and stick to it until the bitter end. Thus the law is above all else, and an end in itself.

The Romans, on the other, tend to keep as few laws as possible, and even the majority of these admit exceptions. The remaining handful are tightly enforced. The idea is that justice is best served by a few good people interpreting and enforcing few laws according to certain set principles Thus the law is mostly an extention of the will of the legislator.

In the end, Roman law basically follows the principle of “favors are to be multiplied, and burdens restricted.” So laws that bestow a right or are favorable to an individual are to be interpreted broadly, while laws that place a burden on an individual or restrict rights, are to be interpreted restrictively.

******

Todd Reitmeyer’s new blog is http://www.aggiesaway.com/blogger/seminarian/

****

Another reader observes concering the Seal of the Confessional:

Here are a couple of things that I thought might be good to point out. For example, once the confessional seal is gone, you can pretty soon say goodbye to all sorts of privileged conversations. This loss of privacy will erode the rights of an individual, until he is naked and powerless in the sight of the state, a condition that the 100 Million Man Murdering Marxists [TM] and other collectivists refined. Next, the state will be able to compel a wife to testify against her husband, and indeed, the husband against himself. An attorney will have to testify too. (And, by the way, don’t let anyone bring up the canard that “Well, an attorney is required to notify the police in the case that he suspects a crime.” An attorney – client relationship is a secular one, subject to secular rules. A priest-penitent relationship – like the relationship between husband and wife – is subject to God’s rules). Also, it should be pointed out the fact that confession is a bit like going to the dentist. People don’t do it unless they feel the need, and typically, if they feel the need, they will be penitent, and if penitent, they won’t exactly be planning another crime, and even if they were, it is unimaginable that the would mention anything anyway. After all, a priest doesn’t provide absolution for sins about to be committed.

To sum up: attack the Church’s (or the human person’s) legitimate rights and you will soon be attacking your own rights.


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