Matt C. Abbott
January 16, 2014
Differing views on cardinal's letter of 'accountability and transparency'; Ecumenism run amok
By Matt C. Abbott

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago recently had a detailed letter placed in all archdiocesan parish bulletins regarding "accountability and transparency." He wrote:
    This January, as was announced a month ago in a press conference by a plaintiff's lawyer, documents relating to the sexual misconduct of 30 priests of the archdiocese will be released as part of settlement agreements over the past years. All these incidents were reported over the years to the civil authorities and claims have been mediated civilly. Almost all of the incidents happened decades ago, perpetrated by priests whom neither I nor many younger clergy have ever met or talked to, because the priests were either dead or out of ministry before I came to Chicago as archbishop.

    Nevertheless, the publication puts the actions of these men and the archdiocese itself in the spotlight. Painful though publicly reviewing the past can be, it is part of the accountability and transparency to which the archdiocese is committed. For more than 20 years, the archdiocese has reported all allegations of sexual abuse to the civil authorities and to DCFS. Records of priests have been shared with civil authorities when asked for. Accountability to the civil authorities constitutionally responsible for the protection of children is part of the life of the church here.

    The names of priests known to have abused a minor are published on the archdiocesan website, and the archdiocese will offer more information in the future. But publishing for all to read the actual records of these crimes raises transparency to a new level. It will be helpful, we pray, for some, but painful for many.

    Pope Francis has spoken several times in recent months about 'clericalism' as a vice. Clericalism appears when a person or group decides it is not accountable for its actions. Clericalism in the clergy is evident when a priest decides he is not accountable to his bishop or to the faithful for what he teaches or how he celebrates the church's liturgy or pastors the church's people or when a bishop, in turn, is not accountable to his councils and his clergy for his own ministry. Clericalism is spiritually deadly when a priest decides he is not accountable even to God and breaks his promise of chaste celibacy as well as the commandments of the Lord himself.

    The general discipline of the clergy weakened during the years when sex abuse was most prevalent, during the 1970s and 1980s. Chicago followed the now well-known national trends. In the late '80s, however, the archdiocese began to put its house in some order and started, sometimes hesitantly, to follow the path of accountability and transparency....
Click here to read the cardinal's letter in its entirety.

Two individuals for whom I have a great deal of respect have sharply divergent views on this matter (although both are supportive of abuse victims).

Veteran investigator Thomas Hampson, founder of the Truth Alliance Foundation, writes:
    Cardinal George's letter is largely revisionist history... He admits clericalism – that is, the tendency for priests and bishops to see themselves as unaccountable – had infected the church. He claims all that has changed. If that is so, how has the church disciplined members of the hierarchy for their roles in the cover-ups?

    I know of cases in this archdiocese and others where priests were taking children to their rooms in the rectory, were later caught, confessed and were removed from ministry. But I also know that the investigations by these dioceses of these priests did not include questioning staff of the rectory, or the other priests, or members of the chancery, about what they observed and what they knew, what they reported and to whom. Certainly no action was taken against anyone for failing to report a concern or problem they knew about. On the other hand, there was action taken against some who came forward and complained. There was, and I believe still is, a culture that is hostile to whistleblowers in the vast majority of the diocese of the church, certainly in Chicago. There is no coming clean about this in his letter.

    I don't trust the hierarchy in this archdiocese or any across the church. Letters like this one have been written by other bishops and the former pope. The problem is, in order to rebuild trust, there must be true repentance. That hasn't happened. Repentance requires coming clean, complete confession, complete transparency. And that's only the start of rebuilding trust. Even when the files of the thirty are released, this archdiocese, and the church at large, will still be a long way from coming clean. That's just step one.

    Step two requires changing direction. While the church has instituted a zero tolerance for abuse, the church does nothing to root out abuse. All the investigations are reactive. There is no proactive effort to identify priests, lay staff, or volunteers who may pose a problem. There is no protection for or encouragement of whistleblowers. There is no mechanism for identifying networks of predator priests who operate in cooperation with one another. There is no effort to investigate such networks that continue to exist to this day.

    As just one example, I've been investigating the infamous Boys Club for several years. The Boys Club was a loosely organized group of priests and laity who cultivated sexual relationships with vulnerable boys and shared these boys with each other. The ring was centered in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago and consisted of several priests, organists, teachers and others. Members of the ring are among the suspects in the 1984 murder of Frank Pellegrini, a church organist who was aware of the membership and their activities. One theory is that he was murdered because he was about to report what he knew to church officials.

    The church has done nothing, absolutely nothing, to investigate this network of child sexual predators. The archdiocese investigates only if there is a complaining victim, and they will investigate only the specific person or persons who abused the victims. Law enforcement won't conduct a general investigation of The Boys Club because gathering evidence that would be prosecutable is unlikely, especially since leads for the murder of Pellegrini have dried up. The murder investigation is still open but little is being done to pursue it. It sits in the CPD cold case files.

    Several of the priests and other laity who were reportedly part of The Boys Club remain in active or semi-active ministry. So if the church really wants to come clean, if the cardinal really wants to repent and change direction, he should retain my organization to investigate the ring, opening up all relevant files to our review and ordering all priests and staff under his control to cooperate. If Cardinal George does something like that, well, that would be a change in direction.
Dave Pierre, founder of TheMediaReport.com, writes:
    No other organization on earth has been asked to publicly post the names of its employees merely accused of abuse, yet somehow the Catholic Church is ordered to carry out this measure under the questionable premise that such an action is justice for victims.

    Try asking Chicago Public Schools to publicly post the names of all of its employees accused of abuse; you'll likely have the proverbial door slammed in your face and be told it's a personnel issue subject to privacy laws.

    The public shouldn't be fooled. Posting these priests' names has very little to do with the protection of children. The church has acquiesced to a bullying tactic by contingency lawyers like Jeff Anderson, who surely looks to drum up more clients for his profitable venture, and bigoted hate groups like SNAP, who further desire to bludgeon the church.

    Cardinal George is being more than gracious and Christ-like in his statement about posting the names of accused priests, but don't expect any kudos from the Chicago Tribune or anyone else in the media. They'll also likely bury the fact that most of the accused priests were long dead or out of ministry before George was even installed as archbishop in 1997 – over 15 years ago.

    For several years, the Catholic Church has been second to none in the protection of children, yet the media continues to harp on decades-old allegations of abuse by priests. Between the installation of diocesan 'abuse panels,' unprecedented screening of parish employees, and billions paid out in settlements, no one else comes close to atoning for sins of the distant past.

    Indeed, we must continue to pray for victims of atrocious clergy abuse. On the other hand, Catholics need to realize that the church is carrying out measures that no other group has ever been asked to do, and there are secular forces out there pushing for these measures in their efforts to further embarrass and damage the church.


In the "ecumenism run amok" department...

From a Jan. 14 story in The Patriot Ledger (click here to read the story in its entirety):
    The Rev. Anne Robertson has baptized more infants and youngsters than she can count in her past years as a United Methodist minister in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Florida.

    But the Plymouth resident and Massachusetts Bible Society director never imagined that she'd get the chance to share a ritual drop of water for a baptism remembrance with a Roman Catholic cardinal.

    Until Sunday, when Cardinal Sean O'Malley asked her.

    'It was completely unexpected,' the Rev. Robertson said Tuesday, in her first media interview about the encounter. 'I'm still blown away by it.'

    'What moved me was not so much that I was anointing him,' she said. 'It was him being willing to accept that from my hand – to ask me, as a woman in ministry, to do that'....
Look, I have absolutely no problem with Catholics and Protestants working together to fight the anti-life, anti-family forces in our society. But for Cardinal O'Malley to participate in this type of "ritual" is perplexing to say the least. I'm sure there have been quite a few such occurrences in the last few decades, but that doesn't make it any more comforting.

Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us.

© Matt C. Abbott

 

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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He's been interviewed on MSNBC, NPR, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) in Madison, Wis., and has been quoted in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at mattcabbott@gmail.com.


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