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by Peterr

A Little Fundraising Advice for LA Archbishop Gomez

6:30 pm in accountability, child abuse, Religion by Peterr

The chair of the archbishop, Cathedral of our Lady of the Angels

According to the Los Angeles Times, Roman Catholic Archbishop José H. Gomez is worried about money. Says the paper, “The archdiocese has hired a New York company, Guidance In Giving Inc., to study the feasibility of a large-scale fundraiser that would shore up a bottom line hit hard by costly abuse litigation.” How large is large-scale? The Times puts the size of the proposed campaign at $200 million.

A couple of thoughts: First, if you pay a consultant to help you decide whether you should engage in a bigger project that would bring the consultant even more money . . . well, the words “conflict of interest” come to mind. But that’s a minor point. They know they need to raise the money, so the question they really are asking is how.

Which brings me to the second point: In my experience, there are two — and only two — times when a church organization undertakes a capital campaign like this.

One is when there is such excitement and energy that the time is right to take a bold step forward around a particular well-agreed-upon program. “We’re bursting at the seams, and we need to build a new building,” a parish might say, or “many of our parishes are growing dramatically, and we have to divide them, build new sanctuaries, and bring in new clergy to minister to them” says a bishop.

The other is when there is such a dire crisis that the energy of the community needs to be harnessed to address the crisis. “The creek behind the church overflowed its banks, flooded the basement, and caused a fire — and because it was all traced back to a flood, it is not covered by insurance because we don’t have flood insurance.”

Sadly, Archbishop Gomez and his archdiocese are not looking at the first set of circumstances here. Even more sadly, they are simultaneously trying not to admit it is a terrible crisis. According to NBC News, the archdiocese “is exploring a campaign to raise $200 million for the diocese to meet ‘a variety of needs,’ including ‘priests’ retirement, seminarian education, Catholic schools, Catholic Charities and parish needs.’”

Sorry, but exploring a capital campaign with such a diffuse set of goals and needs is an exercise of dubious worth. It makes it look like the archdiocese is still trying to downplay the horrendous abuse scandal that has unfolded in their midst. Potential donors will see this, shake their heads, and ask “why should be trust what you are saying about why you are asking for money, when you try so hard not to say what is driving all this?” Only if the campaign is honestly and clearly focused does it have a hope of success.

So let me offer a little advice to Archbishop Gomez. It’s free, from one pastor to another, and maybe it will help.

The campaign starts with a simple letter that goes something like this: Read the rest of this entry →

by Peterr

Better Late Than Never for Archbishop Gomez on Handling Cardinal Mahony

7:22 am in accountability, child abuse, Religion, Uncategorized by Peterr

Roman Catholic Archbishop José H. Gomez shook the Catholic world yesterday by imposing unheard-of sanctions against his predecessor, Cardinal Roger Mahony for Mahony’s actions to shield predatory priests from accountability during his years as the head of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. In most of the coverage, this was rightly hailed as a strong action to advance the cause of justice, and to provided at least a measure of accountability even though criminal liability is probably not possible because the statute of limitations has probably expired.  The coverage misses one very negative aspect of Gomez’ actions, however. Before we get to that, let me provide a little background.

In 2007, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles (then headed by Mahony) settled a group of over 500 civil suits over clerical child abuse, and since then has been fighting the release of their files related those cases. When they lost the battle to keep the files themselves secret, they tried to argue that the names of not just victims but church officials should be redacted. Some records were released last week, and last Monday, they lost their redaction argument, and yesterday, rather than appeal the ruling, they released the rest of the files.

What emerged was not pretty. Not pretty at all:

Fifteen years before the clergy sex abuse scandal came to light, Archbishop Roger M. Mahony and a top advisor plotted to conceal child molestation by priests from law enforcement, including keeping them out of California to avoid prosecution, according to internal Catholic church records released Monday.

The archdiocese’s failure to purge pedophile clergy and reluctance to cooperate with law enforcement has previously been known. But the memos written in 1986 and 1987 by Mahony and Msgr. Thomas J. Curry, then the archdiocese’s chief advisor on sex abuse cases, offer the strongest evidence yet of a concerted effort by officials in the nation’s largest Catholic diocese to shield abusers from police. The newly released records, which the archdiocese fought for years to keep secret, reveal in church leaders’ own words a desire to keep authorities from discovering that children were being molested.

Ugly. The memos show Mahony and his staff shuttling some priests out of the country, and cherrypicking therapists for others, all in an effort to avoid accountability.

Mahony retired in 2011, and Archbishop José H. Gomez took over the archdiocese on March 1, 2011. Yesterday, in his letter accompanying the release of the unredacted files, Gomez described reading through them:

I find these files to be brutal and painful reading. The behavior described in these files is terribly sad and evil. There is no excuse, no explaining away what happened to these children. The priests involved had the duty to be their spiritual fathers and they failed.

We need to acknowledge that terrible failure today. We need to pray for everyone who has ever been hurt by members of the Church. And we need to continue to support the long and painful process of healing their wounds and restoring the trust that was broken.

I cannot undo the failings of the past that we find in these pages. Reading these files, reflecting on the wounds that were caused, has been the saddest experience I’ve had since becoming your Archbishop in 2011.

Then came the bombshell:

Read the rest of this entry →

by Peterr

Will Komen Cut Off Grants to Catholic Hospitals, Too?

11:49 am in Religion by Peterr

(photo: krazydad/jbum/flickr)

Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic has a nice piece up, describing the new policy of the Komen for the Cure people that prohibits grants being made to Planned Parenthood, as well as the reactions internally at Komen among their professional staff. (Short version: not good.)  As for the policy, in a memo to Komen employees, Komen President Elizabeth Thompson said:

. . . should Komen become aware that an applicant or its affiliates are under formal investigation for financial or administrative improprieties by local, state or federal authorities, the applicant will be ineligible to receive a grant.

That caught my attention fast, because of some other investigations I’ve been reading about lately.

The Roman Catholic Church is under investigation for financial irregularities in a number of places across the country. A biggie is in Milwaukee, where the current Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan, apparently tried to cook the books while serving earlier as the head of the Milwaukee diocese, to hide diocesean assets from the judge in a child abuse case. Said Jack Rule, an accounting professor who looked the court filings and testimony over in an interview with Jason Berry of National Catholic Reporter, ““In other words, they zeroed out one account and transferred most of the funds to a new account,” Ruhl explained. “From an accounting standpoint, all Dolan did was rename the assets. It was a shell game.” That case, as the story points out, is still before a bankruptcy judge, with an ongoing investigation not only into the child abuse claims but also the money available to settle them.

Sounds like an ongoing formal investigation to me.

Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, the CFO of that archdiocese was caught with her hand in the till, to the tune of $1M. According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review,

Donna Farrell, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said the church was continuing to work with the district attorney’s office and declined further comment. She said the church last year hired attorney Henry E. Hockeimer Jr. and the accounting firm of Parente Randolph to conduct an internal audit.

Hmmm . . . another ongoing formal investigation.

So do investigations like these of the Catholic church and its financial dealings mean that Georgetown University and other Catholic institutions will be prohibited from receiving Komen grants? In 2009-10, per Komen’s 990 [pdf], GU got grants of $599,985 and $250,000 for research (pdf pp. 43 and 47) and $73,750 for treatment programs (pdf p. 54). (FY: 4/1/2009-3/31/2010). Note that the above is the 990 for the main Komen for the Cure organization, which is separate from the local affiliates who have to file their own 990s. Undoubtedly there are other RC organizations who receive Komen funds.

Some would say “but wait — GU is not in Milwaukee or Philadelphia!” I might be willing to agree with that, save for the fact that Komen held every Planned Parenthood affiliate liable for the alleged [edit] actions of the larger outfit.

I don’t raise this to pick on Catholics here. You could go through the list of grant recipients and find other institutions that are no doubt under investigation for one thing or another. There’s absolutely no research university (public, private secular, or private religious) that someone isn’t looking into for this, that, or the other thing. But if Komen isn’t willing to cut off other organizations known to be “under formal investigation for financial or administrative improprieties,” it makes their words about Planned Parenthood look mighty hollow.

Unless GU and other Catholic institutions are losing their funds too, this “it’s just our policy” line is Komen blowing smoke, and that makes me sick.

by Peterr

Nice Diocese You’ve Got Here, Bishop . . .

7:06 pm in Religion by Peterr

St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, rendered in stained glass. (photo: Fergal OP via Flickr)

Yesterday evening, Irish television station RTE One broadcast a new episode of their news documentary series “Would You Believe” that came with the title “Unspeakable Crimes.” These unspeakable crimes are described on their website like this:

Just when the Irish bishops were beginning to come to grips with how to deal with the clerical sexual abuse problem, Rome intervened and tried to enforce Vatican policy which put the interests of the priest, not the victim, first.

In a strictly confidential letter seen by WYB, the Vatican threatens the Irish bishops that if they follow their new child protection guidelines it would support the accused priest if he were to appeal to its authority.

The letter tells the Irish bishops that the Vatican has moral reservations about their policy of mandatory reporting and that their guidelines are contrary to canon law.

The letter itself is here [PDF], and it says exactly what RTE claims it says.

The study document referred to in the letter are the 1996 guidelines that the Irish bishops proposed, which included mandatory reporting of abuse to the secular authorities. (PDF of the study document is here.)

The Vatican’s reaction to that section of the study document was to say this: “In particular, the situation of ‘mandatory reporting’ gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and a canonical nature.” The Vatican goes on to say something to the effect of “you English-speaking people seem to have this problem all over the place, so while WE study what WE want to do about it, you just keep on doing what you’re doing, according to the rules WE laid down earlier in canon law, and forget all about YOUR study and its proposed mandatory reporting clause.” The actual phrasing of that last part is more delicate, of course, but the implication is clear: shut up, and “at the appropriate time” we’ll tell you all what to do.

They also attach a nice theological threat at the end: “in the sad cases of accusations of sexual abuse by clerics, the procedures established by the Code of Canon Law must be meticulously followed under pain of invalidity of the acts involved if the priest so punished were to make hierarchical recourse against his Bishop.” IOW, if you don’t follow the old way, and thus punish a priest, and the accused priest appeals to Rome, Rome is going to back the priest and you will end up with a black eye.

Shorter Vatican: “Nice diocese you’ve got here, bishop. It’d be a shame if anything were to happen to it . . .”   Read the rest of this entry →

by Peterr

Bishops vs Catholic Healthcare West, and Why We All Should Worry

6:27 am in Religion by Peterr

A year ago, the medical staff of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix was faced with a painful situation. A pregnant mother of four was in serious medical trouble in the 11th week of her pregnancy. The doctors’ opinion was that she was at extreme risk of death, and the odds of her own survival were diminishing with each day she remained pregnant. After consultation with the hospital’s medical ethics board, the patient, and her family, the doctors terminated the pregnancy in order to save the woman’s life.

Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix was not pleased when he heard about it. Not at all. His reaction was to deliver an ultimatum with three specific conditions:

    • The hospital must “acknowledge in writing” that the procedure was an abortion.
    • The hospital must agree to a diocesan certification process to guarantee compliance with Catholic doctrine.
    • The hospital must provide its medical personnel with ongoing training in the Catholic directives governing health care, “as overseen by either the National Catholic Bioethics Center or the Medical Ethics Board of the diocese of Phoenix.”

      Refusal to agree to these conditions, said Olmsted, would cost St. Joseph’s the ability to call itself a “catholic” hospital, and he would revoke the chapel’s permission to have masses said there. In addition to these direct consequences, removing the ability of the hospital to call itself catholic would also have financial repercussions that could cost them money from donors, foundations, and of course from the diocese itself.

      The bishop’s tone with the hospital and its administrators was unmistakable. I am the ultimate authority in this diocese, he tells them in his letter last month [pdf], and not you. Olmsted’s concern throughout the letter to Catholic Healthcare West (the owner of St. Joseph’s) is first and foremost about protecting and projecting his own authority and power: Read the rest of this entry →

      by Peterr

      Pope Benedict’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

      8:50 pm in Uncategorized by Peterr

      It’s been a bad week for Pope Benedict. From Italy to Belgium to Washington DC, courts everywhere seem to be taking a hard look at some of the activities of the Catholic church, and they’re not liking what they’re seeing.

      A week ago Sunday, news broke that a high-ranking Roman Catholic cardinal was under investigation in Italy for corruption. Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, the archbishop of Naples and former head of a major Vatican department (the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, or Propaganda Fide in Latin) was caught up in a larger probe of former Italian government officials involved in various real estate, public works, and construction scams. Word of the investigation broke last February, but Sepe’s involvement only came to light last week:

      Judicial sources have told the media that [Italian infrastructure minister Pietro] Lunardi bought a building in central Rome – in Via dei Prefetti, a stone’s throw from parliament – from Sepe’s department in 2004 at a price four times lower than the estimated market value.

      In an alleged swap for favours, the following year Lunardi allocated state funds for the restoration of historic church buildings, including the 16th century Congregation headquarters facing the Spanish Steps.

      Sepe proclaimed his innocence, implicitly comparing himself in his Sunday sermon with martyrs who "were tortured, humiliated and disrespected" for their faithfulness to the Gospel. He also declared he had the full support of the Vatican, and pledged to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

      That kind of news would ruin any CEO’s week, religious or otherwise. Then came Thursday, when things got dramatically worse.

      That’s when Belgian police raided the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church in Belgium as part of an investigation of child abuse at the hands of priests and allegations of a coverup on the part of the Belgian bishops.

      The  spokesperson for the Belgian conference of bishops (the "Episcopal Conference") put out this statement, which was released by the Vatican Secretariat of State on Friday:

      The bishops of Belgium were gathered at the residence of the Archbishop of Malines-Brussels at about 10.30 this morning for the monthly meeting of the Episcopal Conference. At about 10:30, police and court officials entered and referred that there would be a search of the archdiocese, following complaints of sexual abuse within the territory of the archdiocese. No explanation was given, but all documents and mobile phones were confiscated and it was referred that nobody could leave the building. This situation lasted until approximately 19:30.

      Everyone was interrogated, members of the Episcopal Conference and staff. It was not a pleasant experience, but everything was done correctly. The bishops have always affirmed their trust in justice and its work. This search was greeted with the same confidence and therefore, for the moment, the (bishops) shall refrain from making further comments.

      Instead, they, along with Professor Peter Adriaensses, chairman of the committee for handling sexual abuse as part of a pastoral outreach, regret the fact that during another search, all files of this committee were seized. This goes against the privacy rights of which the victims who have chosen to turn to this committee should benefit. This action gravely affects the much needed and excellent work of this committee.

      Emphasis added. I’m sure they were surprised — that’s kind of the point, with any kind of search like this — but I’m glad it was all done correctly.

      On Sunday, the pope himself weighed in, releasing the message he sent to the head of the Belgian episcopal conference:

      At this sad time I wish to express my special closeness and solidarity to you, dear brother in the episcopate, and to all the bishops of the Church in Belgium, for the surprising and deplorable manner in which searches were carried out at the cathedral of Mechelen and at the site where the Belgian episcopate was gathered in a plenary assembly which, among other things, also intended to consider questions associated with the abuse of minors by members of the clergy. On a number of occasions I myself have highlighted how these serious matters should be dealt with by both civil law and canon law, while respecting the specific nature and autonomy of each. In this context, I trust that justice may run its course in order to guarantee the fundamental rights of persons and of institutions, at the same time respecting victims, showing unconditional recognition for those who undertake to collaborate, and rejecting everything that obscures the noble goal with which justice is assigned.

      While assuring you that I accompany the progress of your Church with my daily prayers, I willingly impart an affectionate apostolic blessing.

      Emphasis added here, too. Notice the difference between the two statements? What the Belgian bishops described as unpleasant and yet "done correctly," the pope sees as "deplorable". Belgium has become what John Allen described as "a perfect storm" on the sex abuse crisis, with a painful history leading up to this raid.

      When it rains, it pours. A lot.

      The last bolt of judicial thunder came from the Supreme Court of the United States, who with two words made life in the Vatican even more miserable. Buried on a list of orders released this morning [pdf] was the line "09-1: Holy See v. Doe, John V.", sitting right under a very painful two word heading: "CERTIORARI DENIED".

      Said the Catholic News Service:

      The U.S. Supreme Court has left standing a lower court ruling that will allow an Oregon man to try to hold the Vatican financially responsible for his sexual abuse by a priest, if he can persuade the court that the priest was an employee of the Vatican.

      By declining to take Holy See v. John Doe, the court June 28 left intact the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that said because of the way Oregon law defines employment, the Vatican is not protected under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act from potential liability for the actions of a priest who Doe, the unidentified plaintiff, said sexually abused him in the 1960s.

      The Vatican had hoped to have this case dismissed out of hand using FSIA, but they couldn’t convince even four justices that their case was worth hearing, at least at this point. (Conspiracy theorists take note: there are six Roman Catholics on the Court, and the Vatican still couldn’t muster four votes for cert, even with an amicus brief filed by the DOJ supporting their position.)

      Now the Vatican has the unenviable task of going back to the district court to try to make the case that the priest and various bishops involved are *not* Vatican employees.

      Good luck with that.

      I can easily envision the questioning by the lawyers for Doe of the priest, the bishops, and whatever Vatican officials are deposed in this case:

      • Are priests obligated to work under the terms and conditions laid down by the Vatican?
      • Are they subject to discipline for failure to live up to those conditions?
      • Does the Vatican establish the procedures for carrying out that discipline?
      • Isn’t it true that no priest can leave the priesthood without the permission of the Vatican, which can be obtained only by undergoing a process created and carried out by the Vatican?
      • Bishop, were you named to your post by the Pope?
      • Did the pope (or someone designated by the pope) install you in your office with a special ceremony of episcopal ordination at which he (or his designee) presided?
      • At that ceremony, did the pope or his designee give to you personally various signs, symbols, and insignia of your office?
      • Are you charged with carrying out your office in accordance with policies and procedures laid down by the Pope and the various curial offices of the Vatican?
      • Are you required to report to the Vatican regularly on your activities, including mandatory visits to Rome for in-person consultation?
      • Isn’t it true that you can be removed from your office by the Pope?

      Given that the answer to every one of those questions is "yes," and that there are reams of Vatican documents like the code of canon law and papal sermons at the ordinations of bishops that can be introduced as supporting evidence, claiming that bishops are somehow "free agents" or "independent contractors" is going to be a very hard argument to make.

      This case isn’t over. The Vatican may yet win the underlying lawsuit, but they’re not going to win it without a lot of discovery, public hearings, and the airing of some very dirty ecclesiastical laundry.

      And if all this news wasn’t bad enough, there’s one more thing that is giving Pope Benedict nightmares: there will be plenty more weeks like this to come.