Archive for category Clergy Sexual Abuse

Clergy & laypeople collaborate to confront clericalism / Association of U.S. Catholic Priests & Voice of the Faithful

Joint News Release from Association of U.S. Catholic Priests and Voice of the Faithful

For Immediate Release, Aug. 15, 2019

Pope Francis condemns clericalism, repeatedly. Catholic commentators decry it. Theologians and church historians examine its roots. Now, in a significant collaboration, the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests and Voice of the Faithful have examined the ways clericalism emerges from the clerical culture, generating complex problems facing the Roman Catholic Church today, and they suggest ways to combat it.

Their document, “Confronting the Systemic Dysfunction of Clericalism,” was approved at the AUSCP June 2019 Assembly, where guest speaker Dr. Richard Gaillardetz called it “very informative, even visionary.” Keynote speaker Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, noting the real-life examples reported, said it was “nothing less than a catalogue of horrors chronicling imperial pronouncements, put-downs, claims of privileges, entitlements and exemptions from accountability, but also a culture so pervasive that, sadly, many of the laity have come to accept it as normal and yes, even have cooperated in maintaining it.”

Real-life examples are central to the report and a significant contribution to the study of clericalism today. As the writers note, “We typically encounter clericalism as an experience. Using only scholarly definitions and explanations when discussing clericalism cannot communicate this lived experience of clericalism in the Church. To fully understand clericalism, we also must hear the voices of those who experience abuse of power.”

One experience  describes a confrontation between a laywoman and a visiting priest in Boston during a 2003 meeting. “We must fix this [sex abuse] because we are the Church,” the laywoman said. The visiting priest replied, “YOU are not the Church,” and pointing to his Roman collar, declared, “WE are the Church.”

In another example, a new pastor announced that he would personally choose pastoral council members and no one would be allowed to disagree with him. In yet another, a seminarian criticized the pastor for his monthly blessing service because it differed from what the seminary practiced.

If these examples seem to focus blame on the clergy or an insulated hierarchy or any group or faction within the universal church, the document will not allow such a conclusion. Clericalism is not simply a problem of clerics, and the authors cite experiences where lay people enable such behavior.

Clericalism is toxic to all the baptized, they note. When lay people encounter clericalism: “They find another parish; they leave the Church; they never speak up again in meetings with priests; they abdicate all decision-making to the priest; they become audiences rather that participants in the parish’s life and sideline observers within the Church. Or all of the above. They abdicate their baptismal responsibilities.”

Priests may suffer, too, from unrealistic expectations stifling their human development. It is manifested in “overwork, isolation, loneliness, unrelieved stress, the expectation that he and he alone will handle all the parish business and be responsible for all the parish problems.”

The document delves into the culture of the diocesan priesthood and characteristics that help incubate clericalism: the hierarchical and patriarchal structure of the church, its requirements for celibacy, an ordination that is said to confer an ontological change, an education separated from the daily lives of laypeople, distinctive clothing and liturgical dress. Clerics also receive privileges of lifestyle and compensation not available to the people to whom they minister. The final section of the paper describes options for confronting clericalism.

“Our aim,” the AUSCP and VOTF writers say, “has been to raise the consciousness
of readers to the expressions of clericalism and its problems. Clericalism betrays the teachings of the scriptures and ignores the best practices of the first three centuries of Christian faith and life. Both clerics and lay persons can be afflicted with the disease. Both are often unaware that their mode and manner, their self-understanding, and their sense of ministry have wandered far from the example of Jesus … [We]” hope that our words help us all rise to the challenge of today in confronting and ultimately removing as many vestiges as possible of the clericalism that harms us all.”

Cardinal Cupich emphasized a similar conclusion: “Clericalism can only be confronted by reclaiming the authenticity of the conversion we are called to in Baptism.”

The team preparing the report worked with input from clergy and laypeople across the United States, modeling the synodality Pope Francis urges as one way to address clericalism’s damage. Following its completion, the white paper also was endorsed by FutureChurch, another organization that includes both priests and lay people.

Lead writers for “Confronting the Systemic Dysfunction of Clericalism” were Rev. Kevin Clinton, AUSCP Past Chair of the Leadership Team, retired pastor, Archdiocese of St. Paul–Minneapolis; and Ms. Donna B. Doucette, Executive Director, Voice of the Faithful, member of Paulist Center Community, Archdiocese of Boston.

Contributors on the Working Group under the auspices of AUSCP were Rev. Gerry Bechard, AUSCP, pastor of Sts. Simon and Jude Parish, Archdiocese of Detroit; Ms. Alvera Bell, parishioner of St. Paul the Apostle Parish, Diocese of Youngstown; Mr. David Bell, parishioner of St. Paul the Apostle Parish, Diocese of Youngstown; Rev. Bernard R. Bonnot, AUSCP Executive Director, retired pastor in the Diocese of Youngstown; and Rev. Tom Ogg, AUSCP, retired pastor, Diocese of Cheyenne, Worldwide Marriage Encounter―U.S. Ecclesial Priest.

N.B. “Confronting the Systemic Dysfunction of Clericalism” can be read and downloaded at http://www.votf.org/AUSCP-Projects/Systemic%20Dysfunction%20Clericalism.pdf. Strategies for addressing clericalism in local faith communities can be found in “The BridgeDialogues: Laity & Clergy Reimaging the Church” at http://www.votf.org/content/priest-and-lay-reform-organizations-take-clerical-culture, which is a collaborative effort of AUSCP, FutureChurch and VOTF.


Contact: Donna B. Doucette, Executive Director, dbdoucette@votf.org

Voice of the Faithful®: Voice of the Faithful® is a worldwide movement of faithful Roman Catholics working to support survivors of clergy sexual abuse, support priests of integrity and increase the laity’s role in reforming administrative structures that have failed. VOTF’s mission is to provide a prayerful voice, attentive to the Spirit, through which the faithful can actively participate in the governance and guidance of the Catholic Church. More information is at votf.org.

Contact: Kevin Clinton, kevin@kevindome.com, Paul Leingang, prleingang@gmail.com

Association of U.S. Catholic Priests: AUSCP serves the People of God in parishes and other ministries. We seek to add a priest’s voice to the public conversation within our pilgrim church, among bishops and lay persons, vowed religious, ordained deacons and others. Our concerns are your concerns: good liturgy, social justice, the role of women in our church, immigration policies that reflect Gospel values, the dignity of all human lives, and a Church that welcomes all the People of God. Our mission is to be an association of U.S. Catholic priests offering mutual support and a collegial voice through dialogue, contemplation and prophetic action on issues affecting Church and society. Our vision is to be a Priest’s Voice of Hope and Joy within our Pilgrim Church. More information is at uscatholicpriests.org.

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How D.C. Catholics are leading the response to the clergy sexual abuse scandal / America: The Jesuit Review

The failure of church leadership to stop clerical sexual abuse hit Catholics in Washington, D.C. hard. (America: The Jesuit Review)

This week marks one year since the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report, which detailed the alleged crimes of hundreds of priests over seven decades and brought the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church back into the national spotlight.

“The failure of church leadership to stop clerical sexual abuse hit Catholics in Washington, D.C., hard. Two months before the grand jury report, claims of abuse against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, then archbishop emeritus of Washington, became public. In October, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, then the archbishop of Washington, who had been criticized for his handling of abusive priests during his time as the bishop of Pittsburgh. A few months later, McCarrick was laicized by Pope Francis.

“In the wake of last summer’s news, my parish, Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Washington, D.C., embarked on a “Season of Discernment.” We asked: How could a local parish help heal serious wounds—especially wounds of trust born of the scandal—for survivors and their families as well as the broader community of lay faithful? How might we avoid getting stuck in the status quo and move forward to enact meaningful change?”

By Kathleen Coogan, Pastoral Council, Holy Trinity Parish, Washington, D.C., in America: The Jesuit Review — Read more …

Kathleen Coogan will be part of a panel discussion on local responses to clergy abuse during Voice of the Faithful’s 2019 Conference in Boston Oct. 10. Click here for information and registration.

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Unmarked buildings, quiet help for accused priests / Associated Press

And while powerful clerics have publicly pledged to hold the church accountable for the crimes of its clergy and help survivors heal, some of them arranged meetings, offered blessings or quietly sent checks to this organization that provided support to alleged abusers, The Associated Press has found. Though Catholic leaders deny the church has any official relationship with the group, Opus Bono successfully forged networks reaching all the way to the Vatican. (Associated Press)

Stripped of their collars and cassocks, they went unnoticed in this tiny Midwestern town as they were escorted into a dingy warehouse across from an elementary school playground. Neighbors had no idea some of the dressed-down clergymen dining at local restaurants might have been accused sexual predators.

“They had been brought to town by a small, nonprofit group called Opus Bono Sacerdotii. For nearly two decades, the group has operated out of a series of unmarked buildings in rural Michigan, providing money, shelter, transport, legal help and other support to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Catholic priests accused of sexual abuse across the country.

“Again and again, Opus Bono has served as a rapid-response team for the accused.

“When a serial pedophile was sent to jail for abusing dozens of minors, Opus Bono was there for him, with regular visits and commissary cash.

“When a priest admitted sexually assaulting boys under 14, Opus Bono raised funds for his defense.

“When another priest was criminally charged with abusing a teen, Opus Bono later made him a legal adviser.”

By Martha Mendoza, Juliet Linderman and Garance Burke, Associated Press — Read more …

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Reform or dismantle? Why we need to keep the institutions that keep us / Commonweal

The division of Catholicism into various brands—liberal, progressive, conservative, traditionalist—fosters a spirit of zero-sum competition rather than communion. (Commonweal)

One of the effects of the sex-abuse crisis is the current moment of institutional iconoclasm—the temptation to get rid of the institutional element of the Catholic Church. The failures of the church’s institutions are now on full display, even more so than after the revelations of the Spotlight investigation. It is hypocritical, however, to interpret the abuse crisis as a clerical abuse crisis rather than a Catholic abuse crisis. Obviously, the clergy had a unique role in the crisis, but the moral and legal responsibilities do not belong exclusively to those wearing a Roman collar. We are still reluctant to acknowledge the systemic nature of this crisis as something that affected the entire Catholic world and not just its ordained ministers. We would like to contain it neatly within the hierarchy so as to exempt ourselves from the burden of critical self-reflection.

“American Catholicism has not yet found its way out of the blame game for the abuse crisis. One sees this on both sides of the ideological spectrum. Recent attempts to use the crisis as a pretext for abolishing the priesthood are just a liberal version of conservative attempts to blame sexual abuse on gays or the sixties. All such strategies spare lay Catholics the bother of having to ask ‘What did do wrong?’ The abuse itself damaged the lives of the victims and their families, friends, and communities. Now, the shortcomings of our response to the abuse crisis—our failure to deal with its root causes—is causing another kind of damage. When prominent scholars of Catholicism publicly display their ‘disgust’ for Catholicism, it is clear that the abuse crisis has blurred the line between an ecclesially engaged Catholic theology and the more dispassionate, agnostic religious studies of Catholicism. The abuse crisis has produced two kinds of counter-evangelization:

  • first, the counter-evangelization of the hierarchical church, whose example scandalizes the faithful and repels outsiders;
  • second, the counter-evangelization of those who have used this crisis to self-righteously declare their liberation from what they describe as a morally corrupt institution.

There is a prefabricated quality to at least some of these declarations. They seem less like honest reckonings with new information than shrewdly timed expressions of old resentments. There will always be an appreciative audience for “Why I Left” pieces.”

By Massimo Faggioli, Commonweal — Read more …

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Why the ‘Metropolitan Plan’ doesn’t work — Exhibit A: Bishop Bransfield / Commonweal

As if by an act of divine providence, however, the first trial run of a metropolitan-centered strategy to contain abusive bishops has provided a spectacular public demonstration of how this plan can fail. The case I am referring to, of course, is that of Bishop Michael Bransfield of the diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, who has been suspended from ministry over multiple allegations of sexual harassment and misuse of diocesan funds. (Commonweal)

The now-glaring weakness of the USCCB’s 2002 Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was that it made no provision for dealing with bishops who engage in sexual misconduct. In the wake of the scandal surrounding Theodore McCarrick, who had escaped the consequences of his abuses for decades, the American bishops realized this gap had to be closed. Without some mechanism for holding bishops accountable, the trust that the hierarchy hoped to rebuild after the devastating revelations of clergy abuse of children could never be achieved.

“In the course of discussions in the months following the McCarrick revelations, two proposals emerged: an independent lay-run board could investigate a bishop and report to Rome, or a case could be referred to the metropolitan bishop of the region (a metropolitan is the bishop of the chief see of an ecclesiastical province, usually an archdiocese), who would oversee the investigation and send his findings to Rome. In either case, the pope would make a final determination of the fate of the bishop.

“Not surprisingly, the latter option (first proposed by Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago) was the one favored by most American bishops and the Vatican. It decentralizes the work of investigating accusations. It avoids thorny practical questions about who chooses the members of the lay board. And, critically, it sidesteps the canonical ‘problem’ of lay people in the church being placed in a position of authority over bishops.

“The guidelines issued this spring by Pope Francis endorsed the ‘metropolitan plan.’ At their June meeting in Baltimore, the American bishops adopted it, though with some debate over whether lay involvement in the process should be mandatory or optional. They made it optional.

“As if by an act of divine providence, however, the first trial run of a metropolitan-centered strategy to contain abusive bishops has provided a spectacular public demonstration of how this plan can fail. The case I am referring to, of course, is that of Bishop Michael Bransfield of the diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, who has been suspended from ministry over multiple allegations of sexual harassment and misuse of diocesan funds.”

By Rita Ferrone, Commonweal — Read more …

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How much corruption can we tolerate in the church before we leave / National Catholic Reporter

Yes, social sin and structural, systemic corruption abound. But the kind of moral perversity that harms the young or vulnerable deserves no quarter. Nor can we tolerate its institutional protection or tolerance. (National Catholic Reporter)

“After reading James Carroll’s lengthy lament in The Atlantic on the corruption in the Catholic Church and its priestly caste, I remembered reading an article in America magazine by the late Jesuit theologian Walter Burghardt.

“‘In the course of half a century,’ the weathered scholar wrote in Tell the Next Generation, ‘I have seen more Catholic corruption than you have read of. I have tasted it. I have been reasonably corrupt myself. And yet I joy in this Church — this living, pulsing, sinning people of God.’

“Carroll admits to an ocean of grief from the corruption now painfully evident in the church, not the church understood as the people of God, but the hierarchical church. His grief is oceans away from what we might term reasonable, from the mostly petty corruptions of people like Burghardt and the rest of us. The corruption that so saddens Carroll is mortally grave because, as he sees it, the toxic clericalism at its roots has over centuries embedded itself in the very structure, the very bones, of the hierarchical, institutional church. As such, he no longer looks for reform from church leaders found to be at the very center of the corruption.”

By Donald Cozzens, National Catholic Reporter — Read more …

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West Virginia bishop gave powerful cardinal and other priests $350,000 in cash gifts before his ouster, church records show / The Washington Post

The gifts — one as large as $15,000 — were detailed in a draft of a confidential report to the Vatican about the alleged misconduct that led to Bransfield’s resignation in September. (The Washington Post)

In the years before he was ousted for alleged sexual harassment and financial abuses, the leader of the Catholic Church in West Virginia gave cash gifts totaling $350,000 to fellow clergymen, including young priests he is accused of mistreating and more than a dozen cardinals in the United States and at the Vatican, according to church records obtained by The Washington Post.

“Bishop Michael J. Bransfield wrote the checks from his personal account over more than a decade, and the West Virginia diocese reimbursed him by boosting his compensation to cover the value of the gifts, the records show. As a tax-exempt nonprofit, the diocese must use its money only for charitable purposes.

“The gifts — one as large as $15,000 — were detailed in a draft of a confidential report to the Vatican about the alleged misconduct that led to Bransfield’s resignation in September. The names of 11 powerful clerics who received checks were edited out of the final report at the request of the archbishop overseeing the investigation, William Lori of Baltimore.”

By Michelle Boorstein, Shawn Boberg and Robert O’Harrow, Jr. — Read more …

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