Though I am not myself Catholic, I am saddened and frustrated today by a development within the Roman church’s American organizational structuring.
Today, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops voted for a new president. This election comes in a time of hardship for the Chruch as great as the economic crisis that marked the 2008 presidential election. Roughly one third of those born Catholic are apostates by the time they reach adulthood; no doubt a large factor in this exodus has been the church’s atrocious handling of the clerical pedophiles and the bishops who shielded them. With this election, the Conference had the opportunity to reshape itself and recussitate its image by chosing a leader who had taken staunch and unequivocal stands against corruption within their ranks, someone embodying the courage and compassion needed to admit the sins of the church’s past.
Instead, they elected New York Archbishop Timothy Michael Dolan.
(above) Timothy M. Dolan
Here is a man whose history of public statements on the crisis is a record of self-pity, auto-victimization, and blame-shifting, a rhetorical fantasy game in which he has attempted to absolve his institution by seizing the laurels of martyrdom. This is barely even a metaphor. In a sermon from March 28 of this year, Dolan, speaking of Pope Benedict XVI, whose long and well-document career of inaction and secrecy in the handling of priestly abuse was then coming under media scrutiny, explicitly compared the pontiff’s embarrassment to Christ’s passion, claiming he was “being daily crowned with thorns by groundless innuendo.”
However, it is not so much what Dolan has said, but what he has remained silent on which casts his appointment in foul light.
In the summer of 2009, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, of the neighboring Brooklyn diocese, essentially blackmailed state legislators considering extending the statute of limitations in cases of child rape in NY state. According to the NY Post:
Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio threatened state lawmakers by vowing to close churches in their districts — and blame them for the closures — if they dared support a bill making it easier for people who were sexually assaulted as kids to sue, legislators told The Post.
They said the dark warning came during a “legislative breakfast” at DiMarzio’s Brooklyn residence, as he told the gathering of about 20 state and city politicians that he would retaliate against Albany lawmakers if they backed the Child Victims Act.
The controversial bill — which could be heading for an Assembly floor debate as soon as June 8 — seeks to extend the statute of limitations for lawsuits involving the rape or molesting of youngsters. It could cost the Church hundreds of millions in payouts to victimized parishioners.
Two lawmakers said the bishop brazenly bullied them during the coffee-and-doughnuts gathering at his stately brick residence in Clinton Hill on Oct. 21.
“He said, ‘If it passes, we will close a parish in each of your districts and we will tell your constituents that it was your fault,’ ” said one Assembly member who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“I was shocked,” he said. “I’ve never seen a threat like that made at any lobby meeting.”
A senator who asked not to be identified said: “The hair on the back of my head stood up. In my years of Catholic schooling, we were never taught to be so vindictive, and here’s my bishop saying, ‘I’ll close a church in your district.’ “
A City Council member said: “He brought up this bill, and he went on a tirade about it, saying, ‘We’ll have to close churches, and you’ll be the ones responsible for it. It will be your fault.’
“He basically threatened the room. I was appalled.”
Though Dolan was not implicated himself in the threats, he never publicly criticized his collegue DiMarzio. And, given that other archbishops in other parts of the country, including Dolan’s old stomping-grounds Milwaukee, have opposed similar victims’ protections bills, it seems a reasonable inference that in this case, qui tacet consentit–that Dolan’s silence gives consent. While in New York, Dolan never commented on the bullying tactics of his collegue, or condemned his efforts to keep the current statute in place.
But exactly how ugly Dolan has been in the crisis has yet to be seen. It is very possible he knowingly concealed an old but extravagant evil committed in his Milwaukee diocese. The most horrific revelation of this year’s unholy apocalypse was doubtless the career of Lawrence Murphy. The Milwaukee priest ran St. John’s School for the Deaf, whereat he molested some 200 boys over numerous decades. In 1996, then-archbishop Rembert Weakland, hoping to defrock Murphy, petitioned the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s primary disciplinary body, then headed by Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. The Congregation failed to respond to Weakland’s first two letters, but eventually did grant Murphy a reprieve from ecclesiastical investigation and censure when he wrote Rome himself, appealing to his poor health. Within three months, Murphy was dead, and allowed to be buried in clerical vestments.
Where does Dolan fit in all this? That is the question. Weakland was Dolan’s immediate predecessor as archbishop of Milwaukee. Given the gravity the Lawrence case had to the church’s credibility, Dolan was very probably briefed on the situation. In his position of authority, one would suspect he had full access to the diocese’s internal records on the abuse crisis (or at least all those records Weakland didn’t personally shred).
If Dolan did know about Murphy, he could have come forward with the story years before the NY Times broke it. If he had, it would have been a profound gesture of reconciliation with the victims; it would have shown a church official was willing to sacrifice his institutional reputation for the sake of doing what was right and acknowledging the pain of the abused, and admitting his organization’s part in magnifying their suffering.
But if he knew, he didn’t do this.
If he knew, his crusade to clear the pope’s name, and his silence in the face of protests against victim’s protections, appears no longer callous but cynical, an effort to absolve himself by redefining responsibility as it pertains to the church administrators who stood by as abuse happened. If this is the case, that cynicism can be applied to all those in the Conference who elected him.
But the cynicism cannot be applied to the millions of American Catholics as horrified by clerical rape as anyone, if not more so. After all, it is they who are made to pay the victims’ settlements in their weekly basket contributions, they who have been lied to most strenuously by the magisterium, they whose families who have been so wretchedly betrayed. The Conference has again let these people down.
Filed under: Catholic Church abuse and coverup, child abuse, Christianity, religion, Roman Catholicism, sexual violence | 1 Comment »