Thursday, January 10, 2008

Law and the timid Voice of the Faithful

Law and the timid Voice of the Faithful

By Warren Mason

Providence Journal
December 14, 2002


THE ABILITY to divine gray from black and white is something that most savvy politicians master early in their careers: the ability to be all things to all people.

In contrast, to divine gray when the sexual abuse of children is involved is both repugnant and indeed criminal. It requires one to shut out the light to the soul.

As Boston Cardinal Bernard Law and his ilk leave us, they wear not the red robes of cardinals but, rather, the grays of all-too-common criminals.

While Law's self-inflicted downfall comes to a close, it seems timely to take a closer look at the role of the Roman Catholic lay group the Voice of the Faithful. The group's reluctance to make waves has been well documented, as has its inability to bridge all the factions within the group. This has made it impossible for the group to speak with a strong, coherent message.

In fact, the VOTF is a microcosm of the Catholic Church laity.

While the departure of Cardinal Law has been inevitable for some time, it wasn't until Wednesday that the VOTF called for his resignation. The group's actions -- or, more important, inactions -- are predictable yet troubling, as the declaration came long after it could have had any real impact.

It was beginning to look as if the VOTF would wait until the cardinal had reassigned himself to a new parish in Rome. That, in turn, would preclude any possibility of Massachusetts Atty. Gen. Thomas Reilly's ever bringing him to justice.

The truism "There's strength in numbers" hasn't proven true when it comes to the VOTF. While Law has run his own little dictatorship, the members of the VOTF seem to have been passengers on a rudderless ship.

Many have suggested that the VOTF's intentions are good. I have no reason to disagree. However, though the organization's stated goals appear noble, and it counts many wonderful people among its members, the group is unable to speak as one.

The VOTF and others in the Catholic laity have always been divided on what the word faithful stands for. To some, it seems to mean faithful to the institutional church, while to others it seems to mean faithful to the Gospel. Make no mistake: These are not one and the same, despite many people's wishing they were so! Perhaps one day, but not now.

Just last week, outside Boston's Holy Cross Cathedral, the protesters were chanting for Law's resignation as a well-intentioned woman said, "I love the church, but these leaders have to go." She's partly right; they do have to go. But viewing these clergymen as leaders over us while loving the church is what brought us to the precipice.

It's loving the church that led us to blindly entrust our young people to these men, and it's loving the church that leads us to donate to an organization that doles out our money to pedophiles. If the laity doesn't care that it is subsidizing these priests' future crimes, why should the church?

Bishop Willie Walsh, of Killaloe, Ireland, echoed these sentiments in a recent Irish television documentary: "I think if there are bricks in the Catholic Church which are not serving the Gospel, then let them be taken down -- let them be taken apart -- as ultimately the church is not an end in itself.

"The church is there to serve the Gospel, and whatever structures are not serving the Gospel -- let them be taken down, brick by brick. Let us be rid of whatever structures are not serving the Gospel, and good riddance to them!"

Bishop Walsh is the lone voice of reason in a sea of obfuscation. It's a pity his common sense hasn't reached these shores.

Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and his counterparts seem to have scared off any number of dissenters, including the VOTF, by conflating dissent with being a bad Catholic. Questioning these bishops should be a badge of honor and not a reason to cower in shame, yet the VOTF seems loath to do so.

The Voice of the Faithful's sheer numbers may have given it a seat at the table, but those same numbers seem to have made it impossible for the group to formulate an agenda. Indeed, it seems that the mere mention of "agenda" sends the members into a defensive panic or scurrying to various cardinals and bishops for reassurance that they really do matter. In doing so, they have unwittingly empowered the church hierarchy and damaged the cause of all lay Catholics who are outraged by that hierarchy and the system that has nurtured it.

The Rev. Richard McBrien, professor of theology at Notre Dame University, states in the latest issue of The Tidings, the Los Angeles Archdiocese's weekly newspaper: "In the end, what's wrong with having an agenda? An agenda, after all, is nothing more than a list of things that a group of people think need to be done -- whether in politics, business, academia, the professions, or even the church. One may disagree with the content of a particular agenda, but why should its very existence be dismissed summarily -- as extremist, in fact?"

For weeks, media and community leaders nationwide clamored for Bernard Law to go, while the Voice of the Faithful waffled and showed deference to a man whom many consider a criminal and virtually all consider morally bankrupt. The VOTF seemed to be in a race with Governor-elect Romney and Boston's other clerics to see who could be the last to step up and do what had been called for months before. Even many of the morally challenged clerics beat the VOTF to the punch.

There is a perception in the media that the VOTF speaks for much of the Catholic lay community. Although at one time it may have done so, it long ago squandered the opportunity. How is the laity to know what the VOTF stands for when the VOTF itself doesn't seem to know?

The VOTF purports to support clergy of integrity -- yet where has it been for such clerical people as Thomas Doyle, Walter Cuenin, James Scahill, John Bambrick and Sister Karol Jackowski? They have all fought long for the rights of the church's victims, regardless of the cost to them both professionally and personally.

It seems that, for the VOTF, standing up for these honorable men and women of conscience has been contingent on not risking the wrath of the bishops.

Indeed, with Cardinal Law perhaps retiring to a palatial estate in Rome, many of his counterparts are fast on his heels. Bishops McCormack, Banks, Hughes, Daily, O'Brien and others are clinging to the last vestiges of their power in a pathetic attempt to stave off the inevitable.

Several columnists have suggested that watching this unfold is like watching the last days of Nixon's presidency. While there are many similarities, one thing sets the two apart: Nixon's burglary and cover-up didn't lead to the suffering of thousands of people for many generations to come.

The courageous Fathers Doyle, Scahill and the others have moved on to the core of the problem: the bankrupt institution that has enabled Law and the others to flourish at the expense of anyone who got in their way.

Of initial importance is how the VOTF and the rest of the Catholic laity will deal with Cardinal Law's replacement: a man to be selected by a cadre of sycophants to Pope John Paul II, and chosen from a group of bishops who share the stench of this depravity.

The new cardinal will come in promising a new openness and change; but remember this: He is a man cut from the same cloth as Cardinal Law, nurtured in a community that has ceded to him unquestioned power and blind loyalty. His obedience is pledged to an antiquated and corrupt epicenter at the Vatican, where this pope's only concern is not whether pedophile priests abuse more children but, rather, whether they "cause no scandal" to the church.

Those who love the church will graciously want to accept the morsels thrown their way -- wanting, more than anything else, for this all to end. They will want to believe the new cardinal is every bit as holy as he sounds, and they will be more than happy to go back to their ignorant bliss!

Unless the laity is willing to hold out for real systemic change and a sharing of power, these Catholics will be doomed to revisit all the contradictions and inequities laid upon them for as long as anyone can remember.

Once again, Professor McBrien: "Does anyone seriously believe that the church can extricate itself from the present crisis and avoid similar crises in the future without making any systemic or structural changes at all? Is it only a matter of fidelity and obedience, and nothing more?

"If a fire department were having difficulty putting out fires . . . would it be 'extremist' for citizens to demand a review of operations, including the training of firefighters, the system of promotions within the department, and the state of its firefighting equipment?"
Indeed, citizens would demand such a review -- just as we've seen in our government after 9/11. Yet when such concerns are raised about the church, they are deemed, as Bishop Gregory put it, "false prophecy."

Amazingly, the departing Cardinal Law has presumed to lecture us and President Bush on the morality of a war with Iraq! The president has rightly made it clear that "we don't negotiate with criminals." When are the Voice of the Faithful and the rest of the Catholic laity going to understand that simple premise?

No gray -- just black and white!

Warren Mason is a Massachusetts-based writer whose social commentary has appeared in numerous newspapers and other periodicals. He can be reached at

One church topples a bishop

One church topples a bishop

EAST LONGMEADOW, Mass. — Ultimately, it wasn't a local prosecutor or an aggressive attorney for two sexual abuse victims who toppled the Catholic bishop of Springfield, Mass.
It was the people of his diocese — led by a small-town priest, an angry dad and a quiet nun — who turned the legal spotlight on Bishop Thomas Dupré. (Related story: Bishop may face abuse charges)

The rebels of St. Michael's parish inspired the mother of a man who says Dupré raped him when he was 12 to speak out, leading to an investigation that could make Dupré the first bishop to face criminal charges for sexually abusing minors.

This is a tale of a letter, of a moral action conducted by collection basket, of a victim willing to talk once he found a community willing to listen.

For two years, the national spotlight has been on crowds in Boston protesting their disgraced archbishop, Cardinal Bernard Law, for protecting known abusive priests. "Boston" became shorthand for the crisis that engulfed the church.

But 90 miles west, the 250,000 Catholics in this diocese also felt the corrosive effect of church leaders who failed, or refused, to see and to stop the abuse. A recent report by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice found 4% of U.S. priests abused 10,667 children and teens in the last half-century. That includes 30 priests accused of abusing 70 children and teens since 1950 in Springfield.

In May 2002, long before those statistics were known, three people said "Enough": the Rev. James Scahill, 56, pastor of 2,000-member St. Michael's parish, seven miles southeast of Springfield; Warren Mason, 48, a marketing expert and father of three sons; and the nun who introduced them, Sister Mary McGeer, 63, who works with parish families.

The nun, grieving at the prospect of angry parents pulling their children out of her church, took a vehement letter from Mason to Scahill days after he took over the parish post. At Mason's urging, Scahill asked parishioners to set aside the 6% of their collections that normally goes to the diocese — and thus could be used to fund support payments for abusive priests who have been removed from ministry.

Scahill has been vilified by church officials for this action ever since. But it brought Mason — and 30% more of the town's Catholics — back to Sunday Mass.

And it created a climate where first one man, then another, sought to press charges against Dupré after two decades of silence.

Last month, Dupré abruptly resigned at age 70, citing his health. Media reports say he has been at a psychiatric institute in Maryland known for treating sexual disorders. He quit the day after a local newspaper asked him about sex with two boys. Among the paper's sources: an alleged victim's mother who called after talking with Scahill.

Last week, Hampden County district attorney William Bennett announced he would go to a grand jury with evidence that Dupré sexually abused the two victims and may have concealed records to protect other predatory priests in the diocese. Dupré's attorney said Wednesday that the bishop will have "no comment."

Last Sunday, an ordinary Sunday morning Mass at St. Michael's was as packed as Easter Sunday.

Every week, the red-brick church's pews overflow with grannies, dads, gurgling babies, restless tots on moms' laps. Teens and latecomers lean against the walls.

The Mason family is there once more. A lifelong Catholic with three sons baptized at St. Michael's, Mason, 48, quit attending Mass in March 2002 after he saw cardinals equivocating on TV over what to do about abusive priests.

"All parents ... should feel appalled and scared at the spin these church leaders are applying to criminal and immoral acts," he wrote to Scahill's predecessor. "My faith in God remains stronger than ever! Conversely, my belief in the (church) ... has been shattered."

The pastor didn't reply. But McGeer was struck by Mason's plea for parish priests to speak up: "Where are their voices now?"

She knows all about silent voices. Nuns' voices have rarely been heard in the Catholic hierarchy, says McGeer, 63, a Sister of St. Joseph who entered the teaching order 46 years ago.

"If we had been where decisions are made about parish assignments or dealing with abuse charges, this whole scandal would never have happened. We give our lives for children," she says.

She's not a ring-the-alarm-bell activist. Her work has always been home to home, heart to heart, a steadying arm of faith in difficult times. At Mass, she's the one cheerfully herding 150 "little angels" into their own special classes.

But in spring 2002, "I had parents in the parish for years, like Mason, who were going to take their children away," she recalls, eyes brimming with tears.

That prompted McGeer to her own kind of action: She held on to Mason's letter and gave it to Scahill when he arrived in early May. He called Mason immediately.

"I told him I wouldn't put more money in the collection basket as long as it was being used by Dupré to subsidize pedophiles," Mason recalls. He cites one notorious priest, Richard Lavigne, who pleaded guilty to abusing two altar boys in 1992. The diocese has paid a $1.4 million settlement to 17 victims so far. Dupré announced in January that Lavigne had been defrocked, but he's still on the diocese payroll.

"The church can claim they support these abusers out of canon law and charity, but I say bull-(expletive)! It's just walking-around money for perverts! They use that money to groom their victims," Mason says. The John Jay report found nearly 39% of abusive priests enticed victims with alcohol or drugs.

Mason asked Scahill: "How many kids have been abused while Dupré coddled abusers? How long can we allow this?"

Scahill was unaccustomed to challenging church authority. He went directly from high school to seminary and then, at age 27, to the priesthood, "the only profession where young men who have done nothing can be treated like princes." His first post as a senior pastor, in 1988, was the parish where Lavigne had served.

"It took a lot of jolts to knock me out of the box of clerical culture where privilege and power are more important than love and service," Scahill says.

The first jolts: meeting Lavigne's victims. The final jolt: meeting Mason, who hatched the "6% plan." The parish normally sent 9% of collections to Springfield: 3% for education and 6% to the general fund. When Scahill called on the parish to put that money in escrow (now more than $50,000 in a local bank), "they rose and applauded," the priest says.

"People want their priests to stand up and tell them they have the power to make change," says Mason.

That power, Scahill says, jabbing his index finger at Mason, "you damn well better remember, Warren, was not yours. It was not mine. It was God's!"

Dupré blasted Scahill in public and private. The diocese vocations director blamed him for no new applicants for the priesthood last year. There were no calls from brother priests asking, "How are ya holding up, Jim?" says Scahill.

He's given to quoting the Mass for martyrs and the Prophet Micah, who urges, "Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly before your God." The prophet says nothing about calling your bishop a liar to his face. But Scahill, secure in his faith and the support of the people of St. Michael's, did that, too.

And word of the stand-up parish rippled throughout Massachusetts through an onslaught of letters and e-mails from Mason.

Then came a stunning surprise that justified all their efforts, the priest says.

Last October, a local woman who had heard of the parish's actions contacted him saying her son and one of his teenage buddies, both now in their 40s, had been abused by Dupré himself when her son was 12 and his friend was 15.

She encouraged her son to talk with Scahill. The man contacted his old friend and fellow victim in California. Their attorney, Roderick MacLeish Jr., says the man was angered that Dupré spoke out against gay marriage "while Dupré's own sheets were dirty."

In November, Scahill called Archbishop of Boston Sean O'Malley's private office and left a message, saying he needed to speak with him about a "dire" matter in Springfield. He called Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly's office with the same message.

The archdiocese never called back. A spokesman says they have found no record of the call, that it may have been dismissed as a "crank call."

Reilly, however, was at St. Michael's within hours. Within four months, Bennett, the local prosecutor, announced his plan to go to the grand jury. On Tuesday, the Vatican named a New York auxiliary bishop, Timothy McDonnell, 66, to head the Springfield diocese.

And next week, the Masses at St. Michael's will be full — again.

"The people of God gave their church over to their clerics. Now they are taking it back," says Scahill. "A great thing is happening."

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Diagnosis: Major League Baseball Will Be Overrun With Cases of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder

As a result of yesterday's long overdue MLB agreement to test for illegal amphetamines, come spring training 2006 the percentage of Major League Baseball players diagnosed as suffering from AADD (Adult Attention Deficit Disorder) is sure to rise dramatically.

Amphetamines, in their legal form, (Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta....) have been and continue to be the primary treatment for ADD, in all its variations. They are a boon too the hundreds of thousands of children and adults who couldn't function without them; in spite of what one vertically and mentally challenged actor has to say.

Various estimates suggest that as many as 50% of active Major League ballplayers use or have used amphetamines in one way or another.

Sadly, many Major League ballplayers will surely use this loophole to feed a habit that has consumed baseball for more than 40 years. They will find a doctor who's more than willing to dia
gnose a case of AADD and prescribe a legal version of what they've been copping on the street for most of their careers.

After all it's a long season, why play fair when it's much easier to cheat. Hasn't that been baseball's motto?

Next up HGH (Human Growth Hormone). Another loophole for another day.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Where in the World is Bishop Thomas Dupre?

By Warren Mason
November 7, 2005

As 2005 comes to a close it is disheartening, yet all too predictable that little has changed within the cocoon like world of the Catholic hierarchy.

The 2004 indictments and subsequent dropping of child rape charges against Massachusetts Catholic Bishop Thomas Dupre certainly points to the inadequacy of most states laws to deal with such heinous offenses. Indeed it was only after the public outrage over Dupre’s not so great escape that Massachusetts legislators have begun to act, ever so slowly.

Just as troubling and perhaps more telling is the Catholic hierarchy’s apparent ignorance to the whereabouts of their wayward bishop and their total lack of concern for what he may still be doing.

Bishop Dupre resigned as leader of the Springfield diocese almost two years ago, on February 11, 2004. He resigned only after being confronted by the Springfield Republican with what Hampden County District Attorney William Bennett termed “credible accusations” that Dupre repeatedly raped two young boys over many years in several states, and Canada. To this day Dupre has never denied the accusations, pleading the 5th at a civil deposition.

Jarringly, he phoned one of his alleged victims, and then took off for St. Luke’s Institute in Maryland, otherwise known as Pedophilia U., where he spent at least the next nine months. From there on the trail runs cold. Is he still at St. Luke’s? Is he roaming the country looking for new marks? How much does he continue to cost the Catholic laity that continues to close their eyes as they drop their money in the basket? Only the Catholic hierarchy knows where Dupre is hiding and they’re not telling. God forbid they actually deal with one of their in house pedophiles!

Within the Catholic cocoon Dupre remains a Bishop in good standing, a prince of the Church, receiving all the benefits and privileges that come with that title. He is neither reviled nor disgraced by his brethren.

Indeed he is listed on the diocesan website with the lofty title of Bishop Emeritus.

Where is the righteous anger the Catholic hierarchy is always ready to unleash on others, yet seem so averse to bring down on their own brethren? Where is the moral imperative we have every right to expect from our religious institutions?

This is a Catholic hierarchy that has come to understand the seriousness of child abuse only after being threatened with criminal action; a Catholic hierarchy that removes the pedophile from ministry, yet continues to harbor him in the name of safeguarding our youth; a Catholic hierarchy that continues to pay the abuser with parishioner’s funds and has the gall to call it charity.

Isn’t it charity when you reach into your own pocket and not someone else’s?

Ask the hierarchy where Bishop Dupre is and you hear only silence. You begin to understand the obvious -- These so Church leaders have neither the will nor the moral sense to keep track of their coddled criminals.

The Massachusetts grand jury that convened to review the accusations against Dupre knew of the difficulty in prosecuting him, given the archaic Massachusetts laws governing the statutes of limitation for child abuse. Yet they still chose to indict him due to the overwhelming evidence, the heinous nature of his alleged crimes, and the hope that other states might be able to move forward with charges.

Surely during the past 19 months the Diocese of Springfield must have done something to investigate this abuse? Surely Bishop Timothy McDonnell, Dupre’s successor must have felt moved to protect his flock from this potential danger and ongoing embarrassment?

In short, they’ve done nothing!

Apparently they are leaving it to the Vatican, which after only 500 hundred years of reflection, grudgingly recognized Galileo’s theory that the earth revolves around the sun.

"He has no canonical relationship with this diocese. Bishops are answerable only to the Holy See and the Pope." said Diocesan spokesman Mark Dupont in a Berkshire Eagle article from last year, confirming that they have no concern as to where he is or what he's up to.

Why do I always picture Pontius Pilate washing his hands when I hear this kind of babble?

Funny how this same diocese claims a canonical relationship with all it’s abusive priests as an excuse for paying them, but claims no such relationship with their Bishop Emeritus, who they also continue to pay!

They use their inane Canon Law as if it was Silly Putty, molding it to fit their ever changing message.

"It's always disturbing when a dangerous man evades the law because of a technicality. It's even more disturbing when an allegedly celibate, trustworthy Catholic bishop, who has molested kids and enabled other clerics to molest kids is nowhere to be found," said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Catholic hierarchy can be heard loud and clear when the topic of abortion or gay marriage is brought to the fore, yet they are tellingly silent when the protection of our youth is on the line.

Apparently doing the right thing only applies when it doesn’t involve one of their own!

Just keep dropping those checks in the basket. You can be sure the Bishop Emeritus will keep cashing them!


Warren Mason is a Massachusetts-based writer whose social commentary has appeared in numerous newspapers.