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Priest Gets 50 Years for Child Porn – Bishop Who Knew Remains Bishop

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

Earlier this year I wrote that the credibly of the new Pope may depend on how he lives up to his claim of having a zero tolerance policy regarding child sex abuse.

What measure of tolerance shall we say that the Pope is giving to Bishop Robert Finn, who was convicted over a year ago of failing to report suspected child abuse by a priest under his authority and still leads the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri?  A federal judge deemed the child porn charges of which pedophile priest Fr. Shawn Ratigan was convicted to be so serious that he sentenced Ratigan to 50 years in prison.

I am one of those Catholics who has been cheered by the new pope’s refreshing tone and his embracing of tolerance and humility. Indeed, his recent comments about the Church’s recent obsession with culture war issues may have pulled the rug out from under the Republican Party Auxiliary we generally call the Catholic Right. His recent statements clearly indicate that he may lead the Church to an approach to economic and social justice that transcends Roman Catholicism and embraces the entire world.

But the longer he waits to act on the problem of sex abuse in the Church, the greater the risk that the good will he had earned, and the hope he has given to many millions of Catholics (and non-Catholics) will be lost.

Only the pope has the power to remove a Bishop. And the removal of Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri would be the perfect starting point to show the world that he will back up his words with deeds.

On its face, it ought to be a no-brainer.  Let’s recall that the crimes of Bishop Finn resulted from his knowledge of the related crimes of Fr. Shawn Ratigan who pleaded guilty in Federal Court to four counts of producing child pornography and one count of attempted production of child pornography. As I reported here and here, Bishop Finn had constructive knowledge of Ratigan’s improper touching of young girls and possession of child pornography. Finn not only knew of or had good reason to suspect Ratigan’s crimes, but had he acted, he would have prevented other crimes against children under his pastoral care.

I’ve previously written that Bishop Finn — a darling of the American Catholic Right must go.  But Finn has powerful friends.  The American Catholic Right is led by prominent neoconservatives and members of the secretive Catholic order, Opus Dei — and Finn is one of their own. Finn is also revered as a culture warrior, par excellence — having called on the Church to be “the Church militant.”  

No matter who Finn’s friends may be, Pope Francis — who has prominently claimed that he stands with the poor and the vulnerable — is faced with what may be the critical bellwether challenge and opportunity of his papacy.

No Weigel Room For NBC’s Non-Disclosure

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

George Weigel, who has frequently appeared on the NBC Nightly News as a “Vatican analyst” in the run up to the Conclave of Cardinals that will select the next pope, has served as a  consultant on Catholic issues to NBC since 1999.  But what NBC does not tell us — is that Weigel is no ordinary expert.  He is one of the leaders of today’s Catholic Right.

NBC‘s go to guy on all things Catholic in fact, has a long record of helping to create a more stridently conservative Catholic Church and has published a new book to help evangelize for it. (The book was was recently cheered on Twitter by no less than mega-church Pastor Rick Warren.)  This comes on the heels of years of working in the trenches building a conservative Catholic-Evangelical alliance that has culminated in The Manhattan Declaration, a manifesto attacking a series of progressive positions from contraception to marriage equality.

I’ve noted over and over again, Weigel is a Catholic neocon par excellence, having served as a leader of both the Institute on Religion and Democracy and Ethics Public Policy Center as well as being one of the original signatories of the Project for the New American Century.  

NBC‘s failure to disclose Weigel’s relevant affiliations and obvious biases violates the most basic standards of journalism.

As if any and all this were not enough, there is more that merits disclosure:  Notably, his service as an Adviser to the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights headed by the bombastic William Donohue.Nightly News viewers might be taken aback by Donohue’s recent role in trying to obfuscate Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn’s misdemeanor conviction for failing to report suspected child abuse by Father Shawn Ratigan.

NBC viewers are also kept in the dark about Weigel’s disapproval of over a century Catholic economic principles.  And not only is he one of the most prominent Catholic neo-conservatives, he condescendingly dismisses those co-religionists who disagree with his orthodox Catholic vision as “Catholic Lite” or as being “a culture of dissent.” In essence, he is belittling the majority of American Catholics in one-way or another.

There are many good reasons why disclosure of potential bias if not conflict of interest is considered the minimum ethical standard for news organizations.

Weigel is, for example, using his analyst perch to subtlety advance his agenda. Consider this recent appearance on MSNBC’s Hardball (countered here at least by National Catholic Reporter editor, Tom Roberts). At the 1:21 mark, Weigel substitutes his desire for that of the Cardinals that the next pope continues in the more aggressive evangelization begun by John Paul II. (That Weigel is, in fact, selling a new book on the subject, went unmentioned.)  Later, at the 3:41 mark, he dissembles on priestly celibacy, speaking as if it always existed. As Tom Roberts pointed out, that was not the case.

To fully comprehend how far off the mark NBC is in failing to disclose their Vatican analyst’s outlook, just consider that even Fox News generally alerts its viewers of an on-air guest’s philosophical leanings.

Robert W. Finn, Will You Please Go Now?

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

The well-connected conservative culture warrior, Robert W. Finn, still leads the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri more than three months after being convicted of failing to report suspected child abuse.  This has led to a growing unease inside and outside of the Church that the problems that led to shocking child sex abuse scandals and high level coverups, are far from over.

The New York Times recently reported:

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – In the three months since Bishop Robert W. Finn became the first American prelate convicted of failing to report a pedophile priest, lay people and victims’ advocates have repeatedly called for his resignation.

Now, recent interviews and a private survey by a company working for the Roman Catholic diocese here show for the first time that a significant number of the bishop’s own priests have lost confidence in him.

But of course Finn still has his defenders, including one conservative priest who said, “Yes, there is a divide in the presbyterate, but in my opinion it’s the same old tired divide that has existed from the day he arrived.” He added, “In a word, some of the priests wish that we had a more liberal bishop, and they are willing to use any means to achieve that end.”

And then of course, there is the ever-full-of-bluster, Catholic League president, William Donohue.

Donohue, never one to let the facts get in the way of defending the indefensible, recently responded to the Times article. In a December 3, 2012 op-ed in the Albany Tribune, entitled, “Bishop Finn and the Catholic Left,” he dissembled once again, trying to frame the issue as solely one of a battle between conservative and liberal Catholics:

The Times says that Finn’s conviction of a misdemeanor “stemmed from his failure to report the Rev. Shawn Ratigan to the authorities after hundreds of pornographic pictures that Father Ratigan had taken of young girls were discovered on his laptop in December 2010.”

That statement is factually wrong. On October 15, 2011 the Times mentioned there was “a single photo of a young girl, nude from the waist down,” and “hundreds of photographs of children” showing “upskirt images and images focused on the crotch.”

Continuing directly, he made this incredible statement:

Now anyone who takes such pictures is clearly disturbed. But it also needs to be said that crotch shots are not pornographic. Moreover, the diocese described the “single photo” of a naked girl to a police officer who served on the diocesan sexual review board, and he said it did not constitute pornography. So why would the Times say that “hundreds of pornographic pictures” were found two years ago this month? The record shows that it was not until after the diocese called the cops in May 2011 that porn pictures were found on Ratigan’s computer.

He concluded by claiming, “In short, Bishop Finn deserves better. The attack on him, coming exclusively from the Catholic Left, smacks of an agenda.”

This is nonsense. Writing for The Religion News Service on December 4, 2012 Mark Silk pointed out that in fact, the picture was indeed defined as “pornography” in a report prepared for the diocese.

Silk added:

That’s not just pornography, Bill, it’s the kind of child abuse that is supposed to get a priest reported to the civil authorities. How do I know this? It’s right there in the USCCB’s Rome-approved “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” which mandates compliance with civil reporting statutes for the “grave delict” of “the acquisition, possession, or distribution by a cleric of pornographic images of minors under the age of fourteen, for purposes of sexual gratification, by whatever means or using any technology.”

Donohue’s argument about “the Catholic Left” also holds no water. There are conservative Opus Dei bishops leading the dioceses of Brooklyn-Queens and Newark. Another very conservative bishop presides over the Archdiocese of Los Angeles while Catholic Right culture warrior Archbishop Chaput presides in Philadelphia. In none of these locales is there any such call for resignation as there is in Kansas City. Why?  Because the issue is one that should transcend politics: child abuse.

On the same day as Donohue’s piece, Michael Sean Winters in the National Catholic Reporter put it best:

Today is December 3. On September 6, Bishop Robert Finn was convicted in civil court of failing to report an instance of child sexual abuse. Not only is Finn now serving a suspended sentence, he is in violation of the Dallas Charter the bishops adopted ten years ago to confront the sex abuse crisis. Three months. Bishop Finn is still the Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph. The Vatican is said to want the American bishops to exert fraternal correction and get Finn to step down. The US bishops are said to be waiting for the Vatican to move. Enough already. Someone do something.

There does indeed however, appear to be a political angle at play in this whole sad episode. But Donohue doth protest too much.  If there is a political impulse affecting Finn’s status, it is coming from the neoconservative Catholic Right, not the Catholic Left — beginning with Bill Donohue!

Finn’s stepping down would, perhaps coincidentally, remove a high-profile conservative voice from a Mid-Western bastion of liberal thought. Kansas City is also a center for  Post-Keynesian economics (antithetical to neocon Catholics) particularly among the faculty at the University of Missouri – Kansas City (UMKC). The school also serves as home base for the Keynesian-based Center for Full Employment and Price Stability as well as Savings and Loan regulator and Roosevelt Institute fellow, Bill Black who serves as an associate professor of economics.  And as I have previously pointed out, Finn is  one of a number of outspokenly conservative prelates in liberal locales.

In any case, “If Finn remains at the helm of Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese,” I previously wrote, “the Vatican will essentially be telling the faithful that they care far more about high profile reactionary leaders, and little to nothing about the rest of us.” And as the recent New York Times story reminds us, “Only the pope can remove a bishop from office.”

What Is Truly At Stake In Kansas City-St. Joseph?

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

The saga of Bishop Robert Finn, (the outspoken Opus Dei prelate who is in hot water over his alleged failure to report to police, evidence of a pedophile priest under his diocesan authority) continues — as does consideration of the fallout of his criminal indictment.   A faction of the Catholic Right that intersects Opus Dei, the Catholic League and the neoconservative movement has risen to the bishop’s defense, suggesting that the Catholic Right believes they have more at stake than the legal or institutional fate of one negligent bishop.

Why would Catholic Right neoconservatives defend the indefensible? Of all the fights to pick, it seems odd that the likes of Bill Donohue’s Catholic League, members of Opus Dei and Opus Bono Sacerdotii would defend a bishop – even an Opus Dei bishop – where the indictment presents such an extremely difficult case to refute. As I  previously reported Finn has been indicted by a Jackson County Grand Jury on misdemeanor charges of failing to report child abuse and has cut a deal with prosecutors in nearby Clay County in order to avoid similar charges.

But his defenders’ concern may not be so much protecting Bishop Finn from what they say are false claims against him, but retaining this and other Opus Dei bishops’ hold on power.  To understand why they would pick this dubious battle, it is important to first understand the locale and then what has taken place in other pockets of progressivism.

Kansas City, Missouri is a bastion of Mid-West liberalism and until Finn’s arrival several years ago, the Catholic diocese was known as beacon of Catholic economic and social justice thought and action. But as I reported in 2006, Finn soon put the diocese on a culture war footing:

Finn’s personal political views have also come to predominate various diocesan decisions and pronouncements. Biological issues now take precedence over long-standing concerns such as distributive justice. As Dennis Coday reported in the National Catholic Reporter, A Respect Life Office was established to handle pro-life issues and battle stem-cell research. The effect of this decision was immediately felt in the recent battle over the Missouri’s Amendment 2 stem cell ballot initiative which narrowly prevailed on November 7, 2006.

In his march backwards he has elevated the role of The Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest. This society of priests celebrates Mass in Latin exclusively in its traditional as promulgated before the Vatican II aggiornomento reforms. The Institute has as its stated aim the defense and propagation of Magisterium in all areas of human life, both private and social. Such an attitude is a clear rebuke to Vatican II’s reform doctrine as defined in Dignitatis Humanae which declared that while the Church still viewed itself as the vessel of “the truth,” it wisely concluded that individuals must be free to seek the truth without coercion.

Kansas City is also a center for several ideals that are antithetical to neocon Catholics, particularly, Post- Keynesian economics, having a significant presence among the University of Missouri – Kansas City (UMKC) faculty. The school also serves as home base for the Keynesian-based Center for Full Employment and Price Stability as well as Savings and Loan regulator and Roosevelt Institute fellow, Bill Black who serves as an associate professor of economics.

As I explained in an earlier post, Ettore Gotti-Tedeschi, the current head of the Vatican Bank is virulently anti-Keynesian in his economic philosophy.  Gotti-Tedeschi, a former professor of financial ethics at the Catholic University of Milan, attributes the world recession to declining birth rates and opposes labor unions.  He is also reportedly a member of Opus Dei.

Leading neocons Michael Novak, George Weigel and Robert P. George populate the Catholic League Board of Advisors. Novak is well-known for his tomes trumpeting laissez-fare economics; ditto for Weigel, while George has been as of late, campaigning for a return to the gold standard.  And then there is Fr. Michael Orsi, the outspoken Advisor of Opus Bono Sacerdotii (OBS), the Detroit-based organization (and Thomas Monaghan-funded) organization that “evaluated” the priest at the center of the whole affair, Fr. Shawn Ratigan.  (It was OBS’s in-house psychiatrist who claimed Ratigan was not a pedophile but “lonely and depressed”).

Orsi is a Catholic Right culture warrior par execellence.  He is a contributing writer to The American Spectator. In an article for Human Events he criticized the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) for declaring that health care is a right.  And he again criticized the USCCB for implementing their zero-tolerance policy for pedophile clergy.  His take on the matter gives the impression that he is more concerned with preserving conservative authority than protecting children from predators. Indeed, he pontificating much about protecting priests. But protecting children? Not so much.

Bishop Finn’s appointment in Kansas City-St. Joseph appears to be part of a pattern in which the Vatican has placed vehement Catholic Right culture warriors in diocese serving liberal American cities.  The appointment of  Bishop Robert Morlino in Madison, Wisconsin is another excellent example. While municipal servants were recently fighting a conservative governor to keep their right to collectively bargain, Morlino did his best to pour cold water on Catholic support for the workers.  Madison is also the home to important embryonic stem cell research.

Likewise, Archbishop Joseph Chaput‘s appointment in Philadelphia and Archbishop Timothy Dolan in New York. To the east of Dolan sits bishop Nicholas DiMarzio in Brooklyn and to his west, Bishop John J. Myers in Newark – both Opus Dei members.  Other recent Opus Dei appointments include Archbishop Jose H. Gomez in Los Angeles, and Bishop John O. Barres in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Losing Finn as a bishop would be a setback for the movement of ultra-orthodox, ultra-conservative voices in positions of authority in the Church. Indeed it would be a blow to one of the Catholic Right’s most powerful tools, pure servile fear; the fear that does not derive from respect but from retribution. But if public pressure forces the Church as well as the state to act against Finn, it would be a victory for mainstream Catholics and to all citizens, who expect the law to be equally applied in protecting people from criminal predators. And that would be a blow to their vision of a Church that seeks to define not only what the law will be for others, but to stand above and apart from it themselves.

For Catholic conservatives who value authority over the protection of children, and rightist political and economic orthodoxy over the historic social justice teachings of the Church, this is a battle of historic consequence.

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