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Much Ado in Miami, Part One

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

Catholic Archbishop John C. Favalora of Miami is stepping down eight months before the mandatory retirement age of seventy-five. A local group of conservative Catholics, Christifidelis, is taking credit for the early retirement and for the elevation of their preferred candidate, über-traditionalist Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando.

Christifidelis activists claim that Favalora ‘s tenure with the Miami archdiocese was characterized by a “culture of sodomy and theological heterodoxy” and run by a “a gay superculture” But their campaign against Favalora may well be more of a case of political motivation meeting opportunity than their concern about the alleged sexual behavior of priests.

The political opportunity of course, has been how poorly the priest pedophile scandal has been handled by the Church. “Like so many of his brother bishops,” said David Clohessy, the Executive Director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), “Favalora has fought against better secular child protection laws, exploited legal technicalities to hide clergy sex crimes and protected predator priests instead of protecting his flock.”

Clohessy declares: “In the mid 1990s, he (Favalora) assured parishioners that child sex allegations against one priest, Fr. Neil Doherty, were baseless, even though at least one of Doherty’s victims had already received a settlement and even though Doherty’s secretary told prosecutors that church officials knew of accusations against Doherty in the 1970s.”

It should be underscored here, that Favalora’s more conservative successor whose ascension has been hailed by the same Catholic Right activists who denounced Favalora, has a record in addressing the priest pedophilia scandal that is no better than Favalora’s. This will be explored in the second part of this article.

The Role of Christifidelis

It may be an exaggeration to attribute responsibility for the archbishop’s early retirement to Christifidelis. The group has no web site and few seem to be publicly associated with it. But if there is credit given or blame ascribed to the group for the situation in Miami, let’s consider the activities Eric Giunta and Matt C. Abbott who have waged a multi-year campaign against Favalora and the archdiocese. The public face of the campaign were articles published on conservative Catholic web sites, featuring allegations of sexual and financial improprieties. Perhaps more significantly, they claimed to have met with a Vatican official and gave him with “an exhaustive report detailing and documenting” the allegations.

The web site where they published their material included LifeSiteNews.Com and One Catholic. (These men are also contributors to Renew America, a web site featuring articles by Religious Right activists such as Ken Connor and bristling with links to The American Tea Party, Minuteman Message Board and Free Republic.)

The Case of Father Andrew Dowgiert

Father Andrew Dowgiert is a Polish priest whose allegations about several Miami parishes where he had served, is the main source of the allegations against the archdiocese.

Dowgiert’s story begins in 1999 when he requested to be transferred from his native Poland to Miami for health reasons. He had contracted malaria while serving as a missionary in Africa from 1994 to 1999 and he apparently believed the South Florida climate would be good for his health. But Giunta says Dowgiert was fired “…after whistle-blowing on homosexual activity by several pastors of the Archdiocese.”

Dowgiert then filed a complaint in Florida state court in which he claimed he found homosexuality and financial irregularity in several parishes. He charged, for example, that when he arrived in Miami in 1999:

Archbishop John C. Favalora assigned Father Dowgiert to St. Justin Martyr Catholic Church in Key Largo, Florida under a non-celibate priest who was terminated for sexual misconduct on a minor.

Dowgiert further complained:

During the time he was assigned to Good Shepard parish, Father Dowgiert received repeated sexual advances from his supervisor and fellow priest, Father Michael Greer. Father Dowgiert repeatedly complained to and rebuked Father Greer for such unwanted advances, the theft of parishioner money from the church safe, and that Father Greer spent more time at his own waterfront condominium in the company of young seminarians than at the parish.

In 2004, the Archbishop transferred Father Dowgiert to All Saints Church in Sunrise, Florida under Father Anibal Morales as Parochial Vicar and Assistant to Pastor.

Soon after his arrival at All Saints, Father Morales left on a six-week vacation with his domestic partner and co-tenant, Carlos Insignares. While absent from the parish, [sic] Father Dowgiert was obliged to manage all parish matters and sign checks. He refused to sign numerous questionable checks for dubious expenditures. Father Dowgiert declared that he intended to bring the matters to the attention of the Archbishop.

Dowgiert’s case was dismissed, in large part because Florida courts tend to avoid intra-religious disputes which tread upon church-state separation. Dowgiert’s charges were therefore never established nor refuted in a court of law. But whatever the merits of his charges, there is no mistaking Father Dowgiert’s political and religious conservatism. For example, Abbott reprinted one of Dowgiert’s essays in a column at Renew America:

There are so many unanswered questions: What direction should we take on social issues involving third-world countries, ‘theology of liberation’ in South America, and dealing with a sexualized culture involving the use of condoms in Africa to avoid spread of AIDS among poor people?

Dowgiest also reportedly wrote:

We have the pope. We have the father of our souls who will look after us, who will give us direction and moral support to work for God in whatever we do in our daily lives. He will teach us morality without shadows of doubt telling exactly what is wrong and what is right.

And we come to our own expectations that are not always those of the Church or of our neighbors. Those of us who are called ‘conservatives’ would like to see more traditional teaching on many issues, including a return to the Traditional Latin Mass and the restoration of cassocks for priests and habits for nuns as we remember years ago.

Liberals would like to have more power in deciding issues of dogma and morality, including changing the Ten Commandments because some of the Commandments are ‘not with the times.’

The Alliance Defense Fund Incident

Two years ago I wrote about how Archbishop Favalora stood up to the Alliance Defense Fund, a national legal strategy group founded by such Religious Right leaders as James Dobson and Don Wildmon. Favalora refused to let the ADF control the content of his archdiocese’s sermons and issued a statement revealing how ADF was brazenly approaching Catholic bishops to join them in a mass law breaking scheme that involved

…urging pastors across the country to join their Pulpit Freedom Initiative by preaching a sermon “that addresses the candidates for government office in light of the truth of Scripture.”

The group’s goal is to challenge the Internal Revenue Service’s restriction on tax-exempt organizations “by specifically opposing candidates for office that do not align themselves and their positions with the scriptural truth.”

Needless to say, none of our Catholic churches or priests will be participating in this initiative. For one thing, we can do a lot for our communities with the money we save by being tax-exempt. That is why we accept that status and agree to abide by IRS rules that ban religious organizations from becoming involved in partisan politics.

This could not have endeared Favalora to movement conservatives locally and nationally. Indeed, the political friction between Favalora and the Religious Right may have at least as much to do with the campaign to oust Favalora as the Dowgiert allegations and related concerns.

Additionally, it seems clear that the same antigay animus that has marked the interpretations of political convenience regarding the pedophile crisis in the Catholic Church was also helped drive the campaign to out the archbishop. The Christafidelis duo have penned pieces that seek to scapegoat homosexuality in the broadest sense, while obscuring such obvious matters as sexual immaturity among ignorant and inexperienced young priests — and out right pedophilia disorder, whether heterosexual or homosexual. Abbott has gone so far as to reprint a “research paper” by Dr. Brian Clowes that echoes Catholic League President Bill Donohue’s claim that “It’s not a pedophilia… most of the victims were post-pubescent…” adding that by post-pubescent he meant the victims were “…12, 13 years of age.” Clowes is a longtime antiabortion activist and former U.S. Special Forces operative, who received his PhD. neither in psychology nor criminology but Civil Engineering and Systems Science. But whatever the relevance of his background, defenders of Catholic traditionalism like Clowes face some basic factual challenges that they cannot over come.

As SNAP’s Clohessy explained to me: “Half of the 9,000 plus members of our support group are women who were molested as girls by clerics, so the notion that ‘gay priests’ are the problem is just wrong.”

“If more boys are sexually assaulted than girls,” Clohessy elaborated, “it’s likely because of access. There are few altar girls and few parents who would let a 12 or 13 year old girl go on over night trips with a priest.”

“People who claim that 80% of the victims are boys,” he concluded, “must remember that this is a self-reported figure from the bishops themselves – the same men who for decades ignored and concealed horrific child sex crimes. Their claims must be taken with mountains, not grains, of salt.”

Enter Wenski

Writing under the pen name “Lex,” Giunta crowed about Wenski’s credentials in an August 22, 2009 blog post titled “Confessions of a Liberal Traditionalist,” (See Giunta’s definition of liberalism, here).

Bishop Wenski has long distinguished himself by his advocacy for social justice, particularly among the immigrant community of South Florida. Since his coadjutorship of the Orlando Diocese, he has also distinguished himself by his outspoken defense of unborn human life. Before Bishop Dewane’s appointment in 2007, Wenski was the only one of the Florida bishops to courageously uphold his Church’s teaching that pro-abortion Catholic politicians be barred from receiving Communion. He also promised to enforce it in his Diocese. He made his stance (or rather, the Catholic Church’s) crystal clear in both the 2004 and 2008 general elections.

Wenski’s predecessor, [in Orlando] Bishop Dorsey was hostile to the Catholic liturgical tradition, and deaf to the pleas of faithful Catholics who wanted to hear Mass according to the Church’s traditional rubrics.

Unsurprisingly, Giunta touted Wenski as one of the candidates to replace Favalora. But since Wenski’s record with regard to addressing priestly sex abuse is no better than the man he is replacing in Miami, it seems likely that the leadership change has more to do with the politics of movement conservatism than anything else. I will explore this dimension of the story in part two of this series.

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5 Responses

  1. First, Los Angeles, now, Miami. Two major Sees. This is troubling and tragic.

  2. Indeed it is, Kevin; indeed it is.

    But the question becomes what are we going to do about it?

    • I’m not sure what we do about it. I think that “we” do what most Catholics have been doing since the 80s, that is, ignore stupidity. Humanae Vitae pushed Catholics to make up their own minds. That is continued to today. Many “uber-orthodox” types would like to pretend that you just “enforce” more strictures, but the People of God are following their consciences as the Spirit directs them. I would suggest mostly NOT giving any money to ANY diocesan effort. Money talks to these guys.

  3. This is very interesting. It doesn’t say a lot for the Church in Florida. What happened to Father Dowgiest is very troubling. It sounds like they may have big issues with celibacy down in Florida.

  4. Catholicism has big issues with celibacy everywhere but it’s only a major concern to rightwing agitators in certain dioceses. Those dioceses usually have a fairly significant number of conservative folks in their elder years with discretionary income or with an up and coming second generation immitgrant population. In both these concerns Miami is the perfect target, as was LA.

    I see this as a targeted battle for the political and economic future of conservatism under the guise of Catholic theology. Rest assured groups like Christifidelis are using the same demographic maps the Republican does and is tactically targeting the same geographical areas.

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