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Much Ado in Miami, Part Two

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

In part one we discussed how 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 both the early retirement and for the elevation of his replacement, über-traditionalist Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando. They claim that Favalora ‘s tenure with the Miami archdiocese was characterized by a “culture of sodomy and theological heterodoxy” and run by “a gay superculture” and then alleging that this homosexual culture was the primary cause of the clerical pedophile behavior.

 Christifidelis fancies itself as a mover and shaker within and without Catholicism, but to mix a metaphor, they may be more smoke than fire.

A self-described “a lay watchdog organization,” Christifidelis has no web site, no known published journal and seem to consist of only three traditionalist Catholics; attorney Sharon Bourassa and ultra conservative web site writers Marc C. Abbott and Eric Giunta.

Not much is known about Bourassa except that she was the attorney who represented Father Andrew Dowgiert in his case against Favalora and the Miami archdiocese (Dowgiert and the case are discussed in part I).  Abbott and Giunta have regular columns featured at RenewAmerica.com that regularly damn everything from contemporary liberals – often described by Giunta as “leftists”, to Protestantism, to homosexuality to mainstream Catholicism and even to Pope John Paul II.

To describe this crew as Catholic Right is an understatement. But their reactionary credentials not withstanding, it is likely that the change in Miami would have happened without them.

The Vatican is replacing retiring moderate bishops and cardinals with fire-breathing über-traditionalists just about everywhere. Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri  Bishop Robert Finn as well as the Communion-denying Archbishop Raymond Burke immediately come to mind. This is reinforced by the Pope’s recent botched outreach to the very reactionary SSPX as well the recently announced Vatican mission to Ireland described by the Irish Independent newspaper as “to clamp down on liberal secular opinion.”  Wenski’s elevation to Archbishop of Miami is simply part of the current pontiff’s vision to recast the Church in terms of the bad old days before Vatican II.

Why do I believe this succession is cynical?  Because Wenski’s history of dealing with sexual abuse is dismal too.

David Clohessy, executive director of SNAP  commented: “If Bishop Wenski’s track record for supervising priests accused of sexual misconduct is any indication, then not much is going to change in the Archdiocese of Miami.” As The Palm Beach Post has recently reported:

In a Holy Week homily on April 1 [2010], Orlando Bishop Thomas Wenski made a clear statement of his policy on sexual abuse to the assembled priests of his diocese: “We need to understand what we’re talking about. We’re talking about betrayal. When you’re entrusted with a child and you do things to that child, you are Judas.”

But less than a week after Wenski’s warning to the priests, his Orlando diocese announced a financial settlement with a woman who said she was stalked and sexually harassed by a priest in the diocese in 2004. The case occurred on Wenski’s watch.

“In Orlando,” Clohessy explained, “Wenski assigned a Newark priest, Fr. Gorak, to ministry in Lakeland without even checking his background in Newark.” Continuing pointed out that “If he [Wenski] had done any investigation, he would have found that Gorak was accused of sexually harassing and stalking several female parishioners and parish employees, and that several pastors asked Newark officials to remove Gorak from their parishes.”  This is a point confirmed by The Palm Beach Post:

According to court documents, the Orlando diocese did not check Gorak’s credentials until several months after he was assigned to the Lakeland parish. Then Newark Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli sent a letter to Orlando saying that Gorak had “good moral character,” though he had attacked women in New Jersey, the lawsuit said. Gorak pleaded guilty in 2007 to charges of burglary, assault and stalking and was sentenced to four years of probation.

Miami’s new archbishop also does not believe in transparency. Clohessy commented, “When a Lakeland pastor asked Wenski to oust Gorak, after he sexually harassed and assaulted yet another woman, Wenski lied to parishioners about why Gorak was removed.”

  “He may throw around words like “openness” and “transparency,” Clohessy warsnd, “but his history certainly suggests that he is committed to more secrecy and more deceit.”

“Gorak’s adult victims,” Clohessy concludes, “could just as easily have been kids, which makes one wonder about how safe his parishes and schools really are.”

And that is precisely the point. Homosexuality is not the proximate cause of sexual abuse: far from it.  The real issue, according to Clohessy is 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.”

Clohessy reminds us that half of SNAP’s 9,000 plus members are women who were molested by clerics when they were girls.  The issue of access is magnified by clergy who abuse their positions of authority, as was demonstrated by an investigation by National Catholic Reporter in 2001.  This major story exposed sexual abuse of nuns by priests. The crimes included rape in Africa and other parts of the world. As NCR reported, “…that some Catholic clergy exploit their financial and spiritual authority to gain sexual favors from religious women, many of whom, in developing countries, are culturally conditioned to be subservient to men.” Citing internal Vatican reports on the matter, NCR observed, “…priests at times demand sex in exchange for favors, such as permission or certification to work in a given diocese.”

And that is why the motives of both Christifidelis and the Vatican bear scrutiny: The former for fanning the flames of bigotry against LGBT people, perniciously equating homosexuality with pedophilia; the latter for playing the same game on a grander scale.

Pope Benedict XVI wants Church defined by his notion of purity, even if that means a smaller Church.  The form that this is taking seems to be the replacement of moderately liberal clerics with traditionalist conservatives, even if they have a record of shielding sexual abusers. Let’s make no mistake: this Pope’s goal of taking the Church back to the pre-Vatican II era is coming at the expense of the most vulnerable, many of them, whom Jesus called “the least of these, my brethren.”


26 Responses

  1. Frank, thank you. This is extremely informative. I lived a year (2006-2007) in Wenski’s previous diocese, and I share David Clohessy’s and your negative assessment of him as a pastor.

  2. Wow, this is unbelievable! THIS is the reason why the Catholic Church will slide into “irrelevancy,” not the wording of the Mass!

    • Unless we coalesce and offer resistance.

  3. Frank,

    What do you consider to be “offer resistance”?

  4. Here are some examples for starters.

    I do think that more is required such as public declarations signed by mainstream Catholics and even some clergy. We need to better coordinate our responses and indeed, go on the offense for a change.

    • change to what?

      • Instead of Enlightened Catholics always having to play defense. If we don’t, we’ll wind up with a more fundamentalist, devolved form of our faith.

      • Who calls you enlightened?

        • Who says I’m not?

          • Sorry to butt in on your repartee, but you two are hitting on a major topic for me lately. I’m getting more and more convinced that the regular argument of liberal/conservative, reform/reform of the reform, etc are not the right way to go. (by the way, since I fall into the progressive camp, thanks David for your ability to listen and discuss. I appreciate it.) It seems like everything from Rome to the bishops to our parish is in full territorial mode. Controls are strong, creativity is a euphemism for heresy, and secrecy is only benign dictatorship at its holiest.

            But what to do? I agree that discussion is necessary, and that humility and faith are prerequisites. But then… any suggestions?

        • mjc,

          I don’t think throwing around names such as enlightened, progressive, liberal, conservative, Christofacist, Christifidelis, etc. gets us any closer to the Holy Spirit. (It always makes me chuckle to see someone call themselves “enlightened” or “progressive” or some other self-laudatory term as if the term somehow gives greater weight to the argument.)

          It seems to me that the invasion of the political sphere by people who are labeled as the Religious Right only presents a political problem, not a theological problem. That political problem, if it is one, is unsolvable. There is simply no good way to tell someone that his or her political view is not supported by the proper theology. Hence, the defeat of Proposition 8 is not the result of the Religious Right: rather, it is the result of people exercising their right to vote. It’s hard to know if there is even a “christian” way to vote.

          A democracy, even a constitutional democracy like the United States, is not designed to arrive at the right answer. It is designed to arrive at an answer which has the majority’s consent. The majority’s consent is tempered by the inalienable constitutional rights.

          It strikes me that the present invasion of politics into religion is a far more serious matter for most of us. Popes and bishops don’t have guns and they don’t charge taxes. We can’t interpret Scripture by taking a vote.

          While I don’t always agree with the Vatican, I am not prepared to follow the religion of Frank, Bill or Jayden. There has to be some organization to the teachings.

          • Yes David you’re correct; there has to to be some organization. But with that said, it does not have to be accomplished with a ake it or leave it attitude.

            What do I mean by a more Enlightened Catholicism? Simply put, it means one where we put aside the tired and exclusionary ways of “pay, pray and obey.” it is one where Magisterium is not just a top-down exercise but also one from the bottom up.

            I am not saying that Catholicism must follow all my personal beliefs to be acceptable to me — far from it. All I want is that the Vatican more seriously consider how the laity – the folks who live in the real world – interpret the Word of God.

            And that is far, far more Enlightened than simply rubber-stamping just about every change that fringe traditionalists want to make to our Church.

          • Frank,

            I think there is merit to the argument that the Vatican does not seriously consider the laity’s interpretation of the Word of God. Whether or not the Vatican should consider, or how seriously it should consider the laity’s opinion is not a simple question.

            Consider as an example the Supreme Court. The Court’s job is to interpret the Constitution and provide the final opinion. If the Court were to consider the opinions of the laity, chaos, not justice, would be the result. The court’s opinions, even when wrong, have to be obeyed.

            In a very real sense, all the Vatican does is offer opinions on the faith. It doesn’t have the means to enforce any of its opinions; no one is forced to give oaths before the congregation or to make public penance. You don’t have to belong to the Church or subscribe to the Vatican’s opinions.

  5. Self congratulatory, eh? It makes me chuckle to see passive aggressive attacks rather than discussion. “Organization” in opposition to “the religion of Frank, Bill, or Jayden” ? The straw man argument of religion being better than politics?

    This is what passes for dialogue? It makes me sad. Quit trying to win the argument and share your faith, brother.

  6. mjc,

    Perhaps my attacks are passive aggressive, although I have no idea what you mean by that. I’m not sure if that is better or worse than Frank’s aggressive attacks.

    However, I do know this – whenever I see descriptions like enlightened, progressive, Christian Right, Christofascist, etc. I have to question the spirit of the conversation. I have no interest in having a dialogue with folks who have already made up their mind, even if they are enlightened.

  7. See how effectively you’ve ended this discussion, questioning everyone else’s sincerity and intelligence from the jump. Sorry I overestimated you.

    • mjc,

      Perhaps it is time for the “enlightened” to question their own sincerity rather than lauch attacks against the Vatican because the Vatican is unwilling to change to the enlightens’ political agenda.

      Frank concludes by surmising that Pope Benedict wants his own notion of purity even if it means a smaller church, and that Pope Benedict wants to take the Church back to the pre-Vatican era. That is hardly a conversation starter for most Catholics.

  8. David I have really laughed this morning since I am surely most identified on this blog with the term ‘enlightened’.

    Here’s where I’m coming from and it’s very simple. Catholicism can choose to follow the commands of it’s founder and foster love and compassion, or it can continue in it’s tradition and instill fear.

    I don’t base this simple choice on personal opinion. I base it on the current research in neurophysiology which has amptly shown that cells principally respond in two ways. They will open to that which is sustaining and avoid that which is not. Fear states are toxic to cellular structure. Love states are nurturing.

    Fear can be used to maintain the status quo, especially if maintaining the status quo can be equated with survival. Love on the other hand, opens up new survival strategies because it fosters creativity and better organization. Love is not always useful to existing power structures but it is essential to a more content present and a better future.

    Benedict has come down solidly on the side of fear, which is why he will truly lead a remnant church with his remant celibate priesthood and the institutional church will succomb to it’s own abuse dynamics.

    What comes out of all of this is anyone’s guess, but it won’t be what was and mostly has been. It will be something much more wonderful.

    • Colleen, I appreciate your reply to David, because it moves to real dialogue and beyond dismissive name-calling. You listen, explain where you’re coming from, and invite dialogue. This is a model that helps me to understand and commit myself to dialogue in return.

      I’ve just read a posting at Commonweal‘s blog by Matthew Boudway transcribing an essay that Herbert McCabe, OP, wrote in 1967. McCabe is talking about what the charism of pastoral leadership is all about in the church. He says,

      To maintain this balance [between the church of the present and its traditional sources] they [i.e., the pastoral leaders] must, of course, speak with authority, the real authority that comes with understanding and concern and listening to others; the authority that sees itself not in terms of power but as a service to the community, the channel of communication by which each part of the community is kept in touch with the whole, a whole that extends through time as well as space.

      I like this deeply traditional way of framing the authority of church leaders: their authority comes from concern for and listening to others, and is expressed not as power but as service to the community.

    • Colkoch,

      I agree with you up to the last two paragraphs.

      I don’t know anyone who is afraid of Benedict. If you look at his writings and his speeches, there is very little to fear. His first three encyclicals were on love, hope, and truth and love. There is very little not to like, either intellectually or spiritually in these writings. He is articulate, precise, and comprehensive.

      I don’t have much doubt that Benedict will lead a Church that is considered by many to be increasingly irrelevant. That process is happening in almost every Christian demonination regardless of how enlightened the denomination is. The Occidental man is generally identifying less and less with any Christian demonination, and any religion in general. Church attendance is down. The only part of institutional Christianity that appears invigorated is the more fundamental/right wing evangelical groups.

      Benedict’s greatest strength is probably also his greatest weakness. He is a brillant man. But, his insistence on intellectual accuracy and consistency does not offer much pastorally. So, he gets accused, rightly or wrongly, as being out of touch, mean, and unsympathetic.

      Get rid of the Pope or the Vatican and we are likely to get something worse in return. Look at Iraq without Saddam, or Russia without Communism. The Vatican won’t be replaced with anything wonderful. The best we could hope for is that it will be replaced with nothing.

      I think the truly enlightened position is to realize that many Catholics receive guidance, direction, and understanding from the Vatican. We don’t pay, pray, and obey unless we want to. We aren’t cattle being led to the slaughter. The Holy Spirit comes to the unenlightened and the enlightened not in proportion to their own self-congratulatory terms, but according to their desire to experience the Holy Spirit.

  9. David I agree one hundred percent with your last paragraph. The Holy Spirit comes to us where we are at and then encourages us to go beyond where we are at, usually in ways that are challenging but not overly threatening. The key is, as you point out, desire.

    I didn’t mean to imply Benedict is threatening in his personal self. I meant that he has opted for the hell, devil, fear card when justifying his vision of the priesthood. To avoid those states and entities we still need the ontologically superior ritual priesthood. He is far more apt to use this kind of languag when speaking to his true believers. His best work are his encyclicals–which for the most part aren’t really read by his true believers. They are intended for a different audience.

    I’ve written on my own blog that this tendency of his to speak from both sides of his brain drives me crazy. He compartmentalizes when he really needs to integrate. This is better expressed in Bill’s comment about authority, especially the quote which speaks about the need to keep all sides in touch and communicating. Benedict is doing the exactly the opposite. I’m not saying that’s his intent, it is however the effect of his management style.

    Replacing the Vatican with nothing may actually be the best solution. The general trend in the West is to an understanding of relationship with God that is immediate and not needful of an official intermediary. This trend holds with in itself the dissolution of centralized religious authority. That’s not so bad because in theory it places the responsibility for one’s relationship with God on one’s own shoulders and that’s where Jesus taught us it belonged. That’s why Jesus told us to look with in. He did not say look to Rome.

  10. One last thought about another potential direction. It may be that the paradigm of schools rather than Churches will eventually surface. I can see where schools of spiritual thought could become the next organizing religious principle.

  11. Colkoch,

    Some interesting thoughts. I think that I generally agree with you.

    But, I’m not sure where you or another else gets the idea that Benedict has opted for the hell, devil, and fear card. He certainly has shown a tendency to opt for rigour and structure in his thinking, especially on moral issues. It seems to me that the rigour and structure are characteristics of an extremely well-developed intellect. His way of thinking simply doesn’t and can’t tolerate “integration”. Nor should it. Professors or teachers don’t opt for integration; they opt for accuracy, clarity, and completeness.

    I agree that much of the Western world is headed towards schools of spiritual thought. That could be a good thing if the intent of the school is to discover new truths and understandings that escape cold and precise intellects. But, I think much of the formation of new schools is due to the desire to escape into muddled masses of humanity bleating moral hogwash.

    I think that the Christian Right, at its pejorative sense, is a rejection of the Gospel principles. Blowing up abortion clinics is an example of the perversion. But, other, more political liberal, schools of thought fall prey to the same kind of lazy thinking that Benedict so abhors. For example, almost all political liberals claim that killing a fetus doesn’t violate the commandment against killing. Anyone who has advanced beyond 6th grade biology can tell you that a human fetus is a living and growing human.

    So, with one school of thought suggesting that bombing an abortion clinic is OK, and another school of thought stating that a fetus isn’t even a human life, how is one to choose his or her school of thought? Or, more importantly, how is one to determine which one speaks to the truth?

    One thing that Benedict has nailed time and time again is that the truth is important. And the one truth that he has consistently returned to is that Jesus Christ is the only truth we need. Benedict isn’t about Benedict. I think he has been very careful to avoid saying that anyone needs an intermediary for Christ. It may feel like Benedict is cold and harsh, but I didn’t appreciate a spanking from my mother either.

  12. I disagree Mark. I think Benedict is doggedly determined to push his version of the Church on the rest of us. That Church upholds the ontological superiority of the priesthood as Divinely ordained necessary intermediaries, plays the devil and hell card, and treats sex as essentially a necessary evil for the less pure laity. Women are complimentary to men and this complimentary position is by definition subordinate. The value of a woman’s life is also subordinate to process of pregnancy. In no other situation is one life–fetal–absolutely valued above another, even when it’s existence threatens the life of the mother. This puts fetal life on a higher plane than maternal life and is based far more on assumptions we don’t know, such as when ensoulment actually occurs, than it is on truth. I do not believe the sum total of human life is contained in a conceptus and neither has the historical church.

    Ultimately Benedict’s Church is all about underlining traditional lines of Church authority which mirror traditional lines of cultural authority. It’s the old notion that a certain entrneched governing elite know what’s best for the vast vast majority of the simple folk. Only in Catholicism this idea is taken to Divine levels. Pope equals Peter equals Jesus.

    Do I personally think Benedict believes any of this? Yes, in so far as he sees this version of Church as a necessary support for conservative European cultural ideology and continued ascendancy in the third world. I have no idea if he even believes in Jesus but I do have a very good idea that Benedict believes in the cultural place of the Church, especially in the South.

    I see Benedict less and less as a theologian and more and more as a social/cultural and political engineer. No different what so ever from the left. Which is why the left is consistently accused of doing exactly as Benedict does–using religion for cultural engineering.

    In the end it’s not about a war to save our souls–abortion theology says ensoulment doesn’t matter–it’s about who controls our neural programming. That matters and always has mattered.

  13. Colkoch,

    I think you are projecting your thoughts onto Benedict.

    Benedict has not said (to my knowledge):
    1. That a woman’s life is inferior to the pregnancy,
    2. That the priesthood is ontologically superior,
    3. That sex is a necessary evil, or
    4. That the governing elite knows what is best for the majority.

    In the end, I don’t see Benedict trying to control our neural programming. I don’t even know how one could draw that conclusion. I don’t think that the mostly Vatican-bashing contributors to Open Tabernacle are trying to control my neural programming.

    What I see the Vatican-bashers doing is trying to win over converts by destroying the Vatican rather than building upon the ideas or concepts put forth by the Vatican that are, for the most part, the statements of the Church, and the people of the Church for many years.

    For example, the argument that a fetus is a person from the moment of conception is a very reasonable proposition. In fact, it is hard to think that there is another proposition on this topic that is more valid biologically or theologically. I’m willing to listen to an alternate argument, including that often stated proposition that the fetus is only a human from the time it can live without its mother. But, to simply claim that the Vatican is trying to enslave women is, at its worst, patently false, and disingenuous at its best.

    One thing that I like about Benedict’s style is that he never attacks people directly. He only attacks ways of thinking. I think this contrasts with much of the Vatican-bashing on this website. The left attacks on Benedict remind me of the right’s attacks on Obama – shrill and senseless. Tell me what is wrong with the idea, not the person.

  14. Colkoch,

    I forgot what I consider the most telling sign – what is the spirit or tone of the criticism. Is it mean and vicious or is it loving and teaching?

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