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Archbishop Chaput Wins the 2014 Coughlin Award!

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

 photo franksgraphic_zpsbe286320.jpgIt’s time again for the presentation of the annual Coughlin Award. This year’s award goes to the cultural warrior’s cultural warrior, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia.

The Coughlin Award — affectionately known as “The Coughie” — recognizes the person who has best exemplified an exclusionary, strident interpretation of the Catholic faith in the preceding year. The award is named for Father Charles Coughlin, the notorious radio priest of the 1930s who is the role model for today’s Religious Right radio and television evangelists, and other conservative media personalities.

Best known for his diatribes against FDR, Judaism and open sympathy with the racist policies of Adolph Hitler, Coughlin’s advocacy was clearly antithetical to the very definition of the word “catholic,” which, according to Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary means:

Catholic Cath”o*lic\ (k[a^]th”[-o]*[i^]k), a. [L. catholicus, Gr. kaqoliko`s, universal, general; kata` down, wholly + “o`los whole, probably akin to E. solid: cf. F. catholique.]

1. Universal or general; as, the catholic faith.

Men of other countries [came] to bear their part in so great and catholic a war. –Southey.

Note: This epithet, which is applicable to the whole Christian church, or its faith, is claimed by Roman Catholics to belong especially to their church, and in popular usage is so limited.

*Not narrow-minded, partial, or bigoted; liberal; as, catholic tastes.

*Of or pertaining to, or affecting the Roman Catholics; as, the Catholic emancipation act.

In order to win a Coughie, a candidate must complete three qualifying tasks: 1) Make the faith decisively less inclusive 2) Engage in incendiary behavior and 3) Ultimately embarrass the Church. This year’s winner — as usual — has risen to the challenge.

Chaput did not earn the 2014 “Coughie” because of any one specific action; instead, he earned his award through the sheer cumulative force his divisive career in the Church and in movement conservative politics. He is a role model for contemporary Coughlinesque Church leaders.

Archbishop Chaput has not only met requirements — he epitomizes them. So much so, that he is often able to meet more than one of the criteria in a single episode, and this year’s Coughie is in many ways a lifetime achievement award.

First; His career has been marked by stern pronouncements that meet the first Award requirement of making Catholicism less inclusive. From his time as the Archbishop of Denver when he uttered a harsh declaration of support for a Boulder, Colorado Catholic school’s denying re-enrollment of a lesbian couple’s two children; to his call for denying pro-choice Catholics Holy Communion; and finally to his open displeasure with Pope Francis’s most recent overtures to divorced and gay Catholics, Archbishop Chaput has made it clear that in his vision of the Church there is no room for greater tolerance, understanding, and dialog.

Second; Over the years he has engaged in incendiary behavior. For example, during the 2004 presidential election Archbishop Chaput declared that it was a sin for American Catholics to vote for the Democratic Party nominee John Kerry (Kerry is pro-choice and supports embryonic stem cell research). While serving as the archbishop of Denver, Colorado he opposed legislation that would expand the statute of limitations for prosecuting child abusers. He gives the appearance of one who is more interested in preserving the financial assets of the Church as an institution, and the privileges of an old boys club, than in securing the safety of the children in his care and holding to account people who abused their position to exploit the vulnerable.

Last Fall, he said: “I was very disturbed by what happened” at a Vatican sponsored Synod on the Family, where some 190 cardinals and bishops discussed such matters as how to treat LGBT people and divorced Catholics. “I think confusion is of the devil,” he declared, “and I think the public image that came across was one of confusion.”

To suggest that a conversation convened by the Pope is ultimately “of the devil” is about as incendiary as it gets in Catholicism. But Chaput was not finished. He went so far as to suggest that in the wake of the court decisions legalizing same-sex marriage in most states, Catholic bishops might consider engaging in what he called “principled resistance” by opting out of certifying civil marriages.

Archbishop Chaput will be the host of the long planned World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia next September. Pope Francis will be the featured speaker (replacing Pope Benedict who retired before he could make his planned appearance.) The Vatican Synod on the Family, which Chaput found to be “of the devil”, was a forerunner event to the World Meeting. So if past is prologue, Philadelphia may be shaping up as a showdown between the two leaders.

Third; All of this is an embarrassment to the Catholic Church.

So, for all that and so much more, Archbishop Chaput come on down and claim your 2014 Coughlin Award!.

Note to Bookmakers: It sure looks like Chaput is positioning himself to be an early front runner for the 2015 Coughie.

And Yet Finn Remains Bishop

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

It has been well over two years since Bishop Robert Finn and was convicted by a Missouri criminal court for failing to report child abuse by Fr. Shawn Ratigan, one of his parish priests. Within that same period of time Ratigan pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography and is now serving a 50-year sentence in prison. Finn was warned about Ratigan’s behavior but inexplicably waited six months before notifying authorities.

Enter Pope Francis. On a myriad of issues the new pontiff has been a breath of fresh air. But when it comes to removing Bishop Finn as head of the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph Missouri the air has gotten quite stale. Finn has yet to be removed.

Just last month Cardinal Sean O’Malley was interviewed by the CBS program 60 Minutes. O’Malley is not just any Cardinal but named by his close friend Pope Francis to lead the Vatican’s new sexual abuse commission aimed at strengthening rules to protect children. When the conversation turned to Bishop Finn, Cardinal O’Malley did not mince his words:

Norah O’Donnell: I want to ask you about Robert Finn, who is the bishop of Kansas City/St. Joseph and, as you know, he pleaded guilty to a criminal misdemeanor for not reporting one of his priests to authorities. Bishop Finn wouldn’t be able to teach Sunday school in Boston.
Cardinal Seán O’Malley: That’s right.
Norah O’Donnell: How is that zero tolerance…
Cardinal Seán O’Malley: Well…
Norah O’Donnell: …that he’s still in place? What does it say to Catholics?
Cardinal Seán O’Malley: Well, it’s a question that the Holy See needs to address urgently.
Norah O’Donnell: And there’s a recognition?
Cardinal Seán O’Malley: There’s a recognition of that.
Norah O’Donnell: From Pope Francis?
Cardinal Seán O’Malley: From Pope Francis.
If anything sounded as if Bishop Finn I was on his way out the door, it was that exchange. The 60 Minutes statement struck me as two minute warning that Finn would be sacked within the week. But it was not to be.

It has now been more than a month since that interview. Bishop Finn still remains in charge of the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. Why is he still there?

Bishop Robert Finn is very antithesis Pope Francis. Where the Pontiff is tolerate and more open-minded, Finn is a shrill cultural warrior. More importantly, Finn – a member of Opus Dei – apparently sees the Catholic Church in terms of being an institution whereas Pope Francis – a Jesuit – often talks about the Church and its relationship with helping the marginalized, such as the poor. The differences in styles and agendas could fill the Grand Canyon. This only makes the Pope’s inaction even more puzzling.

But more than anything else, inaction in this matter only hurts Pope Francis. It undermines his credibility by casting him as a leader who says the right thing but does nothing. As long as Finn remains a bishop in control of a diocese there is a black stain on this papacy.

In stating the obvious, it is time to remove this stain in Missouri.

Archbishop Schnurr Throws Cold Water on the Ice Bucket Challenge

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

The Ice Bucket Challenge has been an outstanding success in raising both awareness and research money needed to find a cure for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) . As of September 10, 2014 the ALS Association has raised $111.6 million in Ice Bucket Challenge donations. The wildly popular charity stunt captured the hearts of millions of people last summer bringing together former presidents, movie stars and ordinary citizens in an effort to create a greater awareness necessary to cure a hideous muscle disease. They did it by pouring ice water over themselves and then challenging friends and neighbors to do the same.

The challenge is important because ALS (commonly known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease” (because of its fatal impact upon the life of the great New York Yankee first baseman) is still considered an “orphan disease” —  defined as

“A disease that has not been `adopted’ by the pharmaceutical industry because it provides little financial incentive for the private sector to make and market new medications to treat or prevent it.”

Fortunately, the Ice Bucket Challenge has gone a long way in correcting that dynamic.

But all this warm hearted, spot-on humanitarianism did not deter Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr from sounding a sour note. It seems that his eminence wanted to seize an opportunity to change the subject to stage a culture war battle over stem cells.

It is not that Cincinnati prelate did not want his diocesan members to take part in the challenge; instead, he did not want them to send any money to the ALS Association. Perhaps without realizing the consequences, he was making the phenomena more about stem cell ethics then being focused on cure this dreaded disease  — or perhaps, as a more cynical mind would suspect, he was deliberately trying to change the topic of conversation.

But before we get to our story, let’s note that Schnurr is the kind of culture warrior many of us hoped might seek a truce in the era of Pope Francis. Unfortunately, that has not come to pass. Schnurr seems to seek to impose his personal moral parameters, even upon those who do not share his Catholic Faith.

For example, as CNN reported this past May:

(CNN) — If you want to teach at a Catholic school in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, regardless of your religion, you must be willing to sign a detailed morality clause that critics say focuses on “pelvic issues.”

The revised contracts forbid teachers from — among other things — living together or having sex outside of marriage, using in-vitro fertilization, a gay “lifestyle,” or publicly supporting any of those things.

The system’s 2,200 current teachers must sign the agreement to stay on the job.

Anyway, here is the reason behind culture war commander Schnurr’s lastest exploit. The Washington Post recently explained, “That’s because the [ALS] association funds a single study using embryonic stem cells, mainly through the funds of a single donor.”

To that end, the Archbishop asked those who took part in the challenge to send the matching donations to an institution such as The John Paul II Medical Research Institute which, while doing extensive research on adult stem cells is not focused on curing ALS.

The Post continued: “In a statement to the American Life League, ALS Association spokesperson Carrie Munk said that donors are able to specify whether they want their funds to support embryonic stem cell research or not.”

Schnurr created a false equivalence in order to try to direct donor funds away from from an organization that exclusively engages in ALS research to an institution that does not do ALS research. The ALS Association is completely focused upon curing this one fatal disease while the John Paul II Medical Research Institute is not. In fact, the Institute, which has only three paid staff, has done no work on ALS (Its focus has been on cancer research). And while The National Catholic Register  reported that between August 15 and August 20, 2014 “received 350 donations for $15,000 dollars,” The Gazette of Iowa City reported otherwise. The newspaper directly quoted the Institute’s CEO who claimed that the Institute “has gotten “hundreds of thousands” of dollars in donations from people who want to support research on Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), but don’t want the research done with human embryos.”

The archbishop used the Ice Bucket Challenge to mooch off of the campaign’s newly found heightened awareness to raise money needed for heretofore underfunded research. Schnurr managed to siphon off both attention and hundreds of thousands of dollars that might otherwise have gong to do actual research into finding a cure for this orphan disease. And in so doing, kicked instead of assisting the orphan.

For this Catholic writer, to equate an embryo with a natural born human being is tantamount to equating an acorn with a fully-grown oak tree. While there is clearly a relationship between the embryo and the human they are not one in the same, just as an acorn and an oak tree are not the same. A significant portion of the embryo is the placenta, which is discarded as “afterbirth.” But what is more strikingly different is that a natural born human being has a face. And it is by looking into the face of an ALS victim we see the vital necessity of exploring every avenue that may lead to extinguishing this horrible disease.

And to that end, we should all look into the face of a victim of this illness. William M. Tendy Jr., who is pictured below.

 photo talk2actionfrankc.jpg
Affectionately known as “Billy” to his family, William Tendy was an extraordinary person.  After a difficult two-year battle, sixty-year-old Billy succumbed to ALS. A dedicated husband and father, he was a private practice attorney who successfully took on the death penalty while commanding the respect of the legal community. In his August 26, 2014 obituary in the New York Law Journal his law partner said of him, “Bill was very compassionate to his clients. He didn’t treat clients like files” while another lawyer who was his friend described him as a “truly gifted trial attorney.” In that same piece a former Court of Appeals Judge warmly recalled, “It was astonishing how he gained admiration of the judges,” said Rosenblatt. “They often commented he was a staunch advocate, a model of politeness, hard work and fairness. That was well known and widely reported.”

It is often said that you can tell a lot about a man simply by looking in his eyes. When you look into Billy Tendy’s eyes in the picture above it is easy to see the basis for such plaudits and fond memories. His eyes were the centerpiece of a warm face that simultaneously reflected kindness, intelligence and strength; they complimented a smile that exuded self-assurance without arrogance. And now that is all gone, stolen by an illness that gets too little attention and too few dollars for research.

I can tell you from my own 30-year battle with a lesser form of muscular dystrophy what happens to the body. Month by month, sometimes week by week, and even they by day the ability to do even the most basic tasks desert you. At first it is difficult to stand up from sitting position or to step up from a curb. Being able to play a game of catch with you son becomes an impossibility, let alone hugging your wife and children. Eventually, you need help with the most mundane tasks such as showering and eating a meal. The constant deterioration is selfish and causes friends and family to do things for you such as taking a simple drink or scratching an itch on the head. And as your body turns to nothingness your mind remains unchanged and alert slowly becoming imprisoned in a castle tower that used to be your healthy body.

But that experience is nothing compared to what Billy Tendy went through. His illness accelerated 20 times faster than mine ever will, compressing more than my 30-year of atrophy in less than two years.

Perhaps we should give the archbishop the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he did not realize the consequences of his comments – although I, for one, am not so sure. (On the other hand, his insistence that Catholic school employees abandon their own moral code and legal rights as a condition of employment, suggests that maybe Schnurr is more wily than he is short sighted.) Either way, in his overzealousness to battle embryonic stem cell research he has done a disservice to all the victims who suffer as Billy Tendy and his loved ones suffered.

Vatican Defrocks A Bishop Over Sexual Abuse – But Not Finn.

Originally posted at Talk to Action.
Pope Francis recently indicated he is serious about ending child sex abuse and cover-ups by Catholic prelates by defrocking a former apostolic nuncio (a nuncio is essentially a high level Vatican diplomat) for having sexual relations with young boys.

But while the Holy See should be applauded for this decisive action, there is unfinished business with the bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri. And the bishop in question is Robert Finn a darling of the American Catholic Right who have very little to say – at least now that he is a convicted criminal.

As the National Catholic Reporter described recent events:

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has ordered the laicization of an archbishop-ambassador accused of paying for sex with minors.

Józef Wesołowski, former apostolic nuncio to the Dominican Republic, will have two months to prepare an appeal to the ruling, which was announced in a brief statement from the Vatican on Friday.

The former nuncio, who the Vatican did not refer to as an archbishop in the statement, was removed from his post in August with little explanation. News accounts days afterward detailed allegations of paying for sex with minors and being connected to a Polish priest accused of sexually assaulting at least 14 underage boys.

But while Francis has acted on Wesołowski, he has yet to remove Robert Finn.

Let’s recall that the crimes of Bishop Finn resulted from his knowledge of the related crimes of a priest in his diocese 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 that priest’s improper touching of young girls and possession of child pornography. Finn knew or had good reason to suspect the priest‘s crimes. Had he acted, he would have prevented other crimes against children under his pastoral care. Indeed, in September 2012 Bishop Finn became the first American prelate convicted of failing to report a pedophile priest.

It is worth recalling that the beneficiary of the cover-up was Fr. Shawn Ratigan who was prosecuted and pleaded of his crimes in Federal Court.

As I reported here and here, Bishop Finn had constructive knowledge of Ratigan’s improper touching of young girls and possession of child pornography. I wrote here that Bishop Finn must go.

In March of this year I reported that a growing number Kansas City Catholics want Bishop Finn gone.

Pope Francis recently met with victims of Catholic clerical sex abuse. He used the occasion to publicly call for stricter, more decisive actions against Catholic clerics who either engage pedophilia or fail by negligence to prevent it. The Times reported:

In his homily, Francis also vowed “not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not,” and declared that bishops would be held accountable for protecting minors. He said the abuse scandals had had “a toxic effect on faith and hope in God.”

As a progressive Catholic I truly want Francis to succeed. Catholicism is wanting for the kind of reforms he seems to be all about. People recognize that he seems to be the breath of fresh air the Vatican so desperately needs. But with that said, in certain areas Francis is beginning to face a credibility problem. Soothing words are not enough. Credibility, especially with regards to the pedophilia issue, requires decisive action. And decisive action requires punishing negligent as well as abusive bishops.

And the perfect place to demonstrate decisive action is in Kansas City.

It Must Be Exhausting to Be Bill Donohue

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

William Donohue

The 2013 film “Philomena” tells the moving story of an Irish woman who had an out of wedlock son in the early 1950s.  The nuns with whom she was sent to live sent her son to America for adoption. The film is at once the story of Philomena Lee’s search for her child – and a lesson in Christ-like forgiveness as well as of enduring Catholic faith.

So, who would find such a story to be anti-Catholic? Why Bill Donohue, of course!

(Spoiler alert below.)

Before we get to Bill Donohue, let’s say a bit more about the film.

Recently my wife and I saw Philomena a film inspired by the heartfelt story of the real life Philomena Lee, who was a single Irish teenage girl who got pregnant in the early 1950s, and as was too often the case at that time, banished by her family to live a very stern existence in a convent. She worked seven days a week in the now notorious Magdalena laundry (which was viewed as “penance”).

Philomena gave birth to a son, Anthony, while living at the convent. Working grueling hours, she was only allowed to see Anthony one hour a day. Young Anthony was soon adopted and taken to live in the United States. She wasn’t even given an opportunity to say goodbye to her child, leaving her devastated.

Most of the story is seen through flashback. Fifty years later Philomena – who remained a deeply religious Catholic — wants to know became of her son. After a couple glasses of wine one night she finally tells her daughter about her older half-brother. Through her, Philomena convinces a former BBC reporter, Martin Sixsmith — a very lapsed Catholic turned atheist — to write a book about her experience and help her find her son. Their journey takes them back to the convent where it all began. There, the nuns tell her that they cannot help her – which is, as the film later shows, a complete mendacity.

The film’s next segment is a trip to America (not based on actual events) where the two learn that her son grew up in Chicago, became a successful attorney and went on to work in the White House of George H. W. Bush.  She also learns that her son was gay and died of AIDS in 1995.

But his death is not only unsettling news. Contrary to what Lee and Sixsmith were told when they first visited the convent, Philomena’s son not only also came there looking for his birth mother but was actually buried on its premises.

Throughout the film there is a tension about faith and forgiveness. Sixsmith has become increasingly bitter towards the church (when Philomena is looking for a church where she could go to confession, he tells her, “The Catholic Church should go to confession, not you!”). The title character, however, takes a different path. She is able to separate the hierarchy from the body of the Church – the rank and file engaging in belief.

Which brings us to Bill Donohue who cannot help but attack the film in ways that range from petty to vicious.

In a press release, for example, the Catholic League president labeled the film “bunk” and “propaganda.” In an op-ed he attempted to paint the entire project as a giant falsehood by noting, “The film and the book also maintain that Philomena went to the United States to find her son, but this is patently untrue: she never set foot in America looking for him.” But even as Donohue is well aware, the film never claims to be a non-fiction account. Indeed, the film prominently acknowledges that the story was “inspired by actual events.”

During the Oscar season he issued a further attack on the film. In it, he commented on how Philomena revealed her secret over a few drinks on Christmas 2004. He then falsely suggests that she had sworn herself to secrecy and that excessive amounts of alcohol was the real culprit.

This is not to say there was no secrecy. However, it was Philomena, not the nuns, who were tight lipped: she swore herself to secrecy, never telling her children what happened when she was a teenager. Alcohol changed that.

He then tries to blame it all on atheism:

[Martin] Sixsmith does not say whether Philomena was also bombed when they met,  though he said it was at a New Year’s party that same year. Lucky for her, she found an atheist willing to buy her tale.

Donohue goes on to raise other issues – many of them (such as disputing how the young women were treated in the laundries) – are easily refuted including by the Irish government. But he avoids the film’s main criticism: the convent’s false pleas of ignorance in response to a dying son and a searching mother looking for each other. Bill’s angry bluster over how both the hierarchy and the Church as an institution are portrayed almost seem to be an intended distraction from the film’s central question: what justifies separating a mother and child from each other? That is a question Donohue will not even attempt to answer.

Philomena and Sixsmith confront Sister Hildegarde near the end of the film (A juncture where the film takes license order to inject Philomena’s final judgment of her actions; the actual nun in question passed away in 1995). She is unrepentant for having given away Philomena’s son fifty years before — arguing that Philomena and the other mothers’ penance for their sins was the loss of their children. When Philomena nevertheless forgives the bitter old nun — an incredulous Sixsmith protests.  “But I don’t wanna hate people,” Philomena explains. “I don’t wanna be like you. Look at you.”  And when he responds by saying that he’s angry, she mutters. “Must be exhausting.”

Catholic means “universal” or “all encompassing.” But the priorities and interests of Donohue’s “Catholic League” are far from universal. As I’ve written time and time again, Donohue and friends seek to advance a specific cultural and political agenda. Culturally, he speaks for the highly conservative portion of the hierarchy that has no use for flexibility, transparency and accountability. The body of the Catholic Church is not just the hierarchy or a certain group of nuns; it is the entire church mostly made up of people such as Philomena Lee.

Politically, Donohue is a “top-down” person. He has deep ties to movement conservatism – including being an adjunct scholar with the Heritage Foundation. The Catholic League’s Board of Advisers reads as a neoconservative Who’s Who list). More often than not, Donohue’s Catholicism dovetails nicely with secular political considerations of the Right (this was recently on full display when Donohue recently described Pope Francis’s economics as a form of Marxism).

Bill Donohue will angrily scowl, brow-beat and even resort to hateful language in pursuit of his goals. His method is on vivid display in his war on Philomena.

It must be exhausting to be Bill Donohue.

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