Archived editorials by Jim Jenkins

Gargoyles in the Mirror

by Jim Jenkins

Jim NSAC aThere is so much one can say about B16′s resignation. We can only speculate on the outcome of the conclave soon to assemble in Rome. Since Ratzinger has been such a careful politician over his entire career, it is hard for me to imagine that he has left the choice of his successor to chance.

With the stink from the “Paolo-the-Butler-Did-It Affair” still hanging like acrid incense in the air, it could be very plausible that Ratzinger has quietly arranged to have his successor already fitted for his white cassock. The Butler Affair revealed, if nothing else, is that there are seismic tensions within the Vatican hierarchy that even the Panzer pope could not tame. Challenges galore ready for anyone who dares slip his big toe into the “shoes of the fisherman.”

Nonetheless, to those of us still old enough to remember, miracles do happen: Angelo Roncalli, J23rd, defied the pundits and naysayers, and became what is arguably the greatest Christian apostle since Peter and Paul. IF, IF such a man could, or should emerge, I would be the first to cheer. But alas, I fear that we shall not see the like of J23rd again for at least another millennium.

The problem is that no man can first rise to the rank of cardinal without the support and affection of the most conservative reactionaries in the Catholic hierarchy – most especially Joseph Ratzinger. How could such a man then after his election as pope turn his back so easily on these gargoyles in the hierarchy???

Not going to happen!

The biggest nut the hierarchs will have to crack is who among the cardinals is the best candidate to keep the corruption, complicity and cover-up going. If a cardinal still has any human dignity and self-respect left, why would he ever even consent to being elected? Who needs that mess? And, as in the case of Albino Luciano, JP1, it could mean your premature demise under very mysterious circumstances.

On second thought, sadly that is all the hierarchs ever live for! All these cardinals probably get up every morning, look in the mirror and imagine that the next pope maybe, just maybe is staring at them!


Philadelphia Story

by James Jenkins, Ph.D.

NSAC News Guest Opinion,  March 16, 2011

It seems that the new “Philadelphia Story” has highlighted the multiple, complicated issues in play here on this blog stream with each posting reflecting a personal perspective.

My views have been shaped by my experience as chair of the SF archdiocesan review board from 2000-05.

The “Zero Tolerance” policy was never anything more than a slick public relations ploy used by US bishops to try to get out in front of the tsunami of negative press that engulfed the US church in the wake of reports of priestly sexual abuse and corrupt archdiocesan officials (read Cardinal Law) in the Boston Globe in the winter of 2001.

I chaired the San Francisco review board when now Cardinal William Levada and his canonist Rev. Gregory Ingles, who was on the drafting committee for the “Dallas Charter,” shared an advance copy of the working document with the SF review board.

[Incidentally, this was before Ingles would himself be criminally indicted by a Marin County grand jury for sexual assaults on students while he was a high school religion teacher in the 1970s. Talk about a fox in the henhouse???]

Levada and Ingels both speculated that the Zero-Tolerance policy was “extra canonical” and would have difficulty getting the approbation from Ratzinger and the Inquisition (CDF), who had been charged with managing the church’s response to the burgeoning crisis.

Despite their misgivings, Levada and Ingels agreed that in the media maelstrom that was growing around the priest sex abuse scandal the church had no other choice but to go for Zero-Tolerance, given the threat to the church (read, the power of the hierarchs).

I recall extended conversations on the review board about how Zero-Tolerance would effectively cut loose priests to confront on their own the brunt of the scandal raging over the church.

Levada sanguinely observed that he felt terrible for “his brother priests” who would feel abandoned by the hierarchy. He was right.

Nonetheless, Levada was sending the unvarnished message to priests on the front line in the parishes: You are on your own! We will do what we can for you, but you just may not be “inside” when we close the wagons around the hierarchy.

Besides being conniving corrupt politicians, bishops have also proved to be cowards!

Has the Zero-Tolerance policy increased the safety of children? YES, if only marginally in that it has removed some of the biggest repeat offenders from circulation where they could continue to abuse and exploit children.

Has the Zero-Tolerance policy been an unmitigated success in preventing perpetrators from having access to new victims? NO, mainly because secretly the church hierarchy is still completely mobilized to protect their own political power in the church – nothing else matters to them.

I don’t have much sympathy for concerns (emanating mainly from some clerics and bishops) that Zero-Tolerance and forced laicization “distorts the theology of the priesthood.”

Try peddling that bizarre notion to the tens of thousands of survivors of rape and sodomy by priests and bishops around the world!

Is it not the real revelation of the abuse scandal beyond the immediate suffering of literally thousands of men and women particularly when they were children, the real scandal is that the PRIESTHOOD HAS BEEN CORRUPTED?

Especially BISHOPS have been morally compromised, many times criminally complicit, and have betrayed the confidence and trust of the people, and perverted their high office, all just to continue their hegemony within the church.

Don’t the new reports coming out of Philadelphia recently indicate that the decay and corruption is deeper, more systemic, more entrenched than we ever dared imagine?

Don’t the very words of Jesus reverberate upon us? “ Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitened sepulchers which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.” (Mt 23:27)

There is no evidence in the scientific literature that would support the suggestion from some that “forgiveness and rehabilitation of the sinning priest” “could protect children and young people.”

There is no known treatment for sexual perversions and sexual deviancy. Recidivism and re-offending rates are just too high. That is why we must imprison rapists, removing their access to the general population.

That is why our first priority must be SAFETY of children, not the rehabilitation of predator perpetrator priests.

Msgr. Stephen Rossetti, it would seem the bishops’ go-to psychologist these days, director of the Maryland treatment center for many of these priest sex offenders, who has treated multiple predator priest perpetrators [we have to assume unsuccessfully], may lament “the justifiable outrage [of “the people”] with this crime blinds us to more rational thinking.”

I’m sorry that we can’t be more “rational” for Rossetti’s tastes. But, Rossetti offers no viable alternatives for ensuring the safety of children and vulnerable adults from sexual exploitation by priests and bishops.

In fact, Rossetti and his brother bishops have been negligent, I would say intentionally so, in creating any meaningful program to alert the public by revealing the names of priests who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse and exploitation.

Nor, have they devised appropriate supervision and after-care of perpetrator priests who have been removed from ministry but continue to be financially supported by the church, and who now have greater opportunity and freedom to menace even more children with abuse.

There seems to be some confusion about the role of review boards, and what terms like “credibly accused” and “culpability” mean in the context of the priest sex abuse scandal.

Review boards have been from the beginning and still are creatures of the bishop’s authority. Bishops appoint review boards, determine their purview, and control the access to written records and documentation of allegations against priests.

Review boards can only determine, much like a grand jury, if there is “probable cause” to assume that allegations against a priest are “credible” or “insufficient;” and make recommendations to bishops what the course of action concerning an allegation against a priest he should take.

Review boards have no authority to compel the bishop to do anything. The beginning of the end of my time on the SF Review board came when Levada violated his pledge that review board investigations would be independent and free of manipulation.

Writing on this blog, Jim Pauwels raises the issue of “culpability” within the Catholic community for the priest sex abuse scandal. Before we glibly exonerate ourselves, remember that everyone who drops some money in the collection basket at Sunday liturgy continues to underwrite or finance the rape and sodomy of children.

It is our money that makes up the hush funds to silence survivors, our money that priests use to buy their vacation homes or motels rooms where they take children to assault them, it is our money that pays for the rectory residence where most of the assaults occurred, it is our money given to priests that pays for bribe gifts and credit cards for victims, it is our money that supports the phalanx of lawyers and public relations firms that defend the bishops. (I could go on, and on).

Yes, all us Catholics must share in this “culpability.”

The entire Catholic community is convicted by the lives of perpetrator priests and bishops due more to sins of omission than anything else. Who could have intervened and stepped forward to stop the abuse which took place over decades?

The so-called “pattern” of transferring perpetrator priests from parish to parish was certainly at best an uneven practice by bishops, due usually to the political and social capitol the perpetrator priest enjoyed with the bishop and chancellery. [Friends in high places kind-of-thing.] It was really a matter of what the bishops could get away with doing at a minimum.

But we do know that bishops organized elaborate evasion schemes that would entail moving offending priests around the diocese, around the US, even sending them to foreign countries to evade the notoriety of a priest who sexually abuses innocent children. [There is a high degree of shame at work here too, let’s not forget!]

Some bishops did consult mental health professionals and require that perpetrator priests engage in “therapy.” Only problem is that there is no known full-proof “therapeutic cure” for sex abuse offenders. This was true in the 1950’s. It remains so in 2011.

Sad but true, deterring sexual abuse, especially of children, is not a high priority for our society and culture – maybe because most abuse occurs within families or within the family’s social circle – including their parish priest. Perpetrators are usually well known to the child and family.

The best science can do is to try to reduce recidivism as much as possible by isolating the perpetrator from his target population, usually through incarceration and strict probation by trying to restrict access and availability to children.

The best clinical outcome in most circumstances is for the mental health professionals to attempt to stabilize the expression of the pathology (reduce the rate and re-occurrence of symptoms – in this case, stop or reduce the assaults); and then, return the individual to normative functioning – i.e., return to the home, job, community. For priests, that usually means going back to the parish!

A survivor of a priest’s horrific sexual abuse once said to me: “I’m a drug addict – I’ve gone to prison for drugs. The state of California would never, should never, give me a license to be a pharmacist. Why should priest perpetrators be returned to parishes where there is always a new supply of victims?” That is logic hard to argue with.

I have read many clinical reports of psychiatrists and psychologists regarding perpetrator priests. Many priests, usually the higher-ranking clerics like bishops and monsignors, were treated for “depression,” “anxiety,” “stress” – not antisocial or sociopathic disorders or behavior. Most reports recommended that the priest’s access to children and vulnerable adults be restricted and supervised.

Needless to say, most bishops ignored these clinical recommendations. And now, hierarchs are only looking for scapegoats to explain away their complicity in the rape and sodomy of children by citing the shaky advice they received from mental health professionals.

The drama being played out these days in a Philadelphia courtroom should not be a surprise to anyone if they were the least bit aware and paying attention.

If you could get past all the apocalyptical news coming out of Japan, today’s NY Times (3/15/11) has an account of a charged court appearance in Philadelphia that should be very disturbing to all Catholics.

Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes “in frustrated and furious tones, declared that [accused former priest James Brennan] did not understand what he had done and was not giving her straight answers.”

Apparently, the judge was infuriated to learn that the archdiocese might pay for Mr. Brennan’s legal fees. “[Jude Hughes] told [Brennan] that this gave him a disincentive to negotiate with the prosecutors, because his legal bills would not be paid “if you speak against the archdiocese.””

Later, after revealing that he [Brennan] had used his own money and his brother’s funds to pay for his present lawyer after pleading poverty causing the judge to use taxpayer money for his court-appointed lawyer during the grand jury investigation, Judge Hughes incredulously scolded, “You lied to me. You jerked me around while you played this game and came to me in tears.”

This is typical of the legal shenanigans and deceptions from bishop’s attorneys once they get in front of a court.

Wait until Judge Hughes has to deal with Rigali who as a cardinal has been trained to take lying to the level of an art form.

Cardinal Roger Mahony once sent his lawyer to the jailhouse to offer perpetrator priest Desmond O’Grady a sweetheart deal to take care of O’Grady with a large annuity after he got out of prison, if O’Grady would refused to testify in court about his relationship with Mahony who was O’Grady’s bishop in Fresno while O’Grady was assaulting multiple children.

O’Grady refused to testify. Served seven years for rape and sodomy in CA prisons. Today, O’Grady is living the good life back in Dublin.

History will continue to repeat itself until Catholics take matters into their own hands and forever reform the priesthood from parish to pope, as we have known it.


A Fork In the Road 

by  James Jenkins, Ph.D.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009, I learned from the NY Times of the announcement in Rome by William Cardinal Levada, the Vatican’s chief doctrinal watchdog, that the Roman Catholic Church was taking steps to ease the way, more likely grease the skids, for conservative, reactionary Anglican bishops and priests to be fully accepted into the Catholic communion.

There are continuing reports out of the Vatican that there is a lot of “inside-Roman-baseball” that underlies much of this story.  Apparently, both Anglicans and Roman officials charged with shepherding “ecumenical dialogue” were caught off-guard and surprised by this audacious announcement emanating from Levada’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly the Holy Office of the Inquisition).

My own speculation is that this whole incident demonstrates the preference of Benedict XVI’s papacy for exercising his absolute power through his most favored bureaucracy, staffed and stacked with his most trusted operatives, which he fashioned to his own will over two decades as its leader before becoming pope.  We have to presume that Benedict is no fan of collegiality.

For me personally, this moment seems more like the reflection poet Robert Frost offers in his poem, “The Road Not Taken.”  Spiritually, religiously, and culturally, “Two roads diverged in a wood…”

After years of revelations of the exploitation of children by sexually rapacious clerics, and the moral betrayal of supposed shepherd-bishops, shell-shocked Catholics are now treated to the spectacle of Vatican politicians, Benedict chief among them, of trying to cherry-pick the low hanging fruit off the Anglican branch of the vine.

I can almost hear the Anglicans, and their fellow American Episcopalians, heaving a giant sigh of relief that finally someone is willing to take their embarrassing problems off their hands.

How politically opportunistic!  This is so rich, so Vatican!  The Vatican apparently hopes to cannibalize Anglican misogynistic and homophobic misfits in order to prop up their own dead-end ideology and failed pastoral leadership of the past forty years? Where is the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in that?

Is this political ploy the fruit of Benedict’s chosen strategy to reclaim the spiritual heart of an alienated Western Europe and North America?  These democratic societies are the very ones the Vatican considers in the throes of “moral relativism” and, by the Vatican’s repeated words and actions over the years, have wished again and again consigned to the historical ash heap.

This comes in the context of other Vatican shenanigans.  The Vatican is now in the midst of an “investigation” of American religious women, who after making decisive contributions to the cultural and economic development of Catholics in the United States, are now aging and dwindling in numbers.

There are not a few of us Catholics who smell a clerical rat.  I suspect that the true motivation for this investigation of American Catholic sisters is not to fathom the decline of religious life in American society.  On the contrary, the Vatican seems to more likely to positioning themselves to pick the carcass of the sisters, who have limited but substantial financial and property holdings, in these days of diminishing and depleted church treasuries.

I’m sorry, but I can’t think of any other motive for the clerics but power and greed.  They want to be the beneficiaries when these American nuns are no longer able to offer any dissent, or cause trouble by educating the Catholic masses about their individual dignity and independent moral conscience – not highly valued principle by our Vatican clerical overlords.

I digress.

Let those who want to cling to Roman ways and traditions, continue to do so.  I have to admit that I consider this choice a dead-end.  The signs of the times are all around us, and have been for a long time:  The clerical dominated Catholic Church is passing away.

The child sexual abuse scandal ripped away any pretense of a healthy, vibrant community led by their celibate priests.  Laid bare was the morally bankrupt and corrupt leadership of bishops and priests complicit in the rape and sodomy of children.  The full scope of the clerics’ financial chicanery and fraud has been assiduously repressed and has yet to be fully disclosed.

In a shocking reversal of the gospel, our shepherds now aided and abetted the wolves preying on the most vulnerable of the sheep, our children.  The betrayal, the shame, the humiliation will be with Catholics for many, many decades.

Millions of Americans no longer are even willing to call themselves Catholic, let alone attend or even associate with the church. Priests, most of whom are our friends and confessors, are dying off with fewer and fewer quality replacements.  Parishes and schools are being sold off, many times to easy the financial hit from over $2 billion in settlements from the sex abuse scandal.

The appropriate response of American Catholics, who seek a reformed and renewed Christian community, rooted in our own cultural and historical traditions, should be to declare our American Catholic Independence.

We American Catholics should throw off “Old World,” Vatican religious and spiritual hegemony.  Like the ancient Eastern or Oriental rites of the church, we should establish our own American Catholic Rite and be done with it.

The Roman rite can remain a home for those who still cling to that clerical worldview.  An all male celibate, hierarchical priesthood will most likely continue.  The church over the centuries has always managed to suffer on and endure.  The Vatican and pope could still function as a unifying force for Christianity maybe without the stifling need for absolute control.  But this time, just maybe, in a more humble manifestation.

This new rite would reflect American democratic traditions and individual freedoms, our unique indigenous culture.  The new American rite could be a church where the PEOPLE DECIDE about our liturgy and prayer, how we manage and administer our resources, whom we ordain, how we designate our leadership.  Anything less, it shouldn’t survive.

The American rite will only give expression to a distinct cultural identity and spiritual integrity.  It will be uniquely suited to pass on in the American cultural context the values of the gospel, the practice of the Beatitudes and corporal works of mercy, the singular vision of Jesus as the Prince of Peace.

Taking a page out of the Vatican playbook, American Catholics should ask the Episcopalians for help and assistance in establishing and organizing our new rite.  Most American Catholics would be surprised to learn how much the Episcopalians, while not perfect, already model the church we seek.  We will need guidance in forming our governance, selecting men and women for our priesthood, and establishing a new pastoral identity.

I am presuming that the Roman church will not be very generous in sharing the resources and infrastructure of the present American church with this new endeavor of a new American rite.  With some striking out to find their own way, the clerics most likely will be hurt and feel abandoned especially when so many indicators foretell a bleak future.

Yet, we will need places to meet for worship and prayer, places to educate and form our children.  American Catholics, if we are to survive let alone endure, will have to begin from scratch.

Like the traveler in Frost’s poem, American Catholics have a decision which path to pursue: Do we stay with the Romans stuck in an alienating reality?  Or, do we strike out on our own fulfilling the best promise of Vatican II.

An inexorable evolution toward a Peoples’ Church has already begun.  The evidence has been with us for a very long time.  It may take us decades, whole lifetimes, but we must begin this journey now.  We must help this new Light burn brighter.  Frost’s ending stanza can only give us hope:

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.



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