lent, a looming conclave, and the sexual abuse crisis

Mea Maxima Culpa; Silence in the House of God

This year, the global church entered into Lent with the bombshell announcement of Pope Benedict’s abdication. The news over-shadowed all other church stories in the media – for a day or two. Papabile prognostications quickly replaced emotional commentaries and quickly drafted summaries and evaluations of Pope Benedict’s legacy.

John L. Allen Jr. has provided daily commentaries for the National Catholic Reporter. Allen is my favorite Vatican journalist and writer. He has an amazing depth of knowledge and the ear of many at the heart of the action. His respectful and balanced writing has obviously won him the respect of many in Rome. Besides keeping us updated on the latest details of the transition period, Allen has been writing daily essays on each of the Cardinals who are considered possible contenders to don the papal whites. The essays are valuable, as he points out the positive and negative qualities (real or perceived) of each candidate.

Perhaps because we aren’t wrapped up in mourning the death of a pope, more attention is being made on vetting the cardinals in the public forum. This is a good thing. With transparency and honesty, though, comes a realization there is no perfect person to step into the shoes of Peter. The sexual abuse scandal continues to make international head-lines with new revelations each day.

Should Cardinal Roger Mahony, former Archbishop of Los Angeles, be allowed to participate in the conclave after court documents were released showing his role in the cover-up of abuse cases?

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, was deposed Wednesday in a lawsuit filed by clergy sex abuse victims. He was called to testify over his management of priests in the Milwaukee archdiocese, which he led from 2002-2009.

Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana was highlighted as the Papabile of the day by John Allen on Tuesday. By the afternoon, his remarks during an interview with Christiane Amanpour on CNN were making headlines. He told Amanpour that the sexual abuse crisis has not reached his country because, “African traditional systems kind of protect or have protected its population against this tendency. Because in several communities, in several cultures in Africa homosexuality or for that matter any affair between two sexes of the same kind are not countenanced in our society.” As the lid is blown off the abuse crisis around the world, his denial is either naïve or dangerously ignorant.

Hubby and I sat and watched Mea Maxima Culpa this past weekend. It was a difficult documentary to watch. The only thing worse than the ongoing abuse perpetrated by these most unholy of priests, was the institutional denial and cover-up from bishops and the highest offices in the Vatican. Sadly, the smoking gun too often pointed to the desk of the current Pope.

Perhaps this is the true Lenten penance of our church; to finally face head-on the reality of a scandal so evil and so far reaching. As the College of Cardinals prepares to elect the pope, it is a reality that can no longer be ignored. The people of God demand that justice be done. We must have a pope with a proven record of standing on the side of the victims, not on upholding the pure image of the church. Is there such a man?

Here is a short piece I wrote for the NCR Today blog.

what do you do with a problem like Raymond Lahey?

In 2009, Raymond Lahey (then bishop of Antigonish, Nova Scotia) was stopped at the Ottawa airport and his computer was searched. It was found to contain large quantities of child pornography. On May 4, 2011, Lahey pleaded guilty to possessing and importing the images and asked to begin serving his sentence immediately. At his sentencing hearing, the 71 year old admitted to being addicted to internet pornography, and that he was also involved in a ten year relationship with a man. On January 4, 2012, he was sentenced to 15 months in jail. He was given credit for eight months already served, and was set free. This was the legal punishment meted out by the Canadian courts.

Today, the Vatican imposed its own canonical sentence on Lahey. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops was informed that the former bishop is now stripped of his clerical status. The CCCB press release states,

According to Canon 292 of the Code of Canon Law, the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state has the following effects: loss of the rights and duties attached to the clerical state, except for the obligation of celibacy; prohibition of the exercise of any ministry, except as provided for by Canon 976 of the Code of Canon Law in those cases involving danger of death; loss of all offices and functions and of all delegated power, as well as prohibition of the use of clerical attire. Raymond Lahey has accepted the Decree of Dismissal, which also requires him to pray the Liturgy of the Hours in reparation for the harm and the scandal he has caused, and for the sanctification of clergy.

According to the Diocese of Antigonish, this is one of the most severe canonical penalties that the Roman Catholic Church can impose. REALLY???

On the positive side, Lahey admitted guilt immediately. Granted, the guilt was admitted once he was caught. But, he spared the people of Canada and the faithful in the pews from an expensive court case. Justice was meted out swiftly, especially in comparison to other clerical sexual abuse cases in North America.

Now, some might wonder if this case is as severe as those who are guilty of the physical sexual abuse of children. After all, the crime was merely possession of child pornography. But, child pornography IS sexual abuse and exploitation. Those are real children in the images, children who are being sexually abused. The proper reaction to such images is horror and a desire to save the children; not sexual gratification.

The Catholic Women’s League of Canada is actively fighting against pornography because of its exploitive nature. Women Religious around the world have banded together to fight against human trafficking because it provides the victims for an ever growing sex market. It is worth noting that it is the women of our church who are at the fore-front of these actions.

So, a bishop is caught and admits guilt to a disgusting crime. The crime is made all the more disgusting because of his trusted role as not only a priest, but as a bishop. He spends eight months in jail. And now, the poor man is defrocked.

According to the Canon law description, defrocking is equivalent to losing one’s job. Yes, there is shame and loss of employment security. This is a common consequence of criminal charges. At least he didn’t get a Vatican promotion.

Ah, but he is still required to obey his vow of celibacy. REALLY? Who is going to monitor this? He has already admitted to having a long term relationship with a man. He wasn’t living a celibate life as a bishop. Why would he as a lay person?

As to the severity of the canonical punishment meted out to Lahey,  I can’t help but think of how many times bishops have shot off their mouths excommunicating members of their flock, threatening them with eternal damnation. Having your clerical collar and all its privileges stripped away seems a light punishment in comparison.

Archbishop to be adopted into aboriginal community – Winnipeg Free Press

Archbishop to be adopted into aboriginal community – Winnipeg Free Press.

Earlier this week, I wrote a post on an essay written by Ian Hunter. Hunter was critical of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission here in Canada, and of general apologies given by those who aren’t the original perpetrators of the abuse.

Our local bishop, Archbishop James Weisgerber, was a strong supporter of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. As former President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, he arranged for a personal meeting at the Vatican between Benedict XVI and aboriginal representatives on April 29, 2009. He has since made many friendships with members of the aboriginal community.

Tomorrow, at a  ceremony at Thunderbird House in Winnipeg, Archbishop Weisgerber will be formally adopted into the aboriginal community.

For Derek Nepinak, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs grand chief, the adoption sends a signal of good faith to the public, and it offers a pledge that non-native and Anishinaabe cultures work together in the name of a shared future. “We can’t just sit down and engage in a discussion, say ‘I’m sorry’ and walk away. We have to engage with each other and recognize and apply our ceremonies in a mutually respectful way,” Nepinak said.

What a wonderful sign of the power of true reconciliation. Yes, we must go further than just saying I’m sorry. But acknowledging a wrong and asking forgiveness is the first step towards building real bonds in our too often divided world. Congratulations to our aboriginal leaders and Archbishop for showing us reconciliation in action.