Friday, April 27, 2012

Gerald T. Slevin: Philly Predator Priests & Papal Politics

As this work week ends, another outstanding piece from Jerry Slevin, commenting on the ongoing trial in the archdiocese of Philadelphia, the current political strategy of the Vatican and U.S. Catholic bishops, and the mandate to "reform" American religious women--and how these pieces fit together.  This is a rich and detailed posting, and I'm grateful to Jerry for providing this information to all of us who are trying to understand how these various pieces interlock.  What follows is Jerry's posting:

The nauseating selected stories oozing out of the  Philadelphia Archdiocese sexual swamp  are being issued almost daily from a courtroom near Constitution Hall.  The stories, only a fraction of those many uncovered so far, just keep coming, as reported regularly in detail at the website.

An aerial view of the swamp is available at my previous posting at the Bilgrimage site, and in this Wikipedia article tracking the abuse story in the Philadelphia archdiocese and in the related links cited there.

The Vatican has faced similar deluges  of negative publicity before, for example, in Ireland, Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Chile, and even Boston and Los Angeles.  But never before has a case apparently carried such implications for the papacy.  The steady stream of clerical filth exposed at the current Philly trial has flowed through the leadership periods of three important Cardinals, with extensive papal connections, especially the last one, Cardinal Justin Rigali.

Rigali's ties to the Vatican are and continue to be extensive.  He served several popes closely in Rome and continues on major papal curial committees.  Yesterday, a new and important special committee was set up in Rome under the powerful Cardinal Herranz to investigate the unprecedented recent leaks of embarrassing Vatican documents, so-called "Vatileaks," as reported by Reuters.  Cardinal Rigali, along with Pope John Paul II, in 1991 was one of the three co-consecrators of Herranz as bishop and still serves with him on a major Vatican committee.  Herranz is one of two Opus Dei Cardinals and has recently served on the committee that just directed the unexpected investigation of American nuns discussed below.
So far the only direct links to the pope disclosed at the trial apparently was the 2005 decision of the committee headed by then Cardinal Ratzinger to accept the defrocking of one of Philly's predator priest with a long history of allegations of abusing children.  Of course, Rigali and the pope communicated periodically over several decades and likely discussed the pervasive Philly pedophile problems, as may yet be revealed in the many weeks remaining in this criminal trial of Rigali's former top aide.

The Rigali papal connection raises at least three other critical issues as the pope tries to replace Obama with Mitt Romney, a more pliable Republican.  Rigali still hasn't explained many major questions about his eight year leadership, until a few months ago, of the Philly Archdiocese.  These include (1) his possible role in covering up for over two dozen priests he suspended only after his former top aide was indicted last year, (2) his possible role with respect to the elusive shredding memorandum listing over 30 suspected priests, and (3) his relationship over several years with his general counsel who was recently suspended by Archbishop Chaput.

Rigali also appears to be a central figure, along with his St. Louis protégé, Cardinal Dolan of New York, in the pope's current political alliance with some fundamentalist evangelicals and right-wing Republicans, so important to the pope's effort to replace Obama, as evidenced in the Manhattan Declaration.  It is unclear how negative Rigali publicity will impact that alliance or the pope's US presidential re-election efforts generally.

Finally, Rigali has longstanding ties to Bishop Bransfield, the current treasurer at Dolan's US bishops' group and President of the Papal Foundation.  The Foundation's wealthy US donors each contribute at least $1 million for the pope's causes  and get a private audience with the pope as just occurred on April 21 and is shown in the video referred to below.  The donors, who appear to be very sincere in their efforts, seem a bit subdued in the video, possibly as a result of the recent Philly trial sworn testimony concerning Bransfield's alleged sexual improprieties with minors, which Bransfeld has denied.  Bransfield has yet to explain fully why he loaned his NJ beach house to a known sexual predator priest.  Future Bransfield revelations could prove embarrassing for Rigali and the pope as well.  It is unclear whether the pope discussed the allegations with Bransfield at their recent Vatican meeting.  The pope certainly should have.

It is unclear what actions, if any, the elite donors will take with respect to Bransfield or whether any of the donors sought a fuller explanation from Bransfield last week in Rome.

These US large donors appear to be sincere Catholics, many with children and even grandchildren.  While the US elite donor groups do not appear to have really pressed the bishops to clean up their predator priest problem, there is no evidence they supported or condoned it either.  Of course, the donations often provide the bishops with fungible funds that presumably often enable US bishops to continue with their extravagant and ineffective "take no prisoners" legal strategy that has wasted much of the more than  $3 billion spent so far by US bishops on resisting at all costs abuse victims claims.

It is fair to note that it would appear that many of these donors would likely benefit significantly if the pope's efforts to help replace Obama are successful, since it would likely result in a further extension of the Bush tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the top 1% of US taxpayers, which appears to include many of these donors. 

It is evident that the open-ended nature of the Philly criminal trial and its anticipated aftermath, especially the ambiguous role of Cardinal Rigali, present a ticking time-bomb for the pope, as he marshals all the pope's US hierarchical forces to help replace President Barak Obama in November. 

Of course, the pope's unexpected new assault on American nuns appears to have diverted some US media attention from the Philly trial.  It is not clear yet what is really behind the pope's efforts to try to gain control of the US nuns.  Some of the nuns appear to control considerable assets that could help to prop up some desperate US bishops as they continue almost indiscriminately to spend on lawyers and others trying to avoid having to turn over their secret priest abuse files and/or having to testify, as the Stockton CA bishop apparently just did with an large $3.75 million payment to a single priest sexual abuse plaintiff.  The Stockton payment helped Cardinal Mahony avoid having to testify  under oath.

The nuns' assets, if controlled instead by some bishops, could likely help alleviate some bishops' decidedly negative cash flow resulting from abuse payouts like this.  Neither American Catholics nor American courts will let the pope and US  bishops cherry pick the nuns' assets, if that were to be the papal plan.  Cardinal Dolan has already with his Milwaukee cemetary funds' transfer showed the nuns  how to protect assets, ruthlessly if necessary.  As was just well said by a prominent woman theologian Mary Hunt, with ample support: "We are all nuns today" when it comes to the pope's new crackdown.  Few are fooled by the papal attempt to bully the nuns, as Garry Wills notes recently in New York Review of Books

Some in the current circumstances  have even described the "nun attack" as an "earthquake."  Metaphors like earthquakes and other "Acts of God" are misplaced and misleading here.  It is pretty simple.  The pope's back is to the wall.  This tough and determined pope is pulling out all stops to save his US election year strategy, and leaning on the nuns is just the latest stop.  Attacking nuns also diverts US media attention from the horrendous revelations almost daily from the Philly criminal trial of the former top aide to the pope's longtime colleague in Rome, Cardinal Rigali.

The pope's US election year goals and strategy at this point seem clear, and include the following:

(1) Help elect a pliable Republican to replace Obama. A friendly Mormon will do just fine;

(2) Make sure that the new US President (A) will go easy on Federally prosecuting US bishops for covering up for priest sexual predators, and (B) will shun new Federal legislation, such as mandatory prompt national reporting of abuse claims to the police, that targets child abusers and those who facilitate abusers;

(3) Get the new US President to lean diplomatically on the new female prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) to forgo filing criminal charges for an alleged worldwide cover-up of priest child abusers against the pope, and Cardinals Bertone, Levada and Sodano;

(4) Get a majority of Opus Dei-leaning Justices appointed to the US Supreme Court, as aging justices retire during the next four year presidential term; and

(5) Get this newly "stacked" US Supreme Court to permit states again to criminalize contraception (and abortion) and to expand nationwide the "religious liberty" shield to all US bishops from civil law liability for failure to manage predator priests that was recently extended by the US Supreme Court only to Missouri and to the St. Louis Archdiocese.

The price for the pope and US bishops in electing a Republican this year will be acceptance by the US bishops of an extension of the Bush taxs cuts favoring the top 1%, slashes in social programs for seniors and the needy and defeat of Obama's health insurance program that covers millions of presently uninsured, including many with pre-existing conditions.

If the pope cannot deliver enough Catholic votes in key states to elect Romney, the coalition forged first under Reagan of the US bishops, fundamentalist evangelicals and right-wing ideologues, is likely finished.  And the pope and bishops will likely then have to face increased prosecution by Obama's Justice Department and others for covering-up for priest sexual predators.

The pope's US 2012 election strategy was planned long ago, but ran into some unanticipated obstacles. These include:

(1) Georgetown Joan of Arc, Sandra Fluke, who defeated uber-cultural warrior, Rush Limbaugh, in the anti-contraception crusade;

(2) Some US nuns who publicly supported Obama's health insurance proposals in opposition to the US bishops (and the pope);

(3) SNAP, which filed a powerful criminal complaint with the ICC against the pope,

(4) Bishop Finn, who was indicted for failing to report an alleged priest child pornographer;

(5) Cardinals Krol, Bevilacqua and Rigali, who are almost daily being draggged through the priest child abuse mud in Philly, and

(6) Bishop Bransfield, treasurer of the US bishops' group and President of the elite donor group, the Papal Foundation, who was accused last week of three different sexual misdeeds with minors, while he and the donors were in Rome to meet with the pope.

Against the foregoing, the pope's help seems so far to be hurting Republicans more than helping, especially among American women voters.

The pope has already had US pastors read political speeches from their pulpits.  A bishop has recently shamelessly linked Obama to Hitler and Stalin, with silent acquiesence of other bishops to these unprecedented slurs.  Some nuns have nodded in support of Obama's health care policies and, as a result the pope has lowered the boom on American nuns generally.  The pope has also called for civil disobedience demonstrations by American Catholics in June and July, presumably hoping to get media coverage of Catholics being arrested for "defending the faith" ( the pope's faith, that is).

The pope appears desparate. As an experienced lawyer, I think he has a losing legal strategy.  As a citizen, I think he has a losing political strategy.  As a Catholic, I think the pope's attack on nuns was a major mistake.  It may also be, in my view, a blessing in disguise that could be the beginning of the end for the male papal monarchy.  The bishops are outmatched by the nuns and I expect the nuns will soon make that very evident.

For an example of the pope's temper and style, please see this video showing him (as Cardinal Ratzinger and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) slapping an ABC-TV reporter in public on camera for daring to ask how the almost 50 year old Vatican investigation of Maciel was going.  (The segment with this incident begins at the 1:54 mark in the video.)  If reporters are so treated in public, imagine how bishops (and nuns) are treated in private.

For information on the call for American Catholic civil disobedience protests in June and July, please see this article at The Hill.  For a video of last Saturday's glum Papal Foundation meeting of "$1 million a head" US donors with the pope at the Vatican, with Bishop Bransfield front and center, please see this video uploaded to You Tube by Catholic Tube.  For information on the ongoing Philly criminal trial of Cardinal Rigali's former top aide and its negative impact on the papal US election strategy, please see my previous commentary at the Bilgrimage blog site.

The pope may have a temper, but he apparently learned well his tactical methods and propaganda techniques at his "junior seminary" as a teenager, when he was involuntarily pressed into service wth an anti-aircraft unit of the German Army at the harrowing end of World War II. He has ruled the Vatican with iron discipline.

As a theologian he has been criticized, for example, by renowned Jesuit scriptural scholar, Daniel Harrington, in an April 4, 2011 America Magazine article and most recently by his early colleague, Hans Küng, in his new January 2012 Jesus book (in German), for some fairly basic scholarly shortcomings. This includes the pope's (1) excessive reliance on outdated scriptural exegesis, (2) selective reliance on certain Church Fathers,  and (3) an overly deductive and speculative approach to Christology.

In the pope's recent rejection again on Holy Thursday of women priests, the pope cited as support Holy Scripture, the Catechism and writings of "Blessed" John Paul II. The scriptural argument has been contradicted by his own Papal Biblical Commission of leading Catholic scholars he selected.  The pope mainly controlled the writing of the Catechism and greatly influenced the writings of John Paul II, who became "Blessed" in a rigged process Joseph Ratzinger also controlled.  This  pope acts not only as the judge and the jury of "dogma"; he also creates his own supporting evidence. He may be successful in intimidating many Catholic scholars, but does he really think most Catholics are that gullible?

Another example of "evidence rigging" by this pope is the recent attack on Obama apparentlly for "facilitating sinful contraception," which the overwhelming majority of Catholics accept in good conscience.  A short history, showing how the anti-contraception 1968 Humanae Vitae encyclical was about preserving papal power, and not really about promoting God's reign, is provided in this National Catholic Reporter article.

Robert Blair Kaiser is the author of the definitive history book on (a) the promulgation in 1968 of the encyclical, Humanae Vitae, (b) the formation and manipulation of the 1960's Papal Birth Control Commission that recommended permitting contraception, and (c) the power politics behind the rejection of the Commission's recommendation.  He  has just written a new and timely forword and has made the entire book available as a free e-book.  All Catholics are in his debt.

Kaiser, nearly 80 years old, and formerly an award-winning religion journalist at Time, Newsweek and the New York Times, has frequently explained clearly and truthfully from the time in the early '60's of his unparalleled reports from Rome on Vatican II, up to his most recent books and articles, how the Vatican and the Catholic hierarchy work.  His classic book on current contraception "dogma," The Politics of Sex and Religion, is now available online.

One cannot read this book without coming away with a conviction that women have been punished needlessly for so long just to keep the male hierarchy in power and over-fed.  To now use this discredited and harmful "contraception dogma" to replace a US president is nothing short of disgraceful.

What is to be done?  At least two action items are essential.  American Catholics must demand in this election season that the President and Congress commit to adopt promptly necessary laws to curtail, if not eliminate, child sexual abuse.  For sure this must include a national legal requirement, with significant penalties, that all US custodians of children, including priests and bishops, report prompty to the police all reports of abuse.  Ireland's Justice Minister just proposed this legislation nationally, after considerable study and research, as Carl O'Brien reports in the Irish Times.

The second action item is to demand that our political leaders apply fully and promptly existing and new laws vigorously to the Catholic hierarchy on a state, Federal and international level.

Are you listening President Obama, US Attorney General Eric Holder, Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Harry Reid and Leader Nancy Pelosi? What about you Mitt Romney, Senator McConnell and Speaker Boehner?

Enough "Happy Talk" about children. It is time to take action.

It is with deep disappointment to me as a cradle Catholic that the Church hierarchy have reached the current dismal state.  I care about my Church, but I also care deeply about defenseless children and innocent abuse victims that still hunger and thirst for justice, while politicians, prosecutors and judges cozy up to powerful bishops for electoral support and campaign contributions, however indirectly given and made.

Two years ago, I sent the pope a suggestion to avoid ending up where we have now ended up.  Not entirely surprisingly, I never heard anything from the pope or his staff.  That proposal could still work, if he or his successor just listened to the Spirit for a change, rather than to their lawyers and financial advisors.

Failing to get any response from the pope, I then published my proposal in the Washington Post and offer it again for your careful consideration here.

Cross-posted at Open Tabernacle, 27 April 2012.

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