When non-Catholics support the mission of Catholic education

Remember when that atheist fellow gave a bunch of money to New York’s Catholic schools a few years ago?

I came across a great quote from the guy, Robert W. Wilson:

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I remember the first time I had lunch with Cardinal Egan. We were finishing up, and he said, ‘Well, now that you’ve given all this money to our schools, I should try to convert you.’ I said to him, ‘Well, Cardinal, if you do, I suppose I should try to convert you. The only problem is that if I succeed, you’ll lose your job.’

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I came across Wilson’s great one-liner in a very interesting feature story from Philanthropy magazine about non-Catholics who give big money to Catholic schools.

about_studentsIn Wilson’s case, he was  won over by a simple fundraising letter from the Inner-City Scholarship Fund, which made the case that Catholic schools get results, but many kids can’t afford to go.

As a result, he’s written checks for more than $30 million since 2007.

Whoever wrote that fundraising letter should get a raise, no?

I found a good interview with Wilson here.

The Philanthropy article also profiles Jewish and secular individuals and foundations who give big bucks to Catholic education because of the education (as opposed to the Catholic part).

One such fellow is Stephen Schwarzman, a Jew and a very successful investor who serves on the board of the Archdiocese of NY’s Inner-City Scholarship Fund. (UPDATE: Turns out that while Schwarzman is a major donor to the ICSF, it’s his wife, Christine, who serves on the board.)

He’s committed to assuring that children from low-income families can attend Catholic schools for the full 12 years, so they don’t have to worry about losing scholarships mid-way through.

He tells Philanthropy:

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I have always been a big supporter of education in general. I’m especially impressed with the commitment the Archdiocese of New York has made to educate more than 40,000 inner-city students with a solid values-based academic program. They have achieved fantastic results—98 percent of the seniors graduate, and 97 percent of these graduates plan to pursue post-secondary education—especially for a student population that’s 93 percent minority, where 50 percent live near or below the poverty line.

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Photo: Inner-City Scholarship Fund

Dolan: A red hat for autumn?

Since Archbishop Dolan came to New York a year ago, it’s been widely assumed that he would have to wait to become a cardinal.

Cardinal Egan is only 77 and is eligible to enter a conclave to vote for a pope until he turns 80. In general, it is held that the Vatican does not like to have two cardinal-electors representing the same diocese.

So Dolan would have to wait until Egan, the retired archbishop of NY, is 80.

But this is only a guideline, not a rule. And popes can do whatever they want.

Two Rome newspapers are reporting that Benedict XVI will announce in October that a consistory will be held in November and that Dolan will be one of the new cardinals named.

They also say that Archbishop Raymond Burke, the former archbishop of St. Louis who is now serving in a Vatican post, will also get a red hat.

Not named: Archbishop Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, D.C., since 2006.

Here’s the interesting thing: The two Roman newspapers in question, La Stampa and il Giornale, have pretty much the same names. They’re either both right or both wrong.

‘These things happen in such small numbers’

So what have we learned from the 1997 and 1999 depositions of then-Bishop Edward Egan relating to sex abuse in the Diocese of Bridgeport?

It’s hard to say — and probably in the eye of the beholder.

Since I’m no longer covering religion full-time, I have not had to pour through the thousands of page of court documents released Tuesday. But I know quite a bit about the cases in question and have read most of the significant media reports on the documents, including today’s well-written piece by Paul Vitello in the NYTimes.

It does not appear that a smoking gun has been uncovered, as in, let’s say, new details about how a priest was protected or how the diocese tried to cover up the truth.

tjndc5-5b5fab9inu153gbqezi_layoutThe depositions of Egan, in particular, primarily show, it seems, that Egan did not want to admit that the sexual abuse of minors by priests was a serious problem, in Bridgeport or the larger church. He only grudgingly expressed any sympathy for victims of abuse and repeatedly insisted that most allegations were only that — allegations.

Vitello’s story includes this:

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Even then, Bishop Egan played down the importance of the action he had taken to stem a problem which, to him, was not a widespread one. At one point, when the deposition resumed in 1999, he stopped in his description of church policies to challenge the notion that any abuse had actually occurred.

“Incidentally,” he said, “these things don’t happen, and we are talking about ifs.”

“Forgive me, Father — Bishop,” replied one lawyer, Cindy Robinson. “But these things do happen because that’s the reason why we’re seated here today.”

She had been asking about two priests with long records of abuse allegations, whom Bishop Egan had sought to remove from the priesthood, though both continued working.

“These things happen in such small numbers,” the bishop said.

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This portrayal is consistent with how Egan carried himself during his tenure as archbishop of New York — defensive, combative, revealing little.

It would be much bigger news, it seems to me, if the depositions showed Egan to be anguished over sex abuse, even in small numbers.

According to the Times story, he had to be pressed to even admit that the abuse of one person is important: “However, were even one person to have been abused sexually, while that one person could not numerically be categorized as a significant portion, the activity would be significant and more.”

Significant and more.

Egan depositions released

After years of lawsuits, the Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport today released some 12,000 pages of documents from 23 sex-abuse lawsuits against six priests that were settled in 2001.

The papers include depositions, affidavits and motions and have been expected to shed some light on how the diocese — in particular former Bishop Edward Egan — handled things.

Here’s the AP’s first report:

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tjndc5-5b5it3ivdrrf1y4mezi_layoutHARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Recently retired New York Cardinal Edward Egan says it was not appropriate to discuss allegations of priest sex abuse with people who had claimed to be abused while he was bishop of the Bridgeport diocese.

Egan makes the statements as part of a 1997 deposition that was part of thousands of documents made public on Tuesday, ending a seven-year legal battle.

Amid questioning by attorneys representing abuse victims, Egan says he believes that it would be inappropriate to discuss previous allegations of priest abuse, saying he would not “draw anyone else into this particular discussion.”

The Bridgeport diocese turned over to court officials more than 12,000 pages from 23 lawsuits against six priests settled by the diocese in 2001.

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Here’s the Hartford Courant’s first lead:

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“Claims are claims. Allegations are allegations.”

Those six words uttered by retired Cardinal Edward M. Egan during two depositions neatly sum up his approach to handling the burgeoning priest sexual abuse scandal that he inherited when he took over the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut in the late 1980s.

In 448-pages of depositions that Egan was forced to give as part of 23 lawsuits against seven priests that eventually were settled, the Bishop showed little compassion for the alleged victims and instead argued with attorney’s that only a “remarkably small number” of priests have ever been accused of wrongdoing.

“These things (sexual abuse complaints) happen in such small numbers. It’s marvelous when you think of the hundreds and hundreds of priests and how very few have ever been accused, and how very few have even come close to having anyone prove anything,” Egan said.

“Claims are one thing. One does not take every claim against a human being as a proved misdeed. I’m interested in proved misdeeds.”

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And here is a statement from the Archdiocese of New York:

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On May 22, 2009, the Supreme Court of Connecticut ordered that documentation concerning the sexual abuse of minors by clergy of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, during the tenure of The Most Reverend Walter W. Curtis (1961-1988) be made public. The decision involves documents regarding five priests accused of sexual misconduct prior to the December 1988 appointment of The Most Reverend Edward M. Egan as Bishop of Bridgeport.  It is a topic that has been repeatedly and thoroughly addressed by Cardinal Egan and the Archdiocese of New York as far back as 2002 in response to a series of articles published by the Hartford Courant.

During his tenure as Bishop of Bridgeport (and later as Archbishop of New York), Bishop Egan aggressively investigated and properly dealt with all allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests.  There were no such allegations regarding the five priests mentioned above during Bishop Egan’s Bridgeport years, apart from an accusation that one of them had made an improper gesture in the presence of a minor. The priests is not said to have had any physical contact with the minor, and two nuns who were present at the time have stated that they were unaware of anything inappropriate.

Of the five priests, one died prior to Bishop Egan’s appointment.  The remaining four were all sent for expert evaluation and professional treatment to the most highly regarded psychiatric institution in the New England and Greater New York area, which had no affiliation with the Church. They were ultimately returned to ministry only upon the specific recommendation of the aforementioned institution, along with the advice of experienced clergy and laity.  This was the recognized evaluation–and–treatment protocol for sexual misconduct cases at the time.  It was widely embraced and implemented by the psychiatric community and commended in an editorial of The New York Times.

After their return to ministry, new information was received about misconduct prior to Bishop Egan’s appointment to the Diocese of Bridgeport on the part of the remaining four priests mentioned above.  In response, two had their authority to exercise ministry removed indefinitely.  The third, who had suffered a brain injury, was permanently retired from ministry.  And the fourth, whose misconduct was never firmly established during Bishop Egan’s years in Bridgeport, was permitted to continue in a restricted ministry as an assistant chaplain in a home for the aged, while residing in a convent of religious women.

Three additional priests, who are not mentioned in the case before the Connecticut Supreme Court, were accused during Bishop Egan’s tenure in Bridgeport of engaging in sexual misconduct with minors prior to Bishop Egan’s assignment to the Diocese.  In response, Bishop Egan secured a declaration from the Vatican removing one from the priesthood, while the cases of the remaining two were handled according to the evaluation–and–treatment protocol outlined above. One of the two was evaluated and treated in another highly regarded psychiatric institution located near where he was residing.  It too had no affiliation with the Church.

During Cardinal Egan’s tenure as Archbishop of New York, the Archdiocese had a policy in place, which included an independent review board of professionals and experts, for dealing with credible allegations of the sexual abuse of minors by priests of the Archdiocese.  There was only one such allegation, and it was disproved in an ecclesiastical trial.

Bridgeport diocese loses last round of legal battle over sex-abuse papers

It appears that the Diocese of Bridgeport’s long struggle to keep secret stacks of legal documents related to sex abuse is finally over.

And the diocese has lost.

The U.S. Supreme Court refused today to block the release of 12,000 pages of documents from 23 lawsuits against 6 priests.

The records have been sealed since the cases were settled in 2001, but the Connecticut courts have ruled that they should be released.

The Diocese says:

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We are disappointed that the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to extend the stay.

The content of the sealed documents soon to be released has already been extensively reported on.

For more than a decade, the Catholic Church in Bridgeport has addressed the issue of clergy sexual abuse compassionately and comprehensively.

For now, however, the serious threat to the First Amendment rights of all churches and the rightful privacy of all litigants remain in jeopardy because of the decision of the Connecticut Supreme Court. This, indeed, is regrettable.

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Dan Bartley, president of the lay reform group, Voice of the Faithful, says:

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Voice of the Faithful respectfully insists that Bishop Lori accept the Supreme Court decision and stop blocking the right of Catholics in Connecticut to know what happened. Bishop Lori must stop wasting untold hundreds of thousands of parishioners’ dollars to prevent these same parishioners, and the public, from finding out how Lori’s predecessors, including recently retired Cardinal Edward Egan, dealt with cases of sexual abuse of children.

Archbishop rumors flying (again)

I remember when the speculation was rampant over when Cardinal O’Connor would retire.

It went on for years. And years.

Of course, O’Connor would die as archbishop in 2000 at the age of 80 — five years past the point when bishops submit their retirement papers to Rome.

Cardinal Egan turned 75 in April of 2007, and the rumors were flying before he could blow out the candles on his cake. (That is, if archbishops have birthday cakes. Red velvet, perhaps?)

Speculation picked up after Egan acknowledged the possibility of retirement in a TV interview.

In December of 2007, I wrote an article about the likelihood that Egan would become the first archbishop of New York to retire (alive).

Then the pope came and went last April, which many saw as Egan’s last hurrah.

The archdiocese was said to be preparing a retirement residence for him (although I was told that it would be for “visiting dignitaries).

Nothing happened.

Since the summer, most priests and church insiders I’ve spoken with had stopped paying attention. At least day-to-day attention. The transition would happen when it happened.

Rumors floated that Egan’s piano had been removed from the archbishop’s residence, sparking some interest.

That was then.

A few days ago, Edward Pentin, a Rome-based journalist for National Catholic Register (owned by the Legionaries of Christ) reported that the pope had made his choice for New York and an announcement was imminent.

The NYT followed with its own report today, which will surely kick the rumor mill into its highest gear (yes, an odd string of cliches).

Milwaukee TV picked up on the rumor that the city’s archbishop, Timothy Dolan, is considered to be front-runner for New York (as has been the case for years).

And Rocco Palmo of Whispers in the Loggia writes about how difficult it can be to separate the rumors from the facts: “Yet in terms of an ecclesial outlook, this infinite, intense interest in what’s doing behind the curtain offers a powerful storyline in itself, one that should come as both comfort and challenge to our main players: namely, leadership matters — and God’s people are, even now, looking for it.”

I’ve heard the announcement could be next week. Even tomorrow.

So we wait.

Who should comment on ‘Being Catholic Now?’

Not long ago, I received a copy of “Being Catholic Now,” a new book edited by Kerry Kennedy, daughter of RFK (and Westchester resident!).

41kgb7z2nbl_sl500_aa240_.jpgThe book has a pretty interesting premise that will engage many Catholics and infuriate many others.

Kennedy asked 37 people raised as Catholic — many of them quite prominent — to muse about the state of the church.

She includes Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and rather devout folks like the scholar R. Scott Appleby and pundit Peggy Noonan. But she also includes strident non-believer Bill Maher (who regularly ridicules the church), Muslim convert Ingrid Mattson, and a healthy supply of liberal voices like James Carroll, Susan Sarandon and the super-controversial Nancy Pelosi, widely despised by orthodox Catholics.

I hope to interview Kennedy later this week. I’ll certainly ask her how she chose the people in her book.

One essay I had not read before late yesterday was that of Anne Burke, an Illinois Supreme Court justice who was the first chair of a national review board chosen by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to help sort through the early days of the sex-abuse crisis.

Years ago, Burke was quite outspoken about her dissatisfaction with how several big-name bishops cooperated.

In 2004, she told me:

In my heart of hearts, I think that most want to move ahead. But I don’t know that for a fact. I don’t know what the silent majority of bishops are thinking. I am still disturbed that a number of bishops made a concerted effort to derail the process of getting the audit done.

She also said:

We need to do audits as proof that the dioceses are complying. For some reason, Cardinal Egan and others sought to sandbag the process. Lay Catholics need to follow what happens and make sure the bishops don’t back down.

The Boston Globe’s Michael Paulson notes in his blog that Burke, in Kennedy’s book, continues to criticize Egan and Cardinal George of Chicago.

Burke writes:

Cardinal Edward Egan was offended by our insistence for independence. I also think he was intimidated by the thoughts of fifty former FBI agents doing our questioning. His animosity reached an absurd level when he publicly uninvited us from attending the Cardinal’s Annual Gala in New York [an Order of Malta dinner].

Egan’s spokesman, Joe Zwilling, told Paulson: “The Cardinal never had or expressed an opinion on the matter of the so-called ‘dependence or independence’ of the Review Board.”

The Globe added this today:

Correction: Because of an editing error, a story on Page A8 yesterday omitted the full response of Cardinal Edward M. Egan to criticisms by Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne M. Burke, who served as chairman of the National Review Board, a panel appointed by the American bishops to review the sex abuse crisis. Egan’s spokesman said that the cardinal was fully cooperative with auditors who examined the New York archdiocese’s child protection measures, that the cardinal was not “intimidated” by the auditors, and that the cardinal had not disinvited board members from a gala dinner, but rather had expressed his opinion that “it would not be fitting” to invite them to the dinner, because the dinner was not related to the abuse crisis.

Anyway, I have to read the rest of the book before I chat with Kennedy…