Sex-abuse headlines just keep coming for the Catholic Church

During the past week alone:

1. A grand jury simply hammered the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in a new report, saying that “not much has changed” in the way officials handle allegations of abuse. An indictment charged three priests and a school teacher with abusing minors during the 1990s and accused a former high-ranking official of the archdiocese with looking the other way. The defenders were arraigned Friday and granted bail.

2. A prominent lawyer for victims of abuse suggested that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee moved tens of millions of dollars off its books to shield the money from victims’ lawsuits. The lawyer, Jeffrey Anderson, has been one of the church’s harshest critics. Archbishop Dolan, who was running the show in Milwaukee during the time period in question, said Sunday that the charge was “ludicrous.” Dolan could be deposed.

3. The NYT Magazine on Sunday ran a sweeping overview of the ongoing crisis in Ireland, where the church is trying to recover some of its former influence and authority. The article, by former Putnam County resident Russell Shorto, notes that regular Mass attendance in Ireland fell by 50 percent between 1974 and 2008.  The abbot of a Benedictine monastery in County Limerick told Shorto:

“Ireland is a prime example of what the church is facing, because they made this island into a concentration camp where they could control everything. And the control was really all about sex. They told you if you masturbated, it meant you were impure and had allowed the devil to work on you. Generations of people were crucified with guilt complexes. Now the game is up.”

No matter what your perspective, you have to wonder where it will end. Will the Roman Catholic Church recover? What would recovery look like?

It so happens that a neighbor of mine was telling me the other day that she has such deep resentment toward her church that she finds herself rooting against the church. She still goes to Mass.

Dolan, O’Malley to draw on Irish roots

The  Roman Catholic Church in America was founded and built by Irish priests and nuns and brothers and laypeople.

It was long identified as an Irish church of sorts — until it started transforming into an Hispanic church in many parts of the country.

So it seems somehow fitting that Archbishop Dolan and Boston’s Cardinal O’Malley will play key roles in the Vatican’s response to the debilitating sex-abuse crisis in Ireland.

They are among nine prelates who will investigate what went wrong and seek ways to prevent future scandals.

Dolan will lead a study of Irish seminaries and the broader issue of priestly formation in Ireland. He is a former rector of the North American College, the elite seminary in Rome for American priests-to-be.

O’Malley will investigate the troubled Archdiocese of Dublin.

Both archbishops have experience at trying to unravel and deal with sex-abuse scandals.

O’Malley, in particular, is as well-versed as anyone. As a bishop, he had to face terrible scandals in Fall River, Mass., and Palm Beach, Fla., before taking over for disgraced Cardinal Law in the eye of the storm, Boston.

Dolan had to clean up a mess in Milwaukee before he came to NY.

Dolan released this short statement over the weekend:

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I am happy to accept the Holy See’s invitation to serve as a member of the upcoming apostolic visitation to the Church in Ireland, with special attention to their historic seminaries.

My love for the faith of Ireland, and my own background in priestly formation, make me grateful for this assignment, and I look forward to close cooperation with my brother bishops, priests, religious, and the faithful of Ireland.  I await further information and instruction from the Holy See on the specifics and timing of the visitation.

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Dark days in Rome

It’s becoming hard to ignore the bad headines facing the Catholic Church these days.

We’re talking internationally.

Lots of people have asked me in recent days something along the lines of “What’s going on with the Vatican?”

And I was greeted this morning with this headine from Robert Moynihan’s Inside the Vatican email: “Benedict’s Papacy in Crisis?”

You have a growing scandal in Germany, where more than 170 former Catholic school students have alleged that they were sexually abused. Others claim physical abuse.

BC EU Vatican Church AbuseSome of the accusations involve a boys’ choir that was run for 30 years by the pope’s brother, the Rev. Georg Ratzinger. He said Tuesday that he did slap students as punishment, but that he was not aware of any sexual abuse during his tenure.

“The problem of sexual abuse that has now come to light was never spoken of,” Ratzinger said.

Then you had a Vatican summit this week about past sexual abuse in Ireland, where the church has been practically brought to its knees by revelations of decades of abuse.

A Vatican statement includes this:

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For his part, the Holy Father observed that the sexual abuse of children and young people is not only a heinous crime, but also a grave sin which offends God and wounds the dignity of the human person created in his image. While realizing that the current painful situation will not be resolved quickly, he challenged the Bishops to address the problems of the past with determination and resolve, and to face the present crisis with honesty and courage.

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The fine journalist David Gibson explains how the archbishop of Dublin is trying to cope with the mess and becoming something of a hero in the process.

Then you have this bizarre story involving a papal usher and a Vatican chorister who are accused of being part of a gay prostitution ring.

By accused, we mean that the user, officially a “Gentleman of His Holiness,” was taped arranging transactions.

And then, finally, you have new stories about Fr. Marcial Maciel, the late — and now discredited – founder of the Legionaries of Christ.

The Vatican began an investigation of the order last year after it was revealed that Maciel had fathered a child and lived some sort of “double life.” Now a Mexican woman is saying that she had three sons with Maciel (who told her he was someone else) and that Maciel sexually abused two of the boys.

The Legion reacted with a statement, which includes:

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In recent years, the Legionaries of Christ have gradually come to know, with surprise and great sorrow, hidden aspects of the life of Fr Maciel. We confirm our commitment to act in truth and charity. We renew our request for forgiveness from the affected people for all of the suffering this has caused and for the ensuing scandal.

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The Legion also implied that the Mexican family’s lawyer tried to extort money from the order.

Yikes.

Now what? Based on the past, I would expect Catholic groups to start circling the wagons. Any day, we should start hearing complaints about media coverage focusing on the scandals instead of all the good work that the Catholic Church is doing in Haiti, Chile and elsewhere.

Otherwise, the Vatican is not known for reacting swiftly to crises. We’ll see.

Inside the Vatican’s Moynihan writes:

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In Rome, some fear this is just the beginning.

This fear is not idle, as the internet and world press are already full of reports that these crises may cast a shadow over the entire pontificate.

The battle occurring right now is over how history will judge Benedict’s papacy.

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(AP Photo/Diether Endlicher,File)