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.

Voice of the Faithful hanging on

Last night, I was invited to speak to the Larchmont chapter of Voice of the Faithful.

I believe it is the only VOTF chapter in Westchester County (and one of only a couple in the entire Archdiocese of New York).

You might remember that VOTF was started in Boston in 2002, as the sex-abuse crisis began to spiral out of the control. The group initially presented itself as faithful Catholics — not radicals — who were disgusted by the crisis and wanted to call for a greater lay voice in their church.

Eight years later, VOTF is still going.

But the group hasn’t grown, has withered in many places and — importantly — has few members under 60. Nationally, the group has broadened its message, making less effort to distinguish itself from Catholic reform groups like Call to Action.

The 30 or so people who came to Larchmont Avenue Presbyterian Church last night seemed uncertain about the influence of Voice of the Faithful. During the Q&A part, several people wondered why Catholics in their 30s and 40s don’t get involved.

They asked me to talk about my life as a religion writer, which I did. How I got involved. The different communities I covered. Things like that.

Then we talked about whether the New York Times has an anti-Catholic bent, why more people don’t know about the Legionaries of Christ scandal, the relationship between bishops and priests, the ongoing abuse scandals in Ireland and Germany. And things like that.

Everybody was very kind and affirming. These are people who read many of my religion articles, which is always nice to hear.

I told the group that I had mixed feelings about not covering their church’s recent international problems (since I no longer cover religion, of course).

On the one hand, it would be quite interesting to talk to Catholics about their feelings regarding the news.

On the other, I would quickly tire of having to contend with the question of whether the media (particularly the NYT) are anti-Catholic. And I would also dislike being called anti-Catholic myself on a near-daily basis, which is what happened when I wrote about any aspect of the sex-abuse scandals.

So I’ll keep following things from afar, until my editor tells me otherwise.

A side note: Voice of the Faithful New York will on Sunday (May 16) honor Roy Bourgeois, the Maryknoll priest who may or may be excommunicated for participating in the unsanctioned “ordination” of a female priest.

They’re giving him the Msgr. Philip J. Murnion Priest of Integrity Award.

A statement says: “The award recognizes Fr. Roy’s call for justice for women in the Catholic Church.”