By Desmond A. Birch
As previously stated, numerous voices are now commonly heard to proclaim or hint that St. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI knew about the depth of the clerical abuse all along – and chose to do nothing. Recently, I was asked if I knew whether this was true. After verbally describing what I knew about the gross error in that claim, the man to whom I was speaking strongly admonished me to put my knowledge on this in writing. So here we go with the ‘high spots.’
As part of this vista, I begin with some background on how and when I became aware of this as I was immersed in a somewhat similar timeline of the learning curve which occurred with both JP II and Benedict XVI.
John Paul II was born just over 20 years before I was and Benedict XVI is 14 years older than I am. From the perspective of time and culture, we are not all that far apart. We began our lives in more or less the same pre-WWII era – a time of pre- nuclear weapons, pre-TV, pre-jet plane globe-trotting – when news was dispersed very slowly.
Up til well into the 1950’s, we got our news from papers and magazines as well as over the radio, short wave radio with its ‘howls’ from foreign broadcasts. What is referred to in these days as the ‘24 hour news cycle’ did not exist. News moved at a snail’s pace compared with today.
During WWII my family lived in Canada. Every night my parents would listen to the British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) news programs about ‘The War’. I would get out of bed, and with my ear turned to the heat grate in the floor – would listen to the broadcasts and my parent’s comments. I probably understood 40 to 50% of what the broadcasters were saying.
With that background – which in large part I share with JP II and Benedict XVI, I now start with a pointed list of the history of how and when I gradually, slowly, came to be aware of the abuse crisis. I have concluded they knew about as much as I did concerning the sexual abuse crisis – and in about the same time frame. Most people today have only read of that period. I actively lived through its moral and doctrinal breakdown which began to become really pronounced in the late 1950’s & early 1960’s. In many instances, I was actively involved with others in combating it.
FIRST, let’s begin with a quite brief review of some highlights of the period. When I entered college in 1959, as far as the general public was concerned, the lid was still – for the most part – on the boiling pot of moral and doctrinal dissent within the Church. It had, however, been brewing amongst some ‘Catholic’ groups since well before the end of the 1800’s. The philosophy and theology classes at the Benedictine college I first attended that year were straight and faithful as a pin. I had no sense that anything was doctrinally and theologically amiss.
But by a handful of years later in the early 1960’s, we had moved and I had transferred to a Jesuit university in our new city. Vatican II began in 1962 and, by 1964, I had discovered that a number of both the Jesuit and lay profs were dissidents from many of the Moral and Doctrinal teachings of the Church.
I was somewhat in a state of shock – and frankly began to wonder if the dissidence was emanating from the ongoing Ecumenical Council in Rome. I went to my mentor, the Jesuit Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at that university, because I knew he was doctrinally and morally solid as a rock.
I asked him if the Jesuit priests and lay staff who were speaking out in dissidence from Church teaching were getting these ideas from the Council, ideas such as; Contraception was not intrinsically immoral, that Purgatory did not exist, questioning (a) Catholic teaching that man came from one set of parents created by God, (b) the Doctrine of Original Sin, (c) hinting that the Sacrament of Order might be open to women, (d) the promotion of Situation Ethics, etc., etc.
Father responded to me, “Do you really think it is possible that mature men who were totally faithful to Church Teaching in 1962 could have become dissidents in a couple of years?” When I thought about it that way, I realized that was highly unlikely, virtually impossible. Then he said, in essence, the type of men I was thinking about and speaking of had generally had dissenting tendencies for years. He said even when he was in school, whenever possible, ‘you had to pick and choose your profs very carefully.’ [He had begun his university studies in 1941 (the year I was born.)]
POINT: THE MORAL & DOCTRINAL DISSIDENCE WE NOW SEE ALL AROUND US – THAT DID NOT BEGIN EITHER DURING OR AFTER VATICAN COUNCIL II – WAS ALIVE AND WELL FOR DECADES LONG BEFORE THE COUNCIL.
NEXT: Early in the 1970’s, my best friend and colleague for years
, told me on the phone that he had been researching and studying a connection between (1) those promoting dissidence, particularly toward the Church’s Moral teaching and (2) what he then called ‘the homosexual mafia’. He said it was manned by a small minority of priests in the Church.
I was taken completely by surprise and said so. I told him I had never run into such a connection. He observed that most of my time outside of direct Church work had been in the area of politics since the late 1960’s. But since the mid-60’s, he had been actively searching out, in particular, the sources of morally dissident opinions and teaching within the Church.
POINT: SEXUAL ABUSE BY PRIESTS STILL WAS NOT A COMMONLY KNOWN ISSUE – WASN’T AN ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM UP FOR DISCUSSION.
In 1975, a fateful appointment was made to the Archdiocese of Seattle, in the person of Raymond Hunthausen as its new Archbishop.
He made headlines for; (a) liturgical abuses, (b) showing great openness to the LGBT community’s active engagement in Church affairs and liturgies [that one is an understatement], (c) an emphasis on local Church governance without sufficient emphasis on communion with Rome, (d) permitting Catholic hospitals to perform surgeries of sterilization. Additionally, many dissident doctrinal positions were allowed to go unchallenged in the Seattle Archdiocese.
BEGINNING IN THE LATE 1970’S and continuing for years;
MANY LETTERS OF PROTEST went out to Rome and the Papal Nuncio’s office from various individuals in the Seattle Archdiocese – CITING THE VARIOUS DOCTRINAL AND MORAL & SACRAMENTAL ABUSES. The responses were basically form letters, thanking them for expressing their concerns.
PROBLEMS IN SEATTLE ARCHDIOCESE – Due to persistent complaints sent to Rome [and in particular one specific document written in Polish – handwritten and delivered in person to JP II by a Polish speaker at a private audience in the Vatican], these complaints led to an official investigation. At the end of the investigation – conducted under the watchful eye of Cardinal Hickey of Washington, D.C., serious unaddressed issues were cited; procedural abuse in the Diocesan Tribunal, in the liturgy, Catholic Health Care, Homosexual issues [but not disclosing any sexual abuse problems – but rather that they were not being given Catholic definitive teaching on the subject], Inactive Priests, and Clergy Formation in the Archdiocese of Seattle. SPECIFICS IN EACH AREA WILL BE FOUND AT BOTTOM OF PART II. **
BERNARDIN IN CHICAGO – Bernardin was appointed to be Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1983 by JP II. The Pope had serious doubts about him due to Bernardin’s apparent reservations concerning Humanae Vitae. However, JP II still lacked serious knowledge of just how committed Bernardin was to the Leftist – often dissident – agenda.
Bernardin has many defenders even today. However, many of those who were actively involved in the Pro-Life battle knew that Bernardin’s promotion of the ‘Seamless Garment’ theory would effectively diminish the primacy of the ‘Life Issues’ which the Church has always taught.
Shortly after his appointment as Archbishop of Chicago, Bernardin was virtually running the affairs at the USCC & USCCB. I can recommend articles, to those who are interested, on the subject of his rise to almost absolute power in the USCCB. He enforced his will with an iron fist for years.
The U.S. Bishops in 2000, 4 years after Bernardin’s death, were finally able to publicly announce that the Life Issues are paramount for Catholic Voters. [This became possible due to the wave of very solid episcopal appointments by JP II beginning in the early 1990’s.] No one who fully bought into Bernardin’s ‘Seamless Garment’ theory fully accepted that teaching – not even the primacy of the life issues which were publicly reiterated from Rome.
Bernardin – in effect – used his power to bludgeon Bishops and Priests who would not bend to the ‘Liberal’ mindset – both socially and politically, and in other cases theologically. Such who spoke their minds soon found themselves isolated from opportunities to speak with force and clarity on many such issues within the Conference. As syndicated columnist George Weigel phrased it, Bernardin’s Modus Operandi was to exercise intimidation of those who wouldn’t bend to Bernardin’s agenda. Those who would not, soon “felt the sting of authoritarian Catholic liberalism“.
Soon after the appointment of Bernardin, John Paul II experienced a reactive backlash to the systematically ‘liberal’ mentality and policies of Bernardin and his “seamless’ agenda. Nothing in John Paul II’s background, in either Poland or Rome, had prepared him to deal with the kind of subtle ‘Leftism’ which emanated from Bernardin and the clique which followed him at the US national level of the Church.
John Paul II had now seen that recommendations for replacement bishops to two major U.S. Dioceses had many of the same major flaws. Within a relatively short time after that, the faithfulness index of appointees to bishoprics in the U.S. began to go up like a rocket.
STILL … even in the early to mid-80’s, THERE WAS NOTHING IN THE PUBLIC’S VISION WHICH BROKE OPEN THE UNARGUABLE FACT OF TODAY’S SEXUAL ABUSE SCANDAL, PERPETRATED BY A VERY SMALL PERCENTAGE OF PRIESTS.
THE GREAT SILENCE/DUPLICITY OF THE MEDIA
Significant numbers of the media (that I know of) knew about the basic ABUSE problem fairly early but remained silent about it. The silence enabled the crisis to mushroom in virtual secrecy. For a favored few, consistent silence of the media about scandalous behavior continues to this day.
For example, the media has – for the most part – covered for Cardinal Roger Mahoney, retired Cardinal Archbishop of Los Angeles, by speaking lightly of his promotions, transfers, and cover-ups for priestly abusers in the Los Angeles Diocese. But the media crucified Cardinal Law in Boston for transferring some problem priests to different parishes [for much less damage than Mahoney had done]. Why the relative silence in the case of Mahoney? It is because of the shared leftist principles between Mahoney and the media.
Media Complicity through Silence and Walling of Information
A dear and old Catholic friend of mine was intimately connected with many key figures at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) during much of the 1980’s. During that decade, he was supplied with incontrovertible evidence that some clergy in two American cities were flying boys back and forth – for statutorily criminal purposes. He went to some leaders of the USCCB with that evidence. They appeared reticent, if not afraid, to touch it. He then went to a scheduled meeting of that organization and approached a broader number of Bishops to help him stop the abusers. He said many of them looked flat out scared to death. No help there.
He then called a news conference for the media – many of whom were in attendance – and not one word was ever printed or shown on TV about it. That media silence later helped pave the way toward misleading impressions that Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI knew all about the abuse – and did nothing. To the contrary, it usually took Herculean efforts to get critical information directly into the hands of either Ratzinger or (especially) John Paul II.
Bernardin died in 1996. Four years later, in 2000, the U.S. Bishops then, independently and courageously, declared that the ‘Life Issues’ were paramount to Catholic voters making decisions about which candidates for whom to vote. This was an intolerable break with the leftism of the media. The media’s honeymoon with the U.S. Bishops was over after that single necessary and courageous act on the part of the U.S. Bishops.
Two years after that act of a majority of the U.S. bishops, in 2002, the dam broke. Suddenly, information that a number of media had sat on for up to 15 years started surfacing in news reports. The honeymoon was over; divorce papers were now publicly being filed. They crucified a doctrinally faithful bishop who had made many errors in judgment – while they kept silence about a host of others who exercised more than bad judgment.
That same year, the book exposing the work of an aggressive homosexual network in a number of U.S. seminaries broke on the world stage, Goodbye Good Men. While it is now dated – for those who have not yet viewed its contents, it’s a very revelatory read.
In 2002, the world began to gradually learn of the problem of priestly abuse of young boys and young men. We’ve been dealing with a magnified aftermath ever since. CAUSE: The percentage of priests involved in such behavior is significantly less, for one example, than that of teachers. But the anti-Catholic media sings dumb about any other source of sexual predation than that of some priests.
Neither JP II nor Cardinal Ratzinger even in 2002 was fully aware of an extensive problem in this regard. Reason – primarily, poor mail delivery. Critical letters and documents sent to them more often than not did not reach them.
THE END OF PART II
(Part III will begin in a few days.)
**Discovered Areas of Concern vis-a-vis Hunthausen’s administration of Diocese of Seattle;
The Tribunal – The misunderstanding and systematic misapplication of the so-called internal forum solution and the lack of a plan to employ degreed personnel in the Tribunal.
The Liturgy – The widespread use of general absolution on a regular basis and the practice of first communion before first confession; repeated instances of intercommunion, e.g., permitting non-Catholics to receive communion at Catholic Masses and Catholics in Protestant services.
Health Care – The continued inadequate response in both teaching and practice to the directives of the Holy See and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops regarding contraceptive sterilization in Catholic hospitals.
Homosexuals – The need to develop a ministry to homosexuals that is at once unequivocally based on the teachings of the Magisterium, rather than on erroneous doctrines and which avoids affiliations with groups promoting doctrines contrary to the Church’s teachings.
Inactive Priests – The employment of those who have left the active ministry and/or who have been laicized, in teaching positions and for service in the liturgy, contrary to the directives of the Holy See and the terms of their rescripts of laicization.
Clergy Formation – Because of concern regarding the admissions practices for candidates for the priesthood and because of concern and questions surrounding the continuing formation of the clergy, efforts must be taken to ensure that the continuing education of priests be done in ways that emphasize the bonds of the local church with the universal church, and which are firmly rooted in sound theology, especially in these areas: Christology, anthropology, the role of the Magisterium, the nature of the church and priesthood and moral theology.
[The immediately above is text from a Vatican statement mailed to all bishops in the United States on its actions involving the Archbishop of Seattle. It was published by the NYT on Oct 29, 1986. Key in this regard is the item cited in the section titled “Homosexuals”. i.e., A consistent problem existed in the proper formation of candidates for the priesthood in a number of Dioceses and seminaries. They were not being taught what the Church teaches about homosexuality, but were instead being introduced to and taught “erroneous doctrines”. This was part and parcel of the various problems which led to the sexual abuse scandal.]
RE – BERNARDIN: ALSO SEE FIRST THINGS ARTICLE RE – BERNARDIN: ALSO SEE FIRST THINGS ARTICLE https://www.firstthings.com/article/2011/02/the-end-of-the
(This three-part series by Desmond Birch appears exclusively at A Sign of Hope, but blanket permission is given to anyone to republish it, provided it gives full acknowledgment to the author. – CJ)