Monday, December 27, 2010

Essential Reading: Tom Doyle's Response to John Allen, Jr.

On November 19, 2010, author and National Catholic Reporter columnist John Allen, Jr. posted on his blog a piece focusing on the media's 2010 coverage of the clergy sex abuse crisis. In summarizing his take on this issue in his follow-up article of December 24, Allen notes the following:

Albeit in different ways, both [Catholic commentator George] Weigel and I suggested that coverage of the response to the crisis by the Vatican and Benedict XVI in 2010 was a mixed bag, sometimes missing important bits of context which would offer a more balanced perspective. Both of us also said the media isn’t entirely to blame – the Vatican’s underdeveloped communications capacity is part of the picture.

In his Dec. 24 piece Allen also acknowledges that he received a 21-point memo by Dominican priest Thomas Doyle. "He intended it as feedback for me," writes Allen, adding that: "In some spots it’s strong medicine, but it articulates convictions that are deeply held in some sectors of opinion, and which must be part of a serious conversation about where things stand."

Although he didn't publish Doyle's 21-point memo in its entirety owing to its length, Allen did share the following, comprised of "a line or two from most of Doyle’s points."


1. The overall impression of the article [Allen's November 19 article] is an apology for the Vatican’s response and for its communications with secular media. . . . The real subject is the widespread sexual violation of minors and the systematic, inadequate response of the institutional church.

2. Defenders of the papacy, as well as most if not all [members of] the curia and hierarchy, lack an essential credential for credibility: an understanding of the victims and their families, especially parents.

3. By my estimation [Benedict XVI] has met with approximately 20 victims in the U.S., Great Britain, Malta and Australia, with an average of one minute or less with each victim. These encounters were carefully planned and the victims carefully chosen. This hardly qualifies for gaining any level of “understanding.”

4. None of the criticism of media stories about cases involving the Vatican provided any evidence that the facts upon which the stories were based, were erroneous. . . . These were but a small sampling of many other priests guilty of sexually abusing minors whose cases were delayed or buried in the Vatican.

5. I seriously question George Weigel’s credibility as an expert on clergy sex abuse. Weigel’s current remarks about the crisis of 2002 are at variance with the numerous statements he made at the time, statements that defended Cardinal [Bernard] Law and tried to shift the focus from what it was, sexual violation of children and cover-up, to cultural and theological issues.

6. Weigel’s claim that Pope John Paul II received deficient information through Vatican channels doesn’t hold water. . . . I prepared an extensive report in 1985 that was personally given [to John Paul II] by Cardinal [John] Krol. I also recall giving a detailed briefing to [a top Vatican official] in May 1985. . . . I am quite certain that since that time much more information has found its way to the Vatican.

7. Defenders of the Vatican, including you, regularly fall back on the standard defenses: the Vatican does business in a way Americans don’t understand; the Vatican wants to let the U.S. solve its own problems; the Vatican uses a unique form of communication which Americans don’t ‘get.’ . . . If it wants to be understood, the Vatican should abandon its convoluted language and have someone help them learn how to speak directly and to the point.

8. Appealing to the fact that the incidence of abuse among Catholics is no higher than other groups makes as much sense as one of the Wall Street financial giants trying to save face by claiming, ‘Why pick on us when we cheated no more than the other banks down the block?’

9. It’s misleading to say, ‘The Catholic Church is arguably the safest environment for young people and adolescents in the country.’ First off, there are no data to support this. More importantly, all of the procedures and programs have been put in place after the Boston revelations of 2002. [They] were put in place because the bishops were forced to do so.

10. The question of reliable sources is most important. This crisis began in 1984 and continued to simmer, with occasional events of major magnitude such as the James Porter case of 1993 and the Kos trial in 1997. . . . Very few people are still on the playing field who were involved at the beginning and have continued involvement. . . . I have never been contacted by defenders of the institutional church, no doubt because I am written off as totally biased. This tag is unjustified because I have struggled from the early days to understand and accept the institution’s response.

11. The accusation that [plaintiff’s lawyer] Jeffrey Anderson is in it only for the money is based on subjective opinion and certainly not facts. The number of victims Jeff has helped ‘pro bono’ is unknown because there have been so many. Jeff has given away huge sums of money to organizations that help children and to individuals in need. He is sometimes flamboyant and passionate, but he is committed to bringing justice to victims and a safe environment for children in the future.

12. Over the past 22 years I have worked with over two hundred attorneys in the U.S., Canada, Ireland, the U.K. and Australia, all of whom represented victims in civil suits. I vividly recall one attorney telling me that he had served in just about every capacity in the legal system, from public defender to State Supreme court judge, and had been both a defense attorney and a prosecutor. He remarked that he had never encountered an organization as duplicitous and manipulative as the Catholic Church.

13. Benedict is not a great reformer. I believe he is personally shocked and possibly even devastated by what he has seen, [but] his responses have been very limited. They have concentrated on the canonical prosecution of accused priests, but they have remained mute about the core issue, namely the lack of accountability of complicit bishops and the lack of penal measures against bishops who have themselves sexually abused minors.

14. The response to the crisis by the late John Paul II is indeed a serious stain on his legacy. . . . John Paul’s personal theology of priesthood is that of a highly mystical state consisting of an ontological change at the time of ordination, which he often referred to as a joining with Christ. What this amounts to is the belief that it is acceptable to sacrifice the spiritual and emotional welfare of innocent children for a theory that would return priests to their theological pedestal.

15. I have had firsthand experience with hundreds of victims, if not thousands, and second-hand experience with countless others. I have not once learned that a bishop’s first response on receiving a report of alleged sexual abuse was directed at the welfare of the victim.

16. The secular media are not anti-Catholic, nor are they biased against the hierarchy. They do not set out to make the institutional Church look bad. The institutional Church needs no help at that . . . [I]t has done a thorough job on its own.

For further essential reading, see:
John Allen on Tom Doyle and Benedict re. the Abuse Crisis: Classic Centrist Balancing Act, Going Nowhere - William D. Lindsey (
Bilgrimage, December 27, 2010).

See also the previous Progressive Catholic Voice posts:
"Not Products of Divine Revelation But of Human Invention": Tom Doyle on Clericalism and Its Trappings
He Spoke Truth to Power But Vatican Wouldn't Listen
Fr. Thomas Doyle: "There is Something Radically Wrong with the Institutional Catholic Church"
Paul Lakeland on the Scandal of Sexual Abuse
SNAP Responds to Archbishop Nienstedt
Statute of Limitations for Sex Abuse Victims: “You Can’t Get Healing in a Court of Law”
More on the Statute of Limitations

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Finding Christ at Christmas

By Phyllis Zagano

Editor's Note: This commentary was first published December 22, 2010 by the National Catholic Reporter.

“I mean no disrespect,” the student asked in class, “but, did Jesus really exist?”

Hate to say it, but real or not Jesus is rapidly fading from the scene. Today’s culture wars take direct aim at Christianity. Try finding religious Christmas cards. Or, check out your choices for an Amazon gift card. Snow flakes, trees, birds, but no Mary, no Magi, no Jesus.

It’s a difficult story, after all. Without some reinforcement these days it gets even harder.

History says Jesus really did live and die, and gained a lot of followers. But historians don’t agree on other parts of the story, especially the details of his birth and resurrection.

You can see the problem. What if over two billion people are mistaken? There was a Jesus in history, but, was he God come into history as Christ to redeem humanity? And, if no Christ, then what is Christianity? Are Christians mere misguided fools living out a myth? Are the disagreements about Nativity scenes in town squares all for nothing? Is any of it real?

These questions underlie the sadness of our damaged world. If there never was a Christ then there is no Jesus now. Who cares that nearly half the planet -- more than three billion people -- lives on less than $2.50 a day? What matter the billion the United Nations counts who have no proper food or water? Let someone else take care of it, the cynic says.

The United Nations with its agencies does what it can, and missionaries toil where things are worst: in India, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and Ethiopia. Every so often a newspaper runs a feature about a hospital in Zimbabwe, or a new school or sewer in East Timor.

Some folks also try to help, but most live quiet lives within their own parameters. They’re beaten down by something in the air, and this year it’s not Christmas. The red haze of anger hangs over every interaction. Passive aggressive professionals don’t return phone calls. Drivers honk and give rude salutes. Salespeople grunt, customers are curt.

I’ve asked myself and others too many times for counting: what is everybody so mad about?

Psychologists have all sorts of explanations. As tissue paper and bills mount up, so do insecurities. Rancid hope becomes anxiety. Faith hardens into righteousness. Slander replaces charity. Then, add the nagging fear, the question in the middle of the night. Was there a Christ? What if it is not true?

I think that’s what it is. I think the lack of hope belies a failure to believe. You know for sure in recent years church hierarchy has been no help. If they lied and covered up the scandals, here, there, and everywhere, what else is false, what else is fraud? Did Jesus really exist?

Well, yes, he did, and yes he does. We look for proof of Christ in many different places, none of them where he is. If we spend too much time looking in ancient Palestine, we won’t see the rest of history. If we demand the documentary evidence about Bethlehem, we forget what’s going on next door.

Christ lived, and yes, Christ died, and Christ lives today in his resurrection. His life in every Christian is how he lives in history, and how he lives next door. Of course the hierarchy has fouled up the story. Pope Benedict is on the mark now, with very little very late. He says, in his Christmas message, "We must ask ourselves what was wrong in our proclamation, in our whole way of living the Christian life, to allow such a thing to happen."

Despite its foibles, despite its weaknesses, the church we see in Rome is only a fraction of its wealth. The real center, the real wealth of Christianity toils day by dreary day at ordinary jobs, lives ordinary lives, prays ordinary prayers. To me, that is the key. It’s not the history or the artifacts; it’s not the manuscripts and scrolls. It’s how the story is lived.

So, yes to Christmas carols, yes to cards, and yes to whether Jesus really lived and walked among us. And, more important, yes to Jesus still alive in all those dreary places where water, food and dignity escape even the smallest babe. The Christ come into history is there, both needing and giving whatever is possible. If we want to believe the story, and want to live it out, that is where Jesus resides, both now and in history.

And if we are still so angry when we look around we cannot see the Christ, we have to understand and humbly accept we must first look in a mirror.

- Phyllis Zagano
National Catholic Reporter
December 22, 2010

See also the previous Progressive Catholic Voice post:
Is Christmas Christian?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Message to the Archbishop

Following is the text of the letter that accompanied 3,000 anti-gay marriage DVDs returned December 10 to Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.


Dear Archbishop Nienstedt,

We write to you as a small group of faithful Catholics. This letter, however, represents the voices of thousands of families who were as disheartened as we were by the DVD Preserving Marriage in Minnesota.

After watching the DVD, we felt called to find a way to bring together other Catholics who were alarmed by this initiative. We created the website, inviting people to send the DVDs to us with the understanding that we would return them to you. Thousands did. Many also sent letters, notes, and cards along with the DVDs, expressing thoughts and concerns around this campaign. Several similar themes ran through these messages. The following three are some of the most common.

First, the message in the DVD conflicts with core Christian values of love, compassion, tolerance, and respect. Jesus’ essential teaching is “love one another.” As part of our Catholic social teachings, the United States Conference of Bishops states, “The measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person.”

When religious leaders state publicly, as in the DVD, that the state of Minnesota should not recognize same-sex marriages, this constitutes an attack on human dignity. This denies individuals the legal equality both our state and federal constitutions guarantee. By the standards of Catholic social teachings, this message constitutes a social injustice.

Second, this DVD threatens the well-being of gay and lesbian people, particularly vulnerable young people. It hurts them and all who are connected to them. You claim the DVD does not carry an anti-gay message. That is not how it feels to gay people and those who care about them. The manner in which the DVD targets this group of God’s children contributes to dehumanizing and depersonalizing them. It subtly endorses bullying and blatantly endorses bigotry.

Today’s media has well publicized the struggles many gay and lesbian young people face. As a result of public humiliation, many become fearful, depressed, and self-doubting. Tragically, some have even felt driven to suicide by the intolerance of society at large, including that of the Church hierarchy. The Church should be reaching out to these kids and letting them know that they are no different from anyone else in the eyes of God. They are made in the image of God, and the people of God should embrace them just as they are and help them achieve the purpose God has for them.

Third, the cost and timing of this DVD disturbs us. Distributing 400,000 DVDs on the single subject of same-sex marriage shortly before a political election reflects misguided priorities, and strays from the essential teachings of Christ. We ask, “Where, instead, are the DVDs on the bigger issues of loving and caring for your neighbor? Where is the DVD explaining the negative impact current U.S. economic policies have on the poor, not just here, but around the world?” We would like to add that even if you did choose to produce a DVD on these issues, we would be opposed to releasing it shortly before an election where it would so obviously be politically motivated.

Imagine the positive effect the money spent on these DVDs could have had on homelessness and poverty in our communities, especially in this economy. We understand this money was donated. The Church, however, should never accept and agree to use donated money to disseminate partisan political messages, especially ones that hurt and divide the Church. The fact that the donor insists on remaining anonymous shows that the political nature of the donation would be exposed if the church was transparent about the source of the money.

In an outpouring of inclusion and love, and honestly much anger, more than three thousand Catholic households returned their DVDs to us. These Catholics feel the Church hierarchy’s priorities are misguided and that the DVD mailing was an extreme measure targeting a group of people who deserve the same love, compassion, and acceptance that Christ shows each of us. Many asked us to pass along their DVDs to the artist Lucinda Naylor, to be included in her DVD to ART project. Thousands of other Catholics had already destroyed or thrown away their DVD before they knew of our efforts. The rest, we are returning to you.

Further, our Return the DVD group, and hundreds of other concerned individuals, donated over $10,000 to fight poverty and homelessness. This reflects our commitment to being a Church that attends to the needs of the less fortunate and doesn’t waste resources seeking to deny anyone’s civil rights.

Archbishop Nienstadt, we pray that you will take to heart the concerns of the thousands of Catholics who believe the Church hierarchy’s current actions, as reflected in the DVD, are inconsistent with what Jesus teaches us about how we should treat others.