ON THE ROCKS: Cocktails at Bishops’ Conference Belies Church Suffering

By Kathy Kane

Dear Bishop Senior and Bishop McIntyre,

We have crossed paths over the years but have never formally met. I considered introducing myself in the hotel lounge at the Marriott in Baltimore. I chose not to because I couldn’t trust myself not to recreate the scene of Jesus in the temple with the money changers. I might have overturned a table, sending glasses of Cointreau and Johnny Walker Black Label into the air.

I’m one of the mothers from the Philadelphia Archdiocese who traveled to Baltimore to stand with the survivors outside of the hotel during the Bishops’ Conference. We also attended the Conference in November. We call ourselves the “Mom Squad” and we support the victims and survivors who have literally saved our children by exposing the issue of clergy abuse to the world.

Voices Carry

Your group of bishops did not notice us when you arrived at the hotel lounge late Tuesday after your dinner out on the town. You picked a table right near us and proceeded to talk about your terrific dinner. Drinks were ordered; lots of laughter; a toast to a birthday (Happy Birthday, Nelson).

Voices carry, even in hotel bars. If you’re going to make fun of a former Archdiocese victim advocate, you might want to whisper. Or, here’s a better idea…don’t mock victim advocates. Bishop Senior, you did get a good laugh from your fellow bishops. Also, not a good idea to discuss Church-related matters in a hotel bar with mothers from the Archdiocese sitting a few feet away.

The Mom Squad nicknamed your group “the Philly Special” being that the fellow bishops with you were former clergy from Philadelphia. If your group had looked around, you would have seen one of our Moms saying the rosary while sipping her drink. She said she felt the need to rebalance the bad with good. In a hotel with 225 bishops she had yet to find a feeling of holiness, and certainly did not feel it in the lounge on Tuesday night.

It is a surreal experience to stay at the same hotel as the bishops during the Conference. While the outside world might imagine bishops with furrowed brows and solemn demeanors, we encountered recent newsmakers such as Cardinal Wuerl looking downright giddy in the lobby, and a very chipper Archbishop Lori heading to the elevators. We were in the lobby earlier as dozens of bishops met up after the day of meetings and headed out to dinner on the waterfront, or to the expensive steak house across the street. There was laughter and handshakes. I imagine no different than any other group of men who are the focus of national attention due to their members’ history of child rape, sexual assault of adults, sexual misconduct, financial impropriety, and cover up of crimes.

Bishop McIntyre, you were a panelist in a USCCB Facebook live event the following day at the Conference. I watched the event and also read the Catholic Philly article where you are quoted as saying the laity has the right to be angry and hurt, but it’s also important that we don’t get stuck there, and to remember that Christ is with us.

Stuck On ‘Mishandling’

Actually, the entire problem has been that the Church has continued to just move forward in the face of crimes against children while covering it up. We have all brushed it off and continued ahead with little regard for those who were harmed and very few criminal prosecutions of the perpetrators and those who covered for them.

Bishop Mcintyre you also mentioned in the same video that you have been angry about the “mishandling” of sex abuse cases. Mishandling is an interesting choice of words.

In 1994, in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, a memo with a list of priest predator names was purposefully shredded. Those men remained in ministry and a young man is now dead because no one did the right thing. He was abused by a priest that the Archdiocese had been warned about and whose name was on the shredded memo. If someone had done the right thing their paths would never have crossed. Is that “mishandling?” Is placing a piece of paper in a shredder “mishandling?” Is that the word that helps you move on and not “get stuck?” Is that why you can talk about anger in a flat, monotone voice and in the next breath talk of moving forward?

The young man was someone’s child and he is dead. The only part of your statement that I agree with is that Christ is always with us. What do you think Christ thinks of the death of a young man at the hands of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia?

Horrified Awakening

My children were in Catholic school when some of the predators on the shredded memo were circulating through the parishes. I’m still stuck on that. It’s just this crazy Mom thing of bringing children into this world and not expecting the Church to expose them to child predators.

What has happened this past year is an awakening . People have finally looked past the boundaries of their own parish and have spoken up for those abused in the Church. When the 2018 Pennsylvania Grand Jury report was released it made national news because people did not care if the victims were from their own diocese, or from their own state. Many Catholics finally cared that it happened, to any child,in area of the Church. Are we stuck? Or are we finally aware?

My 19-year-old daughter, who has a hearing disability, called me after she read the news of the deaf students in Italy who were sexually abused by clergy and whose disability was used against them by their perpetrators. The children could not even communicate what was happening to them to the outside world. She described what she read as ‘the torture of children.” Should I tell her not to be stuck in her anger? I don’t think the word “anger” even captures the emotion behind what most decent people feel about crimes against children. My daughter was horrified. I think horrified is the word we should use going forward.

Should we go to Mass each week and pray for the victims but do nothing to help them? Actually most times the issue of clergy abuse is even publicly prayed for at Mass, we also have to pray for the perpetrators. As if that is not a sick message delivered to youth who are present. Children should not be told to pray for those who harm children. Do we pray for the sexually abusive soccer coaches and teachers? Of course not, only sexually abusive clergy are extended that mercy.

Your Plan?

When do we acknowledge those abused within our Church often have PTSD and cannot even enter a Church for burials of family members or joyous occasions such as weddings. That the faith that many take solace in has been ripped from their lives? Should we just move forward without them? What’s the plan? If you want me not to be stuck, then tell me the plan going forward. Do you have a plan?

In just the past few months a priest in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was arrested for the rape of a teen parishioner and two lay teachers were arrested for sexual assault of students. What is the statute of limitations on the anger we should feel about abuse continuing in the Archdiocese? A few weeks? A few months? Do we need to seek professional help if we are still stuck after that?

We watched in Baltimore last week as clergy walked right past the survivors outside the hotel. We have seen this happen countless times at vigils in Philadelphia. Would Jesus simply refer the abused in his midst to the Archdiocese Victim Assistance Office? Is that how we get “unstuck?” By pretending they are invisible?

As for the bishops pretending that they never had a clue about McCarrick or Bransfield’s misconduct, it will be fun to watch the Oscars this year as you all receive Best Supporting Actor awards in the real life horror category.

Gospel P.R.

You talk of Christ but the behavior of many bishops is anything but Christ like. Would Christ be out to dinner, or in the lounge having drinks, as his followers suffered? Would he shred a memo that could have protected children? That wasn’t Christ; that was Bevilacqua. Would he ignore the very people who were harmed?

Maybe use Christ as your public relations crisis manager. The Gospel is free and any change in behavior by the bishops would be genuine. The mystery to the laity and survivors is not what Christ would do, the mystery is why the Bishops don’t do it. Firing the attorneys would be a good first step.

We will be back in Baltimore for the Conference in November. We were lucky the June meeting was rescheduled to Baltimore rather than at the Ritz Carlton in Santa Barbara, where it was originally scheduled. Mom Squad does not have a bishop’s budget.

Maybe we will bring some more moms with us to outnumber the bishops in the hotel lounge. Since the laity is so often not welcome to a seat at the table, we will just pull up to the bar.

Kathy

(unofficial captain of the Mom Squad)

New System Is Old Bandaid For Bishops’ Broken Promises

by Susan Matthews

Coming out of last week’s United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, a new oversight system for handling clergy child sex abuse and attempted cover-ups has been announced. It’s the same old bandaid that’s lost its sticky since they created the Dallas Charter in 2002.

Ostensibly, this system creates greater accountability. In reality, it’s just less of the same. In some instances, it’s not as comprehensive as the Charter. A lack of laity involvement, let alone management, and the rules for reporting allegations fall short.

According to an article in The New York Times, some bishops lobbied for mandatory lay involvement, but were unsuccessful. Why would that be objectionable given bishops have failed at self-investigation?

The answer according to a panel of bishops was that the pope’s decree didn’t mandate lay participation. So much for the “Holy” spirit of Church law.

“The system really perpetuates clericalism, which is something Pope Francis has criticized in other situations — the idea that priests exist on a different level than lay people and bishops exist on a different level than priests, and that’s by divine origin and you can’t even talk about changing it.”

Nicholas P. Cafardi, former chairman of the national review board, as quoted in The New York Times article

This “fix” adds more insult to injury. Survivors and betrayed Catholic laity know this bandaid is just another cover-up to promote donor healing and that the Church has cured nothing.

Read The New York Times article “Catholic Bishops Vow to Hold Themselves Accountable for Sexual Abuse and Cover-Ups,” June 13, 2019

U.S. Bishops: Not Shaken, Nor Stirred

By Kathy Kane

It had been a long day of travel, prayer and protest for the Mom Squad from the Philadelphia Archdiocese. A stroke of good luck had enabled us to book the very last room available at the pricey Marriott Waterfront where the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was being held.  Accumulated travel points covered our one-night stay, a rate so high it would have cost the average Catholic a few months of donation basket envelopes. A very nice hotel employee upgraded us. This gave us access to the 31st floor concierge lounge where free food was available along with beautiful views of the Baltimore harbor and skyline. Somehow, on a shoe string budget we managed to live like Bishops for a night.

The first person I recognized when we walked through the Marriott lobby bar on Tuesday night was Bishop John Mcintyre, an auxiliary bishop from Philadelphia. 

We hadn’t been sure we would see any clergy during our stay. A church insider told me that most clergy would be laying low, at least for optics sake. That made sense due to the prior day’s news that depicted a hierarchy reeling from the Vatican directive to delay reform along with the eyes of the world watching in the wake of the McCarrick case, PA grand jury report and PA federal investigation. 

Instead, the atmosphere was what you might expect at any corporate convention. Priests and bishops circulated throughout the public areas of the hotel as well as the lay employees with their USCCCB lanyards.  Everyone looked healthy and not too malnourished from all the fasting. All seemed to hold their liquor well too despite that drinking on an empty stomach can be a disaster.

There were clergy in the concierge lounge, some grabbing a bite to eat, others enjoying a glass of wine or evening cocktail.  One Bishop with a booming voice and swagger of a CEO, talked loudly on his cell phone.  At the dessert table a lay employee took it upon herself to loudly identify each dessert to a bishop, treating him like a helpless man child.   

A Study In Contrasts

There were clergy in the main lobby throughout the day, talking and enjoying each other’s company. In contrast, protestors came in from the cold whipping winds of the waterfront to warm up for a minute or use the bathroom. Security was polite but ever present. Protest signs were forbidden and the Mom Squad had to conceal them or risk those losing their stay and accumulated travel points.

Tuesday, Theresa and Beth attended an event where they heard a survivor named James speak. He had been abused by the former Cardinal McCarrick. 

I connected with Father Chris Walsh, who came to Baltimore with a busload of parishioners and friends. This energetic crowd was interviewed by local Philly press outside of the hotel. They were passionate about children and the Church. Bob Hoatson of Road from Recovery was also out in front of the hotel on Tuesday. His calm presence and friendly demeanor was the opposite of the indifferent vibe inside.

Our Mom Squad had deep conversations throughout the day and into the evening.  We asked each other, Do they believe what they preach? How can one believe and at the same time have allowed such crimes and cover up? Do they fear death or a final judgment? Why don’t the ones not involved in crime or cover up speak up louder and tear down the wall of clericalism? What if the ultimate “fraternal correction” awaits them all in the afterlife – where there are no teams of attorneys at their beck and call. 

We struggled through conversations about our devout parents and disillusioned kids, trying to makes sense of how we ended up at this corporate convention of Christ protesting a hierarchy that allowed and covered up crimes against children, crimes against humanity. None of us would have predicted as Catholic kids that we would be here at this moment.

What happens when a bishop and three moms walk into a bar….

By the time we went to the lobby bar Tuesday night we had solved the Church’s problems 10 times over in our conversations. That’s when I saw Bishop McIntrye sitting nearby with a group of clergy. I signaled to our waiter and asked him what the man a few feet away in the blue sweater was drinking. “Cointreau on the rocks.” The Mom Squad immediately nicknamed the group “Top-Shelf Bishops.” I sent Bishop Mcintyre a drink compliments of Catholics4Change but somehow that message was bungled by the waiter so we changed it to sent from “Moms from Philly” and that got his attention. 

He came over and I introduced myself as did the other members of the Mom Squad. I told Bishop Mcintyre it was nice to meet him but that I was disappointed that emails to him in the past had gone unanswered. This is not an issue isolated to Bishop Mcintyre, the hierarchy simply ignores whatever mails they don’t want to answer.  Actually, at this point even the Archdiocesan staff ignores C4C emails.  I told him maybe now that we have met in person and I bought him a drink, it would ring a bell if I emailed him in the future. He thanked us for the drink and made an exit.

That night as the Mom Squad bunked together in our accumulated travel points hotel room, we talked in the darkness into the night. Theresa said, “I always think of the survivors.”  We agreed and added the families of victims who have have died are always on our minds. Beth spoke of how the abuse took so much from so many, so often leaving someone abused and without the faith that many lean on in crisis, because the leaders of their faith actually caused the crisis.

The next morning Theresa departed early, Beth and I took a walk outside and found Siobhan O’Connor and her friend down by the waterfront standing in the cold with signs in hand. Siobhan is the whistleblower lay employee from Buffalo who recently appeared on 60 minutes. The irony of the person who protected children being relegated to the sidewalk is a story repeated over and over in every Diocese, this time at a national conference.  How is it that victims, survivors, and advocates are the “outsiders”? Siobhan is a truly lovely woman with a heart as big as her conscience.

The Mom Squad lives on in a group text as we have kept in contact to sort out our feelings about the trip. Before she left Baltimore, Theresa drove by a Church where many years ago a relative had been the pastor. She texted that she was in tears as she headed toward I95. She was thinking about the hardship and sacrifice of those who brought the Catholic faith to the U.S and how it has been destroyed by the leadership in the past few decades. Beth texted that she went to adoration to talk to Jesus and told Him that she found saints outside the hotel at bishops’ conference. 

You never know going into a trip like this what each person’s takeaway will be. For me, the one thing I am sure of, is that the next time I need to email the hierarchy in Philadelphia, the subject line will read “Cointreau on the rocks.” Nothing else has gotten their attention.

Maybe cocktail diplomacy is the way to go.