Saturday, March 12, 2011
Do church leaders think it is worse to molest a child or ordain a woman?
On October 16, 2010 I posed a question in this blog, “Is it a worse crime for clergy to objectify, rape, kill or ordain a woman, according to the Catholic Church?” With the recent events in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, I can’t help but ponder a similar question. “Do church leaders think it is worse to molest a child or ordain a woman?”
In 2008, Fr. Roy Bourgeois was excommunicated for attending a woman’s ordination, 30 days after the event. In 2010, Bishop Olmsted of Phoenix excommunicated Fr. Vernon Meyer for attending a woman’s ordination, a month after that event also. Bishop Olmsted noted that Fr. Meyer’s attendance was, “extremely serious” and carried, “profoundly harmful consequences.” Clearly Bishop Olmsted’s belief in the action’s severity inspired his speed in excommunicating Fr. Meyer.
In 2008, Bishop Olmsted also excommunicated Msgr. Fushek, co-founder of the much heralded “Life Teen” youth ministries and former Vicar General of the Phoenix Diocese. When Bishop Olmsted excommunicated him, Msgr. Fushek had been on administrative leave since 2004 while ecclesial and civil authorities investigated numerous credible allegations of sexual misconduct with minors. Civil authorities charged Msgr. Fushek with single counts of indecent exposure and assault, and five counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor related to his interactions with five male teens. Through a plea bargaining agreement, Msgr. Fushek pled guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge and was spared having to register as a sex offender.
However, in 2010, the Vatican defrocked Msgr. Fushek for violations of the “Sixth Commandment that are committed by priests and deacons with minors.” This is ecclesial lingo for sexual misconduct with a minor. Msgr. Fushek is one of few priests worldwide who have been defrocked for sexually abusing children. Thus, the evidence the church had about his actions likely was powerfully convincing.
However, Bishop Olmsted did not excommunicate Msgr. Fushek for sexual misconduct with minors. Bishop Olmsted excommunicated him for disobeying the bishop, four years after the church found credible evidence of his sexual misconduct.
Evidently Bishop Olmsted saw Fr. Meyer’s support for a female priest as a far more urgent issue than Msgr. Fushek’s sexual abuse of children. Supporting a woman received swift attention; abusing children did not. Is this what Jesus would do?
This week in Philadelphia, Cardinal Rigali placed dozens of priests on administrative leave due to credible allegations against them regarding sexually assaulting minors. These suspensions occurred more than 8 years after the church was aware of the credible allegations. None of these priests have been excommunicated. Historical facts indicate church leaders did not handle allegations against these priests with any sense of urgency. Indeed, current disciplinary actions seem to be inspired by the public-relations debacle associated with being caught by civil authorities. Had the two Grand Jury investigations not occurred, would those priests still be active?
Using church leaders’ speed addressing the ecclesial crimes as a bell-weather, should the faithful infer that ordaining a woman is far worse than raping a child?
Furthermore, rather than hearing an outcry from brother bishops at the scandalously slow pace taken for addressing abusive clergy, we see congratulatory and supportive messages. This is scandalous also. If the brotherhood of clergy stands in solidarity, silent or praising rather that decrying their brethrens’ abysmally slow and ineffective efforts to address sexually abusive priests, then in solidarity they must share the shame and blame for every single child in the world abused by pedophile priests.
By the way, an Australian nun, Mother Mary MacKillop, was excommunicated in 1871 for her outcry against pedophile priests. In October, 2010 Pope Benedict XVI canonized her as a saint and named her the patron saint of abuse victims. She joins a long list of saints whom church leaders once censured, persecuted, excommunicated or killed before later canonizing them. The list includes St. Joan of Arc, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bernadette of Lourdes, St. Theodore Guerin, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Dominic, and St. John of the Cross. Dorothy Day, the social justice advocate who is on track for sainthood, also was dismissed by Cardinal Spellman.
Therefore, I take heart that church leaders sometimes admit errors in their judgment of people’s characters, albeit typically for errors committed by long-dead leaders rather than by themselves. Must we always wait hundreds of years for such justice?
Is there hope that one hundred or more years from now Fr. Roy might be canonized a saint and named the patron saint of female priests?