Sunday, April 11, 2021

"...And there was no needy person among them"

I thought about going to Mass today because I’ve recently completed my COVID vaccination series but decided against it due to living in the worst outbreak hotspot currently in my country…something about not wanting to inadvertently act as a plague vector though not being able to attend Mass in over a year.  Side note: Unlike many folks, I actually enjoy attending Mass and before COVID was among the Catholic minority attending weekly Mass and the even smaller minority attending daily Mass.  I opted to write a blog article instead.  Hopefully I chose wisely.


This Sunday, the first after Easter, always features the “doubting Thomas” gospel.  I’ve written twice before in 2011 and  in 2013 about how countless clergy over the centuries spin this narrative towards painting  the fearful herd sitting in a locked room, avoiding the dreaded “other” (in this case the Jews) as being more virtuous than Thomas, who was out actually imitating Christ without fear of his fellow humans.  My experience is today’s clergy’s behavior increasingly parallels that of the petrified pious pack featured in today’s gospel reading.  So perhaps clergy’s message spinning is their self-exoneration reflex for the power they wield, largely due to fanning flames of fear - of God’s created world and humans.


However, rather than exclusively comment on the gospel reading, let's also look at the second reading, Acts 4:32-35 which reads thusly:


The community of believers was of one heart and mind,

and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own,

but they had everything in common.

With great power the apostles bore witness

to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus,

and great favor was accorded them all.

There was no needy person among them,

for those who owned property or houses would sell them,

bring the proceeds of the sale,

and put them at the feet of the apostles,

and they were distributed to each according to need.


This passage counts among those that most influence my daily lived faith.  I sometimes quote from it without offering the citation.  Specifically, I’ll say something like, “…they had everything in common…there was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them…and the proceeds were distributed to each according to need.”  The more pious the Catholic and/or the more Republican the hearer, the more likely the other person incorrectly guesses Karl Marx rather than St. Luke as the quote’s source.


Let's look at the gospel and Acts passages together now.  By painting the nervous, judgmental and withdrawn crowd as the most virtuous, and having the present-day apostles subsequently imitate that isolation and apprehension, it makes for an en masse perversion of living that passage from Acts.  Church leaders’ power is derived from fearmongering rather than from fearlessly bearing witness to the resurrected Christ via care for the needs of all people.  They mostly fear for their self-preservation.



Lots of folks donate to their church as their way of living this passage from Acts, believing the clergy will funnel their donations to help other humans.  A group called Charity Navigator rates the health and transparency of charitable organizations.  They do not rate churches, but we can look at their assessment criteria to help us evaluate churches as effective charities, as perhaps, effectively living Acts chapter 4. 


Based upon Acts 4, the gospels, and also by reputation, we should be able to categorize churches as human services charities.  According to Charity Navigator’s rating table on finances, human services charities getting the highest rating direct 92% or more towards human services programs and spend only 0-3% of income on administrative overhead.  


But what do church leaders, fearful about self-preservation, actually do with that donated money?  In many parishes, most if not all of that donated money goes to the church institution itself – self-preservation: salaries, buildings, schools, etc…  Though the parish may have something like a St. Vincent de Paul society offering food, clothing or financial support, those organizations are not funded by the parish.   For example, a few years ago, I was an officer of a local St. Vincent de Paul chapter and people approaching the local parish seeking financial assistance were invariably sent to us.  However, exactly $0 in funding was sent to us from the parish coffers. 


My current parish does actually give to charity, towards “distributing to each according to need.”  Based on my experience being a Catholic for more than half a century, this parish is in the minority.  But, since it is an example, let’s examine their annual report.  It spends 2.2% not on overhead but on human services.  It spends the vast majority on itself, its administration, its buildings, etc… Were churches rated by Charity Navigator as human services organizations, they might find themselves as the topic of an advisory bulletin issued by the organization, warning people that their money does not get used as assumed.


This is not unique to Catholic parishes.  Look at the skew of monies your congregation spends on the organization itself versus on caring for other humans, regardless of your faith tradition or denomination.  If monies are primarily spent perpetuating the organization itself, then people’s donations are funding a spiritual country club, designed for members to feel better about themselves rather than to see that “there was no needy person among them.”


Donating to a church offers a lazy outlet to pat oneself on the back while claiming imitation of Christ, when in fact, it pretty much moves money from a person’s left pocket to their right pocket.  It’s all about benefiting the donor through institutional self-preservation. 


Worshiping Jesus by attending church or praise services is much easier than imitating Jesus because Jesus wasn’t about self-preservation.  Imitation involves completely letting go of one’s money to feed, house, clothe and provide dignity to people regardless of how they came to be in their financial situation.  It requires examining and fixing systems that consistently produce disparate outcomes based upon skin color, religious affiliation or gender.  How are you imitating Jesus to ensure there is no needy person in your midst?


What do you think?  Should I have foregone writing today and made myself a possible plague vector or did I choose ok?

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Reverting to Type

Dear readers,

Long time, no long it took me a while to remember how to post a blog.

I last wrote on October 14, 2018, an article about my pastor’s resignation due to committing, “sexual harassment.”  I speculated at that time that he must have harassed a man and probably a priest for such rapid decisive action.  Sorry for the delayed update, but I did talk to the parish administrator shortly after writing that article and he confirmed I was correct on both accounts: the pastor sexually harassed a priest and in the Roman Catholic tradition, that means he harassed a man.  I wish the church hierarchy was not so predictable when it comes to sexism.  But, there it is.

Since my last blog, I’ve had two kids get married, one parent decline into dementia and die, a traumatic brain injury and a few other things that occupied my time.  And now there is the matter of this pandemic.

There is a saying that during a crisis, people “revert to type.”  During more normal times a person might work to overcome certain characteristics but when the crisis happens, the mask comes off.  This raw character exposure is called “reverting to type.”

So what are we seeing amongst our hierarchy, our fellow believers and ourselves?  Are we living our stated value of protecting the vulnerable?

I think my local bishop is sincerely trying to do what is best, given that every day brings new insights about this virus.  Before government officials issued a stay-at-home order, he suspended liturgies.  Though religious organizations were granted an exemption during the stay-at-home order, he continued suspending Masses.  This Monday, weekday Masses will resume, permitting only 5% building capacity in attendance.  This will gradually increase over the coming months to higher percentage capacity attendance and more liturgies.  The diocesan staff has written extensive and well thought out guidelines aligned with the best medical guidance available, and update policies based upon new scientific findings.  At the same time, the diocese is focused on providing assistance to those suffering financially. When my bishop reverted to type during this crisis, he exposed the depth of his care for his flock.  Kudos on that. 

So, did I pull my laptop out of storage after about a year and a half hiatus just to praise my bishop?  No.  Though I support his pandemic-related actions, I am finding much fodder elsewhere for reflection as I observe behaviors. 

If you say you are “pro-life” yet don’t observe social distancing, don’t wear a mask to protect others, and rationalize that “old people die anyway so open up this economy,” please realize you are a fraud.  When you reverted to type, you demonstrated that you are all about caring for the vulnerable as long as the people expected to sacrifice to do so don’t include you.  Your first love is what is in your wallet.   When that appeared threatened, you caved and threw grandma and grandpa under the bus along with any other vulnerable person.  You scoff at women who cite financial distress as reason for seeking an abortion, labeling them as selfish monsters who are willing to sacrifice a vulnerable life for their financial security.  However, when it is your financial security that is threatened, you think it makes perfect sense to sacrifice the vulnerable with a callous, “they were gonna’ die anyway…”.  You’re a fraud.  Admit it and own it.  And expect to be challenged when next you try to assume moral high ground with your pretentious condemnations of others at the next elections.  You cashed in your credibility.

Similarly, if you call yourself pro-life and are supporting businesses and business owners that flaunt public health directives, you too are a fraud.  Though my bishop does not fall into this category, I do know of other Roman and Orthodox Catholic clergy who do.  They especially are frauds.  Why is it that you are at peace sacrificing the vulnerable when their protection interferes with your or your buddy’s freedom and autonomy to get a haircut or open a barber shop but you are completely intolerant of a woman saying she should have freedom and autonomy regarding her body?  Your philosophy,  is it that you think it is just the natural order of the world that some vulnerable people must die in order for the sanctified vanity of haircuts to continue but no vulnerable lives should ever die for trivial things like women’s health?  Yeah, you’re a fraud too.  Admit it and own it.  And pray do not try assuming any moral high ground come election time.  You cashed in your credibility for something like a haircut.

If you are suddenly super worried about the poor starving people in third world countries or even here in the US because you think stay-at-home orders which happen to inconvenience you are somehow putting these folks in greater vulnerability, please ask yourself: a) how much did you worry about the poor before these stay-at-home orders were issued, b) how aware are you of the impact your lifestyle and voting choices have in creating or sustaining poverty, c) what have you actually done to help address economic vulnerability amongst the poor pre-pandemic.  I know some folks sincerely not only worried about but acted to alleviate poverty before the pandemic.  However, if your concern for the poor suddenly emerged because you can use them as a poorly equipped phalanx to protect your financial self-interests, then you too are a fraud, especially if once the pandemic subsides, you resume your lifestyle and voting choices that disregard the poor’s needs.

 I might add that demographically, the working poor, often uninsured, are over-represented in occupying higher risk, lower protection, front-line jobs during this pandemic.  In the US, African Americans represent a much higher percentage of pandemic casualties due to co-morbidity factors often associated with poverty.  I do so hope that your concern for the poor includes addressing these issues versus feigning care for the poor whilst actually sacrificing their health for the health of your retirement account.  In that case, you would be reverting to type of using the poor and vulnerable for your own gain.

If anywhere in your possessions or social media bylines you have something that says, “What would Jesus do,” please be aware that Jesus was all about curing and healing not rationalizing death so he could gad about more freely and continue accruing wealth.  He said something like, “go sell everything, give it to the poor, and follow me,” not, “go sacrifice the poor so you can accumulate more shit and do whatever the hell pleases you.”  That latter message is more aligned with something one might hear on Fox News, which is an entirely different religion apart from and often conflicting with as well as perverting Christianity.

Amidst all this, a former religious education student of mine offered some of the wisest counsel.  He said, “We need to be empathetic.”  Yes, he is spot on.  We need to have empathy for the financially vulnerable, even the ones who were vulnerable before the pandemic and will continue to be after the pandemic.  We need to be empathetic towards the physically vulnerable, especially during the pandemic but afterwards too. 

An empathetic person dons a mask as a way of protecting another person versus deriding health experts for recommending their use, or deriding those who do don them.  If your medical credentials come from the University of Google, the University of Facebook or the University of Memes, please just stop trying to pass yourself off as an expert.

It is also lacking in empathy to deride people for listening to experts or the experts themselves by labeling them as fearful or fearmongers.  Those folks shouting for things to resume to pre-pandemic status must acknowledge that they fear too.  It is just that their fears fall into different categories.  Some fear financial impact.  Some fear loss of autonomy.  It is still fear.  It is ok and healthy to admit you fear the economic impact.   However, it is an unhealthy bullying practice to accuse others of fear without acknowledging yours.  Such tactics try to humiliate others into bowing to address your fears by diminishing their concerns all whilst saving face for your ego through presenting a false bravado.

This pandemic presents two problems: a global public health crisis and a global economic crisis.  We, as one Body in Christ must acknowledge the two crises and work together to address both.  That will involve sacrificing autonomy and financially in some instances.  Let us pull together, doing what Jesus would do, by being empathetic and caring for each other.  This pandemic crisis is exposing you as a Christian.  Are you reverting to type of graciously bowing to other’s needs in imitation of Christ or are you reverting to type of using Christianity as a front for your selfishness and hypocritically expecting others to sacrifice but not you.

Be safe and be well.  Hopefully I won't wait another 19 months to write again. 

Sunday, October 14, 2018

My pastor resigned...

This past Thursday I received a bulk email sent to parishioners from the parish’s Director of Administration advising us of our pastor’s resignation and inviting parishioners to attend a Q&A session today.  Since I cannot attend, I sent my questions in an email this morning to the parish’s Director of Admin, the interim pastor, and my bishop.  I thought readers might want to see my questions so here is a copy of my note:

Dear Keith, Fr Gary, and Bp Earl,

Thank you for the information.

Keith, You might remember me as the person who donated the original artwork of “the Red Crucifixion” which used to hang in the St John center basement.

I cannot attend today’s meeting.  However, here are my questions.

The term being used is “sexual harassment” vs sexual assault. Their legal ramifications differ.  Has it been strictly sexual harassment which violates Michigan and federal civil rights laws as a form of discrimination, or did it also involve sexual assault which violates criminal law?

Regardless, what steps have been taken to hold Mark, St Thomas and the Lansing Diocese legally responsible for the sexual harassment?  What legal authorities have been contacted and involved?  Please describe the legal process and where we are within that process. 

How many people were sexually harassed by Mark?  

How recently did the harassment occur and over what length of time did it occur?

How many times did Mark harass each person?  Once? A few times? Dozens of times? Hundreds of times?

Were the people who were harassed male, female or some of each?  

Were the people harassed parishioners?  

What were the general age categories of those harassed: pre-school, pre-teen, teen, university/young adult, adult?

What was the nature of the harassment: unwanted touch, unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, exposure, providing a hostile environment such as subjecting employees/parishioners to sexual jokes, remarks, pictures or graphics, employment or advancement related threats or quid pro quo offers, etc...?

It has been said multiple times Mark is undergoing “therapy.” What exactly does that mean?

According to psychologists, regardless if the harassed are male or female, there are 4 common characteristics of sexual harassers. They typically have:

1) “The Dark Triad” consisting of a) narcissism (inflated view of self w lack of empathy combined w urgent need for approval), b) psychopathy (fearless dominance and aggressive impulsiveness) and c) Machiavellianism (so focused on own interests that person deceives, manipulates and exploits for own interests).

2) Moral disengagement- a cognitive process by which person justifies his own bad behavior and creates his own alternate reality where moral norms do not apply to him: a) portrays harassment as acceptable, b) uses euphemistic terminology, c) displaces responsibility such as blames culture, d) creates advantageous comparisons (at least it wasn’t...) to minimize infraction, e) shifts blame (“she was should have expected....”)

3) employment in male dominated field

4) hostile attitude towards women

Some, if not all, of those psychological characteristics are inherent or prevalent in Catholic hierarchical culture.  How do you anticipate therapy for one individual will cure the Catholic hierarchy’s sexist culture?  Due to the church’s male hegemony and long standing male hegemonic praxis, this sexism often is considered “normal” by many in the church, especially the hierarchy.

I have experienced innumerable homilies that are sexist (sexual harassment) and countless individual conversations with priests that are sexist (sexual harassment).  I have received sexist lectures and penance in reconciliation...also sexual harassment. Canon law and doctrine include sexist notions and the priesthood itself is sexist.  How were you able to discern and distinguish Mark’s sexual harassment from the institutional sexual harassment endemic in Catholic culture?  

When I have complained about sexist words or actions, I have been brushed off and told how mistaken I was.  I am very curious to understand the unique situation here in which Catholic officials actually acknowledged sexual harassment occurred.

Know of my prayers for you and all involved.

I did not say this in my note but I will offer it here.  Due to the endemic  sexist culture within the Catholic hierarchy, I have difficulty suppressing a desire to speculate that the harassed must have been with a man, possibly a clergy member, for the person to have been taken seriously.  Sexist treatment of women often is "de riguer" with many Catholic hierarchy.

In a stroke of irony, within a day of receiving the note about my pastor’s resignation for sexual harassment, I received an email invitation from the Diocesan Director of Communications, inviting me to the diocese’s oh-so-sexist “Arise my Beloved” Catholic Women’s Conference.

I encourage people, as they are called, to engage with the hierarchy, asking the tough questions that need to be asked.

By the way, no word from my friend, the Papal Nuncio.


Saturday, October 6, 2018

Requesting a private discussion with the pope...

Dear readers,

About a month ago I wrote regarding needed changes to Canon Law that would help eliminate the Church’s globally systemic sexual abuse coverup scandal.  I received a lot of encouragement to share my ideas with hierarchy officials.  Thus, I sent it to my bishop.  He thanked me for offering my ideas. However, I do not know what other actions it will inspire beyond sending me a nicely worded email message.

As luck would have it, I have a business trip scheduled to Rome later this month.  Therefore, I replied to my bishop that I would like his help requesting a private discussion with Pope Francis regarding my ideas.  He kindly responded, “I don’t have the foggiest idea how such can be arranged,” but wished me luck.  I’m not sure I believe that a bishop doesn’t know how to request a discussion with the pope but, maybe he meant he doesn’t know how to request one for a mere lay woman.  Regardless, that’s a tragedy because either he truly doesn’t know how to ask for a discussion with his own boss or he doesn’t want to and is comfortable prevaricating about it.

Rather than be discouraged, I donned my imaginary thinking cap, in this case a pointy bishop’s mitre, to ponder what I would do if I were a bishop desiring a discussion with the pope.  I decided to write Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the papal nuncio in Washington, D.C., since he is the pope’s emissary in the U.S. 

Here is the text of my email, sent September 15, 2018 to the papal nuncio:

Dear Abp Christophe Pierre,

I will be in Rome speaking at a business conference.  I arrive October 19 and leave October 26.  I request a private discussion with the Holy Father so as to discuss inherent issues in Canon Law that make addressing the global systemic abuse crisis near impossible without changing them.  I asked my local bishop, Earl Boyea, how I might make such a request.  Since he was uncertain, I thought I would next try you as the Papal Nuncio.

There is an inherent governance problem in that Canon Law entrusts writing, interpreting and enforcing the law to the same demographic group.  This is a classic structure that enables abuse.  Canon 223 is just one example of making clerics all-powerful in governing the church.

The Canons which place clerics above lay people (207, 223, 247, etc...) possibly impede addressing the abuse issue but ones such as 212 which insist lay people obey their pastor (who might be molesting them or their child) are extremely problematic.

The 12 Canons pertaining to secrecy also must be examined and possibly revised.

Furthermore, Canon Law ties itself in knots making it near impossible to correct Canon Law.  But, we need to examine and alter Canon Law to have effective checks and balances instead of hoping and wishing that clerics are spun of superior moral fabric and able to self-police.  With over 200 dioceses globally having abuses reported to date, we can be confident that this is an inaccurate belief leading to a failed governance model on this topic.

In addition to my professional position as an executive level consultant who advises on business governance, I hold a master degree in theology from Loyola University.  I think that we have spent too many years having primarily clerics who lack objectivity trying unsuccessfully to self-police their own.  We can see the globally systemic problem and easily conclude that they are unable to address the problem themselves.  I offer my perspective as an educated, accomplished professional, mother and lay person in addition to someone with a fair amount of theological training.  I hope that you give my request serious consideration. 

I look forward to the favor of a reply.

Thank you for your consideration of my request.  Know of my prayers for you.

On September 27, 2018 I received an email from the Apostolic Nunciature with an attached letter from Abp. Pierre.  As an interesting yet ironic aside, he marked the letter “personal and confidential.”  This means he wished his response to my concerns about secrecy to remain … secret!  I will pause a moment for you to stop banging your head upon a hard surface.

Due to being marked confidential, rather than share the full document, I will summarize and quote excerpts.  He said that arranging a private discussion between me and the pope “would not be opportune.”  He went on to explain that the group that is “the proper body” to recommend Canon Law changes to the pope is the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts.  Furthermore, he said that aside from interpreting Canon Law, this body also carries the responsibility “to present legislative proposals to the Holy Father.”  Did I not explain in my original email that part of the problem is the same people who write the laws also interpret them?  Thanks for proving my point, Abp. Pierre.  I only wish you would have gotten the point too.

The archbishop suggested that, rather than present my ideas directly to the Pontifical Council on Legislative Texts, I take this circuitous route:  First share my ideas with my bishop, which I’ve already done.  Then, hope that he will decide to present them to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Canonical Affairs Committee, or perhaps give it a go to try to contact this committee myself.  So, rather than go straight to the guy in power, he recommends that I navigate an administrative maze of bishops, to share my ideas about how to hold these very bishops and their brother bishops more accountable, a matter they have a vested interest in preventing.  Thanks for proving my point again, Abp. Pierre.

Here is my email response sent to Abp. Pierre September 30, 2018.  I will let you know if I receive a reply.

Dear Abp Christophe Pierre,

Thank you for your response.  However, moved by the Holy Spirit instilled in me at my baptism and strengthened in me during my confirmation, I must conclude that your response is unsatisfactory.  Please accept my deep apologies for not expressing myself more clearly.  I wish to discuss with Pope Francis the globally systemic clergy abuse crisis, the foundations for historically ineffective approaches addressing it, and possible ways to address it effectively, some of which involve Canon Law modifications. 

Your response said my request to meet with Pope Francis "would not be opportune."  Your word selection of "opportune" means you believe the timing of my request is not convenient.  Please inform me at what time will it be convenient for the pope to have a serious discussion with a layperson about making effective changes to rid the Church of the clergy sex abuse scourge? 

I note your deflection of my request to a series of bureaucratic bodies, all staffed by the very bishops who need to be held accountable. Please help me understand how asking those who have demonstrated profound ineffectiveness in addressing clergy abuse and often contributed to mishandling abuse cases should now be the very people through whom we channel all suggestions?  Their combined ineffectiveness, complicity, and choke-hold on recommending change suggest another route must be pursued. 

As an example, Cardinal DiNardo, current president of the USCCB, is both being criticized by abuse survivors as mishandling abuse cases (ref: Des Moines Register article dated September 27, 2018 entitled, "Cardinal DiNardo, at center of clergy abuse crisis, accused of mishandling cases in Iowa and Texas") and the person who recently led a delegation to meet with Pope Francis about the abuse crisis.  In U.S. culture, we call this, "the fox guarding the hen house." 

It also confuses me as to why you believe I must communicate with the pope exclusively through a body that did not exist before 1984.  Surely today's Vicar of Christ would want to imitate Christ in being accessible to all people rather than enshrouding himself in high ranking clergy and bureaucratic process.  Otherwise, he damages his credibility as Christ's representative, does he not?  I know my bishop readily meets with me as part of his imitation of Christ.  Why would the pope not want to do likewise?

Furthermore, in U.S. culture we have a children's game called "telephone operator" in which children sit in a circle and one child whispers their message into the ear of the next child.  That child does the same and the activity continues until the last child in the circle whispers the message in the originator's ear.  That message whispered into the originator's ear is always quite distorted from the originator's original message.  Your recommendation to go through several communication levels seems destined to distort my Spirit instilled messages.  (I believe you suggest I talk to my bishop who talks to the USCCB Canonical Affairs Committee which talks to the Legislative Law Pontifical Council which talks to the Pope.)  In addition to distorting the message, this circuitous route displays a shockingly dehumanizing lack of urgency.  It also deprives us of my authentic female voice by forcing my communications through a series of men's heads and voices.  That too is shockingly dehumanizing and confusing, especially since Pope Francis repeatedly says he wishes to increase the volume of female voices in the Church.  Why would we forego an opportunity to demonstrate Pope Francis' commitments to both addressing systemic clergy abuse and increasing the role of women's voices in the Church?

Therefore, my dear brother in Christ, I ask you to reflect further on Mark 3:28-29, "Amen, I say to you, all sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them.  But whoever denies the holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.”  The Spirit guides me to speak to the Pope just as the Spirit guided Ste. Therese de Lisieux to speak to Pope Leo XIII in 1884 and St. Catherine of Siena to communicate with Popes Gregory XI and Urban VI in the 1370s.

I wish you all the best and please be assured of my prayers for you.

In whatever ways fit your personal context and in which you are called to do so, I encourage everyone to engage with the hierarchy, respectfully and insistently.  If you anticipate their likely polite dismissiveness, you won’t feel rejected and also won’t be deterred.  Also, I approach the clergy as an equal.  Though many respond as though I am subordinate, I know better and just don’t fall for it.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

How to fix the Church's problem with criminal sexual activity

Dear readers,

It’s been a very long time.  The demands of caring for an aging parent combined with those of traveling extensively for work provide precious few moments to write.  However, recent hubbub compels me to sacrifice a few moments of sleep to write.

At Mass last weekend, the priest spoke of the clergy abuse revelations in Pennsylvania and described it as, “the scandal in Pennsylvania.”  With 200+ dioceses and growing having abuse scandals worldwide, we are safe to call it “globally systemic” rather than confine it to any geographic area as if it were a surprising anomaly.  Let’s stop being shocked that the abuse is uncovered in yet another group of dioceses.  Let’s work to shine the light to expose it everywhere and fix it.

The pastor discussed the PA abuse scandal while defending the Lansing diocese’s decision to continue holding its “Made for Happiness” Diocesan Assembly in a few weeks despite this latest sex abuse scandal news.  Tragically ironic, the diocesan shindig will be held at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center, the basketball arena for a university recently publicly criticized for institutional enablement of a serial child molester, Dr. Larry Nassar.  Side note: Prior to prison, Nassar was a devout Catholic in the Lansing diocese.  The diocese could only be more tone-deafly insensitive if it asked Larry Nassar to speak at the assembly.

All this pissed me off but did not compel me to write.  No, no…it took former papal nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Vigano’s recently published lengthy letter calling for Pope Francis’ resignation to do that.

Vigano, whilst self-righteously adjusting his imaginary halo, wrote that Francis knew about Cardinal McCarrick’s serial sexually abusive misdeeds and tsk, tsked at him for doing nothing.  Just a little aside here: Francis, Benedict, John Paul II, Paul VI, etc… all knew about and participated in abuse cover-ups too.  Why is Vigano ok canonizing JPII as a saint but wants Francis fired?  Regardless, let’s pause a moment to understand how news about sexually abusive priests gets from the US to dear old popes.  IT’S THROUGH THE PAPAL NUNCIO!  Vigano would have had knowledge not just about McCarrick but about EVERY SINGLE SEXUALLY ABUSIVE PRIEST reported to any Catholic official in the US. 

So, dear Mr. Vigano, you knew about McCarrick too and did not report him to civil authorities.  Nor did you report to civil authorities any of the sexual crimes priests committed against children during your tenure.  Therefore, please dispense with your political posturing for papal power until you first return your pointy hat, signet ring and blinged-out crosier to the “Shamed Bishops” department and tender your own resignation.  Thank you, ever so much.

I also cannot overlook noting that Vigano’s come-lately concern about sexual abuse was about …wait for it…not any of the thousands of kids molested by priests, even those suffering during his tenure…no, it’s only about sexual harassment endured by that precious subclass of humans which clerics believe sit above the rest of humanity, seminarians and fellow priests.  That speaks volumes.

As occurs following each scandalous revelation, there’s a flurry of advice on how to fix the church…female priests, ditch celibacy, laity takeover the church…whatever.  Please indulge me in offering my advice to the dialogue…oh, sorry, was dreaming for a minute there – that the hierarchy actually sought sincere dialogue about how to fix its systemic criminal activities.  Nonetheless, here are my thoughts.

It’s all about governance.  According to Canon Law, those who write the laws are the same who interpret the laws and are the same who enforce the laws.  That is a system destined for abuse and corruption – two longstanding trademarks of the hierarchy.

To add to their death-grip on all ecclesiastic power (Canon 223 and others), Canon Law includes several Canons that make it near impossible to overturn existing laws.  This is a trap that results from belief in their own perfection.  If you believe you are perfect, then how could you write imperfect laws?  And since you don’t write imperfect laws, why would they need to be overturned. 

Canon law divides humanity into lay people and clerics (Canon 207), setting clerics above laity (Canon 223, 247 and others) and actually demanding that lay people revere and obey their pastor because pastors are the best representation of Christ for lay people (Canon 212).  As a side note, Canon Law decrees clerical institutions such as seminaries to be ecclesiastical juridical people (Canon 238).  Yes, yes, seminaries are people too according to Canon Law.  As ecclesiastical people, they not only are people but more powerful people than ones of non-clergy flesh and blood variety.

This is all problematic in itself but then, the hierarchy do two additional insidious things: 1) They say you must receive Jesus via Holy Communion and 2) incarcerate Jesus in the tabernacle and declare only they can summon Jesus to dwell amongst us in the form of the Blessed Sacrament.  In simpler terms they in essence say, “you need what I got, or you die and I’m the only provider.”  A drug cartel could not wish for a better setup.

But wait, it gets more insidious.  Canon Law includes 12 Canons which codify obligations to maintain secrecy (Canons 127, 269, 471, 645, 983, 1131, 1132, 1455, 1457, 1546, 1548 and 1602).  Canon Law reflects the hierarchy’s normalization of its stunningly unhealthy culture of secrecy and court intrigue.  Transfer a priest from diocese to diocese in secrecy?  Canon Law says that’s ok.  Hold in secret things that the brotherhood doesn’t want to divulge?  Canon Law approves of that too. 

As Canon Law stands today a priest molests a child but the child is taught that this guy is the closest thing to Jesus the child is going to encounter on Earth and he’s the guy who will give the child the Eucharist, without which the child will be damned forever.  If the priest is reported, the hierarchy can deal with him and his trial in secrecy and transfer him in secrecy.  Meanwhile, the parents and kid have to worry if they report the guy, will they be shunned or excommunicated, cutting themselves off from what they are taught is their only chance at eternal life. 

Canon Law lacks checks and balances on power and depends instead upon a belief that men of superior moral ilk occupy positions of ecclesiastical power.  I think 2000+ years of history prove that assumption breathtakingly wrong.

Short of a major overhaul of Canon Law, instilling a viable set of power checks by offering ecclesiastical power to lay people in equal levels to clerics while also ridding it of codes of secrecy, obedience to pastors, a sense of clerical superiority over lay people, and hand-binding laws against fixing the laws, the church will not seriously or successfully address its issues of systemic abuse.

I hold little hope that the same men who write into law what gives them absolute power will voluntarily change those laws.  Withholding money and subjecting them to legal recourse have some effect.  However, I think that people just need to both openly challenge the hierarchy and make the hierarchy irrelevant in their lives.  This is easier said than done in some countries, but I believe it is essential to force change and protect children.

Side note: The Lansing Diocesan Assembly offers free admission, but you must pre-register.  Here’s a link in case you’d like to acquire tickets to use or dispose of as you see fit.  Their website indicates they offer free child care, and we all know what a great reputation the church has for taking care of kids.