A Father-Mother Schism

Priest-father, not real father. Real fathers would more likely align with mons and kids on this one.

Until the Julie Hess letter was released last week, there wasn’t much St Blog’s action on the KC-SJ scandal. I searched through some sites and still nothing on many.

Red Cardigan got testy on her site. So did her combox, a bit:

At face value, this sounds like Erin is ready to join Voice of the Faithful. Although I say that tongue in cheek.

Father Z is taking his spiritual flints and slings to Mass, while warning you that only yellow smiley faces are welcome from the commentariat. He mentions the attacks of hell, but let’s be real: the bishop and vicar general both have allied themselves with a priest who has serious sexual problems outside of the Christian moral mainstream. If anyone’s closer to hell on this one, well, you can read my mind.

Not surprising this schism would split along the lines of clergy and mothers. Or real fathers, even. As a real father, I can say my inner alarms go off whenever I detect a whimper from the young miss. It’s been true since she arrived: the love and commitment of the domestic Church trumps clergy wagons circling on the divide.

I’ve heard more from friends in the diocese south of us. People in my old parish were pretty willing to let Fr Shawn’s last chance roll by. There was concern the weekend of 21/22 May, but the pastor there is good with people, and he offered to meet with anyone who had concerns or questions.

Ignoring a principal’s letter, however, is pretty bad. I heard from a retired principal who wasn’t impressed with the timeline. The mom of one of the young miss’s friends is much angrier.

Thinking about the future I would say that people who get wind of this story …

  • will be more inclined to report a priest to the police and bypass the diocese entirely.
  • will be less inclined to give conservatives/traditionalists the benefit of the doubt on the high moral ground
  • will be more inclined to maintain a close watchfulness in Catholic school settings
  • will be less inclined to trust their bishop
  • will be more inclined to tune in advocacy and protest groups

The Church itself will drift a bit farther from a practical unity: parents versus priests, priests more isolated from laity, priests wondering about bishops, the faith skeptics reinforced in their opinions about organized religion, Catholic inquirers dismayed. All in all, I’d say some people did a U-Turn on their way out of the Long Lent. Hiont to the clueless: it’s Easter. Get with the program.

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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19 Responses to A Father-Mother Schism

  1. Oh Todd, such wisdom. Sadly, I wish you didn’t need to show it, but the times demand it.

  2. Jimmy Mac says:

    Todd: your points about how people will react describes the here and now, not the future. If that level of consciousness hasn’t been raised by May 30, 2011, it will never be raised.

    There will not be unity in this church until the Vaticanes and their loyal minions stop confusing it with uniformity.

    Why do we think that the Eastern Rite Catholics are so protective of their particular traditions, liturgies, canon law and overall outlook on the church? That are not fools!!! The Orneryariate will learn quicker than they want and then the trickle this way across the Tiber might become a steady stream in the return direction.

  3. sheila0405 says:

    It seems as if the person who “summarized” the letter is most at fault in all of this. Still, I have to wonder why the principal did not pursue the issue after she had no response to her letter? And, of course, in the end the Bishop merely transferred the offending priest, when a call to the police was clearly in order.

  4. Bill Logan says:

    I’m surprised the story hasn’t gotten more attention from the Catholic blogosphere. I think Fr. Z posted only after the Commonweal blog posted an entry on the story (and that only after the 2nd round of disclosures from the principal’s letter). As long as the news was mostly confined to the National Catholic Reporter, he felt free to dismiss it. If Finn had been a “liberal” bishop, he’d have been on the story from Day 1.

    A Kansas City blogger speculated that perhaps Finn’s lack of response might have been because he was ideologically sympathetic to Ratigan. From what I’ve read of Finn, that seems plausible.

    Depressingly, the diocese seems to be taking refuge in a certain minimizing (or denial) for its lack of response (e.g. this situation wasn’t envisioned by the Charter, this was outside the scope of the review board, we talked to the police and they said it wasn’t pornography). Whereas this situation was pretty well covered by what I’ve read of the diocese’s sexual misconduct policy–the policy was good, but that’s no help when it’s entirely ignored.

  5. NL says:

    I had to read Fr. Z’s initial post on this matter twice because there was such a gap between the “to the barricades, defend the Bishop!” impression it conveyed and its very carefully parsed presentation of hard facts. I have to say it is very skillfully written and it depends on a few key omissions. It does not mention, for instance, that among the photos discovered in December were several furtive “up skirt” shots focused on the panties of young children, along with one of a nude child focused on the genitals. No, these pictures weren’t borderline, and it wasn’t a case of “what could poor Bishop Finn have done”. Any parent who saw those pictures would have gone straight to the police in an official manner. Fr. Z then avoids the fact that Bishop Finn did not do this, did not act in an official capacity to hand everything over to the police and let them start a formal investigation, but chose instead an unofficial contact with a single off-duty police officer who was only given a verbal description of a single photograph. These hard, brutal facts put matters in a much different light than Fr. Z lets on, one less favorable to Bishop Finn who has admitted to failings himself.

    There is something slimy about making asses of ones readers by withholding necessary information from them and then sending them out, unarmed with facts, to act as apologists online. His readers deserve better.

    • Liam says:

      Fr Z has a track record of selective information. He’s not alone, but this is hardly the first instance of it, that’s all. Caveat lector.

      • NL says:

        What gets me is that it does his own side no good. Why choose to fight on *this* hill with so little ammo?

        I like how he unobtrusively slips this sentence in: “That said, I think that once the diocese had received the information they did at first get, the diocese probably should have asked for a more thorough investigation”. It covers his ass very nicely in the blandest language possible, floating right by the reader used to his more vivid language (ooh-rah!), and then gets back to “nothing to see here mode”:

        “The media and, no doubt, the FIshwrap, are going to put him through the grinder for all manner of things imagined not to have been done properly.”

        Then follows a flood of (pruned) comments telling us that, gee, the police were contacted and did nothing. Mission accomplished. Again, very skillfully written.

        http://wdtprs.com/blog/2011/05/the-storm-building-in-the-d-of-kansas-city-st-joseph/

      • Liam says:

        Understand that Fr Z is a polemicist by vocation; that is, he is devoted to spin in favor of his ideology.

        He is a priest who lives on a farm outside Wausau, WI, and is not incardinated the local diocese of La Crosse but in a suburbicarian see of Rome (Velletri-Segni, IIRC). So he has no pastoral responsibilities, and no accountability. He’s free to pretty much do as he wants.

      • Mike K says:

        Liam, your guess on the diocese of Fr. Z’s incardination is correct.

        And that’s my biggest problem with priests such as Fr. Z, Fr. Frank Pavone and others. They tend stand independently and do what they want while “belonging” to a diocese far from their primary residence. That makes them quite dangerous (IMHO) because they become celebrities (and thus develop a certain level of pride and self-importance). Their message may be the right one, but their delivery and approach marks them as good politicians, rather than good shepherds/pastors.
        - A good shepherd works quietly, rather than in the public eye.
        - A good shepherd counsels first, cajoles second, threatens third and punishes last. A politician proposes the threat and the punishment before knowing the details.
        - A good shepherd understands his people and works with them regardless of their ideology. A politician can choose to work/support only those who share their ideology and condemn those who don’t.

        Fr. Pavone is (and, I believe, all the Priests for Life are) presently incardinated in the Amarillo, Texas diocese. Fr. Pavone, when he was asked to step down from PfL and become a parish priest in New York by Cardinal Egan in 2001, took all sorts of steps to avoid serving in a parish and eventually was incardinated in Amarillo. Do a Google search on “Frank Pavone Cardinal Egan” for the background. (If you note the dates, you’ll understand why the story didn’t get much traction at the time…)

  6. NL says:

    Interesting biographical information, Liam.

    “A polemicist by vocation”: Aye, and what a polemicist! He concedes the main point, that Bp. Finn should have contacted the police and triggered a thorough investigation earlier, in an essay that persuades his readers to ignore or oppose anyone who raises that central point! I do have a healthy bit of admiration here, but how can you take him at face value after this?

    • Liam says:

      You see, it should not be confused with authentic apologetics. Instead, it’s about finding an anxious audience and cultivating its neuroses loudly and assiduously. Anything that furthers this mission is amplified, and anything that does not is muted. (This is not a pattern unique to Fr Z, but is a pattern that obtains across the spectrum of opinionaters – from Glenn Beck to Keith Olbermann and in between and beyond.)

    • Liam says:

      Btw, I should add that I find it particularly noxious for priests to be engaged in this kind of behavior (which I should clarify, is a pattern of behavior I first personally witnessed on the left, since I was in very lefty communities at the time, but I realize knows no ideological boundary and has been present on the right just as long – it occurs at all junctions of anxiety and ideology), since it is the antithesis of shepherding.

  7. Harry says:

    You mean to tell me that the reaction in the blogosphere is based largely on ideology? I am shocked, SHOCKED!

    I do want to make a point that nothing in Hess’ letter described any criminal (i.e., illegal behavior), which is not a defense of anybody. It’s simply a statement that there was nothing to take to the police over the heads of the diocese.

    She did describe very serious “grooming” and predatory behavior — exactly the kind of behavor described in the “Protecting God’s Children” program, and of course, her memo should have been taken far more seriously that it was.

    • Bill Logan says:

      And in light of her letter, there’s absolutely no excuse for the diocese failing to contact the police in December 2010 when the photos were discovered on Ratigan’s laptop.

  8. FrMichael says:

    Fr Z lives in Wisconsin? I thought he lived in Italy!

    In any case, exhibit #558553 on why parishioners should report any suspected child abuse (and porn) charges to the police first, and then maybe give the local diocese a courtesy call.

    It’s not a liberal/conservative thing, it’s a clergy-protection-racket thing. The bishops cannot be trusted with doing the right thing when it comes to disciplining priests or each other, regardless of how you may agree with them theologically or ideologically on other issues.

    How many times does this type of incident have to happen before the lay faithful get the message?

    • Liam says:

      No, the Sabine Farm is very much on North 97th Street in the Wausau area….. You thought those birds and that snow were in Italy?

  9. FrMichael says:

    Oh, and the comments on other concerned blogs about the “chancery bubble” are quite apropos. In many ways the lay staffers of the local chanceries in my experience are more disconnected than the “chancery rat” priests and less likely to pass along pertinent information upwards.

    • Liam says:

      It’s one reason I think dioceses need to be small. Small enough for one bishop (no auxiliaries and no multi-layered curia) to govern while making “plausible deniability” much less plausible. Small enough that a bishop would not need an episcopal residence but visit with all the parishes in the diocese over the course of a year (and conduct confirmations and other sacraments as needed). And the diocese should be small enough that a combination of laity and non-diocesan religious could discern nominees for the office of bishop, and the diocesan presbyterate could elect from that terna, with confirmation by Rome.

      Roll up procurement, benefit plans and what not to the provincial level, administered by a board of trustees comprised by a provincial synod.

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