Posted in category "Accountability"

The Convenient Departures of Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jan 16, 2016 | Categories: Accountability, Bishops, Lesbians & Gays, Politics, Scandals

Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez, 79, the head of the Catholic church in the Dominican Republic, is back in the news after ripping U.S. ambassador James “Wally” Brewster about comments he had made about corruption in the Dominican Republic.

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In a meeting with reporters after Mass, Cardinal Lopez accused Brewster of promoting a gay rights agenda on Dominican soil.  “That man needs to go back to his embassy,” he sneered. “Let him focus on housework, since he’s the wife to a man.”

Lopez’s comments came after Brewster accused police officers of threatening and assaulting several U.S. investors who were attending a conference organized by the local government.

“Imagine the horror I felt when I got a call from one of them, telling me they had been stopped by a uniformed police officer, that they had a weapon pointed at them and that they were forced to turn over their wallets,” Brewster said.

This isn’t the first time Cardinal Lopez has been nasty with Ambassador Brewster in public.

In June 2013, when Wally Brewster was named ambassador, Lopez called him a faggot in a news conference, and said, “I don’t agree in the least with that kind of preference (homosexuality).”

Santo Domingo auxiliary bishop Pablo Cedano also weighed in, adding the naming of the new U.S. ambassador “is far from our cultural reality” and “hopes” that Brewster doesn’t come to the country, because if he does, he “will suffer and have to leave.” Choosing a former gay activist as ambassador to the Dominican Republic “was a lack of sensitivity, of respect by the United States.”

One day in 2012, prominent television reporter, Ms. Nuria Piera, received a tip that many afternoons the papal nuncio drank beer at a waterfront restaurant and then went off with young boys. The restaurant was in an area of the national capital, Santo Domingo, known for male prostitutes.

Ms. Piera sent a video crew to keep watch. The crew shot some footage of Archbishop Wesolowski drinking alone and walking along the promenade. When he noticed their presence, he went over to their car and smacked his hand against it, asking why they were following him. After that incident, Ms. Piera said, he disappeared from the waterfront. “I suspected that there may have been a leak from our own office,” Ms. Piera said.

On June 24, 2013 Francisco Javier Occi Reyes, a Roman Catholic deacon and sometime sex partner for Archbishop Wesolowski, was arrested by police for solicitation of minors and taken to jail. He later told police at the time of his arrest he was “pimping” a youngster for Wesolowski, who was waiting in his car nearby. deacon

The deacon said Wesolowski left the scene, and said nothing because he thought the church’s influence would get him out of jail.

But when no one came to bail him out–and the deacon understood he would stay in jail a long time before trial–he sent a letter to be hand delivered to Wesolowski’s office.  The letter, dated July 2nd, may have expressed contrived or genuine remorse, but either way it ended Wesolowski’s diplomatic career. jozef wesolowski

“We have offended God” and the church, the letter said, by sexually abusing children and adolescents “for crumbs of money.” The deacon wrote that he had agreed to find child victims for the nuncio so that “your sexual appetite can be satiated,” but that he was now asking God for forgiveness.

The deacon sent copies of the same letter to Cardinal Lopez and also his bishop, Gregorio Nicanor Pena Rodriguez.  The cardinal quietly carried the letter and other evidence to the Vatican, where he met directly with Pope Francis.

Neither the cardinal, nor other church officials, reported the allegations of abuse to the authorities.

On August 23, 2013 Archbishop Wesolowski was secretly recalled to Rome. Six days later, Cardinal Lopez called the papal nuncio “a great friend and promoter of peace.” Lopez told news media he didn’t know what prompted the call, and suggested it might have been the result of a personal conflict with Puerto Rico’s archbishop, Roberto Octavio Gonzalez Nieves.

Interesting side story…Archbishop Gonzalez has been accused by Vatican emissaries of allegedly protecting pedophile priests, abusing his power, promoting Puerto Rican independence from the U.S., and supporting a law  that would grant same-sex couples living together the rights of inheritance, hospital visits and health coverage. Wesolowski was among those pressuring him to step down as Puerto Rico’s archbishop and take a position elsewhere. The ultra conservative Life Site News has an interesting story on Archbishop Gonzalez’ political battles.

The attorney general for the Dominican Republic, Mr. Francisco Dominguez Brito, and the district attorney for Santo Domingo, Ms. Yeni Berenice Reynoso Gomez, both said they learned of the sexual abuse allegations against Archbishop Wesolowski from Ms. Piera’s television reports, which were broadcast in September 2013. The program included a 13-year-old boy who said he had been abused.

Ms. Reynoso said her investigators had identified several children aged 12-17, mainly from very poor neighborhoods, with whom the papal nuncio had sexual contact, but indicated there were likely more.

The 17-year-old had epilepsy, and the nuncio gave him medicine in exchange for sex acts, starting when the boy was 13.  “This is the most terrible case that I have ever seen,” said the district attorney. “He was abusing kids who were living in extreme poverty, in exchange for pills for a boy’s illness.”

“He definitely seduced me with money,” 17-year-old Francis Aquino Aneury told The New York Times. He was 14 when the man he met shining shoes began offering him increasing larger sums for sex acts. “I felt very bad. I knew it wasn’t the right thing to do, but I needed the money. Aquino told the Times reporter that Wesolowski would watch him masturbate, would touch him, or touch himself. Another report mentioned Wesolowski would film oral sex acts on his cell phone.

Ms. Reynoso felt strongly that the case should have been prosecuted in the Dominican Republic, not the Vatican.  “These children who were abused, and their families, and the Dominican society, have a legitimate right to see Jozef Wesolowski judged by a jury–not as a diplomat, but for what he really is,” she said.  “A child abuser.”

Soon after the television report and other local media coverage on allegations of sexual misconduct by Archbishop Wesolowski and Wojciech Gill, a fellow Polish priest and friend, Cardinal Lopez confirmed he had gone to the Vatican to address the matter, but left it to the Vatican to investigate.

Archbishop Wesolowski conveniently departed in late August before the news story broke in early September.

After the story broke in the Dominican Republic news media, and it was clear Archbishop Wesolowski would not be back, Cardinal Lopez  began to voice support for the investigation of the former papal nuncio and other pedophile priests.

In a letter signed as archbishop of Santo Domingo and as president of the Dominican bishops conference, Cardinal Lopez called for a “purification of the Church and for the removal of those who unworthily exercise this ministry and do not deserve to be called priests.”

“In recent weeks,” the letter sent on, “the public has been shocked repeatedly by embarrassing behavior in different areas of the country by clergy members of the Catholic Church, who we expect and ought to behave differently,” stated Cardinal Lopez.

Without mentioning any specific names or cases, the cardinal prayed, “Jesus, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing and they are hurting the heart of the Church and faith of many people.”

The “root problem” of clergy abuse, Cardinal Lopez said, “is an undetermined number” of candidates preparing for priesthood who “do not have an authentic vocation” and who “during formation are able to feign something they are not, and if formation directors are not careful, they sneak into the clergy, and later the bishops pay the consequences for their excesses and turmoil.”

After his recall to the Vatican, Archbishop Wesolowski was given a few months to prepare for his defense. He was tried first by a canonical court, and on June 27, 2014 he was found guilty of sex abuse by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He was laicized shortly following the decision.

On September 23, 2014, Vatican criminal proceedings against Wesolowski started. He was allowed to remain under house arrest because of medical reasons.

Vatican prosecutors accused Wesolowski of sexually abusing children in the Dominican Republic where he worked from 2008 to 2013 at the Vatican’s ambassador. They said he picked up poor boys on the waterfront, paid them for sex acts, and took pornographic photos of them.  He was also accused of offending “Christian morality” by repeatedly logging into pornographic sites involving minors in the Dominican Republic and the Vatican following his recall.

Wesolowski was indicted in June 2015 and a trial date set for July 11, 2015.

On July 10th, Wesolowski collapsed at his residence and was admitted to an intensive care unit in an Italian hospital for an “unexpected illness.” The trial was postponed, and no new date was set for its resumption. He was treated for “a serious drop in blood pressure, due to the heat and tension, as well as his age.”

Jozef Wesolowski died at his residence on August 28, 2015.  He was 67.

A statement released by the Holy See Press Office shared the news, stating the initial investigations done by Vatican authorities “indicate that he died of natural causes” in the early hours of the morning.

His body was found at about 5 AM by a priest who lived in the same building, which houses the Franciscans who hear confessions in St. Peter’s Basilica, as well as offices of the Vatican police force. Wesolowski was in front of a TV which was on.

During Wesolowski’s funeral in a Vatican administrative palazzo’s chapel, eight minutes of silence replaced a homily. Celebrating the Mass was a Polish prelate, Monsignor Konrad Krajewski, who is Pope Francis’ chief alms-giver.  He was returned to his native Poland for burial.  Poland-Dominican-Abus_Horo

The results of the autopsy were released on December 14, 2015. The conclusion of the report, which was submitted to the Chancellor’s Office of the Vatican City State Court of the First Instance, confirmed what had already emerged from the post mortem examination: Msgr. Jozef Wesolowski died of heart failure.

Another convenient departure?

Since Msgr. Wesolowski was not brought to trial, there were no ugly details, names, dates, faces, encounters for the press to paw over. His story faded quietly with the end of the year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Did Bishop Livieres Get Removed?

Posted by Censor Librorum on Oct 26, 2014 | Categories: Accountability, Bishops, History, Humor, Popes, Scandals, Weirdos

On September 25, 2014, Pope Francis removed Bishop Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano, 69, head of the Diocese of Ciudad del Este, the second largest city in Paraguay. He took the action to preserve the “unity” of both the bishops and the faithful” and “under the weight of serious pastoral concerns,” said the Vatican in a statement. ciudad del este

Bishop Livieres, a member of Opus Dei, repeatedly feuded with the other bishops in Paraguay over seminarian formation, liberation theology and pastoral tone.

He was appointed to the diocese by St. John Paul II in 2004 with a mandate, communicated to him by the papal nuncio at the time, to oppose Paraguayan bishops’ “monolithic” support for liberation theology. He said Pope Benedict XVI personally told him in 2008 that liberation theology was “the problem in all of Latin America.”

But Pope Benedict “had a very different orientation from the present pontificate,” the bishop said. “This is a pontificate opposed to the previous pontificate.”

Soon after he was installed, Bishop Livieres opened his own diocesan seminary in Ciudad del Este, marked by a more orthodox style then the main seminary in Paraguay’s capital, Asuncion.

The man he appointed as his Vicar General, a position often responsible for the oversight of clerical sexual abuse, is the Rev. Carlos Urrutigoity.  Fr. Urrutigoity has been accused multiple times of sexual abuse of high school boys and seminarians in the guise of spiritual direction.

Fr. Urrutigoity has an interesting story of his own that mixes ultra orthodoxy with homo-erotic overtones and encounters. He began his clerical career in the schismatic Society of St. Pius X. urrutigoity

In 2002, Urrutigoity was accused of sexual abuse of young men in a highly publicized lawsuit in the diocese of Scranton, PA.  He and another priest, Eric Ensey, were suspended by then-Bishop James Timlin amid allegations that they had sexually molested students at St. Gregory’s Academy, a high school for boys operated by the Priestly Fraternity for St. Peter, an order devoted to the Latin Mass. The diocese reached a $400,000 plus settlement in the case in 2006. St. Gregory’s Academy closed in 2012.

A statement on the Diocese of Scanton, PA website describes Fr. Urrutigoity as a “serious threat to young people” and says that Bishop Timlin’s immediate successor, Bishop Joseph Martino, cautioned Bishop Livieres against accepting Fr. Urrutigoity as an active priest.

“Bishop Martino…carefully and consistently expressed his grave doubts about this cleric’s suitability for priestly ministry and cautioned the bishop of the Diocese of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, to not allow Father Urrutigoity to incardinate into his diocese,” the statement reads.

When the archbishop of Asuncion, Eustaquio Cuquejo Verga, asked Bishop Livieres to investigate Fr. Urrutigoity, Livieres fired back publicly saying, “I think Cuquejo is a homosexual” to Paraguayan TV station La Tele.

In July 2014, Pope Francis sent a cardinal and an archbishop to investigate the Ciudad del Este diocese.  They were looking into accusations of embezzlement in the management of the diocese’s finances, severing ties with other bishops, and protecting and promoting Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity in the face of numerous warnings by other dioceses.

Shortly after the July 21-26 visit, the Vatican ordered Fr. Urrutigoity be removed from ministry, and severely restricted the activities of Bishop Livieres, including removing his authority to ordain priests.

Although the Vatican did not specify Bishop Livieres’ financial irregularities, he was allegedly accused of using funds destined for needy and abandoned children, single pregnant women, and women subject to domestic violence, to cover phone, gas and other expenses at the seminaries he opened.

Fr. Ciro Benedettni, deputy head of the Vatican press office, said issues surrounding Fr. Urrutigoity were part of the reason for the removal of Bishop Livieres, but the main motive was to put a stop to the infighting among Paraguayan bishops over the training of priests and the mismanagement of seminaries set up by Bishop Livieres.

The downfall of Bishop Livieres has several similarities to the case of Bishop Robert Finn of the Kansas City-St. Joseph, MO diocese:

-Both bishops are members of Opus Dei.

-Both were outspoken promoters of Catholic orthodoxy.

-Both protected priests credibly accused of sexual abuse.

Either something doesn’t add up morally, or priestly sexual peccadilloes count for much less than doctrinaire correctness to Catholic tradition.

Further Reading:

“Purgatory Begins for Bishop Finn”

“The Curious Case of Carlos Urrutigoity”

“Rogue Priest, formerly of the Diocese of Scanton, Living the Good Life in Paraguay”

 

 

 

 

 

Moral Corruption

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jul 5, 2014 | Categories: Accountability, Bishops, Lesbians & Gays, Scandals

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In February 2006, John C. Nienstedt, Bishop of New Ulm, Minnesota, dedicated his monthly column to “Moral Corruption.”

Brokeback Mountain

“Two recent events alerted me to the fact that our society is indeed on a slide toward moral corruption,” he began.  The first dealt with assisted suicide, “the second event involves the movie, ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ which I do not recommend for your viewing,” he cautioned.  brokeback-mountain

“Hollywood seeks to make this film into a contemporary version of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ with, of course, the necessary changes in gender. The story is about two lonely cowboys herding sheep up a mountain range. One night after a drinking binge, one man makes a pass at the other and within seconds the latter mounts the former in an act of wanton anal sex.  This sets off a lustful passion in both men that ‘grabs hold of them’ and they find impossible to control.”

“I wonder if the trend makers in Hollywood really think they know where this is leading us as we slide further and further down the slope of immorality. Surely they must be aware that they have turned their backs on God and the standards of God in their quest to make evil look so attractive.”

Arcbhishop Nienstedt Under Investigation

Eight years later, on July 1, 2014, Commonweal Magazine reported that John C. Nienstedt, now 67 and  Archbishop of Minneapolis and St. Paul, is under investigation for inappropriate sexual behavior with men.

Jennifer Hasselberger, former chancellor for canonical affairs for the archdiocese turned whistle blower, said she was interviewed April 16, 2014 by two attorneys from the Minneapolis law firm Greene Espel for the investigation. Among the investigators’ topics was  the nature of Archbishop Nienstedt’s relationship with the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer, 48. 20140129__CurtisCarlWehmeyer_200

Wehmeyer pleaded guilty in 2012 to sexually abusing two brothers,  ages 12 and 14.  They were sons of a parish employee at Blessed Sacrament Church, where Wehmeyer served as pastor. Nienstedt appointed him to the position despite evidence of sexual misconduct in previous years. On February 1, 2013 Wehmeyer was convicted of 20 counts of child sex abuse and child pornography and sentenced to five years in prison.

Neinstedt was investigated in December 2013 for inappropriately touching a boy during a photo shoot following a confirmation ceremony in May 2009. According to the investigation, following the ceremony, the boy told his mother that Nienstedt touched his buttocks.

In a later interview with police, the accuser said that during the photograph session Nienstedt’s hand had moved down his back to his buttocks, and that he thought it was “creepy,” but did not feel violated.

After locating the photograph of the accuser with Nienstedt, police observed that the group is arranged on the stairs and the archbishop is standing one step higher than the accuser. So, it appeared that Nienstedt would have to bend to reach the boy’s buttocks and any such action would likely be witnessed by others present. Based on the investigation, the attorney’s office decided there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Nienstedt.

Nienstedt Hard on Gay Catholic Families

Archbishop Nienstedt had a  reputation of being very tough on gay people, and has made homosexuality his signature issue.  He famous (or infamous) for spending $650,000 on DVDs and a PR campaign to persuade Minnesota citizens to vote against same-sex marriage. (It passed).  But his curt response to a Catholic mother who wrote to him in April 2010 pleading for acceptance for her gay child stands out for its utter lack of feeling:

“I write to inform you,” the letter begins, “that the teaching of the Catholic Church on homosexuality, as described in paragraphs 2357 and 2358 and 2359 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is rooted in Scripture and based on Natural Moral Law. It, therefore, shares in God’s revelation to us. Catholics are bound in conscience to believe this teaching. Those who do not cannot consider themselves to be Catholic and ought not to participate in the sacramental life of the Church.”

“Indeed, some might find this a hard saying but many of Jesus’ teachings were likewise received as such. I urge you to reconsider the position you expressed in your letter.  Your eternal salvation may well depend upon a conversation of heart on on this topic.”

I think the Archbishop meant “conversion” vs “conversation” but the end result is the same–if the mother didn’t change her views and withdraw support from her child she was facing eternal damnation.

Rumors

A gay man, Gregg Larson, confronted Archbishop Nienstedt while he was at dinner in a restaurant with another man. Larson broke Nienstedt’s marriage DVD in front of him, along with his letter requiring all Catholics to support the ban. Larson then told Nienstedt that he had heard rumors that the archbishop was a closeted gay man, saying that if the rumors were true, the prelate was a hypocrite.

The archbishop responded, “You shouldn’t believe rumors,” to which Larson allegedly retorted, “Methinks thou dost protest too much.” “And at that point he kind of raised his hand and snarled ‘Get out!’ And I responded that his behavior was unbecoming of an archbishop and that maybe we needed an exorcist here…The other priest said that we were ruining their dinner and my partner said that they were ruining people’s lives.”

Sexual Impropriety

Things began to unravel for Archbishop Nienstedt in April 2013 when Elizabeth Hasselberger resigned her post as chancellor for canonical affairs for the archdiocese.  She left in frustration after Nienstedt failed to report or discipline clergy suspected of sex abuse. Hasselberger began leaking internal documents to the press that appeared to detail efforts to shield abusers.

Late in 2013 the archdiocese began receiving a series of allegations that Nienstedt had a string of improper relationships with men or had made unwanted advances on others.  This was around the same time as the buttocks-touching incident surfaced.

Former chancellor Elizabeth Hasselberger believes the investigators from Greene Espel have received “ten sworn statements alleging sexual impropriety on the part of the archbishop dating from his time as a priest in the Archdiocese of Detroit, as Bishop of New Ulm, and while coadjutor and archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis.” She told a reporter that “he also stands accused of retaliating against those who refused his advances or otherwise questioned his conduct.” 20130920_haselberger_40

In a written statement, Archbishop Nienstedt responded that the allegations or nothing more than a “personal attack against me due to my unwavering stance on issues consistent with church teaching, such as opposition to so-called same-sex marriage.” He also suspects that accusers are coming forward because of “difficult decisions” he has made, but, citing privacy laws, he would not elaborate.

Questions from the Censor Liborum

1.  What will Pope Francis do if Archbishop Nienstedt is found by the investigation to have harassed and threatened priests and seminarians for sex?

2. Why did it take a lay woman – Elizabeth Hasselberger – to expose a culture of moral corruption in the chancery?

3. How many times did Archbishop Nienstedt watch “Brokeback Mountain”?

 

 

 

 

 

Archbishop John Myers: What I Don’t Know Won’t Hurt Me

Posted by Censor Librorum on May 9, 2014 | Categories: Accountability, Bishops, Lesbians & Gays, Scandals

 

John J. MyersIn August 2013 the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois announced that it would pay $1.35 million to settle a lawsuit by a former altar boy who accused the late Msgr. Thomas Maloney of sexually abusing him in 1995 and 1996 when he was eight years old. Archbishop John W. Myers, who was then the bishop, was also named in the suit for failing to take action against the monsignor. Myers served as bishop of Peoria from 1990-2001.

The boy’s mother said the abuse happened on to occasions while her son was helping the priest. “Maloney molested Andrew once in the church sanctuary before school, and once behind the altar after 10:30 Mass on a Sunday.”

Archbishop Myers, in a 2010 deposition in the case, said he had no knowledge of any allegations against Fr. Maloney until long after he left Peoria. Documents produced in the legal case show Myers was copied on certain memos with potentially incriminating information about Maloney, but the bishop said he didn’t see them, likely the result of a “slipshod” filing system in the diocese. “There may have been things that got by me,” Myers said. “I underscore the kind of loose system we had with the two different buildings in Peoria. It could be sometimes two weeks of copies that I would get when they moved them from building to building, and I sometimes didn’t have the time to read them.”

Notes & Letters

Bishop Myers did have the time to write personal notes to Fr. Maloney thanking him for his gifts of coin collectibles and more.  Here is a sampling:

6/21/91: “I always enjoy a good visit with you. Not only is it fun, I usually learn a thing or two. I do not ever expect to “profit” from our friendship. Thank you so much for lunch and your wonderful gift.”

3/13/92: “Just a thank you note for the silver. That one is even too big for a watch fob. It could be tied around one’s neck like the proverbial “millstone.”

1/30/95: “Just a note to thank you for lunch. I do enjoy our chats. I am grateful for your gift. I will try not to lose it all at the “dogs” in Florida. From February 4 through about the 15th Al and I should be at the Gene Lamb condo on Captiva. I will put the address and phone number at the bottom of the letter.”

6/27/00:  “Just a note to thank you for the wonderful dinner at Jim’s. Mark and I enjoyed it immensely. I surely hope you will join us on Crete. The hotel is Porto Elounda Mare, We’ll be arriving on August 24 and departing on August 31.”  crete 2

So were Myers and Maloney friends? “I don’t know if ‘friends’ would–I had many other priests that I was closer to. I can say that,” Myers clarified in the deposition.

Among the documents Myers claimed he didn’t see was an August 1999 letter from Msgr. Steven Rohlfs, his Vicar General, responding to a complaint by parents of a grade school student over Maloney’s conduct during confession. The boy told his parents that during confession Maloney described the sexual acts of a fellow priest in graphic detail. He took a mobile phone call in the middle of the sacrament, and conducted penance as an interrogator–Did you do X, Y Z?

Rohlfs wrote back to the parents apologizing for Maloney’s scandalous  behavior, and assured them they had done the right thing in contacting him. The Vicar General copied Myers on the letter and the diocesan law firm as well.

At least one complaint about Maloney received Myers personal attention–although he could not recall it in the deposition. On September 1, 2000, a married couple from Epiphany parish wrote to Myers to complain about Maloney’s behavior both in and out of church. On Super Bowl Sunday, they explained, Maloney could be heard distributing communion in the following way: “Body of Christ.  Is the beer cold yet?” Maloney’s homilies were often laced with “inappropriate jokes.” The wife explained that as she was confessing to Maloney he informed her “women are just too emotional,” adding, “maybe she should get a life.” Later that night, around 9 PM, she saw him in a Walgreen’s parking lot with a grade school girl, who eventually left the car to buy about $20 in candy. And, finally, she wrote Maloney “typically” took eighth-grade girls out to lunch at a place called the Pub.

Myers responded to the complaint in a letter dated September 14, 2000. “I’m sorry you do not approve of his (Maloney’s) approach to priestly ministry,” it begins. “Your characterization of Father’s liturgies is not generally accurate according to the responses I have received from my inquiries.  The celebration of Holy Mass at Epiphany, while it may not be a formal as some parishes, is respectful and prayerful. I don’t know what to say about the other matters you mention. Basically your experience does not correspond with that of many other people.  I don’t know in what context others would have said, ‘we know that Father has problems….'”

Bishop Myers concluded the letter by saying, “I know that Father loves people, especially young people, and that he cares for them generously. We have never had any allegations of impropriety.”

Off to Newark and Fr. Fugee

On October 15, 2000, upon Bishop Myers nomination, Pope John Paul II elevated Fr. Maloney to Monsignor.  Nine months later the  pope appointed Myers as Archbishop of Newark. He replaced the popular and social-justice minded Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, who became archbishop of Washington, DC.

Fr. Maloney retired from active ministry in 2002 for reasons of health.  He died in 2009, at age 73.

As bishop in Peoria, Illinois, Myers did not come under media scrutiny.  That changed when the Fr. Fugee sexual abuse scandal made the New York metropolitan newspapers.

A few months prior to Myers’ arrival in Newark, Fr. Michael Fugee, assistant pastor of the Church of St. Elizabeth in Wyckoff, was arrested and charged with criminal sexual contact.

He was accused of fondling the genitals of a 14-year-old boy during wrestling matches on two occasions.  Under questioning by police, Fugee confessed to intentionally touching the teenager’s crotch over his clothes. According to the youth, Fugee pinned him down and “slowly” moved his hand over his crotch.

Prosecutors dismissed the case inf 2009 after securing an agreement with Fugee and the archdiocese that Fugee would never again minister to minors or be an unsupervised situation with them.

During the November 2009 deposition, Myers expressed disappointment that Fugee let detectives interview him without counsel.  “Is it your recollection,” the plaintiff’s attorney, Jessica Arbour, asked Myers, “that he (Fugee) admitted that he touched the boy?” “Unfortunately, without his lawyer present, he did,” Myers responded.

Most Catholic parents would feel concerned and uneasy when a bishop sounds more like head defense counsel than a shepherd.

At the time time, The Star Ledger (formerly the Newark Star Ledger) intensified its coverage of Archbishop Myers, reporting on the Fugee scandal and the building of Myers’ weekend/retirement home. The New York Times followed The Star Ledger’s reporting lead and on February 14, 2013 published the devastating article, “A Church So Poor It Has to Close Schools, But So Rich It Can Build a Palace.”

For a bishop comfortable with looking the other way (or not looking at all), the media spotlight on his management and priorities was uncomfortable as it became increasingly critical. Calls by laity and media began to be made for him to step down as archbishop.

The last straw for Myers was The Star Ledger’s August 12, 2013 article, “Church pays $1.3 million in suit alleging that Newark archbishop protected abusers in Illinois.”  He unloaded in a sharply-worded letter to priests in a letter dated August 15, 2013:

“in the deposition given by me and selectively quoted by an interested attorney, some upset parents, and a former Priest of this Archdiocese, I spoke under oath and truthfully about matters relating to a certain Priest.  I never vacationed with him, and I received no gifts other than those often given to a bishop by Pastors or Parishes. Since we were both coin collectors, I recall that he once gave me a coin of minimal value, of which he had several examples.”

(That account of the gifting differs from what Myers said in the 2010 deposition.  In the transcript he said that Fr. Maloney gave him gold coins “two or three” times. Asked if they were valuable, Myers responded, “I don’t have any idea.”)

Myers defended himself against his critics, asserting they are hostile to “our Roman Catholic Faith and its Teachings, the Teachings of which I have always been a staunch and outspoken supporter, despite their ‘unpopularity’ in the secular and ‘politically correct’ society…” “God only knows their personal reasons and agenda,” he asserted, “We are still called to love them. And God will surely address them in due time.”

Five weeks later, on September 24, 2013, Pope Francis appointed Bernard A. Hebda, formerly the bishop of Gaylord, Michigan, as Newark’s coadjutor archbishop. In effect, this means he is co-archbishop, except in ceremonial precedence. A coadjutor bishop is usually appointed when the current bishop needs significant help in his ministry.  Hebda is expected to succeed Myers as archbishop of Newark when Myers retires in two years.

Myers is effectively finished as archbishop. The only thing that remains is whether or not he will be eased out before he is 75. My bet is he will be, very quietly.   He was so effective at looking the other way it cannot be definitively proved he protected predator priests.  But on the reverse side of that coin, Archbishop Myers has left himself open to assertions he is an incompetent administrator with poor pastoral priorities.

I was struck by the irony (or prophecy) of Myers’ thank you note for Fr. Maloney’s gift of a silver coin so large it could be “tied around one’s neck like a proverbial millstone.” “But he that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me,” Jesus said, “it would be better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea.”  israel-millstone_1154672_inl

Off Crete or Captiva Island would be more pleasant than the near Newark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Archbishop and the Hot Tub

Posted by Censor Librorum on Mar 16, 2014 | Categories: Accountability, Bishops, Humor, Scandals

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Newark, New Jersey’s Archbishop, John J. Myer, 72, recently made the decision to expand his weekend home in anticipation of his upcoming retirement at age 75.   bishop myers

It currently has five bedrooms, an elevator, a three-car garage, and a large ameba-shaped swimming pool. It is located on 8.2 acres in one of New Jersey’s more expensive and peaceful corners in Hunterdon County. The house and property was purchased for the Archbishop as a weekend retreat in 2002 for $700,000, and is now valued at $800,000.

The new wing of the house will have an indoor exercise pool, a hot tub, library, three fireplaces, another elevator, and a “gallery” to provide a panoramic view of the grounds below.

The 3,000 square foot addition, costing over $500,000, will bring the total area of the residence to 7,400 square feet, and the total value to at least $1.3 million.  Renovations do not include architect’s fees, furnishings or landscaping.  They are extra.

28% of Newark’s population lives below the poverty level.  The archdiocese has closed over 60 schools since 2002, due to declining enrollment and lack of money to operate them.

“The planned construction is being paid for by donations from individuals specifically given for this purpose,” stated the message on the archdiocese website, “and through the sale of properties that the Archdiocese owns but does not need.”

Obviously, the closed Catholic schools.

Jim Goodness, the spokesman for the Archdiocese, had the thankless job of trying to justify the expenditures to a furious public. He said the home extension was necessary to accommodate the bishop’s post-retirement wok, including expected frequent visits from priests, staff and other guests.

“The press said it’s a hot tub, it’s a whirlpool,” Goodness clarified. “He’s getting older–there are therapeutic issues.”

Parishioner Thomas Fitzgerald observed: “According to LifeSiteNews.com (an ultra conversation Catholic news site) on September 27, 2012, Archbishop Myers explains he is Biblically bound to preach the truth ‘in season and out of season’ and advises all the faithful to do likewise. ‘Woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel,” he cited. Evidently this was overheard from the whir of the hot tub.”

“How did this man become a bishop?” asked Mary Healey.

Good question.

 

J.F. Powers Priest Stories

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 26, 2013 | Categories: Accountability, Arts & Letters, Faith, Humor

powers

A found these gems in a review by Joseph Epstein of Suitable Accommodations: An Autobiographical Story of Family Life: The Letters of J. F. Powers, 1942-1963.  The book was edited by his eldest daughter, Katherine Powers.  His droll humor is a dead-ringer for my father’s:  “Let me be a lesson to you,” Powell admonished author Robert Lowell, from his house full of children, “stay single.”

“Powers tells a straight story, usually in an enclosed space. In some cases his priests never leave the parish, or even the rectory. They do their jobs, dealing as best they can with bishops, curates, housekeepers, pets and parishioners. They are fond of food and sometimes too fond of drink or perhaps both. Crises of conscience occasionally arise, but it is the quotidian detail, the daily rhythm of priestly life, the absorbs and fascinates in Power’s fiction. As Father Joe Hackett tells his young curate: This (the Catholic Church) is a big old ship, Bill. She creaks, she rocks, she rolls, and at times she makes you want to throw up. But she always gets where she’s going. Always has, always will, until the end of time.’

Power’s fiction met with criticism from Catholics who preferred their priests more saintly. But his priests are utterly believable with their flaws and down-to-earth observations. Here is Father Hackett’s summation on priesthood:  “It was still a job–a marrying, burying, sacrificing job, plus whatever good could be done on the side. It was not a crusade. Turn it into one, as some guys were trying to do, and you asked too much of it, of yourself, and of ordinary people, invited nervous breakdowns all around.”

 

 

 

 

 

Purgatory Begins for Bishop Finn

Posted by Censor Librorum on Oct 10, 2012 | Categories: Accountability, Bishops, Scandals

On September 6, 2012, Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri Diocese was found guilty of failing to report evidence of sexual abuse by a priest in his diocese. 

Bishop Finn is one of four Opus Dei Bishops in the United States and a hardline conservative.  At a Mass for Catholic school teachers and principals for the school year beginning August 2008, Finn–still coadjutor then–admonished the teachers to help their students resist the “culture of death” and the “age of relativism.”  He said: “There are objective truths. There is right and wrong. Holy Mother Church is our mother who loves us and she knows best. Catholic schools must be places where these moral truths are taught without variation and without ambiguity for the sake of souls and salvation.”

After a brief bench trial, Judge John Torrence pronounced the bishop guilty on the charge of failing to report suspected child abuse, a misdemeanor in the state of Missouri, making him the first American bishop convicted of a criminal offense for mishandling sex abuse complaints. Judge Torrence sentenced Bishop Finn to two years probation. The maximum sentence he could have received was a year in jail.

Before sentencing, Bishop Finn, 59, offered a simple apology for his role in the case. “I truly regret and am sorry for the hurt these events caused,” he said.

The bishop knew the priest, Fr. Shawn Ratigan, pastor of St. Patrick’s Church in Kansas City, was in possession of graphic images of children’s genitalia, according to court testimony.  However, he did not report the priest to the police.

Bishop Finn also said he did not report concerns about Fr. Ratigan to his diocesan review board, an advisory group the U.S. bishops’ charter mandates should be present in each diocese and should be used to evaluate allegations of abuse by priests.

After Father Ratigan was arrested, Bishop Finn met with his priests. Asked why Father Ratigan was not removed earlier, the bishop replied, according to the testimony, that he had wanted “to save Father Ratigan’s priesthood” and that he had understood that Father Ratigan’s problem was “only pornography.” 

Fr. Ratigan pleaded guilty in August 2012 to federal changes of producing and attempting to produce sexually graphic material of minor girls.   These included hundreds of photos focused on the girls’ crotch areas. Most photos appeared to be of girls six to ten years old,  One set of “staged” photos showed a little girl, two to three years old, lying down in bed. The girl was wearing only a diaper, but with each photo, the diaper was gradually removed to expose her genitals and buttocks.  Another staged photo sequence showed a sleeping seven or eight year old girl with her legs repositioned. Investigators felt the photos were disturbing and sexual in nature.

The series of missteps that ended with Bishop Finn’s conviction and Fr. Ratigan’s arrest began with a May 2010 letter from Julie Hess, the principal of St. Patrick’s School, who expressed concern about the priest’s “perceived inappropriate behavior with children,” and reported that some in the parish feared he might be a “child molester.”

The principal noted in her letter that the school community’s response to the priest’s behavior reflected the extensive training that teachers, parents, volunteers and students had received in the wake of the clergy abuse crisis. Her letter included no specific allegations of sexual abuse, Rather, as she noted, the community’s concerns were prompted by the priest’s nonsexual boundary violations in his interactions with children. Fr. Ratigan encouraged children to sit on his lap and dig in his pockets for candy. He photographed them constantly, even when they weren’t doing anything particularly photogenic. The letter also noted his refusal to abide by the personal boundaries taught to and expected by all parish employees.

Msgr. Robert Murphy, Bishop Finn’s second-in-command, summarized the contents of the principal’s letter for Bishop Finn, who did not ask to see the letter,  or speak with the principal. Msgr. Murphy was a key official in deciding how the diocese responds to allegations of priestly sexual abuse.

The diocese made no effort to notify the parents and families of St. Patrick’s parish or other parishes where Fr. Ratigan had been assigned. Bishop Finn advised that he felt that notifying parents at St. Patrick’s of the photos found on the laptop “would be like yelling fire in a crowded theater.”

He said and did nothing, and Fr. Ratigan continued to have contact with parish children and families.

This is the same man who upon becoming bishop, ordered the editor of the diocesan newspaper to immediately cease publicizing columns by Notre Dame theologian, Fr. Richard McBrien. Bishop Finn commented: “Everybody seems to make a big deal out of cancelling Fr. McBrien’s column. Quite honestly, it was fairly a no-brainer for me. Fr. McBrien likes to stir the pot. He approaches things with a certain skepticism and cynicism. You can get them in a lot of places, so go get it somewhere else. We need clear expressions of the meaning of faith, why we believe and how we can inspire each other.” Catholic publications, he said, must be “dependable in their fidelity.”

In mid-December 2010, Fr. Ratigan’s laptop was turned into diocesan officials after a computer technician found disturbing photos of children on the hard drive.  After reviewing the photos, Ms. Julie Creech, the head of the diocesan’s technology department, told Msgr. Robert Murphy, vicar general for the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese, to call the police.

Msgr. Murphy did not contact the authorities, but instead called a police captain who is a member of the diocese’s independent review board and described a single photo of a nude child that was no sexual in nature. Without reviewing the photo, the captain said he was advised that although such a picture might meet the definition of child pornography, it probably wouldn’t be investigated or prosecuted.

About a year and a half later, in May 2012,  Msgr. Murphy told police Fr. Ratigan’s laptop had contained hundreds of photos. The stipulated facts also state that in testimony, Murphy reported the incident to police because he thought the diocese’s response to Fr. Ratigan  was “moving along  with no direction, and I thought, ‘I have to do something.'” 

According to the facts, Msgr. Murphy also testified Bishop Finn was “upset” upon hearing Msgr. Murphy had reported Fr. Ratigan.  At the time, Msgr. told his sister, “I think I made a decision that will not make the bishop happy.”

When the news broke, local Catholics were outraged. The diocese organized “listening sessions” to manage the public reaction, and had participants engage in an exercise where they were instructed to write down a “hurt” and then write down a “hope.” Among the “hurts” written down by angry parents: “The images of my daughter’s private areas that the FBI showed me, they are forever burned into my brain…Shawn Ratigan was in my house, around my children in February, and I thought my children were completely SAFE!!”

Local Catholics took to the airwaves and web, too, setting up a Facebook page “Bishop Finn Must Go”, and commenting on blogs and newspapers. One woman named Ginger wrote: “I’ve followed this story since the beginning, and as a pro-lifer and a Catholic, I am mightily offended when people suggest poor Archbishop Finn is persecuted by the press because they are pro-aborts and he piously fought against stem cell initiatives. With friends such as Archbishop Finn, the pro-life movement needs no enemies. Men such as he who proclaim to be so pro-life out of one end of their mouths and then turn a blind eye to the sexual exploitation of children cause the bile to rise to my throat. No wonder the “liberal press” goes after these hypocrites with a vengeance. For pre-born life to matter so much when post-born children matter so little is sad indictment of the hierarchy. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that such despicable behavior on the part of ardent pro-life supporters casts shame upon us all.”

After his conviction, there were numerous calls for Bishop Finn to resign or be removed.  Many people strongly argued that if Pope Benedict removed a bishop for supporting the ordination of women, he surely must do the same for a bishop convicted of protecting a sexual predator of little girls and toddlers.

I am of two minds on whether or not on whether Bishop Finn should be removed.  On one hand, if we do believe terrible experiences can change people for the better, then Bishop Finn may end us as one of the vigilant bishops in protecting children and teens from clerical sexual abuse. He will certainly not want to go through this scrutiny, shame and public pillorying again.  He will be forced to revisit, over and over again, why he made the choices he did and the hurt, pain and suffering they have caused, and diminished trust and faith in the institution and its leaders.

On the other hand, Bishop Finn is now totally neutralized as a conservative spokesman for the church. He will be reminded of Fr. Shawn Ratigan every time he opens his mouth. He will be reminded of how he chose protecting himself and a fellow conservative priest over safeguarding children and parish families. He will be reminded of who and what he put first. His crediblity as a spiritual shepherd is virtually nil. Very few will pay attention of who he insinuates they should vote for.

But maybe now that Bishop Finn is lying down in the “foul rag and bone shop of the heart” as the Irish poet, Yeats, described it, he will climb up a purified and changed man.

The words from his “Warriors for the Victory of Life” keynote address on April 18, 2009 can give Bishop Finn a simple caution and way to follow:

“Every day the choice is before us: right or wrong; good or bad; the blessing or the curse; life or death.  Our whole life must be oriented toward choosing right, the good, the blessing, choosing life. If you and I fail to realize the meaning and finality behind our choices, and the intensity of the constant warfare that confronts us, it is likely that we will drop our guard, be easily and repeatedly deceived, and even lose the life of our eternal soul.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barbara Grier’s Lesbian Nuns

Posted by Censor Librorum on Nov 23, 2011 | Categories: Accountability, Celebrities, History, Lesbians & Gays, Scandals

Barbara Grier, a founder and publisher of Naiad Press, a much-thumbed lesbian pulp fiction publisher, died of cancer on November 10, 2011 in Tallahassee, Florida. She was 78.   Her death was announced by her long-time partner (in work and life), Donna McBride.

Founded in 1973, and with a mailing list purloined from the Daughters of Bilitis, Grier went on to publish over 500 books with unconditionally lesbian themes–romance, erotica, poetry, science fiction and self-help. If you wanted to read a book with lesbian sex, you bought one of the Naiad titles.   Like real life, sometimes the sex was great, sometimes not-so-great.   The stand-out best book of lesbian awakening,  desire, seduction and sex is Katherine V. Forrest’s 1983 novel, “Curious Wine.” Buy it.

The availability of these novels–with lust and sex and a happy ending–was a tremendous service to lesbians everywhere.    In  lesbian fiction in the 1940s,  50s and 60s the heroine dallied with a female lover but ended up with a man.   Barbara Grier flipped this formula around: the women flirted with men or a heterosexual lifestyle, but came to their senses and ended up with a woman.

Many of these early  lesbian novels were straight men’s pornographic fantasies: a little girl-on-girl action to get things warmed up, but a man finishes up. Lesbians had to be content with reading to the middle of the book.

Besides an appreciation of some of her romance novels, my acquaintence with Barbara Grier and Naiad Press came through the 1985 smash hit, “Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence.” In 1984 I was asked by Nancy Manahan, one of the editor/authors, if she could solicit stories from the ex-nuns and sisters who were members of CCL – the Conference for Catholic Lesbians.   A number of CCL members ended up in the book, including two of the women who were presented as currently belonging to a religious community. One of them still is…although she published her story using her grandmother’s name not her own.

Nancy Manahan did a workshop at the 1986 CCL national conference where she talked about the book and the process of pulling it together. As I remember her, she was soft-spoken,  thoughtful, and earnest.   She wrote in the forward of the book that its intent was to break the silence about “erotic love between women in religious life.”

The book resonated with a large swathe of Catholic lesbians, especially former women religious, who left their communities because their lesbianism was not compatible with either their vows, or the forced  invisibility of homosexuals in the Catholic Church.   The spiritual community they experienced in religious life was missed, and it left an ache in some that was never healed.

There is an interplay between sexuality and spirituality in Catholicism especially, with its emphasis on sensuality and the body.   Think of the suggestive pose of St. Sebastian, and the orgasmic rapture of St. Theresa of Avila.   Even Christ hanging on the cross often has his loincloth positioned in a pretty erotic angle. How can anyone avoid the subtle message of these images or even avoid making them an object of desire?

When a local TV station in Boston promoted an interview with Manahan and her co-editor, Rosemary Curb, archdiocesan officials complained, saying the broadcast would be “an affront to the sensitivity of Roman Catholics.” The station cancelled the program, but the ensuing uproar sent sales of the book soaring. “This is crazy,” Grier told the New York Times , scrambling to fill new orders for the book, which eventually sold several hundred thousand copies. “I’m a mouse giving birth to an elephant!”

A year or two later, a controversy ensured when Barbara Grier sold the rights to some of the lesbian nun stories to Penthouse Forum, a male prono magazine. The CCL board sent an angry letter to Grier saying it was a betrayal, selling these women’s stories for the titillation of male readers.  Nancy Manahan and Rosemary Curb  protested, too, but to no avail–Naiad Press owned the book.

I can’t remember if Grier replied to us–I think she didn’t bother–but the story goes she did it because she felt she could reach new women readers through Penthouse.

My sense is she did it for the money and publicity it would bring to Naiad Press.   She had her mainstream hit, and she wanted to ride it for all it was worth. After all, she labored for many years on the margins with  a shoestring budget.

The tremendous irony of the whole thing is that Barbara Grier, who spent a lifetime working hard to publish lesbian literature, had her greatest notoriety from providing lesbian sex thrills  to men.

 

A Week of Disorientation

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jul 16, 2010 | Categories: Accountability, Faith, Lesbians & Gays, Musings, Scandals

This week, moderate and liberal Catholics are putting their heads in their hands wondering why we continue.

The Vatican made an announcement that priests who sexually abuse minors, view child pornography, or sexually abuse mentally disabled adults, along with those who ordain women or women who attempt to be ordained, will now be included among the list of “delicta gravioria,” or the most serious crimes against church law.

The ordination of women is now classified as a “crime against the sacraments,” which includes any action that defiles or desecrates the Eucharist. men

At a Vatican briefing this week, Monsignor Charles Scicluna, an official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, denied that the Vatican equates women’s ordination with the sexual abuse of children. An illicit ordination, Scicluna clarified, is a “”sacramental” crime, while abuse is a “moral” crime.

Women’s Ordination Conference Executive Director Erin Saiz Hanna commented: “The Vatican’s decision (to) list women’s ordination in the same category as pedophiles and rapists is appalling, offensive, and a wake-up call for Catholics around the world. The new canonical declaration which names women’s ordination as a serious crime against the Roman Catholic Church is medieval at best. The idea that a woman seeking to spread the message of God somehow “defiles” the Eucharist reveals an antiquated, backwards Church that still views women as “unclean” and unholy.”

This same week, Zenit, the Vatican news agency, announced Archbishop Velasio De Paolis, 74, president of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See, has been asked by the Pope to govern the congregation in his name “during the time necessary to complete the path of renewal.” VelasioDePaolis

With a strong background in law and finance, Archbishop De Paolis essentially serves as chief auditor for the Vatican.   The Legion’s estimated assets are valued at $33 billion.

The news agency noted that Archbishop De Paolis visited the Legion’s headquarters in Rome on Saturday, presenting its superiors with the papal letter naming him delegate, and handing them a personal letter in which he expressed his own thoughts and recommendations for the Legionaries.

Zenti went on to add: “The Legion of Christ is being guided by the Church in a renewal, following the discovery that its founder, Father Marcial Maciel, fathered children and was guilty of other crimes.”

That has to place first as the wryest, drollest, understatement of the year.

Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado raped and sexually abused underage seminarians and priests; kept mistresses on two continents; fathered at least three children; raped his sons; lied, cheated and stole his order’s money to support an illicit lifestyle.   He was aided and abetted by senior members of the Legion.   The organization was maintained by secrecy and deceit.

Maciel’s key supporters in the Vatican, who provided him with a protective shield, included Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state from 1991 to 2006; Cardinal Eduardo Martinez, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life; and Cardinal Stanislaw Dzwisz, the Polish secretary of late Pope John Paul II.

Fr. Maciel’s biggest enabler was Pope John Paul II himself.   Maciel brought in money and men to the priesthood; and that balanced the account as far as the pope was concerned.

Ponder this for a minute…..senior members of the Vatican hierarchy protected a serial molester and rapist, a priest that had several children with two different women—because this man had created an organizational structure that attracted seminarians and espoused traditional values and practices.

At the same time, they have set into place the most savage penalties for bishops and women who want to become priests, and refuse to consider the issue of priestly celibacy.

In the Zenit article Archbishop De Paolis said it is understandable that some Legionaries are “going through difficult moments, that some have already thought of a different path.” He cautioned that the “vocation is something too serious to be able to make a decision about it in a moment of disorientation.”

“Let’s be patient,” he said.

“Your vocation, like your congregation, is in your hands, is entrusted to your responsibility,” the prelate stated. “The Church accompanies you; the Lord is merciful and generous: He gives his Spirit without measure. His grace goes before you, it accompanies you, and it brings you to the goal.”

And so begins the fumigation of the Legionnaires of Christ. Fumigate2

“Disorientation” is a good word to describe the actions of the Vatican and the state of my mind.

The faith received a good smack this week.

 

Pastoral on Mine Safety

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jun 13, 2010 | Categories: Accountability, Bishops, Politics, Social Justice

This spring has seen a rash of coal mining accidents and disasters.   Companies are in a hurry to get coal out the ground to feed the manufacturing demand for energy.

An accident at the Wangjialing Mine in northern China killed 38 men; an explosion in the Raspadskaya mine in western Siberia killed 66, with 100 injured and 44 still missing.

On April 5, 2010 29 miners were killed at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, West Virginia.   The mine is owned and operated by Massey Energy Co., headquartered in Richmond, VA. big branch 1

In the wake of an April 5th explosion, Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, issued a pastoral letter on May 1 on mine safety in West Virginia.

In his letter, On My Holy Mountain, the bishop noted mine disasters in West Virginia:   the April 5, 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine explosion, the Monongah Mine disaster of 1907 that killed 362 people and the Sago Mine disaster of 2006 that killed 13 miners.

A common thread: lax or disregarded safety regulations in order to speed production.

“The disaster at the Upper Big Branch Mine,” the bishop stated, “raises concerns about the conditions within the coal mines across our state and the atmosphere existing in the coal industry’s corporate culture.”

“The church has an obligation to continue to remain vigilant in these areas to ensure that justice is served and human dignity protected. This is an essential part of proclaiming the Gospel of life.”

“Indeed, by virtue of human dignity, all persons have the right to a safe work environment and one in which unsafe conditions can e reported without fear of blacklisting or losing one’s   job. Workers have the right to a living wage and to reasonable work hours. The church has long recognized and supported workers’ rights to organize. In the coalfields such organization has had measurable benefits in terms of safety, and we applaud all that the United Mine Workers of America have achieved.”

“We must discover why union mines have a lower fatality rate in West Virginia and appear to have a much better safety record.”

A long-time coal miner who spent the last 15 years at the Massey Energy Co. mine where 29 workers were killed in April said it was a “ticking time bomb” due to high levels of methane gas.

Stanley “Goose” Stewart, who was 300 feet into the mine when he felt a “hurricane strength” wind from the blast, was the first worker at the Upper Big Branch mine to testify publicly about conditions there.

Mr. Stewart, who has been a coal miner for more than 30 years, started keeping a notebook to document his working conditions when the ventilation system was changed last July. “With so much methane being liberated, and no air moving, it gave me the feeling of a ticking time bomb.” In July 2009 he wrote: “finding explosive levels of methane gas regularly.”

Gary Quarles, whose only son, Cary Wayne Quarles, was killed in the accident, said miners weren’t allowed to hang ventilation curtains or conduct any other safety operations if there would interfere with or delay the production of coal.”

Joe Main, the head of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration told a Senate committee investigating the explosion that Massey thwarted   stiffer enforcement action, such as closing down mines with a history of safety violations, by filing a series of appeals. He called on Congress to free up funds to help clear up a backlog of challenges filed by companies.

Mr. Main said Massey escaped tougher enforcement by contesting 78% of the $13.5 million in fines by MSHA in 2009. There are more than 16,000 cases pending review involving 89,000 violations.

Massey Energy CEO, Don Blankenship, denied his company tried to “game the system.” “Rather,” he said, “we are exercising our rights to due process under the system Congress has put in place.”

The issue of mine safety hits close to home with Amber Helms-Chambers and her brother, Nick Helms. Their father, Terry Helms, died in the 2006 Sago Mine explosion.

Chambers is an employee of the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese.   She helped design the graphics and layout for the pastoral letter, On My Holy Mountain.

“Our uncles that are in the coal mines and our friends are still in the coal mines and I have a cousin going in the coal mines so it is really important to us to work for something that I know my dad was so passionate about as well and working on it just makes me feel that I’m doing my part as a designer doing what I can to help get thoughts out there and help out,” said Chambers.

“Coal-mining laws are written in blood”…”I never understood that saying until after Sago,” Nick Helms said. “Dad would say nothing would ever change until after something bad would happen.   It’s a never-ending struggle, but it needs to be a never-ending topic in our government.” Mine Explosion

“People were saying, ‘It’s cheaper to pay the fines than to do the safety.’ I know you need to make money, but not at the expense of people’s lives.”

The bishops of Appalachia in their 1975 pastoral letter, This Land is Home to Me recognized that “the coal-based industry created many jobs and brought great progress to our country,” said Bishop Bransfield.

“They also frankly acknowledged that ‘oppression for the mountains’ and suffering for many resulted from tragedies like the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster. And they warned that the temptation toward ‘maximization of profit’ can lead to a disregard for human beings and their needs and lead to ‘a new kind of powerlessness.'”