Our Lady of Medjugorje gives a message to the world on the 25th of every month.
The Virgin Mary’s Message on January 25th 2014 “Dear children! Pray, pray, pray for the radiance of your prayer to have an influence on those whom you meet. Put the Sacred Scripture in a visible place in your families and read it, so that the words of peace may begin to flow through your hearts. I am praying with you and for you, little children, that from day to day you may become still more open to God’s will. Thank you for having responded to my call.”
“Is the Blessed Mother this insipid?” was my first thought after reading the above message. I combed the message archives to see if I could find another message to resonate. Nothing – everything was equally banal and sugary.
In 2010 a commission was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to evaluate the apparitions of the Virgin Mary at Medjugorje. The commission was directed by Cardinal Camillo Ruini and held its final meeting on January 17, 2014. It sent its report to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which will now make a recommendation to Pope Francis. The pope will announce his final verdict on the matter at some time after that. (Although he may have tipped his hand during a homily last fall.)
The apparitions that began in 1981 are said to continue regularly to this day (33 years later), attracting hundreds of thousands of pilgrims annually. Although many conversions have been witnessed in Medjugorje and countless people helped in their faith, the authenticity of the apparitions remains highly contentious.
The bishops of the Mostar-Duvno diocese, Pavo Zanic (1980-1993) and Patko Pevic (1993- ) judged it to be a fraud. “The Madonna, they say,” stated Bishop Zanic, “started to appear on the Podbrdo of Mountain Crnica, but when the militia forbade going there, she came into homes, into forests, fields, vineyards and tobacco fields; she appeared in the church, on the altar, in the sacristy, in the choir loft, on the roof, on the church steeple, on the roads, on the way to Cerno, in a car, on buses, in classrooms…” So far, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the visionaries over 12,000 times.
Medjugorje (med-you-gor-yeh) was an obscure tobacco-farming village in communist Yugoslavia (now Bosnia and Herzegovina) for much of its history, but on a scorching hot June 23, 1981, everything changed. Five teenagers and a child–Vicka Ivankovic, Mirjana Dragicevic, Marija Pavlovic and Ivan Dragicevic, all 16 Ivanka Ivankovic, 15 and ten-year-old Jakov Colo–burst through the doors of the parish church and told the priest they had seen the Virgin Mary. They explained they had been playing on a steep hill when they saw a woman wearing a long, flowing dress and a veil, beckoning them to her. Their first reaction was that they were seeing a ghost, but when they asked who see was, the woman described herself as “the Blessed Virgin Mary” and the “Queen of Peace.”
They returned to the hillside every evening where the Virgin Mary appeared at 6:40 PM–the same time they saw the first apparition. The visionaries–Vicka, Mirjana, Mirija, Ivan, Ivanka and Jakov, claim that “Gospa,” the Croatian word for “Our Lady,” has been giving them each ten secrets concerning the future of the world. These secrets are said to include miracles and worldwide events that will be sent by God to convert humanity. The daily apparitions stopped for Mirjana, Ivanka and Jakov after they had received all ten secrets. However, Ivan, Marija and Vicka still see the Virgin Mary every day.
“Every apparition starts with three flashes to warn us she is coming,” said the visionary Vicka. “It’s just the same as talking to a real person, except it feels different because you exclude yourself from everything, as though you are not on Earth any more.” “At Christmas time,” she goes on, “the Virgin Mary holds the newborn baby Jesus in her arms and you can see his little feet and hands moving. She keeps covering him with her veil–but it’s not an image, I can reach out and touch them. I can touch them as though they are real human beings.”
While the bishops of Mostar were not supportive of the Medjugore apparitions, the late Pope John Paul II may have strongly believed in them. In a private conversation with visionary Mirjana (Dragicevic) Soldo the Pope said: “If I were not Pope I would already be in Medjugorje confessing.”(1987). According to the testimony of the visionaries, on May 13, 1982, the day of the assassination attempt on the Pope, Our Lady said, “His enemies tried to kill him, but I have protected him.”
The Virgin Mary also mentioned the Pope’s visit to Croatia in her August 25, 1994 message: “Dear Children! Today I am united with you in prayer in a special way, praying for the gift of the presence of my most beloved son in your home country. Pray, little children, for the health of my most beloved son, who suffers, and whom I have chosen for these times.”
After Pope John Paul’s death, the visionary Ivan saw him during an apparition with Our Lady. He appeared young and joyful.
Out of the tens of thousands of apparitions of the Virgin Mary reported throughout history, only 295 have been formally investigated and just 12 have ever been authenticated, the most recent being the apparitions of Our Lady of Laus in France, approved in 2008.
Although miracles have been recorded at most Marian apparition sites of the past, miracles are a daily occurrence in Medjugorje. A bronze statue representing the Risen Christ began seeping a watery substance. Pilgrims have reported being able to look at the sun without hurting their eyes and seeing many different things: the Host spinning in the center of the sun, the sun spinning and dancing all around, it moving closer and farther away from them, different figures around the sun, such as hearts and crosses.
One month after the beginning of the apparitions, Bishop Zanic of Mostar went to Medjugorje to question the visionaries. “I asked each of them to take an oath on the cross and demanded that they speak the truth. The first one was Mirjana Dragicevic: ‘We went to look for our sheep when at once..’ ” The associate pastor interrupted and told me that they actually went out to smoke, which they hid from their parents. “Wait a minute, Mirjana, you’re under oath. Did you go out to look for your sheep?” She put here hand over her mouth. “Forgive me, we went out to smoke,” she said. She then showed me the watch on which the “miracle” occurred because the hands of the watch had gone haywire. I took the watch to a watch expert, who said that the watch had certainly fallen and become disordered.”
During taped interviews later on, Mirjana spoke of the miracle of the watch and that initially they had gone out to search for their sheep. Seer Vicka Ivankovic kept a diary of the apparitions, including the story of the bloody handkerchief incident.
“Word spread around that there was a certain taxi driver who came across a man who was bloody all over. This man gave the taxi driver a blo0died handkerchief and he told him to “throw this in the river.” The driver went on and then he came across a woman in black. She stopped him and asked him to give her a handkerchief. He gave her his own, but she said: “not that one but the bloody handkerchief.” He gave her the handkerchief she wanted and she then said: “If you had thrown it in the river, the end of the world would have occurred now.” Vicka then wrote in her diary that they asked Our Lady if this event was true, and she said that it was, and along with this, “that man covered in blood was my son Jesus, and I (Our Lady) was that woman in black.”
“What kind of theology is this?” said Bishop Zanic. “From this it appears that Jesus wants to destroy the world if a handkerchief is thrown into a river and that it’s Our Lady who will save the world!”
One of the main advisers to the Medjugorje visionaries was the Rev. Tomislav Vlasic OFM. He presented himself to Pope John Paul II in a May 13, 1984 letter: “I am Rev. Tomislav Vlasic, the one, according to Divine Providence, who guides the seers of Medjugorje.”The Virgin Mary even mentioned him in a message: “Thank Tomislav very much. He is guiding you so well”
On September 3, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI authorized “severe cautionary and disciplinary measures” against Fr. Vlasic. He was laicized in 2009.
The ex-spiritual director of the Medjugorje visionaries has his own interesting story. In 1976 Fr. Vlasic had an affair with a Franciscan nun, Sr. Rufina. When she became pregnant, Vlasic sent her to Germany and urged her to keep his paternity a secret. She gave birth to their son in 1997. Her letters to Vlasic fell into the hands of her landlord, who sent them to a friend of his, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Cardinal Ratzinger eventually become Pope Benedict XVI.
In 1981, Fr. Vlasic went to Rome to participate in an international meeting of the Charismatic movement. There he was told by Sr. Briege McKenna, in an alleged prophecy, that he would become the center of a great movement with the help of the Virgin Mary. When reports of the Marian apparitions emerged from the village of Medjugorje, Fr. Vlasic hurried there to be with the visionaries–the moment had arrived.
Fr. Vlasic eventually left Medjugorje to go to Parma in northern Italy with German laywoman Agnes Heupel. In 1987 they founded, with the help of visionary Marija Pavlovic-Lunetti, a mixed-sex community inspired by the apparitions at Medjugorje. Its name was “Queen of Peace, Totally Yours – through Mary to Jesus.” In 1988 Marija lived at the community for a few months and had her daily apparitions there. She reported that Our Lady seemingly approved Vlasic’s plans and activities with his community by the words of Our Lady: “This is God’s plan.” The same year the bishop of Parma, Benito Cocchi, obviously unimpressed, ordered the community to close, and Marija Pavlovic-Lunetti retracted her statement and support in a letter.
In 2002, an Italian woman named Stefania Caterina became vice-president of the “Queen of Peace” movement founded by Fr. Vlasic. She is better known as an author, mystic and seer. She writes about her experiences and messages from extra-terrestrial entities in the book, Bey0nd the Great Barrier, published in 2008. Her first experiences began in 1984, with “Ashtar Sheran from the planet Alpha Centuri” commander of an interplanetary powerful fleet, and then his wife, Kalna; the priest-king Aris, and others. Stefania Caterina claims that her experiences “occur through inner locutions and visions, during which I was given explanations by the Lord himself, or his instruments, first of all S. Archangel Raphael.” The Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Mary, St. Joseph, the Apostles John and Paul, St. Michael the Archangel, souls in Purgatory and “people of other planets” are also in communication.
In February 2012, Stefania Caterina and Tomislav Vlasic announced on a video conference that they are part of a group called “Central Nucleus” formed by 49 beings chosen by God throughout the universe. The Central Nucleus is composed of seven great Archangels, and 18 sisters and 18 brothers of the universe,. Not all of these beings are from the Earth, and although some are deceased, they are not “dead.”
The Central Nucleus was actually announced by Saint Michael the Archangel to Stefania Caterina on September 10, 2010. Not surprisingly, St. Michael referred to the events in Medjugorje: “With the apparitions of Medjugorje, a time started in which God no longer allows for his plan to be slowed down, as unfortunately happened over the centuries. You must know, in fact, that God’s plan to recapitulate all things in Christ was to start already with the apostles, in order to transform all of humanity. This did not happen. Thus, God permitted his people to mature slowly by means of many trials and persecutions.”
“For the time in which you are living now, God has provided a powerful instrument, capable of operating in these times to encourage the renewal of God’s people and facilitate the realization of the plan of salvation.”
“We are talking about a nucleus that can be called “Central Nucleus” in the midst of God’s people which is gradually aggregating and will aggregate to itself other nuclei that are being formed everywhere in the universe. In this Central Nucleus the priesthood of the archangels and the universal communion are fully operating.”
There is no word on how the Central Nucleus is progressing in Italy or elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the Medjugorje road show has been stopped cold in the United States.
In November 2013 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith prefect, Archbishop Gerhard Mueller, unsettled devotees of the pilgrimage destination when he sent an instruction to all U.S. bishops warning against allowing “seer” Ivan Dragicevic to go on a speaking tour of the country.
For years, the Medjugorje visionaries have made public appearances at churches, announcing in advance that “apparitions” will take place. Archbishop Muller called for an end to church sponsorship of these events.
In an October letter to the U.S. bishops, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the apostolic nuncio in Washington, conveyed a message from Archbishop Muller: “clerics and the faithful are not permitted to participate in meetings,conferences or public celebrations during which the credibility of such ‘apparitions’ would be taken for granted.”
In his message Archbishop Vigano reminded the bishops that the CDF is currently investigating the reported apparitions at Medjugorje. Until the pope renders a final judgement, the CDF has accepted for acceptance of a statement issued in 1991 by the bishops of what was once Yugoslavia, who said: “On the basis of research that has been done, it is not possible to state that there were apparitions or supernatural revelations.”
Although Archbishop Vigano’s letter to the U.S. bishops was not made public, the message spread quickly, including a copy of the letter which wound up on Google. It also had an immediate impact: Ivan Dragicevic, one of the “seers” was scheduled to appear at two New England parishes in late October; both events were cancelled.
The decision on Medjugorje now rests with Pope Francis. He may have given us an inkling of his opinion in the “fervorino” (informal homily) at his daily Mass on November 14, 2013. According to Vatican Radio, Pope Francis was cautioning people against excessive curiosity about the future and contrasting it with the wisdom that comes from the Holy Spirit. Curiosity, the Pope continued, impels us to want to feel that the Lord is here or rather there, or leads us to say: “But I know a visionary, who receives letters from Our Lady, messages from Our Lady.” And the Pope commented, “But, look, Our Lady is the Mother of everyone! And she loves all of us. She is not a postmaster, sending messages every day.”
Such responses to these situations, he affirmed, “distance us from the Gospel, from the Holy Spirit, from peace and wisdom, from the glory of God, from the beauty of God. Jesus says that the Kingdom of God does not come in a way that attracts attention; it comes by wisdom.”
The Censor Librorum has two questions on the Medjugorje phenomena:
1) Whose purpose did Medjgorje serve?
2) Would Pope Francis and the late Pope John Paul II have made the same decision about Medjugorje? (I think not.)
My personal opinion – while I believe that Medjugorje has helped many pilgrims to feel they are loved and cared for by Our Lady (and that is a good thing); nevertheless, people seem to have forgotten that most mystical experiences should be suspect as a ruse from Satan for the vain. Simple prayer is always to be preferred, even if ecstasy is more fun (and proftable).
Veteran journalist Stephen Jimenez unearthed a sleazy story in his book, The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard.” An investigative journalist, he spent 11 years researching his story, and had access to formerly sealed court documents.
Matthew Shepard is a gay icon and martyr, allegedly murdered by two men for his sexual orientation. The grisly murder happened in Laramie, Wyoming in October 1998. Shepard, 21, was a college student, and he was killed by two men he met in a bar. He was pistol-whipped with the barrel of a .357 magnum. Then the two men hung him, barely alive, on a fence, in a pose resembling a crucifixion.
Matthew Shepard died of exposure and his wounds six days later, a victim of homophobia. Or was he? Here’s an unsettling element: one of the murders, Aaron McKinney, a bisexual hustler, had sex with Shepard weeks before the murder.
Shepard certainly could have been beaten and killed by a man in a homophobic rage…but he may also have been killed in a sex-for-drugs exchange gone badly. His death might not be a hate crime after all, but a drug dealer casualty. In the book Jimenez claims Matthew Shepard was a crystal meth addict, and was killed by McKinney, another dealer and trick strung out on meth and in desperate need of money.
The “gay panic” defense of Aaron McKinney, the killer, was a made-up story in hopes of getting a more lenient sentence.
Jimenez was asked why he dug up the story: “As a gay man,” he said, “I felt it was the right thing to do.” “To understand who Matthew Shepard really was,” said Jimenz, “to alter our perception of him as a martyr and an icon, is not going to be damaging to gay rights.”
I agree, and commend Stephen Jimenez coming forward with his story. The real conversation about Matthew Shepard should be about young gay men (and women) who do drugs, and why drug and alcohol use is still so embedded in gay culture. That could save some lives.
December 15, 2013: The week Pope Francis delivers a homily focusing on “A Church That Lacks Prophecy Becomes Filled with Clericalism,” is the same week that arch conservative Cardinal Raymond L. Burke was dumped off the Congregation for Bishops. He was replaced by Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, DC, a moderate.
An amazing coinkydink? I don’t think so.
In his homily Pope Francis described the role of the prophet as one who carries within themselves three moments: the promise of the past, contemplation of the present and courage to show the path toward the future. The pope stressed the words of prophets are necessary, although many times they are rejected.
“When there is no prophecy in the people of God,” said Francis, “the void it leaves becomes occupied with clericalism. And it is this clericalism that Jesus asks, ‘With what authority do you do this? With what authority?’ And the memory of the promise and the hope of going forward becomes reduced to only the present: neither the past nor a hopeful future. The present is legal. If it is legal it goes forward,” the pope said.
Concluding his homily, Pope Francis prayed that in these days leading to Christmas, that there may not be a lack of prophets: “Let us not tire of moving forward! Let us not be closed in the legality that closes doors! Lord, free your people from the spirit of clericalism and help them with the spirit of prophecy.”
The Vatican had to withdraw more than 6,000 medallions minted to commemorate the beginning of Pope Francis’ papacy because of a spelling mistake.
Jesus was misspelled as “Lesus.” The Latin inscription should have been “Iesus” since the letter “J” is not used in Latin.
The phrase reads on the Vatican website: “Vidit ergo Jesus publicanum, et quia miserando atque eligendo vidit, ait illi, ‘Sequere me'” or “Jesus therefore sees the tax collector, and since he sees by having mercy and by choosing, he says to him, ‘follow me.'”
The inscription is Francis’ papal motto, taken from a meditation by the 8th century English monk, the Venerable Bede, on a passage of the Gospel in which Jesus calls St. Matthew, a tax collector, to become an apostle.
The Vatican said the Latin phrase profoundly affected the future Pope Francis at age 17 when he heard God calling him to the priesthood. In his native Argentina and in his nascent papacy, Francis has made a point of preaching mercy, and reaching out to people on the margins of society.
The medallions, which went on sale on October 8, 2013 had to be pulled from circulation after the spelling error was belatedly discovered. Four of the coins had been sold. They are now worth a mint.
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.”
This has been a stunner of a week. I’m still reeling.
It started with the closing of World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil, where Pope Francis’ closing Mass on Copacabana beach drew an estimated three million participants. Many of them were enthusiastic young people. He encouraged them to go home and shake things up, “make a mess.”
He set the first example.
On a plane back to Rome from his triumphant trip to Rio, Pope Francis chatted with journalists for over an hour. There were no handlers or intermediaries, just plain-spoken remarks.
He was asked about gay priests and gay Catholics.
Gay people should be integrated into society instead of ostracized, Pope Francis told journalists. Answering a question about reports of homosexuals in the clergy, the pope answered, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”
One question centered on recent reports in Italian media that accused the Vatican Bank’s Monsignor Battista Ricca of having an affair with a Swiss Army captain. In response, Francis said he looked into the reports but found nothing to support the allegations.
The pope also used the occasion to expand on his June remarks about a “gay lobby” in the Vatican, clarifying that “he was against all lobbies, not just gay ones,” the Italian news agency reports.
“Being gay is a tendency. The problem is the lobby,” ANSA quotes the pontiff saying. “The lobby is unacceptable, the gay one, the political one, the Masonic one.”
The pope’s view of gays is being seen as diverging from his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. Benedict signed a document in 2005 that said men with deep-rooted homosexual tendencies should not be priests. Francis was much more conciliatory, saying gay clergymen should be “forgiven and their sins forgotten.”
“The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well,” Francis said, according to . “It says they should not be marginalized because of this but that they must be integrated into society.”
During the news conference on the 12-hour flight home, the pope was also asked about women’s role in Catholicism.
Pope Francis reiterated that the Church will not ordain female priests, saying that the stance was “definitive.” But he also said that the question of how to reflect the importance of women had not yet been answered fully.
“It is not enough to have altar girls, women readers or women as the president of Caritas,” he said. “Women in the church are more important than bishops and priests,” he said, in the same way that “Mary is more important than the apostles.”
Conservative and ultra orthodox Catholics, once they regained consciousness, attempted to spin the Pope’s words by asserting what he actually meant was in defense of Catholic teaching on homosexuality and chastity.
Wednesday morning I was having my morning coffee and thumbing through the New York Post when I spotted this item on the bottom right of page 12: “Paris suicide vs. gay rights.” I took a bite of my English muffin and read on.
The blurb stated that Dominique Venner, 78, placed a pistol in his mouth and committed suicide beside the altar in Notre Dame cathedral in protest of the legalization of gay marriage in France.
Mr. Venner, a presenter on a Catholic-traditionalist radio station and controversial historian, posted an essay on his website earlier in the day calling for “new, spectacular and symbolic actions to shake us out of our sleep, to jolt anaesthetized minds and to reawaken memory of our origins.”
The cathedral, which is celebrating its 850th anniversary this year, was evacuated and immediately closed to the public for several hours. A cathedral security guard tried to revive Mr. Venner as he lay beside the altar.
“We did not know him, he was not a regular at the cathedral,” said the rector, Monsigneur Patrick Jacquin. He added that as far as he knew, this was the first suicide within the cathedral since it was founded. “We will pray for this man as we pray for so many others who are at their wits’ end,” he said.
The next day, a topless activist of the FEMEN movement was arrested inside Notre Dame for staging a fake suicide.
The bare-chested woman was photographed in front of the altar, pointing a fake gun in her mouth. The slogan “May Fascists rot in Hell” was written across her torso.
On its Facebook page, FEMEN France called the topless activist “FEMEN’s angel of Death.” The group called upon “all European Nazism, in the face of all their underhitlers and halfmussolini, to follow the example of the ultra-right man Dominique Venner and immediately commit a suicide of their believes excluding themselves from the political area in Europe.” The statement added, “Hurry up, there is not so much place left on the sacrificial altar of Notre-Dame de Paris.”
In case you are wondering, the Censor Librorum finds both of these events cringe-worthy.
Venner’s use of sacred space as a stage for suicide is the most spectacular form of selfishness I have ever seen. The follow up performance by an exhibitionist mocking his suicide was almost as bad.
And I thought we had nuts in New York!
The Orwellian obsession of some right-wing Catholics with same-sex marriage, abortion, and glorification of the hierarchy is about to take a punch to the gut.
The papal election of Francis, not John Paul III or Benedict XVII, has brought an immediate cultural change. The pomp and pageantry–the red shoes, the billowing magenta capes–are being replaced by a renewed emphasis on social justice for the poor, mercy and humility. Taking a cue from their new boss, some cardinals have already started to dress down.
If he hasn’t already, the new pope will soon have a crack at the secret 300-page dossier delivered to Pope Benedict on December 17, 2013. Benedict had appointed three cardinals–Julian Herranz, Joseph Tomko and Salvatore De Georgi to investigate the leak of confidential Vatican documents in the scandal known as “Vatileaks Affair.”
Some claim this report pushed Pope Benedict into resigning. It may have been the last straw, if he admitted to himself he was too old, too frail and too entrenched to deal with the mess and scandal it described. The report was sealed, and put in a safe for his successor.
A story in the Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, claimed according to the report one fraction within the Vatican bureaucracy was “united by sexual orientation.” These powerful men formed a network of alliances, controlled careers, and were subject to blackmail over their sexual activities by the Mafia and other organized crime groups.
The threat of exposure has to be one key reason why the Vatican Bank never cleaned up. There are too many compromised individuals in the Vatican bureaucracy and elsewhere who would be ruined if their secret homosexuality or financial dealings came to light. Other corrupt members of the Curia, not homosexual, may have been happy to trade favors for friends, family and potential political allies.
What will happen if the pope decides to put the Vatican’s money in a commercial bank, and close down the Institute for Works of Religion?
I bet a few surprise names will join Cardinal Keith O’Brien in the news.
Cardinal O’Brien, who had a reputation for being anti-gay, was outed by his boyfriend and some seminarians he had sexually pressured just prior to the papal conclave. In the past, Cardinal O’Brien has referred to homosexuality as a “moral degradation.” He also labeled gay marriage as a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right” and that same-sex partnerships were “harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of those involved.”
What was Cardinal O’Brien thinking when he was coming on to or in bed with another man?… That whatever strictures are out there didn’t apply to him.
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.”