Bishops beyond shame

Print More
USCCB logo

USCCB logo

Yo, Catholic bishops meeting today in Baltimore!

As you may not have heard, last Friday the Bergen County (N.J.) prosecutor announced a pretty amazing agreement with a priest charged with violating the terms of the deal by which he avoided being retried for sex abuse. The priest, Michael Fugee, pledged to seek to be laicized by Rome. The amazing thing was that his boss, Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark, was cut out of the arrangement.

How come? Prosecutor John L. Molinelli put it thusly:

By way of this agreement, the State of New Jersey need no longer rely upon cooperation by RCAN [the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark] in supervising Michael Fugee. It has appeared, based on many public comments by Archbishop Myers, that the Church had no intention of monitoring Fugee any further and, based upon this office’s review of the Archdiocese compliance with the terms of the original MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] dated July 18, 2007 wherein the Church committed to monitor Fugee, it does not appear that the Archdiocese made any significant effort to adhere to the terms of the MOU such that, at this juncture, we no longer have confidence in its ability as a signatory to honor the clear intent of the 2007 Memorandum of Understanding, which had placed direct oversight responsibility upon the RCAN.

I recognize that your excellencies are unaccustomed to being called out by officials of the criminal justice system, especially when they have names like Molinelli, and that you may find the language here a bit harsh. Indeed, you’ll probably not be surprised to learn that the Archdiocese of Newark took umbrage at the prosecutor’s remarks, issuing a defense of its conduct in re: Fugee via a statement from Vice Chancellor James Goodness.

Goodness knows the problem stems entirely from a failure of the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office (BCPO) to communicate. “Before agreeing to participate in the MOU and before allowing Fugee to return to a restricted ministry, the Archbishop requested that the BCPO clarify some of the MOU’s language dealing with the issue of supervision,” he stated. “The BCPO never provided that clarification.” If that were the case, you might ask, then why the heck did Myers, who’s a canon lawyer of some repute, permit his vicar general to sign the thing? Beats me.

Now, bishops, since most of you are also canon lawyers, what do you make of this key provision of the MOU?

It is agreed that the Archdiocese shall not assign or otherwise place Michael Fugee in any position within the Archdiocese that allows him to have any unsupervised contact with or to supervise or minister to any child/minor under the age of 18 or to work in any position in which children are involved. This includes, but is not limited to, presiding over a parish, involvement with a youth group, religious education/parochial school, CCD, confessions of children, youth choir, youth retreats and day care.

For my part, and I think you’ll agree, this means that Fugee was not to be allowed 1) any contact with minors that was unsupervised; and 2) any work with minors whatsoever. Yet the Archdiocese made Fugee a hospital chaplain without so much as informing the hospital administration of his past. And when the Star Ledger‘s Mark Mueller reported last Spring that Fugee had been going on youth retreats and hearing confessions of children in parishes, Goodness “denied the agreement had been breached, saying the archdiocese has interpreted the document to mean Fugee could work with minors as long as he is under the supervision of priests or lay ministers who have knowledge of his past and of the conditions in the agreement.”

If I were in Baltimore today, I’d be kind of embarrassed to be seen with Myers. Not as embarrassed, to be sure, as being seen with Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, who last year was convicted of the crime of failing to tell Missouri authorities about a priest suspected of abusing toddlers. Thank God good old Bernie Hebda was just made coadjutor archbishop of Newark, which renders Myers inconsequential, although he’s likely to be hanging around the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart for another few years.

But then there’s Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis, accused by his former canon lawyer of a pattern of abuse cover-ups. Nienstedt’s got half the Twin Cities, including big donors and parish priests, calling for him to step down. I’d stay away from him too.

I suppose you all can console yourselves with the reflection that most of you have most of the time cleaved to the terms of the hallowed Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. So it really doesn’t matter if every now and then one of you fails to do the right thing. I mean, what difference does it make if a Myers or a Finn or a Nienstedt breaks the rules, since he’s the exception that proves them? As Bill Donohue likes to say, the abuse scandal is so over.

And to paraphrase Pope Francis, who are you to judge?

  • Leo

    Fair is fair, let’s have a little more coverage and investigation into other venues and denominations.

  • Michael Skiendzielewski

    Dr. Silk, you are so right. I might add that a certain majority of US Catholic leadership and management passed shame, guilt and truth a long, long time ago. Some are truly not honorable men.

    Since 2002, the Catholic faithful here in America have witnessed time and again, the duplicity, insincerity, hypocrisy and untruthful conduct, behavior and decision-making of many of the religious leaders of the dioceses and archdioceses across this country. Over the past several months, Bishop Myers as well as Archbishop Nienstedt in Minneapolis-St. Paul have been shown, via statements, evidence, correspondence, etc., to be unable and unwilling to protect the children and young adults of the Catholic faithful in their charge. Along with Bishop Finn in Kansas City, it is well past the time that any further consideration be given these “leaders” and push for the tough and necessary legislative proposals that will help to protect ALL children, now and in the future.

    Even here in Philadelphia, this past weekend witnessed the removal/resignation of a pastor of 12 years as a result of an abuse allegation that was received in the beginning of 2013 and the parishioners, famillies and children were notified 11 months later. Archbishop Chaput’s timing in this matter is special indeed as he heads out of town and south to Baltimore as a candidate for the Presidency of the USCCB.

    So, the USCCB Leadership will be on display in Baltimore. Yes, indeed, the newest oxymoron in the world of today…………USCCB LEADERSHIP.

    Michael Skiendzielewski
    Captain (retired)
    Philadelphia Police Dept.

  • Kay Goodnow


  • LDB

    Excellent, Mark. Thank you for your writing. You see clearly.

  • Larry

    Show me the level of complicity and mendacity concerning this issue in other denominations and it would be fair to cover them to the same degree. .

    The RCC has consistently done the wrong thing in the face of incidents of child abuse by clergy. They have tried to cover things up, hide people and assets from criminal judgments, made the worst excuses possible and yet they still feel the need to dictate to the public (whether members of the church or not) in the name of morality.

  • Allan Lille

    Wow, I did not even think someone like Silk would stoop to ethnic stereotypes to promote his thinking. This is just rich: “I recognize that your excellencies are unaccustomed to being called out by officials of the criminal justice system, especially when they have names like Molinelli.”

  • Kate FitzGerald

    I’m looking for a little more from my bishop than him not being seen with Finn, Myers, and Nienstedt in Baltimore. I’m looking for Bishop Terry LaValley (Diocese of Ogdensburg, NY) to say, “ENOUGH, fellow excellencies and USCCB!” Why the bishops “in good standing” are in good standing when they fail to stand against such hypocrisy and improper conduct is a failing far exceeding the failings of their fallen brothers. Fallen brothers are fallen. Silent brothers in a climate of fallenness are shameful.

  • John M

    Until the RCC’s hierarchy faces the root of the problem, there will continue to be stories, such as this one, that need to be reported. The RCC’s denial of a link between sexual abuse and celibacy may appear to sound like a broken record by those of us who believe there is a valid link. It is my opinion that there has been enough research to prove that a definite link exists. CELIBACY IS THE PROBLEM, resulting in a record of broken promises on the part of bishops to protect clerical culture rather than children. Celibacy fosters loneliness among love-starved seminarians and priests. That loneliness propels priests to act out in many ways: alcoholism, resentment, sexual abuse, sexual compulsion, narcissism, etc. Having seen this first hand as a seminarian and priest for the past 41 years, I can attest to the fact that most of those men I saw along the way were dealing with the problem of loneliness as a result of living a forced celibate lifestyle. Unfortunately, many acted out in inappropriate, self-destructive, and sometimes criminal ways.

  • Lynn4e Newington

    All this will be a precurser to the outcome of the Royal Commission in progress in Australia in time.

  • Larry

    Wow tone trolling. How original.

    Anything to say about the church or its flagrant violation of an agreement it signed in court?

    I guess not.

  • Thinkling

    If you want the folks at USCCB to take these concerns more seriously, showing more informed perspective would be helpful. This would also help your readers, as it would kowtow less to their anti- catholic or anti-media prejudices.

    Both the Myers and Nienstedt cases seem substantive but the frenzy and snark at this point seem more indicative of David Clohessyesque bigotry baiting. let’s get past that and see how things play out. i wish folks would just retire the Finn story, what happened to him was a travesty of justice. And instead focus on two other stories where there is quite a scoop brewing if only people will look. In Philadelphia case there is an issue of prosecutional misconduct that no one wants to look at, a majority of accused priests there who are victims of a witch hunt, and a few priests there who are not and need to be dealt with severely. And the elephant in the room is in Los Angeles … retired Cardinal Mahony is easily the worst perpetrator in the country, and but for about 24 hours of buzz no one appears interested in following that story. The man is a Cardinal for Pete’s sake.

  • Edward Nethery

    Hell Mark. You are getting to be so picky as you age. This is all so confusing that even a canon lawyer could not be expected to understand fully what arcane legal phrases such as “any [meaning NO] unsupervised contact with or supervise or minister to any child/minor under the age of 18 or to work in any situation in which children are involved.” That may as well be written in Latin.

    Pope Frankie is so right. Who am I to judge? I guess the Church has just not run out of feet to shoot yet.

  • Larry

    The time to be asking such questions is when agreements are being negotiated over in Court, prior to signing. The Church had its own legal counsel representing them.

    To claim this is a matter of not understanding the agreement signed is complete and utter bullcrap. The Church knew exactly what it agreed to do. They just didn’t care. It is part and parcel with their lack of concern for rampant child abuse by clergy. As long as it stays out of the media, they could not give a flying crap.

  • Frank

    Sin is the problem not celibacy.

  • John M

    Frank, When someone you love has been raped by a group of priests, then I’ll believe you. This is not an either/or situation. When an institution controls your sexuality and financial well being, then you don’t have much of a choice but to find an outlet that is not healthy as most of the priests I knew did.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Of course the liberal media is not interested in a Cardinal who has had the reputation of being the most liberal bishop in the U.S. Just like the media is not interested in really digging into the goings on in the public schools (and current union protection of abusive teachers). or other churches and their problems with handling issues like this (and there have been problems, but buried in far suburban newspapers between the obits and the classifieds–and not mentioned at all in the Big Media). Nor is the media interested in reporting elaborately and in depth when investigators conclude a priest has been falsely accused (as happened in our city recently). That resulted in a one day flap, but with the false accuser never named.

  • Michael Skiendzielewski

    Rev. Reginald Whitt, professor of canon law at University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis – Director of Task Force, Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis

    “Canon law is very eloquent on what a bishop is supposed to do, but there is no list of Thou Shalt Nots,” says Father Reginald Whitt (2002). “These (sex abusers) are criminals, but they are our criminals and we can’t lose them. Indeed, the bishops have a duty to try to save them,” says the Rev. Reginald Whitt, professor of canon law at University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis. (2002)

    “……BISHOPS HAVE A DUTY TO TRY TO SAVE THEM (sex abuser priests)…..” Well, Fr. Whitt, where is it written (no, not in text or canon law…….it is written in one’s heart and soul) that the bishops have a duty to try to save the CHILDREN ABUSED and INNOCENT CHILDREN from the risk of abuse?

    Seems like little has changed since these issues were studied over a decade ago by during the Dallas Charter Charade of the USCCB.

    Father Whitt has a degree in canon law and civil law. Which perspective will take prominence and priority when he reviews the findings of the task force committee he established to review the debacle in the archdiocese? It is humanly, ethically and morally IMPOSSIBLE to avoid/resolve the conflicts of interest from both perspectives (civil and canon law) when attempting to review and support the rights of priests vs the rights of child victims.

    Michael Skiendzielewski
    Captain (retired)
    Philadelphia Police Dept.

  • Judy Jones

    Yes… and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops continue to talk about everything except the huge ‘elephant’ in their conference room. That would be:”can we bishops and cardinals start to be honest about the culture of secrecy in regard to our covering up of the sex abuse of innocent kids , and how can we ‘really’ take action to protect children, rather than working so hard to keep up with our lies?”

    Sadly the silence continues and children are not safe within this institution.

    But silence is not an options anymore, it only hurts, and by speaking up there is a chance for healing, exposing the truth, and therefore protecting others.
    Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, USA, 636-433-2511.,
    “SNAP (The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests)

  • tony

    does the prof ever wonder why all of his posts are filled with vitriol and hatred? is the catholic church the only institution that has failed kids? look what goes on the school system every day? and these people are protected by sainted public unions for money…not for hope that they might be redeemed..not for the belief that they are children of god…but money. but its all ok, because that money goes to the democratic party and the great hope that we are entitled to food without work. And why no comment on some muslims? their treatment of girls is ridiculous. and finally if you want to do something about sexual abuse in the catholic church the first thing you have to notice is 80% of the cases are homosexual acts.

  • drwho13

    “…not for the belief that they are children of god…but money. but its all ok, because that money goes to the democratic party and the great hope that we are entitled to food without work” (Tony).

    Children don’t work Tony, and the Tea Bagger Party wants to take the little food assistance they get away from them. They’re a heartless lot (but they all espouse Christian values, right?).

  • Larry

    Maybe if people spent less time being defensive about the Church’s misconduct and engaging in Tu Quoque arguments and more time talking about trying to create an atmosphere of accountability, there would not be so much vitriol and hatred.

    Where is your concern for the abused children? Its buried under a mountain of defensive posturing and excuse making. You have no sense of decency or morals.

    As for the “homosexual acts” bullcrap, pedophiles go after the easiest targets. Where there is opportunity. Parents are more likely to leave boys in the custody of non-family member men than they would do for girls. Pedos don’t care one way or the other. But of course its always an opportunity to use abused children as an excuse to whip out bigoted nonsense.

  • Larry

    The Christian values part of the Teabaggers is just to get poor idiots to vote for people who will work against their economic interests. Think of the number of bible thumpers of limited means voted for a presidential candidate who held them in utter contempt last election.

  • John M

    The Catholic Church as an institution may be similar to other institutions, but the others don’t say that they have the Vicar of Christ as its Head. Bishops and priests may be involved in teaching too, but few teachers are called another Christ. Unions do not tell their members that they are joining and part of the Body of Christ. Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes; he didn’t hire lawyers to argue that he was justified in feeding and protecting only his disciples. The Catholic Church deserves the scrutiny, and I for one will never give it a “pass” because other institutions are not held to the same standards. A pass would mean that the Church could not regain the high moral ground it should have, not to mention that the sex abuse of kids is a crime….oh, and Jesus did have something to say about the treatment of children. Just because we no longer have millstones at hand does not mean that the lesson Jesus was teaching should be overlooked.

  • Duane Lamers

    The level of complicity and mendacity in other denominations can only be brought to light by investigative reporting. Your liberal media, Larry, aren’t interested in the “small fry” out there. Note, too, they give a pass to the Islamists in our own country– you know, the people who support flying planes into iconic buildings.. They want to go after the largest religious denomination because they know that if they succeed in taking down the Catholic Church, the rest of the anti-religion clean-up will be quite easy.

    By the way, Larry, what is the source of morality? From your various statements thus far on these boards, one can only conclude that you believe morality is entirely a personal issue–unless coming from the State in the form of dictates you approve. A moral code propounded by a liberal State is something you would approve of. Not so one fashioned by a conservative State.

  • Duane Lamers

    Indeed! However, we do not know the extent of culpability that might exist with Nienstedt. While the ordinary is held responsible for matters within his diocese, it is possible that blame should actually be fixed at a lower level, especially when it is at that lower level that decisions are made regarding individuals.

    What I discard is the notion that such problems exist only in the Catholic Church. What we do not have, by and large, is a liberal media interested in exposing all such wrongdoing. Their focus is on the Catholic Church because it is here that most damage can be done to all religion, which is a primary liberal aim. We’ll have to clean up our own mess and publicize our own virtues, too, knowing that the media will not give the Church ANY credit at ANY TIME.

  • Duane Lamers

    Yes. Time was when the Church recruited boys in elementary school to study for the celibate priesthood. That is no longer the case. Now, recruits are sought among high school and college students and graduates. Men who seek ordination must be held responsibile for the fact that they themselves want this because they’ve spent enough time “in the world” to make a sound judgment regarding a life of celibacy.

  • Lwolkow

    You are making strawman arguments. I have said nothing on the positions you are claiming I would support. It is a sign that you have no real argument to make.

    You have to argue against fictional stances because you have a deeply immoral and reprehensible point of view. You are making excuses for exposing child molesters and the people who covered up their crimes to the public.

    “By the way, Larry, what is the source of morality? ”

    Ingrained personal empathy and the ability of societies to function sanely. If you have to be told from “on high” that it is bad to maliciously harm people, then you need a ton of psychiatric help. You are a psychopath. Someone with no connection to humanity whatsoever.

    Religion was never the source of morality. Religious based morality is merely psychopathy on a leash. One doesn’t do harmful things to other people out of fear of God’s wrath or hell. All actions can be excused if done as part of God’s will. This is horrific, reductive and ultimately anti-moral. It outsources personal conscience to authority figures.

    Morality is ALWAYS a personal issue. It is the weighing of the choices people make in relation to others one does internally. When one acts morally, they act to their own conscience considering things beyond personal concerns.

    If you are acting purely out of fear of divine punishment, you are not acting morally. You are just being self-interested. Religious morality is a shadow of the real thing.

    The Church has to be held to a lower moral standard than everyone else because they feel its their job to dictate the moral standards of everyone else. If you are going to take such a position of authority, you have to prove you have the right to it. Engaging in horrific crimes and covering them up is not a way to do that.

  • Larry

    “What I discard is the notion that such problems exist only in the Catholic Church.”

    You also discarded any notion of discussing the problems which exist within the Catholic Church. Pointing out what goes on in other faiths does nothing to diminish the abhorrent conduct of the RCC.