Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Year in Review: Ten Stories Off the Beaten Path

It seems time for everyone's year-end wrapups, and they'll be pretty generic: Wilton Gregory to Atlanta, the Orange settlement, bishops stretching to reclaim moral rectitude, etc. will be projected as the year's big events in the Catholic world -- at least, the American Catholic world. But that's just the stuff that everybody gets to see....

What, then, are the stories inside the walls? In my mind, 2004 was the year that Rome finally got the scandal and, as much as it could, started moving the American church forward from the top. A showdown's coming early in the New Year over the renewal of the Dallas Norms, and several events in the rungs this year helped set the stage for what will be another year of newsworthy squabbling and rebuilding. Here are ten moments, trends and moves that made this year priceless. Admittedly, some are Philly-centric, but somebody's gotta do the job.

And, again, any press seeking to use these stories are to credit this blog and its author.

10. Our winner for "Best Manifestation of Pre-Scandal Mentality" -- the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, of course: 'PVI (the local ABC affiliate) broke late last month the archdiocese's plan to move Delstar, a probationary service for convicted sex offenders, into the Holy Family Center, a Catholic Social Services facility which presently also houses the Victim Assistance Office. Professionals who deal with abuse victims queued up for blocks to cry foul. But further reporting from the dailies on the prospective move has been nil -- the traditional print-broadcast pettiness getting in the way of the public interest, again.

9. From the curial perspective, the "blood pressure" of the church in the U.S. will be checked again next year. The apostolic visitation of American seminaries agreed to during the cardinals' summit in April 2002 begins in the fall. CNS reported last week that "approximately 75 bishops and 100 priests... will conduct the visitations." If it's not currently seminary policy, students will be required to sleep in cassock and Roman collar (Sorgenti surplice optional), at least for the duration of the visitation. Seminarians will also be tested to gauge their proficiency at bossing around laypeople, women religious and kissing up to donors.

8. In the 50s and 60s, it would be unusual for a vacant diocese to go more than three months without a bishop, six weeks being the norm. How ironic it is that as technology's been sped up, record-keeping made easier, and with the ability to prepare these things in advance thanks to a retirement age not legislated until after the Council, diocesan openings are taking longer and longer to fill. Today, in a stunning double-take of the spotlight, Bishop Larry McNamara is being buried in Grand Island, Nebraska. Only eight days ago, with McNamara having been chained to an oxygen tank for the last year, his successor was installed. Bosco in Greensburg and Rodimer in Paterson had to wait 18 months or more past their 75th birthdays, and now Flores in San Antonio -- five months past-due -- is making noises about hoping his day comes sooner rather than later. The consensus on this, from Rome and the diaspora in the States, leans heavily toward what can be called the "Palm Beach Theory" -- the eagerness of Montalvo and the Congregation to not name someone with unknown baggage which would come out down the road. This extends into official misconduct and any whiff of any peripheral connection with any covered-up abuse case, thus knocking most vicars-general and vicars for clergy off the fast track. In the process, this accomplishes a long-cherished goal of Rome's for the American church... more on that uplist.

7. "Return of the Tonys" -- Two of the East's better-known fixers (read: Philly Italians) were brought closer to home in '04 -- Joe Galante assumed into heaven from the war front in Dallas, Frank DiLorenzo moved from sunny Honolulu to Richmond, where the mountains don't blow up (and where, the faithful tell me, they have more money than God.) Galante is, in reality, the first bishop of Camden who actually is the bishop of Camden -- as opposed to world traveler, Diarmuid Martin attache (we love Diarmuid here), Cesar Chavez wannabe, etc. (see "Papal Tiger" and "Nicky Thug") -- since Guilfoyle, who was crazy, threatening mothers that they would go to hell if they revealed the abuse of their kids and such. And DiLorenzo has the uneviable task of succeeding the Walter Sullivan who, when asked if women's ordination would ever come, replied "Not in my lifetime." They're in distinctly different situations: Galante right across the river from home, in a diocese where he's owned a Shore house for 20 years and enough of his priests went through Overbrook for it to be a natural fit. DiLorenzo, meanwhile, as evidenced by the unusual transcontinental shuttling, his own record in Hawaii and Keeler's six-month gig as apostolic administrator in Richmond, has been sent to "clean up" what were seen as Sullivan's excesses and misinterpretations -- in 1986, this perception (probably advanced by self-proclaimed gurus in the backrooms of pizza parlors) led to the appointment of David Foley as an auxiliary bishop with special powers to Richmond. (Yet Foley and the visitators found everything to be clean and hokey and David went down to Birmingham, where he's in charge of the American wing of the papal rockettes.) In 2005, DiLorenzo's proclivity for making waves -- already splashed on the front pages less than six months after his arrival -- may come back and haunt him further if he doesn't watch himself.

6. King Ted -- As mid-decade approaches, it's safe to say what the boys across the pond saw as a reward turned out to be their greatest stroke of genius in the 2000s: sending McCarrick to Washington and making him a cardinal. For starters, were he kept in Newark without the heft of the reds, message control during the scandal would've been ten times more of a disaster than it was. But now, among a group of seemingly complacent, quiet, Romanita'-heavy resident cardinal-archbishops, Ted McCarrick has become the centrist leader (er, the John McCain?) of American Catholicism -- shockingly, bishops included. No one else among the present cast of characters would pull dusty folding chairs off a stack and have an on-record sit down with Melinda Henneberger, no one else has the serenity to know he has 95% of the Conference with him, yet not get sucked in while the outlying 5% (and the circus they bring with them) spew their vitriol, calling McCarrick a baby-killer and distorting everything else in between, too.

What Molly Ivins said of a former president who was raised fatherless rings so true for this cardinal also brought up without a dad: "his manners are so much better than those of everyone who has ever trashed him, it’s a monument to his momma." I hope he'll give himself some rest in the new year -- but the way the man runs, I highly doubt it.

5. Contrary to the view expressed by the great David Gibson in the NYTimes Week In Review last weekend, the Jesuits aren't back. Far from it -- they're being outsourced. The believers in a Jesuit renaissance keep pushing the SJ's educational tradition. Well, the secretary's job at Catholic Education in Rome was always Jesuit territory -- that is, until this year, when a Canadian-born naturalized American, Basilian Father Michael Miller, was ordained an archbishop and took up the post, succeeding the Jesuit Giuseppe Pittau.

Now let us all ask ourselves this question: Who the fuck are the Basilians? As you try and figure that one out, the realization of how far the Jezzies have fallen becomes easier and easier. Sorry, Gib.

4. "Ladies and Gentlemen, NOT Madonna!" -- While the Material Girl spent the summer charging upwards of $300 for her Reinvention Tour, it seems she found an unlikely imitator in Archbishop James Keleher of Kansas City in Kansas. Eleven years after he was kicked west and upstairs to Kansas after presiding over a mess of abuse in Belleville (a scandal which led to the rise of Wilton Gregory), the people of the latter are still paying for the actions of the 10% of its presbyterate dismissed after credible accusations. But if the good archbishop who kept a blind eye to what a Bellevillean termed a "sex ring" of priests is to be believed, the blame lies elsewhere.

While on the Kansas/Missouri/Nebraska ad limina in Rome Thanksgiving week, Keleher went scapegoatin' in a homily at the tomb of St. Peter, where he highlighted to the gathered bishops the danger of "lawyers trying to rip off the church to prevent her from carrying out her mission." This was preceded by a screed that "Nobody but other bishops understands the spiritual, emotional and mental energy required to do the job right..." Just remember the last three years and reflect on that statement.

He wasn't done, either. In a piece for The Leaven -- the KCK archdiocesan newspaper -- commemorating his 20th anniversary as a bishop, we find this gem:

"The well-being of the youth is a subject that is literally close to [Keleher's] heart. His pectoral cross - given to the archbishop by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin - bears an image of the Good Shepherd carrying a lamb, and the other 99 sheep surrounding him.

"'I always tell young people that it symbolizes for me my responsibility to them - to protect them and to be a teacher and a father and a pastor to them,' he said. 'That's an insight I don't think I realized when I became a bishop.'"

My dear Archbishop, you didn't realize it long after you became a bishop, either.

The above insight comes from none other than Wilton Gregory. It seemed that all this innocence talk had worn Wilton's infinite patience thin when, being asked a question about the national abuse scandal during his intro presser in Atlanta, the new archbishop felt the need to speak of his arrival in Belleville during "a critical scandalous episode" and the people's "great disappointment in the behavior of clergy and the ineffective monitoring of clergy."

As was said on the ground there, "Priests playing guitar in gay bars is not effective monitoring." So let's make like Keleher and blame those ripoff lawyers!

3. Well, the Rockettes are off the stage in one diocese and about to get the boot in another. Fresh from fighting Arinze over Rainbow Sash -- in the process sending the Doyennes of CWNews into downright Evangelical tizzies -- Harry Flynn banned the Legionaries of Christ/Regnum Christi in St. Paul-Minneapolis, and it seems their days in Baton Rouge are numbered thanks to violations of the Essential Norms and lack of communication with the diocesan curia. With Marciel Maciel at the peak of his clout -- after a private audience for his 6,000 eunuchs, Franc Rode' ordaining his new crop and the approval of the constitutions, he can't go much higher, extant being named a cardinal -- I'd put money down that before the pontifiate is out, we might well see a Personal Prelature created for the LC/RC, thus liberating them (as Opus Dei is) from the "interference" of the local authorities. Watch out: this is the sleeper story of '05.

2. The hierarchic wars continue: Any priest who doesn't know what's going on in Gallup, New Mexico, better brush up quick, because your ass might be next. A priest who was removed administratively on allegations of fiscal mismanagement recoursed his case to Rome, where both Clergy and the Signatura ruled in his favor, ordering Bishop Donald Pelotte to restore the priest to active ministry and compensate him for the five years over which Pelotte had him docked. Pelotte is, so far, refusing to do either. The first Native American bishop is in for a rude awakening which might well bring him down. Anything less would be a defeat for priests and a defeat for due process....

1. And the Number One story from off the trail is.... Coming Soon.


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