Much Ado in Miami, Part Two
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Jun 14, 2010 at 09:56:25 AM EST
In part one we discussed how Catholic Archbishop John C. Favalora of Miami is stepping down eight months before the mandatory retirement age of seventy-five.  A local group of conservative Catholics, Christifidelis, is taking credit for both the early retirement and for the elevation of his replacement, über-traditionalist Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando. They claim that Favalora 's tenure with the Miami archdiocese was characterized by a "culture of sodomy and theological heterodoxy" and run by "a gay superculture" and then alleging that this homosexual culture was the primary cause of the clerical pedophile behavior.

But I suspect that the real agenda of this Catholic Right clique has little or nothing to do with protecting the flock from predatory clerical sex.  I think it is more likely that they exploited the crisis to lobby for a traditionalist bishop, who it turns out, also has a questionable history in addressing incidents of priestly sexual abuse.

 Christifidelis fancies itself as a mover and shaker within and without Catholicism, but to mix a metaphor, they may be more smoke than fire.

A self-described "a lay watchdog organization," Christifidelis has no web site, no known published journal and seem to consist of only three traditionalist Catholics; attorney Sharon Bourassa and ultra conservative web site writers Marc C. Abbott and Eric Giunta.

Not much is known about Bourassa except that she was the attorney who represented Father Andrew Dowgiert in his case against Favalora and the Miami archdiocese (Dowgiert and the case are discussed in part I).  Abbott and Giunta have regular columns featured at that regularly damn everything from contemporary liberals - often described by Giunta as "leftists", to Protestantism, to homosexuality to mainstream Catholicism and even to Pope John Paul II.

To describe this crew as Catholic Right is an understatement. But their reactionary credentials not withstanding, it is likely that the change in Miami would have happened without them.

The Vatican is replacing retiring moderate bishops and cardinals with fire-breathing über-traditionalists just about everywhere. Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri  Bishop Robert Finn as well as the Communion-denying Archbishop Raymond Burke immediately come to mind. This is reinforced by the Pope's recent botched outreach to the very reactionary SSPX as well the recently announced Vatican mission to Ireland described by the Irish Independent newspaper as "to clamp down on liberal secular opinion."  Wenski's elevation to Archbishop of Miami is simply part of the current pontiff's vision to recast the Church in terms of the bad old days before Vatican II.

Why do I believe this succession is cynical?  Because Wenski's history of dealing with sexual abuse is dismal too.

David Clohessy, executive director of SNAP  commented: "If Bishop Wenski's track record for supervising priests accused of sexual misconduct is any indication, then not much is going to change in the Archdiocese of Miami." As The Palm Beach Post has recently reported:

In a Holy Week homily on April 1 [2010], Orlando Bishop Thomas Wenski made a clear statement of his policy on sexual abuse to the assembled priests of his diocese: "We need to understand what we're talking about. We're talking about betrayal. When you're entrusted with a child and you do things to that child, you are Judas."

But less than a week after Wenski's warning to the priests, his Orlando diocese announced a financial settlement with a woman who said she was stalked and sexually harassed by a priest in the diocese in 2004. The case occurred on Wenski's watch.

"In Orlando," Clohessy explained, "Wenski assigned a Newark priest, Fr. Gorak, to ministry in Lakeland without even checking his background in Newark." Continuing pointed out that "If he [Wenski] had done any investigation, he would have found that Gorak was accused of sexually harassing and stalking several female parishioners and parish employees, and that several pastors asked Newark officials to remove Gorak from their parishes."  This is a point confirmed by The Palm Beach Post:

According to court documents, the Orlando diocese did not check Gorak's credentials until several months after he was assigned to the Lakeland parish. Then Newark Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli sent a letter to Orlando saying that Gorak had "good moral character," though he had attacked women in New Jersey, the lawsuit said. Gorak pleaded guilty in 2007 to charges of burglary, assault and stalking and was sentenced to four years of probation.

Miami's new archbishop also does not believe in transparency. Clohessy commented, "When a Lakeland pastor asked Wenski to oust Gorak, after he sexually harassed and assaulted yet another woman, Wenski lied to parishioners about why Gorak was removed."

  "He may throw around words like "openness" and "transparency," Clohessy warsnd, "but his history certainly suggests that he is committed to more secrecy and more deceit."

"Gorak's adult victims," Clohessy concludes, "could just as easily have been kids, which makes one wonder about how safe his parishes and schools really are."

And that is precisely the point. Homosexuality is not the proximate cause of sexual abuse: far from it.  The real issue, according to Clohessy is access: "There are few altar girls and few parents who would let a 12 or 13 year old girl go on over night trips with a priest."

Clohessy reminds us that half of SNAP's 9,000 plus members are women who were molested by clerics when they were girls.  The issue of access is magnified by clergy who abuse their positions of authority, as was demonstrated by an investigation by National Catholic Reporter in 2001.  This major story exposed sexual abuse of nuns by priests. The crimes included rape in Africa and other parts of the world. As NCR reported, "...that some Catholic clergy exploit their financial and spiritual authority to gain sexual favors from religious women, many of whom, in developing countries, are culturally conditioned to be subservient to men." Citing internal Vatican reports on the matter, NCR observed, "...priests at times demand sex in exchange for favors, such as permission or certification to work in a given diocese."

And that is why the motives of both Christifidelis and the Vatican bear scrutiny: The former for fanning the flames of bigotry against LGBT people, perniciously equating homosexuality with pedophilia; the latter for playing the same game on a grander scale.

Pope Benedict XVI wants Church defined by his notion of purity, even if that means a smaller Church.  The form that this is taking seems to be the replacement of moderately liberal clerics with traditionalist conservatives, even if they have a record of shielding sexual abusers. Let's make no mistake: this Pope's goal of taking the Church back to the pre-Vatican II era is coming at the expense of the most vulnerable, many of them, whom Jesus called "the least of these, my brethren."

That's what it looks like to me.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Mon Jun 14, 2010 at 10:00:33 AM EST

The diversionary strategy of keeping the focus on gay priests as the sole abuse problem is a tried and true effective strategy. This sort of thing worked for depression era fascists when they blamed jews for all economic woes, as if the abuses of their own bankers and industrialists weren't the source of the problem. Wenski seems quite capable of selling himself to the highest bidder. I can't forget he eventually caved into Tom Monaghan and Ave Maria town after a 'show' of authority. In my cynical mind it's more likely he got Miami because Tom no longer wanted him in Orlando.

by colkoch on Mon Jun 14, 2010 at 12:10:05 PM EST
Especially in this excellent piece by you Colleen.

There clearly is a target audience for these folks.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Mon Jun 14, 2010 at 02:52:09 PM EST

The gulf between the hierarchy and the ordinary faithful is continuing to widen. I don't really think Christifidelis's members care about whether sexual abuse is really addressed, they are more interested in getting an authoritarian in power to cut the faithful "down to size" and continue to scapegoat the powerless for the hierarchy's failings.

by khughes1963 on Mon Jun 14, 2010 at 01:04:14 PM EST

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