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Yesterday Fr. Richard P. McBrien, for decades one of the most influential American Catholic theologians, died in Connecticut at the age of seventy-eight. He served as chair of the University of Notre Dame Theology Department for over a decade, and was a past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, as well as a recipient of the group's John Courtney Murray Award for distinguished work in theology. From the National Catholic Reporter's obituary:
A few days before Christmas, I interviewed Blase Cupich, who was recently installed as Chicago's ninth archbishop. We spoke about the Synod on the Family, immigration, the sexual-abuse scandal, the bishops conference, and more. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:
In November 2014, Blase Cupich succeeded Cardinal Francis George to become the ninth archbishop of Chicago—the nation’s third-largest diocese. It was Pope Francis’s first major episcopal appointment in the United States. Cupich had previously been the bishop of two much smaller dioceses: Spokane, Washington, and Rapid City, South Dakota.
On the flight to Manila today, Pope Francis gave another one of his signature free-wheeling press conferences in which he says a series of interesting things. He spoke about the Charlie Hebdo massacre, religious liberty, freedom of speech, ecumenism, his long-awaited encyclical on the environment, the next saint he'll make, and what he'd do to someone who spoke ill of his mom. Here are a few notable bits, as reported by the National Catholic Reporter and the Boston Globe/Crux:
Last week in Palm Beach, Florida, a Francisican priest from India was arrested for allegedly showing child pornography to a minor. The cleric, Fr. Jose Palimattom, who admitted to police that after Mass one Sunday he had a fourteen-year-old boy delete pornographic images of children from the priest's phone. Palimattom also revealed that back in India his superiors reprimanded him for becoming involved with a minor--but that the incident was not reported to law enforcement. Palimattom's province denies knowing about any such relationship. The Diocese of Palm Beach was told by Palimattom's superior in India that he was a priest in good standing--and that background checks "revealed no prior misconduct," according to a diocesan statement.
On the morning of January 4, Palimattom sent a Facebook message to the boy asking for his assistance with his phone, according to the arrest report. After Mass, Palimattom and the minor walked out the front doors of the church, where the priest handed over his device and told the boy he was having trouble getting rid of some images. What the teenager saw shocked him: about forty thumbnail images of fully exposed preteen boys including the words "little boys" and "young boys 10-18." Yet the boy didn't let on that he was scandalized by the photographs. Later he informed the parish music director, followed by his parents, who immediately phoned the police. Later that night, the boy received a Facebook message from the priest: "Goodnight, sweet dreams." He was arrested the next day.
“I want to assure everyone,” Bishop Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano wrote in 2008, “that I have never hidden or protected anyone convicted of any crime.” The bishop was attempting to quell the outcry of Catholics in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, over his decision to invite an accused priest and his followers—the Society of St. John—to establish themselves in his diocese. “My track record in these cases is very clear,” Livieres continued. “Just as I have not hesitated to convict the guilty, neither will I punish an innocent victim of slander.” The victim, according to Livieres, was Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity, an Argentine native who has been followed by allegations of sexual misconduct across three countries over three decades.
That troubling history, readily available to anyone with an internet connection, made it difficult for many Ciudad del Este Catholics to take their bishop at his word. So in 2009 they mounted a campaign against him, enlisting the support of other Paraguayan bishops and priests, who took the case to Pope Benedict XVI. But, unbeknownst to them, Livieres claimed to have the support of Benedict—in part because of their shared fondness for the Latin Mass. Livieres’s critics would not receive a satisfying response to their complaints until Benedict retired—and Pope Francis was elected.
Livieres was installed as bishop of Ciudad del Este in 2004. Before he even arrived, Livieres—a member of the conservative Catholic group Opus Dei—caused consternation among the bishops, priests, and laypeople of Paraguay. The bishops were surprised by John Paul II’s decision to appoint Livieres because his name was not on the terna—the list of three names recommended by the local bishops conference. Soon after Livieres took over in Ciudad del Este, more than one hundred fifty clerics wrote to Pope Benedict XVI to protest the bishop’s “renewal of church discipline” and “new pastoral guidelines,” as Livieres would later put it. But Benedict did not respond, according to an account Livieres wrote in 2014. Instead, Benedict told him to “form a new clergy,” according to the bishop. He took that advice, and established his own seminary. That failed to go over with other bishops, who wanted to know what was wrong with the main seminary in Asunción.
Livieres also clashed with his fellow bishops over the candidacy of former bishop Fernando Armindo Lugo Méndez, who ran for president of Paraguay in 2008—and won. Lugo had ties to the liberation-theology movement, which Livieres long opposed. But Livieres also criticized Lugo for fathering children before he left the episcopate—and his brother bishops for remaining “silent” about it. During a radio interview, the archbishop of Asunción, Pastor Cuquejo Verga, publicly called for the Vatican to investigate Livieres. In a follow-up interview, Livieres rebuffed Cuquejo’s suggestion, and called him a homosexual.
In November 2003, Joseph Martino attended his first meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops after succeeding James Timlin as bishop of Scranton, Pennsylvania. During the weeks following his October 1 installation Mass, Martino had been briefed on the scandal Timlin brought to the diocese in 1997 when he allowed the Society of St. John, a band of traditionalist clerics looking for a home, to set up shop in Scranton. As Martino walked down the aisle of the USCCB convention hall, flanked by nearly all the nation’s bishops, he turned to his auxiliary bishop, John Dougherty, and said, “I think we need to suppress that group.”
But Dougherty wasn’t convinced. Canonically suppressing the Society of St. John, he worried, might put Martino “in the position of attempting to undo an administrative act of his predecessor,” he wrote to a canon lawyer in early 2003. The “administrative act” Dougherty had in mind was Bishop Timlin’s decision to approve the Society of St. John as a “public association of the faithful,” which afforded the group certain rights under canon law—including the right to appeal to the Vatican.
Timlin’s “Decree of the Erection of the Society of St. John” was issued just a year after he met the group, then led by Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity—a native of Argentina. In the spring of 1997, Urrutigoity and his followers were ousted from the Society of St. Pius X—a schismatic organization that rejects the reforms of Vatican II—after it was discovered that they planned to establish a more spiritually rigorous group within the SSPX. Urrutigoity convinced Bishop Timlin that SSJ priests and deacons wanted to return to the Catholic Church in order to promote the old Latin Mass. Timlin was known as a friend to those who preferred the pre-Vatican II liturgy. Urrutigoity claimed that his fondest hope was to establish a seminary, a liberal-arts college, and a Catholic village. None of that would come to pass, as the Society’s efforts became mired in allegations of financial and sexual misfeasance.
Without running background checks on SSJ members, Bishop Timlin secured their reconciliation with Rome and made them priests of the Diocese of Scranton. But a year later, in 1999, Timlin learned that Urrutigoity had been accused of fondling a seminarian before arriving in Scranton. Urrutigoity denied the allegation. Even though three diocesan investigators told the bishop they found the accusation “credible,” Timlin did not sanction Urrutigoity. Later, when Society members were accused of sharing their beds with, and providing alcohol to, high-school boys, Urrutigoity promised that nothing immoral had transpired. Timlin just told SSJ members to stop such practices. The bishop did not discipline any SSJs until 2002, when a federal lawsuit alleged that Fr. Eric Ensey, a member of the Society of St. John, had sexually assaulted the plaintiff—and that Urrutigoity had fondled the young man while he slept. Timlin suspended the priests. Both of them denied the accusations under oath, and the lawsuit settled in 2005 for nearly half a million dollars. (Ensey, Urrutigoity, and Timlin could not be reached for comment.)
The canonical cover Timlin helped to provide for the Society of St. John would make it difficult for his successor to discipline the group. Adding to that difficulty was a letter of support for the SSJ that Timlin wrote in 2007, which found its way to the Vatican. Timlin’s efforts on behalf of the SSJs may have helped pave the way for their reappearance after Martino finally suppressed them in 2004. Ten years after Martino issued that decree, Urrutigoity would be named second in command of the Diocese of Ciudad del Este in Paraguay. Last September, amid public outcry over the promotion of Urrutigoity, Pope Francis removed Bishop Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano, the man who reestablished the SSJ in South America, where several members still reside.
The day after Fr. Eric Ensey first sexually assaulted him, John Doe testified, he asked to sleep on the couch. The two were staying with Ensey’s parents in California so that John could visit Thomas Aquinas College. He was considering of attending TAC after graduating from St. Gregory’s Academy in Pennsylvania, where he had met Ensey. It was the fall of 1998. “I remember thinking that I would like to [sleep on the couch],” John would later testify as part of a federal lawsuit alleging that Ensey and Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity had molested him. Yet he was worried that asking to move from Ensey’s bedroom, where the two had spent the previous night, to the sofa “might give some sort of bad connotation.” John thought Ensey’s parents might wonder whether “something had happened, and that was the one thing that I did not want to admit.”
John was upset about what had happened at Ensey’s parents. He would later allege that the priest had sexually assaulted him while he was passed out drunk on four occasions during that trip to California. But John “was trying to put it out of my mind.” At the same time, he found it hard to believe that Fr. Ensey “could do something wrong.” By trying to banish those memories, John was able to continue spending time with Ensey when they returned to St. Gregory’s Academy. After resuming his late-night meetings with Ensey, John faced more mockery from classmates. “They made fun of me for spending time with Fr. Ensey,” John recalled, even though it was “very widely known among the students that a good portion of the students drank with Society members.” On one occasion, John returned to his dorm room well after lights out. As he was about to slip into bed, he noticed that someone had spat mucus all over his pillow. “So I didn’t really feel accepted.”
Ensey provided solace. “He made it a point to discuss how friendship should be kept between one or two [people]…and how he was a true friend and no one else was.” By this point, Ensey seemed to be “the only one who understood me...the only one I bothered to invest time in,” John testified. So he continued to participate in Ensey’s brand of alcohol-assisted spiritual direction. On several occasions between the time they returned from California and the time John graduated, Ensey fondled him, according to John’s testimony. (Under oath, Ensey denied assaulting or groping John; efforts to reach him were unsuccessful.)
Yet John still hadn’t told anyone, and he continued spending time with Ensey. That did not mean he was comfortable with the situation. Rather, Ensey had continued to insist that because John was “raised American” he had “Puritanical instincts concerning male friendship,” according to John. Ensey repeated his view “that it was natural for men to sleep in the same bed…[and] to cuddle.” The “Puritanical” aspects of American culture were something Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity was known to complain about, according to other witnesses.
But by the second semester of John’s junior year, Ensey warned John to be more careful about their visits. That was when Ensey “informed me that Mr. Hicks, the headmaster, didn’t want boys going over and having…spiritual direction or counseling meetings [with Society of St. John priests] after Compline,” according to John. That didn’t mean the two couldn’t see one another anymore. “He [Ensey] said it was fine,” John testified. The cleric just wanted John “to stay quiet about it.” Later, John recalled, Ensey woke him early one morning to tell him “to go back to my room before anyone realized I was gone.” John complied, as he had before and would again, right up through Graduation Day.
Yesterday, the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury published a proposed new rule that would require all insurance plans available on the health-care exchanges to disclose whether they cover abortion in their summary of plan benefits.
John Doe had had enough. Enough see-sawing between career paths. Enough retail work. Enough physical labor. Enough aches from such work. Enough pain pills. Enough drinking. Enough wanting to die. Enough denial. He had had enough. So he went through detox, received therapy following his suicide attempts. And now that his head was clear, he was ready to talk.
The first person John told he had been sexually assaulted by priests was his girlfriend, according to his sworn testimony. The second person he told was a friend. Following his suicide attempts, John disclosed the allegations to his counselors. And in late 2001, a few months after he left recovery—before he talked to his parents—John told another person he’d been molested by clerics: Jeffrey Bond. He may have been shocked by John’s claims, but it’s unlikely that he was surprised.
In April 2000, Bond had been hired by Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity to establish the College of St. Justin Martyr. Three years earlier, Urrutigoity—originally from Argentina—approached Bishop James Timlin of Scranton, Pennsylvania, to see about setting up a community of clerics devoted to restoring liturgical traditionalism to the Catholic Church. In addition to the college, Urrutigoity told Timlin, now retired, that he hoped to build a seminary and an entire town for traditionalist Catholics. Urrutigoity and his associates, who would call themselves the Society of St. John, had come calling because they had just been ousted from the schismatic Society of St. Pius X—which rejects the reforms of Vatican II. Leaders of the SSPX were not happy about Urrutigoity’s plan to organize a new, more spiritually rigorous group within SSPX. Bishop Bernard Fellay, head of the SSPX, was also concerned about Urrutigoity’s “strange, abnormal” influence over seminarians and other priests, according to a letter he later sent Timlin.
Misconduct allegations would follow Urrutigoity from Argentina to the United States, and eventually to Paraguay, where as early as 2012 he would be promoted to vicar general by the bishop of Ciudad del Este, Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano. Pope Francis removed Livieres last September.
In Bishop Timlin, long fond of the Latin Mass, Urrutigoity found a sympathetic ear. He told the bishop that his group wanted to return to the Roman Catholic fold. Timlin forwarded their request to the Vatican. After it was promptly approved, the SSJs were allowed to reside at St. Gregory’s Academy, a Catholic boarding school for boys run by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, a traditionalist group that exclusively celebrates the Latin Mass but remains in full communion with Rome. Urrutigoity would later testify that the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter had invited his group to St. Gregory's. It would be a temporary arrangement, until the SSJs moved to property they would purchase in Shohola, Pennsylvania, in late 1999. But in the meantime, St. Gregory’s got new chaplains and religion teachers; the SSJs got a home base from which to plan their Catholic college, seminary, and village; and Bishop Timlin got another group of priests who were devoted to the Latin Mass. Timlin didn’t realize it at the time, but by allowing the SSJs to establish themselves in Scranton he had invited the greatest scandal his diocese had ever known.