By this author
"This is the beginning of a Church with an organization that is not just top-down but also horizontal."
Over the summer, our talented summer interns put together a program for Commonweal readers to gather in person to discuss issues covered by their favorite magazine. Like a blog comment thread, but nicer. So far we have nine such groups from California to New York. The first Commonweal Reader Community met earlier this month in St. Paul, Minnesota, at the home of Gene and Marjorie Audette.
It was drier that day, the sky just as blue. I marveled at its cloudless clarity on my walk to 475 Riverside, weaving my way through morning sidewalk traffic, newly arrived Columbia and Barnard students still discovering what's required of pedestrians in New York City. Picked up an iced coffee from the Halal cart at Broadway and 112th St., wondered whether it would be my last of the season. "Have a good day, boss." He always called me boss.
"Did you hear what happened?" our receptionist asked as I walked in. "What?" Plane hit the World Trade Center. "They say it was small." Terrible, but not impossible. Impossible was coming. I set my coffee next to Commonweal's one web-connected computer, and dialed into MSN. Our homepage, the New York Times, wasn't loading. Neither were other domestic news sites. BBC worked, as the page came up my stomach dropped: "World Trade Center Hit," the headline came in before the photo. Smoke billowing out of one of the towers. The gash was too big for a small plane. "Oh no."
The Diocese of Peoria, Illinois, has agreed to pay $1.35 million to settle a lawsuit claiming that Archbishop John J. Myers--who served there as bishop from 1990 to 2001--failed to remove a priest from ministry despite having evidence that he had abused a minor. (Myers, you'll recall, has come in for some criticism regarding his handling of accused priests in his current diocese, Newark.)
The plaintiff, Andrew Ward, now twenty-five, accused the late Rev. Thomas Maloney of molesting him in 1995 and '96, when Ward was eight. About a year earlier, a woman informed the diocese that Maloney had abused her sister when she was ten years old. Myers denies knowing anything about it. Indeed, if anything comes through in the 2010 deposition of Myers, just unsealed as part of the settlement, it's that the archbishop's memory is less than ideal.
For example, Myers doesn't remember much about the generous gifts Maloney gave him over the years (starting in the late 1980s, apparently). Does he recall receiving Maloney's own "precious" camera? No. What about gold coins? Sort of. The silver object so large "it could be tied around one's neck like the proverbial millstone," as Myers desrcibed it to Maloney in a thank-you note? Hard to say.
Now, it's not unusual for priests to give gifts to their bishop following confirmations. Such offerings usually amount to $1 per child, rarely totaling more than $500. But many bishops set up trusts to receive such funds for later disbursemet to charity. Myers apparently used them to cover personal expenses--including his mother's health care, his vacations, and his trips to the track. (SEE UPDATE BELOW.)
So were Myers and Maloney friends? The archbishop has trouble with that question too: "I don't know if 'friends' would — I had many other priests that I was closer to. I can say that." How many of those other priests were invited to vacation with Myers, as Maloney was in 2000? How many used their homilies to relate personal stories of their friendship with the bishop, sometimes referring to him as "Johnny"? How many were nominated by Myers to be made monsignor, as Maloney was in 2000? (Settle in, this is going to be a long post.)
Over the past few years, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been steadily criticized by a few prolife groups claiming the bishops’ domestic-poverty program has been funding organizations that promote abortion and artificial contraception. We’ve written about this before. The critics’ stock-and-trade is guilt by association (you know, Jesus’ M.O.). From time to time they may discover a grant that violates the bishops’ own guidelines—which were recently revised to respond to these ceaseless complaints. But mostly it's your basic smear job. They comb coalitions for members who have taken public stances antithetical to church teaching on sex and abortion, then tie them to recipients of Catholic funding. (Protip: If someone on the board of your charity has ever had lunch with someone who publicly disagrees with Catholic teaching on sex or abortion, don’t expect to pass muster with the magisterium of the American Life League.)
Having apparently exhausted their domestic targets, these critics have set their sights on Catholic Relief Services, the bishops’ foreign-poverty organization. The latest salvo was delivered by the Population Research Institute, a $1.4 million operation based in Virginia. According to PRI, Catholic Relief Services has been “using funding from American Catholics to distribute contraceptive and abortifacient drugs and devices” in Madagascar. PRI claims that a representative spoke with CRS workers and local clergy who confirmed that the organization had been “directly involved in the promotion and distribution of contraceptive and abortifacient drugs and devices.”
That sounds bad, and it would be, if PRI’s reporting seemed reliable. But does it?
At the bottom of today's Vatican news bulletin, you'll find news that two of Solvenia's top bishops have resigned, "in accordance with canon 401 para.
An Archdiocese of Newark pastor will be stepping down at the end of the month, after parishioners at St. Joseph's Church complained that an accused priest had been living in the rectory, just across the street from the parish elementary school. The accused priest, Fr. Robert Chabak, was removed from ministry in 2004, after the archdiocese determined that he had been credibly accused of molesting a boy over a period of three years in the 1970s (he was never charged because the statute of limitation had run). After Superstorm Sandy damaged Chabak's home, Mark Mueller reports, "the archdiocese allowed him to take up residence at St. Joseph 'out of a sense of compassion,' said Jim Goodness, a spokesman for Archbishop John J. Myers." Parishioners were not informed of Chabak's background. When several of them protested, Chabak, sixty-six, was moved to a retirement home. Why it was insufficiently compassionate to put him there first remains unclear. But what is clear is the frustration of Newark Catholic parents. Because when it comes to dealing with accused priests, their diocese is doing it wrong.
Last night the Catholic Health Association issued a memo to its members announcing that the final rules governing the Obama administration's contraception-coverage mandate are workable. In June of last year, CHA strongly criticized--as did the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops--the way the Department of Health and Human Services had attempted to accommodate the concerns of religious employers who objected to the mandate. The USCCB is still not (and may never be) happy with the rule. But CHA now believes HHS has addressed their concerns.
“It was important for our members to achieve resolution of this issue in time for them to negotiate their insurance renewals and with the assurance they would not have to contract, provide, pay or refer for contraceptive coverage," Sr. Carol Keehan, president of CHA, told me. "We are pleased that that has been achieved with this accommodation.” From yesterday's memo:
Since the original rule was issued over a year ago, there has been considerable concern raised by many parties including CHA. CHA had two principal concerns. The first was the four-part definition of what constituted a "religious employer." That concern has been eliminated. CHA's second concern was establishing a federal precedent that mandated our members would have to include in their health plans, services they had well-established moral objections to.
HHS has now established an accommodation that will allow our ministries to continue offering health insurance plans for their employees as they have always done.
Given that CHA membership includes only nonprofit hospitals, it's not concerned with for-profit employers who object to the mandate. "We recognize the broader issues will continue to be debated and litigated by others." Still, "Throughout this process, CHA has been in dialogue with the leadership of the bishops conference, the administration, and HHS."
So what do the final rules say?
As CHA explained to its members, the final rules dispatch with the earlier, much-maligned four-part definition of a religious employer as one that is not for profit, primarily serves co-religionists, primarily employs co-religionists, and exists to inculcate religious values. That's been simplified. HHS lifted the new definition from the tax code. Any religious organization that's exempt from filing a Form 990 (which all other nonprofits must file with the IRS every year)--including churches, integrated auxiliary association, and the religious activities of any religious order--is completely exempt from the mandate. That is, they don't have to offer contraception coverage to their employees, and their employees are not eligible to receive it for free outside their employers' health plans.