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Church Featured Reflections

What Should Have Happened in 2002

In 2002, “Boston” became synonymous for “the” Catholic sex abuse crisis. The Boston Globe broke the story on how Bernard Cardinal Law, his predecessors, and others within the Archdiocese of Boston had shuffled predatory priests from parish to parish.

One notorious one, whom I intentionally am not using his name, molested over 130 children starting in the 1960s who had been removed from multiple parish and sent to “treatment” multiple times had continually been put back into ministry without informing anyone in these new assignment of the wolf in sheep’s clothing being sent in.

The Church—at least some of it—was shocked and horrified. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops gathered and formulated the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, commonly known as the Dallas Charter, after the city where they had met to create it.

Ironically, perhaps, Dallas itself was known already in Catholic sex abuse circles for Rudy Kos. Then-Father Kos had molested who knows how many boys, resulting in three convictions for aggravated sexual assualt and given a life sentence. Bishop Grahmann and his predecessor, Bishop Tschoepe, had heard multiple complaints. +Grahamm’s inaction included telling Kos “Stop. Don’t have little boys overnight. I’ll move you if you do.” A civil jury ordered the Diocese of Dallas pay $119.6 million— $119,600,000—to about a dozen victims for the Diocese’s gross conduct (using a couple definitions of gross there). After appeal, the final award was around $30M, which was the largest amount awarded to victims before Boston and near the top still for victims of a single predator.

The Dallas Charter was approved by the Vatican and became “particular law”, meaning it was canon law for the United States, and decreed various changes including the immediate removal from ministry of any deacon or priest credibly accused of sexual misconduct with a minor and, how most lay Catholic see it, required training and background checks for everyone volunteering in the Church in areas where they would interact with children or vulnerable adults. It was a watershed moment. Today, one thing you may hear is that as shocking and disgusting news is coming out on an almost daily basis now, is that the vast majority of these cases are from before the Dallas Charter. That’s true. It is of little comfort to me from the pews though.

Why then was the Grand Jury report in Pennsylvania such a punch to the gut? The raw numbers were sickening. 300 priests, 1000 victims, just within that state (and not even every diocese, as two had previously been investigated). But to me, that wasn’t the only thing.

16 years after Boston, personally, I felt good about the Church and sexual abuse. Yes, there was a problem. We took action and created safe environments. As a Church, we are better now. That’s true. I realized how little comfort that is today though.

One thing we should have done in 2002 and didn’t was to draw back the curtains everywhere. It was and has been easy to think of this as a problem in Boston. I’m naive and figured that all this was happening there. Not here. I don’t know if there was any cover-up in the Diocese of Austin or not, but after the Grand Jury report, I don’t know isn’t good enough.

What we should have done and what we should do now is get every single skeleton out of the closet. Every diocese and religious order should invite, beg for, and/or hire an independent investigation of all of their archives. Every credible allegation should be published. At the end of this, there should never be another story from years ago being dripped out over the next 16 years.

Every diocese and religious order should invite, beg for, and/or hire an independent investigation of all of their archives.

The story of Holy Angels made an impact on me. As detailed by the New York Times, Fr. John David Crowley was a beloved pastor of the parish for nearly 34 years when he unexpectedly retired in 2003. He sounded like he was a good priest—welcoming, supportive of the community, well-loved. It didn’t seem to be some weird creeper or anything. Reading his bio, he sounded to be a model pastor.

When the allegations about him were made known to the bishop, then-Bishop Wuerl (now the Cardinal Archbishop of Washington, DC)—on the Independent Review Board’s suggestion—offered him retirement without faculties or a canonical trial. The retirement without faculties would mean he could ride off into the sunset and then never publicly function as a priest. He was allowed to not reveal the circumstances to the parish who, understandably, protested. 2000 signatures. Some chewed out Bishop Wuerl when he visited the parish to meet with parishioners who wanted him to remain. They could tell retirement wasn’t really his idea.

If I’m thinking of Fr. Crowley’s interest, it was kind of the Church to offer him a nice exit while removing him from ministry. But, the Church should not be thinking of Fr. Crowley’s interest. The Church should be interested in the poor, the marginalized, the victims. Hopefully the victims that reported him knew he was retiring for that reason, but what about any other victims of this man? I’m not an expert, but it seems to be a common thread that this is often a repeated offense when he gets away with it previously.

According to the report, he was accused by two different victims. Are there others? Are there others who felt alone and thought no one would believe them against this amazing, beloved priest? How many of them were never able to process or get counseled? Did they turn to drugs or alcohol? Did they abuse people in their lives (in any form of abuse)? Who knows. It’s been 15 years since he left ministry seemingly in good standing.

This is stupid. As the Church, what the hell are we doing?

By having open and radical transparency, we stand with victims. They are not alone. They are loved. The Church, their community of faith that they believed in just as much as any one of us, supports them, not those the attacked them. When one victim has the courage to come forward, we should do due diligence, absolutely,  but then we should try to find any others so that we can support them too and justice can be served.

Every diocese and religious order should compile a list of every credibly accused cleric and make it widely available. This would be both to encourage silent victims to know that they’re not alone and demonstrate the transparency that the laity now demand to restore credibility.

The Church should do this now. We should not wait for civil authorities to want to investigate. We want this. We want to be the beacon of light we are called to be and with these sins on our corporate conscience, we won’t be.

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Categories
Church Reflections

The Abuse Continues

The Pennsylvania Attorney General released the grand jury report looking at clerical sexual abuse across the commonwealth in six of the eight dioceses. The other two were previously investigated.

In the lead up to the release, I had heard it was going to be bad. Real bad. It is.

Just in Pennsylvania, 300 priests over 70 years.

And while the numbers alone are horrible, I read some of the accounts; some of the details not published in the papers. I struggle to find the words.

The level of sin and evil exhibited by these men is incredible. These crimes were against the weakest of us—our children. They were not the results of someone who was sick and struggling. They were not the results of someone having a moment of failure. 

They were the actions of sinister men deliberately and intentionally committing some of the most egregious offenses against nature and morality. They were calculated efforts to abuse children and to coerce submission through their role as our highest moral authorities, our representatives to us and to God of our faith. These were not men struggling with some part of themselves that they tried to use their faith to combat. There were men who used their faith as a tactical weapon against these poor children.

And worse, others around them supported them in doing it. Sure, there are sometimes bad apples in a bunch but for the other priests and bishops who knew about these things to let them go? To hide them? To move them?

For some time, there was talk about the various recovery programs that priests used to be sent to for these crimes. At the time, so the talking points go, there was an understanding that this could be “treated”. Call it denial or something, but I gave the benefit of the doubt to those accounts. Yes, we know better now, but back then, maybe that really did make sense.

After hearing about the scope, reading the accounts, and attempting to internalize and grapple with what the authorities of my faith did, no. That line of argument does not past muster. There is no way that anyone hearing these accounts could think that all someone needed to do was go to treatment to “cure” them. Either these other priests and bishops stuck their heads in the sand and refused to hear what actually happened or they are far more disgusting than we as the American Church have ever been prepared to admit.

I want to be able to propose ways to stop this from ever happening again. Not the sexual abuse—though that should absolutely stop—but this institutional culture. Even after the Dallas Charter and all that we, as a church, have realized since 2002, how are there still more new accounts coming to light from decades ago that were known? Why are there redacted names of priests in the grand jury report of previously known events that weren’t made public. Even in those cases where it was deemed the accusations were not credible, is there enough transparency to vouch for that?

I wish I could write a polished post that would give some glimmer of hope. I can’t. Not right now. I can only remind myself that our faith is in Jesus Christ, not in the ministers of the Church. 

Categories
Microblog Reflections Technology

Google’s AI Will Call Places For You

This video from Google I/O today is mind-blowing. In it, Google shows off an in-development feature where Google Assistant will call some places to interact with someone on your behalf.

“Google, please make me an appointment for a haircut on Tuesday.” Ideally, I would expect Google to interact with an API that ties into the salon’s scheduling platform but so many places do not have that. In that case, Google could call and naturally interact with someone to place the appointment.

Watching this in action—I’m just amazed.

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Daddy's Corner Featured Reflections

For The Love of The Game

Tonight, we watched Angels in the Outfield, the 1994 movie about a horrible baseball team finding help from a foster kid who prayed for the team to have angels join them on the field.

I forgot until watching it tonight that baseball bed sheets that the kids have halfway through the movie were the exact same ones that I had on my bed when the movie came out. As a nine-year-old, that is pretty exciting stuff.

That memory brought back so many memories about my love of baseball as a kid. I never played or even owned a ball, but I was hooked. I can only remember going to the movies once with my dad to see Rookie of the Year when I was eight. I used to go to the flea market on Saturday morning to buy and trade baseball cards with my sister. I had a strong love for the Texas Rangers, especially Nolan Ryan. I had a Mickey Mantle rookie card. I had baseball bed sheets for crying out loud!

Then August 1994 happened. The Strike.

I forgot how much that impacted my childhood. Even though the Rangers weren’t actually good that year—though I didn’t realize that as a kid—they were still leading the AL West. We were looking good to realistically make the playoffs for the first time!

The strike killed the rest of the season and cancelled the World Series for the only time since 1904. The politics of the strike led to replacement players being called up for the 1995 season, which led to more problems. In the end, the strike lasted over 230 days and also shortened the 1995 season.

It killed the game for me. I kept the baseball cards on a shelf for long time before getting rid of them somehow (if I was thinking, I would have given them to my sister since she did virtually everything to help me build the collection, but I don’t remember where they ended up). I kept the Mantle card for longer, but I don’t know where it ended up now (which I’m pretty bothered by to be honest).

Except for a couple of field trips to watch the television broadcast of Rangers games and a game with a friend who still had the fever, I don’t know that I watched a baseball game for a solid 10 years after the strike.

Having kids who are getting into baseball reminded me of a lot of a good memories before 1994. I never played, but seeing them play and coaching their teams, I fell head over heels in love again.

I remember a bit that I was a Rangers fan and I’m not supposed to like the Astros. Seeing the stunts that Minor League teams pull excites me again. I’m still wary of MLB, but I’m getting there.

I hope I’m able to keep my kiddos excited for the game itself so no matter what a couple hundred of players and owners decide to do in the future, they won’t walk away as long as I have.


Categories
Featured Reflections

Honoring Papaw

My grandfather died in late December at 98 years old. He was of a generation where people lived some amazing lives. He would follow his older brother to school every day to the point the school finally just let him stay. Nearly an Olympic level swimmer who served during World War II. He retired from civil service before I was born, and then the cemetery happened.

After retiring, he became the caretaker of Sacred Heart Cemetery in Wichita Falls. Over the 31 years that followed, he worked every weekday—unless it was raining—mowing and maintaining the ground and going through the work to unify and computerize the cemetery’s records.

Apparently, before his work, one of the three Catholic churches in town kept the records for some part of the cemetery. It was increasingly harder to answer some basic questions about who was buried there, which plots were purchased or not, and so on. His first computer, a 286 running DOS, became the new beginning of a computer database to have a single reference point for cemetery information.

As a kid, before cell phones, we always knew that if you wanted to see Papaw, you’d head to the cemetery between 8 and 12 Noon, Monday through Friday. I remember setting out flags with him often for one of the American holidays—Memorial Day or Veterans Day or helping him setup the altar for the annual All Soul’s Day Mass. I have birthday cards from him that he designed with his “Designed by Bob Spring” with some headstones around it on the back.

For me, while he had done many other things in his life, I learned about work ethic and dedication through his work in the cemetery.

He was very stoic and a man of few words normally, but he talked to me at length about the new workshop they were building for him at the cemetery (complete with air conditioning!). Dare I say, he was giddy about it.

After he passed away, I visited David Bindel, the pastoral associate of Sacred Heart Parish, to catch up—I knew him from when I was active in the parish in high school—and to talk about the impact Pawpaw had on both of us and those who interacted with him in his role overseeing cemetery operations over the decades. I pitched to him the idea that it would be nice to have something to note his work.

I’m proud to announce that the workshop he was so proud of is now dedicated as “The Bob Spring Workshop at Sacred Heart Cemetery“.

Robert “Bob” Spring served as caretaker of this cemetery from 1976 to 2007. In addition to maintaining the grounds, his work included unifying and modernizing the cemetery records. He is buried in the southeast corner next to his wife, Mary Rita. 1919-2017

I can’t wait to visit Wichita Falls again to see the plaque in person.

Categories
Microblog Reflections

Peace in 2018

Today is January 1st, which in the Catholic tradition in the Solemnity for Mary, Mother of God and, since the 1960s, World Day of Peace.

Global peace is a hard nut to crack and something I feel powerless to directly impact. But, for 2018, I pray that we all can create for ourselves a little sliver of peace in our day-to-day life with the hope that it will inspire others to do the same and, in the end, makes the world a little better.

Being at peace doesn't mean inaction or acceptance of the world as it is, either. It is a calmness that centers us toward our Creator, hearing the whispers of the Holy Spirit guiding us to know what we can or can not do, strengthen us to do those things we can do but are afraid to, and settles us when we worry about the things we can not do.

I look forward to 2018 as a year of hope and of hopeful action.