As the crisis of confidence grows in the scandal-ridden American Catholic Church, many in the laity and clergy are skeptical that Church hierarchy will take effective corrective action and are moving toward reforming the institution from the grass-roots level.
According to long-time observers of the Church, June’s conference of bishops arrived at no real solution to the decades-long problem of clerical abuse, providing only vague reassurances and a “charter” on abuse to a thoroughly disgusted nation.
The “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” promises in its preamble: “We reach out to those who suffer. We apologize to them and offer our help for the future.” The body of the charter guarantees that child abuse will be reported and the faithful supported in their grief.
“If they [the bishops] think they’ve solved the underlying problem, they’re deluding nobody but themselves,” declared the Rev. Charles Fiore, a veteran of the struggle to expel abusers from the Catholic priesthood.
Fiore, a Catholic priest for 42 years, has fought the homosexual influence in the clergy almost from the date of his ordination. With degrees in philosophy and theology, as well as clinical training at Menninger’s and the State Hospital in Topeka, Kan., Fiore has both condemned the actions of homosexual priests and counseled the victims of their abuse.
The solutions offered by the bishops were nothing but a “band-aid applied to the real problem of the pandemic corruption of the Church in the United States,” Fiore declared, adding that the bishops gave no evidence of “an intention of addressing the skeletons in their own episcopal closets.”
The charter itself remains voluntary until the Vatican gives its approval and may, in fact, never have the force of law. Negotiations over the charter may take years, and the American bishops have for decades ignored Vatican directives they found to be objectionable.
While allowing some priests to go behind bars, American Catholic bishops have a firm track record of protecting their brother bishops, even under the most adverse circumstances.
The Catholic reform group Roman Catholic Faithful, or RCF, closely follows the continuing careers of disgraced bishops and, among many similar instances, has noted the following:
Bishop Keith J. Symons resigned from his diocese of Palm Beach, Fla., in 1998 after he admitted abusing five boys, and since then has led at least one retreat entitled “A Marian Day of Prayer.” After Roman Catholic Faithful made Symons’ abuse record public, Bishop Kenneth J. Povish, the retired bishop of the Lansing Diocese, condemned RCF and referred to Symons as a “wounded healer.”
Bishop Patrick Ziemann resigned his post in the Santa Rosa, Calif., Diocese in 1999 after admitting to a two-year affair with one of his clergy. The priest who was involved in the affair claimed Ziemann had forced the relationship by threatening to bring allegations of theft of church funds if the priest did not cooperate. Ziemann is still active giving retreats in Arizona, according to RCF.
Bishop Daniel Ryan, disgraced former leader of the Springfield, Ill., Diocese, resigned one week prior to the filing of a lawsuit naming him as one of its defendants. The lawsuit charges Ryan with misconduct with priests and male prostitutes, and creating “an atmosphere of tolerance to the sexual abuse of minors …” in his diocese. Ryan, however, remains active in both the Springfield and Joliet dioceses, offering Mass, giving retreats and participating in confirmations.
By mid-year 2002, four Catholic bishops, including Archbishop Rembert Weakland, had resigned after admitting their sexual activities.
Currently, Bernard Cardinal Law, Roger Cardinal Mahony and Edward Cardinal Egan are among the top Church officials under legal and media scrutiny for their handling – or mishandling – of child-abuse cases in their jurisdictions.
Roman Catholic Faithful, founded in 1996 by Stephen Brady and located in Petersburg, Ill., has devoted itself to bringing to account priests and bishops for their moral outrages and criminal activity. By 1999, Ryan resigned under pressure initiated by RCF, while not admitting any guilt.
Brady’s group also has brought to the public’s attention a priest-oriented international homosexual Internet site called St. Sebastian’s Angels, which continues to operate at various Web locations.
Brady’s activities have earned him the enmity of the homosexual community.
One individual with ties to the Catholic homosexual group Dignity, as well as St. Sebastian’s Angels, published Brady’s private home address and phone number on the Internet, referred to RCF as a “hate group,” described Brady as motivated by “evil purposes” and labeled him as a “perpetrator.”
In another incident, which was reported to the FBI, Brady learned from a second-hand source that an e-mail message was circulating on the Internet stating that someone has placed a “contract” out for Brady’s assassination.
Murder tied to priests’ club?
While the threats against Brady are unsettling, there are indications that those who delve too deeply into the connection between clerical homosexuality and child abuse – finding perversion slipping into an abyss of satanic ritual – may pay for their curiosity with their lives.
In the late 1980s, two young Chicago private investigators, Bill Callaghan and Hank Adema, agreed to assist a “friend of a friend,” whose child had been molested by a priest of the Chicago Archdiocese.
The parents of the abused child sought help after the Archdiocese under Joseph Cardinal Bernardin threatened to counter-sue following their original allegations. Before the scandal of clerical child abuse came to the public’s attention through the efforts of the mass media, it was common practice for a diocese to file a libel suit against parents who charged diocesan clergy with abusive behavior.
As their investigation into the background of the abusive priest proceeded, Callaghan and Adema discovered the existence of a homoerotic group, made up mostly of priests, calling itself The Boys’ Club.
During their inquiry into the membership and activities of The Boys’ Club, a woman identifying herself as the girlfriend of a murdered church organist contacted the investigators and stated that she had information that would be useful to them.
The woman’s friend was one Frank Pellegrini, once the organist and choir director at All Saints-St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church on Chicago’s South Side. Pellegrini had also served as chair of the Sociology Department of Loyola University of Chicago.
According to the information obtained from the girlfriend, Pellegrini had a homosexual relationship with one of the priests involved in The Boys’ Club, but was in the process of leaving the priest-lover and marrying her.
Before completely severing ties with the priest, however, Pellegrini discovered that The Boys’ Club was involved with far more than homosexual relations. Tied closely with their sexual exploits was ritualistic satanic worship and the regular abuse of young children from low-income, ethnic families.
Pellegrini informed the Chicago Archdiocesan Chancery, and scheduled a meeting with one of the archdiocese’s top officials.
The day before the meeting, Pellegrini was brutally murdered in his home, which showed no signs of forced entry.
Callaghan, who spoke with police personnel originally working on the case, stated that Pellegrini was found with his hands tied with barbed wire and had been stabbed repeatedly.
Even Pellegrini’s dog was slashed, leaving it seriously wounded but alive.
In the opinion of police detective/profilers working on the case, the brutality and manner of the killing indicated that it was carried out either by a woman or a homosexual, Callaghan stated.
Pellegrini was stabbed 47 times – the same number of years he had lived.
Just after Pellegrini’s body was discovered, and while police were still on the scene of the murder, police observed two unusual incidents, Callaghan reported.
The first involved the arrival of then-Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago – and one of the most powerful men in the American Catholic Church – Joseph Bernardin. Although there was never an indication that Bernardin met Pellegrini, he arrived at the murder scene and quizzed police personnel on the progress of the investigation.
Left unanswered was how Bernardin learned of the killing and why he should personally visit the scene of a relatively unimportant individual whom he had no reason to know.
The second incident involved Pellegrini’s dog. As the police conducted their investigation at the scene, the dog remained quiet, still suffering from its wounds. When the dog saw priests come into the apartment, it suddenly became aggressive and barked wildly.
The Pellegrini murder occurred in 1984 and was “reopened” with federal funds in the early 1990s, but many of the investigation’s informal police notes have been “lost,” and important leads in the case have never been fully followed up, according to Callaghan. The Pellegrini case, at present, remains one of the many hundreds of unsolved Chicago murders.
Although Callaghan never met Pellegrini, nor participated in the original investigation, he and Adema found that whatever secrets the case entailed posed a direct threat to their own lives.
As Callaghan and Adema pressed on with their investigation on behalf of their client, they learned of a warning, which came through contacts in the Chicago Police Department.
Callaghan learned that mob informants had stated that a contract had been offered on his life, and on that of Adema, by an individual closely tied to the Pellegrini case.
Although no one in the local underworld was interested, there did exist the real possibility that the contract could be accepted by “a black or biker gang,” Callaghan revealed.
The full extent of The Boys’ Club influence in Chicago – and beyond – still remains unclear, as does the extent of ritual abuse associated with clerical assaults on children.
There is, however, ample evidence that ritual abuse does occur, and it is most obvious in the case of “Agnes.”
In the opening pages of his best-selling book, “Windswept House,” The Rev. Malachi Martin describes a satanic ritual carried out on a young girl. Although Martin used a degree of literary license in the description of the event, there is a real individual behind the story and an actual instance of satanic abuse.
“Agnes,” a pseudonym for her actual name, met Fiore some years ago for assistance with spiritual guidance and counseling for the long-term effects of cult abuse she had suffered at age 11.
Agnes has consented to and passed several polygraph examinations and is now married with a family in a Southern city. She has made her accusations in sworn affidavits, written statements to Vatican officials and has directly confronted those whom she has accused.
Among those Agnes has implicated in the attack upon her was a young, rapidly advancing priest named Joseph Bernardin.
Agnes states that in the fall of 1957, in Greenville, S.C., with her father present, Bishop John Russell of the Charleston Archdiocese and his chancellor, Bernardin, raped her as part of a satanic ritual, which included, as a RCF report stated, “a perverted, sacrilegious use of a [consecrated] host.”
According to Catholic teaching, a consecrated host is the true and total body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ, Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.
Agnes also became acquainted with Steven Cook, another individual who accused Bernardin of abuse. Cook accused Bernardin of coercing him into homosexual acts while he was a seminarian and Bernardin was archbishop in Cincinnati, Ohio.
While the media consistently have reported that Cook “recanted” his accusation against Bernardin, Cook, who was dying of AIDS, simply stated that he could “no longer trust his memory.”
Callaghan interviewed Cook as part of his own investigation, and verified that Cook did not “recant.” He learned that the dying homosexual, formerly of very modest means, suddenly had developed considerable financial resources. Estimates of the value of the newly established estate range from $250,000 to several million. After Cook’s death, the money was divided between his mother, his sister and his male lover.
Bernardin, who said he had never met Cook, also left the dying man a costly chalice, which Bernardin had used to offer Mass in Cook’s Philadelphia apartment. In addition to Cook and Bernardin, Cook’s homosexual lover was also in attendance at the Mass. Cook made no secret of his homosexuality, and there is no indication that Cook would have hidden the identity of his male lover.
Giving Holy Communion under such circumstances, according to traditional Catholic teaching, constitutes sacrilege.
Bernardin also was implicated in an alleged incident of abuse perpetrated against seminarians attending the Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona, Minn., in the 1980s.
According to a Boston Globe report, Bernardin, along with several “top prelates,” were accused of “coercing seminarians at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary … into having sex.”
The rector of the seminary, the Rev. Robert H. Brom, was also implicated in the sex-abuse charges. At the time the seminarian made his allegations, Brom served as Bishop of Duluth, Minn. Brom now is bishop of San Diego, Calif.
The Winona seminarian later retracted his charges, but he received a settlement payment of “less than $100,000,” according to the Globe report, which quoted Archbishop Roger L. Schwietz, of Anchorage, successor to Brom as bishop of Duluth.
The circumstances of the seminarian’s retraction, however, recently have come into question.
In a sworn affidavit, Mark Brooks, a friend of the seminarian who received the settlement payment, claims that the retraction of the charges against the bishops is false, according to a report in the San Diego Union-Tribune. The retraction was issued, according to Brooks, because the seminarian “needed the money.”
Brooks’ affidavit was filed in San Diego Superior Court in connection with a press investigation of abuse allegations against Brom.
In the mid-1980s, the Diocese of San Diego settled a lawsuit initiated by Brooks claiming abuse. The Diocese settled for an undisclosed sum.
Accountability to the laity
Confronted with constant scandal, and a sometimes callous, hostile clergy, many Catholics have lost their faith and left the Church.
Other Catholics, however, have banded together and are seeking to support the faithful clergy, while denying money to those elements that they feel are bent upon the destruction of the Catholic Church.
Michael J. Tario, who works closely with Wall Street traders, is leading a group called the Ad Hoc Committee for the Prevention of Clergy Sex Abuse.
Tario is suggesting that Catholics redirect – not boycott – contributions to the Church.
“Good Stewardship,” said Tario, “is not just sending money to the chancery for a cover-up.” Tario is urging Catholics to contribute only to Church organizations that use their funds for charitable purposes, rather than legal expenses and costly settlements.
Tario lives in the Chicago Archdiocese and personally knows parents whose children have been abused by archdiocesan clergy. Their callous treatment at the hands of the Archdiocese and a growing awareness of the extent of clerical abuse in the Chicago area and around the United States have compelled Tario to take action. Tario’s group works closely with other organizations having similar goals across the nation.
The group is demanding that the Chicago Archdiocese implement four basic reforms:
The chancery open all its files regarding abuse, including those considered most secret.
All “gag” orders be lifted. No individual should fear a Church libel suit if he or she speaks of their experience with clerical abuse.
A “Blue Ribbon Committee,” independent of the archdiocese, be put in place to examine archdiocesan financial records, as well as all abuse files.
All archdiocesan financial reports be independently audited to ensure transparent financial operations.
Tario periodically cites a statement of Bishop William B. Friend of the Diocese of Shreveport, La., on the right of the laity to know where and how the money they contribute is spent. “The Church consists of the people, so the people ought to know what is going on,” declared Friend, who was a banker before becoming a priest.
Chicago Archdiocesan Financial Director Tom Brennan claims, however, that Tario’s group is having little impact. Brennan expressed his confidence that archdiocesan revenues would continue to flow, stating that “we’re expecting growing revenues,” according to a report from the Rome-based Zenit news agency.
Quizzically, Brennan also stated in the same report that “he has not yet seen hard numbers from the past six months.”
Others dispute Brennan’s claim of financial tranquility.
Tario cites reports from several of the wealthiest parishes in the Archdiocese where contributions have significantly fallen, with some estimates noting a drop by as much as 25 percent. The information confirms an earlier Business Week article documenting a steep decline in donations as well as an increased need for funds from a top-heavy, lay bureaucracy.
As Tario’s campaign of redirected giving gains momentum, another ominous threat to the American Catholic Church’s money supply is appearing on the horizon.
What one attorney terms the “unholy trinity of litigation” – liability, damages and “deep pockets” – may prove to be the most potent stimulus for reform and relief to a hard-pressed laity, since Church structures would no longer be able to support the abusers within its ranks.
The possibility of a poorer but more faithful Church does not appeal to all.
When Tario proposed a program of redirected giving to Francis Cardinal George of Chicago, the cardinal archbishop asked in response if Tario wanted the archdiocese to go back to an “immigrant Church,” poor and struggling.
Many observers, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, are pressed to respond that, if necessary to gain a more faithful Church, the answer would be, “Amen.”