Thursday, September 22, 2011

Financial Scandals Next to Rock Church???

Will the next set of scandals to rock
the Catholic Church in the United
States be about finances?
An interesting profile appeared in the Washington Post yesterday morning.  Jason Berry, a New Orleans based investigative reporter and author of two books (Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children [Doubleday 1992; University of Illinois, 2000] and Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II [Free Press,  2004], has written a third book, Render Unto Rome: the Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church (Crown, 2011).   
      Insiders have been saying for some time that the potential financial scandals in the Catholic Church could be even more devastating to Church credibility than the sexual abuse scandals.  Personally, I find that hard to believe—not because bishops and clergy are innocent of financial improprieties, but only because it is all but impossible to imagine that anything could do more damage to the Church than not only the sexual abuse allegations themselves but the organized and even criminal cover-up of charges orchestrated by Church officials from the Vatican down to the local parishes.   Nevertheless, hold on to your birettas, boys, because once the lid is off the backstairs financial dealings in the Catholic Church we will see the bark of Peter in for bigger waves than it ever knew on the Sea of Galilee.  The gates of hell may not prevail against it, but the Church will be shaken to its foundations.  The sad thing is that unless we get a wise and holy helmsman guiding the bark of Peter, the institutional Church will let scores of millions of followers leave disheartened and disillusioned and go elsewhere rather than make the needed reforms that would require massive shifts in hierarchical power.  Preserving not its moral authority but its power structures has been the first item of agenda of the Institutional Church ever since the moral fervor of the Tridentine Reforms grew cold in the seventeenth century.  Indeed, if the Church in our time is to successfully engage in Reform as it has in some of the periods at which we have been looking in this blog recently, it must make it a priority to differentiate between authority (with which we Catholics believe it has been invested by its Founder) and power (which its Founder told his apostles to eschew). 
     Of course there are those Catholic voices that criticize Berry for turning his investigative skills on the Church to which he belongs and in which he practices.  I must admit that I have not always, or even usually, liked his tone.  But that doesn’t mean that I dismiss him as a “crackpot,” much less a “traitor.” The article in the Post is nor surprise and might be a bit “sensationalistic.” I will be the first to admit that the Washington Post is no friend to Catholicism—nor is that its function.  And  Berry is no boy soprano in the Catholic choir.  The late John Neuhaus labeled Berry a scandalmonger. Many Catholic voices have decried both the Washington Post and Jason Berry.   Former Vatican ambassador Mary Ann Glendon, Learned Hand professor of Law at Harvard and George W. Bush appointee to the President’s Council on Bioethics, attacked Berry for his accusations against Legionnaires of Christ founder, Father Marcial Maciel who had been accused of sexual abuse of seminarians.  William Donahue, head of the Catholic League, has scored Berry for his “yellow journalism.”    Well, Neuhaus, Glendon, and Donahue all backed the wrong horse with Father Maciel; Neuhaus and Glendon out of a gullible institutional loyalty and Donahue out of his consistent thick-headed stupidity and own lack of moral compass.  Like him or not, when Berry and others like him scream “fire” we need to look and see if there is smoke and if there is, we need to put the fire out. 
      And so we had better look and see if the lack of financial transparency in the Catholic Church is problematic (it is, I can assure you) and make the necessary changes without covering up the abuses or defending them as “internal affairs” of the Church that are no one’s business except the local bishop’s.  If bishops act quickly, make changes, put good procedures in place, fire employees (cleric and lay) who have abused the system, this does not have to become a scandal.  I have no objection to sending the Holy See money, even lots of money, if it needs it for its work. I do object to having money sent secretly.  I don’t expect the bishop to live in a hovel or wear rags; I do expect him to have a budgeted salary from which his expenses are paid. And I expect that budget to be commensurate with the salaries of his priests.  I understand that angels don’t come down and pay the bills—it takes money and I am willing to contribute my share but I also expect to be told where that money is going.  And speaking of paying one’s share—that article says that Berry digs deep into his pocket every Sunday and puts three or five dollars into the basket.  I may respect you as a journalist, Jason, but for God’s sake you are a cheap bastard.  The going rate these days is 10%--don’t be a skinflint.  Little old ladies are carrying you, buster—ante up. 

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