John Marshall Lee is a member of the Voice of the Faithful in the Diocese of Bridgeport, an affiliate of an international group of Catholics that support persons abused by clergy and works to shape structural change within the Catholic Church. He shares a commentary in response to a Connecticut Post editorial Bishop Lori will be missed following the announcement Bishop William Lori has been appointed archbishop of Baltimore.
What likely “will be missed” by the exit of Bishop William Lori are face-to-face discussions with him by (fewer than the reported 460,000) Catholics in the Diocese of Bridgeport about three subjects raised by your editors today.
Bishop Lori was initially assigned to the Diocese of Bridgeport because of his previous experience managing what has come to be known as the ‘clergy sexual abuse scandal’ elsewhere. During several years including Bishop Edward Egan’s departure and Bishop Lori’s takeover, over $37 Million of Diocesan funds were settled on abuse claimants because of civil court activity. When the Boston scandal exploded in 2002 showing the abuses of power and sexual predation kept secret for so long, the public was told it was a local or American problem. When the Bishops met in Dallas in 2004 many returned to their dioceses with notions of continuing to manage public perception.
In Bridgeport the Safe Environment program was prescribed for all serving in church service of any kind. A Diocesan Sexual Abuse Policy was adopted as well. Article 11.2 of that Policy indicates “the Diocese maintains a public record, including a website, that lists the names of priests and deacons who have been removed from ministry under this Policy.” Where is that public record today? Where is the website? Perhaps the clergy for whom the millions were spent by the Diocese were not perpetrators for whom allegations of sexual abuse of a minor had been verified? Does this look like episcopal ‘unfinished business?’
Misuse of parish funds exceeding $1 Million by a Darien pastor led to scandal, dismissal and a guilty plea in Federal court to one count of interstate transport of embezzled funds. A second priest from Greenwich was similarly dismissed as a pastor by Bishop Lori but curiously no charges have yet been levied. News reports also indicated activities in each case of clergymen failing to live up to ordination promises. New accounting and money handling procedures followed. Today each parish in the Diocese follows a strict reporting and disclosure procedure assuring the Bishop knows where the cash flows and the people in the pews know the details of their parish finances including budgets and balance sheets. However, Bishop Lori has added no new updates to already sketchy fiscal disclosure since June 30, 2008 reports. Full diocesan financial disclosures may be more important to Catholics in the pews today than the few parish closures so far. If more people appealed to the Bishop and were heard about such disclosure, results of the Bishop’s Appeal might be currently stronger.
Bishop Lori is one of several American Church voices laying out the case for “religious liberty” in the past two years. No local churches have been closed by civil authorities nor burned by religious dissidents. No Bridgeport clergy or religious have been attacked or persecuted as in other lands historically or currently. No Fairfield County Catholic seeking a place in a pew to worship has been denied. So the appeal to liberty has been more a call by the hierarchs to maintain the status quo, their power over the people, legal control of the machinery, and rights over all property. It may seem fair to most that American religious groups are provided all benefits of a 501(c)(3) designation without the requirements to file regular financial reports. However, most religious groups internally restrict clergy from handling the funds of the community. In the Catholic Church the American Bishops in the 19th Century effectively used State laws to continue financial secrecy from the people in the pews. It may ultimately be difficult to rouse the public, Catholic or other, to a defense of “religious liberty” in this sense when it really continues just another version of power abuse into the 21st Century. Since the Bishop has carried his message to Congress rather than public meetings in his diocese, this may be additional unfinished business. But it does not offer any hope for dialogue that respects the people.
Keeping the faith is important. Providing counsel to leadership with respect to change is also important. As in the early days of the Church when Bishops were selected by all of the people from their locale, where is the local ‘priest of integrity’ worthy to lead us forward?