Sunday, December 24, 2017

Fallen Kings - Cardinal Law, Sexual Abuse and the Decline of Catholicism

click image to enlarge
By coincidence I began "coming out" in the fall of 2001.  Of the many hard things involved in the process was overcoming the brainwashing that I had received growing up Roman Catholic which have fueled my decades long effort to "pray away the gay."  Years of daily mass and other efforts proved utterly fruitless and "the gay" never went away.  Then, within a few months of my initial coming out efforts, the Boston Globe broke the explosive story of the sex abuse scandal in Boston which subsequently went world wide - all Hell continues to break loose in Australia and there are rumblings in Africa and even India. For me, all of it made me realize that the Church leadership was morally bankrupt and in no position to direct anyone on sexual mores. Rather, all that seemingly mattered to the senior hierarchy was power, influence, money - especially money - and control over the lives of others.  In America, no one better exemplified the problem of the Church more than Cardinal Bernard Law who died this past week at the Vatican to which he fled to avoid the reach of law enforcement and prosecutors in Boston.  Tellingly, Law was given a plum position and continued to live in surroundings fit for royalty.  A piece in NPR looks at Law's fall from power which is reflective of the decline of Catholicism in general as rank and file Catholics come to the realization that Christ's gospel message and the agenda of the hierarchy are all too often mutually exclusive.  Here are article excerpts:
When the cardinal's residence was built in the 1920s atop a hill in the leafy, most western outpost of Boston, it was modeled after an Italian palazzo. The grand mansion, replete with ornate mahogany and marble appointments, stood as a testament to the Boston Archdiocese's stature in the very Catholic city of Boston. Political candidates — local and national — would come calling, and even the pope came to visit.
When Cardinal Bernard Law took up residence in the Renaissance Revival mansion, Boston's Roman Catholic movers and shakers would flock to the backyard for his garden party fundraisers.
Today, a steady stream of students hauling backpacks and members of the public traipse across that same property. The mansion, now owned by Boston College, has been gutted and converted to an art museum and meeting rooms — a remarkable fall from grace that parallels that of the Boston Archdiocese itself.
A total of 65 acres of prime church property — possibly its most valuable in Massachusetts — was sold in a fire sale after the clergy sexual abuse crisis, when the church was struggling to pay some $85 million in settlements to victims. In the years since, the cost of settling claims surpassed $200 million, and the church's declining fortunes have been more than just financial.
Law's death this week reawakened a flood of emotion and anger over the decades of sexual abuse that finally came to light in 2002 and at the archbishop's role in allowing predator priests to move to new parishes, where they would prey on more victims. The revelations that began in Boston eventually engulfed the church worldwide, and the reverberations continue to be felt, nowhere more so than in the once all-powerful Boston Archdiocese. It's a far cry from the old days, when the church was almighty and the cardinal was closer to a king, according to Thomas P. O'Neill III, former Massachusetts state legislator and lieutenant governor. He is the son of the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Tip O'Neill. As one of the most senior American prelates, he [Law] was as well-connected as he was well-regarded outside Boston. He had the ear of Pope John Paul II and was talked about as the man who might become the first American pope. He was in regular conversation with President George H.W. Bush and was a player on the world stage, instrumental in arranging the pope's first visit to Cuba. [T]he Catholic Church's influence was on a slow decline that had begun under Law's immediate predecessor, Cardinal Humberto Sousa Medeiros, who largely refrained from politics. By the time Law came to town, shifting demographics and changing social mores had significantly altered the landscape, further diminishing the church's authority. And much as he wanted to reclaim the clout wielded by Cushing, Law never quite could. The election of 1986, O'Toole says, already revealed how the cardinal's rigid Roman orthodoxy and rightward leaning wasn't flying with his Massachusetts flock. Law lobbied for two referendum questions: one to ban state funding for abortion and the other to permit some state support of parochial schools.  "Cardinal Law campaigned very strongly on both of those issues, and he lost both of them decisively," O'Toole says.
By the time another decade passed, the gap had so swollen between Boston's Catholic Church and Boston Catholics on social issues, leaving Law venting that both Massachusetts senators and the governor were wrong on the abortion issue.  "Only I am right," he [Law] said.  A few years later, the church would also falter in its efforts to block gay marriage, as lawmakers were paying more heed to the voice of their constituents than to the cardinal's.
Still, the institutional power of the Catholic Church in heavily Catholic Boston, would continue to earn Law a ranking by Boston Magazine as one of the three most powerful figures in Boston, even through the late 1990s.  Former Attorney General Martha Coakley says that sway was what enabled the archdiocese to keep the lid on the clergy abuse and on what higher-ups were doing that allowed the abuse to continue.
But when the 2002 sexual abuse crisis threw the church into turmoil and prompted a furious backlash, it was all over. With the church under siege, the balance of power shifted abruptly.
Law became the "poster boy" for the church's cover-up. The cardinal's mansion was surrounded every day by swarms of protesters calling for his resignation. From his mightiest perch, he was reduced to being grilled by victims' lawyers, under oath, about what he knew and when he knew it.
"The church lost all its influence," Rushing says. On Beacon Hill, the church's longtime lobbyist, who had been a fixture at the State House, didn't even dare show up.
At the same time, the church's financial clout took a nosedive as well. Angry, disillusioned parishioners were leaving in droves, and donations — from collection plates and from large institutions — were drying up. After the crisis, the annual Boston Catholic Appeal plummeted to half of what it was.  "Everything went right over the cliff," said one church official, not authorized to speak on the record. "We were basically in a freefall."
O'Neill says the Catholic faithful began to distinguish between the mission of the church and the institution of the church and found ways to support the former but not the latter.
Politically, the archdiocese is slowly recovering some of its voice but seems to be strategically picking and choosing its fights to stay more in sync with Boston Catholics. For example, O'Malley has been championing the cause of undocumented immigrants and speaking out on opioid addiction, violence prevention and education.
Catholic participation remains low; just about 20 percent attend weekly Mass, compared with 70 percent in the 1970s, according to the church. Money remains tight, and despite the softer tone coming from both Pope Francis and O'Malley, doctrine is not budging on issues like abortion, contraception or gay marriage. And so the chasm between the church and many of its parishioners on social issues is only widening.
Close to 70 parishes have been eliminated since 2004, a trend almost surely accelerated by the scandal but reflective of the broader shift of Catholic America from the old heartland of Boston, New York, Chicago and Philadelphia to the South and Southwest.
The story of Law and the near collapse of Catholicism in Boston ought to be a cautionary tale to Christofascists and evangelicals who currently have the ear of Der Trumpenführer/Mike Pence.  Sooner or later the populace will realize that their agenda has nothing to do with Christ's message as these pompous and self-anointed folks replicate the quest for power and, of course, money just as the Boston Archdiocese did.  In fact, the younger generations appear to have already figured this out, hence the over 33% who have left religion. One can only hope that the next lesson the younger generations learn is that the number one way to defeat the hypocrisy and hate-filled Christofascists is to turn out in mass and vote Republicans out of every elected office possible.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I like most of the Catholics I know. They are kind, well-intentioned people, for the most part. I detest the hierarchy.