Tuesday, April 6, 2010

It's An Eminence Front....It's A Put-On, Right?

Like the early 80’s song from The Who, it’s an eminence front…it’s a put-on. It has to be a “face” being put forward by the Catholic Church regarding the steady drumbeat of revelations about bad priests who were protected, shuffled around, defended, and their crimes denied. But the song, most say, was about cocaine and tragedy, not the church. About how people “put on a face”, and when Pete Townsend first introduced the song, he said it’s what happens when you take too much white powder.

When Holy Mother Church officially starts blaming the media for the problem, you know there’s deep trouble.

My friend and colleague Bill Wineke writes far more eloquently than I about this topic, and he’s far more knowledgeable. But Bill’s not a Catholic, and I am – or was – and it’s a very complicated story.

As a young man growing up in Hortonville in the 50’s, our priest was Father Leo Przybylski, a Polish-American who pronounced his name “sha-BIL-ski”. He was a big man with a big sense of humor, who knew the name of every child in all 8 grades at Saints Peter and Paul School. He was like so many other priests – a dedicated man of the cloth, servant and shepherd of his parish, and a completely trustworthy man.

Like many other Catholics, I left the church not long after I left for college. I never officially stopped being a Catholic, but – again – my religious background is hopelessly complicated. I am (or was) a member of four very different religions, but they all shared one thing – one form or another of the “golden rule”. I think the Catholics officially washed their hands of me when I married a divorced Catholic woman in 1983, without obtaining the proper sanction from the Bishop. That marriage took place in a Lutheran church with a Lutheran minister; my marriage to Toni in 1997 was in the Supreme Court Chamber at the Capitol, performed by Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson.

This fresh scandal uncovered, regarding the deaf children in Wisconsin, is only the latest chapter, but it’s one of the ugliest. The fact that Rome now officially refers to it as “petty gossip” is deeply disturbing. Their instinct, all along, seems to have been to protect the church, rather than the victims. Now, that “protection” is to blame and try to discredit and even boycott the messenger.

It’s too late for the church to get out in front of this disgusting mess, which apparently goes all the way to the very top of the hierarchy. But it’s not too late for the church to take ownership of the problem and start working to solve it, rather than attempt to hide it or cover it up.

Father Leo Pryzybylski and the countless other Catholic priests who were dedicated servants, teachers, mentors, and role models, will not rest in their graves until the church addresses this problem and abandons the eminence front.


  1. A couple of observations....

    In the final analysis, and as a matter of Canon Law, the Bishop of any Diocese is solely responsible for teaching, sanctifying, and GOVERNING that Diocese. I emphasize the last for the obvious reasons: there are many Bishops who are very happy to pass the buck.

    As I mentioned a few days ago on my blog, this is critical. While Jeff Anderson is perfectly happy to yap and flap about "Defrocking", that is a secondary operation. The FIRST thing to do is get the perp out of circulation, which is the responsibility of the Bishop--no one else. The Bishop can literally order the priest to remain confined to quarters, or whatever it takes to keep him out of the general public.

    And the Bishop (or the aggrieved party) also has the option of the civil authorities. Despite some alleged 'confusion' (manufactured by the Bishops to help cover their asses) over Vatican documents, there is NO BAR to turning the perp in to the cops. None.

    Moving on to Rome...

    Right, wrong, or otherwise, the Secretary of any Roman department is really the main man. The titular head (in the cases at hand, Ratzinger) may or may not be informed of what's going on in the deparment. But when we speak of trials (as IS the case in 'defrocking,') we speak of a system very much like the US system; the justice system requires a defense, has appeals, deals with changes in law (etc., etc.) We've seen cases in the US justice system which are stretched out over many years; the Canon Law system has similar problems.

    Finally, and not inconsiderable: many of the Curia's bureaucrats are, in fact, overly defensive of the priests, just as are many Bishops. (Some for good reason, some not.) SHOULD they have been more responsive? Pro-active? Probably--and that's to their eternal discredit.

    It's clear to me--and I do have a prejudice--that Ratzinger, unlike his predecessor, was extremely concerned about these cases. After all, he wrested control of them from other Departments and made things happen despite the bureaucracy.

    But did he "delay" things? Not if you consider the jurisprudence system within which he had to work.

    Again: the Bishops are the front-line and the 'first responders.' They failed, miserably, and are happy to let Anderson & Co. throw stuff at the wall in Rome. Again: "defrocking" is SECONDARY to disciplines immediately available to Bishops.

    And it's secondary to arrest, indictment, trial, and imprisonment in civil systems, too.

  2. Thanks.

    Now--as to reconciling your marriage situation--you wanna talk about that?

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