National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
June 16, 2006


Statute of limitations

As the sponsor of the legislation lifting the statute of limitations on sexual abuse of children, I am dismayed that you would mischaracterize what this legislation sought to do (NCR, June 2).

First, the bill never sought to exclude public entities. When the archdiocese objected on these grounds, I had the bill amended so that the same language was used in reference to both public and private entities.

For Archbishop Charles Chaput to say otherwise is simply false witness. Despite being corrected and shown the actual language, the archdiocese continued to misrepresent my bill and personally attacked all sponsors of sexual abuse legislation. Every week for three months he ran a column in the Denver Catholic Register accusing Sen. Joan Fitzgerald and me of being anti-Catholic and trying to hurt the Catholic church. Parishioners were repeatedly treated to harangues about the sexual abuse legislation this session and urged to write to legislators to oppose it. At one point, they were handed postcards as they left Mass and told to sign it right then.

I dispute that some of the worst child sexual abuse cases occur in public entities in Colorado. Since 1987, public schools are required by law to fingerprint employees and to provide open records. If an allegation of sexual abuse is made against an employee, that employee is immediately suspended. If he or she is found guilty, they are fired. If only the archdiocese obeyed the same law, we would have no problem.

The archbishop is fond of crying for equality but he surely does not want it, for his spokesman said the archdiocese would never agree to open records.

After my bill passed the Colorado House and went to the Senate, Sen. Fitzgerald folded her bill into mine to create a one-year window in which survivors could sue any entity that knew they had a child sexual molester working for them and continued to place them where they would be around children. At that point, the bill changed its tort limits. Public entities have unlimited statutes of limitations and unlimited damages under federal law, so my bill was changed to permit only the current tort limits on state damages. Private entities are not subject to such unlimited damages under federal law, so we kept to the current tort limits under state law. Please note that in this case, the public entities were subject to much more in damages than were the private entities.

Your editorial in the June 2 issue is correct in stating that the archdiocese used brilliant tactics. They hired a lobbying firm with ties to the governor, who told the Republican caucus he did not want to see my bill on his desk. The Republicans have a binding caucus, and they advised victim advocates that they could not vote for my bill because the governor was against it (two brave Republicans continued to stand by my legislation, however).

Chaput’s offer of mediation is flawed in at least three respects: He refuses to release the names of those with credible allegations of sexually abusing children so that parents can protect their children; he chose the mediation company rather than having a third party choose the mediation company, and he pays them; and he has excluded many of those who should receive recompense.

I think it is important that your readers know the truth, and not the falsehoods that have been promulgated by the archdiocese about my bill.


Gwyn Green is a Colorado state representative.

Body of bishops

Fr. Richard McBrien needs to get a grip. His remark,“It’s the worst body of bishops in the history of the church” — quoted by Gerald Renner in your May 19 issue — is way over the top. Is not Arianism often dubbed the “heresy of the bishops”? How about the extended periods in church history in which personal immorality was commonplace among bishops? I could go on and on, but you get my point. I, too, am dismayed at the general tenor of episcopal appointments in the last 30 years, but overheated rhetoric such as Fr. McBrien’s is counterproductive, to say the least.

Ormond Beach, Fla.

* * *

I have the distinction of being an early member of “the worst body of bishops in the history of the church,” according to Fr. Richard McBrien. A priest of the Amarillo, Texas, diocese, I was appointed its bishop by Pope John Paul II and ordained May 30, 1980. My experience may shed some light on the validity of the assessment by Fr. McBrien, for whom I have a great deal of respect.

After my predecessor died in September 1979, I was elected administrator. Upon being notified, Archbishop Jean Jadot, apostolic delegate, instructed me to send him the names and addresses of every priest in the diocese, of a representative number of deacons and religious women, and of 100 laypeople. He said he would consult them and instructed me to do the same. He would compare the results of my consultation with his, check the names of candidates submitted by the consultees and by the bishops of Texas, and make his recommendation to Rome.

It was a heady experience for me and for the clergy, religious and laity who had been energized by the implementation of the documents of the Second Vatican Council. The church defined and understood as the body of Christ, the people of God, gave us a feeling of family, a sense of belonging.

In the 18 years I served as administrator and bishop under Pope John Paul II, however, I witnessed the gradual abandonment of the practice of consulting parish priests, religious and laity in the selection of bishops.

Is it possible that while our Holy Father of blessed memory was becoming a wonderful, charismatic figure during his pastoral visits outside the Vatican, others at the center were reconstructing church governance along the lines of the pre-Vatican II hierarchical model? That we are now in a restoration mode rather than the renewal mode seems to indicate that.

Small wonder that many on the parish level feel alienated and that the divide between them and the hierarchy continues to widen.

One hopes that the group of bishops appointed by Pope Benedict XVI will be given a kinder evaluation by a future observer of the caliber of Fr. McBrien.

(Bishop emeritus) LEROY T. MATTHIESEN
Amarillo, Texas

Clergy culture

Michael Newall’s cover story about the Philadelphia archdiocese and the accompanying editorial “Examine the clergy culture” draw up once again the agonizing details of hierarchical arrogance at its worst (NCR, April 28). The editorial asks, “How did it come to this?” I ponder the question.

Some years ago I found it necessary to find a special dress to wear at my daughter’s wedding. In a consignment shop I found one that suited me perfectly, but it was a bit snug. I was quite sure that a trip to the foundations department at Nordstrom’s would cover up the offensive bulges. Finding myself alone in one of the back cubicles, I desperately pulled and tugged and surveyed the results. Not good. What to do? At that moment I heard another woman enter another cubicle bent on the same mission. There was a flurry of activity … then silence. Thinking she was alone, she expressed herself angrily: “Just who do you think you’re trying to kid!?”

Holy Mother church, mature woman that she is, has been thrust before a mirror that is revealing many unbecoming flaws brought about mainly by the arrogance and self-indulgence of her stewards. Great efforts are made to make her look perky up front, but nothing can be done about the burden she drags behind.

I remember during my choir days the many times we sang with gusto the processional hymn “The Church’s One Foundation Is Jesus Christ Our Lord.” What can we each do to make our mother again the beautiful bride of Christ?

Petaluma, Calif.

* * *

Your editorial asks, “How did it come to this?” It came to this because Catholics in the pews are satisfied with the clerical culture. There is no reason for bishops to change because the people writing the checks don’t demand it.

Marana, Ariz.

Church and condoms

Sometimes the church’s attempts to undo years of hairsplitting with even more hairsplitting become hilarious. Recent proclamations about the use of condoms by married couples with HIV (NCR, May 5) are a case in point. Since when is HIV the only sexually transmitted disease that puts a sexual partner in danger? Has the church not heard of syphilis, which can cause serious harm to both mother and baby?

The church’s view of sexuality is riddled with contradictions. Married people are allowed to have sex, but not really. The idea that two people might become one in marriage is a concept only; the church doesn’t really intend for these two to engage in an act that might bring them closer together physically and emotionally unless there is a potential for conception. Sex is treated by the church as a necessary evil, and humans can do it only for reproduction, like animals. We are told that contraception is intrinsically evil. However, medical treatments, including surgery on sex organs and medications such as Viagra that directly alter sexual function are allowed. If artificial contraception is wrong, how can artificial sex be right?

The ultimate insult to the intelligence and humanity of married couples, who are very well aware of the difficulty of raising children under the best of circumstances, is asking them to trust the church to get it right when none of it makes any sense at all.

Oklahoma City

Timothy Radcliffe

In “Overcoming discord in the church,” Dominican Fr. Timothy Radcliffe says: “The Trinity is the Father speaking the Word, which is the Son, and their shared sending forth of the Spirit. Indeed Christoph Schwöbel, a German theologian, has said that ‘God is conversation.’ ”

Gracie Allen expressed it this way: “Never place a period where God has placed a comma.”

St. Louis

Kansas City diocese

Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, welcome to the real world! In the corporate world, a new boss comes in and changes are made, and not all the changes are liked and people move on. I am in no way discounting the trauma to those affected, but I support Bishop Robert Finn’s move toward Catholic identity and evangelization, and I reject the notion put forth in the article that this move is a total abandonment of lay empowerment and social engagement (NCR, May 12). I also reject the notion that embracing older traditions such as the Latin Mass and indulgences is a total abandonment of Vatican II; these are parts of a 2,000-year-old institution that need to be remembered.

I am an RCIA team member at a Kansas City area parish and am concerned about catechesis and a faithful transmission of church teachings. I feel my job in the RCIA and as a Catholic is to help everyone get to heaven. In a world where we are constantly bombarded by anti-Catholic teachings and sentiments, that isn’t always easy. Any training program established and funded by the diocese must also be a faithful transmission of church teachings and should therefore be based on the catechism. The catechism is more than a reference book; John Paul the Great called it “an outstanding gift for the communities,” and it helps us guard the deposit of faith given to the Catholic church by Jesus.

Raymore, Mo.

* * *

Your story, “A radical shift,” describing the reality of our diocese, has captured the interest of many who are active in our local church and parish communities. Dennis Coday spoke to many of the issues burning in our hearts; his story is accurate and on target.

We certainly feel a loss, most of which is the absence of the many wonderful women and men with whom we served the past 20 years. No longer are they in the picture as active ministers in our diocese; they are present by their spirit and courage that they manifested in their various ministries.

What is important for all to know is that we are not at a loss as to our role and our mission. We choose not to seclude ourselves as if we are afraid or don’t know what to do. We know we have a mission, which is to continue the good work God began in and among us. Ever more so we are challenged to preach in season and out of season the good news. Those of us in parish work know that we are called to serve Christ in and among our parish communities, to continue to preach the Just Word, to continue our religious education program, to challenge the community by insightful and thought-provoking homilies, and to preside at the Eucharist as one who walks with the people and prays with the community as we always have. We are challenged to continue to empower the people of our parish so they will know and accept their rightful place in the mission of the church.

We are blessed with many wonderful lay leaders, religious educators, parish staffs and priests who will continue to minister in the spirit of Pentecost. For this reason we live in hope.

Kansas City, Mo.

Fr. Gerald Waris is the pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Mo.

* * *

“He didn’t talk to the workers. He just ripped it all out.” Those words conveyed pain in your May 12 coverage of Bishop Finn, the “campaigner.” Maybe so. It was rough for that garden. But the things ripped out seem like weeds next to the beauty stomped out by zealous campaigners in another decade. Ripped out was Christendom’s richest musical and liturgical tradition. The ’60s people, merciless campaigners, consulted no one; it was strictly top-down. No grassroots clamor for “Eagle’s Wings” or “Taste and See.” No plea to be rid of Palestrina, Mozart, Haydn and the Latin. But insufferable authoritarian know-it-alls declared it all “irrelevant” and tied it into bundles to be burned. “Father, what’s going on ... why are they taking all this away and ripping out the altar too?” He replied, “Y-you just have to change with the times.” That’s always hard. But the wonder now comes at the hard-to-get-to church with a Latin Mass. Don’t expect a scene of aging boomer nostalgia. The place is full of the boomers’ kids with their own little ones. “Father, what’s going on?”

Alexandria, Va.

Maciel and the Legionaries

As one of the victims of the accused criminal Marcial Maciel, I admire your integrity and congratulate your courageous and honest editorial on the Maciel case (NCR, May 26). John Allen knows me personally. I am the one who from October 1976 started to send written information to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and other Vatican officials about Maciel’s criminal behavior.

Holbrook, N.Y.

* * *

In your editorial on Fr. Maciel, you have convicted a person without a trial. I thought our country prided itself on its form of justice: that all are innocent until proven guilty in a legitimate court of law. I guess this doesn’t include priests accused of abuse. One day you may find yourselves making a public apology. But by then the damage is done and a person’s good name is destroyed.

I have read the Vatican’s statement. It does not indicate guilt. In fact it states that it is impossible at this point for a trial due to the condition of Fr. Maciel. You have taken this and proclaimed him guilty without an opportunity for a trial to defend himself. What happened to the liberal mindset that always proclaims the individual’s rights?

Louisville, Ohio

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National Catholic Reporter, June 16, 2006