ENTRIES RSS

Words and Deeds From the Pope

April 18, 2014

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/19/opinion/words-and-deeds-from-the-pope.html?emc=edit_tnt_20140418&nlid=25623166&tntemail0=y&_r=0

* * *

The Opinion Pages|

EDITORIAL

Words and Deeds From the Pope

APRIL 18, 2014

 

Each time Pope Francis speaks out, he seems to be evolving in his view of how well the Roman Catholic Church has been dealing with the grave historical legacy created by priests who raped and abused children. Last month he was decidedly defensive about a United Nations report that criticized the church. Francis insisted “no one else has done more” than the church to address the scandal, “yet the church is the only one to have been attacked.”

This month, on the other hand, the pope took a different tone in stepping forward to stress his own responsibility as a leader “compelled to personally take on all the evil” that some priests — “quite a few in number” — committed against children.

Without being specific, Francis promised the imposition of sanctions, presumably against those who committed or covered up the abuses. He offered no concrete measures, though he did venture a step beyond his Vatican predecessors in personally taking responsibility for confronting the problem.

“It is personal moral damage carried out by men of the church, and we will not take one step backward regarding how we will deal with this problem,” the pope promised in impromptu remarks at the Vatican to a French children’s welfare organization. “On the contrary, we have to be even stronger, because you cannot interfere with children.”

As welcome as the pope’s words were, advocates for abused victims properly asked whether and when they will see deeds to go with the talk. “Until he takes some actions, it’s hard to believe that his request for forgiveness is serious,” said Barbara Dorris of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

Pope Francis has created a special commission to advise him on the protection of minors and the reform of church procedures. One glaring area that must be addressed has been the Vatican’s failure to punish members of the church hierarchy who took part in the widespread, systematic cover-up of the pedophilia scandal and shielded priests from being charged in the criminal courts.

For all the pope’s heartfelt comments, his and the church’s record on this shameful issue will depend considerably on whether Francis calls diocesan leaders to account for their crucial role in perpetuating the scandal.

A version of this editorial appears in print on April 19, 2014, in The International New York Times. Order Reprints|Today’s Paper|Subscribe

 


Are Memories of Childhood Sex Abuse Reliable? BY Joey Piscelli

April 17, 2014

Received by email from Joey Piscitelli.

* * *

To Me

https://us-mg6.mail.yahoo.com/neo/launch?.rand=80nclasqtr640

Apr 16 at 4:55 PM

Are Memories of Childhood Sex Abuse Reliable?

I am going to be speaking on a public panel on behalf of childhood victims of sexual abuse at the San Francisco Justice Summit on April 23, 1014. The panel is debating the fairness of convicting an accused perpetrator based on the mere recollection of the incident by an alleged victim. The panel will be discussing the issue of the reliability of “memories of childhood sexual abuse”. I am opposing the memory experts and defense attorneys who claim that memories of being raped, or sexually abused as a child are not credible. Many of the defense attorneys, memory experts, and support groups for accused sex offenders are stating that alleged victims of rape and sex abuse, especially children, are not able to accurately recall their past – especially a supposed traumatic incident.

Some neurological scientists who study brain activity and memory, claim that the recollection of a repressed memory is totally undependable. They further state that even normal recalled memories of childhood sex abuse, which were not blocked out and repressed, aren’t valid memories either. These experts who defend accused perpetrators state that any memories of childhood experiences are tainted, exaggerated, embellished and imagined, and cannot be relied upon at all to convict an accused offender. They go on to explain that in a case where there is a claim for PTSD, the condition itself will render the memory invalid, because the victim has a damaged brain by virtue of having a traumatic disorder.The memory experts for the defense also state that many alleged victims actually believe their tainted memories, and theses memories are called “false memories”.

I was asked to speak at the conference because I had previously sued the Roman Catholic Church and a priest for child sex abuse in a jury trial in the S. F. Bay Area. The defense for the cleric in that case claimed that my memory was a “false memory”. They stated that my memory was fabricated, and I may have actually believed that my false memories of the sex abuse were real - or I was lying. In the past several years, many highly publicized cases of childhood sex abuse have been brought to the forefront in the media. This has sparked a lot of public debate over the validity of childhood memories, no matter if the memories were constant, recalled, or repressed.

I believe it’s possible for certain people to choose not to believe a victim of child sex abuse because the issue or incident is so horrible that the people are in denial. And in some cases, people do not want to accept that a priest, parent, or person in a position of trust is capable of such betrayal. And in other instances, people do not want to accept the fact that child sex abuse is so rampant – and so close to home. Accepting the “false memory theory” may be a convenient escape for many people.

In my case, the only evidence that my memory was accurate, was my own testimony. Experts testified against me, and it was up to a jury to decide if I was believable – and if my memory was true. An attentive, informed, and very human jury is the best tool a child sex abuse victim could hope for if the victim goes to court. The so called experts are hopefully shoved aside while reality controls the courtroom.  The jury, in my case, decided that memories of child sex abuse are reliable. I won my case, but many victims never get the opportunity to realize justice.

Depending on the source, it is estimated that approximately 1 out of 4 girls, and 1 out of 8 boys have been molested by the age of 18. It is also estimated that between 70% to 90% of rape and sex abuse incidents do not get reported to police. The so called “experts” who claim that most if not all accusations of child sex abuse are based on “false memories” only serve to protect perpetrators. If these experts are believed, and they are to be allowed to thrash sex abuse victims in court, the incidence of reporting sex crimes will go down.

This does not serve society well. It does not serve the justice system well. We owe it to our children and our society to change and correct the enabling of sex crimes by unconscionable “experts” who inundate the public with conjured theories of  “the false memory epidemic”. There is no epidemic of false memory. But there is an epidemic of sex abuse crimes. We need to take responsibility as a society, and eradicate the sex abuse epidemic, and protect children and the vulnerable – not protect the perpetrators.

 

  • Joey Piscitelli

 


Task force faults Twin Cities archdiocese for ‘dreadful’ abuses

April 15, 2014

http://www.startribune.com/local/255205881.html?page=all&prepage=1&c=y#continue* * *
* * *

Task force faults Twin Cities archdiocese for ‘dreadful’ abuses

Article by: JEAN HOPFENSPERGER , Star Tribune

Updated: April 14, 2014 – 9:09 PM

Task force calls for major reforms in how archdiocese responds to sexual abuse by priests.

hide

The Cathedral of St. Paul.
Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis suffers from “serious shortcomings” in its handling of child sex-abuse complaints that have allowed priests to continue abusing victims, sometimes for years, a task force reported Monday.

The solution, according to the church-ordered study, is to foster a culture that “places victims first” and creates more accountability by involving ordinary church members in the oversight and discipline of wayward clergy.

“The Archdiocese concentrated too much power in one or two individuals to make decisions regarding allegations of clergy sexual abuse of minors,” according to the task force created last fall in the wake of numerous allegations that local priests had abused children and other parishioners. “These individuals were not subject to adequate oversight nor their decisions and actions subject to monitoring and audit.”

The 53-page report outlined a series of problems, recommending the archdiocese place abuse decisions in the hands of an expanded Clergy Review Board, tighten monitoring of misbehaving priests, and put more scrutiny on seminarians.

“The instances of clergy sexual abuse of minors that have occurred in this Archdiocese are tragic, dreadful, and heartbreaking,” the report said. “Sadly, these crimes might have been prevented if the archdiocesan officials in positions of authority over the abusers had responded appropriately to misconduct.”

The Safe Environmental and Ministerial Standards Task Force was led by the Rev. Reginald Whitt, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas, who chose its seven members.

Archbishop John Nienstedt, in a written statement, said the report would guide the archdiocese as it works toward the goals of protecting children, healing victims and restoring trust in the church.

“We look forward to working in collaboration with Fr. Whitt to implement these recommendations,” he said.

The task force interviewed 32 people, ranging from child psychologists to chancery officials. It did not, however, interview the Rev. Kevin McDonough, the archdiocese’s longtime point person on child abuse. McDonough declined to be interviewed, the report said, as did chancery whistleblower Jennifer Haselberger.

Nor did the task force interview former vicar general the Rev. Peter Laird, who resigned last fall following news reports implicating him for having had knowledge of sexual misconduct by the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer. The task force requested an interview, but “the archdiocese had represented they had no way to contact him,” the report said.

The task force later learned that Laird had given Nienstedt hiscellphone number and had offered to speak with task force members.

“The Task Force sees this failure to communicate and lack of urgency as an example of the kind of issue that the Archdiocese needs to address to change its culture,” the report said.

Church culture blamed

The culture of the archdiocese was mentioned several times in the report, which urged the archdiocese “to foster a culture that places victims first,” and that is open to criticism and more lay leadership.

Its first recommendation, in fact, was to place the authority for investigating child abuse complaints with a Clergy Review Board, of which the majority of members would be lay people. It also urged that lay people become involved in the admissions process at the St. Paul Seminary.

The archdiocese’s failure to create a professional oversight process for sex abuse reports is the underlying theme of the report. The poor channels of communication among the staff handling sex abuse allegations is frequently mentioned.

For example, the chancery’s abuse victim advocate, who is also the adviser/advocacy services coordinator, did not meet with top archdiocese officials to share reports from the community, the report said.

“There is virtually no communication with senior Archdiocesan officials about the complaints being received by the [Advocacy Services] Coordinator nor are there any meetings to discuss what the Coordinator is hearing or responding to with respect to clergy misconduct or other inappropriate behavior,” the report said.

Even among key boards and top decisionmakers, abuse complaints often went unknown, the report said. For example, Wehmeyer, who was convicted of criminal sexual conduct involving two minor boys in November 2012, had a long history of sexual misconduct that went unreported to the Clergy Review Board, the report said.

Between 2004 and 2009, Wehmeyer “was observed engaging in sexual banter with young men in a Roseville bookstore; questioned by police when they saw him ‘cruising’ at a Maplewood park … and arrested for Driving Under the Influence (DWI) in Spring Valley,” the report said. Even after the archdiocese began monitoring him, and began receiving reports that Wehmeyer was camping with boys, “no one alerted the Promoter [of Ministerial Standards] or the Clergy Review Board. Indeed, the Wehmeyer case never came before the Board.”

The task force made a half-dozen recommendations. They included creating:

  • An improved auditing and monitoring program for priests being monitored because of misconduct.
  • A centralized record-keeping system on clergy abuse that is accessible to all decisionmakers.
  • New policies on disposing of computers and other electronic communication used by clergy.

“We hope the Archdiocese moves forward with these recommendations as quickly as possible,” the report said.

Victims’ advocates were not impressed with the report.

“As long as we act like these are ‘mistakes’ and not intentional, self-serving choices by smart but selfish men, kids will continue being hurt and crimes will continue being concealed,” said Barbara Dorris, national outreach director for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511

 


Pope Francis asks forgiveness for priests who sexually abused children

April 12, 2014

http://edition.cnn.com/2014/04/11/world/europe/vatican-pope-sex-abuse/index.html?hpt=hp_t3

* * *

I thank Peter Isely for this link.

* * *

Pope Francis asks forgiveness for priests who sexually abused children

By Daniel Burke and Laura Smith-Spark, CNN

April 11, 2014 — Updated 1805 GMT (0205 HKT)

 

Pope sorry for clergy who sexually abused

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

Pope Francis says he feels compelled to “personally ask for forgiveness” for priest abuse

“We will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem”

Pope says the Catholic Church must act strongly because “you cannot interfere with children”

Advocates for victims of sexual abuse say the church has not done enough to protect children

(CNN) – Pope Francis made his strongest condemnation yet of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy on Friday, asking for forgiveness and pledging to impose penalties on “men of the church” who harm children.

“I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil which some priests—quite a few in number, obviously not compared to the number of all the priests—to personally ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done for having sexually abused children,” the Pope said in remarks quoted by Vatican Radio.

Pope sorry for clergy who sexually abused

Victim: Responsibility can’t be dodged

“The church is aware of this damage, it is personal, moral damage carried out by men of the church, and we will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem, and the sanctions that must be imposed,” Francis continued.

“On the contrary, we have to be even stronger. Because you cannot interfere with children.”

The U.S.-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said it may be the first time a pope has spoken of sanctioning “complicit bishops.”

“But that is all it is: talk,” said Barbara Dorris, SNAP’s outreach director.

“We beg the world’s Catholics: Be impressed by deeds, not words. Until the Pope takes decisive action that protects kids, be skeptical and vigilant.”

The Pope’s new comments, made Friday to members of a Catholic nongovernmental organization, the International Catholic Child Bureau, represent a shift from his previous statements on sexual abuse.

In an interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra in March, Francis struck a defensive tone, saying, “The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution that has moved with transparency and responsibility. No one has done more. And yet the church is the only one that has been attacked.”

Advocates for victims of sexual abuse had slammed those remarks, calling them another example of the church prioritizing its reputation over the protection of children.

‘Highest priority’

Early this year, a United Nations panel slammed the Vatican’s handling of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church and accused the church of protecting itself rather than the victims.

The Vatican said in February that it would study the report, which claimed clerics were involved in the sexual abuse of “tens of thousands” of children.

And in late March, Francis appointed an eight-member committee—a mix of clergy and laypeople, including a sexual abuse survivor—to advise the church on how to protect children, punish abusers and train church staff.

“Pope Francis has made it clear that the church must uphold the protection of minors amongst her highest priorities,” Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said in a statement announcing the committee members.

However, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests dismissed the new panel, saying it was “based on a deceptive premise” and perpetuated the “self-serving myth that Catholic officials need more information about abuse and coverups.”

Rocked by scandal

Pope Francis took over the helm of the Catholic Church just over a year ago from Benedict XVI, whose papacy was marked by the emergence of repeated allegations of sexual abuse by priests.

Benedict said many times that abusers should be prosecuted, but victims’ groups again said he did too little.

Benedict spoke with some victims of sexual abuse by priests on papal visits to countries including the United States and the United Kingdom, where he expressed his “deep sorrow” about the scandal. The Vatican selected those he met.

In April 2013, a month after taking office, Francis recommended that the church’s doctrinal office “act decisively with regard to cases of sexual abuse,” the Vatican said at the time.

This would be “by promoting measures for the protection of minors, as well as in offering assistance to those who have suffered abuse, carrying out due proceedings against the guilty,” it said.

Kick out those who sexually abuse children, U.N. panel tells Vatican

 


GEORGE PELL IN THE BOX: SCANDALOUS BUT CONFIRMING WHAT WE ALREADY KNEW, By Thomas P. Doyle, J.C.D., C.A.D.C.

April 8, 2014

Received by email from Tom Doyle.

* * *

 

GEORGE PELL IN THE BOX: SCANDALOUS BUT CONFIRMING WHAT WE ALREADY KNEW

Thomas P. Doyle, J.C.D., C.A.D.C.

George Pell, outgoing archbishop of Sydney and incoming overlord of Vatican money, has been in the witness box of the Royal Commission in Australia for the past few days.  The reaction of most decent people to his testimony probably runs from revolting to infuriating to disbelief.  In his statement he said that “sexual abuse of children by clergy is particularly abhorrent.”  True, and equally abhorrent is the way Pell and his lawyers treated victims.  The sentiments he expresses about concern for victims, justice and healing would sound almost believable were it not for the harsh reality of how John Ellis and other victims were viciously mistreated because they had the audacity to challenge the almighty archdiocese in court.

Pell’s testimony is valuable because it was subject to cross-examination by attorneys for the Royal Commission who were obviously not in the slightest bit awed by his cardinalatial rank.  He revealed details about how he approved the legal strategy used against victim John Ellis and others, a strategy that Pell claimed was “a legally proper tactic” but which he admitted he regretted.  True to form, Pell blamed his lawyers for the horrific way Mr. Ellis was treated but he explained this by telling the commission that the “vigorous defense against abuse victim John Ellis was seen as an opportunity to show future claimants they should think twice before litigating against he Catholic Church.”  He actually had the temerity to characterize Ellis’ claim as an “attack on the trustees of the Catholic Church by people who were not entirely reasonable.”

 

Pell publicly apologized to John Ellis, a perfunctory act that gave off no vibes of sincerity.  The apology was done from the safety of the box.  Pell did not meet Ellis face to face.  Was he afraid of the man he had come close to destroying?

Pell and the archdiocese’s role in the Ellis case is a glaring example of the darkest and most destructive dimension of the clergy sex abuse phenomenon. The Royal Commission has forced into the open what has happened countless other times in dioceses around the world.  The Commission has the power to bring otherwise hidden and privileged documents to light and this it did in the Ellis case.  As David Marr said in his excellent article on TheGuardian.com, “They show the evolution of a pitiless strategy to defeat Ellis.”

What we see in the Ellis case is the rule and not the exception though the circumstances may differ from case to case and there certainly are exceptions to this degree of legal violence and abuse.  Yet this is why victims and those who support them cannot help but view the institutional Church as an evil empire.  Pell admitted they believed Ellis had been abused yet he and his lawyers mounted a brutal campaign against him to protect the archdiocese’s assets but also to punish him for standing up to them.  Pell was asked to explain why he directed such a bloodthirsty campaign against Ellis if they actually believed he had been abused.  His response was beyond repulsive.   It was chilling in its lack of humanity.  Pell thought Ellis would see this simply as an exercise in disputing his claim:  “We were dealing with Mr. Ellis as a senior and brilliant lawyer.  I think he, as a lawyer, would have understood the distinction.”  So, in Pell’s mind the dishonest, vindictive and abusive campaign to reduce Mr. Ellis to human rubble is just an exercise!   The story goes on and in legal terms, gets more complex but in the end although Ellis did not succeed at the level of the supreme court because of a legal technicality, Pell, the episcopacy in general and the institutional Church lost because the entire saga, exposed to the light by the Commission, revealed what Jimmy Breslin wrote about in 2002, The Church that Forgot Christ.

Pell and company probably would have won, at least in the short run, were it not for one simple yet powerful fact:  today’s victims are not going to take it any longer.  They, coupled with a power the Church can’t control, the civil legal system, are changing the Church’s history.

It was no surprise when Pell described the Vatican’s attitude in similar terms. “The attitude of some people at the Vatican was that if accusations were being made against priests, they were being made exclusively or at least predominantly by enemies of the church to make trouble and therefore they should be dealt with skeptically…there was more of an inclination to give the benefit of the doubt to the defendant [cleric] rather than listen seriously to the complaints.”  In spite of Benedict XVI’s assurances to victims, this fundamental attitude remains and it won’t change as long as the church is a monarchy and priests and bishops believe themselves to be the privileged ones with immunity from real accountability.   No commission imaginable will make a serious difference until its members and the powers they answer to begin to recognize that underlying the Church’s history of destructive responses to victims is a motivation that is totally devoid of the spirit of Christ.


In Australia, Church says it will “revisit” its payouts for SOME Melbourne victims

April 6, 2014

http://brokenrites.org.au/drupal/node/286

* * *

Church says it will “revisit” its payouts for SOME Melbourne victims

By a Broken Rites researcher (article posted 6 April 2014)

In a written statement issued on 4 April 2014, the Catholic Church archdiocese of Melbourne says it will “revisit” its system of compensating church-abuse victims in the Melbourne-Geelong area, with a view to  either increasing or removing the current maximum of $75,000 per victim. At present, most Melbourne victims are lucky to receive half that amount, or less, even if the church-abuse has devastated a family’s life.

The statement, issued on behalf of Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart, promised that the archdiocese would seek input from victims “into how compensation should be awarded in the future and how past cases should be reviewed”.

Limitations

The following analysis from Broken Rites demonstrates that Archbishop Hart’s  promise has some limitations:

Australia is divided into 30 or so Catholic dioceses (seven of these dioceses have the prefix “arch-“). The Melbourne “arch” diocese has a compensation system called the “Melbourne Response”, which operates only in the Melbourne region. Apart from Melbourne, all of Australia’s other dioceses have a different compensation system, called “Towards Healing”.

Geographically, the Melbourne archdiocese is confined to the Melbourne metropolitan area (plus the city of Geelong and a few small towns near Melbourne). This archdiocese does not cover the remainder of the state of Victoria. Victoria’s country areas are covered by three other dioceses – one for western Victoria (which has a cathedral at Ballarat), one for northern Victoria (with a cathedral at Bendigo) and one for eastern Victoria (with a cathedral at Sale).

The Melbourne Response does not cover all priests in Melbourne. It covers only “diocesan” priests - that is, those who officiallybelong to this archdiocese. The Melbourne Response does not cover the numerous priests in Melbourne who belong to the various religious orders (such as Jesuits, Franciscans, Salesians, Dominicans,Blessed Sacrament Fathers, Sacred Heart Fathers and so on), as each of these religious orders has its own national leader (who is not a bishop). For example, priests in Melbourne from the Australia-wide Salesian religious order would be covered by the Towards Healing system, not by the Melbourne Response.

And the Melbourne Response does not cover religious Brothers (such as the Christian Brothers, the Marist Brothers or the De La Salle Brothers), or nuns (such as the Sisters of Mercy, etc), as each of these orders has its own Australian national leader.

The Melbourne statement

Archbishop Hart’s announcement is the result of lengthy lobbying by two Melbourne parents (Anthony and Chrissie Foster), who had discovered that two of their daughters were sexually assaulted by a Melbourne serial-paedophile, Father Kevin O’Donnell. The Catholic Church had given O’Donnell easy access to children during fifty years, while O’Donnell’s superiors and colleagues turned a blind eye to his crimes. This resulted in devastation for the Fosters’ family.

In Sydney on 27 March 2014, Anthony and Chrissie managed to obtain a brief private interview with Cardinal George Pell (a former Archbishop of Melbourne) just before Pell transferred to Rome. They told Pell that the Melbourne archdiocese should remove the cap on payouts and should revisit hundreds of existing Melbourne cases. Anthony and Chrissie say that Cardinal Pell agreed to discuss this matter with Melbourne’s current archbishop, Denis Hart.

(Several years ago, after a long legal battle with the Melbourne archdiocese, Anthony and Chrissie Foster forced the archdiocese to pay appropriate damages to the Fosters for the devasation of their family, and the Fosters are now urging the church to pay appropriate compensation to other victims whose lives have been disrupted by church-abuse.)

On 4 April 2014, a week after the Fosters’ meeting with George Pell, ABC TV invited Anthony and Chrissie to appear on that night’s “Lateline” public-affairs program. Lateline’s producers consulted Archbishop Denis Hart’s office, which immediately gave a  written statement to Lateline (but not, apparently to other media) on behalf of Archbishop Hart.

Here is the statement from Archbishop Hart’s office to Lateline, dated 4 April 2014:

Archbishop Hart to revisit Melbourne Response compensation cap

The Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, today announced that he would revisit the compensation arrangements under the Melbourne Response, with a view to either increasing or removing the current cap of $75,000.

“We acknowledge that this is a new era. In light of the report of the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry and the work of the Royal Commission, we are looking again at victims’ needs and their views on how best to improve the compensation process,” Archbishop Hart said.

“We will be reaching out to victims to seek their input into how compensation should be awarded in the future and how past cases should be reviewed. Today I asked Anthony and Chrissie Foster to participate in this process.

“The Archdiocese will release details of the consultation later this month.

“We want to have the best process for helping victims and we are keen to hear their views.

“We plan to share the outcomes of the consultation with the Royal Commission when it examines the Melbourne Response, which is anticipated to occur later this year,” he said.

Comment by Broken Rites: We hope that, in acordance with this promise, the Melbourne archdiocese will treat victims sincerely and honestly. Victims will need to be pro-active in forcing the Melbourne archdiocese to keep its word. If this is achieved in Melbourne, victims will need to put pressure on Australia’s other dioceses and the various religious orders to follow Melbourne’s example.. Meanwhile, don’t hold your breath.

 


Front-Page Story in New York Times…Bishops Follow Pope’s Example: Opulence Is Out

April 2, 2014

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/02/us/popes-example-for-the-bishops-opulence-is-out.html?_r=0

* * *

* * *
Bishops Follow Pope’s Example: Opulence Is Out

By MICHAEL PAULSON

APRIL 1, 2014

 

There was a backlash after Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Atlanta, announced plans for a 6,000-square-foot residence built on land bequeathed by a nephew of the author Margaret Mitchell.CreditChris Aulka Berry for The New York Times

Continue reading the main story

Continue reading the main storyShare This Page

EMAIL

FACEBOOK

TWITTER

SAVE

MORE

Continue reading the main story

Continue reading the main story

 

This story is included with an NYT Now subscription.
Learn More »

The archbishop of Atlanta had a plan to resolve the space crunch at his cathedral: He would move out of his residence so priests could move in, and then he would build himself a new house with donated money and land.

It was not just any house. It was a $2.2 million, 6,000-square-foot mansion, with plenty of room to host and entertain, on land bequeathed by Joseph Mitchell, a wealthy nephew of the author of “Gone With the Wind,” Margaret Mitchell.

But as Pope Francis seeks “a church which is poor and for the poor,” expectations for Catholic leaders are changing rapidly. So on Monday night, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory apologized, saying that laypeople had told him they were unhappy with his new house, and promising to seek guidance from priests and laypeople and to follow their advice about whether to sell it.

“What we didn’t stop to consider, and that oversight rests with me and me alone, was that the world and the church have changed,” he wrote in the archdiocesan newspaper, The Georgia Bulletin. He added, “The example of the Holy Father, and the way people of every sector of our society have responded to his message of gentle joy and compassion without pretense, has set the bar for every Catholic and even for many who don’t share our communion.”

Photo

 

Archbisop Gregory apologized on Monday and promised to seek guidance about whether to sell the house.CreditJason Getz/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, via Associated Press

The unhappy reaction of local Catholics to the archbishop’s new house in Atlanta is the latest in a series of lay uprisings since the new pope altered the landscape by choosing to live in a modest Vatican residence rather than the opulent apostolic palace, to travel in a Ford Focus and to denounce overspending by church leaders. “It breaks my heart when I see a priest or a nun with the latest model of car,”he said last summer. “Cars are necessary, but take a more humble one. Think of how many children die of hunger.”

Catholics seem to be taking the pope’s words to heart. In Newark, laypeople have expressed unhappiness about a planned $500,000 expansion, with three fireplaces and an indoor pool, of a weekend home used by Archbishop John J. Myers. In the Camden, N.J., diocese,questions have been raised about Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan’s purchase of a 7,000-square-foot, $500,000 house. In West Virginia, local Catholics cited Francis’ humble lifestyle in questioning what they viewed as excessive spending by the Wheeling-Charleston diocese. And, most significantly, last week the pope accepted the resignation of a German bishop who had spent $43 million renovating his house and other church buildings.

“Francis has very definitely sent out a signal, and the signal is that bishops should live like the people they pastor, and they shouldn’t be in palaces,” said Paul Vallely, a British biographer of the new pope. “Where people are historically in that kind of accommodation, it’s one thing, but where people are building it, it looks extravagant.”

A number of American bishops have sent similar signals over the last decade, even before Francis became pope last year. In Boston, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, who is now the pope’s closest American adviser, began his tenure by selling the Italianate palazzo that had housed his predecessors and moving into a shabby cathedral rectory. In Philadelphia, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput sold the mansion occupied by his predecessors and moved into an apartment on the grounds of a seminary. In Pittsburgh, Bishop David A. Zubik lasted two weeks in that diocese’s mansion before putting it up for sale and moving into a seminary apartment.

“Church leaders in the U.S. have about a 10-year jump on some of these matters,” as they have sought to restore trust in the wake of the sexual abuse crisis, said Kerry A. Robinson, executive director of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management, a network of Catholic executives who advise church leaders on managerial challenges.

Catholic dioceses are not the only organizations being scrutinized for spending on leadership benefits: Many nonprofits, including universities, Protestant churches and other charitable organizations, have faced criticism after providing fancy houses, high salaries or lavish perks to executives. But the arrival of Pope Francis appears to have emboldened lay Catholics to speak up more vociferously when they sense overspending.

Archbishop Gregory, a former president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, acknowledged the central role that criticism from laypeople played in his apology this week, citing many “heartfelt, genuine and candidly rebuking letters, emails and telephone messages” that he described as “passionate indictments.”

“While my advisers and I were able to justify this project fiscally, logistically and practically, I personally failed to project the cost in terms of my own integrity and pastoral credibility with the people of God of north and central Georgia,” he wrote. “I failed to consider the impact on the families throughout the archdiocese who, though struggling to pay their mortgages, utilities, tuition and other bills, faithfully respond year after year to my pleas to assist with funding our ministries and services.”

Controversies over housing for bishops reflect a shift for the Catholic Church in America, which once built grand residences for prelates as a way of announcing and celebrating hard-won political and cultural influence. The archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, lives in a large house on Madison Avenue once known as “the Powerhouse.” The archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Francis E. George, has a mansion called the “House of 19 Chimneys”. In 2002, he proposed to sell it, but local Catholics pushed back, successfully arguing that it was treasured patrimony.

The grand residences are largely in the Northeast and Midwest, where American Catholicism was strongest a century ago; now Catholicism is strengthening in parts of the South and West, but even as dioceses in those regions grow and their bishops become more influential, housing decisions are viewed in a changed church culture.

“The Archdiocese of Atlanta is in the state that places like Boston and Philadelphia were 100 years ago,” said Rocco Palmo, the Philadelphia-based writer of the Catholic news blog Whispers in the Loggia. “But it’s a different church now.”

A version of this article appears in print on April 2, 2014, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Bishops Follow Pope’s Example: Opulent Is Out.