The Vatican’s carelessness is on display as new US scandals break

The cases of Bishops Holley, Malone, and Jenik indicate a new phase of carelessness on the part of Church leaders.

Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, NY, speaks during a news conference Nov. 16 during the 2015 fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

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The US and Roman theaters of the crisis in the Catholic Church have entered a new phase of carelessness—of the reputations of men who may or may not have done grave wrong; of the rights of Christians of every age and sex and state of life to know the truth; of the good of the Church.

That we are entered upon such a phase is amply attested by the removal of Bishop Martin D. Holley from the See of Memphis; the allegations that Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo covered up for priests accused of abuse; and the revelation that the Vatican was informed as early as 1994 about the strange proclivities of the disgraced former archbishop of Washington, DC, “Uncle Ted” McCarrick.

Now, we learn that another bishop—New York’s 74-year-old auxiliary John Jenik—has a “credible and substantiated” allegation against him. The allegation reportedly concerns incidents that date back many years, and involves a victim who was a minor at the time. The Archdiocese of New York has offered no further details, though the New Yok Times on Wednesday reported that the victim is 52-year-old Michael Meenan, who was 13 at the time the alleged abusive relationship began.

Meenan has also complained of abuse committed in 1984 by his religion teacher at Fordham Prep; he received compensation for the incident in 2016. Meenan told the Times he brought his allegation against Bishop Jenik to the archdiocese in January; he says the archdiocesan review board interviewed him last week.

Bishop Jenik wrote a letter to the parishioners of Our Lady of Refuge parish, where he has been pastor for more than 30 years. He denied the allegations, of course. In fairness, “credible and substantiated” is a low standard: it basically comes to mean the allegation is not manifestly false, and is capable in principle of being investigated. Jenik also managed in his letter to mention his recent hip surgery, and his upcoming operation on the other hip.

In a letter of his own addressed to the parishioners of Our Lady of Refuge, the archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, wrote, “Although Bishop Jenik continues to deny the accusation, loyal priest that he is, he has stepped aside from public ministry, and, as we await Rome’s review, may not function or present himself as a bishop or priest.”

Why did it take the archdiocese 10 months to interview Meenan after he made his allegation against Bishop Jenik? Was the archdiocesan review board investigating the allegation, and if so, what was Bishop Jenik doing while the investigation was underway? Was he under any sort of restrictions? If so, of what sort? When did the Archdiocese of New York inform Rome of the allegation against Bishop Jenik? Those are just a few of the questions a minimally candid statement on the matter would answer. For that matter, the statement might have mentioned that Cardinal Dolan ordained Jenik a bishop in 2014. Did he ask Pope Francis specifically for Jenik as an auxiliary?

Any family in which the head of the household failed to disclose such pertinent information in similar circumstances would be fairly judged dysfunctional. Cardinal Dolan has said he is “impatient” with the Holy Father’s handling of the crisis. Now, it appears he has taken a page from the Vatican’s book.

The Vatican’s carelessness is on display in the matter of Bishop Holley.

A summary of all the claims and counter-claims in the Holley case would run to significant length. Suffice it to say that we know the Vatican cited a “management issue” in justification of Holley’s removal. The apostolic administrator appointed by Pope Francis to lead Memphis in the interim, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, gave an interview to CWR in which he did not deny knowing more about the reason for Holley’s ouster, but only said, “I have to rely on statements of the Vatican about this; I can’t speak beyond that.”

Archbishop Kurtz demurred when CWR asked him whether Bishop Holley’s removal is unusual, and took care to explain that he is not in Memphis as an investigator or a fixer: “I can’t comment on how unusual it is, other than to say that sometimes there are changes. As I told the people in Memphis, my task is not to deal with what went on before this change, but what is happening presently.”

One reason for the Vatican’s caginess regarding Holley’s removal may be a general reluctance to be seen as managing too closely the affairs of ordinary ecclesiastical jurisdictions; such behavior does not appear to comport well with the Vatican’s claims—behind which it has successfully shielded itself from civil liability in abuse cases—that bishops are not agents or employees of the Holy See in any legally pertinent sense.

The real reason behind Holley’s ouster may be so grave that the bishop of Memphis could not be allowed to stay one more day in his See, and the danger to the Church so sinister that disclosure of even a part of the reason would further imperil her. If it is not, then the refusal to disclose the reasons for Holley’s removal is, at the very least, inexcusably careless of Holley’s reputation, not to mention the rights of the faithful to know the truth about the state of the Church and the conduct of their pastors.

Suppose for a moment that the “management issue” is no more than run-of-the-mill poor job performance. Why is that enough to earn this bishop a pink slip, while elsewhere all manner of moral negligence and even malfeasance seem to be tolerated for long periods of time? For example, Pope Francis let Bishop Michael Bransfield retire—not altogether peacefully—at 75, though Bransfield was under a cloud of suspicion for years and is now under investigation along with the diocese he used to lead. There are plausible reasons for handling Bransfield as the Vatican did, but the long-suffering faithful (and many of the clergy) in Wheeling-Charleston are impatient with half-truths and assurances that all is well in hand.

If mismanagement is a reason for removal, then it is worth asking how much longer Bishop Richard Malone will remain in the See of Buffalo.

Earlier this week “60 Minutes” aired an interview with Bishop Malone’s whistle-blowing former executive assistant:

The hundreds of pages Siobhan O’Connor uncovered included personnel files and memos. They revealed that for years Bishop Malone allowed priests accused of sexual assault such as statutory rape and groping to stay on the job.

The August exposé by local ABC affiliate WKBW that led to the “60 Minutes” report is more detailed, and more damning. Here is the case of Father Art Smith, suspended in 2011 after school officials complained of grooming behavior. Malone rehabilitated Smith when he took over the diocese in 2012:

[D]ocuments show the principal reported to the diocese that Father Smith refused to stay away from the school, showing up outside a classroom in April 2012. The principal fired off a letter to the diocese saying, “This man is a predator and a groomer of young children. Something needs to be done… As school principal, I feel the students in grade 8 have been injured and troubled by the actions of this man more than originally thought.”

The WKBW report then details how Malone returned Father Smith to active ministry, giving him a post at a nursing home. Smith also heard confessions at an event for young people that included hundreds of teenagers. When she heard of it, Principal Hider wrote to Malone:

“If a teacher would have been grooming children and had inappropriate relations with a minor, they would have been fired and lost their license to teach… Yet a priest that has a history of inappropriate contact with the youth was among the youth ministering the sacrament of Reconciliation.”

WKBW reports that Bishop Malone replied to Hider to the effect that Father Smith’s behavior was not technically in violation of the Charter for the Protection of Young People. Let that sink in.

Bishop Malone issued a statement ahead of the “60 Minutes” report, explaining his reasons for declining an interview with the program:

First, the Church is in the eye of a storm largely as a result of wrong decisions made decades ago and even some made recently, as I have acknowledged. But, our efforts and our focus have always remained steadfast: protect the children and reconcile with the victims.

Second, while “60 Minutes” is free to interview whomever they wish for this story, it is clear to me and my staff that your roster of interviews did not include those who are aware of the full extent of the efforts of our Diocese to combat child abuse. Nor does it include those who urge me every day to stay the course and restore the confidence of our faithful.

The first reason is at best self-serving. That second one, though—boy, howdy. Had he accepted the interview, Bishop Malone would have been on the roster. Is there perhaps someone in his diocese better informed on the matters he listed who might have gone in his stead?

On Wednesday, Bishop Malone’s communications office released a statement calling Siobhan O’Connor’s testimony “plainly and embarrassingly contradictory,” and published several emails the diocese claims “demonstrate [O’Connor’s] complete admiration for [Bishop Malone] and his efforts to lead the Diocese.” The diocese does not address the allegations, but attacks the woman who brought them—with proof—before the public.

Was Bishop Holley’s mismanagement worse than that of which Bishop Malone was first accused in August? At the very least, a power responsible for oversight of bishops’ conduct should open an investigation into Malone and his management of the Buffalo diocese.

If Pope Francis believes he can stonewall, or go to ground and wait for the anger to subside, he is sorely mistaken.

The sweltering summer of 2018, which saw the simmering discontent of the long-suffering Catholic faithful in the United States boil over and set fire to the kitchen, will spread rapidly to other rooms in the house.

Indeed, the anger has already spread beyond the confines of the visible Church: more than a dozen states in the US have opened or are considering criminal investigations; the District of Columbia—which has no authority to conduct criminal investigations—has opened a civil investigation; US attorneys are conducting a broadening federal probe.

If Church leaders’ concerns are for scandal, then their silence—from the Vatican on down—is terribly miscalculated. The true scandal is the carelessness at every level of Church governance toward the broad public who have a right, as I put it in an open letter to Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Rhode Island at the start of the summer, “to the Gospel and therefore a right to the Church as Christ intends her to be, rather than as you have made her[.]”

In any case, the Catholic Church’s house will be clean. The only questions are whether it shall be God’s Vicar on Earth who cleans it, or Caesar, and whether the cleansing shall come before or after the fire sale.

About Christopher R. Altieri 60 Articles
Christopher R. Altieri is co-Founder and general manager of Vocaris Media and the author of The Soul of a Nation: America as a Tradition of Inquiry and Nationhood.

17 Comments

  1. A cleansing of Homosexual abuse within the Church specifically Hierarchy insulated by precedent and papal inaction prior to 2013 and emphatically now when Pope Francis flatly refused to delegate that authority to Cardinal Di Nardo to begin the process in the US – now undertaken by Caesar I suppose is better than nothing. It is however a major scandal that inevitably will do immense harm to our credibility [and as a commentator noted opens a host of issues regarding privacy including confession]. Only the Supreme Pontiff is positioned to demand requisite repentance and conversion. Not attorney generals. At that it defies reason to continue to hope, expect [which as my duty I pray for] that Pope Francis will after all listen to reason. Christopher Altieri omitted a third option for that requisite cleansing and renewal. The advent of Christ [of the second kind].

  2. The last, final, concluding paragraph – well – sums it up.

    Good Catholic folk around me say all this exposure, especially the DOJ pouncing with full powers to investigate and confiscate, is nothing but back-handed nativist anti-Catholicism.

    It is not.

    Thought the horrors and seriousness of this moral and legal quagmire had laid that head-the-sand evasion aside.

    Oh well, Benedict VI had prophesied that – for salvation’s sake – the Church must be put through the wringer to become more taunt (that is, smaller and purer). Only then can she begin to shine the Light of Christ across our poor battered world – which God so loved that he gave . . .

    Is it not too much to ask that we give up our sins, which Christ, God’s begotten Son, had died for?

  3. Please add as an addendum to my comment: Today Nov 2 Fr Thomas Weinandy OFM cap delivered a reflection posted on LifeSite on his now famous letter to the Pontiff. In it he expresses dismay that things have worsened, and “For me, what is presently most troubling is the vague, uncertain and often seemingly nonchalant ecclesial response to the evil, not only to the grievous sexual misconduct among the clergy and bishops, but also to the scandalous undermining of the doctrinal and moral teaching of Scripture and the Church’s magisterial tradition” (Weinandy).

  4. I can hardly believe what is going on, really, it’s mind blowing to me.
    The Vatican hosts this ridiculous synod, rigged to the hilt, while nothing is done to protect the majesty and reputation of Holy Mother Church.
    The Catholic Church is beyond the tipping point. I pray very hard. Come Lord Jesus.

    • It’s going to get worse, with an unbelievable chastisement… even in the face of this terrible day nothing will change…
      Anchor your soul in the promises of Divine Mercy revealed throughout 2000 yrs. Recently through St. Faustina.

  5. This highly emotional issue requires clear thinking and evidence. On the one hand, offenses of this nature are serious and do grave harm to the Church. On the other hand, the Kavanaugh hearings reminded me that the injustice of assigning guilt based on old and often suspect memories/agendas and no concrete evidence is just as serious and grave. This means each case must be evaluated and judged on its own merits. And of course, virtue signaling, political agendas, and the like are enemies of a fair process.

  6. When all this McCarrick stuff started happening, I was certain that a civil war of sorts would commence. It would include both good guys being falsely charged and bad guys being correctly charged. At this point, it appears to be happening, but we still can’t tell who are the good guys and who are the bad.

    In the Holley case, something is fishy. It could be that Wuerl is getting retribution on some people. It’s hard to tell. In the Jenik case, it is interesting that the guy making the charges is a homosexual. I suspected that there would be repercussions against the archdiocese of New York in some way for allowing the McCarrick investigation to commence, so maybe this is payback somehow. It will be a long time before we know who is right and who is wrong in any of these cases, and that is the way its going to be for a while. Prepare for continuing chaos in the church

  7. I find it utter hypocrisy that Archbishop Holley is removed for alleged mismanagement but Bishop Malone is allowed to stay despite the fact that he has now been outed as protecting predator priests.

    I’m not saying Holley’s removal is without any justification, but what Malone did (and is doing) is far worse.

    Catholics should withhold all donations to their Dioceses (unless their Bishop is faithful and serious about ending abuse, such as Bishops Strickland, Morlino, or Cordileone), to their Bishops’ conferences and the even the Vatican (as Legatus has done) until there is accountability and all perverts and their enablers are dismissed and laicized.

    We should instead only support our individual parishes and organisations that uphold fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church (such as the FSSP Seminary in Nebraska, the Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas, The Benedictine Friars of Norcia, local pro-life activists and Crisis Pregnancy Centers, charities identified as safe by the Lepanto Institute, ALL, TFP, HLI, etc).

    • In your “alphabet soup” at the end, don’t forget PLAL – namely, the Pro-Life Action League, founded decades ago by Joseph Scheidler and still going strong under the active leadership of his son, Eric Scheidler.

    • Don’t forget PLAL at the end – namely, the Pro-Life Action League, which was founded 45 years ago by Joseph Scheidler and is still going strong under the active leadership of his son, Eric Scheidler.

    • “the injustice of assigning guilt based on old and often suspect memories/agendas and no concrete evidence is just as serious and grave”. This is what has been going on from the beginning with the clerical sexual abuse problem, not that it isn’t a serious problem, but the fact is that many innocent priests have been jailed. Recently, in Chile four priests returned to the ministry due to the fact that the allegations against them were false.
      As for the Bishop Malone’s secretary: Did she report what she reported to CBS to the CDF and Congregation for Bishops via the Nunciature? Another thing is that a lay secretary is not allowed by Canon Law to have access to confidential files regarding priests. That is what Canon Law holds and there is nothing in CL that is there without a long tradtion and good reasons.

    • There is always more than one side to every story. How do you know that the secretary did or did not report the alleged irregularities to the CDF and the Congregation for Bishops via the Nunciature which would have been proper procedure? How do you think that the Vatican could have known unless they spend their time monitoring TV reports on the Church from all over the world? Bishop Malone may or may not be at fault, but he has rights and one of them is to due process.

  8. Sister Agnes Sasagawa at Japan, in 1973 claimed that Mary said to her: “The work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church in such a way that one will see cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against bishops. The priests who venerate me will be scorned and opposed by their confreres… the Church will be full of those who accept compromises and the demon will press many priests and consecrated souls to leave the service of the Lord. The demon will be especially implacable against souls consecrated to God…”
    Our Lady of La Salette, France in 1846 warned of and predicted this sexual abuse crisis that we are now in: “Priests, my Son’s ministers, priests, by their evil life, by their irreverence’s and their impiety in celebrating the holy mysteries, love of money, love of honor and pleasures, priests have become sewers of impurity. Yes, priests call forth vengeance, and vengeance is suspended over their heads. Woe to priests, and to persons consecrated to God, who by their infidelities and their evil life are crucifying my son anew! The sins of persons consecrated to God cry to heaven and call for vengeance, and now here is vengeance at their very doors, for no longer is anyone found to beg mercy and pardon for the people…
    “The chiefs, the leaders of the people of God have neglected prayer and penance, and the devil has bedimmed their intelligence. They have become wandering stars which the old devil will drag along with his tail to make them perish. God will allow the old serpent to cause divisions among those who reign, in every society and in every family. Physical and moral agonies will be suffered. God will abandon mankind to itself and will send punishments which will follow one after the other for more than thirty-five years.
    We live in a spiritual storm that is growing with intensity. We are in a battle. Pope John Paul II had visions of the future, while convalescing after an attempt on his life and was aware of a great storm on the horizon: “Precisely at the end of the second millennium, there accumulates on the horizon of all mankind enormously threatening clouds, and darkness falls upon mankind.” An awakening is coming!! Pope John Paul talked about the Lamb (Jesus Christ), who is the only one able to open up the seven seals: “That scroll contains the whole series of divine decrees that must be accomplished in human history to make perfect justice prevail. If the scroll remains sealed, these decrees can be neither known nor implemented, and wickedness will continue to spread and oppress believers. Hence, the need for authoritative intervention: it would be made by the slain and risen Lamb…to take the scroll and to open its seals.”
    According to prophecies, this 5th Church age is “coming to a close”, after 10 events unfold that Mary, Mother of Jesus has predicted at some major apparition sites throughout the world. This information also comes from canonized saint’s prophecies. A 6th Church age of peace will come, the Triumph of her Immaculate Heart. There are 7 ages for the Church.
    A book and web site called, After The Warning To 2038, has prophecies from credible sources that are predicting these kinds of events.

  9. Why is it so difficult for you to accept the truth that faithless apostates are not going to be virtuous? They aren’t careless but committed evildoers that are enemies of Christ.

  10. Having been a priest for 37 years, I have learned many things and one of them is not to take allegations against the Church on the media at face value. There is always more than one side to any story. Once a man came to confession and he told me a whole lot of stuff against his wife. Straight after he left, the wife came and gave me a completely different version of the same events. So, you see why I don’t make any judgment on any story that is published in the press, unless all sides have given their opinion.

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