Letter to the USCCB

To the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

At the Bishop’s Fall Meeting in November, I was appalled to see Cardinal Mahony standing up and proclaiming, “We are not bishops alone or separate. We belong to a college and we have a responsibility to the college,” and then quoting St. Charles Borromeo. “We must have “devotion to each other as members of the [USCCB] and the College of Bishops.” Cardinal Mahony urged, “not allow outside influences to interfere with or attempt to break bonds of ecclesial union.”

What about those vulnerable children and adults who have had their lives destroyed on the bishops’ watch?

I am a mother of seven children and I have raised my children to truly discern if he or she has a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. Over the years I have encouraged young men that I know through church activities, sports and friendships with my sons and daughters to consider and discern that he might have a call to the priesthood.

Let me be clear, I did not encourage, pray and sacrifice so that each young man can experience sexual harassment as some sort of rite of passage into the priesthood. I did not encourage these vocations so that, once a priest, these men would tow a “diocesan line” and be compelled to keep their mouths shut. I did not pray for priests who would be forced to wear a muzzle and temper their love for souls in order to keep a roof over their head. And I expected that when a mother gives her son fully over in service to Holy Mother Church that his bishop, his spiritual father, would care for him and his soul and not try to snuggle him or allow other priests and seminarians to “cop a feel.”

It is inconceivable that the bishops of the USCCB think that they can move on from the “McCarrick Issue” without having to answer for their actions or inaction. Because the Holy See has now empowered Metropolitan Archbishops to handle abuse problems with brother bishops, it is vital for any reform that McCarrick’s rise to a Metropolitan Archbishop and Cardinal be thoroughly investigated so that a predator cannot rise through the ranks again and actually become the Metropolitan in charge of investigating fellow bishops for predatory behavior.

Did former Cardinal McCarrick’s sexual harassment of young males begin as a priest? In the seminary? Who in a position of authority was aware of his bed-sharing, his harassment, his homosexual behavior? After the 2 sexual harassment settlements in 2003, why was he still allowed to retain major influence in the American Catholic Church? Did the sexual harassment suits begin before 2002? If so, why was he allowed to be the main spokesperson for the Sexual Abuse Crisis in 2002 and why was he placed on the committee to draft the charter and why was he able to push to exempt bishops from the charter? Finally, what measures are going to be in place so that this will not happen again with another Metropolitan Archbishop?

I am pleading with you to form a coalition with other faithful bishops who seek to teach truth and petition the Executive Committee of the USCCB to open up an investigation into the “McCarrick Issue.” Had Theodore McCarrick’s two victims who were abused while a minor not come forward, Theodore McCarrick would still be a Cardinal in the US Catholic Church-still yielding influence through his fundraising endeavors like the Papal Foundation, Archbishop’s Fund, Loyola Foundation, and GHR Foundation.

Please know that I am praying for you and your divine office. I stand ready to support you if you experience any push back. Your efforts are necessary to help restore trust with countless faithful families who want to encourage vocations and impart the Catholic faith to their children. This Divine Institution will be here until the end of time, but now is the time for faithful bishops to stop protecting an institution and to start fighting for souls.

Sincerely,

Kris

Our response to the Bishops letter

                                                                                                                                                      April 30, 2019

Dear Bishop Bambera,                                                                                                           

I want to assure you that I have the highest regard for your office, and I am trying to be very careful to respect your ordained position.  I want to thank you for taking the time to reply to my letter.  However, your response was off-topic.  In fact, I am not sure why you responded if you were not going to answer my questions. 

When you refuse to answer specific questions, it leads me to believe that you are hiding something. I am a father whose children have been put directly in harm’s way in two different dioceses including yours.  Help me to understand why I should accept your unyielding assurances that my children are safe.     

You stated in your response, “I did what I could and what I thought was appropriate, based on the information available to me and in keeping with my then-current role in the Diocese.”  I would like to know what information you had available to you at the time of each of these incidents mentioned in my previous letter.  This would be necessary to understand your response.

 I would specifically like to know what you mean by “your then-current role”.  

Was it your subordinate position that did not allow you to call the police? (https://www.timesleader.com/news/717172/as-bambera-looked-on-abusive-father-ned-got-new-assignment)

Was this the reason that caused you to look the other way when a priest was grooming an adolescent? (https://www.dailyitem.com/download-the-catholic-diocese-grand-jury-report-here/pdf_e1159302-9ff3-11e8-a970-33505c20a2a3.html )

Was it your then-current role that made it impossible to question a seminarian that was sexually harassed?  ( Letter from Roe to The Seminarians of St. Pius X Seminary, dated April 5, 1997, Doc. 80-8, “Roe Letter”, http://www.timesleader.com/news/20071108_08liberatore_tmb_ART.html )

 What could be the reason that would make it ok not to report behavior that would be harmful to vulnerable individuals?  (Memo from Father Bambera to Bishop Timlin, dated November 27, 1996, Doc. 80-7, “Bambera Memo”)

Given your knowledge of Fr. Liberatore’s prior “questionable behavior”, did you as a board member raise concerns with the University of Scranton? (http://digitalservices.scranton.edu/digital/api/collection/prpubs/id/2844/download, Memo from Father Bambera to Bishop Timlin, dated November 27, 1996, Doc. 80-7, “Bambera Memo”)

I have been unable to find your answers to these specific questions and those posed in my previous letter.  The laity is past the point of accepting very general and vague answers. Whether or not you have done anything wrong, we deserve honest and direct answers.  All I want is the  truth and the questions posed are fair and reasonable.   I strongly encourage you to take this first step so desperately needed in order to right the ship and answer these questions.   

Sincerely,

Paul Ciaccia

Response from our Bishop

                                        

 

OFr'ICE OF THE BISHOP

 

DIOCESE OF SCRANTON

300 WYOMING AVENIJE

SCRANTON, PENNSYLVANIA 18503 -1279 

April 3, 2019 

 

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Ciaccia: 

Thank you for your recent letter. Please accept this letter in response. 

Your letter seems premised on the notion that the Diocese of Scranton and I have been lacking in dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse and related issues. While I have repeatedly, publicly acknowledged that the Diocese has fallen short in the past, I have also explained that, over at least the last twenty-five years, the Diocese has continuously improved in this arena and that, since at least 2002, the Diocese has been at the forefront nationwide on this issue. 

The Diocese's handling of allegations of child sexual abuse is "state of the art." Within 24 hours of receiving an allegation of abuse, the Diocese vigilantly and transparently responds. First, the Diocese immediately calls law enforcement to report the allegation. That initial verbal report is followed-up by letter to the District Attorney. The Diocese also immediately reports the allegation to the appropriate child protective services agency. Where the allegation appears credible, the Diocese also immediately removes the accused priest from ministry pending further investigation. The Diocese provides support and assistance to the victim, including arranging and paying for counseling from mental health professionals with no affiliation to the Diocese. Finally, when a priest is removed from ministry after investigation, the Diocese notifies the community of the allegation and the resulting removal in the following ways: 1) in person at the parish(s) or school(s) where the accused was posted; 2) in writing to the local media; ,m<l 3) by publication::;,-, the Diocese's website and in the Diocese's newspaper, the Catholic Light. 

You no doubt noticed that the vast majority of abusive conduct (more than 90%) detailed in the Grand Jury Report pre-dates 2002. This is not a coincidence. It demonstrates both the sincerity of the Diocese's efforts and their efficacy. 

The Diocese' s commitment to transparency is similarly unrivaled. In 2016, I ordered the Diocese to provide the District Attorneys for the eleven counties in which the Diocese operates with a comprehensive list of all cases involving allegations of child sexual abuse against any cleric or lay employee of the Diocese. The comprehensive list (which spanned the Diocese's entire recorded history) also disclosed substantial relevant information about the allegations, the status of the accused and the resolution of the matter. The list was provided before the 40 th Statewide

Page 2 

 

Grand Jury was empaneled and before the Diocese had any inkling that it was to be subjected to an inquiry. We are not aware of any other Diocese that provided a similar list to so many civil authorities. 

You note in your letter that my decisions "impact the safety and spiritual life of our children." I am well aware of that fact. I have acted in full awareness of and service to that fact since my ordination over thirty-five years ago. Rest assured, the Diocese's children are safe. 

Within that Context, I turn to your specific questions involving three cases. Any suggestion that I have avoided these cases, or that my conduct in these matters is inappropriate, is simply wrong. I have explained my role in these matters to the Grand Jurors, in the press, and to parishioners. I stand behind the actions and decisions that I took in these matters. The simple answer to your questions is that, in each case, I did what I could and what I thought was appropriate, based on the information available to me and in keeping with my then-current role in the Diocese. Blessed with hindsight, there are elements of these cases that I would have approached differently.   Short of that, however, I acted at all times in good faith and have nothing to hide.  Of course, the Diocese and I remain committed to learning from the past and in creating a better future. I hope that you will join us in this critical task.

 

I wish you well in all of your endeavors.

  Faithfully yours in Christ,

Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.,

Bishop Of Scranton

 

 

c: Monsignor Thomas M. Muldowney, V.G.

Original Letter to Bishop Bambera

March 20, 2019

 

Dear Bishop Bambera,

 

Since the recent scandal broke, your statements to date have not answered specific questions

regarding your involvement in the sex abuse scandal in the Diocese of Scranton.

One month after you became the Vicar of Clergy in 1995, Fr. Robert Gibson left a treatment

center and was assigned to St. Ignatius in Kingston, PA. You were involved in the investigation

of Fr. Gibson and did not report the abuse to authorities even though the protocol at the time

demanded you do so. Instead, you sent him to a parish where he finally left after he began

grooming another boy. The Diocese of Scranton has four complaints of sexual abuse regarding

Fr. Gibson.

 

Why didn’t you report Fr. Robert Gibson’s immoral and criminal behavior to the

authorities? Why was he sent to a parish after the diocesan investigation?

 

In November 1996 you were the Vicar of Clergy and supervised Fr. Al Liberatore. You wrote a

memo to Bishop Timlin expressing your concerns regarding Fr. Al Liberatore’s questionable

behavior with both a seminarian and the Director of Youth & Young Adult Retreats who was a

young man in his early 20s. At this time, Fr. Al Liberatore was the Director of Vocations for the

Diocese and was living at the St. Pius X Seminary.

 

After you wrote the memo to Bishop Timlin, were you concerned that Fr. Liberatore was

living with young men at the seminary? Why did you keep Fr. Liberatore in the position

of Vocations director, giving him access to young high school and college age men?

 

In February 1997 while you were the Formation Director and living at St. Pius X Seminary,

twenty male high school students were touring the seminary and through an open door, they

witnessed Fr. Liberatore giving a back massage to a seminarian.

In Spring 1997 while you were still the Vicar of Clergy and Formation Director at the seminary,

Fr. Liberatore was involved in an altercation with the Director of Youth & Young Adult Retreats.

This young man, the Director of Youth & Young Adult Retreats, later shared that he had been

sexually harassed by Fr. Liberatore. After the altercation that night, this young man woke up that

next morning in Fr. Liberatore’s room with Fr. Liberatore’s hand on the man’s genitals. You

never contacted or interviewed this young man. This young man who was in his early 20s was

serving as the Director of Youth for the diocese and was involved in the altercation.

 

You had already expressed concern about Fr. Liberatore’s behavior, so why didn’t you

speak to the young man? Had you heard about Fr. Liberatore’s sexual harassment of

young men?

 

After this altercation, Fr. Liberatore was then moved to St. Clare’s in Scranton, PA. Fr.

Liberatore went on to sexually abuse an altar boy between 1999 & 2004. He brought this boy to

New York City, consumed alcohol, and they spent the night in the City together.

 

Were you ignorant of Fr. Liberatore’s grooming behaviors and harassment?

 

After 1998 you moved into parish life. In 2003 Fr. Al Liberatore became a professor of theology

at the University of Scranton, and you joined the Board of Trustees for the University of

Scranton that same year.

Given your past knowledge of Fr. Liberatore’s prior “questionable behavior”, did you as a

board member at anytime raise concerns with the university? Was the University of

Scranton aware of Fr. Liberatore’s grooming behaviors and sexual harassment?

 

Fr. Jeffrey Paulish was reassigned fourteen times during his twenty-five years as a priest. Fr.

Paulish was granted four leaves of absence. Every assignment put him in direct contact with

children and altar servers. Fr. Paulish only stopped being a priest in the Diocese of Scranton

when he was found in a parked car with a minor engaging in oral sex in 2013.

 

Why was Fr. Paulish reassigned so many times and granted four leaves of absence?

Was he ever involved in inappropriate behavior with adults?

 

Each day you sit in authority over this diocese, and your decisions impact the safety and

spiritual life of our children. We are asking you to answer these specific questions.

 

Sincerely,

 

Paul and Kristen

The Secret Part II

Agents of Secrecy, Part Two

The “Pontifical Secret” and the Crisis

 

This particularly urgent issue for our time carries with it a more complicated aspect of the Secret, not only concerning what is secret as far as misconduct, but sometimes the very guidelines themselves governing the issue have been subject to the Secret. 

 

The so-called “Summer of Shame” has reopened many old wounds in the fabric of the Church, both in the United States and most of the Anglo-Saxon world—opening some new ones, as well. Throughout, there has been much recrimination: finger-pointing, scapegoating (Dr. McCarrick, anyone?), alleged violations of Due Process, stonewalling, and “clericalism” (whatever that really means). The bishops are often (and perhaps to some degree understandably) concerned for the “optics.” “How is my diocese going to look?—how am I going to look!?” Then there are questions that go far beyond the mere “look”: What of fostering of future (and even present) vocations to the priesthood? What of the morale of our priests? What can be done for our brothers and sisters who were the victims, not only for their peace and welfare in this world, but to accompany them on the road to everlasting life? (And likewise, how can the repentant perpetrator be brought to a new offer of life in the Savior?)

And of course, the perennial question: How did things get this bad?

Attempted answers are not in short supply these days. The bishops, abbots and provincials of religious congregations are pretty much saying the same thing about the Crisis: “We’re sorry.” “We are taking measures to prevent this abuse in the future.” “We have removed x amount of priests from ministry who have been credibly found guilty of abusing children.” (We note that this last response is somewhat “optically” driven. What should be said instead of “abusing children” should be—with some exceptions—“abusing adolescent boys,” since this covers the vast majority of the cases and has been statistically proven so.  (See http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/priest-sociologist-examines-data-on-clergy-sex-abuse>) Because of the obvious conclusions that will be drawn, virtually no bishop or religious superior is saying that one—at least within earshot of someone with a recording device or a pen.

(Apologies to the reader for that digression.)

#          #          #

Undoubtedly, the issues surrounding the crisis will be argued and analyzed for decades to come, in what many observers (including this writer) consider one of the worst global crises (arguably, the worst)  faced by the Church since the Reformation 500 years ago. Yet it seems that there is one very under-discussed and, even more, little-known issue which really doesn’t have a single answer, but could explain much: “Why didn’t the bishops (when confronted with information by alleged victims and their family members) simply take matters in hand and involve the civil authorities?”

To better understand this issue, we have to more closely examine how the notion of “secret” in the law and lived experience of the Church has made its genuine, but arguably inadvertent, contribution to recent events.

Secret (as in “classified” or “confidential”) documentation regarding twentieth-century clergy sexual abuse was actually treated in a Vatican Instruction almost a century ago, Crimen Sollicitationis (1922), to deal primarily with the ecclesiastical crime of sexual solicitation of a penitent during confession by a priest. The (1917) Code of Canon Law stated the penalties for a such violation, but it did not provide much in the way of specifics. The very notion of such a sin and crime is virtually incomprehensible, yet problems of such “compound sins,” sadly, go back through the centuries. However, especially at various points of history, they were also relatively very rare.

The contents of this Instruction and even its very existence were classified by the Vatican. It was sent only to the bishops of the world’s dioceses—which were about 860 in number. For that reason, it remained virtually unknown to anyone outside that level of leadership. It was so confidential, that it never even appeared in any publicly-produced collections of canon law documentation. (Annuario Pontificio / [“Pontifical Yearbook”] 1922, p. 791)  In addition to norms dealing with solicitation of a penitent while hearing their confession, it also provided guidance on clergy accused of a) homosexual acts, b) sexual abuse of minors—male or female and c) bestiality.

A virtually identical document was issued in 1962. According to canonist Fr. Thomas Doyle, O.P. (who has provided much of the material used in researching this essay) it, too, involved the “Pontifical Secret” (see Part I of this essay), except that specific penalty of excommunication for its violation was lifted and also contained a new section of specific norms regarding offending priests in religious orders. (The 1962 document, by the way, has been effectively “declassified” by the Vatican and is available for review on its website under “Instruction of the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office.”) It should be noted that the 1962 document, itself, was superseded in 2001 by a new set of norms, Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela (SST), promulgated under Pope John Paul II and under signature of the then-Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. These were further refined under a yet-another revised text of SST made by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.

#          #          #

So why is secrecy such an crucial issue within the institutional Church?

It really originates in the basic principle of the Church protecting itself from encroachment by the state and otherwise potentially hostile forces. Throughout the history of “Christendom” when Greater Europe was a truly Catholic (and later, Catholic and Eastern Orthodox) professing continent, there was an ever-present, ongoing tension between the spheres of activity between church and state. Long before the modern era, certainly prior to the Reformation, it was common (especially in Western Europe) for a cleric accused of a crime (whether ecclesiastical or secular) to be tried in ecclesiastical courts. If found guilty, depending on the nature of the crime, he would be remanded to the secular authorities for punishment. We remember in the movie Becket where that storied English archbishop criticized one of Henry II’s vassals for executing a priest who allegedly abused a young girl. Becket decried this as a violation of Due Process, as by law the cleric was to have first been tried by an ecclesiastical tribunal, and if guilty, surrendered to the Crown for execution of sentence. Such a legal principle came many centuries before what we have today taken for granted—the clear juridical separation of church and state regarding criminal and (most) civil affairs.

In a real sense, the Church was accorded a recognized legal standing and autonomy which coexisted alongside the state, almost universally, because her independence was (and still is) vitally important to her mission. It worked for nearly a millennium because the notion of a multi-cultural society—that is, in our contemporary sense—didn’t really exist. It also acted as the “higher” entity of society to provide a kind of check against the abuses of what, until the republican and democratic movements of the 17th – 18th century, were crude, even primitive administrations of criminal justice. (We have only to go back only some decades before the formation of governments in British North America to consider the rather common English capital penalties of drawing-and-quartering and stake-burning.)  Part of the Church’s perception of two spheres in Christian society, working harmoniously, was also required to promote comprehensive Due Process—at least as perceived in the past.

Because the Church’s institutional mechanisms predate most governments on the planet, she has a very established system of operation. It has changed and evolved over the course of centuries, but sometimes slowly, almost glacially. Secrecy was and remains a principle with a “macro” and “micro” aspect. The latter would deal, for instance, with international relations maintaining the freedom and independence of the Church—as Christ’s holy people—to exist and operate as a society in the world. As it were, “in the world, but not of it” (Cf. Jn. 15: 19). On the former level, John L. Allen, Jr. noted that, in principle, secrecy (in this case, as it relates to the abuse issue) is “designed to protect the dignity of everyone involved [in a crime], including the victim, the accused, their families [sic] and their communities.” (Crux, September 22, 2017) This is based first and foremost on making provision both for Christian justice and Christian charity. It also applies to a host of other matters, ranging from the selection of new bishops, establishment of dioceses and investigational matters.

Ultimately, the prerogative of secrecy is actually meant to be an extension of the Church’s ability to act justly and independently continue its mission within society. This also extends (in the case today’s of ecclesiastical crimes) for the victims and the perpetrators. As Fr. Doyle explains:

The secrecy that was (and still is) imposed on parties and witnesses in canonical proceedings is intended to assure witnesses that they can speak freely. It is also intended to protect the reputations of the accused and accuser until guilt or innocence is determined. The … insistence on secrecy throughout the [1962] document [discussed above] is probably related to two issues: the first is the scandal that would arise were the public to hear stories of priests committing such terrible crimes. The second reason is the protection of the inviolability of the sacrament of penance [that is, in the case of solicitation during confession]. (From Thomas Doyle, O.P., J.C.D. Emphasis added.)

The Catechism also provides an important insight, dealing with “[p]rofessional secrets … or confidential information given under the seal of secrecy [NB, not the sacramental seal of Confession] which morally must be kept, save in exceptional cases where keeping the secret is bound to cause very grave harm to the one who confided it, to the one who received it or to a third party … Even if not confided under the seal of secrecy, private information prejudicial to another is not to be divulged without a grave and proportionate reason” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 2491, emphasis added).

So, in a real sense, the Church is trying to apply a basic principle of the Christian life, both to institutions (including the Church, herself) and to individuals.

But now the Pontifical Secret, as it is known today (because it relates directly or sometimes indirectly to the actions governed by the Holy See) itself has, arguably, come into public scrutiny as never before.

As many will remember, last summer then-Cardinal McCarrick had been public accused of misconduct with a male minor (which later was alleged to have taken place during the Sacrament of Penance), along with inappropriate physical actions, on several occasions, toward some of his diocesan seminarians when serving as Archbishop of Newark. Archbishop Carlo M. Vigano, who for a time was papal nuncio to the United States, admitted his knowledge of substantial and documented details regarding the McCarrick case.  This fact was made by Vigano in a personal September, 2018 global-level declaration—which, it should be noted, technically violated his pledge to keep the Pontifical Secret:

Certainly, some of the facts that I was to reveal were covered by the pontifical secret that I had promised to observe and that I had faithfully observed from the beginning of my service to the Holy see. But the purpose of any secret, including the pontifical secret, is to protect the Church from her enemies. I was a witness, not by my choice, of shocking facts and, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church [quoted above] states (par. 2491), the seal of secrecy is not binding when very grave harm can be avoided only by divulging the truth. Only the seal of confession could have justified my silence. (Statement of Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, Titular Archbishop of Ulpiana / Apostolic Nuncio, September 29, 2018)

Such a declaration has immediate and truly historic consequences.

Not only did a high ranking Vatican official (he was, at one time, the minister in charge of all nuncios deployed by the Holy See) violate the Pontifical Secret, but in so doing challenged the personal authority of the Holy See itself, particularly in the person of its current incumbent. (It is interesting to note that no action, at least known publicly, has been taken against Archbishop Vigano by the Holy See.) While one could perhaps question his prudence in doing so, few could question his conviction in conscience. Yet as the Archbishop maintains, in line with the Catechism, the seal apparently is not binding in the face of “grave harm” which could be caused maintaining it.

Strange times, indeed.

#        #        #

There has been a great deal of speculation, closer to home, that the Secret has been imposed by the Holy See on local dioceses, with regard to clerical abuse, to reduce or eliminate harm to the good name of the Church and indiviudals. Even as recently as the 2001 document, De delectis gravioribus (“Concenring grave delicts”), participants in ecclesiastical criminal proceedings were still bound under the Pontifical Secret. The reality was (and is) that the Secret was invoked for the reasons given earlier—primarily for protection of rights, both of the accused and the alleged victim. At the same time, Vatican officials insisted, as a 2010 article put it, that “confidentiality imposed on the church’s internal handling of abuses cases does not exempt bishops and others form reporting serious facts and accusations to civil authorities … [because Church law is] not a substitute for civil law, which deals with the crime separately.” (John Thavis, “Vatican: Bishops should follow civil laws on abuse” National Catholic Resister, May 10, 2010. Emphasis added.) 

But that is the comparatively, very-recent now.

As far back as 1946, canonist Aurelio Yanguas suggested that the imposition of the Secret was also intended to provide speedy and quiet action against the crimes mentioned in the 1922 Instruction, presumably before detection and indictment by secular courts, and thus preventing public scandal. (Brendan Daly, “The Instruction Crimen Sollicitationis on the Crime of Solicitation: Confusion or Cover-up of Paedophilia?”The Canonist 7, n. 10 [2016] 28) 

But there was an arguably more delicate and complicated mater, related to the medieval principle discussed earlier regarding the separation of the spheres of church and state. Even as late as 1997, a senior Vatican official stated that mandatory reporting of child/youth abuse was in conflict with Church law and could even invalidate a church administrative or penal process against a cleric. (Ibid.)  Undoubtedly, such an opinion—actually, an exaggeration—would have prevailed in many quarters, at least during much of the 20th century. Bishops almost certainly interpreted the imposition of the Secret strictly so that everyone, save relevant Church officials, the accused and the victims of the crimes, would be excluded from the process—including civil authorities. In addition, because the Secret and (for a long time) the guidance behind it was—well, secret—they were likely placed in an additional conflict of interest. Disobey the Holy See on a matter of extreme gravity or involve civil government in a process ostensibly forbidden to it. And keeping the Secret, not-so collaterally helped to also avoid scandal and potentially grave disruption to the life of the Church.

If this was the rationale, perhaps an outside observer could simply and easily conclude that the bishops are a bunch of corporate “yes men” who cared only for the institution and their careers, but not for the kids (again, teenage boys, mostly) or the horrors inflicted upon them by their clergy; indeed, by some of their own number. Yet virtually now, however, everyone from the pope on down the ranks of universal the hierarchy has admitted—explicitly—that the policies constructed to handle the issues endemic to the Crisis, until recent years at least, were at least partially defective and had to be caught up to meet the proper demands of society, both Christian and secular.

But bishops, for whatever their perceived or real faults—like all we sinners in this world—by and large are a loyal bunch when given very tight and specific orders. Not, by any means, in the manner of a totalitarian underling who will commit heinous acts “because he was just following orders,” but because for a long time it was—for many—difficult to fulfill demands which, themselves, had differing and competing values, goods and ends: the protection of young people from sexual victimization; the desire to hold out the hope of repentance and conversion to those who have sinned horribly and gravely, yet submitting them to right-justice under law, and when deemed necessary, to protect society from them; the obligation to maintain in the right time and place a principle (secrecy) designed with proper and upright intentions; the crying need to hear and (to whatever reasonable and realistic extent) support temporally or spiritually those who have been victimized; providing justice and firm restoration to those falsely accused; avoiding exposure of the Church of Christ to ridicule—as she is the complete, divinely-founded and only-authentic communion of faith within in the Christian body. Nineteen years into the new century and the new Millennium, we are realizing the way that these goods and others must be realigned and rebalanced, but all in their rightful places.

In this wise, the Church in her human members can, does and will likely continue to come up short, on occasion, in the policy-making process—whether dealing with the juridical, organizational, liturgical or geo-political. These often will not be fully determined to be good or bad but in hindsight. To complicate this, there will also be accompanying expressions of great human frailty, stupidity and coldness in the midst of that discernment process which must be checked and overcome by God’s abundant grace.

And let us make no mistake. Without grace, without that utter and primary reliance on the Spirit of God who helps us to “savor what is right,” (the collect of Come, Holy Spirit) no amount of policy change, psychological testing for clergy, “human formation” in seminaries,  listening sessions, background checks or victim compensation funds—as important or significant as these might be—will genuinely, thoroughly and ultimately solve this all too fallen-human drama that has cast such a horrid, truly hellish shadow on the Church of the New Millennium.

Here, I would conclude with the guiding words of the great St. John Paul II, himself.

Going in search of man through his Son, God wishes to persuade man to abandon the path of evil which lead him farther and farther afield. “Making him abandon” those paths means making man understand that he is taking the wrong path; it means overcoming the evil which is everywhere found in human history. Overcoming evil: This is the meaning of the Redemption … through the sacrifice of Christ, wherein lies victory over evil, over sin, and over death itself.  (John Paul II, Apostolic Letter, Tertio Millennio Adveniente, November 10, 1994, n. 7.)

"Secrecy" in the Church and the "Pontifical Secret"

Agents of Secrecy, Part One

“Secrecy” in the Church and the “Pontifical Secret”

 

The Concept of Secret

Americans, by nature, tend to be suspicious of secrets—indeed, extremely so. Our remote history provides some good reason for this. In terms of State power and violations of individual liberty, we need only think of the abusive Star Chamber proceedings in England which, especially by the later-Tudor era (here I’m thinking about Elizabeth I), meted out the Crown’s justice outside and beyond standard judiciary sitting. After establishing the US federal government in 1789, the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution, insuring policies of necessary secrecy which included security of one’s person, “houses, papers and effects” (the 4th Amendment); speedy, impartial and public Trial by Jury (the 6th Amendment—colonial Delaware always had it, Massachusetts did not) and in general, the requisites of Due Process. It is also why we have laws against libel, slander and defamation of character—all derivatives from our Judeo-Christian religious and ethical heritage. This even extends into the more-specific realm of a legal right to one’s good name which is explicitly and constitutionally guaranteed, for example, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the State of Connecticut. It is also explicitly stated in the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland.

Yet another aspect, revealing a very old—and darker—side of American cultural life, appeals to our culturally collective fascination with the curious and intrusive. The near- continual presence of tabloids and reality television is nearly impossible to avoid unless one were to also avoid a supermarket checkout line or get rid of his or her TV set. This appetite has increased exponentially (even outrageously) with the advent of social media and information availability through the Internet. Now, it seems that the very human right of privacy itself is endangered, especially with the phenomenon of humiliation through “cyber bullying,” the so-called “politics of hate,” “sexting” and any number of other tactics used, ultimately, to unjustly attack others.

So, it must be reasonably held that secrets at various levels of society are necessary, even vitally so, to prevent dire consequences to liberty, both corporate and individual.

The Church, herself, being a society insofar as she exists within the world and is governed by and through men (with the assistance of Christ, her divine Head, and the Holy Spirit) also must observe necessary rules in the securing of information, as would individuals or any human institution for their own welfare. This is vitally important, given the necessities of a global fellowship united in over 5,000 particular churches (dioceses), comprising (at least on the books) over one billion human souls, one-seventh of the earth’s population. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, extending that line of thought, states that “[t]ruthfulness keeps to the just mean between what ought to be expressed and what ought to be kept secret, it entails honesty and discretion.” (n. 2469)

The Church views herself, as do many secular governments, as a juridic person—an entity operating in this world with rights analogous to those of a literal individual. For this reason, the Church has a responsibility to protect its own reputation against unjust attack or actions which would imperil or impede her ability to govern, teach, sanctify and lead the world to salvation. Also, this secrecy is meant to protect the external mission of the Church under difficult—sometimes even life-threatening—conditions. This has been brought into relief particularly in the West through blatant State meddling in ecclesiastical affairs over the centuries. We need but recall such interference in revolutionary France, the anti-clerical movements of the 19th century throughout Europe and Latin America, and the horrors perpetrated at the hands of any number of Fascist or Communist regimes in the 20th century—some of which are today alive and well. This also touches upon matters of the Church’s inner-relationships. For example, it concerns preserving the good name and reputation of those who might be falsely accused or subject to unfair exposure or interference with the rights of Due Process.

All of these issues as they affect the Church, depending on the particular circumstances in time, can be subject to what is today officially known as the “Pontifical Secret” (or hereafter, we’ll simply call it “the Secret”). It is arguably among the most obscure juridical concepts in all of Catholicism, and perhaps among the most subject to reproach and misunderstanding.

The Secret is not the subject of a specific “law” of secrecy, but rather a principle or precept that governs how any number of laws may be enforced or delimit the kind of information that can or should be disseminated. Contrary to what might be expected, a specific mention of it (i.e. as a “law” or canon) is not even made in the current Code of Canon Law (1983). There a numerous examples of the Secret, which we’ll outline here.

At one time, the former Roman Catholic Code of Canon Law (1917) did outline some pretty rough penalties for violation of the Secret, which was known until 1974 as the “Secret of the Holy Office.”  (The Holy Office is the immediate predecessor of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—the administrative “watchdog” for promoting orthodoxy and authenticity in Church teaching.) In the pre-Conciliar era, that is, before Vatican II, such penalties included excommunication ipso facto for anybody (including Cardinals) who directly violated the seal of the Secret, especially as this related to the nomination of bishops. At one time, except in danger of death, only one of two men could lift the excommunication: the pope personally or through his Major Penitentiary, the Cardinal charged with remitting more grievous penalties of canon law.

It should be clearly stated here that the general penalty of excommunication for violation of a Pontifical Secret today no longer existsincluding the violation of the Secret from a Conclave which elects a pope. (More on that below.)

A common but still widely unknown example of bishop selection remains a good example of the Secret in operation—and it has been around for a very long time. Contrary to what many might imagine is little more than a corporate head appointing branch managers for field offices, the vetting of priest-candidates for higher office involves a very extensive (and very secret) process that usually takes many months. Part of the process (the details don’t concern us here) include a number of people, including other bishops, local priests and swaths of the lay community which weigh-in on the qualities of a particular candidate or candidates. The issues investigated include pastoral and administrative considerations, along with the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the candidate emotionally, spiritually and theologically—the good, the bad and the ugly. In the case of a vacating diocesan Ordinary, the outgoing bishop’s recommendation would usually be of particularly strong consideration.

This process is conducted without the knowledge of the candidate. The information cannot be divulged to him, he cannot even know who is involved or that a vetting process is even taking place. That is, the candidate will never know “who said what” about him, but whatever has been said will never be made public. This secrecy serves the requirements of justice—that a candidate is vetted properly and (presumably) completely, and of charity—that his good name and reputation are entirely sacrosanct.

So secret is this process that even those enlisted in the vetting process cannot even divulge that they are part of the process to anyone, even those whom they suspect are also are contributors to it.

This process is ultimately governed by the Papal Nuncio—in our country, the papal ambassador in Washington, DC. His office asks the information on behalf of the Holy See, (this is the “Pontifical” part) in written form, and his office receives the information. Then, it is forwarded to the Vatican, where it is reviewed by the Congregation of Bishops, who then present the Holy Father with a list of three candidates. The pope chooses one of the three (and there is usually a recommended candidate) or he can ignore the list of candidates altogether. Even after the investigations are concluded, the participants (lay or clerical) are bound never to discuss the details of their testimony or opinions, and may not even intimate that they even participated in such a process—similar to the bind placed on jurors in criminal cases in the U.S., except that it ceases with the end of a trial or other proceeding, unless restrained by court order.

Needless to say, if a priest-candidate does not make the final cut, he will never know. (Or, at any rate, he is not supposed to know.)

The Secret also extends to the erection and suppression of dioceses. It involves a detailed process, particularly because it is destined to be (or not be) a “particular” church (as canon law calls it), because such an entity is intended to be a permanent portion of the flock of the Church of Jesus Christ, governed by an individual bishop by divine right. That is, a church is not a subdivision of the Diocese of Rome (again, against the notion of diocese being a branch office of “Vatican, Inc.”) but a self-existing, self-governing, fully-functional and stable church—in miniature, like the Universal Church, but in a genuinely local reality that teaches, governs, sanctifies and leads to salvation. The essential and indispensable difference between the Universal Church and the Particular Church is that the latter must be in communion (that is, share the same essential teachings and the same sacraments) with other “local churches” and with that one church which is absolutely essential for the validity of its mission: the Church of Rome and its bishop, the pope.

Perhaps the most famous example regarding application of the Secret concerns the election of the Supreme Pontiff, once the conclave goes into session (con-clavis, Latin, “with key”). NO information of any kind may be divulged, particularly regarding who-voted-for-whom, who-got-what-number-of-votes or even the names of those receiving votes. Of course, the new pope can release a little of this information, a lot of it, all of it or absolutely nothing at all. Judging from news reports, it seems the pope (at least the current one) has quietly allowed certain of his own Cardinal Electors to mention “low-priority” details.  This is, of course, entirely his prerogative as Pontiff. Certainly the punishment for violation of the Secret in this case, which is reinforced by an oath, is left to the newly-elected Pontiff, who determines a “just penalty” which may or may not include excommunication, in keeping with the identical principle in canon 1399 of the Code of Canon Law.

 

The Secret and the Crisis

 

One particularly complex and potentially hazardous part of the institution of the Secret relates to the response (or lack thereof) to clerical and prelatial sexual misconduct regarding minor children and young people, as well as adults who have some form of intellectual development disorder (or what was known in the past as “mental retardation”) . . . and, although rarely mentioned in secular media, specific issues regarding clerical abuse of adolescent boys. (As an aside, I would recommend the excellent and readable recent essay in the National Catholic Register dated November 6, 2018 and entitled, “Priest-Sociologist Examines Data on Clergy Sex Abuse.” It is available here: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/priest-sociologist-examines-data-on-clergy-sex-abuse)

 

This particularly urgent issue for our time carries with it a more complicated aspect of the Secret, not only concerning what is secret as far as misconduct, but that sometimes the very guidelines themselves governing the issue have been subject to the Secret. 

 

This will be among our considerations for Part Two.

by “Father Anonymous”

Dear Bishop Bambera...

March 20, 2019

Dear Bishop Bambera,

Since the recent scandal broke, your statements to date have not answered specific questions

regarding your involvement in the sex abuse scandal in the Diocese of Scranton.

One month after you became the Vicar of Clergy in 1995, Fr. Robert Gibson left a treatment

center and was assigned to St. Ignatius in Kingston, PA. You were involved in the investigation

of Fr. Gibson and did not report the abuse to authorities even though the protocol at the time

demanded you do so. Instead, you sent him to a parish where he finally left after he began

grooming another boy. The Diocese of Scranton has four complaints of sexual abuse regarding

Fr. Gibson.

Why didn’t you report Fr. Robert Gibson’s immoral and criminal behavior to the

authorities? Why was he sent to a parish after the diocesan investigation?

In November 1996 you were the Vicar of Clergy and supervised Fr. Al Liberatore. You wrote a

memo to Bishop Timlin expressing your concerns regarding Fr. Al Liberatore’s questionable

behavior with both a seminarian and the Director of Youth & Young Adult Retreats who was a

young man in his early 20s. At this time, Fr. Al Liberatore was the Director of Vocations for the

Diocese and was living at the St. Pius X Seminary.

After you wrote the memo to Bishop Timlin, were you concerned that Fr. Liberatore was

living with young men at the seminary? Why did you keep Fr. Liberatore in the position

of Vocations director, giving him access to young high school and college age men?

In February 1997 while you were the Formation Director and living at St. Pius X Seminary,

twenty male high school students were touring the seminary and through an open door, they

witnessed Fr. Liberatore giving a back massage to a seminarian.

In Spring 1997 while you were still the Vicar of Clergy and Formation Director at the seminary,

Fr. Liberatore was involved in an altercation with the Director of Youth & Young Adult Retreats.

This young man, the Director of Youth & Young Adult Retreats, later shared that he had been

sexually harassed by Fr. Liberatore. After the altercation that night, this young man woke up that

next morning in Fr. Liberatore’s room with Fr. Liberatore’s hand on the man’s genitals. You

never contacted or interviewed this young man. This young man who was in his early 20s was

serving as the Director of Youth for the diocese and was involved in the altercation.

You had already expressed concern about Fr. Liberatore’s behavior, so why didn’t you

speak to the young man? Had you heard about Fr. Liberatore’s sexual harassment of

young men?

After this altercation, Fr. Liberatore was then moved to St. Clare’s in Scranton, PA. Fr.

Liberatore went on to sexually abuse an altar boy between 1999 & 2004. He brought this boy to

New York City, consumed alcohol, and they spent the night in the City together.

Were you ignorant of Fr. Liberatore’s grooming behaviors and harassment?

After 1998 you moved into parish life. In 2003 Fr. Al Liberatore became a professor of theology

at the University of Scranton, and you joined the Board of Trustees for the University of

Scranton that same year.

Given your past knowledge of Fr. Liberatore’s prior “questionable behavior”, did you as a

board member at anytime raise concerns with the university? Was the University of

Scranton aware of Fr. Liberatore’s grooming behaviors and sexual harassment?

Fr. Jeffrey Paulish was reassigned fourteen times during his twenty-five years as a priest. Fr.

Paulish was granted four leaves of absence. Every assignment put him in direct contact with

children and altar servers. Fr. Paulish only stopped being a priest in the Diocese of Scranton

when he was found in a parked car with a minor engaging in oral sex in 2013.

Why was Fr. Paulish reassigned so many times and granted four leaves of absence?

Was he ever involved in inappropriate behavior with adults?

Each day you sit in authority over this diocese, and your decisions impact the safety and

spiritual life of our children. We are asking you to answer these specific questions.