Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

"I am Joseph, your brother."

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Aug 17, 2004

Vision Book Cover Prints

Psychotherapist Richard Sipe, a frequent commentator on sexual misconduct by Catholic clergy, gave an address at a LinkUp conference last year in which he re-opened the controversy surrounding the late archbishop of Chicago (note: Bernardin was earlier Archbishop of Cincinnati; the Josephinum is a seminary in Columbus, Ohio):

A sad, and as yet unsolved, chapter of the sexual abuse saga in the United States is the story of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. This man probably did die a saint, as his close friends attest. Without doubt, he did many wonderful things for the Church in America.

In the media flurry that surrounded the allegation of sexual abuse, an impertinent reporter asked the Cardinal, "Are you living a sexually active life?" A simple "no" would have been sufficient. But the Cardinal said, "I am sixty-five years old, and I have always lived a chaste and celibate life."

However defensible in the arena of public assault, I knew that the statement was not unassailably true. Years before, several priests who were associates of Bernardin prior to his move to Chicago revealed that they had "partied" together; they talked about their visits to the Josephinum to socialize with seminarians.

It is a fact that Bernardin's accuser did not ever retract his allegations of abuse by anyone's account other than Bernardin's. If, as reported, three million dollars were paid in handling the scandal, certainly there are still informed people in Chicago who know at least part of the story. And the story is complex. It holds repercussions far beyond Chicago and one allegation.

I speak of this only as an example -- a clue -- to a mystery. This should not be sensational. Rather, it should be an occasion for the Church to divine an important pattern of its sexual operation.

While the verbs "partied" and "socialize" are ambiguous, Sipe makes it clear that he is using them to confute Bernardin's claim to have lived a chaste and celibate life; in context, they allege homosexual dalliance of some sort. Why is this significant? Because unlike most of Bernardin's detractors, Sipe has impeccable liberal credentials; he can't be dismissed as a right-wing muckraker -- indeed, he aligns himself with those who regard Bernardin as a saint. Moreover, Sipe claims to have had knowledge of his misbehavior antecedent to the public accusations against Bernardin, and this directly from the priests who misbehaved in his company. Any impartial student of the controversy would have to take Sipe's evidence seriously.

It is almost impossible to over-estimate the importance of Cardinal Bernardin to the U.S. Catholic Church; on that point his critics and admirers are unanimous. Like Bismarck or Stalin or Richard Daley, he created and presided over a bureaucracy whose impersonality became his personal tool, and the way the USCCB does business bears his stamp to this day.

What is the business of the USCCB? It does two things superlatively well: it foils or neutralizes Roman initiatives (disciplinary, educative, liturgical) aimed at the U.S., and it diffuses -- and thus eliminates -- episcopal accountability. The Marshall seminary visitation and the Vatican intervention against Hunthausen are examples of the first; the Women's Pastoral and the subterfuge behind The Many Faces of AIDS are examples of the second. The reflexive mendacity by which the episcopal apparat turned sex abuse crimes into a sex abuse cover-up can be attributed in equal measure to both.

And that is why credible evidence of Bernardin's unacknowledged appetites is important to the puzzle -- "a clue," as Sipe says, "to a mystery."

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