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let us now praise illustrious women

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Aug 23, 2007

In King Lear (III:vii) there is a man who is such a minor character that Shakespeare has not given him even a name: he is merely "First Servant." All the characters around him -- Regan, Cornwall, and Edmund -- have fine long-term plans. They think they know how the story is going to end, and they are quite wrong. The servant has no such delusions. He has no notion how the play is going to go. But he understands the present scene. He sees an abomination (the blinding of old Gloucester) taking place. He will not stand it. His sword is out and pointed at his master's breast in a moment: then Regan stabs him dead from behind. That is his whole part: eight lines all told. But if it were real life and not a play, that is the part it would be best to have acted.
-- C.S. Lewis, "The World's Last Night"

Dismayed by Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger's lint-flavored observations on yet another predator priest he'd kept stashed in an Evansville parish, it struck me what a shabby figure my own sex has cut throughout the clergy abuse crisis, and, on the contrary, how frequently the voices raised in opposition to the lies and injustice have belonged to women. None of these women was heeded, as it happens, but they deserve to be honored all the same for the decency and guts to sound off in the face of iniquity.

High on the roll of honor is Boston housewife Margaret Gallant, who wrote letters to archbishops Medeiros and Law beseeching relief from Father John Geoghan's ongoing molestation of seven of her nephews.

Our family is deeply rooted in the Catholic Church, our great-grandparents and parents suffered hardship and persecution for love of the Church. Our desire is to protect the dignity of the Holy Orders, even in the midst of our tears and agony over the seven boys in our family who have been violated. We cannot undo that, but we are obligated to protect others from this abuse to the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. ... [Fr. Geoghan's] actions are not only destructive to the emotional well-being of the children, but hits the very core of our being in our love for the church -- he would not gain access to homes of fallen away Catholics.

Sorry, Margaret dear, no can do. Geoghan's "effective life of ministry" had another 16 years to run. Another intrepid letter-writer was the un-named nun who served as principal of Holy Family School in Chicago in 2000, and who was dissatisfied with Fr. Dan McCormack's explanation of why he asked an altar boy to pull his pants down. She hand-delivered a letter expressing her concerns to the Assistant Superintendent of the Office of Catholic Schools, and her communication had the same effect as Margaret Gallant's: exactly zero. From a 2006 story:

Last Thursday, the day before McCormack was arrested at his brother's house in Orland Hills, the nun says she received a phone call from a different Catholic schools administrator.

"He said, 'Do you remember,' and I said, 'DO I REMEMBER? You don't forget something like that!'" the nun said. She told the story about the boy in 2000 again and asked about the letter she had delivered to school officials. The school official she spoke to last week said the nun's letter was nowhere to be found. "It's outrageous," the nun said.

An equally upright religious sister, engaged in an equally futile struggle to convince her employers to do the right thing, was Boston's Sr. Catherine Mulkerrin, who pleaded with the appalling Msgr (now Bishop) John McCormack to take some action on behalf of the victims of Fr. Paul Shanley. From a 2002 AP story:

The lawyer for Shanley's alleged victims, Roderick MacLeish, confirmed a Boston Herald report Monday that said Sister Catherine Mulkerrin, McCormack's top aide in Boston, had written memos advising him to contact members of parishes where Shanley and other accused priests had served.

"I know I sound like a broken record," one memo from Mulkerrin said, "but we need to put in church bulletins 'It has come to our attention a priest stationed here between 19XX and 19XX may have molested children please contact....'"

... "Had Bishop McCormack taken the advice of Sister Mulkerrin, and gone to the parishes where Paul Shanley and some of these priests had served and spoken to them and informed the parishioners of what was going on, I don't think we would be here today," MacLeish said prior to the start of Monday's deposition.

Shanley, of course, led a charmed life in the Archdiocese of Boston, though he met opposition in the person of housewife Jackie Gauvreau, who continually phoned the chancery demanding action and claims to have twice buttonholed Cardinal Law at public functions with the unambiguous message, "Father Paul Shanley rapes boys." Law does not recollect the encounters. This from a Peter Gelzinis column in the Boston Herald (10 April 2002):

Jackie Gauvreau, who sang in the choir at St. Jean's in Newton, started shining a light on Father Paul Shanley's sexual escapades with boys in 1981. She kept it up for years .... When Jackie called the chancery, there were orders to strand her on hold. Meanwhile, the situation she had to endure with the degenerate pastor of her church evolved into something beyond bizarre.

"Not only did (Shanley) know what I was doing, and how I felt about him," Jackie Gauvreau said recently, "he even tried to have me arrested. But that doesn't begin to explain how insidious this guy was.

"During a vigil Mass once, we came to the Kiss of Peace," she recalled, "and he actually approached me to kiss me. I looked him right in the eye and said, 'If you touch me, I'll knock you on your ***.' And he knew I would, too."

The efforts of these women were "failures," as we know, but they're the kind of failures that, from the viewpoint of eternity, we'd all prefer to the success of their antagonists. No pastoral centers will be named in their honor and their portraits will not hang on paneled chancery walls. But they grasped the faith taught them in the catechism and from the pulpit, and, where they saw it outraged by their own clergy, attempted to find a senior churchman whose regard for the justice he preached was as high as their own. They failed.

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