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Jeff Ward: It's Time to Occupy the Catholic Church

Chicago Cardinal George just can't seem to get it right!

As I was pondering the positive effects of the , another local news story caught my eye. The two events may appear to be disparate, but if you consider some interesting parallels, I think they actually complement each other quite well.

Essentially what I’m saying is, I think it’s time for an “Occupy the Catholic Church” movement.

Of course, whenever I broach this touchy subject, all kinds of cross-wearing folk come out of the woodwork to accuse me of Catholic bashing and being anti-church. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Let’s start with those nine years (including kindergarten) at St. Nick’s. Armed with that education, I waltzed into all honors classes at Evanston Township High school. I was an altar boy, a church reader and volunteered on numerous projects. I still keep in touch with some of the nuns, teachers and priests from that time.

The Jesuits at Loyola University of Chicago put anything the Ivy League can offer to shame. And three of my most prized possessions include two quotes done in calligraphy by one of those nuns, and a cross made out of wood from an old St. Nick’s pew.

Though the thought didn’t come to me in exactly that fashion, at some point I began ascribing to Sting’s notion that, “Men go crazy in congregations, but they get better one by one.”

But despite declaring myself an official ex-Catholic, in no way does that mean I’m minimizing or disowning that heritage. On the contrary—I’m proud of it!

That said, let’s move on to our local news story.

Stopping just short of excommunication, Chicago Cardinal Francis George and his fellow bishops indignantly blasted Gov. Pat Quinn, a Catholic, for presenting a pro-choice PAC leadership award. They said, by “aligning” himself with that group, he was “supporting the legal right to kill children in their mothers’ wombs.”

My first thought was, “When will the church apply that same kind of zero-tolerance religious zeal to themselves?" But instead of going down that road, let’s just move on.

So my second thought was, "Isn’t this man throwing the first stone, the same man who, in the face of a mounting church child-sex-abuse scandal, allowed The Rev. Daniel McCormack to prey on young boys for 14 long years?"

In 1992, two men and one minor accused McCormack of abusing them while he was in the seminary. The subsequent letter placed in McCormack’s file simply "disappeared."

In 1999, an assistant principal informed the archdiocese that the priest had abused a fourth-grade boy. Though she delivered that letter herself, the archdiocese said they never received it.

In 2003, a woman called the archdiocese to report her grandson was being molested by McCormack. Violating the very policies set forth by the cardinal himself, the archdiocese refused to call the police.

After McCormack was first arrested in August 2005, an independent review board created by the cardinal directed him to remove McCormack from the priesthood. He did not.

Finally, in 2006, 19 long years after that first case of abuse, McCormack was arrested when another parent complained to another principal who had actually had the good sense to go to the police.

And how did the church punish George for his complicit failure to protect children? They named him president of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops. If it were you or me, we’d be sitting in a jail cell.

But back to the present. After the cardinal trashed the governor, it turns out the award wasn’t going to any kind of abortionist, it was being presented to “pre-eminent” rape-victim advocate Jennie Goodman, herself a rape victim at the age of 18.

Goodman, who’s neither had nor encouraged as much as one abortion, a woman who could have justifiably issued a scathing counterattack on the Catholic Church, simply replied, “It hurts for all those people who have been raped.”

That’s certainly a far cry from George’s statement attacking her because the governor was “rewarding those deemed most successful in this terrible work.”

It kind of makes you wonder whether George or Goodman should be the cardinal.

When he finally understood the magnitude of his mistake, just what did the cardinal do? It certainly wasn’t anything as rash as issuing an apology. He stoically claimed he “regrets” that Goodman felt attacked and added, had he been aware of her story, “We may have found another occasion to say something about the governor.”

Ah, yes! Being a Catholic cardinal or bishop means never having to be aware of anything.

Aren’t these the same religious leaders who commissioned the John Jay Report, which blamed the sex-abuse scandal on the '60s counterculture, the rise of feminism and the tolerance of homosexuality? Let’s not forget that document also claimed priests were only pedophiles if they molested someone under 10 years of age.

Isn’t this the same church that hasn’t punished one bishop or cardinal for their role in a worldwide child-sex-abuse cover-up?

And then Cardinal George attacks a rape-victim advocate. Talk about throwing the first stone …

My first thought was to call on Catholics everywhere to follow my lead and leave a church that so dismally falls short of the expectations they place upon their own flock. But considering all the good the Catholic Church does, I believe that would be the equivalent of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

And then I remembered the fine example being set by the "Occupy" protestors. In spite of this country’s many faults, they’re not abandoning it, they’re reminding our leaders what made it so great in the first place.

So, I've decided to issue this challenge instead. Catholics! Take back your church.

Colin C. November 14, 2011 at 07:58 PM
Jeff, You seem to assume that if I make a statement contrary to "traditional Christian belief" I am putting myself in danger of physical attack from whom? Christians? That never occurred to me. Kevin, my comments apply to all belief systems. There is myth, magical thinking, superstition, provable fact, and the unknown. You choose what you wish to believe. Please don't tell me what I should believe. In return I promise to respect, if not share your beliefs. RM, If you study our history you will find that many founders (including Jefferson, Madison,and Franklin) were mistrustful of religious institutions. They saw the results of the battles between the RC and Protestant Church in Europe and did not wish to have that here any more than they wanted a king. That's why the clause pertaining to religious freedom and separation of church and state appears in the very first section of the Bill of Rights. Many references to God were included as a non-denominational convention or added years later. Are human beings incapeable of being moral without the guidance of a supernatural being? Must we have the threat of reward or punishment in the form of heaven or hell? Are we incapeable of establishing an adequate way of addressing morality ourselves? To return to Jeff's original point, I too find it interesting that we have seen arrests, firings, and lots of anguish over the Penn State issue but that so far only one serving US Bishop has been charges with a crime. Why is that?
Bob McQuillan November 14, 2011 at 08:11 PM
111 comments! Almost there, come on we need to get at least 20 more to rank among the highest Jeff Ward commented opinion columns. I know you can do it.
Kevin November 14, 2011 at 08:33 PM
The concept of "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" was a novel idea when it was first brought forward over two thousand years ago. Has there been a difference in human behavior since that announcement? You can judge that for yourself. Roman Catholics adhere to a moral code primarily because their sins offend God. Your final point implies some form of collusion between the Roman Catholic Church and the US legal system in order to minimize the publicity and negative impact associated with the multitude of abuse claims filed against the Church over the years - you are either naive or uninformed.
Colin C. November 14, 2011 at 09:20 PM
Kevin; We do not know much about the morality that existed in pre-historic times but anthropological studies of stone age peoples living in modern times find that nearly all have developed some form of "religion". The presumption is that the idea of life after death may go back tens of thousands of tears as evidenced by burials of Neanderthals and early homo sapiens. Perhaps the concept of a supernatural creator, or at least life after death is in inherent to humans. I'm pretty sure that early humans had a concept of morality. Certainly modern stone age people have, although it may differ from our own. There are some 20 different "major" religions in the world (depending up on your source) and at least 6 different Christian churches with perhaps more than 6000 separate denominations. I presume that all of them think that they alone have the correct answers to things. I did not think of, nor did I imply "collusion". You inferred that on your own. I simply asked why so few prosecutions. I'm still awaiting an answer. Anybody have any ideas?
reverened mother November 14, 2011 at 09:42 PM
Really, David? Outrage against child molesters is dumb and infantile logic? Reaching out and showing compassion to a rape victim is dumb? Wanting to clean out the corruption and heinous crime from our church so that she can once again (or for the first time since Christ's day) can shine in the glory that Christ intended is dumb? On the contrary, David -- those who wish to remain passive, and look the other way when children are abused are DUMB -- they are more than dumb -- they are despicable.

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