Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Dear Lord, Please Make It Stop

The bishop of the Roman Catholic diocese of Bridgeport traveled to Darien on Sunday to commiserate with the people in the pews.

Bishop Lori wanted to be with them during this difficult time, he said. “It is precisely in these moments of tension, disappointment, anger and sadness that the quality and capacity of our love is tested.”

What made the people in the pews tense and disappointed and angry and sad, according to an item in the Crime & Punishment section of The Hartford Advocate, was a report from a detective hired to investigate the strange goings-on between the Reverend Michael Jude Fay and an unnamed man in the rectory house. Suspicions having been aroused, someone at the church hired Stamford detective Vito Collucci to investigate.

The Advocate reported that the detective “said he documented at least $200,000 in church money used to pay for Fay’s lifestyle with another man. Colucci said money was spent on limousine rides, dinners at fancy restaurants and cruises. The priest is also reported to have bought a condominium in Florida and to have appeared at society events in Pennsylvania with the other man. Did we mention that the Rev. Fay was a member of the diocese’s sexual misconduct review board, formed to look into allegations of clergy sexual misconduct?”

The good news is that sometimes the hens turn on the fox in charge of guarding the hen house. At least in this case, Fay – quickly discharged by the bishop – was not a pedophiliac. According to the clinical definition, the victims of pedophiliacs are 13 years old or less, and Fay’s housemate was a grown-up male.

Now for the bad news.

According to a story in The Hartford Courant, the detective was hired by The Rev. Michael Madden, who resigned Tuesday as acting administrator at St. John Roman Catholic Church, just a week after he was appointed to replace Fay.

"Madden defended his hiring of the investigator at a Mass on Tuesday morning," the Courant reported, "saying he was "sorry and angry that the diocese failed to come to my rescue when there were red flags waving everywhere."

Bishop Lori told the people in the pews at Darien, who defended the beseiged Madden, that he was "deeply saddened" by the turn of events. "They have cast a shadow on all the hard work the diocese has done to be open and honest with the parish family of St. John's about this extremely difficult situation."

Bishop Lori advised the flock that Fr. Madden, who likely resigned at the suggestion of the bishop, would remain in their church as a as a parochial vicar and refused to comment further during the investigation.

Why can't the Catholic Church get it right -- just this once? Fay is the wolf and Fr. Madden is the Good Shepard protecting his flock. Any investigation that does not reach this conclusion will further stain the already soiled escutcheon of the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church operates within the framework of a larger society parts of which are hostile to it. It was not for nothing that Arthur Schlesinger Jr. once said that anti-Catholicism was the oldest and most persistent prejudice in the United States. But even among its friends and well wishers, many of whom are quite willing to allow bishops to clean their own house, there are murmurs of discontent.

In my own town of Vernon, the editorial page editor of The Journal Inquirer, himself a loyal and good Catholic, writes that the feeble reaction of the church to sinful priests has deprived the Catholic Church itself of its moral authority on every ethical issue. He is wrong, but faithful Catholics now expect their church to drive such priests out of its temples of worship, with whips and scorns if necessary, and they are looking for evidence of impatience – and even righteous anger – from bishops.

In Darien, the murmurs of discontent have been transformed into cries of disbelief that cannot be quelled by assurances from well meaning bishops. It is understandable that Bishop Lori should refuse further comment until his investigation has been concluded. That is the usual practice in all investigations: One does not want comments by officiating investigators to prejudice the investigation.

But what of the red flags? Given the scandalous, immoral and inexcusable behavior of priests and bishops in Boston and other places during the last few decades, shouldn’t a bishop’s reaction to a red flag raised by an honorable priest be more like that of a bull than a sheep?
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