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Sunday, May 23, 2004

The archbishop has a theory

Big front-page story in The O today (although it's not really news) about how the Catholic archbishop of Portland is telling victims of priestly pedophilia that he's too broke to pay them any damages. According to Archbishop John Vlazny, he can't liquidate church parish assets to pay damages to the victims, because under "canon law," those assets have always belonged to the parishes, not the archdiocese. The archbishop contends that although hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of property is in his name, he's just been holding it "in trust" for the parishes. And so unless the plaintiffs in the child sex abuse cases go away, he'll file for bankruptcy for the archdiocese and tell those plaintiffs to go take a hike.

A very interesting theory. I give it less than a 20 percent chance of prevailing.

When you hold assets in trust, under the actual, real, civil laws of this country, you say so in the title of the property. That's never been the case with the Catholic Church. There's never been the slightest whiff of any "trust" for the parishes, until now, when it's most convenient to "discover" one. The church has always been a top-down organization, in which the congregation, and even its priests, have been ruled with an iron hand. There's never been any mechanism whereby the parishes -- the supposed beneficiaries of Bishop Vlazny's "trusts" -- have had any right to demand anything whatsoever. They're not trust beneficiaries, not even close. They're subjects of a hierarchy.

"Canon law" is a fascinating distraction in these cases. But in the end, it's like the bylaws of any nonprofit organization. Internally, it rules the roost. But when it comes to paying off outside creditors, including tort victims, it shouldn't, and probably won't, mean jack squat.

When I was growing up, I was always taught that the church wasn't about buildings and money. We were always reminded that early Christians held their services in caves, and that persecuted Catholics throughout the ages made do with makeshift houses of worship. We learned that the church wasn't ultimately reliant on its fancy buildings and bejeweled altars and robes, but rather on the riches of the souls of the faithful.

If, under the laws of this country, the church owes millions of dollars to people who as children were sexually abused by priests, I for one would like to see them compensated for the harm caused to them. If that means selling lots of church real estate and holding Mass in tents, so be it.

As a Catholic, I wish the church would stop behaving like a common deadbeat. Pay our debts, Archbishop Vlazny, and let's get on with our spiritual lives.

Comments (10)

Are you sure you wouldn't like to ex-communicate yourself now, disciple of Matthew (unclean tax man)?

You seem to disagree with the church publicly on "serious matters".

Which is not to say that I know your deepest personal thoughts about same sex marriage, or your views on the rights of women to be in charge of their own bodily functions; I just think that reaching into mother church's coffers are a very serious matter, and that you should kneel before the Bishop like good neo-con Catholic, or deny yourself communion (ex-communicate yourself)until you can tow the party line.

Jesus' teachings were all about submitting to the will of the church. He taught about the virtues of excluding the sinners until they repented. He taught that it's OK to cover up pedophilia, if it is to protect the greater good that mother church does.

[I took communion at Holy Redeemer Church this Sunday. I will continue to take communion and love all of thy neighbors to the best of my ability until I am physically restrained from this holy act.]

Pax Vobiscum.

why do you stay with them? go to "" and find the truth

I gave the church many chances before I left for good. When I was a teen I decided not to get confirmed because I wasn't sure; then I rejoined and went through RCIA with all of the non-Catholics. (Even though I'd been to mass at least once per week my entire life, plus Holy days).

What finally did it for me was falling in love with a divorcee! Gasp. The shock. The horror. My sweet wife was willing to go through the annulment process for the benefit of me (and probably my mother). The church made it extremely difficult for us. Funny, it was easy for my cokehead uncle who had numerous affairs AND a child. Did I mention he had money?

We had none of those pieces of baggage, but we didn't have money either. So we got married in the Lutheran church.

If I hadn't left then, I would have left when they revealed the huge % of pedophile priests being allowed to repeatedly rape children, the continued oppression of women and gays, or one of the many other un-Christian practices.

Perhaps, since as you say, it's a top down organization. The Vatican could sell off some treasures.

You guys should have been Episcopalians. Our priests restrict their philandering to married women in the parish.

This just points out the difficulty of substituting civil remedies for criminal punishment. Just take the purp's liberty interest by incarcerating them.

If they wish to buy their freedom then your tent mass is right on.

I wish I could voluntarily choose to substitute a couple years incarceration just to obtain financial freedom from my lifelong crime of taking a couple incompletes while in school.

The ideas one expresses are more important than money. If the Catholic Church financially survives but retains their celibacy insanity for priests then they will remain as bankrupt as they have always been. Now if they were focused on peyote use as a fundamental thingy to define their religion then it might not be so important for the state to achieve effective reform of the church, for the general welfare and safety of the public at large. If they cannot give up their sexual myopia then we ought to be sure they are at least broke. I can’t imagine the perpetual hell a priest must endure every time mother nature calls upon him to commit sin. Neither wealth nor poverty nor incarceration can remedy this mental problem – it is hopelessly bankrupt already.

"When I was growing up, I was always taught that the church wasn't about buildings and money. We were always reminded that early Christians held their services in caves, and that persecuted Catholics throughout the ages made do with makeshift houses of worship. We learned that the church wasn't ultimately reliant on its fancy buildings and bejeweled altars and robes, but rather on the riches of the souls of the faithful."

Were you? How sweet. :) I am not a scholar of religion by any means, nor Catholic, but I have read in serious places that the precept of priestly celibacy was instituted largely to protect the Church's financial and property holdings from any potential claims of priestly families. If this is so, and if it can be seen to have wrought (even in roundabout fashion) these pedophilia scandals which could themselves bankrupt the Church, it would have to go down as one of the great ironies of history.

I would suggest moving over to the Episcopalians too, but for a more serious reason: The Episcopal Church is essentially the Catholic Church without the Pope and without the Guilt.

I remember many years back getting confirmed into the Episcopal church, in a class taught by an elderly Anglican priest. I asked him why the Episcopalians had decided to let priests get married. His response was that Priests traditionally always got married in pre-reformation England - it was the Catholics who had changed the rules, not the Episcopalians.

I've never been a Catholic, so I can't understand the pull and ties the "holy mother church" binds its adherents with. I think John Kerry should just announce he's switching to the Episcopals and be done with it.

News item of interest, heard today on OPB's Public Radio International The World program. Apparently France is wrestling with its own 'priestly scandals' -- involving, instead of children or adolescents, women and the out-of-wedlock children born to those women and what sounds to be quite a number of priests. Similar discussions on celibacy are taking place there.

Considering the time & labors it took for the Church to extend a 'reprieve' Galileo, I wouldn't look for fast action, but sometime this century one would just about predict.

Prof. Jack,

As a Catholic and one who is holding the Church accountable on behalf of victims, I'm glad you agree with my initial analysis of this tactic raised by my Archbishop about a year and a half ago. We started naming individual parishes where the abuse took place.

While I agree that there's a snowball's chance of the courts' enforcing Canon Law in relation to the trust theory, it's even less likely that the Archdiocese will allow the complete bankrupting of a parish.

As for the Catholic-bashing of your posters (ahhh, the last acceptable bigotry), there's a reason that the Church both exists and endures. "Without the Pope and without the guilt" indeed Gordo. Clerical celibacy existed long before Henry VIII in jolly old England. Celibacy is not the problem, its the weakening of the importance of vows and the value of fidenlity wrought buy the "liberalization" of Church doctrine.

But alas, that is another story.


I myself am grotesquely open-minded.

I had always thought that there was a positive difference between the Catholics and Evangelists (apart from sexual dysfunction) and that was the manner of communication. Of course my only extended exposure might be limited to doing catechism stuff (via a Jesuit) for all the wrong reasons.

I usually reserve my banter for the bar. They too suffer from thinking that they are uniquely authorized to judge morality and to sit atop the legislature (inclusive of initiatives). The bar’s lack of a professed belief in a deity does not prevent me from perceiving that they resemble a religion. They have rejected an applicant for a mere disagreement on the authority of the Supreme Court on morality issues – not unlike the Cannon Law demand of obedience.

Mere mortals have to be content that limited liability companies, and voluntary associations, that stray from their purpose can be dissolved. The mere fact the bar continues to exist, in comparison to the continued existence of the Catholic Church, does not itself explain or justify why either exists.

Any assembly of men (and women) can get carried away in their rituals. Fidelity to god, proved through celibacy, is one such ritual for which I cannot rationally find a nexus to loyalty. One can feel genuine devotion, perhaps even love, for members of their community without having it conflict with a primary intimate relationship. The primary obstacle is jealously born of self-doubt in one party. The object of that jealousy can either exercise restraint or rebel, neither of which is a healthy response. Responding to the jealousy of a non-existent thing (god) is just too hard to contemplate.

The fidelity I am concerned with is a judicial one tending toward finality. Here that would mean avoidance of prospective awards independent of the resources now at the disposal of the church. Future worshipping, and donations, should not go toward the church’s victims. (Wholly apart from specific individuals continuing obligation.) I suppose that the tent mass point implies a total abandonment of resources available today (as in complete dissolution) at which point the innocent worshipers could continue to profess their faith through the religion of their choice.

If I had to the choice of being called a bigot or being told, enthusiastically, that I could start my journey into eternal damnation as early as tomorrow I would choose the former.


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