Saturday, June 28, 2008

Tragedy in Richmond

Here is the article from The Wanderer (June 19, p. 3) on the Richmond case that caused a lot of ... shall we say, concern -- and spawned a lot of stories and a few investigations.

For those interested in reading more, here's the Washington Times follow-up.

Tragedy in Richmond

On April 29, Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo of Richmond, Virginia, wrote a confidential letter to his brother bishops. He recounted how Catholic Charities of Richmond (CCR) was complicit in authorizing, procuring, and paying for an abortion on January 18, 2008. The victims were the mother, a minor immigrant, and her unborn child, who were both under the “protection” of Catholic Charities because the mother was in the country illegally. The bishop’s letter explains that the Committee on Migration (MRS) of the USCCB supplies “foster care support services to undocumented minors in U.S. custody” through an arrangement with two federal agencies. According to officials at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), such custodial duties are routinely assumed by Catholic, Lutheran, and Jewish welfare agencies.

Not only did CCR of Richmond arrange an abortion for the girl and deliver her to the abortionist, but also “one member of [CCR] staff signed the consent form necessary for the minor to have an abortion.” The letter goes on to say that “about two months prior to this abortion the minor had been assisted by CCR staff with [the] implantation of a contraceptive device.”

Two USCCB officials signed the letter with Bishop DiLorenzo. One, Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, is Chair[man] of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration. The other, Bishop Michael P. Driscoll, is Episcopal Liaison to Catholic Charities, USA.

According to their letter, the three bishops decided to write “because we felt the need to provide you [brother bishops] the information in this case so that you will not be caught by surprise should it be brought to your attention by other means…. It was, therefore, our desire to place this information before you proactively so that you can have confidence in the leadership and management that guides this work.”

In other word, damage control and saving face were paramount.

The bishops readily state that “the implantation of the contraceptive device and the abortion were contrary to basic teachings of the Catholic Church.” They state that they have “some responsibility” for the offices in which the “situation” occurred. “In addition,” the letter states, “ we are aware that this incident is a most regrettable stain on the record of excellence both of MRS and of Catholic Charities.”

First, The Murder; Then The Stonewall

I contacted the offices of all three bishops. Only Bishop DiLorenzo’s chancery responded. Anne Edwards, who is listed on the diocesan website as an advisor to the bishop, referred me to William Etherington, of the Richmond Law Firm of Beale, Davidson, Etherington & Morris. Mr. Etherington, who represents the diocese, confirmed that, once the incident came to Bishop DiLorenzo’s attention, neither the diocese nor CCR reported it to the Virginia Child Protection Services or to law enforcement authorities. Why not? In Mr. Etherington’s professional opinion, the incident did not constitute a crime in the Commonwealth of Virginia, nor was it covered by the USCCB’s Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. When asked if abortion was murder or child abuse, Etherington replied, “I leave that to the philosophers and theologians. I am not a canonist and I am not a theologian. Listen, this is a big big mistake, and remedial steps have been taken to make sure it doesn’t happen again.” (Speaking of Canon Law, according to EWTN’s website, “Canon 1398 provides that, "a person who procures a successful abortion incurs an automatic [latae sententiae] excommunication.")

Since Mr. Etherington told me that the incident had not been reported, I tried to report it. After all, if abortion isn’t child abuse, what is? I called Maryjane Fuller, who is listed on the diocesan website as the Safe Environment Coordinator. It appears that CCR employees do not work for the diocese, they work for Catholic Charities. So Ms. Fuller told me that the CCR director, Joanne Natrass, should receive reports of sexual abuse regarding Catholic Charities employees. But I had already called Ms. Natrass. As soon as I mentioned the abortion, her secretary, Anita, said, “No Comment,” and hung up.

Ms. Fuller told me she had never heard of the incident. “This is horrible,” she said, and then, as we discussed it, she raised the question again: Does abortion even amount to “child abuse” under the Dallas Charter? Mr. Etherington, who is not a Catholic, had given his professional legal opinion, but Ms. Fuller sounded less certain. Whatever the answer, she emphasized that “the Diocese always stresses that you should report abuse not only because of the law, but because it’s the moral thing to do.”

Why The Coverup?

The Richmond Diocese website’s page for “reporting ‘ministry-related’ sexual abuse” lists telephone numbers for the County Department of Social Services, Child Protective Services Division; the Virginia Department of Social Service; and the Virginia State Police. On the advice of counsel, neither the diocese nor CCR reported the incident – the abuse of the mother and the murder of the child -- to any of them. Nor did they inform any of the other chancery officials and pastors in the diocese with whom I spoke. They were all shocked when I read to them about the incident from their bishop’s letter.

The bishops waited three months to inform their fellow members of the USCCB, and apparently told no one else. But what are they trying to hide? Haven’t our bishops learned that cover-ups don’t work? Wanderer readers might remember a similar pattern during the 1990s, as one abuse scandal after another broke into the secular press and into the criminal and civil courts in one diocese after another. The stonewalls never worked. In fact, they did great – even historic -- damage to the Church – not to mention to the victims, their families, and their communities, and to the Mystical Body of Christ.

The Richmond case represents a microcosm of the secular bureaucratic mentality that has plagued the American Church establishment for decades. Listen to the DiLorenzo letter: “Prior to the abortion, CCR, MRS’s Office of Children Services, and ORR/DUCS were in extensive dialogue regarding how to respond to the situation of the minor following her discovery in early January that she was pregnant.” In the maze of all these acronyms, did anybody call a priest? A bishop? Apparently not. They were too deeply mired in the bureaucratic swamp and haunted by the fear of losing federal government funding.

Bishop DiLorenzo plaintively laments that “some members of MRS staff were not sufficiently aware of Church teaching,” so they did not “take stronger and more appropriate action.” Well, whose fault is that? Doesn’t it sound all too familiar? For years, the Wanderer has warned that the USCCB and CCUSA bureaucrats are much closer to the pro-abortion crowd in Washington than they are to the faithful or to the Faith. After the scandals, we prayed that they might see the light. Instead, the bishops circled the wagons and stubbornly stuck with “business as usual.” The Richmond abortion case indicates that they merely ignored their own rules and relied on lawyers and secrecy instead. In the meantime, as we noted three weeks ago, Cardinal McCarrick made it perfectly clear in 2006 that the prospect of losing federal funding has profoundly influenced (read “silenced”) the bishops with regard to their dealings with prominent “Catholic” politicians who are champions of abortion, the paramount moral issue of our time.

One Catholic official in HHS put it bluntly: “It’s come to this. The U.S. Government can’t trust the Catholic Church to take care of children.” This story is not over.

1 comment:

Marc said...

There are some excellent video recordings of bishops on "The Shepard's Voice" which can be viewed on the first Catholic internet TV station ...

These bishops seem pretty clear about their position and the position of the Catholic Church. I don't see a similar tragedy in their dioceses.