Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Ex Cathedra: Catholic Church Hypocrisy? - I present, you decide.

In the Catholic Blogosphere (also known sometimes as St. Blog), as well as in the Catholic media, there have been untold expressions of outrage and offense hurled forth from the lips of the Catholic faithful (not to mention the Catholic hierarchy) about the recent Subpoena issued to U.S. Archbishop William J. Levada in the sacristy just before the start of his farewell mass. Archbishop Levada is departing for a new job in the Vatican as ex-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's (now better known as Pope Benedict XVI) replacement at the Head of the Vatican Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. For some background and the basic nuts and bolts of the incident and its aftermath, you can check out this story published by Catholic News Service. Here's the relevant bit of the story that I want to follow-up on:

Shortly before the Mass, Archbishop Levada was served with a subpoena ordering him to be deposed in relation to clergy sex abuse lawsuits filed by some 250 plaintiffs against the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., which the archbishop headed from 1986 to 1995.

Maurice Healy, director of communications and outreach for the San Francisco Archdiocese, confirmed Aug. 8 that the subpoena had been served in the cathedral sacristy before the Mass, but he criticized the timing of the move.

He said the archbishop, who "walks to work" and is a "very public person," could have been served with the subpoena on several other, less public occasions.

Healy said remarks made by several plaintiffs' attorneys in Portland following the Vatican announcement of Archbishop Levada's new post had convinced him that the lawyers wanted to "seize the opportunity created by his appointment to embarrass the church."

The Los Angeles Times reported that Cookie Gambucci, who served the subpoena, said she told the archbishop she would serve it to him on the altar if he did not accept it before the Mass. Gambucci said Archbishop Levada accepted the subpoena but told her, "This is a disgrace to the church."

Healy said the archbishop was misquoted and had said not to Gambucci but to an aide, "This is a disgrace to the legal profession."
First, let me start by declaring that I believe presenting a subpoena in such a manner at such a time is very impolitic and inconsiderate both to Archbishop Levada and to the Catholic faith community. But when one considers how the Catholic Church and its Archbishops themselves do precisely these sorts of very crass, impolitic, and inconsiderate public publicity stunts to hurt and embarrass members of the Catholic faith community, the hysterical reaction and outrage spewing from the lips and keyboards of Catholics against the Levada subpoena seems to me a bit misplaced and possibly a tad hypocritical. Let me give you the evidence of one particular case, and then you can be the judge.

At recent Commencement Exercises at Loyola University of New Orleans, a Catholic Jesuit University, a prominent local Catholic family -- the entire family -- was honored for its distinguished record of public service. This family, the Landrieus, consists of a former New Orleans Mayor, Moon Landrieu, current U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu (Moon's daughter), and current Louisiana State Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu (Moon's son). All are Democrats. However, this Archbishop of New Orleans, Alfred Hughes, publicly snubbed this Catholic family by refusing to accept an invitation to attend Loyola's Commencement Ceremony and issuing a public statement to that effect, simply because the Landrieus were to be honored at this ceremony and he takes issue with what he perceives are the pro-abortion stances taken by Mary and Mitch during their political careers. As the above-linked article in the Archdiocesan Newspaper, the Clarion Herald states:
Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes did not participate in commencement exercises at Loyola University New Orleans last week because the university's law school chose to grant an honorary degree to the entire family of former mayor and state appeals court judge Moon Landrieu, which includes his daughter, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who has voted to support abortion rights.

Archbishop Hughes announced May 5 he had decided to decline an invitation to participate in the university's graduation ceremonies because "not all members of the (Landrieu) family have been faithful to the church's teaching regarding public policy" on abortion.
The response to Archbishop Hughes's insensitive and inconsiderate public effort to denigrate and hurt the Landrieu family received mixed reaction, but the orthodox pro-life wing of the Catholic Church praised Hughes for his stand. As one letter-writer to the Clarion Herald stated:
It was disappointing to learn that Loyola will be presenting an honorary doctorate to the Landrieu family as part of the university's graduation exercises. Archbishop Hughes has decided to boycott the graduation because of Mitch and Mary Landrieu's public support of abortion rights. This decision by the archbishop is a powerful affirmation of Church teaching.
Through all this, the Landrieu family kept their dignity and kept their peace; and Loyola kept its honor and principles and went through with their ceremony which honored the Landrieus. Then, not letting the issue rest, the Clarion Herald, published a guest editorial by Susan Mire which sought once again to defend Archbishop Hughes's decision to boycott in a very public and pronounced way the Commencement ceremony which honored the Landrieus and also to issue another condemnation of Mary and Mitch Landrieu's perceived stance in support of abortion. [As if the tastelessness and insensitivity of reopening these old wounds weren't enough, the sickening condescension of Mire toward the Landrieus really made the article nothing more than a pile of spiteful, vengeful garbage.] Here's how Mire opened her piece:
The early days of summer vacation can provide a time for reflection. I have been pondering the ongoing turmoil in our public life regarding Catholic politicians and their public support of abortion.

We had our own situation regarding Archbishop Alfred Hughes' decision not to attend Loyola University's graduation last month because the university honored the entire Landrieu family for its lifetime of public service. Archbishop Hughes received both local and national press, some of it quite unfavorable. The average person might think the archbishop was intolerant.

But my work with women who have had abortions or who are involved in crisis pregnancies has taught me that most people are unaware of the true dynamics of abortion and the mind set of those who enable it to continue.

Archbishop Hughes is engaged in the care of souls. His decision to bypass the Loyola graduation showed his regard for the souls of the unborn, the women and men who have experienced abortion, the Landrieu family and the Loyola family. Yes, he actually cares for the Landrieu family and the Loyola family, as those of us who disagree with them also should care.
There's so much one can say about this piece, and I've already had a bit of a say on this editorial previously. But let me point out something now that I didn't touch upon earlier. When Mire, in her opening salvo, ponders whether people might think the archbishop was "intolerant" in his public boycott of Loyola's commencement ceremonies, I would clarify for her that it was not so much his "intolerance" that was the issue as much as it was his insensitivity and disrespect for the family in taking his complaint with the Landrieus to the public in such a visible way. A good pastor who has an issue with the moral behavior of a member of his flock doesn't broadcast to the world his displeasure without at least attempting to take up the matter with the member first.

Stung once again by this public effort to defend the Archbishop's behavior and to condescendingly reproach the Landrieus as if they were misbehaving children requiring some "tough love," the Landrieu family, via Verna and Moon Landrieu, responded:
Believing that the controversy would fade, we have resisted writing even as articles and letters continue to appear in the Clarion Herald praising the archbishop for his courage in rebuking Loyola University for honoring our family. However, the latest article in the June 29 Clarion Herald by Susan Mire - CATHOLIC POLITICIANS AND THEIR SUPPORT FOR ABORTION - is so erroneous and hurtful that it cannot be ignored.

We believe Ms. Mire is a well-intentioned, devout Catholic. We also know she is terribly wrong when she writes: "... Senator Landrieu and Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu have, for whatever reason, consistently advocated for abortion throughout their political careers." Neither Mary nor Mitch nor any member of our family is for abortion or has advocated for abortion.

Hurtful also is the condescending manner in which she assures us that the archbishop cares for "those who have experienced abortion, the Landrieu family and the Loyola family." As further consolation she comforts us with the thought that "God loves politicians, those named Landrieu and others."

After 46 years in politics, we are no strangers to calumny or criticism, but we do expect better from a devout Catholic.

Some believe that the action of the archbishop was courageous. To the contrary, it was unwise, unnecessary and harmful. The archbishop knows us personally from our participation on archdiocesan boards and committees as well as from social activities. Had he simply called us before he issued his public statement and told us that he found our family unworthy of the honorary degree, we would have solved whatever problem he thought he had, with harm done to no one. Instead, he went public (locally and nationally) thereby damaging Loyola, provoking criticism of himself and inflicting serious pain on our family. How sad! The 56 members of our family became collateral damage in an unnecessary ecclesiastical conflict.

As Catholics our faith will survive and we will move on in hope, but we do wonder about the scars left on our 37 grandchildren.
[Emphasis added.]
And here is where we return to the Levada story and the potential hypocrisy of the Catholic Church and its faithful who were so offended by the outrage perpetrated on Archbishop Levada and the Church by the manner of the delivery of the subpoena. From where I sit, I would guess that this subpeona was issued in such a dramatic manner and with such publicity so as to bring attention to the subject of the subpoena: the sexual abuse scandal and the Church's complicity in covering up this moral outrage. And maybe there was the intent to bring a bit of humiliation and dishonor upon Levada in the process, all in terms of taking a stand in defense of the defenseless; but frankly, I don't see how this is any different than what Hughes did (and continues to do through his surrogates) to the Landrieu family.

Let's revisit a piece of the Levada story cited above in light of the Hughes/Landrieu story:
The Los Angeles Times reported that Cookie Gambucci, who served the subpoena, said she told the archbishop she would serve it to him on the altar if he did not accept it before the Mass. Gambucci said Archbishop Levada accepted the subpoena but told her, "This is a disgrace to the church."

Healy said the archbishop was misquoted and had said not to Gambucci but to an aide, "This is a disgrace to the legal profession."
Now, let's just think about this. By my reading, when Levada says "This is a disgrace to the legal profession," one would assume he means that what is disgraceful is not the FACT of his being issued a subpoena, nor really the subject of the subpoena, but rather the timing and dramatic effect of its delivery calculated as a publicity stunt with the intent to embarrass him at a celebratory moment of his and the Catholic Church's life. I wonder if the similar behavior by Archbishop Hughes would receive such strong words. Would Levada look at Hughes and how he treated the Landrieus and say of him: "This is a disgrace to the church"? If he were consistent, he would do just that. At another level, as the aggrieved party to Hughes's impolitic and calculated-to-harm behavior, Moon Landrieu would have every right to follow the lead of Bishop Levada and issue a similar statement to the press that his family's shoddy treatment by Hughes and the manner in which Hughes chose to take issue with the family, a good Catholic family, represented a "disgrace to the Church."

It appears that the Landrieus have much more class and dignity than Levada by not stooping to his level of maligning the "offending" profession, simply because members of that profession did their job in a way calculated to have the most dramatic public and political effect in support of their cause and convictions. If Hughes can get away with such shenanigans as a member of the Priestly profession sticking up for his pro-life principles and be hailed by Catholic faithful as a model of principled behavior, then the officials who resorted to the shenanigans of delivering Levada his subpeona when and how they did should also be hailed by the Catholic faithful as models of principled behavior in carrying out their professional duty to prosecute those religious implicated in the sex abuse scandal and its coverup by Chuch leaders, leaders like Hughes and Levada.


YatPundit said...

First, let me start by declaring that I believe presenting a subpoena in such a manner at such a time is very impolitic and inconsiderate both to Archbishop Levada and to the Catholic faith community.

Huck, I would agree with you, had not Fr. Law skipped the country to avoid exactly this sort of treatment. You can even go back to the 1980s, when Archbishop Hannan packed off a priest to Rome with Harry Connick's blessing, so that priest could avoid further investigation and possible prosecution. The Church's history of obstructing American justice has given prosecutors ample precedent to "break the rules" of good manners.

Jimmy Huck said...

You make a very good point, YatPundit. Although I didn't recall it when I wrote the blog entry, now that you mention it, I vaguely remember something to this effect regarding Bernard Law. I'll have to look into it and give my statement some reconsideration, even though I will still probably think that it wasn't the nicest way the situation could have been handled. That's not to say that I think Levada didn't deserve it, just that people aspiring for the "higher moral ground" could probably find another equally effective, but perhaps more gracious, way to do the job of holding Levada accountable.

YatPundit said...

I was teaching a lot in Boston right in the heart of their buggery scandal. The depositions of Frs. Hughes and McCormick were incredibly disturbing, as were the criminal trials of the actual molestors. The Suffolk Co. DA was one step from subpoeaning Fr. Law to appear before the grand jury when the pope pulled him to Rome. Did you know cardinals are technically citizens of Vatican City and have passports reflecting that status? Notice also that they pulled both senior auxillaries out of the jurisdiction and sent them to other states, Hughes here and McCormick to Manchester, NH.

Jimmy Huck said...

Yeah, I've been doing some research on this since you alerted me to the subject. Interestingly, Levada has formally "waived" the diplomatic immunity his new position would have afforded him and will now be obligated to testify in the church abuse scandal investigations in his former diocese. If the public subpoena of Levada in the sacristy managed to secure this result, which might not otherwise have happened, I think it has ultimately served a noble purpose, even if I still think of it personally as a bit of unkind and harsh political theatre.