RED ALERT: Sex abuse lurks behind upcoming USCCB election

November 11, 2010

Sunday November 14 UPDATE: for those reading this post on November 14, you can take action by either clicking on the RedAlert graphic, or even better, by calling the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel where your bishop is staying right now (phone: 410-385-3000) to leave him a short message.  “Please do not vote for Bishop Kicanas for USCCB President.”

If you have not yet read our pieces on diocesan deception in the hiring of the new development chief and in Catholic school admission policies, please do check those out.  Now for even more very urgent and time-sensitive news.

This is impossible to do in a short post.  Please take 2 minutes to read the whole piece today.Your help is urgently needed. Click on the RedAlert button to the right to sign the letter to the U.S. Bishops.

In about 5 days,  our U.S. bishops meet in Baltimore to elect a new president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  Unfortunately, the lead candidate for the new national leader–namely the current Vice President of the USCCB–is a bishop known to have enabled a priest convicted of child sexual abuse who is now defrocked and jailed.

We think this election is important enough for the future and credibility of the Catholic Church in the U.S. that everyone reading in Boston–and in other parts of the country–should be on “Red Alert.”

In short, the lead candidate, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tuscon, was rector of a seminary in the 1990’s where he approved ordaining a seminarian even after receiving 3 allegations of sexual abuse.  After that ordained priest went on to abuse as many as 23 boys and was jailed and defrocked, in 2007 Bishop Kicanas looked back in hindsight and was quoted in the Chicago Sun Times as saying “It would have been grossly unfair not to have ordained him…There was a sense that his activity was part of the developmental process…I was more concerned about his drinking.”

We are not making this up.

Here are a few excerpts from articles published elsewhere that may leave you with your jaw on the ground. Once you pick your jaw up from the ground, we will tell you what you can do to help.

From WBEZ Chicago’s recent piece, “Sex abuse lurks behind Catholic election“,

The nation’s Catholic bishops will choose a new leader next month [now this weekend]…If the election goes as expected, it’ll provide ammunition to people who argue there’s no accountability for bishops who protect abusers.

Daniel McCormack went to prison in 2007 for abusing boys when he was pastor of St. Agatha’s, a parish in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood. To learn more about McCormack, I sat down with a father whose son attended the Catholic school next to the parish.

The father says his boy started acting out around age 11 after joining a basketball team McCormack coached. “You would try to get to the bottom of it but there was no real way to figure out what was going on,” he says.

The father didn’t find out what was going on until recently. His son’s now 20. “He was, like, ‘Dad, there’s something I want to talk to you about,’ ” he says.

The father says McCormack was fondling his son at basketball practice. The abuse didn’t stop there.  “He would have the children doing tasks around the building,” he says. “He’d pay them.”

“There was one incident specifically,” the father continues. “It had started raining. My son was out in the yard, doing some yard work. He had gotten muddy. After getting done with what he was told to do, out in the yard, he went inside. Dan told my son to get out of the clothes: ‘Go and take a shower.’ As my son was getting out of the shower, he would bend him over…” [It gets worse but we will stop here].

The man says McCormack abused his son for more than three years…

The father says he’s never heard of Gerald Kicanas, now a bishop of Tuscon, Arizona. Kicanas helped get McCormack’s career off the ground in the early 1990s. Kicanas was rector of an archdiocese seminary where McCormack studied.

Here’s what happened: Kicanas received reports about three McCormack sexual-misconduct cases, one involving a minor. But Kicanas still approved McCormack for ordination.

“How do you do these things in the name of God?” the father asks.

I tell him how the Chicago archdiocese assigned McCormack to various parishes. McCormack attracted more accusations, but Cardinal Francis George promoted him in 2005 to help oversee other West Side churches.

Around that time, Chicago police arrested McCormack on suspicion of child molestation but released him without charges….It wasn’t until McCormack’s second arrest—more than four months after the first—that George finally yanked him.

But George’s peers still elected him president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2007. And who did the bishops elect as vice president? Kicanas, the man who approved McCormack’s ordination in the first place.

Now U.S. bishops are getting ready to elect a president to succeed George. If they stick with tradition, they’ll elevate the vice president—Bishop Kicanas, the former rector of the seminary McCormack attended.

From the National Catholic Register’s November 11 article, “Elections Do Matter: Especially Among Bishops

As a hierarchical body, the Catholic Church doesn’t often have elections, but when it does, they’re important.

If the USCCB goes with reigning practice, they’ll choose current vice president Tucson Bishop Gerald Kicanas. His selection, however, is not a foregone conclusion. There are a host of other names included among those being considered…

Whether or not Bishop Kicanas is elected, will be next week’s story. If he isn’t elected, the story will be why the bishops parted with recent practice. If he is elected, the story will be how the bishops treat their own, and the message the bishops are sending to society about their willingness to prevent sexual abuse. If Bishop Kicanas is elected it’s likely to strain the USCCB’s credibility.

The bishops, and their spokesmen, can repeat over and over that this gathering is not about the sexual abuse crisis, but if the media makes it about sexual abuse – and one can be sure that it will – then whether or not it’s on the official agenda, it will be the topic foremost on the minds of American Catholics.

To give some indication of what’s likely to follow Bishop Kicanas’ election, one only has to look at a couple of stories that have already been reported – one from Spero News, and the other from WBEZ, Chicago Public Radio. Bishop Kicanas’ election is a potential powder keg.

In his story, “Sex Abuse Lurks Behind Catholic Election,” Chip Mitchell tells the horrific story of Father Daniel McCormack, who molested at least 23 boys. The story demonstrates that Bishop Kicanas, while rector of Chicago’s Mundelein Seminary, was aware of accusations of sexual misconduct against McCormack, but chose to ordain him anyway.

Asked about it, Bishop Kicanas essentially said that he would do it again.

“It would have been grossly unfair not to have ordained him,” Bishop Kicanas said shortly after being elected as vice president of the USCCB, in a quote that appears in the deposition of Cardinal Francis George. “There was a sense that his activity was part of the developmental process and that he had learned from the experience,” continued Bishop Kicanas. “I was more concerned about his drinking. We sent him to counseling for that.”

The Spero story goes even further. In “Catholic Bishops to Elect Enabler of Child Molester as National Leader,” writer Mary Ann Kreitzer goes so far as to say that Bishop Kicanas’ election is “fitting” for what she describes as that “vile bureaucracy.”

If these are the two stories that have been written prior to the election, what can we expect following the election, and for the next three years?

While the bishops may not have a good mechanism for fraternal correction within their ranks, one mechanism that bishops do have a great deal of control over is whom they elect as their leader.

The WBEZ Chicago piece went on to say the following about the justification offered for the prior treatment of McCormack–namely, that the Church used to take the advice of lawyers and psychologists in earlier decades, and that has now changed:

A church audit found U.S. bishops received fewer clergy sex-abuse accusations in 2009 than in any year since 2004. Most of the alleged incidents happened decades earlier.

But that’s why McCormack stands out. He was abusing the North Lawndale boys just five years ago. And just three years ago, a newspaper quoted Bishop Kicanas saying he was right to allow McCormack’s ordination.

Here is the newspaper article from the Chicago Sun-Times, dated November 14, 2007, “Bishop: I Was More Worried About Priest’s Drinking” which quotes Bishop Kicanis saying he knew about three reports of “sexual improprieties” against then-seminarian McCormack yet still approved his ordination.  The same article quotes the Vicar General for the Archdiocese of Chicago (who also worked at Mundelein at the time) as saying McDormack should never have been ordained.

One reader, “Objective Observer”  recently commenting on a previous post here observed:

“…his election would erode all credibility of the whole USCCB. The PR disaster that would follow would be stunning for the damage it would do. It’s all the USCCB would get done for the foreseeable future… constantly let a story that got ahead of them beat them down.”

We hope and pray that all bishops who will be in Baltimore are aware of the background of Bishop Kicanis.  The mainstream media is not covering this story.  Why?  No doubt because they are waiting to inflict the PR disaster that Objective Observer suggested could occur.

Maybe some well-intentioned, solid bishops are genuinely busy doing God’s work and are unaware, so they could vote with incomplete information. We see it as part of our responsibility as faithful Catholics to keep them informed of our concerns. The Code of Canon law supports that viewpoint.

What can you do?  Several things:

  1. We have now launched our campaign to let Catholics email their bishops–in a courteous and respectful manner–to simply let them know about this background.  We are emailing primarily the ordinaries of 32 Catholic Dioceses in the U.S. Hundreds of people have sent messages already.  Click on the RedAlert button to the right to send a message.
  2. If you are in Boston and have a way of speaking with or emailing Cardinal Sean O’Malley, or our auxiliary Bishops Hennessey, Kennedy, Uglietto, Dooher, Edyvean, and Allué, please send them this blog post and ask them to vote for a candidate other than Bishop Kicanis for the good of the Catholic Church in the U.S.  We hope they already know about this, but just want to be on the safe side.  (If you have direct email addresses for these bishops, please send them to us at <bostoncatholicinsider(at)gmail.com> or post to comments).  If you don’t know how to reach a bishop, call or email your pastor and ask him to pass it on up the hierarchical food-chain.
  3. If you are in another part of the country, don’t wait on us.  Call the Baltimore Marriott (410-385-3000) and leave a message to not vote for Bishop Kicanas.
  4. Send this blog post to your favorite Catholic blogger and mainstream media outlet in whatever part of the country in which you live, and ask them to write about this.
  5. Pray.  If you are not a regular prayer of the Rosary, please try offering one each day from today through the election, which is expected to take place either Sunday or Monday.  If you can make it to Mass today, Friday, or Saturday, offer that Mass intention as well.

We will have more on to share this evening or Friday morning.


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