October 5, 2008 – Sunday Morning Comin’ Down

My apologies to those who checked the blog on Saturday and didn’t find one – I was on the road much of the day yesterday and didn’t get a chance to make an entry until this morning.  For some reason I thought about the old Johnny Cash song “Sunday Morning Comin’ Down” as I sit here on a Sunday morning, so here is the Sunday Mornin’ “Blog” Comin’ Down:

Part of my day yesterday was spent in Belleville, where I attended a meeting of the Diocesan Pastoral Council with Bishop Braxton.  This is a group of about 15 people that gather to meet occasionally with the Bishop to discuss issues affecting the Diocese.  Much of the conversation focused on the recent court ruling against the Diocese and what the next steps will be.  I give the Bishop credit for being very candid with us concerning the legal process.  You may have read that the Diocese has begun an appeal process.  At this point that is not necessarily true.  Before the Diocese could do anything, they had to file a motion within 30 days for a new trial to take place.  The judge will then determine whether there are grounds for a new trial to be held.  If the judge rejects this motion, then the possibility of an appeal would come into play.  Other avenues are also being explored, including the continued possibility of a settlement, and seeing if the Diocesan insurance policy would cover all or part of a judgement in this case.

If you have read the newspapers, etc., you have seen that groups such as SNAP have claimed that the Diocese makes about $3.5 million per year on its investments.  This again is not accurate.  That figure comes from something called the Catholic Community Foundation, which is a pool of investments from churches, schools, and other agencies which was formed to try to maximize return on investments.  This is completely seperate from the operating fund of the Diocese.  And actually, because of the poor performance of the stock markets, that foundation has probably lost about $5 million this year.  The diocese publishes their full financial statement in the Messenger each year, and it is always available online at www.diobelle.org.  It is estimated that the Diocese could perhaps absorb one judgement without having to take drastic actions such as selling off assets, etc.

I do not want this to sound like that I am unsympathetic to victims of abuse.  Obviously tragic acts were done and grave errors were made.  Most victims basically want 3 things: an acknowledgement from the Diocese that there were acts of abuse and that errors in handling the situation were made, an apology from those involved, and compensation from the Diocese for counseling, etc.  None of this is certainly too much to ask for.  Abuse victims of course deserve our prayers as well.  I suppose it is human nature that some people feel that the Diocese should have it “stuck to them where it hurts” for allowing these acts to occur.  So let’s suppose that a $5 million judgement is awarded.  Does this automatically begin the healing process?  These are complicated matters indeed.  Studies on this issue have shown a couple of things: 1) The rate of sexual abusers in the priesthood is no higher than the rate of the general population, and 2) The great majority of acts of abuse are done by men.  I am confident that the screening process of seminarians, the disclosure of abusers in the priesthood, etc. have improved the situation.  It is 100% foolproof?  Of course not, no policy is.  And of course it does not undo what has occurred in the past.  Please pray for the victims and for our Diocese as this complicated issue continues to be deliberated.

The Bishop also talked about the “Dialoge of Renewal” that is currently taking place in order to improve communications between priests and the Bishop.  The Bishop acknowledged that this process will not solve all of the problems, but would hopefully be a first step in the right direction.  I was somewhat disappointed in the Bishop’s comments because most of what he said focused on the need for priests to communicate better amongst themselves.  There was little mention of the fact that it needs to be improved between himself and the clergy.  He basically said that he has an open-door policy and priests can contact him at anytime.  I am fearful that this process is not going in the direction thatit was originally intended for, and that the hierarcy of the Diocese is not as fully engaged in it as they should be.  If there is not an admission of shortcomings from all sides, then the mission will fail.  Please pray that as the process continues, that concrete progress can be a reality.

I hope that when you read things like this that you do not think to yourself “boy, things are sure a mess in the church”.  Even after sitting through meetings such as this, I walk out thinking how fortunate I am to be a Catholic, and how the church and my faith have held me up through good times and bad.  This council is a wonderful, dedicated group of people, and as I have said before, that is what church really is: the message and the people who take it to heart.

I’m always curious as to what you think.  Feel free to leave a comment.  And be sure to be sympathetic when you see a Cub fan this week (after you have a chuckle, of course!).  Peace.

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