A Strange Catholic Conscience


Shaela Evenson, an unmarried teacher at a Roman Catholic middle school in Montana, has been fired after getting pregnant. According to the middle school Principal Kerrie Hellyer, she was an “excellent teacher” and taught sixth, seventh, and eighth-grade literature and physical education for just over eight years.

Wonderfully pro-life that Catholic school. What a strong and lasting teaching moment for those young boys and girls. I wonder what they would have done with a pregnant and unwed Virgin Mary.

Patrick Haggarty, the superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Helena, fired Evenson on January 10, after learning about her pregnancy. It takes years to dismiss a sexually abusive priest, with a history of raping boys and girls. But just a matter of days to dump an exemplary teacher because she is unmarried and pregnant.

It is a strange kind of Catholic conscience. The children at that school and their parents will long remember this.

A couple weeks after the firing of Shaela Evenson, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in an effort to resolve more than 350 sexual-abuse claims.

Bankruptcy, of course, comes in two styles: financial and moral.

While Bishop George Thomas up in Montana was working on his bankruptcy papers, down in the Midwest, Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City was finishing his diocesan newspaper column condemning the National Catholic Reporter.

Bishop Finn noted in his column,”The Bishop’s Role In Fostering The Mission Of The Catholic Media,” that, as Bishop of Kansas City – St. Joseph, he has the canonical duty to “call the media to fidelity.” Fidelity is an important Catholic word…..Specifically, the Missouri bishop condemns NCR for editorial positions “officially condemning Church teaching on the ordination of women, insistent undermining of Church teaching on artificial contraception and sexual morality in general, lionizing dissident theologies while rejecting established Magisterial teaching, and a litany of other issues.”

In September 2012, please recall, Bishop Robert W. Finn became the first American prelate convicted of failing to report a pedophile priest; and priests, lay people, and victims’ advocates have repeatedly called for his resignation.

As the New York Times reported, at that time, the Bishop Finn case began when Shawn Ratigan, a charismatic parish priest, who had previously been known for inappropriate behavior with children, took his laptop computer in for repairs. A technician reported to church authorities that the laptop contained pornographic photos of young girls’ genitals, naked, and clothed.

Ratigan attempted suicide. He survived and was sent for treatment. Bishop Finn assigned him to a convent and ordered him to stay away from children. But Father Ratigan continued to attend church events and take lewd pictures of girls for five more months, until church officials reported him in May 2011, without Bishop Finn’s approval. A silent Bishop Finn….

Another case of a strange Catholic conscience. Why is Robert Finn still the Bishop of Kansas City -St. Joseph? And what about all the other Bishop Finns scattered around the country and across the globe?

Robert Mickens, the respected Catholic journalist, observed recently: “The Holy See has never removed a bishop – not one – for covering up clergy sex abuse. Cardinal Law was removed, not to punish him, but to protect him. And arguably the worst priest offender, Marcial Maciel, was never laicised. He was merely sent away in his old age in order to protect his Legion of Christ, not his victims.”

For conscience sake, we need to re-examine the very strange case of contemporary Catholic conscience. Otherwise — the last person out of the church, please turn off the lights.

PS I do suspect the UN report on the Vatican and sex abuse may indeed hurt the reform cause. It raises questions.

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12 thoughts on “A Strange Catholic Conscience

  1. Jack, when I left the Church in 1963 (in spirit), 1966 (physically) we had a list of what actions were sinful no matter of the circumstances. When I returned in 1998 sin was a deliberate act that separated one from God. One had to do a bit of soul searching and the examination of conscience became a reality of those very words.This new way of personal accounting was too difficult for some and removed ones ability of point fingers at supposed sinners. Thus began the great divide among trads and libs, cafeteria and true Caholics, etc.

    This scenario is being played out in my diocese today with the firing of this teacher in Butte.MT. This battle between the legal employer-employee contract says….. and what was going on in that person’s conscience is being played out. What element of the contract will the school (ultimately the diocese) enforce and what will it ignore. That all depends on how many anonymous letters are sent in by our temple priest.

    As for the bankruptcy filed by my Bishop I do want to shed some light on this action. It was not done to protect the diocese from paying out the just mediated settlement to the victims of sexual abuse by a cleric. The exact opposite is true. Bishop Thomas has worked long and hard to keep the victims a top priority. Thus the bankruptcy was filed to insure payments could be made to all victims who have already filed or who may file claims in the future. The greater percentage of these claims were perpetrated long before our young bishop became a priest, indeed some before he was born.

    All and all I do agree with your essay. Our Church is in dire need of up dating its teaching on human sexuality. And it most certainly needs to address the cover up of the sexual abuse by a cleric phenomenon by the hierarchy with greater integrity.

  2. Jesus was a model of integrity & transparency in his thoughts, words & actions…
    Too bad most of those in charge of His followers seem to take after the Pharisees, rather than Him!!

  3. The clergy is a closed shop, which chooses to isolate itself from the people of God in many ways. It makes me wonder just what they need the rest of us for.

    While we have a hierachical system instead of democracy, it will always be like this. What the vast majority of the clergy conveniently forget is that they are supposed to be “servants”. As such they are – or should be- accountable to the people of God as Christs alleged representatives.

    The issue of sexually sick priests and bishops will never be successfully addressed while enforced celibacy still imposes false and inhuman values, habits and perceptions upon those wishing to serve God in this way.

    It was high time these issues were brought out into the open and the Church expected to own its own sins instead of pointing the finger at all those they see as beneath them.

    • Mari, not all of us “clergy” think as “a closed shop, which chooses to isolate itself from the people of God in many ways. It makes me wonder just what they need the rest of us for”. Many of us agree with you. I suspect Jack has a good idea how I think on this stuff.

      • Well Jim, that’s good to hear, but as a whole I think you will agree that this is generally, as a ‘body’ true of the clergy, especially at high levels.

        The way things within the Church system are structured, it leaves little room for interaction in any kind of meaningful way between clergy and laity. That is the very nature of a hierachy. Decisions generally are not shared between us, they are made for us.

        At least, on this blog though, we can share our views and thoughts on some kind of equal footing.

        I keep wondering if Jack had any reply to his Advent letter to Pope Francis , other than perhaps an acknowledgement.

      • Mari,
        Forgot to mention. I have had absolutely no response from the Vatican to my letter. I know, from my local post office, it went through and was delivered and nothing more! Same thing happened when I s net a letter to Cardinal Levada, then head of the CDF. Someone at the Vatican probably put it in the J Dick file! 🙂 The Vatican does not throw anything away…even when they say they do.

      • Thanks Jack, I didn’t for a moment imagine you would. That’s what I am talking about re ‘clergy’. The top levels don’t respond or interact – they just do what they like, with no redress. I wasn’t having a go at lower levels of clergy- they don’t get into the act much with top levels themselves. that’s what filters through with many of the lower levels of clergy- the ones “on the ground” as it were.

        Yup there will be a ‘J, Dick ‘ file alright. ha! There will soon be ( if there isn’t already) a ‘M. Sutcliffe’ file also. I am expecting to move permanently to USA ( Texas) end of May so am a little busy right now, but soon as things settle a little I have a letter to write to Francis et al myself. It may not be quite as nice as yours. ha! Just out of curiosity, where are you located in US Jack? Maybe look you up when I get there ?

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