By Ryle Dwyer
THE scandals rocking the Roman Catholic Church in the United States are not only about paedophile abuse at parish level, or about covering up at a higher level, but also abuse at the highest level.
Three American cardinals are under investigation and no fewer than 10 bishops have resigned or retired under a cloud over sexual allegations.
The whole thing has been like a dam bursting, with a Catholic reform organisation, Roman Catholic Faithful (RCF), acting as a kind of vigilante group, exposing wrongdoing within the Church.
One of RCF's main organisers and driving forces, Fr Alfred Kunz, a canon lawyer, was murdered on March 4, 1998. He was found in a school beside his church with his throat cut. Nobody has yet been apprehended for the crime.
"While we accept the authority of the Holy Father and all bishops in union with him, we will not sit idly by, nor blindly follow, while many in the hierarchy allow the Holy Catholic Church to be torn apart and assaulted by the forces of Modernism, Syncretism, Heresy, and the gross immorality of some of its clergy," the RCF declares in a kind of mission statement. "We will not allow our Catholic youth to be robbed of their faith or have their innocence destroyed in the name of 'tolerance', 'ecumenism', 'diversity' or any other politically correct ideology of the day."
In view of the Spanish Inquisition and other horrific abuses perpetrated by the Church over the centuries, this kind of militancy should give rise to uneasiness.
There seems to be no room for compassion or tolerance of human frailties. If they insist on perfection, they will inevitably fail because nobody is perfect.
They will just end up with a superior form of hypocrites those who are better at hiding their own failings. Yet the exposures by the RCF have been so horrific that the natural barriers of healthy public scepticism could well be suspended.
In the late 1980s the parents of a child abused by a priest in the Chicago diocese hired private investigators to help them, after Joseph Cardinal Bernadin threatened to counter-sue them following their original allegation. For years Church leaders used their financial muscle and influence to threaten financial ruin on anybody who dared to sue them.
The investigators hired by the boy's parents soon learned of a clerical paedophile group operating in Chicago under the name of The Boys Club. As they were making inquiries about that group, a woman came to them with a frightening story.
She had been involved with Francis E Pellegrini, who had a gay affair with one of the priests in The Boys Club.
Pellegrini an organist and choirmaster at a south side Chicago church, as well as a sociology professor at a city college had decided to marry her and end the affair with the priest.
Before severing the relationship with the priest, however, he learned that some in The Boys Club were involved in more than consensual gay sex with other adults. They were also molesting underprivileged children.
Pellegrini informed the Chicago Archdiocesan Chancery, and scheduled a meeting with one of the archdiocese's top officials. But he was murdered on May 30, 1984, on the eve of that planned meeting. He was found in his home, with his hands tied with barbed wire and he had suffered multiple stab wounds.
Fr Andrew Greeley, the famous international writer, actually referred to the ring of predators in a couple of his books. "There is no evidence against them because no one has complained about them and none of their fellow Priests have denounced them," he wrote.
"Those who have been removed are for the most part lone offenders who lacked the skill to cover their tracks. The ring is much more clever. Perhaps they always will be. But should they slip, should they get caught, the previous scandals will seem trivial."
(Some allegations are so vile that there is not room to detail them here without appearing to stretch credulity.)
The Boys Club obviously enjoys influential protection.
"They are a dangerous group," Fr Greeley added. "There is reason to believe that they are responsible for at least one murder, and may perhaps have been involved in the murder of the murderer. Am I afraid of them? Not particularly. They know that I have in safe keeping information which would implicate them. I am more of a threat to them dead than alive."
One can only wonder what the Chicago Police Department has done about that statement. The RCF people have been clamouring for Fr Greeley to divulge the information.
THE RCF also exposed the existence of a porn site in which a gay clerical sub-culture was operating openly, even posting photographs of themselves on the internet news group named St Sebastian's Angels. Fifty-three priests were involved, including Reginald Cawcutt, a white South African bishop who has since been forced to resign by the Vatican after recommending on that porn site that all Africans, "gay or straight or whatever", should "learn to use condoms correctly".
Fr Cliff Garner of Dallas expressed his sexual attraction towards Hispanic men on the site.
"I apologise to anyone I may have scandalised, confused, or angered," he told a stunned congregation at Mass after the RCF exposed what he had written.
"There was no excuse for my inappropriate remarks."
Here is a list of the major scandals involving American bishops since 1990:
Atlanta, Georgia: Archbishop Eugene A Marino, the first black American bishop, resigned in 1990 after the exposure of a relationship with an adult woman. She claimed that they had exchanged marriage vows.
Lexington: Bishop Kendrick Williams resigned after three men accused him of abuse in the 1980s.
New York: Auxiliary Bishop James F McCarthy resigned after admitting he had several affairs with a number of women.
Milwaukee: Archbishop Rembert Weakland resigned in June 2002 after admitting trying to buy the silence of a male former theology student with whom he had a gay relationship.
Palm Beach, Florida: Bishop J Keith Symons quit in 1998 after admitting that as a priest he abused five boys in various parishes years earlier.
Palm Beach: Bishop Symons' successor, Bishop Anthony J O'Connell resigned in 2002, after admitting that he had abused a 13-year-old student in the 1970s.
St Petersburg, Florida: Bishop Robert Lynch disclosed that the diocese had paid his former spokesman $100,000 to settle allegations that the bishop sexually harassed him.
Cheyenne, Wyoming: Bishop Joseph Hart, who retired in 2002, was accused in 1989 and 1992 of molesting two junior high school boys in Missouri in the early 1970s.
Santa Rosa, California: Bishop G Patrick Ziemann resigned in 1999 after admitting a sexual relationship with a priest he supervised. The priest said he was coerced into sex after the bishop learned he had stolen parish funds.
Springfield, Illinois: Bishop Daniel Ryan took early retirement in 1999 after being accused of hiring teenage boy prostitutes and having sex with priests.
Santa Fe, New Mexico: Archbishop Robert Sanchez resigned in 1993 after admitting affairs with young women in the 1980s and 1970s.