Catholic Parishes Disproportionately Closed in Poor, Black and Latino Neighborhoods

The Rev. Athanasius Abanulo celebrates Mass at Holy Family Catholic Church in Lanett, Ala., on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021. Originally from Nigeria, Abanulo is one of numerous international clergy helping ease a U.S. priest shortage by serving in Catholic dioceses across the country.

By Aleja Hertzler-McCain

While the number of U.S. Catholics is increasing, the total number of Catholic parishes nationwide declined 9% between 1970 and 2020, according to a new report by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

In 10 of the 11 dioceses studied, those closures are disproportionately happening in Black and Latino neighborhoods and neighborhoods with higher poverty and unemployment.

The total number of American Catholics increased by 46% in the half-century before 2020, though the study’s researchers provided the context that the overall population increased 65% in those same years, meaning Catholics are a smaller proportion of the population.

The total number of priests, meanwhile, declined by 40%. The shortage of priests has played a significant role in the decisions to close parishes. Bishops announcing parish closures or consolidation repeatedly cite fewer and aging priests and low Mass attendance in decisions that typically receive pushback from their flocks.

Religious orders, like the Jesuits, have also announced plans to pull out of parish ministry because of few priests, ending longtime relationships with local parishes.

FutureChurch, a Catholic nonprofit that advocates for access to the Eucharist and reforms to the church, including married priests, commissioned the 759-page CARA report.

Parish size has grown by 60% since 1970, according to the report.

The CARA report notes that sacraments, including baptisms, Catholic marriages and Catholic funerals, have all declined. A deacon can also perform these sacraments, but there are fewer deacons than priests in the U.S.

Between 1970 and 2020, baptisms declined 57%, Catholic marriages declined 78%, and Catholic funerals declined 14%.

The report studied 11 dioceses: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Archdiocese of Chicago, Archdiocese of Detroit, Archdiocese of Miami, Archdiocese of New Orleans, Archdiocese of New York, Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Archdiocese of St. Louis, Diocese of Bridgeport, Diocese of Cleveland and Diocese of Memphis.

The dioceses were selected to fit FutureChurch’s research needs and are not a representative sample. Several large dioceses, including the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Archdiocese of Atlanta, Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and Archdiocese of Seattle are not among the dioceses studied.

But in the dioceses studied, the report showed a tendency to close or merge parishes in neighborhoods that were poorer or had higher percentages of Black people or Latinos.

While the average proportion of white residents was lower in neighborhoods where parishes closed and higher in neighborhoods where parishes were opened, “in all 11 dioceses, the average proportion of people below the poverty line, people unemployed, Blacks/African Americans, and Hispanics/Latinos was higher in those neighborhoods where parishes closed/were absorbed than in those neighborhoods were parishes opened/expanded,” the report concluded. (The sole exception was for Hispanic/Latino neighborhoods in the Archdiocese of Miami.)

Complete Article HERE!

For six years, UW has wrestled with whether to revoke the Ph.D. of one of the Northwest’s most infamous child molesters

— Advocates and victims argue the university should do more to hold O’Donnell accountable

The sunset is photographed from the roof of the Davenport Hotel parking structure in Spokane, Wash., Saturday, June 3, 2017. (Young Kwak)


In part, it was his position — as a priest and doctoral student — that convinced so many children and parents at Seattle’s St. Paul School and Catholic parish to trust Patrick O’Donnell.

He told them he was working on his graduate research when he recruited 60 seventh- and eighth-graders for a 1978 dissertation experiment “on the subject of trust.” And he told them he was working on “research” when he asked parents and teachers to pull students out of class.

In fact, the reason he was in Seattle in the first place was because the Spokane Diocese had sent him to get treatment for what one priest euphemistically called his “pediatrician complex.”

In the 1970s and early ’80s, as he was moved from parish to parish — in Spokane, Seattle, and the small eastern Washington town of Rosalia — he allegedly molested more than 65 children, court records show. He admitted abusing at least 30. Six victims were from St. Paul.

By 2002, O’Donnell had become known as one of the most infamous predator priests in the region. His actions helped drive the Spokane Diocese into bankruptcy. He was sued — settling for $5 million he didn’t have. He lost his psychology license, his role as a priest and his reputation.

But O’Donnell still has one honor left.

“He can put the letters Ph.D after his name, and that’s still a problem,” said Pomona College chemistry professor Dan O’Leary. “He’s in my world, higher education. I don’t think he deserves to be in this world.”

Back when O’Leary was an altar boy in Seattle, he had his own run-in with O’Donnell. Since 2018, O’Leary has been doggedly urging the University of Washington to take a radical step: revoking O’Donnell’s 1978 degree entirely.

Emails provided to InvestigateWest show that UW has seriously considered taking that step over the past six years. Numerous administrators, university investigators, the Title IX office and even the state attorney general’s office have weighed in. The university declined to make any staffers available for an interview with InvestigateWest, and InvestigateWest was unable to reach O’Donnell, now 81, for comment.

In a statement, however, the university said that while the actions were “heinous and reprehensible” and the efforts to seek justice “certainly understandable,” they were “unable to obtain evidence that in the course of his graduate work, Mr. O’Donnell met the standard for degree revocation.”

InvestigateWest, however, has uncovered additional evidence tying O’Donnell’s sexual abuse to his graduate work and calling the honesty of the work itself into question.

In a 2009 lawsuit against the Seattle Archdiocese, an attorney demonstrates how the Spokane Diocese transferred child molester Patrick O’Donnell to the Seattle region, where O’Donnell attended graduate school.

Degrees have been revoked before, but mostly for issues like plagiarism and data falsification. Revoking a degree for sexual assault would mean diving into a thorny issue that has divided academics for decades: Can you separate the research from the researcher?

Former American Psychiatric Association President Paul Appelbaum, an expert on ethics in medicine and psychiatry, said even the question of whether to use data from the experiments conducted in Nazi death camps doesn’t have a clear consensus among researchers. He’s uneasy about the idea of revoking O’Donnell’s degree, instead of just condemning his actions.

“Going back to erase the record of his Ph.D seems to raise more problems than it could conceivably address,” Appelbaum said.

Yet Mary Dispenza, part of the Seattle Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said that even decades later, it “matters to a survivor” when an “institution finally stands up to crimes of any nature.”

“If the university has the right to do that, I say do it,” Dispenza said. “If it is a wrong act, you make it right. It doesn’t matter if it’s 50 years later.”


O’Leary wasn’t one of O’Donnell’s victims. But he thinks he almost was. O’Leary said he remembers lying on his back, in the winter of his eighth-grade year, at a university pool after O’Donnell offered to teach him how to swim. He will never forget the look on O’Donnell’s face as he floated in his arms.

“It was really clear to me that he was fantasizing,” O’Leary said.

The priest wanted to shower afterward, O’Leary recalls, but the altar boy declined to join him. These memories are nearly a half-century old, but he still finds them “chilling to the bone.”

“It’s like being in a car with Ted Bundy,” O’Leary said.

But he also knows that lawsuits are filled with depositions of boys who said they’d experienced far worse. There were boys who knew O’Donnell as a basketball coach, or track coach, or Boy Scout chaplain, or a family friend. There were boys he’d strip naked after basketball practice, boys he’d take out on his boat, boys he’d wrestle, grope, tell to keep quiet.

There was the boy O’Donnell would let drive if he’d sit on his lap. The boy who rolled the lowest number in a dice game in O’Donnell’s hot tub and had to run naked to the dock to do push-ups. And the boy who knew something was wrong one night at Spokane’s Bishop White Seminary, who tried to call his mom again and again but kept getting a busy signal until O’Donnell was on top of him, mauling him, kissing him, grinding against him, until the boy pleaded with him enough times to stop.

There were boys who grew up and confronted O’Donnell. In the courtroom. In the press. At the front door of the parish with a Bible in their shaking hands. In a suicide note.

The fact that O’Leary got away unharmed, while so many of O’Donnell’s victims didn’t, has stuck with him.

“I think there’s probably some survivor’s guilt,” O’Leary said. “You lived and other people perished.”

It’s part of what’s fueling his tenacity, driving him to keep hammering away on this issue for so many years. Whenever one UW administrator stopped responding to his emails, he’d simply reach out to another.

When he managed to get his hands on O’Donnell’s 1978 doctoral dissertation — sent to him in California by interlibrary loan — the thing that angered him the most was on the very last page: The University of Washington consent form, a permission slip to participate in the experiment that students and parents were asked to sign.

“That told me that O’Donnell understood that researching with human subjects has responsibility,” O’Leary said. “It’s clear that he was well-aware there are ethical obligations.”

The May 1978 experiment had focused on studying how trust develops between kids and adults. The recruits were asked about the prisoner’s dilemma, a famous two-person negotiation game: If both players are trustworthy and choose to cooperate, they both benefit — gaining a small amount of money. But if one decides to betray the other, the betrayer gets more money and the victim gets nothing.

Attorney Michael Pfau, who represented many of O’Donnell’s victims, said he’s never come across any victims who remember being a part of the experiment. But he cited O’Donnell’s doctoral dissertation, “Evoking Trustworthy Behavior of Children and Adults in A Prisoner’s Dilemma Game,” in multiple lawsuits as an example “of a pedophile using a number of means to gain access to children.”

To O’Leary, the topic was “tragically ironic.” In March 2018, as the #MeToo movement sparked hundreds of whistleblowers across the country to go public with allegations against rapists, O’Leary made his pitch in an email to the UW: If O’Donnell had “engaged in sexually abusive behavior under the pretext of conducting doctoral research” then surely, UW would “disavow itself from that research and question the validity of any degrees given in association” with it.

He knew it was going to be an uphill battle. While plenty of honorary degrees of serial predators such as Bill Cosby have been retracted, pulling a real degree for nonacademic reasons is very rare.

Dan O’Leary, chemistry professor at Pomona College in California, says that the University of Washington awarding a doctoral degree to Patrick O’Donnell, who preyed upon children while a grad student at the university, “is a history that needs to be corrected.”

There have been exceptions. In 1999, MIT revoked the diploma of a former fraternity pledge trainer for providing a freshman with the alcohol that killed him.  In 2000, a federal court found that University of Virginia did have the right to revoke a graduate’s degree for embezzling funds from a student club, but allowed the student to sue on due process grounds. And while Columbia University officials revoked the degree of a journalism student accused of sexual assault in 2017, they restored it three years later as part of a lawsuit settlement. But almost all of these cases involved recent graduates.

But Applebaum, the ethics expert, said he’s uneasy about the notion of stripping away someone’s degree for anything but academic reasons.

“Whenever someone is convicted of a felony, does that mean we go back and take away their graduate degrees or their undergraduate degrees or their high school diplomas?” he asked. “Where does this end?”

But when O’Leary reached out to UW in 2018, they were coming off of multiple years of headlines about a star university researcher accused repeatedly of sexual harassment.

In emails provided to InvestigateWest, university officials initially seemed supportive of revoking O’Donnell’s degree. Martin Howell, the assistant dean for academic and student affairs in the College of Education at UW, told O’Leary that the “mission and values” of the university were driving him and other administrators to push O’Leary’s proposal forward.

Since the 1950s, UW faculty had the power to recommend that the Board of Regents revoke a degree retroactively — if they could prove it was granted based on “fraud and deceit.”

The fundamental question, Howell wrote in a 2019 email, was whether, if the school knew about O’Donnell’s conduct at the time, they would have refused to grant him the doctorate. At first, Howell said, they anticipated being able to rely on “non-academic misconduct that would have violated the UW Student Conduct Code in place at that time.”

But after a conversation with the state attorney general’s office, the university concluded it would be more difficult than they had suspected: To take away his degree they needed proof of fraud and deceit connected to his actual academic work.

The best evidence for that had come from Jim Biteman, one of O’Donnell’s victims at St. Paul. Biteman was never a part of O’Donnell’s 1978 “Prisoner’s Dilemma” experiment. But the year before, he recounted in a deposition, O’Donnell repeatedly pulled him out of class, claiming “he was going to ask me questions regarding research for his university studies.”

The priest would ask the boy to stand in front of the cafeteria window — his back to O’Donnell — and imagine himself naked and describe what he saw. And then O’Donnell would ask Biteman to imagine another boy naked with him, touching him, and ask how the thought made the eighth-grader feel.

“He would always say, ‘Don’t tell anybody about this conversation. This is part of my research. I don’t want you to spoil it, because I have to talk to some other boys,’” Biteman said in the deposition. “I know for a fact that he pulled other boys down there and did the same routine, same questions because I have spoken with others that have gone through it.”

Later, O’Donnell invited Biteman on trips on his boat up at a lake — as he did with so many other kids — and molested him.

While Biteman did not respond to an interview request from InvestigateWest, in a 2019 email he stressed to O’Leary that the evidence clearly showed O’Donnell had used his role as a graduate student to abuse underage boys.

“If the UW chooses to ignore the facts and requires ‘proof’ that directly ties his research to the abuse,” Biteman wrote, “then it appears they are not interested in pursuing what is right and are taking the easy way out.”

He hoped O’Leary could get traction on his efforts to convince UW to revoke O’Donnell’s degree.

“Anything that can be done to discredit this guy, who is currently living out his life … with little if any payment or accountability for his crimes, is welcome,” Biteman wrote.


Finally, last June — more than five years after O’Leary first raised the issue with the university — he was told the investigation had come to a halt.

The trouble with Biteman’s account, the university explained in a letter to O’Leary, was that they didn’t have any evidence O’Donnell was actually conducting doctoral research when he was victimizing the eighth-grade boy.

If O’Donnell was lying to Biteman, if his “research” didn’t have anything to do with his studies and he was just molesting them, then his degree was safe.

On its face, that may seem perverse. But Appelbaum, the ethics expert, argues that it makes sense. A university degree shouldn’t be read as a moral badge of character, he said; it’s proof of the completion of academic standards.

“If a man, however evil he was a person and however many people he may have harmed, fulfilled the requirements for a Ph.D, then he’s got a Ph.D,” Appelbaum said.

In UW’s emails to O’Leary, officials stressed they’d tried to find a clear connection to his dissertation.

While O’Donnell had written that 60 seventh- and eighth-graders had participated in the experiment at St. Paul, there was no record of who they were. The university tried to reach out to Biteman, but never heard back. The university even sent a letter to O’Donnell himself, to his home in Mount Vernon, but through an attorney, O’Donnell declined to talk.

But UW would not tell InvestigateWest whether they considered another major trove of information: court records.

During a 2004 deposition, O’Donnell testified that he did pull kids like Biteman out of class for purposes tied to UW academics — but didn’t indicate it had anything to do directly with his dissertation. Instead, he said, he was performing a “psychological test” on them.

His academic transcripts, indeed, show he was taking a class called “individual testing,” which focused on intelligence tests for children. But O’Donnell said the tests he was conducting involved a word-association game where the kids would have to react to words like “man,” “masturbation” and “intercourse,” though he claimed he didn’t particularly emphasize the sexually charged words over other words.

O’Leary sees it as evidence of “extensive human subjects violation during the courses” that O’Donnell had taken. Combined with Biteman’s testimony, it suggested that O’Donnell had been using these kinds of games to groom young boys and that this behavior was clearly intertwined with his academic work.

“When someone is a rule breaker, it’s worth going back and taking a close look at their doctoral research, and see whether there’s any rule-breaking there, too,” Appelbaum said.

Indeed, O’Donnell insisted that the only reason that he had landed on the “prisoner’s dilemma” dissertation topic was because “the ethics committee at the university wouldn’t let me do what I wanted to do” and he’d done similar research for his master’s program at Gonzaga University.

InvestigateWest found his published master’s thesis — “Eliciting Trustworthy Behavior in A Prisoner’s Dilemma Game” — in the Gonzaga library archives.

Vast sections of O’Donnell’s doctoral dissertation had lifted entire pages from his master’s thesis word for word, right down to using the same lengthy quotes from George Bernard Shaw’s play “Pygmalion,” about how the “difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she’s treated.”

Today, the UW warns doctoral students that plagiarism, even using “your own, previously published work” without citing it, could prevent them from getting a degree.

The prohibition against self-plagiarism can be hazy, Appelbaum said, but it becomes a problem “when it crosses the line from merely recapitulating the same idea or using the same phrase to extracting and reusing a larger body of words.”

Self-plagiarism, of course, is almost a comically minor sin compared to those committed against the more than 30 victims O’Donnell has confessed to molesting. But, crucially, it’s an academic one.

The revelation has re-invigorated O’Leary. Earlier this month, he was armed with a highlighter and a green pen, going line by line through a copy of O’Donnell’s dissertation, marking up just how many lines appeared verbatim in each of them. He even identified two small instances of plagiarizing other people’s work — nearly word-for-word quotes that were sourced in the Gonzaga thesis but unsourced in his dissertation.

“I’m confident it would raise eyebrows,” O’Leary said. “Anyone on a dissertation committee, if they knew that was happening, they would consider it fraud or deceit.”

Presented with this evidence by InvestigateWest, the UW said it remains open to new information but was “focused on the concerns regarding abuse of minors within the conduct of his university research, not plagiarism.” It declined to comment further.

But O’Leary sees an opportunity: O’Donnell had used the pretext of UW doctoral research to molest children as a grad student. Now, O’Leary argued, the university could use the shoddiness of his actual research as a pretext for removing the degree of a child molester.

“It does directly meet the usual standard for degree revocation,” O’Leary said. “Maybe the university is actually secretly hoping for a valid reason to do the right thing.”

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic Officials in Brooklyn Agree to an Independent Oversight of Clergy Sex Abuse Allegations

— An independent monitor will oversee the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn’s handling of sexual abuse allegations under a settlement between the diocese and New York Attorney General Letitia James

By Associated Press

An independent monitor will oversee the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn’s handling of sexual abuse allegations under a settlement between the diocese and New York Attorney General Letitia James.

The agreement announced Tuesday will address “years of mismanaging clergy sexual abuse cases,” James said.

Investigators with the attorney general’s office found that officials with the diocese failed to comply with their own sex abuse policies put in place after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002.

In one case, the attorney general said, a priest who admitted that he had repeatedly sexually abused minors was defrocked in 2007 but requested confidentiality. The diocese kept the abuse secret until 2017 when it announced for the first time that this priest had been credibly accused of and admitted to abusing children. The priest worked as a professor at two universities in the intervening decade.

Another priest was transferred from parish to parish after diocesan officials learned of problems with his conduct in the 1990s, James said. A nun who was the principal of a school in the diocese quit her job in 2000 because she had witnessed the priest behaving inappropriately with young boys, but the diocese only issued a warning. The priest was not removed from duty or barred from interacting with minors until 2018, James said.

As part of the settlement, the diocese has agreed to strengthen its procedures for handling allegations of clergy sexual abuse and misconduct, including publicly posting an explanation of the complaint and investigation process.

An independent, secular monitor who will oversee the diocese’s compliance with the enhanced policies and procedures and will issue an annual report on the diocese’s handling of sexual abuse cases.

Officials with the diocese, which includes the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, said they have cooperated with investigators and have worked to prevent future instances of abuse by clergy.

Brooklyn Bishop Robert Brennan, who has led the diocese since 2021, said in a statement, “While the Church should have been a sanctuary, I am deeply sorry that it was a place of trauma for the victims of clergy sexual abuse. I pray God’s healing power will sustain them.”

The attorney general’s office began investigating eight of New York’s Catholic dioceses in September 2018. A settlement with the Diocese of Buffalo was announced in October 2022. Investigations into the other dioceses, including those in Rochester, Albany and Syracuse, are ongoing, James said.

American Solidarity

— Reflections on a changing Catholic Church

Cardinal Robert W. McElroy

by Nell Porter Brown

Like many Americans during this fractious election year, Cardinal Robert W. McElroy ’76 has been focused on politics and the state of the country. “We can idealize, as if times in the past were all graced with tremendous solidarity,” he says. “But I think we are in a profound moment of crisis on that question in our society. Individualism is corrosive from both ends of the political and ideological spectrum. And we have to really recover a sense of common identity, common purpose and mission on certain fundamental levels.”

A lifelong Catholic and a close collaborator of Pope Francis since 2022, McElroy’s approach to ministering is based in the more practical pastoral theology than a strict rule-bound Catholicism. It’s also been shaped by studying American history at Harvard, earning doctoral degrees in moral theology and political science, and experiences as a young priest in San Francisco during the AIDS epidemic. All have been integral to his longstanding push for greater social inclusion, in society and within the Church. Solidarity, he says, is “the principle that all of us are beneficiaries of the society to which we belong, and everyone has an obligation to all the members.”

That cohesion informed his childhood. He grew up with four siblings in San Mateo County (south of San Francisco) in a neighborhood that revolved around the thriving local parish. McElroy recognized his calling as a boy and studied at a high school seminary. Ordained in 1980, he was soon ministering in San Francisco and ultimately spent 15 rewarding years as the pastor at St. Gregory Church in San Mateo. He had always hoped to spend his life in parish ministry “because it is so directly rooted in the hearts and souls of real people,” he says. But Church leaders, valuing his intellect, tapped him for larger roles, and when he was appointed auxiliary bishop in 2010, he knew the rest of his life in the Church “would be rooted in pastoral service to my diocese and in contributing to the global dialogue about the Church’s future, both in its internal life and its outreach to the world.” In 2015 Pope Francis appointed him bishop of San Diego—where he oversees 96 parishes and a community of 1.4 million Catholics—and then appointed him to the College of Cardinals.

alt text here
Cardinal McElroy processing into St Peter’s Basilica for his official appointment as a cardinal in August 2022

That has meant continuing the duties of bishop but also spending more time in Rome and supporting the pope’s vision, especially his global Synod on Synodality, a multi-year process of reform that began in 2022. This “listening and dialogue” via meetings, following the Second Vatican Council’s proposed “renewal,” brings Catholics together to discern unified paths forward. McElroy, always a broad thinker, is integral to the pope’s efforts to effect changes in the Church—among them, more “accompaniment and support for” the LGBTQ+ community, lay leaders, and the role of women—that have been welcomed by many, but also vociferously opposed by other Church leaders, both in Rome and in the United States.

It is an extraordinary and pivotal time for the Church. Most Catholics “admire and cherish” Pope Francis, McElroy says: They agree with his focus on pastoral theology, “his notion that the Church is a field hospital bringing healing to souls, all in need of grace and support from one another, not condemnation.” Nevertheless, on issues like climate change, economic justice, poverty, LGBTQ+ rights, and war and peace, “The ideological polarization that cripples our society at this moment shapes divergent responses to the pope’s teachings,” he adds. “Many bishops who oppose the direction in which Pope Francis is leading the Church worry that his pastoral approach undermines the dedication to truth that is part of Catholic faith. Francis tells us that for the Christian, truth is not an idea, but a person—Jesus Christ—who calls us to conversion in love and mercy.”

The same political tribalism that’s “sapping our energy as a people and endangering our democracy…has entered destructively into the life of the Church.”

McElroy influences the reform process in person, but also through articles and speeches. America Magazine (led by the Jesuits) published an article headlined “Cardinal McElroy on ‘Radical Inclusion’ for L.G.T.B. People, Women, and Others, in the Catholic Church,” in which he addresses feedback from the synodal dialogues. He asserted that the same political tribalism that “is sapping our energy as a people and endangering our democracy…has entered destructively into the life of the Church.” The need to reform “our own structures of exclusion,” he concludes, “will require a long pilgrimage of sustained prayer, reflection, dialogue, and action—all of which should begin now.”

Just as crucial, however, he says, are the continuing issues of abortion and climate change, especially in this election year. He’s deeply concerned about forces threatening the fate of “democratic institutions, the Constitution, and the role of law. Catholic teaching has a particular perspective that those institutions are important.” The global escalation of violence—he has consistently called for a cease-fire in Gaza—is disturbing “not just for us as a country, but for so many people who get victimized by war,” he notes. “And our participation in it is such an important moral question.” He laments that conflict is so easily sown, and that civil conversation and disagreement, nearly impossible across partisan and ideological lines, impedes functional progress. Social media, despite their advantages, share considerable blame for that: “We move more and more into our own feedback loops, those we are comfortable with, and we think ‘Oh yeah, everyone agrees with me.’ It’s a huge problem.”

Seeking exposure to fresh and diverse perspectives led McElroy to choose a college outside of the Church—specifically, Harvard and its renowned history department. In 1972, never having traveled east of Nevada, he formed a close circle of friends (two of whom traveled to Rome to watch him become a member of the College of Cardinals), concentrated in American history, and graduated in three years.

Especially formative was “Themes in Comparative World Social History” taught by Loeb University Professor Oscar Handlin, the pioneering historian of American immigration. McElroy says that only four students took the year-long seminar because Handlin required them to read four books a week (no trouble for McElroy, who had taken a speed-reading course). “The other students could also do it and were really bright and interesting,” he says. “Their perspectives on everything were just enlightening to me. And Handlin? He had an encyclopedic knowledge of everything.” When McElroy had to write a paper on comparing nineteenth-century miscegenation laws in Brazil and Virginia, Handlin recommended three or four books, “just off the top of his head,” he recalls, “and they were the best books on the topic. And he did that with everyone in the class.” The depth and intensity of learning were thrilling, and spawned not only McElroy’s enduring interest in immigration but his continuing prioritizing of the Church’s role in aiding migrants and refugees.

Aside from classes, two shows of solidarity on campus also stand out. First: the legal drinking age was lowered to 18, which led “to the largest block party all over the place,” McElroy says, laughing. The second, more sobering, was the agreement that ostensibly ended American participation in the Vietnam War. “That was a moment of great thanksgiving and gratitude from the whole community because we had been facing the reality of the draft, for one thing, and the tragedy of the war for so many people as a whole. The University came together and there was a sense of unity.”

McElroy went on to earn a master’s degree in American history from Stanford, then a master’s in divinity from St. Patrick’s Seminary in 1979 before he was ordained. Among his other degrees are two doctorates (in political science from Stanford and in moral theology from the Gregorian University in Rome), both of which yielded books: The Search for an American Public Theology: The Contribution of John Courtney Murray (1989) and Morality and American Foreign Policy: The Role of Ethics in International Affairs (1992).

Academic work has always fed his mind—and his spirit. “Harvard honed my ability to write with greater clarity and elegance,” he says, and “the level of passion and self-assurance (sometimes justified and sometimes not) in the debates on myriad subjects that we had in the classroom, the dining hall at Mather House, or at parties taught me a great deal about speaking and listening and genuinely learning amidst all the bravado.” The combined experiences of Harvard, Stanford, and the seminary “introduced me to a wide diversity of human experiences, cultures, and social environments. Hopefully, this created in me a greater empathy, a willingness to listen, and an understanding that my own experience was just a small microcosm of the human reality in our world.”

That certainly came to bear while serving as a young priest in the 1980s at Saint Cecilia Church in San Francisco, where he was also secretary (and later vicar general) to Archbishop John R. Quinn, a leader in the Church’s stands on war and peace, poverty, and racial justice. As early as 1983, Quinn reached out to gay Catholics and supported a Castro neighborhood parish that held vigils for HIV-positive parishioners and their caregivers. McElroy co-wrote a diocesan report stating that homosexuality is not held to be a sinful condition and that homosexuals should be helped to follow the principle of “gradualism”: “the notion that Jesus called men and women as they were in real lives and recognized that their call to enflesh the gospel was a lifelong project,” he explains now. He also remembers visiting parishioners—“young people dying of this terrible and unknown disease. And very often their families refused to embrace them in their illness. I think it was then that I began to seek ways to show that LGBTQ+ persons are truly, equally members of the Catholic Church and that all dimensions and attitudes of exclusion should end.”

Throughout his cherished years as a parish pastor—the role he originally sought as a boy with a calling—he was moved and nurtured by “the way in which people allowed you into their lives to walk their journey with them.” Back then, he was sometimes asked if he ever got tired of listening to people’s problems. The answer was, and is, no. “It was inspiring…and you saw how difficult it was but how heroically so many people strive to live as they should.” To be let into others’ anguish is a privilege, he agrees, “and priests must be careful in presenting the image of God in a way that’s proper, too. The God who embraces us, who loves, is not diminished by our failures.”

Complete Article HERE!

Long Island diocese to end bankruptcy without sex abuse deal


A Catholic diocese in Long Island, New York has asked a judge to end its Chapter 11 bankruptcy, after failing to get support from about 530 sex abuse survivors on a proposed $200 million settlement of their claims against the diocese.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York, which serves about 1.2 million Catholics in Nassau and Suffolk counties, said on Friday that its bankruptcy had “run its course” after abuse survivors “overwhelmingly” voted against the diocese’s offer.

“The Diocese sincerely hoped that its offer of $200 million—in addition to very substantial insurance assets—would be accepted by the creditors,” the diocese wrote in a motion to dismiss filed in U.S. bankruptcy court in Manhattan.

James Stang, an attorney representing abuse survivors in the bankruptcy, said that the diocese’s failure to reach a deal was “unprecedented.”

In other Catholic bankruptcies, abuse survivors were allowed to propose their own bankruptcy settlement instead of being offered a binary choice between the diocese’s plan or nothing, Stang said.

The diocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in New York in October 2020, citing the cost of lawsuits filed by childhood victims of clergy sexual abuse. New York’s Child Victims Act, which took effect in August 2020, temporarily enabled victims of child sexual abuse to file lawsuits over decades-old crimes.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Martin Glenn is scheduled to hear the diocese’s request to dismiss its case on May 9.

Glenn warned last year that he would dismiss the case if settlement talks continued to stagnate, but he said he was not eager to be the first judge to kick a Catholic diocese out of bankruptcy.

Talks broke down in part over the diocese’s plan to protect all of its parishes and local affiliates from lawsuits as part of the bankruptcy settlement. Abuse survivors said those local organizations had not contributed enough money to the settlement to warrant the legal protections they would have received.

Stang said on Monday that a bankruptcy settlement could still be reached if the diocese makes its proposal more attractive to abuse survivors. Survivors might be more inclined to vote for a deal with better economics or non-monetary concessions, like an apology and pledge to protect children from abuse in the future.

“We think the parishes can afford to pay much more and still maintain their religious mission,” Stang said.

The diocese said that it had spent over $106 million on attorneys and other bankruptcy professionals since filing for Chapter 11, including $33 million to the attorneys representing abuse survivors.

If the bankruptcy is dismissed, abuse survivors would be free to continue their lawsuits against the diocese in New York state courts.

Richard Tollner, who chaired the official committee representing abuse survivors in the bankruptcy, said that the dismissal would send a strong message to other debtors who are “using bankruptcy to avoid accountability before state court juries.”

“If your plan does not have the support of the survivors’ creditors’ committee, your reorganization plan will fail,” Tollner said in a statement.

In re The Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York, U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 20-12345.

For Rockville Centre: Corinne Ball and Todd Geremia of Jones Day

For the creditors committee: James Stang of Pachulski Stang Ziehl & Jones

Complete Article HERE!