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Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Legacy of Dallas: Scapegoating Innocent Priests

This is the lead article from the Spring issue of the Les Femmes newsletter, The Truth. You can find the full newsletter at 

by Mary Ann Kreitzer

Antonio Gramsci, Marxist revolutionary - How
many of our bishops are offspring of his plan?
Sometimes the best way to understand the present is to study the past. The chaos in the Church over the sex abuse scandals and the incompetent, even criminal, way bishops deal with it didn't come from nowhere. It was planned and orchestrated. We could go back several generations to Bella Dodd's 1953 testimony to the House Committee on Un-American Activities where she outlined how, as a Communist agent, she infiltrated the seminaries with homosexuals in the 1930s. It was Antonio Gramsci's strategy of destroying the enemy from within. Gramsci saw that the Christian West could not be destroyed by direct assault. The institutions had to be subverted first. As author

Fr. James Thornton writes in Gramsci's Grand Plan:

The civilized world, Gramsci deduced, had been thoroughly saturated with Christianity for 2,000 years…. Christianity…was so pervasive, that it formed an almost impenetrable barrier to the new, revolutionary civilization Marxists wish to create. Attempting to batter down that barrier…only generated powerful counter-revolutionary forces… making them potentially deadly. Therefore, in place of the frontal attack, how much more advantageous and less hazardous it would be to attack the enemy's society subtly, with the aim of transforming the society's collective mind gradually, over a period of a few generations, from its former Christian worldview into one more harmonious to Marxism….

Gramsci argued that alliances with a broad spectrum of leftist groups would prove essential to Communist victory. In Gramsci's time these included, among others, various "anti-fascist" organizations, trade unions, and socialist political groups. In our time, alliances with the Left would include radical feminists, extremist environmentalists, "civil rights" movements, anti-police associations,… ultra-liberal church groups, and so forth. These organizations, along with open Communists, together create a united front working for the transformation of the old Christian culture….

Let there be no doubt that Gramsci's vision of the future was entirely Marxist and that he accepted the validity of Marxism's overall worldview. Where he differed was in the process for achieving the victory of that worldview.

Rather than the iron fist, Gramsci chose the velvet glove and the seductive voice of the serpent, "You can be like gods." And the mainstream media illustrate every day how successful that strategy has proved. Sadly many of its enablers wear roman collars and bishops' miters.

Now let us fast forward to the 21st century and the 2002 bishops' meeting in Dallas. The Church was reeling from massive scandals. Several generations of bishops covered up, coddled, and even rewarded crimes and dissent. The Boston Globe, no friend of the Church, reveled in exposing priestly sex abuse and, with the rest of the secular media, turned the spotlight on Dallas. The bishops promised to "fix" the problem, but actually set the stage for phase two.

Phase 2, Spring 2019, "Yadda, yadda, yadda - the bishops agree to continue to police themselves.
Prominent Catholic writer, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus analyzed Dallas in a three-part series shortly after the meeting ended. The final article, Scandal Time: What the Dallas Meeting of Bishops Was Really About, called the bishops men in panic who "behaved more like Senators or CEOs engaged in damage control than as moral teachers engaged in the gospel." The charter with its one strike and you're out policy, "put an adversarial relationship between the bishop and the priest." It also defined sex abuse in the broadest possible way:

Sexual abuse includes contacts or interactions between a child and an adult when the child is being used as an object of sexual gratification for the adult. A child is abused whether or not this activity involves explicit force, whether or not it involves genital or physical contact, whether or not it is initiated by the child, and whether or not there is discernible harmful outcome.

Later some of the bishops said the vote was rushed and they had no idea the definition was so loose. So much for good stewardship! Presumably, a priest could be kicked out if he committed lust in his heart with a minor or some other "vaguely defined" incident. Neuhaus called the bishops' action "scapegoating" which had "nothing to do with 'the protection of children and young people.'" It was "panic" in an effort to "save [the bishops'] public relations skins at the price of betraying the gospel," not to mention their priests. Furthermore, the bishops ignored the fundamental rule of justice, the presumption of innocence. Accused priests were considered guilty until proven innocent, an impossible situation when some accusations were decades old with no witnesses and no evidence.

Child sex abuse is a horrendous crime and some of the accused were vicious serial predators. Others working together formed sex rings where boys were passed around like treats in a candy box. Many bishops covered up these abuses and moved the perpetrators ensuring new victims. When they finally had to pay the piper, they swept up innocent priests along with the guilty to illustrate their newfound vigilance. Many, themselves guilty of enabling abuse (two thirds of the 192 ordinaries were complicit), sacrificed the innocent along with the guilty for the "good of the Church." It was an effort on the part of the bishops to redeem their own tainted reputations. They used the argument before convincing parents not to file criminal charges against child rapists and molesters because the scandal would “hurt the Church.” But was it the “Church” they were thinking about? Many of these same bishops oversaw dioceses that were hotbeds of dissent and liturgical abuse endangering the souls of their flocks! “Hurt the Church” indeed! 

[Two bishops, Shawn McKnight and Joseph Strickland spoke at the Spring meeting demanding laity be involved in investigating corruption of bishops.]

Neuhaus correctly stated that the crisis was firmly rooted in dissent and infidelity, particularly dissent to Pope Paul VI’s encyclical on human sexuality, Humanae Vitae: 
The failure of the bishops to respond to [the organized and public defiance by Catholic theologians and some bishops] and to vigorously communicate the message of the encyclical constitutes the moment at which the American bishops ceased to be teachers….In a very real way they stopped being bishops and became business managers and practitioners of group dynamics in an amorphous and increasingly fractious constituency, their chief job being to keep all factions on board and to avoid ‘divisiveness.’ Truth and fidelity can sometimes divide. So much for truth and fidelity.
As Neuhaus says, “At Dallas, fidelity was not on the agenda.” And in many dioceses that continues today with daily scandals perpetrated by priests every bit as malicious as those who attacked Humanae Vitae in 1968 led by the notorious Fr. Charlie Curran. Dissenters today, like Fr. James Martin and the “nuns on the bus,” spew their heresy with no danger of being reined in. Instead they receive awards, honors, and accolades while innocent priests absolved of wrongdoing face permanent punishment. This illustrates what veteran journalist Phil Lawler describes as the second scandal of Dallas, “the massive failure of leadership on the part of the American hierarchy.” In 2015 Lawler wrote Priests Need Defense against False Accusations:
A Catholic priest who is falsely accused of sexual abuse can’t count on his bishop to defend him. [See Sacrificing Priests on the Altar of Insurance by David Shaneyfelt and Joseph Maher in Homiletic and Pastoral Review.]

Twenty years ago, diocesan officials and their legal representatives would defend aggressively against sex-abuse claims: disclosing little, admitting nothing, and demanding silence if the victim accepted a financial settlement. The system was tilted against the accusers. But now the pendulum has swung to the opposite extreme; the system tilts against the accused.

Shaneyfelt and Maher explain that even if bishops wanted to defend priests, in cases when they were convinced the accusations were fraudulent, they might not be free to do so. Often the legal strategy of the diocese is dictated by the insurance companies that would be obligated to pay off a claim.

For the insurer, the best possible outcome in a sex-abuse lawsuit is an inexpensive [out-of-court] resolution…. But for the accused priest, an out-of-court settlement is a disaster. He has not been cleared; his reputation is shattered….Under the US bishops’ guidelines, a priest who has been credibly accused must be suspended from ministry. If the lawsuit is settled out of court, the bishop cannot reinstate that priest without facing public protests.

…In today’s climate it would take unusual confidence and courage for a bishop to announce that he is prepared to fight—against not only plaintiffs’ lawyers, but also hostile reporters and publicists—to defend a priest’s reputation against a false charge.
The fact is, many bishops prefer to let a priest dangle in the wind by himself than take the risk of hanging out on the flagpole with him. Courage is in short supply these days and bishops often appear eager to publish a list of accused priests to demonstrate their zeal to act. How often is that zeal more about protecting the bishop than the children?

Shaneyfelt and Maher asserted in another article in 2017, When the Church Defames Her Priests, that revealing the names of accused priests is bad policy. If a priest is arrested for a crime, his name is already public. But the “class of individuals against whom ‘credible’ claims have been made includes individuals who both did and did not, engage in the complained conduct.” The innocent have a right to their good names.

In the winter issue of the Les Femmes newsletter I described the situation of Fr. Chris Buckner, an accused Arlington priest, who, despite exoneration, remains on the “credibly accused” list. When I asked Vicar for Clergy Fr. Paul Scalia why Fr. Buckner was still on the list or why a footnote about his exoneration wasn’t included, he cited clerical “privacy.” So Fr. Buckner, who retired in 2018 although he is well below the mandatory retirement age of 75, remains under a cloud, a victim of diocesan slander. He may attend priests’ meetings and retreats, but his reputation is trashed.

Fr. Buckner is not the only Arlington priest to suffer this persecution and injustice. Fr. Michael Duesterhaus, a former navy chaplain and veteran of Iraq was exonerated months ago of an accusation. He sits in Limbo waiting for the diocesan bureaucracy to determine his future. I hoped to see him among the clergy appointments released in May, but he wasn’t. Why? When will he be returned to ministry?

Endless investigating illustrates Lawler’s point that the second scandal is the crisis of leadership. It’s time to hold bishops accountable and Shaneyfelt and Maher make an important point related to that:
Those [priests] whose names are…published [on a “credibly accused” list]… have potential claims for defamation, and other civil claims, which the civil courts will review, to determine the truth of those accusations, not whether they were “credible.” If the accusations are untrue, then whether the bishop believes they were “credible” is irrelevant; he has published defamatory information.... While to our knowledge, no former cleric has yet sued a bishop for landing on a “credibly accused” list, we suspect that the time is at hand for such lawsuits. A great many priests have felt betrayed and mistreated by accusations made against them, and their stories are legion.
Now we come to the latest Arlington priest lynching, Fr. Ron Escalante. Since 2009 he’s served at St. Francis de Sales in Purcellville, first as a parochial vicar and then as pastor. I received a call from a distraught parishioner several months ago describing what happened there. Since then, a number of parishioners directly involved confirmed the story.

Here’s the scandal in a nutshell. Fr. Escalante discovered that the DRE, James Blankenship, was using the parish copy machine and supplies (not to mention his parish work hours) to the tune of thousands of dollars to promote a non-profit run by his brother and himself. The St. Isidore Project raises fresh produce for the poor in the local community, a noble goal, but, as my blogging partner, Chriss Rainey pointed out, there is plenty of potential for turning non-profits into cash cows for the organizers. The old adage, “follow the money,” comes to mind here. At any rate, Fr. Escalante confronted the DRE after the bookkeeper exposed the unexplained escalation in expenses (800% increase). According to an eye witness to the discussion between Fr. Escalante and Blankenship, the exchange was loud and angry with Father livid but calm and the DRE “out of control.” Blankenship could have just admitted the wrongdoing and paid the bill. He didn’t.
Fr. Ron Escalante
What happened next can only be described as evil. The DRE solicited mothers in the parish to find someone willing to accuse Fr. Escalante of inappropriate behavior with their minor daughters. After shocked refusals by several, one mom agreed. She had requested Father to anoint her daughter after a sports injury and was present when he did. He hugged the girl after anointing her. Grateful at the time, the girl’s mom later had her daughter accuse Father of a “boundary” violation, for “aggressive hugging.” Father was removed from the parish in November with this “credible allegation.” (It’s important to make clear that a “boundary issue” is not the same as sex abuse. Treating it as such is irresponsible. Do the bishops’ guidelines, as vague as they are, even apply?) At any rate, the girl, under increasing stress and very upset and crying, told several school friends her mom made her lie. One of them was so disturbed by the incident, she told her Protestant pastor who advised her to tell the truth.

The accusation and the escalating situation in the parish angered the other moms solicited to defame Father. They rose in his defense. The story was picked up by Valerie Cury, owner of the local paper, the Blue Ridge Leader. Cury interviewed the daughter’s friend in the presence of her parents. The friend said the accuser was pressured by her mom to lie about Father “for the good of the Church.” The mom also instructed her daughter to repeat the false story to school counselors. The diocese went ballistic when Cury posted the story on line. They harassed her and demanded she remove it because it was unprofessional and based on anonymous sources. (They weren’t anonymous to her, of course.) Removing it briefly, Cury reposted after consulting her lawyers. The diocese then publicly maligned her. In the months since, diocesan sources also attacked the parish moms, accused them of gossip and lies saying they don’t know the “whole story.” The chancery refused to address any of their concerns and questions because of “clerical privacy.” (Where have we heard that before?) They also said other adult allegations had been made which leads me to wonder how busy the DRE was to solicit more claims of hugging atrocities to bolster the case. He has since left the parish.

The Diocese was also looking for other accusers in Father’s previous parishes. When the bishop’s letter was read at St. Mary’s in Fredericksburg in December, including the fact that Fr. Escalante was exonerated of any criminal activity by the Loudoun Country Sheriff’s Office, there was a three-minute standing ovation. Clearly, the parishioners of St. Francis, where Fr. Escalante has served since 2009, are not the only ones who value his ministry. Unfortunately, the bishop and diocesan bureaucrats do not appear to be among them.

The diocese claims to be investigating, but not a single parish eye witness other than the accuser and her family had been contacted or interviewed by the diocese as we go to press. Several families at St. Francis de Sales have first-hand knowledge of the alleged incident and/or the collusion of the DRE and others to smear Fr. Escalante. They contacted the diocese numerous times speaking to General Counsel Mark Hermann, Vicar for Clergy, Fr. Scalia, and others. Response? The brush off! Among them are a mom who is a Navy Captain and another who is director of national intelligence investigations with a global human resource certification. These are not silly, gossipy women despite accusations to that effect. They have been more vigilant in investigating the incident than the diocese has.

One of the most damning parts of this pathetic story relates to the Protestant friend of the accuser. In early April her parents attempted to reach the bishop speaking to several chancery employees over the course of a week. Shunted from one person to another, they were finally advised to send a letter to the bishop. They did! Along with their daughter’s statement. Both documents can be read at the Lepanto Institute’s website. The parents’ cover letter describes how they were “brushed off” by the diocese, the same treatment the mothers at the parish received. (Ironic isn’t it when a Protestant family seems to care more about the truth than the bishop and his chancery officials?)

And now from the “believe it or not” file: the diocese claims they never received the letter. Contacted by Michael Hichborn at Lepanto who’s investigating the matter, communications officer Billy Atwell wrote, “We have endeavored to speak to anyone with direct knowledge of relevant information. However, some who have contacted the Diocese have merely repeated various allegations and rumors, and have offered no new information of value.” His claim is baffling in view of the fact that several callers were among those solicited by James Blankenship to accuse Fr. Escalante. One was an eye witness to Blankenship’s misuse of parish property and the confrontation between Blankenship and Fr. Escalante which appears to have triggered the false charges. Fortunately, Fr. Escalante has engaged lawyers and is fighting for his reputation. And he has many friends. But what’s happened to him (and to Fr. Buckner and Fr. Duesterhaus) is a serious warning to all priests about the likely scenario following a false accusation.

Our Lady, Queen of the Clergy,
pray for our persecuted priests!
Attention, Fathers! … If you are falsely accused expect that: 1) You will immediately be removed and presumed guilty unless you can prove you are innocent, almost impossible in a he said/ she said case. 2) You will be silenced, forbidden to discuss your case with anyone, especially your parishioners. 3) A diocesan “investigation” is likely to be one-sided and pro-forma aimed at protecting the bishop and diocesan assets, not you! 4) Laity who defend you and try to find out the truth will be trashed and ignored, described as gossips and rumor mongers. 5) You will be on your own financially. The bishop has deep pockets, but you will need to depend on your own meager stipend and the generosity of friends to help pay your legal expenses. 6) The diocese will want to solve the matter quickly and cheaply under pressure from the insurance company so they will probably settle out of court ensuring your permanent suspension. 7) You will disappear and anyone who tries to find out what happened will be dismissed with the mantra of “clerical privacy.”

I urge readers to pray for Fr. Escalante and the parishioners of St. Francis de Sales. And please back up your prayers with fasting. How about skipping several dinners out and sending the money to Fr. Escalante for his legal costs. He has civil and canon lawyers and they are not working pro bono. If you would like to help, please send a check made out to Fr. Ron Escalante c/o Les Femmes, 1216 Mill Rd. Woodstock, VA 22664. And please pray for the bishop and the diocese. They continue to allow this injustice to escalate. And remember, the Fr. Escalantes out there are legion. Please pray for them all through the intercession of Our Lady, Queen of the Clergy.
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