Washington DC Archbishop Wilton Gregory, the Becket Law firm, and social justice warriors at The New York Times have cast a shadow over the state of our freedoms.
- “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ … I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” (Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Washington, D.C., August 28,1963)
Character matters, so may it not come up short as the world watches what America does with our hard-won freedoms in this age of discontent. What becomes of them determines what becomes of us. Character matters for me, too, but sometimes there is just no way to retain it except by writing the bare-knuckled truth. I admit that, like most priests in America, I fear the repercussions, but there is just no safe, politically correct way to write what I must now write.
There had been a decades-long progression of examples reflecting patently dishonest character and leadership in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. When Archbishop Wilton Gregory succeeded Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who in turn succeeded Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, one of Archbishop Gregory’s first messages to his people was, “I will always tell you the truth.”
In light of that promise of transparency, what a disappointment the downward slide has been. In “The Death of George Floyd: Breaking News and Broken Trust,” I wrote of a visit by President Donald Trump to the Saint John Paul II Shrine in Washington. After the visit, Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory stated that he learned of the visit only on the night before, adding:
- “I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people even those with whom we might disagree… Saint John Paul II was an ardent defender of the rights and dignity of human beings. His legacy bears vivid witness to that truth.”
Many now find it far more baffling and reprehensible that Archbishop Gregory would so blatantly mischaracterize the long-planned purpose of the President’s visit and snub it with both his absence and his disdain. It turns out that the Archbishop did know of the visit. He was invited by the White House to participate in it, but declined the invitation to be with the President due to a “previous commitment.”
Archbishop Gregory should also have been well aware of what took place before and during the President’s appearance at the Saint John Paul II Shrine on the 2nd of June, 2020. Its significance was spelled out in “A Big Step for Religious Freedom,” (June 12, 2020) a Wall Street Journal editorial by Nina Shea, a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute who served as a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom:
- “[I]n a rare ray of light this dark spring, America’s defining right has been recognized at the highest level as a ‘moral and national security imperative.’ This is more than a symbolic gesture. On June 2, President Trump signed an executive order that declares support for religious freedom a foreign policy ‘priority.’ It mandates that ‘the United States will respect and vigorously promote this freedom’ abroad… The Trump administration has elevated the cause of religious freedom since the president came into office.”
Ms. Shea refers to Religious Liberty as “America’s defining right,” highlighting its importance as the most fundamental of our freedoms. It is President Trump’s emphasis on this right that Archbishop Wilton Gregory dismissed as “reprehensible,” and denigrated its culmination in a presidential visit to the Saint John Paul II Shrine as a “Catholic facility [that] would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated” for a partisan political purpose.
Nina Shea writes in the WSJ that the President’s executive order puts teeth in the International Religious Freedom Act’s listing of severe religious persecution in countries like Nigeria and China, notorious for their suppression of religious freedoms. The order allocates funding for programs that protect religious rights in communities abroad through economic sanctions and other measures against oppressive governments.
WADING IN THE WASHINGTON SWAMP
It would be informative to know whether Archbishop Gregory objected when President Barack Obama received an honorary degree at the University of Notre Dame ignoring his global promotion of abortion. To dismiss President Trump’s visit to the Saint John Paul II Shrine as “reprehensible” is… well… reprehensible. In a recent comment on These Stone Walls, a reader from Texas expressed a widely felt dismay:
- “Archbishop Gregory denigrated the visit by President Trump to the Saint John Paul II Shrine. Turns out the Archbishop was invited to be with Trump but declined. This after he claimed to not have known about the visit. What an embarrassment!”
The drama in Washington became more mysterious six days later. At a time when the Archdiocese was still under a ban from public Masses and an order to maintain social distancing, priests of the Archdiocese received a highly unusual June 8 email from the Chancery Office. They were asked to participate in a protest in front of the White House.
The email specifically asked that the priests wear a cassock or black clerical clothing along with a mask. It instructed them to bring protest placards. Several priests of the Archdiocese said they were surprised by this given the volatile atmosphere of the protests descending into riots at that time and the fact that priests of the Archdiocese were still under a conflicting order to maintain social distancing and refrain from any gatherings related to their ministry.
Two priests spoke with the Catholic News Agency on condition of anonymity because they, too, feared repercussions from the Archdiocese. So much for religious freedom and freedom of speech. The priests told the Catholic News Agency:
- “We have been told for weeks that we cannot meet in groups of the faithful, open our churches, serve in our parishes. Now they want us to take to the streets.”
Other priests objected that media photographs of them in clerical garb protesting in front of the White House had the appearance of doing exactly what Archbishop Gregory accused President Trump of doing: creating a photo opportunity for partisan political purposes “manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles which call us to defend the rights of all people even those with whom we might disagree.”
Was there any reason to believe that the rights of priests would be protected against media criticism of such a clerical protest? Archbishop Wilton Gregory was no champion for the rights of his priests. As President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002, Archbishop Gregory extended invitations to SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, to address the Bishops’ Dallas conference representing the voices of victims.
SNAP director, David Clohessy, and founder, Barbara Blame offered emotional, but highly contrived testimony while bishops tripped over each other to get their tears on camera. There was no rebuttal except that propounded by Cardinal Avery Dulles who opposed the Dallas Charter in “The Rights of Accused Priests.”
The objections of Cardinal Dulles were ignored. Under the leadership and direction of Archbishop Gregory, the standard employed for removing accused priests from ministry was the lowest standard possible. If an accusation is “credible” on it’s face – meaning only that it cannot be immediately disproven – then the cleric is out forever or until he is indisputably able to prove his innocence. In First Things magazine, a shocked Father Richard John Neuhaus described the end result:
- “Zero Tolerance. One strike and you’re out. Boot them out of ministry. Our bishops have succeeded in scandalizing the faithful anew by adopting in the Dallas Charter a thoroughly unbiblical, untraditional, and unCatholic approach to sin and grace. They ended up adopting a policy that was sans repentance, sans conversion, sans forbearance, sans prudential judgment, sans forgiveness, sans almost everything one might have hoped for from the bishops of the Church of Jesus Christ.” (“Scandal Time,” 2002)
“WILL NO ONE RID ME OF THIS TURBULENT PRIEST?”
One of the main developers and proponents of that standard was also one of Archbishop Gregory’s predecessors in Washington, former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick whose own history is about to be published in a soon-to-be-released Vatican report. SNAP and its director, David Clohessy, were also later accused of extensive corruption in a lawsuit from a SNAP employee reported by Bill Donohue and the Catholic League in “SNAP Exposed” and by me in “David Clohessy Resigns SNAP in Alleged Kickback Scheme.”
In the 12 Century, Thomas à Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor of the King, excommunicated some of the corrupt barons of King Henry II after they summarily executed two accused priests. The King raged at Becket’s affront to his authority saying, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?”
Four of the King’s men, taking that as a directive, murdered the archbishop at Mass in his cathedral on December 29, 1170. In the end, King Henry had to accede to canon law and the jurisdiction of church courts over clergy. As for Becket, he became a saint and martyr canonized in 1173.
It pains me greatly that an organization I deeply respect, the Becket Law firm, defenders of religious liberty taking its name from the legacy of Saint Thomas à Becket, published a defense of “credibly accused” as sufficient for denying the civil rights of Catholic priests, but no one else. Maria Montserrat Alvarado wrote on behalf of the Becket Law firm:
- “In ‘Diocese of Lubbock v. Guerrero,’ the plaintiff, a Catholic clergyman, sued for defamation after the Diocese of Lubbock included him on a list of credibly accused clergy. The lower courts sided with Guerrero [saying] that because the Diocese published the information that could be seen… outside the confines of the church [it] could be used to sue the Church… The lower court’s strange view runs counter to Pope Francis and USCCB’s specific call for greater transparency.”
The above was posted by Becket Law on Twitter, but These Stone Walls does not have the reach that the Becket Law firm has. My rebuttal was but a mere whisper, posted nonetheless, so maybe you can make it a bit louder by sharing this post:
- “I must register my objection and grave disappointment with Becket Law for statements about the defamation lawsuit by a priest whose name appears on his bishop’s list of the ‘credibly accused.’ Becket’s website cites Pope Francis in a call for transparency. Pope Francis also said in 2019 that the names of accused priests should only be published if the accusations are proven. The U.S. bishops adopted a ‘credible’ standard that does not even come close to that. It is of deep concern that Becket Law appears to either not know this or not care… For the great damage done by this practice.” (See “The Credibility of Bishops on Credibly Accused Priests”)
For over a decade on These Stone Walls, I have warned against the practice of bishops citing a false and unjust “transparency” as justification for publishing lists of priests who have been merely accused with little to no effort at real substantiation. This is the legacy of the Dallas Charter and “credibly accused.”
It is for good reason that Catholic League President Bill Donohue, reflecting on my own case on NBC’s “Today” show on October 13, 2005 said:
- “There is no segment of the American population which has less civil liberties protection than the average American Catholic priest.”
A DIRE THREAT TO FREEDOM OF THE PRESS – FROM WITHIN
Another grave threat to our freedoms is the diminishment of Freedom of the Press by stewards not quite up to the task. Most people who read newspapers have seen the term, “op-ed,” but few know its true origin. It began as a feature of The New York Times once America’s most respected flagship newspaper but now slowly collapsing under the weight of its own hubris. “Op-ed” was newspeak for “Opposite the Editorial Page.”
Its meaning was both literal and figurative. It was a feature by a guest writer invited by the Times for an opinion piece that would appear on the page opposite the newspaper’s own main editorial page. Over time, it also came to be symbolic of the Times’ commitment to integrity in journalism. The “op-ed” also provided a forum in which writers could reflect positions that were opposite of those the editors propounded on their editorial page. Thus, “op-ed” came to have a double meaning.
The old liberal order for which The New York Times and other newspapers became a sometimes honorable mouthpiece has given way to a more radical form of liberalism and what today is manipulated as news coverage. Along with its rise, two of America’s signature freedoms, Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Speech, have fallen.
The most recent evidence for that is something that just happened in the editorial offices of two formerly liberal newspapers, The New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer. At the Times, a revolution has occurred in the newsroom when Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, wrote an op-ed defending President Donald Trump’s statement that the 1807 Insurrection Act could be invoked to call upon the military to quell rioting and massive destruction in our cities.
Senator Cotton alluded (as did I in these pages in recent weeks) that Democrat President Lyndon Johnson summoned the military to quell riots following the 1968 assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King. And Republican President George H.W. Bush also invoked the Insurrection Act to call for military intervention against 1992 Los Angeles riots following the acquittal of four L.A.P.D. officers who brutally beat Rodney King. Today, the progressively manipulated media wants us to believe that this was an original but unconstitutional idea of President Trump.
A Wall Street Journal editorial referred to the Times reporters as “social justice warriors” who ransacked an opinion piece by Senator Cotton because it expressed a view that “millions of Americans support if the police cannot handle the rioting and violence.” As a result of the Times reporters’ rebellion and rage over allowing such views in public view, The New York Times demurred and accepted its Editorial Page editor’s resignation.
The once honorable concept of the “op-ed” is now dead, murdered by activist reporters whose politics now take precedence over the news. The long-time editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer was also pushed out because that newspapers’ own activist reporters revolted over an opinion piece headline, “Buildings Matter, Too” by Architecture Critic, Inga Saffron. It was seen by the reporters as an affront to the “Black Lives Matter” movement and a demand was made to remove it, and remove its author.
This all began unchecked in America’s universities where sensitive ears cannot bear to hear opposing views and college administrators cave as militant protesters scream down conservative voices. I recently had a headline posted on Facebook and Google along with a link to my post, “The Feast of Corpus Christi and the Order, of Melchizedek.” The headline was “Eternal Life Matters.” It was seen and “liked” by several readers before being silenced by both Facebook and Google, both of which deny placing limits on conservative viewpoints.
In “I Have a Dream,” The Rev. Martin Luther King’s famous ode to liberty, he included the moving sentence:
- “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
The great irony for Martin is that his much needed voice would not be heard today had not his very life been forfeit. And the irony for me is that I could not be free to write today had not freedom itself been taken from me.
It is the content of our character that determines the state of our freedom. America is at a tipping point, but it is not too late to save our freedoms from madness. The content of our character is what unites us, not as Black Americans, or White Americans, or Native Americans, but as Americans.
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Note from Father Gordon MacRae: My late friend, father Richard John Neuhaus, said there are only three things required to address the madness of our time: Fidelity, Fidelity, and Fidelity. I thank you for yours. Please Subscribe to These Stone Walls and Follow us on Facebook. You may also like to read and share these related eye-openers:
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