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Peer Review

Regarding Bishop Emil C. Wcela’s title query, What Did I Miss? I should like to suggest that the missing category about which he is puzzled is the use of peer review (3/15). If seminarians had been polled regularly, perhaps some weeks before the seminary authorities met to discuss and vote on the candidates for priesthood at the end of each academic year, much more could have been learned about the candidates and their ability to relate effectively and appropriately. While peer review never tells the whole story, it does add another dimension. Ordained in 1965, I too, like the bishop, wish I could have been more effective, but there was no way at the time to help.

(Rev.) Stephen F. Duffy
Long Branch, N.J.

Cost Analysis

The article Facts, Myths and Questions (3/22) stated that the research by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice reported a cost of $472 million for the sexual abuse scandal. In fact, the John Jay research actually gave a cost estimate of $572 million. Further, the article said that the cost may eventually reach a billion dollars. I prepared an estimate of the total cost of the scandal, using data from the John Jay research and reports published by the Associated Press. I assumed that data describing cost of claims for non-respondent dioceses was the same as costs for respondent dioceses and religious communities. If this assumption is valid, the estimated total cost thus far is $1.051 billion in actual and anticipated costs. These costs represent events that have occurred and, as such, would be recognized in financial statements. I think that the phrase may eventually reach in the article should be revised to read has reached.

Joseph Claude Harris
Seattle, Wash.

Financial Impact

Thank you for the recent series of articles on the report by John Jay College (3/22).

As excellent as those articles were, like much of the information contained in the secular press, they failed to analyze fully the financial data collected by the researchers and neglected to comment on the report’s shortcomings in the financial area or on the financial impact on the dioceses.

The John Jay Report calculates the total cost of the scandal thus far as $573 million ($237 million has not been covered by insurance). By its own admission, the report seriously understates the extent of the financial impact because it fails to include recent expensive settlements like those in the Archdiocese of Boston, as well as potential future settlements from the more than 1,000 pending legal cases for which cost figures are not yet available.

But there are other causes for the underestimation of the financial impact. The report considers only the abuse of minors under age 18. But the press has reported on a number of abuse settlements involving young men (frequently seminarians), which would inflate the cost figures. More significantly, fully 14 percent of the dioceses and religious orders failed to report any financial figures at all for the John Jay Report. In addition, other dioceses reported only partial figures: 40 percent failed to provide data on the cost for priest treatment expenses, 38 percent gave no data on attorney’s fees, and 20 percent failed to provide complete cost figures for victim compensation. It is likely that the total cost of the scandal to the dioceses, even after insurance payouts, will exceed one billion dollars.

Unfortunately, many bishops are stonewalling on the financial impact of the scandal. In an attempt to deflect criticism, a number have issued statements to the effect, Diocesan payments with respect to the clergy abuse scandal came from investment income, not parishioner contributions. The kindest term for this rhetoric is ingenious. Bishops understand that the ultimate source of all diocesan investment wealth comes from the contributions or bequests of previous generations of Catholics. Do the bishops honestly believe that it was the intention of those parishioners that their contributions and bequests (and the investment return earned on them) be used for clergy abuse costs, typically with no transparency or accountability?

Finally, both bishops and parishioners need to understand that the real financial cost of the scandal is not so much in the funds expended, but rather in the important uses to which these funds could have been employed, but for which they were not available. As a consequence of the financial costs of the scandal, we have fewer (and more poorly funded) diocesan programs, including those that reach out to the most needy. The underfunded deferred maintenance in our parishes is a ticking financial time bomb. And I am sure there is no need to remind anyone of the scandalously low salaries paid to our parochial school teachers and other dedicated lay personnel. The billion-dollar payout could certainly have been put to better use!

The extent of the abuse is enormous. But its financial impact has only begun to be felt.

Charles E. Zech
Wallingford, Pa.

Special Relationship

As the wife of a deacon, I read with interest the article The Ministry of the Deacon (3/22). There is indeed still much misinformation and confusion concerning this ordained ministry, and this confusion will continue until the church looks at the sacrament of holy orders in conjunction with the sacrament of matrimony. When we speak of the deacon having a foot in both worlds, the two worlds are the two sacraments of service. When a parish is lucky enough to have a deacon, it is lucky enough, in most cases, to have also a deacon’s wife, who is also a gift to the church that has its own charism and brings [her] own contribution to the life of the church. It is true that the deacon has a special relationship with the bishop, but he also has a special responsibility to his wife and family. Any decisions made concerning assignments and ministries should be made with consideration for the deacon’s family. The church will continue to be ill served until the order of the diaconate is fully understood and appreciated in conjunction with the sacrament of matrimony.

Christine Sandford
East Haven, Conn.

Plight of Parishes

I could not believe the article Practicing What We Teach (3/29). I am the business manager of a parish in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. I wrote a letter to the finance director informing him that we might not be able to pay our assessment this year. The following is a portion of that letter.

Our assessment of $41,539 includes a $23,245 tax on the parish’s subsidy of our school, which is the same thing as taxing tuition. Sooner or later there has to be some recognition of the plight of parishes like ours in a mature community which are supporting schools. In the meantime we are doing our best to operate our school and parish in a Christian manner, serving all, not just the affluent. Our pastor is determined that our school will not be only for the rich. We all have our problems, but these mandated entitlements seem to be the product of a lack of understanding. I am sure that if the morality of a progressive taxation for federal taxes were open for debate, the powers that be would be able to justify it. But when it comes to assessing parishes, that is another matter. There is more than a bit of irony in this.

While I do not agree with the companion article dealing with progressive taxation, I appreciate a different opinion. Taxation is not meant to be a method of achieving egalitarianism.

A. A. Romweber
North Bend, Ohio

Broader Focus

Bravo to Russell Shaw for his article, What Vocation Shortage? (3/29). The discussion of vocation is too often limited to priesthood or consecrated religious life aloneor somehow, such vocations seem to be valued more by the church and vocation directors. Religious communities have the opportunity and privilege to share their rich tradition of discernment and deep understanding of vocation but too often seem to be focused only on recruitment. What a gift and power the church and religious communities would unleash if the focus shifted, as Mr. Shaw suggests, to a much broader one on discernment: lay people blessed with a deeper understanding and appreciation for their role in service to the world, and a much healthier context out of which individuals could and would make a commitment to consecrated life as priests or religious.

Mark Laboe
Chicago, Ill.

Responding in Kind

Russell Shaw delivers a timely message for today’s church in What Vocation Shortage? (3/29). He takes nothing away from the importance of priesthood or religious life and adds the mission of God and his church to each and every Christian.

I have long believed that the overall purpose and goal of every state in life, indeed every life, is the same. We are here to learn to love. I realize it sounds simplistic and the word love is so abused, but that does not change the truth that God is love. When we take in the love of God, we are capable of responding in kind.

We laypeople can no longer compartmentalize discipleship. Whether we are lay ministers in the church or volunteer ministers or workers in the marketplace, we must be consistent as disciples of Jesus. We learn to love through all circumstances, all experiences and all relationships and by the grace of God.

It may be that we have fewer vocations to the priesthood and religious life at present. To manage the current load some adjustments will have to be made in the short term. In the long run, awakening all laypeople to their personal vocation will surely serve the coming of the kingdom.

Irene Osborne
Billings, Mont.

Lay Initiatives

Though I am not sure I understand the Voice of the Faithful’s mission to share in the governance of the church (The Real Agenda, 2/23), my mind strayed back to the initiatives of the laity in the early 1940’s.

Dorothy Day started The Catholic Worker; the interracial pioneer Baroness Catherine de Hueck Doherty, the Madonna House; F. J. Sheed and Maisie Ward started Sheed & Ward publications, for example.

None of these initiatives was launched under the official umbrella or with the sanction of the church. Catholics, secure in their own identity and their doctrinal orthodoxy acted and, ultimately, had an enormous influence on bishops and priests, not only in the United States but worldwide. Where are such initiatives by the laity today?

(Rev.) George P. Carlin
Harper, Tex.

Record Returns

Since age and infirmities prevent me from attending movies, I tend to read reviews by Richard A. Blake, S.J. I am not sure what the role of a critic should be, presumably to describe the work to the readers. Father Blake does that concerning the Passion of the Christ (3/15).

As a business analyst, however, he failed miserably. His prediction that ticket sales would fall off immediately is incorrect. Apparently Gibson will make near record returns on his investment.

Robert McNulty
Palo Alto, Calif.

Worthy Centerfold

Congratulations, America, on the beautiful advertisement for the Adelante Project in the March 29, 2004, issue. It gives centerfold a whole new meaning. Thanks for helping to inform readers about these wonderful films which have been so helpful to me as a religious educator. My students love them. And as a grandma, I assure you, there is nothing more delightful than having the little ones curl up with you to enjoy The Velveteen Rabbit.

Dorothy M. Noble
Wayne, N.J.

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