Several Boston Catholic Insider (BCI) readers have asked what we know about the latest on the investigation into homosexual activity and sexual harassment at St. John's Seminary. Based on internal and external indicators, we get the distinct impression the outcome could end up looking largely like a "nothing-burger" and it could be set up as a whitewashing. A few heads may roll, but not much else will change.
When the scandal hit, Cdl. Sean O'Malley responded with great fanfare about the major investigation into St. John's Seminary. BCI is told that the high-paid folks on the fourth floor of the Pastoral Center said he needed to look tough on such issues right now. The rector was put on leave so there could be a "fully independent inquiry." We first thought that was odd phrasing, as the members of the inquiry panel include:
Other than the above people investigating the problem, the group is "fully independent."
John Monaco, one of those who reported the homosexual activity at OnePeterFive issued an open letter to Cardinal Sean and public complaint about a possible conflict of interest by Bishop O'Connell:
Admittedly, I am a bit perturbed that you appointed a former member of the seminary faculty (who was on the faculty during my time at SJS) to lead this investigation. The Catholic faithful have seen how bishops policing themselves and conducting internal investigations can jeopardize the objectivity so desperately needed for the pursuit of justice.
And now we learn in the Boston Pilot that Bishop O'Connell is sidelined and Sr. Janet Eisner, head of Emmanuel College, is now leading the investigation. Is this change because of the complaint from the former seminarian, or because Bishop O'Connell could be a candidate to take over as seminary rector after the investigation, or both? We're not sure.
Anyway, sources say the behind-the-scenes hand of Fr. Bryan Hehir is all over the investigation approach. O'Connell said, "The scope of the inquiry will be the past five to six years, and its priority will be to ensure protocols are being properly implemented."
This is screwy in so many ways it's tough to describe them. First, in his open letter, John asked that the investigation focus on three areas;
1. Immoral and unprofessional misconduct by faculty and students alike, including, but not limited to:
2. A toxic culture of fear, intimidation and discrimination at Saint John's Seminary
3. Subsequent cover-up of such misconduct and unhealthy culture by leadership
And Bp. O'Connell says the focus is on "protocols being properly implemented"?!? Seriously?! What "protocols"? That seminarians shouldn't be admitted if they have homosexual tendencies? That if a homosexual is admitted, they shouldn't be engaging in that activity publicly in the lounge of a seminary or hitting on other straight seminarians? That if someone reports an instance of homosexual activity or being harassed to seminary leadership, the policy would be for the leader to take it seriously and the seminary to expel the homosexual, rather than blaming the victim? That there wouldn't be bullying by faculty members? That the culture wouldn't be as described by the former seminarian?
Then there is the matter of Sr. Eisner now leading the "independent" investigation. Coincidentally, she is also on the Board of Trustees of SJS. Worse than that, Emmanuel College is on a list of New Ways Ministry's 130 known "gay-friendly" Catholic Colleges and Universities.
Emmanuel College has a club, OUTspoken, for LGBTQA students to create a better understanding of their self-identity. Every year there is a student-led Reaching OUT Retreat for LGBTQA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Questioning, Ally) students on Cape Cod sponsored by OUTspoken and campus ministry which has as one core principle, "Accepting and being proud of your sexuality and who you are." Then one sees that Sr. Eisner's religious order, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, had a GLBT activist lead a retreat at the order's high schools in California in 2014.
Wouldn't this investigation into a homosexual scandal be a bit more "independent" and objective if the leader of it wasn't so closely associated with promotion of the gay agenda herself? Why not tap someone truly independent to lead it, who also believes and promotes what the Catholic Church teaches about homosexuality, such as the National Catholic Bioethics Center?
In his 2006 letter on homosexuality, Cardinal O'Malley said the following:
If we tell people that sex outside of marriage is not a sin, we are deceiving people. If they believe this untruth, a life of virtue becomes all but impossible. Jesus teaches that discipleship implies taking up the cross each day and following Him with love and courage.
It is never easy to deliver a message that calls people to make sacrifices or to do difficult things. Sometimes people want to punish the messenger. For this reason we priests at times find it difficult to articulate the Church's teaching on sexual morality. … It is important to express the moral teachings of the Church with clarity and fidelity. The Church must be Church. We must teach the truths of the Gospel in season and out of season. These recent times seem to us like it is out of season, but for that very reason it is even more urgent to teach the hard words of the Gospel today.
We know that friends and relatives of homosexual Catholics sometimes feel torn between their allegiance to Christ and their concern for their loved ones. I assure them that these goals are not incompatible. As Catholics we profess a firm belief in the dignity of each person and in the eternal destiny to which God calls us. Calling people to embrace the cross of discipleship, to live the commandments and at the same time assuring them that we love them as brothers and sisters can be difficult. Sometimes we are told: If you do not accept my behavior, you do not love me. In reality we must communicate the exact opposite: "Because we love you, we cannot accept your behavior."
Does Sr. Eisner believe this and can she show evidence her administration has helped convey this perspective to Emmanuel College students? If not, then she should resign from the investigation committee and Cardinal O'Malley should appoint a leader who does believe this.
BCI understands some heads will likely roll after the investigation — maybe the rector, vice rector and perhaps a faculty member disliked by some bishops, as a sign that changes are being made. But that's all that we expect at this point from this whitewashed investigation. And then the questions emerge, who will replace those people? There isn't a lot of bench-strength depth, so BCI assumes some priests will end up doing three jobs instead of the two they are currently doing.
We hope and pray it turns out better than this, but we're not hopeful.
Republished with permission from Boston Catholic Insider.