D uring the recent visit to the United States by Pope Benedict, I heard the~biggest lie since January 1998 when then-president Bill Clinton looked the American public in the eye and said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Bill was semantically correct. You remember what Monica said under oath that she had done to him? Since she had the black dress with the “stains” to prove it, Bill had to get back on TV and admit that he did in fact have improper relations, but oh boy did he really have to get back to the work of being our president.
That was the same type of lie I heard during the pope’s recent visit. It came out of the mouth of one of his cardinals. When asked by a New York Times reporter about U.S. bishops’ misconduct in cases of child abuse by priests, the former Bishop of San Francisco, Cardinal William Levada, responded, “I personally do not accept that there is a broad base of bishops who are guilty of aiding~and abetting pedophiles, and if I thought there were, or knew of them, I would certainly talk to the pope about what could be done about it.”
Well, I can think of two. In addition to Santa Rosa Diocese’s current Bishop Daniel F. Walsh, who delayed reporting abuse by one of his priests as now required by law long enough to allow the Rev. Xavier Ochoa time to flee to Mexico, there is Santa Rosa’s former Bishop Patrick Zieman, who was allowed to resign after gross personal sexual and financial violations.
No matter how carefully Levada chose his words for his Clinton-like excuse, I personally know that priest and bishop misconduct is ongoing and has a history. (For current and background information, check out the website for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.)
I met Father John Rogers in 1976 when I lived in Eureka. He was there as a priest, but was also a friend to my family and me. Initially assigned as an associate priest at Sacred Heart in Eureka, he was transferred to the Newman Center on the Humboldt State University campus. From there he became the parish priest for Arcata.
The first time I met Father Rogers was when I called the Sacred Heart Rectory in Eureka, asking them to send a priest to St. Joseph’s Hospital one night. My wife and I had taken our infant daughter to the emergency room. She had been diagnosed with meningitis and the doctor had just told us to prepare ourselves in case she did not live through the night. He sat with us, and while I am sure he silently prayed, he visibly did no more than hand my wife Kleenex. Our daughter is now a married sixth-grade teacher in Santa Rosa.
Father Rogers was with us when my great-grandmother passed away at home after a long illness. He was back at the hospital with us, and later at our home on Nov. 8, 1980, when my wife and I and our three children recovered after our VW Bug was knocked off a collapsing freeway overpass by an earthquake just south of Eureka. He officiated at my mother’s wake and funeral. I never knew he had another life.
When credible accusations came from an adult that Father Rogers had molested him as a child, church officials whisked him to a seminary in Brussels, Belgium. When it became apparent that extradition was about to bring Rogers back to answer the accusations, he walked into the Belgian woods and shot himself in the head.
In my opinion, church officials did not supervise the conduct of their priests around children carefully enough to prevent what had happened to Father Rogers’ accuser and thousands of other children. Neither did they seem to provide the type of support for offending priests that would have helped them face the criminal and moral consequences of what they had done.
In his current capacity of supervising the conduct of bishops and priests, Cardinal Levada may say he personally does not accept any of this. Regardless of what he says, and the careful words he chooses, like Bill Clinton, he cannot deny the “stains.”
Tom J. Mariani is a retired local banker and corporate risk manager who is now working full-time as a poet and a freelance writer.