Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Holy, Holy, Holy

Use A Condom Go to Hell.....Unless

Eleven years ago a young woman had an affair with church worker, Arturo Uribe, in Portland, Oregon. The church worker was a seminarian who went on to become an ordained Catholic priest. The young woman, Stephanie Collopy went on the have the man's child and to sue the Portland archdiocese for child support.

The church's strategy in the 1994 court proceeding gained wider exposure recently when Ms. Collopy went back to court to petition to have her $215 a month child support payment increased. As the LA Times reports, back in 1994 the Catholic archdiocese in Portland took a rather interesting position regard the affair between one of its employees and Ms. Collopy.

"In her relationship with Arturo Uribe, then a seminarian and now a Whittier priest, the child's mother had engaged "in unprotected intercourse … when [she] should have known that could result in pregnancy," the church maintained in its answer to the lawsuit. The legal proceeding got little attention at the time. And the fact that the church — which considers birth control a sin — seemed to be arguing that the woman should have protected herself from pregnancy provoked no comment. Until last month. That's when Stephanie Collopy went back into court asking for additional child support. A Times article reported the church's earlier response. Now liberal and conservative Catholics around the country are decrying the archdiocese's legal strategy, saying it was counter to church teaching."

The legal argument that Ms. Collopy's failure to use birth control was the cause of her problem seems to most Catholics to be, shall we say, two faced. To non-Catholics, the argument appears to just be cynical.

One of the reasons that this old and relatively obscure case has gained relevance is due to the fact that the leader of the Portland Archdiocese in 1994 was just promoted to become the new Pope's right hand man. Archbishop William Levada was the man who apparently signed off on the legal strategy of blaming Ms. Collopy's condition upon her failure to commit a sin and use birth control. Now he is in charge of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the post most recent held by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger prior to his elevation to become Pope Benedict XVI.

The Catholic faithful don't seem to be very happy with Levada defense strategy.

"Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, a group that supports abortion rights, said Levada's defense was an example of how, "if something will cost the bishops money, they will use any argument whatsoever — like any other corporate entity — that will get them off the hook. It's a disgrace."

Now it is possible that Levada was busy with other things and really didn't get involved in the nuts and bolts of this case, but............

"Whether a bishop likes it or not, he has ultimate responsibility for a legal argument made on his behalf or upon behalf of his diocese," said Father Richard McBrien, a theology professor at the University of Notre Dame. "Archbishop Levada would have — or certainly should have — known what his lawyers were arguing on his behalf."

Of course, in the Portland archdiocese, Levada did have a lot of other legal work to keep him busy. As the Portland Oregonian reported earlier this week, Levada has some testimony to prepare for a Federal court deposition regarding the bankruptcy petition of the Portland archdiocese filed last year.

"In July of last year, the Portland Archdiocese became the first in the nation to file for bankruptcy because of lawsuits by parishioners who say when they were youths they were sexually abused by priests. The dioceses of Tucson, Ariz., and Spokane, Wash., followed suit.

Lawyers representing the victims want Levada to testify about the handling of priest abuse cases during his time in Portland, as well as on whether archdiocese officials engaged in a pattern of behavior which made it easier for priests to continue abusing their victims."

The are currently over 300 sexual abuse cases pending against the Portland archdiocese.

With all this legal activity to worry about, it is easy to see Archbishop Levada failing to pay attention to a legal strategy the was designed to place all blame on Ms. Collopy for both the affair and for her wanton inducgence in, as the diocese's lawyers put it,"unprotected intercourse."

At the heart of the matter is an organization that places the defense of the organization ahead of the victims of a small group of preditors in the church.

"This is another example of how bishops, by attempting to act legally before acting pastorally, twist the church teachings into a configuration that people don't recognize," said Tom Roberts, editor of the National Catholic Reporter, a liberal weekly newspaper. "These are the kind of contortions you get yourself into."

One question Archbishop Levada. What would Jesus do?