BILL HOGAN’S MUSINGS: The Present Predicament of the Catholic Church as Seen From the Sidelines

Editor’s Note: The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston has been and continues to be a significant sponsor of Weelunk. The staff and board of directors of Weelunk are grateful the Diocese sees the organization as a force for positive in our community. We believe that our community should be honest, open-minded and willing to engage in a civil dialogue about the issues facing our community, both present and future. The IDEAS page is our place for public opinion, a place where a person can express what concerns them about present-day Wheeling. However, there is one major caveat. The author must propose their resolution to the problem. The essay below by one of our regular contributors meets this test.

“Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” ~ Justice Louis D. Brandeis


This one is serious not only because of the dastardly, repulsive, warped, unspeakable, heinous, loathsome nature of the crimes themselves but the perpetrators were in positions of trust. Then all this crap was covered up systematically by the hierarchy of the institution.

Personally, what added insult to injury was the constant emphasis on purity in the Catholic school system to the point of absurdity. From the time when we reached the age of reason, we were marched to the confessional on a weekly basis after a thorough examination of conscience especially for impure thoughts and touching ourselves in modest places. Have I got news for you! Being an average, normal boy in puberty I did plenty of both. While our hands were folded, and we were marched from the new school, St. Michael’s on National Road, to the (old) church on Edgington Lane, my mind would wander into all sorts of Walter Mitty type of (shhhh) sexual daydreams.

The forbidden fruit was always sweeter.

I got the idea from the church, which taught me the true religion, though anything carnal was dirty and sinful because Mary had to be a virgin to be the mother of God. Then I found out that idea was instituted as dogma in the middle of the 19th century — before that, I guess she was just an ordinary mom. I know, I know, but that was the end result to me.

This isn’t the first major problem the hierarchy has faced. The Crusades were not a good idea, nor the selling of indulgences and bishop hats and the resulting Reformation, nor the many inquisitions and the ingenuity in developing new ways to torture men to death, nor not granting Henry VIII a pass on his first wife. If they had only come up with the annulment gambit then we could have avoided Henry starting his own church, and maybe Rome would recognize gays, and we would have women clergy. Slavery as an international institution came and went without condemnation. Silence during the Holocaust is not a proud moment.

Years before this present outrage, I questioned the relevance of the church in modern times. Since the 11th century, all facets of human life have evolved. Think of medicine, physics, science, education, politics, business methods, transportation — but when one looks at Roman Catholicism, it has stayed in its 11th-century silo. Our local Bishop Bransfield has toyed with the idea of abandoning the Roman collar and black suit for the old, ankle-length cassock and the three-pointed biretta (hat). Barry Fitzgerald wore the outfit in the hit movie “Going My Way” in 1944.

Years before this present outrage, I questioned the relevance of the church in modern times. Since the 11th century, all facets of human life have evolved. Think of medicine, physics, science, education, politics, business methods, transportation — but when one looks at Roman Catholicism, it has stayed in its 11th-century silo.

More importantly, the church was losing its members before all this scandal. My sister, a devout Catholic, had six daughters. It was a most loving home. All six girls went to St. Vincent Grade School and were regular attendees at the church. All graduated from Mount De Chantal Academy. None of her progeny, numbering in the mid-30s at the last count, is a practicing Catholic, so far as I know. Had just one or two or even half left, one could say that they had left the church — but because of the unanimous departures, I would say the church left them. I believe it is because the same old message is not relevant in their lives.

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Clothe the naked and feed the hungry — but the church is not there with them when addiction to drugs and alcohol or mobile device addiction intrude into families. Parents working two jobs or worse, one parent trying to do the job of two. The modern church proclaims “love thy neighbor,” but non-churchgoers are the ones in the trenches “being with” those panhandlers “who everyone knows could work if they really wanted.” Hang out at the Soup Kitchen and discover how clever these folks are at keeping body and soul together. It is a full-time job.

The hedonistic lifestyle of the hierarchy has bothered me more and more as I grow old and watch our state decline deeper into an accepted state of poverty, not only financially but worse — poverty of the spirit, which is a dearth of love all around starting with family and our neighbors near and far. It seems to have been replaced by anger. I look at the Cathedral in all its well-maintained glory and wonder why they don’t lower the thermostat four or five and use the savings to address the living conditions. And I think about the conditions of the folks in the apartment building across the street, which appears to be a notch above a slum.

Now we have the disgraceful departure of our former bishop (who employed the only full-time chef in the state) and who, at the command of the Pope, is being investigated for his sexual activity. So, the adjective sybaritic, rather than hedonistic, may be more accurate in describing the degenerate behavior for which he is being investigated. That he was cloaked in ecclesiastical dress and position to disguise his predatory debauchery goes against the very lowest standard of conduct expected of a human being.

I am angry and upset having this persistent feeling that I have been played for a sucker all these years. Countering this emotional boil, trying to (and at times succeeding) break through the walls of intellectual calm are the fond memories of 17 years of Catholic education by the Sisters of Divine Providence, the Marist Brothers, Franciscan Monks and priests of The Congregation of The Holy Cross. Unforgettable memories of Father Schmidt, from Alsace Lorraine, asking me in the sacristy before my big debut as an altar boy, asking what is the response in the Litany of the Saints. I couldn’t remember. It had been pounded into my 7-year-old brain by the nuns, and I was about ready to cry. He put his hand on my shoulder and said it is “Ora pro nobis.” Then added, “It is easy to remember because it sounds like ‘Oh rub your noses.’” And that is the response we all sang on the altar! It is the only Latin I remember. In all those years of Catholic education, I never even heard the word “pedophilia.”

I remember being taught as a kid that the Catholic Church was the people. I am trying to hang on to that as I think of the good people working in flood relief in this state where the Church was efficient and effective because they are with the poor every day and know the people. The government dropped the ball in its effort. The Catholic Neighborhood Center on 17th Street is there for the poor, the working poor and the “dregs” of society. It has been said that the Catholic Church does its best work in the gutter. I remember years ago a discussion at our coffee klatch about taxing church property. There were a number who advocated such a tax. One remark that has stuck with me was, “The last thing we want to do is put the Catholic Church out of business because then you would see a tremendous tax increase to replace the schools, hospitals, etc.”

With this institutional scandal, we very likely could see another “Bonfire of the Vanities” of the 1497 variety that took place in Florence. It was led by a monk Savonarola who burned beautiful artworks along with, in his opinion, works that represented the decadence to which the people had descended. Savonarola’s part this time could be played by Archbishop Ario Marla Vigano, an arch conservative who would like to replace the progressive Pope Francis with one of the “good ol’ boys” for political reasons.

I have come to the following conclusions:

  1. The Church is incapable of policing itself. Like the giant banks and drug companies, this long-term behavior is culturally condoned.
  2. The behavior will continue until someone at the top of the Table of Organization goes to prison.
  3. No Tradition has a monopoly on the Truth.
  4. Ordain women.

Bill Hogan, born and raised in Wheeling, W.Va., is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and worked in the worlds of finance, real estate and alcoholism rehabilitation. Bill has six children and three grandchildren. He and his second wife, Susan Hogan, served in the U.S. Peace Corps from 1987-90 in Benin, West Africa. Now retired, he is a trustee of the Schenk Foundation, an artist, a writer and self-proclaimed “highly skilled dispenser of bull.”