While we're at it, here's another question for your holiness. How many Sister Jane Kellys does it take to right the wrongs of the Catholic Church?
That was the question racing through my mind the other night while attending a benefit dinner in honor of Sister Jane’s 80th birthday. Her body weakens with each passing year, but Sister Jane’s mind is as sharp as ever. Too sharp for the boys in Rome.
Sister Jane did the right thing more than a decade ago by blowing the whistle on a church cover-up involving then Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann, an errant priest named Jorge Hume, and local leaders of St. Mary’s Church in Ukiah who bowed to the bishop’s demand for “silence.” At the time Sister Jane thought Hume was a thief who had possibly sexually abused young Latino parishioners. Ziemann removed him from the Ukiah church, and assured everyone involved that he would take care of the matter.
Sister Jane and others were aghast when Hume 18 months later was re-assigned to a Napa parish. Not even Sister Jane knew then that Bishop Ziemann in return for protecting Hume from police and parishioners was engaging in sex with the young South American priest. The sordid Ziemann-Hume affair capped a long, tawdry decade of exposure of sexual abuse cases that eventually cost the Diocese of Santa Rosa more than $6 million. Hume pocketed $535,000 and disappeared into South America.
That was 10 years ago.
Today I read that Pope Benedict XVI is finally acknowledging the on-going sexual abuse crisis engulfing the Catholic Church worldwide, calling it “truly terrifying.”
For the first time the pope suggested that maybe the origins lie with abusive priests and highly placed church officials.
He spoke of “the sin inside the church.”
Too bad the Pope didn’t feel that way a decade ago when he and other church leaders blew off Sister Jane’s efforts to go through church channels to bring attention to the woes in the Santa Rosa diocese, and flagrant cover-ups going on. At the time the Pope was known as Cardinal Ratzinger, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In short the body is the powerful arm of the church, making sure Catholics around the globe practice what Rome tells them.
When he was elected Pope, Ratzinger appointed former San Francisco Archbishop William Levada to succeed him as the church's chief enforcer. Levada as the most influential Catholic prelate in Northern California had been well versed in Bishop Ziemann’s transgressions. Ziemann had privately confessed his sins to Levada and church authorities, insisting the sex between he and the priest had been "consensual." He submitted a written letter of resignation but Levada and other church leaders did nothing about Ziemann until public disclosure of priest Hume’s sex case in 1999 forced the issue.
Ziemann's resignation as bishop was belatedly announced, amid church praise for his "holiness."
Stung by public criticism. Levada and other church leaders a few months later came to Ukiah and admonished angry parishioners at Ukiah's St. Mary's church for making “rash judgments” about the bishop, and the church cover-up.
For those there that night it was a moment to remember when Sister Jane confronted Levada, wagging her finger at him and demanding that church authorities acknowledge their own sins.
Levada, now a cardinal, is the highest ranking American official in the Vatican.
With Levada at his side in Rome, it’s no wonder the Pope is only now acknowledging what’s been obvious to most church parishioners for a decade or more.
Just a few weeks ago the Pope whined about the church being targeted by outsiders. He suggested Catholics were being "persecuted."
But now the Pope says he's seeing things differently.
“Today we see in a really terrifying way that the great persecution of the church does not come from the enemies outside, but is born from the sin in the church,” the Pope declared.
Yeah. Well, Sister Jane and other good Catholics knew that years ago. They intuitively did the right thing.
It's too bad, and probably too late, that it’s taken the Vatican this long to get it.