The Religious News Service reported on July 12th that Brooklyn monsignor Joseph Calise, the priest in charge at Our Lady of Mount Carmel School (in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY) returned a $50.00 donation made by Assemblyman Joseph Lento to honor a student at the school. Calise was acting in compliance with top bishop Nicholas DiMarzio's request that "all gifts received from politicians supporting same-sex marriage legislation be refused."
There are bishops in his diocese who have been loving and thoughtful in ministering to gay Catholics while remaining adherent to Vatican teaching. Bishop DiMarzio is not one of them.
DiMarzio has muscled his way into parishes to deliver his 'homosexuals-are-disordered' message. DiMarzio took to the radio airwaves to compare same-sex marriage to the pledging one's troth to a dog. He used the sacred occasion of a Chrism mass to demand that Catholics "besiege" his city's newspaper of record. Clerical abuse survivors groups claim that DiMarzio has been callous, lax and self-serving in the contexts of both cases against predators and the suffering of victims. He brought the hammer down on an activist priest who ministered to the poor, while blowing on the dice of his favorite developer-pol. He has countenanced electioneering from the pulpit. He recorded robocalls on behalf of a politician. He used his weekly column in The Tablet to come perilously close to endorsing a particular candidate in writing, and threatened to close parishes that failed to vote for his candidates of choice.
According to a May 31, 2009 report that appeared in the New York Post, DiMarzio made threat, aloud, in a room full of politicians: "
If it [the Child Victims Act] passes, we will close a parish in each of your districts and we will tell your constituents that it was your fault."
"I was shocked," said one of the senators who was present.
A.4560B, the Child Victims Act, which would extend the statute of limitations for reporting incidences of child sexual abuse. Assemblyman Vito Lopez opposed this bill in the assembly. Many feel DiMarzio was too grateful.
"I've never seen a threat like that made at any lobby meeting." A senator who asked not to be identified said: "The hair on the back of my head stood up. In my years of Catholic schooling, we were never taught to be so vindictive, and here's my bishop saying, 'I'll close a church in your district.'"
Vindictive is right. Just ask Father Jim O'Shea who lost his job at Our Lady of Monserrat in Bedford Stuyvesant (The diocese called in the NYPD to attend his farewell mass!) as a result of his choice to work as a tenants' rights organizer on behalf of the poor. Not long after removing Father O'Shea from his church in 2008, DiMarzio shut down the Bed-Stuy parish at which O'Shea ministered. Such work may seem to be exactly the kind of work in which a priest does well to engage, but O'Shea's labors put him at odds with DiMarzio's fellow bird of a feather -- the scandal-dogged, Catholic, married, political kingpin Vito Lopez. The diocese denies that the removal of O'Shea was as a quid pro quo in return for Vito Lopez's help killing the Child Victims Act in the assembly, but Father O'Shea thinks otherwise. The tenants' rights group with which he worked challenged Vito Lopez and his Brooklyn Triangle project.
Brooklyn Triangle is "a massive affordable housing project" controlled in part by Lopez's Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council. Although helping New Yorkers to find affordable housing in New York may indeed be "God's work," according to a September 23, 2010 New York Times report, Lopez has been under investigation by both the the State Attorney General and the FBI for a range of possible violations. The June 30, 2011 New York Daily News reported that Ridgewood Bushwick which Lopez founded is currently "the subject of "two criminal corruption probes by the FBI and the city's Department of Investigation."
The bishop's devotion to Vito Lopez might seem odd -- Lopez is not exactly a paragon of virtuous Roman Catholic conduct. According to the Oct. 5, 2010 Daily News Lopez sleeps in a district other that that he represents with a woman who is not his wife -- and the woman rakes in more than $300,000 a year for running one of Lopez's operations. But like politicians, bishops sometimes make strange bedfellows and Lopez and the bishop have a lot in common. Both men like money, both like power, and neither is afraid to engage in questionable electioneering practices.
An October 2010 New York Post story examined Lopez's relocation of election sites within his properties (for the possible purpose of manipulating voting among senior citizens residing therein). The following vignette, which appeared in the Post piece, were it not so appalling, would be quite funny:
A neighborhood priest told The Post that he asked an elderly resident at one of Lopez's assisted-living centers if she'd voted in a recent election and that she replied, "Don't worry, Father. Vito was here and told us how to vote."
Vito's friend DiMarzio is himself a "father" who thinks it proper to remind Catholics how to vote. On a Sunday in mid-August of 2009, about a month before the primary and local elections, DiMarzio's spokesman, Kieran Harrington, acting, one must assume, with the bishop's consent, made an unannounced visit to a parish in Brooklyn where he celebrated the noon mass, introduced Vito Lopez's former Chief of Staff -- Steve Levin -- then a candidate for City Council -- from the pulpit, and ended the service by reminding the assembled that "they" (Levin and Lopez) "have been very good to our church." The monsignor even managed to recruit a few parishioners to leaflet in front of the church as mass let out. Parishioners claimed other such politicking had taken place at the church a few months earlier during Easter.
So much for keeping the Sabbath holy.
I wasn't surprised when I read about the returning of Assemblyman Lento's $50 check a few days ago. Maybe DiMarzio truly believes it proper to return Lento's 50 bucks. Yet according to the Religious New Service story, the monsignor returning the check urged Lento to continue to drop his tainted tender into the basket on Sundays. A pastoral faux pas, perhaps.
DiMarzio's refusal to accept donations from politicians who support same-sex marriage appears punitive -- but there may be another analysis to put on it. Maybe the bishop is truly taking a moral stand and intends to 'put his money where his mouth is.'
If Assemblyman Lento's money is no good when it's earmarked for honoring some hard-working Catholic school kid from Brooklyn, clearly it has no place in the basket at mass
Nonetheless, if Assemblyman Lento's contributions to the church are somehow unholy -- so are all the dollars of every Catholic in the pews who supports same-sex marriage legislation. If the bishop's demand (that such tributes as Lento's be refused) is one made in earnest, he will refuse all donations from every Catholic who supports same-sex marriage legislation.
DiMarzio may have painted himself into a corner with the $50.00 check. If he is successful in discouraging all Catholics in his diocese who (like Assemblyman Joseph Lento) support same-sex marriage legislation from making gifts to the church, the diocese is sure to lose a lot of money. But if DiMarzio limits this restriction to politicians, he risks being regarded more as a foot-stomping toddler melting down on a supermarket checkout line than as a spiritual leader taking a righteousl stand.
Bishop DiMarzio's rush to punish could land him between a rock and a hard place this time.
If DiMarzio insists on singling out politicians for punishment, he could compound the problem of his already risky behavior in the context of playing fast and loose with the tax-exempt status of his diocese.
Bishops like DiMarzio now know the pews are filled with Catholics who care little about the Vatican's opinion on birth control, remarriage after divorce, gay marriage and the burgeoning woman's ordination movement. As the passing of same-sex marriage in New York revealed, Catholics are no longer afraid to publicly challenge doctrine and the Catholic hierarchy. Excommunication has lost its sting. The bishops are losing the same-sex marriage battle, and they are furious. Many Catholics believe the hierarchs are getting sloppy as they grapple with the problem of their waning leverage.
If bishops like DiMarzio don't figure out how to fight a little less "dirty," the money will soon run out.
And DiMarzio needs money; like his pal Vito Lopez, the bishop thinks big.
Less than a mile away from the beautiful St. James Basilica in downtown Brooklyn, not far from Father O'Shea's old parish, a cathedral-sized church is being restored. The majestic structure is enveloped in shedding, netting and scaffolding. Stacks of bricks and parts of plinths lie in piles around its exterior. The colossal mess looks more like a cathedral being built than a neighborhood church being restored, but St. Joseph's parish is operational, and Nicholas DiMarzio's spokesman, Kieran Harrington, is its spiritual leader.
Who is bankrolling this costly renovation? And why does the diocese need a second cathedral-sized church when its official cathedral, St. James Basilica, is less than a mile away?
It's hard to know. A diocese insider (on the condition of anonymity) informs me that DiMarzio "thinks the cathedral [St. James] is too small. He wants a bigger church for ordinations."
What is known is that in the past three years DiMarzio has closed at least a four parishes within a few-mile radius of the bishop's several-million dollar bricks and mortar baby.
And it is clear that having taken its cut out of the collections baskets of several now-shuttered parishes in poor areas, which the diocese claims were closed due to lack of financial self-sustainability, that somehow, the Brooklyn-Queens diocese has scraped together funding adequate to restore DiMarzio's 'if-we-build-it-they-will-come' dream quasi-cathedral.
Render to DiMarzio what is Caesear and to DiMarzio what is God's. The bishop wants it all.
As he presides over the renovation of St. Joseph's, the Brooklyn's bishop may be pinning his hopes on the possibility that its grandeur will attract affluent Catholics who are beginning to take occupancy nearby in the fast-burgeoning, luxury housing that abuts the nearby Atlantic Yards project (which pushed so many poor Catholics out of their homes). A bishop can dream, but chances are that many of those educated, prosperous Catholics support equal marriage legislation.
I wonder what would happen if -- even for just the summer months -- every active Catholic in diocese of Brooklyn and Queens who does support same sex marriage were to redirect his or her offertory gifts to Roman Catholic groups like Equally Blessed, New Ways Ministry, Call to Action, Dignity and Fortunate Families?
I plan to write "DiMarzio" on the memo line of my checks, so that my gifts to those groups will be in the bishop's honor.
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