Dear Andrea Tornielli

I work for the church and have in some capacity since 1994. I was a Catholic high school teacher when the news broke that a popular priest in our parish—one that fed into the high school—had been sexually assaulting altar boys in parish after parish after parish in the LA Archdiocese. I sat across the table from a 17 year old student whom I had known since he was a child and waited for his words to tell me what I could already see in his eyes—that he was also a victim of this priest. Then that night I sat in the church hall and listened to the Monsignor from the Archdiocese lie to a room full of worried and hurting parents: “There were no previous reports regarding this priest.” Yes there were, a long line stretching back over a decade.  And not just him—many priests in the Archdiocese, many reports, many lies.

You know what there wasn’t?

An apology. I mean, Mahoney made a blanket apology in 2000, of which the handling of the sex abuse was just one issue. But in 2014 he was pretty relieved that he was no longer eligible for obstruction of justice charges after the full extent of his cover-up was exposed. That doesn’t feel very penitent.

The Archdiocese fought tooth and nail to avoid accountability. California had to change the statutes of limitation on sex abuse reporting so that the Archdiocese could no longer hide behind them. Once the floodgates opened, the Vatican let the Archdiocese sink on its own. As if this were an “LA problem”. I paid into a pension during my 7 years as a teacher and never noticed the fine print that the Archdiocese could use my pension to pay lawsuits. But it did.

You know what I never got?

An apology.

Once I moved into the religious education part of parish life, I was subjected to egregious trainings on child safety—Virtus and CASE by Armatus. The church has put the onus of recognizing and reacting to sexual abuse on the lay adults—mostly parents. How to recognize abuse. How to guard against situations where abuse can happen. The current CASE program, updated in 2020, uses a daycare simulation to help parents recognize dodgy situations—in this case an inappropriate sexual relationship between two teenagers where one is in a position of power and over 18, and the probable sexual abuse of a younger boy by two tweens.

You know what it never discusses? Why sexual abuse from a religious leader was so easy to perpetrate. Or testimony from an actual priest abuser on how and why he targeted certain kids over others. Or what the Church is explicitly and proactively doing to weed out dangerous religious and priests, break the millenia-old instinct to protect the power of the priesthood at all costs, and establish accountability for full and transparent reporting of instances of abuse.

So spare me your outrage over poor Benedict XVI. It’s sinful and tone deaf and repetitive. What he did as Archbishop in Munich speaks to his fitness as Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and then as Pope. What I read between the lines is that he was a company guy, from his days in Munich all the way to Rome, and amply rewarded for being such. But his involvement in criminal obstruction of justice calls into questions his motives—does he defend mother church out of a love for God and a faithfulness to Eucharist and Gospel? Or does he defend her as an institution of power, wealth and influence?

You characterize him as having “fought the phenomenon (of priest sex abuse) in the last phase of the pontificate of St. John Paul II”, as if the reality of abuse only became apparent with the Spotlight expose.

I think the rest of us would characterize him as complicit in decades worth of illegal and immoral cover-up until the Spotlight expose, when the church was finally forced to a reckoning.

Even the so-called apologies that you cite are not really apologies. “The church must ask for forgiveness” is not “I, Joseph Ratzinger, am guilty of the sin of protecting priests over children and for that I must do penance and ask for forgiveness”.

For many rank and file Catholics all over the world, the credibility of the church will never recover after the canonization of JP II. He still had his wits about him in 1994, when the LA stories began to break. Mahoney handled those cases exactly like Ratzinger handled the cases in Munich a decade earlier, which is just like the cases were handled in Boston and in New York and in San Francisco and in Ireland and in France and on and on.

Almost like there was a policy, or directive, from the top down of what to do when confronted with sexual abuse within your diocese. There’s a question that could use an answer. I don’t hold out hope, though–for twenty years, Catholics have waited for full transparency. And waited. And waited.

But sure, let’s make that criminal a saint, and you write your editorials defending a man who spent 70% of his priesthood defending pedophiles, before being forced by victims and law enforcement to be the “face of a penitential church”.  

It’s not like we’re hemorrhaging Catholics right now or anything.

From Conception to Death


October is Respect Life month in the Catholic church.

Like so many Christian churches in this country, we screw it up. And in the screwing up, we drive people away. And we’re too stupid to know that we’re driving people away.

Sunday, at a Catholic church in our valley, there were “Archdiocesan-mandated” petitions for signature after Mass. It was inferred from the Layman’s Minute portion of the Mass that to refuse to sign the petitions was sinful. This was supported by a reminder that the sainted JPII was the Church’s most ardent defender of Respect Life issues.

I was not at this Mass. I would not have been caught dead at this Mass in a church where the director of ministries has decided that boys and girls cannot serve on the altar together–which, by the way, is out of order with the teachings of the Church. And I can’t with JPII.  Plenty of former altar boys and choir girls who might have something to say about his commitment to respecting their lives.

But a friend was at this Mass, and she called me in tears.

“Do you think, less than a week after Vegas, that there was a Respect Life petition about gun control? Or a petition to recall the governor over euthanasia? Or even a petition for the President to help the AMERICAN CITIZENS in Puerto Rico? NOPE. Nothing on the death penalty. Nothing about North Korea. ONLY ABORTION.”

Abortion is a huge cultural failure and in Oregon our legislature recently passed a bill that expanded access to and coverage for abortions and birth control. The outrage is real.

But I have heard the same Knights of Columbus who organize these “Pro-Life” petitions talk about immigrants like they are the scum of the earth. I have heard them vow that their guns will only be taken from their cold, dead hands. I know they voted for this President who refuses to condemn white supremacists and that they scoff at the very idea of climate change.

So I won’t apologize for not picking up what they’re laying down. Their piety is false, as is their concern for life. If they only care about unborn babies, then their “care” is misogynist, political and economic. Shame on them for the damage they do to the heart and soul of our faith.

I will stand with the Sisters, and the young ones like Rebecca Bratton Weiss, who had the courage to call out the dark side of the Trad Pro-Life movement in our church, and lost her job over it, thanks to Catholic white supremacist groups Lifesite and Church Militant.

I will challenge the pretenders, on the sidewalks outside my kids’ school, or like my friend’s husband did on Sunday when he asked where the gun control petition was.

And I will reach out to those pushed away by the hypocrisy and try to show them that the church is faithful, even when her members are not.










Christians and Gun Control ~ Jen


“My job is not to tell you for whom you should vote. But I do have a duty to speak out on moral issues. I would be abdicating this duty if I remained silent out of fear of sounding ‘political’ and didn’t say anything about the morality of these issues… a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your soul in jeopardy.” Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, Catholic Diocese of Springfield, Illinois.

Amen, Bishop. Amen.

So you’ll have something to say soon about the lawmakers who vote against common sense gun control measures? The lawmakers who voted against background checks the other day?

Because in 2008 and again in 2012, I sat in church and listened to my priests and deacons preach against pro-choice and pro-gay rights candidates. I listened to them condemn by name elected Catholic Democrats, such as Nancy Pelosi, because of their beliefs.

One priest, echoing Bishops across the country, told us that if we voted for any candidate who supported abortion rights, we were sinners who “cannot call ourselves Catholics”.

As a Catholic Democrat, who acknowledges the spiritual leadership of the Church, I was concerned. Shea and I searched our souls and beliefs to make sure our reasons for voting Democrat were supportable by church teachings.

And you know what? They are supported, by the words of our very own bishops, who have said “Catholic teaching about the dignity of life calls us to oppose torture, unjust war, and the use of the death penalty; to prevent genocide and attacks against noncombatants; to oppose racism; and to overcome poverty and suffering. Nations are called to protect the right to life by seeking effective ways to combat evil and terror without resorting to armed conflicts except as a last resort, always seeking first to resolve disputes by peaceful means. We revere the lives of children in the womb, the lives of persons dying in war and from starvation, and indeed the lives of all human beings as children of God.” (A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States)

Take this statement and apply it to the Republican platform, which would deny assistance to mothers who opt to have their babies, instead of abort;  build a wall between the US and Mexico and arm it to keep desperate immigrants out of this great nation of immigrants;  raise taxes on the poor and hardworking to protect the wealth of the rich; support big business and free trade, despite the damage it does to our economy and workers abroad, and despite Pope Benedict’s call to hold corporations accountable for their business decisions; and support the death penalty, which is murder.

Voting Republican might also put a soul in danger.

My point is that it’s not easy to be a Christian voter. It just isn’t. This nation has an imperfect political system, and neither platform really meets the standards of a Christian voter.

But sometimes, issues are easy. And gun control is a moral slam dunk.

Look back at what the Bishops said. If we are pro-life from birth to death, then gun control is a Christian moral value. If we seek first to resolves disputes peacefully, and if we revere all human beings as children of God, then gun control is a Christian moral value.

If we believe in the New Covenant made by Jesus on that cross and that God calls us to love and that we demonstrate that love by treating others the way we want to be treated, then gun control is a Christian moral value.

There is no moral high ground to support assault weapons in the hands of ordinary citizens. The entire purpose of assault weapons is to kill as many people in as short a time as possible. In the hands of non-military folk, this purpose is “intrinsically evil” and therefore morally nonsupportable.

There is no moral high ground to stand against a simple thing like back ground checks. To argue that background checks infringe on personal rights and privacy is disingenuous in a society where so much of our personal lives are online by our own choice.  And anyone who has something to hide from a gun-related background check is probably a threat to society. Protecting them is morally nonsupportable.

As our spiritual leaders remind us so often, this is a nation founded on Christian beliefs. If we are one nation under God, and call ourselves servants of God, then we must do as the Bishops require and “protect the right to life by seeking effective ways to combat evil and terror without resorting to armed conflicts except as a last resort”.

So where’s the pulpit outrage and thunder on this issue?

My priests and deacons have been silent. My bishop has been silent. This despite public support for President Obama’s proposal from the Vatican. And the fact that so many of those sweet babies in Newton were buried out of their local Catholic church.

In fact, the entire American Christian church has been largely silent.

How can this be?