Breaking: Hoeppner out in Crookston
Bishop Michael Hoeppner has resigned at the request of Pope Francis as Bishop of Crookston, Minnesota. Hoeppner was the first U.S. bishop to be investigated under the norms of Vos estis lux mundi, the procedures approved by the pope in 2019.
This morning, I spoke with Ron Vasek, the man who says Hoeppner forced him to recant an abuse claim, and with a priest in the Crookston diocese who told me the “clouds have broken” after a painful chapter in the Church’s life.
On a personal note, I have been reporting frequently about scandal in the Crookston diocese since September 2018, and have gotten to know many, many faithful, generous, and hopeful Catholics all there, all of whom told me they prayed for justice, and were concerned about Hoeppner’s leadership in the diocese. I am edified to see a resolution to the first Vos estis investigation in the U.S., and am praying for the people of the Crookston diocese, for the next steps in the Church’s life, and for Bishop Hoeppner himself.
Please join me in those prayers.
And since this is a late-breaking story, please find below the entirety of the newsletter I wrote before the Crookston news broke this morning:
Today is the memorial of Blessed John Lockwood and Blessed Edmund Catherick, two priests martyred on April 13, 1642, during an onset of anti-Catholic persecution amid the start of the English Civil War.
Blessed John Lockwood was a “late vocation.” He was 42 when he became a priest in 1597. He spent the 45 years of his priesthood in and out of England, during periods in which one could be jailed, or executed, for being a priest.
In fact, Fr. Lockwood was imprisoned in the early 1600s and was banished from England in 1610. He slipped back into the country after his banishment, and then found himself in a decades-long game of cat-and-mouse with informants and lawmen — a game that included escapes from both incarceration and execution before his final capture in 1642.
With Fr. Catherick, Fr. Lockwood was hanged, drawn, and quartered in April 1642. He was 87 years old.
If ever you feel that the adventures of Christian discipleship are meant mostly for the young, remember that Blessed Fr. John Lockwood became a martyr at 87, and that before his death he was a fugitive underground priest of Jesus Christ.
Not just about the Benjamins
A very big development in the ongoing Vatican finance scandal happened yesterday, April 12, when an Italian judge issued an arrest warrant for Gianluigi Torzi, the businessman who brokered the Vatican’s 2018 purchase of a London luxury apartment building.
Torzi has been arrested before, of course. He’s already charged with extortion in the Vatican City State. So why was yesterday significant?
A few reasons:
- While Torzi has been charged already with crimes in the Vatican City State, Vatican prosecutors have struggled to make their case, and the investigation has seemed to founder, especially after prosecutors were criticized last month by a UK judge. But since Torzi is now facing other, related but distinct crimes in Italy, Vatican prosecutors might find it easier to bring their case to trial by piggybacking on the work of the more experienced Italians, who are mostly focused on Torzi’s alleged connections to organized crime, and the fabrication, bundling, and sale of bad debts.
- The Italian arrest warrant gave a new look into the extent of the Vatican investigation, which includes detail on the charge that Secretariat of State was not authorized to invest in the London property at all, and was especially not authorized to make speculative investments with Peter’s Pence funds. This means that Cardinals Pietro Parolin and Angelo Becciu could face serious legal scrutiny, and even the possibility of legal accountability, for authorizing transactions they were not empowered to authorize.
We had two stories yesterday on the development. The first one is a broad overview, while the second one focuses on the issues that could face Parolin and Becciu.
It seems clear at this point that the more money involved in the scandal, the more problems become manifest for the Holy See.
The wisdom of the late Biggie Smalls seems germane to the issue:
Here’s a recap of where things stand with the most recent developments in the London property deal scandal:
In 2018, the Vatican Secretariat of State completed the purchase of the London building it bought in stages from its investment manager. The sale was brokered by Gianluigi Torzi, and one of Torzi’s companies acted as a kind of pass-through middleman for shares of the holding company that owned the building. This was a complex deal, and Torzi and the Secretariat got into a disagreement about the details of the ownership handoff process. Subsequently, the Secretariat of State, and then Vatican prosecutors, accused Torzi of extortion, a crime for which he has since been charged. But last month, the U.K. judge said that Torzi actually had paperwork in which he outlined the exact details of the transaction, and that paperwork was approved by the Secretariat. And now there is increasing indication - some of it from Torzi - that Secretariat officials not only approved the transaction, but went to some lengths to make the investment happen.
In short, near everyone involved in this affair is pointing his finger at someone else. This means that charges and trials could come down to who can make the best deal with prosecutors — and with Torzi now facing some very serious allegations in Italy, he may be especially motivated to work out his Vatican City State legal problems as quickly as possible.
In the big picture, there is a serious scandal in the juxtaposition of the Holy See’s burgeoning budget crisis and the shady-seeming investment of charity dollars. And there is a scandal in the appearance of serially unvirtuous fiscal management by the Holy See’s Secretariat of State.
When the Holy See addresses those issues, more is at stake than the concerns of European banking regulators or international anti-money laundering organizations — both of whom have an interest in the Vatican’s prosecutions.
At stake, to some degree, is the credibility of the Church’s evangelical witness. Which means that souls are at stake.
It may not be fair that people judge the credibility of the Gospel on the moral integrity of the Church’s leaders and administrators, but it is reality.
The Church is held to a high moral standard because she claims that through Christ, we can be forgiven for sin, strengthened for virtue, and animated by the life of grace. The actions of Christians are judged against the promise and prospect of holiness, all the more so the actions of Christian leaders.
For believers, a scandal among the Church’s leaders is a challenge to the virtue of hope. When those who seem to live and work at the heart of the Church fail to overcome temptation, it can make the rest of us wonder if we will ever really overcome the temptations to sin that plague, pester, and nag us relentlessly.
We will, and can, in Christ.
Still, it is a heavy burden to be a Church leader in the spotlight, mostly because it comes with real spiritual responsibility to live as a compelling moral witness. The pope, who has pressed relentlessly for systematic financial reform at the Apostolic See, seems to understand that. Whether those responsible for the financial scandal understand the spiritual and evangelical implications of poor stewardship is not yet clear — to date, no one involved in the matter has thrown himself before the pope, taking responsibility for administrative negligence or malfeasance, and begged forgiveness. But there is still time.
This scandal is, in short, about more than just the Benjamins.
Though as a counterpoint to that thesis, here’s Puff Daddy, Lil’ Kim, and friends:
“Significant room for continued growth and improvement”
Also on Monday, The Pillar published the story of a Minnesota Catholic woman who claims she was sexually abused by a parish volunteer when she was a teenager, that her pastor did not respond when she informed him of the abuse, and that her diocese has not satisfactorily addressed that problem.
The story is a very long read, because it tells a challenging story, and it aims to take a serious look at how a diocese handles allegations of pastoral neglect, what happens when a diocese is faced with differing accounts of the same events, and why diocesan officials and alleged victims often have very different senses of what a just outcome will look like.
Here’s an excerpt:
“I think that the archbishop is very well-intentioned. I think that the people working on this are very well-intentioned. They want to do right by everyone involved. But unfortunately when it comes to sexual abuse and trauma, good intentions are not always enough, and sometimes good intentions can do more harm than good.”
“I don't think that someone who commits even a very grievous crime should be removed from the Catholic communion for all of eternity. I do think that there should still be a context for forgiveness and healing. [But] I think that we need to not put the burden on victims to facilitate that and make it happen.”
“I don’t want to sue anyone. That’s not what I want out of this. I just don’t want there to be another Clare.”
Her message to the archdiocese: don’t delay, be clear about expectations, be proactive about safe environments and sexual assault.
“Just do something. Just do something and do it faster. If you really care about victim survivors, then you will move on this quickly. And it won't be something that is over a year's process to get, not even a result, but just a half-answer.”
“There just seems not to be any plan for how to handle these things,” she said. “I just don’t think enough has been learned. If we don’t address that head on, we’re going to be in a far worse place in the future.”
You can read the whole thing here. I hope you will.
The Pillar has heard in recent weeks from several Vatican sources that Pope Francis has approved the text of a soon-to-be issued comprehensive overhaul of Book VI of the Code of Canon Law. Book VI addresses the Church’s penal law, and the revised text is expected to fill several lacunae, or gaps, in the current canonical criminal law of the Church.
A word of caution: Book VI has been under revision since at least 2006, and the work has undergone several significant refits in the last 15 years. While the text is expected to be issued “soon,” that term is a fairly fluid concept in the ecclesiastical context.
Readers may recall that on Good Friday, London Metropolitan Police broke up a liturgy at a Catholic Church in South London’s Balham neighborhood. On Divine Mercy, the Archbishop of Southwark and police representatives visited the parish, to announce that they had begun discussions about more fruitful engagement in future. Police said they “deeply regretted” the Good Friday incident, which had prompted “significant reflection and learning.”
After a Minnesota police officer fatally shot Daunte Wright outside Minneapolis Sunday, Archbishop Bernard Hebda urged prayer “for justice, but also for peace in our families and in our communities.”
Here’s Tony Hawk landing a bunch of incredible tricks, at age 50 — and not landing a bunch of tricks too:
Today is also the optional memorial of the martyred Pope St. Martin I. The pope was arrested in 653 by order of Emperor Constans II, largely for the “crime” of convoking the Lateran Council of 649 without the emperor’s permission. Pope Martin was gravely ill when he was arrested, and after spending time in a freezing cold cell, he was banished to Crimea, where he died in 653 mostly forgotten.
He is the last pope to be venerated as a martyr.
Be sure to read our Friday newsletter, which will include a very cool announcement — and registration — for some upcoming Pillar events, which you won’t want to miss.
And if you enjoy The Pillar, please forward this newsletter to friends who might benefit from it, and, if you think we make news worth paying for, please consider becoming a subscriber:
Please be assured of our prayers, and please pray for us.
Sincerely yours in Christ,