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A case of flung mud

carlson CHRIS


The recent settlement of a malpractice lawsuit filed by the Diocese of Spokane against its long-time outside counsel should be viewed as another example of a bishop who, while professing to reflect the new direction set by Pope Francis, does not by his actions truly walk the talk.

The Spokane Catholic diocese, while under the leadership of Bishop Blasé Cupich – now archbishop in Chicago – spent two-and-one-half years, and who knows how many wasted dollars, because he was, according to the deposition of former vicar general Father Steven Dublinski, “throwing mud at Paine-Hamblen to see if any mud sticks.”

Dublinski resigned over his differences with Cupich.
But the settlement announced January 22 leaves no other conclusion than none of the “mud” stuck.

Cupich, who denies making the mud-on-the-wall comment, was trying to explain his lawsuit against the diocese’ long-time outside counsel, Paine Hamblen, which served the diocese for many years. Shortly after arriving in Spokane, Cupich says he asked for a review of the firm’s work regarding a diocese bankruptcy filing. In particular, Cupich thought the settlement did not fully anticipate future claims from those abused by diocese priests. The potential consequence would be insufficient funds to handle new cases.

The malpractice suit might have concluded with a pre-trial settlement or a jury award of damages to the diocese.

Everybody knows lawyers are covered by malpractice insurance, so the individuals in the firm would not pay personally. Reputations, though, are priceless, and the lawsuit put that of the partners at Paine Hamblen at risk.

Whatever the archbishop believed, it is up to individual members of the laity, as well the diocese’ priests and nuns, to decide whether he was sincere or insincere. The settlement, the actual terms of which have not been disclosed, would appear to be a complete vindication for of the law firm.

One cannot help thinking that if more Catholic bishops across the country would truly take a cue from Pope Francis and follow his lead, walk the talk, act with humanity, humility and with a dose of common sense, the Catholic Church would be in much better standing.

Another example of this need to use common sense and act humanely towards all is the behavior of the bishop of the Fort Wayne/Indianapolis diocese. Two years ago, he fired a married, veteran Catholic teacher in the diocesan high school for violating the morals clause of her contract. Her sin?

She and her husband could not have children “naturally,” so they went the in-vitro fertilization route with her donating an egg, he his sperm, and then implantation in her womb. She informed her principal, who initially congratulated her. None of them were aware they had crossed Catholic doctrine, which does not condone in-vitro fertilization, primarily because the process can result in more than one egg combining with sperm, and that’s the beginning of an independent, individual life. These other inseminated but unused eggs are disposed of, which Catholic doctrine says constitutes abortion. So she was fired.

Last month, a grand jury awarded her and her husband $2 million for a violation of her civil rights. The diocese cannot afford the award and so will appeal. The pure doctrinal approach taken by the diocese’ bishop will insure a federal ruling further restricting the right of private, religion-based schools to require adherence to church teachings from its teachers, who sign contracts pledging not to teach counter to church doctrine and to reflect church teachings in their private lives.

The unintended consequence will be further restriction of a religion’s right to operate separately from the so-called norms of secular society. Common sense and a humane, non-doctrinaire response should have told the bishop to look the other way and be happy there was a wanted child.

Bishops everywhere should get in sync with the new pope, who acts and speaks with common sense and humanity guiding him. If more of them did, the Roman Catholic Church would begin to restore its tarnished image.
While in the Philippines in early January, the Pope Francis interacted with people living on the streets. He spent time in particular with two young teen-age girls, one of whom asked him the question that is at the center of Russian author Fyodor Dostoyesky’s great novel, “The Brothers Karamazov”: Why does God permit children to suffer?

Did the pope offer some philosophical treatise? Did he cite church doctrine? Nope, none of these. In the face of this mystery in front of him, he reacted like a real human being, a real father: he wept.

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