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Holding Bishops Accountable

Jason Negri

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Clearly Catholic bishops need closer collaboration with lay Catholics if we are ever going to get past the leadership models that led to the sex abuse crisis. But what is appropriate lay participation in keeping bishops honest? Jason Negri discusses one model being pursued by the Daniel Coalition, a local effort for reform in Lansing Michigan.


Can the laity hold bishops accountable? Jason Negri, next.

Cy Kellett:
Hello, and welcome again to Focus, the Catholic Answers podcast for living, understanding and defending your Catholic faith. A great deal of suffering in recent decades around the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, and then the repeated problems in confronting the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. It leaves the laity wondering what is our role in all of this? We’re not Congregationalists. We’re not Presbyterians. We’re Catholics. We’re one body, and the bishops have a role given to them by Jesus Christ, one that we cannot usurp, but there must be something we can do to forward the interests of the Church, and return the Church to the kind of posture where she can truly evangelize the world. Share the good news. That’s what we’re here to do and invite other people to live in that good news.

Our guest for this episode is Jason Negri. He’s the Assistant Director of the Patients’ Rights Council, and one of the founders of the Daniel Coalition, a Coalition formed, in fact, to help hold bishops’ feet to the fire. It’s a delicate task with various theological implications. So, we asked him, how are they going about doing it?

Jason Negri, thank you very much for being with us.

Jason Negri:
Thank you.

Cy Kellett:
I want to ask you about the Daniel Coalition, what it is, and how you got involved with it. So, first of all, what is the Daniel Coalition?

Jason Negri:
The Daniel Coalition is a non-profit organization started by lay Catholics with a dual role, first to provide some accountability in our diocese for our bishop and our priests, and the overarching concern is, of course, to provide advocacy for victims of clerical sexual abuse.

Cy Kellett:
And how long has it been going?

Jason Negri:
We formed in fall of 2018, so two and a half years or so.

Cy Kellett:
Okay. So, I mean, we’ve been at this for a generation now.

Jason Negri:
Easily.

Cy Kellett:
I remember the meetings in the 1990s and then the just total disaster in the early 2000s. And then you form in 2018. So, what’s the catalyst for forming this Coalition now? I mean, after-

Jason Negri:
It was the revelations regarding then Cardinal McCarrick, of course. That report came out in, I think it was July of 2018, and it infuriated a lot of people, myself included. And through social media, I got connected with Janet Smith, who many people know.

Cy Kellett:
… Oh yeah. Sure, sure.

Jason Negri:
She’s in my Diocese of Lansing, Michigan, and the two of us talked about what we might do about this, and decided that we were going to hold a meeting of concerned lay Catholics in our diocese, to try to get something going. And the Daniel Coalition was the fruit of that initial meeting, which took place the first week of September of 2018.

Cy Kellett:
There’s probably nothing we’ve done as a Church over the last, at least generation or two, that is probably as powerful a counter-witness to the gospel as this whole sex abuse mess, wouldn’t you agree?

Jason Negri:
I would think so. The abuses themselves and then the institutional response or lack thereof to it, absolutely. This has compromised the gospel witness.

Cy Kellett:
Yeah. And I think lot of people had a feeling that summer when the McCarrick stuff all broke again of, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Jason Negri:
Yes.

Cy Kellett:
And it’s a feeling directed directly at bishops, “You have to be kidding me. You guys haven’t handled this yet?”

Jason Negri:
Correct. Right.

Cy Kellett:
And you had that feeling?

Jason Negri:
We did, definitely. That was the anger that fueled this meeting, and the resolve to do something about it for once.

Cy Kellett:
We have kind of a long history in the US of lay groups forming, and some having a longer life, some shorter, but that are basically contentious with the bishops. Were you all concerned about the kind of history that some of those groups have had of being their own counter-witness? Do you know what I mean? That providing a kind of disunity that was really not helpful in sharing the gospel? Were you at all worried?

Jason Negri:
No, because like you said, the status quo was already such a counterproductive aspect of it. Nothing we would say or do was going to make the division any worse. The division was already there. And we are having a difficult time navigating the appropriate role of what we should be doing, of course.

Cy Kellett:
Sure, yeah.

Jason Negri:
The idea is a good one. The implementation always requires a certain amount of wisdom to know when to confront and push back in public, when to chastise, when to support the good things that your bishop might be doing. It’s made a little bit easier in our case, because we did decide early on that our efforts were going to be focused locally. There was some discussion about trying to do a national effort to try to, get some more Catholic luminaries, so to speak, to be involved in this effort.

But I got very good advice from a college friend of mine, who pointed out the inherent problems that tended to, that historically have happened with situations like that. And she suggested strongly, “Why don’t you just focus on your own diocese?” So, that is in fact what we decided to do. And I think it was a very, very good move. It helps that I do have a lot of luminaries in the Catholic world, in my diocese itself. Ralph Martin is there. Janet Smith, Al Kresta, Mary Healy, and all of these people signed on immediately [crosstalk 00:05:18].

Cy Kellett:
Because you have the seminary there with all the great-

Jason Negri:
Well, the seminary is in Detroit.

Cy Kellett:
… Oh, it’s in Detroit?

Jason Negri:
But many of the professors live in the Diocese of Lansing, which is helpful.

Cy Kellett:
That’s like a murderer’s row of Catholic-

Jason Negri:
Yes, it is.

Cy Kellett:
… Theologians.

Jason Negri:
These are names that the bishop actually takes notice of.

Cy Kellett:
He should. Those are [crosstalk 00:05:33].

Jason Negri:
He doesn’t know who I am, and I don’t care about that, but he certainly knew the founding members of my board and the people who were supporting our efforts.

Cy Kellett:
Right, right. Okay. So, I suppose that’s one way of avoiding the pitfalls of some of these earlier national lay movements, which became really just protest movements. This is, you’re trying to do something locally that can produce results. It’s not just press releases and public battles.

Jason Negri:
Right. I think the protest aspect of it, it’s there, but it’s not the central focus of what we’re doing. We’re primarily an advocacy organization for the victims of clerical sexual abuse in our diocese, and then secondarily, but just as important, being that touchpoint of accountability for bishops, which frankly, institutionally is not present in the Church. And it’s unhealthy for anybody to have no accountability whatsoever. And bishops are men. And they need to know that they’re there in the spotlight. Negative media works. So, we have issued some critical press releases of him, and he didn’t appreciate that, but you know what? They got the job done.

Cy Kellett:
Okay. But this is touchy in a theological way. Wouldn’t you say? I mean, not that I’m trying to say that it’s in itself problematic, it’s just touchy because you can… We all have a role in the hierarchical Church that Christ Himself gave to us. And the laity can’t seize the role of the bishop. I’m not saying that you’re trying to do that, but certainly that would be a temptation for some laity.

Jason Negri:
It probably would be. I don’t think any of us in the Daniel Coalition have any interest whatsoever in seizing that role. And certainly we avoid any issues of doctrine. You know, we’re not challenging the Church’s position on doctrinal issues, but a conversation absolutely needs to take place. And people actually need to start taking some steps in the direction of what some people have called the co-responsibility of the laity for the Church. We’re not meant to be second-class Catholics. And certainly, there are virtues and areas of expertise that we as lay people have that you can’t reasonably expect any one bishop to have everything.

Cy Kellett:
Nope. Right.

Jason Negri:
So, the bishop, he’s got a role to play in the Church, obviously, part of the hierarchy, but to pretend that his word is law, no matter what, I think everybody would agree, we’re long since passed that. And there’s really no adequate defense to a perspective that is so triumphalistic and so bent on the hierarchy status quo that it would preclude the laity having some degree of involvement, if only as a touchpoint of accountability and criticizing the bishop, because guess what? We have the standing to do that now.

Cy Kellett:
Right, right. Yeah. And the bishops, had they failed once or failed twice or failed three times to hold one another accountable, you might go, “Well, give them a fourth chance, but we’re so far beyond that.

Jason Negri:
No, they abjectly failed in that regard.

Cy Kellett:
They have. They really have, and I-

Jason Negri:
No reasonable person could say otherwise.

Cy Kellett:
… Yeah, okay. And that has included Popes, even saintly Popes I think, who have misunderstood their moment to some degree, or-

Jason Negri:
Or they placed too strong of an emphasis on collegiality. I think that’s the big problem right now, as well as too strong an emphasis on what at the time, I think, was in fact, the recommendation of the experts in terms of giving the offending priest another chance for not only reconciliation, but to turn their life around, to receive counseling and be healed of these defects. That hasn’t been the case for two decades, though. So really, no bishop can get away with that excuse, by just shuffling the bad priest somewhere else, passing the garbage, as they call it. They do it in the public schools all the time. The bishops have done it with bad priests. They can’t continue to do it anymore. Nobody who knows what’s going on would or should let them get away with it.

Cy Kellett:
But at least since the Second Vatican Council, there’s this been this call to think of the Christian community as the people of God. There’s all these titles for the Church, and different ones are emphasized at different moments in history, but it does seem like the Church fathers themselves at the Council were calling us to focus more on that. They use it a lot, the phrase people of God. And there’s some way in which the old way of being Church meant the bishop and the chancery are over there. They’re doing their thing. I’m sure they’re handling that. My job is to raise the family and the kids, and there’s certainly some truth to that, but it seems like there’s a new model of the people of God is needed, without in any way being radical or saying, I don’t want to be a Congregationalist. I don’t want to be a Presbyterian. I’m a Catholic. A Catholic belongs to a hierarchical structure given to us by Jesus. But there’s a way of living out our laity and living out priesthood and living out the bishop role that we can do a lot better than we’re doing.

Jason Negri:
I think that’s probably true. Now, I have the advantage of not being a theologian. I have no formal theological training. I went to a very strong Catholic college, and simply by being there in that environment, it certainly gives you kind of like a minor in theology that you get somewhere else.

Cy Kellett:
What was it?

Jason Negri:
Franciscan University.

Cy Kellett:
Oh, that place. Come on.

Jason Negri:
Yeah, that place. And it was wonderful. I learned so much about my faith that I had never learned as an adult Catholic in high school, until I got there.

Cy Kellett:
Sure.

Jason Negri:
But there definitely was the negative corollary effect of the enthusiastic young Catholic who’s just learning this stuff for the first time. The negative effect is certainly one of almost blind acceptance, that if somebody in authority tells you, “This is what the Church teaches,” you automatically say, “Okay, that’s it. That settles the question.”

There’s no critical inquiry as to whether or not it actually is what the Church teaches. And even if it is, what are the nuances that guide that as well as how do you properly implement it? Because the Church at her best speaks in principles, not in specific situations. So, it’s left up to us to figure out how we’re going to put these into practice, so I cannot necessarily gainsay what you’re saying right now regarding the structure of the Church and what the Church fathers said in the second Vatican Council. I only know from my own lived experience as a Catholic and my own training as a lawyer that you can’t let bad men get away with certain things. And whatever it requires me to do as an active, engaged, faithful lay person, I’m going to do it.

Cy Kellett:
Do you have any sense, well, I’ll confess this to you first. This is my sense. So now, I’m fishing for confirmation.

Jason Negri:
Well, now that I know where you’re coming from.

Cy Kellett:
But that actually dioceses are too big, that part of the reason we have this problem is a lot of these bishops, they don’t actually know all the things that are going on. I mean, if you had a diocese of 10 parishes, the bishop’s role would be very different than if you have a diocese of 250 parishes.

Jason Negri:
Absolutely. Again, I have no standing to give an opinion on this subject, but I’m going to give one anyway, because you asked. I think you’re absolutely right.

Cy Kellett:
We share the same standing here.

Jason Negri:
That’s right. I guess we’re good. A colleague and friend of mine from my college days, who is himself an ordained priest slash deacon in the Eastern rite, he has opined on this many times before, and he has asserted forcefully on social media that our dioceses are too big. So, I have been persuaded by his argument. So, yes we are on the same page.

Cy Kellett:
Well, I mean, you think of a diocese like Mexico city, it’s bigger than most countries, the diocese in Mexico city. It’s certainly bigger than the entire Church was for the first 100 years of its existence. It doesn’t seem like brain science. Well, I don’t know what the metaphor is. I lost my metaphor.

Jason Negri:
Rocket surgery?

Cy Kellett:
Rocket surgery. Yeah, that’s exactly what I was going for. Thank you.

Okay. So, we’re agreed there. It does seem to me that you make these kinds of prince-like characters when you give them these giant princedoms to rule over, and they stop being parish priests. They can’t. They can’t do that.

Jason Negri:
No, they can’t effectively do it. And I’m going to extrapolate a little bit on something I said earlier. Regardless of the theological justification for their position, we’re talking about men, right?

Cy Kellett:
Amen.

Jason Negri:
And I know, sociologically, from my observations of the human condition, power corrupts.

Cy Kellett:
Yeah. [crosstalk 00:13:34].

Jason Negri:
And when they are princes of these fiefdoms, you can almost expect that at some point, insulated from criticism, having no accountability to anybody, they’re going to do what they’re going to do. And unfortunately, I think a lot of bishops themselves, at least in America, are co-opted by some of their own experiences and the networks to which they belong. So, they are going to protect certain predator priests for various reasons known to them.

Cy Kellett:
Well, there’s been, and I’m just trying to get you in trouble here now, there’s been a great reform of the seminaries that’s ongoing and continuing, but almost everyone who is a bishop now was formed before the reforming started in the seminaries.

Jason Negri:
True enough. And that says something, I think that’s an unfortunate truth. You also say that there has been a reform. I know in our own seminary, Sacred Heart, which the priests in our diocese all go through, they experienced a significant reform. And by all accounts, my people there tell me that it’s a very, very good seminary right now, and has been for five to 10 years.

I don’t know if I could say the same about other seminaries in America. I hope it’s true, but I have no direct knowledge. And I have unfortunately heard examples of other seminaries that are still experiencing some of these same problems, and turning away some great young men who believed they had vocations, and only accepting and ordaining a certain type of man that they want to see perpetuate the status quo.

Cy Kellett:
Also, the National Bishops Conference plays an out sized role. It seems to me a role that these bishops should not be delegating to it. But your experience with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the response to sex abuse, what’s your actual lived experience?

Jason Negri:
It’s dismal. I mean, our organization-

Cy Kellett:
Dismal?

Jason Negri:
… Yes. Our organization has had no direct contact with the USCCB. Like I said, we are focused just on our diocese. We have no interest in engaging with them on anything, because observationally, they’re part of the problem. They have no canonical status, and they seem much more interested in forwarding their own vision of what the Church is and should be and what our priority messages ought to be, rather than dealing squarely with the problems that everybody knows are there.

I will use one example that we had, which I would encourage anybody to be able to do. Many people, many faithful Catholics, are aware of and concerned about a subgroup of the USCCB called the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. This is a fund that the US bishops support and they give money to. And this group, the CCHD, gives money to many questionable causes, some of which are actively engaged in activities which are contrary to the faith.

Many people have pointed this out, and yet the bishops still continue to give money to it. And the individual bishops keep raising money within their diocese to go to this. Concomitant with my forming of the Daniel Coalition, I also started getting a lot more involved and engaged in my own parish. I had already been involved in the choir and other things. My pastor and I were on good terms. But I sought out a position on our parish council. And during my first couple of months on the council, I brought this to the attention of the parish council, this is a problem.

I assumed that everyone in the parish council, being an engaged Catholic, was already aware of this.

Cy Kellett:
Yeah, but you can’t keep track of them.

Jason Negri:
One person on my parish council was aware of the CCHD’s problems.

Cy Kellett:
Sure, yeah.

Jason Negri:
When we did a presentation to them, they were amazed. They looked into it on their own. We voted unanimously that our parish was not going to give money to this effort anymore, which provided, I believe, my pastor with the cover he needed to tell the bishop so. My pastor didn’t want to give money to this group either, but because his bishop, his boss, to whom he has a vow of obedience, had asked him to do this. He felt obliged to take up this collection every year.

We looked into it and said, “No way, we’re not doing this anymore.” We communicated that to the bishop. And perhaps coincidentally, within the next three months, our bishops came forward and said, “We’re no longer as a diocese going to be raising money for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.” Now, I consider that a very achievable goal for every lay Catholic. It’s a very obvious and easy stance to take. It might be a little uncomfortable, but you get a couple of like-minded thinking people with you, you point out the problems, you communicate that, it is a winnable battle. And that’s just one example. We pushed back, and the USCCB is going to have to do without the Diocese of Lansing contribution.

Cy Kellett:
Yeah, yeah, right. But I really like this. It seems very Catholic, this model of work on the local level, even for an international thing, like the Campaign for Human Development. Well, let me do what I can do on the local level, that seems to fit with how we Catholics are supposed to do these things.

Jason Negri:
Maybe it is, if you take the principle of subsidiarity seriously.

Cy Kellett:
Right. But because it does seem like many Catholic institutions, major Catholic institutions, whether it’s hospitals or university, not all. Certainly not all, but hospitals, universities, even bishops’ conferences, whether they’re state bishops’ conferences or the National Bishops Conference, they’re almost practicing a different Catholic faith than the person in the pew. You go, “Are you serious?” That’s not the Catholic faith as we’re trying to live it here in the parish, but you’ve got some other agenda.

Jason Negri:
I wasn’t able to make that connection as clearly. But even back during my college years, I knew there was a disconnect. There was almost a solitary neglect of our bishops, because we knew that they couldn’t be trusted, precisely for the reasons that you’re articulating. Observationally, all sorts of weird stuff was going on and being allowed, if not encouraged, by priests and bishops, at all of these other institutions. And you scratch your head and you wonder, that’s not the faith as I understand it. That’s actually against the faith as I understand it.

There was a publication, a newspaper back then called The Wanderer, that you may or may not be familiar with.

Cy Kellett:
Oh, yeah, I remember The Wanderer. I don’t know if it’s still around. [crosstalk 00:19:21]

Jason Negri:
I don’t know that it is. I used to read it, and my eyes were opened to the depth and breadth of this problem, at least in the American church. And then after a couple of years of it, it was almost like this was too fantastic to be true. And I stopped reading it, thinking they’re just a bunch of cranks. There’s no way that this is correct.

Cy Kellett:
Yeah, and then the abuse crisis hit.

Jason Negri:
And then the abuse crisis. The first one hit in 2002. And then, the next one hit, the McCarrick scandal, in 2018. And I’m going to go on record on this podcast as saying that I was wrong. The Wanderer was right all along about these things. And there is a dissonance, there’s a disconnect between what our priests, too many of our priests and bishops are doing and saying, and the actual faith that has been handed on epistolically for 2000 years.

Cy Kellett:
I’m glad to hear you say that, because I don’t want to advocate for The Wanderer at all, but it marginalized Catholic media, got the sex abuse crisis right in a way that mainstream Catholic media did not. And I was part of mainstream Catholic media. We missed it. And I look at these papers like The Wanderer, but also on the left, like The National Catholic Reporter. I think almost everything they publish is nuts, but they were right about the sex abuse.

Jason Negri:
They were.

Cy Kellett:
Because they weren’t in the middle of it. They were on the periphery, whether it’s on The Wanderer or The Reporter. And they were able to maybe see what others of us weren’t looking at.

Jason Negri:
Right. Well, they were doing what media is supposed to be doing, right? Taking a critical look at what’s happening and reporting it, so the people can know, just reporting the facts in the situation. I think the problem that the mainstream institutions had and continue to have, honestly, I chalk it up to clericalism. Now, clericalism is sometimes used as the whipping boy by the hierarchy for the very problem, the sex abuse scandals and predatory priests. They blame it on clericalism, which we all know that’s not the essential problem. The essential problem is the predatory and abusive priests themselves and the coverup on the part of the hierarchy, when they shuffle them somewhere else and don’t tell anybody.

But there’s no doubt that clericalism, which I define as over-deference to somebody, because they wear a Roman collar. That is a problem that I think is at the root of what you were just describing. That’s why the institutional Church didn’t look at it and why the mainstream Catholic institutions didn’t pay close attention to it, because there was still, if only latent, there was a sense that father knows best. Even though no Catholic father I know now will leave their child, male or female, alone with a Catholic priest, even if they know and like him, unless they know him personally and have known him for years.

Cy Kellett:
Yeah. And it’s going to take so long to get that where it should be.

Jason Negri:
I don’t know if there is a should involved in this, to be honest. A father’s role is to protect his children, no matter what. And to blindly defer to your parish priest simply because he is a priest, those days are gone. I don’t expect to see them back in my lifetime. And I say good riddance.

Cy Kellett:
There is a positive thing, though, about the laity who want to work with bishops, priests, deacons, on this great mission of evangelization and communion and mission that we have.

Jason Negri:
Sure. Absolutely.

Cy Kellett:
Yeah, I feel like even, the model that you have with the Daniel initiative could be helpful in that regard too. The laity need to wake up and be actively participating in the mission of the Church.

Jason Negri:
Correct.

Cy Kellett:
And on the one hand, not putting up with bad bishops, but on the other hand, not leaving good bishops and good priests on their own to try to do this thing.

Jason Negri:
Well, yeah. I think there’s a truth there, that it’s not supposed to be just them.

Cy Kellett:
No.

Jason Negri:
Definitely, that’s a problem. For those who are spiritually minded, like I was when a young kid, any young man who took his faith seriously, probably considered the priesthood at some point. Right?

Cy Kellett:
Right.

Jason Negri:
And then for one reason or another, decided not to, but in my adult experience, in the churches, what seems to me is that if you take your faith seriously, you still ought to be pursuing ordination of some kind, “Well, yeah, go through the diaconate program.” There still is not a recognition that somebody should be an active, involved, enthusiastic, engaged lay person in the life of their parish. You might volunteer for a ministry or two here, but to be able to take more ownership over the gospel message and how the Church is spreading it in your own parish.

I think it’s essential. Men especially have been terrible at this. It’s almost like the problems that we’ve been talking about that have been in the practice of the faith, at least in the American Church for the past couple of decades, have driven out the good men who take their faith seriously. They go to the Orthodox Church, or they become evangelicals. Right?

Cy Kellett:
I see what you mean, yeah.

Jason Negri:
Religious traditions that obviously take what they’re saying seriously. They have requirements. You’re expected to do certain things. That’s what men rise to. We rise to a challenge and expectation. And if the life of a Catholic in America is just one of Jesus loves you, now let’s make a collage. What is there to appeal to a man in the pew for that? They leave. They go somewhere else. Or they just lapse. They stay home, and the wife takes the kids to church. And that’s an unfortunate truth.

The men who are left in the Church, very few of us unfortunately have that sense of ownership that I think is appropriate and necessary for this revitalization and for full realization of the co-responsibility of the laity for the life of the Church, which is what I think we need to be doing.

Cy Kellett:
Well, let me ask you a little bit more about the Daniel initiative then. If someone said-

Jason Negri:
Coalition.

Cy Kellett:
… Coalition, excuse me, I’m sorry. What did I say?

Jason Negri:
Initiative.

Cy Kellett:
Oh, excuse me.

Jason Negri:
If people are looking for it online, they’re going to find it with Coalition, not Initiative.

Cy Kellett:
Daniel Coalition. I do think whoever gave you that advice gave you great advice, work locally. That’s how we do it as Catholics. But what if somebody in a diocese somewhere else said, “Hey, I’m interested in that. I want to start something like that.” Do you have any, can you franchise the thing? I mean, do you see what I’m saying? Is there any way that they could start doing this?

Jason Negri:
Absolutely. I don’t have any special expertise in this. It just happened organically, fueled by the outrage that so many of us felt. Now, again, I had the advantage of I’m plugged in with a lot of so-called Catholic leaders and people who know what they’re doing, both nationally and in my own diocese. So, that certainly helped me get the right people together.

Forming a group like this is not hard. You just have to do it. And we’re not the only one. There are other groups around the country that formed around the same time we did, the Society of St. Peter Damian, down in Louisiana. And there were one or two efforts that were started nationally that are still out there that I’ve conferred with on a couple of issues over the years.

But I do think there’s definitely, it’s a superior approach to try to do it on the local level for a lot of reasons. So, I would say that anybody who wants to try to do this in their own diocese, I am happy to speak to them about this. I’ve had people email me and contact me about this. I’m happy to, if you’ll pay for it, I’ll come out and speak to a group of concerned people to share with you exactly what we did. And you can learn from our mistakes, what worked, what didn’t, and maybe we can actually make something out of this. So, if you want to call that a franchise, I’m not going to get any money out of it, but I’ll happily help.

Cy Kellett:
Yeah, yeah. And it doesn’t seem like you exist merely to be contradictory to your bishop. It seems like you take this on as an effort to work with your bishop. You’re willing to tell him the truth if he’s messing up, and we all should be willing to tell each other the truth on that. But it seems like an effort to let’s really live this out in our diocese.

Jason Negri:
I think that’s an accurate description of what we’re doing. I think you have to be willing to be confrontational. And then, when appropriate, you ease off of that. I will say, to his credit, that my bishop has done a lot of good things. I think our trajectory is definitely in the right direction in the Diocese of Lansing. Like I said, his response to the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, totally separate from my work with the Daniel Coalition. But another way of urging the bishop to do the right thing, by digging in our own heels and saying, “Hell no, we won’t go.”

And he did the right thing, I believe. Similarly, in certain things we’ve done with the Daniel Coalition, we’ve had some meetings with his staff and with him. We have had a couple of press releases when we thought that he did the wrong thing. And in the long run, he is surrounding himself with the right sort of people. He has put in place a lay review board to hear these types of cases. And he takes their recommendation seriously. I do think he is trying. He gets the message. He, unlike any other bishop I’ve heard in America, he understands the idea that the clerical sexual abuse problem is not limited to children victims, that there are adult victims everywhere of clerical sexual abuse.

And we can call it abuse, because there is a disparity of power. The power differential between a priest and their parishioner or the person to whom they’re giving spiritual direction and counseling, it’s huge. That’s why counselors are forbidden in law in every single state, counselors are forbidden from having any type of intimate relationship with their patients. That ought to be reflected in every state’s laws for clergy as well. Unfortunately, right now it isn’t, but we’re trying to get that changed in Michigan, at least.

Cy Kellett:
Well, before we end then, let me ask you about that part of your work. It’s also advocacy on behalf of victims.

Jason Negri:
Yes.

Cy Kellett:
How does that work?

Jason Negri:
We have encouraged anybody in the Diocese of Lansing who has suffered clerical sexual abuse at the hands of a priest in our diocese or any employee of the Church for that matter, to please contact us, so we can work with you, help you get to some of the resources we’re aware of in terms of counseling and assistance. And we will advocate for you and with you in your dealings with the diocese or with the attorney general, who’s carrying out a lot of these investigations, I think appropriately.

I will say that it was a pleasant surprise for us, that we expected to hear from a ton of people who have experienced this. And we were contacted actually by very few people. We worked with one case over the past couple of years, and we’re currently working with another case right now that’s under investigation, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were not a lot of people. There wasn’t a floodgate of victims in our diocese, ostensibly, because our bishop, when he was installed 12, 13 years ago, started a lot of these reforms and got some of the bad priests out to begin with. And I give him full credit for that. He did the right thing. We’re simply trying to advance that process and do what we can and should be doing from the point of view of the laity to issue a demand that cannot be misunderstood, that this is what we expect. We expect and want to have holy priests. And we certainly will not tolerate predatory priests.

Cy Kellett:
Amen. Yeah. And you can imagine for the victim of priestly sexual abuse, to walk in alone to that chancery, even in a welcoming chancery, or even where you have a bishop who’s taking this seriously, it’s better to have a community of lay people who support that person in doing that.

Jason Negri:
Absolutely. It is. And that’s what we’ve been told. And that’s why we continue to do it.

Cy Kellett:
Jason Negri, thank you very much for being with us.

Jason Negri:
Thank you.

Cy Kellett:
The Daniel Coalition.

Jason Negri:
Yes.

Cy Kellett:
All right. Thanks.

The old saying about how you would never eat sausage if you saw how the sausage is made, unfortunately, there’s some truth to that when it comes to the Catholic Church in some ways. I mean, not if you really, truly have faith and are able to maintain the faith, but it can be disappointing to see how things are done, right where the rubber meets the road, where the chancery is, or in the various offices of the various institutions of the Catholic Church. We can do better. And we need to help one another do better in a way that doesn’t break the Catholic Church, that doesn’t make the Catholic Church something that it’s not.

A good deal of people or a good number of people are proposing options for reform that actually would be impossible, because they wouldn’t be Catholic. They’d be something else. But an expanded role for the laity in paying attention to what’s going on in the Church and speaking up when things don’t seem right doesn’t seem to be a theological problem at all.

Anyways, we’d love to hear from you if either you disagree or you think we should have been tougher on this topic or any other thing you want to tell us. Maybe you want to suggest a future show. You can send your email to [email protected] [email protected] You can support us financially by going to givecatholic.com. We’d appreciate your financial support. We need it to keep doing these. And when you go to give catholic.com, just say, “This is for Catholic Answers Focus.” That’ll help the money get to where it needs to go.

If you’re watching on YouTube, don’t forget to like and subscribe. We’re growing on YouTube. And you help us to do that when you like and subscribe. And if you’re getting the podcast, Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, or the other podcast places, if you subscribe there, you’ll be notified when new episodes are available. And if you give us that five-star review, maybe a couple of nice words, that also helps to grow the podcast. Our thanks to our guest, Jason Negri. I am Cy Kellett, your host. We’ll see you next time, God willing, right here on Catholic Answers Focus.

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