She didn't leave her full name or number, but today's column is brought to you in part by a reality check from Rita the Reader.
"I was born Catholic and will die Catholic, but I want you and The Inquirer to keep the pressure on the hierarchy of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia," Rita railed via voice mail. "It's more than a disgrace. It's humiliating! It's criminal!"
I don't know what Rita had to say about her church in 2002 or 2005, but it's a fair bet she gave the Archdiocese more credit than the media. In the early telling of the clergy sex-abuse story, people like me got labeled Catholic bashers (and worse) for daring to address institutional culpability and hypocrisy.
Last week, a second grand jury released yet another staggering report on rapists in collars and their archdiocesan accomplices. Nearly six years after Cardinal Justin Rigali promised to get right with God on the matter of sinners within, the church remains a safe harbor for men of faith who prey on children.
This time, three priests and a monsignor face felony charges for crimes against humanity. And this time, the enraged faithful are taking aim at the real villains: church leaders ensconced at archdiocesan headquarters on Logan Square.
Sending a message
"Our concern is our children. Their concern is reputation and money. But the way they're going about it, they're going to lose both."
That pronouncement comes from Harry Niemann, a 78-year-old lifelong Catholic from Bucks County. The 1955 Notre Dame grad has given the church large sums of money and even more of his time. On Tuesday, he shared his rage.
"I cut out your column, went over to the church, and left it with a little note that said, 'Unfortunately, more people agree with this than they do the response by Cardinal Rigali. It was pap. It meant nothing.' "
I gasp at the sound of a devout Catholic dissing a cardinal, only to realize that Niemann, a former Marine, is just warming up.
He's incensed by Monsignor William Lynn, charged with child endangerment for his actions and inaction during the 12 years he oversaw sex-abuse investigations. Says Niemann: "I hope they hang him."
In the last few days, I've talked to and corresponded with nearly 200 readers like Niemann about faith and fury. None of them wants to leave the church; they'd rather find strength in numbers to force the changes their bishops resist.
"My faith in God has not been shaken, but my faith in man has," notes Bob McGreevy, an engineer and father of six, who attends St. Maximilian Kolbe Church in West Chester. "So what to do about it?"
Sound and fury
In 2002, McGreevy wrote a pointed letter to every U.S. cardinal. "Sadly," he tells me, he "did not get one response."
This time, he has considered launching an offering strike, but worries that decent priests and healthy parishes would suffer, instead of the archdiocese. As of last Saturday, he's on a self-imposed "hiatus" from Mass mulling his next move.
McGreevy's quest sounds so lonely that I tell him to check out Voice of the Faithful, the group of like-minded reformers. Sister Maureen Paul Turlish, a victim's advocate involved with VOTF, invites the outraged to harness their frustration and reenergize the movement.
Turlish assisted the citizen effort in Delaware to abolish statutes of limitations on child-sex-abuse cases. That was 2007. In 2009, the Wilmington Diocese declared bankruptcy. This month, the church settled 142 claims for $77 million - a staggering sum the nun believes will usher in a spiritual reckoning.
This week, Philadelphia State Reps. Louise Bishop and Mike McGeehan will introduce legislation to allow child-sex-abuse victims from any era to have their day in court.
"That's what it's going to take," Turlish says. "We've got to go above the church because the church failed us. It's up to the ordinary people in the pews, the thinking people. If we don't take this opportunity, it will be lost."
The local chapter of Voice of the Faithful will meet at 9:30 a.m. March 12 at Chestnut Hill College's Sugarloaf Hill Campus,
9601 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia. For information, go to http://votfgp.org.
Reach me at email@example.com or 215-854-4670. Visit my web page and connect on Facebook and Twitter at philly.com/kinney.