Back in my Denver days in the late 1980s, I started work on a large project that, at first, was viewed with great favor by my editors at The Rocky Mountain News (RIP).
The starting point: The city included several growing Protestant churches, evangelical and Pentecostal, that were attracting many, many Hispanic believers. As you would expect, it didn’t take long to realize that most of them were former Roman Catholics or were the children of former Roman Catholics.
The goal was to report (a) why this was happening and (b) how this affected life inside large, extended families of Hispanics who now worshipped in radically different sanctuaries.
After a week or two of work, we dropped that first goal — because one of the most common answers was raising lots of questions that made editors uncomfortable.
Yes, many people were leaving the Catholic church for predictable reasons, from their point of view. They thought the preaching in evangelical/Pentecostal churches was stronger and “more biblical.” They liked the thriving Sunday schools for their children and youth programs for teens. They liked the contemporary church music, blending folk, pop and Latino themes.
But I kept hearing one more thing in many interviews: They wanted married pastors.
I would ask: “Married? Why was this so important?” Some were reluctant to discuss the details, but some were blunt: Their parishes were being sent too many gay priests. There were rumors and tensions. People were not sure they could trust the church. I kept hearing: Pastors should have wives and children of their own.
I wrote the divided-families story, but editors shied away from the “married” pastors angle.
I thought of that story when I heard about this strong National Public Radio report: “Immigrant Communities Were the ‘Geographic Solution’ to Predator Priests.”
Let me stress again (see this recent post) that there is fierce debate among Catholics over whether these two hot-button topics — large numbers of gay priests and decades of scandals linked to the abuse of teens and also prepubescent children — are connected. Many activists on the Catholic left and right salute the work of priests who wrestle with same-sex orientation, while living celibate lives and defending church doctrines on sexuality.
Here is the NPR overture:
Catholic Church leaders in Los Angeles for years shuffled predator priests into non-English-speaking immigrant communities. That pattern was revealed in personnel documents released in a decades-old legal settlement between victims of child sex abuse by Catholic priests and the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
Now clergy sex abuse victims throughout California are calling on the state's attorney general to investigate clergy abuse and force church officials to release more information about their role covering it up. The goal is to discover how wide-spread the practice of hiding abusers in immigrant communities really was. …
After Father Carlos Rodriguez abused a child in south Los Angeles, the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles sent him into an out-of-state treatment program for pedophile priests. Then, local officials brought him back to minister to Spanish speakers in the Office of Family Life.
The big idea: Some Catholic leaders were moving shady priests into parishes full of Catholics who — to be blunt — had every reason not to get into long legal discussions with police and other legal authorities.
In addition to the fears of immigrants — legal and illegal — Hispanic Catholics often demonstrate tremendous respect for clergy and find it hard to challenge their actions or authority.
This leads us to the term at the heart of this story, one that journalists may need to apply in other regions of the country.
There are dozens of examples of immigrant communities thrown under the bus.
"This is complete pattern," says Patrick Wall, a legal advocate who coined the term 'the geographic solution' to describe the church's actions.
Before advocating for child abuse victims with Jeff Anderson & Associates, Wall was a young 'fixer' priest for the Catholic Church in Minnesota, hired to take over parishes from 6 different accused pedophiles who'd been moved away.
The country's largest Catholic Archdiocese in Los Angeles is more than three-quarters Hispanic and largely immigrant.
Wait, here is the political — if that’s the right word — punch in the gut:
There's a good reason Latino Catholics view this issue differently than the rest of the Church, says Cecilia González-Andrieu, who teaches theology at Loyola Marymount University.
"The Latino Church was already in a really painful spot and needed the Catholic Church with moral authority to continue to fight for our human rights," she says.
Immigrant Catholics depend on the Church to speak out on issues related to legal status, poverty and healthcare.
"With this scandal cropping up, that voice is now completely gone from the conversation," González-Andrieu says.
As I have stressed many times: This is not a story about left and right, in the church or in political matters.
MAIN IMAGE: Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Denver.