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A Church Divided


IN THE HOLY MONTH OF MARCH, as the Roman Catholic Church in the United States faced continuing crises stemming from sex-abuse scandals, three unlikely characters came together in a strange and contentious series of events in San Diego. Comprising the same forces threatening to destabilize the church’s American hold, those events exploded into a twisted controversy with national implications.

John McCusker was on vacation at Mammoth Mountain, two weeks before Easter, when he died. The Mono County Coroner says pain pills, alcohol and the stimulant amphetamine (not methamphetamine) combined with arterial blockage to cause the 31-year-old’s heart to stop. Those close to him say he passed away quietly in his sleep. A businessman, a beloved friend and family devotee, a Catholic and a philanthropist in San Diego’s gay community, McCusker is described by those who knew him as a man who stood for his ideals.

Friend Jonathan Hale says McCusker—an easygoing guy (“our John- John”) with an activist spirit and a propensity for supporting his beliefs—eschewed confrontation but welcomed the spotlight. “In a way, this [controversy] is fitting,” Hale says. “John was always at the center of the fight for what he believed in.”

The second central figure in the saga is James Hartline, a self-described eunuch and fundamentalist Christian who says he’s heeded a calling from God after 19 years in prison and a detrimental series of drug addictions. He’s been involved with the gay community of San Diego since the 1980s, when, he says, as a teenager he was lured into an arena of wanton, unprotected sex and drug use. Coming from an abusive mother and a meek father who failed to protect him, he believes he fell into homosexuality not as a genetic predisposition but in a subconscious ploy to replace the male role model.

Hartline believes in a strict interpretation of the Bible—that homosexuality is an abomination unto God, and that gay sex (as with any sex not aimed at procreation within marriage) is a sin. He believes the Roman Catholic Church has been infiltrated by evil forces, spearheaded by the gay movement. He’s a fundamentalist Christian, but he doesn’t speak in apocalyptic terms.

Hartline comes across as a well-spoken, clearheaded (albeit impassioned) activist—not a potential abortion-clinic bomber. Yet he clearly believes in the fire and brimstone. He says the mark of Satan’s hand is evident throughout his Hillcrest neighborhood.

Leaders of the gay community know of Hartline—deemed by the local press an anti-gay activist. Smiles disappear when his name is mentioned —but few seem ready to grapple publicly with the outspoken celibate. They say they’re confused by his turnaround—after decades of gay life, he’s denounced homosexuality and what he calls its destructive associated lifestyle.

“Hartline obsessively spins mistruths about the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] community and its leaders,” says Suanne Pauley, executive director of LGBT Pride of San Diego. “His offensives pertaining to LGBT youth events are particularly distorted when you consider that our annual Youth Pride festival is designed solely to provide safety and security to young LGBT individuals seeking acceptance from their families and teachers.

“One need only look at Hartline’s tumultuous past to understand that he has turned self-resentment into a vengeful agenda that attacks those who don’t follow in his footsteps. His so-called conversion to heterosexuality is meaningless to those who are searching for or have found acceptance within themselves.”

Hartline says he only wants to save people. A self-styled shepherd of the Lord, he wants to lead the lost out of what he considers a lifestyle with a false façade of love and caring; he believes behind that mask lies an abject, inescapable existence. Whatever the case, he seems committed to helping people out of anything the Bible calls a way of sin.

So what does an AIDS-afflicted ex-con-turned-shepherd, a one-time voracious addict of gay prison sex, have to do with a Catholic funeral for the all-American owner of two gay nightclubs? Enter Bishop Robert H. Brom.

In the days following McCusker’s death, Hartline made a call to the office of the San Diego Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church—the spiritual brains of a network of nearly a million Catholics and 290 priests in San Diego and Imperial counties. He says he identified himself to Brom’s secretary as a writer and Christian activist and questioned her about activities on the campus of the (Catholic) University of San Diego —where he claims religious studies is taught by a lesbian professor who doesn’t believe in the Bible. (USD spokesperson Pamela Gray-Payton says federal laws prohibit the university from querying teachers on sexual dispositions or religious beliefs. “That’s not relevant to their teaching,” she says, “so that’s not a question we would ask.”)

In conversation with Brom’s secretary, Hartline says he mentioned the McCusker funeral, which was scheduled to take place at USD’s Immaculata Church.

“Thirty minutes later, this bishop calls me,” Hartline says. “And from what I had gathered over a period of time, this guy never calls anybody— he’s like a wall. He spent a total of almost four hours on the phone with me [through five different calls] . . . I was able to express my concerns about the university; that was my main reason for calling. It wasn’t even about Mc- Cusker—I figured he wasn’t going to do anything about that anyway. But that was the issue he picked up. I’m not really sure why.”

As requested, Hartline says, he provided the bishop with documentation showing that pornographic films had been shot in at least one of McCusker’s businesses. Within days, Brom announced that McCusker would be denied funeral rites in any of the 98 parishes of his diocese. McCusker’s devoutly Catholic family was shocked. San Diego’s media outlets were surprised. The gay community’s reaction coursed rapidly from disbelief to outrage.

Days later, Brom’s office released a craftily worded statement that appeased the McCusker family and the gay community—it apologized for their suffering and agreed to a private Mass—without changing the church’s stance on its original decision to deny the funeral.

“I believe this was ordained by God,” Hartline says. “Because God’s in the game of exposing corruption in those that use His name. If you’ve entered into ministry, your responsibility unto God is to help people out of what the Bible teaches is wrong, out of their straits. . . . The Bible says that judgment begins at the House of the Lord. It begins with the people in leadership. . . . If you’ve got people [clergy] living in the very life that you’re pointing the finger at, how are you going to help them? You’re totally compromised. It’s all moral rot, [and] I have no toleration for corruption in the church—none.”

ROMAN CATHOLIC sexual abuse scandals aren’t endemic to Boston and the Northeast. Nor is a church policy that preoccupies itself with the avoidance of bad publicity. Los Angeles and Orange County dioceses have battled scores of lawsuits in the past three years; more are on the way. Meanwhile, abuse scandals are opening up around the globe—the BBC reports them in Australia, Britain, Ireland, Poland, Austria, Spain, Mexico and parts of Africa.

The lawsuit trend has already touched the San Diego Diocese.

A number of cases are pending against Monsignor William Kraft, now deceased. The eventual number of claims against the diocese is expected to top 100.

In 2002, the Dallas Morning News reported that “Bishop Robert Brom has been accused of coercing a student into sex at a seminary in Minnesota, where he once headed the Diocese of Duluth. Church officials there have paid a confidential settlement to the accuser, who retracted his claims. The deal was reached in the 1990s, but didn’t become public until this spring.” Other reports put the payment at $85,000-$120,000.

The San Diego Diocese acknowledges the payment, but says a thorough church investigation found no wrongdoing. San Diego Chancellor Rodrigo Valdivia says, “Given the accuser’s family-based problems, insurance money was secured to be administered by the attorney in providing the accuser with counseling and educational opportunities.”

Maybe. But the payoff revelation makes Brom’s decision to deny the McCusker funeral more enigmatic. Why would a bishop with a controversy in his past—with homoerotic implications— pick a gay businessman to make an example of? Experts say denying a Catholic a funeral is highly uncommon; other examples haven’t been seen since Mafia boss John Gotti died in 2002.

Whatever the case, the San Diego Diocese isn’t talking—after releasing a statement regarding the denial of McCusker’s funeral, the bishop refused to discuss the issue further— which is emblematic of a culture of secrecy in the rigidly traditional and hierarchical institution. That fact has led to building resentment on the part of victims’ networks.

This is not to deny the good works of the church.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) estimates that in the year 2000, the Catholic Charities Network raised $2.69 billion, 90 percent of which was turned over to programs and services. Last year, Catholic emergency services reached out to more than 5.3 million people, fed nearly 4 million and sheltered more than a million. All of this is in addition to disaster relief, social programs and schooling.

As pointed out by the USCCB-convened Catholic Review Board, sex-abuse scandals of the past five years will not mean an end to the 2,000-year-old church. However, they do seem to be evidence it’s time for change in church policy—or at least an open dialogue about the widening gap between a modernizing society and the staunchly traditional church.

put John McCusker and James Hartline on Earth to expose corruption is not humanly possible to know.

What’s clear—and becoming clearer by the month—is that the church is facing its greatest crisis in centuries. Agree with his rigid beliefs or not, Hartline’s assessment of the Roman Catholic Church bears validity: A culture of secrecy and power manipulation appears to be eating away from the inside, like a cancer.

According to Dr. Richard Sipe, a former Roman Catholic priest and Benedictine monk, that culture—the same one that’s led to multimillion-dollar lawsuits over sexual abuses—has been with the church since its inception. “It’s this refusal to dialogue,” he says, “as if we knew everything about it [sex as it relates to power and more specifically to celibacy].”

Shakespeare’s playground, the backbone of Hollywood and cardinal forces in the Bible: Sex and power are two of the most volatile and symbiotic human forces. They are at the very heart of the Roman Catholic Church— which hasn’t always been the case. The Roman Catholic faith didn’t begin wielding power over the sex lives of its clergy—with the mandate of celibacy —until the fourth century of its existence. St. Peter, for instance, the original church pontiff, selected by Jesus Christ himself, was married.

Various factors led to the creation of the vow of chastity—money and spirituality chief among them. Church-shapers, realizing institutional wealth would be passed on from priests to their progeny, took the definitive costcutting step of outlawing children. It was a move that dovetailed nicely with the idea of spiritual devotion—itself an undeniable force in the evolution of the vow. The centuries following the mandate were full of priests, bishops, even popes who openly challenged it. In fact, a long line of pontiffs—through the church’s 2,000-year history—fathered children and openly engaged in relationships, some of them homosexual.

McCusker’s funeral was moved to St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in San Diego, where the Reverend Scott Richardson, dean of the cathedral, delivered rites. The Episcopal Church is Anglican—an outgrowth of the Roman Catholic Church that emerged in the 16th century in England during the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Since then, the Anglicans have shed many of the expectations society considers irrelevant.

Dean Richardson, for instance, is married—the Anglicans have no expectation of celibacy. Twenty-five to 35 percent of his flock is gay. The Anglican clergy counsel safe sex and responsible birth control. Women may become priests. Still, Richardson professes great respect for those truly practicing celibacy—what he calls a gift from God.

Not unique to the Roman Catholic Church, celibacy is shared in some Buddhist and Hindu sects. Psychologist Sipe, who lived with the vow for 18 years, calls it a potent source of power —one most people can’t truly understand. Gandhi and Mother Teresa of Calcutta used it fruitfully, availing themselves of an ethos of self-denial that had a particular appeal during Roman rule.

“It was hard enough to be Christian in the Empire when it was illegal,” Richardson explains. “The church didn’t need to make [it] more difficult—you could die just because you were baptized; persecution was ferocious. I think something happened when Emperor Constantine converted and the whole Roman Empire became Christian.

“Then the struggles of the first few centuries, which identified the pure of heart, the truly courageous soul, were no longer required; so people started to do other things to purify the faith. For instance, move to caves in the desert and live very simple, self-denying [celibate] lives—which may have been a reaction to the ease of being a baptized person in the fourth century.”

STUDIES——MANY COMMISSIONED by the USCCB—indicate that a full twothirds of all American priests are psychosexually immature, what a landmark 1968 study of priests defined as “exhibiting traits of heterosexual retardation, confusion concerning sexual role, fear of sexuality, effeminacy and potential homosexual dispositions.”

Sipe’s 25-year study of American Catholic priests, presented in his book A Secret World: Sexuality and the Search for Celibacy, says that at any given time, 50 percent of American priests are sex ually active. In 1995, a study of priests in Spain came to a similar conclusion (with 60 percent of that country’s clergy breaking chastity vows). Of 354 Iberian priests interviewed, 53 percent of the unchaste were having sex with adult women, 21 percent with adult men, 14 percent were sexually active with minor boys and 12 percent with minor girls.

That study also concluded that 95 percent of priests masturbate. Much of which elicits a resounding “So what?” from secular society.

Condoms are now available in schools, premarital sex is a societal standard, and an entire generation has been raised under the credo that masturbation is normal and healthy —not an express ticket to hell. In fact, it was masturbation and birth control, not sexual-abuse scandals, that began the precipitous slide in the number of priests and practicing Catholics in the United States.

During the sexual revolution of the 1960s, Pope John XXIII shocked the world by calling a second Vatican Council (the first had concluded in 1870)—a rare conclave of the world’s bishops—to address issues facing the church. The 261st Pope (he had been put into the pontificate as a stop-gap measure, expected to do little and vacate the post within a few years) thought it time to face the church’s ongoing battle with modernism, the 20th-century system of philosophical thought based on the idea that reality is not objective and that centers of meaning are relative. It was a school of thinking diametrically opposed to Catholic principle that all truth is fixed, contained in the Bible and delivered on earth by the Pope.

The three-year congress made some historic changes: Masses would no longer be given in unintelligible Latin, and the laity, relegated through the centuries to a position of inferiority and disregard, were given more say in the church’s direction. But it didn’t adress the sharpest points of controversy. Oral contraception, new in the 1960s, promised women a sense of control over their lives and family structure; there was great hope that the church would remove it from the status of sin (one that covered all forms of birth control).

Women with clerical aspirations and the openly gay were also gaining hope of a place in the church hierarchy. Though a majority of bishops voted in 1965 to endorse the pill, a minority committee squashed the notion, and the church maintained its hard line. Lay Catholics began to disregard church doctrine on sexuality, en masse.

Seminary enrollment fell into a steep decline by the end of the decade. In 1965, there were 9,000 priests enrolled in seminary; by 1985, there were half that many—with a steadily increasing population of parishioners. Today there are 44,212 U.S. Catholic priests to serve 67 million Catholics (23 percent of the population); that’s one priest for every 1,521 parishioners.

In 1965, there was one priest for every 836 members of the flock.

With the widespread abandonment of church teaching on sexuality, many in the feminist and gay movements held out hope that doors were opening —if very slowly—and that change might be forthcoming. The reign of conservative Pope John Paul II did nothing to help their cause. And now, the naming of Pope Benedict XVI— former head of the notoriously conservative Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—caps a five-year period of breaking scandals that has caused a knee-jerk reaction in the church, a backlash against a three-decade loosening of the harsh stance on gays who wear the collar. Any doors that might have opened after the liberal years of the 1960s have slammed shut.

In light of the Boston scandals that broke in 2002, the Vatican officially tied pedophilia to homosexuality (a conclusion scientific studies have conclusively negated) and announced that gays would be actively rejected from seminary life—effectively a mandate for many priests to go back into the closet.

RICHARD SIPE KNOWS the priesthood as few men do. During 18 years of clerical life, he was responsible for counseling priests through their myriad struggles with sexuality. As a clinical psychologist he held a decades-long appointment at the prestigious Johns Hopkins University. He’s written three authoritative books on the subject and is now an expert witness in sex-abuse scandals across the country.

He estimates 2 percent of people who undertake journeys of celibacy succeed at the endeavor. Through his 40 years of psychologist practice—in which he’s researched thousands of clerics—he’s concluded officially that 20 percent of all Roman Catholic priests in the U.S. are gay. Unofficially, he believes that figure floats between 30 and 60 percent.

A former Catholic priest, “Father John” (not his real name) lives on the Eastern seaboard of the United States, where he practiced the faith for the better part of three decades. He was laicized (defrocked) by Pope John Paul II in 2003, after serving a nine-month prison sentence for molesting a boy—one of his parishioners —in the 1980s. Though not familiar with Sipe, Father John’s experience with the church bears out the psychologist’s findings.

“I know a lot of my brother priests are gay—I just don’t know what it is . . . could be as high as 60 [percent], could be as low as 30,” he says. A comical, smiling and always lighthearted priest, Father John engendered a fierce loyalty on the part of his congregation.

He was known as a self-denying man who paid special attention to the homeless and society’s rejected; there’s something saint-like about him. All this is lost through the unremitting anger, confusion and hate of the boy—now a man—he repeatedly fondled more than two decades ago, and another boy upon whom he forced fellatio.

Statistics emerging in the wake of sexabuse scandals in several Northeastern cities have confirmed another of Sipe’s long-held conclusions: 8 percent of U.S. Roman Catholic priests are pedophiles, a tendency of psychosexual immaturity. According to Sipe, 7.62 percent of Boston’s priests have exhibited signs of pedophilia, as have 8 percent of those in New Hampshire.

Reasons for elevated levels of psychosexual immaturity in the clergy are manifold. For centuries, those not comfortable with their sexuality found a life of celibacy —itself a means to avoid facing troubling issues—a pertinent alternative.

Also, the homosocial world of the allmale clergy can prove attractive to individuals with homosexual tendencies.

Moreover, boys were historically taken under the wing of the church at young ages and pulled into its all-male world (of forced celibacy), one that stunted emotional and psychosexual growth.

“With some people who are vulnerable, it [the church institution] solidifies them in their adolescent state and protects them in that state,” Sipe says. “And who are adolescents sexually attracted to? Other adolescents.

“[Another revelation] coming out of the abuse crisis is that many priest abusers have themselves been abused sexually—and many times their abuser has been a priest. I’ve traced this down the generations.”

FATHER JOHN SAYS he was never abused by a priest in his Roman Catholic upbringing, though he was confused about his sexuality. Now comfortable with his homosexual disposition, he says he’s been in sexual counseling for nine years—and a successful celibate for most of that time.

“I graduated from high school back in the 1950s,” he says. “And the one [obvious] gay person in the community was a guy walking around in women’s clothes . . . and so, I wasn’t gay. I only know how I got touched by God, and it didn’t have anything to do with ‘I’m going to go into the priesthood because I’m not going to get married.’ I actually thought I was heterosexual for a while. It’s all ridiculous because the Catholic Church can’t exist without gay priests—as well as straight priests.”

Some of the harshest scrutiny in the Boston abuse scandals regards the church’s handling of problem priests.

As has been borne out through scores of judicial cases and the eventual courtmandated opening of Boston Archdiocese records, official policy was to move known sexual abusers to different parishes. The aim was clearly not rehabilitation or the safety of parishioners but the avoidance of scandal.

Father John talks of a similar convolution at the heart of clerical training.

“We never had a discerning process about ‘Do you have the gift of celibacy?’ . . . it was just like ‘Celibacy and practicing virginity comes with ordination,’ ” he says. “But that’s just not true. Even in the scriptures, different charisms [extraordinary powers] are talked about. There is a charism of virginity and practicing it—struggling, but being able to do it—and the charism of priesthood. But they’re not the same thing. During the centuries, they put them together [in this] clerical state: ‘If you’re ordained, you can also be celibate.’

Well, you and I both know that’s not true. I always thought I had the gift, but then years ago I went into a gay bar and I started occasionally acting out, with men.”

He talks of presenting concerns with his sexuality to one of his elders in the 1980s. The man asked him if he’d ever participated in gay sex; at that point he hadn’t. He was told that proved he wasn’t gay and that he shouldn’t think about it anymore. Another time, he says, he approached a superior with concerns about his own pedophiliac tendencies and was again told to drop the subject.

That refusal to dialogue is emblematic of church policy. Scandals of the past five years have exposed a notoriously tight-lipped institution—a fact that only adds to the ire of the ranks of the abused. Around the country, 2,600 victims have come forward— many in the past 10 years—breaking the silence of an ages-old abuse phenomenon.

A 2004 Catholic Review Board report turned up more than 10,000 Catholic- related cases of assault on minors from 1950 to 2002. Meanwhile, the USCCB reports that more than 600 diocesan priests and deacons were accused of sexual abuse of minors in 2004, a year that cost the church nearly $140 million in settlements, therapy for victims and attorney fees.

at the University of San Diego, Jaime Romo is a man with sharp Latin features and a voice like Johnny Depp. He’s also the local representative of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP). Thirty years ago, Romo was the all-American kid—a top student, an altar boy and a member of the youth choir. That was before Monsignor Leland Boyer of Los Angeles—a seminal player in that diocese—began molesting him, Romo says. (Phone calls seeking comment from the Los Angeles Diocese were not returned.) Now a father with two boys of his own, Romo has given up on the church —one that ignored his claims for the better part of a decade.

The tale of his abuse follows a common pattern—almost ritualistic. Boyer, he says, plied him with gifts, trips, stays at his beach house, even leisure suits; he also became an integral part of Romo’s family. Eventually, he began getting the boy drunk and sleeping with him.

“It’s hard to own this very particular rage,” Romo says. “It’s deeply, fundamentally toxic.”

Monsignor Boyer died in 2002, his death denying Romo a confrontation —part of his recovery process. Romo’s personal struggles with the effects of abuse have followed well-documented patterns: Victims commonly deal with mood swings, depression, trouble with authority, drug and alcohol problems and elevated rates of suicide. For Romo, repressed memories took decades to resurface.

“I’ve heard this story from so many survivors,” he says. “It’s hilarious—it’s insane is what it is. Whether people have blocked out the events or not, what I’ve heard so many times is that we take our future spouse to the priest to say, ‘Would you marry us?’ and then, somehow, magically, we realize there’s something wrong with that relationship. In my case, I just remember leaving really, really pissed off.”

It wasn’t until his own boys reached puberty that Romo was fully able to recount his abuse—a memory repression common among victims. Father John says that he, too, forgot most of the incidents in which he abused his two young parishioners.

“When they first accused me, I was going to fight it, I was shocked; I was ready to go to court,” he says. “I didn’t remember it at all. But then I started to ask myself why these two people would invent such a horrible story. I honestly don’t remember a lot of it. Most of it, I just have to take their word.”

That players on both sides of the divisive abuse issue—the perpetrators and the victims—have suffered substantial psychological impact points again to the powerful ramifications inherent in the convergence of sex and power.

“This is about clericalism,” Romo says. “Rape is about power—having some kind of absolute control and getting enjoyment [from it]. Individuals can deal with their sexual whatever, but it takes a whole system to rethink power and how it’s played out against so many people.”

controversy surrounding the McCusker funeral had faded, and the San Diego Diocese was back to business as usual. In addition to representing a post that church doctrine links directly to Jesus’ apostles, Bishop Brom is CEO of one of the largest money-making operations in San Diego, itself an integral part of one of the wealthiest institutions in the world.

Meanwhile, with abuse cases against Roman Catholic dioceses in Southern California topping 700, battle lines have been drawn. The state’s been split into three districts (Los Angeles/Orange, San Diego and San Francisco) —recognized as Clergy I, Clergy II and Clergy III, respectively—to organize an avalanche of litigation. Lawsuits against the Los Angeles Archdiocese alone make it nearly as beleaguered as its counterpart in Boston.

The deluge of cases—largely a result of a 2002 state law that extended the statute of limitations for abuse victims—has shored up forces on both sides. Following the lead of Los Angeles Archbishop Roger Mahony, California’s dioceses seem resolved to fight the cases to the bitter end—a church tactic that was abandoned in the Boston scandal when Superior Court Judge Constance Sweeney ordered the archdiocese to open the files of accused priests. A similar petition is currently under appeal in a Los Angeles court. “In true Roman fashion, those who protect the church and keep the scandal from the faithful are promoted to higher positions —that’s the Roman cycle,” says Pat Wall, another former Roman Catholic priest and Benedictine monk.

“Once you understand Roman epistemology and Roman culture and Roman action, you will find the exact same result.

“It could be San Diego, San Salvador or Zimbabwe—it’s going to be the same. Once plaintiffs’ attorneys across the world get a sense of how the church actually works, the children will be properly represented.”

Wall works as a sexual-abuse and canon law specialist for the Costa Mesa law firm Manly McGuire. Lead attorney (and Roman Catholic) John Manly has filed suit against at least six different dioceses in four states. He first settled a case, in 1997, against Monsignor William Kraft—a person he says is probably “San Diego’s most prolific all-time predator.”

A father of four and formerly a devout Catholic, Manly is one of the other faces in the high-stakes pursuit of church-victim litigation. He’s become an impassioned critic of the institution he charges with hypocrisy, conspiracy and the life-altering emotional damage of hundreds of Southern Californians.

Manly says he helped secure the $250,000 Kraft settlement as a pro bono favor—and that the church (and Kraft’s estate) did right by the man he was representing. The victim was paid without a fight. Bishop Brom even brokered a deathbed meeting with Kraft, so the ailing priest and his victim could pray together. Manly says it was a touching scene.

In 50 years behind the collar, Kraft left his mark. Nine of Manly’s 13 San Diego cases are against the former diocesan finance czar. In court documents, Brom claims to have removed Kraft from service in 1997 for inappropriate behavior. Included is a 1969 letter, through which a Navy captain pleads with the diocese to have the priest removed from authority, since he’d molested the man’s son.

When he died in 2001, Kraft was given a Roman Catholic funeral. Which begs the question: Why would San Diego’s bishop deny a funeral to the gay owner of clubs that provided a legal setting for adult-sex movies when a man he knew to be a sexual predator of minors was given a burial with full Catholic honors?

goes to the core of the greatest crisis facing the church in centuries—one that’s already closing parishes across the country. At the heart of the story, three central characters —a deceased gay businessman, a man who calls himself a eunuch, a once-accused bishop—have acted out their parts against the backdrop of power, control, money and manipulation that Wall says has been with the church since its inception. The plotlines are indistinct and the partnerships strange.

James Hartline, a fundamentalist Christian and staunch critic of Roman Catholicism, somehow found the ear of the notoriously hard-to-reach Bishop Robert Brom, who he says empathized with his theory that a “gay agenda” is threatening the stability of the Roman Catholic Curch. The two, with what appears to be a mutually supportive resolve, decided to make an example of John McCusker, a respected pillar of San Diego’s gay community.

Jesus is described in the Bible as a rebel and iconoclast, a harsh critic of the religious institution of his time.

Catholic in the original sense of the term—broad in sympathies, tastes or interests—he loved and accepted all.

He walked among criminals and the destitute; he touched lepers and ate with prostitutes.

If his hand is evident anywhere in the perverted panorama of a contemporary church crisis, it’s in the irony of Bishop Brom’s oddly conceived funeral denial—where a man with a big heart was able, from beyond the grave, to unify and strengthen his family and community. And where the church that has become many of the things Christ railed against was—at least in one small instance—forced to dialogue with some members of its flock that it has chosen to condemn for perceived sins.
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