You know, it gets old after a while. A corporation like Enron is run by a bunch of crooks. Yet who pays the price when the whole thing goes kablooey? Corporate executives, their bailout parachutes gold plated for a soft landing (in the odd alchemy of corporate America, gold is actually lighter than air…) get to live happily ever after. And the big banks who financed corporate larceny with a wink and a nod get first crack at picking over the corporate carcass to reclaim their capital. Admittedly, they have to fight cheek and jowl with the other jackals of law but, ultimately, the money owed them gets paid out first. Meanwhile, workers by the thousands who faithfully did their part to serve the corporate interests (read stockholders, whom, despite claims of ours being an ownership society are overwhelmingly concentrated in the wealthiest five percent of said society) lose their paychecks, pensions and personal lives.
It happened to the workers at Enron. It’s happened to hundreds of thousands of workers in the airlines, auto industry and just about every other mismanaged industry across America. The guys at the top screw up, take their golden chutes and bail. Big finance takes its ton of flesh. And the people who actually put in the time and did all the hard work take it in the keester.
And it’s happening again, here in America’s finest city. Only this time the corporation is the Catholic Diocese of San Diego. It’s management played the old boys’ game, like many corporations do, trying to hide the hideous misdeeds of a handful of clerics who had no right to wear their clerical collars. And now the Diocese is on the hook for millions of dollars, blood money to right a wrong long in need of redress.
But here’s the rub. The Diocese of San Diego is not just another well-healed corporate entity with stockholders living the high life. It is not just a name on deeds. It’s not just one Bishop whose name graces said deeds and legal documents. The Diocese consists of almost a hundred parishes, dozens of parochial schools, hundreds of thousands of parishioners and thousands of students and their parents who have committed large portions of their lives (and, often, pocketbooks) to make and maintain the Catholic community that is the Diocese of San Diego.
I know. I’m one of them.
I have four daughters, all of whom are products of Catholic education. My wife and I chose parochial school for our children for two reasons. First, it provided our children with the moral foundation we sought. Second, it provided for a community that we as involved parents could participate in. Okay, overly involved parents: my wife and I served, at various times, as Parents’-Teachers’ Group presidents, coaches of teams and even K-1 PE teachers. We spent hundreds of hours fundraising for the school. I served on the building committee for our new (at least it was twelve years ago) K-1-Library building. My wife served as chair of the school’s main fundraiser auction for six grueling years. Now she’s the first grade teacher at the same school.
Don’t get me wrong here. I greatly appreciate public education. I’m a community college professor, for heaven’s sakes. And our kids each went on to public high school. But for 18 years we, like thousands of other parents, spent thousands of dollars and contributed thousands of hours (literally) to help build and support our chosen faith community. One of our little school’s community’s greatest accomplishments was to, by the hard work and dedication of our school’s families, build a substantial endowment to maintain programs and facilities into the future. Where, perhaps one day, our children’s children may attend.
But all that is now in jeopardy, for our school and the others just like it. As is all the hard work and dedication put in by thousands of people in the Diocese of San Diego who were simply trying to benefit their faith community. Because the Diocese is structured like a corporation, all of its—our—assets are considered to be in one big pot. And that pot is in real danger of being emptied by the class action lawsuit currently underway against the Diocese over pedophile priests.
Please make no mistake here. I have the greatest sympathy for the more than 150 victims of men who disgraced themselves, their Church and their faith community. My sympathy is only matched by the outrage I feel towards said men and those in positions of authority who violated their own fiduciary obligation to their community to deal with these outrages expeditiously and definitively.
But injustices done against one group can not be balanced out by committing an injustice against another. And taking, ultimately, the money–and, more importantly, the time– given in service to our faith community by tens of thousands of people over decades would be an injustice.
The victims of abuse at the hands of members of my faith community must be compensated. Indeed, any financial settlement will be poor rectification for the horrific violation of body and soul they experienced from those they trusted. But it is my hope that, in achieving said justice, the rights and interests of the hundreds of thousands of people who make up this Diocese will also be taken into consideration. Lest, in the name of justice, we add to the suffering of the innocents.