Sunday, September 6, 2015

Death Comes for the ex-Archbishop

I want everybody out there to know: I’ve been exercising incredible self restraint, and it hasn’t been easy, since one of my minor talents is a significant ability to obsess, and one of my most recurrent obsessions was a papal nuncio to the Dominican Republic and to Puerto Rico, Jozef Wesolowski.

You probably know the story: The archbishop of Santo Domingo ran off a few years ago and whispered into the new pope’s ear that the Dominican press was about to show footage of the nuncio, drinking beer on the malecón and then strolling it, all while wearing shades and a baseball cap. What was he doing there? OK—it was pretty clear, and even if he weren’t, well, what about those 100,000 photos of kiddie porn that were found on his computers?

It was the old, old story, and don’t tell me, anybody out there, that our new pope is going to be any more rigorous about sexual abuse of the clergy than any of the other ones. Did Wesolowski stick around and face the music in the Dominican Republic? Of course not, he was recalled to Rome, and one report—can I find it? maybe, but who cares?—was that he travelled under false documents. So there he was in the Vatican, and then the lies began. The matter was administrative. Then there had been the feud with the archbishop of San Juan. Then, when it really couldn’t be denied any more, it was admitted—Wesolowski was defrocked, and stripped of everything but (and this I love) the obligation of celibacy.

At some time while all this was happening, reports came in of Wesolowski strolling the streets of Rome; was he doing so as he had the malecón of Santo Domingo? And was it wise? So Wesolowski was placed under house arrest, which was no problem, since he had more time to download, yes, more kiddie porn, even from within the Vatican. 

Do I know how things work at the Vatican? Nope, but I assumed that someone would take a defrocked priest down to the Greyhound station, give him a few thousand lira, and then send him off. Alternatively, they could have sent him off to Santo Domingo to face the music there, but that was impossible, since the acts that he had committed were all exempted under diplomatic immunity.

So politically correct do we have to be about religion, these days! In terms of size, the Vatican is half the size of the average American farm, nor can I recall those lovely Swiss Guards getting down and dusty in the Afghan and Iraqi deserts. And in fact, the United States never recognized the Vatican as a state until 1984.

So Wesolowski had diplomatic immunity, and that meant that neither Poland nor the Dominican Republic could prosecute him. What absolutely nobody noticed, of course, was that Puerto Rico is part of the United States, and given that Wesolowski had spent so much time—remember that feud with the archbishop of San Juan—on the island, it was quite probable that he had committed crimes on US soil as well.

But no—Wesolowski than had to face a criminal trial, and this was trumpeted as a great example of the new pope’s tough, tough stand on priestly abuse. Now the story gets seriously weird, since on the very first morning of his trial, Wesolowski’s lawyer stood up and announced that the ex-prelate was in intensive care.

The Vatican of course couldn’t comment on the cause of the hospitalization, but they did announce that he had been released after three days.

Three days?

I’m an old nurse, and I can think of only one way to get from the ICU to the streets in three days: an overdose. Anything else would have an underlying pathology that would require treatment, tests, monitoring. With an overdose, you clean ‘em out and ship ‘em out.

Well, did the trial resume? Of course not, since it gets hot in August and the judges get cranky, so everybody went on vacation, and Wesolowski was left in his rooms and that’s where, over a week ago, a priest found him, at five in the morning, sitting in front of his television, which was still on.

Time is so relevant in the Vatican. A priest is accused of sexual abuse, and the process grinds on for years. But what happens when the Archbishop of Milwaukee, Timothy Dolan, needed to shift 57 million bucks to the cemetery fund? Why? Consider this priestly sentence:

I foresee an improved protection of these funds from any legal claim and liability.

How long did it take for the Vatican to sign off on this questionable scheme? The article didn’t say, but it was weeks, if not days, if my memory serves.

So it was no surprise that Wesolowski was buried within days of dying, but what was a surprise was the eight minutes of silence at the funeral, in lieu of a homily. As my mother used to say, “if you can’t say anything nice…”

Or is that just a Midwestern thing?

Anyway, the Vatican reached a new low in smarminess with the unctuous hope that God might "cancel the sins that (Wesolowski) had committed with human fragility."  Then, it was ship the body off to Poland, where Wesolowski was buried yesterday.

Of course, there was one other detail to take care of, and that was the cause of death. And again, the Vatican has been a virtuoso at deception. First, we were told that preliminary examination indicated that Wesolowski had died of a cardiac incident.

Did he? Of course he did, because guess what happens when you die? Right—the ticker stops beating.

Then it was announced that “macroscopic” evidence indicated that a cardiac event had occurred. “Macroscopic?” Consider, that word is the opposite of “microscopic,” so what that means is that somebody walked into the room, stuck a stethoscope of the ex-nuncio’s chest, looked him up and down, and said, “wow, musta been a heart attack or something.” Presumably, either in Italian or Latin.

But wait—three distinguished doctors were appointed to do an autopsy, and then we would know, all the world—or at least one marginally sane but heavily obsessed blogger in Puerto Rico—what had carried the Wesolowski out of the world, and into the heavenly hands of God, who would cancel the sins of that human fragility.

Right—so I waited. And waited. And googled, of course, since Google is to the obsessed what YouTube is to conspiracy theorists. And at last it came, from the horse’s mouth—though could it have been the opposite end of the alimentary tract? At any rate, here is Vatican Radio, putting an end to the whole affair, in a story entitled, “Autopsy Results Confirm Cause of Former Nuncio’s Death.” Here’s the lead:

(Vatican Radio) The vice-Director of the Press Office of the Holy See, Fr. Ciro Benedettini, CP, issued a statement to journalists Saturday morning, explaining that preliminary results of the autopsy performed on the disgraced and defrocked former Nuncio, Jozef Wesolowski, confirm the decedent succumbed to natural causes – specifically a deadly cardiac episode.

Below, please find Vatican Radio’s English translation of the full statement

Was I going to read the full statement? Dear Reader, how little you know me! And here we have this:

The investigations took place [Friday] afternoon and, according to the first conclusions reached on the basis of macroscopic examination, confirmed the natural cause of death, attributable to cardiac event.

Friday afternoon—the day of Wesolowski’s death, and recognize that word “macroscopic” up there. In fact, the next paragraph states that the lab results, which might perhaps indicate blood alcohol levels and other toxicology, are still pending.

Does it matter? Is it really so important what killed the archbishop, or the nuncio, or the defrocked priest that Wesolowski ended up? Hadn’t he suffered enough? Sure, he died in relative comfort in front of a television set, but hadn’t he lost everything? Wouldn’t the seven years in an Italian jail have been overkill?

Maybe, maybe not. Ultimately, Wesolowski is less interesting than the institution that created him, that shaped him, and that—just possibly—turned him into the predator he became. Sexual abuse thrives in secrecy, shame, absolute power, lack of transparency, and exclusively male environments. The wonder of it is that only an estimated one percent of priests are abusers; the other 99% are fighting huge odds not to succumb to an environment that is a Petri dish for abuse.

The Vatican never wanted to try Wesolowski. How do I know? If the actions—or the consistent lack of action—didn’t tell me, the phrase “human fragility,” describing Wesolowski’s crimes, gave it all away.

Human fragility is having that piece of chocolate cake, even when you know you have to shed 20 pounds. Human fragility is saying an unkind thing about a person who cannot help him or her self. Chasing a poor black Dominican kid down behind a statue, convincing him to masturbate, filming him, and then giving him money is not human fragility. It’s a crime.

Will these guys ever get it?