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July 07, 2004

Comments

Michelle

I have also wondered about the issue of taking so much money from the church. I used to volunteer for Catholic Social Services in Phoenix, for their Refugee Resettlement Program. It is such a fantastic program that helps so many people. It would be terrible for services like that to be cut.

So, how do we hold these priests and their superiors accountable? I like your idea, but it always seems to be money that makes people really sit up and take notice.

Col Steve

"Note: I am totally inconsistent. I am a fan of John Edwards and other trial lawyers who get big, punitive damage awards against corporations -- I just have a completely different view of things when the corporation being sued is Holy Mother Church, and I know the money is coming from parishioner's pockets"

Hugo- I'm curious about the reasoning behind your inconsistency. Where do you think corporations come up with the resources to pay excessive judgments? Payments from "profits" decrease the value of shares (if publically traded) so shareholders (which in the era of 401K, 503C, 529, IRAs, etc - could encompass a vast majority of people) pay the cost. If paid through insurance or other resources, the corporation will pass it on either through higher prices or cost cutting measures such as layoffs or compensation reductions. This doesn't excuse corporate liability if justified, but those who seek excessive judgments under the guise that targeting the "deep pocket corporation" doesn't affect real people are fooling themselves.

Your statement seems to imply the value of the services provided by non-profits afford them added protection as opposed to corporations which merely provide material goods and services, jobs, and often other benefits to society even if both entities are punished legally for the actions of a few "bad apples" (and I'm not even going to discuss the myriad examples of frivolous lawsuits).

Is the closure of a private Catholic school more harmful than the closing of a small business or plant to society?

Jody

"You go, Hugo!" That's what my husband John says. He's the other person I know who has been kicked off a jury for voicing an objection to the notion of damages for pain and suffering.

Hugo

Most CEOs, Col. Steve, are paid considerably better than the bishops who head Catholic dioceses. If they choose to lay off workers while still receiving seven and eight figure compensation packages, than that is evidence of moral bankruptcy. A bishop can't cut his non-existent salary to save a school; a CEO generally can keep others employed by cutting executive pay.

djw

I think Michelle's got the answer. Sadly, the Catholic Church's actions have suggested they have not yet become sufficiently interested in preventing this sort of abuse in the future. We as society bear a great responsibility to children--not just our own but all children, and as such we must create an incentive structure that gets Catholic authorities to start exercising better oversight and stop moving "problem priests" around from diocese to diocese. The state has a limited capacity for moral suasion, but they can engage in financial suasion. The only other alternative I see that would owe up to what we owe future current and future children would be to build a few "conspiracy after the fact" or "reckless endangerment" cases against Bishops. There are certainly some of the more egregious cases where these might well be appropriate.

Of course, I'd feel better if greater portions of these awards were going to charitable works (that adequately protect those they help from sexual predators!)

Col Steve

Most CEOs, Col. Steve, are paid considerably better than the bishops who head Catholic dioceses. If they choose to lay off workers while still receiving seven and eight figure compensation packages, than that is evidence of moral bankruptcy. A bishop can't cut his non-existent salary to save a school; a CEO generally can keep others employed by cutting executive pay.

Hugo - I think you're pandering to populist rhetoric. True enough, some CEO's do make 7 or even 8 figures and there are the extreme outliers who occasionally make more - some through illegal means. Of course, there are athletes and entertainers who make 8 figure salaries as well.
I checked the annual reports for the over 20 companies I hold stock in and none of those CEOs (or even the top 5 officers) could cover a $17M judgment from their annual compensation. Maybe Mel Gibson will step in..

But if you want to use that logic, comparing a CEO with a Bishop is not the only perspective. From the CS Monitor,

"According to one of the few existing financial analyses of overall church finances, the Catholic church in America receives more than $13 billion in contributions and other income annually – in excess of $253 million a week. Such income means the church can absorb even a major financial blow without lasting damage, several observers say.

And that doesn't even consider the Vatican and its wealth writ large.

So, if a CEO is responsible for all that goes on in the company/subordinate companies, then shouldn't the Pope or at least a Cardinal (ie. Cardinal Law) pony up money in order to save a diocese?

If it's morally bankrupt for a CEO to not cut his or her pay in order to prevent passing on the cost of legal liabilities, why is it different when the Pope or the supervising Cardinal won't sell or divert Church assets to prevent the foreclosure of schools or reduction in services when arguably they played a role in facilitating the abuses.

I realize it's not quite a simple process given the organizational structure of the Catholic church, but the Pope and Cardinals can coordinate a diversion of liquid assets (even if it means minor reduction in services in many locations to prevent a large scale reduction in area) and surely they can sell off less liquid assets.

I agree with you that we have had excessive judgments even for legitimate grievances. I also believe this mentality has led to abuse of the system (even a website listing Orange County examples such as a bank robber suing the bank because he was injured as a result of the bank inserting a device in the stolen money to render it useless or a woman who cut her finger trying to open a frozen vegetable package and sued the manufacturer and the grocery store). This administration has not been able to pass meaningful tort reform and surely it won't be high in a Kerry-Edwards administration.

I just find your defense a little narrow in its perspective.

Glen

Only a passing reference to the Tour de France? I hope you revisit that with more thought. Our house schedule has been turned upside-down with the TV on at 6 AM and early to bed for those early morning Postie Boys and our daily Phil Ligget. For almost daily commentary on the Tour from a 13-year-old sold-out-fan see my family’s blog. We are all wearing our yellow wrist bands. I have been enjoying your blogging for some time now. Keep up the interesting posts. Keep us all thinking. Even though I am not a Mennonite, I work for them and enjoy comparing your thoughts with the Mennonites that I know.

Hugo

Thanks, Glen! I just don't want to jinx Lance by commenting too much...

Colonel Steve, the assets of the church belong to God. That's not a simple-minded theological statement, it's a matter of policy. The church makes a great deal of money -- and then spends it. For example, think of how much the medical care of aging religious costs! No bishop in his right mind would take money from an old nun's home to pay a sexual abuse judgment.

DJW

Hugo: Do you agree that serious pressure--from the state, society, wherever, needs to be applied to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church to get them take more serious and consistent steps to protect children from child abuse by priests, for the sake of its own legitimacy but more importantly for the sake of future potential abusees? Because if you've got a better idea, I'd love to agree with you about these settlements.

Hugo

I do agree, DJW; I think that pressure rightly will come from the laity themselves. And to some degree, it clearly already has. The shuffling about of abusers has stopped.

DJW

Thanks for the reply. I hope you are correct. The Catholic Church is not exactly structured so as to be responsive to concerns of the laity, but they have managed to put pressure on them before. I'm sure you know more about changes within the Church than I do.

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