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Jason Berry, Church Whistleblower View Comments
By Judy Ball

Jason Berry speaks about his book Render Unto Rome at a book-signing event in Cincinnati, Ohio.
JASON BERRY doesn’t mince words. It’s not that he’s impolite or rude. In fact, he’s a soft-spoken Southern gentleman who is unfailingly gracious and considerate. But ask him a tough, direct question and you get a no-nonsense reply.

This is especially true when the topic at hand is the sins of the Church—the Church he belongs to and has written about for more than 25 years as an investigative reporter, primarily through books and newspaper and magazine articles.

Berry, 62, was among the first U.S. journalists to write about the incidence of clerical sex abuse in the Catholic Church. His groundbreaking and award-winning reporting, specifically about clergy sex abuse in his native Louisiana, was published in the National Catholic Reporter in 1985.

Six years later he published Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children, the first major book on the subject. In 2004 he co-wrote a book exposing the scandals surrounding Marcial Maciel Degollado, the late, now-disgraced founder of the Legionaries of Christ. Earlier this year the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada honored Berry for updated newspaper articles on Degollado. Berry’s reporting on the Church has been years ahead of the rest.

Berry’s new book, Render Unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church (Crown Publishing Group), again finds him exposing the unsavory. This time he shines the light on Church financial practices, including how bishops manage money as well as financial relations between Rome and the Church in the United States. Berry leaves little untouched in his 400-page, extensively footnoted book.

The safety of the Sunday collection, the unprecedented numbers of parish closings and the selling of assets to help fund settlements of victims’ abuse cases, the status of the Holy Father’s special collection (Peter’s Pence), the Vatican deficit: All come in for heavy scrutiny and review.

And then there are the men Berry names, including a retired cardinal who remains a higher-up in the Vatican. (See sidebar.) The U.S. hierarchical figures he cites don’t fare much better.

Berry isn’t without hope, though. He offers constructive remedies and prescriptions in Render Unto Rome. And he isn’t single-minded. He has written about New Orleans jazz as well as its funeral traditions. He’s produced documentaries and writes on culture for a variety of publications. His play, Earl Long in Purgatory, earned a Big Easy Best Original Work in Theatre.

But who is the Jason Berry who writes about the underside of the Church? What impact have his years of research and writing had on his lifelong faith? How does he feel about the institutional Church? Is he trying too hard to uncover its warts? By focusing so much of his professional energy on the Roman Catholic Church, is he saying or implying that churches of other denominations are without sin?

St. Anthony Messenger posed these questions, and more, a few months ago, when Berry was traveling the country to promote Render Unto Rome. Berry’s book tour brought him to Cincinnati, where he sat down with this reporter for a Q&A in the lobby of a downtown hotel. Later, he participated in a book-signing event and addressed a group at a nearby local bookstore. This article is based on his answers at both locations.

This magazine does not often print the views of such a strong critic of the Church, but the editors feel that the fruits of his years of research and the important issues he confronts are worth putting before you, our readers, for your own consideration. And, as you will see, he’s no “outside agitator.” We make no claims about the accuracy of all of his book’s assertions. But this journalist has been right before, on questions that were initially avoided by the Catholic media.
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Judy Ball is a widely published freelance writer and editor from Cincinnati, Ohio. She has two graduate degrees from Xavier University.

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Katharine Drexel: If your father is an international banker and you ride in a private railroad car, you are not likely to be drawn into a life of voluntary poverty. But if your mother opens your home to the poor three days each week and your father spends half an hour each evening in prayer, it is not impossible that you will devote your life to the poor and give away millions of dollars. Katharine Drexel did that. 
<p>She was born in Philadelphia in 1858. She had an excellent education and traveled widely. As a rich girl, she had a grand debut into society. But when she nursed her stepmother through a three-year terminal illness, she saw that all the Drexel money could not buy safety from pain or death, and her life took a profound turn. </p><p>She had always been interested in the plight of the Indians, having been appalled by what she read in Helen Hunt Jackson’s <i>A Century of Dishonor</i>. While on a European tour, she met Pope Leo XIII and asked him to send more missionaries to Wyoming for her friend Bishop James O’Connor. The pope replied, “Why don’t you become a missionary?” His answer shocked her into considering new possibilities. </p><p>Back home, Katharine visited the Dakotas, met the Sioux leader Red Cloud and began her systematic aid to Indian missions. </p><p>She could easily have married. But after much discussion with Bishop O’Connor, she wrote in 1889, “The feast of St. Joseph brought me the grace to give the remainder of my life to the Indians and the Colored.” Newspaper headlines screamed “Gives Up Seven Million!” </p><p>After three and a half years of training, she and her first band of nuns (Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored) opened a boarding school in Santa Fe. A string of foundations followed. By 1942 she had a system of black Catholic schools in 13 states, plus 40 mission centers and 23 rural schools. Segregationists harassed her work, even burning a school in Pennsylvania. In all, she established 50 missions for Indians in 16 states. </p><p>Two saints met when Katharine was advised by Mother Cabrini about the “politics” of getting her Order’s Rule approved in Rome. Her crowning achievement was the founding of Xavier University in New Orleans, the first Catholic university in the United States for African Americans. </p><p>At 77, she suffered a heart attack and was forced to retire. Apparently her life was over. But now came almost 20 years of quiet, intense prayer from a small room overlooking the sanctuary. Small notebooks and slips of paper record her various prayers, ceaseless aspirations and meditation. She died at 96 and was canonized in 2000.</p> American Catholic Blog Our task during these forty days is to examine our lives in light of God’s Word and see where we’ve allowed darkness to creep in, where we’ve taken the bait of the diabolical fisher of men. It’s time to use the sword of the Spirit to cut through his web of deception, to free ourselves from the net that holds us as prey.


 
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