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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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Junipero Serra: In 1776, when the American Revolution was beginning in the east, another part of the future United States was being born in California. That year a gray-robed Franciscan founded Mission San Juan Capistrano, now famous for its annually returning swallows. San Juan was the seventh of nine missions established under the direction of this indomitable Spaniard. 
<p>Born on Spain’s island of Mallorca, Serra entered the Franciscan Order, taking the name of St. Francis’ childlike companion, Brother Juniper. Until he was 35, he spent most of his time in the classroom—first as a student of theology and then as a professor. He also became famous for his preaching. Suddenly he gave it all up and followed the yearning that had begun years before when he heard about the missionary work of St. Francis Solanus in South America. Junipero’s desire was to convert native peoples in the New World. </p><p>Arriving by ship at Vera Cruz, Mexico, he and a companion walked the 250 miles to Mexico City. On the way Junipero’s left leg became infected by an insect bite and would remain a cross—sometimes life-threatening—for the rest of his life. For 18 years he worked in central Mexico and in the Baja Peninsula. He became president of the missions there. </p><p>Enter politics: the threat of a Russian invasion south from Alaska. Charles III of Spain ordered an expedition to beat Russia to the territory. So the last two <i>conquistadors</i>—one military, one spiritual—began their quest. José de Galvez persuaded Junipero to set out with him for present-day Monterey, California. The first mission founded after the 900-mile journey north was San Diego (1769). That year a shortage of food almost canceled the expedition. Vowing to stay with the local people, Junipero and another friar began a novena in preparation for St. Joseph’s day, March 19, the scheduled day of departure. On that day, the relief ship arrived. </p><p>Other missions followed: Monterey/Carmel (1770); San Antonio and San Gabriel (1771); San Luís Obispo (1772); San Francisco and San Juan Capistrano (1776); Santa Clara (1777); San Buenaventura (1782). Twelve more were founded after Serra’s death. </p><p>Junipero made the long trip to Mexico City to settle great differences with the military commander. He arrived at the point of death. The outcome was substantially what Junipero sought: the famous “Regulation” protecting the Indians and the missions. It was the basis for the first significant legislation in California, a “Bill of Rights” for Native Americans. </p><p>Because the Native Americans were living a nonhuman life from the Spanish point of view, the friars were made their legal guardians. The Native Americans were kept at the mission after Baptism lest they be corrupted in their former haunts—a move that has brought cries of “injustice” from some moderns. </p><p>Junipero’s missionary life was a long battle with cold and hunger, with unsympathetic military commanders and even with danger of death from non-Christian native peoples. Through it all his unquenchable zeal was fed by prayer each night, often from midnight till dawn. He baptized over 6,000 people and confirmed 5,000. His travels would have circled the globe. He brought the Native Americans not only the gift of faith but also a decent standard of living. He won their love, as witnessed especially by their grief at his death. He is buried at Mission San Carlo Borromeo, Carmel, and was beatified in 1988. Pope Francis canonized him in Washington, D.C., on September 23, 2015.</p> American Catholic Blog Hope and faith can outshine the darkness of evil. However dense the darkness may appear, our hope for the triumph of the light is stronger still. Though violence continues to stain us with blood, the shadows of death can be dissipated with one act of light.

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