Lent (Day 35) — last week — Jimmy Breslin, “The Church that Forgot Christ”

In Chapter 5, Breslin recalls that he once was invited to a dinner at which Bruce Ritter, the founder of Covenant House, who was seen almost as a living saint.  He chose not to go, and feels now that he may have had some misgivings, felt but not articulated in his mind.  Ritter later had to resign from Covenant House and go into retirement in upstate New York.  He was kicked out of the Franciscans, but retained his priestly status.  He never did time.  Ritter was touted by people as high as Ronald Reagan (who cited him for his private charity work — no need for government to do that, when private individuals and faith groups are doing it already).  I remember getting literature myself from Covenant House in the mid-80s (at the point where Ritter’s stock was highest), and I remember being shocked when he was accused of molestation and then of resigning from Covenant House.  I didn’t know anything about him, but I recall his stock being quite high.  All this was before the big story came out in the early 21st c. First in Boston, and then elsewhere.  It seemed, at the time, an anomaly, and I didn’t put much more thought into it. 

What does surprise me about the story, and I’m guessing surprised Breslin, is that the church didn’t do anything until the outcry was loud.  And the outcry happened because of the pieces penned by Charles Sennott, then of the New York Post and later of the Boston Globe.  Sennott wrote a piece and then the wealthy contributors to Covenant House threatened to sue him and the paper over slander, and then he wrote again, and the funders began to dry up, and then he wrote again, and Ritter was done.  That level of exposure eventually pulled away the mask from Bruce Ritter and people could see him as other than a saintly man helping the poor.  But Sennott must have been very much an outlier at the time.  But where was the Church that could have taken steps?  How much did they know, or care?  It is clear that they fell down on the job.  And Breslin faults himself as well.  He knew (or heard some of this), but didn’t give it enough attention, and didn’t want to shake things up at the paper, so he let matters slide.  Sennott was doing the job that Breslin feels he also should have been doing. 

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