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SCRANTON, Pa. (ChurchMilitant.com) - Questions about a Pennsylvania diocese's financial sustainability are circulating in the wake of both clergy sexual abuse and measures to halt the spread of the Wuhan virus.
Scranton's Bp. Joseph Bambera's annual appeal reached a record low after the Pennsylvania grand jury report in 2018. It recovered slightly the following year, but the total was still among the lowest in the past two decades.
While the neighboring dioceses of Harrisburg and Erie are reeling, Scranton was able to remain solvent last year and cover sex abuse claims by selling off $27 million in diocesan property. But many are wondering how much longer the diocese will be able to avoid bankruptcy by liquidating assets.
The Scranton diocese recently furloughed 21 employees. Observers note the bishop did not sell off assets to help his own staff, much like Cdl. Blase Cupich of Chicago and Abp. Allen Vigneron of Detroit did in their archdioceses.
Allegations of clerical sex abuse and cover-up have been haunting the Scranton diocese for decades. The 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report revealed that more than 300 Catholic priests throughout Pennsylvania sexually abused children over seven decades while the hierarchy covered it up.
The diocese has languished under Bp. Joseph Bambera. One priest has even claimed Bambera holds positions of influence in the Church for his cover-up of a homosexual predator in the diocese.
Bambera has a record of ambiguity, saying one thing while doing another.
In 2016, Bambera had pro-gay Jesuit Fr. James Martin give the keynote address at the Scranton Diocesan Congress. Martin thanked Bambera in a tweet, saying, "Thanks to Bp. Bambera and Catherine Butel for inviting me to Scranton's Diocesan Congress, and to all the Scrantonians who came today!"
In November 2017, pro-LGBT New Ways Ministry reported Bambera pushed back against "right-wing pressure" to disinvite Fr. Martin from speaking at Misericordia University.
Despite a petition signed by 18,000 concerned Catholics, Bambera defended Martin, saying, "Misericordia University has followed the protocol expected of a Catholic university in extending an invitation to Fr. Martin to serve as its commencement speaker."
Though Martin's dissent from Catholic teaching is well documented, Bambera added, "It is understood that neither Father Martin nor any speaker at a Catholic university is to offer commentary that conflicts with Catholic teaching."
Then, one month later, Bambera appeared as the first signatory on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB's) "Created Male and Female: An Open Letter from Religious Leaders."
The document states that "natural marriage continues to be invaluable to American society. ... We come together to join our voices ... that human beings are male or female and that the sociocultural reality of gender cannot be separated from one's sex as male or female."
While refusing to rescind Martin's invitation to Misericordia, Bambera did ask the University of Scranton privately in 2012 to disinvite a pro-abortion speaker. When the university failed to comply, Bambera went public, saying, "The University of Scranton has left me with no other choice but to publicly express my disapproval of the invitation of this speaker and my concern regarding the University's evolving relationship with me as bishop of the diocese of Scranton."
"Despite this unfortunate situation, I continue to be open to working with University officials to promote, preserve and strengthen the Catholic character of the University of Scranton," he added.
But regardless of disinviting a pro-abort in 2012, some Catholics in the Scranton diocese think Bambera is a pro-life poser, especially since he is a registered Democrat.
In March, a Catholic in Scranton told Church Militant about a conversation with Kathryn Windels, coordinator for Service and Social Justice for the diocese.
I called and asked Ms. Windels if any of the [social justice] grants were going to pro-life groups in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre. She said that the diocese is supportive of the pro-life cause, but they wouldn't be getting any of the grants. I told her that statement doesn't make any sense. She then said that the groups are not Catholic. She then told me to call Mr. Bebla [secretary for development] to find out why the annual appeal doesn't earmark funds for pro-life.
Suspicions of Bambera's actual pro-life stance have been exacerbated by his invoking a seamless garment approach to the killing of innocent human beings in abortion.
"When we preach a pro-life ethic, we must stand by this value to defend the unborn, the immigrant, the imprisoned and all those who are left in vulnerable positions by their government or social circumstances," he said in a 2019 statement. "We cannot rank one of these groups above the others. The Catholic Church is called to seek out those silences and give voice to the voiceless."
Head of the USCCB's Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs since 2016, Bambera commented with Cdl. Cupich on Pope Francis' 2019 signing of "Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together" with Sheik Ahmed al-Tayyeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar.
"In our increasingly hostile world in which violence too often predominates between Christians and Muslims — violence that has led to tragic consequences for the most vulnerable humans — we welcome with great joy this historic joint statement on human fraternity," they said.
In November 2015, Bambera held a Thanksgiving interfaith service at the diocesan cathedral in place of the noon Mass.
In attendance were a Rabbi who supports so-called same-sex marriage and a Methodist who led the congregation in the Adhan, the Muslim call to prayer.
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