The other day I came across a picture of Joseph Bambera as a seminarian (below). About Bambera, the bishop of Scranton, Pennsylvania, Church insiders whisper that he may succeed the soon-to-retire Archbishop Charles Chaput in Philadelphia. Should that happen, Bambera in all likelihood will become a cardinal, owing to his friendly ties with the circle of gay mafia prelates around Pope Francis. Bambera is famous for repeatedly inviting Fr. James Martin, the leading propagandist for LGBT causes in the Church, to speak in the Scranton diocese.
In that same seminary yearbook appears a picture of Jack Anderson (below), whom I had been told was once close with Bambera. After their seminary days, they had both worked together on the canon law tribunal in Scranton. Curious about the exact nature of their friendship, I searched for Jack Anderson’s contact information in the hopes of talking with him. In the course of this research, I stumbled across a story that provides a window on yet another travesty in the American Catholic Church.
It turns out that Anderson left the priesthood and later married a man, Ted Olson, another former priest. (Olson had been a priest in Wilmington, Delaware, for 25 years.) I had found Jack Anderson’s phone number in the White Pages and called it. “Is this Jack Anderson?,” I said to the man who picked up. “No,” he replied, “it is Ted Olson, his spouse.” Olson then politely answered my questions and gave me Jack Anderson’s cellphone number. (Anderson did not return my calls.)
I asked Olson a series of questions based on my initial research. Did Anderson and Bambera work together on the tribunal? “Yes,” he said. “I have met Joe a few times.” Was it true that Jack Anderson — to this day — remains on a canon law tribunal despite leaving the priesthood and marrying a man? “Yes,” Olson said. Anderson, he confirmed, works on the tribunal for the diocese of Wilmington, Delaware — as a defender of the marital bond, no less!
Is it true, I asked Olson, that Anderson not only left the priesthood but also the Catholic faith? Yes, said Olson, “we’re Episcopalians.”
I called the diocese of Wilmington and asked how a former priest who rejected the Catholic faith (and therefore in the eyes of the Church is a public heretic) and entered a gay marriage could licitly serve as a “defender of the [marital] bond” on a Catholic tribunal. The Wilmington officials to whom I reached out either declined to answer the question or ignored my calls. The spokesman for Bishop Bambera, meanwhile, would only say that Anderson left the priesthood “voluntarily,” which suggests that he hasn’t even been laicized. (Olson said that he himself has not been laicized.)
To call Anderson’s status irregular is an understatement. It is an open scandal — a scandal that both Bishop Bambera and Wilmington Bishop William Malooly have facilitated, insofar as Anderson’s presence on the tribunal requires their knowledge and approval.
Anderson’s work on the tribunal raises other awkward questions, such as: What accounts for his protected status? Is it possible that the bishops haven’t removed him from the tribunal due to dirt he might have on priests in Wilmington and Scranton? Anderson’s departure from the priesthood is said to have been “ugly.” (Olson objected to that characterization. Olson said he has known Anderson since their days together as canon law students at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. Olson insisted that Anderson’s departure from the priesthood was uncontroversial.)
I had been told Anderson’s decision to leave the priesthood was problematic, in light of his close and complicated ties with various Scranton priests, including Bambera. An angry letter to the editor that Anderson wrote about Bambera in 2012 in the Times Leader hinted at those complicated ties. Anderson took Bambera to task for opposing gay marriage, insinuating that Bambera’s opposition didn’t reflect his true “personal” views.
“Bishop Bambera, I’d like to hear your personal position regarding the marriage between two Catholics of the same sex,” he wrote. “Please don’t quote canon law.”
Here was a former priest turned Episcopalian in a gay marriage telling a bishop who has approved his presence on a canon law tribunal that he shouldn’t “quote canon law” and that he should come clean about his real opinion of gay marriage. Extraordinary. Could the dysfunction in the Catholic Church in America be any clearer?
I have been told that since Anderson’s missive Bambera has fallen largely silent on the issue of gay marriage. Why? Does Anderson have anything on Bambera? These aren’t trivial questions. We’re talking, after all, about the potential next cardinal of Philadelphia.