Jun 15, 2002

FDLC Director

Online Edition – Vol. VIII, No. 4: June 2002

Liturgy Commission Plagued by Pederasty Problems –

FDLC Director is second official in a year to be charged

by Helen Hull Hitchcock

The Rev. Michael J. Spillane, 59, executive director of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions (FDLC) for sixteen years, had already announced his resignation effective at the end of this year when it was revealed that he had been defrocked in 1991 by the Archdiocese of Baltimore for molesting six youths while working in parishes of the Baltimore Archdiocese from 1969 to 1986.

The announcement of Spillane’s resignation had appeared in the current FDLC Newsletter (Dec. 2001-March 2002), along with notice that he would receive the organization’s 2002 Frederick McManus Award for his "services to pastoral liturgy".

The FDLC, funded by Catholic dioceses throughout the US, advises the US bishops’ conference on liturgical matters and regularly provides agenda items for the bishops’ conference through its "resolutions" and "Position Statements". FDLC’s executive director and board chairman are both ex officio members of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy (BCL).

According to the Washington Post (June 2), Spillane "acknowledged the sexual abuse in 1991 when he was confronted by archdiocesan officials after one of the victims came forward", archdiocesan spokesman Raymond P. Kempisty said, and "[t]he archdiocese immediately revoked Spillane’s right to celebrate Mass and perform the sacraments. It also informed the Federation of its actions against Spillane and the reason for them".


But FDLC’s board chairman, the Rev. John H. Burton, and Sister Mary Ann Walsh, communications officer for the USCCB, told the Post that they were unaware of Spillane’s admission and the archdiocese’s sanctions.

In March, announcing Spillane’s retirement in the FDLC Newsletter, Father Burton had praised "Mike [for his] clear grasp of the complex issues of the liturgical reform [and] his brilliant management and negotiation skills". The same Newsletter reported that Spillane would receive the McManus Award. Last year he presented it to Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk (AB Feb. 2002). Previous recipients include Msgr. Frederick McManus, Father Aidan Kavanaugh, OSB, and Gabe Huck for Liturgy Training Publications of Chicago (AB Dec.-Jan./2000-01).

A surprise – but no problem

Father Burton told the Washington Post that he did not know about Spillane’s past until mid-May, when someone doing research for the FDLC saw Spillane’s name on a web site maintained by abuse victims. Burton said he also did not know that Spillane, who wore his clerical collar at official meetings with bishops, could not celebrate Mass.

Burton also told the Post that he has since learned that when FDLC officials were informed by the Baltimore Archdiocese of Spillane’s abuses, they had decided to keep Spillane in his job "because it was purely administrative and involved no contact with children".

He said that Spillane had brought the FDLC out of debt and made major contributions to reform of the Liturgy – including overseeing a project to rewrite the official prayers for a now widely used Children’s Mass.

Even if he had known about Spillane’s past he would not necessarily have asked him to resign, Father Burton told the Post.

"You don’t put people back in a situation where they can repeat the event", Burton said, noting that Spillane’s job gave him "no contact with children". At the same time, "any human being needs to be productive, and I can tell you that Father Spillane in this situation was very productive". Burton said. "When a man has tried to right the wrong and has fixed his life, I’d be very careful about zero tolerance".

Children’s Mass, New Ways, Seminarians’ formation

Father Burton, though he noted Spillane’s involvement with the Children’s Mass, did not mention the latter’s association with the National Federation of Catholic Youth Ministers [NFCYM], or his consultation with the homosexual activist organization, New Ways Ministry on the controversial 1997 statement of the USCCB Committee on Family, ‘Always Our Children’.

In Spillane’s "From the Executive Director" column in the November 1998 FDLC Newsletter, he wrote of recent meetings he and then-FDLC chairman Father Ed Hislop had with NFCYM, with John Page, executive secretary of ICEL, and with James Schellman, Executive Director of the North American Forum on the Catechumenate "to discuss ways in which the FDLC and Forum might work together on catechesis to prepare for the reception of the Sacramentary once the official recognition is received from Rome".

Then, writes Spillane, "Ed and I attended an evening workshop sponsored by News Ways Ministry on ‘Always Our Children’". Bishops Patrick Cooney of Gaylord and Joseph Imesch of Joliet were present: "Bishop Cooney spoke of the positive response he had with a workshop conducted by New Ways Ministry in his diocese. Bishop Imesch … spoke of the evolution of the document and its final revision by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.

"Ed and I met later in the week with Frank DiBernardo, Executive Director of New Ways Ministry, to learn about the organization and to acquaint him with the work of the FDLC", Spillane said.

Spillane also reported writing to all seminary rectors to find out who is in charge of liturgical formation of seminarians, "so that regional representatives may invite them to regional meetings and to our annual national meeting".

Earlier troubles for FDLC

In his comments about Spillane, Father Burton did not allude to last year’s pederasty scandal involving his own immediate predecessor as FDLC board chairman, Father Kenneth Martin.

Unanimously elected chairman by the FDLC board in 1999, Martin, a priest of the diocese of Wilmington, Delaware, resigned a year later to become Associate Director of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy Secretariat, a post he assumed in December 2000.

But Father Martin, 56, was forced to resign from his BCL post six months later, following his June 2001 arrest for molesting a male student at a high school in Maryland where Martin, a former Xavierian Brother, had taught before he was ordained to the priesthood in 1989.

Martin entered the Sulpicians in 1992 and was Director of Students and of Liturgy at St. John’s Seminary College, Camarillo, California, also serving on the Theological-Liturgical Commission for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He left the Sulpicians in 1997, returning to Wilmington where he was Director of the Office of Worship. He was elected to the FDLC board of directors in 1998.



Helen Hull Hitchcock

Helen Hull Hitchcock (1939-2014) was editor of the <em>Adoremus Bulletin</em>, which she co-founded. She was also the founding director of Women for Faith & Family and editor of its quarterly journal, Voices. She published many articles and essays in a wide range of Catholic journals, and authored and edited <em>The Politics of Prayer: Feminist Language and the Worship of God</em> (Ignatius Press 1992), a collection of essays on issues involved in translation. She contributed essays to several books, including <em>Spiritual Journeys</em>, a book of “conversion stories” (Daughters of St. Paul). Helen lectured in the US and abroad, and appeared frequently on radio and television, representing Catholic teaching on issues affecting Catholic women, families, and Catholic faith and worship.