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Caritas India offers assistance to victims of monsoon floods in Kerala

Thiruvananthapuram, India, Aug 16, 2018 / 04:24 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After at least 73 people were killed in floods caused by monsoon rains in India's Kerala state, Caritas India and local Catholic groups are assisting victims of the torrent with relief materials.

More than 85,000 people in the southern Indian state have been displaced by the flooding since Aug. 9, which has also caused landslides.

“The Catholic Church is already out in the field through … Caritas India,” read an Aug. 15 statement from the Indian bishops' conference.

“Our local Bishops, Clergy, Religious Sisters and lay volunteers are also involved in relief and succour operations. In different dioceses, Church authorities have opened church schools and other institutions to the displaced people, and are distributing food, clothes and other relief materials. Many parishes, schools and other Church institutions have become the centres of aid and assistance to people in need.”

Caritas India is also providing blankets, mosquito nets, and hygiene kits. It has set up health camps to treat those affected and to prevent the outbreak of disease.

The Indian bishops stated, “We share the anguish of the people affected by this huge natural disaster and we wish to express our closeness to them.”

They expressed appreciation for the quick and efficient relief work undertaken by the local and State Government authorities. We also appreciate the strong and immediate support being provided by the Union government in the relief operations.”

“The solidarity manifested and the help being provided cutting across political divides and religious or class belongingness is exemplary … The Catholic Church condoles the death of our brothers and sisters who were caught unaware as nature’s fury took hold of large parts of Kerala. We express our solidarity with the injured and the suffering.”

The bishops also indicated their “ardent desire to work with the Government and all like-minded agencies to provide relief and help in all possible ways to the suffering people.”

They then stated that after the flood waters have resided, “it would be desirable to analyse the causes of the floods, and take urgent steps to preserve our environment and prevent further ecological damage to our Common Home, Mother Earth, destruction often brought about by our human actions.”

“We pray for all those affected and also for all who are actively or through contributions helping the people in dire distress.”

'Shame and sorrow' – Holy See responds to Pennsylvania report

Vatican City, Aug 16, 2018 / 02:33 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Holy See on Thursday denounced sexual abuse and called for accountability for both perpetrators and leaders who covered up their crimes, following the release of a report detailing alleged clerical abuse in Pennsylvania.

“The abuses described in the report are criminal and morally reprehensible,” said the statement, released Aug. 16.

“Those acts were betrayals of trust that robbed survivors of their dignity and their faith. The Church must learn hard lessons from its past, and there should be accountability for both abusers and those who permitted abuse to occur.”

The statement responded to a grand jury report in Pennsylvania that was released earlier this week following an 18-month investigation into alleged instances of abuse spanning several decades. The report detailed allegations against some 300 priests, from more than 1,000 victims, in the dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Scranton.

Pope Francis takes the subject of abuse seriously, the statement said, stressing that “The Holy See condemns unequivocally the sexual abuse of minors.”

“The Holy Father understands well how much these crimes can shake the faith and the spirit of believers and reiterates the call to make every effort to create a safe environment for minors and vulnerable adults in the Church and in all of society,” it said.

“Victims should know that the Pope is on their side. Those who have suffered are his priority, and the Church wants to listen to them to root out this tragic horror that destroys the lives of the innocent.”

The Holy See noted that most allegations mentioned in the report are from before the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, adopted by the US bishops in 2002 to prevent clerical abuse.

“By finding almost no cases after 2002, the Grand Jury’s conclusions are consistent with previous studies showing that Catholic Church reforms in the United States drastically reduced the incidence of clergy child abuse,” the Holy See said.

The statement encouraged “continued reform and vigilance at all levels of the Catholic Church, to help ensure the protection of minors and vulnerable adults from harm.” It also emphasized the importance of adhering to civil law, including abuse reporting requirements.

 

Irish bishop: Papal visit a chance to recognize sin, work to repair the Church

Limerick, Ireland, Aug 16, 2018 / 01:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Pope’s visit to Ireland is a time for the Church to reflect on her past failings and consider how to repair the Church for future generations, an Irish bishop has said.

Pope Francis will visit Ireland Aug. 25-26 as part of the World Meeting of Families, an international gathering of Catholic families that takes place about every three years. The last World Meeting of Families was held in Philadelphia in 2015.

In his homily for the feast of the Assumption, Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick said that the Pope’s visit is a chance for the Church to acknowledge “the dark aspects of our Church’s history that have come to light especially in recent decades.”

He then named several of the Church’s past failings and sins, including “a clericalism that ended up confusing power and ministry, the sexual abuse of minors by clergy and religious that did untold life-long damage to victims, the violent and repressive treatment by church representatives of young people sent to the State’s reformatory institutions, the dark experience of vulnerable women in places meant to be residences of refuge,” according to the Irish Times.

“Sadly, as has been highlighted, cover-up, willful or otherwise, and mismanagement compounded the damage, adding to our shame,” he noted Aug. 15.

The bishop celebrated the feast day Mass at Mass Rock in Kileedy, a symbolic gesture, he said, because the Catholic Church must be brought out into the open. Mass rocks are stones, sometimes pieces of old churches, in isolated outdoor locations throughout Ireland where Catholics would secretly celebrate Mass during the 17th century, a time of Catholic persecution.

There are many good things and good people to acknowledge and be grateful for in the Church, Leahy noted, but gratitude for the good “can never eclipse recognition of sin, criminality and evil. In some way, everyone in the church bears the shame of these darks aspects of our history. Few of us can throw stones as if we ourselves were not somehow associated.”

This year, the World Meeting of Families lands just after widespread revelations of scandal and clerical sex abuse in the Church in the United States, including accusations of sexual abuse and misconduct against former-cardinal Theodore McCarrick, as well as the release of a report detailing abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses which included more than 300 priests and 1,000 victims.

The Catholic Church in Ireland was rocked by its own sex abuse crisis, beginning in the 1990s and culminating in the release of several in-depth reports detailing decades of abuse and cover-up released in the late 2000s.

There has since been a significant drop in weekly Mass attendance as well as active priests in Ireland.  Current projections also predict that by 2030, there will only be 111 priests in the country, a decrease of about 70 percent. One report found that between 2008 and 2014, weekly Mass attendance in Dublin dropped by 3.7 per cent per year.

Bishop Leahy noted that while the Church in Ireland has since implemented many procedures and practices to prevent and report instances of abuse, it cannot grow complacent.

“As well as needing to pray for those who have been wounded we need to keep listening and to learn from them how to clarify and repair our church,” he said.

He also encouraged young people to be open to what the Church might have to offer them, and to voice their ideas about new ways to connect young people to the Church.

“Might this visit of Pope Francis be a moment when young people might look again at what the Church really has to offer? We need you because you are part of our access to what God is saying to the Church today. We need you to help us find the ways towards the future that God has marked out for us all.”

Muslim woman who declined handshake wins labor case in Sweden

Stockholm, Sweden, Aug 16, 2018 / 12:17 pm (CNA).- A labor court in Sweden has sided with a Muslim woman whose job interview was cut short when she refused a handshake for religious reasons.

The court, in a 3-2 vote, ordered the company to pay the woman 40,000 kronor – or $4,350 – on the grounds of discrimination against her, the BBC reports.

Farah Alhajeh was applying for a job with an interpreting company in Uppsala. During the interview, she would not shake her male interviewer’s hand. Instead, she placed her hand over her heart, later saying she was trying to avoid offending the interviewer.

The 24-year-old says her Muslim faith prohibits her from physical contact with members of the opposite sex, outside of her family.

The company argued that Alhejah’s refusal to shake hands could hamper her effectiveness as an interpreter. However, the court disagreed. According to The Local, Alhajeh was applying for a job doing video and phone interpretation, where she would not have to interact in-person with clients.

Company policy and anti-discrimination laws prohibit treating people differently because of sex, the employer said. It said it could not have staff members refusing a handshake because they are women. The company does allow staff members to decline handshakes due to germophobia and autism.

The Swedish labor court said the company could rightly demand equal treatment for men and women, but not by insisting upon a handshake. Doing so, it said, is discrimination against Muslims.

The court said that the European Convention on Human Rights protects the refusal to shake hands on religious grounds.

Sweden's discrimination ombudsman's office, which represented Alhajeh in the case, applauded the ruling, saying that it had balanced “the employer's interests, the individual's right to bodily integrity, and the importance of the state to maintain protection for religious freedom.”

“I believe in God, which is very rare in Sweden... and I should be able to do that and be accepted as long as I'm not hurting anyone,” Alhajah told the BBC.

Handshakes, a traditional greeting in some parts of Europe, have been the center of other controversies in recent years as well.

In both France and Switzerland, Muslim individuals who refused to shake hands with opposite-sex officials had their citizenship processes suspended or denied.

Catholic institutions in CAR shelter displaced Muslims from threat of attack

Bangassou, Central African Republic, Aug 16, 2018 / 12:16 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In the Central African Republic's Diocese of Bangassou, several Catholic institutions have taken in displaced Muslims who face violence at the hand of Christian militias.

The CAR has suffered violence since December 2012, when several bands of mainly Muslim rebel groups formed an alliance, taking the name Seleka, and seized power.

In reaction to the Seleka's attacks, some Central Africans formed self-defense groups called anti-balaka. Some of these groups, mainly composed of Christians, began attacking Muslims out of revenge, and the conflict took on a sectarian character.

Anti-balaka killed more than 100 Muslims in Bangassou in May 2017 before United Nations peacekeepers intervened, and since then the city's Petit Seminaire Saint Louis has been home to about 1,600 displaced Muslims.

Another 2,000 Muslims have taken refuge at St. Peter Claver Cathedral in Bangassou.

While there is “a climate of mistrust” between the communities, “some activities paralysed because of this crisis have resumed,” Bishop Juan-Jose Aguirre Munoz of Bangassou told Al Jazeera.

“For example, the central market is open every day. All political, civil, military and religious leaders are working for the return of peace and social cohesion, living together and returning displaced people to their homes,” he said.

But in the violence of 2017, the homes and businesses of many Muslims in the city were destoyed, and their goods looted.

And if they leave the compounds, Muslims continue to face the threat of violence.

Fr. Yovane Cox, of the Bangassou diocese, said that “There are armed men here waiting for Muslims to emerge out of the camp so that they can kill them. We need to help them as soon as possible to avoid confrontation and bloodbath.”

At the parish in Zemio, about 180 miles east of Bangassou, hundreds more Muslims have taken refuge.

A priest in the town, Fr. Jean-Alain Zembi, said that “They call us traitors. They will kill you if they discover you are protecting Muslims.”

Bishop Aguirre has said his clerics have been attacked, and his own car has been damaged by Christians, for their providing shelter to Muslims.

Last month, a group calling itself the League of Defense of the Church issued a statement saying it would defend the Church and avenge killed priests, charging that both the government and the Church hierarchy have failed to protect Christians.

The country's bishops responded that “the projects that this league claims to achieve are at odds with the gospel, the aspirations of the church and its mission in the Central African Republic.”

The CAR held a general election in 2015-16 which installed a new government, but militant groups continue to terrorize local populations. Thousands of people have been killed in the violence, and at least a million have been displaced. At least half of Central Africans depend on humanitarian aid, the U.N. reports.

Pope Francis visited the CAR during his trip to Africa in 2015, and urged the country’s leaders to work for peace and reconciliation.

Three priests have keen killed in the CAR this year.

‘What do you want to know?’ The Catholic reaction to bishops and sexual abuse

Washington D.C., Aug 16, 2018 / 12:08 pm (CNA).- Among the sexual abusers mentioned in the Aug. 14 Pennsylvania grand jury report, one priest merits particular attention.

Rev. David Szatkowski, SCJ, is mentioned in the section of the report concerning the Diocese of Allentown. In 2011, he was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting a child.

In August of that year, Szatkowski, a seminary professor, attended an academic conference in Wisconsin. The priest, drunk late one night during the conference, approached a group of teenage girls outside his hotel, talked with them for a while, telling them that he was a lawyer and acting, in the words of one witness, “touchy.” Eventually, witness accounts and police reports say, Szatkowski forcibly embraced a 15-year-old girl and groped her breasts.

Several months later, prosecutors announced in a statement that they had dropped the charges, in “consultation with the victim about her wishes regarding the outcome of the case.”

Szatkowski, charged with sexually assaulting a child but not convicted, serves now on the “formation team” of his religious community, working with young aspirants to priesthood.

The priest does not stand out in the grand jury report because of the gravity of his case. Indeed, allegations against Szatkowski are not mentioned in the report at all. Instead, Szatkowski is mentioned because, three years after facing criminal charges for sexually assaulting a child, he was permitted by the Bishop of Allentown to serve as the canon lawyer- the procurator and advocate, in technical terms- for Fr. Michael Lawrence, a priest accused of sexually assaulting two adolescent boys.

In fact, Bishop John Barres, then Bishop of Allentown, relied heavily on Szatkowski’s canonical advocacy in a 2014 letter written to stave off the possibility that the Vatican might laicize Lawrence.

This extraordinary turn of events bears repeating. In 2014, a bishop allowed a priest who had been charged with criminal sexual abuse of a child to serve as the canon lawyer for another priest charged with criminal sexual abuse of a child. Apparently no one in Szatkowski’s religious community, the Diocese of Allentown, or the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith questioned the wisdom of that plan.

Anyone who finds it difficult to understand the anger and resentment of Catholics toward their bishops in recent weeks need look no further than that story.

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It is not breaking news that priests have committed unspeakable acts of sexual abuse. Nor is it new news that bishops have acted negligently, failing to use their authority responsibly. Since at least 2002, sexual abuse committed by priests in the United States has been catalogued and made publicly available in media reports, depositions, lawsuits, and police reports. And in that same time period, the negligence of bishops has been well-documented.

But the grand jury report released Aug. 14 is unique- unparalleled, really- in scope, magnitude, and in the level of detail it provides. And the report was released as the Catholic Church in the United States was already in the midst of the serious crisis that began when credible sex abuse allegations against then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick were announced June 20.

Unlike the 2002 reports of clerical sexual abuse, the Pennsylvania report was also released in the wake of the #MeToo movement, and after revelations emerged of sexually abusive and coercive behaviors among figures in positions of power in other professional, political, and cultural contexts. The #MeToo movement has led to a more outspoken cultural opposition to coercive sexual behaviors and the abuse of power. That movement is the lens through which many Catholics are now viewing sexual abuse and cover-ups in the Church.

As a consequence of those things, the report has led to expressions of outrage, confusion, hurt, and mistrust from priests and deacons, religious sisters and brothers, Catholic and secular media outlets, ordinary lay Catholics, and from other Christians.

Commentators have condemned the alleged and suspected acts of abuse themselves, and the documented responses of bishops to that abuse. But they have mostly focused their anger on the apologies, statements of regret and contrition, and explanations that bishops have offered in recent weeks.

The response seems to exceed even the anger during the “Long Lent of 2002,” which could also be attributed, at least partially, to the fact that Catholics have already gone through this experience, and many expected that the crisis had been abated, and that bishops were not tolerating coercive sexual immorality in the Church. The McCarrick revelations dashed those expectations. The grand jury report has been like acid poured into the newly opened wound.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, formerly Bishop of Pittsburgh, has received some of the most serious criticism. Wuerl, already facing questions about his knowledge, negligence, or complicity in allegations against McCarrick, now faces the charge that he negligently permitted at least one sexual abuser to remain in priestly ministry after allegations were known to his diocese.

It should be noted that Wuerl has disputed many assertions contained in the grand jury report, as has Donald Trautman, the former Bishop of Erie. It should also be noted that the report contains allegations that have not been subject to a trial, and that serious objections have been raised about whether the due process rights of those named in the report have been respected. Eventually, sources tell CNA, questions will also be asked about Pennsylvania's attorney general, whose office drafted the text of the grand jury report, and about his political motivations.

It should also be mentioned that the grand jury reported predominantly on crimes that took place decades ago. The report recognized that “much has changed over the last fifteen years,” affirmed much about contemporary child protection policies, and noted the efforts of Pennsylvania’s current bishops to be transparent and forthcoming.

But at the moment, most Catholics are uninterested in explanations, or in discussions of the report’s finer points. The statements issued by Pennsylvania’s bishops, by Wuerl, and by the leadership of the USCCB have seemed only to fuel anger.

In fact, Wuerl and his staff have faced especially sharp criticism for launching a website, “thewuerlrecord.com,” that purported to “provide additional content not included in the [grand jury] report on Cardinal Wuerl’s work as longtime advocate and voice on this issue.” The site lasted fewer than two days before being taken down, amid calls from several prominent commentators for Wuerl’s immediate resignation.

It is worth asking what, exactly, Catholics now want from their leaders, what has prevented some bishops from satisfactorily addressing sexual abuse and the fallout from recent revelations, and how the Church can now respond to an obviously significant point of crisis.

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The grand jury report’s introduction says that in the face of sexual abuse allegations, bishops seemed preoccupied with managing “scandal,” rather than addressing problems. The report lists a series of actions it calls a “playbook for concealing truth,” among them the use of euphemisms like “boundary violation” in place of words like “rape,” the unwillingness to conduct investigations professionally, and the unwillingness to inform parishioners when a priest has been accused of sexual abuse.

In short, the report depicted a culture in which appearances are more important than reality. That culture seems at the root of the anger Catholics have expressed in recent weeks, over the McCarrick scandal, and over the grand jury’s investigation.

In commentaries, comments to CNA, and on social media, many Catholics have characterized episcopal responses to recent revelations and allegations as bureaucratic, robotic, and self-serving.

The hierarchy’s response to the grand jury report, and to the McCarrick scandal which preceded it, has also been criticized as “corporate,” more concerned with spin, damage control, and personal reputations than with the victims of sexual abuse, or with the Catholics who feel betrayed by bishops who promised, in 2002, “never again.”

Where, many Catholics have asked, is a bishop willing to take responsibility for what has happened, and willing to make amends?

Where, many Catholics have asked, is a bishop willing to change the culture of the Church? Where, they have asked, is honesty?

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Concretely, Catholics seem to be calling for three things.

The first is genuine expression of authentic contrition, sorrow, and regret. This is what many Catholics say has most been lacking in recent months.

We live in the age of the image- of the cultural and visual meme- and bishops seem to be expected to understand this. This means that expressions of contrition are expected to be more than words offered between explanations and calls for new policy. Catholics- especially young Catholics- say they are looking for simple, direct, and straightforward apologies, followed by signs of repentance.

Sackcloth and ashes may not prove necessary, but humility and authenticity will. Some have suggested Masses celebrated solemnly and penitentially with victims. Others have suggested public and personal pilgrimages and acts of repentance. The form matters. But what seems to matter most to many Catholics is hearing, and seeing, that bishops are genuinely horrified by things that have happened among their own brothers, and on their watch, and that they perceive, and admit, a sense of personal responsibility.

The second thing Catholics seem to be calling for is open disclosure of the Church’s problems, and consistent lay involvement in the adjudication of clerical personnel issues. This call is for a broad culture change. A call for transparency, openness, and direct lay involvement in handling priest personnel issues is, in short, a call for a rejection of the clericalism that, by many accounts, is endemic among bishops, without ideological or generational discrimination.

In short, many Catholics have told CNA in recent weeks they hope that their bishops will invest in a renewed sense of collaborative and missionary leadership, and that they believe that will require eschewing a common perception that bishops must be primarily overseers of diocesan business and administrative affairs.

But meaningful lay involvement in personnel matters is a difficult thing for the Church to mandate, beyond the existing requirement for diocesan review boards, because of the Church’s theological understanding of the governance ministry of bishops, and because lay professional Church administrators can become as institutionalized as clerical collaborators, and can be, for reasons of job security, reticent to blow the whistle when bishops act negligently.

Without clear guidelines and some protections for employees, “lay involvement” can easily become a kind of Potemkin consultation, where lay people are around, but decisions are mostly made after they leave the room.

To encourage broader and more meaningful lay involvement in episcopal decision-making, the Church would likely need to develop a means of listening to existing lay ecclesial administrators, considering their concerns, and training bishops for meaningful engagement with lay collaborators.

But more than any particular model, combatting clericalism seems to require bishops who are allergic to clerical insularity, and intolerant of it among their priests.

There are bishops in the United States who, by many accounts, embody and exhibit that approach to episcopal leadership. It remains to be seen whether they will emerge as leaders in the months to come.

Finally, Catholics seem to be calling for a plan to address sexual immorality among the episcopate, in seminaries, and among priests. Across ideological perspectives, there seems in recent weeks to be a recognition that predatory sexual behavior of any kinds is enabled by environments in which priests are not formed for chastity, and in which clerical obligations of continence and chastity are not taken seriously. Proposals for new episcopal oversight committees, for new review boards or charters have largely been panned.

What bishops will have to determine is how they can express a profound and serious commitment to sexual morality among clerics without seeming to abdicate their responsibilities, focus unduly on response rather than prevention, or pay only lip service to the development of healthy and chaste sexuality.

The challenge is going to prove incredibly difficult.  

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There are several things that could derail the bishop’s efforts to restore trust in the Church, and to move forward from the crisis point the Church has reached.

The first is the threat of litigation. The effect of the fear of litigation on some parts of the Church can not be overstated, and there are actually some good reasons for this.

Bishops who genuinely want to do right by victims, and are genuinely incensed over clerical sexual abuse, still have reasons- good and bad- to fear the prospect of litigation.

Bishops are responsible to be the stewards of the resources their dioceses have accumulated for the work of the Church- for sacred worship, for education and formation, and for works of charity and mercy. They are eager to see that Catholic apostolates not be shuttered or sold, even when they are genuinely sympathetic to the suffering of victims, and especially because they recognize that a significant portion of money extracted from the Church will go not to victims, but to attorneys. And, even in Pennsylvania, bishops who face litigation today usually are asked to be responsible for bad decisions made by their predecessors.

Bishops have also pointed out that the Church sometimes faces inequitable laws with regard to litigation, that laws which protect public institutions but not the Church have made it a particularly attractive target for plaintiff’s attorney. There is legitimacy to that claim.

The Pennsylvania grand jury has called for a tort claims window that would allow alleged victims whose claims are impeded by the statute of limitations a period of time in which to file lawsuits. The Pennsylvania legislature is likely to take up that cause, and other state legislatures will likely follow suit. Bishops have argued in the past that statutes of limitations exist for good reason; that claims exceeding those statutes can not be seriously investigated or defended against. This, some have argued, means that cases exceeding statutes of limitation invariably lead to settlements, even when facts are scant. In many states, those arguments have kept tort claim window legislation at bay.

In Pennsylvania at least, the momentum from the grand jury report may make it difficult for the Church to oppose, or to even to be seen to oppose, such legislation.

How that will impact the bishops’ response to this crisis remains to be seen. Concern for litigation has, in the past, tempered expressions of episcopal contrition, sometimes even beyond recognition. That fear colored and characterized a great deal of the Church’s response to the sexual abuse crisis of 2002, and, as several dioceses have since gone into bankruptcy, closing ministry centers, parishes, and charitable works, the fear has likely been heightened for some bishops since then.

The second factor that could impact the bishops’ response to the current crisis is overreaction to criticism that they are not acting quickly or rigorously enough. In the months to come, bishops will face serious pressure within their own dioceses to give evidence of their zero-tolerance with regard to abuse of any kind. Several priests have told CNA that they are concerned that fear could lead bishops to “scapegoat” priests- to single out priests accused even of non-criminal moral failures, to publicly disclose the private lives of priests, or to otherwise violate the canonical rights of priests, including their rights to due process, in order to be appear to be tough on abuse. Some priests have noted the experience of this kind of practice in their own dioceses in 2002 and 2003, and suggested it was an impediment, rather than an aid, to real reform.

A third thing that could derail serious ecclesial reform has to do with the call for episcopal resignations. Wuerl, in particular, has been the subject of ongoing calls for resignation, along with other bishops. While the Holy See might judge those moves to be justified, they could have the unintended effect of stalling more systematic and cultural change, if they are not managed carefully. If individuals bishops resign, and are then cast as the cause of the problems, the pressure for broader reforms could deflate. The Vatican must ensure that if it accepts the resignation of some bishops, the remaining members of the episcopate remain under pressure to enact the reform efforts the USCCB has said it would like to facilitate.

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The grand jury report’s language is unambiguous, its analysis is direct: the report is emphatic in asserting that systematic patterns of negligence have allowed sexual abuse to take root in the Church.

“Failure to prevent abuse was a systemic failure,” the report said, “an institutional failure.” There seems to be broad Catholic agreement with that claim.

This October, Cardinal Wuerl is scheduled to publish a book entitled: “What do you want to know? A pastor’s response to the most challenging questions about the Catholic faith.”

In recent weeks, Wuerl has gotten an answer to his question: Catholics want to know what he and other bishops knew, what they’re really sorry for, and what they’re going to do about it.

It remains to be seen whether answers to those questions will be forthcoming.
  

 

 

US bishops invite Vatican investigation into McCarrick scandal

Washington D.C., Aug 16, 2018 / 10:26 am (CNA).-  The U.S. bishops’ conference called for a Vatican-led investigation into allegations of sexual abuse and cover-ups surrounding Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, as well for new abuse reporting processes, and greater involvement of laity in addressing abuse concerns.
 
“We are faced with a spiritual crisis that requires not only spiritual conversion, but practical changes to avoid repeating the sins and failures of the past that are so evident in the recent report,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, in an Aug. 16 statement.

“Stronger protections against predators in the Church and anyone who would conceal them,” are needed, said DiNardo, “protections that will hold bishops to the highest standards of transparency and accountability.”

The bishops will invite the Vatican to conduct an official Apostolic Visitation to the United States to address questions surrounding Archbishop McCarrick, in consultation with the lay members of the National Review Board, DiNardo said.

Previously the U.S. bishops did not “make clear what avenue victims themselves should follow in reporting abuse or other sexual misconduct by bishops,” acknowledged DiNardo, who called for the development of “reliable third-party reporting mechanisms.”

Among the bishops’ goals is to make canonical procedures for complaints against bishops “more prompt, fair, and transparent” and “to specify what constraints may be imposed on bishops at each stage of that process.”

DiNardo outlined three criteria for how the bishops will approach past and future abuses: independence from bias or undue influence by a bishop, substantial involvement of the laity, and respect for proper authority in the Church.

“Because only the pope has authority to discipline or remove bishops, we will assure that our measures will both respect that authority and protect the vulnerable from the abuse of ecclesial power,” the statement added.

Lay involvement will include people with expertise in law enforcement, psychology, investigation, and other relevant disciplines, according to the statement.
 
In a meeting earlier this week, the U.S. bishops’ executive committee outlined “these necessary changes” and said that they will present their goals to the Vatican and to all U.S. bishops during the USCCB’s fall meeting in November.

DiNardo ended the bishops’ statement with an apology:
“I apologize and humbly ask your forgiveness for what my brother bishops and I have done and failed to do. Whatever the details may turn out to be regarding Archbishop McCarrick or the many abuses in Pennsylvania (or anywhere else), we already know that one root cause is the failure of episcopal leadership. The result was that scores of beloved children of God were abandoned to face an abuse of power alone. This is a moral catastrophe. It is also part of this catastrophe that so many faithful priests who are pursuing holiness and serving with integrity are tainted by this failure.”

“We firmly resolve, with the help of God’s grace, never to repeat it. I have no illusions about the degree to which trust in the bishops has been damaged by these past sins and failures.  It will take work to rebuild that trust. What I have outlined here is only the beginning; other steps will follow …”

“Let me ask you to hold us to all of these resolutions. Let me also ask you to pray for us, that we will take this time to reflect, repent, and recommit ourselves to holiness of life and to conform our lives even more to Christ, the Good Shepherd.”

 

Where is Jesus in the midst of the Church's sex abuse crisis?

Washington D.C., Aug 16, 2018 / 03:16 am (CNA).- Fr. Thomas Berg is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, a former Legionary of Christ, and professor of moral theology, vice rector, and director of admissions at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, NY.  He is author of Hurting in the Church: A Way Forward for Wounded Catholics. He spoke recently with CNA’s Courtney Grogan about the challenges Catholics face amid the Church’s sexual abuse and misconduct scandals. The interview is below, edited for clarity and length.

 

With everything that has been coming out in the news recently about sexual abuse in the Church, how do you think that your book, “Hurting in the Church: A Way Forward for Wounded Catholics,” could be helpful?

In the wake of the McCarrick scandal and ongoing revelations of priest sexual abuse, a very common reaction is one of betrayal.

That's what I have heard a lot of from persons who have reached out to me, especially persons who for years have collaborated with bishops, worked in chanceries, worked for bishops, collaborated in apostolates, have headed-up bishop’s capital campaigns, have been donors and so on. Part of the very common experience is this raw emotional wound of betrayal.

Much of my book speaks directly to that experience. That's where I really hope that persons who are going through that betrayal, profound discouragement, disappointment, the bewilderment of the moral failures of bishops, who either failed to report what they should have reported or did not act on what was reported to them.

That is scandalous and that opens up a wound of betrayal really in the whole mystical body.

I very much believe that the book can, hopefully, point to where is the good news in this -- Where is the hope in this? Where is Jesus in the midst of this crisis?

Where is Jesus in the midst of this crisis?

Jesus is the healer of wounds, and Jesus does not leave the members of his mystical body without healing when we seek it.

We are in the midst of a massive crisis, notwithstanding some resistance to that idea by some of our prelates.

And those wounds are opened up. This is where not only can Jesus bring healing, but he can also use that experience of woundedness, whether that is personally or institutionally or spiritually as the body of Christ. He uses those wounds to bring greater good, to bring grace and healing to His Church.

Part of what I do in the book is just to reflect, often with these individuals [victims of abuse] and sometimes in their own words, on this mystery that the Jesus who comes into this experience is Jesus who appeared with his glorious wounds. The wounds were still there. The wounds are mystically important and we can unite our wounds to Jesus and allow him to unite those in a mystical way, in a redemptive way to His redemptive work.

So, where is Jesus in all of this? Jesus is continuing in the midst of our brokenness, in the midst of the utter moral failures of our pastors, in the midst of our own sinfulness and brokenness. The risen Good Shepherd comes with his glorious wounds by which he intends to bring about healing in his Church and to bring about a much greater good and a much more glorious future precisely in and through the tragedies that we are experiencing.

We will also experience this in a much more glorious and beautiful day for the Church in the future, and certainly for the Church when all time has been consummated and we are all, by God's grace, caught up in the glory of the heavenly kingdom.

You discuss in the book how uprooting a betrayal of trust can be and how we really need to be grounded in Christ's love. What are some concrete ways that Catholics can really root themselves in Christ's love and find that grounding in a time when they might feel destabilized in the Church?

First, very practical immediate answer: Eucharistic adoration. No doubt about it.

That was essentially my homily when we were talking two weeks ago about the McCarrick thing from the pulpit. It means, as always in crisis, we need to be earnestly and deeply seeking the Lord by frequenting Eucharistic adoration and intensifying one's life of prayer.

In my own story, I had to go on retreat. I had to just go take some time to just be by myself to get that down to the solid foundation of what did I stand on. What was the foundation that everything that I believed stood on?

What one can come to in those experiences is that experience of Jesus -- the experience that our risen and glorious Lord still stands present in the midst of our lives. He is there.

When we are hurting, we need to do whatever it takes: adoration, retreat, increased prayer, asceticism, solid spiritual reading, all of the things that we can avail ourselves of God's grace to re-experience ourselves as rooted and grounded in His love.

God has a very big safety net for us and it is that reality of being truly rooted and grounded in Him and in His love that encompasses us.

It is just that when we are hurting, when we are scandalized, when we are angry, when we are experiencing all of this emotional turbulence, it is just -- it takes time and prayer and I think a lot of coming to silence and coming to quiet to get through that and to realize that our Lord is still there. Our Lord is still holding his hands out to us. Our Lord is still there to embrace us and pick us up and guide us and help us to move forward.

What would you say to the priest who just doesn't know how to address this from the pulpit, who is dealing with his own feelings of hurt and confusion, and maybe is on the fence about whether he should address it in a homily?

I think that the best thing that priest can do is to talk about that in his homily. It is emotionally exhausting for most of us. It is heartbreaking. When I preached a couple of weekends ago, I got emotional. I think it is very healing and good if priests allow themselves to feel and show that emotion. Feel and show how personally upsetting it is. If a priest is angry, tell your people, 'Yeah, I'm angry too, and you should be angry.' It should start there.

It is absolutely essential that this is addressed. No priest should be waiting for some directive from his bishop. I would hope that across the country most priests have already addressed this from the pulpit. If not, it absolutely has to happen.

People are very angry right now, and I do not think that they are identifying that anger as a hurt. Many people are channeling their anger into what needs to change in the Church. Some channel it at specific people in the Church.

You address healthy anger in the book, and I want to hear your thoughts on it in this context. What would you say to people who are very angry?

There is certainly such a thing as just anger. I would hope that most of the anger that what most committed Catholics are experiencing right now is precisely that -- “just anger.” I have experienced a good deal of bit of it in the past few weeks.

Hopefully that anger does get channelled into good positive, action steps that I think Catholics are taking. But people should also be very honest with themselves: This hurts.

I think that our brothers and sisters who are going through this right now, and they are many, need to own up to that.

That is a very healthy starting point to getting to a better place. In this context, it is an important part of rightly channeling our energies and our reactions prayerfully and in docility to the Holy Spirit. We have to allow the Holy Spirit to come fully into that experience of hurt in this ecclesial context.

The immediate victims of McCarrick, those who have suffered sexual exploitation, they are hurt in a very unique way, but in some sense this has inflicted a hurt on all of us. And those who failed, those who enabled him, those who pulled him up the ecclesiastical ladder, if they did so with knowledge of his sexual predation, that inflicts a real emotional hurt on all of us, and we should just admit that.

Many Catholics first faced these initial feelings of betrayal, shock, bewilderment in 2002. After positive steps forward like the Dallas Charter, these Catholics found some consolation in the fact that the Church had made positive changes. Now there are layers of hurt there, particularly the hurt of thinking that things were better and then discovering that they are not.

The Church might not change in our lifetimes. Reform in the Church takes so long. The Church is very good at reforming herself, but it can take centuries sometimes. I'm worried for people who are looking for a quick fix.

I think that you are hitting at the heart of the problem. One thing that we are being faced with in this crisis is the reality that effective change within the Church takes a very, very long time. Even within organizations, people talk about changing the internal culture of a business, even that in itself can take a long time.

First of all, there is no reason why we cannot continue to take genuine pride in the programs that have been set in place with the sacrifice and dedication by the way of hundreds of lay Catholic men and women who have jumped into this breach and who have instituted requirements for background checks, safe environment training, safe environment programs, who serve the Church as sexual abuse assistance coordinators in dioceses (these are people who deal one on one especially with victims of clergy sexual abuse.) So we have every reason frankly to be confident that we are in a much better place then we were 15 years ago to protect our children. There is no reason to doubt that.

What people are still reeling from, and this has been the real revelation, is that there has been, especially within the episcopacy, there has been an internal culture which allowed -- and I am not faulting all bishops here, but McCarrick is the child of an old boys school mentality, a culture where bishops too often understood themselves as members of this kind of privileged caste who used power and authority to manipulate and frankly to bring about all kind of harms and hurts in people's lives. Bishops have sadly often been the perpetrators of much of the hurt that has been experienced on many levels and in many forms in the Church. And that is a sickly culture and it has to change.

The Church desperately needs a healing in its episcopacy. This is very much a crisis of the episcopacy. The current ethos is in so many ways it is failing us. It is failing the Church. What we have is, in far too many cases, a kind of managerial approach. Bishops simply seek to manage, to contain, to bureaucratize our apostolates, and that is not a culture where the Church is going to thrive.

Is that going to change anytime soon? No, but I think that we have an opportunity. This crisis is putting a spotlight on that problematic culture within the episcopate. I think that we can be hopeful for some kind of change, maybe even sea change.

There are good and holy bishops out there who are as incensed about this as you or I or any of us are. It is my prayer and hope that they will begin to exercise some very kind of unprecedented leadership within the body of bishops and certainly within their own dioceses.

So what do Catholics do meanwhile? Well, we are challenged to exercise the supernatural virtue of hope. We are challenged to believe that that kind of change, if it is meant to be, will take time, but we have to support every bishop who shows signs that they are getting it.

We have to support every bishop who shows signs that they understand and that they are taking unprecedented steps towards transparency, toward addressing even the faults of their own brother bishops.

We need to be supportive and helpful, and I guess that is a long way of saying that we need to hang in there and trust in the Holy Spirit. Change does take a long time in the Church. We are called to continue to exercise hope and it is by sustaining hope and sustaining a healthy pressure on the bishops that can bring about some really positive change here, maybe faster than we think.

As outrageous as it is, I can imagine the temptation a leader might feel to keep something so scandalous secret, to think that they were protecting Catholics from scandal by a sort of false charity, if you will. How does a leader find the courage or strength to come forward with the truth after they have covered up?

In the context of the Church, bishops who get it have come to understand that the scandal has been the supposed effort to “avoid scandal.” The scandal has been covering this stuff up. The scandal has been keeping this stuff quiet.

This is what I always tell our seminarians. Transparency is your friend. Light and truth are our friends. Institutionally, I think that we are understanding that. In the context of seminary formation, I really believe earnestly that the vast majority of our men understand that.

And I think understanding that also makes it easier to come clean when there has been a failure of any sort. In a sense, it all boils down to the old adage, 'Honesty is the best policy.'

Obviously, when you are talking about something as complex as sexual abuse and exploitation, that is obviously much more complex because sometimes you are dealing with victims who desire to remain anonymous.

It takes an enormous amount of courage for victims of abuse to come forward and go public. That's been one sad part of this whole tragedy. It is so difficult. The courage there is just amazing sometimes. I think the message of what we are learning in the sexual abuse crisis is that transparency is the only way to go.

Honestly trying to protect the requirements of justice and people's reputations is a difficult balance and it definitely requires that transparency.

What do you recommend for those who are specifically dealing with disillusionment? How do Catholics keep their eyes open to the truth without totally succumbing to cynicism?

I think that the level of cynicism and disillusionment right now is off the charts.

You know people often use that image of having a bandage ripped off a wound. I don't think that we have yet healed from -- I know we haven't healed from 2002. This isn't having a bandage ripped off. This is having that wound ripped open and stamped on.

I'm fully expecting that the level of disillusionment and just shear kind of numb confusion is going to be a very common experience. I think that there will be different outcomes. I hope that Catholics can believe that there is a way forward here, especially committed Catholics.

It leads you to question your faith. I have been there. I have had that experience. The more you expose yourself to this, the more faith is going to be severely challenged.

I would just hope though that Catholics can understand that Jesus can lead them through that fire. He can lead us through this fire and make it a purifying fire, so that we can emerge from this really sad and really critical chapter of crisis in the Church, that we can emerge from this as stronger disciples and more committed Catholic Christians.

What transformation the Holy Spirit brings about, I hope we could no matter how hard this is, I hope we could kind of look forward to that with a sense of hope and expectation and maybe even the sense that as bad as it is, I want to be a part of what happens now. I want to be a part of the renewal that the Holy Spirit is going to necessarily going to bring about. I want to be a part of the action here. I want to be a part of what the Holy Spirit is going to do now in the Church.

I am absolutely convinced that the Holy Spirit is working in and through this crisis in a very real way. I have experienced it myself. I have seen it and I have heard it from others.

We have to allow the Holy Spirit to bring us beyond this very profound disillusionment.

 

Combat racism with a childlike spirit, Springfield priest says

Springfield, Ill., Aug 16, 2018 / 12:45 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Mass in the Diocese of Springfield, Ill commemorated the anniversary of racially-motivated riots that destroyed black-owned business and homes in the city, and left at least 13 people dead during a three-day period in 1908. A priest of the diocese encouraged Catholics to counteract hatred with the spirit of universal brotherhood and childlike love.

Monsignor David Hoefler, vicar general for the Diocese of Springfield, celebrated the Mass Aug. 14 at Saint Patrick Church. He emphasized the universal origin of the human race and the need to imitate the receptivity of children.

“We have one set of parents, Adam and Eve. That's why we have one savior because he came to save...the human race, all races,” Hoefler said in his homily.

Christ came “that we all might be recreated, reunited, brought together, reconciled with God. It's not just something that's supposed to be meant for heaven for later, but hopefully we are working on that now,” he added.

On Aug. 14-15, 1908, nearly 5,000 people rioted violently throughout the streets of Springfield after trying unsuccessfully to lynch two black men, suspected of rape and attempted rape, who were believed to be held at a local jail. When it was discovered that the men were not at that jail, the mob destroyed African-American business, homes, and killed at least eight people. Five rioters were also killed during the melee, and an infant died during the riot as well, after her family’s home was destroyed.

Human brokenness and violence between people are nothing new, explained Hoefler. He pointed to conflict between Adam and Eve in the scriptural story of creation, and to racial hardships faced by Jewish people during the time of Christ.

He said that Adam and Eve each acted in from self-interest at the time of their downfall, distancing themselves from one another.

“Instead of checking with each other, instead of having a communion or a communication with each other, they started going their own way,” he said, noting the couple did not ask for forgiveness, but instead blamed someone else or something else.

“[Adam] throws his wife under the bus - 'she did it.' Scapegoating they call it. So the Lord goes to Eve, 'what did you do?' 'It did it!' Blames the serpent, Satan.”

The results of sin were immediate, he said and led to the murder of Abel by Cain. The priest said the same thing occurred during Springfield’s riots; that people made scapegoats of racial minorities rather than taking responsibility for themselves.

“People acted out of hatred, bigotry, racism, and they let their emotions run wild - destroyed property, and, worse, killed their brothers and sisters, other human beings. It gets that way all too easy. That was played out over, and over, and over again by this street.”

He pointed to parallels among the Jews of Jesus Christ’s time on earth.

“When Jesus was born… he came into the one of the most abused races that existed at the time,” he said. “He came into the depths of our suffering and the worst of it all. He assumed the worst that had been known to that point in history and redeemed it from there.”

However, the only way to embrace redemption is through a child-like spirit, he said, reflecting on the words of Christ in the Gospel of Mark – “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."

"In other words,” Monsignor Hoefler said “a child is somebody that does listen, somebody that likes to learn, somebody that doesn't impose other things onto other people, somebody that receives in all innocence what another says, somebody who receives people for who they are."

“It's the way we should be: that kind of innocence, receptivity, open heartedness.”

He gave a few examples of people who have put to practice this receptivity, noting especially the people of Rwanda. Next April, he said, it will be 25 years since the Rwandan genocide – a brutal slaughter, in which an estimated 800,000 Rwandans, primarily Tutsis, were killed in the span of a few months, between April and June in 1994.

Monsignor Hoefler said now the country is one of the safest places in Africa because the two groups learned from their mistakes. The people, he said, knew racism would perpetuate unless love was chosen over hate, namely listening to others and embracing forgiveness.

“God never asks something of us that he isn't willing to do himself,” he said, noting that Christ provided an example of this receptivity.

“He spent thirty years listening to the human the race… listening to his community, his town, and his people. He spent thirty years before he began speaking, being quiet, noticing the injustices, realizing what needed reconciliation, and then he went to move for healing.”

 

How the Church could reach out to the children of priests

Dublin, Ireland, Aug 15, 2018 / 05:21 pm (CNA).- Discussions surrounding sexual abuse and immorality in the Church should also address the challenges and injustices facing children of priests and religious, said the founder of a support website for such children.  

Psychotherapist Vincent Doyle founded Coping International in 2014, after two years of research, as a way to offer resources and support for children of celibate priests and religious. In the Latin Catholic Church, priests are generally required to remain celibate, that is, unmarried, with limited exceptions made for faith leaders who have converted from some other Christian traditions.

“I wanted to have a Church-supported ministry on a global level for children of priests and religious, male and female,” he told CNA. “I wanted to work with the Church as opposed to working against the Church…to try to get the solution to come from the inside out.”

Doyle said that when he raises the issue, he is met with “a lot of automatic default responses.” People are often dismissive, assuming that children of priests and religious are rare or nonexistent.

“I wanted to have some qualitative and quantitative data so I could actually speak,” he said.

Doyle launched the website Children of Priests International – copinginternational.com – in December 2014. But he didn’t tell anyone about it. He wanted to see how many people were searching for it.

Two and a half years later – with no marketing, media attention, or international advertising – he said the site had received more than 400,000 hits.

As of today, he said the website has received nearly 1 million visits from around the world – more than 175 countries – but every month since the website was launched, Ireland, England, and the United States have been among the top countries driving traffic to the site.

Doyle said this suggests that children of priests and religious are far more numerous than many people realize.

But in many ways, the Church is failing to address – or even acknowledge – the unique challenges faced by these children, who often live in secrecy and shame, he said.

Doyle said he has seen the greatest success in Ireland, where the national bishops’ conference last year outlined “Principles of responsibility regarding priests who father children while in ministry.”

The document stated that while individual situations will vary, “the needs of the child should be given first consideration.” The father should recognize his responsibilities, it said, and the mother should be fully involved in decision making.

In 2015, the executive secretary of the Irish Bishops’ Conference stated in a letter that confidentiality agreements involving priests fathering children are unjust if they compromise the consent of parties involved, or if they “hinder the basic goods of mother and child.”

Doyle said the Irish bishops’ guidance is a model for other countries. Now, he would like to see greater acknowledgement for the children of priests on a global scale, and said he has reached out numerous times to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

In October 2017, Bill Kilgallon, then a member of the commission, responded to correspondence from Doyle. Kilgannon clarified that the commission does not deal with individual complaints, nor does it have the authority to give directions at any level of the Church. Rather, the commission is an advisory body that offers counsel to Pope Francis and the bishops’ conferences and religious superiors of the Church.

Kilgallon said that at the commission’s most recent meeting, it was decided that the Guidelines Working Group, which he chaired at the time, should consider developing guidelines on how the Church could address the children of priests. He told Doyle that his working group would be examining existing guidelines – such as those issued by the Irish bishops – and working with curial offices in Rome as it moved forward.

However, Kilgallon’s term on the commission concluded in 2017, and he was not reassigned. Doyle said it is unclear whether the working group’s discussion on the matter is still slated to continue, although he said he has written to Cardinal Sean O’Malley, president of the commission, about the matter.

He said the recently released Pennsylvania grand jury report confirms his speculation that there is an overlap between sexual assault of minors and children of priests.

The report, which documents more than 1,000 abuse allegations from the last 70 years, included accusations involving teenage girls who said they had become pregnant as the result of rape by a priest. Children conceived in sexual assault are also victims of abuse, Doyle stressed, and failing to recognize this is compartmentalizing abuse.

Doyle hopes the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors will recognize a connection between priests fathering children and the sexual assault of minors, and examine the questions, “How many children have resulted as a consequence of that abuse?” and “What are the traumas inherited by these children?”

In this way, he said, the Church can take a first step toward ministering to these children, and offering them the material and psychological assistance they may need, with a focus on ensuring that the natural rights and pragmatic needs of the child are not sacrificed in an attempt to keep the matter silent.

He hopes that Pope Francis will address the issue, and that every bishops’ conference will create a response, possibly using the Irish guidelines as a model.

In cases when assault and abuse are not part of the picture, but when there is a consensual relationship between a priest and an adult woman, the Church’s response should not focus on scandal, which stigmatizes the priest, but on the wellbeing of the child, he said.

“The presence of a child compounds what is already a very difficult situation,” Doyle said. “It’s about pastoral care. It’s about psychological assistance. That’s, for me, what should be the starting point – to minister to these people.”