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O'Malley defends 'zero tolerance' approach to abusive priests

Vatican City, Feb 22, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Cardinals and clergy participating in the Vatican’s sex abuse summit expressed conflicting views on the use of the term “zero tolerance” Friday, with some claiming that “zero tolerance” is an American concept with a legalistic focus.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, one of the pope’s primary advisors on sexual abuse, said he knows that “there is a lot of resistance to using the terminology” of zero-tolerance at the summit because some believe it sounds “secular.” But, the cardinal insisted that the principle was “clearly articulated” by Pope St. John Paul II.

“There is no place in ministry for someone who harms a child and that has to be a line in the sand. That is something that is so important for all of us,” O’Malley said at a Vatican press conference Feb. 22.

Father Federico Lombardi, acting moderator at the Vatican sex abuse summit, told the press he does not use the term “zero tolerance” when he writes about the protection of minors because its definition is limited compared to what Vatican meeting has set out to accomplish.

“‘Zero tolerance’ … clearly refers to a very limited aspect of the problem we are confronting because the entire dimension of the pastoral care for victims, accompaniment, the selection of members of the clergy, prevention in parishes and in our activities, the definition of zero tolerance does not cover these aspects. It refers to one way of punitive action against criminals,” Lombardi said.

“This is very important fundamental part, but it is one part of the entire area of the protection of minors, which I think is much broader than ‘zero tolerance,’” he continued.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta supported the notion of “zero tolerance,” saying that “we cannot allow anyone in ministry” who might harm the young, but stated that “the prudential approach is not primarily a criminal approach -- I’m not going to remove someone from ministry to punish them, but to protect the flock.”

Scicluna added that “those who don’t like the notion of ‘zero tolerance’ … don’t know what this means.”

“This is a principle already stated very clearly by John Paul II in his 23 April 2002 and this is what is to fuel every decision from the prudential and pastoral standpoint. It has a fundamental principle if the person is removed to spend a life of prayer and repentance,” he said.

O’Malley explained that in the United States’ Dallas Charter for the Protection of Minors “the commitment was no one could continue in ministry after having harmed a child,” and that he would “advocate for that everywhere.”

Others focused on “zero tolerance” as “an American and Canadian” concept. Lombardi said at the press conference, “As Cardinal O’Malley says, to the Americans, the Canadians, it means something very specific. Anybody who has committed a serious offence they cannot remain in ministry, well I agree, but when I talk about protection of minors, I am talking about a lot of other things as well.”

While O’Malley advanced the idea of an application of the American model of protection of minors elsewhere, Cupich warned against becoming “imperialists” from “the United States or from the Western world” in dealing with different areas of the world that do “not have the experience of talking about these very intimate personal issues in a public way.”

In response  to a question about the difficulty of cultural diversity in the meeting of the world’s bishops, Cupich added that “this is what synodality is about -- it is walking together with each other, but also maybe learning from their experience and their own culture that there are some things that we could improve on given the richness of their own culture.”

The second day of the the Vatican abuse summit focused on the theme of “accountability,” which included discussion of “zero tolerance.”

Sex abuse victims on the sidelines of the Vatican summit have been calling for “zero tolerance” for sex abuse for both abuses and bishops who cover-up abuse. Some survivors’ organizations, such as Ending Clergy Abuse, specified that for them “zero-tolerance” meant “laicization” for such bishops and abuser priests.

O’Malley explained that within current U.S. protocols, the specific promise of “zero tolerance” is that abuser priests will be removed from ministry in all cases.

“The conclusion wasn’t automatically that they would be laicized...and that if they were elderly or sickly that they would have prayer or penance. And some religious communities thought it was better to maintain that person within the community to be able to monitor them for the safety of children,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley also said that he has been told that the Holy See’s investigation on the American church’s handling of abuser Theodore McCarrick will be released “in the not too distant future.”

Scicluna also expressed a desire to someday release statistics from the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith on clerical abuse, and said that he had already spoken with Cardinal Luis Ladaria about the matter.

O’Malley clarified that the 21 reflection points given out to bishops on the first day of the summit were a compilation of points submitted by the bishops. “It wasn’t coming from [Pope Francis] himself.

On day two of the submit, Pope Francis circulated the United Nations’ document on the rights of a child among the presidents of bishops conferences gathered for the meeting.

Cardinal O’Malley said “there is a moral obligation to share this information with the civil authorities for the safety of children. I think that the terrible crisis that we have experienced in the USA is precisely because for so long these crimes were not being reported so reporting to me is a big part of the way forward and for the protection of children.”

 

Victims of Liberia gold mine collapse receive prayers from pope

Gbarnga, Liberia, Feb 22, 2019 / 03:21 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis offered his condolences Thursday to those affected by a mudslide at a gold mine in Liberia earlier this month which has killed at least seven and trapped another 40.

“His Holiness Pope Francis was deeply saddened to learn of the injury and loss of life caused by a mudslide in Gbanipea, and he expresses his heartfelt solidarity with you and all those affected by this tragedy,” Cardinal Pietro Parolin Vatican Secretary of State, wrote in a Feb. 21 telegram to Bishop Anthony Borwah of Gbarnga.

A pit in an illegal gold mine near Tapeta, about 100 miles southeast of Gbarnga, caved in Feb. 10.

Other miners attempted to recover the trapped workers by using their bare hands to remove debris in an effort to rescue people without further harm. The workers did not have access to heavy machinery, but an excavator is reportedly being sent to the site.

The government delegated the police, army, and immigration agency officials to monitor the situation. Thousands of people, some of whom are migrants, are believed to work in the dangerous mine.

More than 60 miners were arrested, the BBC reported Feb. 17. Some of the people were armed and the situation was “lawless,” said Aubrey Wehye, Tapeta district superintendent.

Archievego Doe, a member of the disaster management agency, told the BBC that these miners had “resisted” the government’s effort to improve order.

In the statement, the Pope promised to pray for all involved, asking God to grant strength to the victim’s loved ones and emergency workers.   

“He prays for those who mourn the loss of their loved ones and the emergency personnel who assist the victims. Upon all the Holy Father invokes the divine blessings of strength and healing.”

Cardinal Gracias emphasizes collegiality to address sex abuse

Vatican City, Feb 22, 2019 / 02:45 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay called Friday for the “entire Church” to “act decisively to prevent abuse from occurring in the future and to do whatever possible to foster healing for victims.”

Calling the abuse suffered at the hands of those in the Church “a profound betrayal of trust,” he offered practical solutions mainly focused on fostering better communication on all levels of the Church’s hierarchy during a Feb. 22 speech at the Vatican.

“As serious as the direct abuse of children and vulnerable adults is, the indirect damage inflicted by those with directive responsibility within the Church can be worse by re-victimising those who have already suffered abuse,” the cardinal noted.

Gracias is one of the principal organizers of a Vatican summit taking place this week to address the sexual abuse of minors, which features the presidents of national bishops’ conferences worldwide.

Gracias himself admitted to the BBC Feb. 21 that he could have better handled sexual abuse allegations that were brought to him in the past, after several Indian victims of sexual abuse told the BBC that Gracias failed to respond quickly or offer support to victims.

Gracias said the way to address the crisis must involve the “regional, national, local-diocesan, and even parochial levels,” which all must work together to create binding measures and decisions. He noted a recent meeting of the bishops of the Democratic Republic of Congo as an example of the bishops of a nation coming together in a collegial manner to address national challenges.

“No bishop should say to himself, ‘I face these problems and challenges alone,’” Gracias underscored, speaking of the concepts of collegiality and synodality.

“Because we belong to the college of bishops in union with the Holy Father, we all share accountability and responsibility. Collegiality is an essential context for addressing wounds of abuse inflicted on victims and on the Church at large.”

Gracias cited a passage from Lumen gentium, the Second Vatican Council's dogmatic constitution on the Church, which teaches that individual bishops are “obliged by Christ's institution and command to be solicitous for the whole Church.” He also noted that further development of “intercultural competences” and intercultural communication will help with effective decision making.

“The point is clear,” Gracias said.

“No bishop may say to himself, ‘This problem of abuse in the Church does not concern me, because things are different in my part of the world.’ We are each responsible for the whole Church. We hold accountability and responsibility together. We extend our concern beyond our local Church to embrace all the Churches with which we are in communion.”

Gracias pointed out that a culture of silence among bishops, unwilling to admit to mistakes and to engage other bishops in open conversation and point out “problematic behavior,” has contributed to the abuse crisis. He encouraged the cultivation of a culture of fraternal correction, where bishops are able to correct each other without offending the other, while also recognizing “criticism from a brother as an opportunity to better fulfil our tasks.”

He also called for better communication between bishops' conferences and Rome.

“We can always only take responsibility for something insofar as we are allowed to do so, and the more responsibility we are granted, the better we can serve our own flock,” he said.

Gracias highlighted three main themes for his brother bishops to reflect on: justice, healing, and pilgrimage.

“The sexual abuse of minors and other vulnerable people not only breaks divine and ecclesiastical law, it is also public criminal behaviour,” he said.

“The Church does not only live in an isolated world of its own making...Those who are guilty of criminal behaviour are justly accountable to civil authority for that behaviour.”

Although the Church is not an agent of the state, he said, the Church recognises the legitimate authority of civil law and the state and cooperates with civil authorities to bring justice to survivors. This is only possible if bishops and local Churches can work together to build an appropriate relationship with the state.

Healing for victims requires “clear, transparent, and consistent communication” from the Church as well, Gracias said, beginning with “a respectful outreach and an honest acknowledgement of their pain and hurt.”

“Although this would seem to be obvious, it has not always been communicated,” he said.

“Ignoring or minimising what victims have experienced only exacerbates their pain and delays their healing. Within a collegial Church, we can summon each other to attentiveness and
compassion that enable us to make this outreach and acknowledgement.”

Once the hurt has been acknowledged, the Church can offer to help victims heal with the help of “professional counselling to support groups of peers” or other means, and can then implement measures to prevent abuse in the future.

“Our Holy Father has wisely and correctly said that abuse is a human problem. It is not, of course, limited to the Church. In fact, it is a pervasive and sad reality across all sectors of life. Out of this particularly challenging moment in the life of the Church, we – again in a collegial context – can draw on and develop resources which can be of great service to a larger world.”

Finally, the cardinal reflected on the pilgrim nature of the Church, noting that “we know that we have not yet arrived at our destination,” and “we are a community that is called to continuous repentance and continuous discernment.”

“We must repent – and do so together, collegially – because along the way we have failed. We need to seek pardon. We must also be in a process of continuous discernment. In other words, together or collegially, we need to watch, wait, observe, and discover the direction that God is giving us in the circumstances of our lives,” Gracias said.

The cardinal concluded by reminding his brother bishops that undertaking these tasks is not their mission alone, but that these actions “are the work of the Holy Spirit.”

“So, let the last word be Veni, Sancte Spiritus, veni,” he concluded.

Analysis: In spite of itself, Vatican abuse summit may still do some good

Vatican City, Feb 22, 2019 / 12:32 pm (CNA).- The Vatican’s abuse summit this week will not solve the problems plaguing the Catholic Church in the U.S.

In fact, it doesn’t aim to.

The summit was called by Pope Francis in September, shortly after he was accused of ignoring reports about the predatory behavior of disgraced former cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

But from the beginning, Pope Francis and meeting organizers have been disinclined to include in the summit's schedule any discussion of the issues the Church in the U.S. faces.

Conference organizers, including Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich, have insisted even this week that the summit will not discuss predatory homosexual behavior.
 
In a Feb. 22 press conference, Archbishop Charles Scicluna went so far as to acknowledge a reporter’s point that homosexual behavior in seminaries fosters a culture of cover-up, before he said, curtly, that “this has nothing to do with the sexual abuse of minors.”

Scicluna said this despite McCarrick’s coercion of both vulnerable seminarians and teenaged boys, and despite the fact that most clerical abuse of minors in the West has targeted post-pubescent boys.

In fact, the first reported victim of McCarrick was 16 and 17 at the time he was abused.

Is it possible to focus discussion so myopically and insistently on child sexual abuse as to ignore the idea that sexually abusing a 17-year-old might have something to do with sexual immorality among adults?

Will Catholics accept the presupposition that those who sexually abuse 17-year-olds have an entire different moral or psychological pathology than those who sexually abuse 18-year-olds, or who coerce them into the veneer of consent against the backdrop of an extraordinary power imbalance?

Those ideas, many Catholics will conclude, simply belie credibility.

The summit will also not discuss in-depth the need for mechanisms of accountability for negligent or malfeasant bishops, despite the fact that McCarrick’s behavior went unchecked even after it was reported multiple times, and the fact that several U.S. bishops now face charges of negligence or misconduct.

While Cupich gave a presentation on some approaches to procedural investigations, he presented only the plan that would vest investigative responsibility for bishops only in their archbishops, though lay experts, including the National Review Board in the U.S., have supported alternative proposals.

His address did not mention the potential for metropolitans to incur significant legal liability through the so-called “metropolitan model,” though this is a point of considerable importance with regard to the Church in the U.S.

Critics of the summit charge that the pope called this meeting mostly as a diversion from the accusations of negligence he’s faced personally, stemming from his handling of accused prelates in the U.S., South America, and Europe. The pope still faces questions about his handling of the cases of Chile’s Bishop Juan Barros, McCarrick, Argentine Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, whom Francis promoted despite evidence of serious sexual malfeasance, among others.

But even if the narrow focus of this meeting is intended to change the topic of global conversation, this week’s abuse summit can still do some real good for children around the world. There is a serious need for safeguarding policies in most of the developing world, and introducing them in the Church may catalyze their more widespread adoption.

But by design, the Vatican summit won’t answer the issues embroiling local churches in the U.S. And Catholics are especially frustrated because when U.S. bishops attempted to vote on a reform package in November, they were stopped by the Vatican, and advised to wait until after this week’s meeting. Now some bishops wonder what, exactly, they were supposed to be waiting for.

Real reform in the diocese of the U.S., it is becoming clear, will depend a great deal on local bishops making local changes in their local churches. Last month, the Archbishop of Baltimore announced a comprehensive whistleblower policy for his diocese, rather than wait for one to be introduced nationally. Other bishops can follow suit.

In response to the crisis, they can also develop more exacting local norms for screening seminary candidates, take up new approaches to leadership of their priests and lay employees, and they can commit to making themselves accountable to independent lay leaders.

The work of the Church continues in this country, even amid the crisis it faces. Catholic schools continue to educate millions of students, many of them poor. Catholic charities continue to serve the homeless, the undocumented, and the unseen. Catholic hospitals continue to treat the uninsured. And Catholic parishes continue striving to love the unloved- those whom Pope Francis says live on the “existential peripheries” of our society. The Church does all this in service to the Gospel it professes. But to continue to do so with credibility, the sexual abuse crisis must be addressed.

Neither the Vatican nor the national bishops’ conference has yet acted decisively to address the full scope of the crisis. And this week, the Vatican seems to have demonstrated key components of the crisis. But local bishops can, and without waiting for anyone else to act. Some have already begun that work, and the rest may soon be convinced to join them.

 

Little Rock diocese welcomes Roe-triggered abortion ban in Arkansas

Little Rock, Ark., Feb 22, 2019 / 11:03 am (CNA).- The Diocese of Little Rock has said that a law signed Tuesday banning abortion in Arkansas in the event that Roe v. Wade is overturned is a step toward a future without the procedure.

“Act 180 is a welcome addition to the law in Arkansas and happily anticipates the day when our society can be free from the scourge of elective abortion on demand,” Catherine Phillips, diocesan respect life director, told CNA.

Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) signed Act 180 Feb. 19. The legislation had passed the Senate 29-6 earlier this month.  

The 1973 US Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade found that a woman had the right to seek an abortion in the United States. If the Supreme Court decision is overturned, then the law would automatically ban abortions in Arkansas except in cases of medical emergencies.

Phillips said the law is important because it takes a pro-life stance, especially amid a push for pro-abortion protections in other states. She pointed to a January law in New York that decriminalized the procedure and stripped it of most safeguards.

“It is important in comparison with what has been done recently in states like New York. Regrettably, other states are passing laws to perpetuate and expand abortion, but Act 180 stakes out a national position that supports life,” she said.

“Act 180 affirms that Arkansas disagrees with the finding of Roe v. Wade and stands for the position that life begins at conception and should be protected from that moment.”

Arkansas is the fifth state to ban abortion in case Roe is overturned. Trigger bans are also in effect in Louisiana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Mississippi. Similar bills have been introduced in Kentucky and Tennessee, and legislators in Oklahoma have signalled their intent to do the same.

President Donald Trump has promised to appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court. Were Roe overturned, states would be again free to outlaw abortion, which has led to Republican-leading states acting to ban abortion in case Roe is overturned, and Democratic-leaning states, including Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Mexico, working to enshrine abortion protections.

Since taking office in January 2017, Trump has appointed Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the bench.

Before the Arkansas Senate’s Feb. 7 vote on the bill, its sponsor, Republican Sen. Jason Rapert, said the bill reflected the state’s pro-life intentions.

"The state of Arkansas is clearly a pro-life state and our citizens have spoken clearly time and time again that we should protect the lives of unborn babies," said Rapert, according to Arkansas Online.

Arkansas currently bans abortion after 20 weeks into pregnancy. A bill has been introduced in the legislature to drop the limit to 18 weeks.

Women of Catholic Worker Movement on prayerful pilgrimage for abuse summit

Rome, Italy, Feb 22, 2019 / 05:02 am (CNA).- American women from the Catholic Worker Movement are in Rome this week to pray for the Vatican’s sexual abuse summit in emulation of Dorothy Day’s Roman pilgrimage to fast and pray for peace.

“We've all been very deeply grieved by the sex abuse crisis, and the crisis it has created for the entire Church,” Catholic Worker Movement leader Johanna Berrigan told CNA Feb. 21.

“It just dawned on us that this would be an important time to be in Rome, to bear witness to the suffering Church that we care deeply about and … we wanted to address ways for reform,” she said.

Through her involvement in the Catholic Worker Movement, a group dedicated to aiding and advocating for the poor, Berrigan co-founded the Catholic Worker Free Clinic for homeless and uninsured adults in Philadelphia in 1991 and opened another medical clinic in Haiti in 2005.

Berrigan, along with six other women, decided in November that they wanted to be in Rome as the summit was happening to pray and to give a voice to women, mothers, and lay people in the Vatican’s discussion of the issue.

“When we first heard about it, it was strictly bishops that were invited, we have since learned that there has been some lay involvement,” Berrigan explained.

Three of the nine official speakers at the Vatican sex abuse summit Feb. 21 - 24 are women, one of whom is a religious sister from Nigeria, Sister Veronica Openibo.

On the first day of the summit, the women were invited for a surprise visit to the US Embassy to the Holy See, where they met with Ambassador Callista Gingrich to discuss their perspective on the sex abuse crisis.

The seven Catholic Worker Movement women on pilgrimage meet each day to decide which historic churches they should visit to pray for the summit.

“We have an example in Dorothy Day, our foundress, who came to Rome in another significant point in the Church's history and she and a delegation of women came on pilgrimage to fast and pray for the Church to recognize 'conscientious objection,' and really calling for an end to nuclear weapons. So we have that in our history,” Berrigan said.

Dorothy Day, whose cause for canonization has been opened, founded the Catholic Worker Movement with Peter Maurin in 1933, starting soup kitchens, farm communities, and a Catholic newspaper. She dedicated her life to aiding and advocating for the poor and leading a life characterized by voluntary poverty and works of mercy.

During their time in Rome, the Catholic Worker Movement women attended a sex abuse survivors’ vigil sponsored by Ending Clergy Abuse Feb. 21 in solidarity with victims.

At the vigil, the women called for justice for survivors and an end to clericalism, as well as truth, reconciliation and healing for the entire Church.

“We care deeply about this Church, we are very, very grateful that Pope Francis has called this summit. It seems to be a step forward,” Berrigan said.

“The world is watching ... people of all faiths are watching to see what the outcome of [this summit] is going to be,” she said.

Vermont bishop: Abortion bill tests limits of human brokenness

Burlington, Vt., Feb 22, 2019 / 03:14 am (CNA).- With a bill to legalize abortion for any reason until birth advancing in Vermont, the local Catholic bishop has stressed that defending unborn babies is a matter of human rights.

“Do we really want to allow this? Do we really want to test the limits of where human brokenness can take us? Please God, no,” Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington said in a Feb. 15 statement.

Coyne cited his previous comments from January, saying the bill goes beyond Roe v. Wade and “does not recognize a viable life at any stage of pregnancy.”

“This bill will legalize infanticide. This is wrong,” he said.

The Vermont House of Representatives passed H. 57, called the “The Freedom of Choice Act,” on Feb. 21 by a vote of 106-36.

The bill had at least 90 co-sponsors in the House and has strong support in the state Senate. It claims to “safeguard the right to abortion” by ensuring it is not “denied, restricted, or infringed.” It bars the prosecution of “any individual” who performs or attempts to perform an abortion.

If it becomes law, the bill would strengthen the position of legal abortion in Vermont even if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its 1973 decision Roe v. Wade and other precedents that mandate legal abortion nationwide.

Coyne said that advocates of the legislation claim that it will not be abused.

“But that is not what this bill says,” he added. “It says anyone has the right to kill her unborn child right up to the moment of birth, without any restriction or protection.”

While backers frame it as an issue of “women’s rights and healthcare,” he objected that the bill “allows abortions to be performed by non-physicians in non-medical settings” and “removes any rights or protections a woman might have in situations of coercion or malpractice.”

The legislation asserts that “every individual” has a fundamental right to choose or refuse contraception or sterilization, that “every individual who becomes pregnant has the fundamental right to choose to carry a pregnancy to term, give birth to a child, or to have an abortion”, and that “a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus shall not have independent rights under Vermont law.”

The bill would apply to all branches of the state government and municipal governments.

Arguing against the bill, Coyne said opposition to legal abortion is a matter of both religion and reason.

“The Catholic Church stands for the protection of all life from the moment of conception until natural death, and therefore opposes abortion in all instances,” said the bishop.
This is “not just a matter of faith,” but “an issue of human rights.”

Bill sponsor Rep. Ann Pugh, (D-South Burlington), said Wednesday night that legislation will “reinforce a woman’s right to reproductive health care freedom.”

“The most unrepresented person or thing in the world or here in Vermont is a viable fetus that has not yet been born,” said bill opponent Rep. Robert Bancroft, R-Westford, the news site WCAX reports. “But it feels pain, it feels love and, unfortunately, we don't regard it as anything until the day it is born.”

Mary Hahn Beerworth, executive director of Vermont Right to Life, told the Washington Times that under the proposed law, notorious abortionist Kermit Gosnell could not be prosecuted.

“Planned Parenthood says trust us, and everybody loves Planned Parenthood here. They’ve dominated the state for decades,” she said. “But they’re not thinking, or they don’t care, that somebody could just move here tomorrow and undercut Planned Parenthood for price and run a Gosnell-like clinic.”

In 2013 Gosnell was convicted of three first-degree murders of babies who were born alive at his Philadelphia abortion clinic, which was kept in an unsanitary state and had not been visited by a state regulator in years. One former employee said he saw his staff snip the necks of about 100 babies born alive.

Gosnell was also convicted of involuntary manslaughter for a patient at his facility, a mother who died of a drug overdose.

Eileen Sullivan, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said Gosnell “ran a criminal enterprise, not a health care facility.”

“His case makes clear that we must enforce the laws already in existence that protect access to safe and legal abortion,” she said, according to the Washington Times. Sullivan contended that abortion regulations “would limit patients’ options and lead them to seek treatment from criminals like Gosnell.”

A January 2011 grand jury report on the Gosnell case found that inspections of his clinic identified violations but never required corrections up through 1993. With the 1995 transition to a governor who supported legal abortion, the report said, “officials concluded that inspections would be ‘putting a barrier up to women’ seeking abortions.”

Other legislation strengthening legal abortion has passed in New York and Massachusetts. Such legislation is under consideration in the New Mexico legislature.

Tagle: Confront the 'stench of filth' caused by abuse

Vatican City, Feb 21, 2019 / 05:30 pm (CNA).- An expert on abuse prevention offered “practical suggestions” to participants at a Vatican summit on child sexual abuse on Thursday, while two cardinals encouraged bishops to work together to support victims of clerical abuse.

Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna, adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith told the Vatican’s Meeting of the Presidents of the Bishops’ Conferences on Safeguarding of Minors that bishops should make know that Catholics have both “the duty and the right” to report any sort of clerical sexual misconduct or abuse to Church officials.

Scicluna advised that the contact information for Church leaders be made publicly available and easy to access. He called for the establishment of protocols governing how the Church handles abuse, and he encouraged Church leaders to cooperate with civil authorities and other experts on abuse.

“It is important that every allegation is investigated with the help of experts and that the investigation is concluded without unnecessary delay,” he said. He also noted that the practice of establishing review boards and safeguarding commissions has “proved to be beneficial” in areas where this is commonplace.

It can be helpful for bishops to work together and share their experiences in how they have dealt with their priests being accused of abuse, explained Scicluna.

“As shepherds of the Lord’s flock we should not underestimate the need to confront ourselves with the deep wounds inflicted on victims of sex abuse by members of the clergy,” he said, and said that bishops need to be like Simon of Cyrene, who helped Christ carry the cross, by assisting abuse victims who carry the cross of their abuse.

Scicluna, a canon lawyer, also called for just canonical processes that respect the rights of accused clerics.

“The essence of a just process requires that the accused is presented with all arguments and evidence against him; that the accused is given the full benefit of the right of presenting his defense; that judgement is given based on the facts of the case and the law applicable to the case; that a reasoned judgement or decision is communicated in writing to the accused and that the accused enjoy a remedy against a judgement or decision that aggrieves him,” said Scicluna.

A canonical penal process can have three results, explained Scicluna: one in which the accused is guilty; one in which neither the guilt nor innocence of the accused can be proven; or one in which the accused is exonerated.

While the guilty and innocent verdicts are relatively easy for a bishop to digest, a verdict of decisio dismissoria, where the guilt of the accused is unclear, can be problematic for bishops to deal with, Scicluna explained. In these situations, particularly when a claim of abuse is credible but not proven, a bishop or religious superior should exercise prudence, and consult with experts in deciding what to do next. Whatever step is taken, Scicluna said, it should be guaranteed that children and young people will be kept safe.

“An essential aspect of the exercise of stewardship in these cases is the proper interface with civil jurisdiction,” said Scicluna.

Misconduct that rises to a criminal level must be reported to state authorities, who can proceed to investigate the claim and punish the crime or award damages to victims. Bishops should be aware, he explained, that the conclusion of a criminal investigation and a canonical penal process may be different, and that there are different standards of evidence in these systems, as well as different statutes of limitations.

Working with civil authorities can help better safeguard children, he explained. Scicluna cited the example of a priest accused of possessing child pornography as a situation in which civil authorities are likely better equipped to investigate and charge someone than a Church official.

Scicluna encouraged his brother bishops to focus their efforts on preventing sexual abuse, which he said is achieved through a more thorough screening process of candidates for seminary, particularly on the topics of celibacy and chastity.

“A just and balanced understanding of the demands of priestly celibacy and chastity should be underpinned by a profound and healthy formation in human freedom and sound moral doctrine,” said Scicluna. Those studying to be priests need to “nurture and grow in that spiritual fatherhood” that should be their motivation for their work in ministry.

Bishops and religious superiors should also embrace a sense of spiritual fatherhood, he said, through the priests they lead. A good bishop will lead by example, and will follow abuse protocols and codes of conduct.

“Above all, the ordinary is responsible in guaranteeing and promoting the personal, physical, mental and spiritual well-being of his priests.”

Cardinal Luis Antonio G. Tagle of Manila said in his Thursday address that bishops need to better understand the wounds caused by clerical sexual abuse, adding that he fears that bishops have “found the stench of filth inflicted on children and vulnerable people (they) were supposed to protect” to be “too strong to endure.”

Tagle drew inspiration from the Gospel story where Thomas doubts that Jesus has resurrected, and has to touch the wounds of Christ before he can proclaim that the Lord is his God. The action of touching Christ’s wounds was “fundamental to the act and confession of faith.”

Like Thomas, Tagle thinks that the bishops need to be “constantly in touch with the wounds of humanity,” which they can do by confronting the abuse crisis, their failings, and by providing assistance to those who are hurting.

“Our people need us to draw close to their wounds and acknowledge our faults if we are to give authentic and credible witness to our faith in the Resurrection,” said Tagle. He encouraged people to discard any fears of being wounded and to instead “draw close to the wounds of our people.”

Tagle argued that a two-pronged approach for both justice for those who were abused, as well as forgiveness for abusers is the best way for the Church to move forward in confronting the abuse crisis. He said it is not necessary to think in “either/or” terms, but rather, he advocates for a mentality of “both/and.”

“Regarding victims, we need to help them express their deep hearts and to heal from them,” said Tagle. “Regarding the perpetrators, we need to serve justice, help them to face the truth without rationalization, and at the same time not neglect their inner world, their own wounds.”

Cardinal Rubén Salazar Gómez of Bogota condemned a culture of clericalism as the “deeper root” of the abuse crisis. Clericalism, he said, is a force that converts ministry “into a means to impose force, to violate the conscience and the bodies of the weakest.”

Clericalism, said Gómez, has led to “serious errors of authority” and has exacerbated the abuse crisis in the Church. Bishops are “hardly ever aware” that clericalism underlies their ministry, he said, and there must be an effort to “unmask” this mentality and bring about positive changes.

Bishops are responsible for increasing their own awareness that they are dependent upon each other, and that the Church and her bishops have failed in the past in their response to abuse.

“We often proceed like the hirelings, who, on seeing the wolf coming, flee and leave the flock unprotected,” said Gómez. “Fleeing,” he said, took the form of ignoring claims of abuse, failing to assist survivors of abuse, or attempting to silence survivors with monetary settlements. This “clerical mentality” places the Church above both justice and the suffering experienced by those who were abused, he explained.

In order to effectively protect the vulnerable, Gómez called for both a unified front among the bishops, as well as a “Code of Conduct” for bishops that provides a framework for the best way to handle allegations of abuse by members of the clergy.

“Its obligatory nature will be a guarantee that we all act in unison and in the right direction, since it gives us clear norms to control our conduct and provides concrete suggestions for the necessary corrective measures,” he said, and also pointed out that this code of conduct would be “a concrete way of strengthening the communion that is born of episcopal collegiality.”

 

Sodalit founder expelled from congregation's community life

Lima, Peru, Feb 21, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The founder of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae has been formally expelled from the group's community life, and forbidden from contacting any member of the Sodalitium, the group announced in a statement released on Feb. 20. Figari is also forbidden from returning to his native Peru.

On January 30, 2017, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life prohibited Figari from having any contact with other members of the society after it was found that he had sexually and psychologically abused members and committed other abuses of power.

Figari immediately appealed this decision, and made a second appeal in 2018 after his first was denied.

In January 2017, the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life ordered at that the Sodalitium ban Figari from Peru, “except for grave motives and always with a written permission,” and that he be moved to a location where there is no Sodalit community.

They also said that Figari should be forbidden from any form of contact with other members of the Sodalitium, and that Figari would not be allowed to make “publicly or in private, any statement to the news media, or to participate under any title or for any reason, in public events or meetings of either the Sodalitium or any other ecclesiastical or civil person or institution.”

A Sodalit has since been designated as a contact person for Figari, should there be a need to have communication.

The Superior General of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, José David Correa, published a decree on February 5, 2019, that said that because Figari’s appeals had been rejected, he is now definitively subject to the 2017 restrictions. Figari has been informed of these restrictions.

Figari resides in Rome. As part of the decree enacting the policies, the “Mother of the Reconciler” community where he is living has been suppressed, and is no longer considered to be a Sodalit community. Figari will continue to live at the residence “until the details of his new residence are completed,” the Sodalitium said in the statement.

At the conclusion of its 2019 General Assembly, the Sodalitium issued a statement of “forgiveness and reconciliation” in which it lamented the cases of abuse committed by some of its members and its founder Luis Fernando Figari.

“We consider it a duty as an Assembly to make a public statement on the relationship of our community with Luis Fernando Figari, whom we cannot consider as a spiritual exemplar for our Sodalit community.”

”We strongly condemn, and at the same time with pain and shame, the abuses committed by him; the abuse of his authority, his lack of respect for freedom, the physical and psychological abuses, the sexual abuse, which were denounced and investigated by our community and the Holy See,” the statement says.

The Sodalitium Christianae Vitae is a society of apostolic life which was founded in 1971 in Peru, and granted pontifical recognition in 1997. CNA's executive director, Alejandro Bermúdez, is a member of the community.

 

ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language sister agency, contributed to this report.

 

Correction: This story originally reported that Figari was expelled from the Sodalitium itself. This was an error. Figari has been expelled from the community life of the Sodalitium. The story has been corrected.

Polish sex abuse victims meet Pope Francis, release abuse report

Vatican City, Feb 21, 2019 / 02:16 pm (CNA).- A Polish delegation of sex abuse victims and advocates met Pope Francis Wednesday, and presented the pope with a report documenting alleged clergy sexual abuse cases and cover-up throughout their country.

“It was a very powerful moment for … [the] victims in Poland to see this gesture,” Anna Frankowska, a board member of the Have No Fear foundation, told CNA Feb. 21.

The pope met a delegation from Have No Fear, a Polish organization that hosts support groups for sex abuse victims, after his General Audience Feb. 20, and Francis silently kissed the founder’s hand.

“We recognize that is a very symbolic gesture, but it is not enough. We are demanding specific action,” Frankowska said.

The Polish group presented the pope with a Spanish copy of a report published this week documenting alleged “violations of civil and canon law by Polish bishops in the context of priests who engaged in sexual abuse of minors,” and said that Pope Francis “confirmed that he would read it.”

The report documents more than 20 cases of clergy sexual abuse and the responses by their respective Polish bishops. Unlike recent reports of clergy abuse in the United States, the documented cases are not from the 1960s-80s, but only come from the last three decades.

In the report, Have No Fear accuses 24 former and current Polish bishops of having protected or transferred child-abusing priests.

“Since 2005, the Catholic Church has been particularly involved in efforts to protect children and young people against sexual abuse by clerics,” a Polish bishops' conference document states.

At least 11 of the cases listed in the report occurred after 2005, and four are alleged to have taken place as recently as 2011-2012.

In one case, a priest who had been convicted and sentenced to prison in the United States for sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl in 2005, was deported to Poland, where he served as a parish priest working with young people beginning in 2009, and worked as a religious educator in a middle school.

The priest, Father Roman Kramek, testified to U.S. police that “he had intercourse as a therapeutic tool in order to help the girl forget an earlier rape,” according to the report.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith was notified of the case nearly ten years later, in October 2018, and Kramek continues to serve as a parish priest in Poland, according to Have No Fear.

The Polish bishops' conference responded to the report by “strongly and decisively condemn[ing] all sexual abuse of minors in the Church and in society as a whole.”

“In the Catholic Church, every believer can present his case to the Holy Father as the Supreme Pastor. The Holy See, on the other hand, has the opportunity to evaluate and verify reported cases,” Polish bishops’ spokesman Father Pawel Rytel-Andianik told CNA.

“According to the Church and civil law, there is the principle of presumed innocence of a person until the contrary is proven,” he said, adding that various dioceses in Poland were already claiming misinformation in the report.

Recently, the Polish bishops' conference took additional steps to further develop prevention programs and meet with victims.

In August 2018, diocesan bishops in Poland decided to develop a prevention program for every Polish diocese against crimes of sexual abuse of children.

A Child Protection Center was established in 2014 to provide “training and educational activities in the psychological, pedagogical and spiritual fields related to the sexual abuse of minors and the preparation and development of prevention programs and examples of good practice for various pastoral, formative and educational environments in order to help them create safe environments for children and adolescents.”

Have No Fear was founded in 2013 and became affiliated with the international network Ending Clergy Abuse in 2016. The group updates a “Map of Clerical Abuse in Poland” online, which maps out 384 victims, 85 convicted perpetrators, and 95 instances of abuse reported by victims.

In the past year, the organization delivered a letter to Archbishop Wojciech Polak of Gniezo requesting the establishment of an independent committee to analyze the scale of clerical sex abuse in Poland, abolish the statute of limitations for such offenses, hold accountable perpetrators and their superiors who conceal abuse, and provide victims of abuse with full access to the files of their canon law proceedings.

“We look in particular to the situation in Chile, where the pope dismissed bishops. We think that the situation in Poland is quite similar to the situation in Chile, and the time to act is now,” Frankowska told CNA.

Last May all of the bishops of Chile presented Pope Francis with written resignations following a CDF investigation into episcopal cover-up of the sexual abuse of Father Fernando Karadima.

“We believe that we are still years behind other jurisdictions,” she continued. “For a long time victims were ostracized or were afraid to speak out. Things are slowly changing.”