09/30/11

Pope disappoints hopes of Catholics and Protestants

Pope Benedict’s visit to his German homeland was bound to provoke harsh words from his critics. The surprise of the event was how bluntly he took his own Church to task and disappointed Protestants ready to work with him.

Despite his frail physique and soft-spoken style, the 84-year-old pontiff delivered a vigorous defense of his conservative views and brusquely rejected calls for reforms, some of which even had cautious support from some bishops.

At the end of his four-day visit on Sunday, Benedict predicted “small communities of believers” would spread Catholicism in future — and not, he seemed to say, the rich German Church, which he hinted had more bureaucracy than belief.

Some Church leaders fear they may end up with only small communities if they don’t consider reforms. Record numbers of the faithful have officially quit the Church in recent years, often in protest against clerical sex abuse scandals.

“The pope was demanding, almost hard — not in his manner, but in the essence of his words,” Berlin’s Tagesspiegel daily commented. “Nobody should be fooled by his fragility.”

“The pope sees the signs of the times, but interprets them not as a demand to courageously open up the Catholic Church but, on the contrary, to close its ranks.”

Breaking down faith barriers is a major issue in the land of the Protestant Reformation. Christians are equally divided between Catholics and Protestants in Germany and intermarriage and ecumenical cooperation make both sides ask why old divisions still exist.

Politicians from President Christian Wulff down publicly told the pope they hoped his visit would help to bring the churches closer. One suggestion was to allow Protestant spouses of Catholics to take communion when they attend Catholic mass.

“ECUMENICAL DISASTER”

Benedict made a historic gesture for interchurch unity by presiding over a prayer service with a Protestant bishop in the Erfurt monastery where the 16th-century reformer Martin Luther lived as a monk before he split with Rome.

But in his speech to Protestant leaders there, he bluntly told them they were mistaken to expect him to come bearing gifts, like a political leader coming to negotiate a treaty.

His hosts, who would have been happy with vague words about the need to look into some problems, instead heard a short lecture about how Christian faith could not be negotiated.

Benedict’s Protestant host in Erfurt, Bishop Nikolaus Schneider, stressed the bright side of the meeting — the pope’s positive words about Luther’s deep faith — and added: “Our heart burns for more, and that was clear today.”

German media were less diplomatic. “An ecumenical disaster,” wrote the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper, blasting Benedict’s treatment of Protestant leaders as “spectacularly half-hearted, patronizing and callous.”

The lay Catholic group We Are Church said the faithful should stop hoping for help from Rome. The churches in Germany should simply “declare the unspeakable 500-year-old split in Christianity to be ended,” it said in a statement.

“Let’s do what unites us,” it declared.

Catholics weren’t spared either. Another reform proposal was to allow Catholics who divorce and remarry to receive communion at mass, something now barred to them because the Church upholds the sanctity of the first marriage.

Even Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, head of the German Bishops’ Conference, said before the visit he hoped to see some change in coming years to prevent the rising number of divorced Catholics feeling excluded from the Church.

Benedict passed over that idea in silence.

PRAY AND OBEY

By contrast, Benedict was loud and clear in criticizing the German Church as too bureaucratic and focused on organizational changes rather than on the zeal of true faith, which he said was the key to confronting its problems.

He told this to the lay Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), some of whose members have called for moderate reforms such as allowing women deacons to help at mass or ordaining older married men to counter the shortage of priests.

If a stranger from a far country visited Germany, he told them, he would find it materially rich and religiously poor.

“The real crisis of the Church in the Western world is a crisis of belief,” Benedict said. “If we don’t find a way to really renew the faith, all structural reform will remain ineffective.”

The next day, he repeated this message to a wide range of lay Catholics working with and for the Church. He said they could only face the challenges ahead if they closed ranks with their bishops and with the Vatican.

“It is not a question here of finding a new strategy to relaunch the Church,” he said, but of putting strategy aside and “living the faith fully, here and now.”

ZdK president Alois Glueck was not convinced. “It’s not a question of either promoting introspection and prayer or changing Church structures,” he said. “We have to link both these things.”

Munich’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung, the most influential daily in the pope’s native Bavaria, summed up the trip with the headline: “He came, he spoke and he disappointed.”

Full Article HERE!

09/27/11

Tasmanian gay marriage vote disappoints Archbishop

The Archbishop of Hobart, Adrian Doyle, has expressed his disappointment with the vote on the floor of the Tasmanian Parliament, supporting marriage equality for gays and lesbians, the archdiocese said in a statement.

A motion backing same-sex marriage was passed by the Tasmanian House of Assembly, the first time an Australian parliament has voted for marriage equality for gays and lesbians, reports The Mercury.

The Greens’ motion calls on the Federal Government to change the Marriage Act.

“The opposition of the Catholic Church in Tasmania isn’t about being anti-gay, as we acknowledge and accept the current arrangement with civil unions but the real debate relates to the broader issue of marriage and equality in Australian society,” Archbishop Doyle said in his statement.

“There are other groups in Australian society who have different cultural and religious beliefs towards marriage and want their position also adopted under the Marriage Act. Therefore, my question is that should we, as a society, continue to dilute our institutions to accommodate select groups based on social, cultural or religious beliefs?”

“We have seen this occur over the past years, particularly in the lead-up to the 2007 election, when the Islamic community spoke about Australian marriage laws being changed to include polygymous marriages and actively lobbied the Rudd Government to change the Marriage Act.”

“While polygamous marriage is accepted across the Islamic community, the practice is not acceptable under Australian law and nor would arranged marriages as practiced in other cultures.”

“Both the State and Federal Governments are reluctant to enter the broader debate. Hence the vote in the Tasmanian Parliament was relevant to one section of society and therefore could not really be labelled as equal.”

“Our position on maintaining the current meaning of marriage is well known and the Church will continue to lobby both State and Federal politicians to ensure the Act is not changed.”

The Mercury reports Greens leader Nick McKim saying the motion provided hope.

“By voting in support of marriage equality, Tasmania has written itself into this country’s history books, as a national leader in advocating a compassionate and progressive society,” he said. “It is now time for the Federal Government to act to remove legally entrenched discrimination.”

Mr McKim said that if the Federal Government did not reform marriage laws by the end of the year, he would push on with plans for state legislation.

Premier Lara Giddings said the vote was a great day for the state.

“Tasmania has come a long way since 1997 when we rectified the terrible situation of having homosexual relationships considered illegal in this state,” she said. “We’ve come a long way to show we are in fact a tolerant and compassionate community.”

Full Article HERE!

09/27/11

Gay marriage vote passed

A MOTION backing same-sex marriage has been passed by the Tasmanian House of Assembly the first time an Australian parliament has voted for marriage equality for gays and lesbians.

The Greens’ motion calls on the Federal Government to change the Marriage Act.

The passage of the motion was greeted with applause from Labor and Green members on the floor of the House and a standing ovation by same-sex marriage activists in the public gallery.

Liberal members voted against the motion.

The debate was watched by a large national audience on the Parliament’s internet broadcast.

Greens leader Nick McKim said the motion provided hope.

“By voting in support of marriage equality, Tasmania has written itself into this country’s history books, as a national leader in advocating a compassionate and progressive society,” he said. “It is now time for the Federal Government to act to remove legally entrenched discrimination.”

Mr McKim said that if the Federal Government did not reform marriage laws by the end of the year, he would push on with plans for state legislation.

Premier Lara Giddings said the vote was a great day for the state.

“Tasmania has come a long way since 1997 when we rectified the terrible situation of having homosexual relationships considered illegal in this state,” she said. “We’ve come a long way to show we are in fact a tolerant and compassionate community.”

Australian Marriage Equality national convener Alex Greenwich said people nationwide followed the debate.

“What they heard today was a message of hope. They heard a message of hope coming out of the Tasmanian Parliament that one day gay and lesbian Australians will be treated equally by the law and by the Marriage Act,” he said. “This gives us the momentum and the encouragement to go on and keep fighting.”

Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group spokesman Rodney Croome said: “If every state and territory parliament were to do what we have seen in Tasmania today, it would be impossible for the Federal Parliament to continue to resist change. If Tasmania can do this, other states and territories can do it too.”

Catholic Archbishop of Hobart Adrian Doyle expressed disappointment: “Our position on maintaining the current meaning of marriage is well known and the church will continue to lobby both state and federal politicians to ensure the Act is not changed.”

Presbyterian minister Campbell Markham was also unhappy with the result: “Today’s Greens motion is an attack on the basic rights of children.”

Full Article HERE!

09/27/11

Diocese of Wilmington emerges from bankruptcy

The Catholic Diocese of Wilmington on Monday completed the transfer of more than $77.4 million to a trust fund for survivors of clergy abuse, and with the payment the 143-year-old diocese emerged from bankruptcy after almost two years.

Diocese attorney Anthony G. Flynn said the money changed hands by wire transfer and check, starting last Friday.

The money was part of an extensive list of settlement terms included in the plan confirmed in July by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Sontchi. The diocese filed for Chapter 11 protection in 2009 after survivors of clergy abuse filed about 150 lawsuits under provisions of the 2007 Child Victims Act. The 2007 law opened a two-year window during which claimants could file civil suits that otherwise would have been barred by the statute of limitations.

Detailed reports — accounting for each penny of the money — are required before payment reaches survivors, a process likely to extend into mid-October, according to Wilmington attorney Stephen Neuberger, whose firm represented the majority of abuse survivors who had sued the diocese.

“So many of these survivors have been fighting for their entire lifetime for some small bit of justice,” Neuberger said. ” … At least now they can close the book on this chapter of their lives. And they can take a large measure of satisfaction from the fact that what they’ve accomplished in this hasn’t happened in every state.”

With the transfer complete and the plan in effect, the diocese and all of its parishes on Monday were released from any further litigation by those claimants.

Last week, the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales also were released from all pending cases after meeting settlement terms in 39 claims against a dozen of their priests. Two of those cases were filed against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and are not included in the Wilmington trust fund, but $23.5 million of the $24.8 million settlement will go to the trust.

Still pending — and in mediation — are 16 cases against other religious orders, said Wilmington attorney Mark Reardon, who represents the orders involved in most of those cases.

Nine cases name former Capuchin friar Paul Daleo, the Capuchin order, St. Edmond’s Academy and the Brothers of Holy Cross, who run St. Edmond’s, where Daleo taught from 1978-83, Reardon said. Reardon said he hopes those claims will be resolved before an Oct. 25 trial date set in the case of Wilmington claimant Matthias Conaty.

“It is my daily work and my nightly prayer to have those resolved tomorrow,” Reardon said.

Five other cases against St. Edmond’s and Holy Cross are pending against a lay teacher, John Fleming, Reardon said, and two other cases, related to two deceased priests, are pending against the Norbertines and Archmere Academy.

Payment to survivors will be determined by a complex scoring system finalized by retired U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Thomas Rutter.

In addition to the money for the survivors’ trust fund, Flynn said the diocese also has deposited $5 million into a trust fund for lay employees of the diocese as part of its assurances that it will cover future pension payments as required by the approved plan.

Yet to be completed are nonmonetary obligations required by the plan, including release of abuser priest personnel files and appointment of a special arbitrator and a child protection consultant. Deadlines for those requirements were extended by agreement of all parties.

But Monday’s release from bankruptcy is an important day for the diocese, Flynn said.

“It’s a very important day from an operational perspective,” he said. “We have a lot of things to do to implement this plan — and the nonmonetary provisions are an important part of that. So it’s not that the job is over, but the bankruptcy is over. … The cloud has been removed and the diocese can now move toward planning for the future.”

Full Article HERE!

09/26/11

125 priests, lay clergy involved in sex abuse cases

In July 2011, Pope Benedict XVI had publicly expressed his shame over the evils of clerical child abuse during a visit to Australia, saying he was deeply sorry for the abuse of children by predatory priests, and now in September 2011, just two months after the Pontiff s eyebrow-raising statement, a former Aussie priest has been charged with 60 fresh offences relating to sex assaults on boys while he was working at a Sydney boarding school during the 1970s and 80s.

Interestingly, as an in-depth research conducted by The News International on this subject shows, this particular incident has surfaced hardly four months after the Vatican had issued guidelines for bishops worldwide on May 16, 2011, whereby they were directed to develop clear and coordinated procedures for dealing with the sexual abuse allegations by May 2012 and cooperate with the police in investigating allegations of sexual abuse by the clergy, though they were asked not make such reporting mandatory. (Reference: The New York Times edition of May 16, 2011).

This is what the Agence France-Presse (AFP) had reported on the latest Sydney incident: Police would not confirm the identity of the man, saying only that they had arrested a 65-year-old on Tuesday (September 13) in southwestern Sydney and that he has since been released on bail.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) said the suspect was a former Catholic priest who taught at the prestigious St Stanislaus College in Bathurst, west of Sydney, in the 1970s and 80s.

The college, according to the Paris-based AFP, had made headlines last month after former students came forward alleging they were molested during late-night prayer sessions.

The AFP had further stated in its afore-cited report: The former priest has already appeared in Bathurst Local Court in August on 33 other charges relating to sexual assault and gross acts of indecency on juveniles aged between 10 and 18. Reports said his court appearance prompted eight more alleged victims to make further allegations against the former cleric.

A latest September 15, 2011 report carried by the website of Swissinfo, a nine-language news and information platform produced by Switzerland s Public Broadcasting Corporation, the Catholic Church in this touristy Alpine nation has released new details of sexual abuse committed by priests and pastoral workers over the past 60 years.

Swissinfo states: Overall, 146 victims came forward to report abuse to Swiss dioceses in 2010 the first year in which detailed statistics have been presented by the church. The abuse was carried out by 125 priests and lay clergy, an expert commission of the Swiss Bishops Conference said on Thursday (September 15). The statistics broke down in more detail who the victims and perpetrators were and when the incidents had taken place since 1950. Abuse ranged from sexual harassment to rape. Most of the victims were teenage boys (25 per cent) and adult men (23 per cent). Another 20 per cent were children aged below 12 years. Half of the incidents were carried out by parish priests and 26 per cent by ordained men.

The official Swiss website had maintained, Most of the abuse happened between 1950 and 1980. Ten per cent of cases took place during the past decade. Confirmation of the abuse first came to light more than 16 months ago when the church announced cases reported from January-May 2010.

Although the Catholic sex abuse cases in nations like Canada, Ireland, the United States, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Belgium, France, and Germany etc have received significant media attention since the 1980s, after Father Donald Roemer of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles had pleaded guilty to felonious sexual abuse of a minor, most television channels and newspapers on the planet are now using the harshest possible language against the church and the clergy while reporting these incidents.

Had all been well at the Vatican and had the followers of Christianity been happy with their religious leaders, the CNN would not have aired these words in its September 16, 2010 report when the Pope was about to start his visit to Britain: There has already been widespread outcry over the estimated 12 million pounds ($18.7 million) British taxpayers are having to pay for the visit, though Christopher Patten, the Prime Minister s representative for the papal visit, has pointed out that one day of last year s G-20 summit in London cost 20 million pounds. Criticism has also focused on the armed police squads needed to protect a religious figurehead previously targeted by attackers. Along with anger about the Vatican s response to child and sexual abuse, there is criticism over the pope being granted a state visit, given the Catholic Church s attitudes towards gender equality and homosexuality.

The CNN had further reported on September 16, 2010: British people feel overwhelmingly that the Pope has not done enough to punish priests who abuse children. Three out of four British people and two out of three Catholics in the country say he should do more to punish the abusive clergy.

Till date dozens (if not hundreds) of the accused priests have been forced to resign in every nook and cranny of the globe. Many of these priests, whose crimes fell within statutes of limitation, are languishing in jail. Some have been defrocked. (Reference: The New York Times of August 31, 2006).

For example, Bernard Francis Law (born 1931), Cardinal and Archbishop of Boston had resigned after Church documents were revealed which suggested he had covered up sexual abuse committed by priests in his archdiocese. On December 13, 2002, Pope John Paul II had accepted Law s resignation as Archbishop and had posted him to the American Catholic church in Rome. (Reference: The New York Times of May 28, 2004).

Similarly, James Porter (1935-2005) was a Roman Catholic priest who was convicted of molesting 28 children. He had admitted sexually abusing at least 100 children of both sexes over a period of 30 years, starting in the 1960s. (References: The Boston Globe of April 13, 2004 and NBC News Channel report of February 11, 2005).

In 1995 Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer had to resign from his post as Archbishop of Vienna, Austria, over allegations of sexual abuse, although he remained a Cardinal. (Reference: The BBC report of April 14, 1998)

On April 7, 2010, it was revealed that a former bishop of the Norwegian Catholic Church, Georg Muller, had confessed to the police in early January 2010 that he had sexually abused an under-age boy 20 years earlier. Muller was made to step down as a bishop in July 2009. (Reference: Reuters report of April 7, 2010).

Various lawsuits against the custodians of the church have been filed in the United States and Ireland etc till date, whereby plaintiffs have alleged that some priests had sexually abused minors and that their superiors had conspired to conceal and otherwise abet their criminal misconduct.

Some had even accused the incumbent Pope for covering up complaints against his subordinate colleagues.

On 22 April 2010, a lawsuit was filed in the Milwaukee Federal Court by an anonymous plaintiff against the Vatican and Pope Benedict XVI for having covered up abuse cases to avoid scandal to the detriment of the concerned children.

In February 2011, two German lawyers initiated charges against Pope Benedict XVI at the International Criminal Court.

In 2004, the John Jay Report, commissioned by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, had tabulated a total of 4,392 American priests against whom allegations of sexual abuse had been made. (References: The National Catholic Weekly edition of March 22, 2004 and the 2004 Catholic News Service Report titled John Jay Study Reveals Extent of Abuse Problem )

The Catholic News Service (CNS) is an American news agency covering the Roman Catholic Church since 1920 and is a leading source of news for Catholic print and broadcast media throughout the world.

A glance through the above-quoted references, particularly the 2004 Catholic News Service Report, shows that the 2004 John Jay Report was based on surveys completed by the Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States. It was based on a study of 10,667 allegations against 4,392 priests accused of engaging in sexual abuse of a minor between 1950 and 2002.

The John Jay report, whose printed version had caught the light of the day in June 2004, had stated that there were approximately 10,667 reported victims (younger than 18 years) of clergy sexual abuse during this period: Around 81 percent of these victims were male. While 22.6 per cent were age 10 or younger, 51 per cent were between the ages of 11 and 14, and 27 per cent were between the ages to 15 to 17 years.

Of these 4,392, approximately 56 per cent had one reported allegation against them; 27 per cent had two or three allegations against them; nearly 14 per cent had four to nine allegations against them; three percent (149 priests) had 10 or more allegations against them. These 149 priests were responsible for almost 3,000 victims, or 27 percent of the allegations. Almost 70 per cent of these priests were ordained before 1970.

In 2009, the former Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Edward Egan, had ignited heated discussions amongst his followers and Catholic Scholars when he said the church should consider ending celibacy rules and allow priests to marry.

The 76-year-old cardinal, who had presided over 2.5 million New York Catholics for at least eight years, had made these comments at the end of his stipulated tenure on March 10, 2009, but it was enough to get tongues wagging about the centuries-old church requirement.

According to the New York Times, the Vatican had signalled in the past that it was a closed issue, despite some indications of a discussion in the 1960s.

However, the last three popes, including Pope Benedict, have killed any discussion of lifting the celibacy rules, the newspaper had reported.

NBC television reported on March 23, 2009: Cardinal Egan s remarks come at the end of his tenure as New York Archbishop, raising questions about the motivation behind them. Was the conservative Cardinal giving a matter of fact response to a question of church law or was he really a reformer at heart? Regardless of his intent, the timing of these remarks has raised eyebrows. In 2003, 163 priests in the Milwaukee Archdiocese had petitioned the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to consider the idea of lifting the celibacy rules because of the shortage of priests. Their petition was adamantly denied.

A thorough study of books like The struggle for Celibacy: the culture of Catholic seminary Life by Paul Stanosz and The Power of Abstinence by Kristine Napier would reveal that Celibacy (state of being unmarried) is viewed differently by the Catholic Church and the various Protestant communities

In the Latin Catholic Church, clerical celibacy is mandated for bishops and, as a general rule, for priests and for deacons who intend to become priests.

In Eastern Christianity, which comprises the Christian traditions and churches that developed in the Balkans, Eastern Europe, Asia Minor, the Middle East, Northeastern Africa, India and parts of the Far East, celibacy is mandatory for all bishops and for any priest who has been ordained while unmarried or who has lost his wife.

On the other hand, most Protestant churches are known to reject clerical celibacy.

It is common knowledge that in recent past, both Protestants and Catholics have agreed on numerous issues, yet clerical celibacy remains a dividing point between the followers of the two faiths in Christianity.

The Vatican, over the years, has allowed married priests to function by accepting them into the ranks of the Roman Catholic priesthood.

A sharp decline in the number of Catholic priests, the exodus of thousands of pastors who marry and leave the priesthood, coupled with sexual scandals of clerics and the lawsuits being filed against many of them for sexually abusing children in their care, has sparked international debates to eliminate the celibacy requirement for the priesthood and institute the ordination of married priests.

Full Article HERE!