02/29/12

Savannah diocese, bishops sued over priest child abuse case

The Catholic Diocese of Savannah and two of its bishops have been sued in South Carolina over alleged sexual abuse of a minor by former priest Wayland Y. Brown.

The suit, filed Nov. 16 in the Court of Common Pleas in Ridgeland, alleged that Brown abused a Savannah youth whom he met through youth programs at Savannah’s St. James Catholic Church and school in the mid-1970s.

According to the suit, the victim, a “devout Catholic” identified as John Doe, was sexually abused by Brown on various church and school properties as well as in various locations in South Carolina.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Savannah and bishops Raymond Lessard and Gregory Hartmayer are named as defendants in the suit.

“In approximately 1976-1979, Priest Brown sexually assaulted the minor plaintiff, John Doe, on numerous occasions,” the suit alleged.

The 25-page suit also alleged the church “knew or should have known” Brown was assaulting the victim and the church used “a policy of concealment, secrecy and obfuscation of child abuse by church employees and priests.”

The suit asks for a jury trial to determine damages.

Brown, 67, was ordained in the diocese in July 1977, allegedly over the objections of some diocesan staff, by then-Bishop Raymond Lessard and in 1988 served as associate pastor at St. James Parish in southside Savannah.

Hartmayer was installed as bishop Oct. 18.

Brown was removed from active ministry in July 1988.

Bishop J. Kevin Boland, who served between the two named bishops and is not a defendant in the civil case, started the process to remove Brown from the priesthood in February 2003.

The Vatican dismissed Brown from the priesthood in December 2004. Brown voluntarily agreed to return to Maryland in June 2002 to face prosecution on charges of molesting a Maryland teenager decades earlier.

He pleaded guilty in a Maryland court in November 2002 to charges of child abuse and battery for performing sexual acts on a teenage boy and his younger brother between 1974 and 1977.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but in April 2008 was released after serving five years based on good behavior.

He was required to register as a child sex offenders on the Maryland sex offender registry

Brown has not been charged with sexual abuse in the Savannah area, but at least one man has claimed he was molested by a former St. James priest.

“Father Brown is a convicted sex offender,” said Charleston attorney D. Scott Beard, one of John Doe’s lawyers. “According to our lawsuit, he was placed in a position of authority with young boys even though church officials knew of his inappropriate sexual behavior with minors.”

Beard said Brown “left a trail of child victims in the places where he was assigned by the Catholic Church. If Church officials had not acted recklessly in allowing Father Brown to be around children, they could have prevented John Doe and others like him from being abused.”

Diocese spokeswoman Barbara King said Friday, “We cannot comment on pending legal action.”

Complete Article HERE!

02/28/12

Vatican ruled by ‘omerta’ code of silence, whistle-blower claims

The Vatican is ruled by a climate of fear and an ‘omerta’ code of silence, a whistle-blower has claimed.

The mole claims to be one of more than 20 people within the Holy See who have leaked sensitive documents to the Italian media in the last few weeks, in an affair that has been compared to the WikiLeaks scandal and dubbed “Vati-leaks”.

The unidentified man, who said he had worked in the Vatican for more than 20 years, made the claims in an interview to be aired on Italian television on Wednesday night.

His face was hidden and his voice digitally distorted when he appeared on the TV channel, La7.

According to extracts of the interview, the whistle-blower said the Vatican was engulfed in intrigue, secrecy and a climate of intimidation.
“Maybe there is a kind of omerta to prevent the truth from surfacing. Not because of a power struggle but maybe because of fear,” he added.

He claimed to have worked in the State Secretariat, which is led by the powerful but unpopular Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone, who is reported to have fallen out of favour with the Pope and his supporters.

The whistle-blower said the Vatican is a place where “you can commit a murder and then disappear into the void” – a reference to a murky scandal in the Swiss Guard in 1998, when a young soldier shot dead the corps’ commander and wife before apparently committing suicide.

The mother of Cedric Tornay, 23, the alleged assassin, has never accepted that her son would have committed suicide and has called on Pope Benedict XVI, 84, to reopen the case, amid speculation that the real killer of the three may never have been caught.

There have been long-standing accusations of an official cover-up by the Roman Catholic Church, with numerous conspiracy theories put forward for a possible motive.

The leaks have embarrassed the Vatican in recent weeks, with claims of corruption and nepotism, questions over the transparency of the Vatican bank and unconfirmed reports of an assassination plot against the Pope within the next 12 months.

The whistle-blower dismissed suggestions that documents were being leaked in exchange for money.

“Something like that is inconceivable for me. That would mean betraying what we believe in,” he said.

He urged the Vatican to reinvestigate “with zeal” one of its most enduring mysteries – the kidnap of teenager Emanuela Orlandi nearly 30 years ago.
Over the years it has been claimed that Miss Orlandi was kidnapped so that she could be used as a bargaining chip for the release from prison of Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish gunman who tried to kill John Paul II in St Peter’s Square in 1981.

Another theory is that the girl’s father, a Vatican employee, had stumbled on documents that connected the Vatican bank with a criminal gang in Rome and that she was kidnapped in a bid to silence him.

It has even been suggested that the kidnapping was carried out on the orders of a Catholic archbishop, Paul Marcinkus, the disgraced head of the Vatican bank, known as the ‘Istituto per le Opere di Religione’. Marcinkus, an American, died six years ago.

Complete Article HERE!

02/28/12

Priest Walks Out Of Woman’s Funeral Because Of Her Gay Daughter

The battle in this country between the right and the left is raging. Since the right has no answers to the economic questions we face, they’ve decided to concentrate on dividing the country on so-called “moral” issues, one of those being the demonizing of gay and lesbian people. Little by little, they are losing the battle, as we see states individually legalizing gay marriage and recognizing that our forefathers intended that ALL are created equal and marriage is an equal right. But that doesn’t stop the right from carrying on their battle.

Something terrible happened this past weekend in Maryland and the fact that it was Maryland, a state that has just proclaimed that all are equal and has enshrined that concept into state law, goes to highlight the lengths to which the right will go. In this instance, the right was personified by Father Marcel Guarnizo, who officiated at the funeral of a former family member of mine. She was no longer a family member because I divorced the man who was her blood relative. But with social media these days, a person can remain in touch with those who, although there is no longer a family connection, are still people who are valued.

My friend Barbara, the daughter of the deceased woman, was denied communion at her mother’s funeral. She was the first in line and Fr. Guarnizo covered the bowl containing the host and said to her, “I cannot give you communion because you live with a woman and that is a sin according to the church.” To add insult to injury, Fr. Guarnizo left the altar when she delivered her eulogy to her mother. When the funeral was finished he informed the funeral director that he could not go to the gravesite to deliver the final blessing because he was sick.

I will tell you a little about the woman who drove that priest from the altar. She is kind, she is smart, she is funny and she works hard promoting the arts. She pays her bills, she cares deeply for her family and she loved her mother and her mother loved her right back. And now she will never set foot in a Catholic church again and who can blame her?

It is time for Christians of all stripes to stop and think about the teachings of the Jesus they proclaim to love so deeply and revere so much. I spent twelve years in Catholic school and the Jesus I was told about would never have turned away anyone for any reason and certainly not on the occasion of burying a parent. Fr. Guarnizo has a lot to learn about Christianity and the Catholic Church has a lot to learn about the teachings of Jesus if behavior of this sort is tolerated.

I am not about to paint all Christians with a broad brush. There are those out there who understand that the teachings of Jesus boil down to one thing. And that thing is Love. For if you love, you do not deny a person the solace of communion with the Creator, if that is their belief. You judge not, lest ye be judged. Only God knows the true heart of any person and in the end, if there is to be judgment, it will not come from some misguided, prejudiced priest who needs to go back to the seminary and learn the basics. And if he can’t find them there, then he needs to get down on his knees and pray to his Jesus to forgive him the terrible trespass he visited upon a grieving woman on the occasion of the death of her mother.

This is but one small story but it is indicative of the battle raging in America today. It is an ugly battle and one I never thought I would see. But it is here and we must deal with it. We must keep politics out of religion and religion out of politics. Perhaps if we can get back to a place where the separation of church and state are once again accepted as one of the founding principles of this country, stop trying to out-Christian each other, stop vilifying other religions and other people based on purely human and not godly concepts, we will begin to mend the fractures that are tearing us apart today. To do that, the Father Guarnizos and the Rick Santorums of the world will have to undergo a radical change of heart and I don’t think they have it in them. So it is up to the rest of us.

As for me, I send my love and condolences to my friend Barbara and all of the other family members who were made to witness such an egregious display of prejudice in such an inappropriate setting. To Father Guarnizo, I say, “Jesus would weep.”

02/28/12

Holy Wisdom Monastery provides church services for disaffected local Catholics

Alice Jenson’s faith took an irreversible turn six years ago.

It was Nov. 5, 2006, and she was contributing to Mass at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Madison as a lay person, reading Bible passages from the lectern.

The same day, Madison Bishop Robert Morlino required all priests to play a recorded message from him explaining his position on three issues state residents would vote on that week, including a ban on same-sex marriage, which he supported.

When the priest hit “play,” Jenson walked out.

“It was the first time I’d ever outwardly gone against what I was raised to follow,” said Jenson, 67.

She found a new religious home at Holy Wisdom Monastery, a former Roman Catholic monastery in the town of Westport, just outside Madison. Its Sunday service, offered by the sisters who live there, retains many elements of a traditional Catholic Mass but diverges in sometimes startling ways.

Women can lead the service and preach the sermon. Gay relationships are warmly embraced. All parishioners, not just Catholics, can consume the communion wine and bread because the service is ecumenical, meaning welcoming of all Christian traditions.

It’s an alternate universe of sorts — what some think a Catholic Mass might look like today if the liberal spirit of Vatican II in the 1960s had taken root and flowered.

“We’re doing what the hierarchical church was afraid to complete,” said Jim Green, a longtime Holy Wisdom parishioner who is gay and describes himself as “a Catholic in exile.”

The service, called Sunday Assembly, is attended by people from many denominational backgrounds but has become especially popular with Catholics displeased with Morlino or church doctrine in general. Membership doubled in five years to 335, and parishioners estimate a majority are Catholics who left their regular parishes.

Detractors say the parishioners strayed too far from Catholicism to warrant the label.

Approach evolves
Though many self-described Catholics attend Holy Wisdom, it’s no longer an official Catholic Mass.

A little history: In the 1950s, a group of Benedictine nuns opened a high school at the site for girls in the Madison Catholic Diocese. Benedictines belong to a monastic religious order regulated by the canon law of the Catholic Church. Masses at the site were led by Catholic priests, often provided by the diocese.

In 1966, the nuns closed the school and turned the buildings into a Christian retreat center. The sisters, spurred by the Benedictine tradition of hospitality, gradually made the service more inclusive to all Christians. Lay people, especially women, took on greater roles.

In 2000, the Benedictine sisters went a step further, welcoming a Protestant woman to live with them. “When we chose to open our community to Protestant women, it meant other doors closed,” said Sister Mary David Walgenbach, the monastery’s head.

The sisters sought independence from the Catholic Church, and the Vatican granted it in 2006. Consequently, they no longer are tied to the local diocese. They remain affiliated with a Benedictine federation, but they have a special status, not a full membership, because of their ecumenism.

Bishop’s request
When the sisters disassociated from Rome, Bishop Morlino asked them to no longer celebrate Mass at the site so as not to cause confusion, said Brent King, a diocesan spokesman.

“Many people had visited (the monastery) over the years, and the bishop felt it would take time for people to understand that it was no longer a Roman Catholic institution,” King said, adding the bishop “was in no way unfriendly toward their desire to start a non-Catholic ecumenical community.”

The sisters understood the bishop’s position and stopped calling the service a Catholic Mass in 2006, Walgenbach said. Priests ceased to lead the service.
Today, the sisters describe the Sunday Assembly as being “for the celebration of Eucharist,” a term most commonly used to refer to Catholic communion. However, Walgenbach said some Protestant churches also use it. To many people, the service still has the essence of a Catholic Mass.

“You wouldn’t know it wasn’t a Catholic church, except for the person officiating,” said parishioner Pat Hobbins-Kemps, 64. A lifelong Catholic, she said she left her regular parish partly out of a lack of opportunities for women to lead.

Finding a home
Trisha Day, 66, said she came to Holy Wisdom after growing tired of sermons that focused on politically charged issues such as abortion and homosexuality while saying little about social justice and the poor.

Jeanne Marquis, 68, found Holy Wisdom after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “I needed someone to talk about forgiveness instead of retaliation,” she said. “I needed a place where I was encouraged to ask questions.”

Ann Baltes, 44, a lifelong Catholic, said she sought a place where she and her husband, Bill Rosholt, a Lutheran, could participate in communion together.

Are these parishioners still Catholic? The answers vary.

Jenson says she’s not. “Too much divides us.”

Day calls herself “a transitional Catholic,” unsure where she’ll end up. Green said his Catholic identity can’t be taken from him. “The church is the people of God, not the institution,” he said.

Joanne Kollasch, one of the three Benedictine sisters who live at the monastery, said she “is a Catholic and will remain a Catholic,” adding, “I don’t like to be thought of as less Catholic because I’m ecumenical.”
Said Walgenbach: “The Catholic spirituality is bigger than the Roman Catholic Church.”

Both sisters said they respect the Catholic Church and Morlino and don’t seek controversy.

Detractors
Syte Reitz, a member of Madison’s Cathedral Parish who blogs about Catholic issues, said disaffected Catholics are free to start their own churches, but they shouldn’t confuse people by suggesting they still are faithful Catholics.

“Does it matter whether they are errant Catholics or not Catholics?” asks Reitz. “No matter what we label them, the laws of right and wrong and of morality still stand, and they and others will suffer from the mistakes that they make.”

Reitz said because a male priest is not presiding over the Eucharist, the bread is not being turned into the body of Christ, thus depriving attendees of the Catholic Church’s central sacrament.

King, the diocesan spokesman, said for Catholics to fulfill their obligation to attend Mass on Sundays, they must attend a Catholic Mass validly offered by an ordained Catholic priest.

Does the Holy Wisdom service qualify?

“In charity, we must respond that it does not,” he said.

Complete Article HERE!

02/26/12

Monsignor: Philly cardinal shredded abuse list

A Roman Catholic church official facing trial in a priest child abuse scandal created a list of problem priests in 1994, but Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua had it destroyed, according to a defense memo filed Friday.

Monsignor William Lynn, who’s accused of keeping predator priests in ministry and transferring them from parish to parish, wants his child endangerment case dismissed because of new evidence turned over by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, including his list of 35 accused priests.

Lynn took it upon himself to review secret church files after becoming secretary for clergy in 1992, and he later gave a list of accused, still-active priests to his superior, Monsignor James E. Molloy.

Bevilacqua had Molloy shred four copies of the list, according to a memo signed by Molloy and a witness. But Molloy kept a copy in a locked safe at the archdiocese, where it was found in 2006, after Lynn had moved on, according to his motion.

“It is clear from the Molloy memo, and (its) belated production, that Monsignor Lynn has been `hung out to dry,'” the defense motion says.

Lynn, who is charged with conspiracy and child endangerment, maintains his innocence. He has long argued that he took orders from Bevilacqua and is being made a scapegoat for the church’s sex abuse scandal.

Prosecutors themselves blasted Bevilacqua in two grand jury reports but never charged him with a crime. They have called the archdiocese and others “unindicted co-conspirators.”

Bevilacqua appeared before the first grand jury 10 times in 2003 and 2004 and denied any attempt to obstruct the investigation, according to Lynn’s motion. He died last month at age 88.

Molloy also denied destroying any documents from the secret archives, according to an excerpt of his grand jury testimony. He also is dead.

Late last year, Bevilacqua, who was suffering from dementia and cancer, gave a videotaped deposition that can be used at trial, but the value of his testimony remains unclear. Lynn’s lawyers have fought to have it excluded, based in part on Bevilacqua’s dementia. They renewed that request Friday, saying they never had a chance to ask Bevilacqua if he had Lynn’s list destroyed.

Lynn is the first U.S. church official charged for his administrative action. Jury selection is under way, with testimony scheduled to start March 26. A priest and an ex-priest charged with rape are on trial with him, and they also maintain their innocence.

A gag order prevents prosecutors or the archdiocese, which serves 1.5 million Roman Catholics, from commenting on Lynn’s allegations. Lynn, 61, would faces up to 28 years in prison if convicted on all counts against him.

Complete Article HERE!