03/30/12

Vatican report attempts mere excuse not explanation

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COMMENTARY

RITE & REASON: THE REPORT on the apostolic visitation reflects an exercise in irrelevancy. The visitors listened but did they hear? The report includes the standard apologies, blame for the bishops and religious superiors, and praise for all the church has done in digging into the clerical culture to determine why the horrendous epidemic occurred.

But in reality, they looked for excuses rather than explanations. This “crisis” is not primarily about sexual molestation. It’s about the obsession with power and the corruption and stagnation of the clerical culture.

The visitors were not about to pierce the protective veil that covers the institutional church, a veil that hides the reason the clericalised church is unravelling and the communion between bishops and people is ruptured. The total lack of accountability by the authoritarian model of the church is the root of the crisis.

The Irish people didn’t deserve the insulting claim that the “shortcomings of the past” caused an inadequate understanding of the “terrible phenomenon of the abuse of minors”. The people named the causes head on: the secretive clerical culture, the lopsided theology of sexuality, seminary training disconnected from reality and the “church’s” obsession with control.

These are not the shortcomings of the past. They are the deadly symptoms of the present. A typical Vatican response to a complex problem it can’t understand is imposing structures that change the surface appearance while the core continues to deteriorate. It’s like trying to solve a hardware problem with a software solution.

The outrageous assertion that the bishops and religious superiors gave “much” spiritual and psychological help to victims is followed by a recommendation that they meet with and listen to victims. That this has to be recommended is a pathetic indictment of their lack of pastoral care. If the leadership’s first concern had been the victims and not the church’s image and power, the course of recent Catholic history in Ireland would have been dramatically different.

The visitation of the seminaries avoided the real issue: can priests be prepared to serve in the real world after years of formation in an unreal world? The superficial recommendations try to recapture a seminary culture that inculcated the toxic belief that priests are apart from others because of their exalted “calling”. Survivors know too well this attitude is a major part of the problem.

The second half of the report tells the real story. The agenda is not that of the victims. The true goal is rescuing the Irish clerical institution from its descent into irrelevance by imposing a return to the model of church as monarchy. The “renewed call to communion” is a thinly covered call to docile, unthinking submission.

Catholics in Ireland are walking away not because they need a “deeper formation in the content of the faith” but because they no longer equate faith in God with childish obedience to a clerical establishment that feeds on control.

The younger generation needs the new ecclesial movements as much as a duck hunter needs an accordion. These are nothing more than agents for the return to a model of church dominated by clerical control where intellectual creativity and theological self-determination are anathema.

The abominable legacy of abuse in the Irish church has nothing to do with orthodoxy and fidelity to the pope. It has everything to do with a destructive clerical culture that sacrificed the innocence of children for the distorted image and power of the hierarchy.

The visitors could not delve into the core issue because to do so would have meant recognition of the dark side of the institutional church. The solutions offered – obedience to the hierarchy and lock-step assent to doctrine – are irrelevant and an insult to the victims whose lives were shattered because of this very model of church.

The words and actions of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin – and Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s laser-sharp assessment of the Vatican culture in his speech to the Dáil last July – are proof the real church in Ireland has accurately assessed the situation. The Vatican could have made unprecedented progress in restoring the church’s image by listening and learning.

Complete Article HERE!

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03/29/12

St. Scholastica Catholic Church pastor Gerald Riva resigns

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The Rev. Gerald Riva has resigned as pastor of St. Scholastica Catholic Church in Woodridge, days after his nearly 20-year-old sex crime conviction came to light.

Riva resigned from the parish this weekend, and did not perform Sunday Mass at the church, said Doug Delaney, a spokesman for the Diocese of Joliet, which administers the church.

Riva, 70, who has been a priest for almost 45 years, resigned on his own accord, and was not forced to do so, according to the diocese.

“He did not even say Mass on Sunday, as he was to ashamed to do so,” Delaney said.

In 1992, Riva pleaded guilty to the charge of public indecency. According to police records, Riva masturbated in front of a DuPage County Forest Preserve officer in a forest preserve in Winfield Township, and then grabbed the officer’s male genitals.

On Monday, Delaney blamed Suburban Life Publications for “ruining” Riva’s life. He said in his opinion, Riva’s conviction is not newsworthy because it was for a misdemeanor that did not involve children.

“This man was a priest for over 40 years, and because of a 20-year-old misdemeanor, a crime that involved consenting adults, his life has been ruined,” Delaney said. “This, in my opinion, is not news, it’s slander.”

When asked then whether the diocese condones sexual acts by priests or if Riva’s behavior was acceptable, Delaney declined comment via email.

On Monday, a secretary at St. Scholastica Church’s offices declined to comment about Riva’s resignation, and referred all calls on the matter to the diocese.

Delaney reiterated Monday that the diocese was unaware of Riva’s conviction until it was notified in recent weeks.

While last week he said he was unsure of the diocese’s policies of 20 years ago regarding priests who are charged or convicted of crimes, on Monday he said if a priest commits a misdemeanor offense the diocese’s attorneys do not notify diocese officials. Only when charges are felonies are officials notified, Delaney said.

“We have over 300 priests in this diocese, and a misdemeanor can be anything from crossing the street at the wrong place,” he said. “Misdemeanors wouldn’t even come up in most background checks.”

The diocese does have a new program in place called Protecting God’s Children, which requires all employees of the diocese, including church pastors, to participate in series of workshops designed to teach employees how to act around children in the light of priests who have been accused of child abuse.

While pastors such as Riva would be required to participate in the program, it only focuses on crimes against children, Delaney said.

Police records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act detail the crime, which occurred about 11 a.m. Oct. 24, 1992.

According to police, an officer was “on plain clothed detail” when Riva, then 50 and pastor at Immaculate Conception Parish in Elmhurst, walked past him and into the woods at the West DuPage Woods Forest Preserve. The officer said he followed Riva into the forest before Riva said to him, “Look, there is a deer over there.”

“A conversation followed,” the officer wrote in the report “… As we spoke, Mr. Riva began to rub his genitals through his clothing. After a couple of minutes Mr. Riva grabbed his penis through his clothing and began to masturbate, twice Mr. Riva attempted to rub his penis against me. Mr. Riva then turned his back to me and with his left hand reached back and placed it on my genitals.”

The officer then placed Riva under arrest, according to the police report.

The officer, who no longer works with the forest preserve, does not specify the nature of the police detail he was on that day.

According to documents from the DuPage County Clerk of the Circuit Court’s Office, Riva pleaded guilty to one count of public indecency about one month after his arrest, on Nov. 23, 1992. Documents show Riva paid a fine, received one year of court supervision and had to complete community service as part of the guilty plea.

On Friday, Delaney said the Diocese of Joliet had launched an investigation into the matter, and that Riva did not report the crime to the diocese.

“My understanding is that Fr. Riva paid a fine for this, and that was that,” he said this week. “The diocese was never aware of what happened.”

Riva, who was reached by telephone last week, would not comment on the matter, other than saying he wasn’t sure “why this is in question now, after 20 years.” He added he planned to speak with the Diocese of Joliet. Riva declined further comment when reached on Friday at the church. Other phone calls to church and school officials have not been returned.

Riva was scheduled to retire from active priesthood on July 1 — one month to the day after St. Scholastica celebrates its 50th anniversary. His retirement was planned before the diocese learned of his public indecency conviction, Delaney said, adding that Riva notified the diocese of his pending retirement last fall.

As for the Pastor of the Year award, it’s unclear if the National Catholic Education Association still plans to honor Riva this spring at its annual conference in Boston.

Robert Bimonte, executive director of the NCEA, declined to comment when informed of Riva’s criminal history. Bimonte also would not comment whether the organization would still give him the award. A follow-up call Monday went unanswered as well.

A news release announcing Riva’s award from the NCEA was removed from the Diocese of Joliet’s website last week.

Complete Article HERE!

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03/28/12

The Case for Gay Acceptance in the Catholic Church

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The death penalty no longer applies to people who divorce or sleep with women during their periods, as described in the Bible. So why can’t attitudes on homosexuality change as well?

COMMENTARY
On St. Patrick’s Day I had the pleasure of speaking to about 350 Catholics who gathered together to attend a conference put on by New Ways Ministry, which is an effort to support the LGBT community in the Catholic Church. The women and men I spoke to included nuns and priests, children who had come out and parents who wanted to be supportive. Two female priests gave me special blessing and I left the meeting inspired by the devotion of those who attended.

New Ways Ministry has a critical mission, since changing the Church will help those who suffer from ill treatment not only here in the United States but around the world, where the Church has so much clout. The Church has millions of members in Africa and South America, where being gay or lesbian can lead to a death sentence.

Worse, the Church’s own teaching encourages bigotry and harm. Just last year, my father’s memorial, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, gave its human rights award to Frank Mugisha, a gay activist in Uganda whose good friend had just been brutally killed in his own home. American missionaries have encouraged the discrimination Mugisha suffers. Refuting their religious arguments is critical, and so is making a moral and religious case for gays. What we need is a transformation of hearts and minds, not merely a change of laws.

The Catholic Church’s attitude towards homosexuality is at odds with its tradition of tolerance and understanding. The actual practice of the Church is true to this tradition. What other institution separates men and women and encourages them to live together in monasteries and convents where they can develop deep relationships with those who share their kind of love?

The fight for the dignity of the LGBT community is a fight for the soul of today’s Church. Some conservatives see the hierarchy’s current, traditional teaching on sex as the Church’s defining position. They don’t really like to talk about, or even be reminded of, the Church’s teachings on immigration, or protection of the environment, or the greed that produces financial meltdowns, all of which they would find distastefully liberal.

For them there is only one issue — sex, or pelvic politics as some call it. The Pope himself pointed this out on in visit to Mexico, where he said that “not a few Catholics have a certain schizophrenia with regard to individual and public morality…. In public life they follow paths that don’t respond to the great values necessary for the foundation of a just society.”

If we wish to change the Church, we must first convey our views in language, images, and theology that reach people where they are. And secondly, we should make it clear that disagreement with the hierarchy is a critical part of our history.

The fact that so many Americans see themselves as religious, as God-loving church goers, means we have a better chance of reaching them if we use a language, a book, and symbols they understand. Polls find that 85 percent say that they believe in God and 50 percent claim that they go to church every Sunday. The fact that only 25 percent do just goes to show that you can’t trust everybody’s self-reporting.

In The Good Book: The Bible’s Place in Our Lives, the recently deceased Peter Gomes describes interviews with 400 people who had been jailed for hate crimes against gays. None felt remorse. They thought gays were the devil, so fighting them was cause for pride, not shame or regret. Laws are important, but the moral case can be even more compelling.

When my father visited South Africa in 1966, he spoke with students in Cape Town about apartheid. They defended the abhorrent practice by pointing to Biblical passages that suggested that discrimination was fine. In an effort to reach them, my father asked, “Suppose you die, and you go up to heaven, and you enter the pearly gates, and suppose, just suppose when you get there, you find that God is black.” Today we can ask, “Suppose God is gay.”

My father grasped, as did John Kennedy and Martin Luther King, that in America the leader who wishes to enlarge freedom’s sphere must appeal to an audience’s religious beliefs as well as to their understanding of American liberty. This is what I wrote about in my book, Failing America’s Faithful. While researching it, I gained many insights into the Church and its history of both prejudice and tolerance.

The Great Awakening of the 1740s gave people the idea that they could find God within themselves and need not trust preachers. As one perceptive British writer pointed out, if they don’t need rectors, soon they won’t need British rulers. Sure enough, once Americans got used to trusting themselves, they did rebel. Then the Second Great Awakening, in the 1850, instilled in Americans the idea that not only did the divine reside within them, it also resided in women and slaves. The Abolitionist movement grew from that religious revival, as did the suffragettes.

A few years ago, I read the Bible from Genesis to Revelations, and to me the biggest revelation was how misogynistic it was. That made me realize that the Catholic Church was on to something when it allowed only educated priests to read the Bible. My mother’s generation was prohibited from reading the Bible, and when I told my grandmother that my father used to read the Bible to us, she was shocked, “Catholics don’t read the Bible,” she said. The Church figured that people could take passages out of context and come to unwarranted conclusions. This changed after Vatican II and now Catholic parishes offer Bible study classes.

But those outrageous passages did not deter either the abolitionists or the suffragettes. They boldly rejected them as cultural detritus. Instead, they asserted that the primary message was that all people were made in God’s image. Thus we are born to be free.

Unfortunately, a century later, in the 1970s, feminists and gay rights activists did not adopt the same strategy and tactics. I think this happened because their movement grew out of the non-religious part of the civil rights movement. Recall that the civil rights movement was split between the followers of Reverend Martin Luther King on the one hand and Stokely Carmichael and the Black Panthers on the other. The latter group felt that religion was weak. Why turn the other cheek? Why not fight back? This secular strain also attracted many intellectuals who were, to put it bluntly, uncomfortable with religion.

Happily, that has now changed. Women have entered schools of theology and can now show that Jesus was one of the first great feminists. Mary Magdalene is no longer thought of as a prostitute but as the “apostle to the apostles.” Gays, though, are still excluded.

Progressive Christian and Jewish believers have accepted gay rights. Theologians now argue that verses in Leviticus that call for the killing of men who sleep with men apply only to a particular historical moment. The death penalty no longer applies to people who divorce, curse their parents, or sleep with women during their period — rules that are also in Leviticus.

Obviously, some people continue to read scripture simply to sustain their preexisting prejudice against homosexuality and homosexuals. But theologians now point out that the word “homosexual” didn’t even exist until the 19th century, and it wasn’t included in the Bible until 1946.

Choose your passage. King David talks about sleeping with his friend Nathan as “better than sleeping with a woman.” The Ten Commandments don’t mention homosexuality. Nor does Jesus. In fact, our Lord teaches us that love of God and love of our fellow human being are the two most important commandments. He doesn’t exclude the love that one man can have for another, or one woman for another.

The 2000-year-old passages favored by Church authorities don’t hold up as being anti-gay. Not only is the hierarchy — the Church’s cardinals and bishops — imposing its own interpretations, its views are harmful to many men and women. I would hope that the lens through which one reads scripture would be one of love and openness to others, not fear and anger and meanness.

Contrary to conservative propaganda, though, the Vatican is not immovable. It has a long history of changing position to follow new understandings of society and morality. Usury is no longer a sin. Women are no longer considered “the devil’s gateway.” Railroads are no longer cursed as the work of the devil, and teaching that there is such a doctrine as “freedom of conscience” does not merit censure, as it did for John Courtney Murray in the 1950s: In fact, Vatican II now recognizes “freedom of conscience.” Pope John Paul II apologized for the Church’s treatment of women and its persecution of Galileo. Sex between husband and a wife is no longer just for procreation but has value in itself.

That history can continue with its position on gays — and the laity has a critical role to play in pushing for these changes. As Cardinal John Henry Newman, the foremost 19th-century Catholic theologian asserted, bishops have at times “failed in their confession of the faith.” There can be instances of “misguidance, delusion, hallucination.” He said that the body of the faithful has the “instinct for truth.”

Already, I have witnessed that instinct for truth in the argument over contraception. Despite the hierarchy’s position, 98 percent of Catholic women in the United States use contraception. I believe that Human Vitae was the Holy Ghost’s way to teach us that we must use our conscience, and not lazily rely on the hierarchy when it is in error.

At this time, when the hierarchy does not want to recognize that we are all made in the image and likeness of God, and that the one of the two most critical commandments is to love one another, it is critical to assert that God loves the LGBT community equally. Sometimes the Church moves slowly, sometimes quickly. The point is to make sure the voices of dissent are not quiet and the Holy Spirit can be heard.

Complete Article HERE!

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03/28/12

PA trial: Priests struggled with ‘sexual sobriety’

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A string of Roman Catholic priests testified Wednesday in a landmark clergy-abuse case, saying they reported fellow priests to the archdiocese after finding them with pornography or in unhealthy relationships with children.

The priests, uncomfortably, are prosecution witnesses in the trial of a longtime supervisor in the Philadelphia archdiocese, Monsignor William Lynn. The former secretary for clergy is charged with endangering children by allegedly helping the church cover up abuse complaints.

The Rev. Joseph Okonski told jurors Wednesday that he found pornographic magazines and videos, and a sexually explicit letter to a seventh-grade boy, in another priest’s bedroom in 1995.

The graphic letter, which purported to be from a classmate, asked if the boy wanted oral sex. The author said he fantasized about seeing the boy getting spanked by his father. The boy was told to write “Yes” on a bulletin board at the parish school if he wanted to engage in sex acts with his “secret lover.”

Okonski said his housemate admitted writing the letter and soon left the parish. But the next trial witness said the priest landed at his rectory, where he worked with altar boys and had no restrictions on his ministry.

Prosecutors argue that predator-priests were, at best, transferred if they got in trouble, then left to seek out new victims.

The witnesses, on cross-examination, said the archbishop had the final say in priest transfers. Lynn could make recommendations, but the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua or his successor, retired Cardinal Justin Rigali, made the decision, they said.

“Inevitably, any movement of priests is done by the archbishop,” Okonski said.

The priests testified that they were put in awkward positions by the behavior of men with whom they lived and worked.

A Levittown pastor said he was tasked with finding out which priest had ordered the X-rated movies that showed up on their cable bill.

Another priest called the Office for Clergy because his North Philadelphia pastor had an all-consuming relationship with a young teen. Father Michael Hennelly said he was concerned, especially after hearing about the pastor’s last such relationship, when a fallout with the boy was said to have ended violently. Hennelly soon asked for a transfer.

“For my well-being, I couldn’t live and work there,” he said.

Hennelly later joined the Office of Clergy staff in 2004, the same year Lynn finished his 12-year stint as its director. He described working with priests trying to achieve what he called “sexual sobriety.”

St. John Vianney, a church-run hospital in Downingtown, had “Sexaholics Anonymous” meetings devoted exclusively to priests. Others attended “Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous,” Hennelly said.

There are about 800 priests in the Philadelphia archdiocese. More than 60 have been accused of molesting children since 1948, although only a few have ever been charged. About 500 Catholic priests in the U.S. have been convicted of sexual-abuse charges, according to the advocacy group BishopAccountability.org.

But no church supervisors were ever charged for mishandling abuse complaints until Lynn.

Prosecutors in Philadelphia issued two explosive grand jury reports on priest sexual abuse in 2005 and 2011. They blasted Rigali and Bevilacqua but concluded they could not make a case against either, in part because of legal time limits.

New accusations led Lynn to be charged last year with felony child endangerment and conspiracy. He faces up to 28 years if convicted. Prosecutors call the archdiocese an unindicted co-conspirator in his case.

Four others were charged in the same indictment with sexually assaulting boys. The Rev. James Brennan is on trial with Lynn. Defrocked priest Edward Avery will serve 2-1/2 to five years after pleading guilty last week to sexual assault and conspiracy. And the Rev. Charles Engelhardt and former Catholic school teacher Bernard Shero are set for trial later this year. They are accused of raping the same boy that Avery assaulted.

All but Avery have pleaded not guilty.

Complete Article HERE!

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03/28/12

Victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests not allowed to see Pope Benedict XVI

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Victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests accused Mexican Catholic Church officials on Saturday of denying them an audience with Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Mexico.

Members of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said the Mexican Catholic Church has publicly said a meeting wasn’t coordinated because abuse victims never approached them to request one.

However, Jesús Romero, a member of SNAP and a victim of abuse when he was 11 years
“This is not only another lie, it’s another way to protect the pedophile priests that remain active,” he said.

Joaquín Aguilar, another SNAP member who was abused when he was 13, said they had hoped they would be able to meet with the pope, just like abuse victims in other countries — including the United States, Ireland, Australia, Malta and the pope’s home country of Germany — have been able to see Benedict XVI in his other international visits.

“The only thing they have achieved with this silence is make the pope look like an accomplice of all these crimes,” said Aguilar, who is suing Mexican Cardinal Norberto Rivera in a federal court in Los Angeles for covering up several other cases of abuse.

Bernardo Barranco, director of the Center of Religious Studies of Mexico, called the decision not to meet with victims “a mistake” by the Mexican Catholic Church.

Barranco added that by placing the blame on victims groups for allegedly not requesting a meeting with the pope, the Catholic Church showed a “tremendous lack of sensitivity” and an unwillingness to know more about an issue they know exists in Mexico.

“The pope is essentially waiting for a subordinate to ask him (if he wants to meet with victims) to decide if he wants to know” about the problem, he said.

Juan Cruzalta, member of Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir, a group of Catholic women in favor of reproductive rights, said the Mexican Catholic Church has refused for many years to officially address the issue of sexual abuse by priests to avoid scandals.

“Unfortunately, the well-being of minors and obtaining justice for the victims is given less priority,” he said.

Cruzalta said the secrecy and the protection of priests shields offenders from justice and results in church policies having repercussions in civil courts.

“The church worries for the well-being of people, but from the angle of charity, not from the practice of everybody’s rights. Herein lies the great blindness of the clerical hierarchy,” he said.
The accusation against the Mexican Catholic Church came hours before the presentation of a recently released book, “The Will Not to Know,” which collects several leaked Vatican documents on the case of pederast priest Marcial Maciel.

Barranco, who wrote the book’s foreword, said the book showed the deep crisis within the Catholic Church created by the issue of child abuse.

Elsewhere in the state, protesters also responded to the pope’s visit.

According to local media, students on Thursday and Friday morning called for the protection of the secular state — church and state were separated with the constitutional reform of 1857 — and women’s rights activists demanded respect for women’s reproductive rights.

Católicas also wrote an open letter to the pope in which it criticizes the church for not having made a pronouncement against the high level of violence against women and murders in the country and for not officially recognizing the abuse of children by members of the church.

Aguilar said that by covering up the crimes, the church treated the abusers as the wronged ones.
“They are not the victims; we are the victims. Life ended for us, not them,” he said.

Complete Article HERE!

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