02/16/14

Archdiocese of St. Louis turns over its clergy abuse names, as court ordered

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By Jennifer S. Mann

The Archdiocese of St. Louis has complied with a judge’s order in turning over the names of priests who were accused of sexually abusing minors over a 20-year period, along with the names and contact information of victims.

Archbishop Robert CarlsonBecause the list is under a court-ordered seal, available only to the judge and lawyers involved, it is unclear exactly how many individuals’ names were included.

Ken Chackes, lawyer for a woman whose suit prompted the disclosure, said he could not comment because of the order.

The disclosure is part of 2011 suit filed on behalf of a then-19-year-old woman who claims she was sexually abused from 1997 to 2001 by the since-defrocked Rev. Joseph Ross. The woman’s lawyers are trying to show the archdiocese had a pattern of ignoring sexual abuse complaints.

The archdiocese had previously submitted an anonymous matrix of 240 complaints against 115 church employees over a 20-year period ending in 2003.

But it did not specify how many of the group were nonclergy, and some of the complaints pertained to members of separate religious orders. Neither of those groups is covered by the court order.Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis

The archdiocese fought further disclosures ordered by St. Louis Circuit Judge Robert Dierker, citing the privacy of the accused and the accuser. But on Wednesday, the Missouri Supreme Court ordered the names turned over.

In a memorandum filed in court, attorneys for the archdiocese confirm that they released the names to the woman’s lawyers the day after the top court’s order. They noted that complaints that were deemed “unsubstantiated” — according to the previous list, 40 of the 240 — were not included, per Dierker’s order. The lawyers said the archdiocese is not, however, conceding that the remainder are substantiated.

Dierker’s order also allowed the archdiocese to withhold the names of victims who had requested anonymity. Its lawyers note in the court filing that it did so with 48 of the complaints.

In addition to keeping the names under seal, Dierker’s order ensures that the victims are not contacted directly by the plaintiff’s lawyers. Instead, a court-appointed lawyer will make the first contact.

The lawyers mention in the filing that seven additional claims have been uncovered since their first list. Those are now included.

Legal settlements and trials have forced similar disclosures in a number of other dioceses across the country, according to a list maintained by BishopAccountability.org.

What makes Dierker’s order in St. Louis unique is that it comes while the case is still pending — when more can be learned through depositions and the discovery process. The case is set to go to trial Feb. 24, although the woman’s lawyers might seek a continuance.

Complete Article HERE!

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02/5/14

UN committee blasts Vatican on sex abuse, abortion

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By Nicole Winfield

The Vatican “systematically” adopted policies that allowed priests to rape and molest tens of thousands of children over decades, a U.N. human rights committee said Wednesday, urging it to open its files on pedophiles and bishops who concealed their crimes.

st petersIn a devastating report hailed by victims, the U.N. committee severely criticized the Holy See for its attitudes toward homosexuality, contraception and abortion and said it should change its own canon law to ensure children’s rights and their access to health care are guaranteed. The Vatican promptly objected.

The report puts renewed pressure on Pope Francis to move decisively on the abuse front and make good on pledges to create a Vatican commission to study sex abuse and recommend best practices to fight it. The commission was announced at the spur of the moment in December, but few details have been released since then.

The committee issued its recommendations after subjecting the Holy See to a daylong interrogation last month on its implementation of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, the key U.N. treaty on child protection, which the Holy See ratified in 1990.

Critically, the committee rejected the Vatican’s longstanding argument that it doesn’t control bishops or their abusive priests, saying the Holy See was responsible for implementing the treaty not just in the Vatican City State but around the world “as the supreme power of the Catholic Church through individuals and institutions placed under its authority.”

In its report, the committee blasted the “code of silence” that has long been used to keep victims quiet, saying the Holy See had “systematically placed preservation of the reputation of the church and the alleged offender over the protection of child victims.” It called on the Holy See to provide compensation to victims and hold accountable not just the abusers but also those who covered up their crimes.

“The committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by, and the impunity of, the perpetrators,” the report said.

It called for Francis’ nascent abuse commission to conduct an independent investigation of all cases of priestly abuse and the way the Catholic hierarchy has responded over time, and urged the Holy See to establish clear rules for the mandatory reporting of abuse to police and to support laws that allow victims to report crimes even after the statute of limitations has expired.

No Catholic bishop has ever been sanctioned by the Vatican for sheltering an abusive priest, and only in 2010 did the Holy See direct bishops to report abusers to police where law enforcement requires it. Vatican officials have acknowledged that bishop accountability remains a major problem and have suggested that under Francis, things might begin to change.

The committee’s recommendations are non-binding and there is no enforcement mechanism. Rather, the U.N. asked the Vatican to implement the recommendations and report back by 2017. The Vatican was 14 years late submitting its most recent report.

While most attention has focused on child sex abuse, the committee’s recommendations extended far beyond, into issues about discrimination against children and their rights to adequate health care, issues that touch on core church teaching about life and sexual morals.

The committee, for example, urged the Vatican to amend its canon law to identify circumstances where access to abortion can be permitted for children, such as to save the life of a young mother. It urged the Holy See to ensure that sex education, including access to information about contraception and preventing HIV, is mandatory in Catholic schools. It called for the Holy See to use its moral authority to condemn discrimination against homosexual children or children raised by same-sex couples.

The Vatican said it would study the report and in a statement reiterated its commitment to defending and protecting children’s rights that are enshrined in the treaty. But it took issue with the committee’s recommendations to change core church teaching on life.

“The Holy See does, however, regret to see in some points of the concluding observations an attempt to interfere with Catholic Church teaching on the dignity of human person and in the exercise of religious freedom,” the Vatican said.

Church teaching holds that life begins at conception; the Vatican therefore opposes abortion and artificial contraception. The Vatican has a history of diplomatic confrontation with the United Nations over such issues.

Austen Ivereigh, coordinator of Catholic Voices, a church advocacy group, said the report was a “shocking display of ignorance and high-handedness.”

He said it failed to acknowledge the progress that has been made in recent years and that the Catholic Church in many places is now considered a leader in safeguarding children. And he noted that the committee seemed unable to grasp the distinction between the responsibilities and jurisdiction of the Holy See, and local churches on the ground.

“It takes no account of the particularities of the Holy See, treating it as if it were the HQ of a multinational corporation,” he said in an email.

But victims groups hailed the report as a wake-up call to secular law enforcement officials to investigate the abuse and cover-up and prosecute church officials who are still protecting predator priests.

“This report gives hope to the hundreds of thousands of deeply wounded and still suffering clergy sex abuse victims across the world,” said Barbara Blaine, president of the main U.S. victim’s group SNAP. “Now it’s up to secular officials to follow the U.N.’s lead and step in to safeguard the vulnerable because Catholic officials are either incapable or unwilling to do so.”

Complete Article HERE!

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02/4/14

Pope will make mark on US church through Chicago

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When he turned 75, Cardinal Francis George did what the Roman Catholic Church expects of its bishops. He submitted his resignation so the pope could decide how much longer the cardinal would serve.

George said he hoped Pope Benedict XVI would keep him on as Chicago archbishop for two or three more years. “But, it’s up to him, finally,” George told WLS-TV in Chicago.

cardinalgeorgeTwo years and one surprise papal retirement later, the decision now belongs to Pope Francis. The pontiff’s choice will be closely watched as his first major appointment in the U.S., and the clearest indication yet of the direction he will steer American church leaders.

“Many signals for this relationship between the pontificate and the U.S. church will come from Chicago,” said Massimo Faggioli, a professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota who studies the Vatican and the papacy. “I think this is going to be the most important decision by Pope Francis for the U.S. church.”

The Archdiocese of Chicago serves 2.2 million parishioners and is the third-largest diocese in the country. The Chicago church has long been considered a flagship of American Catholicism, sparking lay movements of national influence and producing archbishops who shape national debate. The late Cardinal Joseph Bernadin remains a hero to Catholics who place equal importance on issues such as abortion and poverty. George, who succeeded Bernadin in 1997, is especially admired in the church’s conservative wing as an intellectual who helped lead the bishops’ fight against the Obama administration’s health care overhaul.

Whoever Francis appoints as archbishop is expected to become a cardinal and therefore eligible to vote for the next pope.

George celebrated 50 years as a priest last December with a Mass at Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral that drew bishops from across the country. In January, he turned 77, having recently been treated for a second bout with cancer. But the process of choosing his successor is confidential, so it’s not known how much longer he’ll serve. George’s spokeswoman, Colleen Dolan, said in an email “it could be six months to a year before a change is announced.”

Last week, church records released in a settlement with victims raised new questions about how George responded to some abuse cases even after U.S. bishops pledged to keep all guilty clergy out of ministry. The revelations will intensify public scrutiny of the child protection record of George’s successor. But it’s unclear whether the disclosures would have any impact on the Vatican timeline to replace the archbishop.

With a few exceptions, American bishops who failed to quickly remove accused clergy have remained in office well after details became public. The only U.S. bishop ever convicted for mishandling a case, Bishop Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., remains on the job.

“It will increase the number of people who will ask that it be sooner rather than later,” Dennis Doyle, a University of Dayton theologian, said of the Chicago documents and George’s retirement. “Maybe this will hurry it along a little bit, but I don’t think by much.”

While Francis has been famously breaking protocol since the night he was elected, there are some limits to how unconventional he can be with the Chicago assignment. He’ll be choosing among bishops elevated by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI as lieutenants in their campaign to restore orthodoxy. Since his election last March, Francis has argued that the church has been driving away the faithful by emphasizing divisive social issues over compassion and mercy.

Still, in temperament and outlook, the current bishops are hardly carbon copies of the former popes or each other, giving Francis a broader field of candidates than their histories suggest, Doyle said.

“There’s quite a bit of diversity,” Doyle said. “I think they’ve done a very good job not displaying that. I think they decided they’d show a unified face in public.”

These differences came into view last December, when Francis changed the makeup of the Congregation for Bishops, the Vatican office that evaluates and nominates candidates for bishop worldwide. Francis added Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, who is considered a moderate, while letting go Cardinal Raymond Burke, the outspoken conservative and former St. Louis archbishop. Burke had banned Communion for Catholic politicians who back abortion rights, and said the Democrats risked becoming a “party of death.” He is head of the Apostolic Signatura, the highest Vatican court, but his seat on the Congregation for Bishops was what gave him direct influence on appointments.

The Rev. Thomas Reese, author of “Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church,” categorizes the 260 or so active bishops this way: very few liberals, about 30 moderates, and the rest conservatives. Yet, he splits conservatives into two groups: ideological conservatives, who he argues would be unlikely to adopt Francis’ gentler tone, and pastoral conservatives.

“Pastoral conservatives are churchmen in the good sense of the word. They’re loyal. They grew up in conservative families. They had a conservative education in the seminary. They’re trained to be loyal to the pope. Now we’ve got a new pope,” said Reese, an analyst with the National Catholic Reporter. “I think these people will eventually come over to Francis and his way of approaching things.”

The vetting will begin, unannounced and behind closed doors, from Washington, as the pope’s U.S. ambassador, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, consults with U.S. cardinals and archbishops to choose three nominees. Vigano will write a dossier on each candidate, rank them, then submit the names to the Congregation for Bishops. If the congregation approves, the names will be forwarded to the pope, who can choose from among the three men — or appoint someone else entirely.

Since Francis is less familiar with the U.S. compared to many other nations, he will likely rely more heavily on the advice of U.S. cardinals and others, Faggioli said. Francis is also aware he must tread carefully because of polarization in the U.S. church, Faggioli said. Some U.S. Catholics who had embraced the focus on doctrine under John Paul and Benedict have been alarmed by Francis’ criticism that the church is obsessed with “small-minded rules.”

Still, Francis has shown little hesitation so far to go his own way.

“Everybody is going to look and know that this is Francis’ guy,” Reese said. “This is Francis’ choice.”

Complete Article HERE!

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