02/29/16

Top Vatican cardinal says pope backs him on stance over abuse issue

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Senior Counsel Assisting Gail Furness stands in front of a screen displaying Australian Cardinal George Pell as he holds a bible while appearing via video link from a hotel in Rome, Italy to testify at the Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney, Australia, February 29, 2016.

Senior Counsel Assisting Gail Furness stands in front of a screen displaying Australian Cardinal George Pell as he holds a bible while appearing via video link from a hotel in Rome, Italy to testify at the Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney, Australia, February 29, 2016.

Australian Cardinal George Pell, the highest-ranking Vatican official to testify on systemic sexual abuse of children by clergy in the Roman Catholic Church, said on Monday that he has the full backing of Pope Francis.

Pell on Sunday told Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse that the church made “enormous mistakes” and “catastrophic” choices by attempting to cover up abuses in the 1970s.

Pell’s testimony has received global coverage. Because of his high position in the Vatican, the Australian inquiry into sexual abuse cases that occurred decades ago has taken on wider implications about the accountability of church leaders.

Pell, 74, has become the focal point for victims’ frustration over what they say has been an inadequate response from church leaders. Pell himself is not accused of sexual abuse and has twice apologized for the Church’s slow response.

“I have the full backing of the pope,” Pell told reporters as he arrived at Rome’s Hotel Quirinale to give evidence in front of former abuse victims who traveled to Italy for the late night sessions.

In his position as Vatican treasurer, Pell met with Pope Francis for a routine meeting earlier on Monday, after telling the inquiry he was “not here to defend the indefensible.”

He said was aware of rumors and complaints against pedophile clergy when he was a young priest in the 1970s, but that Church superiors tended to give priests the benefit of the doubt, something he acknowledged was wrong.

Pell said children were often not believed, abusive priests were shuffled from parish to parish and the Church was over-reliant on the use of counseling of priests to prevent further abuses.

The strong language was welcomed by former victims, but Pell’s failing memory on specifics angered witnesses in Rome and Sydney. He repeatedly said he could not recall specific incidents when he was asked about them.

Special prosecutor Gail Furness quizzed Pell via video link from Sydney on Monday. There were audible gasps as the Cardinal said he was deceived by Church leaders who did not inform him about claims against Father Gerald Ridsdale among others.

Ridsdale, who was repeatedly moved from parish to parish, was later convicted of 138 offences against 53 victims.

Ridsdale’s nephew, David Ridsdale, was among 15 abuse victims and supporters who traveled to Rome on the back of a crowd-funding campaign to see Pell give evidence after he said he was unable to travel to his native Australia because of heart problems.

SPOTLIGHT WIN

Last year, Pell denied accusations made at Commission hearings that he had tried to bribe a victim to remain quiet, that he ignored another complaint and that he was complicit in the transfer of a pedophile priest.

Church sexual abuse broke into the open in 2002, when it was discovered that U.S. bishops in the Boston area moved abusers from parish to parish instead of defrocking them. Similar scandals have since been discovered around the world and tens of millions of dollars have been paid in compensation.

The hearing started on the same night that Spotlight, a film about newspaper reporters who uncovered systemic paedophilia in the Church in Boston, won the Academy Award for best picture.

The Vatican newspaper dedicated two articles to the win, saying Spotlight was not an anti-Catholic film as some have claimed.

“The ogres were not exclusively men in cassocks. Paedophilia does not necessarily derive from a vow of chastity,” the newspaper said. “But it is by now clear that there were too many people in the Church who were more worried about the image of the institution than the gravity of the act.”

Complete Article HERE!

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02/29/16

Catholic priest is caught on video snorting cocaine in a room full of Nazi memorabilia

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  • Father Stephen Crossan filmed taking cocaine at party on church grounds
  • Roman Catholic priest sniffed the class A drug through a £10 note at home
  • He admitted taking cocaine but said he did ‘not have an issue with drugs’
  • Revellers also claimed there was Nazi memorabilia at 37-year-old’s home

By Sam Tonkin

Videoed in a room filled with Nazi memorabilia, this is the moment a Roman Catholic priest snorted a line of cocaine at a party in his house on church grounds.

Father Crossan, who lives on the grounds of St Patrick's Church in Banbridge, Northern Ireland, denied being a Nazi and said the memorabilia was there because he collects 'historical stuff'

Father Crossan, who lives on the grounds of St Patrick’s Church in Banbridge, Northern Ireland, denied being a Nazi and said the memorabilia was there because he collects ‘historical stuff’

Father Stephen Crossan, 37, is said to have sniffed the class A drug through a £10 note at the end of a night of drinking beers and whiskey.

In the footage he is heard saying ‘I shouldn’t’ before snorting the white powder off a plate while talking to a friend.

The video, obtained by The Sun on Sunday, is said to have been recorded at the end of two days of partying when Father Crossan invited friends to his parish home.

He has admitted taking drugs, telling the newspaper’s Ruth Warrander: ‘It was just the one night and that was it. I do not have an issue with drugs.’

A source said a number of revellers went back to Father Crossan’s house at 11am for seven hours – where they were greeted by Nazi memorabilia – after a party host asked them to leave.

The memorabilia included flags, hats and an eagle with a swastika on a plinth on Father Crossan’s mantelpiece.

The source added: ‘It was all over the house. At one point Stephen put on a cap and did the Nazi salute.

‘It’s shocking. He’s supposed to be an upstanding member of society. He shouldn’t be taking drugs.’

The source also said Father Crossan had been drinking beers and Jack Daniels whiskey as well as taking cocaine.

Father Crossan, who lives on the grounds of St Patrick’s Church in Banbridge, Northern Ireland, denied being a Nazi and said the memorabilia was there because he collects ‘historical stuff’.

He said he had depression and was on sick leave when the footage was taken. Father Crossan said he had left the church but was being backed by the parish, while a spokesman for his bishop said the priest would be supported through his issues.

Father Crossan studied for the priesthood at St Patrick’s College Maynooth, and completed a degree in theology in 2007.

During his years at Maynooth, he was involved in various pastoral activities including prison and hospital chaplaincy, according to a parish website.

He was appointed to Seapatrick parish as Curate in 2012 and before this served as Curate in St Peter’s parish, Lurgan and the parish of Tullylish.

Complete Article HERE!

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02/28/16

Pell denies abuse accusations and criticises suspicious timing

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This coming 29 February, the cardinal is to give evidence before an Australian commission, via video link from Rome. The cardinal, who has been accused of covering up child sex abuse cases, said the false news report printed by the Herald Sun is outrageous

Cardinal Pell

Cardinal Pell denies outright the sex abuse allegations made against him and corroborated by Australian newspaper Herald Sun.

By IACOPO SCARAMUZZI

Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop Emeritus of Sydney and Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, has denied outright the sex abuse allegations made against him and corroborated by Australian newspaper Herald Sun. One week before he is due to give evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, via video link from Rome, the cardinal also criticised the suspicious timing of the news leak. Some victims are accusing him not of actually carrying out acts of sexual abuse but of covering up cases that were reported to him in recent decades. He was responsible for the priests who are said to have committed the offences.

“Cardinal Pell is due to give evidence to the Royal Commission in just over one week. The timing of these leaks is clearly designed to do maximum damage to the Cardinal and the Catholic Church and undermines the work of the Royal Commission,” says a statement leaked by Pell’s offices. “The allegations are without foundation and utterly false.”

The Herald Sun wrote that Cardinal Pell is being investigated by Victoria Police’s Sano Taskforce, over alleged abuse against minors both consistently and occasionally when he was still only a priest in Ballarat and when archbishop of Melbourne.

“It is outrageous that these allegations have been brought to the Cardinal’s attention through a media leak,” the statement reads. “The Cardinal has called for a public inquiry into the leaking of these spurious claims by elements in the Victorian Police in a manner clearly designed to embarrass the Cardinal, in a case study where the historical failures of the Victorian Police have been the subject of substantial evidence.”

In his statement, Cardinal Pell refers to the Southwell Report, an independent Church inquiry into the accusations of abuse the cardinal allegedly committed against an altar boy at a summer camp on Phillip Island in 1962. The investigation, which was conducted by retired Supreme Court judge, Alec Southwell, ended with the cardinal’s absolution. The Phillip Island allegations have been on the public record for nearly 15 years. The Southwell Report which exonerated Cardinal Pell has been in the public domain since 2002,” today’s statement reads. “The Victorian police have taken no steps in all of that time to pursue the false allegations made, however the Cardinal certainly has no objection to them reviewing the materials that led Justice Southwell to exonerate him. The Cardinal is certain that the police will quickly reach the conclusion that the allegations are false.” “The Victorian Police have never sought to interview him in relation to any allegations of child sexual abuse and apart from the false allegations investigated by Justice Southwell, the Cardinal knows of no claims or incidents which relate to him.”

Cardinal Pell, the statement says, “strongly denies any wrongdoing. If the police wish to question him he will co-operate, as he has with each and every public inquiry. In the meantime, the Cardinal understands that several media outlets have received confidential information leaked by someone within the Victorian Police.” Thus, “the Cardinal calls on the Premier and the Police Minister to immediately investigate the leaking of these baseless allegations”.

Cardinal Pell will give evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse via video link on 29 February. 15 victims are travelling to Rome to attend the cardinal’s hearing, with money raised through a crowdfunding initiative. “As an archbishop for almost 20 years he has led from the front to put an end to cover-ups, to protect vulnerable people and to try to bring justice to victims,” says a separate statement released by the office of 74-year-old cardinal Pell, who was granted permission not to travel to Australia for the hearing, due to the serious health risks involved. “As Cardinal Pell has done after earlier hearings, he is prepared to meet with and listen to victims and express his ongoing support.”

Complete Article HERE!

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02/25/16

The wonderfully weird world of Italy’s church supplies expo

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Seraphic vendor

“Seraphic vendor.” A vendor surrounded by crucifixes, the symbol of sufferance.

“Madonnas.” Madonna statues ordered by size.

“Madonnas.” Madonna statues ordered by size.

In 1993, a brilliant idea to streamline churchgoing for professionals made its international debut at Italy’s church supplies expo: a confession box to which your sins could be faxed. “A space-age telephone booth,” one reverend raged to the Catholic Herald. “Will sinners be skulking around the office fax machine waiting for a private moment to confax?” Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich wondered.

Now approaching its 17th iteration, the Koine expo in Vicenza, Italy, continues to unveil innovative products but also bread-and-butter items for churches like lighting systems and figurines. Last year, the fair hosted 13,000 visitors from all over the world who perused wares from 347 vendors. A new book, “Besides Faith,” by photographer Louis De Belle features vignettes of the expo.

This year’s fascinating items included glow-in-the-dark Jesus figures and electronic rosaries, according to De Belle. The rosary, he said, is a fascinating little pray-along device particularly useful for those with arthritis. It features a “spooky” chorus of praying nuns, an “Auto-Mystery” button that selects prayers and little yellow LEDs that light up. “I eventually developed a much more ‘show-business’ opinion of religion,” De Belle said about attending the expo.

Coming up with new tools for engagement is serious business for churches, which are facing sliding attendance rates with each generation. Fifty-one percent of the oldest living generation, the “Greatest Generation,” attends religious services at least once a week, while the same is true for only 37 percent of baby boomers, and just 27 percent of millenials, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center study.

Deposition I

“Deposition I.” A crucifix carried away along with a statue of the former pope and other figures.

Shopping

Sister

“Sister.” A nun in front of shiny ciboria cups.

The one and only

“The one and only.” A multitude of baby Jesus figures.

Wrapped statue

“Wrapped statue.” Detail of a wrapped statue.

That explains why pastor Bil Cornelius announced he was giving out door prizes like flat-screen TVs, lightly used cars and skateboards at Easter services at Texas church Bay Area Fellowship in 2010. The service drew 23,500 people, and a handful of protesters, according to the Corpus Christi Caller Times. “I’ve never had so much fun in church,” the winner of a Volkswagen Jetta told the newspaper (because of the services, not the prize, she said).

Churches have had success with injecting a little fun into traditions that can come off as archaic. Priests and the faithful now take Ash Wednesday as an opportunity to post an #ashtag — a selfie taken after getting the cross smudged on your forehead. The pope too, is an avid tweeter, sending thanks and asking for prayers on Twitter just a few days after his selection. But even though Pope Francis has called the Internet “a gift from God,” a small percentage of pastors still think the Internet is a passing fad, according to a 2014 Barna Group survey of Protestant church leaders.

So for some clergy, Koine expo is a starting place for much needed updates. One attendee, Father Pasquale, was sent by the parishes in Calabria, Italy, which had pooled money to for him to attend, according to the BBC. “This is our version of haute couture,” he said. He rushed around the fair, perusing the latest fashions and expressing skepticism about electronic candles, before returning to his church by train to report what he had found.

 

Bored vendor

“Bored vendor.” A vendor on the phone.

Deposition II

“Deposition II.” An agonizing crucifix hung with an electric screwdriver.

Electronic rosary

Electronic rosary. These can retail for $20-$50, according to De Belle.

Glow in the dark Jesus figures

Glow in the dark Jesus figures.

Last Suppers

“Last Suppers.” Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Last Supper” hangs behind a stand with modest refreshments.

Mystery of faith

“Mystery of faith.” A ciborium cup covered by a cloth.

Saint Pio 3D

“Saint Pio 3D.” A 3D figure of Saint Pio in a glass block.

 Complete Article HERE!

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02/23/16

A Brief History of the Relationship Between Mexican Drug Cartels and the Catholic Church

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By Brian McManus

Pope Francis waves upon his arrival at the stadium of Morelia, Michoacán State, Mexico on February 16.

Pope Francis waves upon his arrival at the stadium of Morelia, Michoacán State, Mexico on February 16.

In May 1993, just outside the airport in the west Mexican city of Guadalajara, Juan Jesus Cardinal Posadas Ocampo was sitting in his parked white Mercury Grand Marquis when three vehicles packed with gunmen pulled up alongside and opened fire. The cardinal’s car was riddled with 26 bullets, and a nearby vehicle was apparently hit 20 more times.

Cardinal Posadas, his driver, and five others were found dead.

The high-profile assassination of one of the Mexico’s two Roman Catholic cardinals offers a window into the complex relationship between the Vatican and Mexico’s drug cartels. Cardinal Posadas was an outspoken critic of the groups and the violent terror they use to control Mexico’s illicit drug economy. Though the government ruled that his death was a case of mistaken identity, many still believe the killing was deliberate—that is, a successful attempt to silence him.

The man was wearing his clerical robes, after all.

Since Posadas’s death, and in particular over the past decade or so, the church has exercised top-down dealings with the cartels—condemning them in public, but, critics charge, colluding with drug criminals on the ground. Pope Francis spoke to that fraught dynamic during his historic visit to Mexico last week. In a sermon in the Michoacán state capital Morelia, which has been hit hard by cartel violence, he cautioned bishops, priests, nuns, and seminarians against shirking away from the unique challenge posed by the cartels in their area.

“What is the temptation that we face in environments dominated by violence, corruption, drug trafficking, disrespect for personal dignity, and indifference to suffering?” he asked, before answering his own question. “Resignation. Resignation terrifies us and makes us barricade ourselves in our vestries.”

That alleged resignation has long plagued the Catholic Church in Mexico, and though they weren’t named directly by Francis, no discussion of the cartel-church relationship would be complete without mention of “narco alms”—or blood money supposedly offered by cartels to help fund public works and other church activities. Cartel influence in the church was condemned by Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 shortly after he began his papacy, but the Vatican’s emphasis on the problem seems to have waned since. In 2010, a minor scandal erupted when it was revealed that a church with a stunning 65-foot high metal cross in the working-class barrio of the central Mexican city of Pachuca bore a plaque thanking Heriberto Lazcano, alleged kingpin of the Zetas cartel, for its construction.

As a result, the church began looking more carefully into “narco alms,” as the New York Timesreported in 2011.

It can be hard to resist the money and the help from cartels, particularly when murderous kidnappers are involved. Take for instance, the tale, also about the Zeta cartel, from Brooklyn-born priest Robert Coogan, who used to run a tiny prison chapel in the northern Mexico. As he told the Guardian in 2012, when Zeta prisoners offered to help paint his modest chapel, he declined, telling them a leaky roof would surely ruin their work. They not only completed the job but waterproofed the building too. “Making a fuss,” he said, “could have triggered reprisals against other prisoners.”

Today, it’s still awful hard being a church figure in a region where cartels wield so much power and influence; Mexico has replaced Colombia as the world’s most dangerous place to be a priest, according to the Catholic Media Center. After speaking out against the cartels, one priest named Gregorio Lopez received so many death threats he famously began wearing a bulletproof vest during mass.

Francis also addressed the citizens of Mexico on his trip, warning them, “Don’t let yourselves be corrupted by trivial materialism, or the seductive illusion of deals made below the table.” He urged ordinary Mexicans not to fall prey to the trap of pursuing money, fame, and power. “These are temptations that seek to degrade and destroy.”

The pope clearly recognizes that the downtrodden are particularly vulnerable to the temptation of violent crime in hopes that it might better their own lives.

“Throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, we have the massive divide between the rich and poor,” Henry Louis Taylor Jr., director of the Center for Urban Studies at the University of Buffalo, told VICE. “In Mexico and other places, the economy does not produce sufficient jobs for people to make ends meet. So most of them are forced to work in the informal economy—or in the clandestine economy. In those countries, corruption and bribery have been interwoven into the daily life and culture.”

Taylor Jr. believes you can’t stop stop the violence in places like Michoacán without radically changing the economy and offering alternatives. “In places where the cartels are entrenched, I don’t think the authorities are willing to do this.”

A couple years ago, armed vigilante groups emerged that seemed to take on the cartels before being at least partially infiltrated by them, as the in-depth Oscar-nominated documentaryCartel Land (which VICE helped distribute) shows.

“The pope expressed the views of so many people in Mexico,” Cartel Land director Matthew Heineman tells VICE. “But the tragedy is that their views and hopes for order and security have been ignored for so long by a government that has allowed the cartels to operate with impunity, resulting in a vicious cycle of violence for so many.”

Some believe the Catholic Church still needs to do more, perhaps even excommunicating those who affiliate with cartel members. After all, Pope Francis did travel to southern Italy to excommunicate members of the mafia in 2014. “The hierarchy of the church in Mexico has been timid when it comes to narco traffickers but that could change,” religious scholar Elio Masferrer told TIME earlier this month. “An action such as excommunicating them could have a significant impact.”

One might argue Mexican cartels are much more powerful—or at least more brazen—than the Italian mafia in 2016. But it’s not insignificant that the church’s top figure, a man who commands respect in Mexican cities plagued by drug violence, is speaking plainly and forcibly about the cartels. (At one point, Pope Francis went so far as to dub them “dealers of death.”) What remains to be seen is whether a relatively new pope and a government that did manage to recapture Sinaloa cartel boss El Chapo after his escape from prison this summer can put some real distance between spiritual matters and the drug money coursing through Latin America.

Complete Article HERE!

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