I was a devout Catholic. Not being able to get birth control shook my faith.

birth control

My religion has always been a big part of my life. I was raised Catholic, received a Catholic education and taught at a religious school for years. My daughter is in Catholic school now. But the church’s attempts to block my access to health care have made me feel disillusioned. Frankly, I’ve lost a great deal of faith in its teachings.

As a teacher at a religiously affiliated school between 2007 and 2015, my health insurance was managed by the archdiocese. It didn’t cover contraception. We were told that the plan was in line with the beliefs of the church.

This wasn’t a problem for me until 2011, when my husband and I had a baby. We had little money and couldn’t afford to have another child. So I wanted to go on birth control. But I couldn’t afford to pay for contraceptive care on my own. My doctor advised me to get an intrauterine device (IUD), but that would cost nearly $1,000, a staggering expense at a time when I couldn’t even afford birth control pills out-of-pocket.

I didn’t know who to turn to. I was afraid to ask my HR department outright about contraception coverage because I worried that I might be seen as going against the church’s teachings. The HR person reported directly to my boss, and I worried that I might jeopardize my job.

I felt angry and frustrated. But I didn’t have a lot of options. So we tried using natural family planning. It didn’t work. Shortly after, my husband and I found out I was pregnant with my second child.

I love children. I teach primary education and now have two small kids of my own. It’s so rewarding to see how quickly they learn and to watch them interact with one another. They see the world with such innocence and are so happy with life’s simple pleasures. The truth is, I would have as many children as God would give me if I could afford to.

But I have to be responsible to take care of the family I already have. My husband has struggled to find steady employment. My son has developmental delays and must attend multiple therapies a week, for which I furnish a co-pay.

In short, I can’t afford to have more unplanned pregnancies. I need a job that will provide me the health care I need. So last year, I found a new job with a public school district. I’m making more money now, and I have contraception coverage.

In just a few days, the Supreme Court will hear from religious employers like mine about why they should be able to deny their employees contraception coverage that is otherwise guaranteed to employees under the Affordable Care Act.

The worst part is that religious employers aren’t in court to argue it’s against their religious beliefs to provide the coverage directly — they already have a free pass on that. They’re claiming it’s a burden on their religious beliefs to fill out a one-page form saying they don’t want to provide coverage. Once they fill out that form, the health insurance company directly provides the employees with the coverage. It feels as if they’re just trying to do everything they can to block women’s access to birth control.

The extreme measures the church is taking to block women’s access to common health care — including the 98 percent of Catholic women of reproductive age who have used a method of contraception other than natural family planning — is turning me away from the Catholic Church. I no longer celebrate Mass. They are out of touch with the people they claim to represent, and this time they’ve gone too far. I hope the Supreme Court recognizes that and protects my right to access the care that we’re promised under the law.

Complete Article HERE!

3 Franciscan friars to surrender in child endangerment case

Attorney General Kathleen Kane
Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced criminal conspiracy charges against several leaders of the Franciscan Order on March 15, 2016, in Johnstown, Pa.

Three Franciscan friars charged with allowing a suspected sexual predator to hold jobs where he molested more than 100 children in Pennsylvania are set to surrender on child endangerment and criminal conspiracy charges.

Robert D’Aversa, 69; Anthony Criscitelli, 61; and Giles Schinelli, 73, have arraignments scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday.

The friars served successively as ministers provincial who headed a Franciscan religious order in western Pennsylvania from 1986 to 2010. In that role, each assigned and supervised the order’s members including the late Brother Stephen Baker, who allegedly molested scores of children, most of them at Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown where he was assigned from 1992 to 2000.

Schinelli has been removed as pastoral administrator at the San Pedro Center, a Catholic retreat in Winter Park, Florida, while D’Aversa likewise has been removed as pastor of St. Patrick Catholic Community in Mount Dora, Florida, according to the Orlando Diocese.

The Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis said Anthony Criscitelli was removed is pastor of St. Bridget Parish Community in Minneapolis.

Orlando Bishop John Noonan issued a statement Wednesday saying he supported the decision of the Rev. Patrick Quinn, the current minister provincial of the Hollidaysburg-based Franciscan order, to remove D’Aversa and Schinelli from their Florida assignments.

“We pray for all the people involved in this investigation and for those who are suffering,” Noonan’s statement said.

Baker killed himself at the Franciscan monastery by plunging two knives into his heart in January 2013. That occurred nine days after Youngstown, Ohio, church officials announced settlements involving 11 students who accused Baker of molesting them at schools there in the late 1980s.

News coverage of those settlements prompted students from Bishop McCort to file lawsuits alleging they were abused by Baker, who worked as a religion teacher, coach and athletic trainer at the school about 60 miles east of Pittsburgh. Eight-eight of those victims settled their claims against the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese and the Franciscan order for $8 million in October 2014, with several other former students settling individual claims since.

The attorney general charged the friars because Schinelli assigned Baker to work at the school, even after an abuse allegation surfaced in 1988 and counselors told the Franciscans in 1991 that Baker should have no one-on-one contact with students.

D’Aversa and Criscitelli are charged because under their watch Baker continued working at the school or had access to its facilities, events and students. The attorney general alleges D’Aversa also didn’t alert police about a “credible” abuse allegation against Baker in 2000, which prompted his removal from McCort.

All three friars are represented by prominent Pittsburgh defense attorneys.

James Kraus declined comment Thursday on behalf of Criscitelli. Bob Ridge, who represents D’Aversa, and Charles Porter Jr., who represents Schinelli, didn’t immediately return calls.

Thomas Farrell, who represents the Franciscan Friars, Third Order Regular, Province of the Immaculate Conception, also didn’t return a call. Quinn, who heads the order, also didn’t return a message seeking comment Thursday.

Complete Article HERE!

3 Franciscan ex-leaders charged in Pennsylvania abuse case

Attorney General Kathleen Kane announces criminal conspiracy charges against leaders of the Franciscan Order located in Holidaysburg, Pa., on Tuesday, March 15, 2016, in Johnstown, Pa. Three ex-leaders of the Franciscan religious order were charged Tuesday with allowing a friar who was a known sexual predator to take on jobs, including a position as a high school athletic trainer, that enabled him to molest more than 100 children.
Attorney General Kathleen Kane announces criminal conspiracy charges against leaders of the Franciscan Order located in Holidaysburg, Pa., on Tuesday, March 15, 2016, in Johnstown, Pa. Three ex-leaders of the Franciscan religious order were charged Tuesday with allowing a friar who was a known sexual predator to take on jobs, including a position as a high school athletic trainer, that enabled him to molest more than 100 children.

Three ex-leaders of a Franciscan religious order were charged Tuesday with allowing a friar who was a known sexual predator to take on jobs, including a position as a high school athletic trainer, that enabled him to molest more than 100 children.

Giles Schinelli, 73; Robert D’Aversa, 69; and Anthony M. Criscitelli, 61, were successively the provincial ministers of a religious order of the Roman Catholic Church in western Pennsylvania from 1986 to 2010. In that role, each assigned and supervised the order’s members.

Each was charged with conspiracy and child endangerment. Prosecutors said the three have been given until Friday to surrender.

Schinelli is now a pastoral administrator at the San Pedro Center, a Catholic retreat in Winter Park, Florida. D’Aversa is pastor of St. Patrick Catholic Community in Mount Dora, Florida. Anthony Criscitelli is pastor of St. Bridget Parish Community in Minneapolis.

A message left for Schinelli at the retreat was not returned. People answering the phones at the churches where D’Aversa and Criscitelli work said they were either traveling or not available for comment.

Brother Stephen Baker, the friar at the center of the abuse allegations, killed himself in 2013 — with two knives to the heart — after church officials in Youngstown, Ohio, announced they were settling lawsuits by 11 former students who said Baker abused them at schools in Ohio from 1986 to 1990.

More than 100 abuse claims were subsequently filed by former students of Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown, where Baker worked from 1992 to 2000. Millions in dollars in damages have been paid out.

The order issued a statement saying it cooperated with the investigation and was “deeply saddened” by the announcement. It also said it “extends its most sincere apologies to the victims and to the communities who have been harmed.”

“There is a need for transparency and criminal prosecution is a great road to get there,” said Boston-based attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represented nearly 40 former McCort students who have settled claims that Baker sexually abused them. He also represented the 11 Ohio victims, whose settlements prompted the McCort victims to come forward.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that there are hundreds and hundreds of Brother Stephen Baker victims out there,” he said.

Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who announced the charges, said the men “were more concerned about protecting the image of the order, more concerned with being in touch with lawyers than in protecting the flock they served.”

Though the grand jury probe focused on Baker, prosecutors said evidence was uncovered that at least eight other Franciscan friars had been transferred to other locations following abuse allegations.

“No reports were ever made to law enforcement,” Kane said. “As the grand jury found, the ultimate priority was to avoid public scrutiny at all costs.”

In the case of Baker, the grand jury said Schinelli, the earliest of the provincial ministers charged, assigned Baker to the high school despite a 1988 sexual abuse allegation and recommendations that he not be permitted to have one-on-one contact with children.

Baker was appointed as a religion teacher and assistant football coach, but worked his way into a position as athletic trainer even though he had no formal training, the grand jury said.

Many victims indicated they were abused by Baker when he treated them for sports injuries or was stretching them.

Baker was removed from the assignment at McCort in 2000 after what D’Aversa believed was a credible accusation of child sex abuse, though the allegation is not detailed in the grand jury report.

Neither D’Aversa nor Criscitelli notified school or law enforcement officials why Baker was removed, the report said.

Baker was given a new position as vocations director for the Franciscan Friars, Third Order Regulars, Province of the Immaculate Conception. Under that assignment, he led youth retreats in several states.

He was able to continue attending high school functions and had access to McCort facilities until 2010, the grand jury said.

Criscitelli further allowed Baker access to children by letting him work at a shopping mall, the report said.

The charges come two weeks after a grand jury report accused two former bishops of the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese of covering up or failing to act swiftly enough on abuse claims against more than 50 priests from 1966 until 2011. No charges were brought in that investigation because the statute of limitation had run its course, abusers had died and victims were too traumatized to testify, prosecutors said.

Although many Franciscans worked in the diocese, they were directly supervised by their order.

In the prosecution announced Tuesday, the grand jury found that the diocese did nothing criminal in its handling of abuse allegations against Baker, Kane said.

Officials at the diocese and Bishop McCort, which is no longer a diocesan school, did not know of the allegations against Baker until 2011, the grand jury found.

The child endangerment charge brought against the three Franciscan leaders is the same charge brought against Monsignor William Lynn, the former secretary for clergy in the Philadelphia Archdiocese. He recently had his 2012 trial conviction overturned for a second time when a court said jurors had heard from too many other church victims not directly involved in the case. Lynn remains in prison while prosecutors again appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Complete Article HERE!

Fr. Virgilio Elizondo Reportedly Takes His Own Life

By Robert Rivard


Fr. Virgilio Elizondo, one of San Antonio’s most accomplished and beloved Catholic priests whose work brought him recognition in Latin America and Europe and an esteemed faculty position at the University of Notre Dame, reportedly died of a self-inflicted gunshot at his home Monday afternoon, according to sources in the Catholic community.

Friends spoke of being devastated and in disbelief as the news made its way through Elizondo’s large circle in the city. Elizondo, 80, a Westside native and the son of Mexican immigrants, became a beacon for Catholics and non-Catholics inspired by his deep appreciation of mestizo history, culture and spirituality. His own roots gave him a grounded understanding as a theologian of what the poor and oppressed throughout Latin America were experiencing under the rule and repression of  military dictatorships in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. For Elizondo, liberation theology that swept the continent in those decades was one and the same with his mestizo-rooted theology.

I first met Elizondo in El Salvador while living there during the civil war years. We later became friends when my family moved to San Antonio in 1989. Kenneth Woodward, the longtime religion editor at Newsweek and author of numerous books on Catholicism and faith, told me at the time that Elizondo was one of the most remarkable priests he knew and that I should do whatever it took to get to know him once I arrived in San Antonio.

“Yes, Virgil Elizondo was an important theologian, but he was much more than that: He was a great priest,” Woodward said Monday evening. “Virgil was the face of the Church, and therefore of Christ, to literally thousands, in San Antonio and around the world. Tonight, the whole Catholic world weeps.”

Woodward, a Notre dame graduate, was a friend of Elizondo and Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, who served as president of Notre Dame from 1952-1987. He said it was a world that welcomed Elizondo. Despite his own humble beginnings, Elizondo learned to speak multiple languages and lectured widely on three continents. He authored numerous books, including “The Future is Mestizo” in 1992; “Guadalupe: Mother of the New Creation” in 1997; and “Galilean Journey: The Mexican American Promise” in 2000. His books remain in print, often assigned by theology professors at other major universities.

One of Elizondo’s proudest moments was being named a professor of pastoral and Hispanic theology at Notre Dame, the citadel of Catholic education, and a fellow at the university’s Institute of Latino Studies.  In 1997, he received the Laetare Medal, the highest honor conveyed by Notre Dame.


Elizondo downplayed his own many accomplishments, and few outside the archdiocese or his circle of friends knew that after receiving his undergraduate degree in chemistry from St. Mary’s University in 1957, he went on to earn a graduate degree in pastoral studies from Ateneo University in Manila in 1969, and his Ph.D in theological studies from the Institut Catholique in Paris in 1978. He was the recipient of numerous honorary degrees from around the world.

He served as rector of San Fernando Cathedral in the late 1980s and early 1990s and was credited with resurrecting the parish community there. His understanding of the power of media led him to do extensive work with the archdiocese’s television station, and his Spanish-language Mass at San Fernando was broadcast each Sunday to more than one million people throughout Latin America. He was a co-founder with then-Archbishop Patrick Flores of the Mexican American Cultural Center in San Antonio and a strong advocate for the city and region’s working poor. He was fond of telling stories about his own happy childhood and close-knit family, poor in material goods, rich in spirit and faith.

Elizondo was named secondarily in a May 2015 lawsuit filed by a John Doe in Bexar County that accused Jesus Armando Dominguez, then a student at Assumption Seminary here, of sexually molesting him from 1980-83 while the boy lived at a local orphanage and was mentored by Dominguez. In the lawsuit, the John Doe claims he approached Elizondo to report the molestation, only to be kissed and fondled by him while the two were in a vehicle together. Elizondo vigorously denied the charges in a public statement and in conversations with friends, and said he was prepared to fight the allegation legally.

Dominguez, who was later ordained in San Bernardino Diocese in California, disappeared in 2005 amid criminal charges of sexually molesting a number of boys. He reportedly fled to Mexico and was never arrested. He was defrocked as a priest and the diocese settled numerous lawsuits out of court for substantial cash payments, admitting that Dominguez had molested numerous boys.

Until the 2015 lawsuit, no such charges were ever leveled against Elizondo over his long and distinguished career as a writer, academic and parish priest. No other charges subsequently surfaced, either, but in the aftermath of widespread media reports of the Catholic Church and its failure over many decades to address the issue of priests who were sexual predators, a story first told in-depth by the Boston Globe and later memorialized in the Oscar-winning film “Spotlight,” the allegation against Elizondo took its toll. The affable, gregarious San Antonio native largely withdrew from public life here after the lawsuit was filed.

Shortly after midnight, the archdiocese released this statement from Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller:

“I join the priests of the Archdiocese of San Antonio as we are deeply saddened and stunned by the news of the death of Father Virgilio Elizondo on March 14. This is an occasion for great sorrow, as his death was sudden and unexpected.

“Father Virgil had served as rector of San Fernando Cathedral, and pursued scholarly work in Latino theology, evangelization, faith and spirituality, and culture. He had also been a long-time theology professor at the University of Notre Dame, and was the author of several books.

“At this devastatingly sad time for Father Virgil’s family – especially his sister – as well as his brother clergy, co-workers and friends, we offer our most profound sympathies. Our thoughts and prayers are with them all. I pray for all those who mourn Father Virgil and for the repose of his soul. In this Year of Mercy, we now commend him to the saving mercy of our God, who is compassionate and full of mercy and love. This is most fitting and proper.

“Eternal rest, grant unto him O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen.”

Funeral arrangements will be announced soon, according to the statement.

Complete Article HERE!

Damning report reveals Church of England’s failure to act on abuse


Review into priest’s assault against boy in 1976 criticises Justin Welby’s office and expresses disbelief that senior figures cannot recall being told of attack

Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury
The review criticises the office of Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury.

The Church of England is to make far-reaching changes to the way it deals with cases of sex abuse following a damning independent report that details how senior church figures failed to act upon repeated disclosures of a sadistic assault.

The first independent review commissioned by the church into its handling of a sex abuse case highlights the “deeply disturbing” failure of those in senior positions to record or take action on the survivor’s disclosures over a period of almost four decades. The church acknowledged the report was “embarrassing and uncomfortable”.

The Guardian understands that among those told of the abuse were three bishops and a senior clergyman later ordained as a bishop. None of them are named in the report.

The review also criticises the office of Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, for failing to respond meaningfully to repeated efforts by the survivor throughout 2015 to bring his case to the church leader’s attention.

The review’s conclusions were released on Tuesday as the government-appointed inquiry into child sex abuse prepares to examine hundreds of thousands of files relating to the abuse of children and vulnerable adults within the church. Welby has said that abuse by church figures and within other institutions has been “rampant”.

The full 21-page report by safeguarding expert Ian Elliott has been seen by the Guardian, although the C of E published only its conclusions and recommendations. Chief among them was the need for training for those who may receive abuse disclosures on keeping records and taking action. This was particularly important for those in senior positions, the report said.

It also recommended that the church prioritises its pastoral responsibilities above financial and reputational considerations, and that “every effort should be made to avoid an adversarial approach” in dealing with survivors of abuse.

Welby has made “a personal commitment to seeing all the recommendations implemented quickly”, said Sarah Mullally, bishop of Crediton, speaking on behalf of the C of E. “He thinks the situation is embarrassing and uncomfortable for the church.”

Elliott examined the case of “Joe” – described in the report as “B”, and whose identity is known to the Guardian – who as a 15-year-old was subjected to a “sadistic” assault in 1976 by Garth Moore, a leading figure in the church, the chancellor of three dioceses and vicar of St Mary’s Abchurch in the City of London. Moore, who died in 1990, is described in the report as “A”.

Last October, the C of E paid £35,000 in compensation and apologised to Joe, saying “the abuse reported is a matter of deep shame and regret”. It also commissioned the independent review into its handling of the case.

Over a period of almost 40 years, Joe made disclosures about the abuse to dozens of people in the C of E, including senior members of the hierarchy. While some of those Joe spoke to had clear recollections of his disclosures, none of the senior figures had any memory of such conversations. Elliott describes this as “a deeply disturbing feature of this case”.

The report says: “What is surprising about this is that [Joe] would be speaking about a serious and sadistic sexual assault allegedly perpetrated by a senior member of the hierarchy. The fact that these conversations could be forgotten about is hard to accept.”

Despite the seriousness of the disclosure, no records were kept by those Joe spoke to and no further action was taken. “Practice of this nature is simply not acceptable,” the report says.

Joe with the stones he has inscribed with messages to the archbishop of Canterbury.
Joe with the stones he has inscribed with messages to the archbishop of Canterbury.

Joe also repeatedly sought to bring his case to Welby’s attention. “His persistence in doing this is a product of the deep sense of frustration and anger that he feels about the lack of responsiveness from the church,” says the report. However, the archbishop’s office failed to provide “meaningful replies”.

While acknowledging that Welby could not be expected “to reply personally to each safeguarding concern that is received by his office”, survivors should receive “a response that is meaningful and helps them move on,” the report says.

Joe formally reported the abuse to the church’s safeguarding officers in July 2014, and later lodged a claim for compensation. On receipt of the claim, the church cut off contact with Joe on the advice of its insurers, who wanted to avoid liability.

The report is highly critical of the church’s actions, saying the withdrawal of support “can create risk of self-harm and should be avoided at all costs”. It added: “The pastoral needs of the survivor were set aside to avoid incurring legal liability for financial compensation.”

In conclusion, the report says that in Joe’s case the church did not comply with its policies on safeguarding, and structural changes were needed. “The existence of policies alone is not enough. What matters are the actions taken to implement those policies.”

Responding to the report, Mullally, said: “The church has treated [Joe] appallingly. Not only was he horrifically abused, but despite him trying to get his story heard over decades, the church did not hear him, believe him or respond appropriately. That’s appalling.”

Describing Joe as enormously courageous, she added: “I can only begin to imagine what it has cost him. We owe it to him and other survivors to get this right. This should never have happened.”

The church will require members of the clergy to record disclosures of abuse and take action. It will ensure that pastoral care of survivors takes precedence over protection of reputation or financial considerations.

Mullally is drawing up an action plan to implement the report’s proposals, covering education and training, communication and structural change.

Joe welcomed the report, saying he hoped to see rapid changes. “It would be incredibly embarrassing if in two months there are more survivors in similar situations of insurers and bishops playing legal games,” he said.

He added: “The church has told me no one can do much about the bishops who have walked away with ‘no recollection’ – nobody can make them remember. But I will always find it difficult to believe they have no hint of memory of a significant story.”

The church, he said, “has run out of time, but let’s hope they take ownership of painful questions and really show a willingness to change their culture and make their structure safe for survivors. I hope Welby is now wide awake.”

Complete Article HERE!