‘This is the sad part they’re doing it in the name of God. And I’m having a problem with that… Discrimination needs to stop!’ Says blues singer Kat Williams
The organizers of a Catholic charity gala in Asheville, North Carolina cancelled a performance by an Emmy Award-nominated blues singer Kat Williams after learning that she’s in a same-sex marriage.
Williams was due to perform at the Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte’s annual Gala For Hope, for which she has performed at twice before, on March 12.
The event supports impoverished families in the region.
According to the Charlotte Observer quoting the singer’s Facebook post, the organizers rescinded their invitation two weeks before the event after diocese’s Bishop Peter Jugis saw a 2013 magazine article in which she states that she and her wife had been married for seven years.
Diocesan spokesman David Hains told WLOS-TV, ‘Marriage can only be between one man and one woman. Because Ms Williams chooses to be in a relationship that’s different from that, it really makes it inappropriate for her to perform for us.’
‘We, as a Catholic organization, have the right to represent our faith and what we’re doing essentially is exercising that right,’ Hains said.
Williams told WLOS-TV, ‘This is the sad part they’re doing it in the name of God. And I’m having a problem with that.’
Williams, who is an Asheville resident, wrote on Facebook on March 5, ‘I’m hurt and saddened!’
‘My entire career is gratefully connected to important causes or charities that I wholeheartedly believe in. This is the first time I’ve been fired from a performance solely based on who I chose to love.’
‘There are two things in my life I didn’t choose, to be Black and to be gay! I am proud to be both and want our North Carolina religious community to stand with the teachings of Christ—love, forgiveness, tolerance and inclusion.
‘I don’t want people to retaliate or put forth any negativity. I’d like us as a community to approach this issue with Love, Compassion and Grace. This didn’t happen in San Francisco or New York or DC , it happened right in our own backyard and discrimination needs to stop!’
Williams said she is still receiving a check for her canceled performance.
She has asked fans to respond with forgiveness and grace and donate to inclusive groups such as Campaign for Southern Equality and Western North Carolina AIDS Project. She has also invited the bishop to visit her church.
One of France’s most prominent cardinals knew about a pedophile priest abusing young Catholic Scouts—and now the alleged cover-up will be tried in secular courts.
For all those who say that the Catholic Church is doing all it can on clerical child sex abuse—namely the Vatican press office—there is yet another reason to doubt those lofty words. Meet the Archbishop of Lyon, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, who has denied he did anything wrong by hiding the well-known fact that Father Bernard Preynat was sexually abusing as many as 40 Catholic Scouts in France in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Preynat was relieved of his duties in the parish of Roanne in 2015 after admitting to the sex abuse. He was indicted on Jan. 27 on charges of “sexual abuse and rape of minors” and has admitted his crimes to the police.
The 45 Scout victims who lodged the complaint that led to Preynat’s arrest share horrifically similar stories of abuse. “He would say ‘tell me you love me’. And then he would say ‘you’re my little boy,’ ‘it’s our secret, you mustn’t tell anyone,’” one of Preynat’s victims said, according to criminal trial reports.
A victim named Pierre-Emmanuel Germain-Thill described to Euronews how the priest preyed on the young boys. “What shocked me the most was when he tried to put his tongue in my mouth. He stroked my genitals, I couldn’t avoid it,” Germain-Thill said, according to press reports.
“I wanted to run away, and at the same time, I didn’t know what to do, I was afraid that if I left that room, nobody would believe me.”
Another victim, Bertrand Virieux, told Euronews, “I remember the smell of sweat, I remember contact with clothes. I remember his wandering hands under my shirt, which held me tightly against him.”
Meanwhile, Cardinal Barbarin is facing criminal charges by a French secular court for “failing to report a crime” and “endangering the life of others,” which could carry a three-year prison sentence and fines up to €45,000. He maintains that he shouldn’t be accused at all because he eventually removed Preynat from parish work.
Never mind that the removal came nearly 15 years after his crimes were made known. After victims and their families came forward in 1991, Preynat was removed him from parish duties for six months by the then-archbishop, who is now deceased. Yet despite having confessed to the crimes, Preynat was allowed to return to his active duties after he repented, meaning he had access to children despite admitting to being a pedophilic sex offender.
When Barbarin was appointed as archbishop, he even promoted the errant priest to an administrative position in 2007 where he was in charge of six dioceses filled with children, according to court documents quoted in the French press.
Barbarin, who is well liked in France despite his harsh stance against gay marriage (which he once predicted would pave the way to legalized incest), removed Preynat from the priesthood last August when secular authorities got involved—25 years after his crimes had first emerged.
The cardinal is now arguing that he should not be criminally charged because he was not archbishop at the time of Preynat’s crimes, and that he did eventually remove the priest from active duty. But it is not enough to remove an errant priest from a parish or even defrock him, argue victims groups. David Clohessy, head of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), says any child sex-abuse offender should be turned over to secular authorities immediately and should be remanded in prison whether they wear a clerical collar or not.
“Hundreds of bishops have been publicly exposed as having protected predators, endangered kids, deceiving parishioners, misleading police, destroying evidence, intimidating victims, threatening whistleblowers, and discrediting witnesses and suffer no consequences,” Clohessy told The Daily Beast.
The Vatican has always rightly maintained that pedophiles are not restricted to the priesthood. But the difference has always been that abusers in every other sector, from education to medicine, almost always immediately face secular court justice. There are no other professional institutions that systematically hide predators from authorities to the same extent the Catholic Church does. As the Oscar-winning film Spotlight showed, the complicity of not only the clerics but often the entire community—under pressure from the powerful Catholic churches that support community activities and run schools—is why the cycle is still so hard to break, despite the Vatican’s efforts.
That’s why when cases like Barbarin’s make it to the secular court, they underscore just how rare that action is. And that’s why when Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse held Cardinal George Pell’s feet to the fire several weeks ago—for his alleged oversight of abuse in that country—victims were angry that it took so long to happen.
After Spotlight’s Oscar win, the Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi came out with guns blazing.
“The depositions of Cardinal Pell before the Royal Commission as part of its inquiry carried out by live connection between Australia and Rome, and the contemporary presentation of the Oscar award for best film to Spotlight, on the role of the Boston Globe in denouncing the cover-up of crimes by numerous pedophile priests in Boston (especially during the years 1960 to 1980) have been accompanied by a new wave of attention from the media and public opinion on the dramatic issue of sexual abuse of minors, especially by members of the clergy,” he said in a statement.
“The sensationalist presentation of these two events has ensured that, for a significant part of the public, especially those who are least informed or have a short memory, it is thought that the Church has done nothing, or very little, to respond to these terrible problems, and that it is necessary to start anew. Objective consideration shows that this is not the case.”
Lombardi went on to outline the various commissions and extensive work Francis and his two predecessors have accomplished, including meetings with survivors and the formation of guidelines and recommendations for clergy. But there was no mention of how the Church regularly reports its abusers to the secular justice system—primarily because it doesn’t. And there was little mention of the secular world at all beyond two references to “legal” procedures—one in Ireland and the other in Australia.
He also pointed to the Vatican’s new tribunal to try those accused of or affiliated with the cover-up of rampant sex abuse, along with an advisory committee on sex abuse, headed by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the Archbishop of Boston who replaced Cardinal Bernard Law, who resigned in shame in 2002 and whose blatant disregard for victims of sex abuse made him the central figure of Spotlight.
But as the Associated Press pointed out last week, the Vatican’s recent efforts are “going nowhere fast.” Josef Wesolowski, the 67-year-old former papal nuncio to the Dominican Republic, who was the only person ever slated to face the tribunal, died suddenly in Vatican City before his trial began.
What’s most troubling in Barbarin’s case is that Pope Francis made promises last September during his American trip that he would see to it that any bishops who were involved in the cover-up would be forced to resign. “You must not cover up, and even those who covered up these things are guilty,” Francis told reporters on his plane back to Rome.
So why is Barbarin not being forced out? Preynat’s lawyer, Federic Doyez, told the French judge that Barbarin knew about the abuse. “The facts had been known by the church authorities since 1991,” he said.
An unidentified source close to Barbarin told the AFP that Francis was surely talking about someone else. “This comment does not in any way target Cardinal Barbarin who quite rightly suspended Father Preynat after meeting a first victim and taking advice from Rome, and this, even before a first official complaint was made.”
Victims groups will be watching the events closely to see if French justice will set a precedent for other countries. “The pope’s refusal to honor this promise is yet another reminder that keeping kids safe in the Catholic Church is a burden that increasingly falls on brave victims, secular authorities and church members—especially whistleblowers,” says Barbara Dorris, SNAP’s outreach director.
On the third anniversary of Pope Francis’s historic election, March 13, many will be praising the success and popularity of the pontiff. But three years into the job, it remains certain that the pope’s promise to do something about the continuing clerical abuse and cover-up leaves little to celebrate.
Pope Francis’ proposed Vatican tribunal to judge bishops who covered up for pedophile priests is going nowhere fast.
Despite fresh focus from the Oscar-winning film “Spotlight” on how Catholic bishops protected priests who raped children, Francis’ most significant sex abuse-related initiative to date has stalled. It’s a victim of a premature roll-out, unresolved legal and administrative questions, and resistance both inside and outside of the Holy See, Church officials and canon lawyers say.
The surprise proposal made headlines when it was announced on June 10 as the first major initiative of Francis’ sex abuse advisory commission. A Vatican communique said Francis and his nine cardinal advisers had unanimously agreed to create a new judicial section within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to handle “abuse of office” cases against bishops accused of failing to protect their flocks from pedophiles.
But the proposal immediately raised red flags to canon lawyers and Vatican officials alike.
For starters, the congregation, which since 2001 has been the clearinghouse for all Church abuse cases around the world, wasn’t consulted or even informed. As is, the congregation is understaffed and overwhelmed processing hundreds of backlogged cases of priests who molested children, advising dioceses on how to proceed.
“In reality, the congregation knows nothing about this. The question has just been left there. It hasn’t been dealt with,” said the Rev. Davide Cito, canon lawyer at Rome’s Pontifical Holy Cross University who has helped investigate abuse cases for the congregation.
The Vatican communique said a new secretary for the congregation and staff would be appointed, and adequate resources allocated. But nine months later, no appointments have been made. Francis recently repeated that he would appoint the secretary, but even once in place, he will be starting from scratch on an uphill battle.
“We’re confident that the Holy Father’s announcement of his intention to name a secretary for the Discipline Section is a clear sign that the implementation of his earlier decisions will be expedited,” the head of the sex abuse advisory commission, Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, said in a statement to The Associated Press.
But to even a casual observer, the original announcement raised significant bureaucratic questions. It tasked three other Vatican congregations with conducting preliminary investigations into accused bishops, a hurdle in and of itself given their limited resources and expertise. In addition, the Vatican’s various congregations operate as individual fiefdoms: By what mechanism would these three fiefdoms then turn their cases over to a new tribunal?
“When it was announced I knew it would be a problem,” said Kurt Martens, professor of canon law at The Catholic University of America in Washington.
He said a key question that must be resolved is the negligence standard by which bishops would be judged. Would bishops be held to the same standard of reporting abusers to police when civil reporting laws differ from country to country? What about prescription and retroactivity: Could bishops who botched abuse cases five, 10, or 20 years ago be brought before the new tribunal?
“It’s a huge issue,” Martens said. “Where do you draw the line?”
Two Church officials familiar with the proposal said there had been no follow-up since the tribunal section was announced. Two other Church officials involved also said they too knew of no progress to date. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to comment publicly on a sensitive, papal-mandated proposal.
One of the officials, a canon lawyer, said some fundamental questions remain unresolved: Who denounces whom? Who decides that a trial is necessary? Canon law already says only the pope can judge a bishop. Why single out abuse of office for botching sex abuse cases when another abuse, financial malfeasance, is also a Church crime?
More than any of his predecessors, Francis has said bishops must be held accountable if they moved abusive priests from parish to parish rather than reporting them to Church and state authorities.
“You must not cover up, and even those who covered up these things are guilty,” Francis told reporters Sept. 28 en route home from Philadelphia, where he met with abuse victims.
And so his decision to authorize a tribunal was met with jubilation — and heightened expectations — among abuse survivors and those who have been following the scandal. Recently, a top Vatican official, Cardinal George Pell, even suggested a prime candidate for the tribunal was his former bishop in Ballarat, Australia.
Anne Barrett Doyle, of BishopAccountability.org, which tracks the abuse scandal, said survivors as well as ordinary Catholics began sending dossiers to the Vatican requesting investigations into compromised bishops as soon as the tribunal was announced.
“We know because some of the earnest people compiling these dossiers contacted us,” she said. She said it was disappointing, but not altogether surprising, to learn that no progress had been made.
That said, under Francis’ watch, two US bishops who bungled abuse cases have resigned on their own: Bishop Robert Finn in Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri, and Archbishop John Nienstedt in St. Paul and Minneapolis. They weren’t hauled before a Vatican tribunal, but were presumably pressured by the Vatican to step down after civil authorities got involved, to date the main way the Vatican gets rid of a compromised bishop.
But such arm-twisting resignations do little to “repair scandal and restore justice,” which the Church’s penal law system is supposed to accomplish, Martens said. “It’s almost as if you’re guilty and you can pick your punishment and you’re being given a way out.”
US canon lawyer Nicholas Cafardi similarly noted that it’s not always easy to get a bishop to resign voluntarily, and that while canonical trials were always a possibility, now there is at least a specific proposed tribunal to do the job when Vatican pressure isn’t successful.
“The request to resign now has more substance behind it than it had previously, which is an important effect of the new procedures not to be lightly dismissed,” he said in an e-mail.
But the whole proposal itself is somewhat problematic, given that the cardinal designated by the pope to push it through, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has a questionable past himself. When Cardinal Gerhard Mueller was bishop of Regensburg, Germany, he appointed a convicted pedophile as a parish priest in violation of the German bishops’ own norms forbidding sex offenders from working with juveniles.
The priest, the Rev. Peter Kramer, went on to abuse more children in his new posting and in 2008 was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison plus psychiatric treatment.
At the time, Mueller defended his decision, saying the Church bore no responsibility for the actions of its priests, and that if Jesus can forgive sinners, certainly the Church can give them second chances as well.
In a recent interview with German daily Kolner Stadt Anzeiger, Mueller decried the “bitter injustice” that Catholic clergy on the whole have suffered collectively because of the “immature and disturbed personality” of a few priests. He said he also has a real problem with what he called the “glib accusation of cover-up.”
Mueller didn’t respond to a request for comment on the status of the accountability tribunal.
Martens, the Belgian-born Catholic University canon lawyer, said the resistance to the tribunal isn’t even greatest within the Vatican.
“If I were a bishop I would not be happy with this,” he said. “Because it comes out of the blue and is completely unknown territory and no one knows what the standards and procedures might be. That might cause some difficulties and problems.”
For years, the Catholic Church has been in the throes of a heated debate over how accepting it should be of gay relationships.
The church teaches that gay behavior is sinful; however, no institution is immune from changes in the world around it.
The Michigan Catholic Conference — which oversees health care for Catholic employees in the state — announced in a letter last week that it is modifying its coverage in a way that will make it possible for gay employees of the church to get health benefits for their partners and spouses.
It does so in a way, however, that doesn’t affirm gay marriage, but simply redefines who qualifies for health coverage in a way that could include same-sex couples.
The move comes less than a year after a deeply divided Supreme Court delivered a historic victory for gay rights, ruling 5 to 4 that the Constitution requires that same-sex couples be allowed to marry no matter where they live.
The letter, sent to pastors and church employees, said health care coverage will be expanded to include legally domiciled adults. A person is considered an LDA, the letter notes, if they’re 18 or older, are financially interdependent with the church employee, and have lived with that person for at least six months.
Under the previous arrangement, a same-sex spouse would not be covered by health insurance because the Catholic Church defines a spouse as someone of the opposite gender, according to the Detroit Free Press.
A person’s sexual orientation or behavior will not factor into the church’s decision to provide employees with health care, according to Dave Maluchnik, director of communications for the MCC. Instead, he said, the church’s primary consideration will be residency.
“The church’s teaching on marriage and human sexuality is not changing,” Maluchnik told The Washington Post. “Our health benefit plan is expanding its eligibility to include a legally domiciled adult and, as such, the benefit is not dependent upon the relationship. It’s dependent upon residency. As long as the qualifications are met, then the benefit can be extended.”
The letter does not include the words “gay” or “same-sex relationship” and Maluchnik said projecting homosexuality into the letter was “a narrow reading” on the eligibility change. He pointed out that the rule change could just as easily apply to a friend, cousin, sibling or parent who lives with the employee.
But gay rights advocates celebrated the change nonetheless.
“The Catholic Church prides itself on being about families, so it’s good to see them taking a step that will actually protect families,” Stephanie White, executive director of Equality Michigan, told The Post.
She said the eligibility change is particularly important in Michigan, where there is no state law that protects LGBT people from discrimination. White believes the change also highlights the benefit of having federal agencies take a lead on “issues of fairness” and predicts that in time, people will realize there’s no reason not to outlaw discrimination.
“The policy also shows that even groups and businesses that are resistant to basic non-discrimination protections can find a way to follow the law and treat everyone equally,” White said.
Maluchnik noted that the decision to expand eligibility came after lengthy discussions among church officials. The alternative to expanding eligibility —removing spousal coverage entirely — would have hurt employees, he said.
“This decision was made following extensive consultation with the National Catholic Bioethics Center and also with our legal counsel to help us ensure that the health plan is compliant with federal and state laws and at the same time being consistent with Catholic teaching,” he said.
He told The Post that the modification to the church’s health plan occurred because of the federal government’s decision to “redefine marriage and the definition of a spouse.”
“It complies with federal law, as it is, in 2016,” Maluchnik told the Free Press. “This is the world in which we now live.”