09/29/16

Court files reveal new details behind St. Paul Archdiocese troubles

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Documents give more insight into investigation of former Archbishop John Nienstedt and ex-priest Curtis Wehmeyer.

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Former Minneapolis-St. Paul Archbishop John Nienstedt, shown in 2015, drew concern over his interactions with seminarians during his time in St. Paul, according to recently released documents.

The Ramsey County attorney’s office released the final mountain of documents from its criminal investigation into the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis this week, providing new details of allegations of sexual advances by former Archbishop John Nienstedt and of the church’s mishandling of convicted sex offender Curtis Wehmeyer.

Nienstedt’s interactions with seminarians drew concern from young men and clergy leaders more recently than had been revealed before, including during his seven-year tenure in St. Paul ending in 2015, according to files. That’s in addition to the previously reported allegations of sexual improprieties with adult men made by former colleagues in the Detroit area dating to the 1970s.

Documents show that former Archbishop Harry Flynn — like Nienstedt — gave special attention to Wehmeyer, a former priest, including overriding a 1996 recommendation by the archdiocese’s vocation office that Wehmeyer not be admitted into seminary.

By 2013, and after multiple episodes of sexual misconduct, Wehmeyer was convicted of sexually abusing two boys in Wehmeyer’s camper when it was parked outside his St. Paul church. He was sentenced to five years in prison.

Documents also indicate that Wehmeyer used that camper to visit the lake home of Joseph Kueppers, the archdiocese’s chancellor for civil affairs, where Wehmeyer would spend some weekends from about 2007 to 2012. According to a deacon with a lake home nearby, Wehmeyer sometimes performed Sunday masses at the lake home. Kueppers, a former parishioner of Wehmeyer, was noted for “not disclosing information” by attorneys investigating Nienstedt.

Curtis Wehmeyer, a former priest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, pleaded guilty in 2012 to molesting two children.

Curtis Wehmeyer, a former priest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, pleaded guilty in 2012 to molesting two children.

Nienstedt, who had a social relationship with Wehmeyer, has denied any sexual relationship with him. In files from the St. Paul police investigation also made available this week, Wehmeyer says the same, that he had no sexual relationship with the archbishop. He blames much of his troubles on his drinking.

The wide-ranging documents — edited for confidentiality — represent the final pieces of the investigation completed by Ramsey County Attorney John Choi this year. Choi had filed a criminal lawsuit against the archdiocese, charging it with failure to protect children in the Wehmeyer case. The charges were dropped in July in an agreement requiring the archdiocese to publicly admit its guilt and follow new procedures in dealing with abuse.<

The nearly 1,000 pages of documents were released in response to a freedom of information request filed by the Star Tribune.

The county looked into whether Nienstedt or the archdiocese gave preferential treatment to Wehmeyer over the years. The question arose because Wehmeyer had so many red flags — including soliciting sex in a bookstore, using boys’ bathroom in a parish school, apparent cruising for sex in a park and angry outbursts.

A team from Kinsale Management Consulting that was asked to review the personnel files leading up to Wehmeyer’s sex abuse charges concluded, “If he hasn’t offended already, he’s going to,” according to a St. Paul police investigator.

The files include archdiocese correspondence, interviews with archdiocese officials involved in clergy misconduct issues, statements filed in the Nienstedt investigation, and interviews by county attorney investigators. They follow a batch of court files released by Choi in July.

The documents indicate new allegations against Nienstedt. A former seminarian at St. Paul Seminary told investigators that before a group photo with Nienstedt at a 2010 event at the new Twins stadium, Nienstedt put his arm around him and “caressed my neck and back in a manner that was very uncomfortable to me.”

A former St. Paul priest reported he left the priesthood about 10 years ago because of a friendship with Nienstedt that became uncomfortable, and that the former archbishop seems to have derailed his attempt to become a priest again in another diocese.

Likewise, a seminarian from Nienstedt’s days in Michigan, who claimed he also rebuffed a Nienstedt advance, said he believes the former archbishop tried to undermine his career because he didn’t want to work in the same place as Nienstedt.

“There are troubling patterns suggested by the evidence thus far: alleged unwelcome advances, inappropriate interaction with seminarians, and reprisals among those that don’t reciprocate those advances,” wrote an archdiocese official in a 2015 memo to archdiocese leadership.

He notes that some archdiocese staff have noted “odd letters written to seminarians … in which warm and affectionate language is used.”

Nienstedt has repeatedly stated he has not engaged in sexual misconduct, and blamed some of the reports on the tough stance he has taken on gay marriage.

“I am a heterosexual man who has been celibate my entire life,” Nienstedt wrote in July. “I have never solicited sex, improperly touched anyone and have not used my authority to cover up, or even try to cover up, any allegation of sexual abuse.”

Rev. Kevin McDonough, the archdiocese’s longtime point person on clergy abuse, is discussed in some files. A consultant working at St. Peter Claver Church in St. Paul, which McDonough also served, recalled the priest there saying, “I have to get someone out of town quickly.”

This was after a priest had been accused of sexually abusing the daughter of a woman with whom the priest had been having an affair, said the consultant. Boxes of the priest’s belongings were stored at St. Peter Claver, the consultant said

Another St. Peter Claver consultant said that McDonough did not use his own computer for much or most of his work, but rather used his assistant’s. And McDonough refused to let the consultant recycle and reuse church computers.

In a 2013 letter to members of St. Peter and Incarnation Church, which he also oversaw, McDonough attacked abuse victims’ request for the archdiocese to make public the list of priests accused of sexually abusing minors. “This is a content-less issue,” he wrote, as many of the people on the list haven’t been criminally charged but didn’t have a chance to defend themselves. “Nothing in this issue, I believe, has any direct personal relation to me.”

Subsequent document releases indicated McDonough’s involvement in various cases.

The St. Paul police files include an interview with Wehmeyer speaking from prison to police investigators. The former priest attributed his egregious behavior to excessive drinking and to coping with his own personal issues, adding “I’ve got a lot to deal with.”

Complete Article HERE!

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09/29/16

Kicking the habit: two former nuns married in civil ceremony in Italy

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Federica and Isabel fell in love while working at rehab center for drug addicts and renounced being nuns but say they have not lost their faith

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 Italy earlier this year legalized civil unions, angering the Vatican.

Italy earlier this year legalized civil unions, angering the Vatican.

Federica and Isabel’s love story was not that unusual, apart from one detail.

The affair, which culminated in a civil union this week in the Italian town of Pinerolo, began “slowly” according to their friend, Franco Barbero. The two had a lot in common, having both decided to devote their lives to charitable work.

They fell in love working at a rehabilitation centre for drug addicts, but there was just one hitch.

Both were already married to the Catholic church.

Federica and Isabel were Franciscan nuns when they met and fell in love, and have both since renounced their vocation and spoken out against the church’s position against homosexuality.

“God wants people happy, to live the love in the light of the sun,” Isabel recently told La Stampa, the Italian daily newspaper. The two brides said that they have not lost their faith and would not otherwise have wanted to leave the church.

“We call upon our church to welcome all people who love each other,” added Federica, her new bride.

The courtship and civil union comes about one year after a Vatican official, Krzysztof Charamsa, publicly abandoned the church after announcing that he was gay and in love. Charamsa was sacked and defrocked after admitting he was in love with another man.

The two women were joined in a civil union in a ceremony behind closed doors in Pinerolo’s city hall, about 24 hours before they had planned. The ceremony was supposed to take place on Thursday, but the time was changed after the media were alerted to the story and the couple wanted to avoid a media frenzy.

Luca Salvai, the Five Star Movement mayor who performed the ceremony, told La Stampa: “We have guaranteed the right to privacy for this couple, who asked for discretion.”

He added that the couple were expected to remain in Pinerolo, which is near the city of Turin.

“Yesterday morning they arrived by themselves, scared by all the clamor, and after the ceremony they left by themselves in silence, one next to the other,” Salvai said.

It was the second same sex civil union ceremony performed in the town of Pinerolo since Italy passed legislation to legalise same-sex unions earlier this year. The couple are also due to participate in a religious service by their friend, Barbero, a former priest who was suspended because of his support of gay marriage.

“I can assure you that not all [of the other nuns] were against this. They have been criticised, but also understood by some sisters. Just as there are many good priests who do not condemn these kind of choices. I must add, for the record, that it is not the first time that I happen to marry two sisters,” he said.

Complete Article HERE!

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09/27/16

Is the Rise of “Nones” Actually the Decline of Catholics?

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The Public Religion Research Institute is out with another fascinating report on one of the most significant religious trends of our time: the dramatic rise in disaffiliation, or, as some call them, the “nones.”

PPRI found that a fully a quarter of all Americans, and a whopping 39% of young adults, now say they have no religious affiliation, making the unaffiliated the largest “religious” group in a country long known for its high levels of religiosity.

And while the rise of the “nones” will continue to make headlines and shape culture for a long time to come, there is another largely unnoticed trend lurking in the numbers: just how much the growth in the nones has been fueled by the disaffiliation of Roman Catholics. According to PPRI:

While non-white Protestants and non-Christian religious groups have remained fairly stable, white Protestants and Catholics have all experienced declines, with Catholics suffering the largest decline among major religious groups: a 10-percentage point loss overall. Nearly one-third (31%) of Americans report being raised in a Catholic household, but only about one in five (21%) Americans identify as Catholic currently.

The Catholic rate of disaffiliation dwarfs the rate for any other faith tradition; the next biggest “loser” in terms of disaffiliation are the mainline Protestant denominations, which saw a 4.5-point loss, while white evangelical denominations saw a net drop of only 2.2 points, largely because they have both a lower rate of disaffiliation and a fairly robust rate of new adherents.

Meanwhile, the faith of no faith saw a nearly 16 percentage point increase. According to PPRI’s Director of Research, Daniel Cox, 36% of all those who left their childhood religion were Catholic. This means that Catholics are punching above their weight in adding to the growth of the nones in terms of their overall representation in the population.

And while 21% of the total population currently identifies as Catholic, only 15% of young adults ages 18–29 say they are Catholic, which is not a particularly encouraging trend line for the Catholic Church.

Overall, the majority of people (60%) say the reason they left their church of origin was because they stopped believing in its teachings. However:

…those who were raised Catholic are more likely than those raised in any other religion to cite negative religious treatment of gay and lesbian people (39% vs. 29%, respectively) and the clergy sexual-abuse scandal (32% vs. 19%, respectively) as primary reasons they left the Church.

Cox also notes mixed-faith households seem to be an especially important factor behind the high rates of Catholic disaffiliation. “Catholics who are raised in mix-faith households tend to disaffiliate at really remarkable rates—only 39% of Catholics raised in religiously mixed households stay in the faith, versus two-thirds of those raised in solidly Catholic households.”

The other point that the PPRI study makes clear is that while the “nones” are often portrayed as “seekers” or “spiritual but not religious,” the data present a far murkier picture. The study found that nearly 60% of the unaffiliated are what PPRI calls “rejectionists”: they “say religion is not personally important in their lives and believe religion as a whole does more harm than good in society.”

Another 22% are “apatheists” who say “religion is not personally important to them, but believe it generally is more socially helpful than harmful.” Only 18% were found to be “unattached believer” who say religion is personally important to them. That means that religion is unimportant for fully 80% of the “nones.”

In addition, “Only four in ten unaffiliated Americans identify themselves as being very (14%) or moderately (26%) spiritual. Nearly six in ten say they are only slightly spiritual (26%) or not at all spiritual (32%).”

“The bulk of the unaffiliated are not carrying on faith traditions or seeking different types of spiritual activity. Most don’t give a lot of thought to religion and God in general,” said Cox.

One of the more remarkable things about the growth of the unaffiliated, said Cox, is the recent surge in the unaffiliated. “Between the mid-1990s and the 2000s, the rate was relatively modest. But in the mid-2000s it goes gangbusters and you get a 10- to 11-point increase that is being driven by one factor: millennials.”

He points to structural reasons for the high rate of disaffiliation among millennials, including the high rate of divorce in the early 1980s when the millennials where children. “It’s more complicated raising children in a religious context in joint custody arrangements,” Cox said.

But it’s also worth noting, given the high rate of Catholic disaffiliation and the fact that one-third of Catholics gave the clergy sex-abuse scandals as their primary reason for disaffiliation, that the trend line begins to tick up just as wave after wave of revelations about hidden abuse scandals became public.

Complete Article HERE!

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09/22/16

Supporters rally in Hoboken for gay priest suspended by archbishop

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By Steve Strunsky

Clergy, parishioners, public officials and LGBTU rights advocates rallied in Hoboken Wednesday night in support of a gay Catholic priest, the Rev. Warren Hall, suspended by Archbishop John J. Myers on a charge of disobedience after speaking out in support of a Paramus Catholic High School faculty member fired for being in a same-sex marriage.

Clergy, parishioners, public officials and LGBTU rights advocates rallied in Hoboken Wednesday night in support of a gay Catholic priest, the Rev. Warren Hall, suspended by Archbishop John J. Myers on a charge of disobedience after speaking out in support of a Paramus Catholic High School faculty member fired for being in a same-sex marriage.

Clergy, parishioners, public officials and other LGBT rights advocates held a rally in Hoboken Wednesday night in support of a gay priest stripped of his religious authority and his job at two Hudson churches after speaking out in favor of a Catholic school faculty member fired for being in a same-sex marriage.

The early evening rally at Stevens Park on Hudson Street was attended by about 3 dozen supporters of the Rev. Warren Hall, who was removed last month from his dual position as parochial vicar at both Saints Peter and Paul Church in Hoboken and St. Lawrence Roman Catholic Church in Weehawken.

Hall was removed by 75-year-old Archbishop John J. Myers, who is past retirement age and awaiting a replacement to be named by the Vatican.

“We the people have a god-given right to stand up for what we know is right,” said Michael Billy of Jersey City Pride, which organized the event in conjunction with its Hoboken affiliate. “This archbishop is vastly out of touch with what is going on in the world.”

Hall had been parochial vicar, a kind of assistant pastor, at the two churches since July 2015. He was assigned to the churches soon after being removed by Myers from a campus ministry job at Seton Hall University for what Hall said was his support of the LGBT community.

Last month, Myers suspended hall following his outspoken support for Paramus Catholic High School’s dean of guidance and basketball coach, Kate Drumgoole, who had been fired by school officials after they learned she was married to a woman, a union officially sanctioned by the state, but not the church.

Jim Goodness, a spokesman for the archdioceses, said Hall had been stripped of his position, “because he was disobedient,” though Goodness declined to say just what it was that Hall had disobeyed. Goodness said Hall is free to appeal his suspension to the Vatican.

But Hall said he had no immediate plans to do that, and supporters at the rally did not dwell on his old job. Rather they stressed the importance of spiritual leadership from outside of the church, which has often been the catalyst for change within it.

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“Change is here, it can happen, it has happened, it will happen,” Laura Knittel of Hoboken Pride, told Hall’s supporters in impassioned remarks. “Let’s pray for the archbishop. Father Warren, you’re work has just begun in a whole new chapter of your life.”

Hall, a 53-year-old Jersey City native, was stripped not only of his post at the two churches, but also of his right to give mass, take confessions, perform pastoral services of any kind, or even identify himself as a Catholic priest. Myers had directed Hall to move out of the rectory at Saints Peter and Paul into a retirement home for clergy in New Jersey. Instead, Hall said he is living with family, contemplating his next move.

Hall said he was grateful to supporters who turned out for the rally. And in an interview as others sang, Hall also said that although he understood the hierarchical rationale for the disobedience charge, he insisted he had never spoken out against the church. In fact, he aded, he had always urged Catholics to remain within the church regardless of their sexuality.

“In a letter, a notice, that the archbishop sent out last year, he made clear that groups that have positions that are opposite of the Catholic church we should not be involved with,” Hall said.

“However,” he added, “my belief in that is that my involvement with those groups were for positive reasons. For instance, PFLAG, Parents and Friends of Lesbian and Gay Children, I went to those groups to talk about how God loves their children and that we should welcome their children. And so, I think I can see why I’m accused of being disobedient, but I don’t think it’s being disobedience because the message that I brought to those groups, in every case, was not anti-Catholic.”

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Hoboken Councilman Michael DeFusco, a parishioner of Saints Peter and Paul who is gay, read a poem by Mary Oliver, “Sunrise,” that he thought was a fitting tribute to Hall, whose outspokenness may have cost him his livelihood, but could contribute to a brighter future for others. The opening line of the poem reads:

“You can die for it —
an idea,
or the world. People
have done so,
brilliantly,
letting
their small bodies be bound to the stake,
creating
an unforgettable fury
of light.”

Then, in his own works, DeFusco added, “Thank you, Father Hall.”

Complete Article HERE!

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09/22/16

Chicago priest charged with possession of child porn

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Bond was set at $50,000 for a Chicago priest charged with one felony count of possession of child pornography.

Father Octavio Munoz, 40, was extradited from Maryland, where he had been relocated by the archdiocese, said prosecutors.

Munoz previously served as the director of Casa Jesus, a recruiting program for the Archdiocese of Chicago that was suspended in April. Munoz was moving to Saint Pancratius Church in Brighton Park when prosecutors say archdiocese employees saw his laptop displaying a webcam of child pornography on July 7, 2016. Munoz was not in the apartment at the time.

Octavio Munoz

Octavio Munoz

A week later, prosecutors say an employee reported the incident and the archdiocese contacted private investigators before notifying Chicago Police around July 30th 2015.

The laptop was not found, but authorities say they recovered “two movies that contained images of child pornography as well as hundreds of DVD’s and VHS tapes depicting minors, magazines containing images of minors, emails containing stories of sex with children, and children’s underwear.”

“What I heard was speculation and innuendo. Not proof,” said Raymond Wigell, an attorney representing Munoz.

The Archdiocese of Chicago released this statement:

We learned today that Father Octavio Muñoz Capetillo has been charged with one felony count of possession of child pornography. The charge comes in connection with a police investigation that began after the archdiocese reported that inappropriate material had been found on a computer in his possession. On July 28, 2015, Archbishop Blase J. Cupich removed Father Muñoz from ministry and withdrew his faculties, his authority to minister, after the archdiocese learned that the inappropriate material might involve minors. Given the nature of that material, the archdiocese reported it promptly to the civil authorities and have cooperated fully with their investigation.

Wigell says the archdiocese suggested that Munoz go into a program at Saint Luke’s in Maryland. A warrant for his arrest was issued on August 29. He was extradited on Tuesday.

Munoz is due back in court on October 12th.

Complete Article HERE!

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