Catholic bishop is caught with £19,000 stashed in a false wall

Group of priests stole £425,000 from donations and wedding fees over three years’ in Brazil

Cash stash: Police in Formosa, Goiás, Brazil, prised open fake panels in the home of Monsignor Epitácio Cardoso Pereira, to find 90,000 reais (£19,200) in plastic bags

By Sara Malm

A group of Catholic priests in Brazil have been arrested, accused of embezzling £426,000 of church donations, funeral fees and fundraising cash. 

The Bishop of Formosa, Jose Ribeiro, along with five clergymen and three lay people were detained in prison in Goiás this week charged with stealing over 2 million reais (£426,000) from church funds.

A police raid on one of the priests’ home saw officers prise open a false wall in to find some £19,200 in plastic bags hidden in a secret storage space.

Arrested: Monsignor Epitacio Cardoso Pereira, pictured with another priest, are accused of embezzling over 2 million reais (£426,000) from church funds along with his colleagues

It’s alleged the money was stolen over a three-year period from tithes, donations, fundraising events and from fees collected for ceremonies such as baptisms and weddings.

According to state prosecutors, the bishop, who was appointed to the Formosa diocese in 2014, is suspected of leading a sophisticated scheme that diverted funds from church coffers.

Phone taps uncovered the alleged web of deceit with conversations apparently revealing how the group

Accused: Bishop Jose Ribeiro is suspected of leading a sophisticated scheme that diverted funds from church coffers.

laundered the money by purchasing a cattle ranch, a lottery agency, mobile phones, luxury cars, designer watches and gold chains. Large amounts of cash in foreign currencies were also found.

Prosecutor Fernanda Balbinot, said: ‘There were indications the money was used for personal expenses and that cars from the Formosa diocese were used for private purposes.

‘Instead of presenting tax bills and expense receipts with the correct amount, documents were allegedly produced saying there was nothing to declare.’

The investigation is reported to have also uncovered evidence that priests, involved in the scheme, paid the bishop a monthly ‘protection allowance’ of between 7,000 to 10,000 reais (£1,500 to £2,100) to keep their jobs.

Prosecutor Douglas Chegyry said to Brazilian media: ‘The information we have obtained is that in order to remain in the more profitable parishes that generated more money, the priests paid a cash allowance to the bishop.’

In the raid on the home of one of the accused, Monsignor Epitácio Cardoso Pereira, agents used a penknife to prise open the fake panels to discover 90,000 reais (£19,200) in plastic bags hidden in a secret storage space.

Big spender: Police say that the priests laundered the money by purchasing a cattle ranch, a lottery agency, mobile phones, luxury cars, designer watches and gold chains

They also seized three iPhones, a Macbook and found more money hidden in draws around the home which the defendant claimed did not belong to him.

Police officers were later filmed taking hours to count the haul.

The investigation into the Formosa Diocese accounts began last year after members of the congregation alleged irregularities and misuse of assets by the Catholic Church.

Churchgoers also claimed the expenses of the episcopal house rose disproportionately, from 5,000 reais to 35,000 reais (£1,000 to £7,500) following the arrival of Bishop Ribeiro. At the time, the cleric denied any wrongdoing.

Prosecutors have charged the defendants with misappropriation, money laundering, ‘ideological falsehood’ and criminal association.

Lawyers for the accused refute the charges and said they will prove their clients innocence.

Two days after the arrests, Pope Francis named Father Paulo Mendes, who is archbishop of Uberaba, as a temporary replacement in the Goiás diocese which has 33 churches distributed over 20 parishes.

Complete Article HERE!

Young Catholics tell Pope Francis the church is indifferent and judgmental

Pope Francis waves as he celebrates the Vesper prayer in the Church of San Gregorio al Celio, in central Rome.

by Amanda Erickson

On Saturday, hundreds of young Catholics gathered to give Pope Francis a piece of their minds.

They called for a more transparent and “authentic” church, one with a bigger role for women and more wisdom about the benefits and challenges of technology. They called for more flexibility, too, arguing that “unreachable” moral standards should not be the only way to live an authentically Catholic life.

These findings were part of a 16-page report assembled by 300 young people at a week-long conference sponsored by the Vatican. It drew, too, on online submissions from 15,000 others.

“We, the young church, ask that our leaders speak in practical terms about subjects such as homosexuality and gender issues, about which young people are already freely discussing,” the report said.

It was less clear how the group wanted the church to reframe its message. The young people, ages 16 to 29, did not find consensus on issues like contraception (artificial birth control is banned for all Catholics, even married couples), cohabitation before marriage (frowned upon) or abortion.

The report also pushed the church to find ways to connect to young people, who often feel “indifference, judgment and rejection” from the church.

Throughout, the report called on the church to incorporate women more fully into church leadership. Women cannot serve as priests, which means they’re absent from the church’s upper ranks. Young female Catholics said they feel alienated as a result.

“Some young women feel that there is a lack of leading female role models within the church, and they too wish to give their intellectual and professional gifts to the church,” the report found.

The report also called on the church to accept that technology is a way of life for young people. The focus should not be condemnation, they wrote, but rather guidance on how to combat online addiction and use technology responsibly.

At the beginning of the conference, Pope Francis urged the young people — selected by their national bishops’ conferences, universities or church movements — to be honest. That is reflected in the final report, which notes that young people are leaving Catholicism because of  “indifference, judgment and rejection.” It also called on the church to more fully acknowledge its mistakes, such as the clergy sex abuse scandal.

“Some mentors are put on a pedestal, and when they fall, the devastation may impact young people’s abilities to continue to engage with the church,” the report said.

The document will be incorporated into an October synod of bishops, focused on how to better incorporate young people into the church.

It isn’t clear what that will entail. But at a Palm Sunday service on Sunday, Pope Francis urged young people to keep shouting and not allow the older generations to silence their voices.

“The temptation to silence young people has always existed,” he said in his homily, delivered to an audience of thousands in St. Peter’s Square. “There are many ways to silence young people and make them invisible. Many ways to anesthetize them, to make them keep quiet, ask nothing, question nothing. There are many ways to sedate them, to keep them from getting involved, to make their dreams flat and dreary, petty and plaintive.”

“Dear young people, you have it in you to shout,” he told young people, urging them to be like the people who welcomed Jesus with palms rather than those who shouted for his crucifixion only days later. “It is up to you not to keep quiet. Even if others keep quiet, if we older people and leaders, some corrupt, keep quiet, if the whole world keeps quiet and loses its joy, I ask you: Will you cry out?”

“Yes,” the young people in the crowd shouted. “Yes!”

Complete Article HERE!

Longtime pastor removed from St. John Cantius Catholic Parish amid investigation

The Rev. C. Frank Phillips at St. John Cantius Catholic Parish in Chicago in 2014.

By Elvia Malagon

The Rev. C. Frank Phillips, founder of a religious order of men and pastor at the storied St. John Cantius Catholic Parish, was removed last week by the Archdiocese of Chicago amid an investigation into allegations of improper conduct with adult men, according to church officials.

In a statement to parishioners, Cardinal Blase Cupich explained that he had made the decision to “withdraw” Phillips after learning “of credible allegations of improper conduct involving adult men.” Anne Maselli, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said in an email that the allegations do not involve any minors.

Phillips is barred from performing any priestly duties, including administering the sacraments. Phillips is a priest within the religious order of the Congregation of the Resurrection, which will further investigate the allegations, according to the Archdiocese of Chicago.

The parish is at 825 N. Carpenter St. in the Goose Island neighborhood. Phillips will also have to move to a location determined by his order.

“I am aware that this is difficult news to receive, but the Archdiocese of Chicago is committed to ensuring those serving our parishioners are fit for ministry,” Cupich said in a statement. “Know that this decision was made after careful consideration. I will continue to pray for you and am confident the Lord will sustain the St. John Cantius community as you make this transition.”

Phillips had been with the parish since 1988, and it has become well-known in the archdiocese for traditional services in Latin and English. In 1998, Phillips founded the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius as a religious community of men who devote their lives to the church and live under “the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience,” according to the Cantians’ website. The men follow traditions similar to those of the Franciscans, Dominicans and Jesuits. The group falls under the Archdiocese of Chicago, Maselli said.

The Canons Regular of St. John Cantius was first approved by Cardinal Francis George, according to the church’s website.

“The preservation of the traditional Catholic art and the Catholic music are a means of evangelizing to people,” Phillips told the Tribune in 2000. “The sacred arts should draw the hearts of individuals closer to God.”

The Canons Regular will now be supervised by the Rev. Scott Thelander, who will also serve as administrator of the church, according to the statement. Services at the church are expected to continue as scheduled.

The removal of Phillips has left parishioners stunned, said David Carollo, a longtime member of St. John Cantius. He credited Phillips with helping the Canons Regular grow through the years.

Carollo said he believes Phillips is innocent and will be cleared of any wrongdoing. He thinks that is especially true because of the code Phillips and the other men involved in the order live by.

“This doesn’t fit the man I know,” Carollo said.

Complete Article HERE!

Cardinal Keith O’Brien obituary

Former leader of the Roman Catholic church in Scotland who resigned after revelations about his relationships with young priests

Keith O’Brien in Rome in 2012. He was a vehement opponent of gay marriage, labelling it as ‘grotesque’, and was accused of breathtaking hypocrisy after his fall from grace.

The charge of hypocrisy, if proved, can destroy the career of any cleric, and Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who has died aged 80, was caught out spectacularly failing to practise what he had so vehemently preached. As the leader of the Catholic church in Scotland from 2003, he opposed very publicly, and in often intemperate language, all efforts to end discrimination against those in same sex relationships. Gay marriage, he said, was “grotesque”.

But then, with the media spotlight on him in February 2013 as the only British voter at the forthcoming conclave of cardinals to elect a new pope, it was revealed that O’Brien himself had had a homosexual relationship. His subsequent fall from grace was as spectacular as it was unprecedented. The Vatican, usually to be found denying such revelations and standing by senior clerics against all odds, effectively sacked O’Brien overnight and banned him from attending the conclave. (It turned out that they had known of the allegations against him since at least the previous year but, sadly typically, it was only when the charges were made public that action was taken.)

From denial of impropriety between 1965 and 2001 with four priests and seminarians, O’Brien first admitted in general terms to sexual conduct that had “fallen beneath the standards expected of me”. He was then revealed to have had an enduring relationship with one of the men in question right up to the time when he was taking to public platforms to denounce others in similar same-sex partnerships.

At first, O’Brien simply retreated to a retirement home in East Lothian, but his continuing presence in Scotland fuelled the row about his past behaviour. Allegations were made of cronyism, financial misconduct and a culture of secrecy. It was revealed by another Scottish bishop that, in 2012, O’Brien had blocked plans by his episcopal colleagues to commission an investigation into claims of child abuse by priests going back 60 years.

The Vatican stepped in and ordered O’Brien to leave the country. It sent in its own investigator, and appointed, Leo Cushley, a Motherwell-born Vatican official as O’Brien’s successor in the archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh. To Cushley fell the task of repairing the damage done by the O’Brien scandal which, he said, had “distressed many demoralised faithful Catholics and made the church less credible to those who are not Catholic”. In March 2015, Pope Francis formally accepted O’Brien’s resignation, but allowed him to keep the title cardinal, while ordering him not to set foot in Scotland, nor to say mass or appear in public.

It is tempting to dismiss O’Brien as a prime example of the sort of double standards in matters of sexual morality that has for so long plagued and discredited a Catholic leadership fond of promoting a set of near-impossible standards in intimate relationships for the laity that has alienated so many of the faithful. And, indeed, he was. But O’Brien was not an out-and-out reactionary, nor was he always so out of touch with reality. The very day before he was outed, he had spoken up bravely, forcefully and sensibly against his Church’s cherished official line that married men could not be priests.

With hindsight, he may even have been making a veiled reference to his own private circumstances when he said: “It is a free world and I realise that many priests have found it very difficult to cope with celibacy as they lived out their priesthood and felt the need of a companion, of a woman, to whom they could get married and raise a family of their own.”

It was a remark that arguably chimed better with the humane Keith O’Brien that many had come to know and respect in the years before he became leader of the Scottish Catholic church. As the number two figure in the hierarchy north of the border from 1985, he had won a reputation in church circles and beyond as a thoughtful, grounded and occasionally outspokenly liberal figure.

The change in O’Brien’s public persona happened overnight. The Vatican’s announcement in 2003 that O’Brien, the archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh, was to become Scotland’s third cardinal since the Reformation, was inevitably followed by a round of interviews. In them, he reiterated what he had said many times before – that there needed to be more discussion within the church on contentious subjects such as clerical celibacy and contraception. He would welcome a fresh look at church teaching on the latter, he told reporters.

Within hours of these remarks being published, however, he was busy backtracking. During a routine service in St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh, he surprised worshippers by reading out a personal “profession of faith” that, it was said, had been forced on him by the Vatican. In it he pledged 100% backing to the church’s ban on all artificial contraception and its insistence that priests be male and celibate.

O’Brien thereafter never returned to his previous concerns for dialogue and did not depart from the letter of church teaching in his public pronouncements, right up to his remarks on priestly celibacy on the eve of the papal conclave. And while he maintained his former genial ease when speaking in pulpits, on platforms or in TV studios, his message became ever more uncompromising and, some said, political.

In 2007, marking the 40th anniversary of the introduction of the Abortion Act, he warned pro-choice Catholic legislators that they could not regard themselves as full members of the church and provocatively (and insensitively, some said) described the termination rate in Scotland as equivalent to “two Dunblane massacres a day”.

His greatest political triumph came in 2008, when his strongly worded and high-profile intervention into the rapidly escalating clash between church and state over embryo experimentation forced a climbdown by the prime minister, Gordon Brown.

O’Brien, a former school science teacher, described proposals in the human fertilisation and embryology bill to allow scientists to create part-human, part-animal embryos for use in stem-cell experimentation, as “Nazi-style experiments” and “a monstrous attack on human rights, human dignity and human life”. Within days, the Labour government had capitulated and conceded what it had previously been refusing – a free vote on the most contentious clauses for MPs.

It caused O’Brien to be held up by traditionalist Catholics south of the border as a rebuke to their own leaders. The English and Welsh Catholic church, a separate entity in the eyes of the Vatican, had by contrast tended to adopt a softly-softly stance in the political arena, working increasingly behind closed doors in Whitehall and Westminster to raise concerns with ministers and anxious not to be seen as out on a limb. O’Brien’s success in forcing Brown into a U-turn may even have caused his English and Welsh counterparts to take a more robust stance, notably in opposing gay marriage, albeit to no avail.

The son of Alice (nee Moriarty) and Mark O’Brien, he was born in Ballycastle, County Antrim. His father, who had served with distinction in the Royal Navy during the second world war, was unable to find work on being demobbed, a result of the sectarianism in Northern Ireland workplaces at the time. The family was forced to emigrate to Scotland. The memory lived on with O’Brien who, as cardinal, tackled head-on what he called Scotland’s “secret sectarianism”, and attended Celtic-Rangers matches with other church leaders to try to calm the religious rivalry that traditionally accompanied such games. He even pushed – unsuccessfully – for the Act of Settlement to be amended to remove the bar on a Catholic monarch because it was a tacit endorsement of anti-Catholic prejudice.

O’Brien completed a degree in chemistry and mathematics at Edinburgh University and was ordained a priest in 1965. He initially combined being a curate with teaching in the local Catholic high school in Cowdenbeath, but from 1972 had his own parishes in first Kilsyth and then Bathgate. In 1978 he was named spiritual director of St Andrew’s College at Drygrange, and then in 1980 rector of St Mary’s College, the junior seminary (since closed) at Blairs. It was at these institutions that what he later referred to as “drunken fumblings” took place with younger men in his care.

In 1985, he was named to succeed Cardinal Gordon Grey as archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh. It was not until Grey’s death in 1993, however, that Rome had to name a new Scottish cardinal. While O’Brien had a good working relationship with his only other rival for the honour, his Glasgow counterpart, Archbishop Thomas Winning, the two were very different characters. Winning was a spiritual pugilist, a self-conscious prince of the church, a man of firm and traditional opinions, qualities which won him the nod from Rome.

Operating in Winning’s shadow had its advantages for O’Brien. In 1996, when Roddy Wright, the bishop of Argyll, was engulfed in scandal on account of his relationships with women, it was technically O’Brien’s responsibility to sort out the mess, but Winning took charge – and on this occasion the flak for the Church’s hypocrisy.

And in 1999, at a synod of European bishops, while Winning was patiently engaged in lobbying Vatican officials, O’Brien was able to win plaudits for coming clean in public about the degree of Rome’s control and interference in local churches. He told reporters, in relation to a joint pastoral plan of the Scottish and English bishops that Vatican officials had vetoed, that “we [bishops] know that we are vicars of Christ in our own dioceses, but the bishops here in Rome don’t think that”.

However, with Winning’s sudden death in 2001, O’Brien’s turn as cardinal had come – and with it the behaviour expected of those in this exclusive club of 120 or so international leaders of the Catholic church. He was not entirely orthodox. He celebrated his consecration in Rome as a cardinal, for example, by waving the Scottish flag in St Peter’s Square, a typically exuberant and relaxed gesture captured in a picture that graced many newspaper front covers around the world.

But in public, he ceased to express doubt or admit that anything other than the official church line had merit. He became a formidable political operator, helped by the fact that the new Scottish parliament was located in his diocese. He was courted in particular by Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish Nationalists, who was anxious to break the traditional close link between Scotland’s Catholics and the Labour party. In 2006, O’Brien appeared to endorse aspirations for Scottish independence, though he later played down the remark.

In private, friends said, O’Brien remained the same man he had always been – laid-back, self-deprecating, funny – but those who had hoped this persuasive prelate might be a force for reform in the upper echelons of the church were disappointed.

He lived out his retirement in exile in Northumberland and then Newcastle, but his name will remain as a rebuke to the church’s sometimes overbearing claim to moral authority in all matters.

He is survived by his brother, Terry.

Complete Article HERE!