How dare the pope ask ordinary Catholics to atone for child abuse?

It was the church hierarchy’s desperation to protect itself that led to these horrors. It must reform – not us

Pope Francis. ‘The truth about the Catholic church is that it is not fit for purpose, and it has not been fit for purpose for many years.’

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The Catholic church is in meltdown: the appalling story emerged last week of clerical abuse stretching back decades in Pennsylvania, where at least 1,000 children were the victims of 300 priests.

In the UK, a report on the behaviour of the monks at two leading Catholic schools was released recently. That report, from the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, details (and believe me, the details are horrendous) abuse over 40 years, affecting perhaps hundreds of children – the true extent of the crimes will probably never be known. As in Pennsylvania, the church authorities tried to cover it up: so in both places, these are double crimes committed by ordained men. First, they abused the most vulnerable young people in their care; and then other ordained men – usually more senior figures – allowed the abuse to continue by seeking to protect, not the children they were responsible for, but themselves and their precious reputations.

And now, after an embarrassing interlude, Pope Francis has spoken out. He has issued a letter – an “unprecedented letter”, we are told. He acknowledges the church’s crimes, he promises zero tolerance (about time) and then he invites “the entire holy faithful people of God to a penitential exercise of prayer and fasting, following the Lord’s command”.

Now, I like Pope Francis. He is charismatic and warm, and seems genuine in his care for the causes a Christian leader should care about. But here, pontiff, I see cardinal red. Because how dare you ask ordinary Catholics like me to atone for the sins of these heinous clerics? How dare you call on us to repent for their sins?

The truth about the Catholic church is that it is not fit for purpose, and it has not been fit for purpose for many years. There was a brief attempt, in the 1960s during the second Vatican council, at reevaluation – and then slam! The door was closed. It’s been run by a self-serving group of misogynistic men for far too long, and now we know they have a shocking number of paedophiles in their ranks. Radical new thinking is called for: those priests in Rome need to look up to the heavens and take in a very big swathe of blue sky.

The biggest horror about asking “the people of God” to repent is this: the church has failed, and failed, and failed again to ask “the people of God” to help it run the institution. It has been all too ready and willing to issue orders to the rest of us – and the miracle is that there are still some Catholic lay people who actually continue to keep some of those orders. Many priests by contrast, as we now know, not only flout the rules but flout them in the worst way possible, by ruining the lives of the most precious people in their midst.

The Catholic church has failed, horribly, to include the very people who could have helped it be a better organisation: its “faithful”. Democracy is dismissed, frowned on, ignored: 50 years ago this year we had a document called Humanae Vitae, that forbade the use of contraception. When the vast majority of western Catholics, in a display of practical democracy, decided to ignore it (the moral position, in mine and many others’ view) it simply buried its head in the sand and said we were wrong. When people like me campaigned and argued for women to be admitted to the priesthood (I am talking about 30 years ago – there are no women who would want to join their ranks now) they told us to be quiet; indeed, debate on the subject was totally shut down by Pope John Paul II. Priests were told not to engage with us on it: I tried it out on a number of occasions, but conversations were brought to an abrupt end.

So it is rich indeed that the pope’s answer to the current troubles is to ask the people to atone for them. He needs to think hard and come up with something very different from all this talk, and indeed from all these meetings with the victims of abuse (we will see that happening again this coming weekend, when he visits Ireland).

Of course it’s good to say sorry: but he’s said sorry repeatedly. Now he needs to do something. The only good news is the miracle that there are still some lay people left in the Catholic church (for some reason all the institution seems to worry about is the lack of priests, when the lack of congregations is a far more critical issue). The proper response to the continuing avalanche of reports on the extent of the abuse is to reduce the power of the clergy – and to call in those who just might be able to give it some help to get back on the rails. In other words: the people of God. Try it, Francis.

Complete Article HERE!

Priests, celibacy and sex

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick listens during a news conference in Washington in this May 16, 2006, file photo.

By Thomas Reese, SJ

Recent news stories about financial settlements with adults who had sexual encounters with a bishop show that the issue of sex abuse in the Catholic Church is not limited to the abuse of minors. When Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was suspended from the priesthood after being credibly accused of abusing an altar boy, it was also revealed that financial settlements for his actions had been made earlier with two adults.

The church has adopted a zero tolerance for the sexual abuse of minors, but how should it deal with other sexual activity by priests?

The requirement of celibacy for priests in the Catholic Church is a topic of debate in the church today. Many, myself included, think that priestly celibacy should be optional, as it is in other Christian churches. Pope Francis has signaled that he is open to considering the ordination of married men but wants the request to come from national bishops’ conferences.

But Francis is also very strong is stating that in the meantime, celibacy must be observed. He would not throw out every priest who violated celibacy; individual lapses can be forgiven. But a priest who is incapable of observing celibacy should return to the lay state, Francis wrote before he became pope, especially if there is a child who has a right to a father.

Not everyone agrees with Francis. Some are less forgiving and would expel from the priesthood anyone who even once violates his promise of celibacy. Others argue that celibacy has never been universally observed and bad laws should not be enforced. In some cultures, bishops know that many of their priests do not observe celibacy and simply ignore it as long as it does not become public or as long as the parishioners don’t complain.

It is unknown how widespread are violations of celibacy. There are lots of anecdotes, but little data. I personally believe that most priests, especially in the United States, observe celibacy. But how are we to think about those who do not?

There is universal agreement that those who have sex with minors should be prosecuted as criminals and expelled from the priesthood. But what about violations with adults? Are there other sexual violations that should be treated by the church with zero tolerance?

Rape or other criminal violations should, of course, receive zero tolerance. These violations should be reported to the police and prosecuted under the law. There is no place in the priesthood for such criminals.

But what about other cases of sex with adults? Many Americans don’t think sex between consenting adults is an issue. But they and the church need to learn from feminists and the #MeToo movement. They have taught us about the danger of sex between adults who are not in positions of equal power.

For the church, this would clearly be the case of a bishop or priest having sex with a seminarian or a bishop having sex with a priest. The relationship here is even greater than that between an employer and employee. A bishop is supposed to be a father to his priests and seminarians. The church needs a zero-tolerance policy toward such abuse. Any bishop having sex with a seminarian or priest should lose his office, as should any priest having sex with a seminarian.

There also are many lay people employed by the church. Surely, the church should follow the highest standards in protecting lay employees from sexual harassment from their supervisors, whether priests or lay. Here the church should adopt best practices developed in the secular world.

There are also pastoral relationships that need to be examined since often the people a priest deals with are very vulnerable.

For centuries, the church has recognized this problem with regard to confessors and penitents. As a result, priests are excommunicated if they absolve their sexual partners.

Secular professionals, such as psychologists, recognize these dangers as well. Clients can be very vulnerable and dependent on their therapist. The feelings and emotions that come up in counseling can be exploited. The church can learn from other professions about best practices.

And what about sex with an ordinary parishioner?

The church needs a frank discussion of these issues with input from the laity. Sex between a priest and adult can be more than simply a violation of celibacy. It can also be a violation of professional ethics. With the advice of laity with expertise in these areas, the church needs to adopt best practices and hold itself to the highest standards. The church needs the help of laity not only in developing standards but also in enforcing them. No profession, including the clergy, is good at policing itself.

Complete Article HERE!

Body of priest exhumed to establish whether he fathered a child decades ago

Jim Graham with a picture of the Rev. Thomas Sullivan, who he contends was his father.

For 25 years, Jim Graham has tried to prove he is the son of a deceased Catholic priest who grew up in Lowell and graduated from Boston College.

He pulled old adoption records that mention his “alleged father.” He leaned on leaked documents from a friendly priest and petitioned Catholic leaders all the way to Rome, to no avail.

The quest continued Monday afternoon in a Catholic cemetery in Tewksbury, as a backhoe turned up earth on the Rev. Thomas Sullivan’s grave and promised to provide answers once and for all.

“We missed a lot, the two of us,” Graham said, fighting back tears after the exhumation. “Didn’t have much opportunity for father and son.”

Graham, his wife, and forensic pathologist Anna Marie Mires came to this cemetery on the grounds of an infirmary run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate to take a DNA sample from Sullivan’s body. The sample will be compared with a sample provided by Graham and should offer a morbid capstone of Graham’s long search for the truth.

Children of Catholic priests live with secrets and sorrow: Jim Graham

“I never wanted it to come to this,” he said days earlier.

Graham, 72, had longed for some kind of confirmation from the Oblates, a 202-year-old Catholic religious order. He sought some acknowledgment that they knew and had tried to save face all these years.

“But they wouldn’t do that so I was left with no choice,” Graham said.

Although his quest appears to be unique, Graham is one of thousands of people around the world with credible claims that they were fathered by Catholic priests, often with no confirmation or financial support from the church. Frequently compelled to lead lives of silence and sorrow, they are the unfortunate victims of a religion that has, for nearly 900 years, forbidden priests to marry or have sex but has never set rules for what priests or bishops must do when a clergyman fathers a child.

Earlier this year, Graham received permission to conduct the exhumation from the Washington, D.C., office of the Oblates and had to overcome a variety of obstacles before the digging could begin.

He acquired a permit from the town of Tewksbury. Later, he went shopping for a drill bit that would be used to bore into Sullivan’s femur, an optimum location for retrieving DNA from a body that may have decomposed.

Jim Graham visits the grave of Rev. Thomas S. Sulllivan.

“So, there I was at Lowe’s buying some of the tools that the forensic anthropologist would use on my father,” said Graham, who was featured in a 2017 Globe Spotlight investigation into the children of Catholic priests. “I’m learning about all these procedures in ways I never thought I would.”

That drill bit came into play Monday. Mires, the forensic anthropologist, said the metal casket was raised from the grave. A nameplate identified the remains as the Rev. Thomas Sullivan, ensuring her that she had found the right body.

Mires said the remains were so well-preserved that she could recognize Sullivan from the photos she had seen. She took a sample from Sullivan’s femur, and three additional samples from other parts of his body, which was standard procedure for her. “From a DNA perspective, I was very happy about that,” Mires said.

The accelerated DNA testing will be done in Virginia, by Bode Cellmark Forensics, and Graham expects to receive test results in about a month. He said the total cost of the exhumation, the forensic anthropologist, a funeral director, and testing will exceed $10,000.

Coping International, a group that provides counseling and other support for priests’ children, has followed Graham’s case.

“I’m happy for Jim and I hope he finally finds closure,” said Vincent Doyle, the son of an Irish priest and the group’s founder. “But this was really a last resort and I can’t help but wonder, after 70 years, was there not a simpler solution?”

The Oblates say there was not. “Nobody is denying Jim’s idea that Father Tom Sullivan was his father,” said the Rev. Thomas G. Coughlin, the assistant to the order’s United States provincial. “We’ve been attempting to put his mind at ease. We just don’t have the information he wishes we would give him.”

Graham remains skeptical of that explanation, and for good reason. For a quarter century, at times working with the help of a detective agency, he has collected documents showing that Sullivan was almost certainly his father. The documents include more than 30 pages of records from a New York City adoption agency, which his mother used for day-care services after she left her husband, the man who raised Graham, in Buffalo, N.Y.

Those records refer to Jim as an “o.w. child,” or a child born out of wedlock, and mention a sympathetic “alleged father” living nearby.

Other records — church documents given to Jim by a friendly priest, and a transcript of his mother’s divorce proceedings — strongly suggest Sullivan deserted the Oblates and moved to New York City at about the same time as Jim’s mother.

The church records show that Sullivan was transferred from a church in Buffalo to the Oblate College in Newburgh, N.Y., about a 90-minute drive from Manhattan, “to protect him and save him” from “a serious occasion.” They also show that Sullivan left the college a month later, without leaving a forwarding address, saying he would never return.

If Graham’s mother and the Rev. Sullivan were attempting to start a new life as lovers and his parents, their plans were abruptly dashed when private detectives raided their New York City apartment. This, according to Graham, gave his stepfather the evidence he used to divorce his mother and retain custody of him and two girls that Graham now believes are his half-sisters.

After the raid, Sullivan rejoined the Oblates and spent the next 16 years doing penance — translating religious texts and performing menial tasks — at a shrine the Oblates maintained in upstate New York, according to church records reviewed by The Boston Globe. When the Oblates deemed him rehabilitated, he fulfilled assignments in far-flung regions of the country and eventually returned to Tewksbury, where in 1993 he died of melanoma in the infirmary overlooking the cemetery where he was buried.

Troubled by questions about why the man who raised him treated him so coldly, Graham carefully assembled the documents and interviewed clergy members, including a nun who knew the priest well. He petitioned Oblate leaders in Rome, asking that they formally acknowledge Sullivan was his father, but to no avail.

Then, last year, when Graham was prominently featured in the Spotlight investigation, he was contacted by a clergy abuse survivor from the Boston area who has been a vociferous advocate for other survivors.

Olan Horne, who was molested by the late Rev. Joseph Birmingham, offered to broker a meeting with Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the leader of a commission established by Pope Francis to study the issue of priests who sexually abuse children and young people. It was Horne’s hope, and Graham’s, that O’Malley would use his influence to push the Oblates to be more responsive.

O’Malley met with Horne in late December, Graham said, although Graham was not permitted to be there. As a result, Graham received a call from the Rev. Louis Studer, the head of the Oblates in the United States, though Studer offered little in the way of help.

“We’ve told him our records contain no reference to any offspring by Father Tom Sullivan,” said Coughlin, Studer’s assistant. “We have records but they don’t contain the information he’d like us to find there.”

But Graham persisted, until the Oblates agreed to allow him to exhume the Rev. Sullivan’s remains, leading him to pursue his quest to the end of the line – the small cemetery here on the grounds of the Oblate infirmary. “I’m pretty persistent,” Graham said. “I wasn’t going to go away.”

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!

Meet the 71-year-old Catholic priest who wants his church to repeal the celibacy rule

Father Tony Flannery

by Peter Swindon

A CONTROVERSIAL Catholic priest has claimed the vow of celibacy is one of the causes of clerical child abuse and called on the church to repeal the ancient law.

Father Tony Flannery will deliver a lecture at the University of Edinburgh next month entitled “Celibacy, sexuality and the crisis in the priesthood” when he will also demand the ordination of women.

The Catholic Church forbids women from joining the priesthood and men who are ordained must promise not to have sex, a rule which Flannery claims is deterring young men.

The Catholic Church has distanced itself from Flannery, denied that the celibacy rule was off-putting and said there were 12 priests ordained in Scotland last year, the highest number in 20 years.

Flannery was suspended by the church in 2012 and threatened with ex-communication unless he stayed silent, but he is set to bring his message to Scotland on February 28 and risk further sanctions by the church.

Speaking exclusively to the Sunday Herald, he said: “The rule on celibacy has to be changed because it is not working. Fewer and fewer young men are interested in becoming priests because the oath of celibacy is a big deterrent.

“Catholic priests could marry up until the 13th century. It’s purely a church regulation and as such it can be changed.

“In my experience, for a lot of priests, celibacy has been a struggle which can lead to difficulties, such as addictive behaviours.”

Flannery went on to say celibacy can be “a factor” in clerical child abuse cases. “It’s something that should be examined carefully by the Catholic church,” he said.

“The Australian investigation into child sexual abuse in institutions, in the final summing up which came out a month ago, suggests compulsory celibacy was a factor. One of the recommendations they made was the Catholic church lift the rule on compulsory celibacy.”

Flannery, who lives in Killimordaly in County Galway, was ordained more than 40 years ago and took the vow of celibacy, but he would not confirm whether he had adhered to the rule. “I have many relationships, but I don’t want to go into my personal life,” he said. “One thing I will say is I am a 71-year-old man so…”

Flannery also wants to see an end to the patriarchy which governs the church and decrees that women can’t be priests.

“I am fully supportive of the ordination of women,” he said. “I want women to have full equality in the church. At the moment women have no voice in decision-making in the church. That is so wrong and outdated that it has to change. I see women as essential for the credibility of the Catholic church going forward.”

A spokesman for the Catholic church said: “Ordination and decision-making are completely different things – the former is not a pre-requisite for the latter.”

When asked about celibacy the church spokesman added: “To suggest celibacy is a deterrent to vocations is demonstrably not true…in Scotland the number of men studying for the priesthood has increased every year for the last 10 years. In 2017 there were 12 ordinations of priests in Scotland, the highest figure in 20 years. There are currently 18 seminarians studying for the priesthood, the highest figure for over a decade.”

Flannery’s views led to sanctions by the church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was founded in 1542 to defend the church from heresy.

Flannery said: “I am no longer allowed to minister publicly as a priest. That happened six years ago. As a consequence, I have been on the fringes of the church. It’s affected my opinion of the Vatican.

“My main dispute there wasn’t so much that they objected to things I had written. I don’t mind that. The authority structure has the right to question people. My main problem was the process in which the Vatican dealt with me was totally unjust.

“I had no opportunity to defend myself. I was never told who accused me or the nature of the allegation. I was never communicated with directly by the Vatican. There was no court of appeal.”

A church spokesman said: “The Vatican processes are far from unjust and ensure the right of defence for all involved.”

FLANNERY COULD FACE PROTESTS BY CATHOLIC STUDENTS AT EDINBURGH UNIVERSITY

Diego Maria Malara, a lecturer in social anthropology, is organising Flannery’s visit and expects opposition. He said: “Father Flannery’s scheduled appearance at the University in February will be boycotted by more conservative members of the Catholic Student Union, but many of Edinburgh’s Catholics will welcome the chance to hear this charismatic speaker, who represents the progressive side of the Catholic Church.”

Maya Mayblin, who is also a lecturer in social anthropology, invited Flannery to speak. She is researching how sexuality affects the lives of Catholic priests.

She said: “Father Flannery is one of relatively few people within the church to have addressed this issue directly and publicly, so I think people will be very interested in what he has to say. I haven’t encountered any opposition and my hope is that even those who disagree him will want to attend his talk.

“Father Flannery is an important figure because he’s in a position to give voice to opinions which lots of priests hold, but are unable to express due to something of a culture of silence within the priesthood.

“The church is a very centralised institution, so any divergent voice, especially from a priest, can seem troubling to the institution.”

The Sunday Herald contacted the University of Edinburgh’s Catholic Students’ Union for comment, but did not receive a response.

Flannery said: “If they turn up with placards and try to interrupt me I would find it hilarious.”

Complete Article HERE!