A group of activist Roman Catholics asked the United Nations Thursday to revoke the Vatican’s observer status for failing to protect the rights of women, children and the LGBTQ community.
The group, calling itself Catholics for Human Rights, said in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that the Vatican must be stripped of its status in part because of the “magnitude of rape, sexual violence and torture perpetrated by clergy.”
The activists, including lawyers and theologians, also said the Holy See excludes women from positions of authority and opposes contraception, same-sex marriage and abortion.
In Rome, the Vatican did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
U.N. chief spokesman Stephane Dujarric said it had no immediate reaction. Any change in the Vatican’s status would have to be decided by U.N. member states.
Catholics who disagree with the church’s teachings on abortion or who have been upset at its handling of sexual misconduct allegations have previously made similar demands for the U.N. to downgrade the Vatican’s status as a permanent observer, which allows it to take part in the world body’s policy discussions, but does not give it a vote in the General Assembly.
The Vatican’s role at the U.N. has also been opposed sporadically by groups who say it is a religious organization, not a nation.
Members of the activist group gathered Thursday in a building across the street from the U.N., where the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women was holding its annual conference.
“It’s hard to name a state or religious group that’s done more than the Holy See to thwart the spirit and the letter of the Commission on the Status of Women, which affirms that the fundamental freedoms of all women and girls is essential for the achievement of gender equality,” said one of the activists, Mary Hunt, a theologian from Silver Spring, Maryland. “Today, the institutional church is essentially a global, male-run, top-down corporation whose product is religion.”
The archbishop of Lyon, the most senior French Catholic cleric caught up in the paedophilia scandals that have rocked the church, was convicted of helping covering up abuse and handed a six-month suspended jail term on Thursday.
Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, who was not in court, was found guilty of failing to report the abuse of a minor between 2014 and 2015.
His lawyers announced immediately that he would appeal the judgement.
“The reasoning of the court is not convincing,” lawyer Jean-Felix Luciani told reporters. “We will contest this decision by all the means possible.”
Barbarin, 68, faced long-standing allegations from victims’ groups that he failed to report a priest under his authority to police after learning of abuse which took place in the 1980s and 90s.
But prosecutors judged that those crimes were beyond the statute of limitations — meaning they were too old to prosecute — and declined to press charges.
During the trial, victims accused Barbarin of being aware of the abuse allegations from at least 2010 and then trying to cover up the scandal, under orders from the Vatican, from 2015.
Francois Devaux, who leads a victim’s group in Lyon, called Thursday’s verdict a “major victory for child protection.”
The Catholic Church has been roiled in recent years by claims against priests which have come to light in the wake of a global move by victims to go public with evidence.
Clerics have been denounced in countries as far afield as Australia, Brazil, Chile, Ireland, and the United States, leading Pope Francis to promise to rid the church of a scourge that has done enormous damage to its standing.
The moral order has flipped upside down when civil authorities must force religious leaders to honor the Eighth Commandment against lying. Yet we are in such a Bizarro World, as I learned after my native New Jersey was among a half dozen states to investigate Catholic dioceses, following Pennsylvania’s searing catalog of decades of abuse of 1,000 children by hundreds of priests.
In the wake of Jersey’s probe, Catholic dioceses in the state recently released the names of priests credibly accused of abuse. Monsignor Thomas J. Frain, pastor of my childhood parish, was among them. (He, like many on the list, is deceased.) Though the nature of his abuse and age of his victim(s) weren’t specified — priests have preyed on adults, including nuns, as well as kids — I thank God that neither my brother nor I were ever altar boys or left alone with him.
I mention this by way of suggesting, as a practicing Catholic, that attention to the just-ended Vatican summit on child abuse is misplaced. If it’s church reform you want, turn your gaze from Rome to U.S. states, where law enforcement, having lost patience with Catholic leaders (as have we in the laity), have started probing abuse.
Post-Pennsylvania, New Jersey was joined by New York, Nebraska, Illinois, Nevada and Missouri in hitting bishops with subpoenas or demands for records. Many abusive priests will escape justice, having run out either life’s clock, like Frain, or the statute of limitations. Still, I’d place my faith in prosecutors over prelates.
Four days of Vatican talk about Pope Francis’s “reflection points” — including psychological testing of seminarians (that’s not being done already?), mandatory conduct codes (don’t molest kids isn’t clear enough?), an independent group to receive abuse reports (we already have that. It’s called the police.) — ended with no specific proposals, which wouldn’t exorcise the abuse demon anyway. Internal reform must be more radical; in particular, the case for ordaining women, never on the table in Rome, was bolstered by recent revelations of widespread sexual assault in the Southern Baptist Convention, which also has an all-male clergy.
Victims as young as 3-years-old “were molested or raped inside pastors’ studies and Sunday school classrooms,” according to the horrific Houston Chronicle story that broke the news. The problem, a Harvard professor of Christian morals told the New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof, is that “prohibiting women from the highest ranks of formal leadership fosters a fundamentally toxic masculinity.”
My argument for women priests is much simpler. Research shows that pedophiles are overwhelmingly male. Ordain fewer people disposed to pedophilia and you’re likely to get, surprise, less pedophilia. (You’d also eliminate the inequity of barring women from clerical leadership.)
Some suggest that discarding the Catholic celibacy requirement for priests is the solution. While I support that change for other reasons, the case for it as the antidote to pedophilia doesn’t pass the giggle test. Men who force themselves on children are not just horny guys seeking consensual, adult relationships. Take away mandatory celibacy and they would still crave a form of sex as depraved as it is illegal
Garry Wills, the Catholic historian whose writings I admire and learn from, agrees celibacy isn’t the cure, though his suggestion to abolish the priesthood is even more a moonshot than allowing priestly marriage. Alternative proposals, including some from abuse survivors, suffer the same two defects as the “reflection points:”
One, there are cultures in the world where Catholic leaders either just don’t get it, downplaying abuse as non-criminal or the result of homosexuality, or else are preoccupied with other issues like war and poverty. Rules in Jersey won’t play in India or Italy.
Two, enforcing rules relies on self-policing by a church that has shown it can’t be trusted to self-police. Not when the summit revealed the destruction of church records containing abuse accusations.
I suspect I’d get agreement from the many good men in the clergy. The bishop of Albany, N.Y. asked the local DA to review diocesan records, writing to Catholics in his flock that “in an effort to restore a sacred trust that has been broken again and again, I believe a fully independent investigation, one coordinated by the district attorney, is the only way forward.”
That “only way forward,” ceding investigations to secular law enforcement, will make it easier for those of us who want to stay in the church. Non-Catholics will ask why we bother, to which journalist Margery Eagan had the best answer: Catholics of good will are unwilling to let pedophiles drive us out of our church, which, at its best, nourishes us spiritually, feeds the hungry and heals the sick
We’re also unwilling to let our Catholic brothers and sisters who cringe at female ordination have the sole say in defining Catholicism. Traditionalist deference to the hierarchy and its interpretation of apostolic tradition helped foster the clericalism that landed us in this crisis to begin with. To get out of it, we must look to Caesar’s forces, not God’s
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced that the Child Victims Act, for which we have been fighting for 15 years, will pass this year with his full support. With both houses controlled by Democrats, the leadership of Sen. Brad Hoylman, now Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, he is surely correct. The barrier to passage until now has been Republican lawmakers kneeling to the Catholic bishops and in particular New York City Archdiocese’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan. The latter is not going down, though he is decidedly going down on this issue, without a final whining tour about justice for child sex abuse victims.
Dolan’s latest volley was an op-ed in the New York Daily News that is filled with misstatements and ugly implications. He tries two “Hail Mary” passes. First, he says that the governor’s bill will not treat public schools the same as private institutions. This is simply not true, but even if it were, there is no question the intent is to put private and public entities on the same footing and any additional language Dolan wants to further nail home this point can be easily added. The Democratic leadership in New York is 100% on board in wanting to protect children from sex abuse in every arena. Therefore, at least from Dolan’s rhetoric, he should be on board with the CVA. Not so fast.
At the end of the op-ed, he sneaks in Hail Mary pass number two, stating: “A balanced bill would allow for compensation programs and mediation over litigation.…” Whoa! The Child Victims Act has never been about “mediation over litigation.” It’s always been about society’s need to empower victims by handing them the tools of civil litigation to force into the public square the true facts of abuse and cover up. Litigation is absolutely critically essential (I can’t emphasize this enough) to end the scourge of child sex abuse and its coverup. It is the only tool we can give the victims that unearths the secrets that hide child predators’ identities and the pernicious behavior of powerful men (and women) letting pedophiles get away with destroying children for the “greater good” of the institution and its welfare.
Dolan in particular fears litigation, because he is sitting on the largest set of secret archives in the United States not yet publicly disclosed. Why? Because of the embarrassingly short statutes of limitations in New York that have let the New York bishops avoid discovery by their victims. Let’s not forget New York is in the category of Alabama and Mississippi on these issues. Dolan wants discovery requests to land at the Archdiocese’s doorstep about as much as a vampire eagerly awaits a garlic delivery from FedEx. He and other bishops in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania have set up voluntary compensation funds because they are terrified of the further release of the truth from their files. They want to avoid as much litigation as possible in the face of the unstoppable march forward of victims’ access to justice.
Dolan’s frantic fear proves the necessity of the Child Victims Act to change the Church’s behavior for the better. This institution cannot reform on its own, and children, their families, and the rest of us are paying for their failures until access to justice is real.
I have the honor to have been asked by the venerated debating society, the Oxford Union, to debate the following statement: “The Catholic Church will never repay its sins.” The debate will be held on February 28 at Oxford University. Some may be surprised that I am taking the “negative” position on this statement. It’s not that I will be representing the Church. We all know that is not going to happen. Rather, I firmly believe that the Catholic Church will repay its sins for child sex abuse, because the law and civil society will force it to.
Can Dolan not hear the hoofbeats of decency, goodness, and civil society behind him? This week saw the publication of the “Out of the Shadows” report, which ranks and benchmarks 40 countries on how they are handling child sex abuse. It is a remarkable, large step toward ending child sex abuse in that it holds countries to account for their policies. This study was the result of pioneering work by The Economist Intelligence Unit, the Oak Foundation, and the Carlson Family Foundation. The world is joining hands to end this scourge through better laws and policies; tolerance of abuse is no longer acceptable. That is the future.
If Dolan or anyone in the Church believes that they can continue to coopt the world into giving them latitude to keep their secrets, they need to wake up to 2019. Clergy sex abuse is now sandwiched in between abuse in sports, the family, the schools, and everywhere else. This is a worldwide problem. It’s not just the Church, which means that the time has come for Dolan to stop lobbying against all the victims and to start embracing the right thing to do: giving victims access to justice and respecting the legal system. The answer to Dolan’s “mediation over litigation” volley is a resounding, “Absolutely not.” My free advice: start preparing for the ramifications of truth and justice.
The key accuser in the sex abuse case against ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has met with New York City prosecutors, evidence that the scandal that has convulsed the papacy is now part of the broader U.S. law enforcement investigation into sex abuse and cover-up in the Catholic Church.
James Grein gave testimony last month to Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Sara Sullivan, who is investigating a broad range of issues related to clergy abuse and the systematic cover-up by church superiors, Grein’s attorney, Patrick Noaker, told The Associated Press.
The development is significant, given that the Vatican investigation against McCarrick has already created a credibility crisis for the Catholic hierarchy including Pope Francis, since it was apparently an open secret that McCarrick slept with adult seminarians. Grein’s testimony, however, includes allegations that McCarrick, a former family friend, also groomed and abused him starting when he was 11.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s office launched a hotline last year and invited victims to report even decades-old sex abuse, saying it would pursue “any and all investigative leads” to ensure justice.
Grein met with Sullivan before Christmas after filing a compensation claim with the New York City archdiocese alleging that McCarrick, the retired archbishop of Washington, first exposed himself when Grein was 11 and continued abusing him for some two decades, including during confession, Noaker said. The church’s compensation procedures require that victims notify the district attorney of their allegations, which Grein did on Nov. 1.
Noaker, however, said Grein’s testimony to Sullivan went beyond the required pro forma notification and covered issues related to a broader investigation.
On Dec. 27, Grein testified to Vatican investigators as part of the Holy See’s internal probe against McCarrick. That investigation has now finished and shifted to Rome, where a final verdict is expected within weeks, Vatican officials say.
McCarrick, who has also been accused by two other men in the Vatican investigation, faces possible defrocking if Francis determines the accusations against him are credible.
Criminal charges in New York City against McCarrick are unlikely for any actual abuse, due to the statute of limitations, Noaker said. But Grein’s testimony could still prove useful as prosecutors investigate patterns of abuse, conspiracy and cover-up over decades by Catholic leaders.
A law enforcement official familiar with the New York City investigation said it was separate from the one announced in September by then-New York State Attorney General Barbara Underwood, who subpoenaed all eight dioceses in New York state. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about an ongoing investigation.
Underwood, who has since been replaced, took action along with prosecutors in a dozen U.S. states after a Pennsylvania grand jury alleged that more than 1,000 children were molested by 300 priests over 70 years in six dioceses of that state alone.
The state attorney general’s office is pursuing a civil investigation but has also reached out to local prosecutors authorized to convene grand juries or pursue criminal investigations.
Separately, the U.S. Justice Department has told every Catholic diocese in the country not to destroy documents or confidential archives relating to abuse investigations and the transfers of priests.
McCarrick was ordained a priest in New York City in 1958 and served as an auxiliary bishop to New York’s then-Cardinal Terence Cooke before being named bishop of Metuchen, New Jersey, in 1981. It was during his years as a New York City priest — in the early 1970s — that he allegedly groped a teenage altar boy in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. That accusation launched the internal church investigation.
After the New York City archdiocese found the accusation credible and announced that McCarrick had been removed from public ministry, Grein and former seminarians came forward to say that McCarrick molested them as well. Francis removed McCarrick as a cardinal in July.
McCarrick denied the initial groping allegation of the altar boy and has said, through his lawyer, that he looks forward to his right to due process.
A former priest from the Metuchen diocese, Robert Ciolek, has also publicly accused McCarrick of inappropriate behavior while he was a seminarian and formalized the accusation in a 2004 complaint to Pittsburgh church officials.
In the past week, the archdioceses of Pittsburgh and Washington confirmed that then-Pittsburgh Bishop Donald Wuerl forwarded the complaint to the Vatican embassy at the time — disproving Wuerl’s claim that he hadn’t heard of allegations against McCarrick until last year.
Francis recently accepted the resignation of now-Cardinal Wuerl as archbishop of Washington after his credibility suffered as a result of the McCarrick scandal and allegations about his tenure in Pittsburgh in the Pennsylvania grand jury report.