03/8/17

Catholic nun blasts ‘male power’ in blunt talk at the Vatican

Sister Simone Campbell speaks onstage at the Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21, 2017, in Washington, D.C.

Catholic activist Sister Simone Campbell suggested senior clergy at the Vatican are more preoccupied with power than confronting issues that affect the faithful, like clerical sexual abuse.

The U.S. nun, leader of the “Nuns on the Bus” campaign that toured America during recent election cycles, spoke frankly in an interview ahead of a conference being held at the Vatican on Wednesday to celebrate women’s contributions to peace.

“The institution and the structure is frightened of change,” Campbell told Religion News Service. “These men worry more about the form and the institution than about real people.”

Referring to Marie Collins, who last week resigned from the panel appointed by Pope Francis to look into allegations of past Vatican obstruction of child sex abuse investigations, Campbell said: “Blocked by men. Isn’t this the real problem within the church?”

“The effort to keep the church from stopping this sort of thing is shocking,” she added. “It is about male power and male image, not people’s stories. The real trouble is they have defined their power as spiritual leadership and they don’t have a clue about spiritual life.”

Campbell said she was shocked, and also moved, to have been included on the guest list for the Vatican conference.

She was among the American nuns targeted in the controversial investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious that was authorized in 2012 under then-Pope Benedict XVI. The Vatican investigators charged the American sisters were straying too far from traditional doctrines, but Pope Francis, who was elected in 2013, put an end to the investigation in 2015.

Campbell noted that senior members of the Curia, or Vatican administration, were at a spiritual retreat outside Rome all this week and so unable to attend the women’s conference.

“I don’t know if it’s a slap in the face or evidence of how much power they think we have,” she said.

Campbell heads Network, a social justice organization currently lobbying U.S. legislators in both houses of Congress to protect and maintain affordable health care.

She acknowledged the church was changing but said it was “outrageous” that it was failing to respond to the sex abuse crisis more effectively. While noting that Francis was seeking to create a more inclusive church, Campbell expressed concern about the church hierarchy and the response to clerical abuse.

“Most of the guys who run this place haven’t dealt with an ordinary human being who’s been abused, an ordinary woman or a boy who has been abused,” she said.

“If you don’t deal with the people you don’t have your heart broken open. The bureaucracy is so afraid of having their heart broken that they hide.”

No Vatican officials are scheduled to speak at the conference, which has drawn leaders and activists from around the world.

At a media conference on Monday, Kerry Robinson, an American who is global ambassador of the Leadership Roundtable, said her foundation, which promotes best practices and accountability in Catholic Church management and finances, was working to help churchmen solve challenges and ensure women advance in the church.

“I think the conversations we are having with cardinals are having an impact,” Robinson said.

This is the fourth consecutive year that the Vatican has held the women’s event to coincide with the U.N.-sponsored International Women’s Day.

Complete Article HERE!

03/6/17

‘You can have the best guidelines in the world but if you don’t implement them, they are not worth the paper they are written on’

Lack of pastoral concern for victims from one Vatican department who refused to reply to letters from survivors proves final straw for Collins

Marie Collins

by Christopher Lamb

Marie Collins is exhausted. She’s been at the centre of a media whirlwind after resigning from Pope Francis’ child protection commission, a decision she took after becoming frustrated by Vatican politics and infighting.

“I think I’m going to throw a blanket over my head and sleep for a week,” she says.

This is not just a story about her stepping down from a committee. If that was the case she might have just taken everything in her stride. No, the last few days have been emotionally draining for Mrs Collins because, for her, the campaign against sexual abuse is personal and its prevention has been her life’s work.

One of the most prominent victims of clerical abuse, she was sexually assaulted as a 13-year-old girl by a chaplain at a Catholic hospital in Dublin. The ordeal caused her terrible damage; she felt the abuse was her fault, she was weighed down with guilt and lost her confidence. Like many others, her pain was compounded when the complaints against her abuser were ignored and mishandled by the Church.

But Ms Collins is a survivor. She became an expert in child protection, working with both the Archdiocese of Dublin and the Irish church to develop robust safeguarding guidelines. A straight talking woman of high principle, she is respected as an independent voice who has acted as a bridge between victims and the Church. After experiencing the dark days of cover ups in Ireland she understood the demands of survivors but at the same time wanted to help bishops make the necessary reforms.

So, in 2014, she agreed to sit on a commission reporting directly to the Pope on how the Church can improve child protection. Over the last three years the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors; has worked hard on pushing for reforms including better policies and trying to make bishops who cover-up accountable, all of which have been agreed to by Pope Francis.

“He accepted all the recommendations,” she tells me. “The problem is not with the Pope. The problem comes with the implementation and the unwillingness of those in his administration to put those proposals into place.”

It is inside the Roman Curia, at the Vatican’s doctrinal body, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), where there has been resistance and a refusal to co-operate with the Commission. They are the body which oversees allegations of clerical sexual abuse,; a task which requires sifting through evidence of horrific crimes committed by priests and then making recommendations for sanctions. It is; a gruelling job, but one the CDF guards zealously. To their eyes it is a task for the Church’s internal legal system where cases of “grave delicts” – the most serious sins – must be assessed correctly in accordance with canon law. It is a task almost exclusively carried out by priests.

So when the papal commission came along, with its lay experts of men and women, there were suspicions. This new group, the officials thought, did not have any juridical authority over their handling of canonical process. As far as they were concerned, this commission was just an advisory group and not even an official part of the Vatican.

The commission wanted to break into the closed circle and work with the CDF on improving the template for bishops drawing up child protection guidelines, a process that had been underway since 2011. Ms Collins and the team also worked to ensure there was a mechanism in place to ensure bishops who failed to keep to their guidelines were held accountable.

“You can have the best guidelines in the world but if you don’t implement them, and if there are no consequences if a bishop doesn’t follow them, then they are not worth the paper they are written on,” she stresses.

Marie Collins says there was a lack of co-operation on setting up a procedure to hold bishops responsible, which is still not properly up and running. Vatican sources say there is already a tribunal in the CDF which could be used for such cases although no case has yet been brought. Meanwhile the Pope announced another procedure to hold the hierarchy accountable using other Vatican departments.

The final straw for Collins, however, was the lack of pastoral concern for victims and it came when one Vatican department refused a request to reply to letters from survivors.

“It is what the Pope has spoken about – the clericalism and that arrogance of ‘we know best’ along with a resentment of outsiders and lay people coming in,” she says.

“That is the reason for me stepping down. It’s because of the attitude which says ‘we’ve been doing it for years and why should we listen to you’. Taking advice is seen as somehow reducing their authority.”

Right from the start, Mrs Collins explains, the commission encountered resistance.

“Early on none of the Vatican departments to send representatives to talk with our working groups,” she explains. “If you are asked to improve something then you ask people to help but there was resistance even to us wanting to discuss the issues.”

She goes on: “I found that very disheartening. I could see no reason why that would happen. In the outside world it would be normal to work with a group coming to help you on an issue. The first thing you would do would be to talk to them. Even that was resisted in the beginning.”

Attitudes have started to change and Mrs Collins stresses there is a new openness in the Roman Curia to learning from the expertise of commission members.

“Its always been my wish to help people understand about abuse and how it is caused. I think its very good that departments in the Vatican are open and asking for training, that’s really positive,” she says.

“We had an event last year for the Congregation for Clergy and the new bishops and there are training events for other dicasteries. This clericalism, this arrogance that shouldn’t be there is not universal and I don’t want to speak negatively of the entire curia.”

Her overarching point is the need for a change in culture. And this starts at the top. The Pope is in the firing line for not “getting it” when it comes to abuse and for adopting an overly merciful stance to abusers. Furthermore, while he has met with individual members who have stayed at his residence, the Casa Santa Marta, he has never attended a meeting of the commission

Mrs Collins says Francis has made some questionable decisions on abuse but believes he has never done anything to put children at risk. She’s also heartened by his calls for “zero tolerance” on the matter.

“The core point is that no one has been put into a position of endangering children as a result of his decisions,” she says.

What seems to have worn heavily on her are the internal politics of the Vatican, a place which is byzantine and confusing to outsiders at the best of times. Add to the mix the Pope’s shakeup of the Roman Curia and you have the commission trying to work within a cocktail of competing empires guarding their turf during a period of transition.

Mrs Collins says she took up her role in the commission with her eyes wide open about the internal politics although now admits: “they were worse than I could have imagined.”

The word in Rome is that opponents of the papal commission on safeguarding were resistant to their recommendations in order to undermine Francis, something which Mrs Collins describes as “shameful”.

“I can’t get my head round why men of God would allow their internal politics to hinder the work of safeguarding children from the horror of abuse,” she says. “I can’t see how any internal power struggles, whatever they may be, can stop you from taking steps to prevent harming children.”

Mrs Collins was the last survivor working on the commission – the other, Peter Saunders, is on a permanent leave of absence – although she is not completely cutting her ties with the Church and will continue to be involved in educational courses at the Vatican.

What she resents is the argument made in recent days that, as a victim, it is better for her to remain outside the official Church structures because she can’t both implement policies and advocate for survivors.

“Just because you are abused as a child and put in the survivor box, does not mean you can’t be an expert and work with other experts,” she says. “In 20 years here in the diocese [of Dublin] I’ve never worked in any other way than independently. I was never afraid of the Church nor was I afraid of the survivors. I work simply and solely for the protection of children.”

Her independence and impartiality means that Mrs Collins’ resignation is a big loss for the Church as it continues to grapple with the monumental problem of clerical sexual abuse. Her work on the commission shows that progress is being made and the group says it will press on with its work. But this latest debacle, which has laid bare some of the internal resistance to reform inside the Church, show there’s still a long way to go.

Complete Article HERE!

03/2/17

Abuse Victim Quits Vatican Commission, Citing ‘Resistance’

Marie Collins, who was molested as a child by a Roman Catholic priest, quit her post on a high-profile papal commission, accusing the church of “fine words in public and contrary actions behind closed doors.”

By and

A high-profile member of a commission advising Pope Francis on ways to protect minors from sexual abuse by the clergy resigned from the panel on Wednesday, citing what she called “cultural resistance” from the Vatican.

Marie Collins, who was molested by a priest in Ireland when she was 13, expressed frustration over what she called reluctance among the Roman Catholic Church’s hierarchy to implement the commission’s recommendations — even those approved by the pope.

“I feel I have no choice but to resign if I am to retain my integrity,” Ms. Collins said in a statement to National Catholic Reporter. The lack of action, she wrote, “is a reflection of how this whole abuse crisis in the church has been handled: with fine words in public and contrary actions behind closed doors.”

Ms. Collins was one of two victims of clergy sexual abuse appointed by Francis to the commission when it was created in 2014. A year ago, the commission suspended the other victim, Peter Saunders, after he accused the panel of failing to deliver on its promises of reform and accountability, and he has been on a leave of absence since.

In outlining the initiatives proposed by the commission in the past three years, Ms. Collins spoke of “stumbling blocks” and the difficulties it had faced in getting cooperation from various Vatican departments.

A tribunal to hold negligent bishops accountable recommended by the commission and approved by the pope in June 2015 “was never implemented,” she noted. Guidelines issued by the pope last June to discipline bishops who had covered up abuse were supposed to go into effect in September, “but it is impossible to know if it has actually begun,” she wrote.

She also said the commission did not have the proper resources to do its job: In its first year, it did not have an office or a staff.

But the last straw, she said, was that a Vatican department was refusing to cooperate with a recommendation that all correspondence from victims of clerical abuse receive a response.

“I find it impossible to listen to public statements about the deep concern in the church for the care of those whose lives have been blighted by abuse, yet to watch privately as a congregation in the Vatican refuses to even acknowledge their letters!” Ms. Collins said.

“The reluctance of some in the Vatican Curia to implement recommendations or cooperate with the work of a commission when the purpose is to improve the safety of children and vulnerable adults around the world is unacceptable,” she added, referring to the Vatican’s administrative arm.

Commenting on Ms. Collins’s departure on Wednesday, the commission’s president, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, thanked her for “extraordinary contributions.”

The commission said in a statement that Francis had “accepted Ms. Collins’s resignation with deep appreciation for her work on behalf of the victims/survivors of clergy abuse.”

In her statement, Ms. Collins noted her disappointment over the reduction of punishments against abusive priests that Francis had allowed in some cases.

The Associated Press reported last week that Francis had lessened sanctions against a handful of pedophile priests in an effort to apply his vision of a merciful church. But one of those priests, Mauro Inzoli, was later convicted by an Italian criminal court for sex crimes against children as young as 12. He is now facing a second church trial after new evidence emerged against him, according to the report.

In her three years with the commission, Ms. Collins said she never had the opportunity to meet with the pope.

She said she would have asked him to give the commission the power to implement its recommendations, to provide it with more funds and to allow it to recruit outside professionals. Nonetheless, she expressed confidence in Francis’ comprehension of the seriousness of the issue.

“The pope does at heart understand the horror of abuse and the need for those who would hurt minors to be stopped,” she wrote.

Voice of the Faithful, a global movement of Roman Catholics who support victims of sexual abuse by members of the clergy, said it was “disheartened” at the resignation of the lone victim from the panel, and urged Francis to remove the Vatican officials who delayed or refused to implement plans to protect minors.

“The church cannot ignore modern-day prophets like Marie and still claim to care about removing clerical sex abusers,” Donna B. Doucette, the executive director of Voice of the Faithful, said in a statement.

Complete Article HERE!

02/19/17

US groups question Vatican’s judge choice in Apuron trial

Members of the Catholic community stage a peaceful protest outside the Archdiocese of Agana chancery office in Hagatna on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. The protest was held in conjunction with a meeting between Roland Sondia and Vatican tribunal members at the chancery. Sondia previously announce that he was allegedly sexually assaulted by Archbishop Anthony Apuron in the 1970s when he served as an altar boy at an Agat church.

By Haidee V Eugenio

Two U.S.-based groups dealing with the Catholic clergy sex abuse cases worldwide are not happy with the Vatican’s choice on who will preside over Guam Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron’s canonical penal trial.

The Vatican sent Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke and other members of a tribunal to Guam to hear from witnesses in the trial of Apuron, who is accused of raping and sexually abusing altar boys in the 1970s. The Archdiocese of Agana, in a statement released late Saturday, said a team of four canon lawyers and another official from Rome worked here Feb. 16-17 and left the morning of Feb. 18.

“From what we know of Burke’s record on abuse, he is an odd and unpromising choice for such a sensitive task,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.orga Massachusetts-based information resource that gathers documents and data about the clergy sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church.

Doyle said Burke has a “troubling record” in dealing with clergy abuse cases.

“He has consistently defended accused clergy and played hardball with victims,” Doyle told Pacific Daily News.

Burke, in an Associated Press report, said he aims to wrap up the Apuron investigation by the summer. The report also said Burke denied he had been sent to Guam as “punishment,” telling Italy’s Mediaset it was normal for cardinals to take on extra jobs in their areas of expertise.

Burke is a top canon lawyer who has clashed repeatedly with Pope Francis.

The Illinois-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said the Vatican’s choice has a “sketchy history when it comes to dealing with the abuse crisis.”

“(Burke) was a very controversial figure in St. Louis and the Vatican for his hard-line conservative views. He was sidelined by Pope Francis for openly criticizing the Pope,” Joelle Casteix, SNAP’s volunteer western regional director, said.

‘Canonical penal trial’

The Archdiocese of Agana, in a statement released Saturday night, said that before the team left, “They conveyed their appreciation to all individuals whom they interviewed during their work here and encouraged all of Guam’s faithful to remain grounded in Christ,” the archdiocese wrote.

Archbishop Michael Jude Byrnes was appointed by Pope Francis late last year to replace Apuron if necessary,  In the same Archdiocese statement, Byrnes said he is “pleased that the Vatican is advancing this process.”

“The Archdiocese commends all witnesses who have stepped forward to tell their stories. We will continue to redouble our efforts to combat, root out and address sex abuse in the Archdiocese. We pray for a speedy and just result,” the statement said. It added that preventative measures, including formation of a task force to protect future possible victims are in place. A parish-level team from St. Francis presented the first of what will be a series of training programs followed by other Guam parishes.

Apuron is being investigated not only because of alleged sexual abuse of minors, but also other criminal activities and the investigation may have started in 2008, said Attorney David Lujan, who represents at least 18 former altar boys allegedly sexually abused by Catholic clergy on Guam and the number could double in the weeks ahead.

Lujan pointed to the length of time, nine years, before the Vatican has come out here to talk to witnesses as part of their investigation of Apuron.

Archbishop Savio Hon Tai Fai, in 2016, made several statements pointing to the Vatican’s concerns about Apuron long before former altar boys publicly accused Apuron of rape and sexual abuse.

Hon said these include deeding a Yona seminary property to a group without due process in conformity with Catholic church law, disobeying the Holy See’s instructions to rescind and annual that deed restriction, failure to talk to his own priests, favoritism towards one group, inability to involve more people in decision-making for the archdiocese, and failure to ensure constant communication with the Holy See through Archbishop Martin Krebs, among other things.

Apuron has denied the sexual abuse claims.

‘Not a good choice for Guam’

The Vatican officials working on the Apuron canonical penal trial are a concern for international organizations working on the church crisis worldwide, as well as the attorney for the clergy abuse survivors on Guam.

SNAP’s Casteix said in her personal view, Burke was deputized because of the belief that he might appeal to Catholics on Guam who felt alienated by the Neocatechumenal Way.

“Unfortunately, Burke also has a sketchy history when it comes to dealing with the abuse crisis in St. Louis: blaming gay clergy and and allegedly engaging in culpable negligence,” Casteix said.

Apuron is one of 84 bishops worldwide who have been accused publicly of sexual wrongdoing, based on data that BishopAccountability.org has compiled.

Doyle said nothing in Burke’s record suggests he is a good choice to head Apuron’s tribunal.

“He does not seem capable of the extreme severity toward offending clergy that Pope Francis called for last week,” Doyle said.

In 1990, for example, Burke as a young canon lawyer defended before the Signatura an accused Pittsburgh priest that then-bishop Donald Wuerl was seeking to remove from the priesthood, Doyle said.

“When Burke won his case, Wuerl himself flew to Rome to argue for the priest’s removal and ultimately prevailed,” Doyle added.

Doyle said that on the other hand, there’s little known about Burke’s involvement since 2008 when he left the U.S. to serve as Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura.

“Despite his disagreement with Pope Francis on many other topics, let’s hope Burke aligns with him on this most crucial issue facing the Church. In the tribunal in Guam, Burke must heed the Pope’s pledges of zero tolerance and accountability for bishops,” said Doyle. “Sadly, early indicators suggest otherwise.”

Doyle said Burke already has warned at least one Apuron victim that his testimony will be sealed under the pontifical secret, “and that does not bode well.”

“Without transparency, there cannot be accountability,” Doyle added.

Lujan was not shy to share his mistrust of the Rev. James Conn, who serves as prosecutor in the Apuron canonical trial.

The Vatican tribunal heard from some witnesses last week, but didn’t directly hear from one of Apuron’s alleged sexual abuse victims, Roland Sondia. Sondia declined to give testimony without Lujan’s presence and said he would provide written testimony later. Among those deposed was Deacon Steve Martinez, the former sexual abuse response coordinator whom Apuron fired for reportedly raising concerns about the archdiocese’s mishandling of sex abuse allegations for several years.

 Complete Article HERE!

02/17/17

The clergy has moved on. It’s the bishops who are out of touch

Synod’s rejection of the same-sex marriage report shows the problem of having glorified administrators focused on unity at the head of the church

A delegate walks past protesters outside the General Synod at Church House in London on Wednesday. ‘The problem is the bishops themselves, tense with self-imposed anxiety.’

By

It rained in London on Wednesday afternoon. Then the sun came out. And so it was that when the General Synod of the Church of England met to discuss the acceptability of same-sex marriage, a huge rainbow appeared over Church House, Westminster. Even God, it seems, was making his feelings known on this one.

The bishops had produced a report after a three-year listening process. This itself was just another kicking-into-the-long-grass exercise. After all, who can refuse listening? So church reports that seek no change always call for another report and more listening. But had anybody heard anything useful? The report called for a “change of tone” towards LGBTI people – yes, they always do that, and always in the same patronising tone – but no change of doctrine. The bishops refused to budge on the question of same-sex couples getting married in church. And so the clergy of the C of E threw the report out, leaving the bishops angry and embarrassed.

Recalling the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel in the book of Genesis, Canon Simon Butler – gay, out and partnered – told synod: “I will not let go until you bless me.” Those of us wrestling for equal marriage will not stop until gay people are offered the church’s blessing. We bless battleships with missiles. But not the love between two people. And the problem here is not the clergy or the people in the pews. The problem is the bishops themselves, tense with self-imposed anxiety.

On the same day the report was being sunk by synod, a British Social Attitudes survey found that only 17% of Anglicans now believe that same-sex relationships are “always wrong”, the lowest level since 1983 when people started measuring these views. Back then, the figure was 50%. In the intervening years churchgoers, like the population in general, have dramatically changed their mind over homosexuality. And hurrah for that.

But don’t believe that this is all the church wants to talk about. In my parish, it’s a non-issue. We’ve had openly gay clergy ministering here and many gay people in the pews. While the bishops take themselves away to discuss fictional case studies involving problematic gay-related situations (NB don’t say problem gay people – that’s all part of the “change of tone” directive), we in the parish just get on with doing the stuff we’re supposed to. No, the problem is within the episcopate. They voted 43-1 for the report. And the one who voted against wasn’t some brave bishop registering dissent. It was the bishop of Coventry who couldn’t figure out how to work his voting console.

Such is the high degree of corporate responsibility the bishops feel, that even those sympathetic to same-sex marriage voted for a report that condemned it. Thus the bishop of Liverpool wrote: “For some, the sense of betrayal is particularly acute when applied to people like me, who have spoken of the need for change in the church. Where was I? What happened to my voice? How could I have been so weak as to stand with this document?”

The answer is always the same. The job of the bishops, the current lot insist, is to provide a “focus of unity”. That’s why when bishops retire, and are freed from the responsibility of keeping their dioceses together, they write letters to the papers saying how much they disagreed with what they used to have to support. The bishops tell themselves that they sacrifice their personal views for the greater good. And they ask us to feel their pain. Responsibility for the way in which this need for corporate double-speak has blunted the prophetic witness of the episcopate is squarely on the shoulders of the secretive process by which bishops are selected. It’s a process that promotes the same sort of people – glorified administrators who are good at “tone” and are not given to bursts of independent mindedness. None of which are qualities associated with the prophets of the Bible.

What Wednesday’s synod vote revealed was not only that the church continues to move in a progressive direction – though with the engine of a lawnmower and the brakes of an articulated lorry. It also demonstrated the widening gap between bishops and their clergy. The C of E works best at the local level. Head office is out of touch.

Complete Article HERE!