The Sex-Abuse Scandal Is Growing Faster Than the Church Can Contain It

The Catholic world is struggling to absorb a week of new revelations and resignations.

A protester holds a picture of Pope Francis during a demonstration against clerical sex abuse, in Dublin, Ireland August 25, 2018.

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This has been a dramatic week for Catholics around the world. As Pope Francis faces mounting pressure to address the spiraling clergy sex-abuse crisis, almost every day has brought some new revelation or declaration.

Since Tuesday alone, a group of American Catholic leaders went to Rome to ask Francis some tough questions, while a women’s open letter demanding answers from him crossed the 45,000-signature mark. The pontiff summoned bishops from around the world to a future meeting, while making one bishop the subject of a new investigation. One cardinal who had come under fire for allegedly enabling accused priests to keep working for the Church announced his plans to resign, while another, who has been pressing for meaningful action against abusers, came under scrutiny himself. Amidst all this, a bombshell report about sex abuse in Germany was leaked to the press.

“Many strands are coming together,” said Kathleen Sprows Cummings, a historian of Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame. “It does seem like we are reaching a watershed moment.” By Thursday, there had been so many new developments that she said she was having a hard time keeping up—and that the leaders at the Vatican probably were, too. “I think they’re scrambling. The news is coming on so many fronts. I think they don’t know quite what to do.” Here is some of what they nevertheless did this week.

An American audience with the pope

Church leaders from the U.S. met with the pope in Rome on Thursday. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, had called for a meeting to discuss allegations against Theodore McCarrick, a former cardinal who served as archbishop of Washington from 2001 to 2006. This summer, McCarrick resigned as cardinal after he was accused of sexual abuse. An explosive letter by the Vatican’s former ambassador to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, claimed last month that Francis had known for years about McCarrick’s alleged abuse yet allowed him to keep rising through the ranks of the Church. Francis has so far declined to comment publicly on Viganò’s accusations, and DiNardo and others were seeking an investigation into the matter.

“We shared with Pope Francis our situation in the United States—how the Body of Christ is lacerated by the evil of sexual abuse. He listened very deeply from the heart,” DiNardo said in a statement after leaving the meeting. “It was a lengthy, fruitful, and good exchange.” But if any concrete decisions came out of the papal meeting, DiNardo did not reveal them.

“I worry that the cardinals are coming home empty-handed. They were listened to, but it’s not clear they’re going to have support from the Vatican in terms of handling the investigation into the McCarrick situation,” Mary Rice Hasson, the director of the Catholic Women’s Forum, a network that aims to amplify the voices of Catholic women, told me Thursday. “The concern doesn’t go away because our cardinals had a nice listening session with Pope Francis. People want action.”

Complicating matters further, on the eve of his meeting with the pope, DiNardo himself was accused of covering up abuse in his Galveston-Houston archdiocese, casting doubt on whether he could effectively lead the U.S. Church’s effort at reform, the Washington Post reported.  

Even as DiNardo and other U.S. leaders gathered in Rome on Thursday, the pope accepted the immediate resignation of a West Virginia bishop, Michael J. Bransfield, over allegations that he had sexually harassed adults. Francis also authorized another bishop to investigate the allegations against Bransfield.

A plan for an unprecedented meeting of world bishops

Pope Francis on Wednesday summoned bishops from around the world to a first-of-its-kind meeting in Rome in February. The focus will be on protecting minors, and bishops will reportedly receive training in identifying abuse, intervening, and listening to victims.

The choice to summon the presidents of bishops’ conferences worldwide signals that the Vatican finally recognizes clergy sex abuse is a global problem, according to Cummings, the historian. “That’s a departure, an admission, that this is much bigger than any one culture or nation,” she said. In the past, she explained, Church leaders had suggested that the problem was limited to the U.S., but as scandals began to surface elsewhere—from Ireland to Australia to Chile to Germany—that story became impossible to believe.

A worldwide summons to bishops, Cummings continued, is “a big move, but I’m not sure how bold it is. This crisis has been created by the bishops. The people who create crises are not the ones who are going to lead you out of them.”

Stephen Schneck, a former Catholic University professor, likewise told me, “I’ve come to the conclusion that the bishops can’t be trusted to police themselves. I think the ultimate solution, especially here in the U.S., is going to require an active, permanent role for the laity, because of the problem of oversight.”

A new bombshell report

A study has alleged that more than 3,600 children were sexually abused at the hands of some 1,670 clergy members over the past seven decades in Germany. Commissioned by Church officials and conducted by university researchers, the report was supposed to be released on September 25, but it was leaked to German outlets Spiegel Online and Die Zeit and reported this Wednesday instead. The findings implicate no less than 4.4 percent of the country’s clergy in abuse. A German bishop called the revelation “depressing and shameful.”

To the American Catholics I spoke to, it was something else, too: unsurprising. “A year ago, I would have been surprised,” Schneck said. “But now I think we have to recognize that this is a systemic problem within the clergy ranks around the world.” Cummings put it more bluntly: “I thought, ‘Of course. Here we go.’”

This study comes on the heels of another bombshell report. Just last month, a 900-page Pennsylvania grand-jury report detailed accusations against about 300 priests and alleged that their actions—which the report said involved more than 1,000 children—were covered up by diocese officials.

A cardinal on the verge of resignation

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, said Tuesday that he plans to travel to Rome soon, where he will ask the pope to accept his resignation. Wuerl has been heavily criticized after the Pennsylvania grand-jury report alleged that, as archbishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006, he had permitted priests accused of abusing minors to be reassigned or reinstated. He said Thursday that new leadership is needed to help the Washington archdiocese get past the “current confusion, disappointment, and disunity.”

Wuerl initially presented his resignation to Francis three years ago upon reaching the Church-mandated retirement age for bishops, 75, but the pontiff did not accept at the time. (This is fairly common; if the pope does not accept the pro forma resignation, the bishop continues to serve.) It’s unclear whether Francis will accept the resignation when Wuerl tenders it again.

“The fact that an archbishop has been chased into early retirement is very significant,” noted Schneck, who said he knows Wuerl personally. “He probably would’ve retired soon anyway, but nevertheless this was precipitated by the Pennsylvania grand-jury report. He has come to realize that he’s no longer effective as archbishop of Washington.”

A very vulnerable pope

In an ambiguous homily on Tuesday, Francis seemed to suggest that Satan was playing a role in the uncovering of the Church’s sex-abuse scandal. “In these times, it seems like the ‘Great Accuser’ [a biblical name for the devil] has been unchained and has it in for bishops. … He tries to uncover the sins, so they are visible in order to scandalize the people,” he said.

Some Catholics I spoke to speculated Francis may have been alluding to Viganò’s letter, which demanded the pope’s resignation. Either way, it struck some as a discordant remark at a moment when many are seeking contrition and humility from the Vatican.

“I thought it was the wrong note,” Schneck said. “This isn’t the time for that kind of language. … We need to recognize that the scandal itself was caused by the actions of the clergy, and the uncovering of this scandal is occurring as a result of the work of law enforcement around the world.”

“I thought it was the wrong note,” Schneck said. “This isn’t the time for that kind of language. … We need to recognize that the scandal itself was caused by the actions of the clergy, and the uncovering of this scandal is occurring as a result of the work of law enforcement around the world.”

Complete Article HERE!

Has Catholic Canon Law Aggravated The Clergy Abuse Crisis?

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Among the potential victims of the Catholic clergy abuse crisis is one whose roots date to the early years of Christianity: the Catholic canon law system.

Each new revelation that a priest has molested a child and gone unpunished by his bishop has brought charges that part of the problem may be canonical procedures that fail to ensure justice for the victim.

The Roman Catholic church has long had its own legal system, incorporating a judicial framework and a complex set of laws, or canons, regulating church organization. Critics, however, say canon laws assign excessive importance to the protection of church institutions, encourage secrecy over transparency, and favor rehabilitating wayward priests rather than punishing them. While abusive priests can be defrocked for misconduct, the church cannot send anyone to prison.

The alleged shortcomings of the canon law system mean that civil authorities are increasingly taking the initiative to investigate Catholic clergy abuse on their own.

A problem of structure

“Because of its structures and because of how it has responded in the past, the Catholic church may in some ways be more ripe for these abuses to happen and fester,” says Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Last month, Madigan launched an inquiry into Catholic dioceses in her state, looking for unreported cases of clergy misconduct. She took the action despite assurances from the Chicago archdiocese that it is already investigating abuse allegations and, since 2002, has forwarded them all to the appropriate civil authorities.

“The problem is, I’m not sure that’s accurate,” Madigan explains. “So there has to be an independent investigation that will allow for a full and complete accounting.”

Madigan acted after a grand jury in Pennsylvania reported in August that more than 300 priests in six dioceses had abused children in recent decades and that bishops had covered up the crimes. Attorneys general in Missouri, New York, and Florida are exploring the possibility of doing their own clergy abuse investigations.

Canon law vs. civil law

To be clear, child molestation is considered a criminal act under Catholic law. Canon number 1395 in the Code of Canon Law states that a priest found to have had sexual contact with a minor under the age of sixteen is to be punished “with just penalties, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state if the case so warrants.” Within the church, defrocking a priest is considered an especially severe punishment.

“I don’t see this [abuse crisis] as a failure of canon law,” says Nicholas Cafardi, dean emeritus of the Duquesne University Law School and also a trained canon lawyer. “I think the deficiency was the failure to use the system.”

“Most of the cases in the Pennsylvania grand jury report happened before 1990,” Cafardi notes. “Even in those years it was a canonical crime for a clergyman to sexually abuse a child. They should have been processed under the canon law, and they weren’t.”

Critics contend, however, that one reason more priests have not been held accountable by church authorities is that other aspects of canon law weaken the incentives for punishment.

Canon 1341, for example, stipulates that a bishop should penalize a priest “only after he has ascertained that fraternal correction or rebuke or other means of pastoral solicitude cannot sufficiently repair the scandal, restore justice, reform the offender.”

In practice, the preference for “fraternal correction” or a “pastoral” solution can mean a bishop goes easy on an abusive priest, even one who has molested children.

“The bishop will bring the priest in, ask him if he’s going to do this again or if he’s over it,” says Carolyn Warner, a professor of political science at Arizona State University who has studied Catholic institutions. “In some cases, the bishop will send the priest for counseling, typically to a system run by Catholic priests who are specialists in this area.”

For Cafardi, a former advisor to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on clergy abuse issues, such cases reflect poorly on the bishops themselves, however, not on the canonical system.

“Our bishops made a choice in those days,” Cafardi says. “Instead of going the logical route and starting canonical criminal proceedings against these men, they chose therapy.”

Avoiding scandal

Church authorities who have tolerated abusive priests, or transferred them to other parishes rather than defrocking them, may also have been thinking of the canonical admonition to “repair scandal.”

In Roman Catholic usage, a “scandal” is “an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil” or perhaps draw someone “into spiritual death.”

Some bishops, Warner argues, may have opted to hide evidence of child molesters in the priesthood out of a fear that if such behaviors were to become public, the priesthood would lose honor and credibility.

“You don’t want to let parishioners know about these situations,” Warner says, “because that might cause them to question their faith.”

In the end, however, efforts by bishops to protect the church from embarrassment backfired by undermining faith in the church’s ability to police its own and by spurring civil authorities to conduct their own investigations of church actions.

“I think you’re going to see that demanded even by the laity in the church,” says Illinois Attorney General Madigan. “Otherwise there is going to be continued concern and a resulting lack of trust.”

Complete Article HERE!

The Catholic Church Is Sick With Sex

Outside of condemning adulterous behavior, Christ never said anything about whom you could love.

Pope Alexander VI

By Timothy Egan

One pope was a father of 10 through multiple mistresses, a man who purchased the papacy with mule-loads of silver. It is said that Alexander VI, the most debauched of the Borgia pontiffs, elected in 1492, even had an affair with one of his daughters.

Another pope contracted syphilis during his reign — a “disease very fond of priests, especially rich priests,” as the saying went in Renaissance times. That was Julius II, known as “Il terrible.”

A third pope, Pius IX, added Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary” and John Stuart Mill’s book on the free market economy to the Vatican’s List of Prohibited Books during his long reign in the 19th century. He also formalized the doctrine of papal infallibility.

What these Holy Fathers had in common was not just that they were badly flawed men putting forth badly flawed ideas: At the root of their moral failings is Catholicism’s centuries-old inability to come to grips with sex.

I say this as a somewhat lapsed, but certainly listening, Catholic educated by fine Jesuit minds and encouraged by the open-mindedness of Pope Francis. The big issue behind the budding civil war in a faith of 1.3 billion people — a rift that could plunge the church back into a medieval mind-set on sexuality — is the same old thing.

And most of the church’s backward teachings, dictated by nominally celibate and hypocritical men, have no connection to the words of Jesus.

If you’re going to strike at a pope, to paraphrase the line about taking down a king, you must kill him. Right-wing Catholics, those who think allowing gay members of the faith to worship with dignity is an affront to God, have just taken their best shot at Francis.

The attempted coup was disguised as an exposé by a conscience-stricken cleric, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò. He claims that the pope must resign because he knew about the sexual abuse of young seminarians by a disgraced cardinal and did not defrock the predator.

It’s a fair point, and one that demands a full response from Francis. But if you read Viganò’s full 11-page letter, you see what’s really driving him and his ultraconservative cabal — an abhorrence of gay Catholics and a desire to return to the Dark Ages.

“The homosexual networks present in the church must be eradicated,” Viganò wrote. Those close to Francis, he claimed, “belong to the homosexual current in favor of subverting Catholic doctrine on homosexuality.” For theological authority, he cited the infamous 1986 letter to bishops condemning homosexuality as “a moral disorder.”

That instructive was issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, designed to do to heretics what the Inquisition once did, without the stake-burning.

The bishop’s letter cites Old Testament sanctions against “sodomites” and a New Testament interpretation from St. Paul, who admitted he was not speaking with direct authority from the divine. St. Augustine, who loved sex and had plenty of it before he hated it, set the church template in the fifth century, saying, “Marriage is only one degree less sinful than fornication.”

What’s missing from these puritanical pronouncements, from then till now, is the figure at the center of the faith. That’s because, outside of condemning adulterous behavior, Christ never said anything about whom you could love. Nothing about homosexuals. Nothing about priestly celibacy or barring women from clerical ranks, for that matter.

Last year, while walking the thousand-year-old Via Francigena, I came upon many Catholics along that pilgrim’s path to Rome excited about the fresh air blowing through a Vatican that hadn’t opened a window in decades. The only cloud over these spiritual sojourners was the constant news about criminal clergy.

The conservatives would do nothing to fix this, but would make the church a global pariah. The old guard is infuriated by statements like the one Pope Francis made on Sunday. When asked how a parent should treat a gay child, he said, “Don’t condemn, have dialogue, listen.”

The way out of the present crisis is more light, less darkness and a few bold and dramatic moves. For starters, clerics should not be judging other clerics; let lay members, women and men, conduct the investigations.

Priestly celibacy should be optional. It’s an anachronism, certainly not one of the “infallible” truths, and may be one of the main reasons pedophilia is thick in clerical ranks. For the first thousand years of the church, married men could become priests, as they still can in the Greek Orthodox faith.

Women should be priests. Duh. When asked about this, Francis said only men could serve because Jesus chose only men as his apostles. This logic is flawed, as Jesus also chose Jews, and you don’t see a lot of them being invited into the priesthood.

A final alternative might be to look to the United States ambassador to the Vatican for moral guidance. That would be Callista Gingrich, who carried on a six-year affair with a married Newt Gingrich and became his third wife. In Rome, as always, hypocrisy is eternal.

Complete Article HERE!

Vatican arrests diplomat accused of viewing child porn

Monsignor Carlo Capella, the Vatican diplomat recalled from service at the Vatican nunciature in Washington after U.S. investigators suspected him of involvement in child pornography, is pictured at the Vatican in 2015.

The Vatican has announced the arrest of a diplomat accused in a U.S.-Canada-Vatican investigation of child pornography.

The Vatican on Saturday said Monsignor Carlo Capella was being held in gendarmerie barracks inside the Vatican, and that his arrest follows a Vatican investigation.

Capella was recalled from the United States by the Vatican secretary of state last year after being caught up in a three-nation investigation into child porn. Police in Windsor, Ontario said Capella allegedly uploaded child porn from a social networking site while visiting a place of worship from Dec. 24-27, 2016

The Vatican recalled Capella after the U.S. State Department notified it on Aug. 21 of a “possible violation of laws relating to child pornography images” by one of its diplomats in Washington.

Complete Article HERE!

Vatican Shines Light on Child Abuse as Claims Against Priests Persist

Pope Francis at the Vatican on Wednesday. He has said that the church “arrived late” to the sexual abuse crisis.

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For a church hierarchy excoriated for decades over the sexual abuse of children in its trust, hosting a conference this week about the spreading scourge of online child pornography was an opportunity to strike a positive note about the Vatican’s role in protecting minors.

“Yes, yes, yes,” said Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, when asked Tuesday night at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome if the Catholic Church could lead a global response to the problem.

But in an awkward confluence of events, the four-day congress, Child Dignity in the Digital World, is taking place mere weeks after the Holy See recalled Msgr. Carlo Capella, a church diplomat in the Vatican Embassy in Washington, amid accusations that he had possessed child pornography.

It was just the latest of the abuse accusations against priests that have dogged the church around the globe for decades even as it has promised to punish predators and protect the preyed upon. Advocates for the victims have questioned the church’s commitment.

Last week, as organizers prepared for the congress — with its keynote address by Cardinal Parolin, the second-highest-ranking official after Pope Francis; blanket coverage by the church’s news media; and a papal audience with Francis on Friday — the Canadian police issued an arrest warrant for Monsignor Capella. He was accused of distributing child pornography during a Christmas visit in 2016 to Ontario.

Cardinal Parolin, speaking to reporters on Tuesday before his address, called the case a “very painful affair, a great trial for all those who are involved.” He said the priest’s case was being handled with the “utmost seriousness.” The Vatican has also said that the Holy See’s chief prosecutor was investigating and that if the monsignor was tried and convicted, he could be sentenced up to 12 years in a Vatican jail.

The Vatican has done much to address child abuse by clergy members, which has threatened to stain the entire church. (Pope Benedict XVI once memorably called it “filth.”) It has removed abusive priests, worked more closely with local law enforcement officials, toughened its laws and generally adopted a “zero tolerance” approach.

But advocates for victims have argued that the Vatican’s invocation of diplomatic immunity to recall the Italian monsignor from the United States shows that it still prioritizes protecting its own.

In his speech before top Italian officials and representatives from Interpol, the United Nations, Russia, China, the United States, Facebook and Microsoft, Cardinal Parolin spoke at length about the growing threat of internet abuse on the spirit and psyches of young users. He acknowledged that when it came to the exploitation and abuse of children, “over the past few decades, this tragic reality has come powerfully to the fore in the Catholic Church, and extremely grave facts have emerged.”

Last month, Francis said in unscripted remarks to a commission he had created to advise him on the issue that the church had “arrived late” to the crisis. He lamented his leniency, early in his pontificate, toward an Italian priest who subsequently continued his abuse.

“The old practice of moving people around and not confronting the problem made consciences fall asleep,” the pope said. He said he would limit the chances of pedophile priests to appeal their convictions by church tribunals.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, at the Child Dignity in the Digital World conference in Rome on Tuesday.

But critics say Vatican action has lagged behind the pope’s words. For example, a tribunal to discipline bishops who cover up abuse was disbanded because, the pope said, the Vatican already had the requisite offices to deal with the issue.

A commission Francis created with top cardinals, outside experts and abuse victims (the committee’s only two victims have since left) has seemed stifled by Vatican bureaucracy.

And the pope brought Cardinal George Pell to Rome as a top adviser despite allegations of abuse against him. The cardinal is now back in Australia facing charges of sexual assault against minors.

Advocates for abuse victims say they consider the Capella case a shameful echo of an earlier episode involving Josef Wesolowski, a Polish archbishop accused of abusing children in the Dominican Republic, where he served as the Vatican ambassador. The Vatican removed the archbishop and denied appeals that he be tried in the Dominican Republic. He was defrocked and died in the Vatican before facing justice.

The Rev. Hans Zollner, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, said he was confident that this time, the accused cleric would face justice.

“Everyone who commits a crime needs to be punished,” he said. “Period.”

The congress, meanwhile, is seeking ways to protect children in what has been depicted as a frightening digital world, where abusers surf a dark web and child pornography proliferates.

The conference has included top experts in the field speaking about the risks as more children in developing countries go online. They have discussed troubling statistics, such as the finding last year by the Internet Watch Foundation that more than 57,000 websites contained images of children being sexually abused. And they have sat on panels such as one called International Politics and Law Regarding Child Sexual Abuse.

For years, top Vatican officials in Rome had dismissed the abuse crisis as a unique product of the Anglo-Saxon world, and suggested that it had been overplayed by the news media. But organizers of the congress said the majority of the experts came from countries in the global north because that is where the problem has been confronted most aggressively.

In an interview, Father Zollner said that on his global travels looking into the problem, he had observed that bishops and clerics in countries such as Malawi were finally facing an issue they would not talk about as recently as a year ago. But other nations are still constrained by local cultural taboos about discussing child abuse, he said.

Italy, he noted, was not without its own bombshell reports of sexual abuse in the church. He compared the book “Lust,” about abuse in the Vatican, by the investigative journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi, to the breakthrough reports by The Boston Globe’s Spotlight team on the cover-up of priests’ sexual abuse of children.

Father Zollner he said the media focus on Monsignor Capella could have a positive side effect and put “more attention to the topic of the congress,” which, he said, was to better understand the phenomenon of child pornography and how to prevent it.

“That is our whole purpose,” he said.

Complete Article HERE!