03/17/17

Sacha Pfeiffer of ‘Spotlight’ fame questions whether church understands gravity of sexual abuse

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Actress Rachel McAdams, left, and journalist Sacha Pfeiffer accept the award for best acting ensemble for the movie “Spotlight” at the 2016 Critics’ Choice Awards. McAdams portrayed Pfeiffer, a member of the Boston Globe’s Spotlight investigative reporting team, in the film that also won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

By Tim Funk

They were played by actors in “Spotlight,” the Oscar-winning movie that told the story of how the Boston Globe uncovered what would turn out to be a worldwide child sex abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church.

But on Thursday night in Charlotte, an audience of trial lawyers got to hear from the real Sacha Pfeiffer, whose reporting as a member of the Globe’s Spotlight investigative team exposed a coverup by top church officials; the real Mitch Garabedian, an attorney who represented scores of families whose children were molested by priests; and the real Jim Scanlan, a survivor of child sex abuse whose story and words informed some of the film’s most memorable scenes.

The trio, who spoke at an event organized by the North Carolina Advocates for Justice, agreed on two things:

1. Fifteen years after the Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning series of stories, they said, the Catholic Church continues to resist calls to be more transparent, to hold bishops and priests more accountable and to focus more on ways to protect minors from clergy sex abuse and less on protecting the church’s public image.

“I hear a lot of good things from (Pope) Francis about protecting our kids,” said Scanlan, who works in financial services in Boston. “But a lot of it is just window-dressing.”

2. “Spotlight,” the movie, has made parents and others more vigilant about child safety, they said, and has made it easier for past victims of clergy abuse to come forward and tell their stories.

“This movie has certainly raised the awareness that you have to protect children in the presence of priests or any other adults,” said Garabedian, who was portrayed in the film by character actor Stanley Tucci.

Pfeiffer, who was played by actress Rachel McAdams, also said “Spotlight” is one of the few movies to offer an accurate picture of how journalists report a story.

At first, she was sure making a movie about the Spotlight team’s investigation was “a terrible idea. All they’re going to do is sensationalize and embarrass us. Think about most TV shows and movies about reporters. Someone is always sleeping with their source and talking in dark alleys. It’s just so unrealistic.”

But “Spotlight,” she said, not only got it right, but also found ways to make even some of the more tedious reporting chores suspenseful.

“It really conveyed our job: We knock on doors, we do research, we create databases,” she said. “Yet they used their film-making skill to make it exciting and watchable.”

She said the hours and hours the Spotlight team spent pouring over directories published over decades by the Boston archdiocese was turned into “a gripping three minutes” in the movie.

Pfeiffer said she and the other reporters and editors were invited to read drafts of the script, visit the movie set (in Toronto) and spend lots of time with the actors playing them.

“That time (with McAdams and the other actors) felt to me sort of social. We were having dinner with movie stars, we were taking walks with actors,” she said. “But when I saw the movie, I realized they were depicting mannerisms we had, including mannerisms we didn’t even know we had until our friends and family pointed them out. Then I realized all that time we spent with them was research for them. We were being observed and dissected and analyzed and I had no idea.”

McAdams, who received an Oscar nomination for her performance, copied the way Pfeiffer plays with her thumb nail and tips her head back to knock her hair away from her eye.

A friendship formed during the making of the film: Pfeiffer said she and McAdams stay in touch, texting each other a few times a month.

Pfeiffer and the others agreed that child sex abuse is not limited to the Catholic church; recent stories in the Globe have focused on such abuse in elite private schools in New England.

But they said the Catholic Church is still resisting needed change. Scanlan and Garabedian pointed to reports out of Rome this month about an abuse victim’s resignation from a commission advising the pope on ways to protect children from clergy sex abuse.

Marie Collins, who was molested by a priest in Ireland when she was 13, said she was frustrated by the Vatican’s reluctance to implement the commission’s recommendations, including those approved by Pope Francis.

This refusal to act, she said in a statement to the National Catholic Reporter, “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.”

David Hains, a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, told the Observer when “Spotlight” was released in 2015 that the Globe series had caused the church to go through a painful self-examination and alter its ways.

“We have made changes in the formation of our priests (in seminaries),” Hains said. “And everybody who works or volunteers in our parishes now undergo background checks and have to take sexual abuse awareness training.”

But the speakers Thursday night called for more.

“To this day, I’m not sure the church really understands the gravity of sexual abuse, the damage it does,” said Pfeiffer, still a reporter at the Globe. “I think it needs to hold more bishops and other church officials accountable. Some priests have gone to jail, but hardly any people in supervisory roles have been held accountable in any way.”

Asked what he would advise the pope to do, Garabedian told the Observer he’d ask for more transparency.

“I’d ask the pope,” he said, “to release the names of all pedophile priests and all documents concerning pedophilia, in terms of who knew what in the Catholic Church so the victims can try to heal and society will be made aware of the evils of sexual abuse.”

Complete Article HERE!

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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’

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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!

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03/2/17

Abuse Victim Quits Vatican Commission, Citing ‘Resistance’

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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!

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02/9/17

Steve Bannon Aligns With Vatican Hard-Liners Who Oppose Pope Francis

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Anti-Pope Francis posters appeared in Rome last week, with a message in a Roman street dialect saying, “Hey, Frank, you took over Congregations, suspended priests, decapitated the Order of Malta and the Franciscans of The Immaculate, ignored Cardinals… Where the heck is your mercy?”

BY

White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is known to have cultivated ties with far-right parties in Europe, like the National Front in France. He also seems to have forged an alliance with Vatican hard-liners who oppose Pope Francis’ less rigid approach to church doctrine. The New York Times reported this week on Bannon’s connections at the Vatican.

Before becoming White House chief strategist, Bannon — who is Catholic — was the executive chairman of Breitbart News, which he called a “platform for the alt-right.” That’s a movement associated with white nationalism.

During a visit to Rome a few years ago, Bannon struck up a friendship with the American Cardinal Raymond Burke, a traditionalist who has emerged as one of Pope Francis’ most vocal critics.

Bannon hired Thomas Williams, an American former priest, as Breitbart’s Rome correspondent. Williams belonged to the conservative Legion of Christ, which was roiled by scandal when it was revealed its founder had been a pedophile.

Williams recently told his own story on an Italian TV talk show: In 2003, he fathered a child, but he kept it secret until he was outed by a news report. He then left the priesthood and married the child’s mother — who is the daughter of the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, Mary Ann Glendon.

In July 2014, Bannon addressed a conference that was held inside the Vatican but was sponsored by a conservative Catholic group. Speaking via Skype, Bannon painted an almost apocalyptic vision of the state of the Western world.

“We’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict, of which, if the people in this room, the people in the church, do not bind together and really form what I feel is an aspect of the church militant, to really be able to not just stand with our beliefs, but to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting.”

A barbarity, Bannon added, that would completely eradicate “everything we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years,” and which he clearly spelled out a few minutes later: “We are in an outright war against jihadist Islamic fascism. And this war is, I think, metastasizing far quicker than governments can handle it.”

This is language that Pope Francis has never used. The pope has repeatedly urged European countries to welcome migrants — who are, in the majority, Muslim — and he has championed the rights of the poor.

A year ago, Francis criticized candidate Donald Trump for wanting to build a wall along the border with Mexico, saying, “A person who thinks only about building walls … and not building bridges is not Christian.”

But that’s not Bannon’s worldview. While most Breitbart reports on the pope have been neutral, headlines about the pope when Bannon was in charge included:

  • “Seven Ways Pope Francis Slapped Conservatives in the United States”
  • “A Vatican Expert: Pope Francis a ‘Friend of Islam’ “
  • “Pope Francis Slams Capitalism, Death Penalty, Immigration Law; No Real Mention of Abortion, Gay Marriage”
  • “Pope Francis Threatens Legacy of Pope John Paul II, Ronald Reagan”

While Breitbart and Bannon seem to be making common cause with Roman Catholics who are on the outs with this pope, these Vatican hard-liners are not very powerful.

Nevertheless, Pope Francis’ supporters inside the Vatican worry that following Trump’s election victory, the pope is a little more isolated — a lonely progressive on the global stage. They say this has emboldened his critics both within and outside the Vatican, who have become more vocal.

For example, just last week, mysterious anti-Francis posters cropped up around Rome. The photo showed the pope looking uncharacteristically very grouchy, and the unidentified author — using a Roman street dialect — accused him of acting in an authoritarian manner and showing lack of mercy, despite the fact that Francis has made “Mercy” the unofficial slogan of his papacy.

Francis has not reacted. But in a surprising move, on Sunday, he issued the very first papal blessing for the Super Bowl. It was a video message in his native Spanish — not in Italian, which he usually uses for official messages — in which he said such a sporting event “shows that it’s possible to build a culture of encounter and a world of peace.”

The Italian media labeled the message “anti-Trump.”

Complete Article HERE!

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02/29/16

Top Vatican cardinal says pope backs him on stance over abuse issue

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Senior Counsel Assisting Gail Furness stands in front of a screen displaying Australian Cardinal George Pell as he holds a bible while appearing via video link from a hotel in Rome, Italy to testify at the Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney, Australia, February 29, 2016.

Senior Counsel Assisting Gail Furness stands in front of a screen displaying Australian Cardinal George Pell as he holds a bible while appearing via video link from a hotel in Rome, Italy to testify at the Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney, Australia, February 29, 2016.

Australian Cardinal George Pell, the highest-ranking Vatican official to testify on systemic sexual abuse of children by clergy in the Roman Catholic Church, said on Monday that he has the full backing of Pope Francis.

Pell on Sunday told Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse that the church made “enormous mistakes” and “catastrophic” choices by attempting to cover up abuses in the 1970s.

Pell’s testimony has received global coverage. Because of his high position in the Vatican, the Australian inquiry into sexual abuse cases that occurred decades ago has taken on wider implications about the accountability of church leaders.

Pell, 74, has become the focal point for victims’ frustration over what they say has been an inadequate response from church leaders. Pell himself is not accused of sexual abuse and has twice apologized for the Church’s slow response.

“I have the full backing of the pope,” Pell told reporters as he arrived at Rome’s Hotel Quirinale to give evidence in front of former abuse victims who traveled to Italy for the late night sessions.

In his position as Vatican treasurer, Pell met with Pope Francis for a routine meeting earlier on Monday, after telling the inquiry he was “not here to defend the indefensible.”

He said was aware of rumors and complaints against pedophile clergy when he was a young priest in the 1970s, but that Church superiors tended to give priests the benefit of the doubt, something he acknowledged was wrong.

Pell said children were often not believed, abusive priests were shuffled from parish to parish and the Church was over-reliant on the use of counseling of priests to prevent further abuses.

The strong language was welcomed by former victims, but Pell’s failing memory on specifics angered witnesses in Rome and Sydney. He repeatedly said he could not recall specific incidents when he was asked about them.

Special prosecutor Gail Furness quizzed Pell via video link from Sydney on Monday. There were audible gasps as the Cardinal said he was deceived by Church leaders who did not inform him about claims against Father Gerald Ridsdale among others.

Ridsdale, who was repeatedly moved from parish to parish, was later convicted of 138 offences against 53 victims.

Ridsdale’s nephew, David Ridsdale, was among 15 abuse victims and supporters who traveled to Rome on the back of a crowd-funding campaign to see Pell give evidence after he said he was unable to travel to his native Australia because of heart problems.

SPOTLIGHT WIN

Last year, Pell denied accusations made at Commission hearings that he had tried to bribe a victim to remain quiet, that he ignored another complaint and that he was complicit in the transfer of a pedophile priest.

Church sexual abuse broke into the open in 2002, when it was discovered that U.S. bishops in the Boston area moved abusers from parish to parish instead of defrocking them. Similar scandals have since been discovered around the world and tens of millions of dollars have been paid in compensation.

The hearing started on the same night that Spotlight, a film about newspaper reporters who uncovered systemic paedophilia in the Church in Boston, won the Academy Award for best picture.

The Vatican newspaper dedicated two articles to the win, saying Spotlight was not an anti-Catholic film as some have claimed.

“The ogres were not exclusively men in cassocks. Paedophilia does not necessarily derive from a vow of chastity,” the newspaper said. “But it is by now clear that there were too many people in the Church who were more worried about the image of the institution than the gravity of the act.”

Complete Article HERE!

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