10/6/17

Vatican Shines Light on Child Abuse as Claims Against Priests Persist

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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!

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09/30/17

Vatican diplomat also wanted in Canada on child porn charges

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A Vatican diplomat already under suspicion for child pornography-related offenses in the United States has now been accused of downloading child porn in Canada. Monsignor Carlo Capella was recalled to the Vatican, where an investigation into his alleged crimes has been initiated.

By Cindy Wooden

An arrest warrant has been issued in Canada for Monsignor Carlo Capella, the Vatican diplomat recalled from service in Washington in late August, who already was the subject of a Vatican criminal investigation involving child pornography.

Police in Windsor, Ontario, issued a statement Sept. 28 saying, “A Canada-wide arrest warrant has been issued for Carlo Capella, a 50-year-old male, for the charges of: access(ing) child pornography, possess(ing) child pornography and distribut(ing) child pornography.

“Investigators believe that the offenses occurred while the suspect was visiting a place of worship in Windsor,” the statement said. “Investigators have determined that the suspect has returned to his residence in Italy.”

Capella had worked since the summer of 2016 at the Vatican nunciature in Washington. Prior to that, he worked on the Italy desk at the Vatican Secretariat of State. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1993 for the Archdiocese of Milan.

Although the Vatican has not publicly confirmed Capella’s identity, it did not object when many news outlets identified him as the Vatican diplomat recalled from Washington.

The Vatican press office said Sept. 15 that the Vatican was notified Aug. 21 by the U.S. Department of State “of a possible violation of laws relating to child pornography images by a member of the diplomatic corps of the Holy See accredited to Washington.

“The Holy See, following the practice of sovereign states, recalled the priest in question, who is currently in Vatican City,” the press office said.

The Associated Press reported that the State Department confirmed it had asked the Vatican to lift the official’s diplomatic immunity. It said that request was denied.

The Vatican promoter of justice, the chief prosecutor for Vatican City State, “opened an investigation and has already commenced international collaboration to obtain elements relative to the case,” the Vatican said.

The Vatican press office declined to comment on the Windsor police statement.

The statement said that “in February of 2017, the Windsor Police Service Internet Child Exploitation Unit received information that originated from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police National Child Exploitation Coordination Center indicating that a suspect in the city of Windsor had allegedly uploaded child pornography using a social networking website.”

The Windsor police launched an investigation and “were granted judicial permission to review records related to the involved internet service provider address,” the statement said. The investigation “determined that the alleged offenses occurred between Dec. 24-27, 2016,” at a Windsor church.

Canada’s CBC News quoted a spokesman for the Diocese of London, which includes Windsor, confirming “that it was asked to, and did, assist in an investigation around suspicions involving Monsignor Capella’s possible violations of child pornography laws by using a computer address at a local church.”

Nelson Couto, diocesan spokesman, said that at the request of police, the diocese would not comment further.

Complete Article HERE!

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09/23/17

Pope Francis acknowledges Catholic Church’s bad practices during the sex abuse crisis

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Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley speaks as Pope Francis meets with members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors at the Vatican on Sept. 21.

Pope Francis acknowledged that the Catholic Church was slow to address the sex abuse crisis, including its widely criticized but not publicly acknowledged practice of moving priests who had abused children to other churches instead of reporting them to the police, saying “the church’s conscience came a bit late.”

The pope gave off-the-cuff remarks to a commission he created to tackle the issue, acknowledging the slow pace of church trials and an overall lack of awareness of the problem inside St. Peter’s walls.

“Pedophilia is a sickness,” Pope Francis said. “Today one repents, moves on, we forgive him, then two years later he relapses. We need to get it in our heads that it’s a sickness.”

The pope announced he would do away with Vatican appeal trials for cases where evidence of abuse against minors is proven. “If there’s evidence, that is final,” he said.

“Those who’re sentenced because of sexual abuses against minors can indeed appeal to the pope and ask for a pardon, but I’ve never signed one of those, and I never will,” he said. “I hope this much is clear.”

The pope’s rationale for doing away with an appeal process — according to Italian news outlets’ transcripts of his words — lies in his own experience. Faced with such a case at the very beginning of his papacy, he said he’d opted for “the more benevolent path” instead of defrocking a priest. “After two years, though, the priest relapsed,” he said, which became a learning experience for the pope.

A well-placed Vatican source confirms that these words convey the pope’s own “personal bitterness, as well as the difficulty of curing [pedophiles], as it was once thought possible, which instead ended up being quite a failure.” According to the source, the pope was probably specifically referring to the case of Mauro Inzoli, whom he “definitively” defrocked earlier this summer. An appeal trial for Inzoli, who was convicted of child sex abuse in an Italian court, began Thursday.

The pope’s comments and recent events draw attention to his larger efforts to strengthen the church’s fight against abuse, as advocacy groups have called for sweeping changes within the Vatican hierarchy.

Last week, the Catholic Church recalled diplomat Monsignor Carlo Alberto Capella back to the Vatican because U.S. investigators suspected him of crimes involving child pornography.

And earlier this year, Cardinal George Pell, one of the most powerful officials in the Vatican, was charged by Australian police for “historical sexual assault offenses,” and returned to his home country “to clear his name,” according to a statement from the archdiocese of Sydney.

The Catholic Church in some countries, including in the United States, put systems in place to protect children, and after he became pope, Francis created an ambitious reform commission addressing sex abuse.

He appointed Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, who inherited the clergy abuse scandal from Cardinal Bernard Law in Boston, as president of the commission, calling him one of the church’s “prophets.”

Marie Collins, an Irish survivor of clergy sexual abuse, quit Francis’s commission in March because she thought that few of the changes they recommended were being implemented by the Vatican hierarchy. She said that when the pope makes a statement like this, it helps to break down denial from many church leaders.

“I suppose [Pope Francis is] stating what is obvious,” Collins said. Since the beginning of his papacy, Francis has spoken of the horrors of abuse and spoken to survivors of abuse, asking for forgiveness several times.

However, Collins believes this may be the first time the pope has addressed how the church handles priests. Some bishops would move priests accused of abusing children to other churches, allowing them to continue their abuse.

“We’re getting an admission of problems that were there,” she said. “The less denial there is, the more chance there is for change.”

Francesco Zanardi, an Italian survivor of clergy sex abuse, said he believes it’s the first time the pope has acknowledged the practice of moving priests around.

“It’s an admission all right, but it comes a bit too late, I just can’t be optimistic about it,” said Zanardi, president of “Rete l’Abuso” or Abuse Network, an Italian association of’ survivors of abuse by clergy.

Many people are beginning to wonder whether the pope’s rhetoric will turn into Vatican action, such as the idea of tribunals, said John Thavis, author of “The Vatican Diaries” and who was a longtime correspondent for the Catholic News Service.

“The question is whether he institutionalizes some forms of closer control over bishops who have made bad decisions,” he said. “That seems to be a sticking point.”

The pope’s defenders say he has made strides to hold bishops and priests accountable. Last summer, Francis issued a decree that diocesan bishops could be removed for failure to report suspected abuse. In 2014, he fired a bishop in Paraguay who was accused of covering up abuse, and in 2015, he accepted the resignation of a bishop in Kansas City who was convicted of covering up abuse.

Complete Article HERE!

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09/7/17

Vatican fails to submit report to UN

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By Jolene Toves

As sexual assault cases against the Archdiocese of Agana continue to increase, it appears that the Vatican has found itself in trouble with the United Nations.

Three years ago, the Vatican was called to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child which begged the Vatican to take concrete steps to remedy decades of institutional complicity and cover-up of widespread sexual violence.

September 1, 2017 marked the deadline for the Vatican to submit a comprehensive report on their progress, but the Vatican did not submit the report.

According to the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Holy See was provided with committee recommendations aimed at ensuring the protection of children from sexual violence, however the Vatican has not implemented any of those recommendations.

“And children remain at risk while Vatican officials engage in power struggles, finger pointing and deflection,” stated SNAP managing Director Barbara Dorris.

While CCR staff attorney Pam Spees stated, “Church officials are quick to decry efforts to hold them accountable as scapegoating or anti-Catholic sentiment and deflect by pointing to instances of sexual violence in other religious contexts.”

Both SNAP and CCR in a report to the UN argue “that the Holy See has not made substantial progress in genuinely acknowledging, internalizing and implements the full range of policies and practices that would center children’s best interest and protect them against sexual violence.”

Complete Article HERE!

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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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