Vatican goes online in struggle against child abuse

The Vatican is turning to the Internet in its struggle against child abuse with a new website allowing clergy around the world to share information on eradicating the problem.

A key figure behind the initiative is German psychologist priest Hans Zollner from the Vatican’s Gregorian University, who spoke to AFP about the need for fundamental changes in how the Catholic Church handles abuse cases.

“Bishops have to give priority to victims,” said Zollner, a member of the order of Jesuits, often seen as intellectuals inside the Church.

“People working inside dioceses and religious orders should be taught to listen to them. All complaints have to be taken seriously,” he said.

Zollner’s university will host a conference next February at which the new e-learning centre is expected to be launched, with some 200 experts, diocesan officials and representatives of congregations attending.

It will be “a step … on a long and painful path,” Zollner said, adding the website would bring together the latest research on child abuse and Church laws, while allowing churches in different countries to have their say.

The website will be in five languages — English, French, German, Italian and Spanish — and the project is funded to last three years.

The Church is struggling to deal with rising anger and a string of lawsuits following thousands of abuse claims in Europe and the United States.

But many in the Church are concerned that the cases uncovered so far may only be the tip of the iceberg since abuses in much of the developing world — including in Africa and Latin America — have so far received little attention.

Pope Benedict XVI’s ever stronger denunciations of abuse are bringing some changes, however, and national bishops conferences around the world are set to come up with common guidelines against paedophiles by May 2012.

Zollner explained the process is slow and complex because of wide variations in national laws and the need for international coordination.

“The general sensitivity to the problem has clearly increased,” he said.

“But the Church is not a monolithic block. Sensitivities are very different. A critical point appears to have been reached,” he added.

“Many bishops are now saying: ‘We have to act’. There needs to be a more consistent and coordinated response as wanted by the Holy Father.”

The common agreement in the Church is that those responsible “must receive their punishment according to Church law and criminal law,” he said.

Among the changes Zollner has been working on, is stricter psychological tests for would-be priests to identify possible abusers.

The e-learning centre will make use of research from the child and adolescent psychiatry department at Ulm university in Germany, he said.

Abuse victims groups have accused the Vatican of failing to take the problem of paedophilia seriously early on, of not cooperating with police and allowing priests and bishops who covered up for abusers to go unpunished.

“For almost all victims, the most important thing is to be heard by a representative of the institution whose members have hurt them,” Zollner said.

Victims “should have the chance to express all their pain, anger, depression and fears to an official representative of the Church,” he added.

“The pope’s stance is there should no longer be priests who are protected and moved along. The Church must no longer give the impression it is shielding the perpetrators as it has often been seen as doing in the past,” he said.

The Jesuit father added: “It makes the victims suffer a second time.”

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Vatican profit up in 2010 but donations down

The Vatican has returned to profit after three years in the red but donations from the faithful fell nearly euro15 million ($22 million), or 18 percent, amid tough economic times and a year in which the priest sex abuse scandal exploded.

The Vatican issued its annual financial report Saturday, saying it made a profit of euro9.85 million ($14.3 million) in 2010 following a loss of euro4.01 million ($5.8 million) a year earlier and losses in 2007 and 2008.

Revenues were euro245.2 million ($356.1 million) against expenses of euro235.35 million ($341.8 million).

In a statement, the Vatican said the results showed a continuing positive trend that began in 2009 but was hampered then by the effects of the global financial downturn.

The separately administered Vatican city state also turned a euro21.04 million ($30.6 million) profit, thanks primarily to booming ticket sales at the Vatican Museums.

But donations from individuals worldwide, the so-called Peter’s Pence, were down US$14.8 million at US$67.70 million in 2010, an 18 percent drop from the year before. No explanation was given in the statement.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said Vatican officials believed the main reasons for the decrease were related to the lingering effects of the financial crisis on Catholics’ ability to donate, and the fact that two donations of a few million dollars apiece from individuals in 2009 weren’t repeated in 2010.

The abuse scandal also erupted in 2010 in Europe, traditionally a top source of donations after the U.S.

Tens of thousands of people have either formally or informally left the Catholic Church in the wake of reports that priests sexually abused thousands of young people and bishops covered up the crimes.
In Austria alone, the number of Catholics who officially left the church in 2010 was 87,000 – a 64 percent increase over the 53,000 who formally had their names struck from church registries in 2009.

Such numbers are easily tracked because members pay a church tax unless they formally leave the congregation. Pope Benedict XVI’s native Germany, which also levies a church tax on members, has also seen thousands of people formally quit.

Individual dioceses around the world also make donations to the Vatican each year to help the pope govern the universal church.

Those figures were also down in 2010 at US$27.36 million compared to the US$31.51 million in 2009.

Lombardi said the effects of the abuse scandal on the Peter’s Pence and the diocesan donations wasn’t discussed in any depth during meetings Thursday and Friday of top cardinals to review the numbers.

But he didn’t dispute that such an interpretation of the results could be made.

The Vatican bank, though increased its donations to the pope for his charitable works by euro5 million ($7.26 million) to euro55 million ($79.9 million), the statement said.

The Vatican has published the annual report since 1981, when Pope John Paul II ordered financial disclosure as part of his efforts to debunk the idea that the Vatican is rich.

For the fourth year in a row, no press conference accompanied the release of the results.

Previously, a senior Vatican cardinal would explain the Vatican’s financial picture on the same day the results were issued.

A Vatican official said this week that such briefings are no longer planned.

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Cloyne report may be issued next week

THE CLOYNE report may be published next week.

Prepared by the Murphy commission, it follows an investigation into the handling of clerical child sex abuse allegations by church and State authorities over a 13-year period in the Catholic diocese of Cloyne.

Yesterday Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said it was “likely the report can be brought before Cabinet on Tuesday week and be published very shortly thereafter.”

Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1’s This Week programme he indicated the delay in publication of the report was due to “a long-drawn-out process of consultation involving lawyers who had an interest in the matter”.

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The completed report was presented to the former minister for justice Dermot Ahern on December 23rd last.

Its findings concern clerical child sex abuse allegations made between January 1st, 1996, when the Catholic Church in Ireland first introduced child protection guidelines, and February 1st, 2009.

It was ordered by the government in January 2009 after publication the previous month of a report on the Cloyne diocesan website that found child protection practices there were “inadequate and in some respects dangerous”.

That report had been prepared by the church’s own child protection watchdog, the National Board for Safeguarding Children.

The government extended the remit of the Murphy commission to include Cloyne.

The commission at the time was also investigating the handling of clerical child sex abuse allegations against a sample 46 priests in the Dublin archdiocese.

It published that Dublin report in November 2009.

Its Cloyne report contains 26 chapters, is about 400 pages long, and includes findings on all 19 priests who faced abuse allegations there over the 13-year period investigated.

On April 8th last, president of the High Court Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns decided parts of the report should not be published pending the outcome of criminal proceedings against one priest.

US bishop resigns after alleged paedophile flees

Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday accepted the resignation of a US bishop accused of allowing an alleged paedophile priest from his diocese to flee to Mexico, as the Vatican takes action on abuses.

Bishop Daniel Walsh of the diocese of Santa Rosa in California resigned under an article in Catholic Church law invoking a “grave cause”, which can include a failure by the prelate in question to denounce a case of paedophilia.

Walsh, 74, is one year younger than the minimum retirement age for bishops.

Benedict last year called for a zero tolerance approach to child abuse by clergymen and called on bishops to work together with local law enforcement, following thousands of paedophile scandals across Europe and the United States.

Father Xavier Ochoa admitted to the bishop in April 2006 that he had abused young boys but the police were only told three days later by a diocesan lawyer.

By that time, Ochoa had fled to Mexico where he is still at large.

The diocese was ordered to pay five million dollars (3.5 million euros) to the three victims, as well as 20,000 dollars from Walsh personally.

The alleged acts committed by Ochoa included rape and forced oral sex.

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State Department action on ‘LGBT rights’ could split Catholic countries

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has praised State Department action on “LGBT” rights which includes support for Gay Pride marches and a Lady Gaga concert in Rome.

But two critics said U.S. advocacy is “far beyond the mainstream” and risks alienating the Church from social life in Catholic countries.

“The administration has made the LGBT agenda one of the cornerstones of their foreign policy,” said Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute.

“They have directed their embassies everywhere to monitor and assist domestic homosexual movements whether the host country and their people accept it or not.”

“The U.S. is very powerful and can force governments to submit to its social policy views,” Ruse told CNA June 28.

Rebecca Marchinda, director of advocacy for the U.N.-focused World Youth Alliance, warned that U.S. activism—in Catholic countries especially—could result in the alienation of “the Church from the public sphere and the debate about these issues.”

“Instead of recognizing that states have legitimate reasons for recognizing marriage and family as an institution (and not other arrangements), the U.S. will help to pit the Catholic Church against civil society by stating that opposition to the U.S. ideas is based solely on outdated religious ideas.”

Some of these legitimate reasons, she noted, exist prior to religion and promote dignity and the common good.

Secretary Clinton discussed the U.S. administration’s role in homosexual advocacy at a June 27 LGBT Pride Month celebration co-hosted by the State Department and the organization Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies.

The U.S. Embassy in Rome played an “instrumental role” in bringing Lady Gaga to Italy for a EuroPride concert, Clinton said. Organizers of the event “desperately” wanted the American music star to perform and a letter to Lady Gaga from Ambassador David Thorne played a key role in securing the agreement.

“Over one million people attended the event, which included powerful words in support of equality and justice,” Clinton said.

Lady Gaga, a leading advocate for homosexual political causes, has also created several highly sexualized music videos that use Catholic religious symbols.

Paola Concia, a homosexual deputy of Italy’s Democratic Party, told the Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano that Ambassador Thorne’s intervention in the event was “surely” influenced by the political situation in Italy—the only founding nation of the European Union without a law on so-called homosexual rights.

The ambassador has frequently referred to Secretary Clinton’s phrase that “gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.”

In her June 27 remarks, Secretary Clinton added that U.S. embassy staff in Slovakia worked “overtime” to help make the Pride parade in that country a success after the first one ended in violence.

The staff brought together more than 20 chiefs of mission from other nations to sign a public statement of support for the march and hosted a “respectful, productive debate on LGBT rights.”

“And on the day of the parade, our ambassador marched in solidarity right next to the mayor of Bratislava,” she said.

Clinton said the State Department was also involved in advocating LGBT rights in Honduras, Uganda, Malawi, Russia, Turkey, China and other places.

She noted the United States’ “major effort” at the Human Rights Council in Geneva to support a statement in ending violence and criminalization based on “sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The United States’ Bureau for Western Affairs and its permanent mission to the Organization of American States helped create a special rapporteur for LGBT rights within the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights.

Ruse said such advocacy is not simply about stopping violence against gays.

“They are intent on forcing homosexual marriage and homosexual adoption on countries that are offended by such things. They are intent on forcing sexual orientation and gender identity as new categories of non-discrimination that will trump the rights of religious believers.

“On this topic, this administration is far beyond the mainstream,” Ruse stated.

He said that most people around the world still understand homosexuality as “outside the norm” and as “something to be avoided and certainly not approved.”

“Most people recognize that the homosexual lifestyle is harmful to public health and morals. The effect of the Obama policy is to offend billions of people and force this view on reluctant governments. This is most especially offensive to countries that are predominantly Christian and Muslim. In fact, Christianity and Islam are among the chief obstacles of this agenda and policy.”

Marchinda suggested that Clinton’s comments express a “misunderstanding” about the nature of the debate on LGBT rights and that debate’s relationship to state sovereignty and human rights in general.

“It is worrisome that the United States has moved beyond defending the legitimate rights of all people to be free from violence to helping usurp the laws of (United Nations) member states concerning marriage and local regulations pertaining to parades and other events,” she told CNA on June 28.

“U.S. advocacy on these issues promotes a particular definition of human rights that is not accepted by all nations. It is increasingly a Western definition that the U.S. uses to promote its interests abroad and this definition guides its distribution of foreign aid to developing countries.”

Marchinda noted that there is presently no internationally-accepted definition of terms like “sexual orientation,” “LGBT,” or “gender identity,” though the U.S. continues to use this language in its human rights work.

“This causes confusion among member states of the United Nations and especially among those receiving aid with policy-type strings attached.”

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