Vatican at crossroads in handling clergy sexual abuse cases

Pope Francis greets those who turned out to see him in Santiago, Chile, on Jan. 15, 2018.

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Pope Francis did an about-face last month and denounced the widespread coverup of sexual abuse by priests in Chile, prompting all 34 of the country’s bishops to offer their resignations.

He has said he was not receiving “truthful and balanced” information from the bishops, and on Thursday he released a letter to all Chileans declaring “never again” to “the culture of abuse and the system of coverup that allows it to perpetuate.”

The Vatican also announced the pope was sending a team of prelates to Chile to “advance the process of reparation and healing of abuse victims.”

But the pope has not revealed his plans for the church officials who ignored or actively covered up the abuse.

He faces competing demands. Prominent abuse-victims-turned-activists have demanded sweeping prosecutions under canon law, and some analysts agree that such accountability is the only way to restore public faith in the church. But one key figure in the scandal, Chilean Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz, is extremely close to the pope, and if church prosecutions stack up in Chile, Francis may find too few untainted candidates to replace the accused.

One senior Vatican official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Francis may start replacing bishops in the next few weeks.

The first to go, according to the official, are likely to be the four bishops who trained under Fernando Karadima, the Chilean priest at the center of the scandal, and have been accused of witnessing or covering up his abuse. Karadima abused scores of boys during the 1980s and 1990s and in 2011 was sentenced by the Vatican to a life of penance, banning him from public ministry to repent for his sins and pray for his victims.

One Vatican expert predicted Francis would ultimately accept the resignations of almost half of the bishops.

“To the four Karadima students, we can add four others who are over 75 and due for retirement,” said Luis Badilla, a Chilean journalist who lives in Rome and edits the website Il Sismografo, which reports on the Vatican. “That’s eight and that will happen fast, while another five or six replacements will take longer.”

Archbishop Ricardo Ezzati of Santiago celebrates Mass at the Metropolitan Cathedral in the Chilean capital on May 18, 2018.

Robert Mickens, editor of the Catholic newspaper La Croix International, said the Vatican’s ambassador to Chile was also in danger of losing his job for allegedly keeping Francis in the dark over the extent of abuse by priests in Chile.

The big question though is whether those moves will be enough to placate the victims and Chileans whose faith in the church has been shaken.

“Resignations are a good step, but that is the minimum,” said Juan Carlos Cruz, who was abused by Karadima in the 1980s and who over the last decade has emerged as a key advocate for justice. “If there is a case to respond to in canon law, I expect punishments.”

He and other activists said those punishments must also extend to Errazuriz, who was the top bishop of Chile from 1998 to 2010 and ignored reports of abuse by Karadima until the victims went public. He has been accused of actively covering up for Karadima and working to discredit the priest’s accusers.

“He is as evil as you can get, and I would like to see him punished,” said Cruz, 51, who now lives in Philadelphia and works as a brand manager for a multinational company.

In emails to Chilean Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati in 2013 and 2014, which were leaked to the Chilean press, Errazuriz refers to Cruz as a “serpent.” The emails seem to show the cardinal blocking a 2014 effort to get Cruz appointed to a papal commission on clergy abuse worldwide.

Marie Collins, an Irish abuse victim and advocate who served on the commission, also called on the pope to investigate and prosecute Errazuriz for his alleged role in the coverup.

“You can see from the emails he has no compunction in working behind the scenes at the Vatican to silence a victim,” she said.

But prosecuting Errazuriz may prove too much for the pope. The two men are close, their friendship dating to a 2007 conference of Latin American bishops that was held in Brazil. Since 2013, Errazuriz has been the pope’s right-hand man on the so-called C9 committee for Vatican reform, which Francis established to shake up the Vatican’s opaque bureaucracy.

Badilla said he expected Errazuriz would be eased off the committee when Francis next reshuffles members, though the pope may be less likely to single out such a high official for blame.

Still, the pope’s actions last month are part of a dramatic U-turn.

Francis is widely seen as a reformer working to bring the church in line with modern society, but he has long been criticized for paying lip service to combating abuse without truly understanding its pervasiveness.

In a visit to Chile in January, he accused Karadima’s victims of peddling “slander” and publicly supported Juan Barros, a Chilean bishop who faces accusations that he witnessed abuse by Karadima and did nothing to stop it.

A month later, Francis sent an investigator to talk to those victims.

In Cruz’s view, the pope realized the church was in danger of losing more followers if he failed to act.

The first indication of that came when fewer people than expected turned out for his visit to Chile. Another wake-up call came later that month when U.S. Cardinal Sean O’Malley said Francis’ “slander” accusation had created “great pain” for the victims.

After the 2,300-page investigative report was completed — its conclusions have not been made public — Francis invited Cruz and two other Karadima victims to meet with him in Rome.

Cruz said that he told Francis: “You could be the most amazing pope in the world if you stop this.”

“I think he was listening,” Cruz said.

Two weeks after the meeting, the pope met with Chile’s bishops and accused them of destroying evidence of abuse and putting church investigators under pressure to play down accusations.

Not only did that spur the bishops to offer their resignations, it also prompted calls for the Vatican to revive plans to create a tribunal within the church to punish bishops for covering up abuse. The pope dropped the plan in 2016, promising instead to beef up existing procedures for sanctioning bishops. Critics accused the pope of bowing to pressure from other Vatican officials.

In an editorial last month, the National Catholic Reporter wrote: “The shock of these mass resignations creates an opportunity and momentum that Francis should seize upon to implement the tribunal he proposed three years ago. No more delays. He should act now.”

Collins, who was serving on the papal commission investigating abuse, resigned in protest when the tribunal plans were scrapped.

She remained skeptical that the pope would act aggressively.

“If he won’t use that procedure to handle bishops in Chile, I doubt it will ever be used,” she said.

Collins pointed to Australian Archbishop Philip Wilson, who was found guilty in a civil court last month of covering up child sex abuse in the 1970s by a priest in New South Wales.

“Wilson has now been convicted but has yet to be sanctioned by the church,” she said.

Complete Article HERE!

Australian Archbishop Found Guilty In Cover-Up Of Child Sex Abuse

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Archbishop of Adelaide Philip Wilson has been found guilty of concealing child sex abuse by a fellow priest that he first learned of in the 1970s.

Wilson, 67, the senior-most Catholic cleric ever to be charged with concealing abuse, has been diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s disease. He denied under oath last month that two former altar boys told him of abuse by another priest, Father Jim Fletcher, in the 1970s, at a church in East Maitland, New South Wales. Fletcher, who was found guilty on multiple counts of sexual assault of boys in 2004, died of a stroke in jail two years later.

Wilson’s verdict was handed down by Magistrate Robert Stone in Newcastle Local Court at the conclusion of the eight-day trial.

The archbishop showed no emotion as the verdict was read inside a packed courtroom, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

Wilson’s sentence is expected on June 19.

Archbishop of Adelaide Philip Wilson

According to Australia’s ABC, “As part of his defence, Wilson’s legal team tried to argue that as child sexual abuse was not considered a serious crime in the 1970s, it was not worthy of being reported to authorities.”

Outside the courtroom, abuse survivor Peter Gogarty said the verdict was one of the most significant in Australian history.

“On behalf of all of the victims — who have been abused in this country and elsewhere — I just want to say what an enormous relief it is that the people who let this happen are finally being brought to account,” he told ABC.

The court’s decision comes as Australia grapples with another high-level priest abuse case — Cardinal George Pell was ordered earlier this month to stand trial in Melbourne on charges involving allegations of abuse that date back decades.

In Wilson’s trial, Peter Creigh, a former altar boy testified that in 1976 he told Wilson, then a junior priest in East Maitland, that Fletcher had abused him.

Prosecutors had to prove that Wilson should have remembered the conversations with Creigh — who was 15 when he first spoke with Wilson of the abuse five years before — and another altar boy, whose name has not been made public, at the time of Fletcher’s trial in 2004, the Herald reports.

The Australian reports that “… it’s alleged then Wilson should have had knowledge or belief that Mr Creigh was the victim of a serious offence committed by Fletcher, based on what he had been told in 1976.”

Wilson said he had no recollection of the conversations. He told the court that if they did take place, he would have remembered it.

“I think it is unlikely because the nature of the evidence was so graphic,” Wilson told the magistrate. “I don’t think I would have forgotten that.”

Wilson, asked by his lawyer if he had any suspicions about Fletcher at the time, said he had none.

Creigh testified that he believed Wilson would take action against Fletcher, but that nothing was done.

The magistrate said he did not accept that Wilson could not remember the conversations with the altar boys in the 1970s.

In an emailed statement to the media, Wilson said he was disappointed by the verdict and that he would consult his attorneys to decide a next step.

Amid worldwide allegations of long-standing abuse in the church, Australia last year published a landmark study of the problem in that country.

The far-reaching report, which took five years to complete, interviewed more than 8,000 people who shared their experiences of abuse and 2,500 cases were referred to police as a result.

Among its recommendations, the report said the church should lift its celibacy requirement for priests and be required to report evidence of abuse revealed in confession.

Complete Article HERE!

The clergy sex abuse scandal explained in 3 minutes: video

By Ivey DeJesus

As early as this month, the findings of a grand jury investigation into clergy sex abuse across six Pennsylvania dioceses could be released by the state’s Office of Attorney General.

The findings into the abuse of children by priests and church workers in the dioceses of Harrisburg, Scranton, Allentown, Greensburg, Pittsburgh and Eric would mark the latest chapter into the decades-old clergy sex abuse scandal in this country.

This three-minute video helps broadly explain the some of the key developments in this country, particularly out of Pennsylvania.

Complete Article HERE!

Cardinal George Pell To Face Sexual Assault Charges In Australia


Cardinal George Pell arrives at Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday in Melbourne, Australia.

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A magistrate in Australia has ordered Cardinal George Pell, one of the Vatican’s senior-most officials, to stand trial on sexual abuse charges involving allegations from multiple individuals dating back decades.

Pell is the highest-ranking Vatican official to be charged in the church’s long-standing sex abuse scandal.

Although Melbourne Magistrate Belinda Wallington dismissed many of the charges against Pell, who was appointed archbishop of Sydney in 2001 and later oversaw the Vatican’s finances under Pope Francis, she said that the prosecution’s case was strong enough to warrant a jury trial on the remaining charges.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Wallington, following a month-long hearing committed the 76-year-old cleric “on charges against multiple complainants, involving alleged sexual offending at a swimming pool in the 1970s in Ballarat [near Melbourne], where the accused man was then working as a priest; and at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in 1990s, when he was the then Archbishop of Melbourne.”

Asked for a plea, a seated Pell – who has consistently denied wrongdoing — clearly announced, “Not guilty.”

Last year, Pell stated publicly, “I am innocent of these charges, they are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.”

Lawyers for Pell had argued that all the allegations were untrue and should be dismissed.

More than 30 witnesses testified in the four-week hearing. The Associated Press writes, “His alleged victims testified in the first two weeks of the preliminary hearing via a video link from a remote location to a room closed to the media and public.”

Pell, who is free on bail, was due to appear in County Court on Wednesday to hear his trial date.

The Herald reports:

“After the magistrate left the bench, a group of people at the back of the court room clapped.”

… Cardinal Pell left the court building at 11.55am, and was jeered by people outside the building as he got in a white car and was driven away. A wall of police officers stood on the bottom two steps of the court building to ensure he was not surrounded by media.”

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!