12/15/17

Catholic Church Singled Out In Australian Sex Abuse Report


The bronze statue of Cardinal Moran stands by the entrance of St. Mary’s Cathedral, in Sydney, Australia.

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In a far-reaching report on child sex abuse in Australia, a government commission is recommending that the country’s Catholic Church lift its celibacy requirement for diocesan clergy and be required to report evidence of abuse revealed in confession.

Those are among the 400 recommendations contained in the 17-volume final report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse, which is wrapping up a five-year investigation – the longest in Australia’s history.

“We have concluded that there were catastrophic failures of leadership of Catholic Church authorities over many decades,” the report said.

The Australian reports: “More than 15,000 people contacted the commission to share their experiences of abuse, more than 8,000 of them spoke personally with the commissioner about the trauma it caused, and approximately 2,500 cases have now been referred to police.”

The commission said the church failed to properly address allegations and concerns of victims, calling the Church’s response to them “remarkably and disturbingly similar.”

The report also detailed abuse in churches of other denominations and at such institutions as schools and sports clubs. However, it concluded that the greatest number of alleged abuse perpetrators were found in Catholic institutions. The commission has concluded that 7 percent of priests who worked in Australia between 1950 and 2009 had been accused of child sex abuse.

Among the report’s recommendations:

  • A national strategy to prevent child abuse, with a national office of child safety.
  • Making failure to protect a child from risk of abuse within an institution a criminal offense on the state and territory level.
  • Implementing preventative training for children in schools and early childhood center.
  • A requirement that candidates for religious ministry undergo external psychological testing.
  • Any person in a religious ministry subject to a substantiated child sex abuse complaint should be permanently removed from the ministry.

Currently, Australian law exempts confessional evidence from the rules that apply to other kinds of evidence in court, according to The National Catholic Register.

“We recommend that canon law be amended so that the ‘pontifical secret’ does not apply to any aspect of allegations or canonical disciplinary processes relating to child sexual abuse,” the report said.

It said that “Religious ministers, out-of-home care workers, childcare workers, registered psychologists and school [counselors] should be brought into line with police, doctors and nurses who are all obliged by law to report sexual abuse,” according to The Sydney Morning Herald reports.

“Without a legal obligation to tell police about abuses, many staff and volunteers failed to let anyone outside the institution know, the commission found,” the Herald reported.

The commission called for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference to ask the Vatican to introduce voluntary celibacy for clergy. The commission found that clerical celibacy was not a direct cause of abuse, but that it increased the risk of abuse when celibate male clergy had privileged access to children.

In an official statement, Archbishop Denis Hart of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, apologized for past abuse, calling it a “shameful past” and said the commission’s report “will be taken very seriously.”

However, speaking to reporters later, Hart said the commission’s report “hasn’t damaged the credibility of the church” and called the recommendations on the confessional “a distraction.”

“The seal of the confessional, or the relationship with God that’s carried through the priest and with the person, is inviolable. It can’t be broken,” Hart told reporters.

“I think everyone understands that this Catholic and orthodox practice of confession is always confidential,” he said.

Hart also pushed back on the subject of celibacy: “We know very well that institutions who have celibate clergy and institutions that don’t have celibate clergy both face these problems. We know very well that this happens in families that are certainly not observing celibacy.”

The commission’s findings follow numerous allegations of sex abuse by Catholic priests in Australia in recent years. In June, Police in Victoria charged Cardinal George Pell, now a high-ranking Vatican official, with sex abuse dating to his time as a priest in Australia in the 1970s and 80s. Pell has denied the allegations.

The report concluded: “Tens of thousands of children have been sexually abused in many Australian institutions. We will never know the true number.” the report concluded.

“It is not a case of a few ‘rotten apples.’ Society’s major institutions have seriously failed,” it said.

Complete Article HERE!

12/9/17

Ex-Catholic priest convicted in women’s 1960 rape and murder

A former Texas priest convicted of murder in the rape and strangulation of a 25-year-old beauty queen who went to him for confession almost 60 years ago is set to hear testimony Friday in the punishment phase of his trial.

John Bernard Feit, 85, was found guilty Thursday in the slaying of schoolteacher Irene Garza in McAllen, Texas. The Hidalgo County jury that convicted Feit can sentence him to up to life in prison.

Garza disappeared April 16, 1960. Her bludgeoned body was found days later. An autopsy revealed she had been raped while unconscious, beaten and suffocated.

Feit, then a 28-year-old priest at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen, came under suspicion early on. He told police that he heard Garza’s confession in the church rectory rather than in the confessional, but denied he had killed her.

Among the evidence that pointed to Feit as a suspect over the years: Two priests told authorities that Feit had confessed to them. One of them said he saw scratches on Feit soon after Garza’s disappearance. His portable photographic slide viewer was found near Garza’s body.

Feit had also been accused of attacking another young woman in a church in a nearby town just weeks before Garza’s death. He pleaded no contest and was fined $500.

This week, prosecutors presented evidence that elected and church officials suspected Feit but didn’t want to prosecute him because it could harm the reputations of the church and Hidalgo County elected officials, most of whom were Catholic. Sen. John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, was running for president that year.

Feit was sent to a treatment center for troubled priests in New Mexico, later becoming a supervisor with responsibility in the clearing of priests for parish assignments. Among the men Feit helped keep in ministry was child molester James Porter, who assaulted more than 100 victims before he was defrocked and sent to prison.

Feit left the priesthood in 1972, married and went on to work at the Catholic charity St. Vincent de Paul in Phoenix, training and recruiting volunteers and helping oversee the charity’s network of food pantries.

Garza’s family members and friends had long pushed authorities to reopen the case, and it became an issue in the 2014 district attorney’s race. Ricardo Rodriguez had promised that if elected, he would re-examine the case.

Complete Article HERE!

12/2/17

How Ireland Moved to the Left: ‘The Demise of the Church’

A vigil in Dublin in October commemorating the fifth anniversary of the death of Savita Halappanavar, who died after she was denied a medically recommended abortion following a miscarriage.

When Ailbhe Smyth was 37, voters in Ireland approved a constitutional amendment that banned abortion in nearly all cases and committed the nation to the principle that a pregnant woman and her fetus have an “equal right to life.”

Next year, when Ms. Smyth, a former professor and chairwoman of the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, will be 72, Irish voters are expected to remove or alter that amendment in a new referendum that could give Ireland’s Parliament the freedom to legislate on the issue and write more flexible abortion laws.

What are the driving forces behind this significant shift in voter attitudes toward abortion and other social issues?

Ireland was long a bastion of Catholic conservatism, a place where pedestrians might tip their hats and hop off the footpath when a priest walked past. But economic and technological changes helped propel a shift in attitudes that accelerated with the unfolding of far-reaching abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church in the 1990s.

Over a generation, Ireland transformed from a country where 67 percent of voters approved the constitutional abortion ban to one where, in 2015, 62 percent voted to legalize same-sex marriage.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar of Ireland said that the abuse scandal had led to “the demise” of the Catholic Church.

‘A Disastrous Effect’

Priests once enjoyed great social and political power in Ireland, but the abuse scandal led to “the demise of the church,” the center-right prime minister, Leo Varadkar, who is 38, biracial and gay, said in an interview in September.

That would have been a politically unspeakable phrase for an Irish leader in the not-too-distant past.

“In the ’40s and ’50s, people replaced the colonialism of the Brits with a kind of colonialism of the church,” said Aodhan O Riordain, a senator from the Labor Party. That fostered an intermingling of Catholicism and Irish identity that was “a toxic mix,” he added.

For decades, legislation opposed by the church was doomed to fail. Eamon de Valera, an ardent Catholic who served as president or prime minister several times between 1921 and 1973, enjoyed a close relationship with the archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, who helped steer Ireland’s religious life for three decades and made assertive policy suggestions.

“The Catholic Church’s hold on the state, the ways in which it sought to influence the state, remained strong for a very long time,” said Ms. Smyth. “For much longer than you might have thought possible.”

Even in its diminished state, the church continues to play a role. It controls almost all state-funded primary schools — nearly 97 percent — and the law allows them to consider religion as a factor in admissions. Many hospitals, too, are either owned by the church or located on church property.

But Diarmuid Martin, the current archbishop of Dublin, said the church “certainly” enjoyed less influence now than in the past. He blamed the one-two punch of broad social trends and the abuse scandal for the church’s declining fortunes.

“The scandals emerged at a moment which was either just the wrong time or the right time, depending on which side you are, for them to emerge,” the archbishop said. “The two things, the change in the attitude to the church and the abuse, came together and had a disastrous effect.”

‘My God, I Can’t Get an Abortion Here’

Those changing attitudes were driven by epochal economic and technological shifts felt in all countries, like the expansion of free trade and the birth of the internet. But in Ireland, the old order had largely managed to adapt.

“If you were a cardinal in Ireland in 1989, you would have felt pretty good,” said Fintan O’Toole, a columnist. “You would have said: ‘You know what? We weathered a lot of social and economic change and we’re still the power in the land.’ ”

Cracks had begun to emerge, though.
Economic liberalization, which began in 1960s, drew women into the work force, shrinking the size of Ireland’s traditionally large families and creating pressure for the legalization of contraception, which was anathema to the church.

It also began to stem the century-long tide of emigration. Some emigrants returned to Ireland, and newcomers from Eastern Europe and elsewhere arrived, making Polish the country’s second most widely spoken language.

“Young people go away, work, then come back a few years later and say, ‘My god, I can’t get an abortion here,’ ” said Rory O’Neill, who became a national figure as the drag queen and activist Panti Bliss.

“My parents’ generation, they went to London and never came back.”

In recent years, the internet has provided a platform for organizing that linked Irish people to liberal movements around the world.

“I suppose we are a little, quiet backwater, but young people are very well educated,” Ms. Smyth said. “It’s a very connected place, Ireland.”

A shrine built to honor the children who were interred at St. Mary’s Mother and Baby Home between 1925 and 1961, in Tuam, Ireland.

‘Washing the Dirty Laundry’

Ireland’s break from the past has been so sharp that Garry O’Sullivan, a newspaper and book publisher whose company will soon release a book by a priest titled “Why the Irish Church Deserves to Die,” described it as akin to “intolerance toward views that represent anything of the old guard or traditional Ireland.”

That old guard was discredited by the yearslong drumbeat of child abuse allegations that began to emerge in the early 1990s as well as a cover-up by church officials who spent years denying the problem and moving abusive priests from parish to parish.

For decades, Irish priests zealously protected their communities from what they saw as the moral dangers posed by sexual promiscuity, unwed mothers and impoverished children, sometimes orphaned or neglected.

They used an unwritten, extralegal power — often at the urging of scandalized family or neighbors — to send such women and children to Dickensian facilities like industrial schools, Magdalene Laundries (workhouses run by Catholic orders) and homes for the pregnant and unwed.

While much of the abuse happened at the hands of parish priests, a great deal of it happened in these institutions. A 2009 report said tens of thousands of children were abused in industrial schools alone, a shocking figure in a country of 4.5 million.

A mix of shame, destitution and state complicity turned these facilities into prisons, and residents were put to work for the church. In the laundries, some of which did not close until the 1990s, so-called fallen women washed the dirty linens of clients that included the Irish military.

“The symbolism would be too crude if you put it into a novel, washing the dirty laundry,” Mr. O’Toole said.

Visitors at Knock Shrine in Knock, Ireland. The 2011 census identified 78 percent of the population as Catholic, but according to the current archbishop of Dublin, the figure of true believers is closer to 20 percent.

‘The Last Hurrah’

Archbishop Martin, whose handling of the abuse crisis has won praise, said popular distrust of the church ran deep.

“It was a crisis of trust in the church, a crisis of betrayal by the church — and you can’t regain trust just by saying to them, ‘I’m sorry,’ ” he said.

The 2011 census identified 78 percent of the Irish population as Catholic, but the archbishop said he believed the figure for true believers was closer to 20 percent.

“I could spend all my time being concerned about the people who come to church, but they’re — you know I don’t want to be nasty — but they’re a dying breed,” he said. “The situation is changing, but Irish Catholicism hasn’t changed with it.”

Archbishop Martin praised the Eighth Amendment for protecting the rights of the unborn. He said that the coming abortion debate might provide an opportunity for the church to reconnect with people, even if the amendment were repealed.

“The one way the church could lose on the abortion debate is to compromise its position,” he said.

But not everyone is so sure.

“I think this referendum on abortion is the last stand for church versus state in Ireland,” Mr. O’Sullivan, the publisher, said. “The last hurrah for having influence.”

Complete Article HERE!

11/10/17

Brooklyn Diocese Names 8 Priests Who Sexually Abused Children

Ricardo Gonzalez, 48, said in an interview on Thursday that he was around 11 years old when the Rev. James Lara began to abuse him.

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Over the past 25 years, a university professor named Jaime Lara built an illustrious career in the academic world of sacred art history. He was a professor at Yale University for more than a decade, wrote five books and won more than a dozen prestigious awards and fellowships. Since 2013, he has been a professor of medieval and renaissance studies at Arizona State University.

But through his rise, Mr. Lara has kept a secret. On Thursday, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn revealed that 25 years ago, Mr. Lara, then known as the Rev. James Lara, was laicized by the Vatican for sexually abusing children.

The Brooklyn diocese hid Father Lara’s secret from the public, but quietly posted Mr. Lara’s name on its website on Thursday morning, confirming that he had been laicized, or defrocked, for the abuse. Later in the day, the diocese posted the names of seven more former priests who were defrocked for child sexual abuse offenses, in an effort to protect children who might come into contact with them.

The public posting was meant to partly answer victims and their advocates who have pleaded for decades for the publication of all of the names of priests credibly accused or defrocked for child sexual abuse, to prevent the abuse of additional children. About 15 dioceses around the country have published partial lists.

In a statement, the Brooklyn diocese said Thursday’s release was inspired by the findings of its Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, a mediation panel that is awarding settlements to victims of its priests

“When the diocese launched the I.R.C.P. back in June, Bishop DiMarzio said that he would never stop working toward reform and he reaffirmed his commitment to the protection of children,” said Carolyn Erstad, a spokeswoman for the diocese, referring to Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio, the leader of the diocese. “I think what we are seeing here are those words in action.”

The other priests listed were Joseph P. Byrns, who served from 1969 to 2002; William E. Finger, who served from 1962 to 1980; Stephen Placa, who served from 1995 to 2002; Thomas O. Morrow, who served from 1971 until 1987; Romano J. Ferraro, who served from 1960 to 1988; Charles M. Mangini, who served from 1968 to 1993; and Christopher Lee Coleman, who served from 1994 to 2011.

Mr. Mangini declined to comment; the other six could not be reached.

Those seven priests represent a fraction of the Brooklyn and Queens clergy implicated in the 233 claims before the compensation program, which is awarding settlements to victims who agree to drop further action against the diocese. A website that tracks abuse allegations against priests, Bishopaccountablity.org, list 55 priests as accused abusers in the diocese since the 1930s, but the total number is unknown.

Victims of Father Lara, who served in Brooklyn for 19 years, and victim advocates said on Thursday that while they were glad that his name was being publicized, they felt it was too little too late.

“There is no excuse for a supposedly moral institution to wait 25 years to release a pedophile priest’s name,” said Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer portrayed in the Oscar-winning film “Spotlight,” about clergy sexual abuse. He is representing three people who claim they were abused by Mr. Lara between the ages of 9 and 11. “Because of the church’s immoral behavior, dozens, if not hundreds, of children have probably been sexually abused by Father Lara, and their lives have been destroyed and their families’ lives have been destroyed.”

Jaime Lara, a professor of medieval and renaissance studies at Arizona State University, was once the Rev. James Lara, who was laicized by the Vatican for sexually abusing children.

Mr. Lara did not respond to a request for comment.

Thursday’s disclosure appears to be the first time the diocese has formally acknowledged the names of priests laicized for child sexual abuse. At least five people who say they were abused by Father Lara have applied for compensation.

Ricardo Gonzalez, 48, who has received compensation, said in an interview on Thursday that he was around 11 years old when Father Lara began to abuse him.

He met Father Lara, he recalled, at a summer program at Public School 321 in Park Slope. Father Lara seemed to always be hanging around the gym, and when he offered to take him and his younger brother and sister to the movies and for ice cream, they were thrilled.

But little by little, in a process common to child sexual abusers known as grooming, Father Lara became intimate with Mr. Gonzalez. “He wanted me to kiss him, he would get on top of me, he would say you can do better than that,” he said, remembering the terror he felt when invited to the rectory. “He would make me touch him in his private parts.”

As the abuse continued, Mr. Gonzalez, who is now a hairdresser, dropped out of high school and at one point attempted suicide, he said. As an adult, he has tried to track down Mr. Lara, and called institutions that had hired him to tell his story. But he felt he was never believed.

“I want everyone to know who he is,” he said. “I want him to lose his job, I want him to not have a drink of water. He ruined the little belief that I have. He is a very, very horrible person.”

Another victim, who asked to be referred to by his middle name, Armando, to protect his identity, noted that Mr. Lara favored Hispanic boys. He recalled how Father Lara seemed to always be around at St. Francis Xavier in Park Slope, as chaplain of the Boy Scouts and head of the altar boys.

He said he was abused from age 11 until he started college. Once, Father Lara bought him a sweatshirt from a trip to Scotland, he recalled, and asked him to strip naked before allowing him to put it on.

“I spent my life, not remembering,” Armando, 52, said. “I thought, I’m lucky, it didn’t impact me, God must have blessed me.” But three years ago, he said, the memories caught up with him, and his life began to fall apart. “I was just able to hold off a little longer,” he said.

Victims and their advocates had been tailing Mr. Lara for years. Robert M. Hoatson, a former priest who helps victims, said that he wrote to the University of Notre Dame around 2012 to warn it about Mr. Lara, who was a visiting professor at the time.

But then he went to at Arizona State University in Tempe as a research professor in the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. He continued to publish articles and books, and serve on the board of directors of the Society for the Arts in Religious and Theological Studies.

On Thursday, Arizona State University said that in response to the diocese’s revelation, it had asked Mr. Lara for his resignation and that he had given it.

Complete Article HERE!

10/31/17

No surprise that Bishop Robert Morlino and Co. imperil Christianity’s good name, again

Robert Morlino, bishop of the Diocese of Madison, gives his homily during an ordination Mass at St. Maria Goretti Catholic Parish in Madison in 2015.

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At least two online petitions have been started to protest the decision by Madison’s ironically conservative Catholic diocese to provide advice to priests on whether some gay deceased should be denied funeral rites.

As a Christian, I find it repugnant that any religious institution calling itself Christian would wobble on whether to give a grieving family a Christian burial for their loved one. As if deeming homosexuality a sin weren’t silly enough, the Catholic Church considers denying spiritual comfort to the families of gay people.

Just as bad is the harm such un-Christ-like behavior could do to Christianity’s brand and its relationship to government.

One of the petitions calls for Pope Francis to remove Madison Bishop Robert Morlino from his position, while the other calls on Morlino to rescind the guidance allowing priests to deny full funeral rights to gay Catholics. Both miss the point.

Recalling Morlino isn’t going to suddenly cause the church to fully accept gays and become what my denomination calls “open and affirming.” Francis has talked a better talk on this issue, but he’s yet to walk a better walk — which is why it wouldn’t be in line with Catholic teachings for the Madison diocese to declare that the gay deceased are entitled to funeral rites.

Refusing the rites to a specific class of people doesn’t raise the same kinds of constitutional questions raised by, say, a baker refusing to bake a cake for a gay wedding.

“The courts, in the name of protecting religious liberty, typically have given religious organizations fairly wide latitude to engage in practices that might seem to be discriminatory in a secular context,” said Shawn Peters, an expert in religious freedom from UW-Madison.

The, ahem, good news is that if a gay person or her family wants a Christian burial, there are plenty of Christian churches that will provide it — as long as those wanting the funeral don’t consider Catholicism is the only true Christianity, in which case they shouldn’t expect a Catholic funeral anyway.

The bad news is that because of the Catholic Church’s considerable size and influence, the pronouncements of Morlino and Co. put Christianity generally in a bad light, while making it look as if longstanding tax breaks for Christian churches and clergy amount to government endorsement of bigotry.

Peters said he didn’t think that in our “current political environment” tax breaks for religious organizations are “seriously at risk.” But earlier this month a federal judge struck down a tax break for clergy housing allowances.

I’m not sure any occupation should be singled out for a housing-related tax break, although it seems a small indulgence given how little clergy are paid and how much they help raise for charity the government might otherwise have to provide. One 2013 analysis estimated Catholic groups spent some $30 billion on social services annually, although some of their funding comes from government.

Christians can find evidence of such mission work just about every Sunday at church. But the work looks less Christ-like if the church deems some people unworthy of Christ’s grace, including after they die.

Complete Article HERE!