Cloud of sex abuse scandal hangs over Vatican youth meeting

Sex abuse scandal hangs over Vatican youth meeting

By Nicole Winfield

Pope Francis opens a monthlong meeting of bishops Wednesday on engaging young Catholics as his church is again under fire for the way it covered up for priests who raped and molested young people.

One American bishop suggested postponing or cancelling the synod, given the poor optics of assembling the church hierarchy to discuss a demographic harmed by the culture of concealment the same hierarchy has been accused of fostering.

A Dutch bishop, outraged that the Vatican hasn’t responded to claims that Francis himself rehabilitated a predator American cardinal, announced he was boycotting the meeting altogether. Another American bishop asked Francis to let him stay home to cope with the scandal’s fallout in his diocese.

Despite the dark cloud hanging over the synod, organizers said they thought the rebirth of the scandal could still give the Vatican an opportunity to show that the Catholic Church isn’t just about sex abuse and cover-ups.

“The church isn’t represented by those who make mistakes. The church is more important and fundamental than that,” said Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, who is organizing the Oct. 3-28 meeting.

The synod is bringing together 266 bishops from five continents for talks on helping young people find their vocations in life – be it lay or religious – at a time when church marriages and religious vocations are plummeting in much of the West.

It’s a follow-on synod to the meetings Francis organized in 2014 and 2015 on family life that inspired his controversial opening to letting divorced and civilly remarried Catholics receive Communion.

No single pressing issue is facing bishops this time around, although the way they address homosexuality will be the most closely watched topic. The Vatican’s preparatory document made what is believed to be the first-ever reference in an official Vatican text to “LGBT.”

In addition, the role of women in the church will be watched, although no woman has any vote on the final document. Only a handful of women are attending as experts or as some of the 34 young people picked to attend – a structural imbalance in the Vatican’s synod process.

On the eve of the synod, a parallel conference got underway across town in Rome organized by Catholic women’s groups, which have long lobbied for a greater say in church decision-making.

Students from the Ursuline High School in Wimbledon, Britain opened the conference by reading the letter they wrote to Francis complaining about the prejudice they feel as young women in the church. They even criticized Francis’ frequent use of the term “feminine genius” to describe the qualities he says are so necessary to the church today.

“Initially, ‘feminine genius’ sounded complimentary, but then we asked ourselves what it really means,” the girls wrote. “We think of the qualities it refers to which are supposedly inherent to womanhood, such as caring, nurturing and receptivity. We believe motherhood is really important, but for a number of reasons, focusing only on this does not relate to our ambitions as women.”

The synod’s working document says young people in many secularized parts of the world simply want nothing to do with the Catholic Church, because they find it not only irrelevant to their lives but downright irritating.

“This request does not stem from uncritical or impulsive scorn, but is deeply rooted in serious and respectable reasons: sexual and economic scandals,” for which they demand the church enforce a zero-tolerance policy.

But at the same time, the Vatican itself has fueled the latest scandal by refusing to respond to claims by a retired ambassador, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, that Francis and a long list of Vatican officials before him covered up for ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington.

Francis removed McCarrick as a cardinal in July after a U.S. church investigation determined an allegation that he fondled a teenage altar boy in the 1970s was credible. But it was apparently common knowledge in the Vatican and U.S. church that McCarrick pressured seminarians to go to bed with him.

The one bright spot for the meeting is that for the first time, two bishops from mainland China are participating in a synod, the first tangible result of last month’s breakthrough agreement between the Vatican and Beijing over bishop appointments.

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic Church must face reality

Scandal rocks the church, and wrongly it still opposes ordaining women as priests.

Pope Francis greets the crowds in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in July.

By Roy Bourgeois

As a Catholic priest, I did the unspeakable. I called for the ordination of women. The Vatican’s response was swift. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith informed me that I was “causing grave scandal” in the church, and that I had 30 days to recant my support for the ordination of women or be expelled from the priesthood.

I told the Vatican that was not possible. Believing that women and men are created of equal worth and dignity, and that both are called by an all-loving God to serve as priests, my conscience would not allow me to recant. In my response, I also made clear that when Catholics hear the word “scandal,” many think about the thousands of children who have been raped and abused by Catholic priests — not about the ordination of women.

In 2010, the Vatican called women’s ordination a crime comparable to sexual abuse of children. Judging from its actions, however, it would appear that the Vatican views women’s ordination as a crime more serious than child abuse. Among the thousands of priests who raped and sexually abused children, the vast majority were not expelled from the priesthood or excommunicated. But the Vatican has excommunicated every woman ordained to the Catholic priesthood.

And in November 2012, after serving as a Catholic priest with the Maryknoll order for 40 years, I was expelled from the priesthood for refusing to recant my support for the ordination of women.

Today, scandal again rocks the Catholic Church. This time, it’s six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania. According to a grand jury report, beginning in the 1950s, more than 300 “predator priests” sexually abused more than 1,000 children.

The 1,400-page report, written by 23 grand jurors over the course of two years, said, “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades.” Among the horrific crimes that Catholic priests committed:

  • In the Pittsburgh diocese, “a ring of predatory priests shared information regarding victims, as well as exchanging the victims among themselves. The ring manufactured child pornography and used whips, violence and sadism in raping the victims.”
  • One priest abused five sisters in the same family, including one girl beginning when she was 18 months old.
  • Another priest was allowed to stay in ministry after impregnating a young girl and arranging for her to have an abortion.
  • A priest raped a 7-year-old girl in her hospital room after a tonsillectomy. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reviewed his crime and decided that he should remain a priest and “live a life of prayer and penance.”

The Pennsylvania grand jury report concluded that the Catholic hierarchy “protected the institution at all cost and maintained strategies to avoid scandal.” Priests who got into trouble were shuffled to another diocese where more children were abused. The FBI determined that church officials followed a “playbook for concealing the truth,” minimizing the abuse by using words like “inappropriate contact” or “boundary issues” instead of “rape.”

If the Catholic Church had women priests, the church would not be in the crisis it is in today. I am equally confident that if the Catholic Church does not dismantle its all-male priesthood and welcome women as equals, it will drift into irrelevance.

Complete Article HERE!

‘Shocking’ sexual abuse of children by German clergy detailed in report

Minister warns abuse of 3,677 children by about 1,670 clerics may be ‘tip of the iceberg’ for Catholic church

By  

A “shocking” report into the sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy in Germany is “probably only the tip of the iceberg”, the country’s justice minister has said.

The German Catholic church presented the results of an investigation into decades of sexual abuse of children on Tuesday afternoon. The report details the cases of 3,677 children, the majority of whom are male, who were sexually abused between 1946 and 2014. About 1,670 clerics, mainly priests, are implicated.

The justice minister, Katarina Barley, encouraged the church to work with the judicial system to bring as many cases as possible to court.

Ahead of the report’s official release at the German bishops’ conference in Fulda, the head of the German church, Reinhard Marx, said it urgently needed to rebuild trust with churchgoers and the public. “Many people don’t believe in us any longer,” he said, calling the report a “decisive, important turning point for the Catholic church in Germany – and not only in Germany”.

Marx said he felt ashamed and wanted to apologise to the victims.

The report’s release coincided with an acknowledgement by Pope Francis that people were being driven away from the church by the many abuse scandals and cover-ups, including most recently in the US and Chile.

On a recent visit to Ireland, while the issue of sexual abuse dominated the agenda, the pope was accused of failing to address victims’ concerns adequately.

Although Tuesday’s report – details of which were leaked earlier this month – was the biggest of its kind for the German Catholic church, its main author was critical of faith leaders for having denied him access to other Catholic institutions, including children’s homes and schools.

He detailed how 60% of abusive priests eluded punishment, and how many were systematically moved to other parishes in the hope their crimes could be hushed up.

The government-appointed envoy for sexual abuse of children, Johannes-Wilhelm Rörig, urged the church to pay compensation to the victims. He also said it should give state authorities access to its archives to allow state prosecutors to examine every allegation.

The first case of sexual abuse in the Catholic church in Germany was uncovered about 10 years ago. Critics say the church has not done enough to prevent further clerical abuse.

Church leaders are under pressure to announce reforms before the end of the four-day conference on Thursday.

The report was compiled using data collected from 27 German dioceses, and included 38,000 mostly anonymous documents. But the authors, who were appointed by the church and spent four years working on the report, said they were not allowed access to any original files from the church’s own archives and that the files from at least two dioceses had been manipulated or destroyed.

Christian Pfeiffer, a criminologist tasked with carrying out the study in 2011, said the church had made itself “untrustworthy” by not allowing full access to its archives. He has complained about alleged censorship and a lack of transparency on the part of the church.

Matthias Katsch, the co-founder of Eckigen Tisch, a pressure group representing victims, who oversaw the compilation of the study as an adviser, said while some bishoprics had cooperated thoroughly, others had not. “The academics involved worked to the best of their ability with a lack of resources, to extract something out of the available information,” he told Der Spiegel.

The study found that more than half of the victims had been younger than 13 the first time they were abused, and that 83% of attacks were planned, taking place most commonly in the private or service flats of those carrying out the abuse.

On average, the abuses happened multiple times over a period of at least 15 months.

Almost 1,000 of the victims were altar boys. Every sixth attack involved rape.

Among the well-documented scandals that have rocked the church in Germany is the systematic abuse of pupils by two priests at the fee-paying Jesuit school Canisius in Berlin in the 1970s and 80s, and the sexual and physical abuse suffered by more than 500 choir boys at the Regensburger Domspatzen school in Regensburg, Bavaria. The choir was led by Georg Ratzinger – the brother of the former Pope Benedict XVI – for 30 years until 1994, but he denied knowing about any abuse.

Complete Article HERE!

The Sex-Abuse Scandal Is Growing Faster Than the Church Can Contain It

The Catholic world is struggling to absorb a week of new revelations and resignations.

A protester holds a picture of Pope Francis during a demonstration against clerical sex abuse, in Dublin, Ireland August 25, 2018.

By

This has been a dramatic week for Catholics around the world. As Pope Francis faces mounting pressure to address the spiraling clergy sex-abuse crisis, almost every day has brought some new revelation or declaration.

Since Tuesday alone, a group of American Catholic leaders went to Rome to ask Francis some tough questions, while a women’s open letter demanding answers from him crossed the 45,000-signature mark. The pontiff summoned bishops from around the world to a future meeting, while making one bishop the subject of a new investigation. One cardinal who had come under fire for allegedly enabling accused priests to keep working for the Church announced his plans to resign, while another, who has been pressing for meaningful action against abusers, came under scrutiny himself. Amidst all this, a bombshell report about sex abuse in Germany was leaked to the press.

“Many strands are coming together,” said Kathleen Sprows Cummings, a historian of Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame. “It does seem like we are reaching a watershed moment.” By Thursday, there had been so many new developments that she said she was having a hard time keeping up—and that the leaders at the Vatican probably were, too. “I think they’re scrambling. The news is coming on so many fronts. I think they don’t know quite what to do.” Here is some of what they nevertheless did this week.

An American audience with the pope

Church leaders from the U.S. met with the pope in Rome on Thursday. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, had called for a meeting to discuss allegations against Theodore McCarrick, a former cardinal who served as archbishop of Washington from 2001 to 2006. This summer, McCarrick resigned as cardinal after he was accused of sexual abuse. An explosive letter by the Vatican’s former ambassador to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, claimed last month that Francis had known for years about McCarrick’s alleged abuse yet allowed him to keep rising through the ranks of the Church. Francis has so far declined to comment publicly on Viganò’s accusations, and DiNardo and others were seeking an investigation into the matter.

“We shared with Pope Francis our situation in the United States—how the Body of Christ is lacerated by the evil of sexual abuse. He listened very deeply from the heart,” DiNardo said in a statement after leaving the meeting. “It was a lengthy, fruitful, and good exchange.” But if any concrete decisions came out of the papal meeting, DiNardo did not reveal them.

“I worry that the cardinals are coming home empty-handed. They were listened to, but it’s not clear they’re going to have support from the Vatican in terms of handling the investigation into the McCarrick situation,” Mary Rice Hasson, the director of the Catholic Women’s Forum, a network that aims to amplify the voices of Catholic women, told me Thursday. “The concern doesn’t go away because our cardinals had a nice listening session with Pope Francis. People want action.”

Complicating matters further, on the eve of his meeting with the pope, DiNardo himself was accused of covering up abuse in his Galveston-Houston archdiocese, casting doubt on whether he could effectively lead the U.S. Church’s effort at reform, the Washington Post reported.  

Even as DiNardo and other U.S. leaders gathered in Rome on Thursday, the pope accepted the immediate resignation of a West Virginia bishop, Michael J. Bransfield, over allegations that he had sexually harassed adults. Francis also authorized another bishop to investigate the allegations against Bransfield.

A plan for an unprecedented meeting of world bishops

Pope Francis on Wednesday summoned bishops from around the world to a first-of-its-kind meeting in Rome in February. The focus will be on protecting minors, and bishops will reportedly receive training in identifying abuse, intervening, and listening to victims.

The choice to summon the presidents of bishops’ conferences worldwide signals that the Vatican finally recognizes clergy sex abuse is a global problem, according to Cummings, the historian. “That’s a departure, an admission, that this is much bigger than any one culture or nation,” she said. In the past, she explained, Church leaders had suggested that the problem was limited to the U.S., but as scandals began to surface elsewhere—from Ireland to Australia to Chile to Germany—that story became impossible to believe.

A worldwide summons to bishops, Cummings continued, is “a big move, but I’m not sure how bold it is. This crisis has been created by the bishops. The people who create crises are not the ones who are going to lead you out of them.”

Stephen Schneck, a former Catholic University professor, likewise told me, “I’ve come to the conclusion that the bishops can’t be trusted to police themselves. I think the ultimate solution, especially here in the U.S., is going to require an active, permanent role for the laity, because of the problem of oversight.”

A new bombshell report

A study has alleged that more than 3,600 children were sexually abused at the hands of some 1,670 clergy members over the past seven decades in Germany. Commissioned by Church officials and conducted by university researchers, the report was supposed to be released on September 25, but it was leaked to German outlets Spiegel Online and Die Zeit and reported this Wednesday instead. The findings implicate no less than 4.4 percent of the country’s clergy in abuse. A German bishop called the revelation “depressing and shameful.”

To the American Catholics I spoke to, it was something else, too: unsurprising. “A year ago, I would have been surprised,” Schneck said. “But now I think we have to recognize that this is a systemic problem within the clergy ranks around the world.” Cummings put it more bluntly: “I thought, ‘Of course. Here we go.’”

This study comes on the heels of another bombshell report. Just last month, a 900-page Pennsylvania grand-jury report detailed accusations against about 300 priests and alleged that their actions—which the report said involved more than 1,000 children—were covered up by diocese officials.

A cardinal on the verge of resignation

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, said Tuesday that he plans to travel to Rome soon, where he will ask the pope to accept his resignation. Wuerl has been heavily criticized after the Pennsylvania grand-jury report alleged that, as archbishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006, he had permitted priests accused of abusing minors to be reassigned or reinstated. He said Thursday that new leadership is needed to help the Washington archdiocese get past the “current confusion, disappointment, and disunity.”

Wuerl initially presented his resignation to Francis three years ago upon reaching the Church-mandated retirement age for bishops, 75, but the pontiff did not accept at the time. (This is fairly common; if the pope does not accept the pro forma resignation, the bishop continues to serve.) It’s unclear whether Francis will accept the resignation when Wuerl tenders it again.

“The fact that an archbishop has been chased into early retirement is very significant,” noted Schneck, who said he knows Wuerl personally. “He probably would’ve retired soon anyway, but nevertheless this was precipitated by the Pennsylvania grand-jury report. He has come to realize that he’s no longer effective as archbishop of Washington.”

A very vulnerable pope

In an ambiguous homily on Tuesday, Francis seemed to suggest that Satan was playing a role in the uncovering of the Church’s sex-abuse scandal. “In these times, it seems like the ‘Great Accuser’ [a biblical name for the devil] has been unchained and has it in for bishops. … He tries to uncover the sins, so they are visible in order to scandalize the people,” he said.

Some Catholics I spoke to speculated Francis may have been alluding to Viganò’s letter, which demanded the pope’s resignation. Either way, it struck some as a discordant remark at a moment when many are seeking contrition and humility from the Vatican.

“I thought it was the wrong note,” Schneck said. “This isn’t the time for that kind of language. … We need to recognize that the scandal itself was caused by the actions of the clergy, and the uncovering of this scandal is occurring as a result of the work of law enforcement around the world.”

“I thought it was the wrong note,” Schneck said. “This isn’t the time for that kind of language. … We need to recognize that the scandal itself was caused by the actions of the clergy, and the uncovering of this scandal is occurring as a result of the work of law enforcement around the world.”

Complete Article HERE!

U.S. Leaders Of ‘Lacerated’ Catholic Church Meet Pope To Discuss Sex Abuse Crisis


Archbishop Jose Gomez (left) and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo arrive at the Perugino Gate to meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Thursday to discuss the sex abuse crisis within the church.

By

As Pope Francis sat down at the Vatican Thursday with a delegation of U.S. bishops and cardinals to discuss how to gain ground in the sexual abuse crisis engulfing the Catholic Church, fresh scandals emerged on both sides of the Atlantic.

In Germany, a first-of-its kind study leaked to German news outlets found that over the past seven decades, at least 3,677 children have been sexually abused by clergy members there.

Researchers who spent four years studying records and conducting new interviews found that 1,670 priests and other religious leaders were suspected of engaging in abuse — 4.4 percent of the total number of clergy in the country.

And yet researchers repeatedly emphasized throughout the 350-page report that the actual numbers are likely “significantly higher,” German newspaper Die Zeit reports.

Some two dozen dioceses participated in the study, commissioned by the Catholic Church bishops’ conference in Germany. But critics say because the church is both subject and sponsor of the report, the findings are inherently flawed.

“The report does not give the full picture, and is not fully independent,” German criminologist Christian Pfeiffer told The New York Times.

Pfeiffer told the Times that researchers from three universities were unable to look directly at church files, instead relying on church workers to fill out questionnaires. And the report says that in several instances, church files documenting abuse have been altered or destroyed.

The official findings are not set for release until Sept. 25.

Last month, an explosive grand jury report covering a similar time period in Pennsylvania revealed that 300 “predator priests” had abused more than 1,000 victims with the help of a systematic cover-up by church leaders.

But the grand jury added a caveat: “We believe that the real number … is in the thousands.”

Seeking a way forward, American bishops and cardinals laid the crisis bare before the pope at the Vatican on Thursday.

“We shared with Pope Francis our situation in the United States — how the Body of Christ is lacerated by the evil of sexual abuse,” the head of the delegation, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, said in a statement.

DiNardo, who had requested the meeting in response to the sexual abuse scandal around Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, said it “was a lengthy, fruitful, and good exchange” and that the pope “listened very deeply from the heart.”

While DiNardo offered no specifics about how they plan to address the abuse, he said they prayed with the pope “for God’s mercy and strength as we work to heal the wounds. We look forward to actively continuing our discernment together identifying the most effective next steps.”

In February, Catholic bishops from across the world will convene in Rome at the pope’s invitation to discuss the “prevention of abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.”

Also Thursday, Francis accepted the resignation of Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston, W.Va., and ordered an investigation into accusations that Bransfield sexually harassed adults.

The archbishop of Baltimore, William E. Lori, has been appointed to fill in on an interim basis in West Virginia — serving in both roles — until a permanent bishop is chosen.

“My primary concern is for the care and support of the priests and people of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston at this difficult time,” Lori said in a statement. “I further pledge to conduct a thorough investigation in search of the truth into the troubling allegations against Bishop Bransfield.”

Those allegations against Bransfield are not included the statement.

But a man testifying four years ago in the Philadelphia trial of Monsignor William Lynn, the first senior U.S. Catholic Church official convicted of concealing sex abuse, accused Bransfield of misconduct.

The man said that another priest had raped him in Bransfield’s home. He also testified that his abuser told him Bransfield was sexually abusing one or more boys.

Bransfield issued a statement at the time denying the allegations. And a West Virginia diocese issued a statement in his defense, saying Bransfield’s alleged victim denied the abuse, the Associated Press reports.

Complete Article HERE!