03/19/17

Peter Laird, Archbishop Nienstedt’s former top deputy, leaves priesthood

Peter Laird resigned as then-archbishop’s aide as abuse scandal exploded in 2013. 

Vicar General Peter Laird was photographed at the Archdiocese Chancery on Summit Ave., St. Paul, October 16, 2010.

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Peter Laird, the former vicar general of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis during the controversial tenure of Archbishop John Nienstedt, has left the priesthood.

Laird spent nearly 20 years in high-profile roles in the archdiocese. He abruptly resigned as second-in-command in October 2013, a day following courtroom allegations that the archdiocese had mishandled the case of a priest found to possess pornography.

It was the start of a clergy abuse scandal that rocked the diocese for the next three years.

Laird, who later said he urged Nienstedt to resign as well, was among a handful of clergy in Nienstedt’s inner circle, evaluating church responses to clergy abuse allegations and other matters. He petitioned the Vatican for removal from the priesthood in January 2014.

“I have recently been informed that the Holy Father has granted Peter’s request,” wrote Archbishop Bernard Hebda in a March 10 letter to archdiocese priests. “That means that Peter, who had withdrawn from public priestly ministry in 2013, will live as a lay person and will not be able to return to ordinary public ministry without permission of the Holy Father.”

Laird was a rising star in the archdiocese, promoted to be the archbishop’s top deputy in 2009 when he was 43. He is a former theology professor at the University of St. Thomas, a nine-year vice rector at the St. Paul Seminary, former vicar at St. Olaf Church in downtown Minneapolis and former co-chairman of the Archdiocese’s Strategic Planning Committee.

His parents, Stewart and Kathy Laird of St. Paul, also held prominent archdiocese leadership positions over the years.

The Star Tribune was not able to reach Laird for comment. In 2013, after his sudden resignation, he issued this statement:

“I am hopeful my decision to step aside at this time, along with the formation of a new [clergy abuse] task force, can help repair the trust of many, especially the victims of abuse.”

Laird was among a handful of key Nienstedt advisers, including the previous vicar general, the Rev. Kevin McDonough, involved in evaluating issues that included priest misconduct. Both had been criticized for their handling of clergy misconduct allegations by archdiocese whistleblower Jennifer Haselberger.

Laird told attorneys for abuse victims that he had counseled Nienstedt against keeping the former Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer in active ministry. Wehmeyer is now jailed for sexually abusing boys at his St. Paul church. In a 2014 court deposition, Laird said he urged Nienstedt to resign.

“I think leaders have a responsibility to be accountable for decisions whenever they take place in an organization — and to signal trust … and that the archdiocese doesn’t have anything to hide,” Laird said in the deposition.

Laird’s exit from the priesthood underscores the impact of the archdiocese’s decision to keep Wehmeyer in the ministry. Nienstedt resigned in June 2015 after Ramsey County — in an unprecedented move — charged the archdiocese with failure to protect children from Wehmeyer. McDonough became pastor of Incarnation Church/Sagrado Corazon de Jesus in Minneapolis.

Archdiocese spokesman Tom Halden said he did not have information about any archdiocese duties held by Laird over the past three years

Hebda wished the former vicar general well.

“While his priestly ministry will be missed by many, I am hopeful that Pope Francis’ decision will allow Peter to serve out his baptismal calling in new ways,” Hebda said.

Complete Article HERE!

03/17/17

Sacha Pfeiffer of ‘Spotlight’ fame questions whether church understands gravity of sexual abuse

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!

03/9/17

LGBT Catholics — this is our faith, too

Catholics for Fairness and others rally at the Cathedral of the Assumption

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The Rev. Joseph Fowler has been a priest for 56 years, but he stood with other Catholics on the steps of Louisville’s cathedral again this year to disagree with Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, urging him to change his stance on LGBT rights.

Fowler, along with Catholics for Fairness, gathered Sunday to ask Kurtz to support Fairness laws that would prohibit discrimination in Kentucky on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“It’s not endorsing gay marriage, etc. It’s basic human rights everyone should have,” said Fowler. “I don’t know why our leadership would not be in favor of that.”

This was the sixth annual LGBT Pilgrimage to the Cathedral of the Assumption organized by Catholics for Fairness, a part of the larger Fairness Campaign Coalition. The marchers have varying relationships with the Catholic church, but all want equal treatment and protections for the LGBT community. It is a goal they believe is popular among Catholics, but not among the church hierarchy.

In response to LEO Weekly’s request for comment, the Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville said in a statement that “the Catholic Church is a leading advocate for the dignity of all people,” but has concerns about any legislation that “might go beyond prohibiting unjust discrimination and cause unintended consequences.”

“Concerns could include an inadequate distinction between sexual inclination and behavior and religious liberty protections,” said the statement.

Under Kurtz, the Archdiocese refused to approve a headstone engraved with an image of the Supreme Court building and wedding rings, sought by Greg Bourke and Michael De Leon, plaintiffs in the landmark marriage equality Supreme Court case. In a letter to the couple, the Archdiocese said engravings “are permitted so long as they do not conflict with any teaching of the Church. Your proposed markings are not in keeping with this requirement.”

The Archdiocese also refused to allow Bourke to return as a Boy Scout leader in a local Catholic parish troop, after he was forced to resign in 2012 for his sexual orientation.

On Sunday, De Leon said at the vigil outside the cathedral that people often ask him why he continues to fight for acceptance in the Catholic church, when there are other more tolerant Christian denominations.

“It’s hard to describe that feeling in your heart, when you’re with your brothers and sisters in a faith community, and that’s ours,” said De Leon.

Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, said getting the Archdiocese to support a statewide Fairness law could be crucial to its passing. “It would open dialogue and acceptance from a faithful perspective to families and churches that hadn’t existed before,” he said in an email interview.

Hartman is optimistic, even in an overtly religious state like Kentucky, because other Christian denominations have already voiced support. “I think most faith traditions now have broader public support for LGBT people, but church leadership is lagging behind, like our legislature.”

Hartman referenced remarks made by Kurtz’s predecessor, Archbishop Thomas Kelly, who leaned toward a Louisville Fairness ordinance. Kelly said in 1995: “The Catholic Church supports the basic human rights of all persons, and affirms the fact that homosexual persons have the same rights as all persons, including the right to be treated in a manner that upholds their personal dignity … The intrinsic dignity of each person must be respected in word and in action.”

State Rep. Jim Wayne, D-35, who attended the pilgrimage and is a Catholic, also believes support from Kurtz could be instrumental in passing statewide Fairness legislation. “[It] would help convince, especially Catholic legislators and other Christians who base their discrimination on the Bible that you don’t do that.”

Another event attendee, Maria Price, 51, said it isn’t hard for her to reconcile being Catholic and a supporter of Fairness laws. She looks to the Bible for guidance, not the church hierarchy.

“Our call [is] to change unjust systems that make people poor and keep people stuck in poverty,” said Price. “And there is not one word from the lips of Jesus about homosexuality. So really, it’s misplaced energy.”

Susanna Sugrue, 58, said the church hierarchy is losing touch with its parish members.

“They’re not thinking about these issues on a human level, they are thinking about them on a theological level,” said Sugrue. “But we do have a very open pope now, so that is very encouraging.”

Ernesto Flores is also encouraged by Pope Francis, who said the church should ask forgiveness for its treatment of LGBT people. “I can’t walk away from being Mexican, I can’t walk away from being Catholic and I can’t walk away from being gay. Those are intrinsic parts of me,” said Flores. “So I decided to stay and make it a better place for myself.”

Complete Article HERE!

03/8/17

Catholic nun blasts ‘male power’ in blunt talk at the Vatican

Sister Simone Campbell speaks onstage at the Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21, 2017, in Washington, D.C.

Catholic activist Sister Simone Campbell suggested senior clergy at the Vatican are more preoccupied with power than confronting issues that affect the faithful, like clerical sexual abuse.

The U.S. nun, leader of the “Nuns on the Bus” campaign that toured America during recent election cycles, spoke frankly in an interview ahead of a conference being held at the Vatican on Wednesday to celebrate women’s contributions to peace.

“The institution and the structure is frightened of change,” Campbell told Religion News Service. “These men worry more about the form and the institution than about real people.”

Referring to Marie Collins, who last week resigned from the panel appointed by Pope Francis to look into allegations of past Vatican obstruction of child sex abuse investigations, Campbell said: “Blocked by men. Isn’t this the real problem within the church?”

“The effort to keep the church from stopping this sort of thing is shocking,” she added. “It is about male power and male image, not people’s stories. The real trouble is they have defined their power as spiritual leadership and they don’t have a clue about spiritual life.”

Campbell said she was shocked, and also moved, to have been included on the guest list for the Vatican conference.

She was among the American nuns targeted in the controversial investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious that was authorized in 2012 under then-Pope Benedict XVI. The Vatican investigators charged the American sisters were straying too far from traditional doctrines, but Pope Francis, who was elected in 2013, put an end to the investigation in 2015.

Campbell noted that senior members of the Curia, or Vatican administration, were at a spiritual retreat outside Rome all this week and so unable to attend the women’s conference.

“I don’t know if it’s a slap in the face or evidence of how much power they think we have,” she said.

Campbell heads Network, a social justice organization currently lobbying U.S. legislators in both houses of Congress to protect and maintain affordable health care.

She acknowledged the church was changing but said it was “outrageous” that it was failing to respond to the sex abuse crisis more effectively. While noting that Francis was seeking to create a more inclusive church, Campbell expressed concern about the church hierarchy and the response to clerical abuse.

“Most of the guys who run this place haven’t dealt with an ordinary human being who’s been abused, an ordinary woman or a boy who has been abused,” she said.

“If you don’t deal with the people you don’t have your heart broken open. The bureaucracy is so afraid of having their heart broken that they hide.”

No Vatican officials are scheduled to speak at the conference, which has drawn leaders and activists from around the world.

At a media conference on Monday, Kerry Robinson, an American who is global ambassador of the Leadership Roundtable, said her foundation, which promotes best practices and accountability in Catholic Church management and finances, was working to help churchmen solve challenges and ensure women advance in the church.

“I think the conversations we are having with cardinals are having an impact,” Robinson said.

This is the fourth consecutive year that the Vatican has held the women’s event to coincide with the U.N.-sponsored International Women’s Day.

Complete Article HERE!

03/8/17

The Catholic church is ‘shocked’ at the hundreds of children buried at Tuam. Really?

The discovery of remains at a former home for unmarried mothers shows that Ireland is still in denial over a horrific legacy

Engineers use ground-penetrating radar to search the mass grave at the former mother and baby home in Tuam, County Galway.

It has been confirmed that significant numbers of children’s remains lie in a mass grave adjacent to a former home for unmarried mothers run by the Bon Secours Sisters in Tuam, County Galway. This is exactly where local historian Catherine Corless, who was instrumental in bringing the mass grave to light, said they would be. A state-established commission of inquiry into mother and baby homes recently located the site in a structure that “appears to be related to the treatment/containment of sewage and/or waste water”, but which we are not supposed to call a septic tank.

The archbishop of Tuam, Michael Neary, says he is “deeply shocked and horrified”. Deeply. Because what could the church have known about the abuse of children in its instutions? When Irish taoiseach Enda Kenny was asked if he was similarly shocked, he answered: “Absolutely. To think you pass by the location on so many occasions over the years.” To think. Because what would Kenny, in Irish politics since the 70s, know about state-funded, church-perpetrated abuse of women and children? Even the commission of inquiry – already under critique by the UN – said in its official statement that it was “shocked by this discovery”.

If I am shocked, it is by the pretence of so much shock. When Corless discovered death certificates for 796 children at the home between 1925 and 1961 but burial records for only two, it was clear that hundreds of bodies existed somewhere. They did not, after all, ascend into heaven like the virgin mother. Corless then uncovered oral histories from reliable local witnesses, offering evidence of where those children’s remains could be found. So what did the church and state think had happened? That the nuns had buried the babies in a lovely wee graveyard somewhere, but just couldn’t remember where?

Or maybe the church and state are expressing shock that nuns in mid-20th century Ireland could have so little regard for the lives and deaths of children in their care. The Ryan report in 2009 documented the systematic sexual, physical and emotional abuse of children in church-run, state-funded institutions. It revealed that when confronted with evidence of child abuse, the church would transfer abusers to other institutions, where they could abuse other children. The Christian Brothers legally blocked the report from naming and shaming its members. Meanwhile, Cardinal Seán Brady – now known to have participated in the cover-up of abuse by paedophile priest Brendan Smyth – muttered about how ashamed he was.

The same year, the Murphy report on the sexual abuse of children in the archdiocese of Dublin revealed that the Catholic church’s priorities in dealing with paedophilia were not child welfare, but rather secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of its reputation and the preservation of church assets. In 2013, the McAleese report documented the imprisonment of more than 10,000 women in church-run, state-funded laundries, where they worked in punitive industrial conditions without pay for the crime of being unmarried mothers.

So you will forgive me if I am sceptical of the professed shock of Ireland’s clergy, politicians and official inquiring bodies. We know too much about the Catholic church’s abuse of women and children to be shocked by Tuam. A mass grave full of the children of unmarried mothers is an embarrassing landmark when the state is still paying the church to run its schools and hospitals. Hundreds of dead babies are not an asset to those invested in the myth of an abortion-free Ireland; they inconveniently suggest that Catholic Ireland always had abortions, just very late-term ones, administered slowly by nuns after the children were already born.

As Ireland gears up for a probable referendum on abortion rights as well as a strategically planned visit from the pope, it may be time to stop acting as though the moral bankruptcy and hypocrisy of the Catholic church are news to us. You can say you don’t care, but – after the Ryan report, the Murphy report, the McAleese report, the Cloyne report, the Ferns report, the Raphoe report and now Tuam – you don’t get to pretend that you don’t know.

Two members of my family were born in the Tuam home, lived short lives there, and are likely lying in that septic tank – sorry, in that structure that “appears to be related to the treatment/containment of sewage and/or waste water”. Their mother died young, weakened from her time in the custody of the church. Because of this I understand that otherwise good, kind people in Ireland handed power over women and children’s lives to an institution they knew was abusive. And I wrestle with the reality that – in our schools and hospitals – we’re still handing power over women and children’s lives to the Catholic church. Perhaps, after Tuam, after everything, that’s what’s really shocking.

Complete Article HERE!