04/6/17

Renegade Catholic order in UK ‘harbours clergy accused of sexual abuse’

Two priests accused of abuse allegedly found refuge in Kent with Holocaust denier Richard Williamson’s SSPX Resistance

Richard Williamson ordained a bishop without papal approval in 2015 and was excommunicated by the Vatican.

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A British Catholic priest who has been excommunicated twice by different popes is allegedly harbouring clergy accused of sexual abuse in his renegade religious order.

Richard Williamson, who was illicitly ordained as a bishop in 1988 by an ultra-conservative group, the Society of St Pius X (SSPX), and later convicted of Holocaust denial by a German court, is now head of the “SSPX Resistance”, based in Broadstairs, Kent.

Two Catholic SSPX priests who have been accused of sexual abuse have found a refuge in Williamson’s breakaway movement, according to an investigative documentary to be aired on Swedish television on Wednesday.

The Golden Jail, made by Ali Fegan, a Swedish journalist whose interview with Williamson about his Holocaust denial was broadcast in 2009, claims that the SSPX protected priests and failed to report claims of abuse to the police or civil authorities. Internal canonical trials of two men – one French, one English – were allegedly conducted with Vatican approval.

The English priest, referred to as Father S, left the SSPX before the conclusion of the trial to join the SSPX Resistance in 2014, going to live in Broadstairs. He declined to speak to the documentary team.

The French priest, Father P, was found guilty and banned from working with children. He joined the SSPX Resistance, and was filmed celebrating mass at a church in Bordeaux last November. He also refused to discuss allegations against him with the TV journalists.

Williamson’s movement, also known as Respice Stellam, describes itself as “a group of traditional Catholics who wish to practise their faith without compromise to liberalism or modernism”. It says reforms over recent decades have “contributed and are still contributing to the destruction of the church, to the ruin of the priesthood, to the abolition of the sacrifice of the mass and of the sacraments, to the disappearance of religious life.”

More than 100 former SSPX priests around the world have joined the renegade order, according to the documentary. Its headquarters is in a detached property in Broadstairs, named Regina Martyrum House, with a statue of the Virgin Mary in the front garden.

Members of the UK branch of SSPX Resistance celebrate mass each Sunday in a hired room in Earlsfield public library in south London, which recently put on a display of books for Holocaust Memorial Day. A spokesperson for GLL, which manages the library, said: “The hall booking is with the Stella Maris Mass Fund – which is a registered charity.” The booking had been running since January 2015 with no problems reported, the spokesperson said.

Mass is also celebrated by the group in Bingley, West Yorkshire, and Liverpool.

The SSPX confirmed that Father S and Father P were accused of sexual abuse when priests in the order, that canonical trials were held, and that both men later joined the SSPX Resistance.

In the case of Father S, an allegation of sexual abuse was reported to civil authorities in France where he was based at the time, the order said. The SSPX moved Father S to Bristol, where he had therapy for several years. The civil authorities closed the case without further action, according to SSPX. His canonical trial was still in process when the priest left the order to join Williamson’s group.

Father P was found guilty and forbidden to work with children, although permitted to celebrate mass. The families of his alleged victims said they did not wish a complaint to be made to the civil authorities.

“The SSPX, under no legal obligation to report at that time, chose to respect the wishes of these parents,” said the SSPX statement. An alleged victim did make a complaint 25 years later to the police, who are currently investigating, it said, adding: “A number of our priests are cooperating.”

Williamson, who did not respond to Fegan’s or the Guardian’s requests for comment on the allegations regarding the two priests, has a turbulent history in the Catholic church.

The son of an Anglican vicar, he was educated at Winchester College and Cambridge, and later converted to Catholicism. He joined the SSPX, which was highly critical of what it saw as a moral and theological crisis in the church in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, which sought to make Catholicism more relevant to the modern world.

In 1988, Williamson was one of four SSPX priests ordained as bishops by the SSPX founder, archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, against the orders of Pope John Paul II. All four were instantly excommunicated.

But in January 2009, the excommunication was reversed by Pope Benedict XVI in an attempt at reconciliation with the order. Three days earlier, in a filmed interview with Fegan, Williamson insisted that no Jews were killed in Nazi gas chambers. The Vatican said it had not known of Williamson’s Holocaust denial when it lifted the excommunication.

The move came under fire from Jewish groups and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. In February 2009, a German court fined Williamson €12,000 after convicting him of Holocaust denial. In 2014 the conviction was upheld on appeal but the fine reduced to €1,600.

The Vatican’s rapprochement with SSPX has continued under Pope Francis, who this week paved the way for recognition of marriages conducted by the order’s priests.

In 2012, Williamson was expelled from SSPX, allegedly for failing to show respect and obedience. He immediately called for a Catholic “resistance”.

Two years ago, Williamson ordained without papal approval another former SSPX priest, Jean-Michel Faure, as a bishop at a ceremony in Brazil. Both Williamson and Faure were excommunicated by the Vatican.

In an email to his supporters around the time of the illicit ordination, Williamson said the “nightingale’s nest” of the Catholic church had been occupied by “modernist cuckoos”.

“Wherever the remainder of the true nightingales are visibly gathered, in whatever makeshift nest, they are in the church, they are the true visible church, and their beautiful song testifies to anyone who has ears to hear that the cuckoos are nothing but cuckoos who have stolen the catholic nest which they presently occupy,” he wrote.

Complete Article HERE!

04/5/17

Pope makes appointments amid criticism of sex abuse response

By NICOLE WINFIELD

Pope Francis on Tuesday named a new official to oversee the Vatican office that processes clerical sex abuse cases amid mounting criticism over a yearslong backlog of cases and Francis’ handling of the problem.

The promotion of Monsignor John Kennedy to head of the discipline section of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith was the second abuse-related appointment in recent days. Francis named the Rev. Hans Zollner, one of the Catholic Church’s top experts on fighting abuse and protecting children, as an adviser to the Vatican’s office for clergy on Saturday.

Francis and the Vatican have come under fresh scrutiny over their response to the abuse crisis since Irish survivor Marie Collins resigned from the pope’s sex abuse advisory commission on March 1, citing “unacceptable” resistance to the commission’s proposals from the Vatican’s doctrine office.

Collins’ departure laid bare the cultural chasm between the commission’s outside experts, who proposed best-in-class ideas for protecting children, and the reality of the Vatican bureaucracy and its legal and administrative limitations.

Kennedy was an assistant to the previous discipline section chief, the Rev. Miguel Funes Diaz, one of three congregation officials who recently left. The Vatican spokesman, Greg Burke, said Francis had approved their replacements as well as additional staff to handle cases, which by some estimates take two to three years to process.

The congregation assumed responsibility for processing abuse cases in 2001 after then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, determined that dioceses weren’t disciplining pedophiles as church law required. The change required bishops and religious superiors to submit all credible accusations to the congregation, which decides how to proceed.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who heads Francis’ abuse advisory commission, said in a recent interview that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith needed more resources to deal with the caseload and related issues. Francis earlier this year named O’Malley to the congregation’s membership in a first key move to place commission members inside Vatican offices to lend their expertise.

Zollner, the new addition to the clergy office’s board of advisers, is another member of the pope’s abuse advisory commission. He heads the Center for Child Protection at the Jesuits’ Pontifical Gregorian University, which runs programs to train church personnel in child safety and abuse awareness.

As an adviser to the Congregation for Clergy, he will have a hand in advising the Vatican office responsible for training the world’s Catholic priests in best practices.

Complete Article HERE!

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!

03/10/17

The priest who welcomed the LGBT community into his church

By Michael Cox

Seamus O’Boyle was leader of London’s gay Catholic Mass for six years, until it came to an end under pressure from the Vatican in 2013. Now a parish priest in the borough, Monsignor O’Boyle speaks to Michael Cox about the bittersweet feeling of helping a hurt community which was again cast aside, and the changing attitudes of the Church to LGBT people.

In April 1999 neo-Nazi David Copeland, known as the London Nail Bomber, killed three people in the Admiral Duncan Pub on Old Compton Street, at the heart of London’s gay community.

“After the pub bombing in Soho where people got killed, there was a group of gay Catholic men and women who wanted somewhere to pray,” says Monsignor Seamus O’Boyle. But the Church’s teachings forbade this.

“They started gathering together in an Anglican church to have Catholic Mass. That was a bit of an anomaly really, to put it mildly.”

Eight years later Mgr O’Boyle was Vicar General, a senior position in the Church which made him responsible for every priest in London. He had an opportunity to do something.

He decided that after what the community had suffered, he wanted LGBT Catholics to worship in a Catholic setting.

“The move was to try and make sure this was happening in a Catholic parish instead, and that it was open to everyone.

“We looked for a church and it was decided that we would use Our Lady of the Assumption on Warwick Street in Soho. I was appointed as the parish priest so I was responsible for what went on, in the sense of having an oversight of what was going on there.

“I was blamed for it all, being reported to Rome every five minutes.

The blame came from more conservative Catholics who did not want to see homosexuality being publicly welcomed by the Church. The furore over an officially sanctioned gay Mass began immediately.

“It was a wonderful thing to be able to reach out to that community. It was a very hurt community by the Church, and yet there they were wanting to be part of it. I think we did a very good thing by allowing that to happen, but others didn’t feel that way.

“More traditional Catholics didn’t like it much. There was a group who used to meet outside and protest, saying the rosary. It was just horrendous, really. And then writing every five minutes to Rome to tell them that we were doing this atrocious thing. All kinds of ministry of disinformation, it was awful.

“Sometimes the group didn’t help by reacting in a bad way to some of the criticism and trying to reign them in a bit was not always easy. The group meeting outside was always invited in, you know, ‘come in and see that we’ve not got two heads’.

“Actually it was a very traditional celebration of mass, just that there happened to be a lot of musicians…

“To go to a Mass on a Sunday evening and have 150 people there who wanted to be there and participate in that way was just extraordinary. It was causing more and more trouble, every five minutes there was another complaint so the Archbishop wanted to find a different way of operating it.”

The Archbishop at the time was Vincent Nichols, and as leader of all Catholics in England and Wales he was responsible for dealing with the Vatican and, ultimately, the Pope.

He shut down the Soho Mass in 2013, saying it conflicted with the church’s teachings on sexuality.

Archbishop Nichols told the BBC at the time: “The moral teaching of the Church is that the proper use of our sexual faculty is within a marriage, between a man and a woman, open to the procreation and nurturing of new human life.

“This means that many types of sexual activity, including same-sex sexual activity, are not consistent with the teaching of the church.”

The Mass was moved out of the jurisdiction of the Archbishop into a Jesuit church on Farm Street in Mayfair, where it has continued.

“A number of the Jesuit priests were involved in the Soho masses so it seemed like a natural progression,” says Mgr O’Boyle. “It’s still thriving.

“The problem with Warwick Street was it is a very tiny community, so that particular group swamped it. Farm Street is a much bigger community so to get them to mix has worked well. It means they’re not the only thing that’s happening.”

Mgr O’Boyle believes that despite initial approval from the Vatican, the Archbishop came under increasing pressure from the top of the church to end the LGBT Mass.

“Every step along the way, there was discussion with bishops, then Rome was involved and they were notified about what was going on. They were informed about it, it wasn’t like we were doing anything behind anyone’s back. But it wasn’t appreciated by everyone.

“[Archbishop Nichols] would go to meetings in Rome in all he would hear about was who had written to complain about Soho Mass, it became ridiculous and out of proportion. He was irritated by the reaction from Rome, so it was a neat way to bring it to an end at Warwick Street.

“And then I moved from there to here in Islington.”

Mgr O’Boyle thinks the attitude to LGBT people in the Catholic Church is changing, a shift largely driven by the actions of an unusually liberal Pope.

“Pope Francis has given people hope that the church doesn’t seem quite so judgemental or dictatorial about things.

“He was interviewed [about homosexuality] and famously said “who am I to judge?” To hear a Pope say that when others seem to have been very judgemental and harsh was a real sign of hope for the LGBT community I think.

“He’s trying to modernise the church but he’s up against it. He needs to do it, which I think is why he’s right for his time.

“He doesn’t care what he does really which is great – he’s the Pope isn’t he? He can do what he likes.

“I think there are those who would like to stop him doing what he’s doing – the establishment would. Centuries-old structures of bureaucracy are not easy to break down.

“But I think he’s been a breath of fresh air for the Church.”

Complete Article HERE!