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.

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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.

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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!

You’re still surprised by pedophile priests? Who do you think enables them?

In 1986, then-auxiliary bishop Jaime Soto wrote a letter of support for his former classmate Chris Andersen after he was convicted on 26 felony counts of child molestation. Now, as bishop of the Sacramento Diocese, Soto talks about his regrets.

By Marcos Bretón

Since he became the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento a decade ago, Jaime Soto has chosen to remove priests accused of pedophilia or misconduct. This is in contrast to shielding them, as other bishops have in now-infamous coverups of child abuse being investigated by law enforcement authorities in several states.

Soto learned. The question is, has the rest of the church?

Mind you, Soto’s approach of hewing to the law over the loyalty to a fraternity of priests and bishops was informed by years when he did the opposite. He acted in a way that showed he cared more about the priests doing the abusing than the children; believed that therapy for pedophiles was the way to go; he would comment on the sexual abuse of priests without really knowing the facts.

He thought that sex abuse by priests needed to be kept secret.

Soto believed in all those falsehoods when he was rising through the ranks of the Diocese of Orange County, his home base before moving to Sacramento at the end of 2007, and he acted on them accordingly. What pains him most now is a letter he wrote to a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge to plead for mercy for a priest who preyed on altar boys.

His name was Andrew Christian Andersen.

“He was a classmate of mine, a fellow seminarian,” Soto said over coffee recently. In September of 1986, Andersen was convicted on 26 counts of molesting altar boys. His victims never got their day in court because Andersen was allowed to skip a trial and go straight to conviction and sentencing. The victims felt betrayed. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles media reported how Andersen was cheered by devotees unmoved by facts or early court rulings.

“He was always our friend and a consultant to us and a good confessor, and we just know he’s innocent,” Dorothy Gilmore told the Los Angeles Times then. Hold that thought for a moment – the blind devotion to a man in a priestly collar – because it is a recurring theme in a sex abuse scandal engulfing the church and reaching all the way to the Vatican and Pope Francis.

That blind devotion – that cloistered brotherhood of loyalty and obedience to each other – is what drove Soto, then a man in his 30s, to write the judge weighing what to do with Andersen.

“Chris Andersen’s present difficulties pain me very much not only because he is a friend but also because he is an associate in the ministry,” Soto wrote then. “Our works bring us into intimate contact with people’s lives. In a time when the exchange of simple affections within the most intimate of circles has become a rare commodity, our associations with others run the grave risk of being misunderstood by all parties including perhaps the priest himself….There is cause therefore to exercise prudence and right judgment while at the same time pursuing the mission of Church to bring healing and comfort.”

Truthfully, Soto’s regrettable words were far more measured than other church leaders who told the judge that the accusations against Andersen did not square with the guy they knew.

Soto was sticking up for a friend and suggesting that his troubles were the result of intimate misunderstandings. But measured or not, the judge listened. Instead of prison, Andersen received a suspended jail sentence, was placed on probation for five years and was sent to a New Mexico for therapy.

Guess what Andersen did in New Mexico? He was arrested for abusing and kidnapping a New Mexico boy. Having violated his parole, he was sentenced to the six-year prison term he should have gotten in the first place.

“My letter was stupid and naive,” Soto said. “I wrote the letter without any real knowledge about what he had done and the harm he had caused…When (Andersen) re-offended, it was a sobering, chilling revelation.”

And that’s how sex abuse happens in the Catholic Church. People focus on the celibacy of priests as a driving factor for sexual abuse when it’s more about people – bishops, priests and lay people – being blinded by the idea that these men deserve to be placed above the law.

Removing celibacy is not the answer to this problem. Child abusers aren’t predators because they’re celibate. So what’s happening in the church is about much more than sexuality. Different issue. Sure, let priests marry. That would be wonderful, but not enough to stop the abuse.

What’s happening shows the church is a closed society of men in desperate need of forced transparency. Even now, they’re actions have been cloaked. And those of us in the pews are shocked that sex abuse scandals still are roiling the church because we thought they had been addressed a decade ago.

But the problem won’t go away as long as bishops, priests and lay people worship the men in the collars over the people they are supposed to minister, over the law, and over the teachings of God that is supposed to guide the church.

In Pennsylvania, a grand jury report alleged that Roman Catholic leaders there covered up the abuse of hundreds of people by priests for decades. The New York Attorney General has issued subpoenas at every diocese in the state as part of ongoing investigations of sex abuse in Catholic churches there. Authorities in six states are investigating Catholic bishops and priests. A high ranking Vatican official accused Pope Francis of covering up sexual abuse.

In response to unspeakable allegations, church leaders are calling for more lay people to be more involved in the inner workings of the church. It’s a good idea but it will be a Band-Aid response if the wrong people are chosen to provide oversight for and counsel to bishops and priests who need it.

Andersen’s well-wishers stood up for him, despite a mountain of evidence, and proved how some Catholic lay people can be co-conspirators in these scandals. In the most public sex abuse case under Soto’s watch in Sacramento in 2011, a popular priest was treated like a rock star even after he had been arrested and later pleaded guilty to molesting a 13-year-old girl.

In 30 years as a journalist, I’ve never seen anything like the spectacle of dozens of Catholics lining the street adjacent to the Main Jail in downtown Sacramento after Father Uriel Ojeda was incarcerated there. Men and women, dressed in their Sunday best, craned their necks for a glimpse of Ojeda in his orange jump suit. Even though he could not have possibly heard them, some of these folks serenaded Ojeda from the street in front of the jail.

One woman screamed at me on the street because I had quoted Soto in a column and, to her, this signified that I was in on a church conspiracy to ruin the popular young priest. She said Soto was “jealous” of him. I looked into the eyes of this woman as she berated me and saw no there there. Nobody was home. It was religious zealotry playing out on the street in Sacramento.

It took me back to 2002. Church members of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament asserted to me that “the media” were behind the latest sex abuse scandal to rock the church.

This is what almost never gets discussed among lay Catholics – our own complicity. Soto readily admits now that he was wrong to advocate for Andersen. He was wrong to believe that treatment can help some hardened pedophiles. He was wrong to believe that keeping these abuses quiet was the way to go.

But plenty of lay people went along for the ride, including parishioners and church lawyers who advised bishops for years to cover up and protect against liability.

To his credit, Soto has not followed these falsehoods during his time here. He’s learned the hard way. But it has come with a cost. Fanatical followers of Ojeda condemned Soto for turning the priest over to police. In other cases of sexual misconduct by priests, that have not involved minors, Soto removed them and was criticized by followers.

“In my own ministry, I’ve come face-to-face with a lot of domestic violence and child abuse,” he said. “In many of these cases, I reported them and the families would initially be angry with me that I reported them.”

Soto knew the questions I would be asking him for this column – I approached him – and he accepted because he believes the church must face this crisis truthfully. It’s the only way to restore trust and to keep the abuse from happening again.

The Bishop of Sacramento is a man who has been humbled and is trying to do better.

“When these cases arise I have to act and put my own fears aside to do what’s right,” Soto said. “I first have to listen, to let people express their stories,”

“I tell them: “You were betrayed, your trust was betrayed. And that’s not right I’m not going to let Father hurt you again.”

Complete Article HERE!

DNA Results, Validate Son’s Claim, His Father Was A Catholic Priest

Original story  HERE!

By Jim Graham

The DNA of a deceased Catholic priest, the Rev. Thomas S Sullivan, today was found to match the DNA of James C Graham, a South Carolina man who has waged a decades-long battle with Church officials over information regarding his parentage.

“Silent for 25 years (deceased Mar. 31, 1993), my father spoke to me today via his DNA. At Last, I have validated a truth I was denied my entire life; Father Thomas S Sullivan, an Oblate priest from Lowell, MA, was my father. The scheme devised to save the church from scandal in the 40’s, took me from my mother’s custody as a toddler, and ensured I would never know my father,” said Graham.

Ann Marie Mires, a forensic anthropologist, performed an exhumation of Sullivan’s remains on June 18, in Tewksbury, MA, at a private cemetery owned by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a worldwide Catholic religious order. She then sent samples of the remains to Bode Cellmark Forensics, a Virginia firm that conducted the DNA tests.

Known for her work identifying the remains of victims of convicted Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger, Mires said, “The confirmation of the DNA results is the significant step in restoring the rights and dignities to Jim Graham that were kept from him for the last 25 years. We are very pleased to have assisted Jim in his journey to find his true biological affinity and restore his family tree.”

Twenty-five years ago, Graham, now 73, was told his father may have been a Catholic priest. Upon seeing an obituary with a photo of Sullivan, Graham said he was immediately struck by the strong resemblance between Sullivan’s face and his own facial features.

Graham said he never doubted Sullivan was his father. But when he approached Oblate officials for confirmation he encountered quiet resistance. One Oblate priest who knew Sullivan told Graham to, “Forget the injustices of the past,” adding, “You have good genes, so get on with the rest of your life.”

Another priest provided Graham with church documents from the 1940s. The documents included correspondence between the Oblates in Buffalo, NY, where Sullivan was working, and Rome, confirming that Sullivan was involved with a woman. The priest also said other records had been purged, records that Graham believes would have shown that Sullivan fathered a son.

In February of this year, Graham wrote Oblate officials requesting the exhumation. To his surprise, the request was granted. Graham said he still hopes the Oblates will reveal the measures they took to conceal his parentage, denying him the chance to forge a relationship with his father.

Complete Article HERE!

Has Catholic Canon Law Aggravated The Clergy Abuse Crisis?

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Among the potential victims of the Catholic clergy abuse crisis is one whose roots date to the early years of Christianity: the Catholic canon law system.

Each new revelation that a priest has molested a child and gone unpunished by his bishop has brought charges that part of the problem may be canonical procedures that fail to ensure justice for the victim.

The Roman Catholic church has long had its own legal system, incorporating a judicial framework and a complex set of laws, or canons, regulating church organization. Critics, however, say canon laws assign excessive importance to the protection of church institutions, encourage secrecy over transparency, and favor rehabilitating wayward priests rather than punishing them. While abusive priests can be defrocked for misconduct, the church cannot send anyone to prison.

The alleged shortcomings of the canon law system mean that civil authorities are increasingly taking the initiative to investigate Catholic clergy abuse on their own.

A problem of structure

“Because of its structures and because of how it has responded in the past, the Catholic church may in some ways be more ripe for these abuses to happen and fester,” says Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Last month, Madigan launched an inquiry into Catholic dioceses in her state, looking for unreported cases of clergy misconduct. She took the action despite assurances from the Chicago archdiocese that it is already investigating abuse allegations and, since 2002, has forwarded them all to the appropriate civil authorities.

“The problem is, I’m not sure that’s accurate,” Madigan explains. “So there has to be an independent investigation that will allow for a full and complete accounting.”

Madigan acted after a grand jury in Pennsylvania reported in August that more than 300 priests in six dioceses had abused children in recent decades and that bishops had covered up the crimes. Attorneys general in Missouri, New York, and Florida are exploring the possibility of doing their own clergy abuse investigations.

Canon law vs. civil law

To be clear, child molestation is considered a criminal act under Catholic law. Canon number 1395 in the Code of Canon Law states that a priest found to have had sexual contact with a minor under the age of sixteen is to be punished “with just penalties, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state if the case so warrants.” Within the church, defrocking a priest is considered an especially severe punishment.

“I don’t see this [abuse crisis] as a failure of canon law,” says Nicholas Cafardi, dean emeritus of the Duquesne University Law School and also a trained canon lawyer. “I think the deficiency was the failure to use the system.”

“Most of the cases in the Pennsylvania grand jury report happened before 1990,” Cafardi notes. “Even in those years it was a canonical crime for a clergyman to sexually abuse a child. They should have been processed under the canon law, and they weren’t.”

Critics contend, however, that one reason more priests have not been held accountable by church authorities is that other aspects of canon law weaken the incentives for punishment.

Canon 1341, for example, stipulates that a bishop should penalize a priest “only after he has ascertained that fraternal correction or rebuke or other means of pastoral solicitude cannot sufficiently repair the scandal, restore justice, reform the offender.”

In practice, the preference for “fraternal correction” or a “pastoral” solution can mean a bishop goes easy on an abusive priest, even one who has molested children.

“The bishop will bring the priest in, ask him if he’s going to do this again or if he’s over it,” says Carolyn Warner, a professor of political science at Arizona State University who has studied Catholic institutions. “In some cases, the bishop will send the priest for counseling, typically to a system run by Catholic priests who are specialists in this area.”

For Cafardi, a former advisor to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on clergy abuse issues, such cases reflect poorly on the bishops themselves, however, not on the canonical system.

“Our bishops made a choice in those days,” Cafardi says. “Instead of going the logical route and starting canonical criminal proceedings against these men, they chose therapy.”

Avoiding scandal

Church authorities who have tolerated abusive priests, or transferred them to other parishes rather than defrocking them, may also have been thinking of the canonical admonition to “repair scandal.”

In Roman Catholic usage, a “scandal” is “an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil” or perhaps draw someone “into spiritual death.”

Some bishops, Warner argues, may have opted to hide evidence of child molesters in the priesthood out of a fear that if such behaviors were to become public, the priesthood would lose honor and credibility.

“You don’t want to let parishioners know about these situations,” Warner says, “because that might cause them to question their faith.”

In the end, however, efforts by bishops to protect the church from embarrassment backfired by undermining faith in the church’s ability to police its own and by spurring civil authorities to conduct their own investigations of church actions.

“I think you’re going to see that demanded even by the laity in the church,” says Illinois Attorney General Madigan. “Otherwise there is going to be continued concern and a resulting lack of trust.”

Complete Article HERE!