10/6/17

Vatican Shines Light on Child Abuse as Claims Against Priests Persist

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Pope Francis at the Vatican on Wednesday. He has said that the church “arrived late” to the sexual abuse crisis.

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For a church hierarchy excoriated for decades over the sexual abuse of children in its trust, hosting a conference this week about the spreading scourge of online child pornography was an opportunity to strike a positive note about the Vatican’s role in protecting minors.

“Yes, yes, yes,” said Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, when asked Tuesday night at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome if the Catholic Church could lead a global response to the problem.

But in an awkward confluence of events, the four-day congress, Child Dignity in the Digital World, is taking place mere weeks after the Holy See recalled Msgr. Carlo Capella, a church diplomat in the Vatican Embassy in Washington, amid accusations that he had possessed child pornography.

It was just the latest of the abuse accusations against priests that have dogged the church around the globe for decades even as it has promised to punish predators and protect the preyed upon. Advocates for the victims have questioned the church’s commitment.

Last week, as organizers prepared for the congress — with its keynote address by Cardinal Parolin, the second-highest-ranking official after Pope Francis; blanket coverage by the church’s news media; and a papal audience with Francis on Friday — the Canadian police issued an arrest warrant for Monsignor Capella. He was accused of distributing child pornography during a Christmas visit in 2016 to Ontario.

Cardinal Parolin, speaking to reporters on Tuesday before his address, called the case a “very painful affair, a great trial for all those who are involved.” He said the priest’s case was being handled with the “utmost seriousness.” The Vatican has also said that the Holy See’s chief prosecutor was investigating and that if the monsignor was tried and convicted, he could be sentenced up to 12 years in a Vatican jail.

The Vatican has done much to address child abuse by clergy members, which has threatened to stain the entire church. (Pope Benedict XVI once memorably called it “filth.”) It has removed abusive priests, worked more closely with local law enforcement officials, toughened its laws and generally adopted a “zero tolerance” approach.

But advocates for victims have argued that the Vatican’s invocation of diplomatic immunity to recall the Italian monsignor from the United States shows that it still prioritizes protecting its own.

In his speech before top Italian officials and representatives from Interpol, the United Nations, Russia, China, the United States, Facebook and Microsoft, Cardinal Parolin spoke at length about the growing threat of internet abuse on the spirit and psyches of young users. He acknowledged that when it came to the exploitation and abuse of children, “over the past few decades, this tragic reality has come powerfully to the fore in the Catholic Church, and extremely grave facts have emerged.”

Last month, Francis said in unscripted remarks to a commission he had created to advise him on the issue that the church had “arrived late” to the crisis. He lamented his leniency, early in his pontificate, toward an Italian priest who subsequently continued his abuse.

“The old practice of moving people around and not confronting the problem made consciences fall asleep,” the pope said. He said he would limit the chances of pedophile priests to appeal their convictions by church tribunals.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, at the Child Dignity in the Digital World conference in Rome on Tuesday.

But critics say Vatican action has lagged behind the pope’s words. For example, a tribunal to discipline bishops who cover up abuse was disbanded because, the pope said, the Vatican already had the requisite offices to deal with the issue.

A commission Francis created with top cardinals, outside experts and abuse victims (the committee’s only two victims have since left) has seemed stifled by Vatican bureaucracy.

And the pope brought Cardinal George Pell to Rome as a top adviser despite allegations of abuse against him. The cardinal is now back in Australia facing charges of sexual assault against minors.

Advocates for abuse victims say they consider the Capella case a shameful echo of an earlier episode involving Josef Wesolowski, a Polish archbishop accused of abusing children in the Dominican Republic, where he served as the Vatican ambassador. The Vatican removed the archbishop and denied appeals that he be tried in the Dominican Republic. He was defrocked and died in the Vatican before facing justice.

The Rev. Hans Zollner, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, said he was confident that this time, the accused cleric would face justice.

“Everyone who commits a crime needs to be punished,” he said. “Period.”

The congress, meanwhile, is seeking ways to protect children in what has been depicted as a frightening digital world, where abusers surf a dark web and child pornography proliferates.

The conference has included top experts in the field speaking about the risks as more children in developing countries go online. They have discussed troubling statistics, such as the finding last year by the Internet Watch Foundation that more than 57,000 websites contained images of children being sexually abused. And they have sat on panels such as one called International Politics and Law Regarding Child Sexual Abuse.

For years, top Vatican officials in Rome had dismissed the abuse crisis as a unique product of the Anglo-Saxon world, and suggested that it had been overplayed by the news media. But organizers of the congress said the majority of the experts came from countries in the global north because that is where the problem has been confronted most aggressively.

In an interview, Father Zollner said that on his global travels looking into the problem, he had observed that bishops and clerics in countries such as Malawi were finally facing an issue they would not talk about as recently as a year ago. But other nations are still constrained by local cultural taboos about discussing child abuse, he said.

Italy, he noted, was not without its own bombshell reports of sexual abuse in the church. He compared the book “Lust,” about abuse in the Vatican, by the investigative journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi, to the breakthrough reports by The Boston Globe’s Spotlight team on the cover-up of priests’ sexual abuse of children.

Father Zollner he said the media focus on Monsignor Capella could have a positive side effect and put “more attention to the topic of the congress,” which, he said, was to better understand the phenomenon of child pornography and how to prevent it.

“That is our whole purpose,” he said.

Complete Article HERE!

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09/30/17

Vatican diplomat also wanted in Canada on child porn charges

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A Vatican diplomat already under suspicion for child pornography-related offenses in the United States has now been accused of downloading child porn in Canada. Monsignor Carlo Capella was recalled to the Vatican, where an investigation into his alleged crimes has been initiated.

By Cindy Wooden

An arrest warrant has been issued in Canada for Monsignor Carlo Capella, the Vatican diplomat recalled from service in Washington in late August, who already was the subject of a Vatican criminal investigation involving child pornography.

Police in Windsor, Ontario, issued a statement Sept. 28 saying, “A Canada-wide arrest warrant has been issued for Carlo Capella, a 50-year-old male, for the charges of: access(ing) child pornography, possess(ing) child pornography and distribut(ing) child pornography.

“Investigators believe that the offenses occurred while the suspect was visiting a place of worship in Windsor,” the statement said. “Investigators have determined that the suspect has returned to his residence in Italy.”

Capella had worked since the summer of 2016 at the Vatican nunciature in Washington. Prior to that, he worked on the Italy desk at the Vatican Secretariat of State. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1993 for the Archdiocese of Milan.

Although the Vatican has not publicly confirmed Capella’s identity, it did not object when many news outlets identified him as the Vatican diplomat recalled from Washington.

The Vatican press office said Sept. 15 that the Vatican was notified Aug. 21 by the U.S. Department of State “of a possible violation of laws relating to child pornography images by a member of the diplomatic corps of the Holy See accredited to Washington.

“The Holy See, following the practice of sovereign states, recalled the priest in question, who is currently in Vatican City,” the press office said.

The Associated Press reported that the State Department confirmed it had asked the Vatican to lift the official’s diplomatic immunity. It said that request was denied.

The Vatican promoter of justice, the chief prosecutor for Vatican City State, “opened an investigation and has already commenced international collaboration to obtain elements relative to the case,” the Vatican said.

The Vatican press office declined to comment on the Windsor police statement.

The statement said that “in February of 2017, the Windsor Police Service Internet Child Exploitation Unit received information that originated from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police National Child Exploitation Coordination Center indicating that a suspect in the city of Windsor had allegedly uploaded child pornography using a social networking website.”

The Windsor police launched an investigation and “were granted judicial permission to review records related to the involved internet service provider address,” the statement said. The investigation “determined that the alleged offenses occurred between Dec. 24-27, 2016,” at a Windsor church.

Canada’s CBC News quoted a spokesman for the Diocese of London, which includes Windsor, confirming “that it was asked to, and did, assist in an investigation around suspicions involving Monsignor Capella’s possible violations of child pornography laws by using a computer address at a local church.”

Nelson Couto, diocesan spokesman, said that at the request of police, the diocese would not comment further.

Complete Article HERE!

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09/23/17

Pope Francis acknowledges Catholic Church’s bad practices during the sex abuse crisis

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Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley speaks as Pope Francis meets with members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors at the Vatican on Sept. 21.

Pope Francis acknowledged that the Catholic Church was slow to address the sex abuse crisis, including its widely criticized but not publicly acknowledged practice of moving priests who had abused children to other churches instead of reporting them to the police, saying “the church’s conscience came a bit late.”

The pope gave off-the-cuff remarks to a commission he created to tackle the issue, acknowledging the slow pace of church trials and an overall lack of awareness of the problem inside St. Peter’s walls.

“Pedophilia is a sickness,” Pope Francis said. “Today one repents, moves on, we forgive him, then two years later he relapses. We need to get it in our heads that it’s a sickness.”

The pope announced he would do away with Vatican appeal trials for cases where evidence of abuse against minors is proven. “If there’s evidence, that is final,” he said.

“Those who’re sentenced because of sexual abuses against minors can indeed appeal to the pope and ask for a pardon, but I’ve never signed one of those, and I never will,” he said. “I hope this much is clear.”

The pope’s rationale for doing away with an appeal process — according to Italian news outlets’ transcripts of his words — lies in his own experience. Faced with such a case at the very beginning of his papacy, he said he’d opted for “the more benevolent path” instead of defrocking a priest. “After two years, though, the priest relapsed,” he said, which became a learning experience for the pope.

A well-placed Vatican source confirms that these words convey the pope’s own “personal bitterness, as well as the difficulty of curing [pedophiles], as it was once thought possible, which instead ended up being quite a failure.” According to the source, the pope was probably specifically referring to the case of Mauro Inzoli, whom he “definitively” defrocked earlier this summer. An appeal trial for Inzoli, who was convicted of child sex abuse in an Italian court, began Thursday.

The pope’s comments and recent events draw attention to his larger efforts to strengthen the church’s fight against abuse, as advocacy groups have called for sweeping changes within the Vatican hierarchy.

Last week, the Catholic Church recalled diplomat Monsignor Carlo Alberto Capella back to the Vatican because U.S. investigators suspected him of crimes involving child pornography.

And earlier this year, Cardinal George Pell, one of the most powerful officials in the Vatican, was charged by Australian police for “historical sexual assault offenses,” and returned to his home country “to clear his name,” according to a statement from the archdiocese of Sydney.

The Catholic Church in some countries, including in the United States, put systems in place to protect children, and after he became pope, Francis created an ambitious reform commission addressing sex abuse.

He appointed Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, who inherited the clergy abuse scandal from Cardinal Bernard Law in Boston, as president of the commission, calling him one of the church’s “prophets.”

Marie Collins, an Irish survivor of clergy sexual abuse, quit Francis’s commission in March because she thought that few of the changes they recommended were being implemented by the Vatican hierarchy. She said that when the pope makes a statement like this, it helps to break down denial from many church leaders.

“I suppose [Pope Francis is] stating what is obvious,” Collins said. Since the beginning of his papacy, Francis has spoken of the horrors of abuse and spoken to survivors of abuse, asking for forgiveness several times.

However, Collins believes this may be the first time the pope has addressed how the church handles priests. Some bishops would move priests accused of abusing children to other churches, allowing them to continue their abuse.

“We’re getting an admission of problems that were there,” she said. “The less denial there is, the more chance there is for change.”

Francesco Zanardi, an Italian survivor of clergy sex abuse, said he believes it’s the first time the pope has acknowledged the practice of moving priests around.

“It’s an admission all right, but it comes a bit too late, I just can’t be optimistic about it,” said Zanardi, president of “Rete l’Abuso” or Abuse Network, an Italian association of’ survivors of abuse by clergy.

Many people are beginning to wonder whether the pope’s rhetoric will turn into Vatican action, such as the idea of tribunals, said John Thavis, author of “The Vatican Diaries” and who was a longtime correspondent for the Catholic News Service.

“The question is whether he institutionalizes some forms of closer control over bishops who have made bad decisions,” he said. “That seems to be a sticking point.”

The pope’s defenders say he has made strides to hold bishops and priests accountable. Last summer, Francis issued a decree that diocesan bishops could be removed for failure to report suspected abuse. In 2014, he fired a bishop in Paraguay who was accused of covering up abuse, and in 2015, he accepted the resignation of a bishop in Kansas City who was convicted of covering up abuse.

Complete Article HERE!

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04/8/17

Top Vatican, U.S. church officials back gay-friendly book

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by David Gibson

The Vatican’s point man on family issues and a U.S. cardinal who is close to Pope Francis have both written blurbs for a new book by a Jesuit priest and popular author that calls on the Catholic Church to be more respectful and compassionate toward gay people.

They called it “brave, prophetic, and inspiring” and a “much-needed book.”

Such positive language from such senior church leaders is extraordinary and another sign of how Francis is reorienting the church toward a more pastoral focus.

Building Bridges: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity, by Rev. James Martin of America magazine, does not advocate for any changes in doctrine nor does it touch third-rail topics like same-sex marriage; nor do the churchmen who praise the book, to be published by HarperOne on June 13.

But simply using terms like LGBT to describe people is highly controversial for many in the church who insist that gay people be described as “homosexual” or “same-sex attracted” rather than by words that seem to affirm their orientation.

Cardinal Kevin Farrell, who was recently chosen by Francis to head the Vatican office on laity, family, and life issues, praises Martin’s writing in his blurb: “A welcome and much-needed book that will help bishops, priests, pastoral associates, and all church leaders more compassionately minister to the LGBT community.

“It will also help LGBT Catholics feel more at home in what is, after all, their church,” said Farrell, the former bishop of Dallas.

“In too many parts of our church LGBT people have been made to feel unwelcome, excluded, and even shamed,” Newark Cardinal Joseph Tobin, who Francis personally picked for the New Jersey archdiocese, adds in a blurb.

“Father Martin’s brave, prophetic, and inspiring new book marks an essential step in inviting church leaders to minister with more compassion, and in reminding LGBT Catholics that they are as much a part of our church as any other Catholic.”

“The Gospel demands that LGBT Catholics must be genuinely loved and treasured in the life of the church. They are not,” writes Bishop Robert McElory of San Diego, also a rising star in the U.S. hierarchy, in another endorsement.

McElroy says Martin “provides us with the language, perspective, and sense of urgency to replace a culture of alienation with a culture of merciful inclusion.”

Francis himself sparked controversy when he used the term “gay” last year in saying that the Catholic Church should apologize to LGBT people, among others, that it has “offended.”

The pope’s comments came in the wake of the shooting massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in June that left 49 dead, and Martin’s book also emerged from that tragedy.

Martin, whose books about Jesus and Catholic spirituality and related topics have landed on the best-seller lists, has often written about the role of gays and lesbians in the church, and about the need for the church to do more to welcome them.

But he was struck by the relative lack of compassion from U.S. bishops for gays and lesbians who were targeted in the Orlando shooting and elsewhere, and he voiced his concerns in a powerful Facebook video that went viral.

The video prompted more than the usual level of anger and criticism of Martin, and prompted him to begin writing about how to address the rift between LGBT people and church leaders.

He outlined his views in an October talk — an address that would become the basis of “Building Bridges” — as he accepted an award from New Ways Ministry, a group for LGBT Catholics and causes that in the past has been condemned by church leaders who said it was not authorized to represent itself as a Catholic organization. (The talk was reprinted in America magazine.)

A co-founder of New Ways Ministry is Sister Jeannine Gramick, whose views were considered so far outside the bounds of Catholic teaching that she was barred by the Vatican and her order from speaking about homosexuality. She transferred to another order and has continued to minister and speak and write on the topic.

In fact, Gramick also blurbs Martin’s book, writing: “Father Martin shows how the Rosary and the rainbow flag can peacefully meet each other. A must-read.” That she is endorsing the same book as senior church leaders is an indication of the sea change under Francis.

“I was delighted that Cardinal Farrell and Cardinal Tobin found the book helpful,” Martin said in an email to RNS. “To me, it’s a reminder that many in the hierarchy today support a more compassionate approach to LGBT Catholics.”

In his talk, as in the book, Martin called on church leaders and all Catholics to treat gays and lesbians with greater respect and sensitivity.

He said church leaders should address LGBT people by the term they call themselves, and he called for an end to the indiscriminate firings of church employees who are discovered to be gay or who make their sexual orientation public. Such firings selectively target LGBT people, he said.

But he also called on gays and lesbians to be more considerate and respectful of the hierarchy, saying both sides must listen to each other and learn from each other.

“This may be very hard for people who feel beaten down by the church to hear,” Martin writes in the book.

“One gay friend recently told me that this mockery comes not from a place of hatred, but from a sense of betrayal. But being respectful of people with whom you disagree is at the heart of the Christian way. And part of this is surely about forgiveness, an essential Christian virtue.”

Complete Article HERE!

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02/9/17

Steve Bannon Aligns With Vatican Hard-Liners Who Oppose Pope Francis

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Anti-Pope Francis posters appeared in Rome last week, with a message in a Roman street dialect saying, “Hey, Frank, you took over Congregations, suspended priests, decapitated the Order of Malta and the Franciscans of The Immaculate, ignored Cardinals… Where the heck is your mercy?”

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White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is known to have cultivated ties with far-right parties in Europe, like the National Front in France. He also seems to have forged an alliance with Vatican hard-liners who oppose Pope Francis’ less rigid approach to church doctrine. The New York Times reported this week on Bannon’s connections at the Vatican.

Before becoming White House chief strategist, Bannon — who is Catholic — was the executive chairman of Breitbart News, which he called a “platform for the alt-right.” That’s a movement associated with white nationalism.

During a visit to Rome a few years ago, Bannon struck up a friendship with the American Cardinal Raymond Burke, a traditionalist who has emerged as one of Pope Francis’ most vocal critics.

Bannon hired Thomas Williams, an American former priest, as Breitbart’s Rome correspondent. Williams belonged to the conservative Legion of Christ, which was roiled by scandal when it was revealed its founder had been a pedophile.

Williams recently told his own story on an Italian TV talk show: In 2003, he fathered a child, but he kept it secret until he was outed by a news report. He then left the priesthood and married the child’s mother — who is the daughter of the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, Mary Ann Glendon.

In July 2014, Bannon addressed a conference that was held inside the Vatican but was sponsored by a conservative Catholic group. Speaking via Skype, Bannon painted an almost apocalyptic vision of the state of the Western world.

“We’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict, of which, if the people in this room, the people in the church, do not bind together and really form what I feel is an aspect of the church militant, to really be able to not just stand with our beliefs, but to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting.”

A barbarity, Bannon added, that would completely eradicate “everything we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years,” and which he clearly spelled out a few minutes later: “We are in an outright war against jihadist Islamic fascism. And this war is, I think, metastasizing far quicker than governments can handle it.”

This is language that Pope Francis has never used. The pope has repeatedly urged European countries to welcome migrants — who are, in the majority, Muslim — and he has championed the rights of the poor.

A year ago, Francis criticized candidate Donald Trump for wanting to build a wall along the border with Mexico, saying, “A person who thinks only about building walls … and not building bridges is not Christian.”

But that’s not Bannon’s worldview. While most Breitbart reports on the pope have been neutral, headlines about the pope when Bannon was in charge included:

  • “Seven Ways Pope Francis Slapped Conservatives in the United States”
  • “A Vatican Expert: Pope Francis a ‘Friend of Islam’ “
  • “Pope Francis Slams Capitalism, Death Penalty, Immigration Law; No Real Mention of Abortion, Gay Marriage”
  • “Pope Francis Threatens Legacy of Pope John Paul II, Ronald Reagan”

While Breitbart and Bannon seem to be making common cause with Roman Catholics who are on the outs with this pope, these Vatican hard-liners are not very powerful.

Nevertheless, Pope Francis’ supporters inside the Vatican worry that following Trump’s election victory, the pope is a little more isolated — a lonely progressive on the global stage. They say this has emboldened his critics both within and outside the Vatican, who have become more vocal.

For example, just last week, mysterious anti-Francis posters cropped up around Rome. The photo showed the pope looking uncharacteristically very grouchy, and the unidentified author — using a Roman street dialect — accused him of acting in an authoritarian manner and showing lack of mercy, despite the fact that Francis has made “Mercy” the unofficial slogan of his papacy.

Francis has not reacted. But in a surprising move, on Sunday, he issued the very first papal blessing for the Super Bowl. It was a video message in his native Spanish — not in Italian, which he usually uses for official messages — in which he said such a sporting event “shows that it’s possible to build a culture of encounter and a world of peace.”

The Italian media labeled the message “anti-Trump.”

Complete Article HERE!

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