Vatican at crossroads in handling clergy sexual abuse cases

Pope Francis greets those who turned out to see him in Santiago, Chile, on Jan. 15, 2018.

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Pope Francis did an about-face last month and denounced the widespread coverup of sexual abuse by priests in Chile, prompting all 34 of the country’s bishops to offer their resignations.

He has said he was not receiving “truthful and balanced” information from the bishops, and on Thursday he released a letter to all Chileans declaring “never again” to “the culture of abuse and the system of coverup that allows it to perpetuate.”

The Vatican also announced the pope was sending a team of prelates to Chile to “advance the process of reparation and healing of abuse victims.”

But the pope has not revealed his plans for the church officials who ignored or actively covered up the abuse.

He faces competing demands. Prominent abuse-victims-turned-activists have demanded sweeping prosecutions under canon law, and some analysts agree that such accountability is the only way to restore public faith in the church. But one key figure in the scandal, Chilean Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz, is extremely close to the pope, and if church prosecutions stack up in Chile, Francis may find too few untainted candidates to replace the accused.

One senior Vatican official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Francis may start replacing bishops in the next few weeks.

The first to go, according to the official, are likely to be the four bishops who trained under Fernando Karadima, the Chilean priest at the center of the scandal, and have been accused of witnessing or covering up his abuse. Karadima abused scores of boys during the 1980s and 1990s and in 2011 was sentenced by the Vatican to a life of penance, banning him from public ministry to repent for his sins and pray for his victims.

One Vatican expert predicted Francis would ultimately accept the resignations of almost half of the bishops.

“To the four Karadima students, we can add four others who are over 75 and due for retirement,” said Luis Badilla, a Chilean journalist who lives in Rome and edits the website Il Sismografo, which reports on the Vatican. “That’s eight and that will happen fast, while another five or six replacements will take longer.”

Archbishop Ricardo Ezzati of Santiago celebrates Mass at the Metropolitan Cathedral in the Chilean capital on May 18, 2018.

Robert Mickens, editor of the Catholic newspaper La Croix International, said the Vatican’s ambassador to Chile was also in danger of losing his job for allegedly keeping Francis in the dark over the extent of abuse by priests in Chile.

The big question though is whether those moves will be enough to placate the victims and Chileans whose faith in the church has been shaken.

“Resignations are a good step, but that is the minimum,” said Juan Carlos Cruz, who was abused by Karadima in the 1980s and who over the last decade has emerged as a key advocate for justice. “If there is a case to respond to in canon law, I expect punishments.”

He and other activists said those punishments must also extend to Errazuriz, who was the top bishop of Chile from 1998 to 2010 and ignored reports of abuse by Karadima until the victims went public. He has been accused of actively covering up for Karadima and working to discredit the priest’s accusers.

“He is as evil as you can get, and I would like to see him punished,” said Cruz, 51, who now lives in Philadelphia and works as a brand manager for a multinational company.

In emails to Chilean Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati in 2013 and 2014, which were leaked to the Chilean press, Errazuriz refers to Cruz as a “serpent.” The emails seem to show the cardinal blocking a 2014 effort to get Cruz appointed to a papal commission on clergy abuse worldwide.

Marie Collins, an Irish abuse victim and advocate who served on the commission, also called on the pope to investigate and prosecute Errazuriz for his alleged role in the coverup.

“You can see from the emails he has no compunction in working behind the scenes at the Vatican to silence a victim,” she said.

But prosecuting Errazuriz may prove too much for the pope. The two men are close, their friendship dating to a 2007 conference of Latin American bishops that was held in Brazil. Since 2013, Errazuriz has been the pope’s right-hand man on the so-called C9 committee for Vatican reform, which Francis established to shake up the Vatican’s opaque bureaucracy.

Badilla said he expected Errazuriz would be eased off the committee when Francis next reshuffles members, though the pope may be less likely to single out such a high official for blame.

Still, the pope’s actions last month are part of a dramatic U-turn.

Francis is widely seen as a reformer working to bring the church in line with modern society, but he has long been criticized for paying lip service to combating abuse without truly understanding its pervasiveness.

In a visit to Chile in January, he accused Karadima’s victims of peddling “slander” and publicly supported Juan Barros, a Chilean bishop who faces accusations that he witnessed abuse by Karadima and did nothing to stop it.

A month later, Francis sent an investigator to talk to those victims.

In Cruz’s view, the pope realized the church was in danger of losing more followers if he failed to act.

The first indication of that came when fewer people than expected turned out for his visit to Chile. Another wake-up call came later that month when U.S. Cardinal Sean O’Malley said Francis’ “slander” accusation had created “great pain” for the victims.

After the 2,300-page investigative report was completed — its conclusions have not been made public — Francis invited Cruz and two other Karadima victims to meet with him in Rome.

Cruz said that he told Francis: “You could be the most amazing pope in the world if you stop this.”

“I think he was listening,” Cruz said.

Two weeks after the meeting, the pope met with Chile’s bishops and accused them of destroying evidence of abuse and putting church investigators under pressure to play down accusations.

Not only did that spur the bishops to offer their resignations, it also prompted calls for the Vatican to revive plans to create a tribunal within the church to punish bishops for covering up abuse. The pope dropped the plan in 2016, promising instead to beef up existing procedures for sanctioning bishops. Critics accused the pope of bowing to pressure from other Vatican officials.

In an editorial last month, the National Catholic Reporter wrote: “The shock of these mass resignations creates an opportunity and momentum that Francis should seize upon to implement the tribunal he proposed three years ago. No more delays. He should act now.”

Collins, who was serving on the papal commission investigating abuse, resigned in protest when the tribunal plans were scrapped.

She remained skeptical that the pope would act aggressively.

“If he won’t use that procedure to handle bishops in Chile, I doubt it will ever be used,” she said.

Collins pointed to Australian Archbishop Philip Wilson, who was found guilty in a civil court last month of covering up child sex abuse in the 1970s by a priest in New South Wales.

“Wilson has now been convicted but has yet to be sanctioned by the church,” she said.

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Vatican convicts ex-Guam archbishop accused of abuse

In this Nov. 2014 file photo, Archbishop Anthony Apuron stands in front of the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral Basilica in Hagatna, Guam. The Vatican said Friday March 16, 2018, it had convicted the suspended Guam archbishop, who was accused of sexually abusing minors, financial mismanagement and other charges, but didn’t say exactly what crimes he had committed.

The Vatican on Friday removed the suspended Guam archbishop from office and ordered him not to return to the island after convicting him of some charges in a sex abuse trial.

The Vatican didn’t say what exactly Archbishop Anthony Apuron had been convicted of, and the sentence was far lighter than sentences handed down against high-profile elderly prelates found guilty of molesting minors. It amounts to an early retirement anywhere in the world but Guam, a remote U.S. Pacific territory.

Apuron, 72, is just shy of the retirement age of 75.

The Vatican spokesman declined to comment. Calls placed to the tribunal judge weren’t answered. Apuron’s whereabouts weren’t immediately known, but he was in Rome last month.

Pope Francis named a temporary administrator for Guam in 2016 after Apuron was accused by former altar boys of sexually abusing them when he was a priest. Dozens of cases involving other priests on the island have since come to light, and the archdiocese is facing more than $115 million in civil lawsuits alleging child sexual abuse at the hands of priests.

Apuron strongly denied the charges and said he was a victim of a “calumny” campaign. He wasn’t criminally charged. The statute of limitations had expired.

A statement from the tribunal in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which handles sex abuse cases, said Apuron had been convicted of some of the accusations against him. It said he had been ordered removed from office and could no longer live in the archdiocese of Guam.

The conviction and sentence can be appealed. If Apuron appeals, the penalties are suspended until the case is resolved.

In the past, when an elderly or infirm priest has been convicted by the Vatican of sexually abusing minors, he has often been removed from ministry and sentenced to a lifetime of “penance and prayer.” Younger priests convicted of abuse have been defrocked, removed from ministry or forbidden from presenting themselves as priests.

Pope Francis, however, has intervened in a handful of cases to lower sentences, and there are several high-ranking prelates in the Vatican who oppose defrocking convicted molesters and have long lobbied for more lenient sentences against their brother priests.

In the case of Apuron, no restrictions on his ministry as a priest were announced in the Vatican statement.

An ailing, wheelchair-bound Apuron greeted Francis at the end of the pope’s Feb. 7 general audience.

The Catholic community on Guam has been convulsed by the Apuron scandal, with weekly protests also involving accusations of grave financial problems in the archdiocese and the purchase of a valuable property by Apuron for a diocesan seminary that he actually turned over to a controversial Catholic movement to run.

A lay group that agitated for Apuron’s removal, “Concerned Catholics of Guam,” was decisive in pushing for an investigation into the archdiocesan seminary, which Apuron opened in 1999 and moved to an 18-acre (seven-hectare) property thanks to a $2 million anonymous donation.

A Vatican-backed inquiry into the seminary found that the property’s control had effectively been transferred to the Neochatechumenal Way administrators without Vatican approval.

The seminary controversy came to a head when the Carmelite order of religious sisters revealed it had provided the $2 million donation, but said the money had been intended for an archdiocesan seminary to train diocesan priests, not a Neocatechumenal Way seminary to train missionaries.

In a remarkable 2016 news conference to denounce the transfer, Carmelite Mother Superior Dawn Marie came out of her cloister and announced that her small community of nuns had left the island after a 50-year presence because of the “toxic environment” created by the controversy.

Pope Francis gets it wrong

His defence of an accused bishop appears to put him on the side of the hierarchy against the people in the pews

‘Developments in recent weeks have cast Pope Francis’s sincerity and seriousness into question.’

It is five years since Pope Benedict XVI stunned the Roman Catholic world by announcing he would resign. His time in office had been blighted by the emergence of terrible stories of sex abuse and institutional cover-up. Even though most of these dated from the time of his predecessors, Benedict’s efforts to make things right were clumsy and inadequate to the scale of the problem. His successor, Pope Francis, seemed as if he were going to change all that as part of the openness, energy and realism that has characterised his approach. But developments in recent weeks have cast Francis’s sincerity and seriousness into question and threaten to overshadow many of the other accomplishments of his papacy.

Earlier in his pontificate, Francis had to deal with the enforced departure of one of his closer collaborators, Cardinal George Pell, who left the Vatican to face charges of historic child abuse, which he vigorously denies, in his native Australia. Several members of the church’s commission for the protection of minors, which the pope had set up, resigned in protest at the obstructionism of some parts of the Vatican bureaucracy; but these are the parts that are thought hostile to Francis, too, so he was not widely blamed for what happened.

All that changed with the pope’s visit to Chile. The church there had been convulsed by the discovery that children had been abused by an influential priest for years. It is claimed that many other priests knew or even witnessed what was going on. Among them was Juan Barros, whom Francis made a bishop in 2015 and installed in a southern diocese in the teeth of furious protests from both clergy and congregation. Bishop Barros, who denies the claims, was prominent among the bishops who received Francis on his visit: the two men were photographed embracing; and when Francis was asked on the flight back what he thought of the allegations against the bishop, he replied that they were merely slander, and that he had not seen any proof to back them up.

This was outrageous enough. He later apologised for his language, saying it must have come as “a slap in the face” for survivors. He has sent the Vatican’s chief prosecutor to Chile to reinvestigate the case. But he reiterated his belief in Bishop Barros’s innocence. Now it emerges that an eight-page letter detailing the accusations against the bishop was handed to the pope by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the man in charge of relations with survivors, who is trusted by both sides.

Either the pope failed to read the letter or he read and then discounted it. Either explanation must damage his reputation, and he has legions of enemies inside the church who want to destroy him. Most of these enemies denounce him for appealing to lay people over the heads of the priesthood, especially when it comes to sexual morality. In the case of Bishop Barros he seems to be committing a dreadful mistake by siding with the clergy and the establishment over the instincts of his flock.

Complete Article HERE!

Vatican Shines Light on Child Abuse as Claims Against Priests Persist

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!

Vatican diplomat also wanted in Canada on child porn charges

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.

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