Lapsed Catholics explain why they leave church

As part of a survey to understand why they have stopped attending Mass, a few hundred Catholics were asked what issues they would raise if they could speak to the bishop for five minutes.

The bishop would have gotten an earful.

Their reasons ranged from the personal (”the pastor who crowned himself king and looks down on all”) to the political (”eliminate the extreme conservative haranguing”) to the doctrinal (”don’t spend so much time on issues like homosexuality and birth control”).

In addition, they said, they didn’t like the church’s handling of the clergy sex abuse scandal and were upset that divorced and remarried Catholics are unwelcome at Mass.

The findings, based on responses to a survey in the Diocese of Trenton, N.J., are included in a report presented March 22 at the “Lapsed Catholics” conference at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Conducted by Villanova University’s Center for the Study of Church Management, the survey, called “Empty Pews,” asked Catholics in the Trenton Diocese a series of questions about church doctrine and parish life to better understand why they are staying home.

While the study was restricted to one diocese, chances are the responses could come from just about anywhere in the U.S., where a 2007 report by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found one-third of Americans were raised Catholic but one-third of those had left the church.

Or, as Villanova’s Charles Zech put it, “These are issues that affect the whole church.”

The responses can be divided into two categories, said Zech, who co-authored the study and is director of the Villanova center. In one category are “the things that can’t change but that we can do a better job explaining.” The other category, he said “are some things that aren’t difficult to fix.”

Zech and the Rev. William Byron, professor of business and society at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, conducted the survey of 298 parishioners who have stopped attending Mass.

Almost two-thirds of the respondents were female, and the median age was 53, two facts that Zech finds troubling. “That’s a critical demographic. If we’re losing the 53-year-old women, we risk losing their children and their grandchildren,” he said.

About a quarter of the respondents said they still consider themselves Catholic despite not attending Mass. About half offered negative comments about their parish priests, whom they described as “arrogant,” ‘’distant” and “insensitive.”

“One respondent said, ‘Ask a question and you get a rule, you don’t get a “let’s sit down and talk about it” response,’” Zech said. “They feel no one is willing to explain things to them.”

Respondents also said they were troubled by the church’s views of gays, same-sex marriage, women priests and the handling of the sex abuse crisis.

Criticism of the sex scandal was predictable, Zech said. “That doesn’t surprise anybody. They did not manage that well, and they are still not managing it well,” Zech said. “It hasn’t gone away.”

The respondents also called for better homilies, better music and more accountability of the church staff.

Trenton Bishop David O’Connell, a former president of Catholic University, declined to be interviewed about the survey’s results, saying through a spokeswoman that he “needed to spend time with the findings and develop his own analysis of them.”

Though the project was undertaken to learn more about why church attendance continues to decline in the Trenton Diocese, it’s findings have broader implications, Zech said. “These are issues that affect the whole church,” he said.

Although it was an anonymous survey, about one in eight respondents said they welcomed a call from a church official and provided their names and contact information for that purpose. Many more indicated they were pleased to be asked for their input.

“The fact that they took the time to respond gives us a chance,” Zech said. “If some things change, or we do a better job of representing the church’s position, we might woo some of them back.”

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Memo: Philly parish misled about pastor’s leave

Prosecutors read dozens of confidential church documents aloud in court Tuesday to try to prove the Philadelphia archdiocese routinely buried complaints that priests were molesting children.

Monsignor William Lynn is the first Roman Catholic official in the U.S. charged with endangering children by keeping accused priests in parish work.

The letters and memos read in court Tuesday centered on now-defrocked priest Edward Avery. Avery, known as the Smiling Padre, adopted six Hmong children and moonlighted as a disc jockey at parties and nightclubs throughout his three-decade church career.

According to the documents, a medical student told the archdiocese in 1992 that Avery had molested him after a DJ gig when the priest and the high school freshman were drinking heavily at a West Philadelphia nightclub. It happened again at age 19 when the two shared a motel bed on a ski trip to Vermont with Avery’s brother, he said.

Avery denied the allegations to Lynn, but then said they “could” have happened. A four-day evaluation at a church-owned hospital showed he may be bipolar and have alcohol and psycho-sexual problems. Avery was admitted to St. John Vianney in Downingtown for nearly a year of sex therapy and mental health treatment.

Avery’s parishioners were told that their outgoing, energetic pastor was on a “health leave” but heard no mention of the abuse allegation. Lynn’s lawyer said the documents show that Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua gave those orders.

St. John Vianney never diagnosed Avery as a pedophile but said he should not be around adolescents or work as a DJ.

Lynn next recommended that Avery go to a Philadelphia parish with a tough pastor, although that parish had a school attached. Bevilacqua instead sent Avery to work as a hospital chaplain, with residency at St. Jerome’s Parish. The northeast Philadelphia parish was home to many of the city’s police and firefighters and had an elementary school.

Avery, 69, admitted last week that he sexually assaulted a fifth-grader there in 1999, forcing the altar boy to strip naked after Mass in the church sacristy. Instead of going on trial with Lynn, Avery pleaded guilty to sexual abuse and conspiracy and will serve 2 1/2 to five years in prison.

The Rev. James Brennan, another co-defendant, is fighting charges that he tried to rape a 14-year-old boy in 1999.

Lynn also chose to go to trial, insisting that he tried to address the long-brewing sexual-abuse problem when he served as secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004. Bevilacqua and other superiors quashed his efforts, defense lawyer Thomas Bergstrom argued Monday in opening statements.

The jury on Tuesday saw a 1994 list Lynn prepared that named 35 accused priests still on duty in the five-county archdiocese. Avery was on it and deemed “guilty” of the abuse. The list also shows whether the archdiocese could still be sued over each allegation.

Bevilacqua ordered that the list be shredded, although a copy survived, according to Bergstrom. Bevilacqua died of heart disease on Jan. 31, a day after he was ruled competent to testify at Lynn’s trial. He also had prostate cancer and dementia.

In 2002, a decade after the medical student came forward, his mother wrote to the archdiocese after seeing Avery at a party. He was still a priest and still working as a DJ.

“As a pediatric nurse, I must wonder who else was molested,” she wrote. “If he is anywhere near children, you have a problem.”

That year, the church sex abuse scandal erupted in Boston. Dioceses around the country agreed to review complaints in their files. In Philadelphia, those complaints were kept in secret archives in a locked room at the archdiocese. More than 60 priests had been accused since 1948. Many were still working around children.

A review board found the medical student’s complaint against the Smiling Padre credible, according to the documents shown in court. The archdiocese asked the Vatican to defrock Avery in 1993, saying he “has admitted an act of sexual abuse against a minor.” In 1995, the Vatican issued a decree in Latin, ending Avery’s 33-year church career.

The St. Jerome’s victim called the archdiocese in 2009. He said he had been raped by Avery, another priest and his sixth-grade teacher at St. Jerome’s. Defense lawyers question his credibility, given his long history of drug abuse and petty crime.

Avery reports to prison Monday.

Complete Article HERE!

Gov’t: Pa. church put reputation over kids’ safety

Prosecutors say the Archdiocese of Philadelphia engaged in a long-standing criminal effort to protect sexual predator priests, putting the reputation of the church over the safety of children.

Assistant District Attorney Jacqueline Coehlo (coh-EHL’-oh) told a jury Monday during opening statements of a landmark trial against a priest and high-ranking church official that a decades-long conspiracy met victims with skepticism “at all cost.”

Monday marked the beginning of prosecutors’ case against Monsignor William Lynn and the Rev. James Brennan.

Lynn is the first U.S. church official charged in an administrative role with endangering children. Brennan is accused of raping a 14-year-old boy in 1996.

A defrocked priest who had been a co-defendant in the case pleaded guilty to sexual assault last week.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

A landmark church sex abuse case that rocked the Roman Catholic Church went to trial Monday, marking the first time a U.S. church official faced a jury on allegations he endangered the welfare of children by covering for predator priests inside the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Monsignor William Lynn and the Rev. James Brennan entered their pleas before the jury Monday morning following a brief delay. The start of the trial came after weeks of jury selection and legal wrangling.

Attorneys for Lynn and Brennan are expected to attack the credibility of the priests’ troubled adult accusers, but that strategy took a hit last week when defrocked priest Edward Avery entered a last-minute guilty plea, confirming one accuser’s account of a brutal 1999 sexual assault inside a church sacristy.

All three priests were to be tried together before Avery pleaded guilty Thursday to charges related to an assault on a then-10-year-old altar boy.

Lynn, 61, handled priest assignments for the archdiocese as secretary for the clergy from 1992 to 2004.

He is the first U.S. church official ever charged with endangering children. Prosecutors say he failed to act to try to remove Avery and Brennan from ministry despite prior child sex complaints.

Avery agreed to serve 2 1/2 to five years in prison for involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and conspiracy to endanger a child’s welfare. He also acknowledged that the archdiocese kept him in parish work despite knowing of the earlier complaint.

Lynn remains the focal point of the trial. He faces a long prison term if convicted.

He has argued that he prepared a list of 37 accused priests in 1994 and sent it up the chain to Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua – only to have Bevilacqua have it shredded. The cardinal died this year, but his videotaped deposition could be played at trial.

The trial will be closely followed by Catholics across the country, including some who say their lives were destroyed.

Philadelphia prosecutors blasted Bevilacqua, Lynn and other church officials for hiding scores of complaints that streamed into the archdiocese over several decades. Prosecutors detailed their findings in a 2005 grand jury report but said they couldn’t charge anyone because the statute of limitations had expired.

But last year, they filed a second grand jury report based on recent complaints filed within newly expanded time limits.

Avery’s accuser said he was passed around by two priests and his Catholic schoolteacher at St. Jerome’s Parish.

“When Mass was ended, Fr. (Edward) Avery took the fifth-grader into the sacristy, turned on the music, and ordered him to perform a ‘striptease’ for him. … When they were both naked, the priest had the boy sit on his lap and kissed his neck and back, while saying to him that God loved him,” the report alleges, adding that the kissing was followed by oral sex and penetration.

Lynn could get up to 28 years in prison if convicted of two counts each of conspiracy and child endangerment.

Defense lawyers plan to argue that the accusers are out for money or hope to explain away their troubled lives. Both accusers have criminal records and a history of drug addiction.

Complete Article HERE!

Pope Mexico trip clouded by documents that show Vatican knew of Legion founder’s abuse

Pope Benedict XVI arrives in Mexico this week to a very public reminder of one of the Catholic Church’s most egregious sex abuse scandals: A new book says internal Vatican documents show the Holy See knew decades ago of allegations that the Mexican founder of the disgraced Legion of Christ religious order was a drug addict and pedophile.

The documentation has been compiled in a book “La voluntad de no saber” (“The will to not know”), which is co-authored by Jose Barba, a former Legion priest who along with other priests in 1998 brought a church trial against the Legion’s founder, the Rev. Marciel Maciel, for having sexually abused them while they were seminarians.

While details of the abuse were made public years ago in Mexico and the Spanish-speaking world, the authors aim for a larger international audience, saying they will post key documents on the Internet as part of the book release Saturday. Excerpts of the book published by Proceso magazine on Sunday received little attention in Mexico.

“The importance of this book is that it documents the irrefutable evidence and proof that the Vatican has been lying about Maciel,” said Bernardo Barranco, an expert from the Religious Studies Center of Mexico and author of the prologue of the new text.

The Rev. Richard Gill, a prominent U.S. Legion priest until he left the congregation in 2010 after 29 years, said the documents’ publication could be tumultuous for the order as the Vatican tries to steer it through a process of reform.

“The revelation of these documents, previously unknown to the great majority of Legionaries who acted in good faith, shows that there were solid grounds for the removal of Fr. Maciel more than 50 years ago,” Gill said in an email, calling anew for the Vatican to further investigate how Maciel could have hidden his behavior from public view for so long.

The question of the Vatican’s handling of Maciel and his victims has grown in the lead-up to Benedict’s arrival Friday in Mexico amid speculation that the pope might meet with some of the victims. During foreign trips to the United States, Australia, Britain, Malta and Germany, Benedict has heard firsthand the stories of sexual abuse from victims and prayed with them.

But the Vatican has said no such meeting is planned. Barba and other victims say they wouldn’t meet with Benedict anyway because of his role in the Maciel affair.

The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict, headed the office that received their complaint in 1998, but it took the Vatican eight years to sanction Maciel for the crimes — during which time the accusers were branded as liars and discredited by the Legion.

Maciel, meanwhile, continued to enjoy Pope John Paul II’s highest regard as the founder of one of the world’s fastest-growing religious orders, able to attract money and vocations to the church despite the mounting accusations against him. John Paul admired the Legion’s orthodoxy and discipline — qualities which set it apart from many other religious orders and made it attractive to many of Mexico’s political and financial elite who sent their children to the Legion’s schools and seminaries.

Benedict took over the Legion in 2010 after the order finally admitted Maciel had molested seminarians and fathered three children with two women. A Vatican investigation determined Maciel, who died in 2008, was a religious fraud who had built an order based on silence and obedience that allowed his double life to go unchecked.

Benedict’s envoy is now trying to reform the order amid charges from former members that they were spiritually and emotionally abused by Maciel’s rigid rules, the cult-like life he created and the religious vows they took preventing them from criticizing their superiors.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Barba said the book was based on information from some 212 documents in a Vatican archive that he said he had obtained from unnamed church officials.

The documentation, he said, demonstrates that the Vatican had information against Maciel as early as 1944 and particularly in the mid-1950s, when the Holy See launched its first investigation into the Mexican-born Maciel. The so-called apostolic visitation lasted from 1956 to 1958, during which time Maciel was suspended as the Legion’s superior, though he was subsequently reinstalled.

The documents “show with complete clarity that the Vatican knew the true nature of this man, the accusations, the opinion of experts, the revision of other experts on top of previous experts, and the opinions that the apostolic visitors gave,” Barba said.

Over the years, damaging documentation has filtered out largely in the Spanish-speaking world showing that Legionary higher-ups and some Mexican bishops were well aware of Maciel’s drug abuse and sexual predilections, and that at least the Vatican’s office responsible for religious orders had been alerted to the problems as early as 1956.

The Catholic blogger Cassandra Jones, for example, has cited letters sent in 1956 from the bishops of Cuernavaca, Mexico, and Mexico City to the Vatican’s office for religious orders recommending Maciel’s removal and a Vatican investigation into what Cuernavaca’s then-bishop Sergio Mendez Arceo termed, “devious and lying behavior, use of narcotic drugs, acts of sodomy with boys of the congregation.”

But “La Voluntad de no saber,” which comes out on Benedict’s first full day in Mexico, promises to compile more complete documentation from the Vatican’s own archives about Maciel’s sins. Critically, since the book is only being published in Spanish in Mexico with an initial run of 6,000 copies, the documentation will be scanned and available at a special website, organizers said.

An excerpt of the book was published over the weekend in the Mexican weekly Proceso detailing Maciel’s addiction to morphine, citing a 1954 letter by a Legion priest to the Mexico City vicar that was found in the archives of the congregation for religious orders.

The book also reproduces the 1976 letter by another Maciel victim, Juan Jose Vaca, to Maciel denouncing the years of abuse he suffered, starting when he was a 13-year-old seminarian.

The letter, which has been reproduced elsewhere in the past, is chilling reading: “For me, Father, the disgrace and moral torture of my life began that night in December, 1949,” Vaca wrote. “With the excuse of your pain, you ordered me to stay in your bed.”

Vaca named 20 other Legion and ex-Legion priests who had suffered similar abuse over the years, providing damning accusations that his diocesan bishop in Rockville Center, New York, forwarded simultaneously onto the Vatican, Vaca said.

Benedict himself has acknowledged Maciel was a “false prophet” but has insisted that he only learned the true nature of the allegations against Maciel in 2000. His office received Barba’s complaint in 1998 and the Vatican’s office for religious the Mexican bishops’ charges in 1956. But with the Vatican’s very decentralized fiefdoms, it’s not surprising that accusations that may have landed in one official’s hands were never forwarded on, especially given the sensational nature of the accusations and the esteem that Maciel enjoyed in Rome.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, ruled out any papal meeting with Maciel’s victims, saying Mexican bishops hadn’t requested it.

“Where these meetings have taken place, it was in a context in which the bishops asked the pope to do it because it was a problem felt in society and the church, and that it was something desired,” Lombardi told reporters. “In this case, it’s not on the program, so don’t wait for it.”

For their part, Barba and other victims have said they would never agree to a meeting with Benedict since it was his old office — the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — that had received their case in 1998 and sat on it for eight years while they suffered the Legion’s defamation campaign to discredit them.

“For nothing in the world would I ever meet with someone who protected Maciel when he should have been punished,” said Jose Antonio Perez Olvera, a former Legionary who was sexually abused by Maciel. “We don’t make deals with criminals, nor with those who were their protectors and accomplices.”

However, other former Legionaires said a meeting might have helped heal those who have been hurt by Maciel.

“It could have been a beautiful thing,” said Patricio Cerda, a former Legion priest who heads a Spain-based association of the order’s victims. “Because they obviously are men of a certain age, and will leave this world with this bitterness in their souls.”

But he acknowledged the wounds of Maciel’s original victims run deep: “They were denied the truth of their lives,” he said.

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic Church Historical Reversal: Backed Civil Unions In New Hampshire

For the first time ever, the Roman Catholic church is endorsing civil unions, announcing its second historic reversal in only two weeks.

The Roman Catholic church of New Hampshire suddenly endorsed civil unions on March 19, just 48 hours before a state legislature vote that has been pending for two years. In an equally surprising move, on March 4, the Roman Catholic church of Maine ceased all external opposition to this year’s full marriage equality ballot campaign in Maine.

Historically, Roman Catholic officials have opposed virtually every regulation, policy, and law proposed to protect LGBT people nationwide, including all proposals for civil unions. However, faced with the choice of either retaining New Hampshire’s full marriage law which was signed on 3 June 2009, or else repealing it and replacing it with civil unions instead, church officials decided – for the first time ever – to endorse civil unions for LGBT people.

In a statement issued on March 19, church officials claimed that they are endorsing civil unions only in an attempt to repeal full marriage for same-gender couples. They called the replacement of full marriage with the inferior civil unions an “incremental improvement.”

In lockstep, the National Organization for Marriage, a Roman Catholic church affiliate, also issued a companion surprise announcement the same day, also endorsing civil unions in New Hampshire for similar reasons. NOM was founded by Catholics, is staffed by Catholics, and appears to be mostly funded by Catholic laity and church officials. NOM’s membership rolls and finances are secret, some of its government filings are incomplete or contradictory, and it violates campaign finance disclosure regulations in every state where it opposes marriage equality.

Monday’s reversal in New Hampshire is just as profound as the decision by church officials two weeks ago to withdraw from this year’s public marriage battle in Maine. Neither decision was made independently, and both had to be coordinated with higher church officials. The Manchester Diocese, which is what the Roman Catholic church in New Hampshire calls itself, is a corporation sole and is subordinate to the Ecclesiastical Province of Boston, Massachusetts, which oversees Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

Among New Hampshire’s 1,315,809 residents, only 24% (309,987) are Catholic. Consequently, this sudden, last-minute switch by religious leaders only hours before the deadline may not have much impact upon the legislative votes being taken tomorrow. Four recent polls indicate that about 63% of all New Hampshire voters favor retaining the current full marriage law.

In addition to local impacts in Maine and New Hampshire, both of the Catholic church’s recent historic reversals may also help this year’s marriage equality efforts in 18 other states, especially New Jersey, North Carolina, and Minnesota. In New Jersey, advocates need just 15 more votes from the 120-member legislature to override the governor’s recent veto of a law which could upgrade civil unions to full marriage. In Minnesota and North Carolina, the church has been lobbying to ban marriage for all same-gender couples by amending those states’ constitutions so that marriage equality laws can’t even be considered. New Hampshire Bishop Peter Libasci gave no indication of when, whether, or how his church’s endorsement of civil unions in New Hampshire will affect church campaigns in other states.

Within its own religious ranks, Roman Catholic officials are continuing to reinforce Pope Benedict XVI’s formal view of bisexual, lesbian, and gay sexuality as “an intrinsic moral evil,” “intrinsically disordered,” and “inherently evil.” Moreover, the church still promotes the widely discredited “ex-gay” reparative therapy, which they claim cures patients of the sexual orientation that they are born with using a mixture of firm hope, additional prayer, new apparel, and/or life-long celibacy. Such reparative therapies have been discredited and denounced by every major mental/medical health professional organization as ineffective, painful, and dangerous to patients because of higher death rates from suicide.

Complete Article HERE!