Cardinal O’Malley: We have a moral and ethical responsibility to report abuse


Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston, head of the Pontifical Commission for Child Protection, speaks at a news conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome on Feb. 16, 2015. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service
Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, head of the Pontifical Commission for Child Protection, speaks at a news conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome on Feb. 16, 2015.

Catholic clergy have a “moral and ethical responsibility” to report sexual abuse, the cardinal tasked with reforming the Vatican’s approach to sexual crimes said after criticism of the Holy See.

Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley sought to reaffirm the church’s position on reporting abuse in his role as head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which Pope Francis set up in 2014.

“Our obligations under civil law must certainly be followed, but even beyond these civil requirements, we all have a moral and ethical responsibility to report suspected abuse to the civil authorities who are charged with protecting our society,” O’Malley said in a statement Monday (Feb. 15).

O’Malley’s comments followed a report that a French priest told new bishops they were under no duty to report abuse allegations to the police.

Monsignor Tony Anatrella, who serves as an adviser to the Pontifical Council for the Family and the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, made the statement during a presentation, it was reported last week.

O’Malley denied that churchmen were effectively told to ignore abuse.

“Every year at our November meeting, at a training session for new bishops, this obligation is reaffirmed,” he said, adding: “And every other February the conference runs a second training program for new bishops, which also clearly and explicitly includes this obligation.”

The pontifical commission has come under renewed scrutiny recently after one of the two victims on the panel was sidelined. Peter Saunders, who was abused as a child in Britain, is taking a “leave of absence,” the commission announced.

Saunders disputed the nature of his leave and said only Pope Francis could permanently remove him from the commission.

“A number of members of the commission expressed their concern that I don’t toe the line when it comes to keeping my mouth shut,” Saunders said on Feb. 6, describing the advisory body as “a public relations exercise.”

The second abuse victim on the commission, Marie Collins from Ireland, said she remained committed to the commission’s reform goals.

Collins did, however, raise concerns about the reaction of some within the Vatican administration to the pope’s commission.

“I feel strongly that anyone criticizing the commission is choosing the wrong target. There are many of good will in the Curia but unfortunately there are still those, at this top level, who worry more about their own fiefdoms and the threat of change than they do about the work the Commission is trying to do to protect children,” she told National Catholic Reporter on Feb. 9.

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Catholic Leaders Say Zika Doesn’t Change Ban on Contraception


As the Zika virus spreads in Latin America, Catholic leaders are warning women against using contraceptives or having abortions, even as health officials in some countries are advising women not to get pregnant because of the risk of birth defects.

The challenge posed by Zika for the Roman Catholic Church comes as Pope Francis is making his first trip to Mexico, where the virus appears to be spreading.

After a period of saying little, bishops in Latin America are beginning to speak up and reassert the church’s opposition to birth control and abortion — positions that in Latin America are unpopular and often disregarded, even among Catholics.

“Contraceptives are not a solution,” said Bishop Leonardo Ulrich Steiner, the secretary general of the National Council of Bishops of Brazil, and an auxiliary bishop of Brasília, in an interview. “There is not a single change in the church’s position.”

He urged couples to practice chastity or use “natural family planning,” a method in which women monitor their menstrual cycles and abstain from sex when they are fertile.

This is not a stance likely to win many new followers. South America happens to be the continent with the highest proportion of Catholics who already disagree with the church on abortion and birth control, according to a large international poll commissioned by Univision in 2014. Seventy-three percent of Catholics in Latin America said that abortion should be allowed in some or all cases, and 91 percent supported the use of contraceptives — a higher percentage even than in Europe or the United States.

While church leaders frequently say that doctrine is not determined by polls or popularity contests, they are nevertheless sensitive to counts of their flock. And the Catholic Church has been losing adherents in Latin America in recent decades as people leave to join evangelical and Pentecostal churches, or reject religion entirely.

Nearly 70 percent of adults in Latin America still identify as Catholic, but that is down from 94 percent in 1950, according to a study by the Pew Research Center. Much of the fall-off has occurred in just the last generation.

No Vatican department has yet issued a statement about the Zika issue, and it is not clear whether Pope Francis will address it during his trip to Mexico, where he will be until Thursday, said the Rev. Thomas Rosica, the English-language media attaché to the Vatican’s press office.

“The Vatican is very well aware of the seriousness of this issue, and the Holy Father is very aware of it,” Father Rosica said. “We’re waiting to see how the local churches in those countries respond.”

But Father Rosica said church teaching on abortion and contraception remains the same. The Zika epidemic, he said, presents “an opportunity for the church to recommit itself to the dignity and sacredness of life, even in very precarious moments like this.”

The five countries in Latin America and the Caribbean that have advised women to delay pregnancy are Brazil, Ecuador, El Salvador, Colombia and Jamaica. But access to contraception is limited throughout the region, especially for poor and rural women. Abortion is restricted in many countries, and it is illegal without exceptions in the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Nicaragua, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The Zika virus is spread by mosquitoes of the Aedes genus, but researchers have found some cases transmitted by sexual contact. Experts are not yet sure whether Zika is the cause of a sudden surge in babies born in Brazil with microcephaly — unusually small heads and, often, damaged brains. Microcephaly could lead to serious disabilities — but not always.

There is no vaccine for the Zika virus, and no cure for microcephaly. The World Health Organization this month declared the Zika epidemic an international public health emergency. The organization advised that women should have full access to a range of contraceptive options, as well as “safe abortion services to the full extent of the law.”

Many church officials are wary that the Zika epidemic will lead to the loosening of laws on abortion and contraception. Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras, who serves on Pope Francis’ nine-member advisory council, denounced the notion of “therapeutic abortions” for women carrying babies with microcephaly. He spoke at a Mass attended by the Honduran president and first lady.

“Therapeutic means curative, and abortion doesn’t cure anything,” he said, according to a report in the newspaper La Tribuna. “It takes innocent lives away.”

Cardinal Odilo Scherer of São Paulo said recently that mothers must accept babies born with microcephaly “as a mission,” and that abortion was out of the question. However, he appeared to open a door to using condoms, saying that is “personal choice” because a new life has not yet been formed.

The papal encyclical Humanae Vitae, issued by Pope Paul VI in 1968, said that artificial contraception was forbidden because sexual intercourse must always be open to procreation.

“The teaching is fairly clear that contraception is not ethically permissible,” said Christopher Kaczor, a professor of philosophy at Loyola Marymount University, in Los Angeles, and a corresponding member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life.

“That doesn’t mean a couple has to have a child,” he said, because it is possible to use natural family planning methods.

He and other Catholic scholars cited a study showing that when used properly, natural family planning is as effective as birth control pills. However, the United States Department of Health and Human Services reports that the failure rate for natural family planning is 25 out of 100 women, while for birth control pills it is five out of 100.

Other Catholic moral theologians say the church’s ban is not so clear-cut. The Rev. James Bretzke, a moral theologian at Boston College, said that some theologians interpreted a passage in Humanae Vitae as an “escape clause” that essentially permitted women to use an artificial means of contraception if it had the effect of curing or treating disease — for example, using birth control pills to treat menstrual pain or acne. Theologians could apply the same approach to the Zika situation, he said.

“My prediction is this Zika virus is going to reignite the unresolved debate that’s existed since 1968 about the moral status of artificial contraception when applied to extraordinary cases,” Father Bretzke said.

“Now we have not just an individual extraordinary case, but a situation in which these cases are extraordinary for a large group of people,” he said. “You’ve got one competing value — to have every act open to procreation — running up against another competing value — which is to protect the public health.”

The Catholic Church faced intense pressure as the AIDS epidemic spread to lift its ban on the use of condoms to help prevent transmission of the disease. Some nuns and priests who treated AIDS patients, and even the South African Bishops Conference, publicly said that the church should make an exception for married couples to use condoms when one partner tested positive for H.I.V.

Then in 2010, Pope Benedict XVI was quoted in a book saying that in some exceptional cases, when the motivation is to prevent disease rather than pregnancy, using a condom could be a “first step” towards moral responsibility. He said that this might be the case for a prostitute who uses a condom. Benedict’s remark set off widespread controversy and speculation about whether the Vatican would officially issue an exception or change to doctrine. But none came.

Complete Article HERE!

Ex-priest John Feit arrested in former beauty queen Irene Garza’s 1960 murder case

A former Catholic priest faces a first-degree murder charge for allegedly killing a onetime beauty queen who was last seen alive the night he heard her confession.

001John Feit, 83, had long been the main suspect in the 1960 death of schoolteacher Irene Garza, but he wasn’t arrested until Tuesday in Scottsdale, Arizona.

According to an indictment unsealed Wednesday, a grand jury in Hidalgo County, Texas, decided there was enough evidence to charge that Feit, “with malice aforethought, (caused) the death of Irene Garza by asphyxiation in a manner and means unknown to the grand jury.”

Garza was last seen alive the night before Easter 1960, when Feit heard her confession at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen, Texas. Five days later, searchers found the body of the 25-year-old former Miss South Texas facedown in a canal.

In 2004, a grand jury heard the case but decided not to indict Feit. Authorities haven’t released details about what’s changed since then.

“At this point I am being very careful about what information I’m giving out there,” Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez told CNN about his decision to present the case to the grand jury again, and the outcome.

“All I can say at this point is that we’ve had about a year and two months to start and look through this case,” he said. “We had the facts and evidence to proceed.”004

In a sworn statement to authorities and during an interview with CNN in 2013, Feit denied he killed Garza.

Feit told police Garza left the rectory after he heard her confession and the last time he saw her, she was standing outside the church.

‘This whole thing makes no sense’

Feit said Wednesday that he would fight extradition to Texas. He’s behind bars in Maricopa County, Arizona, where a judge set his bond at $750,000.

Feit used a walker to steady himself as he approached the podium during his first court appearance Wednesday. He told the judge he was puzzled.

“This whole thing makes no sense to me, because the crime in question took place in 1960,” he said.

Investigators came to Arizona and questioned him extensively in 2003, he said.

003“That was 13 years ago,” he said. “I’m totally puzzled by something coming up now, after the fact.”

Rodriguez said authorities will keep pushing for Feit’s extradition.

“We are working to make sure he comes back to Hidalgo County to stand trial so justice can be served and Ms. Garza’s family can have closure,” the prosecutor said in a written statement released Wednesday evening. “We will elaborate further with additional details once we have completed the extradition process.”

The case that shook a city

An autopsy determined Garza had been raped while in a coma and then died from suffocation. Near Garza’s body investigators found items that belonged to the church, including a candelabra.

One item, a metallic Kodak slide photo viewer, belonged to Feit, at the time a 27-year-old priest who was assigned to the church.

Questioned by police, Feit failed polygraph tests.

What also made police suspicious was that 24 days before the killing, Feit had been arrested for attacking another young woman at a church in a town about 10 miles from McAllen.

Feit pleaded no contest to misdemeanor aggravated assault. A judge found him guilty and fined him $500 with no prison time.


The crime shocked the people of McAllen. It was unthinkable that a Catholic priest would commit such a crime. That’s the way Garza’s cousins remember it.

“We were accusing a priest that — in those days priests were infallible, ” said Lynda De La Vina, who was 9 years old at the time.002

Another cousin, Noemi Sigler, was only 10 when Garza was killed. “It was impossible for a priest to do such a deed. I mean, if you thought of it, that would be sacrilegious.”

But Feit was the likely suspect, said former Texas Ranger Lt. Rudy Jaramillo, who started investigating the murder in 2002 when he served with a Rangers cold case unit. The evidence, he said, “suggests and indicates that that’s who it’s pointing to.”

Garza cousin: It was ‘a cover-up’

Authorities at the time protected Feit, said Sigler. “I don’t know whether it was out of respect for the church or anger or fear, I have no idea,” she said. Shortly after the killing, the church transferred Feit far away to a monastery. He would be moved to other locations over time, and about three years after the killing, the church transferred Feit to Our Lady of Assumption monastery in Ava, Missouri.

Sheltering Feit “was about protecting the church and somehow believing that the church takes care of their own,” said De La Vina. “It was the best that could have happened at that point. Because nothing else was being done.”

Sigler describes her view in more succinct terms: It was “a cover-up.”

During the next four decades, the case grew colder and eventually faded from the headlines. But the cousins kept pushing until 2002, when the Rangers and Jaramillo reinvigorated the investigation.

Hopes for solving the case were never higher when two surprise witnesses independently come forward, each separately claiming that they heard Feit confess.

But then-District Attorney Rene Guerra delayed bringing the case before a grand jury for years, saying their testimony wasn’t credible.

Complete Article HERE!

Tracing the Bishops’ Culpability in the Child Abuse Scandal


Pope Francis’ commission on the clergy’s sexual violation of children had a timely private screening in Rome last week of “Spotlight,” the Oscar-nominated film about the pedophilia scandal in Boston. The film offers the Vatican, if it will listen, an emphatic lesson in accountability. It dramatizes the decision by The Boston Globe to do more than enumerate the scope of the scandal by reporting on cases involving scores of abusive priests. The scandal was tracked up the church hierarchy to Cardinal Bernard Law, who eventually had to resign his leadership when the news media, not the church, documented his role as a protector of abusive priests.

Hierarchical accountability remains a pressing issue that the Vatican has not fully confronted in the numerous dioceses of the world where the scandal was suppressed. The pope’s 17-member commission presented fresh evidence of this failing when one of its two abuse-victim members, who had gone to the news media to criticize the slow pace of its work, was suddenly suspended on Saturday in a commission vote of no confidence.

Peter Saunders
Peter Saunders

To its credit, the commission, stressing it was only a policy body, had previously urged the pope to create a separate tribunal to judge bishops accused of shielding abusive priests. But Peter Saunders, the suspended commission member, and other abuse victims complained that there has been no progress since the tribunal’s creation last June. They were incensed as well over the pope’s appointment last year of a new diocesan leader in Chile, Bishop Juan Barros, a close associate of a Santiago priestthe Vatican found guilty of child abuse in 2011. The pope nevertheless defended the bishop and was seen on a video complaining that protesterswere “lefties” and “dumb.”

Mr. Saunders may have become an impatient and annoying dissident on a commission charged with developing advisory solutions for the problem, but he has a valid point that Pope Francis cannot afford to ignore. Regaining credibility among the church laity requires clear and timely investigation and punishment of prelates who covered up the rape of children with hush money and rotated abusers to new parishes to commit fresh crimes. “There must be consequences” for offensive church leaders, the laity panelappointed by the United States hierarchy warned over a decade ago.

Unfortunately, no effective method of accountability was devised by the wary American hierarchy, leaving the issue up to Rome. Considering his reputation as a determined reformer, Pope Francis should prod the bishops’ tribunal into action and not let the gaping need for honest and full accountability disappear into the arcane workings of the Vatican.

Complete Article HERE!

Australian paedophilia Commission gives green light to Pell testifying via video link

The Vatican Secretary for the Economy is being called to give evidence after he was accused of covering up an old abuse case. Polisca says the cardinal is unable to attend the hearing in person due to health reasons

Cardinal Pell


The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse – a commission set up by the Australian government in 2013 to investigate cases of child abuse perpetrated by priests amongst others – has accepted Cardinal George Pell’s request to testify via video link instead of making the long trip to Australia, on the grounds that he is too sick to travel. Pell, who is the former archbishop of Sydney and current Prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy, has been called to give evidence to the Royal Commission after he was accused of failing to respond to reported sex abuse cases.

A note by Justice Peter McClellan was released in Australia this morning, outlining the situation: “Cardinal George Pell, ministered as a priest in Ballarat and was, for a period of time, advisor to one of the bishops in the diocese, Mgr. Mulkearns. As part of this role, he and another advisor were responsible for giving recommendations regarding the nomination of priests in parishes and to provide more general advice on administrative questions relating to the diocese. Pell was advisor during a period when there were cases of clerical sex abuse against children in the diocese and he was present at the meetings held to discuss the nomination of at least one parish priest who was a known child sex offender. Pell then became Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Melbourne in 1987. He held that role until 1996 when he was appointed Archbishop of Melbourne. The information currently at the Commission’s disposal indicates that as Auxiliary Bishop he was responsible for areas of the archdiocese where there was at least one abusive priest serving. As an Auxiliary priest he was a member of the archbishop’s personal advisory committee and a member of the curia. During his time as Archbishop he was obviously responsible for the overall management of the entire diocese. Given Cardinal Pell’s role in Ballarat and Melbourne, the commissioners consider it imperative for Pell to give evidence and explain his actions during the periods in question. In addition to the positions he held in Ballarat and Melbourne, Pell was also Archbishop of Sydney. In Melbourne he was in charge of the Melbourne Response programme and he gave evidence when it was examined in a case study. The case involving John Ellis was discussed when Pell was Archbishop of Sydney and the latter gave evidence on this case and on the functioning of the “Towards Healing” programme run by the Archdiocese of Sydney. The commissioners are now asking for Cardinal Pell’s assistance on questions that are different from those he has already testified on.”

“When Pell testified before the Royal Commission he was living in Sydney. The second time, when the Melbourne Response programme was examined, it was agreed that he could give evidence via video link from Rome, where he now resides. The testimony he will be required to give in the upcoming hearings will be more extensive than in the past.”

“At the hearing in Melbourne on 11 December last year, a representative of Cardinal Pell’s said that given his current state of health the cardinal had been advised not to undertake long journeys by aeroplane and for this reason the cardinal asked to give evidence via video link. The commissioners did not have access to this request,” Justice McClellan continued. ‘I said: given the complexity of the issues in question and the fact that the Commission is looking at two case studies that cover an extensive period of time, not to mention the technical complications that arose during the last testimony the cardinal gave via video link from Rome, it would be preferable if he were in Australia to give evidence in person.’ In the hope of an improvement in the cardinal’s health, we have set aside other considerations regarding the procedure to follow.”

“After the question was examined in December, I was told that the technical problems witnessed last time have been resolved and the video link from Rome should be satisfactory. However, bearing in mind the other questions I mentioned, it would be preferable, though not essential, for Pell to go to Australia to testify in person.”

“Mr. Myers, Pell’s representative, renewed Pell’s request to give evidence via video link from Rome. To support the request, he provided a medical report prepared by Patrizio Polisca, director of complex care emergency medicine at Tor Vergata University Teaching Hospital in Rome, dated 29 January 2016.”

Until last July, Polisca served as the Pope’s doctor. “The report confirms the evidence previously before the Royal Commission and indicates that Cardinal Pell is suffering from hypertension (for which he is being treated), ischemic heart disease, complicated by a previous myocardial infarction, cardiac dysfunction related to the arterial hypertension and previous ischemia and some other issues not of immediate relevance.”

“The professor concludes his medical report as such: ‘All the above mentioned functional and clinical changes have a negative synergistic effect with regard to your cardiovascular and respiratory functional capacity, in particular when going on a small walk on [sic] even slight physical exertion, when preparing to spend prolonged periods in a depressurised environment (airplane flight), with consequent relative haematic hypoxia and increase in blood pressure. Due to that outlined above, the undertaking of a long journey could induce an episode of heart failure and were this to occur during a flight it would also be difficult to treat. In conclusion, the clinical problems which Your Eminence presents therefore make it difficult for you to undertake a flight to Australia, which could entail serious risks to Your health.”

In response to the report, the commission published the following note: “Although people with the conditions that Cardinal Pell has may fly long distances it is apparent from the medical report that in the case of Cardinal Pell there is a risk to his health if he undertook such travel at the present time. Having regard to the nature of his ailments it could not be expected that his health is likely to improve and remove those risks. Although it would be preferable if he gave evidence in Australia, when the alternative that he give evidence by video link is available the Commissioners are satisfied that course should be adopted.”

As there will not be time for the Cardinal to give his video testimony during the Ballarat hearings, it will be postponed until Monday 29 February, when the Commission will be sitting in Sydney. The testimony is expected to take up three sessions. The staff of the commission will discuss the exact times with Pell’s representatives, taking into consideration the time difference.

Paedophilia victims mentioned the cardinal’s name on a number occasions in past hearings. They claim he ignored and even covered up incidents of abuse committed by priests for decades, allowing their transferral from one parish to another. Pell has consistently declined and denied these allegations.

Complete Article HERE!