Father Hans Zollner, one of the leading members of the Vatican committee against child sexual abuse, said on Wednesday he had resigned from the group, citing concerns over the way it was operating.
Zollner was one of the founding members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which Pope Francis established in 2014 as part of efforts against the decades-old scandal of paedophilia within the Roman Catholic Church.
His abrupt departure represents a sharp blow to its image and comes after several members resigned early on, complaining the commission had no real power and met with internal resistance.
“Over the last years, I have grown increasingly concerned with how the commission, in my perception, has gone about achieving (the goal of protecting children and vulnerable persons)”, the Jesuit priest said in a statement.
Zollner said his resignation was effective March 14. He added that he could not live with problems “particularly in the areas of responsibility, compliance, accountability and transparency”.
The vice president of the German bishops’ conference, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, has become the first Catholic bishop in Germany to resign in connection with the abuse scandal. The Vatican announced March 25 that the pope had accepted his resignation. Bishop Bode resigned over “errors made in the handling of clergy sexual abuse cases,” KNA agency reported.
The move by the bishop of the northern German Diocese of Osnabrueck was met both with respect and regret by fellow bishops. To date, Pope Francis has rejected the resignations of other German bishops over the abuse scandal, including Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Archbishop Stefan Hesse of Hamburg. The pope has yet to decide on the resignation offer submitted by Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne.
Bishop Bode, 72, said he was resigning primarily because of his own mistakes in the reappraisal of sexual abuse cases. He also said his “increasingly poor health” would prevent him from remaining in his post until he reached 75, the age at which canon law requires bishops to submit their resignation to the pope, as reported by KNA.
Bishop Bode became an auxiliary bishop in Paderborn in 1991 and was appointed bishop of Osnabrueck in 1995. He has recently pushed ahead with reforms of the German Catholic Church’s “Synodal Path” and said he wanted to swiftly implement in his diocese resolutions approved during the final assembly of the German Synodal Way March 9-11, including providing blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples and remarried divorcees. He also advocated giving laypeople and women more important roles in the Catholic Church.
Bishop Bode said the report published in September 2022 on the reappraisal of sexualized violence “once again clearly showed me my own mistakes in dealing with cases of abuse,” he told KNA. He acknowledged his responsibility as a bishop and that he had not paid enough attention to the victims for a long time. “Today, I can only ask all victims again to forgive me.”
The president of the bishops’ conference, Bishop Georg Baetzing, expressed “great regret and respect” at Bishop Bode’s resignation. “I would have liked to see you at our side in the German Bishops’ Conference for more years. At the same time, I understand your decision and the consequences it entails. From the bottom of my heart, I express my thanks and appreciation for your work, both personally and on behalf of the German Bishops’ Conference,” Bishop Baetzing wrote to Bishop Bode.
Bishop Baetzing added that Bishop Bode had taken responsibility for the “issue of sexual abuse which has accompanied us all for a long time.”
Groups representing victims were critical, however. “Bishop Bode should have resigned earlier,” Matthias Katsch of the victims’ association “Eckiger Tisch” (Square Table) told Germany’s KNA agency.
The German government’s independent commissioner for sexual abuse issues, Kerstin Claus, told KNA that it should be clear that Bishop Bode was “by far not the only Catholic functionary who has not lived up to his responsibility in this matter.”
Every Sunday, 17,000 Roman Catholic parishes in the United States hold Mass. For the most part, the service in Brownsburg, Indiana, looks and sounds like the rest.
There are songs and Scripture readings. The white-robed priest delivers the homily. The Eucharistic Prayer features the consecration of the bread and wine on the altar, transforming them into what more than one billion Catholics worldwide believe is the flesh and blood of Jesus. Then all solemnly consume the bread and wine as the sacrament of Holy Communion.
But this Mass does have distinguishing features. The creed includes an invocation not just of God and Jesus but also “the Holy Spirit, the breath of Wisdom Sophia, who energizes and guides us in building caring communities and in challenging oppression, exploitation, and injustices.” The Lord’s Prayer begins here with the words, “Our Mother-Father God, who is in heaven . . .”
And the priest is Angela Nevitt Meyer, newly ordained and the 42-year-old mother of two children. For her first official Mass as a priest, both of her kids are in attendance, along with her husband Jarrett. He is the one playing the keyboard.
In return for daring to perform the Mass, Meyer and 250 others across the world who call themselves Roman Catholic womenpriests have been automatically excommunicated by Vatican decree. (The combination of women and priests into one name derives from the German word priesterin, used in the early stages of the European movement of ordained women.) The men controlling the 2,000-plus-year-old institution say these women are attacking the Church. Meyer and the womenpriests say they are saving it.
There is evidence that their movement is gaining momentum. More than half of U.S. states have at least one womanpriest-led congregation. Many, like Meyer’s Indiana congregation, began as home churches but soon outgrew the space. Several womenpriests were favorably featured in a lengthy June 2021 New Yorker magazine profile, others in a recent BBC documentary. The Women’s Ordination Conference, which advocates for Church reform, finds hope in ongoing Church discussions to open the diaconate to women, and multiple German bishops have signaled that they are open to adding women to the priesthood. Catholic catechism features the concept of sensus fidelum, a consensus among believers on matters of faith. Consensus on women priests is not yet reached, but a trend can be observed: a Pew Research Center poll showed 59 percent of U.S. Catholics support women’s ordination as priests. Many Catholics are excited that the ongoing global Catholic synod process has yielded an official Vatican synopsis of listening sessions that acknowledges that many Catholics call for women’s ordination, an admission that some ordination advocates call a “small revolution.”
THERE ARE STRONG scriptural and historical arguments for women assuming church leadership roles. The books of the New Testament show Jesus regularly bucking the patriarchy of the day to embrace women as central to his community and ministry. The Gospel of John tells of a Samaritan woman being the first Christian preacher to the Gentiles. The most notable among the women disciples was Mary of Magdala, the first witness to Jesus’ resurrection and thus commissioned to be the apostle to the apostles.
In the Hebrew Bible, women such as Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah were considered to be prophets. The stories of the earliest Church told in the Acts of the Apostles and the epistles repeatedly depict women in leadership roles. Of course, some of that material is breathtakingly sexist. There is the assertion in 1 Corinthians 11:7 that only man is made in God’s image, and Timothy 2:11 says that “the role of women is to learn, listening quietly and with due submission.”
As feminist Catholic theologian Rosemary Radford Reuther wrote, “Catholic Biblical studies have shown that there is no valid case to be made against the ordination of women from the Scriptures.” Historians like Gary Macy and Phyllis Zagano have chronicled women playing leadership roles in early churches. “Women were ordained in the early Middle Ages,” Macy flatly concludes in his 2008 Oxford University Press book, The History of Women’s Ordination. “According to the understanding of ordination held by themselves and their contemporaries, they were just as truly ordained as any bishop, priest, or deacon.” Women performed baptisms, anointed the sick, and participated at the altar, says Zagano, a church historian and professor at Hofstra University.
But the Second Lateran Council of 1139 convened by Pope Innocent III shut the door on any debate, officially redefining the clergy as being limited to male priests. Those priests were given the sole authority to perform the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist. To justify excluding ordained women from the clergy, theologians of the eleventh and twelfth centuries created what Macy calls “one of the most successful propaganda efforts ever launched.” Paul’s letters to the early Church were reinterpreted to explain away references to women in church leadership roles. The idea that priests must anatomically resemble Jesus—imago Christi–was elevated to the highest importance. Women were formally consigned to the church sidelines.
FOR CENTURIES, THE WALL blocking most women from the clergy stood strong. Then, in the middle of the twentieth century, cracks began to appear. Most mainline Protestant denominations began to ordain women, as did Jewish denominations. Reform in the Episcopal Church USA was triggered by civil disobedience: After 11 women were illicitly ordained as Episcopal priests in the mid-1970s, their church officially opened ordination to women.
For some Roman Catholic women, this idea of full contra legum—in the Catholic’s case, directly violating Canon Law 1024, “only a baptized man can validly receive ordination”—began to seem like a possibility. They noted that the Gospel is replete with Jesus flouting unjust religious and civil laws and that the earliest Christians were by definition criminals. “We must obey God rather than men,” Acts 5:29 says. Joan of Arc famously defied church leaders, and Mother Theodore Guerin, founder of the Sisters of Providence, was imprisoned and excommunicated for clashing with a bishop. Both Joan and Guerin were eventually canonized.
So, on June 29, 2002, on a ship cruising international waters on the Danube Rover near Passau, Germany, two male Roman Catholic bishops ordained seven women as priests. The bishops’ role allows the womenpriests to assert they were ordained in Apostolic Succession, which purportedly allows current Roman Catholic clergy to trace their ordination back to Jesus’ original apostles.
Shortly after the Danube Seven took their vows, two of them—Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger and Gisela Forster—were ordained as bishops by three Roman Catholic male bishops. This act allowed the women to ordain their own, and the current 250 Roman Catholic womenpriests across the world trace their lineage from there. Mayr-Lumetzberger ordained as bishop Nancy Meyer, who in 2021 ordained Angela Meyer (no relation) as a priest.
The Danube Seven and the bishop who ordained them, Bishop Romulo Antonio Braschi, were quickly excommunicated. In 2008, the Vatican decreed that a woman who attempts to be ordained and persons attempting to ordain her are excommunicated latae sententiae—automatically, the instant they perform the act.
Compared to his predecessors, Pope Francis has struck a progressive pose on many issues. So far, women’s ordination is not one of them. “That door is closed,” he said in 2013. Instead, Francis echoes the Church’s longtime argument that women are so special that they don’t need to be ordained. “Women make their contribution to the Church in a way that is properly theirs by making present the tender strength of Mary the Mother,” he wrote in 2020.
GROWING UP IN Bartonville, Illinois, Angela Meyer became one of the first girls in her diocese to be an altar server. Then, at her confirmation in the Church, a close friend of Meyer’s posed a question to the presiding bishop at a reception following the ceremony. “What if I have a different view than the Church about whether contraception should be allowed?” the girl asked. The bishop shot her down immediately. When he articulated any view he was speaking for the Pope, who in turn was speaking for God, he said. End of discussion.
Meyer’s friend eventually took that response as her cue to leave the Church. Meyer’s reaction was different. It foreshadowed a mindset she carried with her as she continued a lifetime of attending Mass and immersing herself in Catholic communities in college and beyond, all the while carrying her great-grandmother’s rosary in her pocket. “When the bishop said that, I just thought, ‘Well, I guess I am going to have to fight you,’” she says. Later, Meyer connects her teenage reaction to the philosophy of the womenpriests movement when they confront repression by clerical hierarchy: “This is our church, the church of the people. And we will fight you for it.”
It is one fight among many that Catholics are waging within the Church. The institution is reeling from the continued revelations of a global scourge of priests abusing children, followed by church leaders further enabling the abusers and covering up the assaults. A Church-sponsored study showed more than 4,000 U.S. Catholic priests and deacons were credibly accused of abuse-related crimes during the second half of the twentieth century. Resulting lawsuits have cost the Church more than $3 billion. In the U.S. alone, 31 dioceses and orders have declared bankruptcy.
Millions of U.S. Catholics are heading for the exits. In the U.S., a full 13 percent of the adult population are former Catholics, a number far larger than the entire number of congregants for any single non-Catholic denomination. Despite the influx of Hispanic Catholics into the U.S., the overall Catholic population has sharply declined in the past few decades.
Among the U.S. Catholics still hanging in, millions are profoundly disaffected. Many Catholics disagree with the Church’s rules on birth control, same-sex marriage, and yes, the barring of women from the priesthood. A recent survey showed that less than one in four U.S. women who identify as Catholic attend Mass weekly.
Over the past half-century, the number of U.S. priests has shrunk by 60 percent, leaving many parishes without a pastor. Angela Meyer and other womenpriests make the obvious argument that opening up the priesthood to women and married men would immediately help ease that crisis. Less obvious is their desire to do so. They could easily follow the path of millions of other ex-Catholics who switched to other denominations, almost all of which would happily welcome them as clergy. In the Episcopal Church USA alone, one of every eight congregants are former Catholics.
“But I am Catholic,” Meyer says in response to the question. “To walk away from the religion that raised me feels like saying what the church leaders are doing is OK. And it is not OK.” In other words, she maintains the stance she took with the Illinois bishop of her youth: It is my Church too. And I will fight you for it.
The official position of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests is the same: “The movement ‘RC Womenpriests’ does not perceive itself as a counter-current movement against the Roman Catholic Church. It wants neither a schism nor a break from the Roman Catholic Church, but rather wants to work positively within the Church.”
That within-the-Church approach does not mean that the womenpriests adopt the same approaches to the clergy or the liturgy. Virtually all womenpriests follow the worker priest model, a necessity for a movement without a substantial financial base. Meyer is a full-time family advocate working with public hospital patients in high-risk maternity and neonatal intensive care units. Other womenpriests in her area include a physician’s assistant and a retired teacher. The morning after Gisela Forster made history as one of the ordained Danube Seven, she reported back to her job as a nurse.
Although Meyer and others are determined to claim for themselves and others the status of priests, they resist most of the trappings of clericalism and hierarchy. They point to the Gospels’ examples where Jesus scoffed at clergy taking on elitist airs. In the Roman Catholic Womenpriest governing meetings, lay members have the same vote and opportunity to speak as priests and even bishops. After most womenpriests deliver a homily at Mass, they invite the congregants to share their own views with all who have gathered. When describing this “shared homily” approach, Meyer cites John 15:15, where Jesus said, “I no longer call you servants … instead, I have called you as friends.”
Given the centrality of the Eucharist in the Catholic mass, perhaps the most democratic aspect of the womenpriest approach is that the sacred words consecrating the body and blood of Christ are not said by the priest alone. In a conscious embrace of the earliest Church practices, and rejection of the current orthodoxy that only a celibate ordained male can perform this most holy act, the community at Roman Catholic womenpriest Masses says the words together.
In further contrast to the institutional Roman Catholic Church, the womenpriest community aims to be as broad as the community at large. The Indiana church where Meyer co-pastors is called the Brownsburg Inclusive Catholic Community. Meyer’s new womenpriest bishop for the Midwest USA is a lesbian who has been with her wife for 30 years.
“Discrimination, no matter how clever the language of justification, is a sin,” Meyer said in her first homily as a priest. “By coming together today, by me standing here as an ordained priest, we are witnessing and participating in the movement of the Spirit that challenges injustice.”
In that homily, Meyer pointed out that there is plenty of historical precedent for similar movements forcing radical changes in even the most hidebound of institutions. Among those institutions is the Church, which once condoned slavery and was unapologetically antisemitic before eventually reversing itself on both counts. Ironically, one of the most compelling examples of radical Church doctrine change is the very twelfth-century switch that pushed women out of ordination and leadership roles they had held for more than a thousand years.
The Church has changed many times, Angela Meyer says, and it can change again. “For the Body of the Church, the whole self is suffering,” she said in her first homily. “The Good News is that we have the ability to sing a new Church into being, to heal and become whole. More than having the ability, we are doing it.”
This story contains details about child abuse that may be distressing to some viewers. Canada’s National Residential School Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day at 1-866-925-4419.
An order of Roman Catholic priests is picking up the legal tab for one of its own on trial for historical sexual abuse at a residential school in Manitoba.
Fr. Ken Thorson, spokesperson for Oblates of Mary Immaculate Lacombe (OMI), said his Ottawa-based order is supplying the defence lawyer for Fr. Arthur Massé.
“Yes, Arthur Massé is an Oblate priest,” Thorson confirmed in an email to APTN News. “It’s important to remember that Oblates take a vow of poverty – where they own nothing as individuals and share everything in common.
“As part of this commitment, they are provided with basic supports in retirement, even if they have been removed from active ministry.”
Thorson noted these “basic supports include legal representation, in the interest of ensuring a fair trial. We recognize that this may be unsettling to some and want to be clear that we make no assumption of innocence in fulfilling our obligations.”
Massé, 93, has pleaded not guilty to one count of indecent assault after a female student alleged he attacked her in a girls’ bathroom when she was 10 years old.
He wore his clerical collar to court and while testifying on his own behalf.
Grandmother Victoria McIntosh told court that Massé pushed open a bathroom stall door, grabbed and lifted her up, pinned her against the wall and tried to fondle her with his other hand. She said she managed to turn her head and get away while he landed a kiss on her cheek.
Massé was either an administrator or teacher at the time in Fort Alexander School on what is now Sagkeeng First Nation, located about an hour northeast of Winnipeg.
Justice Candace Grammond has said she will deliver her decision on March 30 after the two-day trial concluded March 8.
Massé told court he worked at three residential schools in Canada for OMI, which staffed 48 residential schools across Canada – more than any other religious entity. The schools were run by churches and founded, built and funded by the federal government for more than 100 years as a means to assimilate Inuit, Métis and First Nations children into western society.
An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and forced into the government’s day and residential school system. Many have alleged they were mentally, physically and sexually abused.
Only a handful of priests have been charged and convicted, something Thorson said he is aware of.
“Clergy sexual abuse is a tragedy and we apologize to anyone who has had their safety and inherent dignity offended by an Oblate,” he wrote to APTN. “We believe that any allegations of this nature should be thoroughly and transparently investigated by secular authorities. To that end, our safeguarding policy outlines mandatory reporting requirements and guidelines for cooperation with law enforcement.”
Thorson said OMI did its own investigation in collaboration with the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (monitoring committee) and Massé was immediately removed from public ministry and placed under active monitoring.
“As the legal process progresses, we will continue to cooperate with a goal of supporting those who have brought complaints forward in pursuit of justice and accountability,” Thorson added.
APTN Investigates found OMI was put in charge of 14 residential schools in Manitoba. There were 139 schools in Canada.
Investigates discovered 82 Catholic priests and nuns from OMI and the Missionary Oblates Sisters were named as alleged abusers in Manitoba residential schools, resulting in 146 lawsuits.
Court documents reveal the Fort Alexander Indian Residential School housed more than 70 alleged abusers from the 1930s to the 1960s.
Massé, who was charged in June 2022 with the one count of indecent assault, was accused of physical and sexual abuse in five separate lawsuits from 1998 to 2006.
John J. Voglio, 65, is president of Mary F. Clancy Charities, which was founded in 2000 by another former priest, John Harrington, who was also accused of sexually abusing a minor, according to the Archdiocese of New York.
Voglio frequently mingles with children and teenagers who attend charity events, a member of the organization’s board of directors told NBC News.
“He’s very good with the kids,” Madelaine Cavegn said. “They like him very much.”
Voglio does not mention on the charity’s website that he is a former priest, and he did not return several phone calls seeking comment about his activities.
Voglio has never been charged with a crime so was never required to register as a sex offender in Massachusetts, New York or New Hampshire, all places where he once worked as a priest or brother.
Cavegn, however, acknowledged that she and some of the other board members are aware Voglio used to be a priest.
“I can’t divulge any of that,” Cavegn, 88, responded when asked whether she knew why Voglio had been laicized. “But do you know that he never had a chance to defend himself?”
Cavegn described Voglio as a devoted leader of the charity.
“He’s like a missionary,” Cavegn said. “He is very involved. Before we give out any grants, he conducts all the interviews with the schools.”
Another director on the board, John Crapanzano, said “the charity is very active” and Voglio “is very much involved in the day-to-day operations.”
“We’ve diversified our activities in recent years to include a food pantry in the Bronx to help needy families,” Crapanzano, 77, said. “We also helped build a playground for the kids at a Bronx school.”
David Clohessy, a sex abuse victims advocate at the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said someone like Voglio should not be running this kind of charity.
“Credibly accused child molesting clerics, especially if they’ve been defrocked, belong in no position of power or leadership, especially one that is connected in any way with children,” Clohessy said.
Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer whose pursuit of pedophile priests was dramatized in the Oscar-winning movie “Spotlight,” said it does not surprise him that Voglio continues to be involved in activities that could allow him to remain close to children.
“Experience has taught me that it is common for credibly accused priests and religious brothers to continue to work at organizations, for instance, schools, camps, churches, hospitals, boy scouts and clubs,” Garabedian said in an email.
Voglio was a Salesian Brother at the time and working as a camp counselor, the report states.
“The fondling and oral sex went on beginning within a few days of arriving and continued to the end of two weeks,” the accuser, whose name was blacked out, said in the report.
The accuser “advised that he had not seen VOGLIO again but did received a Xmas card from him the Xmas of 1982 postmarked Ohio,” the report states. “VOGLIO spoke about going on to to become a priest with the Selesian’s (sic).”
NBC News has reached out for comment to the Salesians of Don Bosco, an international Roman Catholic religious congregation of men based locally in New Rochelle, New York. No one from the group responded.
Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, said it does not keep track of laicized priests or closely monitor donations from charitable organizations to its individual schools.
“To the best of our knowledge, Voglio has not visited any of the schools,” Zwilling said.
Voglio has also moonlighted as a “Catholic priest on call,” advertising to perform weddings through a business called “John Voglio Weddings,” according to his LinkedIn and Facebook pages.
Zwilling, after being made aware of Voglio’s side job, said the former reverend is not allowed to perform Catholic weddings.
“He is no longer a Catholic priest,” he said.
Voglio also claimed on the charity’s website that he is a “member of a local branch of the Kiwanis Club in the Bronx” and has organized “yearly fundraisers” for an organization that helps disadvantaged children around the world and is involved in youth activities.
Ben Hendricks, a spokesman for Kiwanis International, said “a thorough review of our current and past membership shows that Mr. Voglio is not, and has never been a member of Kiwanis International.”
Voglio was still a priest when he took over the leadership of Mary F. Clancy Charities, Inc., which bears the name of a New York City-area social worker who provided the “initial funds” to start the organization, according to its website.
Voglio was paid a little over $31,000 in salary and compensation by the charity, according to the latest available 990 report for the fiscal year ending in May 2020. A 990 Form is a tax document nonprofits are required to file with the IRS.
The charity, which Voglio appears to be running out of a Yonkers, New York, apartment just north of the Bronx, has nearly $700,000 in assets, the report shows. Records indicate Voglio lived at the Yonkers address and also has a home in Garnerville, a small town about 30 miles north of New York City.
Mary F. Clancy Charities claims on its website that it supports other groups that work with troubled families, but the 990 filing in 2020 does not indicate the organization gave out any grants in 2019, which it would have been required to report if it had done so.
The charity reported it held a “golf outing” and a “cigar night” that raised $39,222. But the cost of putting those together was exactly $39,222, making the net income from the two events zero.
Voglio took over the reins of the charity in 2006 from Harrington, who died three years later, according to the website. In 2011, Voglio took the private charity public “in order to be able to actively raise money to expand the scope of the foundation,” the website states.
On the website, Voglio named five groups that have received funds from his charity: Catholic Home Bureau Maternity Services; the STEPS Program of Edwin Gould; Incarcerated Mothers and their Children; Catholic Community Services of Rockland Inc.; and Rosalie Hall.
Before the Gould organization became part of another charity called Rising Ground in 2018, it received a $15,000 gift from Mary Clancy Charities in 2011 and a $5,000 gift in 2015, said Rising Ground spokesman Adam Brill.
“Since then, we’ve had no contact from Mary Clancy Charities,” Brill said in an email.