Hold Your Applause

— Potential Changes to Roles of Catholic Women and LGBTQ+ People May Just Be Vatican Breadcrumbing


The Southern Baptist Convention stole headlines from the Vatican this season when the nation’s largest Protestant denomination recently finalized the expulsion of two congregations for having women serve as pastors. One of the two is the mega Saddleback Church whose founder and longtime pastor Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life, supports women in roles of spiritual leadership. Backlash against women isn’t reserved for the Supreme Court. The Vatican ought to send the SBC a thank-you note for distracting attention from its actions, or lack thereof, regarding women.

Catholicism has neither an assembly to vote congregations out, nor any women in approved priestly leadership to expel. Parishes are simply closed by bishops, often related to bankruptcy proceedings to minimize payments to settle abuse cases. Moreover, while the SBC discriminates against women pastors, Roman Catholic women priests of various stripes are excommunicated upon ordination, so that’s that.

Meanwhile, the Catholics who remain keep mucking their way in what’s called a “synodal process,” a kind of worldwide, general conversation about church topics, including the sticky wickets of women’s ordination and LGBTQIA+ full participation. Local and continental consultations will culminate in a Synod of Bishops in October of 2023 and another session in October of 2024. Several hundred bishops and a few lay people will develop suggestions to “submit to the Holy Father,” (IL par.10) who, unsurprisingly, has the final say on what comes next.

In plain English, what’s called the Synod on Synodality, an infelicitous phrase if ever one were hatched, is an ecclesial effort that retrains sights on Rome as the locus of decision-making, albeit with flowery rhetoric about the Holy Spirit and some claim to local input. The process maintains a clear distinction between lay people and clerics, reinforces the myth that persons in religious congregations are not lay people, and leaves all the final decisions in papal hands.

Some people have found it a useful framework for raising important questions—notably some Germans who have progressive views and the money to make them stick. However, many bishops around the world took a pass on the whole thing. The Synod budget is minuscule if existent at all; apparently the Holy Spirit’s isn’t a union shop.

The Synod texts, including the recently released Instrumentum Laboris or “working instrument,” read as if written by committees, which they were. The IL isn’t a working draft to be refined by the end of the process. That would grant issues like women’s ordination to the diaconate and presbyterate, and the full rights (not only the recognition) of LGBTQIA+ persons subject to change. Rather, the Synod seems designed to simply acknowledge the hot-button issues, a minimalist result at best, with no clear mechanism and less promise to do anything about them. The exception proves the rule.

Cue the brass band to herald the papally approved decision to include 70 non-bishops, half of whom are to be women, as voting members of the Synod. This is the first substantive structural change for women in Roman Catholicism perhaps since Mary gave birth to Jesus. Leaders of many progressive groups understandably praised the move. There’s also a provision to change the usual number of 10 men from religious congregations who can vote in synods to five women religious and five men religious. Why they’re somehow in a different category than other lay people remains unclear, but this counts as progress.

Nathalie Becquart, a French woman and a member of the Congregation of Xavières, was named an undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops making her the first woman eligible to vote in a Synod of Bishops. This is in stark contrast to Vatican II when women were “auditors”—listeners without vote—a term which now has gone the way of all flesh. There’s undeniable progress in the metrics even if there’s no significant change in structure.

Oddly, the name “Synod of Bishops” is preserved despite the fact that other people are now voting. Apparently, there’s some Alice in Wonderland-reasoning involved (lest anyone suggest the bishops are not still in charge). Or maybe they plan to name those who vote as bishops. Doubtful. Or, maybe this is a one-off thing that opponents will be sure doesn’t happen again after Francis is out of the picture. What’s gained by such a misnomer remains obscure.

Despite the enthusiasm of many of my progressive colleagues, I’ve had an uneasy feeling about the whole synod process. Enthusiasm is a polite reinforcer, a way to encourage more such changes. But I fear praise may be a bit premature for living generations. Incrementalism in Catholicism is measured in centuries. Most of us live less than a hundred years. The damage to women and queer people is going on right now.

I shared my unease with my Australian colleague in the study of religion, Tracy McEwan, who gave words to my concerns. McEwan, along with Kathleen McPhillips and Miriam Pepper, co-authored the landmark study of 17,200 plus Catholic women that was fed into the Synod conversation. The International Survey of Catholic Women: Analysis and Report of Key Findings is an important read. Results highlight that even women who are very critical of the church value their Catholic identity; there’s general consensus around the need for reform; the centrality of abuse in its many forms is a major concern; and that there is a stark rejection of clericalism in every form, with an expectation of transparency and accountability of those in leadership.

Tracy clued me in to the term “breadcrumbing” as a way to see the dynamics at play in a patriarchal church largely resistant to change. Breadcrumbing means giving just enough affirmation to keep people involved while suggesting more interest than is really there. It’s used mostly in personal situations but it feels like what’s going on with the Synod.

The term refers specifically to hookups, or what we called dating in my youth. Breadcrumbing is a cousin of ghosting. Let’s say someone asks you out. You have a nice dinner and whatever you decide to do afterwards, then you part on good terms until the next time. You had fun and want some more. Your efforts to prompt another get-together are ignored or rebuffed. The other person doesn’t respond immediately. When they do, it’s without much enthusiasm or commitment. You eventually go out again. Same deal—a good time is had but it’s all quite minimal and on their terms. You hope you can change that. But the pattern repeats a few times, maybe with a little longer between meetings. Still, you harbor hope and interest. You are being breadcrumbed.

Breadcrumbing is what the Vatican does to people whom it marginalizes. For example, at first a single nun, Natalie Becquart, was made a part of the Synod staff with voting privileges. That gave hope to many. Now, once they’re approved by Francis, at least 35 women (non-binary people are far from Vatican radar) will vote along with several hundred bishops. Again, more enthusiasm. These crumbs, like the mere mention of marginalized people in the documents, feed the hunger of those who want to be involved. Women’s ordination and LGBTQIA+ work in Catholic circles each has a 50 year history of struggle and then some.

Consider this framing of the matter of co-responsibility in the IL: Under consideration is not full and equal membership of all persons, but “the promotion of the baptismal dignity of women, the role of the ordained Ministry and in particular the ministry of the Bishop within the missionary synodal Church” (par. 55). A simple gender analysis would quickly reveal that women are consigned to the service sector (by baptism), not the sacramental or decision-making ranks that are for men only. In other words, women can serve but men preside, decide, and proscribe.

Or, try this false juxtaposition in the IL: “In particular, does authority arise as a form of power derived from the models offered by the world, or is it rooted in service?” (par. 57). It’s as if the Church were without power struggles and as if no social models were rooted in service. Wrong on both counts. A path to women deacons is hinted at here but not women priests. I’m reminded that Hansel left a few breadcrumbs but that he and Gretel were foiled by hungry birds. So it goes.

Breadcrumbing works like other forms of intermittent reinforcement, and it works quite well. While some people still think the diaconate is a step toward priesthood because it has been for some time, others are persuaded that it’s a separate thing altogether—especially now that women are involved. Whoever turns out to be right (history suggests it can be both), the mere hint of women as deacons is enough to keep some people “wishin’ and hopin’” as the song goes.

Another example: there are two paltry mentions of LGBTQ+ people in the IL that have given hope to many. Two is more than zero, but not by much. Also to the good is that finally the Vatican has cleaned up its language, referring to people by the terms they choose for themselves rather than persisting in dated words like ‘homosexual.’ This seems to be a bar so low it’s hardly a bar at all. But it is something.

The first mention, “The desire to offer genuine welcome is a sentiment expressed by synod participants across diverse contexts” (B1.2), refers in part to LGBTQ+ people who’ve been marginalized. But there’s no suggestion that teachings, practices, or injustices will change. In other words, come and be welcome on the institution’s terms but do not expect your relationships to be blessed, much less sacramentalized, and prepare that your children will probably be stigmatized.

Likewise, the second LGBTQ+ mention is in the form of a question about what “concrete next steps are needed to welcome those who feel excluded from the Church because of their status or sexuality?” (B1.2). Eliminating the theology about queer sex as “morally disordered,” affirming same-sex marriage, and supporting (not thwarting) trans people in their quest for wholeness would be a modest but credible start. No breath-holding here.

The Vatican is going to have to up its game to claim any credibility given its clergy sexual abuse and legal wranglings. The Synod is an attempt to do that. 2022 ended with the death of Pope Benedict XVI, two days after the demise of Brazilian soccer great Pelé. Four times the number of people attended Pelé’s funeral as showed in St. Peter’s Square for the former Cardinal Ratzinger. His influence spanned three pontificates—the later years of John Paul II’s tenure under whom Benedict was in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and later Dean of the College of Cardinals, his own pontificate from 2005-2013, and the first decade of Francis’ pontificate when Benedict resigned, became emeritus, and cast a large and often influential shadow.

Francis has had his own health challenges of late. Rumors of his retirement persist. The whole synod process could end with him if his successor chooses. That’s how shaky this process is unless there’s structural change. A more democratic process would help, but note that the Southern Baptist Convention did its dastardly deeds at a meeting of 10,000 delegates. Oy vey, religion.

The Synod is considered the most significant global Catholic event since Vatican II. I predict, with the fervent hope that I am wrong, that come 2025, when all of this is over, many women and queer people may wonder why they bothered. Some may decide not to take the breadcrumbs anymore and instead bake and share their own loaves. People are hungry now.

Complete Article HERE!

Storied Baltimore Catholic family sues archdiocese, says sexual abuse led to death

— Francis X. Gallagher Jr.’s father founded a law firm that still represents the Baltimore Archdiocese in sexual abuse matters. Now, his children say church officials mishandled his own clergy sexual abuse claims.

Flannery Gallagher looks at a childhood photo of her father, the late Francis X. Gallagher Jr., at a news conference announcing a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Baltimore and St. Mary’s Seminary on Tuesday in Baltimore.


For more than 60 years, the name Francis X. Gallagher has been linked prominently in Baltimore with the Catholic Church. The late Gallagher Sr. in 1961 founded an influential law firm that represented the Baltimore Archdiocese and does so to this day; his name adorns Catholic institutions in the city, his face smiles from black-and-white photos with a pope on one side, a cardinal on the other.

But behind closed doors, his grandchildren now say, Catholic institutions destroyed the Gallagher family through clergy sexual abuse, neglect, coverup and shame.

In a wrongful-death lawsuit filed Tuesday in Baltimore Circuit Court, two of Gallagher Sr.’s adult grandchildren allege that their father, Francis X. Gallagher Jr., a successful city lawyer, banker and philanthropist, was sexually abused as a 14-year-old in 1974 while he worked the night shift as a receptionist at St. Mary’s Seminary. The suit claims that the alleged abuse, along with the mishandling of his allegations by the archdiocese and its lawyers at Gallagher, Evelius & Jones, emotionally wrecked Gallagher Jr., who began using drugs and overdosed last August at the age of 62.

His daughter, D.C. lawyer Flannery Gallagher, at a morning news conference described how her father remained a devout, generous Catholic to the end of his life, even as the archdiocese and the firm that bore his father’s name allegedly failed him and other victims over the decades.

“He was a favored son of the city of Baltimore. He loved it. But beneath the public affect were untold levels of personal anguish and pain. Our father’s trials were overwhelming and overwhelmingly unfair and undeserved. His shame belongs to the defendants, so today we hand it back to them,” she said, surrounded by poster boards with photos of her father as a child and with her at her college graduation, as well as images of her esteemed grandfather, who died at age 43.

“Given our close relationship to the leadership of the Catholic Church, it would seem we’d be spared, but we weren’t,” she said. “We love our dad, and we miss him. There are countless people in our community and across the country who suffer because of the horrific scourge in the church. We honor and stand with them.”

In a statement Tuesday, the archdiocese wrote that it was “just learning of the pending litigation and cannot offer a response at this time. The Archdiocese offers its deepest sympathies and prayers for the family.”

Gallagher, Evelius and Jones did not respond to a request for comment.

The suit levels three charges of wrongful death against St. Mary’s Seminary and University; the St. Sulpice Foundation, the religious order that runs the school; and the archdiocese.

Attorneys for Flannery and Liam Gallagher say they have not yet set a dollar amount in the suit. They also said they are considering whether to add the law firm that bears their name to the suit.

Flannery Gallagher said she and her brother learned about their father’s alleged abuse in the 2000s. At the same time, Francis Gallagher was reaching out to church officials about his abuse claims. It wasn’t until he died last year and his children went through his documents that they saw his exchanges with the archdiocese. In them, their father recounted his alleged abuse and implored officials to let others know of the man he identified as his abuser.

The man Gallagher named, the Rev. Mark Haight, is listed on the archdiocese’s compilation of clergy credibly accused of abuse. Efforts to reach Haight on Tuesday were not immediately successful.

The complaint and letters shared with The Washington Post show a 43-year-old man spiraling as he confronted his alleged abuse. He had begun “risky extra-marital sexual encounters with men,” the complaint describes. His family discovered it in 2000, which led him to disclose the alleged abuse to them and to seek help at the Johns Hopkins Sex and Gender Clinic.

He reached out in April 2002 to Baltimore Auxiliary Bishop William Francis Malooly — who later became bishop of Delaware — and the Rev. Patrick Carrion, associate director of clergy personnel, to discuss Haight, whether others had been abused and if he was still in a position to offend.

“One of my many regrets is that it took me 28 years to come forward. The thought that my silence on this matter could have contributed to others being abused is something that I will have to live with forever. I would therefore like to gain some understanding on a number of matters,” an April 29, 2002, letter to Malooly reads.

“Neither official offered answers,” the complaint says of Malooly and Carrion.

Messages left for both men weren’t immediately answered Tuesday.

Knowing that Haight was based in the Albany, N.Y., diocese, Gallagher then contacted Bishop Howard Hubbard there. According to the complaint and a letter Gallagher sent to Cardinal William Keeler, Baltimore’s then-archbishop, in June 2002, he learned from Albany that Haight had abused other children in that area and that Haight’s history “was not disclosed to any of the parishes in which he was assigned and no authorities were ever notified of Haight’s crimes.”

>A message left Tuesday with Hubbard’s attorney was not immediately returned.

In the letter to Keeler, Gallagher said he contacted Albany because, he alleged, no one from the Baltimore Archdiocese was doing so.

“It was with great disappointment that I realized it would fall to me to have to make the direct inquiries to Albany,” he wrote.

In a May 2002 letter to Hubbard, according to the complaint, Gallagher wrote that by not taking more action, “the Church is continuing to visit injustice upon me, upon the victims who have come forward and upon the others who I am certain continue to suffer silently in unimaginable ways. This is both shameful and cruel.”

According to the Diocese of Albany’s website, Haight had been removed from ministry in 1996.

In July 2002, according to the complaint, Gallagher wrote in a letter to St. Mary’s Seminary President Robert Leavitt how upset he was about the archdiocese’s response and said the seminary “has demonstrated not the slightest expression of apology, let alone acknowledgement” of the situation. Doesn’t the idea of other victims suffering, Gallagher wrote Leavitt, “haunt you the way it haunts me?”

The complaint alleges that the archdiocese “threatened” Gallagher as he pressed for it to include Haight’s name on its then-new list of priests and seminarians credibly accused of abuse. If they added Haight, the complaint alleges, they would also add Gallagher’s uncle, the Rev. Joe Gallagher — one of the priests or seminarians later deemed “credibly accused” of youth sexual abuse. Gallagher told the church to publish both names, the complaint says.

The archdiocese added Haight’s name to its public list of clergy credibly accused of abuse in September 2002.

Lawyers for the siblings said Tuesday that they were unable at the moment to share any correspondence that church representatives or law firm members sent to Gallagher Jr. in response to his entreaties about Haight.

The Gallagher family’s lawsuit alleges that the church harmed the family early on. When their famous grandfather died in 1972 of a heart attack, he was representing priests of the archdiocese accused of antiwar activities in a high-profile trial. It alleges that the firm, “while making millions from Frank Sr.’s relationships and reputation,” gave virtually no financial support to his widow and five young children, who struggled to make ends meet.

It was that financial situation that led Frank Jr., then 14, to take the night receptionist job at St. Mary’s Seminary, where he was allegedly abused.

On the complaint Tuesday, the archdiocese listed as its attorney Gallagher, Evelius & Jones.

Complete Article HERE!

Knoxville Bishop Richard Stika resigns amid lawsuits and internal crises

— Richard Stika, the polarizing bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Knoxville, has retired amid a crippling scandal of his own making, the diocese announced June 27.

Knoxville Bishop Richard F. Stika enters through the front doors at the Mass and Rite of Dedication of the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in Knoxville, Tennessee on Friday, January 1, 2016. After nearly three years of construction, the 28,000-square-foot domed cathedral opened to a noon mass attended by more than 1,000 people.

By Tyler Whetstone

Stika will leave the diocese, carved out in 1988 from the Diocese of Nashville, as its longest-serving bishop. He oversaw significant growth in membership in the church and led the construction of a massive new cathedral in Knoxville. The diocese serves about 70,000 Catholics in 50 parishes and one mission across East Tennessee.

Stika also, however, leaves under a cloud of mismanagement accusations, two explosive lawsuits against the diocese that have sullied diocesan leadership, and questions about his mentorship of a former seminarian who is accused of raping a former church employee.

Stika, just a week shy of 66, submitted his resignation to Pope Francis. Bishops almost never leave before the mandatory retirement age of 75 years old, and even then the pope frequently allows them to stay on.

“I recognize that questions about my leadership have played out publicly in recent months,” he said in a statement. “I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit that some of this has weighed on me physically and emotionally. For these reasons, I asked the Holy Father for relief from my responsibilities as a diocesan bishop.”

Stika’s exit was welcomed by a substantial number of East Tennessee Catholics who have raised alarm with high-ranking church officials about the bishop’s leadership. Many have wondered whether the Vatican was paying attention.

Most recently, Knox News has uncovered the following:

In November 2022, the diocese received an apostolic visit, where high-ranking church leaders came to Knoxville and conducted an investigation to learn more about the two lawsuits against the diocese over its handling of sex abuse allegations and complaints about the leadership of Stika.

An apostolic visit is a rare step to address concerns in a diocese, and it required approval by the highest levels of the Catholic church, likely the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C., or the Vatican in Rome, experts told Knox News.

Bishop Richard Stika led the Catholic Diocese of Knoxville through good times, but also through a myriad of problems of his own making.
Bishop Richard Stika led the Catholic Diocese of Knoxville through good times, but also through a myriad of problems of his own making.

The apostolic visit was likely a response from the Vatican after it received complaints about Stika through the process called “Motu Proprio Vos Estis Lux Mundi,” or simply Vos Estis, canon law experts told Knox News. That process was created by Pope Francis in 2019 as a way for clergy and others to report allegations against bishops. There was previously no such process.

Hundreds of parishioners – in Chattanooga and Knoxville – have petitioned church officials in recent years asking for relief.

A diocese recently asked the judge overseeing the lawsuit by the former church employee to keep any Vos Estis documentation protected under seal. The judge ruled against the diocese, saying in part, “This motion is not well-taken.”

David Clohessy, former executive director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, told Knox News that Stika should have been ousted, not allowed to retire.

“We are grateful to the courageous victims, witnesses, whistleblowers, advocates and concerned Catholics who all helped to expose his wrongdoing,” Clohessy said in an email to Knox News. “And our hearts ache for the survivors who have been so severely harmed by him and for the innocent children and vulnerable adults who have been in harm’s way because of him.”

The diocese announced the Pope has appointed Louisville Archbishop Shelton Fabre, who already oversees the diocese, as the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Knoxville. He will serve until the appointment and installation of a new bishop.

St. Louis to Knoxville

Stika was named bishop of the Knoxville diocese in January 2009. He came from St. Louis, where he served in the archdiocese’s Office of Child and Youth Protection and, according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, was one of the first ministers to meet with victims of clergy sexual abuse.

He has been a divisive figure for years. Upon his appointment in Knoxville, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests released a statement claiming Stika “has repeatedly shown a penchant for secrecy, recklessness and half-truths.”

Some of the priests of the Knoxville diocese have been asking the highest reaches of the Catholic Church in America to take action against Stika. In 2021, 11 priests signed a letter to Archbishop Christophe Pierre at the Apostolic Nuncio in Washington, D.C. asking him to intervene. Their complaints were varied but centered, generally, on Stika’s handling of the lawsuit against the seminarian and other behavior they believed was inappropriate for a bishop.

Bishop Richard Stika's stance on the New York's abortion law gained national attention in 2019 when he said on Twitter that the state's Catholic governor should be exommunicated.
Bishop Richard Stika’s stance on the New York’s abortion law gained national attention in 2019 when he said on Twitter that the state’s Catholic governor should be exommunicated.

The priests’ complaints included the following allegations:

  • The bishop said on a few occasions that he has spoken to the apostolic nuncio, who told him not to worry about reports from the priests to (then-)Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, since there are “only two disgruntled priests who complained”, and that Kurtz and the apostolic nuncio had determined that the reports were without merit.
  • The bishop said on a few occasions, in public and in private, that the apostolic nuncio assured him there would be no investigation into his handling of the seminarian in question.

Then there are the examples, the priests allege, of Stika’s inappropriate behavior.

  • They allege the bishop and the seminarian traveled together in the summer of 2021, as shown in a video on Facebook.
  • The bishop lifted the soutane (robe) of a priest, as both were standing in a public place, to determine whether the priest was wearing undergarments.
  • During the exhumation of the mortal remains of a priest with an open cause for sainthood, the bishop made repeated remarks about the clearly evident pubic hairs of the departed priest, remarks that spread widely among the faithful.
  • The bishop mentioned, in the presence of women, that a priest’s facemask reminded him of a woman’s bra. Stika then asked the priest what the “cup” size was.

Stika promised transparency when he arrived

Bishop Richard Stika blesses the new St. Gregory the Great Auditorium at Knoxville Catholic High on April 25, 2022. The new 13,500-square-foot performing arts center features 375 seats, full theatrical lightning, a green room and a scene shop. It hosts school events such as plays, musicals, band concerts and ceremonies.(Photo: Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel )
Bishop Richard Stika blesses the new St. Gregory the Great Auditorium at Knoxville Catholic High on April 25, 2022. The new 13,500-square-foot performing arts center features 375 seats, full theatrical lightning, a green room and a scene shop. It hosts school events such as plays, musicals, band concerts and ceremonies.

Stika’s brash treatment of naysayers and his critique of the press weren’t evident in his early days at the diocese when he promised transparency and the importance of good relations with the media.

After a man came forward with allegations against an East Tennessee priest in 2010 – just over a year after Stika began his time here – the bishop called a 26-minute press conference at which he answered every question.

“As the bishop of this diocese, I want to assure everyone that we’re as transparent as possible,” he said. “We want people to know that this happened. We’re going to deal with it.

“I just want to assure people that if another case is reported and it’s credible, I’ll do the same thing,” he continued. “We’re going to follow our policies on our website.”

In the 2010 case, the priest, William Casey, admitted the abuse, which took place between 1979-80 when the victim was 10 years old. The following year, Casey was sentenced to a 40-year prison term for first-degree criminal sexual conduct and two counts of aggravated rape.

Stika: Health concerns played a role

Stika said his health, which has been up and down in recent years, was the main reason he submitted his resignation.

“People will speculate on why I am doing this. It is no secret that I have been dealing with life-threatening health issues most of my adult life,” he wrote.

Shortly after arriving in Knoxville, Stika was hospitalized with a serious illness during a trip to South Florida. He spent a day and a half on life support and a week in the cardiovascular intensive care unit, according to Knox News’ archives.

Long a diabetic, Stika said the illness was diabetic ketoacidosis, a severe drop in insulin storage. The episode caused a mild heart attack.

In December 2018 Stika had open heart surgery to place a stent an artery that was 99% blocked, he said at the time.

He was recently hospitalized again, but he did not say why.

Lawsuit details allegations of rape

John Doe was a placeholder name in the lawsuit to protect the identity of a former church employee who alleged a diocesan seminarian raped him. Doe has since been forced to refile his lawsuit under his legal name.

Knox News still refers to him as John Doe to protect his identity as an alleged victim of a sexual assault, and has not named the former seminarian because he has not been charged with a crime.

The lawsuit also details how the church, led by Stika, interfered with the investigation and worked to discredit him. Knox News independently verified the interference, which led to the firing of an independent investigator.

The Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, 711 Northshore Drive, in Knoxville, Tenn., on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023.(Credit: Calvin Mattheis/News Sentinel)
The Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, 711 Northshore Drive, in Knoxville, Tenn., on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023.

Jane Doe is a placeholder name in a lawsuit to protect the identity of a woman, a Honduran asylum seeker living in Gatlinburg, who alleges the Rev. Antony Devassey Punnackal, of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, groped her while he counseled her after the death of the father of her infant.

The woman alleges the diocese worked to discredit and intimidate her. Punnackal was later indicted by a Sevier County grand jury on two counts of sexual battery. His criminal trial begins in May.

The Catholic Diocese of Knoxville asked a judge to allow it to keep secret internal documents as it continues to defend itself. The judge denied the request.

The diocese, citing ongoing coverage by Knox News, requested the protection of materials related to the church’s sexual abuse review board and from “private meetings of priests of the Diocese.” The diocese also refiled a request to protect investigative documents related to complaints filed against Stika.

History of troubled bishops

The Knoxville diocese was created in 1988, carved out by Catholic leaders from the larger Nashville diocese. It is one of the newest in America and comprises roughly 70,000 Catholics.

Bishop Anthony O’Connell was the first bishop here and he served from 1988 until 1998, when he became the bishop of Palm Beach, Florida. While there he admitted to sexually abusing high school students in previous decades while working in the Jefferson City, Missouri diocese. The admission led to his resignation in 2002. He died in 2012.

Complete Article HERE!

A New Orleans priest confessed to abusing children.

— He returned to work and was never charged

Archbishop Gregory Aymond said the archdiocese of New Orleans ‘is taking every step possible to protect children’.

It wasn’t until similar abuse allegations came to light in Boston that Lawrence Hecker was quietly retired in 2002


Three days after the Feast of All Saints in 1999, Lawrence Hecker confessed to his superiors at the archdiocese of New Orleans that he had either sexually molested or otherwise shared a bed with multiple teenagers whom he met through his work as a Roman Catholic priest.

The roughly 15-year period, beginning in the mid-1960s, during which the admitted conduct unfolded “was a time of great change in the world and in the church, and I succumbed to its zeitgeist”, Hecker said in a two-page statement which he gave to local church authorities serving a region with about a half-million Catholics. “It was a time when I neglected spiritual direction, confession and most daily prayer.”

Hecker’s admission – less than two months after he had been chosen to receive the honorary title of “monsignor” – followed the decision of one of his victims to come forward to the archdiocese. The organization responded by sending Hecker to an out-of-state psychiatric treatment facility which diagnosed him as a pedophile who rationalized, justified and took “little responsibility for his behavior”.

The facility also determined that Hecker – despite the vow of celibacy that Catholic clerics take – had previously engaged in a sexual encounter with a grown man who had an unspecified mental disability and to whom the priest was ministering. It recommended that the archdiocese prohibit Hecker from working with children, adolescents or other “particularly vulnerable” people.

Hecker, however, did not stop working until the church allowed him to retire in 2002. That year, the archdiocese of Boston had been exposed as having covered up the widespread sexual abuse of children by its clerics, setting off a scandal resulting in worldwide church reforms, including promises of transparency for the sake of protecting minors and attaining justice for molestation victims.

But when attorneys for the archdiocese – pressured by the controversy in Boston – reported Hecker alongside a handful of other clerics accused of abuse to New Orleans police, they only informed investigators about a single one of the cases cited in his confession. And they didn’t mention the confession itself at all.

Law enforcement authorities have never charged Hecker – now 91 years old – with a crime, even though the number of his accusers has only grown with the passage of time.

Despite openness policies that the Catholic church implemented after the 2002 scandal in Boston, New Orleans’s archdiocese did not publicly acknowledge that Hecker was a predator until 2018. That year, the archdiocese released a list of dozens of priests and deacons whom it considered to be strongly suspected of sexually abusing minors – including Hecker.

Citing a moral obligation it had to all clerics, the archdiocese waited until after it filed for federal bankruptcy protection in 2020 (in part because of litigation following the release of the clergy abuse list) to stop paying retirement benefits to Hecker and other abusive clerics. The judge overseeing the bankruptcy ordered it.

The most complete account yet of the shocking extremes to which the second-oldest Catholic archdiocese in the US went to coddle an admitted child molester is contained in hundreds of pages of secret church files reviewed by the Guardian.

Lawrence Hecker.
Lawrence Hecker.

Aaron Hebert filed a 2019 lawsuit for damages which accused Hecker of molesting him decades earlier, when he was a child. He has been pushing for the public release of records chronicling how the archdiocese handled the retired priest.

The archdiocese has so far managed to shield the records – and those of numerous other clerics that the church itself has concluded are abusive – from public view mainly because of broad confidentiality rules governing the 2020 bankruptcy filing.

The efforts to unseal those records by Hebert has drawn support from US national media outlets and non-profit child protection organizations, which argue that they are a matter of public interest and safety. A judge is weighing a ruling on the matter after a hearing last week.

Louisiana state prosecutors also filed a motion supporting Hebert’s efforts, saying that the records’ public release would allow for a proper criminal investigation. The New Orleans district attorney, Jason Williams, said the archdiocese has since turned over “voluminous documents” about Hecker to his office. But it’s unclear when – or if – charges may result.

The Guardian reviewed many Hecker-related documents through sources independent of Hebert, his legal team or the district attorney’s office.

The documents establish that New Orleans’s last four Catholic archbishops – the first of whom took office in the 1960s – had substantial reason to believe that Hecker was a child molester. Three stayed silent, and the current one waited several years before acknowledging that Hecker preyed on children.

Hecker’s lenient handling by the archdiocese of New Orleans contains striking similarities to the circumstances which thrust its Boston counterpart into scandal at the turn of this century. Among other consequences, the controversy in the Boston archdiocese cost its leader his job and led to prison time for the notorious serial clergy abuser John Geoghan, who was strangled and stomped to death by another incarcerated man while serving his punishment.

The archdiocese of New Orleans didn’t immediately respond to an offer to comment on Monday on its management of Hecker. Recently, in court, Dirk Wegmann, an attorney for the church, said the city’s current archbishop, Gregory Aymond, “is taking every step possible to protect children”.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond conducts the procession to lead a livestreamed Easter mass in St Louis cathedral in New Orleans in 2020.
Archbishop Gregory Aymond conducts the procession to lead a livestreamed Easter mass in St Louis cathedral in New Orleans in 2020.

Hecker’s criminal defense attorney, Eugene Redmann, told the Guardian any claims against Hecker were from “decades ago” and people in their 90s “lose a lot of memory”. But, Redmann said, “we will address any charges if they are brought”.

Reached by phone last week and asked for comment on his 1999 statement to the archdiocese, Hecker gasped, paused for several moments and said: “I am sorry – I am running behind on time and have to get to an appointment.”

He then hung up.

In the records reviewed by the Guardian, Hecker claims that he first realized it was wrong to fondle teenagers’ genitals, masturbate with them or be nude in their presence after international news outlets widely covered a 1984 indictment that charged the Catholic priest Gilbert Gauthe of Lafayette, Louisiana, with molesting more than 30 children.

Hecker, who was ordained in 1958 and worked at about a dozen churches mostly in south-eastern Louisiana, maintains that he believed he would have no problems as long as he avoided sex with women. He once told a psychiatrist he preferred boys “in part due to their naivete”, according to records.

But then Gauthe – who eventually pleaded guilty and served 10 years in prison – forced him to realize his behavior was problematic, and Hecker resolved to never again “be alone with children”, he said in the documents.

According to Hecker’s internal statement, the first time that he was directly confronted with accusations of pedophilia was in early 1988. At that time, the then archbishop, Philip Hannan, spoke to him about a woman who reported that her son claimed that he and Hecker “had had sex together”.

Hecker said Hannan, who died in 2011, spoke to him about the woman’s complaint at the time but didn’t elaborate.

Later, Hannan allowed Hecker to go on a sabbatical to take graduate classes in pastoral counseling at the Jesuit-run Fordham University in New York City. The archdiocese and the church to which he was assigned before going on sabbatical helped him pay for his studies before he returned to his normal clerical duties in New Orleans, according to letters that Hecker and his superiors exchanged around that time.

In 1996, a woman – it’s unclear if it’s a different one – went to the administration of Hannan’s successor as archbishop, Francis Schulte, and reported her suspicion that Hecker sexually abused at least one of her three sons. Two of her sons were altar servers at a church in the New Orleans suburb of Gretna where Hecker was pastor in the late 1960s.

Some sort of internal inquiry ensued. During that review, a high-ranking priest and archdiocesan administrator indicated to Schulte in a memo that while working at an abuse-plagued local orphanage between 1966 and 1970, he remembered a boy telling him “that he had gone swimming with father Hecker and some others boys” at a local health club and that he would make “physical contact in the nude” with them.

And according to that memo, the aide spoke with Hecker, who recounted sharing a bed with one boy and possibly even showering with him. The aide wrote that Hecker confirmed the nude swims with boys at the health club, a practice he stopped after a New Orleans police officer who specialized in investigating child abuse suggested that the priest “not be as physical with the kids”.

“He implies indiscretion that led to suspicion,” the Schulte aide wrote of Hecker in the memo.

Hecker defended himself in writing by saying: “The world of the mid-nineties is not the world of the mid-sixties. Then, all sorts of new ideas and practices were springing up, not only with drugs and sex but also with liturgy and prayer. Victorian formality was giving way to ‘touchy-feely’.”

The archdiocese concluded that there was not enough evidence to corroborate the woman’s claim that Hecker had been abusive to her sons, according to the documents.

In 1999, the archdiocese revisited the issue when a man contacted Schulte’s administration and reported being touched inappropriately by Hecker. The man claimed the touching took place when he was an altar boy at another New Orleans church where Hecker worked in the 1960s.

Another church review unfolded. This time, Hecker provided a statement confessing to misconduct with or sexual abuse of seven teenagers between about 1966 and 1979.

There were either “overtly sexual acts” or “affectionate … sex acts” with two of the individuals, according to the documents. One was a student at a since-closed New Orleans high school primarily for boys interested in the priesthood. The other was a member of a Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) chapter with whom Hecker worked – his mother was the one who reported Hecker to Hannan in 1988.

In his confession, Hecker made it a point to note that the CYO member was “100% willing” and “was not a bit passive”. He also recounted how often the high school student wore “short gym shorts” around him.

Hecker, in the remaining cases, reported either fondling, mutual masturbation, nudity or bed sharing, including once on an overnight trip to a Texas amusement park.

“I had thought I had buried this part of my life and would only think about it to remind myself not to have anything like this happen again,” Hecker’s confession said in closing. “I have made it a point not to be alone with anyone under 18, and if possible not to be alone with anyone – and certainly not to hold anyone, except for a ‘holy hug’.”

Archdiocesan officials subsequently put Hecker on sabbatical and sent him to be evaluated at the Anodos Center, which was attached to the Saint John Vianney hospital in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. That behavorial health facility was renowned nationally for specializing in treating clergy and religious personnel.

Hecker complained about the Anodos staff’s demeanor, saying: “I felt more like a thing than a person to be evaluated.”

For its part, the clinic concluded that Hecker’s grasp on his sexuality and the impact his behavior inflicted on others was minimal. It also explicitly found him to be a pedophile and recommended against allowing him to minister to young people or work with emotionally vulnerable adults, especially because Hecker recounted masturbating another man to whom he brought food in the course of his ministry and whom the Anodos center described as “retarded”.

Hecker was also told to undergo counseling and to attend a four-month program named “ministry to ministers” in San Antonio meant to help him achieve personal, spiritual, and intellectual growth and renewal.

In May 2000, once Hecker completed the program, Schulte welcomed him back into the fold. The archbishop assigned Hecker to serve as assistant pastor of a church in the suburban New Orleans community of St Charles parish, whose congregants are of all ages.

He was also given a position in the archdiocese’s adult education program.

“I want to thank you … for your willingness to continue in active ministry in spite of some of the health problems you have experienced,” Schulte, who died in 2016, wrote to Hecker.

Among the letter’s listed carbon copy recipients were the current archbishop of New Orleans, Gregory Aymond, and his counterpart in Mobile, Alabama, Thomas J Rodi. Aymond and Rodi at the time were both assigned to positions under Schulte which involved being briefed on cases such as Hecker’s.

Hecker’s ministerial comeback was destined to be relatively short-lived. He fell under scrutiny again after the Boston Globe began publishing a Pulitzer prize-winning series exposing its local archdiocese’s cover-up of widespread, historical clerical molestation in 2002.

Amid the fallout from the Globe’s coverage, the Massachusetts attorney general’s office published a report which found that the Boston archdiocese’s vicar for administration from 1990 to 1993, Alfred Hughes, helped “perpetuate a practice of utmost secrecy and confidentiality with respect to the problem” of clerical abuse in the city.

Specifically, after prosecutors obtained sexual abuse charges against an ultimately convicted Boston priest named John Hanlon, Hughes personally learned of a separate, uncharged allegation against that cleric, the attorney general’s office found. Yet, “Hughes … never disclosed this new information to law enforcement authorities,” according to the attorney general’s report.

Hughes by 2002 had been appointed to succeed Schulte as New Orleans’s archbishop. And, in that role, Hughes wrote to Hecker informing him that an archdiocesan board had reviewed the abuse claim which resulted in his being sent off to treatment. The board concluded that the allegation was credible.

While he could continue saying mass in private, Hecker would be removed from the ministry and would no longer be allowed to wear his priestly garb in public, Hughes said in a letter.

Hughes allowed Hecker to retire in March 2002. The reason for Hecker’s retirement was not publicly announced despite the worldwide church’s promises to be transparent after the Boston scandal, and newspaper clippings show he officiated a wedding in April 2002.

Attorneys for the Hughes-led archdiocese reported Hecker to local police at the end of that year in a written letter, along with a half-dozen other clerics. But the letter to police prepared by the archdiocese’s lawyers at the time mentioned only one of the seven individuals Hecker named in his confession.

The letter to the police did not mention that Hecker had confessed to sexual misconduct or abusive acts.

It’s unclear why the letter to police was so incomplete in regards to Hecker.

In a separate missive sent to local Catholics in 2002, Hughes said victims always had the right to alert civil authorities but claimed his administration could only report cases in which accusers released the church from confidentiality. However, it’s rarely inappropriate to report evidence of a crime in good faith, and in some settings it is illegal to fail to do so.

The continued secrecy around Hecker didn’t prevent additional accusers from coming forward. In 2005, the archdiocese received a letter from a woman whose ex-husband had described being fondled in his sleep as an altar boy on an overnight fishing trip by Hecker decades earlier.

Hecker’s response when confronted with that claim was that he “didn’t think masturbation while holding on to someone was a sin”, according to a memorandum which Hughes’s clerical director wrote to the archbishop. The memo also quoted Hecker as saying: “I thought I could beat the system.”

Sarcastically, the memo’s author said of Hecker: “Evidently, he did not go to the same seminary we went to,” referring to a kind of college which educates prospective priests.

The memo author also expressed a concern that “more accusers may come forward if this should get to the media”, especially because Hecker – aside from being a priest – spent years working with the archdiocese’s scouts program, in which children participate in outdoor activities and various educational programs.

Hecker was the director of the archdiocese’s scouts from 1966 to 1972, which coincides with the time period when his admitted acts of abuse or inappropriate contact took place.

Notably, the Boy Scouts of America had their own separate, systemic sexual abuse and cover-up scandal that dominated news headlines for a time.

In 2008, Hecker’s misdeeds had still not been reported in the news media. What did appear in the media that year was a local community newspaper article which invited readers to congratulate Hecker on the 50th anniversary of his ordination by writing letters to him at his home in an archdiocesan apartment complex.

Hughes was succeeded as New Orleans’s archbishop by Aymond beginning in 2009. Within three years, at least another two people accusing Hecker of child molestation had come forward.

In connection with one of those complaints, an aide of Aymond with the title of victims assistance coordinator wrote a memo to the archbishop which noted – without elaborating – that Hecker had “continued … perpetrating through 1997”.

That contradicted claims in his confession to the archdiocese and the records pertaining to his time at the Anados center that he had neither sexually abused nor been incelibate beyond the 1980s.

Meanwhile, the second of those accusers was a man who recalled being molested by Hecker in the 1960s while serving under him as an 11- or 12-year-old altar boy in Gretna, Louisiana. He wrote an email to Gretna police which said: “I carry this pain with me daily and I can’t get past it. I just want to be able to let someone know what happened back then.”

The accuser added: “Can … someone guide me? Is this something that I should just continue to bury and ignore?”

Documents show that Gretna’s police chief told a fellow commander, “Let’s have a detective contact him next week.”

After more than a week passed, another commander at the Gretna police department forwarded the emailed complaint to Aymond’s victims assistance coordinator.

The coordinator reviewed the complaint, spoke with the man and wrote a memo to the archbishop which contained the line: “This is the NINTH allegation we have on record against Larry Hecker.”

The coordinator also later received an email from the accuser’s daughter, who asked several questions. The questions included how many children Hecker had molested, whether he had “admitted to his crimes”, when he had been first accused of abuse, whether he had at least been “reprimanded”, and whether he had “gone through any treatment”.

She also asked if Hecker had ever expressed feeling “remorseful”, whether he had ever been “charged criminally”, if he had access to children and whether it was anyone’s job to supervise him.

The last two questions were: “Why does the archdiocese still refer to him as ‘monsignor’?” and “was it [ever] publicly disclosed that Larry Hecker is a child molester”?

On Monday, the woman who wrote that email told the Guardian that she never got answers from the archdiocese to her questions. She also said she never heard about whether the police acted on her father’s accusation.

The woman said she recalled her father flew to New Orleans some weekend after she sent the email, and he “received restitution”.

Documents reviewed by the Guardian confirm that the archdiocese – as it had done with many other clerical abuse claimants – agreed to pay the woman’s father more than $37,000 to settle his allegation against Hecker privately and out of court.

In boilerplate legalese, the agreement states that neither the archdiocese nor Hecker “admit the substance of claimant’s allegations and assert certain other defenses, and claimant acknowledges that nothing herein is an admission of liability”.

Aymond and other archbishops across the US ultimately fell under pressure to come clean about abusive priests and deacons in their communities after a 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report detailed how Catholic clergy sexual abuse in the state was more widespread than church officials there had initially led the public to believe.

Around then, Aymond’s archdiocese also faced unflattering media coverage when it surfaced that a local deacon who had repeatedly been charged with child molestation was being allowed to read at mass.

In early November of that year, Aymond finally released a roster of clerics whom New Orleans’s archdiocese considered to be credibly accused child molesters that included Hecker.

At least one local Catholic wrote an email to the archdiocese within hours in which he described himself as “upset and confused” to see Hecker on the list. The email writer asked whether the abuse attributed to Hecker occurred while the priest worked at two churches where the parishioner’s family attended, and where his children as well as three brothers-in-law were altar servers.

“I do not know how to explain to my children how we would place them in such danger,” wrote the parishioner, who signed the email in closing as “a very concerned Catholic”.

More accusers came forward and filed a number of lawsuits alleging previously unreported claims of abuse by Hecker and others on the list, which generated a significant amount of news media coverage.

The archdiocese and some of the accusers settled out of court, including at least one 2019 Hecker claimant who received a $30,000 payment. The others which were unresolved were essentially halted indefinitely when the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in 2020. That also prompted a judicial order for the church to stop covering retirement benefits, insurance payments and living costs for Hecker as well as others who appeared on the clerical abuse list and were still alive.

The FBI has since launched an investigation into whether some Catholic church personnel in New Orleans can be prosecuted under human trafficking laws that prohibit taking anyone across state lines for illicit sex – and which have no filing deadlines.

Hecker, who retains his “monsignor” title, acknowledged to the Guardian that some law enforcement investigators had met with him last year. However, he said the investigators left when he told them he needed to speak with his attorney.

No law enforcement official has since charged Hecker. But Hebert’s attorney, Richard Trahant, has said that another client reported speaking to New Orleans state prosecutors about allegedly being choked unconscious and raped as a child by Hecker after meeting the priest through a Catholic institution.

On 14 June, New Orleans state prosecutors obtained files from the archdiocese on Hecker, according to the district attorney’s office in the city. A source with knowledge of the matter said the archdiocese turned the documents over after receiving a request for them from law enforcement.

Child rape cases in Louisiana have no filing deadlines, and they could carry life imprisonment. It remains unclear when or if Hecker will be charged.

In the meantime, documents reviewed by the Guardian show that a background check which the New Orleans archdiocese intermittently conducts on members of its clergy examines whether any of them have a local or federal criminal record or are registered sex offenders.

For Hecker, in each of those categories, as recently as 2017, the background check indicates: “No record.”

Complete Article HERE!

Review into how Oblates handled historical sexual assault claims being met with skepticism, hope

— Retired priest Johannes Rivoire worked in Canada’s Arctic from 1960s to 1993

Johannes Rivoire, a retired priest living in France, is shown in Arviat, Nunavut, in 1979. Rivoire, who lived in Canada’s Arctic for 30 years, faced sexual abuse charges in the late 1990s, but they were stayed in 2017. He was also charged in 2021 and 2022, but France denied an extradition request.

By Juanita Taylor

An independent review looking into how the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate handled historical allegations of sexual abuse by a now-retired priest who lived in the Arctic for three decades is being met with both hope and skepticism by Inuit in Nunavut and those who have been observing his case.

“I’m glad this is going to be dealt with,” said Steve Mapsalak from his home in Naujaat, a hamlet in Nunavut. “It’s an ongoing thing and taking too long for me.”

He said Johannes Rivoire sexually abused him when he was 13 years old in Naujaat.

Now 66, Mapsalak said he has been waiting a long time for the Catholic Church to take some responsibility — not only for what he said he’s experienced as a victim of Rivoire, but for what others have gone through as well. “We are not just saying that we are victims. It happened,” he said.

Former Quebec Superior Court justice André Denis has been appointed by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, OMI Lacombe Canada and the Oblates of the Province of France to lead the Oblate Safeguarding Commission.

A statement issued earlier this month called the commission “an independent review of historical allegations of sexual abuse against Johannes Rivoire in present-day Nunavut.”

In the same statement, Denis said, “I appreciate the opportunity to lead this commission and expect that my findings will contribute to greater understanding of this history, while positioning the Oblates to set a higher standard of accountability and safety.”

A man with white hair is wearing a dark blazer and light-blue shirt.
Former Quebec Superior Court justice André Denis has been appointed to lead an independent review that will examine how the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate handled historical allegations of sexual abuse by Rivoire.

Inuit delegation travelled to France

Mapsalak and three others filed complaints against Rivoire with the police in 1998, and he was charged by the Nunavut RCMP, but by then he had returned in France.

A Canadian warrant was issued for Rivoire’s arrest in 1998, but criminal charges related to the sexual abuse of children were stayed in 2017 by the Public Prosecution Service of Canada. It said too much time had passed since the alleged events occurred, and they were no longer in the interest of the public.

In September 2021, Rivoire, who has been in France since 1993, was charged again — this time with one count of indecent assault of a girl in Arviat and Whale Cove between 1974 and 1979. That arrest warrant remains active. Then, in February 2022, he was charged with sexually assaulting a female child between 1974 and 1979.

A woman with grey hair and glasses, wearing a blue and white striped shirt, stands beside a man with black hair and a moustache, wearing a grey shirt.
Elizabeth and Steve Mapsalak are shown in Montreal before flying to France in September 2022. The couple travelled with a delegation of Inuit to implore French officials to grant Canada’s request to extradite Rivoire so he can face sexual assault charges here.

Rivoire, who was ordained in France in 1958 and lives in Lyon, France, has denied any wrongdoing. His first posting as a Catholic priest was in Igloolik, Nunavut, from 1960-65 — followed by Repulse Bay (now Naujaat) from 1965-74, and Eskimo Point, now Arviat, from 1974-93.

An extradition request was made to France by the federal Department of Justice on behalf of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.

While France has an extradition treaty with Canada, it does not typically extradite its citizens to other countries, and Rivoire doesn’t legally have to return to Canada to face charges.

Last September, Mapsalak, along with a delegation of Inuit, travelled to Paris to implore French officials to grant Canada’s extradition request so that Rivoire can face the sexual assault charges here.

“There are people suffering. We are suffering,” Mapsalak said.

His group was also in France to raise public awareness in the French media about allegations against Rivoire as a way to aid them in their cause. But on Oct. 14, France denied the extradition request.

‘Transparency and accountability’

Rev. Ken Thorson, head of the OMI Lacombe Province in Ottawa, said Denis’s commission will have full access to records on Rivoire, including allegations made against him in both Canada and France.

“We want to better understand how past allegations of abuse were addressed within the community,” he said in an interview with CBC News.

A man with greyish hair, wearing glasses and a grey shirt and jacket, stands in front of a crucifix on a wall.
Rev. Ken Thorson, head of the OMI Lacombe Province in Ottawa, says he’s had conversations with Indigenous people, church leaders, survivors and their families, along with Catholics, about the many mistakes that were made in the church’s history.

Thorson said Denis was chosen to lead the commission because of his experience presiding over a trial in 2008-09 involving the federal Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, as well as for his work in 2020 examining how the Archdiocese of Montreal and others in Quebec handled allegations of sexual abuse of minors.

He said the former judge will also identify improvements in Oblate policies and governance that need to be changed to better safeguard minors.

“We want to ensure a high level of transparency and accountability,” Thorson said.

Retired priest in elder-care facility

Lieve Halsberghe, an advocate for people who have been sexually abused by the clergy in Belgium, said she doesn’t trust the process.

“Another commission, wow. I mean, they haven’t learned because they keep on repeating the same blah, blah, blah. And this is not a new thing. It’s a very old technique that they use.”

A woman with long brownish hair wears an orange shirt.
Lieve Halsberghe, an advocate for people who have been sexually abused by the clergy, is shown at the train station in Lyon, France, last September. Instead of a review, she wants Rivoire to face justice.

Halsberghe travelled to France with the Inuit delegation last fall to pressure the government to extradite Rivoire to Canada.

“They have to stall time, we’re just waiting for Rivoire to die,” she said of the former priest, who is in his early 90s and currently living in a privately run elder-care centre in France, according to Thorson.

“Rivoire disappeared in the middle of the night with just a backpack,” Tanya Tungilik told a news conference in Paris last fall. Her late father, Marius Tungilik, also filed a sexual assault complaint against Rivoire with the RCMP in Nunavut.

Instead of a review, Halsberghe said she wants Rivoire to face justice. “We will let him defend himself in a court of law, you know, at the same standard of every other citizen. He’s also a Canadian citizen.”

Inuit group hopes review will bring peace

Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org in Boston, told CBC News that over the last 20 years, she’s seen an increase in independent reviews commissioned by the church.

“The whole purpose of these reviews — and I’m going to sound a little cynical here — is to quell public outrage. It’s a recognition by the church that they have received terrible publicity, that there is substantial evidence that [a] coverup happened and that they enabled the sexual abuse of children,” she said.

A building behind a stone wall.
The Inuit delegation from Canada met with the Oblates at the Provincial House of Oblates in Lyon during their trip to France last September.

Thorson said he understands the skepticism that people may have, saying he’s had conversations with Indigenous people, church leaders, survivors and their families, along with Catholics, about the many mistakes that were made in the church’s history.

“I really have come to believe that there’s no reconciliation without trust, and there’s no healing possible. And so I’m doing what we’re able to do right now — understanding that not everybody is going to be trusting or supportive of us, and yet it’s what we can do right now.”

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, an organization that represents Inuit in Canada, issued a statement that says it is “looking forward to engaging with Justice Denis and the Oblates to achieve a greater understanding of the decisions that contributed to the unconscionable situation of an accused criminal being allowed to evade justice.”

The group said it hopes the review will bring a small measure of peace to victims through an assurance that such actions aren’t repeated.

“I’m very hopeful,” Steve Mapsalak said.

Thorson is encouraging anyone who is willing and able to contribute to the commission to email former justice Denis directly at  j.andredenis@icloud.com.

His final report is expected to be delivered in English, French and Inuktitut by April 1, 2024.

Complete Article HERE!