Amid liberal revolt, pope signals openness to blessings for gay couples

German priests and counselors bless same-sex couples in front of the Cologne Cathedral on Sept. 20.

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In the shadow of Cologne’s Gothic cathedral, the St. Stephan’s Youth Choir struck up a chorus of “All You Need Is Love” as couples — men with men, women with women, and women with men — lined up to have their unions blessed by ordained Catholic priests wearing rainbow stoles.

It was an act of love — but also sedition, in direct defiance of the Vatican’s decree that same-sex unions should not be celebrated or recognized.

The German Catholic Church, long known for pushing the boundaries of the faith, has been translating frustrations among progressive Catholics in pockets throughout Europe into a veritable revolt. The question for 1.3 billion Catholics now is whether the German church is in flagrant disobedience — or showing a different path.

Pope Francis has reprimanded Germany’s Catholic leadership. He quipped to the head of its bishops’ conference last year that Germany already had one protestant church — “We don’t need two.” On Monday, however, the Vatican released a document that seemed to open a door to blessing same-sex unions and the study of female priests.

In the letter, dated Sept. 25, Francis wrote that there are “situations” that may not be “morally acceptable” but where a priest can assess, on a case-by-case basis, whether blessings may be given — as long as such blessings are kept separate from the sacrament of marriage.

“We cannot be judges who only deny, push back and exclude,” Francis wrote. “As such, pastoral prudence must adequately discern whether there are forms of blessing, requested by one or several people, that do not convey a wrong idea of a matrimony. Because when one seeks a blessing, one is requesting help from God.”

Pope Francis leads a blessing in St. Peter’s Square for the synod that opens Wednesday.

His words appeared to contradict a 2021 Vatican statement that confirmed a ban on blessing same-sex couples. Francis has also notably removed the conservative official said to be the architect of that decision and appointed a fellow Argentine who has seemed to take a different view.

Francis’s letter released Monday appeared to reveal less movement on the question of ordination for women. He wrote that Pope John Paul II had ruled against female priests and that the decision must be respected for now. But he also suggested the topic could be further researched.

Both the role of women in the church and blessings for same-sex couples, as well as the possibility of a married priesthood, are among the divisive topics on the agenda as Catholic leaders gather at the Vatican this week for the most sweeping summit on the direction of the faith since the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.

Francis has already been facing a revolt on the right, with his most bitter conservative critics decrying him as a heretic. They have maligned the arcanely named Synod on Synodality — running from Wednesday through Oct. 29 — as a smokescreen for liberal reform.

Vatican watchers were not expecting big pronouncements, as the synod will convene again next fall and ultimately send recommendations to the pope then. And the Vatican has been playing down any notions of rapid reform.

But Francis has raised the hopes of progressives — and stoked the fears of traditionalists — that the church might, on some issues, begin to move in the direction of Germany.

German churches have been inviting women to say the homily at Mass and to baptize babies. Scores of German priests and monks have come out as celibate gay men, while some Catholic schools and churches have begun flying rainbow flags. A majority of German bishops have backed Catholic blessings of same-sex unions, calls for female deacons and the ordination of older, married men as priests.

“Many progressive Catholics look to the German church for a hopeful sense of where the church might be going,” said the Rev. James Martin, a U.S. delegate at the synod known for his ministry to LGBTQ+ Catholics. “But of course, just as many traditional Catholics look upon the German church with suspicion.”

Catholics participate in a papal blessing Saturday.

At the Vatican, conservative fears and progressive hopes

The synod opening Wednesday — on the feast day of St. Francis — is not a political process, Vatican officials contend, but a chance for discussion, to “discern” God’s will for the direction of the church.

It requires that participants attempt to talk to each other — understanding that they represent an institution that encompasses German, Belgian and Swiss bishops who are already allowing blessings of same-sex couples, as well as American, African and Asian bishops who decry them.

The 364 voting delegates, observers say, include a relative balance of centrists, traditionalists and reformers, with some of the most extreme players on both sides left out.

But conservatives, including dozens of bishops from the United States, complain the synod is stacked against them.

They call its structure — which for the first time will allow laymen and women voting rights equal to cardinals and bishops — fundamentally un-Catholic. They see program documents asking for “concrete steps” to better welcome LGBTQ+ Catholics and people in polygamous marriages, among other categories, as dangerous.

Conservatives fear the synod process will open what they see as a Pandora’s box, eventually leading to unprecedented change on priestly celibacy, the acceptance of homosexuality and the elevation of women in a historically patriarchal church. They warn it could bring about a new schism, or split, in the world’s largest Christian faith.

Francis’s letter released Monday was written in response to a challenge, known as a dubia, issued by five conservative cardinals. They called on him to reinforce Catholic doctrine that condemns homosexuality and reserves ordination for “baptized males” only.

“The primary concern is that the pope will authorize things that are not contained in Catholic doctrine or that will contradict it — such as women deacons, blessing gay unions,” or weaken Catholic teachings against contraception and abortion by emphasizing individual conscience, said the Rev. Gerald Murray, a New York City priest who was not invited to the synod but will be in Rome doing commentary for conservative outlets.

“We’re not Protestants,” he said.

Predicting what the pope will do is much like reading tea leaves.

Francis raised the prospect of change early in his papacy, intoning “Who am I to judge?” when asked about gay Catholics. But he has been exceedingly cautious about altering doctrine. For instance, he has shied away from allowing married priests in the Amazon region, where extreme clerical shortages seemed to warrant it.

But as the 86-year-old pope looks to cement his legacy, much will depend on where he lands on these issues — whether he decides to urge the church closer to progressive positions. He faces the challenge of how to assuage liberal Europeans, in places where the church is rich but dying, without alienating fast-growing if more traditional churches in the developing world.

Catholic priests bless same-sex and heterosexual couples last month in Cologne, Germany.

Going beyond talk in Germany

The Cologne Cathedral, where relics of the Three Kings are said to rest, is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe. The writings of a rogue German priest named Martin Luther were publicly burned in its courtyard in 1520. Late last month, it served as the backdrop for a modern Catholic clash.

The Rev. Wolfgang Rothe, a wiry, openly gay German Catholic priest, organized the group blessing in reaction to a local cardinal, one of the few in Germany still disciplining priests for blessing same-sex couples. Rothe used the service as a rallying cry for the synod.

“I call on you, tell the pope, tell the synod of bishops, tell the world church: The current sexual morality of the Catholic Church is outdated,” he said. “It is unbiblical and immoral … a slap in the face of the loving God. This sexual morality belongs on the trash heap of church history.”

Nearby, a gaggle of conservative opponents prayed the rosary in protest. More radical elements on both sides — far-right Catholics and left-wing activists — jostled amid bullhorns and placards, and police intervened.

The Catholic Church in Germany is facing a crisis.

Measurable through a national church tax, German Catholics have been abandoning the church in record numbers — 522,000 last year alone. In a poll of those who had recently left the faith, the most common reason specified was the church’s handling of sexual abuse; the second its rejection of homosexuality.

Catholic bishops and laypeople in Germany sought to address that disaffection as they formulated their contribution to Francis’s synod, through a body called the Synodal Way.

Kai and Jens Vermaeten receive blessings during the event in Cologne.

Francis warned from the outset against a unilateral effort. “Every time the ecclesial community tried to get out of its problems alone, trusting and focusing exclusively on its strength or its methods, its intelligence, its will or prestige, it ended up increasing and perpetuating the evils it was trying to solve,” he wrote in a 2019 letter.

Nonetheless, by March of this year, Germany’s Synodal Way had proposed sweeping changes, including the ordination of female deacons and a reexamination of priestly celibacy in addition to same-sex blessings.

German bishops have mostly backed the proposals, while trying to buy time on some topics. They supported the ordination of female deacons, for instance, while conceding they first needed the permission of the Vatican.

But they have also grown more daring. In a country where the Catholic Church is the second-largest employer — with 800,000 workers, or six times more than Mercedes-Benz — German bishops amended the church’s labor law last year, so people can no longer be fired for being in a same-sex relationship or remarrying after divorce.

The Vermaetens at the group blessing in Cologne.
Stefanie and Amrei Sell after the blessing.

And in March, a majority of German bishops voted to allow blessings of same-sex couples — separate and distinct from the sacrament of marriage, but with standardized ceremonies to be drafted by 2026.

Liberal reforms have taken shape in other countries, too, but theologians see what Germany is doing as singular. They attribute it to a society that has emerged as one of the globe’s most socially progressive — and has a taste for rules.

“Some of these things happen in quieter ways in countries like Brazil,” said Massimo Faggioli, a Catholic theologian at Villanova University. “But the Germans are Germans, so they want formal recognition. That’s what’s different. They don’t want just de facto change. They want formal permission to change the books.”

The push within Germany matters all the more because the German Catholic Church ranks among the world’s richest — its dioceses are collectively far richer than the Vatican. And with this wealth, Germany helps to fund seminary schools and parishes across Latin America and Africa.

Marianne Arndt leads a portion of the service Sept. 24 at St. Theodore’s Catholic Church, on the edge of Cologne.

On a recent Sunday at St. Theodore’s Catholic Church on the edge of Cologne, Marianne Arndt’s white cassock billowed as she approached the pulpit to preach.

Arndt — a spiky-haired 60-year-old who said she had a calling from God as a young woman — has worked as a parish counselor here since 2016. She initially began offering a “final blessing” in lieu of last rites to dying patients at hospitals, using holy water instead of priestly oils. She began preaching during Catholic Masses years ago, but started describing her words as a “homily” in 2020, arguing that the time had come to “call it what it is.”<

Except that Catholic canon law requires an ordained deacon or priest to say the homily at Mass, and women can be neither.

The Rev. Dionysius Jahn, one of two parish priests who typically celebrate Mass alongside her, called her sermon an extension of religious teaching. He acknowledged the arrangement was atypical. “It’s very progressive here,” he said. “There are others that view [a woman in a role like this] very critically. They wouldn’t accept what’s going on here.”

It smarts, Arndt said, that she must metaphorically stand “behind” a male priest to deliver the homily, and she bristles against those who say she should leave the faith if she doesn’t abide by its rules.

“It is also my church, and I don’t run away,” she said.

Arndt is part of the Catholic revolt in Germany.

Complete Article HERE!

Vatican Assembly Puts the Church’s Most Sensitive Issues on the Table

— Pope Francis’ calls for open-minded discussion will be tested this week as bishops meet with lay people, including women, to debate topics such as married priests and the blessing of gay couples.

Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on Wednesday.

By Jason Horowitz

Throughout his decade as leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis has allowed debates on previously taboo topics and set in motion subtle shifts toward liberalizing changes that have enraged conservatives for going too far and frustrated progressives for not going far enough.

This month, starting on Wednesday, Francis’ desire for the church to discuss the concerns of its faithful, even the most sensitive topics, will culminate at the Vatican in an assembly of bishops from around the world that will allow, for the first time, lay people, including women, to attend and vote.

The issues under discussion will include priestly celibacy, married priests, the blessing of gay couples, the extension of sacraments to the divorced and the ordination of female deacons.

Detractors are wary of the very nature of the assembly, known as a synod, and have criticized it as a bureaucratic talkathon or as an insidious Trojan horse for progressives to erode the church’s traditions under the cloak of collegiality.

Supporters see a chance to put into practice the pope’s bottom-up view of the church as an inclusive institution that upends the traditional hierarchy and forces bishops to listen to and work with their flock more.

For them, more than any single issue on the table — and more even than culture war favorites like abortion, same-sex marriage or euthanasia, which were left off it — it is the process of bishops and lay people working and voting together that amounts to the most potentially transformative change.

“It is an amazing moment,” said Renée Köhler-Ryan, the dean of the School of Philosophy and Theology at the University of Notre Dame Australia, who will be a voting participant in the meeting, one of the first women ever to do so.

Still, many church watchers say, it remains to be seen whether the gathering becomes an instrument for the transformation that traditionalists dread or another opportunity for the papal punting that has left the church’s liberals disappointed.

A crowd of hundreds around a two-tiered stone fountain.
Awaiting the appearance of Francis in St. Peter’s Square in October 2022. For the first time ever, the coming synod will allow lay people, including women, to attend and vote.

It may end up as neither, and in any case, it is only the first phase of a two-year process. The participants will reconvene in Rome in October 2024, after which the pope is expected to issue a document endorsing or rejecting any recommendations.

“Hopes and fears for the synod are overinflated to the point where it’s hard to see a resolution or an outcome from either this October or next October that doesn’t leave at least one large part of the church feeling not just disappointed but deceived,” said Stephen P. White, a fellow in Catholic studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a think tank in Washington.

There are other reasons the assembly — formally called the Synod on Synodality, essentially a working meeting on how to work together — may disappoint.

It follows two years spent canvassing local churches to better understand the concerns of rank-and-file faithful around the globe. But, as Mr. White pointed out, only a tiny fraction, perhaps a few percent, participated in the canvassing process.

Many of the issues to be discussed are contentious because the faithful themselves had put them on the table, Ms. Köhler-Ryan said, adding that she hoped the inclusion of lay people would lend a more quotidian perspective — a “kind of grittiness” — to the synod. But, she noted, her vote was not part of a democratic process because the decisions rested with the pope alone.

“The big question becomes,” she said of the issues, “how does the synod deal with them?”

The answer is slowly and in secret. “This is not a TV program where they talk about everything,” Francis said last month. He has conceded that the process may appear obscure.

“I am well aware that speaking of a ‘synod on synodality’ may seem something abstruse, self-referential, excessively technical and of little interest to the general public,” Pope Francis said in August. But, he added, it “is something truly important for the church.”

People kneeling and praying at wooden pews in a church with brick walls and stained-glass windows.
A Mass at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Odessa, Texas, in April. The Vatican spent two years canvassing local churches to better understand the concerns of rank-and-file faithful around the globe.

But Francis is relying heavily on what Jesuits, the order to which he belongs, call discernment, a deliberately pensive decision-making process that creates the space and time for a spiritual dimension to enter the equation — and perhaps for wider support for important changes to coalesce.

Critics of Francis often roll their eyes at the mention of the word. And church observers have noted that his reliance on discernment has allowed him to delay on big decisions, either out of a lack of boldness or to build support and perhaps political cover among his bishops. The Synod on Synodality is built, experts say, to do just that.

Yet the process has prompted some bewilderment.

“I’ve been trying to explain this one to myself and others for the last little while,” Ms. Köhler-Ryan said. In her understanding, synodality referred to different members of the church working shoulder to shoulder. “It’s a moment in the church where we practice what we’re trying to become,” she said.

The assembly’s leading officials have characterized it as reflecting the church’s diversity and its diversity of concerns.

Some participants were coming with the hope of important shifts.

The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and an advocate for L.G.B.T.Q. Catholics who was personally invited by Pope Francis to participate, said he hoped that the assembly would listen to their experiences.

A rainbow flag hangs from the balcony of an ornate brick building above a clock face.

A church in Vienna in March 2021 after the Vatican ruled that the church could not bless same-sex partnerships.

“That’s enough of a change, because in many parts of the world, they’re not listened to,” he said, pointing out that many are kicked out of parishes for being gay or have to worship under church leaders who support laws criminalizing homosexuality.

He said assembly officials had told him that, in the surveys, half of the dioceses in the world mentioned the welcoming of L.G.B.T.Q. people as important. Asked whether he thought the synod would lead to concrete changes, such as to the official Catholic teaching that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered,” Father Martin said that, although he did not expect any alterations to doctrine, for more bishops “to hear how that language is received by L.G.B.T.Q. people would be very important.”

Helena Jeppesen-Spuhler, who works for the Swiss Catholic Lenten Fund, a Catholic relief agency, will also participate in the assembly. She said that the church required change to survive, adding that she would “pragmatically” argue for women to be ordained as deacons as a first step to becoming priests and bishops (which was, she acknowledged, a bridge too far for now).

“That’s what I’m carrying here to this assembly, to the worldwide church,” she said, arguing that the focus on women in all of the continental surveys showed that there was a desire for such a change, and “I really see a chance.”

But she also recalled the disappointment and frustration in 2019, at a previous synod, when Francis balked at allowing some married men to become priests and women to become deacons, despite receiving an overwhelming vote of support from bishops.

“The question is, ‘Will he do that probably again?’” she said. Or perhaps a “consultation from all over the world and the reports from all over the world” would demonstrate the support he needed to follow through.

That is the conservative nightmare

Pope Francis in the center of St Peter’s Basilica, with clergy gathered all around in vestments of various colors, mostly green.
Pope Francis offering a Mass at the opening of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican in October 2021.

On Monday, five of the church’s most conservative cardinals made public a letter they had sent Francis asking for a clarification on his thinking about the ordination of women, the blessing of gay unions, and whether the synod had the power to change doctrine, among other points.

Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, a former leader of the church’s doctrinal office whom Francis dismissed from his position but surprisingly invited to take part in the synod, has warned that the assembly could be used as a “hostile takeover.”

In an interview, he said forces “obsessed with the ideology” and those who believe the church no longer “fits with the modern world” were hoping to exploit the synod.

The assembly was not “a parliament or a constituent assembly, which like a sovereign could change or even replace the Constitution of the church,” he said. The fact that women and lay people had been granted the right to vote “doesn’t change anything,” he said, because the doctrine could not be touched.

He said criticism of abuse of power by clerics, what Francis calls clericalism, had become a “fixation” and a convenient disguise for prejudice against priests. The ordination of women, even as deacons, was a nonstarter, he added, and blessing gay couples was “not only a blasphemy, but also a fraud.”

Officials running the synod have sought to defend it from accusations of politicization.

“We have no agenda,” Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, a Jesuit who is the relator general for the synod, said in June. “There was not a conspiratorial meeting with some people to come up with how we could add some progressive points of the church. That is the very bad imagination of some people.”

Complete Article HERE!

Loving disagreement and synodality – within and beyond Catholicism

Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience in St Peter’s Square, at the Vatican last week as Synod preparations continue.

By Christopher Landau

Watching the development of synodality within the Catholic Church is fascinating from an Anglican perspective. My first encounter with the Church of England’s General Synod was twenty years ago, when, as a junior BBC News producer, I happened to be present as the gay rights activist Peter Tatchell disrupted the proceedings alongside fellow campaigners. It became a memorable synod, for all the wrong reasons.

I have little doubt that some Anglicans’ ambivalence about our own mixed experience of synodical government means that developments in Rome are being viewed with more than a raised eyebrow.

What has fascinated me, in part, is the tone of some of the social media debates ahead of the Roman Synod. It is perhaps reassuring to realise that Anglican Twitter (of which I am reasonably familiar) shares similarly dysfunctional and corrosive attitudes to those which are seemingly widespread in Catholic social media discourse. Though I am reminded by one friend that Methodist Facebook is worst of all…

I left journalism to train for Anglican ministry, and along the way resumed theological study, considering the specific question of the ethics of Christian disagreement. In essence, I wondered why a faith grounded in love of neighbour found the active pursuit of that neighbour-love within the church so problematic.

Official Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission documents are surprisingly candid and illustrative in this regard. The 1994 ARCIC report, Life In Christ: Morals, Communion And The Church is fascinating on the reality of difference between the two communions, and the particular challenge of mutual caricature. Untruthful prejudices are confronted:

It is not true that the Roman Catholic Church has predetermined answers to every moral question, while the Anglican Church has no answers at all. It is not true that Roman Catholics always agree on moral issues, nor that Anglicans never agree. It is not true that Anglican ethics is pragmatic and unprincipled, while Roman Catholic moral theology is principled but abstract. It is not true that Roman Catholics are always more careful of the institution in their concern for the common good, while Anglicans disregard the common good in their concern for the individual. It is not true that Roman Catholic moral teaching is legalistic, while Anglican moral teaching is utilitarian. Caricature, we may grant, is never totally contrived; but caricature it remains.

For me, the enduring question is why Christians of all denominations remain so ready to assume the worst of each other, and broadcast that fact, whether on social or traditional media. The notion exemplified by Jesus’ words in John 13:35, that the mutual love within the church is itself an attractive missionary sign to those beyond it, seems remote.

And yet the New Testament is candid and consistent in its repeated calls towards the maintenance of loving unity within the body of Christ. Of course this doesn’t mean hard questions should not be faced, particularly when orthodoxy is at stake, but what repeatedly strikes me is the way in which this call to unity falls down the list of ecclesial priorities, despite the consistent urging found within both the Gospels and other New Testament narratives.

Within my own work, the contrast set out by St Paul between the fruit of the Spirit and the acts of the flesh is illustrative. Although, perhaps understandably, attention often focusses on the “big ticket” sins outlined in Galatians chapter 5, it is striking that several of the fleshly characteristics relate precisely to the nature of human interactions in the context of disagreements: discord, dissensions and factions, for example. Whereas the fruit of the Spirit exemplify characteristics which can be transformative in situations of conflict: forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

The simple observation is that any church debate, whether within or beyond a particular denomination, will be improved in quality in direct proportion to amount of the fruit of the Spirit present. This question of spiritual reality lies at the heart of how disagreements are faced, and how Christlike we are as we face them.

The irony for me, as I watch the Church of England teeter on the edge of self-destruction over questions of sexuality, is that often we find unity easier to pursue beyond a denomination than within it. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, will pray for Christian unity in Rome this weekend, even as that same unity is seriously imperilled within his own jurisdiction.

We live with these ironies as we intercede for deeper unity. My own particular hope and prayer is that Christian leaders will recognise the spiritual dimension to our striving for unity – and that we will be faithful to the Lord’s desire for his followers to be one, as we face and debate our differences, whether within a synod or beyond it.

Complete Article HERE!

Baltimore Archdiocese, Bracing for More Abuse Claims, Files for Bankruptcy

— The nation’s oldest Catholic archdiocese made the move days before the start of a new law removing the statute of limitations on lawsuits from abuse victims.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore

By Ruth Graham

The archdiocese of Baltimore, the oldest in the United States, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Friday, two days before a new state law goes into effect allowing child sexual abuse victims to sue organizations no matter how long ago the abuse took place.

Archbishop William E. Lori attributed the filing directly to the law’s effect on the archdiocese, which is facing “a great number of lawsuits” that were previously prohibited by state law, he said in a letter to the archdiocese on Friday.

Filing for bankruptcy, Archbishop Lori said, is “the best path forward to compensate equitably all victim-survivors, given the archdiocese’s limited financial resources, which would have otherwise been exhausted on litigation.”

The bankruptcy filing stops all lawsuits against the archdiocese, which could have been filed starting at 12:01 a.m. on Sunday. Instead, a judge will oversee the reorganization of the archdiocese, ultimately setting a deadline for victims to file their claims in bankruptcy court.

The archdiocese of Baltimore is the latest of more than a dozen dioceses and archdioceses in the United States to currently be in bankruptcy proceedings. That’s in addition to 19 dioceses that have emerged from bankruptcy, according to a list maintained by Marie T. Reilly, a professor at Penn State Law.

A vast majority of documented abuses in Catholic churches, schools and institutions took place decades ago, but some states have reopened opportunities for victims to bring civil claims that would have otherwise been barred because they happened too long ago.

The Archdiocese of San Francisco filed for bankruptcy in August, saying that it faced more than 500 lawsuits under a state law passed in 2019 that extended the statute of limitations for civil claims.

Maryland’s Child Victims Act was signed by Gov. Wes Moore in April. The state’s Catholic Conference, the lobbying arm for the church, opposed the bill when it was being debated, calling it unconstitutional and unfair.

The bill’s final passage was timed to the release of a major report from the Maryland attorney general that revealed how clergy members from across the archdiocese had abused hundreds of children and teenagers over six decades.

The report documented “pervasive and persistent abuse” by clergy members and others in the archdiocese, and a church hierarchy that systematically failed to investigate and restrict abusers’ access to children.

The new law eliminates the statute of limitations for future child sex abuse lawsuits, setting it apart from other states that have opened limited “lookback windows” for victims to sue over past abuse.

But the bankruptcy filing means that victims will now have to file their claims by a certain date, effectively limiting future lawsuits.

Filing for bankruptcy just days before the law goes into effect — and more than five months after it was signed — “is yet another abuse” for victims, said Robert Jenner, a lawyer based in Baltimore who represents victims.

“Our clients have gotten their hopes up, they’ve been energized, they’ve been preparing for these suits,” Mr. Jenner said, noting that preparation is often extremely painful for victims. “All of that re-triggering could have been avoided by a timely filing,” he said.

The archdiocese has argued that the law could result in extremely large settlements or jury awards for the first handful of victims, draining the institution’s resources and preventing others from receiving fair compensation.

But critics say that objection doesn’t hold water, since the law caps rewards for noneconomic losses in each case at $1.5 million, a relatively low amount that would not drain resources immediately.

“Their argument is disingenuous and it’s an effort to avoid accountability,” said Philip Federico, a lawyer based in Baltimore who is working with Mr. Jenner on cases against the archdiocese and other institutions.

With the Chapter 11 filing, payouts to creditors — including victims suing for financial compensation — would be managed by a bankruptcy judge. Victims would not be able to present their experiences of abuse before a jury. Church officials would not be cross-examined by lawyers in open court.

Baltimore has symbolic stature in the American Catholic Church because of its history and large Catholic population. For the country’s first few decades, the entire American Catholic Church formally existed within the diocese. Its current leader, Archbishop Lori, was elected last year as vice president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Complete Article HERE!

Law for child sex abuse survivors begins Oct. 1

— Lawsuits expected against Baltimore Archdiocese

The measure lifts statute of limitations for filing civil claims

By Tracee Wilkins, Katie Leslie and Jeff Piper

A new chance for justice begins this weekend for some sex abuse survivors in Maryland. The Child Victims Act of 2023 takes effect on Oct. 1, lifting the statute of limitations on abuse cases so victims from even decades ago can pursue justice through civil cases.

Though schools or other groups could be affected,  much of the focus is on the Catholic Church. In anticipation of being sued by potentially hundreds of victims, the archbishop of Baltimore has said the church is considering filing for bankruptcy.

Some survivors, including Teresa Lancaster, said while financial settlements pale in comparison to finally holding their abusers — and the systems that protected them — to account, they see the church’s move as an effort to undermine the law.

“They don’t want to help the victims,” she said in an interview with the News4 I-Team.

Lancaster said the sexual abuse she endured at Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore began as a junior in 1970, continuing until she graduated in 1972. But the survivor and attorney said the effects of the abuse last to this day.

“I have three daughters, and every one of them has told me there were times when they just didn’t understand what was wrong with Mom. I mean, the depression and the anxiety rears its ugly head,” Lancaster said.

What happened to Lancaster and other girls at that high school at the hands of Father Joseph Maskell was explored in a 2017 Netflix series called “The Keepers.” Church leaders initially tried to discredit parts of the series. Then last spring, Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown released a report detailing how more than 150 Catholic priests and other Maryland clergy sexually abused more than 600 children and were never held accountable

The report stated Maskell was accused of abusing at least 39 boys and girls. But despite the church knowing about these allegations for nearly 30 years, according to the report, he was repeatedly reassigned until he was placed on leave in 1994.

“When the attorney general’s report was released, they knew about Father Maskell in 1966,” Lancaster said. “I was abused in 1970. They could have stopped it.”

Maskell died in 2001. Though he was never criminally charged, the church added him to its list of priests who had been credibly accused of abuse after his death. According to the church’s account on that public list, it states it became aware of allegations against him in 1992 that couldn’t be corroborated, until additional allegations emerged two years later.

Lancaster sued the archdiocese in 1995 but said her case was blocked by the statute of limitations. For 21 years, Lancaster fought alongside others for the state to change the law preventing child abuse victims from seeking justice decades later. Last session, lawmakers passed the Maryland Child Victims Act of 2023.

“We won,” she said of that moment. “Finally.”

The law allows for individual victims to sue governmental entities for up to $890,000, and private institutions, like the church, for up to $1.5 million.

But Lancaster said that’s not just what this is about.

“I just want to hear, ‘I’m sorry, and I won’t let this happen to anyone else,’” she said.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore wouldn’t talk to the I-Team on camera but pointed to a Sept. 5 statement from Archbishop William E. Lori, who said the church is considering filing for bankruptcy ahead of possible litigation.

“With the passage of the new law, there is a high likelihood that the archdiocese will face multiple lawsuits … Litigating them individually would potentially lead to some very high damage awards for a very small number of victim-survivors while leaving almost nothing for the vast majority of them. The archdiocese simply does not have unlimited resources to satisfy such claims,” he said in that letter.

Attorney Jonathan Schochor, who represents dozens of abuse victims, said, “That would represent the height of hypocrisy, in my view. It’s unthinkable to me.”

Schochor is working with Lancaster to file a class action lawsuit on behalf of church victims on Monday, once the law is in effect.

“We can’t undo the sexual abuse. We can only get full, fair and adequate compensation to help them heal,” he said.

David Lorenz, who heads the Maryland chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said for abuse survivors like him, “You don’t move on. You learn to live with it.”

He, too, fought for the law change and said filing Chapter 11 could impose a new deadline on victims to come forward, if they want to be named as creditors. He worries that pressure could prevent many victims’ stories — and the names of their abusers — from coming to light.

“The terrifying part of coming forward is you believe you’re alone. You believe you’re the only one. You believe that no one will believe what you say,” Lorenz said. “If you see that name in print, it helps you have the courage to come forward, and then your healing can start.”

The I-Team asked the Archdiocese of Baltimore about these concerns, and a spokesman said the church believes bankruptcy would be a “reasonable and equitable method of compensation.”

Earlier this month the archbishop cast doubt on the validity of the new law, writing, “While passed with the aim of enabling victim-survivors to find justice, the new law’s method is also believed by many to violate Maryland’s Constitution. The courts will need to make that determination.”

Anyone interested in filing a claim should file a report with police and the Maryland Attorney General’s Office, in addition to retaining legal counsel. Under the law, the abuse must have occurred in Maryland, but filers do not need to reside in the state.

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