Pope Francis accused of opposing reforms to tackle clerical sexual abuse

— Activists say pontiff also ‘turning a blind eye’ to priests who assault nuns and force them to have abortions

Activists for the survivors of clerical sexual abuse say Francis has failed to fulfil his promises and new rules have made little impact.

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Pope Francis has been accused of opposing reforms that would seriously address the problem of clerical sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults, while “turning a blind eye” to priests who assault nuns and force them to have abortions.

Francis promised to “spare no effort” to bring to justice paedophile priests and the bishops who covered up their crimes at an unprecedented summit in February 2019, an event that was supposed to mark a turning point in the handling of a scandal that has embroiled the Catholic church for decades.

A week before the summit, Francis became the first pontiff to publicly admit that priests had also sexually abused nuns, some of whom shared testimony during the event, and pledged to do more to fight the problem.

Three months later, the Vatican established procedures for every diocese to report allegations of abuse and foster accountability for the actions of bishops and cardinals. Francis also abolished the rule of “pontifical secrecy” – a kind of code of confidentiality – in an effort to improve transparency in sexual abuse cases.

Five years on, activists for the survivors of clerical sexual abuse say Francis has failed to fulfil his promises and the new rules have made little impact.

On Tuesday Anne Barrett Doyle, a co-founder of BishopAccountability, which tracks alleged clergy sexual abuse cases, cited 10 cases since 2019 that allegedly show the pope favoured accused bishops and clerics over their victims. The cases include that of Marko Rupnik, who was excommunicated in 2020 after accusations of sexual and psychological assault against nuns dating back three decades, but in 2023 was accepted into a diocese in his native Slovenia.

“It would be one thing if we were coming here to talk about an overall good record with an occasional inconsistency, but we’re not, we’re talking about a continued pattern of the pope backing accused abusers,” Doyle told reporters in Rome. “It’s not that this pope doesn’t have his heart in reform or is maybe being blocked by other members of the curia. I believe he is opposed to reform – his measures have been designed to produce little impact.”

Meanwhile, the Vatican had been aware of the abuse of nuns by priests for decades before the public acknowledgment by Francis, but “nothing has come of his commitment” to fight the issue, said Doris Reisinger, an activist and survivor of clerical sexual abuse who authored a research paper on the girls and women impregnated by priests and their subsequent forced abortions.

“While the pope publicly condemns abortion, comparing it to hiring a hitman, he turns a blind eye to the priests who force nuns into having abortions,” said Reisinger.

Reisinger said that while some nuns had come forward about abuse since 2019, they were mostly too afraid to speak out. There is scant care for abused nuns, many of whom have been thrown out of their orders and made homeless, and under canon law they “have no status at all”, she said.

“The pope has admitted abuse of nuns but he has not acted on it,” said Reisinger. “And we have never heard a pope or bishop acknowledge coerced abortion at the hands of priests. They always treat abortion as a female issue yet they have never spoken about priests forcing abortions, despite knowing it is going on.”

In her research, Reisinger had come across cases in which the priest paid for an abortion, including one occasion when money from the offertory collection was used.

The Vatican has been approached for comment.

Complete Article HERE!

‘Deliver Us From Evil’

— Rape, Reproductive Coercion and the Catholic Church

Anti-abortion marchers and parishioners walk from the Old St. Patrick’s Church to a Planned Parenthood clinic where they pray as a protest against abortions, on April 1, 2023 in New York City.

For decades, the Catholic Church has shown a disregard for clergy sexual abuse and reproductive health. Why are priests and bishops considered to have any moral authority on issues of sexuality?

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Sexual assault and reproductive coercion share similar dynamics: Both are forms of violence that intimately violate another person’s body. The Catholic Church’s clergy sexual abuse scandals, combined with its efforts to control women’s reproductive choices by banning abortion and attacking contraception, expose a troubling pattern of sexual sociopathology. This conduct fundamentally undermines the Church’s claims to moral authority on issues of sexuality.

By now, the stories are familiar and well documented.

  • The 2006 documentary Deliver Us From Evil chillingly reveals how Catholic bishops repeatedly relocated a priest named Oliver O’Grady from parish to parish in an attempt to cover up his rape of dozens of children.
  • The 2015 Academy Award-winning film, Spotlight, dramatizes the true story of the Boston Globe investigative reporting team that exposed widespread sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests in the 1970s and the cover up by the Boston archdiocese.
  • In 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury published a 1,356-page report documenting decades of sexual abuse by more than 300 Catholic priests who victimized thousands of children in six dioceses. The report found a “systemic coverup by senior church officials in Pennsylvania and at the Vatican.”

But incidents of sexual abuse by priests are not confined to the past. On Dec. 14, a federal court sentenced 68-year-old Providence-based Catholic priest James W. Jackson to six years in a federal prison for downloading and storing thousands of files containing child pornography on his computer in the church rectory. Authorities found 12,000 images and 1,300 videos of child pornography, including videos of prepubescent females portrayed in acts of bestiality and sadomasochism.

The Catholic Church also keeps sexually abusive clergy in positions of authority. A Massachusetts newspaper recently reported on a case where a priest had sex with a parishioner in the 1990s after leading her to believe he could cure her lesbianism by having sex with her. He remains in active ministry at a university, working with vulnerable young people.

In a recent case in New Orleans, an archbishop worked to free a Catholic priest convicted of raping an altar boy by attempting to get the victim to support the release. According to The Guardian, “representatives of the church that he had been raised to believe in approached him at his home, at his job and at a relative’s funeral to ask him to lend his support to efforts to secure an early release for his rapist.”

To avoid accountability, the Catholic Church opposes laws designed to help survivors of sexual abuse. Between 2011 and 2019, the Catholic Church spent $10.6 million in eight Northeastern states to lobby against such laws.

In Massachusetts, for example, the Catholic Church spent $537,551 in this period. Massachusetts law limits liability of nonprofit charities to $20,000, a figure so minimal it often deters attorneys from suing the Catholic Church. State lawmakers are now working to eliminate this immunity in cases of child sex abuse. They are also working to remove time limits for civil liability for child sex abuse, which the Boston Archdiocese has opposed.

Another strategy the Catholic Church uses to avoid accountability is to file for bankruptcy so they do not have to pay court-ordered penalties to compensate the victims of clergy sex abuse, as they recently did in California and Baltimore.

The all-male Catholic leadership’s long history of perpetuating sexual assault and reproductive coercion grows out of a toxic masculinity that devalues women’s lives, rights and dignity.

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Members of Ending Clergy Abuse (ECA), a global organization of prominent survivors and activists, display photos of Barbara Blaine, the late founder and president of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), during a protest during the papal summit on Feb. 23, 2019, in Rome.

To fight back, survivors formed an organization in 1989 called the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), which has documented widespread sexual abuse by priests, and the repeated attempts by bishops and other church leaders to cover up and excuse this abuse. Today, SNAP has over 25,000 members with support groups in over 60 cities across the U.S. and the world.

Another group working to hold the Catholic Church accountable for clergy sexual abuse is the BishopsAccountability.org, which maintains a database of the accused, searchable by religious order, as well as a timeline of key events of the abuse crisis in the U.S. and the world, information on accused bishops, an archive of lawsuits and related documents, and an abuse tracker with daily news stories on clergy sexual abuse.

The Catholic Church positions itself as a moral authority on sexual matters, yet it has been responsible for the widespread sexual abuse of numerous children and vulnerable adults in its care while refusing to take responsibility for the resulting harm. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church has led the charge to overturn Roe v. Wade and bankrolled the movement to ban abortion nationwide, endangering the lives of millions of women and pregnant people. They are also fighting to grant zygotes, embryos, and fetuses full constitutional rights that women no longer have.

In the many hospitals they control, the Catholic Church blocks access to reproductive healthcare, including emergency contraception for rape victims, medically necessary sterilization, and abortion care. Due in part to hospital consolidations, the Catholic Church now controls one in every six acute care hospital beds in the United States. The first woman to die because she was not offered a life-saving abortion due to a Catholic-backed abortion ban enacted in 2021 was Yeniifer Alvarez-Estrada Glick. She died in July 2022 in Luling, Texas.

Catholic priests and bishops perpetrate and tolerate astounding levels of sexual violence, and then deny their victims the right to prevent or end life-threatening pregnancies.

The all-male Catholic leadership’s long history of perpetuating sexual assault and reproductive coercion grows out of a toxic masculinity that devalues women’s lives, rights and dignity. Both are forms of intimate assault that deny the bodily autonomy of women in particular.

Given the Catholic Church’s history of clergy sexual abuse, and their callous disregard for the reproductive health and safety of women, why are priests and bishops considered to have any moral authority on issues of sexuality?

How is it that supposedly-celibate men, who know nothing about women’s bodies and who tolerate, cover up and excuse widespread sexual abuse in the church, have the right to speak about anything related to women’s sexuality? Is the unnatural suppression of their own sexuality perhaps fueling their frantic attempts to suppress the sexuality of others? Are their actions, at some level, due to a jealous rage that others are experiencing the natural sexual pleasure they deny themselves?

The essence of rape is taking control of another person’s body against their will. In the same way, compelling another person to carry a pregnancy to term is taking control of another person’s body against their will. Rape and reproductive coercion are two sides of one coin: misogynist violence. The emperor has no clothes. Why can’t people recognize this?

Complete Article HERE!

Pope says ‘backward’ U.S. conservatives have replaced faith with ideology

Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience in the Pope Paul VI hall at the Vatican, Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023. Pope Francis has blasted the “backwardness” of some conservatives in the U.S. Catholic Church, saying they have replaced faith with ideology and that a correct understanding of the church envisages doctrine developing over time.

Pope Francis has blasted the “backwardness” of some conservatives in the U.S. Catholic Church, saying they have replaced faith with ideology and that a correct understanding of Catholic doctrine allows for change over time.

Francis’ comments were an acknowledgment of the divisions in the U.S. Catholic Church, which has been split between progressives and conservatives who long found support in the doctrinaire papacies of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, particularly on issues of abortion and same-sex marriage.

Many conservatives have blasted Francis’ emphasis instead on social justice issues such as the environment and the poor, while also branding as heretical his opening to letting divorced and civilly remarried Catholics receive the sacraments.

Francis made the comments in a private meeting with Portuguese members of his Jesuit religious order while visiting Lisbon on Aug. 5; the Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica, which is vetted by the Vatican secretariat of state, published a transcript of the encounter Monday.

During the meeting, a Portuguese Jesuit told Francis that he had suffered during a recent sabbatical year in the United States because he came across many Catholics, including some U.S. bishops, who criticized Francis’ 10-year papacy as well as today’s Jesuits.

The 86-year-old Argentine acknowledged his point, saying there was “a very strong, organized, reactionary attitude” in the U.S. church, which he called “backward.” He warned that such an attitude leads to a climate of closure, which was erroneous.

“Doing this, you lose the true tradition and you turn to ideologies to have support. In other words, ideologies replace faith,” he said.

“The vision of the doctrine of the church as a monolith is wrong,” he added. “When you go backward, you make something closed off, disconnected from the roots of the church,” which then has devastating effects on morality.

“I want to remind these people that backwardness is useless, and they must understand that there’s a correct evolution in the understanding of questions of faith and morals,” that allows for doctrine to progress and consolidate over time.

Francis has previously acknowledged the criticism directed at him from some U.S. conservatives, once quipping that it was an “honor” to be attacked by Americans.

Complete Article HERE!

Who will Catholics follow? Pope Francis or the right-wing U.S. bishops?

Pope Francis welcomed President Biden to the Vatican for talks in October 2021, as U.S. Catholic bishops debated denying the president communion in American churches.

By Mary Jo McConahay

It’s time to take a clear look at the far-right politics of U.S. Catholic bishops. They won a 50-year campaign to turn back legal abortion, but they will not rest, it seems, until the country becomes a Christian nationalist state, with their moral principles codified into law. The religious right has long been identified with white evangelical Christians, but the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, some 250 men, mostly white and past middle age, ranks among the nation’s most formidable reactionary forces. As a Catholic, I must protest.

There was a time when I was proud of the principled but often unpopular positions of my faith leaders. During the Cold War, they spoke out against nuclear proliferation. When neoconservatives rose to power in Washington, the bishops issued a powerful letter on the economy, reminding government of its responsibility for making a “preferential option for the poor.” They stood against Ronald Reagan’s support for autocrats in wartime Central America — I was covering the region as a reporter and met several bishops who traveled south to see for themselves before making the policy decision.

Since those days, the proportion of conservative U.S. prelates has increased with nominations by the two pontiffs who preceded Pope Francis, and the USCCB drifted far to the political right, narrowing its focus to the “preeminent threat” of abortion. Its members lead the country’s largest and hardly monolithic faith group — 73 million American Catholics — but it also attempts to sway the law with amicus curiae briefs on cases from gay rights to prayer in schools, and with a powerful lobbying arm, its Office of Government Relations, tasked with influencing Congress. The bishops are driving the U.S. church to the point of schism with opposition to Pope Francis, who emphasizes pastoral care more than doctrine, and who virtually slapped down their attempt to forbid Holy Communion to lifelong Catholic Joe Biden, who is pro-choice.

What shaped the conservatism of the America’s bishops?

The roots of today’s right-wing church hierarchy go back to the 1970s when Catholic activist (and Heritage Foundation co-founder) Paul Weyrich persuaded evangelical minister and broadcaster Jerry Falwell to join forces in a “moral majority” — Weyrich suggested the term. As a movement, ultraconservative Catholics and evangelicals would restore the values and morals of the founding fathers as Weyrich, Falwell and their followers saw them, a promise taken up by Reagan, their favored presidential candidate. Abortion became the Moral Majority’s flagship issue.

That highly politicized obsession has put U.S. Catholic bishops sharply at odds with the global church (and public opinion) in their animus to Pope Francis, who calls capital punishment, euthanasia and care for the poor equally important “pro-life” issues.  For moderate Catholics like me, the deviation hits close to home, pushing the U.S. church too far from too much of Christ’s most elemental teachings while engaging in modern culture wars.

About sexual orientation, Francis, who recently celebrated 10 years as pope, famously said, “Who am I to judge?” but U.S. bishops rail against the “intrinsic disorder” of homosexuality. They ignore his urgent call for action on climate change and its existential threats. They drag their feet on his unprecedented process to prepare for a global Synod this year in Rome, which asks people, and in particular women, at every level of the church’s life — not just bishops — to contribute assessments and aspirations meant to define the mission of today’s church.

During the COVID pandemic some U.S. prelates tried to undermine the authority of both church and state. Francis encouraged vaccination, but San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone distributed communion unmasked and unvaccinated and played the aggrieved victim (a Christian nationalist trope), claiming that “cultural elites” treated Catholics with “willful discrimination” by limiting public gatherings. Timothy Broglio, archbishop for the Military Services USA, contravened the pope by saying Catholic service members could request a religious exemption to the shot, despite Pentagon orders they get it. Broglio is the newly elected president of the USCCB.

The U.S. church has a history of discrimination against Black Catholics in parishes and seminaries, and now the bishops go wrong, with notable exceptions, by failing to adequately condemn white supremacy. After Black Lives Matter protests, Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez — president of the U.S. bishops for three years until late 2022, and vice president of the group before that — called out social solidarity movements as “pseudo-religions” that are part of “a deliberate effort … to erase the Christian roots of society and to suppress any remaining Christian influences.”

Wealthy laity support the vision of far-right prelates. Southern California billionaire Timothy Busch, for example, is the founder of the Napa Institute and its influential summer conference where well-to-do conservative Catholics hobnob with bishops, archbishops and right wing politicians. Archbishops Gomez and Cordileone are advisors; last year Trump administration Atty. Gen. Bill Barr was a keynote speaker. Busch, who sees unregulated free markets as congruent with Catholic teachings, has little to say about Francis’ attack on the “sacrilized workings” of the global economy.

Perhaps of greatest concern, the USCCB has been increasingly willing to render the wall between church and state a mere gossamer curtain. Invoking novel theories of “religious liberty,” the bishops have fought legislation and court decisions most Americans support, notably laws protecting same sex marriage and access to contraceptives.

At age 86, Pope Francis is close to the end of his pontificate. Among American Catholics, a stunning 82% view him favorably. But he may not live to appoint enough like-minded cardinals to elect a similar successor.

Moderate U.S. prelates do not go along with the USCCB right-wing hardliners, but they are a minority. I can only hope their numbers grow in time, providing the church with the leadership devoid of political considerations that American Catholics deserve.

Complete Article HERE!

The Pope’s African pilgrimage

— Does the continent represent the future of Catholicism?

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As milestones go, the recent sight of three leading men of God together in Africa was quite something — a rare chance for Christian leaders to spread the word and challenge rivals for hearts and minds.

Pope Francis and the Vatican media machine might have led the way, but alongside him went Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields. They shared the Papal plane on the way home with the kind of bonhomie and mutual understanding that highlights the importance of Africa in the contest to be the world’s leading faith.

There they were, the three of them, in the war zone of South Sudan, the Christian stronghold that broke away from the Muslim north amid terrible conflict. Today that newest of countries represents a small but symbolically important piece of the continent’s religious jigsaw that will see Christianity grow by more than 40 per cent, the hierarchy believes, by 2050, and so ensure their faith will continue to stay just ahead of Islam in global per centages.

Some walked for days just to see and hear him

Ahead of that historic appearance of a Christian triumvirate, Pope Francis had spent days in Congo, sub-Saharan Africa’s largest country, home to more than 100 million, half of them Catholic, and the crucible of a conflict that has claimed more than five million lives, displacing millions more. It was a grim sign of the continuing murder and mayhem that the Pope had to cancel a trip to Eastern Congo, the epicentre of the war, because of fighting near the regional capital of Goma.

At his main mass in the capital, Kinshasa, more than a million Catholics joined him, some having walked for days just to see and hear him. Everywhere he went, thousands lined the streets and overpasses to glimpse the man many Congolese call simply “Our Father.” Francis, deeply moved, found the voice that has eluded him in recent times.

“This country, so immense and full of life, this diaphragm of Africa, struck by such violence like a blow to the stomach, has seemed for some time to be gasping for breath,” he told followers, clearly energised by the sight of so many worshippers. “But you are a diamond, believe in yourselves, and your future.”

The numbers do tell. According to the Vatican’s news agency, Africa accounts for 265 million members of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics — 20 per cent, and growing fast. The Anglican church is smaller but with significant followers in those countries with a footprint of the British empire: Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa (think the late Desmond Tutu)

“Africa offers Christianity such opportunity, born out of tragedy and suffering maybe, but such potential,” to quote one of the Pope’s advisers, noting that the Pontiff insisted on making the trip despite poor health of late and being now wheelchair-bound. “Francis, better than anyone, knows where we have lost ground, and where we need to work.”

It is ironic to consider it but, yes, the Argentinian Pope does indeed know where Catholicism has seen the faithful flee elsewhere. In Latin America, once the vanguard of his own Jesuit mission and home to the largest Catholic country on the planet, Brazil, Church leaders acknowledge that tens of millions have been lost to rivals, especially the Evangelical and Pentecostal faiths.

Even in the Pope’s beloved Argentina, you can see the exodus and not just in the major cities, Buenos Aires, Cordoba, Rosario. In the foothills of the Andes, in conservative, rural Mendoza, the Catholic church is often half-empty. In contrast the Evangelical arena, often a large, multi-purpose room on the main street, or a schoolroom not used on the weekends, can be packed to overflowing — with the devout outside in sizable numbers.

“Ours is Christianity that speaks to people’s needs, and people’s lives,” says Evangelical minister Jose Hernandez in Mendoza, pinpointing how Rome’s hard line on “social issues” (code for contraception, abortion, and the role of women in the Church) especially during the long years of the Polish Pope, John Paul the Second, opened the floodgates. “Ordinary people have flocked to us.”

The religious battle for Africa has been joined

Fascinatingly, the attempts of Pope Francis to soften the conservative line of his predecessors — taking for example such a relaxed view of homosexuality (“who am I to judge?” he says, “they are children of God too”) — has produced blowback, the likes of which Christianity may not have seen before. Such appeasement seems to have come too late for his Church in Latin America — and in Africa, his open voice on gay life is the seed of clear dispute between his Vatican and some fiercely traditional Bishops, let alone communities, on the ground in the likes of Congo and South Sudan.

“The Pope can have his view on homosexuality, and we have ours,” said one Catholic Bishop in attendance as the Pope celebrated that mega-mass in Kinshasa. “It is a sin.” Justin Welby and the Anglican church heard likewise in South Sudan from their flock. “Better to have two wives than to be gay or lesbian,” according to one Protestant Archbishop there.

The religious battle for Africa has been joined, and Christianity, losing out elsewhere in the Global South, sees the continent as the go-to arena tomorrow. So much so that inside the Vatican — where I was once a young correspondent back in the day when they dared to elect a Pole as Pope — they say the next Pontiff could well be an African.

Complete Article HERE!