Bishops begin fight for marriage vote

Church leaders say amendment that would ban gay marriage is a top issue in 2012 election.

(Really bishops? This is your top issue? Not jobs, not economic equity, not poverty, not justice? Shame on you!)

Minnesota’s Roman Catholic bishops are taking the unusual step of urging parish priests across the state to form committees to help get the proposed marriage amendment passed by voters in 2012.

“It is imperative that we marshal our resources to educate the faithful about the church’s teachings on these matters, and to vigorously organize and support a grass-roots effort to get out the vote to support the passage of this amendment,” Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt wrote in a letter to his priests dated Oct. 4.

“To give a sense of the scale, in 2009, more than $9 million was spent for and against Maine’s Question 1, a popular referendum to overturn the Legislature’s legalization of gay marriage,” Smith said.

Adkins, with the Minnesota Catholic Conference, declined to say how much money the Catholic Church has spent so far — or plans to spend — in its campaign.

Tegeder said he believes the archbishop should be devoting more of the archdiocese’s resources toward fighting poverty and hunger and other issues.

The Rev. James G. Wolnik, pastor at Church of the Holy Childhood in St. Paul, said he doesn’t have a problem with the committees and sees it as the church’s mission to inform Catholics about its stance on gay marriage.

“We are certainly not in favor of somehow changing marriage as it has been understood from the beginning. God, as far as we’re concerned, made marriage between one man and one woman.”

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The letter asks parish priests to “appoint a captain or co-chairs to lead a special parish ad hoc committee to spearhead this effort.”

Coming more than one year ahead of the November election, the move is the latest sign of the early intensity surrounding the amendment to change the state’s Constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Catholic leaders say they are taking this “unique” and unusual step because they see the amendment as one of the most important issues the state’s Catholics will have to consider in the coming year.

With nearly 1.1 million Catholics in Minnesota, the organizing effort could be a powerful force in getting boots on the ground to support the amendment. But Catholics tend to be a diverse group, not a monolithic voting bloc, and many could vote against the amendment or take umbrage at the church pushing for it.

Pros and cons

Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the Catholic Church in Minnesota, said the state’s other bishops are expected to send out similar letters, “if they haven’t already done so.”

“We believe it [marriage] is a vital social institution, and it’s under attack in the courts, the Legislature and the culture,” Adkins said. “And it would have profound consequences if marriage is in fact redefined. That’s why we’re putting extraordinary resources toward making sure this marriage amendment gets passed.”

But the Rev. Mike Tegeder, pastor at both St. Frances Cabrini and Gichitwaa Kateri churches in Minneapolis, said he spoke up against the effort at a meeting of priests and the archbishop this week.

Tegeder, a frequent critic of Archbishop Nienstedt’s policies, said he believes the letter calling for parishes to form committees to organize a get-out-the-vote effort is “imprudent” and “divisive.”

“There’s all kinds of wonderful ways to promote marriage, which I do on a regular basis and other churches are doing,” he said. “You don’t promote marriage by taking away the rights of a small segment of the population, many of whom are not Catholic or have no connection to the Catholic Church.”

Religion and politics expert John Green said he’s never heard of U.S. Catholic leaders encouraging clergy to form special committees at churches to mobilize Catholics to vote on particular issues.

“Oftentimes Catholic bishops ask priests to read letters … or let it be known the church definitely has a position on a certain issue,” said Green, professor of political science at the University of Akron, who studies politics and religion. “But actually instructing people to organize committees to support a ballot issue is very unusual.

“It may be very divisive,” he added. “Roman Catholic parishes tend to be large and diverse.”

Green also said he doesn’t think the church has violated its tax-exempt status “as long as it stays focused on the issue. If it got involved in any way with partisanship, with a political party or with a candidate, it would be highly problematic.”

Minnesota’s Catholic bishops made another unorthodox move before last fall’s legislative elections when they mailed DVDs to nearly 400,000 Catholics across the state, with a message encouraging them to support a state amendment defining marriage between a man and woman. That DVD prompted a complaint to the state’s campaign finance regulators, though the outcome is not clear yet.

Political battle taking shape

The bishops join other faith-based groups already gearing up for the heated political battle ahead.

Among them are members of Minnesota for Marriage, a coalition of groups formed in an effort to get the marriage amendment approved. The group includes the Minnesota Family Council and the National Organization for Marriage.

On the other side is Minnesotans United for All Families, a coalition that includes a number of more liberal-leaning faith-based groups opposed to the marriage amendment.

Unlike 2004, when there were 11 measures opposing same-sex marriage on the November ballot, Minnesota is likely to be the only state deciding on such a measure in 2012. As such, millions in out-of-state dollars will flow into the state, supporting and opposing the referendum, said Daniel A. Smith, a political science professor at the University of Florida.

Kansas City Bishop Indicted in Reporting of Abuse by Priest

The Roman Catholic bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Robert Finn, and the diocese he leads have been indicted by a county grand jury on a charge of failure to report suspected child abuse in the case of a priest who had been accused of taking lewd photographs of young girls.

Bishop Finn is accused of covering up abuse that occurred as recently as last year — almost 10 years since the nation’s Catholic bishops passed a charter pledging to report suspected abusers to law enforcement authorities.

The bishop has acknowledged that he knew of the existence of the photos last December but did not turn them over to the police until May.

During that period Bishop Finn and the diocese had reason to suspect that the priest, the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, might subject a child to abuse, the indictment said, citing “previous knowledge of concerns regarding Father Ratigan and children; the discovery of hundreds of photographs of children on Father Ratigan’s laptop, including a child’s naked vagina, upskirt images and other images focused on the crotch; and violations of restrictions placed on Father Ratigan.”

The indictment was announced on Friday by the Jackson County prosecutor, Jean Peters-Baker. It had been under seal since Oct. 6 because the bishop was out of the country. He returned on Thursday.

“This is about protecting children,” Ms. Peters-Baker said.

The bishop and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph were charged with one count each, a misdemeanor.

Bishop Finn appeared in court at 1 p.m. and pleaded not guilty, as did lawyers for the diocese.

Bishop Finn said in a statement, “We will meet these announcements with a steady resolve and a vigorous defense.”

He said that he and the diocese had given “complete cooperation” to law enforcement. He also pointed to steps he had taken since the scandal first became public, which included commissioning a report to look into the case and reinforcing procedures for handling allegations of abuse.

Father Ratigan was arrested in May and has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of taking indecent photographs of young girls, most recently during an Easter egg hunt last spring.

His case prompted a civil lawsuit filed in August that asserts that between December 2010 and May 2011, Father Ratigan attended children’s birthday parties, spent weekends in the homes of parish families, hosted the Easter egg hunt and presided, with the bishop’s permission, at a girl’s First Communion.

The case has generated fury at a bishop who was already a polarizing figure in his diocese, and there are widespread calls for him to resign. Parishioners started a Facebook page called ’”Bishop Finn Must Go” and circulated a petition. An editorial in The Kansas City Star in June calling for the bishop to step down concluded that prosecutors must “’actively pursue all relevant criminal charges” against everyone involved.

Stoking much of the anger is the fact that only three years ago, Bishop Finn settled lawsuits with 47 plaintiffs in sexual abuse cases for $10 million and agreed to a long list of preventive measures, among them to report anyone suspected of being a pedophile immediately to law enforcement authorities.

Bishop Finn, who was appointed in 2005, alienated many of his priests and parishioners, and won praise from others, when he remade the diocese to conform with his traditionalist theological views. He is one of few bishops affiliated with the conservative movement Opus Dei.

Full Article HERE!

Catholic order knew of alleged abuse: document

A Roman Catholic order in Quebec was aware of allegations of sexual abuse by brothers in the religious group, according to evidence discovered by Radio-Canada.

A nine-page document, written by a long-term member of the Order of Holy Cross, chronicles specific allegations of abuse over the years at Montreal’s College Notre Dame. The document lists a dozen Holy Cross brothers from various institutions.

It also outlines how alleged abusers at the order’s flagship private school were not reported to the police and instead were allowed to stay on as teachers or support staff.

The document said in at least one case, the college paid $250,000 to buy the silence of a family that complained.

Wilson Kennedy, a former member of the order, says there was a culture of silence that protected alleged abusers. (CBC)
Wilson Kennedy, a former member of the religious order, told Radio-Canada in an exclusive interview that while he was with the order he spoke to a Vatican official about the problem.

“Rome was informed and the Superior General asked me for clarification on several cases,” Kennedy said.

He said there was a culture of silence that protected alleged abusers.

“You protect a group. Was it wrong? Yeah, it was wrong,” Kennedy said.

The Order of Holy Cross was responsible for the care and education of thousands of Quebecers over the years. It ran institutions for people with handicaps, halfway houses and private colleges in Montreal and other areas of the province.

Allegations of abuse at College Notre Dame began to surface a couple of years ago. The college is right across the street from the iconic St. Joseph’s Oratory, which was also built by the Order of Holy Cross.

A family has launched a lawsuit against the order and formed a support group.

The order said it won’t comment while the case is still before the courts, but it did issue a statement saying it vigorously condemns all forms of misconduct.

Full Article HERE!

Victims of sexual abuse by priests barred from meeting pope

Italian victims of pedophile priests demanded to meet Pope Benedict XVI in an open letter published Saturday, accusing papal officials of blocking them.

“We have gone through all the official channels possible in order to meet you, but have been given nothing but evasive replies,” the letter from various associations of child abuse victims said.

“We are forced, alas, to admit the extent to which the victims of pedophile criminals are treated with disdain, as if they have the plague.”

The letter noted that the pope had met people abused by priests when young in Australia, Britain, Malta, the United States and most recently in his native Germany, but not in Italy.

“We cannot speak to you face to face to express our grief and frustration in the face of so many words and so few acts,” it added. “We ask you for an audience in the hope of being listened to, to understand the real meaning of your words when you express your sadness and shame.”

The letter asked for a meeting with the pope on Tuesday, the day after the head of one of the associations that signed the letter, Francesco Zanardi, is due to arrive at the Vatican at the end of a protest walk across Italy begun last month.

His group, L’Abuso, claims to have uncovered 130 cases of assault by pedophile priests in Italy since 2000.

At his last meeting with abuse victims, in Germany on September 23, the pope “expressed his deep compassion and regret over all that was done to them and their families”, according to the Vatican.

“He assured the people present that those in positions of responsibility in the Church are seriously concerned to deal with all crimes of abuse and are committed to the promotion of effective measures for the protection of children and young people.

“Pope Benedict XVI is close to the victims and he expresses the hope that the merciful God, Creator and Redeemer of all mankind, may heal the wounds of the victims and grant them inner peace.”

Over the past year large-scale pedophilia scandals have rocked the Roman Catholic Church in a number of countries, including Ireland, Austria, Belgium, the United States and Germany.

Long accused of a systematic cover-up, the Vatican says it has adopted a zero-tolerance policy, and that victims should be heard and helped, while the guilty are punished in the courts.

However many associations feel that its measures, including the brief meetings between the pope and abuse victims, are not enough.

Full Article HERE!

Abuse victims accuse Catholic church of using talks as a smokescreen

Negotiations on delivering a package of care for English and Welsh victims of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests are on the verge of collapse after survivor organisations accused the church of using the discussions as a smokescreen for inaction.

Two groups have pulled out of discussions led by the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission (NCSC) and the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service (CSAS), describing them as shambolic, toothless and unlikely to achieve anything by May 2012, when the pope’s deadline for a progress report expires.

Graham Wilmer, who heads the Lantern Project and was himself abused by a Catholic priest as a teenager, said: “We were prepared to talk to [the institution] that had harmed us, even though it was uncomfortable, because the end of it should be worthwhile,” he said. “[But] we can’t trust them. What has effectively has happened is nothing.”

Wilmer said the talks were meant to create “a comprehensive support package” for victims of sexual abuse by clergy but there was still no system in place for a victim to request support by telephone and that calls were answered by lawyers for the church’s insurance company.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the head of the Roman Catholic church in England and Wales, declined to meet Wilmer or the forum before the two groups walked out.

Wilmer said another aggravating factor for his organisation was that the church had continued to oppose victims seeking compensation over the past year.

He said: “There certainly is the intention to deliver what looks like an attempt to produce a better response to victims of abuse, but when you test it, you just end up with a bunch of lawyers … they [the Catholic church] are not prepared to deal with the victims of its abuse in any way other than to fight them through the courts.”

Dr Margaret Kennedy, founder of Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors (Macsas), has also pulled out of the talks, describing them as “a complete shambles”. She said: “Macsas has always been very uncomfortable with this particular group, partly because it started off with no aims and objectives and no money on the table… to put [recommendations] into place.”

She said church representatives “were continually refusing to even mention clergy abuse” in the meetings, preferring to widen out their remit to all survivors of abuse in society.

“We said: ‘Isn’t your first response to the victims of clergy abuse whom your priests have raped and tortured?’ … And they didn’t want to talk about that. ‘You’re not the only victims of abuse’ was the message we basically got,” she said.

Kennedy said that one of the group’s purported aims, to “reconcile” victims of abuse to the church, had angered her.

“They have this great idea that they are going to heal victims that they have actually harmed in the first place. They haven’t a clue of how victims of clergy abuse feel,” she said.

Pete Saunders, from the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, said his organisation and three others were sticking with the talks because there was still a “chink of light”.

Saunders, who was sexually abused by two Catholic priests as a child and believes there are “thousands and thousands” of UK victims like him, said confidential proposals on survivor treatment were now going to be put before the Catholic bishops’ conference in mid-November and this represented a make-or-break point.

He said: “We are aware that the Catholic church have got a lot to answer for in terms of the way that they protect abusing priests and nuns. They have an appalling record on that and the colleagues around the table, including the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service, have all agreed that.”

But Saunders said the church’s senior clergy were “now going to have it laid on the line”. In November, they would be told to “stop making life difficult for survivors and challenging very legitimate claims from people who want to get on with their life and want some degree of justice”, he said.

“If the bishops’ conference closes down that chink of light, then we will certainly walk away because it will mean there is no sincerity,” he said.

A church spokesperson told the Guardian that, when it came to compensation claims, the church’s hands were tied by charity commission rules that stopped it handing out money without first being lawfully entitled to do so. It is also a requirement for the church to be insured against indemnity and the spokesperson said it could not be responsible for the actions of the insurance company when it came to compensation claims.

Adrian Child, the director of CSAS, said: “The NCSC and CSAS have been in dialogue with representatives of a number of survivors’ support organisations and others for the past 12-plus months. The aim is to develop a sensitive and just response to survivors of abuse within a church setting in order to promote healing for victims of abuse.

“Regret was expressed by the group that they [Macsas] had made that decision, but the decision was respected and they were thanked for their contribution to the work so far.”

Full Article HERE!