Legion of Christ investigation: The cover-up continues

The Associated Press has another disturbing story about the ongoing investigation into the Legion of Christ, once the darling of the Vatican establishment and a special favorite of Pope John Paul II, whose founder, Marciel Maciel, turned out to be a drug addict and pedophile, who also fathered children with at least two women and whose financial machinations included bribery and financial misconduct.

Now, as Legionaires leave the order in droves, the Italian cardinal charged with cleaning up the mess has taken a pass on digging up the truth and removing from leadership those that abetted Maciel’s crimes, including those against his own seminarians. From the AP story:

“I don’t see what good would be served” by further inquiry into a coverup, the Italian cardinal [Velasio De Paolis] said. “Rather, we would run the risk of finding ourselves in an intrigue with no end. Because these are things that are too private for me to go investigating.”

Too private? It’s that kind of “privacy” that abets those who abuse their power, especially in sexual ways. Another word for it is secrecy.

If the church ever needed a South Africa-style Truth and Reconciliation Commission,

the Legion situation is it. Journalists such as Jason Berry have uncovered the financial means by which Maciel exerted influence in the Vatican (see his book Render unto Rome), including outright bribes to influential Vatican officials. The perversity of Maciel’s sexual behavior is magnified by the perversity of the Legion’s formation, which forbid criticism of the founder and required loyalty oaths and secrecy, all contrary to the gospel.

De Paolis as much as admitted that he could discern no overriding “charism” in the Legion–the mission or driving force behind its mission–which is reason enough to disband it. (“Bella domanda”–“good question”–he answered in the AP story.) Indeed, the Legion was created out of Maciel’s profound sinfulness, through which he manipulated the good intentions of the many people who came to join him. It is the duty of the church to help them heal, and if they are able, to find other ways to serve God’s people.

The Legion itself must go–but only after what is still hidden in darkness is brought to light.

Complete Article HERE!

Vatican sexual abuse inquiry into Ealing Abbey given short shrift

Alleged victims of sexual abuse have reacted coolly to the news of a Vatican investigation into a London abbey, and have called for inquiries into other Roman Catholic institutions where children are claimed to have been mistreated.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome has ordered an “apostolic visitation” to uncover the scale of abuse at Ealing abbey, where monks and lay teachers have been accused of mistreating children at a neighbouring school, St Benedict’s, over decades.

It is the first inquiry of its kind into sexual abuse in Britain. Father David Pearce, a priest at Ealing abbey, was jailed in 2009.

Groups supporting alleged victims have questioned the effectiveness and integrity of an internal inquiry, especially given that its findings will remain secret.

The abuse is alleged to have dated from the 1960s to 2009.

Pete Saunders, of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, said it was a public relations exercise and akin to “putting Dracula in charge of a blood bank”.

Anne Lawrence of Ministry and Clerical Sexual Abuse Survivors, said although the Ealing inquiry showed the Catholic hierarchy was beginning to understand the concept of institutional responsibility, there were other schools and other places that warranted investigation. There were, she alleged, “more than 20 schools where there was systematic abuse and we would like to see inquiries into all of them”.

Relations between the church and survivor groups are already under strain. Earlier this month the Guardian revealed that victim support groups had pulled out of discussions led by the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission (NCSC) and the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service (CSAS).

They described them as shambolic, toothless and unlikely to achieve anything by May 2012, when the pope’s deadline for a progress report expires.

The talks were intended to come up with a care package for survivors of clerical sexual abuse.

Graham Wilmer, who heads the Lantern Project and says he was 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 … [But] we can’t trust them. What has effectively has happened is nothing.”

The Catholic church in England and Wales has not suffered the same fate as those in Ireland and the US, which have been left reeling by abuse allegations.

It has defended its child protection procedures, describing them as robust, and has apologised for past behaviour. But there is evidence to suggest that for all its commitment to healing and contrition, old attitudes prevail.

Two civil cases show the church continuing to engage in a war of attrition with victims who were abused as children.

It has denied responsibility for the alleged sexual abuse of a Portsmouth woman by one of its priests, saying the cleric was not an employee. Should the church win, it will avoid having to pay compensation to victims in the future.

In another case, involving more than 150 former pupils suing for an estimated £8m for sexual and physical abuse they claim to have suffered at St William’s boys home in Market Weighton, Yorkshire, the diocese of Middlesbrough is contesting a court ruling that it is jointly liable with the De La Salle Brotherhood, a Catholic order of lay teachers, for the alleged abuse. St William’s was owned by the diocese but many of the staff were members of the Brotherhood.

Claims were first launched in 2004 when the home’s former principal, Brother James Carragher, was jailed for 14 years for abusing boys. The appeal will be heard next July in the supreme court.

Complete Article HERE!

Scandal and the Vatican: Let’s Not Talk About Kansas City


The news that an American bishop had been charged with failing to report child abuse should have been collosal news in the Vatican.

But the response has been as if the case is far away and far removed from the Holy See — and the Papacy that is so quick to come down on questions of celibacy, women priests and the rights of gay Catholics appears to regard the American scandal, involving a priest and what seems to be child pornography, as a matter for local jurisprudence.

On last Friday, prosecutors in Kansas City, Missouri, secured an indictment from a grand jury that alleges Bishop Robert Finn neglected to inform the police for months after discovering “hundreds of disturbing images of children” on a priest’s laptop in December 2010, including photographs focused on the crotch, upskirt pictures and at least one image of a child’s naked vagina.

The offending priest — Shawn Ratigan — was relieved of his position as a church pastor and transferred to a convent, but neither the police, his parishioners, nor the parents of a nearby Catholic school were informed of the pictures until May 2011.

In the interim, Ratigan continued to attend events involving children, including birthday parties and a first communion, and allegedly attempted to take lewd pictures of a 12-year-old girl. Finn and Ratigan have both pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.

The case against Finn marks the first time a bishop in the United States has been indicted for failing to report abuse by a priest under his supervision. It comes nearly 10 years after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted policy mandating that dioceses report allegations of sexual abuse to the public authorities and seven months after the Vatican urged all bishops across the world to institute similar measures.

It also comes three years after a $10 million settlement in Kansas City with 47 plaintiffs alleging abuse at the hands of priests, in which Bishop Finn agreed to immediately inform the police of any suspicion of sexual abuse by members of his diocese. However, when the Vatican was contacted for comment, regarding the allegations, it demurred, citing the pending charges.

“There is a legal procedure under way,” the Vatican’s spokesperson Father Federico Lombardi told a reporter for the AFP. “Any intervention could be interpreted as interference.”

The Vatican’s tepid response highlights a chasm between the public perception of the way the church is organized and the structure by which it usually operates. While most outsiders imagine the Catholic Church as a monolithic hierarchy, with a direct line of command from the Pope down to most junior priest, for many inside its ranks the better analogy is a community, in which the Vatican plays a coordinating role for a host of almost completely independent dioceses.

“The church doesn’t work at all like a centralized machine, in that a command that comes from above is automatically communicated to the parts of the machine below,” says Sandro Magister, editor of the Rome-based website Chiesa (Italian for “church”). “The autonomy of single bishops is very strong.”

Thus, while an outside observer might draw a line of accountability directly to Rome, from the Vatican’s point of view responsibility for a sex abuse scandal would more traditionally lie at the local level. Indeed, in other cases, lawyers for the church have explicitly argued that bishops don’t work directly or the Vatican.

But, under Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican has nonetheless begun to ratchet up the pressure, according to Phil Lawler, editor of CatholicCulture.org, and a long-time critic of the Church’s slow response to the 25-year-old sex abuse scandal.

“The Vatican is gradually getting a grip on it, if not in this country, in others,” he says.

In Ireland, for instance, the church forced the resignation of three bishops who failed to report abuse by priests.

“I think you’re starting to see steadily more active supervision,” says Lawler, adding that the Vatican would nonetheless likely continue to have a largely hands off approach. “The autonomy of bishops isn’t going to away,” he says. “That’s fundamental to the structure of the church.”

Yet for the victims of the abusive priests, it’s not an argument that has much resonance. After all, when a priest advocates ending the tradition of celibacy or in favor of the ordination of women, the Vatican is quick to clamp down.

“Rome does have a direct influence on diocese around the country and around the world,” says Michael Hunter, the Kansas City director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) who has filed a new lawsuit against Finn for breach of contract, alleging that the bishop failed to live up to the terms of the earlier settlement.

“The Vatican really could and should come down on the moral side of this and really chastise this diocese,” he adds.

“And the heck with the legal issues.”

Complete Article HERE!

Keep calm and lock the doors


Flipping through my normal news sources, I came across an ‘in other news’ story about the Occupy London (dubbed by the BBC as ‘anti-capitalist protest’). Seems that said protests are large enough that they have accidentally done what the Nazis needed the Blitz to do, they have shuttered St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Citing health and safety concerns, the Right Reverend Graeme Knowles, dean of the cathedral, announced that they will be closing St. Paul’s until further notice. As can be seen by the image above, the protest camp is sandwiched between the historic cathedral and the Exchange, filling Paternoster Square.

What struck me about this story most is that I see it as a sad tale of missed opportunity. Here is a large group of people who are following their conscience and speaking out against economic/social injustice and the Church, rather than providing assistance and showing that they are sensitive to the needs of their neighbour, decide to turn out the lights and lock the doors.

Is that the message that they wish to send?
Is that the message we wish to be sent?
Is that the message that Christ has charged them to preach?
Where is God in this?

Complete Article HERE!

Sins of omission just as grievous


We all mess up. There are things we shouldn’t do, and do. And there are things we should do, and don’t.

To put it in Christian lingo, there are sins of commission and sins of omission. Or to quote the general Confession from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, “We have left undone those things we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done.”

The U.S. Roman Catholic Diocese of Kansas-St. Joseph is reeling from two such high-profile sins.

The pastor of the parish of St. Patrick’s, Rev. Shawn Ratigan, was beloved for his fondness for children and always carried a camera at events at the church and the parish elementary school. In May 2010, the school principal sent a letter to the diocese with concerns that Ratigan’s behaviour fit the profile of a child predator.

The diocese’s vicar general, Monsignor Robert Murphy, spoke to Ratigan about setting boundaries with children but Ratigan continued to attend children’s events, spend weekends with parish families, host an Easter egg hunt and, with his bishop’s consent, preside at a girl’s first communion. He is alleged to have taken lewd photographs during that time.

Last December, a computer technician found hundreds of “disturbing” photos on the priest’s laptop that included nude pictures of girls. He turned the laptop over to the diocese. The next day, Ratigan attempted suicide.

In May of this year, Murphy called the police and the priest was indicted by a federal grand jury. Parents of students and parishioners who had only been told that their priest had fallen sick from carbon monoxide poisoning, were understandably stunned when Ratigan was arrested and charged with three state child pornography counts.

In June he was charged with 13 federal counts of producing, possessing and attempting to produce child pornography. He has pleaded not guilty and remains jailed.

The other side of this sad story, however, is in the “things we should do and don’t” category. The bishop of the diocese, Robert Finn, despite promising three years ago to report suspected pedophiles to police as part of a $10-million US settlement with 47 plaintiffs in sexual abuse cases in Kansas City, has acknowledged that he knew of the priest’s photographs last December but did not turn them over to police until May.

He has been held criminally liable for Ratigan’s behaviour and has become the first U.S. bishop charged for sheltering abusive clergy. If convicted of the misdemeanor, Finn would face a possible fine of up to $1,000 and a jail sentence of up to one year. The diocese faces a possible fine of up to $5,000.

Last Sunday, the bishop urged worshippers to keep the diocese together and avoid discouragement. He has promised to fight the charge. He said in a statement, “We will meet these announcements with a steady resolve and a vigorous defence.”

While Finn admits to knowing about the photographs five months before taking action, he claims that he didn’t read the school principal’s letter dated May 2010 until this past spring.

Finn has the right to a trial by a jury of his peers. He has the right to avoid self-incrimination. He has the right to use every legal advantage the judicial system affords the accused.

It is also important to stress, once again, that clergy abuse is only a small portion of the abuse of children at the hands of coaches, teachers and extended family members.

Nevertheless, victims’ groups see this indictment as a step in the right direction where a bishop is held liable for the behaviour of a priest he supervised because he failed to report the priest to authorities.

Regardless of the legal outcome, given the disappointment and anger rampant in his diocese, Finn should, at the very least, resign.

And he should resign now.

Complete Article HERE!