Report: Kansas City diocese ‘jeopardized safety of children’

A study commissioned by the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese of its handling of sexual misconduct cases found that “individuals in positions of authority reacted to events in ways that could have jeopardized the safety of children in diocesan parishes, school, and families.”

Hiring former U.S. Attorney Todd Graves to investigate how the diocese handles cases of sexual misconduct was part of Bishop Robert Finn’s response to questions that he had mishandled the case of Fr. Shawn Ratigan, a local pastor arrested in May for possession of child pornography.

The Graves report states that Finn, who first became aware of concerns about Ratigan in December, “had not determined a ‘breaking point’ at which he would remove Fr. Ratigan from ministry or take other more serious action.”

Ratigan is in jail on charges filed in Clay County, Mo. A federal grand jury charged him in August with 13 counts of production, attempted production and possession of child pornography.

Among the findings in the 138-page report, which is available online, are:
Diocesan leaders, as previously reported in the media, did not inform the diocesan review board of allegations;
Responsibility for the investigation of sexual misconduct fell to one office, that of the vicar general;
Finn took Ratigan at his word that he would abide by restrictions on his association with children.
Taken together, the report states, findings indicate that “Diocesan leaders failed to follow their own policies and procedures” for responding to reports of sexual misconduct.

The report appears to place most blame on the current vicar general of the diocese, Msgr. Robert Murphy, who was previously the point person in the diocese for investigating claims of sexual misconduct and was also a member of the diocesan review board.

Murphy, the report states, “served as a gatekeeper” and had “no one to second guess his judgments.”

Murphy was relieved of his responsibility in cases of sexual misconduct by clergy in June, but remains vicar general of the diocese.

Ratigan served as pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City until December. The parish is in Clay County.

For the most part, today’s report seems to affirm the sequence of events already reported by diocesan officials and in the media.

However, the report elaborates on certain aspects of the story, including how a detailed report outlining misconduct by Ratigan was handled by Murphy and Finn.

A year before Ratigan’s arrest, principal Julie Hess of the elementary school attached to St. Patrick Parish hand delivered to Murphy a letter warning that parents and staff members there were concerned about “significant red flags” about Ratigan’s behavior and were worried he “fit the profile of a child predator.”

“Parents, staff members, and parishioners are discussing his actions and whether or not he may be a child molester,” wrote Hess in the May 2010 letter.

As previously reported in the media, the report states that Murphy verbally informed Finn of the letter, but that the bishop did not read it until May 2011.

In the report, Finn states that he “cannot recall” whether he received a written report on the subject from Murphy prior to this May, and can only “specifically recall” three items from Murphy’s verbal report to him on the subject:

That Ratigan had swung children around on the school playground, had let children hug his legs and had let a girl sit on his lap.

Among other descriptions of Ratigan’s behavior in Hess’ letter are instances where the priest had allowed students to “climb on him, grab his leg/s, and reach into his pockets for candy” and a report that, during a Brownie Girl Scout visit to his home, a woman “had found a pair of girls’ panties inside one of the planters in Father’s back yard.”

The letter concludes: “[Staff members] believe that Father spends so much time at school he isn’t able to get other important things done. Father is at school every day for long periods of time. He is usually present at arrival time, during morning prayer, recess, lunch, dismissal, and after school. He also visits the early childhood center most every day.”

Also elaborated upon in today’s report is the process by which Finn dealt with instances of Ratigan visiting children after he had been removed from his parish.

After receiving out-of-state treatment for a December suicide attempt, Ratigan was assigned by Finn to live with a group of Vincentian priests in a home located near a prayer center run by a group of Franciscan sisters.

As previously reported, today’s report states that, when moving Ratigan, Finn gave the priest instructions to not attend or participate in events where children were present, to not have access to a computer, and to only use cameras in “limited circumstances.”

However, the report states, there was no supervision given to Ratigan to ensure those instructions were followed.

In a sub-section titled “A Flag of the Reddest Color,” the report states that Ratigan attended several functions where children were present in March, including a popular local parade.

News of Ratigan’s visit with children, the report states, caused Msgr. Brad Offutt, the chancellor of the diocese, to e-mail Finn April 8 expressing concern.

“I am not sure what the options are for addressing this, but plainly something needs to be done to limit Diocesan liability and protect children,” wrote Offutt. “[Ratigan’s] recent behavior relative to children and on the computer are a flag of the reddest color”

During a conversation the same day with Ratigan, the report states, Finn admonished the priest, again, that he was not to have contact with children.

Ratigan, the report states, heard confessions from minors April 11 and “grew bolder” by attending a high school track meet May 7 and accessing the guest computers at the Vincentian home.

Finn, the report states, said in an interview for the investigation that he “had not formulated a plan” to address Ratigan’s behavior.

“Although he was considering assigning Fr. Ratigan to the Archives Department of the Chancery, where he would not have contact with children, Bishop Finn had not determined a ‘breaking point’ at which he would remove Fr. Ratigan from ministry or take other more serious remedial action,” the report states.

The report outlines five recommendations for the diocese, including:
Asking all diocesan employees and volunteers to report abuse to the police;
Notifying a diocesan ombudsman of current and past abuse;
Ensuring that the diocesan review board be notified of all allegations of abuse.
The diocese previously announced June 30 the appointment of an ombudsman and public liaison officer tasked with receiving and investigating cases of sexual misconduct.

In a statement to press, Graves indicated he thought the diocese would take his recommendations to heart.

“Our investigation identified shortcomings, inaction and confusing procedures, but we believe Bishop Finn and the leadership of the diocese understand the gravity of the issues and take these recommendations seriously,” Graves stated.

In a similar statement, Finn touted the diocese’s appointment of the ombudsman as a sign its seriousness.

“The Graves report affirms the decision to establish and appoint an Ombudsman. Jennifer Valenti, appointed Ombudsman in late June, is an experienced prosecutor and possesses the authority as gatekeeper to receive and investigate, independently, any complaint involving the sexual abuse of minors,” Finn stated.

A statement from the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests was more skeptical.

“Lawyers still act like adding some phrases to the official diocesan procedure manual will make some kind of difference,” SNAP’s outreach director Barbara Dorris wrote.

“It won’t. Only vigorous action by police and prosecutors will make kids safer in the KC diocese.”

http://tinyurl.com/4yy5utd

Survivor dismisses Vatican response

A prominent clerical abuse survivor has dismissed the Vatican’s response to claims that it tried to frustrate a clerical child abuse inquiry as another attempt to absolve itself of responsibility.

Andrew Madden urged the Government to press-ahead with tough new reporting guidelines without undue or unnecessary exceptions.

Mr Madden said: “The gimlet eye of the canon lawyer has been busy in the Vatican as publication of the Holy See’s response to the Irish Government regarding the Report of the Commission of Investigation into the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne reveals every effort to continue to find ways for the Holy See to absolve itself of any responsibility for the cover up of the sexual abuse of children by priests for decades from one side of the world to the other.”

Support group One in Four accused the Vatican of not accepting responsibility for a culture which facilitated child abuse.

Maeve Lewis, executive director, said they were disappointed by the Holy See’s response, branding it an exercise in self-justification.

“The Church is accepting no responsibility for the prevailing culture which facilitated the sexual abuse of children and instead the Vatican is presenting itself as a body which has been misunderstood and misinterpreted,” Ms Lewis said.

Mr Madden said the statement’s reference to the absence of statutory mandatory reporting in Ireland does not excuse the lengths Bishops went to conceal child sexual abuse. “Nor does it excuse the way Catholic Bishops misled people into thinking they were implementing child protection guidelines when clearly they were not.”

But All Ireland primate Cardinal Sean Brady welcomed the response, and claimed it conveyed the Holy See’s profound abhorrence for the abuse, and sorrow and shame for victims’ sufferings.

“I believe the response has been carefully prepared and respectfully presented,” Cardinal Brady said.

“The time taken to prepare the reply, and its content, indicates the commitment on the part of the Holy See to deal with this matter earnestly, fairly and sensitively. It shows an appreciation of the seriousness of the questions raised and of the importance, especially for survivors of abuse, of effectively combating this crime.”

http://tinyurl.com/3ebn5o3

A priest’s anti-gay ad campaign

A recent series of advertisements attacking homosexuality has dragged the Catholic Diocese of El Paso into a citywide political recall debate.

The advertisements, titled “The truth about homosexuality,” were written by the Rev. Michael Rodriguez of San Juan Bautista Catholic Church and published in four parts in four consecutive editions of the El Paso Times. The ads started running on Saturday and ended Tuesday. The advertisements were also on elpasotimes.com.

While Rodriguez maintains the ads represent the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, officials of the Diocese of El Paso said they do not.

“These paid advertisements are the personal views and opinions of Father Michael Rodriguez,” said the Rev. Anthony C. Celino, the vicar general and moderator of the curia for the diocese.

Celino said the Catholic Church is not taking and cannot take a side in the recall effort.
The advertisements quote several Bible passages and denounce homosexuality and any encouragement of homosexuality. It also alluded to Mayor John Cook and city Reps. Susie Byrd and Steve Ortega, who are currently the target of a recall petition, organized by Word of Life Church Pastor Tom Brown.

“All Catholics have a moral obligation before God to oppose any government attempt to legalize same-sex unions,” Rodriguez wrote in part two of the series. “Here in El Paso, certain City Council members have remained obstinate in promoting public recognition and legitimization of homosexual unions. Whether
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they realize it or not, their actions are objectively immoral and gravely harmful to marriage and the family. It should be obvious to all Catholics what our duty is with respect to these members of City Council.”

Rodriguez said he wrote the pieces but did not pay for the advertisements or submit the writings to the Times.

A couple from Plano, Texas, paid for the advertisements, he said.
“I decided to write these articles primarily because it’s my duty as a Catholic priest to teach the truth when it comes to faith and morals,” Rodriguez said in a written statement to the Times. “My mission is to labor for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. That’s why I wrote the articles. The government has no right to undermine or redefine the institution of marriage. This is beyond the scope of their competence.”

Rodriguez said he also did not like the fact that the City Council went against the voters’wishes by providing health benefits to the gay and unmarried partners of city employees despite the fact that the public voted not to do that.

“Furthermore, the government has no right to undermine basic public morality,” Rodriguez said. “Unfortunately, members of El Paso’s City Council have made decisions that are immoral, irrational, and contrary to the common good of our city.”

Byrd said the advertisements are a political action because they alluded to the recall effort.

“To me, that is not the most terrible thing about the ad,” Byrd said. “What is, is the fact that he spent a lot of time and money to harm a group in our community.”

Ortega said he does not believe that religion should be mixed with government.
“I haven’t read his opinion pieces,” Ortega said. “I firmly believe in the principle of separation of church and state and therefore his opinions, as a priest, carry absolutely no weight with me as a public official.”

Brown said the advertisements came as a pleasant surprise.
“I think it’s wonderful. It is freedom of speech,” Brown said. “Ultimately, I agree with Rodriguez.”

Brown said the diocese should not remain silent on the recall because it goes against the Catholic faith.
“I think the Catholics should have an opinion,” he said.

Paul Landernan, an adviser for the El Paso chapter of the Stonewall Young Democrats, said that his organization — a youth-based organization that supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in the United States — is disappointed that Rodriguez is still stuck in the 19th century.

“He has official duties for the people of his parish,” Landernan said, “some of whom are parents of gay people, related to gay people or work with gay people every day.”
Rodriguez’s words can divide communities, Landernan said.
“Why would a person like this have that level of a violent reaction to the evolution of our society?” he asked. “He suddenly turned the clock back 40 to 50 years to a time when the Jim Crow-type of thinking was acceptable.”

In two weeks, recall petitions for Cook, Byrd and Ortega will be due at City Hall. Landernan said the advertisements’ timing was “curious.”

“It would have been a blip on the radar” if Rodriguez were not a priest, Landernan said. “And really, the church is almost a victim in this. He has almost used the name of the church without authorization.”

The controversy was not limited to the paid advertisements.
On Aug. 21, members of St. Raphael Catholic Church found fliers on their car windshields after church services.

The fliers said, “Éour popes and bishops have reminded us that we must oppose all government efforts to legitimize homosexual unions by attempting to equate them with marriage.”
The fliers also said, “Members of the City Council and the mayor have violated our rights and overturned our popular vote. We must hold our politicians accountable and insist that they truly serve our people.”

The church’s head priest, Monsignor Francis Smith, and the diocese said the fliers were not approved by or affiliated with the church.
“The diocese does not endorse or oppose candidates, political parties, or take actions that can be construed as endorsement or opposition,” Celino said. “Recall fliers claiming to be ‘Catholic’ were not authorized by the Diocese of El Paso.”

Smith said the people who distributed the fliers sneaked into the church’s parking lot during that Sunday’s two largest Masses.
“I always tell my people that if they stick it under your windshield, I did not authorize that,” Smith said. “If it is something worthwhile, then why be sneaky about it.”

The message on the fliers is not what Smith preaches at his church, he said.
“We have been asked several times to take their stance, and we will not,” Smith said. “I do not agree with that lifestyle (homosexuality), but I will help anyone who needs it.”
The fliers also list names and numbers of individuals who filed the intent to recall Cook, Byrd and Ortega.

Two of those individuals, Ben Mendoza and Nacho Padilla, said they had no prior knowledge of the fliers. Neither did Brown, he said.
“I personally would not authorize that,” Mendoza said. “I can see handing it out on the sidewalk, but not on cars.”

Mendoza said he is for the recall because the people’s vote was overthrown and he believes that should be the main issue.

Padilla said the fliers led to more individuals signing petitions.
“What they did has worked really positive,” Padilla said. “We have gotten a lot of signatures. We won’t deny that.”

Brown said he was proud that those who support the recall are acting on their own.
“It’s a free country, and people are free to promote however they want,” Brown said.
Brown said “we’d like to make more progress” as the deadline nears to turn in recall petitions.

“I’d like to say we can predict victory, but we are not there yet. We need to keep working.”

http://tinyurl.com/3vqgeeb

An Open Clergy Rebellion In Austria’s Catholic Church

There is open rebellion among the clergy of Austria’s Catholic Church.

One highly placed man of the cloth has even warned about the risk of a coming schism, as significant numbers of priests are refusing obedience to the Pope and bishops for the first time in memory.

The 300-plus supporters of the “Priests’ Initiative” have had enough of what they call the Church’s “delaying” tactics, and they are advocating pushing ahead with policies that openly defy current practices.

These include letting non-ordained people lead religious services and deliver sermons; making communion available to divorced people who have remarried; allowing women to become priests and to take on important positions in the hierarchy; and letting priests carry out pastoral functions even if, in defiance of Church rules, they have a wife and family.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Vienna’s Archbishop and head of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference, has threatened the rebels with excommunication.

Those involved in the initiative are not, incidentally, only low-profile members of the clergy.

Indeed, it is being led by Helmut Schüller — who was for many years Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Vienna and director of Caritas — and the cathedral pastor in the Carinthian diocese of Gurk.

The issues that supporters of the initiative want addressed may be revolutionary, but they are by no means new: they constitute basic questions that have been around for a long time but have never been addressed by Church officials.

Initiative supporters are demanding that parishes openly expose all things forbidden by the Church hierarchy, thus putting a stop to hypocrisy and allowing authenticity of belief and community life to emerge.

The appeal for “more honesty“ made to the world’s youth by Pope Benedict XVI in Madrid last week left a sour taste in many mouths in Austria, where some say that honesty is a quality the Church hierarchy has more of a tendency to punish than reward.

Open pressure and disobedience

Particularly affected are some 700 members of an association called “Priester ohne Amt” – loosely, priests without a job – who have a wife and children that they stand by, but wish in vain to practice their ministry.

Priests who break ties with loved ones, on the other hand, are allowed to continue working.

According to initiative founder Schüller, only openly disobedient priests and joint pressure from priests and laity alike can force the hierarchy to budge.

Although the problems have been out there for decades, he says, the Church keeps putting off doing anything about them. Cardinal Schönborn stated that the critics would have to “give some thought to their path in the Church” or face unavoidable consequences.

On the other hand, Anton Zulehner, a priest who is one of the most respected pastoral theologians in Austria, believes that this time the Church is not going to get away with diversionary tactics.

Twenty years ago, Austria, nominally at least, was 85% Catholic.

Today, in the city of Vienna, Catholics account for less than half the population, and rural parishes are melting away.

Various scandals have rocked the Church in Austria, among them child abuse charges against former Vienna Archbishop Hans-Hermann Groer, and the nomination of a series of reactionary priests to the rank of bishop.

http://tinyurl.com/3euf65a

Catholic Bishops put Lives at Risk in the Name of “God”

The Filipino Struggle for Reproductive Health Rights & Justice

There has been a long struggle for reproductive health (RH) rights in the Philippines. This is not uncommon as there are many countries where some aspects of reproductive rights are not guaranteed. However, the Philippines is one of five countries worldwide with no reproductive health law.

Many pro-RH activists have come about as a result but they are outnumbered by the power of conservative Filipino Catholics. Not all Catholics are conservative and opposition to reproductive rights is led mainly by the Hierachy of the Catholic Church. Activists are fighting for access to contraceptives and family planning education – something many of us young people in North America, Latin America, Caribbean, Europe and parts of Africa take for granted. Most of my friends are at this stage advocating comprehensive sex education and universal access to contraceptives, even for persons below the age of consent in their country. Many of us are unaware of the ongoing struggles in the Philippines for reproductive rights and justice.

The Philippines at a Glance
Like my own country, Jamaica, abortion is illegal in the Philippines. In 2000, former Mayor Jose “Lito” Atienza made the situation worse when he passed a blanket ban on all forms of contraception in Manila City. Although there are 4,000 new births daily, which continue to hamper the country’s economic growth, women in the Philippines are unable to prevent pregnancy, even when it would jeopardize their lives, health, or ability to feed their families. The consequences of this — poverty, spousal abuse, illiteracy, hunger, among others are the lived experience of many Filipinos.

Pro-RH advocates continue to challenge this grave violation of the human rights of Filipino’s, especially women, despite much opposition from the Catholic Church. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has threatened to excommunicate any politician who supports the Reproductive Health Bill. You can’t help but ask “why are they so intent on violating the human rights of Filipinos and perpetuating their suffering in the name of God?”

There are over 90 million persons living in the Philippines; 85 percent of them are Catholic. I am not Catholic, nor do I know much about Catholicism. I am not atheist. I must also confess that my understanding of the Catholic’s position on reproductive rights and justice is perhaps a biased one. You could easily blame this on my own beliefs, religious and otherwise, and the video documentary “Trouble with the Pope.” I decided to write this blog because I believe every human, regardless of their religious persuasion, should have a right to protection from sexually transmitted infections, including HIV and unplanned pregnancies.

I am happy that not all Filipinos (perhaps not the majority) support the conservative views of some Catholics. According to a survey conducted by Social Weather Stations (SWS), a public opinion polling body, 71 percent of Filipinos are in favour of the passage of the RH Bill. 76 percent also want family planning education in public schools. This would be a step in the right direction to provide universal access to methods and information on birth control and maternal care. This would be welcomed with open arms in many of our countries.

Catholic groups have said that the RH Bill promotes a “culture of death and immorality” by promoting abortion and promiscuity among youth. What about the freedom of choice — a fundamental human right? I guess this has its distinctions too.

Reproductive Health Rights Are Important
It is very important that we all remember family planning is a fundamental human right. Any attempt to take this away from a man or woman constitutes discrimination. In 2008, based on an investigation led by the Centre for Reproductive Rights, twenty women from Manila City filed a case claiming that the policy violated their rights and should be removed. The case was dismissed on technical grounds.

I visited the Anti-RH BILL (Philippines) page on the popular social networking website, Facebook, to learn more about why people are so opposed to something so very important to millions of Filipinos. The comments that were in English were shocking to say the least. Many of them are the same we would hear when we talk about abortion in the United States or even in Jamaica.

A comment from one user was:

SEX is for MARRIED LIFE which they can PRO-CREATE. After having babies, it’s their decision for doing NATURAL FAMILY PLANNING or ABSTINENCE if they want to.
Where did we get the idea that relationships are for the sole purpose of procreation? And if that is the case, does it mean then that a relationship between a woman and man, where one is infertile is illegitimate? Where does love, adoration and companionship find place in relationships then? Furthermore, if a couple decides they only want two children, since we know that withdrawal (a natural family method) isn’t very effective should they stop having sex or wait to have sex until they are ready to have children? Who told Catholics that sex isn’t for enjoyment too?

Another user said:

Protect Lives, Preserve the Productivity of the Nation, Protect our Moral Values
The rates of unintended pregnancy in the Philippines are high. Where does the protection of the lives of poor women who struggle to feed numerous children while living in abject poverty come in? Public hospitals are a hub for those who resort to unsafe abortion. Contraception save lives. That is what everyone in the Philippines should care about.
http://tinyurl.com/3lb2k22