Another California Catholic diocese will seek bankruptcy protection from hundreds of sex-abuse claims

— The San Diego diocese’s Chapter 11 petition will be filed Monday, Cardinal Robert McElroy says

Bishop Charles Francis Buddy Pastoral Center, Diocese of San Diego in Clairemont on Thursday, June 13, 2024 in San Diego, California.

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The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego announced Thursday that it plans to return to U.S. bankruptcy court to help manage its response to hundreds of lawsuits filed by people who say they were sexually assaulted by Catholic priests when they were young.

It is the second time San Diego church officials have gone to bankruptcy court to limit damage from claims from child sex-abuse victims.

Cardinal Robert McElroy, who serves as bishop to the 1.4 million Catholics in San Diego and Imperial counties, alerted parishioners to the decision in an open letter that was publicly released by the diocese on Thursday.

The legal action, which is expected to be filed Monday, comes after church officials acknowledged last year that they were considering a return to bankruptcy court and began mediation with survivors.

“For the past year, the Diocese has held substantive and helpful negotiations with the attorneys representing the victims of abuse, and I, in collaboration with the leadership of the Diocese, have come to the conclusion that this is the moment to enter formally into bankruptcy and continue negotiations as part of the bankruptcy process,” McElroy wrote.

Lawyers representing the 400-plus plaintiffs in San Diego Superior Court lawsuits said the decision shows the diocese is more interested in protecting its assets than protecting the people who attended its schools and services.

“After nearly a year of mediation, we were hoping that child sexual abuse survivors, the Diocese and its insurer would have been able to reach a settlement and an agreed-to plan for compensating victims through the inevitable bankruptcy announced by the Diocese about a year ago,” plaintiffs’ attorney Irwin Zalkin said.

“Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened.”

Plaintiffs’ lawyers said the Catholic Diocese of San Diego is the 13th diocese across the country to seek bankruptcy protection from sexual-abuse survivors.

“It has become very clear that these Catholic Diocese and their insurers have adopted a national strategy to use Chapter 11 bankruptcies to resolve child sexual abuse cases in a way that reduces the compensation paid to survivors,” said attorney Devin Storey, a Zalkin law partner who also represents victims.

McElroy said the Diocese was facing two moral claims: the need for just compensation for victims and the need to further the church’s mission of education, service and outreach to the poor and neglected.

“Bankruptcy offers the best pathway to achieve both,” he said.

In 2007, the Diocese of San Diego agreed to pay almost $200 million to 144 people who reported sexual abuse by priests — a settlement that was reached after the church filed for bankruptcy protection.

The Chapter 11 proceeding more than 15 years ago was marred by accusations from victims’ lawyers that church officials deliberately hid assets from the bankruptcy court in order to limit damages.

Zalkin on Thursday circulated quotes from the judge who oversaw the 2007 case.

“The term ‘disingenuous’ as applied to the Diocese description of assets available to fund the settlement is completely accurate,” then-U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Louise De Carl Adler said in a ruling.

“The church needs to look within itself,” she added. “Chapter 11 is not supposed to be a vehicle or a method to hammer down on the claims of the abused.”

A state law passed in 2019 opened a new window for victims of clergy sex abuse to file claims against the church for three years ending in 2022 — and ultimately resulted in 457 new claims against the San Diego diocese.

That same year, in the weeks leading up to the bill being signed into law, the diocese systematically transferred ownership of hundreds of its properties.

According to an analysis by The San Diego Union-Tribune published last year, the diocese owned 376 properties at the start of 2019 but just 76 by that year’s end — an 80 percent drop. None of the property transfers involved money changing hands or other monetary consideration.

Church officials said the changes were not aimed at reducing assets in response to the 2019 legislation. Rather, a spokesperson told the Union-Tribune that process of transferring church assets had begun in 2010 and simply took years to complete.

The bankruptcy filing expected to be filed Monday will involve only the diocese itself, church officials said — not the 96 individual parishes, 49 elementary and secondary schools or the charitable or other programs that operate under the church’s guidance.

Even so, schools and parishes may have to help pay off any eventual settlement, McElroy said.

“It is clear that as part of providing appropriate compensation to past victims of the sexual abuse of minors, both the parishes and high schools will have to contribute substantially to the ultimate settlement in order to bring finality to the liability they face,” he wrote.

In his message to parishioners, McElroy said almost 60 percent of the allegations brought forward in the current litigation are more than 50 years old. He also said the church has taken steps to prevent such abuse but that those reforms do not excuse past behavior.

“The tremendous strides we have made in the past 20 years to protect minors in the church and beyond cannot begin to mitigate the enormous moral responsibility that I, as your bishop, and the entire Catholic community continue to bear,” he wrote.

“May God never let this shame pass from our sight, and may God’s tenderness envelop the innocent children and teenagers who were victimized.”

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic bishops apologize for church’s role operating Indian boarding schools

— In Friday vote, church leaders cite a “history of trauma” inflicted on Native Americans, including generations of children removed from their families to be forcibly assimilated.

Clarita Vargas, 64, one of the survivors of St. Mary’s Mission, an Indian boarding school, stands in the St. Mary’s church on the Colville Reservation on Feb. 20 in Omak, Wash.

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U.S. Catholic bishops issued a formal apology Friday morning for the church’s role in inflicting a “history of trauma” on Native Americans, including at church-run Indian boarding schools where a Washington Post investigation published last month documented pervasive sexual abuse by priests.

The vote by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which establishes policies and norms for the church in the United States, represents the most direct expression of regret to date by church officials for past participation in a systematic effort by the U.S. government to forcibly assimilate Native Americans into White society. By a 181-2 vote, the bishops approved a document, called “Keeping Christ’s Sacred Promise: A Pastoral Framework for Indigenous Ministry.” Three people abstained.

The document does not specifically mention sexual abuse, but says “we all must do our part to increase awareness and break the culture of silence that surrounds all types of afflictions and past mistreatment and neglect.”

“The family systems of many Indigenous people never fully recovered from these tragedies, which often led to broken homes harmed by addiction, domestic abuse, abandonment and neglect,” the document states. “The Church recognizes that it has played a part in traumas experienced by Native children.”

While the 56-page document covers many aspects of the church’s relationship with Native Americans, it specifically highlights its role in the Indian boarding schools that were created in the 19th century as part of a U.S. government policy to eradicate Native American cultures.

For more than 100 years, children were removed from their families, stripped of their names, and often beaten for speaking their languages. Of more than 500 schools, 84 were operated by the Catholic Church or its religious affiliates, according to the bishops’ document.

Tens of thousands of Native American children were forced or coerced from their homes and sent to the boarding schools — the majority of them run or funded by the U.S. government — from 1819 until 1969. By 1900, 1 out of 5 Native American school-age children attended a boarding school. At least 500 children are believed to have died at the schools, according to the first major investigation into the boarding schools by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The Post investigation found that at least 122 priests, sisters and brothers were assigned to 22 Catholic-run boarding schools since the 1890s who were later accused of sexually abusing Native American children under their care. Most of the documented abuse happened in the 1950s and 1960s, and involved more than 1,000 children, mostly in the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest, including Alaska.

Vargas exits the St. Mary’s church. She was 8 when she was sent to live at St. Mary’s Mission, where she suffered years of sexual abuse.

The Friday apology follows decades of efforts by Native Americans who survived boarding schools and their descendants to seek accountability from the U.S. government, the Catholic Church, individual religious entities and the Catholic priests who they said abused them.

The Jesuits agreed to pay $166 million in 2011 to about 500 boarding school survivors in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. For four years, advocates for boarding school survivors have urged Congress to create a Truth and Healing Commission to investigate Indian boarding schools and the country’s assimilation policy. Legislation to create the commission, similar to one established more than 15 years ago in Canada, was reintroduced in the Senate last year and this year in the House, but has not reached the floor for a vote in either chamber.

In March, members of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition met at the White House with a top aide to President Biden to ask for a presidential apology for the widespread mistreatment and abuse that Native American children suffered at boarding schools. The White House has not responded to requests for comment about the potential for a presidential apology.

Pope Francis traveled to Canada in 2022 to apologize for the church’s role in what he said was that government’s “cultural destruction and forced assimilation,” but the pope has remained silent about abuses in the United States.

The bishops’ statement Friday, though, offered a blunt assessment of the legacy of abuse of Native Americans.

“In these schools, Indigenous children were forced to abandon their traditional languages, dress, and customs,” the statement says. “Boarding schools were seen as one expedient means to achieve this cultural assimilation because they separated Indigenous children from their families and Tribes and ‘Americanized’ them while they were still malleable.”

The Indian boarding school system “left a legacy of community and individual trauma that broke down family and support systems among Indigenous communities,” the document says.

“Sadly, many Indigenous Catholics have felt a sense of abandonment in their relationship with Church leaders due to a lack of understanding of their unique cultural needs,” the document states. “We apologize for the failure to nurture, strengthen, honor, recognize, and appreciate those entrusted to our pastoral care.”

The Friday statement seeks to distance the church from what it says were “European and Eurocentric world powers” that devised “their own justifications to enslave, mistreat, and remove Indigenous peoples from their lands.”

“Let us be very clear here: The Catholic Church does not espouse these ideologies.”

The document also makes a nod to the long-standing belief that the treatment of Native Americans by the Catholic Church led to intergenerational trauma that continues today.

“Historical traumas are a significant contributor to the breakdown of family life among many Indigenous peoples,” the document states.

The document calls for more accountability of the Catholic Church and says “all members of the Church should be open to cooperating with Tribal and other government investigations into any Catholic involvement in ethnic abuse.”

The document’s preface states that this is the first time the U.S. bishops group has officially mentioned its relationship with Indigenous communities since 1977, according to the draft. Back then, the group issued a seven-page document that, for example, encouraged Catholic schools to “promote programs and activities that will enable students at all levels to appreciate American Indian history, cultures and spirituality.”

The church has addressed abuse by priests in U.S. parishes, but it has said little about the molestation of children in Indian boarding schools. And although the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has grappled in recent years with the legacy of the church-run schools, it has not until now issued a formal apology.

In December, according to the Pillar, a news website that covers the Catholic Church, the conference was set to discuss the church’s role in Indian boarding schools, but in the end it fell short of addressing the issue. A document was written by the conference’s subcommittee on Native American affairs, the story said. But the group went into a private session and some bishops were worried that “passages intended to express regret and moral responsibility for that treatment of Native communities could have been interpreted to create potential legal liability for the bishops,” according to the Pillar.

When asked about this account last month, the conference’s spokeswoman, Chieko Noguchi, said “liability issues did not factor into the withdrawal of the document for a vote by the body of bishops.”

Complete Article HERE!

Survivors group accuses archdiocese of ‘hiding’ 5 predator priests

— Archbishop Bernard Hebda released a response stating internal investigators will now review clergy records.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda

By Kiya Edwards

Church bells rang just as the press conference began. Outside the Cathedral of St. Paul, sexual assault survivor Frank Meuers recalled his painful past and ongoing frustrations.

“My abuser is from this diocese,” Meuers said. “I have people in my support group who probably started being abused back in the ’50s. I walked up and down that sidewalk more than once holding a sign saying I’d been abused … I tried to work with two previous bishops. They refused to work with me.”

Meuers is Minnesota’s director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a volunteer position.

“It should ring a bell with adults. Never did,” he said. “The abuse, the hurt, the pain is never over.”

Fellow survivor David Clohessy was one of the group’s first leaders after it formed 35 years ago.

“I too by the way am a clergy sex abuse victim of a predator priest in Missouri,” Clohessy said. “Let me just stress, this is not our job … The Archbishop is the one who has the duty and the resources to expose all of the predators.”

They’re asking Archbishop Bernard Hebda of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis to add five names to this public list of clergy accused of sexual abuse. Of them, two are alive today.

As none of the priests are on the list, KARE 11 has chosen not to name them at this time.

But group members wrote all 5 names in sidewalk chalk Wednesday following their press conference. While they say the clerics all worked in the Twin Cities at some point in their careers, they can’t confirm if they abused anyone while working here. However, the survivors claim churches in other states where they worked have identified the clerics on their websites, so they want local leadership to do the same.

“Each of the 5 priests we’re focusing on today has been … declared a credibly accused child molester by his own direct supervisor,” Clohessy said.

Archbishop Hebda released the following statement in response to the allegations:

“The Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis has been blessed to have had a positive working relationship with the Minnesota chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). I have been grateful that their leaders have been in regular communication with Archdiocesan staff and with me over recent years and have collaborated with us to continue to create and maintain safe environments in our churches and schools. At times, they have been helpful bringing to our attention information concerning actions that have been taken by other dioceses or religious communities regarding clerics who have served in this Archdiocese. 

Per our policy and protocol, we have already begun the process of investigating the names of the individuals brought forward today. 

For example, when we were notified about the actions taken by the Diocese of Green Bay in 2022 concerning Rev. Dennis Lally, a priest who had served here before 1982 and listed today by SNAP, our team promptly investigated the situation and determined that for that individual, there was a substantiated claim of abuse. For that reason, his name was added to our list two years ago. 

As to the other five men brought to our attention by SNAP today, I have asked our experienced investigators to review the clergy records here at the Archdiocese, along with other available information, to determine whether the well-established criteria for adding the men to our clergy disclosure list have been met. If the criteria are satisfied, we will add the names, as we have done on previous occasions. 

Victims/survivors and their loved ones have expressed to me how important it is for them to have complete and accurate disclosure lists. With that in mind, the Archdiocese is committed to adding names when appropriate. 

I thank victims/survivors and their loved ones for their advocacy on behalf of those who have been hurt by abuse and ask that all people of goodwill continue to join me in prayer for them.”

– Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda

Complete Article HERE!

Diocese of Fresno files for bankruptcy as it faces sexual abuse claims

By Ryan Foley

Another Catholic diocese in California has filed for bankruptcy as it seeks to adjudicate several claims of sexual abuse committed at the hands of clergy members.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno announced in a statement Tuesday that “the Diocese will file a petition for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy with the United States Bankruptcy Court in 2024.”

Bishop Joseph Brennan noted in an open letter to parishioners that a California state law “opened a three-year window for individuals to bring forward otherwise barred or expired claims for sexual abuse suffered as a child.”

“Since the closing of the filing window on December 31, 2022, we have been informed of 154 cases filed against our Diocese,” he stated.

Brennan outlined his two “definitive goals” of how to “continue to atone for the sin of clergy abuse” as “to make sure we are handling claims of abuse with equitable compassion and resolving those claims as fairly as possible” as well as “to ensure the continuation of ministry within our Diocese.”

Brennan cited a declaration of bankruptcy, which he expects to file in August, as a way to “address the substantial number of claims brought forth by victims collectively” that “will allow us to address those claims honestly, compassionately, and equitably.”

“Requesting a court-supervised reorganization is the only path that allows us to meet the goals stated above,” he said.

“The reorganization ensures all victims are compensated fairly and funds are not depleted by the first few cases addressed,” he added. “The process also allows the operation of our schools, parishes, and organizations to continue uninterrupted, since the only entity filing for bankruptcy protection is the corporate sole, known legally as The Roman Catholic Bishop of Fresno.”

Brennan insisted that “Catholic Charities and the Fresno Diocese Education Corporation, which operates the schools are separate legal or ecclesial entities and will not be filing for bankruptcy protection.”

A frequently-asked-questions page elaborating on the impacts of the bankruptcy declaration indicates that “it will pay for the claims from funds that are available to be used for such purposes,” adding “there is some insurance to cover abuse that occurred in past decades.”

The Diocese of Fresno is not the first diocese in California to file for bankruptcy amid a wave of sexual misconduct allegations directed at priests.

Earlier this year, the Diocese of Sacramento filed for bankruptcy as it seeks to resolve an even larger number of claims of sexual abuse committed by clergy.

The California state law that led to an increased volume of sexual assault allegations directed at clergy, Assembly Bill 118, declares: “In an action for recovery of damages suffered as a result of childhood sexual assault, the time for commencement of the action shall be within 22 years of the date the plaintiff attains the age of majority or within five years of the date the plaintiff discovers or reasonably should have discovered that psychological injury or illness occurring after the age of majority was caused by the sexual assault, whichever period expires later.”

The legislation, passed in 2019, allows “action for liability against any person or entity who owed a duty of care to the plaintiff if a wrongful or negligent act by that person or entity was a legal cause of the childhood sexual assault that resulted in the injury to the plaintiff.”

Complete Article HERE!

Sex-related blunders, the never ending story at the Catholic Church

— Pope Francis’s homophobic slur helped distract the attention from other sex-related blunders affecting the Catholic Church all over Latin America.

By Rodolfo Soriano-Núñez

As with Pope Francis’s homophobic slur, Argentine archbishop Mestre’s sudden resignation reveals the many contradictions affecting the Catholic Church.

On top of the Roman and Argentine sex-related blunders, new details about clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church emerged in Ecuador and Bolivia in the first week of June.

News of Pope Francis’s using a homophobic slur during a meeting with Italian bishops, back on May 20th, stressed the contradictions in Roman Catholic doctrine and practice about sexuality.

Oddly enough, it also played well to hide another blunder made by two of the closest allies of the Pontiff both in Rome and back in Argentina, while hiding from view other attempts of the Church’s hierarchy in Argentina at making themselves relevant in the public sphere.

A few hours before the Italian newspaper La Repubblica’s social media accounts turned the internet into a burning prairie of sorts, news about the sudden resignation of archbishop Gabriel Antonio Mestre, shocked those of us who follow what happens in the Latin American Catholic leadership with news about his resignation.

At first, it was hard to understand what could force the resignation of a recent appointee to the Archdiocese of La Plata, the third or fourth most relevant see of the Catholic Church in the Pope’s country of origin.

Hard, but not unheard, as Los Ángeles Press proved a year ago when we published a full data base with the names of 110 early or unexpected resignations of bishops, a proxy of sorts for the depth of the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the countries where those resignations happen. Here you can download an updated version of the Data Base with the most recent resignations.

Although few noticed Mestre’s resignation outside of Argentina in the mess that Catholic Internet was on the last week of May, his case confirms, for the 111th time, how unwilling is the Church to provide information as to why its leaders resign their office. It also proves how unwilling are the global Catholic leaders to address the crisis of confidence undermining the foundations of Catholicism.

As it happened with the Pope’s slur, Mestre’s sudden resignation stresses how opacity makes harder to take the Church’s words at face value; it deepens the crisis of confidence in an institution already facing the deepest crisis of trust in its history.

It is not as if Mestre was only one more bishop forced out of office in his prime due to bad choices or poor decision making. He was close to both Pope Francis and to the current chair of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith who was his predecessor at the archdiocese of La Plata, Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández.

Perverse dynamics

Although it is clear that he had not been named a sexual predator, when looking at the silence, and the remains of his much-hyped appointment, it was clear that behind his sudden disappearance from the Catholic firmament is the reenactment of the perverse dynamics fueling the clergy sexual abuse crisis at a global scale.

 
Front page and page 14 of La Nación, a leading Argentine newspaper’s edition of Sunday May 26th, 2024.

What is worse. The toxic combination of the news about Mestre’s exit and the Pope’s slur scandal emerging in Rome the very same day made impossible to pay attention to the Argentine bishops’ attempt at confronting the deep political and economic crisis at their country.

On Saturday May 25th, less than 36 hours before the news of both Mestre’s resignation and the scandal regarding Pope Francis’s slur emerged, the current archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge García Cuerva, used his chance as the leading figure of the Te Deum at the cathedral in his country’s capital to stress the many contradictions of the current Argentine government.

 
Javier Milei and the archbishop Jorge García Cuerva at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Buenos Aires, Argentina. May 2024.

Him and the rest of Argentine bishops had been preparing for their performance in the rituals around the so-called Fiesta de Mayo (May 25th), a precursor of their Independence from Spain. García Cuerva and his fellow bishops aimed at using the Te Deum and other associated public activities to make the Church’s position clear on the current crisis.

On top of García Cuerva’s message on May 25th’s Te Deum, the chair of the Argentine Conference of Catholic Bishops, Óscar Vicente Ojea, the bishop of San Isidro, also issued a message.

Ojea addressed one of Argentina’s hot topics, the destiny, uncertain for many reasons, of tons of foodstuffs that were supposed to be delivered by the government but, somehow, in a fashion that would only happen in Latin America, ended up “lost” in the shelves of governmental entities, unable or unwilling to deliver them.

 
Clarín, a leading Argentine newspaper, from May 28th, 2024.

The political situation in Argentina was so bad that on Monday May 27th, when Mestre resigned and news about the Pontifical slur emerged in Rome, the Nation’s Chief of Cabinet, Nicolás Posse, resigned his office after weeks of rumors about the bad relation he already had with Javier Milei.

On the afternoon of Tuesday June 4th. Cáritas Argentina, the equivalent of Catholic Charities USA, used the same cathedral where archbishop García Cuerva called for a restoration of political sanity to organize a massive meal (see, in Spanish here, here and here), as to send a clear, undeniable message about the depth of the crisis there and the non-partisan nature of the Church’s involvement.

Mothers of the Fatherland

The communal meal was the first of a series of activities linking the current crisis in Argentina with Cáritas Argentina yearly campaign seeking donations to fund the so-called “communal pots”, offering meals to families in need all over Argentina.

The bishops were even promoting the figures of the females running those “communal pots”, most of them lay persons, with families of their own, calling them in Argentine Catholic media and social media “Mothers of the Fatherland” (Madres de la Patria).

The activities around the so-called Mothers of the Fatherland will continue up until June 19th, with a mass at the municipality of La Matanza, as can the picture posted immediately after this paragraph shows.

 
The ad promoting a mass for the “Mothers of the Fatherland”, the women behing the communal pots in Argentina.

La Matanza is a stronghold of Peronismo. The former minister of Finance, Sergio Massa, the Peronista presidential candidate won 61.2 percent of the more than 781 thousand votes casted there in the ballotage of November 2023.

Even the top Catholic think-tank in the country, the Observatorio de la Deuda Social Argentina, a non-for-profit, originally launched by Jorge Mario Bergoglio during his tenure as archbishop of Buenos Aires and chancellor of the Universidad Católica Argentina back in the aughts, published new data about the extent of the current crisis in that country.

The report can be read in the box immediately below or can be downloaded here.

Had the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Argentina been able to keep itself together, without any of the two scandals, the one at La Plata or the one in Rome, they would have come out with an advantage in giving some sense of order, of direction, in their country.

The multiple fiasco that has been Catholic communications over the last couple of weeks made that impossible. Despite García Cuerva’s best efforts to deliver a powerful yet respectful critique of President Javier Milei’s policies, the mess created by Mestre’s sudden resignation and Francis’s own mistake blurred García Cuerva’s Te Deum message.

Damaging policies

Even if some of the old Argentine media used García Cuerva’s message on their editions of May 26th to highlight their own angst with the uncertain future of the national government there, the Church’s critique of the damaging policies pursued by the Milei administration, had no chance to trump the combined effects of the slur and Mestre’s sudden and unexplained exit.

Mestre was not a minor figure in the Argentine Roman Catholic hierarchy. The archdiocese of La Plata is, on its own a very powerful position, held up until 2018 by conservative Héctor Rubén Aguer, the main rival of Jorge Mario Bergoglio when both were auxiliary bishops at Buenos Aires, and a key supporter of sexual predator Carlos Miguel Buela, as the story available only in Spanish linked after this paragraph describes.

If I was asked to rank the top archdioceses in Argentina, La Plata would come fourth, only behind Buenos Aires, Córdoba, and Rosario. The city of La Plata, whose downtown is more French inspired than the city of Buenos Aires. It is the capital of the province or state of Buenos Aires (not to be confused with the eponymous city, the national capital). Mestre got the job when Pope Francis made Víctor Manuel Fernández a Cardinal and head of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

To think that Mestre’s choice to become Tucho Fernández’s heir could be an improvised decision would be preposterous.

Before taking over Fernández’s see, he was bishop in the suffragan diocese of Mar del Plata, a city and port on the Argentine Atlantic coast, 330 kilometers or 200 miles South of La Plata and 375 kilometers or 234 miles South of Buenos Aires, as can be seen in the map immediately after.

 
A map of the City and Province of Buenos Aires, with the cities of La Plata and Mar del Plata, in Argentina.

Pope Francis appointed him back in 2017 and remained for little more than six years, until Fernández got his own promotion, so there is no way to claim that there were not enough chances to vet Mestre’s appointments as bishop of Mar del Plata and later as archbishop of La Plata.

Hermetic silence

To make matters worse, Mestre’s own heir at Mar del Plata, from November 21st, through December 13th of 2023, bishop José María Baliña, a former auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires, also resigned in the middle of the most hermetic silence.

Despite the silence regarding Baliña, Argentine local media published reports where his successor was supposed to be Gustavo Manuel Larrazábal. Catholic Hierarchy, the website this series uses as the base for these reports on the Catholic Church at a global scale, actually has Larrazábal as bishop of Mar del Plata for little over a month, from December 13th, 2023 through January 17th, 2024, when he resigned that position and went back to act as auxiliary bishop of San Juan de Cuyo.

 
La Nación from May 28th, 2024. On the front page and page 13 provides some details about Mestre’s resignation.

He went back to the position he was appointed back on June 2022, despite news published in local newspapers at Mar del Plata that were confirming on January 9th, 2024 that Larrazábal was about to take over as local bishop (see here in Spanish and here also in Spanish), although it was clear by January 11th, that Larrazábal new appointment was not going to come through (see in Spanish here).

Larrazábal’s appointment fell apart because of accusations of sexual abuse. It is not possible to say the same of either Mestre’s or Baliña’s, but the Church itself, either in Rome or at the offices of the Argentine Conference of Catholic Bishops in Buenos Aires, is unwilling to provide information on any of the three bishops involved in this fiasco.

As far as it is possible to know, Mestre’s fate was cast after a group showed up during mass to protest for his handling of the case of a priest under his care who left Mar del Plata for the diocese of Jujuy.

The group asked archbishop to stop the transfer of priest Luis Damián Albóndiga to Jujuy, a province or state in the Argentina Northern, on the other side of the country, near the border with Chile, more than 1,700 kilometers or more than 1,050 miles Northwest from Mar del Plata.

It is not clear what are the reasons behind the mobilization to reject Albóndiga’s transfer to the other extreme of Argentina, what is clear is that something damaging had to be at stake for Rome to react as it did.

What Mestre’s sudden resignation and the effects it had on the chances of the Catholic hierarchy to deliver a consistent message in the middle of the political and economic crisis in Argentina is that there is no cure for the propensity to sexual-scandal related blunders, as this was one of many during the month of May in the Catholic Church at a global scale.

May opened at a global scale with the faux pas of the Mexican Catholic hierarchy that first talked about the disappearance of Salvador Rangel, the emeritus bishop of Chilpancingo, Mexico, the story linked immediately after this paragraph that reveals how frail is the position of the Catholic Church in Mexico.

More geographic “solutions”

If that was not enough, in Ecuador, the local hierarchy there and their peers at Colombia got themselves into a mess of their own making when news erupted about how priests with credible accusations of sexual abuse move from one country into the other.

Previously on this series Los Ángeles Press has dealt with the use of the so-called geographic solution to clergy sexual abuse; that is to say, to move around predator priests from one country to other.

Unlike what happened with priest from Paraguay who was about to resume his career in Oaxaca, Mexico, neither the Ecuadoran nor the Colombian bishops seem to be interested in preventing the Ecuadoran priest from going to Colombia to “reinvent” himself as a priest there.

And, as the Spanish website Religión Digital  stresses, archbishop Alfredo José Espinoza Mateus, originally a priest of the Salesian order, offered his priests as advice that if they were going to do “something stupid” they should do it in such a fashion that they would not bring about scandal.

The archbishop words are somehow troubling in Latin America where “pendejadas”, here translated neutrally as something stupid or something done by a child, could turn into an even worse scandal in Mexico and Central America where “pendejadas” has a ruder meaning, similar to “dumb shit” or something along those lines.

To make matters worse, in the early days of June, out of Bolivia further details emerged of the scale of clergy sexual abuse happening at the flagship institution of the Jesuits there in the last decades of the 20th century at the Colegio (school) Juan XXIII. Now the number of victims could be of at least four hundred males who were then minors.

Adding insult to injury, there is no indication as to whether the Spanish or the Bolivian provinces of Pope Francis’s religious order of origin, the Jesuits, will be willing to face the consequences of the behavior of members of that congregation, as can be read in this story from Bolivian media or, if you are willing to pay for a subscription, on this one from El Periódico de Aragón, a newspaper from Spain, whose most recent story on the issue appears as an image next.

 
Pages 28 and 29 from El Periódico de Aragón, Spain, June 7th, 2024.

What all these stories have in common is the perverse confluence of a religion that pretends to be rigid about sexuality, living a civil war of sorts because of the conflicting views about sexuality hold by their leaders, but that is unable to figure out a consistent, livable, solution to its own theology of sexuality.

The very archdiocese of La Plata offers various perfect examples of the contradictions marring the fruits of Catholic theology of sexuality. Back in 2023, in a story only published in Spanish, we offered an account of how a predator cleric in that district of the Argentine Roman Catholic Church ended up committing suicide after a judge issued an arrest warrant.

Although the abuse happened before Víctor Manuel Fernández’s time there, during Aguer’s tenure as archbishop Fernández was already there when parents of Catholic schools in the archdiocese asked him to avoid giving him a new assignment. What is worse, Fernández, publicly expressed support for the predator priest and even after his suicide, he had few words to offer to his victims.

And yes, Fernández’s writings on sexuality are not as affected by contradictions as the behavior of many predator priests, and there are no claims about Fernández abusing people under his care, but the very reactions Fernández faces because of his old writings about sexuality prove how marginal he is within the context of contemporary Roman Catholicism and its theological understanding of sexuality.

Two of those books are available here at Los Ángeles Press, in Spanish in the entries linked immediately before and immediately after this paragraph. Moreover, it is hard to say if current Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández would be willing to issue the Nihil Obstat for the publication of what priest Víctor Manuel Fernández wrote back in the 1990s.

The Catholic hierarchy, Argentine and global, would do itself a favor were they willing to accept how damaging the sudden resignation of archbishop Mestre and bishops Baliña and Larrazábal were, even in the absence of the pontifical slur.

Finally, it must be noted that to replace, at least for the time being archbishop Mestre, Pope Francis appointed auxiliary bishop of La Plata Alberto G. Bochatey.

Originally an Augustianian Friar, Bochatey has been an auxiliary since the days of Archbishop Aguer as head of the Archdiocese. As such, he was involved in Aguer’s faulty probes of sexual abuses cases in that diocese, including the one that ended in the 2019 suicide of predator priest Eduardo Lorenzo.

On his own, back in 2017, he was appointed by Pope Francis in charge of the probe regarding one of worst scandals in the history of clergy sexual abuse in Argentina and Latin America at large: the so-called Próvolo case.

As such, that case would require a full entry and perhaps a full book. Suffice to say at this point that it was a school for deaf boys and girls, and at least two priests, two nuns, and several employees of the Instituto Próvolo were originally charged with various forms of sexual abuse.

Sadly, the Argentine system of justifce found a way to exonerate some of those accused of sexually abusing students attending that school, originally located in the city of Luján de Cuyo, province of Mendoza.

In that regard, even if temporary, Bochatey’s appointment as head of the archdiocese of La Plata exacerbates the negative perception of how the Catholic Church deals globally with the effects of the sexual abuse crisis.

 
Bishop Bochatey, now in charge of La Plata, Bishop Ojea and the ambassador of Israel in Argentina,

Finally, there is a link to last week’s story, where I trace the origins and effects of the Pope’s homophobic slur during a private meeting with the Italian Roman Catholic Bishops.

Complete Article HERE!