Pope Francis’s “all-out battle” against clerical abuse has been a failure

— Five years ago, the Pontiff railed against “abominable crimes that must be erased from the face of the earth…” His record since has been abysmal and even scandalous.

Pope Francis celebrates a Mass attended by the heads of bishops’ conferences from around the world on the last day of the four-day meeting on the protection of minors in the church at the Vatican Feb. 24, 2019.

By Christopher R. Altieri

The largest single gathering of the Catholic Church’s hierarchical leadership to combat clerical sexual abuse and coverup closed five years ago–five years to the day, if you are reading this on Saturday, February 24, 2024–with Pope Francis calling for “an all-out battle” against “abominable crimes that must be erased from the face of the earth.”

What have we seen in the way of leadership from Pope Francis in the intervening quinquennium?

Five years of failure

Pope Francis has refused to defrock a confessed child molester or even remove him from the College of Cardinals.

Pope Francis has protected a favorite Argentinian prelate he himself raised to the episcopate and threatened those who sought justice from the Church.

Pope Francis has presided over the appalling miscarriage of justice that has allowed a powerful celebrity artist-cleric not only to escape punishment for the abuse of as many as forty-one victims over three decades but even to remain in ministry as an extern priest resident in Rome.

Pope Francis has done more.

He has issued paper reforms–including one major piece of procedural legislation–and refused to use them except very sparingly, selectively and never transparently.

Before the year that preceded and precipitated the gathering in February 2019 was out, Pope Francis demonized men and women who demand vindication of their right to know the true character and conduct of their rulers in the faith.

More recently, Pope Francis has praised others–those who would be known as guardians and sentinels of the truth–for their perceived reticence in the face of appalling misdeeds.

He has paid lip service to impartial justice while he promoted an unready and thoroughly compromised favorite to high office, discouraging that hapless fellow from taking the interest in the administration of justice that his very office demands.

Were Pope Francis’s every other act of governance redolent with Solomonic wisdom, these alone–one may adduce many others– would be sufficient to measure his conduct of the Church’s government and find it sorely wanting.

Watchword or buzzwords?

Responsibility, Accountability, Transparency: This was the threefold watchword of the great gathering in 2019.

The meeting itself had little in the way of a real agenda. Ahead of the meeting, Pope Francis talked a great game from one side of his mouth. From the other, he was at pains to tamp down hopes for it. The chief organizers of the meeting were about the work of managing expectations for months before the thing even opened.

Almost immediately, opportunities presented themselves for Pope Francis and other senior churchmen to prove their earnest, but there were no real takers. By 2021, it was apparent that the watchword was no more than a collection of buzzwords.

Responsibility under Pope Francis had definite form by the bottom half of 2023, when the world stood witness as the Pope’s own Commission for the Protection of Minors lambasted the Vatican for “tragically harmful deficiencies in the norms intended to punish abusers and hold accountable those whose duty is to address wrongdoing.”

That statement came the very same day France’s La Croix reported that the disgraced former Archbishop of Bordeaux, Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, would be keeping his red hat and voting rights, and–as far as the Vatican was concerned–could keep his faculties to minister within the confines of the diocese where he resides, even though he admitted to molesting a fourteen-year-old girl.

Accountability under Pope Francis finds its most eloquent expression in his remark to the Associated Press regarding the impossibly sordid matter of Fr. Marko Rupnik: “I had nothing to do with this.”

“Nothing” was all Pope Francis had to do in order to see that his depraved olim confrère escape justice.

Francis’s late decision to change course and waive the statute of limitations behind which Rupnik had found refuge only made matters worse. The volte-face followed the explosion of worldwide outrage at news that Rupnik would be incardinated in a diocese of his native Slovenia after his expulsion from the Jesuits for disobedience.

Transparency under Francis was a Catholic bishop–Michael J. Hoeppner, insufferably emeritus of Crookston, Mn.–accused of interfering in a canonical or civil investigation into clerical sexual abuse, getting early retirement with honor and going to live with relatives in the Sun Belt.

Pope Francis allowed Hoeppner to preach at his own farewell liturgy, billed as a “Mass of Thanksgiving” for his time in office. “It’s been a real joy and a treat,” Hoeppner told the congregation in Crookston’s Immaculate Conception cathedral.

Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin

Just this past week, stories from Texas in the United States to the Australian outback either broke or saw major development. A simmering crisis spanning Europe and Asia also began to boil.

It has long since become inescapably evident that the rot in the Church’s clerical and hierarchical leadership culture is systemic. The clerical culture we have right now–without respect to ideological leanings or theological inclination–is utterly in thrall to the intrinsically perverse libido dominandi.

“The Church’s house will be clean,” this journalist wrote in the autumn of 2018–annus horribilis in which the carelessness of the hierarchy was already on garish display–the only questions then being whether Francis or Caesar would be holding the broom and whether the cleansing would come before or after the fire sale.

Those questions have not yet received a definitive answer, though the experience of the past five years has provided unequivocable indications.

The Church under Pope Francis is simply unable or unwilling to get its own house in order.

Complete Article HERE!

Former nuns call on pope to launch inquiry into priest they say sexually abused them

— Mirjiam Kovac and Gloria Branciani want independent inquiry into Marko Rupnik, who was expelled from Jesuit order in 2023

Gloria Branciani, left, and Mirjam Kovac reported Rupnik to senior Catholic church officials in the early 1990s but say they were rebuffed and dismissed.

By

Two former nuns have called on Pope Francis to initiate an independent investigation into a once-prominent Jesuit artist-priest who they allege sexually abused them, including by forcing them to have threesomes and making them watch pornography so they would “grow spiritually”.

Speaking publicly for the first time, Mirjiam Kovac and Gloria Branciani said the wall of silence surrounding Marko Rupnik, who has been accused by several women of sexual, psychological and spiritual abuses dating back three decades, had finally “crumbled”.

The women are former members of the Ignatius of Loyola community, an order co-founded by Rupnik, whose mosaics adorn the walls of some Vatican chapels and other churches.

“We were all young girls, full of ideals,” Kovac said during a press conference in Rome. “But these very ideals, together with our training in obedience, were exploited for abuses of various kinds: of conscience, of power, spiritual, psychic, physical and often sexual.”

Both women reported Rupnik to senior Catholic church officials in the early 1990s, but claim they were repeatedly rebuffed and dismissed.

Rupnik was excommunicated in 2020 for absolving a woman with whom he had sex; the absolution of a “sexual accomplice” is among the most serious crimes under canon law. But he was reinstated two weeks later after he repented.

In 2022, allegations against Rupnik made by nine women were dismissed by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), citing the canonical statute of limitations.

It was only later that year, after it was reported in the press that Rupnik had been treated with “kid gloves” by the church, that the Jesuits issued a public call for victims to come forward. Rupnik was finally expelled from the order in June 2023 after the “degree of credibility” of the allegations against him was found to be “very high”.

Rupnik, however, remains a priest and was accepted into a diocese in Koper, in his native Slovenia, in October 2023. That same month, Pope Francis ordered the DDF to reopen the case, although Laura Sgrò, a lawyer representing Kovac and Branciani, said she had received no information relating to the new investigation.

Branciani alleged on Wednesday that she and another nun were forced to have a threesome with Rupnik “because he said it was like the [Holy] Trinity”.

The incident allegedly occurred in the home of a friend of Rupnik in Gorizia, a city in northern Italy. “The most terrible aspect of this threesome was that afterwards, we never spoke to each other about it,” she said. “We were both completely blocked … I was very tired, I felt empty and could no longer feel feelings of any kind other than a deep pain and sense of failure.”

Anne Barrett Doyle holds up printed pictures of Marcial Maciel, Theodore McCarrick and Marko Rupnik.
Anne Barrett Doyle, a co-founder of BishopAccountability, at the press conference. She said the church’s handling of the allegations bore the earmarks of ‘an old-time cover-up’.

Branciani also alleged to journalists that Rupnik forced her to watch pornography “to help me ‘grow spiritually’”.

Rupnik has not publicly commented on the accusations. The Guardian did not receive a response to an email sent to the Aletti Centre, a religious art centre in Rome founded by Rupnik with which he is still associated. Maria Campatelli, the director of the Aletti Centre, said last year that the accusations were “defamatory and unproven”.

The Koper diocese said it was unable to provide a statement on Wednesday, and referred to one made in October last year which said: “So long as Rupnik is not found guilty in a court of law, he enjoys all the rights and duties of a diocesan priest.”

A Holy See spokesperson, Matteo Bruni, told journalists the Vatican was gathering “all available information on the case” to “determine which procedures it would be possible and useful to implement”.

In February 2019, Francis became the first pontiff to publicly admit that priests had sexually abused nuns and pledged to do more to fight the problem.

Anne Barrett Doyle, a co-founder of BishopAccountability, which tracks alleged clergy sexual abuse cases, said the church’s “secret” handling of the allegations against Rupnik bore all the earmarks of “an old-time cover-up”, similar to that of Theodore McCarrick, a former archbishop whom the Vatican defrocked in 2019 after finding him guilty of sexually abusing children.

“This case represents not only the church’s continued protection of powerful abusers, but its particular indifference to the sexual abuse of adult women,” said Doyle. “The pope made abuse of vulnerable adults a church crime, but we see little evidence that the new rule has made a difference.”

It is rare for nuns to speak publicly about alleged abuse by priests, an issue that has blighted the Catholic church for decades. There is also scant care for abused nuns, many of whom have been thrown out of their orders and made homeless. Some have claimed to have become pregnant by priests and then forced to have abortions.

Complete Article HERE!

Belgian bishops could back women deacons and ending priestly celibacy in a Church more ‘present in the digital world’

David Nas (right) pictured during a ceremony for the ordination to the priesthood of the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels, at the National Basilica of the Sacred Heart (Basilique nationale du Sacre-Coeur – Nationale Basiliek van het Heilig-Hart) in Brussels, Belgium, 3 February 2024. Newly ordained priest Nas, 32, is married and has three children; he is a member of the Chaldean Catholic Church.

By Elise Ann Allen

In the lead up to this year’s closing session of the Synod of Bishops on Synodality, Belgian bishops have reportedly opened a national discussion on allowing women deacons and ending the requirement of priestly celibacy.

According to Belgian Catholic news site Kerknet, the Belgian bishops’ conference ahead of the October 2-27 synod happening later in the year have sent a letter to all dioceses proposing, among other things, an openness to the women’s diaconate and an end to mandatory priestly celibacy.

The draft text, apparently sent to various diocesan discussion groups and councils throughout Belgium, makes three basic points, the first of which is that “a synodal missionary church requires open dialogue with the world around us”.

The Church, it says, cannot limit itself “to a one-way street” when it comes to sharing the Gospel with the world.

In a second point, the bishops ask that the Synod of Bishops “define our Church tradition(s) as dynamic and in constant development”.

They also asked for encouragement in pursuing “concrete form to the decentralisation” of certain topics of discussion in the Church, “allowing us to work together in unity with more legitimate diversity”.

“We ask for a concretisation of the ‘accountability’ of the bishops in a synodal church,” they said.

The bishops then apparently call for a deeper reflection on the role of women in the Church, proposing that the decision regarding women deacons be left up to individual dioceses or national or continental bishops’ conferences.

Asking for “the green light to take certain steps per bishops’ conference or continental bishops’ meetings”, the bishops said that by doing this, “the giving of increasing pastoral responsibility to women and the ordination of women to the diaconate need not be universally obligatory or prohibited”.

They also weighed in on the longstanding debate over priestly celibacy, saying: “There have long been strong questions about the obligation of celibacy for priests and deacons who become widowed.”

In this regard, they said there is a need to “rediscover the symbolic-sacramental nature of the ordained ministry”.

They said the relationship between priestly ordination and absolute authority in decision-making requires new clarification and asked that both priests and deacons involve more laypeople in the decision-making process, working “within teams in which lay people also have their place and task”.

Regarding the controversial debate over ordaining viri probati, or tested married men of proven faith and virtue, to the priesthood – one of the major proposals of the 2019 Synod of Bishops on the Amazon that Pope Francis chose not to act on – the bishops also weighed in, signalling an openness to the proposition.

“The priestly ordination of viri probati should not be universally obligatory or prohibited,” the bishops said in their memo.

They also stressed the need to prioritise communication with young people and to invest more resources in how to spread the Gospel in and through the digital world.

To this end, they suggested that a mechanism local bishops’ conferences and continental assemblies be established, “so that every local church has the necessary opportunities to be present in the digital world”.

Going forward, according to Kerknet, the Belgian bishops’ letter containing the proposals will be submitted for discussion in the country’s various dioceses. The results of this discussion must be gathered and submitted to the bishops by 7 April 2024, and will then be sent to the Synod of Bishops office in Rome.

A theological committee within the Belgian bishops’ conference will also explore the issues addressed in the letter, delving further into questions surrounding Church tradition and the various offices and ministries in the Church.

A multi-year process formally opened by Pope Francis in October 2021, the Synod of Bishops on Synodality is based on a global consultation process that has unfolded at the local, continental and universal levels, and is set to close with this year’s second Rome gathering, scheduled for Oct. 2-27.

Aimed at making the Catholic Church a more collaborative, welcoming and inclusive place for all of its members, the synod has been controversial due to the hot-button topics being discussed, including women’s priestly ordination, the female diaconate, the married priesthood, and outreach to the LGBTQ+ community.

Issues related to women, specifically women’s ordination to the priesthood and the diaconate, and LGBTQ+ issues have so far been the most divisive and contentious, with synod participants sparring far more than they agree.

The Belgian bishops have previously pushed for more liberal reform in the Church, openly going against the Vatican at times, amid a country considered one of the most secular in the whole of Europe.

While Pope Francis has welcomed discussion on women deacons and the ordination of viri probati throughout his nearly 11-year papacy, and has had repeated occasions to take action, he has yet to make a move on either, and has not indicated what decision he will make, if any, at the close of this year’s synod process.

Complete Article HERE!

Father Fulbright and the Catholic Abuse Crisis

By Mary Pezzulo

The discourse on Catholic X/Twitter this weekend was about the priesthood.

This conversation was started by an obvious troll account and nobody learned anything, but it got me thinking about the abuse crisis.

On about Saturday or Sunday, a cutesy-looking Twitter account with an AI profile picture tweeted an obnoxious bit of piosity: “You should never attack a priest, even when he’s in error, rather you should pray and do penance that God grant him grace again. When a priest falls, extend him a helping hand through prayer. God will be his judge. Whoever voices judgement over a priest has judged it over Christ.” This account was named “Fr. Fulbright,” and he claimed to be a real Catholic priest who was operating under an assumed name and photo so as to avoid being “canceled.”

Plenty of people jumped on Father Fulbright to tell him how dangerous it is to give priests a carte blanche in that way. Plenty more yelled at him because he’s previously supported Pope Francis and they were afraid this was more of the same. I also saw an alarming number of people retweeting the post in earnest, which frightened me.

As you’ve already guessed, it turns out that “Father Fulbright” is just some edgelord from Missouri with a troll account. But it got me thinking, because everybody took it so seriously. It was easy to assume he was a real priest because it’s the kind of thing a certain type of priest and his lackeys say. And there are still an awful lot of lay people who assume it’s correct.

If you’re Catholic, you’ve heard this exact line before.

I remember a similar page in the Pieta Prayerbook, growing up– a supposed locution from Christ Himself, demanding that we respond to priests’ errors by praying for them instead of correcting them.

I remember so many occasions where a friend or I would try to speak up against something  a priest was doing, and a pious person would darkly hint, “It’s important to pray for priests” and not let the conversation go any further.

I remember standing up to bully priests here around Steubenville, before the full truth of all the sexual abuse around here was known, and people being shocked at me because you’re not supposed to stand up to priests.

I think about the entire rigmarole with my reporting on Frank Pavone, from his 2016 sacrilege until late 2023 where I was ultimately proven right. I was harassed and criticized endlessly for that, because you’re not supposed to criticize a priest, even when the priest is an obvious fraud.

And this is exactly how the Church got where it is today.  This is how we got the sexual abuse crisis. This is why it happened and is still happening.

I’m not saying we can’t examine and question the rules regarding priestly celibacy; we ought to. But we did not get the sexual abuse crisis because priests can’t marry. We certainly can revisit the reasons women aren’t allowed to be priests and scrutinize them as well, but the all-male priesthood isn’t how we got the sexual abuse crisis. We absolutely need to look at how the Church treats queer people, and we have a lot of conspiracy theories to debunk, but neither gay men supposedly sneaking into seminaries nor the Church’s restrictions on queer people caused the sexual abuse crisis. The sexual abuse crisis came about because we were afraid to criticize priests.

Every community of people has had abusers in it. This has been true since caveman times and will continue until Jesus returns. A certain small percentage of the human population just don’t have functioning consciences, and they like to hurt the vulnerable. When humans form groups, those groups will have abusers in them. The abusers will always try to seek positions of authority, because those are the positions from which they can more easily abuse. This is constant. This happens in countries, political parties, schools, churches and clubs. One difference between a good and a bad community of people is that the good community admits they are vulnerable to abusers and is vigilant about stopping abuse when it happens. A bad community pretends that abuse doesn’t happen there and shields the inevitable abuser when he comes along. And the Catholic Church has been a bad community, because we have done the latter.

When you put priests on pedestals and insist they mustn’t be criticized, you’re grooming the whole community for abuse: not because all priests are abusers, but because abusers will see and take advantage of that pedestal.

When you claim that “attacking a priest” is the same as attacking Christ, you’re giving predators a convenient place to hide.

If you shame somebody who’s demanding accountability of a priest, you’re signaling to every rapist and child molester that the priesthood is an excellent place to shop for victims.

Besides, if you claim that a priest is the same as Christ– not as a clumsy way of saying that priests are in persona Christi when they administer the sacraments, but as if being ordained permanently transubstantiates a fallible person into Jesus– you’re committing idolatry and blaspheming Christ the Victim.

Christ IS a victim. We cannot deny this. Christ came to earth on purpose to suffer and die with other victims of injustice. He’s also a Priest, but He didn’t come to earth to aggrandize himself as a respectable authority nobody’s allowed to question. That’s not what priesthood is supposed to be about. When you stand up for a victim of injustice, you’re standing up for Christ. Claiming to be serving Christ by silencing victims is blasphemy.

And priests are not God. That’s not what being in persona Christi means. Only God is God. Only God is without sin or error. For everyone else, we have to follow the Golden Rule and treat them with respect, but we must demand accountability.

Holding priests accountable, and making it known that they’re held accountable, is the only way to stop abuse.

Complete Article HERE!

Victims advocacy group says Washington AG is investigating clergy abuse by Catholic bishops

The Catholic Accountability Project lined up pictures outside the Attorney General’s Office Tuesday of the 151 clergy members in Washington who have so far been convicted of sexual abuse. The organization said they believe the AGO opened an investigation in August 2023 of three other Bishops in the state.

by Shauna Sowersby

The state Attorney General’s Office may have subpoenaed three Catholic bishops in Washington state seeking “abuse-related documents and evidence,” the Catholic Accountability Project said at a news conference Tuesday.

The subpoenas were delivered in late August, according to the group who said they learned of the AGO’s involvement through a “highly credible source.”

“If this is true, (Attorney General) Bob Ferguson has joined 23 other state attorneys general, both Democrats and Republicans, in investigating sexual abuse in faith-based organizations since 2018,” said Tim Law, a Catholic Accountability Project (CAP) founding member.

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The Attorney General’s Office declined to comment or confirm whether or not an investigation has in fact been opened.

“As a longstanding policy, the Attorney General’s Office generally does not comment on ongoing investigations, including confirming or denying their existence,” said Brionna Aho, communications director for the office.

CAP is an advocacy and support group for survivors of clergy sexual assault and aims to hold perpetrators in churches accountable, their website says.

The group was told subpoenas were sent to bishops in Yakima, Spokane and Seattle, Law said. He said the investigation is occurring thanks to an organization called Heal Our Church that brought evidence forward to the AGO a few years ago.

Law said the accusations against some of the bishops date back as far as the 1960s.

Survivors of clergy abuse spoke at the news conference.

“The only way to get large organizations like this to change their policies to stop enabling abusers is through incentives,” said Marino Hardin, a former Jehovah’s Witness and abuse survivor. “If they face accountability from their victims and from society, they can change those policies.”

Advocates are also urging other victims, whistleblowers and concerned residents to contact the AGO.

“If you care about justice you need to know that it’s the church’s job to forgive — it’s the Attorney General’s job to ensure justice for our children,” Sharon Hurling said.

Members of CAP told reporters that the AGO and the state are the “only hope” because the Catholic church does not police itself.

Complete Article HERE!