Pope Francis names gay man to clergy sex abuse commission

Juan Carlos Cruz

by Michael K. Lavers

Pope Francis has named a gay man to a commission that advises him on protecting children from pedophile priests.

Juan Carlos Cruz — a survivor of clerical sex abuse in Chile — was named to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. The Associated Press on Wednesday reported nuns, laypeople, a bishop and a priest are among the commission’s other members.

Cruz on Wednesday told the Blade during a telephone interview from Chile that Francis “decided he wanted me on the commission.”

“I’m very honored,” said Cruz. “I’m a survivor. I’m gay. I’m a lay person. I’m Catholic.”

Cruz is among the hundreds of people who a now-defrocked priest sexually abused in his parish in El Bosque, a wealthy neighborhood in the Chilean capital of Santiago over more than three decades.

Cruz and two other men — José Murillo and James Hamilton — in 2010 went public with their allegations. Two Chilean cardinals later blocked Cruz from being named to the same commission to which Francis appointed him.

Cruz is the first openly gay man and the first person from Latin America to serve on the commission.

“I had lots of hits against me, but he trusts me,” Cruz told the Blade, referring to Francis.

“I’m honored,” he added. “It just renews my commitment to change things from within, for survivors, for every person who feels disenfranchised from the church. This is a place where we all belong, with no adjectives.”

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which defends Catholic teachings, earlier this month published a decree that said the Catholic Church cannot bless same-sex unions. Cruz, who met Francis at the Vatican in 2018, is among those who sharply criticized the edict.

“As a Catholic, I would immediately ask for a change in the leadership of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which every day resembles that of the infamous Torquemada himself and not that of the pastors that Francis proposes to us,” Cruz told the Blade, referring to the mastermind of the Spanish Inquisition.

Cruz in response to Francis’ decision to name him to the commission reiterated he is “really, really honored and will do my best to live up to his appointment and the commitment that I have with the people who are expecting so much from me.”

Catholic group opposes Colorado bill that would give child sex abuse survivors the ability to sue their abuser at any time

Lawmakers looking at two bills on topic, one dealing with statute of limitations and another to hold organizations more accountable

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For decades, survivors of childhood sexual abuse and their advocates have urged states to let them hold abusers accountable in civil court, no matter how long it’s been since the abuse. A bipartisan bill in the Colorado Legislature to do just that so far appears to have widespread approval, but it’s not without opposition from the Colorado Catholic Conference — a church embroiled in a sex abuse scandal in Colorado, the U.S. and around the world.

There is no expiration date in Colorado to bring criminal charges against a person accused of child sex abuse, but the statute of limitations to sue an individual is only six years after a victim turns 18. Last year’s effort to change the latter failed.

The renewed push to eliminate the statute of limitations for lawsuits against alleged child sex abusers saw an unanimous Senate vote this week — a vote Wheat Ridge Democratic Sen. Jessie Danielson called “historic.” But the bipartisan bill, which now heads to a House committee, doesn’t apply to civil claims that will have already expired by the time it takes effect, which was a sticking point over constitutionality concerns last year.

That’s why lawmakers have introduced a second (also bipartisan) bill to create a new cause of action to allow people abused as children to sue public and private institutions like churches, schools and the Boy Scouts for past abuse that occurred under their watch. Both the Colorado Catholic Conference and the Boy Scouts, which is also facing abuse allegations in the state, are opposed.

Republican Rep. Matt Soper of Delta is one of the sponsors on both bills, partly because one statistic about childhood sexual abuse sticks with him: Victims often don’t disclose the abuse until their 50s.

“And usually, it’s not a one-off instance. It’s usually over and over again by a family member, a close family friend, someone who’s in a position of trust like a teacher or a priest or a club leader, or a trainer,” Soper said. “And it takes years and years for that individual to be able just to share their story.”

That was James “Jeb” Barrett’s experience. The child sexual abuse survivor and leader of the Denver Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests (or SNAP) chapter grew up in Montana, and said he was sexually abused as a child by multiple adults he trusted — a teacher, an uncle, a priest and Scout leader. His partner, who had also been abused as a child, died by suicide.

It took him until he was 63 to talk about his abuse, he said. He’s now 81, and understands firsthand the effects of childhood trauma, including dealing with addiction.

Other times, the adults in a child’s life don’t believe them, furthering that trauma. On the Senate floor Tuesday, Sen. Brittany Pettersen shared the story of her own mother, who was sexually abused at a young age for years by Pettersen’s grandfather. Pettersen’s mom eventually told her mother, who didn’t believe her daughter.

“This bill is about slightly giving back to ensure (adults abused as children) actually feel for the first time in their life they have the justice they’ve been seeking, the acknowledgement they’ve been seeking for their entire life,” the Lakewood Democrat said.

After years of advocating for policies like the two in front of lawmakers, Barrett said he’s hopeful this time.

“It’s incrementally moving toward the openness, accountability and transparency that we need across the board,” and “justice,” he said.

Support and constitutionality concerns

At least one of the new bills has the support of the Victim Policy Institute, which lobbied heavily against it last year. And, as expected, survivors who’ve advocated for legislation in prior years are back this year, “so their story shapes public policy, so what happened to them doesn’t happen to any other child victim in the future,” said Raana Simmons, director of policy for the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

If Colorado approves an elimination of the statute of limitations for civil claims, it will join 12 other states and the U.S. territory of Guam, according to Philadelphia-based Child USAdvocacy.

Kathryn Robb, executive director of the agency and a survivor herself, testifies in statehouses across the country. She said the country is starting to understand how long it takes to disclose abuse and the effects of this trauma on children’s brains and behavior.

“This is happening all over the country right now … because as a society, we are recognizing the enormous problem we have with child sexual abuse,” she said.

A prime example of the widespread nature of child sex abuse is the allegations against Catholic priests. A recent Colorado investigation revealed accusations against dozens of priests for allegedly sexually abusing at least 212 children over the past 70 years, and the church paid nearly $7 million to victims.

The Colorado Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s three dioceses — Denver, Colorado Springs and Pueblo — said it has supported unlimited time to seek criminal charges but not, as proposed in the bill, for civil statutes.

In a statement, the group said it supports “reasonable and fair extension of the civil statute of limitations; however, statutes of limitations must have a sensible time limit to ensure due process for all parties involved.”

The Boy Scouts of America also has been dealing with allegations of childhood sexual abuse across the country, with at least 16 Colorado men joining nearly 800 who signed onto a lawsuit in 2019, saying it happened to them when they were scouts. (A Boy Scouts internal investigation found abuse stretching from the 1940s to 2016.)

The Denver Area Council of Boy Scouts of America supports the bill that would eliminate the statute of limitations for civil claims, Scout Executive and CEO Chuck Brasfeild wrote in a statement. But the group is concerned about the other bill — creating a new cause of action against an organization that either knew or should have known about the risks and concealed abuse — which, Brasfeild said, appears to be an unconstitutional overreach.

The Colorado Catholic Conference also opposes that measure, saying: “Passing a bill with constitutional and due process problems does not put victims first. It will only delay opportunities for survivors to receive compensation and not promote true restorative justice. The Catholic Church in Colorado is eager to ensure survivors of abuse receive the support they need for true healing.”

But the bill sponsors say that’s the reason they created the measure — expected to have its first Senate committee hearing next week — so victims can sue abusers and the organizations that protected them regardless of when the abuse happened instead of using what’s referred to as a “lookback window” to revive old claims.

Legislative lawyers said a “lookback window” violates the state’s constitution, according to bill sponsors Commerce City Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet and Soper.

“We really wanted to respect our state’s constitution,” Soper said. “Otherwise, why are we here?”

Ted Trimpa, a Colorado lobbyist for the Victim Policy Institute based in Washington, D.C., had argued against the bill last year, saying it didn’t go far enough without the “lookback window.” He believed Colorado lawmakers should have taken the issue to court because other states have successfully won such challenges.

This year, his organization is reviewing whether it will support the civil cause of action bill and is supporting the statute of limitations bill, Trimpa said.

Danielsen said she is urging lawmakers to “think about the adults who endured this kind of abuse in their past because it was traumatic and caused lifelong damage and pain and suffering” — people who have had to seek treatment for years. It will shift the cost from the victims to the abusers as well as prevent young kids from having to face abusers in criminal court, she said. Instead, parents will be able to pursue civil action on their children’s behalf.

Approving this bill, she added, gives lawmakers the opportunity to “stand on the side of survivors and protect those who can’t protect themselves.”

Complete Article HERE!

Seattle archbishop is stonewalling push for more transparency of church sex-abuse cases, group contends

Paul Etienne took over as Seattle’s archbishop in 2019. An alliance of practicing Catholics say the archbishop has refused to discuss their call for a citizen-led review of the Seattle Archdiocese’s private records on clergy abuse.

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Their ranks include ex-federal prosecutors, a retired judge, a one-time assistant police chief, even a former priest. But a group of prominent Catholics say they still can’t get an audience with Seattle’s new archbishop in their push to address the fallout of a lingering scandal.

Members of Heal Our Church, a Seattle-based alliance of practicing Catholics who seek a public review of how the Roman Catholic Church’s worldwide sexual abuse scandal secretly festered within the parishes of Western Washington, contend they’re being stonewalled by Archbishop Paul Etienne.

Since requesting a meeting with Etienne in January, group members said the archbishop has refused to discuss their call for a citizen-led review of the Seattle Archdiocese’s private records on clergy abuse. Group members contend only full disclosure of the secret files — with a public airing about the archdiocese’s known pedophile clergy members and how the church dealt with them — can ultimately heal the church and rebuild trust within the broader community.

“What we’re proposing is not radical,” said Clark Kimerer, a retired Seattle police assistant chief and core member of Heal Our Church. “It’s truth and reconciliation — a time-tested process that provides healing.”

But so far, Etienne has responded with only impersonal, pro-forma letters that dispute the necessity for such an initiative, group members said.

In a recent email, a spokesperson for the archdiocese partly blamed the coronavirus lockdown for scuttling the archbishop’s plan for an in-person discussion with the group.

“We had a meeting set but the pandemic came, which postponed this meeting,” according to the archdiocese’s email. “This is a meeting that would be better done in person, which can’t be done right now.”

But the email added that a “thorough outside review of the files by qualified lay people (and) a review of allegations by a group of qualified lay experts has already been done.”

Before Etienne’s appointment to Seattle in 2019, the archdiocese undertook various efforts to examine and address clergy sexual-abuse cases. They included creating a case review board in 2004 to examine child sex-abuse claims against several priests, and hiring former FBI-agent-turned-consultant Kathleen McChesney to evaluate the archdiocese’s clergy-abuse archives. McChesney’s review resulted in the archdiocese’s 2016 publication of a list naming 77 clergy members with credible accusations of rape or other abuse dating back decades.

Etienne has since established a pastoral council to take input from the laity, and the archdiocese continues to keep a review board of appointed citizens for consultation on sex-abuse cases, the email said. It also has quietly updated its “credibly accused” list with the names of scores of clergy on loan from other dioceses or religious orders who worked in Western Washington schools and churches but were left off the archdiocese’s initial accounting.

“Given our history and deep commitment to healing and transparency, as well as our deep respect for and trust in the experts like Kathleen McChesney and review board members, we are not planning to replace them or create parallel structures or processes,” the archdiocese’s email said.

But the church’s efforts to date have failed to fully address the scandal and continue to promote secrecy, according to the Heal Our Church group members.
They contend the archdiocese has failed to explicitly reveal how much church officials knew about credibly accused clergy members and when they first learned of individual abuse allegations. The archdiocese also hasn’t provided details as to whether its high-ranking officials played any role in enabling or covering up cases of abuse, and if so, why that happened, the members said.

“There’s never been discussion of the how and why this all evolved,” said Terry Carroll, a retired King County judge. “We think a lot has to do with the bishops and decisions by the church, but there’s been no real accountability for that era because the whole story hasn’t been told.”

At times, such details have separately emerged in lawsuits brought against the archdiocese by abuse victims. In one case, the archdiocese’s required legal disclosures of portions of the secret file kept on one notorious priest, the Rev. Michael Cody, showed the late Seattle Archbishop Thomas Connolly knew Cody was a pedophile but nonetheless moved him from parish to parish. After The Seattle Times detailed the case in 2016, Seattle University removed Connolly’s name from its athletics and recreation center.

Carroll and Mike McKay, the former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, both served on the Seattle Archdiocese’s first review panel. They’ve since become outspoken critics of what they’ve described as the archdiocese’s opaque handling of the scandal. The two were among a core group who helped launch Heal Our Church and the latest push for more transparency.

More than 250 practicing Catholics in the Seattle Archdiocese have signed on as supporters of the group, including Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and City Attorney Pete Holmes. Heal Our Church, which runs a website to promote its cause, hosted a webinar in October and invited Etienne, but the archbishop was a no-show.

The group plans to broaden its effort in the New Year and hasn’t ruled out taking legal action, Kimerer and Carroll said.

Michael Sullivan, a former Seattle diocesan priest among the group’s core members, blamed clericalism — a deep-rooted approach that sets bishops and priests above everyone else in the church — for the resistance to truly independent examinations of the scandal. Sullivan pointed to the Vatican’s long-awaited report on ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s serial sexual misconduct as an example.

Released in November, the 449-page report found that years of allegations against McCarrick were ignored or covered up by bishops and other officials, allowing him to rise to the highest levels of Catholic church hierarchy. But the report downplayed the roles of surviving officials, placing the lion’s share of blame on the late Pope John Paul II.

“They tend to come together and circle the wagons when things go wrong,” Sullivan said of church authority.

The pandemic appears to be the archdiocese’s latest excuse for putting off dealing with the latest calls for transparency, Sullivan added.

“We’ve offered to meet virtually or with social distancing,” he said. “But (the archdiocese) refused those opportunities.”

Group members contend that ignoring the church faithful’s efforts for a definitive public airing only serves to further undermine the archdiocese’s credibility and diminish trust at a time of plummeting membership.

“We’re seeing a church in crisis,” said Kimerer, the former assistant police chief. “The faithful (are) leaving the church in droves and credibility is at an all-time low. But if, indeed, the archdiocese has addressed these issues, then why are they so averse to having a lay-led group validate that? We’d call that a clue.”

Complete Article HERE!

Survivor calls on Trudeau to release St. Anne’s residential-school abuse documents

Edmund Metatawabin, a survivor of St. Anne’s residential school in Fort Albany, Ont., is seen outside Osgoode Hall in Toronto on Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013.

By Maan Alhmidi

Residential school survivor Evelyn Korkmaz is calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to release thousands of documents that detail the sexual and physical abuse of thousands of Indigenous children at St. Anne’s residential school in the last century.

Korkmaz said the federal government has not turned over 12,300 reports from Ontario Provincial Police investigations of violations at St. Anne’s in Fort Albany, Ont. despite an Ontario Superior Court order.

Following the court order in 2014, Ottawa released heavily redacted copies of materials generated by the OPP between 1992 and 1996.

“They’re useless if they’re redacted,” Korkmaz said in an interview with The Canadian Press. “This is part of Canada’s Indigenous history. We can learn from this.”

St. Anne’s Indian Residential School was run by the Catholic orders of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Grey Sisters of the Cross from 1902 until 1976 and was funded by the federal government starting in 1906.

It was one of Canada’s most notorious residential schools. Indigenous children from Fort Albany First Nation in northern Ontario were sexually abused, punished by shocks delivered in electric chairs and forced to eat their own vomit, according to Edmund Metatawabin, a survivor and former chief of the First Nation.

Metatawabin was forced to attend the school between 1956 and 1963. He became a chief of his nation in 1988 and used his position to sponsor a panel for survivors to share their stories, putting together a report that triggered the police investigation in autumn 1992.

“The residential school issue is a very sensitive case for us. It was an embarrassing thing for us to face.” he said in an interview.

“It’s hard to say you were abused as a child. You want to keep that private.”

Metatawabin said more than 900 survivors of St. Anne’s decided to talk about their painful memories and testified to the police in the 1990s, resulting in a trove of information and criminal convictions of six former employees at the school.

In 2006, lawyers for former students and for the churches that ran residential schools, the Assembly of First Nations, other Indigenous organizations and the government approved the Indian Residential School Settlement, which included independent assessment processes to set compensation for claims of sexual or serious physical abuse.

However, many survivors of St. Anne’s have taken the federal government to court, seeking to reopen compensation cases that were settled before the partial release of the police documents in 2014.

A group of 60 survivors launched a case in 2013, claiming that the federal government failed to turn over those documents and breached the settlement agreement.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Paul Perell, who has spent years supervising implementation of the settlement agreement, ruled earlier this year the case should be heard by a judge in British Columbia.

Perell had recused himself over his previous criticism of one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

In November, the Ontario Court of Appeal found Perell wrong to order the legal fight to be heard in B.C., saying the case pressed by survivors of St. Anne’s should remain in Ontario. The next hearing is to take place virtually on Dec. 31.

But Justice Brenda Brown of British Columbia Supreme Court issued a court order in May that permits the federal government to destroy the police documents in the new year.

The federal Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Department said in a statement Tuesday the government will retain the police reports until the courts determine the matters before them.

Metatawabin said the documents reveal wrongdoing by the government and the churches. “Instead of making amends, (the government) tried to hide these documents from survivors and from the public.”

The documents have significant value for the Fort Albany First Nation people because they contain elders’ testimonies on their history, Metatawabin said.

“These are sacred words from the elders,” he said. “It’s an insult to the memory of those elders that told their story, that the government took their words from them, and now they want to erase history.”

Korkmaz said these documents are important evidence of the violations committed at St. Anne’s.

“The government for some strange reason is protecting the pedophiles that were at our school,” she said. “A normal citizen of any country, who is caught sexually abusing a child goes to jail. … Why are the priests, the bishops, the cardinals being protected? Why are they allowed to do it?”

Complete Article HERE!

Paris court convicts former Vatican envoy of sexual assault

A Paris court on Wednesday convicted a former Vatican ambassador to France of sexually assaulting five men in 2018 and 2019, and handed him a suspended 8-month prison sentence.

Retired Archbishop Luigi Ventura, 76 — who was not present in court — was “shattered” by the verdict, according to his lawyer, Solange Doumic. She said she was uncertain whether he would lodge an appeal because the procedure “has been extremely painful for him.”

Ventura has repeatedly denied wrongdoing. Sexual assault is punishable in France by up to five years’ imprisonment and fines in France.

The path for the prosecution of Ventura was cleared after the Vatican lifted his immunity in July 2019. His trial in absentia was held Nov. 10.

The sentence imposed Wednesday was more lenient than the suspended 10 months the prosecution had sought.

Doumic said her client had “explained himself multiple times,” over what the defense has described as “minor” accusations.

But the court decision “shows he wasn’t heard, despite a 7-hour hearing on gestures which are simple, light,” she said after the verdict.

Five men alleged that they had suffered Ventura’s “hands on the buttocks” during his public diplomatic duties in France. The case erupted in February 2019 amid multiple sex scandals affecting the Catholic Church.

Among the accusers was a former seminarian, Mahe Thouvenel, who said he was grabbed repeatedly by the clergyman when they celebrated Mass in December 2018. Another, Mathieu De La Souchere, alleged that Ventura touched his behind repeatedly during a reception at Paris City Hall.

Thouvenel said his seminary kicked him out after he filed a police complaint. Under questioning from Ventura’s lawyer, he put his right hand on the top of his right buttock to show one of the spots where he was allegedly groped.

“It’s violent,” Thouvenel said during the trial. “It sticks in your memory.”

The judge said at the time that, during prior questioning, Ventura had explained his behavior by saying he had a “Latin” temperament and that there was nothing sexual about his gestures.

“These types of verdicts, when it involves a Vatican ambassador, can give other victims the courage to come forward in other cases potentially involving the church,” said Antoinette Frety, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. “They know now that they will be heard no matter what the rank of the aggressor is within the church. And that’s very important.”

Another lawyer for the plaintiffs, Edmond-Claude Frety, said the verdict should encourage potential victims not to give up.

“It means that victims have to be brave, have to leave the silence and to talk,” he said. Ventura “will not be in jail tonight, of course, but it’s quite an important conviction because it means that these facts are now considered very severely by the courts.”

The former envoy had produced a doctor’s note saying it was too dangerous for him to travel from Rome to Paris for the November trial amid France’s resurgence of the coronavirus pandemic.

Complete Article HERE!