U.S. Leaders Of ‘Lacerated’ Catholic Church Meet Pope To Discuss Sex Abuse Crisis


Archbishop Jose Gomez (left) and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo arrive at the Perugino Gate to meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Thursday to discuss the sex abuse crisis within the church.

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As Pope Francis sat down at the Vatican Thursday with a delegation of U.S. bishops and cardinals to discuss how to gain ground in the sexual abuse crisis engulfing the Catholic Church, fresh scandals emerged on both sides of the Atlantic.

In Germany, a first-of-its kind study leaked to German news outlets found that over the past seven decades, at least 3,677 children have been sexually abused by clergy members there.

Researchers who spent four years studying records and conducting new interviews found that 1,670 priests and other religious leaders were suspected of engaging in abuse — 4.4 percent of the total number of clergy in the country.

And yet researchers repeatedly emphasized throughout the 350-page report that the actual numbers are likely “significantly higher,” German newspaper Die Zeit reports.

Some two dozen dioceses participated in the study, commissioned by the Catholic Church bishops’ conference in Germany. But critics say because the church is both subject and sponsor of the report, the findings are inherently flawed.

“The report does not give the full picture, and is not fully independent,” German criminologist Christian Pfeiffer told The New York Times.

Pfeiffer told the Times that researchers from three universities were unable to look directly at church files, instead relying on church workers to fill out questionnaires. And the report says that in several instances, church files documenting abuse have been altered or destroyed.

The official findings are not set for release until Sept. 25.

Last month, an explosive grand jury report covering a similar time period in Pennsylvania revealed that 300 “predator priests” had abused more than 1,000 victims with the help of a systematic cover-up by church leaders.

But the grand jury added a caveat: “We believe that the real number … is in the thousands.”

Seeking a way forward, American bishops and cardinals laid the crisis bare before the pope at the Vatican on Thursday.

“We shared with Pope Francis our situation in the United States — how the Body of Christ is lacerated by the evil of sexual abuse,” the head of the delegation, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, said in a statement.

DiNardo, who had requested the meeting in response to the sexual abuse scandal around Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, said it “was a lengthy, fruitful, and good exchange” and that the pope “listened very deeply from the heart.”

While DiNardo offered no specifics about how they plan to address the abuse, he said they prayed with the pope “for God’s mercy and strength as we work to heal the wounds. We look forward to actively continuing our discernment together identifying the most effective next steps.”

In February, Catholic bishops from across the world will convene in Rome at the pope’s invitation to discuss the “prevention of abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.”

Also Thursday, Francis accepted the resignation of Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston, W.Va., and ordered an investigation into accusations that Bransfield sexually harassed adults.

The archbishop of Baltimore, William E. Lori, has been appointed to fill in on an interim basis in West Virginia — serving in both roles — until a permanent bishop is chosen.

“My primary concern is for the care and support of the priests and people of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston at this difficult time,” Lori said in a statement. “I further pledge to conduct a thorough investigation in search of the truth into the troubling allegations against Bishop Bransfield.”

Those allegations against Bransfield are not included the statement.

But a man testifying four years ago in the Philadelphia trial of Monsignor William Lynn, the first senior U.S. Catholic Church official convicted of concealing sex abuse, accused Bransfield of misconduct.

The man said that another priest had raped him in Bransfield’s home. He also testified that his abuser told him Bransfield was sexually abusing one or more boys.

Bransfield issued a statement at the time denying the allegations. And a West Virginia diocese issued a statement in his defense, saying Bransfield’s alleged victim denied the abuse, the Associated Press reports.

Complete Article HERE!

You’re still surprised by pedophile priests? Who do you think enables them?

In 1986, then-auxiliary bishop Jaime Soto wrote a letter of support for his former classmate Chris Andersen after he was convicted on 26 felony counts of child molestation. Now, as bishop of the Sacramento Diocese, Soto talks about his regrets.

By Marcos Bretón

Since he became the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento a decade ago, Jaime Soto has chosen to remove priests accused of pedophilia or misconduct. This is in contrast to shielding them, as other bishops have in now-infamous coverups of child abuse being investigated by law enforcement authorities in several states.

Soto learned. The question is, has the rest of the church?

Mind you, Soto’s approach of hewing to the law over the loyalty to a fraternity of priests and bishops was informed by years when he did the opposite. He acted in a way that showed he cared more about the priests doing the abusing than the children; believed that therapy for pedophiles was the way to go; he would comment on the sexual abuse of priests without really knowing the facts.

He thought that sex abuse by priests needed to be kept secret.

Soto believed in all those falsehoods when he was rising through the ranks of the Diocese of Orange County, his home base before moving to Sacramento at the end of 2007, and he acted on them accordingly. What pains him most now is a letter he wrote to a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge to plead for mercy for a priest who preyed on altar boys.

His name was Andrew Christian Andersen.

“He was a classmate of mine, a fellow seminarian,” Soto said over coffee recently. In September of 1986, Andersen was convicted on 26 counts of molesting altar boys. His victims never got their day in court because Andersen was allowed to skip a trial and go straight to conviction and sentencing. The victims felt betrayed. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles media reported how Andersen was cheered by devotees unmoved by facts or early court rulings.

“He was always our friend and a consultant to us and a good confessor, and we just know he’s innocent,” Dorothy Gilmore told the Los Angeles Times then. Hold that thought for a moment – the blind devotion to a man in a priestly collar – because it is a recurring theme in a sex abuse scandal engulfing the church and reaching all the way to the Vatican and Pope Francis.

That blind devotion – that cloistered brotherhood of loyalty and obedience to each other – is what drove Soto, then a man in his 30s, to write the judge weighing what to do with Andersen.

“Chris Andersen’s present difficulties pain me very much not only because he is a friend but also because he is an associate in the ministry,” Soto wrote then. “Our works bring us into intimate contact with people’s lives. In a time when the exchange of simple affections within the most intimate of circles has become a rare commodity, our associations with others run the grave risk of being misunderstood by all parties including perhaps the priest himself….There is cause therefore to exercise prudence and right judgment while at the same time pursuing the mission of Church to bring healing and comfort.”

Truthfully, Soto’s regrettable words were far more measured than other church leaders who told the judge that the accusations against Andersen did not square with the guy they knew.

Soto was sticking up for a friend and suggesting that his troubles were the result of intimate misunderstandings. But measured or not, the judge listened. Instead of prison, Andersen received a suspended jail sentence, was placed on probation for five years and was sent to a New Mexico for therapy.

Guess what Andersen did in New Mexico? He was arrested for abusing and kidnapping a New Mexico boy. Having violated his parole, he was sentenced to the six-year prison term he should have gotten in the first place.

“My letter was stupid and naive,” Soto said. “I wrote the letter without any real knowledge about what he had done and the harm he had caused…When (Andersen) re-offended, it was a sobering, chilling revelation.”

And that’s how sex abuse happens in the Catholic Church. People focus on the celibacy of priests as a driving factor for sexual abuse when it’s more about people – bishops, priests and lay people – being blinded by the idea that these men deserve to be placed above the law.

Removing celibacy is not the answer to this problem. Child abusers aren’t predators because they’re celibate. So what’s happening in the church is about much more than sexuality. Different issue. Sure, let priests marry. That would be wonderful, but not enough to stop the abuse.

What’s happening shows the church is a closed society of men in desperate need of forced transparency. Even now, they’re actions have been cloaked. And those of us in the pews are shocked that sex abuse scandals still are roiling the church because we thought they had been addressed a decade ago.

But the problem won’t go away as long as bishops, priests and lay people worship the men in the collars over the people they are supposed to minister, over the law, and over the teachings of God that is supposed to guide the church.

In Pennsylvania, a grand jury report alleged that Roman Catholic leaders there covered up the abuse of hundreds of people by priests for decades. The New York Attorney General has issued subpoenas at every diocese in the state as part of ongoing investigations of sex abuse in Catholic churches there. Authorities in six states are investigating Catholic bishops and priests. A high ranking Vatican official accused Pope Francis of covering up sexual abuse.

In response to unspeakable allegations, church leaders are calling for more lay people to be more involved in the inner workings of the church. It’s a good idea but it will be a Band-Aid response if the wrong people are chosen to provide oversight for and counsel to bishops and priests who need it.

Andersen’s well-wishers stood up for him, despite a mountain of evidence, and proved how some Catholic lay people can be co-conspirators in these scandals. In the most public sex abuse case under Soto’s watch in Sacramento in 2011, a popular priest was treated like a rock star even after he had been arrested and later pleaded guilty to molesting a 13-year-old girl.

In 30 years as a journalist, I’ve never seen anything like the spectacle of dozens of Catholics lining the street adjacent to the Main Jail in downtown Sacramento after Father Uriel Ojeda was incarcerated there. Men and women, dressed in their Sunday best, craned their necks for a glimpse of Ojeda in his orange jump suit. Even though he could not have possibly heard them, some of these folks serenaded Ojeda from the street in front of the jail.

One woman screamed at me on the street because I had quoted Soto in a column and, to her, this signified that I was in on a church conspiracy to ruin the popular young priest. She said Soto was “jealous” of him. I looked into the eyes of this woman as she berated me and saw no there there. Nobody was home. It was religious zealotry playing out on the street in Sacramento.

It took me back to 2002. Church members of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament asserted to me that “the media” were behind the latest sex abuse scandal to rock the church.

This is what almost never gets discussed among lay Catholics – our own complicity. Soto readily admits now that he was wrong to advocate for Andersen. He was wrong to believe that treatment can help some hardened pedophiles. He was wrong to believe that keeping these abuses quiet was the way to go.

But plenty of lay people went along for the ride, including parishioners and church lawyers who advised bishops for years to cover up and protect against liability.

To his credit, Soto has not followed these falsehoods during his time here. He’s learned the hard way. But it has come with a cost. Fanatical followers of Ojeda condemned Soto for turning the priest over to police. In other cases of sexual misconduct by priests, that have not involved minors, Soto removed them and was criticized by followers.

“In my own ministry, I’ve come face-to-face with a lot of domestic violence and child abuse,” he said. “In many of these cases, I reported them and the families would initially be angry with me that I reported them.”

Soto knew the questions I would be asking him for this column – I approached him – and he accepted because he believes the church must face this crisis truthfully. It’s the only way to restore trust and to keep the abuse from happening again.

The Bishop of Sacramento is a man who has been humbled and is trying to do better.

“When these cases arise I have to act and put my own fears aside to do what’s right,” Soto said. “I first have to listen, to let people express their stories,”

“I tell them: “You were betrayed, your trust was betrayed. And that’s not right I’m not going to let Father hurt you again.”

Complete Article HERE!

Excommunicated women demand changes to Church as child abuse scandals mount

International circle of bishops with Roman Catholic Women Priests call on Pope Francis to act

Marie Bouclin, a bishop with the Roman Catholic Women Priests, presides over a service in her home in Sudbury in 2016.

By Benjamin Aubé

Though they’ve been excommunicated by the Vatican, a group of women is demanding changes in the Roman Catholic Church.

Bishops with the Roman Catholic Women Priests are calling on Pope Francis to “establish a council to explore new structures for church leadership and order within the Roman Catholic Church.”

They say the constant string of allegations against male priests is yet another sign the Church must begin letting women and men with children be ordained.

The call to action comes on the heels of last month’s grand jury report out of Pennsylvania. It found that thousands of children were abused at the hands of hundreds of priests in that state.

Marie Bouclin is a bishop emerita with the Roman Catholic Women Priests.

“Men want to protect their children too, and if they’re fathers, they can’t be ordained either,” explained Bouclin. “So we’re saying you need married people as ministers of the Church, you need women in the church, to bring a different perspective, to change this system that has perpetuated itself largely through force and fear.”

Bouclin, who is based in Sudbury, said the Roman Catholic Women Priests are essentially forced to the margins as an “underground” organization. She explained she runs small services and prayer circles, often out of her own home.

The Vatican automatically excommunicates any woman that attempts to be ordained through the movement.

“They’ve marginalized us, so we can’t operate in the local parishes and such,” noted Bouclin.

“We’ve been accused of trying to have access to power, when what we are saying is, ‘Look, we could serve.’ There’s a shortage of priests, we could do this work, we’re qualified and we’re willing, but there’s this fear of change.”

Bouclin also spoke about why she and her peers continue to fight to be part of an organization that has not only forced them out, but also continues to be peppered with child abuse allegations.

“This is our Church too,” she replied. “There’s a lot worth keeping, but there’s a lot that has to change. Rather than walk away, it’s the hope of trying to salvage the good that can be.”

Bouclin added it’s a mistake to believe that child abuse at the hands of priests hasn’t happened in Canadian cities like Sudbury.

Complete Article HERE!

The Catholic Church Is Sick With Sex

Outside of condemning adulterous behavior, Christ never said anything about whom you could love.

Pope Alexander VI

By Timothy Egan

One pope was a father of 10 through multiple mistresses, a man who purchased the papacy with mule-loads of silver. It is said that Alexander VI, the most debauched of the Borgia pontiffs, elected in 1492, even had an affair with one of his daughters.

Another pope contracted syphilis during his reign — a “disease very fond of priests, especially rich priests,” as the saying went in Renaissance times. That was Julius II, known as “Il terrible.”

A third pope, Pius IX, added Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary” and John Stuart Mill’s book on the free market economy to the Vatican’s List of Prohibited Books during his long reign in the 19th century. He also formalized the doctrine of papal infallibility.

What these Holy Fathers had in common was not just that they were badly flawed men putting forth badly flawed ideas: At the root of their moral failings is Catholicism’s centuries-old inability to come to grips with sex.

I say this as a somewhat lapsed, but certainly listening, Catholic educated by fine Jesuit minds and encouraged by the open-mindedness of Pope Francis. The big issue behind the budding civil war in a faith of 1.3 billion people — a rift that could plunge the church back into a medieval mind-set on sexuality — is the same old thing.

And most of the church’s backward teachings, dictated by nominally celibate and hypocritical men, have no connection to the words of Jesus.

If you’re going to strike at a pope, to paraphrase the line about taking down a king, you must kill him. Right-wing Catholics, those who think allowing gay members of the faith to worship with dignity is an affront to God, have just taken their best shot at Francis.

The attempted coup was disguised as an exposé by a conscience-stricken cleric, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò. He claims that the pope must resign because he knew about the sexual abuse of young seminarians by a disgraced cardinal and did not defrock the predator.

It’s a fair point, and one that demands a full response from Francis. But if you read Viganò’s full 11-page letter, you see what’s really driving him and his ultraconservative cabal — an abhorrence of gay Catholics and a desire to return to the Dark Ages.

“The homosexual networks present in the church must be eradicated,” Viganò wrote. Those close to Francis, he claimed, “belong to the homosexual current in favor of subverting Catholic doctrine on homosexuality.” For theological authority, he cited the infamous 1986 letter to bishops condemning homosexuality as “a moral disorder.”

That instructive was issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, designed to do to heretics what the Inquisition once did, without the stake-burning.

The bishop’s letter cites Old Testament sanctions against “sodomites” and a New Testament interpretation from St. Paul, who admitted he was not speaking with direct authority from the divine. St. Augustine, who loved sex and had plenty of it before he hated it, set the church template in the fifth century, saying, “Marriage is only one degree less sinful than fornication.”

What’s missing from these puritanical pronouncements, from then till now, is the figure at the center of the faith. That’s because, outside of condemning adulterous behavior, Christ never said anything about whom you could love. Nothing about homosexuals. Nothing about priestly celibacy or barring women from clerical ranks, for that matter.

Last year, while walking the thousand-year-old Via Francigena, I came upon many Catholics along that pilgrim’s path to Rome excited about the fresh air blowing through a Vatican that hadn’t opened a window in decades. The only cloud over these spiritual sojourners was the constant news about criminal clergy.

The conservatives would do nothing to fix this, but would make the church a global pariah. The old guard is infuriated by statements like the one Pope Francis made on Sunday. When asked how a parent should treat a gay child, he said, “Don’t condemn, have dialogue, listen.”

The way out of the present crisis is more light, less darkness and a few bold and dramatic moves. For starters, clerics should not be judging other clerics; let lay members, women and men, conduct the investigations.

Priestly celibacy should be optional. It’s an anachronism, certainly not one of the “infallible” truths, and may be one of the main reasons pedophilia is thick in clerical ranks. For the first thousand years of the church, married men could become priests, as they still can in the Greek Orthodox faith.

Women should be priests. Duh. When asked about this, Francis said only men could serve because Jesus chose only men as his apostles. This logic is flawed, as Jesus also chose Jews, and you don’t see a lot of them being invited into the priesthood.

A final alternative might be to look to the United States ambassador to the Vatican for moral guidance. That would be Callista Gingrich, who carried on a six-year affair with a married Newt Gingrich and became his third wife. In Rome, as always, hypocrisy is eternal.

Complete Article HERE!

A Catholic Civil War?

Traditionalists want strict adherence to church doctrine. Liberals want the doctrine changed.

By Matthew Schmitz

Pope Francis must resign. That conclusion is unavoidable if allegations contained in a letter written by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò are true. Archbishop Viganò, the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States from 2011 to 2016, says that Pope Francis knew Cardinal Theodore McCarrick had abused seminarians, but nonetheless lifted penalties imposed on Cardinal McCarrick by Pope Benedict XVI.

No matter what Francis does now, the Catholic Church has been plunged into all-out civil war. On one side are the traditionalists, who insist that abuse can be prevented only by tighter adherence to church doctrine. On the other side are the liberals, who demand that the church cease condemning homosexual acts and allow gay priests to step out of the closet.

Despite their opposing views, the two sides have important things in common. Both believe that a culture of lies has enabled predators to flourish. And both trace this culture back to the church’s hypocritical practice of claiming that homosexual acts are wrong while quietly tolerating them among the clergy.

As the liberal Vatican observer Robert Mickens writes, “There is no denying that homosexuality is a key component to the clergy sex abuse (and now sexual harassment) crisis.” James Alison, himself a gay priest, observes, “A far, far greater proportion of the clergy, particularly the senior clergy, is gay than anyone has been allowed to understand,” and many of those gay clergy are sexually active. Father Alison describes the “absurd and pharisaical” rules of the clerical closet, which include “doesn’t matter what you do so long as you don’t say so in public or challenge the teaching.”

The importance of not challenging church teaching is seen in the contrast of two gay-priest scandals of the Francis pontificate. The first is the case of Msgr. Battista Ricca, a Vatican diplomat who, while stationed in Uruguay, reportedly lived with a man, was beaten at a cruising spot and once got stuck in an elevator with a rent boy. (In Uruguay, the age of consent is 15.) These facts were concealed from Pope Francis, who in 2013 appointed Monsignor Ricca to a position of oversight at the Vatican Bank.

After Monsignor Ricca’s sins were exposed, Francis chose to stand by him, famously saying, “Who am I to judge?” Msgr. Krzysztof Charamsa suffered a less happy fate. The priest, who worked at the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, announced in 2015 that he was gay and had a male partner, and asked the church to change its teaching. He was immediately fired. Both Monsignor Ricca and Monsignor Charamsa had sinned, but only one had stepped out of line.

The other rule of the clerical closet is not violating the civil law — or at least not getting caught. Francis defended Monsignor Ricca by distinguishing between sins and crimes: “They are not crimes, right? Crimes are something different.” This distinction provides cover for sex abuse. When countless priests are allowed to live double lives, it is hard to tell who is concealing crimes. Cardinal McCarrick was widely seen as “merely” preying on adult seminarians. Now he has been credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor.

Corrupt as this situation is, many Catholic leaders prefer it to the coming civil war. That seemed to be the attitude of Bishop Robert Barron when he called for an investigation that avoids “ideological hobby horses” like priestly celibacy and homosexuality. Bishop Barron is right to insist that accountability comes first. This is why anyone implicated in cover-up — up to and including Pope Francis — needs to resign.

But even if all the men at fault are held accountable, the hypocrisy will continue. The real danger the church faces is not ideological challenge from left or right but a muddled modus vivendi that puts peace before truth.

In 2005 the Vatican attempted to address this problem by instructing seminaries to turn away men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies.” But several Catholic leaders immediately indicated that they would not abide by this rule. Because Pope Benedict did nothing to enforce the decree, it became yet another symbol of Catholic hypocrisy.

According to Catholic teaching, every act of unchastity leads to damnation. But many bishops would rather save face than prevent the ruin of bodies and souls. If the church really does believe that homosexual acts are always and everywhere wrong, it should begin to live what it teaches. This would most likely mean enforcing the 2005 decree and removing clergy members caught in unchastity. If the church does not believe what it says — and there are now many reasons to think that it does not — it should officially reverse its teaching and apologize for centuries of pointless cruelty.

Either way, something must change. Marie Collins, a sex abuse survivor, warned that the crisis in the church is bound to get worse: “More and more countries are going to come forward, and as victims find their voices, it’s going to grow bigger.” Everyone who wants to end sex abuse should pray that the Catholic civil war does not end in stalemate.

Complete Article HERE!