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!

In Southeast Asia’s youngest nation, leaders are defending clergymen mired in child abuse scandals

— In deeply Catholic Timor-Leste, high-profile clergymen involved in child sex abuse scandals are supported by some of the country’s most powerful politicians while victims who come forward are labelled as ‘church haters’.

Father Richard Daschbach was sentenced to 12 years in prison by a Timorese court after he confessed to sexually abusing many young girls at the orphanage he ran for 30 years in Timor-Leste.

By Kimberly Lambourne

Nobel Prize winner Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo was once the most powerful figure of the Roman Catholic church in Timor-Leste.

But in 2022, a Dutch newspaper report accused Belo of multiple rapes and sexual assaults on young boys dating back to the time he was a priest in the early 1980s.

In 2002, when the first allegations against him were raised, the Vatican discretely moved Bishop Belo to Mozambique, and then to Portugal, saying he was suffering “physical and mental fatigue”.

Then in 2020, Belo was secretly sanctioned by the Vatican and banned from living in his home country and coming into contact with minors.

Despite the allegations against him, Belo still receives the support of the nation for his role in campaigning for the human rights and self-determination of the Timorese people during the Indonesian occupation from 1975 to 1999.

A man wearing a black clerical gown and purple cap (left) embraces Pope John Paul II, who is wearing white.
Timorese spiritual leader and Nobel peace laureate Bishop Carlos Belo (left) meets Pope John Paul II in his summer residence at Castelgandolfo in September 1999.

Belo’s portrait is prominently displayed at the entrance of the Timor-Leste resistance museum — an ever-present reminder of his reputation as a fearless fighter for Timorese independence.

The president of Timor-Leste, Jose Ramos Horta, is a long-time friend of Bishop Belo. The two shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 for their advocacy work and were the international faces of the Timorese during the occupation.

Ramos-Horta continues to speak highly of Belo, despite the Vatican exiling Belo from Timor-Leste due to the child sex abuse allegations against him.

“We were surprised, but that’s life, these things happen,” he said in an interview for a documentary first broadcast on European public broadcaster ARTE. “It was very hard for us, for the Timorese people.”

“He represented the church, but also all the people of Timor.”

(left), a bespectacled man with a moustache; (right) a bespectacled clergyman in a bishop's hat
The president of Timor-Leste, Jose Ramos Horta, is a long-time friend of Bishop Belo (right). The two shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 for their advocacy work and were the international faces of the Timorese during the occupation.

“That’s a matter for the Vatican, for the Holy See, to decide whether he can return to Timor,” he said. “Yes, of course, people would love to welcome him back here.”

However, he declined to comment on the accusations against Belo.

The documentary makers made several attempts to contact Belo, seeking a response to the allegations raised in the program. He did not reply.

The church and the fight for independence

The topic of child sexual abuse in Timor-Leste is shrouded in a code of silence. The Timorese people revere the Catholic church as an institution that helped and offered them protection in the country’s darkest days.

Located north of Australia, Timor-Leste is a former Portuguese colony. After declaring independence in 1975, the nation was quickly invaded by Indonesia and for 24 years Timor-Leste endured a violent occupation. It formally became independent in 2002.

More than 150,000 people were killed in the fight for independence — almost a quarter of the country’s population — making it one of the deadliest conflicts of the 20th century.

During the occupation, priests sheltered and cared for the Timorese independence fighters, with the church loyal supporters of the resistance.

Today Timor-Leste is considered the second most Catholic country in the world, behind only the Vatican, with 97 per cent of the population practicing Catholicism.

This deep connection between the church and the fight for Timorese independence has fostered an environment where it’s difficult for victims to speak up as to speak ill of the church in Timor-Leste means to undermine the pain the nation has suffered through for its sovereignty.

Victims who come forward are often labelled as church haters and face being ostracised from their community.

A bespectacled older man wearing a medical face mask hugs two young women whose faces are blurred
In 2021, American missionary Richard Daschbach became the first member of the clergy to be convicted of sexual abuse of minors in Timor-Leste.

American ex-priest jailed for rape

Belo is far from the only priest in the country to have child sexual abuse allegations levelled at them.

It’s alleged that around a dozen other priests are accused of sexual abuse in Timor-Leste.

But prosecutions are rare.

In 2021, a Timorese court sentenced then 84-year-old American missionary Richard Daschbach to 12 years in prison for sexual abuse of children — the first time a member of the clergy has been convicted of such crimes in Timor-Leste.

Three years earlier, Daschbach, who had run an orphanage for 30 years in remote Timor-Leste, admitted to sexually abusing many young girls who were in his care.

In a letter addressed to his superiors, Daschbach wrote: “The victims could be anyone from about 2012 back to 1991, which is a long time.”

He went on to say, “It is impossible for me to remember even the faces of many of them, let alone the names — who the victims are I haven’t the faintest idea.”

After his confession, the Vatican expelled Daschbach from the church.

Two older men sitting on a couch. The man on the right is wearing a floral blue shirt and has his right arm around the shoulder of the man on the left, who is pointing his index finger
Convicted child sex offender Father Richard Daschbach (left) and Timor-Leste’s prime minister, Xanana Gusmão (right).

Daschbach, like Belo, supported the Timor-Leste rebels in their 24-year battle for independence, giving him status as a respected war hero and saviour of children.

Despite the evidence, criminal conviction and Daschbach’s own confessions, many Timorese still defend his honour. Among them is the country’s prime minister, Xanana Gusmão.

Since Daschbach’s imprisonment, Gusmão has visited the priest twice for birthday celebrations.

Speaking to a reporter, Gusmão confirmed that he believes Daschbach doesn’t belong in prison and will continue “every, every, every year” to bring him cake for his birthday.

In response to the news that the prime minister visited the convicted child sex offender in prison, Gusmão’s three sons, who now live in Melbourne, wrote handwritten letters to Daschbach’s victims apologising for their father’s actions.

One wrote: “When I heard that my father had visited the perpetrator ex-priest RD, I felt sad and angry. I apologise if my father’s actions caused you distress.”

Gusmão has said the release of Daschbach will be one of his priorities while in office.

Daschbach also receives avid support from Martinho Gusmao, a former priest and presidential candidate in 2022 elections.

“I think this case must be … cancelled … his name must be restored,” he said about Daschbach’s sentencing.

“You cannot. Just because you hate the Catholic church in Timor-Leste, you cannot do that.”

A congregation inside a Catholic church during mass
Timor-Leste is considered the second most Catholic country in the world, behind only the Vatican, with 97 per cent of the population practicing Catholicism.

The culture of silence

Josh Trinidad, a Timorese anthropologist and specialist in sexual violence, says Timor-Leste generally doesn’t see paedophilia as a big issue.

“A lot of people still don’t understand the issue of paedophilia [in Timor-Leste],” he said.

“It’s not like in the West, in Australia or in the UK, if you are a paedophile is, you know, really bad.”

As the victims of child sexual abuse crimes speak up, it is revealing a much larger cultural problem about the way sex abuse is perceived in Timorese society.

Many locals fear any reckoning to address the abuse will be deeply traumatic to the young nation that has fought relentlessly for its freedom.

Given the innate reluctance to even talk about child sexual abuse and the institutional power abusers and their supporters hold in Timor-Leste, it makes it more difficult for victims to tell their stories and be believed.

Complete Article HERE!

These Clergy Abuse Survivors Had a Chance to Find Justice.

— Then Their Diocese Filed for Bankruptcy.

Baltimore Catholic Archbishop William Lori greets parishioners after delivering Sunday Mass at Holy Family Catholic Church in July 2019, in Randallstown, Md.

As more states extend the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, churches are finding a legal workaround.

BY

When Teresa Lancaster was a teenager in the 1970s, she was raped by a chaplain at her Catholic high school in Baltimore. But when she and another survivor, Jean Wehner, sued the chaplain and the diocese decades later, the court rejected their case, saying too much time had passed under Maryland law. Lancaster, by then in her mid-40s, enrolled in law school with one goal: to lift the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse lawsuits.

“It was crushing,” she said about losing the lawsuit. “I had to pick myself up and decide what I was going to do. I knew if I became a lawyer, people would have to listen to me, and I could gain some respect back.”

Lancaster went on to become an attorney for victims of sexual abuse, and she eventually testified in front of the Maryland state legislature in favor of statute of limitations reform. Last April, Lancaster finally saw her goal achieved when Governor Wes Moore signed the Child Victims Act into law. It was one of 26 similar laws passed in the wake of the MeToo movement and high-profile sexual assault scandals involving the Boy Scouts and USA Gymnastics. 

But even in victory, Lancaster was not fully at ease. “I told everybody, this is a win,” she said. “But I was ready for them to attack back.”

And they did. In September, just two days before the law went into effect, the Archdiocese of Baltimore filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy—meaning all lawsuits against the Archdiocese would be paused, and any sexual abuse claims against a church would have to go through the bankruptcy court. Now, Lancaster is working hard to finish filing claims for herself and 20 clients by a court-imposed May 31 deadline, or else risk losing their one shot to find justice.

In recent years, bankruptcy has become increasingly popular among Catholic dioceses as a tool to avoid bad press and prevent future litigation. After an organization files for bankruptcy, all civil litigation against it stops. Instead, the bankruptcy court sets a deadline for victims or other creditors to submit a claim against the organization. That deadline essentially overrides any statute of limitations reform passed by the state legislature—if victims don’t meet it, they likely can’t sue in the future. Then, claims are resolved with a batch settlement—which makes bankruptcy an appealing option to dioceses, because it allows them to settle hundreds of lawsuits via a single process rather than litigating them individually. In a statement, Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori claimed that bankruptcy would “best allow the Archdiocese both to equitably compensate victim-survivors of child sexual abuse and ensure the local Church can continue its mission and ministries.”

But victims like Lancaster are skeptical. Many survivors and advocates argue that the bankruptcy process protects churches’ interests at the expense of victims. Unlike a civil trial, bankruptcy has no discovery process that would allow further information about abusers’ crimes to come to light—which means victims may be left with lingering questions about how much their churches knew about their abuse, or whether other people were victimized. In addition, because bankruptcy sets a deadline for claims, it can force victims to come forward before they’re ready, or risk losing their pathway to justice forever. Since many victims of childhood sexual abuse often don’t disclose their abuse for decades, the public may never know the full extent of clerical abuse.

“Survivors have a right to say, ‘This happened to me,’” said Wehner, who is also a claimant in the Baltimore bankruptcy case. “Because after this is done, we don’t get to do that anymore. What this bankruptcy does is shortens our time. It puts a pressure on us.”

Bankruptcy has long been common as a tool for corporations like Johnson & Johnson and Purdue Pharma to respond to mass lawsuits. According to Marie Reilly, a Penn State law professor and bankruptcy expert, the Archdiocese of Portland was the first diocese to use this legal maneuver back in 2004, when it declared bankruptcy amid child sexual abuse claims. Since then, Reilly said, 35 other dioceses have filed for bankruptcy, with 16 of those cases coming in the past four years.

Reilly attributes the recent acceleration in the trend to the wave of legislation like Maryland’s Child Victims Act. Thirteen of the recent bankruptcies have been concentrated in states like New York and California, which recently passed look-back windows—periods of time in which victims can bring forth child sexual abuse claims previously blocked by the statute of limitations.

There are some potential solutions to the problem. In April, Representative Deborah Ross (D-NC) introduced legislation to amend bankruptcy proceedings in cases of child sex abuse. The bill would give victims the opportunity to submit impact statements and mandate a discovery hearing where information about individual cases and institutional negligence could come to light. It would also require an independent forensic accountant to examine the bankrupt organization’s estate, along with the holdings of any third parties involved in the proceedings, to ensure victims receive a settlement commensurate with the organization’s worth.

Lancaster supports the bill, though she acknowledges that no amount of money will heal the emotional scars of abuse. Ideally, she’d like to see prosecutions of attackers and a memorial for survivors. But she knows that, at the moment, money is the most important tool survivors have at their disposal to hold the diocese to account. “That is the only thing that the church as a corporation is going to understand,” she said. “If we hit them hard enough, maybe they’ll really do something about the abuse situation.”

When I spoke to Lancaster this spring, she was simultaneously counseling her clients on how to file their claims—which often means recounting abuse in excruciating detail—while working on her own claim. It’s a frustrating, emotionally draining process. But Lancaster’s life has been a lesson in moving forward, even at high emotional cost. “It’s upsetting, but I pushed that into the back so that I can be a fighter in the front, you know?” she said.

After the Child Victims Act passed and victims were looking for representation, another lawyer cautioned Lancaster against disclosing her abuse to her clients because, as Lancaster recalled, “They can’t see a weak person standing before them to fight for them.” She disagreed.

“One of the reasons people will come and talk to me is because they know I’ve been there,” she told me. “I say, ‘I’m a survivor, and I understand.’”

Complete Article HERE!

New Mexico priest dies by suicide amid child sex abuse investigation

Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

By Daniel Payne

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico, said last week that a former priest charged in a child sex abuse case ended his own life ahead of a court hearing on the matter.

The archdiocese said in a press release that Daniel Balizan had “taken his life” ahead of “a hearing in a child sexual abuse case.” Local media reported that Balizan’s body was found on Friday morning in Springer, New Mexico.

Balizan’s “tragic decision to end his life underscores the far-reaching and devastating consequences of the crime of child abuse — affecting victims, their loved ones, and even perpetrators themselves,” the archdiocese said in its Friday statement.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico announced Balizan’s indictment in June of last year. He was accused of coercing and enticing a child under the age of 18 to engage in sexual activity. The alleged abuse reportedly occurred between 2012 and 2022.

The prosecutor’s office said last year that Balizan “allegedly used text messages to coerce and entice a minor victim … to engage in sexual activity with him.”

The archdiocese said after his arrest last year that upon receiving the allegations in 2022 it “promptly reported” them to the authorities, “leading to Balizan’s immediate removal as the pastor of Santa Maria de la Paz in Santa Fe.”

Prosecutors and defense attorneys had announced at the beginning of May that Balizan had agreed to a plea deal in the case. Balizan requested “that he be permitted to remain out of custody pending the sentencing hearing,” the plea filing said.

The 61-year-old was facing a minimum of 10 years in prison on the charges.

Balizan was ordained in 1989 and had served at eight parishes in the Santa Fe Archdiocese before his arrest.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that the former priest had been released to the custody of his brother after being arrested.

In the intervening months Balizan had “done bookkeeping, housekeeping, and groundskeeping work at the small family hotel,” his lawyer had said in a filing earlier this month.

The former priest “also has been visiting and assisting his 89-year-old mother three days a week,” his attorney said.

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe said in its Friday statement that it “reaffirm[ed] its zero tolerance and unwavering dedication to ensuring the safety and well-being of its community members, especially the vulnerable.”

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Dallas bishop addresses allegations of sexual misconduct by priest

Bishop Edward Burns

By Sarah Bahari

The head of Dallas’ Catholic diocese called allegations of sexual misconduct against a priest painful and said the church is committed to protecting its children and vulnerable members.

In a video published Wednesday to the diocese’s website, Bishop Edward Burns said the diocese removed the priest from public ministry within one hour of learning of the allegations and is working with law enforcement.

“This is a difficult time. It is painful to watch the news about this alleged abuse,” Burns said. “It is embarrassing, but it is necessary. This is what zero tolerance looks like.”

The priest, 34-year-old Ricardo Reyes Mata, was arrested Monday in Garland on two counts of indecency with a child. A 10-year-old girl told her Catholic school teacher that while visiting her family’s home in Garland in late April, the priest reached under her shirt and fondled her breasts, according to a police affidavit. At the time, she said, the rest of her family was outside.

The girl’s teacher immediately notified Child Protective Services, Burns said. A spokesperson for CPS did not respond to an email or phone call Thursday.

On May 2, the diocese removed Reyes Mata, who is no longer permitted to wear clerical attire in public, Burns said, then notified Garland police.

Detectives interviewed the girl and one of her siblings at the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center, and the girl described the misconduct taking place April 5, according to the affidavit.

“Our care and concern goes out to young girl who brought this information forth, and we are proud of her courage,” Burns said in the video.

Reyes Mata, who lives in Dallas, was booked this week into the Garland Detention Center with bonds set at $75,000 and $100,000.

The priest was appointed parochial vicar of the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Dallas in 2023, according to the cathedral’s website. Before that, Reyes Mata served as parochial vicar of St. Jude Parish in Allen. He also served as chaplain for Bishop Dunne High School in Dallas.

Allegations of sexual misconduct by priests have rocked the Catholic church in recent years and decades. In 2019, 15 Texas dioceses named nearly 300 priests credibly accused of child sex abuse spanning eight decades. Of those, 31 clergy members came from the Dallas diocese.

“As we look back at the church’s history,” Burns said in 2019, “the failure to protect our most vulnerable from abuse and hold accountable those who preyed on them fills me with both shame and sorrow.”

But the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, urged the diocese to do more to identify any additional victims.

“This disturbing news from Texas reaffirms that clergy sexual abuse is still very much a thing of the present,” the advocacy organization said in a statement. “It can take victims decades to acknowledge their abuse and find the courage to come forward. However, the fact that one survivor has already been identified, may help to shorten this process.”

Detectives ask that anyone with information regarding this investigation or other such incidents, call Garland police at 972-485-4840.

Complete Article HERE!