Cardinal Law’s departure from Vatican post

News that Cardinal Bernard Law is leaving his job as head of a major Roman basilica was welcomed today by attorneys and advocates for clergy sex abuse victims, who have criticized his handling of the sex abuse scandal when he was head of the church in Boston a decade ago.

“With all due respect, society has not lost a great protector of children. Bernard Cardinal Law should return to Boston and address the clergy sex abuse victims who he let be sexually molested while he was cardinal,” said attorney Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston attorney who has represented numerous victims.

“Bernard Cardinal Law turned his back on innocent children, acted immorally, and should be held accountable,” Garabedian said.

Terry Donilon, a spokesman for the Boston archdiocese, referred all questions to the Vatican. A man who answered the phone at the Vatican press office declined to comment, suggesting a reporter call back on Tuesday.

Terry McKiernan, founder of, a library and Internet archive of the clergy sex abuse crisis, also welcomed the news of Law’s departure.

“It’s a long time coming, but we are certainly glad his influence is finally, for all intents and purposes, over in Rome,” he said.

McKiernan said Law, because he had hit the age of 80, would no longer be able to vote, as part of a conclave, for a new pope.

He also said Law had also passed the maximum age for membership in a group of top Vatican officials who recommended the appointment of new bishops, where he had a “long history of rewarding managers who worked for him on sex abuse cases.”

He said Law would no longer be part of that “congregation” or “dicastery” of officials and “perhaps we’ve seen the last persons being rewarded with a bishop’s position as part of cronyism on the part of Cardinal Law.”

With his departure from the basilica post, McKiernan said, “even his informal power in the Vatican is truly on the wane.”

Carmen Durso, another Boston attorney who has represented victims of clergy sex abuse said Law’s resignation is “simply a changing of the guard because of his age” and not related to any sort of punishment by the Vatican in connection with the scandal.

“He shouldn’t have had that position in the first place because he didn’t merit it, given how he handled the sex abuse cases in Boston. … All this does is call to mind once again the fact that he wasn’t punished.”

“No bishops have been punished by the Vatican for the failure to supervise priests who abused kids. The real tragedy is that he was awarded. They made show of removing him and then they give him a prestigious position.”

“He should face a lifetime of penance to account for the lifetime of pain that the victims will have to endure. If I were Cardinal Law, I would get up every day and beg God’s forgiveness. It’s tragic that the church operates more like Enron than a church,” Durso said.

Law resigned in disgrace as Boston’s archbishop in 2002 after the clergy sex abuse scandal erupted.

The Vatican said today that Pope Benedict XVI had accepted the 80-year-old Law’s resignation as archpriest of St. Mary Major basilica and had named as Law’s replacement Spanish Monsignor Santos Abril y Castello, The Associated Press reported.

Law’s 2004 appointment as the archpriest of one of Rome’s most important basilicas had been harshly criticized by advocates for clergy sex abuse victims.

Law turned 80 earlier this month. Victims’ advocates criticized plans for a birthday party for him in Rome. Law’s successor, Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, who had to deal with the legal and financial impacts of the crisis, was in Rome on church business, but a spokesman for O’Malley said his time there was “devoted to work” and he wouldn’t be attending.

Rocco Palmo, a former US correspondent for the London-based international Catholic weekly The Tablet, who covers church news and politics online and first reported Law’s move, said Law was leaving his sinecure several years earlier than other recent holders of the seat had. Palmo said he believed the Vatican was reacting to critics who have said Law’s appointment was a sign that the church did not “get it” when it came to clergy sex abuse.

“I think they’re sending a signal that it had become a liability,” he said. “I think it’s an acknowledgment, albeit more belated than a lot of folks would want, that that was not helping in terms of perception.”

He said there was no word on where Law might go, since he will lose the apartment that goes with being the archpriest of the basilica. The Vatican has several apartment buildings for retired church officials, he said. But he also noted that, as a cardinal, Law would be allowed to minister anywhere in the world.

The Vatican announcement made no mention of Law’s resignation, merely noting in a perfunctory, two-line statement that Benedict had named a new archpriest for the basilica.

“There’s only one person who can hold the post at a time,” said Palmo.

Law became the first — and so far only — US bishop to resign for mishandling cases of priests who sexually abused priests.

Complete Article HERE!

“Occupy the Church”: Austria’s Catholic Rebellion Gathers Strength


Two recent reports from Austria show clearly that the Catholic rebellion is gathering strength: survey research shows that two thirds of the country’s priests support calls for urgent reform, and that lay Catholics have announced plans to ignore Church rules that restrict the celebration of Mass to ordained priests. Instead, they will conduct worship and communion themselves where priests are not available. Meanwhile, in Australia, a separate story from Melbourne illustrates how on a much smaller scale, Catholics elsewhere are also willing to defy episcopal control.

Survey: Two Thirds of Austrian Priests Back Priests’ Reform Initiative.
When the Austrian Priests’ dramatic “Call to disobedience” hit the news back in June, there was some uncertainty over just how much support they had. We now have a reliable estimate by a reputable, professional research organization. GfK was commissioned by national broadcaster ORF to check how many priests support the group’s ideas. The answer is remarkable:

  • 68% of Austrian priests see “an urgent need for reform”;
  • in spite of the strong, provocative language of the call, 32% back it “unreservedly”;
  • only 28% oppose it.

Detailed figures show that many of those in support were in favour of debating the various points in detail. Around one in three of Austria’s priests are “radical reformers”, according to researchers while four in 10 could be considered as “moderate reformers”.
-Austrian Independent

It’s worth recalling, here, just how far-reaching the proposals are. They want to see women admitted to the priesthood, an end to compulsory celibacy for priests, and for priests to distribute communion to people who have been divorced and remarried. In themselves, these calls are not too extraordinary: many progressive Catholics around the world would agree with the aims. This initiative though, goes well beyond simply pleading for a change in the rules. It is explicitly framed as a “call to disobedience”, and instead urges that where there is a shortage of priests resulting from the continued refusal to ordain women and married men, priests should in effect embark on a work to rule, leaving lay people to fill the gap if necessary, by saying Mass for themselves. They also urge that in the absence of a change in the rules on communion, priests should simply disregard them.

Austrian Lay Catholics Prepare for DIY Mass
In a parallel move, lay Catholics who met over the weekend announced plans to do precisely as the priests’ initiative has urged: for lay people fill the gap in parishes where no priest is available. In support of the plan, they claim that they are placing God’s word in the Bible ahead of mere Church rules.

A manifesto adopted by dozens of activists at the weekend said lay people will preach, consecrate and distribute communion in priestless parishes, said Hans Peter Hurka, head of the group We Are Church.
“Church law bans this. The question is, can Church law overrule the Bible? We are of the opinion, based on findings from the Second Vatican Council, that this (ban) is not possible,” he said Monday.

Austria’s bishops are themselves meeting in a four day session this week. Responding to this will present them with a major challenge. Already, the church is losing members at an alarming rate – last year, over 87 000 Austrian Catholics formally left the Church, an increase of 63% over 2009. The proportion of Austrians who are Catholic is down to just 65%, compared with 89% in 1951. Research earlier this year showed that many of the remaining Catholics admit that they attend Mass only infrequently, and have little or no trust in the Church hiearachy.

  • 41 per cent of Austrians attending mass only on holidays like Easter and Christmas.
  • A further 35% never attend Mass.
  • 45% told researchers that their trust in the Church had been “shattered” by the sexual abuse revelations.
  • A further 27% had no trust in the Church to begin with.

Together with the decline in numbers, will go a decline in revenue. Churches in Austria are funded by the state, in proportion to their signed up members. In 2009, the Church got 395 million euros from the state. To compound further the loss of revenue, an increasing proportion of those funds are being used to pay compensation to the victims of abuse.

The overwhelming majority of Austrians support the priests’ initiative. Attempts by the bishops to stifle it will simply alienate still further an already disaffected Catholic population. Accommodating them, however, is beyond their power, as the rules in question are set by the Vatican, not by national bishops.

DIY Catholicism, elsewhere.
Austria is not unique in facing these conflicts: Dominicans in the Netherlands proposed priestless Mass back in 2007, but were warned by their order not to slide into schism. In country after country, the majority of Catholics do not agree with Vatican rules on sexuality, or on the rules for priestly ordination, or many other matters of church discipline. What sets the Austrians apart, is not the simple desire for reform, but the willingness by laypeople and priests to move ahead on implementing reforms without waiting for institutional approval. On a smaller scale, we have seen this kind of DIY Catholicism elsewhere as well – as in the example of the womenpriests’ movement, and in a handful of parishes which are already hosting their own Masses, independently of episcopal control.

The latest example could be that of a parish in South Melbourne, Australia.
Having been told he must retire, Father Bob McGuire calls for public support in helping him stay on as Parish Priest in South Melbourne, saying ‘we’re like Occupy the Church’.
Despite wanting to stay on and continue his work, Father Bob McGuire has been told by Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart that his tenure as Parish Priest at Saint Peter and Paul’s Parish will end early next year.
The priest, named in July as Victorian of the Year, says he’s concerned that he won’t be able to continue his work with the local community.
“If it was me I wouldn’t give a rats, but it’s not me – it’s us, it’s the village and it’s the church in the village,” says Father Bob.
– ABC, Melbourne

I don’t know too much about the detail of Fr Bob and South Melbourne, but my impression is that there are strong similarities with the case of St Mary’s, Brisbane, and several parishes in the US, where bishops mistakenly thought they could simply silence troublesome priests in the accustomed way, by episcopal decree – and found instead that the congregations themselves chose to relocate to independent premises, with their preferred priest or with none, rather than submit meekly to the unwanted exercise of naked church power.

The Austrian rebellion is not going away any time soon – and may well expand further afield.

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic rebels challenge Austrian bishops

Dissident Austrian Catholics announced lay people will start celebrating Mass when a priest is unavailable, a clear call to disobedience just as the country’s bishops hold their autumn conference.

A manifesto adopted by dozens of activists at the weekend said lay people will preach, consecrate and distribute communion in priestless parishes, said Hans Peter Hurka, head of the group We Are Church.

“Church law bans this. The question is, can Church law overrule the Bible? We are of the opinion, based on findings from the Second Vatican Council, that this (ban) is not possible,” he said Monday.

The Catholic Church only allows ordained priests to preside at Mass.

Hurka said dissidents had long planned the meeting but were happy it came just before a regular four-day session of the Catholic bishops’ conference starting Monday.

He said he wanted bishops, led by Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, to respond to the paper, the latest in a series of challenges by grass-roots Catholic reformers in Austria.

“We basically expect this because the demands for reform are not especially new,” he said. The bishops received a copy of the manifesto Saturday, he added.

Bishops planned to discuss proposed initiatives and reforms that have been put forward, according to their website, although the main topic of the session was preparing for parish council elections due in March.

Schoenborn, a former student and close associate of Pope Benedict, has ruled out sweeping changes demanded by dissident priests led by his former deputy, Rev. Helmut Schueller.

Tipped as a possible future pope, the cardinal has said he would not lead his diocese into breaking away from the Vatican by letting clergy flout Church rules after a group of priests issued a “Call to Disobedience” to try to press reform.

The group, which claims to represent about 10 percent of the Austrian clergy, has challenged Church teaching on taboo topics such as priestly celibacy and women’s ordination.

The dissident priests, who have broad public backing in opinion polls, also say they will break Church rules by giving communion to Protestants and remarried divorced Catholics.

Reformist Austrian Catholics have for decades challenged the conservative policies of Benedict and his predecessor John Paul, creating protest movements and advocating changes the Vatican refuses to make.

Catholic reform groups in Germany, Ireland and the United States have made similar demands.

A record 87,000 Austrians left the Church in 2010, many in reaction to sexual abuse scandals.

Complete Article HERE!

Exodus as pope’s Legion reform lags

When Pope Benedict XVI took over the disgraced Legion of Christ religious order last year, expectations were high that heads would roll over one of the greatest scandals of the 20th century Roman Catholic Church.

One year later, none of the Legion’s superiors has been held to account for facilitating the crimes of late founder Rev. Marciel Maciel, a drug addict who sexually abused his seminarians, fathered three children and created a cult-like movement within the church that damaged some of its members spiritually and emotionally.

An Associated Press tally shows that disillusioned members are leaving the movement in droves as they lose faith that the Vatican will push through the changes needed. The collapse of the order, once one of the most influential in the church, has broader implications for Catholicism, which is shedding members in some places because the hierarchy covered up widespread sexual abuse by priests.

In an exclusive interview, the man tapped by Benedict to turn the Legion around insisted that the pope tasked him only with guiding the Legion and helping rewrite its norms – not “decapitating” its leadership or avenging wrongdoing.

Cardinal Velasio De Paolis ruled out any further investigation into the crimes of Maciel, who as a favorite of Pope John Paul II had been held up as a living saint despite well-founded allegations – later proven – that he was a pedophile.

“I don’t see what good would be served” by further inquiry into a coverup, the Italian cardinal said. “Rather, we would run the risk of finding ourselves in an intrigue with no end. Because these are things that are too private for me to go investigating.”

The Holy See knew of the pedophile accusations, yet for years ignored his victims – as well as complaints about his cult-like sect – because he attracted men and money to the priesthood. As it is, John Paul’s legacy was marred by his close association with Maciel; Benedict’s legacy, already tarnished by the sex abuse scandal, may well rest in part on how he cleans up Maciel’s mess.

Critics, including some Vatican officials, contend De Paolis has an obligation to uncover the truth and take more radical action, given that the Vatican itself found Maciel created a twisted, abusive order to cater to his double life.

The Vatican also determined that for the Legion to survive it must be “purified” of the influence of Maciel, who died in 2008, since its very structure and culture had been so contaminated by his obsession with obedience and secrecy. Members were forbidden from criticizing their superiors, were isolated from their families, and told how to do everything from praying to eating an orange.

In the absence of radical change, the movement has seen a dramatic decline in membership since the scandal was revealed in 2009.

An estimated 70 of the 890 Legion priests and upwards of a third of the movement’s 900 consecrated women have left or are taking time away to ponder their future. Seminarians have fled – 232 last year alone, an unusually high 16 percent dropout rate for one year. New recruits are expected to number fewer than 100 this year, half what they averaged before the scandal.

The AP compiled the figures based on interviews with more than a dozen current and former members, who outlined inconsistencies in partial statistics provided by the Legion.

In August, about 20 current and former Legion priests met secretly for a week in Cordoba, Spain, to discuss forming an association to support Legion priests who leave the order, participants told the AP. The move could well encourage more to leave.

And earlier this month, the six editors of the Legion-affiliated Catholic news agency Zenit quit en masse, following the resignation of Zenit’s founder. He had cited differences in editorial vision and a loss of trust with the Legion’s superiors over the way they covered up Maciel’s crimes.

The Rev. Richard Gill, a prominent U.S. Legion priest until he left the congregation in 2010 after 29 years, has openly criticized De Paolis’ efforts, particularly his refusal to remove compromised superiors, saying “dismissals will be needed to restore some measure of confidence in the Legion.”

He called for an investigation into the origins of the scandal and noted that for most of the 70-odd priests who have left, “loss of trust in the leadership has been the primary reason.”

Claudia Madero left the movement in August after living like a nun for 35 years, citing the refusal of her Mexican superiors and De Paolis to embrace change.

“It’s true there have been some changes, but these are incidental, not essential,” she wrote in her resignation letter.

Benedict, however, gave De Paolis an unofficial vote of confidence last month when he kept him on as his Legion envoy while letting the 76-year-old Italian retire as head of the Vatican’s economics office.

Benedict’s spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, declined to say if the pope thought De Paolis’ mandate should be changed given the exodus, saying the cardinal speaks for himself.

Legion spokesman the Rev. Andreas Schoeggl, meanwhile, gave De Paolis a thumbs up, saying his work had been “great,” with all Legion priests helping rewrite the order’s constitutions – a shift from the past when decisions were made only at the top.

Yet if the current membership trends continue, the Legion may simply wither away as fewer people join a scandal-tainted congregation that the Vatican itself said has no clearly defined “charism” – a church term for the essential spirit that inspires a religious order and makes it unique.

After all, what would happen to the Franciscans if St. Francis were discredited? The Missionaries of Charity if Mother Teresa were found to be a fraud?

De Paolis paused when asked to define the Legion’s charism. “Bella domanda,” he said – “good question.” Noting that it was a work in progress, De Paolis cited the Legion’s evangelical zeal and insisted that even without a clearly defined charism, the vast majority of Legion members are happy, doing good work and serving the church.

But three current members of the movement say the reality is more complex: Some are thinking of leaving but haven’t taken the leap, some are in denial of the extent of the scandals, while others are actively working toward reform.

Members have coined the terms “awake” and “asleep” to describe where colleagues are in discovering the abuses of the Legion system, a process that is complicated by the Legion’s restrictions on use of the Internet and email.

And despite some changes, abuses continue: “Dissidents” are transferred away from their communities and subject to emotional harassment to test their resolve, three current members said on condition of anonymity because of fear of punishment.

De Paolis defended his commitment and approach to the reform, saying said he had “inserted” himself into the Legion’s administration, expanded the Legion’s governing council and shuffled some superiors around. He said he hasn’t dismissed any superiors outright because he needs them to learn the complex details of the order’s structure, culture and finances.

“How can I, someone who doesn’t know the Legion, who knows only a bit of Spanish, enter saying I’m in charge?” he asked. “If they (the superiors) wanted to sabotage me, it would have been so easy. If I had made myself the superior, they wouldn’t give me information, they would have hidden it from me.” He said his priority was to persuade the Legion’s leaders to sow change from within.

Maciel founded the Legion in Mexico in 1941 and it became one of the fastest-growing religious orders in the world, praised by Vatican officials who routinely celebrated Masses for the Legion and in Maciel’s honor.

Victims began to go public in the mid-1990s with allegations that Maciel had sexually abused them as seminarians, but the Vatican shut down a church trial, only to resurrect it years later. Maciel was sentenced in 2006 to a lifetime of penance and prayer – an inglorious end for a man who had enjoyed unparalleled access to the pope.

In his interview with the AP, De Paolis revealed for the first time that the Legion had reached financial settlements with “four or five” people who said they were sexually abused by Maciel, paying a relatively modest $21,000 to $28,000 (euro15,000-euro20,000) apiece. Negotiations, however, stalled with one victim who demanded millions, he said.

No one has publicly accused top Legion superiors of sexual abuse. But few believe Maciel’s closest aides were ignorant of his double life, given that he would disappear for weeks on end with thousands of dollars to visit his family and, by the end of his life, was openly living with his girlfriend.

Monsignor Rino Fisichella, who heads the Vatican’s evangelization office, said last year that the Vatican would be wise to look at who covered up for Maciel inside the Legion – “those who took his appointments, those who kept his agenda, those who drove him around.”

Yet some suggest De Paolis’ reluctance to investigate the coverup is based on fears the revelations could point to complicity by Vatican officials, who defended Maciel even after the sex abuse allegations were established.

“With the Legion I believe there were some who knew, but very few,” De Paolis said of Holy See officials. “The others saw that this group was blossoming, that it brought fruits, it offered a service to the church.”

De Paolis says he wants to save the fruits, the good that remains in the Legion. But those who have been harmed insist the Vatican must assign blame where it’s due and fix the wrongs, or lose all credibility.

“We’re angry at the church for allowing this,” said Peter Kingsland, a Catholic from Surrey, British Columbia, whose daughter was consecrated in 1992. “They could have claimed ignorance before, but they’re no longer ignorant – and now they’re a party to it.”

Complete Article HERE!