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'Shame and sorrow' – Holy See responds to Pennsylvania report

Vatican City, Aug 16, 2018 / 02:33 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Holy See on Thursday denounced sexual abuse and called for accountability for both perpetrators and leaders who covered up their crimes, following the release of a report detailing alleged clerical abuse in Pennsylvania.

“The abuses described in the report are criminal and morally reprehensible,” said the statement, released Aug. 16.

“Those acts were betrayals of trust that robbed survivors of their dignity and their faith. The Church must learn hard lessons from its past, and there should be accountability for both abusers and those who permitted abuse to occur.”

The statement responded to a grand jury report in Pennsylvania that was released earlier this week following an 18-month investigation into alleged instances of abuse spanning several decades. The report detailed allegations against some 300 priests, from more than 1,000 victims, in the dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Scranton.

Pope Francis takes the subject of abuse seriously, the statement said, stressing that “The Holy See condemns unequivocally the sexual abuse of minors.”

“The Holy Father understands well how much these crimes can shake the faith and the spirit of believers and reiterates the call to make every effort to create a safe environment for minors and vulnerable adults in the Church and in all of society,” it said.

“Victims should know that the Pope is on their side. Those who have suffered are his priority, and the Church wants to listen to them to root out this tragic horror that destroys the lives of the innocent.”

The Holy See noted that most allegations mentioned in the report are from before the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, adopted by the US bishops in 2002 to prevent clerical abuse.

“By finding almost no cases after 2002, the Grand Jury’s conclusions are consistent with previous studies showing that Catholic Church reforms in the United States drastically reduced the incidence of clergy child abuse,” the Holy See said.

The statement encouraged “continued reform and vigilance at all levels of the Catholic Church, to help ensure the protection of minors and vulnerable adults from harm.” It also emphasized the importance of adhering to civil law, including abuse reporting requirements.

 

Irish bishop: Papal visit a chance to recognize sin, work to repair the Church

Limerick, Ireland, Aug 16, 2018 / 01:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Pope’s visit to Ireland is a time for the Church to reflect on her past failings and consider how to repair the Church for future generations, an Irish bishop has said.

Pope Francis will visit Ireland Aug. 25-26 as part of the World Meeting of Families, an international gathering of Catholic families that takes place about every three years. The last World Meeting of Families was held in Philadelphia in 2015.

In his homily for the feast of the Assumption, Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick said that the Pope’s visit is a chance for the Church to acknowledge “the dark aspects of our Church’s history that have come to light especially in recent decades.”

He then named several of the Church’s past failings and sins, including “a clericalism that ended up confusing power and ministry, the sexual abuse of minors by clergy and religious that did untold life-long damage to victims, the violent and repressive treatment by church representatives of young people sent to the State’s reformatory institutions, the dark experience of vulnerable women in places meant to be residences of refuge,” according to the Irish Times.

“Sadly, as has been highlighted, cover-up, willful or otherwise, and mismanagement compounded the damage, adding to our shame,” he noted Aug. 15.

The bishop celebrated the feast day Mass at Mass Rock in Kileedy, a symbolic gesture, he said, because the Catholic Church must be brought out into the open. Mass rocks are stones, sometimes pieces of old churches, in isolated outdoor locations throughout Ireland where Catholics would secretly celebrate Mass during the 17th century, a time of Catholic persecution.

There are many good things and good people to acknowledge and be grateful for in the Church, Leahy noted, but gratitude for the good “can never eclipse recognition of sin, criminality and evil. In some way, everyone in the church bears the shame of these darks aspects of our history. Few of us can throw stones as if we ourselves were not somehow associated.”

This year, the World Meeting of Families lands just after widespread revelations of scandal and clerical sex abuse in the Church in the United States, including accusations of sexual abuse and misconduct against former-cardinal Theodore McCarrick, as well as the release of a report detailing abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses which included more than 300 priests and 1,000 victims.

The Catholic Church in Ireland was rocked by its own sex abuse crisis, beginning in the 1990s and culminating in the release of several in-depth reports detailing decades of abuse and cover-up released in the late 2000s.

There has since been a significant drop in weekly Mass attendance as well as active priests in Ireland.  Current projections also predict that by 2030, there will only be 111 priests in the country, a decrease of about 70 percent. One report found that between 2008 and 2014, weekly Mass attendance in Dublin dropped by 3.7 per cent per year.

Bishop Leahy noted that while the Church in Ireland has since implemented many procedures and practices to prevent and report instances of abuse, it cannot grow complacent.

“As well as needing to pray for those who have been wounded we need to keep listening and to learn from them how to clarify and repair our church,” he said.

He also encouraged young people to be open to what the Church might have to offer them, and to voice their ideas about new ways to connect young people to the Church.

“Might this visit of Pope Francis be a moment when young people might look again at what the Church really has to offer? We need you because you are part of our access to what God is saying to the Church today. We need you to help us find the ways towards the future that God has marked out for us all.”

Muslim woman who declined handshake wins labor case in Sweden

Stockholm, Sweden, Aug 16, 2018 / 12:17 pm (CNA).- A labor court in Sweden has sided with a Muslim woman whose job interview was cut short when she refused a handshake for religious reasons.

The court, in a 3-2 vote, ordered the company to pay the woman 40,000 kronor – or $4,350 – on the grounds of discrimination against her, the BBC reports.

Farah Alhajeh was applying for a job with an interpreting company in Uppsala. During the interview, she would not shake her male interviewer’s hand. Instead, she placed her hand over her heart, later saying she was trying to avoid offending the interviewer.

The 24-year-old says her Muslim faith prohibits her from physical contact with members of the opposite sex, outside of her family.

The company argued that Alhejah’s refusal to shake hands could hamper her effectiveness as an interpreter. However, the court disagreed. According to The Local, Alhajeh was applying for a job doing video and phone interpretation, where she would not have to interact in-person with clients.

Company policy and anti-discrimination laws prohibit treating people differently because of sex, the employer said. It said it could not have staff members refusing a handshake because they are women. The company does allow staff members to decline handshakes due to germophobia and autism.

The Swedish labor court said the company could rightly demand equal treatment for men and women, but not by insisting upon a handshake. Doing so, it said, is discrimination against Muslims.

The court said that the European Convention on Human Rights protects the refusal to shake hands on religious grounds.

Sweden's discrimination ombudsman's office, which represented Alhajeh in the case, applauded the ruling, saying that it had balanced “the employer's interests, the individual's right to bodily integrity, and the importance of the state to maintain protection for religious freedom.”

“I believe in God, which is very rare in Sweden... and I should be able to do that and be accepted as long as I'm not hurting anyone,” Alhajah told the BBC.

Handshakes, a traditional greeting in some parts of Europe, have been the center of other controversies in recent years as well.

In both France and Switzerland, Muslim individuals who refused to shake hands with opposite-sex officials had their citizenship processes suspended or denied.

Catholic institutions in CAR shelter displaced Muslims from threat of attack

Bangassou, Central African Republic, Aug 16, 2018 / 12:16 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In the Central African Republic's Diocese of Bangassou, several Catholic institutions have taken in displaced Muslims who face violence at the hand of Christian militias.

The CAR has suffered violence since December 2012, when several bands of mainly Muslim rebel groups formed an alliance, taking the name Seleka, and seized power.

In reaction to the Seleka's attacks, some Central Africans formed self-defense groups called anti-balaka. Some of these groups, mainly composed of Christians, began attacking Muslims out of revenge, and the conflict took on a sectarian character.

Anti-balaka killed more than 100 Muslims in Bangassou in May 2017 before United Nations peacekeepers intervened, and since then the city's Petit Seminaire Saint Louis has been home to about 1,600 displaced Muslims.

Another 2,000 Muslims have taken refuge at St. Peter Claver Cathedral in Bangassou.

While there is “a climate of mistrust” between the communities, “some activities paralysed because of this crisis have resumed,” Bishop Juan-Jose Aguirre Munoz of Bangassou told Al Jazeera.

“For example, the central market is open every day. All political, civil, military and religious leaders are working for the return of peace and social cohesion, living together and returning displaced people to their homes,” he said.

But in the violence of 2017, the homes and businesses of many Muslims in the city were destoyed, and their goods looted.

And if they leave the compounds, Muslims continue to face the threat of violence.

Fr. Yovane Cox, of the Bangassou diocese, said that “There are armed men here waiting for Muslims to emerge out of the camp so that they can kill them. We need to help them as soon as possible to avoid confrontation and bloodbath.”

At the parish in Zemio, about 180 miles east of Bangassou, hundreds more Muslims have taken refuge.

A priest in the town, Fr. Jean-Alain Zembi, said that “They call us traitors. They will kill you if they discover you are protecting Muslims.”

Bishop Aguirre has said his clerics have been attacked, and his own car has been damaged by Christians, for their providing shelter to Muslims.

Last month, a group calling itself the League of Defense of the Church issued a statement saying it would defend the Church and avenge killed priests, charging that both the government and the Church hierarchy have failed to protect Christians.

The country's bishops responded that “the projects that this league claims to achieve are at odds with the gospel, the aspirations of the church and its mission in the Central African Republic.”

The CAR held a general election in 2015-16 which installed a new government, but militant groups continue to terrorize local populations. Thousands of people have been killed in the violence, and at least a million have been displaced. At least half of Central Africans depend on humanitarian aid, the U.N. reports.

Pope Francis visited the CAR during his trip to Africa in 2015, and urged the country’s leaders to work for peace and reconciliation.

Three priests have keen killed in the CAR this year.

‘What do you want to know?’ The Catholic reaction to bishops and sexual abuse

Washington D.C., Aug 16, 2018 / 12:08 pm (CNA).- Among the sexual abusers mentioned in the Aug. 14 Pennsylvania grand jury report, one priest merits particular attention.

Rev. David Szatkowski, SCJ, is mentioned in the section of the report concerning the Diocese of Allentown. In 2011, he was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting a child.

In August of that year, Szatkowski, a seminary professor, attended an academic conference in Wisconsin. The priest, drunk late one night during the conference, approached a group of teenage girls outside his hotel, talked with them for a while, telling them that he was a lawyer and acting, in the words of one witness, “touchy.” Eventually, witness accounts and police reports say, Szatkowski forcibly embraced a 15-year-old girl and groped her breasts.

Several months later, prosecutors announced in a statement that they had dropped the charges, in “consultation with the victim about her wishes regarding the outcome of the case.”

Szatkowski, charged with sexually assaulting a child but not convicted, serves now on the “formation team” of his religious community, working with young aspirants to priesthood.

The priest does not stand out in the grand jury report because of the gravity of his case. Indeed, allegations against Szatkowski are not mentioned in the report at all. Instead, Szatkowski is mentioned because, three years after facing criminal charges for sexually assaulting a child, he was permitted by the Bishop of Allentown to serve as the canon lawyer- the procurator and advocate, in technical terms- for Fr. Michael Lawrence, a priest accused of sexually assaulting two adolescent boys.

In fact, Bishop John Barres, then Bishop of Allentown, relied heavily on Szatkowski’s canonical advocacy in a 2014 letter written to stave off the possibility that the Vatican might laicize Lawrence.

This extraordinary turn of events bears repeating. In 2014, a bishop allowed a priest who had been charged with criminal sexual abuse of a child to serve as the canon lawyer for another priest charged with criminal sexual abuse of a child. Apparently no one in Szatkowski’s religious community, the Diocese of Allentown, or the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith questioned the wisdom of that plan.

Anyone who finds it difficult to understand the anger and resentment of Catholics toward their bishops in recent weeks need look no further than that story.

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It is not breaking news that priests have committed unspeakable acts of sexual abuse. Nor is it new news that bishops have acted negligently, failing to use their authority responsibly. Since at least 2002, sexual abuse committed by priests in the United States has been catalogued and made publicly available for review in media reports, depositions, lawsuits, and police reports. And in that same time period, the negligence of bishops has been well-documented.

But the grand jury report released Aug. 14 is unique- unparalleled, really- in scope, magnitude, and in the level of detail it provides. And the report was released as the Catholic Church in the United States was already in the midst of the serious crisis that began when credible sex abuse allegations against then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick were announced June 20.

Unlike the 2002 reports of clerical sexual abuse, the Pennsylvania report was also released in the wake of the #MeToo movement, and after revelations emerged of sexually abusive and coercive behaviors among figures in positions of power in other professional, political, and cultural contexts. The #MeToo movement has led to a more outspoken cultural opposition to coercive sexual behaviors and the abuse of power. That movement is the lens through which many Catholics are now viewing sexual abuse and cover-ups in the Church.

As a consequence of those things, the report has led to expressions of outrage, confusion, hurt, and mistrust from priests and deacons, religious sisters and brothers, Catholic and secular media outlets, ordinary lay Catholics, and from other Christians.

Commentators have condemned the alleged and suspected acts of abuse themselves, and the documented responses of bishops to that abuse. But they have mostly focused their anger on the apologies, statements of regret and contrition, and explanations that bishops have offered in recent weeks.

The response seems to exceed even the anger during the “Long Lent of 2002,” which could also be attributed, at least partially, to the fact that Catholics have already gone through this experience, and many expected that the crisis had been abated, and that bishops were not tolerating coercive sexual immorality in the Church. The McCarrick revelations dashed those expectations. The grand jury report has been like acid poured into the newly opened wound.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, formerly Bishop of Pittsburgh, has received some of the most serious criticism. Wuerl, already facing questions about his knowledge, negligence, or complicity in allegations against McCarrick, now faces the charge that he negligently permitted at least one sexual abuser to remain in priestly ministry after allegations were known to his diocese.

It should be noted that Wuerl has disputed many assertions contained in the grand jury report, as has Donald Trautman, the emeritus Bishop of Erie. It should also be noted that the report contains allegations that have not been subject to a trial, and that serious objections have been raised about whether the due process rights of those named in the report have been respected. Eventually, sources tell CNA, questions will also be asked about Pennsylvania's attorney general, whose office drafted the text of the grand jury report, and about his political motivations.

It should also be mentioned that the grand jury reported predominantly on crimes that took place decades ago. The report recognized that “much has changed over the last fifteen years,” affirmed much about contemporary child protection policies, and noted the efforts of Pennsylvania’s current bishops to be transparent and forthcoming.

But at the moment, most Catholics are uninterested in explanations, or in discussions of the report’s finer points. The statements issued by Pennsylvania’s bishops, by Wuerl, and by the leadership of the USCCB have seemed only to fuel anger.

In fact, Wuerl and his staff have faced especially sharp criticism for launching a website, “thewuerlrecord.com,” that purported to “provide additional content not included in the [grand jury] report on Cardinal Wuerl’s work as longtime advocate and voice on this issue.” The site lasted fewer than two days before being taken down, amid calls from several prominent commentators for Wuerl’s immediate resignation.

It is worth asking what, exactly, Catholics now want from their leaders, what has prevented some bishops from satisfactorily addressing sexual abuse and the fallout from recent revelations, and how the Church can now respond to an obviously significant point of crisis.

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The grand jury report’s introduction says that in the face of sexual abuse allegations, bishops seemed preoccupied with managing “scandal,” rather than addressing problems. The report lists a series of actions it calls a “playbook for concealing truth,” among them the use of euphemisms like “boundary violation” in place of words like “rape,” the unwillingness to conduct investigations professionally, and the unwillingness to inform parishioners when a priest has been accused of sexual abuse.

In short, the report depicted a culture in which appearances are more important than reality. That culture seems at the root of the anger Catholics have expressed in recent weeks, over the McCarrick scandal, and over the grand jury’s investigation.

In commentaries, comments to CNA, and on social media, many Catholics have characterized episcopal responses to recent revelations and allegations as bureaucratic, robotic, and self-serving.

The hierarchy’s response to the grand jury report, and to the McCarrick scandal which preceded it, has also been criticized as “corporate,” more concerned with spin, damage control, and personal reputations than with the victims of sexual abuse, or with the Catholics who feel betrayed by bishops who promised, in 2002, “never again.”

Where, many Catholics have asked, is a bishop willing to take responsibility for what has happened, and willing to make amends?

Where, many Catholics have asked, is a bishop willing to change the culture of the Church? Where, they have asked, is honesty?

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Concretely, Catholics seem to be calling for three things.

The first is sincere expression of authentic contrition, sorrow, and regret. This is what many Catholics say has most been lacking in recent months.

We live in the age of the image- of the cultural and visual meme- and bishops seem to be expected to understand this. This means that expressions of contrition are expected to be more than words offered between explanations and calls for new policy. Catholics- especially young Catholics- say they are looking for simple, direct, and straightforward apologies, followed by signs of repentance.

Sackcloth and ashes may not prove necessary, but humility and authenticity will. Some have suggested Masses celebrated solemnly and penitentially with victims. Others have suggested public and personal pilgrimages and acts of repentance. The form matters. But what seems to matter most to many Catholics is hearing, and seeing, that bishops are genuinely horrified by things that have happened among their own brothers, and on their watch, and that they perceive and admit a sense of personal responsibility.

The second thing Catholics seem to be calling for is open disclosure of the Church’s problems, and consistent lay involvement in the adjudication of clerical personnel issues. This call is for a broad culture change. A call for transparency, openness, and direct lay involvement in handling priest personnel issues is, in short, a call for a rejection of the clericalism that, by many accounts, is endemic among bishops, without ideological or generational discrimination.

In short, many Catholics have told CNA in recent weeks that they hope their bishops will invest in a renewed sense of collaborative and missionary leadership, and that such an investment will require eschewing the common perception that bishops must be primarily overseers of diocesan business and administrative affairs.

But meaningful lay involvement in personnel matters is a difficult thing for the Church to mandate, beyond the existing requirement for diocesan review boards, because of the Church’s theological understanding of the governance ministry of bishops, and because lay professional Church administrators can become as institutionalized as clerical collaborators, and can be, for reasons of job security, reticent to blow the whistle when bishops act negligently.

Without clear guidelines and some protections for employees, “lay involvement” can easily become a kind of Potemkin consultation, where lay people are around, but decisions are mostly made after they leave the room.

To encourage broader and more meaningful lay involvement in episcopal decision-making, the Church would likely need to develop a means of listening to existing lay ecclesial administrators, considering their concerns, and training bishops for meaningful engagement with lay collaborators.

But more than any particular model, combatting clericalism seems to require bishops who are allergic to clerical insularity, and intolerant of it among their priests.

There are bishops in the United States who, by many accounts, embody and exhibit that approach to episcopal leadership. It remains to be seen whether they will emerge as leaders in the months to come.

Finally, Catholics seem to be calling for a plan to address sexual immorality among the episcopate, in seminaries, and among priests. Across ideological perspectives, there seems in recent weeks to be a recognition that predatory sexual behavior of any kinds is enabled by environments in which priests are not formed for chastity, and in which clerical obligations of continence and chastity are not taken seriously. Proposals for new episcopal oversight committees, for new review boards or charters have largely been panned.

What bishops will have to determine is how they can express a profound and serious commitment to sexual morality among clerics without seeming to abdicate their responsibilities, focus unduly on response rather than prevention, or pay only lip service to the development of healthy and chaste sexuality.

The challenge is going to prove incredibly difficult.  

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There are several things that could derail the bishop’s efforts to restore trust in the Church, and to move forward from the crisis point the Church has reached.

The first is the threat of litigation. The effect of the fear of litigation on some parts of the Church can not be overstated, and there are actually some good reasons for this.

Bishops who genuinely want to do right by victims, and are genuinely incensed over clerical sexual abuse, still have reasons- good and bad- to fear the prospect of litigation.

Bishops are responsible to be the stewards of the resources their dioceses have accumulated for the work of the Church- for sacred worship, for education and formation, and for works of charity and mercy. They are eager to see that Catholic apostolates not be shuttered or sold, even when they are sincerely sympathetic to the suffering of victims, and especially because they recognize that a significant portion of money extracted from the Church will go not to victims, but to attorneys. And, even in Pennsylvania, bishops who face litigation today usually are asked to be responsible for bad decisions made by their predecessors.

Bishops have also pointed out that the Church sometimes faces inequitable laws with regard to litigation, that laws which protect public institutions but not the Church have made it a particularly attractive target for plaintiff’s attorney. There is legitimacy to that claim.

The Pennsylvania grand jury has called for a tort claims window that would allow alleged victims whose claims are impeded by the statute of limitations a period of time in which to file lawsuits. The Pennsylvania legislature is likely to take up that cause, and other state legislatures will likely follow suit. Bishops have argued in the past that statutes of limitations exist for good reason; that claims exceeding those statutes can not be seriously investigated or defended against. This, some have argued, means that cases exceeding statutes of limitation invariably lead to settlements, even when facts are scant. In many states, those arguments have kept tort claim window legislation at bay.

In Pennsylvania at least, the momentum from the grand jury report may make it difficult for the Church to oppose, or to even to be seen to oppose, such legislation.

How that will impact the bishops’ response to this crisis remains to be seen. Concern for litigation has, in the past, tempered expressions of episcopal contrition, sometimes even beyond recognition. That fear colored and characterized a great deal of the Church’s response to the sexual abuse crisis of 2002, and, as several dioceses have since gone into bankruptcy, closing ministry centers, parishes, and charitable works, the fear has likely been heightened for some bishops since then.

The second factor that could impact the bishops’ response to the current crisis is overreaction to criticism that they are not acting quickly or rigorously enough. In the months to come, bishops will face serious pressure within their own dioceses to give evidence of their zero-tolerance of abuse of any kind. Several priests have told CNA that they are concerned that fear could lead bishops to “scapegoat” priests- to single out priests accused even of non-criminal moral failures, to publicly disclose the private lives of priests, or to otherwise violate the canonical rights of priests, including their rights to due process, in order to appear tough on abuse. Some priests have noted the experience of this kind of practice in their own dioceses in 2002 and 2003, and suggested it was an impediment, rather than an aid, to real reform.

A third thing that could derail serious ecclesial reform has to do with the call for episcopal resignations. Wuerl, in particular, has been the subject of ongoing calls for resignation, along with other bishops. While the Holy See might judge those moves to be justified, they could have the unintended effect of stalling more systematic and cultural change, if they are not managed carefully. If individual bishops resign, and are then cast as the cause of the problems, the pressure for broader reforms could deflate. The Vatican must ensure that if it accepts the resignation of some bishops, the remaining members of the episcopate remain under pressure to enact the reform efforts the USCCB has said it would like to facilitate.

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The grand jury report’s language is unambiguous, its analysis is direct: the report is emphatic in asserting that systematic patterns of negligence have allowed sexual abuse to take root in the Church.

“Failure to prevent abuse was a systemic failure,” the report said, “an institutional failure.” There seems to be broad Catholic agreement with that claim.

This October, Cardinal Wuerl is scheduled to publish a book entitled: “What do you want to know? A pastor’s response to the most challenging questions about the Catholic faith.”

In recent weeks, Wuerl has gotten an answer to his question: Catholics want to know what he and other bishops knew, what they’re really sorry for, and what they’re going to do about it.

It remains to be seen whether answers to those questions will be forthcoming.