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Update: Blaming homosexuality for abuse of minors is distraction, victims say

Top Stories - 3 hours 30 min ago

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

ROME (CNS) -- People must stop using homosexuals as scapegoats for the sexual abuse of children, two male survivors of abuse by priests told reporters.

"To make this link between homosexuality and pedophilia is absolutely immoral, it is unconscionable and has to stop," said Peter Isely, a survivor and founding member of the survivor's group SNAP.

Speaking to reporters outside the Vatican press office Feb. 18, he said: "No matter what your sexual orientation is, if you've committed a criminal act against a child, you're a criminal. That's the designation that counts. Period."

Isely and other survivors were in Rome to speak with the media ahead of a Vatican summit Feb. 21-24 on child protection in the Catholic Church.

Phil Saviano, who founded SNAP's New England chapter and is a board member of BishopsAccountability.org, told reporters Feb. 19 that he felt "there has been a lot of scapegoating of homosexual men as being child predators."

To lay the blame for the abuse of children on homosexuality "tells me that they really don't understand" the problem and have made a claim "that is not based on any source of reality."

"I will admit that if a priest is abusing a 16-, 17- or 18-year-old boy, that part of the element that is going on there is homosexuality, but that is not the root of the problem" of abuse by clergy, he said at an event at the Foreign Press Association in Rome.

Saviano was a prepubescent boy when he was abused by Father David A. Holley of Worcester, Massachusetts, and he said, very often, a perpetrator is no longer "interested" in his victim when the child goes through puberty.  

Saviano, whose story of abuse triggered the Boston Globe investigation and was featured in the film Spotlight, said he hears from victims from all over the world "and many of them are women who were abused as children."

"Trying to lump it all together under homosexually," he said, is "a dodge" and will not "lead to a proper solution."

"It is also an insult to all the women who have been sexually abused as children," he added.

U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke and German Cardinal Walter Brandmuller released an open letter Feb. 19, urging the Vatican summit to take up the theme of homosexuality in the priesthood and other evidence of a more general questioning of traditional Catholic morality.

With the summit, they said, it seems that the "difficulty" in the church "is reduced to that of the abuse of minors, a horrible crime, especially when it is perpetrated by a priest, which is, however, only part of a much greater crisis. The plague of the homosexual agenda has been spread within the church, promoted by organized networks and protected by a climate of complicity and a conspiracy of silence."

The report of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice on clergy abuse in the Catholic Church in the United States found there was no "causative relationship" between either celibacy or homosexuality and the sexual assault of children by church members.

The report concluded clerical sexual abuse of children was more a crime of opportunity with abusers violating whomever they had more unsupervised access to -- regardless of age and gender -- and that abusive priests almost always had more access to boys.

Barbara Dorris, a survivor and former executive director of SNAP, told reporters in Rome Feb. 19 that in the past 17 years, she has spoken to "thousands, thousands of victims" and close to half of them were women.

"Survivors only come forward when they feel they will be believed, when they feel they can get help or when reporting the crimes will make a change, when it will help others protect children," she said. "Most of the stories in the media in the past have been about the altar boys; the abuse of women and girls has not been the focus of coverage and when it has, unfortunately, words like 'affair' and 'relationship' have been used."

Too many women feel they will not be believed or "will be blamed" as having tempted a priest, Dorris said. "It's a vicious cycle," because victims speak up when they see other victims have been believed.

Framing the abuse crisis "as a homosexual issue," she said, takes the focus away from "the real issue, which is criminal sexual assault."

Focusing on homosexuality also "acts as a smokescreen; people now are discussing homosexuality, rather than the crimes themselves," she said. Pretending clerical sexual abuse is a result of homosexuality in the priesthood "automatically removes the women from the discussion and, magically, half the victims have been made to disappear."

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Contributing to this story was Liam McIntyre in Rome.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

To know God is to know love, pope says at audience

Top Stories - 4 hours 56 min ago

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When speaking to God as a father, Christians experience a love that goes beyond human love and affection, which can be unpredictable and mired by selfishness, Pope Francis said.

While often compared to the love of parents, the love of God is greater; "there is a God in heaven who loves us like no one on this earth has ever done and can ever do," the pope said Feb. 20 during his weekly general audience.

"God's love is that of the father 'who is in heaven,' according to the expression that Jesus invites us to use. It is the total love that we in this life can savor only in an imperfect way," he said.

Continuing his series of talks on the Our Father, the pope reflected on the first verse of the Lord's Prayer. Praying to God in heaven, he said, is the first step of every Christian prayer to enter the "mystery of God's fatherhood."

While God's paternal love is a reminder of the love humans experience, the pope said that there can be no comparison between the two since human love is "capable of blossoming" in one moment and "withering and dying" in the next.

"This is what our love often is: a promise that is hard to keep, an attempt that soon dries up and evaporates, a bit like when the sun comes out in the morning and takes away the dew of the night," the pope said.

While human love can be fickle, he said, "no one should doubt that" they are worthy of God's love.

Some may think that the phrase "Our Father, who art in heaven" is meant to convey the distance between God and humankind, but Pope Francis said that it is instead meant to express "a radical diversity, another dimension" of love.

"None of us are alone," the pope said. "If, even by misfortune, your earthly father had forgotten about you and you had resentments against him, you were not denied the fundamental experience of the Christian faith: that of knowing that you are God's beloved child and that there is nothing in life that can extinguish his passionate love for you."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Dolan: Church loves, welcomes pregnant women, is 'honored' to serve them

Top Stories - Tue, 02/19/2019 - 11:52am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Greg Shemitz

By Beth Griffin

NEW YORK (CNS) -- In a robust demonstration that actions speak louder than words, New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan Feb. 18 introduced representatives of six church-related organizations that help pregnant women in need.

Standing in the modest living room of a convent that Sisters of Life share with expectant and new mothers and their children, the cardinal reaffirmed the commitment first made in 1984 by his predecessor, Cardinal John J. O'Connor.

"Any pregnant woman can come to the Archdiocese of New York, to its parishes and facilities, and we will do all in our power to assist you, so that you never feel that you have no alternative except an abortion," Cardinal Dolan said. "It does not matter what your marital status, your religion, or your immigration status might be. None of that matters, folks."

Cardinal Dolan acknowledged that the timing of his reaffirmation of the church's outreach coincided with the attention given to the Reproductive Health Act of 2019, which effectively removed restrictions on abortion in New York, and the current "almost pro-abortion atmosphere out there."

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the measure into law Jan. 22, the anniversary of U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v Wade ruling legalizing abortion nationwide.

"Every once in a while we need to trumpet and put a spotlight on the good work that we do," the cardinal said. "Most of us bristle when the church is criticized for speaking all the time but not offering action. Nothing could be further from the truth."

Cardinal Dolan said he was worried that poor women especially were getting the impression that abortion is their only choice. "This is a very teachable time for us to stand up and say, 'We're here. We love you. We welcome you. There is an alternative here and we'd be honored to serve you.'"

Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, superior general of the Sisters of Life, said her group has provided assistance to more than 9,000 women since the religious community was established in 1991, and they have shared their convents with pregnant women since 1996.

"We are standing in radical solidarity with women during an unexpected or difficult pregnancy. The sisters and the woman together find a pathway through fear, a pathway defined by realistic and ongoing emotional and practical support that she may respond with courage and dignity to one of life's most difficult moments," she said.

Mother Agnes Mary said the Sisters of Life serve 600 to 1,000 women each year. She said their message to vulnerable pregnant women is: "Know you are not alone. We believe in you. This pregnancy does not mean your life and your dreams are over. We stand ready to help you realize the deepest desires of your heart."

She said approximately 85 percent of the women who contact the Sisters of Life for counsel "will choose to bring life to their child. We provide critical and strategic support that is timely and important to her life," she said.

While her impossibly cute toddler captured all the attention in the room, an Ethiopian professional runner named Brhane described meeting the Sisters of Life in New York. It was when she was pregnant, alone, far from home and feeling pressure to abort her baby, she said.

"They helped me to find a home for me and my baby. They were with me the whole way and are still with me. They helped me with my immigration, to find a job, to find baby-sitting. They helped me with everything."

Brhane named the little girl Sena Love, which translates, "I love my history."

The Sisters of Life helped Brhane to run the New York Marathon and she is training to run professionally again, she said. "I love my daughter. She changed my life. I am so happy. Thank you God."

Dr. Anne Nolte, director of the Gianna Center for Women's Health and Fertility, said her medical practice provides primary care and reproductive health care to women and teenagers that aligns with church teachings. The center offers service to patients of all backgrounds and has "a particular commitment to helping women whose babies have an adverse diagnosis in the womb," Nolte said.

Chris Bell is a co-founder with the late Father Benedict Groeschel, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal, of five Good Counsel residences in New York and New Jersey for homeless single pregnant women and their children. He said his group provides "concrete help and real hope" to women in crisis.

Since 1985, Good Counsel has served more than 7,800 mothers and children with more than 755,000 nights of shelter as well as material aid, counseling, parenting and education programs.

The Good Counsel homes have a 100 percent occupancy rate, and women are invited to stay for up to a year to reap the maximum benefits of the program, Bell said.

Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, described a network of 90 affiliated agencies that provide dignified, compassionate care to people in all stages of life. "Our door is open," he said.

Among the agencies is the Catholic Guardian Society. Dolores Ortiz, assistant executive director, said each year more than 300 "at-risk pregnant and parenting women" receive support, case management services, parenting resources and referrals from Catholic Guardian Society.

Teresa Georgeo, a director of Archcare, the continuing care program of the Archdiocese of New York, said her group's maternal child health program provides prenatal care for women with high-risk pregnancies, and helps new mothers and infants.

The speakers said their services are free or low-cost and available to all women regardless of race, religion, background or ability to pay.

Cardinal Dolan acknowledged the hurt, frustration and anger people in the archdiocese might feel at the new abortion law. "We should not respond with bitterness and divisiveness, but put our faith and trust in the Lord and reach out with love to troubled moms and their babies," he said.

He said it would be a good time for people on both sides of the abortion debate to come together to discuss providing "life-giving alternatives to the horror of abortion."

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Philippine bishop: Duterte's drug war is 'illegal, immoral and anti-poor'

Top Stories - Tue, 02/19/2019 - 10:00am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey

By Paul Jeffrey

KALOOKAN, Philippines (CNS) -- A Catholic bishop in the Philippines said his government's controversial war on drugs is really a war against the country's poor.

"There is no war against illegal drugs, because the supply is not being stopped. If they are really after illegal drugs, they would go after the big people, the manufacturers, the smugglers, the suppliers. But instead, they go after the victims of these people. So, I have come to the conclusion that this war on illegal drugs is illegal, immoral and anti-poor," said Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan.

The Philippines has suffered for years from widespread drug abuse, principally shabu, a cheaply produced form of methamphetamine. President Rodrigo Duterte ran for office promising a crackdown on drug use, and since he took office in 2016, rights groups say more than 20,000 people have been killed in extrajudicial killings, mostly carried out by the country's police.

Church leaders have grown increasingly critical of the violence. The country's Catholic bishops conference acknowledged in a Jan. 28 pastoral message that they had been slow in responding as a "culture of violence has gradually prevailed in our land."

The bishops spoke "of mostly poor people being brutally murdered on mere suspicion of being small-time drug users and peddlers, while the big-time smugglers and drug lords went scot-free." While they said they had "no intention of interfering in the conduct of state affairs," they said they had "a solemn duty to defend our flock, especially when they are attacked by wolves."

Duterte has repeatedly slammed the church in response to its criticism, and Bishop David, who also serves as vice president of the bishops' conference, has become the principal target of Duterte's angry outbursts at the church.

In November speech in Davao, Duterte said: "I'm telling you, David. I am puzzled as to why you always go out at night. I suspect, son of a bitch, you are into illegal drugs." At other times, he has accused the bishop of stealing church funds.

Bishop David has not turned the other cheek, instead responding quickly in social media posts: "I think it should be obvious to people by now that our country is being led by a very sick man. We pray for him. We pray for our country," he recently posted on Facebook.

"I think he picks on me because I'm quick in responding to his sound bites," Bishop David told Catholic News Service.

"I have discovered social media. I don't even have to talk to the media, they can follow the sound bites online. So, when he said that addicts are not human, I posted that I beg to disagree. I said no civilized society in this world would agree with him that addicts should be treated as nonhumans. And when he calls them nonhumans, does that mean we can do nothing about them except exterminate them? That's immoral. His statement had to be questioned. The problem is people don't question it, and when he repeats it over and over, it becomes gospel truth."

President Duterte has often referred to drug users as "the living dead" as he justifies his policies.

"I think he has been watching too many zombie movies," said Bishop David. "It is a kind of 'othering,' labeling them so that when they are found dead on the streets, people will be happy and respond, 'Good, that's one criminal less.'"

Bishop David said he is becoming increasingly desperate as he hears cries for help from the urban poor communities in his diocese. He has complained publicly about mass arrests of people without warrants and has criticized police detention without charges of young children who he said are kept in cages for weeks as their parents attempt to have them freed.

"Sometimes I have a feeling that we are back in the Nazi days, when people are somehow aware of what's going on, but they play deaf and dumb because they also like what's happening, because they are persuaded by the sound bites that this is the best way to get rid of criminality. You can get rid of criminality through criminal means? If that's true, then you have created a criminal government," he said.

While his diocese has responded to the crisis by working with some local governments to set up an effective community-based drug rehabilitation program, Bishop David said the war on drugs has pushed the church even further, forcing it closer to the side of poor communities that bear the brunt of arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings.

"The war on drugs got me closer to the poor. Maybe that's the blessing of it. It's so easy for bishops and priests to just go through the motions of doing our jobs, jobs that are institutionalized and defined for us. Our parishes are old and tired institutions that cater to church-going people, just the usual people. Our access to the poor is really the big challenge for us," said Bishop David.

Although Sunday Masses at the cathedral parish in Kalookan are standing room only, Bishop David said the church is reaching just a fraction of the people in his diocese. Instead of starting new parishes, which he said is cumbersome, expensive, and takes time, he has opened mission stations in the slums of his diocese, staffing them with religious from around the world.

"We are getting acquainted with the poor because of our mission stations. These are not parishes, but rather the church being present among the poorest of the poor. We have mission partners who I ask to live right there in the slums, among the poorest of the poor, so that the church will be accessible, so that the church will have quicker access to the poor and their needs," he said.

Bishop David said those mission workers keep him directly informed of arrests and killings and have even witnessed extrajudicial executions. They also frequently appeal to the bishop to intercede with officials on behalf of detained children.

"Our mission stations are like new wine bursting the old wineskins," he said. "Pope Francis keeps talking about going to the periphery, and this is the perfect opportunity. A mission station is a church without a church building, without a chapel. I send missionaries to live with them and they do community organizing and set up basic ecclesial communities. The sense of community is going down here in the city. There is no common ethnicity nor common language nor common origin. All of these people have migrated from the different provinces, and so they are strangers to each other. Who will build them into a community? They are very transient, they come and go, looking for where they can find jobs. Our role is to build community among them."

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Religious superiors admit denial, slowness to act against abuse

Top Stories - Tue, 02/19/2019 - 8:13am

IMAGE: CNS

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Twisted ideas of power and authority in the Catholic Church have contributed to the clerical sexual abuse crisis, leaders of religious orders said, but sometimes the positive "sense of family" in their own communities also made them slow to act.

"Pope Francis rightly attacks the culture of clericalism which has hindered our fight against abuse and indeed is one of the root causes," said a statement Feb. 19 from the women's International Union of Superiors General and the men's Union of Superiors General.

But, they said, "the strong sense of family in our orders and congregations -- something usually so positive -- can make it harder to condemn and expose abuse. It resulted in a misplaced loyalty, errors in judgment, slowness to act, denial and at times, cover-up."

The superiors, who represent a combined total of almost 850,000 women and men religious, stated, "We still need conversion and we want to change."

"We want to act with humility. We want to see our blind spots. We want to name any abuse of power. We commit to engage in a journey with those we serve, moving forward with transparency and trust, honesty and sincere repentance," said the statement from the two organizations of superiors general.

The two groups were to send 22 superiors general to the Vatican's summit Feb. 21-24 on child protection and the abuse crisis.

"The sexual abuse of children and the abuse of power and conscience by those in authority in the church, especially bishops, priests and religious" is "a story stretching back for decades," the statement said. It is "a narrative of immense pain for those who have suffered this abuse."

The superiors general said, "We bow our heads in shame at the realization that such abuse has taken place in our congregations and orders and in our church" and that the response of congregational leaders "has not been what it should have been. They failed to see warning signs or failed to take them seriously."

The religious superiors said they hoped that with the Vatican meeting "important processes and structures of accountability can be started and the ones already in place can be supported."

Acknowledging an oft-repeated observation that different approaches may be necessary for uncovering and ending abuse in different cultures, the superiors said one thing must be clear: "The abuse of children is wrong anywhere and anytime; this point is not negotiable."
 
In the statement, the leaders of Catholic religious orders vowed "to listen better to survivors" and to "implement what is decided at this meeting in terms of the accountability required of those in authority."

The superiors of men's and women's orders also asked Catholic parents, especially mothers, to assist them in responding to the abuse crisis.

"It is fair to say that if women had been asked for their advice and assistance in the evaluation of cases, stronger, faster and more effective action would have been taken," the statement said. "Our ways of handling allegations would have been different, and victims and their families would have been spared a great deal of suffering."

This Vatican meeting in February was to focus on protecting children, but the religious superiors acknowledged recent media attention "on the abuse and exploitation of religious sisters, seminarians and candidates in formation houses."

"This is a matter of grave and shocking concern," they said. "We pledge ourselves to do all in our power to find an effective response. We want to ensure that those who generously apply to join religious orders or who are trained in seminaries live in places of safety where their vocation is nourished and where their desire to love God and others is helped to grow to maturity."

The superiors promised to strengthen safeguarding programs in the schools and hospitals they run and to ensure all formation programs have a strong child-protection component.

The superiors also asked that the spirituality and retreat centers their orders run "develop special outreach to any survivor who wishes to find help in their struggles with faith and meaning."

"Those who have been abused by priests or religious may want to stay far distant from the church and from those who represent the church," they said. But others may want to attempt a "journey of healing and we will try humbly to journey with them."

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Vatican summit: Silence, denial are unacceptable, archbishop says

Top Stories - Mon, 02/18/2019 - 9:51am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When presented with an accusation that a priest has sexually abused a child, "whether it's criminal or malicious complicity and a code of silence or whether it is denial" on a very human level, such reactions are no longer tolerable, said the Vatican's top investigator of abuse cases.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, who handles abuse cases as adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was part of a panel of speakers at a news conference Feb. 18 to outline the Vatican's plans and hopes for the summit meeting on the protection of minors in the church.

The meeting Feb. 21-24 was to bring together almost 190 church leaders: the presidents of national bishops' conferences, the heads of the Eastern Catholic churches, superiors of religious orders of men and women, Roman Curia officials and invited experts and guest speakers.

After reciting the Angelus Feb. 17, Pope Francis publicly asked Catholics around the world to pray for the summit, and he repeated the request Feb. 18 in a tweet, saying he wanted the meeting to be "a powerful gesture of pastoral responsibility in the face of an urgent challenge."

At the news conference Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago told reporters, "The Holy Father wants to make very clear to the bishops around the world, not only those participating, that each one of them has to claim responsibility and ownership for this problem and that there is going to be every effort to close whatever loopholes there are."

Bishops "are going to be held accountable," the cardinal said.

Cardinal Cupich said he expected the meeting to be "a turning point" in the way the Catholic Church handles allegations across the globe and the way it strengthens child protection policies.

However, like the other speakers, he said it would be unreasonable to expect the meeting to mark a sudden and complete end to the clerical sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.

"We are going to do everything possible to make sure people are held responsible, accountable, and there's going to be transparency, because those three elements will keep children safe," the cardinal said.

Both Archbishop Scicluna and Cardinal Cupich insisted that if all church leaders around the world had a full grasp of what is necessary to protect children from clerical sexual abuse, the church also would be in a better position to counter other situations of abuse, including the abuse of vulnerable adults, women religious and seminarians.

While declining to describe if and how he has seen Pope Francis change in response to abuse accusations, Archbishop Scicluna said, "I think that if you are talking about the pope's experience in Chile," where he initially insisted allegations against a bishop were slanderous, "I have been impressed by the humility of the Holy Father, his readiness to say, 'I got that wrong.'"

"That gives us great hope because we leaders need to confront ourselves with prudential judgments that could have been better," but also need to "move forward," the archbishop said. "If something has gone wrong, we need to make it right."

While the summit was not designed to produce a new document, Archbishop Scicluna said a greater awareness of the global reality of the problem and the serious responsibility of every bishop to address it should lead to action around the world.

Participants will share what they learned in Rome with other bishops and religious superiors and begin to take action locally, the archbishop said. "That will need to be audited," and Pope Francis has asked the meeting's organizing committee to stay in Rome after the meeting to begin discussing follow-up.

The panel was asked by a correspondent for LifeSiteNews if the summit would address "homosexuality among the clergy" given that so many of the victims of clerical sexual abuse were boys.

Cardinal Cupich said it is clear the majority of clerical abuse cases involve priests abusing boys, but high-level, independent studies, including the John Jay College of Criminal Justice report in the United States and the report of Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, "indicated that homosexuality itself is not a cause."

Both studies found that priest abusers had more access to potential male victims and that poor screening of candidates for the priesthood was a greater risk factor for abuse than homosexuality was, he said.

Each of the first three days of the meeting will be devoted to one aspect of the abuse crisis: responsibility, accountability and transparency. Pope Francis and participants will attend a penitential liturgy the evening of Feb. 23 and a Mass Feb. 24, both of which will be livestreamed from the Sala Regia of the Apostolic Palace.

The main speakers for the meeting's general assemblies are: Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines; Archbishop Scicluna; Colombian Cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomez of Bogota; Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai; Cardinal Cupich; Linda Ghisoni, undersecretary of the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life; Sister Veronica Openibo, superior of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus; German Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising; and Valentina Alazraki, a Mexican television journalist.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

DiNardo: Action on McCarrick 'clear signal' church will not tolerate abuse

Top Stories - Sat, 02/16/2019 - 9:08am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Vatican's removal from the priesthood of Theodore McCarrick "is a clear signal that abuse will not be tolerated," said the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Feb. 16.

"No bishop, no matter how influential, is above the law of the church," said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston. "For all those McCarrick abused, I pray this judgment will be one small step, among many, toward healing."

"For us bishops, it strengthens our resolve to hold ourselves accountable to the Gospel of Jesus Christ," the cardinal said. "I am grateful to Pope Francis for the determined way he has led the church's response."

Cardinal DiNardo's statement followed the Vatican's early morning announcement that Pope Francis has confirmed the removal from the priesthood of Theodore E. McCarrick, the 88-year-old former cardinal and archbishop of Washington.

The Vatican said he was found guilty of "solicitation in the sacrament of confession and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power."

A panel of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith found him guilty Jan. 11, the Vatican said. McCarrick appealed the decision, but the appeal was rejected Feb. 13 by the congregation itself. McCarrick was informed of the decision Feb. 15 and Pope Francis "recognized the definitive nature of this decision made in accord with law," making a further appeal impossible.

By ordering McCarrick's "dismissal from the clerical state," the decision means that McCarrick loses all rights and duties associated with being a priest, cannot present himself as a priest and is forbidden to celebrate the sacraments, except to grant absolution for sins to a person in imminent danger of death.

The Vatican decision comes after months of mounting accusations that he abused children and seminarians decades ago. The accusations surrounding the former cardinal have prompted many to ask USCCB leaders and the heads of the archdioceses and dioceses he has served how he could have risen up the ranks of the church to become a cardinal.

Ordained a priest of the New York Archdiocese, he was the founding bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey, then served as archbishop of Newark, New Jersey. His last assignment was as archbishop of Washington. During his tenure there, he was named a cardinal.

McCarrick's punishment is the toughest meted out to a cardinal by the Vatican in modern times.

Last July, Pope Francis accepted his resignation from the College of Cardinals, after U.S. newspapers reported detailed accounts that he exposed himself and sexually molested two boys in his early years as a priest -- accusations that spanned almost five decades and were too old to legally prosecute.

In a June 20 statement, he said he had "absolutely no recollection" of the abuse "and (I) believe in my innocence" but said he was stepping down out of obedience. In December he went to live at a friary in Kansas to await the outcome of the Vatican's decision on his status.

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Cindy Wooden and Rhina Guidos contributed to this story.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

McCarrick removed from the priesthood after being found guilty of abuse

Top Stories - Sat, 02/16/2019 - 3:57am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has confirmed the removal from the priesthood of Theodore E. McCarrick, the 88-year-old former cardinal and archbishop of Washington.

The Vatican announced the decision Feb. 16, saying he was found guilty of "solicitation in the sacrament of confession and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power."

A panel of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith found him guilty Jan. 11, the Vatican said. McCarrick appealed the decision, but the appeal was rejected Feb. 13 by the congregation itself. McCarrick was informed of the decision Feb. 15 and Pope Francis "recognized the definitive nature of this decision made in accord with law," making a further appeal impossible.

By ordering McCarrick's "dismissal from the clerical state," the decision means that McCarrick loses all rights and duties associated with being a priest, cannot present himself as a priest and is forbidden to celebrate the sacraments, except to grant absolution for sins to a person in imminent danger of death.

The only church penalty that is more severe is excommunication, which would have banned him from receiving the sacraments. The other possible punishment was to sentence him to a "life of prayer and penance," a penalty often imposed on elderly clerics; the penalty is similar to house arrest and usually includes banning the person from public ministry, limiting his interactions with others and restricting his ability to leave the place he is assigned to live.

McCarrick's punishment is the toughest meted out to a cardinal by the Vatican in modern times.

McCarrick's initial suspension from ministry and removal from the College of Cardinals in 2018 came after a man alleged that McCarrick began sexually abusing him in 1971 when he was a 16-year-old altar server in New York; the Archdiocese of New York found the allegation "credible and substantiated" and turned the case over to the Vatican.

At that point, in June, then-Cardinal McCarrick said he would no longer exercise any public ministry "in obedience" to the Vatican, although he maintained he was innocent.

In late July, the pope accepted McCarrick's resignation from the College of Cardinals and ordered him to maintain "a life of prayer and penance" until the accusation that he had sexually abused a minor could be examined by a Vatican court.

In the weeks that followed the initial announcement, another man came forward claiming he was abused as a child by McCarrick, and several former seminarians spoke out about being sexually harassed by the cardinal at a beach house he had in New Jersey.

Since September, McCarrick has been living in a Capuchin friary in rural Kansas.

The allegations against McCarrick, including what appeared to be years of sexual harassment of seminarians, also led to serious questions about who may have known about his activities and how he was able to rise to the level of cardinal.

At least two former seminarians reported the sexual misconduct of McCarrick to their local bishops as far back as the 1990s. The Archdiocese of Newark and the dioceses of Metuchen and Trenton made a settlement with one man in 2005, and the Diocese of Metuchen settled with the other man in 2007.

A spokeswoman for the Diocese of Metuchen told Catholic News Service in August that both settlements were reported to the Vatican nuncio in Washington. The two archbishops who held the position of nuncio in 2004 and 2006 have since died.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who served as nuncio in Washington from 2011-2016, made headlines in mid-August when he called for Pope Francis to resign, claiming the pope had known of allegations against McCarrick and had lifted sanctions imposed on McCarrick by now-retired Pope Benedict XVI.

The former nuncio later clarified that Pope Benedict issued the sanctions "privately" perhaps "due to the fact that he (McCarrick) was already retired, maybe due to the fact that he (Pope Benedict) was thinking he was ready to obey."

In an open letter to Archbishop Vigano released in October, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops since 2010, said that in 2011, "I told you verbally of the situation of the bishop emeritus (McCarrick) who was to observe certain conditions and restrictions because of rumors about his behavior in the past."

Then-Cardinal McCarrick "was strongly exhorted not to travel and not to appear in public so as not to provoke further rumors," Cardinal Ouellet said, but "it is false to present these measures taken in his regard as 'sanctions' decreed by Pope Benedict XVI and annulled by Pope Francis. After re-examining the archives, I certify that there are no such documents signed by either pope."

Cardinal Ouellet's letter was published a few days after the Vatican issued a statement saying that it would, "in due course, make known the conclusions of the matter regarding Archbishop McCarrick."

In addition, Pope Francis ordered "a further thorough study of the entire documentation present in the archives of the dicasteries and offices of the Holy See regarding the former Cardinal McCarrick in order to ascertain all the relevant facts, to place them in their historical context and to evaluate them objectively."

The Vatican statement said it is aware "that, from the examination of the facts and of the circumstances, it may emerge that choices were made that would not be consonant with a contemporary approach to such issues. However, as Pope Francis has said: 'We will follow the path of truth wherever it may lead.' Both abuse and its cover-up can no longer be tolerated, and a different treatment for bishops who have committed or covered up abuse, in fact, represents a form of clericalism that is no longer acceptable."

McCarrick had been ordained to the priesthood in 1958 for the Archdiocese of New York. James, the first child he baptized after ordination, claimed that from the time he was 11 years old and for some 20 years, McCarrick sexually abused him.

In 1977, McCarrick was ordained an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of New York and, in 1981, St. John Paul II named him the first bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey. Five years later, he became the archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, and in November 2000 St. John Paul named him archbishop of Washington, D.C., and made him a cardinal early in 2001. McCarrick retired in 2006.

At least three other cardinals have been accused of sexual abuse or impropriety in the past 25 years. In the 1990s Austrian Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer was forced to step down as archbishop of Vienna and eventually to relinquish all public ministry after allegations of the sexual abuse and harassment of seminarians and priests; he died in 2003 without having undergone a canonical trial.

Pope Benedict XVI forced Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien to step down as archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh in early 2013; after an investigation, Pope Francis withdrew his "rights and duties" as a cardinal, although he retained the title until his death in March 2018.

Australian Cardinal George Pell, facing charges of abusing minors, has been on leave from his post as head of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy since mid-2017; he reportedly was found guilty of some charges in December, but the court has imposed an injunction on press coverage of the trial. Pope Francis told reporters he would not speak about the case until the court proceedings have run their course.

 

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Update: Catholic bishops, groups oppose Trump's call for national emergency

Top Stories - Fri, 02/15/2019 - 4:53pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jose Luis Gonzalez, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic bishops near the U.S.-Mexico border, joined by other U.S. prelates, voiced opposition immediately after President Donald Trump's Feb. 15 declaration of a national emergency so he can order construction of a barrier along parts of the border between the two countries.

"In our view, a border wall is first and foremost a symbol of division and animosity between two friendly countries," the bishops said.

"Furthermore, the wall would be an ineffective use of resources at a time of financial austerity," they said. "It would also would destroy parts of the environment, disrupt the livelihoods of ranchers and farmers, weaken cooperation and commerce between border communities, and, at least in one instance, undermine the right to the freedom of worship."

Speaking at news conference in the Rose Garden, Trump said he was going to sign a national emergency declaration to stave off a flow of drugs, human trafficking, gang members and illegal immigration coming across the southern border.

The president later signed a spending bill that provides $1.375 billion for fencing and other measures along the border -- a fraction of the $5.7 billion he had been asking from Congress for construction of the a barrier. Declaring the national emergency could grant him up to $8 billion for his project.

The promise of a wall on the southern border was key to his presidential campaign, but as a candidate he said neighboring Mexico, not the U.S., would pay for the structure. When Mexico refused to pay for the wall, he turned to U.S. lawmakers for funding, but they have largely refused to grant U.S. taxpayer money to build it, which led to a partial government shutdown earlier this year.

In a separate bishops' statement following Trump's announcement, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, said they were "deeply concerned about the president's action to fund the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, which circumvents the clear intent of Congress to limit funding of a wall."

"We oppose the use of these funds to further the construction of the wall," Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop Vasquez said. "We remain steadfast and resolute in the vision articulated by Pope Francis that at this time we need to be building bridges and not walls."

In their statement, the border bishops and the other prelates who joined them said that while they agree with the president that there is a "humanitarian challenge" at the border, "erecting a wall will not solve the problem," they said, and they asked Congress to step in with more humanitarian responses.  

This statement was signed by Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego; Texas Bishops Mark P. Seitz of El Paso and James A. Tamayo of Laredo and Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio; Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger of Tucson, Arizona; Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey; New Mexico Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe, retired Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces and retired Tucson Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, who is apostolic administrator of Las Cruces; Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky; and Cardinals Sean P. O'Malley of Boston and Blase J. Cupich of Chicago.

In his speech, the president said he wanted to build the wall "not just because it was a campaign promise," but because "everyone knows a wall works" and national emergencies such as the one he is calling for had been used by presidents previously without problems. Such declarations are common and at least 31 declared emergencies remain in place, but the current one seems to be designed to get around Congress.

The dozen or so bishops in their statement said they worried that a wall would drive migrants to more remote regions of the border and risk great loss of life.

When a wall was constructed in the San Diego area in the mid-1990s, for example, migrants were driven, often by smugglers, to the desert of Arizona and other remote regions in order to cross the border, they said, citing U.S. Border Patrol statistics that showed that over 7,000 migrants died in those areas from 1998 to 2016.

"The truth is that the majority of persons coming to the U.S.-Mexico border are asylum-seekers, many of whom are women and children from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador who are fleeing persecution and violence in their home countries," the bishops' statement said. "Along their journey to safety, they encounter many dangers. A wall would not keep them safe from those dangers. Rather, a wall would, further subject them to harm by drug cartels, smugglers, and human traffickers."

They said that while the country had a right to control and secure its borders, "border enforcement must protect and preserve the human rights and life of all persons, regardless of their legal status." Instead of a wall, they said, Congress should focus on more humane policies, such as reforming the immigration system "in a manner that is just, protects human rights and reflects American values."

"It is powerful that the bishops on the border are speaking against a wall. They, more than anyone in the church, know firsthand the reality along the border, and the suffering endured by families and children at the hands of recent U.S. policies," said Kevin Appleby, senior director of international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies in New York in an email to Catholic News Service.

The Center for Migration Studies and the Ignatian Solidarity Network in Ohio joined in a statement signed by more than 40 faith leaders questioning the morality of structure.

"History has shown that border walls constructed to restrict human rights, such as the Berlin Wall, cause harm to human beings, all of whom possess God-given rights and are equal to us in the eyes of God. Because of this injustice, they eventually come down," the statement said.

Other Catholic groups such as the Sisters of Mercy and the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach also voiced early opposition to Trump's declaration.

"We unequivocally oppose the president's decision to declare a state of national emergency in order to circumvent Congress and divert funding to pay for construction of a border wall. This decision is immoral and unnecessary. The real emergency is the dehumanization of migrants and the utter disregard for border communities and the environment. Construction of a wall and further militarization is not a solution," said a statement from the Columban center.

"A declaration of a national emergency aimed at funding an immoral wall will not correct years of failed immigration policy or ameliorate the U.S. role in root causes of migration," said Mercy Sister Patricia McDermott, president of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, in a statement. "The real one is of disinformation and misplaced values. President Trump fans a fear of asylum seekers by mischaracterizing them as criminals when the vast majority are people fleeing unspeakable atrocities for safety and a better life."

Trump said he expected lawsuits over the declaration but hoped the U.S. Supreme Court would ultimately rule in his favor. He defended his actions and said such declarations have been made in the past "for far less important things."

"I didn't need to do this, but I'd rather do it much faster," Trump said, while voicing frustration that seemed directed at former House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, whom Trump seemed to blame for Congress' early failure to fund his proposed border wall.  

"I'm very disappointed in certain people, one in particular for not having pushed this faster," Trump said. A reporter then asked: "Are you referring to former Speaker Paul Ryan?"

"Let's not talk about it. What difference does it make?" the president responded.

 

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Welcome Christ present in migrants and refugees, pope urges

Top Stories - Fri, 02/15/2019 - 12:03pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Even if Christians struggle to recognize him with his "torn clothes (and) dirty feet," Jesus is present in the migrants and refugees who seek safety and a dignified life in a new land, Pope Francis said.

If Jesus' words, "Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me," are true, the pope said, then "we must begin to thank those who give us the opportunity for this encounter, namely, the 'others' who knock on our doors, giving us the possibility to overcome our fears in order to encounter, welcome and assist Jesus in person."

Pope Francis spoke about overcoming fear and welcoming others during a Mass he celebrated Feb. 15 at a church-run retreat and conference center in Sacrofano, about 15 miles north of Rome.

The Mass was part of a conference titled, "Welcoming Communities: Free of Fear," which was sponsored by the Italian bishops' office for migration, Caritas Italy and Jesuit Refugee Service's Centro Astalli. The 500 participants included representatives of parishes, religious orders and Catholic-run agencies assisting migrants and refugees, as well as individual families who host newcomers.

At a time when Italy's government is trying to severely restrict immigration, Caritas Italy said the meeting was designed to encourage those working with migrants and refugees and to counteract fear of migration by highlighting how individuals and the entire country benefit from welcoming them.

The prayers of the faithful, most of which were read by migrants, included asking God to help pastors educate all Catholics to welcome migrants and refugees and to help government leaders promote tolerance and peace. Ending, as is traditional, with a prayer for the dead, the petitions made special mention of people who were killed for their faith.

In his homily, Pope Francis noted how the ancient Israelites had to overcome their fear of crossing the Red Sea and trust God in order to make it to the promised land. And, when the disciples were on the lake in a storm, Jesus told them to not be afraid and assured them he was there with them.

"The Lord speaks to us today and asks us to allow him to free us of our fear," the pope said.

"Fear is the origin of slavery," just as it was for the ancient Israelites, he said, "and it is also the origin of every dictatorship because, on the fear of the people, the violence of the dictator grows."

Of course, the pope said, people naturally are afraid of what they don't understand and of strangers who speak another language and have another culture. The Christian response is not to play on those fears, but to educate people and help them turn strangers into friends.

"We are called to overcome fear and open ourselves to encounter," he said. "The encounter with the 'other,' then, is also an encounter with Christ. He himself told us this. It is he who knocks on our door hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned, asking to be met and assisted."

Pope Francis asked Catholics who have had "the joy" of assisting migrants and refugees to "proclaim it from the rooftops, openly, to help others do the same, preparing themselves to encounter Christ and his salvation."

 

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Texas locality orders popular Catholic center for migrants to vacate

Top Stories - Thu, 02/14/2019 - 4:53pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz Muth

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A group of city commissioners in the border city of McAllen, Texas, voted in mid-February to remove from a building a popular Catholic-administered center run by Sister Norma Pimentel, who has been praised by Pope Francis for her work with migrants.

McAllen city commissioners voted Feb. 11 to vacate within 90 days the building that Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley uses to provide temporary shelter for immigrants who cross from Mexico into the United States but who have been released by federal authorities.

Sister Pimentel, who has won national and international praise for the type of work that takes place at the center, is the executive director for the charitable agency that runs the temporary shelter, which provides food, clothes, a shower and other necessities for migrant children and adults passing through the city in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas.  

Residents were complaining to city commissioners about activity in their neighborhood that they said was coming from what's known as the "respite center," which began occupying the space in December, said a Feb. 11 story by the local newspaper, The Monitor. But Sister Pimentel, according to the report, said during a meeting to discuss the issue that the families the shelter helps are receiving services inside the building.

"They don't go wandering around," she said, according to the newspaper story.

Brownsville Bishop Daniel E. Flores said Feb. 13 via Twitter that "the decision of the McAllen City Commission was disheartening for many, yet, I continue to have hope in our collaborative relation with the city."

He said the diocese, as well as Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, were committed to finding "a welcoming location to continue the work of the respite center."

"How we treat the poor is how we treat Christ. And to give him even a cup of water invites a blessing from God," he continued.

In a statement released by Catholic Charities Feb. 13, Sister Pimentel, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus, said she was disappointed but would continue to work with the city of McAllen "in efforts to treat immigrant families in a just and humane way and ensure that they are in compliance with existing immigration laws."

Last summer, a group from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which included the organization's president, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, and its vice president, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, visited a respite center, but in a different location, that Catholic Charities runs in McAllen.

The work of "welcoming the stranger" that takes place at the center has been the focus of fundraisers at the Vatican, featured on news shows, and has caught the attention of those such as Kerry Kennedy, Robert and Ethel Kennedy's daughter, and TV celebrity Gayle King.

When President Donald Trump visited McAllen Jan. 10, Sister Pimentel invited him to visit the respite center, but he did not make a stop there.

The original respite center in the area began in 2014, when Sister Pimentel saw an influx of immigrants arriving in Rio Grande Valley region and with local volunteers, she began a makeshift operation to help the migrants obtain clothes and food. Out of a property that belonged to the local Sacred Heart Church, they began clothing and feeding the newcomers.

Since then, respite centers at various temporary locations have helped thousands of migrants, many seeking asylum and passing through the border city, have access to a shower after a harrowing trip, a clean change of clothes, a quick medical exam, if they need it, a warm meal and sometimes a snack for the road. Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley is raising funds to build a permanent facility.

"Our mission remains unchanged -- to restore and recognize the human dignity of all vulnerable people -- throughout our community including those seeking asylum," Sister Pimentel said in the statement issued following the decision.

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Contributing to this story was Rose Ybarra in San Juan, Texas.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Update: Catholics, Muslims bond over weekly lunch at Indianapolis deli

Top Stories - Thu, 02/14/2019 - 1:38pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Sean Gallagher, The Criterion

By Sean Gallagher

INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- The openness to people of other faiths that Pope Francis modeled during his Feb. 3-5 visit to the United Arab Emirates has been embraced for more than 20 years at a weekly lunch shared by Muslims, Catholics and other Christians at Shapiro's Delicatessen in Indianapolis.

John Welch, a longtime member of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis, helped start the lunch meetings in 1997.

"It's the presence of Jesus in our midst," Welch told The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Over the years, Welch and those sharing lunch and their lives together at Shapiro's have included members of the Italy-based Catholic lay movement Focolare, members of the Nur-Allah Islamic Center in Indianapolis, as well as Protestant clergy in the city.

Welch, 84, was honored at a recent lunch by those in attendance as he prepared to move with his wife, Mary, to Chicago to live closer to family.

He was inspired to reach out to Muslims in the Indianapolis community through his involvement in Focolare, which emphasizes building unity among people based on sharing the love of God with them.

Welch said that the members of Focolare, who are known as "Focolarini," are called to embody in their daily lives Jesus' teaching to love others as he loved them.

"Our vocation is that, when Jesus said, 'Whenever two or more are united in my name' -- which means his commandment to love one another -- 'there am I present in their midst,'" Welch said. "So whether we're a father (of a family), or a Protestant pastor, an imam, the vocation is to live such mutual love ... that Jesus dwells in our midst.

"If people are touched by their exposure to us, it's not us. It's the presence of God in our midst that attracts them," he added.

Michael Saahir, who is leader, or imam, of Nur-Allah, has been attracted to the principles of Focolare for decades, having met with Chiara Lubich, its founder, on various occasions before her death in 2008. He also has visited the Vatican eight times to participate in interreligious dialogue events.

After the recent gathering at the deli, Saahir spoke to The Criterion about the influence of Focolare and the lunches he has shared with Welch and others in his Muslim faith.

"I have to love the one nearest to me in the present moment, even if I don't like them, even if I don't want to be there," he said. "It exposed in me a shortcoming and, at the same time, forced me to develop a discipline to at least try to love the other person in that present moment."

Many in the United States didn't like Muslims after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Nur-Allah received bomb threats in the days following. But Welch and other Focolarini in Indianapolis wanted to show solidarity with the Muslims of Nur-Allah by attending their Friday prayer service, known in Arabic as Jumu'ah, a few days later.

"On Sept. 14, 2001, they put into practice what they'd been preaching," Saahir said. "It was real. It wasn't a conversation. It was a demonstration. You saw people put themselves where they didn't have to be. They came. It was awesome."

John Mundell, a member of St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis and Focolare, was there that day and afterward saw the effects of this witness by him and his fellow Focolarini.

"We had some answers that people were perhaps looking for and got a lot of requests after that to share our understanding of how you can have a dialogue with people that are so different," Mundell said. "So that's what we did. We had an obligation to share it."

The kind of interreligious events that Saahir has attended at the Vatican often involve experts and high-level religious leaders.

The weekly lunches at Shapiro's, though, are shared by ordinary believers sharing with each other the joys and trials of their everyday lives and how they understand them in light of their faith.

One of the attendees at the lunch when Welch was honored was Nur Allah member David Shaheed, a retired Marion County judge. He was one of the original people who shared lunch with Welch starting in 1997.

He was thankful for the deep bond that the lunches at Shapiro's created among people of differing faiths over the years.

"Once you can sense that, even though a person may have Mass and you have Jumu'ah, when they tell you some of their experiences, it lets you know that God is not just speaking to your faith," Shaheed said. "There's a clear demonstration through the lives of others that God is working in the lives of other people."

Although he won't be attending the lunches any longer, Welch said that this bond will continue as he moves away.

"Keep on keeping on," he said. "We'll be hearing about you all of the time."

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Gallagher is a reporter at The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

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Territory is life, life is territory: what indigenous want church to know

Top Stories - Thu, 02/14/2019 - 10:45am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Barbara Fraser

By Barbara J. Fraser

LETICIA, Colombia (CNS) -- Rafael Noteno Capinoa, a Kichwa Indian, worries about what could happen to the forest around his village on Peru's Napo River if an oil company begins drilling in the area.

"The forest is where we are born, we grow up, we live, we die and are buried," he said. "During our lifetime, we use what we find there."

For the Kichwa and other Amazonian peoples, every plant and animal has a spirit, and humans live in harmony with them, he said. "But if people behave badly, nature may abandon them."

A year ago, during a visit to Peru, Pope Francis asked an audience of native people of the Amazon basin to help bishops and religious to understand their relationship with the natural world. Since then, church leaders have held more than 40 meetings in the nine Amazonian countries to listen to local people, in preparation for the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon to be held at the Vatican in October.

Noteno was among about 70 indigenous people who gathered at a Ticuna and Huitoto village outside this Amazonian town Feb. 2-4 to talk about what they would like the church to understand.

"The Catholic Church is increasingly aware of the many ways in which the Amazon is being destroyed," said Columban Father Peter Hughes, an adviser to the synod planning committee.

There are "constant threats (against) original peoples whose lands are being taken away, whose cultures are being disregarded, and whose land and rivers, the place where they live, are being destroyed," Father Hughes said. "The synod is a chance to give voice to the Amazon. The church has to listen."

The danger is real for Antonio Verisimo da Conceicao, an Apinaje Indian from Tocantins, a state in east-central Brazil. Although the Brazilian government has recognized the boundaries of his community of Pemxa, a dam threatens his people's water sources, he said, and industrial farms are encroaching on an area that his community has requested for expansion.

He and his son have both received death threats for standing up for their rights.

Parts of the Brazilian Amazon have long been dangerous for people who defend land rights. Sister Dorothy Stang, an American-born member of the Congregation of Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, was murdered Feb. 12, 2005, near the town of Anapu in the Amazonian state of Para, where she helped small landholders defend their farms and forests.

In 2017, Brazil was the deadliest county for environmentalists, indigenous leaders and other defenders of land rights, with 57 killed that year, according to the nonprofit organization Global Witness.

For da Conceicao and other Amazonian people, "territory is life and life is territory," Father Hughes said.

The Amazon basin contains the largest remaining expanse of tropical forest in the world. In his encyclical "Laudato Si', on Care for our Common Home," Pope Francis highlighted its importance for the global climate, as well as its significance as a home to the region's original peoples.

Deforestation has been increasing in recent decades, however, as roads, industrial farms and cattle ranches continue to expand. Indigenous territories have significantly lower deforestation rates than surrounding areas and are sometimes even better protected than government-established parks or reserves, studies have found.

Maintaining a traditional way of life in the forest is increasingly difficult, however, as young people often leave their villages in search of jobs or a college education. Facing discrimination in cities, they may conceal their indigenous roots.

When young people move away from their communities, they lose the chance to learn traditional songs, stories and myths from their parents and grandparents. Some never learn their native language, because their parents were forbidden to speak it in school -- sometimes even in Catholic mission schools, said Washington Salvador Tiwi Asamat, 45, a Shuar man from southern Ecuador.

Those are values that the church wants to help people recover, said Father Hughes.

Mariela Rivera Diaz, a Yagua woman from the community of San Jose de Piri, in Peru's northeastern Loreto region, has watched her oldest children move away to get an education in distant cities. Worried that her native tongue might disappear, she began to teach the Yagua language to younger children in her community.

Santiago Yahuarcani, a Huitoto artist from Pebas, a town on the bank of the Amazon River in Peru, began to rediscover his people's history when he found that tourists were more captivated by his paintings of village life or mythical beings than scenes of forests and rivers.

He encourages young people in Pebas not only to speak their native language, but also to learn traditional music and dances.

As church leaders prepare for the synod for the Amazon, they have much to learn from native peoples whose lives are so closely intertwined with the forests and rivers of the region, Father Hughes said.

"The word of God exists in the air, the water, the plants, the animals," he said. "It is the Bible of life, the Bible of creation."

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Pope calls on world leaders to eradicate poverty, hunger

Top Stories - Thu, 02/14/2019 - 9:27am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

ROME (CNS) -- Sustainable development in rural areas is key to making poverty and hunger a thing of the past, Pope Francis said.

In an address to members of the International Fund for Agricultural Development's governing council Feb. 14, the pope said that while achieving such a goal "has been talked about for a long time," there has not been enough concrete action.

"It is paradoxical that a good portion of the more than 820 million people who suffer hunger and malnutrition in the world live in rural areas, are dedicated to food production and are farmers," he said at the council's opening session at the Rome headquarters of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

The two-day meeting of the organization, commonly known as IFAD, was devoted to the theme: "Rural innovation and entrepreneurship."

Before addressing the gathering, the pope presented a gift to the organization: a sculpture by Argentine artist Norma D'Ippolito, titled "Ecce Homo" ("Behold the Man") depicting the hands of Christ bound with ropes.

In his speech, the pope said he came to bring the "longings and needs of many of our brothers and sisters who suffer in the world."

"They live in precarious situations: the air is polluted, natural resources are depleted, rivers are polluted, soils are acidified," he said. "They do not have enough water for themselves or for their crops; their sanitary infrastructures are very inadequate; their houses are meager and defective."

While society has made advances in other areas of knowledge, he added, little progress has been made in helping the rural poor. Winning the fight against poverty and hunger requires using scientific and technological advances for the common good.

"Being determined in this fight is essential so that we can hear -- not as a slogan but as a truth -- 'Hunger has no present and no future. Only the past,'" he said. "In order to do this, we need the help of the international community, civil society and all those who have the resources. Responsibilities cannot be evaded, passed from one to another, but must be assumed in order to offer concrete and real solutions."

Pope Francis said that today's challenges cannot be resolved "in isolation, occasionally or ephemerally" but instead require a joint effort that affirms "the centrality of the human person."

Those who are suffering, he added, must be directly involved in the fight against hunger and not viewed as "mere recipients of aid that may end up generating dependencies."

He also encouraged the members of IFAD to continue along the path of innovation and entrepreneurship to achieve the goal of eradicating malnutrition and promoting sustainable development.

"It is necessary to promote a 'science with a conscience' and truly put technology at the service of the poor," the pope said. "On the other hand, new technologies should not be in opposition to local cultures and traditional knowledge, but rather complement them and act in synergy with them."

After his speech, the pope met with delegates from 31 different indigenous groups present from Africa, Asia, the Americas and the Pacific.

Alessandro Gisotti, interim director of the Vatican press office, said in a statement that the pope's meeting with the delegates lasted nearly 20 minutes.

"The pope greeted each person present; several of them gave Pope Francis a handmade stole," Gisotti said.

Speaking to the delegates, the pope said that indigenous people are "a cry for hope" that remind the world of the shared responsibility in caring for the environment. While certain decisions have "ruined" the earth, he added, "it is never too late to learn the lesson and learn a new way of life."

Indigenous people, he said, know how "to listen to the earth" and to live in harmony with it.

"Let us never forget the saying of our grandparents: 'God always forgives, men sometimes forgive, nature never forgives,'" Pope Francis said. "And we are seeing this through its mistreatment and exploitation. You -- who know how to dialogue with the earth -- are entrusted with transmitting this ancestral wisdom to us."

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Report finds no evidence of racist statements from Covington students

Top Stories - Wed, 02/13/2019 - 3:45pm

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- An independent investigation into the much-discussed encounter that went viral between Catholic high school students, a Native American tribal leader and members of another protest group on the Lincoln Memorial grounds in Washington in January found no evidence that the students of Kentucky's Covington Catholic High School issued "offensive or racist statements."

A report on the investigation was released by the Covington Diocese Feb. 13.

Two days before releasing the report's findings, Covington Bishop Roger J. Foys wrote to parents of the high school students telling them he was pleased to let them know that his hope that an inquiry into the events of Jan. 18 would "exonerate our students so that they can move forward with their lives has been realized."

The investigation, conducted by Greater Cincinnati Investigation Inc., which has no connection with the high school or diocese, "demonstrated that our students did not instigate the incident that occurred at the Lincoln Memorial," the bishop said.

The four-page report signed Feb. 11 said that four investigators spent 240 hours looking into the events of Jan. 18 when the Covington Catholic High School students -- in Washington for the annual March for Life -- met up with other groups while waiting for their buses to pick them up. The investigators spoke with 43 students, 13 chaperones and a number of third-party witnesses. They also reviewed about 50 hours of internet footage or comments focused on the groups' exchange.

Investigators were unable to question Nathan Phillips, tribal elder for the Omaha Tribe, who was chanting and beating a drum by the students, or Nick Sandmann, the student most prominent in viral footage of the encounter.

The incident in question gained national attention from a viral video of it that showed students surrounding Phillips, who was chanting and beating a drum. The students appeared to be mocking him and Sandmann, inches away from the drummer, who never moved and was smiling, was accused of flagrant disrespect.

The clip caused immediate outrage, particularly on social media. But by the next day, extended footage of how the situation unfolded revealed that another group had taunted the students. Phillips had walked over to the group as a type of intervention.

Just days after the video prompted rounds of criticism, Sandmann issued a statement saying he had "received physical and death threats via social media, as well as hateful insults."

In a Jan. 22 statement, the Covington Diocese said the incident and the reaction to it was "a very serious matter that has already permanently altered the lives of many people. It is important for us to gather the facts that will allow us to determine what corrective actions, if any, are appropriate."

The investigators' report said it found no evidence of the students responding in an offensive manner to the black Hebrew Israelites who first addressed them nor did the students chant "build the wall" as some had speculated.

According to the report, the students asked their chaperones if they could perform a school cheer to drown out the remarks of the protest group. The students also said they felt "confused" by being approached by Phillips and although some performed a "tomahawk chop" none of the students said "racist or offensive statements" to Phillips.

Some students said chaperones had reminded them that if "they engaged in a verbal exchange with the black Hebrew Israelites, they would receive detention when returning to school."

The investigators also noted that most of the students wearing the "Make America Great Again" hats had bought them in Washington during their visit. In previous years, chaperones said some students bought "Hope" hats in support of President Barack Obama. There is no school policy prohibiting political apparel on school-sponsored trips, the report said.

In his letter to the Covington Catholic High School community, Bishop Foys said that in the weeks since the original video went viral "two well-worn and oft-used adages have come to mind: Seeing is believing and perception is reality."

He said the immediate reaction to the initial video "led almost everyone to believe that our students had initiated the incident and the perception of those few minutes of video became reality."

"In truth, taking everything into account, our students were placed in a situation that was at once bizarre and even threatening. Their reaction to the situation was, given the circumstances, expected and one might even say laudatory," he wrote.

He said the students could "never have expected what they experienced on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial" and added that their "stance there was surely a pro-life stance."

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

 

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Filmmaker's new movie 'Across' tells story of Father Augustus Tolton

Top Stories - Wed, 02/13/2019 - 12:20pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Director Christopher Foley

By Robert Alan Glover

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) -- Father Augustus Tolton, the first African-American priest ordained for a diocese in the United States, was born into slavery and endured myriad obstacles, both inside the Catholic Church and out, as he relentlessly followed his call from God.

Nashville filmmaker Chris Foley, inspired by the story of Father Tolton's life, has written and directed a short film, "Across," about the Tolton family's escape from slavery.

"I spent about three years developing and writing the film, beginning with a short article I read about Father Tolton, then I attended a talk on him in Chicago given by Bishop Joseph Perry in 2015," Foley told the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.

Bishop Perry, a Chicago auxiliary bishop, who has family from Nashville, is postulator for Father Tolton's sainthood cause, which was opened in 2010 by Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George, giving the priest the title "servant of God."

"It was at the talk that I first mentioned my goal of making a film about 'Gus' -- as I now call him -- to Bishop Perry, but I don't think he took me seriously," recalled Foley.

Serious he certainly was because, said Foley, "this is a man who became a role model for priests -- black and otherwise -- in this country."

Augustus Tolton was born into slavery in 1854 on a plantation near Brush Creek, Missouri. He was baptized at St. Peter Church near Hannibal, Missouri.

His father left to try to join the Union Army during the Civil War; he later died of dysentery, according to accounts Father Tolton told friends and parishioners. In 1862, his mother, Martha, escaped with her children -- Augustus, Charley, Samuel and Anne -- by rowing them across the Mississippi River to the free state of Illinois. They settled in Quincy.

While the family was living in Quincy, a parish priest allowed young Augustus to attend the parish school over the objections of white parishioners. There he learned to read and write and was confirmed at age 16.

He was encouraged to discern his vocation to the priesthood by the Franciscan priests who taught him at St. Francis College, now Quincy University, but could not find a seminary in the United States that would accept him.

He eventually studied in Rome at Pontifical Urban University. He was ordained for the Propaganda Fidei Congregation in 1886 at age 31 and was expecting to become a missionary in Africa.

Instead, he was sent back to Quincy, where he served for three years before going to the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1889. He spearheaded the building of St. Monica Church for black Catholics. Dedicated in 1894, the parish grew from 30 parishioners to more than 600 under Father Tolton's energetic leadership. He died after suffering heat stroke on a Chicago street July 9, 1897.

"In the end, Father Tolton's story is a great example of suffering, because he never finished a church he was building in Chicago and died at age 43 from heat exhaustion during a heat wave in 1897," said Foley.

"After finishing my research, we finally started filming in 2017 -- eight days total with seven of them in Nashville, and one day in Missouri," said Foley.

The final cast features all local professional actors, including Daylon Gordon, who was 9 at the time Foley chose him to play the young Augustus Tolton.

Tennessee film locations included Percy Priest Lake and Kentucky Lake -- standing in for the Missouri River -- as well as Spring Hill and Paris. The Missouri location was Brush Creek.

"None of the African-American cast members were Catholic, and unfortunately there is still a small number of them in the church, but my goal (with the larger film) is to reach non-Catholics as well," said Foley.

Local actress and budding musician Nina Hibbler-Webster plays Father Tolton's mother.

"I did not know any of the details surrounding Father Tolton, nor his life, until I met Chris, but thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to portray such a person," said Webster.

"We see Martha in her 30s, along with Peter, the father, who died of dysentery while serving in the Union Army, Tolton's baby brother, Samuel, and his other siblings, Charley, who died at age 10, Augustine and Anne," said Webster.

Webster described Martha as "humble, but a woman who experienced a leap of faith and took a chance, based on that faith and a split-second decision to run, to accomplish what they did."

"As a Christian, I view this as a historical piece, and sometimes the only way we get a story like this out there is when someone makes a film from it," said Webster.

Foley hopes to secure enough financing to extend the short film into a full-length feature film that would cover all of Father Tolton's life.

"For one thing, we don't sugar-coat his persecution in the church, and we talk about those people behind it, including (a priest) ... who is -- let's face it -- the bad guy," said Foley.

"If we can finally get his story out there, I think its message will be that the church is calling you," said Foley.

Joan Watson, Nashville's diocesan director of faith formation, organized a Feb. 17 screening of Foley's film and a panel discussion to follow at the Catholic Pastoral Center.

"I knew a little about it, having gotten to know Chris and his wife, Mary Beth, several years ago," she said. "Mary Beth and I discussed doing a screening of the film here, to showcase the immense local talent we have right here in our own diocese, and to introduce people to the story of Father Tolton."

"While Father Tolton is not directly connected to the history of Nashville, I would encourage people who feel drawn to him to pray through his intercession," said Watson.

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Editor's Note: More information about the film at www.acrossmovie.com.

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Glover writes for the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

When it comes to prayer, there is no room for individualism, pope says

Top Stories - Wed, 02/13/2019 - 10:00am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Prayer is not just a private and intimate dialogue between a person and God, but rather an opportunity for Christians to bring the needs of others before the Lord, Pope Francis said.

"There is no room for individualism in the dialogue with God," the pope said Feb. 13 during his weekly general audience. "There is no display of one's own problems as if we were the only ones in the world who suffer. There is no prayer raised to God that is not the prayer of a community of brothers and sisters."

Arriving at the Paul VI audience hall, the pope was welcomed by the sound of a children's choir singing a song based on his own teaching of the three words that are important for family life: "please," "thank you" and "sorry."

Walking down the center aisle of the hall, the pope greeted the joyful pilgrims who held out their hands to greet him, have their religious objects blessed or their babies kissed.

Continuing his series of talks on the "Our Father," the pope focused his reflection on Jesus' instructions on how to pray, which he said was a secret act that is "visible only to God."

Prayer, the pope said, "avoids falsehood; with God, it is impossible to pretend. It is impossible! In front of God, there is no trick that has power. This is how God knows us: naked in our conscience. And it isn't possible to pretend."

While prayer is an intimate act, akin to the "exchange of glances between two people who love each other," Pope Francis said that true Christians also carry in their hearts their loved ones and those who suffer.

The pope highlighted the "impressive absence" of the word "I" throughout the text of the "Our Father," even though, he said, it is a word "that everyone holds in high esteem."

He also noted that the prayer's petitions are made on behalf of "us," for example, "give us this day our daily bread; forgive us our trespasses; lead us not into temptation; deliver us from evil."

"Even the most basic human questions -- such as that of having food to extinguish hunger -- are all in the plural form," the pope said. "In Christian prayer, no one asks for bread for himself: he pleads for it for all the poor of the world."

Departing from his prepared remarks, Pope Francis recalled a conversation with a prison chaplain who asked him what was the opposite of the word "I."

"Naively, I said, 'You.' (The chaplain replied), 'Ah, that is the beginning of war. The opposite of "I" is "us," where there is peace, everyone together.' It is a good teaching that I received from that priest," the pope said.

Christians, he added, must always include the difficulties, sufferings and struggles of others in their prayers before God. If one isn't aware or doesn't take pity on those less fortunate, "then one's heart is made of stone."

"Saints and sinners, we are all brothers and sisters loved by the same father," Pope Francis said. "And toward the end of life, we will be judged on love. How we have loved. Not just sentimental love but compassionate and concrete love according to the Gospel rule: 'Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'"

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Great expectations: Vatican abuse summit has key, realistic goals

Top Stories - Wed, 02/13/2019 - 9:15am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- All eyes and ears will be on the Vatican during an unprecedented gathering Feb. 21-24 to discuss the protection of minors in the Catholic Church.

When Pope Francis announced the international meeting in September, it sparked an optimistic note that the global problem of abuse finally would be tackled with a concerted, coordinated, global effort.

The breadth of the potential impact seemed to be reflected in the list of those convoked to the meeting: the presidents of all the world's bishops' conferences, the heads of the Eastern Catholic churches, representatives of the leadership groups of men's and women's religious orders and the heads of major Vatican offices.

But the pope tried to dial down what he saw as "inflated expectations" for the meeting, telling reporters in January that "the problem of abuse will continue. It's a human problem" that exists everywhere.

Many survivors and experts, too, have cautioned that it was unrealistic to assume such a brief meeting could deliver a panacea for abuse and its cover-up.

So, what should people expect from the four-day meeting? The following five points hit the highlights:

1. It will be first and foremost about raising awareness, including that the scandal of abuse is not a "Western" problem, but happens in every country.

To make that point clear, the organizing committee asked every participating bishop to sit down with a survivor of abuse before coming to Rome and hear that "Me, too," from a person of his own country, culture and language.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, who is moderating the meeting, said there would be between 160 and 180 participants. He told reporters Feb. 12 to expect the presidents of about 115 bishops' conferences, a dozen heads of Eastern churches, prefects of Vatican congregations directly involved with Vatican norms regarding abuse and negligence, eight delegates from the men's Union of Superiors General, 10 delegates from the women's International Union of Superiors General, three members of the pope's Council of Cardinals who are not presidents of their bishops' conference and four members of the organizing committee.

Everyone invited will be expected to learn what his or her responsibilities are as a leader or a bishop and to know the church laws and procedures that already exist to protect the young.

2. Organizers hope that by listening to victims and leaders who have learned things the hard way, participants will be inspired to adopt a culture of accountability and transparency.

Hearing what abuse and negligence have done to people has the power to transform the listener, "to truly open the mind and heart," Jesuit Father Hans Zollner told reporters Feb. 12.

Just to be sure those voices are heard, the meeting will also feature testimonies from survivors from countries where the reality of abuse is still largely ignored, said the priest, an abuse expert who is part of the meeting's organizing committee.

He said the word "accountability" doesn't even exist in many languages, which often means that culture might lack a clear or coherent understanding of this key concept.

For that reason, the summit will devote a day to discussing accountability and "what structures, procedures and methods are effective" and viable in the Catholic Church, he said.

Church leaders must know what the norms are, he said, but the meeting also will stress that the procedures themselves "will not magically solve a problem."

For example, he said, it was "a source of delusion" for U.S. Catholics when the 2002 Dallas Charter did not fix everything.

In fact, the meeting will not be about producing any documents, but pushing people to take the needed steps toward greater transparency and accountability, Father Lombardi said.

Those steps already are spelled out, he said, in Pope Francis' 2016 document, "As a Loving Mother," on the accountability of bishops and religious superiors.

"It must be put into practice effectively," he said, adding that he was "convinced and firmly hope that this meeting will give a push in that direction."

3. There will be a kind of "parallel assembly" as large numbers of survivors and advocacy groups converge on Rome to call for greater accountability, action and reform.

A variety of events are planned, including an evening "Vigil for Justice" near the Vatican and a "March for Zero Tolerance" to St. Peter's Square, but a major focus will be media outreach and getting the voice and recommendations of laypeople and victims -- many who had gone unheard for years -- listened to.

4. Pope Francis will be present throughout the meeting, which will include plenary sessions, working groups, prayer, a penitential liturgy and a closing Mass.

In letters to the bishops of Chile and the United States, Pope Francis has made clear what he thinks the church needs to do to respond to the abuse crisis.

Administrative solutions involving new policies and norms are not enough, he has said.

He told Chile's bishops that abuse and its cover-up "are indicators that something is bad in the church body."

Therefore, they must not only "address the concrete cases," but also "discover the dynamics that made it possible for such attitudes and evils to occur."

Those attitudes are driven by the temptation "to save ourselves, to save our reputation," he told the Chilean bishops.

In his letter to the U.S. bishops, he warned against the tendency to play the victim, to scold, discredit, disparage others and point fingers.

5. Expect the meeting to be one critical step along a very long journey that began decades ago and must continue.

Further measures will be taken after the meeting, Father Zollner has said. For instance, a task force made up of child protection experts "will probably be instituted in the various continents" to help bishops create, strengthen and implement guidelines.

The different "teams" of the task force should be able to help "for years to come to measure the success of this exercise of realizing own's own responsibility, even on the global level, in the face of public expectations," he told the Vatican newspaper in January.

Even though the church is well aware of larger, related problems of abuses of power, conscience and abuse and violence against seminarians, religious women and other adults, the meeting will focus exclusively on protecting minors from abuse, Fathers Zollner and Lombardi said.

The idea is that the attitude and spirit needed to protect the most vulnerable of the church's members are the same that will protect and promote respect for the integrity and dignity of everyone.

In fact, Father Lombardi said, "I see this as a test of the profundity of the reform" of the church called for by Pope Francis.

In other words, the pope wants people "to examine how we live out our mission, with what coherence and how we can convert our attitudes, both in regard to our attention and compassion for those who suffer, as well as our consistent witness to the dignity of children, of women, and so on."

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Contributing to this story was Cindy Wooden in Rome.

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

In video, Bridgeport bishop calls sex abuse by clerics crime and sin

Top Stories - Tue, 02/12/2019 - 1:45pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a video posted Feb. 11 on YouTube, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, offered support for the "many sisters and brothers who have been wounded, violated, hurt and abused at the hands of priests and deacons" and whose sexual abuse in their youth "changed their lives forever."

"The crime and sin of sexual abuse in our midst is a deep evil that has created a deep wound," said Bishop Caggiano, who has been one of the most outspoken U.S. bishops on the topic of sex abuse by clergy.

Getting rid of the "evil" is not enough, he said, calling on others to offer support for those who have been victimized, "those whose lives sometimes have been completely shattered."

"We stand with them because we love them, because they're part of our family and even though some members of our family have betrayed them, you and I will not," he said. "We stand with them because in the name of Jesus, his love invites them and us to heal, for we are all in need of healing."

To move forward as a church, he said, its members have to stand with those who have suffered abuse.

"They, too, can be a light to us, to continue to teach us new ways to be renewed and purified and reformed," he said. "When a family experiences a great wound or crisis, it is a moment, an opportunity, to come together and in that coming together make the love of Christ ever more real in our midst because it is only Christ who can heal a broken life, a broken heart."

Last August, as a Pennsylvania grand jury published a report alleging past abuses, some decades old, by Catholic clergy and other church workers and a supposed cover-up in parts of the state, Bishop Caggiano began addressing what he called the "scandalous events." He also condemned revelations about alleged abuse on the part of former U.S. Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, which are still being investigated by church officials.

"I have been sick to my stomach," he said in an Aug. 17, 2018, statement released by the Diocese of Bridgeport, just days after the Pennsylvania grand jury report. "Words like horrifying, betrayal and diabolical come to mind describing the evil abuse that was perpetrated against children, who were robbed of their innocence, and often of their faith and future. The failure of some bishops to report this evil is equally stunning and deeply sinful."

Since then, he has not shied away from addressing the topic, including by speaking about it before a group of U.S. pilgrims at World Youth Day in Panama in January.

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Actor Gary Sinise describes his road to the Catholic Church

Top Stories - Tue, 02/12/2019 - 11:46am

IMAGE: CNS

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Gary Sinise, the actor perhaps best known for playing Lieutenant Dan in the 1994 movie "Forrest Gump," followed a rather unusual path to becoming a Catholic.

In a Feb. 4 telephone interview with Catholic News Service from Los Angeles, Sinise told his story.

"At one point in the late '90s, I remember my wife (Moira) was doing a play, 'The Playboy of the Western World.' She was playing a woman in a tavern. She had just gone through sobriety, and she was new to her sobriety as she was playing this woman defending her life in a tavern," Sinise said.

"At one point, she went to a Catholic church looking for an AA meeting. This little French woman, she asked her, 'Where's the AA meeting?' She looked at her (Moira) and said, 'You should become a Catholic,'" he added. "Something happened to her at that moment -- I don't know, something that had been aligned within her. Her mother was Catholic, but she fell away from the church and married a Methodist. She was not raised in any particular faith."

After his wife finished the play, she met Sinise in North Carolina, where he was shooting a movie with Shirley MacLaine.

"There was a hurricane coming to Wilmington," Sinise recalled. "Well, she was telling me this story, and I'm telling here we've gotta get out of here and drive to Charlotte and we'll fly to Los Angeles. While we're driving, the hurricane was blasting behind us. She turns around and says, 'I'm going to the Catholic Church and I'm going to become a Catholic.'

"I laughed and said, 'Wait a minute. We just moved across the street from a public school.' 'Yes, and I'm going to send our kids to a Catholic school,'" he added. "Sure enough, when we go home she went to the RCIA program at our local Catholic church."

For the next year, his wife was in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program. "We started going to Mass," Sinise said. "My wife was confirmed in Easter 2000. ... The following year that little church became a sanctuary, a place of great comfort" following the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001.

Oh, and "our kids started attending the school there," he added.

Sinise himself joined the church in 2010.

"I surprised my family. I'd gone through the confirmation classes and whatnot myself behind everybody's back and I didn't tell anybody that I was doing it," he said.

"On Christmas Eve 2010 I told the family I was taking them to dinner at Morton's Steakhouse and have Christmas Eve dinner," he said. "And on the way there, I pulled into the church, and everybody asked, 'What are we doing here?' I said come on in. We walked into the church. The priest was there, and he confirmed me. It was beautiful."

This is one of the many tales Sinise tells in his newly published book, "Grateful American." In the memoir, he details his life growing up in the Chicago suburbs, from being a bratty kid to trying out for a play in high school and catching the acting bug, to helping establish the still-going-strong Steppenwolf Theater Company in the Windy City, as well as his many adventures in films and on stage.

"It's an autobiography for sure, but it's a life-changing story," Sinise told CNS. The 9/11 terror attacks were a pivot for him. "Something happened when I went from actor to advocate for our nation's defenders," he said.

A look at the Gary Sinise Foundation's website, www.garysinisefoundation.org, includes a page listing his appearances and visits at military bases and hospitals -- a list so extensive that Sinise seems to be the Bob Hope for the current generation.

"That service to others was a great healer to a broken heart after that terrible day, when we saw that terrible thing happen and we were all afraid and we were all wondering what was going to happen to our country," Sinise said. "There's something to my book where I talk honestly and say that that particular day was turning a point for a life of service."

 

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