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Commentary: a crisis regarding the responsibility of church authorities

Top Stories - Wed, 08/15/2018 - 1:23pm

By Greg Erlandson

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- When Catholic News Service posted a short video of the Pennsylvania attorney general's Aug. 14 news conference announcing a grand jury report on clergy sexual abuse in six dioceses, its editors had to add a warning about the graphic language viewers would hear.

The actual 900-page report chronicling 70 years of child sexual abuse by 301 priests is much, much worse. There are images of rape, perversion and blasphemy that will be hard to excise from a reader's imagination, vile and disgusting acts that have shattered the lives and faith of the more than 1,000 victims and their families.

Harder still is to understand how some leaders could have known about these acts of profound betrayal and not have been enraged into action to excise permanently such evil from our church.

And this goes to the dark heart of this crisis: That men of the cloth would sin so grievously against the most defenseless in their flocks, and that men of the cloth would fail to respond appropriately.

The clergy sexual abuse crisis has been, and remains today, ultimately a crisis regarding the responsibility of church authorities. The profound distrust of institutions -- law, science, education, government -- that permeates our society permeates our church as well. This distrust strikes at the heart of a hierarchical structure -- that those who bear the most responsibility and most power have at times failed us. "Put not your trust in princes," sang the psalmist. Indeed, many Catholics no longer do.

And yet we must not paint all bishops and priests today with the same brush that has tarred some. Many more bishops have met with victims, cried with them, and responded to their needs than in years past. Many more priests speak out forthrightly from their pulpits, addressing the scandals and encouraging those who have been hurt to come forward.

In the wake of the recent revelations involving Pennsylvania, Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick and other allegations that have come to light involving seminaries, there are four take-aways from this horrible new chapter in the life of our church.

First, the bishops today, as descendants of the apostles and descendants of those who previously occupied the positions they hold now, must convincingly demonstrate a spirit of repentance and recommitment. Their people, and society at large, are not looking for more generic apologies and corporate-sounding assessments of current performance. They must act boldly and concretely if their apologies are to be taken seriously.

Their recommitment must involve greater accountability and greater transparency. To do this, they must have the support of the Vatican. This won't be easy. There are many bureaucratic and institutional forces that do not want the sins of the fathers to be exposed and that are blind to the great peril our church is already in.

Second, many are calling for a greater role for the laity in investigations and in future decision-making. It is a tremendously positive development that lay boards have become involved in assessing abuse allegations. Past scandals documented in Pennsylvania so often involved only clergy in investigative and decision-making roles. The church needs lay men and women to be actively involved in the purification and renewal of the church.

There also should be a renewed appreciation for the role of the church's own media in informing and forming Catholics. At least 39 bishops have spoken out about the initial scandal involving Archbishop McCarrick, yet some dioceses no longer have effective communication tools to make sure that their people are hearing the voices of their bishops. Worse still would be if diocesan publications are tempted to avoid publishing news of these scandals, even though their secular counterparts are putting it on the front page. This destroys the credibility of Catholic media and further undermines the leadership of the bishop.

Third, we must acknowledge how much has changed since the scandals that rocked the U.S. church in 2002. The church now is far different from even 16 years ago. Extensive procedures for training young people, for background checks and for reporting violations have been put into place. Victims are much more likely to be treated with sympathy and their reports taken seriously. Since the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was implemented in 2002, it is estimated that the church has spent $4.4 billion on these procedures as well as on payouts to victims and their attorneys. No other social institution even comes close to this level of commitment.

Which brings us to the fourth point. Solving the problem of sexual abuse and accountability in the church will not solve the problems of sexual abuse and accountability in society. There are an estimated 60,000 cases of child abuse in the United States each year. Multiplied over a span of 70 years, this number would be horrifying.

Abuse in the larger society is no excuse for the 301 priests (about 5 percent all priests who served in those dioceses over a period of 70 years) who are guilty of abusing at least 1,000 victims. Yet if any good is to come out of this long tragedy, it may be that the church -- humiliated and scorned as it now is -- may be able at some point to contribute to a much greater healing that needs to take place in our country and our world.

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Erlandson is director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 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

Catholics express despair, disbelief, anger at new abuse revelations

Top Stories - Wed, 08/15/2018 - 12:40pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- After the first allegations of abuse against Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick were publicized in mid-June, employees at the U.S. bishops' conference headquarters in Washington were bracing for calls from Catholics confused, outraged or anything in between regarding the emerging scandal.

The big surprise: More Catholics were calling in -- and kept calling -- to ask how they could be foster parents to immigrant children who had been separated from their parents by the U.S. government at the U.S.-Mexico border.

That didn't last long, though.

The foster-parent calls receded and the abuse-related phone calls picked up in volume and intensity, according to Deacon Bernie Nojadera, executive director of the Secretariat for the Protection of Children and Young People at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Deacon Nojadera said he doesn't know exactly why people call his office. He suggested it may be that callers expect that the office can issue reprimands to any suspected cleric: "What are you going to do about it?"

But that's not the case, he told Catholic News Service in an Aug. 13 interview. Priests accused of abuse are subject to the discipline of their diocesan bishop or religious superior; if found guilty of misconduct, priests may be laicized by the Vatican. Accused bishops, though, are subject first to the Vatican.

Parents who call sound worried, the deacon added: "How do I know my child's going to be safe if he's in formation or if he's in seminary?"

The three most notable cases this summer involve Archbishop McCarrick, who is facing a credible allegation of abusing a minor and is believed to have harassed and abused seminarians even after they were ordained to the priesthood; the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, where a vocations director who died in 2008 has recently been accused of harassment; and the Archdiocese of Boston, where Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley ordered an investigation of the archdiocesan seminary after abuse reports surfaced in early August.

"Our first job is to listen, to be empathetic," Deacon Nojadera said. Some of the callers, he acknowledged, are angry. "Well, I'm angry, too," he told CNS. Without prayer, he added, "I can't do what I'm doing,"

Both the National Review Board and the bishops' Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People are scheduled to meet in September. Deacon Nojadera said his office hopes to be able to give each body guidance on strengthening the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," approved by the bishops in 2002.

"In 2002, we were responding to a very specific situation: the abuse of children by priests," Deacon Nojadera said. "I still hold it's a very good document. It's better than nothing. It has its strengths, it has its weaknesses." He added, "We need to have a very serous discussion on what we can do to improve what's mandated by the charter."

The charter, amended in 2011 and again earlier this year. did not take into account the possibility that bishops could be abusers, or that abuse victims could be adults, much less seminarians and priests whose path to -- and following -- ordination could be stymied by bishop-abusers.

The increased call volume experienced by Deacon Nojadera and his staff has not been experienced in two dioceses contacted by CNS.

"We've all spent time processing among staff and clergy, because this is another level of concern and another level of distress for all Catholics," said Beth Heidt Kozisek, victim assistance coordinator for the Diocese of Grand Island, Nebraska, in a phone interview with CNS. "But we really haven't had an increase in the number of calls from parishioners or general members of the community."

The allegations against Archbishop McCarrick, a former cardinal, weren't published in either the Omaha World-Herald, Nebraska's largest newspaper, or the local daily, The Grand Island Independent, Kozisek said. "I found it online but I didn't see any comments online," she added. "Is that a sign of our rural culture -- nobody's reading the news? They're busy farming and other activities?"

"Baton Rouge has not experienced an increase in allegations or calls in the last month due to the Cardinal McCarrick story," said an email to CNS from Amy Cordon, victim assistance coordinator for the Diocese of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

"My colleagues and I do not see our ministry to victims of clergy abuse as a job. We are ministers," Cordon said of herself and her fellow victim assistance coordinators. "And our boss, Jesus Christ, never disappoints.

"This is why you are not seeing a mass exodus of victim assistance coordinators when these stories continue to break 10-plus years after the charter was written," she added. "Most of us work under truly holy men of God and are very fortunate to have good bishops who care for those who have been harmed. I can certainly say that is the case in Baton Rouge."

Deacon Nojadera recalled the instance of one caller, who had worked with the resigned cardinal, first weeping with anguish over the phone and then voicing anger over the situation. "First, I have to listen," he said.

But the moment, he said, may signify the need for "a spiritual cleansing in the church."

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Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 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

Report details rape of children, culture of secrecy that fanned it

Top Stories - Tue, 08/14/2018 - 8:04pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Reuters video

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The report begins dramatically, imploring its readers: "We, the members of this grand jury, need you to hear this."

Plain and simple, at least 1,000 children identified in the investigation were raped in Catholic places of worship, in schools, and in diocesan owned vehicles, and were "groomed" through diocesan programs and retreats so they could be molested, wrote members of a 23-person grand jury who heard those accounts over a period of almost two years of an investigation of clergy sex abuse said to have taken place in six dioceses in the state of Pennsylvania over 70 years. Their findings were unveiled Aug. 14.

In almost 1,400 pages, they describe graphic accounts of the abuse they say happened in the Catholic dioceses of Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Allentown, Scranton, Greensburg and Erie.

They detail accounts they heard of boys and girls whose genitals were touched, who were raped or made to perform a variety of sex acts. The report says one priest molested five girls in a family. In some cases the report details, girls became pregnant after being raped. One priest was "rendered irregular" after helping arrange an abortion for a minor he impregnated and mentions a letter that followed from church officials that "seemed to exclusively address the procurement of the abortion with little concern that (the priest) had impregnated a child."

Some cases were worse than others, the report said, when detailing a case involving a boy who was given holy water by a priest to wash out his mouth after he had the boy perform a sex act. Most of the children were teens and some were preteens, according to the report.   

What is depicted comes from internal documents made available by dioceses, from testimony of those who offered it, "and, on over a dozen occasions, the priests themselves appeared before us. Most of them admitted what they had done," the report says.

When the children or their families reported what happened, "all of them were brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institution above all," the report says.

"The bishops weren't just aware of what was going on; they were immersed in it. And they went to great lengths to keep it secret. The secrecy helped spread the disease," the report said.

Most of the crimes are too old to be prosecuted, but "for many of the victims, this report is justice," said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro in an Aug. 14 news conference unveiling the report, as some of those who had testified for the grand jury attended.

"We're going to shine a light," Shapiro added. "We can tell our citizens what happened."

The report says that it recognizes that "much has changed over the last 15 years."

Grand jury members said they heard reports from the six dioceses investigated, "so that they could inform us about recent developments in their jurisdictions."

"In response, five of the bishops submitted statements to us, and the sixth, the bishop of Erie, appeared before us in person. His testimony impressed us as forthright and heartfelt," they wrote. "It appears that the church is now advising law enforcement of abuse reports more promptly. Internal review processes have been established. Victims are no longer quite so invisible. But the full picture is not yet clear."

Even though the report is long and its details painful, knowing what happened is "the only way to fix these problems," they write.

The report recommends that the Pennsylvania Legislature drop the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse. They also ask for a "civil window" law that would let older victims sue the dioceses "for the damage inflicted on their lives when they were kids." It says better laws for "mandated reporting of abuse" are needed and say confidentiality agreement or non-disclosure agreements should not apply when it comes to criminal investigations.

The grand jury said it keeps in mind that there are likely more than the more than 1,000 victims identified and likely more offending priests it does not know about. It identified 301 priests in the report.

"What we can say, though, is that despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability," the report says. "Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades, monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, archbishops, cardinals have mostly been protected; many, including some named in this report, have been promoted. Until that changes, we think it is too early to close the book on the Catholic Church sex scandal."

A grand jury does not determine guilt or innocence but whether there may be enough evidence or probable cause to support a criminal charge.

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Statements from bishops of dioceses named in grand jury abuse report

Top Stories - Tue, 08/14/2018 - 7:50pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy of the dioceses


WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The following are excerpts of statements, and links to the full statements, made by the bishops of the six Pennsylvania dioceses named in a grand jury report released Aug. 14 that detailed a two-year investigation of seven decades of clergy sex abuse claims. Many of the claims date back decades.

Pennsylvania officials say 301 priests were linked to sex abuse claims and more than 1,000 victims were identified by the grand jury investigation.

The bishops' statements were made on the day the report was released.

From Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh:

"It is difficult to stand here before you today. Yet, I wouldn't want to be, I couldn't be, any other place than with you at this moment. The women and men of the Grand Jury have spoken. They have spoken for victims. To those women and men and all those they have spoken for: We hear you. The church hears you. I hear you. ' We cannot bury our heads in the sand. There were instances in the past, as outlined in this report, when the church acted in ways that did not respond effectively to victims.

"Swift and firm responses to allegations should have started long before they did. For that I express profound regret. At the same time, I express gratitude to survivors who have taught us to respond with compassion to those who are wounded and with determination to remove offenders from ministry. To apologize and express sorrow for the past is an important step. But it is not enough. Continued action is necessary."

Bishop Zubik's full statement can be found at The Diocese of Pittsburgh's response to the grand jury report is at and a chart on abuse claims

From Bishop Ronald W. Gainer of Harrisburg:

"I read the grand jury report on child sexual abuse with great sadness, for once again we read that innocent children were the victims of horrific acts committed against them. I am saddened because I know that behind every story is a child precious in God's sight; a child who has been wounded by the sins of those who should have known better. ' In my own name, and in the name of the diocesan Church of Harrisburg, I express our profound sorrow and apologize to the survivors of child sex abuse, the Catholic faithful and the general public for the abuses that took place and for those church officials who failed to protect children.

"We will continue to make amends for the sins of our past, and offer prayers and support to all victims of these actions. We are committed to continuing and enhancing the positive changes made, to ensure these types of atrocities never occur again. Since the turn of the century, the church has instituted policies that take clear and decisive action to prevent future abuse."

Bishop Gainer's full statement can be found at He also referred to the diocese's release Aug. 1 (and updated Aug. 6) of a list of 72 clergy, both dead and alive, accused of abuse at The diocese has other documents on its new Youth Protection blog,

"As I stressed last week when we released information regarding our own internal review of child sexual abuse in the Harrisburg Diocese," Bishop Gainer said Aug. 14, "I acknowledge the sinfulness of those who have harmed these survivors, as well as the action and inaction of those in church leadership who failed to respond appropriately."

From Bishop Alfred A. Schlert of Allentown:

"As your bishop, I am deeply saddened by these incidents. I sincerely apologize for the past sins and crimes committed by some members of the clergy. I apologize to the survivors of abuse and their loved ones. For the times when those in the church did not live up to Christ's call to holiness, and did not do what needed to be done, I apologize.

"I also apologize to you, the faithful of the diocese, for the toll this issue has taken over the years: the sadness, the anger, the doubts, and the embarrassment it may have brought you as a Catholic. I ask for your forgiveness, and I thank you for your perseverance and for your courageous witness to our faith. I want to assure you that as a church, we will learn from the report of the grand jury and use it to further improve our protections for children and young people."

Bishop Schlert's full statement, issued as a letter to the people of the diocese, can be found at A separate diocesan statement can be found at The diocesan website,, also has a video message from the bishop and a fact sheet on diocesan response to abuse claims.

From Bishop Joseph C. Bambera of Scranton:

"Many of you are aware of the statewide grand jury investigation into child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. The grand jury has issued its report of findings. While this is an uncomfortable and unsettling topic, we must speak openly and frankly about it.

"First of all, none you deserve to be confronted with the behavior described in this report. It is unsettling, tragic and it breaks your heart. To all of you, most especially to those of you who are victims of such heinous actions by members of the clergy, to those of who have suffered because of misguided and inappropriate decisions of church leaders and to those of you who make up the blessed faithful of our church who are simply trying to live your lives as sincere and committed servants of the Lord, I offer my deepest apologies for such behavior and the consequences of this tragic reality in our church.

"There are simply no words that I can offer to take away the pain this has caused. Simply put child sexual abuse cannot be tolerated and must be eradicated from our church. Sadly, the church has taken far too long to do that. While the investigation and the report represent a disturbing and painful chapter in the life of our church, it is necessary for us to address them in order for us to move ahead in a more positive way."

Bishop Bambera's message in a video can be found in English and with Spanish subtitles can be found, respectively, at and A diocesan statement on the grand jury report and a list released Aug. 14 of priests, religious, lay employees and volunteers credibly accused of abuse released can be found at

From Bishop Edward C. Malesic, Diocese of Greensburg:

"To the survivors of sexual abuse in the church, whether it was at the hands of a priest, a teacher, volunteer, or even a family member: I grieve for you and I grieve with you. In the Diocese of Greensburg, we stand ready to listen to you and, if you want it, we stand ready to help you heal as much as possible. It does not matter when it occurred, by whom it occurred, where it occurred, or how it occurred. We want to help. Jesus expects nothing less from us.

"Let me tell you this, just in case you have some misgivings because of your past experience with the church: We love you. And I ask all of the Catholic faithful to support you with the care and concern that you deserve.

"Specifically, to those of you who were abused by one of our priests. In the name of the entire Catholic church, I apologize to you for those men who stole your childhood innocence, and in some cases, robbed you of your faith. Those priests acted as wolves among us, even if they were dressed in sheep's clothing. I am sorry for that. In fact, honestly, I am extremely angry at them for what they did to you. I am outraged along with everyone else. I can understand your anger with bishops as well -- perhaps even with me. You deserved much better from us. I promise to do my best to continue to ensure that it will never happen again.

"Let me say this as clearly as possible. Priests who have abused our children have no place at our parish altars wearing the vestments of our sacred mysteries. They have forfeited the right to be called 'Father' by our people. Priests who have abused our children have no place in ministry."

Bishop Malesic's full statement -- in a video message and transcript -- can be found at -- The diocese Aug. 14 also released a list of clergy with credible and substantiated allegations against them: Other information and a special issued of The Catholic Accent, the diocesan paper, can be found at

From Bishop Lawrence T. Persico, Diocese of Erie:

"Today, I want to express my sorrow directly to the victims of sexual abuse that occurred within the Diocese of Erie. You have suffered in darkness for a very long time.

"As the grand jury report demonstrates, you have experienced unimaginably cruel behavior by the very individuals who should have had the greatest interest in protecting you. You were betrayed by people holding themselves out as servants of God, teachers of children or leaders in the community. ' I humbly offer my sincere apology to each victim who has been violated by anyone affiliated with the Catholic Church. I hope that you can accept it. I know that apologizing is only one step in a very long and complex process of healing.

"You may be aware that we recently unveiled new policies and implemented procedures to ensure that this criminal behavior is stopped. We just released another update of our website today, adding names in light of the grand jury report. This is one sign of our commitment to transparency.

"But this is not the moment to focus on our efforts. Today, I simply stand before you, humbled and sorrowful."

Bishop Persico's full statement can be found at Other Bishop Persico statements can be found at, along with diocese's full disclosure list of credible abuse claims and diocesan child protection protocols.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 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

Wuerl: In Pittsburgh, he 'established strong policies' on abuse claims

Top Stories - Tue, 08/14/2018 - 5:05pm

IMAGE: CNS/Bob Roller

By Julie Asher

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl said Aug. 14 that during his tenure as bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006, he "established strong policies that addressed the needs of abuse survivors, removed priests from ministry and protected the most vulnerable in the community."

He said he also "traveled to Rome to challenge successfully a Vatican decision to reinstate a (Pittsburgh) priest removed from ministry as a result of substantiated child abuse claims."

Cardinal Wuerl made the comments in response to the Pennsylvania attorney general's release the same day of a grand jury report on a months-long investigation of abuse claims in the Pittsburgh Diocese and five other dioceses in the state -- Harrisburg, Greensburg, Erie, Scranton and Allentown.

The report covers a span of over 70 years and many of the claims are decades old.

"There have been other reports about child sex abuse within the Catholic Church," the report says. "But never on this scale. For many of us, those earlier stories happened someplace else, someplace away. Now we know the truth: it happened everywhere."

In his statement, Cardinal Wuerl said that while he understands the report "may be critical of some of my actions, I believe the report confirms that I acted with diligence, with concern for the victims and to prevent future acts of abuse."

"I sincerely hope that a just assessment of my actions, past and present, and my continuing commitment to the protection of children will dispel any notions otherwise made by this report," he added.

In his statement and in an Aug. 13 letter to priests of the Washington Archdiocese, Cardinal Wuerl said that the part of the report he was allowed to see before its official release had references to 32 priests in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. His statement was accompanied by a fact sheet about his years in Pittsburgh.

It said "the facts are" that during his tenure as Pittsburgh's bishop, the diocese "promptly investigated" allegations of child sexual abuse and took appropriate actions, including removal of priests from ministry.

"The diocese required removal of a priest from ministry in the event of an admitted or substantiated allegation of child sexual abuse," the fact sheet said. "While allegations of abuse were being investigated, priests were placed on administrative leave and/or sent for professional psychological evaluation."

The grand jury report "does not distinguish between allegations and proven facts," it said. "The report assumes that mere allegations against a priest should have resulted in permanent removal from ministry. This assumption is mistaken."

During his 18 years in Pittsburgh, "scientific, psychological and medical understandings of child sexual abuse evolved significantly, as did civil and church law," the statement said. "Still, throughout his tenure in Pittsburgh, as well as afterwards, Cardinal Wuerl sought to implement child-protection policies that kept pace with or were ahead of that evolution."

"As I have made clear throughout my more than 30 years as a bishop," Cardinal Wuerl said in his remarks. "The sexual abuse of children by some members of the Catholic Church is a terrible tragedy, and the church can never express enough our deep sorrow and contrition for the abuse, and for the failure to respond promptly and completely."

In his letter to priests of the Washington Archdiocese, Cardinal Wuerl said the report "will be a reminder of grave failings that the church must acknowledge and for which it must seek forgiveness.

"It will also be a reminder that there are many survivors of such abuse whom we must continue to keep in our prayers, and whose pain we must seek to help bear and lessen through accompaniment and care."

He said that he could not "fully express the dismay and anger I felt, when as a newly installed bishop of Pittsburgh in 1988, I learned about the abuse some survivors experienced in my diocese."

"It moved me not simply to address these acts, but to be fully engaged, to meet with survivors and their families, and to do what I could to bring them comfort and try to begin a process for healing," he continued. "It also urged me to develop quickly a 'zero tolerance' policy for clergy who committed such abuse, and put in place a process to ensure that an y allegation of abuse was addressed as fairly and forthrightly as possible."

He also noted that while the grand jury report references 32 Pittsburgh priests, during the seven decades the report covers, "about 1,800 or so diocesan priests served the people of Pittsburgh in their parishes and schools."

In that time, he added, "more than 5,000 priests served across the commonwealth of Pennsylvania in that same time frame."

"Between 1988 and 2006, how the church -- and society as a whole -- dealt with the scourge of child sex abuse evolved: mandatory reporting and adjudication of such claims, for example," he added. "But what never changed was my commitment to the survivors of the abuse and their families."

He said to the priests that he expected the report would be critical "of some of my actions" in Pittsburgh, but he said he also believes "the report also confirms that I acted with diligence, with concern for the survivors and to prevent future acts of abuse."

"I sincerely hope that a just assessment of my actions, past and present, and my continuing commitment to the protection of children will dispel any notions otherwise made by this report," Cardinal Wuerl said.

He urged prayers for anyone harmed by clergy, adding, "Our commitment to addressing this scourge and supporting survivors, and encouraging survivors to come forward for assistance and to seek justice must not waver."

"The Catholic Church can never express enough our deep sorrow and contrition for the abuses of the past, and we are now in the midst of a new era where our communal bonds of trust are once again being tested by the sin of abuse," he added.

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Follow Asher on Twitter: @jlasher

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 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

Pennsylvania grand jury says church was interested in hiding abuse

Top Stories - Tue, 08/14/2018 - 4:42pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tim Shaffer, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A Pennsylvania grand jury report issued Aug. 14 paints a picture of a Catholic Church in six of the state's dioceses that for decades handled claims of sex abuse of minors under its care by hiding the allegations and its victims.

More than 300 priests were linked to abuse claims and over 1,000 victims were identified, said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro in a news conference following the report's release.

"The main thing was not to help children but to avoid 'scandal,'" says a biting sentence about the behavior of church leaders and officials in the report, detailing a months-long investigation of clergy sex abuse claims in the dioceses of Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Allentown, Scranton, Greensburg and Erie.

The report covers a period of 70 years, looking at the past and including information from the early 2000s, a time when news of the clerical sex abuse scandal erupted in the U.S. Before its release, some urged that the report be read keeping in mind that a lot has changed in the church since then, and also that not all of the report's claims are substantiated.

In the Diocese of Pittsburgh, for example, a few priests named in the report are still working there, Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik told local reporters in an Aug. 10 news conference, because, he said, church officials could not substantiate claims of abuse made against them.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper reported that Bishop Zubik said: "There is no priest or deacon in an assignment today against whom there was a substantiated allegation of child sexual abuse." He said he would explain the process of parishioners following the report's release.

But there are many painful claims.

In the news conference, Shapiro described allegations of a priest who physically molested a group of children by telling them he was doing a "cancer check," one who he said "impregnated" a girl, and others who had boys strike a religious pose naked to take pictures of them. He spoke of a "systematic cover-up" by church officials who took information to the Vatican, who also did nothing to help victims, Shapiro said. He also spoke of priests who "weaponized faith" and had the victims go to confession for the sins, even as they were being victimized.

"I read the grand jury report on child sexual abuse with great sadness, for once again we read that innocent children were the victims of horrific acts committed against them," said Harrisburg Bishop Ronald. W. Gainer shortly after the document's release. "I am saddened because I know that behind every story is a child precious in God's sight; a child who has been wounded by the sins of those who should have known better."

The grand jury said it found in its investigation that those who claimed sexual abuse of their children by Catholic clergy or other church workers were "brushed aside," and officials became more concerned with protecting the abusers because they wanted to protect the image of the church, the report says.

Some of those named in the report had their names redacted, or blacked out, after challenging the inclusion of their identities in it without having the legal opportunity to defend themselves. They are scheduled to have a hearing with the court in September.

Some of the dioceses involved said they would release the names of those facing "credible allegations" in the report when the document was made public and some of them did so, following the news conference.  

Some, such as the Diocese of Harrisburg, made its list public Aug. 1, updating it on Aug. 6, adding the name of an accused priest to it after receiving "additional information." Its list included 72 names.

"We again emphasize that this is a list of accusations; we did not make assessments of credibility or guilt in creating this list," a statement from the diocese said.

Not all who are accused of sexual abuse or of covering it up in the report are priests. Some on the lists released by dioceses are deacons, some are seminarians, teachers or other church workers, and some are no longer alive. Some are accused of being in possession of child pornography, others of inappropriate touching, kissing, soliciting a child for sex, but most are listed as "sexually abusing a child."

The development comes as the Catholic Church in the United States finds itself grappling with the late July resignation from the College of Cardinals of a beloved and respected retired prelate, now-Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, 88, a former cardinal and former archbishop of Washington, following decades-old allegations that he sexually abused seminarians and at least two minors. He has been removed from public ministry, as of June 20, and is awaiting a Vatican trial.


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Bishops 'shamed' by 'sins, omissions' of priests, bishops leading to abuse

Top Stories - Tue, 08/14/2018 - 3:33pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy of the dioceses


WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. bishops as "are shamed by and sorry for the sins and omissions by Catholic priests and Catholic bishops" that have led to sexual abuse and caused great harm to many, said an Aug. 14 statement from the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the chairman of its child protection committee.

"We are committed to work in determined ways so that such abuse cannot happen," said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, the president, and Bishop Timothy L. Doherty of Lafayette, Indiana, chairman of the Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People.

They pledged "to maintain transparency" and provide for "the permanent removal of offenders from ministry and to maintain safe environments for everyone."

Cardinal DiNardo also said he is hosting a series of meetings during the week to respond to "the broader issue of safe environments within the church," and will provide an update when the meetings are concluded.

The prelates' joint statement was issued in response to the release the same day of a grand jury report based on a months-long investigation by the state's attorney general into sexual abuse claims in six Pennsylvania dioceses -- Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Allentown, Scranton, Erie and Greensburg.

The report covers a span of over 70 years. Many of the claims go back decades.

"(The report) again illustrates the pain of those who have been victims of the crime of sexual abuse by individual members of our clergy, and by those who shielded abusers and so facilitated an evil that continued for years or even decades," said Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop Doherty.

"We are grateful for the courage of the people who aided the investigation by sharing their personal stories of abuse," they said. "As a body of bishops, we are shamed by and sorry for the sins and omissions by Catholic priests and Catholic bishops."

They added, "We are profoundly saddened each time we hear about the harm caused as a result of abuse, at the hands of a clergyman of any rank."

Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop Doherty said the USCCB committee headed by the Indiana bishop and the USCCB Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection at the bishops' conference in Washington "will continue to offer avenues to healing for those who have been abused. We are committed to work in determined ways so that such abuse cannot happen."

In 2002, the bishops adopted the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," which, they said, "commits us to respond promptly and compassionately to victims, report the abuse of minors, remove offenders and take ongoing action to prevent abuse." The charter was revised and updated in 2011 and again in 2018.

"We pledge to maintain transparency and to provide for the permanent removal of offenders from ministry and to maintain safe environments for everyone," the two prelates said. "All policies and procedures regarding training and background check requirements are made publicly available by dioceses and eparchies."

"We pray that all survivors of sexual abuse find healing, comfort and strength in God's loving presence as the church pledges to continue to restore trust through accompaniment, communion, accountability and justice."

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Editor's note: The full statement from Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop Doherty can be found at

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Abuse in Ireland: Pressure mounts for pope to address scandal

Top Stories - Tue, 08/14/2018 - 10:10am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis is traveling to Ireland specifically for the World Meeting of Families, but the sex abuse crisis is dominating headlines before his Aug. 25-26 trip.

While coverage of clerical abuse in the United States, Chile and Australia continues, Irish news media have been filled with articles about how a top Vatican official allegedly tried to get Irish government officials to support deals that would protect church records of abuse allegations and limit the financial liability of the church.

Former Irish President Mary McAleese said Cardinal Angelo Sodano, then the Vatican secretary of state, approached her in November 2003 about an agreement or concordat to protect church records, and Dermot Ahern, Ireland's former foreign minister, said Cardinal Sodano asked him in November 2004 about the Irish government indemnifying the church against court-ordered compensation for victims. Many of the institutions where the abuse took place were supported by the state or subject to state inspection.

Cardinal Sodano, the now 90-year-old dean of the College of Cardinals, has not responded to the claims, nor has the Vatican press office.

Writing Aug. 7 in the Irish Times, Marie Collins, who had been one of the abuse survivors Pope Francis named to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, said that in Dublin the pope "should admit the responsibility the Vatican and church leadership hold for past events in Ireland and set out how he is going to deal with the abuses happening today in other parts of the Catholic world."

"He needs to do more than make promises," Collins wrote. "He must commit to action."

U.S. Dominican Father Thomas Doyle, who has spent decades working with survivors of clerical sexual abuse, told the Irish radio RTE Aug. 13 he hoped Pope Francis would have the courage to admit publicly that the Vatican itself was involved in covering up abuse crimes.

"I believe that kind of a statement coming from him is absolutely necessary because the day is long gone when people will tolerate them saying, 'Well, we're sorry for the pain you suffered, for the mistakes that were made.' No," he said, "it wasn't mistakes. It was an intentional program, an intentional, systemic program" to protect the church above all else.

Officials chose to "sacrifice the thousands of victims for the image and the welfare and the power of the institution," Father Doyle said. "The apology has to come from the top."

A meeting with Irish survivors of abuse is not on the pope's official schedule, but in the past, such meetings were announced only after they had taken place.

Irish newspapers reported Aug. 1 that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin said he was certain Pope Francis would speak of the abuse scandal, but he was not sure that the pope would have time to meet with survivors given that he would be in Ireland only 36 hours.

Collins told RTE the next day Vatican officials "are delusional" if they believe not meeting survivors would keep the topic of abuse out of the news while the pope is in Dublin. "Ignoring an issue is not going to make it go away."

What the pope "needs to do, particularly now as the flood gates are opening around the world," she said, is to state clearly "what he is going to do about this crisis in the church. At the moment it is not being addressed."

A session on "safeguarding children and vulnerable adults" is scheduled for the World Meeting of Families' pastoral congress Aug. 24, the day before the pope arrives. It will be moderated by Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston, president of the pontifical commission, and Collins is scheduled to be one of the presenters.

The magnitude of abuse inflicted by Catholic priests, religious brothers and women religious in Ireland is staggering.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, the church in Ireland was rocked by a series of very public revelations about sexual abuse and, particularly, about how the abuse and allegations of it were mishandled by senior church leaders. The abuse included thousands of cases of sexual and physical abuse in Catholic residential schools and care facilities, including the so-called Magdalene laundries where young women were sent for having children out of wedlock or being suspected of sexual promiscuity.

A series of judicial reports detailed a pattern of cover-up and a tendency to put the avoidance of scandal and the reputation of the church ahead of the needs of those who were abused. Four Irish bishops resigned after being criticized for their handling of abuse allegations.

One of the judicial reports, released in 2009, focused on the Archdiocese of Dublin in the years 1975-2004. An independent Commission of Investigation, headed by Judge Yvonne Murphy, looked at the handling of some 325 abuse claims in the archdiocese over that 30-year period.

The report concluded that during those years, rather than being concerned about the victims, Catholic leaders were more interested in "the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the church and the preservation of its assets."

In 2010, then-Pope Benedict XVI wrote a letter to the people of Ireland and addressed survivors directly: "You have suffered grievously, and I am truly sorry. I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated. Many of you found that, when you were courageous enough to speak of what happened to you, no one would listen."

Pope Benedict also ordered an apostolic visitation of Ireland's four archdioceses, its seminaries and its religious orders and put U.S. Archbishop Charles J. Brown, a longtime official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in charge of the nunciature in Ireland. The move came after the previous nuncio, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, was recalled in 2011 after an independent judicial report accused the Holy See of being "entirely unhelpful" to Irish bishops trying to deal with abuse.

In July 2014, Pope Francis held his first meeting as pope with survivors, including two from Ireland. They were accompanied by Collins, who was then serving on the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. Collins resigned from the commission in March 2017, saying some Vatican offices were blocking the implementation of recommendations made by the commission.

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden

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Abuse letter to Cardinal O'Malley was second priest sent officials

Top Stories - Mon, 08/13/2018 - 6:12pm

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a June 2015 letter to Boston's Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley obtained by Catholic News Service, a New York priest tells the prelate about "sexual abuse/harassment/intimidation" allegations he had heard concerning then-Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick and asks that if the matter doesn't fall under his purview, to forward it to the "proper agency in the Vatican."

The letter "has taken me years to write and send," writes Father Boniface Ramsey, pastor of St. Joseph's Church Yorkville in New York City, who made the letter available to CNS in early August. But it was the second time he had attempted to tell church officials in writing.

In it, he describes for Cardinal O'Malley conversations with the rector of a seminary in New Jersey about trips then-Archbishop McCarrick, as head of the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, would take with seminarians to a beach house.

During the time period he mentions in the letter, 1986 to 1996, he says he was teaching at Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. He writes of the accounts he'd heard of Archbishop McCarrick's repeated trips to a New Jersey beach house where, after too many seminarians were invited for too few beds, "the extra seminarian was then told that he could share the archbishop's bed."

"Some of these stories were not presented to me as mere rumors but were told me by persons directly involved," he wrote.

In an Aug. 13 phone interview with CNS, Father Ramsey said he didn't know any sexual acts were taking place, "but I thought his (McCarrick's) behavior was extremely inappropriate at the least." He said he was careful about what he wrote in the letter to Cardinal O'Malley because he didn't want to be spreading rumors he'd heard, but he had concerns about the bed-sharing after hearing that it weighed on one of his friends who was tasked with finding seminarians for the archbishop's beach visits.

"I'd never heard of any adult who had sex with McCarrick," he said, but felt the constant bed sharing he'd often heard about was "something he shouldn't have been doing."

The letter dated June 17, 2015, was sent just shortly after the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, headed by Cardinal O'Malley, received its statutes in May 2015. Father Ramsey said he sent it then because he had heard of the formation of the commission and had recently been at the funeral for New York Cardinal Edward M. Egan, who died in March 2015, and saw Cardinal McCarrick there. At that point the prelate was archbishop of Washington.

"I was angry," Father Ramsey told Catholic News Service. "I said 'this guy is still out and about.'"

Father Ramsey said it made him "upset" to see that Cardinal McCarrick, after "this long history which so many people knew about, he could continue to show his face."

He had written a letter about his concerns more than a decade before, in 2000, and it didn't seem to go anywhere, but his new motivation came about when he saw Cardinal McCarrick and "wanted this stuff to stop with the seminarians," he said in the interview. So, he sat down to write a letter - again.

"The matter does not have to do with the abuse of minors, but it does have to do with a form of sexual abuse/harassment/intimidation or maybe simply high-jinks as practiced by Theodore Cardinal McCarrick with his seminarians and perhaps other young men when he was the Archbishop of Newark," writes Father Ramsey to Cardinal O'Malley.

In a July statement, Cardinal O'Malley said he did not "personally" receive the letter but the statement said "at the staff level the letter was reviewed and determined that the matters presented did not fall under the purview of the Commission or the Archdiocese of Boston..." However, the response from the cardinal's office did not say whether it had been forwarded to the proper agency, as Father Ramsey had requested.

In the letter to Cardinal O'Malley, Father Ramsey says that he had in the past told Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly of Louisville, who died in December 2011, about his concerns. Archbishop Kelly told him that "stories about Archbishop McCarrick had been circulating among the American bishops," the letter says, and that Archbishop Kelly mentioned to him a story involving a flight attendant.

In the interview with CNS, Father Ramsey said the story was about a male flight attendant whom Archbishop McCarrick "picked up" on a flight, telling him that perhaps he had a vocation, and ended up enrolling him in a seminary, but there seemed to be reasons other than religious for wanting him there. The flight-attendant-turned seminarian was later kicked out of the seminary.  

Father Ramsey writes in the letter that after Archbishop McCarrick was appointed to the Archdiocese of Washington in 2000, he tried to speak to the apostolic nuncio in Washington, who was then Gabriel Montalvo Higuera, about what he knew. The nuncio told him to write him a letter, which Father Ramsey said he sent. He told a priest friend about the letter and that friend tried to dissuade him from sending it, telling him it could hurt him.

"I never received any acknowledgement, although I have certain knowledge that the letter was received, and that the information was forwarded to somewhere in the Vatican," he wrote Cardinal O'Malley.

The writing of the letter didn't seem to hurt Father Ramsey, as his friend had feared. But its revelations also didn't seem to hurt Archbishop McCarrick.

"I found it shocking at the time that Archbishop McCarrick was ever advanced to the Archdiocese of Washington, since I have little doubt that many persons in the Vatican were aware of his proclivities before he was named," he wrote in the letter to Cardinal O'Malley. "And then, of course, on to the cardinalate, which was to be expected for the Archbishop of Washington, but still distressing."

Mentioning cases of high-ranking officials disgraced because of sexual misbehavior, he said in the letter that "it seems bizarre to me that Cardinal McCarrick is out and about, a conspicuous presence at religious (including papal) events, being interviewed, giving speeches, serving on committees and the like. Was not what he did at the very least highly questionable? Was it not taking advantage of young men who did not know how to say no to their archbishop? Has it not, for the many laity and clergy who were aware of his actions, contributed to cynicism about the church and the hierarchy?"

Father Ramsey said he did not keep a letter of the one sent in 2000 to the nuncio, but in between the first and the second letter he sent, he said tried to speak with others, including Cardinal Egan, about stopping then- Archbishop McCarrick.

"He (Cardinal Egan) didn't want to hear about it," Father Ramsey said to CNS.

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Paul Haring, senior photographer at the CNS bureau in Rome, contributed to this story.

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Discalced Carmelites use time-honored skills to construct new monastery

Top Stories - Mon, 08/13/2018 - 2:30pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness

By Jen Reed

FAIRFIELD, Pa. (CNS) -- The grinding sounds of an excavation and construction site yielded to the intonation of a solemn pontifical Mass and prayers for the future on a vista in Fairfield July 25, where construction is underway for a second monastery for the Discalced Carmelite nuns in the Harrisburg Diocese.

A little more than two years ago -- on June 13, 2016 -- Mother Stella-Marie, prioress, stood at this same site gazing at the grassy and tree-lined farmland overlooking southern Adams County, and expressed her trust in the Lord that "one day we will see here a beautiful monastery that is dedicated to the glory of God."

While the building materials for the cloistered monastery are still being prepared for construction -- namely, the excavation of stone from the land on which it will stand -- the early development of its farmstead can already be seen.

True to Carmelite tradition and architecture in the footsteps of their foundress, St. Teresa of Avila, the nuns are creating a type of settlement that will include a chapel, a novitiate, a building for the professed, an infirmary, a guest cottage chaplain's quarters, walkways, gardens and a small farm.

Harrisburg Bishop Ronald W. Gainer celebrated the July 25 Mass in the carmel's newly constructed barn that will serve as a temporary chapel until the permanent stone chapel is built. The new barn also includes a kitchen, refectory, choir, an area where people can leave prayer requests, donations and food, and a speak room that allows the nuns to receive limited visits from behind a grille.

Nine Discalced Carmelites, including Mother Stella-Marie, moved from the at-capacity Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Elysburg to the Fairfield site July 20. They will sleep in their individual cells in a temporary mobile home until the monastery is built.

This community of Discalced Carmelites first came to the Diocese of Harrisburg from Lincoln, Nebraska, in 2009, due to their growing numbers. Initially 11 arrived at the Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Elysburg, after the previous Carmelites moved to their current location in Danville.

Since their arrival in Elysburg, their numbers have more than doubled, with the monastery there filling to capacity with 28 nuns. Among them was Sister Mary Magdalene of the Divine Heart (formerly Channing Dale of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Lancaster), who entered in 2013, and is currently enclosed in the Discalced Carmelite community in Philadelphia.

The Carmelites continue to attract young women to the congregation, and so the available farmland in Fairfield -- owned by the parents of Mother Therese -- offered an opportunity for expansion from Elysburg.

Like St. Teresa of Avila and St. Therese of Lisieux, the Discalced Carmelites practice the traditional aspects of Carmelite and monastic life -- prayer, fasting, enclosure and union with God.

Entering the cloister from locations throughout the world -- including Australia and Ghana -- they dedicate their lives to prayer and sacrifice to give themselves totally to God for the world. 

Enclosed in the monastery, and leaving behind family and friends, they spend their days in scheduled times of silent prayer, the Divine Office, holy Mass, recitation of the rosary and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. They also have time for work in making clothes, baking bread, and tending to the garden and farm; and recreational time for sewing, artwork and storytelling.

"I think young women are drawn to what is authentic," Mother Stella-Marie said of the growing number of vocations to the community. "They are looking to live in our day and age exactly as St. Teresa of Avila did. They want to be enclosed because they want to give everything. Most of the women tell us that if they are going to dedicate their life to God, they want to go all the way and give absolutely everything to him."

For this reason, it is critical that the new monastery in Fairfield be built in the Carmelite tradition, said Mother Therese.

Watching as excavators wrenched stone from the land for construction, she told The Catholic Witness, Harrisburg's diocesan newspaper, earlier this summer, "People expect us to be real nuns, all the way through. They don't want to see a nice veneer on the outside, but then something different inside.

"We have a lot of young vocations coming. We need to be able to teach them not just one or two hours a day about tradition. They need to learn 24/7 from these stone walls, which are authentic all the way through," she said.

The blueprints for the monastery farmstead illustrate buildings designed to stand the test of time: a chapel, a refectory, a novitiate, a building for the professed, a caretaker's home, chaplain's quarters and a guest cottage.

Their construction requires authentic materials and craftsmanship as the Carmelites build for future generations of their congregation.

Throughout the project's development, the nuns have continued to be the beneficiaries of generous donors and volunteers who have offered their time, talent and treasure.

They include stonemasons and timber framers, among them a mason from Scotland who instructed local volunteers in the craft, notably a "dry build" of the all-stone woodshed.

Benefactors have donated barn wood and stone that will be used to construct the buildings. Volunteers have spent time deep-cleaning the donated wooden beams. Others have been providing meals for the workers. Still others have helped with the build, including men of the local Amish community.

"It has been a beautiful way for us to evangelize and to connect with people we otherwise would not have contact with," said Mother Therese. "We are hoping to continue to build on these connections and find ways to channel them into lasting relationships."

As Mother Stella-Marie and Mother Therese walked the new grounds in Fairfield, they also spoke of long-fostered relationships with family and within the community, and how they change with time.

The nuns are experiencing a degree of separation in their community as this new chapter begins. Nine of the total 28 from the monastery in Elysburg are now forging a new foundation in Fairfield, and parted ways from their counterparts who remain enclosed some two hours to the north.

"It is a sacrifice to break away from each other, but it is a sacrifice that we make for the future of the congregation," said Mother Stella-Marie. "We will stay united. Even though we won't see each other any longer, we will remain close in prayer."

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Editor's Note: Information about the Discalced Carmelite nuns, the progress of the monastery in Fairfield and volunteer efforts can be found at

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Reed is the managing editor of The Catholic Witness, newspaper of the Diocese of Harrisburg.

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Fight scandal by giving witness to the Gospel, pope tells young people

Top Stories - Sat, 08/11/2018 - 4:09pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) -- Members of the Catholic Church sin and give scandal, it's true, Pope Francis said, but it is up to each Catholic to live the faith as authentically as possible and witness to the world the love of Jesus.

"The best way to respond is with witness," the pope said Aug. 11 in response to a young man who said, "The useless pomp and frequent scandals have made the church barely credible in our eyes."

Pope Francis spoke about witness, dreams and true love during an evening meeting with some 70,000 young adults, aged 16 to 30, gathered at Rome's Circus Maximus at the end of a pilgrimage. Most of them had walked at least 50 miles over the previous three or four days. Representatives came from 195 of Italy's 226 dioceses, and 150 bishops walked at least part of the way with groups from their dioceses.

The young people began congregating at the dusty site of the ancient Roman stadium early in the afternoon when temperatures were already in the 90s. They gathered together on the shady slopes of the field, under the loudspeaker towers and even set up their pup tents seeking relief from the bright sun.

Five young people were chosen to share their stories with the crowd and ask Pope Francis questions. They asked his advice about keeping their dreams alive when the future seems so uncertain, how to prepare to marry and start a family and how to get church leaders to listen to them rather than preach at them.

"He put his finger in the wound," the pope said in reference to the last question, which was posed by Dario, a 27-year-old hospice nurse. He told the pope, "For young people, commands from on high are no longer enough, we need signs and the sincere witness of a church that accompanies us and listens to the doubts our generation raises each day."

Dario's judgment of the church's pastors is "strong," the pope said, and it is true that "sometimes we are the ones who betray the Gospel."

But Pope Francis also told the young people they need to recognize that they, too, are part of the church. Thinking only religious, priests and bishops are the church is "clericalism" and "clericalism is a perversion of the church," he said.

The best way to respond to a stuffy, lifeless church or to church scandals, the pope told them, "is with witness. If there is no witness, there is no Holy Spirit. The church without witness is just smoke."

Letizia, 23, told the pope she wanted to be an art historian, but was advised to study economy because it would pay better. Lucamatteo, 20, told the pope dreaming big dreams is frightening, and Martina, 24, said she wants to start preparing for marriage and a family, but everyone seems to think it's more important to have a career first.

"Dreams are important," the pope told them. "And the dreams of the young are the most important of all; they are the brightest stars, those that indicate a different path for humanity."

Of course, he said, dreams must grow, be put to the test and purified. Those worth pursuing -- those the Bible would call "great dreams" -- always are those that will help others and make the world a better place. "Great dreams include, involve others, reach out, share and generate new life."

One of the greatest dreams of all, he said, is the dream of finding true love, pledging oneself to another for life and creating a family. It is so important and so holy, he said, that it should never take second place to one's career.

True love is not simply infatuation, the pope told the young people. It involves giving all of oneself to another; "you have to put all the meat on the grill, as we say in Argentina."

"To choose, to be able to decide for oneself seems to be the highest expression of freedom," he said. "And in a certain sense, it is. But the idea of choice we breathe today is that of a freedom without bonds -- pay attention to this -- without bonds, without commitment and always with some kind of escape route."

But true joy and happiness come from finding what is most precious, what "is worth saying 'yes' to and giving your life to," the pope said.

The evening ended with a prayer service and the reading of the Gospel story of the apostles running to Jesus' tomb after Mary Magdalene told them Jesus was no longer there. John arrived first, but waited for Peter before going in, the pope noted in his homily.

Young people should run with the same passion for Jesus, Pope Francis said. "The church needs your enthusiasm, your intuitions, your faith. And when you arrive where we have not yet been, have the patience to wait for us like John waited for Peter before the empty tomb."

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Cardinal O'Malley calls for investigation at Boston seminary

Top Stories - Fri, 08/10/2018 - 5:27pm

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Archbishop of Boston said in an Aug. 10 statement that he has asked the rector of its main archdiocesan St. John Seminary to go on sabbatical leave immediately and is asking for an investigation of allegations made on social media about activities there "directly contrary to the moral standards and requirements of formation for the Catholic priesthood."

"At this time, I am not able to verify or disprove these allegations," said Boston Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley in a statement sent to media via email. He does not say in the statement what the allegations are about.

However, a post on the community section of a Facebook page for the Archdiocese of Boston has a comment by someone named Andrew Solkshinitz? with a link to a blog post that describes seminarians at "conservative seminary" drinking heavily, "cuddling" after a drunken party, and being involved in sexual behaviors and acts. Solkshinitz says on Facebook that the seminary not identified in the blog post is St. John.

"As a former Boston seminarian for 3 years I am calling upon the church to seriously examine the seminary located on Lake street," Solkshinitz writes in the post he made on the page. "The church has not learned her lesson and maybe if the stories are once again made public then things will finally change."

In a statement released by the archdiocese, Cardinal O'Malley said that Father Stephen E. Salocks, professor of sacred Scripture, will serve as interim rector at St. John Seminary as Msgr. James P. Moroney, its rector, goes on sabbatical leave for the fall semester, "in order that there can be a fully independent inquiry regarding these matters," he wrote.  

Cardinal O'Malley said he also has appointed a group "to oversee an inquiry into the allegations made this week, the culture of the seminary regarding the personal standards expected and required of candidates for the priesthood, and any seminary issues of sexual harassment or other forms of intimidation or discrimination."

He said he has asked the group to submit its findings as soon as possible.

"The allegations made this week are a source of serious concern to me as archbishop of Boston," he wrote. "The ministry of the Catholic priesthood requires a foundation of trust with the people of the church and the wider community in which our priests serve. I am determined that all our seminaries meet that standard of trust and provide the formation necessary for priests to live a demanding vocation of service in our contemporary society. "

Cardinal O'Malley is one of Pope Francis' chief advisers on clerical sexual abuse and heads the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Boston was the epicenter of the abuse scandal that erupted in the church in 2002. The Boston Archdiocese was then headed by Cardinal Bernard F. Law.

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Bishops, faith leaders condemn Tennessee's first execution in nine years

Top Stories - Fri, 08/10/2018 - 5:00pm

By Theresa Laurence

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) -- Two Tennessee Catholic bishops called the execution of Billy Ray Irick Aug. 9 "unnecessary."

"Tonight's execution of Billy Ray Irick was unnecessary. It served no useful purpose," Bishop J. Mark Spalding of Nashville and Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville said in a statement after Irick was executed at Riverbend Maximum Security Institute in Nashville.

"In this time of sadness, that began many years ago with the tragic and brutal death of Paula Dyer and continues with another death tonight, we believe that only Jesus Christ can bring consolation and peace," the bishops said. "We continue to pray for Paula and for her family. And we also pray for Billy Ray Irick, that his final human thoughts were of remorse and sorrow for we believe that only Christ can serve justice. "

They also said they prayed that the people of Tennessee "may all come to cherish the dignity that his love instills in every person -- at every stage of life."

Irick, 59, died at 7:48 p.m. CDT after Tennessee prison officials administered a lethal combination of chemicals. According to press reports, before he died Irick was coughing, choking and gasping for air and his face turned dark purple as the lethal drugs took effect.

He was the first person executed in Tennessee since 2009 and the first person executed in the United States since Pope Francis announced Aug. 2 that he had ordered a change in the Catechism of the Catholic Church declaring that the death penalty is inadmissible in all cases.

Irick was convicted in 1986 for the murder and rape of 7-year-old Paula Dyer of Knoxville and had been on death row ever since.

Attorneys for Irick had filed a last-minute appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court seeking a stay of his execution until their lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Tennessee's lethal injection protocol could be heard by the state Court of Appeals.

Five hours before the execution, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal, with a dissent filed by Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

"In refusing to grant Irick a stay, the court today turns a blind eye to a proven likelihood that the state of Tennessee is on the verge of inflicting several minutes of torturous pain on an inmate in its custody, while shrouding his suffering behind a veneer of paralysis," Sotomayor wrote in her dissent.

On a humid night at sunset, spiritual leaders led prayers and read Scripture to the group. Others who knew Irick from visiting him on death row shared memories about him.

"Being in that physical proximity, knowing that behind all the concrete walls and barbed wire a killing is going on is a very sobering thing," said Deacon James Booth, director of prison ministry for the Diocese of Nashville, who stood outside the prison with a group of about 20 fellow anti-death penalty activists as Irick was executed.

Before the execution, Deacon Booth was planning how he would minister to death-row inmates in the coming days. "I will let them speak," he said, to say whatever they want in order to process the emotions and the grief they might feel, akin to losing a family member.

While the men on death row are guilty of horrific crimes including rape and murder, Deacon Booth believes, and the Catholic Church teaches, that they still retain their human dignity and capacity for forgiveness and redemption.

Tennessee's bishops, in the weeks before the execution, issued two statements calling for the end of the death penalty and condemning Irick's execution.

Bishops Spalding, Stika and Martin D. Holley of Memphis also wrote a letter to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam in July, urging him to halt Irick's execution and the three other executions scheduled before the end of the year.

Irick's execution had been stayed twice before, in 2010 and 2014, as attorneys argued the state's lethal injection protocol constituted "cruel and unusual punishment" and that Irick's history of severe mental illness was not taken into adequate consideration during his sentencing or throughout the lengthy appeals process.

The timing of the execution, just one week after Pope Francis announced that he was officially changing the Catechism to oppose capital punishment in all instances, is disheartening to Deacon Booth.

"When the head of the largest Christian denomination in the world speaks out forcefully against the death penalty ' that should be kind of a force that should stay the hand of revenge, and it's hard to see this as anything but revenge," Deacon Booth said of Irick's execution. 

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Laurence is a staff writer for the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.

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Canon lawyers explain how Vatican abuse trials function

Top Stories - Fri, 08/10/2018 - 1:37pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Any member of the clergy accused of the sexual abuse of a minor is tried according to procedures outlined in the Code of Canon Law and specific norms spelled out in "Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela" ("Safeguarding the Sanctity of the Sacraments").

Normally those trials take place in the diocese where the crime occurred, but under the direction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. However, when the accused is a bishop, it is up to the pope to determine the way to proceed.

When the Vatican press office announced July 28 that Pope Francis had accepted Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick's resignation from the College of Cardinals, it also said the pope "ordered his suspension from the exercise of any public ministry, together with the obligation to remain in a house yet to be indicated to him, for a life of prayer and penance until the accusations made against him are examined in a regular canonical trial."

The "regular canonical trial" for an accused bishop, canon law experts said, usually would be a trial conducted by the apostolic tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. However, the phrase in the original Italian announcement referred to the "regolare processo canonico," which could be translated as "regular canonical process."

The regular process described in "Safeguarding the Sanctity of the Sacraments" includes the option of an "extrajudicial decree," an administrative process by which the accused is presented with the evidence and given an opportunity for self-defense, but there is no trial and no witnesses are called.

Two canon lawyers experienced with how the apostolic tribunals of the doctrinal congregation work spoke with Catholic News Service in Rome in early August, but requested their names not be used because they are not congregation staff members and cannot speak for the congregation.

Both lawyers said canon law also would view as a crime the sexual abuse or harassment of an adult by his superior, for example, in the case of a bishop abusing adult seminarians. The crime could be prosecuted as an "abuse of office" or as a "delict against the Sixth Commandment," which says, "You shall not commit adultery." The phrase in church law, one of them said, may sound vague, but it leaves room for prosecuting a variety of sexual crimes. And the punishment prescribed is to be commensurate with the offense.

A canonical trial at the Vatican differs in many ways from criminal trials in the United States, for example.

An apostolic tribunal of the doctrinal congregation has at least three and as many as five judges. In the past, accusations against bishops have been tried before a five-judge panel with all of the judges being bishops.

In canon law, there is a basic presumption of innocence but not to the extent seen in U.S. or British law. The accused has the right to defend himself and the right to counsel. But the promoter of justice, a role similar to prosecutor, does not have to prove motive, means or criminal intent.

Also unlike U.S. trials, the prosecutor and defense counsel do not question the witnesses. That is the task of the judges.

Both the prosecutor and the defense counsel propose a list of witnesses, but the judges must approve them. The judges have access to the report of the preliminary, diocesan investigation and are likely to use that to determine which witnesses are essential.

The accused can testify and can refuse to answer questions that might incriminate him. Also, in accordance with canon 1728.2, no oath is administered to the accused. One of the canon lawyers told CNS that the oath is so sacred to the church that it would not risk putting a person in the position of violating it with perjury.

The promoter of justice and the defense counsel are given copies of all the testimony, and it is their duty to summarize it and present the summary to the judges. Each lawyer sees the other's summary and comments on it, pointing out where they see weaknesses or inconsistencies in the testimony. The comment process can go back and forth several times, but when the promoter of justice says he is finished, the defense counsel is given the last word.

The judges deliberate in private, usually at the Vatican. Three verdicts are possible: guilty, not guilty or not proven. The last indicates that while there is no condemnation or penalty, the accusations raised enough questions that church officials should be cautious in the future about assigning the accused to unsupervised ministries with minors or vulnerable adults.

In a canonical trial, everything is covered by confidentiality, usually referred to as "pontifical secret." The phrase does not indicate a refusal on the church's part to report a crime to the police -- in accordance with local laws, such reporting already should have occurred when the crime was first reported to the diocese before the allegations were forwarded to Rome, one of the canonists told CNS.

If there is a guilty verdict and the penalty involves the accused being removed from ministry or from office or having limits placed on ministry, it is announced publicly because it impacts the Catholic community.

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Archbishop Gregory: Weary of 'cloud of shame' shrouding church leaders

Top Stories - Thu, 08/09/2018 - 1:50pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller


ATLANTA (CNS) -- Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory issued a print and video statement Aug. 9 on the website of The Georgia Bulletin, archdiocesan newspaper, expressing his "profound anger, sadness and distress concerning sexual abuse by church leaders of children, young people and those over whom they exercised authority."

"My anger and disappointment, shared by Catholics and others, are only heightened by the reality that leaders who have engaged in or neglected to protect others from such damaging and deviant behavior have for many years failed to be held accountable -- and have even risen in leadership positions," he said. "We must do better -- for the sake of all victims and survivors of sexual abuse and for the sake of everyone whom we serve."

Archbishop Gregory said Catholics everywhere, including him, "are stunned and justifiably angry at shameful, unrelenting recent revelations of bishops accused of abuse or mishandling allegations of abuse -- behavior that offends and scandalizes the people of God entrusted to our care."

He said Catholics are specifically "enraged" about allegations of abuse by Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick and find "any pastoral negligence in protecting our people is similarly grievous."

"We are weary of this cloud of shame that continues to shroud church leadership and compromise our mission," he said, adding that he is "personally disheartened" because in 2002, as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, he made assurances that this crisis was over and would not be repeated.

"I sincerely believed that the unprecedented steps we took at that time would help to heal this wound in the body of Christ. And so they have, " he added, "though obviously not completely or even sufficiently."

The archbishop said he was saddened because many good priests are again "seen as suspect not because they have done anything wrong" and he was hurt that his respect and fraternal esteem for Archbishop McCarrick "were clearly misplaced."

He said he never personally worked with Archbishop McCarrick in any pastoral context and said he also "never knew or suspected the hidden side of a man whose admired public persona concealed that of a violator of foundational Christian morality and of young people who trusted him."

"Like any individual who discovers far too late that a friend has a history of moral misconduct, I now stand dumbfounded that I was so unaware and naive," he said, adding that he knows many other bishops feel the same way.

"People are angry, as well they should be, that our church is once again viewed as a haven for criminal deviant behavior," he said, adding that priests also are hurt and Catholics are disappointed with bishops in general "who seemingly cannot or will not act decisively to heal this festering wound."

Catholics are "perplexed and sickened," he said, "that the Holy See may well have dismissed multiple warning signs" that should have stopped Archbishop McCarrick and others earlier in their careers. He also said Catholics are disheartened that situations here and in other countries continue to "call into question everything the church has done to safeguard children and adults from manipulation and violation."

Archbishop Gregory said he recently met with archdiocesan seminarians and told them directly "that if any person in any context made advances or exhibited behavior that made them feel uncomfortable or threatened, they are to notify the director of vocations, one of the auxiliary bishops or me personally so that we may take swift and appropriate action -- pastoral and legal.

"Their parents and family members should know that these young men are in safe and respectful environments and that, as their archbishop, I will not tolerate any activity that threatens to harm or intimidate them."

He said that while the USCCB's current leadership considers its next steps, he strongly urges these leaders to "engage the laity in reviewing and recommending courses of action that will assure the faithful that we are serious in curing this blight from our church and from episcopal governance once and for all."

He pointed out that when the USCCB established a national lay review board in 2002, there was some pushback because some people felt they were "improperly ceding control of the ministry of bishops" but given the current situation, he said, oversight by laity "may well provide the only credible assurance that real and decisive actions are being taken."

"Our trustworthiness as bishops has been so seriously compromised that acting alone -- even with the best of intentions and the highest principles, policies and plans --may not move the hearts of the faithful to believe," he added.

The archbishop said he prays that this moment and the days, weeks, and months ahead will be an opportunity for light to break through the darkness; for victims and survivors of sexual abuse to come forward and receive the help, support and healing they need; and for church leadership to be renewed and have the courage to take the necessary next steps.

"Like so many of you I am angry, but I am not overcome by despair. I hope and I pray that the Holy Spirit will cleanse and strengthen the church," Archbishop Gregory said. "My anger has not led me to hopelessness; I pray yours has not either. I am grateful for your witness of faith and hope, even in difficult times."

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Editor's Note: Archbishop Gregory's print and video statement can be found at

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Argentina Senate votes down abortion decriminalization bill

Top Stories - Thu, 08/09/2018 - 12:46pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Agustin Marcarian

By David Agren

MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- The Argentine Senate voted against a bill that would have decriminalized abortion during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.

Senators voted 38-31 against the measure early Aug. 9 following a 15-hour debate. The measure had been approved in June by the lower house of Congress.

The Argentine bishops' conference hailed the vote, saying the debate in the country opened an opportunity for dialogue and a chance to focus more on social ministry.

The Senate debate revealed deep divisions in Argentina, where support for decriminalizing abortion drew stronger support in Buenos Aires, the capital, than in the more conservative provinces. Observers attributed that difference to the bill being voted down in the Senate, which includes more representation from outlying areas.

The vote came as a movement of women and supporters of the measure -- wearing green handkerchiefs -- filled the streets outside the Congress as voting occurred. Catholics, meanwhile, celebrated the Eucharist.

"Everyone has time to express their viewpoints and be heard by legislators in a healthy democratic exercise. But the only ones that didn't have an opportunity de make themselves heard are the human beings that struggled to be born," Cardinal Mario Poli, Pope Francis' successor in Buenos Aires, said Aug. 8 in his homily at a what organizers called a "Mass for Life."

In an acknowledgment that the church could be doing more to work with women, Cardinal Poli said, "We have done little to accompany the women when find themselves in tough situations, particularly when the (pregnancy) has is the result of rape or situations of extreme poverty."

In a statement after the vote, the bishops' conference said it was time to address the "new divisions developing between us ... through a renewed exercise of dialogue."

"We are facing great pastoral challenges to speak more clearly on the value of life," the bishops said.

More than 75 percent of Argentines still consider themselves Catholic, but the opposition to the abortion bill also came from Protestant and evangelical congregations, prompting the bishops' conference to acknowledge that "ecumenical dialogue and inter-religious dialogue has grown at this time of joining forces to protect life."

Analysts in Argentina say church opposition to the abortion bill started somewhat quietly as the measure was not expected to pass the lower house. Pope Francis, a native of Argentina, also largely stayed on the sidelines, except for a strong denunciation of abortion in June. At the time he said, "Last century, the whole world was scandalized by what the Nazis did to purify the race. Today, we do the same thing but with white gloves."

"When the lower house result occurred, (the hierarchy) started to understand something similar could happen with the senators so the Argentine church and various movements and associations became frontally against the bill," said Jose Maria Poirier, publisher of the Catholic magazine Criterio.

"It's created tension" in the Argentine church "that the pope has not intervened directly," he added.

Argentine President Mauricio Macri had promised to sign the bill into law had it been approved. Observers said the relationship between the Catholic Church and Macri had deteriorated somewhat as the pope's statements on economic matters were not well received as president tried to implement difficult economic reforms in recent months.

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Abuse expert: Crisis is call to new vision of priesthood, accountability

Top Stories - Thu, 08/09/2018 - 8:39am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A Jesuit priest who has been on the frontline of advocating for survivors of clerical sexual abuse and developing detailed programs to prevent abuse said the crisis unfolding, again, in the United States is a summons to a new way of envisioning the church and taking responsibility for it.

"I am not surprised" by the new reports of abuse, "I do not think it will stop soon and, at the same time, I think it is necessary and should be seen in the framework of evolving a more consistent practice of accountability," said Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, a professor of psychology and president of the Center for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

"I know that people are deeply angry and they are losing their trust -- this is understandable. That is normal, humanly speaking," he told Catholic News Service Aug. 7 as newspapers were filled with information and commentary about the case of retired Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, misconduct in a Nebraska seminary and the pending release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report on clergy sexual abuse.

The courage of survivors to speak out, the investigative work of both police and church bodies, the implementation of child protection measures and improved screening of potential seminarians, church workers and volunteers mean that children and vulnerable adults are safer today.

But, as Father Zollner has been saying for years, that does not mean accusations of past abuse will stop coming out, and it does not guarantee there will never again be a case of abuse or sexual misconduct.

Dealing with the reality of potential abuse and the history of clerical sexual abuse in the church is a process, he said. "We see that people were first speaking out about the misbehavior of priests and now it's bishops, so there is a development there. I am not surprised, and I do not think it will stop soon."

After Archbishop McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals and was ordered to live a life of prayer and penance pending a church trial, many U.S. bishops began speaking publicly of devising a process to review accusations made against bishops.

Father Zollner agreed that is a good idea, but he believes it must be part of "a new way of coming together as the people of God" and taking responsibility for the church.

To make that happen, he said, "we need to honestly look at what we can learn from the way society and companies function in terms of accountability, transparency and compliance."

"A church body investigating allegations needs to have as much independence as possible," Father Zollner said. "When dealing with accusations against a bishop, there should be at least a mixed board -- meaning some bishops and some independent lay persons. If it is not possible to have a fully complete investigation by independent lay persons, there should be as many as possible and as experienced as possible. Our canon lawyers are trained in legal procedures; they are not trained in investigation."

But the response must go far beyond setting up another new structure, he said.

"Since God is the Lord of history, I understand all this as a call to a deeper understanding of what is the church about, what is priesthood about and what is the Christian life," he told CNS.

"From my point of view, the temptation can be to return to a very strict, closed-fortress idea of church, controlling everything," he said, but "that will not work anymore. We need a new model of accountability and responsibility and a new way of educating the whole people of God in Christian ideals."

The dominant understanding of priesthood and power -- described as clericalism -- is one key ingredient and was highlighted as a major contributing factor to abuse and a reluctance to report it in the December report of Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

In an essay published in January by Civilta Cattolica, the Jesuit journal, Father Zollner said, "Whoever in infancy or youth or as a candidate for priesthood learned that a priest is always blameless can easily develop the mindset that he does not need to justify himself to anyone. Anyone endowed with sacred powers can take anything he wants for himself. That kind of mentality can explain, at least in part, why some priests who have abused children or young people deny doing so or believe that they themselves were victims or merely accomplices ('he seduced me,' 'he liked it'), often making them blind to the suffering they have caused."

In addition to a renewed understanding of priesthood, Father Zollner told CNS, Catholics must reflect more fully on and articulate more clearly "what an integrated sexual life for married people, single people and clergy would look like. There is a lot to be done in that area."

Responding to comments that the clerical sexual abuse crisis is a result of the sexual revolution and the loss of sexual morals, Father Zollner urged caution and an objective study of the facts.

"The statistics from the Royal Commission report in Australia indicate that the abuse had its peak in Australia in the '50s and early '60s, which was way before the sexual revolution took place, so this goes against that argument," he said. Studies from the United States, Ireland and Germany also show that most abusers did their seminary training and were ordained before the sexual revolution.

"Among the clergy, the number of new allegations from the last 20 and especially the last 10 years has dropped almost to nil," he said.

At the same time, Father Zollner urged a renewed vigilance because of "the whole area of the internet and the availability of pornographic material and all kinds of sexual exploitation that are facilitated by that; it brings a new dimension to this and to society at large."

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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Baltimore history, culture have a place at Knights of Columbus convention

Top Stories - Wed, 08/08/2018 - 12:37pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Kevin J. Parks, Catholic Review

By Paul McMullen

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- The chalice on the center of the altar was given by the pope to the third archbishop of Baltimore nearly two centuries ago.

The local welcome crew wore vests that included the outline of a Chesapeake blue crab.

Visitors to the 136th annual Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus got both boisterous and subtle reminders of their location the morning of Aug. 7, when Archbishop William E. Lori, their supreme chaplain, was the principal celebrant for the gathering's opening Mass.

Held in a ballroom at the Baltimore Convention Center more accustomed to boat shows, the liturgy was offered against a backdrop that incorporated an image of the dome of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

It was a familiar sight to those Knights and their families, primarily from across North America but from far away as the Philippines, who might have already visited America's first cathedral, a little more than a half-mile to the north.

In his homily, Archbishop Lori mentioned those who came to Southern Maryland from England in 1634 seeking freedom from religious persecution, and the Knights' founder, Father Michael J. McGivney, who was ordained at the Baltimore Basilica in 1877.

According to the Mass program, during that ordination Cardinal James Gibbons "likely" used the aforementioned chalice, a gift from Pope Pius VII to Archbishop Ambrose Marechal in 1822, a year after the Baltimore basilica was dedicated.

"Just as the Holy Spirit guided those who went before us in faith," Archbishop Lori said, "so now the same spirit of truth and love accompanies us who seek to follow Christ as members of an order that is built on charity."

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, in remarks given later that day, reported that the order's charitable contributions in fraternal year 2017-18 totaled a record $185 million.

That figure does not include a $1 million gift presented to the Archdiocese of Baltimore Aug. 4 to go toward a project that will give Baltimore City its first new Catholic school in nearly six decades.

"Knights of Charity" is the theme of the first supreme convention in Baltimore since 1989, when the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the first diocese in the U.S., celebrated its bicentennial.

The opening Mass included 100 bishops and 200 priests. Concelebrants included Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Boston Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley, who is president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Archbishop Lori alluded to the recent demotion of Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick from the College of Cardinals and a soon-to-be-released Pennsylvania grand jury report on a months-long investigation into abuse claims in six of the state's Catholic dioceses covering a 70-year span.

"In the difficult and challenging days that are before us," he said, "may I urge you to continue working to build up and strengthen the church, especially by putting into practice the principles of charity, unity and fraternity."

Prelates with ties to Baltimore included Cardinal Edwin F. O'Brien, who was Baltimore's archbishop 2007 to 2011, who is grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre; Bishop W. Francis Malooly of Wilmington, Delaware; Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of Springfield, Massachusetts; and Baltimore Auxiliary Bishops Adam J. Parker and Mark E. Brennan.

Priests of the Baltimore Archdiocese were among the concelebrants, including Conventual Franciscan Father Donald Grzymski, president of Archbishop Curley High School and past chaplain of the Knights' Maryland State Council.

Some of that council's members were visible for their custom red nylon vests, which included the outline of a crab on the back. In lieu of blue, its color scheme was the Maryland flag.

Stephen J. Bayliff, recognitions programs chairman for the Maryland State Council, did not need a conversation-starter. As Knights took an escalator down to Mass, Bayliff greeted each and every one by name and with a hearty handshake.

Bayliff is a member of Jesus the Divine Word Council 14775 in Huntingtown. In 2000 he moved from Midland, Texas, to Southern Maryland, and soon thereafter became a Knight.

"I was recruited by Larry Donnelly," Bayliff said, of a fellow Knight involved in a signature outreach for persons with developmental disabilities. "He was selling Tootsie Rolls outside the Walmart in Prince Frederick. We hit it off."

The approximately 2,200 Knights and their wives in attendance included first-time conventioneers Bret and Courtney Ladenburger of Casper, Wyoming. A Knight since 1994, when he turned 18, Ladenburger is the state secretary for Wyoming, where the March for Life is held in Cheyenne and the Winter Special Olympics in Jackson.

"I'm enjoying the fraternity," Ladenburger told the Catholic Review, Baltimore's archdiocesan news outlet. "I'm humbled when I talk to the guys."

Larry Lewandowski, past state deputy for North Dakota, is a convention regular. His first thought when he heard the 2018 convention would be in Baltimore was Johnny Unitas, the late Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback-- and Catholic, to boot.

Having spent 25 years in the U.S. Air Force, Lewandowski likens the Knights to a military outfit.

"There's a lot of brotherhood, and lot of discipline," said Lewandowski, a member of St. Mary's Parish in Grand Forks. "That allows us to do a great deal of the Lord's work."

Lewandowski described the fellowship he found at breakfast that morning.

"Cardinal Dolan was sitting at a table near mine," Lewandowski said, of New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan. "All I saw was his collar, and asked, 'Father, how are you doing?' Finally, I recognized him, and he just laughed. We had a great visit."

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McMullen is managing editor of the Catholic Review, the news website and magazine of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

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Catholic Church offers to mediate Zimbabwe election dispute

Top Stories - Tue, 08/07/2018 - 11:12am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mike Hutchings, Reuters

By Bronwen Dachs

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) -- The church in Zimbabwe said it is prepared to mediate between government and opposition leaders after six people were killed in violence that followed a disputed presidential election.

"We have offered to mediate any election disputes as well as broader concerns," Father Frederick Chiromba, secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference, told Catholic News Service Aug. 6 in a telephone interview from Harare.

With their parish and other structures, Zimbabwe's churches would be well positioned to lead the activities of the national peace and reconciliation process that began early this year, he said.

Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared the winner in voting July 30, but opposition leader Nelson Chamisa has disputed the result and said he will challenge it in court.

Mnangagwa succeeded Robert Mugabe, who had led Zimbabwe since its independence from Britain in 1980, after a military takeover in November.

"We condemn the killing of the demonstrators and all the ruthless force used" by the army and police, the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe said after security forces in the capital, Harare, shot at protesters who accused the government of vote-rigging.

Noting that the use of live ammunition to restrain unarmed civilians was "too extreme" and violated basic rights, the commission also criticized the protesters for violence including destruction of property.

It urged the security forces to apologize, particularly to the bereaved families.

"Saying 'sorry' would open doors for healing and rebuilding of good relationships between citizens and their defense forces," the commission said in an Aug. 2 statement signed by commission chairman Bishop Rudolf Nyandoro of Gokwe.

Zimbabwe's churches could mediate an "all-sides confidential dialogue," the commission said, noting that "an inclusive, objective, internally constructed process" is needed to resolve the electoral conflict.

The challenges Zimbabwe faces "are much deeper than the elections," Father Chiromba said. "There is still a lack of trust between the people and government" at all levels and the country's churches have "a big role to play in restoring that trust," he said.

"If we can manage to move forward as one people," much-needed development will follow, he said.

Most people in Zimbabwe, with a population of nearly 16 million, survive on $1 a day. They eke out a living in small-scale informal trade, mostly selling goods bought in South Africa.

"Investors were waiting for these elections. Now that they are over, we hope that Zimbabwe will be admitted into the community of nations, which will help in job creation," Father Chiromba said.

Mugabe's policies are widely blamed for the country's economic decline over the last two decades.

"There is now a conscious, sustained effort to restore the nation" and the economy "is in the early stages of recovery," Father Chiromba said.

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Pope thanks Chilean bishops for steps taken to address abuse scandal

Top Stories - Tue, 08/07/2018 - 10:50am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chilean bishops' conference

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- After the bishops of Chile issued a formal apology for failing to listen to clerical abuse victims and drew up national guidelines for responding to abuse allegations, Pope Francis sent them a handwritten letter of thanks.

"I am struck by the work of reflection, discernment and the decisions you have made," the pope wrote in the letter dated Aug. 5 and posted on the website of the Chilean bishops' conference.

Addressed to Bishop Santiago Silva Retamales, the military ordinary and conference president, Pope Francis' letter praised the decisions as "realistic and concrete."

The bishops, who have been accused of interfering with the pursuit of justice by alleged victims, promised to draw up a formal agreement with the national prosecutor's office to share information; vowed to release information on investigations carried out within their dioceses and urged the superiors of religious orders to do the same; expanded the competencies of their national review board and appointed a laywoman lawyer to lead it; and appointed another laywoman to direct the new Department for the Prevention of Abuse within the bishops' conference.

Pope Francis told the bishops that what "struck me most" about the decisions made in early August was "the example of an episcopal community united in guiding the holy, faithful people of God. Thank you for this edifying example.".

The pope's letter, in tone and in its informality, was markedly different than one he sent them in April when he apologized to abuse survivors for making "serious mistakes in the assessment and perception of the situation, especially due to a lack of truthful and balanced information," presumably from the bishops.

He summoned the country's bishops to Rome for a three-day meeting in May. At the end of the meeting, most of the bishops offered the pope their resignations. By late June, he had accepted five of the resignations.

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