News

Year in review: New reports of misconduct by clergy top 2018 news

 A growing clergy sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church that included revelations of episcopal cover-up in Chile, accusations against a retired U.S. cardinal and a wide-ranging attorney general’s report in Pennsylvania on six dioceses had repercussions in the Archdiocese of Omaha as the Nebraska attorney general requested 40 years of investigative files on clergy accused of sexual misconduct.

That story topped news coverage in the archdiocese during 2018. Other headlines involved faith in action, new saints, healing of past wounds of racism and celebrations of landmark anniversaries.

Notable stories included the significant impact the Hispanic community is having on parishes and schools in the archdiocese, the work of the Knights of Columbus in a small parish to help Middle Eastern Christians displaced by ISIS, the death of a former auxiliary bishop, and legislative victories for pro-life organizations and human rights advocates.

Parishes around the archdiocese also fostered evangelization programs to help parishioners realize the archdiocese’s pastoral vision – “One church: encountering Jesus, equipping disciples, and living mercy.”

Sex abuse crisis roils Catholic church

New revelations of clergy sex abuse came to light in 2018, including allegations of abuse by two Chilean bishops and retired U.S. Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick. The August publication of a Pennsylvania attorney general’s report on past abuse in six Catholic dioceses in that state led to other states’ attorneys general asking for historical information on abuse claims from Catholic dioceses. When the Archdiocese of Omaha responded to Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson’s request, it made public the names of 38 priests and deacons in the archdiocese with substantiated claims of sexual abuse or sexual misconduct with a minor during the past 40 years. Archbishop George J. Lucas promised higher standards of conduct for clergy, greater transparency in resolving cases of clergy misconduct and zero tolerance for abuse of a child or vulnerable adult.

Healing the wounds of racism

Members of Sacred Heart Parish in Omaha welcomed their counterparts from nearby St. Benedict the Moor Parish on Sept. 9 for a prayer service (below) to acknowledge past sins of racism and seek reconciliation and healing. Long before the civil rights movement of the 1960s, black Catholics in Omaha were unwelcome in all-white parishes such as Sacred Heart, prompting them to form their own parish – St. Benedict the Moor – which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2018. At the prayer service Father David Korth, Sacred Heart pastor, recounted instances of past racism in the parish and the Omaha community, each followed by the congregation’s response, “Lord, have mercy.” Also, during their fall general meeting Nov. 14 in Baltimore, the U.S. bishops approved a new pastoral letter condemning racism. “Despite many promising strides made in our country, racism still infects our nation,” it says.

Expanded evangelization efforts

During 2018, parishes continued working to achieve the archdiocese’s pastoral vision – One church: encountering Jesus, equipping disciples, and living mercy – through programs to help parishioners deepen their faith and share it with others. Making missionary disciples by helping people discover, follow and share Jesus Christ is a key archdiocesan priority, Father Jeffrey Lorig, director of pastoral services, told the Catholic Voice in July. Efforts to make that happen are “springing up all over the archdiocese,” he said. Programs like Alpha and ChristLife are being implemented in parishes across the archdiocese to help the faithful deepen their relationship with Christ and instill a spirit of evangelism. More than half of the parishes in the archdiocese have begun or are planning such efforts, Father Lorig said.

Opposition to death penalty

The three Nebraska bishops – Archbishop George J. Lucas of Omaha and Bishops James D. Conley of Lincoln and Joseph G. Hanefeldt of Grand Island – joined together in opposition to the Aug. 14 execution of convicted murderer Cary Dean Moore. Catholics around the state were invited to join the bishops during the execution to pray for Moore’s victims, Moore himself and an end to capital punishment. It was the first execution in Nebraska in 21 years. Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Catholic, supports capital punishment and vetoed a 2015 bill banning the practice. After the Legislature overturned his veto, Ricketts helped gather signatures to put the issue on the November 2016 ballot. Voters decided to restore the practice by a 61-39 percent margin. And on Aug. 2, Pope Francis ordered a revision of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to strengthen its opposition to capital punishment: “The death penalty,” it now says, “is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”

Bishop Milone passes away

Bishop Anthony M. Milone, an Omaha native who served the Archdiocese of Omaha from 1958 to 1988, died May 17 in Omaha. He was 85. Ordained a priest in 1957, he served in numerous parishes, including as pastor of St. Bernadette Parish in Bellevue, where he later lived and continued serving after his retirement in 2006. Ordained bishop in Rome by St. Pope John Paul II in 1981, he served six years as auxiliary bishop assisting the late Archbishop Daniel E. Sheehan. In 1987, Bishop Milone was named the sixth bishop of the Great Falls-Billings diocese in Montana, and was installed in 1988. A humble man with a self-effacing sense of humor, Bishop Milone “never put himself out front to seek attention,” said Father Michael Gutgsell, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Springfield. “He was always mindful of who he was and mindful of the people. I think that’s what made him a good pastor and a good bishop.”

Pope Paul VI, Bishop Romero canonized

Archbishop Oscar Romero (below, in the picture held by a devotee in Managua, Nicaragua) and Pope Paul VI were among seven people canonized Oct. 14 in Rome. Archbishop Romero was assassinated in 1980 while celebrating Mass in his home country of El Salvador, just a day after calling on soldiers to stop killing innocent civilians. St. Pope Paul VI, who served as pope from 1963 until his death in 1978, led the last sessions of the Second Vatican Council and its initial implementation. An Omaha nun and native of El Salvador, Mercy Sister Ana Maria Pineda made the trip to Rome for the celebration. “Pope Francis, a Latin American pope – he would understand what it means to raise someone from the smallest country in Latin America,” she said of Archbishop Romero’s canonization. “In many ways, Pope Francis shares the love for the poor that Archbishop Romero had.” 

Humanae Vitae anniversary

In July Catholics around the world marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of St. Pope Paul VI’s landmark encyclical, “Humanae Vitae” (“On Human Life”). Released at a time of profound social unrest, the document re-explored and re-affirmed the Catholic Church’s long-standing opposition to artificial contraception and its teachings on sexual morality. It also anticipated cultural evils that would result from the use of artificial contraceptives, such as marital infidelity, increased divorce rates, the devaluation of women and a decline in moral standards. The encyclical inspired Omaha doctor Thomas Hilgers to found the Pope Paul VI Institute in 1985 and to develop an effective natural family planning model, the Creighton Model FertilityCare System, that responds to the church’s holistic vision of human sexuality and respects the dignity of spouses. The institute has also developed NaPro Technology (Natural Procreative Technology), which offers hope to couples experiencing infertility.

Catholic-backed political initiatives succeed

The successes of bills against human trafficking showed that the Nebraska Legislature is capable of uniting across party and ideological lines on vital matters of human rights. LB1132, which continued a four-year series of broadly backed bills to battle human trafficking and aid its victims, allows courts to expunge records of people who have served time for crimes if they can show they were coerced by traffickers at the time of the misconduct. The Legislature also approved the 2018-2019 state budget with a provision banning federal Title X funds from organizations or clinics that provide or refer for abortions. However, a bill that would allow a tax credit for private donations to nonprofits providing K-12 private-school scholarships for low-income and working-class children was filibustered.

Rebuilding the Cradle of Christianity

People in a Nebraska town of about 900 helped raise funds to rebuild a town in Iraq. Through an initiative titled “Rebuilding the Cradle of Christianity,” St. John the Baptist Parish’s Knights of Columbus Council 10305 in Fort Calhoun took up the cause of helping residents of Karamles, Iraq (above), return home and rebuild their lives after it had largely been destroyed by Islamic State militants. The initiative was part of a national Knights of Columbus effort to help Christians who fled ISIS and the devastation of their towns. A March 10 dinner and auction at St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Omaha raised about $160,000, more than double the group’s goal, which was to be used to build 60 or more simple homes. Karamles, which fell to ISIS in August 2014, was liberated in late 2016. But of the town’s nearly 800 homes, 464 were burned, 97 were destroyed by bombs and the rest were damaged or vandalized. 

Apostolic Nuncio visits Omaha

Nearly 900 people filled Christ the King Church in Omaha on Oct. 13 as the pope’s representative to the United States celebrated 50 years of the re-established permanent diaconate in the church. Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio (above), concelebrated the Mass with Archbishop George J. Lucas, Archbishop Emeritus Elden Francis Curtiss, Bishop Joseph G. Hanefeldt of Grand Island and priests of the archdiocese. More than 150 deacons and their wives, plus deacon candidates, their wives and parishioners, attended. The Omaha archdiocese was one of the earliest dioceses to respond to the re-establishment of the permanent diaconate in 1968. Deacon Gary Bash of St. Mary Parish in Bellevue said it was fulfilling to join his fellow deacons, Archbishop Lucas and the Holy Father’s representative to celebrate the anniversary. “There’s always a sense of fellowship when coming together with our shepherd and brother deacons who share the same burdens, challenges and successes,” he said.

Cloisters on the Platte opens

In July, a new retreat center opened south of Gretna. Cloisters on the Platte, developed by TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, includes the retreat center, an 80-seat chapel, seven guest lodges and seven-foot-tall Stations of the Cross bronze sculptures (below) along a 2,500-foot walking path (estimated to be the same distance that Jesus walked to his crucifixion). The center is set in a scenic area of the Platte River valley and includes walking trails and two man-made lakes. Ricketts’ own experience during a retreat at the Demontreville Jesuit Retreat House in Minnesota inspired him to build the center, where retreats are led by Jesuit priests based on the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Upon the center’s opening, the retreat schedule began filling up, and in its first three months, the outdoor Stations of the Cross attracted more than 5,000 people.

Growing Latino influence

The archdiocese's first school to offer bilingual classes in English and Spanish opened in Omaha Aug. 23 with 88 students in preschool, pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes. The Dual Language Academy is housed in the former St. Stanislaus School and is partnered with Our Lady of Lourdes and Ss. Peter and Paul schools. And while overall enrollment in Catholic schools across the archdiocese was down slightly, Latino enrollment was up 9.3 percent thanks to a concerted effort to attract more Latino students. Growth in the Latino population invigorated parishes and the archdiocese, as that demographic now makes up 12 percent of the Catholic population. One indication was the more than 1,200 Hispanic Catholics who turned out for the third annual Hispanic Congress, July 28 and 29 at Roncalli Catholic High School in Omaha (above). And in September, six archdiocesan staff and parish leaders, including Archbishop George J. Lucas, attended V Encuentro in Texas, where they discerned priority issues for Hispanic ministry.