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Tagle: Confront the 'stench of filth' caused by abuse

Vatican City, Feb 21, 2019 / 05:30 pm (CNA).- An expert on abuse prevention offered “practical suggestions” to participants at a Vatican summit on child sexual abuse on Thursday, while two cardinals encouraged bishops to work together to support victims of clerical abuse.

Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna, adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith told the Vatican’s Meeting of the Presidents of the Bishops’ Conferences on Safeguarding of Minors that bishops should make know that Catholics have both “the duty and the right” to report any sort of clerical sexual misconduct or abuse to Church officials.

Scicluna advised that the contact information for Church leaders be made publicly available and easy to access. He called for the establishment of protocols governing how the Church handles abuse, and he encouraged Church leaders to cooperate with civil authorities and other experts on abuse.

“It is important that every allegation is investigated with the help of experts and that the investigation is concluded without unnecessary delay,” he said. He also noted that the practice of establishing review boards and safeguarding commissions has “proved to be beneficial” in areas where this is commonplace.

It can be helpful for bishops to work together and share their experiences in how they have dealt with their priests being accused of abuse, explained Scicluna.

“As shepherds of the Lord’s flock we should not underestimate the need to confront ourselves with the deep wounds inflicted on victims of sex abuse by members of the clergy,” he said, and said that bishops need to be like Simon of Cyrene, who helped Christ carry the cross, by assisting abuse victims who carry the cross of their abuse.

Scicluna, a canon lawyer, also called for just canonical processes that respect the rights of accused clerics.

“The essence of a just process requires that the accused is presented with all arguments and evidence against him; that the accused is given the full benefit of the right of presenting his defense; that judgement is given based on the facts of the case and the law applicable to the case; that a reasoned judgement or decision is communicated in writing to the accused and that the accused enjoy a remedy against a judgement or decision that aggrieves him,” said Scicluna.

A canonical penal process can have three results, explained Scicluna: one in which the accused is guilty; one in which neither the guilt nor innocence of the accused can be proven; or one in which the accused is exonerated.

While the guilty and innocent verdicts are relatively easy for a bishop to digest, a verdict of decisio dismissoria, where the guilt of the accused is unclear, can be problematic for bishops to deal with, Scicluna explained. In these situations, particularly when a claim of abuse is credible but not proven, a bishop or religious superior should exercise prudence, and consult with experts in deciding what to do next. Whatever step is taken, Scicluna said, it should be guaranteed that children and young people will be kept safe.

“An essential aspect of the exercise of stewardship in these cases is the proper interface with civil jurisdiction,” said Scicluna.

Misconduct that rises to a criminal level must be reported to state authorities, who can proceed to investigate the claim and punish the crime or award damages to victims. Bishops should be aware, he explained, that the conclusion of a criminal investigation and a canonical penal process may be different, and that there are different standards of evidence in these systems, as well as different statutes of limitations.

Working with civil authorities can help better safeguard children, he explained. Scicluna cited the example of a priest accused of possessing child pornography as a situation in which civil authorities are likely better equipped to investigate and charge someone than a Church official.

Scicluna encouraged his brother bishops to focus their efforts on preventing sexual abuse, which he said is achieved through a more thorough screening process of candidates for seminary, particularly on the topics of celibacy and chastity.

“A just and balanced understanding of the demands of priestly celibacy and chastity should be underpinned by a profound and healthy formation in human freedom and sound moral doctrine,” said Scicluna. Those studying to be priests need to “nurture and grow in that spiritual fatherhood” that should be their motivation for their work in ministry.

Bishops and religious superiors should also embrace a sense of spiritual fatherhood, he said, through the priests they lead. A good bishop will lead by example, and will follow abuse protocols and codes of conduct.

“Above all, the ordinary is responsible in guaranteeing and promoting the personal, physical, mental and spiritual well-being of his priests.”

Cardinal Luis Antonio G. Tagle of Manila said in his Thursday address that bishops need to better understand the wounds caused by clerical sexual abuse, adding that he fears that bishops have “found the stench of filth inflicted on children and vulnerable people (they) were supposed to protect” to be “too strong to endure.”

Tagle drew inspiration from the Gospel story where Thomas doubts that Jesus has resurrected, and has to touch the wounds of Christ before he can proclaim that the Lord is his God. The action of touching Christ’s wounds was “fundamental to the act and confession of faith.”

Like Thomas, Tagle thinks that the bishops need to be “constantly in touch with the wounds of humanity,” which they can do by confronting the abuse crisis, their failings, and by providing assistance to those who are hurting.

“Our people need us to draw close to their wounds and acknowledge our faults if we are to give authentic and credible witness to our faith in the Resurrection,” said Tagle. He encouraged people to discard any fears of being wounded and to instead “draw close to the wounds of our people.”

Tagle argued that a two-pronged approach for both justice for those who were abused, as well as forgiveness for abusers is the best way for the Church to move forward in confronting the abuse crisis. He said it is not necessary to think in “either/or” terms, but rather, he advocates for a mentality of “both/and.”

“Regarding victims, we need to help them express their deep hearts and to heal from them,” said Tagle. “Regarding the perpetrators, we need to serve justice, help them to face the truth without rationalization, and at the same time not neglect their inner world, their own wounds.”

Cardinal Rubén Salazar Gómez of Bogota condemned a culture of clericalism as the “deeper root” of the abuse crisis. Clericalism, he said, is a force that converts ministry “into a means to impose force, to violate the conscience and the bodies of the weakest.”

Clericalism, said Gómez, has led to “serious errors of authority” and has exacerbated the abuse crisis in the Church. Bishops are “hardly ever aware” that clericalism underlies their ministry, he said, and there must be an effort to “unmask” this mentality and bring about positive changes.

Bishops are responsible for increasing their own awareness that they are dependent upon each other, and that the Church and her bishops have failed in the past in their response to abuse.

“We often proceed like the hirelings, who, on seeing the wolf coming, flee and leave the flock unprotected,” said Gómez. “Fleeing,” he said, took the form of ignoring claims of abuse, failing to assist survivors of abuse, or attempting to silence survivors with monetary settlements. This “clerical mentality” places the Church above both justice and the suffering experienced by those who were abused, he explained.

In order to effectively protect the vulnerable, Gómez called for both a unified front among the bishops, as well as a “Code of Conduct” for bishops that provides a framework for the best way to handle allegations of abuse by members of the clergy.

“Its obligatory nature will be a guarantee that we all act in unison and in the right direction, since it gives us clear norms to control our conduct and provides concrete suggestions for the necessary corrective measures,” he said, and also pointed out that this code of conduct would be “a concrete way of strengthening the communion that is born of episcopal collegiality.”

 

Sodalit founder expelled from congregation

Lima, Peru, Feb 21, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The founder of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae has been formally expelled from the group, and forbidden from contacting any member of the Sodalitium, the group announced in a statement released on Feb. 20. Figari is also forbidden from returning to his native Peru.

On January 30, 2017, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life prohibited Figari from having any contact with members of the society after it was found that he had sexually and psychologically abused members and committed other abuses of power.

Figari immediately appealed this decision, and made a second appeal in 2018 after his first was denied.

In January 2017, the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life ordered at that the Sodalitium ban Figari from Peru, “except for grave motives and always with a written permission,” and that he be moved to a location where there is no Sodalit community.

They also said that Figari should be forbidden from any form of contact with members of the Sodalitium, and that Figari would not be allowed to make “publicly or in private, any statement to the news media, or to participate under any title or for any reason, in public events or meetings of either the Sodalitium or any other ecclesiastical or civil person or institution.”

A Sodalit has since been designated as a contact person for Figari, should there be a need to establish communication.

The Superior General of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, José David Correa, published a decree on February 5, 2019, that said that because Figari’s appeals had been rejected, he is now definitively subject to the 2017 restrictions. Figari has been informed of these restrictions.

Figari resides in Rome. As part of the decree enacting the policies, the “Mother of the Reconciler” community where he is living has been suppressed, and is no longer considered to be a Sodalit community. Figari will continue to live at the residence “until the details of his new residence are completed,” the Sodalitium said in the statement.

At the conclusion of its 2019 General Assembly, the Sodalitium issued a statement of “forgiveness and reconciliation” in which it lamented the cases of abuse committed by some of its members and its founder Luis Fernando Figari.

“We consider it a duty as an Assembly to make a public statement on the relationship of our community with Luis Fernando Figari, whom we cannot consider as a spiritual exemplar for our Sodalit community.”

”We strongly condemn, and at the same time with pain and shame, the abuses committed by him; the abuse of his authority, his lack of respect for freedom, the physical and psychological abuses, the sexual abuse, which were denounced and investigated by our community and the Holy See,” the statement says.

The Sodalitium Christianae Vitae is a society of apostolic life which was founded in 1971 in Peru, and granted pontifical recognition in 1997. CNA's executive director, Alejandro Bermúdez, is a member of the community.

 

ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language sister agency, contributed to this report.

Polish sex abuse victims meet Pope Francis, release abuse report

Vatican City, Feb 21, 2019 / 02:16 pm (CNA).- A Polish delegation of sex abuse victims and advocates met Pope Francis Wednesday, and presented the pope with a report documenting alleged clergy sexual abuse cases and cover-up throughout their country.

“It was a very powerful moment for … [the] victims in Poland to see this gesture,” Anna Frankowska, a board member of the Have No Fear foundation, told CNA Feb. 21.

The pope met a delegation from Have No Fear, a Polish organization that hosts support groups for sex abuse victims, after his General Audience Feb. 20, and Francis silently kissed the founder’s hand.

“We recognize that is a very symbolic gesture, but it is not enough. We are demanding specific action,” Frankowska said.

The Polish group presented the pope with a Spanish copy of a report published this week documenting alleged “violations of civil and canon law by Polish bishops in the context of priests who engaged in sexual abuse of minors,” and said that Pope Francis “confirmed that he would read it.”

The report documents more than 20 cases of clergy sexual abuse and the responses by their respective Polish bishops. Unlike recent reports of clergy abuse in the United States, the documented cases are not from the 1960s-80s, but only come from the last three decades.

In the report, Have No Fear accuses 24 former and current Polish bishops of having protected or transferred child-abusing priests.

“Since 2005, the Catholic Church has been particularly involved in efforts to protect children and young people against sexual abuse by clerics,” a Polish bishops' conference document states.

At least 11 of the cases listed in the report occurred after 2005, and four are alleged to have taken place as recently as 2011-2012.

In one case, a priest who had been convicted and sentenced to prison in the United States for sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl in 2005, was deported to Poland, where he served as a parish priest working with young people beginning in 2009, and worked as a religious educator in a middle school.

The priest, Father Roman Kramek, testified to U.S. police that “he had intercourse as a therapeutic tool in order to help the girl forget an earlier rape,” according to the report.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith was notified of the case nearly ten years later, in October 2018, and Kramek continues to serve as a parish priest in Poland, according to Have No Fear.

The Polish bishops' conference responded to the report by “strongly and decisively condemn[ing] all sexual abuse of minors in the Church and in society as a whole.”

“In the Catholic Church, every believer can present his case to the Holy Father as the Supreme Pastor. The Holy See, on the other hand, has the opportunity to evaluate and verify reported cases,” Polish bishops’ spokesman Father Pawel Rytel-Andianik told CNA.

“According to the Church and civil law, there is the principle of presumed innocence of a person until the contrary is proven,” he said, adding that various dioceses in Poland were already claiming misinformation in the report.

Recently, the Polish bishops' conference took additional steps to further develop prevention programs and meet with victims.

In August 2018, diocesan bishops in Poland decided to develop a prevention program for every Polish diocese against crimes of sexual abuse of children.

A Child Protection Center was established in 2014 to provide “training and educational activities in the psychological, pedagogical and spiritual fields related to the sexual abuse of minors and the preparation and development of prevention programs and examples of good practice for various pastoral, formative and educational environments in order to help them create safe environments for children and adolescents.”

Have No Fear was founded in 2013 and became affiliated with the international network Ending Clergy Abuse in 2016. The group updates a “Map of Clerical Abuse in Poland” online, which maps out 384 victims, 85 convicted perpetrators, and 95 instances of abuse reported by victims.

In the past year, the organization delivered a letter to Archbishop Wojciech Polak of Gniezo requesting the establishment of an independent committee to analyze the scale of clerical sex abuse in Poland, abolish the statute of limitations for such offenses, hold accountable perpetrators and their superiors who conceal abuse, and provide victims of abuse with full access to the files of their canon law proceedings.

“We look in particular to the situation in Chile, where the pope dismissed bishops. We think that the situation in Poland is quite similar to the situation in Chile, and the time to act is now,” Frankowska told CNA.

Last May all of the bishops of Chile presented Pope Francis with written resignations following a CDF investigation into episcopal cover-up of the sexual abuse of Father Fernando Karadima.

“We believe that we are still years behind other jurisdictions,” she continued. “For a long time victims were ostracized or were afraid to speak out. Things are slowly changing.”

Bangladesh fire victims receive condolences from pope

Dhaka, Bangladesh, Feb 21, 2019 / 12:19 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis has offered his solidarity and prayers to victims of a massive fire in the center of the  Bangladeshi capital, which has reportedly claimed 78 lives so far.

“His Holiness Pope Francis was saddened to learn of the loss of life and of the injuries caused by the conflagration in the centre of Dhaka,” said Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, Feb. 21.

“He extends his solidarity to all affected, and prays especially for the repose of the deceased and for the healing of those injured.”

The fast-moving fire swept through a densely populated historic district of Dhaka late Wednesday night, the BBC reported. Many residents were trapped, including, reportedly, a bridal party. Many are still missing and the death toll is expected to rise.

The blaze reportedly began in a chemical warehouse on the ground floor of a residential building. A witness told the BBC he saw an electricity transformer explode which set off a chain reaction of chemical explosions.

The pope also offered his encouragement to the Bangladeshi emergency personnel as they assist victims, and upon all he invoked “the divine blessings of consolation and strength.” Emergency crews reportedly battled the blaze for five hours and were hindered by narrow streets and a lack of access to water.

Fires and building collapses are a major problem in the densely populated Bangladeshi capital of 18 million residents, as major incidents in the last several years have demonstrated.

A blaze in the Nimtali district of the city killed 124 people in June 2010.

In April 2013, an eight-story garment factory collapsed near the capital, killing at least 1,136 workers and prompting demands for better oversight from Western retailers and local manufacturers. A fire in November of the previous year killed 112, and another fire killed eight in May.

Bangladesh is the world's second-largest garment exporter. Several European clothing retailers, including H&M, the single largest clothing buyer in Bangladesh, have signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which obliges them to conduct safety inspections and pay for repairs at factories in the nation. Walmart, the second largest buyer, has yet to sign the agreement.

Pope proposes 21 'reflection points' for discussion at abuse summit

Vatican City, Feb 21, 2019 / 11:56 am (CNA).- Pope Francis on Thursday gave participants in a Vatican summit on protection of minors in the Church a list of nearly two dozen discussion points for actions Catholic Church leaders could potentially take in the follow-up to the meeting.

The pope said during opening remarks Feb. 21 that the criteria were formulated by various bishops’ conferences and organized by him into the list, stating they are “guidelines to assist in our reflection” and “a simple point of departure.”

The 21 points include suggestions to have periodic reviews of protocols on safeguarding, handbooks of steps authorities should take in abuse cases, provisions for facilitating the participation of lay experts in investigations, and the direction to inform civil authorities and higher Church authorities in compliance with civil and canonical norms.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, responding to questions from journalists in the afternoon on Thursday said the points are complete, and a “roadmap” for the bishops’ discussions this week.

He also said that were they to be made into concrete proposals, they would need “substantial revision.”

In regard to one point, that broaches the idea of amending the Code of Canon Law to raise the minimum age of marriage for women from 14 to 16, Scicluna clarified that bishops' conferences already have the power to create their own legislation in regard to the minimum marriageable age, and that many had already raised the age to 16 for both men and women.

“The pope is suggesting making that universal law,” Scicluna said.
 
Other points the pope raised in the list were to “accompany, protect and treat victims, offering them all the necessary support for a complete recovery” and to establish easily-accessible groups made up of experts, including both clerics and laypeople, to which victims can report crimes.

Several of the suggestions are on the theme of seminary formation of priests and the proper penalties for priests or religious who commit abuse.

One suggests initial and ongoing formation for seminarians and candidates for religious life, to help them “develop their human, spiritual and psychosexual maturity, as well as their interpersonal relationships and behavior.”

Another recommends observing “the traditional principle of proportionality of punishment with respect to the crime committed” and another recalls the right to defense and the importance of the presumption of innocence.

“Therefore, it is necessary to prevent the lists of the accused being published, even by the dioceses, before the preliminary investigation and the definitive condemnation,” it states.

Scicluna, a canon lawyer and adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, agreed. In reference to a question about releasing names of accused clergy, Scicluna said, “for simple allegations, it is my opinion it is premature.”

“You need a credible allegation as the lowest threshold,” he said, in order to not cause undue harm to someone’s good name. “We’re for disclosure, but in the right way. It’s legitimate to declare there are credible allegations.”

Peter Isley, victim of clergy sexual abuse and a spokesperson for “End Clergy Abuse” responded to the 21 reflection points, calling them “not very concrete points.”

“I’ll tell you what the roadmap in here is, it’s a circle,” he told journalists Feb. 21.

Isley was vocal in his opinion that the ideas presented in the list of reflection points do not go far enough in implementing “zero tolerance” against priests who have abused minors or bishops who have covered it up. “There is nothing there that wasn’t there yesterday,” he stated.

Referencing a point in the list, he said, “They put together a handbook [when] this is about the rape and sexual abuse of children!”

Isley added that he believes a priest who has abused a minor “has betrayed the priesthood,” and should not only be removed from ministry, but should have the “honor” of priesthood taken away through laicization.

If you are a bishop, “you make very, very sure, that if your priest has assaulted a child, and you know he has, that he’s not going to harm a child in the Catholic Church ever, ever, ever again,” he said.

“You take that man out of ministry, that’s the first thing, because he could harm a child. What kind of pastor wouldn’t do that?”

Scicluna said in the press conference that “punishment needs to take care of the common good, so they [clerics found guilty of sexual abuse of minors] cannot be in active ministry,” echoing a reflection point that says: “Decide that priests and bishops guilty of sexual abuse of minors leave public ministry.”

He added that in his opinion, however, the decision to dismiss a priest from the clerical state, also called laicization, should be determined on a case-by-case basis.

At the presser, Scicluna also noted that while there is currently no compiled statistics on abuse cases being handled in the CDF, the material exists. He said that he recently spoke with Cardinal Luis Ladaria, CDF prefect, and he said the possibility exists for those statistics to be compiled, contextualized, and published “in the near future.”

Libel damages paid to UK pro-life charity

London, England, Feb 21, 2019 / 11:00 am (CNA).- A British pro-life charity has been awarded thousands of pounds in a court case after a local government council made libellous statements about the group last year.

 

Lambeth Council in south London paid £5,000 to Life, a non-sectarian pro-life organization, after the UK’s High Court ruled that statements from the council were libellous and damaging.

 

News of the payment was released in a statement read in the High Court Feb. 19, with lawyers representing Life relating the distress the council’s actions had caused to staff and volunteers.

 

The libel case centered on events at the Lambeth Country Show held in July last year, when organizers at the event disassembled the stall operated by Life and evicted staff and volunteers from the grounds.

 

The eviction followed a series of tweets by Lambeth Council member Ed Davie in response to several twitter users who objected to the pro-life organization being permitted to have a stall at the show.

 

Davie said in July that Life “wasn’t officially allowed” to exhibit at the show, were “not on the approved list of exhibitors,” and that he would “make sure” they were not permitted to remain at the grounds during the festival.

 

The annual event was held in Brockwell Park, south London, and was attended by approximately 150,000 people over the course of the weekend of July 21, 2018.

 

Davie went on to claim that Life had used “inaccurate information” in their application to exhibit at the show. Lambeth Council’s official Twitter account repeated that allegation later that day.

 

The claims against Life were repeated in the national press in subsequent days.

 

Life offers information and support to women in crisis pregnancies and provides accommodation for homeless pregnant women.

 

The organization said they explicitly described themselves as “a pro-life charity” in their application. Their submission to Lambeth Council included pictures of similar stalls they had run at past events. Their application was submitted in January 2018, and approved by the council in April.

 

Anne Scanlan, Life’s Director of Education, told CNA in July that “nothing on our stall was offensive.”

 

“There were lifelike fetal models and pictures of the unborn baby at different gestational stages which can be seen on any pregnancy website, including the National Health Service,” Scanlan said.

 

On Tuesday, Liz Parsons, Head of Advocacy for Life, called the damages “a victory for common sense and freedom of expression.”

 

“In a climate where the prolife voice is being shut down by local authorities across the country, we want to be clear that we are not going anywhere. For almost five decades we have stood firm in our provision of support for women and advocacy for the life of the unborn,” she said in a statement released by Life.

 

“The stall at Lambeth sought to educate people about the unborn baby and advertise our care services for pregnant women, including those who are homeless or in need of emotional and practical support. We must, and will challenge any organisation which tries in any way to impede this important work.”

 

Lambeth Council released a statement on the announcement of the settlement this week.

 

“Lambeth Council and Life reached a settlement on October 12, 2018 in relation to threatened claims arising from the removal of Life’s stall from the 2018 Lambeth Country Show. Lambeth agreed to pay Life £5,000 in damages, publish an apology on Twitter and has undertaken not to publish, or cause to be published, the same or similar words to those originally tweeted by the Council on July 22, 2018.”

Covington Catholic student sues Washington Post over Nathan Phllips story

Covington, Ky., Feb 21, 2019 / 10:39 am (CNA).- Attorneys for Covington Catholic High School student Nicholas Sandmann announced they filed a $250 million dollar lawsuit against the Washington Post after the newspaper reported that Sandmann harassed a Native American man following the March for Life.

The suit alleges that the Washington Post “engaged in a modern-day form of McCarthyism by competing with CNN and NBC, among others, to claim leadership of a mainstream and social media mob of bullies which attacked, vilified, and threatened Nicholas Sandmann.” They are seeking “compensatory and punitive damages.”

“This is only the beginning,” said the attorneys in a statement. Sandmann is being represented by attorneys Lin Wood and Todd McMurtry from the law firm Hemmer DeFrank Wessels.

The attorneys said are seeking $250 million as that was the amount Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos paid when his company, Nash Holdings, bought the Washington Post back in 2013.

A short video published to Twitter in January appeared to show Sandmann, who was wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, standing in close proximity to Native American activist Nathan Phillips and smirking while Phillips changed and played a ceremonial drum.

Phillips was in Washington, D.C. for the Indigenous Peoples’ March, and the incident occurred near the Lincoln Memorial. Phillips told the media that the students had swarmed him, and had repeatedly chanted “build the wall” or “build that wall.”

The video quickly went viral, and many people called for the suspension or expulsion of Sandmann and his classmates as a punishment for their seemingly disrespectful behavior.

Sandmann’s diocese, as well as his high school, initially published statements condemning the behavior in the video.

As the weekend progressed, however, additional video was discovered that showed a far more nuanced context to the encounter between Phillips and Sandmann.

The new footage showed that Sandmann and his classmates had been harassed by members of the Black Hebrew Israelites, and began a counter-chant of their student section chants in an effort to drown out the Black Hebrew Israelites. The students denied chanting “build the wall,” and that chant could not be heard on various videos of the incident.

Additionally, video showed that Phillips had wandered into the crowd of Covington Catholic High School students - not the other way around - and had began beating a drum in Sandmann’s face.

In a statement released the day after the video went viral, Sandmann said that he had smiled in an effort to diffuse the tension of the situation and show that he was not a violent person.

The Diocese of Covington and Covington Catholic High School both withdrew their statements condemning the students. Bishop Roger Foys of Covington spoke to Covington Catholic students and apologized for his premature response to the incident.

A third-party investigation into the Covington Catholic students came to the conclusion that they had not instigated the encounter and that there was no evidence of them making any offensive or racist statements.

 

California bill would remove reporting exemption for priests in confessional

Sacramento, Calif., Feb 21, 2019 / 09:00 am (CNA).- A state senator in California introduced a bill Wednesday which would seek to force priests to violate the sacramental seal of confession in suspected cases of child abuse or neglect. Clergy are already mandatory reporters in the state of California, but there is a legal exemption for material disclosed in the confessional.

 

Senator Jerry Hill announced Bill 360 in the California senate on Feb. 20.

 

“Individuals who harm children or are suspected of harming children must be reported so a timely investigation by law enforcement can occur,” Hill said in a statement announcing the bill.

 

More than 40 professions, including clergy, are already covered by state law requiring them to notify civil authorities in cases of suspected abuse or neglect of children. The current legislation provides an exemption for “penitential communications” between an individual and their minister if the requirement of confidentiality is rooted in church doctrine.

 

The Code of Canon Law states that “The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.” A priest who intentionally violates the seal incurs an automatic excommunication.

 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “every priest who hears confessions is bound under severe penalties to keep absolute secrecy regarding the sins that his penitents have confessed to him,” due to the “delicacy and greatness of this ministry and the respect due to persons.”

 

Despite the centrality of the sacramental seal to Church teaching and discipline, Hill insisted that there should be no recognition of the privileged nature of confession in the law.

 

“The law should apply equally to all professionals who have been designated as mandated reporters of these crimes — with no exceptions, period. The exemption for clergy only protects the abuser and places children at further risk,” Hill said.

 

A spokesman for the California Catholic Conference told local media that the bill clearly targeted essential religious freedoms.

 

"Getting the government in the confessional has nothing to do with protecting children and has everything to do with eroding the basic rights and liberties we have as Americans," said Steve Pehanich in a statement for the conference reported by local news outlets.

 

The California bill is not the first attempt to compel priests to violate the sacramental seal. A Royal Commission investigation into child sexual abuse in Australia last year recommended that legal exemptions be removed for clergy who learned about abuse in the confessional.

Francis opens abuse summit with call for 'concrete measures'

Vatican City, Feb 21, 2019 / 04:20 am (CNA).- At the start of the Vatican’s sex abuse summit Thursday, Pope Francis pointed to expectations for the meeting to produce responsibility and concrete action, not just denunciations of abuse.

“The holy People of God looks at us and expects from us not simple and obvious condemnations, but to prepare concrete and effective measures,” the pope said Feb. 21, in the Synod Hall of the Vatican.

A burden “of pastoral and ecclesial responsibility weighs on us” in this meeting, he urged bishops, noting the obligation to “discuss together, in a synodal, sincere and in-depth manner, how to face this evil that afflicts the Church and humanity.”

The pope’s brief remarks followed the opening prayer of the four-day meeting, which includes the heads of bishops’ conferences, Eastern Catholic Churches, and religious communities, and is focused on the education of bishops on the protection of minors in the Church.

Invoking the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Francis urged the Church leaders to “listen to the cry of the little ones who ask for justice,” adding that they must begin the work of the summit “armed with faith and the spirit of maximum parrhesia, courage and concreteness.”

He thanked the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM), the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the organizing committee, which includes Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, Maltese Archbishop and CDF adjunct secretary Charles Scicluna, and Fr. Hans Zollner, SJ, for their work preparing the meeting.

In his speech, Francis also pointed to guidelines from bishops’ conferences which have been handed out to summit participants as a reference point for reflection, though he added that they would “not detract from the creativity that must exist in this meeting.”

He concluded by calling on the Holy Spirit for support in helping to “transform this evil in to an opportunity for awareness and purification” and the Virgin Mary to enlighten them “to seek to care for the serious wounds that the scandal of pedophilia has caused both in children and in believers.”

In the course of the morning, the meeting participants listened to keynotes by Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila and by Scicluna and participated in working group discussions.

They also heard, by video, five testimonies of abuse victims. The identities of the victims were not revealed to press, who received only text versions of the addresses.

In the first testimony, of a victim from Chile, it was noted that everyone knows the “tremendous consequences” of abuse, but for a Catholic, “the most difficult thing is to be able to speak about sexual abuse.”

The victim speaks about their desire to speak with the Church about the abuse, and that they expected respect and listening, but instead were treated “as a liar,” telling them they and others “were enemies of the Church.”

“This pattern exists not only in Chile: it exists all over the world, and this must end,” the person said, adding that victims should be “believed, respected, cared for, and healed.”   

“I wonder: but what does Jesus think. What does Mary think, when she sees that it is her own shepherds who betray their own little sheep?” the victim stated.

Another testimony was in the format of a short interview, in which a woman explained that she had been abused by a priest for 13 years, starting at the age of 15. She says she was economically dependent on the priest, who would beat her if she refused to have sex with him.

She said during the course of their “relationship” she became pregnant three times and was forced to have abortions by her abuser.

Today, she said, she feels like her life has been “destroyed” and she does not know “what the future holds.” Her message for the bishops was to love others by willing their good.

A third testimony was given by a 53-year-old religious priest, who was abused by a priest as a teenager. He said that he was also hurt by the treatment he received from his bishop, who he said first did not respond to his letters, and later attacked him, when as an adult he went to speak with him about the abuse.

“I wanted someone to listen to me, to know who that man is, that priest and what he does. I forgive that priest from the heart, and the bishop. I thank God for the Church, I am grateful to be in the Church. I have many priest friends who have helped me,” he said.

In another testimony, which was given in English, a man reflected on the loss of innocence and the pain inflicted on him and on his relationships because of priestly abuse.

He said that today he has found hope and healing, but that what he would ask for from the bishops is “leadership and vision and courage.”

He referenced a moment when Cardinal Francis George, the archbishop-emeritus of Chicago who died in 2015, spoke about the difficulties of priests who have abused, as an example of right leadership.

From Asia, in the final testimony a person described being “sexually molested for a long time, over a hundred times,” creating traumas and flashbacks across their life. The victim also stated that when they had approached provincials and major superiors about the abuse, they “practically covered every issue.”

The victim concluded by requesting bishops “get their act clear” in answering the crisis of sexual abuse.

 

Review: Not much substance 'In the Closet of the Vatican'

Vatican City, Feb 21, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- “In the closet of the Vatican,” a newly released book by the French author and LGBT activist Frederic Martel, is generating global media attention and discussion among Vatican figures in Rome.

Published Feb. 21, the same day a Vatican summit on sexual abuse and the protection of minors begins, the book is simultaneously launched in 8 languages. Martel says he had 3 years to draft the text, with funds provided to travel and conduct his interviews, and, he says, with the help of about 80 collaborators.

The general thesis of the book is that the Vatican is among the most active hotbeds of homosexuality in the world. Martel has said in interviews that his goal is to shed light on the hypocrisy of those officials in the Vatican who, he says, practice homosexuality and then condemn it.

Martel’s book constructs a dividing line between the good and the bad, those he says are in the closet but working to come out, and those who stay in the closet, often while protesting LGBT social movements.

His is an ideological investigation; his anecdotes are used to advance a thesis that many have called predetermined. His text does not seem to strive for objective analysis, or to make use of sociological research or statistical data.

The book seems to have two additional goals, which, embedded in the presuppositions of the text, might not have been even willfully intended by the author.

The first is to question the nature of the priesthood itself. At issue is not merely celibacy, Martel seems to argue, but the broader virtue of chastity, since, his perspective seems to hold that sexual impulses among the clergy cannot really be mastered.

The second seems to be advocacy for a transition in the Vatican, one that would excise the old establishment, to establish a new one built according to the spirit of the world. That is, according to a pansexual vision, beyond Catholic moral categories and concerns.

The book must be read as it is. It presents innuendos, but not evidence or documents. It is a gossip-filled, romanticized book, but does not present itself as a scholarly or objective account.

The Vatican has a long history of books like Martel’s, though their quality and utility has varied dramatically over the years.

The first of the genre was “Gone with the Wind in the Vatican,” published under a pseudonym in 1999. The author, later revealed to be long-time curial official Mons. Luigi Marinelli, wrote gossip and innuendo elegantly, without naming names. References were precise, though, and it was easy to discern the targets of his stories. In the end, Marinelli’s book, for what it was, was well-documented.

More recently, books by Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi were filled with Vatican documents, and were at the origins of the second Vatileaks trial. Though the books were filled with imprecision and a sometimes biased reading of the documents, they too were based on documents.

“In the closet of the Vatican” begins with gossip Martel collected in several interviews. The author says he recorded them all, and it would be interesting to listen to the full audio files, in order to contextualize some excerpts.

Martel maintains he was able to enter in the “Vatican’s closet” thanks to codes he understood that helped him to be introduced to this hidden gay world. However, it seems he never got into the Vatican proper, and, when looking at the Vatican from a key-hole, he did so with a negative prejudice.

Some examples:

Martel had a meeting with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, in his apartment in the Ethiopian College, a building at the top of the Vatican gardens that is also home to Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, and was the home of the late U.S. Cardinal Edmund Szoka.

Sodano, Martel writes, “is locked up in his African ivory tower, with all his secrets. If the Garden of Eden ever existed, it must be like this little earthly paradise: when I go there, crossing a bridge, I find myself among impeccably tended lawns and fragrant magnolias. It’s a Mediterranean garden, with pines and cypresses and, of course, olive trees. In the surrounding cedars I see purple-headed and mustachioed parrots, elegant and multi-coloured, whose mellifluous voices doubtless wake Cardinal Sodano from his slumbers”.

The description might suggest that all of this “Eden” is part of the Ethiopian College. In fact, these are the Vatican’s gardens, which occupy almost all of the Vatican City State’s territory. The Vatican is the greenest state in the world, and the Ethiopian College is one of the buildings in its gardens.

One of Martel’s guides into the closet of the Vatican is Francesco Lepore, a laicized priest and a Vatican employee at the office of Latin language at the Vatican Secretariat of State. Lepore left the priesthood after discovering his homosexuality.

Telling the story of Lepore, Martel underscored that “on 30 November 2003, the Neapolitan priest joined Domus Sanctae Marthae, the official residence of the cardinals at the Vatican – and the current home of Pope Francis.”

Domus Sanctae Marthae is not the cardinals’ official residence. It is a hotel that also hosts guests who have business with the Holy See. It becomes the cardinals’ residence during the conclave, as determined by St. John Paul II in 1996. Though Pope Francis has also resided there since being elected, Domus Sanctae Marthae still functions as a hotel, and not as a cardinals’ residence.

Martel’s description of the episcopal ordination of Georg Gaenswein is also revealing of the lens through which the author reads the Vatican.

Benedict XVI’s personal secretary, now prefect of the Pontifical Household, Gaenswein was ordained a bishop by Benedict XVI on Jan. 6, 2013. Together with him, Benedict XVI ordained Bishops Vincenzo Zani, Fortunatus Nwachukwu and Nicolas Henry Marie Denis Thevenin.

In Martel’s view, that solemn celebration was merely Benedict XVI’s homage to Gaenswein, described in a text filled with innuendos about the relationship between the two.

Martel writes: “Benedict XVI insisted on giving the pastoral ring to His Bavarian Excellency Georg Gänswein in person, in a Fellini-esque ceremony engraved forever on the memory of the 450 statues, 500 columns and 50 altars of the basilica.”

Then, Martel describes the celebration as if all other papal liturgical celebrations are not the same.

“First comes the procession, slow, superb, and choreographed to perfection; the pope with his huge topaz-yellow mitre, standing in a little indoor popemobile, a throne on wheels, travels like a giant the full 200-metre length of the nave to the sound of triumphant brass, beautiful organ sounds and the children’s choir of St Peter’s, straight as unlit candles.”

The little indoor Popemobile was in fact the small wheeled device that Benedict XVI used since 2011 to “alleviate fatigue.”

Martel goes on, saying that “the chalices are encrusted with precious stones; the censers smoke. In the front rows of this new style of episcopal organization, dozens of cardinals and hundreds of bishops and priests in their finest robes provide a palette of red, white and oxblood. There are flowers everywhere, as if at a wedding.”

And yes, Vatican decorations are always like this, as are the ornamental stones on chalices.

Everything is thus seen through a distopyc lens to carry on an ideology.

The book is also filled with stories of cardinals and bishops described as well known homosexuals, sometimes targeted by name but always without reliable sources.

Cardinal Burke is presented as a cardinal who “likes to be spoken of in the feminine: ‘Votre Éminence peut être fière’; ‘Votre Éminence est grande’; ‘Votre Éminence est trop bonne’ (‘Your Eminence can be proud’; ‘Your Eminence is great’; ‘Your Eminence is too kind’).”

The feminine is in fact the “lei,”  the Italian formal “you.” It coincides with the third singular feminine person, but has an entirely different meaning, which Martel seems not to understand.

Speaking about the Karadima case – the Chilean abuser priest that Pope Francis dismissed from the clerical state in 2018 – Martel also involves Cardinal Sodano, who was Vatican Secretary of State from 1990 through 2006.

Martel writes: “The reasons that led Sodano (as well as Cardinal Errázuriz, who replaced Sodano as secretary of state in 2006) to protect this paedophile priest remain mysterious.”

Notably, Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa has never been Secretary of State, though he held the position of Secretary of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life from 1990 to 1996.

These inaccuracies are mixed with many information taken from press reports and gossips, sometimes presented with the sentence “other sources confirm,” but without in fact giving any real evidence.

Looking at it carefully, the biggest attacks are made against those who cannot defend themselves. It is the case for Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, who died in 2008, and was president of the Pontifical Council for the Family from 1990 to his death. Martel targets him because, he says, he was an anti-gay lobbyist though he was a practicing homosexual. He offers neither proof, nor the possibility of defense.

The book presents a Vatican where everyone is gay, and those who are not would like to be.

There are certainly sins and human miseries in the Vatican, and many claim that homosexuality is part of the abuse crisis, and must be discussed.

But the Vatican is not demonstrably a gay state. Alleged homosexuality is often a weapon used in order to stamp out careers. When Pope Francis speaks about the terrorism of gossip, he is speaking about that.

It is striking that Martel initially got in touch with the Vatican’s world through Krysztof Charamsa. Charamsa is the official of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith who outed himself on the eve of the 2015 Synod on the family, announcing his homosexual relation with a Spanish man.

Martel writes: “The first time I heard the name of Krzysztof Charamsa was in an email, from him. The prelate contacted me when he was still working for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Polish priest had enjoyed, he told me, my book Global Gay, and he asked for my help in communicating through the media his imminent coming out, though he swore me to secrecy on the subject.”

Once Martel verified that account, he did help Charamsa. It was 2015. Shortly after, he began to draft “In the closet of the Vatican.”