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Dolan: Even without vote, discussing abuse protocols still 'productive'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Julie Asher

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A Vatican request that the U.S. bishops postpone voting on several proposals to address abuse was a disappointment but they "quickly took a deep breath" and realized they could still have a productive discussion about the measures, said New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan.

"It's a big thing and I don't mind telling you ... that from what I've heard my brothers say, there was a sense of disappointment and we can't deny that," the cardinal said in a Nov. 13 interview with host Msgr. Jim Vlaun during "Conversation with Cardinal Dolan" on SiriusXM's Catholic Channel.

"I think there was a momentum going, and we looked forward to a fruitful week, and now there's a little frustration," the cardinal told the priest, who is president and CEO of Telecare Television of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York.

"However, I think the bishops quickly took a deep breath and said, 'Wait a minute, that's still doesn't keep us from talking about it," Cardinal Dolan continued. "That still doesn't keep us from giving Cardinal DiNardo a sound sense of direction as to where we should go and almost to deputize him to bring that to Rome at the February meeting."

He was referring to Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who announced the Vatican's request as the bishops' Nov. 12-14 annual meeting opened in Baltimore.

The Congregation for Bishops requested that no vote be taken on proposals such as standards of episcopal accountability and conduct and the formation of a special commission for review of complaints against bishops for violations of the standards.

They are among steps developed by the USCCB Administrative Committee in September in response to the firestorm that has emerged since June over how the bishops handled reports of wayward priests.

Cardinal Dolan told Msgr. Vlaun that, am despite the vote delay, he felt the bishops' discussion on the proposals would still be "pretty productive."

"I think we bishops in the United States keep reminding ourselves, 'Whoa, wait a minute, we are Catholic. We are members of the church universal and we are a small segment of the church universal,'" the cardinal said. "We know here in the United States, this is not just a Catholic problem. We're talking about the sexual abuse of minors. It is a problem in every religion, every organization, every family, every institution, every school."

"It is not just a Catholic problem. ... Nor is it just an American problem. Now, we know that it's throughout the world," Cardinal Dolan added. "So I think what the Holy Father is saying, 'Wait a minute, we don't want you to get too far ahead here. We appreciate what you're doing in the United States, but we want you to be part of the universal discussion.'"

He added that he feels the Vatican made its request out of a " benevolent desire" that Cardinal DiNardo "come with an open mind" to the February meeting, instead of with "things already decided" by the U.S. bishops.

In Rome, in response to questions about the request the bishops delay voting, Catholic News Service was told the Congregation for Bishops "is working to ensure the best evaluation and accompaniment of the questions raised by the American episcopacy." Father Massimo Cassola replied to CNS on behalf of Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the congregation.

Andrea Tornielli, a respected Vatican reporter, wrote Nov. 13 on the Vatican Insider website that "a Vatican source involved in the matter" told him: "It is wrong to think the Holy See does not share the objective of the U.S. bishops to have effective instruments for combating the phenomenon of the abuse of minors and to establish firm points regarding the responsibility of bishops themselves. The motive for asking for a postponement (of the vote) should not be considered putting on the brakes, but an invitation to better evaluate the proposed texts, including in view of the meeting in February of all the presidents of the bishops' conferences of the world with the pope dedicated to the struggle against abuse."

Tornielli reported that the Vatican believed the proposal on standards of accountability for bishops "goes beyond both civil and canon law" and the Vatican raised concerns "regarding the generic nature of some passages; it could occur that a bishop does not know he is violating these standards of behavior but in the future could be brought before a national commission called to judge him."

"Another problem," Tornielli said, "regards some incoherence between the contents of the document regarding the national commission on the responsibility of bishops and the Code of Canon Law. In the draft given to the Vatican, the commission is described as a nonprofit institution without having a juridical and canonical figure, but it is able to exercise a power of judgment on bishops."

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Cindy Wooden in Rome contributed to this story.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Bishops' abuse response must trump all other issues, advisory group says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Carol Zimmermann

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- A group that has been advising the U.S. bishops for 50 years on multiple issues chose to speak to the bishops in Baltimore Nov. 13 on just one issue: the clergy sexual abuse crisis itself and ways to move forward from it.

"We are facing painful times as a church," Father David Whitestone, chair of the bishops' National Advisory Council, told the bishops at their fall general assembly. This sense weighed heavily upon the council members during their September gathering, he noted.

"The depth of anger, pain and disappointment expressed by members of the NAC cannot begin to be expressed adequately in words," he said.

The priest, who is pastor of St. Leo the Great in Fairfax, Virginia, in the Arlington Diocese, noted that progress has been made since the bishops developed the 2002 "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," but he stressed that more needs to be done. "We can never become complacent. We must recommit to the ongoing care of all victims in their healing."

"Wounds inflicted, even many years ago, are no less real because of the passing of time nor are the demands of justice less urgent," he said.

Father Whitestone said the depth of the anger expressed by NAC members in the current church climate is "also an expression of our love for the church."

He said the abuse crisis has done great harm to the faith of many Catholics, particularly as it has come to light that the crisis is more than just sexual abuse committed by priests but predatory behavior of bishops against seminarians. The priest said Catholics should demand more of the clergy, deacons, priests and bishops than that they simply not break civil laws.

The response to this crisis needs to be more than issuing statements of regret and even establishing new mechanisms and procedures, he said, stressing instead that there should be a "new and radical recommitment to personal and institutional purification" and true repentance of past sins and facing consequences of these sins.

Members of the NAC did not vote on any other issues facing bishops as way of saying: "There is no single issue more pressing as a church than the crisis we are now facing."

All 35 voting members of the committee attending the September meeting agreed that the current scandal is of such urgency and importance that it must be the highest priory for the bishops' fall assembly to begin to restore trust and credibility.

Retired Air Force Col. Anita Raines, an NAC board member, said the group approved of some action items the bishops were only discussing at the assembly and now not voting on as per a request from the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops.

In particular, the advisory group supports the development of third-party system that would obtain confidential reports of abuse by bishops, Raines said, as well as the development of a code of conduct for bishops; an audit of U.S. seminaries to investigate possible patterns of misuse of power; establishment of special commission for review of complaints against bishops; and an independent investigation of allegations against Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, former cardinal-archbishop of Washington.

Father Whitestone stressed that while the advisory group recognizes the significance of this scandal in the church it also knows that the church is "more than this crisis" and has a mission to continue to preach the Gospel.

He said Catholics have gone through a range of emotions as this crisis has unfolded but those committed to the church want to help it move forward.

"The bishops needn't bear the burden of setting the course of the way forward alone." He said the lay faithful want to help and urged the bishops to let them.

"We as a church will move forward," he added.

The speakers received an extended standing ovation from the bishops.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

 

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Update: Protesters gather outside U.S. bishops' meeting, call for change

IMAGE: CNS photo/Rick Musacchio, Tennessee Register

By Emily Rosenthal

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops opened a Day of Prayer at the Fall Bishops General Assembly Nov. 12, John McKeon was the first to walk a path along Aliceanna Street outside the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront, just after 9 a.m.

Along with his wife, Karen Greklek, he made the journey from New York to show his concern with a simple poster board sign and matching pins that read "REPENT RESIGN."

"I don't think the church would miss a beat if they all resigned," McKeon said, calling for a collective resignation similar to that of the bishops of Chile. "There are many ways to serve the Lord -- they don't have to be a bishop."

Even if Pope Francis does not accept the resignations of every bishop, he said, the gesture would show remorse.

"I'm here because of my faith," said McKeon, a parishioner of St. Mary-Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Mount Vernon, New York. "I want the Catholic Church to be what it should be, not what it is."

Leaders from BishopAccountability.org organized a morning news conference, where they and victim-survivors of abuse denounced the Vatican's request for the U.S. bishops to delay any vote on two proposals they were to discuss at the assembly regarding their response to the clergy sex abuse scandals.

The Vatican -- via the Congregation for Bishops -- asked the U.S. bishops to delay any vote until after a February meeting with the pope and presidents of the bishops' conferences around the world that will focus on addressing clergy abuse. The bishops were informed of the request just as the general meeting was being called to order.

Action "absolutely cannot wait," said Peter Isely, a spokesperson for Ending Clergy Abuse and founding member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, who was the first to speak at the news conference. "There's no reason to wait. ' It's well overdue; it's time to stand up and do something."

Isely, a victim-survivor of abuse in Wisconsin, said the bishops "need to deliver" at their Nov. 12-14 fall general assembly.

"They cannot walk out of this conference without delivering anything," he said.

Isely still considers himself Catholic because he believes there is a possibility that there will be change.

"I don't know what a post-abuse church will look like, but that's one I want to be a part of," he said. "I still do believe out of ' the voice of that suffering (by abuse victims and survivors) will come the real spiritual reform of this church."

Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, and Terence McKiernan, the organization's president, pointed to Bishop Steven R. Biegler of Cheyenne, Wyoming, as a good example of an accountable bishop. Bishop Biegler strongly supports an ongoing investigation into abuse allegations against retired Cheyenne Bishop Joseph H. Hart, now 87; some claims date to when the retired prelate headed the diocese (1978-2001).

McKiernan told the Catholic Review, the news outlet of the Baltimore Archdiocese, that releasing the names of accused and continuously updating those lists are steps in the right direction of attaining accountability. The Archdiocese of Baltimore was one of the first in the country to publish such a list in 2002, with updates to the list in the years since.

"We know survivors who can't go into a church," McKiernan said, adding that, as a researcher, he cannot walk away. "This has actually made my faith stronger and more important.

The news conference also heard from Shaun Dougherty, a victim-survivor from the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, Pennsylvania. It was Dougherty's first time protesting outside the bishops' assembly. He said throughout his entire adult life, some members of the conference covered up clergy sexual abuse.

"This time, if they're going to do it again, they're going to do it with me standing here," Dougherty said. "I will not cower again."

One of nine children and raised in a "very, very" Catholic household, Dougherty said he stopped practicing his faith as a teenager as a direct result of the abuse he encountered.

"I wholeheartedly struggle with faith," he said. "If they (bishops) want me to believe in God, they should probably do something to show me that they believe in God."

Dougherty last encountered clergy sexual abuse in 1983 but said "the mental torment and torture has lasted every day since that time."

His family knows about the abuse, and most have since left the Catholic Church. He still has two brothers and a sister who actively practice the Catholic faith, and he acknowledged that the personal choice lies with the individual.

"The Catholic faithful and the Catholic hierarchy -- in order to get me to go back (to the church) -- would have to act the way they taught me to act in Catholic school," Dougherty said. "Until then, I don't believe in anything."

Fewer than 10 people participated in the protests outside the conference hotel on the first day of the fall meeting.

Some protests of and demonstrations in support of the general assembly began over the weekend. A group of priests, seminarians and lay faithful walked nearly 50 miles from Emmitsburg to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore Nov. 9-11 in penance and prayer.

Just before those pilgrims participated in 4:30 p.m. Mass Nov. 11, a paper was taped to the door of the basilica listing "5 Theses" by a group of the same name. They called for full transparency, survivors' voices, simple living, women in church leadership and praying for a reformed church.

Members also placed the theses in the collection basket with two pennies -- their "two cents" -- attached. Liz McCloskey, one of the leaders of 5 Theses, said the pennies paralleled the day's reading from the Gospel of Mark.

"The Gospel for the day is the widow's mite," McCloskey told Catholic News Service. "This is a drop in the bucket. This is a huge institution that's been around for 2,000 years and is slow to change.

"There is a feeling of powerlessness or not influencing the church, yet Jesus said those two cents are of value," she said. "My hope is that this is a contribution that's valued and is heard."

As a 5 p.m. Mass for the bishops began inside the hotel, about 40 protesters gathered outside.

Among them were the Women of the New Testament, a group from St. Ignatius in Baltimore that formed after the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report.

"When (the report) came out, we figured we had to do something," said Marian D'Anna, a member of the group.

Anne Haddad, a leader of the Women of the New Testament, said St. Ignatius has been inclusive since she became a parishioner in 1994, and that women have been encouraged to be active in the church.

Haddad said they support the survivors of clergy sexual abuse, but they especially want to bring focus to their larger goal of allowing the ordination of women.

"We believe that it's absolutely ludicrous to not ordain women," Haddad said, adding the group believes women should be able to attain that level of scholarship and authority. "I, and many other women, will leave the church (if there is no change)."

Ordaining women would be a show of total equality, not just for the U.S. church, but for the church throughout the world, she added.

Elizabeth Brown traveled from her parish, St. Pius X in Bowie in the neighboring Archdiocese of Washington, to voice her desire for transparency among the bishops and more power for the laity in positions of power.

"I'm a practicing Catholic who wants to see the church address this and come out better," Brown said. "They've made a start, but they have not done enough to fully address the problem."

The vigil, organized by SNAP, included speeches from victim-survivors. The first names and last initials of some of those related to the clergy sexual abuse crisis who committed suicide or died from overdoses were read.

Nearly 30 protesters then walked in a circle, each holding a flashlight to shine light on a photograph of a victim.

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Rosenthal is a staff writer at the Catholic Review, the news website and magazine of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Dennis Sadowski of Catholic News Service contributed to this article.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Temporary mobile health clinic for the poor opens in St. Peter's Square

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As workers were getting St. Peter's Square ready for this year's Nativity scene, nearby a large mobile health care facility was set up and running to serve the city's homeless and poor.

About two dozen men and a few women were sitting or standing in a spacious area, quietly waiting their turn or filling out basic paperwork before being called for their free checkups.

Doctors volunteering from Rome hospitals or other health clinics and nurses from the Italian Red Cross took shifts running laboratory tests and seeing patients from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day.

For the second time, the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization organized the free health care initiative in conjunction with Pope Francis' celebration of the World Day of the Poor, which was to be celebrated Nov. 18. But this year, the clinic offered extended morning and evening hours. Anyone in need could find general and specialist care, including cardiology, dermatology, gynecology and ophthalmology.

Roberta Capparella, a Red Cross nurse, told reporters Nov. 13 that she and many others took part in last year's initiative and found it "very gratifying."

She said they were so happy to hear Pope Francis wanted to offer the free health services again this year that they jumped at the chance to serve again.

"Just by being here all day, volunteers realize that they aren't giving of themselves, but that they are receiving" from the people they serve, she said.

The World Day of the Poor -- marked each year on the 33rd Sunday of ordinary time -- focuses this year on a verse from Psalm 34, "This poor one cried out and the Lord heard."

The commemoration and the period of reflection and action preceding it are meant to give Christians a chance to follow Christ's example and concretely share a moment of love, hope and respect together with those in need in one's community, the pope said in his message for the day, published in mid-June.

Local churches, associations and institutions were again asked to create initiatives that foster moments of real encounter, friendship, solidarity and concrete assistance.

The pope was to celebrate Mass in St. Peter's Basilica Nov. 18 with the poor and volunteers, and he was scheduled to have lunch afterward with about 3,000 people in the Vatican's Paul VI audience hall. Other volunteer groups and schools were also set to offer free meals throughout the city.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Gobsmacked: Rome steps in, reform votes delayed

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Greg Erlandson

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Seasoned bishop watchers know that just about every fall meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has a surprise. Sometimes it's an election result. Sometimes it is the debate you never expected. Sometimes it's that there's no debate.

But the first day of the 2018 fall meeting was one that caught just about everyone in the room flat-footed. Right on the eve of what looked to be a decisive meeting of the U.S. bishops in dealing with sexual abuse within their own ranks, the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops asked them not to vote on two of the key proposals that were to be put before them.

When Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the conference, made the announcement within the opening minutes of the meeting, the entire room -- bishops, staff and journalists -- were gobsmacked.

This, after all, was the meeting when the bishops were going to get their own house in order following the latest wave of sex abuse stories -- Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, the Pennsylvania grand jury report, and the subsequent flood of subpoenas and investigations and self-published lists of priest offenders.

The McCarrick scandal in particular raised questions about who knew what and when. It also highlighted the fact that even when adults were involved, there could be harassment and abuse of power. In an Aug. 16 statement, Cardinal DiNardo called for "an investigation into the questions surrounding Archbishop McCarrick, an opening of new and confidential channels for reporting complaints against bishops, and advocacy for more effective resolution of future complaints."

Following meetings in Rome, some of the early requests by the U.S. -- particularly for an apostolic visitation to investigate the questions surrounding the McCarrick scandal -- were rejected or modified by Rome. Likewise, a request by Pope Francis that the fall meeting become a weeklong retreat for the U.S. bishops was rejected as logistically impractical, and plans were made for such a retreat in January in Chicago.

What is not clear is how much of the discussion and planning by the U.S. bishops involved Rome. By the eve of the November meeting, the U.S. bishops were planning to ask for votes by the entire conference on three key issues:

-- A proposal for "Standards of Episcopal Conduct."

-- A proposal to establish a special commission for review of complaints against bishops for violations of the "Standards of Episcopal Conduct."

-- And a protocol regarding restrictions on bishops who were removed from or resigned their office due to sexual abuse of minors, sexual harassment of or misconduct with adults, or grave negligence in office.

In addition, there was to be a report on a third-party reporting system that would allow victims or those knowledgeable of abusive situations regarding bishops to report such cases confidentially.

According to Cardinal DiNardo's announcement, word was received Nov. 11 that the Vatican was asking the conference to delay their vote because of the previously announced meeting at the Vatican of the presidents of all the world's bishops' conferences to discuss the abuse crisis in February.

In his remarks, Cardinal DiNardo expressed his disappointment at this request, which threw the planned agenda for the four-day meeting into disarray.

Theories abound about what happened and why, ranging from the darkly conspiratorial to the surmise that Rome simply did not want the U.S. bishops to get too far ahead of the Vatican on the very sensitive issues involving the disciplining of bishops. Such discipline in church law is normally the prerogative of the pope himself.

One observer said that the U.S. bishops' sense of urgency -- inspired in part by the anger of many lay Catholics and their priests -- clashed with the more cautious way that Rome would approach any issue with such far-reaching implications.

What will be the implications of this sudden twist is still unknown. Protesters and bishops alike may now see Rome as the obstructionist, and the growing pressure on Pope Francis will continue. Ironically, this may take some heat off the U.S. bishops, at least temporarily, but is unlikely to help Rome-U.S. relations.

Critics of the proposed action items also may be relieved, since there were those who viewed the proposals as opening the door for other conferences to make similarly unilateral changes in areas of discipline or doctrine.

Perhaps most frustrated are those bishops -- many of them appointees after 2002 -- who want to open their archives, name priests credibly accused, and forthrightly address issues of accountability and transparency.

Following the announcement of the delay, the bishops of the Missouri province released a letter originally written Oct. 6. It expressed support for the proposals suggested by Cardinal DiNardo but added: "We fear these measures will not be enough in either substance or timeliness to meet the demands that this pastoral crisis presents."

Delay is inevitable, however. And now the bishops have the rest of their meeting to decide what, if anything, they are still able to do.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Pope names Archbishop Scicluna adjunct secretary of CDF

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis named Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, arguably the Catholic Church's most respected abuse investigator, to be adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Announcing the appointment Nov. 13, the Vatican press office said the archbishop would continue to serve simultaneously as head of the Malta Archdiocese. "To fulfill the duties entrusted to him by Pope Francis, Archbishop Scicluna will travel to Rome on a regular basis," said a note on the archdiocese's website.

Archbishop Scicluna is expected to have a key role in the organization of a meeting in February on child protection that Pope Francis has asked all presidents of national bishops' conferences to attend.

The 59-year-old archbishop, who holds a doctorate in canon law, worked at the doctrinal congregation for 10 years as the "promoter of justice" -- a position similar to prosecuting attorney -- dealing with cases of alleged clerical sexual abuse.

But even after being named auxiliary bishop of Malta in 2012, he continued to be the person the pope would call on to investigate high-profile cases of abuse, consolidating a reputation for treating victims with compassion and respect, and for insisting church officials respond to allegations clearly.

He generally is credited with consolidating the cases against Legionaries of Christ founder Father Marcial Maciel Degollado and Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien and, most recently, for convincing Pope Francis to take measures against several bishops in Chile.

Archbishop Scicluna also serves as president of the doctrinal congregation board that reviews appeals filed by priests laicized or otherwise disciplined in sexual abuse or other serious cases.

Although born in Toronto, he has lived in Malta since he was a year old. He did his university and seminary studies in Malta and was ordained to the priesthood in 1986.

During the Synod of Bishops in October, reporters asked Archbishop Scicluna about the state of discussions regarding the need for greater accountability of bishops in handling abuse cases. He said accountability would be a topic at the world meeting on abuse prevention the pope called for Feb. 21-24.

"We know there is a great expectation for more accountability," he said. "Now how is that going to develop? I think we need to trust Pope Francis to develop a system whereby there is more accountability."

"We bishops realize that we are accountable not only to God but also to our people," and accountable not only for what they do, but what they fail to do when it comes to "stewardship" and protection, he said.

The crisis caused by ongoing revelations and allegations "is a very important moment" for everyone in the church because "it is going to make us really, really humble," the archbishop told reporters. "There is no other way to humility except through humiliation, and it is a big humiliation, and it is going to make us humble, I hope."

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Survivors of clergy child sex abuse tell U.S. bishops of rejection, pain

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Rhina Guidos

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Luis A. Torres Jr. stood before a group of U.S. bishops during one of the most publicly watched of their fall annual meetings Nov. 12 in Baltimore and in doing so revealed to the world the reality that he has lived with since childhood: that he was abused by a priest.

"I'm not private anymore. Everyone knows," said Torres, a lawyer and member of the Lay Review Board of the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, which examines policies for removing priests who have abused.

It was unclear but it seemed that the moment marked the first time he revealed the truth publicly. He also spoke of what he witnessed toward those who have come forward in the Catholic Church when they revealed what had happened to them at the hands of clergy.

"I witnessed a church that didn't understand or didn't seem to care, or worse, a church that was actively hostile to the children who had trusted and suffered under its care," he said. "A church that professed faith but acted shrewdly, a church that seemed to listen less to Christ's teachings and more to the advice of lawyers, a church that seemed less interested in those it had harmed."

He spoke of a church more concerned with the protection of assets than its people.

He told his story to the group of bishops gathered for prayer in a makeshift chapel at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront. Though his statements were livestreamed, no press was allowed in the chapel.

In the telling of his pain through sometimes deep breaths, Torres told the bishops: "You need to do better." He also told them that "the heart of the church is broken and you need to fix this now."

Torres' story was one of two experiences U.S. bishops heard from survivors of clergy child sex abuse, who still remain active in the church. The other account came from Teresa Pitt Green, who along with Torres, founded Spirit Fire Live, which says on its website that it is devoted to "healing and reconciliation in relationships with adults, families and parishes wounded by child abuse and trauma."

"My heart breaks for you," Pitt Green told the bishops, saying that "the Lord has cried more tears ... because of some of the decisions some of you have made. I don't know how you bear it."

Neither was accusatory in tone, rather their declarations were given calmly as reflections during a day of prayer for the bishops, in which a reflection was given after a Bible reading. While two other reflections addressed what the laity need from the bishops and how bishops can be ministers of healing, the victim statements painfully painted the landscape that has brought the Catholic Church in the United States to address the sex abuse crisis so urgently.

Pitt Green spoke of the manifestation of the wounds by those who've been abused: suicides, addictions, chronic mental illness, broken relationships.

"We are the damaged goods of our age," Pitt Green said.

Pitt Green said she had found a way back to the church and applauded measures that have been taken to curtail child sex abuse in Catholic churches, schools and institutions and thanked the bishops for expressing a desire to do something about it. But she also acknowledged the anger expressed by other victims and survivors, saying that "many who have been entrusted to your care are noisy and they're angry, and I understand."

Torres said he struggled with understanding and explaining even to himself what happened and the different manifestations of trauma as an adult.

"I admit, I don't understand, so I get why you may not understand it either. Abuse of a child is the closest that you can get to murder and still possibly have a breathing body before you," he said. "When a child has been abused, particularly by someone whom they trust, you have destroyed the child. You have mortally wounded the soul and the spirit of that child. This is particularly true where the abuse is by a priest."

The abuse causes a break in the child's connection to God, and robs him or her of innocence, trust, faith and love, he said.

"Truly, this is the devil's best work," he said. "It's as if the child had been shot. Sometimes the bullet catches the child right away and they fall immediately via drugs, crime, suicide or something else. For others the bullet may not reach its destination for many years."

He credited the Diocese of Brooklyn with his willingness to remain with the church because through its Victims Assistance Coordinator, it had demonstrated a "willingness to share my journey" and restoring faith, "where once I knew betrayal."

That betrayal was compounded when the church treated victims as liabilities, as dishonest, or as seeking money, he said.

"The pain of this ongoing betrayal is not restricted to victims but it's also experienced by the families of victims, by the larger church community and by priests," he said.

Torres spoke of the "dissonance" survivors experience when the people who encouraged them to follow the footsteps of Christ failed to follow that example.

"What would Jesus' response have been in the same situation?" he asked. "Would he have called his lawyers and denounced the victims? Or would he have turned over the tables in a fit of rage and declared that this was intolerable in his father's house."

He asked that survivors not be looked as liabilities or adversaries.

"We are your children, we are your brothers, and your sisters, we are your mothers and your fathers. Your words and actions have caused us further harm and pushed us away," Torres said. "Through silence, distrust and defensiveness, we bear the shame of a crime to which our only contributions were trust, faith and innocence.

"I'm not angry, I'm mostly angry at myself. And I don't know why. I know you experience a lot of our anger because it's out there," he continued. "But I am so sad and disappointed, and think this is what many people feel, victims, laypeople, priests, everyone."

In a news conference following the survivors' declarations, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he couldn't speak about the reaction of the bishops as a group but offered his personal reaction.

"When you hear someone speak like that, it hits you very hard," he said, but added that he found it "very moving."

Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, of Burlington, Vermont, who was with Cardinal DiNardo at the news conference, said what the bishops had heard from survivors in the past was that no one listened to them, so they wanted to "be open and receptive and listen" and not necessarily issue a response but wanted to say "we believe you and we're listening to you."

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Cardinal: Delay in vote on abuse response proposals a 'bump in the road'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters

By Dennis Sadowski

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- A Vatican-requested delay in adopting practices that are expected to boost accountability among U.S. bishops in their response to clergy sex abuse is a "bump in the road," said the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston told reporters Nov. 12 that the Congregation for Bishops at the Vatican requested that no vote be taken on the proposals during the bishops' fall general assembly.

The proposals include standards of episcopal conduct and the formation of a special commission for review of complaints against bishops for violations of the standards.

They are among steps developed by the USCCB Administrative Committee in September in response to the firestorm that has emerged since June over how the bishops handled reports of wayward priests.

The Administrative Committee consists of the officers, chairmen and regional representatives of the USCCB.

"We have accepted it with disappointment," Cardinal DiNardo said of the congregation's request during a midday news conference.

"We have not lessened in any of our resolve for actions. We are going to work intensely on these items of action. We can't vote on them totally, but clarify them, get them more intensely canonically well, so that Rome will see that. We're going to keep pushing and moving until we get to a point where they become action," he said.

"We are ourselves not happy about this," he continued. "We are working very hard to move to action. We are just at a bump in the road."

The request from the Vatican congregation was outlined in a letter received the weekend before the assembly opened. It cited two reasons for seeking the delay, according to the cardinal.

He said the congregation wanted the bishops to wait until after the upcoming February meeting of the presidents of bishops' conferences from around the world called by Pope Francis to address clergy sex abuse and the need to ensure that the proposals are in line with canon law.

Under questioning, he clarified that the letter expressed the need for "further precision" of the proposals under canon law.

Citing the universal nature of the Catholic Church, he also said that the U.S. bishops cannot act unilaterally to enact standards unless they comply with canon law.

The cardinal stressed that he planned to press the need for the proposals to improve bishops' accountability when he represents the U.S. bishops at the February gathering.

Until Cardinal DiNardo announced that no vote would be taken on the proposals as the bishops opened their fall general assembly in Baltimore, none of the bishops were aware of the Vatican's concerns, Bishop Christopher J. Coyne of Burlington, Vermont, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Communications,

"It has thrown us a little bit sideways because it was completely unexpected," Bishop Coyne said of the Vatican correspondence.

Nevertheless, he explained to reporters, the bishops "by nature are collegial" and "do not work in separate entities" when adopting standards under canon law.

Cardinal DiNardo said he did not know if the congregation's letters originated with Pope Francis. He said that during a meeting with the pope in October in Rome, the pontiff expressed interest in the direction the U.S. church was taking.

The cardinal repeated several times that the bishops were committed to implementing the proposals despite the setback. "The bishops are all of one mind on this," he said.

Acknowledging that some parishioners would be "quite angry" that no action was to be taken during the fall assembly, he said that it will show each bishop what it means to be a "local shepherd."

"You always want to keep giving people a sense of hope," Cardinal DiNardo added. "We need a living sense of hope right now and I think the church can grant it even through the shepherds but even through our good and wonderful people who are moving along."

The cardinal cited the history of the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" as an example of how the church works. When the charter was proposed and was sent to the Vatican for review in 2002, it met with some "reticence," but that 16 years later "nowadays that is universal around the world."

"What I find within our Catholic faith sometimes it takes maybe a little longer than we would even like. But the net effect, because we are a universal church, is that you can get things done that are really fine," he said. "I'm hoping myself that what we are doing now, whatever it might be, with some of the he bumps in the road, that this will eventually work out. I don't think that's Pollyannaish."

The call for action resonated in at least one province of bishops. As the bishops were in the midst of their day of prayer and reflection on their response to abuse, the bishops of Missouri made public a letter and statement sent to the chairman of the USCCB Committee for the Children and Young People.

The letter and accompanying statement to Bishop Timothy L. Doherty of Lafayette, Indiana, committee chairman, said that while the bishops support some of the proposed actions from the Administrative Committee, they hoped the USCCB would address the "abuse of power that is at the center of the sexual abuse scandal of our church."

Among several steps, the Missouri bishops called for abuse survivors to be at the center of the church's response to the crisis; strengthen the 2002 charter; have each bishop mandate that the charter apply to each religious order serving in their diocese; and better utilize the charisms of the laity.

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Update: Vatican asks USCCB to delay vote on sex abuse response proposals

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Dennis Sadowski

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- At the urging of the Vatican, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will not vote on two proposals they were to discuss at their Baltimore meeting regarding their response to the clergy sex abuse crisis.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, informed the bishops as they opened their fall general assembly Nov. 12 that the Vatican wanted the bishops to delay any vote until after a February meeting with the pope and presidents of the bishops' conferences around the world that will focus on addressing clergy abuse.

Affected are proposed standards of episcopal conduct and the formation of a special commission for review of complaints against bishops for violations of the standards.

Cardinal DiNardo said he was disappointed that no action would be taken during the assembly, but that he was hopeful that the delay "will improve our response to the crisis we face."

The cardinal's announcement came two days after Pope Francis met with Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, at the Vatican. Archbishop Pierre returned to the United States Nov. 11 in time for the first day of the U.S. bishops' general fall assembly in Baltimore.

However, at a midday news conference, Cardinal DiNardo said the request to delay action came from the Congregation for Bishops.

The assembly planned to move forward with discussion of both proposals from the bishop's Administrative Committee.

The Administrative Committee consists of the officers, chairmen and regional representatives of the USCCB. The committee, which meets in March and September, is the highest authority of the USCCB outside of the full body of bishops when they meet for their fall and spring general assemblies.

In response, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago suggested the general assembly move forward with its discussion of the two proposals. He also called for a special assembly in March to weigh and vote on the measures after being informed by the outcome of the February meeting in Rome.

"It is clear that the Holy See is taking seriously the abuse crisis in the church," Cardinal Cupich said, adding that the February meeting was a "watershed moment" in church history.

"We need to be clear where we stand and tell our people where we stand," he said.

Later in the morning session, just before the assembly adjourned for a day of prayer and penitence, Cardinal DiNardo opened his presidential address pointing to the weakness within the church that has led to the clergy abuse crisis.

Repeatedly citing the words of St. Augustine, he said "in order that weakness might become strong, strength became weak."

He called for action to lift the entire brotherhood of bishops from a place of weakness that has allowed the clergy sex abuse crisis to exist. While there were to be no votes on specific action at the meeting, he said the deliberations the bishops would undertake would set them on the route to healing for the church and for victims of abuse.

He also held up his own weakness to victims, saying: "Where I have not been watchful or alert to your needs, wherever I have failed, I am deeply sorry."

Cardinal DiNardo urged the bishops to root themselves in the life and teaching of Jesus to lead the church and the victims of abuse to healing. He also called for the bishops to focus on the needs of victims so that "our example not lead a single person away from the Lord."

He also said that the bishops must be as accountable as anyone else in ministry in the church and that they, like priests and other church workers, must adhere to the same standards of conduct identified in the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People."

"Whether we will be remembered as guardians of the abused or of the abuser will be determined by our action beginning this week and the months ahead. Let us draw near to Christ today sacrificing him our own ambitions and promptly submit ourselves totally to what he demands of us both in love and justice," he said.

In his seven-minute address, the cardinal said that he read that St. Augustine warned there are two extremes that pose dangers to the faithful -- despair and presumption.

"We and the faithful can fall into despair believing that there is no hope for the church or (for) good change in the church. We can also believe that there are no hopes for healing from these sins," he said.

"But we must always remember that there is a thing called trusting faith and it leads us on our current journey. This trusting faith provides us roots, roots for a living memory. Our people need this living memory of hope," he said.

Presumption can lull the church into inactivity, he added, "by presuming that this will blow over, that things simply return to normal on their own. Some would say this is entirely a crisis of the past, and it is not. We must never victimize survivors over again by demanding that hey heal on our timeline."

While the majority of abuse incidents occurred decades ago, the pain among victims "is daily and present," he continued and warned against leaving behind people who have been hurt by clergy.

"In justice we must search for every child of God whose innocence is lost to a horrific predator at any time decades ago or this very day," Cardinal DiNardo said.

He explained that healing can result through forgiveness, adding, "Let us not only be willing but also ready and eager to ask for forgiveness."

"Combating the evil of sexual assault in the church will require all our spiritual and physical resources," he said. "We must draw near to Christ in our sorrow, in humility and in contrition to better hear his voice and discern his will. It is only after listening that we can carry out the changes needed, the changes the people of God are rightfully demanding."

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Bishops must be blameless servants, not princes, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Carol Glatz


VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A bishop must be "blameless" and at the service of God, not of cliques, assets and power, especially if he is ever to "set right" what needs to be done for the church, Pope Francis said.

A bishop must always "correct himself and ask himself, 'Am I a steward of God or a businessman?'" the pope said in his homily during Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae Nov. 12, the feast of St. Josaphat, 17th-century bishop and martyr.

The pope's homily looked at the day's first reading from St. Paul's Letter to Titus (1:1-9) describing the qualities and role of a bishop.

The apostle underlines how a bishop must be a steward or "administrator of God, not of assets, power and cliques," the pope said.

Most of all, he said, a bishop must be "blameless," the same quality God asked of Abraham when he said, "walk in my presence and be blameless." It is a quality that is the cornerstone of every leader, he added.

According to the apostle, a bishop must not be licentious, rebellious, arrogant, irritable, a drunkard, greedy or obsessed with money. A bishop with even just one of these defects, the pope said, is "a calamity for the church."

A bishop must be hospitable, temperate, just and holy; he must have self-control, love the good and be faithful to the Word, to the true message as it was taught, the apostle says.

If this is what a bishop should be, the pope said, then "would it be wonderful to ask these questions at the beginning, when inquiries are made to elect bishops? To know whether one may keep going with other inquiries?"  

Above all, the pope said, a bishop "must be humble, meek and a servant, not a prince."

This is "the word of God" that comes from the time of St. Paul and isn't something recent from the Second Vatican Council, the pope added.

The church can only "set right" what needs corrected when it has bishops who have these qualities, he said.

What matters to God, he said, is a bishop's humility and his service, not how nice he is or how well he preaches.

 

 

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