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by Peterr

Better Late Than Never for Archbishop Gomez on Handling Cardinal Mahony

7:22 am in accountability, child abuse, Religion, Uncategorized by Peterr

Roman Catholic Archbishop José H. Gomez shook the Catholic world yesterday by imposing unheard-of sanctions against his predecessor, Cardinal Roger Mahony for Mahony’s actions to shield predatory priests from accountability during his years as the head of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. In most of the coverage, this was rightly hailed as a strong action to advance the cause of justice, and to provided at least a measure of accountability even though criminal liability is probably not possible because the statute of limitations has probably expired.  The coverage misses one very negative aspect of Gomez’ actions, however. Before we get to that, let me provide a little background.

In 2007, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles (then headed by Mahony) settled a group of over 500 civil suits over clerical child abuse, and since then has been fighting the release of their files related those cases. When they lost the battle to keep the files themselves secret, they tried to argue that the names of not just victims but church officials should be redacted. Some records were released last week, and last Monday, they lost their redaction argument, and yesterday, rather than appeal the ruling, they released the rest of the files.

What emerged was not pretty. Not pretty at all:

Fifteen years before the clergy sex abuse scandal came to light, Archbishop Roger M. Mahony and a top advisor plotted to conceal child molestation by priests from law enforcement, including keeping them out of California to avoid prosecution, according to internal Catholic church records released Monday.

The archdiocese’s failure to purge pedophile clergy and reluctance to cooperate with law enforcement has previously been known. But the memos written in 1986 and 1987 by Mahony and Msgr. Thomas J. Curry, then the archdiocese’s chief advisor on sex abuse cases, offer the strongest evidence yet of a concerted effort by officials in the nation’s largest Catholic diocese to shield abusers from police. The newly released records, which the archdiocese fought for years to keep secret, reveal in church leaders’ own words a desire to keep authorities from discovering that children were being molested.

Ugly. The memos show Mahony and his staff shuttling some priests out of the country, and cherrypicking therapists for others, all in an effort to avoid accountability.

Mahony retired in 2011, and Archbishop José H. Gomez took over the archdiocese on March 1, 2011. Yesterday, in his letter accompanying the release of the unredacted files, Gomez described reading through them:

I find these files to be brutal and painful reading. The behavior described in these files is terribly sad and evil. There is no excuse, no explaining away what happened to these children. The priests involved had the duty to be their spiritual fathers and they failed.

We need to acknowledge that terrible failure today. We need to pray for everyone who has ever been hurt by members of the Church. And we need to continue to support the long and painful process of healing their wounds and restoring the trust that was broken.

I cannot undo the failings of the past that we find in these pages. Reading these files, reflecting on the wounds that were caused, has been the saddest experience I’ve had since becoming your Archbishop in 2011.

Then came the bombshell:

Read the rest of this entry →

by Peterr

Seattle Archbishop Leads the Charge Against Marriage Equality, Women Religious, and Others Who Think

10:50 am in LGBT, Religion by Peterr

The bishops will direct you to notice that "The Thinker" is a man

Seattle’s Archbishop J. Peter Sartain is a busy guy. Like every bishop, he’s trying to run his diocese, but he’s also involved in getting his flock motivated to put an anti-marriage equality measure called Referendum 74 on the ballot in the state of Washington.

Several weeks ago, he and his auxiliary bishop wrote a letter [pdf] to all the priests of the diocese and leaders of the parishes, asking them to help with signature gathering. That effort is not going too well, at least in some places, including one very close to the archbishop’s heart.

“After discussing the matter with the members of the [St. James] Cathedral’s pastoral ministry team, I have decided that we will NOT participate in the collecting of signatures in our parish,” Fr. Michael Ryan, the cathedral’s pastor, said in a letter.

“Doing so would, I believe, prove hurtful and seriously divisive in our community,” Ryan explained.  St. James Cathedral is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle.

Other parishes and priests have taken the same approach, with an interesting reaction during a mass eight days ago when a similar decision was announced: a standing ovation. Said the priest, “I only wished the archbishop could have experienced the sustained applause — the ‘sensus fidelium’ — of the people.  He needs to listen to this ‘voice.’”

As if Archbishop Sartain didn’t have enough to do in his own backyard, now he’s been given a new side job by the Vatican: overseeing a Vatican-ordered reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the umbrella organization of most of the women’s religious orders in the United States.

Citing “serious doctrinal problems which affect many in consecrated life,” the Vatican announced a major reform of an association of women’s religious congregations in the U.S. to ensure their fidelity to Catholic teaching in areas including abortion, euthanasia, women’s ordination and homosexuality.

Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle will provide “review, guidance and approval, where necessary, of the work” of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

The “areas of concern” identified in the report from the Vatican office that led the investigation, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, [pdf] were (a) addresses at LCWR assemblies, (b) policies of corporate dissent, and (c) radical feminism. Dominican Sister Laurie Brink’s 2007 keynote address came in for particular criticism, perhaps because it seemed to embody all three of these concerns.

Most of Brink’s (very readable) address is pretty solid and basic stuff about leadership and ministry on the margins. Some of it is descriptive of what she sees in the church, not prescriptive about the way she thinks things ought to be. In the descriptive sections, she pauses from time to time, inviting the attendees to reflect on what she has just said. Brink also includes a strong disclaimer at the top, indicating she is speaking only for herself when she gets into more prescriptive critiques.

And make no mistake, she gets into some very substantial critiques, taking direct aim at the bishops, the Vatican, and Pope Benedict like this Read the rest of this entry →

by Peterr

Nice Diocese You’ve Got Here, Bishop . . .

7:06 pm in Religion by Peterr

St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, rendered in stained glass. (photo: Fergal OP via Flickr)

Yesterday evening, Irish television station RTE One broadcast a new episode of their news documentary series “Would You Believe” that came with the title “Unspeakable Crimes.” These unspeakable crimes are described on their website like this:

Just when the Irish bishops were beginning to come to grips with how to deal with the clerical sexual abuse problem, Rome intervened and tried to enforce Vatican policy which put the interests of the priest, not the victim, first.

In a strictly confidential letter seen by WYB, the Vatican threatens the Irish bishops that if they follow their new child protection guidelines it would support the accused priest if he were to appeal to its authority.

The letter tells the Irish bishops that the Vatican has moral reservations about their policy of mandatory reporting and that their guidelines are contrary to canon law.

The letter itself is here [PDF], and it says exactly what RTE claims it says.

The study document referred to in the letter are the 1996 guidelines that the Irish bishops proposed, which included mandatory reporting of abuse to the secular authorities. (PDF of the study document is here.)

The Vatican’s reaction to that section of the study document was to say this: “In particular, the situation of ‘mandatory reporting’ gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and a canonical nature.” The Vatican goes on to say something to the effect of “you English-speaking people seem to have this problem all over the place, so while WE study what WE want to do about it, you just keep on doing what you’re doing, according to the rules WE laid down earlier in canon law, and forget all about YOUR study and its proposed mandatory reporting clause.” The actual phrasing of that last part is more delicate, of course, but the implication is clear: shut up, and “at the appropriate time” we’ll tell you all what to do.

They also attach a nice theological threat at the end: “in the sad cases of accusations of sexual abuse by clerics, the procedures established by the Code of Canon Law must be meticulously followed under pain of invalidity of the acts involved if the priest so punished were to make hierarchical recourse against his Bishop.” IOW, if you don’t follow the old way, and thus punish a priest, and the accused priest appeals to Rome, Rome is going to back the priest and you will end up with a black eye.

Shorter Vatican: “Nice diocese you’ve got here, bishop. It’d be a shame if anything were to happen to it . . .”   Read the rest of this entry →

by Peterr

Pope Benedict’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

8:50 pm in Uncategorized by Peterr

It’s been a bad week for Pope Benedict. From Italy to Belgium to Washington DC, courts everywhere seem to be taking a hard look at some of the activities of the Catholic church, and they’re not liking what they’re seeing.

A week ago Sunday, news broke that a high-ranking Roman Catholic cardinal was under investigation in Italy for corruption. Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, the archbishop of Naples and former head of a major Vatican department (the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, or Propaganda Fide in Latin) was caught up in a larger probe of former Italian government officials involved in various real estate, public works, and construction scams. Word of the investigation broke last February, but Sepe’s involvement only came to light last week:

Judicial sources have told the media that [Italian infrastructure minister Pietro] Lunardi bought a building in central Rome – in Via dei Prefetti, a stone’s throw from parliament – from Sepe’s department in 2004 at a price four times lower than the estimated market value.

In an alleged swap for favours, the following year Lunardi allocated state funds for the restoration of historic church buildings, including the 16th century Congregation headquarters facing the Spanish Steps.

Sepe proclaimed his innocence, implicitly comparing himself in his Sunday sermon with martyrs who "were tortured, humiliated and disrespected" for their faithfulness to the Gospel. He also declared he had the full support of the Vatican, and pledged to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

That kind of news would ruin any CEO’s week, religious or otherwise. Then came Thursday, when things got dramatically worse.

That’s when Belgian police raided the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church in Belgium as part of an investigation of child abuse at the hands of priests and allegations of a coverup on the part of the Belgian bishops.

The  spokesperson for the Belgian conference of bishops (the "Episcopal Conference") put out this statement, which was released by the Vatican Secretariat of State on Friday:

The bishops of Belgium were gathered at the residence of the Archbishop of Malines-Brussels at about 10.30 this morning for the monthly meeting of the Episcopal Conference. At about 10:30, police and court officials entered and referred that there would be a search of the archdiocese, following complaints of sexual abuse within the territory of the archdiocese. No explanation was given, but all documents and mobile phones were confiscated and it was referred that nobody could leave the building. This situation lasted until approximately 19:30.

Everyone was interrogated, members of the Episcopal Conference and staff. It was not a pleasant experience, but everything was done correctly. The bishops have always affirmed their trust in justice and its work. This search was greeted with the same confidence and therefore, for the moment, the (bishops) shall refrain from making further comments.

Instead, they, along with Professor Peter Adriaensses, chairman of the committee for handling sexual abuse as part of a pastoral outreach, regret the fact that during another search, all files of this committee were seized. This goes against the privacy rights of which the victims who have chosen to turn to this committee should benefit. This action gravely affects the much needed and excellent work of this committee.

Emphasis added. I’m sure they were surprised — that’s kind of the point, with any kind of search like this — but I’m glad it was all done correctly.

On Sunday, the pope himself weighed in, releasing the message he sent to the head of the Belgian episcopal conference:

At this sad time I wish to express my special closeness and solidarity to you, dear brother in the episcopate, and to all the bishops of the Church in Belgium, for the surprising and deplorable manner in which searches were carried out at the cathedral of Mechelen and at the site where the Belgian episcopate was gathered in a plenary assembly which, among other things, also intended to consider questions associated with the abuse of minors by members of the clergy. On a number of occasions I myself have highlighted how these serious matters should be dealt with by both civil law and canon law, while respecting the specific nature and autonomy of each. In this context, I trust that justice may run its course in order to guarantee the fundamental rights of persons and of institutions, at the same time respecting victims, showing unconditional recognition for those who undertake to collaborate, and rejecting everything that obscures the noble goal with which justice is assigned.

While assuring you that I accompany the progress of your Church with my daily prayers, I willingly impart an affectionate apostolic blessing.

Emphasis added here, too. Notice the difference between the two statements? What the Belgian bishops described as unpleasant and yet "done correctly," the pope sees as "deplorable". Belgium has become what John Allen described as "a perfect storm" on the sex abuse crisis, with a painful history leading up to this raid.

When it rains, it pours. A lot.

The last bolt of judicial thunder came from the Supreme Court of the United States, who with two words made life in the Vatican even more miserable. Buried on a list of orders released this morning [pdf] was the line "09-1: Holy See v. Doe, John V.", sitting right under a very painful two word heading: "CERTIORARI DENIED".

Said the Catholic News Service:

The U.S. Supreme Court has left standing a lower court ruling that will allow an Oregon man to try to hold the Vatican financially responsible for his sexual abuse by a priest, if he can persuade the court that the priest was an employee of the Vatican.

By declining to take Holy See v. John Doe, the court June 28 left intact the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that said because of the way Oregon law defines employment, the Vatican is not protected under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act from potential liability for the actions of a priest who Doe, the unidentified plaintiff, said sexually abused him in the 1960s.

The Vatican had hoped to have this case dismissed out of hand using FSIA, but they couldn’t convince even four justices that their case was worth hearing, at least at this point. (Conspiracy theorists take note: there are six Roman Catholics on the Court, and the Vatican still couldn’t muster four votes for cert, even with an amicus brief filed by the DOJ supporting their position.)

Now the Vatican has the unenviable task of going back to the district court to try to make the case that the priest and various bishops involved are *not* Vatican employees.

Good luck with that.

I can easily envision the questioning by the lawyers for Doe of the priest, the bishops, and whatever Vatican officials are deposed in this case:

  • Are priests obligated to work under the terms and conditions laid down by the Vatican?
  • Are they subject to discipline for failure to live up to those conditions?
  • Does the Vatican establish the procedures for carrying out that discipline?
  • Isn’t it true that no priest can leave the priesthood without the permission of the Vatican, which can be obtained only by undergoing a process created and carried out by the Vatican?
  • Bishop, were you named to your post by the Pope?
  • Did the pope (or someone designated by the pope) install you in your office with a special ceremony of episcopal ordination at which he (or his designee) presided?
  • At that ceremony, did the pope or his designee give to you personally various signs, symbols, and insignia of your office?
  • Are you charged with carrying out your office in accordance with policies and procedures laid down by the Pope and the various curial offices of the Vatican?
  • Are you required to report to the Vatican regularly on your activities, including mandatory visits to Rome for in-person consultation?
  • Isn’t it true that you can be removed from your office by the Pope?

Given that the answer to every one of those questions is "yes," and that there are reams of Vatican documents like the code of canon law and papal sermons at the ordinations of bishops that can be introduced as supporting evidence, claiming that bishops are somehow "free agents" or "independent contractors" is going to be a very hard argument to make.

This case isn’t over. The Vatican may yet win the underlying lawsuit, but they’re not going to win it without a lot of discovery, public hearings, and the airing of some very dirty ecclesiastical laundry.

And if all this news wasn’t bad enough, there’s one more thing that is giving Pope Benedict nightmares: there will be plenty more weeks like this to come.