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Updated: 56 min 52 sec ago

Pennsylvania bishops respond to sexual abuse grand jury report

4 hours 13 min ago

Pittsburgh, Pa., Aug 14, 2018 / 03:12 pm (CNA).- Following the Aug. 14 release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report on sexual abuse allegations in six Catholic dioceses, the dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Scranton released separate statements acknowledging failures to protect children, and pledging to make amends.
 
Bishop Ronald W. Gainer of Harrisburg said in a statement that he was “saddened” by the report, “for once again we read that innocent children were the victims of horrific acts committed against them.”
 
Gainer also apologized again to the survivors of child sex abuse and to the public, both for past abuses and for the Church officials who allowed the abuse to occur.
 
Harrisburg’s bishop also sought to reassure the faithful that policies had changed to ensure a safer environment, and that “there is nothing we take more seriously than the protection of those who walk through our doors. [...] The safety and well-being of our children is too important not to take immediate and definitive action.”

Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton released a seven-minute video in response to the grand jury report’s findings.

“While this is an uncomfortable and unsettling topic, we must speak openly and frankly about it,” said Bambera.

“I offer my deepest apologies for such behavior and for the consequences of this tragic reality in our Church.”

Bambera described the incidents in the report as a “dark chapter” in the 150-year history of the diocese.

“You have a right to be angry,” he said. “I am angry too,” noting that it was “particularly abhorrent” that abuse is alleged to have occurred in a Church environment. Bambera also outlined the steps his diocese has taken to protect children, including background checks and abuse training.

Bishop Lawrence Persico of Erie, who was the only bishop singled out for praise by the Pennsylvania attorney general, offered in a statement in an apology to the victims of abuse, saying they suffered from “unimaginably cruel behavior” for which they bore no responsibility.

Perscio praised abuse survivors for having the courage to come forward with their stories, while he also acknowledged that there are others who have not yet shared their experiences.

“I humbly offer my sincere apology to each victim who has been violated by anyone affiliated with the Catholic Church. I hope that you can accept it,” said Perscio.

“I know that apologizing is only one step in a very long and complex process of healing.”

Perscio instructed churches within his diocese to be open for a 12-hour period on September 15, the feast of Our Mother of Sorrows. He pledged to stand with the victims of abuse, and said that he was willing to meet with any survivor who wished to do so.  

Bishop Alfred A. Schlert of Allentown issued an apology “for the past sins and crimes committed by some members of the clergy,” as well as “to the survivors of abuse and their loved ones,” and then to the entire diocese, for any doubts or anger the crisis has wrought.

“For the times when those in the Church did not live up to Christ’s call to holiness, and did not do what needed to be done, I apologize,” he said.

He reiterated that his “first priority” as a bishop was the protection of children.

“To those women and men and all those they have spoken for: We hear you. The Church hears you. I hear you,” said Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh in a statement after the report’s release.

Zubik also apologized to victims of clerical abuse, as well as to “any person or family whose trust, faith and well-being has been devastated by men who were ordained to be the image of Christ.” He also said he is willing to meet with any victim to apologize in-person.

Zubik emphasized that “Diocese of Pittsburgh today is not the Church that is described in the Grand Jury Report,” and that “It has not been for a long time.” Data provided by the diocese showed that over 90 percent of abuse incidents occurred prior to 1990, and Zubik explained the steps the diocese has taken to prevent abuse.

Bishop Edward Malesic of Greensburg released a video homily that will be shown at each Mass in the diocese this coming weekend. In it, Malesic apologized to the victims, who were “robbed of their childhoods” by the abuse, noting that some had been “robbed of their faith” as well.

The behavior in the report “cannot be accepted,” he said, and “it is a cause of shame for us.”

Malesic stated he was “truly proud of the victims who came forward to tell their story,” and encouraged others to come forward as well, and for the faithful to be vigilant in reporting suspected abuse.

“To the survivors of sexual abuse in the Church [...] I grieve for you, and I grieve with you.”

In a statement released by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB president Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop Timothy L. Doherty, chairman of the bishops’ Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People, expressed “shame” at the report’s conclusions.

“As a body of bishops, we are shamed by and sorry for the sins and omissions by Catholic priests and Catholic bishops… We pray that all survivors of sexual abuse find healing, comfort and strength in God’s loving presence as the Church pledges to continue to restore trust through accompaniment, communion, accountability and justice.”

The report claims to have identified more than 1,000 victims of 300 credibly accused priests and presents a devastating portrait of efforts by Church authorities to, ignore, obscure, or cover up allegations - either to protect accused priests or to spare the Church scandal.

 

Cardinal Wuerl named in Pennsylvania grand jury report, responds to criticism

4 hours 55 min ago

Washington D.C., Aug 14, 2018 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, D.C., and the former Bishop of Pittsburgh, has been named more than 200 times in a Pennsylvania grand jury report, released Aug. 14, after an 18-month investigation into historic allegations of sexual abuse in six Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses.

The cardinal released a statement in response to the report, underscoring the gravity of the sexual abuse for the Church and the real need for repentance for past failures.

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

In total, 99 priest from Pittsburgh were named in the report, 32 priests were referenced by the grand jury report in relation to Cardinal Wuerl’s time as bishop. Of these, 19 involved new cases or allegations which arose during his 18 years in charge of the diocese, during the years 1988-2006.

Of the 19 cases which arose during Wuerl’s time as bishop, 18 were removed from ministry immediately. The other cases Wuerl addressed in Pittsburgh principally concerned actions and allegations that arose during the reign of his predecessor, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.

Several of these cases inherited from Cardinal Bevilacqua’s time were subject to the report’s most stringent criticisms.

In one case, an abuser-priest left the Diocese of Pittsburgh in 1966, following allegations of abuse. He was allowed to seek ministry in dioceses in California and Nevada. The report says Wuerl authorized him to move from Los Angeles to the diocese of Reno-Las Vegas in 1991, but sources familiar with the Pittsburgh case said that Wuerl was unaware of the 1966 allegations at the time.

A further allegation, concerning past actions by the same priest, was made in 1994 at which time Wuerl immediately informed the dioceses where the priest had been living.

In another case highlighted by the report, Wuerl agreed to a settlement with an abuse victim in his first weeks as bishop of Pittsburgh in 1988. The victim received a total of $900,000 and signed a confidentiality agreement  - such agreements were once common in settlements and have been heavily criticized as a means of silencing victims.

While acknowledging that the report contained specific criticisms of his time in Pittsburgh, Wuerl defended his record of handling sexual abuse allegations.

“While I understand this report may be critical of some of my actions, I believe the report confirms that I acted with diligence, with concern for the victims and to prevent future acts of abuse. I sincerely hope that a just assessment of my actions, past and present, and my continuing commitment to the protection of children will dispel any notions otherwise made by this report.”

The report also specifically criticized Wuerl for maintaining financial support for priests who had been removed from ministry, although providing that support is a canonical obligation for bishops. Many dioceses, including those covered by the report, have found themselves obligated to continue providing minimum benefits and support for priests.

Sources close to the cardinal also point out that the grand jury report does not distinguish between proven incidents of abuse and other allegations, saying that the report presumes that any priest accused of abuse should have been permanently removed from ministry, whether the allegation is proven or not. That assumption, they say, is not consistent with canonical norms on the subject.

As the most senior sitting bishop to be named in the report, and having served for so long as the head of a diocese as prominent as Pittsburgh, it was widely expected that Wuerl would be singled out for special attention by the report, and by the state’s Attorney General, Josh Shapiro.

Perhaps the most eye-catching allegation against Wuerl contained in the more than 1,000 pages released is the use of the phrase “circle of secrecy.” These words, the report claims, “were his own words for the church’s child sex abuse cover up.” This allegation is vehemently denied by both the diocese of Pittsburgh and the cardinal.

In an official response released with the report, the Diocese of Pittsburgh said that the phrase “circle of secrecy” appears in paperwork related to the request of a particular priest to return to ministry, and that it was used to make clear that there could be no “circle of secrecy” about the priest’s past problems. The diocese also says that the handwriting in which the phrase is written cannot be definitively attributed to anyone, including  Wuerl.

Ed McFadden, spokesman for the cardinal, said that “the handwriting does not belong to then-Bishop Wuerl as the writers of the Report mistakenly assumed. Indeed, the cardinal confirmed the handwriting is not his, and confirmed he neither wrote nor used the phrase while serving as Bishop of Pittsburgh. When the Cardinal’s legal counsel informed the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office about this error – prior to the release of the report – the Attorney General and his Senior Deputy refused to acknowledge the mistake and refused to take any steps to correct the dramatic use and misattribution of the phrase in the report.”

McFadden called the report’s attribution of the phrase “another example that in factual ways, large and small, the Attorney General’s office was more concerned with getting this report out than getting it right. Such a focus detracts from the shared goals of protection and healing.”

In a letter sent to the priests of the Washington archdiocese on Aug. 13, Wuerl wrote that he was shocked at having to confront allegations of abuse almost from the beginning of his ministry in Pittsburgh.

“I cannot fully express the dismay and anger I felt, when as a newly installed Bishop of Pittsburgh in 1988, I learned about the abuse some survivors experienced in my diocese,” he said.

The cardinal said that the experience of meeting with victims of abuse “urged me to develop quickly a “zero tolerance” policy for clergy who committed such abuse,” and that he put in place procedures to ensure allegations were addressed “fairly and forthrightly.”

In his written testimony to the grand jury, Wuerl recounted that in his first months as Bishop of Pittsburgh he had to meet with two brothers who had been victims of abuse. Wuerl said he was profoundly affected by the experience and came away with “a permanent resolve that this should never happen again.”

In 1989, Wuerl established a diocesan committee to evaluate policies for responding to abuse allegations. This committee grew to become the Diocesan Review Board, nearly a decade before the Dallas Charter called for every diocese to have such a body.

In his letter to the priests of Washington, he said that he had tried to live up to his own zero-tolerance standards.

“The diocese [of Pittsburgh] investigated all allegations of child sexual abuse during my tenure there and admitted or substantiated allegations of child sexual abuse resulted in appropriate action including the removal of the priest from ministry,” Wuerl wrote to the Washington presbyterate.

What constitutes “appropriate action” is something that has changed in the years since the sexual abuse crisis at the turn of the millennium and the formation of the Dallas Charter by the United States bishops.

As Bishop of Pittsburgh, Wuerl says he implemented of a policy that formally encouraged Catholics making complaints to also report them directly to law enforcement agencies, and sometimes informed civil authorities himself, even against the express wishes of the person making the allegations.

Of the 19 priests whose original allegations were handled by Wuerl, 18 were immediately removed from pastoral assignments and a kept away from any further contact with children.

But, when allegations could not be satisfactorily established,  many of these were given administrative positions in the diocesan chancery, something which would be considered inappropriate under current standards. Unlike the worst examples of earlier abuse cases in dioceses like Boston and Los Angeles, Wuerl is adamant that he never moved an accused or suspected abuser from parish to parish, or left them in parish ministry.

Indeed, from his first year in Pittsburgh, Wuerl acted publicly on issues related to clerical sexual abuse, even in the face of Church opposition.

In 1988, the year he arrived in Pittsburgh, Wuerl removed Fr. Anthony Cipolla from ministry following accusations the priest had molested a teenage boy. Following appeals by Cipolla, the Vatican ordered that the priest be returned to ministry but Wuerl categorically refused, flying to Rome and presenting evidence and arguments in person to the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. Rome eventually reversed its position and upheld Wuerl’s decision.

While cases of suspected abuse since 2002 have been handled according to the USCCB’s “Essential Norms,” the Cipolla case served as an important template in the 1990’s, making it easier for other bishops to remove priests accused of abuse from active ministry. 

Coming hard on the heels of the revelations about Archbishop McCarrick, who preceded Wuerl in Washington, D.C., the cardinal has found himself on the receiving end of very pointed and sustained criticism. Appearing on “CBS This Morning” ahead of the report’s release, he was pointedly asked if he had any intention of resigning. He is likely to face renewed scrutiny and even more difficult questions in the weeks ahead.

Pennsylvania grand jury report details decades of clerical abuse allegations

4 hours 58 min ago

Pittsburgh, Pa., Aug 14, 2018 / 02:27 pm (CNA).- A redacted grand jury report on clerical sexual abuse in six of Pennsylvania’s Catholic dioceses was released Tuesday, following an 18-month investigation into thousands of alleged instances of abuse spanning several decades.  

The report, detailing allegations made in the dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Scranton, was released Aug.14. It reported on evidence of systematic abuse and cover-ups going back seven decades within these dioceses.

About half of Pennsylvania’s nearly 3 million Catholics live within these six dioceses.

The 884-page report was written by 23 grand jurors, who spent some 18 months investigating the six dioceses, examining half a million pages of documents in the process. The FBI assisted with the investigative process.

The report claims to have identified more than 1,000 victims of 300 credibly accused priests and presents a devastating portrait of efforts by Church authorities to, ignore, obscure, or cover up allegations - either to protect accused priests or to spare the Church scandal.

The report also identified a series of practices present in different ways across the dioceses which together amounted to a “playbook for concealing the truth.”

These include use of phrases like “boundary issues” or ”inappropriate contact” instead of explicitly referring to rape and sexual abuse, assigning priests to investigate their peers, instead of using qualified and objective personnel, and a reliance on psychological assessments and diagnoses  

Due to laws regarding the statute of limitations, nearly every abuse allegation cannot be criminally prosecuted, although two indictments have been filed. So far, one priest, Fr. John Sweeney, has been convicted of sexually assaulting a student in the early 1990s.

The released report was partially redacted, which Attorney General Josh Shapiro was displeased about. The redactions were due to ongoing appellate litigation.

The grand jury report contains the names of 301 men. Some names were not released due to the aforementioned ongoing court cases. Details of their crimes were also redacted.

The number of victims was estimated to be in the thousands, but the true number was not quantifiable, the report said. The majority of the victims in cases examined by the grand jury were male. The ages of the victims ranged from pre-pubescent to young-adult seminarians.

The offending priests are accused of a variety of crimes, including rape, molestation, and groping. The report states that some of the priests were able to manipulate their victims with alcohol and pornography.

Approximately two-thirds of the accused priests have died. The youngest offender named in the report was born in the 1990s.

Overall, nearly one-third of the accused priests came from the Diocese of Pittsburgh, the highest percentage. The second-highest by number was the Diocese of Scranton, with 55 priests within the diocese, as well as four members of the Society of St. John, identified in the report.

A total of 10 priests from Pittsburgh were identified only as “Pittsburgh Priests #1-10,” as they could not be directly identified. Two priests from Harrisburg were similarly only identified as “Harrisburg Priest #1” and “Harrisburg Priest #2.”  

The Dioceses of Harrisburg and Erie have already released the names of the priests who were credibly accused of sex crimes, and the remaining dioceses pledged to do so upon the release of the grand jury report.

On August 1, Harrisburg released a list of 71 accused priests, deacons, and seminarians, which the diocese admitted was “overinclusive.” The grand jury report contained 45 names from Harrisburg, including three former seminarians.

Erie’s list included 62 people, including laypersons, who were accused of sex crimes over the last 70 years. A total of 41 people from Erie were included in the report, including one former seminarian.

In the Diocese of Allentown, 31 priests were listed, plus two members of the Carmelites, and a lay person employed as a basketball coach at a school in the diocese.

The Diocese of Greensburg had the fewest number of accused priests, with a total of 20 priests identified.

The grand jury report covered all accusations of abuse during the last 70 years, from 1947 until 2017 within the dioceses subject to investigation.  

Data provided by the Dioceses of Greensburg and Pittsburgh showed that most of the alleged abuse occurred during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Greensburg did not list any abuse claims from the 2000s or 2010s.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh saw the number of reported abuse incidents spike during the 1980s, with slightly more than 80 allegations. In the 2000s, there were fewer than 10 reported.

The Dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Harrisburg, and Scranton did not provide hard numbers on the timeline of abuse incidents, but each explained how they have taken steps since the mid-80s to early 90s to implement policies within their dioceses to prevent abuse.

Over the past several decades, the Church in the United States implemented a series of proactive steps intended to create a safer environment for children. These included a tougher screening process for seminarians, trainings for parish workers on how to identify and prevent abuse, and new policies on how a diocese should respond to reported misconduct.

 

 

Denver archbishop reflects on McCarrick abuse crisis

6 hours 24 min ago

Denver, Colo., Aug 14, 2018 / 01:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver issued a letter to the archdiocese on Monday, offering practical advice on and spiritual insights into the sexual abuse scandal centered on Archbishop Theodore McCarrick.

During his annual silent retreat last week, the archbishop said he reflected on the scandal in his prayers. He encouraged the clergy and laity to work toward healing and greater prevention methods.

“Some have felt that the Lord has abandoned the Church,” he said in his Aug. 13 letter. “Personally, I am deeply sorry that both laity and clergy have had to experience this type of betrayal.”

The archbishop challenged the archdiocese to participate in opportunities of healing.

“I am asking every priest in the archdiocese to offer a Mass each month in reparation for the sins committed by cardinals, bishops, priests and deacons, and for all sins committed by clergy and lay people against the commandments of our Lord, as well as to pray for healing for the victims of sin.”

“Too many seminarians, priests and bishops knew of Archbishop McCarrick’s behavior and did not restrain him,” he said. “Due to this, I call on the U.S. bishops’ conference to ask for and allow an independent investigation that includes members of the lay faithful and those clergy who had nothing to do with the matter.”

In June, Pope Francis removed McCarrick from ministry after an allegation he sexually abused a minor almost 50 years ago was ruled credible. In late July he resigned from the College of Cardinals, and the pope ordered him to adopt a life of prayer and penance pending a canonical process. Other allegations of sexual abuse and coercion have since been raised, and have brought to the public eye past legal settlements involving alleged misconduct while head of two New Jersey dioceses.

Archbishop Aquila said the Church’s abuse scandals originate from complacency, and a culture influenced by the sexual revolution.

“We must recognize that complacency about evil and sin is present both in the Church and the world and has led us to where we are today. This culture of complacency among clergy and laity must come to an end!”

“Sadly, too many, both clergy and lay, have listened more to the world than to Christ and the Church when it comes to human sexuality.”

He said the sexual revolution pushed the culture from the proper understanding of the human dignity. The Church has taught on human sexuality for centuries, said the archbishop, noting Catholics have given testimony to “the healing, freedom and joy it brings” in its practice.

The Church, he said, must respond with a greater closeness to Christ and return to the path of grace that highlights the dangers of sin and the fulfilment of truth. He stressed the aspects of the faith which strengthen the Church’s members.

“Charity and truth must always go together. A disciple should never lead someone into sin or condone sin,” he said.

“The Father has given us his son Jesus, the Beatitudes, the Gospels, the truth, and his commandments out of love for us to keep us on the narrow way of love. He is merciful in all that he has given to us.”

Workshop teaches how to teach Gregorian chant to children, teens

Mon, 08/13/2018 - 18:42

San Francisco, Calif., Aug 13, 2018 / 04:42 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Parish music directors, teachers, priests, and religious sisters gathered near San Francisco last week for a workshop helping them learn how to teach children and teens how to sing Gregorian chant.

The Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Worship held a Teaching Children's Chant Camp Workshop in Menlo Park, about 30 miles south of San Francisco, Aug. 9-12.

Among those participating were three religious sisters of the Marian Sisters of Santa Rosa.

“Our mission at the Marian Sisters of Santa Rosa is to teach joyfully the truth, goodness and beauty of our faith; we work with a lot of children and teens in Catholic schools,” Mother Teresa Christe explained, “So we are very grateful for this Benedict XVI Institute workshop.”

The Marian Sisters were founded by Bishop Robert Vasa of Santa Rosa in 2012. The community has a focus on teaching and evangelizing in parishes and schools.

Two Missionaries of Charity also attended the workshop. One of them, Sister Maximiliana, said they were participating because of their after school program “which prepares the children we work with from poor families for consecration to Mary. We want to learn how to teach children so they can sing beautifully for the Mass.”

Before the workshop, 25 Missionaries of Charity from across the San Francisco bay area had attended another event organized by the Benedict XVI Institute to learn how to chant more beautifully.

The workshop was directed by Mary Ann Carr-Wilson, who has helped pioneer chant camps for children.

Carr-Wilson emphasized the importance of respecting children as you teach them: “Give them a high aim. Let them know what they are doing in helping sing the Mass: praying not performing, with all the angels and saints. They respond.”

Rather than focusing solely on performance techniques, the institute incorporates catechesis and works to help participants deepen their understanding of the Mass, including their ability to offer intentions for their participation in the liturgy.

The workshop aims to help both teachers with experience with music generally, or with chant in particular.

Aaron Fidler teaches music at Kolbe Academy and Trinity Prep, a Catholic classical school in Napa. A violinist with extensive teaching experience, he expressed appreciation for help with his new task of preparing the school's choir to chant at Mass.

And Mary Castaneda, a music director from Washington state, said she has long taught chant to adules, but is “now teaching chant to children and teens. It’s really useful to get a sense from Mary Ann what she does that young people respond to.”

The Benedict XVI Institute was founded by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco in 2014.

It aims to form the Catholic imagination through beauty, and to promote the vision of the Second Vatican Council, whose constitution on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, said that Gregorian chant is “specially suited to the Roman liturgy” and that “therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.”

With inmate's fate unclear, Florida bishops pray to end death penalty

Mon, 08/13/2018 - 18:41

Tallahassee, Fla., Aug 13, 2018 / 04:41 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic bishops of Florida have asked for continued prayers for an end to the death penalty following the stay of an inmate’s execution. They had previously asked Gov. Rick Scott to commute the inmate’s death sentence and cited Pope Francis’ new catechism revisions on the death penalty.

“Please continue to pray for victims of crime, those on death row, and for an end to the use of the death penalty,” the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops said Friday afternoon.

Jose Antonio Jimenez, now 54 years old, was convicted of the 1992 murder of Phyllis Minas, a 63-year-old woman. He had been scheduled to be executed at 6 p.m. Aug. 14.

On Aug. 10 the Florida Supreme Court unanimously granted a request to grant the stay, without stating a reason, the Florida News Service reports.

Jimenez’s lawyer Marty McClain had requested the stay, citing several issues. These included a pending Supreme Court decision that could affect Florida’s lethal injection protocol.

McClain also said he had discovered that the North Miami Police Department had not previously provided to Jimenez’s lawyers the 80 pages of records related to the investigation of the murder.

McClain told the Florida News Service that the records include handwritten notes by investigators who interviewed Jimenez after his arrest that contradict their testimony. He contended that they show the investigators were willing to give “false and/or misleading deposition testimony” in order to facilitate Jimenez’s conviction.

Catholic prayer vigils had been scheduled across the state to pray for the victim, the aggressor, their families and society, as well as to pray for the end of the death penalty.

After the stay was announced, many of these vigils were set to continue in the dioceses of St. Petersburg, Orlando, Pensacola-Tallahassee and Venice.

However, organizers canceled some Catholic prayer vigils that had been scheduled in the Archdiocese of Miami and the dioceses of St. Augustine, Pensacola-Tallahassee, and Palm Beach.

“We pray for Ms. Minas and for consolation for her loved ones. All of us are called to stand with victims in their hurt as they seek healing and justice,” Michael Sheedy, executive director of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in an Aug. 9 letter. “We invite people across Florida to join in this prayer. Both victims of crime and offenders are children of God and members of the same human family.”

Sheedy, speaking on behalf of the state’s Catholic bishops, said Gov. Scott has a “difficult task as governor” but still asked him to commute Jimenez’s death sentence and all death sentences to life without possibility of parole.

The letter to the governor cited Pope Francis’ revision of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the death penalty.

The Florida bishops’ conference further commented in an Aug. 10 statement.

“Given the development of doctrine involving the death penalty, the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s treatment of the topic was revised earlier this month,” the bishops’ conference said.

The relevant section of the Catechism now reads “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.” It calls for the Church “to work with determination for its abolition worldwide,” the bishops’ conference said.

Drawing from the Catechism, Sheedy told the governor that the change “reflects the growing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of great crimes and that more effective forms of detention have been developed to ensure the due protection of citizens without definitively depriving the guilty of the possibility of redemption.”

In addition to prayers for Minas, her family and her friends, Sheedy voiced prayers for Jimenez and “all those facing execution.”

 

Veritatis splendor to be theme of Courage conference

Mon, 08/13/2018 - 17:31

Hartford, Conn., Aug 13, 2018 / 03:31 pm (CNA).- An upcoming conference in Connecticut will offers Catholic leaders in medicine and ministry the practical and pastoral tools to reach out to people with same-sex attraction while upholding Church teaching.

The 2018 Truth and Love Conference will be held at St Thomas Seminary Conference Center October 22-24 in Bloomfield, Connecticut. At the center of the formation event will be the encyclical Veritatis splendor, written 25 years ago this August by Pope John Paul II.

The theme of the event will be “Proclaiming the splendor of truth with love.” The gathering will look to answer questions about sexual identity and instruct pastoral leaders and medical professionals to care for people with same-sex attraction.

The fourth event of its kind, the conference is an initiative of Courage International, a Catholic apostolate that offers support for people with same-sex attraction who have chosen to pursue a chaste lifestyle. As part of the same organization, EnCourage supports family members and friends of people with same-sex attraction, aiding them in encountering their loved ones with compassion.

Speakers for the event will include experts on natural law, psychology, and Christian anthropology. Participants will be given practical resources to compassionately communicate the Church’s teaching on homosexuality.

Presenters at the conference will include Father Philip Bochanski, executive director of Courage International; Dr. John Grabowski, theological advisor to U.S. bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family, and Youth; and Dr. Michael Horne, director of clinical services for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington.

Testimonies of people with same-sex attraction will also be shared, witnessing to the importance of the Church and friendships that have led them to grow in chastity and sanctity. Testimonies will be heard from Daniel Mattson, Catholic author of the book “Why I Don't Call Myself Gay,” and Courage members Paul Darrow and Rilene Simpson, featured in the documentary Desire of the Everlasting Hills.

The first Courage meeting was held in 1980, and the initial group developed the five foundational goals of Courage – chastity, prayer and dedication, fellowship, support, and good role models.
 

 

Cardinal Wuerl lays out plan for lay involvement in bishops' accountability

Mon, 08/13/2018 - 16:30

Washington D.C., Aug 13, 2018 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Donald Wuerl has laid out his vision for lay participation in new oversight structures as part of the ongoing response to recent scandals in the Church in the United States. He is one of several bishops pressing for collaboration between laity and bishops to ensure accountability in the Church hierarchy.

Writing on the website of the Catholic Standard, the magazine of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., Wuerl said that there was a well-established theological framework for greater lay participation as the Church faced the “current challenging situation and seek some structural and authentically Catholic response.”

Referring to the widespread sexual abuse crisis at the beginning of the millennium, during which there was an outcry at the failure of dioceses to respond properly to allegations of abuse, the cardinal said bishops had acted to make meaningful changes.

“In 2002, when we faced the terrible crisis of clergy child abuse, the bishops produced the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Later that same year, the ‘Essential Norms,’ created to implement the Charter, were also approved, by both the bishops and the Holy See.”

In recent weeks the credibility of the Dallas Charter has been questioned by many commentators, who have pointed out the prominent role Theodore McCarrick played in drawing up its provisions and speaking out against abuse.

Others have noted that the failure to apply the Charter and Essential Norms to bishops as well as priests and deacons was deliberate. While this was done following legitimate questions about the authority of the U.S. bishops’ conference to pass binding rules for dealing with bishops, in hindsight it appears to have further tainted the work of 2002.

But Cardinal Wuerl said that much practical good was achieved in Dallas and in the years that followed, noting that even the most recent crises concern past and not contemporary allegations.

“It seems fair to say that the Charter worked and continues to work. Almost all of the cases of clergy abuse that we hear today are from a period of time prior to the Charter.”

Wuerl said that many of the Dallas reforms could be adapted or expanded to include the consideration of allegations made against bishops.

“A key component in the implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People is both the National Review Board that oversees diocesan compliance with the Charter, and the local diocesan review boards that review allegations with a view to determining their credibility. What would be helpful today is that the same type mechanism be now made available when dealing with allegations of abuse or misconduct by a bishop.”

The cardinal made the specific suggestion that one or more such boards be created, with membership including laity, men and women, as well as bishops. These could be established “either at the national level or at the regional or provincial level” and be charged with assessing the credibility of accusations made against bishops.

“It seems that at the service of both accountability and transparency, such boards that reflect the makeup of the Church, laity and clergy, would help to highlight this new level of accountability,” Wuerl wrote.

“The results or findings of these review boards would be presented to the Holy See’s representative, the Apostolic Nuncio. Thus there would be clearly the recognition that the final judgment rests with the divinely established head of the College of Bishops, the Bishop of Rome.”

Other bishops, like Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of the Diocese of Albany, have made their own calls for increased lay participation in assessing allegations of bishops. In Bishop Scharfenberger’s case, he suggested a lay-led panel be formed, independent from the hierarchy, saying that “to have credibility, a panel would have to be separated from any source of power whose trustworthiness might potentially be compromised.”

In setting out his own proposal Cardinal Wuerl emphasized that the bishops and faithful were part of the one Body of Christ, and that bringing accountability would be a mutual endeavor.

Both proposals come ahead of the next general session of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in November, to be held in Baltimore.

Wuerl has previously said that it would be unacceptable for bishops to wait until then to propose responses to the crisis, telling the National Catholic Reporter that “We need to be doing things in anticipation of November so that when we get to November ... we would go into this meeting with a lot of work already done and a lot of testing of the ideas already in place.”

So far, the discussions have focused on how to involve laity in an eventual new structure or process, but others have questioned whether any process involving American bishops can be credible.

One canon lawyer who has worked on sexual abuse cases which involved American bishops in the process told CNA they were unconvinced.

“If there is going to be a proper tribunal [panel of judges] for a case against an American bishop, the last people I would want involved are other American bishops,” the canonist said.

“However good their intentions, I would always have concerns about their objectivity when dealing with these issues - because of personal connections and because the issue of sexual abuse is so charged in the American Church.”

Bishop Conley gives update on diocesan allegations, review policies

Mon, 08/13/2018 - 13:50

Lincoln, Neb., Aug 13, 2018 / 11:50 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a listening session at a local church in Lincoln, Nebraska, Bishop James Conley updated members of his diocese on a review of policies for handling allegations of abuse and misconduct by priests.

“This transparency and objectivity I promise you will include a thorough review of our safe environment policies and procedures by an outside investigator,” he said Aug. 10 to those gathered at St. Wenceslaus Church in Wahoo.

The bishop responded to several allegations against priests in the Diocese of Lincoln that have recently been published online.

“These allegations have already resulted in the start of a thorough review of our policies and procedures regarding how we respond to allegations made against diocesan priests.”

Conley said that he has presented several cases to the Diocesan Review Board, and is continuing to meet with the board for further counsel. He has assembled a group of senior advisors – including staff members, a mental health expert, and officials from the Archdiocese of Omaha – to help evaluate allegations of abuse.

He has also held several listening sessions at parishes affected by recent allegations against priests.

Conley held a listening session at St. Peter’s parish last Monday to discuss the behavior of pastor Fr. Charles Townsend. He said the message from the 500 attendees was clear: “they desire transparency and objectivity, and that is my promise to you and all the faithful in the diocese as I move forward.”

The bishop had previously addressed the allegations against Townsend in an Aug. 4 letter, saying that last year he “received a report that Fr. Townsend had developed an emotionally inappropriate, non-sexual relationship with a 19-year-old male which involved alcohol.”

Upon receiving the report, he said that he immediately withdrew Townsend from ministry and sent him to a treatment center in Houston before allowing him to return to ministry.

Conley said that he attempted to act with integrity, telling the parishioners that the priest had gone away for health reasons. But while he did not cover up the situation or oblige anyone to keep silent about it, he said he regrets failing to act with more transparency.

“Even though we were not legally obligated to report the incident, it would have been the prudent thing to do. Because the young man had reached the age of majority, we did not tell his parents about the incident.”

In his Aug. 4 letter, Bishop Conley said that he had removed Fr. Townsend from ministry in order to consult with the diocesan review board, reported the incident to civil authorities, and met with the young man and his parents to ask for forgiveness.

At the Aug. 10 listening session, Conley said that Fr. Townsend has now resigned his pastorate.

“The matter has been reported to authorities and is being investigated,” he said. The investigations will look into Townsend’s behavior, as well as the response of Bishop Conley and his staff.

Conley said that he cannot comment further while the civil and Church investigations are underway, but will offer an update when they have concluded.

The bishop also discussed three other diocesan priests. He said that he is concerned by the behavior of Fr. Patrick Barvick, whom he had previously instructed not to be alone with women. He has asked the priest to step aside from the parish temporarily while he evaluates the situation.

Fr. Steve Thomlison has submitted his resignation as pastor of St. Stephen in Exeter and St. Wenceslaus in Milligan, Conley continued. The resignation came during a meeting “to discuss a past incident in the military that was a concern.”

Conley clarified that the incident did not involve an offense against a minor or a parishioner, and that Thomlison received an honorable discharge from the military.

“I am committed to getting Father the care he needs. Please join me in praying for Father Thomlison,” the bishop said.

He also addressed the case of now-retired priest Fr. James Benton, who was accused in 2002 of touching a minor inappropriately during a camping trip that had taken place during the early 1980s.

“That matter was fully investigated by the Lincoln Diocese. The allegations could not be substantiated,” Conley said.

In the fall of last year, Fr. Benton resigned his pastorate after being accused of sexually abusing two family members more than 25 years prior, he said.

Conley said the allegations were handled by the Diocesan Review Board and referred to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which returned the matter to the bishop to take action.

He said he prohibited Benton from exercising public ministry in the diocese and restricted him from being alone with minors. The priest is now retired.

Bishop Conley reiterated his commitment to transparency and encouraged anyone who has experienced abuse by a member of the diocese to file a report with law enforcement authorities.

“I want to repeat to you that I am sorry for the manner in which I have responded to allegations of improper behavior brought against Lincoln priests,” he said. “I hope you forgive me.”

 

J.D. Flynn, editor-in-chief of Catholic News Agency, previously served as special assistant to Bishop Conley and director of communications for the Lincoln diocese. Flynn has recused himself from coverage of this story to avoid a conflict-of-interest. He was not involved in the assigning, reporting, editing or oversight of this story.

Pittsburgh bishop says not all grand jury accusations are 'substantiated'

Mon, 08/13/2018 - 11:30

Pittsburgh, Pa., Aug 13, 2018 / 09:30 am (CNA).- Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh has confirmed that some of the priests named in the Pennsylvania grand jury report into sexual abuse remain in active ministry. The report is expected to be released at 2 p.m. on August 14.

Bishop Zubik made the announcement while speaking to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on August 10. At the same time, the bishop stressed that there is “no priest or deacon in an assignment today against whom there was a substantiated allegation of child sexual abuse.” He also pledged to meet with parishioners in the days following the report’s release to underscore how and why an allegation was found to be unsubstantiated.

Canon law provides that, whenever an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor is received by diocesan authorities, the bishop is obligated to hold a preliminary investigation to determine if there is a “semblance of truth” to the claim. This standard, canon lawyers say, is minimal and only determines if the accusation is not “manifestly false or frivolous.”

If the accusation is not demonstrably false, the case is sent to Rome for further consideration at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who determine how the canonical process should proceed.

While Bishop Zubik said he would not comment on specific individuals or allegations until the report was released, he underscored that all those priests still in active ministry named in the report had had their cases re-examined by the diocese’s independent review board – in each case finding the accusations remained unsubstantiated.

Seeking to illustrate that some claims could simply be false, Zubik made reference to his own experience. In 2011, he said, a man accused him and several others of past sexual abuse after being denied a parish volunteering position because of his criminal record. Local law enforcement, the diocesan review board, and Vatican authorities were all informed.

Fortunately for the bishop, the accuser had previously sent him an email threatening retaliation. The local district attorney investigated and dismissed the allegations, calling them “offensive.” 

In that case, it was fortunate that there was clear evidence of malicious intent by the accuser, Zubik said, but that is not always the case.

“I often say to myself, ‘What if that email wasn’t there?’” he told the Post-Gazette. Without such clear proof, it would have been a matter of I-say-he-says and Zubik said he “could swear on a stack of Bibles I didn’t do what I was charged with” but it might not have been enough to stop a presumption of guilt.

“Maybe that’s where my sensitivity comes to people who have been accused, to say just because somebody’s been accused doesn’t necessarily mean they're guilty.”

Zubik also pointed out that it was not always easy to come to a firm assessment of an allegation.

“What if the activity that was reported was not child sexual abuse? Or what if it was by third-hand source, and with every effort to try to reach out to the victim, the victim never came forward? Well, how could you see that as substantiated?”

The bishop’s remarks echo concerns raised by some of those named in the report, who have challenged their inclusion in the final publication, saying that they have been denied due process of law and risk permanent damage to their reputations. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed, delaying publication and ordering the names of those appealing to be redacted while they hear further legal arguments.

It is not known if any of the Pittsburgh priests referred to by Zubik have participated in the legal appeals which have delayed the release of the report.

Teens are requesting plastic surgery to look like Snapchat filters

Sun, 08/12/2018 - 18:56

Boston, Mass., Aug 12, 2018 / 04:56 pm (CNA).- Social media is increasingly making teens dissatisfied with their appearance and obsessed with achieving a filtered version of “perfection,” even going so far as to pursue plastic surgery, say medical professionals.

Dr. Neelam Vashi, director of Ethnic Skin Center at Boston University’s School of Medicine, published an article analyzing the new trend in Jama Facial Plastic Surgery last week.

“A new phenomenon, dubbed ‘Snapchat dysmorphia,’ has patients seeking out cosmetic surgery to look like filtered versions of themselves…with fuller lips, bigger eyes, or a thinner nose,” she said.

Among Snapchat’s more popular features are its facial filters, which change users’ appearance in a phone camera. New filters are offered regularly. Some change a person’s face to look like animals, superheroes, or inanimate objects. Others create a more subtle, modified version of the users themselves – smoothing their skin, whitening their teeth, narrowing their face, enhancing their lips and eyes.

Before photo-editing was readily available for the public to use, Vashi wrote, people idolized the often-unrealistic beauty of celebrities, who were the only people with easy access to photo-editing technology.

But now that the general public has access to this technology, she said, it has altered their expectations of beauty. Instead of bringing photos of celebrities to plastic surgery consultations, patients are bringing in pictures of themselves, with specific angles or lighting.

“I just see a lot of images that are just really unrealistic, and it sets up unrealistic expectations for patients because they’re trying to look like a fantasized version of themselves,” she told Inverse.

According to the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, more than half of clinicians in 2017 saw patients asking to “look better in their selfies.”  

Dr. Laura Cusamano, a postdoctoral fellow at Potomac Behavioral Solutions in Arlington, Va., works with patients struggling with body image and has seen the same trend. She said the idealization of celebrities has morphed into users of social media idealizing altered images of themselves.

“In recent decades, American media has propagated a distorted view of beauty, privileging certain body types, skin tones, hair colors, and facial features. Beauty ideals have come in the form of celebrities, whose ‘perfect’ images are often Photoshopped,” she told CNA.

“With the advent of social media, the ability to alter one's appearance is literally at one's fingertips. Applications like Snapchat provide the opportunity for users to discover the ‘perfect’ image of themselves to share with their peers and the world.”

Cusamano voiced concern that Snapchat Dysmorphia may lead young people to compare their bodies not only with digitally altered images of themselves, but also with similar images of family and friends. This could lead to eating disorders, self-esteem problems, and other issues, she said.

She also worries that the new trend may push ill individuals further into Body Dysmorphic Disorder, a condition related to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in which individuals suffer from “excessive preoccupation with perceived defects or flaws in their physical appearance.”

“They become obsessed with what they consider to be imperfections, and they often spend a great deal of time trying to examine, improve, or mask their supposed flaws,” she said. The disorder is associated with anxiety and depression, as well as shame and low self-esteem.

Cusamano said nearly 75 percent of people with the disorder seek surgery, cosmetic treatment, and dermatological work. She said these individuals may also encounter suicidal ideation.

When asked about how to correct this trend of Snapchat Dysmorphia, she said people should pay attention to how social media is affecting their life, noticing whether they find themselves becoming jealous of other users.  

People may need to take a temporary break from social media or follow accounts designed to spread positive messages about the human body, she said.

Cusamano also stressed the importance of recognizing the dignity of the human person.

“Remembering that you are created in the image and likeness of God and asking God to help you see yourself as He sees you is a wonderful way to work on transforming your self-image,” she said.
 

 

Abuse accusations bring scrutiny for McCarrick's charity fund

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 18:41

Washington D.C., Aug 10, 2018 / 04:41 pm (CNA).- Former cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s roles included service on the boards of at least two foundations that gave over $500,000 combined to his personally overseen fund at the Archdiocese of Washington over a decade’s time.

While the archdiocese says no irregularities have been found, CNA’s examination of tax records provides more insight into the archbishop’s areas of influence.

“Archbishop McCarrick established the ‘Archbishop’s Fund’ in January 2001 for his works of charity and other miscellaneous expenses and it continued in his retirement,” the Archdiocese of Washington told CNA.

“The account was audited annually along with other archdiocesan accounts. Nothing irregular was ever noticed,” the archdiocese continued. “When the allegation of sexual abuse of a minor was first disclosed in June, Archbishop McCarrick consigned the fund to the Archdiocese of Washington and the money will be used for archdiocesan charitable purposes.”

The archdiocese did not respond to questions about how much money had passed through the fund, nor specifically identify what charities or expenses it had supported.

In June, Pope Francis removed the 88-year-old churchman from ministry after an allegation he sexually abused a minor almost 50 years ago was ruled credible. In late July he resigned from the College of Cardinals, and the pope ordered him to adopt a life of prayer and penance pending a canonical process. Other allegations of sexual abuse and coercion have since been raised, and have brought to the public eye past legal settlements involving alleged misconduct while head of two New Jersey dioceses.

After he was removed from ministry, the archbishop said he has no memory of the abuse, believes in his innocence, and is sorry for the pain of his accuser and for any scandal the charges cause to others. McCarrick served as Archbishop of Washington from 2001 to 2006, but the archdiocese said it has received no allegation of misconduct against him.

Two Catholic-focused foundations have now cut ties with McCarrick: the Virginia-based Loyola Foundation, which generally makes grants for overseas Catholic mission activity; and the Minnesota-based GHR Foundation, whose focuses of global development, health and education include inter-religious action, strengthening Catholic women’s religious communities, and urban Catholic schools.

Archbishop McCarrick sat on the Loyola Foundation’s board for more than two decades. It gave $20,000 to $40,000 per year to the archbishop’s fund for at least 10 years, starting in the foundation’s fiscal year 2006 to 2007. The grants totaled at least $310,000, according to a CNA review of tax documents.

“Grants specifically designated by Archbishop McCarrick were made to the Archdiocese of Washington, a recognized 501(c)(3),” the foundation’s executive director Greg McCarthy told CNA. “The Loyola Foundation has no evidence of any unethical behavior, or any undisclosed conflict of interest in his role as board member.”

Trustees may make “limited discretionary grants” to qualified 501(c)(3) charities, and foundation policy requires all grants to comply with IRS requirements, he explained.

“The Loyola Foundation would have no reason to question grants made to the Archdiocese of Washington, a major diocese in our country,” McCarthy added. “Our expectation is that the archdiocese accepted such grants and exercised appropriate oversight so that spending was within archdiocesan moral, legal and ethical bounds.”

The foundation’s publicly available tax documents include grant application guidelines which say its average grant is about $10,000.

The Minnesota-based GHR Foundation made nine grants of $25,000 each, totaling $225,000, earmarked for the “former archbishop’s fund” or the “former archbishop’s special fund,” from 2006 to 2014, tax records say.

Archbishop McCarrick sat on the foundation board of directors from 2006 until 2016. Since then he has served as director emeritus, which a spokesman characterized as “only an honorary role.”

The GHR Foundation spokesperson said McCarrick was not active in his final years as a board member nor as a director emeritus.

“We are reviewing any type of actions while he was a board member,” he said. “We are taking this very seriously and are conducting a review.” The foundation said it would share information “if we find anything that we feel is not what was intended for GHR funds.”

The foundation has given several other five-figure grants to the Washington archdiocese, plus a 2008 grant of $400,000 to the Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary of Washington as a one-time grant “honoring Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.”

Beginning in 2007, the GHR Foundation gave $1 million a year for seven years to the Papal Foundation, which McCarrick had co-founded in 1988. The Papal Foundation supports projects and proposals recommended by the Holy See.

The GHR spokesman could not address questions about foundation grants to the former archbishop’s special fund but said the foundation is looking into the matter.

“We just want to make sure that the funds were used in a way that intended to support our values,” he said.

The spokesman said that to his understanding McCarrick’s role as a leader in interreligious dialogue fit well with the foundation’s inter-religious activities, adding “he is a leader in Christian-Muslim relations.”

CNA contacted McCarrick’s civil lawyer Barry Coburn, who said he had “no comment at this time.”

Both the Loyola and GHR foundations said they have removed the former cardinal from any role.

After the Holy See asked McCarrick to cease all public ministry, the Loyola Foundation released McCarrick from his board duties in a July letter, said McCarthy, the foundation’s executive director.

“He is no longer a board member and serves in no other capacity. No one has replaced him,” McCarthy said. “Our foundation encourages a full, complete and transparent review of all the allegations made against Archbishop McCarrick, with legal follow up within both civil and canon law, if appropriate.”

The GHR Foundation spokesman told CNA that when the first allegations came out “we immediately suspended him.”

“Obviously we were shocked and saddened. This was news to us,” the spokesman added. “Then as additional allegations came out we acted promptly and removed him from his honorary role. We have severed all ties to former Cardinal McCarrick.”

Like many church and civic leaders who had worked with McCarrick, McCarthy too said the Loyola Foundation did not know of abuse incidents.

“As a Catholic entity focused on the needy, our energies are spent on trying to help our brothers and sisters in Christ,” McCarthy said. “No one on our staff or on the board was even remotely aware of the incidents reported. May God help any who may have been wronged.”

The GHR Foundation was launched in 1965 by Gerald and Henrietta Rauenhorst, founders of the architecture design and construction companies that would become known as the Opus Group. In 2016, the foundation website says, it gave over $20.7 million in grants to 100 organizations around the world.

It has been a major donor to Catholic Relief Services, on whose board McCarrick once served. It has given large grants to religious sisters and groups like the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious.

The foundation supports urban Catholic schools in Minneapolis-St. Paul; other efforts in the Minneapolis-St. Paul archdiocese; and Catholic universities like Marquette University, St. Catherine University and the University of St. Thomas, where the foundation’s founders earned their degrees.

The GHR Foundation’s CEO and chair, Amy Rauenhorst Goldman, has served as a consultant on trade negotiations and investment strategies. She is a trustee and vice-chair of the board of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul and a member of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service Board of Visitors.

The foundation board is composed of members of the Rauenhorst family and others such as Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association.

The Loyola Foundation was established in 1957 by Albert G. McCarthy, Jr. and his wife Kathleen to assist mission work in developing countries. Its 2015-2016 biennial report said it gave out over $1.6 million in grants in 2016.

Foundation leadership includes members of the McCarthy family as well as other leading Catholics. One long-serving board member is Father William J. Byron, S.J., past president of both University of Scranton and Catholic University of America. He also served as rector of the Georgetown Jesuit Community, pastor of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Washington, D.C. and an interim president of Loyola University New Orleans.

McCarrick’s own career included time as a university leader and service on diplomatic missions and advisory roles for both the U.S. State Department and the Holy See. He has served on pontifical councils for Promoting Christian Unity, Justice and Peace, Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples and for Latin America. Similarly, he served in the office of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See.

He chaired U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committees on Domestic Policy, International Policy, Migration, and Aid to the Church in Central and Eastern Europe.

In August, watch this meteor shower named for a saint

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 18:01

Denver, Colo., Aug 10, 2018 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Star-gazing might not be the first thing that comes to mind when Catholics think of St. Lawrence, the early Christian martyr who was cooked to death by the Romans on an outdoor grill.

But every August, Catholics have the chance to see a meteor shower named in his honor.

The Perseids meteor shower, also called the “tears of St. Lawrence,” is a meteor shower associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle, which drops dust and debris in Earth’s orbit on its 133-year trip around the Sun. (The comet poses no immediate threat to Earth, at least not for several thousand years.)

As Earth orbits the Sun, it hits pieces of left-behind debris from the comet, causing them to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.

This creates a prolific meteor shower that can best be seen in the Northern Hemisphere from late July to early August, usually peaking around Aug. 10, the feast of St. Lawrence.  

During its peak, the rate of meteors reaches 60 or more per hour.

The name “Perseids” comes from the constellation Perseus, named for a character in Greek mythology, and the radiant of the shower or the point from which it appears to originate.

The name “tears of St. Lawrence” came from the association with his feast day and from the legends that built up around the Saint after his death.

Saint Lawrence was martyred on Aug. 10, 258 during the persecution of the emperor Valerian along with many other members of the Roman clergy. He was the last of the seven deacons of Rome to die.

After the pope, Sixtus II, was martyred on Aug. 6, Lawrence became the principal authority of the Roman Church, having been the Church's treasurer.

When he was summoned before the executioners, Lawrence was ordered to bring all the wealth of the Church with him. He showed up with a handful of crippled, poor, and sick men, and when questioned, replied that "These are the true wealth of the Church."

He was immediately sent to his death, being cooked alive on a gridiron. Legend has it that one of his last words was a joke about his method of execution, as he quipped to his killers: “Turn me over, I’m done on this side!”

Catholics began calling the meteors the “tears of St. Lawrence,” even though the celestial phenomenon pre-dates the saint.

Some Italian lore also holds that the fiery bits of debris seen during a meteor shower are representative of the coals that killed St. Lawrence.

Anyone in the Northern Hemisphere should be able to view the “tears of St. Lawrence” best on the nights of Aug. 11 and 12 this year. The meteors will shower from various points in the sky rather than from one particular direction.

For the best viewing, it is recommended to go to a rural area away from light pollution.

Vice President Pence and Cardinal Parolin discuss Nicaragua

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Aug 10, 2018 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Vice President Mike Pence spoke with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin about the situation in Nicaragua, expressing support for the Church’s efforts in that country.

During the conversation, which took place by phone Aug. 10, Pence recognized that the Catholic Church in Nicaragua has been a leading force in efforts at mediation and dialogue over the past year. Pence lauded the Church for its work to protect human rights and religious freedom, and to promote good-faith negotiations to bring peace to the area.

Nicaragua has been in a state of unrest for months following widespread opposition to President Daniel Ortega. There have been series of protests against Ortega since he announced changes to the country’s social security and pension systems. These changes were abandoned after protests turned violent.

Hundreds of people have been killed as police and paramilitary forces attempt to assert control.

In the phone call, both Pence and Parolin condemned the continuing violence, and reaffirmed their support for the Nicaraguan Episcopal Conference and its work to support democracy and human rights.

Following expressions of empathy with protesters, the Church in Nicaragua has been accused by Ortega of attempting to subvert his government. In the past few months, churches around the country have been attacked, and a bishops have been assaulted

In late July, the United States pledged $1.5 million to Nicaragua to assist human rights organizations and independent media in the country.

In a speech at the recent Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, held by the State Department in July, Vice President Pence spoke out strongly about the situation in Nicaragua and against the government’s actions.

“The government of Daniel Ortega is virtually waging war on the Catholic Church,” said Pence.

“For months, Nicaragua’s bishops have sought to broker a national dialogue following pro-democracy protests that swept through the country earlier this year. But government-backed mobs armed with machetes, and even heavy weapons, have attacked parishes and church properties, and bishops and priests have been physically assaulted by the police.”

According to a statement released by the White House, Cardinal Parolin and Vice President Pence both “condemned the violence which has claimed hundreds of lives and increasingly targeted the Church, and reaffirmed their support for the Nicaraguan Episcopal Conference and the entire faith community which has stood firm in support of human rights, democracy, and freedom.”

Cardinal O’Malley orders inquiry into Boston seminary, places rector on ‘sabbatical’

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 15:57

Boston, Mass., Aug 10, 2018 / 01:57 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Séan O’Malley has announced a major investigation into St. John’s Seminary in the Archdiocese of Boston, following allegations made by two former seminarians. The cardinal also announced that the rector of the seminary, Monsignor James Moroney, had been placed on immediate leave to allow for a “fully independent inquiry.”

The announcement was made by Cardinal O’Malley on Friday afternoon, August 10.

In a prepared statement, the cardinal said that he had learned of the allegations earlier that week, after posts by the former seminarians appeared on social media. The Archdiocese has not confirmed the exact nature of the allegations.

"Earlier this week I was informed that two former seminarians of St. John’s Seminary in the Archdiocese of Boston had posted allegations on social media sites including the Archdiocese’s Facebook page that during their time at the seminary they witnessed and experienced activities which are directly contrary to the moral standards and requirements of formation for the Catholic priesthood," O'Malley said.

The cardinal, who also serves as the President of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, stressed that he has not yet been able to either prove or disprove the allegations, but that the matter was being treated with the utmost seriousness.

“As Archbishop of Boston, with responsibility for the integrity of the seminary and its compliance with the Church's Program for Priestly Formation, I am committed to immediate action to address these serious matters.”

In addition to announcing Msgr. Moroney’s “sabbatical,” Cardinal O’Malley said that he has appointed Rev. Stephen E. Salocks to serve as Interim Rector of St. John's. Father Salocks currently serves as a professor at the seminary.

The investigation into the allegations is being led by Bishop Mark O'Connell, Auxiliary Bishop of Boston, Dr. Francisco Cesareo, President of Assumption College and President of the USCCB National Review Board, which advises the USCCB on matters of child and youth protection policies and practices, and Ms. Kimberly Jones, CEO of Athena Legal Strategies Group.

Laying out the remit of the inquiry, O’Malley said he had directed them to examine “the allegations made this week, the culture of the seminary regarding the personal standards expected and required of candidates for the priesthood, and any seminary issues of sexual harassment or other forms of intimidation or discrimination.”

The inquiry will be staffed by Mark Dunderdale, the director of the Archdiocesan Office of Professional Standards and Oversight.

The cardinal said he had instructed the inquiry team to report back to him “as soon as possible” with their findings and a set of recommendations ensuring proper standards of behavior in accord with Church teaching at all levels of seminary life.

“The allegations made this week are a source of serious concern to me as Archbishop of Boston,” O’Malley said. 

“The ministry of the Catholic priesthood requires a foundation of trust with the people of the Church and the wider community in which our priests serve. I am determined that all our seminaries meet that standard of trust and provide the formation necessary for priests to live a demanding vocation of service in our contemporary society.”

Tennessee executes first prisoner since 2009, despite plea by bishops

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 14:00

Memphis, Tenn., Aug 10, 2018 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Tennessee carried out its first execution in nearly a decade on Thursday evening. Governor Bill Haslam allowed the lethal injection to proceed at a maximum-security Nashville prison, despite controversy over the drug cocktail used and past pleas from the state’s three Catholic bishops, who argued that the death penalty was contrary to human dignity and respect for life.

Billy Ray Irick, 59, was pronounced dead at 7:48 p.m. Aug. 9 after an execution that took about 20 minutes. Irick was sentenced to death in 1986 for the rape and murder of 7-year-old Paula Kay Dyer, whom he had been babysitting. Irick confessed to her murder and was found guilty after a six-day trial.

After initially declining to say any last words, Irick then apologized for his crimes, saying, "I just want to say I'm really sorry and that, that's it." His lawyer stated his last meal was a burger, onion rings, and a soft drink, and that he was able to meet with prison chaplains before his execution.

In July, Bishop Mark Spalding of Nashville, Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville, and Bishop Martin Holley of Memphis wrote a letter to Gov. Haslam asking for him to put an end to the death penalty in the state. The bishops urged him “to use your authority as governor to put an end to the fast-track executions planned for later this year,” saying that “the death penalty contributes to the growing disrespect for human life.”

“It is within your power to establish your legacy as a governor of Tennessee who did not preside over an execution on your watch,” the bishops wrote.

Pope Francis revised the Catechism of the Catholic Church last week to say that the death penalty was now “inadmissible” and an “attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” due in part to various improvements in modern prison systems and their ability to keep the public safe.

Irick’s supporters argued that his execution should be stayed due to his past mental health issues, and concerns over the drugs used in lethal injections. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to block the execution on these grounds in a decision by Justice Elena Kagan.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented from Kagan’s decision, saying that she was concerned the method of execution could cause Irick to experience severe pain, and that this could constitute “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Going forward with the execution, Sotomayor said, would mean the United States has “stopped being a civilized nation and accepted barbarism.”

Significant concerns had been expressed about the drugs to be used in the execution, particularly midazolam, a sedative. Lawyers have argued that the drug does not effectively render the inmate unconscious, and that they are able to feel the effects of the other two drugs in the cocktail.

The drugs previously administered in lethal injections have become increasingly hard for states to acquire, as companies have either stopped producing the drug or refused to sell them for use in executions.

Tennessee currently has 60 inmates on death row. The last execution carried out in the state was in 2009, when Cecil Johnson Jr. was executed for the murder of three people in 1980. Including Irick, seven people have been executed in Tennessee since the year 2000.

A year after Charlottesville, Virginia bishops pray for end to racism

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 13:35

Arlington, Va., Aug 10, 2018 / 11:35 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops of Virginia offered prayers for peace and a renewed sense of human dignity ahead of the one-year anniversary of a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.

“Racism is a sin. As the U.S. Bishops wrote in 1979 – ‘a sin that divides the human family,’” said Bishop Barry Knestout of Richmond in a statement.

“Prayer – individually and as a faith community – is a start in addressing racism and to help heal from the effects of racism, but it cannot be an occasional act and it shouldn’t be confined to one day,” the bishop said.

“I pray that during this time when we are challenged by divisions that we commit to praying, listening, learning, thinking and working for peace, justice and an end to racism.”

On August 11-12 last year, a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., was planned to protest the city’s removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a local park – one of several Confederate monuments removed throughout the country after a 2015 church shooting in Charleston.

The rally drew white supremacists including neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members. A counter-protest, including a diverse coalition of religious leaders and members of the Antifa and Black Lives Matter movements, was formed. At least 30 people were injured in clashes between the protesters and counter-protesters.

On Aug. 12, a man linked to white-supremacist groups drove a car into the counter-protest, injuring 19 and killing one, 32-year-old Heather Heyer of Charlottesville.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the incident “does meet the definition of domestic terrorism in our statute,” and promised to “protect the right of people, like Heather Heyer, to protest against racism and bigotry.”

Catholic bishops denounced the violence but also explicitly condemned the racist ideology amidst the “Unite the Right” gathering.

Shortly after the violence in Charlottesville, the U.S. bishops announced the creation of an Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism to respond to ongoing social tension. The committee was formed to explore ways the Church can address the root causes of contemporary manifestations of racism, and to hold public conversations about racism and race-related problems.

Unite the Right is planning an anniversary rally in Washington, D.C. this weekend.

Bishop Knestout voiced his hope that the one year anniversary of the events in Charlottesville “will not be approached with provocative rhetoric but provide an opportunity for prayer and dialogue about racism, and the action needed to overcome it.”

“It is my sincere hope that all remain safe in these coming days and throughout the weekend, and may the Holy Spirit be a source of strength and comfort for the families and friends who continue to mourn the loss of a loved one,” he said, encouraging members of the diocese to pray for the intercession of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Patroness of the United States, for unity and peace in the country.

Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington also issued a statement leading up to the Charlottesville anniversary.

“I call upon all Catholics and people of good will to pray for peace in our nation, and for an end to the division that is caused by racism and prejudice,” he said.

“We must shine a light on injustice, be advocates for those who are victims of discrimination, and continue to affirm the dignity of every human person as we are all created in the image and likeness of God,” the bishop continued.

“We pray to our Lady, Queen and Peace, for unity and harmony in our communities, in our nation, and our world, recalling that it is only through her Son, Jesus Christ, that true healing and peace are ours.”

Diocese of Greensburg issues apology for past failings, promises to release names of accused priests

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 12:00

Greensburg, Pa., Aug 10, 2018 / 10:00 am (CNA).- The Diocese of Greensburg has issued an apology and pledged to release the names of priests accused of sexual misconduct over the last 70 years. The names will be released following the publication of the Pennsylvania grand jury report on sexual abuse allegations in six Catholic dioceses, expected within the next week.

The diocese published a 17-page document on Thursday August 9, apologizing for past failures by the Church to protect children, and explaining the steps the diocese has taken to prevent future abuse.

“Admittedly, there have been occasions where the Church and the Diocese of Greensburg have faltered in their protection of children, young people, and vulnerable adults. For those, the Diocese of Greensburg apologizes to the survivors and their families and continually offers assistance to help them heal,” said the document.

In a letter included in the document, Bishop Edward Malesic wrote that while terrible mistakes had been made, the Church had learned from them.

“The people of the Diocese of Greensburg should know that we have learned from the mistakes made in the past,” he wrote.

The bishop also emphasised that the the Church remained active in its local ministries, and that much good work was being done serving the poor and the sick, and preaching the Gospel.

“I can assure you that the Church in the Diocese of Greensburg today has evolved far beyond the Church described in media reports. One of the safest places to be as a young person today is the Catholic Church.”

Malesic has led the diocese since July of 2015. The Diocese of Greensburg was founded in 1951, four years after the beginning of the period covered by the grand jury investigation.

The diocese also announced it will provide free counseling for all survivors of abuse by church personnel, regardless of where it happened or when it happened, and encourages any survivors to come forward, even if their abuser is not named in the eventual report.

The diocese said that some of the names to be released “may be familiar,” as their cases were made public and were covered by the media. None of the priests listed in the report are serving in public ministry, Bishop Malesic told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Greensburg joins the Dioceses of Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Erie in pro-actively releasing a statement or list of names ahead of the official release of the grand jury report.

Harrisburg and Erie have already released the names of men accused of abuse, misconduct, or other inappropriate activity in documents on their websites. Both Pittsburgh and Greensburg said they intend to wait for the report to be released before they make their lists public. 

The grand jury report follows an lengthy investigation of child sexual abuse or the covering up of child sexual abuse by priests, deacons, seminarians, or laypersons within six Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses over the last 70 years. The report, which is over 800 pages long, reportedly names approximately 300 priests accused of abuse or of covering up abuse.

The investigation has already resulted in the conviction of one priest from the Diocese of Greensburg, John Sweeney, for the sexual assault of a 10-year-old student during the 1991-92 school year. That priest was removed from ministry in 2016 before his arrest in 2017.

The Diocese of Greensburg said information about this case was not immediately made public at the request of law enforcement, although it was made clear to the priest that he was being removed from ministry due to allegations of child sexual abuse. The diocese stressed that normally such information would be immediately released to the public. The diocese also said it had “fully cooperated” with the grand jury investigation.

“The Diocese of Greensburg is saddened by our past failures — grievous failures — and we are horrified by the conduct that we ourselves would have never condoned and committed by men who, in many cases, many of us never knew,” said the document.

“But, we are also aware that our Diocese has moved forward from this past and evolved in combatting this evil, and we are proud of the work that we have undertaken over the last 30 years to establish a safe environment for our children and our youth in the Diocese of Greensburg.”

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ordered that the grand jury report be published no later than August 14.

What's driving the growth of Catholic churches in the Bible Belt?

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 02:27

Charleston, S.C., Aug 10, 2018 / 12:27 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In the thick of the Bible Belt, the famously evangelical Protestant region in the southeastern United States, some Catholic Masses are filling to standing-room only.

Meanwhile, many Baptist, Methodist and Lutheran churches are struggling to keep enough people in the pews to justify opening their doors.

It has widely been reported that the U.S. as a whole is losing its religion, with Protestant mainline churches seeing the most decline over the past 15 years. But two key factors are contributing to Catholic growth throughout the south: a boom in the Hispanic population, and the southern migration of Catholic retirees and families from the Northeast.

St. Gregory’s Catholic Church in Bluffton, along the southern coast of South Carolina, particularly illustrates this shift along the Bible Belt — the congregation grew by a massive 70 percent in just 10 years, and now claims 10,000 registered members. Even though South Carolina is gaining in population, the growth of this parish outpaces even that of the state, according to local newspapers.

“Sunday Masses are crowded as latecomers squeeze into pews or stand in the back of the church. Twelve Masses are held Friday evening through Sunday — two of which are in Spanish. And work is underway on a new parish life center for community events,” Kasia Kovacs reports in The Island Packet.

Hispanics made up about 40 percent of the Church in the United States in 2016, with especially large representation among youth and young adults: 50 percent of Catholics ages 14 to 29 are Hispanic; and 55 percent of Catholics under 14 are Hispanic. Though immigration rates from Hispanic countries have begun to slow in recent years, the percentage of Hispanic Catholics in the U.S. is expected to continue growing during the next decade.

At St. Gregory’s, Masses for major holidays like Christmas and Easter are said in both English and Spanish, and seminarians in the state are required to be fluent in Spanish before their ordination. The parish celebrates Las Posadas and other traditional Hispanic celebrations, and food trucks at parish events now feature empanadas and gorditas.

“Having this summer experience, and seeing how it comes together — seeing how the Hispanic community and English community collaborate — it really is a single entity,” seminarian Tom Drury told The Island Packet.

Parishioner Jenny Bermejo, who moved to the area as a child with her family in 2004, said that St. Gregory’s has provided them with community and the familiarity of home.

“We were still pretty new to South Carolina, so hearing Mass in Spanish really brought us a sense of home,” Bermejo said.

St. Gregory’s pastor Monsignor Ronald Cellini told The Island Packet that his Hispanic parishioners are often more active in church life in the United States than they were back in Mexico, Guatemala or Colombia. The rural area of Bluffton reminds them of home, and they are putting down roots — they are not transient migrants who will leave in a few years.

“The Bluffton Hispanic community is here — it’s not a migrant community,” he said. “Kids grow up here. They’ve been here, they’re staying here.”

In response to these shifting demographics and the influx of Hispanic Catholics throughout the United States, the U.S. bishops have called for a meeting called the V Encuentro- Fifth Encounter- a national gathering of U.S. Hispanic leaders and ministers to consult with Hispanic Catholics and respond to their pastoral needs.

The first Encuentro was held in 1972, and the most recent was held in 2000, with a related youth meeting held in 2006.

This year, the V Encuentro will be held in Grapevine, Texas Sept. 20-23.

Lawsuit filed against new government asylum rules

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 19:30

Washington D.C., Aug 9, 2018 / 05:30 pm (CNA).- Immigration activists have made a legal challenge to the government’s criteria for migrants seeking asylum on Tuesday, saying that the grounds outlined were too narrow and should be expanded.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies filed suit on behalf of a dozen individuals who say they left their home countries after experiencing “horrific persecution,” including the murder of family members. These people were denied asylum in the United States.

The lead plaintiff, identified only as “Grace,” is a native of Guatemala who says she came to the United States after two decades of physical and sexual abuse by her husband. “Grace” faces the possibility of deportation back to Guatemala, where her lawyers say her life is at risk.

Previously, a person could claim fear of gang violence or domestic abuse as a reason why they should be granted asylum into the United States. In June, Attorney General Jeff Sessions released a new policy, stating that these factors “generally” do not constitute a suitable reason.

In a June 11 decision by the attorney general relating to a particular case referred to as A-B-, he ruled that “generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum.”

While Sessions said that he did not “minimize the vile abuse” that particular woman had endured, “the mere fact that a country may have problems effectively policing certain crimes—such as domestic violence or gang violence—or that certain populations are more likely to be victims of crime, cannot itself establish an asylum claim.”

Catholics have spoken out strongly against the new policy.

At the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ general assembly in June, USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston condemned the new policy in his opening address to the bishops.

DiNardo said that the policy would risk the lives of women, and that “unless overturned, the decision will erode the capacity of asylum to save lives, particularly in cases that involve asylum seekers who are persecuted by private actors.”

The ACLU argues that the updated policy is an “attempt to subvert decades of settled asylum law” and is a “fundamental misunderstanding of domestic violence.” The plaintiffs are arguing that the new policy effectively restricts asylum claims to those fleeing persecution either by the government, or that the government actively condoned the persecution.

This, they argue, goes against the established legal standard that the local government merely be “unwilling or unable” to offer protection.

In May, administration officials said that individuals and people-smuggling organizations were exaggerating the threat of violence they faced in an effort to exploit the system and gain entry to the United States.

Sessions said that the June changes would restore "sound principles of asylum and long-standing principles of immigration law."

Under immigration law, a person seeking asylum must prove that they are subject to persecution in their home country due to their race, nationality, religious beliefs, political views, or membership in a certain social group. Over time, the definition of “certain social group” has been expanded to include women who are fleeing domestic violence in countries where there are few legal avenues for a woman to prosecute or even escape her abuser.

Over the past year, the number of people seeking asylum who fail the first step, known as the “credible fear screening,” has increased. People who fail the credible fear screening are subject deportation back to their country of origin.

The case will be heard by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

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