Saturday, March 16, 2019

USCCB President Suffers Stroke – As Bench VP, Gomez Given The Reins

Having soldiered through this last year carrying an unprecedented double burden – the daily life of a booming 1.8 million-member archdiocese (one currently under civil investigation) and the elected leadership of the US' largest religious body amid a season of epic crisis – Houston Chancery released the following statement at 7pm Central tonight, announcing a significant health scare for Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the President of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops:
Cardinal DiNardo was taken to a Houston hospital last night [Friday, 15 March] after experiencing the symptoms of what tests today have confirmed was a mild stroke. The Cardinal is resting comfortably and conversing with associates, doctors and nurses. It is expected that Cardinal DiNardo will remain hospitalized for a few more days of testing and observation, followed by a transfer to another facility for rehabilitation. he is grateful to the doctors and nurses for their wonderful care and for continued prayers during his recovery. Cardinal DiNardo said, "With so much to do, I am looking forward to getting back to work as soon as possible."
According to a separate statement circulated privately to the US bench and obtained by Whispers, as the USCCB by-laws provide that the bench's “Vice President ... shall have such powers and perform such other duties as may be assigned him by the President," as of tonight, DiNardo "has assigned [Los Angeles'] Archbishop [José] Gomez, as Vice President, to assist in executing the day-to-day responsibilities of the Presidency" for the period of his recovery.

In other words, for all practical purposes, the Mexican-born, 68 year-old head of the largest diocese American Catholicism has ever known is suddenly the Acting President of the US bishops – even on a pro tem basis, the first Latino ever to lead an episcopal bench north of the Rio Grande.

Just when you thought things weren't eventful enough. Then again, lest anybody forgot, this was a "joint presidency" from its outset.

*  *  *
Just shy of his 70th birthday in late May, DiNardo – the first cardinal ever created in the American South – is in the home stretch of his three-year term at the bench's helm, which'll end with the election of the new Executive in November.

Over the nearly five-decade history of the modern Stateside conference (rebooted as it was in the wake of Vatican II), not in memory has a Vice-President been called to publicly "assist" at the body's helm as Acting Chief.

Then again, as the Presidency takes at least a third of its occupant's energy in a normal time – always beginning with a first-thing hourlong call from the Washington headquarters every morning – lest anyone forgot, these days are anything but "normal."

Having served as the US bench's delegate to last month's abuse summit in Rome, DiNardo was stricken just after returning home from this past week's USCCB Administrative Committee meeting in Washington, which set the agenda for the bench's June meeting in Baltimore and its expected plan to vote on four major documents enhancing the accountability of bishops, both in terms of direct allegations against them and/or their handling of abuse cases.

As one Whispers op relayed from the Admin talks, DiNardo appeared "ashen and tired" over the two-day DC meeting, echoing weeks of concern from within his inner circle over the unrelenting workload.

When the wear-down finally caught up with him, a Houston op reports that the cardinal was presiding over a Friday night Stations of the Cross in the Cathedral he dedicated ten years ago next month (above) – a rite specifically held in reparation for the recent scandals – when DiNardo became unsettled at the Seventh Station (per tradition, the moment recalling when "Jesus Falls the Second Time") and needed to be taken out in a wheelchair.

Per early reports from Astroworld, the president is in intensive care in a local hospital; his rehab and initial recovery period will take at least six weeks, thus keeping DiNardo – head of the US' fifth-largest diocese beyond his national role – out of commission through Holy Week and Easter.

In his last major public appearance before this weekend's turn, DiNardo headlined an early February seminar at his alma mater – Washington's Catholic University of America – where the bench chief cited Pope Francis' January call to the US bishops for "a new ecclesial season" in the scandal-hit Stateside church... focusing especially on the laity's role in it:


Developing – more to come.

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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

"Primates of the Gaols" – Pell’s Sentencing for Abuse Caps “Dark Age” for Red Hats

Due to a couple milestones on the horizon, the 21st century was already bound to be a moment of reflection on the long history of the College of Cardinals: coming years bring both the 1,000th anniversary of the codification of the group's role as the electors of a Pope, and half a millennium since the first meaningful attempt to internationalize the body, a distinct shift from its roots in the early assembly of the pastors of Rome's churches.

Now, however, this age has made some epochal history of its own: in ways unknown since the scandal-ridden days that would spur a Reformation, "princes of the church" have cast a public cloud over the Catholic scene. What's unique this time, though, is the public punishment being meted out upon them, in ways that would've been unthinkable even as the calendar hit 2000.

Capping a seismic month that began with the first dismissal of a once scarlet-clad figure from the priesthood in modern times – then brought an unprecedented conviction in civil court of another cardinal on charges of a cover-up – Cardinal George Pell, the most influential Australian in the history of global Catholicism, was sentenced this morning to a jail term of six years following his December conviction on five counts of assaulting two minors in the 1990s.

Until recently the Vatican's first Finance Czar with a mandate to carry out broad fiscal reforms – and before that the head of Australia's two largest archdioceses in Melbourne and Sydney – Pell's sentence fell far short of the maximum 50 years the 77 year-old prelate could've faced.

Already remanded to a Melbourne prison last month on the revocation of his bail, the cardinal – by far the highest-ranking cleric (indeed, the first bishop) ever to be convicted and jailed on abuse counts – has resolutely maintained his innocence, and outrage over the lead conservative's conviction has become a cause celebre among Pell's ideological allies worldwide. Though an appeal is to be heard in early June, the narrow parameters of Australian high court proceedings have borne out a healthy amount of skepticism as to whether the attempt will prove successful.

Should his appeal fail, Pell could be eligible for parole in 44 months on good behavior.

In a rare move underscoring the history of today's event, the chief judge of the Victoria court who presided at the hourlong hearing allowed for it to be broadcast, but with a single camera barred from filming Pell in the dock or panning around the courtroom.

Via the state broadcaster ABC, below is the full hearing, which included a lengthy recounting of the graphic evidence presented at trial:


As previously reported, following the publication of Pell's conviction last month upon the lifting of a gag order banning media coverage in Australia, the Vatican announced that a canonical investigation of the abuse charges has already been opened by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as well as revealing that the cardinal had been suspended from all ministry since returning home to face the counts in mid-2017.

*  *  *
Coming as it does on the sixth anniversary of Pope Francis' election, today's sentencing underscores the towering challenge facing the pontiff and church alike as the global crisis continues to expand both in its breadth and scope.

With Pell now jailed and Theodore McCarrick laicized, a third eruption requiring Rome's full response arrived last week from France, where Cardinal Philippe Barbarin – the "Primate of the Gauls" as archbishop of Lyon, the country's oldest diocese – was convicted on failing to report allegations against one of his priests to the civil authorities on learning of them in 2014.

In the wake of Thursday's verdict and its suspended sentence of a six-month jail term – which reportedly took observers at the trial, and even its prosecutors, by surprise – the 68 year-old prelate (above, in court) announced that he would fly to the Vatican to present his resignation to Francis.

While that visit has not yet taken place, one of Barbarin's auxiliaries, Bishop Emmanuel Gobilliard, subsequently relayed that the cardinal had already decided to leave office regardless of the trial's result, having reached the conclusion that "the diocese has suffered too much" due to the court scrutiny.

Even should he resign as archbishop, however, the Barbarin verdict would appear to provide the first test-case of the principle articulated at the close of February's Vatican abuse summit by the CDF's Archbishop Charles Scicluna: namely, that an understanding of cover-up as being "equally egregious" to abuse was to be "a very clear point in church policy" going forward.

By that standard, a cardinal found to have shown grave negligence in handling abuse cases would ostensibly be subject not merely to resigning his diocese or Curial post, but losing his seat and title in the College, and even his ability to function in ministry altogether – an outcome which, with McCarrick having become the first ex-cardinal in a century last year, has never occurred on the grounds of cover-up.

As Barbarin would otherwise enjoy the right to elect a Pope until 2030, that fresh precedent would be especially significant.

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Monday, March 11, 2019

In "Almost Heaven," The Hammer Falls – With Rome's Consent, WV Probe Ends With Bishop's Suspension

As the leadership of the US bishops inches toward a partial embrace of Cardinal Blase Cupich’s “metropolitan proposal” for investigating allegations against prelates, the lone test-case for the likely national setup has come in for a landing both successful and brutal all at once.

In a release made from Baltimore with the Vatican's implicit approval, early this morning Archbishop William Lori announced a formal suspension from ministry of Bishop Michael Bransfield (above), who was quickly removed from the helm of West Virginia’s diocese of Wheeling-Charleston days after turning 75 last September amid serial allegations of sexual harassment of adults.

Tapped by Rome to oversee the statewide diocese during the vacancy, Lori – who, as Bransfield’s metropolitan, was approached with the allegations from several individuals last summer – was likewise tasked by the Holy See with conducting a preliminary investigation into the reported misconduct.

Despite initial hopes of completing the probe by Christmas, the process – conducted by an all-lay group and overseen by a former state-level prosecutor – produced sufficient evidence that the panel's work wasn’t able to wrap up until early February, uncovering significant financial impropriety along the way, on top of substantiating the charges of the bishop's sexual misconduct.

While officials maintain that no evidence of crimes was discovered in the review, according to a Whispers op close to the process, the findings against Bransfield proved so overwhelming that, within days of receiving the final report in mid-February, Lori made an emergency trip to Rome to brief senior Vatican officials in person on the outcome.

As hinted here at the time, today’s announcement could be clearly foreseen last month, when the Wheeling church moved to strip Bransfield’s name from both a high-school gym and a new wing of the diocese’s lead Catholic hospital.

Over his 14-year tenure, the now-suspended prelate – long one of the global church’s top financiers – spent heavily to invest in Wheeling’s church infrastructure, a largesse aided by the West Virginia diocese’s status as one of American Catholicism’s wealthiest outposts thanks to its century-old bequest of a Texas oil field, the revenues from which have left the 125,000-member diocese with cash reserves stretching into nine figures (i.e. over $100 million).

While the limits of Lori’s authority mean that, for now, Bransfield’s suspension extends solely to the archdiocese of Baltimore and his now-former diocese, with the findings before the Holy See, current projections anticipate that a relatively brief administrative process in Rome will affirm the conclusions of the Wheeling investigation and bar the bishop from all ministry on a universal level.

Though several US prelates have resigned and lived in a de facto state of removal from ministry upon earlier revelations of misconduct with adults, a public decree and sanction against Bransfield from the Vatican would be the first such move of its kind in a case not involving minors.

On another front, given the significant precedent of last month’s findings against the dismissed cleric Theodore McCarrick, once a cardinal and archbishop of Washington – and long a close Bransfield ally – it’s at least possible that the misconduct charges could end up before the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which previously restricted itself to allegations involving children, until adding accusations from adults (in light of the "abuse of power") into its determination of the graviora delicta ("grave crimes") that warranted McCarrick's watershed removal from the priesthood.

With the investigation concluded, only now can the search for Bransfield’s permanent successor begin – as with last week's quick move on Memphis, however, the misconduct probe will go a long way toward the first and longest part of every appointment search: Rome’s consultation on the state of the diocese. As the Vatican is already well-aware of the gravity of the Wheeling situation, and considering Lori’s taxing shuttle-duty between Baltimore and West Virginia, it wouldn’t be surprising to have the latter’s new bishop emerge by the beginning of the summer recess in late June.

In a separate yet related development, the allegations against Bransfield spurred West Virginia's Attorney General Patrick Morissey to announce that the claims against the bishop "warrant a close review" following the September disclosure.

While US civil authorities have launched some 15 statewide investigations – and at least one Federal probe – over recent months, in West Virginia's case, no developments since Morissey's initial statement have yet come to light.

* * *
On the national scene, meanwhile, measures and protocols to enforce the accountability of bishops and investigate allegations against them will be center stage this week in Washington as the USCCB Administrative Committee convenes on Tuesday morning for its first meeting of the year.

In keeping with post-summit comments made by the bench’s president, the likely focus of the three-day agenda will be the means by which Cardinal Daniel DiNardo’s earlier push for lay-led review of accusations of prelates can be worked into a “hybrid” with Cupich’s “metropolitan plan,” which the Chicago cardinal presented before Francis – clearly with the Pope's approval – in his keynote at last month's abuse summit in Rome:


The canonical fine-points of the mash-up still being ironed out, the result is slated to be one of four separate documents to be voted on by the bench at its June plenary in Baltimore, each of which will ostensibly need a two-thirds margin for approval and recognitio (confirmation) by the Holy See.

Notably among the other pending texts is another stab at a protocol first attempted at last November's plenary – guidelines for the restriction of bishops found to either have abused or shown grave negligence (read: cover-up) in their response to cases. The earlier draft of that document was pulled from consideration even before Rome's short-circuit of all the other votes was made known in the first minute of the last general meeting, to the shock of all but a handful of attendees.

All that said, for the immense focus the November meeting and last month's summit received in American media, the even more critical Vatican event in terms of the US' crisis response isn't coming until late this year – the ad limina visit of the Stateside church, first reported here last July, which'll see each of the nation's 198 dioceses placed under Rome's microscope from November into February 2020.

The US' first Vatican exam since Francis' election six years ago this week, the massive Quinquennial Reports detailing the state of each diocese are already being prepared in every Stateside Chancery. While some of the travel dates for the USCCB's 15 regions might still be moved due to mid-November's election of the bench's next President and his deputy, the diocesan reports are due six months ahead of its respective bishop's scheduled visit.

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Tuesday, March 05, 2019

At Graceland, "Taz"-mania – Capping US Hat Trick, Pope Sends "Whirlwind" To Memphis

(Updated with presser video.)

Moving quickly to remedy the damage of a disastrous tenure that left West Tennessee's Catholic community wounded and reeling, the Pope has unleashed the most potent option to heal and restore the diocese of Memphis – and to get cracking with all possible speed.

At Roman Noon this Tuesday, Francis named Bishop David Talley (right), 68 – the "hyper-relational," Atlanta-born head of Louisiana's Alexandria diocese since 2016 – as 6th bishop of the 70,000-member fold on the banks of the Mississippi: a vibrant, tight-knit church with an extraordinary record of activism and service.

And to be sure, that's just one of three marquee moves for the day: elsewhere, the Pope tapped LA Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Brennan, 65 this month, as bishop of Fresno – the outpost covering the lower third of California's Central Valley, now home to 1.2 million Catholics...

...and in just the latest nod to the US church's burgeoning Asian presence, Msgr Alex Aclan, 68 – Filipino-born, and until recently LA's clergy personnel chief – will take Brennan's place as an auxiliary of American Catholicism's flagship diocese, heading up one of Los Angeles' five pastoral regions, each of which comprise over a million faithful.

With Aclan's appointment, the bishop-elect – ordained a priest at 42 after a career as a computer programmer – becomes just the second Filipino ever named to the Stateside bench, and the second Asian priest overall to join the hierarchy within the last 18 months.

While Francis' all-important choice of an archbishop of Washington still hangs like a sword over the rest of the docket, it bears noting that today's trio of moves represents the US' fullest slate of appointments since the latest national round of abuse scandals broke last summer.

*  *  *
An adult convert of Southern Baptist roots, his dual background as a social worker and canon lawyer  unique among the US bench, the new Memphis prelate – famously dubbed "The Tazmanian Devil" at one of his parishes for his usual whirlwind activity – arrives at Graceland as a unifier with a mammoth degree of regard across all sorts of divides.

Indeed, whether from his 1990s housemates at the Casa (the Roman base for American priest grad-students), onetime parishioners in the booming Atlanta suburbs, Chancery co-workers or the national scene he's now been part of for six years, all you'll ever hear when Talley's name comes up is affection on steroids – a reputation perhaps best summed up by the sense that, as several of his collaborators have noted over time, losing him to another assignment brought the difficult realization of how he could never be fully replaced.

Along those lines, much as it'll come as no surprise to those who know him, now it can be told that Talley's name has figured at high levels over recent months as a stealth prospect for the opening in the nation's capital. Even more than the optic of a down-home convert cleric in a rumpled suit and tab-shirt would've struck an immediate, glaring contrast with the cool refinement of the embattled Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Talley's personal history as a state-employed social worker assigned to help abused children in Atlanta's housing projects – the work he was doing as he discerned entering seminary – wouldn't just have made for a deeply evocative story, but provided a rare skill-set for tackling the local nexus of what's become American Catholicism's deepest national crisis in two centuries.

Instead, however, a smaller crucible came calling, but a crucible nonetheless.

In a tenure that barely lasted two years, Bishop Martin Holley's aloof, deference-heavy style of governance brought the Memphis church to the point of near-implosion – a collapse first staved off by a rare Apostolic Visitation to investigate the situation (and comfort the locals), then halted last October with the 64 year-old prelate's forced removal from office by the Pope, a first for a US bishop in modern times. (Not to be outdone, the booted prelate subsequently took to EWTN in a bizarro attempt to defend himself, terming his opposition "racist" – despite the fact that his widely well-regarded predecessor of a quarter-century, Bishop Terry Steib, was likewise African-American.)

Named administrator by Rome upon Holley's ouster, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville – whose province includes Tennessee – has garnered universally high marks among the Memphians as a healing and calming presence who's done much to prop up the roiled scene. Still, with the former USCCB president having to drive five hours each way to juggle two dioceses, the effort hasn't been easy. Accordingly, since the summer 2018 Visitation served as the consultation on the state of the diocese – the first and longest stage of an appointment process – that and a desire to ease Kurtz's daunting workload combined to produce a permanent successor in rapid time.

According to a Whispers op involved in the process, Talley was the archbishop's emphatic first choice. Yet even as both Kurtz and his new suffragan share a common background in social-work, the identikit of Memphis' new bishop is a remarkably tailored fit to respond to the three overarching issues that Holley's tenure blew open.

Beyond coming as a booster-shot and fix-it man for a people languishing under low morale – albeit on a lesser scale, the same reason he was sent to Alexandria – Talley's sizable experience in handling clergy personnel matters recalls Holley's explosive decision to arbitrarily reshuffle some two-thirds of Memphis' priests (including some close to retirement) within a year of his arrival: that is, the moment most frequently cited as the initial salvo of the diocese's immersion in tumult. What's more, meanwhile, the incoming bishop's well-burnished community work directly hearkens back to the biggest outcry stoked by his now-predecessor: Holley's move to shutter the diocese's Jubilee Schools – the nine inner-city elementaries funded by a coalition of civic and corporate groups that've provided an alternative to Memphis' public schools since 1999.

Hailed as one of US Catholic education's great success stories of recent decades – and seen locally as a catalyst for furthering racial reconciliation and the common good in the city where Dr Martin Luther King was assassinated – Holley's ax to the Jubilee Schools (reportedly due to his distaste for serving non-Catholic students) caused shockwaves across the wider church. With the schools under agreement to be spun off to a charter-school provider after this academic year, an op close to the situation relays that an attempt to reverse the arrangement would be futile at this point. In any case, though, Taz being Taz, it's a safe bet that the new bishop will come up with some new push to ensure and enhance the church's ongoing mission and presence in the struggling city – if he hasn't figured it out already, give him 'til noon.

On top of the lingering threads in Holley's wake, the interregnum has brought a pair of fresh challenges. First, local ops report that, while a broad aversion to the now-removed bishop managed to unify sparring factions in the Memphis church, Holley's departure – and the vacuum of long-term leadership it created – has resulted in a distinct spike of tensions between ideological camps over the course of the vacancy.

In addition, as dioceses across the US race to publish historic lists of their credibly accused clerics, last month's disclosure from the diocese of Richmond ricocheted to Memphis as the latter's founding bishop, Carroll Dozier, was listed among abusive priests who worked in Virginia, where Dozier was born and served from 1937 until 1971, when St Paul VI chose him to establish the West Tennessee fold.

While Richmond's entry on Dozier as being accused solely noted that the allegation was received after his death in 1985, a conspicuous lack of reaction from the diocese he founded is said to have rattled, if not infuriated, at least some of the Memphis faithful, all the more given the exalted standing with which the founding bishop is held there.

Featured on a city mural among local icons of the civil rights movement (above left), Dozier – whose 12-year tenure first charted the diocese's penchant for social-justice – is buried under a side-altar inside the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the tomb topped by kneeling angels sculpted in marble.

A notoriously early riser known to be at his desk by 5am, Talley will be presented to his new charge by Kurtz at a 10am Central press conference. As of press time, an installation date remains unknown.

As ever, more to come... and just remember, when this scribe says it'll be busy, believe it.

SVILUPPO: His opening statement here, below you'll find Talley's full Q&A on his debut before the Memphis crowd – the installation is set for Tuesday, 2 April, its site yet to be determined.


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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Well, folks, intense as these last 10 days have been, if only that was everything on the plate....

Alas, it isn't.

Indeed, there's more to come – some of which you can probably guess, some of which you can't.

As a sampler, the weekend's summit indeed marked a turning point. Before the latest sudden curve from Down Under, this scribe spent some time gathering reactions on what happened in Rome.

The impressions are striking, but not in the way you might think. Among others, that's a pressing thing to get back to – one among many.

On the whole, here's a critical piece of context to keep in mind. At this point, we're just over eight months into the current season of scandal. Yet even so – at least, in the US context – the predecessor experience to this moment bears recalling: by early 2003, between Bernard Law's resignation from Boston and the national ramp-up to war in Iraq, the crisis was largely gone from front pages within a year of its start....

This time, however, the scene is exponentially different: given the radically altered media environment, a more engaged handling from Rome, a global spread – and, above all, the ongoing drip of some 15 civil investigations in Stateside jurisdictions (topped by an already spreading Federal probe), however you look at it, this time is going to make for a much longer, far slower burn.

Even this doesn't count all the aspects at hand. Still, if that's the price of a Church truer to herself – or what she should be, in any number of ways – so be it.

Again, buckle up for a long haul with no shortage of rough stuff. To keep the stories going here, though, this scribe has to stay on top of the bills first – ergo, as ever, these pages only come your way by means of your support:


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In Australia, Another Scandal First – A Cardinal Behind Bars... and Out of the Vatican

At least to some degree, the church's reckoning with sexual abuse by clergy has now stretched across 35 years. Yet even for all its tumult, the long journey has never seen anything like these last ten days.

First came the unprecedented dismissal of a onetime cardinal – a serial predator – from the priesthood, then a Pope's first-ever summons of global leadership to tackle the issue....

And now, as never before, another cardinal – a favorite of the last three pontificates, and one of the Catholic world's most prominent and polarizing leaders for a generation – has been remanded to jail following his own conviction on assaulting two boys in the 1990s.

Ten weeks since an Australian state jury found Cardinal George Pell guilty of five counts of historical sex offenses with minors under 16 years of age, the 77 year-old prelate withdrew his application for bail during a hearing this morning in Melbourne and was taken into custody, becoming the church's most senior figure by far to be imprisoned as a result of the scandals.

While no reason was given for the decision to cancel the petition for bail, the cardinal is planning an appeal of his conviction, which has largely been viewed in church circles as a miscarriage of justice – a sense that notably extends even to the famously combative prelate's fiercest critics. In any case, as early Tuesday's lifting of the suppression order that barred Australian media from reporting the December verdict set off an intense round of shockwaves and anger Down Under, Pell's jailing within 24 hours has only served to compound the mood.

As he arrived at court today (below), local reports say a scrum of media and demonstrators returned to encircle the cardinal, with hecklers calling the onetime archbishop of Sydney and Melbourne a "monster" and "animal," and telling him to "rot in hell." Inside the hearing, Pell's attorney stoked further outrage by arguing that the cardinal's conviction for "a plain vanilla sexual penetration case" merited a less severe sentence.

Beyond the courtroom developments, though the Vatican said in a statement yesterday that it was "awaiting the definitive judgement" (i.e. the end of the appeals process) before making any further determinations, the response notably revealed for the first time that Pell has been suspended from ministry since his return home to face the charges in July 2017. Until now, all that had been known was the cardinal's own statement that he would voluntarily stand aside from functioning as a priest for the duration of the court process; as a cardinal enjoys universal faculties that no local bishop may curtail, the Holy See explicitly stated that the precautionary sanction was approved by the Pope, which gave his removal binding force.

Late Tuesday, meanwhile – in a remarkable announcement by tweet – the Vatican's interim press chief Alessandro Gisotti added that Pell "is no longer the Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy," the office which Francis tapped the Australian to establish in 2014, with an eye to consolidating the Curia's sprawling and oft scandal-plagued finances. In addition, midday today brought an added development: further defying yesterday's stance of reticence, Gisotti revealed that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has already opened a canonical process into Pell following his civil conviction – a surprising step at this point given the church's usual deference to civil proceedings before launching its own.

A standard practice for every Curial official, the cardinal's five-year term as the Holy See's first-ever CFO ended earlier this month. However, for a cardinal-prefect's mandate to be pulled upon its expiration instead of continuing for an open-ended period is far more the exception than the rule.

In any case, as the cloud of the charges combined with the pre-existing sense that Pell's innate zest for turf-wars had done as much harm as good for the Holy See's financial reboot, it has long been expected that the Aussie wouldn't be returning to the Vatican even in the event of his exoneration.

Even before yesterday, the Vatican began clipping the cardinal's status – last December saw the Pope bump Pell off the "C-9," Francis' key group of advisers on the reform of the Curia (seen above in an earlier meeting). While that move was announced as word of the verdict swirled outside Australia, the Vatican said it was decided by the pontiff two months earlier and made known privately to Pell at that point.

Back to the present, the formal end of Pell's tenure as head of the Economy office throws a fresh spotlight on the state of Francis' financial reforms, which have largely stalled amid bureaucratic resistance and the cardinal's 18-month absence.

Though the new Secretariat was initially considered to be the Curia's second-ranking office given its planned oversight of other dicasteries, as much of its slated portfolio has instead remained in the Secretariat of State and the several other entities with a hand in the Vatican's ledgers, it's become quite unclear what kind of mandate a Pell successor in the role would be given, an uncertainty which conspicuously diminishes the prestige and appeal of the post.

As Pell is currently in preliminary custody pending his full sentencing in mid-March, the five counts on which he was convicted carry a maximum imprisonment of ten years each. According to Australian reports, the combination of the cardinal's high profile and the nature of his conviction would likely see him kept in solitary confinement to prevent attacks from other inmates.

The timeframe on Pell's civil appeal is unclear. Should it fail, given this morning's announcement and the new standard established in the case of Theodore McCarrick, the second laicization of a cardinal in modern times would appear inevitable, and all in a matter of months.

That said, unless and until Francis himself should decide otherwise, Pell enjoys full rights as a cardinal with a vote in a hypothetical Conclave until his 80th birthday in June 2021.

Meanwhile, on a separate but related note, fresh off a homily that was seen by many as outshining the Pope's own talk at Sunday's close of the Vatican's abuse summit, the president of the Australian bench, Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, has come under an internal investigation in his former archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn that he had disregarded an allegation of abuse levied by a woman there in 2006.

While Coleridge has denied any negligence, the probe remains in process.

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Sunday, February 24, 2019

"The Reflection of the Wrath of God" – In Summit's Last Word, Pope's "Concrete" Pledge Put To Test

Facing what'll irrevocably be seen as a defining moment of his six-year reign, the Pope's closing speech to the abuse summit he designed stacked out at nearly 3,200 words (not including the all-important footnotes) – 31 minutes, even with a delivery that was conspicuously rushed at several points.

The sole authority able to promulgate norms in the wake of the four-day gathering, at its outset Francis urged the attendees to emerge from the talks with "concrete and effective" results. Still, as he's the only person who could implement any outcomes as such, whether the following is sufficient toward that end might make for some interesting reactions on the road ahead.

Here below, the pontiff's complete text in its official English translation.

* * *
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As I thank the Lord who has accompanied us during these days, I would like to thank all of you for the ecclesial spirit and concrete commitment that you have so generously demonstrated.

Our work has made us realize once again that the gravity of the scourge of the sexual abuse of minors is, and historically has been, a widespread phenomenon in all cultures and societies. Only in relatively recent times has it become the subject of systematic research, thanks to changes in public opinion regarding a problem that was previously considered taboo; everyone knew of its presence yet no one spoke of it. I am reminded too of the cruel religious practice, once widespread in certain cultures, of sacrificing human beings – frequently children – in pagan rites. Yet even today, the statistics available on the sexual abuse of minors drawn up by various national and international organizations and agencies (the WHO, UNICEF, INTERPOL, EUROPOL and others) do not represent the real extent of the phenomenon, which is often underestimated, mainly because many cases of the sexual abuse of minors go unreported,[1] particularly the great number committed within families.

Rarely, in fact, do victims speak out and seek help.[2] Behind this reluctance there can be shame, confusion, fear of reprisal, various forms of guilt, distrust of institutions, forms of cultural and social conditioning, but also lack of information about services and facilities that can help. Anguish tragically leads to bitterness, even suicide, or at times to seek revenge by doing the same thing. The one thing certain is that millions of children in the world are victims of exploitation and of sexual abuse.

It would be important to cite the overall data – in my opinion still partial – on the global level,[3] then from Europe, Asia, the Americas, Africa and Oceania, in order to give an idea of the gravity and the extent of this plague in our societies.[4] To avoid needless quibbling, I would point out from the start that the mention of specific countries is purely for the sake of citing the statistical data provided by the aforementioned reports.

The first truth that emerges from the data at hand is that those who perpetrate abuse, that is acts of physical, sexual or emotional violence, are primarily parents, relatives, husbands of child brides, coaches and teachers. Furthermore, according to the UNICEF data of 2017 regarding 28 countries throughout the world, 9 out of every 10 girls who have had forced sexual relations reveal that they were victims of someone they knew or who was close to their family.

According to official data of the American government, in the United States over 700,000 children each year are victims of acts of violence and mistreatment. According to the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC), 1 out of every 10 children experiences sexual abuse. In Europe, 18 million children are victims of sexual abuse.[5]

If we take Italy as an example, the 2016 Telefono Azzurro Report states that 68.9% of abuses take place within the home of the minor.[6]

Acts of violence take place not only in the home, but also in neighbourhoods, schools, athletic facilities [7] and, sadly, also in church settings.

Research conducted in recent years on the phenomenon of the sexual abuse of minors also shows that the development of the web and of the communications media have contributed to a significant increase in cases of abuse and acts of violence perpetrated online. Pornography is rapidly spreading worldwide through the net. The scourge of pornography has expanded to an alarming degree, causing psychological harm and damaging relations between men and women, and between adults and children. A phenomenon in constant growth. Tragically, a considerable part of pornographic production has to do with minors, who are thus gravely violated in their dignity. The studies in this field document that it is happening in ever more horrible and violent ways, even to the point of acts of abuse against minors being commissioned and viewed live over the net.[8]

Here I would mention the World Congress held in Rome on the theme of child dignity in the digital era, as well as the first Forum of the Interfaith Alliance for Safer Communities held on the same theme in Abu Dhabi last November.

Another scourge is sexual tourism. According to 2017 data provided by the World Tourism Organization, each year 3 million people throughout the world travel in order to have sexual relations with a minor.[9] Significantly, the perpetrators of these crimes in most cases do not even realize that they are committing a criminal offence.

We are thus facing a universal problem, tragically present almost everywhere and affecting everyone. Yet we need to be clear, that while gravely affecting our societies as a whole,[10] this evil is in no way less monstrous when it takes place within the Church.

The brutality of this worldwide phenomenon becomes all the more grave and scandalous in the Church, for it is utterly incompatible with her moral authority and ethical credibility. Consecrated persons, chosen by God to guide souls to salvation, let themselves be dominated by their human frailty or sickness and thus become tools of Satan. In abuse, we see the hand of the evil that does not spare even the innocence of children. No explanations suffice for these abuses involving children. We need to recognize with humility and courage that we stand face to face with the mystery of evil, which strikes most violently against the most vulnerable, for they are an image of Jesus. For this reason, the Church has now become increasingly aware of the need not only to curb the gravest cases of abuse by disciplinary measures and civil and canonical processes, but also to decisively confront the phenomenon both inside and outside the Church. She feels called to combat this evil that strikes at the very heart of her mission, which is to preach the Gospel to the little ones and to protect them from ravenous wolves.

Here again I would state clearly: if in the Church there should emerge even a single case of abuse – which already in itself represents an atrocity – that case will be faced with the utmost seriousness. Indeed, in people’s justified anger, the Church sees the reflection of the wrath of God, betrayed and insulted by these deceitful consecrated persons. The echo of the silent cry of the little ones who, instead of finding in them fathers and spiritual guides encountered tormentors, will shake hearts dulled by hypocrisy and by power. It is our duty to pay close heed to this silent, choked cry.

It is difficult to grasp the phenomenon of the sexual abuse of minors without considering power, since it is always the result of an abuse of power, an exploitation of the inferiority and vulnerability of the abused, which makes possible the manipulation of their conscience and of their psychological and physical weakness. The abuse of power is likewise present in the other forms of abuse affecting almost 85,000,000 children, forgotten by everyone: child soldiers, child prostitutes, starving children, children kidnapped and often victimized by the horrid commerce of human organs or enslaved, child victims of war, refugee children, aborted children and so many others.

Before all this cruelty, all this idolatrous sacrifice of children to the god of power, money, pride and arrogance, empirical explanations alone are not sufficient. They fail to make us grasp the breadth and depth of this tragedy. Here once again we see the limitations of a purely positivistic approach. It can provide us with a true explanation helpful for taking necessary measures, but it is incapable of giving us a meaning. Today we need both explanation and meaning. Explanation will help us greatly in the operative sphere, but will take us only halfway.

So what would be the existential “meaning” of this criminal phenomenon? In the light of its human breadth and depth, it is none other than the present-day manifestation of the spirit of evil. If we fail to take account of this dimension, we will remain far from the truth and lack real solutions.

Brothers and sisters, today we find ourselves before a manifestation of brazen, aggressive and destructive evil. Behind and within, there is the spirit of evil, which in its pride and in its arrogance considers itself the Lord of the world [11] and thinks that it has triumphed. I would like to say this to you with the authority of a brother and a father, certainly a small one, but who is the pastor of the Church that presides in charity: in these painful cases, I see the hand of evil that does not spare even the innocence of the little ones. And this leads me to think of the example of Herod who, driven by fear of losing his power, ordered the slaughter of all the children of Bethlehem.[12]

Just as we must take every practical measure that common sense, the sciences and society offer us, neither must we lose sight of this reality; we need to take up the spiritual means that the Lord himself teaches us: humiliation, self-accusation, prayer and penance. This is the only way to overcome the spirit of evil. It is how Jesus himself overcame it.[13]

The Church’s aim will thus be to hear, watch over, protect and care for abused, exploited and forgotten children, wherever they are. To achieve that goal, the Church must rise above the ideological disputes and journalistic practices that often exploit, for various interests, the very tragedy experienced by the little ones.

The time has come, then, to work together to eradicate this evil from the body of our humanity by adopting every necessary measure already in force on the international level and ecclesial levels. The time has come to find a correct equilibrium of all values in play and to provide uniform directives for the Church, avoiding the two extremes of a “justicialism” provoked by guilt for past errors and media pressure, and a defensiveness that fails to confront the causes and effects of these grave crimes.

In this context, I would mention the “best practices” formulated under the guidance of the World Health Organization[14] by a group of ten international bodies that developed and approved a packet of measures called INSPIRE: Seven Strategies for Ending Violence against Children.[15]

With the help of these guidelines, the work carried out in recent years by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and the contributions made by this Meeting, the Church, in developing her legislation, will concentrate on the following aspects:

1. The protection of children. The primary goal of every measure must be to protect the little ones and prevent them from falling victim to any form of psychological and physical. Consequently, a change of mentality is needed to combat a defensive and reactive approach to protecting the institution and to pursue, wholeheartedly and decisively, the good of the community by giving priority to the victims of abuse in every sense. We must keep ever before us the innocent faces of the little ones, remembering the words of the Master: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of scandals! For it is necessary that scandals come, but woe to the man by whom the scandal comes!" (Mt 18:6-7).

2. Impeccable seriousness. Here I would reaffirm that “the Church will spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justice whosoever has committed such crimes. The Church will never seek to hush up or not take seriously any case” (Address to the Roman Curia, 21 December 2018). She is convinced that “the sins and crimes of consecrated persons are further tainted by infidelity and shame; they disfigure the countenance of the Church and undermine her credibility. The Church herself, with her faithful children, is also a victim of these acts of infidelity and these real sins of “peculation” (ibid.).

3. Genuine purification. Notwithstanding the measures already taken and the progress made in the area of preventing abuse, there is need for a constantly renewed commitment to the holiness of pastors, whose conformity to Christ the Good Shepherd is a right of the People of God. The Church thus restates “her firm resolve to pursue unstintingly a path of purification, questioning how best to protect children, to avoid these tragedies, to bring healing and restoration to the victims, and to improve the training imparted in seminaries… An effort will be made to make past mistakes opportunities for eliminating this scourge, not only from the body of the Church but also from that of society” (ibid.). The holy fear of God leads us to accuse ourselves – as individuals and as an institution – and to make up for our failures. Self-accusation is the beginning of wisdom and bound to the holy fear of God: learning how to accuse ourselves, as individuals, as institutions, as a society. For we must not fall into the trap of blaming others, which is a step towards the “alibi” that separates us from reality.

4. Formation. In other words, requiring criteria for the selection and training of candidates to the priesthood that are not simply negative, concerned above all with excluding problematic personalities, but also positive, providing a balanced process of formation for suitable candidates, fostering holiness and the virtue of chastity. Saint Paul VI, in his encyclical Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, wrote that “the life of the celibate priest, which engages the whole man so totally and so sensitively, excludes those of insufficient physical, psychic and moral qualifications. Nor should anyone pretend that grace supplies for the defects of nature in such a man” (No. 64).

5. Strengthening and reviewing guidelines by Episcopal Conferences. In other words, reaffirming the need for bishops to be united in the application of parameters that serve as rules and not simply indications. No abuse should ever be covered up (as was often the case in the past) or not taken sufficiently seriously, since the covering up of abuses favours the spread of evil and adds a further level of scandal. Also and in particular, developing new and effective approaches for prevention in all institutions and in every sphere of ecclesial activity.

6. Accompaniment of those who have been abused. The evil that they have experienced leaves them with indelible wounds that also manifest themselves in resentment and a tendency to self- destruction. The Church thus has the duty to provide them with all the support they need, by availing herself of experts in this field. Listening, let me even put it this way: “wasting time” in listening. Listening heals the hurting person, and likewise heals us of our egoism, aloofness and lack of concern, of the attitude shown by the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

7. The digital world. The protection of minors must take into account the new forms of sexual abuse and abuse of all kinds that threaten minors in the settings in which they live and through the new devices that they use. Seminarians, priests, men and women religious, pastoral agents, indeed everyone, must be aware that the digital world and the use of its devices often has a deeper effect than we may think. Here there is a need to encourage countries and authorities to apply every measure needed to contain those websites that threaten human dignity, the dignity of women and particularly that of children: crime does not enjoy the right to freedom. There is an absolute need to combat these abominations with utter determination, to be vigilant and to make every effort to keep the development of young people from being troubled or disrupted by an uncontrolled access to pornography, which will leave deep scars on their minds and hearts. We must ensure that young men and women, particularly seminarians and clergy, are not enslaved to addictions based on the exploitation and criminal abuse of the innocent and their pictures, and contempt for the dignity of women and of the human person. Here mention should be made of the new norms on graviora delicta approved by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, which included as a new species of crime “the acquisition, possession or distribution by a cleric of pornographic images of minors… by whatever means or using whatever technology”. The text speaks of minors “under the age of fourteen”. We now consider that this age limit should be raised in order to expand the protection of minors and to bring out the gravity of these acts.

8. Sexual tourism. The conduct, the way of looking at others, the very heart of Jesus’ disciples and servants must always acknowledge the image of God in each human creature, beginning with the most innocent. It is only by drawing from this radical respect for the dignity of others that we will be able to defend them from the pervasive power of violence, exploitation, abuse and corruption, and serve them in a credible way in their integral human and spiritual growth, in the encounter with others and with God. Combatting sexual tourism demands that it be outlawed, but also that the victims of this criminal phenomenon be given support and helped to be reinserted in society. The ecclesial communities are called to strengthen their pastoral care of persons exploited by sexual tourism. Among these, those who are most vulnerable and in need of particular help are certainly women, minors and children; these last however need special forms of protection and attention. Government authorities should make this a priority and act with urgency to combat the trafficking and economic exploitation of children. To this end it is important to coordinate the efforts being made at every level of society and to cooperate closely with international organizations so as to achieve a juridical framework capable of protecting children from sexual exploitation in tourism and of ensuring the legal prosecution of the delinquents.[16]

Allow me to offer a heartfelt word of thanks to all those priests and consecrated persons who serve the Lord faithfully and totally, and who feel themselves dishonoured and discredited by the shameful conduct of some of their confreres. All of us – the Church, consecrated persons, the People of God, and even God himself – bear the effects of their infidelity. In the name of the whole Church, I thank the vast majority of priests who are not only faithful to their celibacy, but spend themselves in a ministry today made even more difficult by the scandals of few (but always too many) of their confreres. I also thank the faithful who are well aware of the goodness of their pastors and who continue to pray for them and to support them.

Finally, I would like to stress the important need to turn this evil into an opportunity for purification. Let us look to the example of Edith Stein – Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross – with the certainty that “in the darkest night, the greatest prophets and saints rise up. Still, the life-giving stream of the mystical life remains invisible. Surely, the decisive events of history of the world have been essentially influenced by souls about whom the history books remain silent. And those souls that we must thank for the decisive events in our personal lives is something that we will know only on that day when all that which is hidden will be brought to light”. The holy, faithful People of God, in its daily silence, in many forms and ways continues to demonstrate and attest with “stubborn” hope that the Lord never abandons but sustains the constant and, in so many cases, painful devotion of his children. The holy and patient, faithful People of God, borne up and enlivened by the Holy Spirit, is the best face of the prophetic Church which puts her Lord at the centre in daily giving of herself. It will be precisely this holy People of God to liberate us from the plague of clericalism, which is the fertile ground for all these disgraces.

The best results and the most effective resolution that we can offer to the victims, to the People of Holy Mother Church and to the entire world, are the commitment to personal and collective conversion, the humility of learning, listening, assisting and protecting the most vulnerable.

I make a heartfelt appeal for an all-out battle against the abuse of minors both sexually and in other areas, on the part of all authorities and individuals, for we are dealing with abominable crimes that must be erased from the face of the earth: this is demanded by all the many victims hidden in families and in the various settings of our societies.

_____

[1] Cf. MARIA ISABEL MARTÍNEZ PÉREZ, Abusos sexuales en niños y adolescentes, ed. Criminología y Justicia, 2012, according to which only 2% of cases are reported, especially when the abuse has taken place in the home. She sets the number of victims of paedophilia in our society at between 15% and 20%. Only 50% of children reveal the abuses they have suffered, and of these cases only 15% are actually reported. Only 5% end up going to trial.
[2] One out of three mentions the fact to no one (2017 data compiled by the non-profit organization THORN).
[3] On the global level: in 2017 the World Health Organization estimated that up to 1 billion minors between 2 and 17 years of age have experienced acts of violence or physical, emotional or sexual neglect. Sexual abuse (ranging from groping to rape), according to some 2014 UNICEF estimates, would affect 120 million girls, who are the greatest number of victims. In 2017, UNICEF reported that in 38 of the world’s low to middle income countries, almost 17 million adult women admitted having had a forced sexual relation in childhood.
Europe: in 2013, the World Health Organization estimated that over 18 million of children were found to be victims of abuse. According to UNICEF, in 28 European countries, about 2.5 million young women reported having experienced sexual abuse with or without physical contact prior to 15 years of age (data released in 2017). In addition, 44 million (equivalent to 22.9%) were victims of physical violence, while 55 million (29.6%) were victims of psychological violence. Not only this: in 2017, the INTERPOL Report on the sexual exploitation of minors led to the identification of 14,289 victims in 54 European countries. With regard to Italy, in 2017 CESVI estimated that 6 million children experienced mistreatment. Furthermore, according to data provided by Telefono Azzurro, in the calendar year 2017, 98 cases of sexual abuse and pedophilia were handled by the Servizio 114 Emergenza Infanzia, equivalent to about 7.5% of the total cases handled by that service. 65% of the minors seeking help were female victims and over 40% were under 11 years of age.
Asia: in India, in the decade 2001-2011, the Asian Centre for Human Rights reported a total of 48,338 cases of the rape of minors, with an increase equivalent to 336% over that period: the 2,113 cases in 2001 rose to 7,112 cases in 2011.
The Americas: in the United States, official government data state that more than 700,000 children each year are victims of violence and mistreatment. According to the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC), 1 out of every 10 children experiences sexual abuse.
Africa: in South Africa, the results of a study conducted by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention of the University of Cape Town showed in 2016 that 1 out of 3 South African young people, male or female, risks being sexually abused before the age of 17. According to the study, the first of its kind on a national scale in South Africa, 784,967 young people between 15 and 17 years of age have already experienced sexual abuse. The victims in this case are for the most part male youths. Not even a third of them reported the violence to the authorities. In other African countries, cases of sexual abuse of minors are part of the wider context of acts of violence linked to the conflicts affecting the continent and are thus difficult to quantify. The phenomenon is also closely linked to the widespread practice of underage marriages in various African nations, as elsewhere.
Oceania: in Australia, according to data issued by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) in February 2018 and covering the years 2015-2017, one out of six women (16%, i.e., 1.5 million) reported experiencing physical and/or sexual abuse prior to 15 years of age, and one out of nine men (11%, i.e., 992,000) reported having experienced this abuse when they were children. Also, in 2015-2016, around 450,000 children were the object of child protection measures, and 55,600 minors were removed from their homes in order to remedy abuses they had suffered and to prevent others. Finally, one must not forget the risks to which native minors are exposed: again, according to AIHW, in 2015-2016 indigenous children had a seven times greater probability of being abused or abandoned as compared with their non-indigenous contemporaries (cf. http://www.pbc2019.org/protection-of-minors/child-abuse-on-the-global-level).
[4] The data provided refer to sample counties selected on the basis of the reliability of available sources. The studies released by UNICEF on 30 countries confirm this fact: a small percentage of victims stated that they had asked for help.
[5]Cf. https://www.repubblica.it/salute/prevenzione/2016/05/12/news/maltrattamenti_sui_minori_tutti_gli_abusi-139630223.
[6] Specifically, those allegedly responsible for the difficulties experienced by a minor are, in 73.7% of the cases a parent (the mother in 44.2% and the father in 29.5%), a relative (3.3%), a friend (3.2%), an acquaintance (3%), a teacher (2.5%). The data show that only in a small percentage of cases (2.2%) is the person responsible an adult stranger. Cf. ibid.
[7] A 2011 English study carried out by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) found that 29% of those interviewed reported that they had experienced sexual molestation (physical and verbal) in sports centres.
[8] According to the 2017 data of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), every 7 minutes a web page sends pictures of sexually abused children. In 2017, 78,589 URLs were found to contain images of sexual abuse concentrated particularly in the Low Countries, followed by the United States, Canada, France and Russia. 55% of the victims were under 10 years of age, 86% were girls, 7% boys and 5% both.
[9] The most frequented destinations are Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, as well as Thailand and Cambodia. These have recently been joined by some countries of Africa and Eastern Europe. On the other hand, the six countries from which the perpetrators of abuse mostly come are France, Germany, the United Kingdom, China, Japan and Italy. Not to be overlooked is the growing number of women who travel to developing countries in search of paid sex with minors: in total, they represent 10% of sexual tourists worldwide. Furthermore, according to a study by ECPAT (End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism) International, between 2015 and 2016, 35% of paedophile sexual tourists were regular clients, while 65% were occasional clients (cf. https://www.osservatoriodiritti.it/2018/03/27/turismo-sessuale- minorile-nel-mondo-italia-ecpat).
[10] “For if this grave tragedy has involved some consecrated ministers, we may ask how deeply rooted it may be in our societies and in our families” (Address to the Roman Curia, 21 December 2018).
[11] Cf. R.H. BENSON, The Lord of the World, Dodd, Mead and Company, London, 1907.
[12] “Quare times, Herodes, quia audis Regem natum? Non venit ille ut te excludat, sed ut diabolum vincat. Sed tu haec non intelligens turbaris et saevis; et ut perdas unum quem quaeris, per tot infantium mortes efficeris crudelis… Necas parvulos corpore quia te necat timor in corde (SAINT QUODVULTDEUS, Sermo 2 de Symbolo: PL 40, 655).
[13] “Quemadmodum enim ille, effuso in scientiae lignum veneno suo, naturam gusto corruperat, sic et ipse dominicam carnem vorandam praesumens, deitatis in ea virtute corruptus interituque sublatus est” (SAINT MAXIMUS THE CONFESSOR, Centuria 1, 8-3: PG 90, 1182-1186).
[14] (CDC: United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; CRC: Convention on the Rights of
the Child; End Violence Against Children: The Global Partnership; PAHO: Pan American Health Organization; PEPFAR: President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief; TfG: Together for Girls; UNICEF: United Nations Children’s Fund; UNODC: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime; USAID: United States Agency for International Development; WHO: World Health Organization).
[15] Each letter of the word INSPIRE represents one of the strategies, and for the most part has shown to be preventively effectual against various types of violence, in addition to having benefits in areas such as mental health, education and the reduction of crime. The seven strategies are the following: Implementation and Enforcement of Laws (for example, avoiding violent discipline and limiting access to alcohol and firearms); Norms and Values that need changing (for example, those that condone sexual abuse against girls or aggressive behaviour among boys); Safe Environments (for example, identifying neighbourhood violence “hotspots” and dealing with local causes through policies that resolve problems and through other interventions); Parent and Caregiver Support (for example, by providing formation to parents for their children, and to new parents); Income and Economic Strengthening (such as microcredit and formation concerning equity in general); Response and Support Services (for example, ensuring that children exposed to violence can have access to effective emergency care and can receive adequate psychosocial support); Education and Life Skills (for example, ensuring that children attend school and equipping them with social skills).
[16] Cf. Final Document of the VI World Congress on the Pastoral Care of Tourism, 27 July 2004.

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"We Have Been Our Own Worst Enemy" – At Summit's Close, The Church's "Copernican Revolution" on Abuse

As previously noted, it is exceedingly rare for the Pope to celebrate a Mass without preaching it. Accordingly, Francis' choice to delegate the homily for this summit's closing liturgy would've been significant in any context, but doubly so here.

And that's even before one considers the import of who the pontiff tapped to speak in his stead.

While he's become quite known across the English-speaking world for his outspokenness in the wake of a years-long national inquiry on abuse in the Australian church, in a prior incarnation, Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane was in the belly of another proverbial "beast" related to the abuse scandals – in 2002, the then-monsignor was assigned to the English-language desk of the Secretariat of State, later admitting to how he came to see the Vatican's handling of the initial US crisis more as a cautionary tale than any kind of historic stride.

Back to the present, meanwhile, Coleridge has taken the lead role in the planning for a rare Plenary Council of the Australian church next year – on a national level, the kind of thorough-going, synodal response which this week's event was meant to highlight. (Here, it bears recalling that, in the wake of 2002, a handful of US bishops called for a plenary council for the Stateside church – what would've been the first such gathering since 1884's Third Council of Baltimore. The idea was quickly declined by the bench's leadership.)

As that combined context likely informed the Pope's choice of the Aussie president as this closing day's lone speaker besides himself, here's Coleridge's homily from this morning's rites in the Sala Regia of the Apostolic Palace.

*  *  *
In the Gospel just proclaimed, one voice alone is heard, the voice of Jesus. Earlier we heard the voice of Paul and at the end of Mass we will hear the voice of Peter, but in the Gospel there is only the voice of Jesus. It is good that, after all our words, there are now only the words of Christ: Jesus alone remains, as on the mount of the Transfiguration (cf Lk 9:36).

He speaks to us of power, and he does so in this splendid Sala Regia which also speaks of power. Here are images of battles, of a religious massacre, of struggles between emperors and popes. This is a place where earthly and heavenly powers meet, touched at times by infernal powers as well. In this Sala Regia the word of God invites us to contemplate power, as we have done through these days together. Between meeting, Sala and Scripture therefore we have a fine harmony of voices.

Standing over the sleeping Saul, David appears a powerful figure, as Abishai sees only too well: “Today God has put the enemy into your hands. So let me nail him to the ground with the spear”. But David retorts: “Don’t kill him! Who has ever laid a hand on the Lord’s consecrated one and gone unpunished?” David chooses to use power not to destroy but to save the king, the Lord’s anointed.
The pastors of the Church, like David, have received a gift of power – power however to serve, to create; a power that is with and for but not over; a power, as St Paul says, “which the Lord gave for building you up, not for destroying you” (2 Cor 10:8). Power is dangerous, because it can destroy; and in these days we have pondered how in the Church, power can turn destructive when separated from service, when it is not a way of loving, when it becomes power over.

A host of the Lord’s consecrated ones have been placed in our hands – and by the Lord himself. Yet we can use this power not to create but to destroy, and even in the end to kill. In sexual abuse, the powerful lay hands on the Lord’s consecrated ones, even the weakest and most vulnerable of them. They say yes to the urging of Abishai; and they seize the spear.

In abuse and its concealment, the powerful show themselves not men of heaven but men of earth, in the words of St Paul we have heard. In the Gospel, the Lord commands: “Love your enemies”. But who is the enemy? Surely not those who have challenged the Church to see abuse and its concealment for what they really are, above all the victims and survivors who have led us to the painful truth by telling their stories with such courage. At times, however, we have seen victims and survivors as the enemy, but we have not loved them, we have not blessed them. In that sense, we have been our own worst enemy.

The Lord urges us to “be merciful as your Father is merciful”. Yet, for all that we desire a truly safe Church and for all that we have done to ensure it, we have not always chosen the mercy of the man of heaven. We have, at times, preferred instead the indifference of the man of earth and the desire to protect the Church’s reputation and even our own. We have shown too little mercy, and therefore we will receive the same, because the measure we give will be the measure we receive in return. We will not go unpunished, as David says, and we have already known punishment.

The man of earth must die so that the man of heaven can be born; the old Adam must give way to the new Adam. This will require a true conversion, without which we will remain on the level of “mere administration” – as the Holy Father writes in Evangelii Gaudium – “mere administration” which leaves untouched the heart of the abuse crisis (25).

This conversion alone will enable us to see that the wounds of those who have been abused are our wounds, that their fate is our fate, that they are not our enemies but bone of our bones, flesh of our flesh (cf Gen 2:23). They are us, and we are them.

This conversion is in fact a Copernican revolution. Copernicus proved that the sun does not revolve around the earth but the earth around the sun. For us, the Copernican revolution is the discovery that those who have been abused do not revolve around the Church but the Church around them. In discovering this, we can begin to see with their eyes and to hear with their ears; and once we do that, the world and the Church begin to look very different. This is the necessary conversion, the true revolution and the great grace which can open for the Church a new season of mission.

Lord, when did we see you abused and did not come to help you? But he will reply: In truth I say to you, as often as you failed to do this to one of these the least of my brothers and sisters, you failed to do it to me (cf Matt 25:44-45). In them, the least of the brothers and sisters, victims and survivors, we encounter Christ crucified, the powerless one from whom there flows the power of the Almighty, the powerless one around whom the Church revolves forever, the powerless one whose scars shine like the sun.

In these days we have been on Calvary – even in the Vatican and in the Sala Regia we are on the dark mountain. In listening to survivors, we have heard Christ crying out in the darkness (cf Mk 15:34). And the cry has even become music. But here hope is born from his wounded heart, and hope becomes prayer, as the universal Church gathers around us in this upper room: may the darkness of Calvary lead the Church throughout the world to the light of Easter, to the Lamb who is the sun that never sets (cf Apoc 21:23).

In the end, there remains only the voice of the Risen Lord, urging us not to stand gazing at the empty tomb, wondering in our perplexity what to do next. Nor can we stay in the upper room where he says, “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19). He breathes on us (cf Jn 20:22) and the fire of a new Pentecost touches us (cf Acts 2:2). He who is peace throws open the doors of the upper room and the doors of our heart. From fear is born an apostolic boldness, from deep discouragement the joy of the Gospel.

A mission stretches before us – a mission demanding not just words but real concrete action. We will do all we can to bring justice and healing to survivors of abuse; we will listen to them, believe them and walk with them; we will ensure that those who have abused are never again able to offend; we will call to account those who have concealed abuse; we will strengthen the processes of recruitment and formation of Church leaders; we will educate all our people in what safeguarding requires; we will do all in our power to make sure that the horrors of the past are not repeated and that the Church is a safe place for all, a loving mother especially for the young and the vulnerable; we will not act alone but will work with all concerned for the good of the young and the vulnerable; we will continue to deepen our own understanding of abuse and its effects, of why it has happened in the Church and what must be done to eradicate it. All of this will take time, but we do not have forever and we dare not fail.

If we can do this and more, we will not only know the peace of the Risen Lord but we will become his peace in a mission to the ends of the earth. Yet we will become the peace only if we become the sacrifice. To this we say yes with one voice as at the altar we plunge our failures and betrayals, all our faith, our hope, our love into the one sacrifice of Jesus, Victim and Victor, who “will wipe away the tears from every eye, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning or weeping or pain any more, for the former things have passed away” (Apoc 21:4).

Amen.

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Saturday, February 23, 2019

In the Aula, "Words of Fire"

As Day 2 of this summit wound down Friday night, the keynote from the first of three women slated to speak – Linda Ghisoni, now a #3 official at the Dicastery for Laity, Family, Life – brought a spontaneous response from the Pope, who highlighted her testimony as "the church speaking as herself": that is, a woman's charism, in contrast to the (all-male) clerics who could only speak "about" the church.

With that understanding in mind, this final day of the talks (its focus on "transparency") brought an astonishing one-two punch of a kind these gatherings are by no means used to, both from the remaining women on the roster – first, this morning's opening word by Nigerian Holy Child Sister Veronica Openibo, one of several delegates representing the leadership of the world's female religious orders....

Fulltext – and video:



...and from the Doyenne of the Vatican Press Corps, Valentina Alazraki – the four-decade veteran correspondent for Mexico's dominant Televisa network, who logged her 150th papal tour on the road last month; Fulltext:



While Alazraki's searing talk marked the end of the meeting's "business" portion, the last word remains the most critical of all – what's expected to be an extensive closing speech by the Pope following tomorrow's morning Mass.

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