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:


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.


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.
[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.
[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. 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.


"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).



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.


Thursday, February 21, 2019

Calling Church to "Hear The Cry For Justice," Pope To Summit: "Be Concrete"

(1500 Rome/9amET – updated with content of Pope's printed "reflection points.")

Over the weeks leading up to this unprecedented convocation of the world's bishops conference presidents on the abuse of minors in the church, the Vatican – and even the Pope himself – have explicitly sought to downplay expectations on the summit's outcome.

But then, in the event's opening minutes this morning, Francis conspicuously nixed that messaging – which had stoked outrage among victim-survivors – suddenly insisting upon a tangible result from the three-day talks.

Here, the English fulltext of the pontiff's brief, blunt address:
Dear Brothers, good morning!

In light of the scourge of sexual abuse perpetrated by ecclesiastics to the great harm of minors, I wanted to consult you, Patriarchs, Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, and Religious Superiors and Leaders, so that together we might listen to the Holy Spirit and, in docility to his guidance, hear the cry of the little ones who plead for justice. In this meeting, we sense the weight of the pastoral and ecclesial responsibility that obliges us to discuss together, in a synodal, frank and in-depth manner, how to confront this evil afflicting the Church and humanity. The holy People of God looks to us, and expects from us not simple and predictable condemnations, but concrete and effective measures to be undertaken. We need to be concrete.

So we begin this process armed with faith and a spirit of great parrhesia, courage and concreteness.

As a help, I would share with you some important criteria formulated by the various Episcopal Commissions and Conferences – they came from you and I have organized them somewhat. They are guidelines to assist in our reflection, and they will now be distributed to you. They are a simple point of departure that came from you and now return to you. They are not meant to detract from the creativity needed in this meeting.

In your name, I would also like to thank the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the members of the Organizing Committee for their outstanding and dedicated work in preparing for this meeting. Many thanks!

Finally, I ask the Holy Spirit to sustain us throughout these days, and to help us to turn this evil into an opportunity for awareness and purification. May the Virgin Mary enlighten us as we seek to heal the grave wounds that the scandal of paedophilia has caused, both in the little ones and in believers. Thank you.
The moment was punctuated by a notable sight: as the Pope spoke, aides suddenly appeared in the aisles of the Aula, handing out leaflets featuring the mentioned compilation of best practices already being applied in parts of the global church. (Comprising 21 "reflection points" for use in local norms – or, given Francis' endorsement, possibly to appear as universal law in due course – the handout's contents are reproduced in full below.)

This first day is dedicated to the "responsibility" of bishops and religious superiors in combatting abuse; tomorrow and Saturday will respectively focus on "accountability" and "transparency" in addressing the scandals.

Francis will give a more extensive closing address to close the meeting on Sunday, following a concluding Mass – which, in an exceedingly rare occurrence, won't be preached by the pontiff himself, but the president of the Australian bench, Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane.

*  *  *
Following Francis' introduction, the morning session brought two of the day's three main talks – a reflection on the spiritual "wound" of abuse from Manila's Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, and an overview of the legal procedures for handling allegations by Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, a member of the meeting's four-man organizing committee, and the figure most widely affiliated with the global church's "gold standard" response to the crisis.

Now restored to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – where he previously oversaw the dismissal of some 3,000 accused clerics over a decade as its lead prosecutor – the Maltese departed from his canonical task to employ a stark pastoral lesson to the gathered prelates:

Interspersed between the prelates’ talks were brief testimonies by victim-survivors, among them a woman whose abuse as a girl saw her pressured into three abortions, and a middle-aged priest’s recounting of his childhood trauma at the hand of a cleric.

With the summit soon to break for lunch – and the first daily press briefing – more as it emerges.

SVILUPPO: As mentioned above, here's the complete text of the Pope's 21 "reflection points" toward a "concrete" outcome, circulated among the participants as Francis spoke and subsequently released to journalists by the Holy See Press Office:
1. To prepare a practical handbook indicating the steps to be taken by authorities at key moments when a case emerges.

2. To equip oneself with listening structures that include trained and expert people who can initially discern the cases of the alleged victims.

3. Establish the criteria for the direct involvement of the Bishop or of the Religious Superior.

4. Implement shared procedures for the examination of the charges, the protection of the victims and the right of defence of the accused.

5. Inform the civil authorities and the higher ecclesiastical authorities in compliance with civil and canonical norms.

6. Make a periodic review of protocols and norms to safeguard a protected environment for minors in all pastoral structures: protocols and norms based on the integrated principles of justice and charity so that the action of the Church in this matter is in conformity with her mission.

7. Establish specific protocols for handling accusations against Bishops.

8. Accompany, protect and treat victims, offering them all the necessary support for a complete recovery.

9. Increase awareness of the causes and consequences of sexual abuse through ongoing formation initiatives of Bishops, Religious Superiors, clerics and pastoral workers.

10. Prepare pathways of pastoral care for communities injured by abuses and penitential and recovery routes for the perpetrators.

11. To consolidate the collaboration with all people of good will and with the operators of mass media in order to recognize and discern real cases from false ones and accusations of slander, avoiding rancour and insinuations, rumours and defamation (cf. Pope Francis’ address to the Roman Curia, 21 December 2018).

12. To raise the minimum age for marriage to sixteen years.

13. Establish provisions that regulate and facilitate the participation of lay experts in investigations and in the different degrees of judgment of canonical processes concerning sexual and / or power abuse.

14. The right to defence: the principle of natural and canon law of presumption of innocence must also be safeguarded until the guilt of the accused is proven. Therefore, it is necessary to prevent the lists of the accused being published, even by the dioceses, before the preliminary investigation and the definitive condemnation.

15. Observe the traditional principle of proportionality of punishment with respect to the crime committed. To decide that priests and bishops guilty of sexual abuse of minors leave the public ministry.

16. Introduce rules concerning seminarians and candidates for the priesthood or religious life. Be sure that there are programs of initial and ongoing formation to help them develop their human, spiritual and psychosexual maturity, as well as their interpersonal relationships and their behaviour.

17. Be sure to have psychological evaluations by qualified and accredited experts for candidates for the priesthood and consecrated life.

18. Establish norms governing the transfer of a seminarian or religious aspirant from one seminary to another; as well as a priest or religious from one diocese or congregation to another.

19. Formulate mandatory codes of conduct for all clerics, religious, service personnel and volunteers to outline appropriate boundaries in personal relationships. Be specific about the necessary requirements for staff and volunteers and check their criminal record.

20. Explain all information and data on the dangers of abuse and its effects, how to recognize signs of abuse and how to report suspected sexual abuse. All this must take place in collaboration with parents, teachers, professionals and civil authorities.

21. Where it has not yet been in place, establish a group easily accessible for victims who want to report any crimes. Such an organization should have a certain autonomy with respect to the local ecclesiastical authority and include expert persons (clerics and laity) who know how to express the Church's attention to those who have been offended by improper attitudes on the part of clerics.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Theodore McCarrick, Ex-Cleric

Over the last two decades, some 5,000 men worldwide have been dismissed from the clerical state following a credible allegation of the sexual abuse of a minor.

Only now has one of them once worn the red hat of a cardinal.

Anticipated for months, the Pope's decree ousting Theodore Edgar McCarrick, now a former archbishop and priest, from the ranks of the ordained was published by the Holy See just before 9.30 Rome time (3.30am US Eastern) this Saturday morning. With word of the decision conveyed to the 88 year-old yesterday, the act has immediate effect.

Eight months since a first report of abuse was substantiated against the onetime cardinal-archbishop of Washington, today's move caps the most precipitous fall of an American prelate in history – indeed, of a top-level cleric anywhere in modern times – and marks a new stage in the church's still-intensifying effort to address the scourge of abuse and punish its perpetrators.

Since 2001, when full-on laicization became a standard practice for priests found guilty of abusing a minor or or possessing child pornography, only three other bishops have been similarly removed worldwide, none of them from the US.

Here, the English text of the Vatican announcement:
On 11 January 2019, the Congresso of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, at the conclusion of a penal process, issued a decree finding Theodore Edgar McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C., guilty of the following delicts while a cleric: solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power. The Congresso imposed on him the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state. On 13 February 2019, the Ordinary Session (Feria IV) of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith considered the recourse he presented against this decision. Having examined the arguments in the recourse, the Ordinary Session confirmed the decree of the Congresso. This decision was notified to Theodore McCarrick on 15 February 2019. The Holy Father has recognized the definitive nature of this decision made in accord with law, rendering it a res iudicata (i.e., admitting of no further recourse).
While weeks of reports foreseeing McCarrick's laicization have taken the surprise out of the result, the seismic nature of it remains, all the more given the immense influence and profile the now-removed cleric masterfully wielded across the Catholic world and the nation's capital alike over a generation.

Even when McCarrick resigned under pressure from the College of Cardinals last July – becoming the first "ex-member" of the Pope's Senate in a century – the notion of removing the then-archbishop from the priesthood altogether remained a near-unthinkable outcome in most church circles. However, as public anger remained blistering over what became multiple abuse charges – coupled with ample revelations of McCarrick's history of harassment and molestation of seminarians and young priests – once word emerged in late December that an allegation of solicitation in the context of Confession had become part of the CDF investigation, the ultimate banishment was suddenly viewed as a fait accompli.

As the action against McCarrick stemmed from a man's report last year to the archdiocese of New York that the then-monsignor had fondled him as a 16 year-old in the early 1970s – followed quickly by the testimony of a second man that the future cardinal (a longtime friend of his family) had abused him for years, beginning at age 11 – what's now the standard canonical penalty in such cases has been executed here.

Nonetheless, today's announcement brings one major innovation: until now, a cleric's sexual misconduct with adults has not risen to the level of a CDF charge nor a tribunal process. Usually addressed as a discretionary matter, that acts with adults are listed among the graviora delicta (grave crimes) warranting McCarrick's dismissal – specifically "with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power" – represents a massive sea-change in the church's handling of allegations beyond those involving minors, one which could well have significant ramifications going forward, both in Rome and at the local level.

With his laicization now imposed, McCarrick – a particular favorite of Popes John Paul II and Francis alike – loses all the titles, responsibilities and privileges of a priest and hierarch, except for one emergency role: namely, the faculty to absolve a person in imminent danger of death. As for his descriptor going forward, he should be referred to as "the dismissed cleric Theodore McCarrick," with the ranks or offices he once held only used after his name to reflect that they no longer apply.

Given his dismissal, it remains to be seen whether the now-former cleric will keep his residence at the Capuchin friary in Kansas where Francis ordered McCarrick to live in prayer and penance pending the outcome of Rome's investigation; as a result of today's decree, the onetime cardinal is no longer bound by obedience to his now-former superior.

Today's move is merely the curtain-raiser for two of the most consequential moments of Francis' six-year pontificate: Thursday brings the opening of the four-day Vatican "summit" that'll convene the presidents of the world's bishops for the church's first-ever global meeting on clergy sex-abuse and its optimal response, while the eyes of Stateside Catholicism remain fixed on Washington, where the Pope's all-important appointment of the capital's next archbishop amid the twin scandals that engulfed McCarrick and his successor, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, has been expected over these weeks.

On a timing note, it's long been understood among Whispers ops that the Vatican's final judgment on McCarrick would necessarily precede the Pope's pick for the helm of DC's 800,000-member church.

SVILUPPO: Before 7am ET, the following brief, unsigned statement was issued by the Washington Chancery:
The imposition on former Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick of the penalty of his dismissal from the clerical state, thus prohibiting him any type of priestly ministry, underscores the gravity of his actions.

Our hope and prayer is that this decision serves to help the healing process for survivors of abuse, as well as those who have experienced disappointment or disillusionment because of what former Archbishop McCarrick has done. We also pray that the Church may be guided to move forward in her mission.
And shortly thereafter, the national response came from the USCCB President, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston – the US delegate to next week's Vatican talks:
The Holy See’s announcement regarding Theodore McCarrick is a clear signal that abuse will not be tolerated. No bishop, no matter how influential, is above the law of the Church. For all those McCarrick abused, I pray this judgement will be one small step, among many, toward healing. For us bishops, it strengthens our resolve to hold ourselves accountable to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I am grateful to Pope Francis for the determined way he has led the Church’s response.

If you have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of someone within the Catholic Church, I urge you to contact local law enforcement and your local diocese or eparchy. Victims Assistance Coordinators are available to help. We are committed to healing and reconciliation.

Friday, February 01, 2019

In Texas – And Beyond – The "Reckoning" Continues

Eight months into the US church's latest round of abuse crisis, January's final hours brought yet another sharp curve, but one whose proactive nature on a broad scale makes it unique even at this point.

Reflecting their long-standing habit of close collaboration in pastoral activity beyond the standard teaming up on public policy, the bishops of Texas' 15 dioceses released their lists of clerics credibly accused of abuse of minors in unison late yesterday, the sum total of which offers an unusually sprawling chronicle of the scandals that spans nearly seven decades.

All told, the disclosures named nearly 300 accused priests and religious who've served in the Lone Star state since 1950. For context, here it bears recalling that last August's grand-jury report on six of Pennsylvania's eight Latin-church dioceses relayed a figure of over 300 accused clergy, while a preliminary report in December from the Illinois Attorney General alleged a history of some 500 accused clerics who've gone unnamed (vs. fewer than 200 publicly identified to date) as part of a fresh probe in the Pennsylvania inquiry's wake.

As previously reported, the top prosecutors of at least 14 states and the District of Columbia have launched statewide investigations since the Pennsylvania report – and, of course, the US Department of Justice has opened a far more consequential inquest, currently limited to Pennsylvania but likely to spread across at least part of the wider country.

In that light, the Texas disclosure is in a class by itself not merely given the staggering scale involved, but that the move was made by the bishops on their own volition instead of as an attempt to get ahead of a civil inquest already in progress. (To be sure, though scores of US dioceses have released similar lists over the last six months, the only similar statewide reveal came in Pennsylvania in the weeks ahead of the grand-jury's findings.)

Sprawling as the Texas effort has been – and at least some staffs were working late into Wednesday night to meet the deadline – the process toward Thursday's release has been more challenging than meets the eye.

On one front, the exceptional growth of the Texas church over the time period at hand (which has seen Catholics become the state's largest religious body) has raised a significant amount of jurisdictional issues. As Catholic News Service cited, no fewer than nine of the 15 dioceses were established from 1950 to 2000, a reality which could see one priest having served in two or three different local churches without ever leaving the territory for which he was originally ordained; relatedly, a newer diocese could have a cleric with an allegation which was handled by the prior diocese and thus isn't part of local institutional memory. What's more, Texas' longtime status as mission territory due to a historically sparse Catholic presence until recent times yielded a considerably greater reliance on religious priests, which necessarily requires the involvement of their respective superiors both in the handling of abuse cases and the disclosure of the identities of the accused.

Yet in particular, the coordination that marked the release conspicuously did not extend to the standards and processes employed by the dioceses. While several of the Chanceries employed outside counsel or consulting firms to review their files, others charted internally-picked "special commissions" or called on their already-existing review boards to conduct the task.

And above all, the compilation of the lists has again underscored the dilemma baked into the Dallas Charter – the definition (or lack thereof) of a "credible" allegation, which in its specifics essentially remains a determination by each bishop. On that aspect, according to Whispers ops apprised of the four-month process, an attempt among the Texas prelates to agree to a common standard of "credible" came to an impasse as the lists were being prepared, as did a push for a universal method of reporting which, among other things, would've cited when a diocese first became aware of the respective allegation(s). Albeit obliquely, the disparities of method are reflected in the finished products.

Among the group, the largest bloc released – 57 – came from San Antonio, reflecting that archdiocese's historic place as the seat of Texas Catholicism both in terms of population and, until 2004, the state's sole metropolitan entity. Of those named, nearly half were religious.

In Houston, meanwhile, the upstart archdiocese that's rapidly become home to 1.7 million Catholics in the US' fourth-largest city published the names of 25 diocesan clerics and 13 religious.

Of the former, two cases remain under investigation, the internal handling of which saw Cardinal Daniel DiNardo ambushed by a CBS News crew as he presided over November's USCCB meeting in Baltimore, then prompted a county prosecutor's extraordinary raid of his Chancery two weeks later that stretched over some 12 hours, seeing 50 agents swoop in as a throng of local and national media hovered outside. (To date, no further developments from that search have emerged.)

In a local statement released prior to the lists, DiNardo – speaking not in his national capacity, but as de facto head of the Texas bench – said that among the reasons behind the decision to publish was so "anyone with any additional information about any abuse of a minor that may have taken place... [would] notify the civil authorities immediately."

With an eye to this month's "extraordinary Synod" on abuse in Rome – at which, as conference president, he'll be the sole representative of the US bishops – the cardinal said that he intended to reiterate "my firm conviction that the time for action and accountability at all levels of the church cannot wait."

While most of the Texas dioceses simply issued their lists with a printed introduction from the bishop, for a sampling of how things played out on the ground, Bishop Ed Burns of Dallas – a former chair of the USCCB's safe environment arm – held a full briefing on making the release from his 1.4 million-member church:

*  *  *
Speaking of Big D, yesterday brought a separate, unrelated disclosure from Louisiana's capital church in Baton Rouge of 37 accused clerics (a third of them religious).

In making the announcement, however, Bishop Mike Duca – a Dallas native and onetime rector of Holy Trinity Seminary there – offered an especially potent reflection, not merely on the importance of the release itself, but of the ongoing change and conversion which the exercise is supposed to represent.

(Emphases original):
Some have asked why must we do this. As I said in my [prior] letter, the fact that this wound will not heal tells us that we must continue to bring everything into the light. This is not easy. I have listened to some victims share their stories, and there are no words to express the depth of sadness and shame that was experienced in our Church and is part of OUR diocesan history. It is hard to lay this list out for all to see, but real renewal and healing cannot take place until we acknowledge the truth of our past.

This list reflects the lives of real people and a path of pain and suffering that affects most deeply the persons who are victims of abuse, but also the friends and family that journey with them and the innocent family members of the priests who are accused. Each name represents a unique case. Some only had one victim and others abuse gouged a wide path of pain in the lives of many victims. In some cases the victims were male and in others female. But there is one thing, most importantly, they have in common, they all have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor or minors....

In the process of creating this list of names I have heard from some, and even felt this myself in the beginning, that once this is done we can move beyond the crisis mode and get back to normal. But I have come to see quite clearly that in this thinking there is already a return to an old standard to once again “sweep it under the carpet.” This list is not the end but an attempt to open the door on child sexual abuse that none of us want to open. In every case of abuse on this list I am sure that the victim was told, “don't tell anyone.” They heard this from their abuser, but also from the church, sometimes overtly, “Okay, we will take care of Father and you just keep this a secret,” or they felt an unspoken institutionally expressed rule of the Church that, you just are not supposed to talk about these things. Unfortunately, to keep the status quo the victims of abuse must bear the pain for others’ peace of mind and must do this alone.

My hope is that this list is a concrete sign that we do want to talk about this. Hopefully a victim of abuse will see a name on this list and say, that's me, and this will give them the courage to go to a trusted friend, counselor, family member or come talk to me and share their story and no longer bear the pain alone. We must be willing to share their pain, admit our part in this tragedy so that we can help ease their burden and be for the victims of sexual abuse a support and not a barrier on the path to healing. So this list is not the final piece of “dealing with this” but rather I see it as a beginning step in a foundational change in our Church’s way of acting that will renew all the programs we have in place to protect our children with a focus on the healing of the victims of abuse rather than the protection of the status quo.
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Lastly for now, the singular case which plunged the Stateside church into the current crisis-cycle is soon to see its denouement.

Seven months since now-Archbishop Theodore McCarrick was initially removed from ministry following a substantiated report of abuse (followed quickly by a second allegation), a lead Whispers op relays that the onetime cardinal – already stripped of his red hat by Pope Francis – will be dismissed from the clerical state by the Holy See within days.

By any measure, that outcome would've been unthinkable a year ago.... In many ways, it still is.

Though a handful of other bishops have been laicized over the last half-decade following canonical convictions for abusing minors or possessing child pornography, the penalty hasn't yet been levied on an American prelate. Yet even more, in any context, never has a "prince of the church" been removed from the priesthood altogether.

Clearly, terms like "unprecedented" and "watershed" can easily be overemployed or misused in moments like these.

In this singular case, however, to say they apply is the height of understatement.