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“Judgment Day For Pervert Priests?”: Tackling The Enablers Of Child Abuse, The Bishops

For the first time in the long and sordid history of the Catholic Church’s saga with pedophile priests, the Vatican has approved a special judicial tribunal that could bring to justice the bishops who have helped protect offending priests.

But is it enough to protect kids? Survivors groups hope that this time the Vatican has come up with an approach that will work.

“It could be, but only time will tell,” David Clohessy, the national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests (SNAP), told The Daily Beast. “But this isn’t like horseshoes. Every ‘miss’—however close it seems to be to the peg—means more kids will be raped.”

The new tribunal was the brainchild of American cardinal Sean O’Malley, who has become a central figure in the popular papacy of Pope Francis, which may make him a major contender when it comes time for the next conclave. As head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, and one of the pope’s trusted confidantes who sit on the elite Commission of Cardinals, O’Malley presented the plan at a meeting of the pope’s key men in Rome this week. They adopted it unanimously.

The tribunal will not focus on the abusers themselves per se, but rather on complicit bishops who moved the abusers around, knowing full well they were putting children in harm’s way. The five-point plan drafted by O’Malley allows for a number of changes to the current procedure, including making it a duty for diocese to report claims of abuse to Rome, according to Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi.

For years, the Vatican has distanced itself from its field offices, effectively toeing the party line that what happens in individual dioceses cannot be blamed on the central church in Rome. By making it compulsory to instead alert the Rome-based tribunal of all complaints, the Vatican is effectively closing the gap and effectively taking greater responsibility for what happens in its dioceses.

The real question, though, is whether the new process will actually translate into effective punishment for proven offenders, and whether the secular courts will still be kept at bay when it comes to punishing child abusers and sex offenders. The organization Bishop Accountability, which keeps a database of extensive public records of accusations against abusers, warned that the very office that enforces accountability must itself be accountable.

“A public docket, prompt announcements of decisions, and release of documents are essential,” the group said in a statement.

The new tribunal will operate under the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), which was reincarnated from the old Universal Inquisition department of the Holy See. It will have dedicated staff to sort through complaints and help process claims, and it will pass down judgments if it finds bishops complicit in the abuse.

Survivors groups are hopeful, but they say they would prefer that all sex abuse cases are all handled in the secular courts, not dealt with in a Vatican-operated tribunal.

“I don’t think we welcome any new internal cleric-dominated process, especially when it’s in the CDF, which, for decades, has refused to defrock or delayed defrocking some of the worst predator priests,” Clohessy says. “On paper, a mechanism like this looks good. But church abuse mechanisms always look good on paper. If this one is used to prevent cover-ups and punish ‘enablers,’ we’ll be surprised and pleased. If, however, it’s used to mollify distraught parishioners and generate good headlines, we won’t be surprised. That’s been the history of nearly all of the hundreds of church abuse panels over the past three decades.”

At face value, at least, this plan does feel fresh, if only because the Vatican has never directly mandated the investigation of bishops before. But it does call into question what this means for some of the most high-powered Vatican officials who are now facing allegations of taking part in the cover-ups, like Cardinal George Pell the Vatican’s financial czar who has been facing allegations in his native Australia for decades that he bribed victims and mishandled the case of defrocked pedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale.

Last week, Peter Saunders, one of the few non-clerical members of O’Malley’s Protection of Minors Commission, told Australia’s 60 Minutes program he thought Pell should be removed. “He has a catalogue of denigrating people, of acting with callousness, cold-heartedness, almost sociopathic,” Saunders told the program. “I consider him to be quite a dangerous individual.” Pell has threatened legal action against the program, and the Vatican was quick to distance itself and O’Malley’s commission from Saunders’ remarks, even though he is a member of the group.

Whether Pell’s case will be among the first heard by the new Vatican tribunal is anyone’s guess, but there are certainly plenty of others who could keep the tribunal busy once it is in place. Polish Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, for one, is in Rome after being brought back from the Dominican Republic where he was the papal nuncio. At the time of his removal, the Vatican promised that Wesolowski would be investigated and brought to justice for the alleged abuse of young boys. So far as anyone knows, that has not happened. By being whisked back to Rome, he escaped secular court judgment in the Dominican Republic and even though he has been defrocked, he still enjoys immunity by living inside Vatican City.

Lombardi said that the O’Malley has given the new tribunal a five-year period to evaluate its success and effectiveness. God only knows how many children will be saved or be made to suffer while the Vatican and the victims groups work out whether the new plan works.

 

By: Barbie Latza Nadeau, The Daily Beast, June 1, 2015

June 12, 2015 Posted by | Cardinal Sean O'Malley, Catholic Church, Vatican | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Catholic Nuns Back Obamacare Contraception Access”: It Isn’t Freedom When Women Are Held Hostage

The National Coalition of American Nuns has announced their support for women’s right to access contraceptives under the Affordable Care Act as the Supreme Court prepares to hear the historic Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cases. While the plaintiffs in these cases are Mennonites and evangelical Christians, opposition to the contraceptive mandate was largely spearheaded by the Catholic bishops. Several key cases of Catholic non-profits, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, are making their way through the lower courts and may well end up in the Supreme Court themselves.

“NCAN is dismayed that the Little Sisters of the Poor, the University of Notre Dame and other Catholic organizations are challenging the Affordable Care Act. Spurred on by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops these organizations are attempting to hold hostage all women by refusing insurance to them for contraceptives,” said the 2,000-member group in a statement.

“This has gotten out of hand,” Sister Donna Quinn, head of NCAN, told RD. “It isn’t ‘faith and freedom’ when reproductive autonomy isn’t extended by the Catholic Church to women. Now we have other Christian religions seeing what the bishops are doing and saying we will do likewise. It isn’t freedom when a woman can be held hostage by the owner of a business.”

The nuns are seeking support for their stand through an online petition. The Rev. Debra Haffner of the Religious Institute is helping NCAN coordinate the effort. “When I saw the brave stand these nuns were taking on the mandate, I started to think about what we could do to amplify their voices. So we launched a social media campaign asking people to ‘Stand with the Nuns’,” she said.

“We really need to counter the idea that faith is opposed to family planning,” said Haffner, who’s also helping to coordinate a Faith Rally at the Supreme Court on March 25, the day of the oral arguments for the mandate challenges. “All too often the media only shows a Catholic bishop to offer the faith perspective. More than 14 major religious denominations have statements supporting birth control and birth control access. People need to understand that this is not only an affront to women’s moral agency but opens the door to denying a whole range of services, from other kinds of reproductive health care to services to LGBT people,” she said.

NCAN has a long history of reproductive justice and Catholic reform activism. Quinn has volunteered as an abortion clinic escort and was one of the leaders of a delegation of women religious to Rome 1994 to hold a parallel discussion about the role of women religious during the bishops’ synod on religious life, which largely excluded women.

 

By: Patricia Miller, Religion Dispatches, March 14, 2014

March 17, 2014 Posted by | Birth Control, Contraception, Obamacare | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Muting Women”: Like A Sailboat On A Lake With No Wind, The Status Of Women Is Stuck In A Lull

What a surprise. Men are drowning out women in the public conversation, a new report from the Women’s Media Center tells us.

Actually, it is a surprise to learn just how bad it is, as if there never was a women’s movement launched by Betty Friedan’s classic, The Feminine Mystique, 50 years ago, which decried the quiet desperation of domestic suburbia.

Fifty years ago is long enough for a cultural forgetfulness to fall over us and long enough for a hostile camp of enemies to make their living mocking women’s empowerment—and yes, I mean you, Rush Limbaugh, most of all. You are the self-appointed keeper of the patriarchy’s keys. The medieval archbishops of the Catholic Church are vigilant in the war on women. The mean-spirited men of the Supreme Court can be counted on, too, ready to usurp our human rights if the “right” opportunity presents itself. Meanwhile, Michelle Obama has new bangs.

In other words, ladies, things are not getting better for us in the 21st century. The recession has been rough on everyone, but especially for our place in the workplace world. As a journalist, let me share some numbers that show you how the conversational monopoly works. In the 2012 presidential campaign, male bylines outnumbered female bylines by nearly three to one, according to he Women’s Media Center. Newspaper decision-makers are usually male in these tight times, as are the subjects of most front-page stories, even obituaries. Then the echo chamber takes effect, because men are far more likely to be quoted than their female colleagues in public discussions—especially on politics.

The Sunday talk shows, the power listening posts of the Washington establishment, predominantly invite men as their guests. But here’s the thing: only 14 percent of the interviewed guests and 29 percent of the roundtable guests are women, according to the report. The hosts conducting the dialogue are predominantly male. Avuncular, authoritative Bob Schieffer of Face the Nation is by far the best of ’em.

Women protested this state of affairs at the ballot box last fall. Twenty women senators are now serving, more than ever before. Is this a critical mass that will change the conversation, or the conversationalists? Let’s see.

I remember being in a panel cable interview after the State of the Union with two good guys—Howard Fineman and Steve Roberts. I had something sparkling to say but even I was drowned out by these older silver-tongued pros, who later apologized for being “the two biggest airhogs in Washington.” It’s a salty slice of memory. Men are just used to talking over women, just as boys talk over girls, like breathing. It happens all the time in Washington. What made Hillary Clinton’s verbal victory over her attacking jousters in her valedictory Senate hearing so extraordinary was because it was, well, extraordinary in this talkative town. She lifted morale all over for Washington women.

To our rescue comes Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, who is lighting a match to start a “Lean In” movement. More on that another day as it gets underway. Consider the Oscars: Daniel Day-Lewis was honored for playing the greatest president and humanitarian in our history while Jennifer Lawrence won for playing a wifely female stereotype. As I listened to two male critics from the New York Times website comment on every single Academy scene in the show, it felt relentlessly normal. We are such good listeners.

The status of women is stuck in a lull, like a sailboat on a lake with no wind. And we are the ones who have to start speaking our views and telling our stories—to borrow from radical abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison—so that we will be heard.

 

By: Jamie Stiehm, U. S. News and World Report, February 25, 2013

February 27, 2013 Posted by | Women, Womens Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Peacemaking On Contraception”: An Olive Branch To The Catholic Church On Contraception Coverage

America’s Big Religious War ended on Friday. Or at least it ought to.

A little more than a year ago, the Obama administration set off a bitter and unnecessary clash with the Roman Catholic Church over rules mandating broad contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The Department of Health and Human Services’ announcement of new regulations is a clear statement that President Obama never wanted this fight.

The decision, the administration’s second attempt at compromise, ought to be taken by the nation’s Catholic bishops as the victory it is. Many of the country’s most prominent prelates are inclined to do just that — even if the most conservative bishops seem to want to keep the battle raging.

But more importantly, the final HHS rules are the product of a genuine and heartfelt struggle over the meaning of religious liberty in a pluralistic society. The contraception dispute was difficult because legitimate claims and interests were in conflict.

The vast majority of Americans believe that health insurance should cover contraception. At the same time, the Catholic Church has a theological objection to contraception, even if most Catholics (including regular churchgoers) disagree with its position. The church insisted that its vast array of charitable, educational and medical institutions should be exempt from the contraception requirement.

The church made a mistake in arguing its case on the grounds of “religious liberty.” By inflating their legitimate desire for accommodation into a liberty claim, the bishops implied that the freedom not to pay for birth control rose to the same level as, say, the freedom to worship or to preach the faith. This led to wild rhetorical excesses, including a comparison of Obama to Hitler and Stalin by one bishop and an analogy between the president’s approach and the Soviet constitution by another.

But the church had good reason to object to the narrowness of the original HHS definition of what constituted a religious organization entitled to exemptions from the contraception requirement. If an organization did not have “the inculcation of religious values” as its purpose and did not employ or serve primarily those who shared the faith, it got no exclusion at all.

The problem is that the vast charitable work done by religious organizations to help millions, regardless of their faith, is manifestly inspired by religion. The church could not abide the implicit reduction of its role merely to private expressions of faith. Don’t most Americans devoutly wish that religious people will be moved by their beliefs to works of charity and justice?

The HHS rules announced Friday scrapped this troubling definition in favor of long-established language in the Internal Revenue Code. In an interview, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius showed a becoming humility, and it would be nice if this rubbed off on her critics. However defensible the original rules might have been, she said, “they really caused more anxiety and conflict than was appropriate.”

“What we’ve learned,” she said, “is that there are issues to balance in this area. There were issues of religious freedom on two sides of the ledger” — the freedom of the religious institutions and the freedom of their employees who might not share their objections to contraception.

This is where the other accommodation kicked in: Many Catholic institutions self-insure. While the administration rightly wants broad contraception coverage to include hospital workers, teachers and others at religious institutions, it also seeks to keep religious organizations from having “to contract, arrange, pay or refer” for coverage “to which they object on religious grounds.”

Under the new rules, employees who want it will be able to get stand-alone coverage from a third party. Some of the costs will be covered by small offsets in the fees insurers will have to pay to participate in the new exchanges where their policies will be on sale. It’s an elegant fix.

There are two reasons for hope here, particularly for Catholic progressives. First, the administration recognized the problem it had created and resolved it. Vice President Biden played a key role here, keeping lines of communication with the church open.

Second, many bishops have come to realize that the appearance of a state of war with Obama not only troubled many of the faithful — Obama, after all, narrowly carried the Catholic vote — but also threatened to cast a church with strong commitments to immigrants, social justice and nonviolence as a partisan, even right-wing organization.

This war has been bad for everyone involved. Obama has moved to end it. Here’s a prayer that the bishops will also be instruments of peace.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 3, 2013

February 4, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Birth Control | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Something Is Stirring”: There Is New Space For Debate And Rethinking Of The Catholic Church’s Rightward Tilt

To say that the Belle Harbor neighborhood on New York City’s Rockaway Peninsula was slammed by Hurricane Sandy understates the case. Like many other parts of the region, it has suffered the kind of devastation we usually associate with wars.

In these circumstances, people turn to government, yes, but they look first to trusted friends and to neighborhood institutions that combine deep local knowledge with a degree of empathy that arises only from a long connection with residents of a particular place.

Two of my brothers-in-law who have been washed out of their homes are involved in one such group, the Graybeards, a local nonprofit recently featured on the “NBC Nightly News.” They immediately took up the task of restoring the city blocks they love.

And at the heart of the relief effort is the Roman Catholic parish of St. Francis de Sales, the epicenter of so many practical works of mercy that it has received a mountain of earned media attention. The Post published a photo last week of a big Thanksgiving dinner organized in the parish gym where I once watched my nephews and my niece compete fiercely on the basketball court. Last week, for a moment anyway, competition gave way to fellowship.

I intend to come back again to the determined struggle of this neighborhood to rebuild. But I also hope that the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops contemplating the future of the church’s public and political engagement notice how the witness of this parish has inspired people far beyond the confines of Catholicism.

During the presidential campaign, many bishops, though by no means all, seemed to enlist firmly on one side of a highly contested election. The church didn’t endorse anyone, but some bishops made clear their preference for Mitt Romney over President Obama. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia was about as clear as he could be short of putting a Romney-Ryan sticker on his car.

“I certainly can’t vote for somebody who’s either pro-choice or pro-abortion,” he told the National Catholic Reporter. On the other hand, he said of low-tax conservatives: “You can’t say that somebody’s not Christian because they want to limit taxation.” No doubt Paul Ryan smiled.

For such bishops, the election came as a shock. I’m told by people who attended the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops post-election meeting this month in Baltimore that many of them had been convinced Romney would win. Yet Romney not only lost; he also narrowly lost the Catholic vote, partly because of overwhelming support for Obama among Latinos, the fastest-growing group in the church.

The fallout: disarray in the Bishops’ Conference. This is actually good news. One person’s disarray is another’s openness. There is now new space for debate and a rethinking of the church’s tilt rightward over the past several years.

One surprising result in Baltimore was the refusal to endorse a vague statement on the economy after the document came under attack from more progressive bishops for failing to deal adequately with inequality, the rights of unions and poverty. Rarely does a document reach the floor of the conference and then fail to win the two-thirds majority necessary for approval. Something is stirring.

There are also influential bishops who now want to work with the Obama administration to secure a compromise on the contraception mandate under the health-care law. This, too, would be a positive break with the recent past, and the president should seize the opportunity. He can provide contraception coverage while building on the adjustments he has already made in the mandate to accommodate the church’s legitimate conscience concerns. And there’s nothing that should stop the bishops from cooperating with the administration and other progressives on behalf of immigration reform.

But above all, the bishops need to learn what I’ll call the St. Francis de Sales lesson. A church looking to halt defections among so many younger Catholics should understand that casting itself as a militantly right-wing political organization — which, face it, is what some of the bishops are doing — clouds its Christian message. Worse, the church seems to be going out of its way to hide its real treasure: the extraordinary examples of generosity and social reconstruction visible every day in parishes such as St. Francis and in the homeless shelters, schools, hospices and countless other Catholic entities all over the nation.

Politics divides Catholics. The works of mercy bring us together and also show the world what the power of faith can achieve.

 

By: E. J. Dionne Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 25, 2012

November 27, 2012 Posted by | Catholic Church | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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