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US bishops express anguish over abuse reports, encourage change in Church

Washington D.C., Aug 17, 2018 / 03:12 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After a grand jury found thousands of alleged instances of sexual abuse in six of Pennsylvania’s Catholic dioceses, numerous U.S. bishops have called for renewal and change in face of these heartbreaking events.

Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, vice president of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the Church in the U.S. is in “a sad and confusing time.”

In his homily for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Aug. 15, the archbishop asked the Blessed Mother to intercede for greater purity and renewed love inside the Church.

“Let us ask the intercession of our Blessed Mother Mary, the Mother of the Church. May she help us to have the courage we need to purify the Church and renew our love for holiness and our devotion to Jesus Christ and his Gospel.”

An 884-page grand jury report was released Aug. 14. The report states more than 1,000 victims had been sexually abused by some 300 priests over a span of seven decades. The report also points to the efforts to conceal or ignore the abuse by Church authorities.

Archbishop Gomez said now is the time for prayers and repentance in the Church, encouraging actions of forgiveness and healing.

“This is a time now for prayer and repentance and a time for examining our conscience, especially for those of us who are bishops and priests. And all of us need to pray for every person who has been hurt by the Church, and we need to work to help them heal.”

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia said the report should also ignite a just anger, not an unhealthy rage, and he compared it to Christ's actions toward the moneychangers in the temple.

His archdiocese experienced similar reports on abuse in 2005 and 2011, he said, noting the “The anger Philadelphians felt toward the Archdiocese was likewise well placed.” Similarly, he said, this recent event calls for an anger which needs to be controlled and fruitful.

“Anger is also a righteous and necessary response – but it needs to be an anger that bears good fruit; an anger guided by clear thinking, prudence, and a desire for real justice. That kind of anger all of us should feel this week and carry with us into the days ahead.”

For his archdiocese, he said, anger motivated change. Since the abuse had been made known, the archdiocese has taught an estimated 100,000 laypeople and clergy to recognize and report abuse.

An Aug. 15 statement from the bishops of New Jersey dioceses acknowledged “that media accounts of the details contained in Pennsylvania’s grand jury report show a heartbreaking departure from our fundamental belief in the dignity and value of every child. As a Church, our calling remains unchanged - to help children in our care encounter leaders who exemplify God’s commandment to love and protect the most vulnerable.”

“As Bishops, we hold that every parent and every child deserve a safe environment to learn and explore their faith. Every space where teaching, worship, and ministry take place must provide this safe environment. There must be no compromise on this principle. The children entrusted to our care are treasures.”

The New Jersey bishops said they will “remain vigilant to ensure that not one child will ever be abused on our watch,” adding that the state's dioceses have conducted background checks on all personnel who have regular contact with minors.

“We thank law enforcement agencies, child protection advocates and victims themselves who have helped us move beyond compliance to creating the safest environments for learning and worship. We are deeply thankful for those who have joined our efforts to extend both healing and hope to every victim and their family. We renew our commitment to foster healing and seek forgiveness.”

The bishops of New Jersey's dioceses urged “anyone who was abused by clergy to come forward to civil authorities.”

Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston said that while many sexual offenders have answered for their crimes, there are areas in need of improvement.

“While many perpetrators have been held accountable in one way or another for their crimes, we have yet to establish clear and transparent systems of accountability and consequence for Church leadership whose failures have allowed these crimes to occur.”

“The Church must embrace spiritual conversion and demand legal transparency and pastoral accountability for all who carry out its mission,” he added. “The way we prepare priests, the way we exercise pastoral leadership and the way we cooperate with civil authorities; all these have to be consistently better than has been the case.”

This will not be an easy task, admitted the cardinal. He said Catholics and others in society are frustrated with Church leadership. However, he promised there is still hope.

“I am not without hope and do not succumb to despondent acceptance that our failures cannot be corrected. As the Church we have the responsibility to help people not to lose hope, that was Jesus’ message to all those he ministered to, especially in times of great trial.”

“There is too much good in the Church and in our faith to lose hope. Often it is survivors who courageously teach us we cannot lose hope.”

Investigation launched into sexual harassment claims at Philadelphia seminary

Philadelphia, Pa., Aug 17, 2018 / 12:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Timothy Senior, auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia, has announced that the archdiocese is investigating a claim of sexual harassment made by a former student at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

In a letter sent this week to the priests and deacons of the archdiocese, the bishop said that the allegations concerned actions by a former student against another during the 2010-11 academic year.
 
The investigation was confirmed in a statement made by the archdiocese Aug. 16.

John Monaco, a former student at St. Charles Borromeo, made the allegations public in an online account posted Aug. 9.
 
Monaco enrolled in St. John’s Seminary in Boston several years after leaving Philadelphia's seminary, and has also detailed alleged “abuse and misconduct” there. His account of Boston's seminary included an allegation of excessive drinking by priests who, he said, would invite a “clique” of seminarians to their rooms for private parties.

Last week, Cardinal Séan O’Malley announced a “full independent inquiry” into allegations of misconduct in St. John’s.
 
The investigation at St. Charles Borromeo comes in the wake of the ongoing scandal surrounding Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, who is accused of sexually abusing minors and of sexually harassing seminarians during his time in ministry. On Aug. 17, new allegations emerged concerning a “homosexual subculture” among seminarians in his former archdiocese of Newark.
 
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s announcement also follows the release of a grand jury report into six other Pennsylvania dioceses. That report followed an 18 month investigation and contained the names of 300 priests accused of sexual abuse. Writing in response to that report’s release, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia said that anger by the faithful was understandable and for Church leaders “the only acceptable responses are grief and support for the victims, and comprehensive efforts to ensure that such things never recur.”
 
Speaking to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Monaco said that “it was painful to go back and re-experience the memories, but I am glad that I came forward …. A seminary should never be a place where a man does not feel that he can be protected and grow in holiness.”
 
Monaco's allegations about the seminary in Philadelphia concern the behavior of seminarians, one of whom was expelled, Monaco said, after complaints about him were lodged with a seminary administrator. He alleged in one online posting that a report of being groped by a fellow seminarian was not met sufficient attention when brought to a different seminary administrator.

In a statement made Aug. 16, Ken Gavin, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, said that the archdiocese had “recently became aware of allegations of sexual harassment by one seminarian of another.”
 
“In keeping with the long-term policy of the seminary and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, this allegation was turned over the Archdiocesan Office of Investigations for appropriate handling in light of policy and applicable law. As it is an active investigation, we are not able to comment upon it further.”

Ed. note: This story was edited Aug. 20 for clarity regarding Monaco's accounts.

After welcoming pro-lifers, Missouri Democrats quickly backtrack

Jefferson City, Mo., Aug 17, 2018 / 11:11 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Missouri Democratic leaders have voted to remove language acknowledging different views of abortion from their party platform, drawing criticism from pro-life Democrats who say they deserve to be recognized and the move could harm the party’s prospects this November.

Kristen Day, president of Democrats for Life of America, said the actions of state party chairman Stephen Webber “send the message that pro-life Missourians are unwelcome in the party.”

“If that is his intention, then he should state it clearly and explicitly in an official statement,” Day said Aug. 11. “Missouri pro-life Democrats are real Democrats who support labor and helped to defeat the right-to-work proposition this week. They support health care, a living wage, and a host of other issues on which all Democrats agree. We want to be in this party, and we will wait for a clear statement from Chairman Webber on where we stand.”

The previous party platform language was approved at a June meeting of the state party platform committee by a 31-25 vote, the St. Louis-based newspaper The Riverfront Times reports.

“We respect the conscience of each Missourian and recognize that members of our party have deeply held and sometimes differing positions on issues of personal conscience, such as abortion,” said the added language. “We recognize the diversity of views as a source of strength and we welcome into our ranks all Missourians who may hold different positions on this issue.”

The Missouri Democratic Party’s central committee voted to remove the platform language on Aug. 11. It then added language saying the party opposes “any efforts to limit access to reproductive health care” and backs “a woman’s right to choose and the right of every person to their own bodily autonomy and to be free from government intrusion in medical decisions, including a decision to carry a pregnancy to term.”

The central committee also added a preamble stating that the platform reflects the party’s values, though candidates must articulate their own policy positions.

“We made a mistake,” said St. Louis alderwoman Annie Rice, “Abortion is a legal healthcare procedure, and as a party we must support access.”

Rice tried and failed to block the change to the platform in June.

Webber, the party chairman, said the platform discussion wasn’t contentious, telling the Kansas City Star “We got it right, and the final product is something that can unify the whole party.”

Day, however, made the case for acknowledging Democratic voters who oppose abortion.

“Pro-life Democrats have stayed in the shadows and have been taken for granted long enough. We must be recognized and heard,” she said. “Right now, we are hearing that current leaders of the Democratic Party do not want us and we should look elsewhere.”

She said the unilateral removal of ratified platform language is “very unusual.”

“It makes you wonder about the kind of pressure supposedly ‘progressive’ groups exerted and why,” Day said. “They know that this removal will cause chaos.”

Day defended the platform language proposed in June by former Missouri State Rep. Joan Barry.

“Joan didn’t ask for much,” said Day. “She put forth a reasonable amendment that merely made a point of recognizing that while some Democrats do not agree with the party position on abortion, they should be treated with respect and included in the party.”

At the August central committee vote, Barry abstained. She said she was disappointed by the change but was committed to electing Democrats in the upcoming elections.

“Diversity has been a matter of strength in this party,” Barry told the Kansas City Star. “I just felt that we needed to be sure pro-life Democrats are recognized as members of the party. Some people in the electorate don’t believe that you can be pro-life and be a Democrat. But that’s not true. We are Democrats. And I’ll do everything I can to help the party this fall.”

Pro-abortion rights groups praised the platform change.

Alison Dreith, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, characterized the previous platform language as “anti-choice.”

“The Democratic Party’s overwhelming vote to re-prioritize reproductive freedom has put the party back on track just in time to pick up wins in November,” she said.

Rachel Sweet, who is regional director of public policy and organizing for Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, welcomed the change, saying, ”Democrats across the state have let their party leaders know that a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions is non-negotiable.”

After the June vote, Sweet had said “Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes will hold accountable any party or candidate who doesn’t believe in every person’s right to make their own personal medical decisions without government interference,” the Kansas City Star reported.

Day compared the previous language to the 1996 national Democratic Party platform language included by U.S. Rep. Tony Hall (D-Ohio). She characterized the language as non-combative. While it suggested the party has an official position on abortion, it also suggested “that the party does not want to lose the votes of Democrats who may disagree on that one position.”

The platform change could have political consequences for Democrats, Day argued. She cited the competitive race facing incumbent U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), who backs legal abortion but has said she welcomes votes opposed to abortion. According to Day, the McCaskill race could have a pivotal role in determining the outcome of U.S. Supreme Court nominations and even impeachment of President Donald Trump.

“Missouri Party Chairman Stephen Webber thinks that the best way to support Senator McCaskill and other Democrats in Missouri is to create an unnecessary battle over abortion,” charged Day.

Day said that efforts to silence pro-life Democrats have produced poor results for the party in Missouri. Democratic legislators have been in the minority in both houses of the state legislature since 2002, they hold only two of Missouri’s eight Congressional seats, and Democrats “have a difficult time winning seats outside the urban cores,” she argued.

“If I were the party chairman, I would try to decipher what was going wrong and try to unite the party, not highlight the divisive issue of abortion by reversing a moderate amendment that says we are a big-tent party,” Day said.

 

 

Appeals court protects Texas bishops' communications in abortion case

Austin, Texas, Aug 17, 2018 / 10:30 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The privacy and religious freedom of Texas bishops and other religious groups was upheld by the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, after the bishops’ internal communications were subpoenaed by an abortion group.

In the 2016 case Whole Woman’s Health v. Smith, an abortion group sued the state of Texas, challenging a law that would require abortion facilities to bury or cremate aborted fetal remains.

As of now, remains can be disposed of through incineration or disinfection and then discharged into a landfill, disposed of into sewer systems, or any other “approved alternate treatment process, provided that the process renders the item as unrecognizable, followed by deposition in a sanitary landfill.”  

The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops (TCCB) voiced their support for the state of Texas and offered free burials for the remains of aborted babies. Whole Woman’s Health responded by subpoenaing the bishops - although they had not been named in the lawsuit - and demanded access to all internal communications regarding abortion, including any theological and doctrinal debates on the issue.

The bishops released more than 4,000 pages of abortion-related communications with outside individuals, but did not turn over private, internal communications between bishops on the matter, and appealed for emergency protection of these communications.  

In June, a three-judge panel of a federal appeals court protected the bishops’ emails and communications, after which Woman’s Health appealed for a full court hearing.

The bishops’ right to protect their internal communications from government interference or opposition groups was again upheld by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans yesterday.  

“It turns out that suing the Good Samaritan was a bad idea,” Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said in a statement. Becket has represented the bishops in court.

“The Church should not have been dragged into this lawsuit solely because it offered free burials for babies. We’re glad the full Fifth Circuit recognized that.”

A final decision on the original lawsuit will come from Federal District Judge David Ezra at a yet unspecified date.

New allegations surface regarding Archbishop McCarrick and Newark priests

Newark, N.J., Aug 17, 2018 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Recent allegations against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick include reports that he made sexual advances toward seminarians during his tenure as Bishop of Metuchen and Archbishop of Newark.

CNA recently spoke to six priests of the Archdiocese of Newark, and one priest member of a religious order who was a seminarian in New York in the early 1970s, while McCarrick was a priest of the Archdiocese of New York.

Citing archdiocesan policy and concerns about ecclesiastical repercussions for their candor, the priests agreed to speak to CNA only under the condition of anonymity. The priests spoke individually to CNA, and their accounts were compared for confirmation.  

The religious priest who spoke to CNA said when he studied in a seminary in New York, McCarrick, who was then an aide to Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York, would sometimes visit the seminary. The priest said that McCarrick’s reputation was already well established by this time.  

“The dean of our theology school was a classmate at CUA with McCarrick, and he knew about the rumors,” the priest told CNA, “he spoke about them with the other faculty and theologians very openly.”  

So well-known was McCarrick’s reputation, the priest said, that when McCarrick would accompany Cooke to visit the seminary there was a standing joke that they had to "hide the handsome ones" before he arrived.  

The same reputation reportedly followed the archbishop years later, when he served from 1986-2000 as Archbishop of Newark. One priest of the Archdiocese of Newark told CNA it was an uncomfortable experience when McCarrick came to visit the seminary.  

The priest said that McCarrick would often place his hand on seminarians while talking with them, or on their thighs while seated near them.  

“It was really unnerving. On the one hand you knew – knew – what was going on but you couldn’t believe it.”  

Several other priests from Newark spoke to CNA about similar experiences.

One priest worked in close proximity to the archbishop in the archdiocesan chancery for a number of years. “There were the ‘nephews,’ for sure,” he said. “He had a type: tall, slim, intelligent  - but no smokers.”  

The priest told CNA that, in addition to trips to a house on the shore, McCarrick would invite young men to stay the night in the cathedral rectory in central Newark.  

“Priests would tell me ‘he’s sleeping with them’ all the time, but I couldn’t believe it – they seemed like perfectly normal guys,” the priest said.  

Another priest, a former priest secretary to McCarrick, told CNA that McCarrick frequently ordained classes of priests among the largest in the country, and that the archbishop prided himself on recruiting young men from the diocese to enter the seminary.

But many in the archdiocese say that the high numbers of ordinations came at a cost. One priest said that some graduating classes from the middle 1990s have seen nearly half of their members leave ministry, and concerns have been raised about the behavior of some of those who remain in ministry.  

Fr. Desmond Rossi was a seminarian in Newark in the late 1980s. He has publicly alleged that, in 1988, two transitional deacons sexually abused him.

According to Rossi, he told archdiocesan authorities about the assault and went before a review board. He said that his story was “found credible, but nothing happened.” Instead, he claims the archdiocese turned against him for bringing the allegation forward.

“They tried to turn it on me," Rossi said.  

Rossi eventually left the archdiocese and now serves as a priest in the Diocese of Albany. In 2004, the Archdiocese of Newark agreed to an out-of-court settlement of approximately $35,000 with Rossi in response to his accusations. At least one of the alleged abusers is still in active ministry in the Archdiocese of Newark, Rossi said.  

Rossi’s allegations have resurfaced in the wake of the current scandals and on August 2, Cardinal Joseph Tobin, current Archbishop of Newark, announced that he would reexamine the matter, and that he had referred it to his Office for Canonical Affairs.  

While the Archdiocese of Newark declined to confirm the name of the accused priest remaining in active ministry, several priests in the archdiocese identified him as Fr. James Weiner, and told CNA that he has a reputation among the clergy, dating back to his time in the seminary, for active homosexuality.  

In recent years, several priests said, Weiner is known for hosting cocktail parties in his rectory, which other homosexual priests of the archdiocese are known to attend.

Three Newark priests independently gave CNA nearly identical accounts of being invited to these parties when they were newly ordained.  

One recalled that he attended a cocktail party, thinking he had been invited to a simple priests’ dinner. “I was led into the room to a chorus of wolf-whistles,” he said. “It was clear right away I was ‘on display.’”

Another priest told CNA that he was also invited to a party hosted by the priest. “They were all carrying big mixed drinks, pink ones, it was like something out of Sex in City.”

He recalled that after asking for a beer, he was told by his host, “you need to try something more girly tonight.”  

All recounted overtly sexual conversation at the cocktail parties.   “I was fresh meat and they were trying me out,” one priest said.

All three said they left quickly upon realizing what was going on. “Everyone was getting loaded and getting closer on the couches, I wanted out of there,” a priest told CNA.  

“Everyone kept calling me a ‘looker’ and saying they had to ‘keep me around’ from now on,” a third Newark priest told CNA.

The archdiocese declined to answer questions related to those parties.

All three priests told CNA that while the experience was deeply unpleasant, they had seen similar behavior in Newark’s seminary.

Seminarians and priests from ordination classes spanning 30 years, during the terms of McCarrick and Myers, reported to CNA that they had observed an active homosexual subculture of priest and seminarians within Newark’s Immaculate Conception Seminary.  

One priest ordained in the early years of McCarrick’s term in Newark said that “a lot of people lost their innocence in the seminary.”

He told CNA that there were two distinct groups of students. “You had the men who were there because they had a deep love of the Lord and a vocation to serve his Church,” he said, adding that those men were the majority of seminarians.

“But there was a subculture, with its own group of men, that was openly homosexual and petty and vindictive with everyone else,” he explained.  

The same priest said that before he entered the seminary he was warned he would “see things that weren’t right.” He said he was counseled by an older priest to “just remember who you are and why you are there.”  

Several Newark priests told CNA that the same atmosphere existed under Archbishop John Myers, who led the archdiocese from 2001-2016.

One priest who studied during that period recalled being told, as a newly arrived seminarian, to lock his bedroom door at night to avoid “visitors.”

“I thought they were kidding – they really weren’t,” he said.  

Another priest told CNA that, as a senior seminarian and transitional deacon, young seminarians would come to him in tears.

“They were just so scandalized by what they saw, these upperclassmen flagrantly carrying on with each other in gay relationships.”  

A third priest says that these seminarians were frequently visited by other priests of the diocese, some of whom he later saw at the rectory cocktail parties.

“There was definitely a group of, well I guess we’re calling them ‘uncles’ now. They would come by to visit with the effeminate crowd, bring them stuff and take them out,” he said.  

One priest told CNA that, in his judgment, many of Newark’s priests felt resigned to that culture, even after McCarrick left.

“It is so horrible, so repulsive, no one wants to look straight at it,” one priest said. “You don’t want to see it and at the same time you can’t miss it.”

Another told CNA that among diocesan authorities “there is a huge culture of toleration.”

“It is generational at this point. In seminary you’re told to mind your own business, keep your head down and not start trouble - they are over there doing whatever and you leave them to it. And then you’re ordained and it is the same story - you don’t win prizes for picking fights.”

Nevertheless, some cases still have the power to shock.

One Newark priest told CNA that he had direct knowledge that Fr. Mark O’Malley was in 2014 removed as rector of St. Andrew’s Hall, the archdiocesan college seminary, after an allegation that he hid a camera in the bedroom of a young priest at the seminary. Two additional Newark priests independently reported to CNA they had been informed in 2014 that O’Malley had been removed for that reason.

Additional sources close to the archdiocese confirmed that they had heard this allegation, with one characterizing it as a kind of open secret among Newark’s priests.

The Archdiocese of Newark announced in 2014 that O’Malley was seeking a ”medical leave of absence.” He has since returned to ministry, albeit not in a parish setting.

The archdiocese declined to comment on that allegation.

All three priests who relayed the story said incidents like that embittered them.

“It isn’t that a guy did a bad thing - that happens. It’s that it’s just not acknowledged. Everybody talks about it, everybody knows, but nobody looks right at it,” one of the priests said.

All six Newark priests CNA spoke to expressed hope that the sexual abuse scandals now embroiling the Church will lead to change. Several stressed that reforms of the seminary had already begun by the end of Myers’ term in office, and that a recent succession of diocesan vocations directors had imposed newly rigorous standards on prospective seminary candidates.  

“When I was sent for graduate studies I heard the jokes from guys from other dioceses - ‘what the world disdains, Newark ordains’ they’d say. Those days are over and that’s a real comfort to me,” one priest said.

As for the problems with priests already in ministry, the priests agreed it was demoralizing, for priests and lay Catholics alike.

One said that priests living unfaithful lives are a scandal playing out “with the mute button on.”

“Our people aren’t stupid. They know who their pastors are, for good and bad. They know who drinks too much, they know if their priest is celibate or not. But they see nothing is done about it and they understand that the Church doesn’t mean what it says, or even care.”

Another told CNA, “nobody is fooled by the medical leave thing anymore. I’m terrified I might actually get sick, my parishioners would probably think I’d done something terrible.”

One priest said that expectations of change were raised during the brief tenure of Archbishop Bernard Hebda, appointed in 2013 to be Myers’ coadjutor archbishop, his successor-in-waiting.

Hebda chose to live in a dormitory at Seton Hall University and was a frequent sight around the archdiocesan seminaries. He was also reported to make unannounced visits to parishes, suddenly knocking at the back doors of rectories or sliding in to a back pew at Sunday Mass.

In 2015, before Hebda could become Newark’s archbishop, he was asked to serve as apostolic administrator of Minneapolis- St. Paul, in the wake of Archbishop John Nienstedt’s resignation. Hebda was appointed Nienstedt’s permanent replacement in 2016.

“He wasn’t kidding around. You could tell he wanted to know everything, who was who and what was what - and who was into what,” one pastor who received a surprise visit from Hebda told CNA.

Newark priests told CNA that they are still waiting to see what changes Cardinal Joseph Tobin, who became Archbishop of Newark in 2017, will bring to the archdiocese. Sources in the Newark chancery describe the cardinal as reserved, eager to listen to suggestions and proposals, but unwilling to be drawn into making decisions quickly.

Meanwhile, in parishes the priests of Newark wait to see, wondering if the current crises might bring about change.

“You hope that at some point the cardinal will act, that there will be nothing left to lose by acting, but we will see.”

Update:

On Aug. 17, after the publication of this story, a representative of the Archdiocese of Newark provided this statement to Catholic News Agency:

“The priest who had worked at St. Andrew’s College was going through a personal crisis and received therapy after the incident at the seminary. Although he is not serving as a pastor, he has been deemed fit for priestly ministry and hopes to serve as a hospital chaplain.”

“No one – including the anonymous ‘sources’ cited in the article – has ever spoken to Cardinal Tobin about a “gay sub-culture” in the Archdiocese of Newark.”

               

 

Does the Pa. grand jury report mean changes for statutes of limitations?

Pittsburgh, Pa., Aug 17, 2018 / 03:23 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Following a major grand jury report on past sexual abuse in six Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania, discussions continue over whether and how to change the state’s legal limits on prosecution and civil lawsuits for sex abuse.

“We are devastated and outraged by the revelations of terrible sexual abuse crimes committed in the Catholic Church,” Amy B. Hill, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, told CNA Aug. 16.

“The time to discuss legislation will come later,” she said. “Our focus now is on improving ways that survivors and their families can recover as they continue through a difficult healing process.”

The report, released Aug. 14, claims to have identified more than 1,000 victims of 300 credibly accused priests from 1947 to 2017 across six Pennsylvania dioceses. It presents a devastating portrait of efforts by Church authorities to ignore, obscure, or cover up allegations--either to protect accused priests or to spare the Church scandal.

Approximately two-thirds of the accused priests have died. The youngest offender named in the report was born in the 1990s. Due to laws regarding the statute of limitations, nearly every abuse allegation cannot be criminally prosecuted, although two indictments have been filed. One priest named in the report has been convicted of sexually assaulting a student in the early 1990s.

The grand jury report recommended creating a retroactive two-year legal window allowing victims of child sex abuse to sue even if the statute of limitations has expired.

The Pennsylvania legislature’s S.B. 261 would eliminate the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution of child sex crimes. It would raise the age limit of underage victims seeking to file civil lawsuits from age 30 to age 50. The bill passed by a 48-0 vote in February 2017 and the House of Representatives could consider it during its next session, which begins in September.

State Reps. Aaron Bernstine and Chris Sainato are among the backers of the bill.

Bernstine said the incidents reported by the grand jury are “beyond troubling.”

“The greatest concern that I have is that our most vulnerable citizens of Pennsylvania and across the country remain safe,” he said, according to the Lawrence County news site New Castle News. “There is no place in our society for those who harm children.”

The legislation would provide additional tools to law enforcement “to hold criminals responsible for their actions,” he said.

Bernstine said he had been working closely with the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the state’s Catholic bishops “to implement policies that ensure this never happens again.”

“I am thankful for the steps that they have taken, and encourage them to take additional action to ensure that the aggressors within their organization are held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.

Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh, in Aug. 14 remarks responding to the release of the grand jury report, backed changes to the statutes of limitations laws.

“Absolutely we would support the elimination of the criminal statute of limitations,” he said, according to New Castle News. “That is an important piece that should move forward with legislators. We support any sort of penalties for people who fail to report child abuse to public authorities.”

In states considering such bills, the local Catholic conference and other groups often voice concerns about whether abuse victims would have the equal ability to sue public institutions, which are often protected under a legal concept known as sovereign immunity, and whether a legal window for retroactive lawsuits will be allowed.

Others have argued that statutes of limitations are important, because claims from long ago cannot be investigated in-depth, or seriously defended against, meaning they are more likely to result in settlements, even when facts are limited.

In an April 7, 2017 message about a potential amendments to S.B. 261, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference said some amendments to the bill help “further equalize the opportunities for survivors of sexual abuse in public institutions to access recovery of damages through the civil courts.”

It voiced concern about any amendment to allow retroactive changes to the statute of limitations.

“This proposal would, in effect, force the people who make up an organization like the Catholic Church today defend themselves against a crime that was committed in their parish, school, or charitable program years ago,” the Catholic Conference said in 2017. “Last year, the Senate held hearings and determined that changing the law retroactively would be unconstitutional in Pennsylvania.”

“Regardless, it is definitely unfair to individual Catholics today whose parishes and schools would be the targets of decades-old lawsuits.”

Pennsylvania State Rep. Mark Rozzi, 47, is backing an amendment that would also allow a two-year window for past alleged victims of sex abuse to file civil lawsuits.

The legislator says he was raped by a priest at age 13. The priest, Rev. Edward Graff, is alleged to have raped “scores of children,” the grand jury report says. The priest died in 2002 in a Texas jail while awaiting trial on charges he sexually abused a boy.

Rozzi told CNN that allowing the retroactive window “is the only avenue for these victims who are in the grand jury report” to get justice.

In 2002, the Pennsylvania legislature voted to raise the age limit for reporting criminal sex abuse charges from 23 to 30, then raised it to age 50 in 2007.

Fourteen states are considering bills about statutes of limitations on sex abuse. About 41 states have eliminated statutes of limitations for criminal prosecution of sex abuse, Reuters reports.

Since July 2013, costs related to sex abuse cases have cost the Catholic Church in the U.S. nearly $600 million, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ May report said. A U.S. bishops’ conference report in 2012 said that reporting dioceses and eparchies had paid $2.1 billion in abuse-related costs since 2004.

Hill said the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference encourages anyone who has been abused to “report the abuse and seek help immediately by calling the toll-free Pennsylvania ChildLine number at 800-932-0313 or their local law enforcement.”

 

Beloved Texas priest asks for prayers after ALS diagnosis

Fort Worth, Texas, Aug 17, 2018 / 12:05 am (CNA).- Fr. Stephen Jasso said he knew something was wrong this past February, about two months after retiring as the pastor of All Saints Parish in Fort Worth, Texas.

On June 29, the 85-year-old Franciscan priest learned what exactly was wrong with him: he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. Jasso is now asking for prayers as he nears the end of his life.

“This has become a new challenge,” he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I am asking people to pray with me all the way until the end.”

ALS is a disease that progressively weakens the muscles throughout the body. Most people diagnosed with ALS die within three to five years of their diagnosis. Jasso said he had no idea what ALS even was before he was diagnosed.

Since February, Jasso has lost the use of his left arm and left side, and uses a wheelchair.

While Jasso does not currently celebrate Mass as he is unable to stand, he still hears confessions each day and meets with parishioners to provide spiritual counseling. He also assists with writing references to help recent immigrants with gaining permanent status for themselves or for family members. He said he hopes he will one day be able to celebrate Mass from his wheelchair.

Despite these physical challenges, Jasso has remained steadfast in his faith and in his dedication for the Fort Worth community, telling a reporter that his “love for God and for people is stronger than ever.”

“I’m carrying the cross because I feel — this illness — for some reason, God has permitted it,” he told the Star-Telegram. He has embraced the suffering that comes with his disease, saying that he will “carry it as the Lord carried his cross for me.”

Beloved in his community, parishioners described Jasso to the North Texas Catholic at the time of his retirement as “always present” and “always on call.”

“He’s been an outstanding priest and pastor. He’s helped a lot of people,” one usher for All Saints said. “He’s been a good friend to my family and many others.”

There has been an outpouring of support from the community since the news of his diagnosis. Mayor Betsy Price proclaimed August 7 as “Father Jasso Day” by the City of Fort Worth. Faith leaders from varying religions and denominations were present at a ceremony. In a Facebook post, Price said that the city was “truly blessed to have a servant leader” like Jasso.

Jasso made a name for himself shortly after his arrival in Fort Worth in 1985. At the time, the city was a hotbed of teenage gang violence. Jasso was quick to integrate himself with young people in his parish, and worked alongside the mayor, police chief, and school superintendent to promote peace and education.

Throughout his priesthood, Jasso would continue to place a key emphasis on education.

“Leadership is not just something that happens. It's something you get ready for,” he told NBC’s local Dallas-Fort Worth affiliate last year.

In 2013, Jasso received the University of Notre Dame Sorin Award for Service to Catholic Schools.

Also an outspoken advocates for immigrants, he met with then-President George W. Bush in 2002 as part of a Hispanic Leadership Summit.

Jasso, one of 15 children, has been a priest for 53 years. Prior to Fort Worth, he was a priest in Peru and Mexico City. He survived the deadly Mexico earthquakes of both 1985 and 2017, telling the North Texas Catholic that despite the existence of natural disasters, “God has not created the world to destroy it, but to bring it to a state of perfection.”

Sow Seeds of Peace for Others

When we pray the Peace Prayer, we imagine ourselves as farmers of the world. Like our Divine Master, we look beyond the pain inflicted upon “me” and refuse to strike back in violence. Indeed, we beat the swords of our hearts into plowshares and the spears of our souls into pruning hooks (see Isaiah 2:4). We then ask for the grace to actively sow the seeds of peace for others. As faithful servants tilling the earth, we wait with great anticipation for the harvest of justice and peace.

—from Instruments of Christ: Reflections on the Peace Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi

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Cardinal Burke: We face a grave crisis, touching the heart of the Church

Washington D.C., Aug 16, 2018 / 06:31 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Raymond Burke said Thursday that the Catholic Church is facing “a very grave crisis” due to the “grievous failure” on the part of certain bishops and that “a serious loss of confidence in our shepherds” needs to be restored after sexual abuse scandals in the United States.

“We are in the face of a very grave crisis, which is touching at the very heart of the Church because Our Lord acts on behalf of the flock through those shepherds who are ordained to act in His person, teaching, celebrating the sacraments, and governing the Church,” said Burke in an interview on Raymond Arroyo’s “World Over” Aug. 16.

Cardinal Burke, 70, is prefect emeritus of the Apostolic Signatura. He recently returned to Rome from an almost month-long visit to the United States, said that he had “never heard so much anger, so much disappointment, so much frustration from good, Catholic faithful” than during this visit to the U.S.

“We are dealing here with the gravest of sins … We have to focus our attention on that, and do what is just with regard to all parties involved.”

“For the bishop who has failed grievously in this area, the Church’s penal remedies are expiatory remedies for his good also. They address principally the good of the flock because a bishop is a bishop for the care of the flock.”

“For the bishop to prey upon the flock, committing mortal sins, this is simply unacceptable and it has to stop,” said Burke.

The only way this trust will be restored “is to get to the bottom of this whole matter and make sure for the future that this does not happen,” and this falls under the responsibility of the Holy Father, said Burke.

It is the pope’s responsibility to receive accusations against a bishop and investigate them, he stressed. “This is not a part of the responsibility of the conference of bishops,” he said, referring to the U.S. bishops’ Aug. 16 statement on investigation and reporting procedures for bishops’ misconduct.

“As far as developing new procedures, the procedures have been in the law of the Church for centuries. They simply, especially in recent times, have not been known and have not been followed,” he continued.

“The Catholic Church in the United States is undergoing possibly one of the worst crises that it has ever experienced,” said Burke. “It has to be recognized and it has to be dealt with in a thorough manner that is faithful to the Church’s moral law, to the Church herself, and to the office of the bishops.”

Burke said that the Pennsylvania grand jury investigation needs to be studied very carefully. “It is simply a matter that needs to be approached with reason and with truth. Where we discover that the appropriate action has not been taken, then that bishop has to be corrected. If the bishop had failed very grievously, then he would simply have to be removed.”


“What we are seeing right now in the Church, to the grave harm of so many souls and really also to the scandal of the world in general, is that the Church, which should be a beacon of light, is involved in such a crisis.”

“I think we have to recognize … an apostasy from the faith. I believe that there has been a practical apostasy from the faith with regards to all of the questions involving human sexuality; principally, it starts with the idea that there can be legitimate sexual activity outside of marriage, which of course is false, completely false.”

“I do believe in this present time, not only with regard to this crisis which we are speaking, but with regard to a number of other situations in the Church that the devil is very active,” said Cardinal Burke.

He emphasized that “we have to conduct all of the reasonable activity to get to the truth of the matters and try to restore justice in the Church, but at the same time all of us need to pray ever more fervently for the Church and to fast and undertake other sacrifices for the good of the Church. We really need to have some serious acts of reparation for the suffering that has been inflicted upon members of the faithful, upon the flock of our Lord, and that is our responsibility.”

“I can only urge everyone to draw closer to Our Lord who leads us and guides us. He will never abandon us.”

Contemplative and Cosmic Prayer

Franciscan prayer is contemplative and cosmic. It is a type of prayer that impels one to find God in the vast corners of the universe. Because of the Incarnation, the Word made flesh, all of creation is holy; all of creation is the sacrament of God. Prayer is that relationship with God which opens the eyes of believers to the sanctity of all life—from earthworms to humans, from quarks to stars. Everything that exists reflects the goodness of God. Prayer is the breath of the Holy Spirit within us that opens our eyes to the divine good which saturates our world.

—from the book Franciscan Prayer

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