When Benedict was first elected pope, there was a lot of interest around the question of whether he might be able to turn the tide of rising secularization in Europe. Countries that were once bastions of Catholicism had long been experiencing low Mass attendance and growing indifference to church teaching. Bishops faced a steady stream of rejection on public policy issues as well as empty pews in church and low enrollment in seminaries. Benedict cared deeply about Europe, and tried to win back the indifferent with his thoughtful writings and appeals to tradition. Eight years later however, by the time of his resignation, it was clear that Benedict had not reversed these trends.
When Francis was elected pope, the spotlight shifted to Latin America and the developing world. No one particularly expected him to have a significant impact on Europe. Yet Francis is changing the situation in Europe, step by step — not in a dramatic way, but by implementing a pastoral strategy to address some knotty problems, one knot at a time.
A good illustration of this can be seen in recent episcopal appointments in Spain. In September it was announced that Archbishop Carlos Osoro Sierra of Valencia (photo right) would replace Cardinal Antonio Ruoco Varela as Archbishop of Madrid (photo left). Osoro, in turn, would be replaced by Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, who was then serving as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. U.S. press coverage of these changes was sparse, mostly noting the appointment of a “Francis moderate” in Madrid. These are deft choices, however, and – combined with new elected leadership in the bishops’ conference – they have opened up new possibilities.Read more
The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has retained the services of a high-profile criminal defense attorney, Peter Wold, as part of its nearly year-long investigation of Archbishop John Nienstedt, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. News of the hire comes weeks after the archdiocese announced a 20-percent budget reduction, which will include cuts to lay staff, as pending sexual-abuse litigation threatens to plunge the Twin Cities diocese into bankruptcy.
In early July, I reported that the archdiocese had hired the law firm Greene Espel to look into multiple claims that Nienstedt had engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct with seminarians, priests, and other adult men. Nienstedt denied the allegations, and has said he will not resign. Greene Espel's report was completed by late July, but auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché, who has been overseeing the investigation, said at the time that the archdiocese needed more time "to digest the information and any other information we receive." Apparently that means re-interviewing some of the people who filed affidavits as part of Greene Espel's investigation. And, as the Star-Tribune reports, at least one of those people is not too happy about it. His name is Joel Cycenas, former priest of the Twin Cities diocese--and former friend of Nienstedt.Read more
Are Robert Finn's days as bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph numbered? Judging from comments Cardinal Sean O'Malley made to 60 Minutes, it sure sounds like it. Yesterday CBS News released a preview of Norah O'Donnell's interview with O'Malley, archbishop of Boston, in which he acknowledged that the Holy See must do something about Finn, who was found guilty of a misdemeanor count of failing to report suspected child endangerment over two years ago, and was never publicly disciplined by Benedict XVI.* “It’s a question that the Holy See needs to address urgently,” O’Malley told O'Donnell. Does the pope understand that? she asked. “There’s a recognition...from Pope Francis,” O'Malley replied. The cardinal also acknowledged that, owing to Finn's conviction, the bishop would not even be allowed to teach Sunday school.
In September, the National Catholic Reporter broke the news that the Vatican had sent Archbishop Terrance Prendergast of Ontario to Kansas City to investigate Finn, after the bishop's former chancellor (who is now posted in Chicago) asked the Congregation for Bishops to intervene (I covered some of this here). That seemed to confirm speculation that Finn was one of the three bishops Pope Francis revealed was under investigation back in May. At that time, the pope said that one of the three had "already been found guilty, and we are now considering the penalty to be imposed." As head of the Vatican's new sexual-abuse commission, and as one of the pope's closest advisers, Cardinal O'Malley is part of that "we."Read more
The main story on the Daily Beast right now has a headline worthy of a supermarket checkout lane: "Chicago Priests Raped & Pillaged for 50 Years." The author, Barbie Latza Nadeau, gives the impression that she has examined a good portion of the fifteen thousand pages of files released by the Archdiocese of Chicago yesterday morning. She has read all about "accusations against perverted priests." She's seen "handwritten letters penned by worried mothers," and "emails sent decades after the abuses occurred." She's squinted at "letters so old the mimeographed typewriting is smudged." She's even read "emails so recent, they call into question just how much of the clerical abuse is still going on." This careful research has provided Nadeau with the following insight:
The allegations include accusations of priests plying young victims with alcohol and cigarettes, of fondling, masturbating, and performing oral sex on minors, and a strong current of denial and well-documented coverup by the church that can be traced all the way to Rome.
Her proof? "Take the case of Father Gregory Miller, whose 275-page dossier is filled with congratulatory letters of advancement within the archdiocese," Nadeau writes, noting that the file is also "dotted with frequent warnings of misconduct." She details the first accusation, then reports, "A few years later, Miller's assignment as a parish priest was renewed." And "in 2012," according to Nadeau, "a new complainant wrote an email to Leah McCluskey of the Chicago Archdiocese’s abuse committee." She continues: "More disturbing still, despite what were clearly repeat allegations, the archdiocese’s vicar general, John Canary, wrote the errant priest to tell him that he was not to be alone with anyone under age 18, seemingly apologizing for the trouble."
It all sounds so familiar, doesn't it? Victims' allegations falling on deaf ears. Church officials protecting, even promoting, priests they knew posed a threat to children. Tone-deaf churchmen praising a man who deserved jail time instead of congratulations. And this story would certainly merit the outrage it is meant to inspire, if Nadeau's narrative were true. But, as a review of the Miller file makes clear, her version of events is about as valuable as the paper it isn't printed on.Read more
The Archdiocese of Chicago has released the files of thirty-six priests accused of sexual abuse over the past fifty years. In January, the archdiocese released six thousand pages of documents related to another thirty accused clerics, as part of a settlement with plaintiffs who alleged abuse. None of the priests are currently in ministry, and fourteen are deceased. The archdiocese chose to release the new batch of files, which total about fifteen thousand pages, on its own. The files were published on the archdiocese's website Thursday morning, less than a week before Blase Cupich will be installed as the ninth archbishop of Chicago.
The archdiocese is "voluntarily" releasing these documents, according to a letter signed by auxiliary Bishop Francis Kane, which accompanied a memo sent to Catholic school administrators. This release, in combination with January's documents, "covers all the priests who have substantiated allegations of sexual misconduct with minors"--except for two "where ongoing processes do not permit release," Kane wrote.
One of those men is Daniel McCormack, who in 2007 pleaded guilty to molesting five children. In June he was charged again with aggravated criminal sexual abuse in a 2005 incident involving a minor. Last month two more men who say McCormack abused them filed a joint lawsuit against the archdiocese and Cardinal Francis George--seeking $400,000 in damages. In 2006, it came to light that George allowed McCormack to return to ministry after he was arrested and released without charges, even though his sexual-abuse review board recommended that the priest be removed from ministry. The case brought scandal to a diocese that for decades had been seen as having a model policy for dealing with clerics accused of abuse. Audits commissioned by the archdiocese following the McCormack scandal showed that was not necessarily the case.Read more
At a press conference today, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona, Minnesota, with attorney Jeff Anderson, announced the settlement of a sexual-abuse lawsuit that has rocked the Minnesota church for over a year. Plaintiff John Doe alleged that by failing to disclose information about predator priests, both dioceses had created a public nuisance. This is the first time a diocese has settled such a suit. The full terms of the agreement remain unclear (financial terms have not been made public), but both dioceses have agreed to implement a set of seventeen protocols governing their response to cases of accused priests.
Several of the protocols simply require the dioceses to maintain policies they already have, such as not reassigning credibly accused priests and providing regular abuse-awareness training to staff and volunteers. (A credible allegation is one that is not "manifestly false.") But the protocols go further. Both dioceses agreed to make public the personnel files of accused priests (after a canonical proceeding has concluded). They also agreed to publish the names not only of accused priests, but also the names of priests who are taken out of ministry "under circumstances that arise, in whole or in part, out of accusations or risk of sexual abuse of a minor." Perhaps most surprisingly, the diocese agreed to obtain signed statements from every priest affirming that he has not sexually abused any minors, and that he has no knowledge of abuse committed by any other priest or employee of the diocese.Read more
"Vatican Says Bishop's Dismissal Not the Result of Sexual Abuse," read a Catholic News Service headline published Saturday. The story, written by Francis X. Rocca, tut-tuts those who interpreted the firing of Bishop Livieres of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, as a sign of a Vatican crackdown on sexual abuse. The diocese was investigated by the Vatican in July after local Catholics, including the archbishop of Asuncion, Paraguay, Pastor Cuquejo--the metropolitan bishop--reportedly complained to Rome about several aspects of Livieres's leadership. Among his concerns was Livieres's decision to accept and promote a priest, Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity, who had been accused of sexual misconduct by several people dating back to the late 1980s. Rocca's story suggests that Urrutigoity had little to do with Pope Francis's decision to replace Livieres.
Coming two days after the Vatican's arrest of former Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, pending a criminal trial on charges of paying for sex with boys during his time as nuncio to the Dominican Republic, the dismissal of Bishop Livieres appeared to be the latest step in a Vatican crackdown on sex abuse. But the Vatican says sex abuse was not a significant factor in Bishop Livieres's dismissal.
Here's what Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi, SJ, told Rocca: "Let's not confuse Wesolowski and Livieres; one is a case of pedophilia, the other is not." Lombardi continued: "Livieres was not removed for reasons of pedophilia. That was not the principal problem." What was? "There were serious problems with his management of the diocese, the education of clergy, and relations with other bishops," Lombardi said."
That sounds a bit like what Lombardi said to the New York Times last week: “The important problem was the relations within the episcopacy and in the local church, which were very difficult.” He explained that the accusations against Urrutigoity were “not central, albeit have been debated.”
For his part, Livieres, a member of Opus Dei, maintains that he was the victim of a smear campaign orchestrated by nefarious practitioners of liberation theology, presumably not those who were recently invited to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith--or were they? Considering this explanation comes from a man who on more than one occasion publicly called his metropolitan gay, it may not be totally reliable.
But is Lombardi's?Read more
This morning the Holy See press office announced that Pope Francis has removed Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano, who had been bishop of the diocese of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay. Usually such statements say that the pope has accepted the resignation of a bishop. Not in this case. The Holy See plainly says that Livieres is being replaced. According to the statement, the decision was made “for the greater good and unity” of the local church and episcopal communion. But the move follows a July investigation of the diocese, following complaints from local lay Catholics and clergy, including an archbishop, about Livieres’s style of governance, and his decision to bring on and then promote to vicar general an Argentine priest who has been repeatedly accused of sexual misconduct—dating back to the late 1980s. (The Holy See’s announcement says nothing about the accused priest.)
After the initial investigation, but before the pope had studied the investigators’ report, the Vatican announced that the accused priest—Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity (whose story I’ve been covering over a series of posts)—had been removed from his position as vicar general. The Holy See also took the unusual step of forbidding Bishop Livieres from ordaining any more priests.
In response, Livieres posted a long defense brief on the website of his diocese. That document—itself a remarkable development (bishops don’t usually publicly refute Vatican sanctions)—claimed that Urrutigoity was wrongly accused, that he and Livieres were the victims of a smear campaign, and that Livieres invited Urrutigoity into the diocese on the recommendation of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now pope emeritus). The statement rebuked the archbishop of Asuncion—Livieres’s metropolitan—for “attacking” Urrutigoity, going so far as to allege that the archbishop himself was accused and “processed” for engaging in “homosexual activity.” In other words, Bishop Livieres was really feeling his oats.
He’s likely experiencing another sensation now.
Update after the jump:Read more
“At the beginning of the Gospel of St. John,” Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity wrote in a September 2001 fundraising letter, “we see the calling of the first apostles.” Upon meeting Jesus, they ask where he lives. “Come and see,” Jesus replies. “The Evangelist then simply states, ‘They went and saw where he lived and stayed with him that day,’” Urrutigoity continued. He was seeking financial support for the clerical-formation program of the Society of St. John, a traditionalist Catholic group he had founded in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1997—months after he was expelled from the schismatic Society of St. Pius X. But he wanted more than a seminary. Urrutigoity planned to build a liberal-arts college and a village for traditionalist Catholics. His profligate spending, along with a string of sexual-misconduct allegations stretching from Argentina to Pennsylvania, ensured none of that would ever come to fruition.
Like the first followers of Jesus, Urrutigoity wrote in his September 2001 letter, the young men who joined the SSJ would be required to leave their families and friends. Novices would have to “detach themselves from all worldly affairs in order to give themselves entirely to the Lord.” That would mean “minimal contact with the outside world,” Urrutigoity explained—“no newspapers, no internet.” Those strictures would prove especially important to the Society in the weeks and months that followed. The day after Urrutigoity composed the letter, Dr. Jeffrey Bond—hired by Urrutigoity in April 2000 to establish his hoped-for college—circulated the first of a series of e-mails and open letters denouncing Urrutigoity for alleged sexual misconduct and Bishop James Timlin for allowing him to remain in ministry.
Indeed, Timlin—who invited Urrutigoity and the Society of St. John into the Diocese of Scranton, brokered the schismatics’ return to full communion with Rome, and proved unable to stop them from running up millions in debt—took every opportunity to defend them, even well after the diocese had settled the sexual-abuse lawsuit that would eventually lead to the group’s canonical suppression.
No one could say Timlin hadn’t been warned.Read more
Catholic League president Bill Donohue has never shown much aptitude for speaking truthfully about the sexual-abuse scandal. Sit him in front of a TV camera or a Dictaphone and he'll deliver any number of pronouncements long on confidence and short on accuracy. His greatest hit--that the scandal is really a gay problem--has never been true. But his B-sides are worth remembering too. Like that time he defended Deal Hudson (for this) by referring to the woman in question as "a drunk...he met in a bar," when in fact she was a student of his at the time (a freshman, actually). Or that other time he commented on the Mark Foley case by observing that "most fifteen-year-old boys wouldn't allow themselves to be molested." Or pretty much every time he comments on the case of Shawn Ratigan.
You remember him. He's the now-laicized Kansas City priest who's doing time--an insanely long amount of time, if you ask me--for possessing and creating child pornography, crimes he admitted. The diocese learned that he had hundreds of troubling photos on his computer, including a series depicting a child whose diaper is slowly revealed to expose her genitals. Bishop Robert Finn didn't call the police, so he was convicted of failing to report suspected child abuse. And now the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph is paying for his appallingly bad judgment.
For years, Donohue has been proclaiming Finn "an innocent man." He's able to say so because he draws his conclusion from a bunch of made up facts, most of which he was invited to repeat on the August 21 edition of EWTN's The World Over. Have a look (go to 46:40).Read more
Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity knew it would be a tough sell. He wanted Jeffrey Bond to help build his dreamed-of Catholic liberal-arts college. Bond had moved to Shohola, Pennsylvania, in 1999 to be near the Society of St. John, soon after it had acquired property there. But he already had a job teaching at a New Jersey high school. And Urrutigoity’s offer was hardly a no-brainer. It’s hard enough to run a college that already has buildings and students. The College of St. Justin Martyr, as it would be called, had neither.
Urrutigoity assured Bond that the Society would provide the necessary funds—by covering tuition for its members and by raising money for the college until it could stand on its own, according to sworn testimony Bond would later give. (A chronology prepared by the SSJ claimed Urrutigoity “warned” Bond about the group’s “difficult financial position.”) Nevertheless, Bond, who had taught at Thomas Aquinas College, a conservative great-books school in California, found the idea intriguing. He would develop the school’s theoretical framework, hire its faculty, and oversee its educational mission—all under the spiritual care of priests committed to the “restoration of the traditional Catholic liturgy and civilization,” as a Society of St. John mailer put it. So Bond took the job. His career with the SSJ began on April 1, 2000. It would be a short honeymoon.
Within months it would become clear to Bond that Urrutigoity was using the college to raise money in order to service the Society of St. John’s mounting debt. That financial burden—along with later accusations of clergy misconduct—would doom whatever chance the college had to survive, and would eventually help sink the Society itself, for a time.Read more
Don't miss Jason Berry's lengthy update on the Legion of Christ's ventures in the Holy Land, in the National Catholic Reporter this week. How has the order coped with diminishment and disgrace following the belated exposure and censure of its founder, serial sexual abuser and all-around con artist Marcial Maciel? Oh, you know, they're working on it.
"Marcial Maciel's initials are also MM, just like Mary Magdalene. She had a problematic past before her deliverance, so there's a parallel. Our world has double standards when it comes to morals. Some people have a formal, public display and then the real life they live behind the scenes.
"But when we accuse someone else and we are quick to stone him, we must remember that we all have problems and defects. With modern communications so out of control, it is easy to kill someone's reputation without even investigating about the truth. We should be quieter and less condemning."
Berry quotes the above from a booklet promoting the Legion's new project, the $100 million Magdala Center at the Sea of Galilee. (Learn more at this website -- but be warned, there's a startling autoplaying introductory video.) The author is Fr. Juan María Solana. [UPDATE: Solana has apologized and the booklet has been withdrawn: see below.]
When the allegations against Maciel were first surfacing in the media, I remember hearing that rank-and-file Legionaries themselves were shielded from the worst of it. That, at least, was the excuse offered for why some priests didn't leave the order sooner. Given the amount of control Maciel and his fellow leaders exerted over the lives of their recruits, it seems plausible. But Maciel is dead; his corruption and crimes are definitively exposed; the order is supposedly reforming itself under Rome's supervision. So what's the excuse now for someone in a leadership position with the LCs to be referring to Maciel as having had any kind of "deliverance" (when, in fact, he and the order denied the allegations against him to the end of his life, even after Benedict removed him from ministry and ordered him to a life of repentance), or using his story as an example of how "We should be quieter and less condemning"?
I understand how awkward it must be for anyone who remains with the Legion of Christ to talk about their founder, given that the order itself has always been directly based in the spiritual leadership of Maciel. But if you can't talk about him honestly, non-defensively, with a sense of shame and sorrow and not self-pity, then maybe just don't talk about him at all.Read more
Did you read Laurie Goodstein's disturbing story about the former papal nuncio to the Dominican Republic, Josef Wesolowski? Do. Wesolowski was recalled to the Vatican after it was alleged that he had sexually abused minors (Goodstein spoke with several of his accusers). He was laicized, and could face a criminal trial at the Vatican (Pope Francis updated Vatican criminal law last summer). Obviously that isn't terribly comforting to some Dominicans who would rather see him tried in the country where he committed his alleged crimes. If Pope Francis is serious about reforming the church's response to clerical sexual abuse, why did he allow Wesolowski to escape local justice?
According to a Vatican statement released this afternoon, the former nuncio may face extradition after all--because, now that he's been laicized, he no longer enjoys diplomatic immunity.
Former nuncio Josef Wesolowski has recently appealed, within the prescribed limit of two months, the most serious canonical sentence of a return to the lay state that has been imposed upon him. The appeal will be judged without delay over the course of the coming weeks, most likely in October 2014. It is important to note that former nuncio Wesolowski has ceased functioning as a diplomat of the Holy See and has therefore lost his related diplomatic immunity, and has been previously stated, the punitive procedure of the Vatican’s civil judiciary departments will continue as soon as the canonical sentence becomes definitive.
The statement continues, suggesting that Wesolowski was returned to Rome so that he could be swiftly returned to the lay state and relieved of his diplomatic duties, which means that he could be tried by another country.
Regarding stories that have appeared over the past few days in various media, it is important to note that the Authorities of the Holy See, from the very first moments that this case was made known to them, moved without delay and correctly in light of the fact that former nuncio Wesolowski held the position of a diplomatic representative of the Holy See. This action relates to his recall to Rome and in the treatment of the case in relation to Authorities of the Dominican Republic. Far from any intention of a cover-up, this action demonstrates the full and direct undertaking of the Holy See’s responsibility even in such a serious and delicate case, about which Pope Francis is duly and carefully informed and one which the Pope wishes to address justly and rigorously.
We must finally state that since former nuncio Wesolowski has ended all diplomatic activity and its related immunity, he might also be subjected to judicial procedures from the courts that could have specific jurisdiction over him.
Does that mean the Vatican will extradite him? Does the Vatican even have any extradition treaties with other countries? In January the Vatican said that it hadn't received any requests to extradite Wesolowski. According to Goodstein, the Dominican attorney general didn't try to have Wesolowski extradited "because he has diplomatic immunity, and 'the law would not allow it.'"
But today the Vatican seems to have issued an invitation for the attorney general to seek Wesolowski's extradition. Perhaps he ought to take them up on it.
H/T David Gibson
This is the second in a series of posts on the Urrutigoity case. Read part one here.
“Dream with us,” read a 1999 Society of St. John promotional mailer, “of a small city with winding streets scattered with warm homes, fields with children playing, an amphitheater with drama and music, a schoolhouse and markets.” The city has a “magnificent church,” where daily “the bells call the families up the hill” for Mass, and a college, where students receive “the best of Catholic education.” This place—dreamed up by the Society of St. John and its founder, Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity—would stand as a beacon of “healthy civil life in our declining society.” It would, according to the brochure, be nothing less than “a new foundation for Catholic culture.” It would also require something the Society of St. John evidently had no idea how to handle: money.
If the Society of St. John was going to build a seminary, a Catholic college, and a city, it would need breathing room. The SSJ turned to its lay advisory board, which had been recently established to help manage the organization’s financial affairs. These advisers were laypeople “who had a certain stature among those attached to the Latin Mass,” according to a 2007 report written by James Earley, then chancellor of the Diocese of Scranton. They included prominent conservative Catholics like John Blewett, president of the Wanderer Forum Foundation (now called the Bellarmine Forum), and Howard Walsh, then president of Keep the Faith, another conservative publishing company.*
In consultation with the advisory board, the Society of St. John eventually settled on a thousand-acre piece of land in rural Shohola, Pennsylvania. With the permission of Bishop James Timlin, the SSJ purchased the land for nearly $2 million on September 16, 1999—just two days after the diocesan Review Board had considered an accusation of sexual misconduct against Urrutigoity, and found the evidence inconclusive.Read more
In early July the Vatican announced that it would send investigators to the Diocese of Ciudad del Este in Paraguay. The apostolic visitation was prompted by complaints from local bishops and laypeople following news reports that an Argentine priest accused of molesting high-school students in Pennsylvania had been welcomed into Ciudad del Este by Bishop Rogelio Livieres—and promoted to vicar general, second in command of the diocese.
Weeks later, the Vatican revealed that Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity had been removed from his position as vicar general and—in an unusual step—the Holy See barred Bishop Livieres from ordaining anyone for the time being.* In response, the Diocese of Ciudad del Este published a long, forceful defense of Urrutigoity and Livieres. The statement, posted to the diocese’s website, claims that Urrutigoity is innocent, that he and the bishop have been the victims of a smear campaign, that his previous bishop approved his transfer to Paraguay, and that he came with the recommendation of several cardinals—including Joseph Ratzinger, who would soon be elected Pope Benedict XVI.
The diocese's rebuttal proved futile, because in late September the Holy See announced that Pope Francis had removed Livieres as bishop of Ciudad del Este.**
In a 2002 federal lawsuit, the plaintiff claimed that Urrutigoity and another priest, Eric Ensey, had molested him under the guise of “spiritual direction.” He accused Ensey of abusing him while he was a high-school student in the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and he accused Urrutigoity of sexual misconduct after he graduated and was considering the priesthood. (No criminal charges were filed because the statute of limitations had run.) In addition to the abuse accusations, depositions and affidavits taken in connection with the suit allege that the priests often supplied alcohol to underage boys and regularly shared their beds with them. The bishop at the time, James Timlin, eventually suspended both clerics, and the diocese settled out of court for about four hundred thousand dollars. The case rocked the diocese for years, not only because of the plaintiff’s shocking allegations, but also because the accused priests were not local to Scranton. Bishop Timlin had invited them in.
A review of hundreds of pages of court documents—including private correspondence, depositions, and affidavits—makes it clear that the Urrutigoity case is one of the most complicated to emerge during the 2002 wave of sexual-abuse scandals. It spans three decades, two continents, three countries, and three states. It involves multiple bishops, several dioceses, and high-ranking Vatican officials. The priest’s rise to prominence tracks closely with the church’s growing awareness of the gravity of clerical sexual abuse. Accusations of misconduct have followed him from Argentina to Pennsylvania. That’s what makes his reappearance in Ciudad del Este—where the bishop had him helping with seminary formation before promoting him to vicar general—so difficult to understand. How could a Catholic priest with such a history end up as second in command of a diocese—in 2014?Read more
Neither canon law nor civil law processes can help the Catholic Church establish true accountability for the sexual-abuse scandal, argued Jennifer Haselberger during a talk she delivered yesterday at a conference for victims of clerical abuse. Haselberger--former top canonist for the struggling Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis--resigned in protest last year before going public with damning accounts of the way the archdiocese had handled cases of priests accused of sexual misconduct. Noting how difficult it was to acknowledge her role as "a perpetrator"--not of abuse itself but as part of a system that enabled it--she challenged her former colleagues in the Twin Cities and elsewhere to subject themselves to an examination of conscience with respect to their own roles in the scandal.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests held its annual conference in Chicago this weekend, marking the organization's twenty-fifth anniversary. Speakers included Jason Berry, whose pioneering reporting--much of which ran in the National Catholic Reporter--introduced the scandal to a national audience; historian Garry Wills; Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, who served as an inaugural member of the U.S. bishops' National Review Board; and Haselberger.
Responding to Pope Francis's call for "the whole church to find the grace to weep, to feel ashamed and to make reparation" for the sexual-abuse crisis, Haselberger sought to find "concrete actions" the church might take to establish accountability. But she did not spend much time looking for accountability in canon or civil law, which do not "have anything of significance to offer in this regard." While canonical procedures can be helpful in clarifying the status of accused clerics and removing them from ministry, "the processes are by their very nature incapable of producing the results sought by Pope Francis, or of reconciling the one abused with the broader faith community."Read more
In a column that will be published tomorrow, the embattled archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis says he will not resign. Soon after I reported that Archbishop John Nienstedt was being investigated for a series allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct with seminarians, priests, and other adult men--part of which is now complete--an affidavit filed by Nienstedt's former top canon lawyer strongly criticized the archdiocese's sexual-abuse policies and practicies. Calls for his resignation began to grow. Earlier this week, the Minneapolis Star Tribune ran an editorial urging the archbishop to step down. So did the New York Times. But Nienstedt won't go.
Eighteen years ago, Pope John Paul II chose me to serve the Church as a bishop, an authentic successor of the apostles. A bishop’s role is more like that of a father of a family than that of a CEO. I am bound to continue in my office as long as the Holy Father has appointed me here. I have acknowledged my responsibility in the current crisis we face, and I also take responsibility for leading our archdiocese to a new and better day.
“This is what the Lord says to you," Nienstedt's column continues, citing Second Chronicles: "'Stop being afraid, and stop being discouraged because of this vast invasion force, because the battle doesn’t belong to you, but to God.'"
Apologizing for the "distractions I have inadvertently caused," the archbishop emphasizes three things about his response to the months-long scandal. First, he announces that he has a new leadership team that operates with the philosophy of "Victims First." In consultation with victims, Nienstedt says he plans to hire a new victims liason--who will be a layperson. Second, he claims that he has never knowingly covered up sexual abuse. He admits that he was too trusting of the archdiocese's process, and that "we did not handle all complaints the way we should have in the past." And third, Nienstedt says that he has always been honest with his people. Over the past year, according to the archbishop, he has learned that he must change his leadership style.
"As author Matthew Kelly reminds us," Nienstedt concludes, "we as Catholics have a great story to tell, but we have let others tell the story for us. We need to get back to telling the story ourselves."
Update: I asked archdiocesan spokesman Jim Accurso when the investigation of Nienstedt would conclude and whether the investigating law firm's report would be made public. In response, he sent me a statement from auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché, which read in part: "I have received [the law firm] Greene Espel’s information. However, this matter involves more than just their role. The investigation is ongoing and I will respond appropriately as the review process continues."
The Italian journalist Vittorio Messori has made a career of interviewing popes. So it's no surprise that he was recently asked to comment on another one of Eugenio Scalfari's controversial "interviews" with Pope Francis. Once again, Scalfari has reconstructed a conversation he had with the pope without the benefit of a recording or notes. And once again the Vatican has had to offer a clarification of the pope's alleged remarks--because, according to Scalfari, Francis told him that 2 percent of the world's priests, including bishops and cardinals, are pedophiles.
That's a lot of pedophile priests--about one in fifty. If the pope really said that (and it's not clear that he did), where did he get that figure? The traditionalist Catholic blog Rorate Caeli recently translated a report claiming that about .8 percent of abuse cases handled by the Vatican involve pedophile priests.* The piece cites a couple of Vatican insiders who note that of all the abuse cases that make it to Rome only about 10 percent involve pedophilia.
About a week later the blog translated another Italian news item--this time an interview with Messori. In that conversation, the veteran Italian journalist was asked whether relaxing the celibacy rule would address the abuse crisis. His response makes you wonder whether he's been paying much attention to the scandal:
Nearly all of the cases of sexual abuse that have been investigated as having been committed by those in consecrated life were not committed on prepubescent children but on adolescents. All of these were male.
Bishop Charles Scicluna used to serve as the Vatican's chief prosecutor of abuse cases. He has said that 30 percent of the cases forwarded to Rome--and it's important to note that not all cases of accused clerics have been adjudicated by the Vatican--involved heterosexual abuse. I haven't seen it reported that every single postpubescent victim was male. In fact, there is no data on the pubescence of victims of clerical sexual abuse.
This means three things: that the problem is not pedophilia but ephebophilia; this is the direct result of pederasty; therefore if we are dealing with pederasty I do not see how having a wife would have had an effect. The problem is not celibacy. The problem is that liberal spirit that reigned in the ‘80s among the clergy, and threw wide open the doors of the seminaries to more or less explicit homosexuals. The results were seen in the successive decade: scandals dealing with abuse and pedophilia. All of this has a basis in homoeroticism.
Almost none of that is true.Read more
In my column last month, I asked, "Why hasn’t Pope Francis stepped in to get the Vatican off the nuns’ backs" and revoke the CDF's mandate to reform the LCWR? "If Francis really wants a less authoritarian, more mission-focused church," I wrote, "shouldn’t he have called this whole thing off already?"
Mary Gordon asks a similar question in the August issue of Harper's, in an essay titled "Francis and the Nuns." It's a strong piece of writing and a very good summary of the tensions between U.S. sisters and the Vatican. Harper's readers will be well caught up on where things stand and how they got that way. And the piece ends with an interview with Simone Campbell, SSS, that gives a personal dimension to the way she and her fellow sisters from LCWR congregations have responded to the scrutiny and censure directed their way from Rome.
But when it comes to the Francis angle, Gordon's analysis is less solid. That's because there simply isn't much to go on. "Is the new Vatican all talk?" the essay's subhed asks. But on this subject Francis has hardly talked at all, so that anyone who wants to build a case for or against him has to resort to reading tea leaves. And silence has many interpretations, after all.
After an introduction that sums up the remarkable shift in tone and priorities that Francis has brought about since taking office, Gordon brings in the nuns as a test case. I think she's right to propose the U.S. sisters as the embodiment of what we might call the Francis agenda:Read more
Two weeks ago, I reported that for the past several months, Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis has been under investigation for "multiple allegations" of inappropriate sexual conduct with seminarians, priests, and other adult men, according to those who were interviewed by the law firm conducting the inquiry. A couple of days after I posted that story, auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché--who is overseeing the investigation--sent an e-mail to the priests of the archdiocese, explaining that the timing of the release of that news was "not of my choosing," and that "whatever facts you will need to know about the investigation will be made known to you at the appropriate time." The bishop also told Twin Cities priests that he "was instructed by the firm conducting the investigation that the interviews must be carried out under the strictest confidence for the sake of the integrity of the investigation itself." Once the firm's report is complete, he wrote, "there will need to be some time to make an evaluation of those facts as to their credibility and import."
That raises several questions, which I posed to the archdiocese last week: Has Nienstedt been interviewed by the investigating law firm (hired by the archdiocese itself)? How is that firm being paid, and how much does it cost? When will the investigation conclude? Will the firm's final report be made public? And will the archdiocese send an unedited version of that report to the apostolic nuncio once it's completed?
In a written reply, Archbishop Nienstedt said that he did meet with the investigators, and that he "answered their questions to the best of my ability."
Later, Piché responded with another written statement. He explained that the archdiocese is paying for the investigation, but he did not tell me how much it costs. He also said that he did not know when the investigation will conclude. I asked whether the archdiocese will use the law firm's report to create another document that it will then share with Twin Cities priests, or whether it will share the whole report as it was originally written? I also asked whether the report will be made public, or whether the archdiocese will release to the public certain "need to know" facts from the investigation? "It’s premature to answer these questions," the bishop replied.
As for the question of whether the papal nuncio will receive the report in its entirety, unedited, Piché wrote: "The nuncio will receive a complete report."