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The Curious Case of Carlos Urrutigoity (III)

This is the third in a series of posts about the Urrutigoity case. Read part one here, and part two here.

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.

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No, Marcial Maciel was not like Mary Magdalene, at all - UPDATED

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.

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Will the Vatican extradite Josef Wesolowski?

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

The Curious Case of Carlos Urrutigoity (II)

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.

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The Curious Case of Carlos Urrutigoity (I)--UPDATED

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?

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Truth & reconciliation.

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."

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Archbishop Nienstedt: I will not resign. (Updated)

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."

Data errors.

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.

Messori continued:

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.

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Mary Gordon on "Francis and the Nuns" in Harper's

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:

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Archbishop Nienstedt under investigation: a brief update.

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."

Pope: Bishops who mishandled abuse will be held accountable

Today Pope Francis met at the Vatican with six survivors of clerical sexual abuse and expressed his grief at what had been done to them. In his homily at Mass, which he celebrated in his residence, he went beyond deploring the actions of the abusers, as he has done in the past, and pledged to also hold accountable those who mishandled accusations of abuse.

Luke Coppen's report in the Catholic Herald includes the text of Francis's homily, in which he said:

I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves. This led to even greater suffering on the part of those who were abused and it endangered other minors who were at risk.

On the other hand, the courage that you and others have shown by speaking up, by telling the truth, was a service of love, since for us it shed light on a terrible darkness in the life of the Church. There is no place in the Church’s ministry for those who commit these abuses, and I commit myself not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not. All bishops must carry out their pastoral ministry with the utmost care in order to help foster the protection of minors, and they will be held accountable.

The homily is worth reading in full; it's not that long, but in it Francis touches on a lot of the dimensions of the sex-abuse scandal and its fallout that have so far been underacknowledged. His improved messaging is probably thanks to the influence of his Commission for the Protection of Minors -- which he refers to in the homily.

I am counting on the members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.... I ask this support so as to help me ensure that we develop better policies and procedures in the universal Church for the protection of minors and for the training of church personnel in implementing those policies and procedures. We need to do everything in our power to ensure that these sins have no place in the Church.

Gone is the defensiveness and complaining about the church being unfairly targeted. Here he speaks with a sense of how the scandal has damaged the church's credibility. He also touches on the theme of mercy that Cardinal O'Malley said was key to Francis's approach to this matter:

[P]lease pray for me, so that the eyes of my heart will always clearly see the path of merciful love, and that God will grant me the courage to persevere on this path for the good of all children and young people.

Will do.

Unhappy with your press? Give the 'out of context' talisman a try. (UPDATED)

See updates--there are four now--here.

Yesterday social media lit up with news accounts claiming Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis had told victims attorney Jeff Anderson that when he was an auxiliary bishop in St. Paul and Minneapolis, he didn't know that it was illegal for an adult to have sexual contact with a child. Here's how one of those stories began:

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson claimed to be uncertain that he knew sexual abuse of a child by a priest constituted a crime when he was auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, according to a deposition released Monday (June 9).

During the deposition taken last month, attorney Jeff Anderson asked Carlson whether he knew it was a crime for an adult to engage in sex with a child.

“I’m not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not,” Carlson replied. “I understand today it’s a crime.”

Today the Archdiocese of St. Louis defended Carlson with a long press release accusing Anderson, and by extension news accounts that cited him, of "strategically" taking Carlson’s testimony "out of context." According to the archdiocese, "in the full transcript of Archbishop Carlson’s deposition, the actual exchange between Archbishop Carlson and Plaintiff’s counsel is quite different from what is being widely reported in the media." The statement continues: "What Plaintiff’s counsel has failed to point out to the media is that Mr. Goldberg himself noted at this point in the deposition 'you’re talking about mandatory reporting?' When the Archbishop said 'I’m not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not,' he was simply referring to the fact that he did not know the year that clergy became mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse (pgs. 108-109)." In other words, Carlson was talking about mandatory-reporting laws, not laws against adults having sex with minors.

This prompted the alternative magisterium at the National Catholic Reporter to quickly publish a story that essentially repeats the archdiocese's press release. The editors even added an update at the top of the Religion News Service piece they published about this--which also parrots the archdiocese's claims. The St. Louis CBS affiliate published a similar article. So did Deacon Greg Kandra at Patheos. And the Winona Daily News.

So how did so many members of the media get this wrong? How could they so badly misread the testimony of Archbishop Carlson, and in the process besmirch his good name? Probably because they can read. Let's have a look at that "full transcript."

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Pope Francis poised to punish convicted bishop.

During a press conference on the return flight from the Holy Land yesterday, Pope Francis did that thing he does: he made some news. The pope revealed that he would soon meet with abuse victims, promising to "move forward on this issue with zero tolerance"--and he announced that three bishops were "under investigation." One of them "has already been found guilty, and we are now considering the penalty to be imposed." He didn't name the bishops, nor did he elaborate on the details of their cases.

Naturally, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests was not impressed. "Francis made three meaningless abuse comments today," according to Joelle Casteix, western regional director of SNAP. "None of them are significant in any way. All are disappointing because they amount to more public relations instead of real action." SNAP's executive director, David Clohessy, echoed that sentiment in his comment to the Boston Globe: “This means nothing,” he said. Francis's remarks are just “another savvy public-relations move that will protect no kids, expose no predators, prevent no cover-ups, and punish no enablers.’’

Really? I understand that SNAP must ritually denounce anything a bishop has to say about the sexual-abuse crisis. But isn't this what SNAP wants? To see bishops held accountable for their failures to protect kids from abusive clerics? Did Clohessy absorb what Francis actually said? The pope explained that three bishops are being investigated, that one of them has already been found guilty, and that the Vatican is figuring out what sort of punishment to mete out. This is anything but meaningless. Because, as everyone at SNAP knows, there aren't many bishops who have been convicted of a crime during this long scandal.

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Pope establishing commission to hear appeals of accused priests.

In a brief note this morning, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis has appointed Archbishop Jose Luis Mollaghan of Rosaria, Argentina, to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where he will have "responsibility for" a commission to examine appeals by clergy accused of “delicta graviora"--a canonical term that includes the crime of sexual abuse. The Vatican statement provided no further details about this new commission.

As Catholic News Service notes, over the past decade, the Holy See has laicized 848 priests for abusing minors or vulnerable adults. Over the same period, another twenty-five hundred priests were ordered not to have contact with minors, and to live out their lives in prayer and penance, usually for reasons of advanced age.

He said, he said.

In sworn testimony released yesterday, Fr. Kevin McDonough, former vicar general and abuse-prevention czar of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis disputed Archbishop John Nienstedt's claim that McDonough had advised him not to keep written records of conversations about accused priests because they might be discovered in litigation. Having served three archbishops, two as vicar general for nearly twenty years and Nienstedt as "delegate for safe environment," few know more about how the Twin Cities diocese handled clergy accused of sexual misconduct. (More from MPR here, full video here.)

During the six-and-a-half-hour interview--which ended abruptly after lawyers disagreed about the allotted time--McDonough acknowledged what most observers of the crisis already knew: for many years, archdiocesan practice was not to routinely laicize abusers. Nor did it, as a matter of policy, report all accusations to the police. But McDonough also provided his version of the events surrounding several controversial cases, including that of Fr. Curtis Wehmeyer, now jailed for molesting children, and that of Fr. John Shelley, whose computer was found to contain "borderline illegal" pornographic images (a county attorney did not press charges).

The release of McDonough's deposition comes two days after Nienstedt's was made public. Their court-ordered testimony was taken in connection with a lawsuit by a plaintiff who claims he was abused by a priest in the 1970s. The suit alleges that the archdiocese, along with the Diocese of Winona, created a public nuisance by hiding information about accused priests.

McDonough's deposition differs markedly from Nienstedt's, not only because it was about 50 percent longer (a judge ordered the archbishop to be deposed for four hours), but also because of the kinds of answers the former vicar general gave attorney Jeff Anderson. He spoke at much greater length--often to Anderson's chagrin--offered digressions, corrected the premises and terms of questions, showed a sense of humor, and even took a moment to compliment Anderson's choice of necktie.

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Nienstedt deposed.


On April 2, Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis was deposed by attorney Jeff Anderson as part of a lawsuit filed by a man who claims he was molested by a priest in the 1970s. The plaintiff alleges that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, along with the Diocese of Winona, created a public nuisance by failing to disclose information about clerics accused of sexual abuse. At a press conference this afternoon, Anderson released a slightly redacted transcript of the deposition. The archdiocese posted the transcript and full video to its website, noting that Anderson did not ask any questions about the abuse allegations that occasioned the deposition.

The wide-ranging and often contentious conversation reveals an archbishop who felt comfortable delegating authority to deal with the abuse crisis--even though he's "a hands-on person"--and who still believes that he and his delegates have done a good job handling the problem. According to Nienstedt's sworn testimony, one of those delegates recommended that conversations regarding accused priests shouldn't be put in writing because they could be discovered in litigation.

"You followed his advice, didn't you?" Anderson asked the archbishop.

"In terms of?"

"Not putting things into writing."

"Yes," Nienstedt replied.

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Finn flayed.

Last week, Kansas City Detective Maggie McGuire was honored for her work on the troubling case of Shawn Ratigan, a now-laicized priest serving a fifty-year sentence for possessing and creating child pornography. Recall that in 2012 Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph was found guilty of failing to report suspected child abuse--after diocesan personnel informed him that they had found pornographic photographs of minors on Ratigan's laptop and the bishop failed to notify police. Obviously Deputy U.S. Attorney Gene Porter hasn't forgotten the details of that case, because when he presented the Crystal Kipper & Ali Kemp Memorial Award to McGuire, he delivered a stinging rebuke to Finn and his diocese:

When it becomes clear at the outset of the investigation that the entire hierarchy of a centuries-old religious denomination does not seem willing to recognize that the children depicted in the images are, in fact, victims of child exploitation, nor seem very willing to help establish the identity of the children depicted, and instead are spending millions of dollars on legal counsel in an ill-advised effort to avoid having the priest and bishop accept legal responsibility for their crimes, then you know, as an investigator, that your work is cut out for you.

He continued:

But for [McGuire's] work, multiple victims might not have been identified, a predatory priest might not have been removed and sentenced to the functional equivalent of life in prison, and Robert Finn never would have become the first cleric of his rank in the United States to sustain…a criminal conviction for failure to report suspected child abuse.

A judge sentenced Bishop Finn to two years of probation. He has not been censured by church authorities.


Pope Francis apologizes for sexual-abuse scandal.


Today, in an address to members of the International Catholic Child Bureau (BICE)--an NGO that works to protect the rights and dignity of children--Pope Francis asked for forgiveness for the "damage [abusive] priests have done for sexually abusing children." Noting that the total number of abusive priests is high, "obviously not compared to the number of all the priests," Francis reassured the audience that "the church is aware of this damage; it is personal, moral damage carried out by men of the church." He promised that "we will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem, and the sanctions that must be imposed--on the contrary, we have to be even stronger."

Is this earth-shaking? Not really. But given that the last time he spoke on the subject it didn't exactly go over too well, this is a marked improvement. And--significantly--these remarks were not part of the prepared text. Francis could have read through the speech as written and avoided the uncomfortable subject altogether, bringing headlines like, "Pope Speaks to Child-Protection Group, Ignores Sexual Abuse." But he didn't. And what he said carries some force.

Francis pledged not to "take one step backward." He referred to "sanctions that must be imposed." Of course, the question remains: sanctions for whom? For abusive priests? We're aware of those sanctions. What about the bishops who enabled abusers? Francis has made it clear that he's not afraid to investigate an accused cardinal. But is he willing to penalize bishops who have put kids at risk--even after the hard lessons of 2002? That's the great unfinished business of the sexual-abuse scandal.


Suspended belief.

Today the Archdiocese of Baltimore announced that it has suspended a high-school teacher accused of having a sexual relationship with one of her students this year. Which is what a diocese does when it learns that one of its employees may have abused a minor. But what does a diocese do when it also learns that the staff member who first received the allegation waited weeks to report it? Turns out this one suspends that employee too--and names her (and the accused) in a public statement and a letter to parents.

A number of weeks ago, Annette Goodman, the school’s librarian, learned about the allegation. Maryland law and the policies of the Archdiocese and Archbishop Curley High School require that allegations of child abuse be reported to civil authorities and to the head of the school as soon as possible. Ms. Goodman reported the information to the school’s administration on April 1.

There's transparency and then there's transparency.

Maryland law requires mandatory reporters--which includes educators--to orally notify civil authorities of suspected abuse "immediately" (they have forty-eight hours to file a written report).

You may recall a somewhat similar case involving a diocesan staff member who came to suspect one of his priests was in possession of child pornography. He was eventually found guilty of failing to report suspected child abuse. But he wasn't suspended, and he remains in the position he held when he broke the law: bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

We'll know whether this amounts to a real shift in church policy when the people who get suspended for failing to report include the men responsible for creating this scandal.

(H/T Michael Paulson.)

On sex abuse, asking the right questions

The announcement over the weekend of the new Vatican Commission for the Protection of Minors made me think that at least I was asking the right questions at the panel discussion with Cardinal O'Malley last Wednesday. Leadership roles for women? They make up half the membership of this commission (so far), a good start. Will O'Malley be advising Francis on appointments to the commission, or sex-abuse-related policies and priorities? Obviously (as he must have already known).

As for accountability: it's something the commission may (and should) decide to take up. I think Mark Silk has it right. After quoting the Vatican's official description of the commission's duties, he writes:

I would suggest to Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the big dog on the commission, that the key item on this list is “civil and canonical duties and responsibilities.” In the U.S.and many other places around the world, there’s  been plenty of attention to education and the discipline of abusers, to say nothing of symbolic acts of ecclesiastical apology. What’s needed are binding and enforceable legal procedures.

All the best practices in the world aren't going to be much help if there's no visible, consistent, appropriate policy for dealing with bishops and others who ignore them. Silk is encouraged by the presence on the commission of Baroness Sheila Hollins, who, he says, "is notable for calling on the Vatican to punish church officials (read: bishops) who fail to implement or enforce church rules on pedophile priests." And honestly, any lay person -- even a titled one -- should be a big help in reminding the pope and cardinals that attending to the view from outside the Vatican is what matters most if the church is ever going to recover from this blow to its credibility.