Grant Gallicho

Grant Gallicho is an associate editor of Commonweal. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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'Firestone & the Warlord'

In case you missed it: last week, in collaboration with Frontline, ProPublica published its must-read investigation of "Firestone, Charles Taylor, and the Tragedy of Liberia." Here's how it starts:

Obama administration proposes new disclosure rules for abortion coverage.

According to a new rule proposed by the Obama administration, some insurance companies that sell coverage on the health-care exchanges will have to disclose whether their plans include elective abortion—before consumers enroll. The move comes a day after two prolife groups launched a website to help consumers determine which plans available on the exchanges cover abortion. They note that in four states the exchanges offer no plans that exclude elective abortion. The proposed rule will be published in the Federal Register on Monday.

Nearly a year ago I reported that finding out whether exchange plans covered elective abortion was nearly impossible. And in some states, you can't buy a plan without such coverage. The administration indicated that it was looking into the problem, but nothing changed. This past September, a Government Accountability Office report revealed that eighteen insurers across ten states were not in compliance with the Affordable Care Act when it came to abortion coverage. It found that some insurers were failing to segregate premiums for elective-abortion coverage from all other premiums, and others were still not disclosing whether their exchange plans included such coverage, even though the law requires such informtion be available "at the time of enrollment." The GAO also found that some insurers were not filing their plans with state regulators, who are responsible for monitoring compliance with the law. Again, Obama administration officials said they were examining the issue. This new rule appears to be the administration's first step to address these longstanding problems.

Through dry bones.

CHICAGO -- The sea of black rose last night as the procession music began: a spiritual, complete with drums and tamborine and energetic choir, a Spanish hymn, followed by another spiritual. The mostly clerical congregation turned toward the rear of the church as the third selection came to a close. "Plenty good room," the chorus sang, "just choose your seat and sit down." The assembled stood in silence, waiting for the new archbishop to seek admittance to Holy Name Cathedral. He knocked three times. The sound echoed through the church, the bronze doors were opened by Msgr. Dan Mayall, pastor of the parish, and Blase Cupich entered what was about to become his cathedral. He was met with uproarious applause.

"All Are Welcome," accompanied the procession, as ecumenical and interrelegious guests moved up the aisle, impressing the assembly with their traditional dress--the colors popping bright against the surrounding black suits. Cupich ascended the sanctuary steps, and turn to face the church. His face took on a look not too dissimilar from the expression on Pope Francis's face when he first appeared on the balcony of St. Peter's. But if the congregation sensed trepidation in his countenance, it was dispelled as soon as he saw Cardinal Francis George approach. Cupich smiled broadly, extended his arms toward the cardinal, and applauded emphatically. The whole church joined him.

Archbishop Cupich to Chicago Catholics: I am your servant-leader.

CHICAGO -- In his first homily as archbishop of Chicago, Blase Cupich finally answered the question he's been asked over and over since it was announced that he would succeed Cardinal Francis George: What is your agenda? "If I have learned anything over these past four decades as a pastor, I know it is a disaster for me to have my own agenda." That's not because he doesn't have his own hopes and dreams, Cupich explained. Rather, it's that his agenda is "always too small." His agenda, he continued, is "prone to be self-serving, and ultimately unworthy of the people I am called to serve." Rather, "the agenda has to be God’s, which is beyond our imagining and our abilities."

Preaching on Ezekiel (37: 1-14), Cupich highlighted the prophet's concern "to inspire new life in the people living in exile, by offering a vision of the new city to be built by God.... They are like dry bones strewn carelessly to rot in an abandoned field under the scorching sun of oppression."

The archbishop named the dryness we find in our own lives today:

It is the dryness elderly and sick persons can experience when their strength gives way and their bones become unsteady, to the point that they begin to question their worth, their sense of purpose and even the faith that has heretofore directed their lives. We see that dryness caked in on the faces of the homeless street people, in the fatigue of the underemployed worker cobbling together three or four low paying jobs to make ends meet, but also in the hectic pace of the successful business owner whose long hours in the office leave little time for family meals and sharing, for rest and recreation.

Those in public service, Cupich admitted, experience their own dryness "in the tedium of attending to administrative details, which most often go unnoticed or unappreciated, in the frustration we feel as we are called upon to face enormous challenges with limited energies and shrinking resources, and whenever opportunities for real improvement are squandered by petty squabbles and divisive discourse."

Cardinal George to Chicago Catholics: 'You are my legacy.'

CHICAGO -- The congregation gathered early at Holy Name Cathedral this morning. A half-hour before Cardinal Francis George would begin his final Mass as archbishop before Blase Cupich succeeds him this week, the narthex was nearly full. The people waited for 9:30 Mass-goers to vacate. Msgr. Dan Mayall, pastor of the cathedral (an associate pastor of my childhood parish twenty-odd years ago), greeted arriving parishioners as they came in from the snow, and departing ones as they returned to it.

A bank of cameras on the north side of the transept turned in toward the pews to watch them fill with a very Chicago crowd: Catholics of every ethnicity, some dressed up, others down, some draped in furs and others in NFL jerseys (the Bears were playing at home), suits and jeans, some with toddlers in tow, others carrying babies, or pushing grandparents, some single, others not, some fingered rosary beads, others scanned the expansive wooden ceiling with their smartphones for the perfect Instagram shot. Cameramen moved toward the center aisle, just before the break in the pews. One leaned down to let a couple know that he wouldn't be obstructing their view for the whole liturgy. "Why are all these video cameras here?" the husband asked. The cameraman explained: the cardinal's last Mass. From within his coat pocket the husband produced a camera of his own.

An usher approached as the procession was about to start. "No one in the aisle," he warned the journalists. Besides, "the cardinal doesn't always do the procession." This time he did.

Cardinal O'Malley: Vatican must 'address urgently' the Bishop Finn problem.

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."

How not to report on the sexual-abuse scandal.

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.

Archdiocese of Chicago to release files on 36 more accused priests. (UPDATED AGAIN)

Updates throughout.

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.

Synod day 14 presser the second: that's a wrap.

At the conclusion of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, the Vatican released the final version of the text summarizing the discussions over the past two weeks. (At present, the text is available only in Italian.) The synod fathers voted on each of the document's sixty-two paragraphs. Three sections on controversial issues did not receive the necessary two-thirds majority to pass: two paragraphs on Communion for the divorced and remarried and one on gay people. None was particularly revolutionary. The sections on divorced and remarried Catholics simply reported that some synod fathers favored finding a way to readmit such Catholics to Communion, and others wanted to maintain current practice. Likewise, the paragraph about gay people was rather tame. It referred to a 2003 document from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, which hold that there are "absolutely not grounds" for calling same-sex unions "similar or even remotely analagous" to traditional marriage, and reemphasized the obvious truth that gay people should be treated with respect.

This was the second Vatican press conference of the day, and it was delayed by a man who hasn't said much during the synod proceedings: Pope Francis. At the conclusion of the final session, he delivered a speech urging the church to find a path between rigorism and laxism (a theme Cardinal Walter Kasper has often touched on). He warned against a "hostile ridigity" that would "lock us into the letter of the law," and he complained about the "false mercy" of "progressives" who would rather bandage wounds than heal them. On the subject of the church's mission to care for its people, Francis quoted retired Pope Benedict XVI at some length. As for the well-reported disagreements between the synod fathers, the pope said he would have been" very concerned and saddened if everyone was in agreement, or if they remained silent in a false peace." Instead, Francis continued, "I saw and heard--with joy and gratitude--speech after speech full of faith, doctrinal and pastoral zeal, wisdom, frankness, and courage." When Francis finished speaking, the synod fathers gave him a five-minute standing ovation.

We know so many details about the relatio because of Pope Francis's rather stunning decision to publish the vote totals for every paragraph--and to include those sections that did not win a two-thirds majority. The relatio remains a working document. It will be sent to the world's bishops conferences for further reflection and study in advance of next October's synod on the family.

When the synod reconvenes, it won't be quite the same. Some who participated in this year's meeting won't be back (I'm thinking of papal critic Cardinal Raymond Burke). And Francis will likely select new cardinals come February. Why might a new-look synod matter? Because the sections that failed still had majority support. The paragraph on gay people, for example, failed by just six votes. But the synod fathers who want divorced and remarried Catholics to be able to receive the Eucharist have a longer row to hoe. Those sections failed by larger margins--and they did nothing more than state what had been discussed.

Whatever happens over the next year, one thing is clear: In calling for open debate among the world's bishops, and by allowing the whole church to see how that debate unfolds, Pope Francis has restored synodality to the church. Let's hope there's no going back.

The presser in tweets, after the jump.

Synod day 14 presser the first: morning message.

This morning the Vatican released the synod's final "message" to families. The text, which had input "from every continent," according to one cardinal, was approved by 158 of the synod's 174 voting members. Two things about this synod's message are unusual: First, it's quite short. Second, it's not the synod's final word. This time the synod fathers will release a final version of the report that sparked controversy earlier this week. The message does not address any of the contentious issues that draft touched on. Homosexuality is not mentioned at all. Neither is cohabitation. And as for Communion for the divorced and remarried, the message only says that the synod discussed the question.

Instead, the message acknowledges the challenges facing families today--including economic pressures, war, women who suffer violence, children who are abused, and the victims of human trafficking. It also recognizes how difficult it can be to remain faithful to a spouse. "Failures give rise to new relationships, new couples, new civil unions, and new marriages, creating family situations which are complex and problematic, where the Christian choice is not obvious." While emphasizing that the "authentic encounter" is found in the marriage "sacrament, where God sets his seal, his presence, and grace," the synod fathers express their admiration for "the fidelity of so many families who endure these trials with courage, faith, and love."

The message also focused on charity as "another expression of fraternal communion." To give to the needy is to give witness to "the truth, to light, and to the meaning of life."

Finally, the synod fathers remind families that the Eucharist is the "high point" that ties together all the "threads of communion with God and neighbor." In the Eucharist, God "gives himself to all of us, pilgrims through history towards the goal of the final encounter when 'Christ is all and in all' (Col 3:11)." This is where the synod fathers mention that they have been looking at the issue of readmitting divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion. But that is all they say about it.

"We synod fathers ask you walk with us towards the next synod. The presence of the family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in their modest home hovers over you."

Later today the synod will vote on the final text of the relatio, which was read aloud this morning. It won't be a straight up or down vote. Rather, the synod fathers will vote on each of the three sections individually. At this morning's press conference, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, appointed by the pope to serve as one of the drafters of the document, said he expected the relatio to be approved by a considerable majority of the synod fathers, and that the pope would choose to publish it immediately.

Ravasi was asked what he made of Cardinal Raymond Burke's complaint that Pope Francis had not intervened in the synod with a firm statement of Catholic doctrine on marriage. Conservatives have been bringing up Burke throughout the synod press briefings. This time a representative of Lifesitenews cited Burke's recent complaint that the pope has "done a lot of harm to the church" by not openly stating his position. Ravasi chuckled. "Roma locuta, causa finita," he said. Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai said the notion that the pope should intervene in such a way was a misunderstanding of the synod process. The pope listens while the bishops discuss, he said.

Picking up on that theme, Ravasi praised the synod process initiated by Pope Francis. He recalled that Peter and James confronted one another at the Council of Jerusalem, with positive results. The cardinal explained that he much prefers the "Courtyard of the Gentiles" atmosphere. That openness, he continued, has produced a final relatio text that is "choral" in nature--that is, it carries many voices heard over the past two weeks. How much will it resemble the first draft? Most of the amendments from the small groups have been incorporated, but Ravasi suggested that the document's welcoming tone would remain. Jesus's approach to lepers is the model for the way the church approaches those in "irregular" relationships. The credibly of the message of the church, the cardinal said, depends on its welcome.

Come back in a few hours for news of the second of today's press conferences, which will start at 12:30 p.m. Eastern--including the final report on the synod. Today's presser in tweets, after the jump.