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Lamenting clergy sex abuse, Pa. bishops announce victim compensation funds

Harrisburg, Pa., Nov 12, 2018 / 05:17 pm (CNA).- Seven of the eight Roman Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania will create compensation funds for victims of clergy sex abuse, following a grand jury inquiry into abuse of minors by Catholic priests in the state.

“The damage done to innocent young people and their families by sexual abuse in the past is profound. It can’t be erased by apologies, no matter how sincere. And money can’t buy back a wounded person’s wholeness,” Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia said in a Nov. 8 column for CatholicPhilly.com.

“But what compensation can do is acknowledge the evil done and meaningfully assist survivors as they work to find greater peace in their lives,” he said.

The archdiocese-funded reparations effort will pay “the amounts that independent claims administrators deem appropriate,” he said.

According to Chaput, the program is about more than compensation of victims.

“It’s also about apologizing to victims, recognizing the harm the Church has done, and continuing the critical work to ensure abuse is prevented,” he said. “I deeply regret the pain that so many victims carry from the experience of sex abuse. I hope this program will bring them a measure of peace.”

In August a Pennsylvania grand jury report claimed to have identified more than 1,000 victims of 300 credibly accused priests. It presented a devastating portrait of efforts by Church authorities to ignore, obscure, or cover up allegations – either to protect accused priests or to spare the Church scandal.

The accusations concerned incidents that are often decades old. Most of the priests accused of abuse have died.

Some bishops named in the report for alleged cover-up of abuse have had their names scrubbed from facilities that were named for them.

The Pittsburgh diocese, headed by Bishop David Zubik, also announced a new fund.

“It is my hope that a program to compensate survivors of abuse by clergy will continue to aid in their healing and the healing of the Church, the Body of Christ,” Zubik said Nov. 8

“The survivors’ compensation program we are working to establish will be designed to create the best opportunity for recovery and healing to survivors,” he added. “They continue to suffer as a result of their abuse and this program will help to provide for their ongoing needs.”

The fund aims to compensate survivors who would otherwise be barred by the statute of limitations from seeking a civil settlement. The Pittsburgh diocese compared it to its previous program launched in 2007. It said no funds will come from Catholic Charities, parishes, schools, donor-designated contributions or the campaign “Our Campaign for The Church Alive!” that is intended for specific capital and endowment needs.

“While sources for funding needed to establish the program are still being settled upon, the program will ensure transparency and the disclosure of all allegations to law enforcement,” the Pittsburgh diocese said.

Zubik will hold listening sessions around the diocese to share details of the program and details about “other actions that will support the healing of survivors and the protection of children in the Church.”

The Pittsburgh diocese is undergoing a “comprehensive review” of practices related to children and young people by Shay Bilchik, an expert on child sex abuse prevention and prosecution.

Bilchik is a former Florida state prosecutor, and administered the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention at the U.S. Department of Justice.

“The Survivors Compensation Fund will address the needs of victims regardless of the time frames currently in place for the statute of limitations for civil law suits. This expedited process will enable eligible victims of minor sexual abuse to be heard and compensated,” the Greensburg diocese said in its Nov. 8 announcement.

Diocesan, not parish assets, will finance the fund. Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros of the Law Offices of Kenneth R. Feinberg, PC, will be the independent fund administrators.

Feinberg and Camille Biros will administer the Philadelphia archdiocese’s compensation fund as well.

Chaput said that the total number of claims and funding required cannot yet be known, but he said the financial commitment will be “significant.” Existing archdiocesan assets will provide initial funding, but additional funding will need to come from borrowing and the sale of archdiocesan properties. It is not yet determined which properties will be sold.

In the last three years, Philadelphia archdiocese finances have returned to the break-even point, after a period of severe deficit spending and underfunding financial obligations.

Archbishop Chaput emphasized that the fund is “entirely independent of the archdiocese” and “confidential.”

“The program is designed to help survivors come forward in an atmosphere where they are secure and respected, without the uncertainty, conflict, and stress of litigation,” Chaput said.

The independent oversight committee for the Philadelphia archdiocese’s reparations fund includes former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, who will chair the committee. He will be joined by Kelley Hodge, former interim District Attorney for the City and County of Philadelphia, and Lawrence F. Stengel, a retired federal district court judge.

While Catholic leaders stressed the independence of how the reparations would be determined, it still drew criticism from abuse victims and their advocates.

“If I do something wrong, I don’t make my own punishment up,” Martha McHale, a clergy sex-abuse victim from Reading, Pa. told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Neither should they.”

Victims who accept payments from the funds must give up their right to sue if the state legislature temporarily lifts the statute of limitations on sex abuse lawsuits. In the last legislative session, a bill that would open a two-year window allowing abuse victims to file lawsuits concerning decades-old claims passed the House of Representatives but the Senate did not hold a final vote.

“It’s a brilliant political move by the bishops,” said Benjamin Andreozzi, a lawyer for several clergy sex abuse victims in Pennsylvania.

“This is exactly what happened in New York. The dioceses there probably resolved 90 percent of their outstanding civil claims for pennies on the dollar,” Andreozzi told the Inquirer, comparing the fund to those established in the New York archdiocese.

Feinberg told the Inquirer that victim compensation funds are more cost-effective and result in quicker compensation for victims, compared to lengthy litigation. He cited the three years to reach a settlement following the 2015 bankruptcy of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.

State Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, who was abused by a priest as a teen, is the chief backer of the Pennsylvania legislation and plans to bring it up for consideration when the next legislative session begins in January.

While he said compensation, funds are a positive step, he said retroactive lawsuits should be an option for sex abuse victims, the public radio station WITF reports.

The only Roman Catholic diocese in the state not to announce a new fund, Altoona-Johnstown, cited its victim assistance program started in 1999. That fund has provided compensation and counseling to nearly 300 individuals, including $2.8 million for counseling. It said a newly created youth protection office will aid in recognizing, responding to, and reporting suspected sex abuse of minors.

The sex abuse of young men aged 18 and older has also become a focus in 2018. The allegation of credible sex abuse of a minor against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick prompted former seminarians to come forward saying he had sexually abused them as adults.

Irish archbishop: The sacrifice of Protestants and Catholics in WWI should unite us

Belfast, Northern Ireland, Nov 12, 2018 / 04:56 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Irish Protestants and Catholics should see the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day as an opportunity to build peace and reconciliation, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Ireland said at an interreligious memorial service on Sunday.

The service, held at St. Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast, was attended by Dean of Belfast the Very Reverend Stephen Forde of the Church of Ireland, and several other religious and political leaders. Other services were held simultaneously throughout the country to mark 100 years since the end of World War I.

“The brave people we are remembering are calling us to recognize their shared suffering by building a better future where difference is accepted and respected,” Martin said.

“...it is difficult for any of us to imagine the thoughts and feelings of the young men on the battlefields of the First World War who... in the darkness, prayed for home, for family, for peace.”

But one way to honor their memory is to remember their shared suffering and sacrifice as something that unites, rather than divides, Protestants and Catholics, he said.

“Sadly, because of the cruel twists and tensions of our history of conflict, the fact that Irish Catholics and Protestants fought and died, side by side, was neglected for too long – and perhaps conveniently – by all sides, both north and south of the border,” he said.

“People preferred to cling on to a history of difference and separation, rather than recognise and embrace our shared story of common suffering.”

Religious disputes have long been part of the history of the majority-Catholic Republic of Ireland, which gained its independence from Britain in 1916, and Northern Ireland, which is predominantly Protestant and a part of the United Kingdom.  

In his address, Martin recalled a peace pledge he and other religious leaders had made earlier in the year at another World War I memorial in Belgium:  “...as Protestants and Catholics, we apologise for the terrible deeds we have done to each other and ask forgiveness …we appeal to all people in Ireland to help build a peaceful and tolerant society …we affirm that a fitting tribute to the principles for which men and women from the Island of Ireland died in both World Wars would be permanent peace.”

“Gathered here this afternoon, in Belfast, let us renew that peace pledge, together, in our hearts,” Martin said. About 35,000 of 210,000 Irishmen who served in British forces in World War I died in battle.

Remembering the dead, “to honor and pray for them – especially during the month of November – is important to the practice of my faith,” Martin said.

“In recent years I have grown to understand more fully that, whilst we may remember in different ways, and whilst our forebears had differing and often conflicting approaches to the war, what unites us now in their memory is so much greater than anything that is talked up to divide us.”

“Peace is not merely ‘ceasefire’ or the absence of violence and war,” Martin said, but “an ongoing work of reconciliation, justice and hope: it means coming out of our own trenches; building bridges, not parapets; ‘beating swords into ploughshares, spears into pruning hooks,’” he said, quoting the book of Isaiah.

“Jesus said, ‘Love one another as I have loved you (John 15).’  Peace is the fruit of that love which urges us to uphold the value and dignity of every human life and to be passionate about respecting others, especially those who are poor or marginalised,” he said.

“Our hope remains for a lasting peace on the island of Ireland. May Christ, the Prince of Peace, help us make that hope a reality for the youth of today and tomorrow. Amen.”

 

Listen to victims, learn from your mistakes, women plead to USCCB

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2018 / 04:10 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In the afternoon of the first full day of the US bishops' autumn general assembly, two speakers pleaded with the bishops to listen deeply to abuse victims and to lay experts in the Church about how to move forward.

Christina Lamas, Executive Director of the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, told the bishops they must not ignore the pain of the victims of clergy sex abuse.

Many young people, she said, “have been hurt twice by the Church,” first when they were abused by a cleric, and then again when they were ignored by Church leadership after the abuse.

“We need words of compassion when speaking about those disconnected from the Church, to view them as sisters and brothers, not as prize objects,” Lamas said.

“We need bishops to stop seeing conspiracy and malice, instead we look for our bishops and those who work with them to assume the good” on the part of those who come forward, she added.

While the Vatican has ordered the U.S. bishops conference not to vote on proposals aimed at sex abuse reforms until after a meeting of the world’s bishop conference presidents in February, the subject has still featured prominently at the meeting of U.S. bishops, which is being held in Baltimore Nov. 12-14.

Lamas, who spoke during a Monday afternoon session, also called the bishops to examine and root out the causes of sexual abuse.

“From you our bishops, we need you to address the root of the problem – abuse of power. We need soul-searching about clericalism and its roots,” she said.

There have been “glimmers of hope,” Lamas said, noting that some bishops have opened investigations, created review boards, and held listening sessions in their dioceses.

Young people are also now being taught “not to keep secrets, and that no person is above question or above the law,” she said.

Lamas asked the bishops to “walk with” the laity at this time, “rather than ignore us. You are not spiritual fathers of only the clergy” but of all, she said.

Following a period of prayer and reflection, Sr. Teresa Maya, CCVI of San Antonio and past president of Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) addressed the bishops, expressing her disappointment at the scandals and urging them to learn from some of the lessons that women religious have learned through their own times of crisis.

“I accepted your courageous invitation (to speak at the conference) because of my deep love for the Church,” she said, although she said she had hoped a snowstorm might have cancelled the whole event.

While she loves the Church, Maya said she has found it “painful” in recent months to recite the words of the Creed: “One, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church.”

Maya said she was tempted to stop saying that part of the Creed “until something concrete happened. Then I realized this was my Church and wondered what was mine to do.”

She said she was recently asked by a friend why Catholics should stay in the Church after all of the scandals, and Maya said after a long silence, she responded: “We stay because of Jesus Christ.”

“How do we return to (Christ) for mercy and reconciliation, for the grit to do what is our to do?” she asked the bishops.

She said she prayed that the bishops would have a “deep capacity” to listen to the survivors of clerical abuse, to hear their anger and their pain.

The bishops are entrusted with the task of being the “phsycians and healers” of the Church, but “the best physicians are first good listeners,” she said.

Maya then offered the bishops three ways they could learn from orders of women religious, who have gone through their own trials and crises, and who now face sharply declining numbers and aging populations.

The bishops must face the scandals together, with a listening and contemplative heart, and must be willing to root out anything that goes against discipleship with Christ, she said.

“You are called to renewed spiritual depth,” which will enable the bishops to discern the good spirits from the bad, she said.

She urged the bishops to renewed communion among themselves, and to have the willingness to listen to other bishops who have put policies and procedures in place that have actually worked to help bring healing and reconciliation to survivors of abuse.

“You should not expect the Vatican to resolve what is yours to resolve,” she said. “The Vatican doesn’t have the knowledge, resources and gifts that you do. You can be models for the rest of the world. I urge you to seize this opportunity.”

USCCB meeting: What just happened, and what might happen next?

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2018 / 04:09 pm (CNA).- During a holy hour Monday morning, two survivors of clerical sexual abuse spoke to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops about their experiences, and their hopes for the future of the Church.

One survivor, Luis Torres, asked the bishops to make changes to ecclesial policies and culture that might ensure that sexual abuse or coercion by anyone in the Church, including bishops, is put to an end.

"I ask,” he pled, “that you inspire me and our community to faith and hope through your courage and your action, which is needed right now. Not in 3 months. Not in 6 months. Yesterday.”

The bishops had intended to take action at their fall meeting this week, voting on two policies they hoped would address the Church’s sexual abuse crisis: a code of conduct for bishops, and the creation of a lay-led panel to investigate claims of misconduct or negligence by bishops. Those policies were not without critics, but it seemed clear that the bishops, and conference administrators, viewed them as a necessary means of showing their commitment to reform.

But as the meeting began, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the USCCB, announced that the Holy See had insisted that the bishops not vote on their own proposals, and instead wait until after a February meeting at the Vatican of the heads of bishops’ conferences from around the world.

The announcement seemed to shock almost everyone in the room, with the notable exception of Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, who rose immediately to say that “it is clear the the Holy See is taking the abuse crisis seriously.”

Cupich suggested that the bishops take non-binding referenda votes on the policy proposals, to give themselves a sense of their own sentiments, and that they schedule a meeting for March at which the bishops could vote on new proposals, if appropriate. DiNardo said that the bishops could discuss that idea on Tuesday, when the meeting’s business is scheduled to get underway.

The bishops will have a great deal to discuss as the business portion of their meeting begins. Indeed, in the hallways and lobby of the conference hotel, they are already discussing what to do. Most are also wondering what exactly happened- how the Vatican decided to put their plans on ice, and why that decision was handed down at the very last minute.

At a 12:30 press conference, DiNardo told reporters that the decision was communicated via a letter from the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops. USCCB officials later said that the letter might not be released to the public, citing ecclesiastical protocol. But DiNardo’s announcement has raised questions about how the decision was made at the congregation, and about what role might have been played in the decision by the two Americans who serve on it, Cardinals Blase Cupich and Donald Wuerl.

Cupich, some observers have noted, seemed prepared with comprehensive thoughts on the matter while most bishops, including DiNardo, seemed still to be processing the news.

Sources close to Wuerl have given CNA conflicting reports. One source close to the cardinal told CNA that he did not believe Wuerl had been involved in the decision. But another Washington source told CNA that Wuerl had advance notice of the decision from Rome.

Both cardinals will now face questions from their American peers about what involvement they had in the decision and what, if anything, they did to push back against it.  

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Why exactly did Rome decide to spike the policies? There are several theories circulating among the U.S. bishops and media observers.

In addition to their apparent desire for dialogue among global Catholic leaders before norms have passed, some observers have noted that the Vatican expressed reservations about some canonical aspects of the bishops’ proposals.

But USCCB sources have told CNA that the bishops’ conference consulted about the documents with Vatican departments in the lead-up to this week’s meeting, and that those concerns were not raised. And others have asked why the Vatican would not have permitted the bishops to vote on the documents, and then require amendments during a “recognitio” phase, in which the Holy See would either approve USCCB policies or make suggestions for their amendment, before they could take effect.

In 2002, policies on child and youth protection were debated and approved by the U.S. bishops before being sent to Rome. They were returned to the conference with amendments and notes which were then incorporated into the norms and adopted by the bishops. Many expected a similar scenario to play out in 2018. Instead the process has been put on ice.

It is certainly true that the draft proposal for the lay-led investigative raised a number of canonical questions. Several bishops arrived in Baltimore ready to debate the problems they perceived in the text. But it is not clear why the Congregation for Bishops decided to intervene to prevent that debate from taking place.
 
Even more puzzling is Rome’s decision to prevent a vote on the proposed Standards of Episcopal Conduct. The draft text of this document, circulated with the proposal for the independent commission, contained no clear canonical novelties beyond a reference to the independent commission itself.

Several officials who spoke to CNA about Rome’s intervention told CNA that while the Vatican was known to be concerned about the proposed independent commission, it was especially surprising that the Vatican’s veto-in-advance included the draft standards for episcopal conduct.

Asking the bishops to solemnly promise not to lead a sexual “double life” and to honor basic obligations of the clerical state seemed hardly controversial; most criticism of the code of conduct has been that it was insufficiently demanding. By spiking the document, the Congregation for Bishops seems to be discouraging the bishops from even having a discussion about their own behavior, or a promise to reform it.
 
Many of the bishops in Baltimore told CNA that they are angry at what they see as an attempt to stop them debating the sexual abuse crisis at all, and confused about the reasons for it. Already frustrated that their request for an Apostolic Visitation into the McCarrick scandal was denied, several bishops are asking why the Congregation for Bishops seems now to be discouraging them from even talking about the elephant in the conference hall.
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What the U.S. bishops can do now is unclear. They will likely still discuss the proposals on their agenda, and some bishops have told CNA they expect to take a non-binding vote on them before the meeting concludes.

But several bishops have suggested to CNA that the American bishops might also draft a strong statement of concern, intended to express their solidarity with victims and their understanding of the urgent need for concrete action. Bishops are not usually comfortable signaling a rift between themselves and Rome, but, as one bishop told CNA today, a rift was formally announced by DiNardo himself.

Of principal concern to many bishops is that they take action in order to convey to Catholics that they find sexual abuse and coercion intolerable, and that they will not abide the presence of wolves in their midst. Bishops know they will need to return to their dioceses and explain what has happened. They know they will have to explain the Vatican’s decision to their priests, many of whom are hoping for reform. And they know that they have to explain to the Department of Justice and to state attorneys general, who are investigating them, that they are trying to address this problem in a serious way.

After a curveball almost no one saw coming, the bishops know they are short on explanations. The mood at the bishops’ conference is tense.

Some have suggested that the bishops could simply pass their agenda items as planned, defying Rome’s directive. But such a decision would be a refusal to comply with the pope’s own curia, and seems to many to be dangerously close to an act of schism. The bishops want to be obedient to the pope. But they also want to able to address the sexual abuse crisis.

To convince American Catholics that the Church is serious about addressing the abuse crisis, they seem to have no choice but to continue to express serious dissatisfaction with Rome’s directive, even while expressing their obligation to obey it.

There is, however, one improbable possibility the bishops could consider. The episcopal conference is not permitted to vote on their agenda items. But the bishops could try another procedural move: they could ask Rome’s permission to convoke a plenary council on the sexual abuse crisis in America- a kind of formal assembly of American bishops, significantly more powerful than the episcopal conference, and empowered not only to make laws, but also endowed with the executive authority to initiate a comprehensive investigation into the McCarrick scandal and those bishops who enabled it.

The last plenary council in the United States took place in 1884. The Vatican would almost certainly deny a USCCB petition for one. But there could be hardly any stronger expressions of an American commitment to American solutions to this problem than the petition itself.

It is unlikely the bishops will petition for a plenary council. But it is likely that they will raise their voices in frustration with Rome’s decision, and want to know how and why the Congregation for Bishops made the decision that it did. And American Catholics will likely raise their voices even louder.      

While many of the bishops are discouraged, and left to guess at the motives and intentions behind Rome’s surprise interventions, one thing is clear: they have no intention of changing the subject.

 

Singapore archdiocese extends required marriage prep time to one year

Singapore, Nov 12, 2018 / 03:23 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Singapore has introduced a new policy to ensure couples are taking the time they need to properly prepare for marriage.

Catholics looking to getting married in any of the archdiocese’s 32 churches have to book their wedding date at least one year in advance, according to Catholic News.

Previously, the couples only had to notify the church six months before the wedding. Archbishop William Goh Seng Chye of Singapore made the decision in October after discussing the move with the archdiocese’s priests.  

Couples must still undergo the same marriage preparatory programs, including a marriage course and a meeting with the priest who will preside over the wedding.

A Catholic spokesperson for the archdiocese told Strait Times that the new policy emphasizes the importance of the commitment of matrimony and helps Catholics prepare for it.

“In response to the feedback and to help our fellow Catholics prepare for such a major commitment in their lives, the Archbishop, in consultation with his Senate of Priests, is looking to refine the recommended policies presently in place,” he said.

“It marks the beginning of a journey that the Church and the couple take together to prepare the couple for their commitment to each other,” he added.  

Numerous other Christian dominations in Singapore have similar requirements, which may range from six to nine months prior to the wedding day.

Daniel Seah is an engaged Catholic in Singapore who plans to get married in 2020. He told Straight Times that he was happy with the new policy.

“In my opinion, the divorce rate is quite high and I think the Church is looking at ways to help couples discern deeper if this is the right person for them before they walk down the aisle,” he said.

“Even if you book a hotel, you may also need to book one year in advance but people don't grumble about that.”