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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 1 hour 19 min ago

Alleged victim of Archbishop McCarrick speaks at rally outside USCCB meeting

Tue, 11/13/2018 - 19:34

Baltimore, Md., Nov 13, 2018 / 05:34 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- James Grein, the man who came forward this summer alleging he was abused for 18 years by Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, appeared in public Tuesday for the first time and revealed his full name. Previously, the New York Times had identified him only as “James.”

Grein appeared at the Nov. 13 “Silence Stops Now” counter-rally organized by several groups critical of the bishops’ approach to addressing the sexual abuse crisis. The rally was held near the location of the USCCB’s Fall General Assembly in Baltimore.

Grein was visibly nervous taking the stage, where he delivered a short speech about his experience coming forward with his story, and received an extended standing ovation when he finished.

In July Grein came forward with his story to the New York Times. He said McCarrick began abusing him when he was 11 years old. At that time, McCarrick was 39 years old, and a priest of the Archdiocese of New York.  

This abuse continued for the next 18 years, he said, during which McCarrick was consecrated a bishop and served in the local Churches of New York, Metuchen, and Newark. In November 2000, he was appointed Archbishop of Washington, where he served the remainder of his career until his 2006 retirement. In 2001, McCarrick was elevated to the College of Cardinals. About a week after Grein’s allegation was published, McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals.

Grein credited the first survivor coming forward for giving him the strength to share his experience.

"That article would never have been written had it not been for a 16-year-old altar boy who accused McCarrick of abusing him," he said. After that survivor went public, and his claim was found to be credible, Grein said he felt as though “my time has come” and chose to share his story.

Previously, he felt there was “no place” for him to report his abuse, and that nobody would believe him even if he were to report it. Grein said he was motivated to go public Tuesday as a way to inspire other victims.

"I do this today so that others like me have the strength to come forward. Think about what you can do to help others. This movement must continue to gain strength,” he said.

“Our bishops must know that the jig is up.”

Grein said he believed that McCarrick’s punishment of a life of prayer and penance was a “necessary step” on the extended journey to “reform and reclaim the Church.” McCarrick is currently living in a monastery in Kansas until he is faces a canonical trial.

Despite his abuse, Grein said that he has continued to put his faith in Christ, and continues a regimen of prayer and fasting.

"Jesus' law is much higher than pontifical secrets,” he told the crowd.

“It’s not Francis' Church. It’s Jesus Christ's Church.”

USCCB discusses standards of conduct, independent commission

Tue, 11/13/2018 - 18:54

Baltimore, Md., Nov 13, 2018 / 04:54 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. bishops have formally begun discussion of a new set of standards of conduct and a special commission to investigate accusations made against bishops.

The bishops, meeting in Baltimore for the fall general assembly of United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, had hoped the two proposals would form the centerpiece of their response to the recent sexual abuse scandals.

After the Vatican intervened to prevent the measures being voted on, the bishops have chosen to proceed with discussion of the proposals even though they can no longer enact them.

Bishops have been invited to propose amendments to both documents for further discussion tomorrow but were given an initial opportunity to raise any questions or observations about the two draft documents.

Presenting the Standards of Accountability for Bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark told the conference Nov. 13 that a consensus among the conference members and the exercise of working through the provisions and amendments would be of definite assistance to the conference president, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, when he travels to Rome in February to attend a meeting of the heads of world’s bishops’ conferences.

In what was perhaps an indication of the broad support for the Standards, no questions or observations were raised.

Many, including some familiar with the Vatican’s decision to prevent a vote by American bishops, have expressed surprise and confusion that the draft Standards were included in the Congregation for Bishops’ injunction against voting to adopt new measures since they appeared to contain no obvious conflicts with Church law or controversial provisions.

Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit presented the draft proposal for the creation of a special commission to examine accusations against bishops.

In his introduction, Vigneron said that the initial goal had been to present the conference with a substantial outline for the new entity, though leaving some of the details unresolved to allow for collaborative discussions during the Baltimore meeting. The original aim was to arrive at a final plan by June 2019. Now, he conceded, it was “much harder to predict” what final results would now be possible.

Despite clear, if unelaborated, concerns by the Holy See about the plan, Vigneron said the commission was “designed to avoid infringing upon the jurisdiction of local bishops or the Holy See” and was intended to be a resource of “expertise and independence” available to both.

Spelling out how the new body would function, he told the conference that complaints would be received by the commission through a third-party reporting mechanism, with civil law enforcement being immediately informed if they regarded the abuse of minors.

The commission would look into each complaint, having first informed the apostolic nuncio in Washington. Following each complaint, there would be an investigation producing a “substantial report” which would be given to the nuncio to “do with as he sees fit,” comparing it to the conclusions of a diocesan lay review board.

The nine-member commission would have six lay men and women and three clergy, including experts in law enforcement, civil and canon law, psychology and social work. It would also include a woman religious and a clerical abuse survivor as members. Further experts and consultants would be taken on as the case load demanded.

Vigneron said that the independent body would be registered as an independent not-for-profit organization with a board of directors and produce an annual report detailing how many cases it investigated each year. He also explained that, as part of its independence from the bishops’ conference, the commission would be funded through contributions by dioceses directly, with an expected annual cost projected of $500,000, plus expenses for individual investigations.

While being itself totally independent, Vigneron underscored that the authority of local bishop would be respected, saying the work of the commission would not “over-ride the will of the bishop but rely on his consent” to work in the diocese of each complaint.

During an extended question and answer session, a number of bishops raised questions about the proposals as they were presented.

Archbishop Sample raised the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, which he said appeared to show that the breakdown in the current system took place at the level of the nunciature, with allegations either not being forwarded to Rome, or not being acted upon when they arrived there.

Sample noted that “we can do whatever we want here but there needs to be a partnership with the Holy See” so that allegations were not “swept under the rug.”

Archbishop Wenski of Miami noted that the active support of the nuncio was crucial; otherwise the plan would be “an exercise in futility.”

Several bishops seemed to speak against creation of the commission all together.

Bishop Gerald Kicanas told the conference that “we already have a process” and that proposals were “adding something that doesn’t have a particular purpose.”

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago suggested that the plan was unnecessary and separated the process from “the life of the Church.” “We already have a system [to handle accusations against bishops] through metropolitans,” he told the bishops. He called the proposed commission a way of “outsourcing” problems instead of “taking responsibility for ourselves.”

Archbishop Vigneron responded to Cupich, saying that the commission was “a form of assistance” for bishops and “an act of communion, engaged in mutual communion to support one another.”

Vigneron told Cupich it would function “in harmony with each of us as bishops exercising governance.”

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia raised a similar point, noting that the existing structures organized around metropolitan archbishops could provide a more cost-effective option but would simply not be feasible without a strengthened canonical authority for metropolitan bishops.

Chaput said it was the conclusion of the executive committee that it might be easier to get Roman approval for a whole new structure than a change in canon law to make this possible.

Bishop Anthony DiMarzio of Brooklyn offered the last observation of the discussion, noting that the confidentialy or publicity of the process was a serious concern. He said that the lesson to be drawn from the treatment of many priests publicly accused of abuse but later found innocent was that a person’s good name often could not be recovered.

DiMarzio said that the proposed commission was bound to do everything possible to restore an innocent bishop’s good name, this would likely prove an impossible task.

The discussion of both proposals will continue tomorrow, by which time bishops will have submitted proposed amendments to the plans.

Jesuits in western U.S. to name members credibly accused of abuse

Tue, 11/13/2018 - 18:24

Portland, Ore., Nov 13, 2018 / 04:24 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- More names of clergy and religious accused of sex abuse are set to come out this December from a western U.S. province of the Society of Jesus, which says the decision to name the credibly accused is an effort for transparency that supports victims.

The province includes the territory of the former Oregon Province, which declared bankruptcy due to abuse lawsuits in 2009.

“While the vast majority of these offenses occurred in the past, the People of God rightly demand and deserve transparency on the part of Church leadership,’ Father Scott Santarosa, S.J., provincial of the U.S.A. West Province of the Society of Jesus, said Nov. 9. “Such transparency is important to support victims in their healing and to rebuild trust in the Church.”

He said the province will release the names of Jesuits credibly accused of sex abuse since 1950. The list is presently being compiled and is planned for a Dec. 7 release. The province will also engage an external review to ensure the completeness of the list and to ensure that previous allegations were handled properly.

“If the review identifies additional names of Jesuits with credible allegations of abuse, we will release those names as well,” he said.

The Portland, Ore.-based province presently has 484 Jesuits, a spokesperson for the West Province told CNA. Its priests and brothers serve throughout the U.S. and abroad.

Its territory includes the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. The province was created in a 2017 merger of the California and Oregon provinces.

“On behalf of the Society of Jesus, I apologize to victims and their families,” Santarosa continued. “There is no greater betrayal of pastoral care than the abuse of a minor by someone with a sacred duty to protect and care for the People of God.”

Santarosa said the Church in the U.S. has been “reeling” since the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report. That report named 300 priests from six dioceses who had been credibly accused of sex abuse of 1,000 children and underage teens going back decades.

Saying that the Catholic Church in the U.S. has since undergone “significant reform,” he added, “we are now called to deepen that reform by becoming more transparent.” He said the Jesuit province hopes that issuing the list of accused clergy and religious and calling for an independent review will offer victims and their families “a step forward in the healing process.”

“Since 2002, Jesuits have enforced stringent policies to ensure the safety of minors,” Santarosa said. He encouraged anyone who has felt victimized by a Jesuit to contact both the province’s victim advocacy coordinator and the appropriate law enforcement and child protection agencies.
“I ask you to pray for the victims of abuse and for our Church,” Santarosa concluded. “May we find in this moment the courage to move forward with integrity, transparency and accountability.”

Santarosa said his conversations with abuse survivors have been “moments of grace as I encounter people of courage and conviction, people who realize that although the Church has failed them, God never will.”

As of 2015, there were 2,325 members of the Society of Jesus in the U.S., a decline from 7,628 in 1970, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate reported in its Fall 2015 newsletter.

In February 2009 the Oregon Province filed for bankruptcy soon after 200 claims of sex abuse of primarily Alaskan children were pending or threatened against the province. Before filing for bankruptcy, the province had settled more than 200 claims for about $84 million, the Seattle Times reported.

At the time, the province had 235 Jesuit priests and brothers across Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington state.

In 2011 the province agreed to pay $166.1 million to about 500 abuse victims, many of whom were Native Americans or Alaska Natives, as part of its bankruptcy settlement. About two dozen of the victims were physically abused, while about 480 suffered sex abuse.

About $48.1 million of the settlement came from the Jesuits themselves, with the rest coming from insurance companies. About $6 million of that settlement was set aside for victims who could come forward in the future.

Worldwide, the Society of Jesus has about 17,000 priests and brothers worldwide. It is the largest men’s religious order in the Church. Their numbers peaked in 1965 at 36,000.

 

Archbishop Cordileone says Mass for San Francisco's deceased homeless

Tue, 11/13/2018 - 17:11

San Francisco, Calif., Nov 13, 2018 / 03:11 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Eight days after the feast of All Saints, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco said a Mass of the Dead for the homeless of the city, emphasizing the importance of remembering and praying for the deceased homeless.

“One of the greatest acts of charity we can perform is to pray for the eternal salvation of those who have gone before. That is what we are doing," said Martin Ford, social action coordinator of the Archdiocese of San Francisco's Office of Human Life and Dignity.

The Nov. 8 Mass was said at St. Patrick's parish in San Francisco. The collection taken during Mass was used to support the homeless ministry of Catholic Charities San Francisco.

According to the San Francisco Homeless Count and Survey 2017, there are more than 2,100 chronically homeless in this city. It is difficult to track the exact numbers of homeless deaths in the city, but the survey said mortality rates is four to nine times higher for those who are continuously homeless.

In his homily, Archbishop Cordileone connected the coming of winter and the passing of life. He spoke on the Second Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, noting its theme on the briefness of life and the journey to eternal life.

“There is a sense of things coming to an end and a passing into silence – the silence of winter – which reminds me of the silence of death. It’s a reminder to us of the end of life and how fleeting our life is in this world,” he said.

“This is what St. Paul is speaking about in this passage from his second letter to the Corinthians when he is comparing the body to a tent… This is a disturbingly accurate description of those who die in the streets; most of them don’t even have a literal tent.”

He recalled the nomadic lifestyle of the Israelites following the exodus. He said that similarly, the people of God are on a journey, which should be lived with charity.

“As long as we are in this world we are a people along a pilgrimage – a movement towards a goal that is eternity, our only true home. And, therefore, we must always keep our vision fixed on that ultimate destination that God created us for,” he said.

“How do we do that? [St. Paul] says, ‘for we must always appear before the judgement seat of Christ so that each one may receive recompense according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.’”

Archbishop Cordileone discussed Matthew 25's portrayal of the last judgement, saying, “This is where the corporal works of mercy come from, and it is certainly a reminder of our call to put these works of mercy into concrete action.”

The homeless also conduct works of mercy, he said, noting that if those with little may give charitably, then Christians who have more resources will be judged accordingly.

“We can think about how concrete acts of love and mercy are shown by our homeless brothers and sisters. They who have so much less than we have show mercy too. So we with so much more, how much more will we be held to a higher standard, when it comes to rendering an account to God for our lives in this world.”

He expressed hope that the Mass would assist the homeless “on their way to the eternal hope that is God’s kingdom of heaven” and would inspire the congregation to perform more acts of mercy.

“May this work of mercy please our Lord and may it inspire us to glorify God in our bodies through concrete acts of love and mercy, so that when it is our turn to make the passage of this life to the next and face our own final judgement, the great King of all the ages will give us a place with the sheep at his right hand.”

National Review Board offers suggestions for bishops' accountability

Tue, 11/13/2018 - 17:05

Baltimore, Md., Nov 13, 2018 / 03:05 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Speaking on Tuesday at the USCCB’s Fall General Assembly in Baltimore, Dr. Francesco Cesareo, chairman of the National Review Board, told those present that while efforts taken by the bishops to combat the sexual abuse crisis have been noticed, there is still much work to be done.

Although it was “regrettable” that the Vatican had canceled the planned vote on sex abuse reform measures, Cesareo said the National Review Board will continue to stand by their recommendations to the body of bishops.

“Your response to this crisis has been incomplete,” Cesareo said bluntly, pointing out that the secular media and authorities have filled in gaps when it comes to increased transparency and accountability for those in positions of authority. He said it was “shameful” that abuse had been hidden from the public and “allowed to fester” until it was uncovered by secular sources.

What’s worse, he added, was how many innocent people have suffered due to the “inaction and silence” of some of those present. Bishops “must put the victim first when allegations come forward,” he said. “How many souls have been lost because of this crisis?”

Like Apostolic Nuncio Christophe Pierre, who addressed the USCCB on Monday, Cesareo did not mince words when describing how the bishops have betrayed the trust of the faithful and would now have to work to regain that trust. Many Catholics are “angry and frustrated” and will not be satisfied with prayers, he explained.

“They seek action that signals a cultural change from the leadership of the Church,” he said. The bishops must “embrace the principles of openness and transparency” that were outlined in the Dallas Charter from 2002, and “come to terms with the past.” Until the bishops acknowledge the truth about what occurred, they will not be able to experience reconciliation, said Cesareo.

In terms of recommendations on what to do now, the National Review Board said that each diocese should, as soon as possible, review all files regarding clergy abuse allegations dating back to at least 1950. If it is possible, the dioceses should also share the results of this review with the public.

This process should result in a list of clergy who have faced a credible accusation of abuse against a minor or vulnerable adult, and an analysis of how their cases were handled by the bishop and their diocese. In order to increase credibility, Cesareo recommended that the laity be involved in some capacity in this investigation.

Cesareo acknowledged that many bishops have already gone through this process, either through a review of files or an investigation with the state’s attorney general. For this, Cesareo said he was “grateful for your proactive steps to restore credibility” and that this was a “true marks of the leadership the Church so desperately needs.”

Bishops must be accountable for failures within their dioceses, he said, pointing out that while plenty of priests have been punished for sexual abuse, “the accountability of bishops has never been fully addressed.” In order to address this accountability, Cesareo said there is a need to investigate allegations that concern bishops, as well as to enforce consequences among those who have “failed in their responsibility to protect the vulnerable.”

Currently, the National Review Board said they are “unaware of any mechanism” that the USCCB uses to enact consequences against culpable bishops as well as “any sense of meaningful fraternal correction.” Cesareo said that perhaps the USCCB could bar those bishops from membership and prohibit them from attending national meetings as a form of punishment.

In addition to these steps, Cesareo said that the Dallas Charter should be “revisited,” and that the audit process be strengthened. Bishops, he said, should also be included under the charter.

During a question-and-answer period after Cesareo’s presentation, numerous bishops came forward to ask questions or to share stories.

Notably, Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, suggested that the definition of “vulnerable adult” be expanded to include seminarians. That suggestion appeared to be well-received.

Earlier this year, O’Malley came under fire after it was shown that his secretary had ignored a letter of complaint against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick because the complaint concerned adult seminarians, not minors. O’Malley has since promised to update his policy regarding letters.

In his first public comments since his resignation was accepted by the pope, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Washington, recalled the bishops’ meeting in 2002, when the sexual abuse crisis in Boston was unfolding. That meeting, he recounted, considered by St. John Paul II as a “moment of purification,” for not only the bishops themselves, but for the institution of the Church.

And while Wuerl acknowledged that the bishops have come quite a ways since that time, they “still have a long way to go,” he said.

Wuerl offered praise for Cesareo’s points stressing the need for accountability and personal responsibility amongst the bishops.

“Sometimes we have to take personal responsibility, and we simply need to say, this needs to be done. Institutionally, it's easier. Personally, it's where that purification has to be a part of the process,” he said.

Reporting hotline for complaints against bishops debated at USCCB meeting

Tue, 11/13/2018 - 15:09

Baltimore, Md., Nov 13, 2018 / 01:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A third-party complaint hotline could solve a major problem in the Church when it comes to reporting abuse - namely, that there is currently no procedure in place for filing complaints against bishops, Archbishop Jose Gomez said at the USCCB meeting Tuesday.  

“With this new system we are trying to address a problem…(Catholics) have no clear avenue to report allegations or complaints against bishops,” Gomez said.

“With the 2002 charter, there is a clear avenue for making complaints against priests or deacons through a diocesan coordinator,” he said. “But in light of recent events, we are now talking about complaints against bishops.”

Gomez addressed the U.S. bishops gathered in Baltimore Nov. 12-14 for their fall meeting.

The reporting hotline was presented as a discussion item, as part of a presentation of four proposals intended to help with the reporting and handling of cases of sexual abuse against minors, and the sexual abuse or harassment of adults, by bishops.

When introducing the session, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo said the discussion was not meant to slight the authority of the Holy See, which has ordered the bishops to hold their final votes on such proposals until after a meeting at the Vatican in February. Rather, the bishops were merely discussing things in their immediate scope.

Those filing complaints are “understandably” concerned about how complaints against a bishop might be handled if they are filed directly to a diocese, Gomez said, and they may want to reach out to the U.S. nunciature or the pope himself, but not know how to do so.

The third party reporting system could help restore some trust and accountability regarding those complaints, Gomez said.

The hotline would receive complaints either through a toll-free phone number or online, in English or Spanish, and they could be filed anonymously, Gomez said. The person filing a complaint would be directed to a designated compliance official, and they would be given a tracking number so that they could follow the status of their claim.

The hotline would handle three kinds of complaints: those accusing bishops of sexual abuse of minors, those accusing bishops of the sexual abuse or harassment of adults, and those accusing bishops of mishandling complaints against other church leaders involving sexual abuse.

“All other kinds of complaints will be screened out,” Gomez said.

Gomez encouraged anyone with a criminal complaint to go to civil authorities, but said the hotline could help with the handling of harassment complaints, which are not always received by civil authorities.

Such reporting hotlines are already in place in many non-profits, including some dioceses, Gomez said. More resources and promotional information will be made available to the bishops once the hotline is ready to launch, he added.

Once the floor opened for questions and comments, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago reminded the bishops that they did make a commitment to apply the 2002 Dallas Charter to themselves when appropriate.  

“In cases of an allegation of sexual abuse of minors by bishops, we will apply the requirements of the Charter also to ourselves, respecting always Church law as it applies to bishops,” the Episcopal Commitment from 2002 reads.

“In such cases, the Metropolitan will be informed when an allegation has been made against a bishop (the senior suffragan bishop will be informed when an allegation has been made against a Metropolitan).”

Cupich noted that Cardinal Timothy Dolan followed this commitment in his handling of accusations of abuse against former cardinal Archbishop Theodore McCarrick.

“It’s important to remember that we have this commitment already in place, not to quibble with this provision here, but to call us to that kind of responsibility,” Cupich said.

Fielding further questions and comments from the bishops, Gomez clarified that the hotline would accept complaints from everyone, such as parents or teachers or lawyers, and not just from victims themselves.

The cost of the hotline would be about $8,500 per year, including a $2,500 set-up cost, he said.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn expressed concern that the complaints would only be made anonymously, to which Gomez responded that eventually, some victims would have to make their identities known, because “an anonymous complaint is not going to go anywhere.”

Bishop Donald Trautman, who served as Bishop of Erie, Pennsylvania from 1990 until his 2012 retirement, commented that he thought the third-party reporting system was “dangerous and unjust” because it would bring to the U.S. nuncio accusations that were “not investigated, not substantiated, not proven. That’s unjust.”

The bishops then broke for lunch before reconvening about more abuse-handling proposals in the afternoon.

'No words for depth of our anger' National Advisory Council tells US bishops

Tue, 11/13/2018 - 13:01

Baltimore, Md., Nov 13, 2018 / 11:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As the bishops of the United States continued their fall general assembly in Baltimore Tuesday, the leaders of the National Advisory Council delivered a report to the conference, telling bishops of the “depth of anger” felt by the council members over recent scandals.

The council meets ahead of the annual sessions of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to review and vote on the proposed action items to be put before the assembly, offering their opinion on the priorities of the conference.

The council chair, Fr. David Whitestone, delivered his report to the conference Nov. 13, telling them that the council session, held Sept. 6-9, came hard on the heels of the scandal of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report, and the release of the 11-page testimony of Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano.

It was, Whitestone said, a “unique” gathering, unlike any of their previous meetings.

“We are facing painful times as a Church, and this was reflected in our meeting,” he told the conference.

“The depth of anger, pain, and disappointment expressed by the members of the NAC cannot begin to be expressed adequately in words.”

The council is composed of 35 members chosen to reflect the profile of the Church in the United States, including lay people, religious, and clerics from across the country.

The bishops listened as they were told that while the anger of the council was a sign of love for the Church, the “sinful acts committed by priests and bishops, and then covered up or tolerated by bishops does grave harm to the Church.”

Whitestone said that there was an urgent need for the American bishops to show true repentance which “includes not only an acknowledgment of the precise nature of past sins, but a firm purpose of amendment.”

The NAC considered a range of action items intended for consideration by the USCCB members this week but, Whitestone said, the whole council abstained from voting on items unrelated to the abuse crisis - even when they would otherwise have strongly supported them.

This, the bishops heard, was “a way of expressing [the NAC’s] belief that there is no single issue more pressing than the crisis we are now experiencing.”

This crisis, Whitestone said, concerned both “the reality of sexual abuse” and “the lack of episcopal transparency and accountability.”

The members of the NAC broadly supported the proposed plans which the bishops had intended to debate and vote upon in Baltimore, prior to Monday’s surprise intervention by the Congregation for Bishops which prevented the U.S. bishops from voting on either the proposed Standards for Episcopal Conduct or the creation of an independent commission for examining accusations made against bishops.

Whitestone expressed his disappointment that these action items had now become mere points for discussion. “These action items proposed concrete actions and not simply expressions of sorrow and vague promises to do better in the future.”

NAC chair-elect, retired Air Force Colonel Anita Raines, told the conference that members had considered a recommendation that the 2002 Statement of Episcopal Commitment be updated and amended in the light of recent scandals but had rejected it unanimously, instead voting in favor of the proposed new standards of conduct, noting that deacons, priests, and lay people often had to sign similar pledges of right conduct as part of their employment in different roles and that bishops should be held to a higher standard.

Raines told the bishops that the NAC had voted unanimously in favor of a national audit of seminaries to investigate the extent of “predatory homosexual behavior.” Independent investigations into homosexual misconduct are underway at seminaries in Newark, Boston, and Philadelphia.

Finally, Raines said, that the council called for a full, independent investigation into Archbishop McCarrick, with the results being made public. This investigation, Raines said, should answer basic questions still unaddressed by the Church hierarchy, including what care was given to McCarrick’s alleged victims, who authorized and knew about settlements paid to victims, and what sanctions may have been imposed on Mccarrick and when.

Raines told the bishops that these basic steps were necessary for “restoring faith and trust in the episcopacy.”

Raines and Whitestone were given a standing ovation by the conference.

Tyler bishop: Our main job is to focus on salvation of souls

Tue, 11/13/2018 - 12:35

Baltimore, Md., Nov 13, 2018 / 10:35 am (CNA).- About three months after calling for an investigation into the claims made by former Apostolic Nuncio Carlo Vigano, Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas is not confident that the Vatican will ever properly investigate allegations outlined in the nuncio’s August letter.

In an interview with CNA on Monday at the USCCB’s Fall General Assembly in Baltimore, Md., Strickland also expressed concerns that bishops of late have strayed from their “basic mission” as the shepherd of souls.

Vigano, former nuncio to the U.S., released a testimony in August which claimed that Pope Francis had removed restrictions on Archbishop Theodore McCarrick that had been imposed by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals in July of this year, following a series of public allegations against him concerning the sexual abuse of minors, seminarians, and priests. The dioceses of Newark and Metuchen subsequently confirmed they had previously reached two out-of-court-settlements with adult accusers.

Regarding the Vatican’s pledge to investigate Vigano’s various claims, Strickland told CNA he is concerned that the investigation is going far too slowly.

“I've worked in the tribunal for years, I've studied canon law,” he said. “We used to always say working in the tribunal, 'justice delayed is justice denied,' so that's my thought. It's just taking too long.”

Strickland told CNA that he is not entirely sure what was causing this delay, but he did acknowledge that Americans are generally accustomed to investigations happening quickly, while Europeans often have a more relaxed mindset.

When asked if he believed anything could be done to get Rome to speed up the investigation, Strickland was skeptical. He told CNA that while he accepts that it is up to Rome to deal with Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, he believes that the Church in the United States should do its own investigation into his alleged crimes and learn from what they uncover.

“There’s got to be files. He’s an American. I mean, his whole priesthood has been in the United States,” said Strickland.

“I would say, let’s help Rome, and have our own investigation, and do what we can. Certainly, we can.”

The delay in the investigation into McCarrick is a sign of deeper issues within the Church, Strickland said. He told CNA that he was “disappointed” thus far with how things have been handled. He described the lack of a proper investigation as an “illustration that the same machinery that caused the whole McCarrick mess, still functions--or doesn't.”

“It's that same kind of machine that allowed him to move through the ranks doing all this stuff and just sort of side-tracking the moral issues,” he said. He blamed this “machine” for slowing down the investigation into uncovering what exactly McCarrick did.

The Vigano letter, he said, has “sort of pulled the curtain back” on deeper issues within the Church--namely, moral decay amongst the clergy and the Church as a whole.

Strickland said he believes the issues regarding McCarrick, Vigano, and the lack of any real investigation into either can be traced to what he describes as a drifting away from the main job of a bishop: a need to promote the salvation of souls.

“We need to worry about the salvation of Theodore McCarrick's soul, as bishops,” he said.

“We need to be focused on the salvation of the victims and the abusers. That, to me, is the core issue.”

Strickland pointed to the events of the past summer, primarily the reaction to what he called the “Vigano question,” as proof that this primary concern has fallen out of focus among some of his brother bishops.

“All of what's happened this summer. It's ‘Oh, well, we've got to worry about global warming.’ That's not our job,” he said, in an apparent reference to comments made by Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, who in August dismissed the nuncio’s allegations as a “rabbit hole”, saying Pope Francis has a “bigger agenda” to worry about, including defending migrants and protecting the environment.

Strickland said that there is certainly a need for “good people, good laity,” working on various issues such as global warming, immigration, and general injustices in the world, noting that he’s on the board of a Catholic charity.

But he expressed concern that an overemphasis on these kinds of works is serving as a distraction from the ultimate call of a bishop: bringing people to holiness, promoting the sanctity of life, and “living the virtues.”

“I think we’ve got it flipped,” he said. “As bishops, our first job is the holiness of the people of God. The salvation of souls.”

In every situation he encounters as a bishop, Strickland said, he tries to consider how his actions may affect the salvation of souls.

Looking ahead to the future of the Church, Bishop Strickland said he believes there needs to be increased accountability among bishops, improvements in teaching the various facets of the faith - especially in terms of sexuality - continued state investigations into abuse, and reforms to ensure that seminarians will be protected throughout the formation process.

“We need to make sure that seminarians are not victimized,” he said, adding that a man who is called to seminary should not be at risk of “having his life destroyed by the people who are supposed to be forming him for the priesthood.”

One area where Strickland expressed confidence was in regards to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Although he said there are loopholes that need to be tightened, he is “fairly confident” that the appropriate steps to “revamp and strengthen” the charter will be taken.

As a bishop, however, there are responsibilities that go along with his roles as a spiritual father and shepherd to a diocese, he told CNA. He cannot “just sit in a corner and go and pray” - during times of controversy and upheaval, he has to prioritize what he does first.

“I'm a shepherd. I've got sheep,” he said.

“And sheep are bleeding, and getting slaughtered, and wolves are attacking. We can't be worried about what color we're going to paint the barn...Deal with the most important (things) first, then get others to figure out the barn.”

 

 

As California fires continue to burn, Catholic Charities aids victims

Tue, 11/13/2018 - 05:01

Sacramento, Calif., Nov 13, 2018 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As wildfires continue to burn throughout the state of California, local Catholic Charities agencies are working with agencies in neighboring states to coordinate relief.

The so-called Camp Fire in Northern California has claimed 29 lives in the town of Paradise, and has destroyed nearly 6,500 homes, making it the most destructive wildfire in the state’s history. The fire is only a quarter contained, according to the New York Times, and the local sheriff announced Sunday that nearly 230 people were still missing.

At the same time, the Woolsey Fire west of Los Angeles has destroyed an estimated 370 structures and claimed two lives so far.

Matt Vaughan, director of communications for Catholic Charities of Northern Nevada (CCNN), told CNA that the agency is working to gather supplies for survivors of the fires. CCNN is headquartered in Reno, Nevada, which is approximately 160 miles east of Chico, California, one of the largest cities affected by the Camp Fire.

“We're trying to collect donations, which we will then send over, most likely to Chico,” Vaughan said.

“It sounds like they're asking for a lot of the donations to be sent there right now, just because some of the other areas are affected [by the fire]...We have been in contact with Catholic Charities in Sacramento,” he said.

“We're just really focusing on getting the really crucial, needed items over to the affected victims over there at this point...warm clothes, shoes, paper products, blankets and coats are among the most needed items right now. And that's really what we're asking the community to provide.”

Yvette Myers, Chief Program Officer for CCNN, said she hopes to hear from the agency in Sacramento soon, as well as from the national branch of Catholic Charities, about the best way to deliver supplies.

She said they are working jointly with a local organization to send trucks full of supplies to California, starting Nov. 16, and that they won’t know how big the truck will need to be until they begin receiving donations.

“We're waiting to hear back from Sacramento...about if it's a possibility that we bring trucks to them, where they're going to go. So it's kind of a waiting game right at the moment,” Meyers said.

“We're actually waiting to hear back from [Catholic Charities USA]...about what the plan is.”

“Their greatest needs are clothing, hygiene, blankets, coats; they can use anything, but that's what they're really asking for right now,” she said.

According to the Diocese of Reno, items that are donated that are not accepted by the donation centers in California will go to local St. Vincent’s Thrift Stores in Nevada.

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

Mon, 11/12/2018 - 19:17

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.

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

Mon, 11/12/2018 - 18:10

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?

Mon, 11/12/2018 - 18:09

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.  

__

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.

 

Missouri bishops release letter urging USCCB action on sex abuse crisis

Mon, 11/12/2018 - 17:22

St. Louis, Mo., Nov 12, 2018 / 03:22 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops of Missouri released a letter Monday expressing support for proposals meant to help address the sexual abuse crisis in the Church, shortly after the Holy See directed that the proposals not be voted on at the US bishops' general assembly this week.

“We must keep at the forefront the survivors of the horrendous evil that was perpetrated against children, minors, and seminarians, who suffered greatly and whose faith in the Church, in many cases, has been destroyed,” the Missouri bishops wrote.

“A culture of silence and cover-up by the hierarchy has brought the Church to this moment of crisis.”

The bishops released the letter Nov. 12. It was dated Oct. 6 and was addressed to Bishop Timothy Doherty of Lafayette in Indiana, chairman of the US bishops' Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People. An enclosed statement was also released.

Earlier in the day, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the US bishops' conference, had announced that the the American bishops would not yet be voting on two of the proposals, at the instructions of the Congregation for Bishops.

These items include a new code of conduct for bishops, and the creation of a lay-led body to investigate bishops accused of misconduct.

In their letter, the Missouri bishops wrote that they hoped their statement could help to provide direction for the fall general assembly, taking place in Baltimore Nov. 12-14.

While supporting the action items which were to have been voted on, the Missouri bishop had said, “we fear these measures will not be enough in either substance or timeliness to meet the demands that this pastoral crisis presents.”

“We must pay attention to that which threatens our communion with one another. Transparency, accountability, and genuine reform in the way in which the Church handles issues of abuse of power by the hierarchy are required,” they wrote.

In the letter the bishops expressed support for the establishment of a third-party hotline for complaints of sexual abuse by a bishop; the development of policies to restrict bishops who have been removed or resigned because of allegations; and a full investigation of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, with “competent laity” given access to “appropriate files held by the Holy See” as well as the relevant chanceries.

“We bishops need to publicly renew our commitment to utilizing the charisms of the laity in our exercise of pastoral governance as bishops,” they wrote.

“We cannot solve this crisis on our own. We need the laity to help us.”

McCarrick was able to perpetrate years of sexual abuse against seminarians while operating at the highest level of the Church in the United States. The bishops said many believe “there has been a breach of trust between the Church in the United States and the Holy See over the Archbishop McCarrick scandal and the consequent refusal to take immediate action for those reponsible. This breach of trust is already catastrophic and endagers the very communion of the Church.”

They noted that the Church's credibility “has already been seriously damaged by a persistent silence and inaction over many decades,” and said that the “immediate acceptance of resignations from all hierarchs who voluntarily resign because of their complicit action or inaction in the Archbishop McCarrick scandal would regain credibility and trust.”

“On behalf of our people, we recommend a complete and transparent investigation into Archbishop McCarrick’s advancement in responsibilities and how he continued to function as a Cardinal when his misconduct with seminarians and others was known,” the bishops wrote.

In addition, the bishops endorsed a revision of the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People to include measures to hold bishops accountable.

They also called on all diocese and eparchies, as well as religious institutes, societies of apostolic life, and secular institutes to release all known names of clerics credibly accused of abusing a minor.

Robert Carlson of St. Louis and his auxiliary and Mark Rivituso, W. Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, James Johnston of Kansas City-St. Joseph, and Edward Rice of Springfield-Cape Girardeau all signed the letter.

Abuse victims challenge US bishops to confront problems

Mon, 11/12/2018 - 15:26

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2018 / 01:26 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Two victims of clerical sexual abuse addressed members of the US bishops’ conference Monday and shared how the bishops' action, or inaction, on the abuse crisis has shaped their lives.

Teresa Pitt Green, who identified herself a survivor of childhood sexual abuse by multiple priests, spoke first. She detailed how the abuse she suffered led her to leave the Church, but she has since returned as she believes steps have been taken better to ensure child safety.

“My story is only one story, and my healing is only one healing,” she said Nov. 12. She considers herself to be one of the “lucky ones,” as her family stood by her after she revealed her abuse. Despite this, she said her family was “bruised” by her abuse and suffered deeply as a result.

Abuse victims are portrayed as the “damaged goods of our age,” and often suffer from drug addictions, problems with relationships, and other mental health issues, she said.

Green did, however, offer praise for the work done by the bishops in order to ensure that Catholic environments are safe for children. She noted that while child sexual abuse continues today, it is “very unlikely” that the abuse is occurring in Catholic institutions.

“I’m not saying there’s not enormous improvements, but I’m saying you’ve permitted me to come back to the Church,” she said.

"From the bottom of my heart, I can't thank you enough."

Green said that her heart was “full of forgiveness,” and that her heart was full as she had found her savior in the Lord. Even after doing 12-step programs, reading self-help books, and attending therapy sessions, she found the she still needed a savior.

She was, however, extremely critical of some of the bishops present, saying that “the Lord has cried more tears on his cross because of some decisions that some of you have made.”

“I don’t know how you bear it. My heart breaks. And I will continue to pray for you,” she added.

Luis A. Torres, Jr., a victim of clerical sexual abuse as a teen, spoke after Green. Torres, a native of Brooklyn, is a former altar boy, and said that he “truly experienced God’s love” in his early life. He attended Catholic schools, and that he “was always surrounded by the most wonderful, giving, holy people.”

These people were “deserving of my trust. Except for my abuser.”

The priest who abused him acted in a manner that was “inconsistent with everything I have learned about God.”

While many abuse survivors turn to drugs or other forms of self-medication, Torres instead pursued higher education and law school. He said these accomplishments served as a sort of “armor” against his feelings of pain from being abused.

“Abuse of a child is the closest that you can get to murder and still possibly have a breathing body,” he said. Abuse, especially from a trusted figure, “mortally wound(s) the spirit and soul of that child,” especially if the abuser is a priest.

Torres took a more critical look on the status quo of the Church than Green, saying that he believed that “the heart of the Church is broken, and (the bishops) need to fix this, now.” He was critical at how the Church sometimes views victims of abuse as “money grubbers” or people out to cause trouble.

“We need to do better,” he said, adding that abuse survivors should not be viewed as “adversaries,” “liabilities,” or even “scary.”

The words and actions of the bishop have caused victims harm, he said, and have helped to drive them from the Church. He said that he expected “better” from the bishops, and that he still expects them to behave better.

What the Church needs now, Torres said, was for the bishops to work to inspire Catholics with their action, “which is needed right now,” and not in the coming months.

He reminded the bishops that their initial calling was not to be a CEO or an administrator, or prince, but rather to be a priest. He implored them to “be the priests that you were called to be.”

“Please, act now, be better.”

Cardinal DiNardo: Vatican directive came from Congregation for Bishops

Mon, 11/12/2018 - 15:00

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2018 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The directive not to vote on the proposals which had been expected to form the basis for the response of the Church in the US to the sexual abuse crisis came from the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said Monday.

The president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops was speaking at the first press conference held at the bishops' autumn General Assembly in Baltimore Nov. 12.

He indicated that the directive came not from Pope Francis, but directly from the Congregation for Bishops.

Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, who spoke at the press conference, told CNA that he did not know whether the American members of the congregation played a role in the decision.

The American members of the Congregation for Bishops are Cardinals Blase Cupich of Chicago, and Donald Wuerl, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington.

A source close to Wuerl told CNA that he did not believe the cardinal had been involved in the decision.

DiNardo had announced the decision earlier in the day to “a visibly surprised conference hall.”

DiNardo said that the Holy See insisted that consideration of a code of conduct for bishops and a lay-led body to investigate bishops accused of misconduct be delayed until the conclusion of a special meeting called by Pope Francis for February.


Coyne told CNA that the bishops would also suspend their vote on establishing a third-party reporting system for complaints about episcopal conduct.

The Congregation for Bishops asked for the delay so that bishops around the world can be “on the same page,” and learning from each other, the bishops said. The importance of further precision in canon law was also raised.

Joining DiNardo and Coyne at the press conference was Bishop Timothy Doherty of Lafayette in Indiana.

Dinardo said he found Rome's decision to be “quizzical,” and suspected the Congregation for Bishops thought the US bishops might be moving too quickly.

“I'm wondering if they could turn the synodality back on us. My first reaction was, this didn't seem so synodical; but maybe the Americans weren't acting so synodically either. But it was quizzical to me, when I saw it.”

DiNardo said the bishops have not lessened their resolve for action, and that they are not pleased by the Holy See's decision. He indicated that they will continue to push for action on the sex abuse crisis: “we're disappointed, because we're moving along on this.”

Speaking to how Catholics can trust their leaders, he asked that they retain faith in the bishops' commitment to reform, watching their efforts. He acknowledged that people have a right to scepticism, but also to hope.

The cardinal said he had proposed an apostolic visitation to deal with the problem, but that Rome had disagreed with that approach.

While acknowledging their disappointment in the decision from Rome, the bishops also spoke of the importance of their own obedience. DiNardo said they were responsible to be attentive to the Holy Father and his congregations, and Bishop Coyne said bishops are by nature collegial, “so when the Holy See asks us to work in collegiality, that's what we do.”

Apostolic Nuncio: Bishops need to regain trust of their faithful

Mon, 11/12/2018 - 10:52

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2018 / 08:52 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishops in the United States need to work hard to regain the trust of their flocks and combat a culture of clericalism, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, told those present at the USCCB’s Fall General Assembly in Baltimore, Md.

After acknowledging that the past year has been “challenging and sobering,” Pierre spoke sternly to his brother bishops and told them that they need to accept their responsibility as “spiritual fathers” of their dioceses.

While the Church is “always” in need of renewal, Pierre said that that this task will be impossible without rebuilding the trust of their community. It is a task that demands time, effort sacrifice, and reform on the part of the bishop.

“The only way of reforming the Church is to suffer for her,” he said, and this reform needs to come from the mission of the Church. In creating reform, bishops must show that they are capable of solving problems that are placed before them, “rather than simply delegating them to others.”

Bishops, he sad, have a “special responsibility” to strengthen the faith of others, especially when presented with these challenges.

“The people of God have rightly challenged us to be trustworthy,” he said.  

“Pope Francis never ceases to tell us that if we are to begin again, then we should begin again from Jesus Christ, who lightens our lives and helps us to prove that we can be trustworthy.”

Despite admonishing the bishops for betraying the trust of the faithful, he also offered praise for certain aspects of their work.

Pierre voiced approval for the bishops’ efforts in creating sanctions and rules for the protection of children and vulnerable adults. There is, however, always more that can be done, and bishops should not be afraid to “get their hands dirty” and remain vigilant in this work.

“Those of you who have done good work have to be congratulated for your commitment as leaders, and for setting a good example for us all,” he said, noting that one case of clerical sex abuse is one too many.

He also praised the media for their work in reporting the abuse crisis, reminding the bishops not to shoot the messenger, so to speak, when it comes to these stories, regardless of how “painful and humiliating” they may be.

As a way to regain the trust of the faith, bishops need to work on fighting back against a culture that promotes clericalism and one that tolerates the abuse of authority, he said. These sins are not those of the media, nor are they “products of conspiracies,” he said. Rather, they are for the Church to confront head-on.

“These are things we must recognize and fix,” he said, starting from the beginning of the priesthood formation process in the seminaries. Those who are selected for the seminary must be properly screened, and he encouraged the bishops to spend time talking to young people and hearing their concerns.

Bishops “cannot run from the challenges that present and confront us,” he said, but instead need to have “open hearts” and hear the concerns of the faithful.

“Even if things seem dark, do not be discouraged. Have hope. [Christ] is with us, and He accompanies the Church,” he said.

Cardinal DiNardo to US bishops: Avoid despair, presumption in addressing abuse crisis

Mon, 11/12/2018 - 10:34

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2018 / 08:34 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Daniel DiNardo opened the fall assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) with a speech calling for bishops to avoid the two temptations of “despair and presumption” as they address the sexual abuse scandals facing the Church.

In his opening speech, given as president of the USCCB, DiNardo said that the Church must rely on “trusty faith,” and “living memory” as it seeks to support victims of abuse and to reassure the faithful.

DiNardo’s address was clearly amended to account for the surprise announcement that the Holy See had blocked the bishops from voting on two key proposals.

Shortly before his speech, the cardinal told the hall that he had been instructed by Rome that the U.S. bishops were not to vote on a proposed new set of standards for episcopal conduct or on the creation of a new lay-led body to investigate episcopal misconduct. Instead, the American bishops have been told to wait until after a special meeting of the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences called by Pope Francis for February.

Despite the sudden change to the conference agenda, DiNardo said that the American bishops take the abuse crisis seriously.

“We remain committed to the program of episcopal accountability. Votes will not take place, but we will move forward,” DiNardo told attendees.

Addressing survivors in the first person, the Archbishop of Galveston-Houston said, “I am deeply sorry.”

“In our weakness we fell asleep,” he said, while calling for a renewed vigilance, both against abuse and against paralysis in the face of recent scandals.

Despair, he said, must yield to the knowledge that the Church “has always been and will always be the body of Christ” which the bishops are called to serve as members.

On the other hand, DiNardo also warned against presuming that the current crisis would just “blow over” or worse, was a crisis of the past not the present. While noting that many of the recent scandals concerned cases of abuse from past decades, he said that the Church could not presume that victims should “heal on our timeline.”

Progress has been made, DiNardo told the bishops, but they must remain “willing but also ready to ask forgiveness” of victims, survivors and the faithful. Bringing healing to the sexual abuse crisis will require “all our spiritual and physical resources”

“It is only after listening that we can carry out the changes needed,” DiNardo said, ending with a plea to the bishops that the conference proceed untied in humility.

“Let us submit to the Holy father and to each other in a spirit of fraternal correction,” he said.

“Brothers, we have fallen into a place of great weakness. We must act right here and right now to better serve our sisters and brothers.”

“We can begin to clean and then to heal the lacerations in the body of Christ.”

 

Vatican cancels US bishops’ vote on sex abuse reform measures

Mon, 11/12/2018 - 09:57

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2018 / 07:57 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference has told the American bishops that they will not vote on two key proposals which had been expected to form the basis for the Church’s response to the sexual abuse crisis.

The news came at the beginning of the U.S. bishops’ conference fall general assembly, meeting in Baltimore Nov. 12-14.

The instruction to delay consideration of a new code of conduct for bishops and the creation of a lay-led body to investigate bishops accused of misconduct came directly from the Holy See, DiNardo told a visibly surprised conference hall.

DiNardo said that the Holy See insisted that consideration of the new measures be delayed until the conclusion of a special meeting called by Pope Francis for February. That meeting, which will include the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences, will address the global sexual abuse crisis.

Apologizing for the last minute change to the conference’s schedule, he said had only been told of the decision by Rome late yesterday.

Ahead of the bishops’ meeting, two documents had been circulated: a draft Standards of Conduct for bishops and a proposal to create a new special investigative commission to handle accusations made against bishops.

These proposals had been considered to be the bishops’ best chance to produce a substantive result during the meeting, and signal to the American faithful that they were taking firm action in the face of a series of scandals which have rocked the Church in the United States over recent months.

Speaking before the conference session had even been called to order, DiNardo told the bishops he was clearly “disappointed” with Rome’s decision. The cardinal said that, despite the unexpected intervention by Rome, he was hopeful that the Vatican meeting would prove fruitful and that its deliberations would help improve the American bishops’ eventual measures.

While DiNardo was still speaking, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago intervened from the floor, expressing his support for the pope.  

“It is clear the the Holy See is taking the abuse crisis seriously,” Cupich said.

At the same time, he suggested that the work which had gone into preparing the two proposals should not go to waste.

Cupich suggested that if the conference could not take a binding vote, they should instead continue with their discussions and conclude with resolution ballot on the two measures. This, he said, would help best equip Cardinal DiNardo to present the thought of the American bishops during the February meeting, where he will represent the U.S. bishops’ conference.

“We need to be very clear with [DiNardo] where we stand, and be clear with our people where we stand,” Cupich said.

While acknowledging that the February meeting was important, he noted that responding to the abuse crisis “is something we cannot delay, there is an urgency here.”

Cupich went on to propose moving forward the American bishops’ next meeting, currently scheduled for June 2019. Instead, he suggested, the bishops should reconvene in March in order to act as soon as possible after the February session in Rome.

 

Sr Thea Bowman's cause for canonization could open at US bishops' meeting

Sun, 11/11/2018 - 18:01

Baltimore, Md., Nov 11, 2018 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Sr. Thea Bowman was the first African American woman to address the U.S. bishops' conference. Most likely, she was also the first person to get them to hold hands and sing and sway to a Negro Spiritual.

“We shall overcome,” she intoned at their 1988 spring meeting in her signature rich voice, before exhorting the bishops to join in with a hearty “Y’all get up!”

Sr. Thea, a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, a daughter of the Deep South and the granddaughter of a slave, was sick from battling cancer and confined to a wheelchair at the time.

But that didn’t stop the 51 year-old from doling out more instructions when the stiff group still wasn’t swaying to her satisfaction: “Cross your right hand over your left hand, you gotta move together to do that,” she said as the bishops crossed arms and held hands before continuing the song.

“See in the old days you had to tighten up so that when the bullets would come, so that when the tear gas would come, so that when the dogs would come, so that when the horses would come, so that when the tanks would come, brothers and sisters would not be separated from one another,” she told the bishops, referring to the days of the Civil Rights movement.

“And do you remember what they did with the bishops and the clergy in those old days? Where’d they put them? Right up in front. To lead the people in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the Church,” she said.

That keynote showcased Sr. Thea in her element – sharing her faith and love of God, urging racial awareness and reconciliation within the Catholic Church, joyfully belting out Gospel hymns and convincing everyone around her to join in.

Now, nearly 30 years after her death, Sr. Thea will once again feature at the U.S bishops' conference - but this time, they will be voting to approve the opening of her cause for canonization.

The precocious 'old folks child'

Sister Thea was born Bertha Bowman on December 29, 1937 in Yazoo City, Mississippi, the only daughter to her father, a family doctor, and her mother, an educator. The family resided in Canton, a town 30-some miles to the south and east of Yazoo City.

She was the granddaughter to slaves, and her maternal grandmother was a prominent educator in the area after whom the local school was named.

From an early age, Bertha self-identified as an “old folks child”, her parents having been middle-aged by the time she was born. She was doted on by aunts, uncles, and grandparents during her childhood. Her mother taught her to read, her father taught her some of the basics of First Aid.

One thing Bertha learned early on from the “old folks” in her life was what she would affectionately call “old time religion.” Her parents were Methodist, and the Bible belt town was full of active parishes of all Christian denominations.

In the book Sister Thea: Songs of my People, she recalled: “Many of the best (religion) teachers were not formally educated. But they knew scripture, and they believed the Living Word must be celebrated and shared...Their teachings were simple. Their teachings were sound,” she said. “Their methodologies were such that, without effort, I remember their teachings today.”

The religious vitality of her surroundings sent the young Bertha on her own “spiritual quest” of sorts, and she sat in on religious services at many of the different churches in town. At the Catholic Church, she was one of just a few black people there, relegated at the time to the back pews.

Ultimately, it was the witness of the love and service of Catholic sisters, specifically the Franciscan order that she would eventually join, that convinced her to become Catholic at the young age of 9.

“Once I went to the Catholic Church, my wanderings ceased. I knew I had found that for which I had been seeking. Momma always says, God takes care of babies and fools,” she wrote in an autobiography in 1958.

By all accounts, her parents were supportive of the little convert, and enrolled her in Holy Child Catholic school following her conversion, where she became enthralled with the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration from Wisconsin who were serving there.

Besides her religious seeking, her heart for God also manifested itself in other ways, said Father Maurice Nutt, a Redemptorist priest and former student of Sr. Thea who is now the diocesan promoter of her cause for canonization.

“When lunchtime would come, she would notice children who didn’t have any food, and so she would take her lunch and she would give it to them. And they would say Bertha, don’t you want to eat? And she would say no, I’m not very hungry today,” he said.

“So her concern as a child was to feed the poor, she wanted to help those who were marginalized in any way.”

Her mother soon caught on that Bertha was coming home from school hungry, and so the two of them began making extra peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for Bertha to give to her friends at lunchtime.

“So you’re seeing from a very early age that this woman Thea Bowman walked with God, she was close to God, God was everything to her so she was his servant.”

Bertha becomes Thea

That strong sense of religiosity and wanting to serve others never left Bertha, and at the age of 15 she was determined to join the order of FSPA sisters that had taught at her school.

Her parents, neither yet Catholic, pleaded with her to reconsider, or to at least consider joining traditionally black orders of sisters that were much closer to home.

But the determined Bertha staged a hunger strike until her parents relented. She was accompanied by another sister on the long train ride to the FSPA motherhouse in La Crosse, Wisconsin with special permission to sit in the white passenger cars rather than in the baggage cars, as was mandated for blacks in the pre-civil rights movement days.

A couple years into formation, Bertha took the religious name of Thea, which she would have for the rest of her life.

Sister Rochelle Potaracke, FSPA, was a young sister at the time that Thea joined the convent in 1953.

She told CNA that she remembers Thea as a happy and energetic young postulant, who stuck out in the state of Wisconsin, where very few black people lived at the time. Her blackness even made news in the local Catholic paper that summer: “Negro Aspirant” read the headline.

“When I was growing up I never saw a black person, that was in the early '40s, and that’s the same for many areas I know,” Potaracke told CNA.

“But I think we accepted (Thea) very well. We loved her dearly, she fit right in with all of us, she always had her singing and her enthusiasm,” she said.

“But it must have been terribly hard for her. I think of it now, I didn’t think of it then. I didn’t think ‘Oh, the poor dear, but I think now it had to be a challenge for her, she was in a whole new almost different country so to speak.”

According to a biography, Thea’s Song, after the newness of the convent experience wore off, Thea experienced culture shock and blatant racism, within and without the convent walls.

Sister Helen Elsbernd, who went through formation with Thea at the FSPA motherhouse, said Sr. Thea didn’t mention anything to her fellow sisters about racial discrimination at the time.

“She didn’t talk about it. In the early years of formation she tried very hard to fit in with the culture here,” Elsbernd recalled.

Her first years as a sister were also challenging for another reason - in 1955, two years into formation, Thea was stricken with tuberculosis, and spent most of that year in the sanatorium.

“I marvel at her constant cheerfulness,” one sister wrote to Thea’s parents during her illness.

‘Black is beautiful’: Sr. Thea’s racial advocacy grows

Sr. Thea’s cheerful energy would remain her signature trait as her passionate advocacy for racial integration in the Catholic Church began to further develop.

Potaracke, who spent time studying with Sr. Thea during graduate school at Catholic University of America, said that for years, the sisters had been going to school at CUA, where they were simply known as the Franciscan sisters from Wisconsin.

That changed when Sr. Thea came on the scene. Early into their days at CUA, Sr. Thea and her fellow sisters attended a student event, during which Thea leapt up to tell her story as a young black woman growing up in the South.

“Thea could just grab an audience any time she wanted, she could just spark life into the group that was in front of her,” Potaracke recalled.

“She started singing these songs and everyone was clapping and dancing and jumping around. And after that time we were no longer the FSPA’s, it was oh - you’re Sister Thea’s group. I point that out because that’s the impression she made on people,” she said.

As a CUA student, Sr. Thea helped to found the National Black Sisters Conference and became a noted public speaker and advocate for African Americans in the Church. She advocated for encounter between white and non-white Catholics, for increased representation in Church leadership for non-whites, and for an embrace of music and traditions from different cultures into the Church.

As her racial advocacy grew, one of Sr. Thea’s signature phrases became “black is beautiful.”
“‘Black is beautiful,’ that’s what she would say all the time,” said Potaracke.

It was a phrase that came from Thea’s mother, who had tried to teach her from an early age to handle the racial discrimination that she experienced with love rather than hate.

“Her mother always said that she had to be honest and good to people. Her mother said: ‘You can’t hate, because if you hate you will become like the people you want to hate. Remember, black is beautiful.’”

An impressive scholar, Sr. Thea would eventually get her doctorate in English, and spent several years teaching at Viterbo College in La Crosse, which was staffed by many FSPA sisters. During her time there, she formed singing groups of African American students who became popular throughout the area, Elsbernd said.

In 1978, Sr. Thea moved back to Mississippi, to help her aging parents and to serve in outreach ministry to non-white communities for the Diocese of Jackson. During this time, she continued to expand her speaking and singing ministries, and travelled extensively to give talks nationally and internationally about the importance of racial awareness and acceptance in the Church.

In 1980, she helped to found the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University in New Orleans, where she taught until nearly the end of her life. It was during that time that Fr. Maurice Nutt met Sr. Thea at a conference for black Catholic clergy and religious, at which Sr. Thea was the speaker.

“I was so impressed by her. No one really meets Sr. Thea, they encounter her,” Nutt said.

Her talk was the first time that Nutt really considered what it meant to be black and Catholic, and the unique gifts that the black community could bring to the Church, he said.

“It was a cathartic moment for me, because she really enabled me to bring my very best self, my African American self, to the Church, to give my life in service to the Church,” Nutt recalled.

He was so moved by her that he joined the next cohort at the Institute.

“She would always say that we are an integral part of the Church, that as African American Catholics, we have gifts to share, we have our spirituality, we have our witness of struggle and suffering. We have the joy of knowing Jesus even in times of sorrow,” he said.

“And so what she taught me was to bring my gifts to the Church. She taught me to be very intentional in my expression of spirituality, to share what it means to be black and Catholic, that we should not hide those gifts, but that there’s a mutuality, that integration means that you have something to share but I also have something to share.”

Nutt remembers Sr. Thea as a brilliant teacher who demanded excellence, but also as a warm and caring woman who embraced her students as her own children.

“Thea became my spiritual mother, and I became her spiritual son, and she would call me son,” Nutt said. “She would say that the seminarians she encouraged, she said ‘These are the sons that I give to the Church.’ And I am so grateful that I was counted in that number.”

In 1984, Sr. Thea’s parents died within months of each other. Not long after, she received a diagnosis of breast cancer.

“That was crushing,” Nutt said. “She was the only child of this elderly couple, it seemed like her whole world had fallen apart, and then she received the challenge of cancer.”

While many would be tempted to give up, Sr. Thea made a decision: “I’m going to live until I die,” she said.

And she did. She kept up her speaking engagements and outreach ministry at full-bore. She recorded songs and helped compile the African American hymnal “Lead Me, Guide Me”, gave numerous biographical interviews including a “60 Minutes” segment, and spoke to the U.S. bishops in 1989.

“We as Church walk together,” she told the bishops. “Don’t let nobody separate you, that’s one thing black folks can teach you, don’t let folks divide you. The Church teaches us that the Church is a family, a family of families, and a family that can stay together. And we know that if we do stay together...if we walk and talk and work and play and stand together in Jesus’ name we’ll be who we say we are, truly Catholic. And we shall overcome - overcome the poverty, overcome the loneliness, overcome the alienation, and build together a holy city, a new Jerusalem, a city set apart where...we love one another.”

While she was sick, Nutt said Sr. Thea would pray “that God will heal my body. If God will heal my body, I’ll say thank you Lord. But I also know that if God doesn't give me what I ask of him, God will give me something better.”

And on March 30, 1990, “that something better was to call her home,” Nutt said.

The legacy of Sr. Thea

Nutt said he thinks Sr. Thea will be remembered for her passionate advocacy on behalf of blacks and other minorities in the Church.

“She spoke about the fact that African American Catholics, we have a deep and abiding history. She told the history that we come from the Ethiopian eunuch, we come from Simon of Cyrene...that we are not late in joining the Church but that people of African descent have been there from the early days of Catholicism, and that this is our home,” he said.

Potaracke said she remembers Thea as a warm woman who had a strong sense of self and wasn’t afraid to advocate for herself and others.

“She was a spark, and she spoke her voice, if she didn’t like something she said it strong and clear, no matter what meeting you were at, she would speak her voice,” Potaracke said.

“It was her inner belief that she was a beautiful woman, that she had a place in this world, and that she was going to go out and change the people she met, and she did. Whether you were penniless or whether you were the wealthiest person, she just had lots of friends in every corner of the world.”

He said he believed she would also be remembered for her love of God, from which flowed her joy and love for others.

“You knew in her midst that you were in the presence of someone extremely special, who had a deep connection with God. Thea said she grew up in a world where God was so alive, and she shared that joy with everyone, that God is real, that God is love, that God is alive, and anyone who met her experienced the presence of God,” he said.

As for Sr. Thea herself, she once said that she wanted to be remembered simply as someone who tried.

“Think of all the great things she did, and she simply said: I want to be remembered as someone who tried. She said she wanted on her tombstone: ‘She tried,’” Nutt said.

“That speaks of her humility. That speaks of her love for God and that she never proclaimed herself to be holy or righteous. She was a disciple of Jesus Christ who tried to love one another, to love other people, to try to lift her service to God and the Church.”

Nutt encouraged Catholics to ask for Sr. Thea’s intercession as her cause gets underway.

“I would encourage people to seek her intercession, especially if they’re struggling with their faith, if they’re struggling with family issues. I would encourage students to pray to her when they’re taking tests, I would also say anyone battling cancer of any kind to seek her encouragement, to seek her inspiration, as they journey through their battle with cancer.”

As is customary, when a bishop begins the preliminary phases of someone’s cause for canonization, the cause must be put to a vote of the U.S. bishop’s conference. At their meeting Nov. 12-14, the bishops are expected to endorse the opening of the cause of Sr. Thea Bowman, which is being overseen by Bishop Joseph Kopacz of Jackson.

After 100 years, US Catholicism still bears the stamp of World War I

Sun, 11/11/2018 - 05:14

Washington D.C., Nov 11, 2018 / 03:14 am (CNA).- A century after the close of World War I, the war has faded from living memory. But its effects endure.

President Woodrow Wilson had campaigned for re-election on a promise he would keep the country out of war. But subsequent events, including the discovery of a German telegram promising American territory to Mexico in the event of war, led to the U.S. entry into war in April 6, 1917.

The country of barely 100 million people joined a conflict involving 15 other countries. The war witnessed the fall of long-standing governments, took 8.5 million lives and wounded over 21 million in combat alone, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Justice. American casualties numbered 53,000 killed in battle and 200,000 wounded.

Days after U.S. entry into war, Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore wrote to Wilson, pledging that the bishops and Catholics as a whole were ready “to cooperate in every way possible with our president and our national government, to the end that the great and holy cause of liberty may triumph, and that our beloved country may emerge from this hour of test stronger and nobler than ever.”

“Our people, now as ever, will rise as one man to serve the nation,” the cardinal said in an April 18, 1917 letter.

American Catholic reaction to the war came in a time when Catholics were still a patchwork of immigrant groups, themselves divided in attitudes towards assimilation, ethnicity, and their lands of origin.

“Before the war, and especially before the turn of the century, the hierarchy of the American Catholic Church was dominated by Irish bishops, but the parishes were often drawn up along ethnic lines,” Matthew J. O’Brien, a history professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville, told CNA. “But in the years leading up to the war, a number of...bishops tried to curtail ethnic parishes in favor of territorial parishes, trying to foster greater assimilation into American society.”

“After the declaration of war in 1917, more Catholics stressed their military service rather than question the war effort, although there were ethnic newspapers that lost their mailing licenses during wartime for charges of sedition,” he added. “The effect of sedition laws was more indirect than direct, but they contributed to the overall pressure for Catholic Americans to ‘keep their heads down’.”

Other Catholics served with great prominence, such as the U.S. Army regiment known as the Fighting 69th. Part the historic Irish Brigade under the New York Army National Guard, it was still disproportionately Irish at the time of the war. The regiment was federalized and sent to Europe as the 165th Infantry Regiment.

The Catholic convert and poet Joyce Kilmer was a member of the regiment. His poetry featured deep piety, and at least one poem, “Trees,” still endures in popular memory: “Poems are made by fools like me / But only God can make a tree.”

At the age of 31, on July 30, 1918, he was killed by a sniper at the Second Battle of the Marne.

The week of heavy action killed or wounded half the men of the regiment.

The division’s chaplain, the Canadian-born Father Francis Duffy of the Archdiocese of New York, was responsible for boosting the morale of the soldiers and comforting the wounded in hospitals. As a Catholic priest, he would say Mass and move through the trenches after an artillery bombardment to give last rites to the dying.

Another of his primary duties as a chaplain was to bury the dead.

“I knew these men so well and loved them as if they were my younger brothers. It has been the saddest day of my life. Well, it is the last act of love I can do for them and for the folks at home,” he said in his diary at the conclusion of one battle, according to the New York archdiocese archives’ exhibit “The Great War and Catholic Memory.”

When the division learned of the armistice two days late, on Nov. 13, 1918, the troops celebrated. But the priest recorded in his diary: “I could think of nothing except the fine lads who had come out with us to this war and who are not alive to enjoy the triumph. All day I had a lonely and aching heart.”

Kilmer and Duffy served with another Catholic who would rise to prominence: William “Wild Bill” Donovan. Donovan would receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for his wartime service, and during the Second World War he would head the Office of Strategic Services, the U.S. covert agency that was predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency.

The Fighting 69th became “the best-known face of Catholic soldiers in the U.S. Army,” O’Brien said. “Although they were linked by an overarching Irish-American imagery, they also proudly included Catholics from other ethnic backgrounds and Jewish-Americans as well.”

Its image became “iconic” due to the 1940 movie of the same name, which according to O’Brien had a “strong message of ethnic pluralism.”

As for Duffy, his influence would continue. He was a ghost writer for New York Gov. Al Smith during controversy over whether the Democratic presidential candidate’s Catholic faith would interfere with his ability to be president. Since 1937, five years after his death, his statue has stood in Duffy Square in the northern triangle of New York’s Times Square. It shows a priest standing before a 17-foot tall Celtic Cross.

At a time when Catholic bishops avoided forming national organizations, it was during World War I when the U.S. bishops organized the unprecedented National Catholic War Council, a forerunner to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. In the 1920s the council, whose name had been changed to the National Catholic Welfare Council, proved an important platform for many programs and causes. It led the national response to an attempt to ban Catholic schools in Oregon backed by the anti-Catholic Ku Klux Klan and the Scottish Rite Masons.

This council also proved to be the seedbed for future leaders like Msgr. John A. Ryan, who was “strongly influenced by the social justice message of Rerum Novarum,” the encyclical of Pope Leo XIII, O’Brien said. Ryan would play an important role in the Roosevelt administration and was a counterweight to the polemical populist “Radio Priest” Father Charles Coughlin, who turned towards anti-Semitism and fascism during the 1930s.

But during World War I, it was anti-German sentiment that ran high. Many German-Americans were Catholic.

“German communities often toned down their ethnic displays, especially in the Midwest,” O’Brien said. “The number of German-language newspapers in cities like Milwaukee dropped precipitously, and some school districts actually stopped offering German as a language elective for high-school students.”

“In some ways, World War I left many Catholics in a vulnerable position,” O’Brien said. “The two largest ethnic groups who opposed the American entry into the war were German and Irish Americans, both of whom drew the ire of President Woodrow Wilson. Pope Benedict XV’s call for a negotiated peace also prompted some Americans to question whether the Pope secretly favored the Central Powers (although there is no evidence for this).”

The war’s Catholic critics have had little prominence in history, but their lives too are being revisited. Benjamin Salmon, one of the few Catholic conscientious objectors to the war who even declined a non-combatant role, was a strict foe of all war to the point where he seemed to reject Catholic just war theory.

His writings against the war were censored by the U.S. Post Office. The New York Times claimed he was a suspected spy, and other newspapers ridiculed him as a coward and a slacker. He was convicted in a civilian court, then convicted in a military court despite never being inducted as a soldier.

Salmon was initially sentenced to death, with his sentenced later reduced. He spent a long period in solitary confinement and his 135-day hunger strike resulted in forced feeding.

Finally released after a pardon in 1920, he had to move to Chicago with his wife and son to avoid animosity in Denver. He continued to be a devout Catholic, with a son and a daughter entering the priesthood and religious life, respectively. Some of his devotees asked the Archdiocese of Denver to consider opening his canonization cause in 2015, the Denver Post reported.

Men and women who sought to support the war effort included the Knights of Columbus, whose members provided relief work staff and helped raise more than $14 million for recreation centers for soldiers stationed in Europe.

After the war Cardinal Gibbons’ Sept. 26, 1919 pastoral letter to U.S. Catholics, praised their demonstration of “traditional patriotism” and their devotion to “the cause of American freedom” in wartime.

He also reflected on the “spiritual suffering” of those involved in the war: sorrow, hopelessness and moral evil.

“For we may not forget that in all this strife of the peoples, in the loosening of passion and the seething of hate, sin abounded. Not the rights of man alone but the law of God was openly disregarded. And if we come before Him now in thankfulness, we must come with contrite hearts, in all humility beseeching Him that He continue His mercies toward us, and enable us so to order our human relations that we may both atone for our past transgressions and strengthen the bond of peace with a deeper charity for our fellow men and purer devotion to His service,” the cardinal wrote.

He said a spirit of “union and sacrifice for the commonweal… found its highest expression in the men and women who went to service in distant lands. To them, and especially those who died that America might live, we are forever indebted. Their triumph over self is the real victory, their loyalty the real honor of our nation, their fidelity to duty the bulwark of our freedom.”

“To such men and their memory, eulogy is at best a poor tribute,” he said. “We shall not render them their due nor show ourselves worthy to name them as our own, unless we inherit the spirit and make it the soul of our national life. The very monuments we raise in their honor will become a reproach to us, if we fail in those things of which they have left us such splendid example.”
 

 

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