Friday, August 30, 2013

A painful anniversary in India

John L. Allen, Jr.
National Catholic Reporter
August 30, 2013

August marks one of the most painful anniversaries in recent Christian life.

Five years ago this month, the most vicious anti-Christian pogrom of the early 21st century broke out in the eastern Indian state of Orissa. The official count of the dead stands at somewhere between 75 and 100, though some observers believe the total may be as much as five times higher. Many were hacked to death by machete-wielding Hindu radicals, with thousands more injured and at least 50,000 left homeless.

Tens of thousands of Christians fled to displacement camps, where some languished for two years or more. An estimated 5,000 Christian homes, along with 350 churches and schools, were destroyed. A Catholic nun, Sr. Meena Barwa, was raped, then marched naked and beaten. Police discouraged her from filing a report and declined to arrest her attackers.

The rampage was led by Hindu radicals incensed by the assassination of Hindu leader Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati on Aug. 24, 2008. Although independent observers believe he was killed by Maoist insurgents, radicals blamed it on Christians. Most were members of the Dalit underclass, making them easy targets.

It was not an isolated incident. Last year, according to the Global Council of Indian Christians, there were 170 assaults on Christians in the country, an average of one every other day. The violence in Orissa, however, was unprecedented in terms of its scope and scale.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai recently gave an interview to Vatican Radio on the five-year anniversary, calling the victims of the Orissa pogrom "true martyrs of the faith."

Their persecutors, Gracias said, "wanted them to deny Christ, to say that they didn't believe in Christ, but they replied that this wasn't possible, because for them, Christ was everything. That's why they were killed and suffered such violence."

Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar, an archdiocese located in Orissa, recently said his church is flourishing despite the damage done five years ago, and today, it's generating new priests being sent as missionaries to other parts of the country and the world.

So far, Pope Francis hasn't really engaged the issue of anti-Christian persecution in a systematic way. Is there something he could say or do that might be of help to at-risk believers in places such as Orissa?

Here's one possibility. During his press conference on the way home from Rio de Janeiro, Francis said, "I must go to Asia," because Benedict XVI never visited the continent during his eight-year reign and because Asia is "important." Francis mentioned he has standing invitations to visit Sri Lanka and the Philippines, but said "this is all up in the air."

When he gets around to hammering out an Asian itinerary, one dramatic option would be to include a stop in India -- perhaps even in Orissa itself -- at which time he could formally declare the victims of the 2008 massacres martyrs, opening the way for their beatification without the necessity of a miracle.

That step has already been requested by survivors of the 2008 pogrom and relatives of those who died, and church officials in India have endorsed the idea.

If Francis were to take that step in person rather than simply signing a decree in Rome, it could have enormous impact on raising consciousness -- not just about the Indian martyrs, but the broader threats faced by Christians in a growing number of global neighborhoods.

It is, at least, something to ponder.

[This story from last month suggests conditions are still not very good for Christians in Orissa.]

07/15/2013 12:58


Christian clergyman's death in Orissa ruled an "accident" by police

by Nirmala Carvalho

Mumbai (AsiaNews) - "Once again, a Protestant clergyman in Orissa is murdered and the police tries to dismiss it as an accident," said Sajan George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), who spoke to AsiaNews after the discovery of the tortured body of Rev Jaisankar, a medical doctor and pastor at the Blessing Youth Mission, near Lamtaput (Kandhamal district). His funeral will be held today at 4 pm (local time).

Jaisankar went missing Thursday morning as he made his way by motorbike to Lamtaput to provide medical training. Sometime later, his body and bike were found close to the banks of a river. According to the police, it was an accident: the doctor was crossing a bridge when he fell into the river as a result of violent rains, and the current dragged him away.

However, given the type of wounds his body suffered and the conditions under which Christians live in the area, the GCIC believes it was murder.

"In August 2008," Sajan George said, "all the churches and Christian places of worship in the villages of Fufugaon, Chandrasundi Pada and Narakunduliguda were looted and burnt. Hindu extremists often act out their brutality against the Christian minority, especially when the anniversary of the terrible and brutal genocide of Kandhamal approaches."

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Archdiocese of Dubuque resolves sexual abuse cases with $5.2 million settlement

Hayley Bruce
The Gazette (Cedar Rapids,Iowa)
August 28, 2013

More than 20 sexual abuse claims against the Archdiocese of Dubuque were resolved earlier this month in the form of a settlement.

According to a press release from Waterloo lawyer Chad Swanson, of Dutton, Braun, Staack & Hellman, P.L.C., 26 sexual abuse claims were resolved with a $5.2 million settlement with the Archdiocese. The money was collectively paid to 22 males and four females survivors.

“The settlement is a significant and the amount of money included in the settlement may appear substantial, but on a per person basis, it will never be sufficient to compensate these claimants for all of the years of living with shame, embarrassment and stigma of the abuse,” Swanson said in the release.

A statement from the Archdiocese of Dubuque, released Wednesday, said the Archdiocese will continue to publish notices in its newspaper inviting people who were sexually abused as minors to come forward with information on how to do so. It will also offer to pay for counseling and therapy for victims for up to 12 sessions.

Swanson said the money was divided equitably in accordance with the nature and extent of the abuse each suffered and their resulting injuries. Each survivor also received a letter of apology from Archbishop Jerome Hanus before he retired earlier this year, and a chance to meet with the Archbishop privately.

The Archdiocese release said Archbishop Michael Jackels and Archbishop Emeritus Jerome Hanus apologize to the victims and hope the settlement will be supportive of them.

“Priests who abused are a disgrace to the vocation and a scandal to the faithful,” the release said. “The vast majority of priests are good and holy servants of God and God’s people. They give their time and energy most generously. They abhor sexual abuse and work hard to ensure that the parishes, schools, and other institutions of the Archdiocese are safe.”

Ten priests were involved in the case. The release from Swanson said the abuse occurred between the late 1940s and 1970s.

An online table that details the accused priests is available on the Archdiocese of Dubuque’s website and will be maintained through July 1, 2017.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Sister celebrates 100th birthday, 80 years in monastery

Karen Chen
Chicago Tribune
August 26, 2013

When Sister Vivian Ivantic was a little girl, she knew she had a calling. She came home from first grade and announced to her mother that when she grew up, she wanted to become a priest or a nun.

And it was then, more than 90 years ago, that she discovered women cannot become priests in the Roman Catholic Church.

Ivantic became a sister instead and remained optimistic that priesthood would one day be an option for Catholic women to pursue.

On Sunday, after a Mass at St. Scholastica Monastery in West Rogers Park marking her 80th anniversary in the religious community, Ivantic made it clear that she hasn't given up on the idea, even as she turns 100 on Wednesday.

With a mischievous grin on her face and a fist in the air, she called on the Catholic Church to allow female ordination, a yearning that likely won't be fulfilled for her but an opportunity she hopes will at least be available to younger women.

"We need women in church offices. It won't come in my lifetime, but it will come," she said.

Much has changed in Ivantic's family, the church and American society since she joined the Benedictine community eight decades ago. Women today have more choices than becoming a mother, nurse or housekeeper, she said. She plays her beloved card games on a computer now. Much of her family has scattered from northern Illinois to Florida, Oregon and New Jersey. And she no longer wears the iconic habit of a cloistered nun or sister.

Dressed in a pale teal pantsuit Sunday with her silver hair swept to the side, she said she hopes to see more shifts, like women occupying positions of power in the church.

Last year the Vatican reprimanded a major network of nuns in the U.S. for espousing "radical feminist themes," including female ordination, for its more liberal ideas on the ministry of gays and for its silence, seen as a failure to enforce the Vatican's views, on sexuality and abortion rights. The Leadership Conference of Women Religious was chastised for stepping "out of line" by the male leadership in a report concluding a three-year investigation.

Though Pope Francis has not ruled out the possibility of women in leadership, he did close the door last month to the ordination of female priests, reviving a statement Pope John Paul II made in 1994 that intended to end the discussion. Even promoting female ordination can come with a price, as shown by the expulsion last November of Roy Bourgeois, a longtime priest with the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers who refused to end his campaign for ordaining women.

But that doesn't stop Ivantic. It's an injustice, she said, and she has no problem speaking up.

"I think the American church is outstanding, but I'm waiting for women's ordination," she said. "We have been deprived of the celebration of the Mass because we don't have enough ordained priests. We have done so much as teachers, nurses, social workers, but we need to open church offices to women."

An advocacy group called the Women's Ordination Conference supports Ivantic's hopes for female priests, said the group's executive director, Erin Saiz Hanna.

"People, especially in America, are used to seeing women advance in the workplace, in politics, so people are ready to see women break through the stained-glass ceiling," Hanna said. "The hierarchy could learn a lot from just listening to its people."

As the daughter of pious immigrant parents from Slovenia, Ivantic took her vows at age 20. She worked as an elementary and high school teacher, teaching Latin for many years in schools around the country. Later on she became a school librarian at St. Scholastica Academy, a former all-girls Catholic high school run by the sisters.

Ivantic eventually became the community's archivist, and she meticulously reviews old documents and memorabilia that record changes in the church's history, some of which she witnessed. Each day she leaves her walker at the bottom of the stairs, climbing two flights to the archives where between prayer sessions and Mass she works accompanied by her cat, Thecla, named for an early saint who followed the Apostle Paul. According to legend, the virgin Thecla was chained to a lioness and sentenced to be eaten by wild beasts after she fought off the forceful advances of nobleman. The female lion apparently saved Thecla by fighting off the other beasts.

Her great-niece Elizabeth McGhee, 32, said Ivantic gives her a different tour of the monastery each time she visits, using her latest research topic to showcase a different part.

While Ivantic hasn't seen female ordination in her lifetime, McGhee said she expects to see it happen before she reaches her great-aunt's age.

Ivantic is the family's matriarch, McGhee said. In addition to keeping her 50 nieces and nephews and their children tightly knit by playing Scrabble, fishing, tending to the sick and enjoying an occasional beer — just one — she also encourages her family to ask questions about their faith, about the church's history and their lives.

Her niece Karen Ivantic, 56, said many in the family, herself included, often consider leaving the church because it does not allow women to be equals.

"I could easily walk away but I think … what holds me in is our family tradition and my love of (Sister Vivian)," she said. "She committed her life to this, she's not walking away. She's fighting, but she's not walking away.

"So what that says to me is, 'Don't abandon everything but don't stop fighting for the change.'"

Monday, August 26, 2013

Schismatic African priests want a pope they can call their own

Fredrick Nzwili
Religious News Service
August 13, 2013

NAIROBI, KENYA (RNS) Schismatic Roman Catholic priests, who left the church to claim their right to marry, are now asking for an “African pope” to lead them.

The priests say they regret their former church is “allergic” to change. They believe priestly celibacy is neither rooted in the teachings of Jesus nor in the work of his apostles, who were married. And they insist celibacy does not work in an African context.

Former Zambian Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo who married a Korean acupuncturist in a 2001 celebration sponsored by the Unification Church and presided by its late founder, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, serves as “African patriarch” of a number of church groups affiliated with his movement.

Milingo was excommunicated in 2006 for consecrating four married priests as bishops. Later, he founded a group called “Married Priests Now!”

Since then, the number of priests leaving the church to marry and rear children has grown. There are an estimated 300,000 members affiliated with Milingo’s movement across Africa.

The group, loosely known as the “Reformed Catholic Churches,” resembles the Catholic Church in belief and ritual and is led by young clerics, many of whom were educated in Vatican-approved seminaries before leaving to form their own congregations.

The fledgling group has churches in Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Zambia, and South Africa, according to Bishop Peter Njogu, a former Catholic priest, now married, and working in Kenya.

“We respect Pope Francis and pray for him, but we are not Roman Catholics,” said Njogu. “We want a leader similar to the pontiff who will understand our situation. That leader has to be an African.”

The Milingo case shocked and embarrassed the Catholic Church when at age 71 he broke his vow and married Maria Sung, a 43-year-old Korean woman.

Following his marriage, Pope John Paul II summoned him to the Vatican, where he promised not to see his wife anymore.

After the separation, his wife, Sung went on a hunger strike in protest. They reunited in 2006.

Milingo’s marriage gave a global dimension to the calls for married priests, and led dozens of clergy to come forward and reveal their secret marriages and families.

Angry at the betrayal, Catholic bishops expelled priests associated with the rebels and strongly warned Catholics against them.

In marrying, the priests believe they are Africanizing Christianity. They are also open to shunned practices such as polygamy and women’s leadership, said Njogu.

“We must realize, for example, the lack of children is the worst evil for man in the African tradition,” said Njogu who teaches comparative theology at Kenya Methodist University.

In 2011, Njogu established the Restored Universal Apostolic Church. The same year he was installed the church’s bishop by Milingo in a ceremony attended by 15 other married priests. Within two years, RUAC had more than 3,000 members in Kenya alone.

Njogu now serves as the chairman of eight rebel Kenyan priests who have been enthroned as bishops of churches they founded after being expelled from the Roman Catholic Church. Their independent churches are affiliated with Milingo and include 80 former Roman Catholic priests and an estimated 30,000 members, some priests said.

“Every Sunday, we see new people coming to our churches,” Njogu said. “They come voluntarily and want to become our members. I think this is the future of Christianity.”

Njogu, like many in the movement, believes celibacy is too onerous a vow.

“The young priests find it very difficult to stay celibate, and many are in favor of marriage,” he said. “When a priest is married, he is able to serve the church better. This also makes their lives easier.”

Bishop Mark Kambalazaza, a former Malawian Roman Catholic priest who formed Charismatic Redeemed Ministries International, said many priests who take the vow of celibacy live with mistresses.

He thinks the Vatican should allow priests to choose whether to remain celibate. He hopes Pope Francis can change the law.

“This is the perspective in the Anglican and the Greek Orthodox churches,” said Kambalazaza, referring to the practice of married priests in those churches. “The church is called to make an analysis on all these issues and decide appropriately, if it is to remain true to its calling.”

In March this year, the Rev. Anthony Musaala, a Ugandan Catholic priest, shocked the church when he wrote a letter published in the Ugandan press saying that many bishops and priests in the country had failed the celibacy test.

Musaala was immediately suspended for urging open and frank dialogue about priests marrying.

“My forecast is that we will have a few more years of Catholic self-deception, perhaps 10, telling ourselves and the world that everything is OK, nothing serious,” he wrote in the letter. “Then the scandals will surface.”

Retired pope's secretary says 'mystical experience' is untrue

Cindy Wooden
National Catholic Reporter

August 26, 2013

Archbishop Georg Ganswein, retired Pope Benedict XVI's longtime personal secretary, said a story about the pope resigning after a "mystical experience" was completely invented.

"It was invented from alpha to omega," the archbishop said Saturday in an interview on Italy's Canale 5 television news. "There is nothing true in the article."

In a report Aug. 19, the Italian service of Zenit, a Catholic news agency, said someone who visited Pope Benedict "a few weeks ago" had asked him why he resigned. "God told me to," the retired pope was quoted as responding before "immediately clarifying that it was not any kind of apparition of phenomenon of that kind, but rather 'a mystical experience' in which the Lord gave rise in his heart to an 'absolute desire' to remain alone with him in prayer."

When Pope Benedict announced his resignation in February, he said he had done so after intense prayer and that he intended to live the rest of his life praying and studying.

Some Vatican officials and Vatican watchers were surprised by Zenit's report of Pope Benedict telling an anonymous visitor that his decision was the result of some form of extraordinary "mystical experience" rather than a decision made after long and careful thought and deep prayer. Catholics traditionally would consider that kind of intense prayer a "mystical experience," though not something extraordinary.

Explaining his decision to resign to a group of cardinals Feb. 11, Pope Benedict had said: "After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry."

He also told the cardinals that he wanted to dedicate the rest of his life to serving the church through his prayers.

Since stepping down Feb. 28, retired Pope Benedict has led a very quiet life, far from the public eye, although he did accept Pope Francis' invitation to be present July 5 for the dedication of a statue in the Vatican Gardens.

Living in a remodeled monastery in the Vatican Gardens, along with Ganswein and four consecrated laywomen, he occasionally welcomes visitors, especially friends, former students and small groups accompanying former students. The meetings are private and rarely reported in the news.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Claim O'Brien blocked report 'contrary to church law'

Eddie Barnes
The Scotsman
August 24, 2013

A CLAIM by a leading Catholic bishop that disgraced Cardinal Keith O’Brien blocked a report on sex abuse runs contrary to church law, insiders have claimed.

Archbishop Mario Conti, the former archbishop of Glasgow, said last week the former head of the church in Scotland delayed plans to commission an independent examination of clerical sex offences going back decades. Without his backing, the other bishops also decided to delay, he said, claiming such an exercise “would have been faulty” without O’Brien.

But amid anger among Catholic laity over the handling of the scandals, insiders said the church’s own law showed bishops can press ahead in their own dioceses, and cannot be stopped by colleagues.

The church said yesterday that, once O’Brien’s successor Monsignor Leo Cushley is in place this autumn, an audit will be released showing complaints against clergy, church workers and volunteers.

But critics said that only an independent audit of historic abuse was required, and said the failure of individual bishops to publish details was an example of “delaying tactics”.

One insider said: “Why did seven bishops apparently bow to the sensitivities of one bishop and not give precedence to the sensitivities of the people abused by church employees? “If they cared so much, why not publish their own diocesan records and leave the public to take a view on O’Brien’s refusal to do so?”

At the time of the decision to delay, O’Brien was president of the ruling Scottish Catholic Church’s Bishops Conference.

Conti used a letter to the Catholic weekly newspaper the Tablet last week to claim it was “the intention” of the other bishops to commission an independent review of historical cases but “this was delayed by the objection of the then-­President of the Conference”. A spokesman said: “Without the participation of all the dioceses a national audit was not possible so the analysis was stopped. The matter is now being revisited to allow the publication of national statistics.”

Yet critics point out canon law states that in most cases “the competence of each diocesan bishop remains intact, nor is a conference or its president able to act in the name of all the bishops unless each and every bishop has given consent”. Alan Draper, an academic and former adviser to the Catholic Church in Scotland on child protection, said last night bishops were using the cardinal to hide.

“Where is the moral responsibility and integrity? There is no leadership taking place at all. Archbishop Tartaglia [of Glasgow] has been mute throughout this. None of the bishops appear able to come out and show leadership. How these men are handling this is a total disgrace”.

On the decision not to go ahead with the report on sex abuse allegations, he said: “It is just delaying tactics. They are going to have to have a full independent investigation and they should put somebody like me to run it. They have to face up to it because their credibility has gone.”

The row comes amid claims of clerical abuse in the 1950s, 60s and 70s at two former Catholic boarding schools, Fort Augustus Abbey in the Highlands and its feeder school, Carlekemp in North Berwick.

We're centuries overdue a return to ordaining women as deacons

Michael Phelan
The Tablet
August 24, 2013

When I was a young pre-Vatican II Catholic, we used to pray at the end of Mass for the conversion of England and the following phrase from that prayer remains in my mind: 'Augustine, Columba, and Aidan, who delivered to us inviolate the faith of the Holy Roman Church.'

St Augustine arrived in England in 597, on the instructions of Pope Gregory the Great. It is almost certain that Augustine brought with him the ordination rites for both women and men deacons that derived from the sacramentary that he had brought from Rome. Local church councils, such as Whitby and Cloveshoe, stated explicitly that their purpose was to ensure that church practice was faithful to what Augustine had brought from Pope Gregory the Great. We can deduce this from ancient ordination books, such as the Sacramentary of Egbert of York (732) and the Leofric Missal of Exeter (920).

There were of course many ordained women deacons in the early Church, including fourth century St Olympia, who I included in the litany of saints for my own diaconal ordination. Olympia (or Olympias) was a wealthy woman who gave away most of her inherited fortune to the poor and needy and for the building of churches. She served the Church as a deacon and was close to many Fathers of the Church including St John Chrysostom, who was Archbishop of Constantinople and a Doctor of the Church and who had ordained her.

In the early church, women deacons had a similar ministry and ordination rite, but in baptisms ministered to women (and men to men) only because the sacred oils were used to cover the whole of the naked body.

Present-day male permanent deacons have a threefold ministry of the Word, Altar, and Charity: they proclaim and preach on the Gospel at Mass; assist the priest on the altar; officiate at baptisms, weddings and funerals; lead RCIA programmes; and are involved in ministries of charity, such as visiting the sick and various forms of chaplaincy. Retired German Cardinal Walter Kasper proposed a similar ministry for women earlier this year, as did Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, president of the German bishops' conference. And I agree: while Pope Francis has ruled out looking at the question of women's ordination as priests, I see no reason why women could not be ordained to the office of deacon, performing all roles male deacons fulfil just as well as men.

For more historical and comprehensive evidence on ordained men and women deacons in over ten centuries of the early church please refer to

Michael Phelan is a permanent deacon in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire

Friday, August 23, 2013

Lefebvrians against a pope who reaches out to Muslims

Allesandro Speciale
Vatican Insider
August 23, 2013

The personally signed message Pope Francis sent to Muslims to wish them well for the end of Ramadan did not go down well among Mgr. Lefebvre’s followers.

The letter of condemnation which the Jesuit Pope sent to the General House of the Society of St. Pius X last 20 August should come as no surprise: the Lefebvrians have been rejecting the changes made by the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) – including dialogue with other religions and freedom of conscience – for fifty years now.

The General House of the Society of St. Pius X in Econe (Switzerland) issued sharp criticisms of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, even as the latter was engaged in attempts to reconcile the traditionalist group with the Catholic Church.

What is unusual, however, is that the Lefebvrians’ biting remarks came shortly after Pope Francis appointed Guido Pozzo as Secretary of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei. This move was seen as an attempt by the Pope to take another stab at reviving dialogue with the traditionalist group.

The way the Lefebvrians see it, Francis’ message to the Muslims is confusing, paradoxical, breaks with tradition and risks the Christians killed in areas where Islam is the dominant faith being forgotten.

The traditionalist group said it is “paradoxical” and “confusing” to speak - as the papal message does - of “respect for other people’s religions…without any reference to the substance of their religious convictions.” “Respect towards people does not involve respect for their religion if it goes against the truth revealed by the Trinitarian God, as Islam does,” the Lefebvrians wrote.

“As the doctor’s zeal for a patient’s health equates to the patient’s zeal to recover from their illness, so a sinner’s love is proportionate to the hatred the sinner has for the sin they want to free themselves from,” the Lefebvrians added.

The Society of St. Pius X drew attention to the contradiction between Pope Francis’ gesture and the saint he named himself after, claiming that St. Francis apparently suggested the only way for Christians and Muslims to live in peace is for Muslims to convert. The reference was to the saint’s description of a meeting he had with the Sultan during the 5th Crusade. The nature and significance of this historical event are highly debated.

The traditionalist group emphasised that Pope Francis’ position is in tune with the conciliar declaration Nostra Aetate. This encouraged the two faiths to put aside centuries of hatred in order to work towards peace and justice. “Must we therefore add to the bloody persecution Christians face today by neglecting them as witnesses of the faith, for which they sacrifice their lives?” the Lefebvrians asked.

The French province of the Society of St. Pius X actually criticised Francis’ message to Muslims before the group’s General House did, in a long communiqué signed by the Province’s superior, Abbot Régis de Cacqueray.

Disgraced Cardinal O'Brien (Scotland) blocked independent inquiry into historic sexual abuse

The Telegraph
August 22, 2013

The retired Archbishop of Glasgow, Mario Conti, revealed that the Catholic Church in Scotland had planned to invite an independent academic to compile a report on each diocese's "secret archives" and each bishop's handling of allegations, which would then be made public.

However, Cardinal O'Brien, then the president of the Bishops' Conference, refused to co-operate and the planned inquiry was shelved, Archbishop Conti wrote in a letter to be published in the Catholic newspaper the Tablet today.

Cardinal O'Brien was forced to resign in March after admitting "inappropriate behaviour" with priests and a seminarian, and is currently in an unknown monastery for a period of "prayer and penance" ordered by Pope Francis.

In a letter defending the Catholic Church in Scotland's handling of allegations of sexual abuse, Archbishop Conti wrote: "It was the intention of all but one member of the Bishops' Conference to commission an independent examination of the historical cases we had on file in all of our respective dioceses and publish the results, but this was delayed by the objection of the then president of the conference; without full participation of all the dioceses the exercise would have been faulty."

A spokesman for the Church said: "This refers to a decision taken in 2011 by the Bishops' Conference of Scotland to commission an independent academic analysis of statistics relating to abuse and allegations of abuse over a 60-year period from 1952 to 2012.

"This project, with the cooperation of each of the eight dioceses in Scotland, started and ran until 2012, at which time, the then president of the conference, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, withdrew from the project. Without the participation of all the dioceses a 'national audit' was not possible so the analysis was stopped."

Cardinal O'Brien was president of the Bishops' Conference from 2001 to 2012.

A source close to the Church said that Cardinal O'Brien could have feared that his own clandestine behaviour may have been revealed during the inquiry or that he was anxious to cover for individuals who were aware of his secret life.

The source said: "We just don't know why he blocked the inquiry. Perhaps there was also a spike in allegations during his years in charge or he would have been seen to have mishandled them."

read full article at The Telegraph

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Santa Rosa diocese sued over alleged abuse

Ellen Huet
San Francisco Chronicle
August 21, 2013

A Lake County family is suing a Roman Catholic parish and the Diocese of Santa Rosa, claiming they knew a priest had a history of sexual abuse and didn't protect an altar boy from being molested.

The suit, filed Tuesday in Sonoma County Superior Court, claims that the late Rev. Ted Oswald of St. Mary Immaculate in Lakeport had already been accused several times of abusing young parishioners, but was still promoted to pastor and allowed unsupervised access to young boys at and outside the church.

The suit claims that unfettered access allowed Oswald to abuse an altar boy, now 16 years old, whose mother is also a plaintiff in the suit.

Oswald targeted the boy when he was about 10 years old, said the plaintiffs' lawyer, Skye Daley. The priest invited the boy to wash his recreational vehicle at his house, which is where the alleged abuse began, Daley said.

Oswald was named in 2008 in another molestation case, which the diocese settled for $1.3 million in 2009. He was placed on leave after the settlement and died in 2010 at age 65.

In the decade before the first lawsuit against Oswald, the Santa Rosa Diocese paid nearly $20 million to settle sex-abuse claims.

"Father Ted is kind of the tip of the iceberg," Daley said. "The Diocese of Santa Rosa has a shockingly long history of employing priests who have sexually abused children."

The latest suit asks for unspecified damages. Dan Galvin, the attorney for the diocese, declined to comment because church officials had not yet been served with the suit.

The Santa Rosa Diocese includes a Catholic population of 150,000 and encompasses more than 11,700 square miles in the counties of Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, Lake, Humboldt and Del Norte.

Ex-Pope Benedict says God told him to resign during 'mystical experience'

Tom Klington
The Guardian (UK)
August 21, 2013

The former pope Benedict has claimed that his resignation in February was prompted by God, who told him to do it during a "mystical experience".

Breaking his silence for the first time since he became the first pope to step down in 600 years, the 86-year-old reportedly said: "God told me to" when asked what had pushed him to retire to a secluded residence in the Vatican gardens.

Benedict denied he had been visited by an apparition or had heard God's voice, but said he had undergone a "mystical experience" during which God had inspired in him an "absolute desire" to dedicate his life to prayer rather than push on as pope.

The German ex-pontiff's comments, which are said to have been made a few weeks ago, were reported by the Catholic news agency Zenit, which did not name the person Benedict had spoken to.

A senior Vatican source said the report was reliable. "The report seems credible. It accurately explains the spiritual process that brought Benedict to resign," he said.

Benedict said his mystical experience had lasted months, building his desire to create a direct and exclusive relationship with God. Now, after witnessing the "charisma" of his successor, Pope Francis, Benedict said he understood to a greater extent how his stepping aside was the "will of God".

Benedict's reported remarks contrast with the explanation he gave to cardinals when he announced his resignation on 11 February. "My strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry," he said then.

At the time, a German journalist who had recently met Benedict reported he was going deaf, appeared to be blind in one eye, and was emaciated and "exhausted-looking".

Speculation also grew that he was depressed after his trusted butler, Paolo Gabriele, was caught leaking his personal correspondence. Italian press reports have recently claimed he was frustrated by a network of influence built up at the Vatican by a pro-gay lobby of prelates.

Zenit reported that Benedict has stuck to his plan to live a life of secluded prayer, receiving very few visitors at his house in the Vatican's gardens, which enjoys views across Rome to the Apennine mountains beyond.

"During these meetings, the ex-pontiff does not comment, does not reveal secrets, does not make statements that could be understood as 'the words of the other pope', but is as reserved as he has always been," wrote Zenit.

After concerns were raised that Benedict would exert undue influence at the Vatican as his successor struggled to find his feet, Francis's popular approach and his shakeup of Vatican protocols have relegated Benedict to the sidelines.

Francis has even joked about the situation, saying in July: "The last time there were two or three popes, they didn't talk among themselves and they fought over who was the true pope!"

Having Benedict living in the Vatican, he added, "is like having a grandfather – a wise grandfather – living at home".

Francis's first encyclical, issued in July, was started by Benedict while he was in office and finished by his successor.

Benedict took his first day trip out of the Vatican on 18 August, walking in the gardens at the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, outside Rome, where he stayed after his retirement while his new house was being refurbished. Benedict did not risk running into Francis, who has preferred to stay at his desk at the Vatican during the summer.

Archbishop's letter offers abundance of falsehoods, no apologies - editorial

(Newark) Star-Ledger Editorial Board
August 21, 2013

Last weekend’s letter from Newark Archbishop John J. Myers regarding his handling of sexual abuse cases is so crowded with falsehoods and insults that it’s difficult to know where to begin.

What’s most revealing is what is missing: There’s not a single word of sympathy for the victims and their families. Myers instead insults them by suggesting they are blaming the church for problems in their own families. “One can understand when family difficulties lead parents, even by conjecture, to blame someone outside the family,” he wrote. “But conjecture is no reason to undermine the Ministry of individual Priests (or Bishops for that matter.)”

It boggles the mind that in 2013 an archbishop would dare speak of families like this. But it is vintage Myers. While many bishops are working hard to rehabilitate the church, he offers only haughty disdain for those who question his judgment.

This time, he calls his critics “evil, wrong, and immoral” and suggests that they may burn in hell: “God will surely address them in due time.”

The latest damning information comes from a lawsuit the church recently settled for $1.35 million. It accuses Myers of ignoring a credible accusation against a priest on his watch. The lawsuit claimed that the Rev. Thomas Maloney went on to repeatedly abuse an 8-year-old boy.

In his deposition, Myers says he never saw written warnings that went to the diocese, perhaps because of his “slipshod” filing system. If that were true, if it was an innocent mistake, you would expect Myers to offer a heartfelt apology to the victim and his family for his failure to red-flag these cases. Instead, he has refused for years to meet with them.

It boggles the mind that in 2013 an archbishop would dare speak of families like this.

In his letter to the diocese last weekend, Myers concedes that Maloney gave him gifts, but mentions only one: “I recall that he once gave me a coin of minimal value, of which he had several examples.”

The court records tell a different story. Thank-you notes from Myers describe a steady stream of valuable gifts, including gold coins, silver, a “much-loved” camera and undisclosed amounts of cash, which Myers said he would use to gamble at the racetrack.

Put aside these small falsehoods and insults. Because they mean nothing when measured against Myers’ failure to safeguard children.

Maloney is just one case. While in Newark, Myers allowed the Rev. Michael Fugee access to children even after Fugee confessed to repeatedly groping a boy’s genitals and signed a legal agreement to stay away from children. Last year, he placed an accused priest in a parish in Oradell without telling parishioners.

In 2004, Myers wrote a letter of recommendation for a priest one week after learning the priest had been accused of breaking into a woman’s house and assaulting her. The same year, he banned another priest from public ministry after investigating an abuse allegation, but did not notify lay people or other priests. In 2007, he did not tell lay people about a credible finding of molestation against a priest working in Elizabeth and Jersey City.

Myers just doesn’t get it. His complete lack of repentance underscores the need for him to resign for the sake of children’s safety.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Archbishop Chaput's right-wing funk

Charles J. Reid, Jr.
National Catholic Reporter
Aug. 17, 2013

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia put into words the anxiety many right-wing Catholics must be feeling at the extraordinary popularity Pope Francis has been enjoying. In an interview with John L. Allen Jr., Chaput, speaking on behalf of his conservative followers, said that members of the right wing of the Catholic church "generally have not been really happy about his election." The pope, Chaput stated, will "have to care for them, too."

What worries Chaput in particular is the sudden interest in the new pope from unfamiliar quarters. Practicing Catholics love the pope, of course, "but they're not actually the ones who really talk to me about the new pope. The ones who do are nonpracticing Catholics or people who aren't Catholic or not even Christian." And why should this be so? Chaput has his suspicions: Yes, these outsiders are thrilled by the new pope's friendliness and his warmth, but "I think they would prefer a church that wouldn't have strict norms and ideas about the moral life and about doctrine."

Wow. Where do we start? We could talk about the parable of the prodigal son, since Chaput truly sounds a great deal like the adventuresome young man's older brother, the one who stayed home and toiled with his father and grew resentful when the old man slew the fatted calf upon his brother's return. Or we could talk about the shepherd who rejoiced over finding his lost sheep.

But let's focus instead on what it means to be an evangelical church. For some time now, decades really, the church has been turning in upon itself. This is most especially noticeable in conservative circles. The culture is seen as hostile. The ambient culture is "pagan," to use Chaput's description. Indeed, he has even called some Catholics pagan in their approach to the faith.

But shouting "pagan, pagan" is no way to win souls. And this is evidenced by even the briefest consideration of Catholic membership statistics. Catholic membership has grown in Africa, but it has lost members in Latin America to more enthusiastic forms of evangelical Protestantism. And in the United States, Catholic membership would be in decline were it not buoyed by immigration.

The right wing's favored response to these dismal trends is to blame the left. But the right wing needs to know that it has controlled the church hierarchy for some three decades now. It is the right wing that must look in the mirror. A stricter form of boundary police will not attract outsiders; it will repel them. Indeed, it has.

Francis has gotten the message and the tone just right. Jesus, after all, came not for the saved but for the sinners. He dined with tax collectors. He routinely and frequently forgave prostitutes. He was followed in his evangelizing by women who did not come from respectable homes. He promised the water of eternal life to a woman who was even then living out of wedlock.

The new evangelization about which so many on the Catholic right speak is not about new and better forms of border security. It is about the imitatio Christi -- the imitation of Christ. Like Christ, Francis means to be evangelical, and that means finding people where Christ found them -- in desperate shape, in need of forgiveness and love -- and offering them hope.

[Charles J. Reid Jr. has degrees in canon law and civil law from The Catholic University of America and a doctorate in medieval history from Cornell University. He was raised in a union household in Milwaukee. He teaches at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, Minneapolis. This commentary is reprinted with permission from, a blog where progressives from various faith traditions discuss religion, law, politics and culture.]

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Uriel Ojeda to join few Catholic clergy in California prisons for child sex abuse

Cynthia Hubert
Merced Sun-Star
August 17, 2013

Some time during the next week or so, the Rev. Uriel Ojeda will leave Sacramento County's Main Jail and join other inmates for a long bus ride to state prison.

Once a rising star in the Sacramento Roman Catholic Diocese, lauded by parishioners for his compassion and faith, the young priest likely will spend at least seven years in the harsh confines of an institution where security cameras and uniformed guards will monitor his every movement.

He will be treated "no differently than any other inmate," said California Department of Corrections spokesman Bill Sessa.

But Ojeda, 33, is no ordinary convict.

Only a few Catholic priests are currently imprisoned in California for child sexual abuse, said Patrick Wall, a former priest and canon lawyer who advocates for victims of clergy abuse from his office in St. Paul, Minn.

"I am aware of only five," said Wall. He documents such cases along with the nonprofit

But their numbers are sure to grow in the coming years, he said, in California and across the country.

Nationally, dioceses have found "credible accusations" of sexual abuse against more than 6,000 priests between 1950 and 2011, Wall said. The number is climbing, he said, following years of scrutiny of the Catholic church for its handling of abusive clergy members and a flood of lawsuits by victims.

"Investigators are doing a better job, and more people are cooperating with law enforcement," Wall said. "There is an understanding now that Catholic priests can and do abuse children."

Some, like Ojeda, are cutting plea deals in which they admit to felony crimes rather than face trial.

Ojeda's dramatic downfall, from a beloved parish priest to an admitted child molester, has shaken the Sacramento diocese and many of its parishioners.

"There are those who naively wish we could get beyond the child sexual abuse crisis," Bishop Jaime Soto said in a recent interview. "But Father Ojeda's case reminds us that sexual abuse is a real and ongoing problem in the church. We have got to be vigilant."

Ojeda was charged with sexually abusing a girl beginning when she was 13 years old. The abuse began, according to the girl's family, when he was a guest at their home and a parish priest in Woodland. It continued over a period of years.

The diocese acted quickly to remove Ojeda from his ministry during an investigation into the accusations, which came to light in November 2011. He pleaded no contest earlier this month, and was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Wall said the diocese "reacted with precision and authority," and should serve as a model for others facing such crises.


Prisons can be especially difficult places for people like Ojeda, corrections officials said. Inmates have a caste system that places people who do harm to children "very low on the scale," said Sessa.

"He is probably far more vulnerable because of his background as a child molester than because of his background as a priest," Sessa said.


He has declined to speak to the media since his arrest in November 2011. His attorney, Jesse Ortiz, did not return messages requesting comment for this article.

State corrections officials described Ojeda's lifestyle once he leaves Sacramento County jail, where he has been incarcerated since his sentencing on Aug 2.

Within a week or so, he likely will be bused from Sacramento to the Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy, said Deborah Hoffman, assistant secretary for communications for the state Corrections Department. There, Ojeda will undergo a body search, be photographed and fingerprinted, and submit to a swabbing of the inside of his cheek to collect DNA material, she said.

The Corrections Department will spend the next two to three months assessing Ojeda's physical health, state of mind and criminal acts before deciding where and how to house him for the remainder of his sentence.


Sessa said other inmates likely will know Ojeda's name and background within minutes of his incarceration.

"There are no secrets in prison," he said. "You walk through the gate, and the guy in the back 40 knows about it before you get through security. There is almost no way he would come in unnoticed."


The Sacramento diocese, meanwhile, has begun the process through the Vatican to remove Ojeda from the priesthood forever.

Read full article at Merced Sun-Star

Friday, August 16, 2013

Suspended vatican accountant linked to suspect spiritual group

Andrea Gagliarducci
Catholic News Agency
August 15, 2013

Vatican City, Aug 15, 2013 (CNA).- The Vatican accountant who was recently suspended for allegedly trying to smuggle $26 million had been part of a group known as “The Flock,” which has supposed Mafia connections.

Monsignor Nunzio Scarano is currently under arrest in Italy for an alleged plan to transfer 20 million Euro from Switzerland to Italy aboard an Italian government airplane.

Italian newspaper “Il Mattino” reports that Msgr. Scarano was entrusted with the management of a network of real estate activities for the spiritual family “L'opera del gregge del Bamin Gesù,” or “The works of the flock of the infant Jesus.”

“The Flock,” as it is known, was a sort of spiritual family formed in Salerno by a group of priests aged 40-50 who gathered around a visionary known by his first name, Caterina.

Msgr. Scarano is known to have been a member of The Flock, which was officially an association of prayer yet acted primarily as a private limited company managing a series of economic activities.

The companions of The Flock, including Msgr. Scarano, bought these properties with the aim of founding a true gathering of people who could live together in community.

According to sources who spoke to CNA Aug. 12 and asked for anonymity, a portion of the real estate properties were sold to The Flock by Benito Imposimato, an builder whose properties and activities were involved in a Mafia investigation.

The Flock also controlled a co-op called Maris Stella, which sought mortgages to build houses and wished to buy a chapel in the town of Pagliarone, about 12 miles from Salerno, which they could add on to, to make a sort of convent.

The economic activity of the small community did not pass unobserved.

Archbishop Gerardo Pierro, then the Archbishop of Salerno-Campagna-Acerno wrote a letter to both the Vatican Secretariat of State and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2007, reporting about The Flock's activities.

In the letter, Archbishop Pierro, who is now 78 and retired, accused the community of “proselytism” and described it as “a sect conflicting with the life and spiritual and pastoral needs of the diocesan priesthood.”

Archbishop Pierro then asked that all The Flock's members sign a declaration of obedience to their diocesan curia. Msgr. Scarano agreed to sign this declaration, and left The Flock.

At that time, he was already working in the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, and was proposed as a mediator between The Flock and the Diocese of Salerno-Campagna-Acerno, according to a source in the diocese who spoke with CNA Aug. 13.

Italian investigators suppose that Msgr. Scarano’s business in Salerno has its roots in his past experience in The Flock. It has been found that the monsignor invested most of his funds in his hometown of Salerno.

He is also being investigated by the public prosecutor in Salerno for supposedly laundering 560,000 Euros ($742,500) he took from his account in the Institute for Religious Works – the so-called Vatican bank – to pay off the mortgage of a house.

Salerno's prosecutor has already submitted an international request to the Vatican for information about Msgr. Scarano's involvement with the Institute for Religious Works.

Investigators believe Msgr. Scarano opened other accounts under his own name and put them at the disposal of his friends in Salerno. They would then use the accounts to launder their own money before transferring it to a foreign country.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Newark archbishop says warning signs of sexual abuse by priest 'got by me'

Mark Mueller
Star Ledger (Newark, NJ)
August 14, 2013

In the Roman Catholic Diocese of Peoria, Ill., signs that the Rev. Thomas Maloney posed a danger to children were hard to miss.

In late 1994 or early 1995, a woman told church officials Maloney had molested her when she was a child, documents show. Later in 1995, the woman’s sister wrote to the diocese on her behalf, again insisting action be taken against the priest.

Four years later, a couple wrote to the vicar general, second-in-command of the diocese, complaining Maloney had an explicit sexual conversation with their 13-year-old son during confession, the documents show.

The warnings would continue in letters from parishioners and in internal diocese correspondence.

But Newark Archbishop John J. Myers, then bishop of Peoria, says he missed it all.

In a deposition unsealed as part of a $1.35 million settlement with one of Maloney’s alleged victims, Myers said he had no inkling Maloney — a friend who vacationed with him and lavished him with gifts of jewelry, gold coins and cash — was a potential molester.

"I did not have any suspicions," Myers said in the deposition, taken in Newark in 2010. "I — because of the, perhaps slipshod filing system that we had between the two different buildings of the office of the bishop, there may have been things that got by me. But I did not have any suspicions."

The deposition — released publicly Tuesday with a trove of letters and other diocese documents — provides a window into Myers’ unswerving support of Maloney. It also suggests the protection of predatory priests in Peoria trumped the protection of children, according to the parents of one of Maloney’s alleged victims and the lawyer who represented them in the long-running civil suit.

They say it is a pattern that has repeated itself in Newark, where Myers has come under fierce criticism in recent months for his handling of priests accused of abusing children.

"What you have here is a bishop complicit in the crime of child sexual abuse," Jeff Anderson, a Minnesota lawyer who filed the suit on behalf of the alleged victim, said Tuesday during a press conference outside Myers’ office in Newark. "The legacy of Myers and the choices he makes is alive and well and in the present."

Jim Goodness, a spokesman for Myers, declined to comment on the release of the deposition and other documents. He also would not directly address comments made by Anderson or the alleged victim’s parents, Joanne and David Ward.

"The record in Newark has been very clear," Goodness said in a statement. "The archbishop has consistently reported all allegations to authorities, has provided outreach to victims, and has removed priests."

Holding a poster with side-by-side photos of her son as an 8-year-old — his age at the time of the alleged abuse — Joanne Ward characterized the archbishop as a liar who knew full well Maloney, whom Myers helped elevate to monsignor, was a danger to children.

Andrew Ward, the family contended in the suit, was molested by Maloney in 1995 and 1996, nearly a year after the complaint by the woman who said Maloney abused her as a child.

"Bishop Myers knew Monsignor Maloney was molesting children and allowed him to go into my son’s school, and because of that, my family went through devastation," said Joanne Ward, 50. "I don’t want the resignation. I want Bishop Myers to go to jail as a predator because he was the one who played the chess game in allowing predators to be placed in our children’s school."

earlier stories:

Church pays $1.35 million in suit alleging Newark Archbishop protected abuser in Illinois

and click on Newark label at right

Monday, August 12, 2013

Church pays $1.35 million in suit alleging Newark archbishop protected abuser in Illinois

Mark Mueller
Star Ledger (Newark, NJ)
August 12, 2013

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Peoria will pay $1.35 million to settle a lawsuit that contends Newark Archbishop John J. Myers, Peoria’s former bishop, failed to take action against a sexually abusive priest in the mid-1990s, freeing him to molest again.

The settlement, reached late last week, is to be formally announced at a press conference Tuesday afternoon outside Myers’ office in Newark, said Jeff Anderson, the alleged victim’s attorney.

Anderson also will release a transcript of Myers’ deposition in the case. The deposition had been under court seal since 2010.

Anderson represents Andrew Ward, who has accused the Rev. Thomas Maloney, now deceased, of molesting him in Illinois in 1995 and 1996, when Ward was 8.

A year earlier, a woman told the diocese Maloney sexually abused her as a child, but the priest was permitted to remain in ministry, the suit contends. Myers also failed to notify police of the allegation, Anderson said.

A spokeswoman for the Diocese of Peoria declined to comment on the settlement. Jim Goodness, a spokesman for Myers, said it was his understanding the initial allegation brought by the woman in Peoria was investigated but could not be substantiated.

Maloney, who died in 2009 at age 73, has since been accused of molesting at least three other children, Anderson said.

"The theme that emerges here is that Myers chose to protect himself and the reputation of the diocese at great peril to this child and many others," Anderson said. "That is a pattern that has emerged not just in Peoria but in Newark."

Anderson was referring to Myers’ handling of the Rev. Michael Fugee, who was criminally charged in May after The Star-Ledger reported he attended youth retreats and heard confessions from minors in violation of a law enforcement agreement barring him from such activities.

Fugee, who has since been released on bail, signed the agreement with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office in 2007 to avoid retrial on charges that he repeatedly groped a teenage boy.

The archdiocese’s vicar general at the time also signed the agreement, pledging to supervise Fugee. The vicar general, the Rev. John Doran, has since been demoted.

More recently, Myers faced criticism after the archdiocese allowed another accused molester, the Rev. Robert Chabak, to live in the rectory of an Oradell parish after his shore home was damaged during Hurricane Sandy. Parishioners at the church, which has a school and youth groups, were not informed of Chabak’s presence.

Myers served as bishop of Peoria from 1990 to 2001, when he was appointed archbishop of Newark.

Goodness has steadfastly defended Myers’ stewardship of the archdiocese through the recent months of upheaval, saying the protection of children is a top priority.

Myers has nonetheless become a frequent target of advocates for victims of clergy sexual abuse over claims he has not done enough to hold abusive priests accountable.

"The case in Peoria is a carbon copy of how he has handled things here in Newark," said Robert Hoatson, a former priest who now heads Road to Recovery, a group that aids abuse victims. "The protection of priests has been his priority, and the just treatment of victims has always been secondary."

In Illinois, Maloney allegedly abused Ward when the boy was a second-grader at Epiphany Grade School in Normal, Ill. Ward’s family filed suit in 2008.

Since then, a man and two women have provided sworn statements to Anderson, Ward’s lawyer, contending Maloney abused them as children, too, the attorney said. He said he did not know if they planned to file suit.

Ward’s parents are among those expected to speak at Tuesday's press conference.

A diocese's darkest day

Cynthia Hubert
Merced Sun Star
August 11, 2013

Just after sunrise on a crisp November morning, the Rev. Timothy Nondorf arrived at the Sacramento Catholic Diocese to tend to administrative duties for Bishop Jaime Soto.

Nondorf, an easygoing young priest with silver hair, celebrated Masses and heard confessions at Holy Spirit Church in Land Park and lived in its rectory. His primary job, though, was with the diocese, where he served as vice chancellor.

As he parked outside the brick building behind an Arco station on Broadway, Nondorf anticipated an ordinary day of answering telephone calls and huddling with the bishop about pastoral issues.

Instead, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011, almost instantly turned to crisis for him and the sprawling diocese.

By the end of the day one of the diocese's most popular priests, accused of molesting a young girl, would be the subject of a criminal investigation. The Catholic Church, long criticized for protecting abusers, would be publicly tested about its declaration of "zero tolerance" for such crimes. Soto would steel himself for intense public scrutiny.

The father's call

Minutes after settling into his chair that Tuesday, Nondorf listened to a voice mail message someone had left on the diocese's main line overnight.

I have a complaint against one of your priests, the man said, and left his name and number.

Nondorf, 41, who had served as a priest in parishes in Sacramento, Elk Grove and Grass Valley, at first was unflustered. The caller, he speculated, probably disliked the priest's homily on Sunday, or objected to his style of footwear.

He returned the call a few minutes later. This is Father Tim Nondorf, he said. How can I help?

Father Uriel Ojeda molested my daughter, the man answered.

For a moment Nondorf froze, stunned. "Oh my God," he thought. He flashed back to the charismatic Ojeda's ordination, with a group of young priests known as the "Magnificent Seven," in 2007.

Quickly, Nondorf pulled himself together. He began taking notes.

This was a new era in the Catholic Church. In the past, diocesan officials admit, skepticism had been the first reaction to accusations against priests. Today, because of revelations about decades of clergy abuse, secret settlements and accusations that the church has protected molester priests, the response is vastly different.

"We now have the procedures in place to act quickly," Soto said recently.


The diocese had faced sexual misconduct allegations against priests only a few times since Soto was installed as bishop in 2007. They had never dealt with a case like Ojeda's, which would become a criminal investigation of a very popular and public priest.

As he spoke for the first time with the father of the girl whom Ojeda allegedly abused, Nondorf grew increasingly concerned.

He asked the man detailed questions, scribbling dates and circumstances of the allegations. The man, court records would later show, was accusing Ojeda of touching an adolescent girl's breasts, exposing himself to her and placing his hands under her pajamas as she lay in bed. The man said the acts began when his daughter was 13 and Ojeda, who was the family's parish priest at Holy Rosary in Woodland, was a guest in the family's home. Ojeda had since been transferred to Our Lady of Mercy Church in Redding.

The voice of the girl's father was laced with anger, but Nondorf noted that he spoke coherently and rationally.

I want Father Uriel removed from the ministry, the man said. I don't want this happening to anyone else.

After about 20 minutes, Nondorf hung up. He laid his head in his hands for a moment, processing the sordid information, then walked down the center's carpeted hallway to the office of another member of the bishop's management team, Chancellor Kathy Conner.

"Kathy, we have a big problem," he said, closing the door behind him.

Plans and prayers

As Nondorf began talking, Conner's heart started to race. According to Soto's protocol, her job as the diocese's chief operating officer was to follow up with the family, then speak to the bishop about whether the allegations against Ojeda seemed credible.


She knew Ojeda as a rising star of the diocese, an energetic, hardworking priest in his early 30s who was a role model to his largely Latino parishioners. He was a bit of a media darling whose story had been featured on the front pages of The Bee.

Ojeda had trained in the midst of the Catholic Church's turmoils around the issue of sexual abuse. Now he was among the accused.

On the phone, the Woodland man told Conner that Father Uriel had been like a son to him and his wife.

He was part of our family, he said to her. How could this be?

Conner inquired about the daughter's health, offered the family spiritual support from the diocese, and talked to the man about setting up professional counseling for the girl. She wished the family well and said she would be in touch.

She then requested a meeting with Soto.

The bishop was not in the building, but Soto rarely is without his iPad and smartphone. Conner sent him an email detailing what she and Nondorf had learned.

Soto soon arrived and assembled his key advisers around his conference table, settling in under a photo of John Wayne with the caption: "Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway."

By noon, the diocese's attorney, Jim Sweeney, had made a report to CPS and the Sacramento police, who asked the diocese to wait a day before talking to Ojeda. Vicar General Monsignor James Murphy, with the help of canon law expert Mark Richards, drafted a letter informing Ojeda that he was under investigation and would be removed from his ministry. The diocese's publicist and troubleshooter, Kevin Eckery, flew in from a meeting in San Diego to help handle the media.

Among other things, they had to decide who would drive to Redding the following day to outline the allegations to Ojeda and bring him to Sacramento. As second in command to Soto, Murphy normally would have been charged with that duty. But Murphy, who had been Ojeda's supervisor when the younger priest was in the seminary, had an important meeting in Siskiyou County on Wednesday.

So the task fell to Nondorf.

The plan was for Nondorf to travel with Joseph Sheehan, a former FBI agent who was working as a private investigator on contract with the law firm that represents the diocese.


That night, Nondorf went home to the rectory at Holy Spirit, ate dinner and made small talk with his roommate, forbidden from mentioning anything about the case. Later, he walked to the empty church, knelt in a pew and prayed silently for about an hour.

The priest's admission

In the morning, Nondorf rode shotgun in Sheehan's green sedan during a three-hour drive along Interstate 5 to Redding. He had a feeling, he told Sheehan, that "this is not going to end well."

Ojeda knew Nondorf would be visiting, but had not been told why.


As they walked from the parking lot to the rectory of the Redding church, the two men spotted Ojeda waiting for them at the back gate. They watched his brilliant smile fade as they approached.

"We have to talk," Nondorf said. Ojeda led them into the living room of the rectory.

"I'm sorry to say this," Nondorf said after they sat down, "but we have credible allegations against you, and you're going to have to come down to Sacramento to face this."

Without mentioning the girl's name, Sheehan outlined the accusations.

Ojeda was silent, his face blank.

Yes, he said, finally. Those things did happen. (Later, the priest's attorney would argue that his words represented a confession, or "penitent privilege," and were protected from disclosure in court. A judge rejected that argument.)

After their discussion at the rectory, the three men walked together to Ojeda's bedroom, where he packed a canvas bag with enough clothing for a few days. The diocese had a place for him to stay during the investigation of the allegations, Nondorf told him.

Ojeda gave Nondorf the keys to his bright yellow pickup truck, which they drove back to Sacramento, with Sheehan trailing in his car.

Nondorf's throat was aching. His voice was fading. He felt mostly anger toward Ojeda, who hardly said a word during the drive.

About 100 miles from Sacramento, near the town of Orland, Sheehan phoned Nondorf and told him he needed to stop for fuel. At the gas station, he told the others that he had received a call from Sweeney. The police wanted to talk to Ojeda. If he chose to do so, the priest could turn himself over to authorities that day.

Ojeda told Nondorf to take him to the police station.

As night began to fall, Nondorf pulled into the parking lot of the Sacramento Police Department on Freeport Boulevard. After Sheehan went inside, he took Ojeda's hand and looked into his eyes.

"You may have to pay for what you have done," he said. "But you are still a priest and a brother."

Ojeda's eyes began to get teary.

"You need to consider getting an attorney," Nondorf told him. "You're in serious trouble."


At around 9 that night, Ojeda traded his black clothing and white collar for an orange jumpsuit. He was fingerprinted, booked and escorted into a cell at the Sacramento County jail.

Fate decided

........ The priest's incarceration went unnoticed until Friday, when the diocese announced it in a terse press release. The first news reports burst onto the Internet within minutes. "Catholic Priest Arrested for Lewd Acts With a Child," one headline said. Ojeda's solemn face, lips pursed, appeared in a lineup of inmates on

From his cell eight floors above the street, Ojeda already had become a client of one of the area's most prominent criminal defense attorneys, Jesse Ortiz.

Soto, meanwhile, was getting ready to face the public.

"We can't hide from this," Soto told his staff. "We are coming out of a history of suspicion that we have not been candid about these things. It is important for me to deliver the news."

It was during the early 2000s, as Ojeda was studying for the priesthood, that the national sexual abuse scandal erupted across America. The Sacramento diocese, like many across the country, faced questions and criticism about its handling of such cases.

At the time, Bishop William Wiegand revealed that 14 of its priests had been accused of sexual misconduct with minors over the previous 30 years. Of the 14, two had died. Two were retired and not permitted to function as priests. Another seven had abandoned the priesthood or fled the jurisdiction. Three were still active in the diocese, because the allegations against them had not been sustained.

At 12:03 p.m. on the Friday after Ojeda's arrest, Soto stood before more than a dozen reporters in a conference room at the pastoral center.

As two TV stations broadcast his remarks live, the bishop spoke of the pain and courage of the alleged victim and her family. He called the allegations against Ojeda devastating.

The violation of trust, he said, "takes our breath away."

Even as he spoke, a crowd began to assemble outside the downtown jail.

Carrying signs with Ojeda's photo and chanting his name, members of the priest's devoted flock were angrily protesting his arrest. Some attacked the diocese as being jealous of Ojeda's successes, and raised the possibility the Woodland girl had fabricated the allegations.

That afternoon, Soto piloted his white Nissan Altima to a meeting in Redding that was unconnected to the Ojeda case. But his advisers kept his cellphone pinging with updates and information about the matter.

The accused priest's supporters had organized a defense fund on his behalf and set up a "Padre Uriel Ojeda" Facebook page. They were peppering the diocese with calls and emails. They were praying and singing on the sidewalk beneath Ojeda's jail cell.

In the days that followed, Soto and his staff kept a low profile. They were wary, the bishop said, of showing favoritism to either side in the case. They assigned priests to visit Ojeda in jail, but neither the bishop nor members of his administrative team were among them.

After a few weeks behind bars, Ojeda was released on bail to a secret location, and since then has appeared in public only during court hearings.

On Friday, Aug. 2, following a plea deal, a Sacramento Superior Court judge sentenced Ojeda to eight years in state prison.

Ojeda apologized to the family and the diocese and called himself a "weak and sinful" man. A prosecutor read statements from the girl and her family, calling the priest a "selfish coward."

Deputies led Ojeda, his hands chained at his waist, back behind bars.

But for the diocese, the case "is still not over," Soto said recently. "I feel a deep sadness for what he did to others, and what he did to himself."

The diocese, he said, is asking the Vatican to strip Ojeda of his priesthood.

"We are beginning the formal process to remove him," Soto said. "It is a very sad thing. He had such a bright future. But there are consequences to what he has done."

Read full story at Merced Sun Star

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Reports of suspicious financial activity up at Vatican

Gazzetta del Sud August 9, 2013 Rome, August 9 - The success of the Vatican's commitment to greater financial surveillance is demonstrated by the rise in suspicious activities detected, the head of financial intelligence there said Friday. In an interview published in the daily La Repubblica, Rene Bruelhart said the Vatican's latest measures toward greater financial enforcement are already proving themselves. The rising number of suspicious transaction reports this year - with more reported to date in 2013 than in the previous year - proves the system is effective, said Bruelhart, director of the Vatican's watchdog Financial Information Authority (AIF). ''The suspicious transaction reports detected in 2013 are significantly more than the six recorded in 2012,'' Bruelhart is quoted as saying. ''That fact...signals that the system of controls is working''. In May, the AIF said it had uncovered six cases of suspect transactions in 2012, a notable increase since 2011 when only one such case was flagged. His comments came one day after Pope Francis issued a papal decree aimed at strengthening and broadening the scope of financial surveillance in order to combat money laundering and corruption. The papal law, known as a ''motu proprio,'' gives the AIF the new task of prudential supervision over all areas of the Curia, the Church's administration, as well as its other institutions. The decree was a further step towards making it compliant with international standards, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said following Thursday's announcement. The new regulations at the Holy See will not only combat money laundering, but also the financing of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It establishes a new body, the Financial Security Committee, for the purpose of ''coordinating the competent authorities of the Holy See and the Vatican City State in the area of prevention and countering of money laundering, the financing of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction''. In another step in the Vatican's efforts to become more financially transparent and internationally compliant, it recently signed a formal agreement with the Bank of Italy on banking and financial information to fight money laundering. The agreement, signed July 26, was based on a model prepared by the Egmont Group, the global network of financial intelligence units. The agreement contains clauses on reciprocity, confidentiality and the permitted uses of financial information. The Holy See's reputation on financial transparency had been hit hard by number of scandals, including several at the Vatican Bank, officially called the Institute of Religious Works (IOR). Francis is keen to remove stains from the bank's reputation and get the Vatican onto the ''white list'' of countries with unimpeachable credentials by working with the Council of Europe's Moneyval anti-money-laundering agency.

Friday, August 9, 2013

G.K. Chesterton soon to be saint?

Vatican Insider
August 9, 2013

TURIN - Who knows whether a sort of Fr. Brown figure will be investigating the canonization cause of English writer Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936)? It was recently announced that Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton, England, has appointed a suitable cleric to begin an investigation into the potential for opening a cause for G.K. Chesterton, a writer, essayist and journalist and author of the much loved Father Brown detective stories who converted to Catholicism in 1922.

The President of the American Chesterton Society, Dale Ahlquist, announced the news last 1 August. “It was a great privilege for me to make the announcement at the conference,” he said. “One of the reasons that especially motivated him (Mgr. Doyle, Ed.) is the fact that His Holiness, Pope Francis, expressed support for Chesterton’s Cause when he was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires.”

Mgr. Doyle is the Bishop of the diocese of Northampton, a suffragan see of the Archdiocese of Westminster, which covers the counties of Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire and the traditional county of Buckinghamshire.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) is one of the England’s most celebrated writers. His books “Orthodoxy,” “The Everlasting Man,” his works about St. Francis of Assisi and St. Thomas Aquinas as well as the Father Brown detective stories, are world famous. All his texts are brilliant, deep reflections into the relationship between faith and reason. Their content played an important role in many people’s decision to convert and was a positive influence on many great 20th century figures.

One of his friends (and admirers) was British writer and philosopher Clive Staples Lewis. But Chesterton also influenced John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, author of “The Lord of the Rings” and other fantasy best-sellers such as “The Hobbit” and “The Silmarillion”. He also inspired the scholar, poet playwright and journalist Maurice Baring, the historian Christopher Henry Dawson, the theologian Mgr. Ronald Knox and agnostic authors such as the great Argentinean writer, Jorge Luis Borges.

The President of the Chesterton American Society recalled Chesterton’s influence on the Servant of God, U.S. Archbishop Fulton John Sheen, one of the most brilliant preachers of his time. “I think he (Chesterton, Ed.) is very much a saint for our time and could draw many people into the Catholic Church,” Ahlquist said. So could Chesterton be made a saint soon? He would probably have laughed at the thought. Or would the master of paradox perhaps have foud it paradoxical?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Why the Franciscans of the Immaculate have been placed under the supervision of a commmisioner

Vatican Insider

The Pope’s decision to place the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate under the supervision of a commissioner - after the Congregation for Religious requested him to do at the end of an apostolic visit which began last year – and to forbid them to celebrate Mass according to the Old Rite without prior authorisation, has sparked heated media reactions originating from traditionalist circles and critics of Francis’ papacy. There is one basic reason for this: Francis is seen as going back on a Motu Proprio issued by Benedict XVI in 2007 which liberalised the pre-Vatican II missal. Vatican spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi has denied that this is the case.

American traditionalist blog Rorate Coeli published the text of the decree which announces the appointment of a commissioner to supervise the Institute, including the clause on the traditional Latin Mass. On 29 July, Italian traditionalist blog, Messainlatino, published the official version of the letter the commissioner sent to the Institute’s religious. The news was discussed in greater detail that same day, by Vatican correspondent Sandro Magister, who presented it as the first open “contradiction” to Ratzinger’s pontificate. A reaction also came from Italian news agency Corrispondenza Romana, headed by Professor Roberto De Mattei, who has ties with the traditionalist world and has written a book about the Second Vatican Council, which presents Vatican II as an event which broke with past tradition. Corrispondenza Romana also gathered signatures for a petition to support the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate being able to use the Old Rite. The petition was then sent to the Congregation for Religious.

On 7 August, two journalists with close links to the traditionalist world, Mario Palmaro and Alessandro Gnocchi, wrote an article for Italian newspaper Il Foglio with the eye-catching title: “Quella sberla ai Francescani nella chiesa di Francesco” (“Francis’ Church gives Franciscans a slap in the face”). The article says the style of the letter sent by the Holy See-appointed commissioner Fr. Fidenzio Volpi, resembled that of Romanian Communist politician Ceaușescu’s bureaucrats. The two journalists mocked Francis’ message to Muslims for the end of Ramadan as well as his recent trip to the Southern Italian island of Lampedusa. Comparing Francis’ pontificate against the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, the journalists said the latter “are poor and humble without being ostentatious”, whilst the “new pontificate seems to love the cameras and being in the spotlight.” Gnocchi and Palmaro defined the decision to appoint a supervisory commissioner for the Institute a “draconian” measure which aims to weaken the friars in their determination to rediscover and preserve the traditional Latin Mass. The 1962 missal corresponds to the Mass that has been celebrated for two centuries whereas the post-Vatican II liturgy is not linked to tradition.

In a recent interview with Vatican Insider, the former Procurator General of the Franciscan Friars, Fr. Alessandro Apollonio, flatly denied that the Institute’s friars and women religious were in any way involved in spreading the idea that the decisions affecting the Institute disavow Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio. But doubts remain regarding the obvious attempts to transform the Institutes internal issues and tensions to do with faithfulness to the original charisma, into an open battle over the traditional Mass and the supposed betrayal of Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio. This seems to suggest that the Holy See’s decision was either taken light-heartedly or based on “false” information, as Fr. Apollonio himself stated.

It is worth remembering that the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate – an Institute which has a strong Marian and missionary ethos, was established in the 70s and takes its inspiration from St. Francis of Assisi and especially St. Maximilian Kolbe – did not originally spring out of a traditional context. The founder, Fr. Stefano Manelli took the Institute in this direction after the promulgation of the Motu Proprio issued by Benedict XVI in 2007, liberalising the Old Mass.

In the General Chapter held in 2008, Fr. Manelli suggested a review of the Institute’s Constitutions, to make the use of the Old Rite in conventual Masses obligatory. Opposition to the proposal was so great that it was withdrawn without even putting it to the vote. But in the three years that followed, it was suggested again that Mass be celebrated according to the the Old Rite and sometimes the Rite was imposed. In an interview published on a French blog in 2010, Fr. Apollonio himself admitted that the Old Rite “is our conventual form of Mass and was recommended by our founder.” The Old Rite was even a favourite for priestly ordinations. Although no written law or decision was introduced in the Institute’s General Chapter to make the use of the Old Rite official, it was the “preferred” Rite in convents run by the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate. Some countries, in fact, issued bilingual editions of the book of hours, in English and Latin, so as to encourage people to pray in Latin.

In 2012, this led a group of friars – Frs Antonio Santoro, Michele Iorio, Pierdamiano Fehlner, Massimiliano Zangheratti and Angelo Geiger – who formed part of the original community and held important roles in the running of the Institute and in its development and were transferred on various occasions as punishment for their non-traditionalist views – to ask the Vatican Congregation for Religious for the original charism to be restored. They also asked for traditionalist ideas not to be imposed on them, including those which reduced the influence of the Second Vatican Council or presented it as an event which marked an irreconcilable break with previous tradition.

Fr. Geiger wrote a letter stating that there were some influential figures within the Institute who claimed the New Mass was for ordinary Catholics, whereas the Old Mass was “for Catholics who were more serious about the faith.” According to this point of view, the “extraordinary form of the Roman Rite” liberalised by Benedict XVI was seen as automatically superior.

A separate chapter addresses the mistrust some of the Institute’s heads feel towards the new pontificate. This opinion is fully shared by certain websites and blogs that try to portray the friars as victims “persecuted” by “enemies” who support the Old Mass and their Vatican sponsors. Those who oppose the line taken in recent years do not believe that the Old Mass and traditionalism should form the exclusive basis of young seminarists’ training. They also do not agree that traditionalist “opinions” should be treated as “law” within the Institute and passed off as a sign of loyalty to its founder, when they should not be imposed on anyone. Particularly, these friars say, as the General Chapter did not consult or issue a mandate on this matter. Traditionalism “has nothing to do with our charisma” and “according to our legislation is not obligatory.”

Added to this, are other problems to do with the running of the Institute, the growing role of its female component which is more united in its support for the proposal regarding the Old Mass, and the pastoral problems linked to parishes where the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate carry out their ministry. A year ago, Benedict XVI’s reaction to all this was to order an apostolic visit. On 9 May 2012, even before the visit took place, in one of his public audiences, Ratzinger greeted consecrated women, seminarists and the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, praying that they would allow themselves to be nourished by the Word of God and the Eucharistic bread, so as to feel cum Ecclesia. This message is echoed in the letter sent by Francis’ appointed commissioner to the Institute’s members.

The apostolic visitor handed out a very detailed questionnaire which dealt with all these problems and as Vatican Insider has been able to learn, most of the members consulted said they were in favour of an extraordinary General Chapter being held or of a commissioner being appointed. This is proof that there are tensions within the Institute and that they are not limited to just a handful of rebel friars who supposedly managed to falsify the truth.

So the theory that Pope Francis’ decision is a disavowal of his predecessor’s Motu Proprio does not seem to hold water, as Vatican Insider wrote last 30 July.

It is therefore understandable that the Holy See did not take the decision to appoint a supervisory commissioner lightly and only went ahead with it had carefully considered every little detail. The Institute’s official website says that its founder, Fr. Stefano Manelli and the entire Institute of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate pledge obedience to the Holy Father and trust that given this obedience, greater mercy would be shown towards them. In the coming weeks, the commissioner will decide whether this statement should prevail over the pressure being placed on the Institute’s friars by traditionalist circles, to celebrate consciously according to the Old Rite, without asking for prior authorisation. According to these traditionalists, the fact that the Vatican decree does not at any point specify who the “competent authorities” are, gives the friars the right to continue celebrating the Old Rite.

Pope Francis beefs up supervision of Vatican bank

Catherine Hornby
August 8, 2013

VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis on Thursday strengthened monitoring of the Vatican bank to prevent money laundering or the financing of terrorism as part of his campaign to clean it up after decades of scandal.

Issuing a "Motu Proprio" - a decree at his own initiative, Francis said the Vatican's internal watchdog, the Financial Information Authority (FIA), would have increased powers of supervision over the bank and other Holy See departments involved in financial activities.

The move will lead to closer monitoring of the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR) - the formal name of the Vatican bank - and responds to a recommendation from the European anti-money laundering committee Moneyval last year.

The Vatican is trying to meet international standards on fighting crimes such as money laundering, funding of terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Moneyval said in a July 2012 report that the Vatican still had some way to go.

It said FIA's powers should include reviewing policies, procedures, accounts and records and that it should have the right to enter Vatican premises and demand access to information.

Francis's decree broadens the application of relevant Vatican laws to the departments of the Roman Curia, or central administration, and to other institutions dependent on the Holy See as well as non-profit organisations based in Vatican City.

It also establishes a "Financial Security Committee" to coordinate efforts to prevent laundering, terrorism financing and the proliferation of weapons, the Vatican said.

Pope Francis has made cleaning up the Vatican administration one of his central goals since his election in March. He has brought in international experts to advise him on economic affairs, improve transparency and enforce accounting principles.

He has also set up a special commission of inquiry to reform the IOR. In July the pope said the bank must become "honest and transparent".

The Vatican's financial dealings are again under scrutiny after the arrest of a senior Catholic priest at the centre of a money smuggling case. Italian prosecutors are investigating two former IOR top executives on suspicion of repeatedly breaking Italian money laundering laws.

In 2010, Rome magistrates froze 23 million euros ($30.6 million) held by the IOR in an Italian bank. The Vatican said its bank was merely transferring funds between its own accounts in Italy and Germany. The funds were released in 2011 but the money laundering investigation continues.

Last month the FIA signed a memorandum of understanding with Italian authorities over the exchange of financial and bank information as part of efforts to combat money laundering in line with international standards. ($1 = 0.7508 euros) (Reporting By Catherine Hornby; editing by Barry Moody/Mark Heinrich)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Parsing the pope

Michael Sean Winters
National Catholic Reporter
August 7, 2013

It would be amusing, if it were not so sad, to see many conservative Catholics attempt to qualify Pope Francis’ comment - “who am I to judge?” – when asked about the circumstance of a Vatican prelate against whom charges of homosexual conduct were leveled.

There have been many superficial reactions focusing on the public relations angle. There is Raymond Arroyo, for whom public relations is more his thing than theology, writing, “The entire episode reminds us that papal handlers do have their place. As cumbersome as they are, and as much as they distance the pontiff from his people, handlers can protect the pope from this sort of misinterpretation. Off-the-cuff, vigorous expressions have their place, but so do unambiguous, vetted statements — especially when dealing with a media unversed in Church teaching.” No fear that Arroyo will take to heart the pope’s repeated urgings to risk making a mistake in order to get out to the peripheries of life.

More troubling have been the reactions of some bishops. Emblematic would be the statement issued by San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone. Among other things, he stated:

While the Church does not judge individuals, the Church does judge actions, for we know that some acts violate human dignity while others make us more truly human according to the image in which God originally made us. With regard to sexual acts, the Church has always faithfully taught, and always will, the teaching she has received from her Lord, namely, that they find their proper order and purpose within the marital union of husband and wife, and outside of the bond of marriage they are sinful. Both natural and revealed law teach us this truth. While everyone struggles with this to some degree, healthy societies encourage and support people to live in accordance with it.

Here is a man who clearly thinks that his primary duty as pastor is to defend the moral law. Certainly, his words do not suggest he has ever talked to gay people and acquired the “smell of the sheep” from them. In an early section of the statement, in which he affirms the dignity of all people, including gay people, there is a lack of human warmth that is astounding.

If you look around, who can deny that the moral law could use a little help? In the last century, the indiscriminate bombing of civilian populations became accepted practice, and this before the dreaded 60s. And, to be sure, the sexual revolution of the 60s brought more harm than liberation for most people. But, in the U.S., for a variety of reasons, morality has been reduced to sexual morality and it seems to be the only thing some bishops want to fret about. Still, the question remains: Is defending and articulating the moral law the principal job of a bishop?

In the Scriptures, Jesus proclaims the advent of the Kingdom of God and, with it, divine judgment too. He was never shy about raising the specter of judgment, although He tended to reserve the severest admonitions for those who put their trust in money. More importantly, Jesus called His disciples not just to a strict moral life, but to a prior stance towards other human beings, especially those in need, and reserved to Himself the judgment of others, a judgment He dispenses with great mercy: “Than neither do I condemn you,” he said to the woman caught in the act of adultery.

The early Church was certainly aware of the need for the moral law, but that concern did not dominate the early Church. They wrestled most intently with making sense of who Jesus was, and what His death and resurrection meant. The early Church took pains not to suggest they were subversive, as when St. Paul affirmed that all authority is from God or when the Christian community in Jerusalem, which was very different from Paul’s communities of Christians in the Hellenic world, nonetheless abandoned Jerusalem when the Jewish revolt against Rome began. But, the willingness to conform had limits: The early Church abhorred the practice of abortion and infanticide, which were quite common, and in a culture that practiced easy divorce, the early Church insisted on a strict following of the Master’s admonitions against divorce.

In the Middle Ages, much was written about usury. It is an interesting window into the values of that time that the canons of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris forbid bankers to donate money to the construction until they had made restitution of their ill-gotten gains, but allowed the prostitutes of the city to contribute because they had earned their money. The Church’s opposition to usury developed as the economic circumstances had changed: In order to preserve the concern against exploitation of the poor, the Church came to permit limited interest charges on lending. The next time someone tells you that the application of a teaching cannot change, ask them when was the last time they heard a sermon against usury. There is a vestige of that teaching, however, in the Church’s concern that the debt of poorer nations is oppressive.

In our modern world, religion is usually permitted to enter the public square provided it leave its dogma at the door and assume the stance of an ethical authority. Time and again, the writings of the late Richard John Neuhaus and George Weigel and Mary Eberstadt make the case that a nation cannot govern itself unless its citizenry is capable of self-governance. There is obviously something to this, as the exploits of Anthony Weiner demonstrate. But, there is complicity with modernity at work here, a complicity with dreadful consequences: The Church’s authority is rooted in the authority of Christ. If we set aside our teachings about him out of concern for pluralism, and assume the role of an ethical authority, the consequent teachings must stand on their own, and they were never meant to, and they must persuade on their own, and they don’t.

There is a strange Kantian influence here as well. A dear priest friend, who is a font of wisdom in the ways of the Spirit, wrote to me this weekend about Archbishop Cordileone’s statement. My friend, let us call him “the Fons,” suggested that it was bizarre to state “that we don't judge people but we judge actions. Actions are done by people so how can you not really judge an action without some of the judgment falling on the person? The pope of course did not make this distinction because he saw that mercy has to enter into the equation and also because the pope is not a Kantian, living in a world of intellectual distinctions, the sum of which do not add up to reality.” The Fons recalled Peguy’s observation that Kant’s hands were clean because he had no hands, that is, he lived at the level of abstract principles and did not concern himself with the messiness of actual moral decision-making. Whatever else he was, Kant was not a pastor.

There is a strange, regrettable, self-secularization at work in all this. In his book “Secularisation,” Edward Norman made the point that more worrisome than the secularization of the ambient culture is the way religious leaders have willingly imbibed the habits and categories of thought drawn from the secular realm. A religious leader who presents himself primarily as a defender of the moral law has accepted secular norms in restricting his ministry. The leaders of the Church must be ministers of God’s mercy as much as they are teachers of the moral law. That, it seems to me is the essence of what Pope Francis is trying to tell the entire Church, but especially the clergy. Francis is trying to re-establish the authority of Jesus by following His admonition to leave the judging to God. Fr. Jim Martin, S.J. had a fine essay in yesterday’s Washington Post on just this subject.

Instead of trying to parse the new pope’s words in ways that empty them of their content, I suggest that those bishops who are wrestling with how to respond to Pope Francis’ way of leading the Church be quiet for bit. Watch. Listen. You might learn something. Pope Francis is getting us back to the basics of discipleship. When he stated, “who am I to judge?” he was not overturning 2,000 years of moral teaching but he was inviting Christians to place themselves in the crowd, stones in hand, gathered around the woman caught in adultery, and to listen to the words of the Master: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”