Thursday, October 31, 2013

Vatican asks for parish-level input on synod document

Joshua J. McElwee
National Catholic Reporter
October 31, 2013

The Vatican has asked national bishops' conferences around the world to conduct a wide-ranging poll of Catholics asking for their opinions on church teachings on contraception, same-sex marriage and divorce.

Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Vatican's Synod of Bishops, asked the conferences to distribute the poll "immediately as widely as possible to deaneries and parishes so that input from local sources can be received."

The poll, which comes in a questionnaire sent to national bishops' conferences globally in preparation for a Vatican synod on the family next October, is the first time the church's central hierarchy has asked for such input from grass-roots Catholics since at least the establishment of the synod system following the Second Vatican Council.

The upcoming synod, which Pope Francis announced earlier this month, is to be held Oct. 5-19, 2014, on the theme "Pastoral Challenges of the family in the context of evangelization."

The questionnaire was sent Oct. 18 from Baldisseri to the presidents of the world's individual bishops' conferences.

It asks the conferences to quiz their populations on topics that sometimes have sharply divided the U.S. church, like the Catholic teaching prohibiting the use of artificial contraception, the possibility of a divorced Catholic to remarry or receive Communion, and the number of young people choosing to live together before marrying.

NCR obtained a copy of the letter and questionnaire.

While Baldisseri asks in his letter for wide consultation on the questions, an accompanying letter sent with the U.S. version of the Vatican document does not request the American bishops undertake wide consultation in their dioceses.

That accompanying letter, dated Oct. 30, is sent from Msgr. Ronny Jenkins, the general secretary of the U.S. bishops' conference, and only asks the U.S. bishops to provide their own observations.

"In his correspondence, Archbishop Baldisseri requests the observations of the members of the Conference regarding the attached preparatory documents and questionnaire that will provide a basis for the preparation ... for the extraordinary synod," Jenkins writes.

Helen Osman, the secretary of communications for the U.S. bishops' conference, said Thursday that Jenkins was out of the office for the day and was not available to comment on how the U.S. bishops might pursue consultation for answering the questions.

In an email after initial publication of this story, Osman said the bishops will follow a “usual process” for soliciting information as “Rome asks for this kind of consultation on a regular basis.”

“We [the conference] pass on to bishops what is sent to us,” wrote Osman. “They then take care of the local consultation and send the data back to us. We transmit it to the Holy See. That is why the letter says the bishops will send back observations (gathered locally).”

“It will be up to each bishop to determine what would be the most useful way of gathering information to provide to Rome,” she wrote.

Among topics bishops' conferences are asked in the Vatican document to question their Catholic populations about:

How the church's teaching on "the value of the family" is understood today. "In those cases where the Church's teaching is known, is it accepted fully or are there difficulties in putting it into practice?" the document asks. "If so, what are they?"

Whether cohabitation, the problem of divorce and remarriage, and same-sex marriages are a "pastoral reality" in their church. "Does a ministry exist to attend to these cases?" the document asks. "How is God's mercy proclaimed to separated couples and those divorced and remarried and how does the Church put into practice her support for them in their journey of faith?"

How persons in same-sex marriages are treated and how children they may adopt are cared for. "What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live these types of union?" it asks. "In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?"

Whether married couples have "openness" to becoming parents and whether they accept Humanae Vitae, an encyclical written by Pope Paul VI that prohibited artificial contraception use by Catholics. "Is this moral teaching accepted?" it asks. "What aspects pose the most difficulties in a large majority of couple's accepting this teaching?"

In contrast to the Americans, the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales has set up an online survey that Catholics in their countries can use to respond to the Vatican questions.

Baldisseri asks in his letter that the conferences respond to the questions by the end of January.

Baldisseri also states that Pope Francis wants the October 2014 synod to only be the first step in evaluating these questions and that he intends to address the questions again during a planned synod in 2015 marking the 50th anniversary of the synod's establishment.

The October meeting, the accompanying preparatory document states, will "define the 'status quaestionis' " while the 2015 synod will "seek working guidelines in the pastoral care of the person and the family."

"Concerns which were unheard of until a few years ago have arisen today as a result of different situations, from the widespread practice of cohabitation, which does not lead to marriage … to same-sex unions between persons," the preparatory document states.

Other issues specifically identified in the document as "requiring the Church's attention and pastoral care" include:

Mixed or interreligious marriages;
Single-parent families;
"A culture of non-commitment and a presumption that the marriage bond can be temporary"; and
"Forms of feminism hostile to the Church"

"A reflection on these issues by the Synod of Bishops, in addition to it being much needed and urgent, is a dutiful expression of charity towards those entrusted to the Bishops' care and the entire human family," the document states.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

An open letter to Pope Francis about Bishop Robert Finn

Bill Tammeus
National Catholic Reporter
October 30, 2013

Dear Holy Father:

I write as a brother in Christ to say -- in words echoing what John Dean, former counsel to President Richard Nixon, once told Nixon in the midst of the Watergate scandal -- that there's a cancer growing on your remarkably hopeful papacy.

Radically unlike Nixon's mess, this one is not of your making, but only you can fix it.

You must remove Robert W. Finn as bishop of the Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., diocese. His continued presence there mocks the good-faith efforts the church is making to respond to the crisis of priests sexually abusing children.

As you're aware, Finn was convicted in court of failure to report to government authorities a priest suspected of child sex abuse. It was classified as a misdemeanor, but that label belittles the magnitude of Finn's failure.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI should have told Finn to resign immediately upon conviction, if not before. His failure to do so means the ball is in your court. And the longer it stays there without your response, the more it damages the church both Finn and you love.

Some people will disagree with me that Finn loves the church. If he did, they say, he'd have resigned long before now. That's hard to argue with, but I truly believe Finn erred in the way he handled the case of former priest Shawn Ratigan precisely because of Finn's love for the church. He sought to protect it so no one would know about Ratigan's indecent behavior and thus think worse of the church.

It was, of course, exactly the wrong thing for Finn to do. It was an egregious error that caused widespread grief. But I believe he made that error to keep the church from additional harm.

I've met Finn several times and I interviewed him in some depth when he first came to Kansas City. I see him now and then at various events and he's always been friendly toward me in public and seems an affable man.

But none of this is about me, and it really isn't about Finn, either. It's about the church you have been chosen to lead, Holy Father. And it's about how to make it clear to members of your global community that church leaders understand what happened in the abuse scandal and are committed to do all you can to respond in compassion, love and justice.

Compassion, love and justice require Finn's removal from office.

What will you do with Finn once he leaves office? I have no idea, but it would be good if it didn't look as if you were "kicking him upstairs," as we Americans say about such people as Cardinal Bernard Law, who left the troubled Boston archdiocese and was brought to Rome.

Rather, you might require Finn to take a year off for study and meditation. Then you could assign him to write his confessions and make them available to a church that is seeking to understand why so many bishops responded so badly to this abuse crisis.

After that, you might just make him a doorkeeper in the Sistine Chapel. For even the psalmist said he would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of God "than live comfortably in the tents of the wicked," as Psalm 84:10 puts it in the Common English Bible version.

But Finn's future is not the issue, either. Rather, the issue is both responding properly to the abuse crisis and, secondarily, making sure that this scandal doesn't kneecap your pontificate, which it surely can do if Finn stays. His continued presence will be a message to the whole world that you don't care about fixing the scandal. And none of us wants to believe that of you.

You have brought hope and joy to the church. And you can keep up that momentum, but not if you let Finn stay in office. Please act now.

[Bill Tammeus, a Presbyterian elder and former award-winning faith columnist for The Kansas City Star, writes the daily "Faith Matters" blog for the Star's website and a monthly column for The Presbyterian Outlook. His latest book, co-authored with Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn, is They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust. Email him at]

More French laity taking funerals

The Tablet
October 29, 2013

Lay ministers are increasingly leading funeral services in France as the growing shortage of priests has left fewer available to preside over the last rites. A survey for the Catholic magazine La Vie showed that 32 per cent of church funeral services are now conducted without a priest, compared to 19 per cent five years ago.

In regions hardest hit by the priest shortage such as Normandy and Rhone-Alpes, lay people now lead about 45 percent of all church funerals. If a prayer service takes place outside church premises, the level of lay leadership goes up to 69 percent, the survey said. The total number of priests in France has roughly halved over the past 15 years.

The survey showed that demand for religious funerals was still strong in France at 70 percent, despite the single-figure levels of regular church attendance. But civil burial rites are on the rise, up to 30 percent from 25 percent five years ago.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Woman sues archdiocese for failing to protect her from abusive priest

Madeleine Baran
Minnesota Public Radio
October 29, 2013

A Minnesota woman sued the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis today for allegedly failing to protect her from an abusive priest.

The woman said she was sexually abused by the Rev. Robert Thurner at St. Joseph Catholic Church in West St. Paul when she was seven to eight years old. She is not named in the complaint, which was brought under a new state law that gives victims more time to sue.

The full article can be read at Minnesota Public Radio .

Why do these stories all sound alike with archdiocesan officials long aware and covering up for abusive priests?

Just for context, click here to see a 1982 memo from then Archbishop Roach of St. Paul - Minneapolis to two high level priests, one of whom, (Fr. Carlson), is presently archbishop of St. Louis) on Fr. Thurner in question.

"Reform is going to go deep"

Alver Metalli
Vatican Insider
October 29, 2013

Chilean cardinal Errázuriz is also called Francis, but in his case this is just his christening name. Francisco Javier Errázuriz Ossa, one of the members of Pope Francis’ G8 advisory group, was in Rome at the start of October, along with the other cardinals who have been tasked with reforming the Roman Curia. With him, he carried a bunch of papers containing a summary of the observations made by the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM), which he headed between 2003 and 2007. Errázuriz - who became an Emeritus on 15 December 2010 after Benedict XVI accepted his resignation as leader of the Archdiocese of Santiago because of age – spoke to the Argentinean edition of Vida Nueva magazine about the meetings in Rome.

He confirmed that the reforms the Pope has in mind will go deep and “could lead to a new Apostolic Constitution.” Errázuriz said cardinals had asked for this during the pre-Conclave meetings and Francis is acting on this collective wish.

The Chilean cardinal who belongs to the Schönstatt movement did not hide the general sense of unease towards the Roman Curia. “There is a longing for a Curia that encourages the new evangelisation and acts as a body that is there to serve the Pope and the dioceses, not as a control centre,” he said. The reform will aim to improve coordination between the Pope’s different “ministries” and to ensure more fluid communication between the Pope and the various heads.”

The time and energy John Paul II spent on travelling led him to “reduce the number of meetings he held with his collaborators.” Hence the need to revive these, hence the need for a “coordinator”, whom Errázuriz prefers to call “Secretary General of the Curia”.

Reforms will also involve the internationalisation of the Curia. Errázuriz pointed out that only 3 out of the 50 cardinals who work with the Pope are Latin American. This is completely “disproportionate” and “must change”. “Not only are there few Latin American successors to the apostles, there are also few cardinals from other non European continents.”

The aim of the reforms will also be to make the whole Curia structure more flexible. The Chilean cardinal asked himself whether “the Roman Curia needed to be so large” and whether some roles could be moved away from the centre, Rome, and passed onto diocesan bishops.

The Pope would also like women to play a greater role in the decision-making process and this will be taken into account when reforming the Secretariat of State for example. Its name will probably change to “Papal Secretariat”.

Errázuriz, who turned 80 in September, said that it its upcoming meetings (at the beginning of December and end of February), the G8 will be examining the Curia’s various bodies.

St Paul-Minneapolis vicar : Task force will have access to abuse related files

Brian Roewe
National Catholic Reporter
October 29, 2013

The St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese's newly appointed vicar for ministerial standards has refuted claims that the lay task force he appointed would not have the access necessary to review policies regarding clergy sex abuse allegations.

On Monday evening, Minnesota Public Radio reported that a letter sent by Dominican Fr. Reginald Whitt to archdiocesan priests gave reason for concern that the Safe Environment and Ministerial Standards Task Force would not be entirely independent and have limited access to information.

In the letter, dated Oct. 21, Whitt wrote: "Access to these files will be within my control, and limited only to what is necessary for the Task Force to be able to make an informed decision with respect to their policy review."

That line raised suspicion about whether the task force would have the "full authority and all the resources needed to complete its work" that the archdiocese promised in announcing its formation.

Whitt told NCR Tuesday that the pronouncement still stands.

"I've been charged to make sure that they get everything relevant so they can accomplish the task charged to them. All I can say is I'm going to do my very best to see that this thing is done to completion and is as thorough and as deep as necessary," he said.

He explained his role as supervisor of the distribution of documents and files from the chancery to the task force. Once the task force makes a request for documents to him, he said he relays that to the custodian of the files, who then copies and delivers them.

"I won't even personally handle them because I want to remain agnostic about all of this until the task force makes its report to me," Whitt said. He added he does not examine the requested files, attend task force meetings, have input on their agenda or receive copies of their minutes: "They use me when they need me."

In some cases, the task force can make direct requests to either the chancellor for civil affairs or the chancellor for canonical affairs. In those instances, his role becomes ensuring the files' delivery and resolving any conflicts that might arise.

Whitt said it was unfair to suggest at this point a cover-up or not fully transparent investigation "when its purpose is to disclose ... what was wrong either with the policies or with the implementation of those policies over the past 20-some years."

"Let them do their work," he said.

The St. Thomas University professor said the use of the word "control" in his letter "probably was injudicious of me," but he said he wanted to get something out to the clergy, many of whom experienced anxiety about their right to privacy. He didn't deny he was "probably the interlocutor between the chancery and the task force," but reiterated his function is to see they get the documents necessary to conduct their review."

"I'm not going to try to obstruct them. My job is to facilitate their investigation," he said.

In the letter to priests, a copy of which Whitt provided to NCR, he said the task force "will review documents of the Archdiocese relating to policies and procedures for preventing, investigating and responding to sexual misconduct by clergy, and all documents relating to the protection of children, youth and vulnerable adults from such misconduct," as well as a review of "any and all issues related directly or indirectly to clergy sexual misconduct in the Archdiocese."

The task force will not have access to review all clergy files, but rather, can request review of specific files to determine whether policies and procedures were followed. Whitt told NCR while the task force doesn't have "global access" to archdiocesan files, the only thing limiting access is their scope. Assignment records for priests never accused of sexual abuse, birth certificates and baptismal records are examples he gave as irrelevant to their investigation.

"They have plenary authority within the area given to them, but in areas that aren't given to them, they have neither reason nor right to go into those matters," he said.

When asked who determines what is off limits, Whitt said it becomes his job to weigh their information requests against their jurisdiction.

"If they see something they want, I will make it my business to try to get it for them. If I think that it goes beyond the scope of their investigation, then I'll have to talk to the chair of the task force. We'll work out exactly which way to go on that," he told NCR.

The archdiocese formally announced the creation of the task force Oct. 6, along with Whitt's appointment to the newly formed position of vicar for ministerial standards. Both moves came in response to a month of local media reports raising serious questions about the way it handled and responded to allegations or suspicions of clergy sexual abuse of minors.

Among the task force's six members (three men and three women) are a retired police officer with background in online sex crimes involving minors, law professor, human resources director with a background investigating sexual exploitation of refugees in Africa, and psychologist who serves as president of the state's sexual abusers treatment association. Kathleen DiGiorno, an attorney and former compliance specialist with Medtronic, was named its chair.

So far, the task force has only requested some documents, Whitt said, all of which they have received.

"It doesn't do any good at this point to criticize them before they've actually done the work. But I trust in the integrity of their work, I trust in the integrity of the task force, and they appear to trust me, and I certainly have no intention of obstructing their investigation," he said.

Priest demands Nienstedt explain handling of clergy sexual abuse

Madeleine Baran
Minnesota Public Radio
October 29, 2013

A popular St. Paul priest on Sunday accused Archbishop John Nienstedt of arrogance and demanded an explanation for the clergy sexual abuse scandal.

"He needs to stand before us and explain himself," the Rev. Stephen O'Gara, pastor of the Church of the Assumption, said in a Sunday homily. "Only then will we have the respect called to his office. It's about arrogance, and we all fall victim to arrogance in some degree or in some place in our lives. But this is more. This is not some small matter. This is a big deal. It's the first time, I must say, in 69 years that I'm embarrassed to be Catholic."

O'Gara's homily references the recent revelations of the handling of clergy sexual abuse allegations by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. An MPR News investigation has found Nienstedt and other church leaders failed to warn parishioners of a priest's sexual misconduct, did not turn over possible child pornography to police for nine years and gave special payments to offending priests. Many of the revelations come from former church official Jennifer Haselberger, who resigned in April after Nienstedt and others failed to follow the church's sexual abuse policies.

"These are difficult days," O'Gara told parishioners. "They are hurtful and painful, and I think it's time that we come clean."

A spokesman for the archdiocese was not immediately available for comment Tuesday morning.

Parishioners at the downtown St. Paul church applauded O'Gara's remarks, and someone uploaded an audio recording of the homily to YouTube.

Other priests have come forward in recent weeks to challenge Nienstedt's leadership.

The Rev. Mike Tegeder of St. Francis Cabrini Church in Minneapolis called for Nienstedt's resignation. The Rev. Bill Deziel of the Church of St. Peter, in a church bulletin, asked for a "do-over" of archdiocesan leadership. And the Rev. Michael Anderson praised Haselberger for revealing the archdiocese's actions.

"I think (Haselberger) is a heroic person who could no longer live with a duplicitous system that said publicly that it was following strict guidelines to protect children but privately withheld information and continued to move predators from parish to parish," Anderson, of the Church of St. Bernard in St. Paul, wrote in an Oct. 13 church bulletin.

As the scandal stays in the news, some priests worry that parishioners will stop donating money on Sundays, which could make it difficult for struggling parishes to stay afloat. The archdiocese recently delayed a capital campaign, and earlier this year, church officials met with bankruptcy experts in anticipation of lawsuits by victims of clergy sexual abuse allowed under a new state law.

The Rev. Rodger Bauman, pastor of Guardian Angels Catholic Church in Oakdale, sent a letter to parishioners this month encouraging them to continue giving to the parish.

"In the wake of the terrible reports in the news, some parishioners here at Guardian Angels, and I would imagine in every parish in the Archdiocese, have expressed concern that none of their contributions to the church go to the Archdiocese," Bauman wrote. "The majority of your contributions to Guardian Angels stay right here to pay salaries, support programs and keep the doors open."

Nienstedt has responded to the scandal by creating a task force to review church policies on child sexual abuse. Although the archbishop has characterized the task force as independent, its members were chosen by a priest selected by Nienstedt who will also control access to church files.

"As head of this local Church, I accept responsibility for addressing the issues that have been raised and am completely committed to finding the truth and fixing the problems that exist," Nienstedt wrote in an email to MPR News on Oct. 23. "My highest priorities are to ensure the safety of our children and to restore the trust of Catholics and our clergy. I will do everything in my power to do so."

Monday, October 28, 2013

(St. Paul - Minneapolis) Task force supervisor to control group's access to clergy abuse information

Madeleine Baran
Tom Scheck
Minnesota Public Radio
October 28, 2013

A task force created to address the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis will only have access to information provided by a church official.

The task force will not investigate allegations against specific priests, and priest files will not be made public, according to an Oct. 21 letter to clergy by the Rev. Reginald Whitt.

Whitt, chosen by Archbishop John Nienstedt to create the task force, will control the panel's access to information about clergy abuse. "Access to these files will be within my control, and limited only to what is necessary for the Task Force to be able to make an informed decision with respect to their policy review," he wrote.

Whitt's letter appears to contradict Nienstedt's characterization of the task force as independent. It also raises the question of how the task force will be able to make fully informed decisions without access to all information.

In an email to MPR News last week, Nienstedt wrote, "The Task Force will have unprecedented authority to examine any and all issues associated with clergy sexual abuse. Its findings and recommendations will be welcomed and implemented."

The archdiocese responded late Monday afternoon with a statement promising the task force "will provide a truly independent analysis from a group of outside and impartial experts to help tell how we can do better."

The archdiocese has been under scrutiny since September, following investigative reports by MPR News that found Nienstedt and other church leaders failed to warn parishioners of a priest's sexual misconduct, did not turn over possible child pornography to police for nine years, and gave special payments to offending priests, including pedophiles.

Nienstedt created the task force in response to the investigation and growing concerns by parishioners. He said it was important that an assessment of the archdiocese's handling of clergy abuse issues be done by "an independent group so that there can be no question of the integrity of the review." The panel, he added, would have "full authority and all the resources needed to complete their work."

Victims of clergy abuse have called for a grand jury investigation of the archdiocese's handling of abuse claims, arguing that recent reports show the church cannot be trusted to review its own cases. Earlier this month, St. Paul police asked anyone who has been sexually abused by a priest to contact law enforcement. Police continue to investigate the archdiocese's role in a child pornography case.

In his letter to clergy, Whitt said he plans to draft a "confidentiality agreement requesting that each [task force] member acknowledge that they are prohibited from divulging or making any use, in any venue, or for any purpose, of any information relating to individual priests they obtain during the course of their work as members of the task force."

Whitt attempted to alleviate concerns among some priests that their personnel files will become public. "I understand that many of you may be anxious about your right to privacy and a good reputation," he wrote.

The letter details a complicated process involving three separate committees, none of which will have access to all information or be able to enact any new policies without Nienstedt's approval.

It is unclear whether the mission of these three committees is any different from church policies already in place.

The archdiocese has had a written policy for handling clergy sexual abuse since at least 1986, and the Vatican has its own detailed process for handling complaints. Nienstedt said last week that some church officials may not have followed its policies.

The two new committees detailed by Whitt are called the Safe Environment and Ministerial Standards Task Force and the Ministerial Standards Board. Whitt's letter also references a revised Clergy Review Board, but it is unclear how the board has been revised. The Clergy Review Board already is supposed to serve as an advisor to the archbishop on sexual misconduct.

The archdiocese this afternoon said the Clergy Review Board will now focus only on clergy sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults rather than "the full spectrum of clergy misconduct" and that the Ministerial Standards Board will deal with all other issues.

The committees are separate from Nienstedt's announcement last week that he will hire an outside firm to "review all clergy files."

It is unclear why the archdiocese has created four separate entities.

Whitt said he will publish the findings and recommendations of the task force and will implement the recommendations. A spokesperson for the archdiocese previously said there is no timeline for when the report will be completed, and the archdiocese has not decided which firm to hire.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Catholic priest Ratigan pleads guilty once again in child porn case

The Kansas City Star
October 25, 2013

The final criminal chapter in the child pornography case against a Northland Catholic priest concluded Friday when the Rev. Shawn F. Ratigan pleaded guilty in Clay County Circuit Court to three counts of possessing child pornography.

Ratigan was sentenced to seven years in prison on each felony charge, with the 21-year combined sentence to run concurrent to the 50-year sentence that he recently received in federal court for producing child pornography.

“There are certain offenses that shock the conscience when the defendant takes advantage of people who are unable to defend themselves, and this is one of those situations,” Presiding Circuit Judge Larry D. Harman said when announcing the sentence in Liberty.

Earlier in the hearing, Harman asked Ratigan to explain in his own words the crimes he committed.

Ratigan simply stated, “I possessed them.”

Harman asked if Ratigan was aware that possessing child pornography was illegal.

“Yes sir,” the 48-year-old priest answered.

Ratigan took pornographic photos of children around churches and schools while working in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, authorities have said. Some of the photos were “up-skirt” images of clothed girls ages 12 and younger. At least one nude photo focused on a girl’s genitals.

When working out the plea deal, prosecutors agreed not to ask Harman to impose a sentence that Ratigan would have to serve after his federal prison term ended, Clay County Prosecutor Daniel L. White said.

“Shawn Ratigan will die in prison,” White said afterward. “I am confident he will never again abuse or exploit a child.”

A relative of Ratigan and two priests attended the hearing, but no immediate family members of the victims went.

The proceedings Friday came a little more than a month after Ratigan’s sentencing in federal court. Three weeks ago, he was transferred to the Clay County Detention Center while his attorneys negotiated the plea agreement with Clay County authorities.

The Ratigan scandal, which exploded publicly in 2011, spawned multiple civil lawsuits and led to the criminal conviction of Bishop Robert W. Finn and changes in how diocesan officials handle child sexual abuse allegations.

A Jackson County judge found Finn guilty for failing to report suspicion of child abuse after the photographs Ratigan took were discovered, making him the highest-ranking U.S. Catholic cleric convicted in the church’s decades-long child sexual abuse scandal. Finn was sentenced to two years of probation for the misdemeanor.

On the Clay County matter, Finn avoided a possible criminal misdemeanor indictment in his handling of Ratigan and agreed to enter into a diversion program. His agreement with White calls for the two to meet face-to-face each month for five years to discuss any allegations of child sex abuse levied against clergy or diocesan staff within the diocese’s Clay County facilities.

Diocesan spokesman Jack Smith declined to comment Friday on the guilty plea and sentencing.

Church officials learned of Ratigan’s criminal activities in December 2010 after a computer technician discovered disturbing images on the priest’s laptop computer. The day after the church was notified about the images, Ratigan attempted suicide. When he failed to show up at Mass, St. Patrick church officials and emergency workers went to his apartment in the 3800 block of North Forest Avenue. They found Ratigan unconscious in his closed garage with his motorcycle running.

Ratigan apologized in a suicide note. He was hospitalized for treatment and psychiatric care.

Before the photos were discovered, the principal of St. Patrick School in Kansas City, North, had alerted church officials that teachers and parents were troubled by some of Ratigan’s behavior and hands-on interactions with children but failed to take immediate action.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Suspended "Bishop of Bling" was bound to irk austere Pope Francis

Carol J. Williams
Los Angeles Times
October 23, 2013

When Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Germany traveled to India last year to minister to poor slum dwellers, he reportedly flew first class.

This year, renovations of the Roman Catholic bishop's church-owned residence in the city of Limburg ran massively over budget to cover $620,000 worth of artwork, $1.1 million in landscaping and last-minute design revisions -- $42 million in all, billed to the Vatican and German taxpayers, Hamburg's tabloid daily Bild reported.

Dubbed the "Bishop of Bling" by European media that have been avidly tracking the bespectacled clergyman's lavish lifestyle, Tebartz-van Elst was suspended from his post by Pope Francis on Wednesday in a clear sign that the new pontiff is serious about diverting resources from the "princes of the church" to the paupers in its congregations.

Tebartz-van Elst flew to Rome this month -- on budget carrier easyJet, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported -- to explain his finances to the pope after a Vatican delegation was dispatched last month to investigate what had become an embarrassing scandal for the church.

The bishop was forced to wait a week before getting his papal audience Monday, from which he emerged to tell reporters at the Vatican that his fate was "in the hands of the pope."

On Wednesday, the Vatican issued a statement saying Tebartz-van Elst was taking an unspecified leave because "a situation has been created in which the bishop can no longer exercise his episcopal duties."

There was no word on how long the bishop will be suspended or any indication of where he will spend his imposed hiatus. One German politician suggested Tebartz-van Elst might want to familiarize himself with the humility advocated by Francis by serving his suspension in an impoverished Third World ministry.

"Perhaps one could recommend to the bishop that he take over a diocese in Africa, where he can win back his credibility," Heiner Geissler, a former secretary of the Christian Democratic Union headed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, told ARD television.

The spending scandal has rocked the German government as well as the church hierarchy, as German churchgoers are compelled to pay a tax to the state that is used to cover government-administrated religious expenses. Berlin collects more than $6 billion a year for the Catholic Church from those who identify themselves as church members on their tax forms. A significant number have struck their names from the Catholic registry in recent years, though, in protest of the worldwide clergy sexual scandal.

German church leaders welcomed the decision to remove Tebartz-van Elst, some indicating that they didn't expect him to return to his bishopric in Limburg, about 50 miles northwest of Frankfurt.

"Pope Francis' decision offers the chance of a first step toward a new beginning in the Limburg diocese, because the situation has become an increasing burden for the faithful there, and in all of Germany, over recent weeks," Alois Glueck, head of the Central Committee of German Catholics lay organization, told the German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

Der Spiegel magazine, whose report on the India trip headlined "First Class to the Slums" prompted Tebartz-van Elst to sue the publication, noted in its most recent edition that the bishop now faces charges of making false statements in affidavits filed with a Hamburg court.

Theological scholars say the bishop's suspension will send shockwaves through the church hierarchy and underscore Francis' message that the clergy, who have traditionally maintained social distance from the laity, are to present a more humble profile to their parishioners.

"In many parts of Asia and Africa, Catholic bishops live lifestyles of great luxury while the laity live in poverty. Catholic bishops often have cars and drivers, air-conditioned homes and servants," Mathew Schmalz, a religious studies professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worchester, Mass., said in an interview. "What we might be seeing now is the beginning of a move not only to discipline bishops who live in luxury but to divest the Catholic Church of its wealth."

In an in-depth account of what it termed Tebartz-van Elst's "prayers to riches" scandal, the Irish Times said the controversy is "casting a critical spotlight on the German Catholic Church and asking if its considerable wealth is compatible with the policies of the new pope."

Schmalz says the faithful can conclude from the bishop's fate that "Pope Francis says what he means, and means what he says, when he talks about Catholicism becoming a 'church of the poor.'"

Bishop of Bling vs. USCCB's Omertà

Mark Silk
Spiritual Politics
October 23, 2013

There’s no doubt that the profligate lifestyle of the Bishop of Limburg, Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, stinks like the local cheese. One can hope that Pope Francis has exiled him him from his palatial residence to contemplate his behavior in a monastic cell with a hard cot, a diet of bread and legumes, and the bathroom down the hall.

But what Americans would do well to contemplate in this case of episcopal discipline is the criticism that the head of the German bishops conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, has leveled at his colleague. Zollitsch said that Tebartz-van Elst had created credibility problems for the church. The “decisive” turning point came, he said, when the public prosecutor asked the court to fine the bishop for falsely testifying in a related case. He announced the creation of a church commission to investigate, and said it would do its work “quickly and carefully.”

Compare that to the response of the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, to misbehavior by his colleagues. Not a peep when Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City is convicted of the crime of covering up a suspected case of child abuse. Not a peep when Archbishop Robert Myers of Newark is revealed to have failed to follow his agreement with the court on the handling of an abusive priest. Not a peep when it comes to light that Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis has been covering up abuse cases.

In St. Paul, one priest took to the pages of his parish bulletin this week to call for Nienstedt’s departure in an essay titled “Our Troubled Archdiocese; Restoring Credibility.” “Things can’t seem to be more twisted and out of hand,” wrote Father Bill Deziel. “It leaves us all crying foul and I share the frustration and outrage that many of you have expressed.”

Cardinal Dolan & Co., not so much.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Pope Francis temporarily suspends German 'luxury' bishop

Deutsche Welle
October 23, 2013

Pope Francis announced he would remove Bishop of Limburg Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst from his position for the time being, according to a Vatican statement on Wednesday. The decision came two days after the pontiff held a private audience with Tebartz-van Elst. The pontiff had chosen to suspend Tebartz-van Elst because he "could not [carry out his duties] at the current time," given the controversy surrounding his costly renovation project, the Vatican statement said.

Vicar general Wolfgang Rösch from the neighboring city of Wiesbaden was named as the temporary caretaker for the bishop of Limburg's diocese. Rösch had already been selected to become Limburg's vicar general beginning January 2014.

It was not immediately clear how long the German bishop would be suspended.

German daily newspaper "Bild" reported on Wednesday that the suspension was expected to last two to three months.

There was no immediate comment from the bishop.

The 'luxury' bishop

Tebartz-van Elst, 53, this month announced the costs for the renovation of his new residence and offices would be 31 million euros, far beyond the original estimate of 5.5 million euros.

The scandal over the possible misuse of Church funds has drawn criticism in Germany, where parish funds comes not only from donations, but also from a special "church tax" paid by registered parishioners to their respective denominations.

The surprising cost of the renovation projects prompted calls for his resignation by German Catholics.

A separate scandal had also drawn attention to the bishop around the same time involving a trip to India where he visited impoverished communities. He had denied claims by the German news magazine Der Spiegel that he had flown first-class. The Hamburg prosecutor subsequently issued an indictment against him for allegedly submitting false affidavits.

Tebartz-van Elst has defended the costs, citing the breadth of the project as the main reason for the exorbitant bill.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Pastor calls for 'fresh start in leadership' for Catholic archdiocese (St. Paul-Minneapolis) over sex abuse cases

Beth Hawkins
October 22, 2013

The pastor of a large, conservative North St. Paul Catholic parish has called for “a fresh start in leadership” in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in the wake of recent revelations about the scope and severity of sex abuses cases here.

“These accounts of priest abuse, and misconduct are disturbing, yet even more disturbing to many of the faithful is the apparent lack of good judgment and common sense on the part of our archdiocesan leaders to deal with the offending priests,” Father Bill Deziel wrote Sunday in the parish weekly bulletin (PDF).

“Things can’t seem to be more twisted and out of hand,” he added. “It leaves us all crying foul and I share the frustration and outrage that many of you have expressed.”

The archdiocese, asked about Deziel's comments, said it was unable to comment immediately on the matter.

Deziel also did not immediately respond to an interview request from MinnPost, but several parishioners at the Church of St. Peter said they applauded the strongly worded letter and sermons in which the abuse scandal was also mentioned.

“All I can say is I think he hit the nail on the head,” said Bill Sonntag, a member of both St. Peter and St. Pius in White Bear Lake. “I feel an absolute sadness that he has that this is going on.”

Pastor calls for release of list

Deziel also called for the release of the list of 33 priests the archdiocese believes have been credibly accused of sexually abusing children. “If it is not, it leaves all of us wondering who these men are, and which priests may be threats to our children and young people,” he wrote. “Other dioceses including Chicago, Los Angeles, Tucson and Baltimore have done this and it’s time for us to do so as well.”

The pastor also asked for the opening of a “vault” in the chancery offices that contains files on priests. “All of the files should be examined by competent independent authorities who can make decisions as to which files contain potentially criminal behavior and which do not,” Deziel wrote. “The findings of this investigation should be made public and charges filed if necessary.”

Acknowledging that he was calling for “dramatic” steps, Deziel cautioned that without fundamental change the archdiocese might be considered “downright bankrupt” for years.

“Third,” he wrote, “it may be time for a do over with our archdiocesan leadership. This is not to say that our leaders have not done their best to serve us in these matters and others. They have served admirably in many powerful ways, but when things get this bad, sometimes a fresh start is needed for all involved. A fresh start in leadership could get us moving forward again with all that Christ calls us to do.”

“I’m glad he said something — it’s the elephant in the room,” said parishioner Sonntag. “There are definitely more empty pews and I think it’s because people lose faith in [church] leadership and they stop going.”

Range of reactions

Sonntag was one of two parish members who said they feel terrible for clergy who are not involved in the scandal but who likely feel tarnished nonetheless.

“It’s got to be hard to be a man of the cloth with this going on,” said Marv Koppen, another parish member. “The vast majority are really good people.”

Not every parishioner agrees with the pastor's comments. One man who asked not to be named because of the issue's divisive nature, said, “I think he went a little too far. No one was overly upset, but it was definitely a topic of discussion after mass.”

Like many, he waited until after services to share his thoughts with Deziel. He was concerned, he said in an interview Monday, that some of the allegations circulating in recent news accounts may be inflated or exaggerated. He said he knew one of the accused and doubts the claims.

Since the weekend, Deziel's comments have gone viral among Catholics who have been critical of the archdiocese’s policies in a number of arenas. Several who contacted MinnPost were careful to point out that while Deziel’s reputation is that of a middle-of-the-road straight shooter, St. Peter is generally regarded as a conservative parish.

The church’s website still contains a Marriage and Family Committee page urging the faithful to vote in favor of the proposed 2012 constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Audio of an appearance by University of St. Thomas law professor Teresa Collett, who spoke widely in favor of the amendment, is still available.

“I think it’s wonderful that he spoke up,” said Bob Duetel, a member of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform. “I think it’s pretty bold. I hope more of his brother priests speak up.”

The missive makes Deziel the second priest in the archdiocese to call for Archbishop John Nienstedt’s resignation. The first, the controversial and outspoken Michael Tegeder, called for Nienstedt to step down last year during the church’s campaign in favor of a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Kansas City priest Thomas J. O'Brien, who was named in sex abuse lawsuits, dies

The Kansas City Star
October 22, 2013

A Kansas City priest who has been the subject of numerous sexual abuse lawsuits — including one settled this year for more than $2 million — has died.

Monsignor Thomas J. O’Brien, 87, died this week, his lawyer confirmed on Tuesday.

“I don’t know any of the details, and I just got that information from family members,” said Gerald McGonagle, who has represented O’Brien for years.

A spokesman for the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese said he had no comment on the death.

O’Brien has been the subject of more than two dozen lawsuits alleging sexual abuse and was among 12 current or former priests named in a 47-plaintiff case that the diocese settled for $10 million in 2008. He repeatedly had denied all abuse allegations.

Six lawsuits against the diocese and O’Brien are pending, and the diocese in July settled a wrongful-death lawsuit for $2.25 million with the parents of a boy whose family claimed he took his own life 30 years ago because of repeated sexual abuse by O’Brien.

Donald and Rosemary Teeman filed that lawsuit in 2011 after a man who served as an altar boy with their son, Brian, told them of the alleged abuse. Brian Teeman, 14, died of a gunshot wound in November 1983 at the family’s home in Independence.

The settlement was the largest ever for the diocese in a single priest sexual abuse lawsuit. In addition to the diocese’s settlement, O’Brien settled for $2,500.

Donald Teeman said that he felt numb when he learned of O’Brien’s death following the settlement in his case. “I’m just glad it’s over with,” he said.

Attorneys from the law office of Randles, Mata and Brown, which represents the plaintiffs in the lawsuits, declined to comment. It was unclear Tuesday what effect O’Brien’s death would have on the pending lawsuits.

Born and raised in Kansas City, O’Brien attended St. Francis Xavier Elementary and Rockhurst High School, then Conception High School and Conception Seminary. After being ordained in 1950 at age 23, he served at several parishes, including St. Patrick’s in Kansas City, North; St. Elizabeth’s in Kansas City, and Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Independence. He also was principal of St. Pius X high school from 1961 until 1968 and superintendent of Catholic schools for the diocese from 1969 to 1971.

The diocese previously has told The Star that it received its first complaint about O’Brien in September 1983 accusing the priest of sexual misconduct with a teenage boy. O’Brien denied any wrongdoing, the diocese said.

O’Brien was removed from his assignment as pastor of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in October 1983 and was sent for psychological evaluation and treatment, the diocese said.

After completing treatment, O’Brien returned to the diocese in June 1984 and was allowed to serve only as a part-time hospital chaplain, the diocese said. He continued in that position until 2002. Later that year, the bishop at that time, Raymond J. Boland, told O’Brien that he could no longer present himself as a priest.

Jon David Couzens, the former altar boy whose story prompted the Teemans’ lawsuit, said he had mixed emotions about O’Brien’s death. Couzens has his own lawsuit against O’Brien and the diocese, which is scheduled for trial next year.

“In one way, I would have loved to have seen him one last time, in the courtroom, face- to-face as a grown man,” Couzens said.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Pope calls for "mutual forgiveness between Catholics and Lutherans"

Domenico Agasso Jr.
Vatican Insider
October 2013

“Catholics and Lutherans can ask forgiveness for the harm they have caused one another and for their offenses committed in the sight of God,” Francis said during this morning’s audience with the delegation of the Lutheran World Federation and representatives of the Lutheran-Catholic Commission on Unity.

The Pope’s meeting with Bishop Munib Younan, the Federation’s president and its secretary, Martin Junge, follows on from the “very cordial and pleasant meeting” which took place during the inaugural celebration of Francis ministry as the Bishop of Rome.

“It is with a sense of profound gratitude to our Lord Jesus Christ that I think of the many advances made in relations between Lutherans and Catholics in these past decades, not only through theological dialogue, but also through fraternal cooperation in a variety of pastoral settings, and above all, in the commitment to progress in spiritual ecumenism. In a certain sense, this last area constitutes the soul of our journey towards full communion, and permits us even now a foretaste of its results, however imperfect. In the measure in which we draw closer to our Lord Jesus Christ in humility of spirit, we are certain to draw closer to one another. And, in the measure in which we ask the Lord for the gift of unity, we are sure that he will take us by the hand and be our guide,” Francis said.

“This year, as a result of a now fifty year old theological dialogue and with a view to the commemoration of the five-hundredth anniversary of the Reformation, the text of the Lutheran-Catholic Commission on Unity was published, with the significant title: From Conflict to Communion. Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017. I believe that it is truly important for everyone to confront in dialogue the historical reality of the Reformation, its consequences and the responses it elicited,” Francis continued.

“Catholics and Lutherans can ask forgiveness for the harm they have caused one another and for their offenses committed in the sight of God. Together we can rejoice in the longing for unity which the Lord has awakened in our hearts, and which makes us look with hope to the future.”

“I am certain,” Francis went on to say, “that we will continue our journey of dialogue and of communion, addressing fundamental questions as well as differences in the fields of anthropology and ethics. Certainly, there is no lack of difficulties, and none will lack in the future. They will continue to require patience, dialogue and mutual understanding. But we must not be afraid! We know well – as Benedict XVI often reminded us – that unity is not primarily the fruit of our labours, but the working of the Holy Spirit, to whom we must open our hearts in faith, so that he will lead us along the paths of reconciliation and communion.”

Finally, Francis quoted the Blessed John Paul II’s question: “How can we proclaim the Gospel of reconciliation without at the same time being committed to working for reconciliation between Christians?” (Ut Unum Sint, 98). “May the faithful and constant prayer of our communities sustain theological dialogue, the renewal of life and the conversion of hearts, so that, with the Triune God, we will be able to journey together toward the fulfilment of Jesus’ desire that all may be one,” Francis prayed.

Swiss religion magazine circulates women cardinals petition

Joshua J. McElwee
National Catholic Reporter
Oct. 21, 2013

A well-known Swiss religion magazine is circulating a petition for Pope Francis to begin appointing women as cardinals and has attracted signatures of a number of European theologians and women religious.

The petition [1], found in the Sept. 12 edition of the journal aufbruch, says that "more than half of the Church's members are women but this majority is being treated as if it were a minority."

While women work in all fields of the church, the petition states, "they are not taken into account when important decisions are made, so that there exists much inequality and injustice in the Catholic Church."

"Given Jesus's message of justice, we would like to suggest to invite an appropriate number of women to become cardinals," states the petition, which has drawn more than 860 signatures.

"Neither the Bible nor tradition nor the official teaching of the Church contain any argument that might prevent the Pope to put this suggestion as soon as possible into practice."

Among the petition's more notable signatories: Benedictine Sr. Irene Gassman, the prioress of a Benedictine monastery in Zurich; Maaike de Haardt, a theologian at Tilburg University in the Netherlands; and Benedictine Sr. Teresa Forcades, a Spanish medical doctor known for her social activism and criticism of the structure of the church's hierarchy.

Publication of the petition comes as many are wondering if the pope, who has said the church must develop a wider theology of women, is actively considering appointing female cardinals as one of his reforms of the church's structure.

Cardinals, sometimes known as the "princes of the church" and for their wearing of red vestments, are personally named by the pope. They are usually senior Catholic prelates who serve either as archbishops in the world's largest dioceses' or in the Vatican's central bureaucracy.

After a pope's death or renunciation of the papal office, cardinals are also responsible for governing the church until they meet together in a secret conclave to elect the next pontiff.

For the petition writers, appointing women as cardinals is a step to show "that the Catholic Church is not as hostile to women as is sometimes claimed."

"If the responsible leaders of the Church cannot overcome the patriarchal attitudes enshrined in the theory and practice of the Church, and do not give women the opportunity to have a say in all important matters, the Church will increasingly lose more and more competent and highly committed women as members," they state.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Retired (St. Paul - Minneapolis) archbishop Harry Flynn resigns from St. Thomas trustees

Madeleine Baran
Minnesota Public Radio
October 19, 2013

Former Archbishop Harry Flynn has resigned from the board of trustees at the University of St. Thomas amid a growing clergy sexual abuse scandal.

His departure comes less than two weeks after the resignation of another church leader, former vicar general Kevin McDonough.

Flynn oversaw the handling of sexual misconduct cases from 1995 to 2008 as the leader of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. An MPR News investigation found Flynn kept the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer in ministry despite Wehmeyer's sexual addiction and sexual misconduct. Wehmeyer is now in prison for sexually abusing two children and possessing child pornography. Flynn also failed to tell police about a church investigation that found "borderline illegal" pornography on a priest's computer in 2004, and he approved extra payments to priests who sexually abused children.

The University of St. Thomas announced Flynn's departure from the board in a news release late Saturday afternoon. It said Flynn resigned on Oct. 17 - the day of the installation of the new president of St. Thomas, Julie Sullivan.

Flynn served as board chair since 1995. His former top deputy, McDonough, had served on the board since 1991 and resigned Oct. 4. McDonough also resigned from the advisory boards for the School of Law and the Center for Catholic Studies at St. Thomas, according to the statement released Saturday.

The board elected Michael Dougherty as interim chair and John M. Morrison as interim vice chair.

"On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I want to thank Archbishop Flynn for his many years of dedicated service to the board and to the university," Dougherty said in a statement.

The University of St. Thomas has "retained outside counsel to lead an independent investigation of matters related to clergy sexual abuse allegations that impact the university," the statement said. The board has also appointed a "special committee to oversee the investigation and to review findings and recommendations."

University president Julie Sullivan declined interview requests this week. MPR News reported Friday that the University of St. Thomas did not follow recommended restrictions on a priest and professor, the Rev. Michael Keating, accused of sexual abuse in 2006.

Parents of a girl who says she was sexually abused by Keating in the late 1990s notified McDonough in 2006. The archdiocese's clergy review board investigated and concluded in November 2007 that there was insufficient evidence of child sexual abuse. Nonetheless, it recommended to Flynn that Keating not be allowed to mentor teenagers and young adults.

Keating's teaching of young adults at the university indicates that the board's recommendation was not followed. It's unclear whether Flynn rejected the recommendation and never passed it along to the university or if university officials knew of the recommendation and disregarded it.

In a March 13, 2008 memo obtained by MPR News, McDonough told Flynn that he would inform Don Briel, the university's director of the Center for Catholic Studies, of the conclusion of the Keating investigation. "To the extent that others in the University have to be notified, we should see to that as well," McDonough wrote.

Reached at his office earlier this week, Briel wouldn't say whether he knew of the allegations.

Keating, who was sued by the alleged victim Monday, is on leave. He has not responded to interview requests, and his attorney, Fred Bruno, has denied the allegations.

Nazi Erich Priebke's funeral held by Catholic splinter group

ABC News
ROME Oct. 15, 2013

Protesters jeered "murderer" today as the body of a notorious Nazi was taken to a church for a funeral outside Rome that had been banned by the Catholic Church.

The body of former SS officer Erich Priebke was to be cremated, but it is unclear where his ashes will go. So far, no country has said it was willing to accept his remains.

Priebke died Friday at the age of 100 while serving the last 17 years of a lifetime prison sentence under house arrest in Rome.

Priebke was reviled in Italy for carrying out the massacre of 335 Italian civilians, including 57 Jews, in 1944 at the Ardeatine Caves in Rome. The slaughter was in retaliation for the killing of 33 German soldiers by resistance forces in the center of Rome during World War II.

The funeral came on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day in Italy on Wednesday. This year, the date will mark the 70th anniversary of the deportation of Roman Jews in 1943, many of whom died in Nazi concentration camps.

The Rome Vicariate, which overseas churches in the city and province, promptly announced in a statement soon after Priebke's death that no public funeral would be granted to him in the city or outskirts of Rome. Officials cited canon law which states that a funeral may be denied to "manifest sinners who cannot be granted ecclesiastical funerals without public scandal of the faithful."

But a splinter group of Catholic priests called the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) who object to the Vatican's outreach to Jews and other reforms agreed to hold Priebke's funeral at the chapel of their institute at Albano Laziale.

As the hearse bringing the coffin arrived outside the society's church, people in the crowd slammed their fists and umbrellas on the car and shouted "We are all anti-fascist!" and "Priebke, murderer!" the Associated Press reported.

Priebke was living openly after the war in Argentina until ABC NEW's Sam Donaldson tracked him down on the street of the town of Bariloche in 1994 and asked him about the massacre at the Ardeatine Caves.

Priebke's casual admittance to taking part in the slaughter and dismissal of his responsibilities caused shock and an indignant response around the world. He was extradited to Italy soon afterwards.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1998 by an Italian military court, but allowed to serve the last 17 years under house arrest.

Priebke continues to incite anger and protests even in death. Anti and pro-Priebke graffiti has appeared in Rome.

The tenor rose when his lawyer released a video and a seven page written message Priebke had left as "testament" in which he denied the Holocaust and the Nazi gas chambers and again showed no remorse for his actions.

While the funeral has been settled, the internment of his ashes is not..

Argentina, his home for 50 years after the war, has said they do not want him. His birthplace outside of Berlin, Hennigsdord, say there is no room for him in the cemetery. Rome's Mayor Ignazio Marino said it would be an offense to Romans if he were buried in a Roman cemetery.

Some have suggested he could be buried at the German military cemetery in Pomezia, south of Rome, but the town's mayor quickly ruled this out.

"The Pomezia German cemetery is only for Germans who died in the war. Criminals from the Nazi regime are an indelible mark of our history, and those who committed such crimes must be tried and then cancelled from our collective memory. Pomezia will never accept any of them," the mayor said.

Priebke's son, Jorge, who still lives in Argentina, is quoted in the Italian media saying what happened to his father "an injustice" and said that "the trial against my father was all invented by the Jews." He will not attend the funeral wherever they take place. "Apart from the fact that I have health problems, we do not have the money for a ticket. I receive a minimum pension in Argentina, " he said

Germany; Lefebvrists; papal cold calls; Legionaries and Lampedusa

John L. Allen, Jr.
National Catholic Reporter
October 18, 2013

Over the centuries, the first tremors of earthquakes in Catholicism often have been felt in Germany. That nation gave birth to the Protestant Reformation, and it was also where the theological energies that erupted in the Second Vatican Council began to swirl. Ralph Wiltgen captured the second point in the title of his famous 1967 history of Vatican II, The Rhine Flows into the Tiber.

Given that history, it's worth casting an eye on Germany these days to track the fallout of the "Francis effect." Two recent storylines are intriguing in that regard.

First, the Freiburg archdiocese recently issued a 14-page pastoral manual outlining circumstances under which divorced and civilly remarried Catholics might be readmitted to the sacraments, including Communion. That move compelled the Vatican to issue an Oct. 8 statement urging church leaders to wait for reforms to be adopted in Rome before implementing them on the ground.

Second, Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Limburg is currently basking in global celebrity as the "bling bishop" because of widely circulated accounts of how much he's spent on remodeling his residence -- $42 million in all, including almost $22,000 for a bathtub. Francis dispatched an investigator to Limburg in September, and this week, Tebartz-van Elst was in Rome for meetings while calls for his resignation mount.

(Proving he's not completely tone deaf, the bishop took the budget carrier Ryanair for the trip.)

If these are early warning signs of something bigger, what might it be?

In the case of Freiburg, it's the danger of expectations. Catholics of a certain age will recall the atmosphere back in 1963, when John XXIII created a commission to study birth control that continued under Paul VI. The takeaway was that the church was on the brink of changing its teaching, so much so that people remember priests saying from the pulpit they no longer needed to confess using contraception because all that was about to disappear.

Of course, Paul VI eventually affirmed the traditional ban with Humanae Vitae. Wherever one stands on the merits of the encyclical, there's no denying that people hoping for change were massively disappointed, and the fault lines that opened up scarred Paul's papacy from that point forward.

Similarly today, Francis has created palpable expectations of change in the rules regarding divorced and remarried Catholics. Once again, there's a widespread sense that it's only a matter of time, and Freiburg illustrates the understandable temptation to jump the gun. If the pope's already signaled where we're going, many people may conclude, what's the point in waiting around?

None of this is especially troubling if Francis already has made up his mind. But if he hasn't -- for instance, if he's open to the possibility that next October's Synod of Bishops might nudge him in a different direction -- Freiburg offers a useful prompt that it might be a good idea to say so out loud.

As for Limburg, it illustrates a striking feature of Francis' management style that we might dub "leadership by shaming."

It's not clear if Francis will impose discipline on Tebartz-van Elst by removing him from office or naming a papal delegate to administer some aspects of the diocese, including its finances.

In some ways, however, all that may be superfluous, because he's already brought a hammer down simply by offering such an unmistakably different vision of what leadership in the church is supposed to look like.

As a thought experiment, ponder whether this story would have become a cause célèbre during the Benedict years. I suspect the answer is no, because what makes it so jarring, and so irresistible from a media point of view, is the contrast between Tebartz-van Elst and his new boss.

The headline has been, "This bishop didn't get the memo."

Of course, Francis' embrace of simplicity arises out of his own personality and spiritual convictions. However, he's also politically savvy enough to realize that it hands a club to the world to beat up on bishops who don't follow suit.

In other words, Limburg illustrates that Francis may not always need to exercise the formal powers of his office in order to turn the screws on recalcitrant middle managers. Sometimes it's enough merely to set a different example then let public opinion do the work.

The Lefebvrists and a Nazi war criminal

One can debate what the election of Francis means on other fronts, but there's no doubt that it heralded the closure of the window that opened under Benedict XVI for reconciliation with the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, popularly known as the Lefebvrists.

Francis doesn't feel the same affection for the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass, nor the same impulse to reintegrate its devoteés. He's already taken steps that have set off shock waves in traditionalist circles, including a ban on celebration of the old Mass by the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate and replacing five consultants in the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations known for their high church tastes.

Italian commentator Sandro Magister recently said Francis seems "friendly to everyone, except the traditionalists." The feeling is apparently mutual; during a stop in Kansas City, Mo., the head of the society, Bishop Bernard Fellay, reportedly described Francis as "a true modernist," understood in his circles as the ultimate in pejoratives.

If that picture was already clear, it probably was set in cement this week with the fracas in Rome surrounding an effort by the Society of St. Pius X to celebrate a funeral Mass for convicted Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke, who died Oct. 11 at the age of 100.

Priebke was sentenced to life imprisonment (the last part under house arrest) in Italy for the 1944 Ardeatine caves massacre in which 335 Italians, including 57 Jews, were executed in reprisal for an attack on German troops. By his own admission, Priebke personally shot two of the prisoners and supervised the deaths of the others.

Priebke never expressed remorse, insisting he was following orders, and after his death his lawyer released a testament in which Priebke essentially denied the Holocaust, claiming that alleged crematoria in Nazi concentration camps were actually large kitchens for feeding inmates. (That brought a good line from Renzo Gattegna, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, speaking Wednesday at a ceremony recalling the 70th anniversary of the deportation of Roman Jews: "Yesterday, the Nazis assassinated human beings," Gattegna said. "Today they assassinate history.")

The Vicariate of Rome, which runs the diocese for the pope, announced Oct. 12 it would not allow a church funeral for Priebke, who considered himself a Catholic. Enter the Society of St. Pius X, which offered to host the funeral Tuesday in one of its chapels in Albano, the hillside area outside Rome near the pope's summer residence of Castel Gandolfo.

That set the scene for chaos. A small delegation of neo-Nazis traipsed out to Albano, where they were met by a large crowd of locals opposed to hosting the funeral, as well as a phalanx of police. A melee ensued, including police firing tear gas into the crowd, and in the end the car carrying Priebke's remains was forced to turn back without the funeral taking place. Two neo-Nazis were arrested in the wake of the episode.

One can assume Francis is taking a personal interest in all this, in part because Priebke fled to Argentina after the war and lived comfortably in a Buenos Aires suburb for 50 years before his 1996 extradition.

Granted, the decision to celebrate a funeral for Priebke came from the Italian branch of the Society of St. Pius X, not its headquarters in Écône, Switzerland. Granted, too, Fr. Pierpaolo Petrucci, the society's superior in Italy, said it "had nothing to do with politics or even with Priebke," but rather the Christian duty to send off "a dead man who during his life went to confession and received Communion."

That said, for a pope who co-authored a book with a rabbi, who recently said it's impossible for a Christian to be anti-Semitic, and who may feel a bit of national shame over the fact that ex-Nazis could live so long undisturbed in his own backyard, the association of the Society of St. Pius X with the memory of Priebke may solidify his instinct that this is a window best left closed.

The cold-call pope strikes again

I've written before that among his many other innovations, Francis has emerged as "the cold-call pope," frequently ringing up people he's never actually met for a chat. That continued in mid-October when Francis called Andrea and Tahereh Sciarretta, a couple in the Italian city of Chieti who have a 17-month-old infant suffering from a grave spinal disorder and who had written the pope about their situation.

Naturally, the Vatican doesn't announce these calls or release transcripts, in part because Francis makes them himself so his handlers don't even know they've happened until after the fact.

If the world learns about the conversation, it's because the other party says something, which runs the risk that whatever the pope said may be distorted in the retelling.

For instance, the Sciarrettas are currently trying to secure experimental stem cell therapy for their daughter, a procedure that has been blocked by the Italian Ministry of Health. Some news reports about the pope's phone call suggested he had expressed support for their request, even that he had promised to intervene with the Italian authorities.

Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, was compelled to deny those reports "in the most absolute terms," saying the pope had indeed called the Sciarretta family to express his closeness and to promise prayer, but that he did not take any political position.

The episode illustrates a deep headache facing Vatican communications personnel these days. Given Francis' free-wheeling and spontaneous style and his penchant for expressing himself outside the usual channels, how do they short-circuit confusion while not trying to tie the pope's hands -- an exercise, for anyone who knows Francis, that likely would be fruitless in any event?

To some extent, Lombardi and others find themselves trapped in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" dynamic.

If they try to clarify whatever Francis said, people will accuse them of editing or correcting the pope, casting them as Vatican Blue Meanies who fear losing their grasp on power, as blowback from their recent, and utterly benign, attempt to set the record straight on a point of fact from Francis' interview with Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari illustrates.

On the other hand, if they stay quiet, misrepresentations may metastasize.

One solution would be for Francis to make his own clarifications, given the widespread "hermeneutic of suspicion" about statements coming from anybody else. The difficulty with that, also illustrated by the Scalfari affair, is that Francis may shrink from doing so because he doesn't want to embarrass someone. (A source who spoke directly with Francis about the interview said the pope conceded Scalfari's recollections were a little "imaginative" in places, attributing it to Scalfari's advanced age.)

In any event, the conundrum is unlikely to go away. It seems clear that Francis is willing to run the risk of being occasionally misunderstood as the price to be paid for not walling himself off from direct contact with the outside world.

read full article at the National Catholic Reporter

Friday, October 18, 2013

Catholic official who investigated priest quits St. Thomas board

Tony Kennedy
Minneapolis Star Tribune
October 18, 2013

The Rev. Kevin McDonough, a Catholic official who was involved in the handling of three controversial sexual misconduct investigations of fellow priests, has stepped down from the University of St. Thomas board of directors, a university source confirmed Friday.

The news followed a week of allegations that one of the school’s Catholic studies professors sexually abused a teenage girl. McDonough was involved in the archdiocese’s investigation of claims against the Rev. Michael Keating in 2006. On Thursday, e-mails that Keating sent to the girl from Rome in 1999 and 2000 were made public by her attorney, Jeff Anderson.

McDonough, a former vicar general in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, is the second high-ranking church official to step aside since allegations began surfacing that the archdiocese did not take action against priests accused of sexual improprieties. He reportedly resigned Oct. 4.

The Rev. Peter Laird resigned as vicar general Oct. 3, the same day that lawyers for the archdiocese presented a police report in court that described allegations that a Hugo priest had kept pornographic images on his computer. He now is on a leave of absence.

McDonough is pastor of St. Peter Claver Church in St. Paul. The archdiocese outlined no specific new job for Laird, saying only that he “will continue to serve in a variety of roles within the archdiocese.”

Polish archbishop under fire for linking pornography with child abuse

Matthew Day
The Telegraph (UK)
October 18, 2013

The head of Poland’s Catholic Church has been attacked for suggesting that child abuse resulted from pornography.

It is the second time in as many weeks that the opinions of Archbishop Jozef Michalik have sparked outrage. Last week he was forced to apologise for saying sexual abuse by priests occurred because children from broken homes “were looking for love”.

In his latest controversial comments the archbishop said abuse stemmed from homes broken on pornography, “selfish” love and “the ideology of gender that raises legitimate concerns, because it goes against the laws of nature, promotes marriage between persons of the same sex and fights for the right to legalize adoption of children by these couples.”

A series of recent child sex abuse scandals involving priests has sent the Polish Catholic Church reeling and scrambling to regain its position but the archbishop’s comments appearing to try to deflect the blame from the perpetrators onto modern society or even the victims themselves provoked a furious backlash.

Agata Baraniecka-Klos, who was sexually abused as a child and now heads an organisation fighting to bring paedophiles to justice, said the archbishop’s words “were cruel to the victims” and that the “internet, feminists or gender ideology were not the problem.”

In an emotional television interview she added that Archbishop Michalik’s comments had brought back the trauma of her childhood experiences.

Poland’s media seized upon the story donating copious amounts of airtime and news print to critical coverage of the archbishop and the Church’s failure to deal with a string of sex abuse scandals that has brought the status of the Catholic Church in the country—once exulted and synonymous with all things Polish and the country’s freedom—to an all-time low.

The archbishop also received criticism from inside the Catholic Church.

“He has a problem with accepting the fact that the issue of paedophilia in the Church may have something to do with priests and the structure of the Church,” Father Jacek Prusak, a Jesuit priest, told the TVN 24 news channel.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Archdiocese of Woebegon

Grant Gallicho
October 14, 2013

Last week, Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis announced a new task force [1] that will examine issues related to archdiocesan sexual-abuse policies. Nienstedt has been under scrutinty since late September, when Jennifer Haselberger, his former chancellor for canonical affairs, went to the police and the press with damning accounts of the ways her superiors--and their predecessors--handled the cases of priests accused of sexual misconduct. She resigned in April after deciding that, given her ethical commitments, "it had become impossible for me to stay in that position." [2]

The task force will be composed of at least six members--all laypeople, none employed by the archdiocese--and their findings will be made public. The archdiocese seems to believe that this group will find and fill the gaps in its policies that permitted these lapses to occur. Others agree. “These are very significant charges,’’ Don Briel, director of the Center for Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune [3]. "This was larger than the process and procedures [to halt sexual misconduct] were able to address.’’ But a review of facts of these cases fails to support that claim. The problem in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is not with its sexual-abuse policies, but with the people entrusted to carry them out.

In the case of one priest, Curtis Wehmeyer [4], Haselberger revealed that for nearly a decade the archdiocese had been aware of his troubling sexual proclivities but failed to warn his parishioners--and promoted him to pastor, where he eventually abused children. Wehmeyer was sent for counseling in 2004, after it was discovered that he had propositioned two young men at a bookstore. A friend of the men, aged nineteen and twenty, took their statements and took them to Fr. Kevin McDonough, then vicar general, who promised the priest would be dealt with accordingly. The man had a fifteen-year-old son who attended youth group with Wehmeyer. As Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) reports, he "wasn’t satisfied with McDonough's answers, and he worried that he might hear about Wehmeyer in the news years later."

When Wehmeyer returned from treatment, he was assigned another priest to monitor him, and was told to attend Sexaholics Anonymous meetings. But that didn't keep him out of trouble.

One afternoon in 2006, a police officer saw Wehmeyer at a popular cruising area in a local park. When he approached Wehmeyer, the priest claimed he didn't know it was a pickup spot. "I'm a priest," he told the cop. "I know I shouldn't be here." Wehmeyer left, but returned within fifteen minutes. The police officer informed the archdiocese, and was told by McDonough (still vicar general) that they would "have a very serious follow-up and intercede." Later that year, then-Archbishop Harry Flynn appointed Wehmeyer administrator of Blessed Sacrament Parish. Flynn completed his work as chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse in 2005.

Nienstedt was appointed coadjutor in April 2007, and succeeded Flynn as archbishop in May 2008.

Later that year, Nienstedt hired Haselberger. Soon after she arrived, Wehmeyer phoned her demanding to know why he was still listed as administrator of Blessed Sacrament instead of pastor. In view of his sexual habits, that's not surprising: it's harder for a bishop to remove a pastor. Aware that Nienstedt was considering Wehmeyer's request, she reviewed his personnel file, and found a curious omission. Even though it was archdiocesan policy to run background checks on its priests, there was none in his file. She kept looking, and came across documents detailing his sexual misconduct and his psychological evaluation. She gathered the relevant papers and forwarded them to Nienstedt, believing Wehmeyer would be removed.

He wasn't. And while he remained in charge of Blessed Sacrament, the archdiocese received more complaints--three in 2009. A priest claimed Wehmeyer had propositioned him. Another person saw him at a campground behaving strangely with boys (Haselberger told MPR [5] that those kids would become his victims). He drunkenly attempted to pick up teenagers at a gas station, and was arrested for driving while intoxicated.

The following year, Archbishop Nienstedt appointed Wehmeyer pastor of Blessed Sacrament. When it was suggested by the sexual-abuse review board that the archdiocese inform parish employees of Wehmeyer's past, McDonough objected. At that point he was no longer vicar general, but had been appointed "delegate for safe environment"--that is, he was in charge of the archdiocesan response to clergy sexual abuse. In a 2011 memo [6], McDonough argued that Wehmeyer's misconduct would not resurface in the workplace. "Disclosure there would only serve to out his sexual identity questions (which, by the way, would be unlikely to surprise any observant person in the parish!)." Before offering that judgment, however, McDonough decided to consult Wehmeyer himself. Naturally, he didn't think it was necessary to share his past lapses in judgment with parish staff. By that time he had already molested two children of a Blessed Sacrament employee.

Wehmeyer's crimes were discovered in May 2012. In November of that year, he pleaded guilty to three counts of criminal sexual conduct and seventeen counts of possessing child pornography. He was sentenced to five years in prison. Police are investigating whether he had other victims.

Just a few months before Wehmeyer's victims acknowledged his crimes, Jennifer Haselberger got word that another priest was being considered for promotion, and decided to examine his file. (I won't use the priest's name because he has not been charged with a crime.) What she found shocked her: three discs containing thousands of pornographic images--including some that seemed to depict minors--and a 2004 report on the contents of the computer from which they were taken. The computer had belonged to the priest who was up for promotion. (She also found a mid-1990s report about the priest wrestling with boys while in seminary, and another indicating that in 2009 he'd had an eighteen-year-old parishioner living with him at the rectory.)

On the discs was a warning "saying something to the effect of 'don't insert these disks into a computer that's attached to the internet' and 'see previous report prior to viewing images,'" Haselberger told MPR [7]. The note was in Fr. McDonough's handwriting.

In 2004, the priest's computer came into the possession of Joe Ternus (accounts of how he obtained the machine differ, either through a garage sale or after the priest left it behind after taking a new assignment). Ternus, a local parishioner, thought he'd give the computer to his kids. But before doing so, he had a look at its contents. After coming across many "hard-core" images, he took the computer to the archdiocese, and was told they'd follow up. They hired a private-investigation firm, which had a forensic-computer expert analyze the hard drive. His report referred to "thousands" of pornographic images, and described some of them as "borderline illegal," according to Haselberger, who saw images seeming to show a minor performing oral sex. She also saw that the forensic expert had turned up several disturbing search terms, including "naked boy pics," "young boys," and "helpless teen boys." The report indicated that "there is no credible evidence to support the claim that person(s) other than" the priest accessed the images. (Haselberger quotes the report at some length in her February 2012 memo to Nienstedt. [8])

When the archdiocese asked the priest to turn over his other computers, he smashed one of them with a hammer, Haselberger said, and refused to release the other one. Then-Archbishop Harry Flynn sent the priest for counseling. When he returned, Flynn put him back in ministry.

Haselberger made copies of the images and showed them to diocesan leaders--including Archbishop Nienstedt--last year. None called the police. Months later, when she brought the photos to then-Vicar General Fr. Peter Laird, he asked her to hand them over. She did. Then, as MPR reports [9], "I went back to my office. I closed the door and I called Ramsey County."

When the police called the chancery to obtain the evidence, they were told it would take time to gather the information. The archdiocese eventually provided police three discs that supposedly held the contents of the hard drive, but refused to give them the forensic study because it was a "product of their investigation," according to the police report. But the discs the police were given contained no images of minors. "Whether these discs given to me were the actual discs or copies of those discs after first asking for them, I do not know," the investigating officer wrote. And without the forensic study, the county lacked evidence to press charges against the priest. So they closed the case.

But while the police had given up investigating, the archdiocese was only beginning its year-long process of deciding how to deal with the priest. Haselberger warned Nienstedt in February [8] and May [10] of 2012 that possession of child pornography was a canonical and civil crime, and that reporting it was essential. Evidently she got through, because in May 2012, Nienstedt drafted a letter to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [11], seeking advice.

"I am writing to inform you of an instance of possession of pornographic images, possibly of minors under the age of fourteen," Nienstedt wrote. He seemed flummoxed by the fact that his predecessor, Archbishop Harry Flynn, did not report the case. (That would be the same Harry Flynn who was, at the time these images were discovered, head of the USCCB's sexual-abuse committee.) "My staff has expressed concern that the fact that CD-ROMs containing the images remain in the cleric's personnel file could expose the archdiocese, as well as myself, to criminal prosecution." He quoted portions of the forencis report, and summarized some of the complaints the archdiocese had received about the priest. By that point Nienstedt had removed the priest from ministry.

But he never sent the letter, according to Haselberger.

Perhaps Fr. Kevin McDonough--former vicar general and former safe-environment czar--had persuaded him not to follow through. In January 2013, McDonough sent the archbishop two memos [12] explaining that the images did not constitute child pornography. He assured Nienstedt that he had no memory of the 2004 report. Perhaps it was too shocking, he speculated. After viewing a few hundred of the twenty-three hundred photos, he did find some involving minors (he needed Haselberger's help to find those). But "those images are not in my judgment pornographic." Rather, they looked to him like "pop up" ads designed to entice one to view such smut. What's more, he explained, he'd read somewhere that 60 percent of child-pornography sites are run by law enforcement. Given the "absence of any law-enforcement involvement with him," the archbishop need not worry. He had no "reason further to pursue the question of child sexual abuse" with the priest.

To his credit, Nienstedt forwarded McDonough's memos to key staffers, including Haselberger, seeking their counsel [12] "with regard to giving [the priest] a pastoral assignment."

Haselberger was livid. She told Nienstedt [13] that McDonough was badly mistaken, and pointed out that when she showed both of them the images in May 2012, neither disputed that they were pornographic. She urged him to notify the police and turn over the evidence "for their determination." And she reminded him that McDonough had failed to follow the sexual-abuse review board's recommendation to inform Wehmeyer's parish staff of his history. That judgment, she wrote, "has been proven to be tragically wrong."

But Nienstedt did not heed her advice. Indeed, he was still considering whether to give this priest who he believed to have possessed "borderline illegal" photos a pastoral assignment. Why? And why did he promote Wehmeyer to pastor after being informed of his long history of totally unacceptable, indeed dangerous behavior? Nienstedt's service as archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis has been distinguished by an energetic, and expensive, campaign against gay marriage. He recently told a crowd of "influential," wealthy Catholics [14] that sodomy and pornography were the work of Satan--that they threatened the stability of our civilization. No one could accuse him of failing to take those issues seriously. Except, perhaps, those who take stock of his failures to act in these two cases.

His indecision could prove costly. Despite McDonough's confidence that he was qualified to determine whether naked images of minors constituted pornography, the law does not grant him--or any mandated reporter--the authority to determine what is and is not child pornography. The relevant statute [15] is not terribly confusing. Even if minors are not depicted having sex, "lewd exhibitions of the genitals" is considered pornographic. And the law requires clergy to report suspected child abuse--including child pornography.

The law is not difficult to find. I Googled "Minnesota child pornography statute" and it came up as the first result. McDonough offered his assesment of the images in January 2013. Did he not have internet access at that time? Didn't any of this ring a bell for him or for Nienstedt? Had they missed the news that in 2011 Bishop Robert Finn had been [16] charged with failing to report child abuse because he didn't call the cops when he learned that one of his priests had potentially illegal images on his computer? (He was later found guilty, and remains Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph.)

If Nienstedt has forgotten what happens when prosecutors start sniffing around chanceries in earnest, he may be about to receive a painful reminder. Because the police are going to re-open the case [17]. Turns out the man who first handed over the priest's computer had made a copy of much of its contents (but not all). He's given it to the police. He himself didn't see any minors in the priest's library of porn, but he viewed just a small fraction of the collection. Will the police be able to pry the missing report from the archdiocese? Does it still exist, or did it end up with the now missing images Haselberger said she saw? Will Nienstedt's and Haselberger's citations of the report in the documents she released be sufficient to charge anyone with failing to report child abuse? We're going to find out.

But in the meantime, perhaps it would be a good idea to stop pretending that these failures had anything to do with policy, and admit that they were entirely the fault of a culture that prized self-protection and secrecy above disclosure and, yes, justice. Is it appalling when an archbishop acknowledges to ecclesiastical authorities that one of his priests is in possession of "borderline illegal" images of children but can't work up the will to share this information with the civil authorities? Yes. Just as it's troubling that a bishop who had long won the praise of inaugural members of the USCCB National Review Board apparently promoted a priest who had no business anywhere near children, and then seemingly failed to report a priest who may have downloaded child porn--just two years after he voted to approve the very rules the bishops adopted to address the scandal. But should you be surprised that bishops who fail so miserably have underlings who have trouble reading the reddest of flags?

Of course, it's not only clerics who help sustain this culture of denial. The maintenance man for the Wehmeyer's parish told the police that for two years he noticed the same boys going to and from the priest's camper. “We told [the parish’s business administrator], and she should have done something about it.” Why didn't he?

No amount of "safe environment" training can fix this problem. It doesn't matter how independent a diocesan review board is on paper. Or how many laypeople have been tasked to overhaul a diocese's abuse policies. Or how sincerely a bishop promises to make room for a review board to do its work. We have seen it time and again. In Philadelphia [18], where the review board was seeing only the cases the archbishop decided to show them. In Kansas City-St. Joseph, where the review board wasn't informed of the child pornography on one of their priest's computers. In Newark [19], where a priest who admitted to groping a boy sexually was given a hospital assignment and a card proving his good standing. If a bishop decides to keep allegations to himself, he can. If he wants to sabotage strong sexual-abuse policies, he's free to do so. The only reason you're reading about any of this is because Jennifer Haselberger went public.

And the only person who can act decisively to change this culture of denial lives in Rome. Do you think he's listening to MPR?