Wednesday, April 30, 2014

US conservatives frightened and confused by pope's moral world

Grant Gallicho
April 29, 2014

Yesterday Pope Francis took to Twitter to launch a new phase of Catholic Social Teaching. With just seven words he shook the foundations of the Catholic moral universe: "Inequalty is the root of social evil," Francis wrote. Both Catholic and non-Catholic observers alike struggled to find their bearings. Joe Carter of the social-justice think tank the Acton Institute responded quickly: "Um, no it's not. Hate and apathy are the roots of social evil." He wondered whether Francis had "traded the writings of Peter and Paul for Piketty"--the economist whose latest book on the unfairness of capitalism has become a global phenomenon.

Catholic Culture poobah Phil Lawler also expressed skepticism, calling the pope's tweet "a fairly radical statement, [and] as an a piece of economic analysis a very simplistic one." He decided that the best way to understand Francis's tweet was to go to the original Latin: that "version of this tweet is even simpler: Iniquitas radix malorum. That phrase has a somewhat different meaning." Lawler's Latin expertise leads him to assert that "iniquitas" might also mean "iniquity" or "injustice," which would "make more sense," even though the Spanish version of the tweet "admittedly looks more like the English."

Non-Catholic Mollie Hemingway was likewise confused. "I don't understand what this is supposed to mean, exactly," she tweeted, later suggesting "envy and coveting" were really to blame for social evil. Former Catholic Rod Dreher found himself flummoxed too: "What does that even mean?" He continued: "Twitter pronouncements like the Pope’s are simplistic and confusing."

It's true. Twitter is not an ideal place to advance complex moral arguments. Wouldn't it be better if the pope developed some of this at greater length, in, say, some sort of letter to the faithful? He might even consider exhorting his people in an apostolic manner, for example, with a title like Evangelii Gaudium or some such, perhaps under a section heading reading "The Economy and the Distribution of Income." Come again? He's done just that? Over the course of several paragraphs? And it's been publicly available for months? Oh. Roll tape.

Way back in November 2013, Pope Francis released his first major document, Evangelii Gaudium. Maybe you remember it. Scroll to number 202, and here's what you'll find:

As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, [173] no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems. Inequality is the root of social ills.

He goes on:

The dignity of each human person and the pursuit of the common good are concerns which ought to shape all economic policies. At times, however, they seem to be a mere addendum imported from without in order to fill out a political discourse lacking in perspectives or plans for true and integral development. How many words prove irksome to this system! It is irksome when the question of ethics is raised, when global solidarity is invoked, when the distribution of goods is mentioned, when reference in made to protecting labour and defending the dignity of the powerless, when allusion is made to a God who demands a commitment to justice.

And on:

We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market. Growth in justice requires more than economic growth, while presupposing such growth: it requires decisions, programmes, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality. I am far from proposing an irresponsible populism, but the economy can no longer turn to remedies that are a new poison, such as attempting to increase profits by reducing the work force and thereby adding to the ranks of the excluded.

[Update: David Gibson reports that Vatican officials have confirmed that Pope Francis personally approves all his tweets.]

Is this really news to Catholics and those who have been Catholic and those who profess to follow Catholicism closely? Popes--including the two who were just canonized--have been teaching this sort of thing for a really long time. Here's John Paul II: "The disproportionate distribution of wealth and poverty and the existence of some countries and continents that are developed and of others that are not call for a levelling out and for a search for ways to ensure just development for all." What's more, he writes:

Thus, not only the sphere of class is taken into consideration but also the world sphere of inequality and injustice, and as a consequence, not only the class dimension but also the world dimension of the tasks involved in the path towards the achievement of justice in the modern world. A complete analysis of the situation of the world today shows in an even deeper and fuller way the meaning of the previous analysis of social injustices; and it is the meaning that must be given today to efforts to build justice on earth, not concealing thereby unjust structures but demanding that they be examined and transformed on a more universal scale.

But now Pope Francis comes along and suddenly the Catholic and non-Catholic American right goes all Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer? Now they're frightened and confused by Francis's strange moral arguments? Give me a break. The Catholic Church has never baptized the boat-lifting abilities of American-style capitalism. That's never been a secret. Of course, if you get your Catholic Social Teaching mainly from U.S. conservatives, especially those who are fond of marking papal texts in red and gold, you might find Francis's tweet frightening and confusing. But it's really not.

Unless you've been living in a cave.

Lawyers release files on accused Joliet priests

Michael Tarm, Associated Press
Joliet Enquirer Herald
April 30, 2014

Attorneys have released thousands of files from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Joliet they allege show a pattern of minimizing and sometimes covering up sexual abuse by priests.

Jeff Anderson's law firm released documents Wednesday on 16 priests. He says they indicate the Chicago-area diocese put a priority on "protecting themselves and their priests at the peril of children."

He adds the diocese refuses to disclose the whereabouts of more than 20 former priests accused of abuse and who could still harm children. Anderson says the diocese put up "great resistance" to turning over the files as part of civil litigation.

A statement from the diocese released Wednesday didn't mention the documents. It said "the diocese will continue to do its best to assure the safety of its children."


Diocese of Joliet : The David Rudofski child protection archive
April 30, 2014
A large selection of Joliet diocesan files regarding the sexual abuse of children by priests, and the mishandling of those crimes by the diocese, was released by abuse survivor David Rudofski and his advocates on April 30, 2014. The release was the latest step in a dramatic story that dates back to the early days of the diocese, which was erected in 1948 from the Chicago archdiocese and the dioceses of Peoria and Rockford.

The documents, which are provided in their entirety below, have much to tell us about the horrifying details of individual cases and the methods used by the Catholic hierarchy to protect the priests involved while containing the information about their crimes. Rudofski’s struggle to make the documents public highlights the foundational role played by survivors in the somewhat greater accountability we see today, and makes clear what is driving that accountability. The document release also sheds light on the generally still poor state of accountability post-Dallas, owing to the weaknesses of the Norms as revised by the Vatican and the failure to implement the aspirational language of the Charter. The Rudofski Archive argues for an increased commitment by the bishops to list their accused and make public the voluminous files that the dioceses and religious orders hold.

David Rudofski was sexually assaulted by the Rev. James Burnett at his First Confession in 1982 at St. Mary’s church in Mokena, Illinois. His molestation was a crime, and because it was perpetrated during confession, it was one of the gravest offenses a priest can commit under the Catholic church’s own Code. Yet the file demonstrates the way in which a priest such as Burnett, who is accused by three persons, two of whom were abused in the confessional, can be effectively shielded by the framework established by the U.S. bishops in Dallas in 2002. What the bishops did not anticipate in Dallas was that the survivors of clergy abuse would take the bishops’ commitment to transparency and responsibility much more seriously than the bishops themselves.

Rudofski refused to settle with the Diocese of Joliet without the release of the files for all the accused priests whose cases were mishandled during the same time that Burnett was abusing Rudofski and Dan Shanahan (the survivor who first went public about Burnett's abuse). Rudofski was supported by his attorney Terrence Johnson, and after a protracted and costly legal battle, Rudofski prevailed, by order of Will County Circuit Court Judge Michael J. Powers.

The results of Rudofski’s determination are available below, as well as on the websites of attorneys Jeff Anderson and Marc Pearlman. Anderson had taken the deposition of Bishop Joseph Imesch of Joliet in 2005, another benchmark in accountability within the diocese. Imesch’s mishandling of four cases, including the Gibbs and Lenczycki abuses documented below, had earned him the dubious honor of inclusion in the Dallas Morning News’ database of enabling bishops. That article was on the newsstands when the bishops gathered in Dallas. Below we provide the local news coverage that unfolded in Joliet at the same time that the story was breaking in Boston, as the highly local abuse crisis, which occurred parish-by-parish and home-by-home, became a national and global concern....

see Bishop Accountability for full information and links

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Vatican lifts sanctions on silenced Irish priest

Patsy McGarry
Irish Times
April 29, 2014

Pope Francis is believed to have intervened directly with the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) to have all sanctions on silenced Irish priest Fr. Sean Fagan (86) lifted.

It was confirmed to The Irish Times in Rome last night that Marist priest Fr Fagan, who has been subject to sanction by the for six years, is no longer so.

The superior general of the Marist congregation in Rome, Fr John Hannan, said last night that Fr Fagan is now “a priest in good standing” where the church is concerned.

It has also emerged that the change in Fr Fagan’s circumstances may have involved direct intervention by both Pope Francis and the former President of Ireland Mary McAleese.

The Irish Times has learned that Mrs McAleese, who is away from Rome at the moment, wrote to Pope Francis last December requesting that he directly intervene where Fr Fagan’s case was concerned. Receipt of the letter was acknowledged by the Pope’s secretary. It is understood that the Marist congregation was informed of Fr Fagan’s changed situation at Easter.

Others understood to have been approached to intervene with the Vatican on Fr Fagan’s behalf include his own congregation, the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, the papal nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown and the former head of the Dominicans Fr Timothy Radcliffe.

For many years Fr Fagan, who has suffered ill health for some time, had been critical of rigid stances by the Vatican on issues to do with conscience and sexual morality notably in letters to this newspaper. In 2003 he published the book Does Morality Change? And in 2008 Whatever Happened to Sin?

In 2010 he was informed by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that he would be laicised should be write for publication any material it considered contrary to Church teaching and should he disclose this to media.

Remaining copies of his book were bought up by the Marist congregation whose website last night still carried a statement first posted in February of last year which reads that “ the writings of Fr. Sean Fagan in the book What Happened to Sin do not have the approval of or represent the views of the Society of Mary.

It was reported at the weekend that the CDF’s change of stance towards Fr Fagan was because “he loves the Church in spite of all its weaknesses: that he accepted his censure and observed his restrictions; and to his advanced age.”

Welcoming the news the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) said in a statement yesterday that “it has been a source of great unease to our members and of continuing shame and embarrassment to our Church that a priest and theologian who has made such a huge contribution to Gospel and to Church over very many years would not be regarded as a priest ‘in good standing’.”

It said that “statements welcoming the lifting of restrictions on Fr Fagan by the Marist Order, the CDF and the Irish Catholic bishops are the least that might be expected.”

It also noted “that the decision of the CDF, according to reports, was influenced by pressure brought to bear through the efforts of friends.” It believed “that a concerted effort by the orders and congregations, supported by the Irish bishops, could lead to the lifting of similar restrictions on other members of the ACP colleagues of Fr Fagan, and from the Marist congregation.”

This was a reference to those other priests silenced by the Vatican, including Fr Tony Flannnery, Fr Gerard Moloney, Fr Brian D’Arcy, and Fr Owen O’Sullivan.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Plans to change masses, baptisms and funerals in Irish Catholic church

Irish Central
April 25, 2014

Derry’s faithful have been warned that big changes are coming in the Catholic Church – and that the current model of providing “Masses, funerals and baptisms on demand is not going to be possible in the future.”

In his Homily at the Mass of the Chrism on Holy Thursday, Derry’s new bishop, Dr. Donal McKeown, told parishioners and priests from the diocese that the church was now facing a period of being rebuilt entirely and “not just repainted or tinkered with.”

McKeown said the church could not continue to operate as it was and must now see itself as a missionary church – treating the island of Ireland as “a new continent to be conquered for Christ.”

“We will have to move away from a customer model where most of the lay faithful were periodic consumers of the religious services provided by often over-stretched clergy,” he said.

McKeown also used the Mass to hit out at so-called celebrity culture – saying that people no longer understand the language of the church.

“We live in a world that, in many places, no longer speaks or understands the language about God that we still use each day.

“The vocabulary of so many of our contemporaries is formed not by church, but by popular culture. The world, whose imagination is pickled in the language of silky shampoos, celebrities and salvation by self-indulgence, does not understand words like sin, salvation, sacrifice or sacrament,” the bishop said.

Vatican: John Paul II took 'immediate' action on sexual abuse

Joshua J. McElwee
National Catholic Reporter
April 25, 2014

Days before Pope John Paul II will be made a saint in an unprecedented ceremony attended by hundreds of thousands, focus at the Vatican on Friday morning remained on his record in handling the clergy sexual abuse crisis, specifically the serial abuser Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado. Responding to questions at a briefing on John Paul II's time leading the Catholic church from 1978 to 2005, former Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls said the pope did not immediately understand the gravity of the sexual abuse crisis.

"I don't think Pope John Paul understood" the "cancer" of clergy sexual abuse immediately, said Navarro-Valls, adding: "I don't think anyone did."

But, the former spokesman said, once John Paul II became aware of the scope of the accusations being made against clergy, especially around the time of reporting on the Boston archdiocese in 2002, he "immediately" began taking action.

Specifically, Navarro-Valls said, procedures against Maciel "began during the pontificate of John Paul II."

"The way of addressing the pedophilia crisis started very clearly in [John Paul II's] pontificate," he said.

Navarro-Valls, a Spanish native who led the Vatican press office from 1984 to 2006, spoke at a Vatican briefing Friday intended to focus on John Paul II's ministry as pope. The Vatican has been hosting several similar briefings this week in anticipation of Sunday's canonization ceremonies for both John Paul II and his predecessor Pope John XXIII, who led the Catholic church from 1958 to 1963.

Maciel was a Mexican-born priest who founded the Legionaries of Christ, a Catholic religious order. While John Paul II repeatedly praised him for his work in recruiting priests for the church, by the late 1990s, Maciel was the subject of substantial investigative reporting regarding his alleged sexual abuse of seminarians and young people around the world, all of which was aggressively denied by Maciel, his followers and supporters.

Maciel was not publicly punished until 2006, after John Paul II's death, when Pope Benedict XVI ordered the priest to a life of penance.

It was only after Maciel's death in 2008 that it became publicly known that he had fathered several children by at least two women, whom he supported financially in Mexico and Spain, and the extent of his sexual abuse of minors, including his own children. The order he founded wouldn't unequivocally denounce his behavior until this year, after it emerged from a four-year Vatican-ordered and administrated reform.

The congregation's new leadership issued a statement in February expressing "deep sorrow" for Maciel's "reprehensible and objectively immoral behavior," including "abuse of minor seminarians," "immoral acts with adult men and women," "arbitrary use of his authority and of material goods," "indiscriminate consumption of addictive medicines" and plagiarism.

Saying they were "grieved" it had taken so long to apologize to Maciel's "many victims," the members of the chapter acknowledged a "long institutional silence" in response to accusations against him and offered a progress report in efforts to overcome the founder's demoralizing legacy.

Navarro-Valls said Friday that John Paul II was not able to act more quickly in Maciel's case because the pope was dying while an investigation he ordered was being concluded. As part of that investigation, Navarro-Valls said, John Paul II had sent Charles Scicluna, then an official at the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and now an auxiliary bishop in Malta, to collect testimony in places around the world.

"The pope knew that the investigation was underway but was not informed of the results" because it was only concluded as he was dying in 2005, Navarro-Valls said.

The former spokesperson also said he met with Pope Benedict in the "first days of his pontificate" to discuss the findings in the Maciel investigation.

Navarro-Valls said he pressed upon the new pope in that meeting the importance of making the results of the investigation public, which he said Benedict immediately agreed to, telling him to hold a press conference the next day.

Also speaking Friday at the Vatican briefing was American writer George Weigel, who has written several biographies of Pope John Paul II. He also defended the pontiff's record in responding to clergy sexual abuse.

During the time of reporting on sexual abuse in the Boston archdiocese in 2002, Weigel said, there was "an information gap" between the news being made public in the United States and at the Vatican.

"I think there was an information gap particularly between the United States and the Holy See in the first months of 2002 so that the pope was not living this crisis in real time as we were in the U.S.," Weigel said.

"But once he became fully informed in April of that year, he acted decisively to deal with those problems," he said.

In April 2002, John Paul met with 12 U.S. cardinals and bishops' conference officers at the Vatican. He told them he was "deeply grieved" by news of clerical sexual abuse and said there was no place in the priesthood or religious life for those who would harm children.

Weigel also said that John Paul II had been a "great reformer" of the Catholic priesthood and had faced a "crisis" during the 1970s of "weak seminary formation" of priests, a "small minority" of who were engaging in sexual abuse.

Beyond the discussion of clergy sexual abuse, Navarro-Valls and Weigel focused on John Paul II's wider impact on society and his personal holiness.

Regarding the pope's wider impact, Weigel said he thought it was a "courageous and wise decision" of Pope Francis to canonize John XXIII and John Paul II together because they were the "two bookends" of the Second Vatican Council, a 1962-65 global meeting of Catholic bishops called by John XXIII that led to significant reforms of the church.

Where John XXIII "had the courage to start the council," Weigel said, John Paul II "had the wisdom and courage to give [it] its authoritative interpretation."

"John Paul II recovered John XXIII's intention that Vatican II be the new Pentecost" of the church, Weigel said.

Navarro-Valls shared several personal memories of working with John Paul II for 22 years, focusing specifically on the pontiff's prayer life.

Asked when he first thought of John Paul as a saint, Navarro-Valls responded: "The first time I saw him praying. I remember very well."

While there was no magical moment like levitation, the former spokesman said, the pope seemed to be visibly speaking with someone as he was praying. "I thought, 'This is a man who is close to God,' " Navarro-Valls said.

The former spokesman remembered one time in particular, when he saw John Paul II kneeling in his personal chapel, praying while reading from different little pieces of paper.

Navarro-Valls said he was told later that those papers were bits of letters sent to the pope from people asking him to pray for them. One example, he said, was from a widowed woman whose son had become lost to drugs.

"All the misery of the world arrived to the pope," Navarro-Valls said. "I wondered: Did he have any space left to pray for his own needs because he was praying for the needs and suffering of all of humanity?"

Thursday, April 24, 2014

(St. Paul - Minneapolis archdiocese )Abusive priests allowed to keep working McDonough testifies

Star Tribune
April 24, 2014

The Rev. Kevin McDonough, the Twin Cities archdiocese’s point person on clergy sex abuse, acknowledged that church practice for years was to allow priests who sexually abused children to remain in the priesthood, but to move them to jobs where they would be less likely to have contact with children.

In a court-ordered deposition released Thursday, McDonough said priests suspected of abusing children were not automatically reported to police, as required by law. And the notes he took about their cases, and maintained in church files, were written with an eye toward possible future lawsuits against the archdiocese.

“When I produced records, my tendency was to mentally invite [plaintiffs’ attorney] Jeff Anderson into the office, presuming that I would be held accountable in the years ahead for my activity,” McDonough testified. “So my general stance was to — to think in terms of what I was producing as one day being publicly available.”

The comments were made as part of nearly seven hours of testimony released by Anderson’s office and the Twin Cities archdiocese Thursday. The notes mentioned are among more than 40,000 pages of documents that the archdiocese also has been court-ordered to provide to attorneys for an alleged victim referred to as John Doe 1. The man filed a lawsuit against the archdiocese last May, charging he was sexually abused by a priest in St. Paul Park in the 1970s.

The deposition dealt less with details about priests’ abuse of children than with the archdiocese’s response to complaints of abuse by parents and children. It comes two days after a deposition of Archbishop John Nienstedt was made public.

In his testimony, Nienstedt stated that McDonough had advised him not to record or keep records of certain conversations about child abusers. McDonough, however, said that was not the case.

“First of all, he [Nienstedt] and I would never have been in a position for much casual conversation,” said McDonough. “Archbishop Nienstedt managed largely by memo … But I don’t recall the question ever being asked about recording conversations with — between the archbishop and myself.”

Contentious exchange

A contentious back-and-forth emerged during the testimony, which “showed a consistent pattern of deny, minimize and blame,” charged attorney Mike Finnegan, of Anderson & Associates.

The testimony was critical, he said, because McDonough was “far and away the most knowledgeable person about child sex abuse in the archdiocese.”

McDonough was vicar general from 1991 to 2008 under Archbishops John Roach and Harry Flynn. Under Nienstedt, he became the “delegate for safe environment,” overseeing child abuse prevention efforts until stepping down last year, shortly before media reports that he was a key decisionmaker in several abusive priest cases.

McDonough said the archdiocese did not try to hide information about abusive priests from the police or parishioners. He said that a child’s safety is important.

“Any time a kid is hurt, my heart’s broken,” he said.

During the deposition, McDonough explained the archdiocese’s policy toward child sex offenders.

“In the period from 1988 until 2002, men who had committed crimes against young people were still retained in what we understood to be administrative capacities in the archdiocese,” he testified, “ … and were still allowed to practice as priests, for example, saying Mass to convents of sisters. And after 2002 … that was no longer permitted.”

In 2002, national bishops created a Charter for the Protection of Children, which called for zero tolerance of abuse and for reporting the abuse to authorities.

But when pressed about his response to requests late last year by St. Paul police to discuss a recent child abuse case, McDonough said he did not make himself available.

“Not long ago, perhaps before Christmas, I don’t recall exactly, two St. Paul police officers reached out, left a |letter for me because I wasn’t absent — I — I wasn’t present, I was saying Mass at the time,” McDonough testified.

“I turned the letter over to my attorney and asked my attorney …”

At which point, his attorney Andrew Birrell interjects: “Don’t tell him what you told me.”

‘Media frenzy’ drove silence

McDonough testified that he decided not to speak to the committee appointed by the archbishop to study the archdiocese’s child abuse policies because he felt there was a “media frenzy” surrounding its inquiry.

“The media frenzy had a good deal to do with you,” he told Anderson.

Both McDonough and Nienstedt were ordered to give sworn testimony by Ramsey County District Judge John Van de North as part of the lawsuit by John Doe 1, who claims he was abused by the Rev. Thomas Adamson in the 1970s. It was the first of more than two dozen lawsuits filed since last May, when Minnesota changed its statute of limitations on older child abuse cases.

In his four-hour deposition, Nienstedt frequently mentioned McDonough, saying that he did a “good job” but also claiming that McDonough was aware of the details of wayward clergy, and he was not.

Finnegan said at the news conference that the deposition was cut short at six hours, rather than the scheduled eight hours. The law firm will ask the court to depose McDonough and Archbishop John Nienstedt again.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Pope's telephone call re-opens debate over communion for remarried divorcees

Andres Beltramo Alvarez
Vatican Insider
April 23, 2014

“There are priests who are more papist than the Pope.” A set phrase like any other. Only this time, the lips that uttered it were those of Francis himself, during a conversation with fellow Argentinean, Jakelina Lisbona. A woman who married a divorced man. Bergoglio advised her to take Communion regardless of her personal situation. This little detail ended up as a news story that made it half way around the world.

“Pope assures there’s no harm in a divorced person taking Communion”. This is the title that has been causing a buzz in the media in the last few hours. But it is a misinterpretation because the person the Pope spoke with was not divorced as was originally believed.

“It’s not me who’s divorced,” one of the female protagonists in this story said in an interview with Buenos Aires radio station La Red Am910. Lisbona said it was her husband, Julio Zabeta, who had divorced, but she never married in the Church. The two have been united in civil matrimony for the past nineteen years and have two daughters.

“We used to go to mass, not every day. Here at home, we pray every evening, turning to God always; when someone is in a difficult situation God is the first one they turn to. I wrote the letter spontaneously. I wrote to him because he’s Argentinean, he listens to people and I believe in miracles,” she said.

The woman also said she tried taking Communion again last year but not only did the local priest apparently say he could not give her Communion, he even said she could not access the sacrament of Confession either. “[They told me that] when I went home, I resumed a life of sin,” she added.

The woman finally decided to write to Pope Francis to explain her situation to him. The letter was sent last September.

“The phone rang and my husband answered. It was Fr. Bergoglio calling. The father asked to speak to me and my husband asked: ‘who’s calling?’, to which the voice replied ‘Fr. Bergoglio’. I asked him if it was really him, the Pope, and he said it was and that he was calling in response to my letter dated September,” he explained.

Lisbona did not want to give too many details during the radio interview but she revealed the piece of advice Francis apparently gave her and that was that there was no problem in her approaching the sacrament of Communion. “This received too much public attention. He told me to go and take Communion in a different parish, but now I won’t be able to go anywhere.”

She also revealed an interesting fact: the priest who apparently refused to administer Communion to her, no longer exercises his ministry. He asked to be dispensed from his obligations as priest so he could get married.

According to the woman, Pope Francis also said he is “dealing with the issue” of remarried divorcees; a clear reference to the next two assemblies on the pastoral challenges of the family which the Synod of Bishops is due to hold in 2014 and 2015. “He said my letter was useful in helping him address this issue,” she added.

“Then he told me there are some priests who are more papist that the Pope. He was completely normal with me on the phone and I tried to speak to him with the utmost respect. Now I am overwhelmed by the enormous effect this story has had and I feel moved by the fact that I spoke to Francis. I told him I would write to him again when I take Communion again,” she said.

The Holy See did not wish to comment on whether Bergoglio really did make the call to Jakelina Lisbona or not. But it has not denied the news either. As far as the Vatican newsroom is concerned, the Pope’s communication was private and so there is no comment to be made.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Josephine McKenna
The Telegraph
April 20, 2014

The Vatican's former secretary of state has reportedly angered Pope Francis with his plans to move into a luxury 6,500 square foot apartment as the pope urges clergy to adopt a more modest lifestyle.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, 79, was secretary of state from 2006 to 2013 and briefly in charge of the Holy See and its administration when Pope Benedict XVI suddenly resigned last February.

After his election Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Pietro Parolin to replace him as secretary of state.

According to the Italian daily La Repubblica, Cardinal Bertone's lavish restructure of an apartment in the San Carlo Palace inside the walls of the Vatican is causing unease.

The flat is located next door to St Martha's Residence - the simple Vatican hotel where Francis has made his home after spurning the ostentatious Apostolic Palace where popes usually live on the other side of St.Peter's Square.

La Repubblica said the cardinal's new apartment includes a large rooftop terrace and would be about 10 times bigger than Pope Francis' home once extensive renovations have been completed this summer.

The cardinal is combining two apartments, one measuring 4,300 square feet formerly inhabited by the head of the gendarmerie and another flat where a Vatican monsignor lived, the article claimed. Three nuns who worked with him while he was Vatican secretary of state are also to live in his new residence.

Cardinal Bertone's term of office was highly divisive in the Vatican administration.

He was accused of being too authoritarian by his critics and he denied responsibility for the Vatileaks scandal in which the pope's former butler leaked confidential documents to the media exposing divisions within the Curia.

Before his removal last October, the cardinal lashed out saying he was the victim of "moles and vipers" in the Vatican.

Pope Francis is determined to create a "poor church for the poor" and urged clergy to adopt a more humble lifestyle.

Last month he accepted the resignation of German bishop, Franz-Peter Terbartz-van Elst, dubbed the "bishop of bling" by the media for spending 31 million euro (£25 million) to renovate his plush residence.

American archbishop Wilton Gregory recently apologised for a lapse in judgement after he built a $2.2 million (£1.3 million ) mansion for himself in an upscale Atlanta neighbourhood and has now pledged to sell it.

St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop Nienstedt admits archdiocese hid information on abusive priests

Madeleine Baran
Minnesota Public Radio News
April 22, 2014

Archbishop John Nienstedt acknowledged in sworn testimony that he took steps to hide information on abusive priests and never provided complete files to police, according to a transcript released today.

Nienstedt said he had followed a subordinate's advice that he keep no written notes of certain discussions, in case those notes should later become public in legal proceedings. He said that he didn't publicly disclose which priests were being monitored, and that he relied on others to keep parish trustees informed.

• Transcript: Nienstedt's deposition

Nienstedt made the remarks in a four-hour deposition taken April 2 as part of a lawsuit filed by a man who said he was sexually abused by the Rev. Thomas Adamson in the mid-1970s. The man alleges the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona created a public nuisance by keeping information on accused priests secret. The man's attorneys, Jeff Anderson and Mike Finnegan, argued that the deposition could provide evidence of a pattern of deception by the archdiocese.

"The archbishop and his predecessors have promised zero tolerance," Anderson said at a news conference Tuesday, but "there has been an ongoing tolerance of sexual predators" among the clergy of the Twin Cities archdiocese.

Throughout the contentious questioning, Nienstedt portrayed himself as having relied on others to handle the clergy sexual abuse crisis. He professed little knowledge of the scandal within his archdiocese and said he assumed the archdiocese was safe for children. Nienstedt said that it "didn't occur" to him to ask for a list of abusive priests when he arrived in 2007 and that he didn't review any clergy files. He said he did not know that one priest had pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a boy in the 1980s or that another was receiving secret disability payments for pedophilia.

"Typically, I'm a hands-on person, but I have to delegate responsibilities," Nienstedt testified.

Nienstedt has been under intense scrutiny for months since an MPR News investigation found that he failed to report possible sex crimes to police. Several priests have publicly criticized Nienstedt's leadership, and at least one has called for his resignation.

The archbishop shifted responsibility several times in the deposition to the Rev. Kevin McDonough, who served as vicar general for two of Nienstedt's predecessors. Nienstedt appointed McDonough delegate for safe environment, a position responsible for ensuring the safety of children in the archdiocese. Nienstedt said McDonough advised him that some conversations not be written down because the notes could become public in a lawsuit. Nienstedt said he followed McDonough's suggestion in several cases but could not recall the details.


Read entire article at Minnesota Public Radio

Francis encountering curial opposition

Joshua J. McElwee
National Catholic Reporter
April 21, 2014

Pope Francis is seeking to build a "new way of being church" for Roman Catholics in a similar way to how St. Francis of Assisi reported being told by God to repair the church during the 13th century, a cardinal who is one of the pontiff's closest advisers said.

"There is a new concept of church here" in how the pope is governing the Vatican, said Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, speaking April 8 in St. Petersburg, Fla. "There is a new way of thinking, including the way of governing in the church, here."

However, Rodríguez said, while Francis is popular among people around the world, he is facing opposition in the Roman Curia.

"We have to be prepared, since this beautiful but strange popularity is beginning to strengthen adherences, but equally to awaken deaf opposition not only in the old Curia, but in some who are sorry to lose privileges in treatment and in comforts," Rodríguez said.

"Expressions like 'What can it be that this little Argentine pretends?', or the expression of a well-known cardinal who let slip the phrase, 'We made a mistake,' can be heard," Rodríguez said, making an apparent reference to a cardinal who regrets the selection of Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as pope.

Rodríguez, archbishop of the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, is also coordinator of the Council of Cardinals, which Francis appointed last year to "study a project of revision" of the Vatican's bureaucracy.

The cardinal was speaking at a meeting of provincials of the Order of Friars Minor, one of several religious orders that trace their roots directly to St. Francis. The meeting was hosted by the order's English Speaking Conference, which represents friars in the United States, Canada, England, Ireland, Lithuania and Malta.

Franciscan Fr. Thomas Washburn, executive secretary of the conference, provided NCR a text of Rodríguez's talk. Washburn said in an email that the Franciscans invited Rodríguez to speak at their semiannual meeting because the cardinal is an affiliate of one of the order's New York-based provinces.

Although the cardinal is a member of another religious order, the Salesians of Don Bosco, he referred to himself during the talk as a Franciscan and even wore the traditional brown Franciscan habit while speaking.

Rodríguez began his address by mentioning how St. Francis is said to have heard an apparition of Christ tell him to "repair my church." Rodríguez said the 13th-century saint "caused great scandal" from church leaders who wanted "to maintain their privileges."

Saying the pope is creating "a new way of being church," Rodríguez said Francis "feels called to construct" a church that is, among other things:

"At the service of this world by being faithful to Christ and his Gospel";
"Free from all mundane spirituality";
"Free from the risk of being concerned about itself, of becoming middle-class, of closing in on self, of being a clerical church";
Able to "offer itself as an open space in which all of us can meet and recognize each other because there is space for dialogue, diversity and welcome in it";
A church that pays "just attention and gives importance to women in both society and its own institutions."

Rodríguez ended his talk by directly relating God's reported message to St. Francis to Pope Francis.

"Today, as in the past, the Lord has again called Francis and has asked of him the very same thing he asked of him of Assisi," Rodríguez said.

Asked how exactly Rodríguez meant Pope Francis is repairing the church, Washburn said it was through gestures like washing the feet of prisoners and embracing people with disabilities after his audiences in St. Peter's Square.

"These moments are not just for show or merely external -- these are real gestures with the strength and power and authority of an encyclical, perhaps with even more power than those," Washburn said.

In his talk, Rodríguez also directed the Franciscans to undertake certain priorities in their ministries, including:

Being missionaries to those who are unfamiliar with the church or Christian teachings;
Working for the poor;
Speaking out against violence and destruction of the environment;
Dialogue with other religions, especially Islam.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Vatican delegation with U.S. cardinals delayed Irish church reform says archbishop

Patrick Counihan
Irish Central
April 19, 2014

The Catholic Archbishop of Dublin has accused the Vatican of delaying church reform in Ireland in the wake of clerical sex abuse scandals.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has told the Irish Times that delegation sent by Rome in the wake of the Murphy and Ryan reports on abuse effectively held up reform of the church in Ireland.

The delegation which included leading Irish American prelates Cardinal Sean O’Malley and Cardinal Timothy Dolan were sent to Ireland by the Vatican following the publication of the reports in 2009 to establish what went wrong in the Irish church.

Dr Martin believes the apostolic visitation delayed real reform.

He said: “The visits froze the Irish church at a particular moment and actually, in some ways, delayed reforms in the Irish church.

“My comments are not a criticism of those who carried out the visitation, but maybe a criticism of those who planned it.”

He added: “The visitation from Rome set expectations it was never going to realise and I think there are lessons to be learned for future events of that kind.

“The Irish church has to find the answers for the Irish church and where it has done so it has done so well.”


The archbishop also revealed a humble side to his life in the context of Pope Francis’s call for a poor church for the poor.

He said: “My living quarters are smaller than his. He uses the Vatican to receive people there all the time.

“My staff is half that of my predecessor. I probably cook more meals for myself than he did. I look after myself and my own shopping”

Friday, April 18, 2014

Twin Cities task force reports 'serious shortcomings' in archdiocesan policies

Brian Roewe
National Catholic Reporter
April 18, 2014

Too much power in too few hands. Inadequate oversight. Broken communication channels and compartmentalized information. An outdated record-keeping system, and no meaningful program to audit and monitor compliance.

Those "serious shortcomings" emerged from a lay task force's six-month independent review of the policies and organizational structures within the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese related to the prevention of clergy sexual abuse of minors.

"The work of the Task Force revealed that, despite Archdiocesan policies and procedures designed to protect against clergy sexual abuse of minors, a flawed organizational structure with little oversight and accountability created opportunities for some priests to harm children," the seven-member Safe Environment and Ministerial Standards Task Force said in its 53-page report, released Monday.

Formed in October in response to accusations of mishandled abuse allegations by the archdiocese, the task force said that too much decision-making power regarding abuse allegations rested in one or two individuals who were not subject to monitoring themselves. The task force found communication "inadequate and, at times, non-existent" among the archdiocese, lay Catholics, the media and victims.

Pertinent information was also often restricted from decision-makers and relevant boards, and record-keeping and polices related to compliance and reporting were outdated, the report said.

Among the task force's recommendations:

Return to a single Clergy Review Board composed of mainly lay members outside archdiocesan offices that receives and reviews all allegations of clergy misconduct (in September 2013, the archdiocese had created a second board, the Ministerial Standards Board, to handle offenses unrelated to sexual abuse);
Appoint a layperson as the delegate for safe environment who is responsible for managing the archdiocese's response to all clergy misconduct and its youth protection efforts;
Create a comprehensive auditing and monitoring program to ensure an effective safe environment program;
Implement more effective record-keeping procedures to allow centralized access to information;
Strengthen and expand the mechanisms to receive complaints of clergy sexual abuse and implement an anti-retaliation policy to protect reporters;
Strengthen and include lay faculty in the candidate selection process at St. Paul Seminary;
Enhance the "essential three" components of safe environment: clergy background checks at least every six years, expanded training, and updated codes of conduct.

In addition, it urged the archdiocese "to foster a culture that places victims first, as well as a culture that welcomes sincere inquiry and criticism, and seeks input from laypeople."

"The recommendations made in this Report will not be realized if they are not supported by the prevailing culture and values within the Archdiocese," the task force said, a responsibility it said rested with Archbishop John Nienstedt and his leadership team.

In a statement, Nienstedt pledged to accept the recommendations and work toward their implementation with Dominican Fr. Reginald Whitt, the vicar for ministerial standards who appointed the task force. In an email, Whitt told NCR he is studying the report and is unavailable for interviews until after Easter.

In its own statement, the task force said the report "stands on its own" and declined press inquiries.

The task force omitted from the scope of its investigation a review of specific abuse cases, but did examine the case of Fr. Curtis Wehmeyer, currently serving a five-year prison sentence for criminal sexual conduct and possessing child pornography. It found that despite the priest displaying problematic sexual behavior between May 2004 and September 2009 and being placed on a monitoring program, no one alerted the promoter for ministerial standards or Clergy Review Board that Wehmeyer had camped with boys during the 2009 and 2010 summers. Additionally, his case never went before the review board.

"Wehmeyer's case illustrates structural deficiencies in the Archdiocese Safe Environment program and problems with the implementation of Archdiocesan policies," the report said. It noted that while training appeared successful in triggering reports from lay and clergy "of what they viewed as 'red flag' behavior by Wehmeyer, unfortunately those reports were not handled well by Archdiocesan officials, causing a delay that may have allowed further abuse to occur."


Full article at the National Catholic Reporter

Editorial: (Newark) Archbishop Myers should kneel more often

Alfred Doblin, editorial page editor
The Record
April 17, 2014

LAST YEAR, Pope Francis made headlines for washing the feet of inmates at a juvenile detention center. Not only did the pope break with the Holy Thursday tradition of the pope only washing the feet of 12 priests, Francis included women and Muslims.

This Holy Thursday, the pope traveled to a home for seniors and the disabled. Again he broke with tradition. The washing of feet is symbolic of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. While it is common in parish churches for priests to wash the feet of men and women, that was not the case in Rome until Francis.

If Pope John XXIII opened the windows of the Church, Pope Francis is smashing them. And back here in New Jersey, Newark Archbishop John Myers is installing double-pained glass ones in the 3,000-square-foot extension to his 4,500-square-foot weekend house in anticipation of his retirement.

I had an opportunity to read what appeared to be a form letter to a former contributor to the archdiocese. Myers wrote that he hoped this former donor would reconsider his decision not to contribute because of the negative press Myers was receiving about his retirement home.

Having spent a decade in and about the chanceries of three Catholic dioceses, I know a crisis when I see it and I know crisis management. Such a letter is not generated for one complaint. And while Myers may hope this particular crisis fades, that is not likely. You cannot hide a 7,500-square-foot mansion.

As the season of Lent comes to an end this weekend, Myers has an opportunity to change the perception that he is oblivious to everything Pope Francis has said and done in his short pontificate. Myer’s Easter sermon would be the ideal time to announce the archdiocese will sell his mansion.

Recently, the archbishop of Atlanta reacted to the public outcry over his new residence and said he is considering selling it. Myers has not even given local Catholics that much. Perhaps Myers imagines his retirement differently than most bishops of his stature. There will not be a parade of cardinals, archbishops or heads of state coming to his 8-acre estate. And even if they were, this is not medieval Europe; this is 21st century New Jersey.

I don’t know Myers personally, but I know his type. I have seen prelates with a predisposition for the lavish trappings of a Church era gone by. They enjoy being called “your Excellency” and they like the food, wine and attention of formal affairs. And they believe they are entitled to these things, so they bristle when challenged.

The archdiocese has tried to deflect debate about Myers’ mansion by informing the public that much of the house expansion is being paid for by the sale of another archdiocesan property. The spin is supposed to make us focus on how little new money is going toward the lavish house rather than how much money that could have been used for other things is going toward the lavish house. The archdiocese doesn’t get that the problem is the mansion, however it is funded.

For all the bad press Myers has received over the house and over his handling of sexual-abuse cases involving clergy, he could still retire with some respect if he just acknowledged he has made mistakes. Most people are reasonably forgiving, particularly when someone retires. Admitting a 7,500-square-foot retirement home is both unnecessary and wasteful on Easter Sunday would open floodgates of goodwill throughout the archdiocese.

The victims of sexual abuse will not forget – nor should they. That wrong cannot be righted by Myers at this stage. But it does not have to be compounded by insensitivity over something as non-sacramental as a mansion. Such a house is a symbol of everything that created the clergy sex scandal, that the institution is more important than the people the institution was created to serve.

As a Catholic, I always found it hard not to be moved by Holy Thursday services. The washing of the feet is a small part of the narrative that leads Catholics through the final days of Lent to Easter, but it is a moving part of that narrative – for the spectator and, I assume, the participants.

As a priest and bishop, Myers has to have participated in this symbolic act many times. Yet it would appear the meaning of what he has done – of humbling himself to the people he shepherds – has been lost on him. Nowhere in the Beatitudes is a sentence that reads, “Blessed are the retired bishops, for they shall have a mansion in New Jersey.”

Pope Francis continues to surprise with impromptu sermons and acts of humility. Rather than send out form letters to Catholics who have stopped sending checks, Myers should change his form. Kneeling on Thursday is meaningless if you cannot bend the other six days of the week. Myers has a choice this Easter: Be a man of God or a man of the house.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Odisha HIndus threaten Catholics over church construction

Union of Catholic Asian News India
April 17, 2014

Police in Odisha refused to register a complaint on Thursday, after a Hindu mob threatened to attack Catholic villagers if they went ahead in building a church.

An angry mob of more than 30 people in Ranipada village shouted at Christians on March 11 and took away stones meant for the church’s foundation, eyewitnesses said.

The Hindus stood in front of the house of Catholic catechist Bhagwan Pradhan and threatened to beat him up and attack the community if he encouraged villagers to build the church.

In 2008, a church in the village was burnt down by Hindu fundamentalists during anti-Christian violence in the district. A Protestant pastor who took refuge in the church during the violence was burnt alive.

The violence that lasted several weeks killed some 100 people and displaced at least 50,000.

"Police are refusing to accept the complaint saying that they will first investigate the matter and talk to the other side [the Hindus] but the law says that they have to first register the complaint and then go ahead with the investigation," said Ramakant Paricha, a lawyer who accompanied Pradhan to the police station.

Paricha told that police might try to seek a compromise between the two sides.

Pradhan, the complainant, told that all 52 tribal Catholic families in the village have been living in fear since the 2008 violence.

He said Hindu extremists plowed up Church land in an act of intimidation last November. Police refused to register a complaint after that incident too, he said.

"We are constantly threatened by these people. Since the [2008] violence, we have been denied access to a nearby forest for wood and a communal well in the village for water," he said.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Former (St. Paul-Minneapolis) Vicar General Kevin McDonough deposed in clergy sex abuse case

Shelby Capacio
Fox9 Minneapolis
April 16, 2014

On Wednesday, another top official from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis was in the hot seat, testifying in a court-ordered deposition about clergy sex abuse.

Former Vicar General Kevin McDonough was questioned by attorney Jeff Anderson and his Team in downtown St. Paul as they continue to determine how the church handled allegations of abuse against priests.

For years, McDonough was the person who handled all of those claims. Earlier this week, a court-ordered task force released a report that said too much power was concentrated with one or two individuals that had little oversight.

Earlier this month, Archbishop John Nienstedt had his own four-hour deposition as part of the Ramsey County court case brought forward bi a victim named only as "John Doe."

In that case, the victim claims he was abused by former priest Tom Adamson during the mid 1970s, and the suit alleges that the abuse occurred after the church already knew Adamson was facing other accusations of sexual misconduct.

The trial is set to start in September, and the judge has ordered the archdiocese to turn over all files relating to priests accused of sexual misconduct.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Vatican censure of Fr Tony Flannery causing frustration within Redemptorists

Sarah MacDonald
The Tablet
April 11, 2014

Frustration over the plight of censured (Irish) priest Fr Tony Flannery appears to be mounting within his Redemptorist order.

Last week, at a public meeting in Dublin on church reform addressed by Fr Flannery, Fr Sean Duggan, the youngest Redemptorist in the Irish province, called on the Redemptorist authorities to restore Fr Flannery to full priestly ministry without any conditions. He also demanded that they issue an apology to him for the way in which he has been treated by the Vatican authorities.

Fr Flannery was censured by the Vatican in 2012 and forbidden to minister as a priest over what the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) considered heretical views on the Eucharist and priesthood. “I no longer believe that the priesthood as we currently have it in the Church originated with Jesus,” he wrote in 2010. Fr Duggan, 34, told The Tablet that he had spoken out because of “a deep care for our Church”.

The CDF have stipulated that in order to be reinstated, Fr Flannery must issue a statement saying that he accepts all the moral teachings of the Church and that women can never be ordained priests.

For his part, Fr Flannery said that even if the Vatican did allow him back into ministry he wouldn’t accept unless all sanctions were lifted against Fr Sean Fagan, a Marist priest, who was silenced after questioning elements of church teaching. Frs Flannery and Fagan are one of six Irish priests to have been censured in recent years.

Fr Gerry O’Connor, a member of the Redemptorist provincial council in Ireland which oversees the congregation’s 100 members in Ireland said that he regretted Fr Flannery’s “exclusion from ministry” and hoped he could return.

A number of Redemptorists had written to the order’s superior general, Fr Michael Brehl, to express their support for Fr Flannery.

Angry about archbishop's pricey retirement home, parishioners to deliver 17,000 signatures Sunday

Mark Mueller
The Star-Ledger
April 12, 2014

Bearing a petition with more than 17,000 signatures, members of a national Christian group and parishioners from across northern New Jersey will gather in Newark Sunday to demand that Archbishop John J. Myers sell the expansive Hunterdon County home where he plans to retire.

Members of the group, Faithful America, contend Myers should follow the example of Atlanta’s archbishop, Wilton Gregory, who recently apologized to parishioners for using church funds to build a 6,100-square-foot, $2.2 million residence in an exclusive neighborhood.

Gregory announced earlier this week he would sell the home, with the proceeds going toward "the needs of the Catholic community."

In Newark, the parishioners will seek to hand the petition to Myers after the noon Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart on Ridge Street. Myers is scheduled to say the Mass, his spokesman, Jim Goodness, confirmed Friday.

"Pope Francis has called for a church that is of the poor and for the poor, and even other bishops have responded to that," said Michael Sherrard, Faithful America’s executive director. "Archbishop Myers seems not to have gotten the memo."

Faithful America, headquartered in Washington D.C., has a nationwide membership of 280,000, Sherrard said. The group’s mission is to "advance Christianity as a cause for common good," he said.

Myers has come under sharp criticism since The Star-Ledger disclosed in February he was building a 3,000-square-foot addition on the 4,500-square-foot home he has used as a weekend retreat.

The original structure, situated on 8.2 acres in Franklin Township, has five bedrooms, three bathrooms, a three-car garage and an elevator. A large outdoor pool lies out back. The archdiocese bought the home for $700,000 in 2002, a year after Myers arrived in Newark. The property is now valued at nearly $800,000 records show.

The three-story addition, already well underway, will cost a minimum of $500,000, not including design fees and furnishings, according to documents and blueprints in the local planning office.

The new wing will contain an office with an attached library, an additional bedroom with a sitting area, an indoor exercise pool, a Whirlpool tub, three fireplaces and a second elevator. The entire third floor is identified on blueprints as a gallery.

Goodness, the spokesman, said the construction is being funded through the sale of other properties and through a small number of private donations.

The recent criticism over the addition has not changed the archbishop’s plan to move into the residence full time when he retires in 2016, Goodness said.

He added that the archdiocese’s finance council, a lay panel that assists the archbishop on financial issues, discussed the home with Myers at a regular meeting recently and found no fault with the expansion.

"The end result was, ‘This makes sense. It’s appropriate,’" Goodness said. "They were very supportive of it."

Deceased Dutch Catholic bishop was child molester: commission

Tom Heneghan
April 12, 2014

The Dutch Catholic Church, in a rare admission of guilt among senior clergy, has confirmed that a bishop who died last year had sexually abused two boys decades earlier.

The diocese of Roermond said a Church commission had found that accusations against former bishop Johannes Gijsen, dating back to his time as chaplain at a minor seminary from 1958 to 1961, were "well founded".

The admission came on Friday, the same day that Pope Francis made his first public plea for forgiveness for "all the evil" committed by priests who molested children, and said the Church had to do more to discipline wayward clerics.

Mea Culpa, a Dutch group supporting abuse victims, welcomed the Roermond statement. But it said the accusations had been made while Gijsen was alive, and noted critically that "complaints against living suspects are often declared unfounded".

Bishop Frans Wiertz, current head of Roermond diocese, said he accepted the commission's findings and "regrets the abuse and suffering inflicted on the victims". He has personally met the two men and apologized to them, he said.

The Church's statement put Gijsen, who headed the diocese in southeastern Netherlands from 1972 to 1993, among the few senior Catholic clergy worldwide found guilty of abuse.

Katholiek Nieuwsblad, the weekly that broke the story, said the commission found Gijsen had groped the two boys and forced one to perform oral sex.

Gijsen had been confronted with the oral sex accusation in 2011, but denied knowing his accuser. The commission reopened his case a week after Gijsen died because it received the second complaint of improper genital touching, the weekly said. It concluded that Gijsen's denial was not credible because the victim's family had said he used to visit them.


Gijsen was one of several strict conservative bishops whom the Vatican appointed in the Netherlands - often over the protests of priests and parishioners - to roll back the strongly reformist turn that the Church took there in the 1960s.

He officially stepped down as bishop of Roermond in 1993 on health grounds, but later served as bishop of the tiny Catholic community in Iceland from 1996 to 2007. An abuse commission there accused him of covering up molestation by another priest.

Few bishops have been accused of active abuse in the scandal, which has been rocking the Catholic Church for over two decades. Most of the prelates who have stepped down did so for covering up the misdeeds of their priests.

Two cardinals - Hans Hermann Groer of Vienna and Edinburgh's Keith O'Brien - quit in disgrace amid accusations of sexual misconduct with seminarians. A Belgian bishop, Roger Vangheluwe of Bruges, stepped down after admitting molesting his nephew.

The Vatican has been investigating sexual abuse allegations against Archbishop Josef Wesolowski, its former nuncio (ambassador) to the Dominican Republic, since last September. His whereabouts and the status of his case are not known.

Pope Francis, who has been criticised by victims' support groups for not taking a sufficiently strong stand against sexual abuse, last month named a high-level group including an Irish abuse victim to help fight sexual abuse in the Church.

That came after the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child accused the Church in February of systematically turning a blind eye to clerical sexual abuse of minors. The Vatican called its report "distorted" and "unfair".

Terry McKiernan, founder of the website, which documents abuse cases, welcomed the pope's latest comments but said victims wanted to see Church leaders taken to task for allowing abuse to continue.

"The best thing he could have done today would have been to step up to the microphone and announce that he is beginning to remove bishops who have behaved criminally in keeping priests in ministries where they don't belong," he said.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Pope asks forgiveness for 'evil' of priestly child abuse

Naomi O'Leary
April 11, 2014

Pope Francis made his first public plea for forgiveness on Friday for the "evil" committed by priests who molested children, using some of his strongest words yet on the Roman Catholic Church's sexual abuse crisis.

The Argentine-born pontiff said the Church, which last month named a high-level group on the scandal including an abuse victim, had to take an stronger stand on a scandal that has haunted it for more than two decades.

"I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil that some priests - quite a few in number, (although) obviously not compared to the number of all priests - to personally ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done for having sexually abused children," he told members of the International Catholic Child Bureau.

"The church is aware of this ... personal, moral damage carried out by men of the church, and we will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem, and to the sanctions that must be imposed.

"On the contrary, we have to be even stronger. Because you cannot interfere with children," Francis said in unscripted comments as he addressed the children's rights body.

The comments, originally in Spanish, were translated by the Vatican Radio news service.

Francis did not specify whether "sanctions" would be church-enforced or involve civil justice authorities. In February the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child accused the Vatican of systematically turning a blind eye to decades of abuse and attempting to cover up sex crimes.

The scathing report urged the church to immediately hand over its records on the abuse of tens of thousands of children, immediately remove anyone suspected of abuse from their post and refer the matter to civil legal authorities.


Criticism that Francis has not taken a bold enough stand on the issue, and did not meet with sexual abuse victims in Italy and in a July trip to Brazil, has been a rare black spot in the overwhelmingly positive response to the pontiff in the 13 months he has been in office.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), which advocates for child protection and urges greater transparency in the church, on Friday said Francis' words should be received with caution.

"We beg the world's Catholics: be impressed by deeds, not words. Until the pope takes decisive action that protects kids, be skeptical and vigilant," SNAP Outreach Director Barbara Dorris said.

"This may be the first time a pope has talked of sanctions against complicit bishops. But that is all it is: talk."

The church has been accused of condoning the actions of bishops who moved known abusers from parish to parish, allowing abuse to continue. Under Francis' direction, the Vatican announced in December the creation of a new dedicated group to help the church deal with the abuse crisis. Its members were named in late March.

The group of clerics and lay people includes Marie Collins, a survivor of abuse in Ireland in the 1960s who has campaigned for the protection of children and for justice for victims.

Child abuse litigation has cost the Catholic Church some $3 billion in settlements in the United States alone, and shaken the moral authority of leaders of the world's largest religious denomination.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Pope Francis: Married men could be ordained priests if world's bishops agreed to it

Christa Pongratz-Lippett
The Tablet
April 10, 2014

A bishop who met with Pope Francis in a rare private audience on 4 April has said in an interview that the two men discussed the issue of the ordination of “proven” married men – viri probati – in a serious and positive way.

Bishop Erwin Kräutler, Bishop of Xingu in the Brazilian rainforest, spoke to the Pope about Francis’ forthcoming encyclical on the environment, and the treatment of indigenous peoples but the desperate shortage of priests in the bishop’s huge diocese came up in the conversation.

According to an interview the Austrian-born bishop gave to the daily Salzburger Nachrichten on 5 April, the Pope was open-minded about finding solutions to the problem, saying that bishops’ conferences could have a decisive role.

“I told him that as bishop of Brazil’s largest diocese with 800 church communities and 700,000 faithful I only had 27 priests, which means that our communities can only celebrate the Eucharist twice or three times a year at the most,” Bishop Kräutler said. “The Pope explained that he could not take everything in hand personally from Rome. We local bishops, who are best acquainted with the needs of our faithful, should be corajudos, that is ‘courageous’ in Spanish, and make concrete suggestions,” he explained. A bishop should not act alone, the Pope told Kräutler. He indicated that “regional and national bishops’ conferences should seek and find consensus on reform and we should then bring up our suggestions for reform in Rome,” Kräutler said.

Asked whether he had raised the question of ordaining married men at the audience, Bishop Kräutler replied: “The ordination of viri probati, that is of proven married men who could be ordained to the priesthood, came up when we were discussing the plight of our communities. The Pope himself told me about a diocese in Mexico in which each community had a deacon but many had no priest. There were 300 deacons there who naturally could not celebrate the Eucharist. The question was how things could continue in such a situation.

"It was up to the bishops to make suggestions, the Pope said again.”

Bishop Kräutler was then asked whether it now depended on bishops’ conferences, as to whether church reforms proceeded or not. “Yes,” he replied. “After my personal discussion with the Pope I am absolutely convinced of this.”

Last September the Vatican Secretary of State, then-Archbishop Pietro Parolin – who was then Apostolic Nuncio to Venezuela – answered a question put to him by El Universal newspaper by stating that priestly celibacy “is not part of church dogma and the issue is open to discussion because it is an ecclesiastical tradition”. “Modifications can be made, but these must always favour unity and God’s will,” he said. “God speaks to us in many different ways. We need to pay attention to this voice that points us towards causes and solutions, for example the clergy shortage.”

In 2006 Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes issued a clarification in the Holy See Bollettino reiterating his support of church teaching and tradition just hours after telling a Sao Paolo newspaper: "Celibacy is a discipline, not a dogma of the Church … Certainly, the majority of the apostles were married. In this modern age, the Church must observe these things, it has to advance with history."

The topic of ordaining "viri probati" was raised with a question mark over it in a speech by Cardinal Angelo Scola of Venice, at the October 2005 Synod on the Eucharist – the first synod of Pope Benedict XVI.

“To confront the issue of the shortage of priests, some ... have put forward the request to ordain married faithful of proven faith and virtue, the so-called viri probati,” he said. Cardinal Scola, who read his speech in Latin in the presence of Pope Benedict, did not say which bishops from which countries had suggested discussing the ordination of older married men.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

As a Kansas City detective is honored in the Shawn Ratigan case, diocese is castigated

The Kansas City Star
April 9, 2014

A Kansas City police detective was honored Wednesday for her work to protect children, most notably in the case of a Kansas City priest now serving a prison sentence for child pornography.

Detective Maggie McGuire received the Crystal Kipper & Ali Kemp Memorial Award, which recognizes the outstanding work of an individual or organization in protecting children from exploitation.

In presenting the award, an assistant federal prosecutor made a series of blistering remarks about Bishop Robert Finn and the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese’s handling of the case.

“When it becomes clear at the outset of the investigation that the entire hierarchy of a centuries-old religious denomination does not seem willing to recognize that the children depicted in the images are, in fact, victims of child exploitation, nor seem very willing to help establish the identity of the children depicted, and instead are spending millions of dollars on legal counsel in an ill-advised effort to avoid having the priest and bishop accept legal responsibility for their crimes, then you know, as an investigator, that your work is cut out for you,” said Deputy U.S. Attorney Gene Porter.

The diocese declined to comment on Porter’s remarks.
Since the case came to light, the diocese has taken several steps to strengthen its efforts to protect children, including the appointment of a former assistant Jackson County prosecutor to investigate all reports of sexual misconduct or suspicious behavior by clergy and others in the diocese.

The case erupted in December 2010 when a computer technician found hundreds of lewd photos of young girls on the Rev. Shawn Ratigan’s laptop computer. A Jackson County judge later found Finn guilty of failing to report suspicions of child abuse to police or state child welfare authorities after the photographs were discovered.

Finn was sentenced to two years of probation for the misdemeanor. Ratigan pleaded guilty to five child pornography charges and was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

No one, Porter said, could have done a better job on the case than McGuire.

“But for her work, multiple victims might not have been identified, a predatory priest might not have been removed and sentenced to the functional equivalent of life in prison, and Robert Finn never would have become the first cleric of his rank in the United States to sustain … a criminal conviction for failure to report suspected child abuse,” Porter said.

The award was presented outside the Jackson County Courthouse at a rally as part of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.

Study indicates wide rejection of new translations by US clergy

Joshua J McElwee, Jr
National Catholic Reporter
April 8, 2014

A vast majority of leaders of U.S. Catholic parishes polled for a new survey say they find the new English translation of the Mass "awkward and distracting," with half agreeing it "urgently needs to be revised."

Leaders at 539 parishes across the country indicate their disagreement with the new translation in a new study conducted by Georgetown's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) and released Tuesday in conjunction with the popular liturgical blog PrayTell.

The translation went into effect in fall 2011 and has been criticized because of its use of awkward and stilted English in translating from the Latin version of the Mass​. While Tuesday's survey rehashes many of the talking points of those opposed to the translation, it also paints in stark relief the struggle many parishes are still having in adopting the new text.

For example, some 75 percent of respondents said they either "agree" or "strongly agree" that "some of the language of the new text is awkward and distracting." Forty-seven percent answered "strongly agree" to that statement.

Likewise, an even 50 percent of those answering said they "agree" or "strongly agree" that "the new translation urgently needs to be revised." 33 percent answered "strongly agree" on that statement.

Release of the new CARA survey also comes shortly after one of the former leaders of the U.S. bishops' conference said publicly that the new translation has "flaws and difficulties."

Speaking at a liturgical conference in St. Petersburg, Fla., March 29, Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory said it was time for priests and bishops to say of the translation: "We've tried it, we've lived with it, we think it needs correction." Gregory served as president of the U.S. bishops' conference from 2001 to 2004.


Read full article at National Catholic Reporter

Sunday, April 6, 2014

US: pro-abortion politicians are denied communion

Marco Tosatti
Vatican Insider
April 6, 2014

Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, who is well known for his fervent defence of the right to life and the natural family, has sent out a strong message, publicly announcing his support for priests who call themselves Catholics but refuse to administer Communion to Catholic politicians who favour policies that go against the Church’s teaching.

According to Lifesitenews, the prelate wrote to a pro-life activist explaining that he fully supports the decision taken by a priest in his diocese to deny the Eucharist to Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois. Durbin has a 100% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood which favours abortion.

The content of Bishop Paprocki’s email was published by Catholic commentator Matt Abbott. “Senator Durbin was informed several years ago by his pastor at Blessed Sacrament Parish here in Springfield that he was not permitted to receive Holy Communion per canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law,” Paprocki wrote. “My predecessor upheld that decision and it remains in effect. It is my understanding that the senator is complying with that decision here in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois,” the prelate wrote.

Canon 915 stipulates that “Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.” The local diocese explained that canon 915 leaves it up to the individual ministers to decide when to deny someone Communion, whereas canon 916 leaves the decision up to the faithful, in cases where they are conscious of having committed a grave sin. Naturally, this is the subject of much debate in the Church because some bishops claim that to deny someone Communion would turn the Eucharist into a political weapon. But as others rightly say, denying the Eucharist to someone who has sinned gravely is an act of charity because it prevents the individual in question from committing sacrilege. It also prevents a scandal in the Christian community.

In 2004, the then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, gave a very thorough response to this, making specific reference to abortion and euthanasia. “The Church teaches that abortion or euthanasia is a grave sin. The Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, with reference to judicial decisions or civil laws that authorize or promote abortion or euthanasia, states that there is a "grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. [...] In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to 'take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law or vote for it’"

“Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist,” Ratzinger added. If “precautionary measures have not had their effect” or if “they were not possible”, the priest should refuse the person in question the Eucharist. “This decision, properly speaking, is not a sanction or a penalty. Nor is the minister of Holy Communion passing judgment on the person’s subjective guilt, but rather is reacting to the person’s public unworthiness to receive Holy Communion due to an objective situation of sin.”

The letter Ratzinger addressed to Cardinal McCarrick was leaked to the press and published and its authenticity confirmed. But the points mentioned are not widely or uniformly practiced. The Prefect of the Signatura, Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, is one of its biggest supporters, stressing that denying Communion in certain cases is not a punishment but an act of “pastoral charity” for the above-mentioned reasons. Given his position, Burke can be considered one of the foremost authorities on Canon law. But a decision of this kind would require great courage on the Bishop’s part and could lead to politicians arguing over it or using it for their own ends. This would explain why the Paprockis out there are so few.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

(British) bishops reject call for pro-Gay marriage MP's to be refused communion

Christopher Lamb
The Tablet
April 4, 2014

The Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has told Catholic parliamentarians that they will not be refused communion if they voted in favour of same-sex marriage.

This move follows comments last month by the Bishop of Portsmouth, Philip Egan, who said that these politicians should be denied the Eucharist. He argued that instead of being a punitive measure it was “an act of mercy” that could bring individuals “back into communion with the Church.” But an email from the bishops’ conference sent last month to parliamentarians and seen by The Tablet, said: “There are no plans by any Bishops in England and Wales to deny communion to Catholic MPs or peers who voted in favour of same-sex marriage legislation last year.”

The email was authorised by the bishops’ conference, whose president is the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols. When he made the remarks about refusing politicians communion, Bishop Egan said he would need to act with his fellow bishops and he called on his confreres to debate the issue. But a spokesman for the bishops’ conference said at the time there were “no plans” to discuss the matter at their next bi-annual meeting due to take place soon after Easter.

The email, written by Greg Pope, the Head of Parliamentary Relations for the bishops’ conference and a former Labour MP, added: “I can see that there is potential for distress to be caused within the Catholic community at Westminster over this.”

Catholic MPs across the political spectrum have reacted with anger to Bishop Egan’s call. These include Conor Burns, a Conservative MP who voted for same-sex marriage and whose Bournemouth West seat lies in the bishop’s Portsmouth diocese. Mr Burns, who is co-chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Holy See, says he now feels unable to receive communion in his local parish. It is understood that he has written to Cardinal Nichols requesting a meeting to discuss the matter.

Forty-seven out of at least 82 Catholic MPs voted for the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill when it was passed in the House of Commons last year.
Damian Thompson
The Telegraph
April 5, 2014

Cardinal Keith O'Brien, former Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, already bears the title of Most Disgraced Cardinal of the Twenty-first Century. He was the only cardinal-elector banned from voting in the conclave that elected Pope Francis. Why? Because he'd been accused of making sexual advances to young clergy, and admitted inappropriate sexual behaviour even after he was made a cardinal. He resigned his see and planned a quiet retirement in the Scottish countryside, only for Rome to force him into exile abroad. At which point his successor, Archbishop Leo Cushley, suggested that the old man "had been punished enough".

Now we read this, by Joshua McElwee in the National Catholic Reporter:

The Vatican has appointed a bishop known for aggressively investigating cases of sexual abuse to take testimony of clergy alleging sexual misconduct in Scotland's archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, where Cardinal Keith O'Brien was archbishop until resigning under disgrace in February 2013.

The archdiocese's current leader, Archbishop Leo Cushley, announced the investigation in two letters sent to his clergy Tuesday. The letters, which were obtained by NCR Thursday from a priest of the archdiocese, announce what may be the first instance of an investigation by the Vatican of sexual misconduct by one of the church's cardinals, who are normally considered nearly above reproach in the Vatican's hierarchical structure.

O'Brien, who had served as the archbishop of Edinburgh since 1985, resigned abruptly just days before Pope Benedict XVI abdicated in February 2013, following allegations by three priests and one former priest of the Scottish archdiocese that the cardinal had inappropriate sexual relations with them dating back some 30 years.

Tuesday's letters from Cushley state that Pope Francis has asked the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops to send Maltese Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna to "listen to and report the testimony offered by past and present members of the clergy … concerning any incidents of sexual misconduct committed against them by other members of the clergy whomsoever."

There may be mixed feelings about this news from many Scots who knew Cardinal Keith O'Brien. He was an affable chap who enjoyed a dram and responded warmly to flattery: sly Alex Salmond worked this out early on, and sucked up shamelessly to O'Brien in an attempt detach Catholics voters from the Labour Party. I met the cardinal at a reception in Edinburgh and it was like talking to one of those twinkly-eyed Irish priests who build a personality cult in their parish. (Incidentally, Keith O'Brien is an Ulster Catholic by birth and upbringing.) His former friends may find it hard to banish the memory of this bonhomie, so much more agreeable than Archbishop Mario Conti of Glasgow's chippy grandeur. Also, he hasn't been charged with a criminal offence.

On the other hand, there are reasons not to feel sorry for the former archbishop.

First, he was a steaming hypocrite. Writing in the Telegraph in 2012, not long before the allegations against him were made public, the (actively homosexual) cardinal described gay relationships as "harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing of those involved". Funnily enough, he didn't mention the harm caused by being sexually assaulted by your religious superior.

Second, despite his disgrace, it seems that O'Brien was planning to use his retirement in Scotland to rebuild his network of contacts and, perhaps, undermine his successor. That was why the Vatican took the remarkable step of banishing him from the UK (not that it had any legal right to do so, of course, but it was either that or laicisation).

Third, we don't know the extent of O'Brien's wrongdoing and at least one of his accusers seems determined to expose the truth. Can you blame him?

One final caveat, however. It strikes me that the Catholic Church in Great Britain has escaped lightly from the paedophile scandals. I'm reading Betrayed: the English Catholic Church and the Sex Abuse Crisis by Richard Scorer, a lawyer specialising in child abuse cases. The chapter on Fr Michael Hill, the disgusting child-molester who was moved around by the then Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, Cormac Murphy-Connor, is shocking and suggests that the Church has still not been held fully to account for what happened. Perhaps I'll return to that subject.

In the meantime, waste no sympathy on Keith O'Brien.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Suspended belief

Grant Gallicho
dot Commonweal
April 4, 2014

Today the Archdiocese of Baltimore announced that it has suspended a high-school teacher accused of having a sexual relationship with one of her students this year. Which is what a diocese does when it learns that one of its employees may have abused a minor. But what does a diocese do when it also learns that the staff member who first received the allegation waited weeks to report it? Turns out this one suspends that employee too--and names her (and the accused) in a public statement and a letter to parents.

A number of weeks ago, Annette Goodman, the school’s librarian, learned about the allegation. Maryland law and the policies of the Archdiocese and Archbishop Curley High School require that allegations of child abuse be reported to civil authorities and to the head of the school as soon as possible. Ms. Goodman reported the information to the school’s administration on April 1.

There's transparency and then there's transparency.

Maryland law requires mandatory reporters--which includes educators--to orally notify civil authorities of suspected abuse "immediately" (they have forty-eight hours to file a written report).

You may recall a somewhat similar case involving a diocesesan staff member who came to suspect one of his priests was in possession of child pornography. He was eventually found guilty of failing to report suspected child abuse. But he wasn't suspended, and he remains in the position he held when he broke the law: bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

We'll know whether this amounts to a real shift in church policy when the people who get suspended for failing to report include the men responsible for creating this scandal.

Disgraced cardinal's archdiocese subject of Vatican investigation

Joshua J. McElwee
National Catholic Reporter
April 4, 2014

The Vatican has appointed a bishop known for aggressively investigating cases of sexual abuse to take testimony of clergy alleging sexual misconduct in Scotland's archdiocese of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, where Cardinal Keith O'Brien was archbishop until resigning under disgrace in February 2013.

The archdiocese's current leader, Archbishop Leo Cushley, announced the investigation in two letters sent to his clergy Tuesday.

The letters, which were obtained by NCR Thursday from a priest of the archdiocese, announce what may be the first instance of an investigation by the Vatican of sexual misconduct by one of the church's cardinals, who are normally considered nearly above reproach in the Vatican's hierarchical structure.

O'Brien, who had served as the archbishop of Edinburgh since 1985, resigned abruptly just days before Pope Benedict XVI abdicated in February 2013, following allegations by three priests and one former priest of the Scottish archdiocese that the cardinal had inappropriate sexual relations with them dating back some 30 years.

Tuesday's letters from Cushley state that Pope Francis has asked the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops to send Maltese Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna to "listen to and report the testimony offered by past and present members of the clergy ... concerning any incidents of sexual misconduct committed against them by other members of the clergy whomsoever."

Scicluna, Cushley states, will visit the archdiocese April 8-10 and "will be available to listen" on those days. The Maltese bishop, Cushley writes, has also asked those who wish to speak with him to "prepare their narrative in writing."

Dominican Fr. Thomas Doyle, a noted canon and civil lawyer widely known for his advocacy and work on behalf of survivors of sexual abuse by clergy, said in a brief interview Thursday he had "never heard" of such an investigation before.

"That's very unusual indeed," said Doyle. "I've never heard of a cardinal being investigated like this by the Holy See."

Jesuit Fr. John O'Malley, a noted church historian who has written books on the Second Vatican and Trent Councils and a history of the popes, likewise said he "could not recall" a similar instance of an archdiocese or cardinal being investigated.

Doyle said that although O'Brien is not specifically mentioned in the documents, it seems the pope is asking Scicluna to begin building evidence specific to the disgraced cardinal.

"This is just a preliminary so that they're looking around but it's pretty clear what they're doing and why they're doing it," said Doyle.

"I'm not surprised at the way they're doing it," he said. "That makes sense to me."

The Scottish priest who provided the documents to NCR asked not to be named because he said he is still deciding whether to speak to Scicluna about the situation in his archdiocese. He provided the letters, which are printed on archdiocesan letterhead with Cushley's signature, in full.

In an emailed statement to NCR Friday, Cushley said he was "grateful" for Scicluna's appointment.

"I believe that this is a positive step towards truth and eventual reconciliation, this may not be an easy thing to do, but it is the right thing to do," said Cushley. "I am reassured by this and will be pleased to support Bishop Scicluna in any way I can."

"It is also important that the Holy See take such steps as are necessary to establish and evaluate the serious allegations which have been made over the last 18 months or so," the archbishop continued. "In order to allow Bishop Scicluna to listen and report fully, I encourage all those concerned to cooperate serenely with him."

Scicluna is most known for being asked by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 2005 to collect testimony regarding the serial sexual abuser and deceitful founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Fr. Marcial Maciel.

Scicluna served as the promoter of justice -- a title roughly equivalent to chief prosecutor in the U.S. -- at the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith until 2012, when he was made auxiliary bishop in Malta. At the Vatican post he was known for reviewing hundreds of case files of priests who were eventually dismissed from ministry for sexual abuse.

While other cardinals and bishops have resigned following allegations of sexual abuse or misconduct, Doyle said he did not know of an instance where a pope had actively and publicly investigated a cardinal regarding those matters.

In one other example, Austrian Cardinal Hans Groër resigned as archbishop of Vienna in 1995 following allegations he had sexually abused a number of young men. The late pontiff is not known to have investigated Groër, instead reacting to news accounts of his behavior.*

In the second of his letters Tuesday, Cushley asks his clergy to "see in this action the Pope's affectionate and fatherly concern for us." He also asks the clergy to "take courage."

"I believe the Holy See is examining the 'lie of the land' and trying to establish more precisely the veracity of various assertions now before it," Cushley writes.

"I would therefore ask you to put your faith in the process and encourage any of you who have something of significance to say about misconduct of individuals in the clergy, to get in touch with Bishop Scicluna," he writes.

Cushley also states he has spoken directly to the pope and to Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, on the matter. Ouellet, Cushley writes, "assured me at length the clergy ought not to be afraid of the process."

Ouellet, Cushley writes, added that "he is confident that the enquiry now being launched is the best method available of establishing the truth of the assertions and the way that will ultimately lead us to renewed peace and to the end of this long and difficult road for us and our people."

"I would therefore urge you to cooperate serenely with Bishop Scicluna, in so far as you may have something to contribute to his findings, so that we may see clearly the way ahead to the renewal of the Church that we pledged our lives to serve," Cushley writes.

The priest in Edinburgh who originally provided the documents said he was "quite happy that the church has seen fit to act."

Members of the archdiocesan staff, he said, had previously told him that "no one wanted to deal with" the allegations against O'Brien.

"They told us that only the pope himself can deal with it," said the priest. "Now it looks like Francis has acted on it."