Sunday, June 28, 2015

Basilica priest calls on twin cities archdiocese to release Nienstedt probe details

Minnesota Star Tribune
June 27, 2015

A prominent Catholic pastor has called on the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to release details of an internal investigation into former Archbishop John Nienstedt.

The Rev. John Bauer, head pastor of the Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis, said releasing the details is imperative if the archdiocese is to move forward.

Refusing to share the archdiocese-commissioned investigation, Bauer wrote in an open letter on his blog Thursday, suggests that "the Archdiocese has not been transparent, honest and forthcoming in the information it is has shared with the faithful."

Bauer cited findings from a Minnesota Public Radio News report that found Nienstedt limited an investigation into his conduct, even though he had authorized it.

MPR reported the law firm hired by the archdiocese took statements that accused Nienstedt of inappropriate behavior, including sexual advances to at least two priests. Nienstedt has denied any inappropriate conduct. He resigned this month after charges were filed against the archdiocese for failing to protect children from a priest later convicted of molesting two boys.

On his blog, Bauer wrote that since archdiocesan funds were used to pay for the investigation, "the right of the faithful to this information outweighs any objections."

Archbishop Bernard Hebda, the archdiocese's temporary caretaker, said Saturday he takes the points Bauer raised seriously.

"I will continue to meet with as many people as I can so that I may better understand the complexities of this situation and respond accordingly," Hebda said in a statement released by the archdiocese.

Bauer has not publicly criticized Nienstedt in the past, the Star Tribune reported. He declined to comment further to the newspaper.

His letter brought mixed reactions Friday among Twin Cities Catholics. Some said releasing the investigation would only prolong an agonizing episode for the church.

"I think it's time to move on," said Robert Kennedy, chair of the Department of Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas. "Pursuing this information, whatever it might be, does not promote that."

Jim Frey, a former archdiocese donor, argued that airing the reports would give the archdiocese "a clean break" from the past.

"Obviously, what is in these reports is serious and meaningful," Frey said. "We'll be better served by clearing the air, rather than have people continue to wonder what's in them. Otherwise, I believe there will always be a lingering question or mistrust."

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Bankruptcy has cost St. Paul - Minneapolis Archdiocese about $2 million so far

Martin Moylan
MPR News
June 23, 2015

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has incurred about $2 million in legal costs so far in its bankruptcy reorganization.

The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in January. Soon after the filing, the judge assigned to the case ordered key parties into mediation, hoping that would expedite a resolution and keep legal costs down.

But the latest operating report filed by the archdiocese indicates it has racked up $1.4 million in legal fees, mostly with the Briggs and Morgan law firm.

The church is also responsible for $600,000 in legal fees incurred by the unsecured creditors' committee, which is representing the interests of sex abuse victims.

Meanwhile, the archdiocese reported $27.3 million in net assets as of May 31.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Synod document identifies 'penitential road' for divorced and remarried Catholics

Christopher Lamb
The Tablet
June 23, 2015

Today the Vatican published the October’s gathering working document – Instrumentum Laboris – that takes into account submissions from bishops’ conferences and others from around the world.

The working text puts forward a “penitential road” for divorced and remarried couples – under the authority of the bishop or accompanied by a priest – as was suggested last year by Cardinal Vincent Nichols. The text does not spell out the destination of the “pathway” and would require chastity. In this context, the implication is that it may well lead to the reception of the sacraments.

Divorced and remarried couples should be “integrated” into the Church, the document points out.

Speaking at a press conference to launch the document, Archbishop Bruno Forte, special secretary to the synod, said the gathering’s role is not to give a “yes or no” answer to the question of whether divorced and remarried Catholics should be allowed to receive Communion, but to reflect on it as bishops.

Elsewhere, the text says that diocesan pastoral plans should offer “accompaniment” to gay Catholics and their families. While reaffirming the Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage, it says that gays must be treated with respect and sensitivity.

The working document covers a wide range of areas affecting family life such as economic challenges, birth rates, migration and the role of women. It also examines how the Church can support and nurture the vocation of the family.

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, said his office had received 99 submissions from bishops’ conferences and Eastern Catholic Churches, along with a further 359 observations from dioceses, parishes, individuals and civic groups. They were responding to a list of questions – the lineamenta– sent out at the end of year.

The cardinal added that the synod would devote more time to bishops being able to gather in small groups and that they would be free to speak to the media.

The text of the Instrumentum Laboris, issued so far in Italian only, also incorporates the final synod document from the meeting of bishops that took place last October.

The synod will take place from 4-25 October.

Friday, June 19, 2015

An isolated Nienstedt tried to limit investigation into himself

Madeleine Baran
Minnesota Public Radio
June 19, 2015

On April 10, 2014 — seven months into the clergy sex abuse scandal — Archbishop John Nienstedt's top advisers gathered for a private meeting. They had just received several affidavits from an internal investigation of Nienstedt that had been authorized by the archbishop himself to address damaging rumors.

The sworn statements accused Nienstedt of inappropriate behavior, according to people who read them, including sexual advances toward at least two priests.

• The unraveling of an archbishop

Private investigators had even arranged a prison interview with Curtis Wehmeyer, the former priest at the center of the clergy sex abuse scandal. Wehmeyer, who pleaded guilty in 2012 to child sex abuse, told the investigators he couldn't understand why Nienstedt wanted to spend time with him or why he kept him in ministry. Nienstedt made him uncomfortable, he said, and they never had sex. Wehmeyer said he wasn't interested in Nienstedt.

• July 2014: Archbishop authorized secret investigation of himself

Nienstedt had authorized the investigation with the expectation that it would clear his name. Instead, it threatened to ruin it. At the meeting last spring, the advisers went around the room. Each said Nienstedt should resign.

A few days later, Auxiliary Bishops Lee Piche and Andrew Cozzens traveled to Washington to bring that message to the pope's ambassador to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the apostolic nuncio. It was a brave move that threatened the careers of both men. Piche and Cozzens had hoped Vigano would agree that the future of the archdiocese was more important than the reputation of one man.

What happened at that meeting is unknown. Piche, Cozzens and Vigano did not respond to interview requests.

However, when the bishops returned to Minnesota, everything changed. The investigation, as it was originally ordered, was over.

Nienstedt would stay in power another 14 months after choosing to curtail and diminish efforts aimed at uncovering the truth about his private life, efforts that reached the highest levels of the Catholic Church in the United States. At one point he accused an investigator of bias for disagreeing with him on same-sex marriage. The investigation brought significant costs, as well: The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for it, and it destroyed Nienstedt's reputation among the clergy.

In the end, his efforts weren't enough. He would become increasingly isolated and desperate as his closest advisers turned against him. And on Monday, the Vatican announced that Nienstedt had resigned. Piche, one of the two bishops who met with the nuncio last year, stepped down the same day.


[ This is a long and complete description of events leading up to the resignation of Archbishop Nienstedt. It is well worth reading in its entirety at the MPR site ]

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Laudata Si' arrives

Michael Sean Winters
National Catholic Reporter
June 18, 2015

Laudato Si' indeed! On one of the most important issues of the day, our Holy Father has blessed the Church with a document that is accessible to virtually anyone, rich in the collected wisdom of the Catholic faith, attuned to the signs of the times, forceful in its call to urgent action on behalf of our sister, Mother Earth. Here are five things that jump out at me based on a first reading of the text.

1. The theology is very traditional.

As predicted, the issue may be new, but the theology is very traditional. The quotes from Saint Pope John Paul II remind us that there was more to John Paul than what his neo-conservative “interpreters” in the U.S. chose to highlight. Pope Francis quotes from his encyclical Centesimus Annus, writing, “Every effort to protect and improve our world entails profound changes in ‘lifestyles, models of production and consumption, and the established structures of power which today govern societies.’” Likewise he quotes Pope Benedict XVI, who so far from the caricature of a reactionary, called for “eliminating the structural causes of the dysfunctions of the world economy and correcting models of growth which have proved incapable of ensuring respect for the environment.”

Interestingly, having cited his predecessors, Pope Francis gives even more attention to the writings of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who wrote, “For human beings… to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins.” And, he cites the Patriarch on the call “to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbours on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God's creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet.” I do not recall any previous papal document devoting such attention to a Christian leader who is not a Roman Catholic in an official document such as this. I think it is important to remember on all issues that Francis is always thinking in terms of ecumenical relations, that his commitment to restoring full communion within the Body of Christ is at the top of his list of commitments. Noteworthy, too, are the frequent quotes from episcopal conferences.

2. The spirituality of St. Francis has touched Pope Francis deeply.

Francis’ reflections on his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, almost bring one to tears:

He shows us just how inseparable is the bond between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.

Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human. Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise. He communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them “to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason”. His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists. His disciple Saint Bonaventure tells us that, “from a reflection on the primary source of all things, filled with even more abundant piety, he would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister.’”

What follows in this encyclical, all of it, the commentary on science, the analysis of socio-economic structures, the call for political action, all flow from these spiritual insights into the relationship between the human person as creature, Creation and the Creator. These insights lead the Holy Father to make his urgent call for protection of the environment: “The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change….Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity.”

3. For Pope Francis, there is no controversy about the science.

The heart of the Holy Father’s handling of the issue that has caused such controversy, at least in the US, the issue of how he would deal with science, is found in Paragraph 23 and it is remarkably straightforward:

A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon.

Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it….The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system. Another determining factor has been an increase in changed uses of the soil, principally deforestation for agricultural purposes.

We cannot overstate the degree to which these sentences are unremarkable outside the US. It is only here, where think tanks and pseudo-think tanks, and some political candidates, are so dependent on extraction industries, they are loathe to accept what is, in fact, virtually common knowledge. Yes, science is never really “settled” and we will know more about our environment in ten years than we know now. But now, right now, we know enough to recognize there is a problem and that we are contributing to that problem.

Last night, I set my alarm so that I could rise with the sun. Of course, science tells us t.hat the sun does not really rise. The earth turns on its axis and so we turn towards the sun. Maybe, someday, this process by which the earth turns will be understood more deeply than it is today. But, I know enough, and know it surely enough, I will continue to set my alarm based on when the newspaper tells me the sun will rise. Another example: If nothing is ever "settled" in science, should we still put warnings on cigarettes, that they cause cancer?

Unsurprisingly, the Holy Father calls special attention to the consequences of global climate change on the poor, writing that “the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. They have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited.” As Catholics, the poor always have a moral claim upon us. And, if we are to be Catholics first, we must be shareholders second, or fifth, and if we are shareholders in a US fossil fuel company, maybe we should ask them why they have not, like their energy counterparts in Europe, led the way in developing renewable energy sources? Or, are we to wait until every last profitable drop of oil and nugget of coal is to be taken from the earth before these large corporations become responsible? The Holy Father goes on to consider other environmental issues, such as water use and bio-diversity, similarly relying on the scientific consensus and urging us to moral vigilance.

4. Laudato Si' is from the same pen, red or gold I do not know, that wrote Evangelii Gaudium.

The section on Global Inequality develops some of the themes Pope Francis articulated in Evangelii gaudium, and applies those themes specifically to the issue of environmental degradation. Our laissez-faire friends will be gnashing their teeth, of course, over these words of his:

In the meantime, economic powers continue to justify the current global system, where priority tends to be given to speculation and the pursuit of financial gain, which fail to take the context into account, let alone the effects on human dignity and the natural environment. Here we see how environmental deterioration and human and ethical degradation are closely linked. Many people will deny doing anything wrong because distractions constantly dull our consciousness of just how limited and finite our world really is. As a result, “whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenceless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule”.

He goes on to an extensive analysis of the modern, technological mindset and its limits. On Monday, I suggested that I wished Benedict XVI had written an encyclical on this issue because we would have certainly gotten some of von Balthasar’s trenchant critique of the Cartesian cogito and its progeny. Pope Francis delivers his critique via the theology of Guardini, who, of course, had a profound effect on von Balthasar and Benedict, and was the intended subject of Pope Francis’s never completed doctoral dissertation. I will leave it to the theological pro’s to explain how Guardini differs from Balthasar on this point, but the essential critique is the same: The modern, technological mindset tends to see human persons as commodities, and replaceable commodities at that, it presents a truncated vision that pushes out the transcendent and, just so, makes authentic relationships impossible, and, in the context of the environment, it prevents us from seeing Creation as a gift. Creation is, like everything else, a tool. The next time a free marketer says that capitalism is merely a tool, to be used well or badly, as Arthur Brooks did at the Poverty Summit conversation with President Obama and Robert Putnam hosted by John Carr’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought in Public Life, ask them about this passage. You see, the choice of tool precludes certain options, in this case, the humanization of the economy and the protection of the environment. The Holy Father is calling us to a deep, deep examination of the premises so many of us accept as a given, especially our economic premises, and we fail to see how the exclude the poor and damage the environment and so not contain, within themselves, the capacity for change. We must change the “economic laws” by which we organize our societies.

Later in the text, Francis picks up this theme, writing:

Politics must not be subject to the economy, nor should the economy be subject to the dictates of an efficiency-driven paradigm of technocracy. Today, in view of the common good, there is urgent need for politics and economics to enter into a frank dialogue in the service of life, especially human life. Saving banks at any cost, making the public pay the price, foregoing a firm commitment to reviewing and reforming the entire system, only reaffirms the absolute power of a financial system, a power which has no future and will only give rise to new crises after a slow, costly and only apparent recovery. The financial crisis of 2007-08 provided an opportunity to develop a new economy, more attentive to ethical principles, and new ways of regulating speculative financial practices and virtual wealth. But the response to the crisis did not include rethinking the outdated criteria which continue to rule the world.

My late uncle used to say, “People vote their pocketbooks.” I do not think he was entirely right, but he was not entirely wrong. It has always seemed strange that we credit or punish a politician based on the state of an economy over which that politician may have some influence, but only amidst thousands of other influences. Francis’ ringing call for attention to the common good is an ethical call. It questions not just the current pro-market ideology of both parties in the US, but some of the basic assumptions of Madison and Hamilton in the Federalist Papers, where the competition among self-interested individuals and groups is seen as the guarantor of liberty. Society is about more than liberty, Francis is telling us, better to say, liberty is about more than a lack of government interference. The Holy Father calls us to the freedom of the children of God, not to the negative freedoms ordained by our Founding Fathers.

Francis follows his critique of the modern technological mindset with a beautiful meditation on human work. He is again building on the writings of his predecessors, but his style is so accessible and so obviously rooted in experience. Reading that section, you know that this pope really has spent time with people who work hard to earn their daily bread, that he has the smell of the sheep. He writes, “Helping the poor financially must always be a provisional solution in the face of pressing needs. The broader objective should always be to allow them a dignified life through work. Yet the orientation of the economy has favoured a kind of technological progress in which the costs of production are reduced by laying off workers and replacing them with machines. This is yet another way in which we can end up working against ourselves.” He knows that even a humble worker finds dignity in his labor. I have watched wealthy or influential people treat waiters or housekeepers like dirt. We all watched the wonderful movie “The Help.” The pope’s respect for working people shines through as the exact opposite of this dismissive attitude some take to those who do jobs many would find demeaning.

5. Integral Ecology and the call to a new lifestyle.

Any fears that Pope Francis is nothing but a member of the Green Movement in a cassock are disproved by his treatment of integral ecology. He is not going to ignore the need to protect baby humans because he wants to protect baby seals. His ethics extend not just to markets and political ideologies, but to movements and other manifestations of ideological determination. He counters ideology with the human person, made in the image and likeness of God, in right relationship with other persons and with the whole of Creation. There is not a sentence of this document which is not rooted in the spiritual, magisterial and scriptural texts that are found throughout.

Our consumer lifestyles have made us slaves. Our wants become needs. When I was growing up, the magazine Architectural Digest was a great magazine, with articles about school design and important new airports. Now, it is interior design porn. People get new cars when the old ones work perfectly well. Happiness, it is claimed, is found when one purchases this new product, or that new gizmo. The transcendent is shunted aside, or never acknowledged in the first place. Our advertisers throw a steady stream of enticements our way, always highlighting what is “new” and then we are surprised when people are incapable of long-term commitments to one another. People advertise in the Harvard Crimson for sperm donors with the correct, desirable attributes.

Pope Francis calls us back to our Christian sense of what is important, not just in the next life, but in this life. He has done this throughout his pontificate, indeed, the most convincing explanation of his popularity is also the most unsurprising: This man is obviously a follower of Jesus. He lives the beatitudes in simple gestures, calling attention to the poor and the disabled, and not to himself, whenever he makes a public appearance, presiding at Mass with all the self-assertion and fuss of an altar cloth, aware that he is a mere instrument in the Lord’s hand when Christ’s own Body and Blood come down upon the altar, verbally throwing the money changers out of the temple. Pope Francis writes like he lives. His call for a conversion of lifestyles is not new; previous popes have done the same. But, it rings true with him because his language itself is so unpretentious, so accessible, and the language coheres with the image we have of him, reaching down from he popemobile to caress a man who is deformed, washing the feet of a prisoner, calling on those with power to remember that the first will be last in the Kingdom of God.

Let’s be honest. The calls of previous popes for a conversion of lifestyles went unheeded if not unheard. Will it be different this time? I do not know. I fear that things must get worse in our culture before we learn again to acknowledge our God with humility, just as the human body, towards the end of its time on earth, breaks down, reminding us of our dependence upon our Creator. I may be doubtful, but the pope is hopeful. “Yet all is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning,” he writes.

When the issue is the environment, it is not only our lives or our souls that are at stake. It is the planet. It is future generations. The evidence of the danger is all around and the cure will require more than a successful round of agreements at Paris this autumn, although we need them too. Pope Francis does not cite Abraham Kuyper in his text, but last night, reading James Bratt’s biography, I came across Kuyper’s most famous line: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” That sense of God’s presence permeates the text of Laudato Si', and the Holy Father extends the cry to the whole domain of Creation. He wants us to look at Creation and see the handiwork of the Creator, at all times and in all our decisions. He is brutally frank about the entrenched ways of thought and powerful interests that hope we will do nothing of the sort. But, I am betting Pope Francis can and will change the conversation. At a time when the leadership of the world seems so unequal to the challenges, there is a giant in our midst, who took the name Francis. Some will be upset by this encyclical. No one should be surprised.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Archdiocese seeks judge's permission to hire criminal defense

Tom Corrigan
Wall Street Journal
June 17, 2015

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has asked a bankruptcy judge for permission to hire a criminal defense team, after prosecutors in Minnesota filed charges against the archdiocese for allegedly failing to protect children from abusive priests.

In court papers filed Tuesday with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in St. Paul., Minn., the archdiocese asked Judge Robert Kressel to approve its application to employ two attorneys from Fredrikson & Byron P.A., a Minneapolis-based law firm.

The two attorneys are Joseph T. Dixon and Chelsea Brennan DesAutels, who will charge $400 per hour and $320 per hour respectively. Mr. Dixon’s fee represents a “substantial discount,” according to court papers.

For corporations in bankruptcy, expenses outside the ordinary course of business are typically subject to bankruptcy-court approval because those expenses could eat into limited resources that might one day be used to repay creditors or, in the archdiocese’s case, compensate alleged victims.

The archdiocese, home to 187 parishes and 825,000 parishioners, filed for chapter 11 protection in January in the face of mounting abuse-related lawsuits. The bankruptcy stemmed largely from the passage of the Minnesota Child Victims Act in 2013, which eliminated the statute of limitations for child sexual-abuse cases and opened a three-year window during which alleged victims can file civil lawsuits demanding compensation.

In its court papers, the archdiocese said a criminal conviction could affect its ability to access insurance coverage for abuse-related claims related to events underlying the criminal charges.

The archdiocese also said a criminal conviction could expose it to additional legal liability and “could have serious repercussions on the estate’s finances, which rely on the goodwill and support of parishioners.”

Ford Elsaesser, a lawyer who represented the Diocese of Helena, Mont., during its bankruptcy, said he expects Judge Kressel will approve the employment application even if creditors object to the expense.

“It appears to me that in this case, the bankruptcy court is very concerned with getting an expeditious, global settlement in place,” he said. “In order for that to happen the diocese has to be adequately represented in the criminal proceeding.”

Shortly after filing for bankruptcy, the archdiocese, its insurance carriers and lawyers for alleged victims were ordered to begin mediation in an attempt to reach a broad settlement that will both compensate victims and provide a clear path out of bankruptcy for the archdiocese.

At least 200 alleged sexual-abuse victims have come forward with claims against the archdiocese since it filed for bankruptcy, court papers show. Those numbers could grow larger as more people come forward with allegations of abuse ahead of an Aug. 3 deadline to file claims.

Vatican rains down damnation on Italian journalist over papal letter leak

Stephanie Kirchgaessner
The Guardian
June 16, 2015

It was not exactly the modern-day equivalent of Martin Luther’s 95 theses, but a letter posted on the wall of the Vatican press office excoriating a journalist for publishing a leaked papal letter has created a stir nonetheless.

Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican head of communications, criticised Sandro Magister of L’Espresso magazine for publishing a draft of Pope Francis’s highly anticipated encyclical on the environment.

Lombardi wrote that the story released three days before a planned rollout of the nearly 200-page statement was an “obviously inappropriate initiative” that had been a source of major inconvenience for other journalists and caused serious disruption.

He added: “I therefore inform you [Magister] that your accreditation to this press office has been suspended from tomorrow indefinitely.”

The leak of the draft document on Monday afternoon sent journalists in Rome into a frenzy, disrupting the elaborate plans of many news organisations on how they would cover the papal statement – the first of its kind. Some media outlets hesitated to report details of the draft after an email from Lombardi explicitly stated that doing so would be a breach of professional practices.

One correspondent, the National Catholic Reporter’s Joshua McElwee, aired his frustration and reluctance to publish a story about the leaked draft on Twitter on Monday night. By Tuesday, he was tweeting about how “another screaming match” had broken out within the press corp, where there was intense disagreement over how the leak should have been handled.

While the church has been infused with high drama for 2,000 years, the leak has horrified the Vatican, with one official calling it an act of sabotage against the popular Argentinian pontiff. L’Espresso’s publication has also spurred a flurry of anxious questions as to who leaked it, and why?

The intrigue has been deepened by the fact that Vatican insiders consider the journalist at the heart of the controversy a conservative critic of Pope Francis and his reform agenda.

“He is more of a traditionalist,” one Vatican official said of Magister. “He loved Benedict and is very, very critical of Francis … he has got an agenda.”

“I don’t think this is about the issue of climate change. It is about change in the church – it is about the dynamism, about the way of looking at reality and calling it reality. It is about not having a judging church, which threatens some people.

” Austen Ivereigh, a biographer of the pope, said: “The pope and his close collaborators will be horrified by this leak. It is hard to know what the intention behind it was: to damage Francis, or for money, or both.”

Magister distanced himself from the situation, saying it had little to do with him. “To be honest, it’s not me that got the text, but the editor of L’Espresso, who informed me about it after he decided to put it online,” he said in an email exchange with the Guardian on Monday night.

He said he had merely added a few sentences of introduction to the text, which included his byline. “I have not the faintest idea … why the text was passed on to the editor of L’Espresso. I think it was random. There are dozens of copies of the encyclical that have been floating around over the last few days. This was bound to happen,” he wrote.

John Allen, a close follower of the Vatican and associate editor of the Crux, agreed that leaks of Vatican documents are quite common in the Italian press.

“In some ways, I’m surprised it took this long,” he said in an email. “Some have suspected an effort to sabotage the encyclical, but it’s hard to see how an advance look at what everyone already knew the pontiff was going to say accomplishes that. I’d read it instead as par for the course – whenever there’s a document coming out that’s generating intense interest, somebody’s going to try to get an early peek, attracting a massive online audience in the process.”

But another media outlet, Italian newspaper La Stampa, seemed to have no doubt that it was an act meant to hurt Francis. It said the leak had served two purposes: to weaken the message of the encyclical, which La Stampa said was “harshly critical” of the environmental policies of some superpowers, and to hurt efforts by the pope to change the church from within.

From the Vatican’s perspective, it was just the last in a long line of embarrassing press leaks. Earlier this year, L’Espresso also published the internal meeting minutes and expenses of Cardinal George Pell, which showed that the Vatican’s economics minister had spent about €500,000 (£360,000) setting up the church’s new economic ministry.

In 2012, Pope Benedict’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, was arrested after Vatican investigators found documents – including some that belonged to the pope – in his flat. Gabriele is believed to have leaked documents to investigative journalists, possibly to undermine efforts by the Vatican to become more financially transparent, though his alleged motives were not clear.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Why Nienstedt had so little support among Twin Cities Catholics

Tim Gihrig
June 16, 2015

The letters began arriving shortly before John Nienstedt was appointed archbishop in 2008: clean up or be shut down. It was the least that his predecessor, Archbishop Harry Flynn, could do: play the good cop; warn the rebellious parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis before the bad cop arrived.

Nienstedt seemed to relish the bad-cop role. He wore a fedora, like a G-man. Through his Rumsfeldian, half-frame glasses, he saw sin everywhere, and he revamped the Catholic Spirit, a once-freethinking archdiocesan newspaper, as a pulpit to rail against it.

And he did indeed drive some of the most accommodating members among his flock of 750,000 into hiding, banning lay people from addressing the faithful during Mass, calling out priests who welcomed openly gay worshippers as abetting “a grave evil,” and quickly shutting down services like the one at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church, in Minneapolis, where women often led the liturgy — without so much as a hello.

“You’re a controversial figure,” a woman told him back in 2008, at a St. Paul gathering of the National Council of Catholic Women. “I am?” he joked. “I tend to be straightforward — perhaps that puts people off.”

Nienstedt didn’t think he needed to explain — he appeared to be on the right side of history. He was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI as church leadership was shifting back toward orthodoxy after decades of liberalization. They hoped that returning the church to its roots, or at least the 1950s, would galvanize the faith, purging the so-called cafeteria Catholics and leaving the rest with a clear identity. The only kind of priests who were coming out of seminary seemed to be conservatives, deputized to clean house. “If you don’t sweep and vacuum once a week,” a St. Paul priest told me, early in Nienstedt’s reign, “things get out of control.”

Nienstedt thought he had the backing of most Minnesotans — certainly most Catholics — when in 2012 he authorized $600,000 in archdiocese funds to support the campaign for a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Such bans had passed in every state where they were proposed. But the tide was turning, even in the Vatican. When the ban failed and, nine months later, a new pope declared, “Who am I to judge” gay people, Nienstedt was suddenly on the outside looking in at a church he thought he knew.

Confessing to nothing, admitting to everything

What Nienstedt knew is ultimately what did him in. Twice last year he denied knowing about sexual abuse at the hands of his priests only to have evidence surface that he had been informed. As his leaders fell around him — the Rev. Kevin McDonough, his head of child safety; the Rev. Peter Laird, his vicar general; and even his predecessor, Harry Flynn, who resigned from the board of the University of St. Thomas — Nienstedt doubled down on secrecy, refusing interviews. Instead, he issued statements, creating a paper wall that only served to seal his isolation.

His departure will invigorate his opponents, the “servant-leader” priests in the liberal, post-Vatican II mode, like the Rev. Michael Tegeder who has long gray hair and has argued for ordinating women and married men, among other ideas that set Nienstedt’s close-cropped coif on fire. Priests like Tegeder have long been more popular in the pews than the law-and-order type — which is why he was moved during Nienstedt’s tenure from his post in a large Bloomington parish to a small inner-city Minneapolis church, where presumably he’d just be preaching to the choir — and they’ve been buoyed by Pope Francis’ remarkable swing toward compassion.

But there aren’t many of them left. Whoever succeeds Nienstedt will inherit a priesthood largely at odds with its new spiritual boss, the fearless Francis. When Pope Benedict resigned, in 2013, Nienstedt seemed caught by surprise and reminisced about Benedict’s hard-line take on “the incredibly important concerns about marriage and family life.” Now, in the same week he accepted Nienstedt’s resignation, the pope released a major encylical against environmental destruction and announced that he’d meet with a gay rights activist in Paraguay.

The more the Vatican opened in the last couple years, the more Nienstedt closed up. He seemed to feel it was his duty, as a defender of the faith, to circle the wagons, that it was not a sin if it was done in service to the church. He says he leaves with a “clear conscience.”

Early in his tenure as archbishop, Nienstedt pushed for a return to personal confession, sidling up to a priest in a booth, and wrote in the Catholic Spirit that “there is an art on the part of the confessor in hearing a confession. The priest has to listen closely to what is being said ‘between the lines.’ ” Nienstedt appeared to confess to nothing, but in doing so he may have admitted to everything.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Pope Francis takes significant step forward with Jan Hus comments

Chris Johnstone
Radio Praha
June 15, 2015

Relations between Czechs and the Catholic Church have been strained for hundreds of years. One of the factors was undoubtedly the burning of the religious reformer Jan Hus at the stake 600 years ago. Now Pope Francis has spoken of the Catholic Church’s need to seek forgiveness for the killing in what some are seeing as the biggest step towards reconciliation so far.

Pope Francis at an official event at the Vatican on Friday commented on the speech he was preparing for a ceremony of religious reconciliation and forgiveness that will be taking place on Monday afternoon at the Nepomuk Papal College in Rome.

The pope said that Hus’ burning at the stake after refusing to recant his alleged heresy was an injury to the church itself and the church should ask forgiveness for it, like all the acts in history when killings had been committed in the name of God. He referred specifically to the 30 years wars which in particular devastated the Czech lands and much of the rest of Europe in the 17th century.

The comments and the tone have been taken as a significant step forward in the Catholic Church’s moves. Monsignor František Radkovský is the bishop of Plzeň. He has this to say about what could be seen as the Papal trailer for Monday’s service: “For me, what the Pope said resonated a lot. What he said was very significant in that he described this as something which hurt a family. That is to say that he regards different Christian denominations as part of one bigger family and this was an injury to that family. I would say this is a very important perspective in that it sees Christians as one family.”

Representatives of Czech political, academic, and religious life have been invited to Monday afternoon’s service and audience with Pope Francis will follow. Some expect that Pope Francis might go even further than his comments on Friday.

Of course, the steps to rehabilitate Jan Hus in the eyes of the Catholic Church have been going on for some time. John Paul the Second asked for forgiveness for the church’s past wrongs on visits to the Czech Republic in 1995 and 1997. Earlier, he had said that Christians could all share and unite in the values that Jan Hus espoused, his integrity, commitment to education, and moral values, rather than be divided by them.

The era when Hus, often seen as a forerunner to the more famous Martin Luther, was automatically cast by Catholics as a heretic and blasphemer are obviously long gone. One of those who is credited with helping build bridges between the Vatican and Czech Republic over Jan Hus is former Prague archbishop Miloslav Vlk. He was the first prominent Catholic to attend a memorial to Hus’ death and headed an academic commission into Hus’’ life and legacy. Suitably enough, he will be among Monday’s Czech delegation at the Vatican.

On the other side of the longtime barrier, it is perhaps too early to say whether the latest comments from the Vatican will dent the common Czech perception that Hus was a sort of resistance hero, one ‘one of us against them,’ them being the Catholic Church.

Former papal nuncio will face Vatican trial on child abuse charges

Catholic Herald
June 15, 2015

A former Vatican nuncio will stand trial in a Vatican court on charges of the sexual abuse of minors and possession of child pornography.

Jozef Wesolowski, the laicised former nuncio to the Dominican Republic, is accused of “a number of offences” committed between 2008 and the date of his arrest in September 2014.

Giuseppe Dalla Torre, president of the tribunal of Vatican City State, ordered the trial, the Vatican announced today. The first hearing will be held on July 11.

“The serious allegations will be scrutinised” by the Vatican City State’s judicial system, “which will be assisted by both technical appraisals of the IT systems used by the defendant and, if necessary, international legal co-operation for the evaluation of testimonial evidence from the competent authorities in Santo Domingo,” the Vatican’s written statement said.

The former archbishop is accused of sexually abusing minors during the years he spent as nuncio to the Dominican Republic and apostolic delegate to Puerto Rico from the date of his appointment in 2008 until his resignation on August 21, 2013.

The charge of possession of child pornography is an allegation based on the archbishop’s activity once he was back in Rome, the Vatican said.

The evidence was collected from the period spanning the time he was ordered by Pope Francis back to the Vatican in 2013 until the day of his arrest (September 22, 2014).

Wesolowski was dismissed from the clerical state in June 2014 after a separate investigation by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Vatican City State authorities carried out their own criminal investigation, which included a number of sessions of interrogating the former archbishop.

The criminal charges against the Polish national were possible after Pope Francis approved new and expanded criminal laws, which became applicable to all Vatican employees around the world. Any direct employee of the Holy See, which includes those working in a Vatican office or nunciature, can face a criminal trial at the Vatican as well as face criminal prosecution in the country where the crimes occurred.

The new amendments, which went into effect in September 2013, also brought Vatican law into detailed compliance with several international treaties the Vatican has signed. In complying with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Vatican’s new laws defined and set out penalties for specific crimes against minors, including child prostitution, sexual violence against children and producing or possessing child pornography.

Previously, those specific crimes would have been dealt with under more generic laws against the mistreatment of minors; the old laws did not contemplate, for example, the crime of child pornography.

The sex abuse accusations against Wesolowski, which were alleged to have occurred prior to 2013, will be tried according to the old laws, the Vatican said.

Vatican City civil laws are separate from the universally applicable canon law, norms and sanctions, which require bishops around the world to turn over to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith cases of priests accused of child sexual abuse or possession of child pornography. The canonical penalties include the possibility of the priest being expelled from the priesthood.

The order for the former nuncio’s Vatican trial comes just a few months after the sentencing of the related case of the former Polish priest, Wojciech Gil.

Gil was sentenced on March 25 by a court in Poland to seven years in jail after being convicted of sexually abusing children in Poland and the Dominican Republic. Gil had been arrested in February 2014 during a home-visit to Krakow.

A Warsaw court spokesman, Przemyslaw Nowak, had said the case against Gil was linked to investigations into crimes by Wesolowski while he served as nuncio. Gil spent a decade as a parish priest in the Dominican Republic.

The 10 charges filed against Gil followed testimony from more than 100 witnesses and covered sexual offenses over a 12-year period as well as counts of child pornography and illegal possession of ammunition.

Gil had been suspended from active ministry in May 2013.

Catholic archbishop and aide resign in Minnesota over sexual abuse scandal

Mark S. Getzfred and Mitch Smith
New York Times
June 15, 2015

The Roman Catholic archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis and a deputy bishop resigned on Monday after prosecutors recently charged the archdiocese with having failed to protect youths from abuse by pedophile priests.

In statements released Monday morning, the archbishop, John C. Nienstedt, and an auxiliary bishop, Lee A. Piché, said they were resigning to help the archdiocese heal.

“My leadership has unfortunately drawn attention away from the good works of His Church and those who perform them,” Archbishop Nienstedt said. “Thus my decision to step down.”

The resignations come about 10 days after prosecutors in Minnesota filed criminal charges against the archdiocese for its mishandling of repeated complaints of sexual misconduct against a priest and a few days after the Vatican announced the formation of a tribunal to hear cases against bishops accused of neglecting or covering up abuse cases — an unprecedented mechanism but one whose details are yet unknown.

“This has been a painful process,” The Rev. Andrew Cozzens, an auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese who will remain in his post, said during a news conference. “A change in leadership offers us an opportunity for greater healing and the ability to move forward.”

Under Pope Francis, the Vatican has begun to step up efforts to hold bishops accountable for covering up or failing to take action against priests accused of abuse. Abuse survivors had long said that this was the great unfinished piece of business in the three decades since the abuse scandal first became public with a notorious case in Louisiana. Victims over the years have accused the Vatican of allowing prelates to go unpunished, and so turned to civil and criminal courts to pursue charges.

In accepting the resignations, the pope appointed the Rev. Bernard A. Hebda, a coadjutor archbishop of Newark, as apostolic administrator to oversee the archdiocese. The Vatican also announced on Monday that it would open a trial in July of its former ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Jozef Wesolowski, on charges of sexually abusing boys while he served in the Caribbean and of possessing child pornography after he was sent back to Rome in 2013.

In Rome, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said he did not know whether the two bishops, by resigning, had avoided a trial by the new tribunal.

Archbishop Nienstedt is stepping down two months after the resignation of Bishop Robert W. Finn in Kansas City-St. Joseph in Missouri, where he had weathered years of controversy over his handling of a priest convicted of taking pornographic photographs of young girls. Archbishop Finn was himself convicted on a misdemeanor charge of failing to report the priest — the first bishop convicted in the abuse scandal’s long history.

They are hardly the first bishops to resign under scrutiny or accusations that they failed abuse victims. Since the papacy of John Paul II — now St. John Paul — 16 other bishops have resigned or been forced from office under a cloud of accusations that they mishandled abuse cases, according to research by, an advocacy group based in Boston. Archbishop Nienstedt is the 17th, by that group’s count.

Archbishop Nienstedt had become one of the most embattled figures in the American Catholic hierarchy, under fire in the courts, in the pews and on newspaper editorial pages. He had refused to resign about a year ago after coming under sharp criticism from his own former chancellor for canonical affairs, Jennifer Haselberger, who charged that the church used a chaotic system of record keeping that helped conceal the backgrounds of guilty priests who remained on assignment.

He did, however, apologize at the time for his conduct, saying that while he had never knowingly covered up sexual abuse by clergy, he had become “too trusting of our internal process and not as hands-on as I could have been in matters of priest misconduct.”

On Monday, he said he would “leave with a clear conscience knowing that my team and I have put in place solid protocols to ensure the protection of minors and vulnerable adults.”

Archbishop Nienstedt was himself the subject of two recent investigations into possible misconduct, though no findings of wrongdoing have been announced.

In one case, a boy told the police that the archbishop touched his buttocks while posing for a photo after his confirmation ceremony. The archbishop denied wrongdoing, and temporarily stepped aside while the authorities investigated. Prosecutors later declined to file charges, and Archbishop Nienstedt returned to work.

In another case, the archdiocese announced that it had received “claims regarding alleged misbehavior” against Archbishop Nienstedt that did not involve minors. The allegations were said to be about a series of sexual relationships with men, including seminarians and priests. The church announced an investigation into that matter last year. An archdiocese spokesman, Tom Halden, did not immediately answer questions on Monday morning about the status of that inquiry.

The criminal charges against the Minnesota archdiocese and accompanying civil petition, filed June 5 by the Ramsey County attorney, John J. Choi, stem from accusations by three male victims who say that from 2008 to 2010, when they were minors, a local priest, Curtis Wehmeyer, gave them alcohol and drugs before sexually assaulting them.

Mr. Wehmeyer, 50, who was dismissed as a priest in March, was sentenced to five years in a Minnesota prison in 2013 for criminal sexual conduct and possession of child pornography. He also has been charged with sex crimes in Wisconsin.

The 44-page criminal complaint states that concerns about Mr. Wehmeyer date to the 1990s, when he was in seminary and supervisors suggested that his past sexual promiscuity and alcohol abuse made him a poor candidate for the priesthood.

The five-point plan announced last week by the Vatican says the tribunal will be housed in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office that polices adherence to church doctrine and that already handles the cases of priests accused of abuse.

Francis will choose a secretary, and additional permanent staff members will be hired for the tribunal, said Father Lombardi. The procedures will be re-evaluated in five years, he said.

Father Lombardi said that the tribunal’s responsibility for judging bishops would include questions of omission: “What one should have done and didn’t do,” he said. “This is another kind of responsibility and shortcoming, and has to be judged in an appropriate way with appropriate rules.”

Critics of the archdiocese said the resignations, while not surprising, were only another step in addressing the deep-seated concerns with the archdiocese and its leaders.

“The resignation is welcomed because it is a measure of reckoning and accountability,” said Jeff Anderson, a lawyer in Minnesota who has represented victims of sexual abuse by clergy. “But it’s far from enough.”

Frank Meuers, 76, of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said, “I’m sad it had to come to filing charges for a man of that status to get the message.”

Mr. Anderson said more top officials needed to be held accountable for their actions, and that criminal charges would be appropriate for some of them.

He attributed the resignation to the recent criminal charges against the archdiocese and unflattering disclosures made in recent civil cases. Many of those lawsuits were made possible by legislation that allowed victims to sue the church over abuse that happened years ago, and for which the statute of limitations had expired.

“This is about a culture and system that has been intractable,” Mr. Anderson said. “It needs to continue on a headlong course toward full accountability and full disclosure.”

Mr. Meuers added a word of caution.

“I don’t think just because he resigns the office it should be everything’s fine,” he said, referring to Archbishop Nienstedt. “I don’t think he’s free.”

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Francis approves process of accountability for bishops on sexual abuse

Joshua J. McElwee
National Catholic Reporter
June 10, 2015

Pope Francis has approved the outline of a new system of accountability for Catholic bishops who do not appropriately handle accusations of clergy sexual abuse, in what could be a breakthrough moment on an issue that has plagued the church globally.

Proposed by Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley at the behest of the pope's commission on clergy sexual abuse, the system gives power to the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to judge bishops "with regard to crimes of the abuse of office when connected to the abuse of minors."

It would also see the establishment of a new office at the congregation to undertake work as a tribunal to judge such bishops.

Such a system will be a first at the Vatican, where bishops have long held near impunity with regard to their actions or inactions on clergy sexual abuse. In the Catholic church, only the pope can fire prelates -- a process that, if it ever occurs, normally takes years or even decades.

Vatican spokesman Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi said that while that firing power ultimately remains with Francis, the pope accepts the decisions of those he puts in such tribunal offices.

“If the pope says that [this is] the judgment and the competence of the tribunal, then normally the pope accepts the judgment of the tribunal,” said Lombardi, responding to a question from NCR at a press conference Wednesday announcing the new system.

Lombardi said the pontiff had approved the system following unanimous consent on the matter during discussions Monday among the nine-member Council of Cardinals, the group of prelates advising Francis on reforming the Vatican bureaucracy.

O’Malley is the only American member of that group and is also the head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

The new accountability system, which the Vatican said was developed by the pontifical commission, contains a set of five points agreed upon by the pope. The pope, the Vatican said, mandated that the points are to be established for a five-year period and “authorized that sufficient resources will be provided for this purpose.”

The points are clearly not in the usual form for Vatican mandates -- which normally are promulgated in a sometimes lengthy and legalistic note known as a motu proprio -- suggesting that Francis wanted to move forward quickly on the accountability process without waiting for different departments to draft language.

The first of the five points states that there is a “duty” to report “allegations of the abuse of office by a bishop connected to the abuse of minors” to the Vatican, specifically the three congregations which oversee bishops: the Congregation for Bishops, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, and the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.

The second point of the agreement then gives power to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to judge bishops, and the third calls for the creation of a new judicial section in that congregation along with the appointment of “stable personnel to undertake service in the Tribunal.”

The fourth point obliges the pope to appoint a new secretary, or second-in-command, for the doctrinal congregation to head the tribunal and to work with the congregation’s prefect, German Cardinal Gerhard Muller.

The fifth point of the outline establishes the five-year period “for further development of these proposals and for completing a formal evaluation of their effectiveness.”

The points do not specifically clarify who has the duty to report abuses of office by bishops and how those reports might be transferred by the Vatican congregations that oversee bishops to the doctrinal congregation for judgment.

The points also do not indicate how a bishop who comes under judgment will be able to defend himself, although presumably final recourse would rest with the pope.

The question of accountability for bishops who mishandle abuse cases has long been seen as the most unresolved issue in the church's response to clergy sexual abuse.

In one example of the Vatican’s slow action on the issue, U.S. Bishop Robert Finn was allowed to remain in office for two and a half years after becoming the first prelate criminally convicted of mishandling an abusive priest.

Francis accepted Finn’s resignation in April with a terse Vatican note that gave no reason for the move.

The leader of a website that tracks clergy sexual abuse said that while the new system was a "promising step" it would require "a courage and an aggressive commitment that have so far been sadly lacking, despite the innovations of Pope Francis."

"This system will be coping with the complex interactions of enabling and offending that we see in cases involving bishops," said Terence McKiernan, president of

"Priests abuse children and so do bishops -- bishops who offend are inevitably enablers, and the Commission’s plan must confront that sad fact," he said.

The Vatican’s doctrinal congregation is already tasked with investigating cases of priests accused of sexual abuse. Last November, Francis also created a new review board inside the congregation to speed up review of appeals by priests found guilty of abuse.

The Council of Cardinals, which was meeting at the Vatican for its tenth in-person encounter Monday-Wednesday, has been known to be discussing the issue of bishops’ accountability for months. Lombardi said in April that the group had put the issue “on the table” at O’Malley’s insistence.

Other members of the cardinals’ group include Australian Cardinal George Pell, who has come under scrutiny for his own actions handling sexually abusive priests during the proceedings of Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Monday, June 8, 2015

It will take a new leader to repair Archdiocese of St. Paul - Minneapolis

Star Tribune
June 8, 2015

Criminal charges against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis have been a long time coming. Evidence of what Ramsey County Attorney John Choi called “institutional failure” to protect children from abusive priests has been accumulating for years.

Yet while not surprising, Choi’s announcement Friday that he has charged the archdiocese with six gross misdemeanor counts in connection with its oversight of former priest Curtis Wehmeyer is stunning for its courage. By asserting the bedrock principle of American justice that no one is above the law, Choi is proposing to hold one of St. Paul’s most powerful institutions to account.

Wehmeyer is now in prison after being convicted in 2012 of sexually abusing two boys whose mother worked with him at Blessed Sacrament Church in St. Paul. Choi’s related charges against the archdiocese spring from an investigation that took 20 months — a sign of painstaking prosecutorial diligence.

“This case is not about religion,” St. Paul Police Chief Thomas Smith said Friday. “It’s about allegations of misconduct and crimes that were committed.”

That may be true in a legal sense. But intrinsically, the archdiocese is “about religion.” That is what makes the crimes of which it is accused so repulsive, yet the prosecution of those crimes so risky. If, as accused, the archdiocese systemically looked the other way as Wehmeyer manipulated the faith of children and their families in order to prey upon them, it has betrayed the trust not only of the Roman Catholic faithful, but also the entire community. On the other hand, if the prosecutor overreaches, the damage he can inflict will be widely felt.

Choi’s accusations point to the entire archdiocese, not a few individuals. That sets this case apart from clergy abuse prosecutions elsewhere in the country. It’s in keeping with our view that systemic change is needed at the archdiocese, both to protect children from predatory priests and to restore the community’s trust in an institution that does so much good work in education, health care and caring for the poor.

That change must begin at the top. Archbishop John Nienstedt should go. The Star Tribune Editorial Board concluded 11 months ago that Nienstedt is too much associated with the mistakes of the past to credibly function as an agent of change. The fact that the Wehmeyer case, at the center of Choi’s charges, occurred on his watch is bound to further erode his capacity to engineer reform and rally support.

The charges Choi filed Friday were a legal and cultural bombshell in St. Paul. We hope their reverberations were felt as far away as Rome. Pope Francis is a leader who has displayed a keen sense of what reform requires. We hope he soon sees that new leadership is needed in Minneapolis and St. Paul to hasten the day when this archdiocese can again be “about religion” — and not an alleged criminal coverup — in the community’s eyes.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Shhh archbishop: San Francisco doesn't want your take on gender identity

C. W. Nevius
San Francisco Chronicle
June 6, 2015

I’m starting to be concerned about San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone. For a man of the cloth, he seems awfully fixated on sex.

It seems he can turn any topic into an examination of sex and sexual identity. On Wednesday, Cordileone was at a conference in Manhattan that was promoting the idea of conducting Mass in Latin. If you think it would be difficult to turn that into an attack on transgender men and women, you are underestimating our archbishop.

 Quicker than you could say Caitlyn Jenner, who became a news sensation by adopting a female identity after living most of her life as Olympic champion Bruce Jenner, Cordileone was off.

As reported by the Washington Post, Cordileone said at the beginning of his speech, “The clear biological fact is that a human being is born either male or female.”

For starters, that is demonstrably not true. A 2011 report by ABC News said research shows that 1 in every 2,000 children born each year has “ambiguous genitals,” meaning doctors and parents must make a choice.

Mason J., a transgender male who lives in San Francisco, lived the experience.

“They believed I was going to lead an easier life as a woman, so I was assigned,” he said. “At 22, I changed from legally female to legally male.”

But there’s something deeper and more mean-spirited about Cordileone’s comments.

Once he veered off the topic of Latin Mass, he told an audience of about 200 that “more and more gender identities are being invented.” He said he’d recently been told that a major university announced it had housing for “a grand total of 14 different gender identities.”

And, he added to laughter from the audience, “I’m sure even more will be invented as time goes on.”

Mason J. said: “I hear he kind of made a stand-up routine out of it. It makes me angry.”

Risk of suicide

The insensitivity is incomprehensible. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teenagers are about twice as likely to attempt suicide as their heterosexual peers. Not funny.

Picking on the transgender community is even more reprehensible. Although we often hear that gays and lesbians don’t have a choice in their sexual identity, those who are transgender must make a difficult, very public choice.

And once the life-changing decision has been made, the tribulations are far from over. Acceptance of transgender men and women is consistently lacking.

“No one wakes up in the morning and says, ‘You know what I’d like to do today? Feel like a second-class citizen for the rest of my life,’” Mason J. said. “Some of the things I have had to contend with I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Not even the archbishop.”

Cordileone, who is now being called a “culture warrior” in media accounts, picked this fight intentionally. Since he arrived here more than two years ago, he has called homosexuality “gravely evil,” attempted to insert a “morality clause” in teacher handbooks at local Catholic schools, and supported a national demonstration against same-sex marriage.

Facing widespread criticism, Cordileone appeared to be backing down. He didn’t attend this year’s March for Marriage in Washington, D.C., as he has in the past, and removed the term “gravely evil” from the latest version of the teacher handbook.

But this week he doubled down with this gratuitous swipe at the transgender community.

The more Cordileone forces his reactionary agenda on his San Francisco parish, the more the debate boils down to one question — how are these people hurting him or the Catholic Church?

‘Just acknowledge us’

Same-sex couples routinely raise children, some of whom attend San Francisco Catholic schools. And transgender men and women have their own lives to live. They’re not interested in his agenda. If anything, they hope to be left alone.

“It is so interesting that he is fixated on what we might be doing,” Mason J. said. “How am I hurting him? How can I bring down the Catholic Church? We are not running through the streets trying to corrupt children. You don’t have to agree with how we live our lives or support us, but just acknowledge us.”

It is such a difficult and wrenching decision to transition sexual identity. Outsiders must wonder why someone would endure the process.

It is, Mason J. says, because he feared he couldn’t survive otherwise.

“My mom often says she is more appreciative to have a living son than a dead daughter,” he said.

That’s no joke, archbishop.

In their quest to reform the liturgy, some Catholics hope to remake the culture

Michael O'Loughlin
June 5, 2015

The crowd in front of Hunter College on a rainy Monday evening in June is intentionally old-school.

About a dozen young men, most with short, gelled hair, stand in a circle chatting. Dressed in long black cassocks, each sporting a wide, bright-white clerical collar, they sip from cups of coffee and bottles of water.

Back inside the Kaye Playhouse, Cardinal Raymond Burke, who finished his talk several minutes ago, is still trying to make his way down one of the theater’s main aisles. He isn’t making much progress. Crowds swarm around him. Several people, including young priests and seminarians, bend down to kiss the cardinal’s ring. Burke poses for selfies.

These are the True Believers.

They comprise a small, vocal, and especially young segment of the Catholic Church. They see the liturgical changes that took place after the Second Vatican Council as ushering in the breakdown of society. Abortion, same-sex marriage, gender theory: these changes are the result of sacrificing beauty and truth, truth with a capital T, on the altar of individualism and reason.

Many are gathered in New York this week for Sacra Liturgia USA, an annual gathering of mostly American and British priests and seminarians to discuss ways to bring the sacred back to Catholic worship. For them, sacred means the use of traditional music, art, and the Latin Mass.

The main attraction here is undoubtedly Burke, a traditionalist known for his elaborate vestments, outspoken views on traditional worship, and sharp defense of Catholic orthodoxy. That Burke’s been sidelined by Pope Francis, losing his job as head of the Vatican’s supreme court last year and then relegated to a largely ceremonial role at a relatively young age, doesn’t matter here. He’s a rock star.

Photos from Sacra Liturgia USA The crowd of a few hundred is mostly male, and it’s noticeably youthful. They hang on Burke’s every word, interrupting his keynote address repeatedly with applause.

Offering a dense theological treatise on beauty and truth, Burke plays to his audience. He extensively quotes Pope Benedict XVI, whom he calls the “most faithful exponent of liturgical theology in our time.”

Vatican II was just fine, he says, but he slams “the so-called ‘spirit of Vatican II,’ which was nothing less than a hijacking of the council for a completely other agenda.”

Burke, like many of the other speakers, blasts contemporary culture. There is much discussion about a lack of reverence for truth, changes in social norms, and assertions that the Church is under assault.

“Things are bad,” he says. “There are no questions about it, when we think about what happened in Ireland, this referendum.” He links a loss of appreciation for beauty to liberalized views on abortion and marriage. “Precisely because we have lost beauty, we have also lost goodness and truth,” he says.

Burke, known for sporting colorful gloves and the cappa magna, an ornate red cape that spans several yards and which hasn’t been used widely in decades, said it’s essential that vestments, art, and liturgical tools be “of such a quality that they can express the beauty and majesty of the liturgy as the action of Christ among us uniting heaven and earth.” He emphasizes his belief by wearing the elaborate garment.

There’s no cappa magna at the Pontifical Mass Wednesday afternoon, but the dozens of bishops, priests, and seminarians at the Church of St. Catherine of Siena have dressed for the occasion. Seminarians sport black birettas and lace surplices over their cassocks. San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, the main celebrant, wears bright red gloves and a shiny red, Tridentine-era chasuble.

The Mass proceeds slowly and deliberately. The procession alone takes several minutes, with congregants bowing as Cordileone passes by their pews.

Once seated, the seminarians tip their birettas at the mention of St. Charles Lwanga, whose martyrdom is being recalled. The veiled tabernacle is the focal point, incense is burned, and the readings chanted. Most of the Mass is in Latin, though the homily is given in English.

Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport, the homilist, asks the congregants to pray for modern-day martyrs in Africa. He says that although those gathered here are unlikely to die for the faith, they will nonetheless face a slow martyrdom at the hands of a hostile culture.

“The world wishes we would go away,” he says, but he exhorts worshippers to “stand firm.”

“We will suffer,” he says.

Parallel to the general condemnation of contemporary culture, there’s a distrust of media here.

Reporters can’t interview key participants, and we’re warned not to approach the cardinal and bishop. One speaker during the opening panel says the Church must ward off attacks from “a militarized and secularized press.”

At a time when Pope Francis is trying to recast how the Church is perceived in popular consciousness, this gathering shows that some traditional markers of Catholicism — cassocks, Latin, chant — have strong supporters. It’s difficult to find a priest or seminarian here dressed in pants and a jacket. They want to turn back the liturgical clock.

The Mass that most Catholics are familiar with today draws its rituals from the Ordinary Form, or Novus Ordo, which dates back to 1969, at the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council. This is the rubric that ushered out Latin in favor of the vernacular and turned the priest around to face the people.

This supplanted the Mass of 1962, with its more formal, Latin liturgy, that was suppressed after Vatican II.

In 1984, Pope John Paul II decided it could be celebrated with special permission from Rome.

But that older Mass, now called the Extraordinary Form, enjoyed something of a renaissance under Pope Benedict XVI. In 2007, the now-retired pope issued instructions to bishops and priests to make the rite more available for Catholics who wished to worship in that style.

Whereas Vatican II-era liturgists made “efforts to try to switch out smells and bells for strums and drums,” as Patrick J. Reilly of the Cardinal Newman Society put it during a lunch panel with Burke, Pope Benedict’s decree was an opportunity to reverse course.

There aren’t numbers available on how many dioceses or parishes offer the Latin Mass, but its fans comprise a vocal minority in the Church who believe most Catholics would be on their side if they only knew of its beauty. Groups of young Catholics host the Latin Mass in dioceses from DC to Los Angeles.

Those gathered here applaud speakers who seek to bring the Latin Mass to Catholic campus ministry centers, promote the use of Gregorian chant in parishes, and restore all-male altar server programs. They laugh at the mere mention of Vatican II hymns. They audibly gasp at projected images of Catholic churches lacking icons and statues.

Many insist that a renewed emphasis on the liturgy — a very particular form of liturgy — will lead to the Church’s renewal and may even transform the world along the way.

The Rev. Christopher Smith, pastor of Prince of Peace Parish in Taylors, SC, told me that those who practiced the Extraordinary Form after 1970 were viewed with suspicion, that they were driven underground, “marginalized in a Church subculture that wasn’t always healthy.” With Benedict’s proclamation, however, he believes the Latin Mass, “taken out of the dustbin of history,” will only grow in popularity.

“Liturgy must draw from all streams,” he said. His parish, with 2,000 families, offers both rites, and he estimates attendance is equal at both.

The Rev. Kevin Cusick is pastor of St. Francis de Sales Parish in Benedict, Md., which has been offering a Latin Mass since the 1980s. Though his parish is small, about 150 families, he said members are on board with spending money to beautify the Church, restoring brass candlesticks that were unceremoniously placed in storage after Vatican II.

He ripped out the sanctuary’s carpeting and brown paneling, restoring the original wall and placing a marble floor. “People put marble floors in their bathrooms, so they understand beauty,” he said. But they need to be brought on board with the idea of spending money to renovate the church.

Liturgical battles in the Catholic Church have been roaring for decades.

Those who prefer the old style believe modern worship focuses too much on the congregation or the priest, what they call “horizontal worship,” and not enough on Christ, or “vertical worship.”

Fans of the Vatican II style, however, say worship should include the full people of God, and see in the Extraordinary Form a return to the clericalism — emphasizing the supremacy of priests and bishops over the laity — that Vatican II sought to eliminate.

Both camps can be equally strident in its insistence that God is on their side.

A preference for high church — the smells and bells — isn’t necessarily the preserve of conservatives. Some progressive Episcopalian congregations, for example, incorporate sacred chant and incense in their liturgies. But participants at Sacra Liturgia told me that in the Catholic Church, preference for this style of worship has been pushed most often by conservative voices.

Despite the many references to a broken culture that has lost its ability to understand beauty and truth, a sense of optimism permeates the conversation at Sacra Liturgia. One senses a feeling of pending triumphalism here: Once the Vatican II crowd passes on, traditional liturgy can retake its rightful place in the life of the Church. The fact that the crowd is especially young strengthens this argument.

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, the main celebrant at the Pontifical Mass, wore a Tridentine-era chasuble at St. Catherine Church in New York on June 3. (Courtesy of Stuart Chessman/Sacra Liturgia)

Some speakers throw a bone to Pope Francis during their talks. Cordileone, for example, cited Francis’ views challenging gender theory. But nearly all the talks are filled with multiple quotes from Pope John Paul II, but especially his successor, Benedict XVI. If a Pope Benedict Church-in-exile exists, it would resemble the crowd here. There is a great love here for the quiet German theologian.

Cordileone received a sustained ovation when he rose to speak Tuesday.

Under fire from liberal critics in his archdiocese for asking teachers there to sign contracts with detailed morality clauses, those gathered here have his back. In his 45-minute talk about liturgy, Cordileone doesn’t back down.

He slams the “invention” of new gender identities. “Those initials keep getting longer and longer,” he says, referring to the LGBT movement. He says the debate over same-sex marriage confuses Catholics, threatening their understanding of worship. “God has used marriage as the primary sign of our relationship with him,” he says. Referring to the trouble he faces with his teachers back home, he blames it on “a small minority, who are hostile to Church teaching.”

It’s not surprising, he says. After all, “we’re going on 50 years of bad catechesis.”

The speakers accept that the kinds of Catholics who prefer strums and drums still need a home in the Church.

“We need to keep everyone in the family,” Cordileone says.

“I see people who are on fire for the faith,” he says, answering a question about “liturgical abuses” within Catholic charismatic movements. “They’re very supportive of me in all these moral stands that I’m taking. I see a vibrant adherence to the teaching and values of the Church. On the other hand, it seems a more horizontal style of worship.”

Cusick, the priest in Maryland, tells me that he attended a Mass at a parish known for the Latin Mass. This particular liturgy was unexpectedly a contemporary Mass. Up front sat several gray-haired women and men, enjoying the guitar music.

But in the back, the crowd was younger, disappointed with the worship style. A couple of seminarians, dressed in black cassocks, sat among them.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Catholic archdiocese in Minnesota charged over sex abuse by priest

Mitch Smith
New York Times
June 5, 2015

Prosecutors in Minnesota filed criminal charges on Friday against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, accusing church leaders of mishandling repeated complaints of sexual misconduct against a priest and failing to follow through on pledges to protect children and root out pedophile clergymen.

The charges and accompanying civil petition, announced by the Ramsey County prosecutor, John J. Choi, stem from accusations by three boys or young men who say that from 2008 to 2010, when they were under age, a local priest, Curtis Wehmeyer, gave them alcohol and drugs before sexually assaulting them.

The criminal case amounts to a sweeping condemnation of the archdiocese and how its leaders have handled the abuse allegations — even after reforms were put in place by church leaders to increase accountability — and the charges are among the most severe actions taken by American authorities against a Catholic diocese.

“Today, we are alleging a disturbing institutional and systemic pattern of behavior committed by the highest levels of leadership of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis over the course of decades,” Mr. Choi said in a statement.

Mr. Wehmeyer, 50, who was dismissed as a priest in March, was sentenced to five years in a Minnesota prison in 2013 for criminal sexual conduct and possession of child pornography. He also has been charged with sex crimes in Wisconsin.

The six criminal charges filed Friday, misdemeanors with a maximum fine of $3,000 each, accused the archdiocese of failing to protect children. Mr. Choi also filed a civil petition against the archdiocese that he said was intended to provide legal remedies to prevent similar inaction from happening again.

The 44-page criminal complaint states that concerns about Mr. Wehmeyer date to the 1990s, when he was in seminary and supervisors suggested that his past sexual promiscuity and alcohol abuse made him a poor candidate for the priesthood.

Fellow clergy members and parishioners voiced repeated concerns about Mr. Wehmeyer after his ordination in 2001, prosecutors said. The archdiocese allowed Mr. Wehmeyer to continue as a priest, and even placed him in charge of his own parish, despite learning about his attempts to pick up young men at bookstores and his encounters with law enforcement at known “cruising” spots where men were known to meet other men for anonymous sexual encounters.

The charging documents also say that archdiocese officials knew that Mr. Wehmeyer used a boys’ bathroom at a parish elementary school instead of the staff restroom; tried to give an elementary-age boy a tour of the rectory in violation of policy; and took camping trips with boys where some of the sexual abuse was said to have occurred.

The archdiocese placed Mr. Wehmeyer in a monitoring program for priests facing complaints of abuse or other problems, but prosecutors said in court documents that the supervision and follow-through was “lax or nonexistent.”

“The archdiocese’s failures have caused great suffering by the victims and their family and betrayed our entire community,” Mr. Choi said in his statement.

Civil cases against the archdiocese and priests have poured in since 2013, when the Minnesota State Legislature passed the Child Victims Act, which opened a three-year window for filing lawsuits involving claims of sexual abuse that were beyond the criminal statute of limitations.

Many people have made such claims since that law’s passage, bringing new attention to decades-old cases, and creating public records of accusations against some priests.

David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said he was pleased by the indictment, “but the credit goes to Minnesota lawmakers, not this prosecutor.”

An auxiliary bishop for the diocese, Andrew Cozzens, said in a statement Friday, “We deeply regret the abuse that was suffered by the victims of Curtis Wehmeyer and are grieved for all victims of sexual abuse.”

He added that the archdiocese would continue to cooperate with prosecutors. “We all share the same goal: to provide safe environments for all children in our churches and in our communities,” Bishop Cozzens said.

Criminal prosecution of an entire Catholic archdiocese is rare, but not entirely unprecedented, in American courts.

An Ohio judge in 2003 convicted the Archdiocese of Cincinnati of failing to report sexually abusive priests in the 1970s and ’80s. The judge fined the archdiocese $10,000, the maximum allowed, after the archbishop entered a no-contest plea.

But the Minnesota allegations are especially stark because the sexual abuse is said to have occurred relatively recently, long after sexual misconduct by priests had been widely reported and after Catholic institutions implemented programs aimed at preventing further abuse.

“Naming the archdiocese as a corporation implicates the wrongdoing and the failure to protect children by all of the top officials, past and present,” Jeff Anderson, a lawyer in Minnesota who has represented clergy sex-abuse victims, said in a statement.

Catholics say Archbishop Cordileone stumbled in remarks on gender identity

Mandy Erickson
National Catholic Reporter
June 5, 2015

If San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone garnered any goodwill among critics in his flock by softening language in a high school teacher handbook and choosing not to attend a national rally for traditional marriage, he may have lost it when he addressed a convocation for Latin Mass enthusiasts in New York City earlier this week.

In his talk at the Sacra Liturgia conference, Cordileone joked about the number of transgender identities, saying, "I'm sure even more will be invented as time goes on," Religion News Service reported. He also stated that acceptance of what Pope Francis has termed "gender ideology" threatens the Catholic faith.

"The language the archbishop used at this conference was ill-considered, hurtful and lacking in knowledge and compassion," said Micaela Presti, an alumna of and parent of children in Marin Catholic High School, which is under the purview of the archdiocese.

"Our group, Concerned Parents and Students: Teach Acceptance, continues to be very concerned with the archbishop's proposed changes in language of the faculty collective bargaining agreement and faculty handbooks, and the potential harm such language may have on students at these schools who may be questioning their identities and on the students, parents, and/or faculty who have identified as other than heterosexual," she added.

Cordileone has been embroiled in a dispute about employment terms for teachers at four archdiocesan Catholic high schools. He has proposed an addition to the teacher handbook that condemns homosexual practices, contraception and other matters related to sex.

On the state and national level, the archbishop has opposed LGBT civil rights: He helped draft California Proposition 8, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman. He also criticized a presidential executive order that would outlaw employment discrimination against LGBT people. Although last year he spoke at a rally for traditional marriage, this year, he declined to attend.

Several of Cordileone's critics expressed concern that the archbishop's words would engender violence against transgender people. When asked what he thought of the speech, Jim McGarry, a former religious studies teacher at St. Ignatius and Mercy high schools in San Francisco, said, "My first reaction is to say the name of a person, which is Gwen Araujo." Araujo was a Newark, Calif., teenager who was killed by four men in 2002 after they discovered Araujo was transgender. "He's adding to persecution of people like Gwen."

Added Ted DeSaulnier, former religion department chair at Archbishop Riordan High School in San Francisco: "The transgendered youth who attend the high schools of San Francisco will have one more burden to overcome in the prejudice against them: Their very existence threatens the foundation of our Catholic faith."

That statement of Cordileone's was rejected by Fr. John Coleman, associate pastor of St. Ignatius Parish in San Francisco. "Whatever you think about transgender issues, I find it really hard to say it is 'a threat to the faith,' " he said.

But others in the archdiocese say while transgender people deserve compassion, sex-reassignment surgery is not the solution. They agree with the archbishop's stance that transgender identity is a disorder that should not be treated with a sex-change operation, but with faith and acceptance of the sex one was born into.

Fr. Joseph Fessio, founder of the conservative Ignatius Press, said transgender identity is an ailment: "It's like a cleft lip," he said. "We don't have cleft lip pride day."

Fr. John Direen, pastor of St. Joseph in Pinole, said, "As a chaplain of Courage and pastor of a parish I try to help people accept their current situation and to focus on becoming a better disciple of our Lord." Courage is a worldwide organization that encourages gay Catholics to remain chaste.

Other supporters of the archbishop said they are not prejudiced against sexual minorities, but sympathetic to their plight.

"The way I see it, there are all kinds of people making bank off of people suffering from gender confusion -- pharma, surgeons, insurance providers and voyeuristic media -- but I question whether any of these are really capable of helping them find peace with themselves and with the people in their lives," said Vivian Dudro, a senior editor at Ignatius Press in San Francisco.

Eva Muntean, marketing manager with Ignatius Press and creator of the website, founded to support Cordileone, said the church and the archbishop care about transgender Catholics.

"The church will always be there to help people in their suffering, whatever type of suffering it may be, and she [the church] will do it with both love and truth," Muntean said.

Vatican in middle of war of words between cardinal and abuse survivor

Stephanie Kirchgaessner
The Guardian
June 5, 2015

George Pell has always courted – some say relished – controversy. From the time the staunchly conservative Australian cardinal suggested that sex abuse had never been a systemic problem in the Catholic church, to his refusal in the past to grant communion to gay Catholics – saying God did not make “Adam and Steve” – Pell’s uncompromising style has ruffled feathers.

Now Pell – a senior official in charge of church finances – is embroiled in a bruising fight of a different sort: one that has pit him against a layman, Peter Saunders, who was handpicked by Pope Francis last year to help rehabilitate the church following years of sex abuse scandals and cover-ups.

This week Saunders claimed in an interview in Australia that Pell’s allegedly “callous” past treatment of sex abuse victims was “almost sociopathic”.

In response, Pell – who has vehemently denied allegations that he once sought to bribe an abuse victim in return for his silence, among other cover-up allegations – said he would seek advice on legal action against Saunders, who is a survivor of sex abuse and a member of the pope’s commission on abuse in the church. Pell has previously apologised to victims of clergy sex abuse for the pain they endured.

The loaded exchange occurred after witnesses spoke out against Pell at a hearing before an Australian royal commission on child abuse. Claims that Pell ignored or sought to silence allegations of abuse are more than a decade old. Pell has denied all of the claims and was summoned to testify at the next hearing by the royal commission. A date has not yet been set.

On Thursday Australia’s Catholic archbishops issued a statement backing Pell as a “man of integrity who is committed to the truth and to helping others, particularly those who have been hurt or who are struggling”.

The Vatican, which rarely intervenes in such matters, has issued two statements since the fight broke out. In the first, it emphasised that Saunders was not speaking in his capacity as a member of the pope’s commission. The second, from the papal abuse commission, added that it was important for people in the position of authority to respond to claims of abuse “promptly, transparently and with the clear intent of enabling justice to be achieved”.

Jimmy Burns, the author of an upcoming biography on Pope Francis, said: “There seems to be two arms of the Francis machinery in conflict. Also, there is an element of administrative dysfunctionality at work. It shows the kind of real challenge the pope is facing in terms of reforming and restructuring the Vatican.”

He said the church’s legacy of sex abuse was the critical issue in how the church is perceived from the outside. “Saunders is a man who is of considerable integrity. He is not someone who can simply be dismissed by the Vatican,” Burns added.

John Allen, a veteran Vatican reporter and associate editor at the website Crux, said: “This is just kind of who George Pell is. He’s a back-alley bruiser. Everywhere he goes he has made enemies, but you will never find a man with more loyal friends.”

Among Pell’s allies, Allen noted, are English-speaking cardinals and bishops including Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.

Pope Francis has tended to stand by officials if they are publicly under attack and there are no signs that he is backing off from his support of Pell. If he were to do so, it would mean undermining a man he has personally charged with tackling another crucial issue of his papacy: Vatican financial reform. In that, too, Pell faces serious challenges.

The Australian strongly backed a proposal floated last year that would have transformed the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR) – the Vatican bank – and created Vatican Asset Management (VAM), a company that would hand control of the assets to outside managers. The grand vision of Pell and others who supported the idea was that it would create a massive “Catholic fund”, with dioceses contributing their assets from all around the world, said one insider familiar with the plans.

When the IOR’s board disagreed, Pell swept them aside and established a new board. He also ushered in a new president, Jean-Baptiste Douville de Franssu. But people familiar with the matter say the proposal was rejected by the pope and the cardinal’s commission, who were charged with reviewing the idea.

“There was an internal backlash that had to do with the impression that Pell has accumulated too much power around himself and that he was setting himself up as a tinhorn dictator,” said Allen.

A spokesman for the secretariat for the economy – Pell’s office – denied that the pope had rejected the VAM proposal and said it remained “in the mix”. “It may have been delayed but not set aside,” he said.

Internal Vatican frustration with Pell seemed evident after an article this year in the Italian magazine L’Espresso, citing leaked documents, detailed half a million euros in expenses claimed by Pell’s office. A spokesman for the cardinal defended the expenses and said they reflected one-time costs.

Observers say Pell is not the only man who has been caught in a difficult position. When Saunders and another abuse survivor, Marie Collins, were appointed to the papal commission on abuse, the move was viewed with scepticism by victims’ advocacy groups who were wary that the two would be used as mere symbols to improve the image of the church without truly reforming it.

“Most of the advocacy groups think they are being taken advantage of. Both [Saunders and Collins] are extremely savvy. I would say about Peter that he is in a tough spot and trying to figure out how to stay true to himself,” said Allen.

Asked about criticism that he was taking advantage of his position on the papal commission and was not in a position to judge individual cases, Saunders told the Guardian in an email that he was doing God’s work. “The protection of children is what it’s all about and Pell and his kind are a serious threat to that,” he said.

He added: “You should see some of the amazing messages of support I am getting from all over the world … from people thanking me for speaking out / and not being intimidated by Pell and his kind. They have no place in a church of love.”