Monday, August 31, 2015

Francis: Catholics who judge, criticize offer 'counter-witness' to Jesus

Joshua McElwee
Vatican Insider
August 30, 2015

Pope Francis has strongly criticized Catholics who brag that they are perfect followers of the church's teachings but then criticize or speak ill of others in their faith communities, saying they cause scandal and even offer a "counter-witness" to Jesus.

"We all know in our communities, in our parishes, in our neighborhoods how much hurt they do the church, and give scandal, those persons that call themselves 'Very Catholic,'" the pontiff said Sunday.

"They go often to church, but after, in their daily life, ignore the family, speak ill of others, and so on," he continued. "This is that which Jesus condemns because this is a Christian 'counter-witness.'"

Francis was speaking Sunday in an off-the-cuff moment during his weekly Angelus address in St. Peter's Square, which focused on one of Jesus' teachings about the role of the proscribed laws of the faith of his time.

The Gospel for the day, taken from Mark, sees Jesus questioned by Pharisees about why his disciples did not follow Jewish law regarding the cleansing of hands before eating. Jesus calls the Pharisees hypocrites, quoting the prophet Isaiah and saying they honor God with their lips but not their hearts.

Jesus' response to the Pharisees, Francis said Sunday, "has the force of a prophetic pronouncement."

"They are words that might fill us with admiration for our teacher," said the pope. "We feel that in him there is the truth and that his wisdom liberates us from prejudices."

But then the pontiff sharply warned that Jesus words apply also to Christians today.

"Caution!" Francis exhorted the crowds in the Square. "With these words, Jesus also wants to put us, today, on guard against considering that the exterior observance of the law may be sufficient to be good Christians."

"As it was for the Pharisees, there also exists for us the danger of considering our place as better than others for the only fact of observing the rules or customs, even if we do not love our neighbor, [even if] we are hard of heart or prideful," said the pontiff.

"The literal observance of the precepts is something sterile if it does not change the heart and is not translated into concrete attitudes," he said, giving examples: "Opening yourself to the encounter with God and God's word in prayer, searching for justice and peace, giving help to the poor, the weak and the oppressed."

Exterior attitudes, Francis said, are determined by what's in our hearts.

"The exterior attitudes are the consequence of what we have determined in the heart," said the pope. "Not the opposite! With outside attitudes, if the heart does not change we are not true Christians."

"The border between good and evil doesn't pass outside of us but rather inside of us," the pontiff continued. "And we can ask ourselves: Where is my heart?"

"Jesus said your treasure is that where your heart is," said Francis. "Which is my treasure? Is it Jesus and his doctrine? Then the heart is good. Or is your treasure another thing?"

Beginning the Angelus prayer, the pope said they would ask Sunday that the Lord grant those present "a pure heart, free of every hypocrisy."

"This is [what] Jesus says to the Pharisees: Hypocrites," said Francis. "Because they say something and then do another."

The pontiff said they would pray for hearts free of hypocrisy "so that we may be able to live according to the spirit of the law and arrive at its end, which is love."

After saying the Angelus Sunday, Francis prayed both for Christians facing persecution in the Middle East and for the 71 migrants who were found dead last week in a truck in Austria.

He called on the international community to find a way to bring an end to the violence in the Middle East and to prevent such crimes as those in Austria, saying "they offend the whole human family."

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Disgraced Vatican nuncio Wesolowski, awaiting trial for sexual abuse, dies

Joshua J. McElwee
National Catholic Reporter
UPDATE, Aug. 29:

Initial results from an autopsy of the body of the deceased former Vatican ambassador to the Dominican Republic indicated that the disgraced papal representative died of natural causes stemming from some sort of "cardiac event," the Vatican said in a statement Saturday.

The autopsy, the Vatican said, is being performed by three medical experts led Giovanni Arcudi, the dean of forensic medicine at Rome's public University of Tor Vergata.

"The investigations took place yesterday afternoon and, by the initial conclusions of the macroscopic examination, confirmed the natural cause of death, attributable to cardiac event," read the statement.

In coming days, the statement said, further laboratory test results will be carried out from the autopsy and then communicated.

Our original story from Aug. 28 follows:

The disgraced former papal ambassador who was to be the first to be tried by the Vatican for sexual abuse of minors and for possession of child pornography has died while awaiting trial.

Former archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, who served as the pope's representative to the Dominican Republic until being accused of sexual misconduct with minors in 2013, was found dead "during the first hours of the morning," the Vatican said in a statement Friday.

At first inspection, the statement said, the death seemed to be of natural causes. An autopsy is expected to be completed Friday, it said, with the results communicated "as soon as possible."

Pope Francis "has been duly informed," the statement concluded.

Wesolowski, a native of Poland, had served in the church diplomatic post since 2008 but was recalled to Rome two years ago after allegations of abusing young boys and possessing child pornography.

The recalling of the ambassador ignited something of a global firestorm, as the nuncio was first removed from his post in 2013 rather quietly after detailed news reports in the Dominican Republic alleging he paid for sex with minors.

The Vatican later publicly acknowledged his removal, but came under criticism when the former diplomat was spotted walking freely around Rome. While Wesolowski was later said to be under house arrest at a Vatican apartment, reports as recent as this month indicated he had been essentially free to roam the city-state.

His case also ignited a global debate over which of three countries -- the Dominican Republic, Poland, or the Vatican -- would have jurisdiction to try the diplomat. Poland originally sought Wesolowski's extradition, which was refused by Vatican authorities.

The Vatican's choice to try the diplomat under its own laws was seen by many as a push for Francis to highlight his efforts to pursue church officials accused of abuse.

At his death, Wesolowski had been standing trial under Vatican city-state law on five charges of possession of child pornography and for having caused "serious injury" to minors. The first hearing in the case was held July 11, but the former nuncio did not attend, citing ill health.

The former nuncio, who turned 67 on July 15, was said to be at a Roman hospital for an unidentified "sudden illness."

Wesolowski had previously been laicized in June 2014 after a Vatican tribunal found him guilty of "grave crimes" under the Catholic Code of Canon Law, the legal system that governs global church doctrinal and administrative matters.

The July hearing by the Vatican city-state court was the first such hearing by the court for an allegation of sexual abuse of minors.

Wesolowski was also being charged by Vatican authorities for accessing pornographic material of children after being removed from the Dominican Republic and during his reported house arrest.

Although the former diplomat had been laicized last year, the Vatican communication regarding his death referred to him as "His Excellency Msgr. Jozef Wesolowski."

Vatican spokesman Passionist Fr. Ciro Benedettini told reporters Friday that Wesolowski had appealed his laicization and that the appeal had been denied, but that the denial “was not officially communicated so as not to aggravate the situation” with the ongoing trial.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

St. Mary's (Portland) controversy reflects tensions nationwide within Roman Catholic church

Melissa Binder
The Oregonian
August 27, 2015

St. Mary's Academy had it coming.

The downtown Portland school teaches young women to value social justice and have a voice, so students and alumni were not surprised by the outcry this week at news President Christina Friedhoff rescinded an offer to a job applicant after learning she intended to marry her girlfriend.

"We're taught to be women who follow our hearts, who don't back down easily, who protect each other fiercely," said Charlotte Karlsen, a 17-year-old senior who started a Facebook page and used the #FightForSMA hashtag to organize her peers.

But while St. Mary's is a unique place, with a unique group of students and alumni, the controversy isn't confined to one Portland school. Instead, the philosophical clash between administrators and others in the St. Mary's community highlights the widening gap between Catholic leaders and the social values of the young people they educate.

"There's a temptation to say, 'Oh, it's a Portland thing,' but it's not," said David Roy, whose daughter starts her first year at St. Mary's next week. "It's a generational thing."

St. Mary's families learned in a Tuesday night email from Friedhoff that the school had rescinded an offer to make Lauren Brown an academic advisor. (Brown maintains the decision came when they learned she was gay, not planning marriage.)

Students and alumnae responded in force, decrying the choice on social media. Less than 24 hours after news of the decision broke, the school's board voted to expand its hiring policy to protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

That vote came despite strong and vocal objections to same-sex marriage among leaders of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Portland, which does not oversee St. Mary's but does have the power to strip the school of its Catholic affiliation.

St. Mary's students and alums say their response to Brown's treatment was exactly what the school has taught them.

"They encouraged us to take kindness and a strong belief in what you think is right wherever you go," said alumna Dahlia Bazazz, editor of the University of Oregon's student newspaper.

St. Mary's is not the first Catholic institution to face this challenge, nor will it be the last. Support for same-sex marriage has risen dramatically in the last decade, particularly among millennials. According to the Pew Research Center, 70 percent of people born after 1980 support same-sex marriage.

Catholic teachings have not changed in that time. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that sexual acts are sacred and meant for both procreative and loving purposes, said Catherine Punsalan-Manlimos, director of the Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture at Seattle University.

St. Mary’s Academy held meetings for students and parents the morning after a decision a was made to reverse the school’s policy on gay hiring. The Oregonian/OregonLive asked them about their response to the controversial change.

Any sexual act outside a marriage between a man and a woman is considered a perversion of that meant-to-be-sacred act, she said.

The gap between young people and Roman Catholic doctrine is not the only tension at play.

"There is this tension between teachings on sexuality and the more fundamental teaching on God's love and mercy and Jesus's teaching on the inclusion of those who are excluded," said Punsalan-Manlimos.

That seeming disconnect was reflected in the language of angry St. Mary's students Wednesday:

"In class we read the gospel like a book of love," said Hannah Argento-McCurdy, a 17-year-old senior. "These are not actions of love."

While religious exemptions in U.S. law make it legal for faith-based organizations to align hiring practices with religious doctrine – in this case, to not hire people who are gay – but doing so isn't necessarily moral, Punsalan-Manlimos said.

"The law is fairly clear, but that doesn't answer the more difficult moral question of whether these actions are reflective of what it means to be Christian," she said.

St. Mary's is not simply one in a series of dominos to tip in the same direction. Other schools have faced similar circumstances and chosen a different path. This summer, administrators at Fordham University, a Jesuit school in New York, opted to stand behind a theology professor who married his same-sex partner. Georgetown University has a thriving LGBT Resource Center.

But at the University of San Francisco, another Jesuit school, a tweet celebrating the Supreme Court's gay marriage ruling was quickly deleted by campus leaders. At Eastside Catholic University outside Seattle, a vice president was fired for marrying his partner and went on to sue the school.

In downtown Portland, it's unclear whether St. Mary's will face any consequences for stepping outside institutional doctrine. Archbishop Alexander Sample does technically have the power to strip the school of its Catholic affiliation, said archdiocese spokesperson David Renshaw, but has not indicated he intends to do so.

The diocese hopes to start an "open dialogue" with the school about its policy change, Renshaw said.

For now, the statue outside St. Mary's has shed rainbow heart glasses and protest hoodie students added Wednesday morning. The statue, a nun who represents the founders of the school, simply has flowers tucked into her metal habit and hands.

Vatican backs plan to name Rome square for Martin Luther

Rosie Scammel
Religion News Service
August 26, 2015

ROME (RNS) The Vatican has given its backing to a central Rome square being named after Martin Luther, a church reformer excommunicated by the pope nearly 500 years ago.

A German Catholic priest and theologian, Luther was a key figure in the Protestant Reformation and sparked considerable controversy by challenging the authority of the Catholic Church. He denounced the corruption he saw among clergy in Rome and believed salvation came through faith alone — views that did not sit well with Pope Leo X.

Luther was excommunicated in 1521 and was never allowed to return to the Catholic Church, but now the Vatican’s views have changed.

Next month a hilltop square in Rome is due to be named Piazza Martin Lutero, in memory of Luther’s achievements. The site chosen is the Oppian Hill, a park area that overlooks the Colosseum.

The move has been six years in a making, following a request made by the Seventh-day Adventists, a Protestant denomination, Italian daily La Repubblica said. The original plan was to inaugurate the square in time for the 500th anniversary of Luther’s historic trip to Rome in 2010. City officials were not able to discuss the process behind naming the square or the reason for the holdup.

Despite Luther being thrown out of the Catholic Church during his lifetime, the Vatican reacted positively to news of the square’s upcoming inauguration. “It’s a decision taken by Rome city hall which is favorable to Catholics in that it’s in line with the path of dialogue started with the ecumenical council,” said the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, deputy director of the Vatican press office, referring to a gathering of churchmen to rule on faith matters.

The move contrasts sharply from views held by Luther around the time of his visit to Rome, when it was said he repeated the saying, “If there is a hell, Rome is built over it.”

Dialogue between Lutherans — a Protestant denomination that follows Luther’s teachings — and the Catholic Church was cemented in a document signed by bishops of the two churches in 2013. Pope Francis has also shown an openness to different churches, earlier this year supporting the need for a more unified Christian voice in Europe.

But within Italy there are very few Protestants; just 435,000 Italian citizens identify as Protestant, according to research published in 2012 by the Center for Studies on New Religions. Catholicism continues to be the dominant religion, with 97.9 percent of Italy’s 60 million residents having been baptized Catholic as of 2009.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

India: The Hindu woman who risked her life to save a group of nuns

Paolo Affatato
Vatican Insider
August 25, 2015

She put her life on the line to save Christians. Satyabhama Nayak is a Hindu woman who opened her doors to a group of nuns and hid them in the midst of the anti-Christian pogroms that raged across the Indian state of Orissa in August 2008.

In the district of Kandhamal, in Orissa, faithful were rounded up, beaten and became the victims of punitive expeditions, which forced them to abandon their homes and properties amid a wave of violence triggered by Hindu extremist groups. Religious hatred turned into a full-on manhunt with tragic consequences: more than 400 villages were “cleansed” of all Christians; 5,600 homes and 296 churches were burnt, 100 people died (but the government only recognises 56 of these deaths), thousands were wounded, a number of women were raped, 56,000 people were displaced. One of the most despicable of crimes, was the rape of sister Meena Barwa by a number of men. She was then forced by her persecutors to walk through the streets naked as a sort of trophy symbolising the men’s victory.

Seven years on, the Christian community complains that the insufficient administration of justice and political complicity have led to a significant number of guilty individuals going unpunished.

According to the figures published by the local Church, the police has approved 1,541 out of the 3,232 criminal complaints filed by Christians. Of these, only 828 cases were actually taken to trial. In 169 cases, legal procedures ended with the full acquittal of 1,597 defendants because key witnesses were often subjected to threats and intimidation. And while in 86 cases the sentences handed down were very light, 90 other cases are still in the investigation phase but as time passes, the chances of gathering irrefutable proof are lessening.

Since then, every 25 August, the symbolic date when the violence broke out, the Christian community in Orissa celebrates a special “Day of Remembrance”, organising conferences, public demonstrations, peace marches and prayer vigils in order to keep this dark chapter of Indian history fresh in everyone’s minds.

According to John Barwa, Catholic archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, “justice means obtaining compensation, rebuilding houses, the possibility to return to one’s origins. Christian citizens are asking to be treated like everyone else, according to the principles of equality.”

It has to be said that alongside the negative experiences of Hindu extremists persecuting Christian communities, there are also situations where different communities and faiths peacefully co-exist in Orissa. In recent months, the Christian Forum of Sambalpur, another district of Orissa, sent a memorandum to the state governor, S.C. Jamir, expressing "profound gratitude to the administration of the district of Sambalpur for having enforced the law, ensuring peace and security to the Christian communities and other minorities in recent years”. The Forum recalls that Christians “are compassionate, kind, humble" and have always contributed to social harmony.

On the anniversary of the massacres that will leave an indelible mark on Christians in Eastern India, the story of Satyabhama Nayak comes to the fore again in commemoration of that suffering and draw people’s attention back to the seed of goodness that lies within human beings, regardless of religious belief, ethnicity, language or nationality.

“The nuns from the Balliguda convent rushed over to my house as the rioters milled around nearby. Seven nuns had fled walking through the countryside. Some were wounded and they were all terrified. I was speechless and I asked my grandson to find out what the upheaval was all about,” recalls Satyabhama in a moving testimony.

“I was scared and prayed to God to keep me and the nuns safe because extremists showed no mercy towards those who helped Christians,” she continued. “We learnt that one nun was found in the home of a Hindu man and she had been raped. I tried to calm the nuns and we hid them in the sheep pen.”

The woman concluded by saying: “One of my neighbours warned me: the rioters were after Christians who were hiding in Hindu homes. If you want to spare your life, get rid of those nuns. I said I did not want to. Whether Hindu or Christian, we are all human beings. The next day we snuck into the forest and stayed there. There were Christian men and boys with the nuns. After three fear-filled days, the police finally arrived. God’s Providence helped us and we saved ourselves.”

Silence in the Catholic church may be its weapon of self destruction

Kristina Keneally
The Guardian
August 24, 2015

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson

In a day of remarkable evidence before the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson offered damning assessments of the most senior Catholic clerics on the planet. Pope John Paul II “handled the abuse poorly”. Cardinal George Pell was a “most ineffectual bishop” and “the majority of the priests wished he’d get transferred somewhere else.” Even Pope Francis is not providing “real leadership”.

But his most chilling and telling statement about the Catholic church was the one he made about the church hierarchy’s response to revelations about child sexual abuse: “What we got was silence, so bishops were loyal to the silence.”

Robinson’s statement is simple, but it speaks of the extent to which the church hierarchy exercises control – and enforces silence – through a combination of rigid orthodoxy, secretive practices, intimidation, and threat of exclusion or excommunication. Even many Catholics may not be aware of the how the church leadership manages the institution, as most of us in the pews interact only with our local parish priest.

For nearly 25 years I have been engaged with what can be broadly termed “the progressive movement” in the Catholic church: theologians and activist groups agitating to modernise the institution and break open the undemocratic, celibate male stranglehold on power in the church.

I have known many priests over the years who privately cheer the progressives on, but publicly stay silent. These priests walk a fine and dangerous line, fearful sometimes that one comment in a homily will cause a parishioner to report them to the bishop and invite a world of pain. I’ve known of priests and theologians who faced a fate similar to outspoken Toowoomba bishop Bill Morris: forced out after a “sham process instituted in Rome to get rid of (him) at any cost, and regardless of any particular charges.”

It’s not just priests. At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, I have recently been subjected to similar tactics. In the past 12 months two organisations run by the Catholic church in Sydney invited me to take up formal positions – one as a patron, the other as a speaker at a fundraising dinner. In one case the role had been publicly announced. In both cases the organisations had to ring and apologetically explain that they were forced to withdraw the offer because “higher ups” had decided “some of my views” made me unsuitable.

These Machiavellian machinations are effective: I’ve recently turned down two subsequent Catholic invitations simply to avoid embarrassment for the organisation when it is eventually forced to cancel. It might be simpler for all if the Sydney diocese just sent out a memo.

But speaking out as a lay person on contraception, women’s ordination and same sex marriage is one thing: surely no truly honest and caring human being could stay silent about child sexual abuse? Surely no priest or bishop could value his job over the need to protect children?

This is where clericalism in the Catholic church jars so horribly with an open and free society. When the Australian government becomes aware of the extent of child sexual abuse in institutions, it holds a royal commission with open hearings.

When the leadership of the Catholic church becomes aware of the extent of child sexual abuse, it designs secretive processes to protect the institution and spins to its priests that there are worse sins than sexually abusing children, such as abortion or homicide.

Perhaps the greatest sin is the one committed by the leadership of the Catholic church: a self-aggrandising pride that allows it to view itself as a God-given institution that is more important than keeping children safe and saving children’s lives.

Robinson argues that the best way for the Catholic church to prevent sexual abuse of children is to fundamentally change its culture: break down clericalism, end the secrecy, break open leadership to women and married men, confront the harm that enforced celibacy does to human beings, and provide professional mentoring and support to priests.

It’s hard to imagine that Robinson’s prognosis could come to pass. He is a retired bishop with a terminal illness – his commentary can be discounted by the hierarchy.

Then again, perhaps not. A few Sundays ago Bishop Terry Brady visited our local parish and spoke honestly about child sexual abuse. He spoke with regret and despair about the church’s silence. He told the congregation to never forget that all of us who believe in Jesus Christ are the church. The church doesn’t belong to the bishops, he said, but to all of you in the pews and he encouraged us to speak up and speak out. He may as well have said we priests need your help to break the silence.

People spontaneously applauded at the end of his sermon. If only Pell and Pope Francis in Rome could have heard them clapping.

Kristina Keneally is a Guardian columnist. She is the 42nd Premier of New South Wales and holds a Masters’ degree in theology. In September she is chairing a session titled “Break the Silence” at the Women’s Ordination Worldwide International Conference in Philadelphia.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Sisters in India discuss how attacks, rapes affecting their ministry

Jose Kavi
Global Sisters Report
August 20, 2015

Christians in India seem to be jittery these days. They feel helpless amid unprecedented attacks they have been facing for some time now.

On June 20, a Catholic nun in her late 40s was gang-raped in the central Indian town of Raipur. No arrests have taken place even after almost two months. In March, another nun in her 70s faced a similar tragedy in an eastern India state. The police have arrested Bangladesh nationals for that crime.

As usual, church groups, including the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, protested by issuing statements of condemnation and demanding immediate arrests of the culprits. They noted certain impunity in the increasing attacks on church workers and institutions. The administration, they alleged, does little to check such incidents.

In India, where rape is the fourth most common crime against women — after domestic violence, assaults with intent “to outrage the modesty of a woman” and abduction — it should come as no surprise that Catholic nuns are among the victims. Some have called the attacks “deliberate attempts” to intimidate the Christian community. Others, however, say the violence is a reaction because women religious appear to the public as independent women living with property, money and status.

The attacks have rattled Catholic nuns in India. Many shared their anguish and frustration about the violence with Global Sisters Report.

Sr. Rita Pinto, who heads India’s more than 100,000 Catholic nuns, said her immediate reaction to the latest rape was, “Not again.” She called such attacks “inhuman atrocities” on nuns who work for the poor and marginalized and a betrayal to the Indian Constitution that pledges to protect every citizen. Pinto, a Society of Sacred Heart nun, is the president of the women’s section of the Conference of Religious India, the national association of Catholic Religious.

Presentation Sr. Shalini Mulackal, who teaches systematic theology at Delhi’s Vidyajyoti College of Theology and is president of the Indian Theological Association, believes the June 20 rape was a planned act “definitely aimed” to scare local Christians and those working for their advancement.

Mulackal justifies the church reaction to a nun’s rape, saying it perceives such an attack on sisterss as violence against itself. However, she wants the church also to protest when other women are attacked.

The Presentation nun narrated how a top church leader explained at a July protest rally in Delhi that rape deprives a nun of her virginity, the most precious gift she can offer Christ. Such views, the nun theologian said, stem from a “patriarchal myth” that reduces women, even nuns, to their bodies. “Virginity is of the heart primarily, and the physical virginity is only a sign of that deeper virginity. Sisters who are raped against their will do not lose their virginity,” Mulackal asserts.

She further adds that, in a patriarchal society like India, women are raped to teach a lesson to their family and community. The Raipur case, she says, is part of a deliberate move to attack church workers in Chhattisgarh state where right-wing Hindu groups find various ways to oppose the church. The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People’s Party) has been ruling the state for more than a decade.

Pinto too says Catholic religious women are paying the price for their gender in a country where a woman is attacked every two minutes on some level, according to 2012 National Crimes Record data on crimes against women. People dedicated to God had earlier enjoyed respect and non-interference until recently, she said. “The present situation smacks of some viciousness and a kind of a hate campaign.”

However, Chhotebhai (a name meaning “little brother”), who is former president of the All India Catholic Union, says the nuns are attacked not because they are women, but because they are perceived as “missionaries with a sinister agenda” to convert gullible Hindus to Christianity. Chhotebhai’s union is the largest lay association in the country.

Why do such attacks take place?

Chhotebhai sees “a deliberate attempt” to intimidate Christians in India, because they are soft targets.

Pinto suspects a systematic plan is at work to target the church and its workers. “It seems all this is done with impunity because there is an unspoken acceptance and even encouragement from the powers that be. In spite of concrete evidence, no steps are taken to punish the perpetrators of such ghastly crimes,” she bemoans.

Mary Bambina Sr. Lee Jose, executive editor of Companion India, a monthly magazine for church leaders, says certain groups do not want “the poor uplifted and enjoying their God-given rights.”

Astrid Lobo Gajiwala, a Catholic laywoman theologian in India, asserts that people see nuns living alone and keeping property and money.

Gajiwala opposes viewing the attacks on nuns as a separate issue. “What makes nuns different? Why is the rape of a Christian girl or woman not seen as an attack on the church? Why do we wake up only when nuns are raped and not when women are raped?” she asked in the social media group of the United Christian Forum for Human Rights.

Every day, 93 women are raped in the country, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. The latest data shows the number of rapes was 33,707 in 2013, up from 24,923 in the previous year. However, most rape cases are never reported in India, it says.

A Dalit (formerly known as from the “untouchable” caste) woman was raped by four men in Bihar just eight days after the Raipur incident, but there was hardly any public outcry against the crime.

Gajiwala says all women, not just nuns, suffer after a rape. Indian society, she explains, views the rape victim as bringing shame to her family and sometimes ostracizes her. Women who dare to report rape are forced to re-live the ordeal answering questions from lawyers and the media, she says.

Impact on a rape victim and her order

The Raipur victim’s congregation, Salesian Missionaries of Mary Immaculate, said the incident has hurt them deeply. “We could not talk to each other for days,” said one nun on condition of anonymity in July.

The victim, she added, has not recovered from the trauma. Adding to her woe is the regular quizzing by police teams and other groups — so much so that she cringes upon seeing new policewomen who come on rotation to provide her security.

The victim recounted to her community members what happened to her on that fateful night. She woke up around 2 a.m. hearing some commotion and saw two masked men inside her room. She was on night duty at a maternity clinic for the poor. Two girls, her assistants, slept in another room. She tried to defend herself but the intruders overpowered her, forced some pills down her throat, and one of them covered her mouth with his hands. She could not shout for help and soon fell unconscious. Her superior found her the next morning semi-conscious, semi-clad and tied to a post of her cot.

The attackers, who entered the clinic by cutting through a window grille, did not take away cash or goods. “What was their motive, we do not know,” the nun said and added that they suspect it was a planned act to intimidate them.

The victim says she was raped, but the police and the administration insist she was only molested (a crime known as “outraging the modesty of a woman,” or sexual assault without penetration), giving the impression that the government wants to downplay the incident.

“The police are trying to find out how the sister and the girls did not hear the noise of cutting the grilles. They are creating artificial noise now and asking them if they heard such noise at that night. It sounds absurd but that is what they are doing,” the nun said.

The church’s response

Some people find the church responses to the incidents peripheral.

Sr. Lissy Maruthanakuzhy, a freelance journalist, recalls that the church had gone silent on the murder of two nuns in Mumbai 25 years ago after newspapers alleged that they had been sexually active. “But the truth is that their hearts are still bleeding, seeking justice from the church and the government.”

Chhotebhai says the allegation led to a call for exhuming the nuns’ bodies to ascertain the facts. However, the church leaders “balked at the idea, and the cloud of doubts remained. This was a gross mishandling of the situation and the crime was never resolved,” he wrote in

Sr. Talisha Nadukudiyil, secretary of the bishops’ Council for Women, bemoans that the church protests seem to fall on “deaf ears” as attacks are repeated. “What sort of consolation can we promise to a devastated nun and her community?” asks the Sisters of the Destitute nun. The church should protest all incidents of violence against women in India, she stated.

Women religious remain committed to their charisms, work

Chhotebhai says panic could spread if such incidents grow in frequency, “which is exactly what right-wing forces want.”

Pinto claims that nuns have realized the vulnerability of the work situation. “What has happened to one can happen to me. However, I do not experience panic but a realization of the need to be cautious,” she says and adds that she can no more take for granted the freedom and trust nuns used to enjoy.

Mulackal says most nuns are willing to suffer, even die, because they have opted to work for Christ. She cites the case of Sr. Valsa John, who was axed to death by a mob in 2011 because of her organizing work for tribal people displaced by mines. When she started receiving threatening calls, she chose not to move out.

However, the recent incidents have alerted the nuns to be cautious. Jose says she takes “extreme care” to avoid being alone after evening. She does not answer phone calls from strangers and avoids receiving gifts.

Mulackal says nuns will be prudent in their dealings but continue to do what they are called to do without fear. “If we need to protect ourselves, it would be good if we train ourselves in some skills, like learning karate,” she says.

Asked if congregations should close convents in remote and isolated places, all nuns GSR spoke to were emphatic in saying, “No.” However, everyone stressed the need to build local support.

Rather than closing the convents, Mulackal wants the nuns to strengthen themselves by taking legal measures and accepting help from neighbors. “We must also have a list of local resources on which we can immediately fall upon in case of necessity,” she said. “In any case, if we are really close to the people, they will protect us.”

Nuns working at the grassroots level are also determined to stay on.

Sr. Jancy Vattakanal, superior general of Deen Bandhu Samaj (Society of the Friends of the Destitute), a Chhattisgarh-based congregation, told GSR in March that many of her nuns work in villages under the control of Maoists, outlaws who wage war against the government.

“As we are caught between the Maoists and the police, we have to answer both forces like the villagers,” she said.

She is worried about sending sisters to those areas because their safety is unpredictable. “The only assurance we have is the hope that nothing would happen to them since they are sisters and priests. So far, no negative incident has happened to Catholic priests and nuns in Maoist areas.”


read full story and see more pictures at Global Sisters Report

Catholic teachers narrowly vote to accept union agreement with San Francisco archdiocese

Mandy Erikson
National Catholic Reporter
August 20, 2015

Teachers at four Catholic high schools, under pressure from the San Francisco archbishop to adhere to church teaching in their personal lives, narrowly voted to accept a union agreement with the archdiocese for the next three years. While the contract does not describe the teachers as "ministers," a term that would have allowed the archdiocese to fire teachers for any reason, it includes phrases about "personal conduct" and "teacher conduct on and off the job."

To fire a teacher because of personal conduct, however, the archdiocese will need to prove that the conduct adversely affects the classroom. The contract also includes grievance procedures for teachers if they are in a dispute with their employer.

The 236 teachers in the Archdiocesan Federation of Teachers, Local 2240 — at Archbishop Riordan and Sacred Heart Cathedral in San Francisco, Junipero Serra in San Mateo, and Marin Catholic in Kentfield — will receive about a 2 percent raise each year under the contract. While the union did not release the final tally, teachers said the contract ratification vote was a close one.

In a previous version of the contract, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone ​described teachers as "ministers," labeling that could have given the archdiocese the right, through religious freedom laws, to fire someone deemed to be a minister for any reason. Cordileone later removed the minister designation from the contract.

"The original language the archbishop proposed in the contract seven months ago is gone," said Ted DeSaulnier, a religion teacher at Archbishop Riordan who voted for the contract. "The archbishop compromised. It gives me and my union brothers and sisters more protection while rolling back any contractual language that might give the archbishop any advantage in initiating the concept of the ministerial exemption."

Ish Ruiz, a religious studies teacher at Sacred Heart, said he voted against the contract because he was uncomfortable with the reference to personal conduct. "I'm sorry that this language passed," he said. "But I hope that the contract does serve to protect the teachers' jobs."

Early this year, Cordileone inserted a morality clause into the teacher handbook, which outlines expectations for teacher conduct. (The handbook is under the archbishop's purview and not subject to ratification by the union.) The clause, which described aspects of sexuality and reproduction forbidden by the Catholic church as "gravely evil," set off an uproar among teachers, parents and students.

Cordileone later revised the handbook, backing off from the "evil" label, but still maintaining that teachers should follow the teachings of the church in their private lives. The morality clause listed homosexual acts, birth control, masturbation, reproductive technology and abortion among the acts described as evil.

"I want to thank the union and administration negotiating teams for their hard work over the past few months in coming to this agreement," Cordileone said in a press release. "They have negotiated just wages and benefits for our high school teachers, who are among the finest teachers in Northern California.

"I also very much appreciate that the negotiations included a rich discussion about the mission and purpose of Catholic education and the vital role that our high school teachers play in carrying out that mission."

The teacher contract includes a preamble about Catholic education which states that the high schools are "committed to provide education within the framework of Catholic principles."

"Teachers are expected to support the purpose of our Catholic schools in such a way that their personal conduct will not adversely impact their ability to teach in our Catholic High Schools," it continues.

The preamble adds that "disputes about teacher conduct on and off the job are subject to the grievance procedure to determine whether such conduct has adversely impacted the teacher's ability to teach in our Catholic High Schools."

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Loyola chancellor says Catholic Church should let priests marry

Shia Kapos
Crain's Chicago Business
August 17, 2015

Father Michael Garanzini, the chancellor of Loyola University Chicago and newly named member of the Chicago Board of Education, says it's time Catholic priests be allowed to marry.

“I think it would be healthy. I used to say, 'Well, it will change but probably not in my lifetime.' And then Pope Francis came along, and what I see him doing is opening the avenues for discussion,” he told me.

Prior to our conversation, Garanzini spoke to about 40 members of Chicago's business and social communities at a private gathering. Broadcaster Bill Kurtis moderated the Q&A event.

Garanzini says the issue is likely to come up during an October bishops' conference in Rome.

“There's been talk in various places in the church—especially in England, where there are several bishops who have said they intend to raise the question,” he said, referring to Catholic leaders in England, which has seen married Anglican priests cross over to serve in the Catholic Church.

“It's spurring the obvious point that one priest with a wife operates just as effectively or perhaps more effectively than the priest down the block,” Garanzini told me.

He says the idea isn't something he would have expected to be presented to previous popes. “But I think a pope like Francis will say, 'Let's discuss it.' ”

Garanzini adds, “There will always be a role for celibate clergy and there will probably be an opening of ministry positions to a noncelibate or married clergy.”

He pointed to the Eastern Orthodox faith, whose priests are allowed to marry before they are ordained as priests.

“I don't think it's a huge hurdle, but I think it will take some open thinking,” Garanzini said.

He says the discussion of priests marrying has come as a result, in part, of “the fallout of the priest sexual abuse problem.”

“Some good things” have evolved since then, he says, “and one is this question of openness to a priest's physical and psychological health. The second is that the hierarchy, the leadership, that we have needs to be more open and transparent and admit problems and faults as they happen and that we're not above the law. Those two things are a direct result of the scandal.”

Another result, he says, is lay Catholics speaking up more about the church. “Those are tremendous positives,” Garanzini said.


“They wanted me to keep talking,” said Garanzini, who recently stepped down as president of Loyola after helping transform it over his 14-year career there. He now serves as chancellor and adviser to the school. Garanzini also has been named secretary for higher education for the Jesuit order, which oversees Loyola. And he's been named to the Chicago Public Schools board.


Saturday, August 15, 2015

Using "healing" to end the conversation when the conversation is far from over

Joelle Casteix
The Worthy Adversary
August 14, 2015

Here’s a hypothetical:

Your boss borrows your car and runs over your beloved dog Rover in the company’s parking garage. When your boss returns the car, you ask him about your dead dog and the blood stains all over the bumper. He denies all knowledge.

When confronted with video surveillance footage, your boss finally admits that he did run over your dog, but claims that “he thought he did the right thing for you and Rover.” He is not fired. In fact, he is backed up by the company and remains in his job for three more years, where he supervises your work and is your “go-between” to higher management.

You can’t quit because you are under contract. After those three years, your boss resigns. But he keeps his paycheck and gets to go on all of the company golf outings free of charge.

Soon after the resignation and well-publicized golf outings, your company invites you to come to a “healing meeting” where you are invited to heal from the pain of losing your dog. Your boss is invited, too. The company will be collecting donations for the “coffee fund” at the meeting, so attendees are asked to bring their checkbooks.

Your company also invites the press. When the press calls you about the meeting, you tell them that you aren’t going. You are portrayed in the media as angry and ungrateful for not participating.

Ridiculous? You bet it is.

But let’s switch out a few things … say, using Kansas City/St. Joseph as an example … and see how perception changes:

Your bishop knows that a priest in your parish has created child pornography involving your child and does not call the police.

When confronted by the police, the bishop says that he did the right thing for the priest and the children involved. The police don’t buy his argument and arrest the bishop. He later pleads guilty to child endangerment and is sentenced to probation.

The bishop is not fired from his job and is supported by his fellow bishops and the Vatican. But you’re rightfully angry. If you stop going to church and receiving the sacraments, your faith tells you that your eternal life is at risk. Remember: you’re under contract.

The bishop finally resigns, but is allowed to do all of the fun stuff like keep his title, collect a paycheck, live in a fancy house, go to Rome and perform public ordinations.

After the resignation, the bishop’s successor holds a “healing Mass” and invites you to attend. When you say, “Hell, no. There has been no accountability within your organization,” people say you are callous and unforgiving.


Anchoring the argument with “healing”

The conversation about sexual abuse and cover-up in Kansas City-St. Joseph is far from over, but by throwing out the word “healing,” interim Archbishop Joseph Naumann is slamming the door shut on discussion, reform, change, and accountability.

Basically, he’s saying, “We healed and offered the victims healing. It’s time to move on (and raise money).” Really, that’s the gist of what he said:

[Naumann]’s encouraging the grieving and still angry parishioners to reach toward their faith.

“I think we need to ask the Lord to help each of us to heal. There are people who have experienced wounds on both sides,” Naumann said in an interview Monday at the Diocese headquarters in downtown Kansas City.

“A great resource is our prayer. Prayer can be helpful to become focused on moving forward and not (revisiting) those things in the past,” Naumann says, “unless we can learn from them.”

“At this point,” he says, “if there are people who chose not to give because of Bishop Finn’s leadership, this may be a moment to re-examine that.”

Why the anchor is false

Minnesota Public Radio reporter Madeleine Baran made a very interesting point about the term “healing” at the 2015 SNAP conference in Washington DC.

She remarked that groups who are in the wrong (and the journalists who cover them) will use the word “healing” as a way to end an argument or story arc and create the “next phase,” even if the story arc hasn’t finished.

Even if there has been no accountability.

Even if the group does not have the moral authority to determine healing times for those they have hurt.

My suggestion? I encourage Archbishop Naumann to hold “meetings of accountability ” and “prayers for reform.” Healing can’t happen when a wound is still infected with cover-up.

And the story? It’s far from over.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Kansas City diocese apologizes to priest sexual abuse victims, invites them to 'prayer and healing' services

Judy L. Thomas
Kansas City Star
August 11, 2015

The Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph is apologizing to victims of priest sexual abuse and inviting them to a series of prayer and healing services that starts Wednesday.

The move drew mixed reviews from those abused by clergy, some saying it was too little, too late.

In 2008, they noted, then-Bishop Robert Finn issued a public apology to victims as part of a $10 million settlement. But last year, they said, when victims asked for a similar apology to be part of a $9.95 million settlement in another case, the diocese refused.

Last week, the diocese sent letters from Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann and placed ads in local media to let those “directly or indirectly affected by any form of sexual abuse” know they were welcome to attend the services. Naumann, of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, has been the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese’s apostolic administrator since Finn resigned in April.

The first service, to be led by Naumann, is at 7 p.m. Wednesday at St. Thomas More Catholic Church, 11822 Holmes Road. Several other services will follow over the next 10 months at parishes in the diocese, leading up to a lamentation service on June 26, 2016, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

The HOPE services — Healing Our Parishes through Empathy — are being held in connection with the Jubilee Year of Mercy, announced by Pope Francis in April. In a document proclaiming the jubilee, the pontiff said the church’s “very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love.”

Rebecca Randles, who has represented dozens of plaintiffs in lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by priests, said the actions appeared to be “a positive move on their part.”

“Some of my clients see it as the first major breakthrough since before the cases began,” she said. “Others are much more cynical about it.”

Randles described Naumann’s letter as “very kind.”

“All of these survivors are Catholics,” she said. “And so having the head of their church reach out to them in a pastoral manner is wonderfully healing, and it should have happened a long time ago.”

She added, however, that “the proof is in the pudding.”

“What are they going to do to actually make sure that children are safe?”

Diocesan spokesman Jack Smith said Naumann sent the letters to dozens of plaintiffs in the sexual abuse lawsuits that resulted in the multimillion-dollar settlements in 2008 and 2014.

In his letter, Naumann apologized to the victims.

“I am so sorry for what happened to you, and I realize that no words are likely to heal your wounds,” Naumann wrote. “As a small step towards reconciliation, I apologize on behalf of all the priests of this Diocese and all the members of our Catholic Church for the terrible hurt you have suffered at the hands of someone entrusted with your spiritual care. I truly regret how deeply this has impacted your life and the lives of your family members and friends, as well as your relationship with the Church.”

Naumann thanked the victims “for having the courage to come forward and share your story.”

“Your actions have led to permanent changes in the way that our Diocese handles matters related to abuse,” he said, adding that the diocese was working hard to prevent sexual abuse by screening, educating and supervising all priests and others who have contact with children and youth.

“We immediately report every credible allegation of abuse to law enforcement authorities and remove any person credibly accused from public ministry,” he said.

Naumann said the diocese offered counseling and other resources to sexual abuse victims and provided contact information for those who wanted assistance. He said an independent counselor would be available during and after each HOPE session, along with staff from the diocese’s Office of Child and Youth Protection.

Some sexual abuse survivors had strong opinions of the letter and the effort.

“This apology is an admission,” said Michael Sandridge, one of the 32 plaintiffs involved in the 2014 settlement. “After they put everybody through hell, their attorneys asked the most degrading deposition questions, and they knew they were wrong — now, I’m not a liar. All of us, we’re not liars.”

Sandridge said that while he was happy with the apology, “it’s not enough.”

“It’s a bit too late,” he said. “They say, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re sorry, after we’ve damaged you.’ And then, ‘Come for counseling.’ Would you trust their counselors?”

Sandridge said he hadn’t decided whether to attend any of the services, but “I think we should all go to one service out of curiosity.”

Sandridge said, however, that it was insensitive for the diocese to hold some of the sessions at parishes — including St. Elizabeth and Nativity — whose former priests had been known perpetrators of sexual abuse.

“Are they serious?” he said. “What are they even thinking?”

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Milwaukee archdiocese's settlement plan stuns sex abuse victims

Marie Rohde
National Catholic Reporter
August 5, 2015

The Milwaukee archdiocese has put forth what it hopes is the final settlement plan that will end the church's nearly 5-year-old bankruptcy case, but victims of childhood sex abuse who filed claims against the archdiocese said they are stunned by the latest proposal. They allege that the $21 million allocated to victims is much smaller than that awarded in other bankruptcies and that it pits victim against victim.

Only sketchy details of the plan have been released in early August. The full plan is to be filed with the bankruptcy court by Aug. 24. The claimants will vote on the plan by Nov. 6 and a court hearing for its approval is set for Nov. 9.

The plan emerged during a three-day mediation "a few weeks ago in July," according to a statement by Archbishop Jerome Listecki. It was the fourth attempt to reach a mediated agreement and the only one done secretly.

According to a statement by the archdiocese, the plan sets aside $21 million to compensate 330 victims. However, as much as $7 million of that will go to lawyers who have been working on behalf of the victims without pay for more than a decade, according to a lawyer for some claimants.

Another 240 victims who filed claims will get nothing. The committee of claimants elected to set aside a portion of the award — about $184,000 or $2,000 for each of 92 claims deemed unsubstantiated and ineligible for payment by the archdiocese.

Monica Barrett, a woman who alleges she was raped by Fr. William Effinger in 1968 when she was 8 years old, was one of the victims who will receive no compensation. She had filed suit against the archdiocese in 1993 but the case was dismissed because it was past the statute of limitations. In 2011, lawyers for the archdiocese contacted her and suggested she file a claim.

"They said they wanted to resolve all the old claims," Barrett said, adding that she opted to contact a lawyer because she didn't trust the archdiocese. "I thought this would be my opportunity to get some measure of accountability for what happened to me."

Later, the archdiocese had her case dismissed from the bankruptcy, claiming she was Effinger's first victim and they could not have known he was an abuser. Effinger died in prison after being convicted of another abuse.

Barrett said the proposed settlement has been hard on all of the victims.

"It's very hard for the people who are getting nothing but it's also hard for those who are getting paid," Barrett said. "How will this provide any sense of healing when the person you stood shoulder to shoulder with all these years is getting nothing?"

How much each claim will receive will be determined by an administrator appointed by the bankruptcy judge, Susan V. Kelley.

"It is exponentially the lowest bankruptcy compensation for victims in the United States," said Peter Isely, Midwest director of Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

The average victim settlement after legal fees for all other U.S. church bankruptcies has been $300,000, Isely said.

For years, Wisconsin was one of the most difficult states for clergy sex abuse victims to get compensation.

According to, the average victim settlement in Wisconsin has been $50,000.

From the late 1980s until 1995, a number of civil lawsuits were filed against the archdiocese related to abuse. In 1995, a state Supreme Court decision ruled that the church could not be sued for negligence by victims of clergy sex abuse. Dozens of pending lawsuits were dismissed after that decision. For more than a decade, no new suits were filed.

Then in 2007, the state's high court ruled that if church leaders knew of an abusive priest and failed to act to protect victims, the church could be sued for fraud. That resulted in two dozen lawsuits that Listecki said prompted the bankruptcy filing. Victims and their lawyers charged that the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy to avoid the embarrassment of the public trials and potential jury awards.

"Why the archdiocese was ever allowed to maneuver and manipulate its sex abuse secrets into federal bankruptcy in the first place remains a mystery," said Isely. "Not only was the archdiocese flush upon filing, since entering the bankruptcy, the archdiocese has maintained that not a single one of the 575 victim cases are valid."

The archdiocese has stated that prior to bankruptcy it had paid some $30.5 million in settlements and for therapy. The largest portion of that sum, $16.7 million, was paid in 2006 to 10 California victims of a Milwaukee priest working in that state.

The bankruptcy lawyers and other professionals working on the case will ultimately receive almost $20 million in compensation, bringing the total legal fees to about $27 million, or almost twice the compensation the victims will receive.

But the fees for lawyers are undoubtedly higher. Legal fees for a related case challenging the transfer of $57 million to the Cemetery Trust Fund have not yet been revealed. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the transfer was not protected by the First Amendment or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and could have been included in the bankruptcy. Listecki, the trustee for the fund, has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case but according to the plan, that request will be dropped if the settlement is approved.

One surprising addition to the new plan is that 107 of those who will be receiving compensation were abused by religious order priests, brothers or sisters, or a lay employee at an archdiocesan parish, school or institution. The archdiocese had refused to take responsibility for compensation for those abused by members of religious orders.

"Does that mean they will release their names of the religious order priests?" Isely asked. "They said they would release the names of the abusers in cases that were substantiated."

Claims filed by 157 victims will not be compensated for a variety of reasons, including receiving financial awards earlier or having claims that had previously been dismissed. Isely called for those reports to be made public.

"Who did the investigation?" Isely asked. "How did they determine that the claims were invalid?"

Acknowledging that many of the victims are unhappy with the proposed settlement, Michael Finnegan, one of the lawyers representing many of the claimants, said the agreement was forced on a committee of creditors. "It was a situation where the archdiocese forced to pick between a terrible option and a more terrible option."

How could it be worse?

The committee representing claimants "were faced with hundreds of additional claims being thrown out and another $5 million to $10 million being spent on the bankruptcy litigation," Finnegan said. "It would have been likely that the share left for survivors after all that would have more likely been $5 million."

The archdiocese has consistently said that while they do not doubt the allegations made by the victims, none of the claims are legally valid. The lead lawyer for the archdiocese, Francis LoCoco, complained in a recent taped court hearing that the lawyers for the other side were delaying a resolution of the bankruptcy and suggested that the cemetery trust could be liquidated and spent on litigating each survivor's claim.

The plan also establishes a $500,000 fund to pay for therapy for victims. The fund will be financed by all of the parishes in the archdiocese. However, the parishes and schools will be protected from future civil lawsuits brought by the claimants. At least one case is pending in state court against a parish.

The long-closed De Sales Preparatory Seminary, the Faith in Our Future Trust (an education and faith formation program), and other Catholic institutions are also protected from future lawsuits. No archdiocesan property will be sold as part of the deal.

According to the archdiocese, the plan will be funded with $11 million from insurance settlements and $16 million from the Cemetery Trust, $3 million of that a loan.

Listecki, in a written statement, said of the victims that "no amount of money could ever restore what was taken from these individuals" but added that it is the "best way to acknowledge the hurts of the past and try to reconcile for the future."

But, he said, the settlement will open a new chapter for the church. "Turning the page from this chapter of our archdiocesan history allows us to focus more fully on our mission — to proclaim Christ and make disciples through the sacramental life of the church."

Barrett, one of the victims who will receive nothing in the settlement, responded to Listecki: "I'm elated you can do that. We get to live this chapter for the rest of our lives."

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Milwaukee archdiocese to give $21 millions to survivors of clergy sexual abuse

Marie Rohde
National Catholic Reporter
August 4, 2015

The Milwaukee archdiocese has agreed to give survivors of clergy sex abuse $21 million, a move that is expected to end the four and a half years that church has been in bankruptcy court.

In a statement issued by the archdiocese, 330 of the 575 survivors will share in the compensation. They will receive varying amounts to be determined by an outside administrator. There will also be a $500,000 therapy fund established and it will be paid for by all of the parishes in the archdiocese. The agreement otherwise protects parishes and schools from future lawsuits.

Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki acknowledged that the projected total legal and professional fees will be about $20 million when the bankruptcy is complete. That does not include the amount Jeff Anderson & Associates, the law firm that represents many of the survivors, will receive.

The funds will come from a variety of sources, including $11 million from insurance and $16 million from the controversial Cemetery Trust Fund.

The headquarters of the archdiocese will remain at the Cousins Center in suburban Milwaukee. The archdiocese will also voluntarily withdraw a legal action filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in an attempt to reverse an appellate decision that the more than $50 million placed in the Cemetery Trust Fund was part of the estate.

Listecki said this of the agreement:

"Reaching a settlement is the best way to acknowledge the hurts of the past and try to reconcile for the future. I am pleased that a settlement was reached and that both abuse survivors and the archdiocese can turn the page from this terrible chapter of our history. It is important that we never forget the pain and suffering of abuse survivors. And we will continue to hold ourselves accountable to all the elements of the Dallas Charter and the demands of our archdiocesan Safe Environment protocols."

The archdiocese missed an Aug. 3 deadline for filing a revised plan of reorganization. The original plan had called for about $4 million for the survivors.

According to a press release from the Anderson law firm, the committee that represents all the creditors "was forced to make a decision that would prevent the case from being drawn out longer and incurring additional bankruptcy attorneys' fees."

"We applaud the courage of the survivors who came forward and the creditors' committee who fought every step of the way," said Anderson. "The treatment of the survivors by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has been harsh and hurtful."

Attorneys say sex abuse claims against Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis surpass 400

Jean Hopfensperger
Star Tribune
August 3, 2015

Clergy sex abuse claims against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis poured in as the 5 p.m. deadline approached Monday. By the end of the day, the scope of the church’s problem was more clear: Attorneys counted more than 400 claims.

Attorneys representing sex abuse victims had been working around the clock to prepare the claims, stemming from the sexual abuse of children by dozens of Catholic priests over decades.

“It’s been very busy, both over the weekend and today,” said Mike Finnegan, an attorney with the St. Paul law firm of Jeff Anderson & Associates. “There’s a lot of people with a lot of questions, some breaking their silence for the first time.”

An official count was not available from the bankruptcy court as of the filing deadline, but 370 claims had been filed as of Monday morning.

Finnegan said the 400 claims tallied represent the third highest number filed against a Catholic institution in bankruptcy. That is partly due to the large number of Catholics in the archdiocese, he said. There are about 800,000 Catholics in the 12-county metro area.

More than 550 claims were filed against the Milwaukee archdiocese, Finnegan said, as well as against the Jesuits of the Oregon Province, who serve Alaska and the northwest United States.

While the archdioceses of Boston and Los Angeles also had more than 500 claims, they did not file bankruptcy, he said.

The Anderson law firm, which handled the vast majority of claims, had staff stationed at the courthouse later in the day to expedite any last-minute filings. Minneapolis attorney Patrick Noaker, who represented more than a dozen victims, reported he filed his last two cases Monday morning.

The surge in abuse claims is the result of the Minnesota Child Victims Act, which has allowed older claims of child sex abuse previously barred by statutes of limitations to have their day in court. The flood of claims against the archdiocese, which now has acknowledged more than 60 priest sex offenders, spurred the archdiocese to file bankruptcy earlier this year.

Bankruptcy court judge Robert Kressel ordered an Aug. 3 deadline for filing claims against the archdiocese, in an effort to speed up the archdiocese’s financial reorganization. However, victims of sex abuse by any other Catholic diocese or institution in Minnesota have until May 25, 2016, to file their claims.

What’s next

Victims’ attorneys had sought to push the deadline for the archdiocese back to the statewide deadline, but last week Kressel reaffirmed his decision to move that timetable up. He said potential litigants had received adequate notice of the August date.

With the deadline over, the archdiocese and its insurers will be reviewing the claims. The bankruptcy court also will continue to work on determining the archdiocese’s assets and the extent of insurance coverage of the claims, said Noaker.

“The discussion of insurance will be front and center,” said Noaker.

A victims fund will be established based on the insurance and assets, which will finance the settlement of the claims.

Meanwhile, victims who have filed with the Anderson law firm can be connected to therapists and other support services through their firm’s victims advocate, said Finnegan.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

To preserve the memory of India's martyrs, someone will have to pick up the tab

John L. Allen, Jr.
August 2, 2015

Memory might not be the end of justice for the victims of persecution, but it’s surely the beginning. If no one even remembers their suffering, there’s little basis to hope for anything else good to happen.

In Catholicism, the primary way to preserve the memory of martyrs is by beatifying and canonizing them, meaning declaring them saints.

A crystal-clear case for that honor can be made for the martyrs of Kandhamal in India, where violent anti-Christian pogroms in 2008 left some 100 people dead. The victims were largely Dalits, “untouchables” under the caste system, and “tribals,” meaning India’s original inhabitants — precisely the sort of people on the periphery Pope Francis so often extols.

Today their sainthood cause is stalled, not because of a lack of sanctity, but rather, a lack of means.

There’s no question about the heroism of their deaths. They were often burned alive, hacked into pieces, even disfigured by acid. Women were raped, and men were tortured. In one case, a Christian man had his genitals cut off and his intestines ripped out, with his attackers wearing them around like a macabre trophy.

The violence was carried by out by radical Hindus wielding clubs, swords, and torches, shouting war cries that were often chillingly to the point, such as, “Kill Christians!”

Seeing these martyrs of Kandhamal declared saints is “my wish and my people’s wish,” said Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, the diocese where Kandhamal is located, adding that it has universal support among India’s Catholic bishops.

Roughly half the 100 Christians who died were Catholics, making them eligible for a sainthood cause. Yet Barwa, who’s also the uncle of a nun raped amid the mayhem, said there is no such process underway.

“We don’t have the personnel or the money for the research that’s required,” he said. “This process needs a lot of documentation, capturing the real stories.”

Barwa explained that the logistical challenges are compounded by the fact that the victims were often illiterate and lacked even basic records such as birth certificates.

“If I employ someone [to prepare a sainthood cause], I’d have to pay them,” Barwa said. “It’s a specialized job, and not just anybody can do it. I’m not able to employ anyone, and my priests don’t have the skills.”

The story of the Rev. Bernard Digal, the lone Catholic priest to die in the 2008 riots, illustrates the memories at risk of being lost.

Retired Archbishop Raphael Cheenath, who was in charge of the diocese at the time, said Digal was in Kandhamal when the house of a parish priest he was visiting was attacked. They fled to a nearby forest, where they remained three days without food and water. Eventually Digal made a break for it, leaving in a jeep with his driver.

He and the driver were captured. Digal was beaten with crowbars and sticks and stripped naked, then doused with kerosene as the mob attempted to burn him alive. He tried to run away, but his attackers beat him again until he fell to the ground, blood flowing from his head, and lost consciousness.

Thinking he was dead, Cheenath said, the mob abandoned Digal’s naked body.

His driver came looking for him in the morning, and later informed the police. Along with a few villagers, the police took Digal to a local public health center. Eventually he was airlifted to a Mumbai hospital.

Digal died two months later, on Oct. 25, 2008. Doctors had operated on him to remove a blood clot from his brain, caused by the beating. His lungs collapsed, he fell into a coma, and he passed away.

Digal was 48. He’s one of seven victims memorialized on a pillar in the village of Tiangia, which was blessed by Barwa in February.

Cheenath said Digal’s story is the story of all those who perished.

“These 100 people, they are all martyrs,” he said, expressing hope that one day “there will be a feast for the martyrs of Kandhamal,” and that the pope himself will come to India to preside over a sainthood ceremony.

It’s a beguiling dream, in part because the agony is far from over.

Just last week, there were unconfirmed reports that two more Dalit Christians were gunned down by paramilitary forces on a hilltop where they had gone in search of a cellphone signal, in an effort to phone their children who had moved away to look for work.

Such killings are common, observers say, in a context in which police and paramilitaries are allied with militant Hindus and local elites.

“They look for any excuse to kill us,” said the Rev. Ajaya Kumar Singh, a Catholic priest who heads the Odisha Forum for Social Action.

As a result, canonizing Digal and the other martyrs of Kandhamal would not merely be an act of historical justice. It would also be a way of shining a spotlight on what continues to be a danger zone.

Barwa said it would be a “great joy” if someone were to help defray the cost of a sainthood process, and he would be “delighted” to accept.

In sum, the case for a halo for the martyrs of Kandhamal seems a slam-dunk. The question now is whether somebody — perhaps affluent Christians in the West, whose social standing generally insulates them from such risks — will help cover the tab.

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read more on anti-Christian persecution in India at Crux