Monday, February 29, 2016

Mount St. Mary's president resigns

Susan Svrluga
Washington Post
February 29, 2016

Simon Newman, the Mount St. Mary’s University president who astonished many with a brutal remark, inspired some to a new vision for the university, and set off an intense national debate about academic freedom, will step down effective immediately.

Karl Einolf, the dean of the Richard J.Bolte, Sr., School of Business at the university will serve as acting president, the board of trustees announced Monday night.

The change came after weeks of turmoil at the country’s second-oldest Catholic university, which faced questions from its faculty, alumni and national groups — including the organization that provides the crucial accreditation for the university — over its future direction and leadership. Some saw it as a clash between those open to change and those mired in tradition. Others felt it had become a debate over the very soul of the university: Catholic or corporate?

“I am proud of what I have been able to achieve in a relatively short time particularly in helping the University chart a clear course toward a bright future,” Newman said in a statement Monday evening. “I care deeply about the school and the recent publicity relating to my leadership has become too great of a distraction to our mission of educating students. It was a difficult decision but I believe it is the right course of action for the Mount at this time.”

John Coyne, chairman of the board of trustees, said in a statement, “The board is grateful to President Newman for his many accomplishments over the past year, including strengthening the University’s finances, developing a comprehensive strategic plan for our future, and bringing many new ideas to campus that have benefited the entire Mount community. We thank him for his service.”

Einolf, who graduated from Penn State and Johns Hopkins University and earned his doctorate from Lehigh University, has been a professor of finance at the Mount. He won an award for teaching excellence and directed the university’s honors program. He taught a popular course that melded business strategy with fantasy football, in which students grappled with salary negotiations, strikes, broadcast revenue sharing, and other issues. Before joining the faculty in 1998 Einolf worked for the Sprint Corporation in various finance, marketing, and human-resource positions, according to the university statement.

Newman came to the Maryland campus in 2015 with plans for sweeping changes, such as boosting enrollment, shoring up the university’s finances and raising its national profile. His blunt business manner — he had been in the financial industry for his entire career — was welcome to some and jarring to others. Several people were abruptly fired and escorted off campus, and retiree benefits were cut in the fall. But the real turmoil began this year after the student newspaper, the Mountain Echo, reported that Newman had planned to cull struggling freshmen early in the semester, before a federal reporting deadline, to improve the university’s retention rate.

No students left the school as a result of the survey, but Newman’s remarks after some faculty members expressed concerns about the plan shocked many; he said a professor was thinking of the students as cuddly bunnies but that they had to drown the bunnies, “put a Glock to their heads.”

When two professors were subsequently fired — one with tenure, one who had been the adviser to the Echo — many interpreted it as retaliation for opposing Newman’s policies despite the administration’s denial that it was retribution.

A national outcry over academic freedom ensued, with more than 8,000 scholars digitally signing a document asking for the professors to be reinstated.

They were, but the faculty voted 87 to 3 to ask Newman to resign by Feb. 15.

He did not do so.

Some of the university’s 2,300 students expressed support for Newman by holding a rally in mid-February. And while some students said they didn’t feel comfortable responding to a survey about his leadership when their student IDs were required, a strong majority of those undergraduates who did respond said they were for Newman.

The board had been steadfast in its support for Newman, with public messages from the chairman praising his leadership, and criticizing professors whom Coyne said were working against the president.

In mid-February, the board apologized to the campus community for a “breakdown in compassionate communication and collaboration that we have all witnessed in the past few weeks.” The board announced that “the current situation at the Mount is naturally of great importance and urgency to the Board and the Trustees wish to take the time to listen, and to hear from all of the constituencies involved in order to make the best informed decisions.”

The statement anticipated two weeks of outreach, with several trustees visiting on campus to meet with deans, professors, staff members, administrators and some students on campus.

There were professors who supported the changes Newman proposed to the liberal-arts university, such as paring down the core curriculum, ensuring students graduate with marketable degrees, and adding in-demand new programs such as cybersecurity. But others said they were concerned about the impact he had had on campus and how the university could attract the best students, faculty and donor support in the wake of so much controversy. Some worried that the university’s Catholic mission, a guiding principle of the institution for 200 years, was being pushed aside.

There was another fear, as well: The Mount’s accreditation was just reaffirmed in June, with its next scheduled review report in 2020. But this month the Middle States Commission on Higher Education requested “a supplemental information report, due March 15, 2016, addressing recent developments at the University which may have implications for continued compliance with Requirement of Affiliation #9, Standard 4 (Leadership and Governance), Standard 6 (Integrity), Standard 8 (Student Admissions and Retention), and Standard 10 (Faculty).”

There’s a lot at stake with accreditation, which in effect signals that the institution has been examined and meets expected standards; universities must maintain accreditation in order to qualify for federal financial aid programs.

In an email Thursday, Elizabeth H. Sibolski, the president of the Middle States, said, “We are asking that the requested report focus on one requirement of affiliation and the four accreditation standards that seemed most closely related to the situation as reported.

“The supplemental information report allows the institution to provide information directly to the Commission.

“… The institution’s report will be considered by one of the Commission’s standing committees prior to further consideration and action by the full Commission.”

Some faculty members said the standards that were singled out — leadership and governance, integrity, student admissions and retention, and faculty — are clear indications of concern about recent events.

But a spokesperson for the university wrote in an email, “In June of 2015, Mount St. Mary’s University received the highest accolades when our accreditor reaffirmed our accreditation with no concerns.

“We welcome their recent request and are addressing it through the appropriate university channels.”

David Rehm, who had been provost but was demoted shortly before the two professors were fired, and Leona Sevick, whose resignation in order to become provost at Bridgewater College was recently announced, will lead the response to Middle States, with help from the previous co-chairs of each standard in question. Both were participants in a private email conversation among a small group of faculty and administrators expressing reservations about Newman’s retention plan, which was first reported in the Mountain Echo and confirmed by The Post.

Newman continued to make his case, outlining in a letter to the Mountain Echo his ideas for the university, “Mount 2.0,” and he was apparently planning to continue meeting with alumni; one shared an invitation to an event at one of the Philadelphia Main Line’s country clubs planned for this Thursday.

In her email to the campus community explaining that the trustees had concluded most of their meetings on campus and would meet Monday, Gracelyn McDermott, the trustee who leads the “Way Forward” task force, closed with thanks “for your ongoing prayers to the Holy Spirit for wisdom in these challenging times.”

Duffy Ross, one of several administrators who was abruptly fired in the fall, said Monday evening of the Mount, “There are very, very,very good people there, and while the Mount has certainly seen its challenges over the last weeks and months, I am very hopeful that some healing can come from this, and the university can focus on its true mission — and that’s educating students in service to the church and to this country.”

Editorial: defrock former St. Mary's priest

Editorial Board
Central Michigan (University) Life
February 29, 2016

Eight months ago, the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw removed Father Denis Heames from St. Mary’s University Parish for “boundary violations.”

The diocese refused to say much more about Heames' suspension. Bishop Joseph Cistone made sure to mention in a press release the issue “did not involve minors.”

What has become clear is the Catholic Church tried to cover up yet another scandal.

Cistone has a history of covering up scandal within his jurisdiction. In 2012, a judge found Cistone was a witness of shredding of documents in 1994 when he was a church official in Philadelphia. The documents identified 35 priests suspected of sexual abuse.

This scandal involves the sexual harassment of a Central Michigan University student, according to a university investigation.

Heames, a charismatic and young priest, used his position as a religious leader to coax a female student into a sexual relationship.

To the diocese, placing Heames in a parish surrounded by a college campus made sense.

Heames won the St. Mary’s community over with his sense of humor and charm. Everyone loved the hip and energetic “Father Denis.”

We liked him, too.

We trusted him.

That is why his corrupt behavior feels like such a betrayal.

The bishop's response made a bad situation even worse.

The church is long overdue on a decision that should have been a swift and public renouncement of Heames’ misconduct. Laicization is the best solution – in layman's terms, he must be defrocked.

His behavior goes beyond breaking the celibacy vow.

In the Catholic community, a priest is a guiding figure who is given respect and trust. A priest sets a tone that encourages parishioners to be vulnerable and open.

There is little chance parishioners will fell that way about Heames again.

Churchgoers should be able to confide in, and look up to, a man they call “Father.”

Searching for guidance, one female student confided in Heames at his urging and invitation.

Like many Catholics, this woman was taught from a young age to respect the church and its leaders.

She knew she would be shunned and harassed by the parish community if she brought the injustice of what has happened to her to light.

We applaud Megan Winans’ courage. She brought the priest’s shameful behavior to light.

The diocese response to the abuse was the opposite of courageous.

Veiled in secrecy, the church showed us, again, that in the face of its own sins, it rejects repentance in favor of silence.

The church has a responsibility to its parishioners to be honest about what Heames did and what the consequences of his actions will be.

The problem is there appears to be few consequences for Heames’ decisions.

This is typical for Cistone. Secrecy seems to be typical when Cistone is involved in controversy. If he was held accountable in Philadelphia, then he and Heames should be held accountable in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.

CMU’s catholic community now has Heames’ abusive behavior burned into its history, forever.

Now the parish must heal from the wounds of one man’s selfish behavior.

Heames has done an injustice to not just the woman he used, but also the community he claimed to care so much for.

One of the chief principles taught in Christianity is forgiveness.

Whether Heames deserves a pardon for his sins against our campus catholic community is ultimately for God to decide.

We’re not ready to forgive, or forget, until his time as a priest has ended.

Only then, just as Heames told his parishioners to do at the end of each mass, can we go in peace.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The cardinal and the royal commission: the questions George Pell must answer

David Marr
The Guardian
February 25, 2016

Cardinal George Pell is bold. Priests have told the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse over and over again that they knew something was going on back then and now regret doing little more than passing the awful news up the line.

They left it to others.

That’s not Pell’s position. He says he knew nothing – nothing while he was a priest in Ballarat about the paedophiles around him, and little about these men and their victims in his years as an auxiliary bishop in Melbourne.

He was never in the loop. No one warned him. No one complained to him. He didn’t read that letter or this report. It never came up at meetings. There’s nothing in the minutes. There’s nothing in the files.

According to the cardinal, he rose through the ranks in a state of nearly perfect ignorance while – as he now acknowledges with remorse – systematic cover-ups allowed paedophile priests to prey on innocent children.

“I certainly was unaware of it,” he told the Victorian parliamentary inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other organisations in 2013. “I have sometimes said that if we had been gossips, which we were not, and we had talked to one another about the problems that were there, we would have realised earlier just how widespread this awful business was.”

But priests do gossip. Ask them. They especially gossip about each other and always have. When a priest suddenly leaves his parish, the phones run hot. Priests say that was as true in the 1970s as it is now. Presbyteries have to know what problems are coming down the pike.

Australia’s most senior Catholic, the man in charge of the Vatican’s economy, is prepared to face many difficult questions next week as he sits in a conference room of the Albergo Quirinale. Witnesses against him have already been cross-examined. Mountains of documents have been combed. In Allan Myers QC he has about the best defence barrister the nation can offer.

He will not be quizzed about current investigations by Victoria police. They lie outside the ambit of the royal commission. Questioning will concentrate on his response to the child abuse crisis in the early years of his career: as a priest in Ballarat and auxiliary bishop in Melbourne.

He will not be a pushover. Though not a nimble thinker, Pell is no slouch in the witness box. He will be prepared to deal with complex and contested evidence put to him by lawyers for both the commission and survivors of abuse.

Onlookers may find the minutiae bewildering. But behind them all lies one big question. We’ll wait and see if he has an answer. But at this point, the evidence before the commission being what it is, the question seems unanswerable: how could he not have known?

Warnings in Ballarat

Pell was marked for big things. After studies in Rome and Oxford, he returned to Ballarat as a parish priest and after only a couple of years was appointed episcopal vicar for education in 1973.

Horrific abuse was occurring in both the St Alipius primary school (almost next door to Pell’s presbytery) and in St Patrick’s College where a 14-year-old boy known to the royal commission as BWF and his younger brother known as BWG were both abused by Brother Edward Dowlan.

BWF told the commission that in 1973, terrified for his brother and unable to get the attention of the school’s headmaster, he set off one afternoon in his school uniform to find Pell. “He was well regarded as someone of a high stature in the church by the kids and by myself,” BWF told the commission. “We would often see him in the school grounds.”

He says Pell rebuffed him at the door of the presbytery on Stewart Street. “I just blurted out to Pell that Dowlan had beat and molested [BWG] and demanded to know what Pell was going to do about it. Pell became angry and yelled at me, ‘Young man, how dare you knock on this door and make demands’. We argued for a bit and he finally told me to go away and shut the door on me.”

BWF is unshaken in his recollection of the incident. But Pell never lived in that presbytery. BWF told the royal commission: “I didn’t know whether he lived there or not; for me, it was just a good place to start. “

Pell denies the conversation took place.

The following year at the Eureka Stockade pool, 13-year-old Tim Green saw the imposing figure of Father Pell in the changing room. Green was another of Dowlan’s victims and he heard himself say something like this to the priest: “We’ve got to do something about what’s going on at St Pat’s.”

Green remembers Pell asking what he meant and replying, “Brother Dowlan is touching little boys.” He recalls Pell leaving the changing room with the words, “Don’t be ridiculous.”

Green was also unshaken in his recollection under cross examination. Pell says of that changing shed warning: “To the best of my belief this did not happen.”

Dowlan was moved around Christian Brothers schools for nearly 20 years before he faced 64 charges of abusing boys – including four at St Patrick’s. He has been in and out of prison ever since.

Moving Ridsdale

By 1977, Pell was a member of the College of Consultors of the Ballarat Diocese, a group of senior priests who advised Bishop Ronald Mulkearns on the appointment of priests to parishes.

Mulkearns was old school. He simply moved paedophile priests from parish to parish as their abuse was discovered. He has since been condemned for this by his episcopal successors, Victoria police, lawyers, the Victorian parliamentary enquiry and victims’ advocates.

The worst of these Ballarat priests was Father Gerald Ridsdale who began raping children almost from the moment he left the seminary. Postings to Warrnambool, Apollo Bay and Inglewood had all ended badly after he was caught abusing children.

The Sunday Age later reported Ridsdale’s crimes in Inglewood were no secret: “It was pretty common knowledge all through the Catholic congregation, everyone you would speak to knew about it.” Eventually, Ridsdale would be convicted of abusing nine children in his brief time at Inglewood.

Pell sat on the College of Consultors meeting in July 1977 that sent Ridsdale to his next parish, Edenhope. That didn’t work out so well either. Eventually, Ridsdale would be convicted of abusing 13 children at Edenhope.

Pell was at the consultors’ meeting in September 1979 that discussed Ridsdale’s resignation from Edenhope and the meeting in January 1980 that approved sending the priest to the National Pastoral Institute in Elsternwick. Gail Furness SC, counsel assisting the royal commission, had this exchange about the transfer with Father Bill Melican, another of the priests present at that meeting:

Q. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, from what we do know, that that was to get him out of parish work?

A. Yes.

Q. Essentially, to keep him away from children?

A. Yes.

Q. And that was known to the consultors at that time?

A. Yes.

Pell was an apology the day the consultors met to send Ridsdale to Mortlake in 1981 where for most of his brief stay he lived openly with a young boy in the presbytery. Other children were abused. Complaints poured in to Mulkearns from parents, the local doctor and the nun who ran the parish school.

Mortlake convinced Mulkearns it was time to shift Ridsdale out of the diocese and out of Victoria. Pell was one of the consultors at a meeting in September 1982 when the bishop announced Ridsdale would take a desk job in the Catholic Enquiry Centre in Sydney. Even there Ridsdale kept offending.

Pell claims that in all his time in Ballarat he never learnt Ridsdale was a paedophile. At a remarkable press conference in Sydney in 2002 he claimed not to have been aware of Ridsdale’s crimes until shortly before the priest pleaded guilty to the first of 30 charges of child abuse in Melbourne in 1993.

Pell has never been cross-examined on this claim.

Last year he said he could not recollect Mulkearns raising any paedophilia allegations against Ridsdale at, before or after the meetings of the College of Consultors over all those years.

He added: “I never moved Ridsdale out of Mortlake parish. I never moved him anywhere. I would never have condoned or participated in a decision to transfer Ridsdale in the knowledge that he had abused children, and I did not do so. I was a member of the College of Consultors for Ballarat from 1977 until I left Ballarat in 1984. Membership of the consultors gave me no authority over Gerald Ridsdale or any other priest in Ballarat.”

The curia

In 1987 Pell became an auxiliary bishop of Melbourne serving under Archbishop Frank Little. In the territory of Pell’s responsibilities – from Mornington peninsula up to the Dandenongs – were three parishes run by paedophiles the subject of complaints to the church going back many, many years.

Father Peter Searson in Doveton was violent, packed a gun and terrified children. Father Kevin O’Donnell in Oakleigh was a ceaseless paedophile. Police would later call him a “two-a-day man”. Father Ronald Pickering in Gardenvale left a trail of wrecked kids across Melbourne until he did a flit to England one night in 1993.

How much Pell admits knowing about these priests is not clear. Certainly, he had none of them removed. He told the Victorian parliamentary enquiry: “When I was auxiliary bishop of Melbourne I was not a part of the system or procedures for dealing with paedophilia.”

Next week he is bound to face questioning about that. What was the true scope of his responsibilities in these years? He did not have the power to hire and fire but Catholic observers are surprised Pell would declare dealing with paedophile priests in his parishes was outside the remit of an auxiliary bishop.

Pell claims Archbishop Little kept his auxiliaries in the dark. The junior bishops sat with Little and his Vicar General on the curia of the archdiocese, in effect its board of governors. But Pell says Little kept from them details of his dealings with offenders like O’Donnell in Oakleigh.

“Archbishop Little never spoke to nobody about this,” Pell told the Victorian parliamentary inquiry. “At the meetings – what we used to call the curia of the assistant bishops – he never once raised the issue, and he never raised the issue with me personally.”

But Bishop Peter Connors, another of the auxiliary bishops in Pell’s time, has given evidence to the royal commission that “cases in my region of a sexual nature, either with the boundary violation or with molestation of a child … would have been raised at the meeting of curia.”

He is backed by Bishop Hilton Deakin, another auxiliary bishop on curia in these years. Deakin has given evidence that the curia and other church committees on which Pell sat examined, among other cases, that of Searson whom he described as “the most despicable man I’ve ever met in my life”.


This raw housing commission parish had seen a number of bad priests but Searson was the worst. The church had been dealing with complaints about the man for 30 years. He was clearly and profoundly disturbed, erratic and violent. He stole parish funds. He hit altar boys and hung round their toilet block at the little parish school. Children fled his presbytery screaming.

Pell told the Victorian parliamentary inquiry: “This is one case where we consistently tried to do everything right.”

The headmaster of the school begged for Searson to be removed. The church removed the headmaster. A delegation of teachers came to Pell in 1989 begging him to remove Searson. Nothing happened.

The priest’s behaviour grew more extreme. A little girl claimed he sat her on his knee for confession and she felt his erection pressed against her. Her parents didn’t go to the police.

Pell claims the church was “unable to pin anything on the man”. This was despite investigations by the police, the Catholic Education Office and lawyers hired by the church – though the lawyers weren’t asked to dig out the facts but “evaluate what was done and whether it was done properly.”

A second delegation came to Pell in 1991 to warn him, in the words of one of the teachers “of the danger to children”. But Pell remembers them merely complaining “in general terms” that the priest was “extremely difficult to deal with and disliked by parents, staff and children”.

But he took the matter to the curia and Little directed him to have a talk to the priest. “It was,” Pell reports, “a most unpleasant conversation.” And that was that – despite evidence to the royal commission by Deakin of highly detailed written accounts of Searson’s appalling behaviour reaching the church at this time.

Pell did not fire the priest on becoming archbishop. Indeed, he jumped to his defence one night at the troubled parish of Oakleigh, the scene of O’Donnell’s depredations. When parishioners raised Searson’s name, the new archbishop snapped: “It’s all gossip and I don’t listen to gossip.”

About this time Searson bashed an altar boy for giggling during Mass. His parents went to the police. A second boy corroborated the evidence of the first and Searson was charged with assault. In March 1997 the priest was finally suspended from his duties in Doveton.

Pell made the point to the Victorian parliamentary inquiry: “He has never been convicted of a sex crime. He was convicted for an act of cruelty.”

David Ridsdale

Among Father Gerald Ridsdale’s victims was his nephew David. Unaware the police were already closing in on the priest, David Ridsdale rang Pell in February 1993. Their families were friends from Ballarat. He thought the auxiliary bishop might be able to do something tactful and effective to stop his uncle.

Pell knew the priest was about to be charged. The church was going all out in his defence. He would have the church’s solicitors at his disposal and a shrewd, senior criminal barrister. Pell would walk him to court. No Melbourne priest accused of paedophile abuse before or since would have such backing.

David Ridsdale has never wavered in his account of his conversation with Pell. He says, the auxiliary bishop asked: “I want to know what it will take to keep you quiet.” Ridsdale says he replied: “Fuck you and fuck everything you stand for.”

He immediately told his sisters, “The bastard tried to offer me a bribe.” And then rang the police. Gerald Ridsdale was charged the following day with the first of what would be hundreds of charges involving up to 78 victims. At this rate he will die in prison.

More ink has been spilled on this telephone conversation than perhaps any other incident in Pell’s career. Pell has repeatedly denied he offered young Ridsdale a bribe and repeatedly asserted his caller mistook his pastoral intentions.

Last year, Pell broke with the church’s legal team in order to cross-examine a handful of the witnesses against him. Chief among these was David Ridsdale. But he was unshaken by the questioning of barrister Sam Duggan.

“I want to suggest that this conversation that you have recorded here never happened,” Duggan said. “No, utterly,” replied Ridsdale. “That is as clear to me as the first time my uncle forced me onto his penis. These are things that stick. They changed my life.”

Troublesome priests

Pell became archbishop of Melbourne in July 1996 and set about addressing the scandals of abuse in his archdiocese by establishing a church commission he called the Melbourne Response.

He and his supporters advance this as proof that Pell was championing the cause of victims. Perhaps, but the then premier of Victoria, Jeff Kennett, had threatened him with a royal commission by if he didn’t put the church’s house in order.

His response offered investigation and counselling but – unlike the response soon implemented by the Catholic church in the rest of Australia – set low, capped limits on payouts to victims. It would save his archdiocese many millions of dollars.

The royal commission has already quizzed Pell about the Melbourne Response. Next week he may be quizzed about other aspects of his conduct as archbishop of Melbourne, particularly his failure to dismiss – or break ties with – a number of questionable priests.

There was Searson who took months to fire, and Father Barry Robinson who had fled Boston rather than prove – as he claimed – that the boy he was having sex with was over the age of consent. Pell gave him a Melbourne parish where he served – apparently blamelessly – until the Boston Globe broke his story in 2004.

And then there was Ronald Pickering. Everyone knew Pickering drank and had a vile temper, but he put on a fine mass with lots of bells, smells, Latin and children’s choirs. The choir and the altar were his hunting ground.

Genevieve Grant, a young teacher at St James Primary School, says she tried to warn Pell about Pickering in 1989. He says: “No teacher spoke to me alleging sexual improprieties by Father Pickering on students.”

Four years later Pickering disappeared one night from his parish after, according to the Age, “a senior person in Victoria’s Catholic hierarchy” tipped him off that one of his victims was about to sue.

Pickering hid in England. The Melbourne archdiocese seems never to have investigated allegations that came to light about Pickering. The Catholic Insurance Office could never get hold of him. Every month, Pell paid the fugitive the modest stipend of a retired priest.

“I was obliged in canon law to do that,” he told the Victorian parliamentary inquiry. “And I did that.” But his successor Archbishop Denis Hart took a different view. He immediately stopped the payments. Pickering died in England in 2009.

Pell returns to the box

It will be late night in Rome when Pell gives his evidence next week. This was his choice. He will be on the far side of the world but sitting with a contingent of survivors in a four-star hotel outside the Vatican walls.

This is the royal commission’s last chance to make sense of the confused and often contested accounts of Pell’s handling of the paedophile crisis in his church. And Pell knows that however much his word may count within his church, the commission has already shown a degree of scepticism about this testimony.

And if Pell expresses, as he is bound to express, his profound regret at the inaction of the hierarchy in Australia during his long career that saw him rise to one of the highest offices in his church, the commission might ask him a simple question: if you wanted to protect children and those around you would not act, why didn’t you call the police?

Buy girl scout cookies, lots of them

Maureen Fiedler, SL
National Catholic Reporter
February 25, 2016

Some days I wonder if some bishops have enough work to keep them busy. Of course, there are enough egregious actions in the public square that truly deserve a religious critique.

But who does one bishop target? The Girl Scouts! Yup, you read it correctly: Girl Scouts! That is what Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis did recently. He wrote a letter to the archdiocese warning about the dangers lurking behind the Girl Scout organization and telling parishes not to host meetings of their troops.

Why isn't he speaking out against Donald Trump's bigotry? Or rallying people to have the U.S. accept more refugees from the Middle East? Or working for immigration reform? Or against income inequality? Or maybe emulating Pope Francis' concern for the poor?

But no, he thinks that the real culprit is the Girl Scouts. He mentioned that they have connections with groups like Amnesty International (which promotes human rights around the globe), the Coalition for Adolescent Girls (which champions the education and welfare of adolescent girls worldwide) and Oxfam (which is working to end poverty worldwide). Sounds to me like he might want to consult with Pope Francis about his priorities.

Carlson also says that the Girl Scouts put forward women like Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan as role models (prominent feminists who champion the rights of women). Personally, I think they make great role models for young women in the ongoing quest for gender equality.

And apparently, some groups that favor a woman's right to choose either abortion or birth control contribute to the Girl Scouts. And you know what? I'll bet that some cookie buyers are pro-choice too! And you have to watch out for those cookie buyers!

So, how should Catholics in St. Louis and nationally respond? Buy Girl Scout cookies! Buy lots of them! Make this their best year ever!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Pope opens the door to contraception in averting harmful effects of Zika virus

Tracy Wilkinson
Los Angeles Time
February 18, 2016

After ending a dramatic tour of Mexico, Pope Francis on Thursday seemed to open the door for limited use of artificial contraception, long prohibited by the Roman Catholic Church, to prevent pregnancies at risk from the disastrous, fast-spreading Zika virus.

Speaking to reporters aboard his flight from Mexico's Ciudad Juarez to Rome, Francis was asked if a "lesser evil" — abortion or contraception — could be permitted to prevent the disease from harming a fetus. Researchers believe Zika may be linked to serious birth defects, such as debilitating under-formation of the brain, and hundreds of cases have been reported in Latin America.

Under no circumstances, Francis said, should abortion be considered a "lesser evil," and he said the procedure should be avoided at all cost. “It is a crime, [killing] one person to save another,” he said. "That is something that the Mafia does ... an absolute evil."

However, preventing a pregnancy that was in danger of being exposed to Zika might be allowable, he said, but only if it would most certainly prevent a pregnancy at risk.

"Avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil," Francis said. He cited Pope Paul VI's decision in the early 1960s to allow religious women facing rape during upheaval in the Belgian Congo to use contraception.

However, in the milestone 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, Paul VI banned use of birth control under normal circumstances. The church teaches that procreation is one of the most important duties of married couples.

The Vatican has been criticized in the past for taking a hard line against the use of condoms to stop the spread of AIDS, especially in Africa and Asia. In most of Latin America, where Zika is most common, abortion is illegal and birth control can be hard to come by.

In all of Mexico and Central America, it is only in Mexico City, where the pope just visited, that abortion can be obtained on demand.

Some countries, such as Nicaragua, ban it in all cases, including rape, incest and the health of the pregnant woman or girl.

Latin American bishops have become more conservative in recent times, and it was unclear what they would say about what appears to be a new opening voiced by the pope.

What Francis said he really wanted to happen is for "doctors to do everything possible to find a vaccination for this disease."

The pope answered a wide range of questions at a rambling news conference, touching on Donald Trump and his plans to build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico and on recent revelations that Pope John Paul II sustained a long, loving but apparently platonic relationship with a married woman.

On John Paul's friendship with American-Polish philosopher Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, the pope was a supporter. "A man who does not know how to have a friendly rapport with a woman," he said, "is missing something," adding that he often consults women for their opinions.

Two Mexican reporters asked about what many in Mexico saw as glaring omissions in the pontiff's dozen or so prepared speeches: the 43 college students kidnapped and presumably killed by corrupt authorities, and the clergy sexual abuse scandal as represented by the late Mexican priest Marcial Maciel.

Maciel, a Mexican-born priest who founded the Legion of Christ, stepped down as head of the order after having been implicated in a broad array of sex abuse allegations involving boys and young men. It was also revealed that he had fathered up to six children before his death in 2008.

Francis took exception to the criticism. He noted he had repeatedly cited the plights of murdered and missing Mexicans and the corruption of government officials and business entrepreneurs in terrorizing and repressing the most downtrodden of society.

The families of the 43 had said they wanted a private meeting with the pope, and when that was not granted, some said they would not attend his Masses. Francis said there had been internal disputes among the many organizations representing Mexico's more than 25,000 missing people and that he thought the best solution was to invite all to the final Mass at the border Wednesday in Ciudad Juarez.

"Mexican society is victim of all of this, of crimes, of 'cleansing' people, of throwing them away," he said. "It is a very large pain that I carry with me, because these people do not deserve a drama like this."

On priest abuse, Francis had forceful words for bishops who simply transfer pederast priests from parish to parish, as has often been the case. "They should resign, clear?"

He said his predecessors, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, had condemned abuse and moved to make reforms. Activists, however, say the church acted woefully late and that abuse and coverups continue today.

As for Maciel, who fathered children and lived the high life, the powerful, conservative congregation he created, the Legion of Christ, has been overhauled, the pope said.

He was pointed, though, in his condemnation of child sex abuse by clerics.

"It's a monstrosity," he said. "Because a priest is consecrated to bring a child to God. And if he consumes him in a diabolical sacrifice, it destroys him."

'Catholic doesn't sell': Mount St. Mary's president refuses to resign as controversy grows

Lisa Bourne
Life Site News
February 16, 2016

More allegations have surfaced at the nation's second oldest Catholic college after controversial actions and statements in recent weeks and months from its president, this time with him disparaging students and Catholic identity.

An uproar occurred after two tenured professors at Mount St. Mary's University in Maryland were fired February 8, seemingly for criticizing the policies of the school's new president, former business executive Simon Newman. The university's provost, David Rehm, who had also disagreed with Newman, was removed earlier from that role, though he remained on the faculty.

More than 2,400 academics from across the country had signed an online Academics' Statement of Protest as of February 10, objecting to the faculty members' dismissal and demanding their swift reinstatement.

Effective last Friday, the professors had been reinstated. But the controversy continues, with calls for Newman's removal amid the new charges.

Newman, appointed in 2014, drew the initial criticism in the fall semester of this school year when he wanted to remove first-year students who might be struggling, apparently to preserve a positive retention rate.

When some faculty objected, according to the university's student newspaper The Mountain Echo, Newman responded that "this is hard for you because you think of the students as cuddly bunnies, but you can't. You just have to drown the bunnies … put a Glock to their heads."

Newman later admitted to the Washington Post that he made the statements, with the explanation that he intended only to acknowledge difficult conversations that have to happen sometimes.

The Mount St. Mary's board of directors issued a statement referring to what Newman said as "unfortunate" but saying, "President Newman continues to be the right kind of talented leader to be at the vanguard of Catholic higher education growth" and giving him a unanimous vote of full confidence.

Newman's answer to the reaction over the firings was a February 10 statement to parents, in which he said the university was not responding with the specific details so as to "take the high road" and stating, "It is critical that you know that we would never undertake actions like that unless the conduct in question warranted it."

Reports have since surfaced of statements made by Newman denigrating Catholic identity on campus, further stoking the controversy.

Newman apparently told a faculty member that Mount St. Mary's Catholic characteristics should not be highlighted because "Catholic doesn't sell." Newman is said as well to have complained about the presence of "too many bleeding crucifixes" in an employee's office and also to have referred to some students as "Catholic jihadis."

David McGinley, a 2011 graduate and member of the university's College of Liberal Arts Advisory Board, was concerned after an October 23, 2015 meeting between Newman and the Board, where he said Newman "showed a lack of appreciation for or desire to continue or further Catholic identity in any regards to what one would call traditional."

Similar statements were by made Newman at an August student assembly, according to the "Mount Family Speaks Out" Facebook page, which was created by students and alumni.

Mount Saint Mary's has been noted among Catholic colleges and universities in the U.S. to faithfully observe Ex corde ecclesiae, the Vatican document on Catholic identity at college-level educational institutions.

McGinley reported other derogatory comments made by Newman about Mount St. Mary's students from in his meetings with Newman.

LifeSiteNews inquired with Mount Saint Mary's University for comment on the controversy but did not hear back by press time.

In last Friday's statement from the university on reinstating the previously fired faculty, Newman said the professors have his "solemn commitment to work together to restore our relationship and our school."

Mount St. Mary's board member Father Kevin Farmer stated as well that despite calls for Newman's resignation, the Mount St. Mary's board "continues to support" him.

Further meetings by the board and the faculty are planned.

The university's student government association conducted a survey over the weekend, polling 951 students, or about 60 percent of the total student body of 1,600, according to The Baltimore Sun, with approximately 76 percent having voted in support of Newman and 24 percent voting against him.

Mount St. Mary's faculty members announced Friday that they had voted 87-3 to ask Newman to resign, something he rejected on Monday, telling a crowd of students who showed up at a rally to support him, "I'm not going to stop.

Vatican finance boss George Pell taunted over 'cowardice'

February 18, 2016

A provocative song and a public drive to raise funds to send child sex abuse victims to the Vatican have sparked fresh controversy around Australia's most senior Catholic, writes Trevor Marshallsea.

In 2014, Cardinal George Pell, the Archbishop of Sydney, was summoned to Rome to become chief of the Vatican's finances, a new position created by Pope Francis in the wake of scandals at the Vatican Bank.

But Cardinal Pell left another scandal behind him, and the anger over widespread sexual abuse of children by members of the Catholic clergy continues to rage in Australia.

The cardinal was once again under fire this week over his refusal, on medical grounds, to return home to front the Royal Commission which is investigating how various institutions responded to the child abuse allegations.

'Come home, Cardinal Pell'

Tall and imperious, seen as aloof and arrogant by detractors, the 74-year-old has repeatedly faced allegations from abuse victims of a cover-up. These include that he was involved in moving notorious paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale around parishes rather than reporting him, and that he attempted to bribe one of the victims of the now jailed priest to keep quiet.

Cardinal Pell, who studied at Oxford and was a promising Australian Rules footballer in his youth, has repeatedly denied all allegations, while expressing regret for abuse victims.

The cardinal is not facing any criminal charges, but critics say the publicity surrounding abuse which happened on his watch has made his Vatican position untenable.

It was a biting satirical song from Tim Minchin, one of Australia's best known comedians, that propelled Cardinal Pell's refusal to return to Australia back into headlines this week.

Minchin calls the cardinal a litany of names, among them "coward" and "pompous buffoon". He ends by challenging Cardinal Pell to come home, if not "by a sense of moral duty", then perhaps to "sue me".

The lyrical assault was criticised by some. Jesuit priest and human rights lawyer Father Frank Brennan told broadcaster ABC that openly mocking a key witness risked turning the commission into a laughing stock, which would damage victims.

But the song was well-received elsewhere and has been viewed more than 400,000 times on YouTube. All proceeds from it are being donated to a public funding drive that aims to send up to 15 witnesses, including abuse victims, to watch Cardinal Pell's testimony in Rome.

That funding drive, launched by presenters from Australian television show The Project, has now raised more than A$175,000 ($125,000; £87,000).

Pell responds

The cardinal was moved to hit back, saying there had been "a great deal of incorrect information".

"Cardinal Pell has always helped victims, listened to them and considered himself their ally", said a statement released by his office on Thursday. "As an archbishop for almost 20 years he has led from the front to put an end to cover-ups, to protect vulnerable people and to try to bring justice to victims."

"The cardinal is anxious to present the facts without further delays. It is ultimately a matter for the royal commission to determine the precise arrangements for the provision of evidence by the cardinal in Rome."

The cardinal has already been before the commission twice, appearing first in person regarding a single case of abuse in Sydney, and then giving evidence by video link from Rome into a second Melbourne matter.

Then last June he was called to give evidence a third time at hearings in Ballarat, a city of 100,000 people just outside Melbourne that was allegedly a hotspot of Catholic church sexual abuse.

Explosive allegations have arisen from the city where Cardinal Pell was a priest from 1973-83, at one stage living in a presbytery with Ridsdale. The cardinal initially said he would be willing to attend the commission, but later his lawyers said he was too unwell to fly to Australia due to a heart condition.

Commission chair Justice Peter McClellan in December rejected a bid that Cardinal Pell be allowed to give evidence via video link and said he should testify in person, comments which drew applause from victims at the commission hearing.

But last week Justice McLennan bowed to further medical evidence from lawyers. The cardinal is slated to begin three days of evidence by video link on 29 February.

Despite Minchin's taunts of cowardice, Cardinal Pell's critics are not expecting to see him back in Australia anytime soon.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Mount St. Mary's faculty asks president to resign by Monday morning

Susan Svrluga
Washington Post
February 12, 2016

Amid a national controversy over academic freedom, the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s University voted overwhelmingly Friday afternoon to ask President Simon Newman to resign.

In an 87-to-3 vote, the faculty in a letter asked Newman to step down by Monday morning. The faculty stopped short of a no-confidence vote, something that had been discussed during the week, choosing to ask for resignation instead.

The resolution came after weeks of turmoil on the Maryland campus, with a heated debate over how to treat new students who are at risk of dropping out — with the school’s president using language that many found brutal — and terminated faculty members who became symbols of free speech to some and disloyalty to others.

In an email Friday afternoon, David McCarthy, secretary to the faculty, said he was asked to add this comment from the faculty: “In the spirit of charity, in the interests of the well-being of ours students, and faithful to the call of our mission, we the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s issue the following statement to our president.”

McCarthy added his personal thought, as well. “I would like to say that the spirit of good will and charity expressed in the letter is why the Mount is such a wonderful community.”

University officials had announced shortly before the vote that they had reinstated two professors who were fired earlier this week.

But one of the professors disputed that, saying he has not yet been reinstated — because he hasn’t decided whether to accept.

The other said he would not accept unless the president and board chairman are no longer at the university.

Thane Naberhaus, a tenured professor, and Edward Egan, a former trustee and law professor who had been the adviser to the student newspaper when articles critical of the president were written, were both escorted off campus Monday. Many viewed their terminations as retribution for opposing Newman.

The university said the terminations were not retribution, but a national outcry followed, with academics and several national groups stepping forward to promote the principle of academic freedom, which they thought had been violated. Within a few days, more than 8,000 scholars had digitally signed a petition asking for them to be reinstated.

On Friday afternoon, as faculty members met to discuss what steps to take — including consideration of a no-confidence vote in the president — Egan got a phone call.

It was Newman, he said. By his account, the president said, “because it’s the year of mercy, I am reinstating you.”

Egan was stunned. He said he told Newman he would have to think about that.

And then he drove to the campus — still unsure whether he would be escorted back off — and walked into the faculty meeting.

Ed Egan walked into the faculty meeting, according to another professor who was there, and when people told him he had been reinstated, he said no – he was considering it. He told them Newman had said it was because it was the year of mercy, as if Egan had done something wrong, as if the students had done something wrong and were in need of mercy.

He said it was an attempt to placate the faculty. And he said reinstating the two of them doesn’t make any of the other problems go away. “Simon Newman needs to show mercy on Mount St. Mary’s, and resign.”

Then he told them he loved them and he left.

In a press release from the university before the vote, officials wrote that Newman “announced today at a faculty meeting that he was reinstating Professor Thane Naberhaus and Mr. Edward Egan as employees of the University as a first step of reconciliation and healing in the Season of Lent and the Year of Mercy.

The reinstatement is effective immediately.”

Newman said, in the release, “We will work to implement the initiatives we agree are important for our students’ future and our university’s future. And most importantly, eliminate the feelings of fear and injustice that any may be harboring, work through our misunderstandings, and make a new beginning as a unified team. You have my solemn commitment to work together to restore our relationship and our school.”

The Rev. Kevin Farmer, a board member, who also spoke at the faculty meeting, said in the release, “The board continues to support President Newman. We embrace his vision for the future of the university and believe he is the best person to carry it out. We have every desire to resolve the tension on campus and move forward together.”

Newman’s tenure at the private 2,300-student university in Maryland was divisive before this firestorm. He was appointed in 2015, replacing a longtime president, and he proposed sweeping changes to the school. Those ideas struck some as necessary, modern and important, and others as a fundamental blow to the heart of its long-held Catholic, nurturing, liberal-arts identity.

Simon Newman, president of Mount St. Mary's University Simon Newman, president of Mount St. Mary’s University. Newman, who graduated from the University of Cambridge and the Stanford Graduate School of Business, worked in finance before coming to the Mount, and his blunt talk and market-driven approach were jarring to some in academia, but refreshing to others. He talked about dramatically increasing enrollment, fundraising, raising its profile, adding cybersecurity courses and ensuring that students graduated and were able to launch successful careers. He announced cuts to retirement benefits that upset some.

But the controversy really began when the school’s student newspaper, the Mountain Echo, wrote that the president’s effort to retain more students included a plan to identify freshmen at risk of dropping out several weeks into the semester and encouraging them to leave. The president said it was a small part of a larger effort to keep students there, and that he would offer those who left a tuition refund. But when a professor resisted providing a list of at-risk students so early on, Newman told him there would be collateral damage and that “this is hard for you because you think of the students as cuddly bunnies, but you can’t. You just have to drown the bunnies … put a Glock to their heads.”

Newman later apologized for his choice of words and explained the goals of his retention program and the importance of targeting and intervening early in a piece he wrote for The Post.

Many were shocked and upset by the story. Some were angry that private conversations and emails had been made public.

The Cardinal Newman Society, which promotes Catholic education, wrote in a public statement Friday of concerns at the university, which it has previously strongly endorsed. “It is the position of The Cardinal Newman Society that any plan to weed out matriculated students without first providing substantial assistance and demonstrating a sincere commitment to the students’ personal formation and well-being would be contrary to a university’s Catholic identity.”

No students left the school as a result of the survey or its findings. The board chairman, who did not respond to requests for an interview Friday, wrote in a public statement last month of the “forensic investigation” they had conducted after the story was published in January. He praised the retention program, despite its startup problems, he wrote, and found it fully in keeping with their Catholic values.

“It takes an innovative approach that includes gathering and analyzing information from a range of sources, including our faculty, whom we have trained on how to have rich, supportive conversations with students.”

He wrote that the president’s “inappropriate metaphor” had been taken out of context and mischaracterized.

And he wrote that they had found something deeply troubling: an organized, small group of faculty and recent alumni working to force Newman out. “This group’s issues are born out of a real resistance to positive change at Mount St. Mary’s.” The board had, after learning of the article, voted unanimously its full confidence in Newman.

After the sudden termination Monday, Naberhaus, the professor with tenure, was surprised Wednesday by a letter offering a chance at reconciliation, which said that he remained on the payroll and was suspended.

Naberhaus said he found it baffling.

On Friday, Naberhaus said he got a voicemail message from Newman asking him to call back. He hadn’t done so yet at 5 p.m. Friday but, he said, “I’m not interested in having my job back until the president’s gone.”

A couple of professors said after the meeting Friday said they felt their vote had reflected the true spirit of the Mount: Charity, compassion, and community.

Friday, February 12, 2016

'Finally, brother' Pope Francis says in historic meeting with Russian Orthodox patriarch

Tracy Wilkinson
Los Angeles Times
February 12, 2016

Pope Francis on Friday crossed the Atlantic Ocean and then a millennium of division and distrust when he traveled to Cuba and met with the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.

It was the first encounter ever between the heads of two of the largest branches of the Christian faith, whose estrangement for 1,000 years represents the deepest East-West divide in Christianity.

It came about partly to draw urgent attention to the increasingly dire plight of Christians of all stripes in the Middle East and Africa, where they are being murdered and displaced by Islamic fundamentalists.

Cuban President Raul Castro received Francis after his plane touched down; shortly thereafter, the pope and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia began their meeting with an embrace, three kisses on their cheeks, and then settled into large side-by-side chairs.

"Finally, brother," Francis said to Kirrill, bearded and dressed in flowing black robes.

After the 2 1/2-hour meeting, both said they had talks about unity and their responsibility for "the future of Christianity and of civilization itself," as Kirrill, speaking in Russian, put it.

"We spoke as brothers. We share the same baptism. We are both bishops," Francis said, speaking in Spanish and addressing the patriarch as "your holiness."

Afterward, Pope Francis continued his trip to Mexico City, where he will spend nearly a week symbolically tracing the path of migrants and bringing comfort to an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic Mexican population besieged by violence, drug war and official corruption.

The first pontiff from the Americas has made rapprochement a cornerstone of his three-year-old papacy, and mending rifts among Christians is key to that mission.

“The pope is nurturing a culture of encounter and dialogue,” said the Rev. Jean-Pierre Ruiz, associate professor of theology and religious studies at St. John’s University in New York. “He wants to show that this is really the only alternative to the adversarial relationship that leads to conflict.”

The Russian patriarch’s motives, however, may be more complicated. Serious disputes remain between the two religions, including the primacy of the pope. It is widely assumed that Kirill would not have agreed to the meeting without the approval, perhaps even the urging, of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has largely coopted the church to his political needs.

The Russian church may be hoping to give a boost to Putin at a time when he is facing ostracizing and bitter criticism by much of the West because of Moscow’s military operations in Syria, Ukraine and elsewhere.

“To have the Roman pope, with his internationally recognized authority, not as a critic but as an ally or at least simply as a neutrally silent figure, is highly attractive to Putin and his associates,” said Yury Avvakumov, a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame and specialist in Russian and Ukrainian theology.

“The Moscow Patriarchate has always been an instrument of Russian international policy. Today … [it] remains an effective transmitter worldwide of the political interests of the Russian rulers.”

The rivalry between Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy dates to the early centuries of Christianity as it spread across the Roman Empire, with Latin rites dominating Europe, while Greek-speaking clerics moving eastward from what is today Turkey. Eventually states throughout the Byzantine Empire, from the Balkans all the way to the far reaches of Russia, had Orthodox patriarchs.

By the 11th century, the rivalry had become bitter and at times violent. In 1054, in what is known as the Great Schism, the Catholic Church loyal to the pope in Rome split from the Orthodox Church, led by the patriarch in what was then Constantinople. Pope Leo IX and Patriarch Michael Cerularius issued mutual excommunications, and the division was complete.

'A new kind of pope' is making a pilgrimage to Mexico

At the heart of the dispute was papal primacy — the idea that the pope be considered a sort of supreme leader of all Christians — as well as doctrinal disagreements. Even today, the churches have different practices. Roman Catholic priests, for example, take a vow of celibacy, while Orthodox churches allowed married men to be ordained into the priesthood.

Over the centuries that followed, Orthodox churches often became allied with governments or with nationalistic causes. Hence, the Russian Orthodox Church’s close ties with Putin. During the Balkan wars of the 1990s, it was not unusual to see Serbian Orthodox priests in the battlefield blessing Serbian troops.

There have been periodic, usually thwarted efforts to heal the schism. The first most successful step came in 1964, when Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople (now Istanbul) visited Jerusalem together and, the following year, lifted the excommunications.

That allowed significant progress in relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church. Leaders attended the others’ religious holiday ceremonies, and current Patriarch Bartholomew I of Istanbul, “first among equals” of the Orthodox patriarchs, has had friendly ties with Francis and his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.

The Russians have always kept their distance, however, and détente only soured in the 1990s with the fall of the Soviet Union, which opened Russia to other faiths and, in the Russian Orthodox view, unwanted proselytizing.

“For years, they’ve talked about this, and come close a couple of times,” said the Rev. Ron Roberson, who handles ecumenical affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “All along, the Catholics were more positive than the Russians. The Russians kept saying more issues needed to be resolved for any meeting to be fruitful.”

A key problem were the Catholic churches that maintained Eastern rites and, in one case, were particularly active in Ukraine. While the Vatican insisted they were merely ministering to small Catholic communities in Ukraine, the Russian Orthodox Church accused them of stealing converts.

Even as it joined the Vatican last week in announcing Friday’s historic meeting, the Russian Orthodox Church cited the Roman Catholic churches in Ukraine as a “never-healing, bleeding wound that prevents full normalization of relations” between the two faiths.

The Russian Orthodox Church became especially politicized under Putin. He used the church to bulk up his standing at home, portraying himself as pious while using the church to crush dissent through laws that punished those who had purportedly offended the church but who in fact were being critical of the Russian leadership. Putin also met with Francis, in another effort to erode his isolation by the West; he may see reconciliation between the churches as another step in his positioning as a world power to be respected.

Around two-thirds of the world’s Orthodox Christians, roughly 200 million people, belong to the Russian church, making it the largest as well as the wealthiest. The Roman Catholic Church claims 1.2 billion adherents worldwide.

The selection of Cuba as the venue for Friday’s meeting also spoke volumes. Far from both Rome and Moscow, a “neutral” territory that is nevertheless of special importance to both sides, the communist-ruled island is officially atheistic. But it has been trying to burnish a reputation of late as being more tolerant of religious practices, and of importance to the world of diplomacy.

Francis was instrumental in bringing Washington and Havana together to agree to restore diplomatic ties in late 2014 after a half-century of animosity. And Cuba, once a client state of the Soviet Union, continues to have close ties to Russia.

After years of attempting to make Friday’s meeting come about, the schedules of the two religious leaders coincided, with Kirill on a previously scheduled tour of Latin America and Francis on his way to Mexico, Vatican officials said.

After 1,000 years, Roberson said, “It was the right place, the right time.”

Reform groups accuse Switzerland's nuncio of publicly criticizing Pope Francis

Christa Pongratz-Lippitt
National Catholic Reporter
February 12, 2016

Twelve Catholic reform groups have accused the papal nuncio in Switzerland, U.S. Archbishop Thomas Gullickson, of publicly criticizing Pope Francis and have called on the Swiss bishops' conference to proclaim that the Swiss church is fully committed to the Second Vatican Council.

The reform groups have formed an alliance entitled "Enough is Enough," and have warned the Swiss bishops that religious peace in Switzerland is endangered. "We are seriously concerned that the nuncio is splitting the Swiss church," the alliance says in its letter to the bishops.

Alliance member Markus Arnold, the head of the Religious Education Department at Lucerne University, has also written to Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann asking the president "not to allow Gullickson to have a long-term, poisonous effect on the climate in Switzerland. We have enough problems with religious fanaticism as it is. We do not need a nuncio who wants to revive this fanaticism in the Catholic church."

Arnold asked the president to ask the Swiss government to intervene with the Holy See.

Alliance member Erwin Koller, the president of the Herbert-Haag-Foundation for Freedom in the Church which awards the Herbert Hague Prize, told that "the way Gullickson is opposing Pope Francis is offensive. If a Swiss diplomat had said such things about the Swiss government, he would long since have been dismissed."

The Swiss Catholic Women's Association, which is also a member of the alliance, has appealed to member of Parliament Doris Leuthard in a letter pointing out that as it is highly unlikely that Gullickson will change, he should be moved.

Gullickson, 65, is a keen blogger and Twitter-user and is not shy about openly expressing his opinions in the social media. He calls himself an "ultramontanist -- and proud to be one" and makes no secret of the fact that he sympathizes with the schismatic Society of St. Pius X. In several tweets, he has praised the elitism of St. Pius X priests.

Ordained in Sioux Falls, S.D., Gullickson previously served as nuncio to the Caribbean states as well as Ukraine, before he was appointed to Switzerland by Pope Francis in September 2015.

He clashed with the well-known former Abbot of Einsiedeln, Martin Werlen, on Twitter last October. Werlen had expressed his astonishment that "a nuncio disseminates blogs which accuse the German bishops' conference of being heretical and has a predilection for linking ultra-conservative texts in his blogspot."

Gullickson also operates a press review website on which he points to texts which demand the reintroduction of the Old Rite or in which Society of St. Pius X seminary dean, Franz Schmidberger, attacks the church hierarchy.

"The Second Vatican Council clearly condemned the anti-liberalism of the Pius popes and unambiguously committed itself to human rights," Koller told "If Gullickson is against the council, then he should join the SSPX, but he has no right to present such positions in the name of the church or the pope respectively.

G9 meeting: decentralization and the new dicasteries

Vatican Radio
February 9, 2016

The latest meeting of the Council of Cardinals, Pope Francis’ closest advisers, ended on Tuesday. During their meetings, the cardinals discussed the theme of ‘synodality’ and Pope Francis’ call at last year’s Synod of Bishops for the Church to move towards “a healthy decentralization.” The other main item on the agenda was a discussion and approval of the cardinals’ final proposals concerning the two new dicasteries that are being set up within the Roman Curia.

Pope Francis attended all three sessions, held on Monday morning and afternoon and on Tuesday morning. Often called the G-9, the Council of Cardinals is a group of cardinals chosen by the Pope to advise him on governing the Church and reforming the Roman Curia. It meets at regular intervals.

At a briefing following the end of this meeting, Father Federico Lombardi, the Director of the Holy See’s Press Office, summarized the main issues discussed.

Father Lombardi said the first session of the G-9 discussed the issues raised during the Pope’s keynote speech at the Synod of Bishops on October 17th 2015. This speech reflected on the theme of synodality within the Church and spoke of the need “to proceed towards a healthy decentralization” and Father Lombardi said this call by the Pope remains an importance reference point for the ongoing work of reforming the Curia.

The next item on the G-9’s agenda was the reading and the approval of the cardinals’ final proposals concerning the two new dicasteries that are being set up as part of the reforms of the Curia. The two new dicasteries are “Laity, Family and Life” and “Justice, Peace and Migration” and the cardinals’ proposals were approved and then handed over to the Pope who will take the final decision.

Father Lombardi said the G-9 cardinals are still in the throes of discussing planned reforms for two other dicasteries: the Secretariat of State and the Congregation for Divine Worship. He defined this as still “a work in progress.”

Turning next to the work of the Commission for the Protection of Minors, Father Lombardi said the Commission’s head, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, gave an update on the commission’s activities and the proposals he has put forward for the safeguarding of children. Cardinal O’Malley said questions of a juridical and disciplinary nature will be the object of further studies by experts in this field.

As is normal at the G-9 meetings, Cardinal George Pell, Prefect of the new Secretariat for the Economy updated the cardinals on the reforms being carried out concerning the economic affairs of the Holy See and the Roman Curia.

In conclusion, the G-9 cardinals received documentation on the so-called vade mecum or reference manual drawn up by the Tribunal of the Roman Rota for putting into practice the reforms of the canonical process concerning the validity of marriages. The vade mecum will be sent to dioceses around the world.

Friday, February 5, 2016

"Justice has been served" - Bishop Conley on why he invited Bishop Finn to Lincoln

Catholic News Service
February 5, 2016

Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln defended his decision to allow Bishop Robert Finn, former bishop of Kansas City, Mo., to take a position as chaplain of a community of religious sisters in the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb. saying that justice for his past negligence “has been served.”

“The Church in Lincoln is committed to serving and protecting our people,” Bishop Conley said in a Feb. 4 column in the Lincoln Journal-Star. “We will do that without further punishing those who have already met the demands of justice.”

In September 2012, Bishop Finn was convicted on a misdemeanor count of failure to report suspected child abuse after he and his diocese did not disclose that lewd images of children had been found on a laptop belonging to Fr. Shawn Ratigan, a priest of the Diocese of Kansas City, in December 2010.

Bishop Finn was sentenced to two years’ probation for failing to report suspected abuse and he retired from his position as bishop in April 2015.

“Because of serious acts of negligence under his leadership, Bishop Finn faced serious penalties,” Bishop Conley said.

“He faced a criminal court, and served the sentence he was given. He resigned his leadership position in the Church. He also accepted responsibility for his actions, and he has expressed sincere regret to those whom his negligence may have harmed,” he added.

In December 2015, Bishop Conley announced that he was inviting Bishop Finn to serve as a chaplain for a community of religious sisters who are long-time friends of his and who reside in the Diocese of Lincoln.

Allowing Bishop Finn to serve as chaplain for a community of religious sisters will in no way place him in “a position of authority, administration, or oversight.”

“He has a purely religious role, in an appropriate adult setting, which he has undertaken in humility,” Bishop Conley said. “Bishop Finn has not ever been accused of sexual abuse of children. His ministry as chaplain does not represent an issue for anyone’s safety.”

Since he became Bishop of Lincoln in 2012, Bishop Conley says that the safe-environment and child-protection policies in the diocese have undergone a “systematic review” from an independent review board made up of experts in criminal justice, psychology and education “to recommend enhancements to our background checks and training programs.”

He reassured parents that the Diocese of Lincoln is “fully compliant with the child-protection laws of Nebraska and the child protection policies of the Catholic Church.”

Some critics are angered by Bishop Finn being invited to spend his retirement in the diocese, which Bishop Conley said is “understandable,” especially for those who are themselves victims of sexual abuse or have relatives who are.

“Their pain is real, and the Church has an on-going duty to help them heal,” he said.

However, he added, Bishop Finn has paid for his negligence and justice has been served. To further punish him by refusing to allow him to spend retirement serving a community of religious sisters is not justice, “it is malice.”

“... those who have acknowledged and paid the penalty for past actions, who seek to serve in humility, and who pose no on- going danger to anyone, have a right not be harassed and disparaged once justice is served,” he said. “To do otherwise is not justice; it is malice. And it is not worthy of our community.”

The Diocese of Lincoln has extended an invitation to meet with these critics, which has been turned down.

In a first, Francis to meet Russian Orthodox patriarch during Mexico trip

Joshua J. McElwee
National Catholic Reporter
February 5, 2016

Pope Francis is to meet this month with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, in the first such meeting between a Roman Catholic pontiff and a leader of the Russian Orthodox church and in an unprecedented push for wider Christian unity.

The pope will make the visit Feb. 12 during a previously unannounced layover in Cuba just before continuing with his scheduled February visit to Mexico, Vatican spokesman Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi announced Friday.

The Vatican and the Moscow patriarchate said in a release that the meeting "will be the first in history and will mark an important stage in relations between the two churches."

Beyond an encounter between two Christian leaders, the February meeting also signals a significant and historic move toward wider Christian unity between the long-separated Eastern and Western churches.

It will come only months before the expected opening in June of the first Synod meeting of the various Orthodox churches in more than a thousand years, which has been threatened by differences of opinion between the Russian and other Orthodox leaders.

Vatican spokesman Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi told reporters at the Vatican Friday that Francis and Kirill are expected to meet for about two hours Feb. 12, and that both leaders would make short public remarks during the encounter. They also plan to sign some sort of joint declaration, said Lombardi.

The spokesman said the meeting has "extraordinary importance," and that Vatican officials had been working to organize the event for about two years.

Both former popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI had tried to organize meetings with the Russian patriarchs of their eras, especially after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, but had failed for a variety of reasons.

Francis told reporters in November 2014 while returning from a visit to Turkey that he had reached out to Kirill for a meeting, telling the Russian: "I'll go wherever you want. You call me and I'll go."

Friday’s release from the Vatican and the patriarchate said both hope the February meeting will “be a sign of hope for all people of good will.”

Cuba seems a unique choice as the meeting place for the two Christian leaders, as the Communist nation is officially atheist. Lombardi said the island country had been chosen because Kirill had already been planning to undertake a visit there in February.

But the choice of Cuba also fulfills a role Francis had asked the country to perform during his visit there last September, telling its political leaders then that the nation has a “key” value of linking together both north and south, east and west.

Unlike the Roman Catholic church -- which is organized as one entity led by the pope -- the global Orthodox churches are organized into a communion led by various patriarchs or archbishops around the world. The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, currently led by Bartholomew, acts as the “first among equals” of the churches.

The Russian Orthodox church is the largest of the churches, with some estimates putting its membership as high as 150 million. It has at times had a difficult relationship with the ecumenical patriarchate, with disputes arising over theological issues and leadership of other former Soviet bloc Orthodox churches.

The different Orthodox churches are to meet in June in Crete, in the first such meeting since the Fourth Council of Constantinople in the ninth century. The schism between the Eastern and Western churches first occurred in the year 1054.

The June meeting had first been planned to have been held in Istanbul, but Russian Orthodox leaders said the Turkish city had become “inconvenient” following the controversy over Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian fighter plane.​

Lombardi said Friday that the Feb. 12 meeting between Francis and Kirill would not cause any significant changes to the pope’s Feb. 12-18 visit to Mexico, during which the pontiff will visit six of the country’s cities.

Jesuit Fr. David Nazar, rector of Rome’s Pontifical Oriental Institute and a Ukrainian Catholic from Canada, told Catholic News Service that news of the Francis-Kirill meeting is “big news in the Year of Mercy.”

“To make a step in this direction is beautiful, but also irreversible,” said Nazar.

Especially for Catholics in Russia and Ukraine, said the priest, relations with the Russian Orthodox are complicated, including because of the close relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian government, which annexed the Crimea and is supporting fighting in Eastern Ukraine.

Nazar described his reaction to the news as “cautiously optimistic” and said he hoped it would mark “a new beginning” in Catholic-Russian Orthodox relations.