Saturday, April 30, 2016

Pell raises suspicions about suspension of PwC audit

Andrea Tornielli
Vatican Insider
April 30,2016

In an attempt to quell controversy, last 26 April, the Holy See issued a painstakingly thought out statement , assuring that the suspension of the contract signed with PwC for the general audit of the Vatican’s finances was not a sign of resistance to the financial transparency initiatives, which remains the aim of the reforms that are already underway. The statement issued by the Holy See Press Office called for a calm climate of co-operation between the institutions involved and the need to examine the contract. But two days later, on 28 April, the Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, Cardinal George Pell, who signed the contract as “Manager of the Holy See”, said that he did not believe what was written in the Vatican statement, raising suspicions about the suspension of the contract with PwC being down to dubious reasons.

A statement from Cardinal Pell’s office, released only to some Australian Catholic media , “noted with interest that the so-called ‘concerns’ about the PwC audit and contract were only raised when auditors began asking for certain financial information and were finding it difficult to get answers”. The Australian cardinal and his closest collaborators seem to have dismissed the assurances given in the statement issued by the Holy See and expressed fresh suspicions already played up by many media outlets – especially in the English-speaking world. The suspicion is that the contract was not suspended because of clause-related issues but that this constituted a fully-fledged attempt to stand in the way of transparency. This is a serious accusation that looks to intensify internal disagreement and reinforce the idea of a conflict unfolding between “goodies” (Pell and the Secretariat for the Economy” and “baddies” (the Secretariat of State, APSA and more generally the Italian Curia).

The Australian cardinal’s statement also speaks of the surprise visit Pope Francis not surprisingly wished to pay first to APSA and then to the Secretariat for the Economy on the morning of 28 Apri. This is what Pell wrote, mentioning only the visit to his own dicastery: “Pope Francis yesterday paid a visit to Cardinal George Pell and the office of the Secretariat for the Economy and all staff. At the meeting, which lasted an hour, the Holy Father said he fully supported their work and re- emphasised the ongoing need for transparency in continuing with their reforms. He also repeated the need for outside or external professional inclusion and assistance. The statement also confirmed that Cardinal Pell would be continuing his current role for the full five-year term of his appointment.”

Vatican Insider has learnt that Cardinal Pell did not attend the Pope’s meeting with the Secretariat for the Economy but only made it for the final part because he had just flown in from Amsterdam. On this occasion Mgr. Alfred Xuereb, the current secretary general of the Secretariat for the Economy, played host. Francis spent some time speaking to him even after the meeting. During the Pope’s “lively” hour-long conversation with the personnel of the Secretariat for the Economy one of the questions raised was the emergence of two groups within the Vatican: the new arrivals who are handsomely paid and work for the Holy See in addition to collaborating with external companies and the staff who already work there, do the same job but receive much lower salaries. The situation was previously addressed by Pope Francis in a letter sent to the Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, dated 14 October 2015.

Finally, it is worth noting the final point, which links the Pope’s visit to the Secretariat for the Economy to the confirmation of Pell’s full five-year term. As is commonly known, the cardinal will turn 75 on 8 June 2016: according to Canon Law, all bishops and cardinals are required to step down when they reach this age. The Pope can accept and proceed with a quick replacement, as was the case with Cardinal Mario Francesco Pompedda, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura under Benedict XVI’s pontificate. Or he can extend their period of service as was the case with the current Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Cardinal Angelo Amato, who was born on the same day as Pell but three years earlier. He is still serving. The five-year term the Australian prelate – appointed Prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy two years ago – mentions in his statement is due to end in February 2019.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Catholic bishop kidnapped, beaten in southern India

Nirmalo Cravalho
April 29, 2016

One of India’s leading Catholic prelates has denounced a brutal assault on a fellow Catholic bishop in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, calling it “unbelievable that such a violent atrocity is perpetrated on a high-ranking religious leader of a minority community.”

According to a news release issued April 28 and signed by Archbishop Thumma Bala of Hyderabad, 54-year-old Bishop Prasad Gallela of Cuddapah was assaulted by unidentified persons on Monday, April 25, while returning from a religious function at Karunagari in Kadapa district.

Bala’s statement says that Gallela and his driver were “blindfolded, forcibly confined and brutally attacked for several hours stretching through the night.”

The Hyderabad archbishop condemned “the ruthless manner” of the attack, saying that Gallela has “fully devoted his whole life to God and is totally dedicated to the service of the needy and marginalized.”

Gallela serves in a diocese with a Catholic population of 81,000, where 95 percent of Catholics are landless agricultural laborers made up of “Dalits,” meaning the “untouchables” under India’s ancient caste system. One priority for the diocese under Gallela’s leadership has been providing educational opportunities for children, especially child agricultural workers.

Bala also appealed to police and law enforcement authorities to probe the case and arrest those responsible for “the heinous crime, so that safety and security of minorities can be ensured and lives of leaders of religious communities be protected.”

Police officials have told Church leaders in the area that they have “good leads” and hope to make arrests in the case soon.

In an interview with the Union of Asian Catholic News on Friday, Gallela said that unidentified kidnappers came in two vehicles and took “me to an undisclosed location.”

“They hit me and punched me resulting in injuries all over my body. I did not resist,” Gallela told

“Police are trying to find those behind the incident,” Gallela said. He said the kidnappers repeatedly asked him about financial transactions of the diocese.

The kidnappers demanded 5 million rupees (US$75,325) and said that since “I help so many people, I should help them too,” the bishop recounted.

“When I asked who they were, they said they are from the police, but the police does not behave like this,” he said.

The prelate said that early the next day the kidnappers let him go and left him roughly 55 miles away from his diocese is based.

“They appeared to be paid goons and non-Christians from the way they talked and behaved,” Gallela told UCAN.

It was not immediately clear whether the assault was linked to India’s recent increase in anti-Christian violence, fueled largely by Hindu extremism, but activists in the country say on average there’s one physical attack on a Christian somewhere in India every other day.

Father Anthoniraj Thumma, the executive secretary and spokesman for a group called the “Federation of Telugu Churches,” told Crux it is unclear whether the attack was “communal” in nature, which is generally how Indians refer to animosities based on ethnicity, religion, or both.

“The motive is not clear yet, we are not sure if this was a communal attack,” he said. “It could even be for money.”

Thumma said Gallela has wounds on his head and his face, which are swollen, and is receiving treatment for his injuries in his residence.

Recently, Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, led two other officials in meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who came to power in 2014 backed by Hindu nationalists.

That meeting was taken as a sign of a possibly warming relationship between the country’s Christian minority and the political wing of the Hindu nationalists, the BJP party. The government’s response to the assault on Gallela may be viewed as a test for how serious any such improvement turns out to be.

Gallela was born into a family of teachers in 1962, and pursued his theological studies in India. He was ordained in 1989, serving as both a youth minister and a parish priest in the Diocese of Kurnool.

In the late 1990s, Gallela went to Rome for further studies at the Dominican-run Angelicum University, writing his doctoral thesis on “Christian Charity as Witnessed by Mother Teresa of Calcutta.”

From 2000 to 2004, Gallela served abroad in the Diocese of San Angelo, Texas, in the United States. In 2004 he returned to India to teach in a seminary, and was named Bishop of Cuddapah by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Cardinal Pell's credibility is on the line as Catholic church strikes back

David Marr
The Guardian
April 27, 2016

When George Pell dumped on Melbourne’s Catholic Education Office in March the question was: would the church strike back or hunker down behind the cardinal? On Wednesday the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse gave the answer: strike back hard.

At issue is Pell’s credit. Time and again as he has defended his record as a priest in Ballarat and bishop in Melbourne, the cardinal’s best answer to his accusers has been: my word can be trusted against yours.

That’s not looking so good now.

To recap: when Pell came to Melbourne as an auxiliary bishop in 1987 there was an erratic and violent priest called Peter Searson terrifying children at the parish school in Doveton.

He hit them. They fled screaming from the presbytery. He packed a gun. He hung round the boys’ toilet. He sat little girls on his lap during confession. He took gruesome delight in showing kids a corpse in a coffin. He stole parish funds.

Father Searson was plainly nuts, but the Catholic Education Office couldn’t get rid of him. They’d run complaints up to the then archbishop of Melbourne, Frank Little, but nothing would be done.

The headmaster of the school Graeme Sleeman gave the church an ultimatum: the priest had to go or he would. The church backed the priest. Sleeman never worked in the Catholic education system again.

Along came Pell. Doveton was in his territory. But the new bishop did nothing effective about this vicious priest despite receiving a delegation of teachers complaining about him in 1989 and another of parents in 1991.

Searson would stay in Doveton for eight more years until he bashed another altar boy whose parents went to the police. Pell was archbishop when the priest was finally sacked in 1997.

But why did he do nothing in the early years?

Giving evidence from Rome in March, the cardinal put much of the blame on the Catholic Education Office. He declared himself the victim of a coverup. He told the royal commission that when it came to Father Searson, the office had given him “no adequate background briefing on the long-term problems at all”.

Why? To protect the office, he told counsel assisting the commission, Gail Furness SC. And to protect the archbishop.

“I was a new boy on the block. I was known to be capable of being outspoken. They might have been fearful of just what line I – I would take when confronted with all the information. They were very keen to keep the lid on the situation.”

Furness called that story implausible at the time. Now four retired executives of the Catholic Education Office have come to the royal commission to describe their shock, surprise, disappointment and anger at Pell’s evidence.

“Our number one priority for the Catholic Education Office for some period of time was that something would happen which led to the removal of Searson from Doveton,” said Peter Annett, a former supervisor with the office.

“I would have thought that our staff would be completely frank with Bishop Pell and be cheering from the rooftops if he was able to do anything.”

All four men and women said the same thing: there was no conspiracy to deceive Pell, no understanding to keep the lid on the Searson scandal, and no reason to soft-pedal the ongoing crisis in Doveton.

They wanted Searson gone but Pell was no help.

These four veterans of church bureaucracy were represented before the commission by lawyers for the Archdiocese of Melbourne. They were giving their evidence with the full backing of the church.

Not that their efforts to get rid of Searson were particularly impressive. Sitting in the gallery to hear their evidence was Graeme Sleeman, the former Doveton headmaster. He ridiculed their claim that dealing with this priest was the top priority of the Catholic Education Office.

He told the Guardian: “That’s fucking bullshit.”

Even so, Pell’s accusation that the office set out to deceive him seems now to lie in ruins. And if he can’t be believed here, can the elaborate accounts of his ignorance of paedophile scandals in Ballarat be believed?

And what about, his crucial denial that he offered young David Ridsdale an inducement not to report to the police his abuse at the hands of his uncle, the notorious paedophile Gerald Ridsdale?

All the evidence against Pell in relation to his Melbourne career has now been heard. Between now and August the royal commission has to decide one fundamental question: is Cardinal Pell a man of his word?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Pope Francis: Clericalism distorts the church

Vatican Radio
April 26, 2016

Pope Francis said Tuesday that the clergy should serve lay people and not make use of them and spoke out against clericalism, calling it one of the greatest distortions affecting the Church in Latin America. His comments came in a wide-ranging letter reflecting on the role of the laity that was addressed to Cardinal Marc Ouellet, President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.  The Pope’s letter was a follow-up to the commission’s recent Plenary Assembly whose theme was “the indispensable role of the lay faithful in the public life of Latin American countries.” In his letter, Pope Francis explained that he wished to follow-up the discussions and reflections that emerged during the Plenary Assembly in order to prevent them "from not bearing fruit.

He urged the clergy to look closely at the people and lives of the lay faithful and avoid falling into the trap of adopting certain slogans on their behalf that seem well-meaning but in practice don't succeed in supporting the lives of our communities. Pointing to the example of a famous phrase “it’s time for the laity,” he noted that in this particular case, that clock has ground to a halt.

We must remember, he said, that as clergy we all began our lives as lay people and that “we’d do well to recall that the Church is not an elite of priests, of consecrated people, of bishops but all of us make up the faithful and Holy People of God.”

Turning to the issue of clericalism, the Pope said he considered it the outcome of “a mistaken way of living out the ecclesiology proposed by the Second Vatican Council” and described clericalism as “one of the greatest distortions affecting the Church in Latin America.”  He said clericalism has many negative impacts such as wiping out the personality of Christians and causing a belittling of the grace of our baptism that the Holy Spirit has placed in the hearts of lay people. Clericalism, he reminded, “forgets that the visibility and the sacramentality of the Church belong to all the people of God and not just to an illuminated and elected few.”

On the positive side, Pope Francis noted that Latin America is characterized by many examples of popular ministry and piety, saying it is one of the few spaces where the laity (including their pastors) and the Holy Spirit have been able to come together without clericalism which he said “seeks to control and put a brake on this anointment by God of the faithful.” He warned that this popular ministry “has its limits” and can sometimes lead to distortions of religion but said if it is "steered properly" it can generate many excellent human values such as generosity, devotion, sacrifice and openness to others.

Pope Francis spoke of the importance of giving encouragement and support to the efforts of the lay faithful who work in the public sphere but at the same time stressed “it is not the job of the pastor to tell the lay people what they must do and say” in those situations, adding “they know more and better than us.” “It’s illogical and even impossible,” he continued, “for us as pastors to believe that we have the monopoly on solutions for the numerous challenges thrown up by contemporary life.”

In conclusion, the Pope reiterated that the lay faithful are the protagonists of the Church and the world and stressed that “we are called to serve them, not to make use of them.”

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The journalist and the bishops: CNS editor fired for tweeting opposition to LGBT discrimination

Patricia Miller
Religion Dispatches
April 21, 2016

If anyone needed more evidence of just how cynical the U.S. Catholic bishops’ manipulation of the principle of “religious freedom” is, look no further than last week’s dismissal of Tony Spence, the editor in chief of Catholic News Service, for tweeting his opposition to bills that would codify LGBT discrimination.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops built its “religious liberty” campaign, which was largely responsible for creating the broad, corrupted definition of religious liberty that has resulted in a wave of anti-LGBT bills across the country, around the idea that religious liberty is the “first, most cherished liberty”—and that to deny it is a violation of core American values:

Freedom is not only for Americans, but we think of it as something of our special inheritance, fought for at a great price, and a heritage to be guarded now. We are stewards of this gift, not only for ourselves but for all nations and peoples who yearn to be free. Catholics in America have discharged this duty of guarding freedom admirably for many generations.

Even as the Catholic hierarchy bewails the lack of respect for “religious freedom,” they demanded that Spence resign for daring to publicly oppose anti-LGBT legislation that the bishops back under the “religious freedom” rubric.

In March, Spence tweeted “LGBT protections get flushed as NC governor signs bill over #bathroomwars,” in response to the controversial North Carolina law that would require transgender individuals to use bathrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate. He also tweeted his opposition to a proposed law in Tennesse, calling it “stupid,” and tweeted an article noting that “religious liberty has replaced gay marriage in GOP talking points, fooling no one.”

The USCCB owns and runs the Catholic News Service, but officially CNS is editorially independent from the bishops’ conference and provides news to both secular and religious outlets. In reality, however, it’s always existed in a somewhat liminal space journalistically speaking, combining fundamentally solid reporting with a pro-hierarchy tilt in story selection, heavy on stories that feature official Catholic voices and pro-life angles.

Nonetheless, many conservatives still viewed the outlet with suspicion. In 2009, Cardinal Raymond Burke, who was then an official at the Vatican, criticized Spence for running columns by Pepperdine University law professor Douglas Kmiec, who argued during the 2008 presidential election that pro-life Catholics could vote for Barack Obama because of his strong social welfare policies:

The bishops need to look at our Catholic News Service; they need to review their coverage of [the Church’s moral and social teachings] and give some new direction.

Spence accused the bishops of succumbing to pressure from far-right Catholic sites like the Lepanto Institute, Church Militant, and LifeSiteNews, which accused him of having “an agenda that is in direct conflict with the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

Spence voiced surprise that his Tweets caused a “backlash,” but shouldn’t have been. Across the country, conservative Catholic bishops have pushed employees of Catholic institutions to sign what are in effect loyalty oaths that promise to monitor the Twitter accounts and Facebook pages of employees of Catholic institutions.

It’s hard to image senior officials at the USCCB ignoring the editor-in-chief of the CNS publicly contradicting the conference’s stated position, especially as bishops in states like North Carolina have backed the bathroom bills and concern about “gender ideology” has surpassed the contraceptive mandate as the conference’s ongoing obsession.

In December the USCCB issued a statement on “gender ideology” that called it “a position on anthropology (who a human being is) that is in conflict with the Christian one” and said that sex reassignment surgery was against the moral law.

The Nebraska Catholic Conference criticized pro-transgender bathroom policies as “harmful and deceptive gender ideology.”

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone joked last year that he was sure more transgender identities “will be invented as time goes on” and said the acceptance of “gender ideology” threatens not only the faith, but the very foundation of human society, predicting “a reversion to the paganism of old, but with unique, postmodern variations on its themes, such as the practice of child sacrifice, the worship of feminine deities or the cult of priestesses.”

With the issue having moved from widespread acceptance of openly gay people and same-sex marriage to greater understanding and acceptance of trangender people—and public opinion having turned against measures to allow LGBT discrimination—the bishops’ strategy appears to be ever-tighter wagon-circling, and Spence was definitely on the outside of the circle.

Spence’s firing, and the lack of respect for both freedom of the press and individual conscience it reflects, shows just how transactional the bishops’ relationship with fundamental American freedoms really is.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

In letter to CDF, theologians and bishops call for reform of Vatican doctrinal investigations

Joshua J. McElwee
National Catholic Reporter
April 19, 2016

A group of prominent global Catholic theologians, priests and bishops who have been criticized by the Vatican's chief doctrinal office have come together to call for a new process for theological investigations in the church that would be marked by openness and transparency instead of deep secrecy.

In a letter sent to the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith last month, the theologians argue that current procedures for investigations -- characterized often by a lack of adequate defense or possibility of appeal -- are "contrary to natural justice and in need of reform."

The writers sharply criticize current practice. They say that current norms are outdated and follow a model based on "the absolutism of sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe." They identify that:

The person under investigation is not allowed to meet or speak to their accusers;
The doctrinal office often acts as "investigator, accuser, judge and jury" and also imposes any penalties and hears any appeals;
The accused is often not in direct contact with the Vatican -- the doctrinal office rather works through the person's religious superior or bishop, and;
Procedures can "drag on for years, with sometimes negative consequences for the mental and physical health of the accused."

The last point carries special significance, as many who have been investigated by the Vatican describe the process as particularly debilitating.

Jesuit Fr. Gerald O'Collins, who assisted famed Belgian Jesuit Fr. Jacques Dupuis with a doctrinal inquiry that continued for three years, has said the stress of the process led to a hospital stay and perhaps even an early death for Dupuis.

Among the signatories to the new document, a copy of which was obtained by NCR, are some of the highest profile names known to have suffered investigations in recent years: Fr. Roy Bourgeois, Loretto Sr. Jeannine Gramick, St. Joseph Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, and Australian Bishop William Morris.

Organized by two others who have also faced investigations -- Irish Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery and Australian former priest Paul Collins -- the letter proposes new guiding principles for the doctrinal office and a new possible procedure for investigations, moving final responsibility for the matter to the Vatican's office for the Synod of Bishops.

Current investigatory procedures, the letter-writers state, "are out of keeping with contemporary concepts of human rights, accountability and transparency that the world expects from the Christian community and which the Catholic Church demands from secular organizations."

The writers say they want to propose a new approach "to reflect the attitude of Jesus and to integrate values that the world sees as basic to a functioning, civilized society."

They call for a new set of principles that involve "a just and equitable process" and presumptions of "sincerity, innocence, and loyalty to the church on the part of the person being investigated."

Flannery, who was suspended from priestly ministry by the Vatican in 2012 primarily for his public support of women's ordination, told NCR that he and Collins took up the project earlier in the year and sent the letter in early March to Pope Francis and Cardinal Gerhard Muller, the head of the doctrinal office.

They also forwarded copies to Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley and Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, who both serve on the pope's advisory Council of Cardinals.

"I suppose really what we're looking for here is that the issue be open for discussion," said Flannery. "Obviously, the system that is being used currently ... is seriously abusive and unjust and the church needs to recognize that and begin to look for a better way of doing it."

The letter-writers propose eight principles that should be followed in any Vatican investigation of a theologian. They center on requests for an open process, marked by opportunities for theologians to respond to allegations made against them.

They also ask that anonymous reports or denunciations of theologians' work be disallowed, saying this will "stop frivolous claims by totally unqualified individuals or organizations."

The writers' also mention that often in investigations a theologian's work is taken out of context and call for involvement of those being investigated "from the beginning" to help clarify any issues immediately.

Beyond the eight principles, the letter-writers also include an outline of what they call a "more just and fair procedure" that could move responsibility for investigations to the Vatican's synod office.

They envision that such a procedure would take place in two steps: First, with a limited investigation at the doctrinal office; and then, if necessary, through a seven-member expert committee set up by the synod office. Four of the committee members would be appointed by the Vatican; three by the theologian in question.

Within six months of the start of the investigation, they suggest that the committee would outline a "process of reconciliation" between the theologian and the universal church.

Flannery said that the proposal to use the synod office was just one idea put forward by some of the signatories of the letter. He said he understood that "it's probably asking a bit much" that the synod "would be sufficiently coherent to do anything like that as it is at the moment."

While the writers have not received any sort of formal notice of receipt from the Vatican, Flannery said he received a package from his superior in his religious order April 15. Inside the package was a copy of "To Promote and Safeguard the Faith," a 2015 publication by the doctrinal congregation outlining its norms and procedures.

The package was originally sent to the superior by Spanish Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer, a Jesuit who serves as secretary for the doctrinal congregation and is a member of the Vatican's International Theological Commission.

Most of the letter's signatories have been subject to high-profile investigations by the doctrinal office, and many have lost their positions because of the results.

Morris was bishop of the rural Australian diocese of Toowoomba from 1992 until 2011, when he was forced to retire by Pope Benedict XVI for suggesting the possibility of ordaining women.

Bourgeois was dismissed by the Vatican from the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers in 2012 for taking part in an illicit women's ordination ceremony.

Gramick is the co-founder of New Ways Ministry, a gay-positive advocacy and ministry group. The doctrinal congregation issued a notification against her writings and activities in 1999.

Johnson is a noted theologian at Fordham University whose 2007 book Quest for the Living God was subject to a 2011 doctrinal evaluation by the U.S. bishops' doctrine committee. While she is not known to have been under investigation by the Vatican, many such investigations are kept secret.

Fr. Charles Curran, who lost a tenured position at The Catholic University of America in 1986 after the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith found him unfit to teach Catholic theology largely because of his writings on sexual issues, is also a signatory.

Other signers include: former Australian Auxiliary Bishop Patrick Power, who has been critical of the church's response to clergy sexual abuse; and Spanish Benedictine Sr. Teresa Forcades, a social activist, medical doctor, and theologian.

Flannery was not exactly optimistic that the letter would have a huge impact, but he said he hoped it would bear fruit eventually.

"There is no way that I will ever get back into ministry," said the priest.

"I am 69 years of age," he said. "I have decided to devote my energies as best I can, at least for the next couple of years, to trying to highlight in every possible way the injustice of procedures within the church."

"Maybe what I do now might bear some little fruit in about 100 years' time," said Flannery. "Because, you know, that's the way the church operates."

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Latest attack on Christians in India confirms climate of fear

Nirmala Carvalho
April 19, 2016

A second attack in two months on Pentecostal Christians in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, a fast-developing region known for electricity and steel, brings into sharp focus the insecurity facing the miniscule Christian minority in India, as well as the climate of impunity for radical Hindu groups menacing them.

Over the weekend of April 16-17, a pastor, his pregnant wife and his family fled from their house in a Chhattisgarh village called Tokapal Tehsil in the Bastar district, after the house was torched by alleged members of a militant Hindu group.

Reports state that the assailants ransacked the pastor’s church, and then tried to set the family on fire when they refused to chant a cry of praise to a Hindu god.

Saturday night, the unidentified assailants barged into the house church armed with rods and knives. They also entered the church and assaulted Pastor Dinbandhu Sameli, his 7-month pregnant wife, and his daughter Roushni Vidya.

According to the reports, the attackers wielded a sword at his wife and vandalized the church. During the course of the assault, they poured gasoline on the pastor and his wife for refusing to say “Jai Sri Ram”, or “Victory to Lord Rama!”

Sameli and his family eventually managed to escape, and informed local police of the attack. The police rushed to the spot and lodged a complaint against a number of unidentified assailants.

Speaking exclusively to Crux, Arun Pannalal, president of the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum, complained of what he called the “organized attacks” in Chatiisgarh’s Tribal districts, referring to areas largely populated by “Tribals,” meaning members of India’s indigenous ethnic groups.

Long considered to stand outside the traditional caste system, Tribals tend to be the most impoverished and marginalized group in the country. Christianity has grown rapidly among the Tribals, in part because it’s seen as a form of both spiritual and social emancipation.

“These are not isolated incidents, they are well-organized attacks with a pattern to harass and intimidate the vulnerable Christian community,” Pannalal said. “This is part of a well-planned conspiracy, we condemn it and demand an impartial probe and speedy investigation in the case.”

Pannalal said that from March 2013 to 2014, there were 42 such assaults against Christians in Chhattisgarh, and in the same period from 2014 to 2015 that total rose to 51.

One chronic source of difficulty for local Christians is a group known as “Dharam Sena,” meaning “Protectors of Hinduism,” which is linked to the Vishva Hindu Parishad, one of several Hindu nationalist movements in India.

India’s current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, came into power backed by those Hindu nationalist groups, and Christians in the country generally say the harassment of minority groups has become more widespread and brazen under Modi.

Although a police investigation of the latest incident in Chhattisgarh is underway, Pannalal expressed scepticism that they’re serious about it, scoffing at claims that the attackers remain “unidentified.”

“Everyone knows everyone else in Tokapal,” he said.

The same village was in the news in March 2015, when the local arm of the VHP imposed a ban on the entry of non-Hindu missionaries, especially Christians and their “religious propaganda,” and also prohibited Christians from praying or speaking in public.

Earlier this year, 34 American lawmakers expressed concern over the treatment of Christians in the Bastar District of Chhattisgarh State, and urged the Indian government to take immediate steps to ensure that “the fundamental rights of religious minorities are protected and that the perpetrators of violence are held to account.”

Among others, the letter was signed by U.S. Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), James Lankford (R-OK), Al Franken (D-MN), Tim Scott (R-SC), Ben Sasse (R-NE), John Boozman (R-AK) and Steve Daines (R-MT). The letter was also signed by 24 members from the U.S. House of Representatives.

Addressed to Modi on February 25, the letter urged him to control the activities of militant Hindu nationalist groups such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and to instruct Indian security forces “to enforce the rule of law and to protect minority communities from religiously-motivated harassment and violence.”

Referring to the ban on non-Hindu activity imposed by the VHP, the letter said the Christian minority has been “dramatically affected.”

“Effectively, it has criminalized the practice of Christianity for an estimated 300 Christian families in the region,” it said. “Since the ban was implemented, Christians reportedly have been subjected to physical assaults, denial of government services, extortion, threats of forced expulsion, denial of access to food and water, and pressure to convert to Hinduism.”

Activists in India say that physical assaults and harassment against Christians, generally carried out by radical Hindu groups, have become depressingly routine.

John Dayal, a lay Catholic who heads a group called the “United Christian Forum for Human Rights,” says that since 1997, Christians in India have experienced between 150 and 350 cases of violence a year, meaning an average of one almost every other day.

What to make of the forced resignation of Tony Spence

Michael Sean Winters
National Catholic Reporter
April 19, 2016

The forced resignation of Tony Spence as editor-in-chief of the Catholic News Service ( here ) is regrettable in the extreme. Spence has been a bulwark for maintaining the editorial independence of CNS, which is its value, even when that independence has rankled some of the bishops. If CNS were to lose its well-earned reputation for independent reporting, it would be worthless.

I normally would not write about a personnel matter. I was not at the meeting at which Spence says his resignation was demanded. Employers often have unspoken rationales for the decisions they make in these situations. But, it seems to me that this incident warrants attention for some reasons that transcend the particulars of the case.

The forced resignation came on the heels of stories in several rightwing blogs that called attention to the fact that Spence had sent out tweets offering a negative judgment on some legislative efforts to restrict LGBT rights. As the editor of a news agency, the tweets were ill-advised and confirmed me in my decision to use my twitter account solely to send out links to my articles. But, a tweet can be taken down and an employee told not to tweet anymore. I do not see this as an offense worthy of firing. And, let’s not kid ourselves: If Spence had tweeted support for the anti-LGBT laws, I am confident he would still be at his desk this morning.

More importantly, even if the General Secretary of the USCCB did think terminating someone for tweeting in favor of LGBT rights was proper, the fact that these allegations first came from professional witch hunters should have led the USCCB to hold off. The Lepanto Institute, Church Militant, and LifeSiteNews are diabolical. They do not serve the good of the Church. It is hard to imagine three groups less in tune with the current pope. They destroy lives and do not think twice about it. They cast aspersions at outstanding churchmen like Cardinal Donald Wuerl. In 2011, Church Militant, then known as Real Catholic TV, was ordered to cease calling itself Catholic by Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron, and Archbishop Vigneron is not what you would call a leftie.

These same groups investigated a staffer at Catholic Relief Services last year, Rick Estridge, who was the Vice President for Overseas Finance. His job was in no way a ministerial position, and was not one of the jobs at CRS that is even restricted to Catholics. Mr. Estridge had married his male partner is a civil ceremony. I do not know his reasons for entering into that marriage. I have said before that if, God forbid, I found out I had inoperable cancer and a very short time to live, I would marry my housemate just to make handling my finances something I did not have to worry about in my last months. But, in the event, so far from being a “gay activist,” Estridge was not even out to members of his family. Did this give these latter-day witch hunters pause? No.

These McCarthyite tactics must be resisted. And the bishops should not delude themselves into thinking that these groups will restrict their targets to lay staffers. I did not call attention to a Church Militant piece that asserted that the chancery of a major archdiocese was run by a gay cabal: The article had apparently one source, who was not on the record, and it did not pass the journalistic sniff test. But, the link was sent to me by a dozen or so people.

The other, deeper issue has to do with the subject of the tweets. It is apparent that the religious liberty fight that has become so central to the work of the USCCB is now transitioning away from the HHS contraception controversy and is now going to be embroiled in controversies over LGBT rights. This morning, NCR posted a very thoughtful essay by theologians Michael Lawler and Todd Salzman that explains why the Church does not need to engage this fight, indeed, that the foundational values the USCCB cites in explaining its position opposing LGBT rights actually are more properly followed by supporting nondiscrimination language. I do not agree in toto with their argument, but I am closer to their position than to the conclusions reached by the USCCB and stridency should be reserved for those instances in which the moral case is more clear cut.

No one likes to admit it, but the Church’s theology related to gays and lesbians is inadequate. For two thousand years, the working assumption was that gays and lesbians were behaving in an aberrational manner but, in recent years, most people have come to accept that being gay is not a choice to act in a certain way, but is constitutional for that person. We have not yet wrestled with that fact, and the changed moral framework it requires, adequately. In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis took a step in the right direction, citing a previous Vatican document about the need to avoid unjust discrimination against gays and recognize their inherent human dignity, but not citing that same previous document’s comments about homosexuality being “intrinsically disordered.”

Let me add an additional reason for the bishops to rethink a legal and political strategy aimed at securing religious liberty by restricting LGBT rights: They will lose. In state after state, when a religious liberty bill is passed that is understood, rightly or wrongly, to traffic in unjust discrimination against gays and lesbians, the business community is now first in line to protest. Most governors and legislators cave at that point. Those who don’t will face a tough time getting reelected.

What is more, the bishops will deserve to lose, and not just for the reasons put forth by Lawler and Salzman. For three years now, we have been treated to histrionic language about religious liberty. It has not caught on beyond the choir because it does not cohere with people’s lived experience. Most believers do not feel that their religious liberty is threatened. And, they can sniff that the issue has been hijacked by the professional litigators on the issue, who always have an interest in ferreting out threats. The fact that this issue aligns neatly with the conservative wing of the Republican Party should give the bishops pause, but it is hard not to conclude that this is seen as a plus by many of them, and certainly by the staff at the conference.

The other reason people are not too agitated about “threats” to religious liberty is because the courts have not shown any inclination to gut the First Amendment. In 2012, a unanimous Supreme Court ruled in Hosanna Tabor v. EEOC that the government had no business telling a church what it could do and not do in its employment policies regarding those in ministerial positions. A unanimous court. In the event, the CRS official was certainly not engaged in a ministerial position, but why should the Church, or anyone, be able to discriminate against gays and lesbians when hiring an accountant?

The right path forward is to do what the Mormons did in Utah: Sit down with gay activists and work out a deal. I fear it may be too late for that. I fear, too, that the same psychology at the conference that led them to fire Spence would frustrate any effort to find a compromise formula on the issue of LGBT rights. Unlike the fight over the contraception mandate, about which the bishops discussed legal strategy multiple times but never once in plenary session discussed the underlying theological issue of whether compliance with the mandate would constitute “illicit material cooperation with evil,” this time the bishops should start with the theology and let the legal strategy flow from that.

I am not someone who thinks there is no merit in the concerns about the future of religious liberty in this, or any, country. But, my concerns on this front are less than the concerns I have that the USCCB has become in thrall to rightwing activists whose ability to weigh competing values is skewed or worse. The bishops have been ill-served, and many of them know it, but no one has taken the lead in seeking to change it. The conference is losing staff faster than the Titanic lost passengers. Now, they will range themselves among that sliver of conservative opinion that believes they must fight and die on the hill of opposition to LGBT rights. Someone should tell them that the country passed that hill five miles back.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Francis: 'New concrete possibilities' for remarried after family exhortation

Joshua J. McElwee
National Catholic Reporter
April 16, 2016

Pope Francis has affirmed that his recent apostolic exhortation on family life has opened up "new concrete possibilities" for Catholics who divorce and remarry without first obtaining annulments.

In a press conference on his way back from a one-day visit to Lesbos, Greece, a reporter told the pontiff that some had interpreted the language in his exhortation to mean that there were no specific changes to the church's pastoral practice for remarried Catholics while others thought there were.

"Are there new concrete possibilities that did not exist before the publication of the exhortation, or no?" asked the journalist.

"I can say yes," responded Francis. "Period."

The pontiff then suggested that people looking for more information consult the presentation given by Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn at the Vatican April 8, the day the new exhortation, titled Amoris Laetitia ("The Joy of Love"), was released.

In his presentation that day, Schönborn said the document had made some "organic development" of the church's pastoral practice for divorced and remarried couples.

"I recommend to all of you to read the presentation that Cardinal Schönborn made," the pope said Saturday. "He is a great theologian."

"He knows well the doctrine of the church," said Francis. "In that presentation, your question will have its response."

Amoris Laetitia was written by Francis in response to two Synods of Bishops at the Vatican on family life issues in 2014 and 2015.

In the expansive document, the pope touches on many issues and says that Catholic bishops and priests can no longer make blanket moral determinations about so-called "irregular" situations such as divorce and remarriage.

"It ... can no longer simply be said that all those in any 'irregular' situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace," states the pontiff at one point in the document.

"It is reductive simply to consider whether or not an individual’s actions correspond to a general law or rule, because that is not enough to discern and ensure full fidelity to God in the concrete life of a human being," the pope writes later.

Francis was also asked Saturday about a particular footnote in the document, in which the pope says that "pastoral discernment" for divorced and remarried persons "in certain cases ... can include the help of the sacraments."

A journalist asked why the pope had put that decision in a footnote, and if it meant he wanted to indicate the issue was not overwhelmingly important.

"One of the last popes, speaking about the Council, said there were two Councils," Francis responded. "The Second Vatican Council that met in St. Peter's Basilica and the other was the Council of the media."

"When I convoked the first Synod, the great worry of the majority of the media was will they give Communion to the divorced and remarried?" he continued.

"Not being a saint, this annoyed me a bit but also made me a bit sad," said Francis. "The media that say this ... do not see that this is not the important problem of the church. They do not see that the family in all the world is in crisis. And family is the base of society."

Francis spent just under five hours Saturday on Lesbos, a Greek island that has become the waypoint for hundreds of thousands of refugees seeking asylum in Europe. He was joined by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Greek Orthodox Archbishop Ieronymos II.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Catholic News Service editor asked to resign

Dennis Coday, Editor
National Catholic Reporter
April 14, 2016

Tony Spence, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service since 2004, unexpectedly resigned from that position Wednesday at the request of a U.S. bishops' conference official.

In recent days Spence had been attacked by conservative Catholic blogs for tweets he had posted about controversial religious freedom bills in North Carolina and Georgia. These sites accused Spence of "promoting the LGBT agenda."

"The far right blogsphere and their troops started coming after me again and it was too much for the USCCB," Spence told NCR in an interview Thursday.

"The secretary general [of the U.S. bishops' conference] asked for my resignation, because the conference had lost confidence in my ability to lead CNS," Spence told NCR.

The abruptness of Spence's departure was surprising and those who know him say Spence feels "shattered."

Catholic News Service is an office of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Spence was a member of the conference senior staff. Though part of the bishops' conference, the news service is financially self-supporting by "providing news stories, features and reviews to paying clients that are both secular and religious news outlets," according to a notice on the conference website.

Spence attended a regularly scheduled staff story meeting at 2 p.m. on Wednesday. Sometime later, after meeting with Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield, the general secretary of the bishops' conference, Spence was escorted from the conference office building without being allowed to speak to his newsroom staff.

Staff in the Washington office were told of Spence's leaving shortly after 4 p.m., and James L. Rogers, chief communications officer for the bishops' conference, sent an email memo to all CNS staff "to share news of Tony stepping down as editor-in-chief, effective today."

The memo also said that Rogers would be assuming Spence's administrative duties on an interim basis and that a search for his replacement would begin immediately.

NCR obtained a copy of the memo and in a telephone interview Rogers confirmed that he had sent it.

Spence had "stepped down" is how "I understand it," Rogers told NCR. He said he didn't know what precipitated the resignation and said that it "would be my understanding" that Spence announced his stepping down to the general secretary since that is the person he reports to as a member of senior staff.

Bloggers from websites of The Lepanto Institute, The Church Militant and posted stories in the last week that accused Spence of issuing "public statements decrying proposed legislation in several states that would protect religious freedom and deny men pretending to be women the 'right' to enter women's bathrooms."

The public statements were postings Spence had made to his Twitter account in early April and March about religious freedom legislation under debate in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee and about an article in The Atlantic about gay students at evangelical colleges.

Spence, for example tweeted this on March 24: "LGBT protections get flushed as NC governor signs bill over #bathroomwars."

Spence's departure follows two other high level departures by U.S. bishops' conference staff involved in communications. Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, a longtime media relations manager at the conference, resigned in July 2014. Walsh died on April 28, 2015.

Helen Osman resigned as the conference communication director in summer of 2015, but stayed on as coordinator of Pope Francis' visit to the United States last fall.

Although both departures were voluntary, NCR was told that Walsh and Osman were pressured to resign.

Spence has a long history in Catholic journalism, starting at The Tennessee Register, diocesan newspaper in Nashville, Tenn., some 30 years ago.

In 2010, the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada awarded him their highest honor, the St. Francis de Sales Award.

Spence was editor-in-chief and general manager of the Tennessee Register Inc., which publishes the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Nashville diocese, from 1989 to 1998. Before that, he was associate editor and managing editor at the newspaper. He also served as the diocese's communications director from 1992 to 1998.

He served as Catholic Press Association president from 1994 to 1996 and oversaw the establishment of the Catholic Advertising Network and the Catholic Press Foundation. He also was a co-founder of the Appalachian Press Project of Kentucky and Tennessee, chaired the CPA's liaison committee with CNS in 1997-98 and organized the association's 1998 convention.

He also served on the communications committee for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and on its subcommittee for planning, which devised the conference's strategic plan for communications, adopted in 1997. In addition, Spence has been a member of the advisory board for the Catholic Communication Campaign.

Immediately before joining CNS, Spence was executive director of Advancement Communications at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, where he oversaw an assortment of publications, as well as a website, some fundraising and speechwriting. He also coordinated much of the university's science and research communication. Before that, he had been director of alumni publications at the university.

From 2006-2011, Spence served as a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

Kasper says Pope's synod document "changes everything"

Christopher Lamb
Vatican Insider
April 14, 2016

One of the prominent reforming voices during synod debates on the family says Pope Francis’ document following the gathering is a decisive shift for the Church.

Cardinal Walter Kasper explained that the Pope’s apostolic exhortation “doesn’t change anything of church doctrine or of canon law – but it changes everything”.

The retired cardinal has been influential on Francis’ thinking on marriage and those living in “irregular situations” and it was he who the Pope asked to address a consistory of cardinals in February 2014 on how communion might be given to divorced and remarried couples.

That address kicked off the Synod of Bishops discussions on the family, a process which lasted over two years and culminated in the publication last Friday of the Pope’s exhortation, titled “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”).

Speaking to The Tablet , the German cardinal said that by putting doctrine in a new prospective the document “overcomes a rigid casuistic approach and gives room for Christian freedom of conscience.”

He explained that by applying the “general vision” of the document there is a possibility of giving remarried divorcees access to the sacraments.

“It seems clear to me as to many other observers, that there can be situations of divorced and remarried where on the way of inclusion, absolution and communion become possible,” he said.

This could happen, he added, “not as a general law or as a general permission but according a spiritual and pastoral discernment judging case by case.”

Speaking more generally about the document, the President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity said: “I don’t like to say, ‘this is revolutionary’, because revolutionary sounds like giving up or destroying something by violence, whereas the document is a renewal and an updating of the original holistic Catholic vision.”

There has been heated discussion over whether the apostolic exhortation has allowed communion to be given to divorced and remarried couples with debate focussing on footnote number 351 where it says that in “certain cases” the sacraments can be given.

Conservatives, however, have said the text does not change anything in this area with Dutch Cardinal Willem Eijk stressing that communion is still forbidden.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Raymond Burke, formerly in charge of the Apostolic Tribunal, wrote in an article for the National Catholic Review that the document was simply a personal “non-magisterial” reflection of the Pope’s.

“The Catholic Church, while insisting on the respect owed to the Petrine office as instituted by Our Lord himself, has never held that every utterance of the Successor of St. Peter should be received as part of her infallible magisterium,” he wrote.

“The only key to the correct interpretation of “Amoris Laetitia” is the constant teaching of the Church and her discipline that safeguards and fosters this teaching.”

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Francis replaces Vatican ambassador Vigano days after he is lauded by US bishops

Joshua J. McElwee
National Catholic Reporter
April 12, 2016

Pope Francis has replaced the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States just days after he was lauded by the country's bishops at their seminary in Rome during a posh annual honors banquet.

Italian Archbishop Carlo Viganò -- who has represented the Vatican in Washington since 2011 but came under scrutiny when his name surfaced last year in questions over how Francis came to meet controversial Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis during his September U.S. trip -- will be succeeded by French Archbishop Christophe Pierre.

The replacement of what is formally known as the apostolic nuncio to the United States, which had been rumored for months, was announced by the Vatican Tuesday. Viganò had turned 75, the traditional retirement age for Catholic bishops, in January.

Until his new appointment, Pierre had been serving as the Vatican’s representative in Mexico. In that role since 2007, he has previously served as apostolic nuncio in both Uganda and Haiti.

Pierre had helped organize Francis’ recent Feb. 12-18 visit to Mexico, when the pontiff stayed each night in the nuncio’s residence in Mexico City.

Viganò was honored Thursday evening by the Pontifical North American College, the U.S. bishops’ seminary in Rome.

The former nuncio was lauded at the seminary’s annual $450-a-plate Rector’s Dinner alongside California lawyer Timothy Busch, who specializes in “high net-worth estate planning” and is also co-founder of the Napa Institute, which focuses on defending Catholic principles in the public arena.

In brief remarks at the honors dinner, Viganò encouraged U.S. seminarians studying in Rome to be “courageous in always defending the freedom to put our Catholic faith into practice without fear.”

Mentioning Francis’ U.S. visit last fall, the archbishop said that it was very significant for him that the pontiff began his historic address to a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress by describing America with the words of the National Anthem: “The land of the free and the home of the brave.”

“Perhaps more than ever, this phrase should be something we continue to live for and pray for,” said Viganò.

“That the United States of America will protect our freedom, especially our religious liberty, as well as respect the human right to conscientious objection, and that we will be courageous in always defending the freedom to put our Catholic faith into practice without fear,” he continued.

“Each one of us has a responsibility before God to bring a message of truth into this world, even if it means spending our lives for that very purpose -- sometimes silently, but very often today publicly,” said Viganò.

Besides his reported involvement in Francis meeting Kim Davis, Viganò also attracted controversy in early 2015 when he took part in the March for Marriage, a public demonstration in Washington against same-sex marriage.

Some critics said it was inappropriate for a church diplomat to attend an event meant to influence policy in the in the country of his posting.

Pierre is expected to take up his new role almost immediately. As apostolic nuncio he will represent the Vatican in the U.S. and will also advise Francis on selection and appointment of bishops throughout the country.

The new nuncio will be the second native French-speaker to represent the pope in the U.S., following Belgian Archbishop Jean Jadot, who served in the role from 1973-80.

Jadot was attributed with helping select a wide portion of the country’s episcopate during that time, including examples such as Washington Cardinal James Hickey, Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen, and San Francisco Archbishop John Quinn.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Sex-abuse bill lobbying in Catholic churches is over the top

Bill White
The Morning Call
April 10, 2016

"We were dismayed to find this letter inserted in our church bulletin this past Sunday," wrote a local Catholic who contacted me last week about a letter from Allentown Diocese Bishop John Barres.

Barres' letter outlined the diocese's child sex-abuse prevention efforts — and then lobbied against state legislation that would change the statutes of limitations for such cases, asking parishioners to contact their legislators about its "detrimental effects."

This appeal to a captive audience fits right in with the church's furious lobbying effort, largely focused on blocking bills that would open a two-year window for civil suits by victims who are blocked by the state's restrictive statutes. Such a window has been recommended by the Pennsylvania grand juries that exposed decades of rampant child sex abuse and official cover-ups within the church.

I wrote recently that the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, which has played a big part in keeping statute-of-limitations legislation bottled up for years in legislative committees, spent $3.5 million on lobbying in Harrisburg between 2010 and 2015, according to Department of State records.

The Catholic Conference's website now includes an Action Alert with a proposed email you can send to your legislators, urging them to oppose the proposed two-year window. It includes standard talking points, including complaints that sovereign immunity statutes unfairly shield public entities such as public schools.

The website also carries an editorial titled "Justice Out of Balance" that makes many of the same points in Barres' letter and the proposed letters to legislators.

In light of the recent Altoona-Johnstown grand jury report and similarly horrifying reports about the Philadelphia Archdiocese, it strikes me as particularly brazen to lobby in church against what victim advocates feel is the most important means of achieving justice and identifying hidden abusers.

Interestingly, a letter distributed that same day in church bulletins in the Harrisburg Diocese and signed by Bishop Ronald Gainer (formerly of the Allentown Diocese) expressed sorrow at the new abuse revelations and outlined diocese efforts to prevent child abuse, as Barres did. But there was no lobbying.

Informational rather than political.

One of the things those grand juries have concluded is that restrictive statute-of-limitations laws make no sense in these crimes, when you consider that it so often takes decades for these victims to find the courage to speak up and that in some cases, there was a concerted institutional effort to keep them secret until the statute of limitations had expired. Under those circumstances, it's reasonable to ask the abusers — and the institutions that hid their crimes for decades, in certain cases — to shoulder the cost of treating the psychological, and even physical, aftermath.

By the way, the vast majority of child sex-abuse cases have nothing to do with clergy, so the idea that these proposals are all about suing the Catholic Church is just not true, as the results of statute-of-limitations windows in other states have demonstrated. Most of the victims I've spoken to were abused by family members or family friends. They want to expose the abusers.

Nonetheless, Barres warned, "Diocesan and parish resources that now support our school programs that educate and ministries that feed the hungry and serve those in need would instead be diverted to satisfy costly civil judgments. The very existence of some ministries would be threatened, and parishes and schools might be forced to defend themselves against claims that are many decades old."

Scare tactics aside, the claims are decades old because the church covered them up when they happened.

State Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, a longtime advocate for statute-of-limitations reform who says he was a victim of rape by his priest in the Allentown Diocese, acknowledged that Barres has been doing the right things to prevent future crimes.

"But the fact of the matter is," he said, "for many years they didn't do it right. It comes down to accountability."

Under heavy pressure to finally act, the House Judiciary Committee last week voted out a bill that would eliminate the child sex-abuse statute of limitations for future criminal cases and extend it from age 30 to 50 for future civil cases. It is expected to move Monday to the House floor for consideration, including amendments designed to enhance — or ruin — the bill.

Unfortunately, it came out of the committee with an amendment that partially lifts sovereign immunity protection in these cases, a poison pill that deliberately muddies the waters instead of allowing a clean vote on the statutes. I'm fine with exploring the sovereign immunity question, but not as part of this, so I hope that's jettisoned.

In negotiations with Republican leadership, Rozzi is offering a compromise amendment that would give all victims, including those blocked by the present law's cutoff at age 30, until 50 to file suit. This wouldn't help survivors older than 50, as the two-year window would, but it's still a big step forward, so I'm in favor if it helps get the bill passed.

I agree with the Catholic Conference on one thing, at least. Justice is out of balance. It's time to fix that.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Cardinal Mahoney ousted from Saint Katerei confirmation

Martha Garcia
Santa Clarita Valley Signal
April 8, 2016

After heightened media attention and backlash from the community, the L.A. Archdiocese has replaced retired L.A. Cardinal Roger Mahony at Saint Kateri Catholic Church’s April 29 confirmation ceremony.

Auxiliary Bishop Alexander Salazar, who conducted the ceremony at Our Lady of Perpetual Help last week, will conduct the ceremony, Saint Kateri officials said.

“We want to focus on the confirmation candidates and celebrate the rite of confirmation,” explained Renee Fields, Director of Operations at Saint Kateri. “We want them to have a joyous experience as they complete their initiation into the Catholic Church.”

Some parishioners were outraged over Mahony’s proposed involvement in the ceremony.

As the head of the L.A. Archdiocese for many years, Mahony was one of the Catholic Church officials at the center of the molestation and sexual abuse allegations over many decades. While he did not take part in the abuse he often protected the priests doing the abusing, gaining the ire of many parents and Catholics alike.

As community backlash over Mahony’s involvement in Saint Kateri’s confirmation ceremony grew, many parents opted to move their children to be confirmed at other Catholic parishes in Santa Clarita.

Amid the growing concern, Saint Kateri issued a request to the L.A. Archdiocese calling for a new bishop to conduct the April 29 ceremony replacing Mahony.

Fields emphasized the request to the L.A. Archdiocese, which was granted this week, had less to do with community backlash than church officials feeling that the focus on the meaning and celebration of the event was being diverted amid the heightened media attention surrounding Mahony’s involvement.

Many parishioners and community members began offering comments and concern, bringing heightened awareness of his role in the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal and renewed disdain from the community.

“If someone has concerns about his involvement that means there’s still healing and care that has to be done,” said Fields.

“In the time I’ve been at OLPH I’ve never seen [the archdiocese] change the bishop,” said Cheryl McClure, Director of Confirmation at Our Lady of Perpetual Help. She has run the program at OLPH for 16 years.

The announcement noting the change was made to the parish late Thursday.

“Once everyone knew the situation they stood up for what was right,” said Brooke Bambrick who initially spoke out about Mahony’s involvement. “It shows what a great community Santa Clarita is and how much we care about our kids.”

An effort to reach out to the L.A. Archdiocese for comment on the change was made by The Signal but by late Thursday the Archdiocese had not responded.

Pope Francis urging less judgement, signals path for divorced on communion

New York Times
April 8, 2016

In a broad proclamation on family life, Pope Francis on Friday called for the Roman Catholic Church to be more welcoming and less judgmental, and he seemingly signaled a pastoral path for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive holy communion.

The 256-page document — known as an apostolic exhortation and titled “Amoris Laetitia,” Latin for “The Joy of Love” — calls for priests to welcome single parents, gay people and unmarried straight couples who are living together.

“A pastor cannot feel that it is enough to simply apply moral laws to those living in ‘irregular’ situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives,” he wrote.

But Francis once again closed the door on same-sex marriage, saying it cannot be seen as the equivalent of heterosexual unions.

The document offers no new rules or marching orders, and from the outset Francis makes plain that no top-down edicts are coming.

Alluding to the diversity and complexity of a global church, Francis effectively pushes decision making downward to bishops and priests, stating that a different country or region “can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs.”

But Francis also makes clear the vision he wants local bishops and priests to follow: as a church that greets families with empathy and comfort rather than with unbending rules and rigid codes of conduct.

The scope of “Amoris Laetitia” is typical Francis: a broad-ranging blend of biblical passages, meditations on marital love, homespun advice on familial manners, passages bemoaning the frenetic loneliness of modern life and a call for families to come closer to the church, and vice versa.

He admits that the church has made mistakes in alienating families and dedicates many passages to describing the pressures brought on families by poverty, migration, drug abuse and violence.

Just as he used his environmental encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” to call on national governments to enact legislation to fight climate change, Francis now calls for governments to provide support for families in the form of health care, education and employment. He describes families as under siege by the pressures of modern life.

“In many cases, parents come home exhausted, not wanting to talk, and many families no longer even share a common meal,” Francis wrote. He described “severe stress” on families “who often seem more caught up with securing their future than with enjoying the present.”

“This is a broader cultural problem, aggravated by fears about steady employment, finances and the future of children,” he wrote.

Although Francis has earned a reputation as a reformer, some liberal Catholics may be disappointed. Many had hoped Francis might go further, perhaps by detailing health exceptions to the ban on contraception, expanding the roles for women in the church or prescribing a clear process that would permit Catholics who divorced and remarried outside the church to receive communion.

“It wasn’t as innovative as many had hoped,” said Lucetta Scaraffia, a scholar of Catholicism in Rome, adding, “The result is quite modest with respect to the investment and expectations that the world had.”

The document is likely to stir debate and disagreement among many Catholics, especially in interpreting the pope’s language explaining how priests should work with divorced and remarried Catholics to help them return to full standing in the church.

Francis convened two successive assemblies, or synods, of bishops from around the world to examine the challenges facing modern families.

Synods under Francis’ predecessors were relatively sleepy affairs, but Francis told the bishops he wanted them to speak their minds without holding back. And they did.

Both synods were contentious and, the participants said afterward, ultimately enlightening. The battle lines were basically drawn over what it means for the church to be pastoral and merciful in its approach to people who are not living in accord with the Christian ideal of the intact, nuclear family. How far should the church bend to respond to modern life or to bring people back?

Both synods concluded with final reports written by participating bishops, and Francis has drawn extensively on those reports in his exhortation.

Francis adopts the solution introduced by the German-speaking bishops at the second synod: inviting divorced and remarried Catholics who have not had their first marriages annulled to seek the counsel of a priest. The priest, in private and personal conversations known as the “internal forum,” could help them to examine their conscience and determine their future participation in church life.

“ ‘Amoris Laetitia’ is a quietly revolutionary document,” said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit who is editor at large for America magazine. “It restores the role of personal conscience and reminds pastors to meet people where they are. It will be a great encouragement especially to divorced and remarried Catholics and anyone who feels they have been unwelcome in the church. The message is: Welcome.”

Conservative Catholics, who have already expressed concern that Francis could destabilize the church and undermine doctrine, were far less impressed. R. R. Reno, a Catholic theologian and editor of First Things, a conservative journal of religion and public life, lamented what he called a “muddy” document that substitutes the church’s “rules and laws and requirements” with “talk about ideals and values.”

“I think it’s an ill-judged shift,” Mr. Reno said. “This document clearly opens up the possibility that a priest may determine that a divorced and remarried person is worthy to receive communion, but under what terms and why is muddy.”

At a Vatican news conference to unveil the document, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Austria said that Francis was trying to erase the distinction between “regular” and “irregular” families, even as he continued to advocate the Christian ideal of marriage.

Cardinal Schönborn, himself the child of divorced parents, said the pope’s message is that God’s mercy applies to all.

“No one must feel condemned,” he said. “No one is scorned.”

Cardinal Schönborn noted that Francis’ “pervasive principle of inclusion clearly troubles some people,” for example those who are concerned that the pope favors a mentality of “anything goes,” an allusion to conservative Catholic critics. He argued, however, that the pope is not changing church doctrine on the family but is deepening the understanding outlined by Pope John Paul II in his own document on the family, “Familiaris Consortio.”

“It is a classic example of the organic development of doctrine,” Cardinal Schönborn said. “There is innovation and continuity.”

Homosexuality was another hot-button issue, and Francis took his cues from the majority view in the synods. (During the first synod, an interim report written by a committee of bishops used language that was strikingly welcoming to gay people, but it received so much criticism from other bishops at the synod that it was gone by the final report.)

Echoing the report issued by the second synod in 2015, Francis’ exhortation says that “every person regardless of sexual orientation” should be treated with respect and consideration, while “every sign of unjust discrimination is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence.”

But in the next section, he states categorically that the church cannot countenance same-sex marriages or unions, citing the second synod’s final report, which said “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.”

The document “does not inspire joy in L.G.B.T. Catholics and their supporters,” said Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of New Ways Ministry, an advocacy group for gay Catholics.

“While not expecting a blessing on marriage for lesbian and gay couples, many were anticipating that Pope Francis would offer an affirming message to L.G.B.T. people, and not the same ill-informed comments,” said Mr. DeBernardo, who is based in Maryland. “Where is the Pope Francis who embraced his gay former student and husband during his U.S. visit? Where is the Pope Francis who invited a transgender Spanish man for a personal meeting at the Vatican? This Pope Francis is hard to find in his latest text.”

But this was the rare harsh passage in what is otherwise a fatherly letter to the church. Francis is releasing it during a year he has declared to be a Jubilee of Mercy. At every opportunity, he has been reminding Catholics that forgiveness and mercy are the heart of their faith.

“No one can be condemned forever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel!” the exhortation says. He adds that he is speaking not only of the divorced and remarried, “but of everyone, in whatever situation they find themselves.”

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Mercy should trump law, especially during Holy Year of Mercy

Fr. Peter Daly, pastor St. John Vianny parish Prince Frederick,MD
National Catholic Reporter
April 6, 2016

"Welcome to the Year of Mercy. You're fired."

That may sound like Donald Trump doing pastoral ministry, but it is actually our church.

In November of 2015, just before the Jubilee Year of Mercy began, a part-time cantor was fired from his job at a large suburban parish in the archdiocese of Washington. The reason: it was discovered that he had entered into a same sex civil marriage with his partner. The archdiocese said that he gave scandal by a "public act contrary to the church's teaching."

The cantor was not an isolated case. All across the country in recent months there have been cases where church employees were fired or forced to resign because they either came out of the closet or they entered into a civil marriage.

This is going to be an increasingly common situation as thousands of gay Catholics enter into civil marriages all around the globe. There will doubtless be many more dismissals. Church authorities will rely on legalities such as contracts of employment. They will say that these relationships give scandal to the faithful and that such public sinners cannot hold positions of ministry in the church.

But is that true? Does a civil marriage really negate the church's teaching about sacramental marriage or does it merely offer protection of civil law? How does a same sex civil marriage give more scandal than heterosexual cohabitating, which is pandemic?

In this Year of Mercy, does law trump mercy? Wouldn't some effort at dialogue be a better reflection of the teaching of Christ? Jesus did not feel the need to condemn.

When it comes to same-sex relationships, I suspect the faithful are much more scandalized by the firing of otherwise well-behaved and competent employees, than they are by a same-sex relationship. In fact, the faithful seem to be able to discern that not all same-sex relationships are grave moral evil. Some relationships are avenues of grace.

This past month I saw an example of that when a gay man in our parish died. His name was Levi. He died from cancer and AIDS. Levi and his partner, Frank, came to our attention through our food bank, which they visited each week for food assistance.

Frank and Levi had been together for about 12 years. While they were not civilly married, they were very much committed to each other. Both of the men had been raised in very traditional Catholic families and had struggled for years with their sexual identity. Levi had been married for a while to a woman, which ended badly. Both felt rejected by their church.

When Levi's cancer spread to his bones, Frank quit his job as a heavy equipment operator to take care of his partner. Their financial condition, always precarious, deteriorated along with Levi's health. They went deeply into debt. They lost their apartment near Baltimore and had to stay with friends from the gay community. Eventually they became homeless. That was their low point.

A social worker stepped into to help. Since Levi was a veteran of the first Gulf War, he qualified for housing for homeless vets. The social worker found him an apartment in our parish near our local hospital. Frank was allowed to live in the apartment, listed as Levi's caregiver.

There was no sex in their relationship, just love. Their relationship had been platonic for years. Like heterosexual relationships, many gay relationships are much more about love than sex.

The volunteers in our food pantry discovered that Levi and Frank needed transportation to a hospital about 35 miles away, for chemotherapy. Several volunteered to drive them, which meant a day-long commitment, waiting at the hospital to bring them back.

On Christmas Day I made a plea, during the announcements at the early Mass, for a used car, so Frank could drive Levi to his treatments. The general manager of a car dealership was at Mass. On his way out of church he told me, "I'll find them a car." He didn't hesitate. When the employees of the dealership heard about the situation, they serviced and detailed the car for free and collected $500 to help pay for the inspection, title and tags. Our poor box fund paid the insurance.

At times, when Frank had to run an errand, parishioners would go over to sit with Levi, who was gradually going deaf and blind and was very anxious when Frank left him alone. Over the course of several months, I anointed Levi three times.

When Levi died, we had a new crisis. Since they were not civilly married, Frank had no authority to make decisions about burial. Moreover Frank almost was immediately required to move out of the apartment, since he was not a spouse, but only listed as "caregiver."

Levi's natural family provided no assistance. Worse, one brother showed up as Levi was dying to demand the title to the car.

Levi had no money and had left no instructions about his burial. He did not complete the form for cremation, so the crematorium would not accept his body.

I met with the local funeral director. We decided to do a traditional burial, which required no permission from the family. The funeral director donated her services. Our parish donated a plot in our cemetery and paid for the opening and closing of the grave and the concrete liner.

We had a lovely funeral. It was well attended by our parishioners and by some members of the gay community who came 65 miles from Baltimore. No family members came. Our funeral choir sang and our ushers and servers donated their services. Our funeral ministry, the Arimatheans, provided a meal afterward.

At the end of Levi's funeral, Frank spoke, humbly and quietly. Frank is a construction worker, more at home on a bulldozer than in the sanctuary. He said simply, "Levi and I loved each other. Because I loved him I did not care where we were, so long as we were together. Even when we became homeless, I did not care, so long as I was with him. When he became sick, I was happy if I could care for him. I was happy so long as I was with him. Now he is gone. My happiness is gone. But I thank you for helping us."

When Frank finished talking the church was completely silent. After the burial, one of the women from the choir said to me, "Don't we all wish we could have a love like that?"

In all of these last few months, no one ever said to me, "Hey Father, this is a gay couple, we shouldn't help them. They are public sinners. They are a public scandal."

Everyone in our community; social workers, police, hospice workers, funeral directors, cemetery workers, and parish volunteers treated Levi and Frank with respect, compassion and dignity. I am proud of the compassion of our parishioners. People in town told me they were impressed by the goodness of the parishioners. No one was scandalized by the relationship between Frank and Levi. They would have been scandalized if we had refused to help.

Jesus cured lepers and the man born blind. He ate and drank with prostitutes and tax collectors. His first reaction was always compassion. His harshest judgment was for the legalistic Pharisees. He told them, in Matthew 9:13, "Go and learn the meaning of the words, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'"

The laity have a good grasp of this in the Year of Mercy.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Judge to St. Cloud diocese: turn over files

David Unze
St. Cloud Times
April 6, 2016

A Stearns County judge has ordered the Diocese of St. Cloud to turn over the files of all priests who have been accused of the sexual abuse of children.

And in a separate order, a different judge has denied the diocese's request to dismiss a claim that it created a "public nuisance" by not telling the public about child-molesting priests with connections to the diocese.

The orders, filed within the last week, mean that lawyers representing clergy sex abuse victims will have a chance to review those files and release portions to the public. In one other Minnesota diocese, the release of similar files led to criminal charges.

The two decisions are a "one-two punch to the long-standing practices of concealment and deceit by the Diocese of St. Cloud,” said Attorney Jeff Anderson.

Stearns County District Court Judge Kris Davick-Halfen ordered the diocese to turn over the priest files by April 25. She also ordered that the files be subject to a protective order that helps prevent potentially embarrassing information from becoming public.

The request for the priest files is part of a "public nuisance" claim against the diocese in a lawsuit involving the Rev. James Thoennes.

A former student at a Foley elementary school in January 2015 sued Thoennes, accusing him of abusing the student years after the diocese knew Thoennes had abused other children.

Stearns County District Court Judge Frederick Grunke's order allows a public nuisance claim to proceed in a separate case involving former Rev. Donald Rieder. A woman who was sexually abused by Rieder in the late 1960s when she was 14 sued the diocese in August.

Grunke denied a motion from the diocese to dismiss the nuisance claim.

At Vatican trial, former consultant denies leaking documents

Catholic News Service
April 6, 2016

A former consultant to a pontifical commission vehemently denied giving private documents regarding the Vatican’s financial reform to two journalists.

Francesca Chaouqui, a member of the former Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See, replied, “absolutely not” when asked by a Vatican prosecutor if she gave documentation to Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi.

She also denied having had a sexual relationship with Spanish Msgr. Lucio Vallejo Balda, the secretary of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See.

The trial resumed April 6 after the court granted Chaouqui, who is pregnant, a three-week postponement after her doctor recommended 20 days of bed rest.

Chaouqui is on trial along with Msgr. Vallejo Balda, Nicola Maio, the mo

nsignor’s former assistant; and two journalists: Nuzzi, author of “Merchants in the Temple,” and Emiliano Fittipaldi, author of “Avarice.” The monsignor, Chaouqui and Maio were accused of “committing several illegal acts of divulging news and documents concerning fundamental interests of the Holy See and (Vatican City) State.” Nuzzi and Fittipaldi were accused of “soliciting and exercising pressure, especially on (Msgr.) Vallejo Balda, in order to obtain confidential documents and news.”

Prior to taking her turn on the stand, Chaouqui posted on her Facebook page that despite doctor’s advice that she refrain from “subjecting herself to the physical and mental stress of the trial,” she looked forward to having her day in court and “finally being able to speak.”

“Today is the day of truth. The day I owe to Pope Francis, to my church, to my family, to the whole world,” she wrote.

Repeatedly throughout her testimony, Chaouqui strayed from giving direct answers to the prosecutors’ questions, saying that she wished to address rumors and news reports.

At various moments, she was reminded by Judge Giuseppe della Torre that the witness stand was not a “theater stage” and to respond only to the questions.

Responding to her contention that her testimony was her only opportunity to defend herself from various media reports, the judge assured her of the court’s impartiality.

Chaouqui testified that she simply introduced Msgr. Vallejo Balda to Nuzzi, a journalist she “held in high esteem.” She said that any leaked information on the commission’s work was provided by the Spanish monsignor and that Nuzzi never asked her questions on her role, access to documents or for information.

Regarding reports of an improper relationship, Chaouqui denied the allegations, adding that over time she shared a close friendship with the Spanish monsignor resulting in him confiding personal secrets.

She said that although Msgr. Vallejo Balda alluded falsely that they shared an intimate moment, she would still not divulge what was said in private.

“The (priestly) habit he still wears has value,” she said.

On the trial’s second day of testimony March 15, Msgr. Vallejo Balda testified that he felt he was being threatened by Chaouqui and had little choice but to give confidential documents to the two Italian reporters.

Testifying that he knew Chaouqui and Nuzzi were friends, the Spanish monsignor said he gave the documents to Nuzzi in order to win his trust and stave off any threat Chaouqui posed to him. “For me, giving those documents was a way to pay for my freedom,” he said.

Msgr. Vallejo Balda cited a Whatsapp conversation in which Chaouqui told him: “I will destroy you in all the newspapers and you know that I can do it.”

“If that isn’t a concrete threat, (I don’t know what is),” Msgr. Vallejo Balda told the court.

When asked about that conversation April 6, Chaouqui said she sent the message out of anger after a friend told her Msgr. Vallejo Balda was speaking ill of her and not because she wished to “extort something” from him.

“What would I want to extort from him? If a mouse approached him, he would have given it the documents,” she said.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Francis meets traditionalist Society of St. Pius X leader who seeks 'full communion' definition

Joshua J. McElwee
National Catholic Reporter
April 4, 2016

Pope Francis has met with the leader of a traditionalist group of Catholic bishops and priests who have been separated from the wider church for decades in opposition to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, the Vatican has confirmed.

The pontiff met Saturday with Bishop Bernard Fellay, the Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X, Vatican press office deputy director Gregory Burke told journalists Monday.

Founded by the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1970, the Society widely rejects the teachings of the Council, a 1962-65 gathering of the world’s Catholic bishops that led to large reforms in the church’s liturgy and its stance towards the world.

Pope Benedict XVI had sought to repair relations with the group, lifting the excommunications of four of their bishops in 2009. Those efforts ultimately failed when Fellay rejected a doctrinal statement drafted by the Vatican for the group to sign.

In a recent interview posted on the Society’s website, Fellay said he thinks Francis may consider his group as existing on the “periphery” and thus needing to be accompanied back to the church.

“[The pope] uses the expression ‘walk forward’ with people on the periphery, hoping to manage to improve things,” said Fellay. “Therefore it is not a fixed decision to succeed immediately: a development, a walk, goes wherever it goes.”

“It is clear that Pope Francis wants to let us live and survive,” the bishop continued. “He even said to anyone who cares to listen that he would never do the Society any harm.”

Francis had indicated a move toward unity between the wider church and the traditionalist society with the opening of the ongoing Jubilee year of mercy last fall.

In a September letter to the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, which is organizing the holy year on his behalf, he explained that members of the society would be granted faculties during the year to offer absolution of sins "validly and licitly" to those who approach them for confession.

"This Jubilee Year of Mercy excludes no one,” the pontiff said then. "I trust that in the near future solutions may be found to recover full communion with the priests and superiors of the Fraternity.”

In his recent interview, Fellay said he and the society were seeking to have “a clear definition sometime of this term ‘full communion.’”

Italian newspaper Il Foglio cited sources who said the meeting between Francis and Fellay Saturday “was positive” and that the “understanding is good” between the two leaders.

Outside of the faculties granted during the Jubilee year, members of the traditionalist Society are considered not to be in full communion with Rome and, in normal circumstances, its priests and bishops cannot exercise Roman Catholic ministry.