Wednesday, June 29, 2016

PA statute of limitations bill back on Senate floor

Kody Leibowitz
WJAC News - Johnstown,PA
June 29, 2016

Changes to the statute of limitations bill are now facing the state senate after passing through another committee.

But this bill comes with some speculation as to what happens next.

As currently amended, House Bill 1947 would still abolish the criminal statute of limitations prospectively, meaning a future victim of child sex abuse could go after criminal charges. The amendment passed Tuesday morning in a state senate committee.

The bill would also extend the civil statute of limitations to the age of 50 from age 30 for future victims.

Senators voted 9-4 to amend the statute of limitations bill, which took out retroactivity for civil lawsuits due to constitutionality concerns. Advocates and victims of sex abuse continue to say this bill doesn't do enough and have asked for retroactivity to let the courts decide, while insurance and catholic church lobbyists said the provision would be unconstitutional.

But some changes comes with initial confusion. Future victims would have an unlimited time to go after civil damages against the person(s) who committed the crime, person(s) who conspired and person(s) who knew that child sex abuse happened and failed to prevent the crime from happening again by not contacting police.

There will be no action against "any individual who was aware that a report of the childhood sexual abuse had already been made by another individual or entity to law enforcement officials or to a state or county child protective services agency", the bill reads.

According to Senator John Rafferty's office, an organization, non-profit, church or school would not fall under that section, so a victim and survivor of child sex abuse would have only until age 50 to file a lawsuit against that entity.

Sen. Rafferty, R-Collegeville, voted against this amendment.

The bill currently sits in the Senate.

Traditionalists spurn deal with Rome citing 'painful confusion'

Inés San Martîn
June 29, 2016

Despite recent rumors that Pope Francis might be on the brink of reconciling with a breakaway traditionalist Catholic body, the Society of St. Pius X now says that's not a priority because of the "great and painful confusion that currently reigns in the Church."

ROME-Just months after rumors indicated Pope Francis might be close to normalizing the situation of a breakaway traditionalist Catholic group, its leader now says that due to “painful confusion” in the Church encouraged by the pontiff, the group may not actually want such recognition.

Bishop Bernard Fellay, leader of the priestly Society of Saint Pius X, released a statement Wednesday saying that “in the great and painful confusion that currently reigns in the Church, the proclamation of Catholic doctrine requires the denunciation of errors that have made their way into it and are unfortunately encouraged by a large number of pastors, including the pope himself.”

The four-point statement follows a June 25-28 meeting of the society’s superiors in Switzerland. The second point says that considering “the present state of grave necessity” of the Church, which gives the society the right and duty to help “the souls that turn to it,” seeking canonical recognition is not a priority.

“[The society] has only one desire: faithfully to bring the light of the bi-millennial tradition, which shows the only route to follow in this age of darkness in which the cult of man replaces the worship of God, in society as in the Church,” Fellay wrote. Fellay claims that the purpose of the Society of Saint Pius X is the formation of priests, the “essential condition for the renewal of the Church and for the restoration of society.”

The society, also known as the “Lefebvrists” for their founder, the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, was born after the Second Vatican Council, which ended in 1965.

Lefebvrists generally have reservations about several of the teachings of the council, particularly in regard to ecumenism, interreligious dialogue, freedom of religion, and some aspects of the liturgical reform, including the use of the older Latin Mass. Despite the strong words against the pope, Fellay also writes that the group continues to pray and do penance for him, so that he might have the “strength to proclaim Catholic faith and morals in their entirety.”

Last September, Francis surprised many by extending an olive branch to the breakaway traditionalist group by decreeing that during his Holy Year of Mercy anyone who confesses their sins to a priest of the society will be considered validly forgiven.

In April, after a private meeting with the pope, Fellay said the pontiff had promised to extend this recognition indefinitely.

Fellay has had an ambivalent relationship with the pope. He’s expressed “happiness” over his meeting with Francis, who allegedly said he’d never condemned the group and that in his eyes they were “very much part of the Church.”

Yet during a homily after said meeting, the bishop also said that Francis’s recent apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia, “makes us cry,” adding that its stance on access to the Sacraments for divorced and civilly remarried couples makes this a “terrible document which harms the Church.”

In Fellay’s own words, Francis is “totally atypical” and a man hard to pin down in the “usual categories.”

“I would say one of the major problems we have is that the normal way of judging someone is by his actions and conclude, ‘He’s acting like this because he thinks like that.’ So [we] go back to a doctrine or sometimes an ideology,” Fellay said in a May interview.

“But if you try to do so with the present pope, you’re totally puzzled, because one day he does something and the next day he does or says almost the contrary,” he added.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Catholic bishop in Kansas City apologizes at special service for church sex abuse victims

Matt Campbell
Kansas City Star
June 26, 2016

Betrayal, regret, healing and forgiveness were key words at a special Service of Lament on Sunday at Kansas City’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception for victims and survivors of sexual abuse within the church.

Bishop James V. Johnston Jr. went straight to the point in his homily before a full congregation that included most if not all priests from the nearly 100 parishes in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

“I am here to confess, apologize and repent for the sins of those who held a sacred trust in the church and who betrayed that trust,” Johnston declared, saying he was speaking “for the priests and bishops and anyone in the service of the church whose actions or inactions harmed the lives of children entrusted to their care.”

This diocese, like many others, has been rocked by accounts of sexual abuse of children. It has settled multimillion-dollar legal cases involving scores of victims and their families. Former Bishop Robert Finn was charged with a criminal offense for failing to report suspected child sexual abuse. He lost his bishopric.

Johnston said that since he was installed as bishop in November, he has heard firsthand stories from victims and survivors, many of whom attended Sunday’s service. At many times the service was emotional, with congregants dabbing away tears.

The bishop also announced some steps that are being taken in conjunction with the church’s Office of Child and Youth Protection.

▪ The diocese will declare an annual day of prayer for the protection of children, beginning April 26, 2017.
▪ It will establish a multidiscipline team to review diocesan policies and implement improvements.
▪ It will also develop a training program to better help victims and survivors tell their stories.

“I am committed to finding the best ways to support healing throughout the diocese,” Johnston said.

The congregation knelt as a litany was read of actual statements from victims and survivors.

“The pain was so intense I did not want to live,” said one victim’s statement.

“When I came to you, vulnerable and abused, you turned me away,” said another.

“When I was brave enough to tell you the truth, you chose to side with my abuser,” said yet another.

The litany also included responses from the church.

“You should have been able to trust us,” said one.

“You were just a child. It was not your fault,” said another.

A majority of the congregation accepted an invitation to write a petition, prayer or statement of pain or hope on a slip of paper and bring it to a large glass bowl. When the bowl was full, Johnston added his own paper and blessed them all. They will be sealed away in a wooden box. New petitions and prayers may be added if more victims and survivors come forward.

Johnston said the 2 p.m. Service of Lament caused him to be more nervous than when he was installed as bishop. He said he was deeply grateful that so many attended.

“I offer you my deep sorrow and profound regret for what Catholic people have endured,” Johnston said. “I ask forgiveness.”

The bishop said no one can be healed without coming to the point of forgiveness. He repeated it for emphasis.

“I ask for your forgiveness, not so much for my benefit, but for yours,” he said, adding that forgiving does not mean forgetting. “We won’t forget. We can’t forget. We will never forget.”

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Pope Francis says church should apologize to gays

June 26, 2016

Pope Francis has said that the Roman Catholic Church should apologise to gay people for the way it has treated them.

He told reporters that the Church had no right to judge the gay community, and should show them respect.

The pontiff also said the Church should seek forgiveness from other people it had marginalised - women, the poor, and children forced into labour.

The Pope has been hailed by many in the gay community for his positive attitude towards homosexuals.

But some conservative Catholics have criticised him for making comments they say are ambiguous about sexual morality.

Speaking to reporters on his plane returning from Armenia, the Pope said: "I will repeat what the catechism of the Church says, that they [homosexuals] should not be discriminated against, that they should be respected, accompanied pastorally."

Pope Francis said the Church should seek forgiveness from those whom it had marginalised. "I think that the Church not only should apologise... to a gay person whom it offended but it must also apologise to the poor as well, to the women who have been exploited, to children who have been exploited by [being forced to] work. It must apologise for having blessed so many weapons."

In 2013, Pope Francis reaffirmed the Roman Catholic Church's position that homosexual acts were sinful, but homosexual orientation was not. "If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?" he said then.

In other remarks on Sunday, the Pope said he hoped the European Union would be able to recover following the UK's decision to leave.

"There is something that is not working in that bulky union, but let's not throw the baby out with the bath water, let's try to jump-start things, to re-create," he said.

During his visit to the Armenian capital, Yerevan, the Pope described the mass killing of Armenians under Ottoman Turkish rule in World War One as "genocide".

Turkey has always disputed the numbers killed and angrily rejects the term "genocide".

In response, Turkish deputy prime minister Nurettin Canikli said the Pope's comments were "very unfortunate" adding it was "possible to see all the reflections and traces of crusader mentality in the actions of the papacy".

The Pope's spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, later told reporters: "The Pope is on no crusade. He is not trying to organise wars or build walls but he wants to build bridges. He has not said a word against the Turkish people."

Francis calls on Christians to 'abandon rigid symbols' in symbol-rich Armenia day

Joshua J. McElwee
National Catholic Reporter
June 25, 2016

In a day filled with potent ecumenical and political messages, Pope Francis Saturday called on Christians to "abandon rigid opinions" in the search for unity among their different communions and demanded the wider world not forget the lessons of the Ottoman-era killings of some 1.5 million Armenians.

The pontiff began the second day of his Friday-Sunday visit to this country with an image-rich trip to the Armenian genocide memorial in Yerevan, the capital, alongside Catholicos Karekin II, the head of the Oriental Orthodox Armenian Apostolic church.

Francis and Karekin laid a wreath before an eternal flame at the center of the memorial complex, an evocative structure of 12 several-story tall slabs arranged in a circle, before leading a solemn and haunting joint ecumenical prayer together.

"Here I pray with pain in my heart that there may never again be tragedies like this, so that humanity may never forget and may know that good wins over evil," the pope wrote in the memorial's guestbook.

"May God guard the memory of the Armenian people," he added, continuing with words that may be taken as quite political: "Memory should not be watered-down or forgotten. Memory is the wellspring of peace and of the future."

The pope was referring to past public questioning about whether to refer to the killings, which began in 1915 under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, as a genocide. Turkey, the successor state to the empire and Armenia's western neighbor, claims that the term does not accurately describe the killings.

Francis ended the day with an evening ecumenical meeting and prayer for peace with Karekin and members of his community, which counts some 93 percent of Armenia's population of three million as members.

Speaking in Yerevan's Republic Square, a central square named for Lenin before Armenia's independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the pontiff issued a clarion call for Christians of separated churches to let go of old grievances and settled traditions in favor of finding unity together.

"Following Christ’s example, we are called to find the courage needed to abandon rigid opinions and personal interests in the name of the love that bends low and bestows itself, in the name of the humble love that is the blessed oil of the Christian life, the precious spiritual balm that heals, strengthens and sanctifies," said the pope.

Quoting the 12th century Armenian St. Nerses Shnorhali, who asked separated Christian communities to "make up for our shortcomings in harmony and charity," the pontiff said the saint suggested "a particular gentleness of love capable of softening the hardness of the heart of Christians, for they too are often concerned only with themselves and their own advantage."

"Humble and generous love, not the calculation of benefits, attracts the mercy of the Father, the blessing of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit," said Francis.

"By praying and 'loving one another deeply from the heart,' in humility and openness of spirit, we prepare ourselves to receive God’s gift of unity," he continued. "Let us pursue our journey with determination; indeed, let us run towards our full communion!"

The Armenian Apostolic church, which traces its founding to the apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus, is one of six churches that form Oriental Orthodoxy. Those churches, which have about 84 million members together, recognize only the first three ecumenical councils, breaking off from the other Christian churches in the fifth century.

Shnorhali, a predecessor of Karekin as the leader of the church, attempted to reunite Oriental and Eastern Orthodox communities and is renowned for his writings as a theologian and poet.

The ecumenical aspect of Francis' trip to Armenia has been at center throughout each of the pope's visits here, with deep symbolism evoked especially during the earlier visit Saturday to the genocide memorial.

During their joint prayer there, Francis and Karekin spoke together using Italian and Armenian, respectively. The two stood nearly shoulder-to-shoulder in front of the eternal flame, laying flowers on the ground together, before leading those present in the Our Father prayer in both languages.

After the prayer, a group of men played a deeply mournful tune with duduks, ancient double-reed woodwind flutes that originate from Armenia. As the musicians' cheeks puffed in effort, Francis stood near Karekin and looked near tears at the significance of the moment.

At the ecumenical peace prayer later in the evening, Karekin focused his remarks on an ongoing violent conflict taking place between Armenian and its eastern neighbor Azerbaijan.

The countries have been fighting over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, an area inside Azerbaijan populated mostly by ethnic Armenians. Despite an official ceasefire signed in 1994, skirmishes have continued, with heavy fighting taking place just this April that left dozens of soldiers on both sides and several civilians killed or missing.

Karekin meditated on the "unspeakable human suffering" taking place in many parts of the world, saying people "become the victims of weapons of death and brutal violence, or they choose the path of refugees, overcoming inexplicable difficulties in order to find a haven of safety."

"Today as well our nation lives under the difficult situation of an undeclared war," he said, adding later that "in such situations, the mission of the Christian churches and religious leaders cannot only be confined to helping the victims, consoling them, and giving pastoral care."

"More practical steps must be taken on the road to searching for peace by consolidating our efforts in preventing evil, by fostering the spirit of love, solidarity and cooperation in the societies through ecumenical and interfaith dialogue, according to God’s command, 'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God,'" said Karekin.

Between his visit to the memorial in the morning and the ecumenical peace prayer in the evening, Francis traveled back and forth about 75 miles north from Yerevan to Gyumri, Armenia's second-largest city.

He celebrated a public Mass there for the country's small Catholic community in the city's main square, suggesting in his homily "three stable foundations" upon which Armenians can "tirelessly build and rebuild the Christian life:" Memory, faith, and merciful love.

The pope warned against a temptation to reduce faith to "something from the past" as if it were "something important but belonging to another age, as if the faith were a beautiful illuminated book to be kept in a museum."

He also exhorted Armenians to practice merciful love.

"On this rock, the rock of the love we receive from God and offer to our neighbor, the life of a disciple of Jesus is based," said Francis. "In the exercise of charity, the Church’s face is rejuvenated and made beautiful."

"Concrete love is the Christian’s calling card," he continued. "Any other way of presenting ourselves could be misleading and even unhelpful, for it is by our love for one another that everyone will know that we are his disciples."

In another symbolic moment at the end of the Mass, Francis invited Karekin to ride together in the popemobile. The two leaders drove through the crowd in Gyumri offering blessings side-by-side.

Before heading back to Yerevan in the afternoon the leaders also visited the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic cathedrals in Gyurmi.

A priest at the 19th-century Armenian Apostolic Cathedral of the Holy Mother of God, known locally as Yot Verk, described how during Armenia's inclusion in the Soviet bloc the church was used as a storehouse for food supplies so it would not be destroyed.

He described Francis' visit as "very significant" because of the long separation between the Oriental Orthodox and Catholic communities and said that the pope is acting as a "strong unifier" for Christians.

Inside the apostolic cathedral, Francis and Karekin prayed before an icon of Mary holding Jesus' crucified body over her legs, with his seven wounds from his death clearly evident. The Orthodox priest claimed that the icon had a provenance dating back to the first century.

Francis is to continue his visit to Armenia Sunday by participating in an Armenian Orthodox liturgy and visiting one of the community's most historic monasteries before heading back to Rome that evening.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Bishop demands action against anti-Mother Teresa MP

UCA News - India
June 25, 2016

A church official in India has demanded action against a parliamentarian who accused Mother Teresa of using her social work as a cover for proselytism.

"These kind of statements only show the mentality of one person. I would request the Indian government take action against him and prove its sincerity towards minorities," Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas of Ranchi, secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, told

He was reacting to a statement by parliamentarian Yogi Adityanath, a member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), that Mother Teresa was part of a conspiracy to "Christianize India."

"Mother Teresa was part of a conspiracy for the Christianization of India. Christianization has led to separatist movement in parts of northeast India, including states of Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland," Adityanath said while speaking at a religious program in northern Indian Uttar Pradesh state on June 18.

Fellow BJP parliamentarian Subramanian Swamy supported Adityanath by saying such views were not "isolated."

This is not the first time that Mother Teresa has been accused of converting Hindus to Christianity.

In 2015, Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of the Hindu fundamentalist socio-religious group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (national volunteer corps), said Mother Teresa aimed to convert people to Christianity thorough her work. This is an umbrella group for Hindu hardliners and the political wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party that now rules the federal government and many Indian states.

Bishop Mascarenhas said he wants the government to take action on "out of place and immature comments" that are meant to spread hatred.

"We are happy that the vast majority of the Indian population does not think like this man. Rather than making such comments, it would be good if this person went and saw what Mother Teresa has done and what her sisters are now doing in India and across the world," he said.

"These comments are only made to discourage those serving the poor. If the intention is to serve the poor then it does not matter who is doing it," he said.

Blessed Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity in 1950. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971 for her work with the poor in Calcutta, now named Kolkata, and will be canonized a saint by Pope Francis in September.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Bully Pulpit

The Economist
June 25, 2016

ABOVE the announcement for confessions on Tuesday at 7pm, the weekly bulletin for St Rose of Lima’s church near Philadelphia had an unusual notice for parishioners with the heading, “JUST SO YOU ARE AWARE”. It stated that Nick Miccarelli voted in favour of House Bill 1947. The legislation would abolish the criminal statute of limitations for future child sexual abuse cases, including rape, incest and statutory sexual assault. In addition to sitting in the statehouse, Mr Miccarelli is a member of the parish.

Many states are revising their statutes of limitations for assault. Delaware has done so—a wave of lawsuits followed—as has California. New York’s statehouse considered a bill this month that would have extended its statute of limitations by five years. Pennsylvania’s bill would allow civil cases for child sexual abuse to be filed against public and private institutions, and extend the statute of limitations for civil cases from 30 to 50 years (the average male victim does not come forward until he is in his late 30s, women come forward even later on average). The state senate’s judiciary committee is considering whether to send the bill to the floor for a vote.

Mr Miccarelli, the lawmaker and parishioner, was not the only representative singled out by the church for supporting the bill. Martina White, who represents a district in Philadelphia, has been disinvited from several church events. Another was told by a priest that he had betrayed his faith. Earlier this month a letter written by Charles Chaput, the Archbishop of Philadelphia, was distributed at Sunday services saying the bill was a “clear attack” on the church and “poses serious dangers” for parishes, charities and schools. Archbishop Chaput helped defeat a similar bill in Colorado when he was Denver’s Archbishop.

Pennsylvania’s bill is timely. In March the state’s attorney general released a 147-page grand jury report exposing a decades long cover-up of child sex abuse in Altoona-Johnstown diocese, in central Pennsylvania. The abuse stretches back to the 1940s and involved at least 50 priests, according to the report. Many parishioners think the administrators who covered it up deserve to be punished too. Mr Miccarelli is unrepentant. “Frankly, I would rather be chastised from the altar than to be damned for not allowing justice to be done.”

Friday, June 17, 2016

Catholic church accused of using 'mafia-like' tactics to fight sex-abuse bill

Stephanie Kirchgaessner
The Guardian
June 17, 2016

The Catholic church in Pennsylvania has been accused of employing “mafia-like” tactics in a campaign to put pressure on individual Catholic lawmakers who support state legislation that would give victims of sexual abuse more time to sue their abusers.

The lobbying campaign against the legislation is being led by Philadelphia archbishop Charles Chaput, a staunch conservative who recently created a stir after inadvertently sending an email to a state representative Jamie Santora, in which he accused the lawmaker of “betraying” the church and said Santora would suffer “consequences” for his support of the legislation. The email was also sent to a senior staff member in Chaput’s office, who was apparently the only intended recipient.

The email has infuriated some Catholic lawmakers, who say they voted their conscience in support of the legislation on behalf of sexual abuse victims. One Republican legislator, Mike Vereb, accused the archbishop of using mafia-style tactics.

“This mob boss approach of having legislators called out, he really went right up to the line,” Vereb told the Guardian. “He is going down a road that is frankly dangerous for the status of the church in terms of it being a non-profit.”

Under US tax laws, organisations like churches that are classified as non-profit groups are not supposed to be engaged in political activity, though they are allowed to publish legislators’ voting records in some cases.

At stake in the contentious fight is a state bill that would allow victims of sexual abuse to file civil claims against their abusers, and those who knew of abuse, until they are 50 years old. Under current law, victims can only file suit until they are 30 years old. The proposal overwhelmingly passed the state lower house in a bipartisan vote in April but appears to have stalled in the state senate, where some believe it might not pass.

If it does pass and is signed by the governor, the legislation could cost the Catholic church tens of millions of dollars following a spate of abuse allegations in the state, including a devastating report released earlier this year by a grand jury that detailed how two Catholic bishops in the Altoona-Johnstown diocese covered up the abuse of hundreds of children by more than 50 priests over a 40-year period.

But it is the church’s personal targeting of legislators, rather than the legislation itself, that is drawing the most scrutiny, particularly among a small group of lawmakers who are both Republican and Catholic – and say they have steadfastly supported the church’s positions on other issues such as abortion and private Catholic schools.

Catholic lawmakers interviewed by the Guardian expressed dismay, shock and anger at the treatment they have received, particularly because they were targeted after the bill already passed in the lower house. All said they supported the legislation because they believed survivors of sexual abuse often needed decades to come to grips with the abuse they suffered.

One Catholic state representative named Martina White went on a local talk radio programme to describe how she had been “crushed” when she was disinvited to several planned events at local Catholic parishes because of her support for the bill.

Another representative, Nick Miccarelli, said he was baffled and upset when he learned that his support for the proposed legislation was included in his church’s bulletin under the heading “Just So You are Aware”, including information that he said was blatantly misleading about the nature of the bill.

“I’ve never had anything but good things to say [about my parish], so it was a heck of a shot, when you are out there telling people how much you think of a place, and that place doesn’t even give you a phone call before they print ... something that was not an accurate statement,” he said. Miccarelli was angered by the bulletin’s suggestion that the lawmakers had sought to protect public institutions while targeting private ones like churches.

Representative Thomas Murt, who attends mass daily, told a colleague he was “devastated” when the priest at his church spoke about Murt’s support of the legislation, even as Murt was sitting in the pews. The priest’s discussion of the legislation went on for 40 minutes.

“Tom was really upset that no where did the priest mention the kids. Anyone who knows Tom knows he is extremely sincere on this issue. He just wants to do what is right,” the colleague said, asking not to be named.

Ken Gavin, a spokesman for Chaput, rejected claims that the archdiocese was attempting to “shame elected officials from the pulpit”. Gavin said the Philadelphia archbishop had sent a letter explaining the church’s opposition to the bill to 219 parishes throughout the area, which had been read or made available during Mass.

“I am not aware of any situations involving a pastor lambasting an elected official and they weren’t directed to do so. I do know of many instances where pastors shared with parishioners how representatives voted on [the bill]. They shared knowledge that is already public,” Gavin said.

Chaput’s criticism of the bill is centred on claims that the Philadelphia archdiocese already has a “genuine and longstanding commitment” to abuse victims; that it is committed to protecting children now; and that the new law would only apply to churches and private institutions, but still make public institutions like schools and prisons immune from similar retroactive civil suits in abuse cases.

But the Catholic lawmakers who support the bill reject that claim as a red herring, because public institutions like schools receive some immunity from lawsuits in order to protect taxpayers. All said they had been deeply moved by the testimony of fellow legislator Mark Rozzi, who was raped by a priest when he was 13 years old and said the bill would offer victims some justice after years of being “stonewalled”.

Critics of Chaput’s strategy say the archbishop used the same tactics to successfully derail similar legislation in Colorado, where he previously served as archbishop. Joan Fitz-Gerald, the former Democratic head of the state senate in Colorado who had introduced the bill, recalled it was the most vicious and difficult experience of her life, with Chaput allegedly telling one of his lobbyists that he did not believe Fitz-Gerald would be going to heaven.

“He is the most vehement supporter of the secrecy of the Catholic church over pedophiles. He fights any authority over his own, even when it is a matter of criminal law,” Fitz-Gerald said.

One expert, Marci Hamilton, the chair of public law at Cardoza School of Law, said similar legislation that has passed in four other states, including California, has only been used by a relatively small number of victims.

“This is a way for the whole culture to say to survivors that they matter and that they are believed. Because when a survivor comes forward, in most states they are beyond the statute of limitations [to bring civil claims] and the message they get from the law is that what happened to you doesn’t matter,” she said.

Hamilton claimed that Chaput had been brought to Pennsylvania after helping to kill similar legislation in Colorado.

“It is clear they [the church] have bought into this strategy, which is to turn the church into the victim and to portray the victims as just seeking money and triangulating the parishioners against the victims, by saying the parish will go bankrupt and have to close schools,” Hamilton said.

Jamie Santora, the Republican legislator who several people said received the email from Chaput, declined to comment on the email specifically. But he acknowledged he had been accused by a high-ranking church official of betraying his church.

“I don’t feel I did betray my church. Growing up Catholic gave me the ability to vote the way I did. To me that was the morally correct vote, by choosing victims over abusers,” he said.

Asked to comment, the spokesman for the Philadelphia archbishop said: “Elected officials are accountable to the people who elected them. There’s nothing odd in that. It’s how the system works.”

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Florida bishop on Orlando attack: sadly religion 'often breeds contempt' for LGBT people

Brian Roewe
National Catholic Reporter
June 14, 2016

In the wake of the terrorist attack on a gay Orlando nightclub, St. Petersburg, Fla., Bishop Robert Lynch lamented the role religion has played in breeding contempt for the LGBT community.

“Sadly it is religion, including our own, which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people,” Lynch wrote on his blog Monday. “Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence.”

The bishop’s comments came a day after a gunman, Omar Saddiqui Mateen, killed at least 49 people and injured another 53 early Sunday morning at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. While the federal investigation into Mateen’s motives is not complete, his father has told media outlets his son had recently expressed anti-gay sentiments.

“Those women and men who were mowed down early yesterday morning were all made in the image and likeness of God,” Lynch said. “We teach that. We should believe that. We must stand for that.”

Lynch, 75, began the blog post saying he wrote “with a heavy heart,” and that a day earlier he could only muster a sympathetic text to neighboring Bishop John Noonan of Orlando. The St. Petersburg bishop offered his prayers for those who died and who are still in recovery. ​

In a statement Sunday, New Ways Ministry, a national Catholic LGBT outreach ministry, criticized church leaders that omitted references to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in their conciliatory statements.

“The Orlando murders should move all Catholic leaders to reflect on how their silence about homophobic and transphobic attitudes and violence contributes to behaviors which treat LGBT people as less than human and deserving of punishment. This sad moment in our history should become a time when Catholic leaders speak loudly and clearly, with one voice, that attacks on LGBT people must stop,” said its executive director Frank DeBernardo.

Lynch has previously spoken out against anti-gay sentiments and has advocated a greater pastoral response to same-sex couples.

“I do not wish to lend our voice to notions which might suggest that same-sex couples are a threat incapable of sharing relationships marked by love and holiness and, thus, incapable of contributing to the edification of both the church and the wider society,” he wrote in a January 2015 op-ed column following Florida’s legalization of same-sex marriage.

In his blog Monday, the bishop also echoed calls for a ban on the sale of all assault weapons, which he said extended beyond the scope that the Constitution authors envisioned when adding the Second Amendment to the Bill of Rights.

“If one is truly pro-life, then embrace this issue also and work for the elimination of sales to those who would turn them on innocents,” the bishop said.

Lastly, Lynch labeled attempts to bar Muslim people from entering the U.S. as “un-American, even in these most challenging of times and situations.”

“Singling out people for victimization because of their religion, their sexual orientation, their nationality must be offensive to God’s ears. It has to stop also,” he said.

Vatican religious congregation contacting about 15 orders of US sisters for 'serene diaglog'

Joshua J. McElwee
National Catholic Reporter
June 14, 2016

The Vatican's congregation for religious life is contacting about 15 U.S. orders of Catholic sisters to clarify "some points" following the controversial six-year investigation of American communities of women religious, the head of the congregation said in a brief interview Tuesday.

Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, the prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, said the conversations involve "listening to what they say in a transparent way, without fear, without judging."

"What I have liked most is that the climate of this dialogue is very serene," Braz de Aviz said. "There is listening on both sides. There is a rapport."

The cardinal spoke to NCR after his congregation requested that the leaders of the Kentucky-based Sisters of Loretto, one of the major orders of U.S. Catholic women religious, come to Rome in October.

As Global Sisters Report first reported, Loretto president Sr. Pearl McGivney has been asked to explain "ambiguity" in the order's adherence to church teaching and its way of living religious life.

The investigation of U.S. sisters' communities, known formally as an apostolic visitation, began in 2008 and concluded with release of a final report in December 2014. Braz de Aviz was appointed to the Vatican congregation in 2011.

Braz de Aviz said he was not immediately aware of the specifics of the Loretto sisters' case but said: "What we are doing now is when we concluded the visitation in the United States ... there remained some congregations [with whom] we had to speak, have dialogue with, on some points."

"We have already spoken now with -- I think -- four or five," he said. "We have to speak still with another 10 or so."

It is not yet known which other orders of U.S. women religious have been contacted by the Vatican congregation.

The cardinal also acknowledged that some U.S. sisters have expressed frustration with the beginning of the apostolic visitation process, saying it initially did not involve dialogue with them or consideration of their history in leading and supporting the U.S. Catholic church.

"We know the problems with the beginning of the visitation," Braz de Aviz said. "Before was not good."

"I would say [the follow-up] is being done with more attention because before, it would have been easy to have an unnecessary rift," he said. "Truly, it is not necessary."

The apostolic invitation involved inquiry into 341 female religious institutes in the U.S. that include an estimated 50,000 women.

In a June 9 statement to Global Sisters Report, McGivney said she received a letter from Braz de Aviz on April 15.

According to a letter she wrote to members of her order, which GSR obtained, the Loretto president has been asked to come to Rome on Oct. 18 to report on five "areas of concern" following the visitation process.

The International Union of Superiors General, a Rome-based umbrella group of the leaders of approximately 500,000 Catholic women religious worldwide, said in a statement to NCR on Monday that the request to the Loretto sisters "might be a good opportunity" for the Vatican congregation "to learn more ... from the source."

The group said it could be "an occasion for Loretto Sisters to share and explain their mission and their commitment."

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Pa state rep says Catholics, not hierarchy support his bill

Peter Feuerherd
National Catholic Reporter
June 10, 2016

Mark Rozzi as an altar server, during the period he says he was raped by a parish priest (Courtesy of Rep. Mark Rozzi)

When it comes to H.B. 1947, it's personal for State Rep. Mark Rozzi of Pennsylvania, a Democrat who represents the Reading area. His bill, which would extend the statute of limitations on sex abuse lawsuits, is adamantly opposed by the commonwealth's Catholic bishops, who see it as a threat which will ultimately bankrupt them.

By contrast, Rozzi says the in-the-pew Catholics are with him.

"The outrage my office hears is unbelievable, especially from the most devout," he told NCR in a June 8 phone conversation, just days before a pivotal legislative hearing on his bill.

He has been backed by some Catholic groups, including Catholic Whistleblowers, an organization which says it is dedicated to ensuring that the church clean house about sex abuse.

"These are crimes. The power of the Catholic church is being used in such a way that justice will be denied," said Catholic Whistleblower and Notre Dame de Namur Sr. Maureen Turlish, a native Philadelphian and currently a teacher in New Castle, Del., who testified in favor of the legislation passed in Delaware to extend the statute of limitations in 2007. In response to that legislation the Wilmington diocese entered voluntary bankruptcy to restructure its debts in response to sex abuse lawsuits.

Pennsylvania has been hit unusually hard by sex abuse news, from Jerry Sandusky at Penn State to Philadelphia native Bill Cosby, as well as the horrific stories released by grand juries about abusive priests in the Philadelphia archdiocese and the Altoona-Johnstown diocese, crimes committed mostly beyond the statute of limitations and unable to be prosecuted.

Rozzi says devoted Catholics are disgusted by what they see as inaction by the church and a long history of coverups and shuffling abusive priests around. Rozzi relates as a child sex abuse survivor himself, raped by a parish priest, who also abused the friends he grew up with in Berks County. When the second of those friends committed suicide in 2009, Rozzi, who once ran a window and door business begun by his father, moved into activism.

After unsuccessful efforts to lobby his state representative, Rozzi saw an opportunity when a seat opened up due to a resignation. In 2012 he won election on a platform that he would go to Harrisburg and push through legislation to offer those victimized by sex abuse their day in court. Similar bills had been stalled for 15 years.

Knocking on doors during his election campaign, he remembered in particular a woman in her 70s who encouraged his quest, noting that she too had been abused by a priest when she was a child.

The state's bishops argue that Rozzi's legislation is unconstitutional, changing the penalties for previous crimes, and singles out Catholic parishes and schools while leaving public entities unscathed. They say it would bankrupt dioceses, such as the one in nearby Wilmington. Rozzi and other supporters of the bill argue that no diocese has been forced into bankruptcy by similar legislation in other states, that those who did so responded voluntarily, as a way to protect assets and structure their debts.

Rozzi's bill would eliminate the criminal statute of limitations on sex abuse and would allow childhood victims of sex abuse to sue until they reach the age of 50, from its current 30. That is too long a time, say the Pennsylvania bishops.

They are led by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, who came to the city in 2011 after successfully beating back similar legislation in Colorado when he was Archbishop of Denver.

"The problem with H.B. 1947 is its prejudicial content. It covers both public and religious institutions but in drastically different and unjust ways. The bill fails to support all survivors of abuse equally, and it's a clear attack on the Church, her parishes and her people," the archbishop said in a letter read to churchgoers in the archdiocese June 5.

He warned that the bill would result in parish and school closures as the church fought lawsuits that had their roots in alleged crimes committed decades ago. The bill, he said, would unfairly spare public institutions.

Catholic state legislators who supported Rizzo's bill -- it passed the House by a 180-15 margin -- were called out in some cases by their pastors from their pulpits in the archdiocese, an indication of political hardball being exerted by the church.

For example, according to an Associated Press report, Rep. Nick Miccarelli, a Delaware County Republican, was shocked to learn that his vote in favor of the bill was reported in his parish’s weekly bulletin.

An announcement under a shouting headline "JUST SO YOU ARE AWARE" read: "State Representative Miccarelli voted in favor of House Bill 1947, which states that private institutions can be sued as far as 40 years ago for millions of dollars, while public institutions may not be sued for any crimes."

Rozzi will have none of the bishops' responses, his voice over the phone crackling with indignation.

"Quit pointing fingers," he said about the Pennsylvania bishops' argument that public schools are not covered in the bill. "Make the church whole again."

The bishops argue that it is almost impossible to try cases where the alleged perpetrators are deceased. Rozzi said the argument is irrelevant.

"My priest (who abused me) is dead. But I want to hear my voice in a court of law," he said.

He has received an apology from his Allentown home diocese, forthcoming, he said, only after it was clear he was going to be elected.

"I live my faith. If Jesus were on the planet he would be shoulder-to-shoulder with me," he said.

Whatever Jesus would do, the fate of H.B. 1947 rests with the Pennsylvania state Senate. The House has passed Rozzi's bill, and it has an okay from Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat. A June 13 hearing will explore the bill's constitutional concerns, and, if it passes that hurdle, proponents want it to go to the full Senate before the legislature adjourns for the summer.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Catholic church's pressure campaign on sex-abuse bill has crossed the line

John L. Micek
Penn Live
June 9, 2016

As they work their way through the thicket of complicated legislation that routinely comes before them, state lawmakers face constant pressure from the legion of clout-wielding lobbyists and impassioned advocates who prowl the halls of the state Capitol.

But what happens when one of those lobbyists also, theoretically, has the power of the Creator of the Universe on their side?

Roman Catholic lawmakers who supported a state House bill that eliminates the statute of limitations for criminal cases of child sex abuse and extends the window for civil lawsuits until the victim is 50 years old, are finding out firsthand.

Take, for example, Rep. Nick Miccarelli, a Delaware County Republican, who was called out by name in the parish bulletin for St. Rose of Lima church in Eddystone, Pa.

"JUST SO YOU AWARE," the update tucked among the routine church notices read, "State Rep. Nick Miccarelli voted in favor of House Bill 1947 which states that private institutions can be sued as far as 40 years ago for millions of dollars, while public institutions may not be sued for any crimes committed in the past."

Miccarelli, who's been attending the church for years, said he was shocked by the very public scolding.

And he took to Facebook to complain about it:

"There is no one, and I mean no one, with any understanding of the law who would claim, "public institutions may not be sued for any crimes committed in the past." Google "Jerry Sandusky Penn State Lawsuit" if you need to see evidence that public institutions can be sued," he wrote. "What this bill did, was to expand the statute of limitations for claims of child molestation. Put simply, it allows those people who are raped as children, more time to face those who raped them."

And in a business where where advocacy groups routinely seek out meetings and call lawmakers to talk about their issues, Miccarelli said his hometown pastor hadn't reached out to him at all to discuss any concerns.

"Pope Francis can go to [U.S.] House of Representatives, and my parish priest can't give me a call?" he marveled.

Miccarelli estimates that about a dozen of his fellow House lawmakers, who were among the 180 who voted in April to approve the bill sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Ron Marsico, R-Lower Paxton Twp., have been targeted in the lobbying action.

The scoldings, which are apparently being coordinated by Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, and sit just this side of the kind of electioneering activity that would likely violate the church's nonprofit status, are not only wrong, they're barefaced in their arrogance and hypocrisy.

That's because this bill wouldn't exist were it not for - and there's no polite way to put it - the Catholic Church's systemic cover-up of years upon years of child rape that wrecked the lives of countless thousands of children, mostly young men.

State lawmakers are not only cleaning up the church's mess, they're providing additional recourse to others who have been preyed upon by monsters who have no place in our midst.

But facing potentially ruinous lawsuits for hideous crimes that never should have happened in the first place, the church is pushing back with the most potent weapon in its arsenal:

Good, old-fashioned Roman Catholic guilt.

"The problem with [the legislation] is its prejudicial content," Chaput wrote in a June 6 letter obtained by The Morning Call of Allentown. "It covers both public and religious institutions -- but in drastically different and unjust ways. The bill fails to support all survivors of abuse equally, and it's a clear attack on the Church, her parishes, her schools and her people."

The only problem is - it's not true.

The legislation applies "equally to private and public institutions going forward. Due to the sovereign immunity protections afforded to state institutions by the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, it appears that this reform cannot apply retroactively to them," The Call reported, citing a fact sheet put together by a group called the Foundation to Abolish Child Sex Abuse.

The fact sheet was sent to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee ahead of a meeting Monday where the panel will take up the House legislation.

A spokesman for Chaput, Ken Gavin, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that pastors "in many instances" last weekend told their parishioners how some lawmakers had voted on the House bill.

"The bill is public and the voting records are public," Gavin told the newspaper. "There's nothing wrong with sharing that information. Obviously, parishioners are very concerned about this legislation. For those constituents to contact elected officials to voice such concern is a very normal thing."

Which, of course, is nonsense.

When a powerful institution like the Catholic Church starts breathing on you, the effect is anything but benign. That's especially true when, like Miccarelli and others, you're one of 203 House members who are up for re-election in November.

And that's just the way Chaput wants it.

That's because he played a similar brand of hardball when he was Archbishop in Denver and worked to defeat a similar bill there, The Inquirer reported.

And it was part of a pattern of behavior on other issues.

"Chaput championed elected officials bringing their faith into political life — rebuking, for example, Catholic officeholders who declared themselves pro-choice," Philadelphia Magazine observed in a piece published last August. "He lambasted Notre Dame in 2009 for awarding pro-abortion Barack Obama an honorary degree. He spoke out nationally against gay marriage and stem-cell research."

All of which is within his right as a spiritual leader.

But it's just another instance of the troubling conflation of religion and politics which seems so much a part of our contemporary debate.

And while each lawmaker will have to wrestle with his or her own conscience and beliefs when it comes to certain votes, that's their business - and their business alone.

Because, the church should remember lawmakers also serve the entirety of the Commonwealth - not just one narrow slice of it. And those interests may not always be consonant with those of the church.

"Frankly, I would much rather be chastised from the altar, than to be damned for not allowing justice to be done," Miccarelli wrote on Facebook.


And if the church would like to continue to dabble in Harrisburg politics, then perhaps it's worth taking a closer look at how often its activities cross the line into outright electioneering.

If it's happening, maybe they shouldn't be tax exempt at all.

And just think of how much money cities, towns and the state could raise with all those properties back on the tax rolls.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Francis gives Vatican authority to initiate removal of bishops negligent on sexual abuse

Joshua J. McElwee
National Catholic Reporter
June 4, 2016

Pope Francis has signed a new universal law for the global Catholic church specifying that a bishop's negligence in response to clergy sexual abuse can lead to his removal from office.

The law also empowers several Vatican dicasteries to investigate such bishops and initiate processes of removal, subject to final papal approval.

The move, made by the pontiff in a formal document known as a motu proprio on Saturday, appears to represent a significant moment in the worldwide church's decades-long clergy sexual abuse crisis.

In case after case in the past, the Vatican and church officials would dig in to protect bishops even when there was substantial documented evidence of negligence on their behalf. Now, the pope has formally mandated that the church's offices in Rome must prosecute bishops who fail in protecting children.

"Canon law already foresees the possibility of removal from the ecclesial office 'for grave causes,'" Francis states in a short preamble to the new law, given the Italian name Come una madre amorevole ("Like a loving mother.")

"With the following letter I intend to specify that among those 'grave causes' is included negligence of bishops in the exercise of their office, particularly relative to cases of sexual abuse against minors and vulnerable adults," he continues.

Marie Collins, a member of Francis' Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and an abuse survivor, told NCR she welcomes the new procedures and "hope they will succeed in bringing the accountability survivors have waited for so long."

"The most important aspect of any new procedure is it’s implementation and that is what we must wait to see," she said.

The new measure, comprised of five short articles, allows "the competent congregation of the Roman Curia" to begin investigations of local bishops, eparchs, or heads of religious communities when the congregation suspects a leader's negligence has caused "physical, moral, spiritual or patrimonial" harm.

"The diocesan bishop or the eparch or whoever has the responsibility for a particular church, even if temporarily ... can be legitimately removed from his position if he has by negligence, place or omitted acts caused serious harm to others, whether their physical persons or the community as a whole," states the first article.

"The diocesan bishop or eparch can be removed only if he has objectively been lacking in a very grave manner the diligence that is required of his pastoral office," it continues, specifying: "In the case of abuse against minors or vulnerable adults it is sufficient that the lacking of diligence be grave."

The law obliges the Vatican to notify the local bishop or leader of the investigation and to give him the possibility to produce relevant documents or testimony.

"To the bishop will be given the possibility to defend himself, according to the methods foreseen by the law," it states. "All the steps of the inquiry will be communicated to him and he will always be given the possibility of meeting the superiors of the congregation."

The law states that "if it becomes necessary to remove the bishop" the congregation involved in the matter can either proceed "to give, in the shortest time possible, the decree or removal" or "to exhort the bishop fraternally to present his resignation within 15 days."

"If the bishop does give his response in that time, the congregation can release the decree of removal," it states.

All decisions by Vatican congregations, the law states, "must be subjected to the specific approval of the Roman Pontiff." The pope, it continues, will be assisted in making his decision "by a special association of legal experts of the designated need."

The new law appears to modify a suggestion Francis was given last year by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors to create a new tribunal at the Vatican to judge bishops who respond inappropriately to sexual abuse claims.

Where a new tribunal would have likely required much time and effort to create, the law deputizes current Vatican offices to undertake that work.

The U.S.-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said in a statement they were "highly skeptical" of the pope's new law.

"A 'process' isn’t needed," said the group. "Discipline is what’s needed. A 'process' doesn’t protect kids. Action protects kids. A 'process' is helpful only if it’s used often enough to deter wrongdoing. We doubt this one will be."

Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican's chief spokesman, said in a note Saturday that four Vatican congregations would be charged with investigating prelates: for Bishops, for the Evangelization of Peoples, for the Oriental Churches, and for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

The Vatican's chief doctrinal office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, will not be involved with the new law "because it is not a matter of crimes of abuse but of negligence of office," Lombardi said.

The spokesman also said that the "special association" that is to assist the pope in deciding on these matters will be a new group of advisers and "you can foresee that this association will be composed of cardinals and bishops."

The new law is to take effect Sept. 5.