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Bishops around U.S. respond with 'sorrow' to abuse report, vow to act

IMAGE: CNS photo/Reuters video

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a tweet, a U.S. bishop said he had spent the night reading a grand jury report detailing seven decades of child sex abuse claims in six Pennsylvania dioceses and "it was like reading a horror book."

Unfortunately, it was not a fictional account, wrote Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville early Aug. 15, a day after the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General published the mammoth document of more than 1,300 pages detailing accounts of the rape of children, secrecy by church officials and some law enforcement failures over 70 years.

"It is real and lives were destroyed and faith shattered," Bishop Stika tweeted.

He joined at least a dozen or so prelates outside of Pennsylvania who, via Twitter, TV or in person, at Masses for the feast of the Assumption, took time to express the same sorrow and pain that lay Catholics have been feeling and expressing. But many bishops also spoke about the added layer of what to do about the pain of a shattered trust between shepherds and their angry and pain-stricken flock that many say they now must fix.

"This is extraordinarily painful, it is humiliating, it is nauseating," said New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan during an interview with local CBS station WLNY in New York City. "This is a kick in the gut. I really worry about a loss of credibility, a loss of trust. There's no use denying it. We can't sugarcoat this. This is disastrous."

Painfully aware of the anger Catholics are voicing after the revelations out of Pennsylvania, Boston Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley said Aug. 16 that something must be done right away.

"The clock is ticking for all of us in church leadership, Catholics have lost patience with us and civil society has lost confidence in us," said Cardinal O'Malley in a statement. "But I am not without hope and do not succumb to despondent acceptance that our failures cannot be corrected."

Transformation has to take place in the way the church prepares priests, "the way we exercise pastoral leadership and the way we cooperate with civil authorities; all these have to be consistently better than has been the case," he said, adding that "we remain shamed by these egregious failures to protect children and those who are vulnerable and affirm our commitment that these failures will never be repeated."

At the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, Cardinal Edwin F. O'Brien, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, began a Mass on the feast of the Assumption Aug. 15 by making a brief reference to the developments.

"Mary, our patroness, has guided the church in America through many difficult moments," he said. "Today, yet another moment of trial is upon us, a very serious crisis which has brought many of our people to the point of despair and anger and even the loss of faith."

He said he offered the Mass asking for Mary's intercession, so "that the bishops of our nation might accomplish a renewal of trust in the church and its leaders across the land."

"And no less I ask Mary's son, the Good Shepherd, for the graces of healing, reconciliation and justice for all the people of God among us, above all for those who have been abused and their families," he said.

The report by a Pennsylvania grand jury of 23 people said the investigation of almost two years identified more than 1,000 people who say they were abused by some 301 priests, many whom are now dead.

However, some living priests named in the report are disputing some of the information and claims in the document and challenged to have their names blacked out, or redacted. They will be heard by the courts in September. The grand jury said it was likely that more victims as well as perpetrators were not identified in the months-long investigation.

Dallas Bishop Edward J. Burns told The Dallas Morning News he felt "sick" reading the accounts, "knowing that this occurred at the hands of men that you knew and even worked side by side with adds to a dimension of disbelief."

Bishop Burns grew up in Pittsburgh and knew some of those named in the report, The Dallas Morning News article said.

Recalling one of the priests named in the report, Bishop Burns told the newspaper that the priest "was domineering, he was extremely bossy, he did not possess a shepherd's heart, from my perspective," adding that "now I have come to recognize that he not only had a different view of priesthood, he just had a double life.

But like others, he never suspected the horrors that were taking place.

Archbishop of Detroit Allen H. Vigneron said in an Aug. 13 statement, before the report became public, that it was disheartening, "for us once again to come face-to-face with moral failures in the priesthood, especially among us bishops."

"These sins are marks of shame upon the church," he said.

Though there may be the temptation to despair and think that change is not possible, "reform can only happen when hope lives," he said.

"We must move forward with the conviction that God will not abandon his church. He wants her purified, cleansed of these sins and brought to new life," he said.

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez urged prayers during the feast of the Assumption for abuse victims.

"We are aware that this is a sad and confusing time for the church in this country," he said in his homily. "In recent days and weeks, we have heard new revelations about sin and abuse in the church. This is a time now for prayer and repentance and a time for examining our conscience, especially for those of us who are bishops and priests."

Bishop Michael F. Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, said in an Aug. 14 statement that it's time to hold accountable "morally and legally" those who allowed the abuse in Pennsylvania to occur, as well as those who hid alleged abuses by former Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick.

"Pledges of penitential prayer and actions on the part of church leadership are meaningless unless first preceded by contrition, confession, firm purpose of amendment and concrete actions of conversion," he said.

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Vatican wants accountability for abusers, those who protected them

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring


VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In the wake of a grand jury report on clergy sexual abuse in six dioceses in Pennsylvania, a Vatican spokesman called the abuses described in the report as being "criminal and morally reprehensible."

"Victims should know that the pope is on their side. Those who have suffered are his priority, and the church wants to listen to them to root out this tragic horror that destroys the lives of the innocent," said Greg Burke, head of the Vatican press office, in a written statement Aug. 16.

"Those acts were betrayals of trust that robbed survivors of their dignity and their faith. The church must learn hard lessons from its past, and there should be accountability for both abusers and those who permitted abuse to occur," he wrote.

"The Holy See condemns unequivocally the sexual abuse of minors," Burke wrote and, as such, "the Holy See encourages continued reform and vigilance at all levels of the Catholic Church, to help ensure the protection of minors and vulnerable adults from harm."

"The Holy See also wants to underscore the need to comply with the civil law, including mandatory child abuse reporting requirements," he added.

The statement, sent in Italian with unofficial English and Spanish translations, came after the Pennsylvania attorney general held a news conference Aug. 14 announcing a 900-page report detailing decades of child sexual abuse by 301 priests, who harmed more than 1,000 victims.

In response the report, Burke said, "there are two words that can express the feelings faced with these horrible crimes: shame and sorrow."

"The Holy Father understands well how much these crimes can shake the faith and the spirit of believers and reiterates the call to make every effort to create a safe environment for minors and vulnerable adults in the church and in all of society," the spokesman said.

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Maryland parish helps sister parishes in Nicaragua amid increasing unrest

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy St. John Vianney Parish

By Kelly Sankowski

PRINCE FREDERICK, Md. (CNS) -- For many parishioners of St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Prince Frederick, the violence happening in Nicaragua is more than just headlines flashing across the screen.

"The parish here is impacted by it a lot," said Father Dan Carson, the parish's pastor. "People (are) constantly asking about it."

For 10 years, the parish has been working with sister parishes in San Juan de Limay and more recently in Esteli to build homes for the poorest of the poor in Nicaragua. The parishioners of St. John Vianney raise money to build simple brick and mud houses, which cost about $2,600 each, and then send the funds to their sister parish.

Since there is so much unemployment in Nicaragua, Don Mueller, the parishioner who leads the project, said the group does not go down to build the houses themselves, but instead pays a foreman and two workers to do the building, assisted by the volunteer labor of the people receiving the house.

Each house is 20-by-20 feet, which is roughly the size of a master bedroom in the United States, and has no electricity, indoor plumbing or running water. Nevertheless, Father Carson and Mueller both recalled how the people receiving the house say it is like a mansion to them, since they have often been living in three sided shelters made out of things like sticks and plastic bags.

Since St. John Vianney began this work in 2008, they have built about 450 houses.

"People who have nothing really treasure their faith, family and friends," said Father Carson told the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington. "They have a joy that we don't in our country because we have so much stuff. They just appreciate the little things."

Mueller takes about two trips per year down to Nicaragua, along with a group of eight to 12 other parishioners, to visit with the families whose homes have been built and to pray with the committee that helps select the families who are receiving homes.

"Our only rule is it has to be the poorest of the poor, without regard to race, religion politics or anything like that," said Mueller. "The committee looks at everybody and decides who is the poorest of the poor."

Their last trip was in January, and it was Father Carson's first time there, since he had been newly appointed to the parish. While they were there, he blessed the newly constructed homes.

Mueller recalled the faithful dedication of the people who they have met in Nicaragua, who often live in remote areas. One man in particular whom they had met hiked three and a half hours with his guitar in order to get to the church to sing at Mass on Sunday.

The group from St. John Vianney had intended to take another trip this summer, but could not go because of safety concerns. The housing program continues to operate, even though the parishioners from St. John Vianney are unable to go visit the parishes and families.

In recent months, unrest in the country has increased, with police and paramilitaries killing people who are peacefully protesting the regime of the country's president, Daniel Ortega. Many of the protesters are young students.

Since the protests began April 12, the death toll has reached 448, according to human rights groups in the country. Ortega has labeled Catholic clergy as enemies and those supporting them as terrorists.

Bishop Juan Abelardo Mata Guevara of Esteli, whom the St. John Vianney group always visits when they go to Nicaragua, has been attacked and shot at on multiple occasions. As far as they know, the parishioners of their two sister parishes are still OK.

"Bishop Mata has become a friend over the years," said Mueller. "He has been attacked and shot at and threatened by the government and that really hurts. I consider him a friend, he has been to the states, he has been to our parish, he has been to my house."

To help their friends from afar, donors from St. John Vianney Parish sent $20,000 to Bishop Mata to be used at his discretion for emergency purposes, which they sent in small installments so as not to raise suspicion.

Just a day after the money arrived, Ortega ordered the public hospital not to treat injured protesters, so Bishop Mata treated them at the medical school he had opened, with medicine bought with the money that St. John Vianney had sent.

"He called it a miracle that the money had just arrived the day before," said Mueller.

Now, the Nicaraguan government has declared any doctor who treats injured protesters a terrorist.

St. John Vianney raised $464 for the housing project with a recent fundraiser at the parish picnic. Also, in solidarity with those facing violence, the parish is praying the prayer of St. Michael as the bishop and priests in Nicaragua say the same prayer.

Father Carson remarked that the circumstances are particularly sad for such a poor country, where it is tough "to see the people that have nothing there hurt even more."

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Sankowski is on the staff of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.

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Update: Cardinal explains plan to address 'moral catastrophe' of abuse

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Julie Asher

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Aug. 16 announced three key goals and a comprehensive plan to address the "moral catastrophe" of the new abuse scandal hitting the U.S. church.

The plan "will involve the laity, lay experts, the clergy and the Vatican," Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said. This plan will be presented to the full body of bishops at their general assembly meeting in Baltimore in November.

He said the "substantial involvement of the laity" from law enforcement, psychology and other disciplines will be essential to this process.

He also said that right now, it is clear that "one root cause" of this catastrophe "is the failure of episcopal leadership."

In a lengthy letter addressed to all Catholics, Cardinal DiNardo laid out three goals just established by the bishops' Executive Committee in a series of meetings held early the week of Aug. 13.

The first is a "full investigation" into "the questions surrounding" Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, a former cardinal and retired archbishop of Washington. He said the Executive Committee will ask the Vatican to conduct an apostolic visitation into these questions "in concert with" a group of laypeople identified for their expertise by the USCCB's lay-run National Review Board who will be "empowered to act."

With a credible allegation that Archbishop McCarrick abused a minor nearly 47 years ago and accusations of his sexual misconduct with seminarians, many have been asking how the prelate could have risen up the ranks of the church as an auxiliary bishop, bishop, archbishop and finally cardinal.

Cardinal DiNardo described the second and third goals, respectively, as an opening of new and confidential channels for reporting complaints against bishops, and advocacy for more effective resolution of future complaints.

The three goals "will be pursued according to three criteria: proper independence, sufficient authority and substantial leadership by laity," he said.

"Two weeks ago, I shared with you my sadness, anger, and shame over the recent revelations concerning Archbishop Theodore McCarrick," the cardinal said. "Those sentiments continue and are deepened in view of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report.

"We are faced with a spiritual crisis that requires not only spiritual conversion, but practical changes to avoid repeating the sins and failures of the past that are so evident in the recent report," he added.

Cardinal DiNardo said the members of the Executive Committee "have already begun to develop a concrete plan for accomplishing these goals, relying upon consultation with experts, laity and clergy, as well as the Vatican."

In addition to this being presented to the full body of bishops at their Baltimore assembly, the cardinal said he will go to Rome to present these goals and criteria to the Holy See, and to urge further concrete steps based on them."

"The overarching goal in all of this is stronger protections against predators in the church and anyone who would conceal them, protections that will hold bishops to the highest standards of transparency and accountability," Cardinal DiNardo explained.

He elaborated on each of the goals he described, starting with the "full investigation" of the Archbishop McCarrick case and questions surrounding it.

"These answers are necessary to prevent a recurrence," he said, and "so help to protect minors, seminarians and others who are vulnerable in the future."

The bishops will "invite the Vatican to conduct an apostolic visitation to address these questions, in concert with a group of predominantly laypeople identified for their expertise by members of the National Review Board and empowered to act," he said.

He said the second goal "is to make reporting of abuse and misconduct by bishops easier."

"Our 2002 'Statement of Episcopal Commitment' does not make clear what avenue victims themselves should follow in reporting abuse or other sexual misconduct by bishops," he explained. The statement is in the bishops' "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," approved in Dallas in 2002, and revised in 2005, 2011 and 2018.

"We need to update this (commitment) document," Cardinal DiNardo said. "We also need to develop and widely promote reliable third-party reporting mechanisms. Such tools already exist in many dioceses and in the public sector and we are already examining specific options."

The third goal has to do with advocating for "better procedures to resolve complaints against bishops," he said.

"For example, the canonical procedures that follow a complaint will be studied with an eye toward concrete proposals to make them more prompt, fair, and transparent, and to specify what constraints may be imposed on bishops at each stage of that process," he said.

He also laid out the three criteria for pursing these goals: "genuine independence," authority and "substantial involvement by the laity."

"Any mechanism for addressing any complaint against a bishop must be free from bias or undue influence by a bishop," he said. "Our structures must preclude bishops from deterring complaints against them, from hampering their investigation, or from skewing their resolution."

Regarding authority in the church, he said, "Because only the pope has authority to discipline or remove bishops, we will assure that our measures will both respect that authority and protect the vulnerable from the abuse of ecclesial power."

About the "substantial involvement of the laity," he said: "Laypeople bring expertise in areas of investigation, law enforcement, psychology, and other relevant disciplines, and their presence reinforces our commitment to the first criterion of independence."

In closing, he said, "I apologize and humbly ask your forgiveness for what my brother bishops and I have done and failed to do."

"Whatever the details may turn out to be regarding Archbishop McCarrick or the many abuses in Pennsylvania (or anywhere else), we already know that one root cause is the failure of episcopal leadership," Cardinal DiNardo said. "The result was that scores of beloved children of God were abandoned to face an abuse of power alone. This is a moral catastrophe.

"It is also part of this catastrophe that so many faithful priests who are pursuing holiness and serving with integrity are tainted by this failure."

He said the U.S. bishops "firmly resolve, with the help of God's grace, never to repeat it."

"I have no illusions about the degree to which trust in the bishops has been damaged by these past sins and failures. It will take work to rebuild that trust," Cardinal DiNardo said.

He said the goals and plans outlined in his letter are "only the beginning."

"Other steps will follow," he said. "I will keep you informed of our progress toward these goals."

He asked U.S. Catholics "to hold us to all of these resolutions."

"Let me also ask you to pray for us, that we will take this time to reflect, repent and recommit ourselves to holiness of life and to conform our lives even more to Christ, the Good Shepherd."

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Update: Network of homes provides love, hope, help for pregnant women

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jeffrey Bruno

By Steve Larkin

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- When Chris Bell was working in Times Square in the late 1970s, he was shocked to repeatedly see young mothers entering crisis shelters with their children, and he decided that he had to do something.

With the help of Father Benedict Groeschel, a member of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, and his spiritual director at the time, Bell founded Good Counsel, a network of pro-life maternity homes.

Currently, Good Counsel operates seven homes -- four in New York state, one in New Jersey, one in Alabama and one in Connecticut -- and works with other homes all over the country. It also is looking to both grow and expand its network.

"Good Counsel is one of the founding members of the National Maternity Housing Coalition," Bell told Catholic News Service. "Most of the homes are small and limited in what they can do, but we can help find a place for any pregnant woman in the country."

Bell said that any pregnant women can enter the maternity homes for free, and the homes will help provide them with opportunities to go back to school and find jobs.

Good Counsel will even assist pregnant women with drug addictions or mental illnesses and help find suitable places for them.

They also can help plan adoptions. Bell said that many women don't realize that they can choose the couple who would adopt their child and fear that the child will be placed in the foster care system.

Bell said that many women who are told that their child will have genetic defects can benefit from maternity homes.

"I don't know why the only response so many medical people have is to tell the mother to get rid of it if it looks like the child will have genetic defects," he said. "Especially in the United States, where we're rich and have the technology to help them."

He told the story of a woman whose doctor told her that her unborn son had a defect in every cell in his body, and the doctor recommended she abort.

She then called Good Counsel, saying "I just want to be a good mother." Good Counsel took her in, found a different medical facility for her, and prayed with her because she wanted to pray.

When the boy was born, the fears of the doctor were unfounded. He had a hole in his heart, which required two surgeries, but by the time the mother left the home her son looked like any other one-year-old.

Bell also told another story of a mother who already had a 3-year-old when she came to Good Counsel.

When she told the father that she was pregnant, he kicked her in the stomach and she left him.

Within her first few months, she had obtained a home health certificate, and, after having the baby and staying with him for a few months, she found a job.

"When I think about where she was when she came to us and where she was when she left, it was a total turnaround," Bell said.

Bell said he thought that media coverage was one reason for a lack of awareness about maternity homes.

"I think the media has a strong bias against anything anti-abortion," he said.

Despite that, he intends on continuing his work.

"The question I ask: Isn't there enough love in the world for another baby? Where there's love, there's life, and where there's life, there's hope. We can change things by looking at one life at a time and one family at a time."

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Editor's Note: Information about the Good Counsel network of homes can be found by going to or by calling (800) 723-8331.

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Update: Abuse in Ireland: Pressure mounts for pope to address scandal

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis is traveling to Ireland specifically for the World Meeting of Families, but the sex abuse crisis is dominating headlines before his Aug. 25-26 trip.

While coverage of clerical abuse in the United States, Chile and Australia continues, Irish news media have been filled with articles about how a top Vatican official allegedly tried to get Irish government officials to support deals that would protect church records of abuse allegations and limit the financial liability of the church.

Former Irish President Mary McAleese said Cardinal Angelo Sodano, then the Vatican secretary of state, approached her in November 2003 about an agreement or concordat to protect church records, and Dermot Ahern, Ireland's former foreign minister, said Cardinal Sodano asked him in November 2004 about the Irish government indemnifying the church against court-ordered compensation for victims. Many of the institutions where the abuse took place were supported by the state or subject to state inspection.

Cardinal Sodano, the now 90-year-old dean of the College of Cardinals, has not responded to the claims, nor has the Vatican press office.

Writing Aug. 7 in the Irish Times, Marie Collins, who had been one of the abuse survivors Pope Francis named to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, said that in Dublin the pope "should admit the responsibility the Vatican and church leadership hold for past events in Ireland and set out how he is going to deal with the abuses happening today in other parts of the Catholic world."

"He needs to do more than make promises," Collins wrote. "He must commit to action."

U.S. Dominican Father Thomas Doyle, who has spent decades working with survivors of clerical sexual abuse, told the Irish radio RTE Aug. 13 he hoped Pope Francis would have the courage to admit publicly that the Vatican itself was involved in covering up abuse crimes.

"I believe that kind of a statement coming from him is absolutely necessary because the day is long gone when people will tolerate them saying, 'Well, we're sorry for the pain you suffered, for the mistakes that were made.' No," he said, "it wasn't mistakes. It was an intentional program, an intentional, systemic program" to protect the church above all else.

Officials chose to "sacrifice the thousands of victims for the image and the welfare and the power of the institution," Father Doyle said. "The apology has to come from the top."

A meeting with Irish survivors of abuse is not on the pope's official schedule, but in the past, such meetings were announced only after they had taken place.

Irish newspapers reported Aug. 1 that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin said he was certain Pope Francis would speak of the abuse scandal, but he was not sure that the pope would have time to meet with survivors given that he would be in Ireland only 36 hours.

Collins told RTE the next day Vatican officials "are delusional" if they believe not meeting survivors would keep the topic of abuse out of the news while the pope is in Dublin. "Ignoring an issue is not going to make it go away."

What the pope "needs to do, particularly now as the flood gates are opening around the world," she said, is to state clearly "what he is going to do about this crisis in the church. At the moment it is not being addressed."

A session on "safeguarding children and vulnerable adults" is scheduled for the World Meeting of Families' pastoral congress Aug. 24, the day before the pope arrives. Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston, president of the pontifical commission, was scheduled to moderate the panel, which includes a presentation by Collins, but the cardinal has said he will remain in Boston as the archdiocesan seminary deals with allegations of inappropriate behavior.

The magnitude of abuse inflicted by Catholic priests, religious brothers and women religious in Ireland is staggering.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, the church in Ireland was rocked by a series of very public revelations about sexual abuse and, particularly, about how the abuse and allegations of it were mishandled by senior church leaders. The abuse included thousands of cases of sexual and physical abuse in Catholic residential schools and care facilities, including the so-called Magdalene laundries where young women were sent for having children out of wedlock or being suspected of sexual promiscuity.

A series of judicial reports detailed a pattern of cover-up and a tendency to put the avoidance of scandal and the reputation of the church ahead of the needs of those who were abused. Four Irish bishops resigned after being criticized for their handling of abuse allegations.

One of the judicial reports, released in 2009, focused on the Archdiocese of Dublin in the years 1975-2004. An independent Commission of Investigation, headed by Judge Yvonne Murphy, looked at the handling of some 325 abuse claims in the archdiocese over that 30-year period.

The report concluded that during those years, rather than being concerned about the victims, Catholic leaders were more interested in "the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the church and the preservation of its assets."

In 2010, then-Pope Benedict XVI wrote a letter to the people of Ireland and addressed survivors directly: "You have suffered grievously, and I am truly sorry. I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated. Many of you found that, when you were courageous enough to speak of what happened to you, no one would listen."

Pope Benedict also ordered an apostolic visitation of Ireland's four archdioceses, its seminaries and its religious orders and put U.S. Archbishop Charles J. Brown, a longtime official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in charge of the nunciature in Ireland. The move came after the previous nuncio, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, was recalled in 2011 after an independent judicial report accused the Holy See of being "entirely unhelpful" to Irish bishops trying to deal with abuse.

In July 2014, Pope Francis held his first meeting as pope with survivors, including two from Ireland. They were accompanied by Collins, who was then serving on the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. Collins resigned from the commission in March 2017, saying some Vatican offices were blocking the implementation of recommendations made by the commission.

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden

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Commentary: a crisis regarding the responsibility of church authorities

By Greg Erlandson

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- When Catholic News Service posted a short video of the Pennsylvania attorney general's Aug. 14 news conference announcing a grand jury report on clergy sexual abuse in six dioceses, its editors had to add a warning about the graphic language viewers would hear.

The actual 900-page report chronicling 70 years of child sexual abuse by 301 priests is much, much worse. There are images of rape, perversion and blasphemy that will be hard to excise from a reader's imagination, vile and disgusting acts that have shattered the lives and faith of the more than 1,000 victims and their families.

Harder still is to understand how some leaders could have known about these acts of profound betrayal and not have been enraged into action to excise permanently such evil from our church.

And this goes to the dark heart of this crisis: That men of the cloth would sin so grievously against the most defenseless in their flocks, and that men of the cloth would fail to respond appropriately.

The clergy sexual abuse crisis has been, and remains today, ultimately a crisis regarding the responsibility of church authorities. The profound distrust of institutions -- law, science, education, government -- that permeates our society permeates our church as well. This distrust strikes at the heart of a hierarchical structure -- that those who bear the most responsibility and most power have at times failed us. "Put not your trust in princes," sang the psalmist. Indeed, many Catholics no longer do.

And yet we must not paint all bishops and priests today with the same brush that has tarred some. Many more bishops have met with victims, cried with them, and responded to their needs than in years past. Many more priests speak out forthrightly from their pulpits, addressing the scandals and encouraging those who have been hurt to come forward.

In the wake of the recent revelations involving Pennsylvania, Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick and other allegations that have come to light involving seminaries, there are four take-aways from this horrible new chapter in the life of our church.

First, the bishops today, as descendants of the apostles and descendants of those who previously occupied the positions they hold now, must convincingly demonstrate a spirit of repentance and recommitment. Their people, and society at large, are not looking for more generic apologies and corporate-sounding assessments of current performance. They must act boldly and concretely if their apologies are to be taken seriously.

Their recommitment must involve greater accountability and greater transparency. To do this, they must have the support of the Vatican. This won't be easy. There are many bureaucratic and institutional forces that do not want the sins of the fathers to be exposed and that are blind to the great peril our church is already in.

Second, many are calling for a greater role for the laity in investigations and in future decision-making. It is a tremendously positive development that lay boards have become involved in assessing abuse allegations. Past scandals documented in Pennsylvania so often involved only clergy in investigative and decision-making roles. The church needs lay men and women to be actively involved in the purification and renewal of the church.

There also should be a renewed appreciation for the role of the church's own media in informing and forming Catholics. At least 39 bishops have spoken out about the initial scandal involving Archbishop McCarrick, yet some dioceses no longer have effective communication tools to make sure that their people are hearing the voices of their bishops. Worse still would be if diocesan publications are tempted to avoid publishing news of these scandals, even though their secular counterparts are putting it on the front page. This destroys the credibility of Catholic media and further undermines the leadership of the bishop.

Third, we must acknowledge how much has changed since the scandals that rocked the U.S. church in 2002. The church now is far different from even 16 years ago. Extensive procedures for training young people, for background checks and for reporting violations have been put into place. Victims are much more likely to be treated with sympathy and their reports taken seriously. Since the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was implemented in 2002, it is estimated that the church has spent $4.4 billion on these procedures as well as on payouts to victims and their attorneys. No other social institution even comes close to this level of commitment.

Which brings us to the fourth point. Solving the problem of sexual abuse and accountability in the church will not solve the problems of sexual abuse and accountability in society. There are an estimated 60,000 cases of child abuse in the United States each year. Multiplied over a span of 70 years, this number would be horrifying.

Abuse in the larger society is no excuse for the 301 priests (about 5 percent all priests who served in those dioceses over a period of 70 years) who are guilty of abusing at least 1,000 victims. Yet if any good is to come out of this long tragedy, it may be that the church -- humiliated and scorned as it now is -- may be able at some point to contribute to a much greater healing that needs to take place in our country and our world.

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Erlandson is director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service.

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Catholics express despair, disbelief, anger at new abuse revelations

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- After the first allegations of abuse against Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick were publicized in mid-June, employees at the U.S. bishops' conference headquarters in Washington were bracing for calls from Catholics confused, outraged or anything in between regarding the emerging scandal.

The big surprise: More Catholics were calling in -- and kept calling -- to ask how they could be foster parents to immigrant children who had been separated from their parents by the U.S. government at the U.S.-Mexico border.

That didn't last long, though.

The foster-parent calls receded and the abuse-related phone calls picked up in volume and intensity, according to Deacon Bernie Nojadera, executive director of the Secretariat for the Protection of Children and Young People at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Deacon Nojadera said he doesn't know exactly why people call his office. He suggested it may be that callers expect that the office can issue reprimands to any suspected cleric: "What are you going to do about it?"

But that's not the case, he told Catholic News Service in an Aug. 13 interview. Priests accused of abuse are subject to the discipline of their diocesan bishop or religious superior; if found guilty of misconduct, priests may be laicized by the Vatican. Accused bishops, though, are subject first to the Vatican.

Parents who call sound worried, the deacon added: "How do I know my child's going to be safe if he's in formation or if he's in seminary?"

The three most notable cases this summer involve Archbishop McCarrick, who is facing a credible allegation of abusing a minor and is believed to have harassed and abused seminarians even after they were ordained to the priesthood; the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, where a vocations director who died in 2008 has recently been accused of harassment; and the Archdiocese of Boston, where Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley ordered an investigation of the archdiocesan seminary after abuse reports surfaced in early August.

"Our first job is to listen, to be empathetic," Deacon Nojadera said. Some of the callers, he acknowledged, are angry. "Well, I'm angry, too," he told CNS. Without prayer, he added, "I can't do what I'm doing,"

Both the National Review Board and the bishops' Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People are scheduled to meet in September. Deacon Nojadera said his office hopes to be able to give each body guidance on strengthening the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," approved by the bishops in 2002.

"In 2002, we were responding to a very specific situation: the abuse of children by priests," Deacon Nojadera said. "I still hold it's a very good document. It's better than nothing. It has its strengths, it has its weaknesses." He added, "We need to have a very serous discussion on what we can do to improve what's mandated by the charter."

The charter, amended in 2011 and again earlier this year. did not take into account the possibility that bishops could be abusers, or that abuse victims could be adults, much less seminarians and priests whose path to -- and following -- ordination could be stymied by bishop-abusers.

The increased call volume experienced by Deacon Nojadera and his staff has not been experienced in two dioceses contacted by CNS.

"We've all spent time processing among staff and clergy, because this is another level of concern and another level of distress for all Catholics," said Beth Heidt Kozisek, victim assistance coordinator for the Diocese of Grand Island, Nebraska, in a phone interview with CNS. "But we really haven't had an increase in the number of calls from parishioners or general members of the community."

The allegations against Archbishop McCarrick, a former cardinal, weren't published in either the Omaha World-Herald, Nebraska's largest newspaper, or the local daily, The Grand Island Independent, Kozisek said. "I found it online but I didn't see any comments online," she added. "Is that a sign of our rural culture -- nobody's reading the news? They're busy farming and other activities?"

"Baton Rouge has not experienced an increase in allegations or calls in the last month due to the Cardinal McCarrick story," said an email to CNS from Amy Cordon, victim assistance coordinator for the Diocese of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

"My colleagues and I do not see our ministry to victims of clergy abuse as a job. We are ministers," Cordon said of herself and her fellow victim assistance coordinators. "And our boss, Jesus Christ, never disappoints.

"This is why you are not seeing a mass exodus of victim assistance coordinators when these stories continue to break 10-plus years after the charter was written," she added. "Most of us work under truly holy men of God and are very fortunate to have good bishops who care for those who have been harmed. I can certainly say that is the case in Baton Rouge."

Deacon Nojadera recalled the instance of one caller, who had worked with the resigned cardinal, first weeping with anguish over the phone and then voicing anger over the situation. "First, I have to listen," he said.

But the moment, he said, may signify the need for "a spiritual cleansing in the church."

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Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison

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Update: Report details rape of children, culture of secrecy that fanned it

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By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The report begins dramatically, imploring its readers: "We, the members of this grand jury, need you to hear this."

Plain and simple, at least 1,000 children identified in the investigation were raped in Catholic places of worship, in schools, and in diocesan owned vehicles, and were "groomed" through diocesan programs and retreats so they could be molested, wrote members of a 23-person grand jury who heard those accounts over a period of almost two years of an investigation of clergy sex abuse said to have taken place in six dioceses in the state of Pennsylvania over 70 years. Their findings were unveiled Aug. 14.

In almost 1,400 pages, they describe graphic accounts of the abuse they say happened in the Catholic dioceses of Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Allentown, Scranton, Greensburg and Erie.

They detail accounts they heard of boys and girls whose genitals were touched, who were raped or made to perform a variety of sex acts. The report says one priest molested five girls in a family. In some cases the report details, girls became pregnant after being raped. One priest was "rendered irregular" after helping arrange an abortion for a minor he impregnated and mentions a letter that followed from church officials that "seemed to exclusively address the procurement of the abortion with little concern that (the priest) had impregnated a child."

Some cases were worse than others, the report said, when detailing a case involving a boy who was given holy water by a priest to wash out his mouth after he had the boy perform a sex act. Most of the children were teens and some were preteens, according to the report.   

What is depicted comes from internal documents made available by dioceses, from testimony of those who offered it, "and, on over a dozen occasions, the priests themselves appeared before us. Most of them admitted what they had done," the report says.

When the children or their families reported what happened, "all of them were brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institution above all," the report says.

"The bishops weren't just aware of what was going on; they were immersed in it. And they went to great lengths to keep it secret. The secrecy helped spread the disease," the report said.

Most of the crimes are too old to be prosecuted, but "for many of the victims, this report is justice," said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro in an Aug. 14 news conference unveiling the report, as some of those who had testified for the grand jury attended.

"We're going to shine a light," Shapiro added. "We can tell our citizens what happened."

The report says that it recognizes that "much has changed over the last 15 years."

Grand jury members said they heard reports from the six dioceses investigated, "so that they could inform us about recent developments in their jurisdictions."

"In response, five of the bishops submitted statements to us, and the sixth, the bishop of Erie, appeared before us in person. His testimony impressed us as forthright and heartfelt," they wrote. "It appears that the church is now advising law enforcement of abuse reports more promptly. Internal review processes have been established. Victims are no longer quite so invisible. But the full picture is not yet clear."

Even though the report is long and its details painful, knowing what happened is "the only way to fix these problems," they write.

The report recommends that the Pennsylvania Legislature drop the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse. They also ask for a "civil window" law that would let older victims sue the dioceses "for the damage inflicted on their lives when they were kids." It says better laws for "mandated reporting of abuse" are needed and say confidentiality agreement or non-disclosure agreements should not apply when it comes to criminal investigations.

The grand jury said it keeps in mind that there are likely more than 1,000 victims identified and likely more offending priests it does not know about. It identified 301 priests in the report.

"What we can say, though, is that despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability," the report says. "Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades, monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, archbishops, cardinals have mostly been protected; many, including some named in this report, have been promoted. Until that changes, we think it is too early to close the book on the Catholic Church sex scandal."

A grand jury does not determine guilt or innocence but whether there may be enough evidence or probable cause to support a criminal charge.

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Statements from bishops of dioceses named in grand jury abuse report

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WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The following are excerpts of statements, and links to the full statements, made by the bishops of the six Pennsylvania dioceses named in a grand jury report released Aug. 14 that detailed a two-year investigation of seven decades of clergy sex abuse claims. Many of the claims date back decades.

Pennsylvania officials say 301 priests were linked to sex abuse claims and more than 1,000 victims were identified by the grand jury investigation.

The bishops' statements were made on the day the report was released.

From Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh:

"It is difficult to stand here before you today. Yet, I wouldn't want to be, I couldn't be, any other place than with you at this moment. The women and men of the Grand Jury have spoken. They have spoken for victims. To those women and men and all those they have spoken for: We hear you. The church hears you. I hear you. ' We cannot bury our heads in the sand. There were instances in the past, as outlined in this report, when the church acted in ways that did not respond effectively to victims.

"Swift and firm responses to allegations should have started long before they did. For that I express profound regret. At the same time, I express gratitude to survivors who have taught us to respond with compassion to those who are wounded and with determination to remove offenders from ministry. To apologize and express sorrow for the past is an important step. But it is not enough. Continued action is necessary."

Bishop Zubik's full statement can be found at The Diocese of Pittsburgh's response to the grand jury report is at and a chart on abuse claims

From Bishop Ronald W. Gainer of Harrisburg:

"I read the grand jury report on child sexual abuse with great sadness, for once again we read that innocent children were the victims of horrific acts committed against them. I am saddened because I know that behind every story is a child precious in God's sight; a child who has been wounded by the sins of those who should have known better. ' In my own name, and in the name of the diocesan Church of Harrisburg, I express our profound sorrow and apologize to the survivors of child sex abuse, the Catholic faithful and the general public for the abuses that took place and for those church officials who failed to protect children.

"We will continue to make amends for the sins of our past, and offer prayers and support to all victims of these actions. We are committed to continuing and enhancing the positive changes made, to ensure these types of atrocities never occur again. Since the turn of the century, the church has instituted policies that take clear and decisive action to prevent future abuse."

Bishop Gainer's full statement can be found at He also referred to the diocese's release Aug. 1 (and updated Aug. 6) of a list of 72 clergy, both dead and alive, accused of abuse at The diocese has other documents on its new Youth Protection blog,

"As I stressed last week when we released information regarding our own internal review of child sexual abuse in the Harrisburg Diocese," Bishop Gainer said Aug. 14, "I acknowledge the sinfulness of those who have harmed these survivors, as well as the action and inaction of those in church leadership who failed to respond appropriately."

From Bishop Alfred A. Schlert of Allentown:

"As your bishop, I am deeply saddened by these incidents. I sincerely apologize for the past sins and crimes committed by some members of the clergy. I apologize to the survivors of abuse and their loved ones. For the times when those in the church did not live up to Christ's call to holiness, and did not do what needed to be done, I apologize.

"I also apologize to you, the faithful of the diocese, for the toll this issue has taken over the years: the sadness, the anger, the doubts, and the embarrassment it may have brought you as a Catholic. I ask for your forgiveness, and I thank you for your perseverance and for your courageous witness to our faith. I want to assure you that as a church, we will learn from the report of the grand jury and use it to further improve our protections for children and young people."

Bishop Schlert's full statement, issued as a letter to the people of the diocese, can be found at A separate diocesan statement can be found at The diocesan website,, also has a video message from the bishop and a fact sheet on diocesan response to abuse claims.

From Bishop Joseph C. Bambera of Scranton:

"Many of you are aware of the statewide grand jury investigation into child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. The grand jury has issued its report of findings. While this is an uncomfortable and unsettling topic, we must speak openly and frankly about it.

"First of all, none you deserve to be confronted with the behavior described in this report. It is unsettling, tragic and it breaks your heart. To all of you, most especially to those of you who are victims of such heinous actions by members of the clergy, to those of who have suffered because of misguided and inappropriate decisions of church leaders and to those of you who make up the blessed faithful of our church who are simply trying to live your lives as sincere and committed servants of the Lord, I offer my deepest apologies for such behavior and the consequences of this tragic reality in our church.

"There are simply no words that I can offer to take away the pain this has caused. Simply put child sexual abuse cannot be tolerated and must be eradicated from our church. Sadly, the church has taken far too long to do that. While the investigation and the report represent a disturbing and painful chapter in the life of our church, it is necessary for us to address them in order for us to move ahead in a more positive way."

Bishop Bambera's message in a video can be found in English and with Spanish subtitles can be found, respectively, at and A diocesan statement on the grand jury report and a list released Aug. 14 of priests, religious, lay employees and volunteers credibly accused of abuse released can be found at

From Bishop Edward C. Malesic, Diocese of Greensburg:

"To the survivors of sexual abuse in the church, whether it was at the hands of a priest, a teacher, volunteer, or even a family member: I grieve for you and I grieve with you. In the Diocese of Greensburg, we stand ready to listen to you and, if you want it, we stand ready to help you heal as much as possible. It does not matter when it occurred, by whom it occurred, where it occurred, or how it occurred. We want to help. Jesus expects nothing less from us.

"Let me tell you this, just in case you have some misgivings because of your past experience with the church: We love you. And I ask all of the Catholic faithful to support you with the care and concern that you deserve.

"Specifically, to those of you who were abused by one of our priests. In the name of the entire Catholic church, I apologize to you for those men who stole your childhood innocence, and in some cases, robbed you of your faith. Those priests acted as wolves among us, even if they were dressed in sheep's clothing. I am sorry for that. In fact, honestly, I am extremely angry at them for what they did to you. I am outraged along with everyone else. I can understand your anger with bishops as well -- perhaps even with me. You deserved much better from us. I promise to do my best to continue to ensure that it will never happen again.

"Let me say this as clearly as possible. Priests who have abused our children have no place at our parish altars wearing the vestments of our sacred mysteries. They have forfeited the right to be called 'Father' by our people. Priests who have abused our children have no place in ministry."

Bishop Malesic's full statement -- in a video message and transcript -- can be found at -- The diocese Aug. 14 also released a list of clergy with credible and substantiated allegations against them: Other information and a special issued of The Catholic Accent, the diocesan paper, can be found at

From Bishop Lawrence T. Persico, Diocese of Erie:

"Today, I want to express my sorrow directly to the victims of sexual abuse that occurred within the Diocese of Erie. You have suffered in darkness for a very long time.

"As the grand jury report demonstrates, you have experienced unimaginably cruel behavior by the very individuals who should have had the greatest interest in protecting you. You were betrayed by people holding themselves out as servants of God, teachers of children or leaders in the community. ' I humbly offer my sincere apology to each victim who has been violated by anyone affiliated with the Catholic Church. I hope that you can accept it. I know that apologizing is only one step in a very long and complex process of healing.

"You may be aware that we recently unveiled new policies and implemented procedures to ensure that this criminal behavior is stopped. We just released another update of our website today, adding names in light of the grand jury report. This is one sign of our commitment to transparency.

"But this is not the moment to focus on our efforts. Today, I simply stand before you, humbled and sorrowful."

Bishop Persico's full statement can be found at Other Bishop Persico statements can be found at, along with diocese's full disclosure list of credible abuse claims and diocesan child protection protocols.

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