NEWS IN BRIEF — By Brian Mark Hennessy


(By Brian Mark Hennessy)

  • The “Self Serving” Nature of the Catholic Church


“”, an Australian news outlet, carried a short article on 1st December 2016 (by Rebekah Ison of the Australian Associated Press) of a submission by Francis Sullivan, the Chief Executive of the “Truth, Justice and Healing Council” to the “Royal Commission Into Responses to Child Sexual Abuse”.  It was nothing less than a tirade against the Catholic Church. A justified tirade, nevertheless, in my opinion. Indeed, it was a broadside so full of censure that I could have written it myself – and probably have done so in similar vein quite often about one of the Church’s Religious Orders, the Comboni Missionary Order of Verona, Italy. Francis Sullivan, however, was addressing the attitude of the prelates and clerics of the diocesan Catholic Church “down under” in Australia.

He lambasted the Church’s “clericalist culture”, characterized by “power, privilege” and “self-promotion”. He said during a hearing into criminal justice issues in Sydney, “It is a culture that has lost sight of its ethos and, in a sense, lost the capacity for self-reflection”. He continued, “That can be any institution, but the Catholic Church’s history here is shameful and confronting”.

Mr Sullivan also made a point that we have raised here in our Blog – and that is that forgiveness for child abuse in confession must, in essence, be conditional on true sorrow – and that the profession of that sorrow and the process of forgiveness must be conditional also on reporting the facts of the abuse to the civil authorities. Absolution does not come free of charge.

This is an interesting, but contentious, point because the Catholic Church has taught the doctrine of “true sorrow” since Saints Paul and Timothy each made declarations on the matter of forgiveness (See: Acts of the Apostles). Indeed, the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 and the Council of Trent in 1515 both addressed the nature of the sacrament of confession – and pronounced that all the faithful should individually confess to their priests. The Council of Trent, however, stated quite specifically that sins should be confessed “in a faithful manner”. It could not be more clear! The Catholic Church needs to insist that such contrite “faithfulness” in confession is conditional also on the reporting of the most grave of sins (when injury is done to another) to both canonical and civil jurisdictions by either the confessor or the priest offering God’s forgiveness – or more appropriately, to ensure compliance, by both individuals.

I can see the clerics of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith throwing up their hands in horror right now – but it is the logic nevertheless. The Vatican “dogma termites” should read back over the “Summa Theologiae” of St Thomas Aquinas – whom they often quote to their advantage – as I do now – for he categorically stated that “due obedience is to be given to the civilian power when there is no moral issue that precludes so doing.” In the case of Child Sexual Abuse there is not only no moral issue that precludes so doing – but there is a clear and absolute moral imperative to report instances of child sexual abuse to the civil authorities so as to prevent the penitent paedophile (whether cleric or civilian) from proliferating such abuse further. It is the solemn duty of all adults to protect innocent children – including priests. Christ said it himself: “suffer not little children to come unto me”. There is an imperative for action there and that is that the innocence of children is an exceptional human state of grace that must never be violated. Those that do violate it must answer to both those endowed with authority to protect children here on earth and to Christ Himself. Confession is not an exception to that rule and crimes against children (call them “sins” insipidly if you wish) should never be reduced to a “rubber stamp” and three “Hail Marys”.

On the same day, the Royal Commission heard submissions regarding an obligation on the reporting of allegations of child sexual abuse. The Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) submitted that the reporting obligation should relate to all citizens – with discretion in the case of Victims who may have taken decades to report the abuse. Controversially, perhaps, one ALA Barrister, Dr Andrew Morrison, said that the obligation of such reporting should extend to all victims, regardless of their wishes: “Whilst it is stressful and traumatic for Victims, the damage done to other potential Victims is far more serious”.

No doubt that “seemingly” logical statement will be hotly debated! However, Dr Andrew Morrison does have a point that needs consideration – if even to be dis-regarded by further enlightenment. From my own experience I can only add that it was not for many years and far into adulthood that I even realized that I had been duped into thinking that a series of medical inspections were, in fact, acts of extreme sexual abuse. (Call me stupid if you wish – for I think that myself at times). Moreover, the only truly motivating factor for me in reporting the abuse at the late stage that I did was due to the fact that I had come to realise that once the abusing clerics had been detected, they were rapidly moved out of the UK legal jurisdiction by the hierarchy of the Comboni Missionary Order. To where exactly you may ask? Why, for the most part to far off “Third World” mission territories where those habitual paedophiles could continue to abuse untold generations of children for years to come without discovery, blame or censure.

The “knowing complicity” of Catholic hierarchies, both Diocesan and Religious, in the proliferation of sexual abuse in the Third World by ridding advanced legal jurisdictions of their “dirty linen” is a hideous story that has depths yet untold. That story is one which must be revealed and the hierarchical clerical perpetrators of that unscrupulous proliferation of assaults on innocents must answer for their crimes of indifference to the physical and mental suffering of children that they have inflicted. “Out of sight – out of mind” was their motto. However, such a motto of convenience has been used in living history both in Europe and beyond by the most evil of regimes the world has ever known in order to set themselves apart from any blame. Discovery followed by justice must eventually reverse that unsustainable and hideous “no blame” game.


  • The United Kingdom Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse: Informal Seminars


Mr Peter Skelton QC, a “Lead Counsel” to IICSA (Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse), is addressing a series of informal seminars in Fleet Street, London, (which are open to the public) for legal and insurance professionals on a range of matters relating to the processes of bringing a case of child abuse to Court or to a Settlement. The purpose is for the Inquiry to learn from the experiences of those professionals whose work specialises in the various aspects of child sexual abuse cases. The first sessions were dedicated to compensation levels in child abuse cases, the costs to the legal teams preparing such cases, the levels of public funding that are available and other issues relating to the nature of the adversarial system, limitation, consent and vicarious liability.  Further seminars are scheduled for discussions on compensation, accountability, reparations and reforms to the existing system.

Whilst much, if not all, of the context is legal, the discussions of the difficulties that legal advocates face when judging whether or not to take a case on and go to Court or try to reach a settlement are of significant interest to Victims of abuse – who may not necessarily understand why legal teams representing them appear to suddenly change direction. Moreover, Victims themselves may, very often, not pursue cases, because of the financial jeopardy involved. Often, the balance of “whether or not” there will be a successful outcome for the Victim, based on the evidence at hand, is crucial to the further conduct of a case. Such a judgement and the financial constraints of proceedings can become too onerous for both the legal team, which is a business, and the Victim, who each out of necessity, must, in the long term, remain solvent.

The Inquiry wants to highlight such issues publicly so that measures to reform the legal system, which depends on adequate funding of the costs involved, does not militate against a case being taken to a successful conclusion. All too often under current legislation and practice, funding availability, onerous court costs, high specialists’ fees, time delays in obtaining (sometimes multiple) Police Jurisdiction District records and Local Authority social worker reports – may combine to lessen the likelihood of a case ever getting the legal outcome that Victims deserve.

The Transcripts of the Seminar Sessions are available on the IICSA Official Website (reference: iicsa291116) and are of interest to both professionals working in the field of child abuse and Victims of child abuse alike. I advise non-legal minded readers that they need to be doggedly tenacious, if not stubbornly mulish to get through it (and there is not much difference between the two) – but the transcript yields up new perspectives on how the legal and insurance professionals themselves are often at the mercy of factors outside of their immediate control.


  1. The Archbishop of Guam – A Canonical Trial is ‘Underway’

In a recent post on this blog I mentioned that the now ex-Archbishop Apurna of Guam, accused of historic sexual abuse of five altar boys, was awaiting either a Canonical Trial or Dismissal by a Papal Decree for his alleged crimes. His replacement, the Co-Adjutor Archbishop Michael Burns (a previous Auxilary Bishop of Detroit) stated recently (as was reported by Joshua McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter) that the Trial has been initiated, the arguments have been exchanged and a period of examination and investigation has commenced.

This will be the first (known) trial of a prelate accused of abuse to get fully underway. A similar Trial was set up in 2015 to try allegations of abuse by a Polish Archbishop, but the prelate died in “prison” in the Vatican before the trial commenced. Archbishop Wesolowski, 67, the former Vatican nuncio to the Dominican Republic, was confined to a “Vatican property” while awaiting trial. His body was found at about 5 a.m. by a priest who lived in the same building, which houses the Franciscans who hear confessions in St. Peter’s Basilica, as well as offices of the Vatican police force. Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, who was awaiting trial in the Vatican on charges of child sexual abuse and possession of child pornography, died late on August 27th 2015 of a “cardiac incident,” the Vatican said.

Despite the assurances of Bishop Burns that a trial has commenced and is proceeding in the case of Apuron, Vatican watchers are holding their breath. Since the death of Wesolowski, a number of senior prelates throughout the world have been accused of sexual abuse crimes of children. In each case the Vatican has adopted the less rigorously legal route of departure from office by resignation. Whether or not in those instances the resignation was offered to the Pope or ordered by him is unsure. What makes the case of Archbishop Apuron different from that of his contemporaries is neither known and nor has been explained. Civil organisations that follow every word the Vatican utters on its confusing child abuse strategy await the outcome with much interest.


  • Cardinal Pell – Again!


Cardinal Pell, who is under investigation for child sexual abuse cases in Australia was the subject of a previous article on this blog which wondered why the Pope had stripped him of some of his very recently acquired new duties as Chief Executive of the Vatican Bank. (He is not called that – but you understand what I mean). The latest news is that in addition to the loss of those duties, he has been sidelined once more by being dropped from the star line-up of another Vatican Office that manages the Catholic Churches Liturgical practices within the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

The Vatican has posted the new membership of the sixteen Congregation Members and the representatives from Church’s throughout the Catholic World. It seems that the Pope’s has deselected a number of very senior prelates from positions of authority – and who knows – he may be preparing the ground for their retirement from all of their distinguished top jobs.

Apart from George Pell, another of the Cardinals who has lost his job is Cardinal Raymond Burke of the United States, a rigid dogmatist who has opposed the Pope publicly over the encyclical “Amoris Laetitia” – the “Joy of Love”. Some Vatican Watchers suggest that Cardinal Burke is about to have his Cardinal’s Cap rescinded by Pope Francis. (That would upset Cardinal Burke no end! For those interested in Vatican “Fashion”, you may wish to search the web for photographs of Cardinal Burke – the only Catholic Cardinal Prelate in the contemporary Church to wear extravagant and costly mediaeval “princely regalia” and to have a cloak that would compete in the length of it’s train with the wedding dress of Princess Diana).

The third is Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Canada who is considered to be a “traditionalist” who has opposed dialogue with other faiths and religions. He is reported to consider that Vatican II, upon which Pope Francis has built his platform for inter-collegial dialogue amongst the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the pressing contemporary moral issues of the age, was far too liberal.

Advent is upon us. It is Autumn – and it seems that Pope Francis is pruning the Vatican tree of its dead and dying wood before the frosts of Winter arrive – so that the Tree bears fresh and vigorous shoots in the Spring. Of course, Pope Francis will not put it quite like that. He is both more generous in spirit and benevolent in deed than am I – and fortunately more “merciful” in his understanding of the little people who have to contend with the battle of survival from day to day rather than with the intricasies of Vatican dogma. Long may he rein.


  • Cardinal Wuerl Apologises to a Victim of Clerical Sexual Abuse.



The Catholic News Agency, “CRUX”, once associated with the Boston Globe, has recorded today, 2nd December 2016, that Cardinal Wuerl has apologized for initially voicing doubts about a seminarian’s claims in 1988 that as a young boy he had been sexually abused by a priest named Anthony Cipolla. The Victim, Tim Bendig, was gracious and responded, “I am humbled that Cardinal Wuerl went above and beyond not only to speak out for the many victims, but specifically apologizing to me.”

In his 1988 lawsuit, Bendig named the Reverend Anthony Cipolla as his abuser. Despite Wuerl’s initial skepticism, Cipolla was removed from the ministry – “defrocked” by the Vatican in clerical parlance. However, Cardinal Wuerl went to the extraordinary length of successfully fighting against that Vatican court order in order to have Cipolla re-instated. Now Wuerl has stated that Bendig “had told the truth about a priest who was a terrible danger to children”. I just wonder when he had first realized that – for Cardinal Wuerl has not so far said. Crux has reported that Cipolla was never charged with a crime and denied wrongdoing. He died this year,

In apologizing, Wuerl said he was among those who were not immediately persuaded by Bendig’s claims, but now says, “I have since learned to be less hesitant in taking at face value such allegations. Innocent people who gain public attention for coming forward should not be slandered because they did the right thing by seeking action against an abuser.”

“Telling that truth helped all of us to become a better church,” Wuerl said in an interview on November 23 in the church newspaper in Washington, the Catholic Standard. Actually, in my view, the reverse is true, for not telling the Truth for decades has made the Church a very much worse place – and Wuerl’s scrambling to deflect the further damage that is in store for him and his fellow bishops has all the hallmarks of being nothing other than a crude gesture to salvage what they can from the shipwreck of an impending storm of justified criticism.

It is no coincidence, in the view of many observers, that Cardinal Wuerl’s apology has been served up as state prosecutors are investigating how the Pittsburgh Diocese and others across Pennsylvania have handled abuse claims going back for decades. Wuerl, amongst others may well be in the frame for criticism. I stand with David Clohessy, director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, who has said in a statement Wednesday that the group is glad Bendig is pleased with the apology. However, David Clohessy has further remarked that, “SNAP believes Wuerl is using Bendig to do ‘damage control’ ahead of the grand jury disclosures on how Pennsylvania dioceses dealt with abuse claims, including when Wuerl was bishop from 1988 to 2006”.

I note that Cardinal Wuerl is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he was Bishop for a full 18 years until his appointment to Washington. He was made a Cardinal Priest and received his Cardinal’s cap in 2010. His titular church in Rome is “San Pietro in Vincoli”. That is a surprisingly apt titular seat for Cardinal Wuerl – for it translates as “Saint Peter in Chains”. I suggest that it is now an opportune moment for serious reflection and meditation by Cardinal Wuerl upon how Mr Bendig, the Victim of clerical abuse that he dismissed, but whom he now seeks to vindicate to save his own neck, has spent a quarter of a century in the metaphorical chains of being branded by him as a liar.

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