WHY POTPOURRI DOESN’T HELP THE VATICAN. By Brian Mark Hennessy

WHY POTPOURRI DOESN’T HELP THE VATICAN

Some time has passed now since the “Boston Globe” of “Spotlight” fame founded the Catholic Newspaper “Crux”. It was hoped that “Crux” would inherit both the tradition and financial success of reporting on Catholic issues that had launched its parent publication to world-wide renown. Whilst I do trawl routinely through its pages – and it has a readership quorum that clearly sustains it financially – the current “Crux” agenda is not for me. For example, very recently in the middle of September and in Rome, J R Allen wrote the article, ”A Potpourri of Nuggets…” – because there was no “grand narrative” to report from the Vatican. Much of what followed appeared to be anecdotal trivia to fill in the column space. The image that immediately jumped to mind was that of the Emperor Nero playing the fiddle whilst Rome burned for six days and rendered 70% of the population homeless.
Sometimes today, both “Crux” (which I am using as an example and not as the sole focus) and a number of other Catholic news journals appear to lack essential focus and critical reporting and have become merely reflective mouthpieces of the Vatican Fides News Agency. The Catholic Church, however, is much larger than the iconic marbled palaces of Rome and it is essential for healthy debate for worldwide Catholic opinions to flow into the Vatican as well as dictats to come out of it.
For example, one matter that is long overdue is the cerebral Reformation within the Catholic Church Vatican Curia. Currently, it is stuck in the muddy ruts of age-old denial and senility on many issues – including sexuality, child sexual abuse, birth control, celibacy, pre-marital sex and the role of women in the Church – the list is almost endless. Those are all issues in which the Catholic Laity have a rightful voice. The early Church, at least in the first three centuries, was a family where everyone had a rightful say and it should be thus today. Roots are important and should never be forgotten because the continued growth of any tree depends on them.
The “Crux” birth-right tradition was to be in the vanguard of serious debate, but lately it appears to have slipped into the rear-guard position of the Vatican, which it meekly follows at a distance. “Potpourri” was symptomatic of a decline in “Crux” focus and journalism. If it routinely becomes a magazine-type mouthpiece of the Vatican, rather than a platform for vibrant debate on the important issues confronting a Church (which is in a goodly degree of turmoil) it may indicate that the “vision” and “ethos” of “Crux” is being misdirected. The same goes for every other Catholic news outlet.
That would be especially damaging in the broader context that the Roman clerical edifice is unwilling to respond routinely in any adequate way to justified criticism on a range of very serious issues. Some of those issues, for example dangerous levels of over-population in a world with diminishing resources, are not going to be resolved, either in practice nor adequately, by age-old dogmatic Vatican responses such as sexual abstinence or “coitus interruptus”. Nor is clerical child sexual abuse going to be solved by sending clerics to clinics or sanatoriums – or whatever they are labeled – to effect a “cure”. That is still the practice in Italy and many other countries. There is no adequate cure for psychosexual immaturity or dysfunctionality that could risk clerics with a past history of a sexual proclivity for children to be reinstated to positions in which children are accessible. Nevertheless, appallingly, that still happens.
The “Boston Globe” revelations on clerical child abuse stunned America, the Vatican and the world. It was a dramatic moment in the history of Catholicism. This last week, whilst “Crux” readers were engaged in “Potpourri”, Vatican failures associated with the curtailment and management of clerical child sexual abuse had not been dispersed into oblivion. The trauma and suffering of victims remained. It never becomes a figment of their imagination. Those victims, their families, parents and counselors are engaged with it on a daily basis. Sadly, too, the sexual abuse of children in Church institutions continues apace, as does clerical denial and the concealment of crimes and failures to bring the clerical offenders to justice.
Clerical child sexual abuse may be an old story, but it is not a “done topic”. Yet, many Catholic news outlets, not just “Crux”, rarely mention these issues at all today – except in passing in an inch of column space. Nor, within the seemingly impenetrable walls of its subconscious, has the Vatican, in the totality of its separate Congregations, put the essential measures in place to effectively understand, manage, contain or curtail the problem.
That is not to say that there is not a willingness on the part of some in the Vatican to drag the Church out of its historical blindness on such issues, but the action of just a few is clearly not gaining ground against the entrenched, generational myopia of clerics not used to being under daily, critical scrutiny and re-assessment. Yes, procedures exist, Canons remain in place, Diocesan Child Safeguarding Rules are held by all, statistics are published for public consumption.
That is all good, but in the corridors of the Vatican Curia Congregations, the age-old historical culture and pervasive clerical mind-set remains intact – as does a defiant reluctance to bare the breast and own up, with humility, that their greatest sin has always been and remains to this day one of arrogance. That arrogance was never more publicly evident than when Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Muller publicly defended his Congregation’s policy of refusing to reply to the letters received from the Victims of child sexual abuse. That is not ancient history. It was in February of this year!
What that incident tells us is that for the impersonal Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in the Vatican Curia each new letter from a Victim is merely a statistic. It is placed in a growing pile and it is not valued with a response. I can relate to that personally. It is over eighteen months since I forwarded them a document that had calculated that something in the region of 1000 crimes of sexual abuse against child seminarians had occurred at the Comboni Missionary Order’s seminary at Mirfield in England. My expectations of some action were high for my volunteer courier was none other than the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster who had placed that powerful and revealing document (indeed I considered it to be “explosive”) with them “by hand” personally. There has been no response – it clearly did not give rise even to a low, plaintive “whimper”.
There is an emotional dimension for parents also in this debate – not just the victims themselves. When I eventually told my eighty-year old widowed mother of the abuse that I had undergone at that seminary, the reaction was shock, dismay, remorse, confusion, helplessness and disbelief. It was such an emotional and physical response that I had to leap to her side to steady her, sit her down, comfort her and reassure her. She then mourned for the passing of my father, whom she assured me would have confronted that Order and immediately withdrawn me from their “care” – “if only he had known”. I wished at that moment that I had never told her.
Historically, the Laity of the Catholic Church has always been overlooked by the Vatican Curia. All rules and edicts have been handed down for observance – often with the threat of serious interdicts for any failure to comply. However, the Laity of the Catholic Church out-number clerics by about 1000:1 and, hence, has on tap a staggering amount of collective brain power, energy and good will. Moreover, probably unbeknown to most of the Laity, under Canon Law itself, both clerics and laity are regarded as “equal”: “Flowing from their rebirth in Christ, there is a genuine equality of dignity and action among all of Christ’s faithful”. Indeed, in the early Christian Church both slave and master sat around the same table in the breaking of the bread. For one and a half millennia now – they have been excluded. So from where did the arrogance of clerics spring?
That begs the question also, “How is it that Clerics make the Rules about how our child victims and their child-abusing clerics are managed?” The Laity have not been asked in any meaningful and fully inclusive way about the formulation of the Rules to deal with it and curtail it. Most likely, nor has the Vatican Curia, historically, believed that they needed to ask the Laity anyway. Hopefully, a most recent Vatican announcement by Cardinal Gracias – to the effect that more Lay involvement in the issues of the Catholic Church is to be sought – might be the start of a reversal of the historical “Fortress Vatican” obsession.
Alarmingly, a recent Australian study* of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church has compiled the findings of some twenty-six commissions, investigations, judicial probes, and academic research from around the world. It has warned that there remains a grave potential for abuse of children to continue unchecked in the estimated 9,600 orphanages that the Catholic Church still runs. Worryingly, the report also states that there is no sign at the Vatican level of Religious Leaders answering why abuse has happened on such a scale and why they have reacted so poorly. In that context, the authors of the report, maintain that at some time in the future more shocking levels of the abuse of children will be unmasked.
*(Professor Cahill and theologian Dr Peter Wilkinson: Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church)
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The Catholic Church, like any global organization (whether political, religious or commercial) does not have all the world’s wisdom on tap. It is a vulnerable, human organization that imperfectly seeks to represent “Goodness” in this world. Thus the realism of critical, powerful and far reaching “alternative voices” is essential to keep the Vatican on track so that it can again move forward. Left to itself an isolated Vatican will become not just short-sighted and “tone” deaf, but both blind and “stone” deaf.
It is particularly essential that all Catholic news outlets, continue to project critical challenges on the issues surrounding child sexual abuse to organizations such as the Roman Catholic Church – which because of its historic claims of being a major moral force in this world – have lost the most credibility. The media should not fear recrimination because it is not the “Faith” of the Catholic Church that is under fire in this debate. The debate is something more humanly tangible than “Faith” and it gives the Laity the right of liberty to be critical. What is at stake here, is not the Vatican’s coveted monopoly of Gospel interpretation, but it is the universally held ethical essence of “Morality” and of “Truth” and of “Justice”. Full and open discussion of issues relating to those core values is vitally essential for the stability of the Catholic Church – let alone a World Order that is increasingly subject to the rampages of the instant global communication of unethical ideologies which have alarming claims of being the new normality. Before we tackle those new issues, however, we must tackle the old reality.
The issue of the clerical sexual abuse of children has demonstrated just how vulnerable the Roman Catholic Church is to its “mightier than thou” arrogance and it has literally “fallen from grace” as did Adam. It has been expelled from Eden and no fig leaf can now hide its nakedness. In many respects the Vatican Curia has been blinded by its own adherence to history and tradition and it does not recognize how shockingly and unacceptably Medieval it remains. To maintain any semblance of occupying the “high ground” in a world, increasingly aware of universal rights – and simply to be seen to adhere to its own principles such as Matthew’s Gospel, “And why beholdest thou the mote in thy brother’s eye, but not considerest the beam that is in thine own eye” – it needs to re-examine its own soul.
More precisely, what that means in the case of the Roman Catholic Church, which is often drowning unconsciously in its own incomprehension of its waywardness, is that that institution must reflect upon and eliminate its unacceptable and damaging practices that amount to “Immorality”, “Insincerity” and “Injustice”.
It is the immorality, insincerity and injustice of silence, of a failure to listen to victims, a failure to respond to victims and of a failure to demonstrate unchallenged ownership of each specific crime that takes place within the totality of Catholic Institutions.
of secret proceedings for accused clerics and religious – of proceedings that routinely exclude victims, witnesses, the public and the press from hearings – and of proceedings which publish no findings.
of secret proceedings that bind victims and witnesses who are admitted to them by oaths of perpetual silence on pain of threatened interdicts and excommunication from the Church.
of a failure to punish criminal clerics and religious appropriately and in line with the reasonable, common and universal expectations of the processes of civil laws and civil punishments, but instead routinely provides clerics found guilty of crimes with ecclesiastical or civil pensionable retirement.
of a failure to prevent clerics and religious found guilty of child abuse from all future interaction with children, of a failure to impose automatic interdicts upon abusive clerics and religious and of a failure, in many cases, to subject them to the process of defrocking.
of a failure to bring to account all clerics and religious who seek to conceal reports of crimes of any cleric or religious of any rank – whether they are priests, nuns, brothers, Bishops, Abbots or Superiors General in the Catholic Church.
of the failure to bring to account all clerics and religious who seek to hide within their walls those who have committed crimes against children – and who conspire to move those clerics or religious, as soon as discovered, to an alternative locations so to ensure that the legitimate processes of civil arraignment are forestalled or prevented.
of the failure to notify to civil law authorities or Child Safeguarding Organisations, as appropriate, those clerics who are known to have committed offences against children and against the civil law of the country in which they reside.
That Litany of failures – and, regrettably, many more not mentioned here merely for lack of space – constitutes the immoral, insincere and unjust failures of the Catholic Institutions. These are the failures for which the voices of both the people of God and no God in this world demand a re-birth – a true and “in depth” fundamental “renaissance” of Catholic Institutions and the minutiae of their “modus operandi”.
That Litany of failures is nothing short of a list of the standard features of feudal, monocratic structures – and are more akin to the control tactics of the despotic Medieval Monarchs and Roman Emperors of bygone history than a spiritually refreshing flower of hope for the future in a desperate world that is thoughtlessly rushing towards self-extinction.
The media voices, which comment on the Catholic Church, must engage in debate and re-iterate failures unceasingly and vigorously to the Catholic Church for the public good. Humoring readers with “potpourri” because there is no grand narrative from the Vatican news outlet on the day is not just frivolity, but it is a dangerous state of detachment from reality and it will quicken the demise of Catholicism as a moral force for good.
Brian Mark Hennessy.
Blog: Comboni Missionaries – a Childhood in their Hands
(URL: https://veronafathersmirfield.com/)

 

 

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Cardinal Murphy O’Connor’s Cover-up of Child Abusers Must be a Lesson to the Catholic Church by Keith Porteous Wood

Cardinal Murphy O’Connor’s Cover-up of Child Abusers Must be a Lesson to the Catholic Church

by: Keith PorteousWood

Note: This Article by Keith Porteous Wood first appeared in Conatus News and was later posted in the National Secular Society’s publication “Newsline” on the 8th September 2017. Cormac Murphy O’Connor, the former Archbishop of Westminster, died on 1 September. National Secular Society executive director Keith Porteous Wood seeks to set the historical record straight with this alternative obituary below. However, the views expressed in the article below by Keith Porteous Wood are those of himself, the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of this Blog entitled – “Comboni Missionaries – A Childhood in their Hands”
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The death of Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor has understandably resulted in obituaries lauding his achievements as a Prince of the Catholic Church. But we are pleased that few ignore entirely the Cardinal’s involvement in one of the most scandalous child abuse cover-ups this country has seen. I don’t doubt for a moment that Cardinal Murphy O’Connor did some good in his life, but there was another side to his story that should not be forgotten – a side that resulted in pain and suffering for many children. And the ruthless campaign by the Church to repress the details of the Cardinal’s many errors and misjudgements, and worse.
Despite the image of a genial old buffer that the Cardinal liked to project, it did not stop him, in 2006, from sacking his talented press secretary, a lay position, simply because he was “openly gay”. And O’Connor was “firmly against the repeal of Clause 28, which banned the promotion of homosexuality in schools”, a repressive and vindictive measure now regarded with embarrassment. This, despite the prevalence of gay men in the priesthood.

Those with long memories will also remember that, following complaints from parents, O’Connor, when Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, moved a known serial practising paedophile cleric, Michael Hill, from unsuspecting parish to unsuspecting parish. If O’Connor’s objective had been to reward Hill by affording him the greatest possible opportunities to prey on an almost unlimited supply of vulnerable unaccompanied juveniles, some of them thousands of miles from their parents, he could have done no better than appoint Hill as Catholic chaplain at Gatwick Airport. Yet this is exactly what O’Connor did, despite his knowledge of Hill’s repeat offending and psychiatric reports that Hill was likely to re-offend. Needless to say, O’Connor never shared what he knew about Hill’s criminal abusive activities with the police, contributing directly to Hill’s ability to continue his orgy of abuse unhindered. Hill was eventually convicted and jailed in two separate trials for abusing a boy with learning difficulties at the Airport, as well as eight other boys. Ten further charges unaccountably “remain on file”. To his dying day, the best Murphy O’Connor could do in his mea culpa on Hill was to say his response was “inadequate but not irresponsible”. Not much consolation to the victims and their families. Nor will have been the self-righteous indignation of his pitiful response to criticism: “Inevitably mistakes have been made in the past; but not for want of trying to take the right and best course of action.”

Richard Scorer, abuse lawyer and NSS director, examined the Hill saga exhaustively in his book Betrayed: The English Catholic Church and the Sex Abuse Crisis and demonstrated beyond doubt that O’Connor’s claims about Michael Hill were completely baseless. And, so predictably, O’Connor’s affable mask slipped again and he got pretty vicious when the media started asking what were, to his mind, too many questions and getting too close to the uncomfortable truth. It is an open secret that the BBC was muzzled from pursuing its investigative work on O’Connor by top-level representations made by O’Connor.

Few if any others than O’Connor could have managed to intimidate the BBC into silence, yet having done so, O’Connor still had the gall to claim that there was an anti-Catholic bias in the media. He wrote: “Many others feel deeply concerned by the apparently relentless attack by parts of the media on their faith and on the church in which they continue to believe.” That old trick so well practised by the Catholic hierarchy: portraying itself as the victim. That would all be shocking enough, yet there is credible speculation that the Hill saga could have been just the visible tip of the iceberg. A 2012/3 report by the group Stop Church Sexual Abuse has speculated that: “[Anglican] clergy … seem to have worked together with priests from [O’Connor’s] Catholic Diocese of Arundel and Brighton … to abuse children. Reports include that of a Catholic priest who had multiple reports for alleged child sex offences and who was moved by the Catholic Bishop [O’Connor] over to the CoE diocese of Chichester and became an Anglican Minister.

“The relationship between the [Catholic] Diocese of Arundel and Brighton [O’Connor’s] and [the Anglican one of] Chichester [in which Peter Ball, mentioned below, ministered] has been historically close. In the 1980s Bishops Cormac Murphy O’Connor and Peter Ball [not imprisoned until 2015 on multiple counts of sexual abuse committed over twenty years earlier] were close friends and it is now [claimed] that both sat on multiple reports of child sexual abuse by clergy and did nothing to protect children from further abuse. “In total upwards of 17 Anglican and 19 Catholic clergy have been reported to have abused children up to the late 1990s within these Dioceses. Most lived and/or worked within one small geographic area which adds to the concern that there [may have been] a network of sex offenders shoaling for victims within church communities, schools, cathedrals, youth groups and scouting groups.” (See also Addendum by Brian Mark Hennessy below)
Even the Daily Telegraph reported police investigations into “claims that O’Connor hampered Hill’s prosecution” and if the claims above are correct about O’Connor’s close friendship and nefarious collaboration with the devious and mendacious Peter Ball, who escaped justice for decades, this does not seem in the least far-fetched. At least, however, O’Connor is still indelibly connected in the public’s mind with the disgraceful Michael Hill saga, having been widely reported including in The Times, with severe criticisms including “Victims’ groups demanded his resignation in 2002”.

The Church could not but have known very much more. But the process of rewriting history is no doubt in full progress. Does it not however speak volumes about the Pope and Catholic Church that, given all the above, they chose, out of all the possible candidates, “His Eminence Cardinal” Cormac Murphy O’Connor to be a cardinal, to be the most senior Catholic in England and Wales, to be Emeritus Archbishop of Westminster, and to be the Pope’s Apostolic Visitor to investigate clerical child abuse in the Archdiocese of Armagh? But maybe we should not be surprised. The Pope tellingly did not strip O’Connor’s fellow Cardinal in Scotland, Keith O’Brien, of his cardinal’s biretta for abusing his rank with decades of predatory sexual sackable offence.

It seems from the Gibb Report into disgraced former Bishop Ball that Sussex police appear to have done a workman-like job on abuse in the Anglican diocese. I would have suggested that the Sussex Police now turn their attention to the Catholic diocese, but unfortunately the CPS told them in 2003 to abandon the investigation whilst refusing to explain why. Hopefully this was not because of O’Connor’s clerical rank, just like the Cof E’s Report suggested Peter Ball’s cleric rank was the reason he escaped justice in 1993.
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ADDENDUM

Comments related to the above article by Brian Mark Hennessy:

From the 1960s to the 1990s the Chichester had some of the worst examples of child sexual abuse committed by priests. The numbers and the scope of the phenomenon were truly outstanding. Canon Gordon Ridout who was the Vicar of All Saints in Eastbourne was jailed for 10 years for 36 separate offences on 16 children between 1962 and 1973. Peter Ball, former Bishop of Lewes was convicted of abuse in the 1980s and 1990s. Former priest Keith Wilke Denford of Burgess Hill and organist Michael Mytton were convicted of historic sexual abuse. Vickery House, a former Brighton priest, was also convicted along with former vicar of Brede, Roy Cotton. Additionally, former Vicar of St Barnabas in Bexhill was charged and convicted of historic allegations.


Note By Brian Mark Hennessy:

Coincidentally and unrelated to the above article, it may be of interest to some readers that Father Herbert Brazier, the father of the Prime Minister, Theresa May, was an Anglo Catholic Priest serving in the diocese of Chichester as the Eastbourne Hospital Chaplain from 1953 to 1959, during which period he met Theresa May’s mother. Earlier, at the beginning of World War II he had attended the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield where he trained for the Anglo Catholic priesthood. In the 1960’s and 70’s clerics and seminarians of the Comboni Missionary Order at Roe Head had very cordial relations with the Resurrection Community and on occasions exchanged visits. I remember one such visit well. I had a chat with a Priest of the Resurrection Community in their extensive library. He had spotted a book in the library that he wanted to read – and was in the process of learning Hebrew first so that he could do so!
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VATICAN CITY LAUNCHES VATICAN COMMISSION CHILD PROTECTION WEBSITE IN ENGLISH – by Brian Mark Hennessy

VATICAN CITY LAUNCHES VATICAN COMMISSION CHILD PROTECTION WEBSITE IN ENGLISH

The Catholic News of the Vatican City reported yesterday, 6th December 2016, that the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors has launched a beta version of its website in English and has included its template for local guidelines on preventing sexual abuse and resources for a day of prayer for the victims and survivors.

IMPORTANTLY – The Website has a mailing address to contact commission members.

The website — http://www.protectionofminors.va/ —will include, eventually, versions in Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and French, the commission said in a statement Dec. 6.

Pope Francis’ international Council of Cardinals identified the protection of children and young adults as one of the church’s priority needs and suggested in December 2013 that he create a commission to advise him and assist dioceses and religious orders around the world in drawing up guidelines, handling accusations and ministering to victims and survivors. Pope Francis named the first members three months later and appointed as president Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston.

Note by Brian Mark Hennessy: Whilst the Commission has made some important recommendations to date, the Congregations of the Vatican Curia have been less than enthusiastic about both embracing those recommendations and providing funds for the administration of the commission. Notably, amongst the recommendations widely said to have been criticized “in house” by the Curia, was the establishment of a Vatican Court to try Bishops and Religious Leaders who had covered up allegations of abuse in the past and mismanaged clerics who were known to have abused children. The prospect of a “resignation” was substituted as an “appropriate” punishment for such Hierarchs. This has been widely criticized by Survivors’ Organisations as “inappropriate” for Hierarchs who, due to both their inaction or their abject mismanagement, had been complicit in the proliferation of subsequent sexual abuse of children by paedophile clerics in their charge.

To date, no Court of the Holy Rota is known to have heard a case against a Bishop or Religious Leader on such charges – albeit, in the case of sexual abuse allegations by a Hierarch himself, one Vatican Holy Rota Court legal process was cancelled due to the sudden death of the accused. Another (as yet unpublicised) legal action is said to have commenced in the case of Archbishop Apuron of Guam who has been accused of historically sexually molesting altar boys.

My view on the reluctance of the Curia to proceed with such a Court Process is that the mismanagement of paedophile clerics has been such an endemic cultural, culpably heinous and worldwide feature of Diocesan Bishops and Religious Hierarchs throughout the Catholic Church – that a Vatican Court would not be able to handle the volume of credible charges. Indeed, that waiting list of accused prelates would be so great – and the depletion of the ranks of diocesan Bishops and Religious Superiors so extensive – that, within a very short timescale, the Catholic Church would become virtually “rudderless” and plunged into deep crisis within its Clerical ranks. The disaffection of its Lay Church communities of the Catholic Church would be catastrophic. The secular world outcry would, most likely, be ferocious.

By way of example of the Church’s blind indifference or deliberate disregard, I provide the following fact – which is the total and absolute silence of Catholics prelates and Religious Leaders within Great Britain and throughout the Bishops Conferences of every continent – in response to their receipt of the Document entitled, “A Text Book on How Not To Manage Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse – And Why The Comboni Missionary Religious Order of Verona, Italy, Denys Allegations of 1000 Sexual Crimes Committed Against Boy Seminarians in their Care at Mirfield, Yorkshire, England”.  

The exception was the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, who notified the writer that he intended to hand a copy of the above document personally to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith at the time of his visit to Rome in January 2016. He later confirmed that he had done so. He made no comment, however, as to his reasons for so doing. No response has been received from the Curia – not even an acknowledgement of receipt in the time of close on a year that has elapsed. This “silence” is not about denial, but it is the Catholic Church’s cultural reaction to criticism. Their Hierarchs, from the Vatican Curia to almost every Diocesan Bishop and Religious Leader, are paranoid about the dire effects of being introspective, truthful, humble and, in essence, courageous in their “Christianity”. That fear stays their hand. It also seeks to disguise the fact that their “Establishment” and the funds of its multi-billion worldwide conglomerate are of greater import to them than their “Gospel Message”. That is the sign of an obsolete and redundant Church – if there ever was one.

THE COMFORT AND DISCOMFORT OF BEING ON THE SAME PAGE – by Brian Mark Hennessy

THE COMFORT AND DISCOMFORT OF BEING ON THE SAME PAGE – by Brian Mark Hennessy

“While Churches fail to deliver the messages of the Gospels by their example, rather than by their hollow words, the People of God will walk away from them. They will both seek and find their Redemption elsewhere, in direct good works and help for the poor, destitute, old, sick and those in need of comfort in the countless corners of this world which suffer from war, strife and natural disasters. In this day and age, Christians of all creeds are less and less prepared to have their contributions to the needy of the world “creamed off” to allow clerics to live a life of relative luxury, fight legal cases against the victims of clerical sexual abuse – and indulge in corruption – which is the only word that can aptly define both child abuse and the protection of paedophiles by the Heads of Religious Orders and Bishops of Dioceses. So the children of God are already walking away from Church doors and they will continue to walk. They know that men who live in palaces are not pricked by the suffering at their doors and that they live a life that is in denial of the humble life of the Gospels that they preach. The People of God will only start to listen again when Bishops vacate their palaces, when the profane and excessive material wealth of the Church is sold and all the proceeds are given to the poor and needy. They will listen only when clerics of all ranks get out into their communities which they serve – and live within those communities in modest housing, in the shanty towns and in the slums of this world – and endure the same hardships, toil and longsuffering of the world’s under-privileged and impoverished peoples. That is what it will take for the people of God to start to listen again – and re-trace their steps.”

I wrote those words a year ago. However, I did not expect any clerics to take heed of what I wrote. In the last few weeks, I found it comforting that someone else said something similar in criticism of priests and bishops. His words, as reported by the National Catholic Recorder, were, “The world is tired of enchanting liars, fashionable priests and bishops. The People of God have a ‘scent’ and they retreat when they recognize narcissists, manipulators, defenders of personal causes and standard bearers of worthless crusades. It’s a horrible thing for the Church when its pastors act like princes. Yet, we need Pastors, but may they be fathers and brothers, may they be gentle, patient and merciful; may they love poverty, interior poverty, as freedom for the Lord, and exterior poverty, as well as simplicity and a modest lifestyle; may they not have the mindset of princes”.

That “someone else” was Pope Francis – and he is persistent with these themes. Last week it was reported in the UK Catholic Herald that at his weekly audience he said that, “Clergy who use their position for personal gain rather than to help those in need do not follow the spirit of Jesus who took upon himself the sufferings of others. Jesus often would rebuke such leaders and warned his followers to ‘do what they say – but not what they do’. Jesus was not a prince. It is awful for the Church when pastors become princes, far from the people, far from the poorest people. That is not the spirit of Jesus who had tenderness toward the poor, the suffering and the oppressed and whose invitation was, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” Jesus is not a master who severely imposes burdens upon others that he does not carry himself. Jesus was a pastor who was among the people and among the poor with whom he worked every day.”

I write these words in the Philippines where, in the midst of a wealthy and upward economy, poverty is still the lot of the masses – and where a multitude of underfed, barefooted children of the poor are on the streets by day and also by night for they have no bed nor shelter. There they beg and hustle and offer their limp bodies for adult abuse for a few pesos in order to survive until the next day. “Do you like me?” they ask imploringly and pitifully as you pass them in the street. The same uneducated, abandoned children watch hopelessly and helplessly as their parents die young from the result of crime or from sickness – simply because they have no funds for the basic medicine to stave off the effects of common illnesses. There, on the street, they sleep on the pavements and sniff glue to obliterate the pangs of hunger and the distress and hopelessness of neglect. The underpasses are where rejected amputees with home-made crutches find shelter, where infants of pre-school-age lead the aged blind to beg. There, countless young boys, not even in their teens, are routinely rounded up and cast into prison without charge for months for the most menial of offences such as begging or stealing a crust to stave off their hunger. Incarcerated communally with adult men, they become the prey of those intent on brutal, sexual abuse that will cast long, dark, sinister shadows over the remainder of their lives.

Yet, cheek by jowl with some of the poorest neighborhoods in Metro Manila, the smiling Cardinal Luis Tagle of the Church in the Philippines heads the richest and most cash-laden Archdiocese in the world. So much so that he was not able to remember, or even provide a close estimate, of quite how much money he did have in the coffers of his Archdiocese when asked by Stephen Sackur of the BBC in a “HardTalk” programme. He suggested, lamely, that Sackur looked on the Internet. I tried to find out myself with a bit of research. The information was not up to date – and nor was it presented by the Catholic Church – but it was garnered from the Philippine Stock Exchange by a group of disenchanted, Catholic financial experts. What was discovered was the mere tip of the ice berg. The data demonstrated that (in 2011) the Archdiocese had – as just one of its many investments, 300 million shares in banking – and together with other dioceses, the Church was within the top 100 investors in some 40 major companies engaged in such pursuits as banking, mining and construction. We do not know, however, how much more is invested in private entities, in companies outside the Philippines, in bonds, in time deposit accounts, or in real estate properties, but it is not just millions – it is billions. If you look carefully, you will also discover that at least one individual princely Bishop had both “Church:” and “private” funds of money stashed away in stock market investments.

Whilst the Cardinal was sitting on all this capital investment prior to the visit of Pope Francis in January 2015, one wonders why the Archdiocese of Manila needed to set up a fund seeking contributions from their parishioners for the repairs (that were said to have cost 200 million Pesos) for the Cardinal’s Cathedral in Intramuros (historic Manila). Yet, that is what they did. The Church will defend itself from the criticism of being “cash rich”, of course, and it will do this, most probably, by saying that in order to dispense welfare to the poor and needy of the world, it needs to produce the funds by investments to achieve it. That is a theoretical financial “truth” that I could not deny. Yet they do not divulge any details of income and expenditure – and so whether or not they do expend any money on the countless poor for housing, food, healthcare and education is not known. I could find no institutions listed, apart from two orphanages in Manila, that might fall into the category of charitable donations. On the other hand, the number of fee-paying Catholic schools in the Philippines is well over 100 – and fee-paying Catholic hospitals and clinics are also plentiful – but, they are for the wealthy – even the middle classes would struggle to afford the fees of the most of them.

The very bottom line is, of course, that being sensible with money and investing it for good causes does not require the prelates of the Philippines themselves to live like princes, it does not require them to live in grand houses like millionaires and deal privately in the financial markets, nor does it necessitate them owning vast diocesan estates – and, most certainly, it does not sanction them to grow portly whilst a multitude around them, who like street dogs, are literally scavenging through the garbage to find a bone to chew upon. I have seen them doing just that outside the popular fried chicken outlets.

So, until the cash-rich Church in the Philippines provides the laity with accurate, up-to-date financial information on how their money is being used, their Bishops can be harshly criticized with justification. After all – it is not the Bishops’ money to spend on themselves and their entourages. It is the “Church’s” money held by them in trust. The vast majority of that “Church” are the laity. Harsh criticism is especially justified when there is no evidence that any of their fabulous wealth is being utilised to alleviate the dire state of poverty outside their very church doors. In my book, that is called neglect on a scale that is equivalent to the gravest abuse of their priestly mission. If that is not the case, then I misjudge them, so let them publish the independently audited facts of their income and expenditure – both on official Church business and their private household expenses. I guess in advance that it will not be difficult to spot the cavernous, immoral disparity between their lifestyle and that of the destitute street ragamuffins who are in a state of serious physical underdevelopment for their age – due to the absence of even the most minimal of regular nourishment and healthcare.

One should note also, that whilst the Philippine Catholic Church does not condone any excesses and failures of the State, neither do they risk preaching against it in the pulpit. The reason for that is simple to understand (if you are an economist) for any Church edifice that is used to highlight matters of the conduct of the State – could be deemed by the State to be a “political entity” used for a “political statement or purpose”. That could lead to the parish or diocese being taxed on its income. It is true that the Bishop’s Conferences have made critical representations to the State in documentation in both past and present – but very few laymen will be aware of such documents. The silence of clerics in the pulpits in important moral guidance for their flock, therefore, ensures the continued liquidity of Church property – at the expense of the moral education of the populace. It is little wonder, indeed disastrous, that the vast proportion of Filippino Catholics do not make informed and cognizant moral decisions in so many pressing issues that face them in their lives today – and which are currently being reported worldwide. Such a lack of moral leadership for the sole purpose of defending “Mammom” is a part of a widespread and sinister culture of clerical self-interest – for the sake of their own preservation as a vibrant, financial institution. The result of this failure, most regrettably, is the moral decline of a whole nation which does not understand the perils that lie upon the road they willingly travel today.

In my three years in the Philippines, said to be the most Catholic country in the world, I have never seen a priest on the streets outside the doors of where I live or in the thriving city hubs. You will see them Sundays, of course, saying Mass in the local shopping malls – and of course gathering in a collection. Apart from that, they hold court only in their churches where they dictate to the desperate how they must lead their moral lives. Pope Francis certainly understood this situation in advance of his visit in January 2015. He castigated Filipino priests for failing to work for the poor in the streets. More recently he said about clerics that “Jesus is not a Master who severely imposes burdens upon others that he does not carry himself. He was a Pastor who was among the poor and He worked every day with them.” Yet, the Philippines remains a hell for countless thousands of children who are born – and then abused, physically and sexually, and then discarded by callous adults. Some parents even discard their own children because they are only able to feed a limited number of mouths. Thus, when another is born into this world, the oldest child in the family, whatever age or sex – and even before they reach their teens, are cast out to fend for themselves. Such infants are products of a ridiculous Dogma decreed by a Church that has not yet been able to grasp that God gave us a brain as well as genitals – and so this brainless Church infamously continues to claim that the use of condoms is forbidden on pain of Divine retribution.  The result is more homeless, neglected, abused, sick and wretched kids. That is Church abuse in the form of sinister dogmatic power piled upon the inexcusable abuse of neglect.

When Pope Francis came to Manila, these homeless and hungry castaway children were rounded up and bussed away out of site. The Shepherd of the Catholic Church was not allowed even to see them, let alone to walk amongst them – the most vulnerable of his flock. Cardinal Tagle did not object to their absence from the scene. He wanted to show a vibrant, cheerful and healthy Church to his guest. Neglect of street kids by the mainstream of the Philippine Church is a grave injustice that leads to both physical and psychological abuse. Yes, neglect is a form of abuse when you have a stated sacred mission to the poor – and you ignore it – and when you have the wealth to do something truly significant about it – but you do not. The Church is not listening to this Pope. Did he not state that, “There is no place in the Church for those that abuse a child.”  Yes, the Pope was talking about sexual abuse – but any abuse of children is equally reprehensible.

Dwelling for a moment on the sexual abuse of children, it has to be said also that the clerics of the Philippine Church, like so many other Bishops and Religious Orders worldwide, continue to sordidly protect and foster criminal, paedophile clerics amongst them, whilst they malevolently neglect the crimes committed against Victims by those very same errant priests. Here in the Philippines even the parents of abused children are told that the sexual abuse of “their” children is a “Church” matter and it is not for the laity to meddle in Church affairs”! I am not over simplifying! I read that exactly as stated by the Manila Diocesan Canonist in a Catholic news Bulletin in 2014. What they are saying, in fact, is that only the Clerics “are” the “Church”. Poppycock! Pope Francis would describe such a response of the Philippine Church as “Clerical arrogance and narcissistic clericalism”– but then this is Manila – it’s a long way from Rome – and, to be even more ironic, we are only talking about child victims of sexual abuse and destitute street kids – those annoying dregs of humanity who keep thrusting themselves by the thousands in our faces – and so who cares?

I fully believe that by “gut instinct” Pope Francis is on the right page – indeed the same page as all victims in this world and especially the page of victimized children. That is comforting to a degree. Yet, the Pope does not have full control of the Vatican curia – and nor the clerics in dioceses and Religious Orders. He cannot achieve all that is required, realistically, but he must at least try to ensure that the Bishops who govern the Church and the Superiors General of the Orders of the Church – are men of the Gospels – and true men in their hearts, who, with his leadership, can shake the dead wood from out the Church’s many branches. Ruthless pruning now will produce a rejuvenated tree in the new Spring. It is an urgent need – for the Church, as a clerical institution, has currently forfeited the good will of the lay Church that Christ founded. Those laymen and women are as integral to the Church as are the clerics who arrogantly and falsely claim it to be their own personal heritage and realm.  The Pope must put these clerics back in their place as servants of the Church, not it’s Masters.

For the moment, Pope Francis must face the fact that the traditional trust between clerics and laypersons has dissolved almost totally. Being on the same page as the Pope is comforting, but it is tainted by nothing other than the grave “discomfort” of knowing that what Pope Frances says – is not what his clerics deliver. The Pope must act and set out boldly and clearly, in the short time that he has, a root and branch radical reform programme. The Catholic Church must start to deliver for the most vulnerable in the Church – who are children. Whether those children are victims of sexual abuse, physical hardships, parental and clerical neglect, poverty, incarceration in prisons where they do not belong – or beatings on the streets of Manila – they must be cherished and not discarded as flotsam and jetsam amongst the turbulent seas of cruel, avaricious, selfish humanity. Make no mistake – and Pope Francis knows this well – that the latter “selfish humanity” includes, to the disgrace of the Catholic Church, so many Catholic prelates, clerics and religious who, whatever habit they wear and whatever their role in the Church, are demonstrably idle, indolent and undeserving of their daily bread.

“THERE IS NO PLACE IN THE CHURCH FOR CLERICS WHO HAVE ABUSED CHILDREN — By Brian Mark Hennessy

“THERE IS NO PLACE IN THE CHURCH FOR CLERICS

WHO HAVE ABUSED CHILDREN”

(By Brian Mark Hennessy)

With penetrating clarity and absolute authority, Pope Francis gave a speech in Santa Marta in 2014, and said that, “there is no place in the Church for clerics who have abused children”. His words rang loud, chiming bells of hope in my mind that here was a man who understood in his heart how pernicious and evil it was for an adult to abuse a child. When I now think back on his words, I feel somewhat amazed at how momentous they appeared to be about a matter which was so downright obvious to the vast majority of people in the world – and not just to parents – but to most adults who had ever given it a thought – and, of course, to the countless children who had been abused! On reflection, my surprise – and even inner joy at hearing him say it – was down to the simple, sad fact that I had never ever heard a Catholic Cleric, let alone a Pope, say it before in such a blatant and brazenly obvious way.

Pope Francis has said many other things since that time in the early few years of his papacy that have had a similar effect on me – and I presume he has prompted a like reaction in many others. It has given many hope that the Pope, who has the leadership of the Catholic Church in his hands, is truly on the path of change. This matters – not just for the Catholic Church – but for the moral guidance of many others in the world also. It suggests, in addition, that this Argentinian, non-Curial, diocesan prelate is now listening, not so much to the dogmatic, scarlet-hatted prelates that frequent the old palaces of the Vatican Curia, but to the Christian men, women and children in the streets – the people with whom he is much more familiar – and the streets he identifies as the place where he also belongs. He, and not the Curia “Old Guard”, understands that the laity are suffering the burdens of centuries of dogmatic indoctrination that has sought to compel them to live constricted and at times almost un-natural lives. The Church has historically dictated to them consistently and without offering any alleviation for their plight in the face of distressing circumstances that were not of their making. It has burdened them with demands on the decisions they make at times of misfortune – and warned defaulters of unpleasant retribution for failures.

To get his message across, the Pope has had to talk directly to his flock and over the heads of the Curia and their traditional, strictured, theological interpretation of dogma. This has been a most effective operation – for the Pope knows that his Curia dogmatists are a “turn off” in this modern age. The last thing the laity needs is a message, accompanied by the severe penalties of damnation and the eternal Bosch-like fires of Hell, which the dogmatists unstintingly attach to any failure to comply. The Pope recognizes, but the Curia do not, that for countless multitudes in this world, the achievement of the perfection postulated by theoretical dogma is often both incongruous and incompatible with the realities and the daily hardships of basic survival. Those realities are a way of living that the Curia Old Guard, imbibing and sleeping in their princely palaces, do not comprehend because for the most part, quite probably, they have never had to face and nor endure those hardships for any time much longer than a brief, afternoon pastoral visit.

Hence we now have discussions with the laity, un-envisaged before the arrival of Francis, about divorce, abortion, homosexuality and communion – and so on. Francis understands that life is a journey and that true perfection is unattainable for most. His simple message to his flock is to keep walking, even to limp and to crawl, down that road that points to perfection as best they can, within the circumstances of their individual lives, and with the constant aim, rather than any real expectancy being placed upon them, of reaching the destination.

It is regrettable, given the above, but quite unsurprising, that some of the Curial Princes of the Church are fighting a rearguard action against both the Pope and the faithful to whom he appeals. The old heads in the Curia are unaware that the vast number of the informed and educated of those admiring throngs of Francis believe that they have an undisputed and inalienable right to be able to discern what is right and wrong for themselves. Yet, the Vatican “scarlet hats”, for the most part, remain entrenched in the past and there are many of them, it seems, who are most reluctant to end their traditional ability to dictate, to scold, to ex-communicate and to damn. Who would relinquish such power, that has been invested in them for centuries, over the many millions of their followers in the world? Without the dogma-subjugated, vast throngs of believing faithful throughout the history of “Peter’s Pence”, who would, in the future, continue to fund the princely lifestyle that those prelates enjoy? The wearers of fashionable scarlet socks know that it was the big sticks of “dogma” and “everlasting fire” that maintained the Curia princes in a lifestyle of luxury in the past. So in their unwitting minds the faithful must continue to be subdued by their incomprehensible, doctrinal interpretations of “God’s Law” and kept in line by the fear of excruciating punishment. Only thus can the masses be denied the exercise of their own right to discern good and bad for themselves.

Unfortunately, for these intellectually sterile, reptilian relics of history at the Vatican, it may be an unpleasant surprise to know that the informed and educated laity both know and assert that their soul and their conscience belongs to them and to nobody else. The greater number of the faithful – which is the world’s abject poor who wearily struggle through life wondering how they will feed tomorrow the large numbers of children that they bore yesterday, in accordance with Church Rules, are forgotten. They, remain down-trodden and often de-humanised by miserable circumstances in both the foul-flooded slums and the rain-parched deserts of the world today – as did their forebears in the inescapable biblical, sore-bandaged, leper colonies. They act, for the most part, in accordance with necessity and the ungracious rules of survival rather than dogma. There is a disconnect, therefore, that has not yet penetrated the minds and the luxurious style of life of the Vatican cascades of isolated, enclaved male dignitaries that arrogantly tell the rest of the world how to behave. Thus, the Curia is, collectively, the downside to the hopeful words that the Pope utters day by day.

Those quiet, unseen Curia “dogma-worms”, secretly munching away at the paper piles left to rot in Vatican “in-trays”, leave me with an uneasy feeling that for them, the whole of Christianity is just a game of theatrical charades. It is a scene complete with its Cathedral stages, its saints, torture, blood, haloes, rites and rituals, its candles and incense, its colourful, richly embroidered, swirling costumes, its promises and its threats, its pledges and betrayals, its dogmas and its stories of angels and devils – and of purgatory, heaven and hell. It is a stage of unending drama upon which, in their minds, the curtains will never be drawn. Yet, that is a dangerous misconception for, whilst they stand still in glorifying in their eternal, fantasy world, the real world is transient – here today and gone tomorrow – and ever-changing at an alarming and increasingly hectic rate. Thus, their reluctance to deal judiciously, decisively and with alacrity with urgent matters such as the contagion of clerical child abuse within their realm has already seen, and in the future may well see a further and irreversible shift in their former fortunes. The more tardy they are in putting right the wrongs thet they have committed, condoned and hidden – the more rapid is the decline in their relevance. They sit on their fumbling hands in peril of being consigned to a chapter in the annals of history – fittingly entitled, if Edward Gibbon can be resurrected to complete his task, as: “Part Seven – The History of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Church”.

We return, therefore, as we must, to add to this dire picture the Curia’s specific failure to provide any consistent, visible, coherent, practical outcomes to what Pope Francis said so early on in his Papacy: “There is no place in the church for clerics who have abused children”. The Comboni Survivors (known originally as the Mirfield 12) have written endlessly to prelates of the Catholic Church to act on the commitment of Pope Francis to rid the Catholic Church of all clerics who have abused children. The survivors of child sexual abuse in the seminary of the Comboni Missionary Order at Mirfield, Yorkshire, England have compiled witness allegations to some individual 1000 crimes of child sexual abuse in a volume of near 200 pages – and that evidence includes the facts of the protection of a living, allegedly paedophile priest. This volume was distributed to all the Bishops of the British Isles and to Bishops’ Conferences throughout the world. Cardinal Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster took a copy by hand to Rome and gave it to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He confirmed to me, bless his scarlet socks, sash and cap, that he had done so.

The allegations of the crimes of this paedophile priest have been buried by the Catholic Church for nigh on half a century since the Order were first aware of them. Their immediate reaction was to send him to the Missions in Uganda to get him out of the way. He stayed there for decades (hopefully he was not abusing even more innocents) until he was finally brought to account two decades ago at the insistence of one of his Victims. His admissions at that time – downplayed and reduced in correspondence to the victim as “inappropriate actions” should have been reported to the Vatican immediately. Yet, even after admissions of wrongdoing those two decades ago, the Order has continued to give him sanctuary from full investigation and arraignment before a civil or canonical court. The priest remains wanted for questioning about crimes against a child by the West Yorkshire Police in the United Kingdom. The UK Crown Prosecution Service has sought his extradition on a number of occasions. It is believed also, that the Order never reported him to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at any time in the past fifty years and so it is certain that he has never been brought before a Vatican Canonical Court. If he had been, he would have been defrocked long ago and cast out as the criminal he is alleged to be. Even then – that would have been a lenient outcome – for he would probably have received a pension from the Order (provided in their Rules for such miscreants) and also escaped the long prison sentence that any civilian court would have imposed upon him for his alleged heinous crimes.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith have had the information regarding this priest, provided by the Comboni Survivor Group, in their hands for almost a year. Within the text of that document it is detailed with clarity that this living priest of the Comboni Missionary Order, who is alleged to have committed crimes of child sexual abuse in the guise of religious rituals against a young seminarian, then aged 11 years, has had no action taken against him by the Order. Almost the last words heard uttered by the Order about this priest were, “We all make mistakes!”, as if that casual, verbal shrug of the shoulders should both be the end of the matter – and the signal to the Victim that it is time for the wretchedness that has excrutiated and brutalised his psyche since childhood should now, in a flash, be forgotten. Life is not like that.

I do not expect that Pope Francis has ever heard of this case that I have related, but his Curia officials most certainly have. They have neither acknowledged receipt and nor responded. This is not just abject discourtesy to the Writer, the Victim and the Comboni Survivor Group, it is also a grievous sleight both to the Cardinal Archbishop who took the trouble to present it to them – and to the clearly expressed will of Pope Francis. The Curia is sitting on its hands – as it has done for centuries – and, therefore, they are not just a part of the historical problem in cases of child sexual abuse – they are also the current problem. Their inaction, believe me, reflects their declared independence from anything Pope Francis says and does. His Church is in the Curia’s hands. Our only remaining hope is that Pope Francis reads this blog – and then diligently undertakes the much needed firing and hiring process within the Curia. Pope Frances must ‘have done” with words of benevolent encouragement – and reveal his skills as an incisive surgeon.

Removal of Bishops or Heads of Religious Communities Negligent on Sexual Abuse — by Joshua J. McElwee, Rome

Francis gives Vatican authority to initiate removal of bishops negligent on sexual abuse –  by Joshua J. McElwee,    Rome

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.

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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 its implementation and that is what we must wait to see,” she said.

Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the head of the commission, called the motu proprio “clearly an important and positive step forward.”

“We are grateful that our Holy Father has received the recommendations from our Commission members and that they have contributed to this new and significant initiative,” he 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, placed 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.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent.

His email address is jmcelwee@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

 

How the Vatican handles sex abuse allegations — by Brian Mark Hennessy

How the Vatican handles sex abuse allegations — by Brian Mark Hennessy

My view of the Vatican has always been that it is somewhat similar to a Cosmic Black Hole which swallows up information with a constant gravitational force to the extent that it can only increase in size because its intrinsic physical nature prevents anything ever being released. The straitghtforward explanation of this is that the bureaucracy of the Vatican is run by clerics who believe that they, exclusively have inherited the Wisdom of the Spirit – and that the everyday run-of-the-mill baptised Catholic layperson is just mindless flotsam that inhabits the dark nether regions of Creation. Nothing has ever given me the slightest cause to believe that the Vatican will ever change despite any overtures made by Pope Francis about collegiality, consultation and inclusion. For the international corporate conglomerate that they are – the standards of their attention to their customers – those that provide them with their funds so that they can invest it and live in princely isolation from the rest of the world – is nil.

For example, our very own Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, obliged me recently and personally took by hand a copy of a document that I had written to Rome and handed it to an official of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. The document was entitled, (sorry it’s a bit of a mouthful):

A TEXT BOOK FOR INSTITUTIONS ON HOW NOT TO MANAGE ALLEGATIONS OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE – AND WHY THE COMBONI MISSIONARY RELIGIOUS ORDER OF VERONA, ITALY, WILL DENY ALLEGATIONS OF 1,000 SEXUAL CRIMES COMMITTED AGAINST BOY SEMINARIANS IN THEIR CARE AT MIRFIELD, YORKSHIRE, ENGLAND – AND HOW THIS ITALIAN CATHOLIC ORDER HAS IMPLICATED ITSELF, BY DEFAULT, IN THE DISCRIMINATORY RE-VICTIMISATION OF THOSE SAME VICTIMS OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE FROM THE BRITISH NATIONS OF ENGLAND, SCOTLAND AND WALES AND THE REPUBLIC OF IRELAND.

The document is some 177 pages from start to finish. It took me more than a year to research and write. So – it went right to the very heart of the Vatican. Not a peep from them. No acknowledgement. No name of the Recipient. No indication as to whether or not anyone has even turned one of its pages. It is there – of perhaps not – it may have been shredded by now. I know it was there – and it would have had to undergo the “procedures”. Then the result would have been “secret” and could not be divulged – and so I will never know whether or not any of my efforts produced the slightest reaction, led to any discussions, recommendations or changes – or was a total waste of time. Why the silence – because I am flotsam – and I do not need to be consulted, informed, enlightened, considered!

(I remember feeling a bit deflated like that before. For after I was sexually abused by a priest at the Comboni Missionaries’ Mirfield seminary – and then after that – as an already confused and disorientated 21 year old novice at Sunningdale I was forced to witness the romantic clandestine meetings of a priest and a nun who were in love with each other – I left the Order – unsurprisingly. I then received a letter asking me to sell raffle tickets to raise money for the Order. I refused and sent them back. Then I got another letter saying that I owed them money and should repay it. That was news to me – but apparently my father, who was a good Irish Catholic and had eight children and could not pay the full cost of my boarding at the seminary, had an arrangement to pay less than the normal rate. They now wanted me to pay back the deficit. To them – I was flotsam you see – to be used and discarded. It wasn’t their money anyway – other poor Catholics who were beguiled into putting pennies in their collection plates paid for my seminary education – not them! Sad!)

Back to the point. In April of this year the Vatican, somewhat surprisingly, posted to its site a guide as to how the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith handles allegations of sexual abuse made against Catholic clergy. The guide was posted, according to a report from Catholic News Service, “to illustrate the Church’s commitment to protecting children and punishing offenders.” The online “introductory guide” lists the investigative steps, trial options and possible penalties for clerical sex abuse of minors, including dismissal from the priesthood. It even underlines the local bishop’s responsibility to follow civil law in reporting such crimes to the appropriate authorities.

Wow! I thought – cautiously. Is the Vatican “opening up”? The Catholic News Service continued, “This is to help the public understand how we facilitate, how we proceed. This is transparency – transparency of the Vatican. We have nothing to hide,”. These were the words of the Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini, a Vatican spokesman – so it must be true! But hold on a minute! Yes, the Vatican guide does explain the practices adopted in the wake of a 2001 papal document that established strict universal norms for handling cases of sexual abuse by priests against minors and placed these cases under the authority of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

But (I was always told that you cannot start a sentence with a “but” – but it seems very appropriate for a bit of emphasis) did not another Vatican spokesperson say quite recently that it is not necessary to report incidents of clerical child sexual abuse to the civil authorities? Have we not heard oh so very recently that one Cardinal congratulated a bishop for getting a prison sentence for refusing to assist the civil authorities by handing over information to the civil authorities about a paedophile priest? Did not the Vatican itself refuse to give – again oh so very recently – magistrates of the Italian State information in their possession about the offences of another paedophile priest because all information in the Vatican is of a “canonical” nature – and cannot be divulged even to the magistrates of the Italian State – because – well – they are flotsom aren’t they?

And – (yes I know you cannot start a sentence with an “and” either), what about secrecy and cover-up – and denial – and refusal to have dialogue – and what about “truth” – to where has that disappeared – and what about the nasty objectionable habits of calling abuse survivors “money grabbers”? Where does all that fit in to this scenario. Well – you have to go back to the overall picture to understand it – back to the Cosmic Black Hole theory again – because Black Holes are not very transparent. The Vatican Spokesman got that one wrong. Black holes are actually very dense – full of dark matter – stuff goes in. They grab everything they can get, but nothing ever comes out again – and, yes, they do have procedures, and you can read them. I have read them. They are not actually the real procedures themselves, but they are an introductory guide for lay-persons and non-canonists – the mindless flotsam of this world who would not have a clue how to interpret Canon Law. You cannot even understand it, to be honest, if you stand on your head and squint. There is a reason for that. Somewhat unsurprisingly most of Canon Law does not actually mean what it says – and so it can be interpreted in any which way a Vatican Canonist decides – and the Vatican actually states that the Vatican is the only body with a right to interpret it. Not a chance that flotsam would understand it. Indeed most Bishops and the Heads of religious Orders do not understand it. I know that because they do whatever they want and I know a big bunch of them, called the Comboni Missionary Order of Verona, Italy who totally ignore it. You see – that Order is another Black Hole. They have been swallowed up by the Vatican Black Hole. Black Holes can do that. They get denser and denser as time goes on. Lucky we are just flotsam really!