Archive for November, 2012

Conscience & Fr. Roy Bourgeois

Sadly, Fr. Roy Bourgeois learned recently that the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in October had dismissed him from the Maryknoll order and also released him from “his sacred bonds” (i.e., removed him from the priesthood). As Voice of the Faithful® noted previously, such action in response to an act of conscience stands in stark contrast to the Vatican’s failure to censure bishops who failed to act morally when it came to child abuse by priests.

For those interested in Church teachings on conscience, here is a link to the pertinent sections (Part III, Section 1, Chapter 1, Article 6: 1776-1802) of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the Vatican website. Voice of the Faithful® also has published a study guide on conscience, Conscience and Excommunication: A Dilemma, which was first posted in 2008 when Fr. Bourgeois faced excommunication.

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Child Sex Abuse Statues of Limitation Reform Makes Sense on Both Sides of the World

Two incidents on opposite sides of the world have recently underscored the disparity in views on the reform of child sex abuse statutes of limitation, which Roman Catholic Church reform movement Voice of the Faithful® has long sought as a means for abuse victims to receive justice.

In Pennsylvania, the Bucks County district attorney’s Task Force on Child Protection, set up 13 months ago following former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky’s indictment on child molestation charges, completed its report. Nowhere does the report recommend statute of limitation reform, according to news reports, even though experts have repeatedly pointed out the significant time lapse between when child abuse occurs and when adult survivors recall and report abuse. The task force recommended to the state legislature extensive changes in child abuse laws, covering everything from handling information about allegations to training of those responsible for children’s welfare, without ever mentioning statutes of limitation. As a result, the task force missed the single greatest opportunity for gaining justice for abuse survivors. Nor is Pennsylvania the only state where these laws must be changed.

On the other side of the world, in Australia, the president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart, recently stated that no one, not even Catholic clergy, should be allowed to use statutes of limitations to escape justice. Archbishop Hart is reported as saying, “The evil of sexual abuse is so serious and so awful that the only way in which the victims will come to any sense of peace is if their matter can be dealt with by the offender being brought to justice.”

Anne Cossins, a child sexual abuse expert at the University of New South Wales, backed Hart’s opinion when she said, “It might take an 8-year-old 10 years before they feel safe enough to tell people for the first time, particularly given the secrecy that surrounds the abuse and the degree of coercion the children are subject to.”

The vast extent of Australia’s clergy sexual abuse scandal has been unfolding over the past few months, as evidence has been presented to a parliamentary inquiry. Victoria’s police, for example, have accused the Church of failing to report allegations of clergy sexual abuse, destroying evidence and putting its reputation above the welfare of children.

Despite accusations that Australia’s leading prelate, Cardinal George Pell, has displayed an appalling lack of empathy for child abuse victims, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Australia, under extreme pressure, may be coming around on statute of limitation reform. This is not the case in Pennsylvania where the legislature apparently is yielding to pressure from, among others, Archbishop Charles Chaput and the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, which has steadfastly lobbied against such reform.

Voice of the Faithful® is left wondering when state governments and the Catholic Church will employ such an obvious vehicle for justice and healing.

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Sexual Abuse Allegations & Claims of Church Cover-up Triggers Australian Government Inquiry

After a string of sexual abuse accusations against priests and claims of a Catholic Church cover-up, Australia’s primer minister ordered on Nov. 5 a federal inquiry into allegations of child sex abuse in state and religious institutions and community groups, according to Associated Press. The extent of scandal for the Church appears staggering. Following are just some of the articles covering the crisis that have appeared since the announcement earlier this month (stories generally are listed chronologically beginning with the most recent)  —

Although allegations have been made in the past, Australia now feels the full impact of the Church’s worldwide clergy sexual abuse scandal.

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An AP Interview with Vatican Sex Abuse Prosecutor Msgr. Scicluna

“[Bishop-elect of Malta Charles] Scicluna acknowledged that the pope has yet to discipline any bishop for negligence in handling an abuse case. While Cardinal Bernard Law resigned in 2002 after the abuse scandal erupted in his Boston archdiocese, he wasn’t sanctioned and was in fact named archpriest of one of the Vatican’s pre-eminent Rome basilicas — a cushy promotion to his critics.” By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press 

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Bishop Geoffrey Robinson’s Advice to Australian Bishops in Advance of Their Biannual Meeting

“Moving on to even more difficult territory, bishops and religious leaders need to grapple with the fact that to this day there has never been any serious inquiry into the factors within the Church that may have contributed to abuse. The John Jay study in the United States contained much good material, but it did not answer this need.” Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, former auxiliary bishop of Sydney

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Kansas City Bishop Finn’s Appeal Letter Doesn’t Have Much Appeal / National Catholic Reporter

“All the while, sitting in the room, was [Bishop] Finn, perhaps the most glaring contemporary exhibit of the bishops’ total disregard of their own promises of transparency and accountability. Not once was he mentioned, nor was mention made in that meeting of the fact that a sitting bishop had been convicted of a crime that, were he a priest, would disqualify him from ministry. The fine print in the charter — rather the script written in invisible ink — must read: None of the above applies to bishops.” By Tom Roberts, National Catholic Reporter

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Sex Abuse Is a Side Effect of Church’s Hierarchical Structure, Clericalism

“Sadly, sex abuse by church personnel is a well-documented side effect of the hierarchical structure that Pope Benedict XVI vigorously seeks to restore as a central feature of his so-called reform of the reform, also known as the overturn of Vatican II. He has the earnest righteousness that prevents him from seeing the tragic incongruity between his publicly condemning clerical sex abuse and his unknowingly enabling it through reviving the clericalism that is a killer side effect of the hierarchical structures he champions.” By Eugene Cullen Kennedy, National Catholic Reporter

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Church of England Bishop Arrested in Child Abuse Inquiry

“The arrest of Bishop Peter Ball on suspicion of sexual offences against boys and men at addresses in East Sussex and elsewhere is the latest development in a wide-ranging and often contentious series of official inquiries into decades of alleged child protection failures in the diocese of Chichester on England’s south coast.” By Robert Booth, The Guardian

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USCCB Should Dis-invite Bishops in Sex Abuse Cases from Conference

“This week, all of America’s Catholic prelates are invited to the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Almost all of them will certainly show up. But because of their recent recklessness with children’s safety, some don’t deserve to be there. They should have the decency to stay home. More importantly, leaders of the conference should have the courage to dis-invite them.” By David Clohessy, Snap Executive Director, in National Catholic Reporter.

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Convicted Prelate Apparently Not on Bishops’ Agenda in Baltimore This Week

Bishop Sash & crossBishop Robert Finn of Missouri stands convicted of covering up for a priest caught with thousands of images involving “child sex” on his computer. That this is a travesty is an understatement. That Bishop Finn has not resigned or been removed or even censured by his brother bishops is abhorrent. As U.S. bishops gather for their Fall General Assembly, Nov. 12-15, in Baltimore, Bishop Finn’s situation appears not to have made the agenda.

Bishop Finn’s conviction is the most significant example of how Roman Catholic bishops have exempted themselves from the requirement to follow their Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Over the decade since this Dallas Charter was adopted, bishops have failed to report allegations of clergy sexual abuse, have kept accusations from their own review boards, and in at least one instance, have simply decided that the Charter does not apply to them at all. The U.S. bishops’ own National Review Board, which conducts audits to ensure bishops are carrying out the Charter guidelines, even warned them against “complacency or Charter drift” in its June 13, 2012, 10-year report.

Although Voice of the Faithful® is disappointed at the relative inaction on this issue by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at previous national meetings, we call for them to act immediately at their present Fall General Assembly by doing the following, which would put teeth into fraternal correction and make the USCCB position on child protection absolutely clear:

  • When USCCB learns a bishop has engaged in activity that would be prohibited by the Charter, or
  • When USCCB learns a bishop has disregarded the principles of the Charter and has failed to take the actions required by the Charter, or
  • When USCCB learns a bishop has made public statements indicating his disagreement with the Charter’s principles or his unwillingness to take the action the Charter requires,
  • Then, after notifying the bishop and after the bishop fails to take corrective action within 60 days,
  • The bishop shall be excluded from USCCB activities and the USCCB’s action shall be reported to the Papal Nuncio and be the subject of a USCCB press release.

Voice of the Faithful® believes the threat of exclusion and public disapprobation will encourage USCCB members to implement the Charter more vigilantly, and resolving the above is a viable way to ensure this.

Our request for this action follows up on formal recommendations to tighten NRB audits that Voice of the Faithful® representatives made in April 2011 shortly after meeting with the then heads of the bishops’ Office of Child and Youth Protection and NRB, Teresa Kettelkamp and Diane Knight, respectively. We are convinced the actions we propose would enhance protection of children and help restore bishops’ badly damaged credibility. Those recommendations included:

  • Fully independent audits, with no restrictions on access to individuals or records;
  • Independent diocesan review boards;
  • Insulation of victim assistance programs from chancery officials, diocesan law firms or insurance companies;
  • Listening sessions around the country to hear lay Catholics’ reactions to the abuse/cover-up revelations and their expectations for resolving them; and
  • Formal support for Statutes of Limitations reform to provide victims/survivors with redress through civil authority.

Voice of the Faithful® has written NRB Chairman Al J. Notzon, III, regarding the above, and will be anxiously awaiting the outcomes from the USCCB’s Fall General Assembly.

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