Catholicism

Devil In the Red Hat: What the Bridgeport Diocese Abuse Report Can’t Say

October 5, 2019

Besides being the bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., and then cardinal archbishop of New York, the Reverend Edward Egan was a monster. Now that he is safely dead, this can be said. And much more. In the Diocese of Bridgeport he was preceded by other monsters, Bishop Walter Curtis and Bishop Lawrence J. Shehan. This was known as a kind of folk wisdom in the diocese and patched together from the years of stomach-turning testimonies and news items. But now, at least some of the truth is documented extensively in a report by a judge and law firm commissioned by the Bridgeport diocese itself.

Those three abovementioned men reigned, between 1953 and 2000, over a diocese in which over 70 priests abused nearly 300 children in various ways. The response of these three men to this reality evolved. One bishop would simply instruct subordinates to handle abusive priests and then not look too much into it. Some shredded and destroyed incriminating documents. Egan perfected the art of legal stonewalling. The report largely vindicates the approach of Egan’s two successors, Archbishop William Lori (now of Baltimore) and the current bishop, Frank Caggiano. Both implemented recommended practices, and the incidence of abuse declined.

The report goes into the consequences of abuse for the victims. Their damaged relationship to the Church, their struggles with depression, and self-harm. A sample quote: “Sir, I do not know what to do or how to handle this. I have carried this with me for many years. . . . With the court case . . . coming to light, I went through the whole painful memories again and again. . . . I have not been able to have sexual relations with my wife for almost a year now. I feel so dirty and ugly inside. . . . Please help me. What should I do?” That quote is captioned: “Adult survivor practicing in another Christian denomination, relating how 35 years earlier, as an eighth-grader, he visited a Catholic parish in the diocese to explore Catholicism, only to be abused by the very priest from whom he sought an introduction to the faith.” It also outlines continuing problems for non-offending priests, in terms of lowered morale.

The report is admirably blunt. Reassignment of priests known to have abused children began under Bishop Sheehan. Bishop Curtis did not remove abusive priests from service and was “undisguisedly indifferent” to child sexual abuse. Egan “took a dismissive, uncaring, and at times threatening attitude toward survivors and survivors’ advocates.” He adopted a “scorched earth litigation strategy” and held a “belief that his principal obligation was to protect the assets of the diocese and to safeguard against what he described as “scandalous” media reports. The report does note that there had been an evolution in our society’s attitudes toward the sexual abuse of children over the period covered but that one constant remained, a conviction that “sexual abuse of children is morally wrong and deeply injurious.”

Nearly 1,700 Priests ‘Credibly Accused’ of Abuse Living With No Oversight

October 3, 2019

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Nearly 1,700 priests and other clergy members of the Roman Catholic Church who have been credibly accused of child sexual abuse are living with little to no oversight from religious authorities or law enforcement, according to an AP investigation. Dozens of priests have committed crimes since leaving the church, including sexual assault and possessing child pornography, the AP reports. Hundreds of priests were found to still be working with children, 160 continued working or volunteering in churches, and about 190 obtained professional licenses to work in education, medicine, social work, and counseling. The AP reports that 76 still had valid credentials in those fields as of August. Each diocese determines the threshold for a priest to be determined as “credibly accused,” with allegations ranging from inappropriate conversations to rape.

Pope accepts resignation of NYC bishop accused of abuse

September 30, 2019

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VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis accepted the resignation of a New York City bishop who was accused of sexually abusing a teenage boy in the 1980s, the Vatican said Thursday.

Auxiliary Bishop John Jenik denied the allegation when it was first brought to the New York City archdiocese last year. He nevertheless stopped public ministry and moved out of his Bronx parish.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan said the archdiocese’s lay review board had found the allegation to be “credible and substantiated,” and he turned the case over to the Holy See for further investigation, since only the pope can decide a bishop’s fate.

Jenik turned 75 in March, the normal retirement age for bishops. As a result, it wasn’t immediately clear if Vatican made any determination about the abuse allegation.

For decades, the Vatican turned a blind eye to bishops and cardinals who raped and molested children and adults or covered up the crimes.

It was Dolan’s archdiocese that received complaints about sexual misconduct by ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, cases that launched a new reckoning in the U.S. Catholic Church hierarchy.

NZ bishop resigns over ‘unacceptable’ sexual relationship

September 28 2019

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VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis on Friday accepted the resignation of a New Zealand bishop over what church officials said was his “completely unacceptable” sexual behavior with a young woman.

Palmerston North Bishop Charles Drennan, 59, had offered to resign following an independent investigation into the woman’s complaint, according to a statement from Cardinal John Dew, head of the church in New Zealand.

The Vatican said Friday that the pope had accepted the resignation.

The removal is significant since the Catholic Church has long considered sexual relationships between clerics and adult women to be sinful and inappropriate, but not criminal or necessarily worthy of permanent sanction.

However, the #MeToo movement and the scandal over ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, an American defrocked by Francis for sexual misconduct, have forced a reckoning about the imbalance of power in relationships between clerics and lay adults, nuns and seminarians _ and whether such relationships can ever be consensual.

Drennan was a member of the New Zealand church team of priests and sisters selected to respond to the country’s Royal Commission inquiry into sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults in state and faith-based care between 1950-1999. His status on the team wasn’t immediately clear.

Drennan is well under the normal retirement age of 75 for bishops. Ordained a priest in 1996, he worked for seven years in the Vatican’s secretariat of state before being made a bishop in 2011. He took over as the head of the Palmerston North diocese a year later.

More recently, he was elected secretary of the New Zealand bishops’ conference and was a delegate at a 2015 meeting of the world’s bishops on the family.

Dew said the woman made a complaint, and the New Zealand church’s investigative body contracted an outside investigator to evaluate her claim. Both Drennan and the woman participated in the investigation.

Details of their relationship were not released. The woman asked for information from the complaint to remain private, Dew said. He added, however, that “In the eyes of the Catholic Church, Bishop Drennan’s behavior was completely unacceptable.”

Dew praised the woman for coming forward, said she had been told of Drennan’s resignation and is continuing to receive support from the church as well as her family. He urged others to bring reports of clergy misconduct to the church.

Priest shortage in Amazon eroding Catholic influence: bishops

September 26 2019

Brazilian Bishop Wilmar Santin says the Catholic Church is ceding ground to more nimble Evangelical rivals and needs to lift its game (AFP Photo/NELSON ALMEIDA)

Itaituba (Brazil) (AFP) – A shortage of Catholic priests in the Amazon is eroding the church’s influence in the remote region, bishops in Brazil and Peru warn, ahead of a Vatican synod dedicated to the rainforest.

Wilmar Santin, one of scores of Brazilian bishops set to attend the October 6-27 gathering, says the church is ceding ground to more nimble Evangelical rivals and needs to lift its game.

“What new paths can we offer our flocks so that they graze here and don’t go to our neighbor’s pasture?” asks Santin, who presides over an area of the Amazon equivalent to nearly half the size of Germany.

“Because we aren’t giving or preserving the pasture as it should be for them. We are failing.”

Recruiting more indigenous priests would help, he tells AFP, but that would require adapting the church’s training so they can qualify.

Very few indigenous men have been ordained so far in Brazil.

Another option set to be discussed at the synod is allowing married men to be ordained in remote areas, such as the Amazon.

Pope Francis has repeatedly said there is no doctrinal prohibition on married men who have reached a certain age from becoming priests, and therefore the protocol could be changed.

But in January this year, he seemed to retreat from the idea, describing celibacy as “a gift to the Church.”

The pope nevertheless conceded “some possibilities for far-flung places,” such as Pacific islands or the Amazon where “there is a pastoral necessity,” though he added that the decision was not his to make.

Santin says 21 priests and nine brothers serve the Itaituba diocese, which spans 175,365 square kilometers (about 67,710 square miles) and takes in six municipalities.

“It is a small number for these needs,” Santin says at his residence in Itaituba, a riverside town in Para state.

While Brazil remains the world’s most populous Catholic country, its flock has shrunk as evangelical Protestant churches grow.

Around 64 percent of the population identified as Catholic, according to the 2010 census. That compares with 74 percent in 2000.

Priest found guilty of raping dozens of children in Canada

September 23 2019

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Ottawa (AFP) – A defrocked Catholic priest was found guilty Friday of raping dozens of children and a sled dog in the Canadian Arctic, where he worked as a missionary for decades.

The Belgian-born Eric Dejaeger, 67, was convicted of 31 counts of sexual offenses against children and one count of bestiality.

At the start of the his trial last November in Iqaluit, the capital of Canada’s northernmost Nunavut territory, Dejaeger acknowledged and pleaded guilty to eight out of 80 original charges.

Justice Robert Kilpatrick ruled the evidence had been weakened by the passage of time, and whittled down the number in the indictment.

The defense and prosecution have 30 days to appeal the decision. Otherwise, Dejaeger is expected to be back in court in January for sentencing.

The Iqaluit court clerk told AFP that more than 20 victims from the Inuit hamlet of Igloolik, on the shores of the Northwest Passage, testified at the emotionally charged trial.

Public broadcaster CBC said they recounted how Dejaeger used his position as a missionary to lure and trap them into sex, threatening them with hellfire and separation from their families if they exposed him.

From 1978 to 1982, Dejaeger worked alongside other local priests in Igloolik in what was then the Northwest Territories, and eventually took on Canadian citizenship.

In 1990, he was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison for sexually assaulting eight children in Baker Lake, Nunavut.

Following his release from prison and facing fresh allegations, he fled to his birth country of Belgium, where he was arrested in 2011 and subsequently returned to Canada.

He has been in custody ever since.

Rochester diocese, facing flood of sex-abuse claims, files for bankruptcy protection

September 18, 2019

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – The Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester, facing potentially huge judgments for past sexual abuse by its priests and other ministers, filed for bankruptcy protection Thursday.

“This was a very difficult and painful decision,” Rochester Bishop Salvatore Matano said at an afternoon news conference that detailed the action.

The diocese filed its petition for Chapter 11 reorganization in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Rochester at about 9:30 a.m. The petition estimates the diocese’s assets as $50 million to $100 million – and its financial liabilities as $100 million to $500 million.

Rochester’s diocese becomes the first of New York state’s eight dioceses – and the 20th nationwide — to seek protection from creditors in bankruptcy court because of financial fallout from the Catholic Church’s decades-long child sexual abuse scandal.

The bankruptcy filing does not mean the diocese is penniless and does not mean its churches will close.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester filed for bankruptcy on Sept. 12, 2019. The Diocese held a press conference talking about why they did that. Bishop Salvatore R. Matano read from a prepared statement before answering questions with Lisa Passero CFO for the diocese, and Stephen Donato, with the law firm, Bond, Schoeneck, and King that is representing the diocese in the bankruptcy, beside him.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester filed for bankruptcy on Sept. 12, 2019. The Diocese held a press conference talking about why they did that. Bishop Salvatore R. Matano read from a prepared statement before answering questions with Lisa Passero CFO for the diocese, and Stephen Donato, with the law firm, Bond, Schoeneck, and King that is representing the diocese in the bankruptcy, beside him.

The intent of a Chapter 11 filing such as this is to reorganize the diocese’s finances, marshal funds to pay fair compensation to sex-abuse accusers and create a plan for the diocese to continue operations much as they were before.

Matano made it clear that the diocese sought Chapter 11 protection to shield itself from the impact of the legal claims, which he said could “exceed our resources.”

The diocese encompasses 12 counties in upstate New York. An estimated 360,000 Catholics live within the diocese.

The bankruptcy filing is the direct result of a long-anticipated flood of litigation triggered by New York’s Child Victims Act.

The act, adopted by the state Legislature early this year, carved out a one-year window during which the statute of limitations is lifted and accusers can file legal claims for sexual abuse they suffered as children, no matter how long ago the abuse occurred.

The window opened on Aug. 14. Since then, more than 580 lawsuits have been filed statewide, with the lion’s share of them accusing Roman Catholic priests, brothers, deacons or nuns of abuse.

Nearly all of those named as a defendant the diocese where the priest or other minister worked, arguing that diocesan officials were responsible for the abuser’s conduct.

Church sex abuse ‘far-reaching’ in Missouri: attorney general

September 18, 2019

Washington (AFP) – The attorney general in the US state of Missouri on Friday accused the Catholic Church of turning a blind eye to church sex abuse and referred a dozen former clergymen for criminal prosecution.

“Sexual abuse of minors by members of Missouri’s four Roman Catholic dioceses has been a far-reaching and sustained scandal,” said the Midwestern state’s top prosecutor, Eric Schmitt, after a year-long investigation.

“For decades, faced with credible reports of abuse, the church refused to acknowledge the victims and instead focused their efforts on protecting priests,” Schmitt told a news conference.

He said the probe into diocese records across the state revealed that 163 priests or other members of the clergy had been accused of sexual abuse or misconduct against minors.

Around 80 of the accused are already dead, but the attorney general said he will refer a dozen men for prosecution by local authorities.

“The standard response to reports of abuse by church leadership was to move an offending priest into a short-term period of treatment and then reassign him to public ministry in a new parish,” Schmitt said.

“Members of an offending priest’s old and new parishes were not notified of the reason for a transfer in these cases. At best, victims were offered limited counseling services to help recover from the abuse.”

A spokesman for Schmitt’s office told The New York Times that investigators had heard from more than 100 victims of abuse and had spoken directly to 45 victims or their families.

“We did have one priest who had 21 victims come forward, so we can assume the number is in the hundreds,” said the spokesman, Chris Nuelle.

The Vatican is struggling to deal with a global epidemic of sexual assault by priests, in particular of minors. Much of the abuse has gone on for decades.

Faced with widespread criminal investigations, Pope Francis announced in May that every Catholic diocese would have to come up with a plan for reporting abuse.

Chicago Catholic Church paid $80m to sex abuse victims

September 18, 2019

Victims' rights attorney Jeff Anderson, pictured in April, 2019, said the payouts varied from five figures for some victims to more than $1 million (AFP Photo/EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ)

Chicago (AFP) – A victim of clergy abuse urged other survivors to come forward Tuesday as lawyers revealed that the Catholic Church in Chicago had paid out more than $80 million in sexual assault cases.

Joe Iacono, who says he was abused by his parish priest when he was 11, spoke at a news conference as Jeff Anderson and Associates announced it had won compensation totaling $80,080,000 for 160 victims over two decades.

“I know today that there are still a lot of survivors that are suffering in silence. Those individuals need to reach out,” Iacono said as he opened up about his recovery, appearing at times choked with emotion.

Attorney Jeff Anderson said the payouts in cases involving 48 priests in total varied from five figures for some victims to more than $1 million.

In each case the cash failed to bring closure, he added, although the abusers were removed from their positions.

“Payment of money in a case does not bring healing, it does not make their pain go away,” Anderson said.

“But standing up for yourself and giving voice to your truth as a survivor, and knowing you have done something to protect other kids, is helpful.”

The Catholic Church has been rocked by thousands of reports of sexual abuse by priests and accusations of cover-ups by senior clergy, starting in the Boston archdiocese in the United States in 2002.

The Boston Globe won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for exposing the abuse, and its investigation was turned into Oscar-winning Hollywood movie “Spotlight” (2015), starring Rachel McAdams.’Much work to do’

Faced with a growing number of cases worldwide and repeated criticism over the Church’s response, Pope Francis in 2013 introduced legislation covering child sex abuse on Vatican grounds and allowing for sentences of up to 12 years.

Since the crisis became public in the 2000s, the US church has spent more than $3 billion in settlements, according to abuse tracking site Bishop Accountability.

The group has documented settlements for 5,679 alleged victims of Catholic clergy — only a third of 15,235 allegations through 2009 that bishops say they have received. One estimate suggests up there were 100,000 US victims.

Iacono, who settled his case against the Chicago Archdiocese 15 years ago, came forward after reading about the Boston scandal.

Former priest arrested on child sex abuse charges in Pennsylvania

September 5, 2019

A former priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has been arrested for allegedly sexually abusing a minor in the early 2000s at St. Michael the Archangel Parish, Levittown.

Francis X. Trauger, 74, had been removed from ministry in 2003 then laicized, or removed from the priestly state, in 2005 following allegations of sexual abuse of minors.

A new allegation against Trauger from the early 2000s when he was parochial vicar at St. Michael’s was the basis for his arrest on Tuesday, Sept. 3 in Bucks County on charges of indecent assault and corruption of minors.

He remains free on bail awaiting a Sept. 10 court hearing.

Trauger, currently a resident of Brooklyn, N.Y., was named in the 2005 Philadelphia grand jury report on sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests. He appears on the archdiocese’s website listing priests with credible allegations against them. The site was developed in 2005 and continues to be updated over time as priests on it are laicized or die.

Ordained in 1972, Trauger had nine parish assignments and two leaves of absence during his 31 years of ministry before he was suspended in 2003. The longest assignment was as parochial vicar at St. Michael’s from 1993 to 2003.

A Sept. 3 statement from the Philadelphia Archdiocese said an allegation of sexual abuse against Trauger was received in August 2018 and immediately forwarded to Bucks County law enforcement.

According to court documents, Trauger is alleged to have sexually assaulted two boys at St. Michael’s in the mid-1990s and early 2000s.

The Bucks County District Attorney’s Office believes more minors may have been assaulted by Trauger and it encourages any other victims to come forward.

The archdiocese recognizes that news of Trauger’s arrest is “painful to victims of sexual violence and exploitation,” said spokesman Ken Gavin in a statement.

Catholic School Bans Harry Potter Books, Claiming Its Spells And Curses Are Real

September 3, 2019

The Rev. Dan Reehil warned that reading the spells in the J.K. Rowling novels could conjure up actual evil spirits.

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Welcome back to the 12th Century.

A Catholic school in Nashville, Tennessee, apparently doesn’t want any transfer students from Hogwarts.

St. Edward School is no longer allowing its pre-K through eighth grade students to check out Harry Potter books from the school’s library.

The reason? Well, the Rev. Dan Reehil, one of the school’s pastors, says the spells and curses presented in the fictional children’s series are legit and could present problems for kids who read the books, according to the Tennessean.

Reehil fleshed out his point in an email sent to parents, per the Tennessean:

These books present magic as both good and evil, which is not true, but in fact a clever deception. The curses and spells used in the books are actual curses and spells; which when read by a human being risk conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text.

The pastor reportedly made the decision after consulting several exorcists in the U.S. and Rome who recommended removing the books.

HuffPost could not reach Reehil for comment, but Rebecca Hammel, the superintendent of schools for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Nashville, told CBS News that the email is real.

Hammel told the Tennessean that Reehil made his decision after talking with a parent, adding that the Catholic Church does not have an official position on Harry Potter but that “each pastor has canonical authority to make such decisions for his parish school.”

“He’s well within his authority to act in that manner,” Hammel said of Reehil.

She noted that the fantasy series was pulled from the St. Edward library for the new school year.

Jury finds Washington priest guilty on four counts of child sexual abuse

September 2, 2019

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – A Capuchin Franciscan priest was found guilty Aug. 15 of four counts of child sexual abuse stemming from when he served as a parochial vicar at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Washington.

Father Urbano Vazquez, who served at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart from 2014 until his November 2018 arrest, was found guilty in D.C. Superior Court on three felony counts of second-degree child sexual assault with aggravating circumstances, and on one misdemeanor count of sexual abuse of a child.

The verdicts came after an eight-day trial and two days of jury deliberation. Vazquez, 46, will be sentenced in November and faces a maximum sentence of up to 45 years in prison.

“The archdiocese respects the decision of the jury’s finding that Father Vazquez is guilty of the charges brought against him and will continue to support the legal system through the sentencing process and any subsequent proceedings,” the Archdiocese of Washington said in an Aug. 15 statement after the verdicts were announced. “Father Vazquez will have no authority to serve as a priest in the Archdiocese of Washington.”

Vazquez was arrested last November on charges of second-degree sexual child abuse, and was arrested again in December and charged with abusing two others, including a minor. Also in December, D.C. Superior Court Judge Juliet J. McKenna ordered Vazquez to remain in jail until his trial.

“The archdiocese has fully cooperated with law enforcement and civil authorities in their investigation” of Vazquez, the archdiocesan statement noted.

Last March, Vazquez was offered a plea deal, but he turned that down and opted for a jury trial instead. He has maintained his innocence since the accusations first surfaced.

With his first arrest, Vazquez was charged with second-degree child sexual abuse involving a 13-year-old girl in 2015. Later, when new allegations surfaced, he was charged with two additional counts – second-degree sexual assault of a minor female and assault of an adult woman – that occurred in 2016.

In a November statement issued after Vazquez’s initial arrest, the Archdiocese of Washington said “immediately upon learning of this serious allegation, the archdiocese immediately removed Father Vazquez from ministry and suspended his priestly faculties.”

All the victims were members of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart, a parish that serves a predominately Spanish-speaking Catholic community.

“The archdiocese will continue to work with the Sacred Heart parish and school leadership to ensure that this community is supported and that the survivors who came forward to report the allegations are provided emotional and pastoral care through this difficult time as they continue in their process of healing,” the archdiocese said in its Aug. 15 statement.

After Vazquez’s initial arrest, the Archdiocese of Washington conducted its own investigation into what it called “this troubling matter” and determined that Capuchin Franciscan Father Moises Villalta, pastor of Sacred Heart, “failed to follow appropriate protocols related to reporting allegations of abuse to civil authorities and the Archdiocese of Washington.” The archdiocese subsequently removed Villalta as pastor and placed the parish’s child protection coordinator on administrative leave.

Vazquez still faces misdemeanor sex abuse charges stemming from another woman’s accusation that the priest groped her during confession. In addition, two other misdemeanor allegations were made against Vazquez, but they could not be prosecuted because the statute of limitations had expired.

“The Archdiocese of Washington is steadfastly committed to the protection of youth and the healing of those harmed by abuse and adheres to a zero-tolerance policy for credible claims of abuse made against archdiocesan clergy, religious orders operating in the archdiocese, staff and volunteers,” the archdiocesan statement said.

“The Archdiocese of Washington takes seriously its responsibility to protect the children entrusted to its care and the archdiocese’s Child Protection and Safe Environment Policy mandates criminal background checks, applications and education for all employees and volunteers who work with young people,” it said.

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