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Lamenting clergy sex abuse, Pa. bishops announce victim compensation funds

Harrisburg, Pa., Nov 12, 2018 / 05:17 pm (CNA).- Seven of the eight Roman Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania will create compensation funds for victims of clergy sex abuse, following a grand jury inquiry into abuse of minors by Catholic priests in the state.

“The damage done to innocent young people and their families by sexual abuse in the past is profound. It can’t be erased by apologies, no matter how sincere. And money can’t buy back a wounded person’s wholeness,” Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia said in a Nov. 8 column for CatholicPhilly.com.

“But what compensation can do is acknowledge the evil done and meaningfully assist survivors as they work to find greater peace in their lives,” he said.

The archdiocese-funded reparations effort will pay “the amounts that independent claims administrators deem appropriate,” he said.

According to Chaput, the program is about more than compensation of victims.

“It’s also about apologizing to victims, recognizing the harm the Church has done, and continuing the critical work to ensure abuse is prevented,” he said. “I deeply regret the pain that so many victims carry from the experience of sex abuse. I hope this program will bring them a measure of peace.”

In August a Pennsylvania grand jury report claimed to have identified more than 1,000 victims of 300 credibly accused priests. It presented a devastating portrait of efforts by Church authorities to ignore, obscure, or cover up allegations – either to protect accused priests or to spare the Church scandal.

The accusations concerned incidents that are often decades old. Most of the priests accused of abuse have died.

Some bishops named in the report for alleged cover-up of abuse have had their names scrubbed from facilities that were named for them.

The Pittsburgh diocese, headed by Bishop David Zubik, also announced a new fund.

“It is my hope that a program to compensate survivors of abuse by clergy will continue to aid in their healing and the healing of the Church, the Body of Christ,” Zubik said Nov. 8

“The survivors’ compensation program we are working to establish will be designed to create the best opportunity for recovery and healing to survivors,” he added. “They continue to suffer as a result of their abuse and this program will help to provide for their ongoing needs.”

The fund aims to compensate survivors who would otherwise be barred by the statute of limitations from seeking a civil settlement. The Pittsburgh diocese compared it to its previous program launched in 2007. It said no funds will come from Catholic Charities, parishes, schools, donor-designated contributions or the campaign “Our Campaign for The Church Alive!” that is intended for specific capital and endowment needs.

“While sources for funding needed to establish the program are still being settled upon, the program will ensure transparency and the disclosure of all allegations to law enforcement,” the Pittsburgh diocese said.

Zubik will hold listening sessions around the diocese to share details of the program and details about “other actions that will support the healing of survivors and the protection of children in the Church.”

The Pittsburgh diocese is undergoing a “comprehensive review” of practices related to children and young people by Shay Bilchik, an expert on child sex abuse prevention and prosecution.

Bilchik is a former Florida state prosecutor, and administered the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention at the U.S. Department of Justice.

“The Survivors Compensation Fund will address the needs of victims regardless of the time frames currently in place for the statute of limitations for civil law suits. This expedited process will enable eligible victims of minor sexual abuse to be heard and compensated,” the Greensburg diocese said in its Nov. 8 announcement.

Diocesan, not parish assets, will finance the fund. Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros of the Law Offices of Kenneth R. Feinberg, PC, will be the independent fund administrators.

Feinberg and Camille Biros will administer the Philadelphia archdiocese’s compensation fund as well.

Chaput said that the total number of claims and funding required cannot yet be known, but he said the financial commitment will be “significant.” Existing archdiocesan assets will provide initial funding, but additional funding will need to come from borrowing and the sale of archdiocesan properties. It is not yet determined which properties will be sold.

In the last three years, Philadelphia archdiocese finances have returned to the break-even point, after a period of severe deficit spending and underfunding financial obligations.

Archbishop Chaput emphasized that the fund is “entirely independent of the archdiocese” and “confidential.”

“The program is designed to help survivors come forward in an atmosphere where they are secure and respected, without the uncertainty, conflict, and stress of litigation,” Chaput said.

The independent oversight committee for the Philadelphia archdiocese’s reparations fund includes former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, who will chair the committee. He will be joined by Kelley Hodge, former interim District Attorney for the City and County of Philadelphia, and Lawrence F. Stengel, a retired federal district court judge.

While Catholic leaders stressed the independence of how the reparations would be determined, it still drew criticism from abuse victims and their advocates.

“If I do something wrong, I don’t make my own punishment up,” Martha McHale, a clergy sex-abuse victim from Reading, Pa. told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Neither should they.”

Victims who accept payments from the funds must give up their right to sue if the state legislature temporarily lifts the statute of limitations on sex abuse lawsuits. In the last legislative session, a bill that would open a two-year window allowing abuse victims to file lawsuits concerning decades-old claims passed the House of Representatives but the Senate did not hold a final vote.

“It’s a brilliant political move by the bishops,” said Benjamin Andreozzi, a lawyer for several clergy sex abuse victims in Pennsylvania.

“This is exactly what happened in New York. The dioceses there probably resolved 90 percent of their outstanding civil claims for pennies on the dollar,” Andreozzi told the Inquirer, comparing the fund to those established in the New York archdiocese.

Feinberg told the Inquirer that victim compensation funds are more cost-effective and result in quicker compensation for victims, compared to lengthy litigation. He cited the three years to reach a settlement following the 2015 bankruptcy of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.

State Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, who was abused by a priest as a teen, is the chief backer of the Pennsylvania legislation and plans to bring it up for consideration when the next legislative session begins in January.

While he said compensation, funds are a positive step, he said retroactive lawsuits should be an option for sex abuse victims, the public radio station WITF reports.

The only Roman Catholic diocese in the state not to announce a new fund, Altoona-Johnstown, cited its victim assistance program started in 1999. That fund has provided compensation and counseling to nearly 300 individuals, including $2.8 million for counseling. It said a newly created youth protection office will aid in recognizing, responding to, and reporting suspected sex abuse of minors.

The sex abuse of young men aged 18 and older has also become a focus in 2018. The allegation of credible sex abuse of a minor against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick prompted former seminarians to come forward saying he had sexually abused them as adults.

Listen to victims, learn from your mistakes, women plead to USCCB

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2018 / 04:10 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In the afternoon of the first full day of the US bishops' autumn general assembly, two speakers pleaded with the bishops to listen deeply to abuse victims and to lay experts in the Church about how to move forward.

Christina Lamas, Executive Director of the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, told the bishops they must not ignore the pain of the victims of clergy sex abuse.

Many young people, she said, “have been hurt twice by the Church,” first when they were abused by a cleric, and then again when they were ignored by Church leadership after the abuse.

“We need words of compassion when speaking about those disconnected from the Church, to view them as sisters and brothers, not as prize objects,” Lamas said.

“We need bishops to stop seeing conspiracy and malice, instead we look for our bishops and those who work with them to assume the good” on the part of those who come forward, she added.

While the Vatican has ordered the U.S. bishops conference not to vote on proposals aimed at sex abuse reforms until after a meeting of the world’s bishop conference presidents in February, the subject has still featured prominently at the meeting of U.S. bishops, which is being held in Baltimore Nov. 12-14.

Lamas, who spoke during a Monday afternoon session, also called the bishops to examine and root out the causes of sexual abuse.

“From you our bishops, we need you to address the root of the problem – abuse of power. We need soul-searching about clericalism and its roots,” she said.

There have been “glimmers of hope,” Lamas said, noting that some bishops have opened investigations, created review boards, and held listening sessions in their dioceses.

Young people are also now being taught “not to keep secrets, and that no person is above question or above the law,” she said.

Lamas asked the bishops to “walk with” the laity at this time, “rather than ignore us. You are not spiritual fathers of only the clergy” but of all, she said.

Following a period of prayer and reflection, Sr. Teresa Maya, CCVI of San Antonio and past president of Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) addressed the bishops, expressing her disappointment at the scandals and urging them to learn from some of the lessons that women religious have learned through their own times of crisis.

“I accepted your courageous invitation (to speak at the conference) because of my deep love for the Church,” she said, although she said she had hoped a snowstorm might have cancelled the whole event.

While she loves the Church, Maya said she has found it “painful” in recent months to recite the words of the Creed: “One, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church.”

Maya said she was tempted to stop saying that part of the Creed “until something concrete happened. Then I realized this was my Church and wondered what was mine to do.”

She said she was recently asked by a friend why Catholics should stay in the Church after all of the scandals, and Maya said after a long silence, she responded: “We stay because of Jesus Christ.”

“How do we return to (Christ) for mercy and reconciliation, for the grit to do what is our to do?” she asked the bishops.

She said she prayed that the bishops would have a “deep capacity” to listen to the survivors of clerical abuse, to hear their anger and their pain.

The bishops are entrusted with the task of being the “phsycians and healers” of the Church, but “the best physicians are first good listeners,” she said.

Maya then offered the bishops three ways they could learn from orders of women religious, who have gone through their own trials and crises, and who now face sharply declining numbers and aging populations.

The bishops must face the scandals together, with a listening and contemplative heart, and must be willing to root out anything that goes against discipleship with Christ, she said.

“You are called to renewed spiritual depth,” which will enable the bishops to discern the good spirits from the bad, she said.

She urged the bishops to renewed communion among themselves, and to have the willingness to listen to other bishops who have put policies and procedures in place that have actually worked to help bring healing and reconciliation to survivors of abuse.

“You should not expect the Vatican to resolve what is yours to resolve,” she said. “The Vatican doesn’t have the knowledge, resources and gifts that you do. You can be models for the rest of the world. I urge you to seize this opportunity.”

USCCB meeting: What just happened, and what might happen next?

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2018 / 04:09 pm (CNA).- During a holy hour Monday morning, two survivors of clerical sexual abuse spoke to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops about their experiences, and their hopes for the future of the Church.

One survivor, Luis Torres, asked the bishops to make changes to ecclesial policies and culture that might ensure that sexual abuse or coercion by anyone in the Church, including bishops, is put to an end.

"I ask,” he pled, “that you inspire me and our community to faith and hope through your courage and your action, which is needed right now. Not in 3 months. Not in 6 months. Yesterday.”

The bishops had intended to take action at their fall meeting this week, voting on two policies they hoped would address the Church’s sexual abuse crisis: a code of conduct for bishops, and the creation of a lay-led panel to investigate claims of misconduct or negligence by bishops. Those policies were not without critics, but it seemed clear that the bishops, and conference administrators, viewed them as a necessary means of showing their commitment to reform.

But as the meeting began, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the USCCB, announced that the Holy See had insisted that the bishops not vote on their own proposals, and instead wait until after a February meeting at the Vatican of the heads of bishops’ conferences from around the world.

The announcement seemed to shock almost everyone in the room, with the notable exception of Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, who rose immediately to say that “it is clear the the Holy See is taking the abuse crisis seriously.”

Cupich suggested that the bishops take non-binding referenda votes on the policy proposals, to give themselves a sense of their own sentiments, and that they schedule a meeting for March at which the bishops could vote on new proposals, if appropriate. DiNardo said that the bishops could discuss that idea on Tuesday, when the meeting’s business is scheduled to get underway.

The bishops will have a great deal to discuss as the business portion of their meeting begins. Indeed, in the hallways and lobby of the conference hotel, they are already discussing what to do. Most are also wondering what exactly happened- how the Vatican decided to put their plans on ice, and why that decision was handed down at the very last minute.

At a 12:30 press conference, DiNardo told reporters that the decision was communicated via a letter from the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops. USCCB officials later said that the letter might not be released to the public, citing ecclesiastical protocol. But DiNardo’s announcement has raised questions about how the decision was made at the congregation, and about what role might have been played in the decision by the two Americans who serve on it, Cardinals Blase Cupich and Donald Wuerl.

Cupich, some observers have noted, seemed prepared with comprehensive thoughts on the matter while most bishops, including DiNardo, seemed still to be processing the news.

Sources close to Wuerl have given CNA conflicting reports. One source close to the cardinal told CNA that he did not believe Wuerl had been involved in the decision. But another Washington source told CNA that Wuerl had advance notice of the decision from Rome.

Both cardinals will now face questions from their American peers about what involvement they had in the decision and what, if anything, they did to push back against it.  

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Why exactly did Rome decide to spike the policies? There are several theories circulating among the U.S. bishops and media observers.

In addition to their apparent desire for dialogue among global Catholic leaders before norms have passed, some observers have noted that the Vatican expressed reservations about some canonical aspects of the bishops’ proposals.

But USCCB sources have told CNA that the bishops’ conference consulted about the documents with Vatican departments in the lead-up to this week’s meeting, and that those concerns were not raised. And others have asked why the Vatican would not have permitted the bishops to vote on the documents, and then require amendments during a “recognitio” phase, in which the Holy See would either approve USCCB policies or make suggestions for their amendment, before they could take effect.

In 2002, policies on child and youth protection were debated and approved by the U.S. bishops before being sent to Rome. They were returned to the conference with amendments and notes which were then incorporated into the norms and adopted by the bishops. Many expected a similar scenario to play out in 2018. Instead the process has been put on ice.

It is certainly true that the draft proposal for the lay-led investigative raised a number of canonical questions. Several bishops arrived in Baltimore ready to debate the problems they perceived in the text. But it is not clear why the Congregation for Bishops decided to intervene to prevent that debate from taking place.
 
Even more puzzling is Rome’s decision to prevent a vote on the proposed Standards of Episcopal Conduct. The draft text of this document, circulated with the proposal for the independent commission, contained no clear canonical novelties beyond a reference to the independent commission itself.

Several officials who spoke to CNA about Rome’s intervention told CNA that while the Vatican was known to be concerned about the proposed independent commission, it was especially surprising that the Vatican’s veto-in-advance included the draft standards for episcopal conduct.

Asking the bishops to solemnly promise not to lead a sexual “double life” and to honor basic obligations of the clerical state seemed hardly controversial; most criticism of the code of conduct has been that it was insufficiently demanding. By spiking the document, the Congregation for Bishops seems to be discouraging the bishops from even having a discussion about their own behavior, or a promise to reform it.
 
Many of the bishops in Baltimore told CNA that they are angry at what they see as an attempt to stop them debating the sexual abuse crisis at all, and confused about the reasons for it. Already frustrated that their request for an Apostolic Visitation into the McCarrick scandal was denied, several bishops are asking why the Congregation for Bishops seems now to be discouraging them from even talking about the elephant in the conference hall.
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What the U.S. bishops can do now is unclear. They will likely still discuss the proposals on their agenda, and some bishops have told CNA they expect to take a non-binding vote on them before the meeting concludes.

But several bishops have suggested to CNA that the American bishops might also draft a strong statement of concern, intended to express their solidarity with victims and their understanding of the urgent need for concrete action. Bishops are not usually comfortable signaling a rift between themselves and Rome, but, as one bishop told CNA today, a rift was formally announced by DiNardo himself.

Of principal concern to many bishops is that they take action in order to convey to Catholics that they find sexual abuse and coercion intolerable, and that they will not abide the presence of wolves in their midst. Bishops know they will need to return to their dioceses and explain what has happened. They know they will have to explain the Vatican’s decision to their priests, many of whom are hoping for reform. And they know that they have to explain to the Department of Justice and to state attorneys general, who are investigating them, that they are trying to address this problem in a serious way.

After a curveball almost no one saw coming, the bishops know they are short on explanations. The mood at the bishops’ conference is tense.

Some have suggested that the bishops could simply pass their agenda items as planned, defying Rome’s directive. But such a decision would be a refusal to comply with the pope’s own curia, and seems to many to be dangerously close to an act of schism. The bishops want to be obedient to the pope. But they also want to able to address the sexual abuse crisis.

To convince American Catholics that the Church is serious about addressing the abuse crisis, they seem to have no choice but to continue to express serious dissatisfaction with Rome’s directive, even while expressing their obligation to obey it.

There is, however, one improbable possibility the bishops could consider. The episcopal conference is not permitted to vote on their agenda items. But the bishops could try another procedural move: they could ask Rome’s permission to convoke a plenary council on the sexual abuse crisis in America- a kind of formal assembly of American bishops, significantly more powerful than the episcopal conference, and empowered not only to make laws, but also endowed with the executive authority to initiate a comprehensive investigation into the McCarrick scandal and those bishops who enabled it.

The last plenary council in the United States took place in 1884. The Vatican would almost certainly deny a USCCB petition for one. But there could be hardly any stronger expressions of an American commitment to American solutions to this problem than the petition itself.

It is unlikely the bishops will petition for a plenary council. But it is likely that they will raise their voices in frustration with Rome’s decision, and want to know how and why the Congregation for Bishops made the decision that it did. And American Catholics will likely raise their voices even louder.      

While many of the bishops are discouraged, and left to guess at the motives and intentions behind Rome’s surprise interventions, one thing is clear: they have no intention of changing the subject.

 

Missouri bishops release letter urging USCCB action on sex abuse crisis

St. Louis, Mo., Nov 12, 2018 / 03:22 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops of Missouri released a letter Monday expressing support for proposals meant to help address the sexual abuse crisis in the Church, shortly after the Holy See directed that the proposals not be voted on at the US bishops' general assembly this week.

“We must keep at the forefront the survivors of the horrendous evil that was perpetrated against children, minors, and seminarians, who suffered greatly and whose faith in the Church, in many cases, has been destroyed,” the Missouri bishops wrote.

“A culture of silence and cover-up by the hierarchy has brought the Church to this moment of crisis.”

The bishops released the letter Nov. 12. It was dated Oct. 6 and was addressed to Bishop Timothy Doherty of Lafayette in Indiana, chairman of the US bishops' Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People. An enclosed statement was also released.

Earlier in the day, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the US bishops' conference, had announced that the the American bishops would not yet be voting on two of the proposals, at the instructions of the Congregation for Bishops.

These items include a new code of conduct for bishops, and the creation of a lay-led body to investigate bishops accused of misconduct.

In their letter, the Missouri bishops wrote that they hoped their statement could help to provide direction for the fall general assembly, taking place in Baltimore Nov. 12-14.

While supporting the action items which were to have been voted on, the Missouri bishop had said, “we fear these measures will not be enough in either substance or timeliness to meet the demands that this pastoral crisis presents.”

“We must pay attention to that which threatens our communion with one another. Transparency, accountability, and genuine reform in the way in which the Church handles issues of abuse of power by the hierarchy are required,” they wrote.

In the letter the bishops expressed support for the establishment of a third-party hotline for complaints of sexual abuse by a bishop; the development of policies to restrict bishops who have been removed or resigned because of allegations; and a full investigation of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, with “competent laity” given access to “appropriate files held by the Holy See” as well as the relevant chanceries.

“We bishops need to publicly renew our commitment to utilizing the charisms of the laity in our exercise of pastoral governance as bishops,” they wrote.

“We cannot solve this crisis on our own. We need the laity to help us.”

McCarrick was able to perpetrate years of sexual abuse against seminarians while operating at the highest level of the Church in the United States. The bishops said many believe “there has been a breach of trust between the Church in the United States and the Holy See over the Archbishop McCarrick scandal and the consequent refusal to take immediate action for those reponsible. This breach of trust is already catastrophic and endagers the very communion of the Church.”

They noted that the Church's credibility “has already been seriously damaged by a persistent silence and inaction over many decades,” and said that the “immediate acceptance of resignations from all hierarchs who voluntarily resign because of their complicit action or inaction in the Archbishop McCarrick scandal would regain credibility and trust.”

“On behalf of our people, we recommend a complete and transparent investigation into Archbishop McCarrick’s advancement in responsibilities and how he continued to function as a Cardinal when his misconduct with seminarians and others was known,” the bishops wrote.

In addition, the bishops endorsed a revision of the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People to include measures to hold bishops accountable.

They also called on all diocese and eparchies, as well as religious institutes, societies of apostolic life, and secular institutes to release all known names of clerics credibly accused of abusing a minor.

Robert Carlson of St. Louis and his auxiliary and Mark Rivituso, W. Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, James Johnston of Kansas City-St. Joseph, and Edward Rice of Springfield-Cape Girardeau all signed the letter.

Abuse victims challenge US bishops to confront problems

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2018 / 01:26 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Two victims of clerical sexual abuse addressed members of the US bishops’ conference Monday and shared how the bishops' action, or inaction, on the abuse crisis has shaped their lives.

Teresa Pitt Green, who identified herself a survivor of childhood sexual abuse by multiple priests, spoke first. She detailed how the abuse she suffered led her to leave the Church, but she has since returned as she believes steps have been taken better to ensure child safety.

“My story is only one story, and my healing is only one healing,” she said Nov. 12. She considers herself to be one of the “lucky ones,” as her family stood by her after she revealed her abuse. Despite this, she said her family was “bruised” by her abuse and suffered deeply as a result.

Abuse victims are portrayed as the “damaged goods of our age,” and often suffer from drug addictions, problems with relationships, and other mental health issues, she said.

Green did, however, offer praise for the work done by the bishops in order to ensure that Catholic environments are safe for children. She noted that while child sexual abuse continues today, it is “very unlikely” that the abuse is occurring in Catholic institutions.

“I’m not saying there’s not enormous improvements, but I’m saying you’ve permitted me to come back to the Church,” she said.

"From the bottom of my heart, I can't thank you enough."

Green said that her heart was “full of forgiveness,” and that her heart was full as she had found her savior in the Lord. Even after doing 12-step programs, reading self-help books, and attending therapy sessions, she found the she still needed a savior.

She was, however, extremely critical of some of the bishops present, saying that “the Lord has cried more tears on his cross because of some decisions that some of you have made.”

“I don’t know how you bear it. My heart breaks. And I will continue to pray for you,” she added.

Luis A. Torres, Jr., a victim of clerical sexual abuse as a teen, spoke after Green. Torres, a native of Brooklyn, is a former altar boy, and said that he “truly experienced God’s love” in his early life. He attended Catholic schools, and that he “was always surrounded by the most wonderful, giving, holy people.”

These people were “deserving of my trust. Except for my abuser.”

The priest who abused him acted in a manner that was “inconsistent with everything I have learned about God.”

While many abuse survivors turn to drugs or other forms of self-medication, Torres instead pursued higher education and law school. He said these accomplishments served as a sort of “armor” against his feelings of pain from being abused.

“Abuse of a child is the closest that you can get to murder and still possibly have a breathing body,” he said. Abuse, especially from a trusted figure, “mortally wound(s) the spirit and soul of that child,” especially if the abuser is a priest.

Torres took a more critical look on the status quo of the Church than Green, saying that he believed that “the heart of the Church is broken, and (the bishops) need to fix this, now.” He was critical at how the Church sometimes views victims of abuse as “money grubbers” or people out to cause trouble.

“We need to do better,” he said, adding that abuse survivors should not be viewed as “adversaries,” “liabilities,” or even “scary.”

The words and actions of the bishop have caused victims harm, he said, and have helped to drive them from the Church. He said that he expected “better” from the bishops, and that he still expects them to behave better.

What the Church needs now, Torres said, was for the bishops to work to inspire Catholics with their action, “which is needed right now,” and not in the coming months.

He reminded the bishops that their initial calling was not to be a CEO or an administrator, or prince, but rather to be a priest. He implored them to “be the priests that you were called to be.”

“Please, act now, be better.”

Cardinal DiNardo: Vatican directive came from Congregation for Bishops

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2018 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The directive not to vote on the proposals which had been expected to form the basis for the response of the Church in the US to the sexual abuse crisis came from the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said Monday.

The president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops was speaking at the first press conference held at the bishops' autumn General Assembly in Baltimore Nov. 12.

He indicated that the directive came not from Pope Francis, but directly from the Congregation for Bishops.

Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, who spoke at the press conference, told CNA that he did not know whether the American members of the congregation played a role in the decision.

The American members of the Congregation for Bishops are Cardinals Blase Cupich of Chicago, and Donald Wuerl, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington.

A source close to Wuerl told CNA that he did not believe the cardinal had been involved in the decision.

DiNardo had announced the decision earlier in the day to “a visibly surprised conference hall.”

DiNardo said that the Holy See insisted that consideration of a code of conduct for bishops and a lay-led body to investigate bishops accused of misconduct be delayed until the conclusion of a special meeting called by Pope Francis for February.


Coyne told CNA that the bishops would also suspend their vote on establishing a third-party reporting system for complaints about episcopal conduct.

The Congregation for Bishops asked for the delay so that bishops around the world can be “on the same page,” and learning from each other, the bishops said. The importance of further precision in canon law was also raised.

Joining DiNardo and Coyne at the press conference was Bishop Timothy Doherty of Lafayette in Indiana.

Dinardo said he found Rome's decision to be “quizzical,” and suspected the Congregation for Bishops thought the US bishops might be moving too quickly.

“I'm wondering if they could turn the synodality back on us. My first reaction was, this didn't seem so synodical; but maybe the Americans weren't acting so synodically either. But it was quizzical to me, when I saw it.”

DiNardo said the bishops have not lessened their resolve for action, and that they are not pleased by the Holy See's decision. He indicated that they will continue to push for action on the sex abuse crisis: “we're disappointed, because we're moving along on this.”

Speaking to how Catholics can trust their leaders, he asked that they retain faith in the bishops' commitment to reform, watching their efforts. He acknowledged that people have a right to scepticism, but also to hope.

The cardinal said he had proposed an apostolic visitation to deal with the problem, but that Rome had disagreed with that approach.

While acknowledging their disappointment in the decision from Rome, the bishops also spoke of the importance of their own obedience. DiNardo said they were responsible to be attentive to the Holy Father and his congregations, and Bishop Coyne said bishops are by nature collegial, “so when the Holy See asks us to work in collegiality, that's what we do.”

Apostolic Nuncio: Bishops need to regain trust of their faithful

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2018 / 08:52 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishops in the United States need to work hard to regain the trust of their flocks and combat a culture of clericalism, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, told those present at the USCCB’s Fall General Assembly in Baltimore, Md.

After acknowledging that the past year has been “challenging and sobering,” Pierre spoke sternly to his brother bishops and told them that they need to accept their responsibility as “spiritual fathers” of their dioceses.

While the Church is “always” in need of renewal, Pierre said that that this task will be impossible without rebuilding the trust of their community. It is a task that demands time, effort sacrifice, and reform on the part of the bishop.

“The only way of reforming the Church is to suffer for her,” he said, and this reform needs to come from the mission of the Church. In creating reform, bishops must show that they are capable of solving problems that are placed before them, “rather than simply delegating them to others.”

Bishops, he sad, have a “special responsibility” to strengthen the faith of others, especially when presented with these challenges.

“The people of God have rightly challenged us to be trustworthy,” he said.  

“Pope Francis never ceases to tell us that if we are to begin again, then we should begin again from Jesus Christ, who lightens our lives and helps us to prove that we can be trustworthy.”

Despite admonishing the bishops for betraying the trust of the faithful, he also offered praise for certain aspects of their work.

Pierre voiced approval for the bishops’ efforts in creating sanctions and rules for the protection of children and vulnerable adults. There is, however, always more that can be done, and bishops should not be afraid to “get their hands dirty” and remain vigilant in this work.

“Those of you who have done good work have to be congratulated for your commitment as leaders, and for setting a good example for us all,” he said, noting that one case of clerical sex abuse is one too many.

He also praised the media for their work in reporting the abuse crisis, reminding the bishops not to shoot the messenger, so to speak, when it comes to these stories, regardless of how “painful and humiliating” they may be.

As a way to regain the trust of the faith, bishops need to work on fighting back against a culture that promotes clericalism and one that tolerates the abuse of authority, he said. These sins are not those of the media, nor are they “products of conspiracies,” he said. Rather, they are for the Church to confront head-on.

“These are things we must recognize and fix,” he said, starting from the beginning of the priesthood formation process in the seminaries. Those who are selected for the seminary must be properly screened, and he encouraged the bishops to spend time talking to young people and hearing their concerns.

Bishops “cannot run from the challenges that present and confront us,” he said, but instead need to have “open hearts” and hear the concerns of the faithful.

“Even if things seem dark, do not be discouraged. Have hope. [Christ] is with us, and He accompanies the Church,” he said.

Cardinal DiNardo to US bishops: Avoid despair, presumption in addressing abuse crisis

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2018 / 08:34 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Daniel DiNardo opened the fall assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) with a speech calling for bishops to avoid the two temptations of “despair and presumption” as they address the sexual abuse scandals facing the Church.

In his opening speech, given as president of the USCCB, DiNardo said that the Church must rely on “trusting faith,” and “living memory” as it seeks to support victims of abuse and to reassure the faithful.

DiNardo’s address was clearly amended to account for the surprise announcement that the Holy See had blocked the bishops from voting on two key proposals.

Shortly before his speech, the cardinal told the hall that he had been instructed by Rome that the U.S. bishops were not to vote on a proposed new set of standards for episcopal conduct or on the creation of a new lay-led body to investigate episcopal misconduct. Instead, the American bishops have been told to wait until after a special meeting of the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences called by Pope Francis for February.

Despite the sudden change to the conference agenda, DiNardo said that the American bishops take the abuse crisis seriously.

“We remain committed to the program of episcopal accountability. Votes will not take place, but we will move forward,” DiNardo told attendees.

Addressing survivors in the first person, the Archbishop of Galveston-Houston said, “I am deeply sorry.”

“In our weakness we fell asleep,” he said, while calling for a renewed vigilance, both against abuse and against paralysis in the face of recent scandals.

Despair, he said, must yield to the knowledge that the Church “has always been and will always be the body of Christ” which the bishops are called to serve as members.

On the other hand, DiNardo also warned against presuming that the current crisis would just “blow over” or worse, was a crisis of the past not the present. While noting that many of the recent scandals concerned cases of abuse from past decades, he said that the Church could not presume that victims should “heal on our timeline.”

Progress has been made, DiNardo told the bishops, but they must remain “willing but also ready to ask forgiveness” of victims, survivors and the faithful. Bringing healing to the sexual abuse crisis will require “all our spiritual and physical resources”

“It is only after listening that we can carry out the changes needed,” DiNardo said, ending with a plea to the bishops that the conference proceed untied in humility.

“Let us submit to the Holy father and to each other in a spirit of fraternal correction,” he said.

“Brothers, we have fallen into a place of great weakness. We must act right here and right now to better serve our sisters and brothers.”

“We can begin to clean and then to heal the lacerations in the body of Christ.”

 

Vatican cancels US bishops’ vote on sex abuse reform measures

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2018 / 07:57 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference has told the American bishops that they will not vote on two key proposals which had been expected to form the basis for the Church’s response to the sexual abuse crisis.

The news came at the beginning of the U.S. bishops’ conference fall general assembly, meeting in Baltimore Nov. 12-14.

The instruction to delay consideration of a new code of conduct for bishops and the creation of a lay-led body to investigate bishops accused of misconduct came directly from the Holy See, DiNardo told a visibly surprised conference hall.

DiNardo said that the Holy See insisted that consideration of the new measures be delayed until the conclusion of a special meeting called by Pope Francis for February. That meeting, which will include the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences, will address the global sexual abuse crisis.

Apologizing for the last minute change to the conference’s schedule, he said had only been told of the decision by Rome late yesterday.

Ahead of the bishops’ meeting, two documents had been circulated: a draft Standards of Conduct for bishops and a proposal to create a new special investigative commission to handle accusations made against bishops.

These proposals had been considered to be the bishops’ best chance to produce a substantive result during the meeting, and signal to the American faithful that they were taking firm action in the face of a series of scandals which have rocked the Church in the United States over recent months.

Speaking before the conference session had even been called to order, DiNardo told the bishops he was clearly “disappointed” with Rome’s decision. The cardinal said that, despite the unexpected intervention by Rome, he was hopeful that the Vatican meeting would prove fruitful and that its deliberations would help improve the American bishops’ eventual measures.

While DiNardo was still speaking, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago intervened from the floor, expressing his support for the pope.  

“It is clear the the Holy See is taking the abuse crisis seriously,” Cupich said.

At the same time, he suggested that the work which had gone into preparing the two proposals should not go to waste.

Cupich suggested that if the conference could not take a binding vote, they should instead continue with their discussions and conclude with resolution ballot on the two measures. This, he said, would help best equip Cardinal DiNardo to present the thought of the American bishops during the February meeting, where he will represent the U.S. bishops’ conference.

“We need to be very clear with [DiNardo] where we stand, and be clear with our people where we stand,” Cupich said.

While acknowledging that the February meeting was important, he noted that responding to the abuse crisis “is something we cannot delay, there is an urgency here.”

Cupich went on to propose moving forward the American bishops’ next meeting, currently scheduled for June 2019. Instead, he suggested, the bishops should reconvene in March in order to act as soon as possible after the February session in Rome.

 

Sr Thea Bowman's cause for canonization could open at US bishops' meeting

Baltimore, Md., Nov 11, 2018 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Sr. Thea Bowman was the first African American woman to address the U.S. bishops' conference. Most likely, she was also the first person to get them to hold hands and sing and sway to a Negro Spiritual.

“We shall overcome,” she intoned at their 1988 spring meeting in her signature rich voice, before exhorting the bishops to join in with a hearty “Y’all get up!”

Sr. Thea, a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, a daughter of the Deep South and the granddaughter of a slave, was sick from battling cancer and confined to a wheelchair at the time.

But that didn’t stop the 51 year-old from doling out more instructions when the stiff group still wasn’t swaying to her satisfaction: “Cross your right hand over your left hand, you gotta move together to do that,” she said as the bishops crossed arms and held hands before continuing the song.

“See in the old days you had to tighten up so that when the bullets would come, so that when the tear gas would come, so that when the dogs would come, so that when the horses would come, so that when the tanks would come, brothers and sisters would not be separated from one another,” she told the bishops, referring to the days of the Civil Rights movement.

“And do you remember what they did with the bishops and the clergy in those old days? Where’d they put them? Right up in front. To lead the people in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the Church,” she said.

That keynote showcased Sr. Thea in her element – sharing her faith and love of God, urging racial awareness and reconciliation within the Catholic Church, joyfully belting out Gospel hymns and convincing everyone around her to join in.

Now, nearly 30 years after her death, Sr. Thea will once again feature at the U.S bishops' conference - but this time, they will be voting to approve the opening of her cause for canonization.

The precocious 'old folks child'

Sister Thea was born Bertha Bowman on December 29, 1937 in Yazoo City, Mississippi, the only daughter to her father, a family doctor, and her mother, an educator. The family resided in Canton, a town 30-some miles to the south and east of Yazoo City.

She was the granddaughter to slaves, and her maternal grandmother was a prominent educator in the area after whom the local school was named.

From an early age, Bertha self-identified as an “old folks child”, her parents having been middle-aged by the time she was born. She was doted on by aunts, uncles, and grandparents during her childhood. Her mother taught her to read, her father taught her some of the basics of First Aid.

One thing Bertha learned early on from the “old folks” in her life was what she would affectionately call “old time religion.” Her parents were Methodist, and the Bible belt town was full of active parishes of all Christian denominations.

In the book Sister Thea: Songs of my People, she recalled: “Many of the best (religion) teachers were not formally educated. But they knew scripture, and they believed the Living Word must be celebrated and shared...Their teachings were simple. Their teachings were sound,” she said. “Their methodologies were such that, without effort, I remember their teachings today.”

The religious vitality of her surroundings sent the young Bertha on her own “spiritual quest” of sorts, and she sat in on religious services at many of the different churches in town. At the Catholic Church, she was one of just a few black people there, relegated at the time to the back pews.

Ultimately, it was the witness of the love and service of Catholic sisters, specifically the Franciscan order that she would eventually join, that convinced her to become Catholic at the young age of 9.

“Once I went to the Catholic Church, my wanderings ceased. I knew I had found that for which I had been seeking. Momma always says, God takes care of babies and fools,” she wrote in an autobiography in 1958.

By all accounts, her parents were supportive of the little convert, and enrolled her in Holy Child Catholic school following her conversion, where she became enthralled with the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration from Wisconsin who were serving there.

Besides her religious seeking, her heart for God also manifested itself in other ways, said Father Maurice Nutt, a Redemptorist priest and former student of Sr. Thea who is now the diocesan promoter of her cause for canonization.

“When lunchtime would come, she would notice children who didn’t have any food, and so she would take her lunch and she would give it to them. And they would say Bertha, don’t you want to eat? And she would say no, I’m not very hungry today,” he said.

“So her concern as a child was to feed the poor, she wanted to help those who were marginalized in any way.”

Her mother soon caught on that Bertha was coming home from school hungry, and so the two of them began making extra peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for Bertha to give to her friends at lunchtime.

“So you’re seeing from a very early age that this woman Thea Bowman walked with God, she was close to God, God was everything to her so she was his servant.”

Bertha becomes Thea

That strong sense of religiosity and wanting to serve others never left Bertha, and at the age of 15 she was determined to join the order of FSPA sisters that had taught at her school.

Her parents, neither yet Catholic, pleaded with her to reconsider, or to at least consider joining traditionally black orders of sisters that were much closer to home.

But the determined Bertha staged a hunger strike until her parents relented. She was accompanied by another sister on the long train ride to the FSPA motherhouse in La Crosse, Wisconsin with special permission to sit in the white passenger cars rather than in the baggage cars, as was mandated for blacks in the pre-civil rights movement days.

A couple years into formation, Bertha took the religious name of Thea, which she would have for the rest of her life.

Sister Rochelle Potaracke, FSPA, was a young sister at the time that Thea joined the convent in 1953.

She told CNA that she remembers Thea as a happy and energetic young postulant, who stuck out in the state of Wisconsin, where very few black people lived at the time. Her blackness even made news in the local Catholic paper that summer: “Negro Aspirant” read the headline.

“When I was growing up I never saw a black person, that was in the early '40s, and that’s the same for many areas I know,” Potaracke told CNA.

“But I think we accepted (Thea) very well. We loved her dearly, she fit right in with all of us, she always had her singing and her enthusiasm,” she said.

“But it must have been terribly hard for her. I think of it now, I didn’t think of it then. I didn’t think ‘Oh, the poor dear, but I think now it had to be a challenge for her, she was in a whole new almost different country so to speak.”

According to a biography, Thea’s Song, after the newness of the convent experience wore off, Thea experienced culture shock and blatant racism, within and without the convent walls.

Sister Helen Elsbernd, who went through formation with Thea at the FSPA motherhouse, said Sr. Thea didn’t mention anything to her fellow sisters about racial discrimination at the time.

“She didn’t talk about it. In the early years of formation she tried very hard to fit in with the culture here,” Elsbernd recalled.

Her first years as a sister were also challenging for another reason - in 1955, two years into formation, Thea was stricken with tuberculosis, and spent most of that year in the sanatorium.

“I marvel at her constant cheerfulness,” one sister wrote to Thea’s parents during her illness.

‘Black is beautiful’: Sr. Thea’s racial advocacy grows

Sr. Thea’s cheerful energy would remain her signature trait as her passionate advocacy for racial integration in the Catholic Church began to further develop.

Potaracke, who spent time studying with Sr. Thea during graduate school at Catholic University of America, said that for years, the sisters had been going to school at CUA, where they were simply known as the Franciscan sisters from Wisconsin.

That changed when Sr. Thea came on the scene. Early into their days at CUA, Sr. Thea and her fellow sisters attended a student event, during which Thea leapt up to tell her story as a young black woman growing up in the South.

“Thea could just grab an audience any time she wanted, she could just spark life into the group that was in front of her,” Potaracke recalled.

“She started singing these songs and everyone was clapping and dancing and jumping around. And after that time we were no longer the FSPA’s, it was oh - you’re Sister Thea’s group. I point that out because that’s the impression she made on people,” she said.

As a CUA student, Sr. Thea helped to found the National Black Sisters Conference and became a noted public speaker and advocate for African Americans in the Church. She advocated for encounter between white and non-white Catholics, for increased representation in Church leadership for non-whites, and for an embrace of music and traditions from different cultures into the Church.

As her racial advocacy grew, one of Sr. Thea’s signature phrases became “black is beautiful.”
“‘Black is beautiful,’ that’s what she would say all the time,” said Potaracke.

It was a phrase that came from Thea’s mother, who had tried to teach her from an early age to handle the racial discrimination that she experienced with love rather than hate.

“Her mother always said that she had to be honest and good to people. Her mother said: ‘You can’t hate, because if you hate you will become like the people you want to hate. Remember, black is beautiful.’”

An impressive scholar, Sr. Thea would eventually get her doctorate in English, and spent several years teaching at Viterbo College in La Crosse, which was staffed by many FSPA sisters. During her time there, she formed singing groups of African American students who became popular throughout the area, Elsbernd said.

In 1978, Sr. Thea moved back to Mississippi, to help her aging parents and to serve in outreach ministry to non-white communities for the Diocese of Jackson. During this time, she continued to expand her speaking and singing ministries, and travelled extensively to give talks nationally and internationally about the importance of racial awareness and acceptance in the Church.

In 1980, she helped to found the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University in New Orleans, where she taught until nearly the end of her life. It was during that time that Fr. Maurice Nutt met Sr. Thea at a conference for black Catholic clergy and religious, at which Sr. Thea was the speaker.

“I was so impressed by her. No one really meets Sr. Thea, they encounter her,” Nutt said.

Her talk was the first time that Nutt really considered what it meant to be black and Catholic, and the unique gifts that the black community could bring to the Church, he said.

“It was a cathartic moment for me, because she really enabled me to bring my very best self, my African American self, to the Church, to give my life in service to the Church,” Nutt recalled.

He was so moved by her that he joined the next cohort at the Institute.

“She would always say that we are an integral part of the Church, that as African American Catholics, we have gifts to share, we have our spirituality, we have our witness of struggle and suffering. We have the joy of knowing Jesus even in times of sorrow,” he said.

“And so what she taught me was to bring my gifts to the Church. She taught me to be very intentional in my expression of spirituality, to share what it means to be black and Catholic, that we should not hide those gifts, but that there’s a mutuality, that integration means that you have something to share but I also have something to share.”

Nutt remembers Sr. Thea as a brilliant teacher who demanded excellence, but also as a warm and caring woman who embraced her students as her own children.

“Thea became my spiritual mother, and I became her spiritual son, and she would call me son,” Nutt said. “She would say that the seminarians she encouraged, she said ‘These are the sons that I give to the Church.’ And I am so grateful that I was counted in that number.”

In 1984, Sr. Thea’s parents died within months of each other. Not long after, she received a diagnosis of breast cancer.

“That was crushing,” Nutt said. “She was the only child of this elderly couple, it seemed like her whole world had fallen apart, and then she received the challenge of cancer.”

While many would be tempted to give up, Sr. Thea made a decision: “I’m going to live until I die,” she said.

And she did. She kept up her speaking engagements and outreach ministry at full-bore. She recorded songs and helped compile the African American hymnal “Lead Me, Guide Me”, gave numerous biographical interviews including a “60 Minutes” segment, and spoke to the U.S. bishops in 1989.

“We as Church walk together,” she told the bishops. “Don’t let nobody separate you, that’s one thing black folks can teach you, don’t let folks divide you. The Church teaches us that the Church is a family, a family of families, and a family that can stay together. And we know that if we do stay together...if we walk and talk and work and play and stand together in Jesus’ name we’ll be who we say we are, truly Catholic. And we shall overcome - overcome the poverty, overcome the loneliness, overcome the alienation, and build together a holy city, a new Jerusalem, a city set apart where...we love one another.”

While she was sick, Nutt said Sr. Thea would pray “that God will heal my body. If God will heal my body, I’ll say thank you Lord. But I also know that if God doesn't give me what I ask of him, God will give me something better.”

And on March 30, 1990, “that something better was to call her home,” Nutt said.

The legacy of Sr. Thea

Nutt said he thinks Sr. Thea will be remembered for her passionate advocacy on behalf of blacks and other minorities in the Church.

“She spoke about the fact that African American Catholics, we have a deep and abiding history. She told the history that we come from the Ethiopian eunuch, we come from Simon of Cyrene...that we are not late in joining the Church but that people of African descent have been there from the early days of Catholicism, and that this is our home,” he said.

Potaracke said she remembers Thea as a warm woman who had a strong sense of self and wasn’t afraid to advocate for herself and others.

“She was a spark, and she spoke her voice, if she didn’t like something she said it strong and clear, no matter what meeting you were at, she would speak her voice,” Potaracke said.

“It was her inner belief that she was a beautiful woman, that she had a place in this world, and that she was going to go out and change the people she met, and she did. Whether you were penniless or whether you were the wealthiest person, she just had lots of friends in every corner of the world.”

He said he believed she would also be remembered for her love of God, from which flowed her joy and love for others.

“You knew in her midst that you were in the presence of someone extremely special, who had a deep connection with God. Thea said she grew up in a world where God was so alive, and she shared that joy with everyone, that God is real, that God is love, that God is alive, and anyone who met her experienced the presence of God,” he said.

As for Sr. Thea herself, she once said that she wanted to be remembered simply as someone who tried.

“Think of all the great things she did, and she simply said: I want to be remembered as someone who tried. She said she wanted on her tombstone: ‘She tried,’” Nutt said.

“That speaks of her humility. That speaks of her love for God and that she never proclaimed herself to be holy or righteous. She was a disciple of Jesus Christ who tried to love one another, to love other people, to try to lift her service to God and the Church.”

Nutt encouraged Catholics to ask for Sr. Thea’s intercession as her cause gets underway.

“I would encourage people to seek her intercession, especially if they’re struggling with their faith, if they’re struggling with family issues. I would encourage students to pray to her when they’re taking tests, I would also say anyone battling cancer of any kind to seek her encouragement, to seek her inspiration, as they journey through their battle with cancer.”

As is customary, when a bishop begins the preliminary phases of someone’s cause for canonization, the cause must be put to a vote of the U.S. bishop’s conference. At their meeting Nov. 12-14, the bishops are expected to endorse the opening of the cause of Sr. Thea Bowman, which is being overseen by Bishop Joseph Kopacz of Jackson.