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Bishop Conley gives update on diocesan allegations, review policies

Lincoln, Neb., Aug 13, 2018 / 11:50 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a listening session at a local church in Lincoln, Nebraska, Bishop James Conley updated members of his diocese on a review of policies for handling allegations of abuse and misconduct by priests.

“This transparency and objectivity I promise you will include a thorough review of our safe environment policies and procedures by an outside investigator,” he said Aug. 10 to those gathered at St. Wenceslaus Church in Wahoo.

The bishop responded to several allegations against priests in the Diocese of Lincoln that have recently been published online.

“These allegations have already resulted in the start of a thorough review of our policies and procedures regarding how we respond to allegations made against diocesan priests.”

Conley said that he has presented several cases to the Diocesan Review Board, and is continuing to meet with the board for further counsel. He has assembled a group of senior advisors – including staff members, a mental health expert, and officials from the Archdiocese of Omaha – to help evaluate allegations of abuse.

He has also held several listening sessions at parishes affected by recent allegations against priests.

Conley held a listening session at St. Peter’s parish last Monday to discuss the behavior of pastor Fr. Charles Townsend. He said the message from the 500 attendees was clear: “they desire transparency and objectivity, and that is my promise to you and all the faithful in the diocese as I move forward.”

The bishop had previously addressed the allegations against Townsend in an Aug. 4 letter, saying that last year he “received a report that Fr. Townsend had developed an emotionally inappropriate, non-sexual relationship with a 19-year-old male which involved alcohol.”

Upon receiving the report, he said that he immediately withdrew Townsend from ministry and sent him to a treatment center in Houston before allowing him to return to ministry.

Conley said that he attempted to act with integrity, telling the parishioners that the priest had gone away for health reasons. But while he did not cover up the situation or oblige anyone to keep silent about it, he said he regrets failing to act with more transparency.

“Even though we were not legally obligated to report the incident, it would have been the prudent thing to do. Because the young man had reached the age of majority, we did not tell his parents about the incident.”

In his Aug. 4 letter, Bishop Conley said that he had removed Fr. Townsend from ministry in order to consult with the diocesan review board, reported the incident to civil authorities, and met with the young man and his parents to ask for forgiveness.

At the Aug. 10 listening session, Conley said that Fr. Townsend has now resigned his pastorate.

“The matter has been reported to authorities and is being investigated,” he said. The investigations will look into Townsend’s behavior, as well as the response of Bishop Conley and his staff.

Conley said that he cannot comment further while the civil and Church investigations are underway, but will offer an update when they have concluded.

The bishop also discussed three other diocesan priests. He said that he is concerned by the behavior of Fr. Patrick Barvick, whom he had previously instructed not to be alone with women. He has asked the priest to step aside from the parish temporarily while he evaluates the situation.

Fr. Steve Thomlison has submitted his resignation as pastor of St. Stephen in Exeter and St. Wenceslaus in Milligan, Conley continued. The resignation came during a meeting “to discuss a past incident in the military that was a concern.”

Conley clarified that the incident did not involve an offense against a minor or a parishioner, and that Thomlison received an honorable discharge from the military.

“I am committed to getting Father the care he needs. Please join me in praying for Father Thomlison,” the bishop said.

He also addressed the case of now-retired priest Fr. James Benton, who was accused in 2002 of touching a minor inappropriately during a camping trip that had taken place during the early 1980s.

“That matter was fully investigated by the Lincoln Diocese. The allegations could not be substantiated,” Conley said.

In the fall of last year, Fr. Benton resigned his pastorate after being accused of sexually abusing two family members more than 25 years prior, he said.

Conley said the allegations were handled by the Diocesan Review Board and referred to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which returned the matter to the bishop to take action.

He said he prohibited Benton from exercising public ministry in the diocese and restricted him from being alone with minors. The priest is now retired.

Bishop Conley reiterated his commitment to transparency and encouraged anyone who has experienced abuse by a member of the diocese to file a report with law enforcement authorities.

“I want to repeat to you that I am sorry for the manner in which I have responded to allegations of improper behavior brought against Lincoln priests,” he said. “I hope you forgive me.”

 

J.D. Flynn, editor-in-chief of Catholic News Agency, previously served as special assistant to Bishop Conley and director of communications for the Lincoln diocese. Flynn has recused himself from coverage of this story to avoid a conflict-of-interest. He was not involved in the assigning, reporting, editing or oversight of this story.

Pittsburgh bishop says not all grand jury accusations are 'substantiated'

Pittsburgh, Pa., Aug 13, 2018 / 09:30 am (CNA).- Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh has confirmed that some of the priests named in the Pennsylvania grand jury report into sexual abuse remain in active ministry. The report is expected to be released at 2 p.m. on August 14.

Bishop Zubik made the announcement while speaking to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on August 10. At the same time, the bishop stressed that there is “no priest or deacon in an assignment today against whom there was a substantiated allegation of child sexual abuse.” He also pledged to meet with parishioners in the days following the report’s release to underscore how and why an allegation was found to be unsubstantiated.

Canon law provides that, whenever an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor is received by diocesan authorities, the bishop is obligated to hold a preliminary investigation to determine if there is a “semblance of truth” to the claim. This standard, canon lawyers say, is minimal and only determines if the accusation is not “manifestly false or frivolous.”

If the accusation is not demonstrably false, the case is sent to Rome for further consideration at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who determine how the canonical process should proceed.

While Bishop Zubik said he would not comment on specific individuals or allegations until the report was released, he underscored that all those priests still in active ministry named in the report had had their cases re-examined by the diocese’s independent review board – in each case finding the accusations remained unsubstantiated.

Seeking to illustrate that some claims could simply be false, Zubik made reference to his own experience. In 2011, he said, a man accused him and several others of past sexual abuse after being denied a parish volunteering position because of his criminal record. Local law enforcement, the diocesan review board, and Vatican authorities were all informed.

Fortunately for the bishop, the accuser had previously sent him an email threatening retaliation. The local district attorney investigated and dismissed the allegations, calling them “offensive.” 

In that case, it was fortunate that there was clear evidence of malicious intent by the accuser, Zubik said, but that is not always the case.

“I often say to myself, ‘What if that email wasn’t there?’” he told the Post-Gazette. Without such clear proof, it would have been a matter of I-say-he-says and Zubik said he “could swear on a stack of Bibles I didn’t do what I was charged with” but it might not have been enough to stop a presumption of guilt.

“Maybe that’s where my sensitivity comes to people who have been accused, to say just because somebody’s been accused doesn’t necessarily mean they're guilty.”

Zubik also pointed out that it was not always easy to come to a firm assessment of an allegation.

“What if the activity that was reported was not child sexual abuse? Or what if it was by third-hand source, and with every effort to try to reach out to the victim, the victim never came forward? Well, how could you see that as substantiated?”

The bishop’s remarks echo concerns raised by some of those named in the report, who have challenged their inclusion in the final publication, saying that they have been denied due process of law and risk permanent damage to their reputations. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed, delaying publication and ordering the names of those appealing to be redacted while they hear further legal arguments.

It is not known if any of the Pittsburgh priests referred to by Zubik have participated in the legal appeals which have delayed the release of the report.

Teens are requesting plastic surgery to look like Snapchat filters

Boston, Mass., Aug 12, 2018 / 04:56 pm (CNA).- Social media is increasingly making teens dissatisfied with their appearance and obsessed with achieving a filtered version of “perfection,” even going so far as to pursue plastic surgery, say medical professionals.

Dr. Neelam Vashi, director of Ethnic Skin Center at Boston University’s School of Medicine, published an article analyzing the new trend in Jama Facial Plastic Surgery last week.

“A new phenomenon, dubbed ‘Snapchat dysmorphia,’ has patients seeking out cosmetic surgery to look like filtered versions of themselves…with fuller lips, bigger eyes, or a thinner nose,” she said.

Among Snapchat’s more popular features are its facial filters, which change users’ appearance in a phone camera. New filters are offered regularly. Some change a person’s face to look like animals, superheroes, or inanimate objects. Others create a more subtle, modified version of the users themselves – smoothing their skin, whitening their teeth, narrowing their face, enhancing their lips and eyes.

Before photo-editing was readily available for the public to use, Vashi wrote, people idolized the often-unrealistic beauty of celebrities, who were the only people with easy access to photo-editing technology.

But now that the general public has access to this technology, she said, it has altered their expectations of beauty. Instead of bringing photos of celebrities to plastic surgery consultations, patients are bringing in pictures of themselves, with specific angles or lighting.

“I just see a lot of images that are just really unrealistic, and it sets up unrealistic expectations for patients because they’re trying to look like a fantasized version of themselves,” she told Inverse.

According to the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, more than half of clinicians in 2017 saw patients asking to “look better in their selfies.”  

Dr. Laura Cusumano, a postdoctoral fellow at Potomac Behavioral Solutions in Arlington, Va., works with patients struggling with body image and has seen the same trend. She said the idealization of celebrities has morphed into users of social media idealizing altered images of themselves.

“In recent decades, American media has propagated a distorted view of beauty, privileging certain body types, skin tones, hair colors, and facial features. Beauty ideals have come in the form of celebrities, whose ‘perfect’ images are often Photoshopped,” she told CNA.

“With the advent of social media, the ability to alter one's appearance is literally at one's fingertips. Applications like Snapchat provide the opportunity for users to discover the ‘perfect’ image of themselves to share with their peers and the world.”

Cusumano voiced concern that Snapchat Dysmorphia may lead young people to compare their bodies not only with digitally altered images of themselves, but also with similar images of family and friends. This could lead to eating disorders, self-esteem problems, and other issues, she said.

She also worries that the new trend may push ill individuals further into Body Dysmorphic Disorder, a condition related to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in which individuals suffer from “excessive preoccupation with perceived defects or flaws in their physical appearance.”

“They become obsessed with what they consider to be imperfections, and they often spend a great deal of time trying to examine, improve, or mask their supposed flaws,” she said. The disorder is associated with anxiety and depression, as well as shame and low self-esteem.

Cusumano said nearly 75 percent of people with the disorder seek surgery, cosmetic treatment, and dermatological work. She said these individuals may also encounter suicidal ideation.

When asked about how to correct this trend of Snapchat Dysmorphia, she said people should pay attention to how social media is affecting their life, noticing whether they find themselves becoming jealous of other users.  

People may need to take a temporary break from social media or follow accounts designed to spread positive messages about the human body, she said.

Cusumano also stressed the importance of recognizing the dignity of the human person.

“Remembering that you are created in the image and likeness of God and asking God to help you see yourself as He sees you is a wonderful way to work on transforming your self-image,” she said.
 

 

Abuse accusations bring scrutiny for McCarrick's charity fund

Washington D.C., Aug 10, 2018 / 04:41 pm (CNA).- Former cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s roles included service on the boards of at least two foundations that gave over $500,000 combined to his personally overseen fund at the Archdiocese of Washington over a decade’s time.

While the archdiocese says no irregularities have been found, CNA’s examination of tax records provides more insight into the archbishop’s areas of influence.

“Archbishop McCarrick established the ‘Archbishop’s Fund’ in January 2001 for his works of charity and other miscellaneous expenses and it continued in his retirement,” the Archdiocese of Washington told CNA.

“The account was audited annually along with other archdiocesan accounts. Nothing irregular was ever noticed,” the archdiocese continued. “When the allegation of sexual abuse of a minor was first disclosed in June, Archbishop McCarrick consigned the fund to the Archdiocese of Washington and the money will be used for archdiocesan charitable purposes.”

The archdiocese did not respond to questions about how much money had passed through the fund, nor specifically identify what charities or expenses it had supported.

In June, Pope Francis removed the 88-year-old churchman from ministry after an allegation he sexually abused a minor almost 50 years ago was ruled credible. In late July he resigned from the College of Cardinals, and the pope ordered him to adopt a life of prayer and penance pending a canonical process. Other allegations of sexual abuse and coercion have since been raised, and have brought to the public eye past legal settlements involving alleged misconduct while head of two New Jersey dioceses.

After he was removed from ministry, the archbishop said he has no memory of the abuse, believes in his innocence, and is sorry for the pain of his accuser and for any scandal the charges cause to others. McCarrick served as Archbishop of Washington from 2001 to 2006, but the archdiocese said it has received no allegation of misconduct against him.

Two Catholic-focused foundations have now cut ties with McCarrick: the Virginia-based Loyola Foundation, which generally makes grants for overseas Catholic mission activity; and the Minnesota-based GHR Foundation, whose focuses of global development, health and education include inter-religious action, strengthening Catholic women’s religious communities, and urban Catholic schools.

Archbishop McCarrick sat on the Loyola Foundation’s board for more than two decades. It gave $20,000 to $40,000 per year to the archbishop’s fund for at least 10 years, starting in the foundation’s fiscal year 2006 to 2007. The grants totaled at least $310,000, according to a CNA review of tax documents.

“Grants specifically designated by Archbishop McCarrick were made to the Archdiocese of Washington, a recognized 501(c)(3),” the foundation’s executive director Greg McCarthy told CNA. “The Loyola Foundation has no evidence of any unethical behavior, or any undisclosed conflict of interest in his role as board member.”

Trustees may make “limited discretionary grants” to qualified 501(c)(3) charities, and foundation policy requires all grants to comply with IRS requirements, he explained.

“The Loyola Foundation would have no reason to question grants made to the Archdiocese of Washington, a major diocese in our country,” McCarthy added. “Our expectation is that the archdiocese accepted such grants and exercised appropriate oversight so that spending was within archdiocesan moral, legal and ethical bounds.”

The foundation’s publicly available tax documents include grant application guidelines which say its average grant is about $10,000.

The Minnesota-based GHR Foundation made nine grants of $25,000 each, totaling $225,000, earmarked for the “former archbishop’s fund” or the “former archbishop’s special fund,” from 2006 to 2014, tax records say.

Archbishop McCarrick sat on the foundation board of directors from 2006 until 2016. Since then he has served as director emeritus, which a spokesman characterized as “only an honorary role.”

The GHR Foundation spokesperson said McCarrick was not active in his final years as a board member nor as a director emeritus.

“We are reviewing any type of actions while he was a board member,” he said. “We are taking this very seriously and are conducting a review.” The foundation said it would share information “if we find anything that we feel is not what was intended for GHR funds.”

The foundation has given several other five-figure grants to the Washington archdiocese, plus a 2008 grant of $400,000 to the Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary of Washington as a one-time grant “honoring Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.”

Beginning in 2007, the GHR Foundation gave $1 million a year for seven years to the Papal Foundation, which McCarrick had co-founded in 1988. The Papal Foundation supports projects and proposals recommended by the Holy See.

The GHR spokesman could not address questions about foundation grants to the former archbishop’s special fund but said the foundation is looking into the matter.

“We just want to make sure that the funds were used in a way that intended to support our values,” he said.

The spokesman said that to his understanding McCarrick’s role as a leader in interreligious dialogue fit well with the foundation’s inter-religious activities, adding “he is a leader in Christian-Muslim relations.”

CNA contacted McCarrick’s civil lawyer Barry Coburn, who said he had “no comment at this time.”

Both the Loyola and GHR foundations said they have removed the former cardinal from any role.

After the Holy See asked McCarrick to cease all public ministry, the Loyola Foundation released McCarrick from his board duties in a July letter, said McCarthy, the foundation’s executive director.

“He is no longer a board member and serves in no other capacity. No one has replaced him,” McCarthy said. “Our foundation encourages a full, complete and transparent review of all the allegations made against Archbishop McCarrick, with legal follow up within both civil and canon law, if appropriate.”

The GHR Foundation spokesman told CNA that when the first allegations came out “we immediately suspended him.”

“Obviously we were shocked and saddened. This was news to us,” the spokesman added. “Then as additional allegations came out we acted promptly and removed him from his honorary role. We have severed all ties to former Cardinal McCarrick.”

Like many church and civic leaders who had worked with McCarrick, McCarthy too said the Loyola Foundation did not know of abuse incidents.

“As a Catholic entity focused on the needy, our energies are spent on trying to help our brothers and sisters in Christ,” McCarthy said. “No one on our staff or on the board was even remotely aware of the incidents reported. May God help any who may have been wronged.”

The GHR Foundation was launched in 1965 by Gerald and Henrietta Rauenhorst, founders of the architecture design and construction companies that would become known as the Opus Group. In 2016, the foundation website says, it gave over $20.7 million in grants to 100 organizations around the world.

It has been a major donor to Catholic Relief Services, on whose board McCarrick once served. It has given large grants to religious sisters and groups like the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious.

The foundation supports urban Catholic schools in Minneapolis-St. Paul; other efforts in the Minneapolis-St. Paul archdiocese; and Catholic universities like Marquette University, St. Catherine University and the University of St. Thomas, where the foundation’s founders earned their degrees.

The GHR Foundation’s CEO and chair, Amy Rauenhorst Goldman, has served as a consultant on trade negotiations and investment strategies. She is a trustee and vice-chair of the board of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul and a member of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service Board of Visitors.

The foundation board is composed of members of the Rauenhorst family and others such as Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association.

The Loyola Foundation was established in 1957 by Albert G. McCarthy, Jr. and his wife Kathleen to assist mission work in developing countries. Its 2015-2016 biennial report said it gave out over $1.6 million in grants in 2016.

Foundation leadership includes members of the McCarthy family as well as other leading Catholics. One long-serving board member is Father William J. Byron, S.J., past president of both University of Scranton and Catholic University of America. He also served as rector of the Georgetown Jesuit Community, pastor of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Washington, D.C. and an interim president of Loyola University New Orleans.

McCarrick’s own career included time as a university leader and service on diplomatic missions and advisory roles for both the U.S. State Department and the Holy See. He has served on pontifical councils for Promoting Christian Unity, Justice and Peace, Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples and for Latin America. Similarly, he served in the office of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See.

He chaired U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committees on Domestic Policy, International Policy, Migration, and Aid to the Church in Central and Eastern Europe.

In August, watch this meteor shower named for a saint

Denver, Colo., Aug 10, 2018 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Star-gazing might not be the first thing that comes to mind when Catholics think of St. Lawrence, the early Christian martyr who was cooked to death by the Romans on an outdoor grill.

But every August, Catholics have the chance to see a meteor shower named in his honor.

The Perseids meteor shower, also called the “tears of St. Lawrence,” is a meteor shower associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle, which drops dust and debris in Earth’s orbit on its 133-year trip around the Sun. (The comet poses no immediate threat to Earth, at least not for several thousand years.)

As Earth orbits the Sun, it hits pieces of left-behind debris from the comet, causing them to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.

This creates a prolific meteor shower that can best be seen in the Northern Hemisphere from late July to early August, usually peaking around Aug. 10, the feast of St. Lawrence.  

During its peak, the rate of meteors reaches 60 or more per hour.

The name “Perseids” comes from the constellation Perseus, named for a character in Greek mythology, and the radiant of the shower or the point from which it appears to originate.

The name “tears of St. Lawrence” came from the association with his feast day and from the legends that built up around the Saint after his death.

Saint Lawrence was martyred on Aug. 10, 258 during the persecution of the emperor Valerian along with many other members of the Roman clergy. He was the last of the seven deacons of Rome to die.

After the pope, Sixtus II, was martyred on Aug. 6, Lawrence became the principal authority of the Roman Church, having been the Church's treasurer.

When he was summoned before the executioners, Lawrence was ordered to bring all the wealth of the Church with him. He showed up with a handful of crippled, poor, and sick men, and when questioned, replied that "These are the true wealth of the Church."

He was immediately sent to his death, being cooked alive on a gridiron. Legend has it that one of his last words was a joke about his method of execution, as he quipped to his killers: “Turn me over, I’m done on this side!”

Catholics began calling the meteors the “tears of St. Lawrence,” even though the celestial phenomenon pre-dates the saint.

Some Italian lore also holds that the fiery bits of debris seen during a meteor shower are representative of the coals that killed St. Lawrence.

Anyone in the Northern Hemisphere should be able to view the “tears of St. Lawrence” best on the nights of Aug. 11 and 12 this year. The meteors will shower from various points in the sky rather than from one particular direction.

For the best viewing, it is recommended to go to a rural area away from light pollution.