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USCCB passes three measures in response to abuse crisis

Thu, 06/13/2019 - 12:15

Baltimore, Md., Jun 13, 2019 / 10:15 am (CNA).- The U.S. bishops’ conference voted Thursday to approve proposals intended to respond to recent scandals involving sexual abuse, coercion, and cover-up on the part of bishops, most notably former cardinal Theodore McCarrick and the disgraced Bishop Michael Bransfield.

The bishops, gathered in Baltimore for their spring General Assembly, voted overwhelmingly in favor of three measures aimed at building processes to address episcopal misconduct or neglect, and the ongoing crisis of credibility widely perceived to overshadow ongoing work to eliminate sexual abuse from the Church.

The assembly approved protocol explaining the powers of a diocesan bishop to curtail the public ministry of a retired bishop in his former diocese by a margin of 212-4.

They also approved a set of directives applying in the U.S. the new universal norms for investigating allegations against bishops promulgated by Pope Francis in Vos estis lux mundi.  After initial discussion earlier this week, they were presented to bishops June 13 with an explicit exhortation for metropolitan bishops to appoint “on a stable basis, even by means of an ecclesiastical office, a qualified lay person” to receive allegations against bishops and work with the metropolitan in any subsequent investigation.

The directives were approved by 218-1.

The bishops also approved a joint statement, “Affirming Our Episcopal Commitments,” establishing a non-binding moral commitment by bishops to hold themselves to the same standards and measures as are currently applied to their priests and deacons. That document passed by a similarly wide margin of 217-1.

The consensus in favor of the measures was unsurprising. After the bishops were prevented by Rome from adopting similar proposals in November, the majority of bishops returned to Baltimore ready to vote.

The widespread agreement in favor of the three documents was reflected in the much-abbreviated discussion which preceded each vote. With relatively little debate, the bishops finished their morning session more than an hour ahead of schedule, even after adding business they’d intended to address in the afternoon.

As in the previous discussions on Tuesday, several bishops raised the need for clearly established lay involvement in the process of handling complaints against bishops. Changes to the text of the implementation directives for Vos estis were highlighted as a response to those concerns, something Cardinal Joseph Tobin noted was a “clear expectation” of Vos estis itself.

Bishops Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City said that mandatory lay involvement is essential “to make darn sure we bishops do not harm the Church” in the ways seen in recent cases.

Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler was the only bishop to raise directly the issue of Theodore McCarrick during the session, insisting that “a full reckoning” still needed to be made for the former cardinal’s career but that he had “been assured that the Holy See is working on that.”

On the specific point of whether lay people should be assigned formal, canonically governed “ecclesiastical offices” in order to assist metropolitans, Archbishop Bernard Hebda noted that the drafting committee thought it better to leave that as an option. In some places, he noted, metropolitans might find it best to include a non-Catholic (ineligible for formal ecclesiastical office) in the process if their expertise “offered the greatest possibilities for accountability.”

Several bishops, most insistently Bishop Jaime Soto, raised the prospect of an independent auditing process to track and assess the U.S. implementation of Vos estis over the three-year trial period.

Bishop Robert Deeley explained to the conference that the independent third-party reporting mechanism, approved by the bishops on Wednesday, was itself a form of a self-auditing system with every complaint being tracked, though there were limits to how much the bishops could assess the effectiveness of what was a papal law.

“I think the committee agrees with you that an [assessment] process will have to be done,” Deeley said, but it was not for the U.S. bishops to decide how to evaluate the essential role of the Holy See in the process and implementation of its own norms.

Related to Rome’s role in the process of handling an allegation, several bishops noted that Vos estis provided for a response from Rome “within 30 days,” something Bishop Mark O’Connell, an auxiliary bishop of Boston, called an “intolerable" amount of time for a reporting Metropolitan to be unable to advance the case.

Deeley responded by noting that Rome had committed itself to responding “within not after” 30 days, and that the experience of many bishops was that when circumstances required it, the different Roman dicasteries were respond considerably faster. The longer time period was a reflection of the universal application of Vos estis, which would have to accommodate regions where communication could be more fractured and difficult.

Deeley noted that there had been four investigations into U.S. bishops conducted by metropolitans in recent months, including McCarrick and Bransfield, and that the successful way in which they had been concluded was a sign of the effectiveness of the new model. “That gives me confidence,” Deeley told the bishops.

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles told the bishops that “the Holy See is aware of the urgency of this matter,” and commended the passage of the directives to the conference.

After the passage of the abuse-related measures and the conclusion of some other conference matters, the bishops concluded the public portion of their meeting and convened an executive session.

Analysis: As USCCB meeting continues, what are lay Catholics looking for?

Thu, 06/13/2019 - 09:12

Baltimore, Md., Jun 13, 2019 / 07:12 am (CNA).- Nearly all U.S. bishops know by now that U.S. Catholics are experiencing crises of faith and confidence at a scale that far exceeds even the Church’s sexual abuse scandal in 2002. They were presented with data this week noting that the rate of Catholics defecting from the practice of the faith has risen dramatically in recent years, and they are reminded in their own dioceses that practicing Catholics, priests among them, are deeply discouraged of the last year, and struggling to trust.

But there is a disconnect between the work that bishops are doing this week in Baltimore to respond to those problems and the way that work is perceived by even faithful and engaged Catholics.

The mission of bishops is the salvation of souls. Their call is to proclaim the Gospel, to teach the faith, to celebrate the sacramental mysteries of grace, and to lead and coordinate the apostolic and evangelical work of priests, deacons, religious, and laity. Their ability to do those things convincingly and compellingly is hampered by the scandals of the last year.

But so is the ability of millions of other Catholics to do the work to which God has called them. Within the Church, the scandals have tainted the credibility of the bishops. Beyond the walls of the Church, the scandals have tainted the credibility of every Catholic who tries to explain, proclaim, or live the Gospel.

It is not the case that Catholic laity are the de facto moral superiors of their bishops. It is not the case that Catholic laity give consistent witness to the Gospel. It is not the case that laity are less likely to be motivated by the concerns of this world, less likely to engage in sexual immorality, less likely to live as they ought not.

But it is the case that bishops are uniquely public Catholic figures, and that the integrity of their actions is - fairly or unfairly- uniquely taken as a measure of the Gospel’s integrity.

None of that is new. What is new is the scope of their visibility in the social media era, and the degree to which the misconduct of some, and the broken ecclesial culture that fosters it, is manifestly clear to those who look toward it.

The problems occasioned by those realities are complex. Bishops this week, at the U.S. bishops’ conference meeting in Baltimore, are engaging in discussion about the nitty-gritty technical aspects of some of those problems. They are debating, or attempting to debate, the finer points of third-party reporting systems and investigative review processes.

Those debates, some observers have noted, are important, but they are also painful. They are wonky, bureaucratic, and themselves not untainted by the marks of ambition, petty politics, and some degree of impatience. But they are nonetheless important.

The bishops seem keen to reflect in these debates their contrition for the sins of their brothers, their apparent desire to be seen involving lay people in their processes, and to convey the urgency of their mandate. In the words of one observer, some of that rhetoric has a Clinton-esque quality, offered by bishops who want Catholics to know “We feel your pain.”

But despite episcopal efforts, many of which are sincere, conference staffers, along with lay and priest observers at the meeting, tell CNA consistently that, in their estimation, many bishops “still don’t get it.”

While the buzzwords among the bishops in the meeting are “transparency” and “lay involvement,” the buzzing among their closest lay and priestly collaborators is whether the bishops understand, as one staffer asked CNA, “just how bad things are.” What is it they are perceived not to understand?

In the first place, CNA is told, bishops seem not to understand how much Catholics would like questions about McCarrick to be answered, forthrightly, directly, and comprehensively, and by those in official positions of power, not by priests leaking their accounts of old emails and letters.

In the second place, priests and laity say they would like to hear bishops recognize directly the scandal of the Bransfield report, and of the subsequent revelation that despite promises of transparency, and perhaps even in good faith, the names of bishops who were given large gifts from Bransfield were omitted from the report filed with Congregation for Bishops.

While Lori himself has expressed contrition for the omission, Catholics are looking for a direct response to the ensuing scandal, and a commitment to be open about their own financial entanglements with bishops of dubious moral reputation. In fact, Catholic observers tell CNA on the whole that bishops will be forthcoming about other potential financial scandals before they are spread across the pages of America’s leading newspapers, rather than after.

But most especially, Catholics tell CNA, that what they hope bishops will “get” is just how difficult all this scandal has been. They are looking, they say, for genuine expressions of the bishops’ own pain, rather than the sense that the crisis is being managed. They are looking for bishops who are turning to the Lord for answers in humility.

Above all else, Catholics tell CNA, they are looking for leadership: for bishops who decry sexual immorality, privilege, careerism, and indifference among their brethren without ambiguity. They are looking for bishops who will be among them in their pain. They are looking for those who will insist upon the truth, no matter the cost. They are looking for leadership that begins and ends in the mysteries of the Eucharist.

They are not looking for politicians or crisis managers. They are looking, they say, for priests, prophets, and kings.

That is what they hope their bishops will understand. Whether they will find those things in Baltimore remains to be seen.  


Analysis: At USCCB meeting, will words speak louder than votes?

Thu, 06/13/2019 - 06:00

Baltimore, Md., Jun 13, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Today the bishops of the United States will debate and vote on three documents aimed at implementing the new universal laws promulgated by Pope Francis last month.

While the ostensible purpose of Thursday votes is to establish Vos estis lux mundi in the life of the Church in the U.S., the bishops gathered in Baltimore are aware that they are really voting to restore their own credibility among faithful and discouraged U.S. Catholics.

The laity have figured heavily in the bishops’ discussions, with many using Tuesday’s sessions to insist on establishing a clearly defined role for non-clerics in handling accusations against bishops.

The open sessions of the conference are being broadcast live, and the message many bishops appear to be sending is “We know you’re watching and we want you to know we are talking about you.”

Yet many Catholics are less interested in what the bishops have to say to them, and more about what the bishops have to say about one another.

The recent publication of a report into Bishop Michael Bransfield, formerly of Wheeling-Charleston, was the latest in a year of scandal and setback for the American hierarchy.

Yet, although Bransfield looms large in the minds of the faithful and bishops alike, his name has yet to be mentioned at the bishops’ meeting. Similarly, although Theodore McCarrick was mentioned by the lay representatives of the National Advisory Council and National Review Board, his influence on the conference proceedings has passed largely unspoken.

One of the documents upon which the bishops will vote today is titled “Acknowledging Our Episcopal Commitments.” The text includes several expressions of collective failure and contrition.

An act of corporate responsibility and renewed dedication can certainly be a useful tool in communicating with the faithful across the country. But, many would argue, too much solidarity can actually work against them in the battle to win back trust.

There is a fine line between expressing a meaningful collective remorse and giving the impression that the sins of the few are common to all bishops.

During the November meeting last year, Bishop Liam Carey of Baker noted the “shameful residue” left on all the bishops by McCarrick’s long presence among them. The recent Bransfield report has only strengthened the impression among some Catholics that the bishops are all the same.

If the goal is to truly heal the breach of trust, the bishops might find it effective to speak directly about the failings of their brothers, and the outrage it has caused among their own ranks.

There is a widespread perception that bishops cannot - must not - be trusted to police themselves. The bishops have, at times, said as much themselves. That impression is, inadvertently, reinforced when the hierarchy appears more comfortable voicing collective responsibility for the misdeeds of their colleagues than vocally sharing the outrage of their flock.

Privately, many bishops are furious at the scandals which have rocked the Church thanks to a minority of their number, and they are acutely aware of the damage done to their own credibility. The corporate commitment to passing procedural directives for Vos estis is solid, somber work, but it strikes many of the faithful as more of the bloodless progress of bureaucratic consensus, against which Pope Francis explicitly warned the bishops ahead of their January retreat in Mundelein.

While some laity are looking for the bishops to speak to them, many more want to see the bishops speak to and about each other with candor.

To many of the hierarchy, the language of “we bishops” speaking to “you faithful” is a natural expression of collegiality. But, when the subject is the egregious fault of a few of their number, it can seem reminiscent to Catholics of a clerical culture in which the virtuous shepherds instinctively stand with the vicious few, before thinking to align with the faithful of their own flocks.

The final day of open session will come with considerable scope for debate. The opportunity is there for the bishops to separate the sheep from the goats in their own ranks, and to offer the kind of personal leadership and vision which some of the people in the pews have almost lost hope of seeing.

Some may take the opportunity to speak with zeal and prophetic vision, others – maybe the majority – will remain silent, hoping that an anonymous vote will suffice for leadership.

There are many good bishops in Baltimore who recognize nothing of themselves or their ministry in the actions of Bransfield and McCarrick, and those who kept them in place for so long. But if they do not rise to say so out loud, will the faithful know they are there?

Maine governor signs bill legalizing assisted suicide

Wed, 06/12/2019 - 21:01

Augusta, Maine, Jun 12, 2019 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- Maine became the latest state to legalize physician-assisted suicide Wednesday as Gov. Janet Mills (D) signed LD 1313 into law.

Mills had previously said that she was undecided on the issue of physician-assisted suicide, and was unsure if she would sign the bill into law.

Maine is now the ninth state to make it legal for a doctor to prescribe a terminally-ill patient a lethal dose of medication. Earlier this year, New Jersey legalized assisted suicide.

Mills said to reporters June 12 that the decision to sign the bill into law was the hardest she had made in her political career, and that she hopes assisted suicide does not become the norm in her state.

“It is my hope that this law, while respecting the right to personal liberty, will be used sparingly,” she said prior to signing the bill.

She added that she hopes Mainers “will respect the life of every citizen, with the utmost concern for their spiritual and physical well-being, and that as a society we will be as vigorous in providing full comfort, hospice and palliative care to all persons, no matter their status, location or financial ability as we are in respecting their right to make this ultimate decision over their own fate and of their own free will.”

To receive the life-ending medication, a patient must undergo two waiting periods, request the medication once in a written request and twice orally, undergo a psychological evaluation, and be approved by a second physician. The law also criminalizes coercing someone into assisted suicide, or forging a note requesting suicide.

The law was narrowly passed by the state legislatures June 4, and sent to the governor’s mansion. Mills had 10 days from June 4 to decide whether or not she was going to sign the law. Members of both political parties voted for and against the bill, which was passed by a single vote in the state’s House of Representatives.

In addition to LD 1313, Mills signed Executive Order No. 9, which requires the state’s Department of Health and Human Services to report all instances of physician-assisted suicide over the next years. Specifically, DHHS will examine the data for any trends regarding socio demographic status, location within the state, and medical conditions, to ensure that the “personal liberty and autonomy of all Maine people is protected.”  

While the bill is set to go into effect 90 days after the legislative session ends, the existence of Executive Order 9, which goes into effect immediately, means that assisted suicide will likely not be available in Maine until 2020. This is because lawmakers must approve the collection methods and norms required by the executive order.

The battle to legalize physican-assisted suicide in Maine was drawn out for about a decade. There were seven previous bills submitted to legalize the practice, all of which failed. In 2012, there was a statewide referrendum to legalize assisted suicide, which also failed.

Cities, states ask courts to block HHS conscience protections before taking effect

Wed, 06/12/2019 - 20:01

Washington D.C., Jun 12, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- Santa Clara County, California is the latest entity to ask a federal judge to block a new rule from the Department of Health and Human Services designed to protect the conscience rights of healthcare workers.

The new HHS rule, announced May 2 and published May 21 in the Federal Register, strengthens a series of laws intended to protect the conscience rights of doctors and nurses.

“Even though Federal conscience and anti-discrimination laws are currently in effect, the public has sometimes been confused about their applicability in relation to other Federal, State, or local laws,” the new rule reads.

“Some advocacy organizations have filed lawsuits claiming that Federal or State laws require private religious entities to perform abortions and sterilizations despite the existence of longstanding conscience and anti-discrimination protections on this topic.”

Under existing law, medical providers may opt out of direct participation, as well as having to refer patients to other providers who will perform procedures to which they object, such as abortion and sterilization. The rule is due to take effect July 22.

New York is leading a suit against the new rule; its co-plaintiffs are Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin, as well as the District of Columbia, Chicago, New York City, and Cook County, Ill.

Those plaintiffs say the rule would force some healthcare facilities to hire more staff in case there are too many conscientious objectors to provide requested procedures.

California filed a separate lawsuit May 21 against the rule, saying it “impedes access to basic care” and “encourages discrimination against vulnerable patients.” Planned Parenthood has also filed a lawsuit.

Last week, California asked for a preliminary injunction from the to block the rule, saying that if the state refused to comply, they could lose federal funding for healthcare. San Francisco joined the call for an injunction after announcing their own lawsuit May 2.

Santa Clara County announced their lawsuit May 28 leading a coalition of other entities including the pro-abortion Center for Reproductive Rights. The coalition petitioned federal judge Nathanael Cousins in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California June 11 to prevent the HHS from enforcing the new rule.

James Williams, county counsel for Santa Clara, told NPR that the county already has a policy for conscientious objectors that requires that they notify the county of their objection in advance, and that includes an exception for emergency situations.

The HHS responded to concerned comments that the new rule would prevent some patients from being treated in an emergency, replying in the Federal Register that federal law mandating that “certain hospitals treat and stabilize patients who present in an emergency does not conflict with Federal conscience and anti-discrimination laws.”

In addition, the HHS contended that religiously affiliated hospitals, including Catholic hospitals, “play a major role in the delivery of health care to residents of the United States, including to underserved or underprivileged communities in particular, and are motivated by their beliefs to serve such communities.”

“This rule ensures that healthcare entities and professionals won’t be bullied out of the health care field because they decline to participate in actions that violate their conscience, including the taking of human life. Protecting conscience and religious freedom not only fosters greater diversity in healthcare, it’s the law,” Office of Civil Rights Director Roger Severino said May 2.

The text of the rule acknowledges that several submissions were made during consultation regarding the possible limitation on access to abortion and sterilization in some communities, saying these submissions proved the inadequacy of previous conscience protections.

“The Department observed that it was contradictory to argue, as many commenters did, both that the rule would decrease access to care and that the then‐current conscience protections for providers were sufficient,” the rule reads.

“If the Department’s new rule would decrease access to care because of an increase in providers’ exercise of conscientious objections, it would seem that the statutory protections that existed before the regulation did not result in providers fully exercising their consciences as protected by law.”

The next step, NPR reports, will be for a judge in U.S. District Court to decide whether any of the California plaintiffs pass the test for preliminary injunctive relief, i.e. that they will suffer "irreparable harm" should the rule go into effect.

US bishops authorize reporting mechanism for episcopal abuse cases

Wed, 06/12/2019 - 19:04

Baltimore, Md., Jun 12, 2019 / 05:04 pm (CNA).- The US bishops voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to authorize a national third-party system for victims confidentially to report cases of abuse by bishops in violation of Vos estis lux mundi.

“I think it’s obvious to me, and hopefully, I think, to all of us, that victim-survivors are a priority to all of us,” said Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, Vice President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, during deliberations June 12 on the reporting system at the bishops’ Spring General Assembly in Baltimore, Md.

“When that situation happens,” he said to the bishops of cases of reported abuse, “I think that every single one of us is going to be very attentive to the needs and healing process of victim-survivors. So I think this system will help us to precisely make sure that anyone who suffers abuse is going to be taken care of.”

The bishops met for the second day of their annual spring meeting Wednesday, during which they voted to authorize the third-party reporting system, in addition to approving a set of proposed strategic priorities for their upcoming 2021-24 Strategic Plan.

The priorities, the fruit of consultations with the body of bishops, five of their standing committees, and their National Advisory Committee, help determine where the bishops will choose to focus the most time and resources in that timeframe.

The proposed priorities, which passed by a vote of 213 to 8, with four abstentions, were: “Evangelization: Form a joyful band of missionary disciples”; “Life and dignity of the human person: Serve the common good as the leaven in a free society”; “Protect and heal God’s children: Restore integrity, foster virtue”; “Vocations: Equip all Christ’s disciples for mission.”

The reporting system that the bishops approved will feature options for victims to report abuse by phone or online.

In September 2018, the bishops’ Executive Committee proposed a third-party reporting mechanism, but after the publication of Vos estis lux mundi, the motu proprio of Pope Francis in response to the recent crisis of clergy sexual abuse, the bishops also voted to authorize updates to the proposed reporting system to comply with the new document. The updates are set to be approved by the administrative committee in meetings this fall.

For instance, as the document directed allegations of abuse by bishops to be sent to metropolitans, any confidential reporting system would need to reflect this by routing allegations to the regional metropolitan, not just to the apostolic nuncio, thus requiring a more complex and expensive reporting system. The violations to be considered would also be those outlined in Vos estis, not those in the U.S. Bishops’ Code of Conduct.

The bishops discussed other details of the system Wednesday, including advertising the phone number and website for confidential reporting, the procedure for contacting civil authorities and the metropolitan, the role of the third-party vendor, care for victims, and jurisdiction for considering an abuse allegation.

Additionally, the bishops voted to have the system activated by May 31, 2020. Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago emphasized the need for prompt action, saying, “We need this up and running as soon as possible.”

Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland in Oregon said that in the interim, people need to know that they can still send allegations of abuse directly to metropolitans.  

At a press conference shortly after the discussion, Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington acknowledged that the reporting system needs to be widely publicized, saying, “it’s our job to make it well-known.”

Among the other votes the bishops took Wednesday were expressing unanimous support for the cause for canonization of Irving C. Houle, a father of five from Michigan who appeared to bear the stigmata. Bishop John Francis Doerfler of Marquette, who delivered the presentation on Houle’s sanctity, as well as Archbishop Sample and Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield in Illinois, attested to Houle’s virtue.

“Irving can serve as an example of holiness for the ordinary guy," Bishop Doerfler said. "The extraordinary gifts of healing and the stigmata are further indications of how God chooses the humble and the lowly as his instruments."

Bishop Paprocki also revealed his intention to establish a shrine to Fr. Augustus Tolton in Quincy, Ill., where Fr. Tolton is buried. Pope Francis declared Fr. Tolton a Venerable Wednesday, an acknowledgement that he lived a life of heroic virtue.

The bishops also overwhelmingly approved a new translation of the Revised National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanaent Deacons in the United States, as well as the ICEL Gray Book of the Ordination of a Bishop, of Priests, and of Deacons.

Colo. baker sued a third time, for refusal to make cake signifying gender transition

Wed, 06/12/2019 - 18:01

Denver, Colo., Jun 12, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- Jack Phillips, a Christian cake baker based in Colorado, is being sued for a third time for declining to make a cake that expresses messages contrary to his religious beliefs.

Phillips is the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo., a Denver suburb. Last year, he won a six year legal battle that led all the way up to the Supreme Court, which upheld Phillips’ religious freedom and freedom of expression in his declining to make a cake in 2012 that would have celebrated a same-sex union.

Three months after winning the Supreme Court case, Phillips was sued again by Colorado lawyer Autumn Scardina, who identifies as a transgender woman, for his refusal to make Scardina a gender transition cake.

Phillips then countersued the state of Colorado, claiming that he was being persecuted for his religious beliefs. The case was dropped in March, “after the discovery phase demonstrated that the state was displaying ‘anti-religious hostility’ by continuing to pursue Phillips,’” the National Review reported.

At the time, Phillips expressed his desire to be done with legal proceedings and out of the spotlight. “I hope this is the end of my legal battles, and that I can return to my quiet life as a cake artist,” Phillips wrote in an opinion essay for the Denver Post.

Phillips did not get his wish for long.

Scardina is now the plaintiff in a new suit against Phillips. On June 5, Scardina sued Phillips for the second time, this time claiming that he refused to make Scardina a birthday cake.

According to the complaint, filed with the District Court for the city and county of Denver, Scardina called Masterpiece Cakeshop to order a “birthday cake - one in a simple design that Defendants admit they would make for any other customer.”

The complaint noted that Phillips has said previously that he would be happy to make other kinds of cakes for LGBT individuals, as long as they expressed messages that did not violate his religious beliefs.

In the call, Scardina requested from Masterpiece Cakeshop a birthday cake for 6-8 people, with pink cake and blue frosting. A Masterpiece Cakeshop employee confirmed to Scardina that they could make such a cake.

“Ms. Scardina then informed Masterpiece Cakeshop that the requested design had personal significance for her because it reflects her status as a transgender female,” the complaint states.

It was at this point that Masterpiece Cakeshop told Scardina that they “did not make cakes for ‘sex changes.’” Scardina reconfirmed that it was a birthday cake, but Masterpiece Cakeshop declined to take the order and ended the call, according to the complaint.

Scardina called Masterpiece Cakeshop again, in case the previous call had been unintentionally disconnected, the complaint states. Scardina spoke to a different Masterpiece Cakeshop employee about the same order, and that employee also declined the order, saying that making such a cake would violate their religious beliefs.

“Masterpiece Cakeshop, at the direction of Phillips, refused to sell a birthday cake to Ms. Scardina because of her status as a transgender woman,” the complaint states.

Paula Griesen, one of the attorneys representing Scardina, said that “the dignity of all citizens in our state needs to be honored,” according to the National Review. “Masterpiece Cakeshop said before the Supreme Court they would serve any baked good to members of the LGBTQ community. It was just the religious significance of it being a wedding cake. We don’t believe they’ve been honest with the public.”

The cake Scardina mentions in the new complaint is notably similar to the gender transition cake Scardina requested from Masterpiece Cakeshop in 2017, which was also requested to be made with pink cake and blue frosting.

Phillips was first sued for a declined cake in 2012, after declining to make a cake celebrating the union of a same-sex couple. Phillips said that particular kind of cake would violate his religious beliefs, but that he would create other kinds of cakes for the couple. Colorado law did not recognize same-sex unions as marriages at the time.

The couple filed a lawsuit against Phillips and in 2013 a Colorado judge sided with the plaintiffs. Phillips chose to stop serving wedding cakes at his shop in order to avoid further litigation.

The Colorado Civil Rights Commission then took up the case, and ruled that Phillips had violated the state’s anti-discrimination law, which categorizes sexual orientation as a protected class, by refusing to make the cake. The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in 2018 that Phillips has a right to refuse to create cakes that expressed messages contrary to his religious beliefs.

Phillips has said in the past that he not only has declined same-sex union cakes, but he also declines other types of cakes that go against his beliefs, including cakes for Halloween, bachelor parties, divorce, cakes with alcohol in the ingredients, and cakes with atheist messages.

Jim Campbell, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, whose lawyers have defended Phillips in the past, said the new lawsuit is another example of Phillips’ harassment for his religious beliefs.

“So this latest attack by Scardina looks like yet another desperate attempt to harass cake artist Jack Phillips,” Campbell said, according to the National Review. “And it stumbles over the one detail that matters most: Jack serves everyone; he just cannot express all messages through his custom cakes.”

Meet the new bishops in the USCCB

Wed, 06/12/2019 - 17:48

Baltimore, Md., Jun 12, 2019 / 03:48 pm (CNA).- At the US Conference of Catholic Bishops' biannual assemblies, new members of the US episcopate are announced, to much applause. CNA spoke to the newest members of the USCCB to find out what it’s like to be the new kid on the block.

Two of this year’s newcomers, Bishops William Muhm and Joseph Coffey have much in common. They have both served in the Navy, both as chaplains and prior to entering seminary; both were announced as the auxiliary bishops of the Archdiocese for the Military Services Jan. 22; and both were consecrated March 25. Neither expected to be bishops.

This is the first time either of them have attended a USCCB general assembly, and they told CNA they were a little bit intimidated at first by some of their brother bishops.

Bishop Coffey said that he did not anticipate speaking up much during this assembly, and that “as a new guy, I’m going to do a lot of observing.” Coffey was chosen to be one of the tellers of the assembly, an administrative duty that means he will be verifying the vote totals of the elections. He told CNA that he suspects he was chosen for this role because he is a brand new bishop.

Mild episcopal hazing aside, Coffey said that “it’s pretty darn exciting” to be at the general assembly and to be sitting next to the men he has read about and admired for years. He said he felt as though he has joined an “incredibly warm and friendly and welcoming community of brothers.”

Coffey said that as a bishop, he has been given the chance to represent Archbishop Timothy Broglio at events, and has traveled around the country with the permission of the military. As he is still active duty in the Navy, he said he will be seeking retirement or entering the reserves in order to work full-time as a bishop.

The whole experience, said Coffey, has been surreal.

“I was not expecting this at all, and so, it has only been a couple of months, so I’m still getting used to God’s providence and how it’s really changed my life, but it’s exciting, to say ‘yes’ and see what happens,” he said.

Bishop Muhm likened the feeling to the first day of school, but said that "everyone's been really welcoming.” He relished the chance to get to know the other bishops and to develop fraternal bonds, which he said was “one of the most important reasons to be here.”

Like Coffey, Muhm also said he planned on “doing a lot more listening than talking”, and that he was adjusting to the nuances associated with the bishops’ conference. With his primary priestly experience as a military chaplain, and only about six weeks administering a parish prior to being appointed a bishop, Muhm’s ecclesiastical career has been very different from most of his brother bishops.

“It's been a little bit overwhelming, with the level of detail that's being discussed,” said Muhm. “I don't have a background in many of these things that they're talking about, and I hadn't seen the documents until recently."

Muhm told CNA that he has been enjoying his time at the general assembly nevertheless, and is excited to move forward with his duties as bishop, which will involve tending to the needs of Catholics in the military serving in Asia and Europe.

Bishop Alex Aclan, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, was driving when he received a call from the nuncio Feb. 17. Aclan, who was on a sabbatical at the time, said that he was “pretty calm” when he found out his new role, and that he had “really no strong emotions.”

As the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is home to about 11.6 million people, with about 4.3 million Catholics, the auxiliary bishops are assigned to regions. Aclan is assigned to the San Fernando region, which includes 55 parishes, 13 high schools, and three hospitals. He said he has had a chance to visit a little less than half of the parishes so far, and that he has been very busy.

Aclan told CNA that he has been warmly received by the other bishops, who are “very welcoming” and “very hospitable, you know, when they see that you look lost.”

“They walk up to you and they’re talking to you, so they’re very really nice,” he said with a laugh.

While Aclan may be new to the USCCB, his prior role as the Vicar for Clergy for Losg Angeles archdiocese meant that he was already familiar with some of the bishops, and was not entirely alone at his first general assembly.

“Some of the bishops actually attended the conferences that we had (for other Vicars for Clergy), and some of those Vicars for Clergy now have also become bishops themselves,” he said.

While Bishops Aclan, Coffey, and Muhm are all newly consecrated, Archbishop Borys Gudziak was consecrated nearly seven years ago. Gudziak was installed June 4 as head of the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia. Prior to that, he was Bishop of the Ukrainian Eparchy of Saint Vladimir the Great of Paris, and thus a member of the French bishops' conference. The spring meeting marked the first time he has attended a USCCB general assembly.

Gudziak said that transitioning from a European eparchy to an American archeparchy was an adjustment, and that the Ukrainian Catholic population in the United States is substantially different than that of Europe. His past eparchy included five western European countries, and the war in Ukraine has resulted in an influx of very poor, often undocumented, Ukrainian emigrants moving to the European Union.

For Gudziak, his time in Paris “wasn’t a place or position or a job, it really became a family.” So when he when he was asked to come to America, it was “mixed emotions.”

He said he felt “sadness of leaving family members whom we went through thin and thin, I would say, not thin and thick. But great joy at coming back home,” he said. Gudziak was born and raised in the United States.

Comparatively, the Ukrainian Catholics in the United States have “about 70 years more history” than their western European counterparts, as well as “much more infrastructure.”

“The number of churches, schools, facilities, that are archeparchy here I would say has 50-70 times as much as we had in France,” said Gudziak.

Despite this, Gudziak said that his new parishioners face many of the same issues as his older ones, particularly among young people.

“With the young generation, there’s a need for coming down as Jesus came down and meeting people heart to heart,” he said. “Or as one young person had told me, ‘I need to be met at my broken heart.’”

The Ukrainian Catholic Church is one of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches. And although he is not a Latin rite bishop like the majority of the bishops in the USCCB, Gudziak said that his new brother bishops have been “particularly friendly, knowledgeable, and embracing.”

And while he declined, citing his relative newness, specifically to say how he planned on using his unique experience to help the USCCB, Gudziak told CNA that he thinks he can play a role in improving relations between the Church in the US and Churches around the world.

“One thing that I would like to witness to is the universality of the Church,” said Gudziak. He said that due to the lack of American priests and seminarians who study in other countries, “it’s becoming more difficult to keep a knowledgeable, friendly relationship with other episcopal conferences and other bishops.”

“And I hope that I can contribute to a friendship between the Church in the U.S. and the Church in Western and Eastern Europe,” said Gudziak, “since I lived in both parts of that continent for many years.”

Judge issues injunction to keep MO abortion clinic open another two weeks

Tue, 06/11/2019 - 22:01

St. Louis, Mo., Jun 11, 2019 / 08:01 pm (CNA).- Judge Michael F. Stelzer of Missouri Circuit Court in St. Louis granted the city’s Planned Parenthood clinic a preliminary injunction Monday, allowing the state’s only abortion clinic to remain open until June 21, despite the state’s initial refusal to renew its license to perform abortions.

The judge said June 10 the authority to grant or deny the clinic’s license rests with the state’s Department of Health and Senior Services, and that the clinic is entitled to a decision on its status one way or another. He did not rule on the merits of the case, but issued a ruling that he said “merely maintains the status quo” until the appropriate authority – i.e. the DHSS – can make a final decision on the abortion facility’s status.

The court’s order mandates that the DHSS issue a decision on the renewal of Planned Parenthood’s license “without undue delay but no later than June 21,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.

Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region had sued the state in late May to be able to continue to perform abortions – despite the state’s failure to renew the clinic’s license – arguing that the state had delayed the license in order to investigate “an unspecified patient complaint,” the Post-Dispatch reports.

The license of the Planned Parenthood clinic in question was set to expire May 31, but the clinic was able to secure a restraining order from Stelzer last week.

The state had issued subpoenas in an effort to speak with seven doctors who had worked at the facility. Two staff doctors agreed to interviews with health officials, but the others, who were not employees of the clinic, refused. Judge Stelzer threw out the subpoena of those five doctors as an “undue burden” June 4.

The state has cited numerous medical violations in its refusal to grant the St. Louis facility its license. Planned Parenthood representatives said they had done everything possible to comply with state requirements.

A 2016 state report on an inspection of the clinic, the most recent available through, shows that the clinic at that time was in violation of multiple state standards involving the sterilization and storing of equipment, and the proper documentation of medication and procedures.

Although the Planned Parenthood clinic is the last licensed “abortion facility” in the state, the law regulating abortion clinics in Missouri does not apply to hospitals. Several of the largest hospitals in St. Louis are operated by SSM Health, a Catholic health system that does not allow direct abortion.

Barnes Jewish Hospital’s Women and Infants Center in St. Louis, however, lists “pregnancy termination” as one of the services offered at the hospital.

In addition, while the clinic is the last abortion facility in Missouri, there is a private surgical abortion clinic near St. Louis, across the Mississippi River in Granite City, Ill. In addition, a Planned Parenthood clinic 20 miles from St. Louis in Belleville, Ill. offers medication-induced abortion. On the other side of the state, nearly half of all abortions performed in Kansas in 2017 were on Missouri residents, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

St. Louis Public Radio reported in 2017 that Barnes Jewish performs about 150 abortions per year, generally in the case of danger to the life of the mother or fetal abnormalities. The pro-abortion research group Guttmacher Institute reports that around four percent of abortions are performed in hospitals.

A recent law passed in Missouri outlawing abortion after eight weeks of pregnancy will restrict hospitals’ ability to perform abortions should it come into effect Aug. 28 as planned.

Judge Stelzer set a date and time of 9 am June 21 for a status conference to announce the state’s licensing decision for the St. Louis Planned Parenthood. He said Planned Parenthood is entitled to a review of the decision by a state licensing commission.

US religious freedom ambassador laments widespread silence on Uyghurs

Tue, 06/11/2019 - 21:01

Washington D.C., Jun 11, 2019 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- Islamic countries should be more vocal in criticizing China's mistreatment of the Uyghurs, a Muslim ethnoreligious group, the US ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom said Monday.

“I have been disappointed that more Islamic countries have not spoken out. I know the Chinese have been threatening them and but you don’t back down to somebody that does that. That just encourages more actions,” Ambassador Sam Brownback said in an interview with The Guardian published June 10.

Brownback welcomed Turkey and “a number of western countries that have spoken out aggressively on this.”

Some 1 million Uyghurs have been detained in re-education camps for Muslims in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Inside the camps they are reportedly subjected to forced labor, torture, and political indoctrination. Outside the camps, Uyghurs are monitored by pervasive police forces and facial recognition technology.

“If China is not stopped from doing this they’re going to replicate and push this system out in their own country and to other authoritarian regimes,” Brownback commented.

He suggested that some Islamic countries “are concerned about their own human rights record and then they’re saying look: we don’t want people criticizing us [so] we’re not going to criticize somebody else.”

US diplomats have increasingly focused on China's human rights abuses against the Uyghurs in recent months.

The US was among the co-sponsors last week of a United Nations resolution proclaiming a day to commemorate victims of violence based on religion. While speaking at the UN June 4, Austin Smith, the US representative to the organization, called China's treatment of the Uyghurs “one of the world’s most horrific denials of freedom of religion.”

“Chinese authorities are restricting religious freedom by labeling peaceful religious practices as manifestations of 'religious extremism and terrorism,” he said. “The Chinese Communist Party has exhibited extreme hostility to all religious faiths since its founding. This repression has intensified under the current policy of 'Sinicizing' religion.”

China's representative responded that Smith's statements were an unfounded accusation, and reiterated China's position that it is combatting extremism. He called the camps for Uyghurs learning centers, and stressed their vocational and educational nature.

In April, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom's annual report focused in its introduction on the abuse of Uyghurs.

During a March 8 speech in Hong Kong critical of the Vatican-China deal on the appointment of bishops, Brownback also addressed the detainment of Uyghurs and other Muslims in China.

He rejected Chinese government claims that the camps are vocational training centers, charging that they are “internment camps created to wipe out the cultural and religious identity of minority communities.” Internment is often based on cultural or religious identity. Detention is indefinite, and internees are subjected to “physical and psychological torture, intense political indoctrination, and forced labor,” he stated.

Mohammad bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, said earlier this year that “China has the right to take anti-terrorism and de-extremism measures to safeguard national security,” and that “Saudi Arabia respects and supports it and is willing to strengthen cooperation with China.”

Pakistan is among the few Mustlim-majority countries to have warned against the escalating persecution of the Uyghurs.

In September 2018 Noorul Haq Qadri, Pakistan's Federal Minister for Religious Affairs and Inter-faith Harmony, advised Chinese Ambassador Yao Jing that Beijing’s crackdowns on Uyghur activity would only fuel extremism, rather than mitigate it.

Along with its treatment of Muslims, China has been criticized for its persecution of a variety of religious groups: Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong practitioners.

USCIRF has noted that while the Vatican reached a provisional agreement with China on the appointment of bishops in September, “nevertheless, repression of the underground Catholic Church increased during the latter half” of 2018.

Analysis: The laity - the who and the how in sexual abuse reform

Tue, 06/11/2019 - 19:00

Baltimore, Md., Jun 11, 2019 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- On Tuesday, the USCCB General Assembly in Baltimore gave over much of its morning session to hearing questions from the floor asking for clarity on proposals to increase transparency and accountability among its members.

Two major themes emerged from the interventions. The first was that several members desire to see a binding and clearly defined role for laity in the process of handling accusations against a bishop. The second was the need for - and lack of - a clear distinction between cases involving the sexual abuse of minors and those touching sexual misconduct more broadly.

Three documents related to abuse are under consideration by the bishops.

An “acknowledgement of episcopal commitments” seeks to establish a moral commitment by bishops to hold themselves to the same standards and measures as are currently applied to their priests and deacons.

A set of directives has been drafted to apply in the U.S. the new universal norms promulgated by Pope Francis in Vos estis lux mundi.

The third document lays out the powers available to diocesan bishops when it becomes necessary to limit the public ministry of their predecessor following scandal or accusations of misconduct.

Several bishops made calls to “institutionalize” the role of laity in the handling of accusations was clear. Different suggestions included requiring a metropolitan bishop to establish a stable position for a lay person to receive all accusations, mandating that metropolitans employ laity to assess - not just investigate - claims against bishops, and insisting that the report of a layperson be included with a metropolitan’s own conclusions in any submission to Rome.

Conference officials explained that all of these options are already open to any bishop charged with running an investigation, but what the USCCB cannot do, members were told to their seeming frustration, is curtail their own discretion given to them by the pope’s norms.

At one level, the desire of bishops to entrench a role for lay men and women in the process of policing their own is understandable.

The McCarrick scandal continues to loom large in the minds of the faithful as Church authorities in Rome and the U.S. consider what (if any) information to make public about how he was able to sustain himself in the hierarchy. The recent release of a report into the allegations against former Wheeling-Charleston bishop Michael Bransfield, detailing substantial financial gifts to his brother bishops, has only underscored the crisis of credibility facing the hierarchy in the United States.

But simply “getting the lay people involved” is likely to prove at best an incomplete answer to the problems facing the bishops.

Invocations of “the laity” Tuesday morning came virtually unqualified, with little mention of particular areas of expertise or experience, though a lay person is not necessarily more qualified, per se, to evaluate an allegation against a bishop than anyone else. Other qualities, like independence and proven judgment, have yet to feature much in discussions.

The proposals for clearly defined and mandatory roles for lay people suggest an underlying discomfort among the bishops for the level of discretion the pope’s recent reforms give an investigating metropolitan.

Having seen the criticism heaped on some bishops for their handling of particular cases, it might be forgivable if, lurking under the calls for external accountability, was a desire for the added security of a lay person – any lay person – to share the responsibility for tough decisions.

But such a mentality, even unspoken, would suggest the bishops remain concerned primarily with who should evaluate accusations against them, and not how they should be evaluated.

Towards the end of the session, a handful of questions emerged from the floor on the need to distinguish between sexual abuse of minors and other instances of sexual misconduct. Both are grave, some bishops noted, but they require different handling by people with different skillsets.

But what these differences are and how they should be applied to the messy reality of actual cases remains relatively undiscussed, much less answered so far.

Given the difficulty of parsing issues like consent in cases of clerical sexual contact, it is perhaps understandable that there is relatively little appetite to discuss such matters. But as bishops are learning through hard experience, if they do not move to set the criteria for assessing allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct – especially concerning adults – that criteria can be set for them after the fact when individual cases come to light and their judgement is assessed by an already cynical public. Moving to offer a clear consensus definition of sexual abuse vs sexual misconduct, and how to distinguish the two, could prove a more impactful contribution to transparency and accountability than reserving one or other role to a lay person.

Over the next few days in Baltimore, the bishops have a limited window to discuss the best path forward in recovering their own credibility. As they do so, they need to beware mistaking the means of lay involvement for an end in itself.

The true ends of justice and accountability can be served by a greater role for lay men and women, and by a real commitment to transparency. But it remains unclear how much real progress towards justice there can be until there is a full discussion and understanding of what justice looks like in different cases. Without that, talk of lay involvement may be little more than a definite means to an uncertain end.

Church must be present to migrants and refugees, USCCB leaders say

Tue, 06/11/2019 - 17:30

Baltimore, Md., Jun 11, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- The Church needs to be present to migrants and refugees in the U.S. who are facing detention or deportation, and cannot be “invisible,” U.S. bishops said on the first day of their annual spring meeting in Baltimore, Md. on Tuesday.

“We can also redouble our efforts to offer spiritual support, and access to legal and social services to affected families,” Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin stated on Tuesday afternoon of an estimated 700,000 DACA recipients and 400,000 TPS holders whose legal status is uncertain but who have received a temporary reprieve from deportation as the administration’s actions ending DACA and TPS are litigated.

While delivering an update on the U.S. bishops’ working group on immigration, Bishop Vasquez maintained that “it is vital that they feel supported by the Church during this time of uncertainty.”

With thousands of undocumented immigrants in detention centers throughout the country, “we as pastors should be concerned that we have our priests there celebrating Mass for them, that the Church is present to them in this area,” Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami stated. “We have to respond to them and not let the Church be invisible to them.”

The U.S. bishops met on Tuesday for the first day of their Spring General Assembly, held in Baltimore, Md. from June 11-14.

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles and Bishop Vasquez on Tuesday afternoon both presented the results of the bishops’ working group on immigration. The working group “has been formed to carry forward this mission for the Church to support immigrants and refugees,” Archbishop Gomez said.

The bishops listed what they said were serious challenges facing the Church’s mission to migrants and refugees—the “inhumane” and “immoral” treatment of migrants, asylum-seekers, and others seeking to enter the U.S., as Archbishop Gomez said.

The bishops cited the Trump administration’s lowering of refugee intake caps for a third straight year to 30,000 for FY 2019, as well as the ending of the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) program in 2017, and the ongoing non-renewal of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designations.

In addition, asylum seekers wait in Mexico while their request is processed, putting “vulnerable people in harm’s way in Mexico,” Bishop Vasquez said. Meanwhile, the administration’s policies are “slowing down” and “clogging” the “ability of the ports of entry to process asylum claims.”

Other policies he cited were increases in family detention, rules “to further restrict access to asylum and due process,” and an “enforcement only approach to migration.”

Wenski mentioned that the Church should look to inform some DACA recipients and TPS holders of legal remedies that might be available to them. “We should be encouraging our parishioners and our legal residents to take the next step and to apply for citizenship,” he said.

On Tuesday afternoon, the bishops also heard from Archbishop Gomez an update on the Working Group on Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the bishops’ teaching document on voting.

“I truly hear the Holy Spirit moving among us as both of those topics come together on the agenda,” Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Tex. stated, noting Faithful Citizenship and the “tragic reality of immigration in our nation today.”

Strickland noted the importance of the sanctity of life and called on the bishops “as shepherds” to challenge those Catholic politicians who support issues that violate the sanctity of life such as legal abortion or harmful immigration policies.

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego stated that “I feel there are two essential questions” to be considered with “Faithful Citizenship.” There is first “the primary obligation of the faithful citizen” he said “to try to heal and downplay the divisions in our culture,” and second, the importance of “character,” as “I feel we under attended to that question” in the past versions of the document.

Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock, Ark., said that “often missing in our discussion” is an expression of “admiration” and “courage” for migrants who come to the U.S.

Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham, Ala. cited the recently passed Alabama law outlawing abortion in the state. Legislators “took a courageous stand” in passing and enacting the law, and he also noted the support for the law among Baptists and Catholics.

“When people do take those stands,” they must be supported by the bishops, he said.  


L.A. archdiocese reiterates support for religious sisters in convent dispute

Tue, 06/11/2019 - 16:12

Los Angeles, Calif., Jun 11, 2019 / 02:12 pm (CNA).- After a story in the New York Post sparked new interest in the drama of a years-long legal dispute involving Katy Perry and the sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has reiterated their support for the care and well-being of the sisters.

“The main concern of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is and always has been the care and well-being of all the IHM Sisters,” the archdiocese said June 9.

“More than 10 years ago, as the members of the order declined to only five elderly Sisters, the Archbishop of Los Angeles undertook responsibility for their future care and well-being. Since then, the Archdiocese has continuously provided, on behalf of the IHM Institute, for all the living, medical and other costs for care of Sister Rita and all remaining IHM Sisters,” the archdiocese added.

The archdiocese issued the statement in response to an interview that Sr. Rita Callahan, 81, gave to the New York Post, published June 8. Callahan, an IHM sister, told the New York Post that Perry had “blood on her hands” after another IHM sister, 89 year-old Sr. Catherine Rose Holzman, collapsed and died in a Los Angeles courtroom last year during ongoing legal proceedings over the sale of the sisters’ convent.

According to the interview Callahan gave to the New York Post, Holtzman’s last words were: “Katy Perry. Please stop.”

The legal dispute is over the sisters’ former convent, which the remaining five, retired sisters vacated in 2011. According to the New York Post, the archdiocese “forced” the sisters to move. In their statement, the archdiocese said the sisters left the convent “because it could no longer accommodate their physical needs, and after the property became too costly for the retired Sisters to maintain.”

According to the archdiocese, the IHM sisters agreed in 2014 to let the Archdiocese of Los Angeles sell their convent on their behalf, and with the agreement that the proceeds of any sale would go toward the care and well-being of the remaining IHM Sisters, who had all moved from the convent to retirement facilities.

“In 2015, the Archdiocese, on behalf of the IHM Institute, entered into an agreement with singer Katy Perry for Ms. Perry to purchase the property for $14.5 million,” the archdiocese stated.

The archdiocese added that Perry’s “all cash” offer, along with her plans to use the property as a family home and not for commercial purposes, seemed to be what was best for the sisters’ needs and appropriate for the property’s “rich history.”

At the same time, the IHM sisters, not wanting their property to go to Perry, tried to sell their convent to a businesswoman named Dana Hollister.

“We asked Dana to buy our property as we didn’t want it to go to Katy Perry. Yes, we put the wheels in motion to sell our property,” Callanan told the New York Post. “Was it legal? Probably not entirely.”

That sale was eventually blocked by the archdiocese, after a long legal battle.

“The Archdiocese fully supported all of the Sisters throughout this process to ensure they were cared for during this lengthy legal battle,” the archdiocese stated. “The Archdiocese has always sought to act in the best interest of all IHM Sisters, both to fulfill their request to sell the Institute’s property and to provide for their care.”

The archdiocese said it will “continue to be in communication” with Perry about her “continued interest in the property.”

“Regardless of any sale, the Archdiocese has and will continue to provide and care for all the IHM Sisters for the rest of their lives,” the archdiocese said.

US bishops open debate on abuse reforms

Tue, 06/11/2019 - 13:35

Baltimore, Md., Jun 11, 2019 / 11:35 am (CNA).- On the morning of the first day of the USCCB’s General Assembly in Baltimore, discussion began on three proposals to improve episcopal accountability.
As the discussion developed June 11, much of the focus concerned the role of lay people in the process of handling complaints against bishops, and the extent to which the conference could make binding provisions to that end.
The assembly considered directives to implement the pope’s recent motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi, a formal affirmation of their moral commitments as bishops, and a set of protocols which can be applied by serving diocesan bishops to retired or emeritus bishops.
All three proposals were put to the floor for questions and clarifications, with the possibility to propose amendments in writing ahead of final votes in the coming days.
Bishop Robert Deeley of Portland presented the directives for implementing Vos estis on behalf of the conference’s Canonical Affairs and Church Governance Committee.
The directives were, he stressed, intended to only to be read “in constant reference to Vos estis,” the universal law of the Church. Deeley underscored to the bishops several times that it was not within the conference’s authority to contradict the pope’s provisions, but to act within them.
Many of the “new” provisions of the pope’s law, Deeley said, would be familiar to American bishops and reflected “long standing practices already observed in the United States.”
Vos estis carved out specific scope for bishops’ conferences to act in three key areas, Deeley said. These include the creation of a “public, stable, and easily accessible” mechanisms for making allegations of abuse, coming up with lists of qualified persons - including laity – who can assist in handling allegations, and establishing a fund to cover the cost of investigations.
As bishops asked questions from the floor, many focused on the involvement of laity in the investigation and assessment of an allegation against a bishop.
Cardinal Cupich of Chicago noted that Vos estis allowed for the designation of an ecclesiastical office for receiving complaints. The cardinal suggested that while such roles existed in many places, the could be made a standard practice and specifically assigned to a lay person.
This, he noted, offered the possibility of “institutionalizing lay involvement” at the first stage of the process of handling a complaint against a bishop. Cupich said that putting lay people in central role in the process was “an important message to send right from the beginning.”
Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego called for changes to the proposed directives which would make other options for lay involvement mandatory.
Vos estis allows for the use of outside experts by a metropolitan archbishop to investigate and assess an allegation against a bishop. At the conclusion of the investigation, McElroy noted, the metropolitan can send the files of the investigation along with his own conclusions. McElroy then proposed that the directives for US bishops be amended to require that every metropolitan use a lay investigator and be required to send their full findings to Rome, together with the metropolitan’s own conclusion. This would, he said, ensure that Rome always received “at least one” lay person’s conclusions on the complaint.
Deeley explained to the conference that these and other suggestions for involving laity at the heart of any investigation were certainly viable, but that it was not within the scope of the conference’s power to limit the latitude given to metropolitans in the universal law.
Individual metropolitans were given considerable latitude to choose how best to incorporate independent experts in a given case, Deeley said, and the provisions of the pope’s law could not be “precluded” by the conference.
There were, he said “a number of possibilities” left open by Vos estis, and “it is not our wish to limit the possibilities a metropolitan has.”
Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark presented the document entitled “Acknowledging Our Episcopal Commitments,” an earlier version of which had been discussed during the USCCB meeting in November, when it had been considered as a statement of standards of episcopal conduct.
The purpose of the document, Tobin said, was for the bishops to make a personal moral commitment to apply the standards of the Dallas Charter and the USCCB essential norms to themselves, as they already were bindingly applied to priests and deacons.
As he took questions from the floor, Tobin acknowledged that the commitment to apply the norms was “moral” rather than “legal.” Some parts of the Charter and Norms would be difficult for bishops to apply to themselves; for example, in issuing letters of suitability required for priests, a bishop could not meaningfully issue a letter attesting to his own suitability.
Tobin explained that legally binding norms on bishops were covered by Vos estis in a way “flexible enough to be written for the whole world” but that it was for the US bishops to “fashion it and implement it the best way we can for the national Church in the United States”
Drawing a distinction between the guidelines for implementing Vos estis and the acknowledgment of episcopal commitments, Tobin said that “what we tried to avoid was mixing genres between the moral and the aesthetical, and the legal.”
While the acknowledgement’s language could appear imprecise in places, Tobin said, it was intended to reflect the “moral responsibility” of bishops, with the legal obligations treated separately.
While the floor was open for questions and clarifications on the various documents, it was clear that a number of points remained unresolved in the minds of the bishops.
Many raised the distinction, or lack of distinction, in the various documents, between the sexual abuse of minors and forms of sexual misconduct among adults.
While there appeared to be broad acceptance that the two problems were separate, and that different allegations required different kinds of expertise to evaluate, there was no clear consensus on how best to reflect that in legally and morally binding language.
Deeley was also charged with presenting the draft protocols for placing restrictions on retired or removed bishops.
While paying tribute to the valuable service that emeritus bishops give to their local Churches, Deeley acknowledged that there was a need to clarify what measures a bishop could take to restrict his predecessor in the face of a departure necessitated by scandal.
Deeley stressed that the measures outlined in the protocols were a summary of existing provisions in canon law and did not attempt to create a new way for bishops to attempt to punish each other.
Competent authority in penal cases involving a bishop is only ever the Supreme Pontiff, Deeley said, urging reliance on the nunciature and direct intervention from Rome as needed.

The one novelty presented in the protocols, if approved, would be giving the USCCB president the power to suspend a bishop from participating in any conference meeting or work. Such a measure was widely called for last year, as more than one bishop observed during the November meeting that then-Archbishop Theodore McCarrick was, by rights, still technically an invited attendee notwithstanding the scandal and crisis he had caused.
Despite thoughtful discussion on the other two documents, Deeley received no questions from the floor on the protocols for placing non-penal restrictions on retired or removed bishops.

Nuncio recommends synodality, 'walking together' to US bishops

Tue, 06/11/2019 - 12:54

Baltimore, Md., Jun 11, 2019 / 10:54 am (CNA).- The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops 2019 Spring General Assembly kicked off in Baltimore Tuesday with a brief address from USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo and a message from Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, explaining the rationale for the Vatican’s cancelation of votes last November.

Pierre was unable to attend the meeting in Baltimore as he was in Rome with a meeting with his fellow Apostolic Nuncios, and his remarks were delivered June 11 by Msgr. Walter Erbi, chargé d'affaires of the Vatican nunciature in Washington.

Both Pierre and DiNardo spoke on the progress that has been made in tackling the sexual abuse crisis in the Church in America since last November’s general assembly, particularly the importance of careful discernment. In November, the Vatican intervened and canceled planned votes on various measures designed to increase accountability among bishops, much to the displeasure and confusion of nearly every bishop present.

“Through the mercy of Christ, we will make progress, and may our discernment lead us to God’s will,” said DiNardo.

According to Pierre, this delay was meant to ensure that careful prudence was taken in response to the crisis.

“I would say that among the reasons the Holy Father asked for a delay was his belief that the whole Church needed to walk together – to act in a synodal way, and that this ‘walking together’ of the whole Church, following the guidance of the Holy Spirit, would make the path forward clearer,” he said.

Since that time, the U.S. bishops have gone on a weeklong retreat, and the world’s bishops’ conference presidents met in Rome for the Meeting on the Protection of Minors in the Church. After that meeting Pope Francis issued the motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi, which outlined new strategies to for the Church hold sexual abusers accountable for their actions.

“It seems to me that Pope Francis’ emphasis on synodality and walking together is a manifestation of the four principles articulated in Evangelii gaudium,” said Pierre, referring to Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation on the proclamation of the gospel in today’s world. These principles are: “time is greater than space,” “unity prevails over conflict,” “realities are more important than ideas,” and “the whole is greater than the part.”

It was this first principle, Pierre explained, that resulted in November’s delayed votes. Pierre wrote that Pope Francis believed that additional prayer and time were needed in order to address the abuse crisis as a worldwide Church.

“Technology and social media condition us to desire an immediate response to practically everything,” he said, particularly in the United States. “The idea that time is greater than space is a useful remedy. In an ecclesial context, faster responses do not always produce the best results.”

Pierre’s speech also emphasized the importance of Church unity and “walking together” to combat the abuse crisis, particularly at the meeting in Rome. The contributions of the episcopal heads from around the country proved valuable, he said.

Guided by the Holy Spirit and each other, “together, the whole Church was able to take steps – to walk together – to address the problem and concrete actions could begin – without one group running ahead of the others and another lagging too far behind,” he said.

This, plus the “concrete ideas” offered by Pope Francis at the summit and in his motu proprio, could only be accomplished with the additional time gained by delaying the vote, Pierre wrote.

“The Holy Father calls the whole Church to walk together in this moment of crisis,” he said, and there can be “no hesitation in responding vigorously as a matter of justice.”

“We must meet our people in their concrete situations, proposing the life-giving Word to them as a sure guide for understanding their experiences and for guiding their moral and spiritual lives,” added Pierre. If this is not done, the bishops run the risk of being disconnected and ineffective in dealing with their flock.

“In the process of walking together, we also have the opportunity to hear from different members of the group,” wrote Pierre, emphasizing the need to include the laity in these discussions.

“With Christ, together we can walk and face the realities of the Church today, and together discern the path forward.”

Lay advisers urge US bishops to press for release of McCarrick documents

Tue, 06/11/2019 - 12:24

Baltimore, Md., Jun 11, 2019 / 10:24 am (CNA).- Advisory bodies to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called Tuesday for the bishops to urge the Holy See to make public all documentation related to the misconduct of Theodore McCarrick, in accord with canon and civil law.

“We once again present a resolution related to the McCarrick scandal,” stated retired Army Col. Anita Raines, Chair of the National Advisory Council to the U.S. Bishops (NAC), in her report to the U.S. Bishops’ Spring General Assembly in Baltimore, Md., June 11.

“The NAC unanimously requests that the U.S. bishops exhort the Holy See to make public the results of diocesan and archdiocesan investigations of Theodore McCarrick.”

Immediately afterward, the Chair of the National Review Board (NRB), a lay advisory group to the U.S. bishops on protecting minors from abuse, also asked the bishops to request the release of all documents relevant to the McCarrick investigation.

Referencing a resolution of the bishops at their annual fall meeting in November 2018 that called for the release of the documents – one that was ultimately rejected with concerns that it could be seen as opposing the Holy See – Cesario urged the bishops to press for the release of the documentation anyhow, stating that “the salvation of souls is the supreme law of the Church,” and that “care for your people must be at the forefront when dealing with this issue.”

The 13-member NRB was constituted by the USCCB in 2002, after revelations of the sexual abuse of minors by clerics that spanned decades and which occurred around the country. The board advises the USCCB Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People.

The NAC meets ahead of the bishops’ biannual meetings and considers their agenda for the meetings, offering support or criticism of each agenda item.

The chairs of both the NRB and the NAC addressed the Spring General Assembly of the U.S. Bishops, being held in Baltimore June 11-13.

In addition to calling for the publication of documents related to the Holy See’s investigation of McCarrick, both advisory bodies expressed concern over the proposed USCCB directives for the implementation of Pope Francis’ motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi as a response to the abuse crisis.

In particular, Raines said that the directives encourage the involvement of the laity by metropolitans in the investigations of sexual abuse allegations of bishops, but do not require such involvement of lay experts. In addition to the possibility of leaving out qualified experts from investigations, it would give the “perception of bishops investigating bishops,” Raines said.

Cesario expressed similar concerns. “While the NRB commends the Holy See for taking such a strong step forward in terms of holding all clerics accountable for abuse,” he said, the board “remains uncomfortable” with the model of metropolitans overseeing the investigations of abuse allegations against other bishops.

“This essentially remains bishops policing bishops,” he said.

“Lay involvement is key to restoring the credibility of the Church,” he emphasized. Leaving them out of the investigation process “would signal a continuation of a culture of self-preservation that would suggest complicity.”

Among other requests of the NRB, Cesario cited the need for improvements and expansion of the audit process related to the Dallas Charter, and ensuring that it is truly independent.

The Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was drafted in 2002 as a response to the national revelations of sexual abuse of minors by clerics. The annual audit measures compliance with the charter’s protective and preventative measures by Catholic dioceses and eparchies.

The current audit process is almost 10 years old, and needs to be more thorough, Cesario said.

“Any delay in revising the Charter or implementing an advanced audit would not only put children at risk,” he said, but it “would signal a step backward.”

“Now is the time to raise the bar on compliance to ensure the mistakes of the past are not completed,” he said, while insisting that a new process “would not be a ‘gotcha’ audit.”

Historically, bishops have expressed concerns about the expansion of the audit process, warning that “audit creep” could pose privacy risks and step on their authority as bishops to oversee the implementation of the charter.

Catholic 'gender theory' document: clarity for a wounded, oversexed culture?

Tue, 06/11/2019 - 05:01

Washington D.C., Jun 11, 2019 / 03:01 am (CNA).- Catholic commentators have welcomed a Vatican document warning that gender theory is a cultural and ideological revolution that undermines both human dignity and the right understandings of sexual difference and complementarity, though the document was not without its critics.

“There’s a lot of confusion out there right now in regards to gender theory in education and this document provides much-needed clarity about the truth of the human person,” said Dr. Joan Kingsland, a moral theologian and curriculum advisor for Ruah Woods, an Ohio-based organization focused on St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

The Congregation for Catholic Education’s “Male and Female He Created Them” was released June 10.

“In the mainstream media no doubt there will be the typical ideological reaction against the Church for imposing an antiquated view of sexuality on its members; but others will be relieved that the Church is providing clarity about such an important aspect of the human person,” Kingsland told CNA.

The American response to the document, she said, takes place in “the overall context of an over-sexualized culture that leaves many wounded and on the defensive,” she added. “There are lifestyles which enslave the person and leave the person in darkness about the true good and real happiness.”

The document comes as many parts of the country celebrate LGBT Pride Month activities. Many cities in the U.S. and Western Europe as well as corporate and NGO sponsors mark the month with a campaign of LGBT advocacy. Some Pride events and parades notoriously attract people who engage in public nudity, lewdness, and other acts. Many countries have increasingly embraced LGBT causes, and advocacy on behalf of self-identified transgender people has resulted in many controversial changes.

The new document also follows several years in which the Church in the US has once again come under fire for clergy sex abuse scandals that victimized minors of both sexes as well as adult men and women.

The document cited the need to reaffirm “the metaphysical roots of sexual difference” to help refute “attempts to negate the male-female duality of human nature, from which the family is generated.”

Such a negation “erases the vision of human beings as the fruit of an act of creation” and “creates the idea of the human person as a sort of abstraction who ‘chooses for himself what his nature is to be’.”

The text is signed by Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education. It outlines the philosophical origins of the gender theory movement and notes the broad movement to enshrine its distinct view of human nature in policy and law.

Theories of gender, whether moderate or radical, agree that “one’s gender ends up being viewed as more important than being of male or female sex,” according to the document, which also reflects on the role of gender theory in education and speaks of a “crisis” in any alliance between the school and the family.

“Although ideologically-driven approaches to the delicate questions around gender proclaim their respect for diversity, they actually run the risk of viewing such difference as static realities and end up leaving them isolated and disconnected from each other,” it said.

The document said that despite the challenges, dialogue remains possible. It also called for protection of human and family rights, decried unjust discrimination, and noted points of unity among people with different perspectives on gender ideology.

Father Philip Bochanski, executive director of Courage International, told CNA the document deserves “careful study and reflection.” On an initial reading, he said, “it is already clear to me that it is both insightful and useful for our constant efforts to ‘speak the truth in love’ (Eph 4:15) to the world about the Good News of God's plan for our lives.”

Courage International is an apostolate for people with same-sex attractions who commit to strive for chastity.

Bochanski praised the document’s structure of “listening, reasoning, proposing” for providing “a clear and solid framework for ministry” that accords with Pope Francis’ advice that those in ministry “must accompany people starting from their situation.”

“The document then lays out succinctly and clearly the anthropological and moral principles that are the foundation of our understanding of human sexuality, so that such a dialogue can assist each person to view his or her own desires and experience in light of the plan of God,” he said. “And it courageously confronts trends of secular thought that are confusing or opposed to that plan, calling all people to conform their lives more completely to Christ.”

According to Kingsland, the proper context for speaking about sexuality is “love and the call of the human person to communion.”

“We are made in the image of God who is a communion of love,” she said.

Father James Martin, S.J., a media commentator and editor-at-large for the Society of Jesus’ magazine America, criticized the document in a June 10 tweet.

“It rightly calls for ‘dialogue’ and ‘listening,’ but sets aside the real-life experiences of LGBT people. Sadly, it will be used as a cudgel against transgender people, and an excuse to argue that they shouldn't even exist,” he said.

“The document is mainly a dialogue with philosophers and theologians, and with other church documents; but not with scientists and biologists, not with psychologists, and certainly not with LGBT people, whose experiences are given little if any weight.”

Martin then shared with his 246,000 Twitter followers a New Ways Ministry Tweet which linked to its blog post and said:

“The Vatican’s new document on gender will be used to oppress and harm LGBT people. It perpetuates false stereotypes that encourage hatred, bigotry, and violence.”

U.S. bishops’ statements have said New Ways Ministry is not approved of or recognized by the Catholic Church and it is misleading to claim that it “provides an authentic interpretation of Catholic teaching and an authentic Catholic pastoral practice,” then-U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Cardinal George said in a 2010 statement.

Kingsland said the Congregation for Catholic Education’s document acknowledges confusion about the concepts of human nature and human freedom and sees the need to clarify these for “a correct and full vision of the human person.” It is also important for concepts like “natural inclinations” to be understood rightly, and important to express a concept of human rights that does not undermine “the true good of the human person.”

Kingsland noted the document’s “clear continuity” between the past and present teaching of the Church. The document cites the teaching of John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis, she noted.
She welcomed the document’s call to form individual teachers and to build up “an entire educational community,” saying, “they are called to be witnesses above all.”

Bishops to return 'gifts' from West Virginia's Bishop Bransfield

Tue, 06/11/2019 - 01:00

Baltimore, Md., Jun 10, 2019 / 11:00 pm (CNA).- Several bishops and other Church leaders have said they will return money given to them by retired West Virginia Bishop Michael Bransfield, who is accused of serially sexually harassing or coercing seminarians and young priests, while misusing diocesan funds on a lavish lifestyle and five-figure “gifts” to Churchmen in leadership positions.

The Washington Post reported June 7 that Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, will return $29,000 to the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, after that amount was given to him by Bransfield.

Archbishop William Lori, apostolic administrator of Wheeling-Charleston and the bishop charged with overseeing an investigation into Bransfield, will return to the diocese $7,500 given to him by Bransfield.

Lori has faced criticism after removing from a draft report to the Vatican the names of those bishops who received large checks from Bransfield.

On Friday, Lori said that he should have left the names on the report, but removed them because he thought their inclusion would be a distraction, or imply that those who had received checks had been influenced by them.

“If I had to do it over again, especially at a time when we’re trying to create greater transparency and accountability, the report would have included the names of those bishops who received gifts, including my own, with some notation that there was no evidence to suggest that those who received gifts reciprocated in any way that was inappropriate,” Lori said.

A source close to Cardinal Donald Wuerl, emeritus Archbishop of Washington, told CNA that Wuerl would also return the gifts he had been given by Bransfield.

Archbishop Carlo Vigano, former apostolic nuncio to the U.S., told the Washington Post that the $6,000 he had received from Bransfield had been given to charity.

Bransfield’s resignation was accepted by Pope Francis last September, eight days after he turned 75, the age at which diocesan bishops are required by canon law to submit a letter of resignation to the pope. Lori subsequently barred him from public ministry in both Wheeling-Charleston and Baltimore.

In a June 5 letter, Lori stated that accusations of sexual and financial misconduct by Bransfield had been determined to be “credible” by an independent investigation. Investigators discovered that Bransfield had managed to erode and evade oversight and policy controls by fostering “a culture of fear of retaliation and retribution” in the diocese.

Lori said that while there was no “conclusive evidence” of sexual misconduct with minors, the investigation – led by five lay experts – had found indications of consistent sexual misconduct and harassment by Bransfield against adults.

“The team uncovered a consistent pattern of sexual innuendo, and overt suggestive comments and actions toward those over whom the former bishop exercised authority,” Lori said.

Lori also confirmed that investigators had established a pattern of serious financial misconduct by Bransfield throughout his tenure as bishop.

“The investigative report determined that during his tenure as Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, Bishop Bransfield engaged in a pattern of excessive and inappropriate spending,” Lori said, citing renovations to multiple residences and the misuse of Church funds “for personal benefit on such things as personal travel, dining, liquor, gifts and luxury items.”


Southern Baptists convene to discuss handling of sex abuse allegations

Mon, 06/10/2019 - 23:01

Birmingham, Ala., Jun 10, 2019 / 09:01 pm (CNA).- While the Catholic bishops of the United States convene in Baltimore this week, with the addressing of clergy sex abuse scandals high on their list of priorities, another religious group will convene to discuss the same issue, from their side of the pew - the Southern Baptist Convention.

In their annual convention, which begins this week in Birmingham, Ala., leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention will discuss policies, such as the expelling of churches that fail to report abuse, for handling sex abuse allegations against leaders in the ecclesial community, the AP reported.

In February, in the wake of nearly a year of high-profile Catholic clergy abuse scandals, two Texas newspapers published a three-part investigation into the SBC, uncovering at least 700 cases of child sexual abuse at the hands of church leaders and volunteers.

The joint investigation by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News revealed that since 1998, around 380 SBC leaders and volunteers have been accused of sexual misconduct – some resulting in lawsuits and convictions, others in personal confessions and resignations.

“For years, there were people who assumed abuse was simply a Roman Catholic problem,” Russell Moore, who heads the SBC’s public policy arm, told the AP. “I see that mentality dissipating. There seems to be a growing sense of vulnerability and a willingness to address this crisis.”

According to the AP, clerical abuse within the SBC was already a priority at the annual convention in 2018, but the recent investigative report has made the topic all the more urgent.

While the sex abuse scandals in the SBC resemble those within the Catholic Church in many ways, there is one notable difference - a lack of centralized authority, which makes the handling of abuse across the 47,000-some churches that belong to the community all the more difficult, as multiple SBC members have noted.

"It's a perfect profession for a con artist, because all he has to do is talk a good talk and convince people that he's been called by God, and bingo, he gets to be a Southern Baptist minister," Christa Brown, an activist who wrote about her own experience being molested by an SBC pastor, told the Houston Chronicle in February.

In an essay about the abuse scandal published on his website, Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, called for a third-party investigation of all cases of abuse within the SBC. He also lamented that “the SBC ecclesial structure directly contrasts with the edifice of the Roman Catholic Church,” making reforms difficult to enforce. SBC churches are united only by “friendly cooperation with and contributing to the causes of the Southern Baptist Convention,” he noted.

In response to the abuse crisis, J. D. Greear, President of the SBC, commissioned a Sexual Abuse Advisory Group, which last weekend released a report after examining how the SBC can “at every level can take discernable action to respond swiftly and compassionately to incidents of abuse, as well as to foster safe environments within churches and institutions.”

The 52-page document includes testimonies from survivors of abuse by SBC leaders, as well as recommended protocols for the handling of abuse allegations within congregations, which includes establishing “care teams” that will accompany sex abuse victims through steps such as reporting abuse and seeking psychological help.

“We must filter every decision with this question: How does this decision protect and care for the alleged victim?” the report states.

“Only when sin is exposed to the light of truth, true repentance, healing, and change can begin,” Greear told the AP.

According to the AP, the SBC anticipates several protestors at their annual convention, in part due to the sex abuse crisis, and in part because of an ongoing debate about the all-male leadership of the ecclesial community.

Archbishop Chaput: Abortion a perverse ‘sacrament' for Democratic Party leaders

Mon, 06/10/2019 - 20:01

Philadelphia, Pa., Jun 10, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- Joe Biden, the former senator and vice president and now a Democratic presidential hopeful, once represented a more moderate position on abortion for the Democratic party.

In the years immediately following Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion throughout the U.S., then-senator Biden was critical of the law.

“(W)hen it comes to issues like abortion, amnesty, and acid, I’m about as liberal as your grandmother,” he said in 1974. “I don’t like the Supreme Court decision on abortion. I think it went too far.”

Biden was among several legislators - many of them Democrats - who attended the first pro-life marches in Washington, D.C. But as his party shifted staunchly to the hard left on abortion, so did Biden.

Last month, he announced that he would work to protect federally abortion rights from state laws “should it become necessary.”

Last week, facing criticism from fellow party members, Biden announced that he no longer supports the Hyde Amendment, which bars the use of federal funds for abortions, with exceptions for rape, incest, and in cases that an abortion saves the life of the mother.

In his June 10 column, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia slammed Biden, a Catholic, for kowtowing to party politics rather than defending his religious beliefs.

“The unborn child means exactly zero in the calculus of power for Democratic Party leaders, and the right to an abortion, once described as a tragic necessity, is now a perverse kind of ‘sacrament most holy,’” Chaput said. “It will have a candidate’s allegiance and full-throated reverence...or else.”

In his column, Chaput also referenced a talk he gave at Notre Dame in October 2016, just prior to a presidential election that “seemed sure to put a second Clinton in the White House.” In that talk, Chaput noted that the “price” of entry into elite political classes for Catholics has, in many cases, “been the transfer of our real loyalties and convictions from the old Church of our baptism to the new ‘Church’ of our ambitions and appetites.”

While he pointed to examples such as Nancy Pelosi, Anthony Kennedy, Joe Biden, and Tim Kaine, Chaput noted that those people “are not anomalies. They’re part of a very large crowd that cuts across all professions and both major political parties.”

Those who forsake their beliefs, and what is right, commit what Pope Benedict XVI called a “silent apostasy,” a Greek term for “a means to revolt or desert; literally ‘to stand away from,’” Chaput noted.

“For Benedict, laypeople and priests don’t need to publicly renounce their baptism to be apostates. They simply need to be silent when their Catholic faith demands that they speak out; to be cowards when Jesus asks them to have courage; to ‘stand away’ from the truth when they need to work for it and fight for it,” Chaput said.

Chaput wrote that his talk in 2016 angered some who defended Biden as a moderate Democrat and “a well-intentioned, decent man” who supported several social positions of the Church, including supporting several pro-life protections such as the Hyde Amendment and bans on late-term abortions, “all admirable positions.”

But now, Biden seems to be increasingly bending to his party’s will, rather than defending the teachings of the Church, Chaput said.

“There’s a remark by Thomas More in the film ‘A Man for All Seasons’ that’s worth remembering in the months ahead: ‘When statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their own public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos,’” Chaput said.

“We can’t say we weren’t warned.”