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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 33 min 55 sec ago

Calif. attorney general investigating LA archdiocese sex abuse files

Fri, 05/03/2019 - 17:45

Los Angeles, Calif., May 3, 2019 / 03:45 pm (CNA).- The California Attorney’s General’s Office this week wrote a letter to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, announcing that it will be conducting an investigation of its handling of sexual abuse allegations involving minors, starting with accusations made as early as 1996.

The letter was dated Thursday, and addressed by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to Archbishop Jose Gomez. It was obtained and reviewed by the Los Angeles Times.

In the Angelus News, the diocesan paper for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, archdiocesan spokesperson Carolina Guevara said that “the Archdiocese has not officially received the letter from the Attorney General, however, we will be responding cooperatively as we have with the past three Grand Jury investigations of the Archdiocese.”

The investigation comes shortly after the archdiocese paid its largest abuse settlement to an individual to date - $8 million to a female teenager, who was sexually abused and abducted by a teacher at her Catholic high school in 2016.

Becerra’s investigation will include accusations made against clergy as well as those made against members of religious orders and against employees and volunteers for the archdiocese, the letter indicated. It will be a “review of your archdiocese’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations involving children, including whether your archdiocese has adequately reported allegations of sexual misconduct, as required under California’s Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act,” the letter to Gomez stated, according to the L.A. Times.

The review will look at past actions that the archdiocese took against those accused of abuse, including cases properly reported to authorities, as well as actions taken against those who failed to properly report abuse. The letter asked the archdiocese to preserve for review all documents relating to allegations of sexual abuse against clergy or employees, including any secret archives, legal documents, personnel files and internal review board files.

The investigation is similar to those being conducted in other states, including Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. The L.A. Times noted that it is unclear if Becerra’s investigation will include any other Catholic dioceses in the state.

The investigation is the latest of several moves on the part of the state and the archdiocese to improve transparency and reporting on cases of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.

In November 2018, Becerra announced the creation of an online reporting form for easier reporting of accusations of abuse against California clergy.

“To date, the Office of the Attorney General has not informed the Archdiocese of any reports made to their online reporting form concerning the Archdiocese of Los Angeles,” Guevara told Angelus News.

In December 2018, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles updated its list of priests credibly accused of abuse of minors, which had last been updated in 2008. That same month, former Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Alexander Salazar resigned after a previous accusation of sexual abuse was found to be credible.

The archdiocese emphasized its willingness to cooperate with the Attorney General’s investigation in their latest statement.

In a statement published by Angelus News, it said, “The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is committed to transparency and has established reporting and prevention policies and programs to protect minors and support victim-survivors in our parishes, schools and ministries.”

“The Archdiocese has also already cooperated with two state and one federal investigation and continues to fully cooperate with all civil authorities. Allegations of abuse involving minors whether by a member of the clergy or a layperson are reported to law enforcement, public announcements are made at the places where the person has served, and if found credible the person is permanently removed from any capacity according to the Archdiocese’s Zero Tolerance policy,” it stated.

“The Archdiocese does not tolerate anyone who does harm to a child or vulnerable person and remains committed and vigilant in ensuring that parishes, schools and ministries are safe places for everyone in our community,” it added.

Forgiving the unforgivable: Exhibit highlights stories of abuse survivors

Fri, 05/03/2019 - 17:00

Washington D.C., May 3, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The Catholic University of America hosted a recent special exhibit to share the stories of survivors of clerical sexual abuse and how they have coped with the trauma of their experiences. Nine people are profiled by undergraduate students.

The exhibit was on display from late April until May 1.

The Hope and Healing Story Gallery was supported by The Catholic Project, an initiative of the Catholic University of America focused on renewal and healing within the Church; Spirit Fire, a Christian restorative justice organization; and the Catholic University of America’s PEERS students group, which serves to teach students about substance abuse, mental health awareness, sexual assault and violence education and prevention.

“The idea for this exhibit came about in the midst of the conversations about what renewal in the Church looks like,” reads the story gallery’s introduction. “We realized that we couldn’t continue to talk about healing and renewal without hearing from those who experienced sexual abuse. We needed to hear their stories.”

The profiles were written by seven undergraduate students at the Catholic University of America. Among the survivors who stories were told was Michael, who lives in Lake Forest, IL.

Michael was abused by a priest from the age of 12 to 16, and he did not speak of what had happened until nearly 30 years later. He then reported his abuser to the Archdiocese of Chicago and began therapy sessions.

Michael was instrumental in creating the Healing Garden at the Archdiocese of Chicago, which is a “neutral, sacred place” for survivors of abuse. The Healing Garden plays hosts to events for abuse survivors and their families each year.

In his profile, Michael spoke of his belief that repeated annual events are more effective for survivors than the “one-and-done” healing services.

“The one-and-done Mass doesn’t do it, coming together every year does,” he said. And while he is an abuse survivor, he does not consider his experience as the main part of his story. Rather, he said “My story is what I’ve done since that time” in working to help other survivors like himself.

“The acts of abuse, imposed upon me and other children, are my abuser’s story,” he said.

Another profiled survivor is Miguel, from Katy, Texas. He has relied on the example of the saints in his journey of healing from abuse. He is the founder of the St. Maria Goretti Network, works to help victim survivors with their own emotional recovery and ability to forgive their abusers.

Along with St. Maria Goretti, Miguel said that he was inspired by St. Josphine Bakhita, and St. Maximilian Kolbe, two saints that experienced grave injustices during their lives. St. Josephine Bakhita was a victim of human trafficking and was sold as a slave, and St. Maximilian Kolbe was murdered in the concentration camp Auschwitz.

“Maria, Josephine, and Maximilian showed me how to forgive the unforgivable,” said Miguel.

Alabama bill to send abortion doctors to jail sets up Supreme Court fight

Fri, 05/03/2019 - 13:30

Montgomery, Ala., May 3, 2019 / 11:30 am (CNA).- The Alabama House of Representatives has passed a bill that would make performing an abortion a Class A felony offence. The Human Life Protection Act would mean doctors who perform abortion could face years in prison.

The bill was carried in the House by a margin of 74-3 on April 30. It must now be passed by the state Senate and approved by Gov. Kay Ivy (R).

Unlike so-called “trigger laws” passed in other states, which would outlaw abortion in the event that the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v Wade is overturned, the Alabama measure would come into effect within a year of being signed into law.

Under current Supreme Court jurisprudence, abortion is defined as a constitutional right. If the Human Life Protection Act were to become law, it would face an immediate challenge and likely be prevented from coming into force. Supporters of the bill said their intention is to use the ensuing court battle to force the Supreme Court to revisit Roe v Wade.

State Rep. Terri Collins (R - Decatur) said that the law is designed to “confront a decision that was made by the courts in 1973 that said the baby in a womb is not a person."

"This bill addresses that one issue. Is that baby in the womb a person? I believe our law says it is," Collins said.

As a Class-A felony, performance of an abortion would carry a potential prison sentence of 10-99 years but, the bill’s supporters noted, would only apply to doctors and not to mothers.

Collins underlined that the bill “makes it a criminal offense to perform an abortion as a doctor. The woman would be held blameless.”

Following the confirmation of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, both pro-life and pro-choice advocates have speculated that the Supreme Court could be open to revisiting abortion in an upcoming judicial session.

In anticipation of a possible change by the court, several states have passed legislation either restricting or entrenching abortion in state law.

The Human Life Protection Act goes further in attempting to outlaw abortion then other recent efforts.

Several states have passed so-called “heartbeat bills” which would prohibit abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, which can as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The Alabama bill would criminalize abortion at any stage of pregnancy.

While it does contain an exception for circumstances where the health of the mother is at serious risk, a proposed amendment which would allow for abortion in cases of rape or incest was defeated 72-26.

During the debate, state Rep. John Rogers (D- Birmingham) sparked controversy when he argued that abortion was necessary because unwanted children would be eventually killed, whether or not they were born.

“Some kids are unwanted, so you kill them now or you kill them later. You bring them in the world unwanted, unloved, you send them to the electric chair. So, you kill them now or you kill them later,” Rogers said.

The representative also said that mothers should be able to abort “retarded” or “half-deformed” children.

Other critics of the bill noted the likely expense to the state which would be incurred by years of legal appeals, and suggested that it was a waste of government resources.

Rep. Rich Wingo, (R-Tuscaloosa), said the bill went to the heart of human dignity for the unborn, and noted that in his district a single clinic performed 3,500 abortions a year.

“There are more abortions in Tuscaloosa than births,” Wingo said.

Stronger conscience protections for doctors, nurses approved by HHS

Fri, 05/03/2019 - 09:15

Washington D.C., May 3, 2019 / 07:15 am (CNA).- The Department of Health and Human Services has released a new rule allowing medical professionals to refuse to take part in procedures because of their religious or conscientious objections. The rule covers controversial services like abortion and sterilization.

The HHS rule, announced May 2, has been in development for more than a year. It will strengthen a series of Congressional laws intended to protect the conscience rights of doctors and nurses. Under the rule, medical providers may opt of direct participation, as well as having to refer patients to other providers who will perform the procedures.

Enforcement of the rule will fall under the department’s Office of Human Rights and come into effect two months from publication in the Federal Register.

The new rule was first announced last year, following the creation by HHS of a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within the Office of Human Rights. Creation of the division included a mechanism for medical workers to complain directly to the department about cases of discrimination or forced participation based on religious beliefs or conscience objections.

A statement released by the department said that it had received more than 240,000 submissions during the consultation period, and that the new rule would replace previous 2011 regulations which have proven “inadequate.”

The director of the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, Roger Severino, said in a statement that the 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,” Severino said. “Finally, laws prohibiting government funded discrimination against conscience and religious freedom will be enforced like every other civil rights law.”

Abortion activists have said that the new rule will severely curtail access to such procedures in rural and other communities.

Louise Melling, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union, released a statement calling the Trump Administration “determined to use religious liberty to harm communities it deems less worthy of equal treatment under the law.”

The text of the rule acknowledges that several submissions were made during consultation regarding the possible limitation on access to abortion and sterilization procedures 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 text of 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.”

Speaking out, hopeful, and waiting for change

Fri, 05/03/2019 - 06:00

New York City, N.Y., May 3, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Esther Harber says she was raped by a priest in 2010. Nine years later, through grace and her own courage, Harber’s story, and her life, are moving forward in hope.

Harber is not naive. She knows the story isn’t over yet. And for now, she’s waiting, and praying, for change.

In 2010, Harber was working as a lay missionary in New York City, focused on serving women and children in need.

Harber often went to Mass and confession at Holy Rosary Parish in the Bronx. Early that year, she told a priest during confession that she had been sexually abused as a child, and was struggling with bitterness as she worked through it.

The priest was Fr. Edwin Erhimeyoma, a Nigerian, in New York for doctoral studies at Fordham University.

“It was at that time that he tried to ‘baptize me in the Holy Spirit,’” Harber said, referring to a Catholic charismatic practice in which a person is prayed over, in order to “stir up” the graces of baptism and confirmation. This often involves placing hands on the person being prayed over.

“I was extremely uncomfortable and I kept asking him to back away, back away, and he finally did. And I was so shook up about it.”

She said that she told the parish pastor, Fr. Robert Quarato, about the incident. He promised, she told CNA, to speak to Erhimeyoma.

“From that point on,” she said, “I rarely spoke to him. And then at some point I started feeling a little guilty for having ‘ratted on him,’ or whatever, just for whatever reason I did. Looking back I can’t really understand my logic then, but I made some sort of peace with him.”

“And it was from that point that our relationship took a different turn.”

She said she began talking with Erhimeyoma after Mass occasionally, especially about spiritual healing. She said the priest encouraged her to make an appointment with him, and that they met around Easter in 2010.

They met in Erhimeyoma’s office.

“There were no windows. There was no one around.”

Harber said the priest again tried to pray over her.

“He had me close my eyes, and he was encroaching very much into my space and touching me in places that he shouldn’t have been.”



After that encounter, the two started texting. Harber said that the Erhimeyoma would sometimes text “I love you” and call her “sweetheart.”

“Part of me really enjoyed the attention,” she said. “I was really hungry for love at that point in my life…I was a pretty broken person at that point.”

Harber said they started talking more frequently.

In the autumn, Harber said, “things started to get more bold. He was a lot more aggressive.”

Erhimeyoma’s behavior, she conceded, likely fit a pattern of grooming. Such behavior, according to resources developed by the U.S. bishops’ conference’s Office of Child and Youth Protection, is “a pre-meditated behavior intended to manipulate a potential victim into complying with sexual abuse.”

Among the most common tactics used in grooming behavior is “emotionally blackmailing the victim into compliance.”

Over time, “the victim can become groomed to the point that he/she believes to be in an apparent ‘loving relationship’ with the offender,” the USCCB says.

Grooming behavior often targets individuals who are emotionally unstable, who have suffered abuse before, or who seem likely to be easily manipulated. Experts say those who would engage in grooming often recognize the subtle signs that a person might be particularly vulnerable to coercion or manipulation.

As a child, Harber was a victim of sexual abuse. Those who are sexually abused as children have a much higher likelihood of being abused as adults than those who are not, studies show. More than a third of those abused by a family member in childhood are abused by a partner or someone close to them in adulthood, according to one study.

Still, Harber told CNA she believes she bore some responsibility for the relationship. That she recognized that it was inappropriate, and that she needed to define more concrete boundaries, but she didn’t. Studies show consistently that a person who suffers sexual abuse will struggle, often for life, to set appropriate boundaries in relationships.

Psychologist Veronica Lenzi told CNA that because sexual assault is a serious violation of a person’s dignity, it causes a profound level of trauma. That trauma can make it difficult to recognize inappropriate behavior in relationships. A person who has been sexually abused may have “cognitive dissonance” about what love, respect, and friendship ought to look like, Lenzi said.

Harber, though, did begin to realize her relationship with Erhimeyoma fit an unhealthy pattern, and she tried several times to end the friendship. She struggled to do so.

“It was very spiritualized,” she told CNA, adding that the priest used knowledge of her past, and her faith, to manipulate her in their friendship.

“He would tell me, ‘I just want you to be free with me,’” she said.

“As time went on,” she said, “and I tried more and more frequently to kind of get away from him...it was like an addiction...You know it’s destructive, you know it’s bad, but you can’t leave. And I was just caught in this cycle.”



In October 2010, things escalated.

In that month, Harber, who had been discerning religious life, learned she would not be accepted into a religious community she’d hoped to join.

“I was pretty crushed,” she said.

She said she texted the priest to share with him the news, and he responded: “Don’t worry, honey, I still need you.”

That evening, he asked to spend time with her. She suspected he might want to be sexually intimate, but, she said, “I thought he just wanted to be there for me as a friend. I guess in my heart of hearts I knew that wasn’t true.”

“I didn’t want to have sex with him. I didn’t have sexual feelings,” she said, telling CNA she was resolved not to succumb to any advances he might make.

Still, she said, she didn’t want to be alone. And, though she know says it was a mistake, she agreed to meet him at a church. She hoped the sacred setting would be enough to deter any inappropriate intentions on Erhimeyoma’s part.

When Erhimeyoma arrived at the empty church narthex, she says he told her, as he had before, “I just want you to be free with me.”

“I told him I just needed a hug.” But Harber said that when they embraced, the priest began to kiss her forcefully.

Harber said she pulled away. She said the priest told her he would leave, if she wanted him to.

“So part of my story is that I was also abandoned many times growing up. So it’s like a huge fear of mine, is abandonment. And he knew that. And he was playing into that. He just knew way too much about my psychological makeup. Because he played it perfectly.”

Harber said she felt personally and emotionally stuck in her conversation with Erhimeyoma. She wanted him to leave, but she didn’t want to be alone.

A person who has suffered abuse can “perpetuate paradoxes of woundedness,” Lenzi told CNA, feeling panicked and trapped even in situations that she knows could be dangerous.

Harber said she asked the priest not to leave. But he began to kiss her again. Eventually, she said, he began to disrobe her.

“I was like ‘No. No. No No.’”

“He said, ‘You are so lucky. Any other guy wouldn’t have stopped right now.’ And I just felt a pit feeling in my stomach. I just felt trapped. I didn’t feel like there was any way for me to get out.”

“I can’t even begin to express the power differential in the relationship. I was in such a way that I couldn’t say no again.”

Harber said Erhimeyoma instructed her to perform a sex act, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She told CNA she was paralyzed with fear.  

“I was just so frozen,” she said.

“The next thing I know, I was flipped over, my face was on the floor.”

The priest raped her, Harber said.

Harber told CNA she had no idea what to do next.

She said she went to the restroom, and “I come back, and I’m just, like, shaking. This is so sickening for me to say now, but I asked him to, just, hold me for a minute-- and I can’t believe I asked that from him, but he was so annoyed with the request.”

“We went into the nave, into the pews, and he looks up at the tabernacle, and he’s like ‘Isn’t it amazing, we’re in the presence of God.’ And I just felt my whole self crumble at that moment.”

“He made God a co-conspirator, you know?”



Harber said she soon told her therapist and then her pastor. She said she showed him text messages between her and Erhimeyoma.

After having to wait three weeks, she had a meeting with officials of the Archdiocese of New York: Monsignor William Belford, Vicar for Clergy, and Fr. Thomas D’Angelo, who was coordinator of international priests.

“It was very intimidating for me,” she said of the meeting.

She said she told Belford and D’Angelo that she was intimate with the priest, and that she emphasized twice that she had not consented to their sexual encounter. It would be years, she said later, before she could use the word “rape” to describe her situation.

But, Harber said, because she emphasized that she did not consent, the Archdiocese of New York should have assisted her in contacting the police.

Instead, she told CNA, archdiocesan officials seemed focused on removing the priest from the parish, but not on her well-being. She said she was told it would take a while for the priest to be removed from the parish, and that she should stay away from her parish until that happened.

She said she felt interrogated in the meeting, especially by Belford.

“I felt like a piece of meat, and just a problem they wanted to go away.”

The Archdiocese of New York told CNA that in 2010 a woman, whom it declined to name for privacy reasons, came forward “claiming that she and Fr. Erhimeyoma had had a sexual encounter after several months of a growing relationship, and that she was feeling upset by it.”

“When confronted by our Vicar for Clergy, Fr. Erhimeyoma admitted the encounter, and, as a result, was told that his faculties were withdrawn, he could no longer serve in New York, that we would not be able to provide him a recommendation to any other diocese in the country, and he would have to go back to his home diocese. His bishop was informed of the reason why he was no longer permitted to serve in New York,” the archdiocese said.



Erhimeyoma told CNA he had admitted a relationship with Harber, but he declined to respond to questions about whether the relationship was sexual.

“I didn’t sexually assault her, ever,” he told CNA. He declined to respond to additional questions.

“I have forgotten about all of these things,” Erhimeyoma added. “I do not wish to go back there anymore.”

Though Erhimeyoma left the Archdiocese of New York, and apparently forgot what had happened, Harber said she did not forget.



In June 2013, Harber heard on social media that the priest was living in New York City to continue his graduate studies.

She emailed Ed Mechmann, director of the Safe Environment Office in the Archdiocese of New York. She recounted her experience with the priest, and asked if he was back in New York.

Mechmann told her by email he had read her account “with great sadness,” and that he had not found any evidence that the priest was in active ministry in the archdiocese.

Mechmann and Harber continued corresponding. The archdiocese helped Harber find and pay for a therapist. She saw a social worker near for a while, but he seemed unqualified to deal with her trauma. She struggled to find a qualified therapist in the Dayton area, where she was then living. Eventually she began driving an hour to see a therapist in Cincinnati.

In one 2013 correspondence with Mechmann, Harber wrote that she did not consent to the sexual act with Erhimeyoma.

“I just zoned out and let him go,” she wrote. “I did not fight, but I did not consent. I don’t know if I personally could call it rape- although, I know some definitely would. I do know it was an extreme violation to my person.”

The police were not contacted in response to Harber’s disclosure. A spokesman for the archdiocese told CNA that “at that time, she was still ambivalent about the encounter,” adding that “her correspondence with the archdiocese mainly focused on whether Father Erhimeyoma was in the country (he was not) and assistance for counselling.”

Years later, in a 2018 email, Mechmann explained to Harber that “based on the information that was available to me in 2013, I concluded that the conduct did not satisfy the legal definition of rape, and that is why we did not refer the matter to law enforcement at that time. I understand that the Assistant DA has now concluded that Fr. Edwin’s conduct could have been prosecuted as Rape in the Third Degree.”

In another 2018 email, Mechmann wrote that when he was in contact with Harber in 2013, he was unaware of the violent nature of the sexual encounter.  

“I was not aware of your more detailed explanation of what happened,” Mechmann wrote, referencing a description of physical force Harber had recounted to him only in 2018.

“If I had known that, I would have come to a different conclusion, because that is clearly the use of physical force to overcome your spoken opposition. But at the time, our correspondence dealt with the questions of whether Fr. Edwin was still in active ministry (and I discovered he was not) and how we could arrange for therapy for you (which was the main subject we discussed). We never got into the details of the assault. Looking back I wish we had,” Mechmann wrote.  

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York told CNA a policy for handling complaints regarding non-consensual sexual relationships, or those that violate pastoral relationships, was promulgated by Cardinal Timothy Dolan in 2016.

But, the archdiocese said, an “older policy was in effect when the complaint against Fr. Erhimeyoma was sent to us.”

Still, “had she described the encounter in 2013 in the way she described it in 2018,  it would have led to different action being taken by the archdiocese, including notifying law enforcement,” the spokesman added.

Harber told CNA archdiocesan officials were not experts in sexual abuse or coercion, and often seemed uncertain about how to engage with her, or understand why she had difficulty telling her story.

While Harber said it was obvious Mechmann was trying to help her, and she praised him for being the first person to apologize to her for what she experienced, she sometimes wondered whether other decision-makers made similar efforts to help her, or understood how.

She also wondered why the archdiocesan process for addressing allegations of child abuse seemed so different from the process from addressing claims from adults, she said.

Harber said she wonders why her claim couldn’t have been handled in the same way that claims of child sexual abuse are: through a diocesan review board, composed of psychological experts with specific training related to sexual assualt, along with law enforcement officials, and other experts in understanding sexual abuse, and its aftereffects.

She also said it was not until later in 2013, or in 2014, that “I was finally able to say for myself that this was rape.”

“Before then, it was so complex and it carried so much guilt that even though I knew logically ‘no means no, and that’s rape,’ it wasn’t until much further along that I had the emotional strenth, and got proper therapy, to say ‘this really was rape.’”

Harber’s experience, in that sense, is not uncommon. Psychologists say that victims of sexual assault often minimize their experience, find ways to presume responsibility for it, or deny it outright. It can take years for victims of sexual assault to be able to fully articulate their experience.

Lenzi told CNA that some victims of sexual assault or other kinds of trauma minimize or deny experiences to protect themselves from by being retraumatized. “When you start feeling that violation of yourself again, the body seizes up, and you go into denial.”

“Denial and minimization are surface things,” Lenzi said, “but what’s happening underneath is panic.”

Self-blame, Lenzi said, is also a common response to sexual assault and other kinds of trauma, and often requires extensive therapy to overcome.

Harber said she wrote to Erhimeyoma’s bishop in Nigeria in 2014, but received no reply. The Diocese of Warri did not confirm for CNA whether it received that letter.

The priest remained in ministry. Harber moved on with her life. By 2018, she was married, and had a child.



In the summer of 2018, after the Theodore McCarrick sexual abuse scandal began, and after the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing clerical sexual abuse and cover-up, Harber felt again that she needed to speak out.

“I saw these two women on the TV, and they were crying, and I just saw the anguish on their face, and I got so mad. I was like ‘Lord, why did no one speak up for them?’ And then it was like a light bulb- ‘Edwin could be doing this right now, and you’re not speaking up for them.’”

She wrote to her own bishop, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati. She stated directly that she had been raped by Erhimeyoma. Schnurr forwarded the letter to the Bronx District Attorney, and to the Archdiocese of New York.

As soon as it received that letter, “the Archdiocese of New York reached out to Fr. Erhimeyoma’s bishop in Nigeria once again, relating this new information, and making clear how serious the allegation was,” an archdiocesan spokesman told CNA.

By the time the matter reached a prosecutor, the statute of limitations in the case had expired.



After it received Harber’s letter, the archdiocese, and Cardinal Dolan in particular, reached out to Harber for a meeting. This, she said, eventually gave her a sense of hope. She said she started to believe that the archdiocese was willing to learn from her experiences.

Harber and Dolan met at the beginning of April.

Harber told CNA she had four goals for that meeting:

She wanted the archdiocese to assist her financially with her therapy expenses; she said that initial financial assistance covered less than 20% of her therapy bills.

She wanted assurance that Dolan had contacted the priest’s bishop.

She wanted the archdiocese to initiate a process for psychological examinations for all foreign priests.

And she wanted the archdiocese to develop a process for adults to report instances of clerical sexual abuse or coercion, for a diocesan review board to hear sexual abuse or coercion cases involving adults, and for the archdiocesan Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program to be opened to adult victims of clerical sexual abuse or coercion.

Harber said she wanted more than just to be heard at the meeting.

“I can feel heard, and that might be a healing thing personally, but this isn’t just about me.”

“My therapist hears me. My husband hears me. If you really want to show me as a victim that you care, do something. Stop being afraid of this scandal and bring it to light.”

“The fear of scandal is what caused the perpetuation of this abuse,” Harber said.

“When the rubber meets the road, is he going to care for his flock?” she asked, regarding Dolan.



CNA spoke with Harber after she met with Dolan. She said it was “a very positive meeting.”

“He really acknowledged, I believe in a very genuine way, and I was surprised with how much he shared with me, and how open he was.”

She told CNA she was encouraged when Dolan apologized to her for her experience, and for how the Archdiocese of New York handled her case.

“The fact that he apologized for both what Edwin had done but also for how the diocese handled it. It made such a difference because it was like, ‘Ok, at least you see your mistake.’”

“I think the directness with which he apologized to me made a difference.

Esther said it mattered to her that “he called it a rape” while diocesan officials previously had not done so.

“It was very clear to the cardinal that it was rape,” she said. It also mattered to her that he recognized that “it was not handled well by the diocese.”

While positive, she deemed the meeting a partial success.

“I had four goals going in there, and two of them were met, one of them was listened to, and one of them was kind of brushed over,” she told CNA.

Dolan agreed that the archdiocese would further assist Harber with her therapy bills, and that he would contact Erhimeyoma’s bishop.

In fact, a spokesman for the Diocese of Warri told CNA that Bishop John ’Oke Afareha first received a letter about Erhimeyoma from the Archdiocese of New York in January 2019. At that time, the spokesman said, Arareha restricted Erhimeyoma’s priestly ministry, and began a canonical investigation into the matter.

That investigation is ongoing, the spokesman said, and Erhimeyoma, “does not have charge of a parish at this time.”

Harber said Dolan also assured her that “he is working on a process for adults to report such things,” and that he expects June’s U.S. bishops’ conference meeting to develop protocols on the subject.

New York’s archdiocesan spokesman told CNA that Dolan has asked Judge Barbara Jones, whom he appointed to review archdiocesan handling of abuse allegations, “to also examine how we respond to allegations of misconduct with adults, to see if there are ways we can improve our response.”

But Harber said Dolan did not respond to her request that all foreign priests be subject to a psychological examination before being permitted to minister in the U.S. Nearly one-quarter of priests serving in the U.S. are foreign born, and Harber told CNA she is concerned, because they are not all subject to the rigorous psychological screening that is typical in U.S. seminaries.

Dolan, she said “just acknowledged that there is no process of psychological screening for foreign born priests. So that part was a little underwhelming. I don’t know if that is part of his plan of action...I just don’t know.”



Harber told CNA she is now waiting to see how Dolan will follow through on his assurances.

“We have seen that there is a lot of talk but not a lot of action. It remains to be seen how things progress.”

“I expect him to begin to put in a solid practice for adults, and to make the point that adults can not have a consensual relationship with a priest because of the power differential. I hope that there would be something in place to protect people from priests who break their vows or promise of celibacy,” she said.

While she remains faithful to the Church, she said, she is struggling to trust.

“I wouldn’t say that my faith hasn’t wavered. There have definitely been times of desolation and there have been times when it has hurt very badly, because I feel betrayed not only by the priesthood, but by the leadership of the Church..”

Harber said she told Dolan she continues to struggle to trust priests and Church leaders, and that she has grown cynical.

“While that’s something I need to work on, I have a deep love for the Church. And that’s something I need to remember, and that we all need to remember, that the Church is much bigger than any cardinal, bishop, priest, or any sort of malfunction thereof. That Christ is bigger than that.”

“What I need is action. What the Church needs is action. And my hope is the Cardinal Dolan will take action. Because when he acts, the Church will listen.”

Catholic Charities defends serving teen trafficking victims without abortion

Thu, 05/02/2019 - 19:06

Sacramento, Calif., May 2, 2019 / 05:06 pm (CNA).- Catholic Charities of the East Bay (CCEB) in California is remaining firm in its conviction against referring teenage victims of sex trafficking for contraception and abortions at a new facility, while emphasizing that medical care is not the new facility’s primary mission.

“We are not licensed to provide medical services,” said Mary Kuhn, spokesperson for CCEB. “We provide therapeutic services, shelter, case manage, and make sure the girls are getting either homeschooling or the right school, all of that...We're not involved in their medical decisions.”

Catholic Charities is planning to open a home for teenage victims of sex trafficking, but has faced opposition from neighbors and critics who oppose the Church’s teaching on contraception and abortion.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the planned home will house up to 12 teenage sex-trafficking victims, ages 12 to 17, in Sequoyah, a forested neighborhood of the eastern Oakland hills. The facility, a former rectory, is still awaiting state approval to begin operations.

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley had approached the diocese with an initiative to tackle human trafficking in the area. The new facility will be named “Claire’s House,” after O’Malley’s mother.

Kuhn told CNA that the biggest problem faced by social services agencies and advocacy groups for victims of sex trafficking is a lack of supportive homes, and Claire's House is intended to fill that need.

The district attorney approached Oakland Bishop Michael Barber in 2015, along with other faith-based agencies in the area, asking for their help in addressing the problem of sex trafficking.

“There's a lot of support for this program in Alameda County and the greater Bay Area,” Kuhn told CNA.

“Unfortunately there are a few people that are, quite understandably, nervous or opposed because they really just don't want this near where they live.”

The president of the Coalition of Residents Protecting Sequoyah, the neighborhood where the home will operate, has expressed concern about human traffickers coming to the neighborhood looking for girls they have abused.

“Claire's House is not a safehouse, and it's not a shelter," Kuhn clarified.

“And that's really important...a safehouse means you're hiding from someone, and a shelter means you're getting a bed, but little else. Claire's House is a home, and it's a home for healing. It's a home for girls who have already been separated from their exploiter,” she said.

The young people that the house will be serving will primarily be referred to the house by the county social services agency, and will be children that are already in the foster care system.

Without a place like Claire's House, Kuhn said, they could be placed in a foster home with a family that "really isn't prepared to provide the sort of therapeutic services and support that they need, because of their experience [of being trafficked].”

“They're not coming in as an emergency placement or a crisis situation, so there is an assessment process. So they're at a place where they are contemplating where to go next in their lives, and they just don't have housing and they don't have a place where they can be kids again.”

In alignment with Catholic teaching on the immorality of artificial contraception and abortion, the facility will not make appointments for clients at clinics that provide contraception or abortion and will also not provide transportation to those facilities.

Instead, the home will post a sign in a common area that explains the teens’ medical options. It will be up to the teens’ parents or guardians to arrange for abortion or contraception if they so choose.

“We are not a provider of medical services,” Kuhn clarified.

Per the house's licensing, they contract with a third party medical provider who Kuhn said is equipped to work with the vulnerable group that they serve.

If there are conversations or decisions regarding abortion or contraception, that would be between the girls, their doctors, and their guardians. She said the house will likely not talk to the girls much about those topics, but that pro-life pregnancy resources are a service Catholic Charities of the East Bay would like to provide in the future.

“They do have access to third-party medical care providers,” she said.

“Of course, we'll talk about health and hygiene, life skills, things like that. But our goal is to get them stabilized, enable them to pursue their education, get them the therapeutic services they need, and enable them to start participating in things kids do.”

The overarching Catholic values that come from their work help the teenagers to heal, she said.

“A lack of supportive homes for children who have left their exploiters— that is the single biggest problem that's faced by social service organizations and advocacy groups, and Claire's House fills this desperate need,” she reiterated.

The survivor led-community is supportive of the house, she said, and she said she hopes that other Catholic Charities organizations around the country can follow the same model.

“We are a national system, and we have deep experience serving people on the margins,” Kuhn said.

“And other entities would have a difficult time matching what Catholic Charities is able to do.”

The home plans to begin accepting its first clients as soon as the state approves a care license for the facility. Kuhn said Catholic Charities of East Bay will not be publicly announcing when they begin their services out of respect for the privacy of the children.

Kansas legislators fail to override veto of abortion pill reversal law

Thu, 05/02/2019 - 18:10

Wichita, Kan., May 2, 2019 / 04:10 pm (CNA).- By a single vote, the Kansas legislature failed to override a governor’s veto of a bill requiring doctors who administer the two-pill abortion drug regimen to tell women that the abortion pill can be reversed.

In the Kansas Senate, 27 senators voted to override. Only 83 legislators in the House of Representatives voted to override, one short of the two-thirds majority needed.

Rep. Jan Kessinger, an Overland Park Republican, had voted for the bill but voted against override. Citing discussions with constituents with different views of the bill, he said he decided the issue needs more research, the Wichita Eagle reports. Kessinger said he doesn’t believe the legislature should be “in the medical practice,” and the bill is not necessarily the best medical decision but he also does not believe the bill will be harmful.

The initial passage of Senate Bill 67 had drawn some support from several Democratic legislators, but they did not back an override of the veto from Gov. Laura Kelly. Kelly, a Democrat, had campaigned on support of legal abortion and had criticized a Democratic gubernatorial primary rival for voting in favor of abortion restrictions in the Kansas legislature.

House Speaker Ron Ryckman has said lawmakers will reconsider the vote, and he voiced hope that a re-vote will result in an override.

A chemical abortion is a two-step process that involves the ingestion of two drugs: mifepristone, also known as RU-486, and misoprostol. The first drug, mifepristone, effectively starves the unborn baby by blocking the effects of the hormone progesterone. The second drug, misoprostol, is taken up to two days later and induces labor.

Backers of abortion pill reversal say the abortion can sometimes be reversed if a woman takes high doses of progesterone after she takes the mifepristone but before she takes misoprostol, though this must be done quickly.

Under the Kansas proposal, if a clinic that dispenses the abortion drug fails to display a notice about the reversal procedure, it could be fined $10,000. A doctor who fails to notify a patient could face misdemeanor charges for the first offense and a felony for the second offense.

Gov. Kelly said the Kansas legislation “forces health care providers to adhere to a government mandate not adequately supported by medical science.” She characterized it as “unnecessary legislation that would interfere with the relationship between women and their physicians.”

State Rep. Brenda Landwehr, (R-Wichita), voted to override the veto.

“The idea that we can give an opportunity for a change of heart in deciding to have an abortion is a right that every single woman should have,” she said.

Mary Kay Kulp, executive director of Kansas for Life had characterized the bill as “common sense legislation” that “empowers women with information that could help them save their babies, should they change their minds about completing their medication abortions.”

The Kansas Supreme Court, in a 6-1 April decision, for the first time ruled that the state constitution protects the right to abortion. Its decision upheld dismemberment abortions, known technically as dilation and extraction abortions.

The ruling could affect many state abortion regulations and hinder any efforts to restore legal protections to unborn babies if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade and other precedents that mandate legal abortion nationwide.

Other abortion reversal notification legislation passed the Oklahoma legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Kevin Sitt on March 25.

Arizona legislation similar to the Kansas bill was passed in 2015, then repealed in 2016 after legal challenges and a failure to find a credible expert willing to defend it. The State of Arizona had to pay Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers more than $600,000 in attorney fees and other costs spent fighting the law, the Associated Press said.

Dr. George Delgado, M.D., a pro-life California doctor, has been a leader in medical interventions to reverse the effects of the abortion pill regimen. He and several other researchers wrote another analysis of abortion pill reversal in the journal Issues in Law and Medicine in April 2018.

In observations of 754 patients who sought abortion pill reversal before taking the second drug, the researchers said that intramuscular progesterone had a reversal rate of 64% and high dose oral progesterone had a reversal rate of 68%.

Their report’s methodology has drawn some objections from other researchers, who argue that simply failing to take the second abortion pill may have similar results to undergoing the reversal protocol. However, its supporters say the protocol does not have significant drawbacks, because it does not harm the woman or baby.

Equality Act advances amid warnings over religious freedom

Thu, 05/02/2019 - 17:00

Washington D.C., May 2, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee has approved a controversial equality bill paving the way for a full vote on the floor of the House. Critics of the bill warn that the legislation will damage religious liberty and conscience rights.

The Equality Act forbids “discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in areas including public accommodations and facilities, education, federal funding, employment, housing, credit, and the jury system.”

The bill also defines the terms “sex,” “sexual orientation,” and “gender identity.”

Critics of the measure have pointed out the lack of conscience protections in the text, raising concerns that it would encroach on basic freedoms of speech and religion.

Ryan Anderson, author and senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told CNA that he is concerned that the Equality Act would entrench transgender ideology in American law.

“The Equality Act would penalize many Americans who believe that we are created male and female and that male and female are created for each other,” said Anderson.

The bill also establishes that “public accommodation” includes all “places or establishments that provide (1) exhibitions, recreation, exercise, amusement, gatherings, or displays; (2) goods, services, or programs; and (3) transportation services.”

It also includes a provision that would require people be able to access the shared facility, such as a locker room, restroom, or dressing room, that they feel best corresponds with their gender identity.

“It would violate the privacy and safety of women and girls, the conscience rights of doctors and other medical professionals, and the free speech and religious liberty rights of countless professionals,” Anderson said.

Conscience rights and religious liberty related to issues of gender identity and sexual orientation have become increasingly contested issues. A Catholic hospital group was sued in March after refusing to allow an elective hysterectomy procedure as part of a gender reassignment surgery.

Stephen White, Fellow in the Catholic Studies Program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington and author of the book Red, White, Blue, and Catholic, told CNA that the measure was intentionally radical in scope.

"The Equality Act is deliberately written to give radical sexual ideology the force of law: nature, religion, custom, science, and common sense be damned.”

The bill is supported by the Business Coalition for the Equality Act, whose affiliates include major corporations such as Amazon, AT&T, Facebook, Google, Verizon, and Visa.

White warned that the trend of large business backing a deeply progeressive social and political agenda is a cause for real concern.

“That such a bill, which explicitly circumscribes religious objections to the LGBT agenda, enjoys the enthusiastic support of so many major corporations ought to be a wake-up call to anyone who still needs it," White said.

The bill, introduced by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI),  is sponsored by all House Democrats, except Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL). Two House Republicans, Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and John Katko (R-NY), also co-sponsor the bill. It passed the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, in a 22-10 vote along party lines.

Lipinski’s refusal to co-sponsor the bill has been highlighted by Marie Newman who is challenging him in a primary election. Newman said in a fundraising email that Lipinski was “bucking the Democratic Party” on the issue of LGBT rights.

Lipinski, a practicing Catholic and one of the few vocally pro-life Democrats in Congress, said that he is opposed to discrimination, but is concerned that the legislation could encroach on religious liberty.

“I believe that LGBTQ people should be protected from discrimination and afforded equal treatment under law in public life,” said Lipinski to Roll Call. “LGBTQ members are our neighbors, colleagues, friends and peers, and their sexual orientation or identity should not lead them to be treated any less than others.”

Oklahoma Supreme Court rules against abortion pill law

Thu, 05/02/2019 - 02:16

Oklahoma City, Okla., May 2, 2019 / 12:16 am (CNA).- The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a state law restricting the way in which the abortion pill is used.

The 7-1 decision rejected H.B. 2684, a five-year-old piece of legislation signed into law by then-Governor Mary Fallin.

In 2000, the FDA approved a medical abortion protocol that involves administering two drugs, several days apart. The drugs are approved for use up to 49 days in pregnancy.

One year later, 96% of medical abortions were not following this protocol, the Oklahoman reported.

In 2014, Oklahoma enacted a law requiring doctors to follow the on-label protocol for medical abortions. The Center for Reproductive Rights sued, saying the regulation posed an undue burden on women and arguing that no other state had this requirement.

In 2016, the FDA endorsed an off-label usage of the pills. a medical abortion can be sought three weeks later into the pregnancy. Women are given a smaller dose of the drug and are permitted to self-administer it rather than take it in the presence of a physician.

Critics of the off-label use argued that women faced greater risks of complications – including serious bleeding – from using the medication further into pregnancy.

The state Supreme Court disagreed, calling it “unimaginable that the FDA would revise and update a protocol to one less safe or less effective than the original it approved 16 years earlier.”

The court ruled that the Oklahoma regulation “places a substantial obstacle in the path of women’s choice and places an undue burden on the woman’s rights,” according to the Associated Press.

The Center for Reproductive Rights welcomed the court’s decision as a victory.

Senate President Pro-Tem Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City), decried the ruling, saying the law was a reasonable effort to protect women’s health and safety.

“This measure was intended to protect the health and safety of women who sought a medication abortion by requiring the abortionist to follow the instructions on the pill bottle,” he said, according to The Oklahoman.

The abortion pill law was one of several abortion restrictions enacted by Oklahoma in recent years.

Last week, the state enacted a law requiring physicians to notify women seeking drug-induced abortions that a reversal procedure is available if they change their after taking their first of the two pills in the abortion regimen.

 

How Catholics in Camden help working families get homes of their own

Wed, 05/01/2019 - 19:19

Camden, N.J., May 1, 2019 / 05:19 pm (CNA).- Affordable housing is a problem for many Americans, but for the low-income residents of Camden, a Catholic non-profit is working hard to make sure they have the budgeting skills, the life skills, and the community connections to become homeowners—and to stay that way.

“Anyone can work on converting abandoned houses. What makes us different is that we’re actually totally invested in our families,” Pilar Hogan of St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society told CNA. “We see this as a means to creating some homeownership wealth.”

“We’re really starting to see a vibrant difference in our neighborhood.”

Some potential clients aren’t where they need to be financially and need years before they can think of buying a home.

“The one thing that I always tell them is not to ever give up,” Rosie Figueroa, director of counseling at St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society, told CNA. “I always tell them ‘I will tell you when to give up’. And that doesn’t happen easy.”

St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society was begun by Monsignor Robert “Bob” McDermott, who passed away in early 2019. He grew up in East Camden in the 1940s and 1950s when it was a working-class neighborhood. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Camden and decades later, in 1985, returned to become pastor of his childhood home parish, St. Joseph’s Pro-Cathedral.

“When Father Bob moved back in the mid-80s, he was really struck by the dilapidation and the deterioration,” said Hogan. “Right across from the church were four or five abandoned burned-out houses.”

Hogan said the area showed “a lack of hope.” Residents who looked out their windows were only able “to see buildings crumbling.” They wouldn’t hear children playing in the streets and they wouldn’t find a safe place for families.

Camden, N.J. has a reputation for being a city that has seen better times. The city overlooks Philadelphia from the east side of the Delaware River. Its 74,000 people suffer high unemployment and high crime. In 2012 it ranked as the poorest city in the U.S.

The city is “consistently ranked as one of the poorest and actually one of the most violent cities in the U.S.,” Hogan told CNA.

Back in the 1980s, one of Father McDermott’s parishioners, a Vietnamese refugee, could not find adequate housing for his family of nine. The priest founded the St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society to respond to the family’s need—and to respond to the hardships of life in Camden. The society renovated a home for the family and used that effort as a starting point to transform the neighborhood.

Now, the organization identifies vacant and abandoned houses to renovate and sell to people who need a home – after giving careful training to low-income clients about budgeting, the homebuying process, and what it takes to be a homeowner.

“When we started working, one in every six houses was abandoned,” said Hogan. “We’re now up to 1 in 40. We’re really making a difference. We have entire blocks now that don’t have an abandoned house on it.”

The society claims success in stabilizing the East Camden neighborhood, citing low vacancy rates and high homeownerships that are both better than Camden in general, its website says.

Since Father McDermott started St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society more than three decades ago, it has graduated 3,000 people through its education program. It has helped with 450 home repairs and sold close to 1,000 homes. Once people buy, they rarely leave. Eighty-five percent of these homeowners still live in the home they bought from the non-profit.

Behind each number is a personal story.

“The exciting part is when we hand over keys to a family,” said Hogan. “A lot of them just look at us like they never felt that this was going to happen.”

Figueroa described the joy of closing day for clients: “sometimes they start crying, sometimes they run out and start screaming with their kids.”

One beneficiary family was paying very high rent--so high that when they later became homeowners, their mortgage payment was only two-thirds the cost of their previous rent payment, Hogan said.

“The conditions were so bad that a young mother and young father spent most of their day in the car. The kids did their homework in the car, the kids ate in their car,” Hogan recounted. Their vermin-infested rental apartment was in such bad shape that "they wanted to limit the time that the kids were in that environment.”

Now they have gone through the St. Joseph’s program and have a home of their own.

“She couldn’t have been more pleased with the fact that she was now controlling her life in a much better way, and the lives of her children,” Hogan added. “She was still working, like she had been before, but now the house was hers and she could keep it clean. And do everything she needed to do to keep her kids safe.”

“This woman was all smiles,” she said.

Figueroa said the mother is now back in school, which she wasn’t able to do before. The father recently received a promotion at work. Contributing to this, she said, is “the fact that now they have their home, that space for their kids, and that backyard for the kids to play in, and for them to barbeque.”

The typical client of St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society, according to Hogan, is “a hardworking, dedicated small family.” Typical household income ranges from $20,000 to $35,000 per year. Clients are mainly Latino, but many come from Camden’s African-American community or its small South Asian communities.

Figueroa said clients face housing issues and financial difficulties. Some need to learn how to save or to budget money. Sometimes their credit isn’t what it should be, or they need to learn how to apply for grants, programs and loans.

“Those are things that we help them address when they come here,” said Figueroa. “A lot of them don’t know anything about banking. We help them maintain banking accounts, a line of credit and help them use it properly.”

“We teach them about savings and the importance of long-term savings,” she added.

It’s not always easy to become a homeowner, especially in Camden.

“Sometimes the suggestions that we have for people are harder,” said Hogan. “It’s things like: you’re going to have to work on finding a better job or taking a second job.”

Other priorities for the society are teaching civic responsibility to clients. This includes caring for their new home and caring for their neighbors. They ask beneficiaries to take leadership training or neighborhood organizing, clean a park, support local organizations, and act with others “to change the entire neighborhood.”

“Camden is more than simply everyone’s perception of the city. We are changing that and we are working on that every day, which I think is reverberating throughout the city of Camden,” said Hogan, pointing to new restaurants, festivals and stores.

“It’s really a community on the rise and that’s exciting for us too.”

The St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society is affiliated with NeighborWorks America, an umbrella group with 240 similar groups nationwide.

Its website is www.sjcscamden.org.

Archbishop Gregory promises transparency during state investigation

Wed, 05/01/2019 - 17:45

Atlanta, Ga., May 1, 2019 / 03:45 pm (CNA).- The bishops of the state of Georgia have vowed to be open and transparent as the attorney general conducts an investigation into clerical sex abuse in the state.

In a statement released by Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta on Tuesday, April 30, the archbishop said that both he and Bishop Gregory Hartmayer of Savannah, had “offered [their] full support and cooperation to Attorney General Chris Carr for a third party file review of both Georgia dioceses.”

According to Gregory, both he and Hartmayer have cooperated fully with authorities regarding the investigation and file review, and they have all agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding.

At the conclusion of the review, a report detailing sexual abuse by members of the clergy in the state will be released.

“I reiterate my genuine concern for all who have been hurt directly or indirectly by abuse of any kind by anyone and I renew my commitment to healing, transparency and trust,” said Gregory. “I believe this review is an important step in the long journey forward.”

Carr, the Georgia attorney general, told an Atlanta news station that the investigation was months in the making, and that there has already been an agreement into how the review process and investigation will be conducted. The investigation will be run by the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia.

In November, the Archdiocese of Atlanta released a list containing the names of 15 priests, deacons, and seminarians who had been accused of sexual abuse of minors. Every individual on the list was either dead, removed from active ministry, or had been convicted of a crime.

Carr is urging any and all victims of sexual abuse to come forward. He said he is unsure how long the investigation and review will take.

On April 4, Gregory was announced as the new Archbishop of Washington, DC. He will be leaving the Archdiocese of Atlanta later this month, and installed in Washington on May 21. At a press conference announcing his appointment to the Archdiocese of Washington, Gregory pledged to be truthful and transparent during his time leading the archdiocese, as he had during his time in Atlanta and leading the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"I walked away from my time as president [of the USCCB] knowing this one thing: that I told them the truth as best as I could. And that's what I will do with the Archdiocese of Washington,” said Gregory at the April 4 press conference.

During his time leading the USCCB from 2001-2003, Gregory helped shape the Church’s response to the sexual abuse crisis, playing a leading role in the drafting and implementation of the Dallas Charter and USCCB Essential Norms.

Gregory is currently part of a special task force, along with Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, charged by the USCCB with examining proposals for increasing episcopal accountability in matters of clerical sexual abuse.

St. Joseph Catholic Church in Phoenix destroyed by fire, cause unknown

Wed, 05/01/2019 - 16:59

Phoenix, Ariz., May 1, 2019 / 02:59 pm (CNA).- An extensive fire destroyed St. Joseph Catholic Church in north Phoenix during the early morning hours of May 1. The cause of the fire has not yet been determined.

No one was injured in the blaze, which began sometime after midnight and was not fully extinguished until after 6 a.m., ABC 15 Arizona reported.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Large blaze breaks out at north Phoenix&#39;s St. Joseph&#39;s Catholic Church Wednesday: <a href="https://t.co/g4pvEAiXJj">https://t.co/g4pvEAiXJj</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/abc15?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#abc15</a> <a href="https://t.co/rESgzczH4d">pic.twitter.com/rESgzczH4d</a></p>&mdash; ABC15 Arizona (@abc15) <a href="https://twitter.com/abc15/status/1123550111496204289?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">May 1, 2019</a></blockquote>
<script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

“This morning we awoke to the tragic news of the fire at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Phoenix,” said the Diocese of Phoenix in a May 1 statement.

“We are heartbroken for the St. Joseph Catholic community and we are grateful for the bravery of the fire fighters and first responders.”

More than 60 firefighters were dispatched shortly after flames sprouted from inside the church.

According to AZ Family, Fire Captain Danny Gile said the firefighters realized they were going to be unable to save the building, and switched their focus to stopping the spread of the fire and saving the surrounding buildings.

“We never want to lose these buildings, especially a church,” said Gile. “They are such a beacon of hope for our community.”

“The Phoenix Fire Department is investigating the fire. The church building was destroyed and there were no injuries. We will have more to share as it becomes available,” the diocese said. It noted that there are tentative plans to celebrate this weekend’s Masses somewhere on parish property.

“Today on this feast day of St. Joseph the Worker, we ask the community to join us in prayer,” its statement concluded.

Analysis: With bishops in a tight spot, will priests get squeezed?

Wed, 05/01/2019 - 06:50

Denver, Colo., May 1, 2019 / 04:50 am (CNA).- Last week, Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo suspended three priests who were accused of engaging in inappropriate sexual conversations with diocesan seminarians.

While the move is likely to be praised by those who have called for Malone’s resignation, or urged him to demonstrate a commitment to addressing clerical sexual abuse, his priests might have another take on the decision. And the unfolding situation in the Diocese of Buffalo might be a harbinger of what’s to come in the aftermath of scandals that have roiled the U.S. Church for the past nine months.

On April 11, a group of priests in Malone’s diocese had a party at a parish rectory. They invited some seminarians. At least one of the priests was a seminary formator, a spiritual director for the seminarians in attendance.

The party got out of hand, according to the seminarians. They said that alcohol was consumed in excess, and that some priests, their formator among them, engaged them in lewd, blasphemous, and pornographic conversation.

The seminarians said there was a telephone conversation with a woman who, they were told, wanted to have sex with them, there was discussion about the sexual habits of one seminarian’s parents, there was conversation, seemingly homosexual in nature, about the genitals of one priest’s parishioner and the body types of their fellow seminarians.

The seminarians were disturbed, they had the good sense to write their superiors, and Malone acted. He announced that after an initial investigation, three priests had been removed from ministry, and would face ““disciplinary and corrective actions” including “psychological evaluations and possible treatment, retraining in sexual harassment policies, individual retreats,” and, depending on the results of those steps, the possibility of further action.

Malone’s decision came during a difficult time for his diocese. Since August, the bishop has faced accusations that he covered up for some priests accused of abuse, withheld names from a published list of those credibly accused, and permitted a priest to return to ministry who had faced repeated allegations of grooming behavior.

Malone says he’s not covered up abuse, that he’s committed to transparency, and that he’s learned
lessons from his mistakes.

In fact, on the same day as the rectory party, April 11, Malone issued a thorough apology for his failings, while defending many of his actions and inviting an organization of his critics to assist him in developing new policies and protocols.

But Malone has continued to face calls for his resignation. Some Catholics in his diocese say he has not done enough to tackle clerical sexual misconduct, and that the diocese can not move forward without new leadership.

The bishop has said he will not resign: that he will “repent and reform,” while helping his diocese to “rebuild itself and learn and grow from the sins of the past.”

Many in Buffalo are likely to see his swift action regarding the priests at the April 11 party as a sign of commitment to his promises of reform. Diocesan officials have said that the suspensions are an indication that policies and protocols established by Malone are working. And the action will likely draw praise from many of those rightly concerned with the influence of apparently lecherous priests on seminarians.

But at least one group might look more skeptically at the matter: Malone’s priests.

It will not have passed unnoticed by Buffalo’s presbyterate that the diocesan announcement does not indicate what specific canonical crime the accused priests are alleged to have committed. There has also been no indication that the priests were given the opportunity to defend themselves before action was taken against them.

In fact, at least two priests at the party told reporters that they had no opportunity to tell their sides of the story before Malone announced his decision.

Well beyond Buffalo, many priests will also note with alarm the apparently coercive use of psychological evaluations and treatment as a punishment, a praxis forbidden by canon law but explicitly noted as a “disciplinary” measure in this case.

Priests will also ask whether due process, a clear explanation of the charges against them, and protection of their reputations during a canonical proceeding were afforded to the priests suspended in Buffalo. Diocesan clerics, even those disgusted by the apparent behavior of the Buffalo priests, might find themselves wondering whether they should expect similar treatment if accusations are someday leveled against them.

While bishops face public pressure, as Malone does, to “get tough” on misconduct, canonists and clergy have warned already about the risk that the canonical rights of accused clerics might be soon tossed over the side of Peter’s Barque.

That concern will sound familiar to observers who remember the years following the clerical sexual abuse scandal of 2002, a period in which, by many accounts, the rights of priests were sometimes forfeit to the need of bishops to “crack down” on clerical sexual misconduct. It is commonly held among priests and experts that in that period priests were sometimes censured unjustly, without any real opportunity to defend themselves.

Some observers will suggest concerns of that kind are a waste of time: the quibbles of lawyers who are scandalously focused on the rights of obviously malfeasant priests, those corrupting innocent seminarians, rather than with the integrity of the Church’s mission.

That reaction is certainly understandable. But canon lawyers are likely to note that the Church’s canonical tradition is the source of most western understandings of the rule of law: understandings predicated on the idea that just societies depend on procedural justice for legitimacy, even in cases where accused parties seem very obviously guilty. The Church has known for centuries that without affording the apparatuses of justice to the guilty, the innocent will have very little chance of vindication.

Of course, that’s the issue that puts Malone in a tough spot. And he is not alone. Bishops in the United States do have to demonstrate, to the satisfaction of ordinary Catholics, that they will take seriously complaints of obvious clerical wrongdoing, especially complaints manifested by seminarians, in the aftermath of the scandal that began with Theodore McCarrick. But if they do not at the same time protect and respect the canonical rights afforded to clerics, they will likely lose whatever trust they have among their closest collaborators, their priests. Losing that trust will compound their problems.

There is another problem with enacting ad hoc disciplinary measures outside the established procedural norms of Church law: they tend to be short-lived. The aftermath of 2002 taught that lesson well. Some bishops, after the “Long Lent of 2002,” began responding to allegations of misconduct hastily, without sufficient regard for canonical processes. This assuaged Catholics, to some extent, but it fostered resentment and mistrust among priests. In response to that resentment, some bishops began to slip into old habits, out of the public eye, and grew more lax about clergy discipline, especially regarding the kinds of offenses, like the ones in Buffalo, which are not specifically enumerated in the Church’s penal law. That laxity might have allowed misconduct to begin festering anew.

In short, a knee-jerk approach to discipline usually creates a pendulum effect, with very little long-term benefit.

So what bishops might do, in light of those lessons, to address obvious occasions of clerical misconduct?

Some canonists have advocated for at least possible solution in recent months: actual canonical legislation, at the diocesan level, that establishes a framework of specific delicts—canonical crimes—related to sexual misconduct, and a system of gradated penalties that correspond to them. In the present law of the Church, all but the most egregious sexual delicts are defined nebulously, and bishops usually have very little idea how to handle them.

But many canonists argue that bishops could make their own lives easier by using their legislative prerogatives to establish clear canonical processes to use when situations like the one in Buffalo emerge. They could, in short, create particular laws that enshrine their plans for addressing these matters, and they could ensure that they follow those laws when it becomes necessary. This would tell priests what to expect if they act imprudently or immorally, and it could ensure that their rights are protected.

By some accounts, the very knowledge that such law existed would boost morale among many priests, make seminarians and others more likely to report misconduct, ensure the protection of rights, and put bad actors on notice that misconduct once ignored could lead to real consequences.

At their June meeting, bishops will discuss national solutions to the sexual abuse crises the Church is facing. But bishops needn’t wait for that meeting to establish local solutions to problems they will likely face in months to come. Buffalo, and the situation of Bishop Malone, is a reminder that thoughtful proactivity will likely better ensure justice than will hasty reactions made when problems have already hit the press.
 

Federal judge in Oregon blocks Title X abortion rule

Tue, 04/30/2019 - 17:46

Eugene, Oregon, Apr 30, 2019 / 03:46 pm (CNA).- A federal judge in Oregon has issued a temporary nationwide injunction against the Trump administration’s requirement that recipients of Title X family planning funds be separate from abortion facilities.

U.S. District Judge Michael McShane of Eugene, Oregon, blocked the changes from taking effect. In his Monday ruling, he called the new regulation “a solution in search of a problem” and a “a ham-fisted approach to health policy that recklessly disregards the health outcomes of women, families, and communities.”

The state of Oregon was joined by 19 other states and the District of Columbia, as well as Planned Parenthood Federation and the American Medical Association in challenging the regulation, known as the Protect Life Rule.

A federal judge in Washington state issued a similar nationwide preliminary injunction last week, saying that the new rule represented “no public interest” and was an unlawful policy on the part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The policy change had been scheduled to go into effect on May 3, revising the Title X program, which subsidizes family-planning measures and related products, including contraception, for low-income families. Created in 1965, the federal program has been frequently updated and subject to new regulations.

Among other provisions, the Protect Life Rule requires that there be a physical and financial separation between recipients of Title X funds and facilities that perform abortions. Clinics that provide “nondirective counseling” about abortion can still receive funds.

Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest performer of abortions, was set to lose about $60 million in federal funding due to the rule change. Planned Parenthood receives about half a billion dollars in federal funds each year, including money from Title X.

The Protect Life Rule did not reduce the amount of federal funding available through the Title X program, but only restricted how the funds could be allocated.

The injunctions mean that the rule will not go into effect while the cases are heard in courts.

Oregon Right to Life defended the new regulations last week, saying they align more closely with the program’s original goal.

The revised rules “would ensure that family-planning funds go towards actual family-planning, not killing members of families,” said Lois Anderson, executive director of Oregon Right to Life.

“Abortion is not healthcare nor is it family-planning,” Anderson continued. “However, abortion is big business. Planned Parenthood performs almost 40 percent of abortions in the country. They have a financial interest in keeping Title X funding coming their way.”

Also on Monday, House Democrats released a new spending bill that includes a provision to block the Title X changes from going into effect, presenting the threat of another government shutdown if the House and Republican-led Senate cannot agree on government funding before the current spending bill expires at the end of September.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, argued that the Protect Life Rule represents “the will of the American people to disentangle taxpayers from the big abortion industry.”

“We urge the House Appropriations Committee to remove this anti-life poison pill amendment to nullify the Protect Life Rule,” she said in an April 30 statement.

“President Trump has vowed to veto any legislation that would weaken existing pro-life protections,” she added.

Social media, polarization risk fueling violence, bishop says

Tue, 04/30/2019 - 17:30

Scranton, Pa., Apr 30, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- Religious intolerance and violence are being fueled by a polarized society and fanned by social media, Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton told CNA.

Bambera, who is the chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, told CNA that he is worried about the state of interreligious dialogue and ecumenical work.

“Certainly, our world, our country, our people, seem more polarized than ever before,” said Bambera.  “There seems to be less of a tolerance for those who are 'different'--and I use different in quotes--from those who are looking at them and passing judgment."

The bishop told CNA that increased understanding and dialogue has suffered a backslide over the last few decades.

"The last half of the last century was so focused on ecumenical and interreligious dialogue,” said Bambera. This was not because dialogue was a “novel thing,” but “because it really helped us to recognize that which was similar, that which is different, and come to a much more harmonious sense of relationship and rapport with one another.”

Now, Bambera thinks that there is a need to “re-energize” interreligious cooperation for the present generation, citing Pope Francis’ recent call for increased dialogue.

This dialogue is especially needed in light of recent events.

In the last six weeks, there have been acts of violence targeting the three major Abrahamic faiths. The March 15 shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand killed 50 muslims. On Easter Sunday, bombings at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka killed 253. On Saturday, a shooting at a synagogue near San Diego, CA killed one and injured three.

The shooters in the mosque and synagogue attacks both engaged in online forums and released “manifestos” prior to their arrests. The prevalent use of social media worries Bambera.

Despite being a “wonderful tool” for individuals and organizations to spread positive messages, the bishops warned that this is by no means always the case.

“As much as it can lead to good, it also has the potential (...) at times to be misused,” he said. “And I certainly think that has been the case related to many of these unfortunate situations."

On social media, a person can be exposed to “erroneous information” about a particular faith or group of people. Constant online reenforcement of misinformation and stereotypes can lead to people blindly accepting what they are being told without doing any further research, he explained. Predjudice and hate, Bambera said, are often rooted in untruths; increased dialogue between actual members of religious faiths, he explained, can be a crucial part in combatting the rise of violence and hate.

Despite the current climate, Bambera said there is cause for hope in the coming generation, pointing to the universal anger and pain in response to recent attacks on houses of worship, which he said “captured the attention of the entire world.”

Leaders around the world condemned the attacks as assaults on “basic human values."

Bambera told CNA that a presence by law enforcement was now a sad fact of annual Eastertide celebrations in Scranton, something he called unthinkable a decade ago.

He said that many of his parishioners expressed gratitude for the increased security, confiding to him there fears that attacks on religious celebration was becoming a fact of life.

While the security may be “unsettling” reminder of current dangers, he said, “we can’t live without fear” and that American Catholics had to rely on each other in facing a common fear in the name of God and of peace.

"We have a right to freely worship as we want to, and we ought not let extremists prevent us in any way from doing that, because then they win,” he said.

Why these high school students built a chapel and Marian shrine at a local school

Tue, 04/30/2019 - 16:47

Battle Creek, Mich., Apr 30, 2019 / 02:47 pm (CNA).- When two Michigan high school students were planning for a community service project, they decided they wanted to help younger children learn to pray. So, they fundraised, designed, and managed the construction of a chapel and Marian shrine for the local Catholic middle school.

Adam Sprague is a junior and Jacob Thome is a freshman at St. Philip Catholic Central High School in Battle Creek, Michigan. As part of earning their Eagle Scout badges, Sprague oversaw construction of a Blessed Sacrament chapel and Thome worked to build a Marian grotto.

Father Christopher Ankley, pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church, was involved with both projects. He told CNA that St. Joseph Catholic Middle School was in need of more prayer spaces, especially for students at the school.

“Just to have the Blessed Sacrament in the school is a good way to have that presence of Jesus with them all the time and to help them grow closer to our Lord and holiness,” he said. “It’s just one way to increase our Catholic identity and stress the importance of our faith.”

Both Sprague and Thome initiated their projects last year and completed them in December. As part of the Eagle Scout initiative, the students had to manage volunteers and work with interior or landscape designers on the projects’ layouts.

Sprague fundraised over $4,000 for the project by promoting it after weekend Masses. The money was used to purchase altars and pews. A local construction company donated free labor and tile, and a parishioner, who is an interior designer, also consulted on the chapel’s layout.

“I’m just glad how everything came together especially so that we can have kids start praying more and getting closer to God. I think it’s really special that there is adoration in there every Friday to increase that faith formation,” Sprague told CNA.

The chapel is named after St. Jose del Rio, a 14 year-old martyr who was executed for his faith during the Cristero War in Mexico. Sprague said the name was voted on by the middle school students, noting that the saint best represented the community.

“We have a very diverse community,” he said.  “We wanted to go with the saint that they could connect with. We wanted them to be represented in terms of the name.”

Father Fred Adamson, Sprague’s uncle and the vicar general for the Diocese of Phoenix, procured a first class relic of the saint for the chapel. Sprague said the relic’s presence in the chapel will benefit the students’ faith journey.

“Sometimes if the kids don’t necessarily have a good connection with God, a good foundation, it’s hard” for them to establish a strong Catholic faith, he said. “Just having a physical piece of the saint, I think will help a lot of the kids along with their faith journey,” he later added.

With adoration each Friday, the chapel is already being used by students and teachers.

Thome began fundraising for the Marian Grotto in September by announcing his project after several Masses. He told CNA that he received nearly $5,000, which he used to purchase the Marian statue, trellis, and landscaping materials, including plants and benches.

He said St. Joseph Church, located across the parking lot from the school, was not a convenient location for prayer, especially during the winter time. He said the Marian Grotto, which is located close to a hill at the entrance of the school, has already been used for prayer, especially the rosary.

“I think prayer is important. It can bring you closer to God and Jesus. Especially in middle school, it’s important to start your prayer life early, to become closer to God, which will benefit you later in life,” he said.

Father Ankley emphasized the importance of prayer. He said areas reserved for prayer are vital for students, noting that young people need an opportunity to be removed from the distracting noises of the world.

“We all need that time and place for just a little bit of quiet to hear our Lord because he is always reaching out to us, always wants to be with us.…he is always pursuing us.”

The priest expressed gratitude for the students, highlighting the strong faith of these young men who have taken up a role in the Church now instead of waiting for the future.  

“Sometimes we talk about how students are the future of the Church, but they are the Church right now. They have their place in their Church,” he said.

 

This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 10, 2019.

Study shows marriage prep can drive down divorce

Tue, 04/30/2019 - 16:30

Washington D.C., Apr 30, 2019 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- States that require some form of marriage preparation see lower rates of divorce, a new study has shown.

About half of all first marriages in the United States end in divorce, a figure which only climbs with every subsequent marriage. However, a recent study from the Institute for Family Studies has shown that there are an estimated 14,785 fewer divorces in 2016 thanks, in part, to state-mandated premarital counseling.

Presently, 10 states have laws on the books that require couples undergo marriage counseling.

In 1998, Florida became the first state to enact such a policy, followed by Oklahoma, Maryland, Minnesota, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, West Virginia, and, most recently, Utah, which passed its law in 2018. These laws either require or incentivize premarital counseling by offering a discounted or free marriage license, and permit both religious and non-religious counseling.

In states that did enforce premarital counseling requirements, the IFS found that divorce rates were about 0.5 to 1.5 percent lower than states with no such requirements. The study’s author noted that the statistics could be underestimating the programs’ effectiveness.

“While this may seem like a small effect, note that the divorce-reduction effect is measured for all marriages, including those that began before the premarital education policies were implemented,” said Tiffany Clyde, the author.

“In other words, most marriages measured by the divorce rate could not be ‘treated’ because the policy was not in place when they married. So, the divorce-reduction effect of the policy is likely underestimated,” she said.

While the results show that these programs contribute to positive results, the Institute for Family Studies also found that many states either did not effectively enforce them, or ended funding to enforce them after only a few years. Clyde posited that couples who married after the policies went into effect will likely show even lower rates of divorce then the general results.

The Catholic Church in the United States typically requires that couples undergo some form of pre-Cana program prior to their marriage. This comes in the form of counseling with a priest, classes, retreats, or a mixture of these methods.

Timothy Olson, a canon lawyer who works with couples and serves as a judge in marriage annulment cases for the Diocese of Fargo, told CNA that he believes marriage preparation is vital for all couples, whether they are religious or not.

The Church considers marriage to be a natural right, explained Olson, and therefore it is extremely important that couples know what they are getting into.

“Marriage preparation is targeted at preparing a couple for the realities of marriage, which include how feelings change over time, and how affection works, and all those things,” said Olson.

Couples who are not religious or even baptized, Olson said, can still benefit greatly from counseling before marriage.

“Even as a natural institution, grace builds on nature,” he said.

“For everyone, whether baptized or not, it’s important to have more than just the gist of the basics in human dynamics that come across in a marriage,” Olson said.

“Being able to deal with the problems that inevitably come up, difficulties with children, the interrelationship with the couple, all those things matter in the formation of a stable permanent union.”

"Helping couples understand the fullness of marriage, but enlightened by the realities of human experience, needs to take place before the wedding," he said.

“Whether you’re religious or not, these are still things you simply must be prepared for, rather than hoping on good intentions. With marriage preparation programs, whether in the religious context or the secular context, the hope is to prepare people for their responsibilities in marriage.”

Pope Francis has repeadedly called for the Church to offer longer and more in depth forms of marriage preparation.

In October last year he said that "three or four" meetings in the parish was not enough. 

“The preparation must be mature and it takes time. Marriage is not a formal act; it is a sacrament,” Francis said.

“To enter the Sacrament of Marriage, the engaged couple must mature the certainty that within their bond is the hand of God, who precedes them and accompanies them, and will allow them to say: ‘With the grace of Christ I promise to always be faithful to you.’” 

Dominican priest: California confession bill threatens all religions

Tue, 04/30/2019 - 02:02

Sacramento, Calif., Apr 30, 2019 / 12:02 am (CNA).- If California moves forward with its proposed law trying to force priests to violate the seal of Confession, it is not just Catholicism but all religions that will suffer, said a Dominican priest in a recent op-ed.

Writing Sunday in USA Today, Fr. Pius Pietrzyk, assistant professor of canon law at St. Patrick Seminary in Menlo Park, California, warned that “If this bill passes, no religion is safe.”

“If a core principle as deeply ingrained in Catholic tradition and doctrine can be wiped away this easily by the state, no fundamental rights of religion or conscience are safe.”

The proposal, California Senate Bill 360, would seek to require priests to violate the sacramental seal of confession in suspected cases of child abuse or neglect.

More than 40 professions, including clergy, are already covered by state law requiring them to notify civil authorities in cases of suspected abuse or neglect of children. Current law provides an exemption for “penitential communications” between an individual and their minister if the requirement of confidentiality is rooted in church doctrine.

Senator Jerry Hill introduced the proposed legislation in February, saying, “The law should apply equally to all professionals who have been designated as mandated reporters of these crimes — with no exceptions, period. The exemption for clergy only protects the abuser and places children at further risk.”

In his op-ed, Pietrzyk asserted that the bill is “nothing less than an attempt to jail innocent priests.”

While the purpose of mandatory reporting statutes is good, he said, “there is no evidence that forcing priests to disclose cases of abuse learned of in the confessional would have prevented a single case of child abuse.”

Instead, he said, “There is every reason to believe the elimination of the privilege would mean that perpetrators would simply not bring it to confession.”

The bill would force a priest who hears in the confessional about sins regarding sexual abuse to choose to “face possible imprisonment or to betray that confidentiality and violate his deepest conscience and the laws of God and the Roman Catholic Church.”

“I know priests all along the theological and ideological spectra, none of them would ever consider breaking the seal of the confessional,” Pietrzyk said.

The Catholic Church holds that confession is a critical sacrament, allowing penitents to receive the grace of Christ and forgiveness of their sins, the priest explained.

“Although the priest acts as an instrument, confession is fundamentally about the encounter of the penitent Christian with God; he admits his sins to God and through the priest receives God’s absolution. It is a privileged moment in which a person reveals the deepest part of his conscience to God.”

The Church teaches that the “seal of confession” is inviolable and cannot be changed by human authority, because its origin is in divine revelation, Pietrzyk said. A priest who intentionally violates the seal commits a mortal sin and incurs an automatic excommunication.

“The Catholic Church holds that the information received by the priest in confession does not belong to him. It belongs to God alone,” he explained. “For that reason, a priest is absolutely — meaning there are no exceptions — forbidden from revealing the sins of a penitent.”

This belief is foundational to Catholic teaching, which existed for centuries before the United States was founded, the priest noted. And it has long been upheld by courts and civil authorities.

In 1813, Pietrzyk said, the New York Court of General Sessions stated, “To decide that the minister shall promulgate what he receives in confession, is to declare that there shall be no penance; and this important branch of the Roman Catholic religion would be thus annihilated.”

In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged, “The priest-penitent privilege recognizes the human need to disclose to a spiritual counselor, in total and absolute confidence, what are believed to be flawed acts or thoughts and to receive priestly consolation and guidance in return.”

Given the religious and historical context of the seal of confession, California’s proposal should alarm all Americans, Pietrzyk said.

“To force individuals to choose between the most sacrosanct part of their religious beliefs and imprisonment is what the Bill of Rights was entirely meant to avoid.”

Buffalo priests removed from ministry following seminarian complaints

Mon, 04/29/2019 - 22:54

Buffalo, N.Y., Apr 29, 2019 / 08:54 pm (CNA).- Three priests have been temporarily removed from ministry in the Diocese of Buffalo, after seminarians say they engaged in salacious and inappropriate conversation during a party at a parish rectory. Officials say the removal is a sign that protocols are followed in the Diocese of Buffalo.

A statement from the Diocese of Buffalo said that during an April 11 gathering of priests and seminarians at a parish rectory, “unsuitable, inappropriate and insensitive conversations occurred that were disturbing and offensive to several seminarians in attendance. The complaints did not include or infer any instance of physical sexual abuse of a minor or adult.”

“The Diocese of Buffalo is thankful the seminarians followed the proper protocol and the Seminary responded correctly by immediately investigating and forwarding the findings to Bishop Richard J. Malone and other diocesan officials, including the Office of Professional Responsibility,” the statement added.

“Our primary mission is the education of our students and the formation of our future priests, deacons, and pastoral ministers,” Fr. John Staak, interim rector at Buffalo’s Christ the King Seminary noted in a statement last week.

“I am pleased the seminarians stepped forward to voice their concerns about unsuitable, inappropriate, and insensitive conversations which occurred [at a social gathering of priests and seminarians.] Several seminarians in attendance found the conversations disturbing and offensive.”

One of the priests temporarily removed from ministry is a formator at the seminary.

While seminarians described the conversation as “pornographic,” and described lewd sexual references in a written report, other priests who attended the party told reporters they did not hear all of the salacious talk the seminarians claim to have heard, and say they wonder whether some aspects of the conversation were misinterpreted.

Malone took no chances on the matter, removing the priests from active ministry last week. The diocese said that “disciplinary and corrective actions include: psychological evaluations and possible treatment, retraining in sexual harassment policies, individual retreats and, based on the results of these steps and additional investigation, further actions may be taken.”

The diocesan statement did not say whether the priests are accused of a particular canonical delict, or crime.

Generally speaking, Church law prohibits compelling a priest to undergo psychological evaluations or treatment against his will, with few exceptions. Church policy also generally requires that a canonical process assure a priest accused of misconduct has occasion to defend himself before being subject to a penalty. The Diocese of Buffalo’s initial statement did not indicate whether a canonical process for the priests will be forthcoming.

Malone has come under fire in recent months, after his former secretary alleged in August 2018 that the bishop had omitted the names of some priests accused of abuse or misconduct from a list the diocese released last March.

The bishop has since faced calls for his resignation.

In a statement released April 11, Malone maintained that he acted in good faith, and did not cover up any allegations. He assured Catholics in the Diocese of Buffalo that he intends to be more transparent about clerical sexual abuse and its financial impact on his diocese.

In his statement last week, the diocese reiterated its commitment to addressing allegations of clerical misconduct.

“It is of primary importance to Bishop Malone that these priests are held accountable for their actions,” the statement said.

Religious liberty report highlights China's repression of Muslims, Christians

Mon, 04/29/2019 - 19:02

Washington D.C., Apr 29, 2019 / 05:02 pm (CNA).- The majority of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom are found in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, according to a report from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom released Monday. The report's introduction focused on abuses against China's Uyghur Muslims.

USCIRF released April 29 its 20th annual report documenting the world’s worst violators of religious freedom. With the exception of Cuba— the only majority Chirstian country listed, other than Russia— all the countries identified as the worst offenders are located in the eastern hemisphere.

“Our goal is not only to call out the offenders, but to provide concrete actions for the U.S. government to take in working with these countries to get off our lists,” USCIRF Chair Tenzin Dorjee said in a release accompanying the report.

Each year the group identifies “countries of particular concern” using the criteria of “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations” of religious freedom.

Non-state actors are given the designation “entities of particular concern” using similar criteria.

Some of these violations include torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; prolonged detention without charges; causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction or clandestine detention of those persons; or other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons, the report says.

Among the 16 countries designated as CPCs for 2019 are ten flagged by the state department in November 2018: Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. The list also includes six other countries: Central African Republic, Nigeria, Russia, Syria, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.

In addition the group identified 12 countries that meet either one or two of the three criteria for a CPC, placing them on the “Tier 2” list. These include Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, and Turkey.

Among the non-state entities of concern this year, USCIRF identified the Islamic State, the Taliban in Afghanistan, al-Shabaab in Somalia, and, making their first appearance on the list this year, the Houthis in Yemen and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an Islamist militant group in Syria.

The Houthis are a Shiite Muslim tribe that took control of a key territory and chased the president from the capital city in 2015, and Saudi Arabia and some Arab allies intervened on behalf of the opposing faction. Iran continues to back the Houthis, who are battling the Saudi-led coalition for control of the country, especially the strategically important port city of Hodeidah.

The resulting three-year long Yemeni civil war has left between 13,500 and 80,000 people dead and millions displaced, with an estimated 14 million or so people facing pre-famine conditions.

The report particularly highlights the plight of the Uyghur Muslim minority in China. To date, between 800,000 to 2 million Uighurs— or about 10% of their population— have been detained and sent to “re-education camps” to be subjected to abuse and political indoctrination.

The report calls on the US government to sanction those in the Chinese government responsible for the detention of the Uyghurs. It also recommends the appointment of a special advisor to the president on international religious freedom.

The commission 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 the year.”

Among the report's inclusion of commissioners' “individual views” were those of Johnnie Moore, who called the Vatican-China deal “one of the most alarming incidents as it relates to religious freedom in the entire year.”

“Within days of the Vatican negotiating its deal, the Chinese used it as cover to embark upon the closure of several of the nation’s largest and most prominent unregistered church communities,” Moore wrote.

He believes the Vatican “now bears a significant moral and legal responsibility to help solve the problem which it helped created—albeit inadvertently—by providing China license to viciously crack down on Christian communities (as cited in this report), and by providing the Chinese government further cover to continue its incomprehensible, inexcusable and inhumane abuses of Muslim citizens in the western part of the country.”

“While I am entirely for direct engagement on these issues, including with the most severe violators in the world, that engagement must not result in these types of unintended consequences, as has been the case in China. The Vatican made a terrible mistake, which it must take seriously. This debacle must be dealt with urgently and seriously.”

USCIRF is a bipartisan commission that advises the President, Congress, and the Secretary of State on international religious freedom issues.

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