29 Nov 2010

Vatican officials and Catholic university students attack the messengers who report abuses and neglect, downplay pope's role

Canada.com - Reuters March 31, 2010

Catholic students attack media over abuse charges

By Philip Pullella, Reuters

VATICAN CITY - Conservative Catholic university students rushed to Pope Benedict's defense on Wednesday, attacking journalists who have written about the sexual abuse of children by priests as "sowers of mistrust."

The some 4,000 students from around the world, in Rome for a convention, handed the beleaguered pope a letter of support during his weekly general audience in St Peter's Square.

In his address, the pope made no direct reference to the scandal sweeping the church but said priests should always send a message of "hope, reconciliation and peace."

The university students, from the conservative Catholic group Opus Dei, handed Benedict a letter that read: "We notice that many have taken advantage of some episodes that are painful for the Church and the pope to spread doubts and suspicion.

"To these sowers of mistrust we wish to say with clarity that we do not accept their ideology . . . we demand from them respect for our faith and the recognition of the right that we have to live as Christians in a plural society."

Catholics' reactions to the abuse scandal have been mixed. A Forsa survey for Stern magazine showed 19 per cent of Germany's estimated 25 million Catholics were thinking about leaving the church because of the issue.

The Vatican has attacked the media for what it called an "ignoble attempt" to smear the pope and his top advisers.

It has denied any cover-up in the abuse of 200 deaf boys in the United States by Reverend Lawrence Murphy from the 1950s to the 1960s. The New York Times reported that the Vatican and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, were warned about Murphy but he was not defrocked.

The Vatican has denied reports that the pope, while archbishop of Munich in 1980, was involved in a decision by a subordinate to allow a priest undergoing therapy after committing sexual abuse to later return to pastoral duties.

In a statement issued late on Wednesday, the Times said its reports were "based on meticulous reporting and documents."

"Some of the particulars were confirmed by the Church, and so far no one has cast doubt on the facts we reported," said the Times in the statement issued by spokeswoman Diane McNulty.

"The allegations of abuse within the Catholic Church are a serious subject, as the Vatican has acknowledged on many occasions. Any role the current pope may have played in responding to those allegations over the years is a significant aspect of this story," the newspaper said.


There is anticipation at the Vatican that the pope may speak about the abuse scandal directly in the next few days.

Pilgrims leaving St Peter's Square after Wednesday's audience were divided.

"My belief in God is not as good as it was . . . I must really confess I am disappointed by the Catholic Church," an Austrian teacher who declined to give her name told Reuters Television.

Bo Ostria from Sweden said: "Yeah I believe in God. It's still strong, it doesn't matter what people do."

In the pope's native Germany, the church has opened a hotline for victims of child abuse. More than 250 Catholics in Germany have registered alleged abuse cases, most of them at Catholic boarding schools decades ago.

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New York Times - March 31, 2010

Vatican Official Defends Pope’s Handling of Case


VATICAN CITY — A top Vatican official issued a detailed defense of Pope Benedict XVI’s handling of sexual abuse cases and extensively criticized The New York Times’s coverage, both in its news and editorial pages, as unfair to the pope and the church.

In a rare interview and a 2,400-word statement posted Wednesday on the Vatican Web site, the official, Cardinal William J. Levada, an American who heads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, praised Pope Benedict for vigorously investigating and prosecuting sexual abuse cases. He said The Times’s coverage had been “deficient by any reasonable standards of fairness.”

Cardinal Levada singled out several Times reporters and columnists for criticism, focusing particularly on an article describing failed efforts by Wisconsin church officials to persuade the Vatican to defrock a priest who had abused as many as 200 deaf boys from 1950 to 1974. The pope, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office when the case was referred there, in 1996.

He said the article wrongly “attributed the failure to accomplish this dismissal to Pope Benedict, instead of diocesan decisions at the time.” On Wednesday, the archbishop of Milwaukee said the pope should not be held responsible for mistakes that were made in Wisconsin, according to The Associated Press.

The Times article drew on documents obtained from lawyers suing the church that showed that Vatican officials had at first ordered a secret canonical trial, then asked the archdiocese to suspend it after the priest pleaded for leniency to Cardinal Ratzinger. Wisconsin church officials protested the suspension, but followed it. The priest, the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, died a few months later.

News coverage of the abuse has clearly touched a nerve in the Vatican. As the church grapples with abuse cases that have come to light in several European countries, Benedict has come under scrutiny for how he and his subordinates handled sexual abuse allegations against priests while he served as an archbishop in Germany as well as when he was the Vatican’s top doctrinal enforcer.

In 1980, when the pope was archbishop of Munich and Freising, he approved the transfer of a priest who had abused boys to therapy and was copied in on a memo saying that the priest had been allowed to resume pastoral duties shortly after his therapy began. The priest was later convicted of molesting other boys.

“This is different, because it’s the pope and because it’s a pope who is most self evidently beyond accusation, particularly in this area,” said a senior Vatican official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly.

Cardinal Levada said he believed that “the evidence is clear” that Father Murphy represented an “egregious case” and deserved to be defrocked.

But he also said he was not second-guessing the decision to suspend the trial. He said a canonical trial would be “useless if the priest were dying.” “Have you ever been to a trial? Do you know how long they take?” he said. “If the man had had a miraculous recovery and doctors said he’d live another 10 years, I’m sure a letter would say fine, ‘Start the trial.’ ”

Sitting in a receiving room at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with a view of Saint Peter’s out the window and an oil portrait of Cardinal Ratzinger on the wall, Cardinal Levada expressed pain at the case of Father Murphy.

“I think the evidence is clear from the documents that he was a serial abuser of children, helpless children often times, he had no respect for the sacrament of confession, even using that to accomplish his abuse,” he said. “It’s one of the saddest and the most egregious cases I’ve seen.”

At that point a canon lawyer who sat in on the interview but declined to speak on the record intervened about the nuances of the unfinished trial, effectively deflecting questions about why it had been suspended.

Cardinal Levada said that although Father Murphy never faced judgment in a criminal or canonical court, the priest had not evaded it altogether.

“As a believer,” he wrote in his statement, “I have no doubt that Murphy will face the One who judges both the living and the dead.”

Cardinal Levada said Benedict had played a “very significant role” as the “architect” of the Vatican’s 2001 norms that sent sexual abuse cases directly to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and streamlined procedures for bishops to report sexual abuse cases. Those norms ushered in a flood of abuse trials, many of which are still unresolved.

In a related letter in 2001, the future pope reminded bishops to adhere to secrecy in ecclesiastical trials, which caused some confusion about whether clerics should report abuse to the civil authorities. In recent weeks, Benedict and the Vatican have emphasized that the clergy should report evidence of crimes to the civil authorities.

“He was prefect when the church put into place a very important standard and practice for helping bishops deal with these cases,” said Cardinal Levada.

In light of media reports that have questioned what Benedict knew about abuse cases, Cardinal Levada said, “Anyone can say, ‘Why didn’t you do this?’ ‘You could have done this better.’ That’s part of life, but certainly it’s not the case to say that he is deficient,” Cardinal Levada said. “If anything, he was the architect of this step forward in the church and I think he deserves his credit.”

Benedict named Cardinal Levada, a theologian, a former archbishop of Portland and San Francisco, and a former member of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, to succeed him as prefect after he became pope in 2005.

A full 80 percent of the abuse cases to come through the congregation in the past decade are from the United States, according to the head of the internal tribunal that handles abuse cases, Msgr. Charles Scicluna.

Cardinal Levada said that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had a staff of about 45 and devoted about a third of its time to disciplinary issues.

“I would say it’s an increasing amount of the work of the congregation,” he said, adding that he anticipated having to expand its staff.

He said it should not be seen as leniency that some 60 percent of the abuse cases that the congregation had considered since 2001 did not result in trials. In cases of “moral certitude” trials aren’t necessary, he said, and other disciplinary measures can be taken, while murkier cases requiring more evidence might require trials.

“A canonical trial is an instrument appropriately used, but it would not be the normal procedure,” he said.

The senior Vatican official said that the pope himself was “serene” in the face of news reports but probably upset on behalf of Catholics. “I can’t imagine he wouldn’t be troubled that the faithful are troubled,” he said.

Daniel J. Wakin contributed reporting.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 2, 2010

An article on Thursday about a detailed defense of Pope Benedict XVI’s handling of sexual abuse cases given by a Vatican official, Cardinal William J. Levada, in which he criticized The Times’s coverage as unfair, misstated the cardinal’s former role with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. He was a member and served on panels, but never served as the head of the group or in another leadership post. The article also misstated the top position in the organization. It is president; there is no chairman.

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The Guardian - UK April 1, 2010

Catholic church seeks forgiveness for sex abuse by priests

Papal response acknowledges scandal is a 'test', but attacks New York Times for series of articles

Senior Catholic officials today apologised and asked for forgiveness as they sought to repair the damage caused by the sex abuse scandal engulfing the church.

In Austria and Switzerland archbishops and bishops marked the start of Easter by appealing to parishioners to come forward with their allegations, and admitting to past mistakes when dealing with claims.

A spokesman for Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged that the international scandal over sex abuse by priests is a "test for him and the church", but the papal response mingled contrition with forthright defiance.

Vatican officials have become increasingly outspoken in their defence of the pope and the Catholic hierarchy's behaviour towards victims and offenders.

Today a Vatican spokesman took aim at the New York Times, which has published a series of explosive stories on what the pope may or may not have known about a cover-up involving a paedophile priest. Cardinal William Levada, who succeeded the pope as head of the doctrinal department, accused the newspaper of going into "attack mode" in its coverage of the pope and said that it should "give the world a more balanced view of a leader it can and should count on".

The archbishop of Vienna, who caused a storm last month by suggesting that priestly celibacy may be to blame for paedophilia in the church, led a service at St Stephen's cathedral in Vienna last night, where thousands of people vented their fury at the church.

At a mass held for victims, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn listened to accounts of sexual abuse or physical punishment in Catholic institutions.

Afterwards he acknowledged that some individuals in the church exploited their position, were sexually violent and placed the reputation of the church above everything else.

"Some of us have talked about the gracious God and yet done evil to those who were entrusted to them. Some of us have used sexual violence … some of us have robbed boys and girls of their childhood. For some of us, the church's immaculate appearance was more important than anything else.

"We confess our guilt to the many whom we have wronged as a church, and whom some of us have wronged very directly."

Earlier this week it was revealed that an Austrian abuse phoneline had received 566 separate abuse claims since its launch in January. Local reports said a quarter related to sexual abuse, another quarter involved physical abuse and the remaining number required further investigation.

Last weekend, amid growing public disquiet over the ability of the church to investigate its own priests, Schönborn announced an independent commission to examine historic cases.

There are fears that the scandal in Austria could lead to a record number of defections that would exceed the 2009 figure, when 53,000 people left the church.

Across the border in Switzerland bishops confessed to underestimating the scale of the abuse and apologised for their failings. A statement from the Swiss bishops' conference said: "We humbly admit that we underestimated the extent of the situation. Those in charge of the diocese and religious orders made mistakes."

It also called on those who had suffered abuse to come forward with their claims and, if necessary, press charges.

Aside from a lengthy pastoral letter to victims in the Irish Republic, the pope has made little direct reference to clerical sexual abuse recently in public.

On Palm Sunday, following several attempts to link him to a cover-up in Germany, he said he would not be "intimidated by the chatter of dominant opinions", a swipe at those calling for his resignation.

The pope has a gruelling Easter schedule, including a torchlit procession this evening and a major address on Easter Sunday.

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America: The National Catholic Weekly - April 1, 2010

It's Not About The Media

By Rev. James Martin, S.J.

More so than in 2002, when the clerical sex abuse crisis exploded into American newspapers, church leaders and prominent Catholics have accused the media of unjustly targeting the church, specifically the pope. The reporting on the issue is, they say, inaccurate, unfair and motivated by anti-Catholicism. Let me speak to that question as a Catholic priest, as someone who works at a weekly magazine, and who also occasionally writes for the secular media.

There has always been a lingering degree of anti-Catholicism in some quarters of the media, for a variety of reasons, some with roots deep in American history, which I've written about at length in America. And the media also gets things wrong from time to time, even in factual reporting--especially when reporters new to the religion beat don't have a clue about the way that the Catholic church functions. ("When will Pope John Paul pick his successor?" I was once asked by a full-time religion reporter a few years ago.)

There are also op-ed writers and columnists who seem never to have a good word to say about the Catholic Church even in the best of times. Snotty comments from pundits who know zero about celibacy are useless; misinformed asides from journalists who know little about the Vatican are unhelpful; and mean-spirited stereotypes from otherwise thoughtful writers about all priests, all sisters, all bishops, all popes and all Catholics are as harmful as any other stereotypes. To that end, I agree with a few of the critiques about the media. A few.

But to blame the messenger for this current wave of stories about sexual abuse is, I believe, to miss the point. For instance, a friend of mine told me that at the Chrism Mass, her local bishop told the congregation to cancel their subscriptions to The New York Times, which he called "the enemy." Besides the fact that a Mass is not the time for a critique of your local newspaper, this overlooks a critical dynamic about the service the media has provided for a church that needed to address a grave problem, but wasn't doing enough.

To wit: Without the coverage by The Boston Globe in 2002 of the sexual abuse by priests, the Catholic Church in United States would not have confronted the scourge of sexual abuse on a nationwide basis and instituted mandatory guidelines.

Why do I say this? Because years before, in 1985, The National Catholic Reporter reported and editorialized on abuse cases about a notorious Louisiana priest. In great and numbing detail.

What was the response? Well, in 1992, after many closed-door meetings with experts in the intervening years, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted a series of guidelines on dealing with abuse. These, however, were not binding on the bishops, but voluntary.

But this was nothing along the lines of what happened as a result of the dogged reporting from the Globe (and other media outlets) that began in earnest in early 2002. That is, there was nothing like the extraordinary meeting of American bishops, convened in Dallas in 2002 that produced the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," which set forth the nationwide "zero tolerance" policy for abusers. There was no mandatory institution of "safe practices" for every single church institution (parishes, schools, retreat centers) across the country, no mandatory training programs for all priests, deacons and church employees. And there was certainly no creation of the Office for the Protection of Children and Young People at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. None of that happened after the 1985 case. But it did after 2002.

What helped to move the church from "voluntary" to "mandatory" was the full-bore coverage of the mainstream media--harsh most of the time, wrong sometimes, motivated by anti-Catholicm very occasionally--but needed by a church that, at least until that point, seemed unwilling to confront fully the widespread nature of the abuse, the systemic structures that caused it and the seriousness of the damage done to children and their families by these crimes.

The Catholic Church in this country has come far from where it was in 2002. Its extensive training programs and draconian guidelines can be taken as models for other institutions that deal with children and young people. That doesn't mean that local churches elsewhere do not still need to address abuse (as we're seeing in Ireland and Germany), nor that the U.S. church has "finished" addressing these crimes. As long as the possibility for abuse exists, or one victim is still suffering from past abuses, we will not be "finished" with this problem.

Nor is it surprising that the media are now focused on the news from Ireland and Germany, or even on the Vatican's response to individual cases in the past. It is not simply the question of sexual abuse, which occurs in every institution that deals with children. (And occurs most often in families.) Rather it is, as Paul Moses, a Catholic who has worked in the secular press, pointed out on dotCommonweal, a question of whether past cover-ups have occurred. Covering coverups is what the media does, no matter what the institution. "When a scandal of this proportion is uncovered," Moses writes, "journalists will naturally want to see how far it goes--the basis for the latest round of stories."

Every single bishop I know wants to end sexual abuse. They have met with victims whose lives have been destroyed, and they are justly horrified. But for every bishop of my acquaintance, there are as many religion reporters of my acquaintance called "anti-Catholic" by those very same clerics. Reporters work diligently to get the story right, particularly on such an explosive topic, sometimes after being unable to get church officials even to return their phone calls. Sometimes I wish that I could bring both parties together to discuss how the media deals with the church and the church with the media.

There's another reason not to blame the media: it probably doesn't work in the long run. Blaming the media in these situations, for better or worse, comes off as an excuse; it makes people wonder why so much time is devoted to finding holes in a story when so little was expended in decades past to combat abuse; you never know what digging that the media might be doing that will make your objections seem irrelevant; and, as the saying goes, "Don't pick fights with people who buy ink by the barrel." For every objection you have they will have a team of reporters to respond. Object and correct, but don't blame. But, more fundamentally, targeting the media ignores the way the media actually helped the Catholic church in this country.

In 1992, Cardinal Bernard Law, archbishop of Boston, said, "By all means we call down the power of God on the media, particularly the Globe." It was a public excoriation for the paper's relentless criticisms of the church's handling of abuse cases. In a sense, the power of God did come down on the Boston Globe: it became an unwitting instrument through which the church was forced to face--for the first time on a nationwide, mandatory, system-wide basis--the crimes of its priests and the sins of the bishops who had shuttled them from parish to parish in decades past.

So I thank God for the secular media, which, in its own biased and sometimes inaccurate way, forced the church in this country to change for the better.

James Martin, SJ is a Catholic priest and the author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything.

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  1. 2 Opus Dei Followers On Trial In France

    by The Associated Press September 22, 2011

    PARIS (AP) — Two Opus Dei followers and an association closely linked to the conservative Roman Catholic group went on trial Thursday, accused of forcing a disciple to work for more than a decade with little or no pay.

    Defense lawyers portrayed it as a case about labor law, while an Opus Dei spokeswoman says the plaintiff in a Paris court chose of her own free will to follow the group.

    But the trial is expected to shine a spotlight on the secretive group's practices. Dan Brown's bestseller "The Da Vinci Code" painted Opus Dei as a murderous, power-hungry sect, a portrayal the group vigorously protested. Opus Dei's founder, Spanish priest Jose Maria Escriva de Balaguer, was made a saint by Pope John Paul II.

    The trial came after a legal complaint by Catherine Tissier, who was 14 when she joined the Donson hotel school in eastern France, where the religious sacraments were led by Opus Dei.

    Under the guidance of a "spiritual director," she gradually chose to follow Opus Dei's spiritual path and began working as a "numerary assistant."

    "I was working from seven o'clock in the morning to ten o'clock in the evening every day, seven days a week. The three weeks of holidays we had were spent with Opus Dei, where they thought us theology and pursued in-depth studies on the spirit of the (Opus Dei) founder," Tissier told The Associated Press.

    She said she got paycheck each month, but was asked to sign blank checks by her employers and never saw the money. She described being encouraged to keep her parents at bay, and being diagnosed with depression. A doctor, whom she said was an Opus Dei follower, put her on medication.

    "I wasn't able to eat by myself, I couldn't even wash by myself, my head was hard to keep straight. Regardless of that, I still had the same workload in the Donson school," she said.

    At age 29, she weighed just 39 kilograms (86 pounds). During a weekend visit to her parents' home, they took her to see their family doctor, who said she shouldn't go back. "I started to live when I was 30. I started going out, I had never been to the movies," Tissier says.

    She first filed a lawsuit in 2001 accusing Opus Dei of "mental manipulation." Those charges were later dismissed. After a decade of investigation, two Opus Dei followers and the association that employed her are going on trial on charges of "clandestine work" and "remuneration contrary to dignity."

    "This isn't a crusade against Opus Dei, that's not what's at stake," her lawyer Rodolphe Bosselut said. His client wants compensation and for Opus Dei to "review the status of the numerary assistant," a job he called "dysfunctional."

    Thierry Laugier, a lawyer for ACUTE, the association that employed Tissier at the hotel, said the case revolves solely around an alleged breach of labor law. Beatrice de la Coste, spokeswoman for Opus Dei in France, said, "Catherine Tessier was an employee at the hotel school, she was of course in contact with Opus Dei and she chose that spiritual path."

    As of 2005, Opus Dei had 4,000 numerary assistants, all women, whose full-time, paid jobs are to care for the Opus centers, doing laundry, cleaning and cooking for the numeraries and priests who live there, according to the book "Opus Dei: Secrets and Power Inside the Catholic Church," by John Allen.

    Allen cites critics of the numerary assistants, who say they are recruited from poorer classes to do long hours of manual labor and are told it's a vocation from God to give up marrying or having children in order to serve Opus Dei.