Monday, 31 May 2010

Another Bishop Resigns - In Nigeria

Africa has not been in the news much over abuse in the church. However, there are many reports of widespread flouting of rules on celibacy. Now, there is news that a bishop in Nigeria, Richard Burke of Benin City, has resigned following a sexual scandal. He denies that there ever was any question of "abuse", but only of a broken vow of celibacy, as the partner involved was an adult of  21 when the relationship started. She says she was much younger.

From the BBC:

The Vatican has accepted the resignation of an Irish archbishop in Nigeria accused of sexually abusing a teenage girl in the Niger Delta.
Richard Burke, the archbishop of Benin City, admits to a relationship but denies she was a minor when it began.
"The reason for my resignation is that I have been unfaithful to my oath of celibacy," he said in a statement in the Irish Catholic newspaper.
The Irish Times puts both sides of the story:

She says
 The woman making the allegation, Dolores Attwood (41), now lives in Canada with her husband and three children. In a detailed statement last October she accused the archbishop of having abused her in 1983 when she was 14 and a patient in hospital. She also alleged he had abused other young Nigerian girls.
He says:
he and Mrs Atwood “had a caring relationship that began in the latter part of 1989, when she was 21 and I was 40. I was posted back to Ireland in March 1990 and returned to Nigeria in April 1996. In the last 20 years, Mrs Atwood and I met on seven occasions. On three of those occasions our relationship was again expressed sexually. This was entirely inappropriate behaviour and it is something for which I am truly sorry.”
"Entirely inappropriate", indeed. The problem is, for an ordained priest, there is no possibility of an "appropriate" sexual or even emotional relationship with anyone.  

Saturday, 29 May 2010

A “Recovered Catholic” Tells Her Story.

Sue Cox is an English woman from a “fanatically” Catholic family who says she was molested by a Catholic priest at the age of ten, and a few years later was raped by him.
She has written frankly and dispassionately of her experience in the Guardian, where you can read it. What I want to point to here is the aftermath, even after dropping out of school, early marriage,  alcoholism, and self-harm – what happened after she began to recover and put her life together:
Then, at 28, I stopped drinking and joined AA. My marriage ended and I met Gez, an artist, when I was 36. Life was good: we opened a business; I studied acupuncture and counselling, and trained others in addiction work. But I could never forget what had happened and not telling anyone the full story had made me feel so much worse. Telling Gez was the first step, but I needed to take my secret back to where it began – the Catholic church.
When I told them, the Diocese of Birmingham seemed regretful, offering me prayers. Archbishop Nichols of Westminster himself wrote that I was in his thoughts. But what use to me were prayers or an archbishop's thoughts?

Now she is yet another who describes herself as a “recovered Catholic”:
These days, I am a Buddhist. I appreciate the need for faith – but my chosen religion is compassionate. Best of all, I feel no shame in telling people: I have recovered from alcoholism, eating disorders, self-harm, marital abuse, childhood rape. And the Catholic church.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

"End Celibacy": Appeal to Pope from - priests' mistresses.

"Abuse" by priests is not only about sexual abuse of children, or even the sexual abuse of children and adolescents, or the sexual and physical abuse of children and adolescents. It also includes the sexual abuse (or "sexual harassment") of adults, of religious women, of seminarians, and of junior priests by ecclesiastical superiors. Less obvious, but also very real, is the emotional abuse inflicted on the voluntary partners of priests. The abuse here is inflicted not directly by the priests, but by the institutional rules which force these women and men to keep their relationships, forcing them into a clerical closet not of their own making.
We know that there are very many of these, in all areas of the world. Now, like gay men and women before them, some are starting to open the closet doors. I love this open letter to the pope from a group of Italian priests' mistresses. Now, how long will it be before we see some priests' boyfriends make a similar move?

Italian priests' secret mistresses ask pope to scrap celibacy rule

Forty women send unprecedented letter to pontiff saying priests need to 'experience feelings, love and be loved'

Dozens of Italian women who have had relationships with Roman Catholic priests or lay monks have endorsed an open letter to the pope that calls for the abolition of the celibacy rule. The letter, thought by one signatory to be unprecedented, argues that a priest "needs to live with his fellow human beings, experience feelings, love and be loved".
It also pleads for understanding of those who "live out in secrecy those few moments the priest manages to grant [us] and experience on a daily basis the doubts, fears and insecurities of our men".
The issue was put back on the Vatican's agenda in March when one of Pope Benedict's senior advisers, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna, said the abolition of the celibacy rule might curb sex abuse by priests, a suggestion he hastily withdrew after Benedict spoke up for "the principle of holy celibacy".
The authors of the letter said they decided to come into the open after hearing his retort, which they said was an affirmation of "the holiness of something that is not holy" but a man-made rule. There are many instances of married priests in the early centuries of Christianity. Today, priests who follow the eastern Catholic rites can be married, as can those who married before converting to Roman Catholicism from Anglicanism.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Priest Arrested in Brazil

For the third time in two months, Brazilian authorities have initiated prosecutions against Catholic priests. In Aoril, three priests were taken into custody in a heavily publicised case after video footage of them with a former altar boy was screened on television. Also last month, another priest was charged by prosecutors with sexually molesting several altar boys. Now, in a third incident, another priest has been arrested.  

Priest Arrested in Brazil on Charges of Sexually Abusing Boy

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — The authorities in Rio de Janeiro said Sunday that they had arrested a Polish priest and charged him with sexually abusing a 16-year-old former altar boy.

The judge who issued the arrest warrant said the priest, Father Marcin Michael Strachanowski, 44, had used his parish’s rectory as an “erotic dungeon” to carry out sex acts with boys.

The police in Rio de Janeiro State said that Father Strachanowski, who was arrested late Friday, was being held at a police station awaiting court proceedings. He is accused of handcuffing the 16-year-old to a bed “to satisfy his sexual whims,” according to state prosecutors.

It is the third case of sexual abuse involving a priest in Brazil, which has the world’s biggest Roman Catholic population, in the last two months.
(Read the full report at the New York Times)

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Brazilian Church Acknowledges "Crime" of Abuse

The Brazilian Roman Catholic Church said Thursday that cases of child abuse committed by clergymen are crimes that should not be covered up and must be investigated right away.
Wrapping up its annual meeting in the world's largest Catholic country, the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops also said it did not condone sending priests accused of abuse to other locations, a practice that has helped some alleged abusers escape prosecution.
The Associated Press recently reported 30 cases around the world of priests accused of abuse who were transferred or moved abroad, and some escaped police investigations. Many had access to children in other countries, and some abused again. The probe spanned 21 nations across six continents.
Conference president Archbishop Geraldo Lyrio Rocha called child abuse a sin for which the church must show "forgiveness and mercy," but also a crime that must be dealt with to the full extent of civil and canon law.
"Should a candidate for the priesthood show any sign that he may go down the wrong path in this area, he must be barred from entering the seminary," Rocha said.
A statement released by the bishops said clergymen accused of child abuse should be banned from the priesthood.
Sex abuse scandals involving the church have mushroomed around the world recently, and some of the accused priests have surfaced in Brazil.
Late last month, prosecutors charged the Rev. Jose Afonso with abusing altar boys ranging in ages from 12 to 16. Prosecutors said the alleged abuses took place this year, in 2009 and in 2001 in Franca, in Sao Paulo state.
Also last month, 83-year-old Monsignor Luiz Marques Barbosa was detained in northeastern Brazil for allegedly abusing at least three boys after being caught on videotape having sex with a young man, a former altar boy. Barbosa is under house arrest while authorities investigate. Two other priests in the same archdiocese are also accused of abuses.
The bishops' conference announced earlier this week that it would prepare a manual with guidelines to help bishops combat child-abuse cases.
Associated Press

Abuse Dominates German "Kirchentag"

Although more than 3,000 displays fought for the attention of hundreds of thousands of German Christians for five days, the topic that got the most attention was the clerical sex abuse scandal.

Even Pope Benedict XVI addressed the issue in his message to the second ecumenical "Kirchentag," or church days, in Munich May 12-16.

The Kirchentag focused on the theme of hope, and the pope said that at a time when the world's people are in need of hope, some people are asking if the church really is a place to find it.

"In the past few months, we repeatedly have had to face news that could attempt to remove the joy from the church, news that obscures it as a place of hope," he said.

Using the words of a Bible parable, the pope said that people might be tempted to ask God whether he sowed the seeds of his Gospel in good earth.

"Weeds exist even in the heart of the church and among those whom the Lord has welcomed into his service in a special way. But the light of God has not set, the good grain has not been suffocated by the seed of evil," the pope said.

The church continues to be a place of hope, he said, because it is the place where people hear the word of God, "which purifies us and shows us the path of faith."

A clergy sex abuse scandal that emerged at a Catholic school in Berlin in January has widened not only to the rest of Germany but to other European countries. Several speakers at the Kirchentag called for an examination of the celibate priesthood, and Archbishop Ludwig Schick of Bamberg received applause when he said the laity, especially women, must be more active in church affairs.

At the opening of the program, German President Horst Kohler addressed the assembly and told participants, "We should not forget how much good is done through the churches." However, he also called for "full disclosure and a focus on the victims."

Alois Gluck, president of the Central Council of German Catholics, told the assembly, "We hope this crisis will lead to new cooperation in partnership among lay people, priests and bishops."

The Central Council of German Catholics teamed up with the Protestant organization Kirchentag to sponsor the event. Topics ranged from church teaching, praying, education and involvement in areas like fair trade, health care or the environment to presentations by human rights activists, the police force, the military and Christian organizations of homosexuals or wives of priests.

Topics went beyond church-related themes; organizations represented at the Kirchentag mirrored Germany's pluralistic society. Political parties tried hard to explain their affinity with Christian values, regardless of their emphasis on separation of church and state.

"There is simply too much," noted more than one visitor trying to find his way through the displays in the Munich exhibition center.

Some Kirchentag speakers also addressed the issue of Germany's role in the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. Since 2002, German forces have been part of the International Security Assistance Force to help rebuild the country.

With more than 5,300 German soldiers and police serving in Afghanistan, Germany has the third-largest contingent in the country, after the United States and Britain. In recent months, as casualties have mounted, some troops and those at home have questioned Germany's role.

At Christmas time, Margot Kaessmann, former head of Germany's Protestant Church, said Germany should withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. At the Kirchentag, Bishop Heinz Algermissen of Fulda called for more public resistance against the German policy in Afghanistan.

"The electorate should press their representatives that the Bundestag develops a mandatory perspective to withdraw," he said May 15.

However, some politicians warned of the human disaster that an early withdrawal might cause.

Reinhard Eroes, a former German military officer who runs the nongovernmental organization "Kinderhilfe (Kids Help) Afghanistan," called for more respect for the Afghan population.

Catholic News Service

Belgian bishops apologise

BELGIAN bishops asked for forgiveness on Wednesday from the victims of paedophile priests, and for the Church's silence on the abuse, in an open letter to the Catholic community.

'To all the victims of sexual abuse, we ask for forgiveness, both for the acts of aggression and for the inadequate treatment of them,' the bishops wrote in a letter to the faithful following a visit to the Vatican. 'The most important consideration must be the security and protection of children. On this point there can be no equivocation,' they said.

Following priest abuse charges in Austria, Germany, Ireland and the United States, the Belgian Church was plunged into a paedophile scandal last month with the veteran bishop of Bruges forced to step down after admitting to sexually abusing a boy in the 1980s. Roger Vangheluwe, who took up his post as bishop of the Flemish city of Bruges 25 years ago, became the country's first Catholic bishop to resign in those circumstances.

The case prompted 300 complainants to come forward and give their own stories to an independent committee set up to look into cases of abuse by clerics. The new Belgian primate, Andre Leonard, has promised a policy of zero tolerance.

The bishops wrote: 'We recognise that church officials have not sufficiently taken into account the effect of sexual abuse on minors.' 'With this silence the reputation of the ecclesiastical institution and of its ministers has taken precedence over the dignity of the young victims.

Read the full report at Straits Times 

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Vatican's New Legal Strategy

The Vatican will embark on a sweeping new legal strategy Monday in responding to allegations of sex abuse in the United States, CNN has learned.
Responding to a Louisville, Kentucky, lawsuit that seeks to depose top Vatican officials -- including Pope Benedict XVI -- the Holy See plans to file a motion Monday denying that the church issued a document mandating secrecy in the face of abuse allegations, as many victims allege, according to a Vatican attorney.
The Vatican's motion also will argue that bishops are not employees of the Holy See, exempting the Vatican from legal culpability in cases of alleged abuse in the U.S., said Jeffrey Lena, the Vatican's U.S.-based attorney.
Whether or not the Vatican succeeds in getting the Louisville case dismissed based on those arguments will likely have implications for church abuse lawsuits across the country -- including two other suits that target the Vatican -- at a time when allegations of abuse and cover-up are dogging the church worldwide.
Much of the litigation against the church has argued that a 1962 document -- called crimen sollicitationis in Latin, which means "crimes of solicitation" -- barred church officials from contacting civil authorities with allegations of sex abuse against the church.
Abuse victims and their attorneys have said the document is evidence of a broader church culture of secrecy and cover-up in responding to abuse allegations.
For the first time, the Vatican on Monday will challenge those charges.
"Contrary to what some plaintiffs' attorneys have contended, crimen did not mandate bishops to keep silent about sexual abuse in their dioceses," Lena said. "That is important, because many Catholics, in particular, have been saddened by the idea that the laws of their church would prevent compliance with the law, and it simply is not true."
The 1962 document primarily refers to cases involving confession. If a priest tries to solicit sex from someone who is trying to give their confession, it says, the allegation against the priest should be "pursued in a most secretive way ... under penalty of excommunication."
Church leaders argue the document had no bearing on civil or criminal law and was superseded by the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which "treats the sexual abuse of a minor (and solicitation of a penitent by confessor) as criminal behavior, which may be punished by dismissal from the clerical state."
The Vatican also plans to argue Monday for the first time that bishops are not employees of the Vatican, as a handful of U.S. lawsuits against the Holy See allege.
"We will respectfully submit that this is a fallacious theory," Lena said. "The Holy See, or the Pope, does not 'employ' bishops in the United States."
The church argues that bishops act with local autonomy in their respective dioceses.
The Louisville case was filed in 2004 by three men who allege that they were victims of priest abuse as children and who are seeking damages from the Vatican.
The men's attorney, William McMurry, did not return a call to his office on Sunday night. He is seeking to interview top Vatican officials, including the pope, in the case.


Cardinal Brady "Failed in His Duty", But Vows to Stay On

The head of the Irish Church's own child protection watchdog has found that Cardinal Brady clearly failed in his duty to safeguard children. Even so, the Cardinal has vowed to stay on.

From the Irish Times:

CATHOLIC PRIMATE Cardinal Seán Brady was wrong in his handling of 1975 child sex abuse investigations, the head of the church’s child protection watchdog said yesterday.
Ian Elliott, chief executive of the the National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC), also said it “would have been helpful” had the cardinal disclosed details of the matter sooner than their disclosure in newspapers last March.
In 1975, the then Fr Brady conducted a canonical investigation into child sex abuse by Fr Brendan Smyth in Kilmore diocese and swore to secrecy the two teenagers involved, whom he believed.
He passed a report on the matter to his bishop, but did nothing more. Smyth continued to abuse children for a further 18 years.
Asked yesterday whether he believed the then Fr Brady had dealt with the matter correctly, Mr Elliott said: “No. He didn’t handle it properly from the safeguarding of children point of view. You could not say that the action taken prioritised the safeguarding of children.”
He was “quite sure if you posed the situation to the cardinal today . . . other actions would have been taken.”
Mr Elliott said he had written to Cardinal Brady following his request on Monday that the NBSC prioritise Armagh archdiocese in its new audit.
(Read the full report)

Meanwhile, the Cardinal insists he will not resign. From the Belfast Telegraph:

Irish victims of clerical abuse have expressed disappointment that Cardinal Sean Brady is to stay on as Primate despite their calls for his resignation over his role in the 1975 cover-up of paedophile priest Brendan Smyth.
Maeve Lewis, executive director of the One in Four support group, said Cardinal Brady had allowed many other children to be sexually abused and their lives to be devastated by his failure to report Smyth to the authorities.
“Cardinal Brady states that he has consulted with survivors,” she said. “He certainly has not listened to what they have said.
“Survivors who are in contact with One in Four are very clear that they need senior Catholic churchmen to be accountable for what they have done — and to resign.”
Ms Lewis said that if Cardinal Brady was genuine about overseeing change, he should challenge responses victims meet when they attempt to bring their experiences to the attention of authorities.

Irish Church 'took nine years to reveal abuse case'

From the "Newsletter"

THE Catholic Church in Ireland waited nine years before disclosing a case of alleged child abuse, the News Letter has found.
In March 2006, then Archbishop Sean Brady stated publicly that the Church had disclosed all allegations of child sexual abuse against clergy to the police.

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has told the News Letter that the Church had been aware of at least one of those cases of alleged abuse for nine years before Cardinal Brady led moves to disclose it.

A spokesman for the PPS told the News Letter that the complaint in question "was made to the Catholic Church in 1997 – the Catholic Church reported the matter to police by way of letter dated 7th March, 2006".

A spokesman for Cardinal Brady said they did not know what case the News Letter was asking about and that the PPS had refused to discuss it with the Church for data protection reasons.

"As a result we are unable to identify the specific cases listed in your letter and therefore to provide you with an accurate response to your query," said the Church spokesman.

The News Letter asked the PPS why the Church was not investigated for potentially withholding information on child abuse for over nine years.

A PPS spokesman responded that it is the PSNI's responsibility to investigate and that the complainant had asked for no further action to be taken.

The PSNI declined to make any specific comment on the apparent nine-year delay in reporting the case.

Instead, the News Letter was directed to a PSNI statement which affirmed that the PSNI would take its lead from the Northern Ireland Executive in supporting any inter-departmental response to clerical child abuse. A new dedicated PSNI team under the Serious Crime Branch was to take over clerical child sex abuse investigations from the start of this month.

The Northern Ireland Executive asked Health Minister Michael McGimpsey to take the lead on such abuse last year. In December, he announced he would submit a paper to his ministerial colleagues about the way forward.

A spokeswoman for Mr McGimpsey said yesterday that the Executive was still considering the paper.

Clerical "Celibacy", In Austria

In my explorations around the Austrian bishops' discussions of celibacy, I stumbled on a snippet from March 2009 that adds an interesting new dimension. In the diocese of Linz, the news agency reported that a parish priest and dean, Father Josef Friedl, acknowledged in a public forum that he was living openly with a mistress, and that his congregation "had no objection".  The newspaper Der Welt was said to have reported that Fr Friedl was only one of "several" deans in the Linz diocese that were living openly with women.

Corroborating the claim in Der Welt, after publication of the report on Fr Friedl, the Austrian group "Wir Sing Kirche" published a statement from a priests' support group, claiming that in their estimates, about a third of Catholic priests in the German speaking countries were in the same position. It is likely that they may have overestimated the numbers, but whatever the true exact figure, it is clearly not negligible.
"(...) As those who are in the same situation, we network in self-help groups in Austria and other adjoining German-speaking dioceses. According to our insight, the reality is that there are about one third of the Catholic priests in the same situation. We ask the church leadership to seek a path which liberates this priestly form of life in the Church. We are all aware of the service of the priest as vocation and fulfilment in life. Our partners are our gift from heaven and valuable assistance in our lives and service. (...)"
This suggests to me, that the primary reason for the bishops' current discussion on the need to do away with compulsory celibacy, is just a healthy dose of reality: in practice, in the real world, priestly celibacy as a norm simply does not exist. I have known for some time that in Africa, it is widely accepted that many priests and even some bishops have open relationships with women, even raising children and families in church houses, but this is the first suggestion that I have seen that similar open flouting of the rules occurs elsewhere.
Clerical Celibacy is a Myth.

(For more, see the report s at Rent a Priest, here and here)

"Rent a Priest" blog describes itself as a "conversation about the married Catholic priesthood and church reform".  The archives are packed with many tantalizing headlines, which I wish I could explore properly right now - but its far too late to do it tonight. The associated website, which I've written about before,  reminds us of the well-established rule, "Once a priest, always a priest", and promotes priest who are no longer work within formal church structures, continuing to offer less formal ministry, for example as marriage officers and other freelance services.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Irish Priests, Aussie Abuse

TWO IRISH Catholic priests have been named in a programme about sexual abuse which was aired by Australia’s ABC television last night.
Alleged victims of Sydney-based Fr Finian Egan and Melbourne-based Fr Paddy Maye have gone public with their allegations because the priests continue to conduct church services despite being found by the Catholic Church to have committed abuse offences.
A church investigation found that Fr Egan groped two girls over several years in the 1980s, but despite this, he was praised at a public Mass last year for his 50 years in the priesthood.
Fr Maye was banned from acting as a priest after church investigators found he had committed serious sexual abuse in 1973 by forcing himself on a 31- year-old woman when she was in a “vulnerable” state. The church also found he groped two sisters over several years in the 1980s.
Kellie-Anne Roche is the daughter of Irish immigrants who trusted Fr Egan because he was also Irish. In 1981, she says, she was abused by Fr Egan and the abuse still affects her life.
“I have put up with a facade all my life . . . there is a wall between me and sex,” she says.
At youth group meetings, the guitar-playing Fr Egan would “arrange me on his lap and put my arm around his neck so my breasts were in his face”.
Then he would put his hand between her legs and, she said, “I would feel his erection”.
Another victim, known only as “Kathie”, says she was repeatedly groped by Fr Egan when he gave her guitar lessons. She says the church discouraged her from going to police.
Both women took part in the church’s Towards Healing programme for victims of sexual abuse.
“It’s called Towards Healing but nothing they did has helped me to heal,” Roche says. “If anything, it made me feel like they were protecting him. I would advise victims to go to the police, not [to] Towards Healing. I don’t trust them.”
Roche says she is now going to take her case to the police.
The women both say their main reason in making their complaints is to see Fr Egan removed from any role in the church or from having involvement with children.
They were told their cases would be dealt with in a few months, but they took more than two years.
Last July Bishop David Walker of Sydney wrote to each woman “to apologise to you for the way you have been treated by Finian Egan”.
“What happened to you is contrary to what is expected of a member of the clergy.
“We proclaim a Gospel which sees this behaviour as totally unacceptable and I regret that you have been exposed to it by a member of our clergy.”
However, a month later Fr Egan was the celebrant at a Mass in a church across the road from Bishop Walker’s office. The Mass was advertised as honouring Fr Egan’s 50 years as a priest.
“It makes you feel like a victim again. Even though the church upheld my allegations and they tell me that they believe me, they don’t show it by taking away his robes as a priest,” Roche says.
Five years ago Fr Maye was forced by the church in Melbourne to retire early with his “canonical faculties” removed, so he could not act in public as a priest – a step below defrocking.
The Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, wrote three letters warning Fr Maye against working as a priest and saying “any publicity will reflect adversely upon yourself [and] upon the church”. But this did not stop Fr Maye saying Mass for Melbourne’s Irish community on St Patrick’s Day this year and last.

Irish Report Marks "Tangible Progress"

ON MONDAY of last week, in his much discussed address to the Knights of Columbanus, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin spoke of “strong forces” in the Catholic Church “which would prefer that the truth did not emerge” about clerical child sex abuse.

Yesterday we were presented at a press conference in Dublin with one of those strong forces in the church which is even more determined that the truth will emerge.

There is no doubt that the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland (NBSC) has earned its credibility. Its uncompromising uncovering in 2008 of “inadequate and in some respects dangerous” child protection practices in Cloyne diocese represented a baptism of fire for the fledgling board and its then new chief executive Ian Elliott.

But it stuck to its guns, eventually persuading Cloyne diocese to publish that damning report on its own website in December 2008.

The result was the resignation of Bishop John Magee and an extension of the remit of the Murphy commission to include Cloyne diocese, which it is now investigating.

Similarly, the NBSC decision to yesterday “name and shame” three dioceses which have been tardy in appointing parish safeguard representatives will have earned them few friends in Killala, Clonfert, and/or Ossory. But it is another uncompromising move towards ensuring children are safe in Catholic-run contexts on this island.

The obstinacy of the NBSC in pursuit of this aim and in particular of its chief executive, Elliott, has prompted some humour, with a recognition that much of the church’s future credibility where child protection is concerned rests on the shoulders of a Presbyterian, which Elliott is.

A native of Dublin and a Trinity College graduate, he has spent most of his working life in Northern Ireland, where he implemented major reforms in child protection services for the Department of Health and Social Security there.

Such was his reputation that he was head-hunted by the Catholic Church to become chief executive of the NBSC in July 2007.

That alone indicated a serious commitment by strong forces within the church to properly address child protection.

The continuing and unequivocal support that Elliott and the NBSC have received from church authorities, through the Cloyne upheaval and the fall-out from the Ryan and Murphy reports, indicates a sharp change of approach to this catastrophic issue by most of the church’s authorities in Ireland.

It is, however, a work in progress.

As NBSC chairman John Morgan, who has been dealing with child protection issues on the church’s behalf since 1999, said in a statement accompanying yesterday’s report, from the NBSC perspective “the best thing we can do is help change the future – and that is our pivotal emphasis”.

He went on to say that “clearly a cultural correction is required in the Irish church to deal with the problem of abuse”.

He said “there is little apparent recognition that Vatican II decisively moved the role of the church lay faithful from collaboration to co-responsibility. A form of collective authority in the safeguarding of children might assist the ushering in of a wider recognition of the principle of co-responsibility.”

The NBSC intended “to participate in this crucial debate”, he added.

For his part, Elliott was as uncompromising. “The radical change imperative within the church is an acceptance that the safety of the child is paramount,” he said. All other considerations, including the reputation of the church, the hierarchy, or any member of the clergy, “comes some way after the safety of the child in any consideration of decisions to be made or actions to be taken”.

He warned that “within some areas of the church, this commitment has been tempered by a mistaken belief that it is possible to continue with past and familiar practices”.

That, to quote Margaret Thatcher, is “out”.

In more than an echo of Archbishop Martin’s address last week, Elliott said that this approach had led to “a reliance on a defensive legal response when complaints emerge rather than a focus on safeguarding concerns and the elimination of risk to other vulnerable young people”.

Radical change required “nothing less than a major step away from the defensiveness of the past to a more open and accountable future,” he said.

And where abuse victims were concerned, he said the church “must improve significantly” in “communicating a sense of regret and remorse for what has happened, along with a sincere concern for their present wellbeing.”

Such victims were also “a great source of wisdom and guidance about what mistakes to avoid in the future,” he said.

Elliott’s comments on the Christian Brothers yesterday were unexpected. Of all 18 congregations investigated by the Ryan commission it had been the most recalcitrant and reluctantly co-operative. It also emerged very badly from the Ryan report.

Elliott said that since publication of that report last May the Christian Brothers had been “working diligently” to ensure that all information they held on members suspected of being involved in abuse was reported to statutory authorities and to the NBSC.

The organisation also now had a mandatory reporting policy in place. The Christian Brothers had become “an excellent example to be followed by the church” and were deserving of “the highest praise”, he said.

Quite a turnaround, and a welcome one, for a congregation which had been denying any abuse had taken place in its institutions five days before publication of the Ryan report on May 20th last year.

Irish Times

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

"Zero Tollerance": Has it Applied to Bishops?

Over the  past few weeks, there has been a spate of bishops' resignations tendered or accepted by Pope Benedict, some remarkably quickly. This might appear to represent a new spirit of accountability, but Rachel Zoll, writing for the Canadian Press, argues that there have still been far too few:#

Catholic Church's 'zero tolerance' doesn't apply to bishops 
who left abusers in ministry

NEW YORK, N.Y. — In the latest Roman Catholic sex abuse scandals in Europe and beyond, more bishops already have resigned for failing to protect children than ever stepped down during the U.S. abuse crisis.
American bishops point to their repeated apologies to victims and millions of dollars spent on child protection since 2002, when they enacted a stricter discipline policy. Yet critics say the focus of those reforms remains on reining in guilty clergy, ignoring the role of leaders who enabled the abuse.
Only a tiny number of prelates overall have stepped down for keeping predators in ministry. Experts say the push for resignation must come from the Vatican itself.
"A bishop would never resign unless it would be seen as in the service of the church," said R. Scott Appleby, a University of Notre Dame historian and expert on American Catholicism. "If he doesn't get signals from his superior in Rome that this is the appropriate thing to do, then he would not consider it the appropriate thing to do."
Four bishops in Ireland have resigned since the results of a government-ordered inquiry into the Archdiocese of Dublin were published last year, although the Vatican has only accepted two of the resignations so far. The investigation found church leaders had shielded more than 170 sexually abusive priests from the law. A fifth Irish bishop resigned in March after a separate inquiry found he was continuing to hide abuse claims from civil authorities.
While some bishops in the U.S. and elsewhere have resigned over their own sexual misconduct, only one U.S. prelate, Boston Cardinal Bernard Law, has ever stepped down for mishandling cases of guilty priests. This, despite national studies commissioned by the U.S. bishops that found priests accused of abuse were moved from parish to parish without warnings to parents or police.

Bishop Martin in Attack on "Dark Forces" Hiding the Truth

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has been a shining beacon to his colleagues in his response to clerical abuse, in sharp contrast to his predecessors in Dublin, and to so  many bishops elsewehere. So, his thoughts on the bigger picture are worth taking seriously - and they are not optimistic. The Irish Times reports that he believes there are powerful "dark forces" within the Church that are working to prevent the full truth becoming known.

AN emotional Diarmuid Martin claimed last night that "strong forces" in the Catholic Church wanted the truth about clerical sex abuse scandals to remain hidden.
The Archbishop of Dublin revealed he had never felt so disheartened and dejected since assuming the post six years ago.
His remarks could be interpreted as a broadside at the Vaticanand Irish hierarchy.
In a deeply personal but sombre address, the 65-year-old church leader indirectly hit out at Cardinal Sean Brady and other bishops for failures to fully protect children from paedophile clerics.
Dr Martin was speaking at Ely Place in Dublin, the headquarters of the archly conservative church group the Knights of Columbanus, on 'The Future of the Catholic Church in Ireland'.
Almost six months after the publication of the Murphy Report on abuse cover-ups in the Dublin diocese, Dr Martin revealed the most obvious reason for his discouragement was "the drip-by-drip never-ending revelation about child sexual abuse and the disastrous way it was handled".
"There are still strong forces which would prefer that the truth did not emerge," he said.
(Read the full report)

Sunday, 9 May 2010

James Martin, SJ, on Dissecting the Anger

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- There is a distinctly different level of anger from the public directed toward the Catholic Church over the sexual abuse of minors than toward other organizations whose leaders commit similar crimes, noted two psychologists who work in the field. And though newly revealed cases of abuse in the United States are less common than a few years ago, news about cases elsewhere has sparked a resurgence of anger in the United States as well. "People are enraged by what they see as a coverup, by no high-ranking Catholic clergy being fired," said Thomas Plante, a professor of psychology and director of the Spirituality and Health Institute at Santa Clara University in California.

(Read more at America)

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Benedict Accepts German Bishop's Resignation

Pope Benedict on Saturday accepted the resignation of a German bishop who has been accused of sexually abusing minors.  Bishop Walter Mixa is the latest in a string of Roman Catholic prelates forced to resign over a clerical sex abuse scandal that has been rocking the church. 

Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday accepted the resignation of a leading bishop from his German homeland who is accused of abusing children and alleged financial misconduct at a children's home.

A Vatican statement said the pope agreed Bishop Walter Mixa of Augsburg in Bavaria should step down. He is the first bishop to quit in the pope's native Germany over the clerical sex abuse scandal that has rocked the Church in several European countries and the United States.

Bishop Mixa was an outspoken conservative voice in the German church and a military chaplain in his country. He had already admitted to slapping children decades ago when he was a priest. But pressure increased for him to step down when prosecutors revealed an investigation was underway into his involvement in an alleged case of sexual abuse.

From VoA

Pope Meets Belgian Bishops

Belgium's Catholic church has been rocked by recent allegations of abuse by paedophile priests and clumsy, slow handling of the cases by the bishops.

Pope Benedict XVI met at the Vatican with Belgian's bishops on Saturday, telling them their church was "tried by sin in these times," over the minor's abuse scandals.
Belgium's Catholic church has been rocked by recent allegations of abuse by paedophile priests and clumsy, slow handling of the cases by the bishops.
Belgians are stunned by recent revelations that Roger Vangheluwe, the bishop of the Belgian city of Bruges, 73, abused a boy for years.
There were also contentions by a retired Belgian priest, named Rik Deville, that he told Belgium's then highest-ranking prelate, now Cardinal Godfried Danneels over a decade ago, about the abuse but that no action was taken.
(Read more, at

Two More Irish Resignations

Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday accepted the resignation of two Irish bishops, bringing to five the number of bishops to resign since the abuse crisis hit the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. In a statement, the Vatican said that Joseph Duffy, bishop of Clogher, and Francis Lagan, the auxiliary bishop of Derry, stepped down after reaching the retirement age of 75. Bishops are required to tender their resignations at 75, but the pope can decline to accept and, in some cases, he has kept bishops well past that age. In March, Bishop Duffy said that he had known about abuse allegations against a priest in his diocese but that he had not told the civil authorities at the request of the victim’s parents, Irish news media reported. The priest was later jailed.

(From New York Times)

The Belfast Telegraph has described Msgr Liam McDaid, who was named to replace Bishop Duffy, as a "conservative" choice. Meanwhile, there is still no indication whether he will accept the resignations of two other Irish bishops, who tendered resignations in December, after being criticized in the Murphy report fr inaction over the abuse scandals.

(Read more:

New Accusations Against Cardinal Mixa

Last month, the German Cardinal Mixa resigned, after admissions that he had (physically) assaulted schoolchildren in his care some decades ago. Now there are allegations that the abuse goes further: German police are investigating charges that he was also guilty of sexual assaults on minors.

Sydney Morning Herald:
Leading bishop accused of abuse  

GERMANY'S Catholic Church is in turmoil after prosecutors said they were investigating paedophilia claims against a leading bishop who had offered his resignation after admitting beating orphans.
Prosecutors in the southern city of Augsburg said they had opened a preliminary probe into Walter Mixa after he was accused of sexually abusing a boy while bishop of Eichstaett between 1996 and 2005. Bishop Mixa has rejected the accusations.
The diocese of Augsburg said it had alerted prosecutors to the accusations in line with new German Bishops' Conference guidelines.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Legion of Christ to be Restructured

Finally, after years of foot-dragging, the Vatican has confirmed what everybody knew has to be done: The Legionaries of Christ, the order founded by the late Fr Marcial Maciel, is to be fundamentally restructured.

From AFP:

VATICAN CITY — The Roman Catholic Church will overhaul the ultra-conservative Legion of Christ whose late founder Marcial Maciel was disgraced after abuse scandals, the Vatican said.
Maciel's "conduct... had consequences in the life and the structure of the Legion that are so serious as to require a journey of profound restructuring," a statement said.
Pope Benedict XVI will name an interim leader within weeks, said Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi. The move comes as the Church faces intense pressure to crack down on abusers and their protectors in the hierarchy.
"The pope is taking this case very seriously," Lombardi said.
The Church "has the firm resolve to accompany and help (the order) on the way to the purification it needs," the statement said.
The Mexican-born Maciel, who died in the United States in January 2008 aged 87, was accused of molesting eight seminarians and secretly fathering children.
Many members of the order had been unaware of Maciel's misconduct as he "created around him a defence mechanism that shielded him for a long time," said the Vatican.
"Uncovering the truth caused surprise and deep pain," it said.

(Read the full report)