Australian bishops apologize for Church’s failure in sex abuse crisis

February 6, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Sydney, Australia, Feb 6, 2017 / 10:32 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Days before Australia’s Royal Commission on institutional sex abuse begins their final hearing into the Church’s response to their abuse crisis, the country’s bishops have issued several statements expressing sorrow for past failures, and committing to do more to protect children.

“Deeply mindful of the hurt and pain caused by abuse, I once again offer my apology on behalf of the Catholic Church,” Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, president of the Australian Bishops’ Conference, said in a Feb. 5 letter to the faithful of Australia.

“I am sorry for the damage that has been done to the lives of victims of sexual abuse. As Pope Francis said recently, ‘it is a sin that shames us.’”

The archbishop made issued the statement as Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse begins its final three-week review of how the Catholic Church in Australia has responded to sex abuse allegations. The commission was established in 2013, and investigates the handling of child sex abuse allegations by religious groups, schools, government organizations, and sporting associations.

Australia’s sexual abuse crisis has been one of the most shocking and widely known in the Church.

In his statement, Archbishop Hart noted that during the coming hearing many of the country’s bishops and Catholic leaders will give their testimonies, explaining what the Church has done so far to change “the old culture” that had allowed abuse to continue for so long, as well as what is being done now to protect and safeguard children.

Again referring to a statement made by Pope Francis, the archbishop urged the entire Church to “find the courage needed to take all necessary measures and to protect in every way the lives of our children, so that such crimes may never be repeated.”

In a similar message Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney said he personally has felt “shaken and humiliated” by what the Royal Commission has uncovered.

“The Church is sorry and I am sorry for past failures that left so many so damaged,” he said. “I know that many of our priests, religious and lay faithful feel the same: as Catholics we hang our heads in shame.”

So far the findings have been “harrowing,” Fisher said, explaining that the commission has heard the “distressing and shameful cases” of sexual abuse recounted by “courageous survivors” dating back to the 1950s.

Numbers garnered from the various testimonies gathered show that claims of child sexual abuse have been made against 384 diocesan priests, 188 religious priests, 579 religious brothers, and as many as 96 religious sisters since 1950.

Claims have also been made against some 543 lay workers in the Church, as well as another 72 persons whose religious status “is unknown.”

Among religious institutes, 40 percent of the members of the St. John of God Brothers in Australia have been accused of child sexual abuse. More than 20 percent of the Christian Brothers, Salesians, and Marist Brothers have face accusations.

In March 2015 Cardinal George Pell, Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, testified before the commission for the third time after allegations resurfaced in 2014 claiming that he moved known pedophile Fr. Gerald Ridsdale, bribed a victim of the later-laicized priest, and failed to act on a victim’s complaint. Before his appointment to the Secretariat for the Economy, Cardinal Bell had been Archbishop of Sydney

Despite having testified before the commission twice before on the same charges with no guilty verdict, Cardinal Pell voluntarily offered to testify again and, not being able to make the long flight to Australia, participated in the hearing via video-conference in Rome.

On Feb. 7, the Royal Commission will resume its public hearing on the current policies and procedures the Catholic Church in Australia has put into place regarding child protection and safety standards, including how to respond to allegations of sexual abuse.

During the hearing, Archbishop Fisher and others will be participating in a panel to discuss not only what went wrong with the Church’s response in the past, but also what can be done better in the future.

In his statement, Archbishop Fisher noted that unlike previous hearings which focused primarily on individual cases, this one will address “the big picture” with the participation of “expert witnesses” alongside both Church leaders and lay people, some of whom hail from his own archdiocese.

The commission will now focus on two primary issues: the factors led to the all the abuse cases in the Church as well as the Church’s failures to respond adequately, as well as what the Church has done and plans to do to address the problem, including by changing her programs, policies and structures.

Part of the discussion will also be dedicated to a better discernment of priestly and religious vocations, as well as the formation and supervision of those already in active ministry.

Archbishop Fisher noted that both “claims and alleged perpetrators” are referred to in the commission’s report, and that no distinction is made between claims that have been proven and those that haven’t. Neither does the report distinguish between claims substantiated by the Church in an internal investigation from those accepted by the Church without any investigation.

While statistics show that “the overwhelming majority” of sexual abuse took place in the 1950s-70s, and that abuse accusations have “declined very considerably” since, Archbishop Fisher said, “we are not complacent when it comes to child safety and to ensuring a child safe environment in the Church.”

“We recognize our responsibility to ensure that all measures are in place to prevent this happening again. We also recognize that there are abuse victims who are yet to come forward and perhaps never will,” he said, noting that to date, claims have been made against seven percent of priests ministering in the three dioceses of greater Sydney since 1950.

Archbishop Fisher noted that the coming weeks of the commission’s final hearing on the Church’s response “will be traumatic for everyone involved, especially the survivors.”

However, “confronting as it will be, I remain determined to do all we can to assist those who have been harmed by the Church and to work toward a culture of greater transparency, accountability and safety for all children.”

The archbishop voiced his conviction that when “the humiliation and purgation through which we are presently passing” is over, the Church will be more humble and compassionate Church in the area of abuse.

Archbishop Fisher voiced his gratitude for the steps already taken and acknowledged the various parishes, schools and agencies working to make the Church “a safer place.”

With media attention on the hearing expected to be high, with some reports “confronting,” Archbishop Fisher welcomed those who feel “upset or demoralized” by the coverage to speak with their parish priest, and for priests to speak with their dean or bishop. He noted that counseling services will also be available for those who need it.

He urged anyone alleging abuse to contact the police, and asked for prayers “for all those involved in this hearing for wisdom and compassion. Above all, please pray for the survivors and their families at this most difficult time.”


The story of a father who runs marathons with his disabled son

February 2, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Madrid, Spain, Feb 2, 2017 / 12:06 am (CNA).- Most fathers like to share their hobbies with their sons. But for José Manuel this proved a challenge – given that his fourth child Pablo suffers from a severe form of cerebral palsy.

Despite this, however, José Manuel had idea.

“I don’t remember when we began to run together. I know that the first time was in the summer. I was getting ready to go out for a run, but neither my wife nor children could stay to take care of Pablo. So I decided I could take him with me,” José Manuel Roas Treviño told CNA.

Even though José Manuel said he did not know if Pablo would like the experience or not, he quickly  demonstrated that he did: “He sat up straight in the chair and when he does that it means ‘okay,’ because it takes a huge amount of effort to keep sitting up straight.”

“We were running down a nearby bicycle lane and he was totally into it, he was laughing, shrieking, lifting up his arms. I was singing to him and he was laughing more and more. And I realized that what we were experiencing was very special.”

Pablo is 18 years-old and is affected by acute cerebral palsy, which makes him completely dependent on his parents, José Manuel and Maite. He cannot speak or walk, nor he will be able to in the future. But for his parents, Pablo far from being a burden, is a gift.

“I thank God every day for Pablo and for this life story that God is having us experience. Because when he was born, a wall certainly was raised up with all the limitations that appeared, because you were presented with a terrible life.”

“But for me, I live it every day in the first person, this still is surprising. God has given us a complex life story to live but he also helps us to go forward with it and to do it with hope, with a sense of humor.”

“Because I too have looked the other way from those who had children in their cars like Pablo and my heart just recoiled.”

José Manuel recalled the time he was preparing to become a special ed teacher. One morning in November of 1988 I sat down to study and the subject was cerebral palsy. At that instant I was frightened and I remember I literally said, “My God, what am I doing? You’re not preparing me to have a child like that, are you?”

“And I was so scared that that same day I quit preparing for those exams, and I started another major.”

José Manuel does not deny that the sufferings are “enormous, more than I had ever imagined” but he stressed that “it is suffering that you get much more out of than what you lose. God is near the weak, and Pablo is certainly the weakest there is.”

“We find in him things you don’t find anywhere else such as love and forgiveness of the purest sort.”

This father also commented that “there are very hard days, like I never in my life thought of, but it’s true that afterwards you discover who you are and also who God is, which is that which makes these impossibilities possible.”

That is why he insists that despite the difficulties his faith in God is stronger, thanks to Pablo.

“Yes, it’s precisely because of Pablo that we believe in God, because we are living the impossible. We’re a normal family that gets into fights everyday, and we’ve got our things…but where Pablo is concerned, our differences end. This is what unites us the most, and so for us Pablo is a blessing, he’s what draws us together.”

In addition, José Manuel emphasized how encouraging it is to see during races and marathons everybody wants to high five him, how the people applaud him during the race course and he lifts up his hands and laughs”… and he insists “It’s a miracle that we’re living and much more so to be able to share it with him.”

So far they has run six marathons: three in Seville, two in Madrid and one in New York, and he assures there are more races left to share.

For José Manuel and his entire family, having Pablo is “a true privilege, I say it with all my heart.”


UK evangelicals affirm centrality of Reformation in their communities

February 2, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

London, England, Feb 1, 2017 / 08:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An umbrella grouping of evangelical Christians in the United Kingdom has issued a statement marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, which reaffirms that movement’s “enduring importance” for them.

“It is clear that many of the core distinctions that developed between Luther’s understanding and that of the Roman Catholic Church remain between modern-day evangelicals and Catholics,” Evangelical Alliance’s statement said. “In certain areas, however, there have been significant attempts to foster deeper understanding of the theological and ecclesiastical differences that distinguish each tradition, and to develop this understanding in a less conflictual way.”

The evangelicals also noted that particularly with regard to “evangelism and social and medical ethics” there has been “genuine collaboration and co-operation towards agreed ends.”

The Evangelical Alliance works with 81 denominations and 600 organizations in the United Kingdom which identify themselves as evangelical Christians, and aims to help them listen to and be heard by government, media, and society.

Their statement called the Reformation “not so much an innovation as a recovery.” After discussing the primacy of Scripture and Martin Luther’s understanding of justification, the alliance noted “the plurality of religious expression to which the Reformation gave rise,” which it said “can be seen in both positive and negative terms, and is a reminder that for all its necessity and for all its phenomenal achievements, the Reformation had consequences which were at times more complex, and in certain cases, less positive.”

Evangelical Alliance then noted that much progress has been made in reconciliation between the Catholic Church and ecclesial communities, especially in the last 100 years of the ecumenical movement.

Enumerating the main points of divergence between evangelicals and Catholics, the group listed the nature and authority of the Church; the papacy and papal infallibility; the sacraments; and Mariology.

Turning to points of convergence and co-operation, Evangelical Alliance noted creeds, evangelism and renewal, and the ethical issues of abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage.

Steve Clifford, general director of the Evangelical Alliance, stated that “It has been in the area of public policy especially that evangelicals and Catholics have come together over the last 40 years to put pressure on the government and work for the common good. In protecting the beginning and end of life this work has been particularly evident, as well as in many other areas that contribute to our wellbeing as a society.”


German bishops say the divorced-and-remarried may receive Communion

February 1, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Cologne, Germany, Feb 1, 2017 / 11:29 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The German bishops have published their own guidelines on Amoris laetitia allowing, in certain cases, for divorced-and-remarried Catholics to receive Communion.

The decision by the German bishops’ conference comes on the heels of a similar announcement made by the bishops of Malta.

While the German bishops emphasized that access to the sacraments is a question of each individual case, the new guidelines do allow the “possibility of receiving the sacraments in these situations.”

Titled “The joy of Love, which is lived in Families, is also the Joy of the Church,” the guidelines issed by the permanent council of the German bishops’ conference were released Feb. 1 and bear the subtitle “An invitation to a Renewed Marriage and Family Pastoral Care in Light of Amoris laetitia.”

The German bishops’ conference’s permanent council meets five or six times a year, and “each [German] diocesan bishop has seat [sic] and vote in the permanent council and can send an auxiliary bishop as his representative to the meetings.

In the document, the German bishops said that accompanying couples in crisis, divorce, and remarriage is “a great challenge and an opportunity to bring the Church and her understanding of marriage.”

“For the question of the reception of the sacraments, the bishops do not see in Amoris laetitia a general rule or an automatism, but rather, they are convinced that discerned solutions which do justice to the individual case are required,” they said.

In regards to Amoris laetitia, the bishops said they will proceed “from a process of discernment, accompanied by a pastoral worker.”

However, they also clarified that “not all faithful whose marriage is broken and who are divorced and civilly remarried, can receive the sacraments without distinction.”

In a statement released alongside the guidelines, the bishops praised Amoris laetitia for its “pastoral and theological benefits” and for introducing what they called four pillars “of a pastoral approach to marriage and family pastoral care.”

These pillars are: marriage preparation; marriage accompaniment; strengthening the family as a place of learning the faith; and dealing with fragility through accompaniment, discernment, and integration.

While the first three pillars are covered in just one or a few graphs, the fourth is the core of the new guidelines.

The bishops acknowledge that marriage is indissoluble, but at the same time argue that specific attention should be given to persons’ individual situations and that judgements “which do not take into account the complexity of the various situations” should be avoided.

Referencing sections 296 and 297 of Amoris laetitia, the German bishops said that “with the guiding concepts” of accompaniment, discernment, and integration, those affected “must be helped.”

While accompaniment requires “encouraging people on the way of life and the Gospel,” they said discernment should not stop at what the objective moral situation of those affected is.

On this point, they referenced footnote 351 of Amoris laetitia, in which Pope Francis wrote: “In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, ‘I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy’. I would also point out that the Eucharist ‘is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak’.”

The German bishops’ conference commented: “At the end of such a spiritual process, which is always concerned with integration, not in every case will there be a reception of the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist.”

The bishops stressed that “the individual decision of whether one, under the respective circumstances, is able to receive the sacraments, deserve respect and recognition. However, the decision to receive the sacraments must also be respected.”

At the conclusion of the document the bishops encouraged those who want to pursue marriage and family life in the Church “to personally acquaint themselves with the groundbreaking text that is Amoris laetitia.”

A divided stance

Bishops from Germany who had already advocated admitting the divorced-and-remarried to Communion included Cardinal Walter Kasper; Cardinal Reinhard Marx; Bishop Franz-Josef Bode; and Archbishop Heiner Koch.

However, despite the factions of bishops who seem to be opening the door to a path to admitting divorced-and-remarried Catholics to Communion, many are still resistant to the idea, including some heavy-hitters who are themselves German.

Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, president emeritus of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, was one of four signatories of a letter containing five “dubia” submitted to the Pope in September asking him to clarify ambiguous parts of Amoris laetitia, and which was later published.

Other prelates with German roots who have been outspoken against the proposal to admit the divorced-and-remarried to Communion include Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI; Cardinal Paul Cordes; Bishop Stefan Oster; Bishop Konrad Zdarsa; Bishop Gregor Hanke; Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer; Bishop Friedhelm Hofmann; Bishop Wolfgang Ipolt; Archbishop Ludwig Schick; and Cardinal Joachim Meisner.

In addition, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has on multiple occasions maintained that Amoris laetitia is in continuity with Church teaching.

In an interview with Italian monthly Il Timone published the same day the German bishops’ guidelines were released, the cardinal stressed that “it is not right that so many bishops are interpreting Amoris laetitia according to their way of understanding the pope’s teaching.”

“This does not keep to the line of Catholic doctrine,” he said, stressing that Amoris laetitia “must clearly be interpreted in the light of the whole doctrine of the Church.”

Having so many bishops split off with their own interpretations “does not keep to the line of Catholic doctrine,” he said, adding that the Pope’s magisterium is able to be interpreted only by him or by the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation.

“The Pope interprets the bishops, it is not the bishops who interpret the Pope; this would constitute an inversion of the structure of the Catholic Church,” he said, telling the bishops “who are talking too much” to first “study the doctrine (of the councils) on the papacy and the episcopate.”

As someone who teaches the Word of God to others, a bishop must himself “be the first to be well-formed so as not to fall into the risk of the blind leading the blind.”

Cardinal Müller pointed to Familiaris consortio, St. John Paul II’s 1981 exhortation on the Christian family in the modern world, in which the Polish Pope stipulated that the divorced-and-remarried who for serious reasons cannot separate, in order to receive absolution in confession which would open the way to receiving Communion, must take on the duty to live in complete continence.

This aspect of the text, Cardinal Müller said, “it is not dispensable, because it is not only a positive law of John Paul II, but he expressed an essential element of Christian moral theology and the theology of the sacraments.”

Confusion on this point, he said, stems from a failure to accept  St. John Paul II’s 1993 encyclical Veritatis splendor, which taught that there are intrinsically evil acts, that absolute truths exist across various cultures, and urged sharp caution against moral relativism and the misuse of conscience to justify false or subjective morals.

For Christians, “marriage is the expression of participation in the unity between Christ the bridegroom and the Church his bride,” he said, adding that “this is not, as some said during thesynod, a simple vague analogy. No! This is the substance of the sacrament, and no power in heaven or on earth, neither an angel, nor the Pope, nor a council, nor a law of the bishops, has the faculty to change it.”

The prelate then suggested that in order to quell the confusion generated by the differing interpretations of Amoris laetitia, everyone ought to study the Church’s doctrine, beginning with Scripture, “which is very clear on marriage.”

He advised against “entering into any casuistry that can easily generate misunderstandings, above all that according to which if love dies, then the marriage bond is dead.”

“These are sophistries: the Word of God is very clear and the Church does not accept the secularization of marriage,” he said. The task of priests and bishops, then, “is not that of creating confusion, but of bringing clarity.”

Cardinal Müller stressed that amid the ongoing debate, “one cannot refer only to little passages” present in Amoris laetitia, but must read the document “as a whole, with the purpose of making the Gospel of marriage and the family more attractive for persons.”

“All of us must understand and accept the doctrine of Christ and of his Church, and at the same time be ready to help others to understand it and put it into practice even in difficult situations.”

Anian Christoph Wimmer contributed to this report.