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Vatican spokesman shifts focus to summit follow-up before abuse meeting begins

Vatican City, Feb 20, 2019 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The Vatican has continued to downplay expectations ahead of a summit meeting of bishops in Rome to discuss the ongoing sexual abuse crisis, noting that practical steps in handling abuse will come from subsequent meetings held in Rome and not the three-day session itself.

 

During a press briefing Wednesday, Alessandro Gisotti, interim director of the Holy See Press Office, reported that a recent meeting of the pope’s C9 Council of Cardinals had listened to a presentation by Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ regarding the summit.

 

Lombardi is serving as moderator of the three-day conference on sexual abuse, scheduled to begin Feb. 21.

 

According to Gisotti, the pope’s senior advisory committee heard from Lombardi that the meeting’s top priority is to underscore the need for the Church to be a “safe place” for minors, and to emphasize the gravity of sexual abuse to bishops from around the world.

 

Gisotti told the press that after the three-day summit concluded, subsequent meetings would be key to advancing practical reforms, including a meeting between the heads of relevant curial departments and the summit organizing committee members on Feb. 25.

 

One member of the C9, which is actually down to six members following recent changes by Pope Francis, is Cardinal Séan O’Malley of Boston, head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. Gisotti told the Feb. 20 press conference that O’Malley had emphasized to the papal advisors that follow-up to this week’s meeting “will be very significant.”

 

Although he is widely perceived as among the Church’s most experienced and credible reformers on the issue of sexual abuse, O’Malley was not asked to join the organizing committee or the list of speakers for the summit, which will be attended by the heads of the world’s bishops’ conferences.

 

According Gisotti, O’Malley reportedly stressed in the C9 meeting that an April meeting of the papal commission he heads will be an important opportunity to gauge progress on the summit’s follow-up agenda.

 

At a Feb. 18 press conference with the organizing committee members, including Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, Maltese Archbishop and CDF adjunct secretary Charles Scicluna, and Fr. Hans Zollner, SJ, similar points were made about the limited focus and expectations for the three day-meeting.

 

Cupich said Monday that it is important Church leaders “focus on the the task at hand” and not “inflate expectations.”

 

During the Monday press conference, Gisotti deflected media questions about specific abuse allegations, including one involving Vatican personnel.

 

“This is not the [occasion] to speak on this case or this other case,” he said, insisting that the purpose of the week’s summit is to address principles, not specifics.

 

Archbishop Scicluna noted that questions about particular high profile cases, even after the decision to laicize Theodore McCarrick, are “legitimate.”

 

Responding to questions about Msgr. Joseph Punderson, an official of the Apostolic Signatura - the Vatican’s highest court - Scicluna said that “people need to know that what Rome asks of the local Churches, it is also ready to apply at home.”

 

Last week, New Jersey media reported that Punderson was named among priests “credibly accused" of sexual abuse of minors in a list released by the Diocese of Trenton. Despite his role at the Apostolic Signatura he was listed by the diocese as “removed from ministry.”

 

Gisotti told the Monday press conference that Punderson was not at the Signatura “at this moment” but offered no details about whether he had been formally removed from his office.

 

Asked about his position in Rome, a diocesan spokesperson told CNA on Friday that Punderson is “formerly an official at the Apostolic Signatura.”

 

According to the diocese, Punderson was asked by Trenton Bishop David O’Connell to resign his position in Rome in November 2018, but the diocese had no other information available.

 

Advocates for victims of clerical sexual abuse have also gathered in Rome ahead of the Vatican bishops’ summit, with many calling for increased transparency in the handling of individual cases and stricter measures to ensure episcopal accountability.

 

On Monday, Gisotti emphasized that the three-day meeting is not intended to produce individual policies or answers to particular cases.

 

“We have to stay focused on the issue - the protection of minors globally. We have always said it is a global problem with a global response.”

Only God loves perfectly, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Feb 20, 2019 / 04:09 am ().- Despite the best efforts of human beings, it is only God the Father who will never fall short in loving his children, Pope Francis said Wednesday.

“No one must doubt that he is the recipient of [the Father’s] love,” the pope said Feb. 20. “He loves us, he loves me, we can say. He loves us even if our father and our mother have not loved us, there is a God in heaven who loves us as nobody on this earth has ever done and will ever do.”

At his weekly general audience, Pope Francis continued his catechesis on the ‘Our Father,’ focusing on the start of the prayer and the words: “Our Father, who art in heaven...”

This means, he said, that though it is impossible to find perfect love on earth, among imperfect creatures, “there is another love, that of the Father ‘who is in heaven.’”

“This is a perfect love,” he commented. “If all our earthly loves also crumble, and there remains nothing but dust, there is always for all of us, burning, the unique love of God.”

Quoting the prophet Isaiah, he said: “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.”

This expression of a Father “in heaven” is meant to express a difference, not a distance, he explained. It is a tireless love that never ends and is always within reach.

This contrasts with the love of human beings, he noted, who though trying their hardest to love others, will be forced to face the reality of their limitations, the “poverty of our forces,” and the difficulty of keeping promises that in a moment of grace may have seemed easy to achieve.

Noting the fashion of getting tattoos, the pope said that for God, it is like his people are “tattooed” on the palm of his hands; it cannot be erased.

“Therefore, do not be afraid!” he urged. “None of us is alone.”

Even if someone has the misfortune of having an earthly father who has forgotten them, they have not been denied “the fundamental experience of the Christian faith,” he said, “of knowing that you are a beloved child of God, and that there is nothing in life that can extinguish his passionate love for you.”

Chilean whistleblower to meet with bishops, victims ahead of abuse summit

Vatican City, Feb 19, 2019 / 07:01 pm ().- Juan Carlos Cruz, a clerical sex abuse whistleblower and a victim of Fr. Fernando Karadima, will meet with bishops and with fellow victims of clergy sexual abuse Wednesday, one day before the start of a Vatican summit on the topic.

"I am very proud that I am entrusted with such a task," Cruz said, according to Chilean newspaper La Tercera.

Cruz said he was invited to the meeting by Vatican officials in charge of organizing the abuse summit, which will gather bishops from all over the world for three days in Rome to discuss the importance of handling cases of sexual abuse properly at all levels of the Church’s hierarchy.

The summit is a result of months of revelations of clerical sex abuse scandal in the United States and other countries. One of the most high-profile cases in the United States involved Theodore McCarrick, former cardinal and archbishop emeritus of Washington, who was publicly accused last year of sexually abusing at least two adolescent boys, and of engaging for decades in coercive sexual behavior toward priests and seminarians.

McCarrick was laicized by Pope Francis last weekend, just days before the summit.

Cruz was a key whistleblower in highlighting the extent of clerical sex abuse in Chile. Last year, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, regarded as the Vatican's top abuse investigator, traveled to the United States and Chile in February to investigate allegations of sex abuse cover-up within Church hierarchy in Chile.

Scicluna’s trip resulted in a 2,300-page report, the laicization of multiple priests and bishops, the en masse proffering of all Chilean bishops’ resignation, and a major “mea culpa” from Pope Francis, who had originally expressed doubts about the allegations against Chilean Bishop Juan Barros.

Pope Francis met privately last May with Cruz and fellow whistleblowers and abuse survivors James Hamilton and Jose Andres Murillo. The pope expressed his apologies and sorrow for having been “part of the problem” and resolved to do better on abuse.

Scicluna was one of the Vatican officials to invite Cruz to the pre-summit meeting, and asked him to give his testimony and to help facilitate much of the meeting.

Cruz told La Tercera that the meeting will be “very important for the Catholic world, for many people. This is a meeting where many people in the world should give their testimony, which is impossible because of the volume.”

Instead, Cruz said, there will be a group of 12 people to give voice to this issue and to impress its seriousness on the leaders of the Church.

"I sincerely hope that the Church will take it for what it is, something very serious...it deserves zero tolerance once and for all,” he added. “These people [the abusers] cannot hide in the institution anymore.”

Cruz also expressed doubts about Bishop Luis Fernando Ramos Perez, Auxiliary Bishop of Santiago and president of the Chilean bishops' conference, who is representing Chile at the meeting.

Cruz told La Tercera that Bishop Ramos “has no empathy with the Chilean victims and I do not know what his contribution can be in this important meeting."

There will be 190 participants in the  Vatican summit, most of whom are presidents of national bishops' conferences.

Analysis: What can the Vatican sex abuse summit deliver?

Vatican City, Feb 18, 2019 / 03:45 pm (CNA).- At a press conference in Rome this morning, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago underscored the scope and expectations around this week’s global Vatican summit on sexual abuse.

 

The cardinal made it clear that the three-day meeting was strictly dealing with the abuse of minors, and would not look at wider issues of clerical sexual abuse – most notably the sexual abuse of adults, including seminarians.

 

Cupich warned that “including other topics” would “inflate expectations” and distract from “the task at hand.”

 

The cardinal’s comments came barely 48 hours after it was announced that Theodore McCarrick had been expelled from the clerical state for a number of sexual abuse-related offences, including adult seminarians in dioceses he formerly led.

 

The hour-long question and answer session offered more details about the aims of the summit, which will include the heads of bishops’ conferences from around the world. But the scrupulously narrow focus on minors, and the stated objectives of the conference raise a number of questions about what American Catholics, including many bishops, can hope to see from Rome in response to months of scandal.

 

The clear goal of the meeting is to impress upon the world’s bishops the seriousness of dealing with child sexual abuse at all levels of the Church hierarchy. To this end, Cupich highlighted measures already in place in the United States which, he noted, were proving successful, such as safe environment programs and enhanced screening of seminary candidates.

 

More broadly, bishops in the United States have noted the effectiveness of the 2002 reforms brought in by the Dallas Charter and USCCB Essential Norms, which have coincided with a steep decline in reported abuse cases.

 

But if the wider purpose of the three-day meeting is to impress the seriousness of the child abuse crisis on bishops from elsewhere, and even underscore effective measures already in place in the U.S., American focus remains on accountability for bishops and abuse cases of all kinds involving them personally.

 

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Discussing the future of episcopal accountability, Cupich made a surprising reference to Come una madre amorivole, the 2016 motu proprio issued by Pope Francis setting out legal mechanisms for reporting and handling complaints against bishops, including for negligence or abuse of office in abuse cases.

 

“It is the document Come una madre amorivole that outlines procedures for holding bishops accountable,” Cupich said. The reference to Come una madre was surprising to many, since Pope Francis had previously said in public that he had abandoned these very processes.

 

During the inflight press conference on his return from Dublin in October last year, Pope Francis said he had effectively junked the procedures of Come una madre because they “weren’t practical and it also wasn’t convenient for the different cultures of the bishops that had to be judged.”

 

Francis even went as far as expressing frustration that prominent reform advocate Marie Collins, herself a survivor of sexual abuse and a former member of Francis’ own Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, was “a bit fixated” with the document not being used.

 

For Cupich to suggest that Come una madre was once again a living document suggests a possible second papal reversal by Francis on his own reforms, even though his original reservations seemed to center on the very global applicability this week’s summit is meant to address.

 

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In November, an instruction from the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops prevented U.S. bishops from voting on a raft of proposed measures aimed at increasing episcopal accountability – reforms which would have addressed many of the gaps left by the non-adoption of Come una madre in the first place.

 

The move left many frustrated but, on Monday, Cupich called the Baltimore measures “problematic” and said he did not believe they would have been adopted even if a vote had taken place.

 

Cupich floated an alternative proposal of his own during the Baltimore meeting. Reportedly drafted in concert with Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Cupich's plan would rely upon existing structures within metropolitan provinces, instead of the creation of an independent national body to oversee complaints against bishops.

 

Both the original proposals and the so-called “metropolitan model” were turned over to a special USCCB committee for further study, and are expected to be discussed again in more detail when the bishops next meet, in June of this year.  

 

Despite the Baltimore setback, Cupich said, bishops’ conferences would have an important role to play in the future.

 

“The Holy Father does want episcopal conferences to take responsibility, that was never a question, but we have to do it in such a way that we work together with each other -- that is part of synodality -- that is part of the collegiality that this conference wanted to highlight,” Cupich said Monday.

 

What role this will be remains to be seen and, at least so far as it extends to episcopal abuse of adults like McCarrick’s, it seems unlikely it will become much clearer during this week’s summit.

 

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One thing the Chicago cardinal did say was that bishops have a personal responsibility to face up to.

 

“The Holy Father wants to make it clear to the bishops around the world, that each one of them has to claim responsibility and ownership for this problem… to make sure that people understand, on an individual basis as bishops, what their responsibilities are.”

 

Many commentators have noted in recent months that personal initiative and ownership have been distinctly lacking in some American bishops response to recent scandals, with many appearing to be waiting for a lead to follow, either from the USCCB or Rome.

 

A few have begun to take their own steps, especially after the inability to move forward as a group in Baltimore. Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore recently announced an independent reporting mechanism for accusations of sexual abuse in the archdiocese.

 

Other options have been discussed. It has also been proposed that the canonical role of the Promoter of Justice could be given a broader remit in diocesan child protection policy, acting as a sort of attorney general by appointment of the local bishop, but with an enhanced degree of autonomy of action.

 

Other suggestions that bishops could implement without having to seek higher approval have included the passage of more nuanced and detailed laws for handling escalating clerical misconduct, in the hopes of addressing problem behavior early – before an act of child abuse is committed.

 

Such action would also allow bishops to address the sexual abuse of victims who are not technically minors, including people in their late teenage years and seminarians. Many have noted that the current legal framework, solely reliant on an age of consent, sees a case of child sexual abuse become an instance of mere moral failure when the victim turns eighteen.

 

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Cupich also told the world’s media that “there is a new day in terms of transparency,” and said that he hoped the upcoming summit would be remembered as a “turning point” in this regard.

 

It remains to be seen if this newfound commitment to transparency will extend to responding to calls for some kind of full disclosure about how Theodore McCarrick was able to rise through the episcopal ranks, despite apparent decades of complaints about his sexual abuse.

 

In Baltimore in November, Cupich spoke against a resolution by American bishops to encourage the Holy See to make available any documentation it could on that subject as soon as possible.

 

While talk at the press conference was of new days and strong messages, there is no shortage of Catholics in the United States and elsewhere already looking at this week’s meeting with a level of skepticism.

 

Indeed, the real challenge facing Cardinal Cupich and the other organizers may prove to be less about lowering “inflated expectations,” and more about convincing Catholics wearied by scandal that any progress made in the coming days will be meaningful.

Canonization causes open for Italian mother, religious sister

Vatican City, Feb 18, 2019 / 03:17 pm ().- The Vatican has announced the opening of canonization causes for two contemporary women, both of whom died in the 21st century. One, Enrica Onorante in Michisanti, was a lay woman and mother; the other, Mother Maria Bernardetta of the Immaculate, was a professed religious sister.

In an edict published in L’Osservatore Romano, the official newspaper of the Vatican, Onorante (“in Michisanti” denotes her husband’s surname) is described as a lay woman and mother who became known for her charitable work with developing countries.

While her life, from childhood, was marked by “a number of trials,” she was known for facing them “with trust in Divine Providence,” the edict states.

“A profound life of prayer enabled her to internalize her physical and moral suffering and spurred her to offer herself as a ‘living victim’, wholly abandoning herself to God’s will,” it adds.

Onorante became best known for her work as secretary for the Third World Help Committee of the Italian Episcopal Conference, which provided aid to various developing countries around the world.

“Discrete, attentive and always ready to welcome in order to serve, she made herself available for any task to further the mission of the Church,” the edict states. “With a truly ‘maternal’ style, she encouraged many men and women religious and priests from around the world in their pastoral work, thereby earning their esteem and affection.”

Her reputation for holiness and charity spread, and there is even an “Enrica Onorante Home” for impoverished children and their families named after her in Beira, Mozambique.

The cause for Servant of God Mother Maria Bernardetta of the Immaculate, professed sister of the religious congregation of the Poor Sisters of Saint Joseph, was also announced in an edict published in L’Osservatore Romano.

Mother Maria Bernadetta was born in Montella, Italy, a small town about 53 miles east of Naples, on October 15, 1918.

At the age of 17, she began her postulancy with the Poor Sisters of St. Joseph, an Argentinian-founded order of sisters who serve the poor in various apostolates, including schools, parishes, hospitals, missions, homes for single mothers, and nursing homes.

Three years later, she professed her first vows.

“For all of her Sisters she was an example of humility, piety, diligence, goodness and abandonment to Divine Providence,” the edict stated.

She served in communities throughout the world, including in Buenos Aires, Argentina and in the state of Virginia, “making herself available to all, lending an ear to seminarians and priests, supporting them in their priestly vocation and in difficult moments.”

“She lived by showing, in everyday actions, love for priests, her Sisters, her family and the poor,” it added.

The founder of the community of sisters, Mother Camila Rolon, has also been declared Venerable by the Vatican, meaning her life has been found to be one of heroic virtue and her cause for canonization is also open. Today, the sisters have communities in Virginia, Argentina, Uruguay, Romania, Madagascar, and Italy.

In both edicts announcing the canonization causes of the women, Catholics are encouraged to contact the postulators of the causes or the diocesan tribunals with “any information which could in some way offer elements favourable or contrary to the reputation of holiness of the said Servant of God.”

The edicts also requested that any writings from either Servant of God be submitted to either the postulator of their causes or to the tribunals.

“We would point out that the term ‘writings’ indicates not only printed works, which have already been collected, but also manuscripts, diaries, letters and all other private writings of the Servant of God. Those who wish to keep the originals may present duly certified copies,” the edicts state.

Once these testimonies and writings are collected, they will be sent to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. If the congregation votes to keep the cause open, they will send a recommendation to the Holy Father, who can then issue a Decree of Heroic Virtues.

If this decree is issued, the person will then have the title of Venerable, and the cause continues. An approved miracle, through the intercession of a Venerable person, must be approved by the Vatican before one can be declared Blessed. A second miracle is needed for canonization.