Monday, November 11

Colombian bishop kidnapped

A Colombian bishop who head the Latin American bishop's conference was kidnapped Monday in an area where leftist rebels are active, a Catholic priest said.Bishop Jorge Enrique Jimenez, head of Zipaquira cathedral just outside of Bogota, was abducted along with another clergy member as they traveled to perform a religious ceremony in the town of Pacho, 35 miles north of the capital, Father Raul Alfonso Carrillo told Radionet radio.

Trouble in Dallas:Bishop lets problematic cathedral rector stay.

One of the Dallas Catholic Diocese's most prominent priests has remained on duty for several months despite an accusation that he grabbed the genitals of a worshipper who had asked him for help, correspondence and interviews show.

The case raises questions about whether the diocese is following its sexual misconduct policies, which were toughened in the wake of clergy abuse scandals that cost more than $30 million in legal settlements. It has also exposed deep divisions between Bishop Charles Grahmann and the man named as his apparent successor nearly three years ago.

Coadjutor Bishop Joseph Galante, one of the nation's most outspoken prelates on abuse issues, said he has been unable to persuade Bishop Grahmann to remove the Rev. Ramon Alvarez as head priest of the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

The allegations against the priest surfaced in May, when a 58-year-old man told the diocese that Father Alvarez had assaulted him on a Sunday night in 1991. Garland Melancon said he was visiting Dallas and suffering severe back pain when the priest agreed to perform a pain-relief blessing, then pulled down his jogging pants, groped him and propositioned him.

Father Alvarez acknowledged "inappropriate contact" with the Houston-area man and was told to resume counseling about "boundary issues" that he'd previously undergone voluntarily, diocesan Chancellor Mary Edlund said. She characterized the encounter as consensual but would not discuss details. No civil or criminal charges have been filed; the legal deadline for doing so may have passed.

USA Today does what the USCCB apparently has not bothered to do yet: attemps to actually come up with numbers in relation to the abuse crisis

When the nation's Roman Catholic bishops meet today to decide how to deal with priests accused of sexually abusing children and teens, they'll start with a handicap. Nearly a year into the scandal, the bishops have yet to compile a detailed accounting of the problem they face. They have collected no national data on how many priests have been accused, how many are serial offenders, how many are still in the church, or even how many are dead.

....The findings [in the newspaper's study] are drawn from a USA TODAY database compiled from church statements, media reports and court documents. The research identified 900 accused priests across the USA and analyzed data for the archdioceses of Boston, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, Newark, New York and Philadelphia; and the dioceses of Brooklyn; Rockville Centre, Long Island; and Orange, Calif. These 10 dioceses are home to 31% of the nation's 65 million Catholics.

Church officials in nine of the 10 dioceses — all except Boston — verified names and status of the accused priests who have been removed.The findings are consistent with other reports but reveal more detail. Mosst recently, an Associated Press report Sunday found that 325 priests had been taken out of ministry nationwide from their posts since the beginning of the year. SurvivorsFirst, a new victims advocacy group, has announced plans to release a public Internet database Tuesday of more than 600 accused priests compiled from newspaper articles.

There are several other stories in the paper - linked on the right side of the page - that are worth your time.

By the way, there's more to this meeting than the norms. Included on the agenda are:

Norms on implementing the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People
Report on the possibility of convoking a Plenary Council
A document on a Catholic Recommitment to Overcome Poverty and Respect the Dignity of All God's Children
Complementary norms from the Committee on Canonical Affairs which govern fundraising appeals, dollar limits which determine when a diocese must get approval from the Holy See to "alienate, or sell, property, and norms governing the leasing of church property
Three items from the Committee on Liturgy: the translation of the ordination rite, the translation of the General Instruction on The Roman Missal, and the five-year review of the Lectionary
A proposal for a new document in support of Catholic elementary and secondary schools
A revised document on domestic violence
An unprecedented joint statement from the bishops conferences of Mexico and the United States titled Strangers No Longer, A Pastoral Letter Concerning Migration
A request for a new pastoral statement on stewardship addressed to young adults
Diocesan Financial Issues, a new document which will assist dioceses in their accounting and financial reporting
A Pro-Life statement on the 30th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade.

Bishop Gregory's address this morning.

In a few short weeks during the Season of Advent, we shall listen again to the opening words of the 40th Chapter of the Book of Isaiah. The prophet is speaking in the name of God to the people of Israel who have long been in exile in Babylon. The Israelites are broken and afraid; they are dispirited and uncertain of their future. They needed a word of hope. Isaiah steps into their midst and declares in God's name: "Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God."....

My brother bishops, the word of the Lord, as prophesied by Isaiah, sums up profoundly the mission that has been given to us by God as bishops. We bishops, by the grace of our sacramental consecration, are the authentic bearers of that mission and the message it contains. Like the Apostles whom we succeed, we have been sent to announce God's word that genuine comfort in human life can only be found in communion with Him.

...The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council spoke simply, yet profoundly of the ministry of bishops. According to the Council, bishops are chosen by the Lord to lead the faithful, "presiding in place of God over the flock whose shepherd they are, as teachers of doctrine, priests of sacred worship, and officers of good order" (LG 20). My brother bishops, to the degree that we fulfill this mission that God has given us, to that degree will God's People know and experience the true comfort that God wishes for them.

....The 1973 Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade has been disastrous for our nation. Based on a complete disregard for human rights and enshrined for almost thirty years in false logic and rhetoric, that decision, more than any other in our recent history, has been responsible for blinding our national conscience to the truth about our God-given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The statement before us this week, "A Matter of the Heart," reflects on the impact of Roe v. Wade, calls again - in the name of truth and justice - for that ruling to be overturned, and expresses the gratitude of the bishops to all those who have kept the truth about human life alive. Our prophetic persistence in preaching the Gospel of Christ on this issue cannot but allow falsity to give way to the truth, and truth to bring rightful comfort to the unborn.

....As bishops, we should have no illusions about the intent of some people who have shown more than a casual interest in the discord we have experienced within the Church this year. There are those outside the Church who are hostile to the very principles and teachings that the Church espouses, and have chosen this moment to advance the acceptance of practices and ways of life that the Church cannot and will never condone. Sadly, even among the baptized, there are those at extremes within the Church who have chosen to exploit the vulnerability of the bishops in this moment to advance their own agendas. One cannot fail to hear in the distance – and sometimes very nearby – the call of the false prophet, "let us strike the shepherd and scatter the flock." We bishops need to recognize this call and to name it clearly for what it is.

As bishops, we need to attend, thoughtfully and constantly, to the way in which the Council exhorted us to give both the religious and laity their rightful place and share in the mission of the Church. Much of the Council's intention has been identified and codified in Church law. Religious and laity assist us well in our chanceries and tribunals, and on our diocesan financial and pastoral councils. We should continue to encourage our pastors to ensure that their gifts are well recognized and called forth in their parishes. The opportunities for the laity to assist us are great and we need to seize upon them in order to fulfill effectively the mission the Lord has given us.

As president of our Conference during the past year, I have been particularly privileged to witness the extraordinary contribution of the religious and laity at the national level. I think first of the very talented lay men and women who serve us at the Conference in Washington, Miami and New York. I include here my own faithful lay colleagues in the Diocese of Belleville. I also acknowledge the very gifted laity who serve at our Catholic national organizations in the areas of health, disabilities, education and social services. In a special way, I want to express my thanks to the members of our recently established National Review Board for the generosity and expertise that they bring in assisting us in the protection of our children.

If you want to watch the bishops, you can access the EWTN coverage here.

If you want to pray for them, you might start by asking for the help of St. Martin of Tours, whose memorial we celebrate today.

Around 371, Tours chose him as its third bishop. He was unwilling to take the office; the people tricked him into visiting a sick person in the city and then took him to the church. His poor appearance did not impress the bishops who had come to assist at the election, but the people overruled their objections and Martin was consecrated on July 3, 371.

Good thing those lay people hadn't yet heard about what their proper (advisory only! ) place in the Church should be, isn't it?

In Phoenix, the bishop has acknowledged the extent of abuse cases in the diocese:

Bishop Thomas O'Brien on Saturday acknowledged for the first time publicly that about 50 priests, former priests and church employees have been accused of criminal sexual misconduct with minors in the Phoenix Diocese during the past 30 years.O'Brien also said the diocese has paid close to $2 million to settle "12 to 15" lawsuits involving sexual abuse or sexual harassment since he became bishop in 1982....O'Brien did not identify any of the accused, saying he was prevented from doing so because a grand jury is investigating the church's handling of sex-abuse allegations.But he said the numbers included church employees already convicted or acquitted, as well as "a large number" of "priests, teachers, coaches, janitorial employees, maintenance workers and lay ministers" who were accused of sex-related offenses that investigators later found to be "untrue or meritless."

From the LA Times (LRR), Jason Berry looks at the problems with the norms

By shifting power to canonical standards, the Vatican has unwittingly invited scrutiny of the church's core crisis: its lack of oversight capacity. Democracy is not holy, but canon law has nothing equivalent to independent prosecutors or watchdogs, like the General Accounting Office, which investigates the government for Congress. An egregious example of this deficiency in church governance happened at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. The body has historically monitored theologians.

In 1998, eight former seminarians of the Legion of Christ, a religious order admired by Pope John Paul II, accused the director, the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, of sexually abusing them in Spain and Rome in the 1950s and '60s. The men tried for years to reach the pope, but he never responded to their letters.

The accusers, a Spanish priest and seven Mexican laymen, followed the Code of Canon Law to the letter, using experienced canon lawyers from Mexico City and the Vatican. They accused Maciel of forgiving their "sins" in confession. Abuse of the sacrament of penance is one of the most serious delicts, or crimes, in the canonical code, punishable by excommunication. Ratzinger allowed no testimony and aborted the proceeding in 1999. Last spring, when Brian Ross of ABC-TV's "20/20" approached the cardinal in front of his office in Rome, seeking comment on the case, Ratzinger slapped him on the wrist and refused to talk.

Such secretive tribunals are a medieval system prone to abuse, as Father John Bambrick learned. As a teenager, he was allegedly abused by Father Anthony Eremito. Emboldened by the survivors' movement, Bambrick learned that Eremito was a hospital chaplain in Texas and complained to Cardinal Edward Egan of the New York archdiocese, where Eremito had ministered for many years. Eremito resigned and was suspended from the active priesthood.

Not to be outdone, Eremito turned to Msgr. William Varvaro, a former president of the Canon Law Society of America and a member of the papal staff. Varvaro filed a canonical grievance against the young priest for violating Eremito's right to privacy. "Surreally, I was charged under 1717, the same canon used against perpetrators," said Bambrick. Although Bambrick's bishop cleared him after a secret investigation, Egan's lay review board will not allow the young priest to testify against the older priest who abused him and others.

Chiapas told: Still no more new deacons.

A top Vatican envoy told disappointed Indian Catholics on Sunday that the pope would not reverse a decision to suspend the training of lay Indian deacons in southern Chiapas for five years. Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, head of the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops, told the faithful that there are too many of the lay workers and not enough priests in the region.

"In all of the other 85 dioceses in Mexico combined there are less deacons than in Chiapas,' he said, alluding to the 344 deacons who work in this predominantly Indian region. What is missing, Battista Re said, is an effort to encourage the sons of deacons to study for the priesthood to lessen a shortage of Catholic clergy here.

Battista Re reiterated the church's position after a private meeting with about 40 local deacons, who gave him a letter asking Pope John Paul II to lift the suspension.

Several weeks ago, a local priest, now deceased was accused of sexual abuse by a woman, who said that the monsignor groped her repeatedly, starting when she was around ten or eleven.

Yesterday, the Diocese released a statement saying that her accusations were "credible" and the Bishop appeared at the parish in the little town just east of here where the man had been pastor for years.

Bennett said she has recently been in contact with other women who told her they too were abused by Ehrman as students at St. John the Baptist School."I really didn't know if there was anyone else," she said. "It was just not something at that time that you talked about." Bishop John D'Arcy left Sunday for the annual meeting of the United States Conference on Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C., and could not be reached for comment. D'Arcy spent Saturday and Sunday in New Haven, attending three parish Masses at St. John the Baptist, the Catholic Communications office said.D'Arcy acknowledged the credibility of Bennett's claims during those Masses and expressed his and the diocese's sorrow, the office said. He also asked anyone else with allegations of abuse against Ehrman to contact diocesan Vicar General Father Robert Schulte.D'Arcy has been outspoken in regard to combating sexual abuse by Catholic priests. As an auxiliary bishop in Boston in 1984, he wrote a letter expressing his concerns about then-priest John Geoghan. Geoghan has since been defrocked and is accused of molesting more than 130 boys over 30 years.

Here's my own moment of connection with the story. A little over a week ago, I gave a couple of workshops on "How to Cope With Scandal In the Church" at my parish. At the end of one of the sessions, I asked for questions or further comments, and one older woman spoke up. She was, as it turns out, a niece of this accused priest, and she was accompanied to the session by her sister, another niece.

She told her story, telling the group how shocked, naturally enough, the family was by these accusations, and implying their contempt for this woman coming forth with the accusations. Her view, naturally enough, was that it was unthinkable. It was, to say the least, awkward and I couldn't manage more than sympathy for the family's pain and a hope that truth would be served.

Looks like it has been.


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