Pope Sets New Rules for Investigating Sex Abuse

Pope Sets New Rules for Investigating Sex Abuse

Pope Francis is enacting new rules for investigating bishops over sexual abuse or its coverup, responding to mounting public pressure on the Catholic Church to improve accountability after a string of abuse scandals involving senior clergy.

The new church law, laid out on Thursday, requires all dioceses in the world to set up a “public, stable and easily accessible” process for reporting allegations of abuse, including by bishops and cardinals, that protects victims and whistleblowers. It says dioceses have to report allegations about bishops without delay to the Vatican, which must decide within a month whether to launch an investigation, take immediate disciplinary action or close the case.

The new rules seek to address complaints that the church lacked standard procedures for pursuing bishops and heads of religious orders accused of committing or covering up sex abuse. They don’t address the long-running divisions in the church over how strictly to punish wrongdoers in abuse cases. Bishops in most countries have rejected the U.S. church’s call for all abusers to be permanently removed from ministry.

The church’s troubles over sex abuse were reignited in 2018 by scandals involving cardinals and bishops in the U.S., Latin America, Europe and Australia. Growing disillusionment among Catholics threatens to overshadow the pontificate of Pope Francis, who after taking office in 2013 inspired popular hopes of a church more in tune with modern society.

The pope’s credibility has suffered from criticism that he didn’t take seriously allegations of abuse, misconduct or coverup by bishops including former U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Chilean Bishop Juan Barros, Australian Cardinal George Pell and French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin.

In November, the Vatican frustrated U.S. bishops by blocking them from voting on new measures aimed at holding bishops more accountable for abuse or failing to act against it.

On Thursday the head of the U.S. bishops’ conference, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, welcomed the new law, saying in a statement that it “leaves latitude for national bishops’ conferences…to specify still more to account for their local circumstances.”

But the U.S. bishops’ leading lay adviser on child protection, Francesco Cesareo, said the new legislation could stifle one element of the U.S. bishops’ proposals: the establishment of a national commission of laypersons to oversee the investigation of bishops. The pope’s new law instead gives responsibility for investigations to local bishops acting under Vatican direction.

In February, Pope Francis presided over a four-day global summit of bishops at the Vatican to address the problem of clerical sex abuse. The pope called for an “all-out battle” against abuse, but the meeting produced few specific measures.

The new rules outlined on Thursday aim to address criticism of a lack of concrete reforms. They stipulate that reporting systems for abuse allegations, whether run by church officials or outsiders on behalf of the church, must ensure the privacy and protection of accusers and victims. Such systems are common in the U.S. and other wealthy countries but less so in the developing world, church officials say.

“If enforced, there’s no doubt the new law will improve the church’s internal processing of allegations,” said Anne Barrett Doyle of BishopAccountability.org, a Boston-based group that tracks abuse cases. “But it has three obvious weaknesses: it stipulates no penalties for ignoring the law, it mandates no transparency, and it doesn’t require that abusers be removed permanently from the priesthood.”

Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, stressed that the new law covers not only sexual abuse of minors but “abuse of authority” that forces adults to perform sexual acts. He told the Vatican newspaper the new law thus applies to the “abuse of nuns by clerics or the abuse of seminarians or novices by their superiors.”

“This sends a signal that leadership is subject not only to civil law but canon law,” Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, adjunct secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said at the Vatican on Thursday. He said he would explain the law to congregants in Malta like this: “If I break the rules, you must tell the pope, ‘look, our bishop is a bad person.’”

When complaints are made against bishops, they must be referred to the Vatican right away, unless determined to be patently unfounded. The Vatican is required to decide within 30 days whether to order an investigation and, if so, which bishop or other church official will lead the probe.

The local metropolitan, or senior bishop in the region, would be the presumptive investigator, but the Vatican may choose another if the metropolitan is under investigation himself or is judged incapable for some other reason. He may draw on the expertise of laypersons in conducting the probe. The investigation must ordinarily be completed within 90 days.

The new legislation, which takes effect June 1, also states that all clergy and nuns are required to report any evidence of child sex abuse, possession of child pornography, sexual assault of adults or coverup to their superiors or to the Vatican’s local representative. This requirement doesn’t apply to information transmitted during the sacrament of confession, which priests are forbidden to divulge under pain of excommunication. The law doesn’t expressly require the church to report abuse allegations to secular authorities, but says priests and nuns should comply with local laws.

Bible brings God’s breath into the world: Pope Francis

Bible brings God’s breath into the world: Pope Francis

Pope Francis on Friday meets with the Catholic Biblical Federation on the occasion of their fiftieth anniversary, telling them the Bible is not a beautiful collection of sacred books to study, it is the Word of life to be proclaimed through the streets of the world.

In order to highlight the fruits of its 50 years of activity, the Catholic Biblical Federation has been holding an International Biblical-Pastoral Congress this week under the theme “Word and Life, Biblical Animation of the life and pastoral activity of the Church”.

And it was on this theme of “Word and life” that the Pope dwelt on in his remarks on Friday to those gathered in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall.

The word of God is alive

He told them that, “The word of God is alive”; it does not die or even age; it remains forever, adding that it was “the Holy Spirit, the life-giver, who loves to work through Scripture.”

Photo: Pope Francis meets with Catholic Biblical Federation (Vatican Media)

“The Word brings God’s breath into the world”, underlined Pope Francis, “it infuses the heart with the warmth of the Lord. All the academic contributions and volumes that are published are and cannot but be at the service of this”, he said.

 The Word of life to be sown

But the Pope also pointed out that, “the Bible is not a beautiful collection of sacred books to study, it is the Word of life to be sown…”

The Pontiff emphasized that in the Church, “the Word is an irreplaceable injection of life. That is why homilies are fundamental”, he said. Preaching, he continued, “is not an exercise in rhetoric, nor is it a set of wise human notions. Instead, it is a sharing of the Spirit, of the divine Word that touches the heart of the preacher, who communicates that warmth, that anointing.”

Pope Francis expressed the hope that there would be “a new season of greater love for Sacred Scripture flourishing on the part of all the members of the People of God”, so that it would deepen our relationship with Jesus.

The Pope explained that the Word “gives life to each believer by teaching them to renounce themselves in order to proclaim Him.” He went on to say that, “in this sense it acts like a sharp sword which, entering into the depths, discerning thoughts and feelings, brings to light the truth, wounds to heal.”

The Word and the Church

A Church that lives by listening to the Word, said Pope Francis, “is never satisfied with its own security. She is docile to the unpredictable novelty of the Spirit.”

He also painted a picture of a Church that feeds on the Word, and lives to proclaim it. The Word of God, said Pope Francis is the “best vaccine against closure and self-preservation”. In conclusion, the Pope said, the Word of God and life should embrace each other and should not be without one another. He also prayed the Bible would not remain in a library but would be proclaimed through the streets of the world where people await it.www.vaticannews.va

I’m counting on you: Pope to young French pilgrims

I’m counting on you: Pope to young French pilgrims

Pope Francis told the young people that their pilgrimage to Rome gave them the opportunity to “revive within themselves the gift of faith”, as they remembered the Apostles St Peter and St Paul, and the many witnesses —“including young people” — “who suffered martyrdom for choosing to remain faithful to Jesus Christ”. Some people, the Pope said, think that it is more difficult to be Christian and live the faith than it was in the past. But Pope Francis insisted that being Christian now is different from previous eras, but not more difficult.

The Holy Father encouraged the French youth to take advantage of their pilgrimage “to rediscover the Church” to which they belong; a Church which, for two thousand years “has advanced along her pilgrim way, sharing ‘the joys and the hopes, the grief and anguish’ of all humanity’.”

Photo: Young people from the Diocese of Aire and Dax met with Pope Francis on Thursday, during a pilgrimage to Rome as part of Youth Days for the Landes region of France.

“In fact”, he continued, “seeing you I recognize the work of the Lord Jesus who does not abandon His Church, and that allows her, thanks to your youth, your enthusiasm, and the talents He has entrusted to you, to renew herself and to be rejuvenated in the various phases of her long history”.

Pope Francis encouraged them “to remain united to the Lord Jesus by means of listening to the Word, the practice of the sacraments, the fraternal life, and through service to others”. In the Church, he said, “you can recognize the message of Jesus that God wants to offer to the world through what is unique in your life”.

He called on them to always be “builders of bridges between people, seeking to advance a ‘culture of encounter and of dialogue, in order to contribute to the coming of an authentic human fraternity’.” By caring for the smallest and poorest amongst us, the Pope told them, “you can light stars in the night of the many who are tried in various ways”.

“I’m counting on you!” Pope Francis said. “The Church needs your spirit, your intuitions, your faith, your courage!”www.vaticannews.va

Two Monks Behind Bishop Killing Receive Death Penalty

Two Monks Behind Bishop Killing Receive Death Penalty

An Egyptian court on Wednesday confirmed death sentences for two monks for killing the head of a monastery in the country’s Western Desert.

Officials revealed that two ex-Coptic Christian monks, Isaiah El-Maqary and Faltaous El-Makary, who killed the head of their desert monastery last year were sentenced to death.

In July 2018, Bishop Epiphanius, head of Anba Makar Monastery (Saint Macarius the Great) near Wadi el-Natroun, was found dead “in a pool of blood in his room, with fractures to his skull, as if he had been struck with an instrument, and injuries to his back.”

In February, Damanhour Criminal Court issued preliminary death sentences to two monks before the ruling was passed over to the country’s grand mufti for his non-binding opinion as required by Egyptian law.

“The defendants were led by the devil to the path of evil and vice,” Judge Gamal Toson of the Damanhour court said in his ruling in February.

Photo: Late Bishop Epiphanius, head of Anba Makar Monastery (Saint Macarius the Great)

The accused monk, Isaiah al-Makari, was defrocked by the church days later and arrested by Egyptian authorities.

The church released a statement that the monk was investigated even before the murder and that he was committing “inappropriate actions which violate monastic behavior and way of life.”

The issue escalated as a second monk, Faltaous al-Makary, attempted to kill himself by cutting his arteries and throwing himself from the roof a monastery building before Isaiah al-Makar confessed that both were involved in the murder of the bishop.

The murder led to new reforms in Egypt’s Coptic Church, as Pope Tawadros II put a ban on monks leaving monastery grounds without permission and restrictions on monks’ use of social networks and media appearances.

Despite scandal, St. Thomas Christians in Kerala are staying with church – NCR

Despite scandal, St. Thomas Christians in Kerala are staying with church – NCR

Kochi, India — On a hot Sunday morning as high Mass let out at St. Thomas Kottakavu Church, Niya Francis, 24, found her shoes among a sea of sandals left outside the church doorway and joined her fellow catechism teachers as they headed to class in a small building next door.

Teaching her faith has been something Francis has wanted to do as soon as she was old enough to command a classroom.

In the U.S. and other Western countries, where Catholic youth are increasingly leaving the church, Francis would be the rare teacher below the age of 30. But the church’s numbers in India have stayed relatively stable. “It’s a model that we have learned growing up, and we need to teach the children that Jesus loves them,” she said of her class.

Francis is a Syro-Malabar Catholic, the largest group of St. Thomas Christians, a pocket of faithful living in the southwestern Indian state of Kerala who are divided between the Latin and Orthodox rites. Her gleaming white church houses a congregation believed to have been founded by St. Thomas, the apostle, after he arrived here in A.D. 52.

While Syro-Malabar Catholics number just 5.1 million out of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics worldwide, in Kerala, Syro-Malabar Catholics make up the majority of Christians. In a country that’s predominantly Hindu, Kochi stands out with a near 40 percent Christian population.

In the last year, however, the Syro-Malabar Catholics have been tested as their archbishop, George Alencherry of Ernakulam, was accused of illegally selling church property. News of a questionable land deal led to a protest by a group of bishops who wanted to remove Alencherry.

A few months later, a Syro-Malabar Catholic nun under the Latin church accused a bishop of brutally raping her 13 times. Five sisters and several Christian organizations, united under the Save Our Sisters banner, rallied to support the nun and demand the arrest of the bishop. Bishop Franco Mulakkal was arrested this month.

The response of the young has been closely watched in the wake of the scandals.

“Despite low credibility of religious leaders, people continue going to church,” said Michael Tharakan, a researcher at the Kerala Council for Historical Research specializing in St. Thomas Christians. St. Thomas Kottakavu Church in Kochi, India, has a statue display of St. Thomas, center, proselytizing. The congregation believes it was founded by St. Thomas when he arrived in the area in A.D. 52. (RNS/Richard Tamayo)

Photo: Theresa Thomas, from left, Maria Paulos and Niya Francis teach catechism at St. Thomas Kottakavu Church in Kochi, India. (RNS/Denise Chan)

Tharakan thinks this may in part be because of the church’s crucial role in Kerala as educators. Christian missionaries started the first school in Kochi and built numerous hospitals and universities. Kerala’s almost 100 percent literacy rate, it is believed, can be attributed to the success of the Christian school system.

But there are reasons for concern. The Rev. Joseph Alencherry, a leader of the Syro-Malabar Youth Movement, said he’s seen a 25 percent decline in attendance at his church. “I would say 70 percent of that is most likely youth,” he said.

“We question about our religion at this age. So when these clergy do things like that, we are exhausted of hearing about it,” Renu Dominic, 18, said. Dominic is a first-year student at St. Teresa’s College.

Publicity about the recent incidents has put Catholic youth under pressure from their non-Catholic peers.

“They’re constantly ridiculed by non-Christians who might say, ‘Look at the situation at the church!’ ” Bivin Varghese, 31, said.

Varghese is global deputy director of the Syro-Malabar Youth Movement, a group officially sanctioned by the Vatican to strengthen youth participation in the church. He notes that many of the youth in his organization have raised questions about their faith to him.

“They’ve had a difficult time answering their colleagues, their friends in college, their peers, and they’re really seeking a convincing answer from us,” Varghese said.

Still, there are those whose faith hasn’t been staggered by the incidents. Francis, for one, is not deterred. She finds meaning in the church and her role in it.

“Our faith is not Bishop Franco or the nuns. It’s Jesus Christ,” Francis said. [Brooke Thames contributed to this report.]

Pope Francis laments Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka

Pope Francis laments Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka

Pope Francis laments the Easter Sunday attacks on several churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, which killed at least 138 people and wounded more than 400 others.

 “I wish to express my heartfelt closeness to the Christian community [of Sri Lanka], wounded as it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence.”

Pope Francis spoke those words of solidarity at the conclusion of his Easter UrbietOrbi address to the faithful in St. Peter’s Square.

The Holy Father said the multiple attacks on churches and hotels around Sri Lanka “have wrought grief and sorrow”.

“I entrust to the Lord all those who have tragically perished,” he said, “and I pray for the injured and all those who suffer as a result of this tragic event.”

Three churches targeted

Unknown attackers set off at least seven explosives on Easter Sunday morning at three churches and four hotels.

Two of the churches targeted were Catholic and one was an evangelical church.

The first blast hit St. Anthony’s Catholic Shrine in Kochchikade, a district north of the capital Colombo, causing heavy casualties.

Dozens of people died at St. Sebastian’s Catholic Church in Negombo, another district north of Colombo.

The targeted evangelical church was in Batticaloa in Eastern Province, where more than two dozen people were killed.

The explosions struck within a short period of time, all targeting the faithful as Easter services were beginning.

Four hotels bombed

At around the same time on Sunday morning, blasts struck four hotels in Colombo, including the Shangri-La Kingsbury, Cinnamon Grand.

At least nine foreigners were killed in Sunday’s attacks.

Archbishop of Colombo

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo, said it is “a very, very sad day for all of us.”

“I wish, therefore, to express my deepest sorrow and sympathy to all those innocent families that have lost someone, and also to those who have been injured and rendered destitute,” he continued.

Cardinal Ranjith said, “I condemn – to the utmost of my capacity – this act that has caused so much death and suffering to the people.” He also called on Sri Lanka’s government to hold “a very impartial, strong inquiry and find out who is responsible behind these acts”