Posts Tagged “child abuse”

Papa Francisco na JMJ - 24072013For well over a decade the Vatican has fiercely denied that any of its clergy abused children or that its hierarchs protected the abusers. This scandal has traveled around the world and reared its head on every continent (except Antarctica), but the Church’s commanders have repeatedly insisted they’re the true victims, not the abused children, and have blamed the scandal on anyone and everyone other than themselves. So I find it remarkable that, as the Religion News Service reports, Pope Francis asked for forgiveness over it (WebCite cached article):

“I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil that some priests — quite a few in number, though not compared to the total number — and to ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done by sexually abusing children,” Francis said [cached].

“The church is aware of this damage,” he said. “It is personal and moral damage, but carried out by men of the church. And we do not want to take one step backward in dealing with this problem and the sanctions that must be imposed. On the contrary, I believe that we have to be very firm. Because you cannot take chances with children!”

Catholic News Service provides video of the Pope, via Youtube:

Of course, the Pope’s request for forgiveness is a far cry from the sort of true accountability that people around the world have been looking for, for over a decade. But given the Vatican’s long history of excuse-making and refusal to date even to admit the possibility it might have done anything wrong, it does show a somewhat different attitude. Let’s hope Francis does take additional steps and actually holds his Church responsible for what it did.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Cardinal-Francis-George 110516 photoby Adam-BielawskiYet another archdiocese has been forced to release documentation that it was complicit in the abuse of children by its clergy. This time it’s the Windy City, as the Chicago Tribune reports (WebCite cached article):

Thousands of pages of secret church documents [cached] released Tuesday as part of a court settlement provide an unprecedented and gut-wrenching look at how the Archdiocese of Chicago for years failed to protect children from abusive priests.

The documents provide new details and insights into how the nation’s third-largest archdiocese quietly shuttled accused priests from parish to parish and failed to notify police of child abuse allegations. The paper trail, going back decades, also portrays painfully slow progress toward reform, accountability and openness.

Most of the 30 clergymen tied to the documents were not prosecuted. They were shielded by Roman Catholic Church officials who thought the men could be cured with counseling or bishops blinded by a belief in second chances and forgiveness.

Some of the abuse and cover-ups in this document cache involves the current archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Francis George, as the Tribune explains. The most outrageous quote in the article comes from the good Cardinal himself, referring to the abuse and cover-ups:

“That’s in the past, we’re hoping,” Cardinal Francis George said in an interview Sunday.

He’s “hoping” it’s “in the past”? He merely “hopes” his archdiocese’s custom of protecting abusive clergy is “in the past”? Seriously!?

The man is the fucking archbishop! What he says in his archdiocese, goes. The man needs to pull up his big boy pants and make this not just a “hope,” but a “reality.” As archbishop it’s entirely within his power to make it so. He’s in charge, and needs to fucking act like it. Yet, he doesn’t seem to want to.

If anyone wondered how decades of child abuse could have occurred at the hands of Catholic clergy and under the watch of the Catholic hierarchy, now you know why. Because not even a powerful Catholic hierarch is willing to take ownership of his own archdiocese and run it the way he sees fit. No. He just “hopes” it will be run better from now on.

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Vatican flag (8583012024)A U.N. commission has been investigating how the Holy See handled child-abuse allegations within its ranks. This might sound as though something might actually be done about the worldwide priestly pedophilia scandal, but it won’t, because the U.N. is perhaps the single most ineffective institution on the planet. There really isn’t a whole lot the U.N. can do to the Vatican, even if it wished to, and odds are, it won’t wish to do anything. Even so, an investigation of any kind always has the potential to reveal something.

A hearing held today did just that. It shone a rather harsh and unflattering light on the Vatican’s evasiveness — which has been an ongoing problem for this U.N. commission (WebCite cached article). CNN reports on the proceedings (cached):

A senior Vatican official acknowledged Thursday there is “no excuse” for child sex abuse, as he and others were grilled by a U.N. committee about the Catholic Church’s handling of pedophile priests.

It’s the first time the Vatican has been forced to answer allegations so publicly that it enabled the sexual abuse of children by protecting such priests.

The committee questioned a handful of Vatican officials — including Monsignor Silvano Tomasi, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva, and Monsignor Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s former chief sex-crimes prosecutor — for several hours Thursday in Switzerland.

The really interesting bit came from Scicluna, who hurled the problem of Catholic clerical child abuse right back at the governments of countries in which it operates:

Scicluna said he was there to say that “the Holy See ‘gets it’ ” with regard to the issue and that no one should stand in the way of the prosecution of abusive priests.

“Let’s not say too late or not,” he said. “But there are certain things that need to be done differently. I would talk about cover-up, for example, because this is a very important concern.”

States “need to take action against citizens of the country who obstruct justice in such an egregious crime as sexual abuse of minors, whoever these people are,” Scicluna said.

Scicluna is saying the problem lies not in anything the Church did or didn’t do, including covering up abuse, but rather, insinuates that it’s “states” which were the ones engaged in cover-ups. I’d say one could call this the definition of chutzpah, especially since the Church previously has been shown to have ordered its hierarchs not to cooperate with secular investigations.

Wow. I mean, just “wow.”

Scicluna went on to deny that priest shuffling — a frequent Church practice documented as having occurred around the world — ever happened:

As for priests who have committed sexual abuse of minors, the Holy See has made clear in a letter to bishops that it is “a no-go simply to move people from one place to another, from one diocese to another” without being open about their backgrounds, Scicluna said.

I can’t really say any of this surprises me. Although the Vatican has said that it “gets” the scandal, its officials’ words just keep reflecting the perpetually evasive tactics the hierarchs have always used in the past. Very little has changed, except for the fact that guys like Scicluna and Tomasi have been directly confronted and dressed down in a manner that’s never happened before. That much, at least, is quite welcome.

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Between masses at Our Lady of Grace Church in Edina, Archbishop John Nienstedt spoke directly to the media for the first time in months. / Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star-Tribune.Note: There’s been an update to this story; see below.

I’ve blogged already about Archbishop John Nienstedt of St Paul & Minneapolis, who may have been behind the destruction of a computer that had belonged to a pedophile priest, before police could get their hands on it. At the moment, though, rather than protecting a cleric who’s been accused of impropriety, as the Religion News Service reports, he’s the target of such an accusation himself (WebCite cached article):

Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt, already under fire for failing to take action against priests suspected of abuse, announced Tuesday (Dec. 17) that he is stepping aside temporarily after a minor accused the outspoken archbishop of touching his buttocks during a group photo after a 2009 confirmation ceremony.

In what he called “a difficult letter for me to write,” Nienstedt says he learned of the allegation during the weekend. He said he does not know the young man and he presumes his accuser to be “sincere in believing what he claims.”

Nienstedt denies the allegation, and insists any contact during picture-taking was innocent … which may well be the case … but the fact that he stepped aside, at least temporarily, is significant.

The RNS article goes on to explain that, over the past weekend, Nienstedt had “apologized” for his weak handling of priestly pedophilia claims in his archdiocese. He claims he’d been assured things were well in hand, when he took office, so he blithely assumed they were — but in fact, they weren’t. I don’t buy that excuse, though, and neither should you: He became archbishop in 2008, some 5 years after the priestly-pedophilia scandal had blown up in the U.S., with new revelations still trickling out all over the place. Nienstedt cannot reasonably have been unaware that problems might have continued to lurk within his archdiocese. It just doesn’t make any sense for him to have assumed that, at that time.

Update: The Catholic News Service reports police have cleared Nienstedt and he’s returned to his job (cached).

Photo credit: Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

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Jesus WeptA man working for a church who committed a long serious of sexual assaults. His supervisors who found out about it and got him out of the way. Those same supervisors never reported the assaults to police, and what’s more, tried to block an investigation. One would think I was talking about the Roman Catholic Church — but I’m not. I’m talking, instead, about the VineLife Church in Longmont, CO. It’s some sort of Protestant evangelical church; I haven’t been able to find out which exact denomination, if any, it belongs to. In any event, KMGH-TV in Denver tells the sorry tale of abuse and cover-up (WebCite cached version):

Five officials at Vinelife Church in Longmont are accused of failing to report that a youth pastor had allegedly sexually assaulted a church member since she was 15 years old.

Boulder police said Wednesday detectives have served summonses on Vinelife Church executive pastor Robert Phillip “Bob” Young, pastor Luke Humbrecht, pastor Edward Bennell and church elder Warren Lloyd Williams. A fifth church official, who is currently out of the country, will be served a summons when he returns to Colorado, said police spokeswoman Kim Kobel. Police will identify the fifth after he’s been charged.

Each official faces one charge of duty to report child abuse, and is accused of failing to report the alleged child abuse to law enforcement or human services officials.

Boulder police arrested Vinelife youth pastor Jason Allen Roberson, 35, on Sept. 4 and charged him with one count of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust; one count of sexual exploitation of a child and one count of unlawful sexual contact. After reviewing the case, the Boulder County District Attorney added one count of stalking.

The alleged victim, who is now 24 years old, is also a former church staff member. She told police the “inappropriate” relationship with the youth pastor began when she was 15 years old and continued for seven years. She said she “trusted (Roberson) as an authority figure and spiritual guide, and felt uncomfortable disclosing the relationship to others,” police said.

VineLife insists it’s done nothing wrong. On its Web site, the church claims to have cooperated with police — which police say is not true — and contend they’re not subject to mandatory child-abuse reporting laws (cached). They even threw their own lawyers under the bus over that last point:

[T]he Church sought and obtained legal counsel, who indicated that the Church leadership would not violate Colorado law by not reporting the incident given the current age of the victim.

Now, I’m no lawyer, but it’s not difficult to look up the relevant law here (Colorado Revised Statutes 19-3-304, Persons Required to Report Child Abuse or Neglect) and see that it clearly states that “clergy” are mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse. So I’m not sure if VineLife’s excuse will fly.

At any rate, for you Catholic apologists out there who read my blog (yes, there are some of you!) and are incensed that I seem to “only” report child abuse cases when it’s R.C. clergy who’ve done it, this post constitutes a refutation of that tired whine. Not that it was true before today, in any event; I’ve certainly mentioned child abuse by other sects’ or religions’ personnel before. I’ve never said, nor even suggested, it was “only” a Catholic problem, even if you think I have. So stop lying already, and stop bellyaching about how I dare criticize your precious Church.

Photo credit: Jenner8675309, via Flickr.

Hat tip: Friendly Atheist.

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Twelve Tribes Wedding 001By now this must seem like an old story: Devout Christians abusing kids for Jesus. Perhaps the most common version of this kind of story is clerical child abuse. That’s something I’ve blogged about numerous times over the years I’ve been at this. But there are other examples of it, such as parents letting their sick kids die because they refuse to take a chance on mortally offending their loving, merciful Jesus by getting them the medical care they need. And there are still other examples, such as the FLDS commune where young girls were married off to old men at too young an age.

But the most recent example of this deals with corporal punishment. The Guardian reports that German officials raided the compound of a Christian sect and removed its children (WebCite cached article):

Forty children have been taken from a Christian sect in Bavaria, southern Germany, following police raids at a monastery and a farm after accusations of child abuse.

The children, aged between seven months and 17 years old, are members of the Twelve Tribes sect, which has its roots in the US. They have been placed with foster families while the group is being investigated.

The group, whose teachings are based on the Old and New Testament, is known to believe in corporal punishment. It had been under observation by authorities for some time, particularly for its refusal to send its children to school.

The article explains the nature of their corporal punishment:

By their own admission, parents of the Twelve Tribes, which has around 100 members in two locations in Bavaria where it has had a base for 15 years, are instructed to beat their children “with a small reed-like rod which only inflicts pain and no damage”.

On its website, the group declares itself to be an “open and transparent community that does not tolerate any form of child abuse. Our children grow up in a loving environment and are educated in the spirit of charity.”

But Helmut Beyschlag, head of Noldingen district court, said: “We suspect that parents were exercising abuse.”

According to initial reports, the disciplinary rods used were soaked in oil to make them more pliable during a beating, when children were allegedly struck on their bare feet, arms and backs, inside the former Cistercian monastery.

Let’s be clear: The idea that you can hit children with something so as to cause only pain and never “damage” them, is a fiction. Any time you strike a child with something, you run a very real risk of “damaging” his/her body … with a bruise, or worse. (And yes, I consider a bruise to be “damage.” Bruises only appear when blood vessels are broken, and blood-vessel breakage is certainly a form of “damage.”)

The sect in question is reclusive, and originated in the US in the 1970s. While I’d heard of it before, I thought it had died out sometime in the 1990s. Instead, it seeped into Europe around that time. They’re considered a “cult” in most places they’ve ventured to. In Europe, because they refuse to send their children to school, they’ve run afoul of education laws — and in this case, that’s what put them in the sights of German authorities in the first place.

The Twelve Tribes sect’s reclusiveness stems, it seems, from their belief that they’re recreating the “original” Church as described in Acts of the Apostles. The problem with this is that Acts is not considered wholly reliable. It likely was composed in the late 1st century CE or early 2nd as something of a propaganda piece, sort of a “golden age” retrospective of the Church’s first generation, by its third or fourth. There are very real historical and critical reasons to conclude this, among them being that Acts conflicts, at points, with Paul’s genuine epistles, which were written right in the middle of the 1st century, during the Church’s first generation.

At any rate, along with their probably-invalid interpretation of Acts, the Twelve Tribes sect seems also to have an unhealthy obsession with the Old Testament, in particular the famous “spare the rod” verse:

He who withholds his rod hates his son,
But he who loves him disciplines him diligently. (Proverbs 13:24)

Over the years a lot of ink has been spilt over this verse, explaining how it doesn’t advocate child abuse; e.g. the “rod” mentioned is merely a pointing-stick that shepherds used to guide their sheep where they want them to go, and not a bludgeon to pound kids with; as well as other rationales. But I don’t buy any of these creative reinterpretations. It’s true that ancient fathers used rods to beat discipline into their children … which is why this verse and a few others like it (Prov 19:18 & 22:15, etc.) are present in the Bible … but we no longer do that, nor should we. In the 21st century, we understand that “discipline” means much more than just causing physical pain when a child breaks the rules s/he is supposed to abide by. And we understand that beatings don’t necessarily instill “discipline” in them. We realize there’s a big difference between “discipline” and “abuse”; while the former is just fine (and expected), the latter is unacceptable.

Hat tip: Peter at Skeptics & Heretics Forum on Delphi Forums.

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Roma, sant'Anselmo all'Aventino, via Wikimedia CommonsI’ve blogged about the release of documents by the Catholic Church in Los Angeles. This was the result of a lawsuit settlement back in 2007. That’s right … 6 years ago, the Church agreed, presumably in good faith, to release these documents, but resisted doing so until this year. I admit I don’t really understand the logic of agreeing to release some documents, yet staunchly refusing to release them — but hey, I’m just a cynical, godless agnostic heathen, so what could I possibly know about such things?

At any rate, over 6 months after the archdiocese coughed up its records, some of the religious orders of L.A. released their own, and as the Los Angeles Times reports, they reveal how evasive and dodgy the Church hierarchy was (WebCite cached article):

Confidential personnel records from five Catholic religious orders were turned over to victims of sexual abuse Wednesday in the first wave of a court-ordered public disclosure expected to shed light on the role the groups, operating independently of the L.A. Archdiocese, played in the region’s clergy molestation scandal.

The documents pertain to a dozen priests, brothers and nuns accused of sexual misconduct in the landmark 2007 settlement with hundreds of people who filed abuse claims against the Roman Catholic Church in Los Angeles. An additional 45 religious orders will release the personnel files of their accused clergy by this fall, completing what is believed to be the fullest accounting yet of the abuse crisis anywhere in the Catholic Church.

The orders’ officials used some rather novel strategies in order to avoid revealing anything or creating any sort of audit trail:

For the most part, the files have little or no reference to abuse allegations that surfaced in lawsuits a decade ago, suggesting the orders were either unaware of molestation claims or opted not to document them.

When matters of abuse were referenced, officials sometimes seemed reluctant to commit the ugly details to paper. In the case of Benedictine priest Mathias Faue, one supervisor wrote vaguely [cached] of “his problem” or “difficulty.” In the file of Oblate Father Ruben Martinez, an order official repeatedly switched to Japanese characters [cached] to note sensitive subjects, including his admissions of “homosexuality” and “relations with boys.”

This official must have thought he was really clever. As though no one could possibly have thought he was covering something up, or that no one who ever saw one of these documents might recognize Japanese characters.

Setting this revelation apart from many others, is that this one includes the records of abusive nuns:

Wednesday’s release also covers the Marianists, the Benedictines, the Oblates and two orders of nuns. The disclosures by the Cabrini Sisters and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet mark the first time in the L.A. litigation the files of women have been made public. The two nuns, who are deceased, were accused in lawsuits of sexually abusing students decades ago. Their files contained no information on misconduct allegations.

All by itself, strategies like writing comments in Japanese characters reveal, conclusively, that Catholic officials knew they were dealing, at best, with unsavory characters doing things that weren’t allowed; or at worst, with criminals committing crimes; and that they didn’t want anyone else to know about them. Even so, I’m sure the Catholic Church’s defenders will continue blaming others and making ridiculous excuses for this behavior, just as they’ve been doing all along. The cold fact, though, is that there is no reasonable excuse for this. Not one.

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