Posts Tagged “vatican”

Vatican flag (8583012024)It seems Pope Francis’s own handlers within the Vatican are having difficulty keeping him in line. He recently had another interview with Eugenio Scalfari, founder of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, and today they published an article on it (WebCite cached article). (A Google translation of this article is available (cached).

This interview covered a lot of ground, but among the topics covered were pedophiles within the priesthood, and celibacy for clergy. First, on pedophilia within the Church (both quotes from the interview below are automated Google translations into English, so pardon the poor language):

Many of my co-workers who struggle with me reassure me with reliable data that assess pedophilia within the Church at the level of two percent. This finding should reassure me but I must tell you that I do not reassuring at all. I consider it very serious indeed. Two percent of pedophiles are priests and even bishops and cardinals. And others, more numerous, they know but they keep silent, punish, but without saying why. I find this situation intolerable and I intend to tackle it with the seriousness it requires.

About clerical celibacy, the Pope said:

“Maybe she does not know that celibacy was established in the tenth century, that is, 900 years after the death of our Lord. The Eastern Catholic Church has the power right now that its priests to marry. The problem certainly exists but is not of great magnitude. It takes time but there are solutions and find it.

Now, almost anyone would consider both of these remarkable. For the Pope to say that even a low-sounding 2% proportion of priests being pedophiles is “intolerable,” is certainly strong language. Also, for him to say that there may be “problems” with clerical celibacy and that he’s willing to “find solutions,” is also unprecedented. To date the Church has consistently dismissed priestly pedophilia, at best acknowledging it as an unusual and marginal phenomenon — when they’re even willing to admit it exists (they frequently deny it outright). Also, the Church has repeatedly declared there is absolutely nothing wrong with clerical celibacy and that the practice dates to the beginning of the Church. That it might cause “problems” with it, is something the Church has never once conceded.

But no sooner did the ink dry on the pages of this morning’s La Repubblica, than the Vatican machinery cranked out objections to it. The paper’s own English-language blog goes over their complaints (cached):

But a few hours after the account of Scalfari’s conversation with the Pope was published, Father Federico Lombardi, official Vatican spokesman, issued a strongly worded statement calling Scalfari’s account of the conversation into question.

“One cannot and one must not speak in any way of an interview in the usual sense of the word… The conversation was cordial and very interesting and touched principally on the themes of the scourge of the sexual abuse of minors and the Church’s attitude towards the mafia. However… it is important to note that the words that Mr Scalfari attributes to the Pope, reporting his words in quotation marks, are from the memory of an experienced journalist, but not a precise transcription or recording, nor have they been approved by the person to whom the remarks are attributed.”

Father Lombardi was particularly keen to undermine Scalfari’s recollection of the remarks on paedophilia and those on celibacy, even hinting that the pontiff may have been deliberately misquoted.

“The individual remarks… cannot be confidently attributed to the Pope. For example and in particular… the fact that there are paedophile cardinals, and that “I will find a solution” to the problem of celibacy.

“In the article published in La Repubblica these two affirmations are clearly attributed to the Pope, but — curiously — the quotation marks were opened at the beginning but were not closed at the end… An oversight or explicit recognition that it is an attempt to manipulate some ingenuous readers?”

An oversight by Repubblica’s sub-editors, or a sign that Pope Francis’s willingness to tackle certain controversial issues head on frightens the conservatives within the Vatican?

That’s the way to go about it, Fr Lombardi! Quibble over possible typos (e.g. the missing/misplaced quotation marks) in an effort to suggest La Repubblica published fabricated quotations of your Pope. Yeah, that’s the ticket!

If the interview, as published this morning, does accurately reflect the Pope’s own thinking — and right now, no one has any reason to think it doesn’t, Fr Lombardi’s accusations notwithstanding — then Pope Francis clearly is at odds with his own bureaucracy in the Vatican. How long is that going to last? Is he going to bend to suit them, or is he going to crack down on them and whip them into line? It will be interesting to find out, although given the Catholic Church’s vast machinery and its almost crippling institutional inertia, I suspect it’s the Pope who will have to give in, before Vatican functionaries do.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Pope Francis in IsraelThe current pope, Francis, has been in office for over a year. During that time he’s skirted the edges of a number of controversies, and even kicked up a few of his own (such as the astonishingly raw outrage engendered by his having washed the feet of — gasp! — women, of all people, during a Maundy Thursday rite). But so far he’s had little, if anything, to say about the worldwide “priestly pedophilia” scandal that’s swirled through and around his Church for many years now.

But that changed this past weekend. As the New York Times reports, he delivered a rare (for Popes, anyway) apology and asked forgiveness from the scandal’s victims (WebCite cached article):

Pope Francis on Monday used his first meeting with victims of clerical sex abuse to offer his strongest condemnation of a crisis that has shaken the Roman Catholic Church, comparing priests who abuse minors to “a sacrilegious cult,” while begging forgiveness from victims and pledging to crack down on bishops who fail to protect children.

By meeting with six victims from three countries, Francis was trying to show resolve — and personal empathy — to address an issue on which he has faced criticism in what has otherwise been a popular papacy. While some advocates for victims praised the meeting, others dismissed it as little more than a publicity stunt.

Francis first greeted the six victims — two people each from Ireland, Britain and Germany — on Sunday after they arrived at a Vatican guesthouse. On Monday morning, he led them in a private Mass at a Vatican chapel, where he offered a strongly worded homily condemning an abuse scandal that began to surface decades ago under John Paul II. Francis also met with each victim individually in sessions that, in total, lasted more than three hours.

For a pope … and considering he hadn’t yet addressed the scandal squarely … he was remarkably frank:

“Before God and his people, I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you,” Francis said during his homily, according to a text released by the Vatican. “And I humbly ask forgiveness. I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves.”

In his homily, Francis also vowed “not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not,” and declared that bishops would be held accountable for protecting minors. He said the abuse scandals had had “a toxic effect on faith and hope in God.”

Since this admission and request for forgiveness is virtually unprecedented, I can see why a lot of the Church’s critics are unimpressed. It’s one thing for the Pope to say all of this; it’s another entirely to put those words into action. Just a few days ago, for example, the Pope’s own minions in the Holy See told the Australian commission investigating clerical child abuse in that country to go fuck itself (cached). That position directly and materially contradicts the Pope’s claims that his hierarchs are to “be held accountable for protecting minors.”

Given that — and given the Church’s consistent and many-years-long pattern of denying the scandal and blaming it on anything and everything but itself — I’m not really sure Francis means what he said. I’m really not. Only time will tell … but I don’t expect time will reveal any meaningful change within the Church.

P.S. Oh, and you Catholic apologists who always stamp and fume that child abuse is reported only in relation to your precious Church … take a look at the bottom of this Times article. Under “More In Europe,” you’ll see a link entitled to another Times article about the UK investigating decades-old government-related abuse allegations that reportedly had been hushed up by that same government (cached). So put away your laughable fucking martyr complex and just admit what you damned well know your Church did. That other institutions, religious and otherwise, pulled the same shit doesn’t make any of it right; using the whiney crybaby claim that the mass media is out to destroy your Church has gotten ridiculous. Quite obviously the media are not ignoring other groups’ similar transgressions so they can make it seem only your Church is guilty of systemic child sexual abuse. Grow up and get the hell over it already.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Archbishop Józef Wesolowski, papal nuncio to the Dominican Republic / Catholic News Agency / url: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/vatican-willing-to-hand-over-accused-nuncio-to-civil-authorities/This story has been brewing for almost a year. Last summer, the Vatican’s nuncio (aka ambassador) to the Dominican Republic, archbishop* Józef Wesołowski, resigned last summer while under investigation by DR authorities for child abuse and returned to the Vatican, where his conduct was also being investigated. At the time, I wasn’t sure the Church had actually been “investigating” him. But it turns out they had; as the Religion News Service reports, some sort of ecclesiastical trial just concluded, and as a result, Wesołowski was defrocked (WebCite cached article):

A former Vatican ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, has been defrocked and is likely to face criminal prosecution at the Vatican after a church inquiry convicted him of child sexual abuse.…

The 65-year-old envoy is the highest-ranking Vatican official to be investigated for sex abuse. He was found guilty after an inquiry conducted by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which has jurisdiction over all sex abuse cases in the Roman Catholic Church.

In a brief statement released Friday (June 27), the Vatican said the verdict was issued “in the past few days” and the former diplomat was facing arrest due to the “gravity of the case.”

This rather quick — by Vatican standards — defrocking (aka “laicization”) is fairly remarkable, and on its surface, it might seem harsh. (I suppose, maybe, those within the Vatican actually view it as such.) But it’s not clear what all of this really means for the former archbishop; and it certainly doesn’t appear that Wesołowski is truly being “punished” at all:

A bishop from the Dominican Republic was recently reported to say that he was shocked to see Wesolowski walking freely on the streets of central Rome. Prosecutors in the Caribbean nation have said they have convincing evidence that the prelate molested young men.

To add to this non-punishment of their former nuncio, they’re actively protecting him from secular prosecution; they spirited him out of the DR, and are protecting him from extradition to his native Poland as well:

Wesołowski has also been accused of abuse in his native Poland. The Vatican rejected an extradition request from the Warsaw prosecutor’s office on the grounds he was “a citizen of the Vatican” and holds diplomatic immunity.

In Wesołowski’s case, specifically, the Vatican has been able to use his position as nuncio (with its attendant “diplomatic immunity”) as well as his putative Vatican City citizenship to prevent him from being prosecuted by secular authorities. But note that this is more or less the same approach they’ve taken in a other cases that don’t involve Church diplomats. The hierarchs really and truly believe their clergy should not be subject to secular courts and that only their own Curia has jurisdiction over them.

Photo credit: Catholic News Agency.

* Wesołowski never actually headed an archdiocese. His was a fake office, that of “Archbishop of Sléibhte.” Yes, there once had been a diocese of Sléibhte (in Ireland) … but it disappeared by the middle of the 9th century (if memory serves). The office of Archbishop of Sléibhte was resurrected as a titular (aka “in name only”) position by Pope Paul VI … probably because he’d wanted to stick a feather in the cap of some Vatican functionary whom he didn’t want to put in charge of a real diocese. (Yes, folks, that’s how popes operate. They quite literally just make shit up as they go along.)

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Pope Francis recognized two of his most famous papal predecessors in a ceremony St. Peter’s Square in Rome. Andreas Solaro/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesIt’s been coming for months now. In office only just over a year, Pope Francis … with his retired direct predecessor Benedict XVI on hand … today canonized two of the most famous popes of the twentieth century, if not of all time: John XXIII and John Paul II. The New York Times reports on this canonization rite and some of its ramifications (WebCite cached article):

Pope Francis made history on Sunday, elevating to sainthood John XXIII and John Paul II, two of his most famous papal predecessors, in a ceremony bearing themes of hope and reconciliation for the world’s one billion Roman Catholics.…

Francis, who made the decision to hold the joint canonization, portrayed the two former popes as “men of courage” who shared a place in history.…

Never before had two popes been canonized at the same time, and the pairing attracted large, joyous crowds tramping through Rome, with many people waving flags or banners. Francis declared the two men saints shortly after the Mass began, a pronouncement greeted with rising applause from the square and followed by the presentation of relics linked to the two new saints.…

Notable among the cardinals and political leaders seated near the outdoor altar was Benedict XVI, the former pope who has remained largely out of the public eye since his historic resignation last year. His decision to step down led to the papal election of Francis.

As the Times explains, the Vatican has been veering away from the (rather obvious) appearances evoked by this unprecedented event:

In the days before the ceremony, however, Vatican officials had sought to dispel the political subtext of the event — that the two former popes are icons to different constituencies within the church, and that by canonizing them together, Francis was making a political statement as well as a religious one.

John XXIII is a hero to many liberal Catholics for his Second Vatican Council of the early 1960s, which sought to open the church to the modern era. John Paul II is a hero to many conservative Catholics — not only for his anti-Communist heroism and personal charisma, but also because of his resistance to liberalizing elements of the church.

By pairing their canonizations, Francis sought to de-emphasize their differences, many analysts said, in the service of trying to reconcile divisions within the church and finding consensus as he prepared for the meetings, known as synods, centered on the theme of family.

I for one do not, for a single moment, buy into the idea that this couldn’t have been a way for Francis to appeal simultaneously to both the liberal/reformist and conservative/reactionary factions of his Church. Both factions were sure to be pleased by the elevation to sainthood of each of their most recognizable recent leaders. There’s just no way around it; the Vatican’s efforts to insist differently, are simply not credible.

A lot of ink has been spilt … and bits transmitted … concerning the unusual speed of John Paul’s canonization and the lack of two miracles to support John’s. For instance, Religion News Service asks why their canonizations were so speedy (cached):

Yet despite the vast popularity of the two popes, there is intense debate about whether these canonizations are nothing more than an elaborate public relations exercise — and whether they should be taking place at all.

John Paul II will hold the record for the fastest saint to be canonized in the history of the Catholic Church [sic]. John XXIII is even more controversial since Pope Francis approved his canonization with evidence of only one miracle — instead of the two normally required.

“It’s controversial among the saint makers at the Vatican, who consider themselves sticklers when it comes to the miracle requirement,” said longtime Vatican watcher John Thavis, author of “The Vatican Diaries.”

The article is incorrect when it says John Paul was canonized sooner after his death than any other saint (which is why I put a “sic” after that sentence above). Both St Anthony of Padua and St Peter of Verona, for example, were canonized much more quickly … each less than a year after their deaths, around 20 years apart during the 13th century. Despite this error, it’s true John Paul’s canonization is the quickest to have occurred in modern times. Moreover, consider as a comparison the protracted elevation of the Martyrs of Otranto: Killed in 1480, they were beatified just under 3 centuries later in 1771, and finally canonized almost 250 years after that, in 2013. Overall, their canonization took over 5 centuries to happen. The just-over-9-year span between John Paul’s death and canonization is a drop in the bucket, when viewed alongside that.

The Vatican and Church officials have, so far, defended these actions (i.e. John Paul’s quick elevation and John’s elevation without a second miracle) as proper within the boundaries of canon law and Church rules. For all I know, they may be correct about that. However, these moves are definitely unusual for a Church that’s known for not moving very fast on anything and for being fiercely legalistic about everything it does. To say otherwise is fucking laughable.

Photo credit: Andreas Solaro/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images, via the NY Times.

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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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Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst (2008)The Roman Catholic bishop of Limburg, a man with the remarkably pompous-sounding name of Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, met with Pope Francis last Thursday, and resigned from his post. He’d been suspended since autumn due to an uproar over the colossal cost of renovations to his episcopal residence (around $42 million dollars). Germany’s edition of The Local reports on what Tebartz-van Elst spent that led to Tebartz-van Elst’s meeting with Francis, and his resignation (WebCite cached article):

A disgraced German bishop who resigned on Wednesday after building costs at his new headquarters spiraled to at least €31 million, spent €213,000 on a fish tank. On Thursday he passed some of the blame onto his deputy.

The 108-page report [cached] into extortionate spending at the Bishop of Limburg’s headquarters was published by the leadership of Germany’s Catholic Church on Wednesday.

Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst handed in his resignation [cached] to Pope Francis the same day. He had been suspended in October after details of his spending emerged [cached].

Tebartz-van Elst himself has not responded to the controversy since it erupted in October, but he provided a statement on Thursday. He admitted having had a “disorderly, unfocused” approach to the project in question, but then offered a number of excuses:

Yet he then claimed that the reported total costs were inaccurate.

He argued that his out of control spending was a result of other construction projects he had seen go wrong.

As soon as it began, he felt he needed to “observe the quality and the durability of the entire project”. His spending choices should have been overseen by his deputy, Vicar General Franz Kaspar, but he maintained they were not.

Yes, you read that right. This putative “man of God” not only pulled the classy stunt of throwing his own vicar-general under the bus, he actually claimed that his employee was supposed to have managed him, a prince of the Church:

“As I am not an authority in the area of church management, as my qualification is in pastoral theory, I have to relinquish the responsibility to Dr Kaspar who was [according to the report into the spending] ‘the only person with an overarching view of the seat’s assets’.”

The Local article lists some of the expenditures in question, and they’re insane:

  1. A €213,000 (over $290,000) fish tank
  2. €1.17 million (over $1.5 million) for artwork
  3. €1.73 million (over $2.3 million) for genuine bronze window frames
  4. €18,000 (almost $25,000) for a crane-installed advent-wreath fixture in the chapel ceiling

There’s a lot more, and I suggest looking at the list. It’ll astound you. I wonder what Jesus might say about Tebartz-van Elst’s ostentatiousness and profligacy. I’m betting he wouldn’t approve; after all, he reportedly taught the following:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.… No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:19-21, 24)

He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” (Mark 12:41-44)

“Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” (Luke 12:33-34)

When Jesus heard this he said to him, “There is still one thing left for you: sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have a treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” But when he heard this he became quite sad, for he was very rich. Jesus looked at him (now sad) and said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard this said, “Then who can be saved?” (Luke 18:22-26)

The sad part is, this disgraced ex-bishop may not be all that different from other Catholic hierarchs. Many of them are obsessed with their own possessions and those of their dioceses. This effort to cling desperately to everything they’ve accumulated in part explains their lackluster response to the worldwide Catholic clerical child-abuse scandal, their evasions, and the justice they obstructed along the way. Some of them have admitted their resistance to doing anything is because they want to hold onto everything they have, at all costs.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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The Rev. Michael Fugee, seen here after his arrest in May, has been expelled from the priesthood after admitting he violated a ban on ministry to children. (John O'Boyle / The Star-Ledger)One of the mantras repeated endlessly by the Catholic Church, whenever it’s asked why it didn’t deal more sternly with abusive clergy within its ranks, is that the process of throwing clergy out (which most of us call “defrocking,” but the Church calls “laicization”) is a long, arduous, and costly one. It can’t be rushed, you see, so often the better tactic is to leave abusers with their titles but just move them somewhere else and hope they won’t torment more kids (which, all too often, they ended up doing). Another point they make is that once a priest is defrocked — er, laicized — the Church no longer has any hold on them and they might go do something really, really bad.

Well, it turns out the former contention may not really be true. As the (Newark) Star-Ledger reports, it took only a few months to arrange the defrocking — er, laicization — of a child-abusing priest (WebCite cached article):

Acting with uncustomary speed, the Vatican has expelled a New Jersey man from the priesthood for repeatedly defying a lifetime ban on ministry to children.

Michael Fugee, 53, who attended youth retreats and heard confessions from minors despite signing a court-sanctioned decree forbidding such activities, has been returned to the lay state, said Jim Goodness, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Newark.

“Very recently all the procedures were completed,” Goodness said Monday night. “He is no longer a priest of the archdiocese.”

The Vatican typically takes a year or longer to expel priests, a process known as laicization. In some cases, the procedure drags on for several years.

An astute reader might ask how the quick defrocking — er, laicization — of Fugee squares with the Church’s portrayal of that process as lengthy and gut-wrenching; well, so too did the SL:

Asked about the swift pace of Fugee’s removal, Goodness said the former priest’s petition for laicization was “given a good amount of attention when it was submitted.”

That’s the answer, then. It’s merely a matter of “attention.” If a diocese “gives a good amount of attention” to a defrocking — er, laicization — that’s pending, then it can move along quickly. So all the hand-wringing over the protracted defrocking — er, laicization — process turns out to be not as bad as they’ve claimed, after all.

What’s more, the idea that a diocese can control the actions of an abusive priest if they hold onto him, also turns out not to be true. As I’ve blogged previously, the case of the late Fr Stephen Foley here in Connecticut is evidence of that. He’d been removed from the active ministry — including losing his status as a state police chaplain — in the mid-90s after some abuse complaints, and moved onto the grounds of St Thomas Seminary, yet the archdiocese of Hartford was unaware that, over ten years later, he’d been driving around in a police cruiser, decked out with sirens, lights, etc. which he wasn’t legally entitled to drive — even had he still been chaplain, which he wasn’t (page 2, cached; page 3, cached; page 4, cached). Foley had used this illegitimate police cruiser as a lure to ensnare more child victims … right under the noses of his archdiocesan superiors (who, it appears, didn’t give a flying fuck what he was driving or what he was doing).

The number of lies the Catholic Church continues to tell about how it dealt with abusers in its midst continues to pile up, as do the excuses it propounds for why it refused to punish or eject them, or for why it has found itself engulfed in this worldwide scandal. Don’t be fooled by anything the hierarchs tell you about it; ultimately, they don’t think they’ve done anything wrong. In their minds this scandal is entirely fictional, woven from whole cloth by any number of malefactors, ranging from the children themselves to the Devil to “masonic secularists” to Jews to … well, you name it.

Photo credit: John O’Boyle / The Star-Ledger.

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