What’s wrong with hymns without quotation marks?

Last year, popular sacred music composer David Haas was accused of sexually and spiritually abusing and assaulting 44 women. A recent conversation about his music took an interesting turn, and I thought I’d share some of it here.

First of all, it’s a shame that it even has to be said, but the guy’s music should never be played in church again. He shouldn’t be making royalties off songs he wrote and used explicitly to groom and manipulate women, and nobody should have to hear the words of a predator sung inside the walls of their church.

I have my own thoughts about separating the artist from the art, but this is different: The guy explicitly and recently used his celebrity as a religious artist to prey on women. He should be out for good, period. Yes, even if that one song of his was very meaningful and moving to you at some point in your life. You can always play it in your own home if you like it that much. Music is expendable, but people are not. Even if it were the most sublime music in the history of the church, it doesn’t belong in the church because of what he did.

Everyone agreed on that point, and we moved to the second point, which was more contentious, and which was this: Perhaps Haas’ music wasn’t sublime. Far from it: It was pretty terrible, so there’s a second (less urgent) reason it shouldn’t be played in church. Yes, I firmly believe that some music is objectively inferior to other music. Music that’s trite, coy, and formless is inferior. You don’t have to be a trained musician to develop a sensitive ear, which makes hearing bad music at church the equivalent of sitting on sticky, splintery pews or breathing air that smells like rotten eggs. Christ is still present, but gosh, it’s distracting.

Then came the third objection to Haas’ songs: The lyrics…Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Christendom College prof jailed on charges of sexually assaulting a child

A Christendom College professor emeritus is being held without bail after he was arrested on Friday on charges of sexually assaulting a child.

William R. Luckey, 72, is jailed at Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren Regional Jail on one count of solicitation of prostitution of a child under the age of 16, and two counts of indecent liberties against a child under the age of 15.

Luckey is listed as a professor emeritus on the school’s website. Luckey is a frequent writer for publications Faith and Reason, as well as the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty’s publication, The Journal of Markets and Morality. He has written on Catholic social teaching and the economy for Crisis Magazine, as well.

Luckey is listed as an adjunct scholar for the Ludwig Von Mises Institute, Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, as well as a member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars and the advisory board for the Center for Economic Personalism. 

The small Catholic liberal arts college in Front Royal, VA began awarding a William R. Luckey award for Political Science and Economics in 2015, when Luckey retired as a teacher. Two days after the arrest, Luckey was still listed on Christendom’s website as a Professor Emeritus. 

College representatives did not respond to requests for comment on Sunday. It is not known if or how the news of Luckey’s arrest has been conveyed to students and their families. It is also not clear if Luckey had been active on campus. 

Records indicate Luckey was arrested Friday evening by members of the Warren County Sheriff’ Department in Front Royal, Virginia. There is no case information currently available online through the Virginia Court system’s website, and law enforcement representatives were unavailable on Sunday.

Christendom President Timothy O’Donnell apologized in 2018 after we reported on the school failing women who had been sexually assaulted on campus. At the time, the school pledged to bring in experts to review the school’s policies and protocols dealing with sexual assault and harassment.  

The story will be updated as information becomes available. 

UPDATE June 28 Christendom College issued the following statement on their website:

Christendom College has learned that a former professor, Dr. William Luckey, was charged with sexual offenses late last week. The charges have no connection to the personnel or students of Christendom College. Luckey served as a professor from 1984 until his last class and retirement back in 2015. 

The college asks for the prayers of the community for the Luckey family and those involved during this extremely trying moment, as the legal process moves forward and more information comes to light.

 

Image: Booking photo of William Luckey from Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren Regional Jail

 

 

NH Reporter: 7 sex abuse lawsuits filed against Legion, more ahead; Payoffs allegedly continue

Immaculate Conception Apostolic School in Center Harbor, NH, was a sexual smorgasbord for the Legion of Christ, according to lawsuits.

The disgraced Legion only acknowledged two abusers in New Hampshire, but seven new lawsuits have named more, and there are more lawsuits forthcoming, according to reporting by my husband, Damien Fisher. Not all the alleged victims are male.

The Legion is now allegedly using the abuse reporting process itself as a way of identifying and silencing victims: 

Sources tell NH Reporter that the order has been using the process of reporting on itself to identify victims of abuse, and offer payments in exchange for silence. Center Harbor Police Chief Mark Chase has said several victims stopped talking to him after receiving payments.

An attorney who has helped Legion victims told NH Reporter that the victims are required to sign an agreement before getting the money. The lawyer said the Legion was misleading victims by telling them that their legal claims were timed out, and then it offered them each up to $10,000 in exchange for signing the agreement.

“(A) release of claims that is so broadly drafted that it would include anything the Legion would do to them in the future, such as running them over with a car,” the attorney said.

Damien will continue to follow this story as it unfolds. Read the full article in NHReporter.com

***

Image copyright Damien Fisher

NH Reporter: Legion school sheltered several more abusers than originally reported

The Legionaries of Christ acknowledged in a 2019 report that it had two sexual abusers in its ranks in NH, for a total of four in all of North America. But according to police records, at least four other abusers were reported in Center Harbor, NH, which was home to an all-boys Legion school. The chief of police in Center Harbor also believes the Legion habitually moved the accused out of the country to avoid investigation.

The founder of the school only notified state investigators about one abuse allegation after he became aware journalists were talking to the victim. 

Read the entire story with extensive original reporting by my husband, Damien Fisher, at NHReporter.com.

***

Related: A year ago, we reported on how the Legion lied to police when a victim reported abuse to them, and how they classify criminal abuse as “boundary violations” to make it seem like they have fewer abusers in their ranks than they really do.

 

Photo: Immaculate Conception Apostolic School in Center Harbor, NH. Photo copyright Damien Fisher

 

Child molesters groom the whole community (and they don’t need Troll dolls)

Here in the US, conspiracy theory-minded folks recently convinced themselves that a new doll was deliberately designed to groom kids for sexual abuse.

When you push a button on the doll’s bottom, it makes happy noises. One mother posted a video saying that she thought the noises were sexual, and her message quickly went viral.

The company said that any sexual connotations were unintentional, and they’re happy to replace the doll, and are “in the process of removing the item for purchase.”

Is it possible that someone in toy design deliberately made a toy for the purpose of teaching kids to associate their private parts with pleasure? Anything is possible (although most kids figure that out easily enough on their own).

There is certainly a lot of blurring of lines between sexiness and cuteness in toys, and it’s gross. It’s worth while, for any number of reasons, to limit your kids’ exposure to dolls and toys and books and shows that constantly show them sexual things.

But this woman’s concern was based on a misunderstanding of what active, targeted grooming often looks like. The whole point of grooming is that it doesn’t start with private parts and sexy noises.

Grooming of children and other victims starts with things that are objectively innocuous and non-sexual: Offering rides, being friendly and helpful, giving little gifts, accustoming them to non-sexual physical touch. So when we get the impression that grooming of children looks like sex plus children, we’re setting ourselves up to miss actual red flags, and that means missing actual sexual abusers.

And there’s another important idea: When someone wants to sexually abuse a child, he doesn’t just groom the child. He very often grooms everyone around the child.

He grooms character witnesses. He grooms an entire community, so that nobody thinks twice about letting him spend time alone with the child, and so that, if the child does speak up and say something is weird, no one will believe the child or the whistleblower, because everyone knows and loves Awesome Coach Steve or Holy Fr. George or Helpful Uncle Andy or Venerable Grandpa Henry, and it would never cross their mind that the guy everyone likes would do such a thing.

Having everyone on your side is vital, and abusers know this. They work to make everyone around the child will be unwittingly complicit in the child’s abuse.

This reality hit home when I was undergoing training to teach catechism class for my diocese… Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

 

Image: minanfotos via Pixabay

Victim says Legion lied to police about her abuse

Legion falsely told police the victim didn’t want a criminal investigation;
classified criminal sexual abuse as “boundary violations”

By Damien Fisher
The Legionaries of Christ have published a list of credibly accused priests, and they claim they are open to hearing testimony from more survivors of abuse. But what happens when a victim does contact them with a complaint?  Are the allegations taken seriously? How accurate is their list? Do they tell the truth to law enforcement about allegations of criminal abuse?

Ashley (not her real name) thought she could help the Church when she made the agonizing decision to come forward in 2015 and tell authorities about the sexual abuse she suffered from a Legionaries of Christ priest as a middle schooler in the 1990s.

“I wanted to protect anyone he might still be hurting,” she said.

In September of 2015, Ashley and her attorney, Tom Brandt, met with Legion priest Fr. Peter Hopkins and another Legion priest to formally report that the Legion priest assigned to the Highlands, a private Legion school she attended in the Dallas area, repeatedly groomed and molested her in the confessional. The abuse she suffered, as she described it, rises to the level of a criminal offense. But when the diocese released its list of credibly accused abusers last year, Ashley’s abuser wasn’t on it, and he wasn’t on the list the Legion published in December.

Both the Legion officials we spoke to and the Dallas officials we contacted called the criminal abuse “boundary violations.”

Dallas Diocesan Chancellor Mary Edlund, who used that phrase in a letter to Child Protective Services, was not at the meeting. “The diocese refused to send a representative to our meeting,” Ashley said.  

Ashley thought coming forward would protect other young girls. She thought that reporting her abuse would alarm the Church, pushing them to investigate further, root out corruption, and reform the Legion. She expected someone to pursue her abuser.

“I was an optimist,” she said. 

When Ashley saw the records, she realized the Legion apparently lied to police about her case, and about her alleged abuser. 

“They really are not reformed,” she said.

Ashley agreed to tell us her story on the condition of anonymity. The alleged abuser has yet to be criminally charged, and so we are withholding his identity at this time. He has not responded to our requests for an interview. According to the information we have obtained, he is no longer a priest. He is the subject of an active police investigation, as recently as last month. 

Ashley went through years of self-doubt, guilt, and shame before she finally came forward. For years after her abuse, she didn’t understand that what she had endured was abuse.

“I didn’t realize there was a crime committed,” she said.

“If your mom asks what you are doing in here, tell her ‘spiritual direction,” the priest said.

The priest spent months grooming her when she was a middle school student at the Highlands, mostly in the confessional. The assaults took place in 1993 or 1994, around the time Ashley was 12 to 13 years old, according to the statement she gave to the Legion, to the Dallas Diocese, and eventually to police. The priest was a family relation of school officials, and he celebrated mass and heard the confessions of the students, according to her statement. The Highlands School in Irving is a private pre-K through grade 12 school that is part of the Regnum Christi network of schools. Regnum Christi is the lay apostolate of the Legion. 

Ashley was going to confession every two to four weeks during this time, usually after school. After one confession, she went around the confessional to thank the priest, and that is when he first forced her to sit on his lap, she said in her statement.

“He somehow pulled me down into his lap. He did not verbally ask me if I wanted to sit in his lap, but somehow I ended up there,” she said in her statement. 

Ashley was made to feel she had a “special friendship,” with the priest who obligated her to sit in his lap after each confession. Sometimes he would stand and embrace her, and whisper things into her ear, she said. 

“At one point while embracing me, whispering and nuzzling my hair he said ‘If your mom asks what you are doing in here, tell her ‘spiritual direction,’” Ashley said in her statement. “I assumed that he was telling me the truth, that this was in fact spiritual direction.”

That spiritual direction seemed to be taking a different course during her last confession, she said in her statement.

“The last time I remember confessing to him, afterward while embracing me he pressed his body up against me. I could feel his erection touching me through his cassock,” she said in her statement. “I was very uncomfortable with this and had no frame of reference for what was happening or how to respond. So I did nothing and after several minutes he was done embracing me and I left the confessional.”

Ashley started going to a different priest for confession after that, and her alleged abuser cooled toward her in their interactions outside the confessional, she said. In one instance she tried to give him a hug when there were other people around, and he brushed her off. 

“I was hurt and couldn’t understand why his behavior was so different in public,” she said in her statement. “After that I decided that he must have decided that I wasn’t his friend anymore, and to avoid awkwardness I did not return to confession with him.”

It wasn’t until years later, when she had children of her own, that she realized what had happened, and that her alleged abuser had been grooming her and encouraging her to lie to her mother about what they were doing alone.

Legion and Archdiocese both soft pedal criminal abuse allegation 

When she was ready to tell her story in 2015, Ashley got an attorney and  informed the Dallas diocese and then the Legion that she had been abused. With her attorney she pressed these Church officials to contact police, and to contact the Child Protective Services about the priest. She wanted to see some justice done. 

“I did tell the diocese and then the Legion that a police report needed to be filed, and if they did not file one, then I would,” she said.

A report was made to the Texas Child Protective Services department by Dallas Diocesan Chancellor Mary Edlund. The letter Edlund sent provides only scant details from Ashley’s story, and Edlund downplays Ashley’s encounters with the alleged abuser.

“Although this does not appear to be something which must technically be reported to your office, I am doing so out of an abundance of caution,” Edlund wrote.

A Legion priest spoke to police October of 2015. The name of the priest making the report is redacted throughout the police report we obtained, but he is described as the “head priest” at The Highlands at the time. His account to the police is full of inaccurate statements. 

The head priest also downplayed Ashley’s story when he spoke to police. He said it was some “inappropriate” behavior by a former priest at the Highlands. He also told police that Ashley “recalled within her statement feeling what she thought was an erection.”

Legion falsely claimed victim did not want criminal investigation

Strikingly, the Legion priest making the report told police that Ashley did not want to pursue criminal charges.

“According to [the head priest] during his meeting with [Ashley] she didn’t detail that she wanted to pursue any charges,” the police report states. 

Ashley said after reading the report that she realized the priest didn’t tell the truth to police about her meeting with the Legion. When she reported the abuse to Legion priests, she told them she did want a legal investigation pursued, but indicated to them she was not interested in pursuing a lawsuit against the Church.

“I stated in the meeting with Tom Brandt and the Legionaries that my intent in bringing this forward was justice, accountability, and protection of future victims, and that to that end I wanted to see that things were properly reported on the civil and ecclesiastical side, as well as to know that I had done what I could to prevent future victims at his hands,” she said during follow up questions we asked her.

At no time did she state to Legion officials that she did not want to pursue criminal charges, she said. She told them she wanted an investigation. We have made several attempts to speak to her then-attorney, but he has so far declined our requests for comment.

Legion falsely claims there were no other allegations against priest

Further, during the October 2015 police report the unnamed Legion priest made to police, he told the investigators that there were no other allegations against the alleged abuser. 

“I asked if there were any other allegations against [the alleged abuser], and [the head priest] stated that no other complaints or reports had been made against [the alleged abuser]” the police report states.

Ashley said that’s not true. She said that the Legion priests she met with, along with her attorney, also claimed that she was the only person to claim abuse at the hands of her alleged abuser. She said she knows now of at least one former Highlands student who had been abused.

“That’s what I thought was so crazy,” she said. “I don’t remember their exact words, but they definitely said something to the effect that this is the first that we’ve heard of him having issues. I knew that wasn’t true.”

We contacted Legion spokeswoman Gail Gore last year, and she said that Ashley’s case is one of a “boundary violation” and not sexual abuse. Gore has not responded to our recent request to discuss the specifics of this case, including questions about what the Legion told police. 

Not on any list

Ashley’s alleged abuser is nowhere to be found either on the Dallas list of credibly accused priests, or on the Legion list, because he is considered to have committed a “boundary violation.” According to the Legion’s own code of conduct, put out in 2019, a boundary violation is “an infraction of the Code of Conduct that is significant, but does not rise to the level of sexual abuse of a minor or sexual misconduct with an adult.” 

After she made her report, Ashley never heard from investigators with the police or the CPS as she expected. Instead, a representative with Praesidium contacted her. Praesidium is the outside firm that the Legion hired to conduct a child safety audit and to help develop its code of conduct. 

The Legion, which was founded by notorious sexual predator Fr. Marciel Maciel, claims that there are only four credibly accused priests or brothers in all of North America, following their own in-house investigation. However, the order claimed in December when it released the investigative report that there may be more information about “boundary violations” made public at some point in the future.

“In November 2018 we also asked Praesidium to conduct a full review of all our territorial files, this should be finalized soon. Should new information arise we will update the list accordingly. The list does not reflect unsubstantiated claims, open investigations or boundary violations. We are in the process of reviewing our policy on when and how we communicate about boundary violations,” it said in a statement.

After Ashley came forward, her report apparently hit a dead end. She did eventually get a letter from Fr. John Connor, then the Legion’s territorial director for North America, in May of 2016, six months after the police report. He apologized to her for the “boundary violation.” Connor’s letter indicates the Legion took it upon itself to see an “investigation” was done into her allegation. The Legion apparently concluded that the appropriate response to their investigation was an apology, and no more, because what had happened to Ashley wasn’t technically abuse.

“As you know, the Legion asked the safe environment firm Praesidium to investigate. They found what you said very compelling. They concluded that it was clearly a very sad violation of boundaries, totally unbecoming of a priest,” Connor wrote. 

That would have been the end of it, until May of last year.

Raid on Dallas diocese brings Ashley’s case back to life

Ashley’s case came alive again shortly after Dallas police raided the Dallas diocesan offices as part of an effort to uncover information police say was hidden from investigators. 

According to the Dallas Morning News: “The Dallas Police Department’s Child Exploitation Unit last year (in 2018) assigned Detective David Clark, a 20-year veteran, to the full-time job of looking into cases of sex abuse involving minors within the local diocese.

After Clark felt stonewalled by the diocese and its lawyers for months — issues he detailed in a search-warrant affidavit — police officers and FBI agents seized files from the Dallas diocese Wednesday as part of the ongoing investigation into sex abuse allegations.”

In the weeks after the Dallas raid, Ashley contacted Dallas police with her story. Soon, investigators sought her out for an interview about what had happened to her at The Highlands. The police wanted to know if she knew of other victims. She did.

“They told me they are building a case against [the alleged abuser], and they have met in person with another woman who was one grade ahead of me, but was there at the same time,” she said.

We have confirmed that police were investigating Ashley’s alleged abuser as recently as January and are looking to build a case for prosecution against him. 

Connor is no longer the North American territorial director, but is now the superior for the worldwide order. He was announced as the next superior for the Legion last month, and soon stories came to light in which Connor, as territorial director, allegedly mishandled a case of “boundary violations” involving a Legion priest, according to the Catholic News Agency.

“The Legion paid them off. I’m free to speak.”

Ashley said she throughout the course of the ordeal in reporting her abuse, she has actually met many good Legion priests. She’s also met many victims of Legion abuse, victims who are not willing or able to come forward.

“I know far too many people who have stories to tell, but they can’t tell them because they signed a non disclosure agreement because they desperately needed the money and the Legion paid them off,” she said. “I’m free to speak.”

An Italian court case alleges that victims have been paid off and told to not tell their stories, or in some cases to lie about what happened. The family of a Legion victim was reportedly offered 15,000 euros in exchange for the recanting his testimony against his abuser, according to Crux.

Though there are Legion priests she respects, Ashley knows what a Legion priest did to her, even if the Legion continues to minimize the criminal abuse she survived by calling it a “boundary violation.” Now that she has seen how the Legion seemingly covered up her abuse, she is ready to see the order die. 

“I would like to see the order suppressed,” she said. “I don’t think this is a legitimate order, but some of the vocations might be legitimate. Highlands should not be in my diocese, and I would like to see the Legion not be in my diocese and not be anywhere.”

BREAKING: Fulton Sheen beatification postponed

The beatification of Fulton Sheen has been postponed. Originally scheduled for Dec. 21 of this year after a protracted legal battle over his remains, the beatification has been put on hold “at the request of a few members of the Bishop’s Conference who have asked for further consideration,” according to a Dec. 3 statement from the diocese of Peoria.

“In our current climate, it is important for the faithful to know that there has never been, nor is there now, any allegation against Sheen involving the abuse of a minor,” the statement said.

Peter Jesserer Smith, a reporter for the National Catholic Register, said on Twitter:

“The Vatican will have potentially a year’s worth of lawsuits, with depositions and court findings of fact, to sift through. This is the ultimate test of Sheen’s beatification: either he’ll be stained by the abuse crisis, or the vindication of his holiness will shine like the sun.”

In July of 2019, a blog and some chatter on Twitter referenced an unsourced allegation that Sheen walked in on a priest abusing a female child, but that he merely told the priest to put his pants back on, called the victim a “slut,” and proceeded to help cover up the crime.  My husband and I made a thorough assessment of the credibility the accusation and its sources. We concluded that the allegation and sources, according to all available information, were not credible. In fact, there was considerable reason to doubt that any victim had even actually made an allegation. Essentially, there was a rumor, spread by un-credible sources, that there had been an allegation; there is no evidence of a victim, and there is nothing to investigate. 

The rumor also claimed that the Cause for Sheen’s canonization knew about the allegations and did not respond to them. But Monsignor Soseman, who was delegated by Bishop Jenky to oversee the Cause, told us “no such letter [as the one described in the allegations] ever arrived at the office in Peoria,  nor have I ever heard of any such allegation, in any of the extensive testimonies we took.”

Read our investigation of the rumored allegations

In its statement today, the Diocese of Peoria said:

“the life of Fulton Sheen has been thoroughly and meticulously investigated. At every state, it has been demonstrated definitively that he was an exemplary model of Christian conduct and a model of leadership in the Church. At no time has his life of virtue ever been called into question.”

In the statement, it says that the Bishop of Peoria, Bishop Daniel Jenky, was “informed by the Holy See” that the beatification would be postponed. 

 

The Peoria statement says:

“Since a few members of the Bishop’s Conference have requested a delay, the Diocese of Peoria remains confident that Archbishop Sheen’s virtuous conduct will only be further demonstrated. Bishop Jenky has ever confidence that any additional examination will only further prove Fulton Sheen’s worthiness of Beatification and Canonization. The Diocese of Peoria has no doubt that Fulton Sheen, who brought so many souls to Jesus Christ in his lifetime, will be recognized as a model of holiness and virtue.”

The statement says: “Bishop Jenky is deeply saddened by this decision. In particular, Bishop Jenky is even more concerned for the many faithful who are devoted to Sheen and will be affected by this news.”

Read my interview with Bonnie Engstrom, the mother of the boy who returned to health after his heart stopped beating for sixty-one minutes, and his parents prayed to Fulton Sheen. 

The statement continues: 
[Bishop Jenky] is firmly convinced of the great holiness of the Venerable Servant of God and remains confident that Sheen will be beatified. Bishop Jenky has every intention of continuing the Cause, but no further date for Beatification has been discussed.”

The Diocese of Peoria is not offering any more information at this time. 

 

 

Skip the semantics.The Jeffrey Epstein case is about victimizing girls, not “young women”

Cui bono? Who benefits from squeezing language until it bleeds jargon? The guilty, of course.

But another important question is: Cui plagalis? Who stands to lose? Whose suffering is likely to be minimized if normally careless people suddenly become very careful about their word choice?

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine

Image: by Linnaea Mallette  CC0 Public Domain

Pope Francis’ troubling apology

In a letter regarding victims of sexual abuse in Chile, Pope Francis said, “I ask forgiveness of all those I have offended and I hope to be able to do it personally in the coming weeks.”

His apology comes after months of controversy, during which the Pope first apologized to Chilean victims of sexual abuse by the Church, but then strongly defended a Chilean Bishop accused of covering up those victims’ allegations. Pope Francis called their accusations “calumny” and said he had seen no evidence supporting them.

In the letter of apology made public today, he said that he “fell into serious errors in the evaluation and perception … due especially to the lack of true and balanced information.”

The Pope’s apology is encouraging, but also troubling. He sets an irreplaceable example of how to respond humbly when confronted with personal error, but he also appears to deflect personal responsibility. We look forward to clarification, after he meets with the Chilean victims, about why he didn’t believe the victims’ accusations, why he felt it was appropriate to denigrate the victims publicly, and whether he intends to be more circumspect in front of microphones in the future, since his ill-conceived words caused so much damage.

We also wonder if he is telling the truth about lacking necessary information.

The pope wrote his letter after he read a 2,300-page report detailing a investigation he commissioned in February to study allegations of sexual abuse and its cover-up in the Chilean Church.

On his visit to South America in January of 2018, the Pope was met with protests and outrage over the alleged cover-up of sexual abuse by Chilean Bishop Juan Barros.

Four men accuse Barros’ charismatic mentor, Fr. Fernando Karadima, of sexual abusing them, and Barros of ignoring warnings from parishioners and of covering up evidence. The accusers claim Barros was present during some of the abuse, but continued to protect and defend Karadima. A civil complaint against Karadima was dismissed for lack of evidence. The Vatican found him guilty in 2011 and sentenced him to a “life of prayer and penitence” and to “lifelong prohibition from the public exercise of any ministerial act, particularly confession and the spiritual guidance of any category of persons.” Barros continues to maintain his innocence.

On his South America trip in January, Pope Francis apologized to victims of sexual abuse, saying he felt “pain and shame” for the “irreparable damage caused to children by some ministers of the Church.”

But when confronted with questions about the specific allegations against Bishop Barros, the pope called the accusations “calumny.”

The pope told the press: “The day they bring me proof against Bishop Juan Barros, I will speak. There is not one piece of evidence against him. It is calumny.” The Pope also told an AP reporter on the way home from South America, “You, in all good will, tell me that there are victims, but I haven’t seen any, because they haven’t come forward.”

But an AP Exclusive in February claimed that the Pope did have evidence against Barros, and that victims had come forward. The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors says that they gave a letter from victim Juan Carlos Cruz to its president, Cardinal O’Malley, to be hand-delivered to the Pope before his South America visit. The letter “detailed the abuse, kissing and fondling [Cruz] says he suffered at Karadima’s hands, which he said Barros and others saw but did nothing to stop.”

Two members of the commission say that O’Malley confirmed to them that he did give the letter to the pope.  Cruz says O’Malley told him “he had given the letter to the pope — in his hands.”

On January 10, Cardinal O’Malley took the extraordinary step of publicly admonishing Pope Francis, saying that his comments “abandon those who have suffered reprehensible criminal violations of their human dignity, and relegate survivors to discredited exile.”

Shortly after O’Malley’s rebuke, the Pope apologized for the hurt caused by his words. In February, he sent Archbishop Scicluna to Chile to conduct an exhaustive investigation of the alleged cover-up by Bishop Barros.

America Magazine reports that Scicluna presented the pope with a 2,300- page report based on interviews with 64 witnesses.

According to Catholic News service, in the letter made public on April 11,

Pope Francis apologized for underestimating the seriousness of the sexual abuse crisis in the country following a recent investigation into allegations concerning Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno.

But the Pope says his error was due to “lack of truthful and balanced information”:

The pope said he made “serious mistakes in the assessment and perception of the situation, especially due to a lack of truthful and balanced information.”

According to America Magazine,

He said, “From here on, I ask pardon of all those that I have offended, and I hope to do so personally in the coming weeks, in the meetings that I will have with representatives of the persons interviewed” by his envoys—Archbishop Scicluna and Father Jordi Bertomeu Farnos.

The Chilean bishops will meet with the Pope in the third week of May. Three of Karadima’s victims, including Cruz, will also meet with the Pope then.

Pope Francis’ apology and admission of error are unprecedented among popes, but troubling questions remain. In his letter, he blames his defense of Barros on “the lack of true and balanced information.” But if Cardinal O’Malley did hand-deliver the letter from victims, how can he say there was a lack of information? Did he read the letter? If not, why not? Did he read it but disregard what is said? If so, why would he do so, sixteen years after the Church has been shown to be guilty over and over and over again?

Even those who support and defend the Pope and his approach will find it difficult to understand his behavior in this matter. O’Malley and countless other faithful servants of Christ have been laboring hard to reform the Church, to make it safer for vulnerable people, and to reassure the world that things have changed. But a few ill-conceived words from its visible head have unravelled all their efforts more than once.

To victims, past and present, it must feel as though the Church has learned nothing.  How far can yet another apology go?

***

Image By Benhur Arcayan (Malacañang Photo Bureau) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Why we leave the ninety-nine

Some American Catholics haven’t learned a damn thing from our ordeal. Some American Catholics, when they hear about new victims of sexual assault and abuse by Catholics, are still dragging out all the old defenses:

Well, but look at all the good fruits.
Well, but look at all the energy we waste if we focus on the tiny minority.
Well, but we have to think of our reputation.
Well, but no one will trust us if we admit there’s a problem.
Well, why would you even dare to criticize us? Is it because you hate shepherding and want anarchy?

Well, but it’s just one sheep. It’s unfortunate, but . . . we’re in the fold, and we’re doing all right.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Photo via Pxhere (Creative Commons)