Monday, May 18, 2015

U.S. and the World - Pope Francis Ends Vatican Control of U.S. Nuns’ Group - AllGov - News


After three years of negotiations, Pope Francis has ended the administration of the U.S. nuns’ leadership group, handing control back to the nuns themselves.

Under Pope Benedict, the Vatican initiated the takeover of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), whose members represent about 80% of U.S. nuns. Some thought the group was going outside church teachings by hosting speakers and publishing materials that conflicted with Catholic doctrine on such matters as the all-male priesthood, birth control and sexuality, and the centrality of Jesus to the faith, according to Laurie Goldstein of The New York Times. A sister spoke of “moving beyond the church” and even beyond Jesus. That talk was, according to the Vatican, “a serious source of scandal” that promoted “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

The Vatican’s concerns about LCWR were documented in a “doctrinal assessment” (pdf) that was published in April 2012. Three bishops were charged with looking into LCWR and resolving the matter within a five-year time frame.

Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle, who was named to head the group investigating LCWR, met with the nuns and the two sides eventually collaborated on a rewrite of the group’s statutes. The document clarifies that the Leadership Conference is “an official entity established by the Holy See under canon law,” he said, “centered in Jesus Christ and the teachings of the church.”

The group is as independent now as it was before the investigation. The Vatican approved the new language and its supervision of the group ended two years early.

It’s unclear whether Pope Francis, who took over the church in the middle of the investigation, had anything to do with the final outcome. However, he did invite LCWR leaders for an audience, meeting with them for about an hour, “an extravagant amount of papal time,” according to Eileen Burke-Sullivan, a theologian and consultant for women’s religious orders and vice provost for mission and ministry at Creighton University.

“That was the surprise of it all for me. It was a conversation,” Sister Marcia Allen, LCWR president-elect, told the Times in reference to the papal audience. “It was a back and forth of concerns and ideas. I was prepared for him to speak to us. But he was interested in what we were thinking.”

-Steve Straehley

U.S. and the World - Pope Francis Ends Vatican Control of U.S. Nuns’ Group - AllGov - News

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Vatican to Recognize Palestinian State in New Treaty -


ROME — The Vatican said Wednesday that it had concluded a treaty to recognize Palestinian statehood, a symbolic but significant step welcomed by Palestinians but upsetting to the Israeli government.

Formal recognition of a Palestinian state by the Vatican, which has deep religious interests in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories that include Christian holy sites, lends a powerful signal of moral authority and legitimacy to the efforts by the Palestinian Authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, to achieve statehood despite the long paralyzed Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Israel has grown increasingly alarmed about the increased international acceptance of Palestine as a state since the United Nations upgraded the Palestinian delegation’s status in 2012 to that of a nonmember observer state. A number of European countries have also signaled their acceptance of Palestinian statehood.

A statement from a joint commission of Vatican and Palestinian diplomatic officials, posted on the Vatican news website, said “the work of the commission on the text of the agreement has been concluded,” and that it would be submitted for formal approval and for signing “in the near future.”

Hanna Amireh, head of a Palestinian committee on church affairs, said the treaty was a broad one regarding the Vatican’s interests in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, including the standing of churches and church courts and taxes on church charities, institutions and lands, as well as other cultural and diplomatic matters. He said it had been under negotiation for about a year.

“The Vatican is the spiritual capital of the Catholics, and they are recognizing Palestine, that’s the chief importance,” said Mr. Amireh, who is also a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee. The move counters an image of Palestinians as militants or terrorists, he added, as a “recognition of the Palestinian character that has a clear message for coexistence and peace.”

A senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity under diplomatic protocol, said Israel was “disappointed to hear” about the Vatican’s use of the term “state” in its new treaty.

”This step does not advance the peace process and pushes the Palestinian leadership further away from returning to a direct and bilateral negotiation,” the official said in a statement, echoing Israel’s reactions to a series of recent parliamentary resolutions on Palestinian statehood in European nations. “Israel will study the agreement and consider its next steps accordingly.”

Pope Francis, the leader of the world’s 1 billion Catholics, has long signaled his wish for a Palestinian state. For the past year, the Vatican had informally referred to the country as “state of Palestine,” in its yearbook as well as in its program for Francis’ 2014 visit to the Holy Land.

During that visit, Francis gave an additional boost to Palestinian sovereignty by flying directly to Bethlehem from Amman, Jordan, rather than stopping first in Israel as his predecessors had done. Francis later hosted the Palestinian and Israeli presidents in a prayer for peace.


It is not the first time Francis has shown a willingness to offend political sensitivities in the name of doing what he thinks is right. Exactly a month ago, for example, the pope angered the Turkish government by calling the 1915 slaughter of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks a genocide. Turkey recalled its Vatican ambassador in response.

A Palestinian spokesman, Xavier Abu Eid, said 135 nations now recognize…

Read the entire article by clicking on the following:  Vatican to Recognize Palestinian State in New Treaty -

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Adelman invites mediation over archdiocesan cemetery trust


A federal judge has scheduled a Thursday hearing to gauge interest in trying to settle a contentious lawsuit over the Archdiocese of Milwaukee's now $66 million cemetery trust.

The trust is a key element in the archdiocese's plan to emerge from its 4-year-old bankruptcy in that it would be tapped both to compensate clergy sex abuse victims and fund the church's ongoing cemetery operations.

"There's always interest in settling litigation," said attorney Timothy Nixon, who represents Archbishop Jerome Listecki as the sole trustee of the trust. "However, we are just one part of a much larger picture."

James Stang, who represents the creditors committee, declined to say how it would view an offer of mediation. But he did say that any talks on the cemetery trust would likely be a de facto mediation in the bankruptcy case overall.

"The cemetery trust is the main moving part at this point," Stang said. "I can't imagine the parties going into a room to talk about that and not talk about the entire Chapter 11 case."

U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman called the hearing to inquire whether the parties have any interest in mediation, according to the court record.

If they are, it would be the third attempt at a mediated settlement since January 2011, when the archdiocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to address its sexual abuse liabilities going back decades.

The cemetery trust lawsuit was remanded to Adelman's court in March by the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The appellate court ruled that the archdiocese could not use the First Amendment and a 1993 law aimed at protecting religious liberty to shield the fund, and that U.S. District Judge Rudolph T. Randa — whose decision it overturned — should have disclosed that he has family members in a cemetery maintained with funds from the trust.

The case could ultimately return to U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Susan V. Kelley's court. But the parties are awaiting a decision in a U.S. Supreme Court case that is expected to clarify that procedure.

Meanwhile, the bankruptcy case is proceeding in Kelley's court. On Friday, the archdiocese filed motions seeking to keep two other pools of money from being tapped for the bankruptcy: $459,388 received as charitable gift annuities and a $2 million account that funds continued religious training for priests, deacons and parish directors.

Single largest asset

The cemetery trust is the single largest asset currently in play in the archdiocese's bankruptcy. And it is a linchpin of the church's revised reorganization plan, which is expected to be filed this summer.

Under the original plan, the archdiocese would set aside under $4 million to compensate 128 sex abuse victims — only those assaulted by diocesan priests. It would create a $500,000 therapy fund and pay the balance of its legal fees, which have totaled $16 million to $20-plus million, depending on who's counting.

More than 400 others who filed sex abuse claims, alleging abuse by religious order priests and nuns, teachers and others the archdiocese does not consider its direct employees, would receive no financial compensation.

The reorganization plan would be financed with a $10.3 million payment by its insurance carriers and a $2 million loan from the cemetery trust. Victims have called that inadequate and insulting.

The archdiocese told Kelley last week that it expects to increase the amount of the money the trust will pay into the plan, but did not specify how much.

The trust would also pay about $2 million annually to the archdiocese to offset the cost of caring for its eight cemeteries.

Trust created in 2007

Then-Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan created the Catholic Cemetery Perpetual Care Trust in 2007, and in 2008 transferred nearly $57 million into it with the approval of the Vatican and his local finance board. Dolan, now cardinal of New York, had sought Vatican approval, saying the move would provide "an improved protection of these funds from any legal claim or liability."

The archdiocese maintains that the funds were always held "in trust" for the care of the archdiocese's cemeteries, and that this new instrument merely formalized that arrangement.

Listecki sued the creditors committee, seeking a ruling that the trust was not an asset of the archdiocese and was off limits for any sexual abuse settlement.

The committee, which is composed of abuse victims but represents all creditors in the bankruptcy, countersued, calling Dolan's action a fraudulent transfer barred by law.

That ultimately led to the appellate court ruling, considered a big win for the creditors.

Kelley has scheduled a November hearing on the new reorganization plan. But other legal battles loom before it can be approved. Among them, whether Kelley has jurisdiction to grant parishes a blanket protection against future lawsuits — a key provision of the archdiocese's plan — and whether

Adelman invites mediation over archdiocesan cemetery trust

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Editorial: Finn's resignation is a bitter but necessary reckoning | National Catholic Reporter


NCR Editorial Staff  |  May. 4, 2015


The resignation of Robert Finn as bishop of the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., is a bitter but necessary moment of reckoning for leaders of the Catholic church if they hope to begin to deal seriously with their long betrayal of the community's trust.

Let's be clear that this is only a beginning. Finn was removed for cause, we have been told. Finn was criminally convicted for failing to report Fr. Shawn Ratigan, who ultimately pleaded guilty to possessing and producing child pornography. Ratigan received a 50-year prison sentence.

Finn also violated the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, commonly called the Dallas Charter, which the U.S. bishops themselves wrote to guide their response to the violation of children by clergy.

Upholding the Dallas Charter is the one clear signal the bishops can use to ensure deeply skeptical Catholics, not to mention the general public, that they have broken with the despicable practices of the past, when they hid and covered up sexual predators. The Dallas Charter is an imperfect document, but it is the only yardstick the bishops have for measuring their integrity on this issue. That is why Finn became the test case of church resolve to hold bishops accountable.

It may seem unfair that Finn had to take this role. Bishops and cardinals who should have faced criminal prosecution for covering up crimes more extensive and horrible by many degrees than those ignored by Finn have avoided, via legal technicalities, such scrutiny and gone quietly to either retirement or the grave.

"Bishops overseeing the crisis dismissed themselves for decades from any responsibility in the scandal. It was a brazen attempt to sidestep the mountains of evidence revealing that they had long ignored the plight of child victims while engaging in elaborate schemes to hide the heinous behavior of thousands of priests. Any lack of fairness is the result of nothing more or less than the clerical culture that looked first to protect itself and its privileges. Only when forced by legal processes and public pressure did bishops deign to consider the deep wounds inflicted on the most vulnerable in the Catholic family.

Finn's example shows how easily those in authority can ignore even the most basic steps in prevention. The church has made tremendous strides in such areas as requiring background checks, educating both adult ministers and children appropriately regarding proper boundaries, and creating safe environments for children. However, the recently released annual Report on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People makes clear that continued diligence is essential -- but is in some places lacking.

"While substantive progress has been made, it should not be concluded that the sexual abuse of minors is a problem of the past that has been adequately addressed," wrote Francesco Cesareo, chairman of the National Review Board. He warns against "Charter drift," referring to instances of laxity in some dioceses of upholding the standards of the bishops' charter. Any bishop who thinks he can relax on this issue should look carefully at Kansas City.

Cesareo also particularly notes that the Lincoln, Neb., diocese and five eparchies stubbornly refuse to cooperate with auditing procedures. Herein lies the final lesson in the Finn case.

Finn has resigned, and we are told it's because of his mishandling of a child abuse case, but we don't know that for certain. We don't know that, because there are no established procedures for removing a bishop who mishandles child abuse cases. If there were such procedures, all the provisions of the Dallas Charter could be enforced, and the Lincoln diocese would either comply or its bishop would be sanctioned.

Now we've been told that under the auspices of Pope Francis' sex abuse commission such procedures are being worked on, and we were told last month that Francis' Council of Cardinals has put the issue of bishops' accountability "on the table," but we've seen no concrete evidence of this yet. Until we see actual procedures in writing and actual cases prosecuted, we'll remain skeptical.

The Council of Cardinals needs to hear from Teresa White, an abuse survivor who was part of a 2008 settlement with the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese.

She said on April 21, the day of Finn's resignation, that it is important to know the process that led to that resignation. "I want full accountability, I don't want partial accountability," she said. "I don't want any more smoke and mirrors with the church. I want them to own up to their responsibilities to protect children and young people."

For 30 years, we've heard these same sentiments from many other survivors. It is long past time for the church to have in place a clearly delineated process to hold bishops responsible for their actions and inactions in this tragedy.

Editorial: Finn's resignation is a bitter but necessary reckoning | National Catholic Reporter