The Australian Catholic Church's handling of the child sex abuse cases amounts to "criminal negligence," said Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher to the Royal Commission. Photo courtesy of Gillfoto, Creative Commons

Australian abuse, Papal crackdown, Italy's oldest nun: Register News and Notes

  • February 23, 2017

News and notes from around the Catholic world as collected by The Catholic Register.

AUSTRALIAN CHILD ABUSE: The Catholic Church’s handling of the child sexual abuse cases in Australia amounts to “criminal negligence,” Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher told the country’s royal commission into child abuse on Feb. 23.

“When I say there’s ignorance, I don’t mean that people didn’t know it was evil, a terrible sin, and a crime,” Fisher told the commission. “But I think they didn’t appreciate the long-term damage that this was doing to people.”

Five archbishops testified about the Church’s response to the abuse within their community being investigated by the commission, which covers more than 4,400 children over the last 35 years.

Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe noted that many in the church hierarchy leader believed in the “untouchability of the church,” according to reports in the Guardian newspaper.

“The church in a sense saw itself as a law unto itself; that it was somehow or other so special and so unique, and in a sense so important, that it stood aside from the normal things that would be a part of any other body,” Costelloe said.

PAPAL CRACKDOWN: The Vatican has announced plans to monitor with a more careful eye those who print official images of the Pope or the Holy See and sell them for profit, intervening with “appropriate action” when necessary. A Feb. 22 communique issued by the Secretariat of State said pointed out that among its various tasks, it also has “that of protecting the image of the Holy Father, so that his message can reach the faithful intact and that his person not be exploited.”

Because of this, part of the department is dedicated to protecting “the symbols and coats of arms of the Holy See” through appropriate channels on an international level.

The department said they will begin carrying out “systematic surveillance activities apt to monitor the ways in which the image of the Holy Father and the coats of arms of the Holy See are used.”

The announcement came just weeks after posters critical of Pope Francis appeared on the walls and buildings of the city centre of Rome, depicting a sour-faced pontiff with a list of grievances regarding his recent reform efforts. The Vatican was quick to clarify that there was no link between the anti-Francis propaganda and the Secretariat of State’s decision.

HAPPY 110TH: Italy’s oldest native-born nun, Candida Bellotti, celebrated her 110th birthday Feb. 20 with best wishes from Pope Francis and valuable tips for those wanting to live a long life. “Love, love and keep on loving. With joy!” the nun said as she marked the big milestone at the convent where he lives in the Tuscan town of Lucca.

“Have faith in the future, and put in as much work as you can to make your wishes come true,” she said.

Sister Candida has survived two world wars, 10 popes and 57 Italian prime ministers. Born in Verona, she became a nun in 1931 and worked as a nurse in hospitals and care homes across the country.

While Candida is the oldest native-Italian nun, there is another sister who is actually five years older: Sister Marie-Josephine Gaudette, who was born in New Hampshire and moved to Italy in the late 1950s.

ROE V WADE WOMAN: As the woman at the centre of the case legalizing abortion in the U.S. passed away, pro-life leaders hailed her ultimate conversion on the issue and her ensuing struggles to promote life.

Norma McCorvey, the woman “Jane Roe” who was the plaintiff in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that found a legal right to abortion, died on Feb. 18 at the age of 69.

“Ultimately, Norma’s story after Roe was not one of bitterness but of forgiveness. She chose healing and reconciliation in her Christian faith,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, said after McCorvey’s passing.

“She overcame the lies of the abortion industry and its advocates and spoke out against the horror that still oppresses so many,” McCorvey had sued the state of Texas as she was pregnant with her third child and wanted an abortion which was illegal in the state.

McCorvey’s case went to the Supreme Court which issued the Roe decision, legalizing abortion in all 50 states. Since 1973 there have been over 50 million abortions in the U.S.

Despite winning in court, McCorvey had never had the abortion she sought, instead giving her daughter up for adoption. While she worked at an abortion clinic and later revealed herself as the “Jane Roe” of the Supreme Court decision, she had a sudden turn in the 1990s, joining the pro-life movement and becoming a Christian.

WYD DOC: A documentary on last year’s World Youth Day will premiere Feb. 26 at 9 p.m. (ET) on Salt+Light television.

The 40-minute film — World Youth Day Krakow: A Pilgrimage of Mercy — produced by the Knight of Columbus, will also air March 1 (8 p.m.) and April 9 (8 p.m.) on Salt+Light. It includes exclusive footage of the Night of Mercy Youth Festival, featuring music from Audrey Assad and Canadian Matt Maher, as well as a spiritual reflection by Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron.

INTERFAITH DIALOGUE: A Feb. 14 meeting at the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) offices of bishops in Ottawa and Muslim imams may lead to an ongoing national dialog, said Bishop Claude Champagne.

Champagne said the commission “felt the need to explore a bi-lateral dialog between Catholics and Muslim imams,” and the goal of the meeting was to explore “if there’s an openness to that.”

The meeting examined how the two religious communities could work together on projects such as the recent interfaith collaboration opposing euthanasia and assisted suicide. “At the end of the meeting, we were in position to recommend to the executive and the Permanent Council to develop that dialogue between Catholic bishops and imams,” Champagne said.

HIGH MARKS: Catholic high school graduates in the U.S. are more likely to become civic-minded adults than public school grads, according to a study funded by the Christian think tank Cardus.

Data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics showed Catholic school graduates are over 50 per cent more likely to volunteer for organizations that fight poverty. The study also showed that graduates of Evangelical Protestant and other non-Catholic religious schools are about 40 per cent more likely to volunteer as adults than public school grads

The study also said graduates of religion-based schools are more likely than public school graduates to make charitable donations.

ABUSE CLAIMS: More than $277 million (Cdn) has been paid out by Australia’s Catholic Church in compensation to 3,066 people who were sexually abused as children by priests and religious brothers. The victims have received on average $91,000 (Cdn), according to data released by the country’s royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse.

There have been 4,445 people who have filed claims against the Church in the last 35 years, alleging abuse that mainly occurred between 1950 and 1989.

Five religious orders were identified in the claims, with the Christian Brothers paying out the most in claims. Almost half of the claims identified schools and a third involved children’s homes.

SWISS ABUSE: The Catholic church in Switzerland is preparing to award compensation to victims of historic sex abuse by its priests. the Swiss Bishops Conference has created a $650,000 (Cdn) fund for victims who no longer can take their case to court because the statute of limitations has passed.

Over the last five years, 223 victims have told authorities of abuse that took place between 1950 and 1990. there were 49 cases that involved children under 12, according to news reports. A six-person commission will rule on requests for compensation, with the maximum of about $26,000 to be awarded for the most serious cases.

PIPELINE PROTEST: Pope Francis wasn’t exactly being political, but some groups can be forgiven for seeing it that way. The Pope, meeting with representatives from the Indigenous Peoples Forum in Rome on Feb. 15, said they had the right to defend ““their ancestral relationship to the earth.” His comments came on the heels of a U.S. federal court denying a request by tribes to stop the Dakota Access oil pipeline project. Francis, while not specifically referencing the project, said any development has to consider “the protection of the particular characterticis of indigenous people and their territories.”

The $3.8 billion (US) pipeline is entering its final phase of construction, laying pipe from North Dakota to Illinois.

THEOLOGIAN DIES: Michael Novak, a Catholic philosopher, theologian and author who was highly regarded for his religious scholarship and intellectual independence, died Feb. 17 at his home in Washington from complications from colon cancer. He was 83.

During his varied career, he moved from left to right on the political spectrum. Early in his career, he questioned Catholic teaching on birth control. During the Second Vatican Council, he wrote "The Open Church," which took a liberal look at the council. He also covered the council for National Catholic Reporter, Commonweal and Time magazine.

The author of more than 50 books, Novak shared his insights into the spiritual foundations of economic and political systems and the moral ideals of democratic capitalism in syndicated columns and innumerable lectures, articles and commentaries. Novak wrote on topics as varied as capitalism, human rights, labour union history, sports, peace, families and the role of churches in a pluralistic world. His books have been translated into every major Western language, as well as Bengali, Korean, Chinese and Japanese.

Since last August, Novak had been a faculty member of The Catholic University of America's Tim and Steph Busch School of Business and Economics in Washington.

ALASKA ASSISTED SUICIDE: A bill to legalize doctor-prescribed suicide in Alaska has been reintroduced in the Alaska Legislature. The bill would permit doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to patients for the purpose of suicide. A similar bill was proposed in 2015.

Opponents of the practice believe that patients — including those with terminal illness — need proper care, not a way to end their lives. In 2015, Access Alaska, a disability advocacy group in Anchorage, posted a strongly worded rebuttal to doctor-prescribed suicide shortly after the bill was introduced.

“What looks to some like a choice to die begins to look more like a duty to die to many disability activists,” Access Alaska posted to its Facebook page. 

To date, doctor-prescribed suicide is legal in Oregon, Washington, Vermont, California, Montana, Colorado and the District of Columbia.
In 2001, the Alaska Supreme Court unanimously ruled that there is no right to doctor-prescribed suicide. 

CHINESE UNDER FIRE: The Vatican has defended its decision to invite China to an organ trafficking summit after an outcry from medical experts and ethicists about the country’s record of using executed prisoners as organ donors.

Dr. Huang Jiefu, chairman of China’s national organ donation and transplant body, joined 80 top-level transplant doctors, health officials and legal experts at the Vatican for a two-day summit hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

Huang dismissed claims that organs were still being extracted from prisoners or ethnic minorities in a state-sponsored program in China.

“That is a rumour,” Huang said. “I am the person who arranged to stop using prisoners’ organs from January 2015,” he said Feb. 7, the first day of the conference. “(There have been) no more since my announcement, no doubt.”

Huang said China was “mending its ways” and stressed that the government had cracked down on offenders.

Archbishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of the academy, defended the Vatican decision to include Huang: “Some might think that the Vatican was covering up China’s evil practices, but that is not so.”

The international advocacy group Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting said there was “no evidence that past practices of forced organ harvesting have ended” in China.

MONCTON CLOSURES: The Archdiocese of Moncton is facing church closures, with 20 of its 53 parishes undergoing a review. Archbishop Valéry Vienneau is conducting a review of four English-language and 16 French-language churches over the next six months to determine if they are sustainable in the face of declining revenue and aging congregations.

Vinneau said it’s likely at least some of the New Brunswick parishes will close. “We have to be a realist, but I can’t see closing 20 churches in five years, that’s not what I want to do,” he told Global News. “But there might be four, five; there might be some later on after that.”

BISHOPS SUPPORT BILL: Objectors to abortion need stronger conscience protections in federal law, the U.S. bishops have said in a letter to Congress supporting a bill being considered by Congress.

“While existing federal laws already protect conscientious objection to abortion in theory, this protection has not proved effective in practice,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a Feb. 8 letter. 

They said the proposed Conscience Protection Act of 2017 is essential to protect health care providers’ fundamental rights and ensure that they are not “forced by government to help destroy innocent unborn.” 

GEORGETOWN JOB: Dr. Andrew Bennett, senior fellow at the Christian think tank Cardus, has taken up an additional, international role as senior research fellow at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs. Bennett, Canada’s former ambassador for religious freedom, will continue to work with Cardus in Canada and chair the Cabinet of Canadians for the Faith in Canada 150 program.

MARCH FOR LIFE: The National March for Life marks its 20th anniversary this year and, in keeping with the spirit of Canada’s 150th birthday, has adopted the theme “Life, We stand on guard for thee.”

The march, organized by Campaign Life Coalition, is set for May 11 in Ottawa.

“The theme reminds Canadians that respect for human life at all its stages has always been part of our Canadian identity,” said Jim Hughes, president of Campaign Life Coalition. He noted Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, once said abortion “saps the very life blood of the nation.”

In recent years, the March has drawn over 20,000 each year.

BISHOPS OPEN DOOR: The German bishops have published their own guidelines on Amoris laetitia allowing, in certain cases, for divorced-and-remarried Catholics to receive Communion. The decision comes on the heels of a similar announcement by the bishops of Malta. 

While the German bishops emphasized that access to the sacraments is a question of each individual case, the guidelines do allow the “possibility of receiving the sacraments in these situations.”
In the Feb. 1 document, the bishops said: “For the question of the reception of the sacraments, the bishops do not see in Amoris laetitia a general rule or an automatism, but rather, they are convinced that discerned solutions which do justice to the individual case are required,” they said.

The bishops said they will proceed “from a process of discernment, accompanied by a pastoral worker.”

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