Voice of the Faithful Focus, Jan. 22, 2021


Francis changes Catholic Church law: women explicitly allowed as lectors, altar servers
“Pope Francis has changed Catholic Church law to make explicit that laywomen can act as readers and altar servers in liturgical celebrations, effectively removing a previous option for individual bishops to restrict those ministries only to men. In an unexpected apostolic letter published Jan. 11, the pontiff says he is making the change to recognize a ‘doctrinal development’ that has occurred in recent years. That change, the pope says, ‘shines a light on how some ministries instituted by the church have as their foundation that common condition of baptism and the royal priesthood received in the Sacrament of Baptism.’” By Joshua J. McElwee, National Catholic Reporter

Indictment of fundraising priest exposes lack of diocesan oversight
“Fr. Lenin Vargas’ request for money seemed more fitting for a spam email than from a Catholic priest. From 2014 until 2018, Vargas allegedly solicited funds from parishioners at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Starkville, Mississippi, where he was the pastor, for what he claimed were expenses for his cancer treatment and for charities in his native country of Mexico. … Furthermore, the Diocese of Jackson failed to divulge the fraud, allowing Vargas to pilfer money for years, according to a report from the Clarion Ledger in Jackson, which cites an affidavit filed in federal court by Homeland Security Investigations, the investigative arm of the U.S Department of Homeland Security.” By Mark Nacinovich, National Catholic Reporter

North Dakota bill would force priests to violate confession seal in abuse cases
“Three North Dakota state legislators introduced a bill this week that would oblige Catholic priests to violate the seal of confession in cases of confirmed or suspected child abuse, on penalty of imprisonment or heavy fines. The current mandatory reporting law in North Dakota states that clergy are considered mandatory reporters of known or suspected child abuse, except in cases when “the knowledge or suspicion is derived from information received in the capacity of spiritual adviser”, such as in the confessional.” By Mary Farrow, Catholic News Agency

Journalists reject Cologne’s confidentiality agreement
“Signing the agreement ‘would have meant that one could not report anything one had obtained from other sources as one would have had to prove that one had not obtained it from the background discussion,’ Joachim Frank, chairman of the German Catholic Publicists and chief correspondent of the DuMont media group, who was one of the eight journalists, told Deutschlandfunk.” By Christa Pongratz-Lippitt, The Tablet


Record payment ordered in Church abuse case
The Church will make a $2.45 million payout to a clergy sexual abuse survivor in Western Australia, in what is believed to be a record payout. The survivor will receive $2.45 million-plus legal costs to compensate him for abuse by teacher and priest Bertram Adderley, who groomed and raped him between 1977 and 1980 when he was aged 10 to 12. Lawyers involved in seeking restitution for victims of sexual abuse say they believe the settlement is up to $1 million higher than any payout previously awarded to someone suing the Catholic Church.” By CathNews.com

Buffalo’s new Catholic bishop says he will remove abusers and their enablers
“Having lived most of his life in the Baltimore-Washington area, we asked Buffalo’s new Catholic bishop, Michael Fisher, if he knew anyone in Western New York. Bishop Mike, as he prefers to be called, thought for a moment and answered, ‘No.’ To his knowledge, there are no familiar names or faces for him in the Buffalo Catholic Diocese. That may prove to be an asset because after Fisher is installed on Friday (Jan. 15) afternoon, he faces a number of tough decisions. He says he’s willing to toss out clergy and others involved in the sex abuse scandal that rocked the diocese.” By Steve Brown and Joseph O’Rourke, WGRZ-TV2 News

Probe highlights Vatican legal system’s limited protections
“A criminal investigation into a Vatican real estate investment is exposing weaknesses in the city state’s judicial system and a lack of some basic protections for those accused — highlighting the incompatibility of the Holy See’s procedures with European norms. The Vatican has never been a democracy, but the incongruity of a government that is a moral authority on the global stage and yet an absolute monarchy is becoming increasingly evident. The pope is supreme judge, legislator and executive, who holds the ultimate power to hire and fire officials, judges and prosecutors and make and waive laws and regulations.” By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press

Factbox: Reports into abuses in the Irish Catholic Church
“Thousands of infants died in Irish homes for unmarried mothers and their offspring run by the Catholic Church from the 1920s to the 1990s, an inquiry found on Tuesday (Jan. 12), an ‘appalling’ mortality rate that reflected brutal living conditions. There have been a series of reports into allegations of abuse and mistreatment by priests and members of religious orders. Here are some details of their findings …” By Reuters


New Buffalo bishop seeks to ‘listen’ as he takes over troubled diocese
“When Auxiliary Bishop Michael Fisher of Washington is installed as the 15th bishop of Buffalo on Friday, he’ll be entering a diocese in the throes of controversy. In November, New York State attorney general Letitia James sued the diocese, former Bishop Richard Malone and Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Edward Grosz for failing to protect minors and inadequately investigating and reporting claims against diocesan priests that went back decades.” By John Lavenburg, Cruxnow.com

Pope accepts resignation of French archbishop amid financial challenges
“Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Archbishop Jean-Pierre Cattenoz of Avignon, a month after the archbishop celebrated his 75th birthday, amid ongoing questions about his management style and handling of archdiocesan finances … As early as 2019, about 200 faithful belonging to a group called Christians in Vaucluse had requested the archbishop’s early retirement because of what they saw as a style of governance that created ‘real suffering’ for local Catholics. Among the contentious issues were that of personnel management, concern for the poor, people feeling unwelcomed, the lack of ecumenical and interreligious initiatives and diocesan finances.” By Catholic News Service in National Catholic Reporter


Diaconal ministries link women religious to restoration of women deacons
“In May 2016, Pope Francis responded to a question posed at the triennial assembly of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG): If women religious are already performing the many ministries of deacons, why not form a commission to study the restoration of women to the diaconate? The pope responded immediately, naming 12 scholars the following August to the Commission for the Study of the Diaconate of Women who met in Rome four times and returned a report by June 2018. The pope gave a portion of the report to the UISG leadership at their May 2019 assembly. It has not been published.” First in a Series of Five by Phyllis Zagano, Global Sisters Report, National Catholic Reporter


Parish leaders: Review of Catholic cathedral funds finds $117,000 in unauthorized transactions
“An internal review by the Diocese of Nashville found about $117,000 in unauthorized transactions from the Cathedral of the Incarnation’s financial accounts. The transactions in question were discovered during a scheduled review of the cathedral’s funds, according to a letter church leaders sent Tuesday (Jan. 12) to parishioners. An accountant in the diocese’s finance office helped with the investigation, which determined the misappropriated parish funds had been used for personal benefit since 2015 … The review of parish funds followed Fowlkes’ recent appointment as pastor.” By Holly Meyer, Nashville Tennessean

Vatican, AUSTRAC seek data clarification
“Australia’s financial watchdog is reviewing its calculation that transfers worth $US1.8 billion ($A2.3 billion) had been sent to the country from the Vatican since 2014, after Vatican and Australian Church calls for clarification. A senior Vatican official and an Australian bishop told Reuters last week they had no knowledge of the transfers and would be seeking clarification. The Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) cited the amount in response to a parliamentary question by Australian Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells.” By Philip Pullella, Reuters, in Canberra Times


The pope’s latest decree is a victory for Catholic women
“A lot of American Catholics might not see the importance of Pope Francis’ declaration that women can take part in the formal ministries of acolyte and lector. After all, there have been ‘altar girls’ in many American parishes for years. But ‘many’ is not ‘all.’ Some parishes and dioceses allow only boys to assist the priest at the Mass and other ceremonies. The pope’s decree doesn’t focus on children and adolescents or require that girls be allowed to serve Mass. It says that church law will be changed to say that “lay persons” of either sex may be formally installed in the ministries of acolyte (a priest’s assistant) and lector (a reader of Scripture during the liturgy).” By The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board

Victims of child sexual abuse need more time to confront their abusers
Sexual abuse of children is extremely difficult to prosecute. It often takes years — and even decades — before a person who was abused as a child is prepared to confront the abuser in a court of law. That seldom happens, because of the difficulty of presenting evidence and because of the sense of shame that all too often keeps this horrible crime hidden in secrecy, allowing the abusers to remain untouched by the law.” By The Grand Forks Herald Editorial Board


Should alleged victims of child sex abuse have more time to sue? Soon voters may decide
“Voters may soon decide if alleged victims of child sexual abuse will have more time to file civil lawsuits against the people or organizations they are accusing. However, critics voiced concern the proposal could tip the scales of justice towards the accuser while taking away rights of the accused. House Bill 14 is a joint resolution proposing an amendment to the state constitution that would establish a 2-year-long window in which civil claims arising from child sexual abuse could then be asserted even if they had previously been barred by a statute of limitations.” By Jamie Bittner, FOX43-TV News


Priest accused of abetting alleged sex abuse ring is hired by diocesan charity
“On a scorching day in August 2015, the mother of a teenage girl walked into the confessional of a small church near the Sicilian city of Catania, in southern Italy. She believed that the leader of her lay Catholic group, a man known as the Archangel, had repeatedly raped her underage daughter and possibly others. She trusted the priest, the Rev. Orazio Caputo, who had worked closely with the Archangel’s Catholic Culture and Environment Association or ACCA, to listen to her fears.” By Claire Giangravé, Religion News Service

Malta archdiocese condemns charismatic group accused of abuse
“Following a 5-month investigation into the charismatic Community of Jesus the Savior, the Archdiocese of Malta has issued a decree forbidding participation in the group after finding what it described as abusive tendencies causing harm to members. In a Jan. 8 communique, the bishops’ conference of Malta, consisting of the Malta and Gozo dioceses, said they ‘reaffirm the decision to disassociate themselves from Komunità Ġesù Salvatur,’ referring to the group by its Maltese name.” By Elise Ann Allen, Cruxnow.com


Norwich Diocese Likely To Shell Out More Apart From $9.5 Million, After Facing 35 New Sexual Assault Lawsuits
“More trouble’s in store for the Diocese of Norwich and former Bishop Daniel Reilly, as he now faces 35 lawsuits pertaining to accusations made by men who alleged that they were sexually abused as children and teens by Christian Brother K. Paul McGlade, who ran the former Academy at Mount Saint John in Deep River in the 1990s … Recent reports also suggest that McGlade has had a history of inflicting abuse on assaulting young boys in Australia before he came to Norwich.” By Pooja Prabbhan, Latin Times


Alleged church sex abuse victim says George Brignac raped him in 1977
Brian Manix held on to a secret for 43 years and says it took its toll. ‘These people don’t realize what they’ve done to all of us. I’ve gone to drugs, I’ve gone to alcohol, I’ve tried to commit suicide three times,’ said Manix. Manix was an altar boy at Our Lady of the Rosary Church in New Orleans when George Brignac was a deacon. He says he was just 10-years-old in 1977, when Brignac raped him in City Park.” By Kimberly Kurth, FOX8News Live


Catholic priest pleads not guilty to rape, assault charges on minor
“The Catholic priest charged with multiple counts of rape pleaded not guilty to all charges Monday during his arraignment in Barnstable Superior Court. Mark Hession was arraigned on charges including two counts of rape, one count of indecent assault and battery on a child less than 14 and one count of intimidation of a witness. He was released after posting $2,500 cash bail.” By Jessica Hill, Cape Cod Times

Catholic diocese releases names of credibly accused priests
“The Roman Catholic Diocese of Fall River in Massachusetts has released a list of 75 clergy credibly or publicly accused of sexual abuse of a minor. The diocese in a statement Thursday Jan. 7) said more than three-quarters of the names released by the diocese have already been made public through previous announcements from the church, media reports, or other means. There are currently no priests in ministry who have been credibly accused. Bishop Edgar da Cunha said he was profoundly sorry for any abuse perpetrated by priests within this diocese and is working to make sure it never happens again.” By Associated Press, on WBNG-TV12 News

‘The list has triggered emotions’: Victims’ attorney digs deeper into priests accused of abuse
“The sheer number of names on the Diocese of Fall River’s list of clergy credibly or publicly accused of sexual abuse of a minor is shocking on its own, but the list provided little information about when and where the abuse occurred, how many victims there were, and who knew about it. Additionally although the lists contain 75 names, an attorney for victims of sexual abuse believes it is incomplete.” By Kiernan Dunlog, Fall River Standard-Times


Carlton County priest listed as ‘credibly accused’ of sexual abuse
“The Diocese of Duluth has added a former Carlton County priest to its list of clergy deemed ‘credibly accused’ of child sexual abuse. The Rev. David Tushar had served as a priest in Northeastern Minnesota for nearly 35 years when he was placed on leave in July 2019 pending an investigation into allegations of abuse. The allegations were related to his earlier service as a Holy Cross Father and Catholic school teacher in Niles, Illinois, from 1978-79.” By Tom Olsen, Duluth News Tribune


Rumson Priest Named In Sex Abuse Lawsuit Against Trenton Diocese
“A priest who served for seven years at Holy Cross Church in Rumson was recently named in a sexual abuse complaint filed Tuesday (Jan. 19) against the Diocese of Trenton. Fr. Thomas A. Rittenhouse was ordained in 1976 in the Diocese of Trenton and is accused of sexually abusing a minor while assigned to the Rumson church from 1981 to 1982. He served at Holy Cross from 1981 to 1988.” By Nicole Rosenthal, Rumson Patch

Suit Alleges Sexual Abuse at Point Retreat
“For over 50 years, the Marianist Family Retreat Center, on the corner of Yale and Cape avenues, in Cape May Point, has been the site of contemplation, celebration and prayer for the faithful. One woman alleges that in summer 1974, it was a site of horror and violation that still hurts decades later … Identified in the court documents as Jane Doe RP, she filed a suit against the center and the Marianist Province of the United States, alleging that she faced repeated sexual abuse from two clergy members.” By Bill Barlow, Cape May County Herald

N.J. Catholic diocese has a plan to compensate victims of abuse. Advocates aren’t happy.
Advocates for people sexually abused by clergy are opposing a plan from a New Jersey Catholic diocese to compensate victims. The Diocese of Camden announced a proposal on Dec. 31 to speed up the process of setting aside millions of dollars for abuse claims, after the church filed for bankruptcy in October. ‘The Diocese wants to continue to pay survivors rather than lawyers and other professional advisers,’ the church said in a statement.” By Blake Nelson, NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Law firm files 5 more suits alleging past child sex abuse by dead Catholic priests
“A law firm specializing in representing abuse victims has filed five additional lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Newark alleging priests sexuallly molested children going back decades. Three of the priests have been credibly accused of abuse in the past, their names and allegations made public by Catholic dioceses in New Jersey. All five are deceased. The suits were filed by Jeff Anderson & Associates, along with New Jersey attorney Greg Gianforcaro. They have filed numerous similar lawsuits in the Garden State since late 2019, when a new state law relaxed statute of limitations on such cases, opening a two-year lookback window for victims to file suit.” By Kevin Shea, NJ.com


Clergy sex abuse advocates criticize method of picking new Buffalo bishop
“While wishing new Diocese of Buffalo Bishop Michael Fisher success in his new role, a former priest turned advocate for clergy sex abuse victims says Fisher’s selection is clouded by the involvement of a former superior, who stepped down from a powerful position within the US Catholic Church amid his own accusations of covering up abuse cases. Fisher, before coming to Buffalo, served as auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Washington, DC under Cardinal Donald Wuerl.” By Michael Mroziak, WBFO-FM National Public Radio

EXCLUSIVE: Leaked transcript shows NY church’s attempt to block Child Victims Act
“When Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the longtime leader of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, introduced the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program to the public in Oct. 2016, he expressed his hope that offering financial settlements to the victims of sexual abuse by clergy would both “promote healing” and “bring closure” after more than a decade of constant scandal.” By Pete Madden, ABC-TV News

Father Bill Lombardy accused of sexual abuse by former altar boys: suit
“One-time priest and chess grandmaster Father Bill Lombardy — who was portrayed by actor Peter Sarsgaard in a movie about famed chess player Bobby Fischer — has been accused of sexually abusing two altar boys in a new lawsuit. The now-deceased Lombardy — whose training of Fischer was depicted in the 2014 movie called “Pawn Sacrifice” — is accused in a Bronx Supreme Court lawsuit from last week of sexually assaulting two students in the 1960s, when he taught at St. Mary’s School in the Bronx.” By Priscilla DeGregory, New York Post


North Dakota clergy sex abuse survivors say Catholic reforms too little, too late
“For decades, Ted Becker frequently woke up in the dead of night, gagging. Sometimes a pungent, familiar smell would force him from bed to search the house for a repressed memory that took him years to find. Not until he saw a psychiatrist in the late 1980s did he understand why the recurring sensations affected him so deeply. Memories of sexual abuse involving a Catholic priest from the early 1950s, beginning when he was 9 years old, flooded back.” By C.S. Hagen and April Baumgarten, Mitchell Republic


Police not investigating Catholic priest placed on leave after allegation surfaces
“Three area police departments said they have not been asked to investigate allegations against a local priest who was put on leave by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Father Anthony Cutcher of St. Peter Catholic Church in Huber Heights was placed on leave Monday after an allegation surfaced against him, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati said Thursday (Jan. 14). Police in Huber Heights, Montgomery and Miami counties told the Dayton Daily News they have not been asked to investigate the allegation involving Cutcher.” By Eileen McClory, Dayton Daily News


Diocese of Charleston faces second lawsuit in a week
“A lawsuit filed against the Diocese of Charleston alleges abuse dating back decades. The new suit is the second filed against the diocese in a week’s time. The lawsuit was filed by a man who claims a priest sexually abused him over span of two years in the mid-1970s while the defendant was a student at St. John’s Catholic Church and Cathedral School. The victim says in the suit he was 13 when he he started to be abused on a weekly basis. He said Frederick Hopwood, a priest, would put his hands down the victim’s pants and molest him.” By WCSC-TV5 News


Catholic church pays $2 million to settle local abuse cases
“The Archdiocese of Seattle has reached over $2 million in settlements in the past six months due to credible allegations of sexual abuse against four Catholic priests in Western Washington, including two former leaders of a parish in Snohomish and one in Everett. The Rev. Michael C. OBrien led St. Michael Parish from 1974 to 1979. He was succeeded by the Rev. Dennis Champagne from 1979 to 1999, who then became the priest of St. John Bosco Church in Lakewood. Church leaders put Champagne on leave in 2002, after someone accused him of sexual misconduct.” By Caleb Hutton, HeraldNet.com


Three decades after Mount Cashel orphanage abuse scandal, victims are still fighting for justice
“For most people, it’s just another shopping plaza … But John Doe No. 26 will never forget what used to be here. The 80-year-old grandfather can still vividly see the notorious Mount Cashel orphanage that stood at this St. John’s site until it was demolished in 1992. He was a resident there for seven years, until he was 15 years old, and suffered unspeakable violence and abuse at the hands of men who were supposed to care for him.” By Greg Mercer, The Globe & Mail


Confidentiality dispute piles pressure on cardinal accused of mishandling abuse cases
“German media have criticized the Archdiocese of Cologne for offering to provide a ‘background briefing’ to journalists about an unpublished report into clerical sex abuse on condition that they signed a confidentiality form. Journalists from several media organizations reported that they had refused to sign the form and walked out of the meeting on Jan. 5, which was called to explain issues regarding the report’s methodology.” By Catholic News Agency

Bishop: Making up the Duty of Abuse for Years
Processing the abuse scandal in the Catholic Church in Germany will remain a task for years, according to Bishop Stephan Ackermann. ‘That will be a painful process,’ said the representative of the German Bishops’ Conference (DBK) for questions about sexual abuse in Trier from the German news agency. Over the next five years, all 27 dioceses nationwide would face an independent review by specially formed committees dealing with ‘responsibilities’ – how people dealt with perpetrators and victims in the past.” By The Courier


Priest, 63, who sexually abused boys as young as 10 on church youth club trips in the 1970s and 80s and tricked them into sex acts using a card game is jailed for five years
“Last November Hardwicke was found guilty on five counts of historic indecent assault, following a nine day trial. In one incident a victim was made to take part in sexual activity as part of a card game, prosecutors said. Hardwicke carried out the abuse by taking ‘special interest’ in his victims and made them feel as if they had nowhere else to turn, according to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).” By Luke May, Daily Mail


Firms cut legal fees by $2K in church bankruptcy ahead of hearing
Two law firms in the Archdiocese of Agana’s two-year-old bankruptcy case reduced their legal fees by $2,162.50, ahead of a court hearing on the latest interim fee applications. The fourth interim fee applications from law firms now amount to about $478,400. The archdiocese’s bankruptcy marks its second year this month. The Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection is aimed at reorganizing the church’s finances, and compensating nearly 300 Guam clergy sex abuse survivors while also keeping all Catholic schools and parishes open.” By Haidee Eugenio Gilbert, The Guam Daily Post


Indonesian church worker jailed for molesting altar boys
“A church worker in Indonesia has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for sexually assaulting altar boys following the first-ever sexual abuse trial in a civil court involving the Indonesian Catholic Church. Depok District Court in West Java convicted Syahril Marbun on Jan. 6 for abusing two altar boys at St. Herkulanus Parish in Depok in Bogor Diocese, where he served as liturgical coordinator.” By Ryan Dagur, Jakarta, UCANews.com


Final Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes
“The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and certain related matters was established by the Irish Government in February 2015 to provide a full account of what happened to vulnerable women and children in Mother and Baby Homes during the period 1922 to 1998. It submitted its final report to the Minister on 30 October 2020. Each element of the Report can be accessed through the links below …” From Ireland’s Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth


Pope Francis Defrocks Maltese Priest Who Sexually Abused 13-Year-Old
“Pope Francis has accepted the Conventual Franciscans Order’s request to dismiss Donald Bellizzi, the Maltese priest convicted of sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy, iNews Malta reported. Last November, Bellizzi, a former Burmarrad Franciscan, was sentenced to three years in prison. Bellizzi’s offences first began in 2010, when he would invite youths interested in becoming priests on retreats to the Franciscan convent in Burmarrad. Investigations into the case were kicked off after the Curia received reports of the abuse.” By Benjamin Abela, LovinMalta.com


Abuse inquiry: we all know the outcome
“We must already know what the New Zealand Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care will reveal about the Catholic Church in New Zealand. That’s because it has been said before, time and time again, across the globe, by many other inquiries into the exact same issue. Independent inquiries worldwide have already looked into what happened to children, young people and adults at risk in the care of the Catholic Church over past decades.” By Matthew Epsom, The Gisborne Herald