In the Vineyard :: May 11, 2022 :: Volume 22, Issue 9
First VOTF Child Protection Report Published
VOTF recently published the first independent, online review of all U.S. Roman Catholic dioceses’ level of compliance with child protection and safe environment guidelines. The average overall score was 67%, with the most frequently achieved score 63.5%. Although some dioceses did well, no diocese achieved 100%, and three dioceses scored in the 20s.
“The Church most often claims such investigations reveal just historic abuse,” said Patricia T. Gomez, VOTF trustee and Protection of Children Working Group co-chair. “But our report, as an indication of commitment to child protection, does not show that widespread cultural change toward safer environments for children has taken place, and we won’t know the extent of present abuse for some time because victims typically don’t report it for decades.”
To conduct this study, VOTF reviewers studied 177 websites: those of 176 U.S. Roman Catholic dioceses and the Archdiocese for the Military, USA. Reviewers used a worksheet that included 33 questions in the following 10 categories: policy; code of conduct; reporting abuse; background checks; prevention, education, and training; contact information; annual audit reporting; diocesan review boards; list of accused clergy; and victim assistance.
The study used diocesan websites because the internet is so widely used for information, and the extent to which a diocese’s website provides safe environment policies and procedures is an indication of the bishop’s commitment to protecting children and preventing further sexual abuse by clergy.
The VOTF report made the following points:
- Diocesan safe environment webpage content must align with dioceses’ child protection policies. Any lack of consistency calls into question the diligence afforded to safe environment and child protection efforts and diocesan commitment to transparency.
- Comprehensive abuse prevention efforts must include criminal background checks of all employees, clergy, and volunteers, as well as mandatory abuse prevention education and training for all groups.
- Dioceses must fully disclose credibly accused offenders’ information, such as name, current status, past assignments, etc.
- Diocesan review boards must ensure that Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People-related policies and procedures are current and clearly stated.
- Mandatory participation in annual audits and a time-limited period for correction of deficiencies must be enforced.
The report concluded on the particularly important role of parishioners in child protection: “There is a key role for parishioners to ensure the protection of children in our parishes. Parishioners should work with diocesan and parish safe environment personnel to bolster safety guidelines at the diocesan level and ensure that safety measures are carried out in their faith communities. Alive in the life of Jesus, the entire People of God can transform into a sacramental community where children, youth, and the vulnerable are nurtured and protected in safe environments.”
Registration for VOTF’s May Synod Sessions
You can still register for some of the remaining VOTF Synod sessions scheduled in May. The Synod is the most significant opportunity ever for the Church’s laity to influence the future of the Church. Please note:
- Each Set includes two sessions, one week apart.
- Questions in session two follow those of session one in each Set.
- You need register for only one set of sessions to ensure your input.
- Sessions are restricted in size to ensure all can effectively share their experiences.
- Registration for each Set will be closed when Set is full.
- Please feel free to invite friends, neighbors, adult children, and others.
Please note that after your register, the final “Submit” button provides a link to the “Synod Overview” document needed to prepare for the questions asked during the sessions. Registration for each Set will be closed when Set is full.
VOTF emphasizes that all voices are to be heard for the Synod, even the voices of those who feel uncomfortable talking in a group about their experiences and hopes for the future of the Church. Anyone who would like additional information may email firstname.lastname@example.org.
New Book on Synodality
Another Synod Session Opportunity, Especially for Survivors
Awake Milwaukee will host two Synod sessions via Zoom on Thursday, June 9, and Sunday, June 12, and discussions will specifically highlight issues related to sexual abuse and leadership failures in addressing that abuse. Awake seeks to “center the voices of survivors and create a trauma-informed, survivor-sensitive experience, but all who care about the issue of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church are encouraged to participate in these conversations.” For more information, visit the Awake web site.
VOTF at 20 Years: Women’s Roles
By Svea Fraser, VOTF trustee and chair of Women’s Emerging Voices
Listen! Can you hear the sound of voices getting louder in support of women’s roles in the Church?
For 20 years VOTF has championed the change for women to be fully recognized as equals in the Church. We took advantage of every opportunity to raise awareness of the needs that would be better met when women have a place at the table. Resources on the website included articles, papers, videos, cards, templates for letter writing and books. One book in particular gave us a laser focus for our ongoing efforts. Read more …
Vatican Financial Trial Continues
Last week, Cardinal Angelo Becciu took the stand for the second time in his own defense, reading a statement claiming that the accusations against him were an attempt to stain his reputation. Becciu is accused of embezzling approximately 100,000 euros and giving them to his brother, Tonio Becciu, and being involved in a London property development that resulted in millions of dollars in losses. Becciu says his brother runs the Spes Caritas organization but “not one of my relatives enriched themselves with that money.”
At the time of the London property investment, then-Archbishop Beccu was “sostituto,” the third-highest ranking position in the Vatican Secretariat of State. During the trial, Becciu has claimed that “there was never any objection” by Pope Francis and Cardinal Pietro Parolin to the deal, and that they were initially pleased with the investment when it produced nearly 10 million euros in annual returns.
Another issue under discussion at the trial includes an estimated 500,000 euros sent by the Vatican Secretariat of State to a humanitarian agency in Slovenia run by Cecilia Marogna, an Italian political analyst allegedly hired by Becciu. Marogna has been accused of embezzling money through her organization. The funds from the Secretariat were supposed to secure the release of Catholic hostages, but it reportedly was used for purchases at high-end fashion boutiques, including Prada and Louis Vuitton.
The texts from Becciu authorizing the money were sent when the cardinal was no longer working at the Secretariat of State. The money was intended to fund the release of Sister Gloria Cecilia Narvaez, a Colombian nun who was kidnapped by militants in Mali. Marogna received the funds in 2018 and 2019, and the nun was released in 2021, but it is unclear whether the money from the Vatican that was sent to Marogna had an impact on the nun’s release.
Becciu testified that Pope Francis authorized the expenditure of up to 1 million euros to free Sister Gloria. Evidence that the pope was willing to pay ransom to free the nun, and the sum, were not cited before before it could have serious security implications: Ransom payments are “rarely, if ever” confirmed in order to dissuade future kidnappings and ransom demands. Becciu withheld the information for two years because it was a pontifical secret, but Pope Francis released him from the confidentiality requirement in order to speak in his own defense. Becciu also testified that Francis was in agreement with the plan.
Becciu also complained about accusations that he sent money to people accusing Australian Cardinal George Pell of sexual abuse. He said, “For over a year, I underwent public pressure with the accusations of having paid for false testimonies against Cardinal Pell.” Cardinal Pell was convicted but released after a successful appeal.
Becciu also testified that Cardinal Parolin confirmed that the money reportedly used to pay people to accuse Cardinal Pell was actually used to purchase an internet domain. Parolin said that Cardinal Pell “continued to raise doubts about the transfer of $2.3 million in Australia, suspecting those funds were used by Cardinal Becciu to negatively influence the penal process for abuse of minors.” Cardinal Becciu responded to this, saying “I regret that Cardinal Pell has stumbled into this misunderstanding.”
For VOTF’s statement on financial accountability, please see here.
Pope Francis Meets Leaders of Women’s Religious Congregations
As part of the ongoing Synod on Synodality, Pope Francis attended the plenary of the International Union of Superiors General in an informal, hourlong discussion, speaking to more than 500 leaders of women religious congregations. His message centered on the future of religious congregations. He warned against congregational renewal that is “frozen in time” and does not look to the future but rather to the past.
“The church does not want frozen nuns,” he said. “That’s useless. The challenge is that consecrated life has to be integrated into a church, not a frozen church, but a real church.”
Comparing religious congregations to trees that must grow while drawing from the strength of sturdy roots, he urged the sisters to look at the original inspirations of their founders. He also drew parallels to the structure of a family, saying “you can’t modernize anything without the family spirit.”
Despite having prepared nine pages of remarks, Pope Francis held an informal discussion and passed a transcript of his remarks to leaders. He took questions on topics ranging from the war in Ukraine to the ongoing colonial legacy in countries, including Democratic Republic of Congo and Syria.
Addressing the war in Ukraine, he praised the acts of “Christian fraternity and charity” of countries neighboring Ukraine that are welcoming refugees escaping the Russian invasion. He spoke of the need for the “noble way of peace” while accompanying Ukraine through the pain of its current situation.
Sister Jolanta Kafka, UISG president and general superior of the Claretian Missionary Sisters, explained that the sisters are concerned about wars worldwide, specifically mentioning the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, and Yemen. She said, “In the midst of darkness, we bring light and hope,” to which Pope Francis replied with a story about being hospitalized after surgery as a young man. He said he did not like it when people came to visit and offered comments intended to provide solace, but said holding hands silently is enough: “Don’t offer solutions. Just accompany.”
Francis condemned colonialism and neocolonialism as a “political expression of a spiritual reality” that is the “work of the devil.” The devil is the main colonizer,” he’s said, and internal wars “come from the spirit of Cain.”
Notably, his appearance at the UISG plenary did not contain the same type of symbolic gesture as his appearance in 2019, where he asked the then-president, Sister Carmen Sammut, to sit next to him. At the time, Pope Francis had commissioned a report about women deacons, in response to their concerns about being able to serve as deacons to minister more effectively to those on the margins, who often are unable to access priests and deacons. That report has yet to be released. The pope has since organized a second commission, and Kafka has said that they would not release the first report while the second commission was working out of respect.
Pope Francis arrived in a wheelchair for the event, the first time he has used one publicly at the Vatican, telling an Italian newspaper that his doctor had advised rest and “injections” for severe knee pain that he has been experiencing for months.
For VOTF’s statement on women’s roles, please see here.
Pope mandates annual audit on protection of children from abuse
“Pope Francis on Friday (Apr. 29) asked for an annual audit evaluating how national Catholic Churches are implementing measures to protect children from clergy sexual abuse, saying that without more transparency the faithful will continue to lose trust. ‘Abuse in any form is unacceptable,’ Francis told members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which was established in 2014 to promote best practices and a culture of safeguarding worldwide.” By Philip Pullella, Reuters
- Pope announces mandate to audit church’s progress on fighting abuse, By Associated Press
- Pope Francis calls for more transparency for sexual abuse survivors, By Jacob Knutson, Axios.com
Women religious blaze new trails in roles of authority at the Vatican
“When Pope Francis met more than 850 religious sisters attending the International Union of Superiors General plenary meeting in Rome in 2019, the pope insisted that the chair for the body’s then-president, Sr. Carmen Sammut, be seated right next to him. At the time, both Sammut, a Missionary Sister of Our Lady of Africa, and those in the room were touched by the pope’s deeply symbolic gesture to level the playing field. Now, as delegates from around the globe prepare to travel again to Rome for this year’s May 2-6 plenary, a wave of new appointments of sisters inside the Vatican has made it clear that Francis is backing that symbolism up with substantive changes and making room for more women religious to have a permanent seat at the table.” By Christopher White, Global Sisters Report, National Catholic Reporter
Vatican clears Polish Cardinal Dziwisz of abuse cover-up
“The Vatican has wrapped up its own investigation and dismissed allegations that Polish Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz had covered up cases of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy in his archdiocese. In a written statement released April 22, the Apostolic Nunciature in Poland said the Vatican found the cardinal had been ‘correct’ in his actions after it examined the findings of an investigation led by Italian Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco.” By Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service, on CatholicPhilly.com
- Vatican clears top John Paul II aide on charges of mishandling abuse claim, By Paulina Guzik, Cruxnow.com
Expert says too many laity ignore abuse crisis because ‘it doesn’t affect them’
“When it comes to addressing the clerical sexual abuse, the role of the laity is central, according to experts. However, according to one of the Colombian lay women at the center of the country’s bishops’ response, too many people avoid addressing it, because they don’t think it is a problem that affects them. Ilva Myriam Hoyos, former Colombian attorney general for children, adolescents and family, is the head of the bishops’ working group for the protection of minors.” By Inés San Martin, Cruxnow.com
Pope warns of lost trust without more abuse accountability
“Pope Francis gave a new mandate to his sex abuse advisory commission Friday (Apr. 29), telling its members to work with bishops around the world to establish special welcome centers for victims and to audit the church’s progress on fighting abuse from its new perch within the Vatican. Francis warned that without more transparency and accountability from the church, the faithful would continue to lose trust in the Catholic hierarchy after decades of revelations about priests who raped and molested children and bishops and religious superiors who covered up those crimes.” By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press
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