Bishop Apologizes, Avoids Prosecution in Abuse Cases
In an agreement to avoid criminal prosecution, Bishop Thomas J. O’Brien of Phoenix has given up some of his diocesan administrative duties and apologized for allowing priests he knew were suspected of sexual abuse to continue working with minors. The agreement was signed by the bishop and Maricopa County Attorney Richard M. Romley. It requires the bishop to delegate to a moderator of the curia certain administrative duties, including responsibility for revising and enforcing diocesan sexual abuse policies. The agreement was signed on May 3 and announced on June 2. Romley also announced that six priests were being indicted in child sexual abuse cases after a yearlong investigation.
The agreement said an investigation turned up evidence that Thomas J. O’Brien failed to protect the victims of criminal sexual misconduct of others associated with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix. This agreement is executed upon the conclusion that the public interest would be best served by settling the matter without criminal prosecution of the bishop or the diocese.
The agreement establishes conditions that must be met by the bishop and the diocese to maintain immunity from prosecution. One requirement is that the bishop issue a written public apology acknowledging his actions. Here is the full text of the bishop’s apology:
I acknowledge that I allowed Roman Catholic priests under my supervision to work with minors after becoming aware of allegations of sexual misconduct. I further acknowledge that priests who have allegations of sexual misconduct made against them were transferred to ministries without full disclosure to their supervisor or to the community in which they were assigned. I apologize and express regret for any misconduct, hardship or harm caused to the victims of sexual misconduct by Roman Catholic priests assigned to the diocese.
In a separate statement, Bishop O’Brien said he had not committed any crime and that many of the requirements in the agreement were already in the diocesan plan for handling sexual abuse cases. I certainly never intentionally placed a child in harm’s way. To suggest a cover-up is just plain false, said the bishop.
Romley disagreed: Did the bishop fail to understand the confession he was signing? Did he fail to understand that he needed immunity?
Under the agreement, the diocese is required to pay $100,000 to cover costs of the county’s criminal investigation, to make a $300,000 contribution to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Victim Compensation Fund and to make $300,000 available for counseling of child victims of sexual abuse.
The agreement requires appointment of a youth protection advocate to enforce sexual abuse policy and oversee compliance with local, state and federal laws regarding reporting of allegations. Also required is appointment of a special counsel to the youth protection advocate with input from the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office to provide independent advice not subject to approval by diocesan officials.
Other provisions include:
Modifying the diocesan sexual misconduct policy after input from the county attorney’s office and the general public.
A training program on sexual misconduct issues for diocesan personnel implemented by the diocese and the county attorney’s office.
Creation of a victim assistance panel of three mental health professionals to help with counseling assistance for victims and close relatives.
The bishop, in his separate statement, said some of the cases being investigated involved events before he became head of the Phoenix Diocese in 1981. He added that his resignation as head of the diocese was never on the table in the negotiations. I serve at the pleasure of the pope, and not the county attorney, he said.
Caritas, U.N. AIDS Program Sign Cooperation Agreement
Caritas Internationalis and the U.N. AIDS program signed a Vatican-approved agreement in early June to increase cooperation in AIDS education, prevention and health care. The agreement, which succeeds an experimental accord between the two organizations in 1999, calls for strengthening the input of religious groups to U.N. AIDS policies and greater efforts to fight discrimination against people with the virus. The four-page document implicitly notes differences in the two organizations’ approachmost notably the use of condoms in prevention campaignsin two footnotes that stress that Caritas’s participation is based on the spiritual, moral and social teaching of the Catholic Church.
Duncan MacClaren, secretary general of Caritas Internationalis, said the document had received a quite enthusiastic approval from Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Vatican secretary for relations with states.
Calle Almedal, senior adviser to the partnerships unit of U.N. AIDS, told Vatican Radio that despite differences in approach, his organization and Caritas manage to work together respecting the differences without ending in unnecessary discussions that are futile. We are in the beginning of the worst pandemic that mankind has ever lived through and...we don’t have time, energy and money to lose on that, he said in the interview.
He said U.N. AIDS now recognized that it has been a bit too simplistic in our approach to condoms and thought there was a technical solution to the problem of H.I.V.-AIDS, which there’s not. He also said the organization had been not sensitive enough to the issue of abstinence and being faithful.
At the same time, Almedal was critical of what he called the silence of church leaders in fighting AIDS and suggested that church teaching should be changed to reflect the seriousness of the AIDS crisis. He said 40 million people, three quarters of them in sub-Saharan Africa, were infected with H.I.V.-AIDS.
The state of the pandemic seems to indicate that churches have failed in their preaching about abstinence and monogamy so far, he said, noting 40 percent infection rates in Christian countries like Botswana and Swaziland. So the state of affairs when it comes to H.I.V. infection should be a challenge to churches, to churches’ teachings and to churches’ theologies, Almedal told Vatican Radio.
He praised the work of churches in treating H.I.V.-AIDS patients in African clinics and health care facilities, and said such activities should get a much higher profile.
Diocesan Audits on Sexual Abuse Policies to Begin in Late June
More than 50 auditors, under the direction of the Gavin Group of Boston, will begin formal assessments in late June on how well each of the 195 U.S. dioceses is complying with the provisions of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The plan is to audit approximately 11 dioceses per week between late June and late October, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced in a statement on May 29. When the audits are completed, results will be sent to Kathleen McChesney, who heads the U.S.C.C.B. Office for Child and Youth Protection. That office is charged with producing an annual public report on the progress made in implementing the standards in the charter.
100th Trip, 25 Years of Papal Travel
As Pope John Paul II returned from the 100th foreign trip of his pontificate in early June, reporters and papal aidesand perhaps the pontiff himselfwere reminiscing about the places they have seen in 25 years of travel.
The pope has visited 129 countries, spending more than 570 days outside of Italy and the Vatican. Along the way, he has taken the papacy to locations most popes only dreamed of, from exotic South Pacific islands to the Great Plains of North America.
His odometer began ticking three months after his election in 1978, with a trip to the Dominican Republic, Mexico and the Bahamas. Journalists were awed when the pope strolled to the back of the plane and started fielding questions, inaugurating the first airborne papal press conference.
Since then, the trips have yielded many memories and memorable momentspostcards from an era of papal travel. Few will forget the time the white-robed pontiff walked through a slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1980. Struck by the grinding poverty of the place, he slipped off his gold papal ring and donated it to the local parish to be used for charity.
A few years later, he stood next to Mother Teresa in a crowded intersection in downtown Calcutta, India, and sang the praises of the diminutive nun, to the delight of cheering Indians.
Because the pope goes where he is invited, he has been hosted by a number of dictatorial regimes. Sometimes they are sorry he showed up. Leaving Haiti in 1983, he denounced the regime of Jean Claude Baby Doc Duvalier as the dictator stood by helplessly. A few years later, Duvalier fled into exile.
Visiting Cuba in 1998, the pope again saved the best for last. During a closing Mass in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution, with President Fidel Castro seated in the front row, he quoted from the Gospel about setting at liberty those who are oppressed, then paused strategically to let the crowd chant its supporta rare moment of free expression.
But while the television cameras often were turned on the pope and his political hosts, some of the more memorable moments came during lesser events. Along a dusty road in Guinea-Bissau, the pope once stopped his motorcade and walked into a village of clay huts. He went inside one home and visited with the poor family who lived there, conversing quietly until an aide said it was time to get going.
On another occasion, the pope visited a Thai Buddhist patriarch in his temple, before a golden statue of Buddha. For five minutes, not a word was spoken as both men sat and looked at each other in silence; it was perhaps the subtlest form of interreligious dialogue ever witnessed.
The pope has enjoyed and sometimes endured local folklore on his journeys. He has worn a Mexican sombrero, sipped a Fiji tribal libation from a coconut shell and even held a koala in Australia. And he has tested out his linguistic proficiency, often studying for weeks ahead of time so he can pronounce a few phrases in the local tongue.
Papal liturgies can be a showcase for indigenous culture, and the pope has seen it all, including tribal praise-singers, bird-feather headdresses and dancers in grass skirts. In Uganda, the book of the Gospels was carried by a man standing astride the shoulders of another, and in Papua New Guinea a bare-breasted woman read at the altar.
At times he crossed paths with local customs. In Swaziland, the king caused a stir when he arrived late for a papal Massalong with two of his four wives. The pope was preaching against polygamy during his stop in the African country.
Some liturgies have been interrupted by political demonstrations. At a Mass in Nicaragua, a visibly angered pontiff tried to deliver a sermon above the political chants of pro-Sandinista youths.
In Chile in 1987, tear gas wafted across the papal altar and scores of injured were carried away, when police and demonstrators clashed 160 yards away. At the close of the Mass, the pope pronounced to the crowd a short but long-remembered phrase: Love is stronger than hatred.
His trips to his Polish homeland began with a series of politically charged visits under Communism, when a word or a phrase from the pope’s lips could ignite crowds of more than a million people, eager to express their discontent with the government. After the fall of Communism, the pope’s homecomings took on a more relaxed air. In 1999 he sat in the main square of Wadowice, his hometown, and reminisced about buying cream cakes as a boy in the shop down the street.
For the pope, one of the most deeply moving trips was his pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2000, when he walked in the footsteps of Christ and the Apostles. The following year he stood outside the gates of Damascus, where St. Paul was blinded by the light. But it always seems his favorite journey is the one he happens to be on. As he said before setting out on his first trip, his main purpose in traveling is to meet the people of the worldget to know them, embrace them and tell them all...that God loves them.
Thirty Days by Paul Mariani, America’s poetry editor, won the Catholic Press Association’s first-place award for popular presentation of the Catholic faith. The book is a Catholic Book Club selection. Hearing the Word of God, based on the weekly Word column by John R. Donahue, S.J., won first place in the professional books category.
According to a Newsweek poll, only 49 percent of Catholic respondents characterized themselves as pro-life, while 47 percent said they were pro-choice. Those figures were roughly equal to the national responses47 percent of Americans said they were pro-choice, 48 percent pro-life. The survey also asked if it was permissible for [in vitro fertilization] clinics to destroy these extra human embryos if their patients approve. Forty-nine percent of Americans said yes, 37 percent said no, and 14 percent were undecided. Among Catholics, 45 percent said yes, 44 percent said no, and 11 percent said they did not know.
Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy, a Catholic high school outside Toronto, was closed and more than 1,600 students and school employees were quarantined after a student at the school showed symptoms of SARS. The Archdiocese of Toronto has banned Communion on the tongue, the sharing of consecrated wine during Communion, hand-shaking during the sign of peace and use of the confessional box.
The average age of men ordained to the priesthood in the United States this year is 36.8.
Germany’s first ecumenical Kirchentag, or church assembly, was attended by 200,000 people, 40 percent of whom were under 30.
The Archdiocese of Louisville has agreed to settle sexual abuse lawsuits by 240 plaintiffs for $25.7 million.
Bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun of Hong Kong, addressing a Catholic prayer meeting for democracy in China on June 4, used the word martyrs to describe the hundreds of pro-democracy people who suffered in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. He urged that the unfinished task of bringing freedom and human rights to China be continued.
Church leaders in Europe and at the Vatican offered a mixed reaction to a draft constitution for the European Union, praising the document’s official recognition of churches but lamenting the absence of a specific reference to the continent’s Christian heritage. The Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls said the text’s general mention of religious heritage without explicitly identifying Christianity was surprising, especially given that the document’s preamble does name other aspects of Europe’s cultural heritage, like Greco-Roman thought and Enlightenment philosophy.