Bishop O’Connell Admits Abuse; Pope Accepts Resignation
After admitting that he had sexually abused a high school seminarian more than 25 years ago, Bishop Anthony J. O’Connell of Palm Beach submitted his resignation to Pope John Paul II, and it was accepted. He said his misconduct has haunted him, even as it shaped his ministry. It always hung over me, the bishop said at a 40-minute press conference on March 8. I don’t think I have ever preached without being conscious [of it]. I certainly have been powerfully motivated in my preaching. Christopher Dixon, a former priest, sparked the bishop’s decision to resign when he told a reporter from The St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he was 15 and in the ninth grade at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Hannibal, Mo., when he sought counseling with then-Father O’Connell, who was the seminary rector. Dixon said the relationship became an opportunity for the priest to molest him. Bishop O’Connell became bishop of Palm Beach in November 1998, replacing Bishop Keith Symons, who also resigned after admitting he had abused a youngster.
As Boston Cardinal Settles Abuse Suits, Three Jesuits Accused
As the Archdiocese of Boston reached agreement with 86 clergy sex-abuse claimants, accusations against four priests at area Catholic schools were revealed by local media. Three Jesuits were accused of having sexually abused students when they taught at Boston College High School in Boston in the 1970’s or 80’s. It was also revealed that an archdiocesan priest removed from active ministry since 1993 had been accused of molesting several boys in the 1970’s while he was the archdiocese-appointed chaplain at Xaverian Brothers High School in Westwood. Boston media reported the archdiocese offered an estimated $30 million to reach a settlement with 86 plaintiffs, represented by attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who sought damages for abuse by John J. Geoghan, a former priest and recently convicted sex offender. The funds will be allocated by a neutral arbitrator who will hear the complaints and determine what portion of the total goes to each. An additional 58 lawsuits have been filed, according to local media.
Ruling on S.S.I. Will Increase Retired Nuns’ Benefits
A Social Security Administration appeals council reversed itself and ruled in favor of 20 sisters whose Supplemental Security Income benefits had been reduced seven years ago. The 20 School Sisters of St. Francis, who live in Marian Hall Home, a licensed personal care home in Bellevue, Pa., run by their religious community, were told their payments were cut because they are members of a religious community and have made a vow of poverty. Therefore, the S.S.A. reasoned, their community has a civil law obligation to provide for their support. The council had maintained this position despite two rulings to the contrary from an administrative law judge. The favorable ruling was issued hours after a call was placed to Social Security Commissioner Jo Anne Barnhart by U.S. Representative Mike Doyle, Democrat of Pennsylvania. Doyle said he told Barnhart that the case needed to be expedited because of the frailty and advanced age of many of the sisters.
Retired Bishop Celebrates Mass for New Ways Ministry Meeting
Retired Bishop Leroy T. Matthiesen of Amarillo, Tex., celebrated Mass on March 9 for participants at a New Ways Ministry conference in Louisville, Ky., despite a Vatican letter saying the group should not hold Mass at the conference site. Bishop Matthiesen said that the group asked me if I would celebrate the Eucharist and I said sure. He said there were nearly 600 participants at the conference, which focused on greater acceptance and better pastoral care of gay and lesbian Catholics in the church. For all of them to try to go to the cathedral for Massas suggested beforehand by Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly of Louisvillewould have been difficult logistically, he said. I guess I just asked what would Jesus do, and the answer seemed to be obvious, he said.
Study Finds U.S. Women Exercise Jurisdiction in Church
Until the laws of the Catholic Church were revamped in 1983, only clerics could hold ecclesiastical officejobs involving decisions in church governance. Since all Catholic clerics are men, no women could even apply. A new study by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious says that now, less than 20 years later, hundreds of women in the United States hold church jobs in which they share in church governance. Sister Kathleen Pruitt, a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace and L.C.W.R. president, called the 152-page report a benchmark study, the first one really done in the field. It does highlight the fact that women play an important role in church leadership, she said. Its publication, she added, will allow the dialogue to take another step.
Vatican Newspaper Condemns Israeli Attacks on Arab Schools
The Vatican newspaper condemned attacks on Arab schools in Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories as barbaric acts that increase the spiral of violence in the Middle East. The attacks on schools represent a new instrument in the violence that has profaned the Holy Land, said the newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, in editorial comments preceding a news story in its March 7 edition. The newspaper also condemned the indifference of the international community to the targeting of children in the worsening conflict. For two consecutive days, Palestinian students have been the object of assaults that attack the heart of the future of a people, its dreams, its hopes for a better future, the newspaper said.
The latest escalation of violence provoked the heads of churches in Jerusalem on March 9 to issue a letter titled A Call to All the People of the Holy Land, which expressed deep concern over the spiraling violence. The church leaders called on everyone to take the appropriate measures to stop further massacres or tragedies for our two peoples. Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah and the Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land, Father Giovanni Battistelli, were among the 13 signatories of the letter.
At Bethlehem University on the night of March 8, a missile broke through a stone-clad reinforced concrete wall and blasted out windows on two floors, damaging two classrooms. A missile also hit St. Joseph School. No one was injured in either of the attacks.
Pope, Greek Orthodox Pledge Greater Cooperation
Pope John Paul II and a high-level delegation from the Orthodox Church of Greece promised to increase joint efforts to bring Gospel values to bear on the world while continuing their theological dialogue. The delegation, led by Metropolitan Panteleimon of Attika, a member of the Greek synod’s committee for ecumenical relations, met with the pope on March 11 in the middle of a weeklong visit to the Vatican. The meeting marked the first official visit of a delegation from the Orthodox Church of Greece to the Vatican. Metropolitan Panteleimon told the pope, We must begin a collaboration on practical subjects of a moral and social order, a collaboration which should, we hope, turn out to be easier and more effective than the theological dialogue. In fact, he said, our collaboration in the practical domain should facilitate the theological dialogue.
I.C.E.L. Executive Secretary Resigns
John R. Page has resigned as executive secretary of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, effective Aug. 15. Bishop Maurice Taylor of Galloway, Scotland, chairman of I.C.E.L., praised Page’s great gifts of integrity, dedication and courtesy and said his decision to resign will sadden those who know him. His colleagues and many friends greatly admire his indomitable commitment to I.C.E.L.’s purpose of providing liturgical texts to nourish the prayer life of English-speaking Catholics throughout the world, Bishop Taylor added. Although Page has been attacked by conservatives opposed to I.C.E.L.’s work, he was honored by the North American Academy of Liturgy at its last annual meeting.
U.S., Mexican Bishops Urge Unity on Border Concerns
Three bishops along the U.S.-Mexican border advocated greater church unity in solving problems that straddle the border region. Our three dioceses are near yet far because men wish to separate us, said Bishop Renato Ascensio León of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. He said it took him two hours and 15 minutes to cross the bridge separating Juárez from its neighboring city of El Paso on March 10 because of increased U.S. border security measures since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Bishop Ascensio traveled to El Paso to address a ministries conference sponsored by the Diocese of El Paso. The dioceses of Juárez, El Paso and Las Cruces, N.M., border one another, and officials of each have been working to develop joint plans to meet cross-border problems.
New Book Offers Resources to Catholic-Reformed Households
A new book published jointly by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Westminster John Knox Press is intended to help families in which one spouse is Catholic and the other is a member of a church in the Reformed traditionthe United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) or the Reformed Church in America. Interchurch Families: Resources for Ecumenical Hope was published under the auspices of the ongoing Catholic-Reformed Dialogue in the United States, and edited by the dialogue’s co-chairmen, Bishop Patrick R. Cooney of Gaylord, Mich., and the Rev. John C. Bush, interim pastor of Northbrook Presbyterian Church in the Detroit suburb of Beverly Hills, Mich. The book is the product of the sixth and latest round of a Catholic-Reformed dialogue that began in 1965.