Signs of the Times

Cincinnati Archdiocese Pleads No Contest on Failure to Report

Entering a plea of no contest to five misdemeanor counts in a Hamilton County courtroom on Nov. 20, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati accepted responsibility for charges of failing to report sexual abuse involving priests and minors. Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk entered the unprecedented plea on behalf of the archdiocese, ending a nearly two-year investigation spearheaded by Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen. Flanked by two attorneys, the archbishop answered quietly and firmly as the judge asked if he understood the nature of the proceedings. The plea indicates that the archdiocese accepts the facts of the case as set forth by the prosecutor’s office but does not admit to committing the crimes, which are a fourth-degree misdemeanor.

The archdiocese was ordered by Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Richard Niehaus to pay a $10,000 fine for the violationswhich occurred from 1978 to 1982, while then-Archbishop Joseph L. Bernardin headed the local church. The charges do not cite specific cases of abuse.

The judge also issued a statement declaring that as a Catholic, he found the day’s events to be extremely tragic.... All religious organizations ought to show greater respect for human rights and not try to preserve themselves at the expense of the victims.... Everyone has the duty to follow the law.

The archdiocese is also creating a $3 million fund to compensate victims abused as minors by clergy or other agents of the local church. Compensation will be made available to any victim who is not suing the archdiocese, regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred, according to an archdiocesan spokesman, Dan Andriacco. It will also make funds available for those individuals who have already sued the archdiocese for sexual abuse, but whose cases were dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired. At least two such cases have been dismissed in the past month, and nearly all of the cases currently pending involve a question of statute of limitations.

The no-contest plea, while ending any criminal investigation by the prosecutor’s office, does not affect other civil suits pending against the archdiocese and former or retired priests for alleged sexual abuse. There are currently nearly 70 individuals involved in such lawsuits.

Again, I express my sorrow and shame at the suffering that priests and other church employees have inflicted on young persons, Archbishop Pilarczyk said at a press conference following the afternoon court hearing. A few years ago, I never would have thought that it would be necessary for a bishop to be making apologies like these, he said. But it is necessary, and I offer my expressions of sorrow and regret with the deepest intensity of which I am capable.

This brings to an end one of the lengthiest and certainly most painful investigations ever undertaken by my office, said Mr. Allen, a Catholic and member of St. Jerome Parish. At a press conference following the court hearing, the prosecutor added: This investigation by its very nature has been contentious, and the defense has been, as I would expect, very aggressive. As part of the agreement reached this week, the archdiocese provided our office with all of the records we have requested, and we questioned under oath all of their members who had knowledge of clergy abuse and the investigation of this abuse.

He also said he believes that the archdiocese no longer has in its employ any active priests who have been accused of sexual abuse of minors.

Vatican Urges Catholics to Welcome Migrants, Newcomers

Pope John Paul II, Vatican officials and those who assist migrants and refugees urged all Catholics to overcome fear and selfishness and to see that in welcoming newcomers they put their faith into action. About 300 people from 99 countries participated in the World Congress for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees on Nov. 17-22 in Rome. In their final statement, the delegates urged governments to do more to protect the human rights of migrants and refugees and expressed hope that international efforts to stop terrorism would not be used as a pretext to curtail individual freedoms and rights, including the rights of those seeking to migrate.

Pope John Paul welcomed the group to the Vatican on Nov. 20 and encouraged the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, which is preparing a document on assisting migrants and refugees, to present migration as an opportunity for fostering dialogue, peace and the proclamation of the Gospel.

Cardinal Stephen Fumio Hamao, council president, told participants that the world’s 175 million migrants and 40 million refugees and displaced people have a right to know Christ and experience his love for all men and women of all nations, ethnic groups and from all history. Escaping violence, persecution, famine and poverty, hundreds of thousands of people leave their homelands every year, Cardinal Hamao said. All this obviously brings with it untold suffering and pain, problems that need urgent attention.

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington and Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the outgoing Vatican foreign minister, expressed concerns that tightened restrictions after the terrorist attacks in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, were making life more difficult for migrants and refugees while not necessarily providing greater security. Racial profiling and exaggerated suspicion of strangers will not protect people from terrorism, Cardinal McCarrick said on Nov. 18. In a world more and more concerned about terrorism, where strangers are seen as a threat, the Catholic Church must insist that we are all brothers and sisters.

A Jesuit priest from Africa and a bishop from Brazil emphasized the pastoral carein the form of warningsthat should be given to the poor before they decide to leave their homelands, especially if they are planning to attempt an illegal entry into Europe or North America.

Television, films and the Internet are filled with the propaganda of developed countries offering an easy, prosperous, always-happy life to everyone, Bishop Jacyr Braido of Santos, Brazil, said on Nov. 18. The images entice the poor to seek for themselves and their families this dazzling world. Abraham Roch Okoko Essaeu, S.J, coordinator of the Congolese bishops’ office for migrants and refugees, told the conference, People dream of migrating for a better life without being informed of the dangers and difficulties.

The poor, speakers said, are particularly vulnerable to the false promises of traffickers who claim they can arrange good jobs, but end up selling peopleespecially women and childreninto prostitution and slave labor. Gabriela Rodriguez Pizarro, the U.N. special rapporteur for the human rights of migrants, said an estimated 700,000 people are victims of trafficking, often at the hands of highly organized criminal networks.

Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said migration is forcing more and more communities to take seriously the need for interreligious dialogue. The Christian inspiration for dialogue is the recognition that God created each human being in his image and calls all people to himself, he said. In addition to discovering the way God’s spirit may be at work in other faiths, the archbishop said, interreligious dialogue has practical motivations, including the commitment to protect the right of each person to worship according to his or her conscience and to foster peace within communities, nations and the world.

Bishop Renato Ascencio León of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, told the congress on Nov. 21 that attending Mass and sharing the Eucharist implies a commitment to welcoming, helping and loving others. Participation in the Eucharist would not be realsomething vital would be missingif it did not culminate in loving commitment to one’s neighbors, especially to the poorest and most vulnerable, he said. If they share the Eucharist, Bishop Ascencio said, Catholics must go out to meet migrant Christs’ who wander through the world carrying their pains and hopes, and parishes must be transformed into places of welcome as a faithful reflection of eucharistic living.

News Briefs

The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Policy said legislation to ensure that mentally ill criminal offenders get the treatment they need is a good start to address the needs of mentally ill prisoners. Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, committee chairman, commented on the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act of 2003 in a letter to Senator Mike DeWine, Republican of Ohio, who introduced the bill.

Pope John Paul II condemned terrorist attacks in Turkey and said the murderous violence unleashed on innocent civilians showed contempt for humanity.

When Catholic aid organizations operate with government funding in places like Iraq, they must take pains not to be identified with military operations, a top Catholic aid official told a Vatican meeting. If our staff is perceived as being part of the military apparatus or war effort, we lose our credibility and trust with those we serve, Ken Hackett, executive director of Catholic Relief Services, said on Nov. 21. We also worry about the reverse, where military personnel are perceived as aid workers. Beyond the obvious contradictions, this kind of blurring of roles puts our staff in harm’s way, he said.

President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya said his government would work with churches to fight corruption and AIDS and to help reconcile Kenyans. In an apparent reference to the policy of former President Daniel arap Moi, who repeatedly accused churches of meddling in politics, Kibaki said, We recognize that you have the duty of helping us to stay in the straight and narrow path, however difficult that may be.

Catholic Relief Services has launched its C.R.S. Coffee Project to boost consumption of fair trade coffee bought at living-wage prices. To help coffee farmers around the world, the coffee will be sold through the Interfaith Coffee Program of Equal Exchange Inc., of Canton, Mass., or from the Web site

Church sources in Germany said the Archdiocese of Berlin had a $13 million budget deficit for 2003, in addition to massive debts to banks and credit institutions. The archdiocese plans to close its only seminary and 101 of its 207 parishes in 2004, the sources said.

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