Signs of the Times

Record Abuse Settlement Reached in California

The Diocese of Orange, Calif., reached a reportedly record-breaking financial settlement with 87 alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse on Dec. 2. Judge Owen Lee Kwong, who oversaw the settlement, ordered participants on both sides not to discuss details, but The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times, citing anonymous sources, said it exceeded the previous record of $85 million that the Archdiocese of Boston paid out last year to settle abuse claims by 541 people. Massachusetts has a law limiting the financial liability of nonprofits; California does not.

Emerging from the civil courthouse in Los Angeles shortly after 11 p.m., Bishop Tod D. Brown of Orange called the settlement fair and compassionate. He said he planned to write each victim personally, seeking forgiveness and reconciliation. After the settlement was announced, the bishop was hugged by some of the victims, who praised him for his response.


The Orange settlement was the first major group settlement in California, where dioceses have faced a total of more than 800 cases. Most of the cases were brought forward in 2003 under a law that created a special one-year suspension of the state’s statute of limitations for suing institutions whose staff members sexually abused minors. About 500 lawsuits are in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

The Rev. Joseph Fenton, diocesan spokesman, told Catholic News Service that more details would be released only after the settlement was fully finalized, with all parties signing on to it. He indicated that the AP and Times reports on the approximate amount of the settlement were correct but declined to elaborate. He said another news report, which said the amount might be as high as $110 million, was unsubstantiated. He added, however, that it will be difficult for the diocese to make the adjustments needed to carry the settlement out.

Bishop Brown said the settlement will fairly compensate the victims in a way that allows our church to continue its ministry of service to the entire community. As with other group settlements around the country, the amount received will vary from one victim to another because of such factors as the nature of the abuse, the victim’s age at the time and the seriousness of the harm done. Normally about 40 percent of such a settlement goes to the attorneys.

Maltese Bishops Reject U.N. Demand for Abortion

The U.N. Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights urged the governments and of Malta and Chile to allow abortions in cases of rape or incest or for therapeutic reasons. Malta’s Catholic bishops urged their government to reject the demand. Abortion is and remains the murder of innocent persons, whatever the reason behind it, the three-member bishops’ conference said. As bishops, we encourage the Maltese people to remain steadfast in their appreciation and defense of human life from its conception and in their total rejection of abortion.

The U.N. committee’s pressure on the Maltese state to legalize abortion in certain circumstances is objectionable and unacceptable, said the statement, dated Dec. 1 and signed by Archbishop Joseph Mercieca and Auxiliary Bishop Annetto Depasquale of Malta as well as Bishop Nikol Cauchi of Gozo.

Abortions are banned in Malta, where Catholics make up 96 percent of the population of 383,000. A clause allowing abortions in life-threatening cases was removed from the criminal code in 1981, and jail terms of up to four years are currently allowed for women who have abortions and their doctors.

After the Mediterranean island-state joined the European Union last May, it signed a protocol exempting its abortion legislation from E.U. controls. In early November, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, which oversees the Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, called on Poland to liberalize its 1993 abortion law, which allows abortions only in cases of rape, incest or very serious and irreparable damage to the fetus, or when a woman’s life is endangered.

The demand was dismissed by the president of Poland’s Catholic bishops’ conference, Archbishop Jozef Michalik of Przemysl, who said the request indicated a shocking darkness in consciences and thoughts, and was another proof of crisis in the United Nations. Abortions are also banned or highly restricted in Ireland and Portugal.

Scientists Hope for Moral Way to Get Stem Cells

Speakers described to the President’s Council on Bioethics on Dec. 3 two experimental laboratory techniques for obtaining human embryonic stem cells that seek to overcome moral objections about destroying embryos in the process.

One technique would be similar to cloning an embryo, except that the nucleus from the donor cell with its chromosomal DNA would be genetically altered before being placed in a recipient egg, whose nucleus had been removed. The alteration would keep the resulting egg from developing into an embryo, but the entity would live long enough to create harvestable stem cells. This technique is called altered nuclear transfer, or ANT.

The other technique would harvest still-living stem cells from embryos that are declared dead according to a clinical definition, much the same way living organs are taken from fully developed humans judged to be brain dead. This technique would use frozen embryos produced by in vitro fertilization. The scientists who presented the ideas said that both are theoretically possible but still in the experimental stage.

Anti-Discrimination Laws Must Protect All Religions

Fighting discrimination against Jews and Muslims must not come at the expense of protecting the rights of Christians, a high Vatican official told European foreign ministers. Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, the Vatican’s foreign minister, made his comments on Dec. 6 as head of the Holy See’s delegation to the annual session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, held in Sofia, Bulgaria. Some 55 countries, including the United States and Canada, are members of O.S.C.E., which addresses European security issues and crisis management.

Archbishop Lajolo told participants, Christians, who constitute the religious majority in the territory covered by the O.S.C.E., in some countries are also affected by discriminatory norms and behavior. While anti-Semitism and growing violence and discrimination against Muslims have been the focus of many European efforts, the archbishop warned that injustices against Christians must not be ignored. Archbishop Lajolo told the ministers that O.S.C.E. will have to treat openly, justly and adequately...the problem of discrimination against Christians.

In a speech on Dec. 3 in Rome to a conference on religious freedom sponsored by the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican, Archbishop Lajolo said that concern for church-state separation often led to religious activities being penalized in the public sphere, such as the exclusion of religiously motivated positions from public policy debates and tax laws that do not recognize the nonprofit status of the church’s charity work.

Pope on Conscience, Truth and Social Order

Pope John Paul II said U.S. bishops need to remind lay Catholics of their duty to follow authoritative church teachings, whether in private life or in social roles.

The separation between church and state should be respected, but there can be no separation between one’s personal faith and one’s political and professional participation, he said. The pope addressed the theme of the laity in a talk on Dec. 4 to a group of U.S. bishops making their ad limina visits to the Vatican. He began his remarks by saying he appreciated the outstanding contribution lay Catholics have made to the growth and expansion of the church in the United States.

But the pope said serious pastoral problems have been created by ambiguity over the relationships among personal conscience, truth and the social order. He said lay men and women should be encouraged to harmonize their rights and duties as members of the church and as members of society. That means recognizing that in all worldly affairs they must be guided by their Christian conscience, he said.

News Briefs

The Diocese of Spokane became the third U.S. diocese to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy because of civil lawsuits claiming sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy. The diocese listed $81.3 million in liabilities and $11.1 million in assets in papers filed on Dec. 6 with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of the Eastern District of Washington.

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