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US Catholics' awareness of Christian persecution increasing

Washington D.C., Mar 21, 2019 / 03:54 pm (CNA).- Nearly half of American Catholics say global persecution of Christians is “very severe,” a 16 percent increase from a year ago, according to a new survey commissioned by the papal charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Despite this increase in awareness, the American Catholics surveyed ranked human trafficking, poverty and the refugee crisis as more urgent problems than the global persecution of Christians, the study says.

“It is heartening to see that U.S. Catholics have a growing awareness of and concern about the persecution of Christians,” said George Marlin, chairman of ACN-USA, in a March 19 statement.

“It is telling that human trafficking, poverty and the refugee crisis get more attention from U.S. Catholics than the persecution of Christians,” he added, saying that the survey “strongly suggests that the U.S. Catholic Church, both at the parish and diocesan levels, should get more engaged with the global persecution of Christians around the world.”

The study examined the extent to which American Catholics are aware of the persecution of Christians around the world; the countries and regions where they consider Christians to be most severely persecuted; specific measures and policies they want the U.S. and other Western governments to pursue to help and protect persecuted Christians; the extent to which they feel that the pope, their bishops and their parishes are prioritizing the persecution of Christians; and actions they believe they can and should take themselves.

Only 19 percent of the survey’s respondents said their parish is very involved with the issue of global persecution of Christians, down from 37 percent a year ago. In addition, 22 percent said they are unsure about their parish’s involvement in this area.

Similarly, only 24 percent of U.S. Catholics believe their bishop is “very engaged” with the issue of Christian persecution, though over half say they think Pope Francis is “very engaged” with this issue.

When asked what they themselves should do to help persecuted Christians around the world, American Catholics ranked prayer highest, followed by raising awareness at the parish level; donating to agencies that work to support persecuted Christians; and contacting their members of Congress. However, the report found that almost half of U.S. Catholics have not donated in the past year to an organization that helps persecuted Christians.

Regarding potential policies by the U.S. and other Western governments to deter the persecution of Christians, respondents ranked diplomatic pressure as most important, followed by economic sanctions; granting victims of persecution emergency asylum; and supporting persecuted Christian communities financially.

U.S. Catholics are least in favor of military intervention and the arming and training of persecuted Christians, but more than 60 percent of U.S. Catholics say that the Church must play a hands-on role in providing emergency and humanitarian aid to persecuted Christians around the world.

The study’s release comes amid increased persecution of Christians in many countries worldwide. ACN released a report last November that highlights 38 nations with significant religious freedom violations, and in more than half of those countries, conditions for religious minorities have deteriorated since 2016.

Some notable countries where persecution of Christians is taking place include China, where the Communist government is brutally cracking down on the practice of religion despite a September 2018 provisional deal with the Vatican meant to ease tensions between the faithful “underground” Church and the state-sponsored Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, the report said.

In other countries including North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Eritrea, “the situation [for religious minorities] was already so bad, it could scarcely get any worse,” it added.

Islamic extremism, fueled by conflict between Sunni and Shia Islam, accounted for the persecution faced by minorities in 22 of the 38 countries highlighted.

Interreligious conflict has been especially acute in Nigeria of late, where clashes between Christian and Muslim herdsmen have killed at least 120 people in the past few weeks, and has claimed thousands of lives in recent years, according to local reports.


Indiana legislature fails to restore two genders to driver’s licenses

Indianapolis, Ind., Mar 21, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Indiana lawmakers did not act to restore gender options on driver’s licenses as “male” or “female” after the state Bureau of Motor Vehicles announced it would allow for a third “non-specified gender,” but instead chose to require a changed birth certificate, not a doctor’s note, to allow the change to the driver’s license to take place.
State Rep. Matt Hostettler, R-Fort Branch, had filed an amendment to Senate Bill 324, whose main focus is providing a special disabled parking placard to eligible military veterans in Indiana, instead of a disabled license plate.
The House of Representatives’ Republicans considered support for Hostettler’s amendment, among other proposals, during a March 19 afternoon meeting, the Times of Northwest Indiana reports.

After the House reconvened, Hostettler did not call his proposal for a vote and the bill advanced unchanged for final approval. Any lawmaker can propose inserting the language of the amendment into any germane legislation until the close of the legislative session, which must take place on or before April 29.
Under the bureau’s new policy set to begin this month, a third gender option will be indicated by an “X” on driver’s licenses and state ID cards, the NBC television affiliate WTHR reports.
Applicants seeking a “non-specified” option must provide a certified, amended birth certificate or a signed and dated physician’s statement attesting that they have permanently changed their gender.
The Bureau of Motor Vehicles said it made the changes based on resident requests and on credential standards recommended by the American Academy of Motor Vehicle Administrators.
On March 20 the House Roads and Transportation Committee voted to revise Senate Bill 182 so that only a certified and amended birth certificate may be used to change the gender listed on a driver’s license or a state identification.
The State Department of Health usually requires a court order to change the gender listed on an Indiana birth certificate. In cases where a baby’s sex is undetermined at birth, such as anatomically ambiguous genitals, the gender is listed as “U.” It is unclear whether a birth certificate can subsequently be changed to something other than “male” or “female,” the Times of Northwest Indiana reports.
Under current practice, applicants for a gender change may submit a state form completed by a licensed physician to confirm that an individual has undergone a treatment reputed to be a gender change. A physician may also submit a signed and dated statement on office letterhead to that effect, provided the wording is substantially similar to the language required by the state’s administrative code.
The vote in the Republican-controlled House committee was split along party lines.
State Rep. Holli Sullivan said she was not trying to eliminate the non-specific gender designation “X” but wanted the birth certificate to be the sole document to establish gender.
“It does not say that you cannot change your gender. They still have the process to do that,” she said, arguing that her proposal takes the motor vehicles department out of making medical decisions.
One opponent of the change, State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, said that reading a note is not a medical decision and compared the practice to how the Bureau of Motor Vehicles approves handicapped placards.
“What happens to the people that are in transition and they're not one or the other yet?” asked Candelaria Reardon. “They're in the middle of a transition. How do we address their concerns? How do they get a certified birth certificate?”
Sullivan said she did not intend to make anything more difficult, but wanted to put together a process that can be followed to ensure there won’t be questions about the process.
Katie Blair, director of advocacy and public policy at American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, said the modification would force self-identified transgender people to undergo “the burdensome and costly legal process of changing their birth certificate in order to update their ID.”
Residents born in states that do not allow such modifications to birth certificates will be unable to get “accurate identification,” she said, according to the Times of Northwest Indiana reports.

Blair previously commented on Hostettler’s proposal to remove the unspecified gender option and restore two genders, calling this a “retrograde attempt” to “mandate a definition of gender that would have major, long-term implications for the transgender community.”
The amendment would “force gender non-binary people to carry identification that does not accurately identify them,” said Blair. “For people who are non-binary, identification that fails to affirm who they are can trigger the distress of gender dysphoria and contribute to widespread discrimination.” Identification that is “affirming and accurate” would help reduce discrimination, Blair argued.
Oregon, Maine, Minnesota, and California offer similar non-binary gender identification, in addition to Washington, D.C., and New York City. The Maryland and New York legislatures are considering proposals to change their identification regarding gender.

How this classical Catholic school welcomes children with Down syndrome

Louisville, Ky., Mar 21, 2019 / 10:22 am (CNA).- Students with Down syndrome study Latin and logic alongside their classmates at Immaculata Classical Academy, a Catholic school in Louisville, Ky., that integrates students with special needs into each of their pre-K through 12 classrooms.

The school emphasizes “education of the heart,” along with an educational philosophy tailored to the abilities of each student. About 15 percent of students at Immaculata have special needs.

“When you look at these students with Down syndrome in a classical setting, it is truly what a classical education is all about -- what it truly means to be human,” the school’s founder, Michael Michalak, told CNA.

“You can't learn compassion in a book,” Michalak explained.  He said the students at Immaculata are gaining “the ability to give of yourself to help others” through mutual mentoring constantly taking place in the classrooms.  

Michalek founded the academy along with his wife, Penny, in 2010. The couple saw a need for a Catholic school in which students like their daughter, Elena, who has Down syndrome, would not be segregated from her siblings. They wanted to keep their children together without compromising educational quality or spiritual formation.

“A classical education is, I think, the best education for a child with special needs because it is an education in everything that is beautiful, true, and good. It is perfect for these children,” Penny told CNA.

The school’s course schedule is configured so that students can move up or down grade levels by subject at each class hour, according to individual needs. “A second-grader might go to third grade math class and a child with Down syndrome in second grade might go over to first grade or might stay in second grade,” Michael Michalak explained. “Nobody is looking around and saying, 'Oh, they are going to special classroom.’ They are just going where they need to be.”

“In the midst of all of this we are not leaving students behind,” Penny added. “We keep our high academic standards while integrating students with special needs.”

Since its founding, the independent Catholic school has grown to a student body of 160. Other Catholic schools across the country have begun looking to Immaculata as a model, the Michalaks say.

“Whenever anyone visits our school, they always say, ‘Oh my goodness the joy of this place!’” Penny told CNA.

The couple attributes the school’s sense of joy to the Holy Spirit and “the joy of belonging.”

“Inclusion is more of a buzzword these days, but it is true that we all want to belong and we all want to be loved,” said Michael Michalek.

"Prayer is the air that we breathe. We start the day with prayer. Every class starts with a prayer and ends in a prayer,” said Penny, who entrusted the school to our Our Lady at the school’s founding with St. Maximilian Kolbe as its patron.

"Our whole philosophy is to teach every child as if we were teaching the Christ child, so that is how we handle each and every student," Penny continued.

A developing religious community, the Sisters of the Fiat, also teach at Immaculata. The sisters take an additional vow to serve those with with special needs, along with the traditional vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

The school’s founders say they are aware of their unique witness and role in a world where many children with Down syndrome are aborted. The estimated termination rate for children prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome in the United States is 67 percent; 77 percent in France; and Denmark, 98 percent, according to CBS News.

At the annual March for Life in Washington, DC, students from Immaculata Classical Academy hold signs that read, “Abortion is not the cure for Down syndrome." The students are united in mission as “a pro-life school” and pray together for an end to abortion for their brothers and sisters with Down syndrome around the world, Michalak said.

The Michalaks have also adopted three children with Down syndrome.

Michael sees the founding of a school like Immaculata as the natural Catholic response at a moment in history when children with Down syndrome are especially at risk.

"Look at what the Catholic Church has done throughout history: We see orphans; we build orphanages. We see sick people; we build hospitals. It is in this particular time and place that we saw the need to take the lead on this and to start a school that incorporates the whole family.”

His wife adds, “When you are doing something that you feel called by God to do, it is a vocation, it is a mission, it is a can you not be full of joy when you know that this is the will of God. It is very rewarding.”


This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 2, 2018.

Cardinal DiNardo discharged from hospital, expected to make full recovery

Houston, Texas, Mar 21, 2019 / 08:59 am (CNA).- Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston has been released from the hospital, following a mild stroke last week, his archdiocese announced March 20.

The cardinal, who serves as president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, is expected to make a full recovery.

DiNardo had suffered a stroke on the evening of March 15, while leading Stations of the Cross. He was admitted to St. Joseph’s Hospital.

According to the archdiocese, he has now “entered a standard rehabilitation program which usually lasts in the neighborhood of two weeks.”

“I could not be more grateful to the truly wonderful doctors and nurses at St. Joseph’s for their expert care and compassion, which has helped hasten my way down the road to a full recovery,” DiNardo said in a statement released by the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

“I am also doubly thankful for the many kindwishes and especially the prayers that have been directed towards my healing, which I can assure you are making a true difference. I look forward to getting back to work soon and continuing the important work we have before us.”  

DiNardo, 69, was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh in 1977. As a priest, he spent six years working in the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, and became Bishop of Sioux City, Iowa, in 1998. He became coadjutor bishop of Galveston-Houston in 2004, and was installed as archbishop of that archdiocese two years later.

DiNardo became a member of the College of Cardinals in 2007. He was the first Archbishop of Galveston-Houston to be appointed a cardinal.

The cardinal served as vice president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2013 to 2016. He began his three-year term as president of the conference in 2016.

The PA Grand-Jury Report: Not What It Seems

To hear the author discuss the origins and details of this project, listen to the extended segment on The Commonweal Podcast.



August 15 is the Feast of the Assumption, a “holy day of obligation,” when Catholics are expected to attend Mass. This year millions of Catholics went to church sick at heart. I was among them.

The day before, the attorney general of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania had released a grand-jury report declaring that hundreds of Catholic priests had sexually abused minors. The grand jury’s conclusions were summarized in reports that landed on the front pages of the New York Times and other newspapers around the world, as well as lead stories on all sorts of television news programs. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro spoke on The Today Show and nightly news broadcasts. No Catholics serious about their faith, indeed no one of any sensitivity, could have read about the report without feeling horror and shame. And anger. It was bad enough to read graphic accounts of anal and oral rape, sometimes combined with sacrilegious perversities; it was doubly appalling to be told that church leaders had systematically covered up these crimes and allowed abusers to go unchecked.

Within hours, the Pennsylvania grand-jury report was propelled to international status. The Vatican expressed “shame and sorrow.” Adjectives piled up from Catholic and secular sources: abominable, revolting, reprehensible, nauseating, diabolical. The New York Times editorialized on “The Catholic Church’s Unholy Stain.

Months have passed but the report’s impact has not. At least a dozen states have announced they would follow Pennsylvania in conducting their own investigations (Illinois issued a preliminary report in December); the Justice Department has suggested that it, too, might get into the act. Pope Francis has called for bishops from around the world to address the sex-abuse scandal at the Vatican in February, where the Pennsylvania report will undoubtedly be a chief exhibit—as it currently is for Catholics both on the right and the left writing farewells to the church.

In fact, the report makes not one but two distinct charges. The first one concerns predator priests, their many victims, and their unspeakable acts. That charge is, as far as can be determined, dreadfully true. Appalling as is this first charge, it is in fact the second one that has had the greatest reverberations. “All” of these victims, the report declares, “were brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institutions above all.” Or as the introduction to the report sums it up, “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all.”

Is that true?

Almost every media story of the grand-jury report that I eventually read or viewed was based on its twelve-page introduction and a dozen or so sickening examples.

On the basis of reading the report’s vast bulk, on the basis of reviewing one by one the handling of hundreds of cases, on the basis of trying to match diocesan replies with the grand jury’s charges, and on the basis of examining other court documents and speaking with people familiar with the grand jury’s work, including the attorney general’s office, my conclusion is that this second charge is in fact grossly misleading, irresponsible, inaccurate, and unjust. It is contradicted by material found in the report itself—if one actually reads it carefully. It is contradicted by testimony submitted to the grand jury but ignored—and, I believe, by evidence that the grand jury never pursued.

These conclusions are dramatically at odds with the public perception and reception of the report. Obviously they must be substantiated. To do that it is essential to examine, step by step, how this report was produced, organized, and presented; what it omits as well as includes; and finally whether a careful sampling of its contents supports its conclusions.

I realize that for many people, especially many angry and dismayed Catholics, such an inquiry flies in the face of almost overpowering headwinds. To question let alone challenge the report is unthinkable. It borders on excusing the crimes that bishops and other church leaders are accused of committing.

This resistance is understandable. The report came on the heels of revelations about ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s sexual abuse of both adult seminarians and two minors. Ten days later, accusations from a former Vatican official, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, essentially enlisted the abuse scandal into the ongoing war between Pope Francis and his critics. Lurking in the background were other abuse scandals in Ireland, Chile, and Australia. And lurking at a much deeper level are years of often confusing but always mortifying reports of sexual abuse by priests, inevitably reinforcing whatever doubts and disappointments Catholics have experienced.

Then there is the hard reality that not many people have actually read the report, let alone read it critically. That includes, I wager, even many of those publicly registering their outrage or privately nursing their spiritual distress. It includes, I can pretty safely add, the journalists on whose news accounts most of these people relied. Almost every media story of the grand-jury report that I eventually read or viewed was based on its twelve-page introduction and a dozen or so sickening examples the introduction and the report highlight, written in a language that Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court later called “incendiary.”

How could it be otherwise? The report was alternatively described as 884 or 1,356 pages long—more on that strange discrepancy later. As a lifelong perpetrator of journalism I know about deadlines and how dependent a reporter can be on a summary, an introduction, or a spokesperson like the attorney general of Pennsylvania. You have time only to read a tiny fraction of such a massive document. You cannot get knowledgeable, independent comment when no one else has read the document either. You turn to soundbites from church officials or victims’ advocates that echo established scripts of what a story is about.   

In this case it is a script about bishops, bishops who were fully aware of the dangers that predatory priests posed to children and adolescents but who nonetheless “shuttled” or “shuffled” them from parish to parish to shield the reputation of the church and the clergy. That script was engraved in the public mind by the Boston Globe’s 2002 revelations and by the litigation that followed. It was the script that brought a well-deserved best-screenplay Oscar to the movie Spotlight. It is the script that animates the Pennsylvania grand-jury report. And it is a script so familiar as to defy any questioning.

The third source of resistance to any reconsideration is the sheer awfulness of the abuse the report documents. “Hear this,” its introduction summons readers in the first sentence. You may have read about “child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, but never on this scale.” The prose is graphic in its sexual details. The third paragraph specifies masturbation, oral sex, and vaginal and anal rape, along with manipulation by alcohol and pornography. The next eleven pages describe some twenty abominable and especially grotesque cases of sexual perversity. I have heard reasonable people object that in grinding such details into our faces the report itself is manipulative. But then this is what sexual abuse of children and teenagers is. It’s not a legal or abstract concept, not a statistic. It is the most intimate kind of violation—whether perpetrated by a schoolteacher, coach, physician, or, above all, a person in a special relationship of responsibility and authority, like a parent or cleric.

Over the past three decades I have read scores of abuse survivors’ stories and heard directly dozens: stories of shattered trust, religious and sexual confusion, and years of life-derailing consequences. Some victims of course slough their abuse off, or at least appear to. For others, it trails them through depression, broken marriages, substance abuse, self-destructive crimes, petty or serious, even suicide. The report’s insistent cataloging of physical acts scarcely captures these human complexities, but it is a start.

The sad and infuriating stories in the report, even in their sometimes excruciatingly graphic detail, were not news to those of us who were reading newspapers and watching TV in 2002. “Reports of sexual abuse by priests of children and teenagers have taken on the dimensions of a biblical plague,” read a story on page one of the New York Times’s Sunday Week in Review. It mentioned estimates of victims over several decades ranging from 15,000 to 100,000. As the senior religion reporter at the Times from 1988 to 1997, I wrote that story in June 1993, almost a decade before the Boston Globe revelations.

Recalling such stories from the 1990s to 2002, I wondered whether Catholics and others had forgotten that flood of painful 2002 revelations, to say nothing of the prime-time exposés of the early 1990s. (In 2002 the Globe ran 770 Catholic sex-abuse stories, compared to twenty-five the year before; the New York Times ran 692.)  What about the 2004 and 2011 studies by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice concluding that 4,392 priests, between 4 and 5 percent of the Catholic clergy, had been responsible for more than 11,000 cases of sexual abuse between 1950 and 2002?  Had no one really taken to heart those earlier disclosures?

What precisely, I asked myself, did the Pennsylvania report tell us that was new?  Did it refute the crucial and widespread belief that the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People—passed by the Catholic bishops in June 2002, implemented nationwide, and backed by regular audits since then—had changed things dramatically? Did the report speak to the question, uppermost in many parents’ minds, whether children and teenagers were particularly at risk, right now, in Catholic schools and parishes, as media phrases like “the expanding Catholic sex-abuse scandals” or “a new wave of sex-abuse scandals” or sexual-abuse scandals now “engulfing the church” might reasonably suggest?

What did the report add to the intense and important debates about priestly celibacy, teachings on sexuality, ingrown clerical culture, church authority, homosexuality in the priesthood, and responsibility toward victims—to say nothing of older conflicts, going back to the Second Vatican Council and its aftermath, about contraception, women’s roles in the church, sexual ethics, religious education, Vatican authority, and any number of other issues big and small?

I have written elsewhere on many of these topics, in essays and a book that hardly cast a favorable light on the nation’s Catholic bishops or their handling of the sex-abuse crisis. I am not addressing those topics here. I am not taking sides in the smoldering arguments about Pope Francis. I am not asking who knew what, when, and how about Cardinal McCarrick. I am not floating new ways to assure episcopal accountability. I am looking only at the Pennsylvania report’s ringing charges about the handling of abuse: Are they true?    

Yet something even more basic triggers the resistance to any questioning of the Pennsylvania report—what is popularly labeled binary thinking. To question the report’s conclusions is to affirm the very opposite. If it is not true that all victims were “brushed aside,” then it must be true that no victims were ever brushed aside. If it is not true that church leaders routinely acted to protect their priests and institutions, then it must be true that no church leader ever did that.

That is not my claim. I believe that the grand jury could have reached precise, accurate, informing, and hard-hitting findings about what different church leaders did and did not do, what was regularly done in some places and some decades and not in others. It could have presented ample grounds for at least three of its four rather unoriginal recommendations without engaging in broad-brush denunciations. It could have confirmed and corrected much that we think we know about the causes and prevention of the sexual abuse of young people.

Instead the report chose a tack more suited to our hyperbolic, bumper-sticker, post-truth environment with its pronouncements about immigrant rapists and murderers, witch hunts, and deep-state conspiracies. Imagine, at least for a moment, that a declamation like “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all” came from one of our elected or televised demagogues. Would one really dismiss any fact-finding as uncalled for?

But it wasn’t a demagogic pundit or politician who chose that language right out of a nineteenth-century anti-papist tract. It was a grand jury. And therein lies a major misunderstanding.   

Investigating grand juries

It is ironic that people raising perfectly legitimate questions about the accountability of bishops should overlook questions about the accountability of investigating grand juries.

Grand juries are legal entities deeply rooted in common law and incorporated into the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. Their purpose is not to determine guilt or innocence but only whether there are sufficient grounds to bring an indictment and trigger a trial. The trial is where guilt or innocence will be determined by all the adversarial procedures of examining evidence and testimony presented by both sides under strict supervision by a judge. Grand juries do not operate under those rules. They hear evidence ex parte—that is, with no representation from those under investigation. They operate in secret. And in practice, they operate almost completely under the direction of a local, state, or federal prosecutor, a district attorney or attorney general, whose conclusions they almost invariably rubber-stamp.

For this reason grand juries have become controversial. Whether indictments are obtained or not may depend on the political needs of elected prosecutors, an issue raised by minority communities in regard to killings by white police. Investigating grand juries, like the one in Pennsylvania, has also proved problematic. Stanley H. Fuld, a noted jurist who was chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals, once pointed out that an indictment “is but the first step in a long process in which the accused may seek vindication through exercise of the right to a public trial, to a jury, to counsel, to confrontation of witnesses against him and, if convicted, to an appeal.” On the contrary, a grand-jury investigative report, “is at once an accusation and a final condemnation, and, emanating from a judicial body occupying a position of respect and importance in the community, its potential for harm is incalculable.” As a judicial document, a grand-jury report, Fuld continued, “carries the same sense of authoritative condemnation as an indictment does, without, however, according the accused the benefit of the protections accorded to one who is indicted.”

Fuld believed this potential for abuse was particularly great when an investigatory grand-jury report named names; and the Pennsylvania report of course names not only hundreds of predators, but also more than fifty bishops and diocesan administrators treated as similarly guilty. The report’s introduction makes no bones about its intention to be judge and jury, and to hand down convictions for “crimes that will go unpunished and uncompensated” otherwise: “This Report is our only recourse. We are going to name names and describe what they did—both the sex offenders and those who concealed them. We are going to shine a light on their conduct, because that is what the victims deserve.”

It is clear that most people have taken the Pennsylvania report as what Judge Fuld called an “authoritative condemnation” without realizing its limitations. It is ironic that people raising perfectly legitimate questions about the accountability of bishops should overlook questions about the accountability of investigating grand juries. The findings of such reports can only be challenged after they are made public: by those impugned, by informed critics, independent investigators, dissenting politicians, the media, and so on.

In the Pennsylvania case, of course, the bishops are paralyzed. Not only has their credibility been sullied by past failures, often by deceased predecessors, but they long ago recognized that their first priority, rightly, must be to avoid making any excuses for predatory crimes or “re-victimizing” survivors. Who else might fill this void? Liberal journalists, civil libertarians, or academics unhappy with Catholic teachings on abortion and same-sex marriage? ProPublicaFrontline? Conservative Catholics unhappy with Pope Francis? Liberal Catholics unhappy with a conservative hierarchy? Not likely.    

The report’s structure

The Pennsylvania report is divided into five parts, of very different proportions. Following Part I, that impassioned twelve-page Introduction, Part II devotes hundreds of pages to eighteen shocking, in some cases grotesque, examples of abuse, three from each of the six dioceses.

Otherwise Part II lists the bishops and other key officials of each diocese and all accused abusers over the past seven to eight decades. In almost boilerplate language, the grand jury declares that that it has found evidence in each diocese of sexual abuse (“grooming and fondling of the genitals” and “penetration of the vagina, mouth, or anus”); that bishops and administrators “had knowledge of this conduct” but regularly placed abusers in ministry despite complaints, thus enabling offenders and endangering children. Dioceses were found to have consulted with lawyers and reached confidential settlements with victims prohibiting them from speaking out. Likewise, dioceses were found to have dissuaded victims from going to the police or conducting their own “deficient, biased investigations” without reporting these crimes.

Obviously, this means not just that such things occurred sometimes and in some places over more than seven decades, but that they occurred regularly, routinely, and as the introduction states, “everywhere.”

Part III is a nine-page overview of “The Church and child abuse, past and present.” Part IV devotes six pages to spelling out the recommendations mentioned in the introduction.

Then, in a 569-page “Appendix of Offenders,” the report profiles, diocese by diocese, all priests, deacons, or seminarians against whom the report concludes credible allegations of abuse have been found.  The report calls those profiles of more than three hundred priests possibly its “most important” and “final” section. Indeed, in some PDFs of the report online, including, shockingly, the one on the website of the attorney general’s office, the document ends there, at page 884. In fact, more than 450 pages follow. These consist of photocopied responses from dioceses, former bishops, other diocesan officials, and even some accused priests protesting their innocence. Many of these documents raise important questions or present substantial criticisms. Although the report states that dioceses were invited to submit statements about their recent policies, there are no substantive grand-jury comments or replies.   

This organization is effective, lopsided, and unwieldy. Effective because of the dramatic, almost inflammatory rhetoric of the introduction and then because of the chosen eighteen examples. Lopsided, because the report devotes well over eight hundred pages to its chosen examples and encyclopedic “Profiles in Abuse.” Fewer than fifty pages, including that introduction, are devoted to the grand jury’s own analysis, findings, and recommendations. Unwieldy, because hundreds of pages separate each diocese’s three “horribles” from its complete roster of offenders in the appendix and again from any of the responses. Whether scrolling online or rustling through pages in print, it is daunting to track the claims and replies.

What is in the report—and what is not

U.S. bishops cast their votes on the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People at their 2002 meeting in Dallas (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Before examining more closely what is in the report, it is important to ask what isn’t. Beyond those references to more than 300 predator priests—actually 301—and more than 1,000 child victims, to dozens of witnesses and half-a-million subpoenaed church documents, there are almost no numerical markers. There is, for example, no calculation of how many ordained men served in those six dioceses since 1945, a figure that might either verify or challenge previous estimates of the prevalence of sexual abuse among the clergy. There are no efforts to discern statistical patterns in the ages of abusers, the rates of abuse over time, the actions of law enforcement, or changes in responses by church officials.

Nor are there comparisons to other institutions. One naturally wonders what a seventy-to-eighty-year scrutiny of sex abuse in public schools or juvenile penal facilities would find.

That huge timespan results in some memorable cases.  Martin J. Fleming, for example, was born in 1869, the year Ulysses S. Grant became president. He was ordained in 1898, a few months after Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders captured San Juan Hill. He died in 1950, when Harry Truman was president. Fifty-six years later, in 2006, the Diocese of Venice, Florida, notified the Scranton, Pennsylvania, diocese that a woman reported having been abused by Father Fleming in 1940 when she was six. She was now in heart failure and wanted to “put all of her ducks in a row.” Whatever occurred—the report is untypically reticent—had haunted her for more than six decades, caused emotional distress, and led her to seek counseling. The bishop of Scranton and staff members promptly met with her, called the abuse an abomination, voiced sorrow over her wounded childhood, and encouraged therapy.

Even without details, one can imagine this woman’s recurring pain; one can speculate that she was not the only victim; one can wonder what else was locked into secrecy or denial in a very different era. But all these unknowns from the first half of the twentieth century seem well beyond the bounds of what presents itself as a rigorous legal investigation.      

Is this example exceptional? Yes, but not unique. One can say the same of some examples the report spotlights.

In fact, one could find similar examples where the investigation’s span of more than seven decades—and gaps of half a century between likely abuse and the first word of it to reach church officials—raise questions about the report’s concept of accountability.

But the report’s chosen timespan and unexplained notion of accountability are merely symptoms of a larger issue. What is missing from the report, above all, is any sense of history. The report treats the more than seven decades from 1945 until yesterday as a block. That is a long time in the life of even the most basic institutions. Could you inquire into family breakdown since 1945 or patterns of sexual activity over that timespan without giving considerable attention to demography, single parenthood, feminism, contraceptives, the “Sixties,” gay rights, and changing norms regarding autonomy, privacy, and personal fulfillment? Or, for another instance, race relations? Could you accurately describe the period from World War II to yesterday without highlighting the civil-rights movement, the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, and the election of Barack Obama?

My own first encounter with sexual abuse came when I had just turned seventeen. I was working at a Boy Scout camp and discovered and managed to inform higher-ups that a camp official was abusing fourteen-year-old “trainees.” He was fired, and that was that. But of course it wasn’t. A school teacher, he moved to another state where, through an extraordinary coincidence, I learned years later that he continued to molest. That experience in the summer of 1958 sensitized me to the radical and welcome changes in societal responses to sexual abuse since the hush-hush attitudes that then prevailed among parents, victims, health care professionals, and law enforcement officials as well as Boy Scout authorities. It took time to recognize that child molestation, once portrayed as a threat from lurking strangers in raincoats, could be the work of family friends, doting uncles, Scoutmasters, physicians, fathers and stepfathers, or even an admired clergyman. It took even longer for therapists, judges, and legislatures to decide what to do about it.

As for Catholicism, the Second Vatican Council, along with major social changes, disrupted the church and the shame and silence imposed by its deferential culture. Jogged by lawsuits and publicity and the very fact of increasing instances of abuse, bishops’ responses began to change, belatedly but significantly, in the late 1980s to mid-1990s. Attitudes took a definitive turn in 2002 with the bishops’ adoption of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, passed in the wake of the Boston Globe’s revelations. Even sex abuse by priests has a history. If we are to believe the findings of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, it increased in the latter 1960s, spiked in the ’70s, and declined in the ’80s.

The writers of the report from the attorney general’s office struggle mightily to discount this reality. The report’s conclusions about abuse and coverup are stated in timeless fashion. Whenever change is acknowledged, the language is begrudging.

Readers who persevere to page 297 will find a mere eight pages devoted to “The Church and sex abuse: past and present,” i.e., before 2002 and after. Four pages simply expand on the opinions attributed to FBI “experts” cited in the introduction. These are said to demonstrate that euphemisms for sexual abuse found in church records (and evidently not elsewhere) are part of a “playbook” for concealment. This claim culminates in a half-page full-color chart illustrating this “circle of secrecy.” The phrase “circle of secrecy” and the corresponding analysis are attributed to then-Pittsburgh Bishop Donald Wuerl, who went on to serve as cardinal archbishop of Washington. (He recently resigned.)

If curious or determined readers turn to page 1,124 of the report, they will discover that the words “circle of secrecy” are (a) not Wuerl’s and (b) have nothing to do with the way that the report uses them. Scribbled on a 1993 request from an offending priest for a return to ministry, the phrase signaled that despite his apparent recovery, the priest could not have an assignment without full public disclosure of his past conduct and treatment. As it happens, the priest’s request was refused. And the jotting wasn’t Wuerl’s. Before the report was issued, Wuerl informed the attorney general of this. His correction was ignored. The “circle of secrecy” concept and impressive chart appear to be entirely the concoction of the report’s writers.

The next four pages correctly identify the 2002 Boston Globe exposé as critical in compelling the Catholic hierarchy to draft and implement the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. “On the whole,” the report allows, “the Charter did move things in the right direction.” But virtually every paragraph before and after that concession is skillfully written so as to minimize or dismiss the Charter’s importance.

The grand-jury report prides itself on being a “historical record,” but this passing gesture toward a history is a caricature. It registers absolutely no account of the lengthy documents submitted to the grand jury by the six dioceses.

These submissions can be captured by what Bishop Edward C. Malesic, the recently appointed bishop of Greensburg, stated for himself and his own diocese. The essential response to the grand jury’s report, he wrote in italics, “can be summarized in five words: This is not today’s Church.”

As evidence, he and each of the other dioceses documented detailed policies, some dating from the mid-1990s but constantly updated and tightened, especially since the 2002 Dallas Charter, for facilitating and investigating allegations; suspending accused priests and removing them from all ministry if accusations prove credible; prompt reporting of allegations to law enforcement; establishing and empowering lay review boards with professional expertise to guide the bishop; offering outreach and assistance to victims; screening seminarians; instituting extensive preventative measures including rigorous background checks and mandatory training for all church workers and volunteers dealing with children and adolescents; education of parents; and opening all such programs to regular auditing by independent agencies. After 2002, some dioceses combed their files or opened them to district attorneys to make sure no abusing priests were still in ministry.

There is no reason, of course, why a grand jury has to take such diocesan testimony at face value. Perhaps the impressive policies for handling and reporting allegations or assisting victims exist only on paper rather than in practice. Perhaps the impressive numbers of clergy, educators, youth workers, and employees vetted and trained, parents and students informed, dollars spent, and audits conducted are false, flimflam trumped up for public-relations purposes. Perhaps these impressive safeguards, many of which are less than two decades old, operate effectively in some dioceses, but not in others. These are serious possibilities that a serious grand-jury investigation might have looked into. There is not the slightest indication, not the slightest, that the grand jury even sought to give serious attention to the kind of extensive, detailed testimony that the dioceses submitted regarding their current policies and programs.

The lack of historical consciousness blinds the grand-jury report to two other factors essential to understanding church officials’ responses to accusations of abuse. One was the recourse to therapeutic treatment. The other was the frequent gap between the time of abuse and the time of accusation. For both factors, the year 2002 was critical.    

Recourse to treatment

The report’s conclusions about abuse and coverup are stated in timeless fashion. Whenever change is acknowledged, the language is begrudging.

By the mid-1980s Catholic leaders began to emerge, all too unevenly, from their state of clerical denial and psychological cluelessness regarding sexual abuse. It was increasingly recognized that abuse of minors was not simply a sin requiring repentance, perhaps a retreat, and “a firm purpose of amendment”; such misconduct signaled a serious psychological pathology. Bishops began sending accused clergy for evaluation and treatment to a handful of treatment centers, mostly church-related and often originally founded to treat clerics suffering from alcoholism. At a time when official church procedures made removing individuals entirely from the priesthood an uncertain and prolonged affair, this “therapeutic option” seemed more promising. Unlike laicization it also seemed to maintain leverage over treated priests to comply with ongoing monitoring, restrictions, and aftercare.

Serious questions about these centers and their effectiveness remain open. The litigation seeking compensation for victims, which has overwhelmingly informed and framed media coverage of the clergy sex-abuse scandal, has targeted bishops. The treatment centers have largely escaped public attention, except when victims’ lawyers argued that these centers were either telling the bishop, who was after all paying for their services, whatever he wanted to hear or giving him cover even when he ignored their recommendations. In fact, it was a controversial director of St. Luke Institute in Maryland who first raised the alarm that clergy abuse was not a problem of a few bad apples but a systemic one. Many individuals staffing those centers had good professional qualifications. Recidivism, they believed, was exceptional.    

As a reporter, I visited St. Luke in 1992. I was impressed with the staff’s professionalism, the rigor of their methods (at least as described to me), and their argument that it was better for endangered youth and the church to treat priests over whom the church retained considerable leverage than to “cut them loose” on society by laicizing them. I went away wondering if these dedicated professionals were overestimating their skills. But I also went away understanding why quite conscientious bishops, not just obtuse ones worried only about public image and protecting their clergy, would turn to the centers as the best option.

In some cases, this confidence proved misplaced. Some centers were definitely subpar. The Servants of the Paraclete’s center in Jemez Springs, New Mexico, appears to have been a particular disaster, releasing “guests” still under treatment to do parish work around the Southwest—and creating many more victims. One notorious case was James Porter, sent there in 1967 from Fall River, Massachusetts; Porter continued to molest minors both as a priest and ex-priest until he was tracked down and arrested in 1993 after a sensational Primetime Live broadcast hosted by Diane Sawyer. The center closed its doors in the face of lawsuits in the 1990s and was no longer around when a flood of later accusations and lawsuits emerged.

There is much still unknown about these psychiatric programs. In 1992, therapists at St. Luke were well aware of cases like Porter’s from two decades before and insisted that knowledge and treatment were now “lightyears ahead.” Grave differences among centers appear to have persisted, however. The report begs this whole question by referring to “evaluation” and “diagnosis” and “treatment” in scare quotes, clearly implying that these were disingenuous maneuvers by bishops to cover up their irresponsibility.   

In any case, the Dallas Charter’s zero-tolerance policy put an end to this “therapeutic option.”  After 2002, no priest ever found credibly accused of abusing a minor, no matter how far in the past and regardless of whether the offender was now considered successfully treated, could remain in ministry.

The discrepancy of dates

There is an unforgettable scene at the end of Spotlight when the Boston Globe has gone to press with the first of its articles exposing abuse in the Boston archdiocese. All the phones in the newsroom start ringing with calls from victims finally empowered to report their own experiences from years or decades before. This frequent gap of many years between sexual abuse and victims’ coming forward is a widely recognized reality. It is crucial to understanding the psychological toll of abuse and the drive to extend statutes of limitations. It is also crucial to tracking the response of church officials.

When initial credible allegations against predatory priests were made after the Dallas Charter in 2002, the priests were automatically removed from ministry as quickly as possible. Many of the newly accused were in fact already retired, inactive, or deceased. In Pennsylvania, as across the nation, a sizeable percentage of initial accusations were post-2002. (Some in Pennsylvania seem to have been triggered by the Penn State University scandal in 2011.) Determining the dates when word of abuse first came to church officials is not always easy from the grand-jury report’s profiles, which often dwell on the sexual acts of the molester and sometimes the devastating effect on the victims. The profiles do not follow any uniform template: when abuses were committed, when reported, and how they were handled. There are no decade-by-decade summaries of how many priests were credibly accused, retained in active or restricted ministry, sent into treatment, removed from active ministry, and/or laicized.

Certainly the trauma and stigma that kept these victims silent demand self-scrutiny by both the church and the larger culture. But anyone investigating the decisions that church officials made should be aware that, by my estimate, the allegations against at least one-third of the 301 offenders profiled came to light only after 2002, i.e., when the decision to remove them from active ministry was established policy.

Examining the contents

This brings us to the substance of the report itself. Does it substantiate its sweeping and damning condemnations of the bishops and other church leaders?

Let us simply look at one diocese. I have chosen Erie for a number of reasons. In response to the grand-jury investigation, Bishop Lawrence Persico, who has led the diocese since 2012, commissioned an independent study of its handling of sex abuse by a team from K&L Gates, a Pittsburgh-based international-law firm. The team of investigators and lawyers was headed by a former federal prosecutor and given access to all diocesan files and personnel. The team interviewed 113 people and examined more than 100,000 documents, a deeper dive into the diocese’s record than the grand jury’s. In addition, the Erie diocese was led from 1990 to 2012 by Bishop Donald W. Trautman. Many bishops from the time period covered by the report are either deceased or now leading other dioceses. Bishop Trautman is neither. As Erie’s bishop during twenty-two crucial years for the sex-abuse scandal yet no longer constrained by the pastoral priorities of active bishops, he was well placed to speak candidly in his own extended response. Thus there are three points of reference—the report’s summaries of abuse and church actions; Erie’s independent Gates study; and Bishop Trautman’s response. All three are united in expressing sorrow and contrition for, in Trautman’s words, the “horrible and sinful acts” of abusers and their “terrible impact” on victims.

There are forty-one Erie offenders profiled in the report, including the three notable examples described at length. One of the three masturbated at least a dozen thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds under the pretext of performing “cancer checks” on their penises. A second priest, known to have a violent personality, was accused of extended relationships with both an underaged female and male along with instances of brutal assaults. The third priest admitted to anal and oral sex with boys seven to twelve years old.

In all three cases, the abuse came to light in the mid-1980s, under Bishop Michael J. Murphy, Bishop Trautman’s predecessor. The abuse itself went back a decade or more earlier. Murphy sent accused priests for evaluation and, if necessary, treatment, mainly to St. Luke and Southdown, a well-respected center in Canada. Trautman sometimes did so as well although his practice seems to have been not to return any to parish ministry, not even with the center’s recommended restrictions. Having inherited the three outstanding examples from Murphy, Trautman “grandfathered” them, abiding by their agreements with his predecessor to submit to psychiatrically prescribed monitoring and aftercare—unless, Trautman added, some further allegations arose from their pre-treatment pasts. Which in each case happened.

The first priest was already limited to ministries having no proximity to children when Trautman took office in 1990. The second priest had been assigned to a parish by Murphy after treatment, and Trautman let him remain there until he retired in 2000. In 2002, allegations were made about that priest’s conduct in the 1960s and ’70s. Within weeks, Trautman suspended him from the priesthood and eventually had him defrocked. Immediately after taking office, Trautman met with the third priest, now apparently “clean” after four years in therapy for sexual and substance abuse. Bishop Murphy had assigned him to a parish in 1987 and Trautman left him there until 1992 when, following the advice of the priest-personnel board, Trautman reassigned him, again barring him from being alone with children. A year later, having received a fresh allegation of the priest’s abuse in the early 1970s, Trautman restricted him to nursing homes and certain units of a VA hospital. In 2002, when allegations arose of other abuse in the late 1960s, Trautman withdrew him from ministry altogether and moved to have him laicized.

Briefly, that is the story of the three with Trautman’s input. The grand-jury report reads very differently. It stresses not concerns for victims and potential victims but legal precautions, secrecy, and public pressures as the motivation for all diocesan actions. People known to have abused, it says, were reassigned “multiple times” and remained “cloaked in the authority of the priesthood.” The emphatic language of Trautman’s eventual appeals to Rome for laicization is cited as belated admissions of awful conduct that had been previously known but hidden. In the case of Trautman’s initial meeting with the apparently “clean” priest in aftercare after undergoing treatment, the report quotes Trautman’s impression that the priest was “a person of candor and sincerity” whom he had complimented on “the progress he has made.”     

What to make of such differences? Obviously there is an asymmetry in prominence. The report’s account appears on page 4 and again at great length on pages 69–142. Trautman’s appears on page 982. (In the Office of the Attorney General's online version, Trautman’s account does not of course appear at all.) For Trautman, the report is “artful,” and “misleading” in quoting selectively while ignoring the overall pattern found in both his own testimony and the independent study submitted by the diocese to the grand jury. In particular, he points to numerous omissions.

The report, for instance, states—accurately—that Trautman reassigned the first of the three examples “multiple times.” The report omits that these reassignments were to a chaplaincy at a nursing home, a senior-living facility, and briefly a hospital and several jails for adults. The priest was forbidden to function as a priest outside these chaplaincies and eventually to wear any priestly garb. Faced with resistance, Trautman successfully moved to have him defrocked.   

Omitted, too, is the fact, according to Trautman, that “none of these priests is known to have reoffended.” Whatever the wisdom, in retrospect, of maintaining these priests even in restricted and monitored ministries, that fact seems pertinent and deserving of mention.       

The report also omits that Trautman, in twenty-two years as bishop, personally met or attempted to meet every victim and provided pastoral counseling and funds for therapy.

It omits his decision in 2002 to have all diocesan files reviewed by the Erie County district attorney, who concluded that “no offenders remained in a position where they would present a danger.”   

It also omits his establishment in 2003 of the Diocesan Office for the Protection of Children and Youth with full-time workers, as well as the diocese’s prompt notification of law enforcement in Pennsylvania or elsewhere whenever new allegations emerged.

Although acknowledging that some of his decisions “might be subject to critique,” there is no evidence, Trautman wrote to the grand jury, that he “moved priests from parish to parish to ‘cover up’ abuse” and “no pattern or practice of putting the Church’s image or a priest’s reputation above the protection of children.”

“All of the above facts can be derived from diocesan records and information that was available to the grand jury,” Trautman wrote. “None are in the report. Is that fair? Is that a balanced attempt to report full facts?”

Another view

The contrasting stories told by the report and Bishop Trautman can also be checked against the Gates study commissioned by the diocese. The Gates study does not mince words: “Within the Erie Diocese,” it acknowledges, “horrific abuse occurred—and was concealed—from as early as the 1940s through the 1980s. Less systematic but equally reprehensible acts occurred in later years when criminals within the Church took advantage of the trust previously given to all clergy.”

The Gates study proceeds to give an example representing the “historical failures” of the church. In 1994, allegations surfaced that then-Fr. Michael Barletta had abused students in the 1970s and ’80s, long before Trautman’s tenure. But Trautman contacted a priest who had lived in a rectory with Barletta. This fellow priest described witnessing the accused with a naked teenager in the 1970s and reporting this to then-Bishop Alfred Watson. “Mind your own business,” Watson had told him; “go back to the rectory, and be a good priest.” According the diocesan study, “Watson then proceeded to transfer Barletta to a different school, where Barletta then abused additional teenagers.” This was a classic case of the “shuttling” or “shuffling” of an abuser from one parish to another, adding new abuse to the damage already done.

“Before 1982,” the Gates study concludes, “abuse allegations were not properly handled.... Bishop Watson’s tenure from 1969 to 1982 is marred by numerous abuse cases, along with a complete disregard for protecting children from accused priests.”

That changed, “although inadequately by today’s standards,” the Gates study found, with Bishop Murphy’s arrival in 1982. Murphy assigned accused priests to ministries “where children were not present, such as the military, a nursing home, or a convent.” As already noted, he also availed himself of medical professionals.

The Gates study is not uncritical of Bishop Trautman, stating that he “improved the practices” but “could have been better in certain areas.” One was the monitoring of priests working or living under restrictions, a criticism Trautman contests but one expressed by some diocesan priests. Another was in “informing the public of priest disciplinary issues”—an important point to be taken up later.

Nonetheless, in many specifics, the Gates study is highly supportive of practices begun and expanded under Trautman. Under him, the study says, “The Erie Diocese promulgated its first child protection policy over 30 years ago, well before the Church required such a policy and well before the devastating newsmaking events at the Boston Archdiocese, Penn State, USA Gymnastics, and other high-profile institutions.”

“It would be unfair to provide the public with only half of the story,” the Gates study declares.

Summing up Erie

Donald W. Trautman, the former bishop of Erie, Pennsylvania (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Is that what the report does? Or worse? Did church leaders in the Erie diocese ignore complaints or accusations? Did they reassign priests without regard to the danger to minors? Were victims “brushed aside,” deterred or pressured from going to the police and not offered help? Was all this done to “protect the abusers and their institutions”? Or to put it more graphically, as the report does not hesitate to do, is it true that the while “priests were raping little boys and girls,” the “men of God” in the Erie diocese “did nothing” except hide it?

A careful review of the report’s own evidence from Erie, corrected here and there by the Gates study and Trautman’s testimony, shows that the answers to those questions are, overwhelmingly, “no.”

As well as can be determined by the report’s profiles, in approximately one-third of the offenders, the diocese received the first accusations of past abuse between 2002 and 2017.  Four of the accused clerics were long dead; a number had retired or left the priesthood of their own accord long ago.  Under the zero-tolerance provision of the Dallas Charter, those remaining in ministry were promptly barred from all priestly roles and public identification and, when needed, defrocked.

In this one-third of cases that were simply unknown, church leaders can hardly be said to have “brushed aside” victims, done nothing, hid, and reassigned predators. When the abuse did become known, the available evidence indicates that victims were sympathetically contacted and offered counseling and assistance, and the crimes reported to the DA.

What was the pattern in the other two-thirds? The bulk of abuse occurred between 1965 and 1985, fitting the pattern uncovered by the John Jay research, but almost all of it came to light after 1982, during the tenures of Bishops Murphy and Trautman. In four instances when abuse became known to their predecessors, one could say, as the Gates study does, that it was addressed with “complete disregard for the protection of children.” But the report’s profiles provide no basis for the charge that over three decades and the vast number of cases, Murphy, Trautman, and Persico  “brushed aside” victims, reassigned accused priests without concern for dangers to children, or deterred victims from going to the law. There is no evidence that either Murphy or Trautman sent priests to treatment centers as a ruse simply to hide rather than remove the danger. When new allegations underlined the extent of past abuse, Trautman in particular acted with dispatch to remove these priests from ministry. He reached out personally to victims and did not discourage them from going to the police or prosecutors.

Having reached those conclusions from poring over the available evidence, I belatedly discovered that Pennsylvania’s Office of the Attorney General, in a little noticed legal document, had basically conceded as much last August. (See sidebar.)

Gaps in the report’s profiles of Erie offenders make some cases difficult to track, including three instances where priests moved from the diocese to Hawaii, Texas, and, briefly, New York. But even allowing for misjudgments and uncertainties, what the Erie profiles show overall not only rebuts the report’s charges but, in fact, stands in sharp contrast to the standard narrative of the sex-abuse scandal, i.e., that bishops responded to accusations of abuse by knowingly shuffling dangerous priests from parish to parish.

Pause, necessary pause. To say that is not to deny or diminish the inexcusable suffering inflicted on victims, at the time or in the long years that followed. It is not to say that such shuffling never occurred under earlier bishops. It is only to say that the grand jury’s own evidence does not substantiate the prevailing script about how predators got away with committing and recommitting their crimes. Instead, the report’s evidence shows that—to repeat—for over three decades and in the vast bulk of cases, Erie’s bishops did not respond to accusations of abuse by knowingly shuffling dangerous priests from parish to parish.   

The definition of “hiding”

A review of Erie’s response to the sex-abuse crisis also highlights one of the most contentious issues in the Catholic sex-abuse scandal: publicizing names of presumed but never-convicted predators. This is part of a larger concern, central to the grand-jury report, that bishops and other church officials not only “did nothing” while “priests were raping little boys and girls” but also “hid it all.”

The report’s word-for-word findings against every diocese construe “hiding” as (1) discouraging victims from going to the police; (2) pressuring law enforcement from investigating; or (3) not reporting crimes against children but rather conducting “their own deficient, biased investigating.” The last charge is more than slightly ironic, since perhaps 90 percent or more of offenders the report lists were identified not by the police but by those “deficient” diocesan investigations.

In fact, the report contains scant evidence of Erie church officials dissuading people from taking sex-abuse charges to the police, although one can assume that Catholic deference to clerical authority and the culture’s general sexual taboos once made dissuasion hardly necessary. In 2002, the Dallas Charter mandated reporting all allegations to public authorities, cooperating in investigations, and advising victims of their rights. The profiles indicate that Erie had been regularly reporting allegations of abuse by that date, even if the report and diocesan officials sometimes joust over what records of reporting exist.   

What about “hiding” abuse or abusing clergy by settlements including confidentiality agreements? That issue has been debated for decades. Some lawyers have declared that such agreements should be rejected in principle. Other well-known victims’ lawyers have disagreed. Litigation can be prolonged or chancy. Whatever facilitates a settlement, they maintain, should be the priority for their clients. And of course in some cases it may well be the victims who want to remain unnamed.

Again, the Dallas Charter mandated in 2002 that dioceses were not to seek settlements requiring confidentiality unless the victim requested it. The grand-jury profiles show eight Erie settlements over the years. The dates are not clear, nor is anything specified about the church requiring confidentiality agreements. The priests being sued, in any case, were no longer in ministry.

Yet the question of “hiding” goes beyond that, too. There is no question that sexual abuse has been unconscionably hidden, first of all by molesters themselves who lured altar boys or other victims to a rectory bedroom or a country camper and then frightened them into secrecy, and second by other priests or church officials who shrugged off accusations and pressed victims or families to drop them, or third, and most notoriously, by bishops who fully recognized the threat such a priest posed and yet bounced him to a distant parish just to keep word from getting around.

Were bishops who put accused priests on “health leave” for what was considered reputable professional evaluation or treatment engaged in similarly meretricious conduct? For the report, “health leave” is always a euphemistic coverup. What about bishops who removed priests entirely from the clergy, informed legal authorities of accusations, but did not go further in publicly announcing and explaining these actions?     

The Dallas Charter declared that dioceses should “be open and transparent in communicating with the public about sexual abuse of minors by clergy within the confines of respect for the privacy and the reputation of the individuals involved. This is especially so with regard to informing parish and other communities directly affected.” The phrasing suggests a balancing act.

After the Dallas Charter mandated removing all credibly accused priests from any form of priestly ministry or identification, victims’ advocates began urging—and some bishops began implementing—a further step: the naming of all credibly accused priests from the past, regardless of whether they were barred from ministry, defrocked, or even deceased. The rationale was to empower past victims to come forward and seek recognition, help, and recompense. The focus shifted from preventing future abuse to redressing past abuse.

This is an area in which Erie’s policy under Bishop Persico differs from that under Bishop Trautman. Currently the Erie diocese prominently displays a long list of individuals “credibly accused of actions that, in the diocese’s judgment, disqualify that person from working with children.” It includes priests and lay teachers, employees, and volunteers. It lists the living and the long dead, including Bishop Watson—for failing “to act to stop abuse which was credibly reported to him.”

Bishop Trautman followed a different course. Neither in removing priests from ministry nor in any later list like the one the diocese now provides did he publicize the names of abusers. In the written response submitted to the grand jury, Trautman affirms that “rightly or wrongly, it was his judgment that publicity would harm, not help victims, and that the relatives of accused priests should not face the public ridicule and scorn that would follow publication of the dismissal or suspension of an accused priest. This was often consistent with requests of the victims, many of whom informed the Bishop that they did not want the names of the offending priest publicized for fear that they would be connected with the name and it could injure both their recovery and the life they had built.” Trautman also pointed out, “No federal, state or canonical law required that the names be made public.”

The problem with publicizing

Why can’t a report devoting 800 pages to detailing sex acts devote more than a dozen or so to a fine-grained analysis and precisely tailored findings? Why the virtually identical sweeping and damning charges across the board?

Trautman’s policy, which Erie’s independent Gates study judged “less transparent” than Bishop Persico’s, makes a certain sense. But so does the demand for fully publicizing the names of those credibly accused. In fact, it is increasingly becoming the default position of dioceses (and religious orders) across the country, especially as investigations like Pennsylvania’s seem likely to release names in any case.   

Doing so, of course, poses problems. Nowadays the consensus is that, given the trauma and shame connected with such experiences, most people alleging being molested in their youth are telling the truth. The burden of proof, pace pronouncements to the contrary, has been reversed. Anyone forcefully accused is now presumed guilty, or at least very probably guilty, until proven innocent. Among the offenders listed in the report, a good number have had little chance to defend themselves, certainly not in court, and no chance at all when accusations emerged only after their deaths.

Consider the case of Fr. Richard D. Lynch. He died in 2000. Four years later, a man phoned the diocese complaining about feminism in the church and mentioning a “sexual involvement years ago” by his high-school headmaster, Fr. Lynch. The caller said that in 1978, when the caller was a senior in high school, he was cleaning a locker room when Fr. Lynch touched him in a private area and slammed him against a wall. At a 2004 meeting with Bishop Trautman and another Erie administrator, the man claimed he had subsequently needed back surgery. Notes from that meeting state that the man has “psychological issues,” is easily agitated, but “usually calms down as you talk with him.” He was advised of his legal right to report sexual misconduct to the district attorney.

Ten years later, in 2014, the accuser reemerged. A series of letters showed him embroiled in a quarrel about his parents’ burial plot at a Catholic cemetery. Then writing to Bishop Persico in 2016 from Albion State prison, the man complained about his treatment by two deacons assigned to prison ministry—and again alleged sexual abuse by Fr. Lynch. Acknowledging that he had been previously inconsistent in alleging sexual abuse as well as physical abuse from Lynch, he attributed this to shame. In a 45-minute meeting with a deacon at prison he mostly complained about how poorly the church was run. Later he asked for “a check for $20,000 to just close the books on this era,” adding, “I’m trying to keep it quiet so that this case never becomes public.” Bishop Persico reported all these allegations to the district attorney’s and child safety offices and wrote the man that the diocese was interested in healing rather than keeping things quiet. It might be tempting to treat this accuser as a disgruntled crank. In fact, neither Bishop Trautman in 2004 nor Bishop Persico after 2014 nor any other church personnel appear to have done so; after all, victims of sex abuse often end up very troubled. But no other allegations against Fr. Lynch were ever recorded.

That has not kept him from being included among the grand jury’s “offenders.” And the Erie diocese publicly lists Lynch among a group “currently under investigation, and each is presumed innocent unless proven otherwise.”

Is Fr. Lynch, now dead for eighteen years, really “currently under investigation” but “presumed innocent unless proven otherwise”?  When will that investigation be completed? In what sense can he be “presumed innocent” when included on a widely publicized list of priests and other church personnel “credibly accused” of abusing or being threats to children?  To say nothing of being listed as an “offender” by a state grand jury?

Not long ago the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court caught the whole nation up in a debate over the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Fierce debates even surround the legitimacy and operation of federal and state sex-offender registries—and those apply to individuals legally tried and convicted, not just designated as “credibly accused” by a diocese or other entity. Yet virtually no one has raised questions about a grand jury, an attorney general, or a diocese authoritatively pronouncing so many priests and bishops guilty of awful crimes, many without any hearing or opportunity for defending themselves.

This is not the place to resolve this dilemma. There are plausible arguments on all sides. What the Pennsylvania report does, however, is to erect publicizing of the names of all credibly accused or suspected abusers, present or past, alive or dead, having had an opportunity to respond to accusations or not, as an indisputable standard. Anything less the report condemns as essentially criminal “hiding.” If this is to be the case, it should not be unilaterally declared by a grand jury but established by statute and applied to all organizations rather than the Catholic Church alone.

Is Erie an exception?

If a careful perusal of the report’s own profiles from the Erie diocese refutes the broad-brush charges against church officials that have gained worldwide notice, so what? Couldn’t these charges be true of other dioceses and their leaders?

Each diocese has its own history, some better, some worse, as my sampling of hundreds of profiles of offenders reveals. These profiles were no doubt challenging to write from uneven diocesan files; as noted, they do not follow any standard template but vary from diocese to diocese, probably depending on what staff member of the attorney general’s office wrote them. The gaps in these summaries may leave no doubt about the insidious seductions and brutal violations of molesters but often reveal little about the motives of church officials. Bureaucratic reflex? Willful denial? Deliberate coverup? Commendable vigilance?   

Like Erie, every diocese has its especially shameful cases, usually dating from earlier decades. Monsignor Thomas J. Kinzling, the chancellor and vicar general of the Greensburg diocese between 1984 and 1988, submitted written testimony to the grand jury describing the responses of Bishop William G. Connare (1960–87) as dismissive and deceptive. (It should be added that Kinzling also makes strong criticisms of the report, and that Connare is no longer alive to defend himself.)

Allentown’s profiles, like Erie’s, indicate a high percentage of offenders (fifteen out of thirty-six) not accused until 2002 or much later, when there was no longer any question of reassigning or retaining them in active ministry—if they were not already dead, retired, or laicized. Unlike Erie, however, Allentown relied on evaluation and treatment by the Servants of the Paraclete’s facilities in New Mexico, later to be harshly criticized. In at least nine cases, mostly in the 1980s, although it cannot be said that diocesan leaders “did nothing,” they were sadly deaf or blind to dangers posed to children, in some cases shockingly so.   

In 1993, Scranton, under Bishop Joseph C. Timlin, became one of the first dioceses nationwide to institute a systematic policy for handling allegations and referring charges to a diocesan board of lay people professionally qualified in areas like psychiatry, social work, and law enforcement. These measures followed the 1991 arrest of a priest whose history constituted a classic example of how extensive accusations of abuse from parents and a pastor were handled in 1968. The priest offered an unconvincing denial, was sent off for a spiritual retreat, then returned to ministry. The grand jury’s profiles of Scranton’s offenders are atypically terse, but many indicate prompt removal of accused priests from ministry and commendable announcements in parish bulletins seeking other victims. Those actions contrast with Bishop Timlin’s occasionally jarring expressions of solicitude for abusing priests. Especially troubling was his irresponsible 1998 decision to invite into the diocese a small organization of ultraconservative priests who proved sexually and financially dissolute—made worse by his subsequent defense of them.

Despite incomplete or inaccurate reports from Pittsburgh that prompted Cardinal Donald Wuerl to resign from his later position as archbishop of Washington, the response from Pittsburgh offers a clear, pointed rebuttal to many assertions in the report, for any reader willing to go to page 1,113. In Pittsburgh, too, nearly 40 percent of the credible allegations—mostly of much earlier abuse—were made after the 2002 zero-tolerance rule of automatic removal from ministry.

In short, whatever the merits of Erie’s responses, I found no grounds for considering it a total outlier.

So the question remains: If distinctions can be made from diocese to diocese or from one bishop’s tenure to another’s, why not make them? Why should such an extensive, elaborate report tar all leaders of all dioceses over all those seven decades with the same brush? Why can’t a report devoting 800 pages to detailing sex acts devote more than a dozen or so to a fine-grained analysis and precisely tailored findings? Why the virtually identical sweeping and damning charges across the board?

The real objective

The most plausible answer, I believe, lies in one of the report’s four unoriginal and unremarkable recommendations. In Pennsylvania, the criminal statute of limitations for the sexual abuse of minors has been repeatedly extended; the first of the grand jury’s recommendations is to remove it altogether. Pennsylvania’s law mandating reporting of abuse has also been repeatedly broadened and tightened; the grand jury recommends it be clarified to include reporting any past abuser as long as there is a reason to believe he will abuse again. The grand jury also recommends that no settlements of lawsuits include confidentiality agreements that would justify either party in not cooperating with a criminal investigation. Legal experts may spot technical problems in these recommendations, but they seem in line with current church practices.

The radioactive recommendation is one that has been implemented in four states (California, Minnesota, Hawaii, and Delaware) and proposed in many more. The grand jury calls for a “civil window” of two years during which victims can sue dioceses for abuse not just if accusers are under thirty, as Pennsylvania law now provides, but no matter their age. Pennsylvania’s bishops have previously opposed similar legislation on the grounds that it would expose dioceses, parishes, and charities to huge losses, even bankruptcies, for misdeeds committed by others many decades ago. Who would be penalized for these crimes? Not the actual predators and negligent or culpable church officials, in most cases dead or without assets, but Catholics who had nothing to do with those deeds. Time would erode memories, evidence, and the availability of witnesses. Verdicts or settlements would be arbitrary. The Pennsylvania bishops’ conference, like its counterparts in many other states, has argued the unfairness of lifting the statute of limitations for such suits against the church and other nonprofits while barring them, under the doctrine of “state sovereignty,” against public schools, juvenile-detention centers, or other state agencies, where far more abuse occurs.

All this is debatable. In fact, a growing number of dioceses, including those in Pennsylvania, are establishing programs to compensate survivors voluntarily through arbitration rather than litigation, something that should have been done locally or nationally as early as the 1990s and certainly in 2002. But the critical point regarding the Pennsylvania report is that it has been designed to be a weapon in the debate. Its impassioned, graphic style; its characterization of church leadership as no better, perhaps even worse, than the abusers; its refusal to make distinctions between dioceses or between periods of time like pre- and post-Dallas Charter: all are aimed at mobilizing public opinion behind legislation suspending the statute of limitations for civil suits and discrediting church opposition.

Whether that objective is a good or bad thing is open to debate. But the tool that the attorney general’s office has constructed to achieve it is an inaccurate, unfair, and fundamentally misleading instrument. Its shortcomings should not be masked by its vehement style, its befuddling structure, or its sheer bulk.

What now?

This ugly, indiscriminate, and inflammatory charge, unsubstantiated by the report’s own evidence, to say nothing of the evidence the report ignores, is truly unworthy of a judicial body responsible for impartial justice.

As of this writing, a dozen or more states and the federal government are signaling intentions to follow Pennsylvania’s lead in investigating clergy sex abuse in the Catholic church. Just before leaving office, the attorney general of Illinois specifically cited the Pennsylvania model (and duplicated some of its faults) in a preliminary headline-grabbing report. It is possible that these investigations could be productive and salutary. But only if they make distinctions between dioceses, leaders, and time frames. Only if they do not fudge what was true before and after Dallas. Only if they recognize changes over time in the larger society’s understanding and openness about sexual abuse. Only if they provide perspective by comparisons with other institutions. Only if they engage honestly with diverse or contrary viewpoints, including those of church officials. Only if they are written in a way that expresses necessary, justifiable repulsion toward crimes against children and young people without burying all efforts at analysis in a mudslide of outrage.

Only, in short, if they do better than Pennsylvania.

That is for the future. For the present, the important thing is to restore some fact-based reality to the instant mythology that the Pennsylvania report has created.

What does the report document? It documents decades of stomach-churning violations of the physical, psychological, and spiritual integrity of children and young people. It documents that many of these atrocities could have been prevented by promptly removing the credibly suspected perpetrators from all priestly roles and ministry. It documents that some, although far from all, of those failures were due to an overriding concern for protecting the reputation of the church and the clergy and a reckless disregard for the safety and well-being of children. It also documents that a good portion of these crimes, perhaps a third or more, only came to the knowledge of church authorities in 2002 or after, when the Dallas Charter mandated automatic removal from ministry. It documents, well before 2002, many conscientious attempts to determine the truth of accusations and prevent any further abuse, often successful though sometimes poorly executed or tragically misinformed. It documents significant differences between dioceses and bishops and time periods in the response to allegation of abuse. It documents major changes in vigilance and response in some dioceses during the 1990s and, as far as the evidence shows, dramatic changes after 2002.

What does the report not document? It does not document the sensational charges contained in its introduction—namely, that over seven decades Catholic authorities, in virtual lockstep, supposedly brushed aside all victims and did absolutely nothing in the face of terrible crimes against boys and girls—except to conceal them. This ugly, indiscriminate, and inflammatory charge, unsubstantiated by the report’s own evidence, to say nothing of the evidence the report ignores, is truly unworthy of a judicial body responsible for impartial justice.

Why the media were so amenable to uncritically echoing this story without investigation, and why Catholics in particular were so eager to seize on it to settle their internal differences, are important topics for further discussion.

It is true that disturbing instances of apparent failures by church officials continue to come to light—and will no doubt continue to do so, especially as the line between past cases and current ones is regularly blurred, and as cases from all around the world are increasingly blended with a few American ones into a single narrative. Church leaders must remove persistent doubts that these failures are being thoroughly investigated, with consequences for those found responsible.   

Doing that will not be easy. The prevalent story about Catholic clergy sex abuse as deeply entrenched, largely unabated, and uniquely Catholic is now so embedded in the media as to make it resistant to evidence to the contrary, which, at least for the United States, is ample and well-documented.

In the case of Pennsylvania, whether one looks at the handling of old allegations or the prevention of new ones, the conclusion that a careful, unbiased reading of the Pennsylvania report compels is this: the Dallas Charter has worked. Not worked perfectly, not without need for regular improvements and constant watchfulness. But worked. Justified alarm and demands for accountability at instances of either deliberate noncompliance or bureaucratic incompetence should not be wrenched into an ill-founded pretense that, fundamentally, nothing has changed.

This conclusion does not acquit the Catholic hierarchy of all sins, past or present. Personally I have a substantial list. Nor is it impossible that some other states may vary from Pennsylvania. But just as the grand-jury report correctly though not consistently points to “institutional failure,” something beyond the virtues and vices of individual leaders, the Dallas Charter has apparently proved to be an institutional success. It set out, and has regularly fine-tuned, procedures, practices, and standards that can be overseen by middling caretaker leaders as well as outstanding, proactive ones.

The Dallas Charter is decidedly not a recipe that can simply be transferred to any society or culture or legal and governmental situation around the globe. But American bishops should go to the Vatican’s February summit meeting on sexual abuse confident that the measures they’ve already adopted have made an important difference.

This article has been made possible with a grant from the Paul Saunders Fund.


The Dead End of the Left?

In the Summer of 1969, while Europe was still in the turmoil of the student rebellion that had started in France the year before, the prestigious French journal Esprit published an exchange between two of the best-known Catholic intellectuals of the time. One was Jean-Marie Domenach, who in 1957 had succeeded Emmanuel Mounier as editor of Esprit and de facto flag-bearer of “progressive” French Catholicism. The other was Thomas Molnar, the distinguished Hungarian-American philosopher and historian (and a regular Commonweal contributor). Domenach regarded Molnar as a representative of the “intelligent right” and asked him to comment on the impasse de la gauche, the “dead end of the left,” at the end of the 1960s. The resulting article, together with a long reply by Domenach and a brief rejoinder by Molnar, appeared in the July-August 1969 issue of Esprit.

It immediately attracted the attention of another important Catholic intellectual, the Italian philosopher Augusto Del Noce, who had the debate translated into Italian and published as a book, together with his own introductory essay. The Molnar-Domenach-Del Noce discussion, titled Il vicolo cieco della sinistra, is a unique document of the intra-Catholic debate at the end of the ’60s, but it is also relevant to today’s debates about the relationship between Catholicism and politics. In many ways, Western politics as we know it, and especially progressive politics, took shape at that time. That period saw the rise of the so-called New Left, a moniker that has been used to designate a broad array of political movements that privileged the advancement of individual “civil rights” (women’s rights, gay rights, minority rights) over more traditional concerns of the left such as the condition of laborers, economic inequality, and unionization. As a symbolic turning point in the transformation of the left, historians in the United States often cite the memorable Democratic convention of 1972, in which activists influenced by the New Left gained influence at the expense of organized labor and other traditional constituencies of the party. But similar transformations were taking place in Europe, albeit less visibly—on the surface, European leftist parties remained committed throughout the 1970s to their traditional political cultures (either orthodox Marxism or forms of social democracy). Nonetheless, perceptive intellectuals like Del Noce could see that old-fashioned leftist politics were in a crisis.

Today, few outside of Italy—and not even many Italians—are familiar with Del Noce’s work. But his intellectual journey exemplifies the experience of many European Catholics of his generation. Born in 1910, Del Noce had come of age under Fascism. In the 1930s Italian Catholicism had sought and found a modus vivendi with Mussolini’s regime. While most Catholics were not Fascists, many thought that Fascism cold be “used” to defeat what they regarded as two great enemies of the church: bourgeois liberalism and revolutionary socialism. The young Del Noce disagreed because he believed that Fascism’s violence was incompatible with Christianity. He had been greatly influenced by the work of Jacques Maritain, and especially by the 1936 book Integral Humanism, in which Maritain had decisively criticized “medievalism”—the view that Catholics should just reject modernity entirely to pursue the restoration of an integrally Christian society, inspired by the medieval ideal of a “sacred empire.” Maritain rejected the idea of a Catholic-Fascist alliance and advocated a form of Christian humanism open to the positive contributions of modernity, including some aspects of Marxism.

The question of Catholic-Marxist dialogue would become urgent a few years later, when Europe became engulfed by war and barbarism. Some young Catholics of Del Noce’s generation came to the conclusion that the fight against Fascism required an alliance between Christianity and Marxism. This was the guiding principle of the so-called Communist-Catholic movement, which Del Noce himself joined for a time. In that respect, his experience will feel foreign to American Catholics; in the United States, the church was vehemently anti-Communist and very few Catholics had Marxist sympathies. But the same moral uneasiness that had made Del Noce an anti-Fascist soon made him uncomfortable with the Marxist-Leninist idea that violence is justified for the sake of the revolution. To address this uneasiness he studied systematically the works of Karl Marx. This marked a turning point in his intellectual life.

Contra the “Catholic Left,” which tended to regard Marx’s atheism as accidental, and tried to rescue his socio-political analysis from his religious views, Del Noce concluded that what Marx proposed was not just a new theory of history or a new program of political economy, but a new anthropology, one completely different from the Christian tradition. (Louis Dupré had made a similar argument in the pages of Commonweal; see “Marx and Religion: An Impossible Marriage,” April 26, 1968.) Marx viewed humans as “social beings” entirely determined by historical and material circumstances rather than by their relationship with God. He viewed human reason as purely instrumental—a tool of production and social organization rather than the capacity to contemplate the truth and participate in the divine wisdom. Finally, Marx viewed liberation as the fruit of political action, not as a personal process of conversion aided by grace. Marxist politics was not guided by fixed and absolute ethical principles, because ethics, along with philosophy, was absorbed into politics. Del Noce concluded that there was no way to rescue Marx’s politics from his atheism, which had as much to do with his view of man as with his view of God.

Augusto Del Noce in 1989 (Augusto Casasoli / a3 / Contrasto / Redux)

Nonetheless, after World War II Marxism experienced a resurgence in Western Europe, not only among intellectuals and politicians but also in mainstream culture. But Del Noce noticed that at the same time society was moving in a very different direction from what Marx had predicted: capitalism kept expanding, people were eagerly embracing consumerism, and the prospect of a Communist revolution seemed more and more remote. To Del Noce, this simultaneous success and defeat of Marxism pointed to a deep contradiction. On the one hand, Marx had taught historical materialism, the doctrine that metaphysical and ethical ideas are just ideological covers for economic and political interests. On the other hand, he had prophesied that the expansion of capitalism would inevitably lead to revolution, followed by the “new man,” the “classless society,” the “reign of freedom.” But what if the revolution did not arrive, if the “new man” never materialized?

In that case, Del Noce realized, Marxist historical materialism would degenerate into a form of radical relativism—into the idea that philosophical and moral concepts are just reflections of historical and economic circumstances and have no permanent validity. This would have to include the concept of injustice, without which a critique of capitalism would be hard, if not impossible, to uphold. A post-Marxist culture—one that kept Marx’s radical materialism and denial of religious transcendence, while dispensing with his confident predictions about the self-destruction of capitalism—would naturally tend to be radically bourgeois. By that, Del Noce meant a society that views “everything as an object of trade” and “as an instrument” to be used in the pursuit of individualized “well-being.” Such bourgeois society would be highly individualistic, because it could not recognize any cultural or religious “common good.” In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels described the power of the bourgeois worldview to dissolve all cultural and religious allegiances into a universal market. Now, ironically, Marxist ideas (which Del Noce viewed as a much larger and more influential phenomenon than political Marxism in a strict sense) had helped bring that process to completion. At a conference in Rome in 1968, Del Noce looked back at recent history and concluded that the post-Marxist culture would be “a society that accepts all of Marxism’s negations against contemplative thought, religion, and metaphysics; that accepts, therefore, the Marxist reduction of ideas to instruments of production. But which, on the other hand, rejects the revolutionary-messianic aspects of Marxism, and thus all the religious elements that remain within the revolutionary idea. In this regard, it truly represents the bourgeois spirit in its pure state, the bourgeois spirit triumphant over its two traditional adversaries, transcendent religion and revolutionary thought.”

This was a very unconventional diagnosis. At the time, Communism remained a major political force worldwide, and Marxist ideas influenced large sectors of Western culture, including Catholic culture. Del Noce’s position was also out of step with the conservative habit of associating anti-Communism with an uncritical exaltation of the West. He was highly critical of the post–World War II “Western project of progressive modernization based on science and technology,” by which he did not mean science and technology per se but rather technocracy, the notion that all social problems can be solved by technical progress and economic growth, and that society must be ruled by experts. According to Del Noce this view, quite common among American intellectuals (for examples, see George M. Marsden’s masterful overview in The Twilight of the American Enlightenment), was not an adequate response to Marxism, not least because it shared Marx’s fundamental assumptions: the primacy of the economic dimension of life, an instrumentalist idea of knowledge, the priority of action over contemplation. Under close inspection, the affluent Western consumer of the 1960s looked suspiciously like Marx’s homo economicus. The main difference was that the Marxist dream of a revolutionary catharsis had transmogrified into a bourgeois utopia of liberation from sexual repression and the shackles of traditional morality.

The Marxist dream of a revolutionary catharsis had transmogrified into a bourgeois utopia of liberation from sexual repression and the shackles of traditional morality.

Del Noce also reflected deeply on the political repercussions of the advent of such “post-Marxist bourgeois society.” He believed that, ironically, the enduring influence of Marxist ideas would leave the left ill-equipped to correct the excesses of capitalism. If values like justice and human dignity do not have an objective reality rooted in a metaphysical order knowable by reason, then social criticism becomes purely negative. It can unmask the hypocrisy and contradictions of ideals like religion, family, and country, but there is no conceptual ground for new ideals. Secondly, Del Noce thought that the left itself was doomed to become “bourgeoisified,” by losing its ties to the working classes and becoming focused on causes broadly linked with sexuality. By doing so it would end up embracing an essentially individualistic and secular idea of happiness, which French sociologist Jacques Ellul had called the bourgeois trait par excellence. Conversely, politics would no longer be the expression of a fabric of social life organized around families, churches, ethnic neighborhoods, trade unions, etc., because all of them were being undermined by the individualism of the new culture.

Indeed, Del Noce said, if a society’s only ideal is the expansion of individual “well-being,” the left faces two equally bad options. One is to embrace what he calls the “reality principle,” and to compromise with the realities of late capitalism. Then the left must necessarily become the party of the technocratic elites, and end up pursuing power for power’s sake, because in the vacuum of ideals left behind by Marxism there is no common ground between the elites and the masses. This “realistic left” can only organize itself around two principles: trust in science and technology, and what Del Noce calls “vitalism,” sexual liberation, which provides a “mystified,” bourgeois replacement of the revolution. The second option is what Del Noce calls “unrealism”: dreaming the impossible, rejecting existing reality altogether, and embracing political extremism in various forms, all of which are destined for defeat. Unrealism “becomes an accomplice of the first attitude in the global rejection of all values.”

What was “the left” to begin with? What were its cultural foundations and what was its relationship with Marxism?

In light of all of this, it should be clear why Del Noce was very interested when, in 1969, Jean-Marie Domenach began talking about the “dead end of the left.” Domenach was responding to the dramatic events of 1968. In the East, the invasion of Czechoslovakia had been a stark reminder that, in the Soviet Union, Marxism had generated an oppressive multinational empire ruled by an oligarchy. In the West, the May student protesters had accused European social democracy of having thoroughly embraced technocratic politics and reconciled itself with capitalism in the name of economic development and mass consumption. Unfortunately, the students’ demands for revolutionary social change were at risk of degenerating into what Domenach called “vulgar anarchism” and never going “beyond the stage of utopian stammering.” To get beyond its current impasse, the left would have to chart a new route between the Scylla of actually existing socialism (in both its Eastern and Western forms) and the Charybdis of the “great refusal” of 1968. Clearly this predicament confirmed Del Noce’s diagnosis and raised deeper questions. What was “the left” to begin with? What were its cultural foundations and what was its relationship with Marxism? Was its “dead end” just a contingent political circumstance, or did it reveal a deeper cultural crisis?

Surprisingly—and despite the polemical punches they threw at each other in their exchange—Molnar and Domenach agreed that the left faced a philosophical crisis. Molnar put it quite bluntly: the left is doomed to oscillate between utopian anarchism and extreme political realism because of a philosophical mistake. He quoted Jacques Maritain in The Peasant of the Garonne: “The pure man of the left detests being, always preferring, in principle, in the words of Rousseau, what is not to what is.” But while Maritain viewed this as a mere temperamental inclination, Molnar believed that in the modern age “ontological restlessness” had evolved into a systematic and militant attitude, a habit of denying reality and “chasing the imaginary.” Molnar probably had in mind the counter-culture of the late ’60s, such as radical pacifism, absolute sexual freedom, the hippie movement, etc. However, he also cites some famous French left-wing intellectuals of his time, whose work is still very influential in American academia: Lévi-Strauss, Lacan, Althusser, Foucault. The latter, in particular, theorized the “death of man,” arguing that “human nature” is just a cultural construction, and “man” must be recognized as the product of its social and cultural circumstances, a “thing among things.” It is not hard to draw a line from Foucault’s ideas to today’s theories about gender and sexuality. Molnar was probably referring to him when he wrote that “becoming” took priority over “being” and “above all there is no solid substratum behind events and phenomena!... The enterprise of dissolving human nature is central, although it disguises itself as a recognition of the malleability of man.”

For his part, Domenach was willing to concede that the left had become unmoored from “Being”—that is, from the recognition of the ontological and moral realities, including human nature itself, that necessarily constrain any realistic political action. “The characteristic disease of the left is its passion for the limitless,” he wrote.

Freedom, identified with a vague notion of nature, unfolds in a vacuum, and toward what ends? Rest, happiness, friendship. These are the first fruits of Being, but they are utopian and ineffectual because they are not ordered to any hierarchy of values. In truth, Being is not a hidden treasure that will free itself…by exploding the crust of a repressive society. Being is an ascending totality within which human relationships are articulated: among humans, with nature, and with the supernatural. If Being is not affirmed as an order of values, it is pushed into the realm of dreams; being formless, it is confused with the impossible delights of a lost world or an imaginary world.

It was therefore time for the left to ask metaphysical questions, even at the cost of evoking laughter from “ideologues and tacticians.” In particular, it was time to have some “idea of man and of his life in community.” Lacking that, the left had “allowed itself to be locked up in a society that has no other shared goal but unlimited production and consumption, in a culture that has broken away from human totality.”

Domenach’s response to Molnar struck Del Noce as very significant. First of all, in the statement that “Being” will not “free exploding the crust of a repressive society,” Del Noce recognized his own criticism of the “new” left. Intellectuals like Herbert Marcuse and Wilhelm Reich had theorized that there is a link between social oppression and sexual inhibition, and that the left should join the “fight against repression” because economic and sexual liberation go hand in hand. Now, Domenach agreed that this was a misunderstanding and that affirming a purely instinctual idea of freedom (“a vague notion of nature,” another stab at Marcuse) was “utopian and ineffectual.” On his part, Del Noce viewed the sexual revolution as part of the post-Marxist bourgeois culture, because under the cover of “freedom” it actually affirmed an individualistic and fundamentally irreligious view of man as producer and consumer, in which the human body lost its symbolic dimension to become an instrument of “well-being” and an object of trade. The left’s failure to grasp this development had created a paradoxical situation, which Del Noce describes as follows:

If by “right” we mean faithfulness to the spirit of tradition, meaning the tradition that talks about an uncreated order of values, which are grasped though intellectual intuition and are independent of any arbitrary will, not even the divine one; and if by “left” we mean, on the contrary, the rejection not merely of certain historical superstructures but of those very values, which are “unmasked” to show their true nature as oppressive ideologies, imposed by the dominant classes in order to protect themselves, well, then it seems that in no other historical period has the left advanced so dramatically as during the last quarter of a century…. And yet, one has to say that Domenach is right: if by “right” we mean “management technique at the service of the strongest,” regardless of what ideologies are used to justify this management, we have to say that its victory has never been so complete, because it has been able to turn completely the culture of the left into its own tool.

Moreover, Del Noce viewed Domenach’s statement that Being “must be affirmed as an order of values” as a welcome change from a long-standing attitude of progressive Catholicism. Since the 1950s, left-wing Catholics had argued that what is needed to dialogue with the secular world is “a philosophically neutral left, guided only by the ethical presupposition of the equal dignity of every human person” and therefore “politics, metaphysics, and religion must be kept rigorously distinguished.” Now, by admitting the need for some “idea of man and of his life in community,” Domenach was recognizing that in human societies ethics always reflects an “ontology,” a vision of humanity and its place in the universe, usually based on a mythical historical narrative, or on explicit philosophical and religious foundations. Conversely, if ethics is affirmed in an ontological vacuum, without simultaneously affirming a clear and explicit “idea of man,” it loses traction. This has been, arguably, the experience of politically engaged Catholics, both in Europe and in the United States, during the past fifty years: a long series of rear-guard battles on ethical issues (divorce, abortion, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, etc.) in a cultural context in which the philosophical and religious images (of human life, of marriage, of love) that underpinned those ethical values has faded. As a consequence, little can be gained by producing more comprehensive ethical lists, such as a “consistent ethics of life.” Ethical appeals not backed by “Being” are destined either to fall on deaf ears, as expressions of personal religious preferences, or to develop into moralistic ideologies (think of “political correctness”) backed by the will to power.

The true clash is between two conceptions of life.

Fifty years later, it is fair to say that Del Noce’s hopes about the Molnar-Domenach debate were not realized. Still, that distant discussion helps us understand what could be called the “curse” of politics in contemporary Western societies. On the one hand, progressivism seems firmly committed to the post-Marxist idea that the road to liberation passes through the denial of Domenach’s “ascending totality within which human relationships are articulated.” In fact, the very notion of an “order of being” is viewed as “repressive” by a culture that tends to identify freedom with unconstrained self-determination (Domenach’s “delirium of the limitless”).  On the other hand, our culture has largely embraced a form of “scientism” that excludes all mythical, philosophical, and religious narratives from the public debate except one: the myth of never-ending technological progress. But, as Del Noce remarked, the technological mindset is “the most conservative in the history of the world” because it radically denies the possibility of “another reality.” Technological progress keeps changing the means of production, but does not bring about any moral change. The paradox is that these two trends (the leftist critique of authority and conservative technocracy) converged into what Del Noce called prophetically “the alliance between the technocratic right and the cultural left.” Its result has been that “separation between the ruling class and the masses becomes extreme.” Indeed, one plausible interpretation of the election of Donald Trump is that today many people who do not benefit from the expansion of technology feel that the only political choice is between an alien liberal technocracy and tribalism.

If this diagnosis is correct, the way to move forward is, in a sense, by going back and calling into question some of the ideas of the 1960s; in particular, the notion that political debate in a pluralist society must be “sterilized” so that it excludes fundamental religious and philosophical questions. The truth is that even when these questions are not asked, they are always answered, even if implicitly and covertly. In particular, according to Del Noce, there is an implicit philosophical question that dominates contemporary politics. It is the struggle between two “philosophical anthropologies”:

The true clash is between two conceptions of life. One could be described in terms of the religious dimension or of the presence of the divine in us; it certainly achieves its fullness in Christian thought, or in fact in Catholic thought, but it is not per se specifically Christian in the proper sense.... According to the second conception—the instrumentalist one, found in positivism, pragmatism, Marxism, and evolutionism in general, in its philosophic extension—there is nothing in spirit and in reason that possesses an independent metaphysical origin.

To Del Noce, the religious dimension meant that human beings are not reducible to sociological, economic, and biological factors. As Domenach had put it, “in man there is always something more.” To be human means to be able to raise questions of meaning that transcend our historical-material context—including religious questions.

By insisting that the true fault line of contemporary history ran between those who affirmed man’s religious dimension and those who denied it, Del Noce offered an unusual perspective on Catholic participation in the public arena. He thought its focus should be neither on protecting the power of the institutional church, nor on some list of religiously neutral ethical concerns, but rather on a conception of human flourishing that reflects the religious dimension. This would include an idea of education that is not just utilitarian but respects the deeper human need for beauty and knowledge as ends in themselves; respect for work as an expression of the human desire to build and to serve, not just a tool at the service of profit and economic growth; love for what Simone Weil called “rootedness”—namely “the real, active, and natural participation in the life of the community which preserves in living shape certain particular treasures of the past and certain particular expectations for the future”; a passion for freedom, not as empty self-determination, but as protection of the most specifically human sphere, which is precisely the religious dimension, the search for meaning. A Catholic political orientation based on the awareness of the religious dimension would also allow—and indeed require—us to struggle for justice, but the justice we struggled for would not be our invention, much less a convenient fiction. It would be a moral reality that we recognize inside and outside of ourselves and to which we must ascend. 


Chaput to college students: Following God's will is the answer to our dark times

Bismarck, N.D., Mar 21, 2019 / 03:21 am (CNA).- There’s a scene in the middle of the Lord of the Rings, a fantasy series written by Catholic author J.R.R. Tolkien, where the quest to destroy an evil, all-powerful ring seems to be utterly hopeless. Darkness and danger have surrounded and hounded Frodo, the little hobbit ultimately given the mission to destroy the ring, ever since he set foot out of the Shire, the idyllic and safe home he left behind for this quest.

This was the scene Archbishop Charles Chaput set for students at the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota, as he spoke to them about their vocations and the purpose of their lives on Wednesday evening.

In a moment of despair, Chaput noted, Frodo turns to his most faithful friend, Samwise Gamgee, a hobbit who has refused to leave Frodo’s side, and asks him whether it’s even worth continuing with the seemingly impossible mission.

Sam says yes: “Because there’s some good in the world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.”

The Dakotas, Chaput noted earlier in his address, are much like the idyllic Shire from which those hobbits hail: safe, in many ways idyllic, and almost never the center of attention.

“I’ve served as bishop in three different dioceses, and each has been a great blessing of friends and experiences. I’ve loved them all. But my first love is the Diocese of Rapid City, South Dakota,” Chaput said.

“There’s a beauty and sanity to the Dakotas that you can’t find anywhere else. I also think the devil tends to focus on places like New York and Washington and to see places like Bismarck as less important – which is his mistake. It means a lot of very good things can get done here, right under his nose,” he said.

But just as the Hobbits did not remain in the Shire, Chaput noted, so too are Christians eventually called to go out from their homes and places of formation to engage the world and spread the Gospel.

“The day comes when (the Hobbits are) called out of their homes and into a great war between good and evil for the soul of the wider world – a war in which they play the decisive role, precisely because they’re small and so seemingly unimportant,” he said.

But the outside world is in desperate need of remaking, Chaput noted, including from within the Catholic Church.

The recent barrage of sex abuse scandals in the Church can make these seem like very dark times, he said.

“A lot of very good people are angry with their leaders in the Church over the abuse scandal, and justly so. I don’t want to diminish that anger because we need it; it has healthy and righteous roots,” he said.

But the right response to that righteous anger is not a poisonous resentment, but rather a response of humility and love that purifies the individual as well as the Church, he said, much like St. Catherine of Siena, who through her holiness and persistence convinced the Pope to move back to Rome.

“God calls all of us not just to renew the face of the earth with his Spirit, but to renew the heart of the Church with our lives; to make her young and beautiful again and again, so that she shines with his love for the world. That’s our task. That’s our calling. That’s what a vocation is – a calling from God with our name on it.”

There is also much darkness in the world that comes from outside the Church, Chaput noted.

“American life today is troubled by three great questions: What is love? What is truth? And who is Jesus Christ?” he said. “The secular world has answers to each of those great questions. And they’re false.”

The world defines love solely with emotions and sexual compatibility, while it defines truth as something that can only be observed through objective, measurable data, he said. The world also says Jesus Christ was a good man in a long line of good teachers, but is ultimately just a nice superstitious belief rather than a real person who is the Son of God and Savior of the world.

“The key thing about all these secular answers is this: They’re not only false, but dangerous. They reduce our human spirit to our appetites. They lower the human imagination and the search for meaning to what we can consume. And because the human heart hungers for a meaning that secular culture can’t provide, we anesthetize that hunger with noise and drugs and sex and distractions. But the hunger always comes back,” he said.

The secular world offers easy answers, he noted, but it does not offer satisfying answers to some of the most deeply human questions one could ask: “Why am I here, what does my life mean, why do the people I love grow old and die, and will I ever see them again? The secular world has no satisfying answer to any of these questions. Nor does it even want us to ask such questions because of its self-imposed blindness; it cannot tolerate a higher order than itself -- to do so would obligate it to behave in ways it does not want to behave. And so it hates, as Cain did, those who seek to live otherwise.”

The answer to all of these questions, Chaput said, is not some theory or equation but the person of Jesus Christ.

“He’s the only reliable guide for our journey through the world. Christians follow him as the Apostles did because in him and in his example, God speaks directly to us and leads us on the way home to his kingdom. To put it another way, Jesus is not only the embodiment of God, but also the embodiment of who we are meant to be.”

And Jesus’ message is that each life is “unrepeatable and precious [and has] a meaning and a purpose that God intends only for you. Only for you,” he said.

For many people, this will mean living out the vocation of marriage, and witnessing to Christ among family, friends and places of work, “and you’ll make your mark on the world with an everyday witness of Christian life,” he said.

“Marriage and family are profoundly good things,” he added, and laypeople are called not just to be “helpers” of holier clergy, but to share an equal responsibility in furthering the mission of the Church.

“Remember that as you consider your future,” he said.

God also calls some to be radical witnesses of holiness in the priesthood or consecrated religious life, he said.

“Religious are a living witness to radical conversion and radical love; a constant proof that the Beatitudes are more than just beautiful ideals, but rather the path to a new and better kind of life,” he said.

“And priests have the privilege of holding the God of creation in their hands. Without priests, there is no Eucharist. Without the Eucharist, there is no Church. And without the Church as a living and organized community, there is no presence of Jesus Christ in the world.”

The keys to finding one’s vocation and purpose in life are silence and prayer, which make room for God’s voice, he said.

“Making time for silence and prayer should be the main Lenten practice for all of us – but especially for anyone seeking God’s will for his or her own life.”

So rather than bemoaning the fact that times are bad, Chaput urged the students to remember that they are living at this time for a reason, and can by their holiness and witness of their lives reshape the times.

“As a bishop, St. Augustine lived at a time when the whole world seemed to be falling apart, and the Church herself was struggling with bitter theological divisions. But whenever his people would complain about the darkness of the times, he’d remind them that the times are made by the choices and actions of the people who inhabit them,” he said.

“In other words, we make the times. We’re the subjects of history, not merely its objects. And unless we consciously work to make the times better with the light of Jesus Christ, then the times will make us worse with their darkness.”

“There’s some good in the world, and it’s worth fighting for,” Chaput reiterated, again recalling the Lord of the Rings. “That’s a pretty good description of the vocation God asks from each of us.”


Migrants are revitalizing the Church in Chile, missionary priest says

Santiago, Chile, Mar 21, 2019 / 12:31 am (CNA).- For six years, Fr. Marcio Toniazzo has worked as the director of immigration services for the Archdiocese of Santiago in Chile.

In that time, he says he has witnessed “a good marriage…between migration and Chile,” in which “both [have] had to reinvent themselves.”

Toniazzo, a priest with the Congregation of the Missionaries of Saint Charles Scalabrinians, spoke with ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language sister agency, as he concludes his work in the Latin American country.

He said that in his work to help foreigners integrate and assimilate in Chilean culture, he has found that “God was providential with the Church in Chile, because migration is what is revitalizing the Church in the midst of its crisis.”

“The migrant is the one who is working to help incorporate, integrate, improve, heal and go forward,” he said. “The migrant has given a new dynamism to the faith and a clear example is the choirs they have joined in the communities. It’s with that participation that they find a way of showing their love for God and to live the faith through music.”

The energy in the workplace, the cuisine available, and culture that Chile is experiencing “show that migrants came to contribute and have a life experience,” he reflected.

Chile’s economic and political stability has made it a major destination for Latin American immigrants. Politicians in the last year have proposed cracking down on immigration through tighter border control and increased restrictions on access to social services for immigrants.

Toniazzo himself is an immigrant, originally from Brazil. During his time in Chile, he has directed the Chilean Catholic Institute for Migration and served as pastor at a parish.

He has also witnessed the development of the Integrated Center to Serve Migrants, which includes two shelters for men and women, an employment exchange for migrants, and activities to support the assimilation of foreigners and enhance parish work with diverse communities.

This growth has been joyful for the priest. But he has also witnessed moments of sadness, particularly in seeing the limited resources and capacity for immediate housing assistance and food available to migrants who have come to Chile with high hopes.

“As a country, we don’t have enough places to receive and care for the children who come with their mothers, or pregnant women. Many of them have nowhere to live,” he said.

“The big challenge now for immigration is inculturation, an encounter between those who arrive and those who receive them. How to help each other so there is cohesion and a family is formed, a Pentecost and not a Tower of Babel,” he reflected.

Concluding his assignment in Chile, Toniazzo is now headed to Miami, where he will begin a new pastoral ministry with the Brazilian community there.

He said he is both fearful and anxious about migrating the U.S. and starting over with a new country and culture and he works to spread the Gospel.

At the same time, he is grateful for his experiences in Chile and all the volunteers there who “are working in a committed and dedicated manner to advance God’s work” in the two shelters and in the parish.

Toniazzo said he hopes their work will continue to bear fruit, guided by “the words of Jesus: ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’.”

“To welcome the migrant is to welcome Christ,” he said. “There can be a lot of difficulties, problems, dissatisfaction and challenges – but Christ is in the migrant and all the good that is done. God doesn’t forget it.”


This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.


US bishops: Equality Act will hurt more than help

Washington D.C., Mar 20, 2019 / 02:16 pm (CNA).- In a March 20 letter to members of the U.S. Senate, three bishops warned that while the proposed Equality Act purports to address issues of discrimination, it would actually create new problems and threaten fundamental freedoms.

“This proposed legislation does not accomplish what its supporters assert, but rather creates new difficulties and will hurt more people than its designers want to help,” the bishops said, urging Senators to oppose the bill.

The Equality Act, reintroduced in Congress this month, would add anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity to existing protections for race, color, national origin, sex, disability and religion.

It would apply not just to employment, but other areas like housing, jury duty, credit, and education, as well as at retail stores, emergency shelters, banks, transit and pharmacies, among others. It would also specify facility access for self-identified transgender persons, such as access to male and female bathrooms.

David Cicilline, D-R.I., is the bill’s main sponsor in the House, NBC News reports. As of March 13, the bill had 239 co-sponsors in the House.

The March letter to the U.S. Senate was signed by Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ religious liberty committee; Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, head of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage; and Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

“As a nation we have a laudable history of confronting and overcoming unjust discrimination and attempting to balance the rights of various groups,” the bishops said.

“As Catholics, we share in this work of justice. It is our firm belief that each and every person should be treated with dignity and respect,” including the right to gainful employment with discrimination and the right to services necessary to maintain health and safety, they said. “In this, we whole-heartedly support nondiscrimination to ensure that everyone’s rights are protected.”

But instead of providing these protections, the Equality Act would create broad regulations that would harm society, they warned.

“The Act’s definitions alone would remove women and girls from protected legal existence. Furthermore, the Act also fails to recognize the difference between the person – who has dignity and is entitled to recognition of it – and the actions of a person, which have ethical and social ramifications. Conflating the two will introduce a plethora of further legal complications.”

The legislation would threaten the right to free speech, conscience and exercise of religion by making illegal certain beliefs about the human person - held by many individuals and groups, the bishops said. It would particularly threaten religious freedom, a foundational principle of the American founding, by exempting itself from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a move that the bishops noted is “unprecedented.”

Also dangerous, they said, is the lack of criteria for “gender identity,” which could open the door for abuses in restrooms and locker rooms.

“This risk arises not so much from those who experience gender incongruence, but from others who would take malicious advantage of open-door policies in these private spaces,” they stated.

The Equality Act would also put many charitable organizations at risk, requiring that homeless shelters place biological men with vulnerable women and adoption agencies place children with same-sex couples, even if this violates their beliefs and the birth mother’s wishes, the bishops said.

“The resulting closures of such charitable services would be unconscionable – especially when the opioid crisis is leaving more and more children in need of foster care.”

The legislation could threaten professionals in the wedding industry, such as cake bakers, photographers, and florists, who will serve all customers but cannot express messages to which they object. It would require health professionals to provide “gender transition” treatments and surgeries in violation of their medical and ethical judgments.

“Given all of these effects, we strongly oppose the Equality Act and respectfully urge you to oppose it as well,” the bishops wrote to the Senate. “We pray that wisdom will inform your deliberations on these matters and we readily stand with you, and are willing to assist you, in developing compassionate and just means to eradicate unjust discrimination and harassment from our country.”

Colombian diocese has served 1 million meals to Venezuelan migrants

Cucuta, Colombia, Mar 20, 2019 / 12:11 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Cúcuta in Colombia reported this week that it has provided 1 million meals to Venezuelan migrants affected by the humanitarian crisis in their country.

In a statement released March 18, the diocese thanked the volunteers and donors who since June 5, 2017, have provided support to those affected by the emergency at the Colombian-Venezuelan border.

“As the Holy Father Francis has well reminded us, the Church is like a field hospital where wounded people come seeking the goodness and closeness of God,” Bishop Víctor Manuel Ochoa Cadavid said in the statement.

Since Nicolas Maduro succeeded Hugo Chávez as president of Venezuela in 2013, the country has been marred by violence and social upheaval. Under the socialist government, the country has seen hyperinflation and severe shortages of food, medicine, and other necessities, and millions have emigrated.

Currently, thousands of Venezuelan citizens live on the remittances that relatives send them from abroad. However, only a maximum of 6,000 bolivars a day can be withdrawn from the bank, the equivalent of about $2.00.

Colombia has been a major destination for Venezuelans fleeing their home.

The Diocese of Cúcuta is serving the migrants through the Divine Providence House of Transit in addition to eight parish soup kitchens.

Speaking on RCN Radio March 19, Fr. David Cañas, the coordinator of the Divine Providence House, said that between 3,800 and 4,200 people arrive daily, starting very early, in search of food.

“Previously between 3,000 and 3,500 used to come (…) despite the blockades on the international bridges” that join Colombia and Venezuela, the priest said.

Bishop Ochoa voiced gratitude for “the 800 Catholic volunteers, men and women religious, priests and deacons, donors, coordinated by Fr. José David Caña Pérez, [who] make it possible for the Diocese of Cúcuta to become a prophetic witness of the charity of the Church.”

“The Lord in his infinite goodness blesses the families of Cucuta through the generosity and availability which they have had since the beginning of the border crisis in order to serve their neighbor with love,” he said.

He also thanked the institutions that have donated food, money, and resources to make the program possible: the World Food Program, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Caritas International, Adveniat, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

On March 19, in a meeting with migrants and volunteers at the Divine Providence House, Bishop Ochoa praised the 800 volunteers who have given their time to serve those in need.

“It’s the work of the Catholic Church…it’s the work of the Church for the beloved people of Venezuela… we ask you to pray for the people that help us help others.”