Vatican: Crucial Women's Voices at Summit to eradicate Clergy's Sexual Abuse of Minors Print E-mail


  February 19, 2019

Women’s Voices at the Vatican Summit

by Sofia Carozza

On Thursday, the Vatican is hosting a summit on preventing clergy sexual abuse. Presidents of bishops’ conferences from around the globe will meet for four days, to listen to survivors and discuss the Church’s response. The main themes of the meeting are responsibility, accountability and transparency.

It is absolutely essential that women’s voices are represented at this meeting. Horrific atrocities perpetrated by Catholic priests have torn apart the wellbeing of families, of religious orders, of schools, and of parish communities. Women are not only members but leaders of these spaces. We have authoritative insight into the causes and effects of clerical sex abuse, as well as possible solutions. The Vatican must listen and respond to these insights if the Church is to begin the process of healing and restoration.

CWF Submissions to the Summit
Toward this end, the Catholic Women’s Forum (CWF) has submitted a set of documents to the summit. CWF strives to amplify the voices of Catholic women within the Church and the culture, in support of the Catholic faith.

The Forum’s submissions represent women’s voices in three ways:
A letter from Letitia Peyton, the wife of a deacon and mother of a 16-year-old boy molested three years ago by his parish priest in Louisiana (USA). Her letter is a moving reminder that the Church’s abuse crisis is not past history, but a present, terrible reality, please read HERE

The responses of 5,038 U.S. Catholic women who participated in a recent survey regarding the clergy sexual abuse crisis. Our report, “Giving Voice to Catholic Women: A Survey of U.S. Catholic Women on the Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis,” offers a window into the hearts of Catholic women strongly committed to the faith and generous to the Church., please read HERE

The recommendations of experienced seminary professors (all women), whose document, “Sharing a Spirit of Discernment: Recommendations from U.S. Women Seminary Professors,” offers insights on strengthening seminary culture and formation, reducing clericalism, and fostering chaste celibacy, please read HERE

These three submissions were shared with the organizers of the summit, the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, and Pope Francis. Additionally, they were shared with bishops from the U.S. and more than 40 countries.

I highly recommend that you read all three of them, for they contain unparalleled insight and wisdom.

CWF director Mary Rice Hasson writes:
While these submissions do not claim to speak for all women, they offer the hierarchy a realistic, though painful, view of the clergy sexual abuse crisis, as seen through the eyes of Catholic women.

Let’s pray for an honest, courageous, and fruitful meeting at the Vatican. And in the mean time, consider supporting the work of CWF.
Vatican News ~ Saturday February 23 2019

Protection of Minors: a journalist offers some advice

Mexican writer and journalist Valentina Alazraki (right) addressing the summit on the "Protection of Minors in the Church".  (Vatican Media)

A veteran Vatican observer and journalist shares her views on why it is so important to report on clerical sex abuse, calling for trust on the part of the Church.

By Linda Bordoni

The last speaker to take to the podium at the Meeting on “The Protection of Minors in the Church” was Valentina Alazraki, writer and journalist with long-standing experience in Vatican matters.

Alazraki, who is Mexican, has reported on papal activities since 1974, travelling on 100 of Pope Saint John Paul II’s 104 apostolic journeys as well as all those undertaken by Pope Benedict XVI and by Pope Francis.

She began her presentation, during the session dedicated to “Transparency”,  explaining she had been invited to speak about communication, “in particular, about how transparent communication is indispensable to fight the sexual abuse of minors by men of the Church”.

“At first glance there is little in common between you, bishops and cardinals, and me, a lay Catholic without position in the Church, and also a journalist. However, we share something very strong: we all have a mother, we are here today because a woman begot us. Before you, I have perhaps one more privilege: I am first and foremost a mother. Therefore, I do not feel only as a representative of journalists, but also of mothers, families and of civil society. I want to share my experiences and my life, and - if I may - add some practical advice” she said.

Just as for a mother there are no first or second-class children, she said, there are no first and second-class children for the Church, underlining the fact that “Her seemingly more important children, as are you, bishops and cardinals (I dare not say the Pope), are no more so than any other boy, girl or young person who has experienced the tragedy of being the victim of abuse by a priest”.

Journalists are allies, not enemies
To be able to fulfill her mission to preach the Gospel, Alazraki said, the Church needs a moral guide; “coherence between what one preaches and what one lives is the basis of being a credible institution, worthy of trust and respect”, an institution that reports crimes that may have been committed and follows up with credible procedures.

This, is where journalists are called into play, she continued, observing that they are allies – and not enemies – helping the Church “find the rotten apples and to overcome resistance in order to separate them from the healthy ones” and seeking the common good.

“We journalists know that there are reporters who are more thorough than others, and that there are media outlets more or less dependent on political, ideological or economic interests. But I believe that in no case can the mass media be blamed for having uncovered or reported on the abuse” she said.

Pointing out that “Abuses against minors are neither rumours nor gossip: they are crimes”, Alazraki told those present she would like them “to leave this hall with the conviction that we journalist are neither those who abuse nor those who cover up. Our mission is to assert and defend a right, which is a right to information based on truth in order to obtain justice”.

Lack of communication is a form of abuse
Alazraki went on to describe lack of communication as another form of abuse warning the bishops that the more they fail to inform the mass media and thus, the faithful and public opinion, the greater the scandal will be.

Communicating, she said, “is a fundamental duty because, if you fail to do so you automatically become complicit with the abusers”.

Take the initiative
The journalist also invited the Church to be the first to provide information, in a proactive and not reactive way.

She observed that “In the age we live in” and with the prominence of social networks,” it is very difficult to hide a secret”, thus she said, “the Church has only one path: to concentrate on awareness and transparency, which go hand in hand”.

Invest in communications
Alazraki invited those present to learn from past lessons and not to repeat the same mistakes. She urged them to embrace transparency, to put the victims in the first place, listening to them and sharing their pain.

She told them it is alright to seek advice and encouraged them to “invest in communications in all your ecclesiastical structures, with highly qualified and experienced individuals in order to address the demands for transparency in today’s world” and she invited Church organizations to communicate better and in a timely manner.

“I assure you that investing in communications is a very profitable matter, and is not a short-term investment; it is a long-term investment” she said.

Scandal of nuns and religious victims of sexual abuse by priests and bishops
Alazraki concluded her presentation by mentioning a different topic that, she says, puts us at the threshold of another scandal: that of nuns and women religious as victims of sexual abuse by priests and bishops. She noted it has been reported upon by the “Osservatore Romano” and acknowledged by Pope Francis himself.

“I would like that on this occasion the Church play offense and not defense, as has happened in the case of the abuse of minors” she said, “It could be a great opportunity for the Church to take the initiative and be on the forefront of denouncing these abuses, which are not only sexual but also abuses of power”.

I hope that after this meeting, she said, “you will return home and not avoid us, but instead seek us out. That you will return to your dioceses thinking that we are not vicious wolves, but, on the contrary, that we can join our forces against the real wolves”.

For more information on the Meeting on “The Protection of minors in the Church” and on Valentina Alazraki’s presentation HERE
 January 29, 2019

Called to Account: Inside the Feminist Fight to End Clergy Sex Abuse

 by  Angela Bonavoglia

Ms. was part of the early days of breaking the silence on clergy sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. In 1992, I reported on the abuse of Rita Milla, which began when she was a teenager in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and evolved over time to her being taken by a ring of priests to a hotel room that they rented by the hour. When I found one of those priests celebrating Mass in my own backyard at a Brooklyn parish and called the diocesan spokesperson to ask questions, I witnessed a real-time example of the church hierarchy’s modus operandi for dealing with abusive priests: He was swiftly transported to a parish in his homeland, the Philippines.

It would take another decade, until 2002, for The Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team to expose the sickening extent of clergy sexual abuse of children in the Boston archdiocese and the criminal cover-up by church officials. That’s also when the country began to take note of a choir of survivors’ voices, led by an extraordinary woman, the late Barbara Blaine, who in the 1980s launched what quickly became the world’s major advocacy organization for victims: the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

In the intervening years, survivors filed and won lawsuit after lawsuit, which pried open secret church files, exposing criminal priests and the prelates who protected them. Survivors also led the charge in getting seven states and counting to temporarily lift civil statutes of limitations, allowing victims to file lawsuits, regardless of how much time had passed since their abuse.

Overall, the National Catholic Reporter estimated that the U.S. church paid out nearly $4 billion between 1950 and 2015 in costs related to the clergy sex abuse crisis. To date, an estimated 21 dioceses and religious orders have declared bankruptcy. In time, devastating reports by grand juries and attorneys general came out of Boston, New York, New Hampshire, Maine and two dioceses in Pennsylvania (Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown). Evidence of the pattern of abuse and cover-up erupted worldwide, too, in news reports from the Netherlands, Ireland, Australia, Guam, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Germany, Chile, Canada and elsewhere.

But in 2018, events overtook the church hierarchy. And all hell broke loose.

The year began with Pope Francis’ ill-fated visit to Chile. The pope’s appointment of Juan Barros as bishop of Osorno in 2015 had inspired angry protests from the local Catholic community, outraged over allegations that Barros had not only covered up but personally witnessed abuse of minors by Father Fernando Karadima. Chilean and global condemnation followed, which led Francis to a complete about-face: He met with survivors, ordered an investigation, apologized for his “serious mistakes” in assessing the country’s sex abuse crisis, and then summoned all the Chilean bishops to Rome, where he accused them of destroying evidence and playing chess with abusive priests, after which every Chilean bishop offered to resign. Francis finally began to accept resignations.

From Germany this past September came a report that some 1,670 Catholic clerics, almost all priests, were found to have abused 3,677 minors from 1946 to 2014, a number the researchers deemed “a conservative estimate.” That report followed an extraordinary 17-volume 2017 Australian Royal Commission report on the sexual abuse of children in all of its institutions across denominations from 1950 to 2015. Catholic authorities reported having received claims of child sex abuse from 4,444 claimants. An Australian court ordered Australian Cardinal George Pell, appointed by Pope Francis to be his top finance minister, to stand trial on charges, which Pell denies, for his “historical sexual assault offenses.” According to press reports in December, Pell was found guilty, making him the senior most Catholic official to be convicted of child sex abuse.

From France came news that the archbishop of Lyon, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, would stand trial in January along with several other clerics for allegedly failing to report child sex abuse to authorities. Here at home, Catholic-watchers were shocked by the precipitous fall of Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the high-profile, high-powered former archbishop of Washington, D.C., over a credible allegation of abuse of a minor and charges of years of sexual misconduct with seminarians and young priests, including two cases involving adults that resulted in financial settlements.

Before we could catch our collective breath, the Pennsylvania grand jury released its stunning report revealing credible allegations of abuse by more than 300 priests of more than 1,000 child victims, though the report asserted the actual number was likely higher, “in the thousands.” Other states immediately began to announce their own investigations­at press time, 14 and counting.

In October came blockbuster news: The U.S. Department of Justice launched the first-ever federal investigation into sex abuse and cover-up by the leaders of the Catholic Church. In November, a Boston Globe-Philadelphia Inquirer investigation found that “more than 130 U.S. bishops­or nearly one-third of those still living­have been accused … of failing to adequately respond to sexual misconduct in their dioceses,” and at least 15 “have themselves been accused of committing abuse or harassment.”

To fully understand this crisis, it is crucial to recognize that it is taking place in a church where women remain locked out of the governing structure, without voice, vote or power. Subservient and second-class, women have had little currency with the hierarchs, and this includes the mothers who came pleading for action on the abuse of their children.

Participants in women’s ordination are excommunicated, but not child rapists. While Catholic clergy promote “pro-life” causes worldwide, some have been known to impregnate underage girls and vulnerable women, including nuns­ pressuring some to have abortions or requiring new mothers to sign confidentiality agreements in exchange for meager financial aid, if they get any aid at all. Today these theoretically celibate churchmen­many of whom have thwarted civil law for decades, abusing or shielding abusers­lobby tirelessly to incorporate into civil law anti-woman, anti-choice, homophobic policies that even a majority of Catholics reject.

Despite polls like the Pew Research Center’s showing that 51 percent of Catholics believe abortion should be legal in some or all circumstances, and a  Guttmacher Institute study showing that 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women have used a form of birth control (other than “natural family planning”) at some point in their lives, church leaders continue to substitute their draconian Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services for accepted medical standards, as well as the patient’s own religious and ethical beliefs, in their Catholic-owned and -affiliated health care facilities. Among the care prohibited by those health directives are contraception; condoms to prevent HIV transmission; sterilization, even if another pregnancy could be fatal; and abortion, which is “never permitted” and has been interpreted at times as forbidding termination of a pregnancy for a woman in the throes of a miscarriage, facing fever, infection and possible death, until the fetal heartbeat stops. From 2001 to 2016, the number of Catholic-owned and -affiliated acute care hospitals in the U.S. grew by 22 percent; they account for four of the top 10 largest health systems by hospital beds, which, in turn, depend on public monies (Medicare and Medicaid) to cover an average of 47 percent of patient charges.

In 2011, the USCCB put a new face on its long-standing opposition to reproductive health care and homosexuality with the creation of a Committee for Religious Liberty. Under that banner, they succeeded in pressuring the Obama administration to exclude abortion coverage from the essential benefits package of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Insisting that contraceptives and sterilization “are not ‘health’ services,” the bishops launched a full-scale attack on the ACA’s historic contraceptive mandate requiring that insurance companies cover all methods of Food and Drug Administration–approved contraception, without a deductible or copay.

If legal challenges (ongoing at press time) to the Trump administration’s new rules fail, any private, nongovernmental employer­a company, a nonprofit, a university­will be able to claim a “religious exemption” or, with the exception of publicly traded companies, a “moral exemption” to providing birth control coverage. Obama-era rules protected a woman’s right to coverage; they required both religiously affiliated nonprofit employers and, as a result of the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision, closely held private companies to notify insurers of their religious objection so the insurers could provide the coverage directly. The new rules have no such requirement.

In part a response to the landmark civil rights case Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage (the USCCB filed an amicus brief in opposition), discrimination against same-sex couples and LGBTQ people in the name of religious liberty is taking new forms. Catholic Social Services in 2018 claimed that its constitutional right to religious freedom entitled it to a taxpayer-funded city contract to provide public foster care services, despite the fact that the agency is unwilling to comply with the city’s contract provision that prohibits discrimination based on characteristics like religion and sexual orientation. The case is being litigated with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union. The USCCB is among the conservative constituencies that want to put that principle­ that social service providers, for example, have both the right to discriminate and the right to public money and tax-exempt status­into federal law in the form of the First Amendment Defense Act.

Developments like this are especially concerning given the amount of government funding that goes to Catholic agencies. According to The NonProfit Times Top 100 List, in 2017 two of the top five nonprofit recipients of government funding were Catholic: The largest recipient, at $1.3 billion (the only one to break the $1 billion mark), was Catholic Charities; the other, Catholic Relief Services, received $540.6 million.

Even as Catholic Church leaders lobby for these exemptions from existing law, a 2017 Public Religion Institute poll showed that most Americans support same-sex marriage, including approximately twothirds of white and Latinx Catholics. Observing the current church-state landscape, Catholics for Choice’s vice president Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe notes, “The bishops are working to enact Catholic teaching into law because they can’t get the Catholic faithful to follow them.” Sister Jeannine Gramick, cofounder of New Ways Ministry, a leading Catholic LGBT advocacy organization, agrees. Of the new religious exemptions, she says: “They’re a smoke screen to enable people to discriminate. [People] should work politically­with their senators, representatives, locally­to prevent this kind of abuse. It’s an abuse of religion. It’s not religious freedom at all.”

Preventing the other abuse of religion­molesting children in the name of God­requires similar action. “Protecting children from sex abuse is all politics,” says Hamilton, the law professor. “If you’re interested in protecting the vulnerable, you have to hold your elected representatives to account.” She contrasts the failed response of the federal government to the clergy sex abuse crisis to the response that came after revelations of USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse of female gymnasts. The legislators, she says, “almost immediately had [congressional] hearings and actually passed a law very quickly,” a mandatory reporting law that applies to amateur athletic governing bodies. By contrast, she notes, “The grip of religious lobbyists in Washington and in most state capitals is so tight that women’s issues, sex abuse survivors’ issues and LGBT issues fall to the wayside.”

David Clohessy, a survivor-activist long at Barbara Blaine’s side as national director of SNAP, now a volunteer, agrees on the actions that have to be taken: “Everyone should be leaning hard on secular officials, police, prosecutors, lawmakers, AGs and say again, ‘No institution can police itself, especially not a rigid, secretive, all-male monarchy.’” As to the future, he’s hopeful, he says, “despite the bishops, not because of them.” He sees a “new level of anger among the Catholic laity. … Before 2002, many of us felt like, Where is everybody? Why is no one paying attention? Since 2002, a lot of us have felt like, Where are lay Catholics? … Where is law enforcement? Both of those groups seem to be stepping up more now… I am grateful for every single outraged Catholic and every single police officer and prosecutor who spent time on this.”

He also reports having experienced a change over time in his feelings about the heart of SNAP’s work­the work with survivors. “I went from feeling nothing but sadness every time a survivor called,” he says, “to feeling sadness mixed with satisfaction and reassurance that this person will never, ever feel as alone, this person will never, ever feel as helpless again.”

That’s because SNAP is here. Outraged Catholics, attorneys general, gay and women’s rights activists are here. And they are all watching.

Angela Bonavoglia, former Ms.contributing editor, is the author of Good Catholic Girls: How Women Are Leading the Fight to Change the Church.