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NJ bill would expand window for sex abuse victims to sue

Trenton, N.J., Feb 15, 2019 / 06:18 pm (CNA).- The New Jersey legislature is considering expanding the legal window to file civil actions for sex abuse against both individual perpetrators and institutions.

The New Jersey Catholic Conference backs expanding the statute of limitations for civil actions related to future crimes. However, it is arguing that only individual offenders, not institutions, should face civil action for past acts of abuse.

“The Catholic Bishops of New Jersey are committed to keeping our teaching, worship and ministry spaces safe for everyone, especially children,” said Patrick Brannigan, executive director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference.

“All of our dioceses have committed to assisting victims of abuse whenever and however we can,” he said, according to the Wall Street Journal.

At present, criminal cases of sexual assault have no statute of limitations under state law. The statute of limitations for civil action is two years.

If the proposed New Jersey bill becomes law, victims of sex assault would have an expanded statute of limitations for civil action against both individuals and institutions.

The bill would allow child victims of sexual assault to file civil lawsuits until they turn 55 or until seven years from the time they become aware of the injury, whichever comes later. Adult victims of sexual assault would have a seven-year time frame after the incident to file a civil lawsuit, or until seven years after they become aware of the abuse, the Wall Street Journal says.

Further, the bill would create a one-time two-year legal window for civil complaints for anyone previously barred from filing civil actions due to the time limit.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy backs the proposed law.

“Victims of sexual abuse, especially those victimized in childhood, deserve to find doors held open for them as they seek justice against their abusers,” he said Feb. 14.

Bill sponsors are Sen. Joseph Vitale and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, both Democrats. Senate President Steve Sweeney, also a Democrat, supports the legislation, the Wall Street Journal said.

The New Jersey State Senate’s Judiciary Committee will hold a public hearing on the proposed legislation March 7.

Similar legislation in New York, passed Jan. 28, met with some initial resistance from New York’s bishops, who had expressed concern about retroactive provisions in the bill. Once those provisions were amended, the state’s bishops dropped their concerns.

New Jersey dioceses have set up their own victims’ compensation fund as an alternative to civil lawsuits. According to Brannigan, the fund has “significantly lower level of proof and corroboration than required in a court of law.” It promises “an attractive alternative to litigation” and “speedy and transparent process.”

After agreeing on and receiving a settlement, abuse survivors will not be able to pursue additional legal action against the diocese. All settlements will be funded by the dioceses themselves.

On Feb. 13, all the Catholic dioceses of New Jersey released lists of clergy who had been “credibly” accused of sexual abuse of minors dating back to 1940.

On the list is disgraced former cardinal Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, who headed New Jersey’s Diocese of Metuchen from 1981 until 1986 and the Archdiocese of Newark from 1986 until 2000. He retired as Archbishop of Washington.

A total of 188 clerics, including deacons, were listed. The Archdiocese of Newark list had the most names, with 63, and the Diocese of Metuchen had the fewest with 11.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark said in a statement that the release of the list of names of credibly accused clergy was part of “an effort to do what is right and just.”

“It is our sincerest hope that this disclosure will help bring healing to those whose lives have been so deeply violated,” said Tobin. “We also pray that this can serve as an initial step in our efforts to help restore trust in the leadership of the Catholic Church.”

Archbishop McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals in July 2018 after being credibly accused of abusing two minor boys. He faces numerous charges of sexual abuse against minors and adults over a period of decades.

A verdict following McCarrick’s canonical process for his abuse of minors is expected at any time. Many expect the punishment to remove him from the clerical state.

Aid agencies highlight Christian persecution on anniversary of 'Coptic Martyrs'

Denver, Colo., Feb 15, 2019 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- Four years after the so-called Islamic State released a propaganda video showing the beheading of 21 abducted Coptic Christians in Libya, aid workers and politicians continue to highlight the dangers facing Christians in the Middle East and across the world.

 

On Feb. 15, 2015, a video was released showing IS fighters beheading Egyptian workers,as they knelt on a Libyan beach wearing prison-style orange jumpsuits. The Egyptian government and the Coptic Church later confirmed the video’s authenticity.

 

Edward Clancy, director of outreach for Aid to the Church in Need USA, told CNA that the killing of the Coptic martyrs helped to bring the issue to Christian persecution into focus for the wider Western culture and media, and spurred an outpouring of donations for charitable aid.

 

"It definitely brought the Christian persecution to the forefront and put it on page one," Clancy told CNA in an interview Feb. 15.

 

Soon after the video’s release, the Coptic Church announced that the men would be commemorated as martyrs in its Church calendar. In October 2018, authorities found a mass grave believed to contain the bodies of the 21 men.

 

"Seemingly every day at that time there was a story of something going on, whether it was the fall of Raqqa; the enslavement of women; obviously the killing of the Coptic martyrs. And all of these did bring this [issue] into focus, and people did respond. Obviously it touched a lot of people's hearts, and because of that they were very generous," Clancy said.

 

Aid to the Church in Need has been working to help persecuted Christians since its founding in 1947. Clancy told CNA that while the public martyrdoms brought the dangers facing persecuted Christians to wider attention, Aid to the Church in Need had considered the issue a core concern for some time.

 

"I wouldn't say that the videos changed much as far as [ACN’s priorities] go; our commitment to the Christian community there was as high before and after;" Clancy said.

 

"And that was because we saw the existential threat to the Christian communities by what was going on, by the violence, by the terrorism...The videos strengthened our resolve, I guess, to say we're not going to let this happen."

 

To this day, Clancy said, ancient Christian communities in the Middle East are at risk of disappearing. In Syria alone hundreds of thousands of Christians have been driven from their homes in places like Nineveh, Damascus, Homs, and Aleppo.

 

Last December, a mass grave of 34 Ethiopian Christians was unearthed. That grave is believed to contain the bodies of Christians killed by IS forces in a propaganda video posted on social media in April 2015, two months after the first video was released.

 

That video, similar to the first one, appeared to show the Islamic State members shooting and beheading the Ethiopian Christians, who were all wearing orange jumpsuits, on a beach.

 

Clancy told CNA that ancient Christian communities in the Middle East remain at risk of disappearing. In Syria alone hundreds of thousands of Christians have been driven from their homes in places like Nineveh, Damascus, Homs, and Aleppo.

 

"We've been able to support $55 million in aid over the years in Iraq and probably about $40 million in Syria in different programs to help keep the Christian communities alive," Clancy said.

 

"Unfortunately though, even with all of those efforts, there's been a great decline in the number of Christians. Iraq is down to about 20% of its Christian population as compared to 2000. And Syria's down probably something like 40% since that time too."

 

Clancy highlighted the continued dangers faced by Christians all over the region and the world, and noted the moral imperative on the international community to remember and support them.

 

"For us here in the United States, in the West, in the sort of 'safe world,' we actually take for granted that our faith is part of our lives. There, it's part of their lives, but it could also be a reason for their death. So we should do our best to pray for them, to be aware of what's going on and to support them by financial means and also for advocating on their behalf in the public arena.”

 

Clancy highlighted the recent announcement that the United States would withdraw troops from Syria as a source of fear among some in the Christian community. The move, he said, raised anxiety that terrorist forces might be emboldened by the decision.

 

"I think we have to be fair enough to say that when there's a need for [military] protection that we should do it," he said.

 

"It's really all dependent on international governments, on the United States, the West, Europe, to stand up and say we're not going to allow Christianity to die there. As Catholics, we can't be afraid to say that, " Clancy said.

 

One such advocate in the United States is Arkansas Congressman French Hill, who introduced a resolution Jan. 16 supporting the religious freedom of Coptic Christians in Egypt.

 

Hill’s resolution called on the Egyptian government to “end the culture of impunity” with which Christians were attacked and to “make examples by arresting, prosecuting, and convicting those responsible for attacks on Christians.”

 

"We forget that it's not wrong to say that Christians belong [in the Middle East] and Christians should stay there. That's what I always ask people to remember," Clancy said.

Kentucky Senate approves fetal heartbeat bill

Frankfort, Ky., Feb 15, 2019 / 04:23 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Kentucky Senate has approved a bill that would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks into pregnancy.

The bill passed 31-6 on Feb. 14. It will now head to the state’s House, which has a Republican majority.

During a committee review of the measure earlier on Thursday, the heartbeat of a Kentucky resident’s unborn baby was played live through an electronic monitor. The woman, April Lanham, is a resident of the district of the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Matt Castlen (R).

“That child in her womb is a living human being,” said Castlen, according to the Associated Press. “And all living human beings have a right to life.”

Lanham, who is 18 weeks into her pregnancy, told reporters that she thought her baby’s heartbeat would be a “powerful noise” for lawmakers ahead of the vote.

If the law passes, an examination would be required before an abortion to determine whether the unborn baby’s heartbeat can be detected. If so, an abortion would be illegal, unless the mother’s health is determined to be in danger.

The Kentucky bill is one of several similar heartbeat bills being considered throughout the country.

Florida, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Texas, and West Virginia have also introduced fetal heartbeat bills this year. A handful of states have passed similar bills in recent years, although they generally face court challenges.

Opponents of the bill promised similar legal challenges if Kentucky’s legislation becomes law.

“This law is patently unconstitutional,” said Kate Miller, who works with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky. “The second it is signed, the ACLU of Kentucky will file a lawsuit. And much like the other laws you have passed, we expect that you will be held up in litigation unsuccessfully for years.”

Abby Johnson, a former director of a Planned Parenthood and now pro-life activist, spoke in favor of the legislation at the committee hearing on Thursday.

“Abortion can never, on its face, be safe, because in order for an abortion to be deemed successful, an individual and unique human with a beating heart must die,” Johnson said, according to WDRB.

McCarrick has 'private income' in the event of laicization

Washington D.C., Feb 15, 2019 / 03:11 pm (CNA).- Ahead of an expected decision in the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, new details have emerged about his likely financial status in the event that he is laicized.

Sources close to the former cardinal told CNA that McCarrick has previously declined an income from the Church, and that he has private means of support in place.

McCarrick’s conviction and possible laicization have been the subject of consistent media speculation and expectation in recent days. He faces numerous charges of sexual abuse against minors and adults over a period of decades. A decision in the case is widely predicted to be announced ahead of a Vatican summit on child sexual abuse, which begins Feb. 21.

While no decision or penalty has yet been announced, sources close to the archbishop told CNA Friday that, in the event he were defrocked, he would still have a personal income.

This could prove significant, as clerical offenders of advanced age or poor health are often kept in a penitential assignment, in recognition that they might otherwise have no means of support. If McCarrick were known to be able to provide for his own living outside of Church support, it could weigh against him in any deliberation about imposing a penalty of laicization.

As a cleric and former archbishop of Washington and Newark, and former bishop of Metuchen, McCarrick currently has a right to financial support from the Church. At present, expenses at the Kansas monastery where McCarrick is living in “prayer and penance” are being met by the Archdiocese of Washington which, as the last diocese of his assignment, has an ongoing obligation to provide basic “sustenance” under canon law.

That right would cease, along with many others, if he were expelled from the clerical state - laicized - following a conviction for sexual abuse.

But sources close to the former cardinal told CNA that he never drew either a salary or a pension from any of the three dioceses he led. They said that he declined to take remuneration from his former dioceses, but that he does have a private income from savings and monthly annuities.

“While he is not without resources, they are modest, in keeping with what one might expect of a parish priest,” one source close to McCarrick told CNA.

The same source told CNA that the annuities had been privately purchased over a period of years.

Questions remain, however, about the scale and sources of McCarrick’s private income. If, as those close to him have indicated, he declined any formal remuneration from the dioceses he led as a bishop, what was the source for any savings he might have, and how did he come to purchase the annuities to give himself a private income in retirement?

One source close to McCarrick speculated that the annuities could have come from “friends or benefactors” of the archbishop before his fall from grace.

The web of formal and informal financial networks around him remains hard to untangle, but what is known gives a strong indication of his access to funds.

In 2001, McCarrick established the Archbishop’s Fund, which he continued to personally oversee during his retirement, only ceding control to Cardinal Donald Wuerl in June last year.

According to the Archdiocese of Washington, that fund was designated for McCarrick’s personal “works of charity and other miscellaneous expenses.”

McCarrick also sat on the board of numerous grant-making bodies during his time in office, at least two of which combined to donate more than $500,000 to his personal charitable fund. These included nine grants of $25,000 each from the Minnesota-based GHR Foundation designated for the “former archbishop’s fund” or the “former archbishop’s special fund,” according to tax records.

The Virginia-based Loyola Foundation made grants of $20,000 - $40,000 per year to the archbishop’s fund for at least a decade. According to the foundation, the sums were “specifically designated by Archbishop McCarrick” who as a trustee could allocate “limited discretionary grants” to qualified 501(c)(3) organizations.

While the archdiocese told CNA in August 2018 that the fund was audited annually and that “no irregularities were ever noticed,” it would not confirm the balance of the fund at the time McCarrick turned over control, or how much money had passed through the fund over the years, or where it had gone.

McCarrick was known for producing sizable donations for projects and funds with which he was associated, including the Papal Foundation, as well as individual projects in dioceses around the world. At the same time, he was also well known for his more personal acts of generosity.

In September 2018, a cardinal who formerly served as a curial official recalled McCarrick’s habit of doling out large sums, in cash, to senior officials in Rome.

“When he would visit Rome, Cardinal McCarrick was well-known for handing out envelopes of money to different bishops and cardinals around the curia to thank them for their work,” the cardinal told CNA.

“Where these ‘honoraria’ came from or what they were for, exactly, was never clear – but many accepted them anyway.”

Given that McCarrick has access to a private income, unconnected to the Church, it is unlikely that any of the three dioceses which he once led would put themselves forward to offer him additional support in the event he were laicized.

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Metuchen confirmed to CNA that McCarrick had not received a pension from the diocese but could not confirm if he drew a salary as bishop, citing diocesan files on salaries which only date back seven years.

Both the Archdiocese of Newark and the Archdiocese of Washington declined to comment on McCarrick’s private financial circumstances. A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Washington referred CNA to the archbishop’s personal attorney.

Bishops 'deeply concerned' by Trump border emergency declaration

Washington D.C., Feb 15, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement Feb. 15 opposing President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on the southern border. Trump made the declaration as part of an attempt to secure full funding for the construction of a border wall.

 

“We are deeply concerned about the President’s action to fund the construction of a wall along the U.S./Mexico border, which circumvents the clear intent of Congress to limit funding of a wall,” said the statement, which was jointly written by USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, who leads the USCCB’s migration committee.

 

The two bishops said they were against the use of additional funds for the construction of a border wall. In the latest appropriations bill, Congress allocated $1.3 billion to erect barriers along parts of the southern border, but included several exceptions for locations where the funding may not be used to construct barriers.

 

Trump had requested $5.7 billion to fund the entire project.

 

On Friday, in an effort to supplement the funding allocated by Congress, the president declared a national emergency on the southern border. By invoking the National Emergencies Act, the president can gain access to sources of funding otherwise unavailable to him. The 1976 act does not contain a specific definition of what constitutes a “national emergency.”

 

“The current situation at the southern border presents a border security and humanitarian crisis that threatens core national security interests and constitutes a national emergency,” said Trump in a declaration announcing the state of emergency.

 

“The southern border is a major entry point for criminals, gang members, and illicit narcotics,” Trump said.

 

The president asserted that illegal immigration is a worsening problem on the border, and therefore action must be taken to address this issue.

 

The bishops disagreed with the president's assessment of the situation at the border, and on the suitability of a border wall.

 

In their statement, DiNardo and Vasquez said the wall was a “symbol of division and animosity” between the United States and Mexico.

 

“We remain steadfast and resolute in the vision articulated by Pope Francis that at this time we need to be building bridges and not walls,” they added.

 

On Feb. 14, the House of Representatives and Senate both passed a bill to provide $1.3 billion in funding for the construction of barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, but which contained a list of five specific places where these funds cannot be used to build a wall. One of these was the site of La Lomita Chapel in Mission, TX, in the Diocese of Brownsville.

 

The Brownsville diocese has been contesting government attempts to survey public land around the chapel ahead of a border wall being erected.

 

The diocese filed suit against the federal government arguing that the construction of a border wall restricting access to the chapel would be a violation of religious freedom.

 

On Feb. 6, U.S. District Court Judge Randy Crane ruled that allowing the federal government to survey the land surrounding the chapel to determine if a wall could be built would not interfere with the exercise of religious freedom rights.

Pope Francis: Be not afraid of migrants

Vatican City, Feb 15, 2019 / 10:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis said Friday that people need to overcome their fear of migrants and refugees, and look for the face of Christ in each immigrant arriving in their countries.

“The Lord speaks to us today and asks us to let Him free us from our fears,” Pope Francis said in a homily Feb. 15 at the Fraterna Domus di Sacrofano, a Catholic retreat center north of Rome.

In fear, we tend to become closed off, Pope Francis explained. “This withdrawal into ourselves, a sign of defeat, increases our fear of ‘others,’ the unknown, the marginalized, the strangers.”

“It is not easy to enter the culture of others, put yourself in the shoes of people so different from us, understand their thoughts and experiences. And so often we give up the meeting with the other and raise barriers to defend ourselves,” he continued.

“Faced with the wickedness and ugliness of our time, we … are tempted to abandon our dream of freedom. We feel legitimate fear in front of situations that seem to us with no way out. And the human words of a leader or prophet are not enough to reassure us,” he said.

However, when fear holds one back from encountering the stranger, it is a missed opportunity to practice charity, the pope explained.

“The meeting with the other, then, is also an encounter with Christ. He told us himself. It is He who knocks on our door hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned, asking to be met and assisted,” he said.

“It is really Him, even if our eyes [struggle] to recognize Him: with broken clothes, with dirty feet, with a deformed face, with a wounded body, unable to speak our language,” Pope Francis added.

Pope Francis celebrated the opening Mass for a Feb. 15-17 gathering called, “Freedom from Fear,” a meeting of people and organizations dedicated to welcoming migrants. The event was organized by the Italian bishops conference and Caritas Italiana.

In the Mass, Pope Francis prayed that all pastors “know how to train all the baptized to welcome to migrants and refugees.”

Vatican ambassador under investigation for sexual assault

Paris, France, Feb 15, 2019 / 08:26 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Luigi Ventura, apostolic nuncio to France since 2009 and a long-time Vatican diplomat, is under investigation for alleged sexual assault.

The French newspaper Le Monde reported Friday that Ventura, 74, is being investigated by Paris authorities after he was accused late last month of having inappropriately touched a young male staffer of Paris City Hall.

A Vatican statement Feb. 15 said that it was made aware of the French authorities’ investigation of the envoy through the press and is “awaiting the outcome of the investigations.”

The alleged assault is said to have taken place in Paris’ City Hall Jan. 17, during a reception for the annual New Year address of Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo. The address is usually given to diplomats, religious leaders, and civil society members, with a role by the apostolic nuncio.

The claim against Ventura was brought to French authorities by Paris City Hall six days after it allegedly took place. The alleged victim has not been identified.

Ventura, who comes from the northern Italian region of Lombardy, was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Brescia in 1969.

He entered the diplomatic service of the Holy See in 1978 and was stationed in Brazil, Bolivia, and the UK. From 1984 to 1995 he was appointed to serve at the Secretariat of State in the Section for Relations with States.

After his episcopal ordination in 1995, Ventura served as nuncio to the Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chile, and Canada. He was appointed apostolic nuncio to France by Benedict XVI in September 2009.

The allegation comes just days before a special summit convened by Pope Francis at the Vatican to discuss the sexual abuse crisis facing the Church worldwide.

While organizers of that meeting, which will include the heads of the world’s bishops’ conferences, have stressed that the agenda will focus on the specific issue of the sexual abuse of minors, some bishops and commentators have suggested it should also treat allegations of sexual misconduct or abuse of adults by clerics.

The investigation against Ventura also comes amid expectations that the Vatican is soon to announce a decision in the canonical process handling the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick. McCarrick is accused of sexually abusing a number of minors and adults, including seminarians, over a period of decades.

Pope Francis: 'Inequality is disastrous for the future of humanity'

Vatican City, Feb 15, 2019 / 06:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis spoke out about inequality, the environment, sustainable development and the elimination of poverty during his visit to the United Nations’ agricultural development agency in Rome Thursday.

“Few have too much and too many have little, this is the logic of today. Many have no food and go adrift, while a few drown in the superfluous,” Pope Francis told staff members of the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development, or IFAD.

“This perverse current of inequality is disastrous for the future of humanity,” he said.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development is specialized agency of the United Nations based in Rome and dedicated to improving rural food security and fighting poverty through grants and low-interest loans to rural farmers and indigenous peoples around the world.

“The poorest of the earth” are people who live mostly “in rural areas, in regions far from big cities, often in difficult and painful conditions,” Pope Francis said.

“They live in precarious situations: the air is stale, the natural resources are depleted, the rivers polluted, the soils acidified; they do not have enough water for themselves or their crops; their sanitary infrastructures are very deficient, their houses scarce and defective,” he said.

Francis added, “the exodus from the countryside to the city is a global trend that we can not ignore in our considerations.”

Three quarters of the poorest people in the world live in rural areas, according to IFAD, which has a particular focus on supporting indigenous communities in their traditional food systems and livelihoods.

After his formal UN address, the pope met with delegates from 31 different indigenous peoples from America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific region.  

“The presence of all of you here shows that environmental issues are extremely important and invites us to once again look at our planet, hurt in many regions by human greed, by warlike conflicts that engender a wealth of evils and misfortunes, as well as for the natural catastrophes that leave in their wake poverty and devastation,” the pope said in Spanish.

“Native peoples … become for everyone a wake-up call that emphasizes that man is not the owner of nature, but only the manager, the one that has as vocation to watch over it with care, so that its biodiversity is not lost, and the water can remain healthy and crystal clear, the air pure, the forests leafy, and the soil fertile,” he continued.

“The earth suffers and the native peoples know of the dialogue with the earth, they know what it is to listen to the earth, to see the earth, to touch the earth. They know the art of living well in harmony with the earth. And we have to learn that,” he continued.

Pope Francis warned the UN agency of the danger posed by a humanitarian aid culture that “can end up generating dependencies” and hinder development.

Instead, he asserted, “The aim is always to affirm the centrality of the human person, remembering that the new processes that are being developed cannot always be incorporated into schemes established from the outside, but must start from the same culture.”

Pope Francis also acknowledged the potential of technology and sustainable development to aid the poor in meeting their daily needs.

“It is necessary to bet on innovation, entrepreneurial capacity, the protagonism of local actors and the efficiency of productive processes to achieve rural transformation in order to eradicate malnutrition and to develop in a sustainable way the rural environment,” he said.

“Put technology really at the service of the poor,” Pope Francis said, and exhorted the IFAD staff to always utilize the creative power of love.

“Those who love have the imagination to find solutions where others only see problems. Those who love help others according to their needs and creativity, not according to pre-established ideas or common places … love leads you to create, it is always ahead.”

Eucharist desecrated, statues smashed in series of French church attacks

Paris, France, Feb 15, 2019 / 12:30 am (CNA/EWTN News).- At least 10 incidents of vandalism and desecration of Catholic churches have been reported in France since the beginning of February, according to French news sources and watch groups.

Vandals in Catholic churches throughout the country have smashed statues, knocked down tabernacles, scattered or destroyed the Eucharist, burnt altar cloths and torn down crosses, among other acts of desecration of religious items.

According to La Croix International, one of the earliest incidents occurred February 4 at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Houilles, Yvelines, where a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was found smashed on the ground. The church had experienced earlier incidents of vandalism just weeks prior, when the altar cross was found thrown to the ground and the celebrant’s chair was damaged.

The Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe, a Christian watchdog group, documented another attack at St. Nicholas Church on February 10, when the tabernacle was found thrown to the ground. A 35 year-old man later confessed to committing the act to police.

On February 5, an altar cloth was found burnt and crosses and statues torn down or disfigured at Saint-Alain Cathedral in Lavaur, in south-central France. The fire was found early by a parish secretary and did not spread, though the smoke damaged the altar and adjacent walls.

The 800 year-old building had also recently undergone renovations, local sources reported.

“I strongly condemn the vandalism of Lavaur Cathedral and I share the outrage aroused by this intolerable act,” Jean Terlier, a local district deputy, said in a statement following the incident, according to La Croix.

“God will forgive. Not me,” the city's mayor Bernard Carayon said of the vandalism, La Croix reported.

On February 6, just a day after the Saint-Alain Cathedral incident, vandals at a Catholic Church in Nimes broke into the tabernacle and scattered the hosts on the ground, drew a cross on the wall with excrement and damaged other religious items in the church, according to local reports.

In a statement posted to the Diocesan website, Bishop Robert Wattebled of Nimes denounced the desecration, which “greatly affects our diocesan community. The sign of the cross and the Blessed Sacrament have been the subject of serious injurious actions. This act of profanation hurts us all in our deepest convictions,” he said.

The Bishop also announced that a Mass of reparation must be said in the church before regular Masses can continue, and noted that local religious orders of the diocese had already offered to observe days of fasting and prayer in reparation for the act. He encouraged lay Catholics to join in acts of prayer and reparation.

The Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe documented another incident on February 9 at the Church of Notre-Dame de Dijon in Côte-d'Or, about 175 miles to the south and east of Paris.

Again in this incident, the tabernacle was opened and the Eucharist scattered. An altar cloth was also stained and a missle book was torn.

Father Emmanuel Pic from Notre-Dame parish told La Bien Public news that since nothing of great monetary value was damaged, it seems the vandals wanted to attack the “heart of the Catholic faith.”

“Nothing of value has been broken, but it is the intent that is very shocking. This is what characterizes profanation,” Pic said.

The vandals seemed to have known that attacking the altar and the Eucharist would be “a very strong symbol for (parishioners), since the hosts consecrated during the previous Mass are no longer just a piece of bread in the eyes of Christians” but the body of Christ, he added. The priest also posted photos of the desecration to his Twitter account. Mass resumed at the parish after a Mass of reparation was said by the local archbishop.

In a statement posted to the group’s newsletter, Ellen Fantini, executive director of the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe, joined local priests, bishops and civil authorities in condemning the “shocking” acts of vandalism.

“It is our sincere hope that the perpetrators are brought to justice and that awareness of increasing anti-Christian hostility in France reaches the public square,” she said.

In a statement posted to Twitter on February 13, Prime Minister of France Edouard Philippe also condemned the acts ahead of a meeting with the country’s bishops.

“In one week, in France, 5 degraded churches. In our secular Republic, places of worship are respected. Such acts shock me and must be unanimously condemned. I will tell the bishops of France at the meeting of the forum of dialogue with the Catholic Church,” he said.

Besides the confession in the incident at St. Nicholas Church, investigations are ongoing as to the perpetrators of these acts of vandalism.

While it is yet unclear if the incidents are at all related, they recall the series of attacks and vandalism that the Catholic Church in France and Belgium experienced in 2016 by the Islamic State. The worst of those attacks included the murder of Fr. Jacques Hamel, who was killed by jihadists while celebrating Mass at a church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray in Normandy. The assailants entered the church and took the priest and four others hostage. Local law enforcement reported that the priest’s throat was slit in the attack, and that both of the hostage takers were shot dead by police.

 

Analysis: As abuse summit looms, Farrell appointed and McCarrick case lingers

Vatican City, Feb 14, 2019 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- As Pope Francis prepares for his long-awaited Vatican summit on sexual abuse, Catholic commentators and U.S. bishops are waiting to see what it can accomplish. But just as eagerly, they are waiting to see what will become of “Uncle Ted” McCarrick.

The two events have become, by dint of timing, linked in a way that many in Rome would rather have avoided.

To many, McCarrick’s case is an obstacle to be cleared ahead of a successful summit. But it seems increasingly likely that a verdict on McCarrick will serve only to highlight the issues that won’t be addressed next week.

While the pope has discussed “deflating expectations,” and said that next week’s meeting will focus on calling for sexual abuse policies concerning minors in the parts of the world that do not yet have them, some bishops have told CNA they fear that the Rome meeting will focus less on presenting solutions and more on defining the problem – or even defining parts of the problem away.

Rome has laid out a tentative itinerary involving listening sessions with abuse victims and has made it clear the pope wants attendees to understand the grave reality of sexual abuse, and to engage in discussions on the principles of accountability, rather than to expect a coherent response to emerge.

Indeed, for many observers, expectations have been tempered, and the stage does not seem set for a meaningful outcome that addresses the problems faced in recent months in the U.S., in Chile, and in Argentina- problems related to episcopal accountability and sexual coercion.

Leading reform advocates like Marie Collins, an abuse survivor and former member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, have been outspoken and consistent about what they think would constitute real results, including serious mechanisms for holding bishops accountable for negligence, and a redefinition of the category of “vulnerable adult” in canon law. Neither of these appears to be on the docket for next week.

Cardinal Séan O’Malley of Boston, head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, has himself called for a broadening of the term “vulnerable adult” in law, citing the need to protect those who have suffered from sexualized abuse of authority, like seminarians.

Although he is widely recognized the Church’s most visible and credible advocate for abuse reforms, O’Malley was left off of the organizing committee for next week’s meeting. Meanwhile, it seems unlikely that the definition “vulnerable adults” will even feature in the conversation in Rome.

Several members of the planning committee for the summit, including Fr. Hans Zollner, SJ, and Cardinal Blase Cupich, have indicated that the meeting will treat the abuse of minors only, leaving abusive behavior with adults off the table.

To some observers, this deliberate narrowing of the agenda overshadows the applicability of the summit to the situation of the Church in the U.S., and in countries that have already developed comprehensive policies related to safeguarding minors.

While there is certainly great need to convey the seriousness of the abuse crisis to bishops from other parts of the world, it is questionable how well that can be achieved by a few days’ discussion in Rome.

Meanwhile, in places like the U.S., there is an urgent need to address problems beyond the creation of basic reporting structures.

U.S. bishops are standing by the effectiveness of the Dallas Charter, but looking for a way to address a new set of problems involving bishops’ accountability and the abuse of adults. After being told in Baltimore to wait for Rome to take the lead, some now wonder why their concerns seem not to have made it to the agenda.

At the same time that Rome has been eager to downplay expectations around the abuse summit, curial officials (though not, it must be said, in the CDF) have been talking up a McCarrick conviction and laicization.

It is no secret that, whatever else they may disagree on, bishops in the United States and Rome are unified in understanding McCarrick’s departure as a necessary turning-of-the-page on the scandals of last year and a clearing of the deck before next week’s summit.

But, despite feverish speculation about the timing of an announcement, no decision has yet been published. Moreover, there is no clear indication that any guilty verdict would explicitly include reference to the accusations that McCarrick preyed upon seminarians.

Those victims, to say nothing of seminarians and the faithful across the United States, are waiting anxiously for some sign that their suffering, too, has been addressed. Yet the indications coming out of Rome appear, at best, not to have heard their concerns.

There is no disagreement, anywhere, that a priest (or any adult) who sexually abuses a child has committed one of the worst crimes imaginable. In the context of the U.S. Church, there is no shortage of consensus about how seriously such cases should be dealt with. Where consensus breaks down is at the other end of the age spectrum during adolescence.

Figures from both the United States and other countries indicate that the vast majority of clerical sexual abuse cases concern homosexual relations with teenagers.

While McCarrick faces multiple charges of sexually abusing minors as well as adults, the first accusation made public by the Archdiocese of New York underscores the problematic line between sexual abuse of a minor and an illicit encounter with an adult.

The accusation announced by New York in June concerned a former altar server who alleged he had been abused by McCarrick when he was 17 in the early 1970s.

While this announcement had the effect of prompting additional accusations against the then-cardinal, it was quietly noted by astute canon lawyers that, under the operative canon law of the time, the alleged victim was not – strictly speaking – a minor.

In civil and canon law, the necessity of an age of consent creates a kind of moral-legal disconnect. A relationship between a man and a boy a day before his eighteenth birthday is a grave crime; twenty-four hours later it becomes categorized in law only as a regrettable moral lapse – even if the victim was a seminarian coerced by his bishop.

It would be a bitter irony for many of McCarrick’s alleged victims if the implicit lesson of his conviction - reinforced by the limited agenda for next week’s summit - was that only abuse of legally defined minors merits the Church’s discipline.

While the potential for grave harm and injustice has become abundantly clear in recent months, engaging with the messy facts of cases at the upper end of the age spectrum is something for which Rome seems to have little interest or appetite.

Until that changes, it seems clear that, whenever an announcement is made about whatever fate awaits McCarrick, the former cardinal’s shadow will still fall over next week’s summit, and much of what follows for some time yet.
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As many watch and wait for a McCarrick verdict, Rome instead announced that his most successful protégé, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, had been named cardinal camerlengo, regent of the Vatican during any future papal interregnum.

Farrell was for years one of McCarrick’s closest advisors in Washington, serving as his vicar general and even sharing an apartment with him.

For his part, the new camerlengo insisted last summer that he never had any reason to suspect the apparently well-known rumors concerning his mentor.

What Farrell suspected or didn’t in Washington to one side, promoting McCarrick’s most famous collaborator, at this of all times, suggests to many that Rome may be as oblivious to the signal it sends as Farrell himself claims to have been about McCarrick.

The announcement is even more baffling for Catholics in Washington, who are still waiting for an eventual successor to both McCarrick and Cardinal Donald Wuerl.

Sources in both Washington and Rome have told CNA that a final list of candidates for the capital see has been on the pope’s desk at least since his return from the United Arab Emirates. The same sources have said that any announcement will be delayed until after McCarrick’s fate is decided, allowing the new archbishop to mark a new chapter in Washington, rather than begin under his shadow.