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Penny for your thoughts

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The Chicago Archdiocesan offices aren't open on Saturdays, but that didn't stop Frank Douglas from stopping by with a box full of 20,000 pennies--one for each of the estimated 20,000 victims of sexual abuse by clergy in the United States.

Douglas is the national director of Send The Bishops a Message, which urges Catholics to withhold financial donations to the church to express their outrage about its handling of the sexual abuse scandals.

"If you feel that the bishops and the pope have done everything humanly possible to protect children from known and credibly accused sexual predators employed by the church, fine, but, if not, we urge you to send church officials a message of disapproval by dropping a penny in the collection plate each time it is passed in front of you," Douglas wrote on his blog.

Douglas was in town for the national conference of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. The $200 donation is meant to start a fund for victims, he said.

3 myths about sex abuse

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Accurate information about the church's sex abuse crisis is what the website bishop-accountability.org is all about--which is why one of its co-directors is so concerned about three myths that keep popping up in the news media.

"These myths minimize the devastation of the past and create the perception that the bishops today have reformed their ways," Anne Barrett Doyle told the national conference of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) in Chicago Saturday afternoon.

She urged those at the conference to watch for--and correct--these three myths when they see them in the media:

1. The myth of mandatory reporting: Although the bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People specified that church authorities must call the police when an allegation is brought to them, that language was changed in the norms, which are the "real rules," Doyle said. The norms only require "complying with all applicable civil laws."

\"Truth itself was the victim\"

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As a justice on the Illinois Supreme Court, Anne Burke sifts through facts to look for the truth. Sadly, truth was in short supply when she served on the bishops' National Review Board investigating sex abuse.

"Truthfulness was always one virtue that was the hardest to wring out of the institution during our investigation," she told the national conference of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests this morning in Chicago. "Truth itself was the victim everywhere we turned."

While Burke is well known in the U.S. church for speaking out about the ineffectiveness of the church response to sex abuse, apparently she is not as well known in the Vatican. When the recent scandals erupted in Ireland, Burke wrote to Pope Benedict XVI offering her assistance. She recently received a response from Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican Secretary of State, saying he had forwarded her name to the attorney defending the Vatican in the U.S. civil trial.

"That was not the kind of help I was offering!" she told the SNAP members, many of whom are victims of clergy sexual abuse themselves.

Sex abuse survivors meeting in Chicago

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Some 300 survivors of sexual abuse and their supporters are meeting this weekend in Chicago for a national conference sponsored by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

The names on the conference schedule are familiar to Catholics who have been following the sex abuse crisis: Barbara Blaine, founder of SNAP; David Clohessy, SNAP's executive director; victims' attorney Jeff Anderson; Justice Anne Burke of Illinois, who served on the bishops' National Review Board; and Father Tom Doyle, one of the few priests to publicly support victims throughout the scandal.

But there are lots of other speakers and panelists whose names you may not recognize. This weekend they will tell their stories of abuse by clergy, nuns, bishops or seminarians--abuse that was followed by the equally or even more painful treatment by church authorities when they reported their abuse or sought justice.

I will be there all weekend and reporting on the "NCR Today" blog.

The new Islamophobia

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In case you haven't heard, Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center, a non-denominational church in Gainesville, Fla., has announced that his church will host a "Qur'an burning" on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks to warn Americans about the dangers of Islam. (So much for associating the word "dove" with "peace.")

Virtual tour of St. Peter's Basilica now online

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A team of faculty and students from Pennsylvania’s Villanova University has completed a virtual tour of St. Peter's Basilica, Catholic News Service reports.

The team spent hours shooting hundreds of photos of the basilica and months digitally stitching them together so the Vatican could put a virtual tour of the world’s largest Christian church online.

The virtual tour of St. Peter’s is the fifth Villanova project released by the Vatican. You can also use your computer to tour the Basilica of St. Mary Major, the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls and the Sistine Chapel.

There tours are the best alternative to being on the scene and, as CNS points out, you don't need to fight the crowds.

EPA denies petition from climate deniers

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On Jul 29 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) denied petitions from a gallery of climate deniers who had asked the agency to reconsider its scientific finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health and the environment, according to the daily blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The list of petitioners:

Coalition for Responsible Regulation, Commonwealth of Virginia, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Ohio Coal Association, Pacific Legal Foundation, Peabody Energy Company, Southeastern Legal Foundation, State of Texas, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and one private citizen.

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