National Catholic Reporter

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Grand jury indicts five in sex abuse investigation

PHILADELPHIA -- In a reprise of 2005's sensational grand jury report of sexual assaults by clergy in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams released a new report Feb. 10 by a grand jury investigating similar abuse.

While the 2005 report detailed dozens of cases of sexual abuse of children by clergy over many decades, the new report brings criminal indictments for the first time.

Charged with rape, assault and other felonies related to minors, as recommended by the grand jury, are former archdiocesan priest Edward V. Avery, 68, of Haverford; Fr. Charles Engelhardt, 64, of Wyndmoor and an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales; an archdiocesan priest, Fr. James J. Brennan, 47, of Linfield; and former lay teacher, Bernard Shero, 48, of Bristol. All four were arrested Feb. 10.

144 theologians confront hierarchy


BERLIN -- “In our roles as theology professors we can no longer remain silent,” began 144 leading Catholic theologians from Germany, Switzerland and Austria in a bluntly frank open letter to the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

The letter was made public Feb. 3 and has since been published on the internet and quoted in major media.

Update: is reporting Feb. 15 that more theologians have signed the letter. The total now is 227 theologians from the three German speaking countries, and 249 including theologians from other countries. This link also has an English translation of the letter.

Following grand jury, Rigali issues 'new actions'

PHILADELPHIA -- A new grand jury report has reopened for Catholics the raw wound of sexual abuse of children by clergy and personnel in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

While a similar 2005 report detailed hundreds of cases of sexual abuse of children by dozens of clergy over many decades, the new report brings criminal indictments for the first time.

In a statement Feb. 16, Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia addressed the issue of sexual abuse of children squarely, calling it a crime and "always wrong and always evil."

"Many people of faith and in the community at large think that the archdiocese does not understand the gravity of child sexual abuse," he said. "We do. The task before us now is to recognize where we have fallen short and to let our actions speak to our resolve."

His statement, outlining new actions the archdiocese is taking in response to the report, follows three initiatives he announced Feb. 11, a day after Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams held a news conference to release the report by a grand jury investigating alleged abuse.

Editorial: Competing claims on a bishop's energies


Bishop Robert F. Vasa is heading to Santa Rosa, Calif., leaving the Catholics of Baker, Ore., after 11 years as bishop there. Last month he wrote a parting letter to the members of his diocese, a kind of plaintive lament. Filled with self-pardoning sentiment, it is a valuable document as it comes from a church leader known for his rigid interpretations of Catholic belief and practice and a quick-to-punish approach.

Campaign builds for rethinking zero tolerance on sex abuse


To judge exclusively by media coverage and lawsuits, one might think the only choice facing the Catholic hierarchy vis-à-vis the sexual abuse crisis is to stand pat or to go further toward greater disclosure, a more aggressive crackdown on priests who abuse, perhaps even more resignations by bishops. Debate is typically framed in terms of just one question: Has the church done enough?

Quietly but insistently, however, some important voices in Catholicism are arguing that the church has already done too much.

Backlash against the get-tough approach has long circulated among some priests who say they’ve been thrown under the bus and some clinical experts who worry that cutting predators loose puts the community at risk. Increasingly, it’s also finding traction among Catholics who believe that the church’s doctrine, especially its theology of the priesthood, and its moral standing are being sacrificed upon the altar of short-term PR and legal relief.

A disparate range of voices is arguing for reconsideration of the three pillars of Catholic officialdom’s sex abuse strategy:

    Avoiding the blame game on abuse



    On the heels of a cause célèbre in Ireland over a 1997 Vatican letter expressing doubts about “mandatory reporter” policies on sex abuse, another piece of Vatican correspondence has come to light, this one from 1984 and addressed to the then-bishop of Tucson, Ariz. It insists that “under no conditions” are the personnel files of a priest accused of misconduct (in this instance, not sexual abuse) to be turned over to civil lawyers.

    The 1984 missive from the Congregation for the Clergy, then headed by Cardinal Silvio Oddi, to Tucson Bishop Manuel Moreno was released by, and is being cited as another example of a Vatican policy against cooperation with police and prosecutors.

    Anyone who thinks these two letters are the end of the line is in denial. Diocesan archives all over the world are undoubtedly stuffed with letters from Vatican officials advising bishops to protect the confidentiality of church records, and as lawyers, reporters and activists continue to dig, more will come to light.

    Victims of Legionaries founder to get hearings


    VATICAN CITY -- The cardinal serving as papal delegate for the Legionaries of Christ has set up a five-man commission to listen to victims of the Legionaries' founder and present their claims to the order.

    Members of the "Outreach Commission" will "listen to the people who are requesting a response from the Legionaries of Christ because of Father Marcial Maciel (Degollado) or in relation to him," said a notice published Feb. 1 on the Legionaries' website.

    A related story by NCR senior correspondent John L. Allen Jr.: 'True believers' on Maciel still kicking.

    Va. may extend statute of limitations for abuse


    Updated 2/3/11 -- The Virginia Senate passed a bill today that would extend the statute of limitations for sexual abuse civil lawsuits from two years to 20. Victims groups and the Virginia Catholic bishops find themselves on different sides of the bill.

    Currently in Virginia, the statute of limitations for sexual abuse is two years from when the person is 18 years old or from the time of discovery. The legislature is deciding whether to raise it to eight years or to 20 years.



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