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Abuse crisis, leadership failure seen having impact on church giving

IMAGE: CNS illustration/Emily Thompson

By Brian Fraga

The Catholic Church in the United States has spent a staggering amount of money -- close to $4 billion in the past 20 years -- to investigate, adjudicate and prevent clergy sex abuse, and to compensate victims for the harm they've suffered.

And as those expenses have prompted dioceses to lay off staff, sell property and liquidate some assets, there is growing evidence that more Catholics across the country are deciding not to contribute to their bishops' diocesan appeals because of the scandals.

"Clearly the leadership failures related to the abuse crisis are a major factor in some of the church's financial problems," said Kim Smolik, CEO of the Leadership Roundtable, a national Catholic organization.

At least 20 dioceses since 2004 have filed for bankruptcy protection to pay their bills and provide financial compensation for clergy sex abuse survivors. On Sept. 12, the Diocese of Rochester in New York became the latest to petition the federal courts for Chapter 11 reorganization.

"This is a very difficult and painful decision," Bishop Salvatore R. Matano of Rochester said during a Sept. 12 news conference. The diocese is facing nearly 50 lawsuits filed in the wake of New York's Child Victims Act, which took effect Aug. 14 and suspended the state's civil statute of limitations in sex abuse cases for one year.

The Catholic Courier, Rochester's diocesan newspaper, reported Bishop Matano as saying that filing for Chapter 11 was "the best and fairest course of action for the victims and for the well-being of the diocese, its parishes, agencies and institutions."

"We believe this is the only way we can provide just compensation for all who suffered the egregious sin of sexual abuse while ensuring the continued commitment of the diocese to the mission of Christ," Bishop Matano said.

The most recent figures compiled by BishopAccountability.org, a website that tracks the bishops' response to the clergy sex abuse scandals, indicates the scandals to date have cost dioceses and religious orders in the United States more than $3.8 billion in total settlements.

And according to data provided by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, dioceses and religious orders in the 2018 fiscal year incurred almost $302 million in total expenses related to investigating sex abuse allegations, legal fees, victim payments, living costs and therapy for offenders, and operating abuse prevention programs. In the last five fiscal years, those expenses have cost dioceses and religious orders an estimated $1.1 billion, according to CARA figures.

"It's a difficult financial time for the church," Mark Gray, director of CARA Catholic Polls and a senior research associate at CARA, told Catholic News Service.

The dollar amounts of what dioceses have spent only capture a small snapshot of the financial impact the clergy sex abuse scandals have wrought on the church.

"There are other things that are probably happening and very real, but they're not as easily identifiable as a direct result of the abuse crisis," said Pat Markey, executive director of the Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference, an organization that provides fiscal and administrative expertise for the local and national church.

"If someone wants to stop withholding from a capital campaign or the bishop's appeal, it could be because of the abuse crisis, but that's a lot more difficult to make that cause and effect connection," Markey told CNS.

A Pew Research Center survey released this past summer indicated that 26 percent of U.S. Catholics reported giving less money as a result of the recent reports of sexual abuse and misconduct by priests and bishops. Father Jay Mello, a pastor of two parishes in Fall River, Massachusetts, told CNS that his parishioners have been quite "vocal" about not donating to diocesan collections.

"They don't trust the bishops and feel this is the only way they can send the message," Father Mello said.

However, there are no readily available spreadsheets to document the extent that lay Catholics across the board have actually stopped donating to parish collections, bishops' appeals or national collections. The data is anecdotal, and often varies from parish to parish, even within the same diocese.

"In terms of dollar for dollar week to week, anecdotally I haven't seen a real fluctuation. My fear however is that five to 10 years from now is when it will be felt as those who contribute fade away and aren't replaced by anyone," said Father Bryan Small, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Atlanta. Father Small told CNS he fears the abuse scandals have pushed away future parish council presidents and other lay leaders.

Gray, of CARA, said there is a perception the church "should be like Walmart" and have a national spreadsheet and financial report. However, he noted that religious institutes, individual parishes, Catholic social service agencies and other diocesan entities have their own budgets and financial systems.

"There is nothing that aggregates all those figures and then releases it publicly," Gray said. "It's always been a bit of a blind spot for the church. There is just no way to connect all the dots and fill in all the information. One diocese may report one set of financials that may not match what is publicly reported by another diocese."

Matt Manion, faculty director of the Center for Church Management at Villanova University's School of Business, identified three major financial impacts from the clergy sex abuse scandals: Chapter 11 filings and settlement payments for sex abuse survivors, the potential losses in donations and collections, as well as the expenses of litigation and other related administrative responses to the crisis.

"That's time that could have been spent on other parts of the church's mission," Manion told CNS.

The settlements that dioceses have given to clergy sex abuse survivors have prompted many of them to liquidate assets and shrink operating budgets. In some 2018 diocesan financial reports and accompanying documents, church officials admit the settlements have impacted their ability to carry out the works of evangelization and ministry.

"To be certain, the crisis has had an ongoing impact on the church's ability to invest in its mission," Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, told the Fairfield County Catholic, the diocesan newspaper, when the diocese released its 2018 financial report.

Jerry Topczewski, chief of staff for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, which filed for Chapter 11 protection in 2011 and emerged from the process in 2015, said the archdiocese over the years sold its pastoral center, liquidated property that had been set aside for a cemetery and future parish sites, and cut its staff by more than 45 percent.

"You start cutting things when you can, and when you are a service organization, like a central office of a diocese is, it's people who are the bulk of our budget," said Topczewski. He told CNS the Chapter 11 process enabled the archdiocese to maintain day-to-day operations while creating an equitable system that distributed $21 million to 355 priest-abuse survivors and established a $500,000 fund to cover victims' personal therapy expenses.

"It's all been quite the strategic pivot that all began with Chapter 11," Topczewski said. "When you don't have two dimes to rub together, you've got to figure out what to do."

In the past year and a half, at least four Catholic dioceses -- the St. Cloud and Winona-Rochester dioceses in Minnesota, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and New York's Rochester Diocese -- have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In letters to the faithful and via news conferences, the bishops in those dioceses cited the need to provide financial compensation to victims while keeping the mission of the local church alive.

"We could see where this was all leading and the trajectory wasn't changing. We just don't have any money. If we're not here, we can't help anybody," Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe said during a November 2018 news conference in New Mexico, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

Manion, of the Center for Church Management, said Chapter 11 in theory has the benefit of keeping the diocese up and running while it goes through a plan of reorganization. The process also can create a compensation fund that enables abuse survivors to be compensated fairly.

"The victims are all evaluated together, so it's not like the first ones in get the most money," Manion said. "Chapter 11 creates a steady fund so all claimants are evaluated in a consistent fashion, so there is the potential for this to be a more fair way for the claimants than doing it on a case by case basis."

Each diocese has its own set of financial realities when deciding whether to file for bankruptcy protection, according to Smolik, of the Leadership Roundtable, which promotes best practices and accountability in management, finances, communications and human resource development for the church in the U.S.

Noting the recent Pew Research Center survey, Smolik said the apparent drop in giving appears to be connected to the twin crises of clergy sexual abuse and the failure of church leadership.

"I think Catholics are concerned about how their contributions are being used, and it's important that dioceses move toward greater accountability, transparency and co-responsibility, in terms of their financial affairs," Smolik said.

In February, the Leadership Roundtable convened the Catholic Partnership Summit, a gathering of more than 200 Catholic lay leaders and clergy. From the summit, it released a report, "Healing the Body of Christ," which is a plan to develop a new culture of leadership in the church and a new response to the abuse crisis.

The report urged church leaders to "provide full financial transparency regarding all aspects of the (abuse) crisis, include how donations are used." The report also called upon bishops to "build a broad, deep, and transparent financial management and accounting system."

Said Smolik, "We're going to have to look at new models at how the church is served."

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

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Life without parole is not a solution to crime, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Sentencing someone to life in prison without the possibility of parole is "not the solution to problems, but a problem to solve," Pope Francis told Italian prison guards, prison chaplains and officials from the Ministry of Justice.

"If you close hope in a cell, there is no future for society," the pope told thousands of guards, chaplains, volunteers and their family members Sept. 14 during an audience in St. Peter's Square.

Among those present were two detainees who are serving life sentences, but are engaged in a formal process of recognizing the gravity of their crimes, making amends as far as possible and preparing to apply for parole.

While protecting its citizens, the pope said, every society also must seek ways to rehabilitate those who have committed crimes and find ways to help them make positive contributions to society.

Making someone pay for the "errors of the past" cannot mean "canceling their hope for a future," he said. In fact, everyone has "the right to hope."

Saying he wanted to address all inmates, Pope Francis said he had one word for them: "courage."

Have courage "because you are in God's heart, you are precious in his eyes and, even if you feel lost and unworthy, don't lose heart," the pope said. "You who are detainees are important to God who wants to accomplish marvels in you."

Even behind bars, he said, "never let yourselves be imprisoned in the dark cell of a heart without hope; don't give in to resignation. God is bigger than every problem and he is waiting for you in order to love you."

"Put yourselves before the crucifix, under the gaze of Jesus, before him with simplicity and sincerity," the pope told prisoners. "There, with the humble courage of one who doesn't lie to him- or herself, peace will be reborn, and trust in being loved and the strength to go on will flourish."

Pope Francis was not speaking only figuratively. During the audience, he blessed the "cross of mercy" made by detainees in the Paliano prison, which the pope visited in 2017. The tall crucifix is decorated with "biblical scenes of liberation, ransom and redemption" and will be taken on pilgrimage to prisons throughout Italy.

Speaking to prison police, prison guards and prison staff, Pope Francis publicly thanked them for their work, which is often hidden and poorly paid.

"I know that it isn't easy," the pope said, "but when, in addition to watching over security, you are a presence close to those who have fallen into the web of evil, you become builders of the future, you lay the foundations for a coexistence that is more respectful and, therefore, for a society that is safer."

If a prison sentence has the ultimate aim of preparing detainees to return to society and contribute to their community as upstanding citizens, Pope Francis said, then the guards who spend the most time with them must be models of treating others with dignity and respect.

"I thank you for not only being vigilant, but especially for safeguarding the people entrusted to you so that in recognizing the wrong they did, they will accept avenues of rebirth for the good of all," the pope told the guards.

"You are called to be bridges between the prison and civil society," he told the guards. By "exercising a correct compassion, you can overcome the mutual fears and the drama of indifference" that separate the inmates and wider society.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

Pope urges Eastern Catholic bishops to promote ecumenism

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Praising the fidelity of Eastern Catholics, Pope Francis also urged them to be more active in the search for Christian unity, especially unity with their Orthodox counterparts.

In heaven, he said, "the Lord will not seek an account of which or how many territories remained under our jurisdiction. He will not ask how we contributed to the development of our national identities. Instead, he will ask how much we loved our neighbor, every neighbor, and how well we were able to proclaim the Gospel of salvation to those we met along the road of life."

The pope met Sept. 14 with about 40 bishops in Europe from Eastern Catholic churches; they included bishops from the Eastern-rite Ukrainian, Romanian, Greek and Slovak churches, but also those who minister to migrant communities from outside of Europe, including the Coptic, Chaldean and Syriac Catholic Churches from the Middle East and the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Catholic churches of India.

The multiple expressions of Catholic liturgy, spirituality and governance are a sign of the Catholic Church's true unity, Pope Francis said. "Uniformity is the destruction of unity; Christian truth is not monotonous, but 'symphonic,' otherwise it would not come from the Holy Spirit."

Preserving their Eastern identity while holding fast to their unity with Rome came at the price of martyrdom for many of the Eastern Catholic churches, the pope acknowledged. "This fidelity is a precious gem in your treasury of faith, a distinctive and indelible sign."

Unity with the wider Catholic Church, he said, does not detract from the identity of the Eastern churches but "contributes to its full realization, for example, by protecting it from the temptation of closing in on itself and falling into national or ethnic particularisms that exclude others."

While the Eastern churches have national roots and cultures, and in many cases have contributed to preserving local languages and identity, the churches are called to proclaim the Gospel, not a national identity, he said.

"This is a danger of the present time in our civilization," the pope said, because one can see "particularisms that become populisms and seek to dictate and make everything uniform."

At the same time, he said, the witness of the saints and martyrs of the Eastern Catholic churches calls Eastern Catholics today to purify their "ecclesial memory" -- for example, the memory of knowing the Orthodox did not experience the same level of persecution under communism -- "and to aspire to ever greater unity with all who believe in Christ."

In a world where so many people sow division, he said, Catholics are "called to be artisans of dialogue, promoters of reconciliation and patient builders of a civilization of encounter that can preserve our times from the incivility of conflict."

"The way shown to us from on high is made up of prayer, humility and love, not of regional or even traditionalist claims; no. The way is prayer, humility and love," the pope said.

As churches that share a spirituality, liturgy and theology with the Orthodox churches, he said, the Eastern Catholic churches have a special role to play in promoting Christian unity.

Pope Francis encouraged shared academic programs, especially for priests "so that they can be trained to have an open mind."

But it is especially in concrete service to others that Catholics and Orthodox should join together, he said. "Love knows no canonical or jurisdictional boundaries. It pains me to see, even among Catholics, squabbles about jurisdictions."

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

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IMAGE: CNS/Carol Glatz

By Christopher Gunty

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Clergy sexual abuse survivor Marie Collins kicked off a five-city U.S. speaking tour on "The Catholic Tipping Point" in Baltimore Sept. 10, noting that she is disappointed with the results of the Vatican summit on child protection and efforts toward accountability and transparency.

Collins, who was one of the original members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, resigned from that group in 2017 because she was concerned that promised reforms were not being implemented and Vatican leaders were impeding the commission's work.

Speaking to a crowd of about 100 people at the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore, she said the abuse crisis has brought the church to a tipping point. "The church has come to a crossroads," she said. "It's got to decide where it's going to go next because if it doesn't change, it's going to lose everything."

And this change, she said, needs to come from the laity.

Collins told the group she had been molested by a hospital chaplain in Ireland when she was 12.

She said when she finally reported the abuse to a local priest many years later, she was told that she must have tempted the priest who abused her. The priest later lied about that meeting, she added.

Ten years later, she reported the incident to the Dublin Archdiocese and the hospital where the abuse occurred. The hospital offered counseling and reported the allegation to the police; the archdiocese said at the time that the priest had never had any such allegations against him, which was later was found to be false.

"I was lied to in the worst way," she said. When the archdiocese made a statement that it had followed church guidelines in reporting and dealing with the abuse, Collins said she later met with the archbishop, who told her that the archdiocese was allowed to ignore the guidelines because they had no bearing in canon or civil law.

She said that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, the next archbishop of Dublin, set up a strong child protection office -- a "gold standard" that other bishops should follow. At the archdiocese's invitation, she joined a committee drafting child protection guidelines. "You can't criticize if you're not willing to help if asked," she said. The committee later voted to disband when the committee was encouraged to weaken the document.

"The document released was very weak," Collins said, and it noted that a complaint against a layperson would be reported to civil authorities, but a complaint against a priest would be handled internally.

In 2014, she was invited to be part of a new Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, and she agreed to participate in the group, which was half laypeople and half clergy. Collins was the only member who was a survivor of clergy sexual abuse.

"Sadly, the promises were not kept," she said. The commission could not get adequate staffing and resources or access to other Vatican departments. She resigned in 2017 when she said it was clear the commission wouldn't be able to do what it had intended.

"We put forward a lot of good recommendations to the pope," she said. "They were sent to the Curia. None of the recommendations from 2014 to 2018 were implemented."

She praised Boston Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley, who chaired the commission, for doing what he could. "I don't believe he's a liar," but she thinks Pope Francis has people "whispering in his ear" who don't have the best interests of children as a priority.

"I believe the pope is doing his best," she added, "but I believe he's not being told the truth."

She said she met with Pope Francis when he visited Dublin in August 2018 for the World Meeting of Families and on his flight back to Rome, she said the pope said: "Marie Collins is fixated about accountability."

"I am," she said, to applause. "I take pride in that."

She also told the Baltimore audience that the church "cannot continue to be an institution where clerical secrecy and total dysfunction can continue."

The church needs to remove anyone who would abuse children, she said. "They should all be cleaned out and any colleagues who protected them."

The laity have power in the church, she said. "It's our church. It's our children. We must act."

After Baltimore, Collins' "Catholic Tipping Point" tour was to visit Philadelphia (Sept. 12), Chicago (Sept. 14), New Orleans (Sept. 17) and Los Angeles (Sept. 20).

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Gunty is associate publisher/editor of Catholic Review Media, the media arm of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]