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Catholic crisis

Religion | The latest sexual abuse scandal pits U.S. bishops against the Vatican
by Kiley Crossland
Posted 11/23/18, 05:04 pm

The Roman Catholic Church in the United States is reeling after the Vatican last week abruptly directed its bishops to postpone plans to increase accountability in the clergy sex abuse crisis. A chorus of Catholic critics is calling the move another cover-up of abuse by the Catholic hierarchy.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was set to vote on two measures—one on a code of conduct for bishops and another on a lay-led special commission to review complaints against them—during last week’s annual assembly in Baltimore. But during the meeting’s opening few minutes, the conference president, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, told the bishops he had received an order from the Vatican the night before to suspend the vote.

“The Holy See has asked that we delay voting on these so that our deliberations can inform and be informed by the global meeting of the conference presidents that the Holy Father has called for February 2019,” DiNardo told the gathering. Earlier this year, Pope Francis summoned the presidents of all the bishops’ conferences around the world to the upcoming summit on sex abuse.

Accusations of abuse and cover-up have rocked the U.S. Catholic Church all year long. In July, Francis accepted the resignation of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, D.C., over credible allegations he groped a teenage boy in the 1970s. Soon after the pope ordered McCarrick to “a life of prayer and penance,” several former seminarians and priests said McCarrick had abused or molested them.

In August, a grand jury in Pennsylvania released a report from six dioceses showing 300 “predator priests” raped and molested more than 1,000 children over seven decades. The report also revealed a coordinated cover-up of the abuse by church officials, who repeatedly reassigned accused priests to new parishes. In response, the U.S. Department of Justice opened an investigation of child sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests in the state, the first such probe ever launched.

“We are not ourselves happy about this,” DiNardo told reporters about the delayed vote. “We are working very hard to move to action, and we’ll do it. … I think people in the church have a right to be skeptical. I think they also have a right to be hopeful.”

But American Catholics seem more fed up than hopeful.

“Your response to this crisis has been incomplete,” Francesco Cesareo, chairman of the national review board that monitors the church’s efforts to prevent clergy sex abuse, told the gathered bishops.

Some bishops agreed and resented the Vatican’s interference. “We are not branch managers of the Vatican,” said Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill. “Our people are crying out for some action.”

Vatican supporters say the delay will ensure the U.S. bishops avoid canonical mistakes. But George Weigel, a distinguished senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, didn’t accept that reasoning. He wrote for First Things that on a recent five-week trip to Rome he found “an anti-American atmosphere worse than anything I’d experienced in 30 years of work in and around the Vatican.”

Monsignor Charles Pope, a prominent priest of the archdiocese of Washington, D.C., underscored the U.S.-Vatican divide in an editorial for the National Catholic Register, saying that U.S. Catholic leaders must demand action from a pope who has surrounded himself with men too close to the scandal.

“[Pope Francis’] credibility as a reformer who will root out scandal and insist upon accountability is nearly nonexistent,” wrote the monsignor. “[T]he scandal in the United States has landed firmly on his desk as a result of his own behavior. He has said to American Catholics and to our bishops, in effect, ‘Let me and the Holy See handle this.’”

It is unclear how this crisis, and repeated delayed action, will affect the U.S. Catholic Church, which has seen a steady rise in members—from 47.9 million in 1970 to 68.5 million last year, despite major abuse revelations in the 2000s. But Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate found the majority of U.S. Catholics now attend church only a few times a year.

“When the sex abuse scandals broke in 2001 it was possible to imagine that they were just about sex abuse—that the church could simply stop treating predatory priests with therapy, start defrocking them, and move forward chastened and renewed,” wrote New York Times columnist and practicing Roman Catholic Ross Douthat. But 17 years later, U.S. bishops and Pope Francis still haven’t made serious reforms, he said, adding, “Wavering Catholics … stayed with a compromised leadership in 2001 but won’t stay with a hierarchy that seems bankrupt in 2018.”

Associated Press/Photo by Peter Dejong Associated Press/Photo by Peter Dejong Emile Ratelband

Youthful identity

A 69-year-old Dutch man is taking transgender ideology to its logical conclusion. Emile Ratelband has asked a local court in his native Arnhem, southeast of Amsterdam, to change his birth certificate to reflect how old he feels—age 49. “With this free[dom] of choice, choice of name, freeness of gender, I want to have my own age. I want to control myself,” Ratelband said. The court heard his case last week and will likely rule within a few weeks.

“The judges in the Netherlands will probably rule against him,” conservative commentator Dennis Prager wrote for National Review. “If they believe that sex has no objective reality, that the sex on one’s birth certificate can be changed, on what grounds can they rule that the date of birth cannot be changed?” —K.C.

Associated Press/Photo by Cliff Owen Associated Press/Photo by Cliff Owen Chad Griffin

Prominent LGBT campaigner a free agent

The president of the nation’s largest LGBT activist group, the Human Rights Campaign, announced last week he is stepping down. Chad Griffin, 45, is leaving the organization after a seven-year run fighting Biblical marriage, the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, legislation to protect women and children in restrooms, and private business owners who stand by their religious convictions. HRC spent $26 million this year sending staff to all 50 states in advance of the midterm elections.

Griffin has not said what he plans to do next, but insiders have a guess. “Every person in the Democratic Party who is thinking of running for president is going to call Chad,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a former adviser to President Barack Obama. —K.C.

Tumblr in trouble

Apple removed the popular microblogging app Tumblr from its app store Monday over child sexual abuse content found on the platform. Tumblr says it is working to put better filters in place to catch explicit and violent content, but parents and pro-family advocates have long warned the app is a dangerous place for teens and kids.

A Common Sense Media review says the site includes “pornographic images, depictions of drug use, and plenty of offensive language.” But it’s still a popular choice for social-networking minors: A Pew Research Center study in 2015 found 23 percent of teenage girls use Tumblr, which hosts more than 400 million blogs. —K.C.

Kiley Crossland

Kiley reports on marriage, family, and sexuality for WORLD Digital. Follow Kiley on Twitter @KileyCrossland.

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