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In pushback against AG inquiry, Wisconsin Catholics cite decades of church vigilance against abuse

Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, Milwaukee, Wisconsin / Sulfur via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Denver Newsroom, Jun 10, 2021 / 17:04 pm (CNA).

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee is citing decades of Catholic efforts to prevent sex abuse, along with judicial statements and reviews of Church documents, as among the reasons it is pushing back against a state inquiry into clergy abuse.

In April, Wisconsin attorney general Josh Kaul had announced the launch of an investigation into alleged sexual abuse in the state’s Catholic dioceses and at least three religious orders. Kaul said he planned to review reports of abuse by clergy and faith leaders “with support from district attorneys, survivor groups, and crime victim services professionals.” 

In response, the Milwaukee archdiocese says that judges, civil authorities, and an outside firm have already reviewed their documents - multiple times - and a bankruptcy judge has declared no concern for public safety after reviewing abuse claims.

“Our assertion is the Church is being unfairly singled out by this investigation,” Jerry Topczewski, chief of staff to Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee, told CNA on June 9. “We have accepted our past history and worked so vigilantly to correct how things are handled, but it’s the Church that is continually targeted.”

“Archdiocesan files have been reviewed multiple times over the past 30 years,” Topczewski added. “First by a retired Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge; then by civil authorities, including the Milwaukee County District Attorney; and also by an outside firm of former FBI agents; to make sure no allegations had gone uncovered.”

“Federal Bankruptcy Judge Susan V. Kelley stated after reviewing all the claims filed that ‘no public safety concern is present’,” Topczewski added.

Kaul portrayed his investigation as “an independent review” of reports of clergy abuse that aimed “to ensure that survivors of clergy and faith leader abuse have access to needed victim services, to help prevent future cases of sexual assault, and to get accountability to the extent possible.”

The Wisconsin Department of Justice said it would start by requesting documents and information from Catholic dioceses and religious orders, but also encouraged victims to report sexual abuse committed by any members of religious organizations. 

The agency said that “although one of the goals of this initiative is to verify the accuracy of public lists of priests credibly accused of abuse, ultimately, it is up to the church to decide which names are included on their lists.”

Topczewski, however, suggested the inquiry’s focus will end up falling disproportionately on the Catholic Church.

“The investigation has been represented widely in the media as ‘an investigation into the Catholic Church,’ including during a Wisconsin Public Radio interview on May 10 featuring the Attorney General, who stated that his initial request for documents was only to Catholic dioceses and religious orders,” he said. 

Topczewski contended that this specific request violates the U.S. Constitution’s establishment clause prohibition against the “disfavoring of a particular religion.”

The archdiocese has pledged to provide its records in cases of new allegations made against living priests, he said. 

“The archdiocese will voluntarily provide access to documents and information on any living individual against whom a new allegation is made. This is already our practice and, if there are any new prosecutable crimes, the Church will offer its assistance in seeking justice,” Topczewski said.

“There has been one substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a diocesan priest since 2000. This reinforces the historical nature of these crimes and indicates that education and prevention efforts are effective,” he said. 

Four of the state’s five dioceses, as well as the Jesuits and the Norbertines, have already disclosed the names of priests credibly accused of sex abuse. The Diocese of Superior is gathering its own list with the intent to publish it by the end of the year. 

In total, 177 Catholic priests have been identified as credibly accused of abusing minors - though the incidents took place as far ago as the 1950s. Some of the accused priests themselves died decades ago.

The Milwaukee archdiocese’s attorney Frank LoCoco responded to the attorney general’s announced plans in a June 1 letter. LoCoco similarly emphasized Catholic efforts to investigate and prevent abuse, but also suggested the attorney general’s efforts were “unlawful” given that many records are under court seal.

LoCoco noted that the archdiocese has already made public on its website the documents and chronologies related to the clergy listed as credibly accused of abuse. He cited trends in sex abuse claims which indicate that sex abuse by clergy peaked in the 1960s and 1970s, then declined significantly.

Of the 578 claimants who filed claims against the Milwaukee archdiocese, 99% of them involved allegations that predate the year 1990, he said.

Topcziewski argued that the Catholic Church has taken effective action against sex abuse, and its recent record shows this.

“Over the past 20 years, no institution in the United States has done more to combat the evil of this societal issue,” Topcziewski told CNA. “We know there have been mistakes made in how some cases were handled in the past, but today the Church has become a model of how this issue is addressed, including oversight, safe environment and prevention.”

“The Catholic Church is the largest provider of Safe Environment programs in Wisconsin and this mandatory education means nearly 100,000 individuals have been trained to recognize potential abuse/abusers and have heightened awareness of this societal scourge,” he said. 

LoCoco said that many of the archdiocesan records remain under seal due to both previous bankruptcy court proceedings and abuse survivors’ own decisions to file their claims under seal. The Office of the Attorney General received a copy of the relevant court order in 2011.

“Fewer than 5% of the claimants, a total of 28, filed their Proofs of Claim on the public docket,” LoCoco stated. “The remaining claims were filed under seal based on the Bankruptcy Court protections. Even today, these proofs of claim remain under seal and cannot be made public as required by the final, non-appealable order of the Bankruptcy Court.”

LoCoco cited an effort in 2012 to release some statistical information from the records “because certain lawyers such as Jeff Anderson and certain advocates such as Peter Isely had made irresponsible and untrue allegations that children were at risk within the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.”

During a bankruptcy court hearing which rejected these claims, former Chief Judge Susan Kelley said her review “shows there is no public safety concerns with those claims – none whatsoever. The claims are old, the claims are by these known abusers with very few exceptions.”

LoCoco said there have already been significant financial expenditures to investigate abuse in the Milwaukee archdiocese, as well as to find potential victims.

During the Chapter 11 proceedings, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee produced some 60,000 pages of documents for the lawyers representing abuse victims and the official committee of unsecured creditors, which then chose the documents to be made public. The document review cost the archdiocese some $600,000.

The archdiocese spent “several hundred thousand dollars” to provide notice to abuse survivors to file a claim before the Feb. 1, 2012 deadline established by the court.

Several lawyers representing abuse survivors, the archdiocese estimated, spent more than $1 million to find alleged victims.

Compliance with the attorney general’s request would involve “another six-figure expenditure of lawyers’ fees and untold staff hours for just the Archdiocese of Milwaukee,” LoCoco said.

In a June 1 email to Catholics in the archdiocese, Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee said the archdiocese would cooperate with any “proper” state investigation, including providing records related to any living priest accused of abuse.

“While the archdiocese has done a lot, we can and should do more, and that includes cooperating with the attorney general in any proper inquiry he might undertake,” Archbishop Listecki said.

“As such, we will once again voluntarily provide access to documents and information on any living individual against whom a new allegation is made. This is already our practice and, if there are any new prosecutable crimes, the Church will offer its assistance,” he said.

However, he expressed “significant doubt that the attorney general has the legal authority to conduct such an investigation,” and added that the archdiocese has “legitimate concerns that his inquiry is directly targeting only the Catholic Church.”

“We believe we have offered a way to provide what the attorney general has requested while continuing to walk with survivors, maintaining the Church’s rights and avoiding unnecessary expense,” he said.

In April the Madison diocese, the Green Bay diocese, and the La Crosse diocese noted their own reviews of records. The Superior diocese has hired an outside firm, Defenbaugh & Associates, to conduct an independent third-party review of clergy files. The diocese said it is “in the process of using the independent report to list the names of clergy against whom substantiated child sexual abuse claims have been made.”

Retired Calgary bishop: Canadian government must own 'primary' responsibility for abuses of Indigenous

Kamloops Indian Residential School, Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada / Bruce Raynor/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Jun 10, 2021 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

The retired bishop of Calgary this week said the Canadian government must shoulder its “primary” responsibility for past abuses in the country’s residential school system. He maintained that Catholic Church leaders must also “own our sinfulness” in the abuses.

“We have a right to less pompous posturing and more forthright action on the part of [the] federal government,” said Bishop Fred Henry in a June 7 letter to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Bishop Henry retired as bishop of Calgary in 2017.

The letter was reported by Bill Kauffmann in outlets of Canada’s Postmedia Network, and was later obtained by CNA.

“Primary responsibility must be owned by the federal government,” Henry said in response to the recent discovery of unmarked graves of 215 Indigenous children at a former Catholic-run residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia.

On the weekend of May 22, the graves were discovered at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, with the use of ground-penetrating radar. It is unclear how the children died.

The Kamloops school was opened in 1890 and was run by Catholics before the Oblates of Mary Immaculate oversaw the school beginning in 1893. In 1969, the government took back control of the school until it closed in 1978.

Last week, Trudeau - a Catholic - said he was “deeply disappointed” at the lack of a formal apology by the Church for its role in the residential school abuses. He called on the Church to release all relevant records for the schools and said the government had “tools” to apply if the Church did not do so, according to the Associated Press.

In response, Bishop Henry said he was “disappointed” with Trudeau’s “unhelpful” and “posturing” comments.

“Your comments are not only unhelpful but must be considered posturing for political purposes and yet another blatant attempt at ongoing dissimulation,” the bishop told Trudeau.

He cited 2014 apologies of bishops from the province of Alberta to Indigenous communities, “for Catholic participation in government policies that resulted in children being separated from their families, and often suppressed Aboriginal culture and language at the Residential Schools."

Bishop Henry emphasized that while Catholics ran some of the residential schools, the government established them.

“Primary responsibility must be owned by the federal government,” he said.

Canada’s residential school system was established by the federal government beginning in the 1870s, with Catholics and members of Protestant denominations charged with running the schools. Children of First Nations and other Indigenous communities were placed in the schools as a form of forcible assimilation. The last remaining residential school closed in 1996.

A 2006 settlement between the Canadian government and the Assembly of First Nations called for the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which began its work in 2008 and issued its final report in 2015. The commission reported that Indigenous children were separated from their families and sent to the residential schools, in order to strip them of family and cultural ties.

According to the commission, an estimated 4,100 to 6,000 children died as a result of neglect or abuse at the schools.

Bishop Henry quoted at length from the final report of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, arguing that according to the commission, the government bore “primary” responsibility for the poor treatment of children at the schools.

“The federal government never established an adequate set of standards and regulations to guarantee the health and safety of residential school students,” he said. “This failure occurred despite the fact that the government had the authority to establish those standards,” he said, quoting the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“The failure to establish and enforce adequate standards, coupled with the failure to adequately fund the schools, resulted in unnecessarily high residential school death rates,” he added.

“The most basic of questions about missing children—Who died? Why did they die? Where are they buried?—have never been addressed or comprehensively documented by the Canadian government,” he said, quoting the commission’s report.

Regarding the high death rates of Indigenous students at the schools, he quoted the report’s finding that “the federal government failed to take appropriate action to address a national health-care crisis in the residential schools and in the Aboriginal community in general.”

The government for decades did not provide the schools the adequate resources to care for students, the report stated.

“Students were housed in poorly built, poorly heated, poorly maintained, crowded, and often unsanitary facilities. Many of the schools lacked isolation rooms or infirmaries. Many lacked access to trained medical staff. It was not until the late 1950s that the federal government attempted to provide sufficient funding to ensure that student diets were nutritionally adequate,” Bishop Henry stated, quoting the report.

Further, the government “never adopted a national policy on the reporting of the physical and sexual abuse of students,” leaving children vulnerable to abuse and resulting in the dismissal of investigations, the report stated.

One of the calls of the commission’s 2015 report was for a papal apology “to Survivors, their families, and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools.”

Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto explained in a June 3 statement that a formal papal apology would involve an in-person papal visit to Canada, requiring significant logistical actions. Pope Francis has already encouraged the country’s bishops to lead on the process of reconciliation for the Church’s role in the school system, he said.

Pope Benedict XVI previously met with Canadian Indigenous leaders in 2009 at the Vatican, where according to Cardinal Collins he expressed his “sorrow and anguish” for the abuses in the schools.

Pope Francis last Sunday expressed sorrow over the discovery of the unmarked graves, but did not issue a formal apology.

“May Canada’s political and religious authorities continue to work together with determination to shed light on this sad event and humbly commit themselves to a path of reconciliation and healing,” the pope said at the June 6 Sunday Angelus at the Vatican.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a Catholic, in 2017 met with Pope Francis and raised the issue of the residential school system, inviting the pope to come to Canada. Last week, Trudeau said he was “deeply disappointed” at the lack of a formal apology by the Church, calling on the Church to release all relevant records for the schools and saying the government had “tools” to apply if the Church did not do so, according to the Associated Press.

Appearing on CBC on Sunday, Cardinal Collins called Trudeau’s remarks “extremely unhelpful” and “uninformed,” saying the Kamloops school’s records are available at the Royal British Columbia Museum. The school’s records were also given to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 

Other relevant Catholic institutions "should" release their records on the schools if they have not already done so, Collins added.

In his June 7 letter, Bishop Henry criticized “pompous posturing,” in an apparent reference to Trudeau’s comments.

The country’s bishops have issued statements following the discovery of the Indigenous children’s remains.

Archbishop Richard Gagnon of Winnipeg, president of the Canadian bishops’ conference, prayed for the deceased children and said that “Honouring the dignity of the lost little ones demands that the truth be brought to light,” in a May 31 statement. 

Bishop Joseph Nguyen of Kamloops on May 28 said he was “heartbroken and horrified” by the discovery, offering his “deepest sympathy to Chief Roseanne Casimir of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Nation and to all who are mourning this tragedy and unspeakable loss.” 

In a June 2 letter to First Nations governments and other Indigenous populations, Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB of Vancouver promised “tangible actions” to support school survivors and the families of the deceased.

This article was updated on June 10 with new information.

How a 'culture of conversion' transformed a Catholic high school

A group of students from Jesuit High School, an all-boys school in Tampa, Florida, praying in front of Our Lady. / Jimmy Mitchell

Denver Newsroom, Jun 10, 2021 / 15:02 pm (CNA).

An all-boys Catholic high school in Tampa, Florida is attracting attention for fostering a faith-filled environment that helped lead nearly two dozen of its students into the Church last month. 

"Coming off of COVID, there was really a hunger and an openness and a desire for God that, at least on our campus, we had never seen before," Jimmy Mitchell, director of campus ministry at Jesuit High School in Tampa, told CNA.

Jesuit High School saw 22 students convert this past year through its RCIA program - making 2020 "one of the most beautiful and fruitful years that our campus has ever seen,” Mitchell said. 

The large number of converts has “everything to do with a culture of conversion, brotherhood, and discipleship” at the school, Mitchell said. 

He said that as a campus minister he seeks to “infiltrate” every aspect of the students’ lives at school, including their classroom learning and their participation in music and sports. He also seeks to get to know the students and take a deep and personal interest in their lives. 

Mitchell said the school seeks to make Catholicism “appealing, attractive, and accessible” for the young men, with a special emphasis on seeking out underclassmen. 

"If we can catch them in their freshman year, we've got them for good," Mitchell laughed. 

"In a world that has normalized sin like never before, there's a growing community, a growing brotherhood of young men in Tampa who are normalizing holiness," he said, reiterating that the increase in conversions at the school is “unprecedented.” 

Of the 22 students who entered the Church this year, 14 of them were baptized; many of them had entered high school with no faith at all, Mitchell said. 

Toward the beginning of the school year, Mitchell and his fellow campus ministers observed a surge in attendance at daily Mass and confession offered at the school's recently-renovated chapel. 

Mitchell credited much of the campus renewal to the actions of school president Fr. Richard Hermes, S.J. 

Under Fr. Hermes' leadership, the school has been “transformed” in the faith, he said. 

Fr. Hermes, who has led the school for the past 13 years, told CNA that the school has devoted much effort to developing the campus ministry program, particularly the retreats it offers. 

"As the years went by, we really started to articulate the retreat program better and better," he said, adding that the retreats and pilgrimages are centered around daily Mass, small group discussions, and participants sharing their faith. 

Another of Fr. Hermes’ actions, Mitchell said, was to reshape the school’s theology department where the entire staff not only teaches Catholic doctrine, but has a “zeal for souls.”

Fr. Hermes said he works to ensure that all the school's teachers are well-credentialed, believe in God, and adhere to the Church’s Magisterium - but also seeks to ensure that they are effective at reaching teenage men. 

As president of the school, Fr. Hermes said his role is to ensure that the school has a Catholic identity.

"That's what motivates us. That's the heart of who we are and why we're here," he said. 

Mitchell said a key factor in the campus’ “dynamic, orthodox, authentically Catholic culture” is the availability of the sacraments. Mass is offered daily, along with regular Eucharistic adoration and, on the first Friday of each month, confession is available all day to the young men. 

The school also seeks to emphasize beauty, Mitchell said. The school’s setting in the Florida landscape is itself beautiful, he noted, but its crown jewel is the newly-renovated, $10 million Romanesque chapel. 

Students fill Holy Cross Chapel, renovated in 2018. / Jimmy Mitchell
<p>Students fill Holy Cross Chapel, renovated in 2018. / Jimmy Mitchell</p>

The chapel, dedicated in 2018, was redesigned to encourage devotion to God. The renovation featured a larger space than before, with a clearly demarcated sanctuary, a prominent tabernacle and altar, a large 19th century stained glass window, elegant wooden pews, and numerous references to the Society of Jesus. Father Hermes told CNA at the time of the dedication that he wanted the new chapel to “bespeak the sacred. When you walk in there, you're gonna know this is a sacred space and a holy chapel.”

“The main vision was sacred space, and nobility, and make it a place where not only Mass is celebrated, but devotions, the rosary or Stations of the Cross,” Father Hermes said. 

In addition to organizing 18 annual retreats for the students, Mitchell and his fellow ministers facilitate peer groups among the young men. Groups of eight to 10 students convene regularly during lunch periods to discuss their faith, he said, engaging in vulnerable conversations about their struggles and sharing wisdom and counsel with each other. 

He said many upperclassmen commit to acting as “peer ministers,” attending daily Mass and weekly confession, and spearheading the discipleship groups. 

One such leader is rising senior Jackson Graham, who serves as president of the school’s peer ministry club. He told CNA that he is considering options for college, as well as discerning the priesthood through the Jesuits. 

Though Graham grew up in a Catholic household, he said he somewhat drifted from his faith early in his high school career. Graham said the experience of the pandemic in 2020 helped him realize "how much worse my life was when I was not putting God first."

Graham committed to daily Mass and daily rosaries to help with conquering vices. He said that returning to school in-person presented him an opportunity for a “new beginning.”

Throughout the rest of his high school career and beyond, Graham said he plans to continue daily prayer and attending daily Mass, and plans to maintain a men's group where members can discuss the faith and hold each other accountable. 

"Don't be afraid to cast your net out and really start diving into your faith. The Lord gives you the courage you need, and it's attractive," Graham said. 

Altar servers kneeling during the celebration of the liturgy of the Eucharist in Holy Cross Chapel. / Jimmy Mitchell
<p>Altar servers kneeling during the celebration of the liturgy of the Eucharist in Holy Cross Chapel. / Jimmy Mitchell</p>

Ryan Feocco, a fixture of Jesuit High School’s basketball team, graduated from the school this year and is planning to attend the University of Florida in the fall.

Feocco told CNA that he grew up in a relatively irreligious household, and he largely forged his own religious path. He said that in entering Jesuit High School, he did not at first find the idea of Catholicism appealing but tried to approach it with an open mind. He described his first few years of high school as “a time in my life where I wasn't really who I truly was."

Ultimately, thanks in large part to the school’s peer groups as well as to his theology courses, he learned that the moral teachings of the Catholic faith aligned with his own beliefs. Through a series of events, “God revealed Himself,” he said. 

Feocco says he prayed for clarity, and asked God to place the right people in his life; a close friend helped him greatly in his faith journey, he said. 

He decided to join RCIA during his senior year, and was received into the Church in May. He said his parents were very supportive of his decision. 

Feocco said he has several friends and fellow Jesuit graduates who are also planning to attend the University of Florida, and that he hopes they continue to support each other and attend Mass together while in college. 

He said he has found prayer to be the key to keeping his faith strong. 

"When I first came to school I just recited the words and didn't think anything of it. But prayer is undoubtedly, in my opinion, one of the most important things in the faith,” Feocco said. 

“You spending that time praising and glorifying God through your own words - it shows that you're willing to give Him all that you have. Building that prayer life aids tremendously in what you can become in the faith."

For fellow educators seeking to build a similar Catholic community at their school, Fr. Hermes said the first thing is to understand that such an undertaking is the Lord's work. 

Though changing a school's culture may take time, he urged against discouragement. Teens respond well to seeing adults living their faith, Father Hermes noted. 

Mitchell said that Jesuit High School holds the faith in great esteem and seeks to convince students that there is “nothing more exciting than sharing the love of God with others.”

Several young men that Mitchell has counseled have already entered successful college and post-college careers. At the end of the day, Mitchell says his job is “loving them well” and proclaiming the Gospel clearly. 

"The Lord does everything else,” he said. 

Author says maternal instinct can be measured in a lab


Washington D.C., Jun 10, 2021 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

In her new book “Mom Genes: Inside the New Science of Our Ancient Maternal Instinct,” author Abigail Tucker argues that maternal instinct can be measured in a lab. 

“I had never thought of maternal behavior, maternal instinct, as something you could study under a microscope,” Tucker told CNA in an interview. However, she said that a trip to Emory University and a study of rodents made her consider the distinctiveness of a mother’s brain. 

“We are just beginning to understand what makes moms moms,” Tucker said. “And that’s to the detriment of the human species.” 

Weaving her own experience as a mother with an examination of the ways motherhood changes body and mind, Tucker’s book explores the biology of motherhood.

Tucker said that while most of her career was spent writing about animals, one area of expertise she could contribute to was her own experience having four children.

“By repeating the experience four times, I was able to see some of the hidden forces and wild card factors that were shaping me,” she said. 

Maternal instinct, she told CNA, is really a “change in motive.” She noted that some of these changes are physical. The brain, for example, is “a very key organ of childbirth,” she said. 

“Maternal instinct is really the awakening of this core, pro-baby motive, it's a sensitization to infant cues and a desire to respond to them,” Tucker said. “One scientist called it an ‘unmasking of a latent identity.’” 

A host of variables - financial, social, stress, partner and familiar relationships - also contribute to the type of mother a woman becomes, Tucker said.

“As mothers, we make babies, but we are also being made,” Tucker said. “What are the forces that are invisibly working on us that help account for this staggering variation you see in maternal variation, just in one American city or one American block?” 

Tucker said that humans are “notable” among mammals in that they do not have what scientists call “fixed action patterns” with motherhood - patterns that other species have. 

“There’s so much variation in the way moms do their jobs globally, it's hard to pinpoint one thing we uniformly do,” she said, adding that scientists have noticed that many human mothers have a “left-sided cradling bias” - meaning they are more likely to cradle an infant on their left side. 

Tucker said she hopes the fact that birth rates are currently in “a swan dive” will prompt increased scientific study of maternal health and science, so that mothers, babies, families, and society can all thrive. 

“At a moment where moms are becoming a bit more of a scarcity than they were before, it might be worth kind of weighing some of these things we can do to help moms be at peak performance, because that’s good for everyone,” she said.


Pope Francis: Rigid priests are a manifestation of clericalism

Pope Francis meets with members of the Pius XI regional pontifical seminary in Ancona, Italy, June 10, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Jun 10, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis Thursday urged a group of Italian seminarians to avoid rigidity, which, he said, lacks humanity, and encouraged them to ask God for the gift of docility.

“Clericalism is a perversion of the priesthood: it is a perversion. And rigidity is one of the manifestations,” the pope said June 10.

“When I find a rigid seminarian or young priest, I say ‘something bad is happening to this one on the inside.’ Behind every rigidity, there is a serious problem, because rigidity lacks humanity.”

/ Vatican Media.
/ Vatican Media.

Francis spoke about the qualities of a good seminarian and priest in a meeting with the students, rector, and formators of the Pius XI regional pontifical seminary, located in Ancona, central Italy.

The seminary, he said, should not distance its students from reality, from dangers, and from others, “but, on the contrary, make you become closer to God and to your brothers.”

“Within the walls of the seminary, expand the boundaries of your heart -- the expanded heart -- extend them to the whole world,” he said, “be passionate about what ‘draws near,’ what ‘opens,’ what ‘brings together.’”

/ Vatican Media.
/ Vatican Media.

The pope also encouraged the seminarians to be steeped in the Word of God, not only internet chatter.

“Do not be satisfied with being skilled in the use of social media and digital media to communicate,” he advised. “Only transformed by the Word of God will you be able to communicate words of life.”

He said that “the world is thirsty for priests who are able to communicate the goodness of the Lord to those who have experienced sin and failure, for priests who are experts in humanity, for pastors willing to share the joys and labors of their brothers, for men who allow themselves to be changed by the cry of those who suffer.”

/ Vatican Media.
/ Vatican Media.

Pope Francis also said he liked to imagine seminaries as a kind of Holy Family of Nazareth, the place in which Jesus was “welcomed, guarded and formed in view of the mission entrusted to him by the Father.”

“The Son of God accepted to let himself be loved and guided by human parents, Mary and Joseph, teaching each of us that without docility no one can grow and mature,” he said.

Francis emphasized the importance of asking for the gift of docility, which he said “is a constructive attitude of one’s vocation and also of one’s personality.”

He also encouraged seminarians and young priests to speak to the old priests in their diocese, who, he said, are “the treasure of the Church.”

“So many of them are sometimes forgotten or in a retirement home: go and see them,” he urged.

Addressing the seminary’s rector, spiritual director, and formators, he asked them to be for their seminarians what St. Joseph was for Jesus.

“May they learn more from your life than from your words, as happened in the house of Nazareth, where Jesus was formed at the school of Joseph’s ‘creative courage,’” he said.

/ Vatican Media.
/ Vatican Media.

“May they learn docility from your obedience; industriousness from your dedication; generosity towards the poor from the testimony of your sobriety and availability; fatherhood thanks to your lively and chaste affection.”

Reflecting on St. Joseph’s chastity, Pope Francis explained the virtue of chastity as “freedom from possession in all areas of life.”

“Only when a love is chaste, is it truly love,” he said.

Cardinal Marx: Pope Francis’ resignation decision a ‘great challenge’

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising at the Holy See press office, Oct. 27, 2017. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Munich, Germany, Jun 10, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Cardinal Reinhard Marx said Thursday that Pope Francis’ decision not to accept his resignation as Catholic archbishop of Munich and Freising is a “great challenge.”

Marx made the comment June 10, hours after the Vatican published a letter from the pope asking the 67-year-old cardinal to remain in charge of the archdiocese in southern Germany.

“I find the pope’s decision to be a great challenge. After that, simply going back to the agenda cannot be the way for me and also not for the archdiocese,” he said in a statement on the archdiocese’s website.

CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported that Marx expressed surprise at the swiftness of the pope’s response to his offer to resign, made public on June 4.

The influential cardinal is a member of the pope’s Council of Cardinals and the coordinator of the Vatican Council for the Economy. Until last year, he was also chairman of the German Catholic bishops’ conference.

Pope Francis received Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich and Freising, in a private audience at the Vatican on May 27, 2019.  /  Vatican Media/CNA
Pope Francis received Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich and Freising, in a private audience at the Vatican on May 27, 2019. / Vatican Media/CNA

In a May 21 letter to the pope, Marx outlined his reasons for seeking to resign from office.

He wrote: “Without doubt, these are times of crisis for the Church in Germany. There are, of course, many reasons for this situation -- also beyond Germany in the whole world -- and I believe it is not necessary to state them in detail here.”

“However, this crisis has also been caused by our own failure, by our own guilt. This has become clearer and clearer to me looking at the Catholic Church as a whole, not only today but also in the past decades.”

“My impression is that we are at a ‘dead end’ which, and this is my paschal hope, also has the potential of becoming a ‘turning point.’”

He continued: “In essence, it is important to me to share the responsibility for the catastrophe of the sexual abuse by Church officials over the past decades.”

With Pope Francis’ permission, the archdiocese of Munich and Freising published the cardinal’s letter to the pope, along with a personal declaration, on June 4 in German, English, and Italian.

Responding to the pope’s refusal of his resignation, Marx said: “I did not expect that he would react so quickly and I did not expect his decision that I should continue my service as archbishop of Munich and Freising.”

“I am moved by the comprehensiveness and the very brotherly tone of his letter and feel how much he understands and has accepted my request. In obedience I accept his decision as I promised him.”

Writing in Spanish, Francis told Marx: “If you are tempted to think that, by confirming your mission and not accepting your resignation, this Bishop of Rome (your brother who loves you) does not understand you, think of what Peter felt before the Lord when, in his own way, he presented him with his resignation: ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinner,’ and listen to the answer: ‘Shepherd my sheep.’”

The cardinal said that he would now need to reflect on “what new ways we can go -- even in the face of a history of multiple failures -- to proclaim and witness to the Gospel” in the Munich archdiocese.

He said: “The bishop is not alone in this and in the next few weeks I will think about how we can together contribute even more to the renewal of the Church here in our archdiocese and as a whole; because the pope takes up much of what I mentioned in my letter to him and gives us important impulses.”

“What I also underlined in my declaration remains: that I have to bear personal responsibility and also have an ‘institutional responsibility,’ especially in view of those affected [by clerical sexual abuse], whose perspective needs to be included even more effectively.”

CNA Deutsch reported that German bishops’ conference chairman Bishop Georg Bätzing expressed relief at the pope’s decision not to accept Marx’s resignation.

Thomas Sternberg, president of the influential lay Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), also welcomed the news.

He told the Rheinische Post that the pope’s letter showed “that the alleged dissatisfaction with the ‘Synodal Way’ in Germany does not correspond to the multi-layered reality.”

He was referring to the controversial multi-year process bringing together bishops and lay people to discuss four main topics: the way power is exercised in the Church; sexual morality; the priesthood; and the role of women.

Marx, who has served as archbishop of Munich and Freising since 2007, had said that he hoped his resignation would “send a personal signal for a new beginning, for a new awakening of the Church, not only in Germany.”

In April, Marx asked German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier not to bestow the Federal Cross of Merit on him after an outcry among advocates for abuse survivors over the award.

He had been scheduled to receive the Bundesverdienstkreuz, Germany’s only federal decoration, at the Bellevue Palace in Berlin April 30.

Marx said that he did not want to draw negative attention to other award recipients.

Peter Bringmann-Henselder, a member of the Affected Persons Advisory Board of Cologne archdiocese, had urged the president to withhold the honor, citing Marx’s handling of cases when he was bishop of Trier in 2001–2007.

“We do not understand how you can award Cardinal Marx the Federal Cross of Merit, a man who is still criticized for not having consistently investigated cases of sexualized violence in his former diocese of Trier and who is accused of covering up cases in that context,” he wrote.

The official web portal of the Catholic Church in Germany reported on Thursday that Marx’s handling of cases in Trier would be “comprehensively investigated” by an independent commission on behalf of the diocese that has been led by Bishop Stephan Ackermann since 2009.

It also noted that in the next few months the Munich law firm Westpfahl-Spilker-Wastl is expected to release a study of the treatment of abuse claims in the archdiocese of Munich and Freising, including during Marx’s time as archbishop.

The portal added that Timo Ranzenberger, an alleged abuse survivor, wrote a six-page letter to Marx, dated May 3.

According to CNA Deutsch, Ranzenberger had reported a pastor in Freisen, in the Diocese of Trier, for alleged abuse in 2006, when Marx was the local bishop.

Ranzenberger told the Saarbrücker Zeitung that he sent the letter, accusing Marx of responding inadequately to the allegations 15 years earlier, on May 5. He received a response from the Munich archdiocese on May 22, the day after Marx’s resignation letter to the pope.

He said that he would also write to Bishop Bätzing, Marx’s successor as German bishops’ conference chairman.

“Subsequently, both letters will also go to Pope Francis,” he added.

In his personal declaration published June 4, Marx said that he had repeatedly thought about resigning from office over the past few months.

“The events and debates of the past weeks, however, only play a subordinate role in this context,” he said, explaining that his request to resign was an “exclusively personal decision.”

Court blocks Missouri's eight-week abortion ban

Natalia Bratslavsky/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Jun 10, 2021 / 10:30 am (CNA).

A federal appeals court on Wednesday blocked a 2019 Missouri pro-life law from going into effect.

The Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district court’s injunction on the Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act, which set up tiers of abortion restrictions at various stages of pregnancy.

Sue Liebel, state policy director for the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, said she was “disappointed” at the decision, “especially with a landmark U.S. Supreme court case already pending.” The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the fall on Mississippi’s ban on most abortions after 15 weeks, a case some legal experts say could be a landmark abortion ruling.

“Missouri lawmakers acted on the will of the people when they enacted some of the nation’s strongest protections for the unborn and their mothers in 2019,” Liebel stated.

The Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act was signed into law in 2019. Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region sued over the law, and a district court judge in August 2019 blocked it from going into effect.

The law set up several tiers of abortion restrictions at various stages in pregnancy – at eight, 14, 18, and 20 weeks of pregnancy – designed to be able to withstand judicial scrutiny. Judge Howard Sachs halted all the tiers from going into effect, ruling that they were unconstitutional pre-viability abortion bans; the abortion providers were likely to succeed on the merits of their case against the law, he said in his decision to grant a preliminary injunction.

Judge Sachs initially allowed one part of the law to go into effect – a ban on “discrimination” abortions conducted for the sole reason of the baby’s race, sex, or a Down Syndrome diagnosis. The district court later blocked that provision as well, after Reproductive Health Services brought additional evidence claiming harm done to clients by the law.

In the Eighth Circuit ruling on Wednesday, a three-judge panel considered whether or not to uphold the preliminary injunction placed on the law by the district court. The state failed to make its case to overcome the injunction, the court ruled.

“Missouri has failed to demonstrate that its policy priorities outweigh (1) the public interest in access to pre-viability abortions, or (2) the significant interference with RHS’s business and the harm to pregnant individuals who might seek a pre-viability abortion before final judgment in this case,” Judge Jane Kelly of the Eighth Circuit court wrote in the majority opinion.

The law’s ban on abortions after 20 weeks would have resulted in around 100 fewer abortions each year in the state, she wrote, and the eight-week abortion ban would have restricted around half of abortions in the state – estimates that the state “does not dispute.”

“The district court concluded that this was ‘a significant interference with plaintiffs’ service and the rights of its prospective patients,’” she wrote, “and Missouri offers nothing to counter that conclusion.”

Judge David Stras, concurring in part and dissenting in part from the majority opinion, argued that he would have allowed the restriction on “discrimination” abortion to go into effect.

“Women remain free to terminate their pregnancies for nondiscriminatory reasons,” Stras wrote, arguing that the provision was an abortion regulation and not a ban.

Fr. Thomas Joseph White named first American rector of Angelicum in Rome

Fr. Thomas Joseph White, O.P. / Pontificia Università di San Tommaso d’Aquino via Flickr.

Rome, Italy, Jun 10, 2021 / 08:51 am (CNA).

The theologian Fr. Thomas Joseph White, O.P., has been appointed rector of the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, becoming the first American to hold the position.

White, who has taught at the university commonly known as the Angelicum since 2018, will start as rector on Sept. 14.

White’s appointment was announced June 10 by Fr. Gerard Timoner, O.P., Master of the Order of Preachers, on the Dominican order’s website.

As “rector magnificus” of the Angelicum, White will lead an institution where the future Pope John Paul II studied. The Polish saint earned his doctorate in philosophy from the university in 1948.

“I’m deeply honored that the order has asked me to take on this responsibility,” White, 50, told CNA. “It’s an opportunity to serve the whole Church and an opportunity to help advance the mission of the Dominican order, which is to seek the truth and to communicate with truth, charity, and in the light of Christ.”

In addition to teaching theology at the Angelicum, one of seven pontifical universities in Rome, the theologian was charged with reorganizing the university’s Thomistic Institute, which promotes the study of the Catholic Church’s Thomistic tradition.

/ Pontificia Università di San Tommaso d’Aquino via Flickr.
/ Pontificia Università di San Tommaso d’Aquino via Flickr.

White converted to the Catholic faith in college. Prior to entering the Dominican order’s Province of St. Joseph in 2003, he completed his masters and doctorate in theology at the University of Oxford. He was ordained a priest in 2008 in Washington, D.C., and completed a licentiate in sacred theology at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies.

He came to Rome after serving as a professor of theology at the Dominican House of Studies for 10 years. While in Washington D.C., White was also the founding director of the Thomistic Institute.

The Georgia-born priest is also a musician and one of the founding members of the American folk and bluegrass band The Hillbilly Thomists, for which he sings and plays the banjo and dulcimer. The U.S.-based group, which is composed of Dominican friars, has released two albums since 2017.

The Angelicum has around 1,000 students coming from almost 100 countries around the world. The Dominican priest said that the university “is a venerable institution located at the heart of Rome and at the heart of the Church’s institutional life.”

The Angelicum “forms priests, seminarians, religious, and lay people for excellence in philosophical and theological learning and for pastoral ministry throughout the world.”

In a press release, White said that “the Angelicum is a university especially dedicated to the universal mission of the Church. Building on the Dominican tradition of harmony between faith and natural reason, the university seeks to cultivate a deeper understanding of Christianity, and the doctrinal life of the Church, in ongoing conversation with traditions of philosophy, law, and social doctrine. St. Thomas Aquinas is our touchstone in this effort.”

He told CNA that “the Dominicans are fully committed to this beautiful mission we’ve been given by the Holy Father and by the Holy See to study sacred truth and bring the light of the Gospel to all people.”

White is a member of the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas and the author of several books, including “Wisdom in the Face of Modernity: A Study in Thomistic Natural Theology” and “The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism.” His latest book, “The Trinity: On the Nature and Mystery of the One God,” will be released in 2022.

White succeeds Fr. Michał Paluch O.P., who is from Poland and has led the Angelicum as rector since 2017.

Catholics submit ‘dubium’ to Vatican asking if Church in Germany is in schism

Essen Cathedral, Germany. / Public domain.

Bochum, Germany, Jun 10, 2021 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Three Catholics have submitted a “dubium” to the Vatican asking if the Church in Germany is in schism.

The trio from the Diocese of Essen formally requested a ruling from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

A dubium, from the Latin word meaning “doubt,” is a question addressed to the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation that can be answered with a “yes” or “no.”

The congregation replies with a “Responsum ad dubium,” as it did in March when asked whether the Church has the authority to bless same-sex couples.

The congregation is sometimes asked to answer multiple queries, known as “dubia.” Four cardinals submitted five dubia in 2016 about the interpretation of Amoris laetitia, Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on love in the family.

André Wichmann, from Bochum, in western Germany, told CNA Deutsch on June 9 that he and two others had submitted the dubium out of a “great concern about unity.”

“From my point of view, the split has already taken place,” he said, citing demands in Germany for the ordination of women, blessings of same-sex couples in defiance of the Vatican, and lay people preaching at Masses.

“We are three Catholic Christians from the Diocese of Essen. We have also been involved in community life in various ministries for many years,” he said.

“In a process that has lasted many years, we have also experienced the increasing polarization in the local congregations. It was not always easy to profess the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Nor was it always easy to stand up for a liturgy celebrated according to the books of the Church.”

Wichmann said that the group knew they had “no entitlement to an answer” from Rome, but the signal was still important.

“The Church’s roof is on fire north of the Alps,” he commented.

Wichmann noted criticisms of the German Church’s “Synodal Way” made this week by the influential theologian Cardinal Walter Kasper.

The 88-year-old German cardinal said: “I have not yet given up hope that the prayers of many faithful Catholics will help to steer the Synodal Way in Germany on Catholic tracks.”

The Synodal Way is a multi-year process bringing together bishops and lay people to discuss four main topics: the way power is exercised in the Church; sexual morality; the priesthood; and the role of women.

Wichmann predicted that the Synodal Way would also cause frustration among “reform-oriented Catholics.” He argued that since the initiative’s decisions were not legally binding for the bishops, expectations of doctrinal change were unrealistic.

He said that even for Catholics who are loyal to the Magisterium, the Synodal Way risks creating deeper “polarization and division.”

“The discussions here, in the Catholic Church in Germany, are held separately from the universal Church. Many of the topics raised have to be decided in the universal Church, on the basis of the Magisterium,” he said.

“By dealing with topics that contradict the Magisterium and thereby undertaking an idiosyncratic path, the Synodal Way also inevitably disappoints the expectations of Catholics for whom the Catechism and the Magisterium form a foundation.”

Bishop Georg Bätzing, the chairman of the German bishops’ conference, insisted last month that the country’s Catholics are not “schismatics.”

He said: “It is absolutely clear that there are matters that we can only discuss at the level of the universal Church. We will contribute from Germany with our reflections.”

“However, I would like to reject the accusation repeatedly used of us being schismatics or of wanting to detach ourselves as the German national Church from Rome. Our bond with Rome and the Holy Father is very tight.”

For the three authors of the dubium, Wichmann said, “only on the foundation of clarification can unity in faith, love, and hope be found again.”

“We therefore very much hope for an answer from Rome,” he said, “also in order to take away the doubts of many believers and thus promote trust.”

Pope Francis declines Cardinal Marx’s resignation

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, pictured in January 2020. / Rudolf Gehrig/CNA Deutsch.

Vatican City, Jun 10, 2021 / 05:40 am (CNA).

Pope Francis declined on Thursday the resignation of Cardinal Reinhard Marx, offered to him last month.

In a June 10 letter, the pope asked the influential German cardinal to continue as archbishop of Munich and Freising.

Writing in Spanish, Francis told Marx: “If you are tempted to think that, by confirming your mission and not accepting your resignation, this Bishop of Rome (your brother who loves you) does not understand you, think of what Peter felt before the Lord when, in his own way, he presented him with his resignation: ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinner,’ and listen to the answer: ‘Shepherd my sheep.’”

The 67-year-old cardinal is a member of the pope’s Council of Cardinals and the coordinator of the Vatican Council for the Economy. Until last year, he served as the chairman of the German bishops’ conference.

Marx sent a letter to Pope Francis May 21 outlining his reasons for seeking to resign from office.

The archdiocese of Munich and Freising published the cardinal’s letter to the pope and personal declaration on June 4 in German, English, and Italian.

Marx wrote: “Without doubt, these are times of crisis for the Church in Germany. There are, of course, many reasons for this situation -- also beyond Germany in the whole world -- and I believe it is not necessary to state them in detail here.”

“However, this crisis has also been caused by our own failure, by our own guilt. This has become clearer and clearer to me looking at the Catholic Church as a whole, not only today but also in the past decades,” he continued.

“In essence, it is important to me to share the responsibility for the catastrophe of the sexual abuse by Church officials over the past decades.”

In his response June 10, Pope Francis thanked Marx for his Christian courage, which he said is not afraid of the cross or to be humbled before the reality of sin.

He also said he liked the way that the archbishop had ended his letter. Marx wrote that he would “gladly continue to be a priest and bishop of this Church” and that he would like to dedicate his next years of service “in a more intense way to pastoral care and to commit myself to a spiritual renewal of the Church.”

“And this is my answer, dear brother,” the pope said in his letter. “Continue as you propose, but as archbishop of Munich and Freising.”

Noting Marx’s reference to the crisis of the Church in Germany, Francis said that “the whole Church is in crisis because of the abuse issue” and the only fruitful path is “to assume the crisis, personally and communally.”

“Therefore, in my opinion, every bishop of the Church must assume it and ask himself, ‘What should I do in the face of this catastrophe?’” he said.

The pope added that the “mea culpa” the Church has offered in the face of past failures must be taken up again today.

“We are asked for a reform, which -- in this case -- does not consist in words but in attitudes that have the courage to put themselves in crisis, to assume the reality whatever the consequences may be. And every reform begins with oneself,” he said.

Pope Francis suggested there was an urgent need to “air out” the Church from the reality of abuse and how it has been handled.

“Let the Spirit lead us to the desert of desolation, to the cross, and to the resurrection,” he said. “It is the path of the Spirit that we must follow, and the starting point is humble confession: we have made a mistake, we have sinned.”

He said: “We will not be saved by the prestige of our Church, which tends to conceal its sins; we will not be saved by the power of money or the opinion of the media (so often we are too dependent on them). We will be saved by opening the door to the Only One who can do it and confessing our nakedness: ‘I have sinned,’ ‘we have sinned’... and weeping, and stammering as best we can that ‘depart from me, for I am a sinner,’ a legacy that the first pope left to the popes and bishops of the Church.”

In his letter to the pope, Marx, who has served as archbishop of Munich and Freising since 2007, had said that he hoped his resignation would “send a personal signal for a new beginning, for a new awakening of the Church, not only in Germany.”

In April, Marx asked German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier not to bestow the Federal Cross of Merit on him after an outcry among advocates for abuse survivors over the award.

He had been scheduled to receive the Bundesverdienstkreuz, Germany’s only federal decoration, at the Bellevue Palace in Berlin on April 30.

Marx said that he did not want to draw negative attention to other award recipients.

In February 2020, he notified German bishops that he would not stand to be elected to a second term as chairman of the German bishops’ conference. He was succeeded in the post by Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg.