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Pope apologizes for 'serious mistakes' in judging Chilean abuse cases

Pope apologizes for 'serious mistakes' in judging Chilean abuse cases

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In a letter to the bishops of Chile, Pope Francis apologized for underestimating the seriousness of the sexual abuse crisis in the country following a recent investigation into allegations concerning Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno.

The pope said he made "serious mistakes in the assessment and perception of the situation, especially due to a lack of truthful and balanced information."

"I ask forgiveness of all those I have offended and I hope to be able to do it personally in the coming weeks," the pope said in the letter, which was released by the Vatican April 11. Several survivors apparently have been invited to the Vatican to meet the pope.

Abuse victims alleged that Bishop Barros -- then a priest -- had witnessed their abuse by his mentor, Father Fernando Karadima. In 2011, Father Karadima was sentenced to a life of prayer and penance by the Vatican after he was found guilty of sexually abusing boys. Father Karadima denied the charges; he was not prosecuted civilly because the statute of limitations had run out.

Protesters and victims said Bishop Barros is guilty of protecting Father Karadima and was physically present while some of the abuse was going on.

During his visit to Chile in January, Pope Francis asked forgiveness for the sexual abuses committed by some priests in Chile.

"I feel bound to express my pain and shame at the irreparable damage caused to children by some of the ministers of the church," he said.

However, speaking to reporters, he pledged his support for Bishop Barros and said: "The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I will speak. There is not one piece of evidence against him. It is calumny."

He later apologized to the victims and admitted that his choice of words wounded many.

A short time later, the Vatican announced Pope Francis was sending a trusted investigator to Chile to listen to people with information about Bishop Barros.

The investigator, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, is president of a board of review within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; the board handles appeals filed by clergy accused of abuse or other serious crimes. The archbishop also had 10 years of experience as the Vatican's chief prosecutor of clerical sex abuse cases at the doctrinal congregation.

Pope Francis said Archbishop Scicluna and his aide, Father Jordi Bertomeu Farnos, heard the testimony of 64 people and presented him with more than 2,300 pages of documentation. Not all of the witnesses spoke about Father Karadima and Bishop Barros; several of them gave testimony about abuse alleged to have occurred at a Marist Brothers' school.

After a "careful reading" of the testimonies, the pope said, "I believe I can affirm that all the testimonies collected speak in a brutal way, without additives or sweeteners, of many crucified lives and, I confess, it has caused me pain and shame."

The pope said he was convening a meeting in Rome with the 34 Chilean bishops to discuss the findings of the investigations and his own conclusions "without prejudices nor preconceived ideas, with the single objective of making the truth shine in our lives."

Pope Francis said he wanted to meet with the bishops to discern immediate and long-term steps to "re-establish ecclesial communion in Chile in order to repair the scandal as much as possible and re-establish justice."

Archbishop Scicluna and Father Bertomeu, the pope said, had been overwhelmed by the "maturity, respect and kindness" of the victims who testified.

"As pastors," the pope told the bishops, "we must express the same feeling and cordial gratitude to those who, with honesty (and) courage" requested to meet with the envoys and "showed them the wounds of their soul."

Following the release of Pope Francis' letter, Bishop Santiago Silva Retamales, president of the bishops' conference and head of the military ordinariate, said the bishops of Chile would travel to the Vatican in the third week of May.

The bishops, he said, shared in the pope's pain.

"We have not done enough," he said in a statement. "Our commitment is that this does not happen again."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Copyright © 2018 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 cns@catholicnews.com.

Update: Pontifical Commission for Latin America proposes synod on women

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Catholic Church in Latin America must recognize and appreciate the role of women and end the practice of using them solely as submissive laborers in the parish, said members of a pontifical commission.

In addition, at the end of their plenary meeting March 6-9 at the Vatican, members of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America proposed that the church hold a Synod of Bishops "on the theme of the woman in the life and mission of the church."

"There still exist 'macho,' bossy clerics who try to use women as servants within their parish, almost like submissive clients of worship and manual labor for what is needed. All of this has to end," said the final document from the meeting.

L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, reported April 11 that the theme of the four-day meeting, "The woman: pillar in building the church and society in Latin America," was chosen by Pope Francis.

In addition to 17 cardinals and seven bishops who are members of the commission, the pope asked that some leading Latin American women also be invited; eight laywomen and six women religious participated in the four-day meeting and in drafting its pastoral recommendations, the newspaper said.

While the assembly expressed appreciation for and based many of its proposals on the Latin American bishops' Aparecida document, participants said more needed to be done to implement concrete solutions to the problems facing women in Latin America.

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio headed the drafting committee for the final document of the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, in 2007 in Aparecida, Brazil.

The Aparecida document's call to renew the church's commitment to mission and discipleship in Latin America must be followed through by local churches, especially "in denouncing every form of discrimination and oppression, violence and exploitation that women suffer in various situations," the Pontifical Commission for Latin America's final document stated.

Expressing appreciation for the Christian witness given by women in consecrated life, mothers who are "authentic 'martyrs' giving their lives for their families" and widows who serve their communities in charity, the commission document said women can and should play a greater role in church life, including in the formation of future priests.

In order for priests to benefit from the "feminine genius," it said, it is important for married women and consecrated women "to participate in the formation process."

Women should be a part "of the formation teams, giving them authority to teach and accompany seminarians, as well as the opportunity to intervene in the vocational discernment and balanced development of candidates to the priestly ministry," the document said.

The commission also warned of the negative influence "telenovelas" (soap operas) have on Latin American women because the programs undermine marriages and families that are labeled "traditional" while advocating a variety of other forms of cohabitation.

In addition, the document said, "they attempt to undermine motherhood, which is depicted as a prison that reduces the possibilities of a woman's well-being and progress."

In Latin America, meeting participants warned, poor women are subjected to "undignified and horrible forms" of exploitation by "renting out their wombs" for surrogacy and influenced by foreign organizations.

"Feminist lobbies that are well-funded and orchestrated by international agencies" play a role in diminishing the dignity of women, the document added.

The figure of Mary as "a free and strong woman, obedient to the will of God," can be crucial in "recovering the identity of the woman and her value in the church," the document said.

Like Mary proclaiming the "Magnificat," women can have a prophetic voice and demonstrate "the feminine and maternal dimension of the church," the document stated.

"The Catholic Church, following the example of Jesus, must be very free of prejudices, stereotypes and discrimination against women," the final document said. "Christian communities must undertake a serious review of their life and a 'pastoral conversion' capable of asking forgiveness for all those situations in which they were and still are accomplices in attacking their dignity."

Participants at the meeting called for improved relations between local bishops and the religious orders of women who minister in their dioceses, saying women religious "must be recognized and valued as jointly responsible for the communion and mission of the church."

Women should be more involved in decision-making on a parish, diocesan, national and global church level, participants said. Such openness is not "a concession to pressure," but the result of an awareness that "the absence of women in decision making is a defect, an ecclesiological lacuna, the negative effect of a clerical and chauvinistic mentality."

Greater efforts, they said, must be made to educate men to overcome chauvinism, counteract the abandonment of their children and "irresponsibility in sexual behavior."

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Contributing to this story was Cindy Wooden at the Vatican.

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Copyright © 2018 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 cns@catholicnews.com.

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U.S. Bishops’ Migration Chairman Supports Southern Border Bishops Concerns Over White House Decision to Deploy National Guard at U.S./Mexico Border

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Catholic Bishops of the southern border issued a statement on April 6, 2018, regarding their deep concern over the Administration's decision to deploy the National Guard at the U.S./Mexico border. Bishop Joe Vásquez, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, today issued the following statement in support of the Southern Border Bishops and in response to the Administration's recent actions:

"On behalf of the USCCB Committee on Migration, I fully affirm the concerns voiced by the U.S. Bishops of the southern border regarding the presence of the National Guard at the U.S./Mexico border.  Current law entitles those fleeing persecution and arriving in our country to due-process as their claims are reviewed. As the border bishops state: 'Seeking refuge from persecution and violence in search of a peaceful life for oneself and one's family is not a crime.'  Our faith calls us to respond with compassion to those who suffer and seek safe haven; we ask our government to do the same as it seeks to safely and humanely secure the border."

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Keywords: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Bishop Joe S. Vásquez, USCCB Committee on Migration, White House, National Guard, Mexico border, U.S. border

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Media Contact:
Judy Keane
202-541-3200

 

Fond memories of global community echo with bishops' justice advocate

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A picture of a young Palestinian boy, with dark, soulful eyes and a bit of a dirty face, hangs on the back wall of Stephen Colecchi's office at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington.

When Colecchi looks at it, he offers a prayer for the nameless child and the Palestinian people.

"I met him in a mosque in Gaza on my first trip there (2007) and he hung around me. He kept smiling at me so I kept smiling at him," recalled Colecchi, director of the U.S. bishops' Office of International Justice and Peace.

"I pray for him whenever I look at his picture. I wonder if he's still alive and doing OK."

The boy is one of countless people Colecchi met during fact-finding trips around the world. Their struggles inspired Colecchi's work to protect human life throughout the 14 years at the USCCB.

"The best thing about this work, in addition to working with the bishops," he told Catholic News Service as he approached his April 30 retirement, "was you get to bring three assets of the church together: the experience of the church on the ground in every country around the world; the teaching of the church, the social teaching; and then the relationships ... that help inform what you're able to bring."

Colleagues credit Colecchi with uncounted accomplishments even though he stayed out of the limelight.

"Steve was a delight to work with. He was a man of great wisdom, integrity and very collegial," said retired Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, New York, who is a past chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace.

The bishop credited Colecchi for doing his homework on vital issues and keeping Scripture and Catholic social teaching at the forefront of his work.

Bill O'Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy at Catholic Relief Services, called Colecchi a resolute partner in advocacy and a gifted friend who is at ease talking with policymakers and struggling people alike.

"The bishops and the wider church have been served incredibly well by Steve and his determined leadership on raising the voice of the church on a whole host of international issues," O'Keefe said.

"He's made a profound difference in shaping the U.S. policy on key issues through supporting the bishops in their role," he added. "He combines his intellect and policy analysis with the ability to connect with people who are suffering great injustice."

John Carr, director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University and former executive director of the bishops' Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, brought Colecchi to the USCCB in 2004. Carr credited him for his steadfast pursuit of justice, citing his leading role in securing reauthorization of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief among other critical international aid programs.

"There are literally millions of people in Africa who are seeing their grandchildren because of his work and a lot of other people's work on HIV/AIDS and debt relief," Carr said.

"He is smart. He is faithful. He is persistent. He is good to work with. He is just a remarkable example of a faithful Catholic who has made a huge difference," Carr added.

Colecchi keeps the accolades in perspective.

"The church's teaching is neither left or right," he told CNS. "Rather it seeks to be faithful. We should always put our moral principles ahead of our partisan political positions and be guided by faith."

Colecchi's commitment to peace and justice was formed early in life. Growing up in Leominster, Massachusetts, in the 1950s and 1960s, Colecchi was active in the youth group at his family's parish, Holy Family of Nazareth.

"I really saw faith and engagement with society as going together," he said.

At first, Colecchi thought he would do that as a priest.

As he went off to the College of the Holy Cross in nearby Worcester, his father urged him to "do at least a little dating to see if you're really called to celibacy," Colecchi said. In his junior year, Colecchi met his wife, Cheryl, and thoughts of the priesthood disappeared. They have been married 44 years.

The years at Holy Cross were formative in other ways. Colecchi became involved in efforts to end the Vietnam War. It was Jesuit Father Joseph J. LaBran, associate chaplain, who, after an anti-war rally, encouraged Colecchi to consider using his leadership skills to serve the Catholic Church.

Following graduation in 1973, Colecchi entered Yale Divinity School to work on a master's degree in religion. He also worked on low-income housing needs for elderly people. "That was significant because I saw the struggles of poor, inner city elderly residents," he said.

At Yale, Colecchi met Father Henri Nouwen, a Dutch priest who taught pastoral ministry and wrote numerous books and articles on myriad aspects of the church's vital work.

"He was a big influence on me, too," Colecchi said of Father Nouwen. "He helped me understand that it was important to root myself in some spirituality, which I have never been very good at. I've always been more of an activist. That's one of the things I could do better in retirement."

With advanced degree in hand, Colecchi began his career in religious education at Northwest Catholic High School in West Hartford, Connecticut, where he connected students with outreach to elderly people. Then it was on to Virginia, the one place where Steve and Cheryl could find work together, he in parish ministry and she as a teacher.

Colecchi worked for three years at St. Joseph Church in rural Martinsville and eight years at St. Bridget Church in Richmond. As time passed, Cheryl built a career as a clinical psychologist.

By 1988, Colecchi's skills were noticed within the Richmond Diocese. Bishop Walter F. Sullivan, a leading social justice advocate who opposed abortion as much as nuclear weapons, hired him on the spot during an interview. Colecchi became director of the Office of Justice and Peace and diocesan director of Catholic Charities.

"It was a big office because it included an office of migrant ministry on the Eastern Shore. It included an office in Appalachia that worked on issues in Appalachia. It included refugee resettlement offices in three different metro areas of the diocese."

The position also required regularly meeting with legislators on any number of concerns. He recalled his most notable legislative achievements as changes in public assistance policies affecting two-parent families and a prohibition on partial-birth abortion.

In 2004, the USCCB called.

The Colecchis were not sure they wanted to move northward. They had two daughters and Cheryl's practice was well established. It was their involvement in the Just Faith program that led them to take the risk. The yearlong program rooted in social justice concerns ends with a retreat during which participants are invited to discern how God is calling them to act on behalf of the poor.

"Together we realized we needed to take a greater risk for social justice, we needed to simplify our lives," Colecchi recalled.

The moved turned out well. Colecchi has earned wide praise for his work and Cheryl was able to build a new practice in Washington's Virginia suburbs. Both were to retire together and planned to return to the Richmond area.

Colecchi said he looks "forward to being a full-time grandpa and a part-time something else" in retirement. He hopes to line up work as an adviser on issues such as nuclear disarmament, world poverty and climate change.

"I think I have something to contribute still."

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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Copyright © 2018 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 cns@catholicnews.com.