Is the Pope’s fight against sexual abuse in the Church slipping away from him?

There has been an in-flight wedding, a preview on next year’s Synod of Bishops assembly on the Amazon and encounters with the peripheries of Church and society, but Pope Francis’ ongoing visit to Chile and Peru has been marred by an apparent slacking off in the fight against sexual abuse in the Church. Some have even claimed that we are back at square one.

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At the end of a meeting with survivors of sexual abuse in Iquique on 18 January, the Holy Father was asked about the case of Bishop Juan Barros. The bishop of Osorno, appointed by Pope Francis in 2015, continues to be accused of having been aware of  the abuse perpetrated by Fr. Fernando Karadima in the 1980s. Survivor groups, as well as lay faithful in the Diocese of Osorno and other Chilean dioceses, have consistently called for Bishop Barros not to be appointed (or, now that he has been, to be removed). During the papal visit, protesters continued to make their voices heard. Following the private meeting with abuse survivors, in which the pope talked, prayed and wept with them, he commented on the Barros case, “The day I’m presented with proof against Bishop Barros, I will see. There’s not a single proof against him, it’s all a calumny. Is that clear?”

This harsh comment has been almost universally condemned, not least by some of the pope’s closest collaborators in the fight against sexual abuse. Marie Collins, former member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, tweeted on 20 January ,referring to Juan Carlos Cruz, a Chilean survivor of sexual abuse:

“In labelling [Juan Carlos Cruz] and his fellow Chilean survivors as guilty of slander the Pope has alligned himself with Cardinals Ezzati and Errazuriz, who, in an exchange of derogatory e-mails in 2015, conspired to block [Juan Carlos Cruz from] consideration for membership of the [Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors].”

42212019_401By claiming all accusations against Bishop Barros as slander or calumny, Pope Francis has indeed taking a major step back in how the Church relates to victims. Rather than listening to what they have to say, they are being silenced and ignored. Of course, this is what the Church has until recently been guilty of doing for decades, and what many parts of society still do to this day, when confronted with accusations of abuse. While it seems as yet unclear what role Bishop Barros may have played, the claims against Fr. Karadima at least are reliable. Karadima’s case was dismissed by the courts because the statute of limitations had expired, but the allegations were deemed nonetheless credible. The Vatican sentenced Fr. Karadima to a live of penance and prayer in 2011.

The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors is headed by Cardinal Séan O’Malley. The archbishop of Boston also released comments about what the pope had said, saying:

“It is understandable that Pope Francis’ statements yesterday in Santiago, Chile were a source of great pain for survivors of sexual abuse by clergy or any other perpetrator. Words that convey the message “if you cannot prove your claims then you will not be believed” abandon those who have suffered reprehensible criminal violations of their human dignity and relegate survivors to discredited exile.”

Cardinal_OMalley1Very strong words condemning what Pope Francis said. The cardinal then continues his comments by underlining the Holy Father’s commitment to fighting clerical sexual abuse:

“Accompanying the Holy Father at numerous meetings with survivors I have witnessed his pain of knowing the depth and breadth of the wounds inflicted on those who were abused and that the process of recovery can take a lifetime. The Pope’s statements that there is no place in the life of the Church for those who would abuse children and that we must adhere to zero tolerance for these crimes are genuine and they are his commitment.”

There is an odd contrast here, between the pope’s apparent commitment to fighting abuse and the comment he made. That contrast is strengthened further by the continuing silence surrounding the new mandates of the members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. These were up for renewal over the course of last year (some in March, others in December), but no word has yet come out. In essence, the Commission now exists in a sort of limbo.

With the creation of the Commission, Pope Francis was off to a good start in this matter. For the first time, survivors had a say in how the Church should respond. Of course, that has since changed. New members were added, but two survivors chose to leave the Commission. In March it’ll be four years since its establishment, and that is too soon for the Commission to be forgotten, ignored or otherwise becoming irrelevant. Its work is too important.

Hopefully, these two developments, the pope’s accusation of calumny and the silence surrounding the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors are simply hiccups, and the commitment of the Catholic Church to combat sexual abuse of minors under her responsibility will continue to grow.

Photo credit: [1] Reuters, [2] Reuters / A. Bianchi, [3] Flickr/George Martell-Pilot New Media

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Looking ahead at a new year

Midway through the last month of the year, it is a good time to look ahead to the new year. 2018 will undoubtedly feature its share of Catholic news, developments and, not least, opinions in social media. Every year since the launch of this blog has had had more than a few surprises, so a look at the future can’t be anything but incomplete, but there are a few things which we know will happen.

Algermissen2The retirement and appointment of bishops is pretty easy to predict, as bishops are legally bound to offer their resignation when they reach the age of 75. Locally, there are currently three dioceses without a bishop: Roermond in the Netherlands, and Hildesheim and Würzburg in Germany. In 2018, two more will likely join these: in Fulda, Bishop Heinz Josef Algermissen (at right) will celebrate his 75th on 15 February, and in Namur, Bishop Remy Vancottem will do likewise on 25 July. A third likely diocese to fall vacant in Ghent. Bishop Luc van Looy will turn 77 on 28 September. Upon his 75th birthday, the diocese made it known that Pope Francis had requested the bishop stay on for two more years, and that extension is up this year.

Other predictable events include the 80th birthdays of cardinals, the age at which they cease their duties in the Roman Curia and are no longer able to participate in a conclave. In 2018, six cardinals will mark this milestone:

  • Antonio Maria Cardinal Vegliò on 3 February
  • Paolo Cardinal Romeo on 20 February
  • Francesco Cardinal Coccopalmerio on 6 March
  • Manuel Cardinal Monteiro de Castro on 29 March
  • Pierre Cardinal Nguyễn Văn Nhơn on 1 April
  • Angelo Cardinal Amato on 8 June

Visita_de_Cardenal_Angelo_Amato_-_17792469768_(cropped)While all hold memberships in various dicasteries in the curia, two of these sit at the head of them: Cardinal Coccopalmerio is president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts and Cardinal Amato (at left) is the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Cardinal Nguyễn Văn Nhơn remains active as archbishop of Hanoi. All will undoubtedly retire upon their 80th birthday, opening up some interesting positions in the curia. Barring any deaths, the number of cardinal electors will stand at 114 by mid-2018. Possibly not low enough for a new consistory by itself, but considering the fact that a further 10 ill age out in 2019, Pope Francis may decide to be proactive and call a consistory in autumn for the creation of anywhere between 6 and 16 new cardinals.

World-Meeting-of-Families-2018Speaking about the pope, he will, despite the fact that he has no love for travelling, visit several countries in 2018. In January, he will once again return to South America, visiting Peru and Chile. Ireland is on the schedule in August, when the Holy Father will attend the World Meeting of Families taking place in Dublin (logo at right). Visits not yet confirmed are to the Baltic countries in September and to Romania in December. A visit to India also remains an option, but as Pope Francis has just wrapped a visit to India’s neighbouring countries of Myanmar and Bangladesh, it may not be at the top of the list.

synod of bishopsIn the latter part of the year, all eyes will be on the Synod of Bishops again, this while the reverberations of the last two assemblies of that body are still being felt. The October 2018 Fifteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops while focus on “Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment”. To this assembly, each bishops’ conference will elect one or more (depending on their size) delegates, while the Pope will also make a personal selection of delegates. One of these personal choices has already been made: Sérgio Cardinal Da Rocha, the archbishop of Brasília, was appointed as Relator General of next year’s assembly. He will outline the theme at the start of the assembly and summarise the delegates’ speeches so they can be condensed into concrete proposals.

Photo credit: [1] Bistum Fulda, [2] Fotos Presidencia El Salvador/Wikipedia

For Scandinavia, a nuncio used to great distances

Pope Francis today appointed a new apostolic nuncio to Sweden and Iceland. These two non-adjacent countries will undoubtedly soon be joined by Finland, Norway and Denmark as the new nuncio’s area of operations. The Nordic countries, although they each have their own nunciature in name*, have always shared one nuncio among them.

Monseñor_James_GreenAn expansive territory to cover, made even more expansive by the Scandinavian bishops regularly meeting in Germany, it is now under the diplomatic responsibility of no stranger to large distances. Archbishop James Patrick Green, 66, comes to Scandinavia from his previous posting in Peru, where he has been the nuncio since 2012. His other postings include the southern tip of Africa (South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland) from 2006 to 2012, and China, where he was Chargé d’affaires, from 2002 to 2006. Earlier in his diplomatic career, he also served at the nunciature in the Netherlands.

Archbishop Green was born in Philadelphia, USA, in 1950, and was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia by its then-archbishop Cardinal John Krol. In 2006, upon his appointment as nuncio to South Africa, Namibia and Botswana (Lesotho and Swaziland would follow later), he was consecrated and named as titular archbishop of Altinum.

Archbishop Green is characterised as “accessible, friendly, gracious and impressively capable”, and is credited with creating a stable episcopate in southern Africa. In Scandinavia, with only six serving bishops, he will have rather less chances to do so. The most senior Nordic bishop, Helsinki’s Teemu Sippo, is 69, followed by Stockholm’s Anders Arborelius at 67, and Copenhagen’s Czeslaw Kozon, who is 65. Although a bishop can retire before the age of 75 for health reasons, the expectation is that it will be another six years before Archbishop Green needs to get to work to collect information for a new bishop. The nuncio himself is still nine years away from retirement, so it is possible that he will be reassigned before that, especiallty considering that he never spent more than five years at his earlier assignments.

The Catholic Church in Scandinavia is growing, mostly due to immigration from traditionally Catholic countries like Poland and the Philippines. It is still numerically small, though, and exists in highly secular societies: many people nominally belong to the Lutheran church which, until fairly recently, was the state church in most Nordic countries, but most will consider themselves atheist or agnostic. The immigrant population differs in that respect from the native Scandinavians, and this will undoubtedly affect how the Church acts and is perceived.

The appointment of a new nuncio was no surprise. Archbishop Green’s predecessor, Archbishop Henryk Nowacki, nuncio since 2012, had already announced his early retirement. At 70, he retires for health reasons.

*Finland was the first in 1966 to get a full diplomatic representation in the form of a nuncio, followed by Iceland in 1976. Denmark and Norway followed in 1982, leaving Sweden to change the old offices of the Apostolic Delegation of Scandinavia into the Nunciature of Sweden. The nuncio still resides in Stockholm, in the northern subburb of Djursholm, although the general secretariat of the Nordic Bishops’ Conference is located in Copenhagen.

Phot credit: Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores, Peru

After a new cardinal, now a new Nuncio for Belgium

After some uncertainty about the retirement of the previous one, Pope Francis today appointed a new Apostolic Nuncio to Belgium. The new ambassador of the Holy See to the Kingdom of Belgium, and representative of Rome to the Catholic Church in Belgium is an experienced diplomat who has served as a Nuncio since 1998.

augustine%20kasujja_0Archbishop Augustine Kasujja hails from Uganda, where he was born in 1946. In 1973 he was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Kampala, and he entered the Holy See diplomatic service in 1979. He served in various countries, including Argentina, Haïti, Portugal, Peru and Algeria. In 1998 he was appointed as Apostolic Nuncio to Algeria and Tunisia, and with that he was consecrated as archbishop of the titular see of Cesarea in Numidia. In April of 2004 he was transferred to Madagascar and the Seychelles as Nuncio, combined with the office of Apostolic Delegate to the Comoros. In June of that same year he also became the Nuncio to Mauritius. In 2010 he was appointed to Nigeria, where he served until his appointment today. It is assumed that Archbishop Kasujja will arrive in Belgium in the course of November.

Now 70, it makes sense to assume that the archbishop will complete the five years until his retirement in Belgium. As Nuncios play an important role in the appointment of bishops (they provide detailed reports on the three candidates selected by the cathedral chapter of the diocese in question and pass that on, together with their own advice, to the Congregation for Bishops, which then passes it on the Pope. The Pope can then use the report and advice to make his choice), it is perhaps interesting to see for which bishops Archihsop Kasujja will help pick a successor.

  • His retirement already submitted, Ghent’s Bishop Luc van Looy will probably see it accepted within the coming year. Archbishop Kasujja will probably have inherited the file on Ghent from his predecessor, Archbishop Giacinto Berloco. [EDIT: On 13 October, it was revealed that Pope Francis asked Bishop Van Looy to remain in office for two more years, until the end of 2018].
  • In July of 2018, Bishop Remy Vancottem of Namur will reach the age of 75. The erstwhile auxiliary bishop of Mechelen-Brussels succeeded the now retired Archbishop Léonard in the latter’s home diocese in 2010.
  • Archbishop Kasujja will possibly also start the groundwork for the appointment of the successor of Archbishop Jozef De Kesel in Brussels. The cardinal-elect will reach the age of 75 in June of 2022, well over a year after the Nuncio, but considering the importance of the archbishop of Brussels, not least now that he is once again a cardinal, the process may well have begun at that time.
  • In that same year, but four months earlier, Bishop Jean-Luc Hudsyn, one of Mechelen-Brussels’ auxiliary bishops, will also submit his resignation. But as auxiliary bishops are not archbishops, the preparation for the selection of new one (of there is even going to be one) need not take as long.

Archbishop Kasujja’s appointments is noticeable in that he is not only the first non-European Nuncio to Belgium, but also the only African Nuncio in Europe at this time.

The Apostolic Nuncio to Belgium has also been the Apostolic Nuncio to Luxembourg since 1916, when the first papal representative was sent to the grand duchy. Archbishop Kasujja will therefore soon also be appointed to that smallest of the Benelux countries.

The Apostolic Nunciature to Belgium in its current form dates back to 1843, although there have been interruptions in the presence of Nuncios (there were none from 1846 to 1866, 1868 to 1875, 1880 to 1896 and 1911 to 1916). Archbishop Kasujja is the 21st Apostolic Nuncio to Belgium, and the most notable of his predecessor is the first in that list, who served from 1843 to 1846: at the time Archbishop Vincenzo Gioacchino Pecci, he became Pope Leo XIII in 1878. Fourteen of the previous Nuncios to Belgium later became cardinals.

Photo credit: NTV

Cardinal watch: Cardinal Baldelli passes away

Erstwhile diplomat and retired Major Penitentiary Fortunato Cardinal Baldelli passed away yesterday at the age of 77. The College of Cardinals now numbers 205, of whom 116 are electors.

Fortunato Baldelli was born in 1935, as one of eight children in the mountains of Perugia in Italy. He entered seminary in Assisi in 1947 and was able to continue his priestly formation despite the death of his parents, thanks to his brother priests and Bishop Giuseppe Nicolini of Assisi. It did take until 1961 before he was ordained for the Diocese of Assisi-Nocera Umbra-Gualdo Tadino. In those 14 years he studied at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, earning a licentiate in theology, and at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, where he studied diplomacy.

Following his ordination, Father Baldelli became vice-rector of Assisi’s minor seminary. In 1966, he earned a doctorate in canon law and entered the Holy See’s diplomatic service. After assignments in Cuba and Egypt, Fr. Baldelli returned to Rome, where he worked at the Secretariat of State and later at the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church. In 1979 he was tasked to be a special envoy, with the duties of a permanent observer, at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

In 1983, Blessed Pope John Paul II consecrated Fr. Baldelli as titular archbishop of Bevagna, and sent him to Angola as apostolic delegate. In 1985 he also became Apostolic pro-Nuncio to São Tomé and Principe. In 1991, he left Africa to become Nuncio in the Dominican Republic, where he was succeeded in 1994 by one Archbishop Bacqué, who would later become Nuncio to the Netherlands. From 1994 to 1999, Archbishop Baldelli was Nuncio in Peru, and after that in France. In 2009 he returned to Rome, and was appointed as Major Penitentiary of the Apostolic penitentiary.

Archbishop Baldelli was created a cardinal in the consistory of 2010, and became cardinal deacon of Sant’Anselmo all’Aventino (incidentally the seat of the Primate of the Benedictine Order, Notker Wolf, re-elected as such today). In January of this year, Cardinal Baldelli retired as Major Penitentiary.

Cardinal Baldelli was a member of the Secretariat of State and the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.