• Sara Larson

In Spirit and Truth News Roundup: February 3

Welcome to the In Spirit and Truth News Roundup, collecting important articles about the twin crises of abuse and leadership failures in the Catholic Church. Today's edition is coming to you from the Houston Airport as I'm heading home from a week of vacation with my parents. I'm grateful for the dose of warmth and sunshine to help me get through the long Wisconsin winter!

Just a reminder: I strive to share only articles I find both thoughtful and helpful, but please note that sharing a link does not mean I fully endorse of every word in that article. I do believe that reading broadly, from many sources and perspectives, is a valuable way to become better informed and, thus, more able to respond with wisdom and prudence.

Here's the roundup for the last two weeks:

10 years after Vatican reform, Legion in new abuse crisis

Another horror story from the Legion of Christ. (Strong trigger warning on this one.)

"Salazar’s horrific story, which has been corroborated by other victims and the Legion itself, has sparked a new credibility crisis for the once-influential order, 10 years after the Holy See took it over after determining that its founder was a pedophile.

But more importantly, it has called into question the Vatican reform itself: The papal envoy who ran the Legion starting in 2010 learned about the case nearly a decade ago and refused to punish or even investigate the priest or the superiors who covered up his crimes, many of whom are still in power and ministry today."

Legion vows probe into cover-up of abused little girls

Here's a follow-up story on the new scandal within the Legion of Christ.

"The Legion of Christ religious order, already discredited because of its pedophile founder, announced a joint Vatican investigation Monday into the botched handling of a priest who sexually abused girls as young as 6 and suffered no punishment.

The horrific case of Fernando Martínez Suárez, which The Associated Press reported on Monday, has sparked a new credibility crisis just as the Legion was trying to show it had changed course 10 years after the Vatican determined it was a cult-like order built on secrecy, silence and obedience...

It also announced that the Legion priest who first took the complaints from Martinez’s victims would stand down from a big meeting of superiors that opened Monday in Rome.

In a letter announcing his decision, the Rev. Eloy Bedia apologized to the victims but defended himself, saying all personnel decisions at the time were decided by the Legion’s then-superior and founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel."

14 with church ties named in Alaska misconduct review

Note that this review included not just priests, but also deacons and men and women religious, who are often omitted from such reviews. That's a positive step.

"A review commissioned by the Archdiocese of Anchorage found credible evidence of sexual misconduct by 14 people who served in the archdiocese dating to 1966, a church leader announced Thursday.

The findings were made by a commission that the archdiocese said included a former police chief and two former prosecutors, one of whom is also a retired judge. The commission was charged with reviewing personnel files of “clerics and religious men and women” who served in the archdiocese dating to 1966, as well as reviewing allegations of sexual misconduct of lay volunteers and employees reported to the archdiocese."

Cardinal Dolan conducting 'Vos estis' investigation into Brooklyn's Bishop DiMarzio

Statement from the Archdiocese of New York:

"As directed by Vos estis, Cardinal Dolan earlier notified the Holy See of the allegation that was raised concerning Bishop DiMarzio from his time as a priest in the Archdiocese of Newark. On January 7, 2020, the Cardinal received instruction from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that he is to begin an investigation.”

If Cardinal Dolan really did initiate this investigation, that's one positive step. But I still don't think bishops investigating bishops is the right approach. Remember, DiMarzio was the person appointed to investigate Bishop Malone in Buffalo before Malone resigned.

Bishop Strickland says he asked pope about McCarrick report

Keep asking.

"When the report on McCarrick is published, he said, there will be a 'dust-up' in the media, and it likely will cause Catholics more pain, but it also could bring 'a sense of closure.'

'I've always said that what hit the news with McCarrick began this moment of pain and struggle and confusion in the life of the church. It won't magically disappear with this report,' Bishop Strickland said, but it should help people move forward.

'It's about the victims. It's about the children of God who have suffered through the negligence and bad acting of bishops, priests and other members of the church,' he said. The report should help McCarrick's victims by acknowledging how the church failed to protect them."

Dioceses come under scrutiny as they change legal structures

This a helpful, detailed explanation of some of the financial and legal questions regarding church assets.

"As dioceses across the country continue to face multi-million dollar payouts related to clerical sex abuse, some bishops have relied on advice from lawyers to reconfigure the property of their dioceses into charitable trusts.

The practice - which has been implemented by several dioceses after the clerical sex abuse revelations of the early 2000s - creates significantly different outcomes for dioceses and abuse victims in the case of bankruptcies.

Critics say the moves shield assets that could be paid to victims of clerical abuse and may even be illegal. However, Church officials defend the practice, saying their actions were intended to better align the dioceses’ corporate status with canon law. Other dioceses say they acted to ensure the long-term viability of the Church."

La Crosse Diocese names 25 former priests who abused children

News from my home state of Wisconsin. Just one diocese in our state has yet to release names (Superior).

You can find the list on the diocesan website here. It does include non-diocesan clergy as well, which is a positive step.

Video: Reporter Charlie Specht's speech after receiving award for his investigation into Bishop Malone and the Diocese of Buffalo

Sometimes, good wins.

Thank you to Charlie, Siobhan, Stephanie, Fr. Ryszard, Michael, Matthew, Kevin, and all the heroes of this story who stood up and spoke out. You inspire me.

Nun warns African Catholics, ‘If you want to lead, clean house on abuse’

A unique perspective:

"'We need to clean house, so to speak, before we take up a place of leadership in our evolving and beloved church,' [Sister Mumbi Kigutha] cautioned in a lacerating talk to international delegates of professors, priests, and seminarians.

'We are wounded, the body of Christ is ailing, clergy and laity alike, perpetrator, victim or both, we are all in dire need of healing,' she said on Friday, noting that while clerical abuse is often focused on the issue of the abuse of minors, the abuse of nuns at the hands of priest has gone largely unexposed."

Ramsey County oversight is ending, but leaders say Church is ready to hold itself accountable

I have been following progress and speaking to people in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and all the news has been quite hopeful. After such awful corruption and scandal under previous leadership, it's encouraging to see what can happen when Church leaders really invest in change.

"When the archdiocese settled with Ramsey County a year later, the agreement — essentially a child protection plan — required the archdiocese to continue with those 17 protocols and other policies, but it also asked it to create a comprehensive set of policies available online, increase the involvement of lay Catholics and engage in restorative justice with victim-survivors. It also gave the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office oversight of the plan...

Since the agreement was made, the archdiocese has appeared before a Ramsey County Court judge every six months to report on its progress in meeting the terms of the settlement agreement. At each hearing, the judge has found the archdiocese compliant with the agreement. The archdiocese’s final court appearance is scheduled for 11 a.m. Jan. 28. Like the others, it will be in the Ramsey County Courthouse before Judge Teresa Warner. If she agrees the archdiocese has fulfilled the requirements of the agreement, it will expire. And with the agreement’s end, Ramsey County’s oversight also ends.

Both the archdiocese and Ramsey County say they feel confident that the agreement has served its purpose — that the archdiocese has experienced significant culture change and child protection is an utmost priority. 'It wasn’t a check-the-box for them,' Choi said of the agreement’s terms, which he calls 'best practice across the country.'"

Knoxville Diocese is silencing sexual abuse victims, breaking church rules on settlements, according to survivors group's complaint letter

This is concerning. Does anyone know more about this situation, or the use of nondisparagement agreements in recent years?

"The Tennessee chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests is requesting the Catholic Church's U.S. governing body investigate of the Diocese of Knoxville for allegedly silencing victims of sexual abuse through a practice outlawed by the church nearly 20 years ago.

The complaint letter, sent Thursday to the National Review Board, said the diocese pushed for a nondisclosure agreement in the December settlement of a sexual abuse case brought by Michael Boyd... Boyd's settlement contains a nondisparagement agreement, which bars him from speaking negatively about the diocese. The complaint letter says non-disclosure and nondisparagement agreements violate the Catholic Church's 2002 charter on addressing abuse, which states dioceses are 'not to enter into settlements which bind the parties to confidentiality.'"

Clergy abuse victim keeps her faith, finds healing in the Church

What a beautiful story. Thank you to Gina for her witness of courage and faith.

"Gina Barthel went to a priest while in New York to find healing from childhood sexual abuse. She got the opposite. In 2004 at age 28, a priest from a religious order listened to her stories about being sexually abused from age 4 to 9, then took her down the same path.

As the abuse took place, she moved back to the Twin Cities. Thanks to another priest, who serves in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, she not only got out of the abusive relationship, but reported it and played a role in the abusive priest being removed from ministry.

Even so, her struggles continued, and she felt unable to continue practicing her Catholic faith. Finally, six years after reporting the abuse, she found a path to healing with the help of Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens, who started meeting with her regularly in January 2014 and still does."

Rome summit to examine clerical sex abuse


"Rome is to host a summit examining how the clerical sexual abuse crisis is forcing the Church to go back to its core mission and re-think its model of the priesthood.

The gathering of around 90 theologians from across the world, hosted by the Centre for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University, will look at the ecclesiological impact of abuse, in a way that is not simply legal, or procedural. The 11-14 March meeting is to look at clericalism, ecclesial reform and rediscovering the mission of Jesus in Church structures."

Catholic Leaders Promised Transparency About Child Abuse. They Haven’t Delivered.

This investigation by ProPublica is really important - as is the database of abusers they have created. If the Church will not take these steps towards transparency, I'm grateful to those who are doing the hard work to share the truth.

"Over the last year and a half, the majority of U.S. dioceses, as well as nearly two dozen religious orders, have released lists of abusers currently or formerly in their ranks. The revelations were no coincidence: They were spurred by a 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report, which named hundreds of priests as part of a statewide clergy abuse investigation. Nationwide, the names of more than 5,800 clergy members have been released so far, representing the most comprehensive step toward transparency yet by a Catholic Church dogged by its long history of denying and burying abuse by priests.

But even as bishops have dedicated these lists to abuse victims and depicted the disclosures as a public acknowledgement of victims’ suffering, it has become clear that numerous alleged abusers have been omitted and that there is no standard for determining who each diocese considers credibly accused...

ProPublica has collected the 178 lists released by U.S. dioceses and religious orders as of Jan. 20 and created a searchable database that allows users to look up clergy members by name, diocese or parish. This represents the first comprehensive picture of the information released publicly by bishops around the country."

Credibly Accused: Search lists of U.S. Catholic clergy that have been deemed credibly accused of sexual abuse or misconduct

This is the database of credibly accused priests created by ProPublica. (And here's the explanation of how they built this database: We Assembled the Only Nationwide Database of Priests Deemed Credibly Accused of Abuse. Here’s How.

"Over the last year and a half U.S. dioceses and religious orders serving most of the Catholics in the country have released lists of 'credibly accused' abusers who have served in their ranks, using their own criteria for whom to include. ProPublica collected these lists to provide a central location to search across all reports."

New database of abusive clergy will ‘put pressure’ on bishops to improve transparency

I appreciate Crux's take on the importance of the new database by ProPublica.

"Church historian Massimo Faggioli also described the database launch as a 'big deal,' telling Crux that it signals an important shift toward the privatization of justice.

'There is a sense of injustice and that the Catholic Church has failed. When there’s a feeling that the Church cannot guarantee justice, then you have means of private justice that emerge,' he said."

Appeals court acquits French cardinal of sex abuse cover-up

I don't understand this ruling. Apparently, the court released a long written justification after the announcement, but I haven't been able to find it online in English. (Please let me know if you have seen it.) The only explanation I have seen said that Cardinal Barbarin was not required to report the abuse under French law, because the victim was an adult when he disclosed the abuse to Barbarin and was therefore capable of making his own police report. I don't know enough about French law to know if this is a plausible explanation for the ruling.

"A French appeals court on Thursday acquitted a French cardinal of covering up the sexual abuse of minors in his flock. The appeals court in the southeastern French city of Lyon gave no explanation on Thursday for its ruling.

Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, archbishop of Lyon, had been convicted in March and given a six-month suspended sentence for failing to report a predator priest to police."

Barbarin does still plan to resign, per his statement after the ruling.

NFL’s Saints accused of helping shape clergy sex abuse list

This whole situation is so puzzling, but if these accusations are true, this really is news: A professional football organization may have helped the Archdiocese of New Orleans not only with "public relations" but also with choosing the names of accused priests that would be published.

I'm trying to reserve judgement until we actually see the emails, but still - this is truly bizarre.

Attorneys for men making sexual abuse claims say this: "The Saints appear to have had a hand in determining which names should or should not have been included on the pedophile list... In order to fulfill this role ... the Saints must have known the specific allegations of sexual abuse against a priest ... and made a judgment call about whether those allegations by a particular victim against a named priest were, in its opinion, legitimate enough to warrant being included."

Also: "Even as the team’s attorneys went to court to keep the 276 documents from being released to the public, they said in a court filing this week, 'Neither the Saints nor any of their personnel have anything to hide.'"

Priests in group shut down by Vatican accused of sex abuse

News from Italy, with a little hint of progress there. The bishop reported allegations of abuse to the police, even though the Church is not required to do so by Italian law. Small steps...

"Nine priests and brothers of a Catholic group recently shut down by the Vatican are under investigation by Italian authorities for allegedly sexually abusing two brothers, officials and news reports said Wednesday.

Prato Bishop Giovanni Nerbini confirmed that Prato criminal prosecutors had opened an investigation after he reported the case to police against members of the Disciples of the Annunciation community."


As you know, I like to close every blog post with an invitation to prayer. For these news roundups, I encourage all of us to bring everything we just read to the merciful heart of God. If there is a specific story that you found moving, hopeful, painful, or unsettling, please place those thoughts and reactions into the hands of Jesus and ask Him what he is calling you to do in response.

In particular, I invite you to remember the names, faces, and stories of all the abuse victims who were mentioned in these stories and keep those people in your daily prayers.

Saint Blaise, healer of bodies and souls, pray for us.

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