• Sara Larson

In Spirit and Truth News Roundup: January 6

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.

I typically post these Roundups every two weeks, but I've been taking a break over the holidays, so this post covers the last three weeks (including many articles I haven't posted on Facebook). I've had a lot of reading to catch up on, so my apologies if I've left out anything important. Special thanks to my friend Lynn who sent me many articles I might have missed during my absence!

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 three weeks:

Cries of abuse in Catholic Church start to be heard in Japan

It's everywhere. Truly, everywhere.

"In a rare case of the Church taking action, Takenaka received a public apology earlier this year from Nagasaki Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami for the sexual abuse he suffered as a child at the Salesian Boys’ Home in Tokyo, where he was placed after his parents’ divorce.

'I think his apology was sincere in his own way. But the response has lacked a sense of urgency, and there is no sign they will take any real action,' Takenaka told The Associated Press.

Takenaka’s alleged perpetrator was a German priest, who he said initially took off the boy’s clothes to examine bruises from beatings he suffered from other boys at the home. The priest’s examinations escalated to fondling and other sexual acts, which went on for months until the priest was transferred, he said. He reported that the priest told him he would go straight to hell if he told anyone, and gave him candy and foreign stamps."

US bishops in Rome ask Pope Francis about McCarrick report

I know it's a small step, but I'm glad that some U.S. bishops keep bringing up McCarrick. It's important that we don't let this fade away without answers about who knew about the abuse and did nothing.

"American bishops from the Midwest met with Pope Francis this week with questions about the outcome of the Vatican’s investigation of Theodore McCarrick.

'I did ask about the McCarrick situation. That was something that all of us were very interested in knowing where this was going. And very glad to hear that a report is coming, and not sure when it will be, probably after the beginning of the new year,' Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing told EWTN Dec. 13...

Bishop Boyea said he asked Pope Francis about the promised McCarrick report, and that the pope described it for them. He said that the bishops also discussed the report with the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

Parolin is 'a little more nervous about the reception of this in the public,' Boyea added."

Francis abolishes pontifical secret in clergy abuse cases, in long sought reform

Another positive step.

"Pope Francis Dec. 17 abolished the Catholic Church's practice of imposing strict confidentiality rules on the Vatican's legal proceedings in cases involving clergy sexual abuse or misconduct, in a reform sought for decades by abuse survivors and advocates.

In a brief but sweeping new instruction that goes into effect immediately, the pontiff states plainly that the practice, known as the pontifical secret, is no longer to apply to any accusations, proceedings, or final decisions involving clergy abuse."

Also of note:

"In a separate action released at the same time as the instruction, Francis also made changes to a set of norms issued by Pope John Paul II in 2001 that define the 'grave delicts' the church reserves to the judgement of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In those changes, which go into effect Jan. 1, the pope redefines child pornography as any inappropriate photographic material taken of minors under the age of 18, raising the age threshold from the previous standard of the age of 14.

About an hour after release of the instruction and the changes to the norms, Francis took a third action in the realm of clergy abuse, with the Vatican announcing the pontiff had accepted the resignation of his ambassador to France, Archbishop Luigi Ventura, who has been accused of sexual misconduct."

The change to the ‘pontifical secret’ does less than it appears to do

A few people have been asking good questions about the "pontifical secret" and what it actually means. I find this article contains a fairly good explanation. (Note this observation: "On that point, it’s worth considering that the removal of the secret does not so much open the archives to all comers, as make it more difficult for leaders of local Churches to use Vatican information security policy as an excuse not to cooperate with civil authorities.")

An old (admittedly biased) CNA article offers a decent explanation as well: What is the pontifical secret?

But the simplest explanation is probably the one on Wikipedia, which contains a translation of the 1974 instruction Secreta continere that defines the cases in which the pontifical secret applies: Pontifical Secret - Wikipedia.

Hope that helps! Let me know if you have more questions. I'm just deciphering this one myself.

Ending pontifical secret a milestone, but there’s accountability beyond law

This is a thoughtful analysis of what the elimination of the pontifical secret will change (around the world - hopefully quite a bit; in the U.S. - probably not a lot), and what remains to be done in terms of accountability for bishops. Two important quotes below, but really, just go read the whole thing.

"Tuesday’s news that Pope Francis essentially has abolished the requirement of pontifical secrecy for clerical sexual abuse cases means that robust cooperation with civil authorities is now a cornerstone not only of Church practice, but also Church law.

That’s an important distinction, because in the U.S. and some other parts of the Catholic world, the pontifical secret had already been reinterpreted by bishops and canon lawyers to permit such cooperation, seen as essential not merely in the interests of justice but also to prevent the Church from being exposed to both civil and criminal liability.

As a result, while Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna was, in a sense, right in calling Tuesday’s moves 'epochal,' they won’t change much operationally in the American Church."

Really important point:

"Criminal law is meant to establish a floor of accountability, not a ceiling. It’s not a zero/sum game, in which a given action is either criminal or it’s perfectly fine.

In sports, coaches are fired all the time for performance that certainly isn’t criminal, just not up to snuff. Corporate CEOs lose their jobs over bad bottom lines, which doesn’t mean they’re going to jail, only that they’re not going to the corner office anymore.

Naturally, the Church is neither a sports franchise nor a Fortune 500 company, but in this case the same point applies: Staying out of jail is hardly the only measure of effective leadership."

‘Pontifical secret’ still has role despite its abolition in sex abuse cases, expert says

Helpful clarification on the "pontifical secret," for those who are still trying to figure this out.

Also, note the other two changes that came along with the more widely-reported change to pontifical secrecy:

"Morrisey also spoke of the pope’s decision to change the age of what is considered as a minor in child pornography from 14 years of age to 18, and his decision to allow laypeople to be competent lawyers in abuse cases.

In 2001, John Paul II had issued an exception to the law allowing laypeople to serve as lawyers upon request and with approval, however, what Francis has done is toss out the need to ask for special permission. 'He’s cutting down on the red tape,' Morrisey said."

Montreal’s Dowd shows different face of ‘the bishops’ on the abuse crisis

In more positive news - A Catholic bishop who actively pursued civil justice for an abusive priest. More of this please!

"In the report, Dowd said he began hearing rumors about Boucher when he was named a Montreal auxiliary in July 2011, and he took it upon himself to follow up. After several suggestive conversations, he said, he found a victim who was willing to come forward and accompanied him to the police station to make a report. In the end, Dowd also attended every day of Boucher’s trial.

After Boucher’s sentencing, Dowd read a prepared statement before TV cameras in which he called the victims in the case his 'heroes,' and voiced open contempt for the priest. 'How could you do this? You were given the love and trust of literally hundreds of people, you betrayed and manipulated them, you shamed the Church and discredited the work of your fellow brother priests, and one day you’ll face the even greater judgment of God himself,' Dowd said."

I also agree with John Allen's assessment here:

"Dowd is part of a generational transition in the Catholic hierarchy, toward a cohort of bishops not tainted by the mistakes of the past and seemingly determined not to repeat them.

Dowd was born in 1970, meaning he would have been the equivalent of an American high school senior when the Hickey case broke. He was ordained a priest in 2001, just before the American scandals blew up, and didn’t become a bishop until being named to Montreal in 2011.

Not only does he therefore bear no responsibility for how any abuse claims were handled prior to eight years ago, his entire priesthood has been scarred by the legacy of past failures, and now his ministry as a bishop is haunted by them as well. As a result, bishops such as Dowd have strong incentives to get things right."

Accused nuncio to France resigns post

I consider this a sign of positive progress as well. Because my guess is that Archbishop Ventura has been doing this kind of thing for years, but the culture has changed enough that people are now able to speak up and hold him accountable.

"Pope Francis Tuesday accepted Archbishop Luigi Ventura's resignation as apostolic nuncio to France. Ventura was accused of sexual assault earlier this year.

The Vatican revoked Ventura's diplomatic immunity in July, paving the way for a possible trial. Ventura turned 75 on Dec. 9, the mandatory age at which bishops submit their resignation to the pope. The pope then accepts the resignation at his discretion...

He is accused of having inappropriately touched a young male staffer of Paris City Hall during a Jan. 17 reception for the New Year address of Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo. That accusation was under investigation by Parisian authorities but has not yet gone to trial."

Catholic activism, not repentance for sexual abuse, is what forces clergy to resign

"The Roman Catholic bishop of Buffalo, New York, Richard Malone, became the seventh U.S. bishop since 2015 to be forced out of power for his role in covering up clergy sexual abuse cases. Malone resigned on Dec. 4, stating that his departure stemmed from a recognition that 'the people of Buffalo will be better served by a new bishop who perhaps is better able to bring about the reconciliation, healing and renewal that is so needed.'

By comparison, during the prior 35 years, only three U.S. bishops had resigned because of the scandal, even though there were more than 10,000 cases of clergy sexual abuse reported to the American bishops during that time.

In my research, I have found that this increase in bishop accountability is due not to an improvement in the Vatican’s protocols, but rather to the activism of local Catholic reform groups."

Sundays After: Portraits of resilience after clergy abuse

Wow. This is beautiful. Such an important project.

"They came from different towns and cities, from different ethnic and economic backgrounds. They were A-students and outcasts, people of all ages. From their churches they sought love or guidance, a better education or a place that felt like home.

They were believers before their trust was tested, fractured or blown apart entirely by sexual abuse at the hands of a priest...

Some remain devout, steadfast in their commitment to the church. Some leave Catholicism for other denominations or abandon organized religion for personal spiritual practices. Some stop believing altogether, their old devotion to the institution replaced by a desire to tear it all down. Many grapple with what’s left of their faith."

Vatican office struggles to keep up with clergy abuse cases

This is a really thoughtful, balanced, informative article about how clergy abuses cases are handled at the highest levels.

"The Vatican office responsible for processing clergy sex abuse complaints has seen a record 1,000 cases reported from around the world this year, including from countries it had not heard from before — suggesting that the worst may be yet to come in a crisis that has plagued the Catholic Church.

Nearly two decades after the Vatican assumed responsibility for reviewing all cases of abuse, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is today overwhelmed, struggling with a skeleton staff that hasn’t grown at pace to meet the four-fold increase in the number of cases arriving in 2019 compared to a decade ago."

Also, strikingly honest words from one of the priests who spends his days dealing with these cases:

"'I suppose if I weren’t a priest and if I had a child who were abused, I’d probably stop going to Mass,' said Kennedy, who saw first-hand how the church in his native Ireland lost its credibility over the abuse scandal. 'I’d probably stop having anything to do with the church because I’d say, ’Well, if you can’t look after children, well, why should I believe you?'"

And this grim note: "There are still countries the CDF has never heard from — a scenario that suggests 'either that they’re all saints or we don’t know about them yet,' Kennedy told AP. The implication is that victims are still cowed, and bishops are still covering up cases."

Legion of Christ finds 33 priests, 71 seminarian sex abusers

"The Legion of Christ religious order, which was discredited by its pedophile founder and the cult-like practices he imposed, says an internal investigation has identified 33 priests and 71 seminarians who sexually abused minors over the past eight decades.

A third of the priestly abusers were themselves victims of the Legion's late founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel, while others were victims of his victims — a multi-generational chain of abuse that confirms Maciel's toxic influence spread throughout the order."

Of note: "The Legion only published the names of four U.S.-based priests who were among the 33 abusers, saying ethical and legal considerations prevented identifying the others."

Mexico: Legion of Christ victims criticize sex abuse report

"Victims of sexual abuse by priests from the Roman Catholic Legion of Christ in Mexico sharply criticized an internal report on pedophilia released over the weekend. Victims called the report incomplete, saying Monday that it is missing some victims and does not denounce those who covered up for abuses, allowing them to continue."

Also, strong words from the president of the Mexican Bishop's Conference:

"Criticism of the report also came from within the ranks of the church in Mexico, where the Legion of Christ was founded. 'This report arrives late, incomplete and under a cloud of suspicion that what is said there is not all there is,' Monterrey Archbishop Rogelio Cabrera, president of the Mexican Bishop’s Conference, told reporters Sunday. Cabrera said that 'there was a very large criminal cover-up' and a 'criminal silence' on the part of Vatican authorities and members of the Legion of Christ who failed to report abuses or prevented others from doing so."

The Bransfield report: Post publishes secret Vatican document as parishioners demand answers

"The Washington Post obtained a copy of the document in June and has drawn on it and other records for a series of stories about the role of cash gifts among senior clerics in the church’s ongoing sex abuse crisis.

The 60-page report is brimming with investigative findings about how Bransfield allegedly groomed and inappropriately touched young men and spent millions of dollars in church money on himself and on fellow clerics.

After church officials repeatedly declined to say whether they were going to release the report, The Post has decided to publish it on its website for the first time with some details redacted to protect the identities of alleged victims of sexual improprieties. The Post is doing so in response to significant interest from the public. To read the report, go to"

Church must deal with ‘fear factor’ keeping bad bishops in power

This analysis explores how the vast, unchecked power of individual bishops makes it so difficult for insiders (both priests and lay employees) to stand up against wrongdoing in their diocese. Let's thank God for all the whistleblowers who have had the courage to speak out in the last few years - and pray for more to come forward.

"No one can force a bishop to do anything except the pope. Although canon law requires various diocesan boards and councils to assist a bishop, they are all appointed by him, and usually serve at his pleasure. There is nothing to force a bishop to appoint anyone who would challenge him to a diocesan finance council, for example, and the report commissioned by Lori pointed out that Bransfield kept these bodies impotent.

Since almost all dioceses in the United States used fixed terms for priest assignments - as opposed to the permanent assignments technically favored by Church law - even parish priests know they can face retaliation if they speak out against any impropriety by a bishop. In other words, it’s easy for a bad bishop to use fear to act with impunity,"

Church offers little outreach to minority victims of priests

I have often wondered why we see so few people of color coming forward as victims of clerical sexual abuse. I'm glad to see some reporting addressing this issue.

"Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Pacific Islanders and Hawaiians make up nearly 46% of the faithful in the U.S., according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, an authoritative source of Catholic-related data. But the Catholic Church has made almost no effort to track the victims among them.

'The church has to come into the shadows, into the trenches to find the people who were victimized, especially the people of color,' [African-American survivor Terrence] Sample said. 'There are other people like me and my family, who won’t come forward unless someone comes to them.'

Brian Clites, a leading scholar on clergy sexual abuse and professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, said the church has demonstrated a pattern of funneling predator priests to economically disadvantaged communities of color, where victims have much more to lose if they report their abuse. 'They are less likely to know where to get help, less likely to have money for a lawyer to pursue that help and they are more vulnerable to counterattacks' from the church, which will hire investigators against the survivors, said Clites."

Pennsylvania dioceses offer $84M to 564 clergy abuse victims

"Pennsylvania’s Roman Catholic dioceses have paid nearly $84 million to 564 victims of sexual abuse, a tally that’s sure to grow substantially in the new year as compensation fund administrators work through a backlog of claims, according to an Associated Press review.

Seven of the state’s eight dioceses launched victim compensation funds in the wake of a landmark grand jury report on sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. The funds were open to claims for a limited time this year. They are independently administered, though each diocese set its own rules on eligibility.

To date, the average payout across all seven dioceses has exceeded $148,000 — a fraction of what some adult victims of childhood abuse might have expected from a jury had they been permitted to take their claims to court. Under state law, victims of past abuse only have until age 30 to sue."

Hundreds of accused clergy left off church's sex abuse lists

This is a really valuable article, but one that's important to read in its entirety to understand the complexity of these issues.

"Richard J. Poster served time for possessing child pornography, violated his probation by having contact with children, admitted masturbating in the bushes near a church school and in 2005 was put on a sex offender registry. And yet the former Catholic priest was only just this month added to a list of clergy members credibly accused of child sexual abuse — after The Associated Press asked why he was not included.

Victims advocates had long criticized the Roman Catholic Church for not making public the names of credibly accused priests. Now, despite the dioceses’ release of nearly 5,300 names, most in the last two years, critics say the lists are far from complete.

An AP analysis found more than 900 clergy members accused of child sexual abuse who were missing from lists released by the dioceses and religious orders where they served."

“'No one should think, ‘Oh, the bishops are releasing their lists, there’s nothing left to do,’ said Terence McKiernan, co-founder of, who has been tracking the abuse crisis and cataloging accused priests for almost two decades, accumulating a database of thousands of priests.

'There are a lot of holes in these lists,' he said. 'There’s still a lot to do to get to actual, true transparency.'"

Lawsuit: Famed Jesuit abused boy 1,000 times around world

Wow. This is a painful but powerful account of what grooming looks like - and how powerful the hold of an abuser can be on his victims.

"One day in May of 1970, an 11-year-old boy and his disabled sister were sitting on the curb outside a Chicago tavern, waiting for their mother to come out. When a priest with crinkly eyes and a ready smile happened by and offered the family a ride home, they could not have been happier.

The boy, Robert J. Goldberg, now 61, would pay dearly for the favor, enduring what he describes as years of psychological control and sexual abuse he suffered while working as a child valet for the late Father Donald J. McGuire. He remained in the Jesuit’s thrall for nearly 40 years, even volunteering to testify on McGuire’s behalf during criminal trials that ultimately resulted in a 25-year prison sentence for the priest.

But today, Goldberg says he has finally broken the hold McGuire once had on him. And he has begun to tell his story, in interviews with The Associated Press and in a lawsuit he filed Monday in California state court in San Francisco."

The connection to Mother Teresa is particularly painful for me to face: "In a letter dated Feb. 2, 1994, after McGuire had been released from a residential treatment center, the future saint wrote to the leader of the Chicago Jesuits, saying she had received a letter from McGuire and believed that the accusations lodged against him were untrue. 'I have confidence and trust in Fr. McGuire and wish to see his vital ministry resume as soon as possible,' she wrote."

For more background on McGuire, see this posting on Bishop Accountability: Rev. Donald J. McGuire, S.J. - Career, Accusations of Abuse, Information Sources, and Documents.

For US Church, a year of abuse fallout, new leaders, and unsung heroes

Having trouble keeping track of the major developments in the abuse crisis in 2019? The first section of this year-end piece from Crux offers a quick summary of the major events in the United States, from McCarrick, Bransfield, and Malone, to Vos Estis and the new third-party reporting system for bishops.

Amazon synod, abuse crisis dominate 2019 for Pope Francis

... And this article offers a helpful summary of global developments related to the abuse crisis, with a focus on the actions taken by the Vatican over the last year. A short, worthwhile read.


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, 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.

As we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord, let us pray:

Lord, let your light shine ever more brightly in our world and chase away all darkness, including the darkness in our own hearts.


121 views0 comments