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Thursday of the First Week of Advent

Reading 1 Is 26:1-6

On that day they will sing this song in the land of Judah:

"A strong city have we;
he sets up walls and ramparts to protect us.
Open up the gates
to let in a nation that is just,
one that keeps faith.
A nation of firm purpose you keep in peace;
in peace, for its trust in you."

Trust in the LORD forever!
For the LORD is an eternal Rock.
He humbles those in high places,
and the lofty city he brings down;
He tumbles it to the ground,
levels it with the dust.
It is trampled underfoot by the needy,
by the footsteps of the poor.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 118:1 and 8-9, 19-21, 25-27a

R.(26a)  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his mercy endures forever.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in princes.
R. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Open to me the gates of justice;
I will enter them and give thanks to the LORD.
This gate is the LORD's;
the just shall enter it.
I will give thanks to you, for you have answered me
and have been my savior.
R. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
O LORD, grant salvation!
O LORD, grant prosperity!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD;
we bless you from the house of the LORD.
The LORD is God, and he has given us light.
R. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Alleluia Is 55:6

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call him while he is near.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Mt 7:21, 24-27

Jesus said to his disciples:
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,'
will enter the Kingdom of heaven,
but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

"Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them
will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.
The rain fell, the floods came,
and the winds blew and buffeted the house.
But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.
And everyone who listens to these words of mine
but does not act on them
will be like a fool who built his house on sand.
The rain fell, the floods came,
and the winds blew and buffeted the house.
And it collapsed and was completely ruined."
- - -
Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine; Psalm refrain © 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved. Neither this work nor any part of it may be reproduced, distributed, performed or displayed in any medium, including electronic or digital, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Sex abuse accusation against Tulsa priest 'unsubstantiated'

Tulsa, Okla., Dec 4, 2019 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- An accusation that a priest sexually abused a minor during an assignment nearly 30 years ago was “unsubstantiated” and the accused priest may return to ministry, the Diocese of Tulsa and Eastern Oklahoma has said after a third-party investigation was completed.

Bishop David Konderla of Tulsa thanked the accused priest, Father Joe Townsend, for “his cooperation and patience during this difficult ordeal.”

The accusation stemmed from his service as associate pastor from June 1988 to June 1991 at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Tulsa.

“After a thorough investigation that was both victim-centered and respectful of the rights of the accused, Bishop Konderla, in agreement with the third-party investigators and in consultation with the Diocesan Review Board, a board of primarily lay persons, has found the allegation against Fr. Townsend to be unsubstantiated,” Harrison Garlick, chancellor and in-house counsel of the Diocese of Tulsa, said in a Dec. 3 memorandum.

Townsend was put on administrative leave after the allegation in mid-2019. The diocese announced the accusation and asked anyone with possible knowledge to come forward.

The ruling means the priest is removed from administrative leave and may again exercise public ministry in the Tulsa diocese.

Garlick said the priest will enter “a season of healing and rest” and will not be considered for a pastoral assignment until summer 2020.

“The diocese has notified law enforcement of the findings of this investigation and remains committed to cooperating with civil authorities,” Garlick said. “Bishop Konderla extends his gratitude to all who participated in this investigation, everyone who came forward to share information, and those who generously kept all involved in their prayers.”

Open windows for reporting expected to trigger avalanche of new abuse cases

Washington D.C., Dec 4, 2019 / 06:18 pm (CNA).- Open windows for reporting incidents of child sexual abuse regardless of when they occurred could lead to a wave of thousands of new abuse cases against Catholic clergy and billions of dollars in lawsuits, a recent report from the Associated Press estimated.

“A trickle becomes a stream becomes a flood,” James Marsh, a New York lawyer who represents abuse victims, told the AP. “We’re sort of at the flood stage right now.”

In total, eight states have opened “look back” windows, which allow adult victims of sex abuse to come forward with allegations from their childhoods, even if they have passed the statute of limitations. Seven more states have significantly relaxed their statutes of limitations, allowing victims to come forward much later in life than previous laws had allowed.

In August of this year, New York opened up such a window for one year, as part of the Child Victims Act. Prior to this, victims had until the age of 23 to come forward with cases of childhood sexual abuse. After the open look back window closes, victims will now have until the age of 55 to come forward.

New Jersey opened a two-year window for victims Dec. 1. After that window closes, a new law extended the statute of limitations on reporting childhood abuse from 20 years of age to 55.

California’s three-year “look back” window will open Jan. 1, 2020, and victims will be awarded triple in damages if they can prove there was an attempt on the part of the Church to cover up the abuse. Once the window has closed, victims will be able to come forward with childhood abuse cases up until the age of 40, instead of the previous limit of 26 years of age.

According to AP interviews with lawyers and clergy abuse watchdog groups, the number of cases that will come from just those three states could lead to at least 5,000 additional cases of abuse, with lawsuit payouts that “could surpass the $4 billion paid out since the clergy sex abuse first came to light in the 1980s.”

The other states that have opened up look back windows are Arizona, Montana, Hawaii, Vermont, and North Carolina, along with the District of Columbia. Most states have temporary look back windows, though Vermont’s window will never expire, allowing anyone to come forward with an allegation of childhood sexual abuse at any time.

Seven other states have increased the age at which adults may come forward with cases of childhood abuse; in many cases, the increase was by more than a decade.

The relaxed or temporarily eliminated statutes of limitations have victims cheering, lawyers competing for sex abuse clients, and the Church preparing for another onslaught of cases.

“I was sitting in my living room and someone came on TV, ‘If you’ve been molested, act now,'” 57-year-old Ramon Mercado told the AP. “After so many years, I said, ‘Why not?’”

Mercado told the AP that he had been quiet about the abuse he had suffered as a child in the 1970s so as not to upset his mother, who recently died.

Many of the cases being brought forward include priests already on the public “credibly accused” lists that many dioceses have.

But some cases, like Mercado’s, name priests who are dead, and are not already on such lists, complicating the possibility of defense on the part of a diocese.

“Dead people can’t defend themselves,” Mark Chopko, former general counsel to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told the AP.

“There is also no one there to be interviewed. If a diocese gets a claim that Father Smith abused somebody in 1947, and there is nothing in Father Smith’s file and there is no one to ask whether there is merit or not, the diocese is stuck,” he added.

Steven Alter, a lawyer who has represented multiple sex abuse victims and is collecting more clients, insisted to the AP that “it’s not a cash grab.”

“They (victims) want to have a voice. They want to help other people and make sure it doesn’t happen again. I haven’t had one person ask me about the money yet,” he said.

The new wave of abuse cases comes after several years of sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Church in the United States, including the allegations against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick and the grand jury report from Pennsylvania detailing decades of abuse cases, which triggered an avalanche of victims to come forward and investigations of clergy sex abuse in dioceses across the country.

The newly relaxed or eliminated statutes of limitations in these 15 states will further strain diocesan finances, with dioceses looking to victim compensation funds or selling valuable real estate as ways to pay victims.

Victim compensation funds are currently being used in several dioceses, including the Archdiocese of New York, every diocese in the states of New Jersey and Colorado, and several dioceses in Pennsylvania and California.

These funds offer to settle with victims outside of court, which means that victims are compensated more quickly, but at a lower amount than what they might have won in court, according to the AP. Compensation funds are formed by donations taken up specifically for that purpose, and are not funded by donations made to Catholic schools, seminaries, or other ministries.

Since setting up its fund in 2016, the Archdiocese of New York has paid “more than $67 million to 338 alleged victims, an average $200,000 each,” the AP reported.

In a 2018 op-ed for the New York Daily News, Dolan said that the use of victim compensation funds “surpasses endless and costly litigation — which can further hurt the victim-survivors; it insures fair and reasonable compensation; and prevents the real possibility — as has happened elsewhere — of bankrupting both public and private organizations, including churches, that provide essential services in education, charity and health care.”

Still, bankruptcy may be in the future for some already financially strained dioceses, which also leads to less compensation for victims than if they were to win at a trial. A Penn State study cited by the AP of 16 dioceses and other religious organizations that had recently filed for bankruptcy were able to settle with sex abuse victims for an average of $288,168 per case.

Paul Mones, a Los Angeles lawyer who has successfully prosecuted millions of dollars worth of sex abuse cases against the Catholic Church, told the AP that if these newly-revealed cases are taken to trial, the amount that the Church will owe in victim compensation could be “astronomical.”

Chaldean archbishop: Iraq unrest signals rejection of post-2003 settlement

New York City, N.Y., Dec 4, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- The largest protests in Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein signal the rejection by most Iraqis of the country's post-2003 structure and government, the Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil told the UN Security Council Wednesday.

Since the beginning of October, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis has been protesting government corruption. They have also objected to Iran's influence over their country's internal affairs. More than 420 have been killed by security forces.

The protests are “a rejection of a sectarian-based Constitution, which has divided Iraq and prevented it from becoming a unified and functioning country. Instead of bringing hope and prosperity, the current government structure has brought continued corruption and despair, especially to the youth of Iraq,” Archbishop Bashar Warda said at a Security Council meeting on Iraq held in New York City Dec. 3.

He added that Iraqi youth “have made it clear that they want Iraq to be independent of foreign interference, and to be a place where all can live together as equal citizens in a country of legitimate pluralism and respect for all.”

Archbishop Warda noted that Christians and other minorities “have been welcomed into the protest movement by the Iraqi Muslims,” which “demonstrates real hope for positive changes in which a new government in Iraq … will be much more positive towards a genuinely multi-religious Iraq with full citizenship for all and an end to this sectarian disease which has so violently harmed and degraded us all.”

He also highlighted the non-violent nature of the protests, especially in the face of the crackdown by security forces.

“At stake is whether Iraq will finally emerge from the trauma of Saddam and the past 16 years to become a legitimate, independent and functioning country, or whether it will become a permanently lawless region, open to proxy wars between other countries and movements, and a servant to the sectarian demands of those outside Iraq,” the archbishop stated.

He said that if the protests lead to a new government with a new constitution “not based in Sharia but instead based upon the fundamental concepts of freedom for all … then a time of hope can still exist for the long suffering Iraqi people.”

“If the protest movement is not successful, if the international community stands by and allows the murder of innocents to continue, Iraq will likely soon fall into civil war, the result of which will send millions of young Iraqis, including most Christians and Yazidis, into the diaspora,” he added.

Archbishop Warda urged the international community not to support “false changes in leadership which do not really represent change.” He chared that “the ruling power groups do not intend to give up control, and that they will make every effort to fundamentally keep the existing power structures in place.”

He said Iraq's government has a a “broken nature,” with a “fundamental need for change and replacement.”

“The first step must be the initiation of early elections,” stated the archbishop. He call for freedom of the press before and during the elections, as well as UN monitoring and observation “by all major parties in Iraq so that the elections are legitimate, free and fair.”

For Archbishop Warda, “only in this way can a new government set a course for the future of an Iraq which is free of corruption and where there is full citizenship and opportunity for all.”

Marginalized Iraqis look to the international community for “action and support,” he added. “We hold you all accountable for this. Iraq, the country which has so often been harmed, now looks to you all for help. We believe we have a future, and we ask you not to turn away from us now.”

After his briefing of the Security Council, Archbishop Warda said that Christians and other minorities in Iraq stand with “Muslim protestors as together they seek a better life, based on equality regardless of religious belief. Either Iraq will develop as these protestors hope, moving away from political violence and the current sectarian power structure and taking its rightful place among nations who respect the rights of all regardless of their faith, or it will slide backwards, a fate previewed in the killing of protestors and most notably with the genocide and other carnage at the hands of ISIS. In this latter case, Iraqi sovereignty too will be undermined as its strong neighbors meddle in its internal affairs.”

Cardinal Louis Raphael I Sako, Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon, said his community will not have public Christmas celebrations, “out of respect for the dead and wounded among protesters and security forces, and in solidarity with the pains of their families,” The New Arab reported Dec. 3.

“There will be no decorated Christmas trees in the churches or streets, no celebrations and no reception at the patriarchate,” he stated.

The Iraq protests, which began Oct. 1, are largely in response to government corruption and a lack of economic growth and proper public services. Protesters are calling for electoral reform and for early elections.

Government forces have used tear gas and bullets against protesters. Some 17,000 protesters have been injured. According to the BBC, at least 12 security personnel have died amid the unrest.

Prime minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi announced Nov. 29 he would resign, though he will remain as interim PM until his successor is chosen. The announcement came shortly after Ali al-Sistani, the most influential Shia spiritual leaders in Iraq, called on parliament to withdraw its support from the government.

Iraq's constitution, adopted in 2005, establishes Islam as the state religion and the foundation of the country's laws, though freedom of religion is guaranteed. The constitution was largely backed by Shia Arabs and by Kurds (most of whom are Sunni), and opposed by Sunni Arabs.

This post-2003 settlement includes a quota system based on ethnicity and sect, which has fostered corruption and patronage.

In the Fund for Peace's Fragile States Index 2019, Iraq ranked 13th out of 178 countries, placing it in an alert category for state vulnerability and in the company of Haiti and Nigeria.

And Iraq was ranked 168 out of 180 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index 2018, in the company of Venezuela.

Senate confirms pro-life lawyer as federal judge

Washington D.C., Dec 4, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The Senate on Thursday confirmed Sarah Pitlyk, a Catholic lawyer and advocate for pro-life activist David Daleiden, as a judge for the Eastern District Court of Missouri.

Pitlyk, confirmed by a vote of 49 to 44, was a special counsel at the Thomas More Society, a legal firm that specializes in pro-life and religious freedom cases. She was nominated by President Trump to the district court in August.

In her favor were 49 Republicans, with 42 Democrats and one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), voting against her confirmation.

The new judge once clerked for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and studied as a Fulbright Scholar at Belgium’s Catholic University of Leuven. While at Yale Law School, she founded the group Yale Law Students for Life.

“Pitlyk is highly qualified with a world-class education and extensive legal expertise. She is principled and committed to fairness. Recent attacks on her record were clearly partisan, motivated in part by her success in litigating pro-life cases,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, stated on Tuesday before Pitlyk’s nomination.

Planned Parenthood, in a press release, called Pitlyk “extreme and unfit to judge.” They pointed to Pitlyk’s record defending pro-life measures, such as Iowa’s “heartbeat” bill, and her opposition to St. Louis’ city ordinance on abortion.  

The St. Louis ordinance, which was enacted in 2017 and overturned by a federal court in 2018, would have forced pro-life groups to take contradictory stances such as employing abortion proponents or renting space to abortion clinics.

The American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary unanimously said that Pitlyk was “not qualified” for the position because she lacked trial and litigation experience.  

“Ms. Pitlyk has never tried a case as lead or co-counsel, whether civil or criminal. She has never examined a witness. Though Ms. Pitlyk has argued one case in a court of appeals, she has not taken a deposition. She has not argued any motion in a state or federal trial court. She has never picked a jury. She has never participated at any stage of a criminal matter,” the ABA committee stated in a Sept. 24 letter to the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

In her time at the Thomas More Society, Pitlyk defended pro-life advocate David Daleiden who in 2015 first produced tapes of secretly-recorded conversations with officials at Planned Parenthood and fetal tissue procurement companies.

Daleiden meant to expose the fetal tissue trade between abortion clinics and tissue harvesters; a federal district court in San Francisco in November ruled that his Center for Medical Progress had caused Planned Parenthood “substantial harm” with the videos, and ordered the group to pay $870,000 in damages.

Pitlyk also submitted a brief on behalf of 67 Catholic theologians and ethicists in the case Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, against the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate.

“Catholic moral and theological principles, which are shared by many other Christian traditions, indicate that providing health insurance coverage for these objectionable services could cause objecting employers to become unacceptably complicit in actions forbidden by their religious faith,” the brief stated.

Rochester bishop requested Fulton Sheen beatification delay

Vatican City, Dec 4, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- The beatification of Archbishop Fulton Sheen was delayed at the request of Bishop Salvatore Matano of Rochester, an official in the Peoria diocese and other Church officials have confirmed.

“They did not agree with the fact the beatification date was set and announced and asked the further consideration be done,” Msgr. James Kruse, Director of Canonical Affairs in the Diocese of Peoria, told CNA Dec. 4.

Kruse is also a member of the Sheen Foundation, and has worked for years on Sheen's cause for canonization.

Several other sources close to the beatification also told CNA that Matano requested the beatification be delayed.

The bishop requested the delay due to concerns that Sheen could be cited in the final report covering an ongoing state attorney general’s investigation into New York’s bishops and dioceses.

In September, New York’s attorney general began an investigation into whether any of the state’s eight Roman Catholic dioceses had covered up acts or allegations of clerical sexual abuse. Sheen was Bishop of Rochester from 1966 to 1969.

The bishop, who was a prolific author and television personality, was set to be beatified on Dec. 21, the last step before a person can be declared a saint.

A “postponement” of the beatification was announced by the Peoria diocese, where Sheen is buried and would have been beatified, on Dec. 3.

The diocese said that “a few members of the Bishops’ Conference” had “requested a delay,” adding that “the Diocese of Peoria remains confident that Archbishop Sheen’s virtuous conduct will only be further demonstrated.”

A source close to the Vatican’s Secretariat of State told CNA that Matano contacted the apostolic nuncio after the beatification date was set, to express concerns that Sheen could be named in a report by the attorney general, or accused of insufficiently handling allegations of abuse during his tenure as Rochester’s bishop.

There was apparently specific concern that such an allegation against Sheen could be timed to coincide with the beatification on Dec. 21, sources told CNA.

“A beatification is a celebration,” an official close to the Secretariat of State told CNA about the decision to postpone. “The purpose is to help the faith of the people, not to be an occasion for scandal and problems, nothing is lost by waiting and maybe some things are avoided.”

“There has been a great deal of impatience in some parts about [Sheen’s beatification], but in the normal course of these things this all is happening very fast - look at [St. Cardinal John Henry] Newman and how long the wait was.”

Kruse told CNA that in July, Matano told him “the case is in the hands of Rome and we simply should wait for their determination and direction.”

“Last week, Peoria got direction from Rome, ‘Beatify him on Dec. 21,’” Kruse added, noting that Matano subsequently objected to the Holy See's initial decision on the matter.

Several senior U.S. archbishops were consulted on the matter before the final decision to delay was made by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State. The U.S. bishops consulted reportedly reached consensus that it would be “imprudent” to proceed with the beatification plans until after the attorney general’s report has been released and the matter resolved.

At issue, Kruse said, is Gerard Guli, a former Rochester priest.

The priest was ordained in 1956, and from 1963 to 1967 served in parishes in West Virginia. According to a document issued by the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, in 1963 the Diocese of Rochester received an allegation that in 1960 Guli committed abuse or misconduct against adults, not minors.

Kruse told CNA that the priest “returned from Wheeling to help his sick parents” in 1967.

Sheen became Rochester’s bishop in October 1966.

Some have claimed that Sheen gave Guli an assignment in the Diocese of Rochester, despite the 1963 allegation against him, Kruse said. The priest said that issue is what Matano is concerned the NY attorney general will identify.

“Guli is the issue,” he told CNA.

But Kruse said that Sheen never assigned Guli to ministry.

“We have studied extensively Sheen’s administrative decisions regarding Guli, and he never put children in harm’s way,” Kruse said.

“And in talking with Guli, assignments that some say Sheen gave him, Guli says ‘I never served there.’”

“And so this whole concept that Sheen appointed a pedophilic priest, that’s just not true,” Kruse added.

“The documents clearly show that Sheen’s successor, Bishop Hogan, appointed Guli, and it’s at that assignment that Guli offended again.”

“It’s [Bishop] Hogan who appointed Guli to the parishes in the towns of Campbell and Bradford where Guli offended, and it’s part of the reason that led to his ultimate removal and laicization, as well as other issues.”

Hogan was Sheen's successor.

In 1989, Guli was arrested for an incident of abuse involving an elderly woman. The priest was serving at Rochester’s Holy Rosary Parish at the time. He was subsequently laicized.

The Diocese of Rochester declined to respond to questions from CNA about Guli.

The Diocese of Peoria’s Dec. 3 statement said that “the life of Fulton Sheen has been thoroughly and meticulously investigated. At every stage, it has been demonstrated definitively that he was an exemplary model of Christian conduct and a model of leadership in the Church. At no time has his life of virtue ever been called into question.”

“Upon my scrutiny and extensive scrutiny of the information regarding Sheen’s administration, particularly in the case of Guli, that Sheen acted in no way to put children in harm’s way or danger, he in no way did cover-up, and I have spoken to Guli who has told me that the assignment that is being claimed was given to him by Sheen, Guli has told me he never served there,” Kruse told CNA.

“We have known about the Guli issue for quite a long time and all of that has been thoroughly examined…that all of the life and everything has been vetted, and in the end, Sheen is exonerated in things. And likewise, Rome has vetted all of that also,” he added.

Another official close to the beatification process told CNA that “the officials of the cause in Illinois looked very carefully at every part of his ministry as a bishop in New York. They did not find that he handled cases badly.”

Still, the official said, “now we will just have to wait and to see.”

In August, New York state law opened a window in the statute of limitations for vicitms of child sexual abuse to file civil or criminal complaints concerning historic offences. The one-year window was created through the Child Victims Act, which also altered New York’s statute of limitations for filing criminal claims and civil claims for survivors of child sexual abuse.

Over 400 lawsuits were filed on the first day of the window, include an allegation against a sitting bishop and a RICO suit against the Diocese of Buffalo and the Northeast Province of the Jesuits. Claims were also filed against laicized former archbishop and cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

In September, the Rochester diocese filed for bankruptcy protection, amid a flood of abuse lawsuits.

"This is a very difficult and painful decision, but after assessing all reasonable possibilities to satisfy the claims, reorganization is considered the best and fairest course of action for the victims and for the well-being of the diocese, its parishes, agencies and institutions," Bishop Matano wrote in a Sept. 12 letter.

"We believe this is the only way we can provide just compensation for all who suffered the egregious sin of sexual abuse while ensuring the continued commitment of the diocese to the mission of Christ."

The Diocese of Rochester declined Dec. 4 to answer questions from CNA, but did provide a statement.

“The decision to postpone the beatification of Archbishop Sheen was solely the decision of the Holy See. Respecting the competency of the Holy See in this matter, the Diocese will decline further comment.”

Kruse emphasized that, in his view, while the decision belong to the Holy See, it was the Diocese of Rochester that influenced it.

“I have seen the statement saying that they did,” he told CNA.

 

Ed. note: This story was updated at 5:00 pm MT.

Ed. note: This story initially mentioned reports claiming that Guli was laicized in 1967 and subsequently returned to ministry. Kruse clarified that was not the case, and the references have been removed.

 

New Buffalo apostolic administrator pledges 'openness' with victims

Buffalo, N.Y., Dec 4, 2019 / 12:25 pm (CNA).- Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany spoke to the press Wednesday following his appointment as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Buffalo, and emphasized that although he is not yet sure how exactly he will divide his time between the two dioceses he is now tasked with shepherding, he trusts Pope Francis’ decision to appoint him.

“I’m not here as a knight in shining armor. I’m not here as the fix-it man. I’m just here as a spiritual father,” Scharfenberger told the press Dec. 4.

“Fear is useless, it’s faith that counts, my personal relationship with Jesus Christ— I believe that He loves me and that He loves every person,” Scharfenberger said.

He stressed his desire for “openness” in moving forward with the diocese, and pledged to work toward healing for those who have been hurt.

Bishop Richard Malone, who has for over a year faced heavy criticism for his handling of cases of clerical sexual abuse in the diocese, asked Pope Francis for an “early retirement” during last month's ad limina visit in Rome, and on Wednesday Pope Francis accepted his resignation.

The Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C. announced in October that Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn had been asked to lead an apostolic visitation and canonical inspection of the Buffalo diocese on behalf of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops.

That review concluded at the end of October, with DiMarzio having made three trips to Buffalo, and interviewing more than 80 people before submitting his report to Rome. The details of DiMarzio’s apostolic visitation have not been released, and the Vatican has not suggested that Malone has been formally accused of any particular canonical crime.

Malone said he had been made aware of the “general conclusions” of the report and the conclusions had factored into his discernment to resign, but that he had done so “freely and voluntarily.”

When asked if he had read DiMarzio’s report, Scharfenberger said that he had not. Reporters pressed Scharfenberger on whether he had met with or spoken with Malone about the situation in the diocese, and Scharfenberger said he and Malone had met on a bus in Rome, and that Malone had “spoken from the heart” about the difficulties he was facing in the diocese.

Scharfenberger said he thinks Malone made a prudent decision to withdraw as bishop when he did, and that he does not have any immediate plans to meet with Malone. Meeting with him “is not my job,” he said, adding that the only communications about the situation he has had are with the nuncio.

Scharfenberger emphasized that his position as apostolic administrator is by definition temporary, and the decision of who will ultimately lead the diocese is entirely up to the Holy See.

“It’s not about me, it’s about the mission of the Church,” he said.

“I try to open my heart, but ultimately my confidence is in the Lord...I say, ‘Lord Jesus I trust in you.’”

When asked by a reporter whether he thinks there is a need for a complete house cleaning of all of Malone’s advisors in the diocesan chancery, including Auxiliary Bishop Edward Grosz and Attorney Terry Connors, Scharfenberger said he thinks “a clean sweep” of Malone’s advisors is “too broad a stroke,” but that he would look into it.

In his statement, Malone announced his intention to continue to reside in the diocese as Bishop Emeritus, “and to be available to serve in whatever ways that our Apostolic Administrator and new bishop determines is best.”

The bishop emeritus becomes a member of the clergy, Scharfenberger said, and added that it would be within the scope of his office to “limit” Bishop Malone if necessary.

Scharfenberger said his commitment is to be physically present in the diocese at least one day a week. Options for connecting digitally, such as live streaming, will also be considered, he said.

“The time that I give is not limited to me being physically present,” he said.

“In my heart is a desire to be a parish priest,” he said, adding that he wants to hear how he can help the people of the Buffalo diocese.

Scharfenberger, who has previously served on a diocesan review board, said it is his goal to encourage parishes in the diocese to be places where people feel welcome and comfortable talking about abuse they may have faced.

Scharfenberger said when he speaks to a congregation, he tends to think that 20-25% have suffered some form of abuse, such as sexual abuse or domestic violence. He said a priest once estimated to him it could be as high as 50%.

“We’re all hurting,” he said, adding that his number one priority is “openness in conversation, particularly with those who have been hurt the most.”

Scharfenberger said although there’s no question that trust in the hierarchy in Buffalo has been broken and compromised, he urged the faithful not to “judge [all priests] as a class.” When asked if he would release the personnel files of all priests in the diocese accused of abuse, he pledged that “anything I can do within the scope of canon law, I will do.”

In November 2018, a former Buffalo chancery employee leaked confidential diocesan documents related to the handling of claims of clerical sexual abuse. The documents were widely reported to suggest Malone had covered-up some claims of sexual abuse, an allegation the bishop denied.

Six months later, in April 2019, Malone apologized for his handling of some cases in the diocese, and said he would work to restore trust. The bishop particularly apologized for his 2015 support of Fr. Art Smith, a priest who had faced repeated allegations of abuse and misconduct with minors.

In August 2019, a RICO lawsuit was filed against the diocese and the bishop, alleging that the response of the diocese was comparable to an organized crime syndicate.

Recordings of private conversations released in early September appeared to show that Malone believed sexual harassment accusations made against a diocesan priest months before the bishop removed the priest from ministry. In one recording, the bishop is heard to say that if the media were to report on the situation, “it could force me to resign.”

“I have acknowledged on many occasions the mistakes I have made [in not] addressing more swiftly personnel issues that, in my view, required time to sort out complex details pertaining to behavior between adults,” Malone said in his Dec. 4 statement.

“In extensive listening sessions across our Diocese, I have heard your dismay and rightful concerns. I have been personally affected by the hurt and disappointment you have expressed, all of which have informed our actions. I have sought your understanding, your advice, your patience and your forgiveness.”

Scharfenberger urged any victims of abuse to immediately contact law enforcement before contacting the diocese.

Foes of Louisiana abortion regulation file briefs with Supreme Court

Washington D.C., Dec 4, 2019 / 12:30 am (CNA).- A Louisiana law that requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals has drawn opposition from medical groups and national Democratic politicians, who have filed briefs against it.

Backers of the law say it is a commonsense measure that protects women’s health and supports the dignity of life. Opponents argue that it places an undue obstacle on women seeking an abortion.

In October the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would hear a challenge to Louisiana’s Unsafe Abortion Protection Act, which requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic. When then-Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) signed the bill into law in 2014, it was promptly challenged in court.

The requirement could shut down at least two of Louisiana’s three abortion clinics, the pro-abortion Center for Reproductive Rights has said.

Louisiana state officials are defending the bill.

“Women deserve better than incompetent providers that put profits over people,” Louisiana Solicitor General Liz Murrill told National Public Radio.

However, foes of the law have filed friend-of-the-court briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the plaintiff, the Shreveport-based abortion clinic June Medical Services.

Among the groups signing on to one amicus brief were the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The medical groups’ brief said the Louisiana law is similar to the Texas law struck down in the 2016 U.S. Supreme Court case Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt.

In the Hellerstedt case, the court ruled that the Texas law created an “undue burden” on abortion access in the state, as it had decided in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that state abortion laws could not pose such an obstacle.

The Supreme Court faulted the Texas law, which required abortion doctors to have admitting privileges. A “working arrangement” was already in place between hospitals and abortion clinics in the state, the court found. The provision could have meant the closure of around half the clinics in Texas.

While a district court permanently barred the Louisiana law from taking effect, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court overturned that decision in January. It ruled the law was sufficiently different from that of Texas. Unlike Texas, few Louisiana hospitals require doctors to see a minimum number of patients. While most abortion clinics in Texas would have closed because of the law, only one doctor at one Louisiana abortion clinic is unable to obtain privileges.

In February, the Supreme Court temporarily blocked Louisiana’s law from taking effect.

In response, Archbishop Joseph Naumann, the chair of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee, said that the law simply required “basic health standards” of abortion clinics. He said that the court’s stay, together with the abortion industry fighting the law, are “further evidence of how abortion extremism actively works against the welfare of women.”

State Rep. Katrina Jackson, a Democrat from Monroe who sponsored the Louisiana legislation, in October said the case concerns whether a state is able “to enforce its duly enacted laws aimed at protecting the health and safety of its citizens.”

“Together with my colleagues, our legislature passed the Unsafe Abortion Protection Act by a wide bipartisan margin to protect the health and safety of women,” she said, according to the Baton Rouge-based newspaper The Advocate. “Abortion has known medical risks, and the women of this state who are often coerced into abortion deserve to have the same standard of care required for other surgical procedures.”

Though the legislation sponsor is a Democrat, national Democratic leaders have weighed in against the bill. Nearly 200 Members of Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have submitted a brief opposing the Louisiana law, National Public Radio reports.

The American Bar Association has also filed an amicus brief against the Louisiana law. It objected that the law is contrary to existing pro-abortion precedent and the case “raises significant concerns about adherence to basic rule of law principles.”

Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, M.D., a Florida-based radiologist who is a policy advisor for The Catholic Association, in October told CNA the law did nothing more than provide commonsense protections for women’s health.

The law “ensures that women suffering from dangerous complications do not show up at emergency rooms where doctors who don’t know them can only guess at the surgical intervention that was done at the abortion facility,” she said.

Louisiana law currently bars abortion after 20 weeks into pregnancy and requires a 24-hour waiting period between the first consultation and the abortion procedure.

Two other Louisiana laws restricting abortion could take effect, pending judicial decisions regarding similar Mississippi laws: a restriction on abortion to 15 weeks into pregnancy; or when a fetal heartbeat is detectable, about six weeks into pregnancy.

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed both laws and cited his pro-life positions in his recent successful re-election campaign.

Wednesday of the First Week of Advent

Reading 1 Is 25:6-10a

On this mountain the LORD of hosts
will provide for all peoples
A feast of rich food and choice wines,
juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
the veil that veils all peoples,
The web that is woven over all nations;
he will destroy death forever.
The Lord GOD will wipe away
the tears from all faces;
The reproach of his people he will remove
from the whole earth; for the LORD has spoken.

On that day it will be said:
"Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us!
This is the LORD for whom we looked;
let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!"
For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6

R. (6cd) I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
Beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
R. I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
He guides me in right paths
for his name's sake.
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side
With your rod and your staff
that give me courage.
R. I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
R. I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.
R. I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.

Alleluia

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Behold, the Lord comes to save his people;
blessed are those prepared to meet him.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Mt 15:29-37

At that time:
Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee,
went up on the mountain, and sat down there.
Great crowds came to him,
having with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute,
and many others.
They placed them at his feet, and he cured them.
The crowds were amazed when they saw the mute speaking,
the deformed made whole,
the lame walking,
and the blind able to see,
and they glorified the God of Israel.

Jesus summoned his disciples and said,
"My heart is moved with pity for the crowd,
for they have been with me now for three days
and have nothing to eat.
I do not want to send them away hungry,
for fear they may collapse on the way."
The disciples said to him,
"Where could we ever get enough bread in this deserted place
to satisfy such a crowd?"
Jesus said to them, "How many loaves do you have?"
"Seven," they replied, "and a few fish."
He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground.
Then he took the seven loaves and the fish,
gave thanks, broke the loaves,
and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.
They all ate and were satisfied.
They picked up the fragments left over–seven baskets full.

For the readings of the Optional Memorial of Saint John Damascene, please go here.

- - -
Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine; Psalm refrain © 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved. Neither this work nor any part of it may be reproduced, distributed, performed or displayed in any medium, including electronic or digital, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Updated: Sheen beatification postponement not related to 2007 cover-up allegation, sources say

Peoria, Ill., Dec 3, 2019 / 02:43 pm (CNA).- The delay of the beatification of Archbishop Fulton Sheen is not related to a 2007 allegation that Bishop Fulton Sheen witnessed and covered up an act of clerical sexual abuse, sources close to the beatification told CNA.

Sheen was due to be beatified at a Mass in Peoria, Illinois Dec. 21. The Diocese of Peoria announced Dec. 3 that the beatification will be delayed, so that more time can be given to examine Sheen's life.

A source close to the beatification told CNA that the delay is not related a 2007 lawsuit which alleged that while an auxiliary bishop, Sheen walked in on an act of sexual abuse in a New York Church office, “called the victim a slut, told the priest to put his pants on, and did nothing to report the incident or comfort the victim. Bishop Sheen covered-up the crime.”

Sheen was an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of New York from 1951 to 1966.

The lawsuit was filed by now-laicized priest Robert Hoatson, who in 2007 was a priest in the Archdiocese of Newark. It catalogs a number of instances of clerical sexual abuse Hoatson claims to have witnessed or heard about. Hoatson said he had learned about a number of those instances of abuse through his ministry of pastoral counseling.

A Church official connected to the beatification told CNA that “the allegation from the U.S. lawsuit has been on the internet for ten years. Every thing said of Sheen's life has been examined during the process for beatification.”

In its Dec. 3 statement on the beatification delay, the Diocese of Peoria said that “it has been demonstrated definitively that [Sheen] was an examplary model of Christian conduct and a model of leadership in the Church. At no time has his life of virtue ever been called into question.”

The diocese said that on Dec. 2 “the Holy See decided to postpone the date of Beatification, at the request of a few members of the Bishops’ Conference who have asked for further consideration.”

“Bishop Jenky is deeply saddened by this decision,” the statement added.

“In particular, Bishop Jenky is even more concerned for the many faithful who are devoted to Sheen and who will be affected by this news.”

Jenky is “firmly convinced of the great holiness” of Sheen, and “remains confident that Sheen will be beatified.” The cause for Sheen’s beatification and canonization will continue and, the press release stated, there have been “many miracles” reported through Sheen’s intercession, including some as recently as the last three weeks.

The Peoria diocese stated that the delay was not the result of any allegations of abuse of a minor.

“In our current climate, it is important for the faithful to know there has never been, nor is there now, any allegation against Sheen involving the abuse of a minor,” the release added.

Hoatson's 2007 lawsuit also alleged that former cardinal Theodore McCarrick was “actively homosexual,” also naming Archbishop John Myers, Cardinal Edward Egan, and Bishop Howard Hubbard.

“These bishops have been compromised in their positions and status as employers by predators and pedophiles in ministry and motivated to retaliate against the plaintiff for exposing criminal acts, corruption, immorality, hypocrisy and criminal acts by predators and amongst bishops,” the suit claimed.

The lawsuit was initially filed federally, and dismissed, and the lawyer who filed it was sanctioned by the court, which suggested that the suit was seeking publicity and was “littered with wholly irrelevant, inflammatory, and embarrassing facts concerning defendants and non-defendants alike that have no bearing on the actions brought.”

The suit was subsequently filed in state court and then dismissed.

Hoatson told CNA Dec. 3 that at the request of the victim he would not comment on the allegation at this time, citing her desire for anonymity and confidentiality.

“The victim just wants to remain quiet about it, and has asked me not to say anything more,” he told CNA.

Hoatson was laicized in 2011 and now leads an organization called Road to Recovery, through which he has offered support to victims of clerical sexual abuse, and advocated for changes to Church teaching and discipline on clerical issues.
 

This story is developing and has been updated. It will continue to be updated as information becomes available.