1. Australian probe into child abuse attacks Catholic celibacy.

By Rod McGuirk, Associated Press, December 15, 2017, 7:24 AM

An Australian inquiry into child abuse recommended Friday that the Catholic Church lift its demand of celibacy from clergy and that priests be prosecuted for failing to report evidence of pedophilia heard in the confessional.

Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse delivered its final 17-volume report and 189 recommendations following a wide-ranging investigation. Australia’s longest-running royal commission — which is the country’s highest form of inquiry — has been investigating since 2012 how the Catholic Church and other institutions responded to sexual abuse of children in Australia over 90 years.

The commission found that celibacy was not a direct cause of child sexual abuse, but was a contributing factor, especially when combined with other risk factors.


2. Has Australian commission weakened the reformers on sex abuse?

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, December 15, 2017

To the extent it’s a virtue, one can at least say this about the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse: It clearly has not been cowed by the internal politics of the Catholic Church. Indeed, it hardly seems to be aware of them.

On Friday, the commission issued its final report after four years of hearings, investigations, and research, and unsurprisingly, the Church was a major object of its attention. Based on its findings, the commission could have restricted itself to the following propositions – all of which are present in the report in some form.

-The Catholic Church is guilty of massive failures in its responsibility to protect children, failures so vast they weren’t random or merely personal, but systematic.

-Leaders in the Church, especially the hierarchy, must be held accountable for child protection in ways that go beyond the notional or merely symbolic.

-The Church must cooperate, always and at all levels, with civil authorities, because no institution can be allowed to police itself when it comes to child sexual abuse.

-The reform process in the Church, while encouraging, remains seriously incomplete, and must be accelerated and made uniform.

Had that been the commission’s bottom line, it probably would have attracted 80 to 90 percent Catholic support in many parts of the world. It also would have strengthened the hand of those promoting change in the Church, perhaps lending a new sense of urgency to their efforts.

Make no mistake: There is a political battle underway in Catholicism today over child sexual abuse, and its outcome is uncertain.

In the old days, the battle lines were between reformers and deniers – those who acknowledged the problem, and those who insisted it was media-driven hysteria, or an ideological attack on the church by its enemies. Today, buried under an avalanche of data, first-person testimonies, court verdicts, and so on, that kind of denial has been largely suffocated.

However, a new foe of reform has arisen, which we might call the “let’s move on” crowd.

This group, whether they say it out loud or not, believes the abuse scandals are largely over.

The Royal Commission report could have helped to jar the Church out of that complacency.

Instead, the commission chose to muddle its utterly legitimate indictments with two other points:

-A recommendation that Catholicism eliminate mandatory priestly celibacy.

-A call that the seal of the confessional be abandoned when it comes to confessions involving child abuse.

In effect, the first is a red herring and the second is, almost certainly, a non-starter.

To begin, there is the empirical reality that the sexual abuse of children is not confined to, and likely isn’t any more pronounced among, celibate males than non-celibate ones.

With regard to the seal of the confessional, that’s an absolutely core sacramental principle in Catholicism, one for which martyrs have given their lives over the centuries, and it’s deeply unlikely that anyone in authority in the Church would seriously entertain setting it aside, no matter how noble the motive.

Time will tell how all this plays out, but right now one thing seems clear: If you’re a reformer in the Catholic Church on child abuse – and when it comes to protecting children we should all be – prior to this week you may have been eagerly anticipating what the Royal Commission would have to say.

After this week, you may be more likely to hope everyone forgets about it, and soon.


3. Ohio moves closer to banning abortions when fetuses have Down syndrome.

By Sandhya Somashekhar, The Washington Post, December 15, 2017, Pg. A3

Lawmakers in Ohio took steps this week to bar abortions when they are sought because a fetus has been diagnosed with Down syndrome, one of more than a dozen abortion restrictions passed in the state in recent years.

The state legislature approved the bill Wednesday, sending it to Gov. John Kasich (R), who has not said explicitly whether he plans to sign it. He is a staunch abortion opponent, and earlier this year he called a prohibition on abortion in cases of the genetic disorder “appropriate.”

If the bill is enacted, Ohio would become the latest state to try to stop women from aborting fetuses when they discover through prenatal testing that they have a chromosomal defect. Similar laws have been passed in North Dakota, Indiana and Louisiana, though the latter two have been blocked by the courts.

Alarm about abortion of fetuses diagnosed with Down syndrome spiked during the summer after a widely viewed CBS News report showed that women in Iceland had all but stopped giving birth to babies with Down syndrome, thanks to mandatory prenatal testing and liberal abortion laws.


4. Proposed Catholic hospital mega-merger assessed by Church officials.

By Kevin Jones, Catholic News Agency, December 14, 2017, 8:00 PM

Catholic ethics and church law must be at the center of a merger of two major Catholic health care systems that, if approved, will create the largest non-profit health system in the country, an archdiocesan official says.

Denver-based Catholic Health Initiatives and San Francisco-based Dignity Health announced the proposed merger Dec. 7.

They aim to create a new Catholic healthcare system, set to be based in Chicago. The combined health system will be run by the CEOs of both companies. It will include 139 hospitals, employ 159,000 people, and have a combined revenue of $28.4 billion.

The merger requires regulatory approval—and also scrutiny that it does not violate Catholic ethical and canonical norms.

Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco are among those responsible for analyzing the moral and ethical considerations of the proposed merger for the health systems based in their respective cities, David Uebbing, chancellor for the Archdiocese of Denver, told CNA.

The USCCB’s “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services” require that the merger of the healthcare systems receive a “nihil obstat” from the diocesan bishop in the places where the systems are headquartered.

“A nihil obstat is a negative declaration that essentially says, ‘nothing stands in the way’,” Uebbing said. “A nihil obstat has limited scope, i.e., determining that there is nothing morally or doctrinally objectionable in the proposed corporate structure. It does not convey approval or agreement with the proposal.”

Both health care systems are sponsored by canonical organizations overseen directly by the Vatican, which, according to canon law, will also need to approve the merger.

Currently Catholic Health Initiatives has hospitals in 17 states, while Dignity Health has facilities in 22 states, including those operating under brands such as U.S. HealthWorks, the Sacramento Bee reports.

The expansion of Catholic hospitals operating according to Catholic teaching has drawn opposition from critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the MergerWatch project. Those groups co-authored a 2013 report that claimed the growth of Catholic hospitals was a “miscarriage of medicine.”