1. Vatican Sex Abuse Summit Seeks New Culture of Accountability.

By Nicole Winfield, The Associated Press, February 22, 2019, 7:24 AM

On the second day of Francis’ extraordinary gathering of Catholic leaders, the debate shifted to how church leaders must acknowledge that decades of their own cover-ups, secrecy and fear of scandal had only worsened the sex abuse crisis.

“We must repent, and do so together, collegially, because along the way we have failed,” said Mumbai Cardinal Oswald Gracias. “We need to seek pardon.”

Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich told the 190 bishops and religious superiors that new legal procedures were needed to both report and investigate Catholic superiors when they are accused of misconduct themselves or of negligence in handling abuse cases.

Francis summoned the bishops for the four-day tutorial on preventing sex abuse and protecting children after the scandal erupted again last year in Chile and the U.S. While the Vatican for two decades has tried to crack down on the abusers themselves, it has largely given their bishops and superiors who moved them around from parish to parish a pass.

Gracias, the Indian cardinal, opened the session by saying bishops must work together to address the problem because it is not confined to a particular region. He told the conference that it is not acceptable for bishops in Africa or Asia to say the problem of clergy sex abuse doesn’t exist in their regions or that “it’s a just a problem for the USA or Europe or Australia.”


2. Pope’s Meeting Hears Accounts Of the Abused.

By Jason Horowitz, The New York Times, February 22, 2019, Pg. A1

Cloistered inside the Vatican on Thursday, Roman Catholic Church leaders heard searing prerecorded video testimonials from abuse survivors, including one made pregnant three times by a priest who started abusing her at age 15, beat her and forced her to have abortions.

The meeting was potentially a consequential moment for this papacy and the most visible step taken by the Vatican to impress upon bishops and other church leaders — some of them still skeptical — the enormity of a crisis that has shaken the faithful.

Expectations for action were amplified by victims and victim advocates, who converged in Rome to apply pressure from outside the meeting, which took place in a Holy See conference hall.

A lack of forceful action by the Vatican has disheartened and disgusted many victims and their advocates, who are demanding a policy of zero tolerance and dismissal from the clerical state for abusive priests and the bishops who protect them.

The issue has drastically devalued the moral authority that is the currency of the clergy and Pope Francis, who is often a lonely voice in support of migrants and the poor. As the abuse crisis has festered, critics have asked why anyone should listen to a moral leader unable, or unwilling, to clean up his own house.

On Thursday, addressing the 190 Catholic Church leaders who had gathered from around the world, the pope sought to reassure his flock that ‘‘we hear the cry of the little ones asking for justice.”


3. Vermont House easily passes bill that expands abortion access.

By Valerie Richardson, The Washington Times, February 22, 2019, Pg. A6

The Vermont House easily passed Thursday a sweeping, no-limits abortion bill that makes terminating a pregnancy a “fundamental right” and allows the procedure at every stage of gestation.

H. 57 was approved by a vote of 106-36 after legislators defeated a dozen proposed amendments offered by Republicans, including provisions requiring a 48-hour waiting period, parental notification for minors, and a cut-off at 24 weeks’ gestation except in medical emergencies.

“I trust women. Therefore I cast my vote in favor of codifying protections Vermonters already have in safeguarding this fundamental reproductive right,” said state Rep. Becca White, Hartford Democrat, in her floor speech.

Meanwhile, Vermont Right to Life Executive Director Mary Hahn Beerworth blasted Democrats for rejecting “common-sense amendments to protect minor girls, to limit abortions on unborn babies in the later states of development, to provide informed consent (including alternatives to abortion), to provide regulation and inspection of abortion clinics.”


4. Survivors of late-term abortion are grown up and speaking out.

By Maureen Ferguson, Washington Examiner Online, February 22, 2019, 07:30 AM, Opinion
Maureen Ferguson is a contributor to the Washington Examiner ‘s Beltway Confidential blog. She is a senior policy adviser for The Catholic Association.

Nothing speaks louder in the ongoing debate over late-term abortion than a crying newborn baby, particularly a baby who was accidentally born alive after an attempted abortion. The voices of these abortion survivors are very powerful. Now adults, they have been speaking out to tell their stories.

The Senate is about to vote on a bill to protect such infants. The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, sponsored by Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., requires appropriate medical care be given to a baby who survives an abortion. President Trump is going further, pressing Congress to ban late-term abortions altogether. The rhetoric surrounding both bills has become heated and has left many people wondering how to separate fact from fiction.

Media outlets routinely describe the numbers of late-term abortions as ” very rare,” citing the fact that they account for only 1.3 percent of all abortions. But the percentage value minimizes the actual numbers. There are more than 12,000 abortions annually after 20 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of the abortion lobby. It does not refer to the number of children who die annually in car crashes (about 4,000), gun violence (about 3,000), or childhood cancers (about 2,000) as “very rare.” Yet each of these tragic numbers is only a fraction of the 12,000 viable children aborted late in pregnancy.

Abortion lobbyists admit that most late-term abortions are done on healthy mothers carrying healthy babies. Guttmacher Institute statistics confirm that “most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.”

When a mother’s physical health is gravely threatened late in pregnancy, the baby can be delivered alive, prematurely, and both can be treated and cared for separately. If a developing baby is diagnosed with a fatal anomaly, studies show definitively that mothers who carry to term are overwhelmingly more happy with their decision to love their little one for the short time they are granted — 97 percent have no regrets — than those mothers who suffer the very complicated grief of choosing abortion.

Trump also asserted in the State of the Union that “[t]hese are living, feeling, beautiful, babies who will never get the chance to share their love and dreams with the world.” This claim is proved true by the stories of those truly rare babies who somehow miraculously survived a late-term abortion and were lucky enough to receive medical care after birth.


5. Will Vatican snatch defeat from jaws of victory at anti-abuse summit? 

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, February 22, 2019

Over the years, the Vatican has demonstrated a fairly remarkable capacity from a PR point of view to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory – striving to offer the world good news about the pope and the Church, only to find a way to step on that story and turn it into something else.

Nevertheless, that storyline was basically hijacked when Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican’s former Secretary of State and Dean of the College of Cardinals, called the complaints of abuse survivors “petty gossip” during an Easter Sunday homily.

It’s still early in the game, but there have already been hints during this week’s high-profile summit on clerical sexual abuse that the Vatican may find ways to take our eyes off the prize this time too.

To begin with, despite efforts in the run-up to this gathering of presidents of bishops’ conferences from around the world to lower expectations – or, as Pope Francis himself put it, to “deflate” expectations – the Vatican certainly isn’t treating this as business as usual. They’re offering daily briefings with A-list personalities, livestreaming much of the proceedings, and issuing most materials in multiple languages.

In all honesty, it’s unlikely thorny issues such as these will be taken up at this week’s summit, and it certainly is true that the very act of calling such a meeting represents a step forward – perhaps especially so for the Church in parts of the world where the abuse scandals have not yet erupted, whose bishops will at least go home with a grudging realization that they’re expected to act.

One wonders, however, if that good news story will have much traction at the end of the week, if the Vatican keeps finding other, and less flattering, narratives for enterprising journalists to pursue.


6. ‘Cultural differences’ no reason to prevent global rules on sex abuse. 

By Charles Collins, Managing Editor, Crux, February 22, 2019

However, the ongoing Vatican abuse summit, which began on Thursday and runs until Sunday, is showing signs that the reverse can also be true: “Third world problems” – such as cultural taboos on sexual matters – can put the kibosh on universal Church norms to fight the sexual abuse of minors.

For example, Philippine Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, the opening speaker at the event on Thursday, told Vatican Media – an official service of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication –  that the Church has “to really be patient, and maybe work through the cultures.”

However, there is a danger that these very real concerns could be used as an excuse not to implement effective universal Church laws on dealing with sexual abuse – the exceptions that will prevent the rules.

Countries that have been dealing with the sexual abuse crisis for decades – such as the United States, Ireland, Germany, and England – have developed extensive guidelines and procedures for dealing with abuse allegations.

Although not perfect, these countries have seen cases of clerical abuse drop considerably.


7. The Viral Scandal of Clerical Unchastity.

By Fr. Roger J. Landry, The Anchor, February 22, 2019
Fr. Roger J. Landry is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts and the National Chaplain of Catholic Voices USA.

Clerical sexual abuse of minors. Clerical sexual abuse of women. Clerical sexual abuse of men. The deluge of stories of sexual unchastity among clergy, including in the Vatican, might lead one who doesn’t know many priests to question whether clergy cheating on their vocations and promises of chaste celibacy are the rule rather than aberration.

There is also a second level of corruption, which involves the failure of those in positions of authority to address and attempt to eradicate sexual infidelity when they become aware of it. Such failures have gotten much attention with regard to the abuse of minors, with some now being held accountable. But it still hasn’t been substantially addressed with regard to clergy who are unfaithful with women or men.

The practical toleration in many places of clerical unchastity with adults has helped foment a culture of hypocrisy, secrecy and cover-up that has enfeebled the Church’s response to the abuse of minors: when those in authority get accustomed to looking the other way with regard to sexual sins with adults, it facilitates similar omissions with respect to the molestation of minors.

This demands eliminating a culture of unchastity in the clergy by communicating quite clearly that sins against chastity will not be tolerated. This means reaffirming the basic standards of insisting clergy be faithful their promises, and if they refuse, or discover they can’t, to remove them from a situation in which they can take advantage of their office to engage in spiritually incestuous relations with the sheep and lambs Christ has entrusted to their care.

But it also requires providing much greater continual formation in celibate chastity throughout the life of the priest. In general, good, solid formation is provided in most seminaries, but insofar as temptations don’t stop at ordination, neither should formation.

The story of Job, as we know, ends well. For the Church’s reform to have a similar outcome, we must approach the problem with the same faith as Job and be aware of “friends” with false solutions.


8. Letters from the Vatican: #4.

Edited by Xavier Rynne II, First Things, February 22, 2019

Some of those charged with addressing this week’s abuse summit are, it must be said, in need of that reminder. Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, for example, will address the summit on “Transparency in a community of believers.” Does that “transparency” include, one wonders, an openness to asking just what Cardinal Marx thought he was doing recently when he said that the Church had to rethink its entire sexual ethic in light of twenty-first-century culture and contemporary mores? Does the cardinal not understand that doctrinal dissent and the confusions resulting from it were factors in the breakdown of clerical discipline that helped facilitate clerical sexual abuse? 

The liberating power of doctrine, including moral doctrine, has not been one of the leitmotifs of Pope Francis’s pontificate, as it was of his two predecessors. Proponents of the pope’s approach defend his skepticism about scholars and his oft-repeated critiques of “doctors of the law” and “Pharisees” by suggesting that the Holy Father is reminding the Church that behind everything to which Catholicism says “No” there is a “Yes” that the Church has not always been successful in communicating. True enough, and a good reminder: but not when that reminder helps facilitate a return to the moral-theological civil wars of the 1970s.     

There seems to be an iron law built into the interaction of Christianity and modernity: Christian communities that have a clear sense of their doctrinal and moral boundaries can live and even flourish under the challenging social and cultural conditions of modern life; Christian communities that fudge those boundaries wither, and some die. That iron law applies within Catholicism today. The living parts of the Church are those that have embraced the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Veritatis Splendor; the dying parts of the Church are those that have surrendered to the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the age. 

That is true of dioceses, parishes, religious communities, seminaries, and virtually every other institutional expression of Catholicism. And it is a truth—like the truth of doctrine’s liberating power expressed in Bernini’s Altar of the Chair—that this abuse summit must reaffirm, without hesitation or compromise. 


9. Searing testimony heard at Vatican sex abuse summit. 

By Nicole Winfield, The Associated Press, February 21, 2019, 3:46 PM

The day began with an African woman telling an extraordinary gathering of Catholic leaders that her priestly rapist forced her to have three abortions over a dozen years after he started violating her at age 15. It ended with a Colombian cardinal warning them they could all face prison if they let such crimes go unpunished.

In between, Pope Francis began charting a new course for the Catholic Church to confront clergy sexual abuse and cover-up, a scandal that has consumed his papacy and threatens the credibility of the Catholic hierarchy at large.

Opening a first-ever Vatican summit on preventing abuse, Francis warned 190 bishops and religious superiors on Thursday that their flocks were demanding concrete action, not just words, to punish predator priests and keep children safe. He offered them 21 proposals to consider going forward, some of them obvious and easy to adopt, others requiring new laws.

But his main point in summoning the Catholic hierarchy to the Vatican for a four-day tutorial was to impress upon them that clergy sex abuse is not confined to the United States or Ireland, but is a global scourge that requires a concerted, global response.

“Listen to the cry of the young, who want justice,” Francis told the gathering. “The holy people of God are watching and expect not just simple and obvious condemnations, but efficient and concrete measures to be established.”