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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.”

Cardinal Zen: 'Parolin is manipulating the Holy Father' on China deal

Hong Kong, China, Dec 4, 2019 / 04:56 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Joseph Zen, former bishop of Hong Kong, has renewed his criticism of the Vatican-China deal, warning that he thinks Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin is exercising undue influence in advising Pope Francis.

“I have a clear impression that Parolin is manipulating the Holy Father,” Zen told New Bloom Magazine in a recent interview.

Zen said Parolin’s motives are unclear, but suggested that he may be acting out of “vainglory” and a desire for “diplomatic success.”

“It’s a real mystery how a man of the Church, given all his knowledge of China, of the Communists, could do such a thing as he’s doing now,” he said.

For decades, the Church in China had been split between the “underground” Church, in full communion with Rome, and the state-run Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), which was not. The communist government appointed bishops for the CPCA.

In September 2018, news was released of a provisional agreement between Beijing and Vatican officials, intended to unify the underground Church and the CPCA. While the terms of the agreement have been kept confidential, it reportedly allows the CPCA to choose a slate of nominees for bishop, from which the pope would then select in making his appointment.

Zen has been an outspoken critic of the agreement, calling it an act of “shameless surrender” to the communist government.

The cardinal has criticized the deal’s secrecy, noting that as one of two Chinese cardinals, he has been unable to see the contents of the agreement, and that documents released from the Holy See have been vague, without any name or department attached to them, in a departure from the usual protocol.

Zen has also warned that the deal will put those who have remained loyal to Rome in the underground Church in danger, as pressure mounts to accept the authority of the CPCA.

Guidance from the Vatican recognizes the choice of those who feel that they cannot in good conscience register with the government and accept the communist policy of “sinicization,” to bring the Catholic Church more in-line with the communist understanding of Chinese culture, society, and politics. However, reports indicate that those who decline to register are facing harassment and persecution.

Last month, Bishop Vincenzo Guo Xijin, a leader in the Chinese underground Church, refused to register with the government. According to Asia News, he was placed under the supervision of two state security officials and visited daily in an attempt to force him to sign an act of registration with the state. He escaped a few days later and was reportedly in hiding.

Speaking with New Bloom, Cardinal Zen outlined his experience of a shift in the Vatican’s approach to China over recent decades.

In the 1980s, Cardinal Jozef Tomko, then-prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, invited Zen to take part in a series of quiet Vatican meetings about China.

These meetings, Zen said, allowed experts and bishops from different parts of China to offer a report on their situation to the Vatican Secretary of State and Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

Zen praised Tomko, saying that both his vast experience in the Vatican and his knowledge of life under communism in his home country of Czechoslovakia gave him a good perspective on the situation of China.

Advised by Tomko, he said, the Holy See legitimized several illegitimate bishops who asked for pardon, recognizing that they were “good people” who had been timid and were pressured by the government into accepting illegitimate ordination.

But when Tomko retired, Zen said, his successors moved the discussion around China in a different direction. He accused Vatican officials of manipulating the Chinese translation of a text written by Pope Benedict XVI to the Church in China, and rendering a commission established by Pope Benedict ineffective.

In particular, he named Ivan Dias, who served as prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, and Cardinal Parolin, then-Undersecretary of State, as driving figures in the new approach.

Zen said he no longer had a voice in the Vatican discussions, and felt that the pope was no longer hearing from those on the ground about their situation.

In 2010, he said, rumors began to arise that an agreement between the Vatican and China was in the works. But several years later, no agreement had surfaced.

“I have no evidence, but I believe that it was Pope Benedict who said no,” Zen said. “He could not sign that agreement. And I think the one agreement signed now [by Pope Francis] must be exactly that one, which Pope Benedict refused to sign.”

Then, in 2013, Pope Francis was elected.

“Now I’m sorry to say that I think you can agree that he has low respect for his predecessors. He is shutting down everything done by John Paul II and by Pope Benedict,” Zen said, adding that Vatican officials always describe these actions as being “in continuity” with previous popes, but he considers this description to be “an insult” and obviously false.

While Zen said his personal relationship with Pope Francis is “wonderful,” he added that the pope has not addressed the concerns he has repeatedly raised regarding the China Deal that was struck in 2018.

Earlier this year, Zen traveled to Rome, where he requested a meeting with Pope Francis. He said his first request went unanswered, and he sent a second request, which was met with the instruction to speak with Cardinal Parolin. Zen declined, and was subsequently invited to have dinner with both Parolin and Pope Francis.

“I went there to the supper. Very simple, the three of us. I thought supper is not a time to quarrel, so I had to be kind during supper,” Zen said. “So I talked all about Hong Kong, and Parolin didn’t say a word. So at the end, I said, ‘Holy Father, what about my objections to that document?’ He said, ‘Oh, oh, I’m going to look into the matter.’ He saw me off at the door.”

Zen said he was left with the distinct impression that Parolin is manipulating Pope Francis. He is concerned that the Pope is “legitimizing the schismatic church in China” and that those who have faced years of persecution as members of the underground Church are now left confused and unsure about what to do.

Priests are being asked to sign a document supporting the government-run church in order to minister openly, he warned.

The Communist Party will not tolerate the Catholic Church unless it feels that it can control the Church, Zen said.

“They need to control everything. Since they know that they cannot destroy, they want to control. Obviously. All the churches. They want to destroy from within.”
 

 

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 charged 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.

Dublin archdiocese to shift sacrament prep from schools to parishes, families

Dublin, Ireland, Dec 4, 2019 / 02:23 pm (CNA).- Catholic sacramental preparation must change to stress the primary role of families and to reach students who do not go to Catholic schools, said Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin this week. The archbishop announced a shift in sacrament prep from schools to parishes and families.

“We must remember too that more and more Catholic children today attend other than Catholic schools,” Archbishop Martin said Dec. 3. “The proposal is not something that will be accomplished overnight; it cannot however be put forever on the long finger. We must begin now.”

“It will take some time to put in place an effective development of parish capacity to implement this initiative,” the archbishop continued. “We need, however, to begin immediately with the preparation and training of voluntary lay catechists and the development of resource materials.”

The changes could mean more sacramental preparation for students outside school hours. Catholic schools are currently allowed to set aside up to 30 minutes a day for faith formation, the Irish Times reports.

In March 2019, an archdiocesan spokesperson suggested that Ireland is unique in its dependence on schools to prepare for and celebrate the sacraments.

In May, the archdiocese released the results of the online survey which drew responses from 1,800 religious, clergy, parents, parishioners, and teachers. The participants expressed a desire for a transition from the school-led sacrament preparation to more formation based in the family and church.

Respondents voiced dissatisfaction that the sacraments are “largely a school event” and schools “feel they are still working in a vacuum.”

Teachers and religious leaders expressed concern that sacramental preparation in schools currently treats the sacraments as more of a social event rather than something spiritually important.

“The sacraments are not conveyor belts. Sacraments are moments of faith, not just social occasions,” Martin said in a February video.

The archdiocese’s Council of Priests recently passed a resolution advocating the importance of sacramental preparation for Baptism, First Reconciliation, First Communion and Confirmation that focuses on supporting parents “in sharing faith with their children.” It said the parish should assume responsibility for sacramental preparation and celebration of these sacraments.

The council recommended that the archbishop set up an implementation group to develop a communications strategy, a planning strategy, guidelines for a consistent diocese-wide approach to baptism, and a proposal for the future practice of the Sacrament of Confirmation.

Preparations began in September 2018, when the archdiocese set up a sacraments review group to consult and make recommendations around the sacraments. The effort sought to reach many people, and special focus groups sought out young parents who were not regular churchgoers.

While the archbishop suggested that the bulk of sacrament prep would be moved from schools to parishes and families, his letter also called for a renewed relationship with Catholic schools to promote a “Catholic ethos” and to deliver a Catholic spiritual formation program for children attending the schools.