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Does the Pa. grand jury report mean changes for statutes of limitations?

Pittsburgh, Pa., Aug 17, 2018 / 03:23 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Following a major grand jury report on past sexual abuse in six Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania, discussions continue over whether and how to change the state’s legal limits on prosecution and civil lawsuits for sex abuse.

“We are devastated and outraged by the revelations of terrible sexual abuse crimes committed in the Catholic Church,” Amy B. Hill, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, told CNA Aug. 16.

“The time to discuss legislation will come later,” she said. “Our focus now is on improving ways that survivors and their families can recover as they continue through a difficult healing process.”

The report, released Aug. 14, claims to have identified more than 1,000 victims of 300 credibly accused priests from 1947 to 2017 across six Pennsylvania dioceses. It presents a devastating portrait of efforts by Church authorities to ignore, obscure, or cover up allegations--either to protect accused priests or to spare the Church scandal.

Approximately two-thirds of the accused priests have died. The youngest offender named in the report was born in the 1990s. Due to laws regarding the statute of limitations, nearly every abuse allegation cannot be criminally prosecuted, although two indictments have been filed. One priest named in the report has been convicted of sexually assaulting a student in the early 1990s.

The grand jury report recommended creating a retroactive two-year legal window allowing victims of child sex abuse to sue even if the statute of limitations has expired.

The Pennsylvania legislature’s S.B. 261 would eliminate the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution of child sex crimes. It would raise the age limit of underage victims seeking to file civil lawsuits from age 30 to age 50. The bill passed by a 48-0 vote in February 2017 and the House of Representatives could consider it during its next session, which begins in September.

State Reps. Aaron Bernstine and Chris Sainato are among the backers of the bill.

Bernstine said the incidents reported by the grand jury are “beyond troubling.”

“The greatest concern that I have is that our most vulnerable citizens of Pennsylvania and across the country remain safe,” he said, according to the Lawrence County news site New Castle News. “There is no place in our society for those who harm children.”

The legislation would provide additional tools to law enforcement “to hold criminals responsible for their actions,” he said.

Bernstine said he had been working closely with the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the state’s Catholic bishops “to implement policies that ensure this never happens again.”

“I am thankful for the steps that they have taken, and encourage them to take additional action to ensure that the aggressors within their organization are held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.

Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh, in Aug. 14 remarks responding to the release of the grand jury report, backed changes to the statutes of limitations laws.

“Absolutely we would support the elimination of the criminal statute of limitations,” he said, according to New Castle News. “That is an important piece that should move forward with legislators. We support any sort of penalties for people who fail to report child abuse to public authorities.”

In states considering such bills, the local Catholic conference and other groups often voice concerns about whether abuse victims would have the equal ability to sue public institutions, which are often protected under a legal concept known as sovereign immunity, and whether a legal window for retroactive lawsuits will be allowed.

Others have argued that statutes of limitations are important, because claims from long ago cannot be investigated in-depth, or seriously defended against, meaning they are more likely to result in settlements, even when facts are limited.

In an April 7, 2017 message about a potential amendments to S.B. 261, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference said some amendments to the bill help “further equalize the opportunities for survivors of sexual abuse in public institutions to access recovery of damages through the civil courts.”

It voiced concern about any amendment to allow retroactive changes to the statute of limitations.

“This proposal would, in effect, force the people who make up an organization like the Catholic Church today defend themselves against a crime that was committed in their parish, school, or charitable program years ago,” the Catholic Conference said in 2017. “Last year, the Senate held hearings and determined that changing the law retroactively would be unconstitutional in Pennsylvania.”

“Regardless, it is definitely unfair to individual Catholics today whose parishes and schools would be the targets of decades-old lawsuits.”

Pennsylvania State Rep. Mark Rozzi, 47, is backing an amendment that would also allow a two-year window for past alleged victims of sex abuse to file civil lawsuits.

The legislator says he was raped by a priest at age 13. The priest, Rev. Edward Graff, is alleged to have raped “scores of children,” the grand jury report says. The priest died in 2002 in a Texas jail while awaiting trial on charges he sexually abused a boy.

Rozzi told CNN that allowing the retroactive window “is the only avenue for these victims who are in the grand jury report” to get justice.

In 2002, the Pennsylvania legislature voted to raise the age limit for reporting criminal sex abuse charges from 23 to 30, then raised it to age 50 in 2007.

Fourteen states are considering bills about statutes of limitations on sex abuse. About 41 states have eliminated statutes of limitations for criminal prosecution of sex abuse, Reuters reports.

Since July 2013, costs related to sex abuse cases have cost the Catholic Church in the U.S. nearly $600 million, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ May report said. A U.S. bishops’ conference report in 2012 said that reporting dioceses and eparchies had paid $2.1 billion in abuse-related costs since 2004.

Hill said the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference encourages anyone who has been abused to “report the abuse and seek help immediately by calling the toll-free Pennsylvania ChildLine number at 800-932-0313 or their local law enforcement.”

 

Beloved Texas priest asks for prayers after ALS diagnosis

Fort Worth, Texas, Aug 17, 2018 / 12:05 am (CNA).- Fr. Stephen Jasso said he knew something was wrong this past February, about two months after retiring as the pastor of All Saints Parish in Fort Worth, Texas.

On June 29, the 85-year-old Franciscan priest learned what exactly was wrong with him: he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. Jasso is now asking for prayers as he nears the end of his life.

“This has become a new challenge,” he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I am asking people to pray with me all the way until the end.”

ALS is a disease that progressively weakens the muscles throughout the body. Most people diagnosed with ALS die within three to five years of their diagnosis. Jasso said he had no idea what ALS even was before he was diagnosed.

Since February, Jasso has lost the use of his left arm and left side, and uses a wheelchair.

While Jasso does not currently celebrate Mass as he is unable to stand, he still hears confessions each day and meets with parishioners to provide spiritual counseling. He also assists with writing references to help recent immigrants with gaining permanent status for themselves or for family members. He said he hopes he will one day be able to celebrate Mass from his wheelchair.

Despite these physical challenges, Jasso has remained steadfast in his faith and in his dedication for the Fort Worth community, telling a reporter that his “love for God and for people is stronger than ever.”

“I’m carrying the cross because I feel — this illness — for some reason, God has permitted it,” he told the Star-Telegram. He has embraced the suffering that comes with his disease, saying that he will “carry it as the Lord carried his cross for me.”

Beloved in his community, parishioners described Jasso to the North Texas Catholic at the time of his retirement as “always present” and “always on call.”

“He’s been an outstanding priest and pastor. He’s helped a lot of people,” one usher for All Saints said. “He’s been a good friend to my family and many others.”

There has been an outpouring of support from the community since the news of his diagnosis. Mayor Betsy Price proclaimed August 7 as “Father Jasso Day” by the City of Fort Worth. Faith leaders from varying religions and denominations were present at a ceremony. In a Facebook post, Price said that the city was “truly blessed to have a servant leader” like Jasso.

Jasso made a name for himself shortly after his arrival in Fort Worth in 1985. At the time, the city was a hotbed of teenage gang violence. Jasso was quick to integrate himself with young people in his parish, and worked alongside the mayor, police chief, and school superintendent to promote peace and education.

Throughout his priesthood, Jasso would continue to place a key emphasis on education.

“Leadership is not just something that happens. It's something you get ready for,” he told NBC’s local Dallas-Fort Worth affiliate last year.

In 2013, Jasso received the University of Notre Dame Sorin Award for Service to Catholic Schools.

Also an outspoken advocates for immigrants, he met with then-President George W. Bush in 2002 as part of a Hispanic Leadership Summit.

Jasso, one of 15 children, has been a priest for 53 years. Prior to Fort Worth, he was a priest in Peru and Mexico City. He survived the deadly Mexico earthquakes of both 1985 and 2017, telling the North Texas Catholic that despite the existence of natural disasters, “God has not created the world to destroy it, but to bring it to a state of perfection.”

Cardinal Burke: We face a grave crisis, touching the heart of the Church

Washington D.C., Aug 16, 2018 / 06:31 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Raymond Burke said Thursday that the Catholic Church is facing “a very grave crisis” due to the “grievous failure” on the part of certain bishops and that “a serious loss of confidence in our shepherds” needs to be restored after sexual abuse scandals in the United States.

“We are in the face of a very grave crisis, which is touching at the very heart of the Church because Our Lord acts on behalf of the flock through those shepherds who are ordained to act in His person, teaching, celebrating the sacraments, and governing the Church,” said Burke in an interview on Raymond Arroyo’s “World Over” Aug. 16.

Cardinal Burke, 70, is prefect emeritus of the Apostolic Signatura. He recently returned to Rome from an almost month-long visit to the United States, said that he had “never heard so much anger, so much disappointment, so much frustration from good, Catholic faithful” than during this visit to the U.S.

“We are dealing here with the gravest of sins … We have to focus our attention on that, and do what is just with regard to all parties involved.”

“For the bishop who has failed grievously in this area, the Church’s penal remedies are expiatory remedies for his good also. They address principally the good of the flock because a bishop is a bishop for the care of the flock.”

“For the bishop to prey upon the flock, committing mortal sins, this is simply unacceptable and it has to stop,” said Burke.

The only way this trust will be restored “is to get to the bottom of this whole matter and make sure for the future that this does not happen,” and this falls under the responsibility of the Holy Father, said Burke.

It is the pope’s responsibility to receive accusations against a bishop and investigate them, he stressed. “This is not a part of the responsibility of the conference of bishops,” he said, referring to the U.S. bishops’ Aug. 16 statement on investigation and reporting procedures for bishops’ misconduct.

“As far as developing new procedures, the procedures have been in the law of the Church for centuries. They simply, especially in recent times, have not been known and have not been followed,” he continued.

“The Catholic Church in the United States is undergoing possibly one of the worst crises that it has ever experienced,” said Burke. “It has to be recognized and it has to be dealt with in a thorough manner that is faithful to the Church’s moral law, to the Church herself, and to the office of the bishops.”

Burke said that the Pennsylvania grand jury investigation needs to be studied very carefully. “It is simply a matter that needs to be approached with reason and with truth. Where we discover that the appropriate action has not been taken, then that bishop has to be corrected. If the bishop had failed very grievously, then he would simply have to be removed.”


“What we are seeing right now in the Church, to the grave harm of so many souls and really also to the scandal of the world in general, is that the Church, which should be a beacon of light, is involved in such a crisis.”

“I think we have to recognize … an apostasy from the faith. I believe that there has been a practical apostasy from the faith with regards to all of the questions involving human sexuality; principally, it starts with the idea that there can be legitimate sexual activity outside of marriage, which of course is false, completely false.”

“I do believe in this present time, not only with regard to this crisis which we are speaking, but with regard to a number of other situations in the Church that the devil is very active,” said Cardinal Burke.

He emphasized that “we have to conduct all of the reasonable activity to get to the truth of the matters and try to restore justice in the Church, but at the same time all of us need to pray ever more fervently for the Church and to fast and undertake other sacrifices for the good of the Church. We really need to have some serious acts of reparation for the suffering that has been inflicted upon members of the faithful, upon the flock of our Lord, and that is our responsibility.”

“I can only urge everyone to draw closer to Our Lord who leads us and guides us. He will never abandon us.”

Caritas India offers assistance to victims of monsoon floods in Kerala

Thiruvananthapuram, India, Aug 16, 2018 / 04:24 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After at least 73 people were killed in floods caused by monsoon rains in India's Kerala state, Caritas India and local Catholic groups are assisting victims of the torrent with relief materials.

More than 85,000 people in the southern Indian state have been displaced by the flooding since Aug. 9, which has also caused landslides.

“The Catholic Church is already out in the field through … Caritas India,” read an Aug. 15 statement from the Indian bishops' conference.

“Our local Bishops, Clergy, Religious Sisters and lay volunteers are also involved in relief and succour operations. In different dioceses, Church authorities have opened church schools and other institutions to the displaced people, and are distributing food, clothes and other relief materials. Many parishes, schools and other Church institutions have become the centres of aid and assistance to people in need.”

Caritas India is also providing blankets, mosquito nets, and hygiene kits. It has set up health camps to treat those affected and to prevent the outbreak of disease.

The Indian bishops stated, “We share the anguish of the people affected by this huge natural disaster and we wish to express our closeness to them.”

They expressed appreciation for the quick and efficient relief work undertaken by the local and State Government authorities. We also appreciate the strong and immediate support being provided by the Union government in the relief operations.”

“The solidarity manifested and the help being provided cutting across political divides and religious or class belongingness is exemplary … The Catholic Church condoles the death of our brothers and sisters who were caught unaware as nature’s fury took hold of large parts of Kerala. We express our solidarity with the injured and the suffering.”

The bishops also indicated their “ardent desire to work with the Government and all like-minded agencies to provide relief and help in all possible ways to the suffering people.”

They then stated that after the flood waters have resided, “it would be desirable to analyse the causes of the floods, and take urgent steps to preserve our environment and prevent further ecological damage to our Common Home, Mother Earth, destruction often brought about by our human actions.”

“We pray for all those affected and also for all who are actively or through contributions helping the people in dire distress.”

'Shame and sorrow' – Holy See responds to Pennsylvania report

Vatican City, Aug 16, 2018 / 02:33 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Holy See on Thursday denounced sexual abuse and called for accountability for both perpetrators and leaders who covered up their crimes, following the release of a report detailing alleged clerical abuse in Pennsylvania.

“The abuses described in the report are criminal and morally reprehensible,” said the statement, released Aug. 16.

“Those acts were betrayals of trust that robbed survivors of their dignity and their faith. The Church must learn hard lessons from its past, and there should be accountability for both abusers and those who permitted abuse to occur.”

The statement responded to a grand jury report in Pennsylvania that was released earlier this week following an 18-month investigation into alleged instances of abuse spanning several decades. The report detailed allegations against some 300 priests, from more than 1,000 victims, in the dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Scranton.

Pope Francis takes the subject of abuse seriously, the statement said, stressing that “The Holy See condemns unequivocally the sexual abuse of minors.”

“The Holy Father understands well how much these crimes can shake the faith and the spirit of believers and reiterates the call to make every effort to create a safe environment for minors and vulnerable adults in the Church and in all of society,” it said.

“Victims should know that the Pope is on their side. Those who have suffered are his priority, and the Church wants to listen to them to root out this tragic horror that destroys the lives of the innocent.”

The Holy See noted that most allegations mentioned in the report are from before the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, adopted by the US bishops in 2002 to prevent clerical abuse.

“By finding almost no cases after 2002, the Grand Jury’s conclusions are consistent with previous studies showing that Catholic Church reforms in the United States drastically reduced the incidence of clergy child abuse,” the Holy See said.

The statement encouraged “continued reform and vigilance at all levels of the Catholic Church, to help ensure the protection of minors and vulnerable adults from harm.” It also emphasized the importance of adhering to civil law, including abuse reporting requirements.