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New Zealand bishops reaffirm commitment to government abuse inquiry

Wellington, New Zealand, Oct 19, 2018 / 12:00 am (CNA).- The Catholic bishops of New Zealand have countered reports that say they are backing away from an upcoming government inquiry into sexual abuse cases in state and religious institutions in the country.

“Listening to individuals who have been harmed is critical in ensuring the Church’s response will be thorough, effective and compassionate, and forms part of our experience for developing safeguarding for today and into the future,” the bishops said in a statement published on their website.

They wrote responding to reports that they had backed away from a royal commission inquiry, which will examine historical cases of sexual abuse at institutions of care in New Zealand between the years 1950-1999.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the royal commission of inquiry into sex abuse cases in January 2018, the highest form of long-term investigation available in the country.

While the original terms of the inquiry included youth detention centers, psychiatric hospitals and orphanages, as well as any government care services contracted out to private institutions, the Catholic bishops of New Zealand published a letter in March 2018 calling for an expansion of the inquiry’s terms to include Catholic care institutions.
 
In that letter, the bishops said they would be “active contributors and learners within the Royal Commission of Inquiry.”   

“We assure you once again of our support and our desire to learn from this national undertaking which we are confident will contribute positively to the strengthening and safeguarding of our whānau, communities and society,” they wrote.

In their recent statement, the bishops referenced their March letter and reiterated their support of the inquiry.

“The Bishops and representation from Catholic Religious orders wrote to Prime Minister Ardern, Minister Martin, and Sir Anand Satyanand in March this year. That letter explicitly sought the broadening of the draft Terms of Reference to include Church institutions and was made publicly available and reported in the media,” the bishops said.

The statement comes amid pressure from two New Zealand men who are publicly calling for the release of Church files on Father Cornelius O'Brien, an Irish priest who moved to New Zealand in 1963 and served at least seven parishes until 1976, at which point he was accused of indecency against a 10 year-old and returned to the UK. He is reportedly believed to have sexually abused multiple children during his time in New Zealand. O’Brien died 6 years ago, his priestly faculties having never been removed.

The New Zealand Royal Commission inquiry is expected to take several years and is similar to the recently-concluded five-year Royal Commission inquiry in Australia, which examined sex abuse in Australian schools, churches, and sports clubs, and set up a government program to financially compensate victims.

The bishops of Australia said in August that while they have accepted hundreds of specific recommendations from the final report, they reject the recommendation that priests violate the seal of confession in cases of sexual abuse disclosed during confession.

 

How diapers impact the bottom line, and how an NYC law can help

New York City, N.Y., Oct 18, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- The New York City council passed a law Wednesday that will require many centers serving women and children in the city to provide diapers and baby wipes free of charge. The bill had no opposing votes in the council.

The new law covers child care centers, domestic violence shelters, youth shelters, and homeless shelters that are contracted with the city to provide services. Each location must have clear signage or a written notice informing mothers that diapers and wipes are available to them for children three years old and younger.

The provision also includes family justice centers, which provide legal, counseling and supportive services for survivors of domestic violence, elder abuse and sex trafficking; and LYFE centers, an NYC Department of Education program that provides free early childhood education to children of student parents.

In an Oct. 16 committee report, the New York City council laid out the need for the new law, noting that an infant will use over 3,000 diapers in their first year of life at a cost of more than $500.

The report also noted that the Women, Infants, and Children assistance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program cannot be used to purchase diapers, and that Medicaid will only reimburse diapers purchased for individuals older than 3 years.

Alison Weir, Chief of Policy at the National Diaper Bank Network, testified to the city council that the provision of free diapers to low-income families in Connecticut resulted in a decrease in the spread of disease and in decrease in rashes and other skin irritations among babies.

The New York Daily News reported that the sponsor of the bill estimates that the new provision will cost the city $1.1 million in fiscal year 2019, increasing to nearly $5 million in 2020 because of increasing demand. New York’s total budget for FY2019 is over $88 billion.
 
The law is set to take effect within four months of its passage. The Department of Citywide Administrative Services will provide the supply of diapers and wipes to the appropriate city entities, or to independent organizations contracting with the city.

The Connecticut Diaper Bank, which provides free diapers to women in that state, testified before the city council that: “Access to a reliable supply of clean diapers affects families in significant ways, like enabling parents to maintain employment, complete their education, and improve the health and well-being of their children.”

 

40 percent of U.S. children born to unmarried parents, rate increasing worldwide

Washington D.C., Oct 18, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- New data shows that an increasing number of babies worldwide are born to unmarried parents.

The data was released in an annual report published by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA.)

About 40 percent of U.S. children born in 2016 had unmarried parents, the report shows. This is more than double the percent of U.S. children born with unmarried parents in 1980, and 10 percentage points higher than in 1990.

In the rest of the world, even more children are born to unmarried parents. In 2016, 60 percent of French babies were born with unmarried parents.

The UN data showed that across the areas studied--the United States, France, Spain, Sweden, the EU, Japan, and Russia, the unwed pregnancy rate has increased or remained relatively stable in recent years. France has had the highest percent of babies born to unmarried parents since 2010, eclipsing Sweden, the previous leader.

In 2017, the organization Save the Children rated Sweden as the fifth-best country for mothers, behind Norway, and Finland, and Iceland. Sweden is noted for its expansive social benefits made available to mothers and children.

One exception to the trend is Russia, which has seen the percent of children born to an unwed mother drop from a high of 30 percent in 2004 to 22 percent in 2016. Russia’s abortion rate has also fallen during this time period.

Japan’s unmarried parenthood rate is far lower than western nations. In 2015, 98 percent of Japanese babies were to married parents. Japan’s fertility rate also remains among the lowest in the world.

Heritage Foundation Senior Fellow Robert Rector wrote a report in 2012 that described marriage as “America’s greatest weapon against child poverty.” Children living in a home with two married parents were 82 percent less likely to live in poverty than children who did not have married parents, said Rector. This number applied even when controlling for education level.

In 2009, the U.S. Census found that 37 percent of homes with children headed by a single parent were in poverty, compared to only 6.8 percent of homes with children and married parents.

 

Youth synod will write message to youth, discussion group names will not be released

Vatican City, Oct 18, 2018 / 03:56 pm (CNA).- The 2018 Synod of Bishops has elected a group of eight participants to begin drafting a message from the synod to the youth of the world.

The text will be put to the entire assembly for approval before it is published.

Announced in an Oct. 18 press briefing, among members of the commission are youth auditors Briana Santiago, an American consecrated women of the Apostles of the Interior Life and Anastasia Indrawan, a member of the youth commission for the bishops’ conference of Indonesia.

The bishop members of the committee are Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga of Bangui, Auxiliary Bishop Emmanuel Gobilliard of Lyon, Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, and Bishop Eduardo Horacio Garcia of San Justo, Argentina.

Fr. Alois, prior of the Ecumenical Community of Taize, and auditor Michele Falabretti, leader of the youth pastoral care office at the Italian bishops’ conference are also part of the group selected to write the message.

Contrary to what was communicated to journalists earlier in the week, names of the members of each small language group, called “circoli minori” will not be released, the Vatican’s chief of communication, Paolo Ruffini, said Oct. 18.

The reason for this, he said, “is to seek to show forth the spirit of the synod, which is a spirit of communion” and to reflect the desire of the synod’s General Secretariat “to not transform the synod into a debate about ‘who said what’ but to tell it for what it is: a communal reflection of the Church.”

During the press conference, veteran Vatican journalist Sandro Magister noted that the names of members of each small group were published by synod organizers at the 2015 synod on the family, to which Ruffini replied that he would share the suggestion, though “each synod has its rules.”

Ruffini told journalists the small groups are now discussing the third part of the Instrumentum laboris, and the final document is well under way. Among those who spoke at the press conference was Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, a bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church who is participating in the synod as a “fraternal delegate.”

Topics of discussion and speeches inside the synod hall the last two sessions included the importance of sanctity, reading the Bible, prayer, and community for young people. The importance of fasting was also brought up as a practice which is mostly abandoned in western culture and should be rediscovered.

Other proposals from inside the hall were the creation of a pontifical council of young people on the same level as other Vatican departments, and which could be led by a woman. Discussing the role of women in the Church, a synod of bishops on women was also suggested.

The issue of the migration of youth was also covered. Cardinal Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel of Ethiopia spoke about the issue during the press briefing, explaining that in Africa, about 80 percent of migration is internal, within the continent.

He said lack of good governance, corruption, conflict and civil war, and the arms trade all contribute to the challenge of migration and displacement in the African continent.

The cardinal spoke about a loss, particularly in parts of Europe, of what he sees as the biblical tradition of receiving guests and refugees well. “It is sad when we hear that some borders are being closed to people seeking safety,” he said. “Where are the Christian roots of Europe? Where are the Christian values?”

 

Federal agents investigate abuse in Pennsylvania dioceses

Philadelphia, Pa., Oct 18, 2018 / 03:40 pm (CNA).- The Department of Justice has served subpoenas to several dioceses in the state of Pennsylvania, in what is believed to be a state-wide move by federal authorities to investigate sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy.

Chanceries across the Commonwealth were served with requests for documentation and files Oct. 18.

While Pennsylvania diocesan officials have not commented on the scope of the materials subpoenaed, a senior Church official told CNA the investigation concerns the federal crimes of transporting minors across state lines to abuse them, and the production or distribution of illegal pornography, including electronically.

The files requested of at least one diocese date back only to 2001, the official said.

There has been widespread speculation that a federal investigation might focus on charges related to institutional cover-ups or conspiracy, perhaps seeking to build a case under the federal RICO laws meant for dealing with organized crime. The official told CNA that, at present, the scope of the investigation does not seem to include conspiracy or other institutional charges.

“The files they are asking to be handed over, at least here, are in relation to the possible commission of particular crimes,” he said.

“As its been explained by the agents coming in, it’s those two crimes [transporting minors across state lines and illegal pornography] that are being looked at, maybe that’s got something to do with why they are only looking at files going back to ’01,” the official said.

“Maybe there is more to come, but it looks like they are beginning by looking for actual acts of abuse of minors and not yet on the institutional side of things – at least so far.”

So far, six of the eight the dioceses in the state have confirmed being served by federal agents, these are: Pittsburgh, Allentown, Scranton, Erie, Philadelphia, and Harrisburg.

“The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has received a subpoena issued by a federal grand jury, which requires the production of certain documents. The Archdiocese will cooperate with the United States Department of Justice in this matter,” Ken Gavin, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, told CNA.

Bill Genello, director of communications in the Diocese of Scranton told CNA that “the Diocese of Scranton has received the subpoena and will completely cooperate.”

The federal investigation comes just over two months after the Aug. 14 publication of a Pennsylvania grand jury report investigating clerical sexual abuse. That report identified more than 300 priests accused of abusing 1,000 victims over a period of seventy years.  

The report resulted in charges being filed against only two priests. The federal statutes of limitations that apply to crimes crossing state borders could lead to further indictments.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Washington told CNA that “the archdiocese knows nothing about a Department of Justice proceeding beyond the initial media reports.”

Washington’s recently retired archbishop, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, served as Bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988-2006, and came under fire after the grand jury reported suggested that he had permitted at least one priest accused of sexual abuse to remain in ministry after an accusation had been made.

According to the Washington Post, the decision to open the investigation was made by federal prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office in Philadelphia and was not a directive from Washington, D.C.

State-led investigations into clerical sexual abuse are currently underway in several states including Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, and Missouri. Other states, like New York, have announced they will soon begin taking similar action.

The news of a federal investigation in Pennsylvania raises the possibility that similar probes could also be launched in other states.