Monday, April 30, 2012

Vatican laments Irish dissent, silences priests

Just weeks after a report from a Vatican inquiry into the Irish church lamented what it described as “fairly widespread” dissent from church teaching, it was revealed that the Vatican has “silenced” Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery.
The Holy See’s move provoked fury among the members of the 800-strong Association of Catholic Priests, which has accused the Vatican of issuing a fatwa against liberal clerics.

It’s not exactly clear why Flannery, a popular author and retreat director, has come under Vatican suspicion. He has voiced support in the past for opening up debates around the ordination of women, a change to the church’s ban on artificial birth control and an end to mandatory celibacy.

He also provoked dismay among senior Irish bishops when he publicly backed Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s 2011 attack on the Vatican in the wake of the report into the mishandling of clerical abuse in the Cloyne diocese. 

Kenny accused the Vatican of “dysfunction,” “disconnection,” “elitism” and “narcissism.” Flannery described the speech as “wonderful.”

By acting against Flannery now, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith may well have scored an own goal by provoking the ire of the priests’ association. As well as his retreat work, Flannery is a founder of the association, which now represents some 20 percent of Ireland’s clergy. 

Since its founding less than two years ago, the group has campaigned for liberal reforms in the church and is due to hold a national assembly in early May to harness momentum. 

Key priorities for the group include “a re-evaluation of Catholic sexual teaching” and “a redesigning of ministry in the Church, in order to incorporate the gifts, wisdom and expertise of the entire faith community, male and female.”

Flannery is the latest Irish priest to face Vatican censure. In mid-April, it was revealed that moral theologian Fr. Seán Fagan had been silenced by the Vatican two years ago. His Marist order even took the bizarre step of buying up unsold copies of his 2008 book What Happened to Sin?.

Capuchin Fr. Owen O’Sullivan also fell foul of the doctrinal congregation in late 2010 after he published an article suggesting that homosexuality is “simply a facet of the human condition.”

More of the same is likely to be in the cards given some of the findings of the apostolic visitation, published on March 19. 

The summary of the document -- oddly, only four of Ireland’s 27 serving bishops have seen the full report -- warned that “dissent from the fundamental teachings of the Church is not the authentic path towards renewal.”

The tendency “among priests, religious, and laity, to hold theological opinions at variance with the teachings of the Magisterium” required, the visitation concluded, “particular attention directed principally towards improved theological formation.”

A war of words has now broken out -- of sorts, since no one of the Vatican side of the argument is speaking at all. 

Renowned ecologist Fr. Seán McDonagh, a member of the priests’ association’s leadership team, accused the Holy See of “outrageous” behavior in silencing of the clerics.

He accused the Vatican of “throwing a fatwa” at the priests and said that some of Rome’s recent actions were like a return to the Inquisition.

“This isn’t the time for heresy-hunting,” he warned.

The association has rallied behind Flannery, insisting, “This intervention is unfair, unwarranted and unwise.”

The association has also resisted attempts to cast it simply as a liberal pressure group. 

“The issues surfaced by the ACP since its foundation less than two years ago and by Tony Flannery as part of the leadership team are not an attack on or a rejection of the fundamental teachings of the Church. Rather they are an important reflection by an association of over 800 Irish priests -- who have given long service to the Catholic Church in Ireland -- on issues surfacing in parishes all over the country,” the group said in a statement.

A recent survey commissioned by the association seems to demonstrate that the priests are not the Irish church’s only restive members. 

While weekly Mass attendance is still relatively high, three out of four people who identify themselves as Catholic say they find the church’s teaching on sexuality “irrelevant.”

The survey -- conducted by the respected research association Amarach -- also showed that almost 90 percent of those surveyed believe that divorced or separated Catholics in a stable second relationship ought to be able to receive Communion at Mass.

The figures were compiled from a sample of 1,000 Catholics and, according to researchers, have a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

According to the results, 35 percent of those surveyed attend Mass at least once a week; 51 percent attend at least once a month. 

Just 5 percent of Irish people who identify themselves as Catholics never attend Mass.

Eighty-seven percent disagreed with church teaching on an unmarried priesthood and said they believed that the church ought to allow priests to get married, while 77 percent said the church should admit women to the priesthood.

When asked “to what extent do you agree with the Catholic church’s teaching that any sexual expression of love between a gay couple is immoral,” 61 percent said they disagreed while 18 percent of those surveyed believed homosexual acts to be immoral.

Seeming to set himself on a collision course with the Vatican, McDonagh said the survey “confirms that those who are advocating for change in the church are not a tiny minority, but are, in fact, at the heart of the church.”

He said Irish Catholics are “crying out for change and do not want the church to go backward, but to move forward and change.”

A spokesman for the Irish bishops’ conference, pointedly not commenting directly on the findings, said, “The results of this survey confirm the importance of all in the church taking up this task in a spirit of communion and sharing the good news of the Gospel in a rapidly changing social and cultural environment in Ireland today.”

The Vatican seems to be drawing a clear line in the sand. From Rome’s point of view, whatever the future shape of Irish Catholicism will be, it must be a future marked by greater adherence to church teaching. 

The Association of Catholic Priests strikes a decidedly different note. 

This Vatican approach, it warns, “may have the unintended effect of exacerbating a growing perception of a significant ‘disconnect’ between the Irish church and Rome.”

Catholic church urges pupils to sign anti-gay marriage petition

The Roman Catholic church has written to every state-funded Catholic secondary school in England and Wales asking them to encourage pupils to sign a petition against gay marriage.

Students at one south London school were shown a presentation on religious opposition to government plans to let gay couples marry in civil ceremonies. 

Church leaders believe the proposal would reduce the significance of marriage.

The Catholic Education Service, which acts for Catholic bishops in England and Wales, contacted 385 secondary schools to highlight a letter read in parish churches last month, in which two archbishops told worshippers that Catholics have a "duty to do all we can to ensure that the true meaning of marriage is not lost for future generations".

The CES also asked schools to draw pupils' attention to the petition being organised by the Coalition for Marriage, a Christian campaign which has attracted more than 466,000 signatures to date.

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: "This is a clear breach of the authority and privilege that the Catholic Education Service has been given in schools. Surely it is no part of its remit to promote a specific political campaign from this purely sectarian viewpoint. It is disgraceful that children are being encouraged into bigotry when they are attending a state school paid for by taxpayers."

A pupil at St Philomena's Catholic high school for girls in Carshalton, in the south London borough of Sutton, told the website that children aged 11 to 18 had been encouraged to sign the anti-equality pledge by their headteacher.

She said: "In our assembly for the whole sixth form you could feel people bristling as she explained parts of the letter and encouraged us to sign the petition. It was just a really outdated, misjudged and heavily biased presentation."

She said some pupils had responded by buying Gay Pride badges to pin to their uniforms. "There are several people in my year who aren't heterosexual – myself included – and I for one was appalled and actually disgusted by what they were encouraging," she said. 

"After all, that's discrimination they were urging impressionable people to engage in, which is unacceptable."

The British Humanist Association said the CES's actions were likely to be in breach of sections 406 and 407 of the 1996 Education Act, which ban the political indoctrination of schoolchildren and require political views to be presented in a balanced way. 

The Act was used in a failed attempt to prevent schools showing Al Gore's climate change documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

The BHA's faith schools campaigner, Richy Thompson, said: "This action by the Catholic Education Service is absolutely outrageous." Thompson said the church has undermined "one of their core arguments against gay marriage, which is supposedly to protect children from exposure to such matters".

A CES spokeswoman said: "We said that schools might like to consider using this [letter] in assemblies or in class teaching. We said people might want to consider asking pupils and parents if they might want to sign the petition. It's really important that no school discriminates against any member of the school community. Schools with a religious character are allowed to teach sex and relationships – and conduct assemblies – in accordance with the religious views of the school. The Catholic view of marriage is not a political view; it's a religious view."

Liberal priest censured by Vatican

High-profile priest and broadcaster Brian D'Arcy has become the latest Irish cleric to be censured by the Vatican.

The popular BBC Radio Two contributor, author and newspaper columnist was disciplined after concerns were raised about some of his published work.

It is understood the action by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) means the Co Fermanagh priest, regarded as liberal within the Catholic church, must now submit his 
writings and broadcasts to an official censor.

The 67-year-old member of the Passionist Order has spoken out against mandatory celibacy for priests and has been a fierce critic of the church's handling of child abuse scandals in Ireland.

Dublin-based priest Pat Duffy, Provincial Superior of the Congregation of the Passion (CP), confirmed that the CDF had acted. The move was initiated last year but has only become public after a story appeared in Catholic newspaper, The Tablet.

"Last year concerns were expressed to Fr Ottaviano D'Egidio CP - the Passionist Superior General - by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about some aspects of Fr Brian D'Arcy's writings," said Fr Duffy. 

"Since then Fr Brian has been co-operating to ensure he can make a contribution to journalism in Ireland."

Fr Duffy insisted Fr D'Arcy remained "a priest in good standing". 

Fr D'Arcy was unavailable for comment.

A number of Irish clerics have recently been disciplined by the church for expressing liberal views.

Father Tony Flannery was forced to stop writing for a Redemptorist magazine. 

Fr Flannery, a founder of Ireland's Association of Catholic Priests, had his monthly column with the religious publication Reality pulled on orders from Rome. 

A second priest, Father Gerard Moloney, the magazine's editor, was ordered to stop writing on certain issues.

Church in China needs formed laity and "good bishops"

The evangelization of China needs a deeply formed laity; it needs priests and religious who give " luminous evangelical witness" and "good bishops" and it" cannot be achieved by sacrificing essential elements of the Catholic faith and discipline". 

The primary focus of the fifth meeting of the Commission for the Church in China was issue of formation of the laity, but it also addressed the most difficult topics of life of the Catholic community in the country, from the claim of " entities " to " to place themselves above the Bishops and to guide the life of the ecclesial community", the illegitimate ordinations of bishops and the imprisonment of some of them, the decline in priestly vocations.

According to a statement released today, during the meeting which took place at the Vatican April 23 to 25, the Commission primarily focused on the issue of formation of the laity, particularly in view of the Year of Faith. 

"In the first place, they must enter ever more deeply into the life of the Church, nourished by doctrine, conscious of their being part of the Catholic Church, and consistent with the requirements of life in Christ, which necessitates hearing the word of God with faith. From this perspective, a profound knowledge of the Catechism of the Catholic Church will be a particularly important aid for them. 

In the second place, lay Catholics are called to take part in civic life and in the world of work, offering their own contribution with full responsibility: by loving life and respecting it from conception until natural death; by loving the family, promoting values which are also proper to traditional Chinese culture; by loving their country as honest citizens concerned for the common good.

As an ancient Chinese sage put it, "the way of great learning consists in illustrating noble virtues, in renewing and staying close to people, and in reaching the supreme good." 

Thirdly, the lay faithful in China must grow in grace before God and men, by nourishing and perfecting their own spiritual life as active members of the parish community and by involving themselves in the apostolate, also with the help of associations and Church movements which foster their ongoing formation".

"Pastors, both Bishops and priests, should make every effort to consolidate the lay faithful in their knowledge of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, and in particular of ecclesiology and the social doctrine of the Church. Moreover, it will be useful to dedicate special solicitude to the preparation of pastoral workers dedicated to evangelization, catechesis and works of charity.  The integral formation of lay Catholics, above all in those places where rapid social evolution and significant economic development are occurring, is part of a commitment to make the local Church vibrant and thriving. Finally, an adequate response to the phenomenon of internal migration and urbanization is to be hoped for".

" The lay faithful, therefore, are called to participate with apostolic zeal in the evangelization of the Chinese people. By virtue of their baptism and confirmation, they receive from Christ the grace and the task to build up the Church (cf. Eph 4:1-16)".

"In the course of the Meeting, attention then focussed on the Pastors, in particular on Bishops and priests who are detained or who are suffering unjust limitations on the performance of their mission. Admiration was expressed for the strength of their faith and for their union with the Holy Father.  They need the Church's prayer in a special way so as to face their difficulties with serenity and in fidelity to Christ".

"The Church needs good Bishops. They are a gift of God to his people, for the benefit of whom they exercise the office of teaching, sanctifying and governing. They are also called to provide reasons for life and hope to all whom they meet. They receive from Christ, through the Church, their task and authority, which they exercise in union with the Roman Pontiff and with all the Bishops throughout the world".

"Concerning the particular situation of the Church in China, it was noted that the claim of the entities, called "One Association and One Conference", to place themselves above the Bishops and to guide the life of the ecclesial community, persists. In this regard, the instructions given in the Letter of Pope Benedict XVI (cf. Letter to the Bishops, Priests, Consecrated Persons and Lay Faithful of the Catholic Church in the People's Republic of China, 7), remain current and  provide direction. It is important to observe them so that the face of the Church may shine forth with clarity in the midst of the noble Chinese people".

"This clarity has been obfuscated by those clerics who have illegitimately received episcopal ordination and by those illegitimate Bishops who have carried out acts of jurisdiction or who have administered the Sacraments. In so doing, they usurp a power which the Church has not conferred upon them. In recent days, some of them have participated in episcopal ordinations which were authorized by the Church. The behaviour of these Bishops, in addition to aggravating their canonical status, has disturbed the faithful and often has violated the consciences of the priests and lay faithful who were involved".

"Furthermore, this clarity has been obfuscated by legitimate Bishops who have participated in illegitimate episcopal ordinations. Many of these Bishops have since clarified their position and have requested pardon; the Holy Father has benevolently forgiven them.  Others, however, who also took part in these illegitimate ordinations, have not yet made this clarification, and thus are encouraged to do so as soon as possible.The participants in the Plenary Meeting follow these painful events with attention and in a spirit of charity.  Though they are aware of the particular difficulties of the present situation, they recall that evangelization cannot be achieved by sacrificing essential elements of the Catholic faith and discipline. Obedience to Christ and to the Successor of Peter is the presupposition of every true renewal and this applies to every category within the People of God. Lay people themselves are sensitive to the clear ecclesial fidelity of their own Pastors".

"With regard to priests, consecrated persons and seminarians, the Commission reflected once again on the importance of their formation, rejoicing in the sincere and praiseworthy commitment to provide not only suitable programmes of human, intellectual, spiritual and pastoral formation for the seminarians, but also times of ongoing formation for priests. In addition, appreciative mention was made of the initiatives which are being undertaken by various female religious institutes to coordinate formation activities for consecrated persons". 

"It was noted, on the other hand, that the number of vocations to the priestly and religious life has noticeably declined in recent years. The challenges of the situation impel the faithful to invoke the Lord of the harvest and to strengthen the awareness that each priest and woman religious, faithful and luminous in their evangelical witness, are the primary sign still capable of encouraging today's young men and women to follow Christ with undivided heart". 

"Finally, the Commission recalls that this upcoming 24 May, the liturgical memorial of the "Blessed Virgin Mary, Help of Christians" and the Day of Prayer for the Church in China, will provide a particularly auspicious opportunity for the entire Church to ask for energy and consolation, mercy and courage, for the Catholic community in China". 

Father Binh: they savagely beat me while police prevented the faithful from approaching

Disturbing details have emerged regarding the April 12 attack on Father Joseph Nguyen Van Binh, which while failing to clarify the causes of the attack, reveal the responsibility of the local Communist Party as having issued the order.

It was the priest himself who was attacked (pictured) to disclose in a report - according to Eglises d'Asie - sent to the police, who on the same day of the attack , sent an injunction to appear for questioning while he was still in hospital.

On March 30, just days before the attack, two armed men had gone to threaten with death children and staff who had settled in the future orphanage. 

Fr. Binh - confirming that he had bought the house and carried out the carnivorous restoration, to which the authorities had raised no objection - had reported the incident to the People's Committee (a form of City council) and in response on April 13, the Chairman of that Committee banned an Agape meeting, which manages the orphanage.

The day of the attack, then the priest confirms that, when he came to the house, at 9 am, the "thugs were already at work, while uniformed police officers had closed the access roads to the future orphanage and prevented parishioners' access".

As for aggression, the same Fr. Binh in the report sent to police reports: "I was attacked by a group of young people." 

"I was at the door of our house, when my phone rang. Two individuals left the group, rushed towards me and took away my phone. After a score of members of the group of assailants surrounded me . I was beaten with force on my ears, eyes, stomach and hips. Eventually, a more violent blow on the left ear threw me to the ground. There two young people kicked me on the left and left side of my back. I was left unconscious. " 

"Many guests at the future orphanage in were also attacked and robbed of mobile phones."

The priest then calls for a complete investigation - an request already made by the archbishop of Hanoi - for attempted murder and destruction of property of a citizen.

Martin faced 'huge legal pressure' on restricted priest

THE CATHOLIC Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin has said he was put under “a huge amount of legal pressure” when dealing with the case of a priest who was recently asked to stand aside from his parish, several years after allegations of child sex abuse were made against him.

Dr Martin said he understood but regretted the decision of a child-safeguarding representative in the Dublin parish to step down after she discovered last month the priest had been on “restricted ministry” in her parish for years.

The archbishop said the matter was “a classic example of the lacunas that exist in our current legislation”, as he was restricted from sharing information about the priest as the matter was not sufficiently serious to result in a conviction.

“There is a real need to update our legislation which respects the rights of individuals but also which respects and covers the need to share information with those who have responsibility,” Dr Martin told RTÉ Radio.

Dr Martin said there was a “very serious difficulty” around the passing of soft information and that legislation on the matter had been promised for some time. 

Soft information is material not strong enough to sustain a prosecution or conviction but indicating a concern over the suitability of a person to have access to children.

He said there was an argument for those in the church responsible for dealing with such matters to be given a form of indemnity.

The priest in question was the subject of a chapter in the 2009 report of the Murphy commission on clerical sexual abuse. 

Two complaints against the priest, given the pseudonym Fr Benito, were addressed by the commission.

They concerned an alleged sexual assault against a 15-year- old boy in 1988 and an alleged rape of a 15-year-old girl. In October 2002 the DPP decided not to prosecute in either case.

The priest’s history only came to light last month when some in the parish became concerned on being informed by the archdiocese that Fr Benito was standing aside from ministry as it had new information on him.

Dr Martin said the new information about the priest had led him to reassess previous allegations against him. He said that after reviewing the information, he immediately took action by asking the priest to leave his ministry.

Prior to the action, the priest had been visited on a regular basis by officials from the Dublin archdiocese and his case had been kept under review, Dr Martin said.

According to interim guidelines for such cases, published last February by the National Board for Safeguarding Children and adopted by the Irish Catholic bishops, “the bishop/congregational leader [in this instance Dr Martin] is responsible for what is communicated and how this is communicated”.

However, Dr Martin said the situation around passing on soft information was becoming more and more complex. 

He said he made a “prudential decision”, and the most important thing was the priest was removed from active ministry, even though the sharing of information about the circumstances had to be limited.

Priest told to leave post after gardai get new case details

A PRIEST named in the Murphy Report was asked to step aside from his ministry in February after new information relating to an allegation of child sexual abuse emerged.

The Dublin diocese confirmed that the priest, given the pseudonym of Fr Benito in the report, had been asked to leave his post after new information relating to abuse allegations made to gardai in September 2001 was passed on to authorities.

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said that the new information relating to the allegations, which was received by child protection services, gardai and HSE just before Christmas, resulted in him reassessing the allegations against Fr Benito, before asking him to leave his ministry.

However, he said he could not inform the parish pastoral council, made up of members of the community, or the parish's child safeguarding officer of the allegations until recently because of legal restrictions.

The decision not to pass on the information resulted in the child safeguarding representative resigning, because she was not informed that a priest who could potentially pose a risk to children was living in the parish. She had served for over a decade.

Dr Martin said she was not told of the new information because he was restricted from sharing so-called 'soft' information, which was not sufficient to result in a conviction in court.

He said the case was a "classic example of the lacunas that exist in our current legislation", and that new laws needed to be introduced which would allow the information to be shared.

The Department of Justice last night said it was not aware of any legal reason why the Dublin diocese could not inform its child safeguarding representative that a priest was on "restricted ministry".

Onus on priests to report offences unclear

SEAL OF CONFESSION: THE DEPARTMENT of Justice was unable to confirm whether priests will be legally obliged to report serious offences against children to gardaí that are disclosed during Confession.

The issue first sparked controversy after Catholic bishops warned last year that any laws that would breach the seal of Confession would be a “serious offence” to the rights of penitents.

To date priests have been allowed to refuse to answer questions relating to what is said in the confessional under what is known as “sacerdotal privilege”.

However, Mr Shatter said the issue had become a “media obsession” and the new law would not protect priests from prosecution for failing to pass on information that arises during Confession.

He said similar legislation on withholding information in relation to serious offences – the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act – had been in place since 1998 without any issue. Mr Shatter said this Act also applied to priests.

However, some legal observers said the planned law contained a section that may exempt priests from prosecution.

The proposed legislation states that any offences for withholding information do not remove “any rule of law or other enactment entitling a person to refuse to disclose information”.

In a further statement, the department said the Bill did not propose any change in regard to sacerdotal privilege, which has been relied on in cases dealing with civil matters.

“The extent to which the privilege can be relied on in a criminal case is unclear,” the statement added.

Separately, children’s groups yesterday welcomed the new Bills, in particular the decision to place the Children First guidelines on a legal footing. 

Barnardos chief executive Fergus Finlay said the move marked a turning point in the history of child protection.

The Children’s Rights Alliance, a coalition of non-governmental organisations, said the move would “change the culture of child protection in Ireland, ensuring that abuse is tackled head-on and not hidden away”.

Priests: We won’t break seal of confession to report sex abuse

CATHOLIC priests will defy a new law that requires them to report sexual abuse disclosed to them in the confession box -- despite the threat of 10-year jail sentences.

It came after Justice Minister Alan Shatter confirmed the mandatory reporting requirement would apply to priests hearing confession.

Fr Sean McDonagh of the Association of Catholic Priests, which represents 800 clergymen, warned last night: "I certainly wouldn't be willing to break the seal of confession for anyone -- Alan Shatter particularly."

And Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin Raymond Field said: "The seal of the confessional is inviolable as far as I am concerned, and that's the end of the matter."

It puts the clergy on a direct collision course with Mr Shatter because new laws oblige every person to report suspected sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults to gardai.

Mr Shatter said last night: "I would expect that if there was someone going to confession who was a serial sex abuser, I don't know how anyone could live with their conscience if they didn't refer that to the gardai."

His draft legislation, which is due to be introduced later this year, has already drawn a strong response from the church.

It has excommunicated priests in the past for revealing details of confessions.

The Catholic Church has always insisted it has no problem with the reporting of child physical and sexual abuse allegations to the authorities -- except when the information is given during confession.

The auxiliary bishop of Dublin was just one leading church figure who moved to stress that priests would not be co-operating with the requirement to report sexual abuse information given during confession.

The Association of Catholic Priests said the legislation was a foolish move that could not be enforced.

Its spokesman, Fr McDonagh, recalled how a New Zealand Columban priest, Francis Douglas, was tortured to death by the Japanese during World War Two because he refused to reveal information received in confession about the Filipino guerrillas.

"He is held up to us as a model of how you deal with this extraordinary sacrament. You shouldn't put into legislation something that cannot be enforced. It makes a mockery of the legislation," he said.

Fr McDonagh pointed out that confessions were held in private so that priests did not know who was in the confessional box.

And he questioned whether the mandatory reporting requirement would stop even one case of child sexual abuse.

It is the latest flashpoint between the Government and the Catholic Church, following the highly publicised row over Taoiseach Enda Kenny's criticism of the Vatican for failing to co-operate with clerical sexual abuse inquiries last year.

He declared that canon law would not be allowed to supersede state law. The Irish Embassy to the Vatican was subsequently closed "for budgetary reasons".


Mr Shatter said the controversy over the confessional was a "side issue" because the Murphy and Cloyne reports into clerical sex abuse had never mentioned it as the cause of the problem.

He pointed out that the main issue had been the failure of the Catholic Church authorities to act on warnings from victims -- and the movement of priests accused of abuse from parish to parish.

"As someone who doesn't frequent confession, I don't know what information people share in confessions. But I don't think anyone has a substantial knowledge about numbers of paedophiles sharing their exploits through the confessional and being given absolution for it," he said.

Mr Shatter pointed out that there was also no exemption for the confessional in legislation passed back in 1998 requiring mandatory reporting of offences such as murder, kidnapping and bank robberies.

He said he was not aware of any priest being prosecuted under this legislation.

Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald also added that criminal justice legislation passed last year required anyone with knowledge of white-collar crime to report it.

"And there's no exemptions in relation to the confessional," she said.

The Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference said it welcomed the fact that the State was putting the 'Children First' child protection guidelines into law -- which it had been following since 1996.

Families face jail for failing to report sex abuse

FAMILY MEMBERS could face prosecution if they fail to report evidence of sexual abuse or other serious offences against children to the Garda under proposed new laws.

In addition, any sports club, faith-based organisation or voluntary group with access to children could be shut down if they fail to implement guidelines for the reporting of suspected child abuse or neglect.

The measures are contained in two pieces of proposed legislation published by the Government aimed at significantly strengthening our child protection laws. 

They were widely welcomed by children’s groups last night who described them as a turning point in the history of child protection and ushering in a new era of responsibility for protecting young people at risk of harm.

Under a Bill published by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, any person found guilty of withholding information relating to sexual or serious offences against children could face a minimum jail term of five years.

The draft legislation includes a defence for those who fail to disclose information at the express request of the victim. 

In addition, parents or health professionals will be able to use a defence of not reporting information on the basis that it would harm the wellbeing of the child.

In a separate Bill published by Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald, guidelines for handling suspected abuse or neglect concerns are to be placed on a legal footing. 

Failure to adhere to the guidelines could result in teachers, doctors or social workers being fined or jailed. 

Similar penalties apply to “designated officers” attached to organisations with access to children.

New legislation seeks to protect child sex victims

Anyone withholding information on a child sex crime faces a minimum five-year jail term under new legislation being drawn up.

The Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences Against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Bill includes most sexual offences along with assault, abduction, manslaughter and murder.

"It is not acceptable that there can be a cloak of secrecy surrounding such offences or offences against other vulnerable persons in our society," said Justice Minister Alan Shatter.

However, parents and professionals can rely on certain defences in cases where the victim of the offence asks that the details are not passed on to the authorities.

"The defences set out in this bill seek to protect the victims of serious offences as much as provide a defence for those who legitimately act in the best interest of the victim," said Mr Shatter.

He said the bill should not deter victims of serious offences from getting the help they needed in addressing the harm done to them.

Mr Shatter confirmed that the planned legislation would apply to priests hearing confession.

The minister said there was no "confessional exception" in legislation introduced in 1998 that placed an obligation on people to report information in relation to serious offences.

Mr Shatter said he could not recall a single incidence in the various reports on clerical abuse where an abuse was admitted in confession and it was kept a secret.

However, there had been "horrendous cases" where young children had been abused in families and where the mothers knew it was going on, but did not report it to anyone.

He said the primary purpose of the proposed legislation is to close off a loophole in the Offences Against the State (amendment) Act 1998 that provides for an offence of withholding information in relation to serious offences but specifically excludes sexual offences.

He said parents could decide not to report child abuse at a certain time, but it must be in the interests of the child’s welfare.

"The 2012 bill will ensure there is an obligation on persons who have knowledge of any serious offence, including sexual offences against children and vulnerable adults, to inform the gardaí," he said.

Mr Shatter said the bill would be published in the Senate.

However, he did not expect it would be enacted until later in the year.

Questions raised as Bishop is ordained with approval of Rome and Beijing

The participation of two bishops not in good standing with the Holy See in the ordination of the new bishop of Hunan raises questions as to whether Beijing really wants harmonious relations with the Vatican.
After waiting for twelve years, the diocese of Hunan in southern China has a new bishop: Methodius Qu Ailin.  He was ordained on the morning of April 25 with the approval of both Pope Benedict XVI and the Chinese Government. 
While mainland Catholics rejoiced at this ordination approved by Rome, the participation of two bishops not in good standing with the Holy See – one of whom is “illegitimate” – prevented it being a truly harmonious occasion, caused confusion among the faithful in China and inflicted further damage on the unity of the Catholic Church in the mainland. 
This ongoing insistence by Beijing in having bishops not in good standing with Rome participate in Episcopal ordination ceremonies, raises the fundamental question as to whether the Chinese authorities are sincerely interested in developing a harmonious relationship with the Holy See, as they profess, or whether their real aim is to continue building a national Church independent of Rome.
Bishop Joseph Li Shan of Beijing presided at the ordination ceremony in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Changsa City, the capital of Hunan province. Some two hundred faithful and many priests attended, together with government officials from the Patriotic Association, the United Front, and the Bureau of Religious Affairs.
Five other bishops joined Li Shan in concelebrating mass and laying hands on the head of the candidate for ordination:  JB Tan Yanquan of Nanning, Paul Liang Jiansen of Jiangmen, Joseph Liu Xinhong of Anhui,  John Lu Peisen of Yangzhou, and  JB Li Suguang of Nanchang.

Bishop Li Shan, who was ordained bishop with the pope’s approval in 2007, is Vice-President of the Chinese Bishops’ Conference, a body established by the Government but not recognized by the Holy See.   

He broke Church law by participating in the ordination of two bishops without the pope’s approval at Chengde (November 2010) and Leshan (June 2011), and has yet to formally request and receive the pope’s pardon for so damaging the Church unity.
While many recognize that Li Shan’s situation is particularly difficult as bishop of Beijing, the seat of China’s government, where he has limited freedom of action and speech, the same can hardly be said for another bishop who participated in the Hunan ceremony – Joseph Liu Xinhong. He was ordained for the diocese of Anhui (May 2006) without the pope’s approval and so incurred automatic excommunication, and while the Holy See never formally declared him excommunicated, it considers him an “illegitimate” bishop. As such, he was strictly forbidden by Canon Law from participating in the ordination ceremony. By defying that law, he has aggravated his own position before Church law and in the eyes of the Holy See.

Interviewed by UCA News on this matter, Bishop Qu declared that he did not know Bishop Liu or his status with the Vatican. As for Bishop Li Shan, he said, “I know he is a legitimate bishop, but I am not sure which Episcopal ordinations he has taken part in before.”
Born in 1961, Bishop Qu was ordained priest for Hengyang diocese in 1995 after studying at Beijing diocesan seminary. Appointed vicar general of Hunan diocese in 1999, he has been a key figure there since Bishop Simon Qu Tianxi of Changsa died in the year 2000.  He was elected as candidate to be bishop, December 2011, obtaining 54 out of the 55 votes cast.
He takes over a diocese which originally consisted of four dioceses and five ecclesiastical territories in Hunan province, but in 1999 the Chinese authorities merged them all into one without consulting the Holy See.   

For this reason, the Vatican does not currently recognize Hunan diocese and regards Bishop Qu as bishop of Changsha and apostolic administrator of all the other ecclesiastical territories in the province.

As bishop he will have responsibility for an estimated 65,000 Catholics and 25 diocesan priests in Hunan province.  Commenting on this big challenge, he told UCA News that since there are too few priests for this vast province, and because they are separated from each other and there has been a lack of leadership in past years, he now plans to visit all his priests “to understand their situation and listen to their opinions before starting my work.” 

His remarks confirm the widespread opinion that Bishop Qu is indeed “an honest and good man”, as one bishop said at the ordination ceremony.

Mgr. Toso's ‘recipes’ for politics and the economy

A former university professor, a member of the Salesians, as mild as the charisma of his order dictates, Mgr. Mario Toso has never shied away from controversy when he has found himself in the midst of it. 

For example, it happened a year ago, when – with Berlusconi’s government still in power but rocked by scandals and the raging crisis – he invited Catholics to find new outlets for their political commitment and – why not – to think of setting up a new non-confessional but Christianity-inspired political party. 

Or last October, when the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace – of which he is Secretary – published Reflections on the reform of the current financial and monetary systems which proposed, among other things, a ‘public authority with universal jurisdiction’, a proposal that angered many, even Catholics.
Mgr. Toso is not particularly ruffled and continues on his way, a way that – he explains – is none other than that set down by Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate.
In an interview with Vatican Insider, he once again calls for the creation of ‘new political groups’, given that the party secretaries and party chairmen of the current political groups themselves are the first to blow the whistle on how ‘our parties should be refounded, even though they don’t seem easy to reform,’ and he makes it known that his ministry is committed to preparing reflections on energy in the run-up to the Rio+20 Conference which – together with his 'paper' on water, published in March – are part of the framework set up by the controversial document on global finance, i.e. to set up the essential conditions for the common good on a global scale.
The secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace vigorously defends the Reflections on the reform of monetary and financial systems against the accusation, made by various people including esteemed Catholics, that ‘it does not represent the line of the Holy See.’ Such reactions do not surprise Mgr. Toso: ‘Some categories proposed in that document are no longer in the public domain, not even in the Catholic world. The concept of a world political authority, for example, was misunderstood because the word “authority” was mistaken for “power”, absolute power, arbitrary power; because for many, political authority is not responsible for orienting economy and finance in line with achieving the common good.’
The global authority discussed in the document, he explains, ‘should be set up in a democratic way and it should be understood, first and foremost, as a moral body, in line with the law’; it should not blot out a country’s independence but, on the contrary, ‘strengthen it’ on the basis of ‘subsidiarity’.
For this Salesian cleric, the very fact that the document was so heavily criticised is proof of how it ‘was not irrelevant but rather touched a nerve’. And most of the criticisms, says Mgr. Toso, showed that the person making them ‘had not read either Caritas in Veritate or the Reflections carefully’. He goes on to stress that the document wished to make people think about a serious situation which does not seem to have been resolved yet and did not intend to impose ‘dogmatic’ solutions.
Back in Italy, Mgr. Toso sees the current government of technocrats ‘adopting a solution dictated by necessity – the necessity of a kind of politics that has shown it is not up to the task of tackling existing problems.’ However the fact remains that it is an ‘unusual’ solution that cannot go on forever: the technocrats have limited roles and we can’t expect them to solve ‘all the problems of a political society. The goals of economic development do not meet the goals of the common political good.’
In such a climate, the fact that there is still no sign of ‘an adequate and decisive recovery of politics’ mission, with corresponding lifestyles and suitable reforming decisions’ is not encouraging. For now, what seems to be prevailing is a reshuffling and a dissection of existing parties.
For Mgr. Toso, the realisation that parties are not ‘easily reformable’ ­– on the contrary, they are already ‘in pieces’ – must relaunch the urgent need to ‘build something new’ which in any case seems to be the message behind the decisions within certain parties that have announced the removal of current posts or a change in current leadership. 

According to the Secretary of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace, these are ‘signs that should be encouraged, along with others… However,’ he adds, ‘moral and conceptual tension should come to the fore once again… The reform of old parties or the creation of new ones does not simply occur with new electoral laws, though these are necessary, or with other actions that do not conquer methods dictated by one governing idea or are instrumental to what is now old, decrepit and damaging, particularly for the younger generation and the future of the country.’
He ends by saying: ‘What we need first and foremost is a programme that is as widely approved of as possible, we need the awareness and mobilisation of social groups and cultural and religious institutions. Everything that at the moment seems low key must become pre-eminent, together with a significant process of political education, as a service for the common good.’

LCWR to meet in May regarding Vatican order

The leadership of the largest organization representing U.S. women religious announced this afternoon that the board of the group will meet in an "atmosphere of prayer, contemplation and dialogue" in May to discuss news that the Vatican has ordered it to revise its statutes and has appointed an archbishop to oversee the revision.

The announcement comes on the website of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which was the subject of the April 18 order from the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and is signed by the group's president, president-elect, and past-president.

The statement says the national board of the group will meet from May 29-June 1 to "begin its discussion" on the matter.

"The board will conduct its meeting in an atmosphere of prayer, contemplation and dialogue and will develop a plan to involve LCWR membership in similar processes," the statement continues.

"The conference plans to move slowly, not rushing to judgment. We will engage in dialogue where possible and be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit. We ask your prayer for us and for the Church in this critical time."

News of the April 18 order from the Vatican first came in a press release that day from the U.S. bishops' conference, which was accompanied by an eight-page document of the doctrinal congregation and a one-page statement from its head, Cardinal William Levada.

The U.S. bishops' press release announced that Seattle archbishop Peter Sartain had been appointed archbishop delegate of LCWR. 

The Vatican document stated that in that role, Sartain was to be given wide authority over the group in five specific areas, including:
  • Revising LCWR statutes;
  • Reviewing LCWR plans and programs;
  • Creating new programs for the organization;
  • Reviewing and offering guidance on the application of liturgical texts; and
  • Reviewing LCWR's affiliations with other organizations.
According to the Vatican letter, Sartain's mandate runs for "up to five years, as deemed necessary." 

Sartain is also expected to set up an advisory team that includes clergy and women religious to "work collaboratively" with LCWR officers and to "report on the progress of this work to the Holy See."

Today's statement from the LCWR is only the second time members of its leadership have publicly addressed the Vatican move. In a short statement April 19, the group said it was "stunned" by the order.

"The presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious was stunned by the conclusions of the doctrinal assessment of LCWR by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith," read that release, which was also made on the group's website.

"Because the leadership of LCWR has the custom of meeting annually with the staff of CDF in Rome and because the conference follows canonically-approved statutes, we were taken by surprise."

The signing of today's release by LCWR's president, president-elect, and past-president also reflects the unique governance structure of the organization. 

According to the group's model, the three leaders govern the LCWR collaboratively together with the group’s secretary, treasurer and executive director. 

In previous years, a president-elect has been elected by the group’s membership at each year’s annual LCWR assembly, which brings together the group's leaders and membership. 

Following a year in the position, the president-elect automatically succeeds to the presidency, and then to the position of past-president the following year.

It is unknown whether the process will change following Sartain’s appointment.

Vatican tomb of mafia don to be reopened over teen murder mystery

The tomb of a mafia don buried in a basilica in Rome is to be opened in an attempt to solve a mystery that has dogged the Vatican for three decades.

It is thought the sarcophagus could contain not only the skeleton of the notorious mob gangster, Enrico "Renatino" De Pedis, but also the remains of a teenage schoolgirl who went missing in strange circumstances in the summer of 1983. 

Emanuela Orlandi, who was 15 at the time of her disappearance, was the daughter of a Vatican employee.
Investigators have said in the past that there were murky financial transactions between the Holy See and the gang and that the schoolgirl was kidnapped by De Pedis in an attempt to recover money that he was owed.
Another theory is that she was abducted to be used as a bargaining chip for the release from prison of Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish gunman who tried to kill John Paul II in St Peter's Square in 1981, reportedly on the orders of the KGB.

Prosecutors in Rome are expected to open the tomb when they relocate it from the Vatican-owned Basilica of Sant' Apollinaire in Rome to a cemetery on the outskirts of the capital within the next month.
There has been pressure to the move the tomb for years – it was thought odd by many Italians that a known gangster should be buried alongside cardinals in a church directly administered by the Holy See.

De Pedis, the leader of the Magliana gang, Rome's most feared criminal outfit, was gunned down by rival gangsters in 1990.

The rector of the church justified the decision by saying that the gangster had been "a generous benefactor of the poor".

The decision to open up the sarcophagus, after years of procrastination and foot-dragging by the authorities, was welcomed by Miss Orlandi's family.

"Finally the Church and the State have come to an accord," said Pietro Orlandi, her brother. "I hope to be present at the opening of the tomb and that the investigations will go ahead with vigour."

Walter Veltroni, a former mayor of Rome who raised the case in parliament last month, said: "It's the necessary step to find out the truth of what happened to Emanuela and to end a real scandal that has weighed on the conscience of the faithful."

The Vatican insisted earlier this month that it has revealed everything it knows about the mystery.