Pope makes El Salvador’s Oscar Romero, Pope Paul VI saints
By NICOLE WINFIELD and MARCOS ALEMAN
Monday, October 15
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis on Sunday praised two towering figures of the 20th-century Catholic Church as prophets who shunned wealth and looked out for the poor as he made saints of Pope Paul VI and martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero.
Francis canonized two men at a Mass in St. Peter’s Square before some 70,000 faithful, a handful of presidents and 5,000 Salvadoran pilgrims who traveled to Rome to honor a man considered a hero to many Latin Americans.
Tens of thousands more Salvadorans stayed up all night at home to watch the Mass on giant TV screens outside the San Salvador cathedral where Romero’s remains are entombed.
In a sign of the strong influence that Paul and Romero had on the first Latin American pope, Francis wore the blood-stained rope belt that Romero wore when he was gunned down by right-wing death squads in 1980, and also used Paul’s staff, chalice and pallium vestment.
Paul, who was pope from 1963-1978, presided over the modernizing yet polarizing church reforms of the 1960s. He was the pope of Francis’ formative years as a young priest in Argentina and was instrumental in giving rise to the Latin American church’s “preferential option for the poor” that Francis has made his own.
Francis also has a close personal connection to Romero, and like him lived through the terror of right-wing military dictatorships when Francis was in Argentina. Francis was responsible for eventually declaring Romero a martyr for his fearless denunciations of the military oppression at the start of El Salvador’s 1980-1992 civil war.
In his homily, Francis called Paul a “prophet of a church turned outwards” to care for the faraway poor. He said Romero gave up his security and life to “be close to the poor and his people.”
And he warned that those who don’t follow their example to leave behind everything, including their wealth, risk never truly finding God.
“Wealth is dangerous and — says Jesus — even makes one’s salvation difficult,” Francis said.
“The love of money is the root of all evils,” he said. “Where money is at the center, there is no room for God or for man.”
For many Salvadorans, it was the culmination of a fraught, politicized campaign to have the church formally honor a man who spoke out for the rights of landless peasants and the poor at a time when the U.S.-backed right-wing government was seeking to quash a leftist rebellion.
“We couldn’t stay home on this historic day,” said Jose Martinez, who with his wife and two young children joined the crowds outside the San Salvador cathedral. “I want my children to know Monsignor, our saint, that he was a great man who raised his voice to defend his pueblo, and for that they killed him.”
Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador, was murdered as he celebrated Mass on March 24, 1980, in a hospital chapel. A day before he was killed, he had delivered the latest in a series of sermons demanding an end to the army’s repression — sermons that had enraged El Salvador’s leaders.
Almost immediately after his death, Romero became an icon of the South American left and is frequently listed along with Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi as one of the world’s most influential human rights campaigners. The United Nations commemorates the anniversary of his death each year.
But his popularity with the left led to a decades-long delay in his saint-making cause at the Vatican, where right-wing cardinals led by Colombian Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo warned that his elevation would embolden Marxist revolutionaries.
Eventually Pope Benedict XVI unblocked the cause and Francis saw it through to its conclusion Sunday.
Romero’s influence continues to resonate with El Salvador’s youth as the country endures brutal gang violence that has made the Central American nation one of the world’s most violent.
“He is my guide, and from what I have read about his life, I want to follow in his steps,” said Oscar Orellana, a 15-year-old who joined the San Salvador procession wearing a white tunic like the one Romero used to wear.
Paul VI, for his part, is best known for having presided over the final sessions of the Second Vatican Council, the 1962-65 church meetings that opened up the Catholic Church to the world. Under his auspices, the church agreed to allow liturgy to be celebrated in the vernacular rather than in Latin and called for greater roles for the laity and improved relations with people of other faiths.
Paul is also remembered for his two most important encyclicals, or teaching documents, which have had a profound effect on the church: One denounced the mounting inequality between rich and poor, and the other reaffirmed the Catholic church’s opposition to artificial contraception.
The stark prohibition against contraception like birth control pills or condoms empowered conservatives but drove progressives away. Even today, studies show that most Catholics ignore that teaching and use contraception anyway.
Francis has also adopted the “church of the poor” ethos that Paul embodied when Paul formally renounced wearing the bejeweled papal tiara.
Paul is also very important to Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, whom Paul made a cardinal in 1977. Officials said the 91-year-old Benedict was too weak to attend Sunday’s canonization, so Francis paid him a visit on the eve of the Mass.
Aleman reported from San Salvador.
Pope defrocks 2 Chilean bishops accused of sex abuse
By NICOLE WINFIELD and COLLEEN BARRY
Sunday, October 14
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis on Saturday defrocked two more Chilean bishops accused of sexually abusing minors, and to show greater transparency about how he’s responding to the church’s global sex abuse crisis, he publicly explained why they were removed.
The Vatican’s unusually detailed statement announcing the laicization of retired Archbishop Francisco Jose Cox Huneeus and retired Bishop Marco Antonio Ordenes Fernandez signaled a new degree of transparency following past missteps by Francis that showed he had grossly underestimated the gravity of the abuse scandal.
The statement said the two were defrocked for abusing minors with evidence so overwhelming that a canonical trial was unnecessary. The Vatican said the decision cannot be appealed.
Cox, 87 and suffering from dementia, is a member of the Schoenstatt religious order and had served as a bishop in Chillan, Chile before becoming the No. 2 official at the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family, a high-profile position during St. John Paul II’s papacy.
He returned to Chile and became bishop in La Serena until he left in 1997 under unclear circumstances, but took on administrative jobs in Rome and at the Latin American bishops’ conference in Colombia.
In 2002, the Vatican office for bishops asked the Schoenstatt Fathers to take him in one of its houses, apparently because of abuse allegations. He has been living in Germany since then but last year a new, formal accusation was received by the Vatican about an alleged case of abuse that happened in Germany in 2004.
The Schoenstatt Fathers said Saturday the Vatican had asked that Cox remain in their custody. The order said it would cooperate with the justice system, given that victims in Chile have made criminal complaints against him.
“We receive this news with much shame for the damage caused to the victims,” the community said. “We show solidarity with them and their profound suffering. Today more than ever, we deplore every act of abuse that offends the dignity of people.”
Given the favor that Cox enjoyed by John Paul’s inner circle, his fall is yet another stain on John Paul’s legacy. It also calls into question the senior Schoenstatt cardinal in Chile, Cardinal Javier Errazuriz, an adviser to Francis who has long been accused of covering up for abusers.
Ordenes Fernandez, 53, for his part, was made bishop of Iquique, in northern Chile, in 2006 at the young age of 42. He retired six years later allegedly for health reasons. But subsequently allegations of abuse were leveled against him.
Previously, the Vatican has rarely, if ever, announced laicizations of individual priests and only issued a single-line statement if a bishop had resigned, without further explanation.
Before Francis’ papacy began in 2013, it was Vatican practice to reveal if resignations were retirements due to age, or for some other ‘grave’ reason that made them unfit for office. But Francis early on removed even that minimum amount of information.
Advocates for abuse survivors have long complained about the Vatican’s secrecy in handling such abuse cases, and the lack of transparency when it arrived at judgments.
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said Saturday’s more detailed statement suggested a new trend in the way the Vatican will announce the results of investigations of bishops accused of abuse. A similarly detailed statement was issued when Francis defrocked Chile’s most notorious abuser, the Rev. Fernando Karadima, several weeks ago.
Francis has been under fire for his handling of abuse cases for years, but the issue now is threatening his credibility and his legacy. The church’s abuse scandal has exploded anew in the U.S., Chile, Germany and elsewhere, and decisions made early in Francis’ papacy made it appear that he did not grasp the gravity of the trauma done to abuse victims.
In May, all active bishops in Chile offered to resign over their collective mishandling of the abuse scandal. So far, Francis has accepted the resignations of seven.
Francis discussed the issue during his Vatican audience Saturday with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera Echenique, who also met with the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
The Vatican said both meetings discussed “the painful scourge of abuse of minors, reiterating the effort of all in collaboration to combat and prevent the perpetration of such crimes and their concealment.”
Chilean survivors of abuse applauded the defrockings, saying the two bishops had used their power to abuse children and gotten away with it.
A group of lay Catholics from Cox’s old diocese in La Serena said they hoped he would be extradited to face justice in Chile, saying he had abused children as young as five.
“We want to let it be known that the Schoenstatt order has in its hands a criminal, a predator,” who should be “judged and punished like any other delinquent,” said Juan Rojas, a spokesman for the John XXIII lay group of La Serena.
Chilean abuse victim Juan Carlos Cruz, who has long denounced the abuse cover-up orchestrated by the highest echelons of the Chilean church, said the “circle was getting tighter” around Errazuriz, the retired archbishop of Santiago who is a member of Cox’s order.
Francis is under pressure to distance himself from Errazuriz, who remains a member of his kitchen cabinet of nine cardinal advisers.
Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield reported this story at the Vatican and AP writer Colleen Barry reported from Milan. AP journalist Patricia Luna in Santiago, Chile, contributed to this report.
Pope accepts Washington cardinal’s resignation amid scandal
By DAVID CRARY and NICOLE WINFIELD
Friday, October 12
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis accepted the resignation Friday of the archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, after he became entangled in two major sexual abuse and cover-up scandals and lost the support of many in his flock.
But in a letter released by Wuerl’s office, Francis asked Wuerl to stay on temporarily until a replacement is found and suggested he had unfairly become a scapegoat and victim of the mounting outrage among rank-and-file Catholics over the abuse scandal.
The pope’s apparent reluctance to remove Wuerl was evidence of the fraught personnel decisions he has been forced to make as he grapples with the burgeoning global scandal that has implicated some of his closest advisers and allies, including top churchmen in the U.S., Belgium, Honduras, Chile and Australia.
With the resignation, Wuerl becomes the most prominent head to roll after his predecessor as Washington archbishop, Theodore McCarrick, was forced to resign as cardinal over allegations he sexually abused at least two minors and adult seminarians.
A grand jury report issued in August on rampant sex abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses accused Wuerl of helping to protect some child-molesting priests while he was bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006. Simultaneously, Wuerl faced widespread skepticism over his insistence that he knew nothing about years of alleged sexual misconduct by McCarrick.
A Vatican statement Friday said Francis had accepted Wuerl’s resignation as Washington archbishop, but named no replacement; in his letter, the pope asked him to stay on in a temporary capacity until a new archbishop is found.
Wuerl, who turns 78 in November, initially played down the scandal and insisted on his own good record, but then progressively came to the conclusion that he could no longer lead the archdiocese.
“The Holy Father’s decision to provide new leadership to the archdiocese can allow all of the faithful, clergy, religious and lay, to focus on healing and the future,” Wuerl said in a statement Friday. “Once again for any past errors in judgment I apologize and ask for pardon.”
In a letter to the Washington faithful, which Wuerl asked to be read aloud at Mass this weekend, Wuerl directed himself in particular at survivors of abuse.
“I am sorry and ask for healing for all those who were so deeply wounded at the hands of the church’s ministers,” he wrote. “I also beg forgiveness on behalf of church leadership from the victims who were again wounded when they saw these priests and bishops both moved and promoted.”
In his letter accepting the resignation, Francis said he recognized that, in asking to retire, Wuerl had put the interests and unity of his flock ahead of his own ambitions. He once again referred obliquely to the devil being at work in accusing bishops of wrongdoing, saying the “father of lies” was trying to hurt shepherds and divide their flock.
“You have sufficient elements to justify your actions and distinguish between what it means to cover up crimes or not to deal with problems, and to commit some mistakes,” Francis wrote. “However, your nobility has led you not to choose this way of defense. Of this I am proud and thank you.”
Francis’ praise for Wuerl alarmed survivors’ advocates, who said it was evidence of the clerical culture Francis himself denounces in which the church hierarchy consistently protects its own.
Terrence McKiernan, president of the online abuse database BishopAccountability, said it showed that for Francis, “Cardinal Wuerl is more important than the children he put in harm’s way. Until Pope Francis reverses this emphasis on coddling the hierarchy at the expense of children, the Catholic Church will never emerge from this crisis.”
Wuerl had submitted his resignation to Francis nearly three years ago, when he turned 75, the normal retirement age for bishops. But Francis kept him on, as popes tend to do with able-bodied bishops who share their pastoral priorities.
But Wuerl made a personal appeal to Francis last month to accept the resignation, following the fallout of the McCarrick scandal and outrage over the Pennsylvania grand jury report that has led to a crisis in confidence in the church hierarchy.
Wuerl was also named prominently in the 11-page denunciation of the McCarrick cover-up that was penned by the Vatican’s former ambassador to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who accused a long line of U.S. and Vatican churchmen of turning a blind eye to McCarrick’s penchant for sleeping with seminarians.
Wuerl has not been charged with any wrongdoing but was named numerous times in the Pennsylvania report, which details instances in which he allowed priests accused of misconduct to be reassigned or reinstated.
In one case cited in the report, Wuerl — acting on a doctor’s recommendation — enabled the Rev. William O’Malley to return to active ministry in 1998 despite allegations of abuse lodged against him in the past and his own admission that he was sexually interested in adolescents. Years later, according to the report, six more people alleged that they were sexually assaulted by O’Malley, in some cases after he had been reinstated.
In another case, Wuerl returned a priest to active ministry in 1995 despite having received multiple complaints that the priest, the Rev. George Zirwas, had molested boys in the late 1980s.
Wuerl apologized for the damage inflicted on the victims but also defended his efforts to combat clergy sex abuse.
His defenders have cited a case that surfaced in 1988, when a 19-year-old former seminarian, Tim Bendig, filed a lawsuit accusing a priest, Anthony Cipolla, of molesting him. Wuerl initially questioned Bendig’s account but later accepted it and moved to oust Cipolla from the priesthood. The Vatican’s highest court ordered Wuerl to restore Cipolla to priestly ministry, but Wuerl resisted and, after two years of legal procedures, prevailed in preventing Cipolla’s return.
“No bishop or cardinal in the nation has had a more consistent and courageous record than Donald Wuerl in addressing priestly sexual abuse,” contended Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League.
Wuerl’s archdiocese issued a series of similar plaudits Friday, coinciding with the Vatican announcement. They included a letter from the archdiocesan chancellor, Kim Vitti Fiorentino, who lamented that Wuerl’s “pioneering leadership in the enhancement, implementation and enforcement of historically innovative child protection policies was overshadowed by the (Pennsylvania grand jury) report’s flaws and its interpretation by the media.”
The Rev. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest who writes for Religion News Service, described Wuerl as an ideological moderate.
“He was totally enthusiastic about John Paul II, and then Pope Benedict, and now he’s totally enthusiastic about Pope Francis,” Reese said. “There are not many people in the church who are totally enthusiastic about all three of them.”
Numerous conservative Catholic activists and commentators, though, considered him too tolerant of the LGBT community and too liberal on some other issues. They resented his pivotal role a decade ago in resisting a push by some of his fellow bishops to deny Communion to Catholic politicians who support the right to abortion.
Wuerl was born in Pittsburgh, attended Catholic University in Washington and received a doctorate in theology from the University of Saint Thomas in Rome. He joined the priesthood in 1966, was ordained a bishop by Pope John Paul II in 1986, and served briefly as auxiliary bishop in Seattle before going to Pittsburgh.
Crary reported from New York.
US pastor freed from Turkey prays with Trump in Oval Office
By DARLENE SUPERVILLE and ZEKE MILLER
Sunday, October 14
WASHINGTON (AP) — Freed American pastor Andrew Brunson fell to one knee in the Oval Office and placed his hand on President Donald Trump’s shoulder in prayer before asking God to provide Trump “supernatural wisdom to accomplish all the plans you have for this country and for him.”
Trump welcomed Brunson to the White House on Saturday to celebrate Brunson’s release from nearly two years of confinement in Turkey, which had sparked a diplomatic row with a key ally and outcry from U.S. evangelical groups.
Brunson returned to the U.S. aboard a military jet shortly before meeting the president. He was detained in October 2016, formally arrested that December and placed under house arrest on July 25 for health reasons.
“From a Turkish prison to the White House in 24 hours, that’s not bad,” Trump said.
Brunson’s homecoming amounts to a diplomatic — and possibly political — win for Trump and his evangelical base. Coming on the heels of the confirmation of a conservative justice to the Supreme Court, Brunson’s return is likely to leave evangelical Christians feeling good about the president and motivated get to the polls in the Nov. 6 midterm elections.
Brunson appeared to be in good health and good spirits. When he asked Trump if he could pray for him, the president replied, “Well, I need it probably more than anyone ese in this room, so that would be very nice, thank you.”
Brunson left his chair beside Trump, kneeled and placed a hand on the president’s shoulder. As Trump bowed his head, Brunson asked God to “give him supernatural wisdom to accomplish all the plans you have for this country and for him. I ask that you give him wisdom in how to lead this country into righteousness.”
He continued: “I ask that you give him perseverance, and endurance and courage to stand for truth. I ask that you to protect him from slander from enemies, from those who would undermine. I ask that you make him a great blessing to this country. Fill him with your wisdom and strength and perseverance. And we bless him. May he be a great blessing to our country. In Jesus’ name, we bless you. Amen.”
Brunson, originally from Black Mountain, North Carolina, had lived in Turkey with his family for more than two decades and led a small congregation in the Izmir Resurrection Church. He was accused of committing crimes on behalf of Kurdish militants and to aid a Pennsylvania-based Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, accused by Turkey of engineering the failed coup. He faced up to 35 years in jail if convicted of all the charges against him.
Administration officials cast Brunson’s release as vindication of Trump’s hard-nosed negotiating stance, saying Turkey tried to set terms for Brunson’s release but that Trump was insistent on Brunson’s release without conditions. Trump maintained there was no deal for Brunson’s freedom, but the president dangled the prospect of better relations between the U.S. and its NATO ally.
“We do not pay ransom in this country,” Trump said.
Where previous administrations kept negotiations over U.S. prisoners held abroad close to the vest, Trump has elevated them to causes célèbres, striking a tough line with allies and foes alike.
Trump thanked Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had resisted the demands of Trump and other high-level U.S. officials for Brunson’s release. Erdogan had insisted that his country’s courts are independent, though he previously had suggested a possible swap for Brunson.
The U.S. had repeatedly called for Brunson’s release and, this year, sanctioned two Turkish officials and doubled tariffs on steel and aluminum imports citing in part Brunson’s plight.
Trump said the U.S. greatly appreciated Brunson’s release and said the move “will lead to good, perhaps great, relations” between the U.S. and fellow NATO ally Turkey, and said the White House would “take a look” at the sanctions.
Trump asked Brunson and his family which candidate they voted for in 2016, saying he was confident they had gone for him. “I would like to say I sent in an absentee ballot from prison,” Brunson quipped.
Evangelical voters overwhelmingly voted for the president despite discomfort with his personal shortcomings, in large part because he pledged to champion their causes, from defending persecuted Christians overseas to appointing conservative justices to the Supreme Court. In the space of seven days, less than a month from the midterm elections, Trump delivered on both fronts.
Prominent evangelical leaders such as Tony Perkins have championed Brunson’s case, as has Vice President Mike Pence. First word of Brunson’s arrival back on American soil Saturday came from Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. Perkins tweeted just after noon that he had landed at a military base outside Washington with Brunson and his wife, Norine.
Erdogan said on Twitter that he hoped the two countries will continue to cooperate “as it befits two allies.” Erdogan also called for joint efforts against terrorism, and he listed the Islamic State group, Kurdish militants and the network of a U.S.-based Muslim cleric whom Turkey blames for a failed coup in 2016.
Relations between the countries have become severely strained over Brunson’s detention and a host of other issues.
A Turkish court on Friday convicted Brunson of having links to terrorism and sentenced him to just over three years in prison, but released the 50-year-old evangelical pastor because he had already spent nearly two years in detention. An earlier charge of espionage was dropped.
Hours later, Brunson was flown out of Turkey, his home for more than two decades. He was taken to a U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, for a medical checkup.
“I love Jesus. I love Turkey,” an emotional Brunson, who had maintained his innocence, told the court at Friday’s hearing.
Brunson’s release could benefit Turkey by allowing the government to focus on an escalating diplomatic crisis over Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi contributor to The Washington Post who has been missing for more than a week and is feared dead after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkish officials suspect Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi government, was killed in the consulate; Saudi officials deny it.
Trump maintained the two cases were not linked, saying Brunson’s release amid the Khashoggi investigation was “strict coincidence.”
Turkey may also hope the U.S. will now lift the tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum imports, a move that would inject confidence into an economy rattled by high inflation and foreign currency debt.
But Brunson’s release doesn’t resolve disagreements over U.S. support for Kurdish fighters in Syria, as well as a plan by Turkey to buy Russian surface-to-air missiles. Turkey is also frustrated by the refusal of the U.S. to extradite Gulen.
Associated Press writer Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul contributed to this report.
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