Polish activists pull down statue of priest in abuse protest
By VANESSA GERA
Thursday, February 21
WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Activists in Poland toppled a statue of a prominent Solidarity-era priest early Thursday amid allegations that he sexually abused minors, a protest against what they called a failure by the Catholic Church and society to resolve the problem of clergy sex abuse.
The protest came only hours before Pope Francis gathered Catholic leaders from around the world for a landmark summit at the Vatican to address the church’s sex abuse crisis.
Video footage showed three men attaching a rope around the statue of the late Monsignor Henryk Jankowski in the northern city of Gdansk and then pulling it down to the ground in the dark. The activists then placed children’s underwear in one of the statue’s hands and a small white lace church vestment worn by altar boys on the statue’s body to symbolize the suffering of the young people he allegedly molested.
It was a striking act in a country where more than 90 percent of the population identifies as Roman Catholic and where the church still enjoys significant authority in public life. That position appears to be changing, however, as secularization grows along with a developing economy.
Church leaders have also alienated some Poles with their close ties to the conservative ruling party, which has been accused of eroding Poland’s democratic culture and institutions.
Police detained the three men and opened an investigation into whether they committed the crime of “insulting a monument.”
Jankowski, who died in 2010, rose to prominence in the 1980s through his support for the pro-democracy Solidarity movement and its leader, Lech Walesa, in their struggle against Poland’s communist regime. World leaders including President George H.W. Bush and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher visited his St. Brygida church in recognition of his anti-communist activity.
But in recent months, Polish media have carried allegations that he abused minors, mostly boys but also girls. A foundation that represents victims of abuse recently said several people have also come to them with reports of having been abused by Jankowski.
In a manifesto, the activists in Gdansk accused Jankowski of “vile” acts against young people entrusted into his care. They accused the church of “systemic complicity in the evil done to people by Henryk Jankowski” and they accused public officials of looking away from the problem.
They said their own actions were in no way directed against the faithful.
“Driven by concern for the common good and respect for human dignity and freedom, we undertake our action in the conviction not only of its profound rightfulness, but also of its public usefulness, and as such, we summit to the community’s judgment,” the manifesto said. It was signed by the three activists, Konrad Korzeniowski, Rafal R. Suszek and Michal Wojcieszczuk.
The three cushioned the fall of the statue with tires, explaining that their goal was not to physically destroy the monument but rather to upend “the false and hideous myth” of the priest.
By morning, authorities had cordoned off the area and covered the statue.
City authorities said they will not return the monument to its place, but will put it in storage. An official said the base was damaged and it would not be safe to re-erect. The city, in any case, has been seeking to remove the statue using legal procedures.
The Polish Bishops’ Conference released a statement Thursday which did not mention the action, but which vowed “zero tolerance” of pedophilia. It said it has been working for 10 years to fight the problem of clergy abuse.
“The Catholic Church is the most advanced institution in this field in our country,” it said.
More AP coverage of clergy sex abuse at https://www.apnews.com/Sexualabusebyclergy
Pope offers 21 proposals to fight abuse at start of summit
By NICOLE WINFIELD
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis opened a landmark sex abuse prevention summit Thursday by offering senior Catholic leaders 21 proposals to punish predators and keep children safe, warning that the faithful are demanding concrete action and not just words.
The tone for the high stakes, four-day summit was set at the start, with victims from five continents — Europe, Africa, Asia, South America and North America — telling the bishops of the trauma of their abuse and the additional pain the church’s indifference caused them.
“Listen to the cry of the young, who want justice,” Francis told the gathering of 190 leaders of bishops conferences and religious orders.
“The holy people of God are watching and expect not just simple and obvious condemnations, but efficient and concrete measures to be established.”
More than 30 years after the scandal first erupted in Ireland and Australia, and 20 years after it hit the U.S., bishops and Catholic officials in many parts of Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia still either deny that clergy sex abuse exists in their regions or play down the problem.
Francis, the first Latin American pope, called the summit after he himself botched a well-known sex abuse cover-up case in Chile last year and the scandal reignited in the U.S.
With his own papacy and the Catholic hierarchy at large facing a credibility crisis, Francis has now vowed to chart a new course and is bringing the rest of the church leadership along with him.
The summit is meant as a tutorial for church leaders around the globe to learn the importance of preventing sex abuse in their churches, tending to victims and investigating the crimes when they occur.
The Vatican’s onetime sex crimes prosecutor delivered a step-by-step lesson Thursday on how to conduct an investigation under canon law, citing the example of Pope Benedict XVI, who turned the Vatican around on the issue two decades ago.
Calling for a conversion from a culture of silence to a “culture of disclosure,” Archbishop Charles Scicluna told bishops they should cooperate with civil law enforcement investigations and announce decisions about predators to their communities once cases have been decided.
He said victims had the right to damages from the church and that bishops should consider using lay experts to help guide them during abuse investigations.
The people of God “should come to know us as friends of their safety and that of their children and youth,” he said. “We will protect them at all cost. We will lay down our lives for the flocks entrusted to us.”
Finally, Scicluna warned them that it was a “grave sin” to withhold information from the Vatican about candidates for bishops — a reference to the recent scandal of the now-defrocked former American cardinal, Theodore McCarrick. It was apparently an open secret in some church circles that McCarrick slept with young seminarians. He was defrocked last week by Francis after a Vatican trial found credible reports that he abused minors as well as adults.
Francis offered a path of reform going forward, handing out a 21-point set of proposals for the church to consider including some that would require changes to canon law.
He called for specific protocols to handle accusations against bishops, in yet another reference to the McCarrick scandal. He suggested protocols to govern the transfers of seminarians or priests to prevent predators from moving freely to unsuspecting communities.
One idea called for raising the minimum age for marriage to 16 while another suggested a basic handbook showing bishops how to investigate cases.
Abuse survivors have turned out in droves in Rome to demand accountability and transparency from church leaders and assert that the time of sex abuse cover-ups is over.
“The question is this: Why should the church be allowed to handle the pedophile question? The question of pedophilia is not a question of religion, it is (a question of) crime,” Francesco Zanardi, head of the main victims advocacy group in Italy Rete L’Abuso, or Abuse Network, told a news conference in the Italian parliament.
Inside the summit hall Thursday, the church leaders heard five videotaped testimonies from victims about their abuse and cruel treatment from an indifferent hierarchy.
One woman from Africa told the summit that the priest who began raping her at 15 forced her to have three abortions over the following 13 years.
“He gave me everything I wanted when I accepted to have sex; otherwise he would beat me,” she said.
The victims’ names were not released to protect their privacy, but Chilean survivor Juan Carlos Cruz confirmed he provided a video.
“You are the physicians of the soul and yet, with rare exceptions, you have been transformed — in some cases — into murderers of the soul, into murderers of the faith,” Cruz said in his testimony.
Manila Cardinal Luis Tagle choked up as he responded to such testimony, telling the bishops that the wounds they had inflicted on the faithful through their negligence and indifference recalled the wounds of Christ on the cross.
In the keynote speech, he demanded bishops and superiors no longer turn a blind eye to the harm caused by clergy abuse and cover-ups.
“Our lack of response to the suffering of victims, yes even to the point of rejecting them and covering up the scandal to protect perpetrators and the institution, has injured our people,” Tagle said. The result, he said, had left a “deep wound in our relationship with those we are sent to serve.”
The Vatican isn’t expecting any miracles or even a final document to come out of the summit. But organizers say it marks a turning point in the way the Catholic Church has dealt with the problem, with Francis’ own acknowledgment of his mistakes in handling the Chile abuse case a key point of departure.
Hours before the Vatican summit opened, activists in Poland pulled down a statue of a priest accused of sexually abusing minors. They said the stunt was to protest the failure of the Polish Catholic Church in resolving the problem of clergy sex abuse.
Video footage showed three men attaching a rope around the statue of the late Monsignor Henryk Jankowski in the northern city of Gdansk and pulling it to the ground in the dark. They then placed children’s underwear in one of the statue’s hands and a white lace church vestment worn by altar boys on the statue’s body. Jankowski is accused of molesting boys.
The private broadcaster TVN24 reported the three men were arrested.
Jankowski, who died in 2010, rose to prominence in the 1980s through his support for the pro-democracy Solidarity movement against Poland’s communist regime. World leaders including President George H.W. Bush and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher visited his church to recognize his anti-communist activity.
More AP coverage of clergy sex abuse at https://www.apnews.com/Sexualabusebyclergy
Theodore McCarrick will continue to be a Catholic priest
February 20, 2019
Author: Mathew Schmalz, Associate Professor of Religion, College of the Holy Cross
Disclosure statement: Mathew Schmalz does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: College of the Holy Cross provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
The Vatican recently “defrocked” Theodore McCarrick, a former cardinal and the retired archbishop of Washington D.C. McCarrick was found guilty of a number of crimes including sexual abuse of minors.
“Defrocking,” as the name suggests, means the removal of the vestments, or clothing, symbolic of being a priest. This process is more formally referred to as “dismissal from the clerical state,” or “laicization.”
In 2014, the Vatican reported that 848 priests had been “defrocked” in the preceding decade for the rape and molestation of children. McCarrick is the highest ranking member of the Catholic Church to be punished in this way in modern times.
Many people might think that in being defrocked McCarrick would no longer remain a priest. That is not so. Catholics don’t understand the priesthood as simply a job that someone can be fired from.
Punishing priests in the Middle Ages
Formal procedures for defrocking priests were elaborated in the Middle Ages for church courts. Since punishments were milder for clerics, in order to hold priests accountable for the most severe crimes, it was necessary to demote them in status, before turning them over to a civil judge. This demotion was called “degradation.”
Rape and murder were among the crimes that could lead to degradation. But the most serious one was “heresy,” the deliberate spreading of doctrines contrary to the Catholic faith.
Degradation included a ritual removal of any sign or symbol of clerical status. As part of this ritual, the skin from the priest’s palms and fingertips was scraped to indicate that the hands were no longer holy.
Additionally, the priestly haircut, called a “tonsure,” was removed by tongs or by shaving the scalp with a shard of glass.
The intent behind degradation was not only to punish but also to humiliate. After being “degraded,” the priest was handed over to civil authorities.
The church itself could not inflict the usual punishment for heresy: being burned at the stake.
Vatican sanctions on McCarrick
Theodore McCarrick will be spared these punishments. But there are others he will go through.
According to the legal code of the Catholic Church, McCarrick will not be allowed to wear the roman collar – a white band that goes around the neck – the robe-like cassock, or anything else that might suggest he is a priest.
He will not be allowed to perform sacraments – such as baptism. He can no longer hear confessions or celebrate mass.
Consistent with his loss of status, McCarrick will not be buried with his predecessor archbishops in Washington D.C.‘s St. Matthew’s Cathedral.
McCarrick certainly did not lead a celibate life as his priestly vows required. But he is still formally obligated to remain celibate. Releasing the celibacy requirement for priests can only be done by the pope, which is unlikely to happen in this case.
Theodore McCarrick will now be required to live the remainder of his life in “prayer and penance,” which assumes that he will – at some point – develop and show genuine remorse for his crimes. He also faces potential prosecution and civil lawsuits.
Once a priest, always a priest
But McCarrick will still be a “priest,” although without his clerical office and its associated privileges, and in a very specific way. The reason for this lies in the Catholic understanding of priesthood.
As a child in a Roman Catholic family, and now as a Roman Catholic scholar of religion, it has always been impressed on me that being a priest is special and, in an equally special way, permanent.
Priests are “ordained” only after years of study and a period of service in what is called the diaconate.
Ordination is performed by a bishop in a special ceremony that has deep spiritual meaning and impact. The ritual includes the bishop laying his hands upon the candidate for the priesthood in order to transfer the power of the Holy Spirit.
And so, according to Catholic belief, ordination alters a man spiritually. It permanently sets him apart for a special function or ministry. In fact, the Catholic catechism states that a priest “cannot become a layman again in the strict sense.”
What this means for McCarrick is that he can never be a layperson in the way that rank-and-file Catholics are. Ironically, he will always retain the spiritual mark given to him when he first became a priest.
United Methodists confront possible split over LGBT issues
By DAVID CRARY
AP National Writer
Thursday, February 21
The United Methodist Church’s top legislative assembly convenes Sunday for a high-stakes, three-day meeting likely to determine whether America’s second-largest Protestant denomination will fracture due to divisions over same-sex marriage and the ordination of gay clergy.
While other mainline Protestant denominations — such as the Episcopal and Presbyterian (U.S.A.) churches — have embraced gay-friendly practices, the Methodist church still bans them, even though acts of defiance by pro-LGBT clergy have multiplied and talk of a possible breakup of the church has intensified.
At the church’s upcoming General Conference in St. Louis, 864 invited delegates — split evenly between lay people and clergy — are expected to consider several plans for the church’s future. Several Methodist leaders said they expect a wave of departures from the church regardless of the decision.
“I don’t think there’s any plan where there won’t be some division, and some people will leave,” said David Watson, a dean and professor at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, who will be attending the conference.
Formed in a merger in 1968, the United Methodist Church claims about 12.6 million members worldwide, including nearly 7 million in the United States. In size, it trails only the Southern Baptist Convention among U.S. Protestant denominations.
The church technically forbids same-sex marriage and gays serving in the ministry, but enforcement has been inconsistent. Clergy who support LGBT rights have been increasingly defiant, conducting same-sex marriages or coming out as gay or lesbian from the pulpit. In some cases, the church has filed charges against clergy who violated the bans, yet the UMC’s Judicial Council has ruled against the imposition of mandatory penalties.
At the heart of the ideological conflict is an official UMC policy, dating from 1972, asserting that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”
One of the proposed plans, endorsed by the UMC’s Council of Bishops, would remove that language from the church’s law book and leave decisions about same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBT clergy up to regional bodies. This proposal, called the One Church Plan, would open up many options for those who support the LGBT-inclusive practices, but it would not compel individual churches or clergy to engage in those practices.
In contrast, the proposed Traditional Plan would affirm the bans on same-sex marriage and the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.” The plan would strengthen enforcement of those bans, and set up procedures for churches and regional bodies to leave the UMC if they could not abide by those rules.
A third option would create three branches of the church reflecting the different approaches to LGBT issues. One branch would maintain the current bans, another would expect all its clergy and regional groups to support full LGBT inclusion, and the third would neither forbid nor require the inclusive practices. This plan would take several years longer to implement than the others.
Those three plans were developed over 17 months of deliberations by a Methodist committee that was formed after conflict over LGBT policies boiled over at a General Conference in 2016. In accordance with Methodists’ long tradition of democratic policy-making, delegates in St. Louis will be free to revise any of those plans, or consider some alternative. The UMC’s Queer Clergy Caucus will be presenting what it calls “the Simple Plan” — which is even more LGBT-affirming than the One Church Plan.
Kenneth Carter, the Florida-based president of the Council of Bishops, is among a majority of the bishops supporting the One Church Plan, hoping it would limit any exodus by creating space for differing views on the LGBT issues.
“We’re better together than we are separated and fragmented, but I do understand that the forces that would separate us are very powerful,” Carter said.
“We’ve tried to remain together as a global body,” he added. “The challenge is simply that there are some nations where homosexuality is taboo.”
Among the supporters of the Traditional Plan is Mark Tooley, who heads a conservative Christian think tank, and has long engaged in the debate over Methodist policy.
He believes a traditionalist alliance of U.S.-based and overseas delegates will be large enough to outvote centrist and liberal delegates.
Unlike other mainline Protestant churches, the UMC is a global denomination; its greatest growth recently has been overseas. About 30 percent of the delegates in St. Louis will be from Africa — a bloc with relatively conservative views on sexuality that in the past has supported the LGBT bans.
If the Traditional Plan does prevail, Tooley says some liberal segments of the church — perhaps its Western U.S. district — might withdraw to form a new denomination.
“It would be very significant,” Tooley said.
UMC leaders are acutely aware of how searing the lengthy ideological conflict has been. In December, the Council of Bishops issued a pastoral letter expressing remorse that the buildup to the St. Louis meeting has been hurtful to many LGBT people.
“Demeaning and dehumanizing comments and attacks on LGBTQ persons in conversations related to the upcoming February Conference are a great tragedy and do violence to hearts, minds, and spirits,” the letter said. “We commit ourselves to helping people who disagree with each other to have conversations that include, honor, and respect people with different convictions.”
A localized example of the church’s internal divisions has surfaced in San Francisco, home to the liberal Glide Memorial United Methodist Church, which has 12,000 members.
The UMC’s California-Nevada conference removed two of Glide’s pastors last summer, then filed a lawsuit in December seeking to assert control over the local church property. A Glide spokesman, Sam Singer, said the regional authorities were displeased with Glide’s “open door policy” — which includes a variety of social-service programs for the needy and extensive outreach to the local LGBT community.
One of Glide’s former senior pastors is Karen Oliveto, who — after eight years at Glide — was elected by the Rocky Mountain regional body in 2016 as the UMC’s first openly lesbian bishop and is now based in Colorado. The UMC’s judicial council upheld the election result, while ruling that Oliveto’s 2014 marriage to a woman violated UMC policies for its clergy.
Oliveto hopes the delegates in St. Louis vote to end the LGBT bans; she’s unsure what would ensue if the Traditional Plan prevails.
“What that means for us, I don’t know,” she said. “I’ll be praying very deeply.”
Follow David Crary at https://twitter.com/CraryAP