Browsing News Entries

Lori announces whistleblower system for allegations against Baltimore bishops

Baltimore, Md., Jan 15, 2019 / 01:13 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Baltimore introduced Tuesday a third-party system for reporting allegations of abuse or misconduct against its archbishop and other bishops serving in the archdiocese.

“I pray this step and our continued commitment to child protection will send a clear message to the faithful of this local Church that abuse of any kind will not be tolerated and that those in positions of authority, namely bishops, will be held accountable for keeping the Church safe, especially for children and others who may be vulnerable,” Baltimore’s Archbishop William Lori told reporters Jan. 15.

“In this we hope to begin rebuilding the confidence of trust of those we serve, and the wider community.”

Lori is one of four bishops active in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Bishops Adam Parker and Mark Brennan are auxiliary bishops of the archdiocese, and Bishop William Madden is a retired auxiliary bishop who is still active in the archdiocese, an archdiocesan spokesman told CNA.

The third-party reporting system is administered by Ethics Point, which also facilitates third-party whistleblower reporting in the Archdiocese of Baltimore for fraud, theft, workplace and school safety and harassment issues, and allegations of sexual misconduct by diocesan priests, deacons, employees, or volunteers.

Complaints made through the Ethics Point systems about bishops will be routed to Baltimore’s diocesan review board, a lay led panel that will be charged with reporting allegation to civil authorities and the apostolic nuncio, the pope’s diplomatic and administrative representative to the U.S.

The system does not facilitate complaints against bishops other than those active in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Lori told reporters that in 2002, when the U.S. bishops’ conference developed policies to address child sexual abuse by priests or deacons, “the nation’s bishops drew a line in the sand by establishing clear and consistent standards of accountability and transparency for priests, deacons and others working in the Church. Those standards are working and have contributed to increased scrutiny and accountability.

“Now it is time for the Church to establish similar consistent standards for bishops. Therefore, I have asked that the lay Independent Review Board serve as the direct recipient for any allegations of abuse or misconduct by a bishop serving in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.”

The archbishop said he had also asked the diocesan review to issue an annual report on the the archdiocese has handled abuse allegations.

“There must be a ‘zero tolerance’ policy and approach for dealing with any priest, bishop, employee or volunteer who violates their office and harms in any way a young person or adult.  Moreover, the high-profile case of former Cardinal McCarrick makes clear that utmost accountability must be required of all, regardless of rank,” Lori said.

The announcement of the third-party reporting system comes one month before the Vatican will hold a summit on the sexual abuse of minors for bishops’ conference leaders from around the world. That meeting is not expected to produce specific policies on sexual abuse, but is expected to charge bishops to create policy on the national level.

The announcement comes two months after the U.S. bishops’ conference was stopped by the Vatican from voting on proposals that would have created a nationalized third-party whistleblower system for reporting allegations against bishops, and a lay-led independent commission for investigating those allegations. The Vatican said it had not had sufficient time to review the proposals ahead of the scheduled vote.

The Baltimore policy resembles some aspects of those proposed policies, although the diocesan review board would apparently not be charged with investigation allegations independently, and would instead forward them directly to Church authorities. The possibility of lay investigations of bishops has raised concern among some Catholics, who note that only the pope is empowered to investigate bishops regarding potential canonical offenses.

Lori, 67, has led the Archdiocese of Baltimore since 2012. In September 2018, the archbishop was also assigned to lead temporarily the neighboring Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, and to investigate allegations of “sexual harassment of adults” against Bishop Michael Bransfield, who resigned from the diocese at that time.

The archbishop has for months called for lay involvement in addressing the Church’s sexual abuse crisis.

In August, he said that the anger, disillusion, or frustration of Catholics over the sexual abuse crisis “must be met with more than prayers and promises. They must also be met with action by any and all with responsibility for ensuring the safety of children and others in our care."

Laity must be a part of the solution to the Church’s sexual abuse crisis, he said, “for no longer can we expect the faithful to entrust this to the hierarchy, alone."

 

 

Pope advances sainthood causes of 17 women

Vatican City, Jan 15, 2019 / 11:12 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis approved Tuesday the next step in the canonization causes of 17 women from four countries, including the martyrdom of 14 religious sisters killed in Spain at the start of the Spanish Civil War.

After meeting with the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Cardinal Angelo Becciu, Jan. 15, the pope gave his approval to the declaration of the martyrdom of Sr. Maria del Carmen and 13 companions, all religious sisters of the Order of Franciscan Conceptionists, who were killed in Madrid in 1936.

Francis also approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of the Swiss laywoman Bl. Marguerite Bays, paving the way for her canonization in 2019.

Bays, who was born in La Pierraz, Switzerland in 1815, was a member of the Secular Franciscan Order. She never married but gave her life to the needs of the people of her parish and neighborhood, especially the sick and dying, children and young girls, and the poor, whom she called “God’s favorites.”

After developing intestinal cancer at the age of 35, Bays asked Our Lady to intercede that her suffering from cancer would be exchanged for a suffering more directly connected to the suffering of Christ at his Passion.

The holy woman was miraculously healed of the cancer Dec. 8, 1854, the day Bl. Pius IX declared the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. After the healing, Bays began to experience a sort-of ecstatic immobilization every Friday, where she would relive physically and spiritually the events of Christ's passion. Bays also received the stigmata.

Bays’ deep devotion to prayer, which had been a focus of her life since childhood, included a strong love for the Blessed Virgin Mary and for praying the rosary. She also loved the Eucharist and spent many hours in adoration.

Bays died at 3:00pm, on Friday, June 27, 1879, and was beatified by St. John Paul II in 1995.

Two women were also declared Venerable Jan. 15: Anna Kaworek, a Pole and cofounder of the Congregation of Sisters of St. Michael the Archangel (1872-1936); Maria Soledad Sanjurjo Santos (religious name Maria Consolata), a sister of the Congregation of the Servants of Mary Ministers of the Infirm (1892-1973) from Puerto Rico.

Pope tells Life academy to defend human dignity with courage

Vatican City, Jan 15, 2019 / 06:45 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Dialogue with society for the protection of human dignity and the common good, which are under threat, Pope Francis said in a letter to the Pontifical Academy for Life, published Tuesday.

“We know that the threshold of basic respect for human life is being crossed, and brutally at that, not only by instances of individual conduct but also by the effects of societal choices and structures,” the pope wrote.

In an over 3,000-word letter to the president of the Vatican’s life academy, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, Francis encouraged the group to be a place “for courageous dialogue in the service of the common good.”

As never before, he said, business strategies and the pace of technological development is influencing “biomedical research, educational priorities, investment decisions and the quality of interpersonal relationships.”

A love for creation, deepened and illuminated by faith, has “the possibility of directing economic development and scientific progress towards the covenant between man and woman, towards caring for our common humanity and towards the dignity of the human person,” he said.

Sent for the 25th anniversary of the academy’s institution, the letter urged active participation in the intercultural, interdisciplinary, and interreligious discussion of human rights. “At stake is the understanding and exercise of a justice that demonstrates the essential role of responsibility in the discussion of human rights,” duties, and solidarity with those in need, he said.

The pope’s letter also commented on the need for the Church to study “emergent” and “convergent” technologies, such as formation and communication technologies, biotechnologies, nanotechnologies and robotics.

Due to advancements in physics, genetics, neuroscience and computing, it is now possible to make “profound interventions on living organisms,” he said, which creates a “pressing need” to understand “these epochal changes and new frontiers” in order to put them at the service of the human person while “respecting and promoting the intrinsic dignity of all.”

Pope Francis noted that Pope St. John Paul II’s institution of the academy on Feb. 11, 1994, was, as he wrote at the time, to promote research, education, and communications which show “that science and technology, at the service of the human person and his fundamental rights, contribute to the overall good of man and to the fulfilment of the divine plan of salvation.”

The Pontifical Academy for Life’s new statutes, adopted in October 2016, were intended to give a “renewed impetus” to this task and to engagement with contemporary issues surrounding technological and scientific advancement, he explained.

“It is time,” he wrote, “for a new vision aimed at promoting a humanism of fraternity and solidarity between individuals and peoples,” knowing that they are not completely closed off “to the seeds of faith and the works of this universal fraternity sown by the Gospel of the kingdom of God.”

Fraternity must continue to be emphasized, the letter continues. “It is one thing to resign oneself to seeing life as a battle against constant foes, but something entirely different to see our human family as a sign of the abundant life of God the Father and the promise of a common destiny redeemed by the infinite love that even now sustains it in being.”

Pope Francis also praised the 25-year history of the academy, which he said has shown a “constant effort to protect and promote human life and every stage of its development,” condemning abortion and euthanasia as “extremely grave evils.”

“These efforts must certainly continue, with an eye to emerging issues and challenges that can serve as an opportunity for us to grow in the faith, to understand it more deeply and to communicate it more effectively to the people of our time,” he said.

 

Should Catholic health plans cover transgender surgeries? Settlement raises questions

Seattle, Wash., Jan 15, 2019 / 12:03 am (CNA).- A Catholic healthcare network has settled an ACLU lawsuit over transgender surgeries, saying that it has covered these procedures in its employee medical plan since January 2017.

Plaintiffs in the suit said they want Catholic employers to cover minors’ transition surgeries as well, though one leading Catholic ethicist says Catholic institutions can’t ethically provide these health plan options for anyone, adults or minors.

“People who suffer from gender dysphoria exhibit great anguish. We can acknowledge this and should accompany them on a personal level and try to offer effective interventions,” John F. Brehany, director of institutional relations at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA.

“However, just because someone requests some intervention doesn't mean it should be provided. Sometimes people who are depressed request assistance in suicide, but no one, including Catholics, should provide such assistance.”

Brehany said such coverage falls short on Catholic ethical grounds and the medical evidence for the benefits of these surgeries is lacking.

“There is no clear and compelling evidence that gender transitioning interventions ‘cure’ or resolve the anguish of people suffering extreme distress from gender dysphoria. In fact, there is some evidence that those who complete sex reassignment surgery are more likely to commit suicide than those who do not.”

In October 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington filed a federal lawsuit against PeaceHealth on behalf of an employee claiming it was “discriminatory and illegal” for the medical plan not to cover a mastectomy and chest reconstruction for a 16-year-old child who identifies as transgender.

The ACLU affiliate said the minor, Paxton Enstad, was born female and has “a male gender identity.” A doctor had prescribed the mastectomy and chest reconstruction but the health plan declined to cover it, citing a lack of coverage for “transgender services.”

PeaceHealth and the plaintiffs “reached a mutually agreeable settlement of the litigation,” the ACLU affiliate said Jan. 2.

“We applaud PeaceHealth’s decision to include coverage for transition-related care in their employee medical plan, and hope it will set a good example for other employers to follow suit,” said Lisa Nowlin, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Washington.

The lawsuit charged that not including these services in the medical plan coverage constituted discrimination under the Affordable Care Act and Washington state anti-discrimination law, the Bellingham Herald reports.

“PeaceHealth was telling me my son was undeserving of medical care simply because he’s transgender. It’s heartbreaking. It is not fair,” Cheryl Enstad, the mother of the young patient, said at a press conference after the lawsuit was filed.

From 1996 to 2017, Cheryl was a medical social worker at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham, Wash., a coastal city near the Canadian border.

PeaceHealth is based in Vancouver, with over 15,000 employees and 10 medical centers in Oregon, Washington and Alaska. It traces its history to the institution founded in 1890 by the Sisters of St. Joseph. On its website it describes itself as “the legacy of the founding Sisters” that “continues with a spirit of respect, stewardship, collaboration and social justice in fulfilling its mission.”

Its system’s Dec. 21, 2018 announcement described its history of employee health care coverage for transgender care.

“In 2016, prior to the filing of the Enstad lawsuit, PeaceHealth began the process of updating its employee medical plan,” the healthcare network said. “Effective January 1, 2017, PeaceHealth’s employee medical plan was changed to cover medically necessary transgender surgery as determined under Aetna’s Gender Reassignment Surgery policy, a nationally-recognized guideline.”

Brehany said Catholic institutions should not cover such services because “they are often provided based on the mistaken belief that one can and may change his or her outward bodily appearance in a significant manner to match an inner belief about ‘true gender identity’.”

Catholic ethics includes principles like “respect for the body as created” and “the inadmissibility of mutilating or destroying one’s body or parts,” he said.

Brehany’s organization, the National Catholic Bioethics Center, does not provide medical or legal advice, but “ethical discernment” about bioethical issues based on Church teaching and the Catholic moral tradition.

For Cheryl Enstad, the result was “bittersweet” because the policy change did not go far enough.

“Our number one priority in bringing this case was to ensure access to gender-affirming care for transgender people, and we are pleased PeaceHealth changed its policy,” she said. But we hope that PeaceHealth eventually removes the age-related limitation on coverage.”

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit still objected to the amended policy because Aetna’s gender reassignment coverage does not include mastectomies and chest reconstruction surgery as a treatment for gender dysphoria

Because Paxton is no longer a minor, the lawsuit cannot challenge the amended plan.

The PeaceHealth statement stressed its commitment to “an inclusive healthcare environment for all” and said it “does not discriminate based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or any other basis prohibited by applicable federal, state, or local law.”

In its over 100 years of service, it said, “we have been dedicated to embracing and celebrating the diversity of our communities, our caregivers and the individuals we are privileged to serve.”

Paxton’s problems reportedly began around puberty, with poor functioning and withdrawal from activities. Attempts to treat depression had little effect, the northwestern U.S. news site Crosscut said.

Paxton claimed to have self-diagnosed gender dysphoria through self-research.

Paxton’s doctor suggested the surgery, which took place in 2016. The family took out a second mortgage and used college fund money, but also paid $11,000 out of pocket for the operation.

Brehany said there is a need for caution in accepting minors’ claims about their identity.

“Minors in particular should be protected from their own immaturity and from advocacy organizations who claim to have their best interests at heart,” he told CNA. “The vast majority of minors resolve doubts about their gender identity by age 18. Interventions, such as puberty blockers, provided early in life make it harder to accept that biological sexual identity and can cause major health and developmental issues, including sterility.”

The ACLU cited standards of care from the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, saying these standards are recognized as authoritative by the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

These standards mean “it may be medically necessary for some transgender people to undergo treatment to affirm their gender identity and transition from living as one gender to another.” This treatment may include hormone therapy, surgery and other medical services that “align individuals’ bodies with their gender identities.”

According to Brehany, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health is “comprised significantly of people committed to using the full resources of medicine to support people in their mistaken beliefs.”

“Most secular standard medical societies have gone along because their leadership complies with the demands of activists,” he said. “Their position statements or guidelines often do not represent the beliefs of most of their members.”

The ACLU of Washington is in legal action against another Catholic non-profit hospital network, Providence Health and Services, and its affiliate Swedish Health Services. Providence is the largest healthcare provider in the state.

That lawsuit, filed in December 2017, concerns a 30-year-old law student’s claims that his chest reconstruction surgery was abruptly canceled.

Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, a senior attorney with the LGBT legal group Lambda Legal, said that employer plans appear to be changing to include transgender services, many individual hospitals and doctors, especially Catholic ones, decline such services on the grounds of religious exemptions.

“It is a growing problem that we are seeing nationally because of the consolidation of hospitals,” he told Crosscut, noting that most hospitals in Washington state are Catholic-affiliated.

For several decades the national ACLU has been charging that Catholic hospitals wrongly refuse certain medical procedures, like sterilization and abortion, that the legal group says are necessary to ensure reproductive rights.

There is also a growing effort, based out of social change funders and strategists like the New York-based Arcus Foundation and the Massachusetts-based Proteus Fund, to limit religious freedom they consider to be discriminatory and in violation of what they consider to be LGBT or reproductive rights.

 

Guatemalan bishops express support for UN anti-corruption commission

Guatemala City, Guatemala, Jan 14, 2019 / 07:01 pm (ACI Prensa).- The bishops of Guatemala expressed Thursday their grave concern at confrontations among governmental branches over a UN anti-corruption investigatory body.

The Guatemalan government informed the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala Jan. 7 that its member were to leave the country within 24 hours. The commission had begun investigating president Jimmy Morales over election fraud and funding irregulaties in his 2015 campaign. Its remit is not due to end until September.

The Constitutional Court granted a temporary injunction Jan. 9 to block the government's decision.

However, the Supreme Court of Justice then held a preliminary hearing to strip immunity from prosecution for judicial malfeasance from three of the five judges on the Constitutional Court, which has created tensions among the branches of government.

The Guatemalan bishops' conference said Jan. 10 that “We deeply lament the open confrontation between the current government and other legitimately constituted state agencies which puts at risk the already fragile rule of law in the country. Therefore we reaffirm the need to defend the primacy of the rule of law and respect for the laws, beginning with the Constitution."

They also said that they viewed “with satisfaction and relief the actions consistent with the law taken by the Constitutional Court” and rejected the “polarization that, taken to its extremes, degenerates into violence with grave consequences for social peace.”

“Thus energies are wasted that should be directed toward the solution of the country's serious underlying problems such as deficiencies in healthcare, education, social inequality, unemployment, migration, the victims of natural disasters, disrespect for human rights  and so many others that are detrimental to the quality of life,” the bishops said.

In their communiqué the bishops also expressed their desire that the June 16 general elections “unfold under the conditions of the rule of law.”

“We ask all Guatemalans to be adequately informed. God willing, we will all do our best to ensure that the next electoral process be an opportunity to find solutions for the common good, for corruption or illegal financing,” they added.

Finally the Guatemalan bishops exhorted the entire Christian people to “to pray and commit themselves to building a different Guatemala.”

In addition to the statement of the Guatemalan bishops' conference, Bishop Alvaro Leonel Ramazzini Imeri of Huehuetenango stated his worry Jan. 9 at president Morales' decision, “contrary to the constitutional norms and principles and to the norms of international law,” to expel the anti-corruption commission.

The CICIG has been operating since 2006. It has no prosecutorial power, but rather assists in investigations, which are handed over to Guatemalan prosecutors. It has helped to make cases against high-profile politicians and business leaders.

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.