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'Overwhelmed with graces': Walking across America for life

Washington D.C., Aug 17, 2019 / 08:00 am (CNA).- A three-month journey from California to Washington, DC, came to an end August 13, as 23 walkers of this summer’s Crossroads Pro-Life Walks made it to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. 

Crossroads Pro-Life Walks began in 1995, and have expanded from the United States to Spain, Canada, Australia, and Ireland. This summer, there were two walks crossing the United States--the “Southern” walk, which started in Santa Monica, and the “Central” walk, which began in San Francisco. Both walks ended in DC.

Victoria Bliss, a 19-year-old from Virginia, was one of the participants on this year’s Central walk. Bliss said the experience, while full of challenges, was one that strengthened her faith and inspired her to continue doing pro-life work.

“I’ve always been passionately pro-life, and attended the Marches and 40 Days for Life, but I really wanted to do something bigger and commit my whole summer to the pro-life mission, truly going out into the streets and spreading the gospel of life.” 

She told CNA that participating in Crossroads this summer was a fulfilment of a lifelong dream. As a child, past Crossroads walkers spoke regularly at her church following their arrival in DC. 

According to Crossroads Pro-Life Walks VP Martha Nolan, about 1,500 walkers worldwide have completed their journeys, averaging 40 to 60 miles per day, while visiting churches, pregnancy centers, and convents along the way.

Nolan told CNA that they drive “a little bit” when they fall behind. Previously, walkers would carry on by day and night, but after a tragic accidental death in 2012, the day’s walk now stops at sunset. 

Bliss told CNA that, in addition to the spiritual battles one sometimes faces on a pilgrimage, her group experienced logistical and physical struggles as well. One walker fell very ill and had to leave after three weeks, and their RV broke down numerous times.

Despite this, Bliss said “the Holy Spirit brought good out of every situation, and there was never a time when our team even thought about giving up. We were overwhelmed with graces, every second of every day.”

“There were a few threatening times when we got screamed at or chased,” she told CNA. “A couple of times cars swerved into the shoulder and we had to leap out of the way, but our guardian angels were clearly with us.”

There were also many joys that came along the 12-week journey. For Bliss, the biggest was encountering people each day along the route, many of whom broke down in tears when they saw their pro-life teeshirts. 

“We saw Jesus in so many people,” she said. “I came to realize how beautiful people are, no matter how broken, and how much they need us to radiate God’s joy and peace to them.” 

The route was dotted with what Bliss described as “Divine Providence instances,” such as abortion clinics being unexpectedly closed following the group’s prayer vigil. 

“One time, we had been praying all four mysteries of the Rosary, and the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and as we did the final Sign of the Cross, the lights in the clinic turned off,” she recounted.

Each day on Crossroads, the walkers attended Mass, offered “constant rosaries” when they as they went, and prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet every day at 3 p.m. 

Bliss said that the experience helped her to fall in love with Christ “more than ever before,” and that she witnessed the power of the rosary. 

Now that her walk has ended, Bliss said that she hopes to continue mission work, including becoming a trained sidewalk counselor outside of abortion clinics. But most of all, she hopes to continue the momentum she started this summer.

“Standing up for the unborn is the thing I have always been the most passionate about and I want to do everything I can to raise awareness of the evil of abortion, and change hearts by portraying the truth with love.”

New Jersey judge temporarily blocks assisted suicide law

Metuchen, N.J., Aug 16, 2019 / 02:31 pm (CNA).- A judge in New Jersey has temporarily halted a law allowing physician assisted suicide, which had gone into effect August 1.

The law is being challenged by a physician who says that it is a violation of religious freedom protections in the U.S. Constitution and laws against suicide.

Dr. Yosef Glassman is an Orthodox Jew who says that he is opposed to facilitating suicide both due to his religious beliefs and his profession as a doctor. He also objects to the law’s stipulation that a doctor who objects to assisted suicide must refer patients to another doctor who will help them end their life.

The law’s demands on doctors, Glassman said in his lawsuit, present “not only a violation of the rights to practice medicine without breaching the fiduciary duties owing to those patients ... but also violations of their First Amendment rights under the United States Constitution to freely practice their religions in which human life is sacred and must not be taken,” the AP reported.

The Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act, which passed the New Jersey legislature with bipartisan support, allows those deemed by a doctor to have less than six months to live to request lethal medication to end their lives. The patient then must administer the medication themselves.

The temporary injunction, signed by Judge Paul Innes of Superior Court in Mercer County, means that the state attorney general may not enforce the law while it is being challenged in court.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who signed the bill in April, said he will fight the lawsuit, the AP reported.

A self-described “lifelong, practicing Catholic,” Murphy said when he signed the bill into law that he was aware that the Church opposed assisted suicide, but after careful consideration and prayer, he believed assisted suicide was a personal decision and legalizing it would respect residents’ freedom and humanity.

Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen condemned assisted suicide as “a grievous affront to the dignity of human life” that “can never be morally justified” in a letter to his diocese on July 30.

“Passage of this law points to the utter failure of government, and indeed all society, to care truly, authentically and humanely for the suffering and vulnerable in our midst, especially those living with an incurable disease as well as the frail elderly, the infirm and those living with disabilities,” he said.

He stressed that despite the new legality of the practice, it remains gravely immoral, and said the Church would continue advocating for the sanctity of all human life and working to educate lawmakers and the general public about the dangers of assisted suicide.

“With this law there will be a further desensitization of the value of human life,” said the bishop, adding that the elderly, sick and disabled could feel pressure to choose suicide so as to avoid burdening others.

He also clarified that Saint Peter’s University Hospital, sponsored by the Diocese of Metuchen, will not condone or participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide.

Instead of assisted suicide, Checchio called for a renewed commitment caring for those living in pain and suffering while dying and who might otherwise consider suicide.

“Let us strive to help the sick and incapacitated find meaning in their lives, even and especially in the midst of their suffering,” he said. “Let us, as a society and as individuals choose to walk with them, in their suffering, not contribute to eliminating the gift of life.”

Assisted suicide is legal in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia, as well as in Montana under a 2009 state Supreme Court ruling.

Planned Parenthood to pull out of Title X program

Washington D.C., Aug 16, 2019 / 10:15 am (CNA).- Planned Parenthood, the country’s largest provider of abortion services, has announced that it will withdraw from the federal Title X family planning program, ending its access to millions of dollars in government funding.

The decision is set to take effect Aug. 19, the date by which funding recipients are required to make a “good faith” undertaking to comply with a new rule barring the referral of clients for abortion services.

After it was announced in final form in February, the Protect Life Rule was subject to court challenges from abortion providers and several states. In June, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the rule could come into force. In July, judges refused to issue a stay against that decision.

Planned Parenthood informed the court on Wednesday that, unless the reversed its refusal to grant a stay, it would leave the Title X program on Monday.

Planned Parenthood’s acting president Alexis McGill Johnson said the group refused “to let the Trump administration bully us into withholding abortion information from our patients.”

Calling the Protect Life Rule a “gag on health care providers,” Johnson said in a statement that the rule is “a blatant assault on our health and rights, and we will not stand for it.”

In addition to barring Title X fund recipients from referring women for abortions it also prevents participating groups from co-locating with abortion clinics and requires financial separation of government-funded programs from those that carry out abortions.

Planned Parenthood had previously intended to remain in the Title X program but refuse funding, an arrangement that HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary Diane Foley called “inconsistent” in a letter to the organization.

In guidance issued by HHS on Friday, the department responded directly to Planned Parenthood’s objections to the rule, noting that the organization operated less than 10% of participating sites nationwide.

“To the extent that Planned Parenthood claims that it must make burdensome changes to comply with the Final Rule, it is actually choosing to place a higher priority on the ability to refer for abortion instead of continuing to receive federal funds to provide a broad range of acceptable and effective family planning methods and services to clients in need of these services.”

Title X is a federal program created in 1965 that subsidizes family-planning and preventative health services, including contraception, for low-income families. It has been frequently updated and subject to new regulations.

The administration previously said in June that it would delay enforcement of the rule, provided that fund recipients submitted a compliance plan and made a “good faith” undertaking to comply with most of the rule’s requirements as soon as possible. Facilities are required to end co-location with abortion sites by March 2020.

Last month, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life organization Susan B. Anthony List, welcomed the 9th Circuit’s decision to deny a stay, calling the Protect Life Rule “greatly encouraging.”

“Without reducing Title X funding by a dime, the Protect Life Rule simply draws a bright line between abortion and family planning, stopping abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood from treating Title X as their private slush fund.” 

Before announcing its withdrawal from the Title X program, Planned Parenthood and its affiliates had received some $60 million annually, about one-fifth of total Title X funds, making up approximately 15% of its annual federal funding.

After Epstein death, theologians discuss suicide, salvation, and the obligations of the state

Denver, Colo., Aug 15, 2019 / 05:03 pm (CNA).- On August 10, investment banker and multi-millionaire Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his jail cell, in what officials have called an apparent suicide.

Epstein, already a convicted sex offender, was awaiting trial for sex trafficking charges, including one count of sex trafficking of a minor and one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking. He had pled not guilty to both.

Following his death, theories about how Epstein died abound.

The well-connected Epstein, who counted princes and presidents and other elites among his associates, might have exposed the crimes of powerful friends at trial, and the risk of that exposure, some speculate, could have prompted an assassination.

Epstein had been taken off of suicide watch just 12 days prior to his death. According to a report in the New York Times, two guards who were supposed to check on Epstein every 30 minutes fell asleep for three hours and fudged the records of their rounds in an attempt to cover their mistake. They have since been removed from their posts at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, where Epstein was being held.

An autopsy of Epstein has so far raised more questions than answers.

Whether or not Epstein committed suicide remains to be confirmed. But federal data shows that suicide rates in the U.S. are at the highest they’ve been since World War II, and even higher than they were during the Great Depression, according to a report from TIME magazine.

The Catholic Church teaches that suicide is a violation of the 5th commandment “Thou Shall Not Kill,” and a mortal sin.

CNA spoke with three moral theologians about suicide, on the hope for salvation that the Church holds for those who take their lives, and the obligations of the state to protect prisoners from themselves.

Grave matter and mortal sin

David Cloutier is a moral theologian and associate professor of theology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Cloutier told CNA that when considering suicide, it is important to remember that it is taught by the Church to be a grave sin.

“(That) means all things considered, this is a serious matter, and to make a choice against life is to choose against God, who gives everyone the gift of life, and to also choose against your obligations to others,” Cloutier told CNA.

In a section on suicide, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that God is the master of life, and that human beings “are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of. Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life.”

The Catechism adds that suicide “unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.”

While suicide is grave matter, the Catechism also notes that in order for a person to commit a mortal sin, three conditions must be a met: that the sin is grave matter, and that the person commits the sin with “full knowledge and deliberate consent.”

There could be mitigating factors, such as mental illness or some other kind of great distress, that might relieve a person of at least some culpability in committing suicide, Cloutier said.


The hope for salvation

Even given the gravity of suicide, Christians should always hope in the love and mercy of God in cases of suicide, Scott Hefelfinger, a moral theologian and assistant professor of theology at the Augustine Institute in Denver, told CNA.

“If we lose all hope with respect to this person's salvation, we could in fact be sort of repeating the same emotional disposition of despair that afflicted the person who did commit suicide. So we're counseled to hope rather than despair,” he said.

“We put our trust in God's mercy.”

Furthermore, Cloutier said, the Catechism itself is “pretty straightforward” in saying that those who commit suicide are not necessarily denied eternal salvatinon, because the state of their mind and soul at the time of committing the act is a factor.

If the person was in “some kind of emotional stress, or depression, or other various ways in which a person’s emotions get in the way of fully knowing what they’re doing,” their responsibility is at least somewhat mitigated, he said.

Fr. Edward Krasevac, OP, is a professor of theology, and the theology department chair at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, California.

Krasevac said that because the will to live is such a basic human instinct, it seems possible that many cases of suicide are committed by people who are influenced by serious clinical depression or other mental illnesses or psychological factors that would impair their judgment and mitigate to at least some degree the consent of their will.

“People who are clinically depressed don’t think straight, they can’t think straight,” Krasevac said.

He added there could be other mitigating factors in a person’s life, such as fear of the pain of death, or the fear of what is going to happen to them if they stay alive, such as a person “facing the rest of their life in not a good prison situation, losing everything they ever had, not being able to deal with life in prison...these are what we call modifiers of responsibility.”

“So in many cases of suicide, a person's responsibility is seriously diminished,” he said. “[In such a case] it's not subjectively mortal sin even though it may look like it from the outside and it is objectively a mortal sin.”

Another reason to hope is that a person could have repented of their actions in the moments before their death, Hefelfinger noted.

“In the case of someone who, let's say is culpable of the act of suicide, and they begin this process. Well, usually there's some suffering involved, and usually death doesn't come about instantaneously,” he said.

“And so, God's mercy doesn't need a very wide crack to get through. I think there are always these opportunities prior to death, in the split second before death, where we certainly do not want to rule out the possibility of God's mercy,” he said. 

“And again, we say this without in any way diminishing the gravity of the act. It's the gravity of the act that makes us lean on God's mercy so much, so we turn our attention to that and pray for that so greatly.”

The state and the suicidal person

The Catholic Church teaches that states have a duty to uphold the common good of society, and although the Catechism does not specifically express what a state should do in the case of a suicidal person, Cloutier said the state has several interests in preventing the suicide of people in prison.

“The reason the state wants to avoid suicide is because it wants to allow the prisoner a fair, public trial, which is in the public interest,” he said.

“It’s in the interest of the prisoner, because then he might be found innocent, and it’s in the interest of the public, because if the prisoner is found guilty through this, then the prisoner is subjected to appropriate punishment,” he added.

“So the state...has an interest in the person going through the justice system.”

In upholding the common good, the state also has an interest in keeping prisoners alive, Cloutier said. “This is why we have suicide watch. It is also the case that in our society, we generally believe that anyone who is suicidal should be prevented from taking their own life,” he said.

Suicide is the leading cause of death in prison. According to recent data from the U.S. Department of Justice, 372 suicides occurred in 3,000 federal prisons in 2014. This number is 2.5 times higher than suicide rates in state prisons and 3.5 times higher than in general society.

In the case of someone like Epstein, who was at one point known to be suicidal, the state assumes the responsibility for that person’s mental health while they are in prison, and therefore cut off from other communities of support, Hefelfinger added.

“(Prisoners) typically don't have access to those more closely knit communities,” he said. “And so there is a moral responsibility, it would seem, for the state and for those running these facilities to attend to the mental health of those folks who are in these institutions.”

The investigation of Epstein’s death is ongoing.

If you are feeling suicidal, contact the National suicide preention lifeline at: 1-800-273-8255 or text CONNECT to 741741 to be connected to a crisis counselor in the United States.

Labor Department rule aims to widen religious freedom protection for employers

Washington D.C., Aug 15, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The Department of Labor announced Wednesday that it is considering a new rule that would allow federal contractors who identify as religious to hire employees based on faith and religious practice.

The new policy would expand a Johnson-era executive order protecting the rights of religious employers with federal government contracts to hire from within their religious group. 

The new proposal was announced Aug. 14. The Department of Labor said the new policy “clarifies the scope and applications of the religious exemption contained in section 204(c) of Executive Order 11246.”  

Executive Order 11246 forbids federal contractors from engaging in discriminatory hiring on the basis “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” An exemption for religious-based employers allowed them legally to hire only people of a certain faith if they so choose, but the executive order did not fully define as to what “religious-based” meant. 

The proposed new rule takes steps to better define the term, saying that the “religious exemption covers not just churches but employers that are organized for a religious purpose, hold themselves out to the public as carrying out a religious purpose, and engage in exercise of religion consistent with, and in furtherance of, a religious purpose.” 

The new definition also includes companies that claim to be religious “in response to inquiries from a member of the public or a government entity.” 

Additionally, the new rule states that “employers can condition employment on acceptance of or adherence to religious tenets without sanction by the federal government,” meaning that a federal contractor can make hiring decisions based upon how devoutly an employee practices a certain religious faith. 

All companies are still barred from discriminating on other grounds. 

The Department of Labor cited recent Supreme Court cases, including Masterpiece Cakeshop v Colorado Civil Rights Commission and Hobby Lobby v. Burwell as having underscored constitutional religious freedom protections.

Acting U.S. Secretary of Labor Patrick Pizzella said in a released statement that “As people of faith with deeply held religious beliefs are making decisions on whether to participate in federal contracting, they deserve [a] clear understanding of their obligations and protections under the law.” 

About a quarter of workers in the United States are employed by a company that is contracted with the federal government. 

LGBT-rights activist groups like the Human Rights Campaign, who called the change a “license to discriminate,” came out strongly against the policy shift.

Louise Melling, acting deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union told a press call that the rule was “just the most recent in an ever-lengthening list of actions by this administration to authorize discrimination in name of religion.”

The White House responded to the criticism in a statement Wednesday, saying “In no way does today’s announcement by the Department of Labor undermine the President’s promise and commitment to the LGBTQ community.” 

“The proposed rule will continue to responsibly protect religious freedom and members of the LGBTQ community from discrimination,” the statement said.

While some activist groups have criticized the new rule as a license for widespread discrimination, Luke Goodrich, senior counsel and vice president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told CNA that he believes the policy is a far from controversial. 

"When a religious group hires people of the same religion to carry out their mission, it's not 'discrimination,' it's common sense,” Goodrich told CNA. 

“And when the government refuses to work with religious groups that do the best job of caring for the needy, it's not 'equality,' it's nonsense,” he added. 

The new rule is open for comment in the Federal Register until September 16.

After Philadelphia police shootings, Chaput calls for 'sensible solutions' to violence

Philadelphia, Pa., Aug 15, 2019 / 03:25 pm (CNA).- After a standoff between police and a gunman in Philadelphia yesterday, in which six officers were shot, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia has praised the work of the responding officers and called for solutions to root causes of violence.

“The terror that filled yesterday serves as a stark reminder not only of the fragility of life but also of the clear and present danger that illegal drugs and illegally obtained firearms pose to our community,” Chaput said in a statement.

“In addition to our prayers, let’s work together toward sensible solutions that address the root causes of continued violence and seek to lift up those struggling with addictions.”

According to NBC News, police were attempting to serve an arrest warrant at a house in northern Philadelphia on Wednesday when the suspect, who had prior arrests for undisclosed infractions, opened fire.

Hours later, shortly after midnight on Thursday, the suspect surrendered and was taken into custody. All the officers that had been shot were released from the hospital late Wednesday night, including an officer and father who suffered a graze wound to the head, NBC reported.

“We should all be grateful for the daily self-sacrifice of our law enforcement community as well as the perseverance and professionalism of those who worked to bring yesterday’s standoff to an end without loss of life or further violence,” Chaput noted.

The standoff came less than two weeks after mass shootings left 31 people dead in an El Paso Walmart and Dayton, Ohio bar the weekend of August 3-4.

“In reflecting on violent acts in our country a short time ago, I remarked that we’d soon be on to the next crisis—and it unfolded right here in our city,” Chaput said, who added that he watched the news of the standoff unfold with “growing anxiety and sadness” on Wednesday afternoon. 

“In the aftermath, let’s pray that God will aid the swift recovery of the injured officers, that He will guide the hand of the medical professionals treating them, and that He will pour His comforting grace upon all those suffering burdens of fear and grief,” Chaput noted.

“Let us resolve each day to treat our brothers and sisters with dignity, charity, and respect. May we all embrace that which is good so that the light of Christ will prevail in a world where evil often rears its head.

Hundreds of lawsuits filed on first day of NY litigation window

Albany, N.Y., Aug 15, 2019 / 12:30 pm (CNA).- Over 400 lawsuits were filed in New York state on the first day of a one-year window in the statute of limitations, allowing abuse survivors to file suit against their abuser or the institution where the abuse occurred. 

The lawsuits include an allegation against a sitting bishop and a RICO suit against the Diocese of Buffalo and the Northeast Province of the Jesuits. Other suits were filed against laicized former archbishop Theodore McCarrick, and against retired Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany. Hubbard has denied the allegations.

The one-year window was created through the Child Victims Act, which altered New York’s statute of limitations for filing criminal claims and civil claims for survivors of child sexual abuse. Previously, a survivor had until they reached the age of 23 to file either claim. This has now been changed to 28 for criminal charges, and 55 for civil cases. 

The one-year window began six months after the passage of the law. The Catholic Church, Boy Scouts of America, and the state’s public schools all stated they were prepared for a potentially large number of abuse survivors to file lawsuits.  

It is unclear how many of the 427 suits concerned the Catholic Church or a member of the clergy, and some lawsuits contained multiple plaintiffs making a claim against the same person. 

Over 45 patients filed a lawsuit accusing an endocrinologist at Rockefeller University Hospital of sexual abuse. An additional suit was filed by a woman who says she was raped by recently-deceased convicted sex offender/financier Jeffrey Epstein and three of his associates. 

The most high-profile Catholic accused in a suit is Bishop Robert Guglielmone of Charleston, South Carolina. Guglielmone is accused of misconduct dating back 40 years ago, when he was a priest in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, which comprises most of Long Island.

The suit alleges that Guglielmone sexually abused a young man over a period of years while he was serving as pastor of St. Martin of Tours parish in Amityville.

Previously, the accusation had been determined by Church authorities to not be credible, according to a statement released to local media in Charleston, though the diocese stressed that civil law enforcement had been informed. 

A new, Vatican-ordered investigation is now underway, though it is unclear who is undertaking the investigation.

In a statement, Guglielmone denied all the accusations and said that he was looking forward to establishing his innocence.

“I offer my prayers daily for those whose lives have been hurt or devastated by the actions of a member of the clergy or by any other persons, especially all abused children and other vulnerable persons,” Guglielmone said.

“It is particularly tragic when the abuse is at the hands of a priest in whom their spiritual care and well-being has been entrusted.”

RICO suit against Buffalo diocese alleges conspiracy in sexual abuse casesĀ 

Buffalo, N.Y., Aug 15, 2019 / 11:55 am (CNA).- Twenty-two plaintiffs filed a lawsuit Aug. 14 against the Diocese of Buffalo, a province of the Society of Jesus, multiple priests, eight parishes, three high schools, a seminary, among others, alleging “a pattern of racketeering activity” that enabled and covered up clerical sexual abuse.

The lawsuit was filed on the first day of a legal “window” allowing for sexual abuse lawsuits to be filed in New York even after their civil statute of limitations had expired.

Among the plaintiffs, who are not named, are several alleged victims of clerical sexual abuse. The lawsuit alleges specific instances of sexual abuse by priests, and claims that the diocese failed in its duty of care towards children by allowing abusive priests to have contact with minors through parishes and schools.

The suit says that priests named in the lawsuit, “used their positions of authority and trust over Plaintiff(s) to sexually abuse and injure them.”

“All the Defendant(s) knew and/or reasonably should have known, and/or knowingly condoned, and/or covered up, the inappropriate and unlawful criminal conduct activities” of sexually abusing priests, the lawsuit says.

Calling the diocese and affiliated organizations an “association in fact” for the purposes of federal racketeering laws, the suit alleged “common purpose” in “harassing, threatening, extorting, and misleading victims of sexual abuse committed by priests” and of “misleading priests’ victims and the media” to prevent reporting or disclosure of sexual misconduct.

The suit claims that the various diocesan persons and agencies are legal “alter egos” for the diocese, completely under diocesan control, and were used to “transfer, assign, commingle and conceal assets” totally $90 million dollars, and that the diocese violated federal racketeering laws by using the internet and mail to “deceive the public about the illicit sexual conduct rampant within the Diocese of Buffalo.”

“Within the Diocese of Buffalo there was a common communication network by which co-conspirators shared information on a regular basis. The Diocese of Buffalo used the common communication network for the purpose of enabling the criminal sexual activities of the priests within the Diocese of Buffalo,” the lawsuit says.

Two of the plaintiffs claim to be whistleblowers against the diocese. Described as former employees or volunteers, the suit alleges that they became aware of “wrongful contact” by some priests in the diocese and were terminated by the diocese after reporting it to Church authorities.

On that front, the diocese is alleged to have engaged in “interstate commerce,” and did so “concerning the investigation, slander, blacklisting, of victims and/or employees (whistleblowers) who sought to thwart, hinder or stop the illicit activity carried out by the Diocese of Buffalo, and its employees and priests.”

Federal racketeering laws, called RICO statutes, have been used in lawsuits against dioceses previously. In 1993, a New Jersey lawyer won a seven-figure settlement in a RICO-based lawsuit against the Diocese of Camden under the RICO act. Other lawyers followed, and RICO provisions have become used, to varying degrees of success, in lawsuits filed against other dioceses.

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Buffalo told CNA Thursday that “The Diocese has received a document from the media which is filled with procedural deficiencies and irresponsible claims against parties, some unnamed, who have no connection to the Child Victims Act.  If the claim is pursued, the Diocese and all related entities will respond appropriately.”

CNA verified that the lawsuit was filed Aug. 14 with the Erie County Clerk of Courts.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the Northeast Province of the Jesuits said that it was “fully cooperating with all civil authorities and legal counsel on all matters regarding allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.”

“Any instance of abuse by a religious person is a profound violation of trust that causes pain and damage for the abused and their families, local communities and the Church at large. The Jesuits stand by all victims and encourage them to come forward to report any instance of abuse in their efforts to seek justice and healing.”

Legal experts have discussed in the last year, since the sexual abuse scandal stemming from allegations against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick began, whether federal RICO statutes could be used to bring criminal charges against diocesan leaders, or to allege a criminal network of conspiracy involving mutliple dioceses.

Federal prosecutors in Pennsylvania reportedly considered the possibility of bringing a RICO case against dioceses in that state after the publication of the Pennsylvania grand jury report last August, but no such charges have been filed.

Malone has come under fire in the last year, after his former secretary alleged in August 2018 that the bishop had omitted the names of some priests accused of abuse or misconduct from a list the diocese released last March.

The bishop has faced persistent calls for his resignation.

In April, Malone issued a statement defending himself against allegations of mismanagement and cover-ups.

The bishop said that he had not been part of any cover-up of clerical sexual abuse, and that he intended to be more transparent about clerical sexual abuse and its financial impact on his diocese.

Acknowledging that he had made mistakes, especially with his 2015 support of Fr. Art Smith, a priest who had faced repeated allegations of abuse and misconduct with minors, the bishop offered an apology.

“Lessons have been learned,” Malone said April 11.

“I personally need to repent and reform, and it is my hope that this diocese can rebuild itself and learn and even grow from the sins of the past. I ask you to pray for me, pray for the Church, and pray for all those who suffered and suffer as a result of abuse as we go forward together to address the worldwide problem of child sexual abuse.”

This story was updated after publication with comment from the Diocese of Buffalo.

South Carolina bishop named in New York abuse lawsuit

Charleston, S.C., Aug 15, 2019 / 07:38 am (CNA).- Bishop Robert Guglielmone of Charleston, SC, has been named in a sexual abuse lawsuit filed in New York. The accusations contained in the suit concern the bishop’s time as a pastor in the Diocese of Rockville Centre forty years ago.

The suit was filed after new legislation in New York came into force Wednesday, adjusting the statute of limitations for pursuing criminal charges and filing civil suits against sexual abusers or institutions.

According to a report carried by the Charleston Post and Courier, the suit alleges that Guglielmone sexually abused a young man over a period of years while he was serving as pastor of St. Martin of Tours parish in Amityville.

In a statement released by the diocese to local media, Guglielmone denied all the accusations and said that he was looking forward to establishing his innocence.

“I offer my prayers daily for those whose lives have been hurt or devastated by the actions of a member of the clergy or by any other persons, especially all abused children and other vulnerable persons,” Guglielmone said.

“It is particularly tragic when the abuse is at the hands of a priest in whom their spiritual care and well-being has been entrusted.”

According to the Charleston diocese, when first made, the accusation was initially determined not to be credible though civil law enforcement was notified of the claims. Following the re-presentation of the allegation, the Vatican was informed and had initiated a full investigation, with which Guglielmone is said to be “cooperating fully.”

It is not clear when the allegations were first made, and the diocese has not confirmed who is conducting the investigation.

The lawsuit alleges that Guglielmone sexually abused a boy for several years, beginning in 1978, when the boy was eight years old. The suit, filed by the now adult man, is seeking an unspecified amount of damages for “catastrophic and lifelong injuries.”

Guglielmone has served as Bishop of Charleston since his installation in March, 2009. Prior to that, he was assigned as rector of the cathedral in the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

 

Following recent clerical sexual abuse scandals throughout the Church in the United States, Guglielmone released a list of 42 clerics “credibly accused” of sexual abuse over a period of decades. The diocese also said the bishop had held several “town hall” style meetings to meet with members of the faithful to hear their concerns and work towards healing.

Both the vicars general of the Diocese of Charleston released a statement of support for the bishop, calling him “a trusted leader of our diocese for more than ten years.”

Msgr. Richard Harris and Msgr. Anthony Droze both said that they had “utmost faith in [Guglielmone’s] truthfulness and in his innocence.”

The suit was filed after the passage of the Child Victims Act by the New York state government in January of this year.

The legislation opened a one-year window allowing adults in the state who were sexually abused as children to file lawsuits against their abusers. The window opened six months after the passage of the law, coming into force on Wednesday, August 14.

Those who were sexually abused now have a one-year break in the state’s statute of limitations to pursue claims against their abusers and the institutions where the abuse took place.

Previously, a survivor of child sexual abuse had until the age of 23 to file charges or a civil claim. Now, with the passage of the law, survivors have up until the age of 28 to file criminal charges, and age 55 to file a lawsuit.

The Catholic dioceses of the state, Boy Scouts of America, and the state’s public schools have all said they are preparing for a potentially large number of abuse survivors to file lawsuits. 

San Diego bishop announces compensation fund, changes to social media policy

San Diego, Calif., Aug 14, 2019 / 07:19 pm (CNA).- Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego announced Aug. 13 an Independent Compensation Program for victims of sexual abuse, set to begin in September.

He also called on all diocesan employees— not just those who are mandated reporters under the law— to contact the appropriate authorities if they “come to a strongly founded belief that a minor is being victimized sexually."

“I would suggest that if you are not a mandated reporter, but come across evidence which points in your mind to the existence of the sexual abuse of a minor either within the life of the Church or in their family or social lives, and you are unsure how to proceed, you consult with one of the experienced mandated reporters at your school, parish or agency to come to clarity on what you should do,” the bishop said.

“I would ask those of you here today who are not mandated reporters to keep in mind that both the moral law and the civil law urge you to report known or suspected instances of the sexual abuse of a current minor to child welfare services.”

The bishop announced the program and the new policies in front of 2,500-plus employees of the parishes, schools, and organizations in the San Diego diocese. Currently, under a change in California law passed last December, the statute of limitations for sexual abuse is 10 years after the last act or attempted act of sexual assault.

Kevin Eckery, Vice Chancellor of the San Diego diocese, told CNA that the bishop’s call to diocesan employees to alert authorities encompassed all forms of abuse.

“It includes all forms of physical or sexual abuse that might be encountered by church workers at school, in the parish or in the community,” he told CNA.

Eckery also clarified that the bishop was encouraging those who suspect abuse to go directly to law enforcement, but also to alert the diocese.

"Mandated reporters under California law are supposed to go directly to law enforcement," he said.

"So it's not a matter of waiting for approval or running it up the chain...for the non-mandated reporters, he was giving them complete license to do the same, to go directly to law enforcement or whatever the proper civil authority is. But in all cases we are anticipating that people will alert us so that we can track these reports at the diocese to make sure everything is followed up on."

Money for the victim compensation fund will come from diocesan funds and insurance; no parish funds will be used, nor money raised through the diocese’ annual appeal, the diocese said.

“Victim/survivors of abuse by a priest of the San Diego diocese will be invited to apply for compensation regardless of when the abuse occurred. Undocumented immigrants may also apply. There will be no statute of limitations,” the diocese said in a release announcing the program.

In addition to announcing the compensation program, McElroy also promulgated two new diocesan policies related to social media.

“It will be forbidden for any employee or clergy in the diocese to communicate privately with a specific minor whom he/she has come to know through ministry without copying that minor’s parent or guardian. Moreover, it will be forbidden for any cleric or employee to have any direct interaction on any personal media account with any individual minor whom they have met through their work in the Church,” McElroy said.

Eckery said the new social media policy was not a response to any specific incident of inappropriate communication between a diocesan employee and a minor.

"It's more based on a feeling of what's right," he said. "It's really meant to avoid problems, rather than address problems that exist."

"We'll promulgate [the new rules] in written form as soon as we have everybody informed on the software changes, the updates, just so that we don't tell people not to do something before we give them a solution."

The bishop also announced the creation of a Task Force, headed by diocesan Chancellor Marioly Galván and Director of Schools John Galvan to “focus upon designing pathways for our local Church to bring to our parents and families a deeper understanding of the pervasiveness, patterns and damaging effects of the sexual abuse of minors.”