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Deceased Massachusetts bishop accused of sexual abuse had roots in New York archdiocese

CNA Staff, Aug 11, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Archbishop-designate Mitchell Rozanski, who will take over the Archdiocese of St. Louis this month, oversaw an investigation into the late Bishop Christopher J. Weldon of Springfield, Mass, a bishop credibly accused of sexually abusing an altar boy in the 1960s. Rozanski has faced criticism for some aspects of his handling of the case, which the bishop said had been mishandled for years.

In 2018 an alleged victim, known under the pseudonym John Doe, told the Springfield diocesan review board that Bishop Christopher J. Weldon, who retired in 1977 and died in 1982, had abused him when he was an altar boy in the 1960s. Two priests also abused him, he said.

However, Bishop Weldon was not listed on the Springfield diocese’s list of clergy credibly accused of abuse. Although at least three witnesses and a letter to Doe from the review board supported Doe’s claim that he told the review board about Weldon, the review board only acknowledged Doe’s claim that the two priests had abused him. When the matter became controversial in 2019, then-Bishop Mitchell Rozanski commissioned an independent investigation.

On June 24, the diocese released a 373-page report finding that Doe’s claim he was molested by Bishop Weldon was “unequivocally credible.” It found an investigator employed by the diocese had produced two reports on Doe’s accusations, only one of which was clear in naming Weldon. The investigator is no longer employed by the diocese.

Rozanski apologized for the “chronic mishandling of the case, time and time again, since 2014.”

The Springfield diocese now lists Weldon on its list of credibly accused diocesan priests and deacons. While the list says the clergy “had one or more credible allegations of sexual abuse of a child made against them while they were living,” Weldon was not accused while he was alive.

The New York archdiocese does not include Weldon on its list of credibly accused priests, though he left the archdiocese in 1950. CNA has been unable to confirm whether the Archdiocese of New York or St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where he previously served as a priest, have been formally notified about the case.

CNA sought comment from the Diocese of Springfield, the Archdiocese of New York, and New York City’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, but did not receive a response by deadline.

There are no consistent church norms regarding notification of a credible allegation of abuse when a priest or bishop is from another diocese.

Article 7 of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People says that dioceses are to be “open and transparent in communicating with the public about sexual abuse of minors by clergy within the confines of respect for the privacy and the reputation of the individuals involved.”

“This is especially so with regard to informing parish and other church communities directly affected by sexual abuse of a minor,” said the charter.

Weldon was ordained Bishop of Springfield in 1950, after coming to prominence in the Archdiocese of New York. He was ordained a priest for the archdiocese in 1929 and was a U.S. Navy chaplain during World War II. He then served as master of ceremonies under the deeply influential Cardinal Francis Spellman, who appointed him executive director of Catholic Charities of New York in 1947, his New York Times obituary reports.

He served as a trustee of the University of Massachusetts and was president of Elms College, a Catholic women’s liberal arts college in Chicopee, from 1958 to 1977.

Weldon’s alleged collaborators in abusing Doe were the priests Edward Authier, who died in 1970, and Clarence Forand, who died in May 2005 at the age of 87. Both served at St. Anne’s Parish in Chicopee.

In 1993 a diocesan review board ruled credible a 1992 allegation that Forand sexually abused a minor for nearly 10 years. Forand denied the accusation, which did not become public until 2004.

Authier’s name was not made public until the controversy over Doe’s accusation. The Springfield diocese’s website of priests credibly accused of abuse now lists the names of Weldon and Forand, but not Authier.

Weldon is not the first Springfield bishop to be accused of sexually abusing a minor.

In February 2004, Bishop Thomas Dupre resigned and left the state to check into a medical facility soon after being confronted by allegations he had sexually abused two teen boys in the 1970s.

In September 2004, he became the first Catholic bishop in the U.S. to be indicted on criminal charges for sexual abuse. While prosecutors argued the then-statutes of limitations did not apply to the case because Dupre allegedly took steps to conceal the abuse as recently as 2003, then-District Attorney William Bennett said the case would not go to trial due to the statute of limitations on some charges and because the grand jury decided not to indict on other charges, The Republican newspaper reported.

Dupre also came under criticism for his response to convicted sex abuser and laicized priest Richard L. Lavigne, a suspect in the unsolved 1972 murder of a Springfield altar boy named Daniel Croteau. The Vatican laicized the priest in 2004.

Dupre served the Springfield diocese as vicar general, chancellor and auxiliary bishop. When he was named an auxiliary bishop in 1990 and when he was named Bishop of Springfield in 1995, he allegedly called his victims to ensure they would not report abuse.

Some commentators believe both Weldon and Dupre controlled what information was kept in the diocesan archives, the Springfield newspaper The Republican reports.

Sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic Church peaked in the period from 1970 to 1974, according to the U.S. bishops’ reports on child protection. Thousands of victims have come forward and Catholic dioceses and religious orders have paid billions of dollars in lawsuits and other settlements.

Doe claimed that Weldon abused boys in collaboration with priests. A similar allegation has arisen in a recent lawsuit against ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, which characterized him as a leader of a “sex ring” with abusive priests while he was Bishop of Metuchen, N.J.

While McCarrick was removed from the College of Cardinals and laicized after a credible allegation against him was made public in 2018, the allegation concerning a “sex ring” has not yet been substantiated. It comes from controversial lawyer Jeff Anderson, whom critics consider to be a self-promoter who has sensationalized and embellished claims in order to attract media attention to litigation.

Like Weldon, McCarrick was among the hundreds of priests serving in the Archdiocese of New York. McCarrick was ordained an auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese in 1977.

Archbishop Gänswein: Benedict XVI’s 'illness is subsiding'

Rome Newsroom, Aug 11, 2020 / 03:30 am (CNA).- Benedict XVI’s personal secretary Archbishop Georg Gänswein has said that the pope emeritus’ illness is “subsiding.”

In an interview with the German newspaper Südkurier, Archbishop Gänswein is reported to have said that Benedict XVI’s “illness is subsiding” and that his medication has been reduced.

Benedict XVI has been suffering from facial shingles, a bacterial infection of the skin which causes a painful, red rash. "The pain started after the death of his brother,” Gänswein told Südkurier.

"Whilst very unpleasant and painful, the illness was not life-threatening,” the archbishop said in the article published Aug. 9.

“This is pain that I do not wish for my worst enemy,” Gänswein said.

The pope’s personal secretary gave the interview with German media while visiting his hometown of Riedern am Wald in the Black Forest.

After papal biographer Peter Seewald reported last week that the former pope has been “very frail” since his return from visiting his dying brother in Bavaria in June, the Vatican clarified on Aug. 3 that Benedict XVI’s health problems were “not serious.”

The Holy See press office said  "the health conditions of the pope emeritus are not of particular concern, except for those of a 93 year old who is going through the most acute phase of a painful, but not serious, disease."

Benedict XVI resigned from the papacy in 2013, citing advanced age and declining strength that made it difficult to carry out his ministry. He was the first pope to resign in nearly 600 years.

Seewald made the comments about Benedict XVI’s health after seeing him at his Vatican home in the Mater Ecclesia monastery on Aug. 1 where he presented a copy of his latest biography of the retired pope.  

The journalist said despite his illness, Benedict was optimistic and stated he might take up writing again if his strength returns. Seewald also said the former pope’s voice is now “barely audible.”

German media also reported Aug. 3 that Benedict has chosen to be buried in the former tomb of St. John Paul II in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica. The body of the Polish pope was moved into the upper part of the basilica when he was canonized in 2014.

Like John Paul II, Benedict XVI has written a spiritual testament which can be published after his death.

Daily Reading for Thursday, August 13th, 2020 HD

Reading 1, Ezekiel 12:1-12 1 The word of Yahweh was addressed to me as follows, 2 'Son of man, you are living among a tribe of rebels who have eyes and never see, they have ears and never hear, because they are a tribe of rebels. 3 So, son of man, pack an exile's bundle and set off for exile by daylight while they watch. You will leave your home and go somewhere else while they watch. Then perhaps they will see that they are a tribe of rebels. 4 You will pack your baggage like an exile's ...

Prayer for the Safety of a Soldier: Prayer of the Day for Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Almighty and eternal God, those who take refuge in you will be glad and forever will shout for joy. Protect these soldiers as they discharge their duties. Protect them with the shield of your strength and keep them safe from all evil and harm. May the power of your love enable them to return home in safety, that with all who love them, they may ever praise you for your loving care. We ask this through Christ our Lord.

St. Clare of Assisi: Saint of the Day for Tuesday, August 11, 2020

St. Clare of Assisi was born in Assisi on July 16, 1194, as Chiara Offreduccio, the beautiful eldest daughter of Favorino Sciffi, Count of Sasso-Rosso and his wife Ortolana. Tradition says her father was a wealthy representative of an ancient Roman family and her mother was a very devout woman belonging to the noble family of Fiumi. As a young girl, Clare dedicated herself to prayer. At 18-years-old, she heard St. Francis of Assisi preach during a Lenten service in the church of San Giorgio ...

Prayer for the Safety of a Soldier: Prayer of the Day for Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Almighty and eternal God, those who take refuge in you will be glad and forever will shout for joy. Protect these soldiers as they discharge their duties. Protect them with the shield of your strength and keep them safe from all evil and harm. May the power of your love enable them to return home in safety, that with all who love them, they may ever praise you for your loving care. We ask this through Christ our Lord.

St. Clare of Assisi: Saint of the Day for Tuesday, August 11, 2020

St. Clare of Assisi was born in Assisi on July 16, 1194, as Chiara Offreduccio, the beautiful eldest daughter of Favorino Sciffi, Count of Sasso-Rosso and his wife Ortolana. Tradition says her father was a wealthy representative of an ancient Roman family and her mother was a very devout woman belonging to the noble family of Fiumi. As a young girl, Clare dedicated herself to prayer. At 18-years-old, she heard St. Francis of Assisi preach during a Lenten service in the church of San Giorgio ...

Daily Readings for Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Reading 1: Ezekiel 2:8-10, Reading 1: Ezekiel 3:1-4, Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 119:14, Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 119:103, Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 119:24, Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 119:111, Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 119:72, Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 119:131, Gospel: Matthew 18:10, Gospel: Matthew 18:12-14, Gospel: Matthew 18:1-5

Federal court rules Arkansas abortion restrictions can take effect

CNA Staff, Aug 10, 2020 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- A federal court of appeals has removed an injunction blocking four Arkansas abortion regulations from going into effect.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled Friday to reinstate the 2017 Arkansas laws. They can take effect August 28, although they may still face legal challenge.

The laws include a ban on abortions based solely on the sex of the baby, and two regulations on the preservation and disposal of tissue from aborted babies, as well as legislation prohibiting a second-trimester abortion method known as “dilation and evacuation,” by which an unborn baby is dismembered.

A district judge had blocked the rules following a legal challenge from the ACLU and the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of a local abortion doctor.

The appeals court said the district judge should re-examine the case in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this summer in June Medical Services v. Russo.

While that decision struck down a law regulating abortion clinics in Louisiana, the appeals court said Chief Justice John Robert’s concurrence in the case may be relevant to the Arkansas legislation in question. Roberts said states have “wide discretion to pass legislation in areas where there is medical and scientific uncertainty.”

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge applauded the ruling.

“Arkansas has taken a strong stance to protect the unborn from inhumane treatment,” she said in an August 7 statement.

“As Arkansas’s chief legal officer, I have always advocated for the lives of unborn children and will continue to defend our State’s legal right to protect the unborn. No defenseless baby should ever face the unimaginable and horrifying fate of death by dismemberment.”

Argentine bishop says Vatican ordered seminary closed

Denver Newsroom, Aug 10, 2020 / 04:34 pm (CNA).- An Argentine bishop said Friday the seminary in his diocese was ordered closed last month by a decision of the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy, after a controversy surrounding the reception of the Eucharist during the coronavirus pandemic.

Bishop Eduardo Maria Taussig of San Rafael said Aug. 7 that the Santa Maria Madre de Dios Seminary in Mendoza, Argentina was ordered to close in December, at the conclusion of the academic year, by the Congregation for Clergy, and not the Diocese of San Rafael.

"The decision took me by surprise, but it is a directive that comes directly from the Holy See,” Taussig said.

The bishop said the decision to close the seminary was deeply upsetting, and he has since been discussing with the Vatican where the former students of the school will be sent to in order to continue their studies.

Each seminary transfer will be made on an individualized basis, Taussig said to local media on Friday.

“We are going to discern for each [seminarian] and decide the most appropriate school and timeline for their transfer. Some will go to Mendoza, to San Juan. We will see these changes in the coming weeks.”

As many offices in Rome are closed during the month of August, those talks will continue in early September, said Taussig.

Taussig said that the Vatican’s decision to close the seminary was made in early July, in a move that took him by surprise.

The bishop said that the Congregation for the Clergy informed him that due to the trouble the seminary had maintaining a rector--having had seven in the past 15 years--it did not seem worth it to keep the seminary open.

Taussig said that he spoke for an hour with Cardinal Stella, and on July 8 he received a letter from the Congregation for the Clergy which stated “the need to close the diocesan Seminary at the end of the academic semester.”

“As a bishop, I know that when Rome has spoken, the discussion is over.”

“We bishops make a promise of fidelity and obedience to the Holy Father,” said Taussig, adding that the Vatican has many perspectives to consider when making decisions, and that these decisions were made in light of similar situations around the world.

The diocese announced the closure July 25, and the bishop noted at that time “difficulties that the diocese is going through were taken into consideration, in the context of the measures related to COVID-19 prevention,  and the reluctance or lack of obedience to the provisions that had been established.”

A large number of the priests in San Rafael have not complied with COVID-19 directives regarding the distribution of communion in the hand, among them many former students of the Santa Maria Madre de Dios seminary, which has been seen by some to be behind the priest’s “reluctance” to require communion in the hand, the bishop said.

This refusal to comply had caused “serious scandal inside and outside the seminary and diocese,” said Taussig. 

Taussig said that reception of the Eucharist in the hand or on the tongue are both equally accepted by the Church.

 

A version of this story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.