FaithWorld

Catholic daily buries the news in sexual abuse headline

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Headlines are supposed to highlight the news, but sometimes the news is uncomfortable. Like the sexual abuse cases for the Roman Catholic Church. Avvenire, the daily newspaper of the Italian Catholic bishops’ conference, played down the big news in its front-page headline on Saturday about an  interview with the head of the Vatican office dealing with charges of sexual abuse against priests.

In the middle of the front page (at left), it ran the headline “Il ‘pm’ vaticano: in tutto il mondo trecento i preti accusati di pedofilia.” — Vatican public prosecutor: 300 priests accused of pedophilia in the whole world.”  That actually doesn’t sound like that many, given all the cases we’ve heard about all these years.

It’s only in the interview on page 5 that the real picture emerges. There the reader finds a much larger figure of  3,000 accusations of sexual misdeeds of all kinds made against priests since 2001, concerning cases dating back up to 50 years ago. That sounds more like it, although it still must be lower than the real number of cases because so many don’t get reported.

Msgr. Charles Scicluna, the “promoter of justice” for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, broke down this large figure into three categories — cases of pedophile and same-sex ephebophile acts and cases of heterosexual acts. Some 60% of the cases were ephebophile (with adolescents), 30% were heterosexual (with adolescent and adult females) and 10% were pedophile (with prepubescent children).

So which figure got highlighted on the main page? The smallest, of course. This is all the more interesting because the the news shorthand for these cases tends to use words like pedophile or children. By ignoring the majority of cases that concern adolescents, the Avvenire headline makes it all seem less of a problem than it is.

Irish bookmaker slashes odds on pope’s resignation

Pope Benedict XVI waves as he arrives to lead his weekly audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican March 10, 2010.  REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico

Pope Benedictat his weekly audience in the Vatican March 10, 2010/Alessia Pierdomenico

Irish bookmaker Paddy Power said Friday it had cut the odds on Pope Benedict resigning after allegations of child abuse by priests in Germany gripped the Roman Catholic Church.

Ireland’s biggest bookmaker, which has branches in Britain as well as Catholic Ireland, said it had cut the odds from 12 to 1 to 3 to 1 following a “cascade of bets.”

In Catholic debate on celibacy, “ask about” is different from “question”

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Cardinal Christoph Schönborn addresses a news conference in Vienna November 7, 2008S/Heinz-Peter Bader

Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schönborn set off a storm in a teacup this week when he said the Roman Catholic Church had to ask tough questions about the reasons for the clergy sex abuse cases coming to light now in Europe. “The issue of celibacy belongs to that (questioning) as well as the issue of personality development (of priests). And a large portion of honesty belongs to this too, in the Church but also in society,” he wrote in a newsletter for Vienna archdiocese employees called thema kirche.

In the blogosphere, this somehow got turned into  headlines like  “Schönborn questions celibacy” and speculation that he was somehow challenging this centuries-old tradition. Those comments must have been based on dodgy Google translations from the German, because it’s clear in the original that he never questioned the celibacy rule itself. He said the Church should “ask about the reasons for sexual abuse” (nach den Ursachen sexuellen Missbrauchs fragen) and “celibacy belongs to that” set of issues to ask about. He did not say “put celibacy into question” (in Frage stellen) or “challenge celibacy” (hinterfragen).

A Mafia-like “omertà” on sexual abuse in the Catholic hierarchy?

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Protest against the clergy child sex abuse scandal in Boston outside Cardinal Bernard Law's Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, on Mother's Day, May 12, 2002/Jim Bourg

The Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano has published an interesting article saying the Catholic Church might have avoided some of the clerical sex abuse scandals it now has if more women were in decision-making positions. The Italian historian Lucetta Scaraffia says that women “would have been able to rip the veil of masculine secrecy that in the past often covered with silence the denunciation of these misdeeds.” The word she used for “secrecy” is omertà, the  Italian term for “code of silence” well known to anyone who’s seen the Godfather movies or read about how the Mafia works.

Scaraffia writes that Pope John Paul said women should be given posts of equal importance as men and that Pope Benedict has written to bishops promoting collaboration between men and women in the Church. She then writes, in a rather academic style:

Focus turns to pope as German, Dutch sex abuse scandals unfold

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Pope Benedict XVI in the Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, 2 Feb 2010/Max Rossi

The more the scandal of Catholic priests sexually abusing boys in Germany spreads, the more the focus turns to Rome to see how Pope Benedict reacts. The story is getting ever closer to the German-born pope, even though he has been quite outspoken denouncing these scandals and had just met all Irish bishops to discuss the scandals shaking their country. Nobody’s saying he had any role in the abuse cases now coming to light in Germany. But the fact that some took place in Regensburg while he was a prominent theologian there, that his brother Georg has admitted to smacking lazy members of his choir there and that Benedict was archbishop in Munich from 1977 to 1982 lead to the classic cover-up question: what did he know and when did he know it?

This is only the start of what can be a long, drawn out and possibly damaging story for Benedict’s PR-deficient papacy. His crises to date have been linked to his statements or decisions, such as the controversial Regensburg speech that offended Muslims or several run-ins with Jews over restoring old prayers they consider anti-Semitic or rehabilitating an ultra-traditionalist priest who is also a Holocaust denier. But now it’s about what he did or didn’t do in the past and how he moves to avoid further scandals in the future.

Germany says Catholic Church covered up sexual abuse

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Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger at the chancellery in Berlin March 3, 2010/Thomas Peter

Germany’s justice minister has accused the Vatican today of covering up severe sexual abuse in the Church after fresh reports surfaced at three Catholic schools in Bavaria.

Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger called the developments “frightening” after the cathedral choir in Regensburg, the Benedictine monastery school at Ettal and a Capucian school in Burghausen revealed new cases of sexual and physical abuse.

Irish abuse crisis aftershocks hit German, Dutch Catholic churches

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Bavarian flag at St. Peter's Basilica after Pope Benedict's election, 23 April 2005/Tom Heneghan

It’s like falling dominoes. The scandal of Roman Catholic priests sexually abusing children in Ireland, which came to light last year when two government inquiries cracked the wall of clerical silence there, seems to have inspired victims in other European countries to come forward with their repressed stories. It started in Germany last month with revelations about abuse cases in several elite Jesuit boarding schools. That sparked further reports from other parts of Germany, where reports of hundreds of cases are now coming out. In the neighbouring Netherlands, reports of abuse have also begun surfacing in recent days. On top of all that, an unrelated scandal about a gay prostitution ring has now hit the Vatican.

Since Pope Benedict summoned all Irish bishops to Rome and promised the Irish people a pastoral letter about the abuse cases, what will he do with all these cases now coming out in his homeland? Especially since, as explained below, he seems to have been quite close to some of them.

Denying communion is not just for Catholic politicians

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Carnival revelers in Düsseldorf, 15 Feb 2010/Ina Fassbender

When a Catholic priest’s refusal to distribute communion to someone at Mass hits the headlines, it’s usually a U.S. Catholic politician supporting abortion rights who’s at the non-receiving end. Things are a bit different in the Netherlands, where the headlines these days are about a small town’s “carnival prince” turned away at the altar. That refusal led to gay protests at at some Sunday Masses, including the nearby cathedral, and decisions to refuse communion to everyone present.  The protesters have vowed to continue for the next seven Sundays.

The reason for the dispute is that “carnival prince” Gijs Vermeulen, the man chosen to lead the Mardi Gras  parade and other carnival festivities in Reusel near the Belgian border, lives with a gay partner. Tradition calls for the prince to lead townspeople to Mass on the Saturday before Mardi Gras, but the local pastor told him he could not receive communion there because of his gay relationship. That Mass went ahead, but news of it got out to gay activists around the country and several converged on Reusel the following Sunday. Faced with this protest, the pastor refused to distribute communion to anyone, not even life-long parishioners. He said this was decided with the support of the his bishop, Antoon Hurkmans.

When the gay activists announced they would then protest at Hurkmans’s St. John’s Cathedral in nearby Den Bosch, the bishop agreed to meet the editor of the Dutch gay magazine Gay Krant and the gay rights group COC Nederland, which claims to be the oldest LGBT organisation in the world. A Church communique said it was “an open and respectful discussion that touched a raw nerve” and announced there would be no communion at the Mass the gay activists wanted to attend.

New WCC head aims at global issues, skirting some hot buttons

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WCC General Secretary Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, 22 Feb 2010/WCC-Peter Williams

Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, the new general secretary of the World Council of Churches, aims to give the organisation a higher profile as a focus for action by Christian bodies on global issues like humanitarian relief in crises, climate change and the Middle East impasse. But at his first news conference this week since taking over on January 1, the Norwegian Lutheran cleric also made it clear that the constraints imposed by a widely diverse organisation that makes its decisions by consensus limit his options.  It’s unlikely we’ll hear him taking a public stand on two of the main issues making religion headlines these days, the sexual abuse charges against the Roman Catholic Church and the disputes over homosexuality straining relations in several Protestant churches.

Tveit left no doubt that the 349-member WCC, which groups many of the world’s Christian churches but not the Roman Catholics, will not join in widespread criticism of the Roman Catholic Church for its continuing problem with clerical sexual abuse of children. These have surfaced most recently in Ireland and Germany.

“That is a burden all of us have to bear. It is a burden that is carried by the Roman Catholic Church, and they have to deal with it. It is not our role to make it worse,” the 48-year-old Tveit told journalists on Monday at the Geneva Ecumenical Centre, where he has his office and which serves as the effective headquarters of the WCC.

Sex abuse claims against famed rabbi grip Israel

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Ultra-orthodox Jewish men praying in the Old City of Jerusalem, 11 March 2008/Yiorgos Karahalis

Israeli police said on Friday they were looking into allegations of sexual abuse against one of the country’s most famous and politically influential rabbis, in a case that has triggered dramatic headlines this week.

Mordechai Elon – known as “Rabbi Motti” by viewers of his popular TV show and by many young men in the West Bank settler movement — has vehemently denied the accusations by a group of fellow rabbis who say their aim is to combat sexual harassment by authority figures.