FaithWorld

Vatican turns to Internet to stem sexual abuse scandals

(A computer mouse pad with an image of Pope John Paul II in Brazil, October 2, 1997/Gregg Newton)

The Roman Catholic Church, often accused of dragging its feet on sexual abuse scandals, will turn to the Internet with a new e-learning center to help safeguard children and the victims of molestation. The Vatican presented the move at a news conference on Saturday flagging an international conference on sexual abuse of children by clergy to be held next February at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University with church backing.

“The e-learning center will work with medical institutions and universities to develop a constant response to the problems of sexual abuse,” Monsignor Klaus Peter Franzl of the archdiocese of Munich. It will be posted in German, English, French, Spanish and Italian and help bishops and other church workers put into place Vatican guidelines to protect children.

“We want people to know that we are serious about this and that we think the Church has to be at the center of a solution,” said Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi. “This is not a flash in the pan initiative but something we are committed to in the long-term.”

The e-learning center will offer guidance to those who have to respond to abuse cases as well as information for victims.

U.S. Catholic bishops approve slight shifts in clerical sexual abuse policy

(Clergy abuse victims advocates protest near the courthouse before a hearing on the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sexual abuse scandal in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, March 14, 2011/Tim Shaffer)

U.S. Roman Catholic bishops on Thursday approved slight revisions to their policy governing child sex abuse, saying the church would not tolerate offending priests. But critics said children were still vulnerable. After minimal debate, the bishops passed revisions to its decade-old Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which for the first time listed child pornography as equivalent to sexual abuse and cited the need to protect mentally disabled people from abuse.

The bishops voted 187 in favor of the revised charter, with five opposed and four bishops abstaining. A two-thirds vote was needed for approval.

Liberal U.S. Catholics say their Church is not listening

(St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, 4 March 2005/Tom Heneghan)

Members of a liberal group of U.S. Catholics called on Sunday on Church leaders to open talks with their members on controversies ranging from the ordination of women to allowing priests to marry. Members of the American Catholic Council, meeting in Detroit, said they had grown concerned that the Church hierarchy was not listening to its members on issues such as the role of women, married clergy and the treatment of homosexuals.

The meeting comes as the Roman Catholic Church in the United States is struggling with a sexual abuse crisis, loss of membership and a dwindling number of priests.

“When in God’s name are the conversations going to begin?” asked Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun who addressed the meeting of about 2,000 people — part of a liberal wing that represents a minority in the 1.2 billion-member Church. She likened the structure, with bishops and archbishops answering to the pope in Rome, to “a medieval system that has now been abandoned by humanity everywhere, except by us.”

Pity the pandering U.S. candidate

Politicians pandering for votes on conservative family values issues may want to think again.

A survey of 3,000 Americans by the Public Religion Research Institute found 42 percent said the terms “pro-choice” and “pro-life” both described them well, illustrating the complexity of the abortion issue in the minds of many.

“The terms ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-life’ does not reflect the complexity of Americans’ views on abortion,” said Robert Jones, head of the institute.

Pope urges help for traditional families crumbling in secularised Europe

(Pope Benedict XVI arrives to lead a solemn mass in Zagreb June 5, 2011. The Pope is on a two-day visit to Croatia/Alessandro Bianchi)

Pope Benedict warned on Sunday that the traditional family in Europe was disintegrating under the weight of secularization and called for laws to help couples cope with the costs of having and educating children. On the second day of his trip to Croatia, a bastion of Roman Catholicism in the Balkans, the pope said an open-air mass for hundreds of thousands of people and hammered home one of the major themes of his papacy.

“Unfortunately, we are forced to acknowledge the spread of a secularization which leads to the exclusion of God from life and the increasing disintegration of the family, especially in Europe,” he said in his sermon on the edge of the capital.

Pope tells Croatians EU too bureaucratic, sometimes ignores local cultures

(Pope Benedict XVI arrives in his "popemobile" in front of Zagreb's main cathedral June 4, 2011/Nikola Solic)

Pope Benedict criticized the European Union’s bureaucracy on Saturday as overly centralised and rationalistic, saying it sometimes neglected historical differences and national cultures. He made the comments as he started a lightning trip to Croatia, which is bidding to become an EU member and is expected to join the bloc in 2013.

“Croatia’s entry into Europe is logical, right and necessary,” the pope told reporters aboard the plane from Rome.  But he also said he could understand how some people in a small country like Croatia, whose entire population of some 4.4 million people is little more than that of some major European cities, would be wary of joining a big bloc. Some 50 percent of Croatians support EU entry, while some 30 percent oppose it and 20 percent are still undecided, according to recent opinion polls.

Desecrations of Divine Shepherdess images stir polarized Venezuela

(President Hugo Chavez attends a Catholic mass in Caracas February 27, 2009/Miraflores Palace)

A wave of vandalism against sacred images has shocked Venezuelans and sparked finger-pointing between the two sides of the bitter political divide characterizing President Hugo Chavez’s rule. Most of the vandalism has been directed against statues and images of the “Divine Shepherdess” — a local patron saint whose annual festival is one of Latin America’s biggest.

Most shockingly, what seems to be a bullet-hole has pierced the cheek of one statue of the Shepherdess in the western state of Lara, while her attending sheep have been smashed. Among dozens of such desecrations in the last few weeks, the statue of a saintly doctor, Jose Gregorio Hernandez, was decapitated in Yaracuy state, while another sculpture of the “Coromoto Virgin” had her hands chopped off.

Belgians molested by Catholic priests to file suit against Vatican

(Belgian lawyers Walter Van Steenbrugge (L) and Christine Mussche (2nd L) arrive at a news conference in Ghent June 1, 2011/Eric Vidal)

Belgians molested by Catholic priests will go ahead with their legal proceedings against the Vatican for damages despite an offer by local bishops to compensate them, their lawyers said on Wednesday. Pope Benedict enjoys diplomatic immunity but other Vatican officials and Belgian bishops will be summoned to testify in the case, lawyer Walter van Steenbrugge said.

Christine Mussche, another lawyer for about 70 victims, said the Vatican failed to intervene even when it learned about the scandals in the Belgian Church. Over 500 cases of alleged abuse have been registered in the past year. “There were instructions from the pope that said those things had to be kept secret and silent,” she said, adding the Church could be guilty of harmful neglect under Belgian law.

Guestview: How Catholic should a Catholic charity be?

(Homeless Egyptian children enjoy a meal in Kafr El Sisi Center for Children at Risk in the Giza neighbourhood of Cairo March 12, 2007. The street children are fed, taught vocational skills, given health care and counselled at the center run by Caritas/Goran Tomasevic)

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Abigail Frymann is Online Editor of the British Catholic weekly The Tablet, where this first appeared.

By Abigail Frymann

How Catholic should a Catholic charity be? The confederation of Catholic charities Caritas Internationalis  elected a new secretary general, Michel Roy, last week after the re-appointment of the previous incumbent, Lesley-Anne Knight, was blocked, apparently because the Vatican wanted a stronger Catholic identity.

Referendum in Catholic Malta backs introduction of divorce

(Valletta skyline, 27 October 2005/Brian Gotts)

Staunchly Catholic Malta approved the introduction of divorce, backing the move by a small majority in a referendum. “The referendum outcome is not the one I wished for, but the will of the majority will be respected and parliament will enact legislation for the introduction of divorce,” Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi said in a video statement on Sunday. The vote was seen as a test of the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in a country where 72 percent of people say they go to Mass on Sundays and nearly all marriages are held at the altar. The Mediterranean island of 400,000 people is the only country in Europe not to allow divorce. Early results from Saturday’s referendum showed a majority backing divorce of between 52 percent and 54 percent. The Divorce Movement declared victory and the anti-divorce movement conceded. Opposition leader Joseph Muscat had said changing the law was a vote for modernity and a chance for those with broken marriages to start afresh. Gonzi had said divorce offered “no solutions” and called for better preparation before weddings so that the “value of an indissoluble marriage is bequeathed to the young.” Divorce legislation was proposed in July last year by Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, a member of Gonzi’s own parliamentary group. It provides for people to become eligible for divorce after four years of separation.

– by Christopher Scicluna in Valletta

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