By Betty Clermont | 23 June 2017
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) held their semi-annual meeting June 14-15 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Child Sex Abuse
They began with a Mass “held in response to a call from Pope Francis for all episcopal conferences across the world to have a Day of Prayer and Penance for victims of sexual abuse within the Church.”
In an excellent work of investigative journalism, Nicole Sotelo researched the location of 33 Chicago Archdiocese former priests accused of child sex abuse who are still alive. She was able to locate the whereabouts of 29. “At least 16 – approximately half – of the abusive former priests currently reside or have recently resided within close proximity of a school or child services facility, ranging from less than 500 feet to under 1,500 feet…. Two are currently in state or federal mental health facilities. [O]nly one former priest is part of a sex offender registry.” None are being monitored by the archdiocese.
“Church officials covered up crimes for so long that in many cases the statute of limitations for criminal charges expired. [I]t is a sobering reminder that if Church officials had not shielded these men from the law or fought to keep the statute of limitations, some of these men would be registered sex offenders and, thus, identifiable to concerned parents and teachers,” Sotelo noted.
Shortly before their meeting, the bishops released their 2016 Annual Report on clerical sex abuse in the U.S. For the years 2014, 2015 and 2016 combined, 1333 victims made “new credible allegations” against 799 clerics. Even a conservative extrapolation from Sotelo’s findings would be horrific.
In their report, the bishops do not give us the names of the credibly alleged predators, nor which ones are free men and where are they located, nor which ones – if any – they reported to the police. They do not act because Pope Francis protects sexual predators and so, will never hold them accountable for following his lead.
During the Mass, Archbishop Wilton Gregory said the U.S. bishops “can never say that we are sorry enough for the share that we have had in this tragedy of broken fidelity and trust – the clergy sex abuse crisis.” But he failed to commit to the above measures nor did he pledge that the bishops would stop obstructing statute of limitations reform for all American victims of sex abuse.
As Marci Hamilton, a distinguished scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote on June 15, New York’s Child Victims Act amending the statute of limitations “would have been law long ago but for the bishops’ lobbying against it … Indeed, they invest millions and concoct arguments to scare lawmakers away from doing what is right for the unjustifiably exiled victims … The diocesan bankruptcy filings to date have generally been a way of reorganizing to protect assets, to keep victim compensation low, and to cut off future claims for past victims.”
“The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’ will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance,” Martin R. Castro, chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, stated.
The bishops voted overwhelmingly in favor of making their Committee for Religious Liberty permanent.
While maintaining the prohibition against endorsing candidates by name, it was clear who the bishops were rooting for during the 2016 presidential election campaign. The USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty’s “New video on #TheLittleSistersofthePoor & what Catholic Church teaches on religious freedom!” showed a clip of Hillary Clinton while a voice-over intoned that “the government is stopping us from practicing our faith.” Naming the Little Sisters of the Poor refers to their Supreme Court case against the contraception coverage provided by Obamacare and is “the focus of the video.”
Pope Francis met with the Little Sisters of the Poor while in the U.S. in support of their lawsuit. The year before, the pope granted a private audience to Hobby Lobby’s Green family, asking them “how their Supreme Court fight against President Obama’s contraception mandate was progressing.”
At a White House ceremony on May 4, Trump decried the “attacks against the Little Sisters of the Poor” before signing his executive order on “religious freedom.” He invited the sisters present to stand beside him and shook the hands of two of them. Trump congratulated them and told the sisters that they “sort of just won a lawsuit.” He added, “I want you to know, your long ordeal will soon be over.”
A statement by the Vatican said that during their May 24 “cordial meeting,” Pope Francis and Trump spoke of their “joint commitment in favor of life, religious liberty and freedom of conscience.” The statement expressed the hope for a “serene cooperation between the State and the Catholic Church in the United States [which is] engaged in service to people in the fields of health care, education and assistance to immigrants,” meaning continued tax-payer funding for Catholic schools and other agencies.
During the USCCB meeting, Archbishop William Lori, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee, “expressed the rationale for making the committee a permanent fixture.” Referring to Trump’s order to federal officials to draft a rule to eliminate the Obamacare mandate that birth control be included under all employer insurance plans, Lori warned, “The end may be in sight, but victory is not assured. We have to stay the course to ensure that this heavy burden to our ministries is lifted … even if the new regulations are enacted, they may be only a temporary reprieve.”
(The Catholic bishops were silent when Romneycare included coverage for abortion.)
“And other threats to religious freedom persist,” Lori said, “like the legalization of same-sex marriage, which could pose problems for religious institutions that uphold the Church’s teaching on marriage.” Not only could Catholic agencies lose their funding for discriminating against LGBTQ persons in hiring, adoptions and other official dealings under a Democratic administration, Lori frightened his audience by reminding them “that there could be an issue with the tax-exempt status of religious universities teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman.”
Freedom of Conscience
“Bishop Frank Dewane focused on the underlying principles by which the bishops approach health care. No law should ‘compel us or others to pay for the destruction of human life,’ he said, explaining respect for life, the first of the four ‘key principles.’ The other principles he enumerated were true access for all, true affordability, comprehensive and high-quality coverage, and no repeal of the Affordable Care Act without an adequate replacement. He also mentioned the importance of conscience protections,” discussed by Trump and Pope Francis during their meeting.
In announcing their new “Fortnight of Freedom” Campaign on June 21, the USCCB declared “Without religious freedom, the freedom of conscience, all other freedoms are without foundation.” They also released a new video again focused on the Little Sisters of the Poor and Obamacare’s contraception coverage.
During the press conference aboard Pope Francis’ flight back to Rome from the U.S., “Terry Moran, ABC News, asked: Holy Father, you visited the Little Sisters of the Poor and we were told that you wanted to show your support for them and their case in the courts. And, Holy Father, do you also support those individuals, including government officials, who say they cannot in good conscience, their own personal conscience, abide by some laws or discharge their duties as government officials, for example in issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples?” The pope responded that government officials have the human right to conscientious objection.
In a December 2016 interview, Pope Francis repeated that government officials have the human right to conscientious objection.
Since then, “conscientious objection” or “freedom of conscience,” have joined the lexicon of phrases like “ideological colonization” and “gender theory” that Pope Francis has popularized for the Religious Right around the world (e.g. also here, here and here) to justify denying gay and transgender persons’ human rights.
Having already been invited to attend Pope Francis’ 2014 anti-LGBTQ conference, Alan Sears will receive The Order of St. Gregory the Great on June 29. “Papal knighthood has long been a way for popes to acknowledge significant contributions by the lay faithful to the life of the Church.” Sears, founder of “the terrifying and homophobic group” Alliance Defending Freedom, stated “Pope Francis repeatedly has spoken strongly about religious liberty, marriage and family, and the sanctity of life, so it is a distinct honor to be recognized by him for our work in those areas.”
Betty Clermont is author of The Neo-Catholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America (Clarity Press, 2009).
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