U.S. bishops delay action on clergy abuse at Vatican’s request

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo (R), president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, speaks with other attendees at the USCCB general assembly in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S., November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) – The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will delay action to deal with a crisis involving sexual abuse of minors by clergy until after a global meeting in February at the request of the Vatican, conference president Cardinal Daniel DiNardo said on Monday.

The Catholic Church worldwide is reeling from crises involving sexual abuse of minors, deeply damaging confidence in the Church in the United States, Chile, Australia, Ireland and elsewhere.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, speaks during a press conference at the USCCB general assembly in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S., November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, speaks during a press conference at the USCCB general assembly in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S., November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Cardinal DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said the Congregation for Bishops in Rome had sent a letter asking U.S. bishops to wait until after the Vatican-convened global meeting on sex abuse takes place in February.

“We have accepted with disappointment this particular event that took place this morning,” Cardinal DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said at a media conference on Monday, the opening day of the conference. “We have not lessened in any of our resolve for actions.”

In the United States, 13 state attorneys general have launched statewide investigations into sexual abuse by clergy.

In August, an 884-page report made public by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro stated that Roman Catholic priests in the state sexually abused nearly 1,000 children over a 70-year period and silenced victims through “the weaponization of faith” and a systematic cover-up campaign by their bishops.

The conference of bishops had expected to focus this week on measures to combat abuse, including establishing a new code of conduct, according to a September statement.

“We humbly welcome and are grateful for the assistance of the whole people of God in holding us accountable,” the statement said.

Terry McKiernan, co-director of victims’ advocacy group BishopAccountability.org, said the Pope’s intervention in this week’s conference was a frustrating setback.

“This situation is so terrible that the only way that it’s really going to be solved is if bishops convincingly demonstrate their remorse and concern,” McKiernan told Reuters in a phone interview.

DiNardo called the delay “a bump in the road” on Monday but said it does not reflect U.S. bishops’ lack of determination to deal with the issue.

“We were all set to move to reach an action stage here this week,” DiNardo said. “I don’t look upon any of this as a change in direction for the Catholic bishops of the United States.”

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Susan Thomas)

Vatican ‘suffragettes’ want vote, change, in a man’s Church

FILE PHOTO: A nun enters to take part at the synod afternoon session led by Pope Francis at the Vatican October 16, 2018. Picture taken October 16, 2018. REUTERS/Max Rossi

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Catholic women say there’s a clerical stained glass ceiling in the Vatican, and they want to shatter it.

They want to vote in major policy meetings. They want Pope Francis to deliver on his promise to put more women in senior positions in the Holy See’s administration. And some of them say they want to be priests.

“Knock knock! Who’s there? More than half the Church!” several dozen Catholic women chanted outside the Vatican on Oct. 3, the first day of this year’s synod of bishops from around the world.

The role of women in the Church has been a recurring theme at the month-long meeting, which brings together some 300 bishops, priests, nuns and lay participants. Only about 35 are women.

The subject has come up in speeches on the floor, in small group discussions and at news conferences by participants in the gathering, officially titled “Young People, Faith and Discernment of Vocation”.

Only “synod fathers”, including bishops and specially appointed or elected male representatives, are allowed to vote on the final recommendations to be sent to the pope, who will take them into consideration when he writes his own document. Other participants are non-voting observers, auditors or experts.

Some of the attendees have pointed to what they say is a contradiction in the rules of the synod, which takes place every few years on a different theme.

This year, two “brothers”, lay men who are not ordained, are being allowed to vote in their capacity as superiors general of their religious orders.

But Sister Sally Marie Hodgdon, an American nun who also is not ordained, cannot vote even though she is the superior general of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambery.

“I am a superior general. I am a sister. So in theory, logically you would think I would have the right to vote,” Hodgdon, who is also vice president of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG), an umbrella group of Catholic nuns, told reporters.

The membership of female religious orders is about three times larger than that of male orders.

FILE PHOTO: Sister Sally Hodgdon (2nd L) stands during a synod afternoon session led by Pope Francis at the Vatican October 16, 2018. Picture taken October 16, 2018. REUTERS/Max Rossi

FILE PHOTO: Sister Sally Hodgdon (2nd L) stands during a synod afternoon session led by Pope Francis at the Vatican October 16, 2018. Picture taken October 16, 2018. REUTERS/Max Rossi

GENDER IN THE CHURCH

A petition demanding that women have the right to vote at synods has collected 9,000 signatures since it opened online at the start of this meeting. It is sponsored by 10 Catholic lay groups seeking change in the Church, including greater rights for women and gays and a bigger role for the laity.

“If male religious superiors who are not ordained can vote, then women religious superiors who are also not ordained should vote. With no ontological/doctrinal barrier, the only barrier is the biological sex of the religious superior,” it reads.

The cause has won some influential clerical male backers.

At a news conference on Oct. 15, superiors general of three major male religious orders – the Jesuits, the Dominicans and one branch of the Franciscans – expressed support for changes in synod rules in order to allow women to vote in the future.

Backing also came from Cardinal Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich, president of the German Bishops Conference and one of the most influential Catholic leaders in Europe.

“We must face up to the often uncomfortable and impatient questions of young people about equal rights for women also in the Church,” Marx said in his speech to the synod.

“The impression that the Church, when it comes to power, is ultimately a male Church must be overcome in the universal Church and also here in the Vatican. It is high time.”

The Holy See, as the offices of the central administration of the 1.3 billion-member Church are known, and the State of Vatican City have a combined work force of about 4,100 people. About 700 are women.

Of the approximately 60 departments in the Holy See, about 10 must be headed by priests because they deal with governance and jurisdiction over other ordained ministers or other sensitive doctrinal matters, the Church says.

Francis has promised to put more women in senior roles in those other 50 departments. But more than five years after he was elected, there are only six women in such roles. Five are lay women and one is a nun. None of them heads a department.

Francis told Reuters in June he had to “fight” internal resistance to appoint 42-year-old Spanish journalist Paloma Garcia-Ovejero as deputy head of the Vatican’s press office.

He declined to name those who had resisted, but said he had to use “persuasion,” an apparent reference to the powerful conservative wing of what has been an institution run exclusively by males for 2,000 years.

The Vatican Museums, which are part of the State of Vatican City, are headed by Barbara Jatta, the first woman to hold the high-profile post which oversees nearly 1,000 employees.

The pope’s critics, including former Irish President Mary McAleese, say he is moving too slowly.

“How long can the hierarchy sustain the credibility of a God who wants things this way, who wants a Church where women are invisible and voiceless in Church leadership?” she said at a conference in Rome in March.

TIME FOR CHANGE

Sister Maria Luisa Berzosa Gonzalez, one of the participants at the current synod, thinks it is time for change – in the synod, and in the wider Church.

The Spanish nun, whose energy belies her 75 years, has dedicated her life to educating the poor and underprivileged in Spain, Argentina and Italy and is still going strong.

“With this structure in the synod, with few women, few young people, nothing will change. It should no longer be this way. Its participation should be broadened,” she told Reuters.

Berzosa, who took her vows in 1964, said she supports a female priesthood, a position not very common among nuns her age.

The Church teaches that women cannot become priests because Jesus chose only men as his apostles.

Proponents of a female priesthood, like 32-year-old Kate McElwee, who organised the protest on the synod’s opening day, say Jesus was merely acting according to the norms of his times.

“Some women feel called by God to be priests. They discern a vocation to the priesthood just as men do,” said McElwee, the Rome-based executive director of the Women’s Ordination Conference, a U.S. lobbying group.

McElwee has found kindred spirits in nuns like Berzosa.

The nun said she knows women won’t be priests in her lifetime because change comes slowly and piecemeal in the Church.

Still, between one easy laugh and another, her frustration slipped through.

“I lead spiritual exercises, I develop a deep rapport with people, I teach them how to pray, and then someone else comes along to say the Mass,” Berzosa said. “It’s not fair.”

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

Justice Department probes Catholic Church sex abuse in Pennsylvania

Storm clouds pass over a Roman Catholic church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Cohn

(Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department has opened an investigation into child sex abuse by priests in Pennsylvania, four Roman Catholic Church dioceses said on Thursday.

The dioceses of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Erie and Allentown told Reuters that they had received federal subpoenas following a state grand jury report that alleged over 300 Catholic priests in Pennsylvania had sexually abused children over 70 years. The Associated Press first reported on Thursday the Justice Department investigation.

The dioceses said they were cooperating with the investigation but declined further comment.

The Justice Department and U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia declined to comment.

An 884-page report made public in August by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro after a two-year investigation contained graphic examples of children being groomed and sexually abused by clergymen. Shapiro said at the time that it was largely based on documents from secret archives kept by the dioceses, including handwritten confessions by priests.

The report cited 301 priests, some of whom have died.

In September, U.S. Catholic bishops said they would set up a hotline for accusations of sexual abuse against clergy members and lay persons employed by the Church.

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Writing by Andrew Hay Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Pope compares having an abortion to ‘hiring a hit man’

Pope Francis speaks during the Wednesday general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican, October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis on Wednesday compared having an abortion to “hiring a “hit man” to eliminate a problematic person, in comments sure to be welcomed by conservative Catholics who have accused the pontiff of not speaking out enough on “cultural war” issues.

Abortion is a raging political battle in a number of countries, including the United States, where many conservatives hope the Supreme Court will eventually overturn the landmark 1973 ruling known as Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion.

Francis made his off-the-cuff comments on abortion, some of his toughest to date, in an address to tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly general audience.

The pope denounced what he called the contradiction of allowing “the suppression of human life in the mother’s womb in the name of safeguarding other rights”.

“But how can an act that suppresses an innocent and helpless life that is germinating be therapeutic, civilized or even simply human?” he said.

“I ask you: ‘Is it right to ‘take out’ a human life to solve a problem? What do you think? Is it right? Is it right or not?” he said in unprepared remarks.

Many in the crowd shouted “No”.

“Is it right to hire a hit man to solve a problem? You cannot, it is not right to kill a human being, regardless of how small it is, to solve a problem. It is like hiring a hit man to solve a problem,” he said.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that life begins at the moment of conception and ends at the moment of natural death. It also forbids euthanasia but says that a family or a patient can decide to stop using extraordinary means to keep people alive.

Shortly after becoming pope in March 2013, Francis appeared to downplay the importance of “cultural war” issues such as abortion, contraception and gay marriage, saying in an interview the Church had become “obsessed” with them.

“It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time,” he said in that interview, adding that the Church’s stand on them was very clear and that it also had to address social issues such as poverty, injustice and immigration.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Pope blames devil for Church divisions, scandals, seeks angel’s help

FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis talks as he meets youth and the Synod Fathers at the Pope Paul VI hall in Vatican, October 6, 2018. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – The devil is alive and well and working overtime to undermine the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis says.

In fact, the pope is so convinced that Satan is to blame for the sexual abuse crisis and deep divisions racking the Church that he has asked Catholics around the world to recite a special prayer every day in October to try to beat him back.

“(The Church must be) saved from the attacks of the malign one, the great accuser and at the same time be made ever more aware of its guilt, its mistakes, and abuses committed in the present and the past,” Francis said in a message on Sept. 29.

Since he was elected in 2013, Francis has made clear that he believes the devil to be real. In a document in April on holiness in the modern world, Francis mentioned the devil more than a dozen times.

“We should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea. This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable,” he wrote in the document.

The Church has recently been hit by one sexual abuse scandal after another, from Germany, to the United States, to Chile. At the same time, a deepening polarization between conservatives and liberals in the Church has played out on social media.

Francis’ use of the term “the great accuser” to describe Satan hit a raw nerve with one of the pope’s harshest conservative critics, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the Vatican’s former ambassador to Washington.

 

CHURCH DIVISIONS

In an 11-page statement published on Aug. 26, Viganò launched an unprecedented broadside by a Church insider against the pope and a long list of Vatican and U.S. Church officials.

He accused Francis of knowing about sexual misconduct by a former U.S. cardinal with male adult seminarians but not doing anything about it.

Viganò, concluding that his former boss had singled him out as the devil in disguise, complained in his next statement that Francis “compared me to the great accuser, Satan, who sows scandal and division in the Church, though without ever uttering my name”.

On Sunday, a top Vatican official issued a scathing open letter accusing Viganò of mounting a “political frame job devoid of real foundation” and contesting his accusations against the pope point by point.

Francis is so convinced that Satan is ultimately to blame for both the sexual abuse scandals and the divisions within the Church that he has enlisted the aid of spiritual big gun – St. Michael the Archangel. Michael is mentioned several times in the Bible as the leader of the angels who ousted Lucifer, the fallen angel, from paradise.

Catholics are being asked to recite the rosary daily in October and conclude it with a prayer to St. Michael that was said after Mass until 1964 but then fell into disuse.

The prayer reads:

“St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of heavenly hosts, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan, and all evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.”

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Gareth Jones)

German Catholic Church apologizes for ‘pain’ of abuse victims

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, chairman of German Bishops's Conference attends a press conference to present the findings of a study into the report of sexual abuse by Catholic priests of thousands of children over a 70-year period in Fulda, Germany, September 25, 2018. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

By Riham Alkousaa and Maria Sheahan

BERLIN (Reuters) – The head of the Catholic Church in Germany apologized on Tuesday “for all the failure and pain”, after a report found thousands of children had been sexually abused by its clergy and said the “guilty must be punished”.

Researchers from three German universities examined 38,156 personnel files spanning a 70-year period ending in 2014, and found indications of sexual abuse by 1,670 clerics, with more than 3,700 possible victims.

German magazine Der Spiegel reported the findings earlier this month after the report was leaked. The scandal comes as the church is grappling with new abuse cases in countries including Chile, the United States, and Argentina.

“Those who are guilty must be punished,” Cardinal Reinhard Marx, chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, said at a news conference to launch the report in the city of Fulda.

“For too long in the church, we have looked away, denied, covered up and didn’t want it to be true,” he added.

“All this must not remain without consequences. Those affected are entitled to justice,” Marx said, without specifying what consequences perpetrators might face.

“For all the failure, pain and suffering, I must apologize as the chairman of the Bishops’ Conference as well as personally,” he said.

“The study .. makes it clear to us that the Catholic Church has by no means overcome the issue of dealing with the sexual abuse of minors.”

Sexual abuse by Catholic clerics has not ended, Harald Dressing of the Central Institute of Mental Health, one of the report’s authors, told the news conference.

He said many cases were likely to have never been reported or not taken seriously enough to be noted in the files.

“The resulting numbers (in the report) are the tip of an iceberg whose actual size we cannot assess,” he added.

Around 51 percent of victims were aged 13 or younger when first abused, and most abusers committed their first offense when aged between 30 and 50, the study found.

It said 62 percent of those affected by sexual abuse were male.

“Neither homosexuality nor celibacy are the sole causes of sexual abuse of minors,” Dressing said.

“But complex interaction of sexual immaturity and the denial of homosexual inclinations in ambivalent, sometimes openly homophobic surroundings, can provide further explanation for the predominance of male victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clerics.”

Germany’s Justice Minister Katarina Barley said in a statement the church had to report every case so the rule of law could apply.

“The massive abuse of trust, dependencies, and power from within the church is intolerable,” she said.

(Reporting by Riham Alkousaa and Maria Sheahan; editing by Thomas Seythal and Andrew Roche)

Pope orders investigation of bishop as U.S. Church leaders meet on abuse crisis

Pope Francis meets U.S. Catholic Church leaders Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Archbishop of Los Angeles JosŽ Horacio G—mez, Cardinal Sean Patrick OÕMalley, Archbishop of Boston, and Monsignor Brian Bransfield, General Secretary of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, during a private audience at the Vatican, September 13, 2018. Vatican Media/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis has ordered an investigation of an American bishop accused of sexual misconduct with adults and accepted his resignation, the Vatican and U.S. Church officials said on Thursday.

The announcement was made as the pope was meeting U.S. Catholic Church leaders to discuss the fallout from a scandal involving a former American cardinal and demands from an archbishop that the pontiff step down.

The Catholic Church worldwide is reeling from crises involving sexual abuse of minors. Surveys show plummeting confidence in the Church the United States, Chile, Australia, and Ireland where the scandal has hit hardest, as well as in other countries.

The bishop who resigned is Michael J. Bransfield, 75, of the diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia. The Vatican said the pope had appointed Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore to run the diocese until a new bishop is appointed.

Neither the Vatican nor the Archdiocese of Baltimore gave any details of the specific allegations against Bransfield.

Neither Bransfield nor his legal representative could immediately be reached for comment.

The archdiocese of Baltimore’s website said the pope had instructed Lori to conduct an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment of adults by Bransfield.

“My primary concern is for the care and support of the priests and people of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston at this difficult time,” Lori said in a statement.

“I further pledge to conduct a thorough investigation in search of the truth into the troubling allegations against Bishop Bransfield and to work closely with the clergy, religious and lay leaders of the diocese until the appointment of a new bishop,” he said.

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Jon Boyle)

Catholic Church admits ‘shameful’ legacy of abuse after study leaked

FILE PHOTO - A statue of the Virgin Mary adorns the facade of the bishop's residence next to Limburg Cathedral October 14, 2013. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

By Riham Alkousaa

BERLIN (Reuters) – The Catholic Church in Germany acknowledged a “depressing and shameful” legacy of sexual abuse on Wednesday after a leaked study said clerics had abused thousands of children over a 70-year period.

The document, commissioned by the German Bishops’ Conference, revealed that 1,670 clerics and priests had sexually abused 3,677 minors, mostly males, in the country between 1946 and 2014, Der Spiegel said.

The news magazine quoted a leaked copy of the study, which was compiled by three German universities.

Bishop of Trier Stephan Ackermann said the Church was aware of the extent of abuse demonstrated by the study’s results.

“It is depressing and shameful for us,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.

The leaked study was published on the day that Pope Francis, who has made several attempts to tackle a spreading sexual abuse crisis that has badly tarnished the Church’s image, summoned senior bishops from around the world to the Vatican to discuss the protection of minors.

The Vatican had no immediate comment on the Spiegel report.

The magazine said the study, which examined more than 38,000 files from 27 dioceses, showed more than half of the victims were aged 13 years or under when they were abused.

About one in six of cases documented involved rape and three-quarters of the victims were abused in a church or through a pastoral relationship with the abuser. In many cases, evidence was destroyed or manipulated, it cited the study as saying.

The Bishops’ Conference was expected to present the “strictly confidential” study’s findings later this month, Spiegel said.

Speaking on behalf of the Conference, Bishop Ackermann said that, while he regretted that the study had been leaked, he was convinced its survey was comprehensive and thorough.

“The study is a course of action which we owe not only to the Church but above all and foremost to those affected,” Ackermann said.

The Church had often transferred clerics accused of sexual abuse without providing the new host community with “appropriate information” about them, the study found.

Only one-third of those accused had to face proceedings under canon law and sanctions imposed were at most minimal, with 4 percent of those found to have committed abuse still working.

The study called on the Catholic Church to rethink its refusal to consecrate homosexual men and to view the celibacy obligation imposed on its clergy as “a potential risk factor”, Der Spiegel reported.

Last month, a U.S. grand jury released study findings showing 301 Catholic priests in Pennsylvania had sexually abused minors over 70 years.

(Reporting by Riham Alkousaa, Editing by Tassilo Hummel and John Stonestreet)

Can the pope’s accusers force him to resign?

FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis speaks with the media onboard a plane during his flight back from a trip in Dublin, Ireland August 26, 2018. Gregorio Borgia/Pool/File Photo

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Calls by a Roman Catholic archbishop and his conservative backers for Pope Francis to resign could make it difficult, if not impossible, for him to do so, Church experts say.

Canon (Church) Law says a pope can resign but the decision must be taken freely. In 2013, Francis’s predecessor, Benedict, became the first pontiff in six centuries to resign.

Benedict, then 85, abdicated because he said he no longer had the strength to run the Church. Unlike now, no-one had publicly demanded his resignation, which was a surprise even to top Vatican officials.

HOW DID THE VATICAN AND THE POPE GET TO THIS POINT?

In an 11-page statement published on Aug. 26, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former Vatican ambassador to Washington, launched an unprecedented broadside by a Church insider against the pope and a long list of Vatican and U.S. Church officials.

He said that soon after the pontiff’s election in 2013, he told Francis that Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, D.C., had engaged in sexual misconduct.

He said the pope did nothing and even lifted sanctions that had been imposed on McCarrick by Benedict, the former pope.

Critics of Vigano say his statement has holes and contradictions. They say McCarrick disregarded any sanctions, appearing in public often, even alongside Benedict, in the years after Vigano says the former pope sanctioned McCarrick. Vigano stands by his accusations.

Vigano, who is in hiding and communicating exclusively through reporters for conservative media outlets who helped him prepare, edit and distribute the statement, says there is a “homosexual network” in the Vatican that promotes the advancement of gays in the Church.

His statement included no supporting documents.

In July, after U.S. Church officials said there was evidence that McCarrick, 88, had sexually abused a minor more than 50 years ago, Francis sacked him as cardinal and ordered him to live the rest of his life in seclusion, prayer and penitence. Francis’ defenders say he took strict action against McCarrick while Benedict had not.

Francis told reporters on his plane returning from Ireland that he would “not say one word” about Vigano’s accusations. “Read the document carefully and judge it for yourselves. It speaks for itself,” he said.

WHAT IS THE GENESIS OF THE CURRENT CONSERVATIVE ESCALATION?

Since his election in 2013, conservatives have sharply criticized Francis, saying he has left many faithful confused by pronouncements that the Church should be more welcoming to homosexuals and divorced Catholics and not be obsessed by “culture war” issues such as abortion.

Their attacks on the pope hit a new level with Vigano’s broadside. Much of the drama has been played out in newspapers and social media, part of what has become an often shrill proxy war between Francis’ defenders and Vigano’s allies, who back his call for the pope to step down.

WHAT DOES CANON LAW SAY ABOUT PAPAL RESIGNATIONS?

Canon 332, paragraph two, states:

“If it should happen that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that he makes the resignation freely and that it be duly manifested but not that it be accepted by anyone.”

Canon lawyers say much hinges on the interpretation of the word “freely” and whether the demands being made by the pope’s fiercest critics has constituted enough of a climate of duress to put its validity into doubt.

WHAT DO CANON LAW EXPERTS SAY?

“The pope has the right to freely resign. That’s what the canon says. The doubt is whether the situation Francis is in now really allows for a free choice because there is a political faction in the Church trying to force it,” said Nicholas Cafardi, former dean of Duquesne University School of Law.

“I don’t see how (the pope can resign freely) when you have people campaigning for it,” said Cafardi, who is also a former member of the Board of Governors of the Canon Law Society of America.

Kurt Martens, professor of canon law at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., agreed.

“I think were are getting to the point of it becoming impossible because the pressure on him is so intense psychologically that it would be impossible to withstand and therefore it would be invalid,” Martens said.

A Rome-based canon lawyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of his position in the Church, said he believed a resignation could be possible but that “it would be very complicated and hairy” and its validity hotly contested because some would see it as a result of duress.

Edward Peters, a conservative canon lawyer based in Detroit, has said on his blog that Francis should not be considered any different to other bishops who canon law says should resign for just or grave causes. The pope is also bishop of Rome.

But some experts also say two former popes (Benedict and Francis) would be just too much for Catholics to digest and would confuse the faithful.

Father Raymond de Souza, a widely read conservative commentator based in Canada, said it would be wrong to treat “the papal office as something worldly than can be relinquished under adverse circumstances”.

WHAT DOES CANON LAW SAY ABOUT PAPAL CONTESTERS?

Canon 1373 says one “who publicly either stirs up hostilities or hatred among subjects against (a pope) … is to be punished by an interdict or by other just penalties”.

Cafardi said: “I think they (the harshest papal critics) are violating it (canon 1373) or are very close to violating it because of the hate they are trying to stir up against Francis”.

CAN A POPE BE DEPOSED?

Not these days. He can die in office or resign of his own free will. There is no impeachment procedure for a pope.

But Church history is nothing if not colorful. At the start of the 15th century there were three men claiming to be the true pope, each backed by political powers in Europe and Church factions. The Council of Constance, which ran from 1414 to 1418, deposed two of them and the third abdicated.

(Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Catholic bishops in Australia reject compulsory abuse reporting, defying new laws

Archbishop Mark Coleridge, President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference in Australia, speaks as Sister Monica Cavanagh, President of Catholic Religious Australia, listens during a media conference in Sydney, Australia, August 31, 2018. REUTERS/David Gray

By Byron Kaye and Colin Packham

SYDNEY (Reuters) – The Catholic church in Australia said on Friday it would oppose laws forcing priests to report child abuse when they learn about it in the confessional, setting the stage for a showdown between the country’s biggest religion and the government.

Pope Francis, leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics, is facing sexual abuse crises in several countries and the stance taken by the Australian bishops reflected the abiding, powerful influence conservatives in the church.

Visiting Ireland earlier this week, Pope Francis begged forgiveness for the multitude of abuses suffered by victims in Ireland, and he has promised no more cover-ups.

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC), the country’s top Catholic body, said it did not accept a recommendation from an official inquiry which would force priests by law to report abuse to the police when they hear about it in confession.

Two of Australia’s eight states and territories have since introduced laws making it a crime for priests to withhold information about abuse heard in the confessional, while the others have said they are considering their response.

“This proposed law is ill-conceived, and impracticable, it won’t make children safer, and it will most likely undermine religious freedom,” ACBC President Mark Coleridge told reporters in Sydney, referring to the sanctity of the confessional.

The seal of confession was “a non-negotiable element of our religious life and embodies an understanding of the believer and God”, Coleridge added.

Twenty-two percent of Australians are catholic and the move sets up a rare schism between the church and the government, in a country that adheres to a secular constitution.

Andrew Singleton, professor of philosophy at Deakin University in the state of Victoria, said the bishops’ response reflected a disconnect in Australia between religious and secular sensibilities.

“Their stance is the classic tension between canon law, and their sense that there is some sort of higher, transcendent entity, and common law,” Singleton said.

Last year, Australia ended a five-year government inquiry into child sex abuse in churches and other institutions, amid allegations worldwide that churches had protected pedophile priests by moving them from parish to parish.

The inquiry heard seven percent of Catholic priests in Australia between 1950 and 2010 had been accused of child sex crimes and nearly 1,100 people had filed child sexual assault claims against the Anglican Church over 35 years.

Accusations of cover-ups in the church have reverberated all the way to Pope Francis, who has been accused by a United States archbishop of knowing for years about sexual misconduct by an American cardinal and doing nothing about it.

DISAPPOINTED

The ACBC’s opposition runs against laws which take effect in South Australia, the country’s fifth-biggest state, in October, and in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) from April 2019.

Representatives of the attorneys general of South Australia and ACT were not immediately available for comment.

Larger New South Wales and Victoria states have said they are considering the recommendation, while Western Australia has promised a similar law. Queensland, the third-largest state, has never exempted priests from mandatory reporting of abuse.

The stance taken by the Australian bishops also runs against the position taken by their church’s chief adviser on child abuse complaint handling, Francis Sullivan, who said in 2017 that “priests, like everybody else, will be expected to obey the law or suffer the consequences”.

Sullivan was unavailable for comment on Friday.

Clare Leaney, CEO of In Good Faith Foundation, a victim support group, described the bishops’ decision as “more of the same”.

“I’ve spoken to a number of survivors … who said they were actually quite disappointed,” Leaney said.

“We are aware of at least one instance where the confession has been misused.”

The ACBC report came two weeks after a former Australian archbishop became the most senior Catholic cleric in the world to be convicted of concealing abuse, and was ordered to serve a one-year prison sentence at home.

The convicted former archbishop of Adelaide, Philip Wilson, himself a former ACBC president, was found to have failed to report child abuse outside the confessional. He filed an appeal against his conviction on Thursday.

Australia’s former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull had been scheduled to deliver a rare public apology to victims of sexual abuse on Oct. 22 but he was ousted by his party earlier this month.

(Reporting by Byron Kaye and Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry & Simon Cameron-Moore)