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)

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)

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)

Conservative media move to front line of battle to undermine Pope Francis

FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis waves as he arrives to lead the Wednesday general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican, August 29, 2018. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi/File Photo

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Last March, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano dined on the outskirts of Rome at the home of a conservative Italian Catholic journalist. Over pasta, fish and white wine, the prelate poured out his concern for the future of the Roman Catholic Church.

It was the start of about five months of contacts and collaboration between Vigano and several conservative journalists and media outlets that would lead to one of the greatest crises for the Church in modern times.

In a bombshell statement published last weekend when Pope Francis was in Ireland, Vigano, the former Vatican ambassador to Washington, urged Francis to resign on the grounds he knew for years about the sexual misconduct of an American cardinal and did nothing.

The full extent of journalists’ involvement in the statement – from conception and editing to translation and publication – emerges from a series of Reuters interviews that reveal a union of conservative clergy and media aimed at what papal defenders say is a campaign to weaken the reformist Francis’s pontificate.

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.

“The conservatives have declared war and they are convinced they can reform the Church with a frontal attack,” a senior Vatican prelate said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because “the line is silence” now.

Vigano said he had told the pope of the allegations five years ago, soon after Francis’ election. The statement included no supporting documents and also accused a long list of current and past Vatican and U.S. Church officials of facilitating the expansion of a “homosexual network” in the Church.

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

Vatican sources say it still has not been decided if the Vatican will issue a detailed institutional response to Vigano’s accusations, which they say have caused consternation among many members of the faithful.

UNPRECEDENTED ATTACK ON POPE

Vigano’s move, an unprecedented attack on the pope by a Vatican insider, was the latest blow to the credibility of the Church.

Two weeks ago, a grand jury in Pennsylvania released the findings of the largest-ever investigation of sex abuse in the U.S. Catholic Church, finding that 301 priests in the state had sexually abused minors over the past 70 years.

The dinner with Vigano in March was held at the home of Aldo Maria Valli, a journalist who covers the Vatican for Italian state television RAI, publishes a conservative blog and has written several books.

Valli writes in his blog that he had several other meetings with Vigano, including a second dinner in Valli’s home in August to discuss the topics of the statement.

He says Vigano arrived at their last meeting in a secret location wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap – unusual headgear for an archbishop.

On Aug. 22, Vigano went to the home of Marco Tosatti, a longtime Vatican journalist who writes for conservative publications and runs his own blog that is highly critical of Francis’ papacy.

Tosatti said he helped Vigano rewrite and edit the statement during a three-hour meeting. Valli told Reuters Tosatti then sent him and other selected journalists the final version.

Valli told Reuters there is clear division between his work as a television journalist and his personal opinions in his blog and books.

PUSHING THE BUTTON

The statement surfaced on Aug. 26, four days after it was dated. Interviews with those involved show its publication was coordinated in consultation with Valli, Tosatti, the National Catholic Register in the United States and Italy’s La Verita, both conservative newspapers that criticize Francis regularly.

It was translated into English by Diane Montagna of the conservative LifeSiteNews, which published it at the same time and often carries full texts of speeches by Cardinal Raymond Burke, one of the pope’s fiercest critics.

“It’s very reminiscent of what is going on in conservative politics in the United States. It’s the same playbook,” said David Gibson, director of the Center on Religion and Culture at Fordham University in New York. He was alluding to the close relationship between President Donald Trump’s administration and conservative-leaning news outlets such as Fox News.

Tosatti told Reuters there was “no conservative conspiracy” behind the statement and that its publication was delayed because it had to be translated in several languages.

He said it was “a mere coincidence” that it was published during the pope’s trip to Ireland, where sexual abuse by the clergy was a main issue.

But Valli says in his blog that its release was specifically timed so that it would come up during the pope’s in-flight news conference from Dublin to Rome. Experienced Vatican journalists such as Valli and Tosatti understand that the papal plane is a rare chance for reporters to ask the pope questions.

Another journalist who received the statement also confirmed that Vigano, who is now in hiding in an undisclosed location and issues statements through Valli, wanted it published while the pope was in Ireland.

“Obviously Vigano is being used as a weapon by a whole coterie of people who can’t stand Pope Francis and the changes he wants to make to the Church,” said Alexander Stille, professor of international journalism at Columbia University in New York and author of several books on Italy.

“People who would defend to the death the doctrine of papal infallibility have no difficulty in treating a pope who has been elected by all the standard Vatican protocols as if we were a corporate manager who could be fired from one day to the next.”

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; editing by Mark Bendeich and Mark Heinrich)

Archbishop who called on Pope to resign says corruption reaches the top

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano reads during the episcopal ordination of Auxiliary Bishops James Massa and Witold Mroziewski, in Brooklyn, New York, U.S., July 20, 2015. Picture taken July 20, 2015. REUTERS/Gregory A. Shemitz

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – The archbishop who sparked a crisis in the Catholic Church by calling on Pope Francis to resign has denied he was motivated by personal vendetta and said he sought to show that corruption had reached the top levels of the Church hierarchy.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano has gone into hiding since conservative media published an 11-page statement in which he alleged the pope knew for years about sexual misconduct by an American cardinal and did nothing about it.

Vigano has been communicating through Aldo Maria Valli, an Italian television journalist who Vigano consulted several times before releasing his statement last Sunday when the pope was in Ireland.

Italian media has reported he was upset because he was never made a cardinal by former Pope Benedict or because Francis blocked his further advancement in the Church.

“I have never had feelings of vendetta and rancor in all these years,” he was quoted as telling Valli, who has been publishing statements from Vigano in his blog.

“I spoke out because corruption has reached the top levels of Church hierarchy,” said Vigano, a former Vatican ambassador to Washington.

The Vatican had no comment on the new accusations by Vigano.

In his statement, Vigano accused a long list of current and past Vatican and U.S. Church officials of covering up the case of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who resigned last month in disgrace.

One of the people he attacks in the statement is Cardinal Tarciscio Bertone, who was secretary of state under former Pope Benedict.

Italian media reports have said Vigano was upset because Bertone had blocked any possibility of him becoming a cardinal.

In his comments published on Valli’s blog, Vigano says he himself gave up the possibility of becoming a cardinal “for the good of the Church”.

Vigano did not include any supporting documents in his remarkably blunt statement in which he said cover-ups in the Church were making it look like “a conspiracy of silence not so dissimilar from the one that prevails in the mafia”.

On his flight home from Ireland on Sunday, Francis told reporters he would “not say one word” about the accusations.

“Read the document carefully and judge it for yourselves,” he said.

Francis’ supporters say the statement contains holes and contradictions and note that Vigano prepared it with help from two journalists who have been critical of Francis, citing this as evidence that it forms part of an ideological anti-Francis strategy. The journalists deny this.

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Pennsylvania report details decades of sexual abuse by priests

By David DeKok

HARRISBURG, Pa. (Reuters) – Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania sexually abused thousands of children over a 70-year period and silenced victims through “the weaponization of faith” and a systematic cover-up campaign by their bishops, the state attorney general said on Tuesday.

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

“It was child sexual abuse, including rape, committed by grown men – priests – against children,” Shapiro told a press conference.

Representatives of the six Pennsylvania dioceses included in the report could not be reached for comment.

The attorney general said it was the most comprehensive report on Catholic clergy sex abuse in American history, nearly two decades after an expose of widespread abuse and cover-up in Boston that rocked the Roman Catholic church.

Several of the dioceses issued statements apologizing to victims and saying they were taking steps to ensure any criminal behavior was stopped. “The grand jury has challenged us as a Catholic diocese to put victims first and to continue to improve ways to protect children and youth,” Bishop Lawrence Persico of the Erie Diocese said in a statement.

As accusers wept behind him, Shapiro described alleged abuse by priests in six of the state’s eight dioceses, including a group of Pittsburgh clergymen accused of ordering an altar boy to strip naked and pose as Christ on the cross while they photographed him.

“The pattern was abuse, deny and cover up,” Shapiro said, adding that church officials sought to keep abuse allegations quiet long enough so they could no longer be prosecuted under Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations.

“Priests were raping little boys and girls,” Shapiro said. “They hid it all for decades.”

The report cited 301 priests, some of whom have died. Only two of the priests are still subject to prosecution.

A few of the clergymen accused in the report succeeded in having their names redacted, and Shapiro said he would argue at a Sept. 26 court hearing for making all the names public.

He said the grand jury identified about a thousand victims, but believed there may be many more.

Shapiro said that one priest had molested five sisters in one family, he said. The diocese settled with the family after requiring a confidentiality agreement, he said.

The attorney general said that Catholic bishops covered up child sexual abuse by priests and reassigned them repeatedly to different parishes. “They allowed priests to remain active for as long as 40 years,” he said.

Describing the “weaponization of faith” to silence victims, Shapiro cited several examples including one priest who allegedly told children “how Mary had to lick Jesus clean after he was born” to groom them for oral sex.

“Children were taught that this abuse was not only normal but that it was holy,” Shapiro said.

Since the Boston abuse scandal erupted in the 1990s, accusations involving American clerics have sporadically surfaced.

Theodore McCarrick, a former archbishop of Washington, resigned as a cardinal last month after accusations resurfaced that he abused a 16-year-old boy decades ago.

In recent months, Pope Francis accepted a number of resignations from Chilean bishops in a sex abuse scandal that has rocked that country.

(Reporting by David DeKok; Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Frank McGurty, Toni Reinhold)

Pope says Mafiosi ‘carry death’, can’t call themselves Christian

Pope Francis leads the Wednesday general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican, March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Max Rossi

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis on Wednesday told members of the Mafia in Italy, where many go to Church and worship openly, that they cannot call themselves Christians because they “carry death in their souls”.

Francis’ improvised words before tens of thousands of people at his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square was his strongest attack on organized crime in nearly four years.

“So we don’t have to go far, let’s think about what happens right here at home (Italy),” he said while speaking generally about “fake Christians” who are corrupt while pretending to be righteous.

“(What about) the so-called Christian Mafiosi,” he said. “They have nothing at all in them that is Christian. They call themselves Christians but they carry death in their souls and inflict it on others.”

Many members of organized crime groups in Italy, such as Sicily’s Cosa Nostra and Calabria’s ‘Ndrangheta, see themselves as part of a religious, cult-like group.

Particularly in smaller towns and cities in the south, they take part in Catholic sacraments, go to church and in some cases have also found complicity by some churchmen.

The town of Oppido Mamertina in the Calabria region made headlines in 2014 when locals carrying a statute of the Madonna in a traditional religious procession diverted its route to pass by the home of local mob boss who was infirm.

They paused before the boss’ house and tilted the statue slightly as if to kneel in a sign of respect toward the clan boss.

When Pope Francis visited the Calabria region the same year, he accused organized crime members of practising “the adoration of evil” and said Mafiosi excommunicate themselves from the Church by their actions.

At the audience in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday, Francis asked the faithful for prayers for Mafiosi, “so that the Lord touches their souls”.

In 1993 Pope John Paul sternly warned members of Sicily’s Cosa Nostra that they would “one day face the justice of God”. The crime group responded several months later with bomb attacks against several churches in Rome, including the Basilica of St. John’s, which is a pope’s church in his capacity as bishop of Rome.

In recent years, the Calabria-based ‘Ndrangheta has overtaken Sicily’s Cosa Nostra as the most feared and lucrative Italian crime group, making most of its money from drug trafficking. It has spread throughout the world.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Peter Graff)

Parents of UK baby Charlie Gard agree to let him die

By Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) – The parents of Charlie Gard dropped their legal battle to give the terminally ill British baby further treatment on Monday and will now hold discussions with his London hospital about how he should be allowed to die.

Charlie’s mother, Connie Yates, who won the support of U.S. President Donald Trump and Pope Francis with a campaign to keep him alive, said 11-month-old Charlie could have lived a normal life if he had been given treatment earlier.

“This is the hardest thing we’ll ever have to do,” she said in London’s High Court where a judge had been due to hear final arguments as to why a hospital should not turn off the boy’s life support.

“We have decided it is no longer in his best interests to pursue treatment,” Yates said. “We have decided to let our son go … Charlie did have a real chance of getting better. Now we will never know what would have happened if he got treatment.”

Charlie has a rare genetic condition causing progressive muscle weakness and brain damage. His parents had sought to send him to the United States to undergo experimental therapy.

Britain’s courts, backed by the European Court of Human Rights, refused permission, saying it would prolong his suffering without any realistic prospect of helping the child.

Lawyer Grant Armstrong, speaking in the High Court, said the parents had dropped their legal fight for Charlie to continue to receive treatment because scans showed that the child suffered irreversible damage.

“For Charlie, it’s too late, time has run out. Irreversible muscular damage has been done and the treatment can no longer be a success,” he said.

“Charlie has waited patiently for treatment. Due to delay, that window of opportunity has been lost.”

The judge hearing the case, Nicholas Francis, said no parents could have done more for their child.

Francis had been due to preside over a final two-day hearing after which he would have decided whether the boy’s parents could take Charlie to the United States for treatment by Michio Hirano, a professor of neurology at New York’s Columbia University Medical Center.

Hirano had said he believed there was at least a 10 percent chance his nucleoside therapy could improve the condition of Charlie, who cannot breathe without a ventilator, and that there was a “small but significant” chance it would help aid brain functions.

 

(Reporting by Michael Holden; Writing by William Schomberg; Editing by Alison Williams)

 

Pope to Egypt to mend ties with Islam but conservatives wary

FILE PHOTO - Pope Francis meets Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb (R), Egyptian Imam of al-Azhar Mosque, at the Vatican May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Max Rossi/File Photo

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis hopes to mend ties with Muslims on his trip to Egypt on Friday but faces criticism from church conservatives for meeting Islamic religious leaders after a spate of deadly attacks against Christians.

In a video message to the people of Egypt on Tuesday, Francis said the world had been “torn by blind violence, which has also afflicted the heart of the your dear land” and said he hoped his trip could help peace and inter-religious dialogue.

Security is a primary concern less than three weeks after 45 people were killed in attacks on Coptic Christian churches in Alexandria and Tanta, claimed by Islamic State, on Palm Sunday.

But Francis has insisted on using an ordinary car during his 27 hours in Cairo, continuing his practice of shunning armored limousines in order to be closer to people.

Francis will meet President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi; Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, the world’s most influential center of Sunni Islamic theology and learning; and Pope Tawadros II, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, who barely escaped the Alexandria bombing.

Sisi declared a three-month state of emergency after the attacks.

A main reason for the trip is to try to strengthen relations with the 1,000-year-old Azhar center that were cut by the Muslim side in 2011 over what it said were repeated insults of Islam by Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict.

Ties with the center were restored last year after Tayeb visited the Vatican. Tayeb, widely seen as one of the most moderate senior clerics in Egypt, has repeatedly condemned Islamic State and its practice of declaring others as apostates and infidels as a pretext for waging violent jihad.

The Vatican says that Francis, who denounces the idea of violence in God’s name, is convinced that Christian-Muslim dialogue is more important now than ever. Papal aides say a moderate like Tayeb would be an important ally in condemning radical Islam.

In Tuesday’s message, Francis said he hoped the trip could bring “fraternity and reconciliation to all children of Abraham, particularly in the Islamic world, in which Egypt occupies a primary position” and “offer a valid contribution to inter-religious dialogue with the Islamic world”.

WAR OF RELIGION?

The pope’s views are not shared by all Catholics, however. Some conservatives say there should be no dialogue with Islam and that a “war of religion” is in progress.

Italian historian Roberto de Mattei said the Palm Sunday attacks should be “a brusque reality check for Pope Francis”.

The perpetrators were “not unbalanced or crazy but bearers of a religious vision that has been combating Christianity since the seventh century,” De Mattei, editor of the conservative monthly magazine Christian Roots, wrote in an editorial.

Novus Ordo Watch, an ultra-conservative Catholic blog, blasted the Vatican over the logo of the trip, which displays the Muslim crescent and the cross together, and derided the pope as “Mr. Coexist”.

A leading Catholic scholar of Islam, Egyptian-born Father Samir Khalil Samir, said that Francis meant well but was naive.

“I think his ignorance of Islam does not help dialogue. He has said often that we know that Islam is a religion of peace but this is simply a mistake,” Samir, who is based in Beirut, told reporters in Rome.

“We know there are certainly times of peace and a willingness for peace on the part of many Muslims but I can’t read the Koran and pretend that it is a book that is oriented towards peace,” he said.

The region has witnessed a massive exodus of Christians fleeing war and persecution in the past few decades, accelerated recently by the rise of Islamic State. Francis said in his message he hoped his visit could be a “consolation and … encouragement to all Christians in the Middle East”.

He will visit Cairo’s largest Coptic cathedral to pray for the 28 people killed in a Christmas season blast last year and lay flowers in their memory.

Rights activists are concerned about the pope’s meeting with President Sisi.

Sisi has sought to present himself as an indispensable bulwark against terrorism in the region, deflecting Western criticism that he has suppressed political opposition and human rights activists since he was elected in 2014.

Asked if the pope would raise human rights concerns, Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said Francis had made “trips more delicate than this one,” adding “let’s see what the pope has to say.”

(Additional reporting by Lin Noueihed in Cairo; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)