Pope orders probe into Church abuses

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In stating that he will help expose sexual abuses allegedly committed by Catholic priests in the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte is doing Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic religion, a favor as the amid allegations of a coverup of Church sex abuses in the United States.

Mr. Duterte also tagged the Catholic Church as the “most hypocritical institution in the Philippines,” saying there are priests who are hiding their children in an orphanage in his response to Catholic priest Fr. Noel Gatchalian, who wished him to get ill during his homily at a vigil held just outside the Senate premises for Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV.

Gatchalian cited the President’s old tirades against the church and vowed to pray for Mr. Duterte to get sick.

The President, countering Gatchalian’s wish for him, said he is hoping that priests like Gatchalian should all die of venereal disease.

The Pope accepted the resignation of West Virginia Bishop Michael Bransfield and authorized an investigation into allegations he sexually harassed adults.

The Pope’s directive added awkward drama to an audience with prelates over the abuse and cover-up scandal roiling the Catholic Church.

The Vatican hasn’t responded to allegations by its former ambassador to the US, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, that the Pope effectively rehabilitated one of the most prestigious US cardinals, Theodore McCarrick, who had been accused of groping a teenage altar boy in the 1970s. Pope Benedict XVI imposed sanctions on McCarrick.

Francis has, however, responded to the overall scandal with a series of initiatives aimed at trying to convince the faithful that he “gets it” and is prepared to take measures to put an end to what he has called the “culture of cover-up” in the church.

On the eve of the US audience, Francis announced he was summoning the presidents of bishops conferences around the world to a February summit to discuss prevention measures and protection of minors and vulnerable adults.

Global condemnation

Mr. Duterte noted that there was “worldwide condemnation” against abuses committed by Catholic priests against children.

“Even the Pope is at the center of the turmoil,” Duterte said.

The President had claimed to have been molested by a Catholic priest as a child which he indicated was a motivation for his help to uncover abuses.

“Everybody is trying to seek an opening and I’d be glad to do it in the Philippines. Everything should be brought to the open for the sake of the victims,” he said.

Despite the several allegations of abuses in the local setting, no Filipino priest were prosecuted or even penalized by the Church outside of suspension.

On 8 July, 2002, however, the Philippines Catholic Church issued a general apology for sexual abuses by hundreds of its priests over the past 20 years.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) then said it was drafting guidelines on how to deal with offenses by its clergy.

“To the various crises in society, we must now, with great sorrow and shame, add problems in the Church,” said a statement by the bishops.

“Sexual misconduct on the part of shepherds of the flock betrays the holy priesthood that Christ has shared.”

2007 incident triggers probe

The resignation of Bransfield was announced just as the four-member US delegation was sitting down with the Pope in his private study in the Apostolic Palace. Among the four was Bransfield’s cousin, Monsignor Brian Bransfield, secretary-general of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The bishop had been investigated for an alleged groping incident in 2007 and was implicated in court testimony in 2012 in an infamous Philadelphia priestly sex abuse case. He strongly denied ever abusing anyone and the diocese said it had disproved the claims. He continued with his ministry until he offered to retire, as required, when he turned 75 last week.

The Vatican said Francis accepted his resignation and appointed Baltimore Archbishop William Lori to take over Bransfield’s Wheeling-Charleston diocese temporarily. Lori said in a statement that Francis had also instructed him to “conduct an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment of adults against Bishop Bransfield.”

No details of the allegations were revealed and his diocese said it had “no idea” where Bransfield was after the Vatican ordered him to live outside the diocese.

Decades of cover-up

Francis removed McCarrick as a cardinal in July after a US church investigation found the allegation against him was credible. After news broke out of the investigation, several former seminarians and priests came forward to report that they, too, had been abused or harassed by McCarrick as adults.

The McCarrick affair — coupled with revelations in the Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing decades of abuse and cover-up in six dioceses — has fueled outrage among the rank-and-file faithful who had trusted church leaders to reform themselves after the abuse scandal first erupted in Boston in 2002.

Outrage has also been directed at Francis and the Vatican and has fueled conservative criticism of Francis’ pontificate.

The head of the US bishops conference, Houston Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, had requested the papal audience last month following revelations that McCarrick had risen through church ranks even though the allegations of sexual misconduct were known in US and Vatican circles.

DiNardo requested a full-fledged Vatican investigation into the McCarrick affair and said he also wanted answers to allegations that a string of Vatican officials knew of McCarrick’s misdeeds since 2000 but turned a blind eye.

Laceration on Church

A statement issued by DiNardo after the papal audience made no mention of his request for a Vatican investigation. It said that the Americans briefed the pope on the “laceration” that abuse has caused and that “we look forward to actively continuing our discernment together identifying the most effective next steps.”

The statement also made no mention of the Bransfield investigation. McCarrick was a co-consecrator when Bishop Bransfield was ordained a bishop in 2005 and the two were active in the Papal Foundation, the big US fund-raising organization that McCarrick co-founded and which has funneled millions of dollars to the Vatican over the years.

Bransfield was president when the foundation was thrown into disarray last year over a revolt by its lay donors. They were incensed that the cardinals who run the foundation had agreed to a $25 million request from the Vatican to bail out a troubled Rome hospital. Under pressure, the cardinals pulled the plug on the funding mid-way through.

With AP and AFP

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