Catholic Bishops Told to Follow Their Own Policies Against Sexual Abuse

Priest image, Alistair Cotton /

Priest image, Alistair Cotton /

Amid continuing headlines about cover-ups of child abuse in the Catholic Church, an oversight board of lay Catholics on June 13 warned the nation’s bishops that they must follow their own policies against abuse more rigorously if they hope to restore their fragile credibility.

“If there is anything that needs to be disclosed in a diocese, it needs to be disclosed now,” Al J. Notzon III, head of the bishops’ National Review Board, told some 200 prelates gathered in Atlanta for their annual spring meeting. “No one can no longer claim they didn’t know.”

The meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops comes 10 years after the hierarchy met in Dallas and passed a series of reforms to respond to a siege of bad publicity about sex abuse by priests. It also comes as a jury in Philadelphia weighs the fate of a high-ranking priest who's facing criminal charges of concealing abuse by clerics, and as a bishop from Missouri awaits trial on charges that he failed to report a suspected child molester to authorities.

In ‘Cordial’ Dialogue, Vatican Asserts Control Over U.S. Nuns

Basilica di San Pietro in Vatican City, vichie81 /

Basilica di San Pietro in Vatican City, vichie81 /

Leaders of an umbrella group that represents the majority of U.S. nuns met with top Vatican doctrinal officials on June 12 in an atmosphere of “openness and cordiality,” according to a Vatican statement.

Still, the Vatican made clear that the Leadership Conference of Women Religious — which represents most of America's 57,000 nuns — "remains under the supreme direction of the Holy See" and appeared to offer little wiggle room in its crackdown on the nuns' leaders.

The meeting was called after the Vatican's doctrinal watchdog office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a "doctrinal assessment" this spring that criticized the LCWR for not speaking out strongly enough against gay marriage, women priests and abortion.

Episcopal Bishops Ask Obama for Continued Aid to Middle East Hospital

A group of Episcopal bishops is asking President Obama to help assure that a United Nations agency continues to support a diocese-run hospital in the Gaza Strip.

In a June 6 letter, the 102 bishops ask the president to support funding for Al Ahli Hospital from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. The letter asserts funding was cut off in May, though an UNRWA official said a final decision has not been made.

The hospital, run by the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, “is the only facility of its sort in the Gaza Strip that is not run by the Hamas government and as such, it is able to provide care without any outside interference or political calculation,” the letter states.


U.S. Nuns Rip Vatican Over 'Unsubstantiated Accusations'

Nun kicks a heavy bag in a gym. Photo by Martin San/Getty Images.

Nun kicks a heavy bag in a gym. Photo by Martin San/Getty Images.

Leaders representing most of the nation’s 57,000 Catholic nuns on Friday (June 1) answered a Vatican crackdown on their group by charging that Rome’s criticisms of the sisters were “unsubstantiated,” caused “scandal and pain” and “greater polarization” in the church.

“Moreover, the sanctions imposed were disproportionate to the concerns raised and could compromise their ability to fulfill their mission,” the 22-member board of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious warned in a statement issued after a special four-day meeting in Washington.

The LCWR board meeting followed the surprise announcement in April that Pope Benedict XVI wanted a Vatican-led makeover of the group on the grounds that it was not speaking out strongly enough against gay marriage, abortion and women’s ordination.

Rome also chided the LCWR for doctrinal ambiguity and sponsoring conferences that featured “a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

The unexpectedly strong pushback to the Vatican may be an indication of how much backlash the campaign has sparked among Catholics, who value the sisters’ longstanding ministry in education, health care and social services, and who bristle at Rome's demands to focus instead on sexual morality and enforcing orthodoxy.

Protestant Preaching Prof on Solidarity with U.S. Catholic Nuns

Photo by Elena Ray / Shutterstock.

Photo by Elena Ray / Shutterstock.

The crowd in an Atlanta church on Wednesday night was mostly Protestants, mostly preachers.

The speaker was a professor of preaching at Union Theological Seminary in New York City – one of the icons of the mainstream Protestant world.

Yet Barbara Lundblad’s message was a call for the 1,000 or so people gathered for the annual Festival of Homiletics to “stand with these courageous Roman Catholic sisters.”

She was referring, of course, to the recent crackdown by the Vatican on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the organization that represents about 80 percent of the nuns in the U.S.

Lundblad drew on the famous story of Mary, having just learned she was pregnant with Jesus, visiting her cousin, Elizabeth, who was also improbably pregnant.

The Gospel of Luke says that Mary “entered the house of Zechariah and visited Elizabeth.” Lundblad pondered why Luke felt it necessary to put Zechariah in the story at this point. She let that hang unanswered.

Then she noted that when Elizabeth saw Mary, the baby leapt in her womb in recognition of Jesus – a sign that women often come to theology through the experiences of their bodies. 
Lundblad said wryly, “Surely Elizabeth would not have been allowed to testify before the Congressional committee on contraception” – an all-male committee with all male witnesses, all representing church groups that do not allow the ordination of women.

Catholic Bishops to Scrutinize Girl Scouts

scouts photo, sagasan /

scouts photo, sagasan /

The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops are reviewing the church’s long-standing ties to the Girl Scouts of the USA after complaints that some of that venerable organization’s programs might contradict church teachings on contraception and abortion.

The inquiry by the Catholic bishops has been ongoing for two years and was prompted by persistent reports, circulated on the Internet and by some social conservatives, that the Girl Scouts of the USA has ties to Planned Parenthood or, for example, endorses material on sexuality that the church would not approve.

What You Can Do To Support NETWORK and Catholic Sisters

Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Nuns watch the installation of Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, 2009. Chris Hondros/Getty Images.

Ever since the Vatican and the U.S. Catholic Bishops' Conference issued their recent highly critical report of the advocacy organization NETWORK and the Leadership Conference of Women Religion, the association representing the majority of Catholic women’s orders in the U.S., both women’s organizations have received thousands of letters and phone calls supporting their social justice actions and questioning what individuals and groups can do in support.

NETWORK was founded 40 years ago by Catholic sisters and over the years it has maintained a close relationship with LCWR. It does not, however, have any formal links with the Catholic Church and it is an organization for political advocacy, not a religious organization. NETWORK has been “stunned” by the Vatican's actions. In a nationwide conference call last week, more than 150 persons called in to speak about their support for Catholic Sisters and NETWORK. They wanted to know what they could do.

Find 11 steps to take to support Catholic Sisters and their witness to the gospel inside the blog ...

When It Comes to Welfare Reform, Britain is Not So Great

Union Jack mural in disrepair. Image via

Union Jack mural in disrepair. Image via

Gandhi once said that "a nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its most vulnerable." Today, it strikes me that the "Great" in Great Britain should probably be quietly dropped, and replaced with "Abject," "Inadequate" or something equally disparaging.

For that is how the UK is currently treating its most vulnerable — the young, the elderly, the disabled — inadequately, abjectly and without compassion. For the last few weeks, a battle has been raging between the government, the legislature, the Church, organizations, and the general public over a piece of legislation called the Welfare Reform Bill.

The bill is wide ranging in its ‘reforms’, covering a myriad of social security measures – from disability benefits, to welfare offered to the unemployed and their families and children. At a time when austerity and budget cutting is front and center of the government’s agenda, ‘reform’ is a by-word for ‘cutbacks’.

The crux of the legislation is an attempt to distinguish between different categories of "the poor," to weed out the “undeserving” from the “deserving.” Sadly, as can be seen from the uproar that the Bill has caused, this attempt has failed.