Celebrating St. Patrick and the San Patricios

After putting the corned beef in the Crock-Pot and digging out my silly leprechaun socks, I was in an Irish frame of mind this morning when I stopped in at my neighborhood Starbucks.

My eye caught on a new CD by the cash register — with artwork based on the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and the title “San Patricio,” the Spanish name for St. Patrick. The latest album by The Chieftains, who have made Irish music popular around the world more than 40 years, is a tribute to the San Patricios, a small battalion of solders conscripted by the United States during the Mexican-American War, 1846-48.

Made up mostly of Irish immigrants, the soldiers abandoned their posts and ended up fighting alongside the Mexican army under Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana. Ultimately they were defeated and the survivors tried for treason and hanged. The unit has become legendary among Mexicans and Irish, in part for the common bond of Catholicism the San Patricios shared with the Mexican people, at a time of anti-immigrant, anti-Irish and anti-Catholic sentiment in the United States.

A 1999 feature film about the San Patricios, “One Man’s Hero,” won several awards at the Sundance Film Festival and an ALMA award for its director, Lance Hool.

The Chieftains’ album is a blend of musical styles and performers: Irish tin whistles and uilleann pipes, Mexican guitar, accordion and mandolin; singers Ry Cooder, Linda Ronstadt, Lila Downs, Jorge Hernandez, Hugo Arroyo, Carlos Nunez and the Chieftain’s leader, Paddy Moloney. Irish actor Liam Neeson narrates one track: “March to Battle (Across the Rio Grande).”

The album’s lyrics, a combination of English and Spanish, tell of bravery and homesickness, of broken hearts and legends. In an editorial today, the New York Times riffed on the album to raise a toast for St. Patrick’s Day:

Here’s to the Irish, and here’s to the rest of us. May we never forget where we came from. Nearly all of us were Mexicans once. That is: the new immigrants, poor and reviled, propelled by hope and hunger into America’s prickly embrace.

It goes on to quote from one of the album’s classic songs, “Canción Mixteca,” sung in Spanish by the legendary Mexican band, Los Tigres del Norte:

How far I am from the land where I was born! Immense longing invades my thoughts, and when I see myself as alone and sad as a leaf in the wind, I want to cry. I want to die of sorrow.

The Times went on:

That old song, woven into the Mexican soul, is as Irish as it gets. And it’s an American song, too. We are all people who have lost our land in one sad way and found another. Whether we lament and celebrate in a pub or cantina, whether our tricolor flag has a cactus on it or not, we are closer to one another than we remember.

With Mexican folksongs in my headphones today, somehow I feel more Irish than the corned beef and the leprechaun socks could manage on their own.

U.S. health care owes much to religious orders

A photo published in Imagine One magazine illustrates how St. Francis Hospital in Charleston, W.Va., integrated its nursing staff in the early 1950s.

As U.S. health care reform moves into the congressional home stretch, it’s as good of a time as any to remember that organized health care in America owes much to Catholic religious orders, and most of those are religious orders of women.

The current issue of Imagine One magazine, which is published by the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, recalls some of the order’s earliest accomplishments in Catholic health care, as well as how members carry out health care ministry today.

In one feature, Sister of St. Joseph Helene Lentz recounts some great moments in the order’s history. You can download the magazine as a .pdf (Sister Helene’s two articles begin on Page 14),  but for readers’ convenience I’m copying three vignettes below. They are great reminders of the creativity, zeal, and just plain cleverness that these sisters — as well as other orders of men and women — exercised in taking care of the ailing and needy, and in building up a system that today delivers almost a quarter of U.S. health care.

Here are the three snapshots:

In the mining town of Pittsburg, Kan., in 1903, the sisters began one of the first managed care programs. They went to the mines and collected 25-cents per month from each miner to cover health care costs in case of an accident, illness or injury in the mines.

During a yellow fever epidemic in New Orleans, the sisters helped care for people in their homes where, as a precaution, doctors and nurses were not allowed to go. In appreciation, the city let the sisters ride free-of-charge on all public buses and trolley cars for many years thereafter.

In the 1920s, in the city of Kokomo, Ind., and surrounding areas, the Ku Klux Klan had significant presence and influence. When the Klan held a national “conclave” in Kokomo in 1923, white-robed Klansmen paraded through the streets carrying a large American flag by its four corners asking for contributions so that another hospital might be built in Kokomo. Local lore says that the Klan collected some $50,000 so that local residents “would not have to suffer the indignity of being born, cared for or dying in a Catholic hospital.” The Klan completed its new hospital in 1925; however, circumstances changed greatly and they could not continue their financial support. In 1930, the hospital doors closed and Kokomo auctioned the building for unpaid property tax. The sisters, working quietly through members of their advisory board, were able to buy the facility which, in 1936, became known as St. Joseph Memorial Hospital.

Pope will sign letter to Irish Catholics Friday

UPDATE: The Vatican has announced the letter will be published Saturday.

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI said today that Friday he will sign his letter to the Catholics of Ireland on the sex abuse crisis and “send it soon after.”

Speaking in English at his weekly general audience, the pope said he wanted to mark the feast of St. Patrick by giving a special greeting to Irish visitors in St. Peter’s Square.

“As you know, in recent months the church in Ireland has been severely shaken as a result of the child abuse crisis,” the pope said. “As a sign of my deep concern I have written a pastoral letter dealing with this painful situation.

“I will sign it on the solemnity of St. Joseph (March 19), the guardian of the Holy Family and patron of the universal church, and send it soon after,” he said.

The pope asked people to read it for themselves “with an open heart and in a spirit of faith.”

“My hope is that it will help in the process of repentance, healing and renewal,” the pope said.

The Senate health bill and the abortion issue

In mid-March Timothy Stoltzfus Jost, a law professor at the Washington and Lee University School of Law and co-author of “Health Law,” a casebook used in teaching health law at schools nationwide, faced off with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on the Senate health reform legislation and the issue of federal funding of abortion and conscience protections, as we wrote here. We thought you might want to read the documents for yourselves.

First Jost wrote in The Hill newspaper that the abortion debate must not stop health care reform. The USCCB responded the next day with a four-page statement on “What’s wrong with the Senate health care bill on abortion?” Jost came back March 14 with a seven-page document.

Meanwhile, just this morning an opinion piece by three bishops was published in The Washington Post . It’s by the chairmen of the bishops’ pro-life, migration and domestic policy committees.

New Vatican note on sex abuse rebuts critics

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi (CNS photo/Reuters)

VATICAN CITY — Breaking developments that update the post below: Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi today issued a written commentary that rejects accusations of a Vatican cover-up on priestly sex abuse and says efforts to personally involve Pope Benedict XVI in questions of abuse have clearly failed.

Father Lombardi’s note makes three main points:

1. The German bishops’ conference has taken the right approach to discovering and dealing with abuse cases, in a way that might serve as a model in other countries. One point underlined by the bishops is that the issue of celibacy has no connection with the issue of pedophilia.

2. An interview with Msgr. Charles Scicluna, who deals with sex abuse cases at the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation, shows that far from trying to hide such cases, the congregation — under the leadership of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict — has made a far-reaching effort to discover and punish these crimes.

3. The Archdiocese of Munich has made it clear that the pope, when he was archbishop of Munich, was unconnected with decisions involving a priest who relocated to the archdiocese and later committed abuse.

“It is evident that over recent days some people have sought — with considerable persistence, in Regensburg and Munich — elements that could personally involve the Holy Father in questions of abuse. To any objective observer, it is clear that these efforts have failed,” Father Lombardi said.

The note was titled “A clear route through stormy waters.” Here is an English translation released by the Vatican Information Service:

At the end of a week in which a large part of the attention of the European media has been focused on the question of sexual abuses committed by people in institutions of the Catholic Church, we would like to make three observations:

Firstly, the line being taken by the German Episcopal Conference has shown itself to be the right way to face the problem in its various aspects. The declarations of the president of that conference, Archbishop Zollitsch, following his meeting with the Holy Father, recap the strategy laid down in the conference’s recent assembly and reiterate its essential operational aspects: recognition of the truth and help for victims, reinforcement of preventative measures and constructive collaboration with the authorities (including the judicial authorities of State) for the common good of society. Archbishop Zollitsch also unequivocally reiterated the opinion of experts according to whom the question of celibacy should in no way be confused with that of pedophilia. The Holy Father has encouraged the line being followed by the German bishops which – even taking account of the specific context of their own county – may be considered as a useful and inspiring model for other episcopal conferences that find themselves facing similar problems.

Furthermore, an important and wide-ranging interview given by Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna, promoter of justice of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, gives a detailed explanation of the significance of the specific canonical norms established by the Church over the years to judge the heinous crimes of sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy. It is absolutely clear that these norms did not seek, and have not favored, any kind of cover-up of such crimes; quite the contrary, they initiated intense activities to confront, judge and adequately punish the crimes in the context of ecclesiastical legislation. And it must be remembered that all this was planned and set in motion when Cardinal Ratzinger was prefect of the Congregation. The line he followed was always one of rigor and coherence in dealing with even the most difficult situations.

Finally, the archdiocese of Munich has replied, with a long and detailed communique, to questions concerning the case of a priest who moved from Essen to Munich at the time in which Cardinal Ratzinger was archbishop of that city, a priest who subsequently committed abuses. The communique highlights how the then archbishop was completely unconnected with the decisions in the wake of which the abuses took place. Rather, it is evident that over recent days some people have sought – with considerable persistence, in Regensburg and Munich – elements that could personally involve the Holy Father in questions of abuse. To any objective observer, it is clear that these efforts have failed.

Despite the storm, the Church clearly sees the route she must follow, under the sure and rigorous guidance of the Holy Father. As we have already had occasion to observe, it is our hope that this torment may, in the end, help society as a whole to show ever greater concern for the protection and formation of children and adolescents.

The Vatican on its handling of sex abuse cases

VATICAN CITY — In an unusual move, the Vatican has provided extensive details of its handling of priestly sex abuse cases in recent years and has strongly defended Pope Benedict XVI against accusations of covering up such crimes.

The information came in a lengthy interview granted to the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire by Msgr. Charles Scicluna, an official of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith who deals with cases of priests accused of abuse of minors.

Msgr. Scicluna made a number of interesting points:

— The allegation that Pope Benedict covered up sex abuse crimes is “false and calumnious,” he said. As head of the doctrinal congregation, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger handled such cases with wisdom and courage, and as pope he has dismissed many priests from the clerical state.

— The Vatican’s insistence on secrecy in the investigation of these cases by church authorities does not mean bishops or others are exempt from reporting these crimes to civil authorities (a point made in our recent article on the same topic.)

— Since 2001, when the doctrinal congregation took over juridical control of accusations of sex abuse by priests against minors, it has processed about 3,000 cases, dealing with crimes committed over the last 50 years. About 60 percent of theses cases involved sexual attraction towards adolescents of the same sex, 30 percent involved heterosexual relations, and the remaining 10 percent were cases of pedophilia.

— Most cases have been handled without a church trial, because of the advanced age of the accused, and the penalties in such cases has usually been the imposition of strict limitations on the priest’s ministry. About 20 percent of cases resulted in a church trial, with most of the accused found guilty. In the most serious cases, about 10 percent of the total, the pope has dismissed the offender from the priesthood, and in another 10 percent the priest has been laicized at his request.

— The number of new cases of sex abuse by priests has declined; last year there were 223 cases reported from around the world. And while the majority of the 3,000 or so cases handed by the Vatican since 2001 have been from the United States,  by last year U.S. cases had dropped to about 25 percent of the total.

The interview was translated into several languages and distributed this morning by the Vatican press office. Clearly, it’s a message they want to get out. Here is the Vatican’s English-language version:

Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna is the “promoter of justice” of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He is effectively the prosecutor of the tribunal of the former Holy Office, whose job it is to investigate what are known as delicta graviora; i.e., the crimes which the Catholic Church considers as being the most serious of all: crimes against the Eucharist and against the sanctity of the Sacrament of Penance, and crimes against the sixth Commandment (“thou shall not commit impure acts”) committed by a cleric against a person under the age of eighteen. These crimes, in a motu proprio of 2001, Sacramentum sanctitatis tutela, come under the competency of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In effect, it is the “promoter of justice” who deals with, among other things, the terrible question of priests accused of paedophilia, which are periodically highlighted in the mass media. Msgr. Scicluna, an affable and polite Maltese, has the reputation of scrupulously carrying out the tasks entrusted to him without deferring to anyone.

Monsignor, you have the reputation of being “tough”, yet the Catholic Church is systematically accused of being accommodating towards “paedophile priests”

It may be that in the past – perhaps also out of a misdirected desire to protect the good name of the institution – some bishops were, in practice, too indulgent towards this sad phenomenon. And I say in practice because, in principle, the condemnation of this kind of crime has always been firm and unequivocal. Suffice it to recall, to limit ourselves just to last century, the famous Instruction Crimen Sollicitationis of 1922.

Wasn’t that from 1962?

No, the first edition dates back to the pontificate of Pius XI. Then, with Blessed John XXIII, the Holy Office issued a new edition for the Council Fathers, but only two thousand copies were printed, which were not enough, and so distribution was postponed sine die. In any case, these were procedural norms to be followed in cases of solicitation during confession, and of other more serious sexually-motivated crimes such as the sexual abuse of minors.

Norms which, however, recommended secrecy…

A poor English translation of that text has led people to think that the Holy See imposed secrecy in order to hide the facts. But this was not so. Secrecy during the investigative phase served to protect the good name of all the people involved; first and foremost, the victims themselves, then the accused priests who have the right – as everyone does – to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. The Church does not like showcase justice. Norms on sexual abuse have never been understood as a ban on denouncing the crimes to the civil authorities.

Nonetheless, that document is periodically cited to accuse the current Pontiff of having been – when he was prefect of the former Holy Office – objectively responsible for a Holy See policy of covering up the facts…

That accusation is false and calumnious. On this subject I would like to highlight a number of facts. Between 1975 and 1985 I do not believe that any cases of paedophilia committed by priests were brought to the attention of our Congregation. Moreover, following the promulgation of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, there was a period of uncertainty as to which of the delicta graviora were reserved to the competency of this dicastery. Only with the 2001 motu proprio did the crime of paedophilia again become our exclusive remit. From that moment Cardinal Ratzinger displayed great wisdom and firmness in handling those cases, also demonstrating great courage in facing some of the most difficult and thorny cases, sine acceptione personarum. Therefore, to accuse the current Pontiff of a cover-up is, I repeat, false and calumnious.

What happens when a priest is accused of a delictum gravius?

If the accusation is well-founded the bishop has the obligation to investigate both the soundness and the subject of the accusation. If the outcome of this initial investigation is consistent, he no longer has any power to act in the matter and must refer the case to our Congregation where it is dealt with by the disciplinary office.

How is that office composed?

Apart from myself who, being one of the superiors of the dicastery, also concern myself with other matters, there are the bureau chief Fr. Pedro Miguel Funes Diaz, seven priests and a lay lawyer who follow these cases. Other officials of the Congregation also make their own vital contribution depending upon the language and specific requirements of each case.

That office has been accused of working little and slowly…

Those are unjustified comments. In 2003 and 2004 a great wave of cases flooded over our desks. Many of them came from the United States and concerned the past. Over recent years, thanks to God, the phenomenon has become greatly reduced, and we now seek to deal with new cases as they arise.

How many have you dealt with so far?

Overall in the last nine years (2001-2010) we have considered accusations concerning around three thousand cases of diocesan and religious priests, which refer to crimes committed over the last fifty years.

That is, then, three thousand cases of paedophile priests?

No, it is not correct to say that. We can say that about sixty percent of the cases chiefly involved sexual attraction towards adolescents of the same sex, another thirty percent involved heterosexual relations, and the remaining ten percent were cases of paedophilia in the true sense of the term; that is, based on sexual attraction towards prepubescent children. The cases of priests accused of paedophilia in the true sense have been about three hundred in nine years. Please don’t misunderstand me, these are of course too many, but it must be recognised that the phenomenon is not as widespread as has been believed.

The accused, then, are three thousand. How many have been tried and condemned?

Currently we can say that a full trial, penal or administrative, has taken place in twenty percent of cases, normally celebrated in the diocese of origin – always under our supervision – and only very rarely here in Rome. We do this also in order to speed up the process. In sixty percent of cases there has been no trial, above all because of the advanced age of the accused, but administrative and disciplinary provisions have been issued against them, such as the obligation not to celebrate Mass with the faithful, not to hear confession, and to live a retired life of prayer. It must be made absolutely clear that in these cases, some of which are particularly sensational and have caught the attention of the media, no absolution has taken place. It’s true that there has been no formal condemnation, but if a person is obliged to a life of silence and prayer, then there must be a reason…

That still leaves twenty percent of cases…

We can say that in ten percent of cases, the particularly serious ones in which the proof is overwhelming, the Holy Father has assumed the painful responsibility of authorising a decree of dismissal from the clerical state. This is a very serious but inevitable provision, taken though administrative channels. In the remaining ten percent of cases, it was the accused priests themselves who requested dispensation from the obligations deriving from the priesthood, requests which were promptly accepted. Those involved in these latter cases were priests found in possession of paedophile pornographic material and, for this reason, condemned by the civil authorities.

Where do these three thousand cases come from?

Mostly from the United States which, in the years 2003-2004, represented around eighty percent of total cases. In 2009 the United States “share” had dropped to around twenty-five percent of the 223 cases reported from all over the world. Over recent years (2007-2009), the annual average of cases reported to the Congregation from around the world has been two hundred and fifty. Many countries report only one or two cases. There is, then, a growing diversity and number of countries of origin of cases, but the phenomenon itself is much reduced. It must, in fact, be borne in mind that the overall number of diocesan and religious priests in the world is four hundred thousand, although this statistic does not correspond to the perception that is created when these sad cases occupy the front pages of the newspapers.

And in Italy?

Thus far the phenomenon does not seem to have dramatic proportions, although what worries me is a certain culture of silence which I feel is still too widespread in the country. The Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) offers an excellent technical-juridical consultancy service for bishops who have to deal with these cases. And I am very pleased to observe the ever greater commitment being shown by Italian bishops to throw light on the cases reported to them.

You said that a full trial has taken place in around twenty percent of the three thousand cases you have examined over the last nine years. Did they all end with the condemnation of the accused?

Many of the past trials did end with the condemnation of the accused. But there have also been cases in which the priest was declared innocent, or where the accusations were not considered to have sufficient proof. In all cases, however, not only is there an examination of the guilt or innocence of the accused priest, but also a discernment as to his fitness for public ministry.

A recurring accusation made against the ecclesiastical hierarchy is that of not reporting to the civil authorities when crimes of paedophilia come to their attention.

In some English-speaking countries, but also in France, if bishops become aware of crimes committed by their priests outside the sacramental seal of Confession, they are obliged to report them to the judicial authorities. This is an onerous duty because the bishops are forced to make a gesture comparable to that of a father denouncing his own son. Nonetheless, our guidance in these cases is to respect the law.

And what about countries where bishops do not have this legal obligation?

In these cases we do not force bishops to denounce their own priests, but encourage them to contact the victims and invite them to denounce the priests by whom they have been abused. Furthermore, we invite the bishops to give all spiritual – and not only spiritual – assistance to those victims. In a recent case concerning a priest condemned by a civil tribunal in Italy, it was precisely this Congregation that suggested to the plaintiffs, who had turned to us for a canonical trial, that they involve the civil authorities in the interests of victims and to avoid other crimes.

A final question: is there any statue of limitation for delicta graviora?

Here you touch upon what, in my view, is a sensitive point. In the past, that is before 1898, the statue of limitations was something unknown in canon law. For the most serious crimes, it was only with the 2001 motu proprio that a statute of limitations of ten years was introduced. In accordance with these norms in cases of sexual abuse, the ten years begin from the day on which the minor reaches the age of eighteen.

Is that enough?

Practice has shown that the limit of ten years is not enough in this kind of case, in which it would be better to return to the earlier system of delicta graviora not being subject to the statue of limitations. On 7 November 2002, Venerable Servant of God John Paul II granted this dicastery the power to revoke that statue of limitations, case by case following a reasoned request from individual bishops. And this revocation is normally granted.

Haiti debt relief bill clears US House

A man walks across a waterlogged makeshift tent camp after a recent heavy rain. (CNS/Reuters)

A bill calling for cancellation of Haiti’s $1.5 billion debt to world financial institutions has passed the U.S. House. The measure now goes before the U.S. Senate.

Passage comes as the U.S. and other countries of the world debate how to best assist Haiti’s recovery from January’s massive earthquake, which left more than 220,000 people dead and upwards of 1 million people homeless.

The bill, called Debt Relief for Earthquake Recovery in Haiti Act, H.R. 4573, was introduced by Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., shortly after the earthquake. It calls upon the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank to cancel a series of loans made to Haiti.

Waters, a longtime advocate for the impoverished Caribbean nation, said in a statement she was pleased by the House’s action. “Debt relief is essential for Haiti’s future,” she said.

Waters returned from Haiti just before the House vote and pledged to work on long-term housing needs for earthquake victims. With hundreds of thousands of people still living outside in large parts of the country near the capital of Port-au-Prince, the concern is to get adequate shelter to Haitians before the rainy season arrives in April.