Big gaps in redress schemes

Big gaps in redress schemes

Cornelia Rau received almost $3 million from the federal government in 2005 because she had been unlawfully locked up in a detention centre for 10 months.

That payout has abuse survivors support group Care Leavers Australia Network wondering about equity in any system backed by governments and institutions, which may recommend maximum payments between $100,000 and $200,000.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse launched a consultation paper on redress on Friday.

The commission outlined models for a scheme that would cost more than $4 billion over 10 years, with an average payment of $65,000 for 65,000 assumed claimants.

Some states and territories already have redress schemes for abuse victims, with Tasmania capping payments at $60,000, Queensland $40,000 and Western Australia $45,000.

When people resort to common law and decide to sue an institution, payments can far exceed the proposed limits of a national redress scheme.

However, going to court as a victim of historical abuse might present difficulties due to the statute of limitations and because the levels of proof required are higher.

Under Towards Healing, the internal redress scheme run by the Catholic Church, the average payment was $48,300 but in some cases payments exceeded $300,000.

Under Cardinal George Pell’s Melbourne Response payments were capped at $70,000 and the average payment made by the Salvation Army was $49,000.

The national redress scheme would take into account what people have already been paid and assessment of monetary payments would be made on a matrix, assessing severity of abuse, severity of impact and distinctive institutional factors.



Independent committee to investigate sexual abuse

Independent committee to investigate sexual abuse

Five years after the exposure of the German sexual abuse scandal affecting schools and Catholic institutions, victims are calling for an independent committee. They claim that important issues are still unresolved.

Symbolbild Kindesmissbrauch

Being able to speak to the well-attended Federal Press Conference was a special experience to him, said Matthias Katsch. When it was made public five years ago that the former student at the Catholic Canisius College had been a victim of sexual abuse, he did not have the courage to use his real name, using a pseudonym when talking to journalists.

Katsch said that it was a liberating experience to be finally able to talk about the abuse, noticing at the same time that he was not alone in his plight. In January 2010, reports of sexual abuse of students at the Berlin-based Canisius College triggered a wave of further revelations. A large number of affected people from church schools and colleges spoke in public, but also some from progressive education institutions such as the Odenwaldschule in the state of Hesse. The abuse scandal shocked the whole of Germany.

The silence continues

But now, five years after publication of the incidents, their investigation is reaching its limits. It continued at a “sluggish” pace, said Johannes-Wilhelm Rörig, the government-appointed special representative for sexual abuse of minors. He conceded that awareness of the issue had increased and that legislation had become tougher. However, he deplored that “many thousands of girls and boys are still exposed to sexual violence and receive no protection.”

According to previous experience gained by affected persons, the institutions in which they were sexually abused when they were children or adolescents show, for the most part, only little investigative interest. For instance, abuse proceedings at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome are said to be dragged out for an excruciatingly long time. His file had been handed over to the Vatican in 1991, says Matthias Katsch, now the spokesperson for a network of affected people called “Angular Table.” The response so far: none. “All roads lead to Rome, and there’s a big hole there,” Katsch paraphrased this perceived lack of transparency.

Symbolbild Missbrauch in der KircheThe Vatican’s investigations into abuse cases are said to be conducted at a “sluggish” pace

Jesuit Father Klaus Mertes is among those who criticize the church’s “depressing silence,” which was no role model for his own actions: when he was director of the Canisius college, he was notified by former students of abuse cases dating back to the 1970s and 1980s. Instead of sweeping everything under the carpet, he went public five years ago by sending a letter to 500 alumni, asking them to come forward with their own experiences at the time and thereby triggering an avalanche. But still, Mertes said, a “high emotional interest” existed on the church’s part in not even taking notice of information on cases of abuse.

“View from outside is vital”

Often, the motivation behind silence and the cover-up – the victims call it the “second crime” in the wake of the abuse – is believed to be rooted in the system, in “networks” which shield the perpetrator. Getting insights into those and finding satisfying answers has turned out to be particularly difficult for those affected. “We haven’t made much headway yet,” said Adrian Koerfer, who was sexually abused when he was a student at the private, reform-oriented Odenwaldschule and who is now struggling to shed light on the networks.

Johannes-Wilhelm Rörig

Johannes-Wilhelm Rörig

It followed from those experiences that a credible investigation could not be left to the institutions involved: it had to be conducted by an independent party too, according to both the victims and special representative Rörig. For some time, the lawyer has doggedly been urging the creation of an independent committee to further investigate cases of abuse. The minister of family affairs, Social Democrat Manuela Schwesig, already pledged her support. On January 30th, 2015, German parliament is set to discuss the setup of such a committee.

Compensation issue still unresolved

One of the questions it could help to resolve is the issue adequate compensation for the victims, who often suffer from lifelong consequences of abuse, some of them being ill and unable to make a living. The former Canisius College students who were affected get 5,000 euros ($5.600), not as a compensation, but as a “recognition payment.” Father Klaus Mertes dubbed it “a humble token, but still a token.”

It was of no importance so far which kind of payment is considered appropriate by those affected. In Ireland, victims received up to 65.000 euros ($73.000) from the Catholic Church, which could serve as a point of reference. “I think it is important to have a public debate on the compensation issue within the framework of the committee,” said Rörig. Expectations with regard to the committee – which could be operational by 2016 – are high already: where victims’ organizations reach a dead end, it is to take over – even though, ultimately, it can only make recommendations.

Background Checks for Youth Leagues Defeated

Background Checks for Youth Leagues Defeated

A bill to require background checks for volunteers and employees of youth sports clubs failed to pass the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Opponents said the measure had too many gaps in it. Bente Birkeland has more from the state capitol.

In Colorado, roughly 6 million children play in youth sports clubs, ranging from soccer and baseball to swimming and basketball.  Supporters say these sports clubs attract sexual predators because of lax standards.

Senate Bill 48 [.pdf] would have required any employee or volunteer who spends more than five days each month with the children to have a background check.

“Offenders who were in the Catholic Church and in the Boy Scouts, those offenders are leaving those programs and they’re coming to youth sports,” said Michelle Peterson, a child abuse investigator.  “There’s absolutely no doubt, and I see that myself.  The Catholic Church, Boy Scouts, they’ve had these incidents, even Penn State.  They recognize their gaping holes, their lack of policies, their lack of background checks, so they implemented all this change.”

Peterson was one of nearly a dozen witnesses to testify in favor of the bill.  “No one’s requiring anything of these programs and we have 44 million kids across this country paying in these sports.”

Senator Kevin Lundberg [R-Berthoud] and other GOP members of the Judiciary Committee say the state should mandate the background checks, and that the measure would give parents a false sense of security.

“Are background checks really effective?” asked Lundberg.  “Or are they just spot-checking the possibility and we end up with 20% possibility that we caught something?”

Jeff Rugel is with a soccer club in Westminster.  He also says the underlying assumptions in the bill are wrong.  “I do not want to tolerate the concept that youth sports is a cesspool of bad people who are out to hurt your kids.  That’s not what’s going on.”

Currently, USA Hockey requires background checks for volunteers and coaches at its affiliate clubs.  Colorado’s amateur hockey association says they’ve also included a lot of educational outreach around sexual abuse.  For most other sports, it’s up to individual clubs.

Just redress scheme for abuse victims may exceed Royal Commission’s $4.3b cost estimate

Just redress scheme for abuse victims may exceed Royal Commission’s $4.3b cost estimate

Providing just redress to victims of child sexual abuse could cost more than the $4.3 billion estimated by the Royal Commission, victims advocates say.

But they say the figure pales in comparison to the cost of abuse in the community in terms of homelessness, mental health treatment and drug and alcohol abuse.  

The release by the commission of a major discussion paper on redress on Friday brought a sharp intake of breath from some after it was revealed that such a scheme could cost $4.37 billion over 10 years.

In reaching its headline figures, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse assumed an average payment of $65,000 for each victim.

The costs would equate to $1.971 billion from government, $582 million of which reflects government’s contribution as “funder of last resort” – its role in backing up institutions where abuse occurred but which now had no money to pay.

Private institutions would be required to contribute $2.4 billion.

But some advocates for victims and survivors said the total cost of a just redress scheme could be considerably more than that estimated by the commission.

The President of Adults Surviving Child Abuse, Cathy Kezelman, said the $65,000 average figure was quite conservative given the impact of abuse on the lives of individuals.

This position was supported by the Director of the Survivors and Mates Support Network, Craig Hughes-Cashmore.

“The cost could be more – it’s very difficult to know the size and extent of the problem,” Mr Hughes-Cashmore said.

However, both advocates emphasised that the cost of inaction was far greater.

“When it comes to the bottom line we need to consider the enormous cost our community is already paying in terms of the public health and broader social impacts of child abuse,” Dr Kezelman said.

Proposed changes to the burden of proof in civil claims made by the commission came  in for criticism on Friday, with some suggesting they may discourage people from volunteering for grass-roots organisations.

The commission suggested that, rather than victims having to prove that an institution breached its duty of care, as is currently the case, the institutions could be required to prove that it took all reasonable steps to care for the child.

Such a change would be controversial as it reverses the onus of proof that has been enshrined in civil law for centuries.

“We’ve got to be careful of major shifts in the law which drive people out,” Patrick Parkinson, a Sydney University expert in responses to child sexual abuse said.

“We’ve got to think about local at our local soccer club. Because it’s on the strength of our local organisations that our social capital exists – the volunteers who are so important to our social fabric.”

Abuse royal commission and compensation

Abuse royal commission and compensation

This means governments pay extra to cover abuse survivors from institutions that no longer exist or are too poor to make a contribution.

In this scenario, if 65,000 abuse survivors sought redress from government and non-government institutions, an estimated 29,730 of them would make claims against states and territories and 35,270 would claim against non-government organisations.

* The total cost of the scheme would be $4.378 billion. Governments would pay $1.971 billion and non-government institutions $2.407 billion.

* The costs would cover administration, monetary payments adjusted for past payments and counselling and psychological care.


* The NSW government would pay $766 million; non-government bodies $850 million

* The Victorian government would pay $617 million; non-government bodies $707 million

* The Queensland government would pay $251 million; non-government bodies $328 million

* The WA government would pay $132 million; non-government bodies $240 million

* The SA government would pay $143 million; non-government bodies $166 million

* The Tasmania government would pay $15 million; non-government bodies $60 million

* The ACT government would pay $30 million; non-government bodies $37 million

* The NT government would pay $17 million; non-government bodies $20 million

* The costs were estimated over 10 years, with people 85-plus receiving higher payments based on a matrix of the nature, severity and effect of abuse.

* Modelling has also been done on costs if higher or fewer claims were made – the commission will make those available on its website.

(Source: Royal Commission Consultation Paper – Redress and civil litigation)


From Laundering To Profiteering, A Multitude Of Sins At The Vatican Bank

From Laundering To Profiteering, A Multitude Of Sins At The Vatican Bank

For decades, the Catholic Church has been dogged by scandals involving money. Vatican City — a sovereign state — controls its own finances through the Vatican Bank. It developed as a cross between the Federal Reserve and an offshore bank. In a new history, God’s Bankers, Gerald Posner explains that its roots go back to the mid-19th century.

“They had 15,000 square miles of what was central Italy with thousands of subjects,” Posner tells NPR’s Renee Montagne. “They levied taxes and paid for this lavish lifestyle — with 700 servants and a big and growing bureaucracy around them. Then, in 1870, Italy’s nationalists have a revolution. They throw the Pope out, they get rid of the papal states. The Vatican goes from being an empire — an earthly empire — to a little postage-stamp size of property called Vatican City.”

By World War II, the church had sizable investments and created the Vatican Bank in order to hide its financial dealings with the Nazis from the U.S. and the U.K.

“I was surprised the extent to which the Vatican was deeply embedded with German companies,” Posner says. “They bundled together life insurance policies of Jewish refugees who had been sent to Auschwitz and other death camps. They escheated these policies early on — meaning they took the cash value of them.”

Later, when the surviving children or grandchildren of the victims tried to collect on the insurance policies, they were refused.

“These insurance companies would refuse to pay out saying: ‘Show us a death certificate,’ which they knew was impossible,” Posner explains. “They would keep the money.”

In God’s Bankers, Posner sheds light on what he calls “the blood money” that came into the church.

On the Vatican being “equal opportunity profiteers”

It wasn’t as though they did business with the Germans because they wanted the Germans to win. They did business with everyone, because they called themselves neutral and decided that somebody would win at the end of the war — and they were going to keep their business connections open to everybody. Then, when they saw the war was going against the Germans, they started to hide the connections. And after the war they said, “We didn’t do anything wrong.”

On how the Church knew what the Nazis were doing but were “frozen by indecision and fear”

The bank officials and those who ran the bank knew very little because, in part, all they wanted to know was what was happening in terms of the war effort and what was happening in terms of business and profits.

But on the church end, there’s no doubt that they had churches, local churches in all of the countries, that were the ground zeros for the killing zones. The local priests who were not in favor of the slaughter still reported back to their bishops what was happening on the ground. That came in daily reports, and they had unfortunately a very clear sense of what was happening early on.

They were just frozen by indecision and fear. They were afraid that if they spoke out, the Nazis might in fact move against Catholics in Germany and even move against the Pope and take him back to Germany as a prisoner. But that fear meant that they abdicated their moral position as the head of the world’s largest religion, especially at a time that they continued to make money with the people committing the murder.

On the Vatican being anti-communist and its participation in the Solidarity movement in Poland in the 1980s

One of the reasons the Vatican was frozen in fear against the Nazis and had made their alignment with the Fascists in the first place, was that they feared the Bolsheviks more. When John Paul II came in — the first Polish pope, the first non-Italian pope in more than 450 years — and there’s still a communist government in Poland … he formed an alliance with Ronald Reagan. The head of the CIA used to be going over regularly to the Vatican to give him briefings.

I describe a new incident in this book in which Italian intelligence agents, they take $3.5 million in gold ingots from a Swiss bank. They put it into the side panels and a false bottom on an SUV and a priest drives it back into Gdansk from Italy so it can feed the resistance against the communists in Poland. So there was a real alliance between American intelligence, the right wingers and the Vatican on this meeting of minds against communism.

On the “cocaine cowboy days” at the Vatican Bank

The thing about the Vatican Bank that makes it different in my view is that it’s essentially an offshore bank in the middle of a foreign country — so that once that bank was formed, it meant that somebody sitting over in Italy who had a lot of money, all they had to do was find a priest or cleric inside Vatican city to take their money in suitcases of cash across the street — just wait for the red light to turn green — walk it over on a cart, deposit it in the Vatican Bank, and it no longer could be taxed. It no longer could be followed by Italian authorities. It couldn’t be followed for a drug investigation.

So what does that result in? It results in the Vatican Bank being one of the top banks in the world for money laundering — a haven often for these business executives involved in scandals in Italy. … Just in the last decade we learn that the Vatican Bank had an account for [Giulio] Andreotti, who was the seven-time prime minister of Italy, the most powerful postwar politician in Italian history. He had a secret bank account through which over $50 million passed at a certain time, most of which was doled out for political favors to friends.

That was what the Vatican Bank had come to be, and it’s what I call its “cocaine cowboy” days, the equivalent of — I live in Miami, the crazy period here was the 1980s when the cocaine cowboys sort of ran the roost. The Vatican Bank has had its cocaine cowboy days. The real question is now whether the new sheriff has arrived in town. Is that Sheriff Francis, and can he really bring them to heel or not?

On whether Pope Francis has managed to make reforms to the Vatican Bank

I’ve been impressed by him. He has changed the structure so that it won’t have the ability to be at the center of those scandals. And he’s brought in some outsiders. They’ve closed hundreds of accounts that have been open that were tied to people that shouldn’t have had them. They are abiding by the rules set by the Europeans for financial transparency because they use the euro. So it’s a different era.

What could upend it? He needs to be there long enough that these changes can’t be reversed by a new pope who gets in and can be pushed around by the strong dominant bureaucrats.

Second apology over Magdalene laundries urged

Second apology over Magdalene laundries urged

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has been told to apologise to Magdalene laundry victims for a second time in just two years, after failing to live up to promises to women who were effectively forced into State “slavery”.

Opposition TDs insisted the step is needed during the second day of debate in the Dáil on what supports will be made available for women kept in the religious institutions without their consent.

Speaking during the second stage of the Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions Bill 2014, which outlines payments to those affected if they agree not to sue the State,and certain health services in some cases, politicians across the political divide criticised what is on offer.

They included Fianna Fáil mental health and special needs spokesperson Colm Keaveney, who insisted the failure to live up to expectations since Mr Kenny’s Dáil apology on February 19, 2013, means the Taoiseach must return to the chamber and beg Magdalene laundry survivors to forgive him.

“It took him 30 years to be man enough to apologise. The satisfaction these women had in receiving that apology is now turning to dust. It is incumbent on the Taoiseach to apologise again…” he said, adding the State and particularly the justice system “colluded” in what happened to these women.

Socialist TD Ruth Coppinger said there is a clear need to give the women, some of whom are suffering from lung cancer, what they deserve after taking their youth, and attacked the Government-backed McAleese report as a sub-standard investigation. The comments were echoed by Independent TDs Clare Daly, Catherine Murphy, and Maureen O’ Sullivan.

Reform Alliance leader Lucinda Creighton and Independent TD Peter Mathews said “we are all collectively responsible”.

The comments came as the Justice for Magdalene’s Research group said it is “still unclear” why the wording of the bill limits the number of services available to those affected through the HAA card — effectively an enhanced medical card that was previously provided to victims of the Hepatitis C scandal.

The redress bill passed without a vote and is now set to be debated by the justice committee next Wednesday.

Mega Manifesto: On Behalf of Prestonwood Baptist Church and Convicted Child Molester John Langworthy

Mega Manifesto: On Behalf of Prestonwood Baptist Church and Convicted Child Molester John Langworthy

Over the last two weeks 26 named individuals have received an anonymous package in the mail.  Inside was a 24 page essay.  I am the subject of this composition.

The anonymous writer spends dozens of pages attacking my truthfulness, motivations, and personal character.  He claims to be a proponent of Jack Graham and the rest of the leadership at Prestonwood Baptist Church.  The letters were addressed to a variety of people: Prestonwood leadership, SNAP leaders, TV and newspaper reporters, bloggers, and others.  He did not send me a copy, but several of my contacts sent me theirs.

This approach is curious, because if this anonymous writer had just sent me a copy, I could have posted it for the entire public to read much sooner.  Take a look.

Who Is the Pope?

Who Is the Pope?

On December 22, 2014, Pope Francis delivered the traditional papal Christmas speech to the assembled ranks of the Roman Curia. This annual meeting with the staff of the church’s central administration offers popes the opportunity for a stock-taking “state of the union” address. In 2005, his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI had used the occasion to deliver a momentous analysis of the “hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture” that he believed had distorted understanding of the Second Vatican Council by presenting it as a revolutionary event, and to which he attributed many of the ills of the modern church. The phrase “hermeneutic of rupture” was eagerly seized on by those seeking a “reform of the reform,” and became a weapon in the struggle to roll back some of the most distinctive developments in the church following the Second Vatican Council of 1962–1965, which had been presided over first by John XXIII and then by Paul VI.

The scope of Pope Francis’s 2014 address, however, was far more local and specific. Having briefly thanked his hearers for their hard work during the previous year, the pope launched into an excruciating fifteen-point dissection of the spiritual ailments to which people in their position might be prone. It was a dismaying catalog of “curial diseases”—the spiritual “narcissism” that, as part of the “pathology of power,” encouraged some to behave like “lords and masters” (in Italian, padroni); the “Martha complex” of excessive activity, which squeezes out human sympathy and renders men incapable of “weeping with those who weep”; the “spiritual Alzheimer’s” that besets those “who build walls and routines around themselves” and forget the spirit of the Gospel.

The pope’s tally of curial sins also included cliquishness, acquisitiveness, careerism, competitiveness, and indifference to others; the “existential schizophrenia” and “progressive spiritual emptiness” of many who abandon pastoral service and “restrict themselves to bureaucratic matters”; the “theatrical severity and sterile pessimism,” the “funereal face” that often attend the exercise of power; and the “terrorism of gossip” by which the cowardly “are ready to slander, defame and discredit others, even in newspapers and magazines.”

Though presented by Francis as a pastoral aid to a seasonal examination of conscience, the speech was widely perceived, not least by many in his audience, as a scathing critique of the current papal administration. Such excoriation of the Curia by a pope is unprecedented in modern times, yet there was nothing in its substance that need have surprised. The conclave that elected Jorge Mario Bergoglio as pope in March 2013 was beset by a sense of scandal and dysfunction at the heart of the church. The cardinals met in the wake of the startling resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and under a rain of revelations about corruption and money laundering in the Vatican bank, clerical sexual abuse, and the failure of the church authorities to confront it—all given lurid coloring by the “Vatileaks scandal,” the leaking to the press by Pope Benedict’s own butler of hundreds of confidential documents revealing corruption, maladministration, and internecine feuding within the Curia itself.

In the run-up to the conclave, cardinal after cardinal demanded a pope who would purge the church of these ills, starting with the reform of the Curia. Francis was elected largely because he was perceived as someone who would deliver this. His pastoral emphasis on the missionary proclamation of the mercy of God to fallible people in difficult situations seemed to point away from sterile preoccupation with ritual and doctrinal niceties, bureaucratic obstructionism, and the ignoble protection of the church’s institutional interests.

One of Francis’s first major acts was the establishment of a commission of eight (subsequently nine) cardinals charged with the radical overhaul of the church’s central structures, starting with the Vatican bank. His very choice of name signaled a turn away from the doctrinal and institutional concerns of his immediate predecessors, and pointed instead to his passionate insistence on the church’s loving engagement with the poor who make up most of the world’s population.

And yet in doctrinal matters Francis is no radical, no reformer. On the central issues often taken as the litmus test of Catholic orthodoxy his views are entirely conventional. He is strongly “pro-life” and an ardent supporter of traditional family values. As archbishop of Buenos Aires he opposed the Argentinian government’s 2010 bill to legalize same-sex marriages, while supporting civil unions for gay couples, a moderate pragmatism that was rejected by the rest of the Argentinian bishops, who favored a more confrontational stance. In his published “conversation” with the Jesuit Antonio Spadaro, he has called for a new and profound theology of women and a greater recognition of their crucial role in the church. But his own folksy remarks about the place of women and “the feminine genius” in the church have distressed even the most moderate feminists. He has made clear his belief that Pope John Paul II’s 1994 apostolic letterOrdinatio Sacerdotalis (Priestly Ordination) has settled “definitively” the question of women’s ordination—“that door is closed.”

This blanket endorsement of Papa Wojtyła’s attempt to close down discussion of the issue indicates the limits both of Francis’s radicalism and, arguably, of his theological sophistication. Critics of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis pointed out that popes do not have a hotline to God. “Definitive” papal utterances are not oracles providing new information, but adjudications at the end of a wider and longer process of doctrinal reflection, consultation, and debate, often extending over centuries: there are procedures to be followed if such adjudications are to command obedience. But the question of female ordination has never been subjected to this kind of extended theological scrutiny, and a properly theological basis for the prohibition remains therefore to be tested. So, it was asked, how did Papa Wojtyła know that the ordination of women was impossible, and what was meant by describing his preemptive strike on the question as “definitive”?

But these are not matters that greatly interest Francis, and his acceptance of conventional theological positions has enabled some alarmed traditionalists to downplay any suggestion that his election represents a significant break with previous papal regimes. George Weigel, biographer, confidante, and eulogist of John Paul II, for example, insisted that Bergoglio’s emphasis on evangelization, in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), was a continuation of John Paul’s and Benedict’s stress on the need for a “new evangelization,” and demonstrated “the seamless continuity between John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis and the continuity between the John Paul–Benedict interpretation of Vatican II and Francis.”

That judgment, however, carefully ignores the significance of Bergoglio’s consistent adoption of a rhetoric, in word and act, manifestly at odds with the ethos of the previous two pontificates. For admirers of the “dynamic orthodoxy” (a euphemism for the vigorous exertion of central authority) that characterized the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, Bergoglio’s frank acceptance of clerical fallibility and the perils of authoritarian leadership are both startling and deeply unappetizing. Outraged conservative opponents like Cardinal Raymond Burke, in a dramatic departure from the protocol that inhibits cardinals from public criticism of living popes, have described the church under Francis as “a ship without a rudder.”

It’s not hard to see why. In a series of interviews and speeches, Francis has deplored clergy who “play Tarzan”—church leaders too confident of their own importance, moral strength, or superior insight. The best religious leaders in his view are those who leave “room for doubt.” The bad leader is “excessively normative because of his self-assurance.” The priest who “nullifies the decision-making” of his people is not a good priest, “he is a good dictator.” Bergoglio has even said that the very fact that someone thinks he has all the answers “is proof that God is not with him.” Those who look always “for disciplinarian solutions,…long for an exaggerated doctrinal ‘security,’ those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists” have “a static and inward-directed view of things,” and have turned faith into ideology. And so the experience of failure, of reaching one’s own limits, is the truest and best school of leadership. He has declared himself drawn to “the theology of failure” and a style of authority that has learned through failure to consult others, and to “travel in patience.”

There is a strong element of autobiography in all this. In 1973, while still in his mid-thirties, Jorge Bergoglio became provincial superior of the Jesuits of Argentina. The Argentinian hierarchy was deeply compromised by acquiescence in the savagely repressive rule of a military junta, but many Jesuits had embraced the political and theological radicalism of the 1970s. As Jesuit superior, Bergoglio avoided open confrontation with the regime, struggling to reconcile the demands of justice and compassion for those suffering atrocity with the need to preserve the order’s institutions and mission and to protect Jesuit lives.

His own deeply traditional piety was in any case unsympathetic to much of the social and religious experimentalism of the time. Hero-worshiped by many for his personal charisma and spiritual gifts, he was detested by others who saw him as a repressive influence, inhibiting the work of the Spirit in a time of crisis, and he was later to be accused of having betrayed politically radical Jesuits to the junta.

All Francis’s recent biographers agree that the latter accusation was false, but his role as Jesuit provincial has divided even the best of them. Paul Vallely’s Pope Francis: Untying the Knots was one of the earliest in the field. Admiring but keenly questioning, its judgments have worn well. For Vallely, Bergoglio’s failures in wisdom and courage in the 1970s marked a watershed in his life, in the wake of which he underwent a profound conversion to the humility and insistence on the primacy of the needs of the poor that characterized his work as archbishop of Buenos Aires and that now dominate his papacy.

Austen Ivereigh’s The Great Reformer benefits from the privileged insights of some of those instrumental in securing Bergoglio’s election, and from Ivereigh’s own intimate knowledge of his Latin American background. He argues, by contrast, that while Bergoglio did make mistakes as provincial, in essence he ruled wisely and well in a wild time, and that his spiritual and personal values have remained consistent throughout his life.

However that may be, Bergoglio himself has acknowledged that as provincial, “I had to learn from my errors along the way, because, to tell you the truth, I made hundreds of errors. Errors and sins.” Significantly, however, he attributes those sins not to religious or political reaction, but to inexperience and failure to consult: “I have never been a right-winger. It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems.”

That perception is bedded deep in Bergoglio’s psyche, and has shaped his actions as pope. Francis is the first pope to have been ordained after the Second Vatican Council: his commitment to conciliar values is instinctive, strong, and different in kind from that of either of his immediate predecessors. In Evangelii Gaudium, his most important papal utterance to date, he pointedly spoke of the need to “discern the signs of the times,” a crucial phrase from the council’s document on the church and the modern world that Pope Benedict especially disliked and repeatedly criticized.

Gregorio Borgia/AP Images


Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis at the Vatican, September 2014

But above all, Francis is the first pope to embrace wholeheartedly the Second Vatican Council’s aspiration for a church in which authority is shared among the whole episcopate, rather than monolithically focused in the papacy. At the end of the council in 1965, Pope Paul VI had established a permanent Synod of Bishops as a forum for continued collaboration between pope and bishops. Many saw the synod as the major expression of “collegiality” that would devolve much of the decision-making of the Roman Curia to the bishops in synod and through them to the local churches.

Such hopes proved illusory: the Roman authorities saw to it that the synod remained a powerless talking shop with no independence or initiating power. Bergoglio shared the general episcopal dissatisfaction with this situation, and as pope, in one of the most striking passages of Evangelii Gaudium, he has called for “a conversion of the papacy” on such matters. John Paul II, he reminded his readers, had invited suggestions for a renewal of the papal office to make it more visibly an office of service, but “we have made little progress in this regard.” The papacy and the central structures of the Church must heed the call to “pastoral conversion,” because “excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach.” In particular, Francis insisted, there had been a failure to realize a truly collegial spirit within the church, and episcopal conferences needed to be given “genuine doctrinal authority.”

He has proved as good as his word. Opening the Synod on the Family in October 2014 that, among much else, dealt with the fraught issues of sexuality, contraception, divorce, and remarriage, Francis encouraged the bishops to express their views frankly. No one should be silent or conceal his true opinions, “perhaps believing that the Pope might think something else.” To do so would be a failure in “synodality, because it is necessary to say all that, in the Lord, one feels the need to say: without polite deference, without hesitation.” These were not empty platitudes: under John Paul II and Benedict XVI open questioning of official positions was routinely branded as “dissent,” and bishops who deviated even mildly from the official line were subject to reprimand or removal. For a pope to encourage fearless public outspokenness among the bishops was a startling novelty.

The debates that ensued were the most openly contentious since the closure of the Second Vatican Council in 1965. Press attention focused on an emergent liberal pastoral agenda, which favored the admission of divorced and remarried Catholics to communion and a more welcoming attitude toward people in same-sex relationships. This was fiercely contested by those who saw such concessions as surrender to a godless culture. Pope Francis, who had notoriously remarked to journalists that “if a person is gay and seeks God and has goodwill, who am I to judge him?” and who declared in Evangelii Gaudium that the Eucharist was not a reward for the perfect but medicine for the weak, was seen as favoring these calls for liberalization. The failure of the synod to endorse moves in that direction was accordingly trumpeted as a personal defeat.

But that is not how he sees it. In his closing speech to the synod he reminded the bishops that discussion had not ended: they were launched on a true experience of synod, “a journey together” in which even confrontation was a sign of the activity of the spirit. He insisted that “I would be very worried and saddened…if all were in a state of agreement, or silent in a false and quietist peace.” And he reminded all the parties in the debates of the perils of entrenched positions.

On the one hand there was the temptation to “hostile inflexibility,” of “wanting to close oneself,…not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises,” clinging to “the certitude of what we know.” This was the special temptation of the zealous, and the so-called “traditionalists.” On the other hand he warned against “a destructive tendency to do-goodism” (buonismo in Italian) that “in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots.” This, he told them, was the special temptation of the “do-gooders,” and of the so-called “progressives and liberals.” But they should continue to listen to each other with tranquility, confident that the Spirit would guide what seemed to outside observers a “disputatious Church” through choppy waters.

Though always meticulously respectful of his immediate predecessors, the differences between Francis and them are wide, deep, and, as his handling of the synod makes clear, momentous for the church. His distrust of religious leaders who “play Tarzan,” secure in their own certitudes, does not sit well with admirers of John Paul II or his style of leadership. Though he has commended the “prudence” of Benedict XVI’s rehabilitation of the old Latin liturgy, he is suspicious of the reactionary ideological freight that the Latin liturgy often carries with it, and he despises ceremonial pomp.

The exalted doctrine of priesthood that has been in favor during the last two pontificates undoubtedly contributed to a resurgent clericalism (and interest in ecclesiastical millinery) among many of those trained for the priesthood since the late 1970s. It has been notably absent from Francis’s utterances: he has abolished honorific titles and dress for the younger clergy working in the Curia, since for him priesthood is essentially about service to the poor and vulnerable, rather than a symbolic status or the exercise of sacramental power.

Perhaps most momentously, Francis has pointed the church away from culture wars with secular society that were such a feature of Benedict’s papacy, toward a less confrontational approach to the social circumstances in which the faithful have to live, and a more fruitful reengagement with the church’s mission to the poor and underprivileged, in whom he sees both the natural and the most receptive hearers of the Gospel. Where Benedict was inclined to blame the increasing marginalization of Christianity in Western society on a collective apostasy rooted in the shallow materialism of secular modern society, Francis is inclined to attribute the corresponding decline in Latin America to the church’s own shortcomings:

Perhaps the Church appeared too weak, perhaps too distant from their needs…perhaps too cold, perhaps too caught up with itself, perhaps a prisoner of its own rigid formulas, perhaps the world seems to have made the Church a relic of the past, unfit for new questions; perhaps the Church could speak to people in their infancy but not to those come of age.

There was a sense in Benedict’s pontificate that the best response to the crisis of secularization might be a strong repudiation of secular culture and consolidation within a smaller, purer, and more assertive church. By contrast, Francis believes that the church

is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents, and of all misery.

The church must be “capable of rediscovering the maternal womb of mercy” in “a world of ‘wounded’ persons in need of understanding, forgiveness, love.” It must never retreat into itself, never opt for “rigidity and defensiveness.” It works with people as they are, not as they ought to be, taking pastoral risks to meet human need, even if in the process “its shoes get soiled by the mud of the streets.”

That open evangelical and pastoral vision was memorably encapsulated during Francis’s first Holy Week as pope, in March 2013, when he celebrated the solemn liturgy of Maundy Thursday not, as was usual, in the Lateran Basilica, but in an institution for young offenders, where he washed and kissed the feet of twelve prisoners, one of them a Muslim woman. Predictably, the gesture scandalized the liturgists and canon lawyers, who pointed out that canon law forbade the ritual washing of any but male feet on Maundy Thursday, since the ceremony (allegedly) commemorated Christ’s inauguration of an exclusively male priesthood.

Pope Benedict’s penchant for solemn liturgy had been widely pressed as the model of correct practice. Crestfallen “precisians”—partisans of strict and precise observance of rules—now insisted that the pope’s liturgical actions were uniquely privileged, above law, and not a model for imitation. Unmoved, Francis broke the taboo again on Maundy Thursday 2014, when he washed the feet of men and women in a home for the elderly and infirm.

Francis is manifestly, among much else, seeking to place the papacy and the church it heads on a different course from the one it has followed for the last thirty-five years. By word and example he is modeling a style of leadership that is personal without being autocratic, that encourages outspokenness and local responsibility, and that directs the eyes of the church beyond institutional concerns to the needs of suffering humanity. In establishing his advisory council of cardinals he has launched a far-reaching scrutiny of the church’s central governance and of the Vatican’s finances, but he is concerned with far more than a renewal of the church’s machinery. His passionate concern for the poor, which underlay the denunciation in Evangelii Gaudium of an “economics of exclusion”—which outraged Catholic neoconservatives—lies at the heart of what he believes the church is called to be. Beyond institutional reform, he is calling for a new openness in which the church defines itself not by what it excludes but by whom it reaches out to.

Whether he will succeed is a moot point. To achieve change a pope needs the loyalty of those around him. A pope with a long time in office can ensure that those around him share his vision. Rome appoints all the world’s Catholic bishops; the pope himself decides who will be a cardinal. The long pontificate of John Paul II and the succession of his right-hand man, Benedict XVI, have created a hierarchy who share much of their vision for the church. Gerhard Müller, still head of the Vatican’s most influential department, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is also the general editor of Benedict XVI’s collected writings, though his admiration of liberation theology no doubt commends him to Pope Francis.

Francis himself is unlikely to have a long pontificate: he is an old man, with only one functioning lung. Both in Rome and in the dioceses of the world he has been quietly putting in place men who share his vision. But the announcement in January 2015 of his second consistory for the creation of new cardinals was anything but quiet, because the pope’s startling list of the twenty cardinals-designate, fifteen of them under eighty and therefore eligible to vote in the next papal conclave, represented a positive fanfare for Francis’s alternative vision of the Catholic Church. Once again, no North American was included. Flouting convention, major sees in America and Europe whose incumbents would normally expect to join the Sacred College “ex officio,” such as Chicago, Venice, and Turin, were bypassed in favor of bishops from tiny dioceses in Asia, Africa, and Oceania, most of which had never had a cardinal before, like Myanmar, Tonga, and Cape Verde. It seems clear that the new appointments are intended to empower the “church at the peripheries,” promoting pastoral bishops who, in the pope’s own phrase, “smell of the sheep,” while simultaneously frustrating the clerical careerism he loathes, by refusing the “automatic” promotions associated with more prestigious sees.

Yet he has been slow to remove critics and opponents. Even the demotion last November of Cardinal Raymond Burke as head of the Apostolic Signatura, the church’s supreme court, was notably tardy, considering that Burke’s regular appearances in the capa magna, the twenty-foot-long train of scarlet watered silk sported by cardinals until the late 1960s, signaled an understanding of the church utterly at odds with that of the pope.

Francis’s humility and spontaneity have won the plaudits of the world’s press, but his style has not delighted everyone in the organization he heads. Two generations of clergy conscious of the dignity of their priesthood and formed as culture warriors under Papas Wojtyła and Ratzinger do not immediately warm to Francis’s loathing of clericalism and disregard of liturgical convention. However traditional his personal doctrinal views are, some see his unscripted utterances and spontaneous personal inclusiveness as potentially dangerous erosions of the deposit of faith. His Christmas address to the Curia reminded some hearers of the sermons during the annual Te Deum masses at which Bergoglio presided as archbishop of Buenos Aires, and which he used to berate the policies and shortcomings of President Néstor Kirchner and the other politicians who customarily attended, until the angry president decided to absent himself.

As that comparison suggests, Francis’s direct methods are not always calculated to win friends and influence people. Even the friendliest curial officials in his audience last December may have felt battered by their boss, whatever the pope’s intentions. No pope, however charismatic, can change the church alone: they need the help of their civil servants. For as they say in Rome, popes come and go, but the Curia is immortal.

Brick priest sentenced: ‘I didn’t do anything wrong’

Brick priest sentenced: ‘I didn’t do anything wrong’

Fallen from grace, broke and sick, a popular Brick priest just wants to return to his native India, his attorney told a judge on Friday.

But the sentence Superior Court Judge James M. Blaney imposed on the Rev. Marukudiyil Velan for groping a woman in 2012 dashed the clergyman’s hopes of going home any time soon.

Velan, better known as “Father Chris” to parishioners at Church of the Visitation in Brick, was placed on probation for two years for a crime that he still says he is innocent of.

Jury: Brick priest groped mom but not children

“I can’t bear any more of this pain,” the 67-year-old priest told the judge before he was sentenced. “I didn’t do anything wrong. … I couldn’t believe what happened.”

But Blaney disagreed with the diminutive cleric.

“The reality is, that you did do something wrong,” the judge said. “You were in a position of trust, a sacred trust, a spiritual trust. … You took advantage of your position as a priest and violated that trust. That’s wrong.”

Velan stood trial before Blaney in October on a total of seven charges, one involving the woman he was convicted of groping, and the others accusing him of molesting the woman’s two children, who were ages 5 and 13 in 2012, when the alleged incidents occurred in Brick. The jury convicted Velan of having criminal sexual contact with the mother, but acquitted him of all the charges related to her children.

The most serious of the charges that Velan was acquitted of was sexual assault on the woman’s 5-year-old daughter, which would have resulted in a prison term of five to 10 years if he was convicted.

Still, defense attorney S. Karl Mohel said the probationary term will prevent Velan from returning to his family in India for its duration.

Mohel had asked the judge, in imposing his sentence, to consider the toll the charges against Velan have taken on him. Velan lost his job with the Diocese of Trenton, and his health is failing, the defense attorney said.

“He has suffered immensely as a result of these charges,” Mohel told the judge. “His dream is to return to his home in India and start a new life there. He can no longer earn a living here. He’s living on Social Security”

Mohel said Velan never had any previous brushes with the law.

Terry Ann Linardakis, assistant Ocean County prosecutor, asserted that Velan used his former position with the church to take advantage of the victim.

“It was through that job that he violated a trust,” Linardakis said.

The victim did not attend the sentencing hearing.

She has a civil suit pending against Velan, the church and the diocese.

Mohel, outside the courtroom, said he still believes in his client’s innocence.

“I think he was a victim of a cold, orchestrated plan to bleed the diocese of money,” the defense attorney said of his client.

Meanwhile, the leader of an advocacy group for people abused by priests issued a prepared statement expressing disappointment in the sentence Velan received.

“We are sad that Father Marukudiyil Velan, known as ‘Father Chris,’ will not do jail time,” David Clohessy, director of the St. Louis, Missouri-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said in the statement. “But we are grateful to the brave family that reported this priest’s crimes. And we are confident that this mom’s courage to speak up and seek justice will protect more people.”

One of a handful of parishioners who attended the sentencing hearing in support of Velan tearfully defended him afterward.

“He’s just a good man,” Joanne Nebenburgh of Brick, a parishioner at Church of the Visitation, said of Velan. “”That’s the problem – he’s too good.”

Nebenburgh said parishioners could call Velan at any time of the night or day, and he would be there to help them.

She and a much larger group of parishioners had attended Velan’s trial daily.

At the trial, the mother testified that she, her son and daughter were groped by Velan in the family’s home on July 13, 2012, before all of them went out for pizza together. In addition, the boy testified he was molested in April of that year in the priest’s car while they were stopped at a red light, en route to a fast-food restaurant. The girl did not testify.

Mohel argued at the trial that it didn’t make sense for the priest to molest the whole family, and for them all to go out for pizza afterward. He said the priest had met the family several years earlier while on his regular rounds distributing day-old baked goods to poor families in the neighborhood.

Velan, in a statement videotaped by detectives and played for the jury, acknowledged touching the woman’s breasts while hugging her, but he said he resisted inappropriate moves that were made toward him by the children.

Blaney, in addition to placing Velan on probation, ordered the priest to undergo a mental-health evaluation and abide by any recommendations made by the professionals.

Because the crime Velan was convicted of is a fourth-degree offense, he is not required to register his whereabouts with police, a requirement of some convicted sex offenders under Megan’s Law.