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   A metro-east man is accusing a former Catholic priest of sexual abusing him when he was a child, and he wants to hold church officials accountable.  

   The Breese man filed a lawsuit against the Belleville Catholic diocese alleging Robert J. Vonnahmen sexually abused him at a church camp in the Ozarks in the early 1970s.  

   In the 1990s, Vonnahmen was one of more than a dozen priests in the Belleville Diocese removed for alleged sexual abuse of children.  Vonnahmen was formally defrocked by Rome in 2007.  

   The lawsuit claims the diocese failed to investigate complaints about Vonnahmen from other children.

Published in Local News

   The former bishop of the Belleville Diocese says he may sell the $2.2 million home he had built in Atlanta's toniest neighborhood.  

   Archbishop Wilton Gregory apologized to parishioners late Monday for building the 6,000 square foot, Tudor-style mansion in Buckhead.  Gregory wrote on the website of the archdiocesan newspaper that he hadn't considered the impact his residence would have on parishioners who were giving to the church and struggling to pay their own bills.  

   Gregory was bishop of Belleville from 1994 to 2003, when he was named Archbishop of Atlanta.

Published in Local News
Monday, 17 February 2014 06:50

St. Stans shops for affiliation

   A year after severing ties with Rome, St. Stanislaus Kostka Church is looking for an affiliation that will allow it to keep its Catholic ties.  Reverend Marek Bozek tells the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the church wants to have options.  

   Bozek tells the paper he's partial to the Episcopal Church because it's in full communion with the Old Catholic Church of Utrecht.  The European body separated from Rome more than 100 years ago over issue of papal infallibility, but its sacraments are seen as valid by the Vatican.  Bozek says they don't actually want to become Episcopalian, but would like to work toward becoming an Old Catholic parish.  

   St. Stans is also talking with the Ecumenical Catholic Church, the Polish National Catholic Church, and even some more marginal groups, like Roman Catholic Womenpriests.

   The church just north of downtown had governed its own finances since the 19th century.  It's been in a battle for its survival and autonomy since 2003, when the archdiocese first asked the parish to hand over control of its property and assets. Church officials refused and were excommunicated, as was Rev. Bozek.

 

   In 2008 the archdiocese sued for control of the church, but a St. Louis Circuit Court ruled in 2012 in favor of St. Stans.  The archdiocese agreed last year to dismiss its appeal, after St. Stans agreed not to affiliate itself with the Vatican.
Published in Local News
   CHICAGO (AP) — The Archdiocese of Chicago will hand over thousands of pages of documents involving clergy sex abuse on Wednesday to victims' attorneys, who will make them public next week as part of a yearslong attempt to hold the church accountable for how it handled abuse allegations, including concealing crimes and putting priests in a position to continue molesting children.
   The nation's third-largest archdiocese agreed to release the files as part of settlements with abuse victims, and will include complaints, personnel documents and other files for about 30 priests with substantiated abuse allegations.
   The documents are similar to disclosures made in other dioceses in the U.S. in recent years that showed how the church shielded priests and failed to report child sex abuse to authorities. Chicago officials said most of the abuse occurred before 1988 and none after 1996.
   "Until there is public disclosure and transparency ... there is no way people can learn about it and make sure it does not happen again," said Chicago attorney Marc Pearlman, who has represented about 200 abuse victims of clergy abuse in the Chicago area. He said he has been working to get the church to release the documents since 2005.
   Archdiocese spokeswoman Susan Burritt said neither Cardinal Francis George nor archdiocese attorneys were available for comment Tuesday.
   George, who has led the archdiocese since 1997, released a letter to parishioners Sunday in which he apologized for the abuse and said releasing the records "raises transparency to a new level." He also stressed that much of the abuse occurred decades ago, before he became archbishop.
   "I apologize to all those who have been harmed by these crimes and this scandal, the victims themselves, most certainly, but also rank and file Catholics who have been shamed by the actions of some priests and bishops," George wrote to parishioners.
   George said all of the incidents were reported to civil authorities and resulted in settlements with victims.
   In fact, the archdiocese has paid millions of dollars to settle sexual abuse claims, including those against Father Daniel McCormack, who was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty in 2007 to abusing five children while he was parish priest at St. Agatha Catholic Church and a teacher at a Catholic school. The next year, the archdiocese agreed to pay $12.6 million to 16 victims of sexual abuse by priests, including McCormack.
   Files on McCormack will not be among those released; they have been sealed by a judge because of pending court cases, Pearlman said. He said he and St. Paul, Minn., attorney Jeff Anderson will re-release the McCormack documents that they have.
   Many of the accused priests are dead, and the documents will include only 30 of 65 priests for whom the archdiocese says it has credible allegations of abuse.
   Even so, victims and their lawyers said publicizing the documents is crucial to shedding light on how the archdiocese handled accusations against priests — some of whom were moved from parish to parish after they were accused of molesting children — and to help victims and the Catholic Church as a whole heal and move forward.
   Joe Iacono hopes records related to the priest who abused him more than 50 years ago are among those released.
   "For me, it's going to empower me again ... and hopefully it will help others out there struggling to come forward and get help," said Iacono, 62, a Springfield resident who was abused in the early 1960s while he was a student at St. John Vianney Catholic School in North Lake, Ill.
   He said Father Thomas Kelly, who now is dead but whom the church has acknowledged abused children, took an active interest in a group of boys, lifting weights with them and inviting them to spend the night at the rectory.
   "It was his way of weeding us out and separating us from the rest of the class and making us feel special (so he could) take liberties with us," said Iacono, who said he tried to forget about the abuse until his daughter was born years later.
   Iacono, who met with George and was invited to speak to a priests at a seminary about his ordeal, said he also hopes the release "opens the eyes of parishioners ... that we need to hold (church leaders) accountable for their behavior and not allow this to happen again."
Published in National News

   WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The leader of Poland's Catholic Church has come under a wave of condemnation by appearing to suggest that children are partly to blame for being sexually abused by priests.

   Archbishop Jozef Michalik, head of Poland's influential Episcopate, was commenting this month on revelations about Polish pedophile priests. A child from a troubled family, Michalik told reporters, "seeks closeness with others and may get lost and may get the other person involved, too."

   The words triggered an immediate uproar — one that Michalik tried to stamp out the same day by apologizing and saying he had been misunderstood. He had not, he said, meant to suggest that child victims were in any way responsible.

   But the damage was done.

   Ordinary citizens joined prominent politicians in expressing outrage, and intense debate continues more than two weeks later. The media pointed out that Michalik had supported a parish priest convicted in 2004 of child sex abuse, and one of the priest's victims said she was horrified by Michalik's latest remarks.

   "Archbishop Michalik's words make us feel fear and revulsion," Ewa Orlowska said.

   The archbishop's comments forced the Episcopate's spokesman, the Rev. Jozef Kloch, to state that Poland's church has "zero tolerance" for pedophilia but that it needs to learn how to approach and talk about the matter. The controversy has since led bishops under Michalik to apologize for "priests who have harmed children."

   It all comes amid a tide of allegations that Poland's church is sweeping cases of sex abuse under the carpet, putting it at odds with Vatican efforts since 2001 to punish abusers. The scrutiny has also further undermined the church's status in Poland as a moral and political leader — cemented by Polish-born Pope John Paul II through his critical role in inspiring the fight against communism. The church's defenders say that priests are being singled out for condemnation when teachers and sports coaches have also been caught sexually abusing kids.

   John Paul himself came under criticism for a reluctance to heed accusations against priests. While the Vatican in 2001 ordered bishops to submit cases of alleged pedophilia to the Holy See's review, it was largely the initiative of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. After the church sex abuse scandal erupted in 2002 in the United States, Ratzinger pressed for faster ways to permanently remove abusers from the church.

   The crackdown against pedophile priests gained intensity once Ratzinger became Benedict XVI. In 2011, Benedict instructed bishops' conferences around the world to submit their own guidelines for keeping molesters out of the priesthood and to protect children.

   Poland's Episcopate has issued guidelines for the church's punishment of priests and support for the victims. But it sees no need to report priests to state investigators and says that the financial compensation rests with the wrongdoer, not with the church. That approach may soon be tested by a man who is readying Poland's first sex abuse lawsuit against the church.

   In several countries, including the U.S., Canada and Australia, the church has been paying millions in compensation over sex abuse cases.

   Michalik also recently raised eyebrows by saying that the roots of pedophilia lay in pornography and divorce, both of which are "painful and long-lasting wounds."

   The debate started last month after Dominican Republic investigators revealed child sex abuse allegations against two Polish clergymen: Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, the Vatican's ambassador, and Rev. Wojciech Gil, a parish priest. Wesolowski has been forcibly removed by the Vatican. Gil has denied sex abuse and suggested that Dominican drug mafia is taking revenge on him for his educational work.

   Some 27 Polish priests have been tried for sex abuse since 2001, but most cases ended in suspended prison term — indicating a general leniency for the church in Poland, where religion is taught in schools and senior church officials attend state ceremonies.

Published in National News

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Entities affiliated with the Roman Catholic church have contributed more than $300,000 toward a Missouri ballot initiative that would authorize state tax credits benefiting private schools.

   Records at the state Ethics Commission show the group Missourians for Children's Education was established this past week to support the potential 2014 ballot initiative.

   It was launched with a $300,000 contribution from the Archdiocese of St. Louis and more than $11,000 from the Missouri Catholic Conference.

   The initiative would allow a 50 percent tax credit for businesses and individuals who donate to nonprofit organizations that provide scholarships for children to attend private schools or that provide financial aid for public school programs.

   Up to $90 million of tax credits would be allowed annually.

 

Published in Local News

The Supreme Court invalidated parts of the Defense of Marriage Act, but the Archdiocese of St. Louis is standing firm on its opposition of gay marriage.

The Archdiocese says in a statement that "marriage predates both the U.S. government and Western civilization". The statement also states the ruling does not change the Archdiocese "responsiblity to defend marriage as being between one man and one woman".

Wednesday's ruling allows same-sex couples to receive the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples.

The full statement from the Archdiocese is below:

The Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and to dismiss the California Proposition 8 appeal does not change the reality of marriage, nor does it change the Archdiocese of St. Louis's responsibility to defend marriage as being between one man and one woman. It is important to note that marriage predates both the U.S. government and Western civilization.

 

 From a Catholic perspective, it is not enough to offer the Church’s position on same-sex union without also saying how it fits into a broader understanding of the sacrament of marriage, human sexuality, and the Gospel of Life as taught by Blessed John Paul II. The vocation to serve God and society through married life is a sacred union in which man and woman become one flesh. The Catholic Church does not condemn individuals for having same-sex attraction. She teaches that all people are called to responsibility regarding sexuality. The sexual union of a man and woman, when not obstructed by contraceptives, is the kind that is open to life even if new life is not the result.

 

 We understand that married persons imitate the way Christ offers His body completely and permanently to the Church so that we might have life, and have it abundantly. This truth is written into our bodies as well as on the pages of the Old and New Testaments. While the law can allow other things to be called marriage, it cannot make them into the kind of union that is marriage. 

 

Published in Local News

OGDEN, Utah (AP) - Doctors say a Utah man shot in the head by his son-in-law during a Father's Day Catholic Mass is expected to survive.

   Dr. Barbara Kerwin of McDay-Dee Hospital in Ogden says James Evans is still in critical condition but expected to live. She says the bullet went through his jaw and cheek, missing the brain.

   Police say 35-year-old Charles Richard Jennings Jr. walked into Mass hand-in-hand with his wife, Evans' daughter. Authorities say Jennings went up to Evans and shot him near the back of the Saint James the Just Catholic Church in Ogden.

   Jennings was captured Sunday afternoon after fleeing in a stolen pickup truck.

 

   Ogden police don't yet know the motive of the shooting.

   The Rev. Eric Richsteig says Jennings had previously made threats but didn't elaborate.

Published in National News
VIENNA (AP) -- Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn is a soft-spoken conservative who is ready to listen to those espousing reform. That profile that could appeal to fellow cardinals looking to elect a pontiff with widest-possible appeal to the world's 1 billion Catholics. His nationality may be his biggest disadvantage: Electors may be reluctant to choose another German speaker as a successor to Benedict XVI. A man of low tolerance for the child abuse scandals roiling the church, Schoenborn himself was elevated to the its upper echelons of the Catholic hierarchy after his predecessor resigned 18 years ago over accusations that he was a pedophile. --- EDITOR'S NOTE: As the Roman Catholic Church prepares to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI, The Associated Press is profiling key cardinals seen as "papabili" - contenders to the throne. In the secretive world of the Vatican, there is no way to know who is in the running, and history has yielded plenty of surprises. But these are the names that have come up time and again in speculation. Today: Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn. --- Multilingual and respected by Jews, Muslims and Orthodox Christians, Benedict XVI's friend and former pupil was one of the cardinal electors in the 2005 papal conclave that chose the German as head of the Catholic church. A scholar who is at home in the pulpit, Schoenborn also is well connected in the Vatican - and appears willing to make it his home, if reluctantly. Asked if he would like to succeed Benedict on news of the pontiff's plan to step down, he said: "my heart is in Vienna, my heart is in Austria - but naturally with the whole Church as well." Such reticence is not unusual for a prince of the church known for a quiet management style focused on steering the Austrian church around controversy. That has not always been possible. The austere Schoenborn owed his own elevation to the scandal involving his predecessor, Hans Groer, who was accused of abusing young boys. Appointed Vienna's archbishop in 1995, Schoenborn initially stayed silent. But he showed courage three years later, personally apologizing "for everything that my predecessors and other holders of church office committed against people in their trust." In a measure of his dislike of confrontation, he fired his reform-minded vicar, Helmut Schueller, in 1998 by shoving a dismissal letter under Schueller's door. Yet, while grappling with the pornography scandal roiling the church in 2005, he took on the Vatican. "It's sad that it took so long to act," he said of Rome's reluctance to investigate the wrongdoing, saying later of the scandal: "The church is greater than its human weaknesses." He went further than that as cases of sexual abuse continued rocking the church, calling for a re-examination of priestly celibacy in 2010 - only to roll back in typical style shortly after, by having his spokesman issue a denial that he was questioning the rule on priests not marrying. While accepting the possibility of evolution, Schoenborn criticized certain "neo-Darwinian" theories as incompatible with Catholic teaching, writing in a 2005 New York Times editorial, that "any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science." Ideologically, his tenure has been marked by a turn away from inner-church reform. Instead he has focused toward respect for Catholic dogma - while understanding those who fall by the wayside. "It is not easy for the church to find the right path between the ... protection of marriage and family on the one hand and ... compassion with human failings," he said in 2004, alluding to church opposition to - but his personal understanding of - divorce. His audience, at a funeral Mass for Austrian President Thomas Klestil, included both his widow and his divorced wife. Later, however, he made clear that he backed the sanctity of marriage, telling an Austrian weekly shortly after Benedict's resignation that its indissolubility "can be traced back to the instructions of Jesus" and thus could not be changed. He spoke out about bending church dogma in response to pressure in the same interview, saying: "If Christ communicated a teaching that we believe is true and brings salvation to humanity, then nobody gains if that teaching is falsified, even if he were to gain in popularity by doing so." Born Jan. 22, 1945, into an aristocratic Bohemian family, Schoenborn's destiny appeared to have been influenced by his heritage - 19 of his ancestors were priests, bishops or archbishops. After joining the Dominican order in 1963, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1970 by Cardinal Franz Koenig. Like most Austrians, Schoenborn idolized Koenig for his social engagement and courage to speak out on controversial issues - but was initially eclipsed by Koenig's overwhelming personality. In the late 1960s, when Koenig played tennis in Schoenborn's hometown of Schrunns, Schoenborn "always fought to be Koenig's ball-boy," said Schoenborn confidant Heinz Nussbaumer in a telling reflection of the later relationship between the two churchmen. Because of Koenig's strong persona, Schoenborn "had a difficult start," said Nussbaumer, publisher of a Catholic weekly. "But later he was able to develop his own personality." His reputation as a scholar - and bridge-builder to Orthodox Christians - began with a dissertation on icons even before he became a theology professor at the Catholic University of Fribourg, Switzerland in 1975. Fluent in French and Italian, proficient in English and Spanish, he is well-connected in the Vatican, as reflected by his role as a cardinal elector for Benedict. He built on his image as an ecumenist with visits to the patriarchs of Russia and Romania and met with Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei 11 years ago, on the first trip of a Catholic church leader to the Islamic republic since the 1979 revolution. Normally above the fray of international politics, he spoke out sharply in 2002 about President George W. Bush's inclusion of Iran with prewar Iraq and North Korea as part of the "the axis of evil." "In the best case it's naive," he said, contending such comments could "alienate Iran's moderate factions."
Published in National News
Thursday, 28 February 2013 04:22

Papal Farewell - Benedict XVI steps down today

Pope Benedict XVI is making history today, becoming the first pontiff to retire in nearly 600 years.

Only a handful of popes have ever done so.

The last was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415 in a deal to end the Great Western Schism, a dispute among competing papal claimants. The most famous resignation was Pope Celestine V in 1294; Dante placed him in hell for it.

Benedict is saying farewell this morning to his closest advisers in Clementine Hall at the Apostolic Palace. Then shortly before 5 p.m., he will leave the palace for the last time as pope and fly by helicopter to the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome.

Benedict Greets Cardinals on Last Day As Pope



Exactly at 8 p.m. — when his resignation takes effect — the doors at Castel Gandolfo will close and the papacy that began on April 19, 2005, will come to an end.
Published in National News
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