ROME (CNS) --- Catholic bishops should find out what is keeping sex abuse victims around the world from coming forward, said Bishop R. Daniel Conlon, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People. U.N. statistics have shown "that sex abuse is widespread and crosses all cultures and societies" and is not just a phenomenon plaguing the church or Western nations, he told Catholic News Service Feb. 13. A further indication that abuse is a concern for the global church is the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's mandate for all bishops to establish anti-abuse guidelines by May this year, he said. "We as a church, we want to be at the forefront of society in helping to deal with this issue so, even in countries where there have not been allegations of abuse in the church, the church can still be a forceful agent for bringing about change in the larger society," he said. Bishop Conlon, bishop of Joliet, Ill., was in Rome to attend two international gatherings dealing with the church's response to child protection. The first was a Vatican-backed symposium Feb. 6-9 organized by the Pontifical Gregorian University. The other was the Feb. 11-14 Anglophone Conference on the Safeguarding of Children, Young People and Vulnerable Adults. The Anglophone conference has been meeting every year since 1996 and brings together bishops and experts in child protection to share concerns, successful policies and prevention programs. Bishop Conlon said the annual conference takes a more practical, rather than theoretical, approach to what is happening in the field of protection and how policies can be improved.
Sex abuse lawsuit against Vatican withdrawn
VATICAN CITY (CNS) --- A high-profile federal lawsuit accusing Pope Benedict XVI of covering up sexual abuse has been withdrawn. Lawyers for the plaintiff in John Doe 16 v. Holy See filed a notice of voluntary dismissal Feb. 10, bringing the case effectively to an end. The lawsuit was filed in April 2010 in the U.S. District Court in Milwaukee by an unnamed Illinois man who claimed he had been molested by Father Lawrence Murphy during the latter's time on the staff of Milwaukee's St. John's School for the Deaf. The lawsuit claimed that the Vatican "has known about the widespread problem of childhood sexual abuse committed by its clergy for centuries, but has covered up that abuse and thereby perpetuated the abuse." The lawsuit also sought to prove that the Vatican is a global business empire, engaging in "commercial activity" in Wisconsin and across the United States, and holding "unqualified power" over each diocese, parish and follower. Jeffrey S. Lena, an American attorney for the Holy See, welcomed the withdrawal of "fallacious allegations of Holy See responsibility and liability for John Doe 16's abuse. A case like this one against the Holy See, which was held together by no more than a mendacious web of allegations of international conspiracy, amounted to a misuse of judicial process and a waste of judicial resources," Lena said in a statement. The plaintiff was represented by Minnesota attorney Jeff Anderson, who has filed thousands of abuse lawsuits against priests and representatives of the Catholic Church. Anderson is still pursuing a sex abuse lawsuit against the Holy See in Oregon. Another such case in Kentucky was withdrawn in 2010.
Same-sex marriage legalized in Washington, faces votes in other states
OLYMPIA, Wash. (CNS) --- Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire Feb. 13 signed a measure that legalizes marriage for same-sex couples, making Washington the seventh state, along with the District of Columbia, where same-sex marriage is legal. The House passed the bill with a 55-43 vote Feb. 8, a week after the Senate approved it. The same-sex marriage law takes effect 90 days after the governor's signature, but opponents have promised to fight it with a ballot measure that would allow voters to overturn it. If opponents gather 120,000 signatures, the measure will be put to a referendum in November. Prior to the vote, the state's bishops urged legislators to reject the measure and "defend the current legal definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman." In Jan. 23 testimony before a Senate committee, Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain urged lawmakers to oppose the measure "based on the grave challenge this legislation poses to the common good. By attempting to redefine marriage, it ignores the origin, purpose and value of marriage to individuals, families and society." The Washington bill was modeled after similar legislation approved by New York in June, which allows churches and religious groups to choose not to perform same-sex marriages. They also can deny same-sex couples access to their facilities for weddings. Across the country in New Jersey, the state Senate passed a bill Feb. 13 to legalize same-sex marriage. The state Assembly was to vote on it Feb. 16. Gov. Chris Christie has vowed to veto such a bill if it passes and let voters decide on it in a November referendum. In Maryland, Catholic leaders continued their campaign in support of traditional marriage Feb. 10, testifying before members of the House of Delegates against a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state.
Munoz-Visoso named to head USCCB cultural diversity secretariat
WASHINGTON (CNS) --- Maria del Mar Munoz-Visoso, assistant director of media relations at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops since 2007, has been named executive director of the Secretariat for Cultural Diversity in the Church. The appointment is effective Feb. 27. She succeeds Jesuit Father Allan Deck, first executive director of the secretariat, which was created in 2008 to coordinate the bishops' outreach to African-Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders, Hispanics, Native Americans and migrants, refugees and travelers. A native of Spain, Munoz-Visoso held a variety of posts in the Archdiocese of Denver from 1996 to 2007. In 2003, she co-founded Centro Juan Diego, a community center and pastoral institute for the Hispanic community in northern Colorado, where she served as executive director until 2007.
Pope calls on Syria to address citizens' legitimate demands
VATICAN CITY (CNS) --- As a sectarian conflict in Syria intensified, Pope Benedict XVI called on all Syrians to begin a process of dialogue and reminded the government of its duty to recognize its citizens' legitimate demands. In Beirut, the patriarch of the Syriac Catholic Church warned against toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, calling for dialogue to solve the crisis in the country. "Our fear since the beginning of the bloody crisis in Syria was that the refusal of any sort of dialogue between the regime and the opposition will surely create a state of chaos that will definitely lead to a civil war," Syriac Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan told Catholic News Service. "The world must sustain all efforts for a dialogue to solve problems and uphold the democracy in a realistic and gradual way. Forcing the departure of the Syrian president will be a step for a civil war based on confessionalism," the patriarch said. In St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Feb. 12, the pope expressed his concern for "the dramatic and increasing episodes of violence in Syria." At the end of his Angelus prayer, he said he was praying for everyone who has been killed, injured and affected by a conflict that is "increasingly worrisome. I renew an urgent appeal to put an end to the violence and bloodshed," he said. "I invite everyone, especially Syria's political authorities, to favor the path of dialogue, reconciliation and a commitment to peace," he said.
Senior British official says Europe faces militant secularism
MANCHESTER, England (CNS) --- A "deeply intolerant" militant secularism is taking hold of Western societies, said a senior British government minister heading a delegation to the Vatican. Such secularism "demonstrates similar traits to totalitarian regimes --- denying people the right to a religious identity because they were frightened of the concept of multiple identities," said Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a Muslim. She said Europe must counter the threat by becoming "more confident and more comfortable in its Christianity." The Cabinet "minister without portfolio" and co-chair of the ruling Conservative Party made her remarks in an article published by the London-based Daily Telegraph Feb. 14, the first day of a two-day Vatican visit by the delegation of seven government ministers. They were to be joined by Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster before they meet the pope and Vatican officials to discuss a range of policy issues. The trip was more than "a Valentine's Day 'love-in' with our Catholic neighbors," said Baroness Warsi. "This is about recognizing the deep and intrinsic role of faith here in Britain and overseas." She said that in her Feb. 14 address to the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, which she said she wanted to "ring out beyond the Vatican walls," she would be arguing that "to create a more just society, people need to feel stronger in their religious identities and more confident in their creeds. In practice this means individuals not diluting their faiths and nations not denying their religious heritages," said Baroness Warsi.
Federal immigration agency turns to El Paso migrants' shelter for help
EL PASO, Texas (CNS) --- Necessity often results in unexpected relationships, and that's one way to describe the connection between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Annunciation House in El Paso, a shelter for undocumented immigrants. Ruben Garcia, the shelter's director, said that as the federal government's El Paso-area detention center swells with immigrants, particularly those seeking asylum, there is a desperate need to house those whom officials have decided not to detain but who still must navigate what can be a daunting bureaucracy until their plight is determined. For 34 years, the Catholic-run center has been a respite for immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, a scant 10 blocks away. Garcia said the unlikely relationship between Annunciation House and ICE --- and its precursor, the Immigration and Naturalization Service --- has been going on for more than 25 years. ICE is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; INS was folded into the department several years ago. "They (federal agents) used to drop immigrants off a few blocks away and point in our direction for them to walk to," Garcia said. "Our doors are always open and they know it." He said on one particularly cold El Paso night, a U.S. Border Patrol agent tapped on the house window and motioned to a van of immigrants who were just picked up and had no place to go. "Of course we took them in," Garcia said. "Annunciation House has been privileged to bear witness to the evolution of immigration." Through the years, the relationship with ICE has evolved from covert to more overt referrals.