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As Fr Pfleger abuse inquiry continues, Chicago archdiocese counters 'misconceptions' of priest's supporters

Chicago, Ill., Feb 25, 2021 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- Defenders of outspoken activist priest Fr. Michael Pfleger are wrong to claim an investigation has cleared him of decades-old sexual abuse allegations or to claim that the priest was singled out, the Archdiocese of Chicago has said.

“It is mystifying why anyone would believe the leadership of the archdiocese, which has consistently supported Fr. Pfleger’s good works, would concoct a ruse to remove him,” the Chicago archdiocese said Feb. 24.
 
“Let’s be clear. This case began when an adult male came forward to the archdiocese on his own with an allegation of child sexual abuse,” the archdiocese continued. “His brother subsequently came forward to the archdiocese with an allegation of child sexual abuse. The archdiocese did not have any prior contact with these men, nor did it look for them or anyone else. These men have made serious allegations, which demand that we follow the same process as we have in other cases.”
 
Earlier that day a group of about 100 people gathered outside the headquarters of the Chicago archdiocese to call for Pfleger’s reinstatement, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.
 
Pfleger, who is white, has been a politically involved community leader based out of the predominantly African-American Saint Sabina Parish in Chicago. He has served at the church since 1983 and is presently described as its senior pastor.
 
Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago asked Pfleger to step away from his duties in early January after the first accusation of abuse.
 
Two brothers have come forward, saying they were each sexually abused separately by Pfleger dozens of times over several years, beginning in the 1970s when they were 12 or 13 years old.
 
The men, both Black, are in their early 60s and live in Texas. The younger brother told the other brother that he had filed a complaint against Pfleger, and the older man said that he had also been abused by the priest.
 
Pfleger denies the accusations.
 
“Let me be clear and restate what my lawyers said in the beginning,” the priest said on Twitter Feb. 24. “I am innocent of these false allegations. When this is over, which I hope is soon, I will have much more to say.”

Pfleger’s causes include advocacy on behalf of the Black community, opposition to gun violence, and support for gun control. He has also helped launch several employment and social services programs for youth, the elderly and the homeless.
 
At times he has voiced support for the ordination of women as Catholic priests; that a woman cannot be ordained a priest is a truth belonging to the deposit of faith.
 
The Saint Sabina Facebook page made claims about the Pfleger investigation in a Feb. 24 post, claims that the Chicago archdiocese disputed.
 
The post claimed that the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has “completed their investigation on Fr. Pfleger with the results unfounded. #Facts.” The post claimed that Illinois officials had concluded their investigation 20 days previously. “The archdiocese has not given us an update as to when Fr. Pfleger can return even though the allegations have been deemed baseless. #facts.”
 
“With all due respect, our request is simple: Reinstate Fr. Michael Pfleger and clear his name. Period,” the post said.
 
In the archdiocese’s view, there is a “basic misunderstanding” about the state officials’ investigation.
 
“Our understanding is that the (Department of Children and Family Services) is not directly investigating the veracity of the allegations against Fr. Pfleger,” the archdiocese emphasized. Rather, the department is investigating whether there is a “risk of harm” to children. Depending on the contents of the letter the archdiocese receives from state officials, “there may be no conclusion about guilt or innocence in this case.”
 
There is also disagreement over whether Illinois officials have completed their investigation into whether there is currently a minor victim and have notified the relevant parties.
 
Bill McCaffrey, spokesman for the Department of Children and Family Services, confirmed to the Sun-Times that the archdiocese was sent a letter Feb. 4 and Pfleger Feb. 24. Neither the archdiocese nor Pfleger’s attorney say they received a letter.

Eugene Hollander, an attorney representing the two alleged victims, said he “would not put much stock” in the findings. Neither brother gave a statement to the department, he said.

The Chicago archdiocese and the Chicago Police Department have ongoing investigations into the accusations.
 
State Sen. Jacqueline Collins, a parishioner at St. Sabina, is among those urging the priest’s reinstatement.
 
“It is time for the archdiocese to expedite the process and bring a renewal, a rebirth and a restoration of Fr. Pfleger’s good name, his dignity and his decency,” she said, according to the Sun-Times. “Time is of the essence because in the court of public opinion, time becomes the jury.”
 
The Chicago archdiocese stressed the need to take every abuse allegation seriously and to follow the same process.

“The Church has been accused, at times correctly, of not taking accusations seriously, of conducting cursory investigations and restoring misbehaving priests to ministry prematurely,” the archdiocese said. “We are convinced that the procedures for dealing with these cases, developed and enhanced over the years, work. They should be followed by all organizations that care for and educate young people. It is ironic that we are now accused of taking too long to consider allegations because a priest is prominent and well regarded.”
 
Stressing the need to spend time on accusations to arrive at a “just conclusion,” the archdiocese said it would work on all cases, “always giving priority to the protection and healing of victims.”
 
“Fr. Pfleger has always been free to comment as he and his attorneys see fit,” said the archdiocese. It said his comments were restricted only insofar as he could not name his accusers and the circumstances they described. “He was encouraged to make public his declaration of his innocence,” the archdiocese added.
 
The archdiocese rejected claims it has not reached out to the parish.
 
“In addition to the letters sent by the cardinal, our Office for the Protection of Children and Youth has contacted St. Sabina multiple times, explaining the process and offering assistance. The offers were refused,” said the archdiocese’s statement.
 
Pfleger has often been a source of controversy. In 2019 he invited Louis Farrakhan to speak at his parish after Farrakhan was banned from Facebook for violating its hate speech policies.
 
In 2011 the priest was suspended from ministry at St. Sabina and barred from celebrating the sacraments because of public statements Pfleger had made threatening to leave the Church if he were reassigned from his current parish. He was reinstated after he apologized.

What changes may be coming to the College of Cardinals in 2021?

Vatican City, Feb 25, 2021 / 06:37 pm (CNA).- When Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako turns 80 on Feb. 27, the cardinals eligible to vote in a conclave will drop to 127, seven more than the limit of 120 set by Paul VI and confirmed by John Paul II.



In 2021, five more cardinals will turn 80, and thus age out of voting in the conclave: Cardinals Wilfrid Fox Napier, George Pell, Maurice Piat, Beniamino Stella, and Angelo Scola.



This means that by the end of the year, cardinals eligible to vote in a conclave will be down to 122, prompting questions of whether Pope Francis will appoint more.



During his pontificate, Pope Francis strongly reshaped the College of Cardinals. In seven years, he has summoned seven consistories (one per year) and created 101 new cardinals, 79 of whom are eligible to vote in a conclave and 22 of whom are not, because they are above the age of 80. To put this in perspective, St. John Paul II summoned nine consistories in 27 years of his pontificate, an average of one every three years. 



A conclave now would be composed of 73 cardinals created by Pope Francis, 39 created by Benedict XVI, and 16 created by John Paul II. 



Many observers in the Roman Curia believe that, taking into consideration Pope Francis’ modus operandi and the ongoing generational shift within the Curia, it is likely that the pontiff will choose to expand the College of Cardinals to 130, and give the red biretta to the new prefects of the Vatican dicasteries.



Cardinal Robert Sarah's replacement– Pope Francis accepted his resignation on Feb. 21 – will likely be a non-cardinal in need of a red hat. 



Cardinal Beniamino Stella, 79, will leave the Congregation for the Clergy when he turns 80 next August. 



Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, is already 77 and will soon retire. Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, is 76.  Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is 76 too, while Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, is 77. 



The president of the Vatican City State administration, Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, turned 78 last October.



This means that the pope could have six new prefects to appoint in the Roman Curia, all positions traditionally run by cardinals.



This, plus the ongoing reform and restructuring of the Curia, will give Pope Francis the opportunity to expand the College of Cardinals, thus having a greater influence on who his successor will be.

 

NY archdiocese reports slight offertory downturn as Child Victims Act payments loom

New York City, N.Y., Feb 25, 2021 / 05:10 pm (CNA).- Timothy Cardinal Dolan of New York on Wednesday offered an update on finances in the archdiocese, noting that although offertory was down overall for the fiscal year, the percentage of offertory given online increased.

He also noted that a large number of clerical abuse lawsuits filed under New York’s Child Victims Act present a challenge to the financial stability of the archdiocese.

“Thanks to the generosity of you, our people, the dedication and commitment of our pastors and priests, and the hard work behind-the-scenes of people in the field and in the chancery, we have
managed to hold our own in some ways, but continue to face some uphill battles in others,” Dolan wrote in a Feb. 24 Flocknote.

Dolan pointed to clerical abuse claims brought under the Child Victims Act, which the state enacted in 2019 following the revelations of abuse perpetrated by former cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

The law set up a one-year window for clergy sex abuse lawsuits in cases where the statute of limitations had previously expired. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has since extended the window for filing lawsuits until Aug. 14, due to complications caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The New York archdiocese has since 2016 offered an independent compensation program for victims of clergy sex abuse. Those victims who accepted compensation from the archdiocese in the fund would waive the right to sue for more money later.

CNA reported in December 2017 that nearly 200 clergy sex abuse victims had already received compensation totaling more than $40 million from the New York archdiocese; the figure may now be as high as $200 million.

Dolan said the flood of new lawsuits presents a financial challenge to the archdiocese.

“We are still assessing what the economic impact will be on the archdiocese, although
it is likely to be extremely significant. Cases continue to be filed, and we are anxious to reach just settlements with those who have meritorious claims, just as we already did through the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program,” Dolan said.

“We are prayerful and hopeful that our primary insurance carrier recognizes the moral imperative to resolve meritorious suits as soon as possible though unfortunately we have met resistance in our effort. We will continue to press and will report back soon.”

Although offertory collection overall dropped by 10% since the beginning of the pandemic until the end of the fiscal year on Aug. 31, 2020, a greater percentage of the archdiocese’ parishes began using online giving services.

Online giving activity more than doubled, from 10% to 25% of all offertory, Dolan said.

Dolan noted that most of the archdiocese’ parishes had applied for and received Paycheck Protection Program loans, after being encouraged to do so by the archdiocese.

“Fortunately, most of our needy parishes properly made use of the Paycheck Protection Program funds, which went to pay the salaries of parish and school staff, and partially offset this overall decline in offertory throughout the archdiocese,” Dolan said.

“In so many cases, a parish is not just a place of worship but a second home for people. It is important that we continue our effort to support these communities of worship.”

The Cardinal’s Annual Stewardship Appeal met its goal of $20 million this year, he said.
 
Although the New York Catholic Conference initially opposed the Child Victims Act, the conference eventually dropped its opposition, the archdiocesan spokesman told CNA in January. When the bill was amended to allow lawsuits by alleged victims of not only religious clergy, but also alleged victims of public employees such as public school teachers, the conference stopped opposing it.

Man dies on his knees in front of altar in Mexico City church

Mexico City, Mexico, Feb 25, 2021 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- A church in Mexico City was the scene on Sunday of the death of Juan, a man in his sixties who got down on his knees to pray at the entrance of the church, made his way up the main aisle still on his knees, passed out, and died within minutes in front of the altar.

The same afternoon the parish priest celebrated Juan’s funeral Mass accompanied by several parishioners.

The official report states that Juan entered Jesus the Priest parish church, around noon on Feb. 21, and died shortly thereafter on his knees in front of the altar, about 45 minutes before the start of the afternoon Mass.

The sacristan, who witnessed the man’s collapse, quickly informed the pastor, Fr. Sajid Lozano, who called an ambulance, but "there were several signs indicating there was no more we could do because he had already died," the priest said.

Speaking to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language news partner, Lozano said that “Juan came on his own two feet to his funeral Mass with his body present there, which is the death of the just, a death without suffering.”

"Juan had the strength and the courage to come to the house of God to take his last breath," he added.

According to the magazine Desde la Fe, a publication of the Archdiocese of Mexico City, very few people knew Juan, but moved by the way he died, many participated in the funeral Mass.

Police and paramedics "told us that the death had occurred due to a sudden heart attack and that there were no signs of violence," the priest told the archdiocesan magazine. The authorities also gave the priest permission to go ahead with the Mass and suggested that he find one of Juan's relatives.

Mexican law states that when a person dies outside of a hospital, the body cannot be removed until the coroner and local prosecutor come to examine the body to verify there was no foul play.

Consequently, Juan’s body had to be left right where he died. As the Sunday Mass was scheduled to begin shortly at 1 p.m., Lozano made the impromptu decision to make it the funeral Mass for the deceased.

A young man who was passing by near the church was able to identify the body and then accompanied the authorities to the family's residence. The son of the deceased was at home, and shocked by the news, went to the church to participate in the funeral Mass.

As a sign of respect, Juan’s body was covered with a white sheet brought by one of the faithful and a candle was placed at his feet.  

Lozano told ACI Prensa that “death is still a painful and unexpected event”, and it is “only through faith that we have the hope that it is not the end of everything, but the beginning of eternal life."

The pastor told Desde la Fe that the faithful "prayed for a person they did not know, but that he was a member of the community."

The dramatic turn of events “made a big impact on the people,” surprised by what had happened, and “together we reflected that death is only the end of our pilgrimage in this world, but the beginning of eternal life," he concluded.

 

Who might be Cardinal Sarah's successor?

Vatican City, Feb 25, 2021 / 04:44 pm (CNA).- After Robert Cardinal Sarah's retirement as Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments, the big question around the Vatican is who will take his place.

Informed sources say that Pope Francis would be looking at three possible options.

The first would be that Pope Francis would raise Archbishop Arthur Roche, 70, from the congregation's secretary to its prefect.

Archbishop Roche was appointed Secretary of the Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments by Benedict XVI in 2012. Before, he was president of the British International Commission on Liturgy from 2002 to 2012. He also served as auxiliary bishop of Westminster from 2001 to 2002, coadjutor Bishop of Leeds from 2002 to 2004, and Bishop of Leeds from 2004 to 2012.

During Pope Francis' pontificate, he has been a go-between Pope Francis and Cardinal Sarah in liturgical issues. He was entrusted with writing a commentary to the motu proprio Magnum Principium, which shifted the responsibility of translating liturgical texts to bishops' regional and national conferences. The comment came out along with the publication of the motu proprio.

In 2019, Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Roche as a member of the team to examine the appeals on delicta graviora, the gravest crimes dealt by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which includes the sexual abuse of minors.

The second option is Bishop Claudio Maniago of Castellaneta. Maniago, 62, has been president of the Italian Bishops Conference's Commission on liturgy since 2015. In that position, he oversaw the new translation into Italian of the Roman Missal, which included a new version of the Our Father.

Pope Francis appointed Bishop Maniago as a member of the Congregation for Divine Worship, and in 2016.

The third option would be Bishop Vittorio Viola of Tortona. A member of the Order of Friars Minor, Viola, 55, has been a bishop since 2014.

Pope Francis picked Viola as bishop, raising him from his position of president of the Assisi Caritas. He had also been the Custodian of the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels in Assisi. He got to know Pope Francis during the pope's visit to Assisi on Oct. 4, 2013, when he sat next to him during a lunch with the poor.

Viola was ordained a priest by Bishop Luca Brandolini, one of Archbishop Annibale Bugnini's closest collaborators.

Viola is also a good friend of Bishop Domenico Sorrentino of Assisi, who was secretary of the Congregation for the Divine worship from 2003 to 2005.

Pope Francis reportedly appreciated how Bishop Viola handled the parishes' re-organization in Tortona, and he showed strong decision-making skills. Bishop Viola was among the candidates to take over the position of Archbishop of Genoa. Pope Francis opted for a Conventual Franciscan in Genoa, Fr. Marco Tasca. But rumors insist that the pope had already decided to call Viola to the Vatican.