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Criminal charges dropped against Minnesota archdiocese, archbishop admits failure to protect children

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By Catholic News Service

St. PAUL, Minn. — Standing before reporters and cameras July 20, Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda said the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis failed in its handling of the case of Curtis Wehmeyer, a former priest who pleaded guilty in two courts of abusing three brothers while pastor of Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul.

Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis addresses the media at a news conference July 20. He announced the Ramsey County Attorneyís Office in St. Paul has dismissed criminal charges alleging the Minnesota archdiocese failed to protect children in the abuse case of former priest Curtis Wehmeyer. (CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit)

Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis addresses the media at a news conference July 20. He announced the Ramsey County Attorneyís Office in St. Paul has dismissed criminal charges alleging the Minnesota archdiocese failed to protect children in the abuse case of former priest Curtis Wehmeyer. (CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit)

“We failed to give priority to the safety and well-being of the children he hurt over the interests of Curtis Wehmeyer and the archdiocese,” Archbishop Hebda said. “In particular, we failed to prevent Curtis Wehmeyer from sexually abusing children. Those children, their parents, their family, their parish and others were harmed. We are sorry. I am sorry.”

The archbishop’s statement followed the announcement that the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office, under the leadership of Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, had dismissed criminal charges filed last year against the archdiocese, and the parties had amended a settlement agreement they reached in December on a related civil petition.

“Words are not enough,” Archbishop Hebda acknowledged. “We must, we will and we are doing better. Far-reaching changes are underway.”

He pointed to the archdiocese’s inclusion of more laypeople in its safe environment protocols, as well as the impact of Ramsey County’s oversight of the archdiocese’s policies and procedures and compliance with them.

“Over the past year, we worked with Mr. Choi and his team to define how the archdiocese can best create and maintain safe environments for children in our parishes, schools and communities,” he said. “Over the past six months, we have demonstrated our commitment to that path. Today, we humbly acknowledge our past failures and look forward to continuing down that path to achieve those vital, common goals that together we all share.”

Janell Rasmussen, archdiocesan deputy director of ministerial standards and safe environment, noted that since the agreement was reached, archdiocesan leaders have been working closely with Choi and his team and will continue to seek their advice and assistance.

Describing the day as one of “solemn reckoning and self-assessment,” Rasmussen said their work will never be done. “Today, tomorrow and every day we will ask ourselves, ‘Are we doing all we can to make sure children are safe?’”

In June 2015, the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office, whose jurisdiction includes St. Paul, filed criminal charges and a civil petition against the archdiocese, alleging it failed to protect children in its handling of Wehmeyer’s case. The charges included three counts of contributing to the need for protection or services, and three counts of contributing to a juvenile’s delinquency.

In the summer of 2010, Wehmeyer, then a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and pastor of Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul, sexually abused two brothers, ages 12 and 14, in a camper trailer he had parked on parish grounds and on a camping trip.

The boys disclosed the abuse two years later, and Wehmeyer was removed from ministry. In 2013, their older brother revealed that he, too, had been abused by the priest during a camping trips in 2008, 2009 and 2011. In several instances of the abuse, Wehmeyer provided alcohol or marijuana to the boys.

Wehmeyer pleaded guilty in 2013 of sexually abusing the two younger brothers in 2010. He also pleaded guilty in August 2015 in a Wisconsin court of sexually assaulting the third brother on a camping trip. Pope Francis dismissed him from the clerical state in 2015, meaning he can no longer exercise priestly ministry or present himself as a priest. He is currently in prison.

The Ramsey County charges alleged that the archdiocese had information that should have prompted its leaders to remove Wehmeyer from ministry before Archbishop Harry Flynn appointed him administrator of Blessed Sacrament in 2006, and it did not follow its own protocols, despite known instances of Wehmeyer’s “risky behavior” and violations of safe environment standards.

Ten days after the charges were filed, Archbishop John C. Nienstedt, who had led the archdiocese since 2008, and Auxiliary Bishop Lee A. Piche resigned, citing the need to step down to allow healing to begin in the archdiocese as leaders of the archdiocese.

Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Hebda, then coadjutor archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, to the temporary role of the archdiocese’s apostolic administrator alongside Auxiliary Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens. In March, the pope named Archbishop Hebda as head of the archdiocese, and he was installed in May.

“When I arrived here about a year ago, criminal and civil charges against the archdiocese had just been announced,” Archbishop Hebda said. “A decision had to be made: Do we fight the charges in court, which would have taken years of time and considerable resources, or do we work with the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office to try to make amends to those harmed and achieve justice for all in the broadest possible way. We chose the latter.”

He added: “Cooperation was the right avenue to achieve a just solution.”

In December, the archdiocese reached a settlement agreement with the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office on the civil petition, in which it agreed to continue child protection protocols it had already implemented as well as additional measures, and to Ramsey County’s oversight of its safe environment procedures for three years.

On July 20, the archdiocese presented a six-month progress report on its compliance with the agreement to Ramsey County District Court Judge Teresa Warner. Attorneys for the archdiocese and the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office described their strong, ongoing collaboration and affirmed the report satisfied the County Attorney’s requirements and demonstrated a significant effort to protect children.

Warner accepted the report and commended the work of the archdiocese and attorney’s office.

“What happened to kids in this case cannot be undone, but steps to work together … (are) significant,” she said. “You rolled up your sleeves, and you looked at what you could do to protect kids going forward.”

Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Thomas Ring noted that in the settlement, the archdiocese had agreed to take on “something more comprehensive than a court may have been able to offer.”

At a later news conference, Choi explained that a court likely wouldn’t have been able to mandate county oversight of the archdiocese’s protocol implementation due to laws separating church and state.

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Former Our Sunday Visitor publisher named CNS director, editor-in-chief

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Greg Erlandson, former president and publisher of Our Sunday Visitor, has been named director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service (CNS), effective Sept. 12.

Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield, general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, announced the appointment July 20.

Greg Erlandson, former president and publisher of Our Sunday Visitor, has been named director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, effective Sept. 12. (CNS /courtesy Greg Erlandson)

Greg Erlandson, former president and publisher of Our Sunday Visitor, has been named director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, effective Sept. 12. (CNS /courtesy Greg Erlandson)

“Greg brings a remarkable combination of management expertise, journalism skills and demonstrated service to the church at the national and international level. I am confident he will prove to be an important resource to clients of CNS,” Msgr. Bransfield said in a statement.

Erlandson, 62, stepped down from his position at OSV in Huntington, Indiana, after nearly 27 years with the company. He was named OSV editor in 1989 and was promoted to editor-in-chief of its editorial operations in 1992. He was named president and publisher in 2000.

“CNS is one of the gifts of the U.S. church to the rest of the Catholic world,” Erlandson said in response to an email asking for comment. “It is an honor to follow in the footsteps of so many great directors of the news service, and I am humbled by the opportunity to join our colleagues at the bishops’ conference in serving our fellow Catholics.”

“Catholic News Service has for decades been the backbone of the Catholic press,” he said. “It has enabled diocesan media to have a dependable source of national and international news, of great columnists and great features. It has also provided timely and trustworthy reporting to a wide variety of Catholic publications and organizations as well as to bishops and communicators around the world.”

Erlandson worked for CNS from 1986 to 1989. After a brief time in the Washington office, he worked at the CNS Rome bureau until he left to become editor at OSV.

“So I expect to feel a little deja vu,” he said, calling his time with CNS in Rome “life-changing.”

“My years in Italy changed the way I viewed both my church and my country, and I will always be grateful for the opportunity Richard Daw (then-CNS editor-in-chief) made available to me,” Erlandson said.

Erlandson succeeds Tony Spence, who resigned in April after 12 years as editor-in-chief. James Rogers, USCCB chief communications officer, took over CNS administrative duties while a search process took place for a successor.

Msgr. Bransfield thanked CNS staff “for their focus and hard work during this period of transition” and thanked Rogers and the search committee for their work.

Erlandson studied journalism at the Graduate School of Journalism of the University of California at Berkeley. He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English literature from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Early in his career, he was editor of the National Catholic Register.

Erlandson has had an active role as an advocate for the Catholic press. He served as president of Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada from 2011 to 2013 and continued on the organization’s board after his term.

He has been appointed twice as a consultant to the USCCB’s Committee on Communications, and he has been a consultant for the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. He completed a stint in 2015 on a committee working to reform the Vatican’s communications arm that led to the creation of the new Vatican Secretariat for Communications.

In June, he received the Bishop John England Award from the CPA during the Catholic Media Conference in St. Louis. Last February, he was inducted into the Association of Catholic Publishers Hall of Fame for lifetime achievement. In 2015, he received the St. Francis de Sales Award, the CPA’s highest honor.

He and his wife, Corine Bischetti Erlandson, have four children.

 

 

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Atlanta archbishop to lead U.S. bishops’ new task force on race

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta has been appointed as chair of a new task force of the U.S. bishops to deal with racial issues brought into public consciousness following a series of summertime shootings that left both citizens and police officers among those dead.

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta  has been named to lead a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' task force to deal with racial issues. (CNS file / Michael Alexander, Georgia Bulletin)

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta has been named to lead a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ task force to deal with racial issues. (CNS file / Michael Alexander, Georgia Bulletin)

The task force’s charge includes helping bishops to engage directly the challenging problems highlighted by the shootings. Task force members will gather and disseminate supportive resources and “best practices” for their fellow bishops; actively listening to the concerns of members in troubled communities and law enforcement; and build strong relationships to help prevent and resolve conflicts.

“By stepping forward to embrace the suffering, through unified, concrete action animated by the love of Christ, we hope to nurture peace and build bridges of communication and mutual aid in our own communities,” said a July 21 statement from Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In addition to creating the task force and appointing its members, Archbishop Kurtz also called for a national day of prayer for peace in our communities, to be held Sept. 9, the feast of St. Peter Claver.

Archbishop Gregory is a former USCCB president. Other task force members are Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Social Development; Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee for African-American Affairs; Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, California, chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development; and retired Bishop John H. Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida, who is president of the National Black Catholic Congress.

The day of prayer, according to a July 21 USCCB announcement about the task force’s formation, will “serve as a focal point for the work of the task force.”

The task force’s work will conclude with the USCCB’s fall general meeting in November, at which time it will report on its activities and recommendations for future work.

“I have stressed the need to look toward additional ways of nurturing an open, honest and civil dialogue on issues of race relations, restorative justice, mental health, economic opportunity and addressing the question of pervasive gun violence,” Archbishop Kurtz said. “The day of prayer and special task force will help us advance in that direction.”

The task force will have bishop consultants, including Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, who is USCCB vice president, as well as bishops whose jurisdictions have experienced extreme gun violence, or who otherwise bring special insight or experience on related questions. An equal or smaller number of lay consultants with relevant expertise will be appointed soon thereafter, the USCCB announcement said.

“I am honored to lead this task force which will assist my brother bishops, individually and as a group, to accompany suffering communities on the path toward peace and reconciliation,” said Archbishop Gregory in a July 21 statement. “We are one body in Christ, so we must walk with our brothers and sisters and renew our commitment to promote healing. The suffering is not somewhere else, or someone else’s; it is our own, in our very dioceses.”

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Thousands at L.A. Mass celebrate immigrant spirit in America

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LOS ANGELES — Pilgrims from all nationalities and backgrounds walked several miles from a couple of different points in Southern California to join thousands of others at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles for a special Mass to recognize all immigrants July 17.

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles blesses a girl during a special Mass celebrated July 17 in recognition of all immigrants at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. (CNS photo/Victor Aleman, Vida Nueva)

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles blesses a girl during a special Mass celebrated July 17 in recognition of all immigrants at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. (CNS photo/Victor Aleman, Vida Nueva)

Participants raised awareness of the need for immigration reform in the United States, calling for solidarity on the issue for all to be merciful and compassionate toward immigrants in this Year of Mercy.

“We celebrate the immigrant spirit of the people of our country. This is the story of Los Angeles, the story of the state of California and the story of our country, which is a nation of immigrants,” said Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, the main celebrant of the afternoon Mass.

“We gather to pray for all of the immigrants and their families — past, present and future. We pray for immigration reform in our country, for our elected officials and for people all over the world that they open their hearts to the immigrants who come to their countries,” he said.

The congregation included people from the Los Angeles Archdiocese, the Diocese of Orange and the Diocese of San Bernardino.

On July 15 a group from Lake Forest, in the Orange Diocese, began a three-day, 50-mile walking pilgrimage to the Mass

The pilgrimage, called “Siempre Adelante” (“Always Forward”), was dedicated to St. Junipero Serra as it followed part of the same route he traveled with fellow missionaries to found the first nine missions in California.

St. Junipero’s first feast day was July 1; he was canonized last September by Pope Francis during his U.S. visit. The title of the pilgrimage was taken from his motto: “Always forward, never back.”

Before Mass, immigrants of diverse backgrounds shared testimonies including Emiliano Leonides, one of the leaders of the “Siempre Adelante” pilgrimage for a second consecutive year and catechist at Santiago de Compostela Church in Lake Forest.

“I’m here to ask God and all the people attending the Mass in recognition of all immigrants to not forget how much we suffer when pursuing our dreams and crossing the border,” said Leonides. “We are sending the message to those in power that there’s a need to change the laws for a comprehensive immigration reform and stop the separation of families.”

“I am walking with them to raise awareness about the need of a comprehensive immigration reform and to let people know what the Constitution states: that we are one under God. God loves all his children,” said Lily Nguyen-Ellis, also a parishioner of Santiago de Compostela Church. She joined the pilgrimage for the first time this year.

“In this Year of Mercy, I want to show people that immigration isn’t just about talking, it’s about doing, and we’re all immigrants one way or another,” said Nguyen-Ellis. In 1984, when she was 17, she entered the U.S. without legal permission, arriving from Vietnam with her parents and five siblings.

A month before she decided to participate in the pilgrimage and immediately challenged herself to walk at least a couple of hours a day on her own. She ended up seven hours in one day “just to make sure I would be able to walk the 53-mile pilgrimage,” said the 49-year-old hairdresser. It was hard, but worth it, she said.

“We have been helping each other and getting to know each other better,” added Nguyen-Ellis.

At 4 o’clock the morning of the Mass, a group of 20 pilgrims from Holy Family Catholic Church in Wilmington, in the Los Angeles archdiocese, journeyed 20 miles on foot to the cathedral to offer prayers of solidarity for all immigrants.

The group was led by longtime parishioner Maria Mejia, who is an extraordinary minister of holy Communion. “Our country has been built my immigrants and as we traveled on foot to the cathedral we prayed for all immigrants and for immigration reform that is just and honors all human life,” said Mejia.

A pre-gathering procession began inside the cathedral just before Mass and included representatives from parishes throughout Southern California and people impacted by what advocates feel is a broken immigration system in the U.S.

The crowd included including DACA students who have benefited from the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, and parents eligible for the Obama administration’s DAPA program, or Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents.

Among others in attendance were families facing separation; refugees and expatriates from different nationalities; and members of the interfaith community.

DAPA and an expansion of DACA have been put on hold by the courts; the plans would temporarily protect more than 4 million unauthorized immigrants from deportation. President Barack Obama created DAPA and expanded DACA via executive actions in 2014.

During the Mass, prayers were offered in French, Spanish, Polish, Vietnamese, Swedish and English for immigrant families “suffering in the shadows from poverty and brokenness,” according to a news release.

The relics of Sts. Junipero Serra, Frances Xavier Cabrini and Toribio Romo were on display during the Mass and available for public veneration following the Mass.

The first U.S. citizen to be canonized, Mother Cabrini arrived in the United States in the late 19th century to start a ministry to immigrants at the request of Pope Leo XIII. St. Toribio Romo is considered by many to be the patron saint of immigrants.

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Priest’s prayer reminds GOP convention of importance of all human life

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Catholic News Service

CLEVELAND — When Msgr. Kieran Harrington delivered the invocation on the opening night of the Republican National Convention, it wasn’t just a coincidence that he ended up on the same stage where high-scale politics would dominate for four days.

Msgr. Kieran Harrington, vicar of communications for the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y., delivers the invocation July 18 during the first day of the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland. (CNS photo/Tannen Maury, EPA)

Msgr. Kieran Harrington, vicar of communications for the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y., delivers the invocation July 18 during the first day of the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland. (CNS photo/Tannen Maury, EPA)

The priest from the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, told Catholic News Service that he worked for the Republican National Committee for five years in the 1990s and was known to some of the party’s highest-ranking officials.

The process was not planned far in advance and his on-stage appearance was finalized only days before the convention began, he said. Things happened so quickly that Msgr. Harrington ended up driving from Brooklyn to Cleveland, arriving at 3 a.m. July 18, about 17 hours before offering the prayer.

“The way I look at it is I’m here to bring the Gospel. It’s very important to hold up a mirror to let people know what their deliberations really are about,” said Msgr. Harrington, chairman of the DeSales Media Group in the diocese and pastor of the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Brooklyn.

The invitation came after he inquired about the status of press credentials for the staff of the diocese’s New Evangelization Television cable TV network. Msgr. Harrington received a call from Sean Spicer, communications director and chief strategist for the Republican National Committee, who not only confirmed the credentials, but invited the priest to offer the prayer.

Msgr. Harrington cleared the request with Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio and began coordinating his short appearance at the convention.

Aside from Bishop DiMarzio, few knew about Msgr. Harrington’s part at the convention until he told St. Joseph parishioners at Masses the weekend of July 16-17.

“I told them, ‘’I don’t want you to be surprised. You may see my on TV. I want to tell you I believe you bring the Gospel everywhere and anywhere,’” he recalled.

Lasting about three minutes, the prayer referenced the example of the good Samaritan as told in the Gospel of Luke, which had been read at Masses the weekend of July 9-10.

“To me, the good Samaritan was important especially because, I think, of the great issues our country faces. The perennial issues on human life. To me, I don’t think there is any way around saying this is the greatest evil our nation is engaged with at the moment. To take the life of child in the womb is barbaric,” he said.

“At same time, as people who stand for human life, we understand life begins at conception, but it doesn’t end when the child is born. There are people who are vulnerable and who are here in this country and are strangers. To my mind I wanted to hold that up because the rhetoric can be un-neighborly to say the least,” Msgr. Harrington said.

The prayer included a request for blessings and inspiration for the delegates and party leaders that their deliberations “might be earnest and fruitful.”

Msgr. Harrington’s career in politics lasted from 1994 to 1999. It began when he decided to take a year off from studying for the priesthood. He wanted to get a job and better understand the lives of people who go to work day in and day out so he could be a better priest. He joined the RNC doing research and working in campaign operations. One year stretched to five as he took on more responsibilities and became an aide to Jim Nicholson, then-party chairman, who later became U.S. ambassador to the Holy See and then secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Msgr. Harrington said today that he is a registered Democrat, but he did not offer any reason for his change in political allegiance.

When it comes to prayer though, he said, politics does not matter.

“Frankly in my time,” he said, “I find most people who are involved in the political process are extraordinarily earnest and really do want to accomplish good. So I think it was appropriate (to offer the prayer).”

 

Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski

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Baton Rouge bishop calls for a week of prayer after police officers killed

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BATON ROUGE, La. — Baton Rouge Bishop Robert W. Muench renewed a call for a diocesan-wide week of prayer, fasting and reflection after the latest fatal shootings in the city, which this time took the lives of three law enforcement officers.

He urged all to “work toward a lasting peace in our communities.”

Early July 17, a former Marine fatally shot three police officers, and wounded three more, one critically, less than a mile from

Police officers attend a July 17 vigil at St. John the Baptist Church in Zachary, La., for the fatal attack on policemen in Baton Rouge, La. A former Marine dressed in black shot and killed three Baton Rouge law enforcement officers that day, less than two weeks after a black man was fatally shot by police here in a confrontation that sparked nightly protests nationwide. (CNS photo/Jeffrey Dubinsky, Reuters)

Police officers attend a July 17 vigil at St. John the Baptist Church in Zachary, La., for the fatal attack on policemen in Baton Rouge, La. A former Marine dressed in black shot and killed three Baton Rouge law enforcement officers that day, less than two weeks after a black man was fatally shot by police here in a confrontation that sparked nightly protests nationwide. (CNS photo/Jeffrey Dubinsky, Reuters)

the city’s police headquarters. The gunman, later identified as Gavin Long of Missouri, was killed at the scene, officials said.

Baton Rouge was still reeling from the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling, 37, by police during an altercation outside a convenience store July 5. The first week of July also saw the fatal shooting of Philando Castile, 32, in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota, by police officers July 6, followed by the sniper shooting in Dallas that killed five police officers July 7.

“Words cannot express the emotions we feel for those who have lost loved ones in the tragic events of this day,” Bishop Muench said in a statement. “Their entire lives have been unexpectedly and terribly turned upside down.”

He said he and the diocese’s vicar general, Father Tom Ranzino, visited two of the families affected by the shootings later that afternoon to share “prayer and support in the midst of their shock, horror and grief.”

“Prayer is a powerful path to follow when tragedy happens, but even the most devout of us sometime question: ‘What good could come of this?’” the bishop said. “Only the word of God has the answer to the questions that shake our faith: The answer is our Lord Jesus Christ. In Jesus, hope ultimately triumphs over despair; love ultimately triumphs over hate; and resurrection ultimately triumphs over death.”

In the neighboring Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, Bishop Shelton J. Fabre said that “our tears are still falling and our fresh and fervent prayers are still ascending to God” over the earlier violence and loss of life in Louisiana when the law enforcement offers were ambushed in Baton Rouge, a diocese “very close to home for us.”

“As a native of New Roads and a priest of the Diocese of Baton Rouge for 17 years, I feel a deep ache in my heart because of recent violence that has happened there,” said Bishop Fabre in a reflection posted July 17 on his Facebook page.

 

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At Mass and memorials, Dallas says goodbye to fallen police officers

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Catholic News Service

DALLAS — At a Mass and at memorials in megachurches, family, friends and police officers from around the country thanked and said goodbye to five Dallas police officers killed by a gunman targeting police officers after a rally protesting police-related shootings in other parts of the country.

Sgt. Rocio Munoz of the Dallas Police Department inspects a memorial to slain officers outside department headquarters in Dallas July 11. (CNS photo/Kevin Bartram)

Sgt. Rocio Munoz of the Dallas Police Department inspects a memorial to slain officers outside department headquarters in Dallas July 11. (CNS photo/Kevin Bartram)

Killed July 7 in downtown Dallas were Sgt. Michael J. Smith, 55; Senior Cpl. Lorne Ahrens, 48; Officer Michael Krol, 40; and Officer Patrick Zamarripa, 32, all from the Dallas Police Department; and Brent Thompson, 43, an officer with the Dallas Area Rapid Transit. Nine other officers and two civilians were injured.

The gunman, Micah Xavier Johnson, 25, described by police as angry and deranged, held police at a standoff for several hours, admitting that he was targeting white police officers and that explosives were planted in the area. The heavily armed gunman was killed by police using an explosive device attached to a bomb squad robot.

In the week since the tragedy, the worst for Dallas law enforcement and the worst for U.S. law enforcement since 9/11, city and interfaith leaders have asked for peace and prayer and solutions to violence plaguing the country. The police chief has asked that the community thank and support police.

President Barack Obama, who came to Dallas for a memorial, held up the city’s leadership as an example to others across the country and asked that Americans look at the root cause of violence.

Hundreds of police officers from across the country joined families in mourning their brother officers.

At Mary Immaculate Catholic Church in Farmers Branch, just north of Dallas, more than 1,000 people stood in line July 12 for more than an hour, including Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and Police Chief David O. Brown, waiting to pay their final respects to Smith.

Smith’s wife, Heidi, is a fourth-grade teacher at the parish school. His oldest daughter Victoria recently graduated from the school’s eighth grade and youngest daughter Caroline will be entering fourth grade at the school next fall.

At the visitation, two police officers stood guard as mourners filed by. As police officers from across the country approached, they each saluted Smith before moving on. Many Dallas police officers consoled each other in the alcoves of the church.

As the crowds thinned after 10 p.m., members of other honor guards from across the country joined in the ceremony of paying last respects.

In his homily, Father Michael Forge, the pastor at Mary Immaculate Catholic Church, described the early morning hours at Parkland Hospital after the shooting, as he waited with the family to see their loved one’s body. He said there were countless police officers streaming through the room, offering words of encouragement and condolences.

“Now at one moment in that small and segregated waiting room, when there was a lull in the activity of people coming and going, Heidi asked little Caroline if she wanted to ask me her question,” Father Forge said. “She paused a bit, and seemed a little embarrassed, but then Caroline asked me: ‘Why did God do this?’

“I immediately answered and said: ‘Oh Caroline, God didn’t do this. The anti-God did this, the evil one did this,’” he said.

“Then a little while later Heidi shared with us that before Mike left for his shift that evening, he told Caroline to kiss him goodbye like it was his last time!” Father Forge said. “I immediately looked at Caroline and said, ‘Caroline, now God did that! That was God!’”

In her eulogy, Smith’s sister, Yea-Mei Sauer, talked about a brother who even in his youth was a role model to her and to her other brother, William, well into middle age. She said he loved his family and his family of police officers and he always wanted the best for them. And for his country.

“He believed in the service to his country and his community,” she said. “All this would make him uncomfortable, angry with me, all of us, bringing the attention to him.

“Michael was my role model, my first mentor,” she added. “Michael was a man of action. My brother’s murder will not be in vain. His legacy will live on.”

At a candlelight service for all the officers and at individual memorials ceremonies for each, the other fallen officers were remembered as strong, humble, quiet, funny men who were like many other men and who loved their families at home and those on the police force.

Ahrens, who stood 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighed more than 300 pounds, was remembered not only as “intimidating,” but as “a gentle giant.”

Motorcycle police from across the country escorted the funeral processions from churches to cemeteries.

With the exception of Krol, who will be buried in Michigan, all of the other officers were laid to rest in the Dallas area.

A few hours after the shootings, a few people lighted several candles in front of the Dallas Police Department headquarters while hundreds gathered for a memorial at Thanks-Giving Square in downtown Dallas, not far from the site of the ambush. The water garden and memorial park was opened in 1964, a year after the assassination of President John Kennedy Nov. 22, 1963, not far from the spot where the lone gunman had killed the officers a few hours earlier

In the week after the police shootings, several other memorials sprang up across the city, alongside blue ribbons tied to trees and downtown skyscrapers awash in blue.

As the city said goodbye to the officers, the memorial that had started out in the plaza in front of Dallas Police headquarters with a few candles evolved into two police cars — one representing the Dallas Police Department and the other, the Dallas Area Rapid Transit — with a few flowers on top of them. Within a few days, more flowers, cards, letters, posters, balloons, and candles buried the cars.

The news networks had set up their tents and cameras on the site. Hundreds of people traveled from across the country to the plaza. Some went to take photos and a few went to try to get on television. Many of them went to hug police officers and to pray with them. Many went there just to cry.

Still, others went there to see the goodness that had come from evil.

“I came here because I was shocked with what happened,” said Jack Arias of Dallas, “and what I feel in my heart is love.”

 

 

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Crowds gather at memorials for slain Dallas officers

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Catholic News Service

DALLAS — In the week since five Dallas area police officers were gunned down, thousands have gathered in churches, parks, plazas, parking lots and a symphony hall to remember the fallen officers, to cry for hope and pray for peace and unity in communities across the country.

Former first lady Laura Bush, former U.S. President George W. Bush, first lady Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama hold their hands on their hearts as they sing the national anthem July 12 at a memorial service held in honor of police officers killed and wounded in shootings in Dallas. (CNS photo/Carlo Allegri, Reuters)

Former first lady Laura Bush, former U.S. President George W. Bush, first lady Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama hold their hands on their hearts as they sing the national anthem July 12 at a memorial service held in honor of police officers killed and wounded in shootings in Dallas. (CNS photo/Carlo Allegri, Reuters)

On the evening of July 7, as a march and rally protesting police-related shootings in parts of the country was about to end, a lone sniper targeted police, fatally wounding five officers, and injuring nine other officers and two civilians. After a standoff for several hours with a heavily armed, agitated and wounded gunman holed up in a second-story garage, police detonated an explosive device, killing him.

As the night turned into day, the sunlight July 8 gave way to images of busted windows, bullet-riddled police vehicles and shattered lives; a request from the police chief for better treatment and respect for those taking the oath “to serve and to protect,” and a resolve from city and faith leaders that neither a “coward” targeting police or others bent on disrupting a city would divide the community.

On July 12, President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and former President George W. Bush joined Mayor Mike Rawlings, Police Chief David O. Brown, the families of those officers killed and injured, hundreds of other law enforcement officials, and elected and interfaith leaders at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center to remember the “heroes.”

Those heroes were represented in the audience not only by their families, but by five seats, draped in black, with a folded American flag and a policeman’s cap.

Obama, Bush, the mayor and the police chief all spoke about the courage of the five officers and their commitment to protecting lives.

As he has done over the past several days during his European trip, Obama said America was not divided but that many times some Americans do not understand the plight of others, particularly the racial profiling that minorities endure disproportionately at the hands of the community and police officers.

The march through downtown Dallas July 7 was organized to show support for families of two men killed earlier in the week in officer-related shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota.

He talked about incidents that prompted the rally and shootings in Dallas. On July 5 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Alton Sterling, 37, was killed by police during an altercation outside a convenience store after witnesses said that he had a gun. On July 6, in suburban St. Paul, Minn., Philando Castile was fatally shot after a traffic stop.

“If we are to sustain unity, if we are to get through these difficult times, if we are to honor these five outstanding officers who we have lost, then we need to act on the truths that we know,” he said. “And that’s not easy. It makes us uncomfortable. We are going to have to be honest with each other and ourselves.”

He also acknowledged what Dallas police have been saying over the past several days, that their new community policing policies and tactics have reduced complaints of excessive force by 64 percent.

“They are deserving of our respect and not our scorn,” he said.

He, like the others, asked for unity, but said that many times after a tragedy old habits return and the commitment to change is left to chance.

But he and others said that the police department and the city should be an example of how to react after such a tragedy, especially how they have honored their fallen officers and how they have committed to take care of their families.

The five officers killed were Dallas police officers Sgt. Michael J. Smith, 55; Senior Cpl. Lorne Ahrens, 48; Officer Michael Krol, 40; and Officer Patrick Zamarippa, 32, and Sgt. Michael J. Smith, 55. Also killed was Brent Thompson, 43, an officer with the Dallas Area Rapid Transit.

Smith, his wife, Heidi, and their two daughters, Victoria and Caroline, are part of the Mary Immaculate Catholic Church community in Farmers Branch, just north of Dallas. Heidi is a fourth-grade teacher at Mary Immaculate Catholic School. A funeral Mass for Smith was to be celebrated July 13 at Mary Immaculate Catholic Church. A second ceremony at Watermark Community Church, where Smith worked some of his off-duty hours as a security guard, was scheduled for July 14.

At a citywide candlelight vigil at Dallas City Hall July 11, the families of the fallen officers gathered to hear others, mostly the partners of each of the officers, pay tribute to those they called heroes.

“I think those that love Mike the most that want to honor his legacy by choosing, because it is a choice, not to let our anger drag us into a darker place, but instead choose to continue Mike’s fight for good and to not let the evil prevail,” said Officer Marcie St. John, his partner.

Police identified the lone gunman as Michael Xavier Johnson, 25, a former Army Reserve veteran who had served in Afghanistan. Authorities said that during tense negotiations the evening of the attack, Johnson talked about wanting to kill white officers and said that “the end is coming.” Authorities have said Johnson was heavily armed when he was killed and that they found other weapons and tactical materials from a search of his home in nearby Mesquite.

Since the shooting, city officials and ecumenical leaders have made it a point to show unity in the wake of any divisive talk.

The mayor and numerous religious leaders, including Dallas Bishop Kevin J. Farrell, were joined by several hundred people at an interfaith service in downtown Dallas July 8, just a few hours after, and about a mile from, the site of the ambush. They joined hands and called for unity in the face of polarization and adversity.

On July 9, Bishop Farrell celebrated a Mass of hope and healing at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The Gospel reading at the anticipatory Mass was from Luke 10:25-37, or the parable of the good Samaritan that speaks about love and mercy.

Bishop Farrell said the officers died doing what they do every day. “Protecting us,” he said. He also called for an end to the senseless violence and said that Jesus, through the Scriptures, already had laid out a solution: prayer.

 

Sedeno is executive editor of The Texas Catholic and Revista Catolica, the newspapers of the Dallas diocese.

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Mount St. Mary’s seminarian from Kansas believed drowned after saving a life

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WICHITA, Kan. — Brian Bergkamp, a seminarian from the Diocese of Wichita who was studying at a Maryland seminary, is believed dead after saving the life of a woman who fell into the Arkansas River July 9.

By mid-day July 12, he remained missing. Friends and family members remember were holding vigils to pray for the recovery of his body.

Brian Bergkamp, a seminarian in the Diocese of Wichita, Kan., disappeared into the Arkansas River July 9 while trying to save the life of another. Bergkamp, 24, had been kayaking with four friends, a man and three women, when they hit churning water. Bergkamp is pictured in an undated photo. (CNS photo/Catholic Advance)

Brian Bergkamp, a seminarian in the Diocese of Wichita, Kan., disappeared into the Arkansas River July 9 while trying to save the life of another. Bergkamp, 24, had been kayaking with four friends, a man and three women, when they hit churning water. Bergkamp is pictured in an undated photo. (CNS photo/Catholic Advance)

Bergkamp, 24, was among five people traveling in separate kayaks when all got caught in turbulent waters. According to The Wichita Eagle newspaper, Bergkamp jumped from his kayak to save the woman before getting pulled under himself. He was not wearing a life jacket. The other kayakers made it to shore.

“I knew Brian to be an exceptional seminarian, well on his way to demonstrating so many of the qualities needed to be a good and faithful priest,” Wichita Bishop Carl A. Kemme wrote in an email to The Catholic Advance, the diocesan newspaper. “I personally looked forward to the day when I might be able to ordain him.”

Bishop Kemme said Bergkamp was quiet, dedicated, diligent in his work and studies, and presented himself always with a sense of decorum and maturity, well beyond his years. “I was looking forward to how God would use him as a priest in the Diocese of Wichita. Now, we must all mourn his much anticipated ministry and the many fruits we all knew would be abundant by his priestly life and ministry.”

Life on this side of heaven is full of mysteries, contradictions and ironies, Bishop Kemme said. “Brian’s untimely death is full of these mysteries, which must wait until heaven to be solved.”

Bergkamp had just finished his second year at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, which is in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. He is the son of Ned and Theresa Bergkamp of Garden Plain and would have been ordained to the transitional diaconate at the end of the upcoming school year. His brother, Andy, was ordained to the transitional diaconate in May. He is preparing for the priesthood for the Diocese of Wichita at Mundelein Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois.

“Brian’s death is a great tragedy and a great loss, not only for his family and friends,” said Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, “but to all who knew him and to the church he was so generously seeking to serve.”

In an email to the Catholic Review, Baltimore’s archdiocesan news outlet, Archbishop Lori said Bergkamp’s “heroic and brave actions” speak to the “great character and to the wonderful priest I’m sure he would have become.”

Msgr. Andrew Baker, rector of the seminary, remembered Bergkamp as a “quiet, but very effective leader.”

“He was a thoughtful and prayerful young man,” Msgr. Baker told the Catholic Review. “He was extremely reliable and hardworking.”

Bergkamp had served as a sacristan at Mount St. Mary’s, the priest said.

The circumstances of Bergkamp’s death show that he knew the depth of what it meant to be a Christian and a priest, Msgr. Baker said.

“It was self-giving love,” he said. “He didn’t have to think twice before he acted (to save another’s life).”

Seminarians and the entire Mount St. Mary’s community were taking Bergkamp’s death “very hard,” the priest added.

Derek Thome, a seminarian at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary from Viola, Kansas, said Bergkamp was a man of dedication with a big heart who would do just about anything for anyone, as long as it would help them.

“It didn’t matter what he had going on, his life was spent thinking of others first,” he told The Catholic Advance. “Brian died doing what he went to seminary for, to save souls.”

Bergkamp did so many things around the seminary, Thome said, adding that he was always keeping busy fixing things. “The joke goes that Brian was the only reason the seminary building still stands!”

Bergkamp showed a true priestly quality in his last moments, Bishop Kemme said, apparently saving the life of another while risking his own. “This all took place on the weekend when we heard the parable of the good Samaritan. Brian was living that parable in his last moments. No one could ever hope for or expect a greater homily than this.”

In addition to keeping Bergkamp’s family in prayer, Bishop Kemme asked the faithful to keep all of the diocese’s seminarians and priests in their prayers. “Pray fervently for more seminarians like Brian, so that others will come to take his place. More than likely, Brian’s heavenly service will help to make this happen, according to God’s providence.”

By Christopher M. Riggs

Riggs is editor of The Catholic Advance, newspaper of the Diocese of Wichita. Contributing to this story was George M. Matysek in Baltimore.

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U.S. bishops’ conference president says deadly shootings call for national reflection

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WASHINGTON — The shooting of police officers July 7 near the end of a demonstration in Dallas against fatal shootings by police officers in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis earlier in the week “calls us to a moment of national reflection,” said the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

A Dallas police officer is comforted July 7 at Baylor University Hospital's emergency room entrance after a shooting attack. Snipers shot and killed five police officers and wounded seven more at a demonstration in Dallas to protest the police killing of black men in Baton Rouge, La., and a suburb of Minneapolis. Two civilians also were injured in Dallas. (CNS photo/Ting Shen, The Dallas Morning News handout via Reuters)

A Dallas police officer is comforted July 7 at Baylor University Hospital’s emergency room entrance after a shooting attack. Snipers shot and killed five police officers and wounded seven more at a demonstration in Dallas to protest the police killing of black men in Baton Rouge, La., and a suburb of Minneapolis. Two civilians also were injured in Dallas. (CNS photo/Ting Shen, The Dallas Morning News handout via Reuters)

“To all people of goodwill, let us beg for the strength to resist the hatred that blinds us to our common humanity,” said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, in a July 8 statement.

The archbishop described the sniper attack on the Dallas police officers “an act of unjustifiable evil.”

He said the “police are not a faceless enemy” but people offering their lives to protect others. He also said, “the suspects in crimes or routine traffic stops are not just a faceless threat” but members of families in “need of assistance, protection and fairness.”

“When compassion does not drive our response to the suffering of either, we have failed one another,” Archbishop Kurtz said.

He said the tragic shootings are reminders of the need to “place ever greater value on the life and dignity of all persons, regardless of their station in life” and hoped that in days people would look to ways of having open, honest and civil dialogue on issues of race relations, restorative justice, mental health, economic opportunity, and addressing the question of pervasive gun violence.”

Archbishop Blase J. Cupich of Chicago said: “Every corner of our land is in the grip of terror fueled by anger, hatred and mental illness and made possible by plentiful, powerful weapons.”

“It is time to break the cycle of violence and retaliation, of fear and powerlessness that puts more guns in our homes and on our streets,” he said in a statement.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia similarly pointed out violence is not an answer.

“The killings in Baton Rouge, Minnesota and Dallas have proven that by deepening the divides in our national life,” he said in a July 8 statement.

“Black lives matter because all lives matter — beginning with the poor and marginalized, but including the men and women of all races who put their lives on the line to protect the whole community,” he said.

Other bishops have also responded with statements to the recent fatal shootings.

Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik said: “If someone does something violent, it is imperative for us to reach out to each other in kindness and with respect and refrain from blanket condemnations. We must build bridges. We must tear down walls. We must break the cycle of violence.”

He also called on people to recognize that each person is an individual. “We must not judge any person based on their race or color, their national origin, their faith tradition, their politics, their sexual orientation, their job, their vocation, their uniform.”

Bishop John E. Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, said the shootings should cause us to ask God “to show us the way to peace and how to live in harmony with each other.”

He urged Christians to be “people of hope promoting reconciliation in a very violent world” and asked: “How much more killing must we witness before sensibly and rationally addressing the prevalence of guns, the inequalities in access to justice and the violence found in human hearts?”

 

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