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Australian archbishop: New marriage law must include conscience clauses

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CANBERRA, Australia (CNS) — After a majority of Australians indicated they favored same-sex marriage, Australia’s bishops said legislators must ensure that any new law on marriage includes protection for religious freedom. Read more »

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Cardinal Pell, professing innocence, will face sexual abuse charges in Australia

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Proclaiming his innocence after being charged with sexual abuse, Australian Cardinal George Pell said, “I’m looking forward finally to having my day in court.”

“I’m innocent of these charges. They are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me,” he said June 29 during a brief news conference in the Vatican press office. Read more »

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Australian cardinal promises abuse survivors to support healing, protection

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Catholic News Service

ROME — Australian Cardinal George Pell promised to work with a group of abuse survivors to help prevent suicide among victims and support healing and protection programs.

“One suicide is too many. And there have been many such tragic suicides. I commit myself to working with the group to try to stop this so that suicide is not seen as an option for those who are suffering,” he said March 3 after meeting in Rome with a group of survivors from his hometown of Ballarat.

Australian Cardinal George Pell reads a statement to media in front of the Hotel Quirinale in Rome March 3. Cardinal Pell met Australian survivors of clerical sexual abuse who were at the hotel during his testimony via video link to Australia's Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Australian Cardinal George Pell reads a statement to media in front of the Hotel Quirinale in Rome March 3. Cardinal Pell met Australian survivors of clerical sexual abuse who were at the hotel during his testimony via video link to Australia’s Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The closed-door meeting came after the survivors watched the cardinal give evidence over four days to Australia’s Royal Commission about what he knew about the actions of child abusers among clergy and about bishops reassigning them to other parishes during his tenure in Australia. A number of survivors and supporters had come to Rome thanks to a crowd-funding campaign in order to witness in person the cardinal’s testimony, which was delivered over a live video link-up with the commission in Australia.

The cardinal, prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy, had admitted during the hearings that church leadership “has made enormous mistakes” in confronting suspected and known abuse against minors. Hundreds of child abuse claims or complaints have been made against clergy in the Archdiocese of Melbourne and the Diocese of Ballarat, the cardinal’s hometown and the diocese for which he was ordained in 1966.

“It would be marvelous if our city had become well-known as an effective center and the example of practical help for all those wounded by the scourge of sexual abuse,” he read from his written statement while standing outside the Hotel Quirinale, where the meeting and his previous testimony took place.

He said that during his meeting with survivors, he heard “their stories and of their sufferings. It was hard; an honest and occasionally emotional meeting.”

He said he was “committed to working with these people from Ballarat and surrounding areas” and was willing “to help make Ballarat a model and a better place of healing, for healing, and for peace.”

He promised to continue to help the group work with church agencies in Rome and at the Vatican, especially the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. He helped arrange for some of the victims to meet with the commission earlier that same day.

He also said he supported plans to look into the possibility of creating “a research center to enhance healing and to improve protection.”

Earlier, the cardinal had said he was hoping to facilitate a possible meeting between Pope Francis and the survivors, who were set to fly back to Australia March 4.

After the meeting with Cardinal Pell, one survivor from Ballarat, Phil Nagle, told the Catholic Herald that they “talked about the future not the past. … I think he gets it.”

Nagle said they discussed the importance of counseling and care for survivors and how the church “from (Cardinal) George’s level down” would help with that.

David Ridsdale, whose uncle, a former priest, abused him and others, told reporters March 2 that people should “never underestimate broken people.” Gerald Ridsdale, who is now in prison, had lived in the same house with the cardinal for a few years in the 1970s.

With their presence in Rome and long years of advocacy work, “I hope we’ve shown everyone that when you face the truth with dignity you really can achieve so much,” David Ridsdale said.

“I think what we’ve been through over the years, all of us, to have pulled together, to pull this off, is a testament: don’t ever underestimate broken people,” he said.

When people notice someone who seems to be in need or hurting, “stop the judging. Pick them up like we picked each other up because that is how humanity is going to go forward. Not this hiding, not this power struggle, not this power imbalance,” he said.

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Cardinal Pell: Bishop committed ‘gross deception’ about Australian pedophile

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SYDNEY — When former Bishop Ronald Mulkearns of Ballarat moved a pedophile priest from parish to parish in the early 1970s without divulging the underlying reasons for the moves, the appointments implied the bishop had confidence in the priest, Cardinal George Pell told Australia’s Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Cardinal Pell, then a priest, was a diocesan consultor and, as such, was among a group that approved priests’ assignments. Cardinal Pell told the Royal Commission that, as a consultor, he never received information that would indicate that Father Gerald Ridsdale had committed a string of serious offenses.

Gail Furness, left, stands in front of a screen displaying Australian Cardinal George Pell as he testifies via video link from a hotel in Rome to Australia's Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney Feb. 29. (CNS photo/Jeremy Piper-Oculi, handout, Reuters)

Gail Furness, left, stands in front of a screen displaying Australian Cardinal George Pell as he testifies via video link from a hotel in Rome to Australia’s Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney Feb. 29. (CNS photo/Jeremy Piper-Oculi, handout, Reuters)

Ridsdale has since been laicized. Since 1994, he has been in prison and has been convicted of crimes against 54 children, as young as 4, during the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.

For the second day, Cardinal Pell, prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, testified via video link from the Hotel Quirinale in Rome because his heart condition prevented him from making the flight back to Sydney for the hearing. The March 1 hearing began at 10 p.m. Feb. 29 in Rome and lasted about four hours.

Gail Furness, senior counsel assisting the commission, and Justice Peter McClellan, commission chair, challenged Cardinal Pell on his knowledge of offenses committed by Ridsdale in the 1970s.

When he was asked whether he had been deceived and lied to by Bishop Mulkearns and others who knew about Ridsdale’s crimes, Cardinal Pell said this was unfortunately correct and was a “gross deception.”

He surmised Bishop Mulkearns could have wanted to protect consultors from culpability and avoid being challenged by them, calling the bishop’s behavior “extraordinary and reprehensible” and saying he could not name another bishop whose actions were so grave and inexplicable. He confirmed several times that pedophilia was never discussed during consultors’ meetings, pointing out that this was consistent with the unanimous evidence of other consultors who had already appeared before the commission.

Citing a 1994 newspaper report that quoted a police detective as saying Ridsdale’s crimes were “pretty common knowledge” in Inglewood’s Catholic congregation in 1976, Furness asked Cardinal Pell if he knew whether it was common knowledge at the time.

“I couldn’t say that I ever knew that everyone knew,” Cardinal Pell responded. “I didn’t know … whether it was common knowledge or whether it wasn’t. It’s a sad story and it wasn’t of much interest to me.” He went on to say that the suffering was real and he very much regretted it.

When inquiring about when the cardinal served as a consultor, questions focused on three particular meetings of the college.

The first occurred in 1977 when Ridsdale was appointed as parish priest of Edenhope, the second in 1979 when he was approved to undertake further studies, and the third in 1982 when he was sent to work at the Catholic Enquiry Centre, a national evangelization body established to take calls from those seeking information about the Catholic faith. In the 1982 meeting, the minutes state that the bishop advised it had become “necessary” for Ridsdale to be moved.

Accusations began to fly in the final hour of the hearing, with Furness suggesting numerous times that it was implausible that Bishop Mulkearns or the two other consultors who knew of Ridsdale’s offending did not tell the remaining consultors at the 1982 meeting the reason for Ridsdale’s move.

Cardinal Pell rejected each assertion, saying that while he did not have a clear recollection of the meeting, he would have remembered if something such as pedophilia was mentioned because it was clearly wrong and would have been a reason to have the priest removed.

About an hour after the hearing concluded, Anthony Foster, the father of two victims, met briefly with Cardinal Pell as he prepared to leave the hotel.

Speaking to media outside the hotel, Foster said that Cardinal Pell held his hand for the entirety of their conversation. The cardinal had previously offered to meet personally with any of those who had traveled to Rome who wanted to meet with him.

Foster told media that he expressed to the cardinal that the only reason he would meet with him would be to discuss improving the Melbourne Response, which provides compensation and counseling to victims of child sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Melbourne. He said Cardinal Pell responded that it could be discussed.

The Melbourne Response was established in 1996 by Cardinal Pell within the first three months of his appointment as archbishop of Melbourne. While some elements of the plan have been criticized, it was regarded as the first redress scheme for survivors of clerical sexual abuse of its kind in Australia.

Cardinal Pell was expected to testify for two more nights.

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Cardinal calls for inquiry into ‘utterly false’ reports accusing him of sexual abuse

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Australian Cardinal George Pell called for an inquiry into the leaking of accusations that he is under police investigation for the alleged abuse of minors.

Calling the accusations “without foundation and utterly false,” the cardinal “strongly denies any wrongdoing. If the police wish to question him, he will cooperate, as he has with each and every public inquiry,” said a statement from the cardinal’s office in Rome Feb. 19.

Australian Cardinal George Pell is seen in this Oct. 6, 2014 file photo at the Vatican. The Australian cardinal called for an inquiry into the leaking of accusations that he is under police investigation for the alleged abuse of minors. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Australian Cardinal George Pell is seen in this Oct. 6, 2014 file photo at the Vatican. The Australian cardinal called for an inquiry into the leaking of accusations that he is under police investigation for the alleged abuse of minors. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“The cardinal understands that several media outlets have received confidential information leaked by someone within the Victorian police,” the government law enforcement agency in the Australian state of Victoria, the statement said.

“Given the serious nature of this conduct, the cardinal has called for a public inquiry to be conducted in relation to the actions of those elements of the Victorian police who are undermining the Royal Commission’s work,” it said. The Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is a government inquiry into church, state and other institutions’ response to the sexual abuse of children.

The cardinal also called on the state prime minister and police minister “to immediately investigate the leaking of these baseless allegations,” the statement said.

Victoria’s The Herald Sun reported late Feb. 18 that “legal sources” told reporters more than a dozen special task force detectives have been investigating past claims that the cardinal abused between five and 10 boys when he was a priest in Ballarat and archbishop of Melbourne.

The Sano Task Force, which was established to look into allegations stemming from the Royal Commission’s work, presented its evidence to the Victoria police, the newspaper reported. It said the task force is also investigating allegations the cardinal, then a seminarian, abused an altar boy in 1961. Former Judge Alec Southwell, appointed by the Australian bishops’ conference to investigate the case, dismissed those charges in 2002.

Cardinal Pell, who has been working at the Vatican since 2014 as head of the Secretariat for the Economy, was scheduled to give evidence Feb. 29 to the Royal Commission concerning the Archdiocese of Melbourne’s response to abuse allegations and a case study involving the response of church authorities in Ballarat.

The commission accepted the cardinal’s offer to give evidence via video link after his doctor advised him against taking the long flight to Australia. He has already appeared before the Royal Commission twice and appeared before the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and other Organizations.

The Feb. 19 statement from the cardinal’s office in Rome said, “The timing of these leaks is clearly designed to do maximum damage to the cardinal and the Catholic Church and undermines the work of the Royal Commission.”

“It is outrageous that these allegations have been brought to the cardinal’s attention through a media leak,” it said.

“The cardinal has called for a public inquiry into the leaking of these spurious claims by elements in the Victorian police in a manner clearly designed to embarrass the cardinal, in a case study where the historical failures of the Victorian police have been the subject of substantial evidence.”

The statement refers to evidence given to the commission that police superiors in the 1950s through 1970s intentionally refused to take action against or charge clerics suspected of abuse.

The statement called it “outrageous” that people within the police publicly attacked him through the leaks when he is “a witness in the same case study that has exposed serious police inaction and wrongdoing.”

While Victoria’s police had not taken steps to pursue “the false allegations” after he was cleared of them in 2002, “the cardinal certainly has no objection to them reviewing the materials that led Justice Southwell to exonerate him. The cardinal is certain that the police will quickly reach the conclusion that the allegations are false.”

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Married couple tells pope and bishops that parishes should welcome same-sex couples

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — A married couple told Pope Francis and the Synod of Bishops on the family that Catholic parishes should welcome same-sex couples, following the example of parents who invite their son and his male partner to their home for Christmas.

Pope Francis leads the afternoon session on the first working day of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 6. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis leads the afternoon session on the first working day of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 6. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“The church constantly faces the tension of upholding the truth while expressing compassion and mercy. Families face this tension all the time,” Ron and Mavis Pirola of Sydney told the synod Oct. 6.

“Take homosexuality as an example. Friends of ours were planning their Christmas family gathering when their gay son said he wanted to bring his partner home too. They fully believed in the church’s teachings and they knew their grandchildren would see them welcome the son and his partner into the family. Their response could be summed up in three words, ‘He’s our son.’”

“What a model of evangelization for parishes as they respond to similar situations in their neighborhood,” the Pirolas said.

While Catholic teaching insists homosexual people should not be discriminated against, it holds that homosexual acts are always immoral and that marriage can only be a union between one man and one woman.

The couple, who are participating in the synod as non-voting auditors, spoke at the beginning of the afternoon session of the synod’s first working day. The session’s designated theme was “God’s plan for marriage and the family.”

The Pirolas also spoke of a divorced friend who “doesn’t feel fully accepted in her parish” yet “turns up to Mass regularly and uncomplainingly with her children. For the rest of her parish, she should be a model of courage and commitment in the face of adversity.”

The couple called for emphasizing the positive dimension of Catholic teaching on sexuality.

“Marriage is a sexual sacrament with its fullest expression in sexual intercourse. We believe that until married couples come to reverence sexual union as an essential part of their spirituality it is extremely hard to appreciate the beauty of teachings such as those of ‘Humanae Vitae,’” they said in reference to the 1968 encyclical by Pope Paul VI that reaffirmed the church’s teaching on contraception.

“We need new ways and relatable language to touch people’s hearts,” the Pirolas said.

 

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Catholics at AIDS meeting remember colleagues killed on jet shot down over Ukraine

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Catholic News Service

MELBOURNE, Australia — Catholics involved in the fight against HIV and AIDS took a few moments July 21 to remember their friends and colleagues who perished in the Malaysia Airlines flight shot down over eastern Ukraine.

Malaysian youths gather in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, July 18 for a candlelight vigil for passengers and crew of the Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17. Pope Francis offered prayers for the 298 passengers and crew members who died when the plane went down July 17 in eastern Ukraine. (CNS photo/Azhar Rahim, EPA)

Malaysian youths gather in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, July 18 for a candlelight vigil for passengers and crew of the Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17. Pope Francis offered prayers for the 298 passengers and crew members who died when the plane went down July 17 in eastern Ukraine. (CNS photo/Azhar Rahim, EPA)

At least six AIDS officials were among the 298 people killed aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17. They were headed to the biennial International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, where some 14,000 researchers, activists, caregivers, politicians and people living with HIV gathered July 20-25.

Catholic AIDS workers participated in a memorial Mass July 21 at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Melbourne, with Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide as main celebrant.

Archbishop Wilson called the MH17 incident “a terrible tragedy for the people and their families and a shock to the worldwide community of people who have dedicated their lives to fighting HIV and AIDS.”

At the opening of the main AIDS gathering July 20, delegates paused for a moment of silence to remember their colleagues.

Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo, a special adviser on HIV and AIDS to Caritas Internationalis, called the loss of his colleagues “a difficult shock” to the AIDS community. The plane crash killed at least 28 Australians, among them Sacred Heart Sister Philomene Tiernan, a teacher at the Kincoppal-Rose Bay School in Sydney.

Msgr. Vitillo was in Ukraine a week before coming to the Australia conference to study the response of the Catholic Church there to HIV and AIDS. He said the violence in Ukraine has had other negative effects on the struggle against HIV and AIDS.

“Church workers there are concerned about the many people displaced by the recent fighting who have lost their access to antiretroviral drugs. There are areas where no government is in control, and that means health needs go unmet,” he said.

“The United Nations prefers to call them fragile states, but I call them failed states. We have the same problem today with access to treatment in the Central African Republic. And in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan, people are being deprived of their access to both HIV-related drugs as well as children’s vaccines and medicines for tuberculosis. The supplies all have to go through the capital of Sudan, but they don’t get shared with contested areas,” Msgr. Vitillo said.

 

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Australian cardinal apologizes for comments

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SYDNEY — Cardinal George Pell of Sydney apologized for comments he made about ancient Jews and German suffering during World War II in a televised debate with author and acknowledged atheist Richard Dawkins.

The cardinal said in a statement April 11 to J-Wire, a Jewish online news service, that his comments during the Australian Broadcasting Corp. program “Q & A” April 9 “did not come out as I would have preferred in the course of the discussion.”

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