Pope Francis’s progressive statement opens questions on abuse cases, women


Jason Berry

November 27, 2013

Pope Francis stands as a rare figure on the global stage, speaking truth to the power of a globally interconnected financial system and governments of the developed world as he puts continuing stress on social responsibility to the poor.

In a document released yesterday, which the Vatican said the pope wrote in August, Francis calls the global economic system “unjust at its root” for promoting a “survival of the fittest” mentality.

He remarks on “widespread corruption” and “self-serving tax-evasion” – coincidentally, less than a week after JPMorgan Chase agreed to pay a $13 billion fine, negotiated with the Justice Department, for selling faulty mortgages in the 2008 economic meltdown. The bank’s CFO, Marianne Lake, said in a conference call with reporters that “$7 billion of compensatory [damages] payments will be deductible for tax purposes.” …

He addresses sexual abuse in the context of human trafficking as a form of slavery: “This infamous network of crime is now well established in our cities, and many people have blood on their hands as a result of their comfortable and silent complicity.”

A certain risk seems inevitable with language of this kind, given the continuing crisis of clergy sex abuse that damaged the bishops’ moral authority in recent years, and which Francis inherited from Pope Benedict.

Francis’s reference to a church “clinging to its own security” came on the same day a clergy abuse survivors’ group in Milwaukee, Wis. released a letter drafted by Father James Connell, a canon lawyer and former diocesan official, to the Congregation for Clergy in Rome, asking the Vatican to nullify a controversial $57 million transaction by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, as archbishop of Milwaukee six years ago, burying the money in a cemetery trust to avoid paying settlements to clergy abuse victims.

In 2007, Dolan shifted the $57 million from general funds into a special cemetery trust as lawsuits by abuse victims mounted. Dolan soon went to New York to become archbishop and subsequently a cardinal. In Milwaukee, the diocese faces 550 victim cases. The diocese filed for federal bankruptcy relief three years ago in an effort to bargain down the settlements; the bankruptcy turned into grinding litigation in which church lawyers challenged the validity of the victims’ claims.

A group of sympathetic clergy rallied to the cause of the victims. The letter that Father Connell wrote as part of the Survivors and Clergy Leadership Alliance, asks the Vatican to rescind the $57 million transfer, approved by Cardinal Claudio Hummes, who was prefect of Congregation for Clergy at the time.

The Vatican policy on clergy abuse, such as it is, encourages bishops to report crimes to law enforcement and work within a given country’s laws. But with bishops bound by canon law to seek approval for shifts of funds over $5 million from Congregation for Clergy, the Vatican is in a position of de facto micromanaging certain decisions that bear on large settlement issues.

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