LA Cardinal Apologizes to Abuse Victims
Jul 16, 4:08 AM (ET)
By GILLIAN FLACCUS
LOS ANGELES (AP) - After a whirlwind weekend, the negotiations that produced a landmark $660 million settlement between the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles and more than 500 alleged victims of clergy abuse are moving from the cathedral to the courthouse.
Attorneys from both sides, as well as Cardinal Roger Mahony, are expected in court Monday to enter a formal settlement agreement with Judge Haley Fromholtz. The deal marks the end of more than five years of negotiations and is by far the largest payout by any diocese since the clergy abuse scandal emerged in Boston in 2002.
Mahony, leader of the nation's largest archdiocese, apologized Sunday to the hundreds of clergy sex abuse victims who will receive a share of the settlement.
"There really is no way to go back and give them that innocence that was taken from them. The one thing I wish I could give the victims ... I cannot," he said.
"Once again, I apologize to anyone who has been offended, who has been abused. It should not have happened and should not ever happen again."
Mahony said he has met with dozens of victims of clergy abuse in the past 14 months and those meetings helped him understand the importance of a quick resolution to what he called a "terrible sin and crime."
The cardinal said the settlement will not have an impact on the archdiocese's core ministry, but said the church will have to sell buildings, use some of its invested funds, and borrow money. He said the archdiocese will not sell any parish properties or parish schools.
"We gather today because this long journey has now come to an end and a new chapter of that journey is beginning," Mahony told reporters.
The settlement also calls for the release of priests' confidential personnel files after review by a judge.
"I think for those of us who have been involved in this for more than five years, it's a huge relief," said Michael Hennigan, archdiocese attorney. "But it's a disappointment, too, that we didn't get it done much earlier than this."
Parishioners reacted with a mix of disappointment and relief.
Vivian Viscarra, 50, who attends Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels three times a month, said the victims deserve the payout even though it could hurt the church's ability to deliver important services. The amount would average a little more than $1.3 million per plaintiff, although individual payouts will vary according to the severity and duration of the abuse.
"I am disappointed," Viscarra said. "And it's making me reevaluate my views of whether people in the ministry should be married. People do have needs."
The deal settles all 508 cases that remained against the archdiocese, which also paid $60 million in December to settle 45 cases that weren't covered by sexual abuse insurance.
The archdiocese will pay $250 million, insurance carriers will pay a combined $227 million and several religious orders will chip in $60 million. The remaining $123 million will come from litigation with religious orders that chose not to participate in the deal, with the archdiocese guaranteeing resolution of those 80 to 100 cases within five years, Hennigan said. The archdiocese is released from liability in those claims, said Tod Tamberg, church spokesman.
Plaintiffs' attorneys can expect to receive up to 40 percent of the settlement money - or $264 million - for their work.
The settlements push the total amount paid out by the U.S. church since 1950 to more than $2 billion, with about a quarter of that coming from the Los Angeles archdiocese. A judge must sign off on the agreement.
Previously, the Los Angeles archdiocese, its insurers and various Roman Catholic orders had paid more than $114 million to settle 86 claims. Several religious orders in California have also reached multimillion-dollar settlements in recent months, including the Carmelites, the Franciscans and the Jesuits.
U.S. bishops back trust fund for affordable housing
By Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. bishops are backing a bill that would create a national trust fund to build affordable housing.
"The Catholic bishops support housing policies which seek to preserve and increase the supply of affordable housing and help families pay for it," said John Carr, the U.S. bishops' secretary for social development and world peace, at a June 28 press conference noting the bill's introduction in the House.
"We must put in place a sustainable source of funds to build affordable housing," Carr said.
"So many families cannot find or afford decent housing; many families must spend so much of their income for shelter that they forego other necessities, such as food and medicine," he added.
The National Affordable Housing Trust Fund Act of 2007 was introduced by a bipartisan group in the House that includes Reps. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and Jim Ramstad, R-Minn. A July 19 hearing on the measure was scheduled by the House Committee on Financial Services, chaired by Frank.
It will establish a National Housing Trust Fund, a dedicated source of funding for the production, preservation and rehabilitation of 1.5 million affordable homes in 10 years. At least 75 percent of the funds will be for housing for households that are extremely low income, earning less than 30 percent of an area's median income.
"Our experience has demonstrated to us how homelessness and inadequate, substandard housing destroys lives, undermines families, hurts communities and weakens the social fabric of our nation," Carr said. He noted how Catholic groups have long given shelter to the homeless, and how "we have built, and continued to maintain, thousands of affordable housing units.
Yet "despite our efforts -- and the efforts of so many others -- there is just not enough affordable housing available," he added.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there are only 6.2 million homes renting at prices affordable to the 9 million extremely low-income renter households, leaving a shortfall of 2.8 million homes.
Housing trust funds already have been established by more than 600 state and local governments to support affordable housing programs.
"The shelter needs of low-income families are a national priority," Carr said. The bill is "a real opportunity to address our growing affordable housing crisis;" he said, "an opportunity to help families raise their children in thriving communities; an opportunity to meet the nation's promise of a decent home for every American family."
Vatican accepts donation to make it first carbon-neutral state
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Calling for "a new culture, new attitudes and new lifestyles that make people aware of their role as custodians" of the earth, Cardinal Paul Poupard accepted a donation designed to make the Vatican "the world's first carbon-neutral sovereign state."
The U.S.-based Planktos Inc. and its Hungarian partner, KlimaFa, will designate part of a reforestation project in Hungary as the Vatican Climate Forest.
Cardinal Poupard, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, accepted the gift on behalf of the Vatican in early July. The council and the two companies announced it publicly July 12.
In the meantime, Pope Benedict XVI, vacationing in the northern Italian Alps, sent a message to Italian forest rangers celebrating the July 12 feast of St. John Gualberto, their patron saint.
"It is an appropriate occasion to express my appreciation and affection for forest rangers, certain that they want their work to be marked by a spirit of service, to be close to the people and to better safeguard natural resources, which are a gift of God for everyone," said the papal message.
The size of the Vatican Climate Forest in Hungary and the number of trees to be planted will depend directly on the Vatican's 2007 energy usage, said Planktos and KlimaFa. The companies said they will offset all of the Vatican's 2007 emissions of carbon dioxide, or CO2.
The burning of fossil fuels, such as gasoline and heating oil, emits carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It is one of the "greenhouse gases" that traps heat in the earth's atmosphere and is seen as a prime cause of global warming.
Planktos and KlimaFa earn money by selling greenhouse-gas mitigation credits to individuals and businesses. Whatever carbon dioxide emissions someone cannot eliminate can be offset by planting trees or buying the carbon mitigation credits of a company that plants trees or takes other action to eliminate carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
In his July 5 statement to executives from Planktos and KlimaFa, Cardinal Poupard thanked the companies for helping the Vatican "do its little part to contribute to eliminating polluting CO2 emissions that threaten the survival of the planet."
God created the world and appointed people as its guardians, telling them to make it fruitful, the cardinal said.
"When man forgets that he is the servant of the earth and becomes its master, the earth itself seems to rebel against man, and the place of welcome becomes a desert that threatens the survival of creation," the cardinal said.
"Safeguarding the environment is not a political question that leaders of political parties must resolve, but an ethical, cultural question," he said.
Msgr. Melchor Sanchez de Toca Alameda, an official at the council for culture, said the monetary value of the Planktos-KlimaFa gift "is clearly symbolic. They get free publicity and the Holy See is provided with a way to encourage Catholics to do more to safeguard the planet."
"Vatican City State is trying to do its part," he said, mentioning plans to install solar panels on the Vatican audience hall to generate electricity.
"One can emit less CO2 by not using heating and not driving a car or one can do penance by intervening to offset CO2 emissions, in this case by planting trees, which convert CO2 into oxygen," he told Catholic News Service July 13. "It is an ethical and a cultural imperative."
Bishop in Paraguay Runs for President
Jul 13, 3:12 AM (ET)
By BILL CORMIER
ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) - A charismatic leader dubbed the "Bishop of the Poor" is an early favorite to make history as the first man to serve as a Roman Catholic bishop, then be elected president of his country.
The Vatican is not pleased, and it's not alone: Fernando Lugo's candidacy not only tests the church's strict prohibition on clergy seeking political office, it also challenges the established elites in Paraguay. The nation's poor majority feels disenfranchised after 60 years of unbroken rule by President Nicanor Duarte's Colorado Party.
Although there's a long way to go before next April's presidential election, polls show Lugo has support from nearly 40 percent of voters, 10 percentage points ahead of his closest rival. Thousands turn out at his rallies, sometimes on horse-drawn wagons, chanting "Lugo, si!" at his vows to end one-party rule.
Like many Paraguayans, Lugo blames the Colorados for the struggling economy, rampant corruption and politics that favor rich elites in the landlocked, agrarian nation.
"I believe the official party is responsible for the poverty, the corruption and the dishonesty in this country," Lugo said during an interview at his brother's home. "We need a country that's more just and more equitable."
Lugo, who resigned as bishop in December to sidestep Paraguay's constitutional ban on clergy seeking office, sees politics as a solution to the problems of his former flock in the San Pedro region. He spent nearly 11 years there, ministering to hungry peasants who toil in cotton and soybean fields of rich landowners.
Lugo used his pulpit to rally the poor to help themselves. He hasn't said exactly what he would do as president, but he said recent travels indicate people want agrarian reform, industrial production and more jobs. And in a trip to Washington, he insisted that he's nothing like Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
"Chavez is a military man and I have a religious background," Lugo told reporters. "My candidacy has arisen at the request of the people, it was born in a different way than Hugo Chavez's."
Lugo's upstart campaign gained significant organizational support when he agreed last month to accept a running mate from the Authentic Radical Liberals, Paraguay's main opposition party, which has spent decades challenging Colorado rule and can help finance and mount a nationwide campaign.
Nonetheless, several smaller opposition parties have not said whether they would unite behind Lugo, and his bid could be derailed in court. Duarte has yet to file a legal challenge, which must be declared before a Nov. 28 registration deadline, but the president has repeatedly criticized Lugo while backing former education minister Blanca Ovelar as the Colorados' candidate.
"That candidacy is unconstitutional," said Duarte, who as a sitting president is constitutionally barred from seeking immediate re-election. "Lugo is a member of the clergy who doesn't know if he's a bishop or what."
The Vatican has refused to accept Lugo's resignation, saying bishophood is "for life," and the head of the Paraguayan Bishops Conference has suggested Lugo risks excommunication if he keeps up his campaign.
The Vatican came down even harder against Haiti's first democratically elected leader, Jean Bertrand Aristide, a leftist priest and strong advocate of liberation theology who was expelled by his conservative Salesian order for preaching class struggle. When soldiers ousted Aristide in 1991, the Vatican was the only foreign state to recognize the military regime.
Also, Pope John Paul II famously admonished a Jesuit priest appointed Nicaragua's culture minister with a wag of his finger. And Jesuit priest Robert Drinan represented Massachusetts in the U.S. Congress for 11 years until the Vatican officially said he should not hold the post, and he stepped down.
"Merely seeking a job in government causes problems for the Vatican, let alone running for president," explained Georgetown University theologian Thomas Reese. "This is way outside the bounds of what the Vatican wants clergy to do. Sacramentally, he is a priest forever once he's ordained."
Pope Benedict XVI weighed in during his trip to Latin America, telling a bishops conference that the "political task is not the immediate competence of the Church." Benedict also has taken a hard line against liberation theology, a Catholic movement that remains strong in Latin America, which holds that Christianity's central mission is to free the poor from oppression.
Lugo said liberation theology is just one of many influences on his thinking, and noted that former popes have called responsible politics a "healthy and just activity."
Dozens of peasant, farm, labor, Indian and leftist groups back Lugo, but he resists ideological labels, saying for example that he embraces "socially responsible" capitalism.
"I am not of the left, nor of the right. I'm in the middle as a candidate sought by many people," he said.
Paraguayan political analyst Alcibiades Gonzalez Delvalle characterizes Lugo as a moderate, more pragmatist than ideologue.
"There are people on the left around him but he doesn't yield to that tendency too much," Gonzalez said. "Lugo has lived in a very poor area where many gripping situations unfolded, and that has made a deep impression."
Lugo's critics say otherwise.
"Underneath that cassock and that big cross he wore on his chest, he was into politics," said Alberto Soljancic, president of Paraguay's powerful Rural Association of large landholders and farmers. He suggested that Lugo's ministry to the poor emboldened landless groups to invade farms in San Pedro, though he did not blame Lugo directly.
He also questioned why Lugo visited communist-run Cuba after launching his campaign: "There are a lot of countries one can visit, but why Cuba?"
Lugo has since traveled to Argentina, the United States and Spain to raise his profile, meet Paraguayan immigrants abroad and seek campaign donations. Meanwhile, many poor Paraguayans say a priest is just the one to lead their country.
"We want a change," said Miriam Aquino, who earns $10 a day selling clothes on the street. "Every president who takes office says many things and then doesn't do anything. There's corruption and we are tired. With Lugo, there's hope."