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San Francisco archbishop asks DA to prosecute Serra statue vandalism

Denver Newsroom, Oct 28, 2020 / 03:56 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco has asked the Marin County district attorney to prosecute those arrested after an Oct. 12 riot at a mission church to the “full extent of the law,” after several of the rioters defaced and pulled to the ground a statue of St. Junipero Serra.

“This attack on a cherished religious symbol on our own church property is not a minor property crime, but an attack on Catholics as a people,” Cordileone wrote in an Oct. 26 letter to Lori Frugoli, the Marin County district attorney.

“If the perpetrators of this crime are not brought to justice, small mobs will be able to decide what religious symbols all people of faith may display on their own property to further their faith, and they will continue to inflict considerable spiritual suffering on ordinary Catholic people who would see our sacred spaces as unprotected by law.”

The riot that led to the statue’s destruction took place Oct. 12— which California and several other states mark as Indigenous Peoples Day— at Mission San Rafael Arcángel in San Rafael, about 20 miles north of San Francisco.

Critics have lambasted Serra as a symbol of European colonialism and the erasure of Native culture, and have in recent years sought to remove monuments to him and change the names of streets or landmarks named for him.

During the hourlong protest, organized by members of the Coast Miwok tribe, several masked people peeled off the duct tape and threw red paint in the statue’s face. At least five people can be seen pulling on the statue’s head with nylon cords and ropes.

Catholics rallied in a peaceful prayer demonstration the day after the riot, with Father Kyle Faller, parochial vicar at the mission, leading a rosary and urging the crowd of 75-100 people  to persevere in prayer, and offering a reflection on Jesus’ forgiveness in the face of persecution.

Cordileone performed an exorcism at the site of the statue Oct. 17, calling the statue’s destruction an “act of blasphemy.”

The San Rafael Police Department said in an Oct. 13 statement that five women had been arrested, issued citations and released, and that the cases had been forwarded to the district attorney’s office for prosecution. Police have also recommended charges for a sixth person they identified later, but whose name they have not released publicly.

Two of the women charged hailed from Oakland, one was a local, and two were from nearby communities.

Cordileone seconded the San Rafael Police Department’s request that the six individuals be charged with— in addition to trespassing and conspiracy— felony vandalism and vandalism in a house of worship, a hate crime.

Cordileone also thanked the police for their efforts. The department said they had worked with representatives from the Archdiocese of San Francisco to develop a plan in response to the Oct. 12 protest, as the protest’s organizers had announced the gathering on social media before it took place.

“I would like, on behalf of thousands of Catholics in the Bay Area and around this country, to thank the San Rafael Police both for arresting the miscreants and for being the first lawful civil authority to recognize that this crime they witnessed is a serious assault against a whole people’s right to display the religious symbols they wish on their own property,” Cordileone said.

Frugoli said last week that her office was reviewing the case and had not yet made a decision about whether to pursue criminal charges, the Marin Independent Journal reported.

Lucina Vidauri, one of the event’s organizers, told the Marin Independent Journal that the organizers of the demonstration never intended to vandalize the statue.

The demonstrators were calling for the mission to remove the Serra statue, and “it just got carried away,” she told the paper.

Vidauri declined CNA’s request for an interview.

CNA also attempted to contact Dean Hoaglin, chair of the Coast Miwok Tribal Council of Marin and another organizer of the Oct. 12 protest, for further information on the tribe and their reasons for opposing Serra, but did not receive a reply by press time.

The Coast Miwok people were the original inhabitants of what is today Marin and southern Sonoma Counties of California. The tribe gained federal recognition as the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria in December 2000.

In 2008, the former bishop of Sacramento, Francis Quinn, apologized to the Coast Miwok tribe that the Spanish “tried to impose a European Catholicism on the natives.”

The vandalism in San Rafael is the latest in a series of attacks on churches and Catholic statues across the country this year. On July 11, a fire under investigation for arson gutted the 249-year-old Mission San Gabriel in Los Angeles, a mission church founded by St. Serra.

During the eighteenth century, Serra founded nine Catholic missions in the area that would later become California, and many of those missions would go on to become the centers of major California cities. Though Serra himself did not found Mission San Rafael, it owes its existence to Serra’s legacy.

Serra’s defenders say that he was actually an advocate for native people, noting an episode of his life when he drafted a 33-point “bill of rights” for the Native Americans living in the mission settlements, and walked from California to Mexico City to present it to the viceroy.

While many Native peoples did suffer horrific abuse, an archaeologist told CNA earlier this year that activists tend to conflate the abuses the Natives suffered long after Serra’s death with the period when Serra was alive and building the missions.

The Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Worship, a ministry of the archdiocese, on Oct. 28 announced a new fund, under the archbishop’s personal discretion and control, to support “ongoing efforts to advocate for fair treatment for faith communities in exercising their First Amendment right to worship and for protection of our holy ground from vandalism and mob attacks.”

Supreme Court adoption case could have national impact on religious liberty

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Oct 28, 2020 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- As the Supreme Court prepares to hear a case touching religious liberty and adoption next week, one Washington couple will be watching closely.  

In 2019, Gail Blais and her husband James wanted to adopt her biological great-granddaughter, who is now just over one year old and currently in foster care. They were prevented from doing so by the state of Washington, because of their religious views against hormone therapy for gender dysphoria. The Blaises are Seventh-day Adventists.

As the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in another religious foster care case on Nov. 4, Fulton v. Philadelphia, its ruling could impact a number of other cases including the Blais’s.

“It shows what is coming next,” said Becket senior counsel Lori Windham on a conference call with reporters on Wednesday.

In the Fulton case, Philadelphia stopped contracting with local Catholic Social Services (CSS) on foster care referrals because CSS refused to work with same-sex couples. The city told CSS that it had to change its religious practice and work with same-sex couples, after which Philadelphia-area foster mothers joined CSS in suing the city, alleging a violation of religious freedom.

The case could decide the fate of other religious adoption agencies facing nondiscrimination ordinances, but according to Becket—which represents CSS—it could also impact prospective foster parents like the Blaises.

“If you are able to kick out these religious foster care agencies,” Windham said of Philadelphia’s ordinance, the next logical target for state and local nondiscrimination rules are “parents who have traditional views about marriage and sexuality.”

In Sept., 2019, Gail Blais’s biological great-granddaughter was born in Idaho but placed in foster care by the state. Gail and her husband James, who live in neighboring Washington, wanted to adopt the child but would have to receive a foster care license to do so. The licenses are dispensed by the Washington Department of Children, Youth, and Families.

A licensor from the state, Patrick Sager, then conducted a home visitation and interviewed the Blaises. He posed a series of hypothetical scenarios to the couple, asking them how they would react if their child eventually identified as a lesbian, or if she developed gender dysphoria and wanted to receive hormorne therapy.

The state department had enacted a policy in 2018 that forbids “discrimination or harassment” for children who identify as LGBTQ+ or are questioning their orientation.

According to district court Judge Salvador Mendoza, Jr., who eventually ruled in the Blais’s favor, the department apparently “applies Policy 6900 to prospective foster parents,” and the department sought to ensure an environment in foster homes that would affirm gender transitioning and LGBTQ+ ideology.

When the Blaises responded that they would love and support the child but could not assent to hormone therapy—according to their religious beliefs as Seventh-day Adventists—Sager was “alarmed,” according to court documents.

After that meeting, the Department sent the Blaises material on LGBTQ+ children and asked them to review it to “make a more informed decision about supporting LGBTQ+ youth in foster care.”

When Sager followed up with the Blaises on their application for a foster care license, the couple reiterated their faith-based stance against hormone therapy.

He asked them another series of questions, seeking their reactions to various scenarios involving their foster child: dressing as a boy, identifying as a lesbian and wanting to bring her girlfriend on a family trip or having a doctor’s order for hormone therapy.

When the Blaises repeated their faith-based stance to support their child but refuse to recognize fluid sexual orientation or gender identity, Sager encouraged them to drop their application - which that made in order to care for their own great-grandchild.

At a third meeting between the Blaises, Sager, and the Department’s LGBTQ+ head, the Blases answered in the same way as before.

The Department concluded they had reached an “impasse” in the process, after which the Blaises sued. The Department then denied their application for a foster care license.

The Blases then asked the court for a preliminary injunction granting them a foster care license. On Oct. 8, they won their case—in part. Judge Mendoza ruled that they couldn’t be denied a license based on their religious beliefs, but as they had not completed all the steps of the application process, he wouldn’t grant them a license. Instead, the Department would give them time to complete the necessary steps.

Mendoza called the Department’s policy a “religious gerrymander” against members of certain creeds.

“The Department denied the Blaises the privilege and benefit of providing foster care because of their sincerely held religious beliefs,” he wrote.

While the Department can take LGBTQ+ matters into account when considering prospective foster care licensees, it cannot make rulings based on hypotheticals—as it did with the Blases, Judge Mendoza wrote.

“If the only factor weighing against an otherwise qualified applicant has to do with their sincerely held religious beliefs, the Department must not discriminate against a foster care applicant based on their creed,” he said.

Senators condemn Chinese 'genocide' against Uyghurs

CNA Staff, Oct 28, 2020 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- A bipartisan group of senators introduced a resolution on Monday to declare China’s actions against the Uyghur population as a genocide. 

The Oct. 26 resolution was co-sponsored by Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ). Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jeff Merekly (D-OR), James Risch (R-ID) and Maco Rubio (R-FL) also joined in the resolution. 

The resolution would express “the sense of the Senate that the atrocities perpetrated by the Government of the People's Republic of China against Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region constitutes genocide.” 

It would declare that China is violating the norms outlined in the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, and would trigger an international response to China’s actions.

"For far too long, the Chinese government has carried out a despicable campaign of genocide against millions of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims," said Cornyn. "This resolution recognizes these crimes for what they are and is the first step toward holding China accountable for their monstrous actions.”

Menedez said that there was “no question” that the Chinese government’s actions in Xinjiang constitute genocide. 

“Stopping a genocide is consistent with our national security and our values, and it starts by standing up and speaking the truth,” he said. Menendez added that he hopes President Donald Trump and Sec. Mike Pompeo will endorse the resolution and work to respond to China.  

Risch pointed to the Chinese government’s “systematic use of forced sterilization, abortion, and other practices” in the province of Xinjiang as proof they were committing genocide against an ethnic group. 

“I am proud to join colleagues on both sides of the aisle in introducing a resolution that defines them as such,” he said. “The United States and countries around the world must continue to draw attention to what is happening in Xinjiang.” 

Whistleblowers have come forward to report their participation in systematic campaigns of forced abortions and sterilizations on the Uyghur population.

Free nations “must urgently come together and press for an end” to the Chinese government’s actions in Xinjiang, said Rubio. He said there was a need to be “clear about the nature of these atrocities.” 

“Congress cannot – and must not – turn a blind eye to China’s shocking, systematic abuse of its Uyghur population, as well as of ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgz, and members of other Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region,” said Cardin. He added that human rights violations of this level “demand a forceful U.S. response.”  

“That is why I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing this resolution, which makes clear that the Senate will not shy away from calling these atrocities what they are: a genocide,” he said.

Catholic bishops back Title IX law on 'trans athletes'

CNA Staff, Oct 28, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has given its support to a new piece of legislation that aims to keep male athletes from competing in athletic teams and competitions for women and girls. 

Bishop Michael C. Barber, S.J. of Oakland and Bishop David A. Konderla of Tulsa sent a letter on October 27 to Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) and Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL), the lead sponsors of the Senate and House versions of the Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act, applauding their bill. 

The legislation would prevent entities receiving federal Title IX funds from allowing male students to participate in athletic programs and teams for female students. 

Barber is the leader of the USCCB’s committee on Catholic education; Konderla is the chairman of the subcommittee for the promotion and the protection of marriage. 

“Youth who experience gender identity discordance should be assured the right to participate in, or try-out for, student athletics on the same terms as any of their peers, in co-educational activities or, where sexes are separated, in accord with their given sex,” said the bishops, adding that “Harassment or unjust discrimination against them in this regard is unequivocally immoral.”

The bishops advocated for a “loving response” to these students, saying that it would assist in developing “a genuine peace with their mind and body, rather than facilitating drastic ‘transitions’ in pursuit of an identity fully independent of their physical body.” 

Allowing male students to participate in athletics with girls “can be both unfair, and especially in high-contact sports, unsafe,” said the bishops. 

While they acknowledged that some women have been able to play successfully in mostly-male sports, “any time a policy facilitating such male competition takes an athletic opportunity away from a female, it is a loss for basic fairness and the spirit of Title IX.”

Several female track athletes from Connecticut are presently suing the state’s interscholastic athletic conference after two students, born male but who identify as female, dominated the girl’s track competitions at the state level. The female athletes argued that the two male runners took away chances for them to compete on the national and state levels.

“In general, males possess distinct physical advantages in a number of sports, and this is already playing out in athletic events worldwide,” said the bishops.

“Their stature can also pose physical safety concerns in high-contact sports. Neither of these concerns is remediated by cross-sex hormone procedures which are required by some athletic associations for participation in sports of the opposite sex, as they do not fully address disparities in average muscle mass, bone characteristics, and lung capacity once puberty is underway (which is typically the case for student athletes).” 

The bishops also raised concerns that undergoing various hormonal therapies to better resemble their chosen gender could be harmful for an athlete. Lupron, a chemotherapy drug that is frequently prescribed off-label as a “puberty blocker” to children seeking to change their gender, has a side effect of reducing bone density. 

“The Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act would address these increasing questions in the important context of education, from primary school through college, and reestablish a fair and safe playing field for all children and young adults,” said the bishops.

“We can do better by all students, and should continue to uphold the progress made with Title IX in promoting the opportunities for women and girls.”

A history of anti-Catholicism: Telling the story of the Church in America

Washington D.C., Oct 28, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- If you’ve ever seen an old cartoon of the pope taking over the White House but wanted to hold the original piece of paper, you’re in luck.

At the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., the special collections department has a trove of historical material, spanning centuries. From political smears of 1928 Al Smith, the first Catholic to be nominated by one of the parties to run for president, to the papers of a Massachusetts convent torched by mobs in 1834, U.S. Catholic history is a long and difficult story worth preserving and understanding.

The collection is “trying to tell the story of American Catholics writ large,” university archivist William Shepherd told CNA in an interview last week.

The Catholic University of America holds a particular place in U.S. Catholic history, founded by the country’s bishops under an 1887 papal charter of Pope Leo XIII.

While other Catholic universities have special historical collections too, the university is strategically located. Many Catholic organizations, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, are headquartered in the nation’s capital, several only blocks away.

Shepherd told CNA that the role of the archive is to help Catholics better understand their story in the United States, including a history of persecution. The university has saved and maintained a collection of old anti-Catholic literature, pamphlets, and cartoons.

Protestants who came to America from England brought with them their English anti-Catholic sentiments. On Nov. 5, many would burn an effigy of the pope on “Pope Night,” a commemoration of the English Guy Fawkes’ Day.

In 1834, mobs burned a Catholic Ursuline convent to the ground in Charlestown, Massachusetts. The university’s collection offers evidence of the level of anti-Catholic bigotry at the time. It includes documents on the convent’s founding, the work of the Ursulines in the Boston area, the burning of the convent, and the prosecution and acquittal of the rioters.

Another collection features attacks on 1928 Democratic presidential nominee Al Smith, which tried to smear him as a puppet of the pope. A cartoon ‘Cabinet Meeting - If Al Were President’ shows the pope and bishops sitting around a table drinking wine and liquor, during Prohibition. The Democratic National Committee donated the collection on Smith to Catholic University in 1929.

Other materials include anti-Catholic polemics. There is the 1729 “Letter from a Romish Priest in Canada to one who was taken captive in her infancy, and was instructed in the Romish faith,” by Francois Seguenot.

One 1928 flyer advertises a “lecture by ex-priest’s wife” Mrs. James K. Boyland, a common attempt at this time to portray the Church as a sort of cult. Another book review promotes the 1915 broadside on the Church by William Lloyd Clark, “Three Keys to Hell; or, Rum, Romanism, and Ruin.”

Catholics also fought back against such propaganda, and the archives tell of how they promoted themselves as good, patriotic Americans.

During the First World War, the National Catholic War Council was established to support U.S. intervention in the war—at the same time Pope Benedict XV was urging peace. Some American Catholics wanted to prove their patriotism amid anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant suspicion.

A papal mandate brought about the 1938 Commission on American Citizenship, a project which sought to teach democracy within the Catholic tradition, at parochial schools.

Other illustrations tell how Pope Pius XII was fighting Communism, opposition to which became an area of common ground for American Catholics and Protestants in the 1950s.

The collection also includes more recent USCCB material, documentation of Catholic labor history in the U.S., American Catholic artwork, and a rare books collection which goes back to the fifteenth century. There are more than 100 manuscripts from the fourteenth to the twentieth centuries, including papal bulls and choir books.

Papers of famous Catholics tell stories of diplomats and activists, like Monsignor John Ryan, who fought for a living wage and supported the New Deal, or the former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, Mary Ann Glendon.

Academics and students visit to conduct research, but so do all kinds of Catholics, including journalists, and even high school students working on school projects will stop in and are welcome, said Shepherd.

Louisiana voters will decide whether to amend constitution to exclude 'right to abortion'

Denver Newsroom, Oct 27, 2020 / 04:21 pm (CNA).- Voters in Louisiana will decide Nov. 3 on a constitutional amendment, authored by a pro-life Democrat, which would prevent Louisiana’s courts finding a “right to abortion,” or to public abortion funding, in the state’s constitution.

Under Amendment 1, also known as the “Love Life Amendment,” the Louisiana constitution would be updated to state that “nothing in this constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”

State Senator Katrina Jackson, a pro-life Democrat, authored the amendment when she was a state representative, along with dozens of co-sponsors from both parties.

The purpose of the amendment, Jackson wrote in an op-ed last week, is to ensure that the state’s courts cannot circumvent the state’s existing pro-life laws by finding a right to abortion in the state’s constitution.

This situation has already occured in 13 other states, most recently in Kansas, despite the fact, Jackson notes, that “the word abortion can’t be found in the Kansas Constitution.”

“It’s important to understand that Amendment 1 is not a ban on abortion. It simply keeps abortion policy in the hands of our legislators rather than state judges,” Jackson wrote.

Louisiana already has a “trigger law” that would ban abortion in the state— with some exceptions to save the life of the mother— should the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade.

“Our body of pro-life laws ensure that women are empowered with the truth about their pregnancy prior to an abortion, that minors seeking an abortion have parental consent, and that babies born alive following a botched abortion receive immediate medical care. Our law also makes sure that not a dollar of your state tax dollars fund abortion. Yet these laws and others are at risk unless we pass Amendment 1,” Jackson said.

Kristen Day, Executive Director of Democrats For Life of America, noted that over a dozen states have introduced proposals to write explicitly a “right to abortion” into their state constitutions.

In May 2019, Vermont’s legislature advanced Proposal 5, which would write a right to abortion into the state’s constitution. Before this can happen, it must be passed once again by the 2021-2022 legislature, and be approved by voters in the November 2022 election.

If the measure passes, Vermont would become the first state to list abortion as a constitutional right.

Louisiana's proposal would do the opposite, and would prevent the state's courts from finding a right to abortion or abortion funding in the future, Day said.

"Louisiana's a very pro-life state— nobody wants public funding of abortion, so if the legislature flipped and somebody wanted to try to fund abortion with state money, it would be clear that that is not constitutional,” she told CNA.

“Large majorities of people oppose public funding of abortion. And so to have those protections in there is important," she said.

"We're very hopeful that it will pass, and send a strong message to the rest of the country.”

Sophie Trist, a recent college graduate and activist with Democrats for Life, wrote in an Oct. 22 op-ed in The Advocate, a Baton Rouge daily, that Amendment 1 is consistent with Democratic principles, and that it will protect the will of Louisianans, at least 63% of whom identify as pro-life.

“A so-called right gained at the expense of another living human being is no right at all. I'm voting yes because killing another human being, no matter their circumstances, is never social justice,” she wrote.

Trist, who is blind, wrote that an abortion supporter once told her that she should favor abortion because it prevents disabled people, like her, from being born into suffering. “Sadly, I'm all too aware of how society often views those of us who are less developed, physically weaker, or less able-bodied, as less human,” she wrote.

“I had always respected a pro-life ethic before, but this encounter made me even more passionately pro-life because I know that every human life, including mine and those of unborn children in the womb, is worth living and worth protecting. The fact of the matter is that I love my life and am grateful to have been born,” she wrote.

Jackson also authored a bipartisan Louisiana law requiring that abortion clinics be held to the same standards as surgical centers, which the Supreme Court threw out in June.

Four justices ruled in June Medical Services, LLC v. Russo that Louisiana’s requirement that abortion doctors have admitting privileges at a local hospital would have made it “impossible” for abortion clinics to comply, without offering a significant health benefit for women. Justice Stephen Breyer authored the opinion, and Chief Justice John Roberts concurred to tip the court’s balance 5-4 against Louisiana’s law.

The Unsafe Abortion Protection Act, as Jackson’s law was known, received widespread support from both parties in the state legislature and was signed into law by then-governor Bobby Jindal (R) in 2014.

In Kansas, an effort during February to place a referendum on the Kansas ballot clarifying that abortion is not a constitutional right fell four votes short of the support needed in the House of Representatives.

The push for the referendum was instigated in 2019 after the Kansas Supreme Court blocked a 2015 law banning dilation-and-evacuation abortions, which are the most common procedure for second-trimester abortions and use suction devices and other equipment to dismember the fetus and remove it from the mother’s womb.

As part of the ruling, the Kansas Supreme Court determined for the first time that provisions of the state constitution dating back to 1859 extends to a “natural right of personal autonomy” regarding abortion.

The federal Hyde Amendment bars federal funds for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. Presidential candidate Joe Biden has said that he no longer supports the Hyde Amendment and would repeal it if he is elected.

At least 16 states currently use their own funds to pay for additional abortions outside of those conditions.

New Orleans archdiocese seeks laicization for all clergy credibly accused of sex abuse

Denver Newsroom, Oct 27, 2020 / 02:45 pm (CNA).-  

While allegations against two New Orleans-area priests have again raised questions about the Church’s response to clergy misconduct, the Archdiocese of New Orleans has confirmed that for the past two years it has been seeking to laicize clergy who have been removed from ministry for credible reports of sexual abuse.

“In the Archdiocese of New Orleans, very soon after the publication of the 2018 Clergy Abuse Report, conversations began in an effort to seek the laicization of those living clergy that had been removed from ministry for abuse of a minor and this is in process,” Sarah McDonald, communications director at the New Orleans archdiocese, told CNA Oct. 26.

“This is a highly technical canonical process and clergy have canonical rights that must be respected.”

On Oct. 1. the archdiocese announced the removal from ministry of Father Pat Wattingy, who on that day self-reported sexually abusing a minor in 2013. The archdiocese said the priest admitted the abuse after undergoing psychological treatment and going on a spiritual retreat this summer, the New Orleans CBS affiliate WWL-TV reports.

The St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office investigated and then issued a warrant for the priest’s arrest on four counts of molestation of a juvenile, alleged to have taken place between December 2013 and December 2015. He was arrested as a fugitive at his home in West Point, Georgia on Oct. 22 and extradited to Louisiana.

“Mr. Wattigny stated that he knew he had warrants in Louisiana but that he did not know that we would catch him,” said the West Point Police Department's incident report on the arrest.

The priest faces additional controversy concerning allegations that he sent inappropriate text messages to a minor at a Catholic high school where he was recently chaplain.

In Pearl River on Sept. 30, 37-year-old priest Father Travis Clark, recently the pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish, has been charged with obscenity after he was discovered filming himself in sex acts with two women on the altar of the parish church.

A local resident told police they noticed the lights were on in the church and looked through the windows, discovering the three people. One of the women is reported to be a self-avowed satanist. Archbishop Aymond has since performed a penitential rite required for continued use of the church for sacramental purposes.

Both Clark and Wattigny have been asked to “seek laicization immediately,” McDonald told CNA. If the priests do not request to be laicized by the Vatican, each could be laicized as the result of a formal canonical trial.

“The removal of Clark and Wattigny from priestly ministry marks the first time Archbishop Aymond as Archbishop of New Orleans has had to remove an active clergyman from ministry for abuse or scandal.” McDonald said. Aymond became New Orleans’ archbishop in August 2009.

While priests who are found by a canonical process to have committed an act of serious sexual abuse can be laicized, or removed from the clerical state, other priests who have been credibly accused of abuse but not found guilty in such a process remain clerics, even if they will not be returned to priestly ministry.

Under canon law, a priest or deacon has the right to housing and minimal financial support if he has not been formally laicized, even if he is not eligible for priestly ministry. Dioceses have sometimes been criticized for payments to priests accused of abuse but not laicized, even while the diocese is canonically obliged to make some provision for them.

In addition to those laicized after a canonical penal process, priests can also be laicized at the discretion of the Vatican if they request it, or if the diocesan bishop makes such a request under limited circumstances established by the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy in 2009.

The Archdiocese of New Orleans did not offer specifics about its efforts to laicize priests accused of abuse.

At least seven diocesan priests on the archdiocese’s list of 72 credibly accused clergy are still living, according to the New Orleans Advocate. This list does not include accused religious clergy who are under their religious orders’ jurisdictions.

In the New Orleans archdiocese, benefits to accused priests had included retirement benefits, until a federal judge overseeing its Chapter 11 bankruptcy said that the archdiocese could only pay for health insurance.

Archbishop Aymond held a day of prayer, fasting and atonement on Friday, Oct. 23 and encouraged the Catholic faithful to participate, especially those feeling wounded.

“We know that it’s been a very challenging time in our archdiocese, for a number of reasons, especially because of the news we have received recently about two of our priests who have not fulfilled their vocation,” he said in an Oct. 19 video at the archdiocese’s YouTube channel.

“It is important that we come together as a community of faith and pray for the wounds of our Church: personal wounds and the wounds that so many are feeling at this time, with a sense of disappointment and betrayal,” he said.

“I’m asking you specifically to enter into fasting if you wish to, to enter into prayer, and we are providing for you a Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which helps us to get into the heart of Jesus, to give him our suffering, and to ask him for the healing and peace that he alone can give,” said the archbishop.

“Let us also pray for all the victims of abuse. They need our prayers and support as we reach out to them,” he said.

On Oct. 16, Aymond met with all the archdiocese’s priests regarding the scandal caused by the two priests.

The Council of Deans and the Presbyteral Council, both composed of leading priests in the archdiocese, wrote an Oct. 16 letter on behalf of the 335 priests of the archdiocese. While acknowledging that some have questioned his leadership, the letter voiced the clergy’s support for the archbishop.

The letter gave an account of the meeting, reporting an “open and honest dialogue” with the archbishop followed by time together in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, then a collective renewal of their ordination promises by the archbishop and the clergy together.

“He exhorted all of us to pray regularly for victims of sexual abuse. At the end of his remarks, all of us present stood in unanimous support of Archbishop Aymond,” said the letter, which the archdiocese carried on its website.

“We emphatically support Archbishop Aymond and his leadership of our local church,” the priests’ letter continued. “Archbishop Aymond is a dedicated, faithful, and holy priest of Jesus Christ. He has always faithfully served the people of God throughout his priesthood.”

“While the archbishop did not create the problems of sexual abuse, he has always courageously addressed the issue,” said their letter. They characterized Aymond’s decision to publish a list of credibly accused clergy as a “bold step.” In their view, the archbishop has acted quickly to any new allegations

“While the last few years have been difficult, we believe that his leadership is helping to shed light on the darkness of the past, to heal past wounds, and to renew the Church in New Orleans,” said the letter.

“Although a small number of priests have betrayed us and you, we commit ourselves and our lives wholeheartedly to the mission of Jesus Christ made present in the Church,” said the priests. “Be assured that the Church cannot and will not tolerate any sexual abuse or misconduct on the part of any cleric.”

Before his arrest on an obscenity charge and removal from ministry, Father Clark had been named to fill Wattigny’s role as chaplain at John Paul II High School in Slidell, Louisiana. Wattigny had resigned from the faculty in July.

The details of Father Wattigny’s recent misconduct involving texting are still in dispute.

On Oct. 2, Aymond told the principal of John Paul II High School that Wattigny allegedly sent inappropriate texts to a male student.

Although the student’s parents and attorney first alerted the archdiocese in February, school administrators were allegedly not told, and Wattigny was allowed to remain in ministry at the school until the end of the academic year.

According to a letter written by Aymond to parents of the school, reported by the Advocate, the texts did not contain “sexual references or innuendo” but still violated the archdiocesan policies about communication with youth.

The priest was reportedly admonished by archdiocesan officials to stop sending texts but permitted to remain in ministry at the school. He remained chaplain until he sent additional texts to at least one student and was reportedly sent by the archdiocese for a psychological evaluation.

Bill Arata, an attorney for the student, has said the priest’s texts had the aim of grooming the teen. Among other things, the priest asked the student repeatedly when he would turn 18. The priest texted the boy late at night, the attorney said, and his texts contained suggestive remarks. The attorney said he was told in June that the priest was being sent for a psychological evaluation. He said sending the priest for an evaluation confirms that the archdiocese knew the texts were not appropriate.

In an Oct. 9 statement, Aymond said Wattigny would never again serve in public ministry, and defended an archdiocesan decision not to remove Wattigny from the school when reports that he was sending inappropriate text messages first arose in February.

 

 

 

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