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SYDNEY (CNS) -- Five Australian archbishops testified before a government commission on child sexual abuse, reiterating apologies and taking responsibility for actions that occurred before they were church leaders.

They also said they believed the culture of church and society had changed eno...

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SYDNEY (CNS) -- Five Australian archbishops testified before a government commission on child sexual abuse, reiterating apologies and taking responsibility for actions that occurred before they were church leaders.

They also said they believed the culture of church and society had changed enough that it would help such abuse from occurring in the future.

The abuse of children in the church was "a catastrophic failure in many respects, but primarily in leadership," Archbishop Timothy Costelloe of Perth told the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse Feb. 23, near the end of three weeks of public hearings.

Gail Furness, the counsel assisting the commission, asked four other archbishops if they concurred with the assessment, and all agreed.

The commission is wrapping up more than three years of investigation into the Australian Catholic Church's response to child sexual abuse. During the initial hearings Feb. 6, the commission reported on summary data showing that between January 1980 and February 2015, 4,444 people made allegations of child sexual abuse that related to more than 1,000 institutions. The statistics did not differentiate between allegations and proven cases.

"Precisely because we have failed so badly, our society has a right to expect us to do what we can to contribute to a solution, if we can," Archbishop Costelloe said. "I mean, there may be many people who would think that our record and our reputation is so damaged that we have nothing to offer, and I would understand that, but I think that, tragically and unfortunately, we have learned an awful lot about this terrible scourge."

Archbishop Costelloe -- along with Archbishops Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Denis Hart of Melbourne, Anthony Fisher of Sydney and Philip Wilson of Adelaide -- told the commission about times they had apologized for the church's actions and what steps had been taken in their archdiocese to ensure such abuse did not occur.

But they also spoke of times they had spent listening to victims, often under the protocols set up in the bishops' 1996 document, "Towards Healing."

One of the recurring questions in three weeks of public hearing has been how the abuse could have happened on such a massive scale without people being aware of it.

"Part of the difficulty that we've had in responding to this crisis about sexual abuse was simply based on the fact that people just didn't know and understand what they were dealing with," said Archbishop Wilson. "I don't think they really understood the nature of sexual abuse of children and the effect that it had on the children."

"I think there were people that were just like rabbits in the headlights," said Archbishop Fisher. "They just had no idea what to do, and their performance was appalling."

Archbishop Costelloe reiterated earlier testimony that, in the past, the church "was a law unto itself, that it was somehow or other so special and so unique and, in a sense, so important that it stood aside from the normal things" that would exist in society. That kind of culture often trickled down to priests in parishes, he said.

Archbishop Hart said bishops operated differently in past decades.

"They just sort of floated above it, and it just didn't -- you know, the awful reality of these crimes didn't make contact with them," he said. "I don't understand why, but I do know that the way we act now is very, very different, the way we consult, the way we consult with people in various areas and relate to the people ... very little comes up to me that hasn't been reflected on by a group, the people in social welfare or in evangelization or whatever."

"Your Honor, I've given evidence before about people in my situation who just couldn't believe that a priest would do these terrible crimes," he added. "I'm not one of them. And I think that illustrates the mindset. It doesn't excuse it, but it illustrates what the mindset was, that it was just out there and it was left out there. That's a serious failure of responsibility."

Archbishop Fisher spoke of a trilogy of sex, power and theology, and said "our understandings of all three have changed quite dramatically."

He said many people believe more change is needed and spoke of the Second Vatican Council idea of "authority as service, leadership as service, not as an elitist class who are above accountability, transparency."

Archbishop Coleridge said church structure "is changing, albeit slowly."

"For instance, if you take Pope Francis, one of the things that he is dismantling, I think, is the papal court and the monarchical model of the papal ministry," he said. "I think this was a hugely powerful thing in the past, and it did confer upon the bishops, even in this country, certainly in Europe, a rather princely style, which could become autocratic.

"Power in itself can be creative; it can be destructive," the archbishop added. "The call to serve is the call to use power creatively. Clericalism isn't just power; it's power used destructively."

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Posted: February 23, 2017, 8:11 pm

IMAGE: Nancy Wiechec

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In two memos published Feb. 20, the Department of Homeland Security outlined guidelines that White House officials said would enhance enforcement of immigration laws inside the country as well as prevent further unauthorized immigration into...

IMAGE: Nancy Wiechec

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In two memos published Feb. 20, the Department of Homeland Security outlined guidelines that White House officials said would enhance enforcement of immigration laws inside the country as well as prevent further unauthorized immigration into the U.S.

In a Feb. 21 news briefing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the guidelines include hiring more border agents, construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, and hiring more personnel to "repatriate illegal immigrants swiftly."

The memos by Department of Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly also called for state and local agencies to "assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law" and for hiring "additional border patrol agents, as well as "500 Air and Marine Agents/Officers." The cost of implementing such programs, whether there's enough funding and how Congress will be involved, was not discussed.

While there have been two arrests under the new administration involving recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, the policy was not mentioned in the new guidelines. The program grants a reprieve from deportation and allows a work permit for those who were brought as minors to the U.S. without legal permission.

In the news briefing, Spicer said the guidelines were meant to prioritize for deportation anyone who was a criminal or posed a threat in some form, but he also said "laws are laws" and that anyone in the country who is here without permission is subject to removal at any time.

In a Feb. 23 statement, Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Migration, said that while public safety is important, the memos detailing the new guidelines "contain a number of provisions that, if implemented as written, will harm public safety rather than enhance it." Bishop Vasquez added that it will break down "the trust that currently exists between many police departments and immigrant communities, and sow great fear in those communities," if local enforcement is used to enforce federal immigration laws.

The memos also addressed the issue of unaccompanied minors who cross the border, fleeing violence in their home countries or seeking reunification with family in the U.S. They said that "regardless of the desire of family reunification," smuggling or trafficking is "intolerable" and said "exploitation of that policy led to abuses by many of the parents and legal guardians."

Bishop Vasquez said the policies in the memos "will needlessly separate families, upend peaceful communities, endanger the lives and safety of the most vulnerable among us" and urged the Trump administration to "reconsider the approach" expressed in the Feb. 20 memos but also "reconsider the approach it has taken in a number of executive orders and actions issued over the last month. Together, these have placed already vulnerable immigrants among us in an even greater state of vulnerability."

Department of Homeland Security workers, the memo also said, should prioritize for deportation "removable aliens" who "have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits."

Reports from major outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post said the administration in a conference call said it was seeking to calm fears among immigrant communities by saying only those who "pose a threat or have committed a crime" need to worry about being priorities. But during the news briefing, when asked about a woman who was deported despite having no major criminal convictions, Spicer said he wouldn't comment on specific cases.

After drafts of memos leaked out in mid-February proposing use of the National Guard in immigration operations, The Associated Press reported that the New Mexico's Catholic bishops called the ideas in the memos "a declaration of some form of war." AP provided documents to back up the claim but the White House denied it and the final guidelines made no mention of the National Guard.

Catholic leaders have been urging dignity and respect for migrants and have acknowledged the rampant fear among communities.

The Conference of Major Superiors of Men Feb. 21 issued a statement denouncing the recent arrest by immigration officials of six men exiting a hypothermia shelter at Rising Hope Mission Church in Alexandria, Virginia, saying it violated Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy "not to conduct enforcement actions at or near 'sensitive locations' like houses of worship."

The conference said it invited "others to join us in denouncing these deportation efforts that harm the 'least of our brothers and sisters.' We especially denounce the irreverence, disrespect and violation of sensitive locations, such as houses of worship and ministry which belong to God and the erosion of our Constitutional right to be free from religious oppression by our government."

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Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.

 

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Posted: February 23, 2017, 3:25 pm

IMAGE: CNS/Vatican Press Office

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In an effort to help support the economy of the central Italian region devastated by several earthquakes in 2016, the Vatican has purchased food from local farmers and producers to feed the homeless.

Pope Francis instru...

IMAGE: CNS/Vatican Press Office

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In an effort to help support the economy of the central Italian region devastated by several earthquakes in 2016, the Vatican has purchased food from local farmers and producers to feed the homeless.

Pope Francis instructed his almoner, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, to purchase large quantities of food from central Italy, known for its delectable selection of meats, cheeses and wine.

Working with bishops from the devastated areas, Archbishop Krajewski purchased products from "several groups of farmers and producers whose businesses were at risk of closing due to the damage caused by the earthquake," the Vatican said in a statement released Feb. 23.

"The papal almoner proceeded to purchase a large quantity of their products with the intention, expressed by the Holy Father, of helping them and encouraging them to continue their activities," the Vatican said.

All of the products purchased by the papal almoner's office will be distributed to soup kitchens in Rome that prepare meals for the city's needy and homeless people.

The Vatican City State supermarket, which is open to Vatican employees and pensioners, also has made central Italian food products available for purchase. Both projects are gestures of support for the local economy, which is struggling after major earthquakes in August and October.

Throughout his pontificate, Pope Francis has spoken of the difficulties faced by the unemployed and those unable to support themselves or their families.

"There is no worse material poverty -- I am keen to stress -- than the poverty that prevents people from earning their bread and deprives them of the dignity of work," the pope said in May 2013.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Posted: February 23, 2017, 2:42 pm
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