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Synod on Synodality organizers want local stage to focus on one fundamental question

Cardinal Mario Grech, General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops. / Diocese of Gozo via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Rome, Italy, Nov 24, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

Cardinal Mario Grech was addressing the Italian bishops.

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Former priest files new sexual abuse lawsuit against Theodore McCarrick

Theodore McCarrick outside Dedham District Court, Friday, Sept. 4, 2021. / Joe Bukuras/CNA

Denver Newsroom, Nov 23, 2021 / 18:35 pm (CNA).

A former Catholic priest who has previously alleged that ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick sexually abused him when he was a seminarian has filed a lawsuit against McCarrick and the Newark archdiocese.

“I’m only doing the lawsuit mainly because three years ago when I did that, I also wrote a letter to Cardinal (Joseph) Tobin, and the Archdiocese of Newark and I never heard anything back,” plaintiff Michael Reading said in a video message posted to his attorneys’ website. “The whole thing is disappointing, but I’m just very disappointed that I never heard anything and got no response from the Church.”

When he sees media coverage of McCarrick’s court appearances, he said, “it all comes back again.”

“Today is actually the anniversary of the day I was ordained by him, 35 years ago today,” he said in the Nov. 22 video, adding that he “felt like telling my story could be helpful.”

Reading, who now lives near Seattle, is represented by Jeff Anderson of the Minnesota-based firm Jeff Anderson & Associates.

“When he was in formation, in preparation for becoming a priest, in the Archdiocese of Newark, it was then-Archbishop Ted McCarrick who was mentoring him and ultimately had the power over him to become a priest,” Anderson said at a Nov. 23 press conference. “McCarrick used his position as the archbishop, over him, to assault and coerce and exploit him.”

McCarrick’s civil attorney, Barry Coburn of the Washington, D.C. firm Coburn & Greenbaum, declined to comment to CNA. For its part, the Newark archdiocese said it takes all allegations seriously and has programs in place to prevent abuse and work with survivors.

“Although we are limited in what information we can share given pending litigation, it is important to note that the Archdiocese of Newark takes seriously all allegations of abuse,” Maria Margiotta, communications director for the Newark archdiocese, told CNA Nov. 23.

“We remain fully committed to our comprehensive programs and protocols to protect the faithful and to working with survivors of abuse, their legal representatives and law enforcement authorities in an ongoing effort to resolve allegations of past abuse,” she said.

At the Tuesday press conference with Anderson’s law firm, Reading said he initially wanted to remain anonymous because he was worried about others’ perceptions. However, he decided to use his real name to encourage other victims in New Jersey to come forward.

“I feel a sense of relief, and of a burden being lifted,” he said. “It’s a long way to go with that, but it’s a start.”

The New Jersey legislature created a special window for victims who suffered sex abuse as adults or children to file lawsuits, but this legal window closes on Nov. 30.

Reading’s lawsuit is the eighth lawsuit that Anderson’s law firm has filed against McCarrick.

Anderson has filed abuse lawsuits against the Catholic Church for decades. While some say he has been an advocate for victims, critics characterize him as a self-promoter who has sensationalized and embellished claims in order to attract media attention to litigation.

In statements about other lawsuits he has claimed papal power is to blame for abuse, and has blamed Pope Francis himself. He has cited unproven claims by the controversial Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano about the Holy See's response to McCarrick.

Anderson’s lawsuit on behalf of Reading also cites the Vatican’s 2020 report on its investigation into what church officials knew about McCarrick.

Reading, known as Doe 308 in the lawsuit, was ordained a priest on Nov. 22, 1986. He served as a priest for only seven years.

The lawsuit accuses McCarrick of committing “harmful and offensive bodily sexual contact” on Reading. The former priest has told his story elsewhere, including in a Sept. 12, 2018 Washington Post story.

Reading told the Washington Post that in 1986 he was invited to a barbeque and overnight stay for seminarians at McCarrick’s beach house in Sea Girt, N.J. According to Reading, McCarrick lingered in the bedroom when the twentysomething seminarian was changing into a swimsuit. McCarrick later approached the seminarian after the barbeque and put his hand down his swimsuit.

The seminarian was shocked by the incident and didn’t report it or tell family members until allegations against McCarrick became public in 2018.

He said that the incident affected him throughout the rest of his time as a priest.

“I feel like the priesthood was taken away from me,” he told the Washington Post. “And I loved what I did.”

The lawsuit also alleges that Father Edward J. Eilert engaged in “unpermitted sexual contact” with Reading in 1978. At the time, the plaintiff was a parishioner at St. John the Apostle Church in Linden, N.J., a city on the state border across from the New York City borough of Staten Island.

Eilert is on the Newark archdiocese’s February 2019 list of credibly accused clergy for “multiple” allegations. He is listed as permanently removed from ministry. The website of Anderson’s law firm lists him at a retirement home for priests as early as 2005.

In 2002 Eilert was among three priests accused of sexually abusing a teenage girl in the 1980s. Though the Union County Prosecutor’s Office said the accusations were credible, charges were not allowed under the statute of limitations, NJ.com reported in 2013.

Anderson’s law firm has recently filed three separate actions against other priests who allegedly committed abuse, including one priest who is still active in ministry.

In September, McCarrick pleaded “not guilty” to several charges of sexual assault in Massachusetts regarding incidents which allegedly took place in the 1970s.

McCarrick was once a high-ranking and influential U.S. prelate with an impressive international resume. He resigned from the College of Cardinals in July 2018 following a past allegation of sex abuse against a teenager that the New York archdiocese deemed credible. In February 2019, Pope Francis laicized McCarrick after a canonical investigation found him guilty of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.”

The exposure of McCarrick prompted many questions about how he rose in the Church despite long-rumored claims of corruption. Various individuals came forward saying they had sought to report his misconduct.

In 2018, Cardinal Joseph Tobin told a journalist that shortly after his 2017 arrival as head of the Newark archdiocese, he had heard rumors about McCarrick’s sexual misconduct. He said he did not investigate those rumors because he found them unbelievable.

The Archdiocese of Newark and the Diocese of Metuchen in June 2018 acknowledged that they had reached legal settlements with some alleged victims of McCarrick in 2005 and 2007. Tobin said he did not learn about those settlements until June 2018, shortly before they were publicly announced.

Brisbane archbishop gives priests until Dec. 15 to be fully vaccinated

Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane speaks at a Vatican press conference, Oct. 19, 2015. / Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 23, 2021 / 17:12 pm (CNA).

The Australian Archdiocese of Brisbane has announced that all archdiocesan employees, including clergy, contractors and some volunteers, must be fully vaccinated by Dec. 15 in accord with the state’s mandate unless they have a medical exemption. 

“As we view the situation in Australia and internationally, it is clear that vaccination is the most effective way to lessen the risk of exposure or the risk of passing the virus on to others within our community,” Archbishop Mark Coleridge said a Nov. 16 statement on the archdiocese’s website says. 

“Therefore,” the statement continued, “the Archdiocese of Brisbane has made the decision that employees, contractors and certain volunteers will need to have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccination by 15 December unless they have an official medical exemption.”

Coleridge said that clergy who are not fully vaccinated are putting the faithful at “risk.”

“A pastor or assistant pastor in parish ministry is to know the faithful, visit families, care for the faithful strengthening them in the Lord and refresh the faithful with the sacraments,” he wrote in the letter.

“That means that clergy engaged in parish ministry must be close to people. In the circumstances of the pandemic, clergy engaged in pastoral ministry who are not doubly vaccinated put the faithful of the parish at risk. They present a risk to the faithful to whom they minister, as well as to their families,” he added.

Priests and deacons who are not “doubly vaccinated are failing in their duty of care for the faithful,” Coleridge wrote.

An official medical exemption is the only type of exemption Archbishop Mark Coleridge will be accepting, according to a letter that the archbishop sent to deacons and priests seen by The Australian, Sky News reported.

According to the archdiocese’s website, the medical exemption certificate must certify “that the person is unable to receive the COVID-19 vaccination because they have a recognised medical contraindication; and indicating whether the medical contraindication will permanently or temporarily prevent COVID-19 vaccination; and if the medical contraindication only temporarily prevents a COVID19 vaccination, specifying when the person may be able to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.”

“A medical contraindication against one COVID-19 vaccination does not necessarily translate to a contraindication against all vaccines,” he said.

“I will not consider conscientious objection to receiving the vaccination as a valid exception to the provisions set out here,” Coleridge wrote.

“I fully respect the right of conscience, especially when properly formed in the Catholic understanding," he stated. “But I too have a conscience, and it is not just legal obligation but consciences which has led to my decision."

The statement on the archdiocese’s website notes that Queensland, the state that encompasses the archdiocese, will reopen their borders in the coming weeks causing an increased risk of COVID-19 infection.

Queensland has implemented strict guidelines on travel in and out of the state. Reaching 70% vaccination in November, Queensland has laid out a plan to ease restrictions, mostly for fully vaccinated travelers across state borders, as vaccination rates go up.

When Queensland reaches 80% vaccination, estimated to be on Dec. 17, unvaccinated people will be unable to visit “vulnerable settings” like nursing homes, hospitals, prisons and others.

Unvaccinated individuals also will not be able to attend “hospitality venues” such as hotels and pubs, and others. They will not be able to attend indoor or outdoor entertainment venues, festivals, or attend Queensland government-owned galleries, museums or libraries. 

A full list of restrictions can be seen on the website

The Archdiocese of Brisbane has 98 Parishes, 144 schools and 109 Centacare early EdCare, aged care, disability and family and relationships service locations, according to their website. Almost 22,000 jobs are provided for by the archdiocese.

City of Philadelphia to pay $2 million to Catholic foster care agency in settlement

Sharonell Fulton has fostered more than 40 children through Catholic Social Services. / Photo courtesy of Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Philadelphia, Pa., Nov 23, 2021 / 16:08 pm (CNA).

The city of Philadelphia will pay Catholic Social Services a $2 million settlement and reinstate their foster care contract after the Supreme Court unanimously found in June that the city had discriminated against the group due to their religious beliefs. 

Most of the money will be used to pay Catholic Social Services’ [CSS] legal fees, and CSS will receive $56,000. 

As part of the settlement, CSS will be exempt from Philadelphia’s nondiscrimination ordinance, and will receive a contract for $350,000 for foster care. Additionally, CSS will have to state on its website that, while it does not work with same-sex couples, it will refer them to an organization that will. 

Ken Gavin, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, said the archdiocese was “grateful that our ministries can continue serving those who count on us, especially foster children in need of a loving home.” 

The Supreme Court ruled in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia that the city discriminated in ending its contract with Catholic Social Services. The suit was sent back to the appellate court, and the city did not pursue additional legal action. Their settlement agreement was approved by the U.S. District Court on Oct. 1. 

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the city backed down due to fears of additional constitutional changes. 

“Certainly, this was not the outcome we wanted,” Deputy Mayor Cynthia Figueroa told the Inquirer. “But it was clear if we took this further down the road, we could actually open it up for radically changing other existing constitutional law.”

Two foster mothers who worked with CSS, Sharonell Fulton and Toni Simms-Busch, filed suit against the city in 2018 after the contract was canceled.

That year, Philadelphia abruptly ended CSS’s contract for its foster-care program, since CSS would not certify same-sex couples as foster parents on religious grounds. No same-sex couple ever approached CSS seeking certification as a foster parent. 

Part of the settlement reached requires that Philadelphia work with Fulton and Simms-Busch under the new contract. 

In the majority ruling, the high court found that “The refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS for the provision of foster care services unless CSS agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.”

“CSS seeks only an accommodation that will allow it to continue serving the children of Philadelphia in a manner consistent with its religious beliefs; it does not seek to impose those beliefs on anyone else,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. 

In March 2018, the city of Philadelphia announced that it was experiencing a shortage of foster families, in part due to the opioid crisis, and put out a call for 300 new families to help accept children.

A few days later, the city announced that it would no longer refer foster children to agencies that would not place them with same-sex couples, including CSS. Prior to that announcement, CSS served about 120 foster children in approximately 100 homes at any given time. 

In recent years, faith-based child welfare providers in multiple states including in Massachusetts, Illinois, California, and the District of Columbia, have also been forced to shut down their adoption and foster care services due to their beliefs that children should be placed with a married mother and father.

Austria coronavirus lockdown: Catholic bishops tighten guidelines on church celebrations

The high altar of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, Austria. Credit: Bwag via Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 4.0). / null

Rome Newsroom, Nov 23, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

The country went into full national lockdown on Monday