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Chilean officials raid bishops' conference amid abuse investigation

Santiago, Chile, Aug 14, 2018 / 11:47 am (CNA).- Officials of the Investigative Police of Chile (PDI) raided Tuesday the offices of the Chilean bishop’s conference to seize information and statements from alleged victims of abuse perpetrated by the Congregation of the Marist Brothers.

According to Chilean officials, police are investigating 38 claims of sexual abuse related to the Marist congregation.  

Government officials and members of the PDI’s Sex Crimes Division arrived at 9:15 a.m. at the downtown Santiago headquarters of the bishops’ conference, to carry out a search order from Chilean regional prosecutor Raúl Guzmán, who is overseeing the national government’s investigation of cases related to the Marist Brothers.

After the search, which lasted for about 90 minutes, the prosecutor told the press that "we are collecting and complementing the information we have already received, particularly about the identification of victims who have lodged complaints about abuses of various types."

He also stressed that these records are "related to facts that we are investigating, which can be constitutive of crime, and which involves both victims and potential defendants."

After finishing the raid, the prosecutors and the PDI went to the headquarters of the Marist Brothers, in the commune of Providencia, to specify a new procedure.

The raid is the latest of several that have occurred in Chile in the context of abuse investigations. Other raids took place in the Diocese of Rancagua, the Military Bishopric and the Ecclesiastical Court of Santiago.

The Congregation of the Marist Brothers in Chile has undertaken a canonical investigation into allegations of sexual abuse against some of its members.

In February of this year, some alleged victims of abuse perpetrated by Marist Brothers met with Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Pope's envoy to Chile, who was investigating the accusations of cover-ups made against Bishop Juan Barros or Osorno.

Spanish priest Jordi Bertomeu, who acted as the notary of those meetings, recorded that the papal envoy reminded the victims of their "right to denounce civilly" the abuse they had reported.

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

House arrest for Australian archbishop convicted of not reporting abuse

Adelaide, Australia, Aug 14, 2018 / 10:17 am (CNA/EWTN News).- An Australian court ruled Tuesday that Archbishop Philip Wilson, who was convicted in May of failing to report allegations of child sexual abuse disclosed to him in the 1970s, will serve his 12-month sentence under house arrest.

Archbishop Wilson, 67, resigned as Archbishop of Adelaide July 30.

The prelate will be eligible for parole after six months, and will be serving his sentence at the home of a relative in New South Wales, wearing a tracking device.

The archbishop's lawers have said they will appeal the conviction.

The Archdiocese of Adelaide stated Aug. 14 that Bishop Gregory O'Kelly of Port Pirie, who is serving as apostolic administrator of Adelaide, is “keeping Archbishop Wilson in his prayers as he formally commences this stage in his life, while also remembering the victims and survivors of abuse in the Church.”

Archbishop Wilson was convicted May 22 of concealing abuse committed by a fellow parish priest in New South Wales in the 1970s.

The victims of the scandal, Peter Creigh and another altar boy who is unnamed for legal reasons, said they both had told Wilson of their abusive experience with Fr. James Fletcher.

The archbishop has maintained his innocence throughout the process, saying he had no recollection of the accusations, and insisting that if he had been notified of the scandal, he would have offered pastoral care to the victims and their families, and reported the event to his superiors.

He was sentenced July 3 to a 12-month sentence.

Archbishop Wilson submitted his resignation to Pope Francis July 20, after having said initially he would only do so if his appeal failed.

He said he changed his mind because “there is just too much pain and distress being caused by my maintaining the office of Archbishop of Adelaide, especially to the victims of Fr. Fletcher,” and he had become “increasingly worried at the growing level of hurt” his conviction had caused.

Cardinal Tagle: Flood victims can find support in Catholic Church

Manila, Philippines, Aug 14, 2018 / 09:33 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic parishes and assistance centers are ready to help victims of storms and major floods in the Manila area, said Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila over the weekend.

“To our brothers and sisters affected by the flooding, just go to your parishes and social action centers if you are in need of help,” the cardinal told Radio Veritas Aug. 12. “Those who want to send their help in any way they can, they can contact our parishes and social action centers and they will be willing to accept them.”

The cardinal has asked for prayers for those affected by recent flooding, while also warning against the dangers of environmental destruction.

“Part of our call is for everyone not to add to what could destroy our environment,” he said.

The southeast monsoon, drawing more force from a tropical storm, brought rains and floods to the Manila area over the weekend. Floodwaters exceeded six feet in depth.

The storms have affected more than 1.1 million people. At least three people were killed and about 60,000 people were displaced from their homes and took refuge in evacuation centers, CBCP News reports.

More flooding is expected in the next few days.

Cleanup has begun in Manila, including efforts to remove the debris and garbage that the floods left on roads and streets.

The cardinal linked the piles of garbage to human action.

“Often times, we are the first ones who are affected by the damages we have caused our common home,” he said. “So this may serve as a reiteration of our call for us not to add anymore to the destruction of our planet.”

He encouraged Filipinos to “forget about our culture of just throwing around anything and everything.”

“Let us stop being disrespectful and indifferent of our common home,” he said.

Fr. Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of Caritas Philippines, said Caritas affiliates in Manila, Antipolo and Pasig provided food relief to at least 1,500 families since Saturday.
 
 

 

Church in Australia should not be tax exempt, former government official says

Canberra, Australia, Aug 13, 2018 / 06:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A former tax official has said Australia should revoke the non-profit tax status of the Catholic Church in the country, due to widespread clerical sex abuse, which was detailed in an extensive report released last year.

Former assistant taxation commissioner Terry Hamilton expressed his concern about the charity tax status to the Australian Taxation Office and the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC), according to the Guardian Australia.

Hamilton argued that the hundreds of cases of clerical sex abuse against minors, as well as failures to report such abuse, constituted crimes that broke the laws of Australia which would disqualify the Catholic Church for the tax exempt status.

For churches to qualify for tax breaks in Australia, they must be established religious institutions that reflect a religious character and do not break Australian laws.

“These institutions attract significant financial benefits particularly through tax exemptions and charity status,” Hamilton said, according to the Guardian Australia.

“The associated crimes in these cases breach the taxation law obligations that must result in a forfeit of tax exemptions and the registration of tax-exempt charities. I notified the prime minister and the treasurer of these breaches, in particular those relating to the Catholic church.”

The ACNC, which is responsible for deciding which entities do and do not qualify for tax exempt statuses, told the Guardian that Hamilton would need to fill out a separate form for each charity with which he had concerns, rather than filing a concern against the Catholic Church as a whole. The ACNC can revoke tax exempt statuses, issue formal warnings, or suspend responsible parties of charities that are found in violation of their standards.

The ACNC told the Guardian that it was unable to comment further on the cases raised by Hamilton due to privacy provisions, but that they were focusing on “ensuring charities have appropriate governance in place to safeguard vulnerable people, particularly children.”

In a wide-ranging report released in December 2017, Australia’s royal commission found serious failings in the protection of children from abuse in the Catholic Church and other major institutions.

Church officials in Australia apologized for the suffering caused and pledged their commitment to ensuring justice, while also noting the impossibility of violating the secrecy of sacramental confession.

The report was the result of an investigation in which the commission reviewed thousands of accounts of child abuse from figures in major institutions. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was established in 2013 to investigate the handling of child sex abuse allegations by religious groups, schools, government organizations, and sporting associations.

Of the institutions examined, the most accusations were brought against the Catholic Church, in which more than 4,000 cases of child abuse reportedly occurred, making up 61.8 percent of all reported child abuse cases from religious entities.

In a previously released portion of the report, the commission found that seven percent of Catholic priests in Australia serving between 1950 and 2009 have been accused of child sex crimes.

There have been multiple calls to revoke the Church’s charity tax status since the release of the grand jury report, including from members of the Australian Sex Party and from Care Leavers Australasia Network.

Costa Rican bishops deplore ruling legalizing gay marriage

San José, Costa Rica, Aug 13, 2018 / 05:34 pm (ACI Prensa).- The Costa Rican Bishops' Conference lamented a ruling by the Constitutional Chamber of the nation's Supreme Court which mandated legal same-sex marriage in the country.

“In a democratic and pluralistic society like ours, legal recognition can be given to persons of the same sex that live together,” the bishops said. However, they continued, it would be “unjust if such recognition would claim to equate same sex unions with marriage.”

“Wanting to not discriminate against homosexual people does not authorize the State to confound the natural order of marriage and the family,” the bishops warned.

In a 6-1 vote on August 8, Chamber IV of the Costa Rican Supreme Court struck down a provision prohibiting marriage “between persons of the same sex” and gave the National Assembly 18 months to adopt legislation recognizing same-sex unions.

The decision was issued in response to a legal petition challenging the constitutionality of Article 14, Subsection 6 in the Code on the Family. The legal challenge was filed by the former president of the Diversity Movement, Marco Castillo, and by the lesbian couple Laura Flores-Eztrada Pimentel and Jazmín Elizondo.

“We reiterate our respect for the Costa Rican legal order, but we deplore that the Constitutional Chamber did not dismiss the petition…thus calling into question the origin and natural function of the family,” the bishops' conference said in an Aug. 9 statement.

The Costa Rican bishops' conference recalled the words of Pope Francis, who said in his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, “Same sex unions may not simply be equated with marriage. No union that is temporary or closed to the transmission of life can ensure the future of society.”

“No one can think that the weakening of the family as that natural society founded on marriage will prove beneficial to society as a whole. The contrary is true: it poses a threat to the mature growth of individuals, the cultivation of community values and the moral progress of cities and countries,” the pope said in that document.  

In their statement, the bishops noted that “the Church maintains her conviction that the family continues to be, and always will be, the basic cell of society because in it the future citizens of all of society are procreated and brought up.”

“The family possesses a specific and original social dimension as a primary place of interpersonal relationships, the primary and vital cell of society: it is a natural institution, the foundation of people's lives and the prototype of every social organization,” they stated.

Therefore, the bishops concluded, “it is clear in the natural order of things, that family, the basic cell of society, is founded on monogamous and heterosexual marriage from whose conjugal love are generated children, and therefore deserves the protection of the State.”

 

Workshop teaches how to teach Gregorian chant to children, teens

San Francisco, Calif., Aug 13, 2018 / 04:42 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Parish music directors, teachers, priests, and religious sisters gathered near San Francisco last week for a workshop helping them learn how to teach children and teens how to sing Gregorian chant.

The Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Worship held a Teaching Children's Chant Camp Workshop in Menlo Park, about 30 miles south of San Francisco, Aug. 9-12.

Among those participating were three religious sisters of the Marian Sisters of Santa Rosa.

“Our mission at the Marian Sisters of Santa Rosa is to teach joyfully the truth, goodness and beauty of our faith; we work with a lot of children and teens in Catholic schools,” Mother Teresa Christe explained, “So we are very grateful for this Benedict XVI Institute workshop.”

The Marian Sisters were founded by Bishop Robert Vasa of Santa Rosa in 2012. The community has a focus on teaching and evangelizing in parishes and schools.

Two Missionaries of Charity also attended the workshop. One of them, Sister Maximiliana, said they were participating because of their after school program “which prepares the children we work with from poor families for consecration to Mary. We want to learn how to teach children so they can sing beautifully for the Mass.”

Before the workshop, 25 Missionaries of Charity from across the San Francisco bay area had attended another event organized by the Benedict XVI Institute to learn how to chant more beautifully.

The workshop was directed by Mary Ann Carr-Wilson, who has helped pioneer chant camps for children.

Carr-Wilson emphasized the importance of respecting children as you teach them: “Give them a high aim. Let them know what they are doing in helping sing the Mass: praying not performing, with all the angels and saints. They respond.”

Rather than focusing solely on performance techniques, the institute incorporates catechesis and works to help participants deepen their understanding of the Mass, including their ability to offer intentions for their participation in the liturgy.

The workshop aims to help both teachers with experience with music generally, or with chant in particular.

Aaron Fidler teaches music at Kolbe Academy and Trinity Prep, a Catholic classical school in Napa. A violinist with extensive teaching experience, he expressed appreciation for help with his new task of preparing the school's choir to chant at Mass.

And Mary Castaneda, a music director from Washington state, said she has long taught chant to adules, but is “now teaching chant to children and teens. It’s really useful to get a sense from Mary Ann what she does that young people respond to.”

The Benedict XVI Institute was founded by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco in 2014.

It aims to form the Catholic imagination through beauty, and to promote the vision of the Second Vatican Council, whose constitution on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, said that Gregorian chant is “specially suited to the Roman liturgy” and that “therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.”

With inmate's fate unclear, Florida bishops pray to end death penalty

Tallahassee, Fla., Aug 13, 2018 / 04:41 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic bishops of Florida have asked for continued prayers for an end to the death penalty following the stay of an inmate’s execution. They had previously asked Gov. Rick Scott to commute the inmate’s death sentence and cited Pope Francis’ new catechism revisions on the death penalty.

“Please continue to pray for victims of crime, those on death row, and for an end to the use of the death penalty,” the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops said Friday afternoon.

Jose Antonio Jimenez, now 54 years old, was convicted of the 1992 murder of Phyllis Minas, a 63-year-old woman. He had been scheduled to be executed at 6 p.m. Aug. 14.

On Aug. 10 the Florida Supreme Court unanimously granted a request to grant the stay, without stating a reason, the Florida News Service reports.

Jimenez’s lawyer Marty McClain had requested the stay, citing several issues. These included a pending Supreme Court decision that could affect Florida’s lethal injection protocol.

McClain also said he had discovered that the North Miami Police Department had not previously provided to Jimenez’s lawyers the 80 pages of records related to the investigation of the murder.

McClain told the Florida News Service that the records include handwritten notes by investigators who interviewed Jimenez after his arrest that contradict their testimony. He contended that they show the investigators were willing to give “false and/or misleading deposition testimony” in order to facilitate Jimenez’s conviction.

Catholic prayer vigils had been scheduled across the state to pray for the victim, the aggressor, their families and society, as well as to pray for the end of the death penalty.

After the stay was announced, many of these vigils were set to continue in the dioceses of St. Petersburg, Orlando, Pensacola-Tallahassee and Venice.

However, organizers canceled some Catholic prayer vigils that had been scheduled in the Archdiocese of Miami and the dioceses of St. Augustine, Pensacola-Tallahassee, and Palm Beach.

“We pray for Ms. Minas and for consolation for her loved ones. All of us are called to stand with victims in their hurt as they seek healing and justice,” Michael Sheedy, executive director of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in an Aug. 9 letter. “We invite people across Florida to join in this prayer. Both victims of crime and offenders are children of God and members of the same human family.”

Sheedy, speaking on behalf of the state’s Catholic bishops, said Gov. Scott has a “difficult task as governor” but still asked him to commute Jimenez’s death sentence and all death sentences to life without possibility of parole.

The letter to the governor cited Pope Francis’ revision of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the death penalty.

The Florida bishops’ conference further commented in an Aug. 10 statement.

“Given the development of doctrine involving the death penalty, the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s treatment of the topic was revised earlier this month,” the bishops’ conference said.

The relevant section of the Catechism now reads “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.” It calls for the Church “to work with determination for its abolition worldwide,” the bishops’ conference said.

Drawing from the Catechism, Sheedy told the governor that the change “reflects the growing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of great crimes and that more effective forms of detention have been developed to ensure the due protection of citizens without definitively depriving the guilty of the possibility of redemption.”

In addition to prayers for Minas, her family and her friends, Sheedy voiced prayers for Jimenez and “all those facing execution.”

 

Veritatis splendor to be theme of Courage conference

Hartford, Conn., Aug 13, 2018 / 03:31 pm (CNA).- An upcoming conference in Connecticut will offers Catholic leaders in medicine and ministry the practical and pastoral tools to reach out to people with same-sex attraction while upholding Church teaching.

The 2018 Truth and Love Conference will be held at St Thomas Seminary Conference Center October 22-24 in Bloomfield, Connecticut. At the center of the formation event will be the encyclical Veritatis splendor, written 25 years ago this August by Pope John Paul II.

The theme of the event will be “Proclaiming the splendor of truth with love.” The gathering will look to answer questions about sexual identity and instruct pastoral leaders and medical professionals to care for people with same-sex attraction.

The fourth event of its kind, the conference is an initiative of Courage International, a Catholic apostolate that offers support for people with same-sex attraction who have chosen to pursue a chaste lifestyle. As part of the same organization, EnCourage supports family members and friends of people with same-sex attraction, aiding them in encountering their loved ones with compassion.

Speakers for the event will include experts on natural law, psychology, and Christian anthropology. Participants will be given practical resources to compassionately communicate the Church’s teaching on homosexuality.

Presenters at the conference will include Father Philip Bochanski, executive director of Courage International; Dr. John Grabowski, theological advisor to U.S. bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family, and Youth; and Dr. Michael Horne, director of clinical services for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington.

Testimonies of people with same-sex attraction will also be shared, witnessing to the importance of the Church and friendships that have led them to grow in chastity and sanctity. Testimonies will be heard from Daniel Mattson, Catholic author of the book “Why I Don't Call Myself Gay,” and Courage members Paul Darrow and Rilene Simpson, featured in the documentary Desire of the Everlasting Hills.

The first Courage meeting was held in 1980, and the initial group developed the five foundational goals of Courage – chastity, prayer and dedication, fellowship, support, and good role models.
 

 

Cardinal Wuerl lays out plan for lay involvement in bishops' accountability

Washington D.C., Aug 13, 2018 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Donald Wuerl has laid out his vision for lay participation in new oversight structures as part of the ongoing response to recent scandals in the Church in the United States. He is one of several bishops pressing for collaboration between laity and bishops to ensure accountability in the Church hierarchy.

Writing on the website of the Catholic Standard, the magazine of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., Wuerl said that there was a well-established theological framework for greater lay participation as the Church faced the “current challenging situation and seek some structural and authentically Catholic response.”

Referring to the widespread sexual abuse crisis at the beginning of the millennium, during which there was an outcry at the failure of dioceses to respond properly to allegations of abuse, the cardinal said bishops had acted to make meaningful changes.

“In 2002, when we faced the terrible crisis of clergy child abuse, the bishops produced the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Later that same year, the ‘Essential Norms,’ created to implement the Charter, were also approved, by both the bishops and the Holy See.”

In recent weeks the credibility of the Dallas Charter has been questioned by many commentators, who have pointed out the prominent role Theodore McCarrick played in drawing up its provisions and speaking out against abuse.

Others have noted that the failure to apply the Charter and Essential Norms to bishops as well as priests and deacons was deliberate. While this was done following legitimate questions about the authority of the U.S. bishops’ conference to pass binding rules for dealing with bishops, in hindsight it appears to have further tainted the work of 2002.

But Cardinal Wuerl said that much practical good was achieved in Dallas and in the years that followed, noting that even the most recent crises concern past and not contemporary allegations.

“It seems fair to say that the Charter worked and continues to work. Almost all of the cases of clergy abuse that we hear today are from a period of time prior to the Charter.”

Wuerl said that many of the Dallas reforms could be adapted or expanded to include the consideration of allegations made against bishops.

“A key component in the implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People is both the National Review Board that oversees diocesan compliance with the Charter, and the local diocesan review boards that review allegations with a view to determining their credibility. What would be helpful today is that the same type mechanism be now made available when dealing with allegations of abuse or misconduct by a bishop.”

The cardinal made the specific suggestion that one or more such boards be created, with membership including laity, men and women, as well as bishops. These could be established “either at the national level or at the regional or provincial level” and be charged with assessing the credibility of accusations made against bishops.

“It seems that at the service of both accountability and transparency, such boards that reflect the makeup of the Church, laity and clergy, would help to highlight this new level of accountability,” Wuerl wrote.

“The results or findings of these review boards would be presented to the Holy See’s representative, the Apostolic Nuncio. Thus there would be clearly the recognition that the final judgment rests with the divinely established head of the College of Bishops, the Bishop of Rome.”

Other bishops, like Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of the Diocese of Albany, have made their own calls for increased lay participation in assessing allegations of bishops. In Bishop Scharfenberger’s case, he suggested a lay-led panel be formed, independent from the hierarchy, saying that “to have credibility, a panel would have to be separated from any source of power whose trustworthiness might potentially be compromised.”

In setting out his own proposal Cardinal Wuerl emphasized that the bishops and faithful were part of the one Body of Christ, and that bringing accountability would be a mutual endeavor.

Both proposals come ahead of the next general session of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in November, to be held in Baltimore.

Wuerl has previously said that it would be unacceptable for bishops to wait until then to propose responses to the crisis, telling the National Catholic Reporter that “We need to be doing things in anticipation of November so that when we get to November ... we would go into this meeting with a lot of work already done and a lot of testing of the ideas already in place.”

So far, the discussions have focused on how to involve laity in an eventual new structure or process, but others have questioned whether any process involving American bishops can be credible.

One canon lawyer who has worked on sexual abuse cases which involved American bishops in the process told CNA they were unconvinced.

“If there is going to be a proper tribunal [panel of judges] for a case against an American bishop, the last people I would want involved are other American bishops,” the canonist said.

“However good their intentions, I would always have concerns about their objectivity when dealing with these issues - because of personal connections and because the issue of sexual abuse is so charged in the American Church.”

Bishop Conley gives update on diocesan allegations, review policies

Lincoln, Neb., Aug 13, 2018 / 11:50 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a listening session at a local church in Lincoln, Nebraska, Bishop James Conley updated members of his diocese on a review of policies for handling allegations of abuse and misconduct by priests.

“This transparency and objectivity I promise you will include a thorough review of our safe environment policies and procedures by an outside investigator,” he said Aug. 10 to those gathered at St. Wenceslaus Church in Wahoo.

The bishop responded to several allegations against priests in the Diocese of Lincoln that have recently been published online.

“These allegations have already resulted in the start of a thorough review of our policies and procedures regarding how we respond to allegations made against diocesan priests.”

Conley said that he has presented several cases to the Diocesan Review Board, and is continuing to meet with the board for further counsel. He has assembled a group of senior advisors – including staff members, a mental health expert, and officials from the Archdiocese of Omaha – to help evaluate allegations of abuse.

He has also held several listening sessions at parishes affected by recent allegations against priests.

Conley held a listening session at St. Peter’s parish last Monday to discuss the behavior of pastor Fr. Charles Townsend. He said the message from the 500 attendees was clear: “they desire transparency and objectivity, and that is my promise to you and all the faithful in the diocese as I move forward.”

The bishop had previously addressed the allegations against Townsend in an Aug. 4 letter, saying that last year he “received a report that Fr. Townsend had developed an emotionally inappropriate, non-sexual relationship with a 19-year-old male which involved alcohol.”

Upon receiving the report, he said that he immediately withdrew Townsend from ministry and sent him to a treatment center in Houston before allowing him to return to ministry.

Conley said that he attempted to act with integrity, telling the parishioners that the priest had gone away for health reasons. But while he did not cover up the situation or oblige anyone to keep silent about it, he said he regrets failing to act with more transparency.

“Even though we were not legally obligated to report the incident, it would have been the prudent thing to do. Because the young man had reached the age of majority, we did not tell his parents about the incident.”

In his Aug. 4 letter, Bishop Conley said that he had removed Fr. Townsend from ministry in order to consult with the diocesan review board, reported the incident to civil authorities, and met with the young man and his parents to ask for forgiveness.

At the Aug. 10 listening session, Conley said that Fr. Townsend has now resigned his pastorate.

“The matter has been reported to authorities and is being investigated,” he said. The investigations will look into Townsend’s behavior, as well as the response of Bishop Conley and his staff.

Conley said that he cannot comment further while the civil and Church investigations are underway, but will offer an update when they have concluded.

The bishop also discussed three other diocesan priests. He said that he is concerned by the behavior of Fr. Patrick Barvick, whom he had previously instructed not to be alone with women. He has asked the priest to step aside from the parish temporarily while he evaluates the situation.

Fr. Steve Thomlison has submitted his resignation as pastor of St. Stephen in Exeter and St. Wenceslaus in Milligan, Conley continued. The resignation came during a meeting “to discuss a past incident in the military that was a concern.”

Conley clarified that the incident did not involve an offense against a minor or a parishioner, and that Thomlison received an honorable discharge from the military.

“I am committed to getting Father the care he needs. Please join me in praying for Father Thomlison,” the bishop said.

He also addressed the case of now-retired priest Fr. James Benton, who was accused in 2002 of touching a minor inappropriately during a camping trip that had taken place during the early 1980s.

“That matter was fully investigated by the Lincoln Diocese. The allegations could not be substantiated,” Conley said.

In the fall of last year, Fr. Benton resigned his pastorate after being accused of sexually abusing two family members more than 25 years prior, he said.

Conley said the allegations were handled by the Diocesan Review Board and referred to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which returned the matter to the bishop to take action.

He said he prohibited Benton from exercising public ministry in the diocese and restricted him from being alone with minors. The priest is now retired.

Bishop Conley reiterated his commitment to transparency and encouraged anyone who has experienced abuse by a member of the diocese to file a report with law enforcement authorities.

“I want to repeat to you that I am sorry for the manner in which I have responded to allegations of improper behavior brought against Lincoln priests,” he said. “I hope you forgive me.”

 

J.D. Flynn, editor-in-chief of Catholic News Agency, previously served as special assistant to Bishop Conley and director of communications for the Lincoln diocese. Flynn has recused himself from coverage of this story to avoid a conflict-of-interest. He was not involved in the assigning, reporting, editing or oversight of this story.