Religion around the world

Archbishop: Church of England ‘colluded’ to hide sex abuse

LONDON (AP) — The Church of England “colluded” with and helped to hide the long-term sexual abuse of young men by one of its former bishops, the head of the church said Thursday.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby apologized to the victims who had spoken out and helped to bring ex-bishop Peter Ball to justice as the church published a report that detailed how senior leaders did little about allegations against Ball over years and even appeared to cover up the case.

Welby ordered the independent report after Ball was convicted and imprisoned in 2015 for misconduct in public office and indecent assaults against teenagers and young men from the 1970s to 1990s.

Ball, who admitted to abusing 18 young men, was released after serving 16 months.

Some victims reported that Ball, 85, encouraged them to engage in “spiritual exercises” involving naked praying and cold showers.

The report said Ball’s conduct “caused serious and enduring damage to the lives of many men,” but at the time the church trivialized it, partly because of a lack of understanding about safeguarding vulnerable adult men.

“The church, at its most senior levels and over many years, supported him unwisely and displayed little care for his victims,” it said.

Ball was arrested in 1992 for suspected indecent assault and given a police caution. He retired as bishop of Gloucester, but was allowed to continue work in churches and schools for years. He was not prosecuted until two decades later.

The report said George Carey, head of the Church of England at the time, believed Ball to be “basically innocent” and played a lead role in enabling Balls’ return to ministry.

Carey and other church leaders also appeared to try to cover up the problem when they failed to pass on letters that raised concerns about Ball to police, the report said.

Describing the report as “harrowing reading,” Welby said: “The church colluded and concealed rather than seeking to help those who were brave enough to come forward.”

“This is inexcusable and shocking behavior,” he said, adding that while most of what happened took place years ago “we can never be complacent, we must learn lessons.”

Vickery House, a retired Anglican priest who worked under Ball, was sentenced in 2015 to 6 1/2 years in prison for sex attacks on teenagers and young men in the 1970s and ’80s.

Last year the church published a review that said senior clergymen were reportedly told of an unnamed priest’s alleged abuse of a young man, but the victim’s repeated attempts to get help and justice didn’t get anywhere.

The Anglican and Catholic churches are among institutions being investigated in a wide-ranging British probe into child sex abuse after it emerged that entertainers, clergy, senior politicians and others were implicated in decades-old abuse.

4 cardinals press pope to clarify divorce stand

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Four conservative cardinals who publicly questioned Pope Francis’ opening to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics are pressing their case and arguing that the issue is dividing the Catholic Church.

In a new letter, the cardinals ask Francis for an audience, noting he never responded to their written request for clarification in September.

Francis published “Joy of Love” last year, opening the door to letting civilly remarried Catholics receive Communion. Church teaching says these Catholics must either obtain an annulment of their first marriage or abstain from sex, if they want to receive Communion.

Since then, bishops and bishops’ conferences around the world have issued different interpretations of what Francis wrote. More conservative bishops have reaffirmed traditional church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage; others have taken Francis’ opening and gone further. The bishops of Malta, for example, said sometimes it might be “humanly impossible” for the new couple to abstain from sex.

In the new letter, published by the blog of veteran Vatican journalist Sandro Magister, the cardinals lamented: “How painful it is to see this — that what is sin in Poland is good in Germany, that what is prohibited in the archdiocese of Philadelphia is permitted in Malta.”

“Faced with this grave situation, in which many Christian communities are being divided, we feel the weight of our responsibility, and our conscience impels us to ask humbly and respectfully for an audience,” said the letter, dated May 6 and signed by Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, emeritus archbishop of Bologna, on behalf of the other three.

Francis hasn’t responded, though he has made clear that he wants his church to show a more merciful and less rigid face for Catholics facing difficult family situations. That said, on Wednesday he made clear that marriage is forever.

In his weekly Wednesday catechism lesson, Francis noted that the nuptial Mass invokes the help of saints to help newlyweds live as a married couple forever. “Not like some say ‘as long as love lasts.’ No: Forever! Otherwise it’s better to not get married. Either forever or nothing,” he said.

Pope honors ‘rebel’ priests censured for commitment to poor

BOZZOLO, Italy (AP) — Pope Francis made a pilgrimage to northern Italy on Tuesday to honor two 20th-century parish priests whose commitment to the poor and powerless brought them censure from the Vatican.

Francis flew by helicopter to Bozzolo, near Cremona, to pray at the tomb of Don Primo Mazzolari. Mazzolari, who died in 1959, was an anti-fascist partisan during World War II who, like Francis, preached about a “church for the poor.”

Afterward, Francis flew to Barbiana, near Florence, to pray at the tomb of Don Lorenzo Milani, a wealthy convert to Catholicism who founded a parish school to educate the poor and workers. He died in 1967.

Both priests were considered rebels in their lifetimes and were censured by Vatican authorities for their writings. By honoring them with his brief visit, Francis sent the church a message of the type of priest he wants today: simple, guided by Gospel values, devoted to the poor and uninterested in careerism.

At his first stop, Francis stood in silent prayer before the simple tomb of Mazzolari, who is considered now to be “Italy’s parish priest.”

He then delivered a lengthy tribute to the priest, quoting Mazzolari’s writings about the need for the church to accompany its flock that Francis himself could have penned.

The Argentine Jesuit, who has emphasized the church’s merciful face during his four-year papacy, recalled Mazzolari’s exhortation that a priest’s job isn’t to demand perfection from the faithful, but to encourage them to do their best. Quoting Mazzolari, he said: “Let us have good sense! We don’t need to massacre the backs of these poor people.”

Mazzolari’s social activism got him in trouble with church authorities: For a time he was forbidden from preaching outside his diocese without permission, and a magazine he founded was so controversial the Vatican suspended its publication in 1951.

Church authorities announced Tuesday that the process to beatify Mazzolari would begin in September.

Milani, for his part, also emphasized social justice issues, especially about the rights of workers to go on strike. The Vatican in 1958 ordered the retraction of a book of his on his pastoral experiences.

Francis said Milani taught the importance of giving the poor the capacity to speak up for themselves, “because without the word, there’s no dignity and therefore no justice or freedom.”

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