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Maryland House votes to remove statute of limitations for child sexual abuse

Annapolis, Md., Mar 19, 2019 / 04:02 pm (CNA).- The Maryland House of Delegates has approved a bill to entirely remove the statute of limitations for filing lawsuits related to child sexual abuse.

The House voted 136-2 to advance bipartisan House Bill 687 on to the Senate, the Baltimore Sun reports. The bill would allow victims of child sexual abuse to file a lawsuit at any time, and those previously barred from filing lawsuits would be given a two-year window to do so.

Maryland had already increased the age limit whereon a victim could file a lawsuit from 25 to 38 years old. The change was made two years ago.

The sponsor of the bill, Maryland delegate C.T. Wilson, cited his own sexual abuse as a child by his foster father, as well as the Grand Jury report that detailed cases of clerical sexual abuse in Pennsylvania, as reasons he supports removing the time limit for when victims can file suits. He told the Washington Post that he thinks the bill is unlikely to be approved by the Senate.

Lawmakers are considering bills that would extend statutes of limitations in several other states.

On March 7, North Carolina’s Attorney General Josh Stein unveiled legislation called the SAFE Child Act, which has gained bipartisan support in the state legislature. The bill would extend the statute of limitations for misdemeanor child abuse from its current two years to 10 years. It would allow victims of child abuse to pursue a civil lawsuit against the abuser until age 50, rather than the current limit of age 21, and would ban high-risk sex offenders from contacting minors on social media.

A New Jersey bill, which the state’s Senate passed March 14, would allow child victims of sexual assault to file civil lawsuits until they turn 55 or until seven years from the time they become aware of the injury, whichever comes later. Adult victims of sexual assault would have a seven-year time frame after the incident to file a civil lawsuit, or until seven years after they become aware of the abuse, the Wall Street Journal reports. The bill would also create a one-time two-year legal window for civil complaints for anyone previously barred from filing civil actions.

New York recently extended its statute of limitations and created a one-year period during which those who were previously barred to bring their case to court may file lawsuits.

 

Lawsuit says West Virginia diocese knowingly hired sex abusers as teachers

Charleston, W.Va., Mar 19, 2019 / 03:58 pm (CNA).- The attorney general of West Virginia has filed a lawsuit charging that the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and its former bishop knowingly employed sex abusers in roles that worked with children and failed to disclose their backgrounds to parents.

The lawsuit alleges that the diocese advertised a safe learning environment in its schools while employing personnel who had been convicted or credibly accused of sexual abuse.

It says the diocese and retired Bishop Michael Bransfield covered up potentially criminal behavior, failing to be transparent with parents while allowing abusers to work around children.

In a March 19 statement, the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston said that it “strongly and unconditionally rejects” the assertion that it “is not wholly committed to the protection of children, as reflected in its rigorous Safe Environment Program, the foundation of which is a zero tolerance policy for any cleric, employee or volunteer credibly accused of abuse.”

“The Program employs mandatory screening, background checks and training for all employees and volunteers who work with children,” it said.

The complaint draws attention to the case of Fr. Victor Forbas, saying the diocese knew of a credible abuse allegation against the priest but still placed him in charge of a children’s camp, and later assigned him as a high school chaplain after undergoing treatment for further accusations. The priest eventually pled guilty to sexual abuse of children in Missouri and went to prison.

It also highlights claims that Fr. Patrick Condron admitted to sexually abusing a student but was assigned to a Catholic elementary school after receiving treatment, without parents being notified of his history.

The suit also says that the diocese failed to conduct thorough background checks in hiring employees, and when the diocese became aware of employees’ histories – which included, in at least one case, a conviction for statutory rape –  it failed to notify parents about them.

“Parents who pay and entrust the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese and its schools to educate and care for their children deserve full transparency,” Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said in a March 19 statement.

“Our investigation reveals a serious need for the Diocese to enact policy changes that will better protect children, just as this lawsuit demonstrates our resolve to pursue every avenue to effectuate change as no one is above the law.”

The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston said some of the information in the lawsuit is based on the diocesan public disclosure of accusations of clerical abuse against minors from last November, as well as other information given to the attorney general by the diocese in recent months.

Some of the alleged misconduct described in the lawsuit took place over half a century ago, and some “are not accurately described,” the diocese said, noting that in some cases, reports of alleged occurrences were not made until decades later.

The diocese added that the allegations do not fairly depict the overall contribution of Catholic schools and their employees “who work every day to deliver quality education in West Virginia.”

Bishop Bransfield, who is named in the lawsuit, was restricted from ministry last week, following an investigation by Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, at the request of Pope Francis last September. The pope had accepted Bransfield’s resignation and asked Lori to look into allegations of sexual harassment of adults against the bishop.

On March 11, Lori announced that the results of that investigation have been sent to the Holy See, where a final decision about Bransfield will be made. Pending that decision, Lori said, restrictions are being placed on Bransfield’s exercise of ministry.

Bransfield had led the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston since 2005. During the 2012 criminal trial of two other priests in Philadelphia, he was accused of covering up sexual misconduct by other priests, as well as molesting a minor.

Two witnesses and a prosecutor alleged that Bishop Bransfield “may have known about sexual misconduct by [another priest] or abused minors himself,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Bransfield denied these allegations, calling them “completely false,” and the alleged victim later came forward to say that he was never abused by Bransfield.

Archdiocese of Milwaukee removes names of two bishops from buildings

Milwaukee, Wis., Mar 19, 2019 / 01:57 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Milwaukee announced Tuesday that it will remove from archdiocesan buildings the names of two former archbishops who were found to have reassigned priests accused of sexual abuse.

“As a sign of repentance, and because of the pain caused to abuse survivors and their families with regard to handling the sexual abuse allegations, I will change the name of the Archbishop Catholic Cousins Center,” Archbishop Jerome Listecki said.

The letters on the sign for the Cousins Center – which received that name in 1983 – were removed Tuesday afternoon. The archdiocese said a new name will be announced Friday.

In addition, the Weakland Center, named for Archbishop Rembert Weakland, will be renamed. Located in downtown Milwaukee, the center holds parish offices.

Archbishop William Cousins led the Archdiocese of Milwaukee from 1958 to 1977.

Weakland served as archbishop from 1977 to 2002. His resignation at the age of 75 came amid revelations that he had paid $450,000 to silence an adult male seminarian with whom he had a sexual relationship.

Both bishops failed to remove priests who had been accused, in some cases by dozens of people, of sexual abuse, archdiocesan documents have found.

Archbishop Listecki noted that the idea of changing the building names had been raised for several years.

“As the Church continues to restore trust in its response to clergy sexual abuse, the timing seemed right to do so now,” he said, according to WTMJ radio.

The archbishop voiced hope that the measure would be a step toward healing for abuse victims.

“Whether it be clericalism, a misguided intent to protect the institutional church or the desire to avoid scandal, regard for priest-offenders often trumped care for victims.  For this, I apologize to abuse survivors and to the faithful of this archdiocese,” he said.

Directors speak of ‘spiritual warfare’ while making pro-life film

Los Angeles, Calif., Mar 19, 2019 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The writers and co-directors of the upcoming film “Unplanned” have spoken of how they prepared for a “spiritual battle” to make the pro-life film in the hopes that it will change hearts and minds through it groundbreaking depiction of the abortion process.

 

“We, from the beginning, knew that it would be spiritual battle, spiritual warfare. It was prophesied over us that this is not a normal movie,” co-director Cary Solomon told CNA in an interview following a screening for press on March 18.

 

“Unplanned” dramatizes the truth-life account of Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson’s decision to leave the organization and become a pro-life campaigner.

 

Solomon and co-director Chuck Konzelman told CNA that they arranged for a priest to exorcise the set, and bless the cast and props.

 

“We tried to do Mass and adoration as much as we could,” said Solomon. For the Evangelical Christians involved in making the film, similar spiritual guidance was offered.

 

Despite anticipating the usual stresses of the production process, Konzelman and Solomon told CNA that they found “profound moments of tremendous peace” on set, which is atypical of the movie-making industry.

 

“It was amazing. We didn’t have any problems that you would normally have on a movie,” said Solomon. Konzelman agreed, and added that the set of “Unplanned” was “the calmest set [he’s] ever been on.”

 

“There was no screaming, there was no tension--the average day would have no incident,” said Konzelman. “That’s just not normal in filmmaking.”

 

Despite the relative calm on set, other incidents plagued the cast and crew, as well as their families. Thankfully, nobody was seriously hurt, but there have been several close calls.

 

“We've had probably 15 accidents where people or family members of people who worked on the movie, were in a car crash, [...] and the person would just walk away,” said Solomon.

 

“They’ve all been crazy violent,”  he explained. One person survived a bike accident that destroyed her helmet, and a producer’s car was split in half after being t-boned.

 

Lead actress Ashley Bratcher, who plays the role of Abby Johnson, survived a near death-car accident under bizarre circumstances.

 

"Ashley herself, she had a deer, a stag, jump backwards--I've never seen deer jump backwards--on the highway into her car and wiped out her car and almost killed her,” said Solomon.

 

The accident saw both airbags deploy and left Bratcher trapped in her car. “And yet, she got out and walked away. She was stuck on the highway, in the dark."

 

Konzelman said that despite the challenges faced during filming, and the financial hurdles to completing production, he never doubted that there was a higher interest supporting the film.

 

"It took two years for us to raise the money for this film, from the production to the marketing, which I never would have expected that would be the case,” he said.

 

“The Lord has told us this from the beginning--and this is obviously putting it in human speak-- ‘I’ve got this. I got you. Do not fear, for this is for my glory,’” said Solomon.

 

The film provides an uncensored, graphic, look at the realities of abortion, and received an R-rating from the MPAA. “Unplanned” is the first R-rated film to be distributed by Pure Flix, a Christian movie production company.

 

The co-directors previously told CNA that they would not be challenging the rating, which they feared was motivated by the movie’s political message.

 

“No one’s ever seen [a graphic presentation of abortion] before. It’s been very carefully and very studiously avoided by the [entertainment] industry,” Konzelman said.

 

He explained to CNA that Planned Parenthood employs a director of arts and entertainment engagement, “who teaches the mainstream film industry and television industry how to film in accordance with their guidelines.”

 

“Unplanned” is unique, Konzelman said, because it tells the story of the abortion industry from the perspective of someone who was once a part of that industry, and does not sugar coat the reality of abortion. He and Solomon hopes her story will inspire other people to either leave their jobs in the abortion industry, or to change their minds on the issue.

 

“Seeing [an abortion procedure] is what changed Abby’s life. No matter how pro-choice you are, you can’t be more pro-choice than Abby Johnson was,” said Konzelman.

 

Prior to becoming clinic director, Johnson herself underwent two abortions. Both of these are shown in the film.

 

“And yet, one look at the process taking place in front of her eyes in real time, changed her entire life,” Konzelman said.

 

In fact, the film has already changed the perspective of one viewer: Solomon’s father.

 

Solomon told CNA that showing his “far left,” pro-choice atheist father a short clip of the film caused him to change heart entirely on the issue. Solomon shared a clip where two volunteers from the Coalition for Life group pray over a 55-gallon drum containing fetal remains.

 

He said his father told him that “Unplanned” was “gonna change the world” because of its unflinching portrayal of abortion, which was something he had not previously seen or thought about.

 

The movie “showed what we [as a society] never wanted to see,” Solomon’s father told him. “And now when you know, you can’t un-know.”

 

Unplanned will be released in theatres nationwide on March 29. The film is rated R due to disturbing images and violence.

How the Big Easy celebrates St. Joseph

New Orleans, La., Mar 19, 2019 / 03:31 am (CNA).- Catholic culture is everywhere in New Orleans. Mardi Gras is the city’s defining celebration. The city’s cathedral is one of its most well-known landmarks. And in the days leading to March 19, the people of New Orleans take up a Catholic tradition that began in the Middle Ages - they build “St. Joseph altars.”

In recent years, nearly 60 New Orleans Catholic schools and parishes have constructed annual devotional altars, as an expression of gratitude to St. Joseph, and as a labor of love for parishioners, friends, and neighbors.

"The original [St. Joseph’s] altar was built by the people of Sicily in thanks for his prayers to bring an end to their famine," said Sarah McDonald, communications director of Archdiocese of New Orleans.

"Today, they are considered a labor of love. As you are supposed to be working on the altar you are praying to St. Joseph to bless your family and to hear your intentions and pass them on," she told CNA in a 2018 interview.

The tradition began in Sicily, where St. Joseph's intercession is said to have helped the island through a severe famine almost 1,000 years ago. According to legend, people thanked St. Joseph for his prayers by building prayer altars, on which they placed food, pastries, flowers, wine, and, especially, fava beans.

The beans, which are said to pair well with Chianti, were the first crop Sicilians are believed to have grown once their drought ended.

The altars became a custom in Sicily. They came to New Orleans during a wave a Sicilian migration in 19th century.

"In New Orleans we have a very large Sicilian immigrant population coming over in the late 18th century/early 19th century, and with the Sicilian immigrants came the tradition ... of St. Joseph's altars,” McDonald said.

McDonald said the altars were first built in people's homes, for celebration with neighbors and families. They have now moved to parishes and are even found in some businesses, including grocery stores and concert venues.

Constructed over several days, the altars typically are made in the shape of a cross, with three tiers to represent the Trinity. A picture of St. Joseph is placed on the top tier. Altars are typically blessed by a priest.

The altars are covered with baked goods, flowers, candles, fruits, vegetables, and meatless meals. Many of the pastries and cookies have a symbolic meaning: some cookies are shaped as carpenter's tools or the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The food is an expression of gratitude for the local harvest, McDonald said, noting that after the festival canned goods and money are donated to those in need.

To complete the day, many parishes stage a reenactment of the Holy Family's search for shelter in Bethlehem, after which a feast is served.

Called "Tupa Tupa" or "Knock Knock," the custom has children representing the Holy Family knocking on the parish door looking for shelter. Two times the procession is denied shelter, and on the third knock everyone is let in for the feast.

 

This article was originally published on CNA March 19, 2018.

Pope Francis’ ‘journalism for peace’ starts with you

Is it just me or is the truth getting harder to find? It seems there is an increasing disagreement in our country over how to interpret both the news and the Good News.

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It’s OK if kids play church

A joyful squeal erupts from the hallway outside of the kitchen as I prepare dinner.

“En garde!” shouts my son in the deepest, throatiest voice his 8 years can dig up.

“En garde!” volleys his 3-year-old sister in a voice far less successful at impersonating a pirate.

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How can I keep them singing?

There are many ways my husband and I differ, but perhaps the most significant is that I come from a family prone to spontaneous outbursts of song while he comes from a family prone to subtle nods as they listen to the car radio together.

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Flint’s holy water

In the spring of 2016, as a graduate student at Michigan State University, I spent some time in Flint interviewing residents and business owners on how they were dealing with the lead crisis. I attended Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Michael Catholic Church  in Flint and was heartbroken to see the drinking fountains and faucets covered with signs saying not to use them. No one living in the church’s rectory could use tap water, either. The holy water bowls were empty, but the hallway was full of donated bottled water for parishioners to take home.

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How to talk to your children about Jesus’ death

“Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” blares from the Echo Dot sitting on our kitchen counter. We listen to it so much, my 3-year-old daughter Dahlia perfectly mimics the announcement of it in that sing-songy computer voice of Alexa’s. “‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’ by Gene Autry,” they report in unison, with the first syllable in Autry drawn out as though Alexa might be a little Southern. It’s the 11th time we’ve listened to “Rudolph” today, which would be fine but for the fact that it’s March and we’re in the middle of Lent.

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