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Abuse Lawsuit Against Vatican Moves Forward. In mid January, Kentucky Federal Judge John Heyburn ruled a sex abuse lawsuit seeking compensation from the Vatican could proceed even though U.S. law usually protects foreign governments from such litigation. Heyburn ruled that the 1976 U.S. Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act does not protect states involved in personal injury in the U.S. and that if the Holy See directed its U.S. officials to cover up the crime, it could be held liable. If the case moves forward, private attorneys could gain access to private Church records and depose Vatican officials, including Pope Benedict. (The Tablet 1/20/07)
One Third of Austrian Priests Live With Female Partner. After an Austrian parish priest announced he was resigning because his partner was pregnant and he wanted to stand by her, his bishop, Elmar Fischer, said he respected his decision but regretted that the parish was losing a “truly committed pastor.” According to a theologian who worked with the bishop for many years, a third of all priests in Austria live with a female partner. The new pastor told the local paper that Mandatory celibacy is “altogether questionable.... married men should be allowed to become priests.”
(The Tablet 1/6/2007)
U.S. Bishops’ Conference Downsizes. At their November meeting, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reduced diocesan assessments by 16 percent, adopted a strategic plan for 2008-2011 and voted to restructure the national offices beginning with the elimination of 60 jobs. The 2007 assessment of $11.9 million covered about 8.5% of the 2007 budget. The 2008 assessment is numbered at $10 million. (Catholic News Service 11/14/06)
Lay-dominated Bishops’ Advisory Council More Visible. Over 50 laypeople, men and women religious, deacons, priests and bishops comprise the National Advisory Council to the U.S. bishops. The council meets immediately before the thrice-yearly meetings of the Bishops’ Administrative Committee. They comment on the documents that will be considered by the Administrative Committee. According to Bishop David Zubik of Green Bay, the group “could be seen as a national pastoral council.”
(Catholic News Service, 11/14/06)
Sister Jeannine Gramick Receives Mother Teresa Laureate Honor. In November, The St. Bernadette Institute of Sacred Art in Albuquerque presented Sr. Jeannine Gramick with an award acknowledging her “role as an American human rights activist...” Director of the awards, Dan Paulos said that like Mother Teresa who showed courage to help persons with AIDS, “Jeannine Gramick exercises compassion to gays and lesbians... offering them hope in a world where they are too often discriminated against.” (Catholic News Service 12/19/06)
Portland, Spokane, Denver Reach Sex Abuse Settlements. In December, the U.S. Bankruptcy court in Portland made a decision that the archdiocese will have to pay 75 million to almost 150 sex abuse claimants. The archdiocese will not have to sell parish or school property under the terms of the settlement. On Jan. 4, the judge mediating the settlement terms of the Spokane, Washington diocese, announced payments totaling at least $48 million and provided a mechanism for paying future claims. Spokane parishes must raise $10 million toward the settlement, at a cost of about $100 per Catholic. Also on January 4, the Denver Archdiocese announced it reached a mediated settlement totaling 1.6 million victims of childhood clergy sex.
(Catholic News Service 12/5/07, 1/9/2007)
Mexican Bishop Supports Rights of Permanent Deacons. Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel of San Cristobal de Las Casas in Mexico’s Chiapas state. Is resisting Vatican orders to erase a phrase in his pastoral plan that notes the desire among his indigenous communities that married permanent deacons be ordained priests. In a January 24 statement posted on the Mexican Bishops’ website, Esquivel said the phrase remains in the pastoral plan “because the faithful have the right to be heard by their pastors. To listen is not the same as to approve.”
(Catholic News Service 1/20/07)
Catholic Population Increases, Priests Increase Slightly. On February 12 the Vatican released statistics showing that at the end of 2005, Catholics increased 1.5% to 1.12 billion while numbers of priests increased by 0.1% to 406,400. The Catholic population grew fastest in the developing world. In 2005, the number of Catholics in Africa increased 3.1 percent, 2.7 percent in Asia, and 1.2 percent in the Americas. In Europe, there was a very slight increase in the number of Catholics according to the Vatican.
(Catholic News Service 2/12/07)
Five U.S Cardinals, 25 Bishops, Could Retire in 2007 Five U.S. Cardinals and 25 U.S. bishops could retire this year because they are 75, the age at which they submit letters of resignation to the Pope. The Cardinals are Adam Maida of Detroit, William Keeler of Baltimore, Bernard F. Law, formerly of Boston, now archpriest of St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome, Edward M. Egan of New York, James Stafford, head of Vatican’s office of penitential practices. (Catholic News Service 1/2/07)
Former Cleveland Diocese CFO claims Diocese had Hidden Bank Accounts. Attorneys for Joseph F. Smith filed a 40-page document with the U.S. District court on Feb. 16 to try and force the diocese to turn over internal financial documents. Smith and Anton Zgoznik, another former diocesan employee, were indicted last year on charges of conspiracy and money laundering. The men claim that a full review of diocesan financial documents would exonerate them. (The Plain Dealer 2/18/07)