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Augustus Tolton one step closer to being first black American saint

Chicago, Ill., Feb 20, 2019 / 05:49 pm (CNA).- A Vatican committee has unanimously voted to send the sainthood cause of Father Augustus Tolton, a former runaway slave and the first African American priest in the United States, to the next stage.

Tolton was born into slavery in Monroe County, Missouri in 1854 and escaped to Quincy, Illinois with his family during the Civil War. He studied for the priesthood in Rome because no American seminary would accept him on account of his race. He was ordained in 1889 and served for three years at a parish in Quincy, eventually accepting an invitation to come to Chicago where he led St. Monica Parish until his death in 1897.

A nine-member theological commission at the Vatican voted unanimously Feb. 5 that Tolton’s sainthood cause, which began in 2010, be moved forward and presented to the Ordinary Meeting of Cardinals and Archbishops, the archdiocese of Chicago announced last week.

There the members will take a final vote before presenting a Decree of Heroic Virtues to Pope Francis for approval.

Father Tolton would receive the title of “Venerable” after that decree’s approval, which indicates he “lived the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity and the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance at a heroic level,” the archdiocese said.

Tolton will be declared “blessed” once it is confirmed that one miracle has been granted by God through his intercession. A second miracle is typically required for canonization.

The late Cardinal Francis George of Chicago announced Tolton’s cause for canonization in March 2010, and Tolton received the designation “Servant of God,” a title given by the Vatican once a sainthood cause has begun, in Feb. 2011.

A committee of six Vatican officials unanimously approved as historically correct a document known as the positio summarizing the life, virtue, and Tolton’s alleged miracles in 2018.

The positio, sent to Rome in Sept. 2014, was the result of extensive research conducted in Chicago and included “documents, publications, correspondence, newspaper clippings, and historical facts of the era in which he lived.”

The Congregation for Causes of Saints in Rome officially opened The Acts of the Diocesan Inquiry into Tolton’s life and virtues in March 2015, and in April 2015 the Congregation approved the juridical validity of the Diocesan Inquiry.

The Vatican granted a nihil obstat to Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois in June 2016 to allow the diocese to exhume Tolton’s remains. Tolton’s body was subsequently wrapped within a new set of priestly vestments and reinterred.

Victims from Africa, Asia at Vatican to call for 'zero tolerance' of abuse cover-up

Vatican City, Feb 20, 2019 / 04:40 pm (CNA).- While studying at an African minor seminary at the age of 14, Benjamin Kitobo says he was abused by a Belgian priest, who had been sent to Africa after previously abusing children in Europe.

Now as an adult, Kitobo is one of the many sex abuse victims who traveled to Rome to share his story on the sidelines of the Vatican’s Feb. 21 - 24 sex abuse summit where bishops will meet in the presence of Pope Francis to discuss the protection of minors.

Kitobo told CNA at a gathering of victims and advocates from across Africa, Asia, and Latin America outside St. Peter’s Square Wednesday that he is calling for “zero tolerance” for bishops who cover-up sexual abuse, as well as the abusers themselves.

“Zero tolerance … for the people playing into the mechanism of covering up and the people abusing children,” he said, emphasizing that this needs to be “enforceable.”

“I’m addressing Pope Francis to not let the bishop go back home in Africa without any universal law against abusers and bishops who cover up for abuse,” he said.

After Kitobo complained about his abuser at his minor seminary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he found out that this priest continued to work with children in Rwanda.

“They didn’t act on this abuser. That is why I am here to complain. Many were treated the same way,” he told CNA Feb. 20.

“Abuse thrives under that kind of taboo when you can’t speak about it,” Kitobo reflected.

Kitobo was joined by sex abuse victims from Jamaica, New Zealand, Great Britain, Mexico, Chile, the United States, and elsewhere, who called for zero-tolerance for both perpetrators and bishops.

Sex abuse victims also spoke to how different countries’ cultures can exacerbate the stigma of speaking about sex abuse and cultivate a culture of silence.

“The culture that exists in society and within the Church in India makes it very difficult for survivors of abuse to come out and tell their stories,” Virginia Saldanha, an advocate for female sexual abuse victims in India explained.

Victims who do speak out “have been effectively silenced,” she continued.

“That is why I … questioned my own cardinal's place on the organizing team of this summit because in his own diocese, he has not addressed a single case successfully,” she said, referring to Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, one of four members of the Vatican sex abuse summit’s organizing committee.

“I know that the victims that our group has brought to Cardinal Gracias have been silenced,” Saldanha told CNA.

Saldanha began working for the Archdiocese of Bombay in 1991 and later went on to serve as the diocesan secretary for the commission for women, where she particularly tried to get the Church to speak out about societal violence against women.

“I tried to raise awareness but I kept coming up against a wall. I felt that the Church was not serious about this,” she said.

In the years since, the diocese has created a gender policy. “And what do they do with their gender policy? I teach it every year to our seminarians, but that is about it. How effective is it? Not at all,” Saldanha said.

“In India, we've had so many cases of all these great religious teachers abusing women, Hindus also, they have been abusing women,” she said.

“It is not just India, it is all of Asia, the culture is that way … people will not speak out because Confucian culture also says, 'you have to save face' you know? Protect the name of the Church, so when a victim has to speak out, they have to think first how they are going to be affected,” she explained.

"It is a global problem. We know this from survivors around the world,” Peter Isle, director of Ending Clergy Abuse told press before meeting with the Vatican organizing committee for the summit.

“The same obstacles, the same non-transparency, the same irresponsibility that we've seen over and over again by Church officials, that is happening all over the world,” he continued.

“If you had to pick one form of zero tolerance it is this one: zero tolerance for any bishop or cardinal who has covered up for child sex crimes,” Isle said.

Ohio doctor under investigation after dozens of patient overdose deaths

Columbus, Ohio, Feb 20, 2019 / 04:36 pm (CNA).- A doctor at a Catholic health system in Ohio has been fired after being accused of prescribing excessive doses of drugs to at least 30 ailing patients, some near death and some not. The accusations have also prompted the suspension of 20 hospital staff and over a dozen lawsuits alleging wrongful death.

Mount Carmel Health System fired Dr. William Husel from his job on Nov. 21, 2018, accusing him of prescribing excessive pain medicine to 34 patients in the intensive care unit. All of the patients died over the period of 2015-2018, the Columbus Dispatch reports.

“We are sorry for this tragedy, and we will continue to investigate how we responded to this report and whether there is any other information that should have led us to investigate sooner into Dr. Husel’s practices,” Edward Lamb, president and CEO of Mount Carmel Health System, said Jan. 24.

In a previous Jan. 14 statement, Lamb said the doctor’s actions were “unacceptable and inconsistent with the values and practices of Mount Carmel, regardless of the reasons the actions were taken.”

“We take responsibility for the fact that the processes in place were not sufficient to prevent these actions from happening,” he said.

The hospital said it received a formal report about the apparent behavior on Oct. 25 of last year. An employee reported the behavior out of safety concerns. The hospital said it knows of three deaths that took place from the time it received the report about Husel to the time it fired him.

Of the 34 patients who received overdoses of the drugs under Husel, 33 died at Mount Carmel West primary care hospital in Columbus, while one died at Mount Carmel St. Ann’s in Westerville. The hospital believes a few of these deaths were not caused by the overdoses.

Mount Carmel Health System is the second-largest non-profit Catholic healthcare system in the state. It is a member of the Michigan-based system Trinity Health.

Husel treated patients taken to the ICU for various reasons, including respiratory problems, infections, and gallstones. Some families said their loved ones were not terminally ill and they would have questioned the use of the medication administered under the doctor’s orders.

The Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office and Columbus police are investigating but no formal charges have been filed, NBC News reports.

The Ohio State Medical Board suspended Husel’s medical license in January.

Many of the details of the alleged victims come from lawsuits, court filings, and plaintiffs’ attorneys.

In one case, lawyers with the Leeseburg & Valentine law firm said, the doctor ordered a large dose of fentanyl - an opioid - and midazolam - a sedative - to be administered to 57-year-old Michael Walters just minutes before the patient died.

Walters had resided at a nursing home for several years after a stroke. He was admitted to the hospital on Oct. 6, 2017 suffering from respiratory failure and brain swelling, and was placed on a breathing machine. Late on Oct. 10, his family was persuaded to change his status to do-not-resuscitate. He died the next day.

The family members of Janet Kavanaugh, 79, have filed a lawsuit against the doctor and the hospital. They said she received a lethal dose of fentanyl and pronounced dead 18 minutes later.

Lawyer Gerry Leeseberg, who filed the suit on behalf of Kavanaugh’s estate, said she had not consented to the high dose. He was not aware whether she had previously been given the drug for pain relief, NBC News reports.

“We're concerned some of these families were misled into granting a do-not-resuscitate order,” Leeseberg said.

CNA sought comment from the Diocese of Columbus but did not receive a response by deadline.

The hospital released a statement and an apology on Jan. 14, the same day a patient filed a lawsuit. It removed 20 employees from patient care pending the results of its investigation, including nurses who administered the drugs and pharmacists.

Lamb, the health system head, said Jan. 24 that based on the initial report, the hospital system “should have begun a more expedited process to investigate and consider immediate removal of Dr. Husel from patient care at that time.”

More patients might be discovered as the investigation continues, he said.

According to Lamb, clinicians must provide “complete and clinically accurate” information about a patient’s condition, potential treatments, likelihood to recover and options for care. The investigation will determine whether this was the practice for the treatment of each of the patients.

“These events are heartbreaking,” said Lamb. “We are committed to being open and honest about what happened and what we are doing to ensure it never happens again.”

He pledged to respect the privacy and rights of those involved in accordance with privacy laws and to continue to cooperate with law enforcement and other relevant authorities.

For many of the patients, the doctor was able to use emergency overrides to bypass safeguards in the medication system. He was also able to avoid required pharmacist pre-approval.

A review from the Ohio Department of Health faulted the two hospitals for failing to ensure a system to prevent overrides that access large doses of “central nervous system” medications, the Columbus Dispatch reports.

The reports have already caused federal authorities to tell two hospitals in the health system they were non-compliant with Medicare standards for pharmaceuticals. They warned that the hospitals’ Medicare provider agreement would terminate on Feb. 24. Hospital leaders later agreed to a corrective plan and state oversight to ensure compliance.

 

Dubia cardinals ask bishops to confront ‘conspiracy of silence’

Vatican City, Feb 20, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- Catholic bishops around the world need to combat the homosexual agenda in the Church, two cardinals said in an open letter addressed to the presidents of the world’s conferences of bishops.

 

Cardinal Walter Brandmüller and Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke wrote in a Feb. 19 letter that the “horrible crime” of clerical sexual abuse of minors is “only part of a much greater crisis” that must be addressed before real change can occur.

 

“The plague of the homosexual agenda has been spread within the Church,” said the two cardinals, “promoted by organized networks and protected by a climate of complicity and a conspiracy of silence.”

 

The two cardinals addressed the open letter to their “dear brother” bishops who lead episcopal conferences around the world, and who are due to meet in Rome from Feb. 21-24 to discuss the crisis of sexual abuse of minors.

 

Burke and Brandmüller pointed to materialism, relativism, and hedonism as the root causes of an agenda promoted by “organized networks” and “a climate of complicity and a conspiracy of silence.”

 

The cardinals also acknowledged the role of clericalism in the sexual abuse crisis, which many in the Church have said lends itself to to a culture of abuse of power and status. However, the letter said, “the first and primary fault of the clergy” is not an abuse of their power, but “in having gone away from the truth of the Gospel.”

 

“The even public denial, by words and by acts, of the divine and natural law, is at the root of the evil that corrupts certain circles in the Church,” Burke and Brandmüller wrote.

 

They said that some bishops and cardinals have been “silent” in response to this “drift” in the Church, and asked those attending this week’s conference in Rome if they would “also be silent.”

 

Burke and Brandmüller are the two living members of a group of four so-called “dubia” cardinals who submitted formal requests for clarification to Pope Francis regarding the interpretation of his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, published after the Synod on the Family.

 

In the letter, Brandmüller and Burke note that they have not yet had a response to the dubia, and suggest that the need for clarification is “part of a more general crisis of the faith.”

 

“Therefore, we encourage [bishops] to raise your voice to safeguard and proclaim the integrity of the doctrine of the Church,” they wrote. “A decisive act now is urgent and necessary.”

 

The letter was released just days before the world-wide summit in Rome to address the sexual abuse crisis, and ahead of the publication of a widely trailed book entitled “In the Closet in the Vatican.” Authored by a French journalist, the book purports to expose a cultutre of homsexuality, hypocrisy, and secrecy in the upper ranks of the curia.

In private meeting, victims tell leaders of abuse summit: 'We want action'

Vatican City, Feb 20, 2019 / 03:10 pm (CNA).- About a dozen victims of clergy sexual abuse met Wednesday with the organizing committee of the Vatican sex abuse summit, expressing their desire that the week’s meeting yield action on the part of Church leaders.

Evelyn Korkmaz, an abuse victim from Canada and a member of “End Clergy Abuse” (ECA) told journalists after the Feb. 20 meeting, which lasted more than two hours, that she was happy their voices were listened to, but “we don’t want more meetings, we we want decisive action.”

The Church already knows their story, she stated: “They don't need our story, they need to take action and they need to take action now.”

In comments to journalists after the dialogue, victims noted that on Feb. 25, the day after the sex abuse summit is to conclude, a meeting of top Vatican officials will take place to debrief and discuss next steps.

Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said Feb. 20 the meeting will be an “interdicasterial meeting” of members of the Vatican offices connected to the issue of abuse, though he did not say exactly who would be present. It was noted that the meeting will also include experts on the protection of minors.

Victims said the four members of the summit's organizing committee present at their encounter Wednesday -- Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago; Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay; Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; and Fr. Hans Zollner, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM) -- will also be present at the follow-up Feb. 25.

Fr. Federico Lombardy, who is acting as moderator during the child protection summit, was also present at Wednesday’s meeting with victims.

Mary Dispenza, a national representative for and leader of SNAP in Seattle, Washington, said her hope is that the follow-up meeting of Vatican leaders will be able to give specific points of action: that they “are going to do one, two, three, and four.”

While the Vatican had said Pope Francis would not be a part of the meeting between victims and summit organizers, several victims expressed disappointment he did not make a surprise appearance.

According to Phil Saviano, several of the victims made requests to meet the pope, but no promises were made that they would be able to do so.

A board member of “Bishop Accountability” and a partner of the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team back in 2001, Saviano during the meeting read aloud a letter stressing the importance of transparency.

In the letter, which was made available to the press in advance, he said what is taking place in the Church today is a “tipping point,” and that without total transparency, “people's faith and trust in the Vatican is rapidly washing away.”

In particular, Saviano’s letter, which was addressed specifically to Scicluna, called on the Vatican to release the names and files of any priests who have been reported to the Vatican for child abuse, in order to, he told journalists later, prevent future abuse and out of respect for victims.

“These four men seemed to agree with what I had to say about transparency about releasing the records,” he said to journalists. Saviano also said Scicluna approached him privately after the meeting to say he “agrees with me completely on what I was asking him to do.”

The caveat, however, was what several victims described as an expression of powerlessness on the part of the cardinals and archbishop present, who said, according to the victims, that they agreed with their suggestions, but that they themselves do not have the power to put these ideas into action.

The encounter with victims took place in the Maria Santissima Bambina Institute, a guest house situated on Vatican property just outside St. Peter’s Square.

Other victim survivors present included Italian Francesco Zanardi, the founder of Italy’s only network of clerical abuse survivors, Spaniard Miguel Angel Hurtado, leader of the organization Infancia Robada [“Stolen Childhood”], and members of the French association, La Parole Libérée, François Devaux and Olivier Savignac.

Also present was Chilean Juan Carlos Cruz, a victim of the notorious abuser Fr. Karadima. He told journalists he is calling on bishops “to do what they have to do for this [meeting] to be successful.”

“The bishops cannot continue getting it wrong because as it is, the Church is on borrowed time.”

A woman from Jamaica who is a victim of clerical abuse was also present.

The one non-victim to join the meeting with summit organizers was Pedro Salinas. A Peruvian, he is a former member of the lay Catholic organization Sodalitium Christianae Vitae (SCV) and co-author of the book “Half Monks, Half Soldiers.”

Saviano noted that the intended purpose of the meeting on the protection of minors is very clear -- educating bishops -- so he hopes action will take place in the follow-up.

The meeting itself is “for those that understand what's going on, to make sure they’re all on the same page. And for those that don't understand, to bring them up to speed and let them know that there's going to be expectations that they'll be expected to live up to,” he said.

Dispenza, a former religious sister, emphasized that in her opinion, “this is the moment for the Catholic Church; that it's either going to survive or not. And a lot is going to depend on how Pope Francis handles these days and the actions he takes,” adding: “So we'll have to see.”

Saviano, who said he’s been public with his story of abuse since December 1992, said he thinks there’s been progress in the last decades: “I do think [the abuse summit] is a milestone and I hope that I'm not going to be really disappointed six months from now.”

“If there was ever a time for transparency, now is it. And maybe, if you do it properly, some of the Catholics who are at this point bailing out of the sinking ship, might reconsider and come back,” he stated. “But you have to give concrete signs that you're really coming up with a good plan to address this. And it can't be just talk.”