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In the News (March 2019)

Pope admits nuns were sexually abused

For the first time, Pope Francis said publicly that the Catholic Church had faced a persistent problem of sexual abuse of nuns by priests and bishops.

Nuns have accused clerics of sexual abuse in India, Africa, Latin America and in Italy, and a Vatican magazine in January mentioned nuns having abortions or giving birth to the children of priests. Francis hadn’t discussed the issue until he was asked to comment during a news conference on Feb. 5.

“It’s true,” Francis said. “There are priests and bishops who have done that.”

300 priests accused of sex abuse in Texas

The Roman Catholic Church in Texas on Jan. 31 released the names of almost 300 priests who it said had been credibly accused of child sex abuse over nearly eight decades.

It was the latest in a wave of disclosures by the church as it faces a series of federal and state investigations into its handling of sexual misconduct.

The names were posted online by all 15 of the state’s dioceses and followed the publication in August of a bombshell report on clerical sex abuse by the Pennsylvania attorney general that has spurred investigations of the church in more than a dozen other states.

380 Southern Baptists accused of sex abuse

More than 700 victims have been sexually abused by about 380 Southern Baptist leaders and volunteers since 1998, according to an investigation by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News. 

“Ultimately, we compiled information on 380 credibly accused officials in Southern Baptist churches, including pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers and volunteers,” the newspapers said. “We verified that about 220 had been convicted of sex crimes or received deferred prosecutions in plea deals.”

According to the report, of those 220, 90 are in prison and 100 are registered sex offenders.

New Jersey dioceses release names of abusers

The names of nearly 200 priests and deacons who were accused of sexually abusing children were released Feb. 13 by New Jersey’s five Roman Catholic dioceses.

“In an effort to do what is right and just, we are publishing the names of diocesan clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors in the Archdiocese of Newark,” said Newark Archbishop Joseph Cardinal Tobin in a letter. The Dioceses of Camden, Trenton, Paterson and Metuchen also released their own lists.

The lists follow many similar records of names published by dioceses across the country recently. Of the 188 names released, more than 100 are deceased.

N.Y. diocese names 108 priests in abuse cases

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y., released the names of 108 priests who have been credibly accused of sexually abusing minors during the diocese’s 166-year-history.

It said about two-thirds of the people on the list are dead. The diocese is one of the largest in the country.

Advocates who track abuse cases said it also roughly doubled the number of suspected abusers they had been aware of in the diocese.

The diocese in 2018 reached a $27.5 million settlement with four men who said they were abused as boys by a Catholic school teacher between 2003 and 2009.

Ex-cardinal McCarrick defrocked for sex abuse

The Vatican said Feb. 16 it had defrocked former cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

He is now the highest-ranking church official to be expelled from the priesthood for sex abuse.

A church tribunal found McCarrick guilty of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power,” the Vatican said.

Pope Francis has approved the ruling and there is no possibility of appeal, the statement said.

McCarrick, 88, resigned his post as cardinal last year after an investigation found evidence he had molested a minor altar boy almost a half-century ago.

Another man told The New York Times that he was in his 20s when McCarrick abused him in the 1980s. McCarrick was a bishop in New Jersey at the time.

Vatican official quits after abuse accusation

A Vatican official who handles sexual abuse cases for the Catholic Church quit two months after being accused of sexual abuse.

On Jan. 28, Hermann Geissler resigned from his position as chief of staff in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a body that handles discipline in sexual abuse cases within the Catholic Church. Geissler maintained his innocence but said he was resigning to protect the church.

Supreme Court blocks abortion law in La.

On Feb. 7, Chief Justice John Roberts joined with the Supreme Court’s liberals to block a Louisiana law that opponents say would close most of the state’s abortion clinics and leave it with only one doctor eligible to perform the procedure.

The justices may yet consider whether the 2014 law — requiring doctors at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals — unduly burdens women’s access to abortion.

The Louisiana law has never been enforced, and the Supreme Court in 2016 found a nearly identical Texas law to be unconstitutional.

“The Supreme Court has stepped in under the wire to protect the rights of Louisiana women,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represented the law’s challengers.

But the legal challenge isn’t over, so Roberts’ position on the merits remains to be seen.

Lawyers: Kim Davis must pay legal bills

Lawyers for Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin say former Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis should be held responsible for nearly $225,000 in legal fees and court costs incurred by couples who sued her in 2015 when she refused to issue marriage licenses because of her religious opposition to same-sex marriage.

A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati heard arguments about who should bear the case’s expenses.

A district judge ruled in 2017 that the couples suing for marriage licenses clearly prevailed and that the state of Kentucky must pay their fees and costs.

Bevin appealed that ruling, hoping to hand the bill instead to the Rowan County clerk’s office. Davis acted alone, without any state support, the governor’s lawyers told the 6th Circuit in briefs ahead of the oral arguments.

Iowa abortion restriction ruled unconstitutional

An Iowa state judge on Jan. 22 struck down the state’s so-called “fetal heartbeat” law, declaring one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion bans unconstitutional.

The law, signed in May, would ban doctors from performing most abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected. That can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women even know they are pregnant.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for every Iowan who has ever needed or will need a safe, legal abortion,” Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s medical director, Dr. Jill Meadows, said.

Waiver granted to Christian ministry

The Trump administration said Jan. 22 it was granting a Christian ministry in South Carolina permission to participate in the federally funded foster-care program, even though the group will work only with Christian families.

Last year, the South Carolina Department of Social Services learned of Miracle Hill’s policy, notified the group it was in violation of federal law and downgraded it to a provisional license. Gov. Henry McMaster then asked Health and Human Services for a waiver.

HHS said it would grant this waiver, days before the group’s provisional license was set to expire. The department argued that the Obama-era regulation was ill-conceived and that some of its requirements “are not reflected” in the underlying statute.

Supreme Court denies Muslim imam at execution

The Supreme Court on Feb. 7 allowed the execution of a Muslim inmate in Alabama whose request that his imam be present had been denied.

The vote was 5 to 4, with the four more liberal members of the court in dissent. The majority offered little reasoning but said that the inmate, Domineque Ray, had waited too long to object. Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the dissenters, said the majority was “profoundly wrong.”

She wrote, “a Christian prisoner may have a minister of his own faith accompany him into the execution chamber to say his last rites. But if an inmate practices a different religion — whether Islam, Judaism or any other — he may not die with a minister of his own faith by his side.”

In June, the Supreme Court declined to reconsider the appeal.

Montana ends tuition tax credit program

The Montana Supreme Court invalidated the state’s tuition tax credit in December, ending a program that allowed taxpayers to fund scholarships for private schools, most of which are religious-based.

Taxpayers could donate up to $150 toward scholarships for students attending private schools – the majority of which are religious in Montana – and then receive a $150 credit on their tax bills.

The Montana Department of Revenue determined the program unlawfully aided religion-based schools.