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Lawsuit alleges Boston’s Cardinal O’Malley failed to prevent abuse at Catholic high school

Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA / null

Denver, Colo., May 25, 2023 / 14:55 pm (CNA).

Three former students at a Massachusetts Catholic high school have filed a lawsuit against Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley and other Church leaders because of alleged abuse committed by the school’s vice principal.

Attorney Mitchell Garabedian on Monday announced that he had filed a May 5 lawsuit in Suffolk County Superior Court on behalf of three former students at Arlington Catholic High School in the northwest Boston suburb of Arlington.

The plaintiffs, who are not named in court papers, allege that former vice principal Stephen Biagioni abused them from about 2011 to 2016, the Boston Globe reported. The former students were between the ages of 15 and 17 at this time, they told reporters on Monday, according to WBUR News.

Biagioni, who became principal of Arlington Catholic High School, was placed on administrative leave in April 2016 pending the outcome of an investigation into alleged events at Sunday detention. At the time, vice principal Linda Butt said they had no reason to believe it involved allegations of sexual abuse, WCVB News reported.

The Archdiocese of Boston said that the allegations were reported to law enforcement when the high school became aware of them.

“We generally do not comment on active litigation,” Archdiocese of Boston spokesperson Terrence Donilon told CNA in a May 25 statement. “That said, we understand that certain of the allegations in this lawsuit were brought to the attention of Arlington Catholic High School in 2016 and were reported to the appropriate law enforcement and child welfare authorities at that time as part of Arlington Catholic’s ongoing commitment to provide a safe environment for young people at the school.”

“The administrator in question was subsequently removed from his position, and personnel from Arlington Catholic and the Archdiocese of Boston cooperated fully with the investigating authorities,” Donilon said.

The three have similar accounts. They said that during detention, Biagioni would wrestle students and during these incidents would force their heads up against his crotch area, including part of his genitalia. This was “explicit sexual behavior and lewd and lascivious conduct,” the lawsuit charges. The alleged victims suffer consequences including anger, flashbacks, and sleep problems.

“There is no doubt that the antennas of the Archdiocese of Boston should have been raised very high because of their history, allowing sexual abuse to occur for decades upon decades,” Garabedian said, according to the Boston Globe. “[O]ne would think by now they would have the proper safeguards in place to protect children.”

He said Church leaders should have done more to prevent abuse given their awareness of the history of abuse in Boston and because O’Malley since 2014 has held a significant role in the Catholic Church as head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Besides O’Malley, the lawsuit was filed against Bishop Robert Deeley and Bishop Peter Uglietto as defendants as well as three other Church leaders. Biagioni, the former principal, is not named in the suit as a defendant.

Deeley, who now serves as the bishop of Portland, Maine, served as vicar general and moderator of the curia for the Boston Archdiocese from 2011 to 2014, according to his biography on the Portland Diocese’s website. Uglietto has served as the archdiocese’s vicar general and moderator for the clergy since February 2014.

The lawsuit said Church leaders have a duty to “properly supervise employees” to ensure that employees do not use their positions in the archdiocese “as a tool for grooming and assaulting vulnerable children.” It alleges that Church leaders “knew, or were negligent in not knowing” that Biagioni was a danger to the students.

The Boston Globe reported that two other plaintiffs who allege they were sexually abused by Biagioni also filed lawsuits against Church officials last year. Garabedian told the outlet that Biagioni wasn’t named a defendant in all three cases for “strategic reasons” and declined to comment further.

Garabedian has filed lawsuits on behalf of clergy abuse victims for decades. CNA sought a copy of the complaint from Garabedian’s office but did not receive a response by publication.

South Carolina signs six-week ‘heartbeat’ abortion bill into law

null / Shutterstock.

CNA Newsroom, May 25, 2023 / 13:15 pm (CNA).

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed a bill Thursday prohibiting abortion after six weeks of pregnancy that goes into effect immediately.

The Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act, passed the Republican-controlled Senate Tuesday in a 27-19 vote, a week after the House passed the bill. The new law includes exceptions for rape and incest, the life of the mother, and fetal abnormalities up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. 

“With my signature, the Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act is now law and will begin saving the lives of unborn children immediately,” the Republican governor said. 

“This is a great day for life in South Carolina, but the fight is not over. We stand ready to defend this legislation against any challenges and are confident we will succeed. The right to life must be preserved, and we will do everything we can to protect it,” he said.

South Carolina had previously banned abortion after 22 weeks. The change in the law makes Virginia the only southern state that has not added further restrictions to abortion since the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

The South Carolina Catholic Conference released a statement applauding the passage of the bill.

“The Fetal Heartbeat Act is the strongest pro-life bill the state General Assembly has ever passed. The Catholic Conference thanks Senate leadership for coming together to pass a life-affirming bill that protects babies and their mothers.  

“We anticipate the abortion industry will file an immediate legal challenge. The battle will now move to the courts. For now, this is an incredible victory for life in the Palmetto State. Praise be to God!” the statement read.

Abortion providers Planned Parenthood and Greenville Women’s Clinic have filed a lawsuit challenging the law.

“Abortion providers have asked a state trial court to block S. 474 on the grounds that it violates South Carolinians’ constitutional rights to privacy, equal protection, and substantive due process by banning abortion, providing inadequate protections for patients’ health, conditioning sexual assault survivors’ access to abortion on the disclosure of their personal information to law enforcement, violating the Medicaid Act, and improperly targeting Planned Parenthood through an unconstitutional bill of attainder,” Planned Parenthood said in a statement.

South Carolina’s Supreme Court struck down a six-week abortion ban in January. Justice Kaye Hearn, who authored the ruling, has since retired. Her seat is now held by Justice Gary Hill, who was elected by both houses of the majority-Republican Legislature.

PHOTOS: Hundreds of Catholics march through Washington, DC, for eucharistic procession

A few hundred Catholics marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., to publicly pray and adore the body of Christ during a eucharistic procession on Saturday, May 20, 2023. / Credit: Joe Portolano/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 24, 2023 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

A few hundred Catholics marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., to publicly pray and adore the body of Christ during a eucharistic procession on Saturday, May 20, two days after the solemnity of the Ascension. 

The procession, led by Catholic Information Center (CIC) Director Father Charles Trullols, began at the CIC building at 1501 K St., NW, and passed by Lafayette Square, which overlooks the White House, and by the Veterans Affairs Building. It ended with Benediction back at the CIC.

A few hundred Catholics marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., to publicly pray and adore the body of Christ during a eucharistic procession on Saturday, May 20, 2023. Credit: Joe Portolano/CNA
A few hundred Catholics marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., to publicly pray and adore the body of Christ during a eucharistic procession on Saturday, May 20, 2023. Credit: Joe Portolano/CNA

“This was the best event ever, because we honored Jesus Christ in the holy Eucharist downtown, Washington, D.C.,” Grace Sims, 66, Arlington resident, told CNA after the Benediction.

Procession participants knelt before the Eucharist displayed in a monstrance and sang St. Thomas Aquinas’ hymn “Salutaris Hostia” before beginning the procession through the city. Attendees stopped at three altar stations for silent prayer. At the first altar, Trullols read from the Gospel of John and at the second altar, he delivered a homily. At the third altar, he celebrated Benediction. 

During the procession, attendees prayed the joyful mysteries of the rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. They also sang hymns, which included “Immaculate Mary.” 

A few hundred Catholics marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., to publicly pray and adore the body of Christ during a eucharistic procession on Saturday, May 20, 2023. Credit: Joe Portolano/CNA
A few hundred Catholics marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., to publicly pray and adore the body of Christ during a eucharistic procession on Saturday, May 20, 2023. Credit: Joe Portolano/CNA

Edwin Salazar, a 27-year-old resident of Hyattsville, Maryland, told CNA that it was amazing how many people showed up to give public witness to their faith. 

“I think it was amazing; it was beautiful,” Salazar said.

“It really helps people ground their faith when they have a community backing them up.”

Another attendee, Sandy Cremers, told CNA that she had been to a eucharistic procession before, but this was her first time attending one in Washington, D.C. 

“We should do this every day until the country converts … and until our leaders convert,” she said.

A few hundred Catholics marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., to publicly pray and adore the body of Christ during a eucharistic procession on Saturday, May 20, 2023. Credit: Joe Portolano/CNA
A few hundred Catholics marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., to publicly pray and adore the body of Christ during a eucharistic procession on Saturday, May 20, 2023. Credit: Joe Portolano/CNA

Trullols told CNA that the procession helps Catholics see the “sense of the beauty that we all have to … give to the Eucharist and the devotion and reverence.” He added that it also helps bear witness to the faith in front of people who otherwise would not encounter the Eucharist. 

Some bystanders who were not part of the procession also showed interest. Several people stopped to watch the procession, some took pictures, and others asked a few of the attendees about the event. 

A few hundred Catholics marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., to publicly pray and adore the body of Christ during a eucharistic procession on Saturday, May 20, 2023. Credit: Joe Portolano/CNA
A few hundred Catholics marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., to publicly pray and adore the body of Christ during a eucharistic procession on Saturday, May 20, 2023. Credit: Joe Portolano/CNA

“I saw so many bystanders stopping, taking pictures, wondering what it was,” Trullols told CNA. 

Trullols said this was the first time CIC organized a procession and it “exceeded all of [our] expectations.” He said he hopes to organize another procession next year “to make this an annual event.”

Who was Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, whose body is now the center of attention in Missouri?

Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, whose body was discovered apparently incorrupt, founded the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of the Apostles. / Courtesy of the Benedictines of Mary

Denver, Colo., May 24, 2023 / 15:45 pm (CNA).

When the Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles exhumed the body of their foundress Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, OSB, on April 28, they found the unexpected: Four years after her death and burial in a simple wooden coffin, her body appeared remarkably well preserved.

The news quickly spread on social media about the unusual state of the remains of the contemplative order’s African American foundress, drawing hundreds of pilgrims to the monastery in rural Missouri.

A pilgrim venerates the incorrupt body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, OSB, on May 20, 2023. Lancaster was recently exhumed in Gower, Missouri. Credit: Kelsey Wicks/CNA
A pilgrim venerates the incorrupt body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, OSB, on May 20, 2023. Lancaster was recently exhumed in Gower, Missouri. Credit: Kelsey Wicks/CNA

Questions remain to be answered about whether an investigation will take place to examine her remains scientifically. In the meantime, many people want to know more about this woman who, at the age of 70, founded the order of sisters best known for their chart-topping Gregorian chant and classic Catholic hymn albums.

A vision of Jesus at her first Communion

The second of five children born to Catholic parents in St. Louis on Palm Sunday, April 13, 1924, Mary Elizabeth Lancaster (she took the name Wilhelmina when she made her vows) was raised in a deeply pious home. 

According to the current abbess, Mother Cecilia Snell, OSB, and as told in a biography published by her community, the future Sister Wilhelmina had a mystical experience at her first Communion at age 9 wherein Jesus invited her to be his. 

“She saw something of him at her first Communion. Maybe not very clearly, but she saw he was so handsome,” the abbess said. 

“He said, ‘Will you be mine?’

“And she said, ‘He is so handsome, how can I say no?’”

After this experience, at age 13 her parish priest asked her if she ever considered becoming a sister. Though she had not, she was quickly moved by the idea and wrote to the Oblate Sisters of Providence in Baltimore seeking permission to join, “but she was too young [so] she had to wait a little bit longer.”

The excerpt of the letter reveals a stunning straightforwardness and enduring faithfulness, given that she would die having lived 75 years under religious vows. 

“Dear Mother Superior,” it reads. “I am a girl, 13 years old, and I would like to become a nun. I plan to come to your convent as soon as possible. I will graduate from grade school next month. What I want to know is whether you have to bring anything to the convent and what it is you have to bring. I hope I am not troubling you any, but I have my heart set on becoming a nun (of course I am a Catholic.) God bless you and those under your command. Respectfully, Mary Elizabeth Lancaster.”

A Catholic education and lifelong vocation

Growing up under segregation, Mary Elizabeth was once taunted with the nickname “chocolate drops” as she ran through a white neighborhood on her way home from school, and although she also was ridiculed as the lone Catholic among Baptist and Methodist peers, she refused to harbor resentment for her treatment. 

When the local Catholic high school became segregated under the Christian Brothers and public school seemed like her only option, her parents went to great efforts to ensure that their daughter and her schoolmates could continue their Catholic education. 

According to Sister Wilhelmina, as recounted in her biography, her “parents, who did not want me to go to the public high school, got to work and founded St. Joseph’s Catholic High School for Negroes, which lasted until Archbishop Ritter put an end to segregation in the diocese.” 

She graduated as valedictorian of the school her parents helped to found and then entered the Oblate Sisters of Providence, one of only two religious orders for Black or Hispanic women. She would remain with these sisters for 50 years under vows. 

The habit and the Traditional Latin Mass 

During her 50 years in religious life, Sister Wilhelmina witnessed the changes brought by Vatican II and sought to preserve the habit, even constructing one of her own when the sisters stopped producing them.

“She spent so many years fighting for the habit,” said Mother Cecilia, who said Sister Wilhelmina took seriously the idea that the habit signifies the wearer as a bride of Christ. 

According to her biography, she made a habit for herself, creating parts of the headdress out of a plastic bleach bottle even as her sisters no longer wore theirs. 

As the Catholic Key reported, her homemade habit may have saved her life when she was working as a teacher in Baltimore and the stiff, high-necked collar known as the guimpe deflected the knife of a disgruntled student. 

Her biography tells of an occasion when a sister passing her in the hallway pointed at the traditional headdress and asked, “Are you going to wear that all the time?” 

“Yes!” Sister Wilhelmina responded and would later quip, “I am Sister WIL-HEL-MINA — I’ve a HELL of a WILL and I MEAN it!”

After years of trying to get her order to return to the habit, she happened to hear about the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter starting a group of sisters, and she had rediscovered the Latin Mass and fell in love with it, Mother Cecilia said. 

“And one day, she packed her bags — and she’s 70 years old, and she went to found this community — just a complete leap of faith.” 

In 1995, with the help of a member of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, the community began. Over time, it would take on a more contemplative and distinctly Marian charism, with a special emphasis on praying for priests. 

In her proposal for a new community, Wilhelmina said she wanted to return to regular observance, something she petitioned for during the general chapter of the Oblate Sisters of Providence. “The wearing of a uniform habit, the surrendering of all monies to a common bursar, the obeying of lawful authority in all departments, the guarding of enclosure and of times and places of silence, and the living together an authentic fraternal life,” she wrote.

In short, in her new community, she imagined a return to the ordinary discipline of religious life. 

The new community, which began in Scranton, Pennsylvania, followed St. Benedict in his Rule and chanted the traditional Divine Office in Latin. In 2006, the community accepted an invitation from Bishop Robert W. Finn to transfer to his Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in Missouri. 

In 2018, their abbey, Abbey of Our Lady of Ephesus, was consecrated with Mother Abbess Cecilia as the first abbess with Sister Wilhelmina under her authority. In 2019, seven sisters left the abbey to establish the order’s first daughter house, the Monastery of St. Joseph in Ava, Missouri.

Today, the sisters continue to lead lives of silence and contemplation, following St. Benedict’s Rule. They partake in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and use the 1962 Monastic Office, with its traditional Gregorian Chant, in Latin.  

The community records an album in the St. John's Chapel. .  Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles.
The community records an album in the St. John's Chapel. . Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles.

Devoted to the Blessed Mother 

Sister Wilhelmina is remembered for her love of Our Lady, even in the last years of her life, when she was suffering from fragile health.

Regina Trout, a former postulant who cared for Sister Wilhelmina and is now married with children and a lecturer in biology at Purdue University Fort-Wayne, recalled seeing her visibly moved.

“Whenever you would talk to her about Our Lady, you could just see that spark. She loved Our Lady so much, and that came through so strongly,” she said. 

Sister Wilhemina’s last conscious words — ”O Maria,” sung two days before her death as part of the hymn “O Sanctissima” — were a reflection of her deeply Marian piety as well as the charism of the chart-topping music that glorifies God that the Benedictine Sisters of Mary are known for. 

“She loved our Blessed Mother,” Mother Cecilia said. “That’s what she would tell everybody coming here. Pray the rosary. Don’t forget to pray the rosary. Love the Blessed Mother. She loves you.” 

“Her death was beautiful,” the abbess told EWTN’s ACI Group. “God arranged everything.”

“We were singing ‘Jesus, my Lord, my God, my all.’ When we got to the rest of the song — ’Had I but Mary’s sinless heart, with which to love Thee with, O what joy’ — she opened her eyes and looked up.

“I mean, she had been comatose. We know she could hear us, but she was just not responsive at all for a couple of days. And then she just looked up with this face full of bursts of love.”

For the abbess, it seemed like “she was just already in heaven” in those moments. 

Editor's note: This story was updated on June 2 to correct the date that Sister Wilhelmina's body was exhumed.

Fort Worth nun forced to use bishop-appointed canon lawyer amid dispute with diocese

The Reverend Mother Superior Teresa Agnes Gerlach of the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington, Texas. / Credit: Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity Discalced Carmelite Nuns

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 24, 2023 / 15:15 pm (CNA).

A Carmelite nun who accused the Diocese of Fort Worth and Bishop Michael Olson of violating both civil law and canon law is now appealing to the Vatican after the bishop refused to let her choose her own canon lawyer for representation in a diocesan investigation, according to a civil lawyer representing the nun.

The diocese has accused the Reverend Mother Superior Teresa Agnes Gerlach of violating her vow of chastity with a priest. Although the diocese claims she admitted to the misconduct, a civil lawyer representing Gerlach claims the admission came under heavy medication from a procedure and she does not recall what she admitted.

“She did not have sex with a priest,” Matthew Bobo, the civil lawyer representing Gerlach, said in a statement.

Gerlach, who serves in the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity, sought out an independent canon lawyer to represent her in the diocesan investigation into the allegation, but Olson denied each of her suggestions, according to Bobo. Instead, the bishop appointed a different canon lawyer to represent her without her consent or approval.

“Bishop Olson denied Mother Superior’s right to independent canonical (Church law) representation with three different canon lawyers (advocates) and one procurator,” Bobo said in a statement. “Mother Superior rejects any and all representation by her current canon lawyer, appointed by the bishop without her consent, who is not independent nor representing her canonical or natural law rights.”

Bobo told CNA that the bishop-appointed canon lawyer, Michael J. Podhajsky, is already filing documents on behalf of Gerlach, despite her protest. Bobo said the canon lawyer does not represent the nun and does not have the authority to represent the nun.

“He has never had a conversation with my clients,” Bobo said. “He’s never talked to them.”

Bobo added that the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity is challenging the bishop’s rejection of Gerlach’s canon lawyer requests and “filed certain documents with the Vatican to address the actions of the bishop.”

A spokesperson for the diocese declined to comment on the matter. 

Podhajsky, who was appointed by the bishop, told CNA that he is aware that Gerlach did not agree with him being appointed to represent her. He said he has tried to work with Gerlach, but it is up to her whether she wants to work with him. 

“I’ve done my job to represent her to the best of my ability,” Podhajsky said. “I’ve made every effort to reach out to her.”

Gerlach and the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity filed a lawsuit against Bishop Olson and the diocese last week. The lawsuit seeks $1 million in damages and accuses them of invading the privacy of Gerlach and the other nuns. According to the lawsuit, the bishop confiscated Gerlach’s computer, cellphone, and laptop and subjected the nuns to lengthy questioning. 

The diocese asked the court to throw out the lawsuit, claiming that it is an ecclesiastical matter over which civil courts do not have jurisdiction.

Nebraska bans abortion at 12 weeks and sex change surgery for minors

Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen on May 22, 2023, signed into law a 12-week abortion ban and a ban on transgender surgery on minors. / Courtesy of the Office of the Governor of Nebraska

Denver, Colo., May 24, 2023 / 14:30 pm (CNA).

Nebraska will now ban abortion 12 weeks into pregnancy and ban gender-altering surgery for minors. A new bill, signed into law on Monday, also regulates other drugs used in purported gender-transition therapies for minors.

“It’s about protecting our kids and saving babies. Pure and simple,” Republican Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen said Monday, the Associated Press reported. The governor said the legislation sends the message that “abortion is unthinkable in Nebraska” and the state’s culture “embraces life and love.” The provision barring gender-altering surgery, he said, “lets our kids be kids” while they grow up, including “the teenager who may be trying to figure out who they are.”

Over 30 of Nebraska’s 49 senators joined the governor for the signing of the Let Them Grow Act. The bill passed 33-15 along party lines in the unicameral Legislature, which only has a Senate.

The new abortion ban replaces the previous 20-week abortion ban. The ban exempts abortions of unborn children conceived in rape and incest as well as cases of medical emergencies. It also specifically exempts ectopic pregnancies.

“Every human being has a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” said state Sen. Joni Albrecht. “I look forward to the day when every child is protected from conception from elective abortions in the State of Nebraska.”

The abortion ban takes effect immediately. In April, the state Senate failed to pass a six-week abortion ban by only one vote.

The new law also bans purported gender-altering surgery for patients under age 19, the age of legal majority in Nebraska. Proponents present the surgeries, also known as sex-change operations, as gender-confirmation surgery.

The bill requires the state medical officer to create regulations for cross-sex hormones and puberty-blocking drugs for minors, which proponents call gender-affirming care. The regulations could include a full ban, according to the Nebraska Examiner. This part of the legislation will take effect Oct. 1.

State Sen. Kathleen Kauth said the legislation is “all about protecting children. It was an honor to be able to use it to also protect preborn children.”

“Every option is on the table to undo these regressive measures, including seeking justice through the courts,” said Mindy Rush Chipman, interim executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska, in a Monday statement. Chipman charged that the bans will cause “significant harm.”

Lawmakers opposed to the abortion ban and transgender legal reforms filibustered all proposed legislation for months. They fell one vote short of the 17 votes needed to halt the advance of the bill.

On Friday hundreds of opponents of the legislation, including self-identified transgender youth, rallied at the capitol and some filled the capitol rotunda.

Supporters of the legislation included the Nebraska Catholic Conference. Marion Miner, the conference’s associate director of Pro-life and Family Policy, argued for the legislation in Feb. 8 testimony to the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee.

“A healthy culture promotes the integrity of persons, in part by cultivating manifestations of sex differences that correspond with biological realities. It supports gender expressions that reveal and communicate the reality of our sexual natures. A misguided concept of gender, on the other hand, denies, conceals, and distorts the realities of our nature and hinders human flourishing.

“Most alarmingly, it exposes emotionally vulnerable children to dangerous and sometimes irreversible wounding of their own bodies, permanently engaging in battle against what will be the body’s lifelong struggle to heal itself.

“As theories of sex and gender inconsistent with nature and the natural moral law are increasingly prevalent in popular culture, it is essential for the law to protect children while they develop and mature physiologically, emotionally, and spiritually,” said Miner, who cited several of Pope Francis’ statements against gender ideology.

According to Miner, foes of the legislation seek to respect those who feel “incongruence between their biological sex and the gender with which they identify” and who often suffer “feelings of anxiety and of being unaccepted.”

“Love, compassion, and respect for such persons, who are our brothers and sisters, along with an affirmation of their equal dignity and worth, is due to them,” he said.

Woman arrested in connection with arson of Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine in Illinois

Virginia Roque-Fermin is charged with one felony count of arson in connection with starting a fire that caused tens of thousands of dollars in damages to The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines, Illinois, May 23, 2023. / Credit: Des Plaines Police Department

Boston, Mass., May 24, 2023 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

A 41-year-old woman has been arrested and charged in connection with causing more than $78,000 in damages in a Tuesday arson attack at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines, Illinois.

The 60-acre shrine, which receives hundreds of thousands of pilgrims each year and is meant to spread devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, operates under the auspices of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Virginia Roque-Fermin of Arlington Heights, Illinois, was charged with one felony count of Arson, police said.

Des Plaines police responded to the fire at 2:31 a.m. and unsuccessfully tried to extinguish the fire. The Des Plaines Fire Department was able to put out the fire after arriving.

After responding to the fire, police said they saw the woman “quickly walking away” from the fire, which was set at an outdoor chapel where devotional candles are typically lit. Police said they noticed soot on her shirt and took her into custody, according to ABC7 Chicago.

Security footage shows Roque-Fermin throwing statues, buckets, chairs, and planter pots into the fire to stoke the flames, police said. The footage, observed by CNA, shows rosaries being thrown into the fire.

On its website, the shrine says it considers itself “an extension of that mission given in Mexico in the year 1531” to St. Juan Diego.

“It’s a desecration of a very holy place,” one pilgrim, Ethel Gina Bailon, told ABC7.

“And there’s no regard anymore for a holy place,” Bailon said.

Father Esequiel Sanchez, the shrine’s rector, told CNA Wednesday that the outdoor area that was set on fire is called the Chapel of the Resurrected Christ. Pilgrims often gravitate toward this chapel and leave written petitions, candles, photographs, or locks of hair of loved ones, he said.

The chapel, which houses a large statue of Jesus, was “totally demolished” by the flames, he said.

“Thankfully, because of the security system, the police were able to capture her really quickly,” he said.

The shrine is being rebuilt and the damage cleaned up, Sanchez said. He added that the day the chapel was burned down, a funeral was planned at the shrine for a teenage boy who died in a car accident.

That funeral was held despite the damage on the property.

The shrine is a home for many different cultures of people, Sanchez said. Pilgrims come with many petitions and many bring thanks for answered prayers, he said.

He added that he was praying for Roque-Fermin.

“We don’t know the motive or why she did this, but we’re praying for her,” he said.

Trial date set in June for Father James Jackson’s child pornography case

Father James Jackson, FSSP, delivers the homily at the funeral Mass for slain Boulder police officer Eric Talley on March 29, 2021, at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver. / Screenshot of FSSP YouTube video

Boston, Mass., May 24, 2023 / 10:45 am (CNA).

The federal child pornography case against Providence, Rhode Island, priest Father James Jackson is scheduled to begin on June 20.

The trial date marks almost two years since Jackson, a member of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), was arrested by the Rhode Island state police at his parish, shocking many of his current and former parishioners, including some of the traditionalist community online.

The ex-pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Providence is facing federal charges of receipt of child pornography and possession of child pornography.

The penalty for receipt of child pornography could result in a maximum of 20 years’ imprisonment, with a mandatory minimum of five years, and a fine of up to $250,000. The penalty for possession of child pornography could result in imprisonment of up to 20 years and a maximum fine of $250,000.

Under the terms of his release from federal court in November 2021, Jackson was allowed to return to his home state of Kansas to live with a relative while waiting for the charges to be adjudicated.

After an additional child pornography investigation into Jackson by a local Kansas police department, Jackson’s federal probation officer issued a petition to the U.S. District Court of Rhode Island alleging that the priest broke the conditions of his pretrial release that were mandatory while he was allowed to live in Leawood, Kansas, with his sister.

U.S. Marshals arrested him and brought him back to the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, Rhode Island. 

In a hearing in the U.S. District Court in Providence on Oct. 3, 2022, Jackson admitted that the government could prove that he violated the condition of his pretrial release prohibiting him from “possessing any materials including videos, magazines, photographs, computer-generated depictions, or any other forms that depict sexually explicit conduct involving children,” according to James Rosenberg, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Rhode Island.

Jackson also admitted that the government could prove that he violated the condition prohibiting him from having access to more than one internet-connected device, Rosenberg said. 

In addition, Jackson admitted that the government could prove that he violated the condition requiring him to “notify his supervising probation officer of all computers or electronic data storage devices where he was residing and to report any additional acquisitions,” he added.

“Additionally, he further admitted that the government could establish probable cause that he committed a new crime, to wit, possession of child pornography, while on pretrial release,” Rosenberg said.

“To be very clear — he did NOT admit that he committed the new crime, only that the government could establish probable cause that he did,” Rosenberg wrote CNA in the Oct. 3 email.

Officer John Lacy, a spokesman for the Overland Park Police Department, told CNA on Tuesday that Jackson will be charged with a crime once the charges in Rhode Island are adjudicated. He said that an investigation is ongoing but would not elaborate on the nature of the charge.

Lacy said that the state charge would be brought by the Johnson County District Attorney’s office in Olathe, Kansas.

CNA asked the district attorney’s office what the charge awaiting Jackson is but did not immediately receive a response.

Jackson was only installed as pastor of St. Mary’s Church about three months prior to his arrest. Before that assignment, he served at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Littleton, Colorado.

He was arrested on Oct. 30, 2021, by the Rhode Island State Police after an investigation by a Rhode Island computer crimes task force.

The state police executed a search warrant that day at his parish and arrested Jackson after determining that he was the owner of large amounts of child sex abuse material found on an external hard drive in an office area near his bedroom, an affidavit states. 

Jackson was originally charged with both federal and state offenses, but the state charges were dropped as a procedural move in January 2022. 

Auxiliary Bishop Michael Fitzgerald retires after 4 decades serving Archdiocese of Philadelphia

Bishop Michael Fitzgerald on the day of his consecration as a bishop on Aug. 6, 2010. / Archdiocese of Philadelphia YouTube screenshot

Rome Newsroom, May 24, 2023 / 05:45 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Philadelphia’s Bishop Michael Fitzgerald one day after the auxiliary bishop’s 75th birthday.

With degrees in both civil and canon law, Fitzgerald served as the judicial vicar and the founding director of the archdiocesan Office for Legal Services. Over the past decade, he has worked to promote and maintain safe environments for children and youth in the archdiocese.

Archbishop Nelson Pérez of Philadelphia expressed gratitude for Fitzgerald’s four decades of ministry.

“Throughout the years, Bishop Fitzgerald generously sowed seeds of deep love for the Lord with the zealous heart of a missionary disciple. With great faith, fidelity, charity, and humility Bishop Fitzgerald has worked tirelessly for the good of souls and to build up the Kingdom of God in our region,” Pérez said.

Fitzgerald grew up in Philadelphia as one of nine children and attended the city’s Catholic schools. He earned a law degree from Villanova University and completed a Pennsylvania state court clerkship before entering seminary. He was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia on May 17, 1980.

After fulfilling his appointments as the defender of the bond and pro-synodal judge, Fitzgerald received a doctorate in canon law from the Gregorian University in Rome in 1991.

Benedict XVI appointed Fitzgerald an auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia in 2010. When he was consecrated as bishop, Fitzgerald chose the motto “Per Crucem ad Lucem,” meaning “through the Cross to the Light.”

Fitzgerald was one of five auxiliary bishops in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and assisted Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop Charles Chaput, and Archbishop Pérez with their pastoral and administrative duties.

A statement from the archdiocese said that Fitzgerald will continue to serve Philadelphia in a pastoral capacity after his retirement.

“It has been a great joy for me to work with him closely for many years and I am grateful for the wise counsel he has provided during my time as archbishop,” Perez said.

Illinois AG report says nearly 2,000 were victims of clergy sex abuse over 70-year span

Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, Ill., mother church of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Credit: Edlane De Mattos/Shutterstock. / null

CNA Newsroom, May 23, 2023 / 15:27 pm (CNA).

A report published by the Illinois attorney general’s office alleges that 451 Catholic clerics and religious brothers sexually abused 1,997 victims within the state’s Catholic dioceses over a 70-year period. 

The report, published May 23, unveils a comprehensive list of “substantiated child sex abuse” allegations, which the attorney general’s office compiled with assistance from each of the six dioceses in Illinois. The report covers allegations from 1950 through 2019.

Investigators from the attorney general’s office reviewed more than 100,000 pages of documents provided by the dioceses related to abuse allegations and policies and procedures on how they dealt with the allegations. They also conducted interviews with diocesan representatives and with numerous victims who made the allegations. 

The report notes that each diocese cooperated fully with this investigation, and acknowledged reforms that have been made, but Attorney General Kwame Raoul had harsh words for the Church’s leadership in the past.

“Decades of Catholic leadership decisions and policies have allowed known child sex abusers to hide, often in plain sight,” Raoul said in a statement. “And because the statute of limitations has frequently expired, many survivors of child sex abuse at the hands of Catholic clerics will never see justice in a legal sense.”

“It is my hope that this report will shine light both on those who violated their positions of power and trust to abuse innocent children, and on the men in church leadership who covered up that abuse,” Raoul’s statement continued. “These perpetrators may never be held accountable in a court of law, but by naming them here, the intention is to provide a public accountability and a measure of healing to survivors who have long suffered in silence.”

In total, the report found 275 substantiated abusers in the Archdiocese of Chicago, 69 in the Diocese of Joliet, 51 in the Diocese of Peoria, 43 in the Diocese of Belleville, 32 in the Diocese of Springfield, and 24 in the Diocese of Rockford. The number is higher than 451 because some of the accused priests served in more than one diocese. 

The report also alleges that the final number disclosed in the attorney general’s report is much higher than the number disclosed previously by Illinois Catholic dioceses. 

Before the attorney general investigation, only two dioceses — the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Diocese of Joliet — posted a list of substantiated sexual abuse on their websites, naming 103 alleged abusers. The report stated that, during the investigation, the dioceses disclosed 334 clerics and religious brothers who allegedly abused minors, which is still lower than the attorney general report of 451.

Cardinal Blase Cupich, archbishop of the Chicago Archdiocese, said in a Tuesday statement that much of the discrepancy is because the report included abuse allegations from priests and religious brothers who were under the supervision of a religious order rather than the diocese itself. 

“We have not studied the report in detail but have concerns about data that might be misunderstood or are presented in ways that could be misleading,” Cupich said.

Cupich said the 451 names disclosed include all diocesan and religious order priests and include the names already disclosed on the websites of Illinois’ six dioceses.

The dioceses do list religious priests and brothers with allegations found by their orders to be “substantiated.” The 149 names still undisclosed are “mostly religious order members who are not on our site; they are not undisclosed, and they are under the supervision and report to their respective order,” Cupich said.

In response to the report, Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield noted that there has been a decline in abuse allegations, which suggests that the prevention measures are working. 

“The changes our diocese enacted have proven to be effective as we are not aware of a single incident of sexual abuse of a minor by clergy alleged to have occurred in this diocese in nearly 20 years,” he said Tuesday.

The Diocese of Peoria said in a statement that, to the extent of its knowledge, “there is not a single priest of the diocese with a substantiated allegation who is currently in ministry or who has not been reported to authorities.”

Bishop Paprocki added that the report helps Catholics “sustain the vigilance with which we guard against any future threat of abuse.”

“The Attorney General’s inquiry into the history of clergy sexual abuse of minors in this diocese has served as a reminder that some clergy in the Church committed shameful and disgraceful sins against innocent victim-survivors and did damage that simply cannot be undone,” Paprocki said.

“As bishop of this diocese, I cannot undo the damages of the past, but I have been and continue to be fully committed to ensuring we do all we can to prevent abuse from happening again.”