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Philippine bishop: Duterte's drug war is 'illegal, immoral and anti-poor'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey

By Paul Jeffrey

KALOOKAN, Philippines (CNS) -- A Catholic bishop in the Philippines said his government's controversial war on drugs is really a war against the country's poor.

"There is no war against illegal drugs, because the supply is not being stopped. If they are really after illegal drugs, they would go after the big people, the manufacturers, the smugglers, the suppliers. But instead, they go after the victims of these people. So, I have come to the conclusion that this war on illegal drugs is illegal, immoral and anti-poor," said Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan.

The Philippines has suffered for years from widespread drug abuse, principally shabu, a cheaply produced form of methamphetamine. President Rodrigo Duterte ran for office promising a crackdown on drug use, and since he took office in 2016, rights groups say more than 20,000 people have been killed in extrajudicial killings, mostly carried out by the country's police.

Church leaders have grown increasingly critical of the violence. The country's Catholic bishops conference acknowledged in a Jan. 28 pastoral message that they had been slow in responding as a "culture of violence has gradually prevailed in our land."

The bishops spoke "of mostly poor people being brutally murdered on mere suspicion of being small-time drug users and peddlers, while the big-time smugglers and drug lords went scot-free." While they said they had "no intention of interfering in the conduct of state affairs," they said they had "a solemn duty to defend our flock, especially when they are attacked by wolves."

Duterte has repeatedly slammed the church in response to its criticism, and Bishop David, who also serves as vice president of the bishops' conference, has become the principal target of Duterte's angry outbursts at the church.

In November speech in Davao, Duterte said: "I'm telling you, David. I am puzzled as to why you always go out at night. I suspect, son of a bitch, you are into illegal drugs." At other times, he has accused the bishop of stealing church funds.

Bishop David has not turned the other cheek, instead responding quickly in social media posts: "I think it should be obvious to people by now that our country is being led by a very sick man. We pray for him. We pray for our country," he recently posted on Facebook.

"I think he picks on me because I'm quick in responding to his sound bites," Bishop David told Catholic News Service.

"I have discovered social media. I don't even have to talk to the media, they can follow the sound bites online. So, when he said that addicts are not human, I posted that I beg to disagree. I said no civilized society in this world would agree with him that addicts should be treated as nonhumans. And when he calls them nonhumans, does that mean we can do nothing about them except exterminate them? That's immoral. His statement had to be questioned. The problem is people don't question it, and when he repeats it over and over, it becomes gospel truth."

President Duterte has often referred to drug users as "the living dead" as he justifies his policies.

"I think he has been watching too many zombie movies," said Bishop David. "It is a kind of 'othering,' labeling them so that when they are found dead on the streets, people will be happy and respond, 'Good, that's one criminal less.'"

Bishop David said he is becoming increasingly desperate as he hears cries for help from the urban poor communities in his diocese. He has complained publicly about mass arrests of people without warrants and has criticized police detention without charges of young children who he said are kept in cages for weeks as their parents attempt to have them freed.

"Sometimes I have a feeling that we are back in the Nazi days, when people are somehow aware of what's going on, but they play deaf and dumb because they also like what's happening, because they are persuaded by the sound bites that this is the best way to get rid of criminality. You can get rid of criminality through criminal means? If that's true, then you have created a criminal government," he said.

While his diocese has responded to the crisis by working with some local governments to set up an effective community-based drug rehabilitation program, Bishop David said the war on drugs has pushed the church even further, forcing it closer to the side of poor communities that bear the brunt of arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings.

"The war on drugs got me closer to the poor. Maybe that's the blessing of it. It's so easy for bishops and priests to just go through the motions of doing our jobs, jobs that are institutionalized and defined for us. Our parishes are old and tired institutions that cater to church-going people, just the usual people. Our access to the poor is really the big challenge for us," said Bishop David.

Although Sunday Masses at the cathedral parish in Kalookan are standing room only, Bishop David said the church is reaching just a fraction of the people in his diocese. Instead of starting new parishes, which he said is cumbersome, expensive, and takes time, he has opened mission stations in the slums of his diocese, staffing them with religious from around the world.

"We are getting acquainted with the poor because of our mission stations. These are not parishes, but rather the church being present among the poorest of the poor. We have mission partners who I ask to live right there in the slums, among the poorest of the poor, so that the church will be accessible, so that the church will have quicker access to the poor and their needs," he said.

Bishop David said those mission workers keep him directly informed of arrests and killings and have even witnessed extrajudicial executions. They also frequently appeal to the bishop to intercede with officials on behalf of detained children.

"Our mission stations are like new wine bursting the old wineskins," he said. "Pope Francis keeps talking about going to the periphery, and this is the perfect opportunity. A mission station is a church without a church building, without a chapel. I send missionaries to live with them and they do community organizing and set up basic ecclesial communities. The sense of community is going down here in the city. There is no common ethnicity nor common language nor common origin. All of these people have migrated from the different provinces, and so they are strangers to each other. Who will build them into a community? They are very transient, they come and go, looking for where they can find jobs. Our role is to build community among them."

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Religious superiors admit denial, slowness to act against abuse


By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Twisted ideas of power and authority in the Catholic Church have contributed to the clerical sexual abuse crisis, leaders of religious orders said, but sometimes the positive "sense of family" in their own communities also made them slow to act.

"Pope Francis rightly attacks the culture of clericalism which has hindered our fight against abuse and indeed is one of the root causes," said a statement Feb. 19 from the women's International Union of Superiors General and the men's Union of Superiors General.

But, they said, "the strong sense of family in our orders and congregations -- something usually so positive -- can make it harder to condemn and expose abuse. It resulted in a misplaced loyalty, errors in judgment, slowness to act, denial and at times, cover-up."

The superiors, who represent a combined total of almost 850,000 women and men religious, stated, "We still need conversion and we want to change."

"We want to act with humility. We want to see our blind spots. We want to name any abuse of power. We commit to engage in a journey with those we serve, moving forward with transparency and trust, honesty and sincere repentance," said the statement from the two organizations of superiors general.

The two groups were to send 22 superiors general to the Vatican's summit Feb. 21-24 on child protection and the abuse crisis.

"The sexual abuse of children and the abuse of power and conscience by those in authority in the church, especially bishops, priests and religious" is "a story stretching back for decades," the statement said. It is "a narrative of immense pain for those who have suffered this abuse."

The superiors general said, "We bow our heads in shame at the realization that such abuse has taken place in our congregations and orders and in our church" and that the response of congregational leaders "has not been what it should have been. They failed to see warning signs or failed to take them seriously."

The religious superiors said they hoped that with the Vatican meeting "important processes and structures of accountability can be started and the ones already in place can be supported."

Acknowledging an oft-repeated observation that different approaches may be necessary for uncovering and ending abuse in different cultures, the superiors said one thing must be clear: "The abuse of children is wrong anywhere and anytime; this point is not negotiable."
In the statement, the leaders of Catholic religious orders vowed "to listen better to survivors" and to "implement what is decided at this meeting in terms of the accountability required of those in authority."

The superiors of men's and women's orders also asked Catholic parents, especially mothers, to assist them in responding to the abuse crisis.

"It is fair to say that if women had been asked for their advice and assistance in the evaluation of cases, stronger, faster and more effective action would have been taken," the statement said. "Our ways of handling allegations would have been different, and victims and their families would have been spared a great deal of suffering."

This Vatican meeting in February was to focus on protecting children, but the religious superiors acknowledged recent media attention "on the abuse and exploitation of religious sisters, seminarians and candidates in formation houses."

"This is a matter of grave and shocking concern," they said. "We pledge ourselves to do all in our power to find an effective response. We want to ensure that those who generously apply to join religious orders or who are trained in seminaries live in places of safety where their vocation is nourished and where their desire to love God and others is helped to grow to maturity."

The superiors promised to strengthen safeguarding programs in the schools and hospitals they run and to ensure all formation programs have a strong child-protection component.

The superiors also asked that the spirituality and retreat centers their orders run "develop special outreach to any survivor who wishes to find help in their struggles with faith and meaning."

"Those who have been abused by priests or religious may want to stay far distant from the church and from those who represent the church," they said. But others may want to attempt a "journey of healing and we will try humbly to journey with them."


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Vatican summit: Silence, denial are unacceptable, archbishop says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When presented with an accusation that a priest has sexually abused a child, "whether it's criminal or malicious complicity and a code of silence or whether it is denial" on a very human level, such reactions are no longer tolerable, said the Vatican's top investigator of abuse cases.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, who handles abuse cases as adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was part of a panel of speakers at a news conference Feb. 18 to outline the Vatican's plans and hopes for the summit meeting on the protection of minors in the church.

The meeting Feb. 21-24 was to bring together almost 190 church leaders: the presidents of national bishops' conferences, the heads of the Eastern Catholic churches, superiors of religious orders of men and women, Roman Curia officials and invited experts and guest speakers.

After reciting the Angelus Feb. 17, Pope Francis publicly asked Catholics around the world to pray for the summit, and he repeated the request Feb. 18 in a tweet, saying he wanted the meeting to be "a powerful gesture of pastoral responsibility in the face of an urgent challenge."

At the news conference Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago told reporters, "The Holy Father wants to make very clear to the bishops around the world, not only those participating, that each one of them has to claim responsibility and ownership for this problem and that there is going to be every effort to close whatever loopholes there are."

Bishops "are going to be held accountable," the cardinal said.

Cardinal Cupich said he expected the meeting to be "a turning point" in the way the Catholic Church handles allegations across the globe and the way it strengthens child protection policies.

However, like the other speakers, he said it would be unreasonable to expect the meeting to mark a sudden and complete end to the clerical sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.

"We are going to do everything possible to make sure people are held responsible, accountable, and there's going to be transparency, because those three elements will keep children safe," the cardinal said.

Both Archbishop Scicluna and Cardinal Cupich insisted that if all church leaders around the world had a full grasp of what is necessary to protect children from clerical sexual abuse, the church also would be in a better position to counter other situations of abuse, including the abuse of vulnerable adults, women religious and seminarians.

While declining to describe if and how he has seen Pope Francis change in response to abuse accusations, Archbishop Scicluna said, "I think that if you are talking about the pope's experience in Chile," where he initially insisted allegations against a bishop were slanderous, "I have been impressed by the humility of the Holy Father, his readiness to say, 'I got that wrong.'"

"That gives us great hope because we leaders need to confront ourselves with prudential judgments that could have been better," but also need to "move forward," the archbishop said. "If something has gone wrong, we need to make it right."

While the summit was not designed to produce a new document, Archbishop Scicluna said a greater awareness of the global reality of the problem and the serious responsibility of every bishop to address it should lead to action around the world.

Participants will share what they learned in Rome with other bishops and religious superiors and begin to take action locally, the archbishop said. "That will need to be audited," and Pope Francis has asked the meeting's organizing committee to stay in Rome after the meeting to begin discussing follow-up.

The panel was asked by a correspondent for LifeSiteNews if the summit would address "homosexuality among the clergy" given that so many of the victims of clerical sexual abuse were boys.

Cardinal Cupich said it is clear the majority of clerical abuse cases involve priests abusing boys, but high-level, independent studies, including the John Jay College of Criminal Justice report in the United States and the report of Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, "indicated that homosexuality itself is not a cause."

Both studies found that priest abusers had more access to potential male victims and that poor screening of candidates for the priesthood was a greater risk factor for abuse than homosexuality was, he said.

Each of the first three days of the meeting will be devoted to one aspect of the abuse crisis: responsibility, accountability and transparency. Pope Francis and participants will attend a penitential liturgy the evening of Feb. 23 and a Mass Feb. 24, both of which will be livestreamed from the Sala Regia of the Apostolic Palace.

The main speakers for the meeting's general assemblies are: Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines; Archbishop Scicluna; Colombian Cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomez of Bogota; Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai; Cardinal Cupich; Linda Ghisoni, undersecretary of the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life; Sister Veronica Openibo, superior of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus; German Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising; and Valentina Alazraki, a Mexican television journalist.


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DiNardo: Action on McCarrick 'clear signal' church will not tolerate abuse

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller


WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Vatican's removal from the priesthood of Theodore E. McCarrick "is a clear signal that abuse will not be tolerated," said the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Feb. 16.

"No bishop, no matter how influential, is above the law of the church," said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston. "For all those McCarrick abused, I pray this judgment will be one small step, among many, toward healing."

"For us bishops, it strengthens our resolve to hold ourselves accountable to the Gospel of Jesus Christ," the cardinal said. "I am grateful to Pope Francis for the determined way he has led the church's response."

Cardinal DiNardo's statement followed the Vatican's early morning announcement that Pope Francis has confirmed the removal from the priesthood of McCarrick, the 88-year-old former cardinal and archbishop of Washington.

The Vatican said he was found 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."

A panel of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith found him guilty Jan. 11, the Vatican said. McCarrick appealed the decision, but the appeal was rejected Feb. 13 by the congregation itself. McCarrick was informed of the decision Feb. 15 and Pope Francis "recognized the definitive nature of this decision made in accord with law," making a further appeal impossible.

By ordering McCarrick's "dismissal from the clerical state," the decision means that McCarrick loses all rights and duties associated with being a priest, cannot present himself as a priest and is forbidden to celebrate the sacraments, except to grant absolution for sins to a person in imminent danger of death.

The Vatican decision comes after months of mounting accusations that he abused children and seminarians decades ago. The accusations surrounding the former cardinal have prompted many to ask USCCB leaders and the heads of the archdioceses and dioceses he has served how he could have risen up the ranks of the church to become a cardinal.

Ordained a priest of the New York Archdiocese, he was the founding bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey, then served as archbishop of Newark, New Jersey. His last assignment was as archbishop of Washington. During his tenure there, he was named a cardinal.

McCarrick's punishment is the toughest meted out to a cardinal by the Vatican in modern times.

Last July, Pope Francis accepted his resignation from the College of Cardinals, after U.S. newspapers reported detailed accounts that he exposed himself and sexually molested two boys in his early years as a priest -- accusations that spanned almost five decades and were too old to legally prosecute.

In a June 20 statement, he said he had "absolutely no recollection" of the abuse "and (I) believe in my innocence" but said he was stepping down out of obedience. In December he went to live at a friary in Kansas to await the outcome of the Vatican's decision on his status.

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Cindy Wooden and Rhina Guidos contributed to this story.


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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

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