SEPTEMBER 20, 2004





California dioceses must give records to court
OAKLAND (AP) – Alameda County Superior Court Judge Ronald Sabraw has ruled that Catholic bishops in northern California and their lawyers have until Sept. 10 to provide clergy personnel records, psychotherapy reports and other documents to plaintiffs on 40 priests accused in the lawsuits of molesting children. The files will not become public immediately.

Judge Sabraw is coordinating legal action in the “Clergy III” cases – litigation allowed by a state law that temporarily suspended the statute of limitations during the year 2003 for adults seeking damages for decades-old child abuse claims.

Pretrial hearings in the church abuse cases resumed Aug. 25 in Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland when Judge Sabraw heard the case of Father Arthur Ribeiro, who is accused of molesting Catholic school boys at Queen of All Saints Church in Concord in the early 1960s. He died four years ago. Father Ribeiro’s case is being used as a test case for a state law adopted two years ago that temporarily lifted the statute of limitations and allowed adult victims to seek damages for sexual abuse that occurred decades ago.

At issue is not what Father Ribeiro is accused of doing, but rather whether church leaders were negligent in preventing the abuse. None of these lawsuits may ever reach a jury, but court rulings over the next few weeks could decide whether Catholic dioceses will pay millions of dollars to settle these claims out of court.

Second round of abuse audits has begun

WASHINGTON (RNS) – A second round of on-site visits to ensure that Catholic dioceses are complying with sexual abuse reforms began in late July, Church officials said, with a few modifications.

The audits of all 195 dioceses and Eastern-rite eparchies are being conducted by the Boston-based Gavin Group, which conducted the first round of audits last year. Those audits found that 90 percent of dioceses have complied with abuse reforms adopted in 2002.

This year, auditors will ask how many abuse allegations dioceses have received since the first audit, in hopes of determining whether children continue to be at risk, according to Catholic News Service.

Some bishops who felt last year’s audits were sufficient had tried to stop a second round of audits. In June, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops agreed to a second round, but said they will discuss future audits when they gather again in November.

Archdiocese seeks sex abuse claim deadline
PORTLAND, Ore. (RNS) – In a bid to learn who has undisclosed plans to sue, the Archdiocese of Portland has proposed a Dec. 31, 2004, deadline for victims of sexual abuse to name themselves and provide details of their ordeals.

In papers filed recently in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, the archdiocese proposed a two-page “tort proof of claim” form. The archdiocese also outlined a plan to advertise the deadline in regional and national news media. A church official and a lawyer characterized it as a necessary step to move the bankruptcy proceedings forward. Lawyers for victims roundly condemned the proposed form and media campaign as insensitive.

The archdiocese sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in July in an effort to shield some of its assets from dozens of lawsuits that have already been filed. It is the first Catholic diocese to file for bankruptcy because of clergy abuse claims.

Groups rally for Sudan in ‘Day of Conscience’
WASHINGTON (RNS) – Religious and humanitarian groups rallied from coast to coast Aug. 25 in solidarity with more than a million refugees in Sudan who fled their homes in fear of government-backed militias.

The “National Day of Conscience” demonstrations were organized by the Save Darfur Coalition, a broad-based network of religious and aid groups that is demanding international intervention to stop what they call a genocide campaign by the Sudanese government.

Sudan crisis declared worst disaster on planet

WASHINGTON (RNS) – The refugee and military crisis in Sudan is without question the most dire humanitarian situation anywhere in the world, according to a top Catholic bishop who recently returned from a visit to the war-torn country.

Bishop John Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Fla., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ international policy committee, said the international community must not wait for formal declarations of ethnic cleansing or genocide before acting.

The United Nations estimates that almost 1.4 million Sudanese have been displaced – including 180,000 who have fled to neighboring Chad – in ongoing violence committed by government-backed Arab militias against black African tribes.

Notre Dame protests lifting of Muslim scholar’s visa
NOTRE DAME, IN (RNS) – The U.S. government has revoked the work visa of a Muslim scholar who planned to teach at the University of Notre Dame during the fall semester.

The visa of Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss citizen, was pulled at the request of the Department of Homeland Security. Ramadan, who has been criticized for remarks labeled anti-Semitic and for alleged ties to Islamic militants, had been scheduled to start teaching Aug. 24. “This is unjustified,” Ramadan told Associated Press.

Notre Dame spokesman Matt Storin challenged the government’s action, saying Ramadan is a voice for moderation in the Muslim world and a distinguished scholar. Ramadan, who said he underwent a thorough, two-month background check before he was granted the visa, said he opposes violence of any kind.

California man sued over death of Salvadoran archbishop
FRESNO, Calif. (AP) – A retired officer from El Salvador was sued in Fresno federal court on allegations that he conspired in the 1980 assassination of El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero in the capital, San Salvador.

The civil lawsuit, which began last month, alleges that Alvaro Rafael Saravia conspired to commit crimes against humanity and to commit an extrajudicial killing – violations of international law and of federal statutes that some say allow the defendant to be tried in U.S. courts.

Saravia, a car dealer, has not hired any attorneys, or responded to the lawsuit filed by the San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability on behalf of one of Romero’s relatives.

Court won’t reopen Pledge of Allegiance case
WASHINGTON (RNS) – The U.S. Supreme Court has declined, without comment, to reopen a case that challenged the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance and its use of “under God” in public schools. California atheist Michael Newdow had requested that the justices consider overturning their June ruling.

Senate okays CRS president for board
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate unanimously approved the nomination of Ken Hackett, president of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), to serve on the board of directors of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).

The MCC is a new initiative of the Bush Administration and the U.S. Congress to improve the accountability and impact of foreign assistance. Hackett is one of four non-governmental members who will serve on the MCC board of directors. President Bush nominated Hackett to the board based on the recommendation of Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle.

Chinese detain eight Catholic priests

LOS ANGELES (RNS) – Eight underground Catholic priests have been detained by the Chinese government in what human rights groups call an apparent crackdown on religious freedom.

The Connecticut-based Cardinal Kung Foundation said Chinese troops arrested eight Catholic priests in Heibei province who belong to an underground church that is loyal to the pope in Rome. The Cardinal Kung Foundation identified three of the priests, but their whereabouts are unknown. The foundation estimates that 12 million Chinese belong to the underground church, while 4 million belong to a separate state-approved Catholic church.

A third of U.S. teens have religious mission
WASHINGTON (RNS) – Nearly three in 10 U.S. teens have gone on at least one religious mission or participated in a religious service project, a new study says.
Seventy percent of Church of the Latter-day Saints teens reported religious service involvement, the most among all denominations.

Among other denominations, 43 percent of mainline Protestant teens said they participated in service projects and missions, while Catholic and Jewish teens reported the least involvement, 23 percent each.

Lourdes shrine faces $1.6 million deficit
LOURDES, France (RNS) – Pope John Paul II gave thanks Aug. 18 for the success of his pilgrimage to Lourdes, but the bishop who oversees the French shrine said it faces a $1.6 million deficit because pilgrims were so busy looking for good places for the papal Mass that they failed to make expected contributions.

Official newspaper of the Roman Catholic
Diocese of Oakland, California encompassing all of
Alameda &
Contra Costa counties.