Alleged clergy sexual abuse and cover in a prominent D.C. parish puts spotlights on Catholic religious orders

Alleged clergy sexual abuse and cover in a prominent D.C. parish puts spotlights on Catholic religious orders

People gather for an afternoon mass in Spanish in Sanctuary of the Sacred Heart in Washington in October. (Matt McClain / The Washington Post) A purported cover-up case about the abuse of clergy that takes place this week in one of the most prominent Latino parishes in the Washington area, emphasizes a part of the Catholic Church that becomes uniquely opaque considered when it comes to misconduct: religious orders. Three parish leaders at the Sanctuary of the Sacred Heart, a busy, heavily Salvadoran church in Columbia Heights, were removed this week after reports that three teenage girls were touched by the Eerw. Urbano Vazquez, a sympathetic and popular priest. The arrest and the charges against child abuse against Vazquez and the removal of the leading priest and the head coordinator for child protection baffled the parishioners of the Sacred Heart, while many circumambulating the church in a protective manner or assuming a wait-and-see attitude towards the accusations. Sacred Heart is large and central in the Latin American community of the area, with many ministries – a school, English literacy lessons and an immigration center, among other services. "Maybe it would not have had such an impact if it had been in another church," said Carlos Enrique, 53, a former parishioner, said Thursday night. Parish leaders informed the congregation of the scandal Wednesday via an e-mail and described it as "shocking news." "I'm not going for the priests, I'm going for Christ. … No matter what happens, I'm not leaving," Enrique said. [U.S. bishops will debate enforcing a code of conduct, in response to sexual abuse scandals] Vazquez, an assistant priest and the reverend Moises Villalta, the principal priest of the parish, are Capuchins, an order, or a religious community within the Catholic Church. The Capuchins staff Sacred Heart, owned and operated by the Archdiocese of Washington. While the archdiocese can remove the priests of the order from its own institutions if problems come to its attention, they will not otherwise be managed or participate in disciplinary action. Questions remain as to whether the independent leadership of the Capuchins over the church played a role in the incorrect treatment of the accusations against Vazquez by the parish. (Vazquez could not be reached, and his public defender declined to comment Villalta also could not be reached for comment.) Email the parish sent to congregants said Villalta and Sonia Marlene Aquino, the child protection coordinator, "followed not the correct reporting protocol. "A police report reported Thursday that parents of at least two of the three girls had already reported the abuse to parish leaders in 2015, but that it had not been reported to civil authorities or the archdiocese until the end of last month. It is unclear why the allegations reappeared. Advocates for survivors and experts in the field of church administration said that lack of transparency is a major problem with religious orders, all of which are led separately and independently of dioceses and archbishoprics. Victims groups have this week written to Callista Gingrich, the American ambassador to the Vatican, and urged her to use American bishops on various topics about abuse, including the lack of transparency of religious orders, such as the Capuchins, Jesuits, Dominicans and Crosiers . And on October 26, in the midst of increasing national pressure on the church for transparency, the large umbrella group for male orders – the conference of senior superiors of men – wrote to its dozens of member groups to encourage them to reveal the names of priests who are faced with credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors and to warn local bishops where accused men have lived. Peter Isley, a survivor of maltreatment by a capuchin who is now a spokesman for the global group Ending Clergy Abuse, said his group and other survivor groups have written Gingrich as part of a long-term effort to be more accountable to the orders. Isley said leaders of religious orders did not agree on whether they should follow the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, the most important document adopted by the American bishops in 2002 and that regulates the procedures of bishops about abuse. The charter requires, among other things, that dioceses report allegations of abuse and submit reports on various preventive measures. [Three teens allege abuse by Catholic priest in D.C., court papers say] "Some say yes, some say no," said Isley. He and other advocates of abuse prevention said orders were permanently removed from the office, or belated, priests accused much less often than dioceses. Orders are also organized in regional provinces that span states and sometimes national borders, while dioceses (and archdioceses) are located in the United States, making it more difficult for civil servants to keep track of accused persons. Of about 48,500 rural priests, around 31 percent come from religious orders, and the other 69 percent come from dioceses, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a research center on ecclesiastical life, at the University of Georgetown. The fact that Sacred Heart was run by a religious order has not been formally raised as a matter of parishioners or anyone in the archdiocese. The case, however, is the first new claim of abuse within an archiepiscopal parish in nearly 20 years, and the DC Archdiocese has been at the center of an explosion of child abuse concerns by clerics since the suspension in June of the former archbishop of Washington, Theodore McCarrick, an accused abuser who has since resigned from the College of Cardinals, and the resignation month of his successor, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, about allegations that he abused abuse complaints while he was a bishop in Pittsburgh. Having a new accusation of abuse and cover is a blow to an archdiocese who tries to strengthen his reputation. Rev. Tom Betz, provincial or regional leader – for the Vazquez region, said Friday evening in a statement that Capuchins are regularly trained to prevent abuse and are accredited by Praesidium, an independent agency that consults and assesses abuse prevention programs. "It is clear that our procedures for the protection of minors have failed and we must now deepen our efforts to train our brothers and improve our procedures," said Betz in a statement. The archdiocese, when asked about the supervision of the manned parish, said that Sacred Heart "receives the same full support and commitment as the other parishes of the archdiocese," spokeswoman Chieko Noguchi wrote in an e-mail. But while the Archdiocese had the power to remove the priests from the parish itself, she wrote: "Beyond that, in discipline for the Capuchins, that is a question to establish the religious order." The removal of the two men seems to cut the full-time wait staff of Sacred Heart. The Archdiocese will send staff to the parish Sunday and offer resources to the families of the survivors. The parish planned a prayer vigil on Friday in response to the arrest. Parishioners said they were stunned by the scandal that occurred in the church. The priests of the parish are "the pillars of the parish … the voice of the community, the face of the community," said Gilber Canales Thursday night outside mass. They are vocal proponents of immigration problems, both in their homilies and in attending community marches and rallies that protest against the Trump government's actions against immigration. Canales, 38, who has been a member of the Church for 22 years, was married in church and his daughter was baptized there. He teaches Catechism to children and lives in the neighborhood. "It's like a bucket of cold water," he said. "It's cold … We knew nothing." He was used to hearing about the ongoing crisis of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church around the world, but he never thought it would touch his own community. "It looks like we are in the eye of the hurricane." Some said that the reports were made possible as a result of a series of listening sessions that took place this summer in the archdiocese and that covered the crisis. Katlyn Toelle said the community had prayed for mass victims every week for the victims of sexual abuse since an explosive report from the great Pennsylvania jury came this summer. They pray "for those survivors of abuse, whether by power or violence, especially by the clergy who have not fulfilled their call to holiness," said Toelle in an e-mail. Toelle, who coordinates music for the English-speaking mass, said that Sacred Heart is a warm and welcoming parish who talks openly about difficult issues and tries to fight injustice. "We have suffered damage and we have been deceived, but we will not be determined by it," said Toelle. During the Mass on Thursday evening a new priest read in Spanish from the Gospel of the day, about the parable of the lost sheep. He did not mention the scandal. "With human weakness we can fail … we can get dirty from sin … But Jesus Christ is looking for each of us." Why? To heal us, "the priest said later during the sermon Many parishioners expressed the wish to protect the parish and refused to comment on the allegations of abuse Outside, Marco Antonio, 50, a parishioner for 13 years, questioned the intentions and credibility of the accusations, claimed that the families "wanted to abuse the situation." "The truth is that the Spanish community is very friendly here," he said, saying that kissing and cuddling are common forms of affection, but Canelas did not completely reject the accusations. He put the blame at Villalta because he had not reported the accusations before. "If this happened, why did they wait?" Vazquez had been in the parish since 2014. He was born in Mexico in 1972 and made his first vows at the Capuchins in 2003. He studied in Washington while living in a Capuchin community, and received a Masters of Divinity from the Centro de Estudios de los Dominicos de Caribe in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He was ordained deacon in Puerto Rico in 2013 and served as a deacon trainee in the Parish of Our Lady of the Mountains in Cumberland, Maryland, before going to Sacred Heart. The archdiocese of Baltimore said there were no complaints to the archdiocese of Vazquez during the year in Our Lady, and Noguchi said that up to last month no allegations against Vazquez had been made to the D.C. archdiocese. Religious order priests such as Vazquez have "a very different way of life" in terms of the willingness of the institution to remove or discipline them in comparison with dioceses, said Patrick Wall, a canon lawyer and former priest who became a researcher and guardian against mental abuse. On dealing with sexual abuse by clerics in Catholic orders, Wall said, "This is a long-standing problem that the bishops have never solved."

Leave a comment

Send a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.