Ireland’s top Archbishop holds historic talks with Catholic gay group

July 28, 2015


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Ireland’s top Archbishop holds historic talks with Catholic gay group

Jane Walsh @irishcentral July 24,2015 09:09 AM

Brendan Butler, from We are Church Ireland, Dr Richard O’Leary, from Faith in Marriage Equality, and Jim O’Crowley, from Gay Catholic, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh.

Pro-gay faith groups have met Dr Eamon Martin, the Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland.

The meeting with the Archbishop was requested by Faith in Marriage Equality (FiME) during the recent referendum campaign on same sex marriage. The meeting took place at the Archbishop’s residence in Armagh, on Wednesday, July 22.

Dr Richard O’Leary of Faith in Marriage Equality said “We believe it is a positive step to open dialogue with the Catholic Church as a contribution to the ‘reality check’ signalled by the Church after the vote for civil marriage equality.”

He was referring to the “reality check” Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin recommended to the Catholic Church following the success of the Yes campaign in the marriage equality referendum on May 22.

O’Leary continued “We were positively received by Archbishop Martin who said he was committed to continuing dialogue and that he was particularly concerned about the pastoral care of gay persons”.

Jim O’Crowley, a gay Catholic, shared with Archbishop Martin the experiences and views of gay Catholics and their families.

The delegation had sent in advance to the Archbishop, a copy of “To have and to Hold”: stories and reflections of LGBT people their families and friends” (edited by Patricia Devlin and Brian Glennon). Archbishop Martin said that he found it helpful to read this book and also to listen to accounts by gay Catholics.

Dr O’Leary impressed on the Archbishop that the absence of affirmation of gay persons by the Churches contributes to the raised rate of suicide.

Brendan Butler, of We are Church Ireland, referred to the forthcoming Synod of Bishops in Rome in October, at which Archbishop Eamon Martin and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin will represent the Irish bishops. Butler highlighted paragraph 130 of the agenda of the Synod titled |Pastoral Attention towards Persons with Homosexual Tendencies.”

Butler explained to the Archbishop “if the Catholic Church is to regain credibility not only with the gay and lesbian community but also with the wider Catholic community then existing Catholic teaching needs to change.”

He drew attention to paragraph three of the “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the pastoral care of homosexual persons” (CDF,1986) as morally offensive as it describes “homosexual orientation as an objective disorder and ordered towards an intrinsic moral evil.”

The pro-gay faith delegation requested Archbishop Martin to consider this issue during his discussions at the Synod of Bishops in Rome. Archbishops Martin said that he was open to receiving additional material from We Are Church Ireland on this subject.

Francis’ Strategy by John Chuchman and Comment by Frank Douglas

July 27, 2015


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I thank John Chuchman for this link.

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John asks: What Do you think?

Here is my response:


Your reflection mirrors my thinking in many ways.

Ignoring dogma/doctrine/teachings/whatever doesn’t make them go away. Collectively they are an albatross around the pope’s neck.


Unlike his two predecessors, Francis is a very modern and very shrewd person. He reads very well the thinking and value system of the critical-thinking modern/post-modern person, the SBNR—spiritual but not religious—person. This person doesn’t believe in (many of) the dogmas of the past but is drawn to the compassion and justice and love that Jesus taught. Herein lies salvation, in the here and now, in the present moment, not in some mythical place sometime in the future. The focus has shifted or is shifting from Heaven to Earth, from God to Mammon, from Organization to Person.  

Francis understands this major paradigm shift and is preaching this message to everyone. It’s a message that is selling in many quarters.


Expecting Francis to allow women priests, or fire 2/3 of US bishops who have covered up and are covering up sex crimes by priests against children, or to rescind the papal infallibility doctrine, or whatever–fill in the blank–is delusion. For the “Good of the Church,” these doctrines, these embarrassments are best locked up in the Catholic Church Closet.


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For this reflection John Chuchman questions not only the long term viability of Pope Francis’ seeming strategy of de-emphasising reliance on dogma and doctrine but, perhaps paradoxically, questions his own reliance on dogma and doctrine. There is much to think about here. Some continue to see their religion primarily through the lens of dogma and doctrine and will they re-assert their presence when Pope Francis is no longer here; or should we all be thinking about what the core basis of religious belief and practice is all about? John ends his reflection asking “what do you think?”.

Francis’ Strategy…

Though so much of
what Francis says and does
is so refreshing,
even encouraging,
his unwillingness
and/or inability
to address deficient church dogma/doctrine/practice

Some say that,
rather than get embroiled
in theological battles over doctrine and dogma,
which would consume
an extraordinary amount of time and energy,
Francis’ strategy
is one of ignoring, bypassing, going around
doctrine and dogma
to change church.

If this strategy works,
it does so only for his short term in office,
as any successor would still be bound
by the doctrine and dogma intact.

This strategy also allows those
clergy hiding behind and thriving on
the doctrine and dogma in place
to simply ignore Francis
as a passing fancy.

The strategy,
though refreshing to all those millions of Catholics
who have moved on
as well as non-Catholics,
confuses all the pay-pray-obey pewsitters
who ultimately
rely on
doctrine and dogma
to guide their lives.

But, having moved on,
(Catholic evermore, Roman never again)
why should I even be concerned
with the Roman Church’s
doctrine and dogma?

What do you think?

Love, John

See more reflections on John Chuchman’s blog, and on his “Is God Laughing or Crying” cartoon blog.



Is This the End of Christianity in the Middle East?…ISIS and other extremist movements across the region are enslaving, killing and uprooting Christians, with no aid in sight

July 24, 2015


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A statue destroyed by ISIS last summer in a 13th-century church in Telskuf, Iraq. 

CreditPeter van Agtmael/Magnum, for The New York Times

Is This the End of Christianity in the Middle East?

ISIS and other extremist movements across the region are enslaving, killing and uprooting Christians, with no aid in sight.


JULY 22, 2015


There was something about Diyaa that his wife’s brothers didn’t like. He was a tyrant, they said, who, after 14 years of marriage, wouldn’t let their sister, Rana, 31, have her own mobile phone. He isolated her from friends and family, guarding her jealously. Although Diyaa and Rana were both from Qaraqosh, the largest Christian city in Iraq, they didn’t know each other before their families arranged their marriage. It hadn’t gone especially well. Rana was childless, and according to the brothers, Diyaa was cheap. The house he rented was dilapidated, not fit for their sister to live in.

Qaraqosh is on the Nineveh Plain, a 1,500-square-mile plot of contested land that lies between Iraq’s Kurdish north and its Arab south. Until last summer, this was a flourishing city of 50,000, in Iraq’s breadbasket. Wheat fields and chicken and cattle farms surrounded a town filled with coffee shops, bars, barbers, gyms and other trappings of modern life.

Then, last June, ISIS took Mosul, less than 20 miles west. The militants painted a red Arabic ‘‘n,’’ for Nasrane, a slur, on Christian homes. They took over the municipal water supply, which feeds much of the Nineveh Plain. Many residents who managed to escape fled to Qaraqosh, bringing with them tales of summary executions and mass beheadings. The people of Qaraqosh feared that ISIS would continue to extend the group’s self-styled caliphate, which now stretches from Turkey’s border with Syria to south of Fallujah in Iraq, an area roughly the size of Indiana.

A roadblock near the headquarters of a Dwekh Nawsha Assyrian Christian militia unit in Baqofa, Iraq. 

CreditPeter van Agtmael/Magnum, for The New York Times

In the weeks before advancing on Qaraqosh, ISIS cut the city’s water. As the wells dried up, some left and others talked about where they might go. In July, reports that ISIS was about to take Qaraqosh sent thousands fleeing, but ISIS didn’t arrive, and within a couple of days, most people returned. Diyaa refused to leave. He was sure ISIS wouldn’t take the town.

A week later, the Kurdish forces, known as the peshmerga, whom the Iraqi government had charged with defending Qaraqosh, retreated. (‘‘We didn’t have the weapons to stop them,’’ Jabbar Yawar, the secretary general of the peshmerga, said later.) The city was defenseless; the Kurds had not allowed the people of the Nineveh Plain to arm themselves and had rounded up their weapons months earlier. Tens of thousands jammed into cars and fled along the narrow highway leading to the relative safety of Erbil, the Kurdish capital of Northern Iraq, 50 miles away.

Piling 10 family members into a Toyota pickup, Rana’s brothers ran, too. From the road, they called Diyaa repeatedly, pleading with him to escape with Rana. ‘‘She can’t go,’’ Diyaa told one of Rana’s brothers, as the brother later recounted to me. ‘‘ISIS isn’t coming. This is all a lie.’’

The next morning Diyaa and Rana woke to a nearly empty town. Only 100 or so people remained in Qaraqosh, mostly those too poor, old or ill to travel. A few, like Diyaa, hadn’t taken the threat seriously. One man passed out drunk in his backyard and woke the next morning to ISIS taking the town.

As Diyaa and Rana hid in their basement, ISIS broke into stores and looted them. Over the next two weeks, militants rooted out most of the residents cowering in their homes, searching house to house. The armed men roamed Qaraqosh on foot and in pickups. They marked the walls of farms and businesses ‘‘Property of the Islamic State.’’ ISIS now held not just Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, but also Ramadi and Fallujah. (During the Iraq War, the fighting in these three places accounted for 30 percent of U.S. casualties.) In Qaraqosh, as in Mosul, ISIS offered residents a choice: They could either convert or pay the jizya, the head tax levied against all ‘‘People of the Book’’: Christians, Zoroastrians and Jews. If they refused, they would be killed, raped or enslaved, their wealth taken as spoils of war.

No one came for Diyaa and Rana. ISIS hadn’t bothered to search inside their ramshackle house. Then, on the evening of Aug. 21, word spread that ISIS was willing to offer what they call ‘‘exile and hardship’’ to the last people in Qaraqosh. They would be cast out of their homes with nothing, but at least they would survive. A kindly local mullah was going door to door with the good news. Hoping to save Diyaa and Rana, their neighbors told him where they were hiding.

Diyaa and Rana readied themselves to leave. The last residents of Qaraqosh were to report the next morning to the local medical center, to receive ‘‘checkups’’ before being deported from the Islamic State. Everyone knew the checkups were really body searches to prevent residents from taking valuables out of Qaraqosh. Before ISIS let residents go — if they let them go — it was very likely they would steal everything they had, as residents heard they had done elsewhere.

Diyaa and Rana called their families to let them know what was happening. ‘‘Take nothing with you,’’ her brothers told Diyaa. But Diyaa, as usual, didn’t listen. He stuffed Rana’s clothes with money, gold, passports and their identity papers. Although she was terrified of being caught — she could be beheaded for taking goods from the Islamic State — Rana didn’t protest; she didn’t dare. According to her brothers, Diyaa could be violent. (Diyaa’s brother Nimrod disputed this, just as he does Diyaa’s alleged cheapness.)

At 7 the next morning, Diyaa and Rana made the five-minute walk from their home to Qaraqosh Medical Center Branch No. 2, a yellow building with red-and-green trim next to the city’s only mosque. As the crowd gathered, Diyaa phoned both his family and hers. ‘‘We’re standing in front of the medical center right now,’’ he said, as his brother-in-law recalled it. ‘‘There are buses and cars here. Thank God, they’re going to let us go.’’

It was a searing day. Temperatures reach as high as 110 degrees on the Nineveh Plain in summer. By 9 a.m., ISIS had separated men from women. Seated in the crowd, the local ISIS emir, Saeed Abbas, surveyed the female prisoners. His eyes lit on Aida Hana Noah, 43, who was holding her 3-year-old daughter, Christina. Noah said she felt his gaze and gripped Christina closer. For two weeks, she’d been at home with her daughter and her husband, Khadr Azzou Abada, 65. He was blind, and Aida decided that the journey north would be too hard for him. So she sent her 25-year-old son with her three other children, who ranged in age from 10 to 13, to safety. She thought Christina too young to be without her mother.

ISIS scanned the separate groups of men and women. ‘‘You’’ and ‘‘you,’’ they pointed. Some of the captives realized what ISIS was doing, survivors told me later, dividing the young and healthy from the older and weak. One, Talal Abdul Ghani, placed a final call to his family before the fighters confiscated his phone. He had been publicly whipped for refusing to convert to Islam, as his sisters, who fled from other towns, later recounted. ‘‘Let me talk to everybody,’’ he wept. ‘‘I don’t think they’re letting me go.’’ It was the last time they heard from him.


The Shadow of Death

CreditPeter van Agtmael/Magnum, for The New York Times

No one was sure where either bus was going. As the jihadists directed the weaker and older to the first of two buses, one 49-year-old woman, Sahar, protested that she’d been separated from her husband, Adel. Although he was 61, he was healthy and strong and had been held back. One fighter reassured her, saying, ‘‘These others will follow.’’ Sahar, Aida and her blind husband, Khadr, boarded the first bus. The driver, a man they didn’t know, walked down the aisle. Without a word, he took Christina from her mother’s arms. ‘‘Please, in the name of God, give her back,’’ Aida pleaded. The driver carried Christina into the medical center. Then he returned without the child. As the people in the bus prayed to leave town, Aida kept begging for Christina. Finally, the driver went inside again. He came back empty-handed.

Aida has told this story before with slight variations. As she, her husband and another witness recounted it to me, she was pleading for her daughter when the emir himself appeared, flanked by two fighters. He was holding Christina against his chest. Aida fought her way off the bus.

‘‘Please give me my daughter,’’ she said.

The emir cocked his head at his bodyguards.

‘‘Get on the bus before we kill you,’’ one said.

Christina reached for her mother.

‘‘Get on the bus before we slaughter your family,’’ he repeated.

As the bus rumbled north out of town, Aida sat crumpled in a seat next to her husband. Many of the 40-odd people on it began to weep. ‘‘We cried for Christina and ourselves,’’ Sahar said. The bus took a sharp right toward the Khazir River that marked an edge of the land ISIS had seized. Several minutes later, the driver stopped and ordered everyone off.

Led by a shepherd who had traveled this path with his flock, the sick and elderly descended and began to walk to the Khazir River. The journey took 12 hours.

The second bus — the one filled with the young and healthy — headed north, too. But instead of turning east, it turned west, toward Mosul. Among its captives was Diyaa. Rana wasn’t with him. She had been bundled into a third vehicle, a new four-wheel drive, along with an 18-year-old girl named Rita, who’d come to Qaraqosh to help her elderly father flee.

The women were driven to Mosul, where, the next day, Rana’s captor called her brothers. ‘‘If you come near her, I’ll blow the house up. I’m wearing a suicide vest,’’ he said. Then he passed the phone to Rana, who whispered, in Syriac, the story of what happened to her. Her brothers were afraid to ask any questions lest her answers make trouble for her. She said, ‘‘I’m taking care of a 3-year-old named Christina.’’

Syrian Christian refugees in Beirut, Lebanon, mourn the death of an elderly man, Benjamin Ishaya. He died of a head wound after being struck by a militant while fleeing his home village.

CreditPeter van Agtmael/Magnum, for The New York Times

Most of Iraq’s Christians call themselves Assyrians, Chaldeans or Syriac, different names for a common ethnicity rooted in the Mesopotamian kingdoms that flourished between the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers thousands of years before Jesus. Christianity arrived during the first century, according to Eusebius, an early church historian who claimed to have translated letters between Jesus and a Mesopotamian king. Tradition holds that Thomas, one of the Twelve Apostles, sent Thaddeus, an early Jewish convert, to Mesopotamia to preach the Gospel.

As Christianity grew, it coexisted alongside older traditions — Judaism, Zoroastrianism and the monotheism of the Druze, Yazidis and Mandeans, among others — all of which survive in the region, though in vastly diminished form. From Greece to Egypt, this was the eastern half of Christendom, a fractious community divided by doctrinal differences that persist today: various Catholic churches (those who look to Rome for guidance, and those who don’t); the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox (those who believe Jesus has two natures, human and divine, and those who believe he was solely divine); and the Assyrian Church of the East, which is neither Catholic nor Orthodox.

When the first Islamic armies arrived from the Arabian Peninsula during the seventh century, the Assyrian Church of the East was sending missionaries to China, India and Mongolia. The shift from Christianity to Islam happened gradually. Much as the worship of Eastern cults largely gave way to Christianity, Christianity gave way to Islam. Under Islamic rule, Eastern Christians lived as protected people, dhimmi: They were subservient and had to pay the jizya, but were often allowed to observe practices forbidden by Islam, including eating pork and drinking alcohol. Muslim rulers tended to be more tolerant of minorities than their Christian counterparts, and for 1,500 years, different religions thrived side by side.

One hundred years ago, the fall of the Ottoman Empire and World War I ushered in the greatest period of violence against Christians in the region. The genocide waged by the Young Turks in the name of nationalism, not religion, left at least two million Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks dead. Nearly all were Christian. Among those who survived, many of the better educated left for the West. Others settled in Iraq and Syria, where they were protected by the military dictators who courted these often economically powerful minorities.

From 1910 to 2010, the number of Christians in the Middle East — in countries like Egypt, Israel, Palestine and Jordan — continued to decline; once 14 percent of the population, Christians now make up roughly 4 percent. (In Iran and Turkey, they’re all but gone.) In Lebanon, the only country in the region where Christians hold significant political power, their numbers have shrunk over the past century, to 34 percent from 78 percent of the population. Low birthrates have contributed to this decline, as well as hostile political environments and economic crisis. Fear is also a driver. The rise of extremist groups, as well as the perception that their communities are vanishing, causes people to leave.


For more than a decade, extremists have targeted Christians and other minorities, who often serve as stand-ins for the West. This was especially true in Iraq after the U.S. invasion, which caused hundreds of thousands to flee. ‘‘Since 2003, we’ve lost priests, bishops and more than 60 churches were bombed,’’ Bashar Warda, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Erbil, said. With the fall of Saddam Hussein, Christians began to leave Iraq in large numbers, and the population shrank to less than 500,000 today from as many as 1.5 million in 2003.

The Arab Spring only made things worse. As dictators like Mubarak in Egypt and Qaddafi in Libya were toppled, their longstanding protection of minorities also ended. Now, ISIS is looking to eradicate Christians and other minorities altogether. The group twists the early history of Christians in the region — their subjugation by the sword — to legitimize its millenarian enterprise. Recently, ISIS posted videos delineating the second-class status of Christians in the caliphate. Those unwilling to pay the jizya tax or to convert would be destroyed, the narrator warned, as the videos culminated in the now-­infamous scenes of Egyptian and Ethiopian Christians in Libya being marched onto the beach and beheaded, their blood running into the surf.

The future of Christianity in the region of its birth is now uncertain. ‘‘How much longer can we flee before we and other minorities become a story in a history book?’’ says Nuri Kino, a journalist and founder of the advocacy group Demand for Action. According to a Pew study, more Christians are now faced with religious persecution than at any time since their early history. ‘‘ISIL has put a spotlight on the issue,’’ says Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, whose parents are from the region and who advocates on behalf of Eastern Christians. ‘‘Christianity is under an existential threat.’’

One of the main pipelines for Christians fleeing the Middle East runs through Lebanon. This spring, thousands of Christians from villages in northeastern Syria along the Khabur River found shelter in Lebanon as they fled an ISIS assault in which 230 people were seized for ransom. This wasn’t the first time that members of this tight-knit community had been driven from their homes. Many of these villagers were descendants of those who, in 1933, fled Iraq after a massacre of Assyrian Christians left 3,000 dead in one day.

On a recent Saturday, 50 of these refugees gathered for a funeral at the Assyrian Church of the East in Beirut, which sits on the steep slope of Mount Lebanon, not far from a BMW-Mini Cooper dealership and a Miss Virgin Jeans shop. The priest, the Rev. Sargon Zoumaya, buttoned his black cassock over a blue clerical shirt as he prepared to officiate over the burial of Benjamin Ishaya, who arrived just months before, displaced from one of the villages ISIS attacked. (He had died of complications following a head wound inflicted by a jihadist.)

‘‘We’re afraid our whole society will vanish,’’ said Zoumaya, who left his Khabur River village more than a decade ago to study in Lebanon. He picked up his prayer book and headed downstairs to the parish house. The church was helping to care for 1,500 Syrian families. ‘‘It’s too much pressure on us, more than we can handle,’’ he said. The families didn’t want to live in the notoriously overcrowded Lebanese refugee camps that had filled with one-and-a-half million Syrians fleeing the civil war. They no longer wanted to live among Muslims. Instead they crammed into apartments with exorbitant rents that the church subsidized as best it could.

‘‘We’re afraid our whole society will vanish,’’ said Zoumaya, who left his Khabur River village more than a decade ago to study in Lebanon. He picked up his prayer book and headed downstairs to the parish house. The church was helping to care for 1,500 Syrian families. ‘‘It’s too much pressure on us, more than we can handle,’’ he said. The families didn’t want to live in the notoriously overcrowded Lebanese refugee camps that had filled with one-and-a-half million Syrians fleeing the civil war. They no longer wanted to live among Muslims. Instead they crammed into apartments with exorbitant rents that the church subsidized as best it could.

The headquarters of a Dwekh Nawsha Assyrian Christian militia unit near the front line against ISIS in Baqofa, Iraq. 

CreditPeter van Agtmael/Magnum, for The New York Times

Inside the church, men and women sat in two separate circles. A young woman passed out Turkish coffee in paper cups. Waves of keening rose from the ring of women, led by Ishaya’s widow. Wearing an olive green suit, she sat at the head of the open coffin, weeping, as women touched her husband’s body. Nearby, her son, Bassam Ishaya, nursed two broken feet. He’d been trying to support his family by repairing couches until one dropped on him. The Ishaya family left Syria with nothing. ISIS, Bassam said, told them they ‘‘either had to pay the jizya, convert or be killed.’’ He pointed to a blue crucifix tattoo on his right arm. ‘‘Because of this, I had to wear long sleeves,’’ he said.

To escape, the Ishayas were airlifted from Al-Hasakah, a town in northeastern Syria, which had been under the joint control of the Assad government and the Kurds but has since largely fallen to ISIS, and flown 400 miles to Damascus. From there, they drove to the Lebanese border. Syrian Air charged $180 for the flights; Assad’s government charged $50 a person, the refugees at the funeral said.

Since the civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, Assad has allowed Christians to leave the country. Nearly a third of Syria’s Christians, about 600,000, have found themselves with no choice but to flee the country, driven out by extremist groups like the Nusra Front and now ISIS. ‘‘As president, he made the sheep and the wolf walk together,’’ Bassam said. ‘‘We don’t care if he stays or goes, we just want security.’’ Assad has used the rise of ISIS to solidify his own support among those who remain, sowing the same fear among them that he tries to spread in the West: that he is the only thing standing in the way of an ISIS takeover. This argument has been largely effective. As Samy Gemayel, leader of the Kataeb party in Lebanon, said: ‘‘When Christians saw Christians being beheaded, those who saw Assad as the enemy chose the lesser of two evils. Assad was the diet version of ISIS.’’

Like most of the refugees in the parish house, Bassam wasn’t planning on returning to Syria. He was searching for a way to the West. His brother Yussef moved to Chicago two years earlier. He didn’t have a job yet, but his wife worked at Walmart. Maybe they would help. He wanted to leave like everyone else, although it would hasten the end of Christianity in Syria. No one would go home after what ISIS had done. ‘‘Christians will all leave,’’ he said. ‘‘What can I do? I have four kids, I can’t leave them here to die.’’

After his father’s coffin was sealed, Bassam and the rest of the male mourners filed out. As the women looked on, the men filled waiting cars and drove, past a cement factory, to a nearby graveyard. Zoumaya swung a censer of frankincense along the narrow pathway. But neither the smoke nor the wilting rose bushes could mask the reek of corpses. Behind the priest, Bassam hobbled on crutches. The mourners lifted the coffin into a wall of doors, which resembled the shelving units in a morgue. This was a pauper’s grave. Since the family couldn’t afford the fee, the church paid $500 to place the coffin here. In a few months, the body would be quietly burned, although cremation is anathema to Eastern Christian doctrine. The ashes would take up less space in this overcrowded city of the dead.

‘‘We ran from the war only to die in the street,’’ one mourner said.

Later, Zoumaya talked of his family members, who were among the 230 captured by ISIS. At noon, on the day ISIS arrived in his wife’s village, Zoumaya called his father-in-law to check in.

‘‘This is ISIS,’’ said the man who answered.

‘‘Please let my family go,’’ the priest begged. ‘‘They’ve done nothing to you. They’re not fighting.’’

‘‘These people belong to us now,’’ the man said. ‘‘Who is this calling?’’

Zoumaya hung up. He feared what ISIS might do if they knew who he was. But this was not the end of his communication with them; they sent him photographs via WhatsApp. He pulled out his phone to show them. Here was a jihadi on a motorcycle, grinning in front of the charred grocery store that belonged to his father. Here was a photo, before ISIS arrived, of a 3-month-old’s baptism. Here was a snapshot of the family dressed up for Somikka, Assyrian Halloween, during which adults don frightening costumes to scare children into fasting for Lent.

CreditSource: Institute for the Study of War

‘‘All these people are missing,’’ he said.

ISIS wants $23 million for these captives, $100,000 each, a sum no one can pay.

This spring the U.N. Security Council met to discuss the plight of Iraq’s religious minorities. ‘‘If we attend to minority rights only after slaughter has begun, then we have already failed,’’ Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the high commissioner for Human Rights, said. After the conference ended, there was mounting anger at American inaction. Although the airstrikes were effective, since October 2013, the United States has given just $416 million in humanitarian aid, which falls far short of what is needed. ‘‘Americans and the West were telling us they came to bring democracy, freedom and prosperity,’’ Louis Sako, the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon who addressed the Security Council, wrote to me in a recent email. ‘‘What we are living is anarchy, war, death and the plight of three million refugees.’’

Of the 3.1 million displaced Iraqis, 85 percent are Sunnis. No one has suffered more at the hands of ISIS than fellow Muslims. Other religious minorities have been affected as well and in large numbers: the Yazidis, who were trapped on Mount Sinjar in Northern Iraq last summer, as ISIS threatened them with genocide; as well as Shia Turkmen; Shabak; Kaka’i; and the Mandeans, who follow John the Baptist. ‘‘Everyone has seen the forced conversions, crucifixions and beheadings,’’ David Saperstein, the United States ambassador at large for religious freedom, said. ‘‘To see these communities, primarily Christians, but also the Yazidis and others, persecuted in such large numbers is deeply alarming.’’

It has been nearly impossible for two U.S. presidents — Bush, a conservative evangelical; and Obama, a progressive liberal — to address the plight of Christians explicitly for fear of appearing to play into the crusader and ‘‘clash of civilizations’’ narratives the West is accused of embracing. In 2007, when Al Qaeda was kidnapping and killing priests in Mosul, Nina Shea, who was then a U.S. commissioner for religious freedom, says she approached the secretary of state at the time, Condoleezza Rice, who told her the United States didn’t intervene in ‘‘sectarian’’ issues. Rice now says that protecting religious freedom in Iraq was a priority both for her and for the Bush administration. But the targeted violence and mass Christian exodus remained unaddressed. ‘‘One of the blind spots of the Bush administration was the inability to grapple with this as a direct byproduct of the invasion,’’ says Timothy Shah, the associate director of Georgetown University’s Religious Freedom Project.

More recently, the White House has been criticized for eschewing the term ‘‘Christian’’ altogether. The issue of Christian persecution is politically charged; the Christian right has long used the idea that Christianity is imperiled to rally its base. When ISIS massacred Egyptian Copts in Libya this winter, the State Department came under fire for referring to the victims merely as ‘‘Egyptian citizens.’’ Daniel Philpott, a professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame, says, ‘‘When ISIS is no longer said to have religious motivations nor the minorities it attacks to have religious identities, the Obama administration’s caution about religion becomes excessive.’’

Last fall, Obama did refer to Christians and other religious minorities by name in a speech, saying, ‘‘we cannot allow these communities to be driven from their ancient homelands.’’ When ISIS threatened to eradicate the Yazidis, ‘‘it was the United States that stepped in to beat back the militants,’’ Alistair Baskey, a spokesman for the National Security Council, says. In northeastern Syria, where ISIS is still launching attacks against Assyrian Christian villages, the U.S. military recently come to their aid, Baskey added. Refugees are a thornier issue. Of the more than 122,000 Iraqi refugees admitted to the United States, nearly 40 percent already belong to oppressed minorities. Admitting more would be difficult. ‘‘There are limits to what the international community can do,’’ Saperstein said.

Eshoo, the Democratic congresswoman, is working to establish priority refugee status for minorities who want to leave Iraq. ‘‘It’s a hair ball,’’ she says. ‘‘The average time for admittance to the United States is more than 16 months, and that’s too long. Many will die.’’ But it can be difficult to rally widespread support. The Middle East’s Christians often favor Palestine over Israel. And because support of Israel is central to the Christian Right — Israel must be occupied by the Jews before Jesus can return — this stance distances Eastern Christians from a powerful lobby that might otherwise champion their cause. Recently, Ted Cruz admonished an audience of Middle Eastern Christians at an In Defense of Christians event in Washington, telling them that Christians ‘‘have no better ally than the Jewish state.’’ Cruz was booed.

The fate of Christians in the Middle East isn’t simply a matter of religion; it is also integral to what kinds of societies will flourish as the region’s map fractures. In Lebanon, for example, where Christians have always played a powerful role in government, they increasingly serve as a buffer between Sunni and Shia. For nearly 70 years, Lebanon was a proxy battleground for the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Across the region, that conflict is now secondary to the shifting tectonic plates of the Sunni-Shia divide, which threatens terrible bloodshed.

Earlier this year, Lebanon closed its borders to almost everyone escaping the war in Syria but made an exception for Christians fleeing ISIS. When the extremists attacked the villages along the Khabur River, the interior minister, Nouhad Machnouk, ordered the official in charge of the border to allow Christians to enter the country. ‘‘I can’t put this in writing,’’ the border official said. Machnouk replied, ‘‘O.K., say it aloud, word by word.’’

Machnouk told me this story on a recent evening. ‘‘They’re paying much, much, much more than others,’’ in both Syria and Iraq, he said. ‘‘They’re not Sunni and not Shia, but they’re paying more than both.’’ We sat in his airy office, housed in a former art school from the Ottoman era. It was decorated with his private collection of Greek and Roman antiquities, including a carved basalt head with finely wrought curls. For the minister, a moderate Sunni, sheltering Christians is as much a sociopolitical imperative as a moral one.

A bullet wound on the arm of Raed Sabah Matt, a former member of the Iraqi Army who survived an attack by Al Qaeda in Mosul and is now a member of an anti-ISIS Christian militia.

CreditPeter van Agtmael/Magnum, for The New York Times

In Lebanon, the tension between Sunni and Shia plays out in a system of political patronage, which has split the Christian community into two rival political parties, both born of the country’s 15-year-long civil war. The pro-Saudi Future movement, which consists of mainly Sunnis, supports the Christian leader Samir Geagea, who lives atop Mount Lebanon behind three check points, two X-ray machines and a set of steel doors. Hezbollah, which is Shia and backed by Iran, has been openly allied since 2006 with the Free Patriotic Movement (F.P.M.), a Christian Party headed by Michel Aoun. For Hezbollah, Christians offer an opportunity to forge an alliance with a fellow minority. (Of the world’s one and a half billion Muslims, only 10 to 20 percent are Shia.)

‘‘It’s a political game,’’ Alain Aoun, a member of Parliament for the F.P.M. and Michel Aoun’s nephew, told me. The emergence of ISIS has strengthened the alliance. ‘‘The Christians are happy to have anyone who can fight against I.S.’’ Hezbollah has paid young Christian men from Lebanon’s impoverished Bekaa Valley a one-time $500 to $2,000 fee to fight ISIS.

‘‘Christians here are making the same calculation that Obama does,’’ Hanin Ghaddar, the managing editor of NOW, a news website in Lebanon, said, referring to Obama’s willingness to support Iran as a bulwark against Sunni extremism. For many Christians in the Middle East, a Shia alliance offers a hope of survival, however slim. Ghaddar, an independent Shia, says that it is uncertain how these tenuous allegiances will play out. This spring, pro-Iranian forces of Hezbollah were battling Sunni extremists in Syria. No one knew who would prevail. ‘‘It’s like ‘Game of Thrones,’ ’’ she said. ‘‘We’re waiting for the snow to melt.’’

The front line against ISIS in Northern Iraq is marked by an earthen berm that runs for hundreds of miles over the Nineveh Plain. A string of Christian towns now stands empty, and the Kurdish forces occupy what, for thousands of years, was Assyrian, Chaldean and Syriac land. In one, Telskuf, seized by ISIS last year, the main square is overgrown with brambles and thistles. It was once a thriving market town. Every Thursday, hundreds came to buy clothes, honey and vegetables. Telskuf was home to 7,000 people; now only three remain.

The Nineveh Plain Forces, a 500-member Assyrian Christian militia, patrols the town. The N.P.F. is one of five Assyrian militias formed during the past year after the rout of ISIS. It shares a double aim with two other militias, Dwekh Nawsha, an all-volunteer force of around 100, and the Nineveh Plains Protection Units, a battalion of more than 300: to help liberate Christian lands from ISIS and to protect their people, possibly as part of a nascent national guard, when they return home. The two other militias are the Syriac Military Council, which is fighting alongside the Kurds in northeastern Syria, and the Babylonian Brigades, which operate under Iraq’s Shia-dominated militias.

A few of these militias are aided by a handful of American, Canadian and British citizens, who, frustrated with their governments’ lack of response to ISIS, have traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight on their own. Some come in the name of fellow Christians. Some come to relive their roles in the United States invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan — or to make amends for them. One American named Matthew VanDyke, the founder of Sons of Liberty International, a security company, has provided free training for the N.P.U. and is now about to work with a second militia, Dwekh Nawsha. VanDyke, who is 36, traveled to Libya in 2011 to fight against Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces; he was captured and spent 166 days in solitary confinement before escaping and returning to combat. He has no formal military training, but since last fall, he has brought American veterans to Iraq to help the N.P.U., including James Halterman, a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq, who found the group on the Internet after watching a segment about Westerners fighting ISIS on Fox News. The United States government does not support groups like VanDyke’s. ‘‘Americans who have traveled to Iraq to fight are not part of U.S. efforts in the region,’’ Joseph Pennington, the consul general in Erbil, says. ‘‘We wish they would not come here.’’

In Iraq, the militias operate at the front only with the approval of the Kurdish peshmerga, who are using the fight against ISIS to expand their territory into the Nineveh Plain, long a disputed territory between Arabs and Kurds. Even to travel 1,000 yards between bases and forward posts, the Christian militias must ask the Kurds for permission. The Kurds are looking to integrate all the Christian militias into their force; they have succeeded with the N.P.F. and two others. But the N.P.U. remains wary. They fear that the Kurds are using the Christian cause to seize territory for a greater Kurdistan. And because the Kurdish forces abandoned them as ISIS approached, the militias want the right to protect their own people. For now, they make do with the help they can find. Romeo Hakari, the head of the N.P.F., said, ‘‘We want U.S. trainers, but we can’t even afford to buy weapons.’’ After his militia purchased 20 AK-47s in an open market in Erbil, the Kurds gave them 100 more.


Other than a daily mortar or two launched by ISIS from a village a mile and a half away, the area the N.P.U. patrolled was a sleepy target. After coalition airstrikes pushed ISIS out of Telskuf last summer, the group retreated about a mile and a half to the southwest. Beyond a bulldozed trench and a line of burlap sandbags littered with sunflower-seed shells, 12 black flags fluttered over a village. Three weeks earlier, at 4:20 a.m., two suicide bombers carrying a ladder to place over the trench attacked this forward post. The suicide attack was foiled after the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS launched airstrikes, which killed 13 ISIS fighters, Manaf Yussef, a Kurdish security official in charge of this front, said. ‘‘Without airstrikes, we’d lose,’’ he said. Minutes later, a high whistle signaled an incoming ISIS shell, which set fire to a nearby wheat field. The land is sere due to a drought.

As a column of smoke from the daily ISIS shell billowed into the blue sky, five Assyrian fighters belonging to the Nineveh Plain Forces went from house to house to evacuate the last residents of Telskuf — three old women. When the N.P.F. commander, Safaa Khamro, pushed open the door of the first house, Christina Jibbo Kakhosh began to cry. She was 91.

‘‘I have no running water,’’ she said. Less than four feet tall, she peered up at Khamro through bottle-thick glasses.

‘‘I fixed it for you yesterday,’’ Khamro said.

A member of a Christian militia unit tries to persuade Kamala Karim Shaya, one of the last residents of Telskuf, to move to a secured home near their barracks.

CreditPeter van Agtmael/Magnum, for The New York Times

‘‘I forgot,’’ she said. She shuffled back inside and beckoned him to follow. Her refrigerator was flung open; because there was no electricity, it served as a pantry. A half-eaten jar of tahini, a lighter and a pair of scissors sat on a table in front of the mattress on which she slept. When she heard her visitors were American, she said: ‘‘Three of my children are in America. Only one has called me.’’

Khamro tried to persuade her to come to a house near the base where she would be safer. ‘‘It has satellite TV,’’ he said. She packed a small satchel and left with the patrol. ‘‘That’s my uncle’s house,’’ one Assyrian fighter said as he passed a padlocked gate. ‘‘He’s in Australia now.’’ The patrol passed St. Jacob’s Church, where ISIS fighters had destroyed a porcelain statue of Jesus, which was now missing its face. An icon of a martyr having his fingers cut off by Tamerlane, who massacred tens of thousands of Assyrian Christians during the 14th century, hung on the wall.

Nearby, the N.P.F. had replaced the cross that ISIS fighters filmed themselves hurling down. Khamro was a politician in Telskuf before ISIS invaded. He owned one of the 480 now-shuttered shops, a boutique that sold women’s and children’s clothes. He’d sent his wife and children to Al Qosh, 10 miles to the north, a safer Christian city.

Khamro turned off the main drag and into a warren of overgrown pathways. He stopped before a chicken-wire awning, calling out ‘‘Auntie’’ to Kamala Karim Shaya, who sat on her front stoop, a kerchief tied over her thick white ponytail. When she learned that Khamro had come to move her out of her clay home, she began to scream: ‘‘Even if my father stands up in his grave, I will not leave this house. No, no, no, no, no, never, never, never,’’ she shouted. Khamro, who refused to move her by force, had no choice but to pass on.

Even if ISIS is defeated, the fate of religious minorities in Syria and Iraq remains bleak. Unless minorities are given some measure of security, those who can leave are likely to do so. Nina Shea of the Hudson Institute, a conservative policy center, says that the situation has grown so dire that Iraqi Christians must either be allowed full residency in Kurdistan, including the right to work, or helped to leave. Others argue that it is essential that minorities have their own autonomous region. Exile is a death knell for these communities, activists say. ‘‘We’ve been here as an ethnicity for 6,000 years and as Christians for 1,700 years,’’ says Dr. Srood Maqdasy, a member of the Kurdish Parliament. ‘‘We have our own culture, language and tradition. If we live within other communities, all of this will be dissolved within two generations.’’

The practical solution, according to many Assyrian Christians, is to establish a safe haven on the Nineveh Plain. ‘‘If the West could take in so many refugees and the U.N.H.C.R. handle an operation like that, then we wouldn’t ask for a permanent solution,’’ says Nuri Kino, of A Demand for Action. ‘‘But the most realistic option is returning home.’’

‘‘We don’t have time to wait for solutions,’’ said the Rev. Emanuel Youkhana, the head of Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq. ‘‘For the first time in 2,000 years, there are no church services in Mosul. The West comes up with one solution by granting visas to a few hundred people. What about a few hundred thousand?’’ If Iraq devolves into three regions — Sunnis, Shia and Kurds — there could be a fourth for minorities. ‘‘Iraq is a forced marriage between Sunni, Shia, Kurds and Christians, and it failed,’’ Youkhana said. ‘‘Even I, as a priest, favor divorce.’’

Proponents say a safe haven wouldn’t require an international force or a no-fly zone, neither of which is likely to find much support in the United States or among its allies. U.S. policy does play a role. When Congress was asked to approve $1.6 billion in aid for Iraqi forces fighting ISIS — the Iraqi Army, the Kurds and the Sunni tribes — it amended the bill to explicitly include local forces on the Nineveh Plain, but also passed legislation directing the State Department to implement a safe haven there. Ultimately, however, the responsibility lies with the Iraqis. Pennington, the consul general, said, ‘‘The creation of a safe haven in the Nineveh Province would be an idea for the Iraqi Parliament in accordance with the Iraqi Constitution.’’

Tarek Mitri, a former Lebanese minister and a former special representative to the U.N. secretary general for Libya, says that his impression in speaking to officials in the White House ‘‘is that Obama is in a withdrawal mood. He thinks that he was elected to withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq and to make a deal with Iran. If this is the mood, then we shouldn’t expect much or ask much from the Americans.’’ Baskey, of the National Security Council, counters that ‘‘rather than withdrawing, the president and this administration have, in fact, remained deeply engaged, building and leading a coalition of some 60 nations to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.’’

The last time Rana, one of the women taken by ISIS from Qaraqosh, was able to speak to her family by phone was in September. She told them what had befallen Rita and Christina. Rita had been given as a slave to a powerful member of ISIS; Christina was given to a family to be raised as a Muslim.

Rana said little about her own circumstances, and her family didn’t ask. To be honest, they weren’t sure they wanted to know what ISIS had done to her.

For months now, the phone Rana used has been switched off. ‘‘There’s word they’re still alive,’’ Rabee Mano, 36, a refugee from Qaraqosh who runs an underground railroad out of the Islamic State, told me one recent evening over beer and kebabs. ‘‘She’s been ‘married’ to a powerful guy in ISIS,’’ he added, as he sat in the garden at the Social Academic Center in Ankawa, a Christian suburb of Erbil. At the next table, three gleeful men poured straight vodka into plastic cups. Over the past year, Ankawa has swelled by 60,000 as refugees have poured in.

For nearly a year, Mano has been trying to buy freedom for Rana, Rita and Christina from ISIS. Through his network of contacts, a greedy ISIS member, friends in Arab villages and a brave taxi driver, Mano has paid to free 45 people. The haggling is made easier by the fact that ISIS members frequently trade women among themselves, so the buying and selling of people doesn’t raise suspicion. This work has cost him $10,000, which he raised by opening a carwash. He sent $800 to a member of ISIS, saying he would send more when the women and the child made it to safety. But the man had done nothing of what he promised.

Before Mano fled his hometown last August, he dealt in commercial real estate. ‘‘You can see my buildings from Google Earth,’’ he said. At the picnic table, he pulled an expired Arizona driver’s license from his wallet. It was a temporary license from 2011, the year he came to the United States and tried to buy 48 apartments. The deal fell through, so he went home; now his passport had expired. He lost about $1.5 million, he said.

He longed to return to the Nineveh Plain. ‘‘Even though all of my money is in the garbage, I’ll be O.K. if we get this safe haven,’’ he said. ‘‘If it takes too long, we’ll be annihilated.’’ It was all he thought about. ‘‘Are we going home or not?’’ he asked. ‘‘This safe haven is the last chance we have, or Christianity will be finished in Iraq.’’

Earlier, a text message came in from Mosul. One of his contacts was having trouble locating a woman named Nabila, who was ready to be smuggled to safety. Mano had instructed her to hang a black cloth in her window so that her rescuer could find the right house. But the wind had blown the cloth to the ground, and now her would-be rescuer couldn’t tell where she was being held. They would have to try again. ‘‘I’ll tell her to hang a blanket,’’ Mano said. They would find her, he hoped, if the blanket held its weight against the wind.

Eliza Griswold is the author of ‘‘The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches From the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam.’’

Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of The New York Times Magazine delivered to your inbox every week.

A version of this article appears in print on July 26, 2015, on page MM31 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: The Shadow of Death. 


John Chuchman’s daily prayer

July 24, 2015

Received by email from author John Chuchman.


* * *

Dear God,

Please grant me

the Courage and Strength

to do Your Will today.

(In the realization that

Everything Belongs)

Help me to


(Thus Being One with You)

Help me to

HEAL in Your Name;

(Others and Self)

Help me to

GROW in Faith;

(Beyond the Boundaries)


Help me to Help Others

find You.

(In Creation and Within).


Dominican Fr. Thomas Doyle meets with members of pontifical commission on sex abuse

July 24, 2015


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I thank the NSAC News for this link.

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Dominican Fr. Thomas Doyle meets with members of pontifical commission on sex abuse

Tom Roberts  |  Jul. 23, 2015


One of the most severe critics of the church’s handling of the sex abuse scandal spent several days last month briefing members of the Vatican commission appointed to advise Pope Francis on the issue.

In a phone interview Monday, Dominican Fr. Thomas Doyle confirmed that he met with four members of the commission in London after he was approached to consult with the group by commission member Marie Collins of Ireland, who was raped by a priest as a youngster.

Doyle said he personally knew Collins and has “the highest regard and respect for her. I was really encouraged when she was appointed a member of the commission.” He said they met following a conference in the United States in April and Collins asked him then if he would be interested in serving as a consultant to the commission.

“Of course I said yes,” said Doyle, who said was skeptical at the time because of his past activity advocating for victims and serving as expert consultant or testifying on behalf of plaintiffs in thousands of cases in which church authorities were defendants. He said he told Collins, “I doubt very much that anyone in the Vatican is going to want to have anything to do with me or listen to anything I have to say.” Attempts to reach Collins were unsuccessful.

Doyle said he spent eight to 10 hours over three days at the beginning of June explaining the situation in the United States from the perspective of his 30 years of advocacy for victims. His involvement in the crisis began in 1984 while he was working in the offices of the Vatican embassy (now a nunciature) in Washington, D.C., and received notice that a family in Lafayette, La., planned to sue the diocese over a case of abuse.

Visit our sister website, Global Sisters Report!

His early involvement with that case and his understanding even then that a potentially huge scandal was unfolding led him to take up the cause of sex abuse victims.

While many abuse victims view any initiative by the Vatican with great suspicion, Pope Francis has taken steps, particularly in holding bishops accountable, that victims and their advocates have been requesting for years. Francis has removed a number of bishops, including an archbishop, a bishop and an auxiliary bishop in the United States, for failures in handling the abuse crisis.

In December 2013, he established a commission to advise him on the issue. That Doyle would be invited to consult a papal commission might be seen as another initiative that would previously have been regarded as highly unlikely.

Peter Saunders, another victim who was appointed to the commission in December, said in a phone interview Thursday that he first raised the possibility of inviting Doyle during a meeting of a small working group of the commission in London. He said he and Collins knew Doyle from previous work on the sex abuse issue, and other members of the small group had no objection to the idea. He said he raised the possibility again in early February during a three-day plenary session at the Vatican attended by all members of the commission, including Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley.

“There was general agreement,” he said, “that if we thought he was a good person to engage with, then we should.”

In addition to Collins and Saunders, the June gathering included Catherine Bonnet, a well-known French child psychiatrist, and Baroness Sheila Hollins of London, an expert in mental health.

In his presentations to the commission, Doyle emphasized what he said are two essential points:

The “absolute need for real accountability” on the part of bishops for what they have done and not done in regard to the issue. “There’s no question—it has been eminently documented that they have enabled sexual abusers for ages.” Through the long history of abuse, the hierarchy’s relationship to victims “has been very adversarial and still is.”

The need for the church to be far more committed than it is to the welfare of victims, a topic that gets avoided amid the efforts now made to protect children.

He said the church has done a great deal to put in place programs and protocols to protect children.

“Protection of children is certainly a natural approach to take for this issue,” he said. “We have to protect children. It is also much easier and less painful and controversial than saying, ‘Our No. 1 mandate should be the care of victims because they are our own victims. They were not victimized by any other institution.’ “

The past, he said, is important “because of the legions of people out there whose lives are irreparably ruined because of what clerics and hierarchy have done to them. These people have to be given the highest priority.” Focusing exclusively on the future and programs being put in place to protect children was an approach he described as “a software solution to a hardware problem.”

In an outline prepared for the presentation, Doyle spoke of the “two most vivid memories” in his work on the issue. The first was a meeting with a 10-year-old boy, “then hearing his psychologist describe what had happened to him and how it affected him. Coupled with this was my reaction to reading the detailed report.

“The second memory was the night I realized not only cognitively but emotionally that some of the bishops in high positions were actively and even aggressively covering up the cases of sexual abuse and in the process were laying [out] their public responses and responses to parents with lies. I was stunned and emotionally devastated on that occasion.”

He told the panel that priests and bishops who have publicly supported victims “have been punished in some way by church authorities. Those who continue to minister to this issue in various ways remain under suspicion” and are “criticized, slandered and devalued” by other clerics and church leaders.

Sexual abuse, he said, “is a complex, multi-faceted reality” and one “deeply embedded in the clerical culture” as well as the wider culture of the Catholic church. Among the causes contributing to abuse are the nature of priesthood; the social structure of the institutional church as a monarchy; and a sacramental structure that often places laypeople “in a passive-dependent relationship with the clergy.”

In addition to giving “highest priority to reaching out to and healing victims of sexual abuse” by more than speeches and decrees, he said bishops should “publicly acknowledge that sexual predators have been protected and enabled by bishops, archbishops and cardinals and that this criminal behavior is as bad as or worse than the individual acts of sexual abuse.” Church officials also should seek “to understand and appreciate the complex nature of the spiritual devastation caused by sexual violation by clergy.”

Saunders said the others present at the meeting viewed Doyle as a powerful voice who “has seen the dysfunction from within the system.” He said Doyle “was warmly welcomed and greatly appreciated.”

Saunders said he believes the papal commission may represent a new and positive step in dealing with clergy sexual abuse.

“I live with perpetual hope,” he said, adding that in a personal meeting with Pope Francis last year, “he personally struck me as being genuine at wanting to engage.”

The full commission will meet again in October in Rome.

[Tom Roberts is NCR editor at large. His email address is troberts@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NCRTROB.]



July 24, 2015


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Received by email.

* * *


It’s never too late to register!Weekend passes are $134 and day passes are $104.

Need a scholarship or want to sponsor a survivor’s registration ticket? Click here!


We’ll see you in one week at The Westin Alexandria (400 Courthouse Square, Alexandria, Virginia 22314; 703-253-8600). The conference begins Friday at 7:00pm and ends Sunday at noon. We will have your name tag (required when attending all events and presentations) and a conference packet ready at the registration desk outside the main conference room for you.

Some things you may want to know:


Abbreviated Conference Schedule (detailed schedule is available online)

Friday, July 31

4:30-7:30pm    Registration

7:00-7:20         David Clohessy

7:20-7:50         Ross Cheit

7:50-8:10         Miguel Hurtado

8:10-8:30         Julieta Añazco

8:30-8:50         Alberto Athie 

8:50-8:55         Manuel Munro

8:55-9:25         Tom Doyle

9:25-9:30         Announcements

9:30-10:30pm  Ice Cream Social

Saturday, August 1

7:00am            Morning Walk

7:45                  Agnostic & Freethinkers Friends of Bill W

9:00-10:00       Chris KernsJuliet KingLukasz KonopkaPetr Bob & Peter Isely

10:00-10:30     Joye E. Frost 

10:30-10:45     Break

10:45-11:45     Breakout Session One

11:45-1:15pm  Lunch

1:15-1:35         Juan Carlos Cruz

1:35-2:05         Madeleine Baran

2:05-2:35         Tom Fox

2:35-2:55         Barbara Blaine

2:55-3:15         Jeff Anderson

3:15-3:45         Joseph McGettigan

3:45-4:15         Anne Barrett Doyle and Terry McKiernan

4:15-4:30         Break

4:30-5:30         Breakout Session Two

5:30-8:00         Dinner

6:00                 Friends of Bill W

8:00pm            Movie

Sunday, August 1

7:00am            Morning walk

9:00-9:20         Pete Saunders 

9:20-10:00       Ruth KrallCameron AltarasMelanie Sakoda & Amy Smith

10:00-10:30     David Grosso

10:30-10:50     SNAP “I Made a Difference” Awards
Presented to: Theresa Fidelis LancasterJean Wehner & Debbie Yohn

10:50-11:45     SNAP “Pioneer” Awards
Presented to: Phil Saviano & Walter Robinson for The Boston
Globe Spotlight Team

11:45–Noon     Conference Evaluation

We can’t wait to see you next week in Washington, DC at The Westin Alexandria Hotel!

Barbara, David and Barb

SNAP · PO Box 6416, Chicago, IL 60680-6416, United States



Freeport Maine activist Paul Kendrick owes $14.5M in sex abuse defamation case, says jury

July 24, 2015


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I thank the NSAC News, 7.24.2015 edition, for this link.

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I am sorry to read this story about my old friend Paul Kendrick, who has been unrelenting in his support of abuse victims and his excoriation of abusers and their enablers.


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Jury: Freeport activist owes $14.5M in sex abuse defamation case



Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Paul Kendrick

By Darren Fishell, BDN Staff

Posted July 23, 2015, at 6:07 p.m.
Last modified July 23, 2015, at 7:58 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — A jury decided Thursday that a Freeport advocate for children sexually abused by clergy was reckless and negligent in publicly accusing former Catholic brother Michael Geilenfeld of molesting children in his care.

The jury awarded Geilenfeld and an affiliated nonprofit, Hearts with Haiti, $14.5 million in damages for harm to his and the organization’s reputation and for direct fundraising losses the jury found were attributable to scandal prompted by Paul Kendrick’s allegations from 2011 through this year.

The jury’s decision included $2.5 million in damages on claims that Kendrick was negligent and reckless in his statements about Hearts with Haiti. The jury awarded Geilenfeld $7 million on similar claims.

Another $5 million was awarded to Hearts with Haiti based on interference with its business, or fundraising losses.

The case was yet another forum where allegations against Geilenfeld — who was imprisoned for 237 days in Haiti during an investigation of those claims — were put on trial. Alleged victims have appealed Geilenfeld’s acquittal on sex abuse claims in Haiti.

Geilenfeld declined to comment as he left the courtroom Thursday after hugging supporters at the conclusion of a three-week defamation trial that included testimony from seven men who said they were sexually abused by Geilenfeld sometime during the 1990s.

Kendrick, who was banned from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception for his protests and activism about the Catholic Church’s handling of sexual abuse cases, was not present for the jury’s reading of the verdict Thursday.

“Naturally, we’re disappointed with the result and we’ll be looking into our options for appeal,” David Walker, Kendrick’s attorney, said.

Peter DeTroy, attorney for Geilenfeld and Hearts with Haiti, said he expects some portion of the damages awarded to be covered by Kendrick’s homeowners insurance policy, though neither he nor Walker could speculate how much that policy may cover.

To reach a verdict, the 10-person jury was required to reach a unanimous vote, which they did after more than five hours of deliberation on the claims brought against Kendrick by Geilenfeld and Hearts of Haiti.

To win, both plaintiffs had to prove it was more likely than not that Kendrick made one or more false claims, that the statements were published to a third party, that the statements were made negligently or with reckless disregard for whether the statements were false and that did monetary or reputational damage to either Hearts with Haiti or Geilenfeld.

At issue was a public awareness campaign launched by Kendrick, 65, against 63-year-old Geilenfeld and the North Carolina-based nonprofit for which he worked in 2011.

Kendrick alleged in multiple emails and online publications that Geilenfeld sexually abused boys he had taken in at an orphanage in Port Au Prince, Haiti, and that the nonprofit had turned a blind eye.

Geilenfeld and the nonprofit orphanage sued Kendrick in 2013 for defamation and were seeking compensation for damage to their reputations and an estimated loss of more than $2 million in donations.

Attorneys for both sides delivered closing arguments Thursday morning.

DeTroy delivered a closing argument that lasted for 90 minutes. He said the “scourge” of child sexual abuse loomed large over the case, but he urged caution to the jury in weighing testimony of the seven men who said they were abused by Geilenfeld as children or teenagers while staying at the orphanage.

“When we hear these allegations, it’s hard not to credit them,” DeTroy said. “Our instinct is to protect.”

DeTroy argued that investigations by Haitian officials, U.S. officials and an internal investigation by the nonprofit have not verified the sexual abuse claims against Geilenfeld and called Kendrick’s statements against his clients “cyber vigilantism.”

He showed the jury a series of emails Kendrick wrote in early 2011 which he said showed Kendrick saw a need for more evidence against Geilenfeld at a time when he was publishing statements of Geilenfeld’s guilt and Hearts with Haiti’s complicity.

DeTroy also argued that if jurors believed the testimony of the victims in the trial, they should consider that the victims said they were sexually abused by Geilenfeld in the 1990s and that there was no evidence to support Kendrick’s claims of ongoing sexual abuse at the time of the allegations in 2011.

Walker, Kendrick’s attorney, argued against a narrative that Kendrick was a lone crusader against Geilenfeld and Hearts with Haiti, citing emails from members of the organization’s board of directors showing internal conflicts and debates about the veracity of the claims against Geilenfeld.

The more than two hours of closing arguments came after several hours of testimony and presentation of evidence over three weeks.