Friday 24 August 2018

Pope addresses Catholic Church sexual abuse report in open letter: ‘We showed no care for the little ones'

 The pope has decried recent reports of rampant sexual abuse in the Catholic Church stemming back to 1947

301 ‘Predator Priests’ Named In Pa. Grand Jury Sex Abuse Report: ‘They Were Raping Little Boys & Girls’

Pope addresses Catholic Church sexual abuse report in open letter: ‘We showed no care for the little ones'

'We have realised that these wounds never disappear,' Pope Francis says
 Chris Riotta New York

Pope Francis has condemned the “atrocities” of child sex abuse and cover-ups by the clergy in an open letter to the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.
Addressing a US Grand Jury report revealing decades of alleged sexual abuse inside the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania, the Pontiff described allegations against the Church as “crimes that inflict deep wounds of pain and powerlessness” in victims, their families and the religious community.
“The heart-wrenching pain of these victims, which cries out to heaven, was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced,” he wrote. “But their outcry was more powerful than all the measures meant to silence it, or sought even to resolve it by decisions that increased its gravity by falling into complicity”.

The report detailed at least 1,000 cases of alleged sexual abuse committed by 300 “predator” priests in Pennsylvania — and what was a systematic cover-up by Church officials.
The majority of cases included in the report occurred before 2002, when the US Catholic Bishops adopted strict guidelines towards sexual abuse reports, including immediately contacting local police and immediately removing accused clergy.
In its report, the US Grand Jury wrote that the actual number of sexual abuse victims across several dioceses in Pennsylvania was probably “in the thousands” thanks to underreporting of potential crimes.

Willow Creek Community Church founder Bill Hybels resigns amid sexual harassment allegations
“Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades,” the report said.
Pope Francis decried the alleged abuses in the open letter published on Monday, writing: “It is essential that we, as a Church, be able to acknowledge and condemn, with sorrow and shame, the atrocities perpetrated by consecrated persons, clerics, and all those entrusted with the mission of watching over and caring for those most vulnerable.”
“We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them,” he continued. “The extent and the gravity of all that has happened requires coming to grips with this reality in a comprehensive and communal way. While it is important and necessary on every journey of conversion to acknowledge the truth of what has happened, in itself this is not enough.”

Despite vowing reform and paying billions of dollars to victims of abuse, the Church continues to suffer from allegations of sexual misconduct.
“I am conscious of the effort and work being carried out in various parts of the world to come up with the necessary means to ensure the safety and protection of the integrity of children and of vulnerable adults, as well as implementing zero tolerance and ways of making all those who perpetrate or cover up these crimes accountable,” Pope Francis wrote. “We have delayed in applying these actions and sanctions that are so necessary, yet I am confident that they will help to guarantee a greater culture of care in the present and future.”

Farewell, Willow Creek: Where the “Regular” Churches Can Go From Here


Farewell, Willow Creek: Where the “Regular” Churches Can Go From Here | Jonathan Aigner

August 10, 2018 by
It looks like the beginning of the end at Willow Creek. They aren’t saying that, but I feel like that’s what’s happening.
If so, good riddance.
And you can take the megachurch movement you spawned with you.
I’m sorry if I sound bitter. I’m not, really. More relieved than anything else. Saddened for the stories of abuse, gaslighting, and hero worship. Grieved by the commoditization of human hearts and souls, the theological void, and the liturgical collapse. But relieved that this sad chapter in American religious history is rattling to an end.
Stanley Hauerwas said that the church growth movement was “the death gurgle of a church that had lost its way.”
Well, one of the biggest players is dying a quick death.
It was bound to happen anyway, regardless of the specific failures of Bill Hybels and the inept, buffoonish response of the Willow Creek board.
See, the rest of us are tired. We’re tired of having to compete with the downtown destination or suburban center house of entertainment that calls itself a church. We don’t have the energy, we don’t have the resources, we don’t have the desire, but we’ve felt like we’ve had to conform. Because you were growing, and we were shrinking! We felt like we had to do something drastic.
Paranoia struck so deep in our hearts and souls that, in desperation, we cried out for your bag of tricks. So we signed up for your silly, overpriced conferences. We copied the happy, clappy dreck you dared to call worship. We tried to find a charismatic leader like yours. We tried to be a mini-Willow in our own neck of the woods. We gave up ourselves: our message, our mission, our liturgy, our identity.
No more. We’re tired. We’re disillusioned. We’re embarrassed. We’re just done.
After decades of believing churches like Willow Creek had discovered the antidote, after 25 years of copying, emulating, strategizing, and leadership conferencing, we’re finding out that we’ve built our behemoth, nondescript church buildings on the sand like the foolish people we are.
Well, Weeping Willow Creek and all others of its ilk, we’re on to you. We see the chinks in your armor, and they’re gaping open ever wider with each passing day. Another one of your empires has fallen, and others will follow soon.
We should have known all along.
Celebrity pastors cannot possibly be good shepherds to their people.
Attractional worship is only entertainment, nothing more.
A fast food version of Jesus can never be the real version of Jesus.
The church growth movement leads to a bloated, unhealthy body of people who don’t really understand what they’ve signed up for.
Capitalism does not hold the keys to evangelism. The Pastor as CEO idea will always fail, often with far-reaching, disastrous results.
Big churches are not good role models for the rest of our churches. In fact, their methods will ruin us, too, if we’re not careful.
Though Willow Creek and those like it may crumble and fall, the church will go on. God will preserve it, and none else can stop it. We know that the cosmic renewal, redemption, and restoration has already begun, set in motion by God’s mighty acts in Jesus Christ.
But here in this culture, it must almost begin anew. The megachurch movement was nothing more than a last ditch effort to save a church created in our own image. The calling is clear: Christ must be born again within us.
So church, it’s time to rediscover your sacred, holy identity. It was never just about filling pews. Go on about the gospel that still calls to you. Go on with your liturgy. Preach the Word, administer the sacraments. Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God, even as it become more novel, more strange, and more isolating. Spread the great and glorious news that Jesus Christ has brought into this world, even when your culture no longer gives it lip service.
After all, church, what does it proffer you if you gain thousands of butts in your seats, but give up your heart and soul?
Nothing. In fact, church, you lose, and you lose big.
Adding more campuses is not discipleship.
Hiring more staff is not church growth.
Getting more butts in the seats is not evangelism.
So free yourselves from the church growth obsession.
Free yourselves from your slavery to numbers. Free yourselves from the neurotic counting. Free yourselves from the mind-numbing, maddening task of data disaggregation. Release yourselves from the anxiety over empty pews. Realize that you don’t have to keep wondering what you will eat or drink or wear if your budgets shrink.
Remove the [obsession with church] growth.
Free yourselves from what your Americanized gospel thinks of as success, because if you don’t, you may just end up in the same boat as this giant.

Resist the temptation to use worship as a hook, a holy bait-and-switch. Because your message is sounding more and more like an unwanted, confrontational Amway spiel. It sounds like you want people in your services because you’ve got some property for sale somewhere that’s too good to be true.
Free yourselves for the higher calling of the Gospel of Christ. Be who you are called to be. Stop counting. Stop strategizing. Jesus promises that he is engaging enough, even though the most numerically successful churches claim otherwise.
Maybe it’s time we stop trying to top him, and just take him at his word.

Willow Creek church pastor, board resign amid sexual misconduct investigation of founder

published 6:35 a.m. ET Aug. 9, 2018 | Updated 11:24 a.m. ET Aug. 9, 2018

Board members and a new pastor at a Chicago-area megachurch are resigning, saying they mishandled sexual misconduct allegations aimed at the church’s founder. 
Bill Hybels, 66, resigned from his position as pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in April after a series of sexual misconduct claims he described as “flat-out lies” became public. Wednesday, lead pastor Heather Larson announced her resignation and that of other church elders, who she said are sorry for not handling the allegations against Hybels properly. 
"In recent days and weeks, it has become clear to me that this church needs a fresh start," said Larson. "The staff, this staff that I dearly love, they also need a clean running lane to heal, to build, to dream."
She read a statement to a full congregation during a meeting at the church’s South Barrington, Illinois, campus, where the news was met with applause and also protest with at least one person approaching the stage, the Chicago Tribune reported.

“We can now see this investigation was flawed. … We viewed the allegations through the lens of trust we had in Bill, and this clouded our judgement,” elder Missy Rasmussen said in a statement posted to the church's website.
Rasmussen said Hybels, who has been accused of suggestive comments, an uninvited kiss, hotel room invitations and an extended affair with a married woman, worked "without the kind of accountability he should have had." She also said the elders believe Hybels did not publicly admit the extent of his actions.
The elders apologized for not believing the women who came forward, some who directly worked for Hybels.
Lead teaching pastor Steve Carter resigned on Sunday, after hearing of "horrifying" allegations against Hybels reported by The New York Times
Regional campus pastor Steve Gillen was named Willow Creek's interim lead pastor. 

 Willow Creek pastor Steve Gillen

Willow Creek paid $3.25M to settle lawsuits over child sex abuse by church volunteer

  Willow Creek pastor Steve Gillen

Willow Creek Community Church agreed to pay more than $3 million to settle lawsuits over the sexual abuse of two developmentally disabled boys by a church volunteer, court records show.

The second and largest of the settlements, for $1.75 million, was made in February, before the Tribune revealed unrelated claims that the evangelical megachurch’s founder, the Rev. Bill Hybels, engaged in inappropriate conduct with women, eventually leading to his early retirement and, this month, the resignation of the church’s two leading pastors and its entire board of elders.
The influential South Barrington church also agreed last year to pay $1.5 million to another victim of former volunteer Robert Sobczak Jr.
Sobczak, now 24, is serving a seven-year prison sentence after pleading guilty in 2014 to sexually abusing an 8-year-old boy with special needs at the church and an older boy who was not connected to Willow Creek. In 2013, Sobczak pleaded guilty to sexually abusing another disabled boy, around age 9, at the church, and initially received probation in that case.
The civil lawsuits filed against the church by the families of the two younger boys, identified by the pseudonyms Jack Roe and John Doe, claim Sobczak abused one of the boys repeatedly, and that the church should have acted on warning signs before he molested his second victim.
Willow Creek did not directly address questions about the settlements, but issued a written statement calling the experience “heartbreaking.”
“Since these incidents occurred,” the statement read, “we have worked with law enforcement and security experts to learn how this happened and how we can ensure it never happens again.”
Despite the church agreeing to the financial payouts, the John Doe settlement says Willow Creek “has denied and continues to deny all material allegations of negligence and damages in this case.”
MORE COVERAGE: Willow Creek’s journey from defending pastor to accepting accusations unfolds slowly, ends in mass resignations »
There are no allegations that Hybels had any connection to Sobczak’s case. Hybels stepped down from the helm of the church in April, six months ahead of schedule, amid claims of inappropriate behavior with women, including employees.
Sobczak was a volunteer “buddy” for Willow Creek’s Special Friends program for children with intellectual or developmental disabilities or other special needs.
According to Cook County prosecutors, Sobczak separately took the two boys to an isolated area of the church and molested them.
Church policy called for there to be at least two adult volunteers with any single child at all times, but Sobczak repeatedly broke that rule, the lawsuits alleged.
Attorneys for the family of Jack Roe wrote that he was 8 years old when Sobczak molested him in February 2013. That day, the boy told his mother, who told church officials, who contacted police, which triggered the criminal investigation and the first sexual abuse charge against Sobczak. The lawsuits alleged that Sobczak abused John Doe multiple times prior to that.
MORE COVERAGE: Willow Creek to launch another investigation of allegations against Bill Hybels »
Based on statements from church workers as part of the court proceedings, one of the lawsuits alleged that officials had previously raised concerns that the ministry “was understaffed, not trained properly, and did not have the financial resources to establish a safe and proper program.”
In January 2013, the suit alleged, a church worker had raised concerns that Sobczak was “emotionally unhealthy” and should be removed from program, but that he remained with the program and abused a second boy after that. As a result, the suit stated, the second victim suffered great mental and emotional harm, and was undergoing therapy.
Church officials previously said Sobczak had undergone a rigorous background check before he began to volunteer and was immediately suspended when the allegations arose.
Attorneys involved in the civil cases said they could not discuss them because of confidentiality agreements required as part of the settlements.
In their statement, issued in response to questions about the settlements, Willow Creek officials said they redesigned the room at the church for those children with special needs so there are no longer isolated areas or sensory rooms and all participants are visible to all staff at all times. In addition, participants cannot be removed from the room at any time, and the church has enhanced its volunteer requirements, while also requiring electronic IDs to access to the room.
The church stated that members continue to pray for the families of the two children, and “hope for healing.”