The Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock
Deacon Matt Glover (left), chancellor for canonical affairs, reads the list of intentions for those who have suffered sexual abuse during an Aug. 31 Mass for diocesan employees in Little Rock. (Aprille Hanson / Arkansas Catholic file) Jennifer Verkamp, director of Catholic Charities Immigration Services - Little Rock (left), speaks to migrant children in Mexico at the border in Nogales on June 2. Verkamp and four others spent a few hours warning parents seeking asylum that they may be separated from their children. (Arkansas Catholic file) This is the cover of Arkansas Catholic’s special section celebrating Bishop Taylor’s 10th anniversary as bishop of Little Rock. (Arkansas Catholic file) Catholics marked 50 years since Pope Paul VI released “Humanae Vitae” on July 25, 1968. (CNS file) “Batesville pastor conquers ‘American Ninja Warrior’ season premiere,” June 9 issue (Photo by Cooper Neill/NBC) “New book by Bishop Taylor” (Blessed Stanley Francis Rother: The First American Martyr), Jan. 13 issue (Arkansas Catholic file) “A safe place: Reunited after border separation, four children finding homes in Arkansas,” Nov. 3 (Arkansas Catholic file)

Church's Year in Review 2018: Pain, joy and thanks

Amid abuse scandal, diocese celebrates bishop, 10 new priests

Published: December 22, 2018      
Bob Ocken / Arkansas Catholic file
Bishop Taylor stands with the diocese’s eight new priests after the June 2 ordination Mass at Christ the King Church in Little Rock: Fathers Mike Johns (front row, from left), Stephen Elser, Joseph de Orbegozo, Tuyen Do (back row, from left), Jeff Hebert, Keith Higginbotham and Patrick Friend.

“For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of (Jesus) Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)

In both the Church and world, 2018 has seen its share of darkness. Amid scandal, divisive rhetoric and extreme violence, there have been moments of light — people clinging tightly to the core values of their faith, protesting injustice and being welcoming to all our brothers and sisters. The faithful in Arkansas have spent a year being lights in the darkness, living out the mission of Christ.

Here are the top five moments of 2018:


Sexual abuse scandal

This summer, the Catholic Church was again confronted with sexual abuse allegations and cover-ups. On June 20, Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick was removed from public ministry when credible allegations of abuse toward an altar boy came to light, along with stories of abuse and advances toward seminarians decades ago. The next month, a Pennsylvania grand jury report detailed more than 1,000 cases of sexual abuse of minors by about 300 priests spanning 70 years, most prior to 2002 when the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was implemented.

With each new allegation, many laity felt betrayed by Church leadership and hurt for the victims, but Bishop Anthony B. Taylor continued to communicate openly by releasing statements following the McCarrick allegations and the grand jury report. In an effort for transparency, Bishop Taylor released a clergy disclosure list Sept. 10, gathered with an internal review, of 12 former priests who had credible allegations of abusing minors. It was the first time 11 names of accused priests had ever been made public and all instances of abuse occurred before the U.S. bishops’ charter in 2002. While other dioceses have been forced by the courts to make similar lists available, Bishop Taylor emphasized in a statement that he was releasing the list “because it is simply the right thing to do. This list is being published in the interest of transparency and to bring the truth into the light. It is my hope that these disclosures might bring healing to the victims and their families and encourage as-yet unknown victims to come forward.”

Bishop Taylor also: released a recorded homily regarding the list that was played at all Sept. 15-16 Masses; held two sessions with diocesan employees to discuss the sexual abuse scandals with trained crisis counselor Msgr. Jack Harris facilitating along with a Mass praying for sexual abuse victims and their families; released a Frequently Asked Questions document surrounding the clergy disclosure list; announced that the diocese, with no prompting, hired Kinsale Management Consulting to begin an independent review Nov. 9 of relevant files; and updated the faithful Oct. 23 that since the release of the list, 26 other allegations had come forward, mostly against priests on the disclosure lists or those not in active ministry.

Just as Pope Francis has called for a greater voice of the laity and an end to clericalism in wake of the scandals, Bishop Taylor instituted the first Diocesan Pastoral Council made up primarily of lay Catholics to advise him on Church matters. It held its first meeting Nov. 30.


Priestly blessings

The Church in Arkansas received 10 priestly blessings. Over two weekends, eight men were ordained diocesan priests at Christ the King Church in Little Rock: Fathers Tuyen Do, Patrick Friend, Jeff Hebert and Keith Higginbotham on May 26; Fathers Joseph de Orbegozo, Stephen Elser, Michael Johns and Daniel Ramos on June 2. 

It was the largest ordination class in more than 60 years for the Diocese of Little Rock. It also lowered the average age of diocesan priests from 65 to 49. Diocesan vocations director Msgr. Scott Friend said May 26, “They’re all very gifted and talented. I think in watching them in the time of formation, they’ve been inspiring to me in the way they’re really captivated by Christ.”

On July 14, Bishop Taylor ordained Father Cassian Elkins and Father Reginald Udouj, OSB, at Subiaco Abbey, marking the first time in 50 years that more than one monk was ordained to the priesthood at the abbey.


Thank you for 10 years

On June 9, Bishop Taylor celebrated his 10th anniversary as the Diocese of Little Rock bishop. Throughout 10 years of ministry in the state, he has been an advocate for social justice, from encouraging the faithful to welcome the stranger, speaking against unjust immigration laws and support of the DACA program to standing for all life, from the unborn to inmates on death row. In January, Bishop Taylor chose not to participate in the annual March for Life by nonprofit Arkansas Right to Life because keynote speaker Attorney General Leslie Rutledge worked to secure the death of four death row inmates in 2017. The Catholic Church promotes a consistent ethic of life, from conception to natural death.

“I remind myself that the only person I need to please is the Lord. I think of the example of Blessed Stanley Rother and doing what was right in a situation that a lot of people can do a lot of second guessing on,” Bishop Taylor told Arkansas Catholic ahead of his 10th anniversary, reflecting on the criticism for that decision.

The bishop has strengthened vocations, including the creation of the House of Formation for seminarians. Arkansas Catholic asked him what he was most proud of in the past 10 years: “The growth in vocations to the priesthood and the energy and enthusiasm that their youth brings to the life of the Church in Arkansas. The growth and the way communities have come together that are mixed ethnically.”


50 years of ‘Humanae Vitae’

Amid the sexual revolution of the 1960s, then-Pope Paul VI released “Humanae Vitae” (“Of Human Life”) on July 25, 1968. Before “Humanae Vitae” was released, an appointed commission recommended the Church accept the use of the birth control pill and Church teaching should be changed, according to an April 9 Catholic News Service article.

However, Pope Paul rejected the report and affirmed in “Humanae Vitae” the sanctity of human life, encouraging what is known today as Natural Family Planning and opposition to artificial contraception, warning that the use of it would cause harm to society including lower moral standards and less respect for women, infidelity in marriages and the government regulating life and death, the article stated.

While many, including priests and laypeople, disagreed with the report at the time, after 50 years, some consider it prophetic, according to Donald Critchlow, history professor at Arizona State University, who spoke at an anniversary symposium on the encyclical called “Embracing God’s Vision for Marriage, Love and Life” at Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. April 5.

On Oct. 14, Blessed Paul VI was canonized a saint, along with the martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero.


Separating families

This spring, the Trump administration announced a “zero tolerance policy” at the U.S.-Mexico border, which put into motion the federal family separation policy, a policy to separate migrant children from their parents. For weeks, almost 2,000 children were separated from their parents, who in most cases were fleeing violence or extreme poverty in Central America. 

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor released a statement June 19 condemning the separations, echoing the sentiments of bishops across the U.S. He emphasized that the policy shows the “depths of depravity” that set in when “we deny people their basic human rights,” continuing: “People fleeing intolerable situations should be welcomed with open arms and a generous heart. Instead the heart of many Americans has hardened so thoroughly that we would even separate innocent children from parents who have made great sacrifices in an attempt to secure for them a better life — people in many ways no different from our own immigrant ancestors.”

Because of intense public backlash, President Donald Trump signed an executive order halting his administration’s policy June 20. Migration and Refugee Services, part of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, helped facilitate most of the reunification of families.

Catholic Immigration Services — Little Rock, through a contract with the USCCB, is assisting four families — that were previously separated at the border because of the policy but have since been reunited — with social work services. Each child, who range from 5 to 12 years old, was separated from their families for at least two months.

“I think with a lot of them it was such a traumatic experience they really don’t talk about it,” said Jennifer Verkamp, CIS director.

We hope you found this story interesting. If you appreciate the news, features and reliable information brought to you by Arkansas Catholic, could you make a secure online donation to help support our mission?

Please read our Comments Policy before posting.

Article comments powered by Disqus