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Children before politics say parents as Catholic adoption agency heads to court

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 11:30 PM

Lansing, Mich., Aug 22, 2019 / 05:30 pm (CNA).- Parents of five adoptive children were present in court on Thursday in support of a Catholic adoption agency in Michigan that is threatened with closure by a new state policy.

“Political grandstanding should never come at the expense of vulnerable children,” stated Melissa Buck, who with her husband Chad has adopted five children with special needs through St. Vincent Catholic Charities in Michigan.

Buck was speaking out against a new state requirement that adoption agencies match children with same-sex couples—regardless of the agencies’ religious mission—in order to receive state funding.

“No one has ever been kept from adopting or fostering a child in need because of St. Vincent’s religious beliefs,” Buck stated on Aug. 22 after oral arguments in Buck v. Gordon, the challenge to Michigan’s new policy, at the Western District Court of Michigan in Grand Rapids.

Kristy and Dana Dumont, a same-sex couple seeking to adopt a child out of foster care, said they were referred elsewhere by St. Vincent Catholic Charities and Bethany Christian Services in 2016 and 2017 when they tried to adopt children through them. The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the two organizations on their behalf.

St. Vincent is one of the oldest adoption and foster care agencies in the state, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the agency.

The State’s health department opened investigations into the complaints. Then on March 22, 2019, the state’s new Attorney General, Dana Nessel, settled with the ACLU and required all adoption agencies to match children with qualified same-sex couples in order to receive state funding.

Nessel, a self-identified lesbian, once represented a same-sex couple April DeBoer and Jane Rowse in their fight to marry and adopt children; the case eventually made it to the Supreme Court as part of Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark 2015 decision that mandated the legal recognition of same-sex unions as civil marriages nationwide.

The settlement reversed a 2015 state law that protected religious-based adoption agencies from having to match children with same-sex couples if they were morally opposed to doing so.

Becket filed a lawsuit on behalf of St. Vincent Catholic Charities as well as people who have benefitted from their work—Shamber Flore, a former foster child placed with a family by St. Vincent, and Melissa and Chad Buck, a married couple who adopted five children with special needs through St. Vincent.

After oral arguments on Thursday, Buck shared her personal story of working with St. Vincent to adopt five children with special needs.

“It’s the best and the hardest thing we’ve ever done, and there were challenges that we weren’t equipped to face on our own—but we were never alone. St. Vincent was there for us every step of the way, at all hours of the day or night, for anything we needed, even if it was for just a shoulder to cry on,” Buck said.

“We chose to foster and adopt through St. Vincent because the faith and values that motivate their ministry make them the very best at what they do, particularly finding homes for the children who need it most.”

There are currently more than 13,000 children in Michigan’s foster care system, and more than 600 children “age out” of the foster care system each year without having been adopted.

Becket said that in 2017, St. Vincent “recruited more adoptive families than nearly 90 percent of the other agencies in its service area.”

Lori Windham, senior counsel for Becket, wrote in an op-ed for The Detroit News that “already, Washington, D.C., Boston, San Francisco, Buffalo, and the state of Illinois have forced faith-based adoption agencies to close, and several more agencies are entangled in court battles, all amid a nationwide adoption and foster care crisis.”

“That crisis is only growing worse as with children flooding into the system, their lives the collateral damage of an opioid epidemic,” Windham wrote.

Suspected Hindu radicals arrested in India after attack on Catholic pilgrims 

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 11:24 PM

Velankanni, India, Aug 22, 2019 / 05:24 pm (CNA).- Six suspected members of a radical Hindu group were arrested in India this week after dozens of Catholics were attacked on a Marian pilgrimage.

On Sunday, 40 Catholics were physically or verbally assaulted while on a 280-mile pilgrimage from Karnataka to Velankanni, a coastal town in south east India, ucanews reported.

The assailants blocked the road and destroyed the pilgrims’ Marian statue. No one was seriously injured in the attack.

A police official said six men have been arrested in connection with the assault. They are being charged with rioting, attempted murder, and disturbing religious peace. A local Catholic told ucanews that the attackers claimed to be affiliated with the radical Hindu Munnani group.

The century-old pilgrimage ends at the Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health. Beginning on Aug. 31, the shrine hosts nine days of festivities, leading up to the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Sept. 8.

During the trek, a Marian statue is typically pulled in a decorated cart while pilgrims sing hymns or pray the Rosary. Pilgrims stay overnight at parishes along the way to Velankanni.

Father L. Sahayaraj, deputy secretary of the Tamil Nadu Bishops’ Council, told ucanews the pilgrimage had not seen similar disturbances in the past. He warned that such attacks will sow hatred and division.

Since the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party took power in 2014, Church leaders have said that India’s Christians have faced an increase in persecution from radical Hindu groups.

Father Cyril Joseph, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Bangalore, called the attacks a threat to the constitution’s protections of free expression and free movement in the country.

“Such attacks are a serious threat to peace and harmony, especially between people of different religious groups,” he said, according to ucanews. “Though the attack was on a small group, the message is for all Christians. It was an open threat against public expression and practice of our faith.”

Bishops praise proposal to clarify religious exemptions for federal contractors

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 10:15 PM

Washington D.C., Aug 22, 2019 / 04:15 pm (CNA).- Leaders at the U.S. bishops’ conference have praised a U.S. Labor Department proposal to clarify protections for religious employers seeking federal contracts.

“Faith-based groups should have the opportunity to compete on a level playing field as they seek to partner with the federal government to provide critical social services,” said the heads of three committees for the U.S. bishops.

Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester, chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty; Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, FL, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, signed an Aug. 21 statement about the proposed changes.

“These proposed rules protect religious liberty, a core constitutional right, by clarifying existing religious exemptions consistent with federal law and recent Supreme Court precedent. We are grateful to the Administration for taking this step, and we look forward to filing more detailed public comments with [the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs],” they said.

The Labor Department announced the proposed rule changes Aug. 15 in the federal register and asked for public comment.

Under existing law, religious nonprofit organizations that enter into contracts with the federal government are exempt from the requirement that federal contractors not discriminate on the basis of religion in employment decisions.

The Labor Department wrote that some organizations, including for-profit companies that have a religious mission, have provided feedback saying they are reluctant to participate as federal contractors because of uncertainty regarding the scope of existing religious exemptions.

In light of recent Supreme Court decisions such as Masterpiece Cakeshop and Trinity Lutheran, the department proposed to clarify that the religious exemption “allows religious contractors not only to prefer in employment individuals who share their religion, but also to condition employment on acceptance of or adherence to religious tenets as understood by the employing contractor.”

Among other changes, the department wrote, the proposal is intended to make clear that the existing religious exemption covers not just churches, but also employers that are “organized for a religious purpose, hold themselves out to the public as carrying out a religious purpose, and engage in exercise of religion consistent with, and in furtherance of, a religious purpose.”

It is also intended, the department said, to make clear that religious employers can “condition employment on acceptance of or adherence to religious tenets without sanction by the federal government,” provided that they do not discriminate based on other protected bases such as race, sex, or national origin. Companies will also still be bound by the state laws of the jurisdictions in which they are located.

Secular groups such as Lambda Legal reacted to the proposed changes with concern, fearing that the rules would allow companies to “opt-out” of civil rights laws and discriminate against religious minorities and the LGBT community.

But Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel of the Becket Fund, told The Washington Post that the new rules give religious groups greater clarity on what exemptions they can legally seek in their hiring practices after the Obama administration expanded protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.

“When a religious group says ‘Hey, we need you to be a Christian and adhere to Christian teachings,' federal law has recognized that’s not discrimination,” he said.

Ex-Philly pastor arrested for charges of embezzling roughly $100,000 of church funds

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 8:50 PM

Philadelphia, Pa., Aug 22, 2019 / 02:50 pm (CNA).- A priest in Downingtown, Penn., a suburb west of Philadelphia, was arrested yesterday for stealing roughly $100,000 in church funds over six years to fund his New Jersey beach house and sexual encounters with men among other personal expenses, authorities have reported.

Rev. Joseph McLoone, 56, was removed as pastor of St. Joseph's Parish in Downingtown and placed on administrative leave in early 2018, shortly after his secret account of stolen funds, which he had named the “St. Joseph Activity Account”, was discovered by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

“Monsignor McLoone was the only signer on this account and he acted alone with respect to all of the account’s activity,” the Archdiocese of Philadelphia said in a statement released Wednesday.

“Off book accounts are in violation of standard Archdiocesan financial control practices and procedures. This bank account was frozen in February 2018 and a review of parish financial records was then undertaken by personnel from the Archdiocesan Office for Parish Services and Support,” the statement added.

According to the Reading Eagle, investigators reported after a year-long investigation that McLoone used his secret account to siphon off the entire collection taken up at the parish each year on the feast day of All Soul’s Day in November, for a total of $39,543 over six years.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, some of the rest of the money came from McLoone doubling his stipends for weddings, funerals and other special Masses. Authorities report that he spent at least $3,000 of the money on men with whom he had sexual relationships, including one New York prison inmate.

“Those expenses were related to relationships with adults that represented a violation of ‘The Standards of Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries’ established by the Archdiocese. None of this activity involved other members of the Saint Joseph Parish community,” the archdiocesen statement noted.

McLoone made “regular withdrawals” from the account and spent “thousands” of dollars in New Jersey, where he has a beach house, the Eagle Reader reported.

Money from regular Sunday collections, donations to the parish capital campaign, and school and PREP tuition fees do not seem to have been stolen by McLoone, the archdiocese said.

In total, McLoone is charged with embezzling between $98,000-$125,000 in funds from the parish during his time there.

“Father McLoone held a position of leadership, and his parishioners trusted him to properly handle their generous donations to the church,” District Attorney Chief of Staff Charles Gaza said in a statement, reported by the Inquirer. “Father McLoone violated the trust of the members of St. Joseph’s for his own personal gain.”

The charges against McLoone include dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities, theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen property and other related counts, the Reading Eagle reported.

The priest maintains his innocence.

“The Chester County District Attorney’s Office is overreaching,” Melissa McCafferty, McLoone’s attorney, told the Inquirer. “They filed these charges based off speculation, conjecture, and innuendo.... They won’t be able to prove them.”

The archdiocese said it has pledged to “pursue full financial restitution” to the parish for the reportedly stolen funds, and said that it shared this information along with other updates on the case throughout the past year with the parish during the investigation.

“These charges are serious and disturbing,” the archdiocesan statement said. “The Archdiocese and the parish will continue to cooperate with law enforcement as the criminal matter enters its next phase. Pending the outcome, Monsignor McLoone remains on administrative leave. Information regarding his arrest will be shared with the Saint Joseph Parish community.”

McLoone now awaits a hearing before a district court judge for the charges.

Vatican diplomat: Solidarity must be at the heart of the European project

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 7:30 PM

Rimini, Italy, Aug 22, 2019 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- The Vatican Secretary for Relations with States said Wednesday that politics surrounding migration in Europe fuel ideological conflicts that do not fully take into account the complexity of the problem.

“I believe it is clear to everyone that such a delicate issue cannot be dealt with effectively without a clear political vision at all levels. But how can we have such a vision, without a cultural perspective that allows us to face the wide spectrum of related problems?” Archbishop Paul Gallagher said Aug. 21 in a speech in Rimini, Italy.

Gallagher pointed to the Catholic social principles of solidarity and inalienable human dignity. He also spoke of the necessity to balance the rhetoric of “rights” in Europe with that of their corresponding duties.

“The concept of law no longer seems to be associated with the equally essential and complementary concept of duty, so that we end up affirming the rights of the individual without taking into account that every human being is linked to a social context, in which his rights and duties are connected to those of others and to the common good of society itself,” Gallagher said, quoting Pope Francis’ speech to the European Parliament in 2014.

The bishop said that the duty of solidarity is an indispensable underlying principle to achieve the pillars of the European unification project: the defense of freedom, the promotion of justice and the building of peace.

Solidarity, he said, is “not based on the compassion or repulsion that another arouses, but on the objectivity of a common human nature.”

The crises Europe has faced in the last decade from the financial crisis to Brexit have been compounded by the growing “emotionality and reactiveness of political choices,” he said.

“It is precisely this characteristic of objectivity and reasonableness that links duties and rights between them. Since the objective duty of solidarity with others corresponds to that set of rights that are as objective as any human person,” Gallagher said.

“Where objectivity is lacking, the same system of rights loses its meaningfulness. This is what has been happening in the last fifty years when the interpretation of some rights has progressively changed, so as to include a multiplicity of new rights,” he continued.

The process of “relativization of rights,” Gallagher said, is intricately connected to the progessive exclusion of religion from European social life, which has resulted in an unhealthy secularization.

Gallagher said that the result of this process is a “fragmentation of existence,” which he said was presciently described by St. John Paul II in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Church in Europe:

“We find ourselves before a widespread existential fragmentation. A feeling of loneliness is prevalent; divisions and conflicts are on the rise. Among other symptoms of this state of affairs, Europe is presently witnessing the grave phenomenon of family crises and the weakening of the very concept of the family, the continuation or resurfacing of ethnic conflicts, the re-emergence of racism, interreligious tensions, a selfishness that closes individuals and groups in upon themselves, a growing overall lack of concern for ethics and an obsessive concern for personal interests and privileges,” John Paul II wrote in 2003.

“The weakening of the sense of duty and the progressive subjectivation of rights has therefore weakened the very heart of the European project,” Gallagher said.

“The European project arises with the idea of ​​giving life to a community of peoples who agree to be bound by mutual duties,” he said at the Rimini “Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples.”

Gallagher outlined examples duties of states that relate to the migration issue in Europe.

“Above all, there is the most obvious duty: that of human solidarity with the person who is in need, suffering and often in danger,” he said.

He said that the duty of solidarity between states  is “a key principle of the very existence of the European Union.”

States also have a duty to offer opportunities for integration to migrants and security to their citizens, Gallagher said, explaining that cultural integration can free migrants from “the dynamics from which they had fled home and which often reappear in the lands of landing remaining within their national communities.”
 
In an interview with Vatican News Aug. 22, Gallagher responded to the current debate in Europe on national sovereignty surrounding both the migration and European Union issues.

“No one questions the sovereignty of a country, of a nation. The problem emerges … when there is again an exaggerated view of sovereignty, when there is an insistence on sovereignty,” he said.

“It is very difficult for a government to guarantee all rights to their peoples, as well as peace, defense, security. We are all interconnected… The idea that ‘sovereignty’ means a total closure to others perhaps has a certain theoretical, pragmatic attraction, but I do not think it's the path to follow,” he added.

Gallagher underlined in his speech in Rimini that when approaching the issue of migration, in particular, “ we need to rediscover the duties, rather than the rights,that are at stake.”

“The first and perhaps greatest contribution that Christians can bring to today's Europe - the Pope affirms - is to remind them that it is not a collection of numbers or institutions, but is made up of people, endowed with of transcendent dignity,” he said.

 

In first-ever event, UN commemorates religious victims of violence

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 5:01 PM

New York City, N.Y., Aug 22, 2019 / 11:01 am (CNA).- The United Nations General Assembly has designated Aug. 22 as the first-ever International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief.

“On this Day, we reaffirm our unwavering support for the victims of violence based on religion and belief. And we demonstrate that support by doing all in our power to prevent such attacks and demanding that those responsible are held accountable,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres in a statement.

The General Assembly condemned acts of violence against religious minorities and reiterated its support for the right to freedom of religion, as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“Over the past few months, we have seen increasing numbers of attacks against individuals and groups targeted simply because of their religion or belief,” Guterres said. “Jews have been murdered in synagogues, their gravestones defaced with swastikas; Muslims gunned down in mosques, their religious sites vandalized; Christians killed at prayer, their churches torched.”

He particularly noted the worrying trend of attacks targeting places of worship, and minority religious communities being attacked because of their faith.

“We must resist and reject those who falsely and maliciously invoke religion to build misconceptions, fuel division and spread fear and hatred,” he said.

The United Nations is working on a new initiative to counter hate speech as well as a new action plan to safeguard religious sites, Guterres said.

In recent years, observers have voiced alarm at ongoing religious-based persecution in countries around the world.

In its annual report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom concluded that “despite two decades of tireless work to bring an end to religious-based discrimination, violence, and persecution, innumerable believers and nonbelievers across the globe continued in 2018 to experience manifold suffering due to their beliefs.”

A report earlier this year commissioned by the British Foreign Office found that Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world and that persecution against them is on the rise.

Religious freedom advocates applauded the UN for recognizing the serious threat posed by contemporary religious persecution, while highlighting the need for further action.

“All people have the right to peacefully live out their faith, and we can never forget those who have faced persecution for doing so,” said Kelsey Zorzi, president of the United Nations’ NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief and international director of advocacy for global religious freedom at ADF International.

She welcomed the UN’s decision to create a day commemorate victims of religious persecution, while adding that “remembrance alone is not enough.”

“Religious persecution is on the rise around the world. We therefore urge all countries to ensure that their laws and policies are in line with their commitments to protect religious freedom under international law,” she said.

Tony Perkins, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and president of the Family Research Council, also called for additional action to prevent religious persecution across the globe.

“Commemorating victims of violence based on religion or belief is critical, but that’s only the beginning of the world’s work to achieve justice for the survivors of past tragedies, like the genocide of Yazidis, Christians and Shi’a Muslims in Iraq by ISIS,” he said.

“We must also recognize and work together to halt the continuing ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims and Christians in Burma and violence against Christians in Nigeria by Boko Haram.”

Real reform in the Church requires a faithful laity, priest says 

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 6:38 AM

Auckland, New Zealand, Aug 22, 2019 / 12:38 am (CNA).- For the Catholic Church to be renewed, the entire body of Christ - especially the laity - must strive to live the faith devoutly.

This was the message of Father Roger Landry, who works for the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations, at a Eucharistic assembly in July.

“While in history, reforms have been championed by popes, bishops, founders of religious orders and their spiritual sons and daughters, the real reform of the Church happens when lay people assimilate it and live it,” he said.

“The Church is not made of marble, wood, bricks and glass, but of men, women, boys and girls, who build their lives firmly on Christ the cornerstone and Peter the rock on whom Jesus constructed the Church.”

Landry spoke during the Auckland Eucharistic Convention on the weekend of July 12 at the Sacred Heart College in New Zealand. Speakers at the event also included Emeritus Bishop Denis Browne of Hamilton, founder of the conference, and Bishop Patrick Dunn of Auckland.

During his speech, Landry noted that there is much discussion about a renewed Church, particularly following recent scandals within the Church.

He pointed to the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on the “universal call to holiness” and noted that the Gospels include the images of Christians as salt, light, and leaven.

“They are particularly meaningful images because they speak not only of the deep involvement and the full participation of the lay faithful in the affairs of the earth, the world and the human community, but also and above all, they tell of the radical newness and unique character of an involvement and participation which has as its purpose the spreading of the Gospel that brings salvation,” he said, quoting St. John Paul II.

At the time of the New Testament, salt had three purposes: preserving food so it would not spoil, enhancing flavor, and combining with animal dung to create fuel.

Similarly, he said, Christians should preserve the world from sin, reflect God’s glory, and bring others to the goodness of redemption.

“Jesus calls us to be his instrument to prevent the earth from going to corruption, from dying. We’re supposed to keep the world and others good,” he said. “As Salt of the Earth, we’re called to be God’s instrument for bringing good out of the evil we encounter, to help even those who were given over to evil to start producing something good.”

“We, as salt of the earth, are called to give flavor so that others can ‘taste and see the goodness of the Lord,’ we’re supposed to bring joy,” he said.

Light is another important metaphor, Landry said, especially in a world darkened so deeply by grief, despair, sin, physical pain, and emotional wounds. Like Christ, the Christian should warm people from the cold and dispel darkness.

“He has come and mercifully taught us in such a way that we may walk as children of the light and be true children of the light. So the Christian life is supposed to be luminescent, like the lights on a landing strip at an airport on a foggy night that help planes land,” he said.

“Similarly, light gives off warmth, and Christ has come into the world to warm us by his love, to burn away whatever in us is frigid or tepid, so that we in turn may warm others by the fire of divine love.”

Leaven is an important metaphor, Landry said, because it teaches us that just a small number of devout Christians can have a significant impact on the world.

“We know that leaven works unseen, doesn’t call attention to itself, but it does its work all the same. Much of the most important work of Christians happens through example - by our cheerfulness, by the powerful transforming influence of good friendship, by the encouraging smiles and deeds that others need when they are down,” he said.

He pointed to the example of the early Japanese Christians, who kept the Catholic faith alive for centuries after the priests in the country had all been martyred.

Missionaries in the 1800s found hundreds of Catholics in a village in northeastern Japan. In place of Mass, the Catholic families would gather every Sunday to pray the Apostles’ Creed, Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, and an Act of Contrition.

The villagers had been instructed by previous missionaries to be steadfast and to wait for more “fathers” to come after the initial missionaries were martyred. The early priests had taught the people how to recognize the four marks of the Catholic Church: belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, devotion to Mary, the papacy ,and the priesthood.

“So great was the trust in God and in his Church by those who were being killed in the 1600s that they prepared the people for the time when Catholic priests would return to Japan, and their simple instructions were passed down by the kakure Kiristan, the clandestine Christians, for a dozen generations,” Landry said.

Hong Kong student leader: Catholics have an important role in peaceful protests

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 6:12 AM

Hong Kong, China, Aug 22, 2019 / 12:12 am (CNA).- As massive protests continue in Hong Kong, one student leader says Catholics have an important role to play in encouraging demonstrators to remain peaceful in asserting their demands.

“The protests last Sunday [were] very peaceful, peaceful protests. And very luckily, there were no major conflicts between the police and the protestors,” Edwin Chow, acting president of the Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students, told CNA in an interview.

Despite the threat of violence from police and growing concern about a potential crackdown by Chinese authorities, an estimated 1.7 million people took to the streets of Hong Kong last Sunday for a largely peaceful demonstration in the pouring rain.

The largest protest has so far this year has been an estimated 2 million-strong crowd on June 6. At some of the protests, police and some protesters have resorted to violence.

“From June to the previous protest, almost every time, the police have used tear gas and bullets. But this time, for this weekend, actually the police did not use any tear gas and they didn't have any serious clash between the protesters and the police,” Chow said.

Protesters continue to demonstrate against the use of excessive force by the police, as well as the potential for Hong Kong to begin extraditing suspected criminals to stand trial in mainland China.

The bill proposing extraditions to China, which was introduced in Hong Kong’s government in February, has been indefinitely suspended, but Christians in Hong Kong remain worried that the Chinese Communist government will continue to find ways to persecute those who are helping Christians in mainland China, where freedom of religion is severely restricted.

“The Chinese government is suppressing the Church in mainland China, and so we are worried that when we have communication with the mainland Church, maybe one day the Chinese government will also arrest the Hong Kong people to suppress Hong Kong people,” Chow said.

The apostolic administrator of Hong Kong, Cardinal John Tong, has asked the government to eliminate the extradition law completely, and for an independent inquiry into the excessive use of force by the Hong Kong police.

The Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students organized members to attend the protest and also held a prayer meeting before Sunday’s march. Chow said many more protests are already planned for August, and early next month students are planning to “strike” on the first day of class.

“My class will start on the 2nd of September, but actually the student union, most of the university students, we are planning to have a strike on that day. That is a must, I think, this will happen. We will go on strike.”

Chow, a student studying Government and International Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University, told CNA last week that he would like to see Catholics and other Christians take on a larger role in ongoing protests against the government.

While Chow said that Christians, among them Catholics, had a more major role when the protests began— leading the singing of hymns such as “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” in the streets during the protests, for example— their role has since diminished.

“It's a good chance for us to become united. Because I think for most of the Catholics and Christians, we have the same values, the same goal...so that's why we cooperate, and I think after Christians and Catholics cooperate, our strengths, our power becomes stronger,” he told CNA last week.

Chow said he believes the protestors are changing their tactics to try to be less disruptive. A number of protests held in the last few weeks in the city’s busy international airport caused a lot of noise and disruption, he said.

“So the protestors adjusted their strategy. They think that a peaceful protest maybe can gain more support. I think due to the previous clash, and too much violence, maybe we have lost some support, so we want to gain it again,” Chow explained.

“And also I think the main theme of the protests is...police violence; it's hard to convince people that we are against violence when we use violence. So I think this is the main reason why this protest this weekend was [more] peaceful.”

Chow believes that Christians groups can play an important role in encouraging protestors to remain peaceful and not be carried away by emotion.

“For the Catholic groups, for the Christian groups, we have the responsibility and we have the power to calm our friends down. Because I think singing hymns, just in the beginning, it creates a peaceful atmosphere, and it has a power to keep everyone very calm. So I think we can use this when we do this again.”

Chow said there is an interesting protest set to take place this Friday, wherein protestors plan to form a human chain as part of the demonstration.

“This week, almost every day we have protests,” he said.

“For tomorrow, the secondary students also have their own protest, their own assembly...it's a very busy month, very busy, these two months for Hong Kong people. Because actually, we almost protest every day.”

Chow said the Catholic clergy have been very supportive. The Federation invited bishop emeritus Cardinal Joseph Zen to celebrate Mass on June 16, in front of the government headquarters.

Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing has also been very active in going to the protest sites, supporting the young people, and vocally supporting the protestors. Bishop Ha took part in a continuous ecumenical prayer meeting outside the Legislative Council building with thousands of Christians overnight after one rally.

“Other ordinary Catholics, some of the older Catholics, they also join in our activities,” Chow said. “So you can see that not only the teenagers are supporting, participating in the whole protest, but the older people, some adults...they also join, they also support the whole protest.”

In the US, the Archdiocese of San Francisco Chinese Ministry and the Office of Human Life & Dignity are inviting the faithful to a prayer vigil for Hong Kong at 6:30 pm on August 26 at St. Anne of the Sunset Church in San Francisco. The service is set to include scripture readings, Eucharistic Adoration, and Benediction.

White House criticized for push to allow indefinite detention of migrant kids

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 11:49 PM

Washington D.C., Aug 21, 2019 / 05:49 pm (CNA).- The White House announced on Wednesday that it would look to terminate court-approved limits on detention of migrant children and families, allowing for indefinite detention. The announcement drew strong criticism from a leading Catholic immigration group.

“These changes would expand the number of children who will be detained and are in direct opposition to the child-friendly provisions in the Flores agreement,” said Anna Gallagher, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC).

Gallagher added that the action “would destroy long-term child protection standards created by our government and the courts.”

The White House’s new rule will seek to terminate the Flores Settlement Agreement, a court-approved national policy on the treatment of migrants by U.S. government agencies. The new rule must be approved by a federal judge before it can go into effect.

“To protect these children from abuse, and stop this illegal flow, we must close these loopholes. This is an urgent humanitarian necessity,” President Donald Trump stated.

Under previous court rulings, the administration said it had to allow most migrant children and families to leave detention centers after 20 days; a new proposed rule, the “Apprehension, Processing, Care, and Custody of Alien Minors and Unaccompanied Alien Children,” would remove time limits and allow for indefinite detention.

The rule would ensure the care and safety of children in detention and protect them from smugglers, the White House said in its announcement; smugglers have been taking advantage of the previous policy by promising migrants a quick release if they were to be apprehended by U.S. law enforcement, and by bringing children and adults together to pose as migrant families at the border, the White House said.

In a press conference, Kevin K. McAleenan, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, emphasized that the facilities holding families under the new rule are “campus-like settings with appropriate medical, educational, recreational, dining, and private housing facilities.”

However, CLINIC, established by the U.S. bishops in 1988, called the administration’s proposal last September an “abomination.”

Gallagher said on Wednesday that “clinical studies demonstrate that the mitigating presence of parents does not negate or lighten the serious and adverse effect of detention on the physical and mental health of children.” The organization has also said that the administration’s policy would allow it to set the conditions for migrants in detention centers with lesser independent oversight, threatening the due process of migrants.

In June of 2018, a group of human rights officials at the United Nations stated of the U.S. policy of detaining children and separating families at the border that “detention of children is punitive, severely hampers their development, and in some cases may amount to torture.”

The number of “family unit aliens” apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border has soared in Fiscal Year 2019, the White House says, increasing by more than 300 percent; more than 430,000 “family unit aliens” have been apprehended in FY 2019.

Priest: We need to address roots of the global migration crisis

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 11:02 PM

Rome, Italy, Aug 21, 2019 / 05:02 pm (CNA).- With migrant and refugee numbers at a crisis level in Europe and other parts of the world, the international community must act to alleviate the suffering of those forced to leave their homes, a priest said this week.

Fr. Mussie Zerai is an Eritrean priest based in Rome, serving as European Coordinator for the Catholics of Eritrea.

Zerai works particularly with migrants who cross the Mediterranean Sea, fleeing dangers in their homeland and seeking a better life.

Speaking this week with ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language sister agency, Zerai said that to address the migration crisis, it is necessary to look at the factors pushing people to leave their home countries.

He also said neighboring countries in Africa should be better equipped to accept refugees, so they are not forced to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

The priest pointed to an initiative by the Sant’Egidio Community and the Italian Bishops’ Conference that allows migrants to travel to Italy and other European countries with their needs covered and without relying on local mafias.

These humanitarian channels are an important avenue of legal immigration, and states should assume similar initiatives, he said, stressing that if the European Union were to ensure “legal access for people who need protection, a lot of people would not feel driven by desperation into the hands of the traffickers, risking their lives in the desert and on the sea.”

Rather than getting to the root of the migration crisis, Zerai lamented, “the European Union tried to put up walls…to create obstacles to whoever was fleeing from their countries for different reasons: hunger, war, political, ethnic and religious persecutions.”

As a result, he said, people fleeing dangerous situations at home lack the protection they need to migrate safely.

“Perhaps we don’t see them, but they continue to die in the desert, continue to die in the prisons, in the many detention centers, continue to die at sea.”

'Fertility fraud' scandals raise broader questions about IVF, ethicist says

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 10:00 PM

Washington D.C., Aug 21, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Lawmakers in three states have passed laws to criminalize “fertility fraud” following a series of scandals in which fertility doctors impregnated women with their own sperm without their knowledge or consent. But amid renewed discussion of the fertility industry, one ethicist told CNA that the laws do not go far enough.

On June 4, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed into law Senate Bill 1259, making the use of reproductive material from an unagreed upon donor a form of sexual assault, and could require an offending doctor to register as a sex offender. The bill was unanimously passed by both the Texas House and Senate, and went into effect on July 1. 

The Texas law is unique in classifing donor-deception as sexual assault. 

Legislation in Indiana, passed in May of this year, made it a felony for someone to misrepresent a medical procedure, device, or drug, including reproductive material. A plaintiff may also sue the medical professional for damages. Similar laws were passed in California in 2011.

The Indiana law passed after it was discovered that a fertility specialist, Dr. Donald Cline, had used his own sperm to father at least 61 children in the 1970s and 1980s. The estimated 36 mothers were unaware that he was the source of the donor sperm.

In 2017, eight years after he retired, Cline was sentenced to a one-year suspended sentence, and surrendered his medical license. He pled guilty to two counts of felony obstruction of justice, though his professional conduct was not yet a crime in Indiana. 

Cline’s case is not unique. Doctors in 12 states and several countries have been found to have fathered children with women who did not consent to being inseminated with their own doctor’s sperm. 

Dr. John Di Camillo, an ethicist with the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA that scandals only served to highlight the deeper problems with the fertility industry.

“Interventions that bypass or replace the conjugal act, on the other hand, such as in vitro fertilization, are always contrary to human dignity,” Di Camillo said.

While it is understandable that a woman or couple would feel violated by a doctor’s betrayal of their trust in the selection of the sperm donor, Di Camillo told CNA that “the very act of seeking a sperm donor is already a betrayal of any child that might be conceived.”

The child has the right to be born from and within a marriage, where the child’s biological parents are identifiable,” he said.

Such cases of abuse, he said, were rooted in society’s changing views on the nature of childbearing, as well as from the “morally corrupt” practice of in vitro fertilization. 

“When a child is no longer understood as a gift that a married couple receives as the direct fruit of their act of mutual self-giving love, and is instead perceived as a product that can be obtained human procreation becomes exposed to an endless chain of ethical abuses,” he said.

While the fertility industry continues to grow, the availability of commercial DNA testing has meant many previously unknown cases of abuse have come to light.

Sixteen years ago in Texas, Eve Wiley discovered, at the age of 16, that she had been conceived with donor sperm. She tracked down the man who she thought was the donor, and developed what she described as a “beautiful father-daughter relationship.” The man even officiated her wedding. 

After taking a consumer DNA test in 2017 and again in 2018, she learned the truth: the man was not her father. In fact, her father was Dr. Kim McMorries-the doctor who had inseminated her mother. 

McMorries had told Wiley’s mother that he was using donor sperm from California. Her mother had requested a donor from far away, as she was concerned that her potential child could eventually date a half-sibling if a local donor were used. 

Wiley has since been featured on national television programs, and spoke in committee hearings in favor of the Texas law. 

While Di Camillo is supportive of the Indiana and Texas laws, he told CNA that they do not do enough to address the source of the problem: the fertility industry. 

“I would certainly support any legislation outlawing this type of deception as a form of incremental legislation curbing abusive sequelae of the abusive practice of IVF,” he said. 

“The bigger issue is that in vitro fertilization and all forms of assisted reproduction involving donor gametes should be outlawed altogether. The root of the moral problem needs to be addressed.”

Opinions divided in reaction to Pell decision

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 9:00 PM

Melbourne, Australia, Aug 21, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The decision by the Court of Appeal in Victoria to reject Cardinal George Pell’s appeal of his conviction for child sex abuse Wednesday has divided opinion among court watchers, both Catholic and secular.

Reactions to the ruling ranged from celebrations that Pell will remain in prison, to questions being raised about the entire Australian legal system. 

Cardinal Pell’s spokesperson released a short statement after the decision, saying that the cardinal was “obviously disappointed” but will continue the legal process. 

“While noting the 2-1 split decision, Cardinal Pell maintains his innocence,” said the statement. “We thank his many supporters.” 

Pell may still appeal to the High Court, Australia’s supreme judicial body. If the court decides to hear his appeal, there could still be months or even years before a final decision is reached. But in the meantime, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Court of Appeals’ ruling meant that Pell will be stripped of his Order of Australia honors. 

“My understanding is that this [appeal loss] would result in the stripping of the honours that are decided externally to the government,” said Morrison. 

“That is a process that is done independently, and that course will now follow.”

Many people who were outside the court while the decision was being read were happy with the news. 

Julie Cameron, who was described in Australian media as an advocate for survivors of child sexual abuse, said that the ruling meant that “the largest protected pedophile ring in the world is busted.” 

Videos taken from outside the courtroom showed a crowd cheering “victory” at the decision, while another stated “we’re never giving up, we’re never going away.” 

Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt offered a different view from much of the media coverage of Pell’s trial, saying in a post that the conviction makes “no logical sense” and that there were many “improbabilities” to the prosecution’s case.  

“Even if Pell could physically have been in the sacristy, in time, and without being seen, and physically done these attacks, how insane would he have to be to do all this, attack two boys he didn’t know, in an open room in a busy cathedral?” said Bolt in a piece published after the decision. 

Australian Catholic leadership also had varying reactions to the decision. 

Archbishop Anthony Fisher, who succeeded Pell as leader of the Sydney archdiocese said he was “limited in my ability to comment on today’s outcome,” since Pell could still lodge a further appeal.

“Today’s split decision amongst the judges is consistent with the differing views of the juries in the first and second trials, as well as the divided opinion amongst legal commentators and the general public,” Fisher said in a statement.

“Reasonable people have taken different views when presented with the same evidence and I urge everyone to maintain calm and civility.”

Archbishop Peter A. Comensoli of Melbourne, another of Pell’s former dioceses, said in a statement that he “respectfully receives the Court’s decision,” and that he “encourages everyone to do the same.” 

Comensoli remarked that “the complexity of the search for the truth in this matter has tested many, and may very well continue to do so.” 

The archbishop said that he was praying for the man who accused Pell of sexual abuse, and that he would offer spiritual and pastoral help to him if he so wanted it. Notably, Comensoli declined to use the word “victim” or “survivor” to describe the man. 

Additionally, Comensoli said that he will “ensure that Cardinal Pell is provided pastoral and spiritual support while he serves the remainder of his sentence” of six years in prison. 

The Vatican issued a cautious statement “acknowledging” the decision.

“While reiterating its respect for the Australian judicial system... the Holy See acknowledges the court’s decision to dismiss Cardinal Pell’s appeal,” Matteo Bruni, Holy See press office director, said Aug. 21.

Bruni stated that “as the proceedings continue to develop, the Holy See recalls that the Cardinal has always maintained his innocence throughout the judicial process and that it is his right to appeal to the High Court.” A canonical process to assess the accusations against Pell has formally been opened, but remains pending until the entire criminal process in Australia concludes.

As a body, the Catholic bishops of Australia offered a similarly carefully worded response to the news. 

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC), which represents all of the country’s bishops and archbishops, said that while they accepted the judgment, they “acknowledge that this judgement will be distressing to many people.” 

“The Catholic Bishops of Australia believe all Australians must be equal under the law and accept today’s judgement accordingly,” said the statement from Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, the ACBC president. 

Coleridge noted that “this has been and remains a most difficult time for survivors of child sexual abuse and those who support them,” and that the Australian clergy has caused much pain in the country. 

“We remain committed to doing everything we can to bring healing to those who have suffered greatly and to ensuring that Catholic settings are the safest possible places for all people, but especially for children and vulnerable adults,” he said.

Retired Bishop Peter Elliott, a former auxiliary bishop of Melbourne, pointedly rejected the outcome. 

“I don’t accept this outcome because I hope it is appealed to a higher court,” he said to the Australian news program 7.30 after the appeal was denied. Elliott has known Pell for over 50 years. 

“I believe that George Pell is totally incapable of what he’s been accused of, and what he’s been convicted for,” said Elliott, urging Australian Catholics to “keep calm, and carry on praying” for Pell.

Amazon missionary bishop: Synod plans miss the real problems

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 8:51 PM

Belém do Pará, Brazil, Aug 21, 2019 / 02:51 pm (CNA).-
A long-time missionary bishop of the Amazon River delta has said that the working document for an upcoming synod of bishops on the region does not address the actual problems faced by the Church in the region.

Bishop José Luis Azcona, is the missionary bishop emeritus of Marajó, a diocese that includes dozens of islands in the Amazon River Delta. During his years of service in the region, Azcona lived under death threats for denouncing human trafficking and for defending the human rights of indigineous people.

In remarks recently offered to ACI Digital, CNA's Portugese-language sister agency, Azcona criticized the Instrumentum laboris, or working document, for October’s Pan-Amazonian synod of bishops, which he said fails to address the Church’s most pressing challenges: a growing Pentacostal majority; child labor, abuse, and trafficking; and a spiritual crisis.

Azcona said that synod must address a sobering reality: “the Amazon, at least the Brazilian Amazon, is no longer Catholic.”

He questioned the central points of the synod’s preparatory document, which he said focus unduly on “a distorted vision of the so-called Amazonian face,”  “interculturality,” and the ordination of married men.

The Face of the Amazon

According to Azcona, “the Amazon, at least the Brazilian Amazon, is no longer Catholic.

“This point of departure is crucial for conducting the synod. If the Amazon has a Pentecostal majority, it is necessary to address that reality thoroughly.”

“Any nostalgia for an Amazon that no longer exists is fatal to its integral evangelization. Even in some areas of the Amazon the Pentecostal majority reaches 80%,” he said.

“A Pentecostal penetration into several indigenous ethnic groups, overrunning cultures, ethnic identities, indigenous peoples in the name of the Gospel, is a serious phenomenon in today's Amazon, which with its fundamentalist and proselytizing connotations has a profound impact on the indigenous peoples.”

“This is today's Amazonian face!”

“There's not one word about this point in the Instrument laboris,” Azcona said.

The bishop added that “the long experience of years confirms that in many Amazonian dioceses the faith is not lived out in society nor in history.  The chasm between the confession and celebration of faith in beautiful liturgies and the social, environmental, cultural and political reality has not yet been overcome.”

Child abuse

Azcona next pointed the pervasive problems of child abuse in the Amazon region.

“Unfortunately, the synod doesn't know, or knowing doesn't understand, the significance, for the present and the future of the Amazon, of the faces of anguished, re-victimized and denigrated children, [abused] by their own parents and relatives, subjected to a slavery that forms an essential part of the abandoned and destroyed face of Jesus in the Amazon.”

“This entire document is straw if it doesn't understand or doesn't commit to the spirit and letter of the Gospel: 'He who receives a little one like this receives Me and he who receives Me, receives the Father who sent Me.”

In that regard he continued, “in Pará alone in one year there were 25,000 reports of crimes of this kind [Editor's note: pedophilia]. According to experts in this area, for every reported case of pedophilia there are four others besides. If during approximately one year there were 100,000 abused children in Pará, isn't this face of destroyed children an essential part of the Amazonian face?”

“Where is the pastoral sensitivity, so evident and so firmly expressed by the Holy Father Pope Francis, expressed by those responsible for the Instrumentum laboris?” Azcona asked.

“Where is the defense of the Amazon, of its children, in the Instrumentum laboris, and, therefore, in the synod? Let's stop these false projections about the Amazon, and instead make possible new paths for it.”

“What is the Amazonian face? Can a synod next October of this magnitude be built with a presentation so far from reality, from identity, from respect for what is different, when pre-established schemes of interpretation of reality deform what is real?” he questioned.

Inculturation or 'Equalization'?

Azcona also criticized “the themes around the inculturation of the Gospel in the Amazon and related areas,” which he said “are presented in a context of immanence, Neo-Pelagianism, leveling out the Gospel with Amazonian (indigenous) cultures, ecclesiologically devoid of theological and pastoral foundations, annulling the Gospel of salvation.”

Recalling the Ad gentes decree of the Second Vatican Council, the bishop pointed out that “the words of the Gospel proclaimed by the Church decide the destiny of persons, of peoples, cultures and nations.”

“In no part of the Instrumentum laboris is anything similar explicitly affirmed. On the contrary, the tendency to equalize the indigenous cultures with the Gospel is overwhelming. This is a point of departure which cannot be dispensed with in a synod.”

“Forgetting this fundamental principle renders the synod useless and nullifies the specific and unique power of God in the Gospel, as well as all missionary dynamism in the Amazon and from the Amazon,” he said.

Azcona pointed out that “in no part of the Instrumenum laboris is the presence of demons spoken of, or their influence, their malice in persons, peoples and cultures, as well as the victory of Christ, his deliverance and the destruction of the power of the Evil One.”

“The document forgets the luminous and guiding pages that speak of the Evil One and his presence in history, to which Pope Francis devotes numbers 158-164 in last year's apostolic exhortation on holiness, Gaudete et Exultate.”

He also warned that “the Pelagianism spread throughout the document, leads to attributing to the Amazonian man, to his ethnic and cultural groups, more than what belongs to them, because they are realities created and marked by sin, and it supplants the solid conciliar doctrine about the Gospel and the mission of the Church in the power of the Risen One, as found in Lumen gentium 16.

“Finally, the utopian ideo to revitalize the pre-Colombian religions, separating them from Christ and the universal Church, would not be progress but regression,” he said.

Ecological conversion

Addressing the question of ecological conversion, the bishop argued that “the need for repentance for the forgiveness of sins is the fundamental challenge that the Church has to face in the Amazon. Without this absolute priority of the being and action of the Church there is no future for the Amazon, because we thus forget the presence of the Kingdom of God in the world.”

“In the absence of the repentance that 'makes exist that which does not exist' for the generation of the new Amazonian man, the document does not experience the hunger, the thirst for the Holy Spirit.”

According to the bishop “the document, forgetting the New Pentecost encouraged by Pope Saint John XXIII in the preparatory prayer for the Council, sets aside the nucleus of the mission in the Amazon. Is this mission in the Amazon like a land and water mission? Or is it the missionary dimension which, as the Church in the Amazon, is called and sent out to the world? Let us be guided by the inspired teaching of Pope Francis in Evangelii gaudium.”

“What the Holy Father proposes is evangelization and therefore an Amazon very different from a set of tasks carried out, projects, pastoral plans, inculturation, ecology.”

“Why doesn't the document cry out this truth, the only truth that can save the Amazon?” he asked.

Viri probati

Azcona said that “the ordination of “viri probati” is going to be useless,” since “it's placing a piece of new cloth on an old fabric. The tear is bigger!"

On the other hand, he observed, “the clergy in the Amazon need, as does the entire Church, repentance, conversion, the faith that saves in the strict sense. Experience offers this evidence. The meaning of the priestly ministry and specifically in the Amazon, is lost or is dead in the lives or in the authentic pastoral conversion of priests.”

“Why ordain viri probati within a priesthood in crisis?” he asked

“The perfect and perpetual continence of the Kingdom of Heaven will continue being, a sign of encouragement of pastoral charity and the original source of spiritual fruitfulness- within the Amazon,” he said.

“We may ask: Does this attitude of prayer exist for the gift of celibacy in the priests of the Amazon? “Does the entire Church pray that this sublime gift be poured out on the whole Body of Christ? The facts answer: 'No'!'”

“And also, and principally, deciding this issue is something completely inopportune in a context in which the current trends of large groups of Catholics, the so-called conservatives, are questioning the Magisterium of the Church, specifically in the Supreme Pontiff himself. Some are publicly calling him a heretic demanding his immediate resignation. Others are demanding his resignation for the lack of consistency on the issue of pedophilia in the Church! Let's not entertain a discussion on the legitimacy of these questions. What is certain is than an affirmative response would open up the risk of a division, of a real schism in the Church.”

He thus stressed that “it's not about the victory of the so called 'conservatives' or the 'progressives.' It's about what is greatest in the Church: charity. In the face of charity, any concept or sociological label ought to pale.”

“Recognizing that the venerable institution of priestly celibacy belongs to the disciplinary area of the Church and therefore subject to changes, I considerate it disadvantageous, even dangerous at this time for ecclesial unity, to open up the possibility that the document is asking for,” Azcona said.

“It's not an exclusively indigenous ministry problem. It's a situation of the widespread shortage of priests in the Church. The same reasons that can be invoked for this recognition asked for by the document are the same ones that can be applied to the entire Church, or to much of it.”

According to the bishop, “the problem is not just the lack of enough priests, but the examination, discernment of this great shortage for a realistic solution.  The fundamental root of this shortage of vocations in the Church and also in the Amazon, including the evangelized  indigenous peoples, is due to an alarming lack of faith or the absence of faith that works in practice through love and necessarily in history and society.”

Thus, he explained, “even though it's a disciplinary issue, this becomes an ethical imperative beginning with the absolute instruction: Christ died for the unenlightened brother; your freedom is not something absolute; it is against Christ they sin, wounding the conscience of the brother; the only absolute is love; this love is that of God poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit”

“Is this the love of the Church in the Amazon? Is this the love of God that sufficiently pervades the criteria for pastoral care, the ecclesial criteria, the praxis as the supreme reality or is it gnosis or Pelagius which commands the ship of the Church in the Amazon?”

“This danger of schism is not imaginary! Nor in the Amazon!” Azcona concluded.

Azcona, 79, is a native of Pamplona, Spain. He was appointed a missionary bishop in the Amazon in 1987, and retired from his post in 2016.

 

This interview was first published by ACI Digital, CNA's Portugese-language sister agency. It has been adapted and translated by CNA.

 

Jesuit superior general: Satan is a 'symbolic reality'

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 7:44 PM

Vatican City, Aug 21, 2019 / 01:44 pm (CNA).- The superior general of the Society of Jesus said Aug. 21 that the devil is a symbol, but not a person.

The devil, “exists as the personification of evil in different structures, but not in persons, because is not a person, is a way of acting evil. He is not a person like a human person. It is a way of evil to be present in human life,” Fr. Arturo Sosa, SJ, said Wednesday in an interview with Italian magazine Tempi.

“Good and evil are in a permanent war in the human conscience and we have ways to point them out. We recognize God as good, fully good. Symbols are part of reality, and the devil exists as a symbolic reality, not as a personal reality,” he added.

Sosa’s remarks came after he participated in a panel discussion at a Catholic gathering in Rimini, Italy, organized by the Communion and Liberation ecclesial movement.

The Catechism of the Catholic teaches that “Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: ‘The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing.’”

Angels, the Catechism says, are “spiritual, non-corporeal beings.”

“They are personal and immortal creatures,” it adds, who “have intelligence and will.”

Sosa, 70, was elected the Jesuits’ superior general in 2016. A Venezuelan, he has a pontifical licentiate in philosophy and a doctorate in political science. He served as a Jesuit provincial superior in Venezuela from 1996 to 2004, and in 2014 began an administrative role at the general curia of the Jesuits in Rome.

Sosa has offered controversial comments about Satan in the past. In 2017, he told El Mundo that “we have formed symbolic figures such as the Devil to express evil.”

After his 2017 remark generated controversy, a spokesman for Sosa told the Catholic Herald that “like all Catholics, Father Sosa professes and teaches what the Church professes and teaches. He does not hold a set of beliefs separate from what is contained in the doctrine of the Catholic Church.”

 

Florida bishops: Serial killer's execution is 'unnecessary'

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 3:30 PM

Tallahassee, Fla., Aug 21, 2019 / 09:30 am (CNA).- The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops is pleading for Gov. Ron DeSantis to stop the execution of Gary Ray Bowles, who confessed to murdering six men during a six month period in 1994.

“As we approach the date of Gary Ray Bowles’ scheduled execution, we urge you to grant a stay,” said an Aug. 14 letter, signed by Michael B. Sheedy, the executive director of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the state’s bishops.

Bowles’ execution is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Aug. 22. He was first sentenced to death in May 1996, after pleading guilty to the murder of Walter “Jay” Hinton, and then re-sentenced to death in 1999 after his initial death sentence was overturned. While in prison for Hinton’s murder, he was convicted of three other murders, and sentenced to two life sentences.

When Bowles was arrested for Hinton’s death, he admitted that he had killed a total of six people. As Bowles’ crime spree spread from Jacksonville, Florida to Montgomery County, Maryland, he was dubbed the “I-95 Killer.”

He killed men in three states, two of which presently use the death penalty. At the time of the crimes, the death penalty was legal in all three states.

Bowles met most of his victims in gay bars, and offered to have sex with them in exchange for money. He would then beat and strangle the men to death, and rob them. At the time he was arrested, he was on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.

The letter said that while Bowles’ “violent actions” ended the lives of six people, and caused “great grief” to their loved ones, “each of us is more than the worst thing we have done.”

“Mr. Bowles is more than a man who committed multiple murders,” said the bishops’ conference.

“He is a human being who survived many years of childhood abuse and, after escaping his stepfather’s violence as a young teenager, endured years of homelessness and child prostitution.”

“Neuroscientific research has found that such traumatic experiences severely affect a child’s developing brain, and thus affect subsequent behavior,” the letter added.

The bishops’ conference wrote that Bowles does not pose a danger to society as long as he remains in prison without parole, and that the death penalty is not necessary. Instead, “premeditated, state-sanctioned homicide of Mr. Bowles would only perpetuate the cycle of violence that victimized him, and which he later perpetuated.”

“Killing him will only further erode the sense of the sacredness of human life and implicate us all – the citizens of the State of Florida – in his death.”

On Wednesday and Thursday, Florida Catholics, as well as others opposed to the death penalty, will be gathering at locations around the state, including the governor’s mansion and across the highway from the Florida State Prison’s Execution Building. They say they will be praying for  Bowles, his victims, the families of the victims, and for an end to the death penalty.

If Bowles is executed, he will be the 99th person sentenced to death in Florida since the state reinstituted its death penalty in 1976. His will be the second execution presided over by DeSantis, a practicing Roman Catholic.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the death penalty is today “inadmissable,” because “there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes,” and “more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.”

Pope Francis: Self-interest and hypocrisy destroy the Church

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 12:00 PM

Vatican City, Aug 21, 2019 / 06:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis decried hypocrisy and self-interest Wednesday, saying that Christian community should always be characterized by generosity and solidarity.

"A life set only on profiting and taking advantage of situations at the expense of others inevitably causes interior death," Pope Francis said Aug. 21 in Paul VI Hall.

“And how many people say they are close to the Church, friends of priests, bishops, while they are only looking for their own interest. These are the hypocrisies that destroy the Church,” he added in a departure from his prepared remarks.

Pope Francis said he asks the Lord to “pour over us His Spirit of tenderness, which overcomes all hypocrisy and puts into circulation that truth which nourishes Christian solidarity.”

The pope said that solidarity is “the inalienable expression of the nature of the Church,” which he called the “tender mother of all, especially the poorest.”

“Being members of the body of Christ makes believers co-responsible for each other. Being believers in Jesus makes us all co-responsible for each other,” he said.

“Among Christians we cannot say: 'Poor person, he has a problem at home, he is going through this family difficulty'. But, I must pray. I carry it with me. I am not be indifferent. This is being a Christian,” Francis explained.

Throughout Pope Francis’ general audience, a young girl who appeared to have a mental disability, danced across the stage clapping her hands in front of the pope in Paul VI Hall.

“We have all seen this beautiful girl - she is beautiful … victim of an illness and does not know what she is doing,” he said.

Pope Francis asked the audience if they had prayed for this young girl and her family. “Whenever we see someone suffering we must pray,” he said.

The pope stressed the importance of concrete acts of generosity in the life of a Christian, particularly with one’s time and money.

“The sign that your heart has converted is when conversion reaches your pockets,” he said. “There  is where we see if one is generous with others, if one helps the weakest, the poorest.”

In the life of the Church, there have always been Christians who stripped themselves of unnecessary things to give them to those who needed them, Pope Francis said.

He pointed to the example of the early Christians described in the Acts of the Apostles.

“A concrete example of sharing and communion of goods comes to us from the testimony of Barnabas: he owns a field and sells it to deliver the proceeds to the Apostles,” Francis said.

“The Christian community is born from the overabundant outpouring of the Holy Spirit and grows thanks to the leaven of sharing between brothers and sisters in Christ. There is a dynamism of solidarity that builds the Church as the family of God,” he said.

Pope Francis also pointed out that there were negative examples of hypocrisy and selfishness among this same community. He described the story of Ananias and his wife Sapphira described in chapter 5 of the Acts of the Apostles.

Ananias and Sapphira sold a piece of property to give the proceeds to the apostles, but retained for themselves a portion of the purchase price.

To which St. Peter responded, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart so that you lied to the Holy Spirit and retained part of the price of the land? ... Why did you contrive this deed? You have lied not to human beings, but to God.”

Upon hearing these words from Peter, Ananias fell down and died. “This cheating interrupts the chain of free sharing... and the consequences are tragic, are fatal,” Pope Francis said.

“We could say that Ananias lied to God because of an isolated conscience,” he said. “Hypocrisy is the worst enemy of this Christian community, of this Christian love: that of pretending to love each other, but only looking for one's own interest.”

“To fail in the sincerity of sharing … in the sincerity of love, means to cultivate hypocrisy, move away from the truth, to become selfish, to extinguish the fire of communion and turn to the frost of interior death,” the pope said.

Vatican ‘acknowledges the court's decision’ to dismiss Cardinal George Pell's appeal

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 10:18 AM

Vatican City, Aug 21, 2019 / 04:18 am (CNA).- The Vatican said Wednesday it acknowledges the decision by the Court of Appeals in Victoria to uphold the conviction of Cardinal George Pell, while recalling Pell’s insistence of his innocence throughout the judicial process.

The conviction of Cardinal George Pell on five counts of abuse was upheld by the Court of Appeals in Victoria Aug. 21. After an appellate panel announced its decision at a court proceeding, the cardinal was returned to prison.

“While reiterating its respect for the Australian judicial system... the Holy See acknowledges the court’s decision to dismiss Cardinal Pell’s appeal,” Matteo Bruni, Holy See press office director, said Aug. 21.

Bruni stated that “as the proceedings continue to develop, the Holy See recalls that the Cardinal has always maintained his innocence throughout the judicial process and that it is his right to appeal to the High Court.”

Pell’s legal team has said it will thoroughly examine the over 300-page judgment before deciding whether to petition the Australian High Court in Canberra. Such an effort is expected by legal experts to offer very slim chance of success, given the appeal court result.

Pell’s lawyers have said that he will not petition for a shorter sentence.

Bruni concluded his brief statement Aug. 21 by expressing the Holy See’s closeness to victims of sexual abuse and confirming its commitment to carry out appropriate ecclesiastical procedures against clergy who have committed abuse.

The Vatican announced in March the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would carry out a canonical process against Pell at the conclusion of the judicial process in Australia.

In response to questions, Bruni confirmed to journalists Aug. 21 that the CDF is “awaiting the outcome of the ongoing proceedings and the conclusion of the appellate process prior to taking up the case.”

Bruni also referenced the precautionary measures imposed on Pell on his return to Australia in summer 2017, per Vatican norms: “the prohibition from exercising public ministry and from any voluntary contact whatsoever with minors.”

The cardinal was convicted Dec. 11, 2018, on five charges that he sexually abused two choristers after Sunday Mass while he was Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 and 1997.

He was sentenced to six years in prison, of which he must serve at least three years and eight months before being eligible to apply for parole.

The cardinal, 78, who remains an archbishop and a member of the College of Cardinals, was returned to prison immediately after court adjourned. He has been held in solitary confinement for 176 days. Pell is not permitted to celebrate Mass in prison.

He may now be transferred from the intake and evaluation facility at which he is currently being held to a different prison in Victoria.

Pell’s lawyers have said that he will not petition for a shorter sentence.

A statement from the Australian archbishops’ conference Wednesday said the bishops “believe all Australians must be equal under the law and accept today’s judgement accordingly.”

The statement also noted the Australian bishops’ commitment to bringing healing to those who have suffered abuse and to ensuring Catholic spaces are always safe, especially for children and vulnerable adults.

Individual Australian bishops also released statements Wednesday, including Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, who said “reasonable people have taken different views when presented with the same evidence” in Pell’s case, urging people “to maintain calm and civility.”

“I know that there are many in the Catholic community and beyond who will find it difficult to come to terms with this judgment,” Fisher said, “especially those who know the Cardinal and will struggle to reconcile this outcome with the man they know. I thank them for persevering in faith, hope and love.”

“As we wait to hear whether the legal process will continue, I will seek to provide pastoral support to those Catholics who may have found their faith tested,” the archbishop added.

The current Archbishop of Melbourne, Peter A. Comensoli, said in his statement that he knows “the complexity of the search for the truth in this matter has tested many, and may very well continue to do so.”

He expressed his prayers and support for the man who brought the case against Pell before the courts, offering “pastoral and spiritual help, should he seek it.”

Comensoli also said that he will ensure “Cardinal Pell is provided pastoral and spiritual support while he serves the remainder of his sentence, according to the teaching and example of Jesus to visit those in prison.”

Minnesota archbishop reflects on the significance of a pastoral heart

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 10:00 AM

Minneapolis, Minn., Aug 21, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St Paul and Minneapolis reflected in a recent interview on several major milestones: his 60th birthday, 30 years as a priest, and 10 years as a bishop.

In an interview with the Catholic Spirit, the archbishop emphasized the importance of a pastoral heart in the priestly vocation.

“Being a pastor of a diocese is a little bit like being a pastor of a parish. It’s the same desires that you have for being able to make Christ known, being able to serve people, being able to bring the presence of Christ not only through the sacraments but also through God’s word,” he said.

The archbishop celebrated Mass on July 1 at the Cathedral of St. Paul in honor of the 30th anniversary of his priestly ordination. Hebda will also commemorate his 60th birthday on September 3, and 10 years of being a bishop on December 1.

Born in Pittsburgh, Hebda entered Saint Paul Seminary after he graduated from Harvard and received his JD from Columbia Law School. He was ordained in 1989 and, seven years later, he began his role at the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, where he served until he was appointed bishop in 2009.

He said it was initially tough to leave behind a college ministry, where he had been placed as Director of the Newman Center at Slippery Rock University two years prior to his assignment in Rome. However, he said a priest must have a pastoral heart no matter the assignment.

“A priest has to bring a pastoral heart to whatever task is before him. Even if it’s an administrative position, he has to bring to that a pastoral heart,” he said.

“I came to recognize, though, that it was in the work that I was doing (at the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, responsible for interpreting Church law), even though it was very technical, legal work, that I was being given an opportunity to really participate in Christ’s priesthood.”

In any vocation, he said, the most important thing is to place God above all else. He said this fosters acts of service for others.

“I think [God] wants us to put him first in our lives. We love God and we love our neighbor. It’s a way in which we’re also going to have our hearts expanded so that we can serve others, too,” he said.

The archbishop has led Minnesota’s largest archdiocese through a turbulent period. The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in January 2015 amid many abuse claims that had been made possible under Minnesota legislation that opened a temporary window for older claims to be heard in civil court.

Hebda announced in May of last year a $210 million settlement package for victims of sexual abuse.

He is also leading the archdiocese toward a 2021 synod to address pastoral concerns and discern the call of the Holy Spirit.

In preparation for the synod, the archdiocese will have 20 prayer events and spiritual talks. The first one will kick off on September 24. Hebda expressed hope that the process will lead the archdiocese to a richer connection to the Holy Spirit.

“My hope is that we might, together, be able to detect the presence of the Holy Spirit. That we would find reassurance in that. We would be reinvigorated by that realization, as well,” he said.

“I also am trusting that the process will help us to identify priorities for moving forward in a way that’s reflective not only of my own thinking but also the thinking of the faithful of the archdiocese, whether it be our priests, whether it be our lay faithful, whether it be men and women in consecrated life, it will all have a chance to shape the next steps we take as an archdiocese.”

Archdiocese to break ground for Bl. Stanley Rother shrine in November 

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 6:01 AM

Oklahoma City, Okla., Aug 21, 2019 / 12:01 am (CNA).- The shy and unassuming Blessed Father Stanley Rother, a missionary priest and martyr from a farming family, would likely be surprised to learn that the largest Catholic Church in Oklahoma will bear his name.

On Tuesday, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City announced that it will be breaking ground for the Blessed Stanley Rother shrine in November. The $40 million shrine will seat 2,000 and be the largest Catholic church in the state once it is complete.

The project is the “signature element” of the archdiocese’s first-ever capital campaign, the archdiocese told Oklahoma News 4.

Besides the main church, the shrine site will include a prayer chapel devoted to Bl. Stanley Rother, where he will be buried, religious education and ministry classrooms, and a museum and pilgrim center with artifacts and stories about Rother’s life.

“Padre Francisco”, as Rother was affectionately called at the mission in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala where he served, was shot and killed by masked gunman early in the morning on July 28, 1981, in the midst of the country’s civil war. Rother had refused to call for help, not wanting to endanger anyone else at the mission.

The five-foot-ten, red-bearded missionary priest was from the unassuming town of Okarche, Okla., where the parish, school and farm were the pillars of community life. He went to the same school his whole life and lived with his family until he left for seminary.

In June 2015, the Theological Commission of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints voted to recognize Fr. Stanley Rother as a martyr. Pope Francis recognized his martyrdom in early December 2016, and on Sept. 23, 2017, Rother was beatified at a Mass in Oklahoma City.

“The groundbreaking for the shrine will be a significant moment in the life of the Church in Oklahoma and for the broader community,” Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City told News 4.

“The shrine is being built to honor Blessed Stanley Rother, an Oklahoma original and the first U.S.-born priest and martyr ever beatified. It will be a place of pilgrimage where the faithful will come from near and far to honor Blessed Stanley at his final resting place and to seek his intercession for their many needs. It will be a place of welcome, serving all people.”

The groundbreaking for the shrine is set to take place at 3 p.m. on November 3 in Oklahoma City.

 

 

Cardinal George Pell loses appeal of sex abuse conviction

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 12:31 AM

Melbourne, Australia, Aug 20, 2019 / 06:31 pm (CNA).- The conviction of Cardinal George Pell has been upheld by the Court of Appeals in Victoria. After an appellate panel announced its decision at a court proceeding Aug. 21, the cardinal was returned to prison.

“By majority (2 to 1), the Court of Appeals has dismissed Cardinal George Pell’s appeal against his conviction for the commission of sexual offences. He will continue to serve his sentence of 6 years’ imprisonment. He will remain eligible to apply for parole after he has served 3 years 8 months of his sentence,” Chief Justice Anne Ferguson said in her opening remarks in the Supreme Court of Victoria.

“The offences in respect of which Cardinal Pell was found guilty by a County Court jury were one charge of sexual penetration of a child under 16, and four charges of indecent act with a child under 16. The trial lasted for five weeks. The jury deliberated for several days. The jury’s verdict was unanimous,” Ferguson noted.

Pell stood stoic in the prisoner's dock while the decision was explained. His hands were not cuffed, but he was flanked by four security guards. He was dressed in clerical garb, rather than the prison uniform which he is now likely to wear for at least the next three years.

He faced the bench as the judges explained their decision, with his hands at his side. In a break from his usual custom, Pell did not take notes as his conviction was upheld.

In a statement released hours after the decision was announced, Pell's spokesperson, Katrina Lee, wrote that “Cardinal Pell is obviously disappointed with the decision today.”

“However his legal team will thoroughly examine the judgement in order to determine a special leave application to the High Court,” Lee added.

“While noting the 2-1 split decision, Cardinal Pell maintains his innocence.”

“We thank his many supporters.”

For her part, Judge Ferguson noted that: “Cardinal Pell’s conviction and this appeal have attracted widespread attention, both in Australia and beyond. He is a senior figure in the Catholic Church and is internationally well known.”

“As the trial judge, Chief Judge Kidd, commented when sentencing Cardinal Pell, there has been vigorous and sometimes emotional criticism of the cardinal and he has been publicly vilified in some sections of the community.”

“There has also been strong public support for the Cardinal by others. Indeed, it is fair to say that his case has divided the community.”

The cardinal was convicted Dec. 11, 2018, on five charges that he sexually abused two altar servers after Sunday Mass while he was Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 and 1997. CNA reported last year that his initial trial, bound by a gag order, ended in a mistrial; this fact was confirmed by Ferguson in the Aug. 21 proceeding.

The cardinal, who remains an archbishop and a member of the College of Cardinals, was returned to prison immediately after court adjourned. He has been held in solitary confinement for 176 days. Pell is not permitted to celebrate Mass in prison.

He may now be transferred from the intake and evaluation facility at which he is currently being held to a different prison in Victoria.

Pell’s appeal was dismissed on all three grounds the defense presented.

Judges were divided on Pell’s first ground of appeal, regarding the question of whether the evidence presented against Pell was unreasonable and impossible.

At particular issue was the question of whether Pell's liturgical vestments could have been moved or lifted in the way described by the complainant, who alleged that Pell exposed himself and forced two boys to commit sex acts while he was fully vested in his Mass garb. While the defense argued that such an action would have been physically impossible, two of the appelate judges decided that was matter legitimately decided by the jury.

The judges were unanimous in dismissing two other grounds, regarding procedural matters: one that alleged Pell’s arraignment did not follow protocol, and the other raising a complaint that an animation of the cathedral where Pell was alleged to have sexually abused to choir boys was not permitted to be shown during closing arguments.

Ferguson, Justice Chris Maxwell, and Justice Mark Weinberg, delivered their verdict in a packed Courtroom 15 at the Victoria Supreme Court.

Twenty-six accredited journalists and some 60 members of the public heard the judges’ decision announced Wednesday morning. Pell’s brother David, the cardinal’s former communications director, Katrina Lee, and the chancellor of the archdiocese of Sydney, Chris Meaney were all among the crowd.

Ferguson said the judges had reached the decision after each of the them had watched video of the evidence given by 12 of the 24 witnesses who appeared in the trial.

“Each of the judges has read [the trial] transcript, some parts of it multiple times,” Ferguson added, referring to the more than 2,000 pages of documents related to the trial.

The session opened with Justice Wienberg registering his dissent from the majority opinion, saying that while he agreed with the other judges in rejecting the second and third grounds of appeal, which were technical and procedural complaints, he did not agree that the jury’s finding of guilt could have been beyond reasonable doubt on the evidence presented.

Ferguson and Maxwell concluded otherwise.

“Where the unreasonableness ground is relied upon, the task for the appeal court is to decide whether, on the whole of the evidence, it was open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the accused was guilty,” Ferguson explained.

“Having reviewed the whole of the evidence, two of the judges… decided that it was open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt,” Ferguson said.

“In other words, those judges decided that there was nothing about the complainant’s evidence, or about the opportunity evidence, which meant that the jury ‘must have had a doubt.’”

Ferguson said that Weinberg's dissenting opinion found that the evidence of the single accuser “contained discrepancies, displayed inadequacies, and otherwise lacked probative value so as to cause him to have a doubt as to [Pell’s] guilt,” and called the accuser’s account of the second incident of abuse “entirely implausible and quite unconvincing.”

“In Justice Weinberg’s view there was a significant body of cogent and, in some cases, impressive evidence suggesting that the complainant’s account was, in a realistic sense, ‘impossible’ to accept.”

“Nevertheless," Ferguson concluded, "the appeal on the unreasonableness ground was dismissed because the other two judges took a different view of the facts.”

Since Pell was first accused of sexually abusing minors, the cardinal has maintained his innocence.

Pell has one further avenue open in petitioning the Australian High Court in Canberra. Such an effort is expected by legal experts to offer very slim chance of success, given the appeal court result.

Pell’s lawyers have said that he will not petition for a shorter sentence. The cardinal, 78, is expected now to face a Vatican proceeding regarding the possibility that he has committed canonical crimes.

This story is developing and has been updated.