Polish bishops release ‘tragic’ report on sexual abuse

2 days 17 hours ago

Krakow, Poland, Mar 15, 2019 / 04:10 pm (CNA).- Nearly 400 Polish priests were accused of sexual abuse of minors from 1990 until 2018, a study commissioned by the Episcopal Conference of Poland revealed on Thursday.

 

The study covered data collected from the more than 10,000 parishes in Poland, and included religious orders.

 

According to the report, 382 priests were accused of abuse during the time covered, and the allegations concern 625 potential victims. Of the clerics accused, 284 were diocesan priests, and 98 belonged to a religious order.

 

Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, who leads the Episcopal Conference of Poland, called the report’s findings “tragic,” and said every instance of sexual abuse is a “particularly painful” betrayal of public trust.

 

The archbishop also noted that while the Church must deal with the problem of clerical sexual abuse, it was important that the same kinds of abuse not be permitted to continue in other institutions.

 

Among allegations concerning diocesan priests, 54.2 percent concerned victims under the age of 15, and 45.8 percent victims over the age 15.

 

Allegations involving religious orders showed that a total of 44 priests--44.9 percent--were accused of sexually abusing someone under the age of 15. Fifty four priests, or 55.1 percent, were accused of abusing someone over the age of 15.

 

In total, 198 priests were accused of abusing those under 15, compared to 184 who were accused of abusing older teens.

 

In 58.4 percent of allegations of clerical abuse in Poland, males were reportedly the victims. Females were the reported victims in 41.6 percent of allegations.

 

Since 2002, when revelations of abuse by American clergy became worldwide news, the number of cases reported to Polish authorities has seen a gradual increase. In 2017, there were 36 allegations made against diocesan priests.

 

Of the 382 accused priests, a canonical penal process was pursued in 362 of these cases. There is no data available for the other 20 cases, nor is it explained in the report why this is the case. In 270 cases, the process was completed at the time of the study’s commision, and the process was ongoing in 92 cases.

 

A total of 68 priests--almost exactly one quarter--were removed from the priesthood as a result of the canonical process. 109 were punished with a limitation of ministry or other sanctions, and 31 were transferred to either a different parish or in a location away from children. In 34 cases, the process was ended after the death of the accused, and in 28 cases, the priest was acquitted.

 

Only 168 priests were charged with a crime by civil authorities. At the time the report was published, the trial had concluded in 135 of those cases. Eighty-five priests were convicted of sexual abuse. In 36 cases, the charges did not move forward, and in 12 cases, the accuser did not want to cooperate and pursue charges. Two priests were aquitted.

 

There are 33 priests whose trials are ongoing.

 

Poland’s statistics on clerical abuse tell a different than data concerning the United States. According to the “John Jay study,” a report into allegations of abuse by American priests commissioned in 2002, only 27.3 percent of those abused by priests were over the age of 15. In the U.S., males accounted for nearly 80 percent of survivors of clerical abuse.

New Mexico Senate blocks repeal of state abortion ban

2 days 18 hours ago

Santa Fe, N.M., Mar 15, 2019 / 03:26 pm (CNA).- The New Mexico Senate on Thursday rejected a proposal to repeal the state’s law criminalizing abortion, which dates to 1969. The state’s Catholic bishops had strongly opposed the law’s repeal.

Eight Democrats joined all 16 Republicans in opposing House Bill 51, voting it down 24-18. The House of Representatives passed the bill last month, and Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham had promised to sign the measure into law.

At issue is a New Mexico law which makes it is a felony for any doctor to perform abortions, except in instances of congenital abnormalities, rape, and a danger to the woman’s health. The law has not been enforced since 1973, when the Supreme Court handed down the Roe v. Wade decision that found a constitutional right to abortion.

Democratic Sen. Gabriel Ramos reportedly cited his religious beliefs and the Catholic Church before voting against House Bill 51, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

“This is one of the toughest decisions any of us will ever have to make,” he was quoted as saying in the Journal.

“I stand unified against legislation that weakens the defense of life and threatens the dignity of the human being.”

The debate over the bill lasted for hours and featured emotional and sometimes tearful testimonies from both opponents and supporters, the Journal reported.

Advocates for House Bill 51 had expressed concern about a possible repeal of Roe v. Wade. Representative Joanne Ferrary, co-sponsor of the bill, has said the bill was a necessary protection to ensure abortion services are “safe and legal.”

"It is time to remove this archaic law from New Mexico's books," she said, according to Las Cruces Sun News.

"With the threat of a Supreme Court ruling to overturn Roe, we need to pass this bill to protect health care providers and keep abortion safe and legal.”

In a Jan. 7 statement ahead of the House passing the bill, Bishop James Wall of Gallup voiced his opposition and encouraged lawmakers to focus on policies that support human prosperity at all stages of life.

“While the law is currently not enforced due to federal legalization of abortion through the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade, I nevertheless urge opposition to any bills that would loosen abortion restrictions,” he said.

“New Mexico consistently ranks low or last among other states in education results, economic opportunities, poverty, and childhood health. An abortion will not fix the obstacles many women and families face, such as economic instability, access to education, and a higher standard of living.”

Eight other states have laws that would also ban abortion and four additional states have “trigger laws” that would ban abortion if Roe v. Wade were overturned.

Michigan governor asks for additional $2m to investigate clergy sex abuse

2 days 18 hours ago

Lansing, Mich., Mar 15, 2019 / 02:54 pm (CNA).- Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer has asked the state’s legislature for an additional $2 million in funding for the state’s ongoing sex abuse investigation into Michigan’s seven Catholic dioceses.

Spurred by the release of the grand jury report out of Pennsylvania last year, which documented hundreds of cases of clergy sex abuse that took place over several decades in almost every diocese in the state, Michigan’s then-Attorney General Bill Schuette launched the state’s own investigation in August 2018.

This week, Whitmer asked the state legislature for additional funding to cover the costs of the rest of the investigation, which is expected to last two years, The Detroit News reported.

Kelly Rossman-McKinney, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Dana Nessel, told The Detroit News that while the investigation had thus far been covered internally by the state department, “the sheer size and scope of the investigation requires that we ask the Legislature to appropriate funds for this project.”

Rossman-McKinney told The Detroit News that the requested funding would come from state settlements, and would be used to cover “additional investigatory resources and victims’ advocacy services,” pending approval by the state legislature.

The investigation covers all seven Catholic dioceses in the state - Gaylord, Lansing, Marquette, Grand Rapids, Saginaw, Kalamazoo, and Detroit - and includes cases of sexual abuse dating back to the 1950s.

After the announcement of the investigation in the fall of 2018, the dioceses said they welcomed the investigation and pledged their full cooperation.

A statement from the Archdiocese of Detroit said at the time that they “looked forward” to cooperating with state officials and actively participating in the investigation. The archdiocese also emphasized its confidence in its safe environment practices already in place, but added that the investigation would be the next step toward healing.

While the dioceses have pledged cooperation, in a press conference last month, Nessel warned dioceses against “self-policing,” using non-disclosure agreements with victims, and “failing to deliver” on their promises to cooperate with state authorities.

The Archdiocese of Detroit countered that Nessel was making “broad generalizations” and that she should clarify which dioceses, if any, were being uncooperative.

“The Archdiocese of Detroit does not self-police,” the archdiocese said Feb. 21. “We encourage all victims to report abuse directly to law enforcement.”

“Clergy with credible accusations against them do not belong in ministry,” it added. “Since the attorney general’s investigation began, the Archdiocese of Detroit has not received notification from that office regarding credible accusations against any of our priests. Should we become aware of such a complaint, we will act immediately.”

The Detroit archdiocese noted its support for mandatory sex abuse reporting laws and its efforts to widely publicize the state’s sex abuse tip-line. It added that the archdiocese places no time limits on the reporting of sex abuse of minors by priests, deacons and other personnel. The archdiocese added that the attorney general’s office has not asked it to stop internal review processes.

Other dioceses responded in kind, asking for clarification and reiterating their dedication to cooperation and transparency.

Each diocese was subject to a raid by state authorities last October as part of the investigation, for which the dioceses pledged full cooperation, including Saginaw, which had undergone an earlier, local raid in March, in which local authorities cited a lack of cooperation from diocesan officials.

In a statement, Saginaw emphasized its willingness to cooperate with the state raids in October.

According to The Detroit News, the Michigan Attorney General’s office has received approximately 360 complaints since the investigation began in August.

Last year the state extended the statue of limitations in sexual assault cases to 15 years in criminal cases, and 10 in civil. Indictments for abuse of minor victims can be filed within 15 years of the crime or by the victim's 28th birthday.

State officials have urged victims of clergy abuse or those with tips pertinent to the investigation to file complaints with the clergy abuse hotline at (1-844-324-3374) or online at mi.gov/clergyabuse.

Vatican diplomat accused of corruption and 'romantic' relationship while at UN

2 days 20 hours ago

New York City, N.Y., Mar 15, 2019 / 01:09 pm (CNA).- An archbishop who served as the Holy See’s permanent observer to the United Nations is accused of financial and professional misconduct, including the use of Vatican staff and influence to assist and support financially a woman with whom he had a romantic relationship.

Sources say that although Vatican officials were informed of the man’s conduct, he was quietly reassigned to a new diplomatic post without facing sanctions.
 
Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, 65, now apostolic nuncio to Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, is alleged to have maintained an inappropriate romantic relationship with a woman during his time as the Holy See’s permanent observer to the United Nations in New York, a post he held from July 2010 until June 2014.

 

Errant texts

Three priests who were members of the diplomatic staff at the Vatican mission in New York told CNA that Chullikatt would frequently send the woman “inappropriate” and “romantic” text messages from his phone, and that the Holy See’s mission staff assisted her in obtaining a visa to come to New York.

One priest-official said this was “the most unfortunate part of the story having to do with Archbishop Chullikatt.”

Former staff members told CNA that on several occasions, Chullikatt mistakenly sent these text messages to staff members, who were left confused and concerned.

“The messages were, frankly, very inappropriate in content and clearly romantic in nature,” one priest told CNA. “At least three members of the mission staff received them that I know of, including me.”

“The first time this happened, he managed to send it to a member of staff who didn’t know what to make of it. As [the recipient] was a layman, it was doubly concerning to us,” the priest said.

Another former official said that every time Chullikatt mistakenly sent a romantic message to the wrong person, he would “abandon his phone and get a new cell phone or a new cell phone number.”

Another priest said the archbishop was obliged to change his phone “ridiculously often.”

A third priest who also served at the Holy See’s mission to the U.N. during Chullikatt’s time also recalled the messages.

“I cannot think how he managed to keep doing this,” he told CNA. “I can only surmise he must have been drinking when he would send them to the wrong people.”

“They were of an obviously romantic character, really outlandish, and usually sent very late at night.”

As romantic messages continued to be sent to priests, lay employees, and religious sisters, it became apparent who their intended recipient was.

According to multiple sources, the woman is a consecrated virgin who Chullikatt met during a previous diplomatic assignment. Staffers say they were expected to assist her in securing a visa and coming to the U.S., and later, in finding employment.

The office of the Holy See’s mission to the United Nations did not respond to requests from CNA for comment.

One former official at the mission, also a priest, told CNA that the woman had served as the archbishop’s interpreter during a prior diplomatic posting.

“That was my understanding of how they met,” the former Vatican diplomat told CNA.

A woman of the same name, also a consecrated virgin was previously an auditor at a special assembly of the synod of bishops in Rome, and was identified at that time as a university professor.

The university where the woman reportedly teaches did not respond to a request for confirmation. CNA was unable to contact the woman directly.

After she came to the U.S., the woman was, according to multiple accounts, a regular visitor at the mission’s offices.

“She was around, we all knew of her. She was a very significant figure in Chullikatt’s life, I think we can put it that way,” a priest-official told CNA.

The priest told CNA that the woman would visit Chullikatt at the mission in New York “quite frequently,” and that he behaved with “impunity.”

“She was there, that was it,” he told CNA. “In any normal situation, let alone one like this, you would expect there to be some sort of backstory given – we met in school, she’s a family friend, something – but he gave no explanation, he just carried on.”


Financial questions

The same priest said the nuncio’s relationship with the woman was part of a pattern of dysfunctional and unprofessional conduct during his time in New York. Another priest said the relationship fit a pattern of “indifference” to immorality, which included financial impropriety.

A March 11 report from Crux alleged that Chullikatt had mistreated staff at the Holy See’s mission to the U.N. and imposed arbitrary wage cuts on the salaries of lay staff members. The priests who spoke with CNA confirmed those allegations

“I would say that swinging cuts [to salaries] were a mark of his tenure,” one priest told CNA.

“He treated staff as inferiors, across the board. There was no spirit of collaboration, no sense of working ‘with’ anyone.”

The priest also told CNA that in additional to subjecting employees - both priests and lay people - to frequent and “humiliating” outbursts of temper, Chullikatt was also known to dismiss staff at a moment’s notice.

“It was alright for us priests, I suppose,” he told CNA. “We always have a diocese to go home to, but for the lay staff, they were often left stranded with no means of support.”

One priest told CNA that Chullikatt would often bemoan the salaries paid to lay staffers, suggesting that they ought to volunteer their time without concern for being paid. Because they were paid, a priest said, Chullikatt questioned their loyalty.

A source recalled a particular instance in which a lay expert was recruited by the mission for a three month contract.

“This man was a tenured professor who arranged to take three months of unpaid leave from his post to serve the Church. Chullikatt sacked him within two weeks, leaving him without a salary for the rest of his sabbatical.”

“There was only ever room for one opinion, one voice in the room with Chullikatt - even adult conversation was impossible with him, let alone professional collaboration.”

Terrence McKeegan, a former legal advisor to the Holy See’s mission to the U.N., told CNA that after he signed a one-year contract to work for the mission, Chullikatt arbitrarily cut his wages.

“On or about December 10 of 2013, I myself was informed by the nuncio that starting in 2014, he would only pay me half of the salary we had contractually agreed upon,” McKeegan told CNA.

McKeegan also noted that, beyond his contracted position, he was expected to serve, unpaid, as legal advisor to the non-profit Path to Peace Foundation, a legally distinct U.S.-based private foundation affiliated with the U.N. mission. McKeegan said he was not given access to records for the foundation, or invited to attend meetings.

The foundation, he said, helps fund mission operations and staff salaries. It also, according to its tax filings, has funded scholarships, seminars, and a U.N. internship program founded by Fr. Thomas Rosica.
 

“Surreal” conditions

One priest told CNA that may lay employees were reticent to complain because some were in the U.S. only on diplomatic passports, and because many of them love the Church and wanted to support the U.N. mission.

Former staff members said that the imposition of arbitrary cuts to wages and the dismissal of staff were linked to Chullikatt’s relationship with the woman he maintained a relationship with.

“I would say his need to be tight-fisted with the mission’s finances was, at least partly, because he had a secret need. I believe he was supporting this woman: room, board, everything,” one priest, who was directly involved in the mission’s finances, said.

The priest recalled an example in which the archbishop budgeted money for “bonuses” for the mission’s staff, but then only distributed a portion of the money.

“The rest? Well, [Chullikatt] knows where it went,” he told CNA.

Another priest, who also was involved in the mission’s financial administration, also told CNA that Chullikatt was supporting the woman financially.

McKeegan spoke to CNA about what he called the “surreal” working conditions under Chullikatt.

In a statement, McKeegan said that in his time in New York he heard “voluminous allegations of highly improper and scandalous behavior by Archbishop Chullikatt.”

“I know that the longest-tenured cleric on staff had already brought many of most serious allegations against the nuncio to the attention of then-Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Dominque Mamberti, in a meeting they had around Mamberti’s visit to the U.N. in late September of 2012,” McKeegan said.

 

Report to Rome

Concerns about Chullikatt’s behavior, regarding both the woman and the office finances, were reported in a “dossier” of complaints delivered to the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, in December 2013, former staffers told CNA.

This dossier included a letter signed by McKeegan detailing numerous instances of financial malpractice by Chullikatt, including the unjust treatment of staff and the near-systematic withholding of agreed salaries.

“I was, and still am, absolutely certain of the serious moral violations that were being committed by the nuncio regarding the withholding of just wages,” McKeegan’s letter said.

“However, based on my experience with high-ranking officials in the Church, I knew that even sins that cry out for vengeance would likely go unheard in Rome, so I stressed in my letter to Archbishop Parolin that the unjust withholding of Mission staff salaries could constitute potential criminal violations of US visa and labor laws.”

According to one staff member familiar with the delivery of the complaints in Rome, direct mention was made of allegations that Chullikatt was supporting the woman financially, and that he had directed mission staff to arrange a visa for her to travel to New York.

In January 2014, Chullikatt was summoned for an extended meeting in Rome, for what a former senior mission staffer called “a dressing down.”

Chullikatt remained in Rome for nearly two months, while his absence from New York went unexplained to staff.

“He was supposed to be removed then and there,” one priest said, “but he was able to run around to enough of his friends in Rome to stay on [in his position] a little while longer.”

One staff member told CNA that Chullikatt had “exploited” the pope’s well-known disposition toward mercy, in order to avoid being removed from his position.

Another staffer told CNA that Chullikatt demanded a stay of his removal, insisting that members of the Spanish royal family were scheduled to visit the U.N. in June at his personal invitation, and that he needed to be in place to welcome them.

In June 2014, Queen Sofia of Spain visited the U.N. in New York. Chullikatt’s resignation from the U.N. position was accepted July 1 of that year.

“He used that time [between December and June] to clear out the opposition to him, dismissing staff and generally making life even more miserable before he went,” one former mission staffer told CNA.

During the final six months of Chullikatt’s tenure, several mission staffers were dismissed from their posts. Sources told CNA that Chullikatt waged a “vendetta campaign” because of the complaints to the Secretary of State.

 

The pontifical secret

Several staff members told CNA that Chullikatt would remind them that their obligation to maintain “pontifical secrecy” included his behavior. This, they said, prevented staff from speaking out.

One former priest diplomat told CNA that “I’m sure he thinks everything we saw and had to endure is covered by the secret.”

“In reality, it refers to the sensitive diplomatic work undertaken on behalf of the Church. It certainly doesn’t cover the fact that he’s a nasty little man.”

The pontifical secret, which was defined by Pope St. Paul VI in the 1974 instruction Secreta continere, obliges clerics, lay employees, and even volunteers to keep confidential information obtained in service to the Vatican’s Secretariat of State. Violation of the secret can be punished with an excommunication.

But the former priest-officials of the U.N. mission told CNA that the secret is formulated without clarity, and can lead employees and volunteers to think they are beholden to keep confidential things they ought to report. They told CNA that Chullikatt’s situation is evidence it would be to the Church’s benefit to reform its policies governing the pontifical secret.

In recent months, Cardinals Blase Cupich and Reinhard Marx have both called for reforms to those policies.

“Pontifical secrecy shouldn’t protect bad people and their bad behavior,” one former priest-official of the U.N. mission told CNA. “It should protect properly professional and confidential information.”

 

Kazakhstan

After he resigned from his role New York, Chullikatt spent nearly two years without an assignment before being sent to Kazakhstan in June 2016 - a post one former member of the Vatican diplomatic corps characterized as “the back end of beyond as far as the diplomatic service goes.”

One former official of the U.N. mission told CNA simply “he doesn’t deserve to be anywhere.”

McKeegan described the handling of the allegations against Chullikatt, and his eventual rehabilitation as part of an “all-too-familiar pattern.”

“Rome followed a very specific playbook with its handling of Archbishop Chullikatt.  Although giving the impression (never directly but via back channels and rumor) to the whistleblower or accuser that Rome was dealing with the problem, the Vatican was instead maneuvering to protect yet another high-ranking official who had “played ball” with the corrupt leadership in the Church.”

“Archbishop Chullikatt was quietly given a sabbatical. This sabbatical period was not used by Rome to fully investigate the serious allegations against him, of which my letter only constituted a small portion, but rather to wait out mission staff accusers like me to give up in frustration,” McKeegan said.

Another former senior member of the mission’s staff told CNA he was unsurprised that the allegations went without formal response, and that Chullikatt had been restored to the diplomatic service.

“You have to understand the culture of the diplomatic service, and the curia more widely,” he told CNA.

“There is a powerful incentive to keep a problem like Chullikatt under wraps. You aren’t just touching one man by speaking out, you touch a whole genealogy of those who have covered for him, and those who he’s covered for and been promoted by in turn,” the priest said.

The Vatican press office acknowledged receipt of questions from CNA regarding the allegations against Chullikatt, but did not respond before deadline.

Despite repeated attempts, Chullikatt could not be reached for comment.

 

This story has been updated.

On Lenten retreat, Pope Francis reflected on 'Gaudium et spes'

2 days 22 hours ago

Rome, Italy, Mar 15, 2019 / 11:15 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Friday that he senses resistance to Gaudium et spes, a document the pope said he reflected much upon during his Lenten retreat this week.

In his concluding remarks at the Roman curia’s spiritual exercises March 15, Pope Francis said that he was struck by the retreat master’s theme of God’s presence in humanity.

“I thought a lot about a conciliar document - Gaudium et spes - perhaps it is the document that has found more resistance, even today,” Pope Francis said.

Gaudium et spes is the Second Vatican Council's 1965 pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world.

Francis told the retreat master, Benedictine abbot Bernardo Gianni, that he saw the monk possessed “the courage of the Council Fathers when they signed that document.”

The document's introduction states that “the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel.”

Gaudium et spes touches on the Church’s role in economic and social life, matters of the family, political affairs, the development of culture, and the promotion of peace in the world through the international community.

“Far from diminishing our concern to develop this earth, the expectancy of a new earth should spur us on, for it is here that the body of a new human family grows, foreshadowing in some way the age which is to come,” Gaudium et spes states.

It continues, “When we have spread on earth the fruits of our nature and our enterprise—human dignity, brotherly communion, and freedom—according to the command of the Lord and in his Spirit, we will find them once again, cleansed this time from the stain of sin, illuminated and transfigured, when Christ presents to his Father an eternal and universal kingdom … Here on earth the kingdom is mysteriously present.”

Reflecting on the incarnate Word, the pastoral constitution says: “Christ … fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.”

Pope Francis returned to Rome after his Lenten retreat at the Casa Divin Maestro in Ariccia March 15. It is the sixth consecutive year the pope and members of the Curia have held their spiritual exercises at the house in Ariccia.

New Zealand bishops ‘horrified’ by mosque shootings

2 days 23 hours ago

Wellington, New Zealand, Mar 15, 2019 / 10:30 am (CNA).- The New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference released a statement of solidarity with the country’s Muslim population following terrorist attacks on two mosques in the city of Christchurch. At least 49 people were killed in a mass shooting on March 15.

 

“We hold you in prayer as we hear the terrible news of violence against Muslims at mosques in Christchurch,” the country’s six bishops wrote in a joint letter.

 

The bishops said they were “profoundly aware” of the “positive relationships” New Zealand Catholics enjoyed with their Muslim neighbors.

 

The shootings occured during Friday afternoon prayers at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques, and the bishops said they were “particularly horrified” that the attacks coincided with acts of worship.

 

“We are deeply saddened that people have been killed and injured, and our hearts go out to them, their families and wider community. We wish you to be aware of our solidarity with you in the face of such violence,” said the bishops.

 

The attack at the Al Noor mosque, in which more than 40 people were killed, was broadcast on Facebook Live, and the alleged attacker published a manifesto on the internet.

 

An armed worshipper at the second mosque chased away the gunmen, ending the attack. Seven people were killed in Linwood.

 

Several people, including an Australian national have taken into police custody, and one person has been charged with murder. It is unclear how many people were involved in the attacks.

 

New Zealand police said that several improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were found in a car near the Al Noor mosque. These were disabled before they could be detonated.

 

Other prominent Catholic figures expressed condolences to those affected by the attack.

 

“I share [Pope Francis’] deep sadness and grief over the deadly violence in Christchurch. No one should have to fear something like this, perpetrated as they worship. We cannot tolerate hatred of or prejudice against any of the Lord's children,” said New York archbishop Cardinal Timothy Dolan in a message posted to Twitter.

 

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster expressed similar sentiment.

 

“The news of the massacre in the New Zealand mosques is deeply shocking and has caused us all great pain. We pray for the many victims, for the wounded and for the whole community, which has been severely affected by this act of terrorism,” said Nichols.

 

“May God free us from these tragedies and sustain the efforts of all those who work for peace, harmony and coexistence."

Scientists call for global moratorium on genetically modified babies

2 days 23 hours ago

London, England, Mar 15, 2019 / 10:03 am (CNA).- A group of 18 scientists and bioethicists from seven countries has called for a global moratorium on the practice of editing human DNA to create genetically modified babies until the international community can develop a “framework” for how to proceed in an ethical manner.

The group of scientists, in a March 13 editorial in the journal Nature, acknowledged that many people of religious belief find “the idea of redesigning the fundamental biology of humans morally troubling,” and that the practice could have serious societal consequences.

This practice of changing “heritable DNA” – found in human sperm, eggs, or embryos – is known as “germline editing.”

“By ‘global moratorium’, we do not mean a permanent ban,” the group of scientists wrote.

“Rather, we call for the establishment of an international framework in which nations, while retaining the right to make their own decisions, voluntarily commit to not approve any use of clinical germline editing unless certain conditions are met.”

The conditions for a nation to meet, the scientists say, should include giving public notice of its intention to engage in germline editing and consulting with other nations about “the wisdom of doing so,” as well as taking a suggested two years to ascertain whether there is “broad societal consensus” about whether germline editing is appropriate.

In addition, a coordinating body to provide information and reports about germline editing should be established, they say, possibly under the purview of the World Health Organization.

The call for a moratorium comes amid ethical questions surrounding a Chinese biophysicist who claims he created the first genetically modified babies late last year.

He Jiankui says his goal was to edit embryos to give them the ability to resist HIV infection by disabling the CCR5 gene, which allows HIV to enter a cell.

He says he used a technology known as CRISPR to edit sections of the human genome, performing the procedure on embryonic humans. The technology, which selectively “snips” and trims areas of the genome and replaces it with strands of desired DNA, has previously been used on adult humans and other species. CRISPR technology has only recently been used to treat deadly diseases in adults, and limited experiments have been performed on animals.

In a letter signed by 120 Chinese scientists, He was condemned for ignoring ethical guidelines. The letter called the gene manipulation a “Pandora’s box,” and said, “The biomedical ethics review for this so-called research exists in name only. Conducting direct human experiments can only be described as crazy.”

At least three of the authors of the Nature article have connections to CRISPR-based gene-editing technologies.

The Nature scientists did not rule out germline editing for research purposes, as long as the study did not involve the transfer of an embryo to woman’s uterus; nor did their call for a ban apply to gene editing in non-reproductive cells in order to treat diseases, because modifications done on those cells can be done with the informed consent of adults providing the cells, and the modifications are not heritable, i.e. they cannot be passed on to offspring.

Around 30 nations worldwide, including the United States, already have laws to directly or indirectly ban the clinical use of germline editing. CRISPR research on embryos is currently banned from receiving federal funding, but can be conducted using private funding. The Food and Drug Administration prohibits gene modification on viable human embryos, which means any genetically modified human embryos must be destroyed, rather than brought to term.

The scientists called for a fixed period – perhaps five years – when no clinical uses of germline editing are allowed worldwide.

“As well as allowing for discussions about the technical, scientific, medical, societal, ethical and moral issues that must be considered before germline editing is permitted, this period would provide time to establish an international framework,” they wrote.

The scientists noted that here is broad scientific consensus that germline editing is not yet safe or effective enough to be considered for clinical use. They also highlighted the distinction between “genetic correction,” which involves working to edit out rare mutations, and “genetic enhancement,” or the attempt to improve human individuals and the species.

The Nature scientists noted that even efforts at genetic correction, when undertaken in order to cure a disease, can have unintended consequences. For example, a common variant of the gene SLC39A8 decreases a person’s risk of developing hypertension and Parkinson’s disease, but increases their risk of developing schizophrenia, Crohn’s disease, and obesity.

This is also true for the genes that He worked with in his research, as altering those genes could make the genetically modified babies more susceptible to certain viral infections.

“Its influence on many other diseases – and its interactions with other genes and with the environment – remains unknown,” the scientists wrote.

“It will be much harder to predict the effects of completely new genetic instructions – let alone how multiple modifications will interact when they co-occur in future generations. Attempting to reshape the species on the basis of our current state of knowledge would be hubris.”

In Dignitas personae, its 2008 instruction on certain bioethical questions, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said that while somatic cell gene therapy is in principle morally licit, “because the risks connected to [germ line cell therapy] are considerable and as yet not fully controllable, in the present state of research, it is not morally permissible to act in a way that may cause possible harm to the resulting progeny.”

The instruction also warned against a “eugenic mentality” that aims to improve the gene pool, adding that there could be social stigmas and privileges applied to people with certain genetic qualities, when “such qualities do not constitute what is specifically human.”

CNA spoke to John DiCamillo, an ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, in early 2017. He explained that somatic cell gene editing may be morally legitimate when used for “a directly therapeutic purpose for a particular patient in question, and if we’re sure we’re going to limit whatever changes to this person.” He pointed to gene therapy trials for disorders such as sickle cell disease and cancer that show promise for treating difficult disorders.

Editing sperm, eggs, or early embryos, however, presents serious concerns, he said. Manipulating sperm and ova requires removing them from a person’s body; if conception is achieved with these cells, it is nearly always through in vitro methods. This practice of in vitro fertilization is held by the Church to be ethically unacceptable because it dissociates procreation from the integrally personal context of the conjugal act.

Scientists at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research and education arm of Susan B. Anthony List, reacted to the Nature scientists' proposal by saying their suggested moratorium does not go far enough.

“This proposal for a temporary moratorium on implanting and gestating gene-edited embryos is disappointingly short-sighted,” said Dr. David Prentice, CLI’s vice president and research director.

“Scientifically unsound and ethically problematic experiments on human embryos, including creating gene-edited embryos in the lab and then destroying them, would still be allowed and even encouraged. We call instead for the full prohibition of gene-editing experiments on embryos or germ cells – not just a speed bump.”

Pope Francis joins international community in mourning after New Zealand attacks

3 days 1 hour ago

Vatican City, Mar 15, 2019 / 08:15 am (CNA).- Pope Francis mourned “senseless acts of violence” against innocent life after the New Zealand mosque attacks. On Friday, at least forty-nine people were killed in attacks on two mosques in the city of Christchurch.

 

The pope assured all New Zealanders, in particular the Muslim community, of “his heartfelt solidarity in the wake of these attacks,” in a telegram sent on his behalf by the Vatican Secretary of State March 15.

 

New Zealand officials say that one man in his late 20s has been charged with murder, and two other aremed suspects have been taken into police custody. The attacks centered on the Masjid Al Noor and Linwood Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand Friday afternoon.

 

One of the attackers broadcast the murders live on Facebook. The police also found two explosive devices attached to his vehicle.

 

The attack took place during Friday prayer at the mosques. At least 48 people were injured in addition to the 49 confirmed dead.

 

“Commending those who have died to the loving mercy of Almighty God, Pope Francis invokes the divine blessings of comfort and strength upon the nation,” it stated.

 

Pope Francis said he will continue to pray for “the healing of the injured, the consolation of those who grieve the loss of their loved ones, and for all affected by this tragedy.”

 

The attacks have prompted an outpouring of condolences and solidarity across the international community.

 

On Friday morning, U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed the attacks during a press briefing in Washington, DC.

 

“I offer my personal condolences to the nation of New Zealand in the wake of the grotesque mosques attacks in Christchurch,” Pompeo said.

 

“The thoughts and prayers of the American people are with the victims and their families today. The United States condemns this hateful assault and we pledge our unwavering solidarity with the government and people of New Zealand in this hour of darkness.”

Friday of the First Week of Lent

3 days 6 hours ago
Reading 1 Ez 18:21-28 Thus says the Lord GOD:
If the wicked man turns away from all the sins he committed,
if he keeps all my statutes and does what is right and just,
he shall surely live, he shall not die.
None of the crimes he committed shall be remembered against him;
he shall live because of the virtue he has practiced.
Do I indeed derive any pleasure from the death of the wicked?
says the Lord GOD.
Do I not rather rejoice when he turns from his evil way
that he may live?

And if the virtuous man turns from the path of virtue to do evil,
the same kind of abominable things that the wicked man does,
can he do this and still live?
None of his virtuous deeds shall be remembered,
because he has broken faith and committed sin;
because of this, he shall die.
You say, "The LORD's way is not fair!"
Hear now, house of Israel:
Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?
When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies,
it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die.
But if the wicked, turning from the wickedness he has committed,
does what is right and just,
he shall preserve his life;
since he has turned away from all the sins that he committed,
he shall surely live, he shall not die.
Responsorial Psalm Ps 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-7a, 7bc-8 R. (3) If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, who can stand?
Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD;
LORD, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to my voice in supplication.
R. If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, who can stand?
If you, O LORD, mark iniquities,
LORD, who can stand?
But with you is forgiveness,
that you may be revered.
R.    If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, who can stand?
I trust in the LORD;
my soul trusts in his word.
My soul waits for the LORD
more than sentinels wait for the dawn.
Let Israel wait for the LORD.
R.    If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, who can stand?
For with the LORD is kindness
and with him is plenteous redemption;
And he will redeem Israel
from all their iniquities.
R.    If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, who can stand? Verse Before the Gospel Ez 18:31 Cast away from you all the crimes you have committed, says the LORD,
and make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.
Gospel Mt 5:20-26 Jesus said to his disciples:
"I tell you,
unless your righteousness surpasses that
of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.

"You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.
But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother
will be liable to judgment,
and whoever says to his brother, Raqa,
will be answerable to the Sanhedrin,
and whoever says, 'You fool,' will be liable to fiery Gehenna.
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar,
and there recall that your brother
has anything against you,
leave your gift there at the altar,
go first and be reconciled with your brother,
and then come and offer your gift.
Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court.
Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge,
and the judge will hand you over to the guard,
and you will be thrown into prison.
Amen, I say to you,
you will not be released until you have paid the last penny."
- - -
Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine; Psalm refrain © 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved. Neither this work nor any part of it may be reproduced, distributed, performed or displayed in any medium, including electronic or digital, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

What Catholic universities are doing to address the sex abuse crisis

3 days 6 hours ago

Washington D.C., Mar 15, 2019 / 03:01 am (CNA).- Late last summer, as accusations of abuse against then-cardinal Theodore McCarrick surfaced, a grand jury report from Pennsylvania detailed decades and hundreds of cases of clerical abuse, and dioceses began listing their priests accused of sexual abuse, lay Catholics horrified by the news grasped for something they could do.

Some started letter-writing campaigns, prayer campaigns or petitions. Others launched anonymous watchdog websites. A social media campaign with the hashtag #SackClothandAshes encouraged the laity to offer fasting and sacrifices for the sins of the clergy.

Now, several Catholic universities have announced how they’re joining in the reform efforts.

The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. recently announced the launch of ‘The Catholic Project’, an initiative aimed at bringing healing and reform to the Church after the sex abuse crisis.

Leaders at the university have said that as the pontifical university in the U.S., CUA is uniquely situated to respond to the crisis in a number of ways.

“CUA has a unique place in the American Catholic landscape, being sort of the bishop’s university that has a special relationship with the Vatican, but it’s also a lay-led institution,” Stephen White, who was named executive director of the project, told CNA.

It also makes sense geographically for CUA to respond to the crisis, White said, since it sits across the street from headquarters of the U.S. bishop’s conference and is in Washington, D.C., the same city where the now-laicized McCarrick had previously served as cardinal and archbishop.

Furthermore, White said, CUA has a host of invaluable resources at its fingertips.

“(CUA) has all of these assets at its disposal - a law school, a canon law faculty (the only one in the country), theologians, social workers who’ve been working on these questions for decades now,” White said. “It’s sort of a perfect place for a response to the crisis.”

But what form will that response take? There are many, White said.

“It’s sort of an all-of-the-above approach which is sort of why the name of this project came to be ‘The Catholic Project,’” White said.
“We came to realize that there were so many aspects to this and so many things the University can do, that we chose a broader, more generic name.”

Some of those aspects of response began before The Catholic Project existed, such as listening sessions the university hosted with students, a forum where students could vent their frustrations and fears about the crisis. It included a panel discussion “Church in Crisis” series, which included panel discussions about the crisis.

One of the upcoming initiatives of the project will be a collaboration with the USCCB, which will bring bishops together with abuse victims who want to share their story and help the Church heal.

“(They) understand that the Church needs bishops, and they understand that if the Church is going to heal from this, and move forward from this, that the bishops need to understand the survivor’s perspective and that survivors have something to give to heal the Church, even though they are the ones who are least responsible for where we are,” White said.

The project will also be promoting research into sociological questions surrounding the crisis, White said, such as: “What was it that made the abuse spike like it did in the middle of the 20th century? Why did that happen? Was this unique to the Catholic Church or were there other institutions who saw similar spikes? Has the Dallas Charter (the bishop’s previous abuse prevention plan) worked? And if it has worked, what parts of it have worked? Are there parts that have been implemented but that didn’t really make much of a difference, or parts that worked, and what are those parts?”

Another part of the project will work with the business school to come up with ways to help priests and bishops be better managers of their parishes and dioceses.

“When you have an organization that’s run transparently and efficiently and well, you’re less likely to have parts of the organization where bad things can fester,” White said.

“So there’s lots of different components to (the project),” he added.

White also recognized that academic work and research are not going to solve completely the problem.

“But it’s important, and the work that’s going to have to be done in chanceries, and parishes, and bishop’s conferences, is work that can be helped by the things that we’re going to be doing at CUA,” he said.

Other Catholic universities and colleges are responding in similarly strong and broad ways.

Fordham University in New York recently announced a lecture titled “Reckoning and Reform: New Horizons on the Clergy Abuse Crisis” as a part of their ongoing response to the abuse crisis.

David Gibson, director of the Center on Religion and Culture at Fordham University, told CNA that the event will be a two-part presentation aimed at helping people understand the crisis and what can be done moving forward.

“People are upset and understandably just aghast at what is going on, but in order to find some solutions we have to figure out what has happened,” Gibson told CNA.

Gibson said that by hosting the event in the late afternoon and evening, he hoped to catch some “Catholic regular working folks who are vitally interested in this kind of thing and they can attend,” he said.

“Academic conferences are good and a lot of people are doing those kinds of things, but I think it's also really important that we do things that can get regular Catholics coming to attend them and to get informed on these kind of things so it's not just ‘professional Catholics’,” he said.

Gibson added that Catholic universities and colleges will be “indispensable” in the response to the sex abuse reform, for several reasons: because of their vast array of resources, because, as lay institutions, they now have more credibility with many Catholics than the bishops, and because they are positioned all throughout the country, where they can reach many people.

Another prominent Catholic institution of higher education, the University of Notre Dame, recently published a statement outlining the ways that university has and will continue to address the abuse crisis.

Father John Jenkins, C.S.C., president of Notre Dame, noted in the statement that in October 2018 the university created two task forces to begin the work of reform: a Campus Engagement Task Force, which “was charged with facilitating dialogue and listening to the observations and recommendations of our campus community,” and the Research and Scholarship Task Force, which “considered ways in which Notre Dame might respond and assist the Church in this crisis through its research and scholarship.”

He then outlined both the immediate and ongoing steps the university will take to address the crisis, as informed by the task forces.

As for immediate steps, Jenkins said the university will “initiate prominent, public events to educate and stimulate discussion.” The focus of the first event will be “where the Church is now, identifying steps that have been taken and problems that must be addressed.”

The second event “will focus not only on the issue of sexual abuse, considered narrowly, but also on the broader questions the current crisis raises, such as structures of accountability in the Church, clericalism, the role of women, creating and sustaining ethical cultures, and the continued accompaniment of survivors.”

The university will also be making research grants available “across a wide range of disciplines that will address issues raised by the current situation. In accord with this recommendation, the President’s Office will provide up to $1 million in the next three years to fund research projects that address issues emerging from the crisis.”

For ongoing efforts to address sex abuse in the Church, the university will continue to “encourage and share relevant research and scholarship … with the goal of producing recommendations for ensuring that seminaries and houses of religious formation are safe environments free from sexual harassment.”

It will also “train graduates for effective leadership in the Church during and beyond the crisis,” through graduate programs in theology, teacher and leadership formation programs, and catechist training programs, which are all “committed to training ministers and teachers to be aware of issues of sexual abuse and policies and behaviors needed to prevent it.”

Jenkins also noted that university will “redouble” its efforts in preventing and addressing cases of sexual assault that occur on Notre Dame’s campus.

“As I join others in praying for survivors, I will do what I can to prevent these terrible offenses. I encourage everyone, each in their own respective positions and roles, to contribute to real and lasting change that will prevent sexual assault and abuse, in the Church and outside it, and to support survivors,” Jenkins noted.

“To the extent we can do this, the dark night of the current crisis will lead us to a hopeful dawn.”

Federal budget proposal draws criticism for slashing foreign aid

3 days 8 hours ago

Washington D.C., Mar 15, 2019 / 12:36 am (CNA).- A Catholic aid agency is asking Congress to maintain its commitment to international humanitarian funding, after the Trump administration proposed a federal budget that would cut foreign aid by 24 percent.

In a March 12 statement, Catholic Relief Services warned that the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2020 budget request “would undermine dramatic progress in global poverty reduction over the past two decades, disproportionately affecting vulnerable and marginalized people.”

The budget proposal, released earlier this week, would cut foreign aid by nearly one-quarter, and would combine current departments for international food aid, disaster response, and migrant and refugee assistance.

Given drastic humanitarian crises currently ongoing throughout the world, the U.S. should be increasing, not decreasing, its funding for international aid, a top CRS official told a recent congressional subcommittee.

Bill O’Keefe, CRS executive vice president for mission, mobilization, and advocacy, told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs that violence, droughts and other disasters have left millions vulnerable and in need of aid.

“U.S. foreign assistance is a moral and practical imperative. Poverty not only causes unnecessary suffering, but also breeds instability. Aid empowers local leadership, builds local capacity and supports a community on its journey to self-reliance,” O’Keefe said.

The United States should be maintaining a leadership role in offering humanitarian aid, especially for the more than 68 million people displaced from their homes globally, he told the members of Congress on the subcommittee.

O’Keefe specifically called for U.S. money to be allocated for development aid, disaster response, migrant and refugee assistance, and disease eradication.

Catholic Relief Services highlighted the situation in Venezuela, where 3 million people have fled as extreme shortages of food, medicine, and water are compounded by political unrest.

In addition, the agency said, millions in the Horn of Africa are experiencing drought conditions that are expected to create widespread conditions of severe hunger this year, with the Famine Early Warning Systems Network predicting up to 30 percent crop failure in some areas.

Matt Davis, CRS regional director for East Africa, said the agency is “very concerned by the deteriorating conditions in the region where we are seeing families – whose lives rely on the land – unable to cope.”

He warned against changes to U.S. funding that “could abandon millions of families around the world just when they need help the most.”

Most families in the Horn of Africa are small-holder farmers, and “much of the livestock – which many families depend on for a living – has already died off, been sold, or eaten,” Catholic Relief Services said.

“In South Sudan, 7.7 million people – more than half the population – will need food assistance by August. That crisis has been caused by both conflict and drought,” the agency added.

Humanitarian aid is currently being offered to alleviate the situation in parts of the Horn of Africa, Davis explained, but more help is necessary.

CRS works with local groups to help the communities in the region prepare for droughts, as well as to increase their resistance against drought through new technology, micro-savings programs and education on nutrition and health.

The agency counts on U.S. foreign aid funding for these efforts, as well as emergency food distribution in times of crisis.

Similar foreign aid cuts were proposed by the Trump administration last year, but rejected by Congress. Catholic Relief Services asked Congress to again reiterate its commitment to foreign aid funding.

“Helping the poor is a moral imperative, and a wise investment in global stability,” Davis said.

Catholic leaders speak out against 'Remain in Mexico' policy

3 days 15 hours ago

Washington D.C., Mar 14, 2019 / 06:32 pm (CNA).- Catholic leaders released a statement this week in disagreement with the United States’ expansion of a policy that restricts asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We oppose U.S. policy requiring asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while waiting to access protection in the United States. We urge the Administration to reverse this policy, which needlessly increases the suffering of the most vulnerable and violates international protocols,” the statement read.  

Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, and Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, released the joint statement on March 13.

First implemented in January, the Migrant Protection Protocols require asylum seekers at the San Ysidro border crossing to remain in Mexico while immigration courts process their case – a procedure that may take years. In previous administrations, asylum seekers were often permitted to remain in the U.S. while awaiting their court dates.

The U.S. government announced Tuesday that the program would now be expanded to the border crossing in Calexico, which is about 120 miles outside of San Diego. Department of Homeland Security officials stated that 240 asylum seekers have been returned to Mexico since the policy was enacted. They anticipate that the number will grow significantly as the program expands.

In February, a lawsuit was introduced in federal court challenging the policy, which is known unofficially as the “Remain in Mexico” policy. The suit claims that the program puts asylum seekers at risk because of Mexico’s dangerous conditions. A federal judge has not yet announced whether an injunction will be granted to block the policy while it is being considered in court.

The Associated Press reported that Mexico’s Foreign Relations and Interior departments objected to the policy update, which they say was made unilaterally by the United States. However, citing “humanitarian reasons,” the departments said a majority of the asylum seekers returned to Mexico will be allowed to stay.  

Vasquez and Callahan also voiced opposition to the policy, emphasizing the rights of the people seeking shelter from harsh conditions, especially from the dangers witnessed in Central America. 

“We steadfastly affirm a person’s right to seek asylum and find recent efforts to curtail and deter that right deeply troubling. We must look beyond our borders; families are escaping extreme violence and poverty at home and are fleeing for their lives,” the statement read.

The Church leaders reiterated the call of Pope Francis to protect and welcome immigrants and encouraged the government to respond with policies that best promote human dignity.

“Our government must adopt policies and provide more funding that address root causes of migration and promote human dignity and sustainable livelihoods,” they said.

 

German bishops announce 'synodal process' on celibacy, sexual morality

3 days 16 hours ago

Munich, Germany, Mar 14, 2019 / 05:27 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising has announced that the Catholic Church in Germany is embarking on a "binding synodal process" to tackle what he says are the three key issues arising from the clerical abuse crisis: priestly celibacy, the Church's teaching on sexual morality, and a reduction of clerical power.

Speaking at the conclusion of the plenary session of the German bishops’ conference on Thursday, Marx told reporters that the bishops had unanimously decided these three topics would be subject to a process of "synodal progression" that could lead to a binding, but as yet undetermined, outcome.

"The Church needs synodal progress," the president of the German bishops' conference asserted. "Pope Francis encourages this."

The German bishops held their plenary session in the German town of Lingen from March 11 to 14.

Addressing journalists on the final day, Marx said the Church's teaching on sexual morality has yet to account for significant recent discoveries from theology and the humanities. Also, he said, the significance of sexuality to personhood has not yet received sufficient attention from the Church.

Bishops “feel we often are unable to speak on questions of present-day sexual behavior," Marx said.

The cardinal also said that the German bishops appreciate priestly celibacy as an "expression of the religious bond to God" and do not simply want to give up on it. But to what extent celibacy should always be an element of priestly witness is a question "we will determine" through the "synodal process," Marx told the press.

Furthermore, Marx said clerical abuse of power constitutes a betrayal of the trust of people in need of stability and religious orientation. Therefore, the "synodal process" would be charged with identifying what measures must be taken to achieve "the necessary reduction of [clerical] power."

The establishment of ecclesiastical administrative courts is one such step for which the bishops will in the near future draft a proposal.

As a first step on the proposed synodal path, Marx announced that the German bishops have decided to set up three preparatory working groups. The working group on "clerical power" is headed by Bishop Karl-Heinz Wiesemann of Speyer, the working group on "sexual morality" will be headed by Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück. The working group on "the priest's way of life," which will focus on celibacy, will be moderated by Bishop Felix Genn of Münster.

Interim reports are expected from all three by Sept. 13.

Referring to the German bishops' four year "Würzburg Synod" from 1971 to 1975, which was charged with an implementation of the decisions of the Second Vatican Council, Marx affirmed that the Church in Germany is "not starting at zero" in a synodal process, given the Würzburg experience, and various consultation processes undertaken by the German bishops in recent years.

The "synodal process" will involve consultations with the "Central Committee of German Catholics," a lay organization that closely cooperates with the bishops' conference, and will draw on outside experts.

 

 

Ban on gender transition among US military to take effect next month

3 days 16 hours ago

Washington D.C., Mar 14, 2019 / 05:19 pm (CNA).- Troops enlisting and serving in the U.S. military will have to serve as their biological sex and are forbidden from transitioning to another gender, a new Department of Defense policy states.

The policy was announced in a memo that was obtained by the Associated Press March 12. The policy will go into effect April 12.

While not a ban on transgender persons in the military altogether, the new policy will presumably result in many transgender troops being discharged from the military if they wish to serve under a different sex, seek cross-sex hormones, or gender transition surgeries.

The new policy has additional rules regarding gender dysphoria, a condition where someone identifies as a different gender than their biological sex. Recruits with a history of gender dysphoria will not be permitted to join the military unless they can show they have been identifying with their birth gender for three years and have not transitioned to a different gender.

If someone in the military were to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, this new policy would not permit them medically or surgically to transition to a different gender.

Transgender individuals who are either already enlisted or under contract to join the military prior to the start of the new policy will be grandfathered in to the transgender policy introduced in 2016 by then-President Barack Obama. That policy permitted transgender troops, and allowed those serving in the military to change their gender marker and begin to transition genders.

Per the updated policy, exceptions would have to be made for transgender individuals to continue to access health care associated with their gender transition. Those with gender dysphoria will be permitted to serve as their identified gender.

According to the Department of Defense website, there are “many transgender individuals already are serving honorably in uniform,” and they will not be removed from the military.

“DOD policy prohibits involuntary separation solely on the basis of gender identity, and it seeks to protect the privacy of transgender service members,” says the website.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D) said in a statement that the new policy was “bigoted” and a “stunning attack on the patriots who keep us safe and on the most fundamental ideals of our nation.”

There is no reliable data on the number of transgender troops in the military. Estimates suggest there could be as many as 10,000 transgender troops, with about 1,000 troops diagnosed with gender dysphoria. There are a little over 2 million members of the U.S. military.

Pelosi said that the House of Representatives would fight against this “discriminatory action, which has no place in our country.”

The Supreme Court ruled in January 2019 that President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender persons in the military was legal and could proceed. Trump announced this policy change in July 2017, in a tweet posted to Twitter. In that tweet, Trump said that there was “tremendous medical costs and disruption” associated with transgender troops.

The next month, the Pentagon announced a new policy that would permit transgender soldiers in the military, as long as they have not been diagnosed with gender dysphoria and have not transitioned from their birth sex. Troops identifying as transgender would have to wear the uniform associated with their biological sex and would not be permitted to use facilities associated with their desired sex.

The new policy forbade individuals who have transitioned genders from serving in the military or joining the military.

When Trump announced the policy in 2017, a theology professor at the Catholic University of America said it was the “right decision.”

Those who identify as transgender are “people made in God's image, and they deserve our compassion, and they deserve to be treated with dignity, but that doesn't mean that they are fit for combat in the defense of a nation,” Dr. Chad Pecknold told CNA.

“Pope Francis is famous for his stress upon dialogue, and his non-judgmental approach with respect to the dignity of every person,” he said. “But the Holy Father has also been crystal clear that ‘gender theory’ represents a burning threat to humanity, starkly describing it as a ‘global ideological war on marriage’.”

Critics question ‘Equality Act’ exclusion of religious freedom

3 days 16 hours ago

Washington D.C., Mar 14, 2019 / 05:08 pm (CNA).- Federal legislation purporting to guarantee equality explicitly rejects religious freedom protections and would open the gates to anti-discrimination lawsuits against religious believers and institutions who disagree with the bill’s broad view of LGBT discrimination, critics said.

Kristen Waggoner, senior vice president of Alliance Defending Freedom's U.S. legal division, said the proposed Equality Act, reintroduced into the House of Representatives on March 13, would undermine “the fundamental freedoms of speech, religion, and conscience that the First Amendment guarantees for every citizen.”

She said “disagreement on important matters such as marriage and human sexuality is not discrimination.”

The Equality Act would add anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity to existing protections for race, color, national origin, sex, disability and religion.

Waggoner compared it to similar state and local laws that would “force Americans to participate in events and speak messages that violate their core beliefs.”

About 20 states have such legislation. Besides combating mistreatment of self-identified LGBT persons, they have been invoked to shut down Catholic adoption agencies that only place children with a mother and a father or to compel people working in the wedding industry, like florists, photographers and bakers, to provide their services for same-sex ceremonies.

Critics have argued that the concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity are too broad and will lead to rejecting appropriate recognition of difference between the sexes or differences between married heterosexual couples and other couples.

The legislation could endanger religious protections, particularly for those who believe marriage to be the union of one man and one woman. While U.S. law has historically allowed for broad religious freedom protections, those who disagree with same-sex marriage could be viewed as “discriminating” against a same-sex couple.

Though the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) passed with overwhelming support, such protections have recently drawn strong opposition from some lawmakers, pro-abortion access groups and LGBT advocates who contend they interfere with basic rights.

As drafted, the Equality Act explicitly removes the ability under RFRA to cite religious freedom as a defense against discrimination claims.

Tim Schulz, president of 1st Amendment Partnership, told the Deseret News that if the Equality Act becomes law, religiously affiliated schools and other faith-based organizations could face lawsuits over policies on self-identified LGBT students, customers or employees.

“There would be an effort to punitively sue them into oblivion,” he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union, a backer of the bill, said the legislation “clarifies that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act cannot be used in civil rights contexts, prohibiting religious liberty — which is a core American value — from being used as a license to discriminate.”

The ACLU has long opposed Catholic hospitals that act according to Catholic ethics and refuse to provide “reproductive health” services including abortion and sterilization. In California, the legal group filed a lawsuit against a Catholic hospital for refusing an elective hysterectomy to a woman who identifies as a man and who sought the procedure as part of her putative sex reassignment.

It has also sided with efforts targeting institutions and small businesses that do not recognize same-sex unions as marriages. ACLU lawyers have backed a lawsuit against a Washington State florist who declined to serve a same-sex ceremony, while the group has tried to block Michigan state agencies’ cooperation with Catholic adoption and foster agencies.

Waggoner was critical of the Equality Act and predicted negative consequences if it becomes law.

“Americans simply deserve better than the profound inequality proposed by this intolerant, deceptively titled legislation,” she said.

“Our laws should respect the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of every citizen, but the so-called ‘Equality Act’ fails to meet this basic standard,” Waggoner added. “It would undermine women’s equality and force women and girls to share private, intimate spaces with men who identify as female, in addition to denying women fair competition in sports.”

The proposed law would apply not just to employment, but other areas like housing, jury duty, credit, and education. It bars discrimination in retail stores, emergency shelters, banks, transit and pharmacies, among others. It would also specify facility access for self-identified transgender persons, such as access to male and female bathrooms.

David Cicilline, D-R.I., is the bill’s main sponsor in the House, NBC News reports. As of March 13, the bill had 239 co-sponsors in the House.

“In most states in this country, a gay couple can be married on Saturday, post their wedding photos to Instagram on Sunday, and lose their jobs or get kicked out of their apartments on Monday just because of who they are,” he charged. “We are reintroducing the Equality Act in order to fix this.”

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins is the only Republican to back the bill, though she was one of four currently serving Republican Senators to back similar anti-discrimination categories in a 2013 employment bill.

The legislation’s 161 corporate sponsors include PayPal, Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft. Overall they have a combined revenue of $3.7 trillion, CNBC reported March 8.

Leaders with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have not yet commented on the Equality Act. However, in the past they have criticized the proposed federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would bar actions deemed to be employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

In May 2010, the bishops said the act “could be used to punish as discrimination what the Catholic Church teaches.” While they called for a “comprehensive religious exemption” to such a bill, there could be “government retaliation” for institutions that rely on such exemptions. Without strong protections, it would be applied “to jeopardize our religious freedom to live our faith and moral tenets in today's society,” they said.

The bishops rejected “every sign of unjust discrimination,” while also stating that Catholic teaching cannot be equated with unjust discrimination.

Leading bishops criticized the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in an Oct. 31, 2013 letter to the U.S. Senate, saying it does not advance “authentic non-discrimination.” They warned that the bill’s vague definition of sexual orientation does not distinguish between homosexual “status” and “conduct.” Its concept of “gender identity” rejects the “biological basis of gender” and would give force of law to a view of gender as “nothing more than a social construct or social psychosocial reality.”

CNA investigations have found close to $10 million in spending that targets religious freedom protection, including funding for ACLU projects. Major backers of the campaign include the Ford Foundation, which gives out some $500 million in grants annually, as well as the Arcus Foundation, an LGBT advocacy group that also funds groups that reject historic Christian ethics on LGBT issues. The network of funded groups tends to argue that religious freedoms are too broad if they exempt objectors to “reproductive rights” and LGBT political and legal concerns.

FDA clamps down on sale of unapproved mail-order abortion pills

3 days 17 hours ago

Washington D.C., Mar 14, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- As part of a wide-reaching crackdown on the online sale of illegal drugs, the US Food and Drug Administration has warned several online providers of abortion-inducing medications to stop the sale of unapproved abortion pills.

The FDA sent last week a letter to Rablon, an online pharmacy network, and Aid Access, requesting they immediately desist selling unapproved versions of the abortion drugs mifepristone and misoprostol online.

According to the FDA warning letter, the "sale of misbranded and unapproved new drugs poses an inherent risk to consumers who purchase those products."

"Drugs that have circumvented regulatory safeguards may be contaminated; counterfeit, contain varying amounts of active ingredients, or contain different ingredients altogether," the letter states.

Mifepristone and misoprostol are two drugs taken together to carry out a medical abortion. They work by inducing miscarriage in pregnancies before 10 weeks.

FDA-approved versions of the drugs have been available to US consumers since 2000, but may only be prescribed by a certified health care provider in a hospital, clinic, or medical office setting. They may not be sold online or in a retail pharmacy.

The health care provider must inform patients about the serious risks associated with use of the medications, and sign a waiver certifying the patient has access to emergency care or a surgical abortion in the case of complication.

These requirements are part of an FDA risk mitigation program called REMS, which is used for all higher-risk medications.

The letter to Aid Access stated that the FDA-approved version of mifepristone, called "Mifeprex," is under the REMS program because "the drug carries a risk of serious or even life-threatening adverse effects, including serious and sometimes fatal infections and prolonged heavy bleeding, which may be a sign of incomplete abortion or other complications."

Failure by the websites to correct the violations outlined, the FDA stated, could result in "regulatory action, including seizure or injunction, without further notice."

Aid Access is a website that says it offers abortion-inducing drugs to healthy women who are nine weeks pregnant or less.

If women qualify for the pills through online consultations, Aid Access writes them prescriptions for the two drugs. These prescriptions are filled at a pharmacy in India, which mails the drugs to women in the U.S. The service costs $95, and the website notes that financial aid is available.

Rablon is an online pharmacy network owning at least 87 websites, with sites such as AbortionPillRx.com and AbortPregnancy.com offering mail-order access to mifepristone and misoprostol.

New Open Society Foundations leader co-founded controversial 'Catholic Spring' groups

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New York City, N.Y., Mar 14, 2019 / 03:18 pm (CNA).- The deeply influential Open Society Foundations has announced that Tom Perriello - a former congressman, pro-abortion rights gubernatorial candidate and co-founder of controversial Catholic political groups linked to John Podesta amid speculation of a “Catholic Spring” revolution against the bishops - will oversee grantmaking and advocacy for the U.S. programs branch of financier George Soros’ philanthropy network.

The foundations’ Oct. 10 announcement of Perriello’s new role as executive director of its U.S. programs cited his roles as diplomat, educator, and activist for human rights, civil rights, economic equality and democratic practice in the U.S. and around the world.

As executive director, his duties will include oversight of the foundations’ U.S. grantmaking and advocacy in areas like civic, political and economic participation as well as accountability and effectiveness of civil society institutions. Laura Silber, communications director for the foundations, also cited work in criminal justice reform and support for high-quality journalism, the Roanoke Times reports.

“Our institutions are under attack, the rule of law is being challenged as seldom before in our history, and the very foundations of our democracy are under enormous stress,” Open Society Foundations president Patrick Gaspard said in the announcement. “These times demand bold leadership, new ideas, and sharp strategic thinking.”

Perriello was listed as a guest in the meeting book for the foundations’ U.S. programs September 2012 board meeting in New York. His biography in the book cited his roles in helping to launch Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Catholics United, Faith in Public Life, and FaithfulAmerica.org.

Perriello served in Congress from 2009-2011, then served as president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the political wing of the Podesta-founded Center for American Progress. Perriello then took a position with the State Department analyzing U.S. diplomacy and development efforts in 2014, and was named by President Obama as special envoy to the African Great Lakes in 2015.

The co-founder of Catholics in Alliance and Catholics United made a failed bid for the Democratic nomination for Virginia governor in 2017. During this race, Perriello had major backing from Soros, who gave at least $500,000 to his campaign. Three of Soros’ sons gave another $185,000, while Donald Sussman, a hedge fund manager and a board member of the Center for American Progress, gave $300,000, the Washington Free Beacon reported in June 2017.

Perriello on his gubernatorial campaign website said “I have always been pro-choice.” He voiced opposition to a ban on abortion 20 weeks into pregnancy. He backed a state constitutional amendment to guarantee legal abortion in the event the U.S. Supreme Court overturns precedent. He advocated the removal of abortion restrictions such as a 24-hour waiting period, mandatory counseling and mandatory ultrasounds for women seeking an abortion.

After the 2017 election, Perriello joined the board of directors of the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood.

Perriello said his work with the Open Society Foundations will likely focus on funding policy research, expanding political engagement, and racial issues.

He also praised Soros, telling the Roanoke Times in November, “I think a lot of what he does is calling us to our highest aspirations, and I think as Americans, we also have traditionally fallen well short of those aspirations.”

Soros’ foundations spend about $100 million in the U.S. each year and about $1 billion worldwide. He gave $18 billion to his foundations in 2018.

While Soros and his foundations are the subject of much unfounded rumor and speculation, his foundations have undeniably had global influence on many issues.

Various reports established that the Open Society Foundations helped fund pro-abortion rights groups to repeal Ireland’s pro-life constitutional amendment, seeing this effort as a model for change in other traditionally Catholic countries, such as Poland. The foundations gave at least $1.5 million to Planned Parenthood’s damage control efforts to counter the Center for Medical Progress videos appearing to show the abortion provider and other pro-abortion leaders involved in the illegal for-profit sale of fetal tissue and unborn baby parts. As part of a funding collaborative at the Proteus Fund, the foundations helped gay marriage become legally recognized in the U.S.

The foundations funded groups that sought to use Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. to influence the 2016 elections and to cultivate influence within the Catholic Church. These include Faith in Public Life, which foundation documents describe as a partner organization with Catholics in Alliance.

Catholics in Alliance itself received at least $450,000 in funding from the Open Society Foundations, then known as the Open Society Institute, from 2006 to 2010. An internal foundations document from 2009 cited the group’s key role in influencing Barack Obama’s controversial 2009 Notre Dame speech, and praised its campaigns that “broadened the agenda” of Catholic voters to see abortion as just one of several election issues.

Catholics United effectively merged with Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good in 2015.

The two groups were founded in the wake of then-Sen. John Kerry’s defeat in the 2004 presidential election campaigns. This loss was in part attributed to the failure of Democrats to sway religious voters. The two groups engaged in various forms of religious commentary, activist organizing, issue advocacy, and political campaigning.

Ahead of the 2012 election, Catholics United told pastors of Florida Catholic churches they had a network of volunteers monitoring election-related speech in churches for reputed illegal political activity. Local Catholic leaders said appeared to be “an attempt to silence pastors on issues that are of concern to the Church this election season.”

The same group criticized the Knights of Columbus for its work to support civil marriage as a union of only a man and a woman.

Its state affiliate Keystone Catholics criticized Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles J. Chaput on matters like his interpretation of Pope Francis’ “Amoris Laetitia,” his critical approach to LGBT political causes, and his refusal to allow the 2015 World Meeting of Families to be a platform for groups to lobby against Church teachings.

Catholics United received funding from the Gill Foundation, founded by savvy LGBT strategist and millionaire Tim Gill. The group was a partner on the website of the Arcus Foundation, which has funded dissenting Catholic groups and other religious organizations to advocate on LGBT issues, among others.

Ahead of the 2016 elections, the site Wikileaks posted 2012 emails apparently involving Hillary Clinton campaign chief John Podesta, at a time of significant Catholic controversy over mandatory health plan coverage of contraception. His email responded to Sandy Newman’s suggestion of a “Catholic Spring” revolution within the Church which, in Newman’s vivid words, “Catholics themselves demand the end of a middle ages dictatorship and the beginning of a little democracy and respect for gender equality in the Catholic church.”

Podesta, a former chief of staff for President Bill Clinton, replied: “We created Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good to organize for a moment like this. But I think it lacks the leadership to do so now. Likewise Catholics United. Like most Spring movements, I think this one will have to be bottom up.”

He suggested consultations with former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

According to Open Society Foundations internal documents from 2009, the departure of Catholics in Alliance co-founder Alexia Kelley to join the Obama White House left the group “without strong leadership.” Kelley is now president and CEO of the influential philanthropy consortium Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities.

Catholics in Alliance did draw opposition from Catholics for Choice, a pro-abortion rights group not acknowledged by the U.S. bishops as Catholic. In 2015, when surreptitiously filmed videos showed Planned Parenthood’s apparent involvement in the illegal sale of aborted baby parts, Catholics in Alliance’s then-executive director Christopher Hale voiced strong criticism of the abortion provider.

In various interviews with Hale in late 2016, Hale said his organization had changed emphasis in recent years, speaking out more against abortion than it had in the past. He said that the Podesta email did not reflect the daily work of the organization and rejecting claims his group was concerned with “the internal politics of the Catholic Church.”

Hale sought to distinguish the organization’s work from its funders, saying “we work with people who disagree with a lot of the work we do.”

CNA contacted the Open Society Foundations and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.

George Soros outlined his philosophy and his work in a Jan. 24, 2019 speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He said he has devoted his life to “fighting totalizing, extremist ideologies, which falsely claim that the ends justify the means.”

“I believe that the desire of people for freedom can’t be repressed forever. But I also recognize that open societies are profoundly endangered at present,” he said.

According to Soros, his foundations aimed “to open up closed societies, reducing the deficiencies of open societies and promoting critical thinking.” He claimed success in undermining South African apartheid and in liberalizing his home country of Hungary and the Soviet Union itself. However, he admitted previous decades’ work failed to advance an open society in China. His speech voiced criticism and concern about that country’s present state, and he also warned about President Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Criticism of George Soros has become controversial in recent years and there are charges his political opponents have engaged in active sabotage. Russian hackers are believed to have targeted his foundation and released some of its internal documents to the website DCleaks.com. He has cut back on efforts in Hungary amid claims that the government there is tapping into anti-Semitic hatemongering against him; and the social network Facebook hired a public relations firm to attack Soros in seeking to undermine its own critics. He was among many prominent targets of a pipe bomb attack.

The Podesta emails were posted to Wikileaks at a critical time in the election, and some reports attribute the hacking of his email account to Russians.

Soros and Podesta are part of a wider network of wealthy funders, NGOs, and political leaders that share left-leaning or Democratic political causes and goals, and sometimes even sharing leadership, staff and funding.

The Open Society Foundations have given millions to the Center for American Progress, which it considers “the most influential think tank in our funding universe.” According to the foundations’ internal documents, the center also enjoys support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Humanity United Fund, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Ford Foundation, among others.

The unexpected success of President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign has renewed scrutiny for Republican- or right-leaning political and social advocacy, including from Catholic groups, with much focus on Steve Bannon. Bannon was executive chairman of Breitbart News before becoming chairman of the Trump campaign and then serving as chief strategist for the Trump White House.