Mexican bishops ask government to assist in migrant crisis

1 week 3 days ago

Tapachula, Mexico, May 9, 2019 / 05:52 pm (CNA).- The Mexican Bishops' Conference has made a public request for help from the country's authorities, as well as all people of good will, in addressing the migration crisis at the country’s southern border.

In a May 7 statement entitled “Request for Help,” the bishops noted that “we Mexicans have always been known for our joy, solidarity, treating others well and hospitality.”

However, they lamented, with the recent migrant caravans, “some people have taken on attitudes of rejection, indifference, xenophobia, discrimination and racism.”

Thousands of migrants have arrived in recent months at the southern border of Mexico on their way to the United States. Many come from Central American countries facing gang violence, economic crisis and environmental instability, as well as from Haiti, Cuba and African nations.

While Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador campaigned on a pledge of protecting migrants and their rights, the Mexican government has begun detaining caravans as numbers of migrants arriving in the country increased.

Mexico is currently facing a “humanitarian emergency” as migration caravans move through the country, often lacking basic shelter and necessities, the bishops warned.

They pledged “to do everything possible to be a Samaritan Church to make the journey of our brother migrants less onerous.”

“We have requested Caritas National's action in organizing the aid in our country, just as we are motivating the different dioceses in our homeland to raise up an additional effort of generosity among our parishioners on behalf of our brothers,” they said.

The bishops particularly noted concern over the situation on the southern Mexican border, “specifically what the city of Tapachula is experiencing in Chiapas.” They said that the vast number of migrants has outpaced aid from the Church and government.

With the migrant assistance station overburdened, the migrants now wander the streets in search of help, they said.

“At the door of the southern border there are thousands of our brothers, people who have already gone several days without eating and who are sleeping in the streets. There are children, elderly people, the sick, some women close to going into labor.”

The bishops of Mexico called on the federal government to activate an emergency plan and request humanitarian assistance for those in need, particularly in Tapachula. They also asked for clarification regarding the legal situation of those seeking to pass through the country.

“We urge adequately addressing this moment of crisis in which our country has the opportunity to show its true level of humanity,” the bishops said. “As a Church we offer our prayer, all our support and help.”

'No greater love' — Denver Catholics remember Kendrick Castillo, who died in STEM school shooting

1 week 3 days ago

Denver, Colo., May 9, 2019 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- When Sara Haynes heard about the shooting at STEM High School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado on Tuesday, she prayed. A Catholic school teacher in Denver until just recently, she knew some of her former students were now high schoolers at STEM.

When Haynes learned that Kendrick Castillo, a former student of hers, was the lone casualty in the May 7 shooting, she cried immediately.

Then she reached out to the other students who had been in the same 7th and 8th grade math and religion classes at Notre Dame Catholic School as Castillo. Details of Kendrick’s death were not yet public, but her students guessed Castillo had died trying to protect others, Haynes said.

“I went to my students and we were all just sharing together. And I said: ‘Do you guys think that he blocked the shooter?’ And they said: ‘Yeah.’ I mean, it just wasn't a shock to us” that he would give his life for others, Haynes said.

On Wednesday, Kendick’s father, John Castillo, confirmed to the Denver Post what he had learned from witnesses and the coroner: that Kendrick died while charging the shooter to save his friends.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” John Castillo told the Denver Post. “He cared enough about people that he would do something like that, even though it’s against my better judgment.”

“I wish he had gone and hid,” Castillo added, “but that’s not his character. His character is about protecting people, helping people.”

Kendrick’s friends and fellow students share the same sentiment, Haynes said.

“Every time I see a new kid that is in shock or crying, I ask - ‘But are you surprised?’ And they say ‘No, I’m not surprised at all. I’m just mad because I didn’t want him to have to do it. But of course he was going to do it.’”

Haynes said she remembers Kendrick as an unfailingly kind student, who cared deeply about everyone, who tried hard in school, and who wasn’t afraid to have fun and be goofy.

“Kendrick is probably one of the funniest people I've ever known,” Haynes said. “He's really quirky and sweet. And quiet, but not really. He's one of those kids that he knows the appropriate time to be quiet, and then when it's the appropriate time for him to just be a total dweeb, he'll be a total dweeb.”

He was always joyful, Haynes said, and funny - as her trove of goofy videos of Kendrick prove, she said. The only time when he was not joyful was at parent-teacher conferences, Haynes recalled. Kendrick tried hard in school, and he loved technology and excelled at science - but math was harder for him, she said.

“He would get so serious at parent-teacher conferences because he struggled academically and...most middle school kids put blame on other people, but he just always took the responsibility so seriously that he would cry,” she recalled.

“And we would tell him, ‘You don't need to cry! We just want you to turn in your work.’ And he'd be like, ‘I'm so sorry.’ He really was such a deep thinker even if he didn't look like it, because he was so jolly. He had this joy that shone through.”

Sr. Loretta Gerk was another teacher who knew Kendrick while he was a student at Notre Dame Catholic School - she taught him in physical education classes, from Kindergarten through eighth grade.

“He was the neatest kid,” Gerk told CNA. “He was so kind and gentle, but yet, he was all boy too, you know what I mean?”

Gerk said that she would sometimes worry about the kind and gentle students, because they could be prone to teasing. But no one ever teased or made fun of Kendrick - he was just too likeable, she said.

“Kids are sometimes cruel to each other,” she said. “But the kids weren’t mean to him. You couldn’t be mean to him.”

“If any little kids were crying or something, he would go talk to them. He would reach out to them. He would notice those things,” Gerk said.

Gerk said when she found out Kendrick had died in the shooting, her heart and her stomach hurt. When she found out he had died trying to rush the shooter, she thought: “That doesn’t surprise me at all.”

A hunter who loved his elk hunting trips with his father, Kendrick’s familiarity with gun safety may have given him additional courage when he rushed the shooter, Gerk said.

Not only was Kendrick kind in school, but he was also a very helpful and active person at church, Gerk recalled. He would often tag along with his dad to Knights of Columbus events, Gerk said. He would usher at Mass with his dad on Saturday nights, and help serve breakfast with the Knights of Columbus during Catholic Schools week.

“Kendrick would be in the kitchen, and he had a blue apron that said ‘Knights of Columbus.’ Kendrick was in there with his dad, helping,” she said.

Cece Bedard knew Kendrick because her dad, too, was in the Knights of Columbus. In a message to CNA, Bedard said that Kendrick “loved his faith and he really loved to serve others.”

It was not just that Kendrick did one heroic act, Bedard said, but “he lived the life of a hero, always helping others to the point where I’m not quite sure what he did for himself.”

He loved his Catholic faith, Bedard said, and once told her when they were young that although he couldn’t picture himself being a priest, he thought “the way of life (of a priest) was simply beautiful.”

“He truly was a living saint,” Bedard said.

Deacon Chuck Parker knew Kendrick at Notre Dame parish, where he remembers him as an altar server and a young usher, and a favorite greeter at the doors of the church.

“If anybody could exemplify a minister of hospitality it was Kendrick,” Parker said. “Even at such a young age, he was always very kind and compassionate, very engaging with people…people loved coming in and being greeted by Kendrick.”

“You hear a lot of people say that he was really a good kid,” Parker said. “And he was really a good kid, he just really was.”  

Parker, like many others, said he “wasn’t surprised” when he heard how Kendrick died, “because he was such a loving kid.”

“I was thinking about John’s Gospel where it says that there’s no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. And that was Kendrick,” he said.

In religion class, Haynes said Kendrick was pensive, hungry for the faith, and always eager to play Jesus whenever they acted out stories from the Bible.

“He always wanted to be Jesus,” Haynes said. In a video from her class that she posted to Facebook, Kendrick acts out the part of Jesus, going to search for his apostles or to comfort a suffering person, blessing them with the sign of the cross and inviting them to join him.

“I have this amazing scene where he found the two apostles and they're all kneeling in front of the camera...Kendrick is peering at the camera and then he does the sign of the cross at everyone watching. And he was so serious in it,” Haynes said.

While religion can sometimes be a difficult subject to teach junior high kids, Haynes said that whole class “was really on a spiritual journey that I just got to witness. They really wanted the faith. And they weren't afraid to ask the tough questions and to be stuck with some of the answers.”

Haynes credits Kendrick’s parents for raising him to be a kind and faithful young man, and she urged everyone to continue to pray for them for the rest of their lives.

Now a parent herself, Hayes said that while she hopes she never has to experience the tragedy of losing a child, she wants her two boys to grow up to be “just like Kendrick.”

Because of her faith and because of how he died, Haynes said she believes Kendrick “went straight to heaven.”

“I don't think there's any doubt.”

 

Canadians march for life

1 week 3 days ago

Ottawa, Canada, May 9, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Pro-life campaigners from across Canada gathered on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill Thursday for the country’s annual National March for Life. Carrying a variety of handmade and pre-printed signs in a variety of languages, pro-life advocates, school groups, families, and clergy turned out to mark the fiftieth year of legal abortion in the country.

Police declined to give a formal estimate of the crowd, but participants told CNA that thousands of marchers were in attendence.

Addressing the crowd at a pre-march rally, Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto referenced the changing nature of the pro-life movement in Canada as new laws have been passed over five decades.

Pointing to the spreading practice of euthanasia across the country, the cardinal said that it was paramount that “people recognize the reality, the profound preciousness of the gift of life from the first moment of conception until natural death.”

“In the past we’ve stressed so much--and rightly so--the first part of that,” the second clause regarding natural death is now more relevant than ever, explained Collins.

“The cold hand of euthanasia is upon our country as well.”

Last year, over 2,600 Canadians received “medical aid in dying,” effectively physician-administered homicide. This total amounts to 1.12 percent of all deaths in 2018.

In Canada, doctors opposed to euthanasia do not have the legal right to refuse such requests, and are subject to losing their jobs if they fail to comply.

“There must be protection for all people,” said Collins. “Not only those in the medical world, but for everyone.”

Other speakers at the event included Archbishop Christian Lepine of Montreal, Archbishop Terrence Prendergrast of Ottawa, and Member of Parliament David Anderson, who were joined by notable American pro-life figures in addressing the rally.

The crowd at the march appeared to contain a vast majority of younger attendees. Catholics were especially well represented, with church groups and the Knights of Columbus all prominently visible. The groups carried signs in French, English, and Spanish.

Two such young attendees, Julia Alphonso and Sarah Fernandes, traveled approximately five hours with a group from their school in Markham, Ontario to attend the National March for Life.

Alphonso told CNA that this was her third time marching, but it was Fernandes’ first.

“Pro-life in general is really important to me,” said Alphonso.

“Life, I believe, begins right from the moment of conception, and that’s really important.” She credited her faith, as well as the concept of natural law as for her convictions, and said that she was “really in support of this pro-life movement.”

Fernandes said that she had been influenced by her sister, who is active in a pro-life group at her college. She agreed with Alphonos that “life begins from conception (...) it should be protected.”

Fernandes said that she believes that while many people her age are pro-choice, their minds could be changed via the effective use of social media.

“Show them what an abortion looks like,” she said, and their position could shift.

Jenna Goldsack, also a first-time attendee of the National March for Life, told CNA that she was moved to the pro-life position after hearing stories from people who have lost children.

“Just knowing what happens through an abortion, I don't agree with that," she said. Goldsack told CNA that she thinks many young people like herself are pro-choice by default, and are simply conforming to what society expects of them.

A counter protest of about 50 people chanted throughout the speeches at the pre-march rally.

Abortion has been legal in Canada since 1969. The first-ever National March for Life in Ottawa was held in 1998.

What do Jews and Christians have in common? Love of neighbor, Pope Francis says

1 week 3 days ago

Vatican City, May 9, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The love of neighbor is a common commitment among Christians and Jews, Pope Francis said Tuesday, to teachers and students at Rome’s Pontifical Biblical Institute.

The pope explained that Christian interpretations of Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees, as well as consideration of the Jewish heirs to the Pharisaic tradition, must seek this common ground with accuracy, free of prejudice and stereotypes.
 
Love of neighbor “certainly constitutes an important basis for any dialogue, especially among Jews and Christians, even today,” the pope said in May 9 prepared remarks for the biblical institute, known in Vatican parlance as the Biblicum.
 
The papal audience included participants in the conference “Jesus and the Pharisees: An Interdisciplinary Reappraisal,” held to mark the 110th anniversary of the Biblicum’s founding by Pope St. Pius X. The conference focused on the role of the Pharisees in the Christian Bible, Jewish traditions, and later Jewish-Christian relations.
 
Reflecting on the love of neighbor, Pope Francis said that the influential second century Jewish commentator Rabbi Aqiba, an heir of the Pharisees, described the words “love your neighbor as yourself” as “a great principle of the Torah.”
 
“According to tradition, he died as a martyr with the Shema on his lips, which includes the commandment to love the Lord with all one’s heart, soul and strength,” said the pope.

“Likewise, the so-called Golden Rule, albeit in various formulations, is attributed not only to Jesus but also to his older contemporary Hillel, usually considered one of the leading Pharisees of his time. The rule is already present in the deuterocanonical Book of Tobit.”
 
“Indeed, to love our neighbors better, we need to know them, and in order to know who they are, we often have to find ways to overcome ancient prejudices,” the Pope continued.
 
Pope Francis praised the Biblicum’s contributions to scholarly research and teaching in biblical studies, saying it has “worked to remain faithful to its mission, even in challenging times.”
 
Cardinal Augustin Bea, who died in 1968, was rector of the Biblicum before he became an influential cardinal. The pope described Bea as “the driving force” behind the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on the Church’s relations with non-Christian religions, Nostra Aetate. This document “set interreligious relations, and Catholic-Jewish relations in particular, on a new footing,” the Pope continued.
 
The conference on the Pharisees will help make possible accurate teaching and preaching about them and will make positive contributions to Christian-Jewish relations, the Pope said.
 
The treatment of the Pharisees in the New Testament and other sources was “at times polemical.” Their influence and portrayals drew many interpretations among both Jews and Christians.
 
“Among Christians and in secular society, in different languages the word ‘Pharisee’ often means ‘a self-righteous or hypocritical person.’ For many Jews, however, the Pharisees are the founders of rabbinic Judaism and hence their own spiritual forebears,” the pope said.
 
“The history of interpretation has fostered a negative image of the Pharisees, often without a concrete basis in the Gospel accounts,” the pontiff continued.

“Often, over the course of time, that image has been attributed by Christians to Jews in general. In our world, sadly, such negative stereotypes have become quite common. One of the most ancient and most damaging stereotypes is that of a ‘Pharisee,’ especially when used to cast Jews in a negative light.”
 
Citing recent scholarship, the pope said “we know less about the Pharisees than previous generations thought.”
 
“We are less certain about their origins and about many of their teachings and practices,” he said, predicting that the conference’s research into such questions will help provide a more accurate view and help combat anti-Semitism.
 
The pope surveyed some positive references to the Pharisees in the New Testament.
 
“If we look at the New Testament, we see that Saint Paul, before his encounter with the Lord Jesus, counted as a reason for pride the fact that he was ‘as to the Law, a Pharisee’,” Pope Francis said, citing the Letter to Philemon.
 
“Jesus had numerous discussions with Pharisees about common concerns. He shared with them a belief in the resurrection and he accepted other aspects of their interpretation of the Torah,” continued the pope.

“Jesus and the Pharisees must have had much in common, for the Acts of the Apostles tells us that some Pharisees joined the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem.”
 
The Acts of the Apostles also shows Pharisee leader Gamaliel defending Peter and John.
 
Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisee Nicodemus, recounted in the Gospel of John, is where he said “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
 
The pope cited Nicodemus’ defense of Jesus and his presence at his burial.
 
“Whatever view one takes of Nicodemus, it is clear that the various stereotypes about ‘the Pharisees’ do not apply to him, nor do they find confirmation elsewhere in John’s Gospel,” Francis added.
 
In the synoptic gospels, a scribe sometimes described as a Pharisee engages or tests Jesus by asking him about the greatest or first commandment. The Gospel of Mark concludes this exchange with Jesus saying “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” The Pope said this shows Jesus’ high regard for such religious leaders.
 
He encouraged the Biblicum’s teachers and scholars in their reflections.
 
“May your conference find a broad echo within and outside the Catholic Church, and may your work receive abundant blessings from the Most High or, as many of our Jewish brothers and sisters would say, from Hashem,” his prepared remarks concluded, using a Hebrew word for God.

Death toll in DRC Ebola outbreak reaches 1,000

1 week 3 days ago

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, May 9, 2019 / 02:59 pm (CNA).- The Ebola outbreak that began last August in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has now claimed more than 1,000 lives, the nation’s health ministry has confirmed.

Efforts to contain the disease have been hampered by misinformation and distrust on the part of local communities, who in some cases have retaliated against health teams by attacking them.

Dr. Michael Ryan, deputy director of the World Health Organization, said there have been more than 100 attacks on medical centers and staff this year, the BBC reported. This has limited many of the health services that non-governmental organizations are able to provide.

More than 100,000 people have received the Ebola vaccine, according to the Associated Press, but many more are fearful of it and refuse to receive it. In addition, violence in the eastern part of DRC has made it difficult to reach some areas of the country, and difficult to monitor the virus as it spreads. This has led to fears that Ebola may reach neighboring countries in the east, including Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.

U.S. Ambassador Mike Hammer told CNN that an outbreak of Ebola in western DRC last year was “successfully defeated within a matter of months,” partly because “it was in a secure area, an area not affected by conflict.”

The ongoing Ebola outbreak is the second deadliest on record. An outbreak in 2014-2016 in West Africa killed more than 11,000 people.

Symptoms of Ebola include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pains and occasional bleeding and is primarily spread through contact with bodily fluids. The disease is fatal in up to 90 percent of cases.

Analysis: Is Pope Francis' new abuse plan the answer Catholics are looking for?

1 week 3 days ago

Vatican City, May 9, 2019 / 11:04 am (CNA).- Pope Francis, the “pope of surprises,” lived up to his nickname this morning, by releasing a comprehensive canonical plan to address the investigation of bishops accused of sexual abuse or coercion, or of interfering in investigation of such conduct.

The document, Vos estis lux mundi, is a serious shift in the way clerical sexual misconduct, and claims of episcopal negligence, will be handled. But some sections, especially regarding the role of laity, will raise questions among U.S. Catholics.

It was released one month before the U.S. bishops’ conference is scheduled to meet in Baltimore for a meeting largely focused on clerical sexual abuse and episcopal misconduct. Its publication will significantly reshape that meeting. With that in mind, several bishops told CNA they are glad the surprise came before their meeting got started, instead of during the meeting, as did news during their November 2018 meeting that bishops could not vote on their own proposals to address episcopal misconduct.

The document establishes that a broad swath of sexual acts committed by clerics with adults are potentially canonical crimes, and should be treated as such, if they involve  “abuses of authority” or “vulnerable persons,” a term it defines to broadly include those who are limited in “their ability to understand or to want or to otherwise resist the offense.”

This is a meaningful development of the Church’s law, which has not previously recognized explicitly that implied coercion, abuse of authority, and imbalances of power can render seemingly consensual sexual acts as crimes.

It also sets out a clear procedure for investigating bishops accused of either implicitly or explicitly coercing someone to engage in sexual activity, abusing vulnerable persons, or possessing child pornography.

Notably, the document also applies to bishops accused of interfering with or avoiding criminal and canonical investigations of sexual abuse or coercion. And it clarifies that compliance with civil law is a normative expectation for bishops, and that failing to do so could lead to censure. This far exceeds the prevailing cultural paradigm in many parts of the world, but it is in line with what Pope Francis has said about cooperation with civil authorities for years.

The document clarifies that priests and religious are canonically obliged to report their knowledge of episcopal abuse and misconduct, and that episcopal conferences should establish a reporting mechanism that can be used by anyone. It says that whistleblowers should not be punished, and emphasizes the care due to victims of clerical sexual coercion, and their families. Importantly, it establishes timetables and deadlines for each stage of the process.

The scope of the document is broad, and to many of those who have reviewed it, its message is clear: the pope intends to convey that the Vatican will take seriously the concerns raised by U.S. bishops since the Theodore McCarrick scandal became public last June.

In fact, the procedures set forth in the document are similar to the so-called “metropolitan model” for addressing episcopal misconduct proposed by Cardinal Blase Cupich at the November meeting of the U.S. bishops’ conference. That model received support from a broad swath of bishops, among them Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, and an iteration of the proposal, albeit with some considerable modifications, was expected to be voted upon, and likely passed, by the U.S. bishops next month.

The norms introduced by Pope Francis deviate from the metropolitan model in one significant way: they do not involve lay review boards at any level.

The plan Cupich proposed suggested that “metropolitans,” — archbishops leading archdioceses —  would be responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct made against their “suffragans,” — the other diocesan and auxiliary bishops within their “metropolitan province.” The investigations of metropolitans, along with reports called vota, would be sent to appropriate Vatican offices for formal adjudication and a resolution.

But the metropolitan plan also held that archbishops would establish lay review boards, comprised of experts in criminal investigation, law enforcement, psychology, management, and other relevant disciplines. Those experts would generally be expected not to be employed by dioceses, in order to assure a measure in independence. The review boards would advise metropolitans and make recommendations to them. They were intended to serve as instruments of lay involvement and accountability.  

The norms released by Pope Francis do not include lay review boards or similar mechanisms of independent lay involvement.

Vos estis lux mundi does say that metropolitans may appoint “qualified persons” to assist them in investigations. But it does not offer specifics about the role of such “qualified persons,” call for them to have some independence from bishops, or require their involvement.

The involvement of lay canonists or other ecclesiastical figures employed by dioceses seems unlikely to represent the kind of lay involvement that U.S. Catholics, including bishops, have been calling for.

In short, while the norms of Vos estis lux mundi represent to many a concrete step forward, they do not require any measure of independent lay involvement or transparency. Those who have expressed concerns about clericalism’s impact on the sexual abuse crisis are likely to note that the process introduced by Pope Francis can be carried out entirely by clerics.

There has been some discussion among bishops about the possibility that metropolitan review boards might issue periodic public reports regarding how many investigations they undertook, and a general summary of the results of those investigations, in a manner similar to the reports issued annually concerning investigations of clerical sexual misconduct involving children. But Vos estis lux mundi makes no mention of any such reports.

A Q-and-A released by the U.S. bishops’ conference May 9 says that Vos estis lux mundi “increases transparency by establishing clear procedures that must be followed, reaffirming the obligation to report to civil authorities, providing for lay involvement in internal investigations, protecting from possible conflicts of interest, and ensuring that those who report complaints to the Church are also free to report the same information to others and are protected from retaliation.”

Whether that “increase” in transparency is enough for lay people, priests, and bishops concerned about clericalism remains to be seen. The absence of lay review boards at the metropolitan level may provoke significant pushback against the document in advance of the U.S. bishops’ meeting in Baltimore next month.

Vos estis lux mundi changes significantly the agenda for that meeting. The bishops are expected still to vote on guidelines for dealing with bishops removed from office because of misconduct or negligence, and on the “code of conduct” they discussed at the last meeting. But the centerpiece of their plan to address the abuse crisis, voting on a modified version of the “metropolitan model,” is now irrelevant, as Vox estis lux mundi supersedes whatever plan they might have passed.

If there is criticism of the lay role in Vos estis lux mundi, such as it is, the bishops might feel pressure to address that at their June meeting. To that end, they might consider a resolution calling on metropolitans to make use of review boards, and inserting that as a provision into the implementation “directives” that document suggests bishops' conferences develop.

What they could also do, especially in light of Vos estis lux mundi, is again consider a measure encouraging the Holy See to release results of its internal investigation concerning McCarrick, and consider a resolution encouraging bishops in McCarrick’s former dioceses to do the same. A resolution asking the Vatican to release results fell flat at the November meeting. But six months have passed, and with practically no information having been released, the bishops might decide to try again.

In a May 9 statement, USCCB president Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said that Vos estis lux mundi is “a blessing that will empower the Church everywhere to bring predators to justice, no matter what rank they hold in the Church. It also permits the Church the time and opportunity to bring spiritual healing.”

The document has largely been received in that spirit. But the U.S. bishops have spent months telling lay Catholics they should be part of a transparent process, and Vatican officials have said that clericalism is at the root of our sexual abuse crisis. Whether Vos estis lux mundi is actually seen to increase lay involvement and transparency, while decreasing clericalism, will depend, in large part, on what the bishops do next.

Dominican scholar: Church crisis calls for renewal of Catholic teaching on freedom

1 week 3 days ago

Vatican City, May 9, 2019 / 10:57 am (CNA).- According to a Dominican scholar, the crisis of priestly fidelity is connected to a new cultural conception of human freedom – and the solution will require re-embracing the Church’s view of freedom as something which points to God.

Fr. Thomas White, OP, is a professor of theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (“The Angelicum”) in Rome and is the director of the university’s Thomistic Institute. He was previously on the faculty of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.

White told CNA that a major part of today’s crisis is a redefinition of human freedom and, connectedly, human sexuality, which is “very, very different from the Catholic Church’s vision of the body and nature and integral human dignity – and the nature of the family and the integral connection between reproduction and sexuality.”

According to White, the central symbol of human freedom in today’s culture “is thought to be found in the freedom of sexual expression or even self-exploration.”

For example, he said, those who object to homosexual behavior are “seen as an enemy of the State, because you’re an enemy of the very notion of liberal values and liberal freedom.”

And this cultural shift in the conception of human freedom has deeply affected the internal life of the Catholic Church, the Catholic laity and the Catholic priesthood.

“We’re in a moment in which the great questions of our culture are about the use of human freedom, in part around issues related to human sexuality,” he argued. “And we feel that crisis encroaching on the very fabric of the Church, in the laity through the widespread use of contraception, but especially in the priesthood because of the crisis of priestly fidelity.”

“The answers, I think, are to show a more profoundly Catholic sense of human freedom for God,” White said. “The question becomes, are we really able to articulate an alternative to the dominant vision of human freedom that’s expressed in this radically new culture?”

White will give an address May 10 on “The Sanctification of the Priesthood and the Church” as the inaugural Father Val McInnes lecture at the Angelicum. He sat down with CNA earlier in the week to discuss the crisis in the priesthood and the Church and what he believes will be the path to renewal.

White said that he believes the Church’s traditional teaching on priestly celibacy offers a “very powerful antidote” to the culture’s redefinition of human freedom, and it does this by signaling that human freedom is ultimately “for something which transcends this world.”

Priestly celibacy is a powerful symbol that “our human freedom is not just a human freedom to pursue material choices of consumption, sexual options, and the exploration of our political autonomy,” he said. “It’s actually a freedom to love, it’s a freedom to seek the truth, and it’s a freedom to seek to be happy, [a freedom] that ultimately cannot find its terminus, its end point, its fulfillment, except in the discovery of God.”

St. Thomas Aquinas said the priest is celibate “ultimately for contemplative union with God,” White said.

Aquinas taught that “the priest is celibate in order to be free to give his life to God, to undertake a pursuit of the love and knowledge of God that can be all consuming. It’s a very challenging and beautiful view of the priesthood,” White said.

In this view, he said, celibacy is not first and foremost about practical considerations, such as having more time to serve people and costing the diocese less money to support: “Those aren’t false arguments, but they’re not primary arguments for Aquinas.”

“He says the priest is celibate to seek a kind of definitive all-encompassing union with God in the midst of his fragilities and limits and poverty, spiritually or psychologically, but nevertheless to seek an integration of his whole life in an orientation towards union with God, of knowledge and love,” White explained.

As White outlines in his lecture, St. Thomas Aquinas proposes five elements for the holiness of the priesthood, beginning with a priest’s fidelity to his ordination and in the administration of the sacraments.

“If he does those in a faithful manner, he is sanctified by virtue of that fidelity in doing things that are proper to the priestly state,” White said.

The priest, he continued, should also live a life of “personal search for union with God in a state of grace and love for God, the search for wisdom and understanding of the faith to communicate effectively as a teacher,” and prudent governance and stewardship of the faithful, and he should be in communion with the whole Church, and especially with his bishop and the See of Rome.

“If we [priests] lack grounding in the sacramental practices of the Church and her teachings, it’s also going to hurt us in trying to resolve our own life of witness in an integral way,” he said.

Ultimately, White thinks the solutions to today’s crisis in the Church will not be something new, and that the deep solutions needed “depend on grace and also the internal formation life and discipline life of the Church.”

He said it is true that the Church needs to make some prudential considerations about the formation, training, and vetting of priests and bishops, and that the laity have the right to expect and insist upon reform from bishops and priests.

However, he said, the true and deep renewal of the Church “occurs through a renewal of love and knowledge of God by grace.”

This does not do away with a concern for advocacy and justice, but the contrary, he emphasized, because “the more that people are seeking holiness, the more they desire that there be justice in the Church.”

“The deep renewal of the priesthood and of the episcopacy also requires a deep renewal of faith in the mystery of Christ, hope in the sacramental means of sanctification, in the truths of the faith, and in love for God,” he said. “There’s just not going to be any real renewal of the Church without love for God.”

Pope Francis issues norms for reports of abuse of minors, seminarians, and religious

1 week 3 days ago

Vatican City, May 9, 2019 / 04:01 am (CNA).- New Vatican norms for the Church’s handling of sex abuse, issued Thursday, place seminarians and religious coerced into sexual activity through the misuse of authority in the same criminal category as abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.

The norms also establish obligatory reporting for clerics and religious, require that every diocese has a mechanism for reporting abuse, and put the metropolitan archbishop in charge of investigations of accusations against suffragan bishops.

Pope Francis promulgated the law May 9 via a motu proprio, titled, “Vos estis lux mundi” (“You are the light of the world”). He approved its promulgation on an experimental basis for a period of three years. It will enter in effect June 1, 2019.

“The crimes of sexual abuse offend Our Lord, cause physical, psychological and spiritual damage to the victims and harm the community of the faithful,” the pope wrote, stating that the primary responsibility for improving the handling of these issues falls to the bishop, though it concerns all who have ministries in the Church or “serve the Christian People.”

“Therefore, it is good that procedures be universally adopted to prevent and combat these crimes that betray the trust of the faithful,” he said.

The norms regard what are called, in canon law, “delicts against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue,” consisting of sexual acts with a minor or vulnerable person; forcing someone to perform or submit to sexual acts through violence, threat, or abuse of authority; and the production or possession of child pornography.

The new law also concerns any actions intended to cover-up a civil or canonical investigation into accusations of child pornography use, sexual abuse of minors, or sexual coercion through abuse of power.

It establishes the so-called “metropolitan model” for the investigation of accusations against bishops and their equivalents, as proposed by Cardinal Blase Cupich at the November meeting of the U.S. bishops' conference and the Vatican February summit on the protection of minors.

According to the new law, the metropolitan archbishop will conduct the investigation into a suffragan bishop with a mandate from the Holy See. The metropolitan is required to send reports to the Holy See on the progress of the investigation every 30 days and to complete the investigation within 90 days unless granted an extension.

The metropolitan archbishop may use the assistance of qualified laypeople in carrying out the investigation, though it is primarily his responsibility, the norms state. Bishops’ conferences may establish funds to support these investigations.

The document emphasizes that “the person under investigation enjoys the presumption of innocence.”

At the conclusion of the investigation, the results are sent to the competent Vatican dicastery, which will then apply the applicable penalty according to existing canon law.

In the event a report concerns a major archbishop, it will be forwarded to the Holy See.

One article states that Church authorities shall be committed to ensuring “that those who state that they have been harmed, together with their families, are to be treated with dignity and respect,” be welcomed, listened to, and supported, offered spiritual assistance, and medical and psychological assistance.

The norms also introduce obligatory reporting, requiring that every cleric or religious man or woman who has become aware of an accusation of abuse or cover-up report it “promptly” to the proper church authority.

The ‘motu proprio’ also states that it will be required that every diocese create a stable mechanism or system through which people may submit reports of abuse or its cover-up. The exact form of the system, which could also be an entire office, will be left to the discretion of the individual diocese, but must be established by June 2020.

“Even if so much has already been accomplished, we must continue to learn from the bitter lessons of the past, looking with hope towards the future,” Pope Francis wrote.

“In order that these phenomena, in all their forms, never happen again, a continuous and profound conversion of hearts is needed,” he said, “attested by concrete and effective actions that involve everyone in the Church.”

“This becomes possible only with the grace of the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts, as we must always keep in mind the words of Jesus: ‘Apart from me you can do nothing.’”

Thursday of the Third Week of Easter

1 week 3 days ago
Reading 1 Acts 8:26-40 The angel of the Lord spoke to Philip,
"Get up and head south on the road
that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza, the desert route."
So he got up and set out.
Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch,
a court official of the Candace,
that is, the queen of the Ethiopians,
in charge of her entire treasury,
who had come to Jerusalem to worship, and was returning home.
Seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah.
The Spirit said to Philip,
"Go and join up with that chariot."
Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and said,
"Do you understand what you are reading?"
He replied,
"How can I, unless someone instructs me?"
So he invited Philip to get in and sit with him.
This was the Scripture passage he was reading:

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who will tell of his posterity?
For his life is taken from the earth.


Then the eunuch said to Philip in reply,
"I beg you, about whom is the prophet saying this?
About himself, or about someone else?"
Then Philip opened his mouth and, beginning with this Scripture passage,
he proclaimed Jesus to him.
As they traveled along the road
they came to some water,
and the eunuch said, "Look, there is water.
What is to prevent my being baptized?"
Then he ordered the chariot to stop,
and Philip and the eunuch both went down into the water,
and he baptized him.
When they came out of the water,
the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away,
and the eunuch saw him no more,
but continued on his way rejoicing.
Philip came to Azotus, and went about proclaiming the good news
to all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
Responsorial Psalm Ps 66:8-9, 16-17, 20 R.(1) Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Bless our God, you peoples,
loudly sound his praise;
He has given life to our souls,
and has not let our feet slip.
R. Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Hear now, all you who fear God, while I declare
what he has done for me.
When I appealed to him in words,
praise was on the tip of my tongue.
R. Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Blessed be God who refused me not
my prayer or his kindness!
R. Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Alleluia Jn 6:51 R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I am the living bread that came down from heaven, says the Lord;
whoever eats this bread will live forever.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel Jn 6:44-51 Jesus said to the crowds:
"No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him,
and I will raise him on the last day.
It is written in the prophets:

They shall all be taught by God.

Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.
Not that anyone has seen the Father
except the one who is from God;
he has seen the Father.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever believes has eternal life.
I am the bread of life.
Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died;
this is the bread that comes down from heaven
so that one may eat it and not die.
I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give
is my Flesh for the life of the world."


- - -
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.

Lawsuit calls for POW Bible to be removed from VA hospital display

1 week 4 days ago

Manchester, N.H., May 8, 2019 / 08:00 pm (CNA).- A Bible once carried by a World War II prisoner of war is the center of a legal fight at a veterans’ medical center in New Hampshire.

The Bible was part of a “Missing Man” table display, honoring prisoners of war and missing soldiers, placed at the entrance of the Manchester Veterans’ Administration Medical Center. The bible was donated to the medical center by a 95 year old veteran and former POW to whom it belonged. The veteran had the Bible while he was a prisoner of war.

A federal lawsuit now argues that the Bible should be removed from display, because it violates the First Amendment by appearing to favor one religion over another.

The suit was filed by U.S. Air Force veteran James Chamberlain, a Christian, after months of back and forth between a group of veterans and the staff of the Manchester Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center over the Bible. According to the New Hampshire Union Leader, 14 veterans and patients of the medical center filed complaints against the Bible with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) in January of this year. These veterans were of varying religions; they were Protestant, Catholic, atheist, agnostic and of other religions, the Union Leader reported.

After receiving the complaints, the MRFF advocated for the Bible’s removal, and in late January informed the medical center of the complaints they had received against it. At that point, the medical center told the foundation that the Bible would be removed.

But by Feb. 23, the MRFF received new complaints that the Bible was back on display, now in a plexiglass case, in the memorial. Chamberlain became the 15th veteran to file a complaint, and then became the plaintiff of the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Concord.

Attorney Lawrence Vogelman, who is representing Chamberlain, sent a letter on March 25 to Alfred Montoya, director of the medical center, asking again for the Bible’s removal. Vogelman received a letter from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs on April 4, which said the display of the Bible did not violate the First Amendment.

Vogelman wrote in the lawsuit that the display of the Bible in the memorial is “just as objectionable” as it would be if “the MVAMC only provided care to Christians, or denied care to non-believers, or those who worship their God in other ways,” the Union Leader reported.  

This week, the MRFF arranged for an airplane to tow a banner over the medical center calling for the removal of the Bible.

Curt Cashour, press secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said in a statement that the lawsuit is “nothing more than an attempt to force VA into censoring a show of respect for America’s POW/MIA community.”

“Make no mistake: VA will not be bullied on this issue,” he added.

Cashour told reporters that after the initial removal of the Bible, the medical center received numerous complaints from patients and their families, asking that the Bible be put back. After seeking legal counsel, the medical center decided to put the POW Bible back on display, Cashour said.

“We apologize to the veterans, families and other stakeholders who were offended by the facility’s incorrect removal of this Bible,” he told the Union Leader.

The Missing Man Table was sponsored by the Northeast POW/MIA Network.

First Liberty Institute, a non-profit organization that defends religious freedom, said in a statement that the Northeast POW/MIA Network “should be able to honor and remember those killed, captured or missing with a display that includes a Bible donated by a WWII veteran that represents the strength through faith necessary for American service members to survive,” the Union Leader reported.  

“First Liberty recently represented the Northeast POW/MIA Network in successfully ensuring that the POW/MIA Remembrance display it donated would remain intact at the Manchester VA Medical Center,” Mike Berry, FLI’s chief of staff, said in a statement.

 

Ariz. legislature adopts resolution calling pornography a public health crisis

1 week 4 days ago

Phoenix, Ariz., May 8, 2019 / 07:19 pm (CNA).- The Arizona legislature has passed a resolution declaring pornography a public health crisis and a danger to mental and physical health.

House Concurrent Resolution 2009 was approved 16-13 by the state senate May 6. It was passed by the Arizona House Feb. 25.

The measure does not ban adult material, but rather makes a public statement against the dangers of pornography.

“Potential detrimental effects on pornography users include toxic sexual behaviors, emotional, mental and medical illnesses and difficulty forming or maintaining intimate relationships,” the resolution reads.

“To counteract these detrimental effects, this state and the nation must systemically prevent exposure and addiction to pornography, educate individuals and families about its harms and develop pornography recovery programs.”

The vote mostly ran along party lines, with Republicans in favor of the bill and Democrats opposed. Republican senators claimed the resolution to be an important stance against pornography’s hazardous effects, while Democrats said it will hinder the advancement of other social issues, like homelessness and measles, according to AZ Capitol Times.

“Pornography is rampant. It’s all over our phones and our internet,” said Sen. Sylvia Allen. “The soul of America is sick in many ways, and it starts with what we put into our minds and into our hearts.”

“The public health crisis in the U.S. really needs to be centered right now on the measles epidemic that is striking our country and our state,” said Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai. “We really need to focus on those types of things that are life-threatening and fatal.”

The resolution highlights some of the potential dangers of pornography, including addiction, violence, and eating disorders. It specifically draws attention to its effects on the development of children.

“Children are being exposed to pornography at an alarming rate, leading to low self-esteem, eating disorders and an increase in problematic sexual activity at ever-younger ages,” the resolution says.

“Pornography normalizes violence and the abuse of women and children by treating them as objects, increasing the demand for sex trafficking, prostitution and child pornography.”

According to the AZ Capitol Times, Sen. Victoria Steele said the measure will not have any real effect, noting that pornography is not the issue here.

“The real issue is not necessarily pornography,” Steele said. “The real issue is around violence against women and toxic masculinity.”

On Twitter, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation and the Center for AZ Policy applauded the decision, calling it important step against the threats of porn: “Medical professionals, therapists, and even elected officials are beginning to acknowledge the public health harms of pornography!”

Analysis: Power, and its appearance, in Vatican curial reform

1 week 4 days ago

Vatican City, May 8, 2019 / 05:35 pm (CNA).- In the coming months, Pope Francis is expected to approve a final draft of a new governing constitution for the Roman Curia. Evangelium praedicate, as it is expected to be called, will mark the culmination of six years of reforming efforts led by the pope’s Council of Cardinals.

As the document gets closer to publication, some members of Roman Curia have expressed concern about the document’s current draft form, especially as it relates to the possibility of more senior roles for lay men and women.

The constitution is expected to continue the work of combining smaller “pontifical councils” with the larger, better known, “congregations” of the Vatican Curia. The stated aim of such reforms is to provide a more efficient bureaucracy, better suited to serving the pope and dioceses around the world.

Commentary has focused on a supposedly revised order of seniority among the combined curial departments, with some media outlets predicting a relegation of status for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in favor of Propaganda Fide.

The ecclesiological problems with that forecast are well known; Francis has himself insisted that “all dicasteries report directly to the pope” and that reform must proceed “on the basis of the principle that all dicasteries are juridically equal.”

And sources familiar with the draft text have noted that, while departmental seniority may be a red herring, the exercise of authority within departments is a more significant issue. Specifically, curial officials say, members of the C6 (formerly the C9) have been considering how lay men and women might assume senior leadership roles in the consolidated curial departments.
 
That possibility is already unfolding. Last year, a reconstituted Dicastery for Communications became the first curial department to have a layman as prefect. Francis has also appointed two women to serve as undersecretaries at the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life. Laity also fill senior positions at the Secretariat for the Economy.

At this point in curial organization, according to sources familiar with the reforming efforts, some members of the C6 are pushing for the appointment of lay Catholics to positions traditionally held by cardinals.

While allowing laity to occupy more senior Vatican offices has been a much-discussed ambition in curial reform, it has generated concern among many officials.

“There is definitely a push to have a layman, preferably a woman, serve in a role traditionally and prominently held by a cardinal,” one Vatican official familiar with the drafting process told CNA.

“But there is maybe more enthusiasm than understanding in these ideas.”

Many aspects of Church life and governance require the approval of a Roman congregation acting on authority delegated by the pope, including, for example, new translations of the liturgy or the sale of Church patrimony above certain set amounts.

Some curial officials warn that reform efforts which ignore the curia’s theological link to the exercise of papal authority present a host of problems, legal and ecclesiological. Central to the issue is a theological debate about which roles in the Church’s governance require sacramental ordination, and which can be filled by lay people.

Canon law defines ordination as a necessary qualification for the exercise of the power of governance. Lay people – according to the Code of Canon Law – can “cooperate” in the exercise, but not exercise it in their own right.

“It can be good to have lay people in senior roles,” one curial archbishop who has seen a recent draft of the new constitution told CNA.

“But you cannot have laity exercising the power of governance on their own, this is clear.”

In practice, lay and clerical cooperation can be seen at the diocesan level, where, for example, lay canonists serve as judges on marriage tribunals. While lay judges may write the consensus opinions of the court, they make up a minority on judging panels, which are always chaired by a cleric.

Lay people may serve in senior diocesan roles, such as chancellor, but not in roles with a stable governing function, like vicar general. According to those working in the Roman curia, adopting a similar model in Vatican governance is not impossible.
 
“Certainly you could have a lay secretary of a dicastery, with acts which exercise the delegated power of governance being signed also by a prefect-cleric,” the archbishop said. “But to have a lay prefect of [for example] the CICLSAL [the department for religious orders] would mean having the pope sign everything in forma specifica for it to have authority.”
 
While canonists point out what they see as a potentially flawed ecclesiology in attempting to invest lay officials with the theoretical power to tell bishops or religious superiors what to do, curial officials warn that the attempt could backfire even as a gesture - noting that Rome had recently intervened to prevent similar efforts.
 
“They [C6] are speaking about ‘empowered’ lay leadership in the curia - I wonder how that will strike the Americans. Compared to a [lay] prefect of a governing dicastery, what they proposed [at the USCCB autumn assembly in Baltimore last year] is modest, and they were told ‘numquam,’” the Vatican official said.
 
Others close to the C6 have suggested that the push for lay leadership is actually less about empowering lay officials and more about draining power away from Rome altogether.
 
“There is a minority that sees the laity as a way to break the curia’s role,” one priest close to the C6 told CNA. “Give them the jobs they cannot do and give the power to actually do them to the episcopal conferences.”
 
The priest explained that since curial exercise of governance cannot be given to lay people, even if given prominent leadership positions, the exercise of that power would automatically revert back to the pope “unless it is delegated further down.”
 
“At least some of the [C6] cardinals see lay prefects as a way of cutting back Roman power, not just [of] the curia but [of] the pope. If you have lay prefects, you have to limit the competence [of the dicastery], and you give whatever they cannot do to the bishops’ conferences.”
 
“Rome gets the power of appearance of lay people in charge, lay people get the appearance of power, and the conferences get the real power,” the priest explained, “and they call it subsidiarity.”
 
While the coming weeks will likely see further discussion of the new Vatican constitution’s contents and release, it is clear nothing has made it past the draft stage yet.
 
“There is much [wider] consultation which must still happen,” the curial archbishop said. “We hope there will be more understanding after that. Too much now is the fruit of a few - what touches all must be approved by all.”

Chaput: Rep. Brian Sims’ harassment of pro-lifers 'unbecoming of an elected official'

1 week 4 days ago

Philadelphia, Pa., May 8, 2019 / 05:15 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia called for broad participation in a pro-life rally this week, scheduled in response to a Penslyvania state representative’s livestreamed harassment of a woman praying outside of a Planned Parenthood clinic.

“These videos, which Representative Sims took himself, have rightly sparked broad outrage ... His actions were unbecoming of an elected official,” Archbishop Chaput said in a statement released May 8.

“I’m calling on all people of good will to channel their indignation into right action and prayerful witness,” he said.

The archbishop invited prayerful participation in a rally May 10 at 11am outside of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Planned Parenthood, the same clinic at which state Rep. Brian Sims filmed himself aggressively questioning a woman praying the rosary across the street from a Planned Parenthood May 2.

In a series of livestreamed videos, Sims’ solicited viewers for the woman’s name and address and for the names and addresses of three teenagers praying at Planned Parenthood, saying in one video: “Let’s go protest out in front of her house and tell her what’s right for her body.”

“Who would have thought that an old white lady would be outside of a Planned Parenthood telling people what’s right for their bodies? Shame on you,” Sims said in the video.

Chaput said that there is “much bitter irony” in Sims’ claim to be a champion for the rights of all women while he “trampled on the rights of others and disgracefully shamed them in public.”

“Representative Sims spoke often of shame and there was plenty of that to be found in his actions, which demonstrated a complete disregard for civility and basic human decency,” Chaput said.

“It was particularly disdainful that he offered a bounty for the identity and home addresses of three young ladies in order to encourage protests at their homes.”

The practice of soliciting or publishing online an individual’s address and other personal details in order to elicit harassment is known as doxing. It is illegal in many jurisdictions.

Sims has represented District 182, a heavily-Democratic area of Philadelphia, in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives since 2013. Sims is an LGBT activist and was the first person to identify as gay elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

In a video posted May 7, Sims said he had spent the last seven years volunteering as a Planned Parenthood patient escort. He tweeted earlier this month, “Planned Parenthood protesters are scum! I’ve spent years as a patient escort witnessing firsthand the hate, vitriol, hostility and BLATANT RACISM they spew. You can ‘pray for a baby at home.’ You sure as hell can feed a kid or clothe one instead. Old, fake, White, wrong!”

Sims have been the subject of an investigation by Pennsylvania’s State Ethics Commission, after questions were raised in 2017 regarding speaking fees he received while in office. He is accused of accepting honoraria, including fees and free travel and accommodation, in violation of policies governing state legislators.

“Let us meet the hateful actions of Representative Sims with the love of Christ and let us fervently pray for respect for life from conception to natural death,” Chaput said.

 

Chaput: Rep. Brian Sims’ harassment of pro-lifers ‘unbecoming of an elected official’

1 week 4 days ago

Philadelphia, Pa., May 8, 2019 / 05:15 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia called for broad participation in a pro-life rally this week, scheduled in response to a Penslyvania state representative’s livestreamed harassment of a woman praying outside of a Planned Parenthood clinic.

“These videos, which Representative Sims took himself, have rightly sparked broad outrage ... His actions were unbecoming of an elected official,” Archbishop Chaput said in a statement released May 8.

“I’m calling on all people of good will to channel their indignation into right action and prayerful witness,” he said.

The archbishop invited prayerful participation in a rally May 10 at 11am outside of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Planned Parenthood, the same clinic at which state Rep. Brian Sims filmed himself aggressively questioning a woman praying the rosary across the street from a Planned Parenthood May 2.

In a series of livestreamed videos, Sims’ solicited viewers for the woman’s name and address and for the names and addresses of three teenagers praying at Planned Parenthood, saying in one video: “Let’s go protest out in front of her house and tell her what’s right for her body.”

“Who would have thought that an old white lady would be outside of a Planned Parenthood telling people what’s right for their bodies? Shame on you,” Sims said in the video.

Chaput said that there is “much bitter irony” in Sims’ claim to be a champion for the rights of all women while he “trampled on the rights of others and disgracefully shamed them in public.”

“Representative Sims spoke often of shame and there was plenty of that to be found in his actions, which demonstrated a complete disregard for civility and basic human decency,” Chaput said.

“It was particularly disdainful that he offered a bounty for the identity and home addresses of three young ladies in order to encourage protests at their homes.”

The practice of soliciting or publishing online an individual’s address and other personal details in order to elicit harassment is known as doxing. It is illegal in many jurisdictions.

Sims has represented District 182, a heavily-Democratic area of Philadelphia, in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives since 2013. Sims is an LGBT activist and was the first person to identify as gay elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

In a video posted May 7, Sims said he had spent the last seven years volunteering as a Planned Parenthood patient escort. He tweeted earlier this month, “Planned Parenthood protesters are scum! I’ve spent years as a patient escort witnessing firsthand the hate, vitriol, hostility and BLATANT RACISM they spew. You can ‘pray for a baby at home.’ You sure as hell can feed a kid or clothe one instead. Old, fake, White, wrong!”

Sims have been the subject of an investigation by Pennsylvania’s State Ethics Commission, after questions were raised in 2017 regarding speaking fees he received while in office. He is accused of accepting honoraria, including fees and free travel and accommodation, in violation of policies governing state legislators.

“Let us meet the hateful actions of Representative Sims with the love of Christ and let us fervently pray for respect for life from conception to natural death,” Chaput said.

 

Faith leaders call for an end to solitary confinement

1 week 4 days ago

Albany, N.Y., May 8, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- New York’s faith leaders gathered in protest of solitary confinement this week, pushing for a bill that seeks more humane ways to treat prisoners.
 
“We believe solitary confinement is a form of torture, and it has been vastly overused historically in New York State. Even with some recent reforms, not enough has been done,” Dennis Poust, communications director for the New York State Catholic Conference, told CNA.

Thirty-five faith leaders and 30 others rallied in support of the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Confinement Act in the New York Capitol Building in Albany on May 7.
 
Attendees included representatives from the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, T'ruah the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, and New York State Council of Churches - a coalition of numerous denominations.

The New York State Catholic Conference was not present at the event, but it expressed strong support for the HALT bill, which has not yet been debated on the Senate or House floor. The conference issued a memorandum in support of the act in January.

The bill seeks to “limit the time an inmate can spend in segregated confinement, end the segregated confinement of vulnerable people, restrict the criteria that can result in such confinement, improve conditions of confinement, and create more humane and effective alternatives to such confinement,” according to the statement.

If passed, the law would restrict solitary confinement to 15 days or less. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has denounced solitary confinement that exceeds more than 15 days as a form of torture.

On any given day, there are an estimated 3,000 inmates in solitary confinement in New York’s state prisons. Prisoners in solitary confinement are isolated in 6-by-10 foot cells for 23 hours at a time.
 
After a 2016 settlement in a lawsuit challenging New York’s widespread use of solitary confinement as a punishment, the state reformed its prison system to limit the solitary confinement of pregnant women, youth and the disabled.
 
Solitary confinement can have serious consequences for prisoners’ psychological health, leading to an increase in depression or even suicide, Poust told CNA.
 
“It’s not necessary in modern society and modern prison systems to take this action. We are asking the state to look at its historic overuse of this policy and to present these prisoner with more humane conditions,” he said.

Poust drew attention to the care of the imprisoned prescribed by the Old and New Testaments. He said it is the responsibility of Christians to express solidarity with incarcerated people.

“Prisoners don’t lose their innate human dignity when they are sentenced. While there are many prisoners who present a danger to society and must be incarcerated, the idea that they should be treated as less than human is anathema to what we as a society should be striving for,” he said.

Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany has said that solitary confinement deteriorates mental illness, trauma, and recidivism, side effects that Americans cannot ignore.
 
“Social science has affirmed that solitary confinement works against the purpose of rehabilitation and restorative justice. It also works against the purpose of improving public safety, both inside our prisons and jails and in our communities,” he wrote in a 2016 op-ed article in Times Union.
 
Pope Francis, an advocate care of the most vulnerable and on the peripheries of society, has spoken out on the topic. In 2014, he said solitary confinement was a form of torture and drew attention to its negative effects.

“The lack of sensory stimuli, the total impossibility of communication and the lack of contact with other human beings induce mental and physical suffering, such as paranoia, anxiety, depression, weight loss, and significantly increase the suicidal tendency,” Pope Francis said.

Judge rules against Virginia law banning abortions by non-doctors

1 week 4 days ago

Richmond, Va., May 8, 2019 / 03:58 pm (CNA).- A federal judge in Richmond, Virginia has ruled against state medical regulations requiring first-trimester abortions be performed only by physicians.

“After a careful review of the experts' opinions from both sides, a consensus appears to have evolved that first trimester abortions, which typically require only medication, do not require the onsite presence of a licensed physician and is consequently unduly burdensome,” wrote U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson on May 6.

Nearly a dozen lawsuits filed in states across the U.S. are seeking to allow medical professionals other than doctors - such as nurse practitioners, midwives and physician assistants - to perform abortions.

Planned Parenthood affiliates and abortion rights lobbying groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have filed 11 lawsuits across the United States since 2016, beginning after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down health and safety regulations on abortion providers in Texas.

The judge has yet to set a date for when the Virginia ruling will take effect. Pro-life advocates decried the decision, saying the ruling demostrated a disregard for the safety of women who choose to have abortions.

“Laws requiring that ‘physicians only’ perform abortions exist in 40 states. The court decision today in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia is directly contrary to controlling U.S. Supreme Court precedent,” said Olivia Gans Turner, president of Virginia’s National Right to Life state affiliate.

“In their unceasing quest to promote no-limits destruction of unborn children regardless of stage of development or ability to feel pain, abortion advocates are more extreme even than the Roe v. Wade decision they claim to defend.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights, an abortion rights group, is challenging similar laws in Mississippi, Arizona, Kansas, Montana and Louisiana, the Washington Post reports.

A trial is set for May 20 on Virginia state requirements that all second-trimester abortions be performed in a hospital; that patients wait 24 hours after getting an ultrasound to undergo an abortion; as well as licensing standards for clinics, the Post reports.

The Maine chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood in Sept. 2017 filed a lawsuit in federal court, taking issue with a state law that only permits doctors to perform abortions. Democratic Gov. Janet Mills has also introduced legislation that would allow nurse practitioners, physician assistants and certified nurse-midwives to perform abortions.

Clarke Forsythe, senior counsel at Americans United for Life, told CNA in 2017 that requiring only doctors to perform abortions “establishes a high standard of safety for patient care.” Allowing non-doctors to perform abortions would “further isolate abortions from other gynecological care,” he told CNA.

According to Forsythe, the number of doctors who perform abortions has continued to shrink.

“Doctors don’t want to get into the business,” he said. “The abortion industry and population controllers have been desperately looking to increase the number of abortionists.”

Suzanne Lafreniere, director of public policy for Diocese of Portland in Maine, described the lawsuit as “a desperate attempt to increase abortions in the state of Maine.”

She said that the number of surgical abortions has been declining in Maine, and that the abortion lobby is doing “everything it can to increase its business, to be perfectly honest.”

Yesterday, the Maine House of Representatives passed a bill that would require Maine’s Medicaid program and private insurance companies to pay for elective abortions. The bill now moves to the state Senate. Fifteen other states already spend public money on abortion— Maine’s Medicaid already covers abortions in cases of rape or risk to the mother’s life.

Last month, the Montana Supreme Court upheld a ruling allowing a nurse practitioner and a nurse midwife to continue to perform abortions in the early stages of pregnancy, until the court makes a final decision on whether a state law excluding nurses from performing abortions is constitutional.

Government figures have asked Church for asylum, Venezuelan bishop says

1 week 4 days ago

San Cristobal, Venezuela, May 8, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- A Venezuelan bishop said Sunday that prominent figures in the government of Nicolas Maduro have asked for asylum from the Church in case the regime should fall.

Opposition leader Juan Guaidó called last week for protests against Maduro. Under Maduro's socialist administration, Venezuela has been marred by violence and social upheaval, with severe shortages and hyperinflation leading 3 million to emigrate.

“Some of the principal leaders of the government went to ask the bishops' conference for the right to asylum, if the government fell,” Bishop Mario del Valle Moronta Rodriguez of San Cristóbal de Venezuela said during a May 5 Mass.

Two days later, it was announced that Manuel Christopher Figuera, a former intelligence chief and a general, had broken ranks with Maduro's government. The US declared May 7 that it had lifted sanctions against Figuera, and would consider doing so for any other defectors.

Bishop Moronta recalled the Church's right to provide refuge for people when their lives are in danger, as happened several years ago when pro-government politicians  “had to hide in many of our churches.”

In a statement released Sunday May 5 by local media, Moronta reiterated that “some high ranking leaders went to some bishops. Obviously for logical reasons who they were won't be said, but they went to consult whether in the case that events turned against them they retained the right of asylum that the Church universally recognizes.”

“Of course, the Church is open to protecting all those who are attacked, those who require some assistance. On the other hand, the Church is not going to be their lackey. It is not hiding for the sake of hiding, but to protect,” the prelate clarified.

Bishop Morontoa also said that the nation's bishops sent a report to Pope Francis on the events in recent days in Venezuela, on the attacks against the Catholic Church throughout the country, and the suffering the people are undergoing.

“And the pope told us to forge ahead, for the Church to not lose heart, that the voice of the bishops is the voice of the pope, and that everything done against the Church is not done just against the local Church but the Church throughout the world,” the prelate said.

He expressed his solidary with the people of Our Lady of Fatima parish in San Cristóbal, which was attacked by members of the Venezuelan National Guard May 1. Such attacks are possible because of a lack of "the fear of God in those who act like this," he said.

The bishop related that he was recently stopped at a GNB checkpoint where the military police told him that "they felt ashamed of what their fellow soldiers had done at Our Lady of Fatima parish.”

Guaidó, head of the opposition-controlled legislature, the National Assembly, declared himself interim president in January and has been recognized by a number of Western governments, but has been largely unable to secure the support of Venezuela's military.

Protests last week failed to dislodge Maduro from power.

After Vatican-China deal, Chinese bishop imprisoned for 23 years is not yet released

1 week 4 days ago

Beijing, China, May 8, 2019 / 11:30 am (CNA).- The nephew of a Chinese bishop who was arrested 23 years ago has said he does not know where his uncle is incarcerated, or even whether he is still alive.

“His whereabouts are unknown and I don’t even know if he is alive or not. I am upset with tears every time I think of this 87-year-old man. Please pray for him,” Su Tianyou told UCANews recently.

His uncle is Bishop James Su Zhimin of Baoding, in China’s Hebei province, southwest of Beijing.

In 1996, the bishop was arrested during a procession, and charged with conducting “unregistered” religious activities: Su had refused to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, the government recognized Catholic Church in China, and was instead a member of the “underground” Church- in communion with Rome, and appointed a bishop by Pope St. John Paul II, but unrecognized by the Chinese government as a bishop.

It was not the first time Su was arrested. According to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Human Rights Commission, Su has spent 40 years in prison, “without charge, without trial.”

“Before being arrested in 1996, Bishop Su Zhimin was held off and on for 26 years either in prison or forced labor camps.  The Chinese government deemed him as ‘counterrevolutionary’ because, since the 1950s, he has refused to join the Patriotic Association,” the Human Rights Commission says.

Su reportedly escaped Chinese detention in 1997, but was rearrested.

“In November 2003, his family discovered him by chance at a hospital in Baoding, surrounded by police and public security.  He has not been heard or seen from since, despite repeated international inquiries,” according to the Human Rights Commission.

Su’s nephew, Su Tianyou, told UCANews that he met in 2015 with Guo Wei, a Chinese official who told him that the bishop might be released if there were an improvement in Vatican-China relations.

In September 2018, Beijing and Vatican officials signed a provisional agreement on bishop appointments, that was intended to unify the underground Church and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

According to Su Tianyou, neither Vatican nor Chinese officials have indicated whether Su might now be released.

In October 2018, Hong Kong’s Bishop Michael Yeung said that his diocese continued to pray for Su, and hope for his release.

“Whether he is in prison, or kept secret in some other place, or whether he has already died, nobody really knows,” Yueng told Reuters.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom's latest report, issued April 29, noted that despite last year's Vatican-China deal on the appointment of bishops, “repression of the underground Catholic Church increased during the latter half of the year.”
The commission, known as the USCIRF, is a bipartisan group that advises the President, Congress, and the Secretary of State on international religious freedom issues.

Among the report's inclusion of commissioners' “individual views” were those of Johnnie Moore, who called the deal “one of the most alarming incidents as it relates to religious freedom in the entire year.”

“Within days of the Vatican negotiating its deal, the Chinese used it as cover to embark upon the closure of several of the nation’s largest and most prominent unregistered church communities,” Moore wrote.

Moore believes the Vatican “now bears a significant moral and legal responsibility to help solve the problem which it helped created—albeit inadvertently—by providing China license to viciously crack down on Christian communities (as cited in this report), and by providing the Chinese government further cover to continue its incomprehensible, inexcusable and inhumane abuses of Muslim citizens in the western part of the country.”

“While I am entirely for direct engagement on these issues, including with the most severe violators in the world, that engagement must not result in these types of unintended consequences, as has been the case in China. The Vatican made a terrible mistake, which it must take seriously. This debacle must be dealt with urgently and seriously.”

April’s USCIRF report also highlighted the plight of the Uyghur Muslim minority in China. To date, between 800,000 to 2 million Uyghurs— or about 10% of their population— have been detained and sent to “re-education camps” to be subjected to abuse and political indoctrination.

The report calls on the US government to sanction those in the Chinese government responsible for the detention of the Uyghurs.