Age verification to access online porn arriving in UK next month

1 week 4 days ago

London, England, Mar 7, 2019 / 03:36 am (CNA).- Next month, the United Kingdom will roll out new online restrictions in an attempt to protect children under the age of 18 from accessing pornography.

Digital Minister Matt Hancock signed a commencement order for the Digital Economy Act in 2017. After two years of development, the program will be released on April 1.

To view online pornography, internet users will need to confirm their age by entering information from a driver’s license, credit card, or passport. If users do not wish to input their personal information, they may purchase a special ID card, available at thousands of retail shops across the nation for under £10.

Websites that fail to follow the age verification rules may face a nearly $330,000 fine or be blocked by the country’s internet service providers.

Matt Fradd, author of The Porn Myth and creator of the new 21-day porn detox STRIVE, voiced support for increased restrictions surrounding pornography.

“If it’s something as simple as age verification, I’m all for it,” he told CNA. “It just sounds like we are expecting the same thing of people online that we already expect of them offline.”

The most popular verification service is called AgeID and was built by MindGeek, which operates and owns several common pornographic sites.

Some critics of the new UK policy say it violates the privacy and safety of pornography users. Others argue that it does not go far enough to protect minors.

“It may make it harder for children to stumble across pornography, especially in the younger age range, but it will do nothing to stop determined teenagers,” said Dr. Victoria Nash, deputy director of the Oxford Internet Institute, according to BirminghamLive.

Dr. Joss Wright, senior research fellow at the institute, added that the new policy raises “privacy issues - you're requiring people to effectively announce the fact they are looking at this material to the credit card authorities. And there's serious security issues from requiring people to enter their credit card details into untrusted sites.”

The UK’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) said the age verification is a valuable first step, but that other measures need to be taken alongside it.

“The NSPCC is calling for social networks to be required by law to give under-18s safe accounts with extra protections built in, so that children are kept as safe online as they are in the real world,” read a statement from the organization, according to BirminghamLive.

Fradd said the restrictions are enforcing age requirements that are already established offline. He said there is often confusion among parents about the seriousness of material viewed online compared to explicit material accessed in stores or movie theaters.

“Imagine a 17-year-old going to watch 50 Shades of [Grey] and being turned away and within five minutes looking at something a hundred times worse on their phone. So either allow children to watch 50 Shades of Grey and buy pornography from stores, or be consistent and require age verification,” he said.

Children’s access to online pornography has been identified as a significant problem: A 2016 study by internet security company Bitdefender found that about 1 in 10 visitors to porn video sites is under age 10.

Fight the New Drug, an organization that works to educate on the harmful effects of pornography, has highlighted numerous studies showing the negative impact of pornography on underage users, including the creation of addictions, changes in sexual taste, and physical impact on the brain.

“Just more broadly, I would say pornography perverts a child’s understanding of human intimacy and sexual life, which is a very beautiful thing,” Fradd stressed.

“It’s as pernicious as sex is beautiful and human intimacy is worthwhile. Since those two things are beautiful and worthwhile, the corruption of it [in regards to] a child is all together something despicable and horrid.”

 

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

1 week 4 days ago
Reading 1 Dt 30:15-20
Moses said to the people:
"Today I have set before you
life and prosperity, death and doom.
If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God,
which I enjoin on you today,
loving him, and walking in his ways,
and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees,
you will live and grow numerous,
and the LORD, your God,
will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy.
If, however, you turn away your hearts and will not listen,
but are led astray and adore and serve other gods,
I tell you now that you will certainly perish;
you will not have a long life
on the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and occupy.
I call heaven and earth today to witness against you:
I have set before you life and death,
the blessing and the curse.
Choose life, then,
that you and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your God,
heeding his voice, and holding fast to him.
For that will mean life for you,
a long life for you to live on the land that the LORD swore
he would give to your fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."
Responsorial Psalm Ps 1:1-2, 3, 4 and 6 R. (40:5a)  Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.
Blessed the man who follows not
the counsel of the wicked
Nor walks in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the company of the insolent,
But delights in the law of the LORD
and meditates on his law day and night.
R. Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.
He is like a tree
planted near running water,
That yields its fruit in due season,
and whose leaves never fade.
Whatever he does, prospers.
R. Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.
Not so the wicked, not so;
they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
For the LORD watches over the way of the just,
but the way of the wicked vanishes.
R. Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.
Verse Before the Gospel Mt 4:17 Repent, says the Lord;
the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Gospel Lk 9:22-25
Jesus said to his disciples:
"The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected
by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised."

Then he said to all,
"If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
What profit is there for one to gain the whole world
yet lose or forfeit himself?"

For the readings of the Optional Memorial of Saints Perpetua and Felicity, please go here.
- - -
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.

Missouri discrimination cases could have far-reaching implications

1 week 4 days ago

St. Louis, Mo., Mar 7, 2019 / 12:08 am (CNA).- The Missouri state Supreme Court issued two discrimination rulings last week related to sexual orientation and gender identity, both of which could lead to changes in the way discrimination is defined in the state, a Catholic public policy advocate told CNA.  

Tyler McClay, an attorney and executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference, expressed concern about the rulings, as it is now possible for “discrimination” under the Missouri Human Rights Act to be redefined if these plaintiffs win their court cases.

In one case, Harold Lampley, a gay man, sued the Missouri Commission on Human Rights in 2015, alleging that because he does not conform to “stereotypical expectations” of how a male should behave, he and his friend Rene Frost were harassed in their workplace.

Though the circuit court originally threw out the case, the Supreme Court’s ruling last week will allow Lampley to sue his former employer, with judges writing in the opinion that the question of whether Missouri’s human rights laws protect people from sex-based stereotyping had not yet been addressed.

The Eighth Circuit Court had previously ruled that the Missouri Human Rights Act, which was amended during June 2017, does not include sexual orientation in its list of protections. The law does specifically mention race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, disability, age and familial status.

In a separate case, the Court ruled Feb. 26 that a transgender student had the right to sue the school district that denied the student access to the boys’ restroom and locker rooms. The student, identified in court documents as R.M.A., alleges discrimination on the basis of sex. The student was born biologically female but identifies as a male.

The Missouri Supreme Court’s latest ruling states that R.M.A. did not claim protection from the law based on his transgender status, but rather because of “sex,” a term which the state’s human rights statute does not define. Moreover, although the student remains biologically female, the student had changed the gender on their birth certificate to male, in accordance with existing Missouri law. Therefore, R.M.A.’s lawsuit against the Blue Springs school district will be allowed to go forward.

In an interview with CNA, McClay explained that the cases could impact what constitutes discrimination under state law.

“The reasoning in the gay employee case had to do with him saying he was discriminated against because he didn't act like a man, and so they consider that to be sex-stereotyping discrimination,” he said.

“I'm kind of surprised that the court would define sex-based discrimination based on those fact patterns,” he said. "Maybe the court feels like there's no other way for this [plaintiff] to get relief than for us to say, ‘you can sue on this ground.’”

On the transgender student case, McClay said the debate revolves around the fact that the school would not allow a biologically female student to use the male bathroom facilities.

“The court now has to make a decision: is that accommodation that was being made for that student discrimination? I would argue that it's not, it's an accommodation that's respecting the privacy of the other students and the safety of that individual student. Regardless of how well-accepted that person is by the other sex, you're putting that person in a difficult situation,” he said.

“As a policy matter, we have to decide; if we have these situations, how are we going to deal with these cases at the high school and elementary school level?”

These two cases have broader implications, too, he said, for faith-based organizations — such as adoption agencies that only place children in homes with a mother and a father — that could be accused of discrimination if the interpretation of the law changes.

“Faith-based organizations that have contracts with the government; are they going to be able to continue to operate according to their faith systems going forward?” McClay said. “Or are they going to be deemed to be discriminatory, and excluded?...Those agencies do a lot of good."

“The important thing for people to recognize is there are not just religious liberty implications, but there are privacy implications and rights of conscience as well,” McClay said.

“If sex discrimination is, in a sense, discrimination based on gender identity, then does a doctor who doesn't want to do gender transition surgery have the right to refuse? Or is that discrimination? Is the hospital that doesn't want to do the procedures for religious reasons, is that now going to be discrimination? I think those are the concerns that I have going forward,” he said.

There are also pushes to change the Missouri Human Rights Act to explicitly outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Missouri Nondiscrimination Act, which would list both as protected categories, has been pending in the state legislature since 1998, the Associated Press reports.

New bill could mean more scholarships for Catholic schools nationwide

1 week 4 days ago

Washington D.C., Mar 6, 2019 / 04:36 pm (CNA).- A proposed federal tax credit-based scholarship program could provide a boost for parents who want to send their children to Catholic school, and it has the backing of a major Catholic education group.

“This bill is clearly something we could support,” said Sister Dale McDonald, P.B.V.M., director of public policy and educational research at the National Catholic Educational Association. Her organization’s membership includes more than 150,000 educators serving 1.9 million Catholic school students across the U.S.

“We believe it’s a justice issue,” she told CNA. Parents who are well off can move to a better school district, but parents who can’t have a particular claim on society’s need to care for them.

“Parents as the primary educators of their children should be helped to be able to choose the best option for their children, and in most cases that would involve money,” she said.

McDonald said the association is pleased with the general framework of what the U.S. Department of Education calls Education Freedom Scholarships, put forward by supporting members of Congress.

If the legislation passes Congress, these scholarships will be funded through taxpayers’ voluntary contributions to state-identified Scholarship Granting Organizations. Donors will receive a federal tax credit equal to their contribution.

According to the education department, the tax credit program could mean “a historic investment in America’s students, injecting up to $5 billion yearly into locally controlled scholarship programs that empower students to choose the learning environment and style that best meets their unique needs.”

States could use the program to expand student access to education opportunities including private and home education; special education services and therapies; transportation to school; advanced, remedial and elective courses; summer and after-school programs; tutoring; and apprenticeships and industry certifications.

Sister McDonald said the NCEA has supported “fair and full choice” or “parental choice” for more than two decades.

Her association also advocates for Catholic education.

“We produce well-educated citizens with moral values who have track records of community service, and, from our perspective, commitment to our Church and the civic values that they learn in school,” she said.

All schools serve the public good, and Catholic schools act “in concert” with public school, not in opposition to them.

While talk of taxpayer funds to Catholic schools sometimes prompts fears of political interference in their mission, McDonald pointed to protections in the proposed legislation.

The legislation says it does not allow the federal government, the state, or another scholarship-granting entity to control “any aspect of a private or home educator provider.” No education provider may be excluded or disadvantaged based “in whole or in part” on its religious education character or affiliation, “including religiously- or mission-based policies or practices.”

Non-interference with a Catholic school’s mission is a particularly important feature of the proposal, said McDonald. This would bar efforts to require that Catholic schools give up any part of their religious identity if they want to participate in the scholarship programs.

Elizabeth Hill, press secretary at the U.S. Department of Education, emphasized these provisions in a March 6 email to CNA.

“Discrimination against any education provider based on their religious character or affiliation is expressly prohibited,” Hill said. “Existing state constitutional provisions like Blaine Amendments would not prohibit a state from including private and parochial schools as eligible providers under a federal tax-credit for scholarships. State constitutions apply to state appropriations and tax expenditures.”

McDonald added that the legislation is clear that the scholarship is “a benefit to the child,” saying “this is paid to the parent, not to the school even in any state programs.” Any denial of a “secular benefit available to all” would run afoul of U.S. Supreme Court decisions, in her view.

At the same time, any legislation must pass Congress for a federal tax credit to become available for scholarships.

The NCEA said it will “work with others in the private school community to advocate for congressional passage.”

“There will be a number of challenges in attempts to gain bipartisan support for the bills in both houses of Congress and get a final bill passed,” the association said in a statement. “Coalitions of supporters will need to engage with one another and with parent groups to develop a blueprint for advocacy with their congressional delegates to dispel myths and promote benefits of the program.”

The U.S. Department of Education said the scholarships “will not create a new federal education program but instead will allow states to decide whether to participate and how to select eligible students, education providers, and allowable education expenses.”

“The policy would not rely on any funds currently allocated to public education, nor would it create a new federal education program. Participation would be voluntary for students, schools, and states,” the Department of Education said.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said “freedom for all involved” is the key element of the proposal.

“Students, families, teachers, schools, states – all can participate, if they choose, and do so in the ways that work best for them,” she said in a Feb. 28 statement. “The major shift is that a student's needs and preferences, not their address or family income, will determine the type and quality of education they can pursue.”

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Alabama, is sponsoring the House version of the proposed legislation, called the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act.

“Every student in America should have the opportunity to receive a high-quality education, and we can help accomplish that goal through a new federal tax credit,” Byrne said Feb. 28. “This model has succeeded at creating opportunity for students in my home state of Alabama, and I am hopeful through this legislation that we can create similar opportunities for students around the country.”

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a sponsor of the Senate version of the legislation, said the proposal would help all students access “a personalized education experience that meets their individual needs.”

“A quality education is the gateway to the American dream and stable, family-sustaining employment,” Cruz said.

As the NCEA understands the bill, McDonald said, a scholarship-granting organization could be set up even without legislative involvement. The proposed legislation is “deliberately vague so that other configurations could work if a state would not want to do it.”

About 17 states have some kind of tax credit program, though they differ in who is eligible for the tax credit and which families or schools are eligible for the scholarships. Almost all of these programs are need-based.

Ash Wednesday liturgies held on Capitol Hill

1 week 4 days ago

Washington D.C., Mar 6, 2019 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- Catholic members of Congress participated in the traditional Lenten practice of receiving ashes at the Capitol on Wednesday. During the liturgy, legislators and staff were reminded of the importance of Christian witness and service, even in the heart of government.

 

House of Representatives Chaplain Fr. Pat Conroy, S.J. told the assembly that while many in the public might view Congress as a “trainwreck”, it was important to remember that the work done on Capitol Hill was “holy, because of the holiness that we bring to it.”

 

The standing-room-only crowd gathered for the Ash Wednesday liturgy March 6. The liturgy was held in a House of Representatives meeting room in the Capitol Visitors’ Center.

 

Work, Conroy said in his homily, should be viewed as “in some way a response to the impulse of God’s spirit in your life,” and that those who work for Congress are “servants of the Lord when [they] are servants of this institution and the commonwealth of our nation.”

 

Conroy was assited at the liturgy by Fr. Bill Carloni, the pastor at nearby Holy Name Church in Washington, who helped with the distribution of ashes to members of the House of Representatives, their staff, and staff of the Capitol building.

 

On Ash Wednesday, Christians, including national politicians, receive ashes as a sign of their contrition and a reminder of their mortality. Throughout the day, on C-Span and in pictures posted to Twitter, members of Congress could be seen wearing small ashen crosses on their foreheads.

 

Representatives and their staff, as well as anyone else who works in the Capitol, had several chances on Wednesday to receive ashes from Conroy. In addition to daily Mass, ashes were distributed during a Liturgy of the Word held three times during the day.

 

At the 2:30 p.m. service, at least five members of Congress could be seen in attendance, including Rep. Don Young (R-AK) and Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL).

 

“I choose to participate in Ash Wednesday as a reminder and recommitment to my faith. I live my faith in Congress through promoting good works to help others, particularly the less fortunate,” Soto told CNA.

 

Conroy told CNA that he had been distributing ashes each year since he became House Chaplain eight years ago, and his predecessor, Fr. Dan Coughlin, also made a point of holding services on Ash Wednesday.

 

The Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black, who is not Catholic, also offered ash distribution services.

 

Coughlin and Conroy are the only Catholics to serve as House Chaplain.

 

Earlier in the day, Conroy told CNA that about eight members came to Mass that morning, and that he had also distributed ashes to about 45 members after votes had concluded.  

 

“It’s a pretty popular devotion,” said Conroy. He told CNA that many members also chose to receive ashes at one of the nearby Catholic parishes.

 

Two members of Congress who did not have to wait in line for ashes were Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA). Both are practicing Catholics. Conroy told CNA that he had visited their offices earlier in the morning and distributed ashes there.

 

“I make house calls for leadership,” he explained. Pelosi was spotted wearing ashes during a live-stream video late Wednesday morning.

 

The practice of wearing ashes on one’s forehead as a form of penance has existed for centuries. While Fr. Conroy’s flock includes some of the most powerful foreheads in the world, he told CNA that he believes they are just like other people of faith, and are in need of redemption.

 

"I think any person who steps forward to receive ashes--doesn't matter who they are--is at least in some small way acknowledging to themselves that they are in need of repentance, that they are in need of renewal, that they do need to remember who we are, as people of faith, and what we're called to. Even if we're not that good at it," said Conroy.  

 

"In that sense, I think the population of members of Congress is no different than anybody else."

 

**This story has been corrected: it previously attributed the homily to Fr. Carloni, who did not preach but proclaimed the Gospel.

Santiago archdiocese comments on priest sentenced for sex abuse

1 week 4 days ago

Santiago, Chile, Mar 6, 2019 / 03:33 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Santiago commented Tuesday on the case of Father Tito Rigoberto Rivera Muñoz, who was found guilty in August 2018 of the sexual abuse of adults.

Rivera's victim claims that he told the Archbishop of Santiago of the attack, but the prelate gave him money and asked him not to report it.

The March 5 statement of the Santiago archdiocese's Truth and Peace Commission follows the appearance of the victim, Daniel Rojas Alvarez, on state television.

Rivera sexually assaulted Rojas, who was then about 40, in a room of the Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral in 2015.

Rojas claims he told Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati Andrello of the attack, who asked him to pray for the abuser, gave him 30,000 pesos ($45), and asked that he not asked him not to share what happened.

During proceedings initiated by the Chilean justice system, another victim reportedly presented photographs and videos that confirmed Rivera's abuse of other youths.

The Santiago archdiocese stated that it received a complaint of possible abuse of minors by Rivera in August 2011, but that during enquiries into the case “it was not possible to contact the complainant.”

The Pastoral Office for Complaints then received a complaint against Rivera from an adult in March 2015, which permitted the start of a preliminary investigation and the implementation of the precautionary measure of removing the priest from all pastoral responsibilities.

The preliminary investigation “was widened with new information that was provided to the Chilean Investigative Police, which included the possible theft of the religious objects.”

In August 2015, Cardinal Ezzati sent the information on the case to the apostolic nunciature.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, at the request of the Santiago archdiocese, “gave new instructions to continue the preliminary investigation and to start an administrative penal process” in September 2016.

The preliminary investigation was closed in November 2016, leading to the administrative penal process which concluded with the Decree of Condemnation of Aug. 16, 2018.

The priest was declared “guilty of crimes against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue continued  over time and involving scandal, with adults, as is specified in Canon 1395§1 of the Code of Canon Law,” the archdiocese said.

Rivera was suspended from public ministry for ten years, “only being able to celebrate the Eucharist privately and with the company of a person over 50 years of age.”

He was also prohibited from “meeting with or maintaining contact with young people” and was required not to move anywhere.

Once the ten years are completed, if the priest does not comply with the measures, he risks “being suspended for a greater period of time.”

The archdiocese also noted that these four penalties were “among others.”

It concluded, saying that “besides the canonical sentence which was implemented  in September 2018, an exhaustive review was begun to clarify all the information that was made known publicly.”

Bishop Luis Fernando Ramos Perez, an Auxiliary Bishop of Santiago and secretary general of the Chilean bishops' conference, has called the Rivera's abuse “repugnant, unacceptable and terrible. The question we have to ask ourselves is how a priest came to that.

Cardinal Ezzati has faced accusations that he was involved in covering up the crimes of other abusive priests, including Fernando Karadima and Oscar Munoz Toledo.

 

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

First Ash Wednesday service held in Scottish Parliament

1 week 4 days ago

Edinburgh, Scotland, Mar 6, 2019 / 02:05 pm (CNA).- The Scottish Parliament hosted a Blessing and Distribution of Ashes for the first time this year, with Archbishop Leo Cushley of St. Andrews and Edinburgh presiding.

Archbishop Cushley reflected during the March 6 service on the gesture of receiving ashes, which he said reminds us “that we are dust.”

“[A]nd, yes, it is about sinfulness, it is about acknowledging that we need God’s help, that we are fragile, that we are mortal, that we have been disobedient and that we want to regain our relationship with Almighty God,” he continued.

The Ash Wednesday service took place in a committee room in the parliament’s Queensberry House, according to a press release from the archdiocese.

It was sponsored by Member of Scottish Parliament Elaine Smith, who said in a statement that “it was lovely to have the Archbishop come and distribute ashes to those who work within the Scottish Parliament.”

Anthony Horan, parliamentary officer for the Scottish Bishops Conference, said he was pleased to see “such a cross-party representation” of members of parliament and their staff.

“I believe the Church has something good and positive to offer society,” he said in an archdiocesan statement, adding that it was an honor “to be invited and welcomed to the Scottish Parliament in this special way.”

Horan said he hopes more Catholic events will take place in Parliament in the future. Last year, Mass was celebrated for the first time in Parliament during Holy Week.

Smith also commented on the good turnout at the Ash Wednesday event, saying she would like “repeat this service every Lent, if possible, as well as hosting a Mass during Holy Week.”

In reflecting on the meaning of the ashes distributed at the start of Lent, Archbishop Cushley stressed the importance of recognizing the sin in one’s life and having a desire to repent and be reunited with God.

“I think that is a very good and very wholesome thing for us to do and it takes genuine human maturity to be able to do that sincerely and to wish to improve oneself in order to become the Child of God we were always meant to be.”

New York bishops blaze against legalization in joint marijuana statement

1 week 4 days ago

Albany, N.Y., Mar 6, 2019 / 01:45 pm (CNA).- The New York State Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s 28 bishops, issued a fiery statement on Wednesday opposing plans to legalize recreational marijuana in the state.

 

In a statement released March 6, the bishops said legalization would be disastrous, and accused the state of “encouraging destructive behavior” to raise tax revenue.

 

Legalizing marijuana for recreational use would be akin to opening a “Pandora’s Box that will have multiple deleterious effects on individuals, families, and all of society,” said the statement.

 

“Vice is not an appropriate economic development engine for a state that prides itself as a national progressive leader,” said the bishops. “Our state motto is Excelsior (ever upward), but policies that exploit addiction instead lead us ever downward.”

 

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced in late 2018 that he intended to make the legalization of marijuana for recreational use a legislative priority for the coming year, a departure from his past views on the issue.

 

Marijuana for medicinal use has been legal in New York since 2014, and the state legislature may consider a bill in the near future. Legalization efforts are opposed by not only the state’s bishops, but also its law enforcement, medical, and educational communities.

 

The bishops expressed deep concern that efforts to use the drug to raise state income could have dire consequences for society, and particularly for young marijuana users.

 

“Of particular concern regarding the movement toward legalization is the impact on children,” the statement said.

 

“Proponents argue that usage will be restricted to age 21 and older but, as we have seen in the alcohol and tobacco industries, producers of harmful products always find a way to market their products to children.”

 

The bishops said that no increase in revenue would be worth the “increased teenage and childhood usage, harmful effects on developing brains, addiction, natural progression to harder drug use, increased impairment-related transportation accidents and deaths, and other potential public health and safety issues.”

 

The statement also acknowledged racial disparities among those arrested for marijuana use and possession. These disparities, which show a disproportionate effect on minority communities, have been advanced by legalization supporters as a benefit of decriminalization.  

 

“We take this issue seriously,” the bishops wrote.

 

“The state can and should take appropriate measures to ensure that skin color or zip code do not result in different outcomes for the same offense, including re-evaluating the justice of current criminal penalties for low-level possession.”

 

“We must not simply throw up our hands and legalize a harmful substance in order to declare the problem of discrimination solved.”

Cardinal Pell's appeal process to begin in June

1 week 4 days ago

Melbourne, Australia, Mar 6, 2019 / 11:25 am (CNA).- An Australian court announced Wednesday that Cardinal George Pell's application for leave to appeal his conviction of sexual abuse will be heard June 5-6.

Pell, 77, was convicted in December on five counts of sexual abuse stemming from charges that he sexually assaulted two choirboys while serving as Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996. He has maintained his innocence.

It was the cardinal's second trial, as a jury in an earlier trial had failed to reach a unanimous verdict. The first jury were deadlocked 10-2 in Pell's favor.

Pell's appeal will by led by barrister Bret Walker, SC, who will be assisted by Robert Richter, QC, the cardinal's defense lawyer; Paul Galbally, his solicitor; and Ruth Shann, Richter's junior barrister.

The cardinal's appeal will be made on three points: the jury's reliance on the evidence of a single victim, an irregularity that kept Pell from entering his not guilty plea in front of the jury, and the defense not being allowed to show a visual representation supporting his claim of innocence.

The appeal document, The Age reported, says that “the verdicts are unreasonable and cannot be supported, having regard to the evidence, because on the whole of the evidence, including unchallenged exculpatory evidence from more than 20 Crown witnesses, it was not open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt on the word of the complainant alone.”

Pell is incarcerated at the Melbourne Assessment Prison while he awaits the results of a sentencing hearing, which will be announced March 13.

In December, a district judge overturned the May 22 conviction of Archbishop Philip Wilson for failing to report allegations of child sexual abuse disclosed to him in the 1970s, saying there was reasonable doubt a crime had been committed.

The judge, Roy Ellis, said acceptance of the accuser “as an honest witness does not automatically mean I would be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that he complained to Philip Wilson in 1976 that James Fletcher had indecently assaulted him.”

The news of Pell's conviction has met with varied reactions. While many figures in Australian media have applauded Pell’s conviction, some Australians have called it into question, prompting considerable debate across the country.

Greg Craven, vice-chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, suggested that the justice process was tainted by media and police forces that had worked “to blacken the name” of Pell “before he went to trial.”

“This is not a story about whether a jury got it right or wrong, or about whether justice is seen to prevail,” Craven said in a Feb. 27 opinion piece in The Australian. “It’s a story about whether a jury was ever given a fair chance to make a decision, and whether our justice system can be heard above a media mob.”

Pell was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Ballarat in 1966. He was consecrated a bishop in 1987, and appointed auxiliary bishop of Melbourne, becoming ordinary of the see in 1996. Pell was then Archbishop of Sydney from 2001 to 2014, when he was made prefect of the newly-created Secretariat for the Economy. He served on Pope Francis' Council of Cardinals from 2013 to 2018. Pell ceased to be prefect of the economy secretariat Feb. 24.

Pope Francis prays for Alabama tornado victims

1 week 4 days ago

Vatican City, Mar 6, 2019 / 10:03 am (CNA).- Pope Francis sent his prayers and condolences to Alabama Wednesday after devastating tornadoes over the weekend killed 23 people and left dozens of survivors without homes.

“Deeply saddened to learn of the tragic loss of life and the injuries caused by the tornado which struck Alabama in recent days, His Holiness Pope Francis expresses heartfelt solidarity with all affected by this natural disaster,” a telegram sent on behalf of the pope stated March 6.

Pope Francis prays for “healing and consolation” for the injured and those who grieve, and that “Almighty God may grant eternal rest to the dead, especially the children,” the cable continued.

Victims of the storm – which has been declared the deadliest tornado in the U.S. since 2013 – include four children ages 6-10.

Between three and five tornadoes with winds measuring as high as 170 mph touched down in eastern Alabama March 3, and traveled 70 miles, causing further destruction in Georgia.

Catholic Social Services have been in contact with local pastors in the region to coordinate recovery efforts. St. Michael’s Parish in Auburn, Alabama is collecting gift cards to give the agencies to distribute to families in need.

“Upon all who are suffering the effects of this calamity, the Holy Father invokes the Lord’s blessings of peace and strength,” Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin wrote in the telegram on behalf of Pope Francis.

 

Pope on Ash Wednesday: Lenten fasting a 'wake-up call for the soul'

1 week 4 days ago

Rome, Italy, Mar 6, 2019 / 09:59 am (CNA).- Fasting from food or other things during Lent is a chance for Catholics to reorient their material attachments, Pope Francis said on Ash Wednesday, as he urged people to slow down and turn to Christ during the penitential season.

“Jesus on the wood of the cross burns with love, and calls us to a life that is passionate for him, which is not lost amid the ashes of the world; to a life that burns with charity and is not extinguished in mediocrity,” the pope said during Mass March 6.

“Is it difficult to live as he asks? Yes, it is difficult, but it leads us to our goal,” he continued. “Lent shows us this. It begins with the ashes, but eventually leads us to the fire of Easter night; to the discovery that, in the tomb, the body of Jesus does not turn to ashes, but rises gloriously.”

Quoting the day’s first reading from the prophet Joel – “Blow the trumpet … sanctify a fast” – Francis called the piercing blast of a trumpet “a loud sound that seeks to slow down our life.”

“It is a summons to stop, to focus on what is essential, to fast from the unnecessary things that distract us. It is a wake-up call for the soul.”

This wake-up call, he said, includes a message from the Lord: “Return to me.” “Return to me, says the Lord. To me. The Lord is the goal of our journey in this world. The direction must lead to him.”

He advised Catholics to fix their gaze upon the Crucified Christ, because “from the cross, Jesus teaches us the great courage involved in renunciation.”

“We will never move forward if we are heavily weighed down,” he continued. “The poverty of the wood, the silence of the Lord, his loving self-emptying show us the necessity of a simpler life, free from anxiety about things.”

To mark the start of the Lenten season, Pope Francis prayed the Stations of the Cross at St. Anselm Church in Rome before processing the short way to the Basilica of Santa Sabina for the celebration of Mass, benediction, and the imposition of ashes.

The traditional procession is composed of cardinals, bishops, priests, the Benedictine monks of St. Anselm, the Dominican friars of Santa Sabina, and lay people. As the Catholics make their way between the two churches, they sing the Litany of the Saints.

The practice of the pope beginning the Lenten season of prayer and penance in this manner was started by St. John XXIII when he established the Pontifical Liturgical Institute at St. Anselm's in 1961.

In his homily, Pope Francis reflected on the three areas the Lord invites Catholics to focus on during Lent – almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. “What are they for?” he asked. “Prayer reunites us to God; charity, to our neighbor; fasting, to ourselves.”

The season of Lent is an invitation to focus first on God, he continued, then on charity toward others, and “finally, Lent invites us to look inside our heart, with fasting, which frees us from attachment to things and from the worldliness that numbs the heart.”

Comparing the heart to a magnet, which always “needs to attach itself to something,” he said if it always “attaches” to things of the world, “sooner or later it becomes a slave to them.”

By comparison, if people turn their hearts to the things which abide, which do not pass away, that is where they will find true freedom, he said.

The ashes, he explained, are a sign of this detachment – “a sign that causes us to consider what occupies our mind.”

“The small mark of ash, which we will receive, is a subtle yet real reminder that of the many things occupying our thoughts, that we chase after and worry about every day, nothing will remain,” he stated.

“Earthly realities fade away like dust in the wind,” he said, reminding Catholics that no material possessions or wealth go with them past the grave.

“Lent is the time to free ourselves from the illusion of chasing after dust,” he urged. “Lent is for rediscovering that we are created for the inextinguishable flame, not for ashes that immediately disappear; for God, not for the world; for the eternity of heaven, not for earthly deceit; for the freedom of the children of God, not for slavery to things.”

“We should ask ourselves today: Where do I stand? Do I live for fire or for ash?”

Minnesota Catholics promote 'integral human ecology' at state lobbying event

1 week 5 days ago

St. Paul, Minn., Mar 6, 2019 / 06:00 am (CNA).- At a time when, to many Catholics, politics in America seem at odds with faith and morals, Catholics in Minnesota gathered last month to demonstrate their active role in the legislative process.

On Feb. 19, over 1,000 Catholics, hailing from every one of Minnesota’s 90 state senate districts, gathered in Saint Paul for a day-long event called “Catholics at the Capitol.” The event was organized by the Minnesota Catholic Conference (MCC), the public policy arm of the Catholic Church in Minnesota.
 
MCC Executive Director Jason Adkins described the day as “a fantastic experience of helping people overcome their misperceptions about politics, their fear of the process.”

Adkins expressed confidence that the day helped participants find “their voice as faithful citizens.”

Following the midterm elections of 2018, Minnesota is the only U.S. state with a divided state legislature: a Democratic majority controls the state House of Representatives, while a Republican majority holds sway in the state Senate. With a newly-elected Democratic governor, advocacy by the MCC has focused on the art of the possible.
 
While meeting with state legislators during the afternoon, Catholics at the Capitol participants were encouraged to voice support for two specific measures, using talking points and handouts provided by the MCC.

Adkins explained that these two initiatives — the regulation of surrogacy in the state to prevent commercial exploitation of women, and a package of bills aimed at providing support to mothers and their children from pregnancy to two years of age — were deliberately selected for the day, because they were thought to be non-controversial in the legislature.

“The main priority of the day was education. We certainly wanted to assist the legislative advocacy around those two issues, but we wanted to pick issues that we thought had a strong consensus behind them.” he said, so that participants could have a positive experience of interacting with their elected representatives.

“We also have recognized that the pro-life political cause has kind of reached a stalemate. If your state is not controlled totally by Republicans, then it’s hard to get any pro-life legislation passed.”

By focusing their efforts this legislative session on proposals like the “First 1000 Days” collection of bills in support of mothers and young children, Adkins said the MCC “wanted to try to break that Gordian knot and propose something that we think may not combat the supply of legal abortions, but it can try to fight the demand.”

CNA asked Adkins if the wave of scandals related to clerical sexual abuse (and reports of episcopal failures regarding the handling of such cases) have had an impact on the Minnesota bishops’ ability to speak effectively on social issues. He said they haven’t noticed any change in the responsiveness or receptiveness of legislators so far.

“But where it has an impact,” he continued, “and it’s undoubted that it does: it has an impact on the bishops’ ability to be effective teachers to their own flock. So that’s the real challenge that we’ve encountered.”

The bishops of Minnesota have not appeared shy about continuing to lead their people in public. During the event, they distributed “Minnesota: Our Common Home”, an “educational resource” published with the approval of the Catholic bishops of the state.

As the title indicates, the text is a localized digest of Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical “On Care for our Common Home,” Laudato Si’.

The local text is significantly more compact than the original, with a word count under 13,000 compared to the encyclical’s more than 40,000 words.

The Minnesota document is presented in three parts: A Crisis of Nature, Ecological Conversion, and Integral Ecology.

The third part builds upon a phrase borrowed from Pope Francis — “integral ecology” — to call for a “consistent ethic of life” — a concept that, despite the controversy it has often engendered among American Catholics, is a core concept within the MCC’s efforts.

“Our belief is that ‘integral ecology’ is a very powerful way of repackaging the natural law: the idea that we have a created nature, and we live among things with a nature, that we must respect their possibilities and limitations, and living in accordance with the way God has ordered them, whether that's our bodies or the creation we see all around us in the earth,” Adkins told CNA.

Emphasis on ‘integral ecology’ provides a new framework for public advocacy in the state.

“Minnesota: Our Common Home” calls not only for stewardship of natural resources, but also for “an ecological view of the human person.”

The document also underscores “the underlying false belief that we can be God” at the root of social ills such as artificial contraception, the disconnection of gender from biology, and the growing prevalence of assisted suicide and euthanasia.
 
“The bishops don't take positions on public policy because they want to play politics” Adkins said. “They do it to help identify for Catholics how our Catholic social teaching translates into concrete public policy that [citizens] can choose to take up and support in the public square.”

 

Pope Francis: We need you, Jesus. Thy Kingdom Come

1 week 5 days ago

Vatican City, Mar 6, 2019 / 04:01 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Wednesday that the Kingdom of God is the greatest force in the world, but it is humble, almost invisible, and slow-growing.

“‘Thy Kingdom come!’ repeats the Christian insistently … sometimes we ask ourselves: why is this Kingdom being realized so slowly?” Pope Francis said March 6.

“God is not like us, God has patience,” he explained to the pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square. During his general audience on Ash Wednesday, the pope reflected on the line, “Thy Kingdom come,” in a continuation of his weekly catechesis on the “Our Father.”

To say, “Thy Kingdom come,” is like saying “We need you, Jesus,” the pope said. “We need you, Jesus … that everywhere and forever you may be Lord among us!”

“Signs of the coming of this Kingdom are many, and all positive,” Francis said. “Jesus himself indicates these signs: ‘The blind regain sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise again, the Gospel is proclaimed to the poor.’”

He called on Catholics to sow the seed of God’s word in the midst of their sins and failures. “Give it to people who are defeated and bent by life, to those who have savored more hate than love, to those who have lived useless days without ever understanding why,” he said.

“Let us give it to those who have fought for justice … to those who have concluded that they have fought for nothing and that evil always dominates in this world,” he continued.

Pope Francis noted that though “the Kingdom of God is certainly a great force, the greatest that there is,” it does not fit with the criteria of the world.

The Kingdom of God “is like a grain of mustard, so small, almost invisible, but it carries within it the explosive force of nature, and once grown it becomes the greatest of all the trees of the garden,” he said, quoting the Gospel of Matthew.

Pope Francis described the symbolism of the Kingdom of God as a seed as “eloquent.”

“One day the peasant sinks it into the earth (a gesture that looks like a burial), and then, asleep or awake, by night or by day, the seed sprouts and grows,” he said. “A seed that sprouts is more the work of God than that of the man who sowed it.”

He continued: “God always precedes us, God always surprises us. Thanks to him after the night of Good Friday there is a dawn of Resurrection capable of illuminating the whole world with hope.”

The desire for the coming of God’s Kingdom, Francis explained, flows “from the very heart of Christ, who began his preaching in Galilee proclaiming, ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.’”

“May the Lenten journey we begin today bring us to Easter with hearts purified and renewed by the grace of the Holy Spirit,” Pope Francis said.

 

Lenten fasting advice from the Pope who faced Attila the Hun

1 week 5 days ago

Rome, Italy, Mar 6, 2019 / 03:10 am (CNA).- As Christians prepare to engage in the fasting and abstinence of Lent, they can find guidance in the words of Pope St. Leo the Great’s sermons.

Stressing Lenten discipline as a way to struggle against our sins and against the devil’s temptations, the fifth century pope advised self-scrutiny, purification, forgiveness of enemies and almsgiving to the poor.

“Let us prepare our souls for fighting with temptations, and understand that the more zealous we are for our salvation, the more determined must be the assaults of our opponents,” he said in his Lenten sermons, elsewhere adding “there are no works of power, dearly-beloved, without the trials of temptations, there is no faith without proof, no contest without a foe, no victory without conflict.”

Pope Leo I was involved in the theological questions of the fifth century, most famously affirming Christ’s two natures, human and divine, for the Council of Chalcedon.

He also led a delegation which successfully negotiated with Attila the Hun to turn his invading forces away from Rome.

He was named a Doctor of the Church in the eighteenth century. His writings and sermons proved enduring and influential. While some of his comments are specific to his time, as a whole he offers special advice for Lent.

True peace and true freedom come only “when the flesh is ruled by the judgment of the mind, and the mind is directed by the will of God,” he said in his sermons.

For St. Leo the Great, the Christians’ enemies are often our vices, disordered desires and sins.

“We cannot otherwise prevail against our adversaries, unless we prevail against our own selves,” he counseled. The contrary desires of flesh and spirit must be disciplined, and the mind will lose to the body if bodily desires become too strong.

When the mind is subject to God and delights in heavenly gifts, when it has “trampled underfoot the allurements of earthly pleasure” and has not allowed sin to reign, Leo says, “reason will maintain a well-ordered supremacy, and its strongholds no strategy of spiritual wickedness will cast down.”

“Christian people, whatever the amount of their abstinence, should rather desire to satisfy themselves with the Word of God than with bodily food,” said Leo the Great.

He counseled self-scrutiny to root out discord and wrong desires and to be attentive to God’s commandments. Citing St. Paul, he said Lenten fasting is a time to cleanse ourselves “from every defilement of flesh and spirit.”

“Now let godly minds boldly accustom themselves to forgive faults, to pass over insults, and to forget wrongs,” he said in one sermon.

“Let all discords and enmities be laid aside, and let no one think to have a share in the Paschal feast that has neglected to restore brotherly peace,” he said in another.

Care for the poor and others in need should be an even greater priority.

“Let us not pass over the groans of the poor with deaf ear, but with prompt kindness bestow our mercy on the needy, that we may deserve to find mercy in the judgment,” said the saint, later adding “let each bestow on the weak and destitute those dainties which he denies himself.”

“Let our humaneness be felt by the sick in their illnesses, by the weakly in their infirmities, by the exiles in their hardships, by the orphans in their destitution, and by solitary widows in their sadness: in the helping of whom there is no one that cannot carry out some amount of benevolence,” he continued.

Warning against the dangers of spiritual pride and hypocrisy, he also gave advice on how to follow Lenten disciplines.

“The self-restraint of the religious should not be gloomy, but sincere; no murmurs of complaint should be heard from those who are never without the consolation of holy joys,” he said, adding “no one is so holy that he ought not to be holier, nor so devout that he might not be devouter.”

At times, the foes of Christians are not simply the flesh, but even the demonic, he said. The approach of Easter makes the devil grow “furious” and “consumed with the strongest jealousy and now tortured with the greatest vexation.”

It is a time when “the Christian army has to combat him, and any that have grown lukewarm and slothful, or that are absorbed in worldly cares, must now be furnished with spiritual armor and their ardor kindled for the fray by the heavenly trumpet.”

The approaching baptism of new Christians at Easter, and the growing penitence of lapsed Christians, is also a target of the devil’s anger.

“For he sees whole tribes of the human race brought in afresh to the adoption of God’s sons and the offspring of the New Birth multiplied through the virgin fertility of the Church,” St. Leo the Great said. “He sees himself robbed of all his tyrannical power, and driven from the hearts of those he once possessed, while from either sex, thousands of the old, the young, the middle-aged are snatched away from him, and no one is debarred by sin either of his own or original.”

The devil sees, too, those who have lapsed, “deceived by his treacherous snares,” now becoming “washed in the tears of penitence” and seeking mercy and reconciliation in the Church.

Leo the Great also promoted fasting as a way to prepare to conquer earthly foes.

When the Hebrews and Israelites were oppressed by the Philistines “for their scandalous sins,” they restored their mental and physical powers by commanding a fast in order to be able to overcome their enemies.

“For they understood that they had deserved that hard and wretched subjection for their neglect of God’s commands, and evil ways, and that it was in vain for them to strive with arms unless they had first withstood their sin,” he said.

Abstinence from food and drink was “the discipline of strict correction,” he said. In order to defeat their foes, they “first conquered the allurements of the palate in themselves.”

Similarly, those of us who face opposition and conflict “may be cured by a little carefulness, if only we will use the same means.”

Though all seasons of the year are full of God’s blessings, St. Leo the Great said, Lent is a time when “all men's minds should be moved with greater zeal to spiritual progress.” Lenten discipline “should heal us and restore the purity of our minds, during which the faults of other times might be redeemed by pious acts and removed by chaste fasting.”

Ash Wednesday

1 week 5 days ago
Reading 1 Jl 2:12-18 Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.
For gracious and merciful is he,
slow to anger, rich in kindness,
and relenting in punishment.
Perhaps he will again relent
and leave behind him a blessing,
Offerings and libations
for the LORD, your God.

Blow the trumpet in Zion!
proclaim a fast,
call an assembly;
Gather the people,
notify the congregation;
Assemble the elders,
gather the children
and the infants at the breast;
Let the bridegroom quit his room
and the bride her chamber.
Between the porch and the altar
let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep,
And say, "Spare, O LORD, your people,
and make not your heritage a reproach,
with the nations ruling over them!
Why should they say among the peoples,
'Where is their God?'"

Then the LORD was stirred to concern for his land
and took pity on his people.
Responsorial Psalm Ps 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 12-13, 14 and 17 R. (see 3a)  Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me.
R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
For I acknowledge my offense,
and my sin is before me always:
"Against you only have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight."
R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.
R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
Reading 2 2 Cor 5:20—6:2 Brothers and sisters:
We are ambassadors for Christ,
as if God were appealing through us.
We implore you on behalf of Christ,
be reconciled to God.
For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin,
so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.

Working together, then,
we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.
For he says:

In an acceptable time I heard you,
and on the day of salvation I helped you.


Behold, now is a very acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation.
Verse Before the Gospel See Ps 95:8If today you hear his voice,
harden not your hearts.
Gospel Mt 6:1-6, 16-18 Jesus said to his disciples:
"Take care not to perform righteous deeds
in order that people may see them;
otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.
When you give alms,
do not blow a trumpet before you,
as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets
to win the praise of others.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you give alms,
do not let your left hand know what your right is doing,
so that your almsgiving may be secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

"When you pray,
do not be like the hypocrites,
who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners
so that others may see them.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you pray, go to your inner room,
close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

"When you fast,
do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.
They neglect their appearance,
so that they may appear to others to be fasting.
Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you fast,
anoint your head and wash your face,
so that you may not appear to be fasting,
except to your Father who is hidden.
And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you."
- - -
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.

Nicaraguan bishops not mediating latest round of peace talks

1 week 5 days ago

Managua, Nicaragua, Mar 5, 2019 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- The Nicaraguan bishops said Monday they have not been invited to mediate in the renewed dialogue between the government of President Daniel Ortega and the opposition Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy.

Anti-government protests in the country began in April 2018. They resulted in more than 300 deaths, and the country's bishops mediated on-again, off-again peace talks until they broke down in June.

A new round of dialogue began Feb. 27 at the INCAE Business School in Managua.

Attending the start of the talks as witnesses and as “a gesture of good will” were Cardinal Leopoldo José Brenes Solorzano of Managua and the Apostolic Nuncio to Nicaragua, Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag.

The bishops' conference stated March 4 that “in this historic moment our greatest contribution as pastors of this pilgrim Church in Nicaragua will continue to be to accompany the people in their suffering and sorrows, in their hopes and joys, and lifting up our prayers of intercession so that Nicaragua may find civilized and just ways for a peaceful solution in view of the common good.”

At the end of the Feb. 27 session of the peace talks, a statement was read which reported the approval of 9 out of 12 proposed points, without specifying what these were.

The talks continued Feb. 28 and March 1, with the agreement to continue meeting March 4-8. In addition, it was indicated that the goal is that “the negotiations conclude as soon as possible.”

Nicaragua's crisis began after Ortega announced social security and pension reforms. The changes were soon abandoned in the face of widespread, vocal opposition, but protests only intensified after more than 40 protestors were killed by security forces initially.

Anti-government protestors have been attacked by “combined forces” made up of regular police, riot police, paramilitaries, and pro-government vigilantes.

The Nicaraguan government has suggested that protestors are killing their own supporters so as to destabilize Ortega's administration.

The Church in Nicaragua was quick to acknowledge the protestors' complaints.

The pension reforms which triggered the unrest were modest, but protests quickly turned to Ortega's authoritarian bent.

Ortega has been president of Nicaragua since 2007, and oversaw the abolition of presidential term limits in 2014.

The Church has suggested that elections, which are not scheduled until 2021, be held in 2019, but Ortega has ruled this out.

Ortega was a leader in the Sandinista National Liberation Front, which had ousted the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and fought US-backed right-wing counterrevolutionaries during the 1980s. Ortega was also leader of Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990.

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Colorado and Masterpiece Cakeshop end legal battle

1 week 5 days ago

Denver, Colo., Mar 5, 2019 / 05:38 pm (CNA).- On Tuesday both Colorado and Masterpiece Cakeshop agreed to drop their ongoing litigation, ending a more than six-year-long legal battle.  

Colorado Civil Rights Commission will dismiss the state action against Masterpiece. Jack Phillips, the owner, will in turn dismiss his federal case against Colorado.

“After careful consideration of the facts, both sides agreed it was not in anyone’s best interest to move forward with these cases. The larger constitutional issues might well be decided down the road, but these cases will not be the vehicle for resolving them,” Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said March 5.

He added that “Equal justice for all will continue to be a core value that we will uphold as we enforce our state’s and nation’s civil rights laws.”

Each side will hence cover their own legal fees. Weiser also said the agreement does not affect the ability of a transgender person, Autumn Scardina, from pursuing a claim against Phillips.

In October the state civil rights commission had issued a formal complaint against the cake shop, shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the same commission had violated Phillips' rights. The civil rights commission had prosecuted Phillips for declining to bake a cake marking a same-sex wedding ceremony on the grounds that doing so would violate his religious beliefs.

Later, Scardina requested that Phillips bake a cake celebrating a “gender transition”, which he declined, again because of his religious beliefs.

Scardina then filed a civil rights complaint when Phillips declined, charging discrimination on the basis of gender identity, a protected status under Colorado anti-discrimination law.

“I have and will always serve everyone who comes into my shop; I simply can’t celebrate events or express messages that conflict with my religious beliefs,” Phillips said. “The Supreme Court affirmed that government hostility against people of faith is unconstitutional, and that Colorado was hostile to my faith.”

Phillips had filed a lawsuit against Civil Rights Division Executive Director Aubrey Elenis. He sought $100,000 in damages. In January, U.S. District Court Senior Judge Wiley Daniel said Phillips could demonstrate that the state’s actions were damaging.

The baker said the hostility of the first case had already cost him 40 percent of his business and hindered his wedding work. However, even after the first ruling, he said that “Colorado was relentless in seeking to crush” Masterpiece for the expression of his religious beliefs.

“Today is a win for freedom,” Phillips said March 5. “I’m very grateful and looking forward to serving my customers as I always have: with love and respect.”

“The state’s demonstrated and ongoing hostility toward Jack because of his beliefs is undeniable,” said ADF Senior Vice President of U.S. Legal Division Kirsten Waggoner, who argued on behalf of Masterpiece at the US Supreme Court.

“We hope that the state is done going along with obvious efforts to harass Jack,” added ADF Senior Counsel Jim Campbell. “He shouldn’t be driven out of business just because some people disagree with his religious beliefs and his desire to live consistently with them. We look forward to the day when Jack doesn’t have to fear government punishment for his faith or harassment from people who oppose his beliefs.”

Waggoner added that religious tolerance was an important aspect of the nation. She said the end of the lawsuit is a good sign for religious freedom, but expressed sorrow for the effect of the case on Phillips.

“Jack’s victory is great news for everyone. Tolerance and respect for good-faith differences of opinion are essential in a diverse society like ours. They enable us to peacefully coexist with each another,” she said.

“While it finally appears to be getting the message that its anti-religious hostility has no place in our country, the state’s decision to target Jack has cost him more than six-and-a-half years of his life, forcing him to spend that time tied up in legal proceedings.”

Bishop objects to death sentence for Filipino woman in Saudi Arabia

1 week 5 days ago

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Mar 5, 2019 / 05:32 pm (CNA).- A bishop in the Philippines is speaking out against the death penalty of a Filipino woman who has been condemned to death in Saudi Arabia.

“We turn to God in prayers that He may move the [Saudi] government to be merciful and grant clemency,” said Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga, head of the Filipino bishops’ Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People, in a statement this week.

“She has to be helped and assisted. Let us try everything to save her,” he said, according to the Manila Bulletin.  

On Feb. 28, the Saudi Court of Appeals upheld the death sentence of an unnamed Filipino woman, who was convicted in 2017 for killing her employer. The woman claimed to have acted in self-defense against an abusive employer.

Santos encouraged the Philippine government to do whatever it can to save the woman and conduct a “thorough investigation” behind the woman’s arrival in Saudi Arabia. Reports suggest that she arrived in the country as a minor.

“Placement agencies should be made accountable for whatever happens to [Filipino workers] sent to other countries,” the bishop said, according to the Manila Bulletin.  

He stressed that agencies and recruiters should be held liable for abuse of the employees they place.

ABS-CBN News reported that the case has also been directed to the chair of the Inter-Agency Committee Against Trafficking, which is part of the Philippine Department of Justice.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said Friday it would do all it could to save the woman, who has so far been assisted by Consul General Edgar Badajos.

The department released a statement saying it “will exhaust all diplomatic avenues and legal remedies to save a Filipina in Saudi Arabia after the Saudi Court of Appeals affirmed her death sentence on Thursday.”

The case followed an execution in January, when a 39-year-old maid from the Philippines received the death penalty for a murder that took place in 2015. Details about the case were not released.

About 500,000 Filipinos are believed to be working in Saudi Arabia, a country that has long been accused of poor work conditions and inadequate religious freedoms.

In 2016, Bishop Santos had encouraged the Philippine embassy in the country to protect Filipino workers. That year, a Filipino woman had died as result of the injuries she received from rape, allegedly at the hands of her employer.

That same year, a mass execution of 47 men was carried out in Saudi Arabia in January. One of the men was Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a Shi’a cleric and long-time activist for Shi’a rights in the country.

Princeton Professor Robert George, then-chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said the execution of Sheik al-Nimr raised religious freedom concerns and did not meet capital punishment standards set by the international human rights law.