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States move to close child marriage exceptions

Harrisburg, Pa., Jun 24, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A growing number of states are considering bans or additional restrictions on child marriages, including in Pennsylvania, where a bill to outlaw child marriages passed the state’s House of Representatives earlier this month.  

“Children under the age of 18 cannot vote, serve in the military and buy alcohol or tobacco products, among other things,” Pennsylvania state Rep. Jesse Topper (R), one of the lead co-sponsors of the legislation, HB 360, stated upon its passage on June 5.

“Marriage is a life-altering decision and those who enter into it must be of a certain maturity that comes with age.” 

The legislation is expected to pass the Senate and to be signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf (D), NBC News reported.

Once the bill is enacted into law, Pennsylvania would become the third state, joining New Jersey and Delaware, to outlaw marriage licenses for any applicants under the age of 18; other states set age limits below 18 or allow for exceptions such as court approval.

There are currently 13 states without any age restrictions on marriage, though Maine’s state legislature recently passed a law restricting marriage licenses to applicants aged 16 or older and is due to come into force on Monday.

State Reps. Perry Warren (D) and Topper are the Pennsylvania bill’s lead co-sponsors.

Topper stated in a press release that child marriages—mostly between adult males and female minors—legalized relationships that would otherwise be considered cases of statutory rape. The bill would amend the state’s current law, which allows for marriage licenses for children younger than age 16 to be granted through court approval, and for children ages 16 to 18 with parental consent.

Warren said upon passage of the legislation that “this bill is about child protection,” and that “studies have shown that the child is often not in control of a decision to marry before 18, and a child under 18 does not have the legal rights of an adult.” 

The advocacy group Unchained at Last, which works to end forced marriages and child marriages in the U.S. and which supported the Pennsylvania legislation, says that around 248,000 children were married in the U.S. between the years 2000 and 2010.

That estimate was drawn from data gathered in 38 states which revealed more than 167,000 child marriages in the time frame, with estimated numbers from the remaining 12 states and Washington, D.C. “based on the strong correlation Unchained identified between population and child marriage.” 

Child spouses have a significantly high risk of abuse, due to their vulnerability, along with a higher risk of divorce, the group says.

According to a 2017 PBS FRONTLINE report, there were at least 207,459 reported child marriages in the U.S. with children as young as 12 being granted marriage licenses in several states.

The number of child marriages did fall significantly over the time period between 2000 and 2010, both PBS and Unchained at Last noted.

Catholic youth group involved in fatal Colorado bus crash

Pueblo, Colo., Jun 24, 2019 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- A charter bus carrying members of a Catholic group from New Mexico crashed Sunday in southern Colorado, killing at least two people including the driver and injuring more than a dozen others.

The group, high schoolers from Aquinas Newman Center at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, had been in Denver for the weekend attending Steubenville of the Rockies, an annual Catholic youth conference.

Among the dead is Jason Paul Marshall, a seminarian of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. Marshall was studying theology at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio.

The crash occurred on Interstate 25 around 2:30 pm June 23 about ten miles north of Pueblo. The bus struck part of a bridge structure and went off the highway into a ditch.

Colorado State Patrol reported that the driver was ejected from the bus and died. Thirteen other passengers sustained injuries ranging from minor to critical, CSP reported. The Archdiocese of Santa Fe later named the driver as 22-year-old Anthony Padilla.

A total of 14 ambulances and three medical helicopters were called to the scene to assist. Authorities said the driver may have had an “unspecified medical issue” that contributed to the crash, but the cause of the accident is still under investigation.

Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe will be celebrating a Mass of Healing June 26 at the Newman Center for the victims of the crash. A call from CNA to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe on Monday morning went unanswered as of press time.

Around 30 remaining members of the Newman Center group were able to attend Mass Sunday evening at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver. Father Robert Fisher offered prayers for the victims of the crash during Mass.

“Please pray tonight for a Catholic group from New Mexico who were involved in a tragic bus accident this afternoon in Pueblo,” the Archdiocese of Denver said on Facebook.

“The group had attended the Steubenville of the Rockies Youth Conference in Denver and was on its way home. We send our prayers and deepest condolences to the families and friends of those who were killed, and our prayers for healing and comfort for those who were injured.”

US bishops oppose immigration raids, Trump defers

Washington D.C., Jun 24, 2019 / 11:12 am (CNA).- On Saturday US President Donald Trump announced he would delay immigration raids meant to begin that weekend, and the US bishops stated their opposition to the planned deportations.

“We recognize the right of nations to control their borders in a just and proportionate manner. However, broad enforcement actions instigate panic in our communities and will not serve as an effective deterrent to irregular migration,” Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin said June 22.

“Instead, we should focus on the root causes in Central America that have compelled so many to leave their homes in search of safety and reform our immigration system with a view toward justice and the common good,” said the bishop, who chairs the US bishops' migration committee.

He added: “We stand ready to work with the Administration and Congress to achieve those objectives.”

Trump had announced upcoming immigration raids June 17, but on Saturday said he would delay the action two weeks, to allow Congress to modify US asylum law.

The Trump administration is eager to reduce the number of illegal immigrants in the US.

Earlier this month, Mexico agreed to take measures to reduce the number of migrants to the US, in order to avoid the imposition of tariffs.

Some 6,000 National Guard troops will be assigned to Mexico's southern border with Guatemala, and some asylum seekers in the US will be sent to Mexico to wait while their claims are processed.

In the US, the House passed a bill June 4 that would provide a citizenship path for some brought to the US illegally as children, as well as for qualified holders of Temporary Protected Status or Deferred Enforced Departure.

Bishop Vásquez commented that “Dreamers, TPS and DED holders are working to make our communities and parishes strong and are vital contributors to our country. We welcome today’s vote and urge the Senate to take up this legislation which gives permanent protection to Dreamers, TPS and DED holders.”

The bill, the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019, would grant qualifying childhood arrivals 10 years of legal residence, after which they could receive permanent legal residence with two years of higher education or military service, or three years of employment. Those with TPS or DED could apply for lawful permanent residence if they have been in the country for at least three years and have passed background checks. After five years of lawful permanent residence, they would apply for citizenship.

In May, Bishop Vásquez and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston, president of the US bishops' conference, voiced concern over a separate immigration plan from the Trump administration which prioritizes immigration status based on merit rather than family ties.

“We oppose proposals that seek to curtail family-based immigration and create a largely ‘merit-based’ immigration system,” they said. “Families are the foundation of our faith, our society, our history, and our immigration system.”

Forced abortion decision overturned on appeal, according to reports

London, England, Jun 24, 2019 / 11:03 am (CNA).- A controversial UK court decision to force a disabled woman to have an abortion has been overturned on appeal.

In a decision reportedly reached June 24, the English Court of Appeal, consisting of Lord Justice McCombe, Lady Justice King and Lord Justice Peter Jackson, overturned the previous ruling of the Court of Protection.

According to Press Association reports, the judges said they would issue a full explanation of their decision at a later date, but that the circumstances of the case were "unique."

A spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Clare McCarthy, welcomed the decision in a statement released Monday.

“This is a very welcome decision that will save the life of the unborn child and the mother from a forced late-term abortion and much undue distress. However, the horrific original ruling should never have happened.”

“Unfortunately, we fear that this is not a one-off case,” McCarthy said.

“We are calling on the Department of Health to urgently reveal how many women have been forced to have an abortion in the UK over the last 10 years and make it clear how they will ensure it will not happen again.”

Mrs Justice Nathalie Lieven imposed the original decision on June 21 in the Court of Protection in England, which hears cases involving the legal and personal affairs of people judged to have diminished mental capacity.  

Lieven ruled that a forced abortion was “in the best interests” of the pregnant woman, over the objections of the woman herself, her mother, and her social worker. The woman, who has not been identified, is reportedly in her 20s and is of Nigerian descent. Both she and her mother are Catholic, and the court heard that they objected strongly to the abortion on religious grounds.

The decision on appeal comes after thousands of people signed a petition urging U.K. Health and Social Care Secretary Matthew Hancock to intervene in the case.

Two Catholic bishops in the U.K. had also spoken out against the decision.

The online petition, started by Right to Life UK June 22, has received over 75,000 signatures since it was posted.

The petion urges the Health Secretary “to intervene in this case, so far as possible, to prevent this gross injustice being inflicted by the State on this family and ensure this woman is not forced to have an abortion.”

Despite the petition, pro-life Members of Parliament aknowledged there was little chance of a ministerial intervention.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, MP for North-East Somerset, told CNA that "This is deeply troubling but there is no Parliamentary route to challenging this decision.”

Doctors who cared for the woman argued that due to her mental capacities, either natural labor or cesarean section delivery could damage her mental health. Her mother, described as a former midwife, along with a social worker who helps care for the woman, both disagree and do not wish to terminate the pregnancy.

The petition also drew attention Lieven's “past advocacy for [the] abortion provider BPAS and her claim that Northern Ireland’s abortion law is akin to torture.”

In Northern Ireland, abortion is only permitted in instances when the mental or physical health of the mother is at risk. BPAS, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, is the largest abortion provider in Britain.

Lieven has said that she is “acutely conscious” that ordering an abortion for a woman who did not want one was an “intense intrusion” by the state.

“I have to operate in [her] best interests, not on society's views of termination,” Lieven explained in her decision. Lieven also suggested it would be more traumatic if the woman were to lose custody of her child, who would be a “real baby” after birth.

The woman’s mother offered to care for her grandchild, but Lieven dismissed this idea as impractical due to the pregnant woman’s mood disorder and developmental delays.

Two Catholic bishops from the United Kingdom also spoke out against the decision.

“Forcing a woman to have an abortion against her will, and that of her close family, infringes upon her human rights, not to mention the right of her unborn child to life in a family that has committed to caring for the child,” said Bishop John Sherrington, an auxilary bishop of the Archdiocese of Westminster.

Sherrington serves as the designated spokesman on life issues for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

“In a free society like ours there is a delicate balance between the rights of the individual and the powers of the state,” he added. “This is a sad and distressing decision for the whole family whom we keep in our prayers. This case, for which all information is not available, raises serious questions about the meaning of ‘best interests’ when a patient lacks mental capacity and is subject to the court’s decision against her will.”

Officials at the Archdiocese of Westminster told CNA that Cardinal Vincent Nichols would not be making a statement of his own.

Bishop John Keenan of the Diocese of Paisley, in Scotland, urged people to sign the petition in a video posted to Twitter by March4LifeUK. Keenan said that the decision “introduces a dangerous new development in the overreach of the power of the state over its citizens,” and “has to be changed.”

The decision is troubling, Keenan said, “not just in the interests of this woman and her child, but in the interests of everyone who believes in choice in this country, in the interests of everyone who believes in the prerogatives and the rights of citizens over the state.”

Scotland has both a separate court system from England and Wales, and the Catholic hierarchy of Scotland has its own bishops’ conference.

Police are investigating the circumstances of how the woman became pregnant.

This story is developing and has been updated.

How the Church can better respond to the problem of domestic violence

Washington D.C., Jun 23, 2019 / 04:12 pm (CNA).- This Sunday, in Catholic parishes across the country, one in four women sitting in the pews will have experienced severe physical violence in their own homes from their spouses or partners - including burns, choking, beating, or the use of a weapon against them. One in nine men will have experienced the same.

According to one priest who is an expert in the subject, priests in the U.S. are still not doing enough to address the issue.

“The Church has been complicit in this because we haven’t talked about it enough,” said Fr. Charles Dahm, a priest of the Chicago Archdiocese who leads its domestic violence outreach program.

Dahm was a priest at a large parish with a majority-Hispanic population near downtown Chicago for 21 years. During his time there, after hiring a counselor on his staff, he learned that many of his parishioners were victims of domestic abuse, he told CNA. He asked his counselor to train him in recognizing and responding to abuse, and he started to talk about domestic violence in his homilies.

“And the more I spoke about it, the more victims came to me,” he said. Word of Dahm’s parish ministry spread, as parishioners referred their relatives, neighbors and friends. Around the year 2000, the parish office was receiving an average of one victim of domestic violence every day, he said.

Today, he coordinates the Church’s response to domestic abuse at the Archdiocese of Chicago, educating and training priests and other Church leaders on how to prevent and respond to instances of domestic abuse. He travels to give homilies and workshops on the topic, and while he’s been to many parishes throughout his own archdiocese, Dahm said it has been difficult to get other dioceses to respond to his offers of help.

The clergy of the U.S., including the bishops, are largely ignorant about the existence of domestic violence, Dahm said.

“The studies show it’s rampant in the United States. Every pastor who stands up on Sunday looking out on his congregation - he is facing dozens if not scores of victims in his congregation in front of him, and he does not know how to speak to them.”

The ignorance surrounding domestic abuse has a variety of causes, Dahm noted. Priests have not been educated on domestic violence in the seminary, and so they do not expect to encounter it in the priesthood. If a priest does not talk about domestic violence, victims may not approach him about it, and he can therefore have a false sense that it does not exist in his parish. Priests are also overstretched and overworked, and can be weary about taking on new ministries, he added.

“It’s a real travesty that...the clergy is resistant to this topic,” he said.

Misunderstanding abuse as a Catholic

There can also be misunderstandings among Catholics - lay people and clergy alike - about the prevalence of domestic violence and how to respond to it within the context of a Christian marriage.

For example, Dahm said, it is a mistake to think that because couples are religious and going to church, they are less likely to experience or perpetrate abuse.

A 2019 study from the Institute for Family Studies and the Wheatley Institution of Brigham Young University found that while religion offers many benefits to couples, it unfortunately does not positively impact their rates of domestic violence.

“When it comes to domestic violence, religious couples in heterosexual relationships do not have an advantage over secular couples or less/mixed religious couples. Measures of intimate partner violence (IPV)—which includes physical abuse, as well as sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and controlling behaviors—do not differ in a statistically significant way by religiosity,” the study noted.

Other misunderstandings about how to respond to domestic violence come from an incomplete understanding of the Catholic teaching about the permanence of marriage, or the role of suffering in the life of a Christian.

Sharon O’Brien is the director of Catholics For Family Peace, an education and research initiative that is part of the National Catholic School of Social Service’s Consortium for Catholic Social Teaching at the Catholic University of America.

O’Brien told CNA that while marriage is meant to be a sacrament that lasts until the end of a person’s or their partner’s life, domestic violence can be a valid justification for a Catholic to seek at least physical separation from their spouse.

“Catholics I think are challenged to understand that abuse in a marriage is unacceptable,” O’Brien said. “But it’s sinful and it’s usually criminal.”

Greg Pope is the assistant general secretary for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, which recently held their annual Day for Life, a day set aside for raising awareness of various pro-life issues. This year, they chose domestic violence as the theme of the day.

Pope told CNA that domestic violence “fundamentally undermines the Church’s teaching on the inherent dignity of the human person and the complementarity of couples within a marriage.”

He said that Catholic couples experiencing domestic abuse should know that Canon Law, the governing law of the Church, addresses domestic violence, and states: “If either of the spouses causes grave mental or physical danger to the other spouse or to the offspring or otherwise renders common life too difficult, that spouse gives the other a legitimate cause for leaving, either by decree of the local ordinary or even on his or her own authority if there is danger in delay.” (Can. 1153 §1.)

“The Church does not force anyone to remain in an abusive relationship,” Pope reiterated.

Furthermore, O’Brien said, Catholics can have a misunderstanding of the role of suffering in their lives, and some may think that the suffering they experience through domestic violence may be God’s way of “punishing” them for some other sin.

“Yes, suffering exists and yes, we can offer it to the Lord, but we’re not to seek suffering,” O’Brien said, and Catholics should not tolerate abuse in the name of suffering.

“The other big deal with Catholics is understanding that this is not punishment,” she added.

“Yes, maybe you had an abortion, or yes, maybe you all were engaged in relations before marriage...but experiencing domestic abuse is not punishment for some other sin, and you are called to address it, to figure out what to do,” she said.

How the Church responds to domestic abuse

In 1992, the Catholic bishops of the U.S. wrote “When I Call for Help: A Pastoral Response to Domestic Violence Against Women.”

In the document, the bishops clearly state Catholic Church teaching regarding domestic abuse. They also examine why abuse happens, how one can respond to it, and information on where and how abused women and men can seek help.

The document “was cutting edge in 1992 and is still incredibly relevant and appropriate,” said Fr. Dahm. It has since been updated, but only in very minor ways.

“As pastors of the Catholic Church in the United States, we state as clearly and strongly as we can that violence against women, inside or outside the home, is never justified. Violence in any form —physical, sexual, psychological, or verbal —is sinful; often, it is a crime as well. We have called for a moral revolution to replace a culture of violence. We acknowledge that violence has many forms, many causes, and many victims—men as well as women,” the bishops stated in the document’s introduction.

But while the document is excellent, it is still a “really well-kept secret” of the Church, Dahm said, in that many priests and Church leaders do not know that it exists. He said part of his work over the years has been to bring this document to the attention of priests and seminarians during his workshops on domestic violence.

Catholics for Family Peace is another key part of the Church’s response in the United States.

“All the major religions have a national office where clergy and leaders can be trained on domestic abuse, and so we’re it for Catholics,” O’Brien noted.

“We work with dioceses to implement the 20 strategies in the (bishop’s) statement and to create a coordinated, compassionate response to domestic abuse,” she said. They also host several awareness-raising events during the month of October, which is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Lauri Przybysz, co-founder of Catholics For Family Peace, told CNA that their mission extends beyond education and training for clergy and leaders to “education for engaged couples as they prepare for marriage, for them to understand what a healthy relationship means for their marriage, and just facts about domestic violence that a lot of people aren't aware of.”

“We actually have an education module that we can share with marriage preparation leaders... [that] has a little questionnaire that a couple can take to say, to identify: ‘Is there something in my relationship that could be better?’” she said.

They also educate teens on healthy dating and relationships, and they compile good secular resources that clergy can use too, because many of them do not have anything in them contrary to the Catholic faith, Przybysz said.

O’Brien also said that the archdioceses of both Chicago and Washington, D.C., have modeled some of the best responses to domestic violence.

Laura Yeomans is the program manager for the Parish Partners Program at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. The website for the program includes a homily on domestic violence, a downloadable packet for pastors responding to domestic violence, definitions and explanations of domestic violence and Church teaching, as well as links to emergency resources for victims, among other things.

Yeomans and her team connect with priests and families at the parish level when they are notified about cases of domestic abuse, she said.

“We go out to the parish setting and we meet individually with families who are suffering domestic abuse,” Yeomans said.

Basic do’s and don’ts of responding to domestic violence

While a natural response for pastors or Catholics who learn about a case of domestic abuse may be to call the police, Przybysz warned against it. If a perpetrator knows they have been found out, their violence could escalate to the point of killing their victim.

“It's about walking beside someone, giving them information about where they can find safety, when they decide to make the move,” she said.

Yeomans seconded this advice. “When you're talking with family suffering, domestic abuse, it's very important that we not go in with an agenda,” she said.

The first thing to do is listen, Yeomans said, and to say: “I believe you.” Next, she said, ask: “What can I do? How can I help you? What step would you like to take?”

“It's very important not to say, ‘You should forgive him,’” she said, because this gives the victim the false impression that they must continue enduring the abuse in the meantime. Forgiveness may come eventually, Yeomans said, but the first priority is the safety of the victim.

“Forgiveness is not permitting the abuse to continue,” she said. “It is not allowing yourself and your children to be in danger.”

Spreading awareness of domestic violence, and of the resources available, is one of the best things priests can do for their parishioners, Fr. Dahm said, because then they will know where to turn for help. He said he found it especially true among Hispanics and Latinos, especially those who had recently come to the United States and prefer going to the Church for help.

“It is absolutely true that Hispanics prefer to go to their parish,” he said. “They feel more welcome, they feel safer, that was why in our parish we were so successful - people came to us from all over. I think that had a lot to do with the fact that people wanted to go to a place they trusted.”

Yeomans said that besides speaking about domestic violence at Mass, priests should find out what resources are available to them locally. Once they know what domestic violence hotlines and resources are available, they can print flyers with information and hang them in parish bathrooms, and put informative inserts in their parish bulletins.

Another thing that Yeomans has seen priests do is to raise the question about domestic violence and healthy relationships during times like baptism class, when couples are already at Church to receive some education and information.

Pope said that in the UK, the bishops’ goals for having domestic violence as the theme for their Day for Life was to raise awareness of the issue, to raise additional funds for resources, and to make domestic violence culturally unacceptable.

Fr. Dahm added that he is willing to travel throughout the United States to preach and give workshops on domestic violence in parishes.

“If there are bishops in dioceses who are interested, just tell me, and I will go there,” he said.

By focusing on domestic violence, among other issues, as important pro-life issues, Pope said the bishops hope to help their people follow God’s call in the Gospel of John more closely: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

If you or a loved one are experiencing domestic violence, call the national domestic violence hotline at: 800-799-SAFE (7233) or 800-787-3224 (TTY). For more information, go to www.thehotline.org.

Domestic violence resources through the Archdiocese of Chicago are available at: https://pvm.archchicago.org/human-dignity-solidarity/domestic-violence-outreach

Domestic violence resources, including the pastoral response packet, are available through Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. at: https://www.catholiccharitiesdc.org/familypeace/

Catholics can also visit Catholics for Family Peace or For Your Marriage for additional information.

Pope Francis: God’s love can do great things with our littleness

Rome, Italy, Jun 23, 2019 / 11:50 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Sunday that the Eucharist exemplifies how God’s love can accomplish great things with very little.

“Whatever we have can bear fruit if we give it away – that is what Jesus wants to tell us – and it does not matter whether it is great or small. The Lord does great things with our littleness,” Pope Francis said June 23.

“God’s omnipotence is lowly, made up of love alone. And love can accomplish great things with little. The Eucharist teaches us this: for there we find God himself contained in a piece of bread,” the pope said in his homily for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi.

Pope Francis said that the Eucharist is “the antidote” to the mindset that says, “Sorry, that is not my problem,” or “I have no time, I can’t help you, it’s none of my business.”

“Being simple and essential, bread broken and shared, the Eucharist we receive allows us to see things as God does. It inspires us to give ourselves to others,” he said.

Pope Francis celebrated at outdoor evening Mass in Rome’s Casal Bertone neighborhood for the feast of the Holy Body and Blood of Christ, according to Italy’s liturgical calendar.

A Eucharistic procession through the Roman neighborhood followed the Mass, ending at a homeless shelter run by the Missionaries of Charity.

“In our city that hungers for love and care, that suffers from decay and neglect, that contains so many elderly people living alone, families in difficulty, young people struggling to earn their bread and to realize their dreams, the Lord says to each one of you: ‘You yourself give them something to eat,’ Pope Francis said.

“You may answer: ‘But I have so little; I am not up to it.’ That is not true; your ‘little’ has great value in the eyes of Jesus, provided that you don’t keep it to yourself,” he added.

“You are not alone, for you have the Eucharist, bread for the journey, the bread of Jesus,” he said.

The pope called the Eucharist “a school of blessing” and said that through the Mass Catholics are blessed by the Lord and can in turn be a blessing to others as “channels of goodness in the world.”

“It is sad to think of how easily people today speak words not of blessing but of contempt and insult,” Pope Francis said.

“Sadly, those who shout most and loudest, those angriest, often appeal to others and persuade them. Let us avoid being infected by that arrogance; let us not let ourselves be overcome by bitterness, for we eat the Bread that ‘contains all sweetness within it,’” he continued.

“In the presence of the Eucharist, Jesus who becomes bread, this simple bread that contains the entire reality of the Church, let us learn to bless all that we have, to praise God, to bless and not curse all that has led us to this moment, and to speak words of encouragement to others,” Pope Francis said.

Abortion, LGBT activists disrupt Vatican women footballers' debut

Vienna, Austria, Jun 23, 2019 / 08:10 am (CNA).- The international debut of the Vatican women's football team, which was scheduled to play in a friendly against the Vienna FC Mariahilf Saturday, was cancelled after abortion and LGBT activists disrupted the game before it began, local media reported.

According to several local media reports, players of the Viennese soccer team Mariahilf lifted their jerseys whilst the Vatican anthem was playing, displaying painted ovaries and pro-abortion messages. Activists also displayed LGBT banners on the sidelines at the venue.

The Vatican team, who had been invited to Vienna by FCM, decided not to go ahead with the June 22 match.

The Apostolic Nuncio in Austria, Pedro Lopez Quintana, witnessed the protests but was not involved in the decision to cancel the game, local media reported.

The friendly was scheduled to kick off in the early afternoon in a sports arena in Wien-Simmering. Beforehand, both sides had participated in a prayer service and blessing of the pitch.

Austrian state broadcaster ORF quoted one of the FCM players involved in the protest as saying the activists were "not aware of the consequences of their action in any way and would have liked to play the football match".

The activists also handed out leaflets to journalists attending the match. These stated that the activists did not assent to the Church's teaching on abortion and same-sex marriage.

"They were not aware that the timing of the action during the playing of the Vatican anthem and in the presence of the Apostolic Nuncio could be detrimental to the idea of sport and ruin many weeks of preparation", reported the ORF.

When announcing the upcoming game, the German section of Vatican News reported FCM founder Ernst Lackner as saying he had initially not expected that the Vatican team would really accept the invitation, but that the Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, had assured the Vatican team that FC Mariahilf was a serious team that was also strongly committed to charity.

The papal women's football team had its first appearance in 2018 and immediately received an invitation from FCM, which is currently playing in the Wiener Landesliga, the third highest league in domestic women's football. 

Pope Francis: The Eucharist is Jesus alive

Vatican City, Jun 23, 2019 / 05:12 am (CNA).- On the feast of Corpus Christi, Pope Francis said that Jesus gave the Church the Eucharist for the salvation of the world.

“Every year the feast of Corpus Christi invites us to renew the wonder and joy for this wonderful gift of the Lord, which is the Eucharist,” Pope Francis said at the Angelus prayer June 23.

“The Eucharist is the synthesis of the entire existence of Jesus, which was a single act of love for the Father and his brothers,” he said. It is “the sacrament of His Body and His Blood given for the salvation of the world.”

The Solemnity of Corpus Christi, meaning the “Body of Christ” in Latin, is traditionally celebrated on the Thursday following Trinity Sunday or, in some countries including the United States and Italy, on the Sunday following that feast.

The feast provides an opportunity for the Church to focus on Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist, which Pope Francis stressed should be welcomed “with gratitude, not in a passive, habitual way.”

“Whenever we approach the altar to receive the Eucharist, we must truly renew our ‘amen’ to the Body of Christ,” the pope said, urging that this “amen” should come from the heart.

“It is Jesus, it is Jesus who saved me, it is Jesus who comes to give me the strength to live. It is Jesus, Jesus alive,” Francis said of the Eucharist in a departure from his prepared remarks.

Pope Francis said that the processions with the Blessed Sacrament that take place around the world in celebration of the Corpus Christi feast are an “expression of the Eucharistic faith of the holy people of God.”

“I too will celebrate Mass this evening in the Roman quarter of Casal Bertone, followed by a procession. I invite everyone to participate, even spiritually, through radio and television,” he said.

“May Our Lady help us to follow Jesus with faith and love whom we adore in the Eucharist,” Pope Francis said.

Tribunal says China uses coercion in organ harvesting, targets religious minorities

London, England, Jun 22, 2019 / 04:04 pm (CNA).- An investigative tribunal has said that forced harvesting of organs for transplant continues in China, with religious minorities especially targeted.

“Forced organ harvesting has been committed for years throughout China on a significant scale,” the China Tribunal said in its final judgement, issued June 17 in London.

Such a practice is “of unmatched wickedness — on a death for death basis — with the killings by mass crimes committed in the last century,” said the final report of the China Tribunal, NBC News reports.

The Chinese government has previously rejected claims about forced organ harvesting as rumors.

The China Tribunal is chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice. The tribunal, reportedly independent, was launched by the Australia-based International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China, which describes itself as a human rights group focused on forced organ trafficking.

After concluding its hearings, the tribunal said that it had unanimously determined that it was certain that Falun Gong is “a source--probably the principal source--of organs for forced organ harvesting,” the U.K. newspaper The Guardian reports.

Falun Gong attracted tens of millions of followers to their practices of meditation, reflection on its texts and following its virtues to achieve enlightenment and salvation. The group began to suffer persecution in China in 1999 after Chinese leaders began to perceive it as a threat to the communist country.

The tribunal evidence came from medical experts, human rights investigators, and other sources. The tribunal cited extremely low wait times for organ transplant in Chinese hospitals, as little as a couple of weeks. In the past, investigators who called hospitals in China to inquire about patient transplants were told that the source of some organs was Falun Gong adherents.

The tribunal estimated that there are as many as 90,000 organ transplant operations taking place in China, which is much higher than official statistics. There is numerical evidence that it is impossible for there to be “sufficient donors” under China’s voluntary donor scheme, the tribunal concluded.

“The conclusion shows that very many people have died indescribably hideous deaths for no reason, that more may suffer in similar ways and that all of us live on a planet where extreme wickedness may be found in the power of those, for the time being, running a country with one of the oldest civilizations known to modern man,” said the tribunal.

The Chinese government did not take part in the hearings and has strongly denied the claims it forces organ harvesting.

Earlier this year the Chinese embassy to the U.K. told The Guardian that the Chinese government “always follows the World Health Organization’s guiding principles on human organ transplant, and has strengthened its management on organ transplant in recent years.”

It cited the Chinese state council’s March 21, 2007 enactment of a regulation on human organ transplant requiring human organ donation be done voluntarily and without charge.

“We hope that the British people will not be misled by rumors,” the embassy said.

In 2014 China announced that it would stop its practice of removing organs from executed prisoners. It has contended the claims about coercive organ harvesting are political motivated.

Nice rejected the claims about prisoners, saying, “there is no evidence of the practice having been stopped and the tribunal is satisfied that it is continuing.”

In a statement released alongside the final judgement, the tribunal cited a witness, Dr. Enver Tohti, who said that as a surgeon in China he had been required to perform organ extractions. He recounted one instance in which he removed an organ from a living patient, who bled upon being cut and tried to resist but was too weak.

While the report considered the treatment of Falun Gong, the tribunal found less evidence concerning the treatment of other religious and ethnic minorities like Tibetans, Uughur Muslims and Christians.

Former inmates from both Falun Gong and Uyghur backgrounds have said they repeatedly underwent medical testing while in jail.

Most of the evidence given to the tribunal has dated since the year 2000, though the tribunal considered reports about kidneys harvested from executed prisoners as far back as the 1970s.

Over 40 U.K. MPs from all parties have backed a proposed ban on patients travelling to China for organ transplants. Such travel bans are in force in Israel, Italy, Spain and Taiwan.

Falun Gong practitioners are detained in the thousands, with some tortured. The group has estimated that at least 69 practitioners have died in custody or due to injuries sustained in custody in China 2018. Some practitioners appear to be missing.

In a March 8 speech in Hong Kong, Sam Brownback, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom cited allegations that the Chinese government forcibly harvests organs from people imprisoned due to their religious practice, including in the case of Falun Gong practitioners and Uyghurs.

His speech drew a response from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, which called it a “malicious attack and slander on China’s religious policies.”

China’s treatment of Uyghurs also drew criticism from Brownback, who said Chinese authorities have arbitrarily detained Muslim minorities in internment camps. Travel is restricted, and parents are not allowed to give their children common Muslim names.

The ambassador rejected Chinese government claims that the camps are vocational training centers, charging that they are “internment camps created to wipe out the cultural and religious identity of minority communities.”

Three priests sue Corpus Christi diocese for inclusion in credibly accused list

Corpus Christi, Texas, Jun 22, 2019 / 08:01 am (CNA).- Three priests have filed suits against the Diocese of Corpus Christi and its bishop, claiming that they were wrongfully included in a list of clerics credibly accused of sexually abusing a minor within the diocese.

The Corpus Christi Caller Times reported June 20 that Fr. Jesús García Hernando had filed a suit over his inclusion on the list. In March, both Msgr. Michael Heras and Fr. John Feminelli filed similar suits.

The suits state that “Defendants knew the statement was false and acted with reckless disregard for the truth. The publication of the statement was made with malice.”

All three are being represented by Andrew Greenwell of Harris & Greenwell, who told the Caller Times that a fourth suit may be filed as well.

The diocese had earlier filed motions to dismiss the suits from Heras and Feminelli, saying the list was “made in good faith.”

The Corpus Christi diocese released a list of credibly accused clerics Jan. 31, amid a wave of such admissions throughout the US following a Pennsylvania grand jury report on abuse by clerics in six of the state's dioceses.

Announcing the list, Bishop Michael Mulvey of Corpus Christi said that “an Independent Committee comprised of outside legal professionals reviewed all cleric files to determine whether an allegation was credible,” and that “in some cases, files were also reviewed by the Diocesan Review Board.”

The diocese “accepted all recommendations from the Independent Committee and the Diocesan Review Board regarding the names to be included on this list,” he stated.

The bishop added that the diocese “has worked diligently to be accurate with the information presented,” and said that “if any information is found to be incorrect” the diocese's victim assistance coordinator should be contacted.

His statement included a nota bene that “A determination that an allegation against a member of the clergy is credible is not equivalent to a finding by a judge or jury that the cleric is liable or guilty of the sexual abuse of a minor under canon, civil or criminal law.

On the list were 26 clerics, 12 of whom are deceased.

According to the list, Fr. Hernando was incardinated into the Corpus Christi diocese in 1983, and was ordained the following year in Burgos. He was excardinated from the diocese in 2000, and was removed from ministry in 2011.

Greenwell told the Caller Times that Hernando is still a priest in Spain.

The Caller Times said that Hernando was indicted in 1996 on charges of sexual assault and indecency with a child related to an alleged 1992 incident with a 15-year-old altar boy. Hernando returned to the US from Spain after the indictment. He was not convicted, and the criminal case was dismissed; the prosecutor indicated he needed more evidence than the accuser's testimony.

He has also been accused in a suit “of molesting at least two other men from 1991 to 1994.”

According to the diocese's list, Fr. Feminelli was ordained for the diocese in 1987, and retired in 2007. The Caller Times said in February that a couple filed a suit against the diocese in 1988, “claiming diocese employees circulated false information about their 15-year-old son.” Feminelli was accused of buying the boy gifts in exchange for “wrestling matches” in a hotel room.

The Caller Times wrote that “the suit alleged slander and libel,” saying the bishop and priests “humiliated the family, causing the boy to recant … No wrestling matches took place, the boy said in court.”

Msgr. Heras was ordained for the diocese in 1984, and was removed from ministry in 2014.

That year, district attorneys received complaints of inappropriate conduct which was alleged to have happened 25-30 years earlier. Criminal investigations were not pursued, but a civil suit was filed in October 2018.

A diocesan directory of priests which indicated it was last updated Oct. 30, 2018, listed Feminelli as retired. Heras' status was not indicated.