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Blessed Sacrament stolen from Texas Catholic parish

El Paso, Texas, Nov 12, 2019 / 12:18 am (CNA).- The pastor of a Catholic parish in El Paso, Texas is calling for prayer and reparation after a tabernacle containing the Eucharist was stolen from the church.

On Oct. 28, Holy Spirit Parish in Horizon City was broken into by unknown individuals.

“It is with a very saddened heart that I write these words to you,” said Father Jose Morales, pastor of the parish, in a Nov. 1 letter. “Sunday night into Monday morning we had some intruders in the church that caused damages and stole items including the tabernacle with the Blessed Sacrament.”

The incident resulted in minor property damage and stolen items equal to a few thousand dollars, the priest said. He stressed that the worst aspect of the attack was the theft of the Eucharist, the value of which cannot be estimated. Catholic teaching holds that the consecrated Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ.

“The desecration of the greatest gift possessed by the Church, the Most Blessed Sacrament, is a very serious matter,” he said.

He encouraged anyone with any information on the crime to contact the Horizon Police Department. He also asked parishioners to respond to the theft with acts of penance.

“Due to the desecration of the Blessed Sacrament I join our Bishop Mark Seitz in inviting you to make reparation for this violation by visiting the Blessed Sacrament and participating in any act of reparation,” he said.

“The indifference of the world towards God in the holiness Most Blessed Sacrament needs to be overcome with the devotion, love and the holiness of His children. Let us remain united and strong in the Lord and manifest that we are his faithful followers regardless of the violations that some express.”

Roberto Ceballos, a parishioner of 20 years, told KVIA that the theft made him feel unsafe in the neighborhood.

“When we heard the news about it, we felt bad...We couldn’t believe that it had happened here, of course, in the neighborhood and of course in a Catholic church,” said Ceballos.

“I don’t feel secure now... It's just a half-block away from my house,” he added.

Morales said it is difficult to understand the reasons behind the theft, but he urged the perpetrators to come forward and return the tabernacle.

“I don’t see the reason for something like this being done. We know God is merciful and if they would return what they took and repent it would be greatly appreciated, not just by us, but God will take that into account,” he told KVIA.

The priest encouraged his congregation to pray that the thieves repent and change their ways, and he asked Our Lady of Guadalupe to intercede for the parish.

“May our Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Guadalupe, who witnessed the acts of hatred and indifference towards her beloved Son, bring us consolation and guide us closer to the Sacred Heart of our Lord Jesus Christ. May the Holy Spirit protect us always,” he said in his letter to parishioners.

Catholics in Australia seek religious protections despite indifference, hostility

Canberra, Australia, Nov 11, 2019 / 10:01 pm (CNA).- While the Catholic bishops of Australia have said a religious discrimination bill does not go far enough to protect religious freedom, former High Court Justice Michael Kirby has claimed the proposal would foster religious intolerance and extremism.

In a letter to the Australian Law Journal, he said that the effort to protect religious freedom was “a product of hostile religious assertions of a minority of conservative politicians” that followed Australia’s legal recognition of same-sex marriage in 2017, The Guardian reports.

“I am unconvinced that such newfound protections are really needed,” said Kirby, who identifies as homosexual and who served on Australia’s highest court from 1996 to 2009. He suggested the proposal has “serious dangers.”

Kirby said the new laws “will support extreme assertions of religious rights by religious minorities who want to go around condemning others, often based on previously obscure passages in religious texts that faith communities or their zealots invoke to defend their religious freedoms.”

He had spoken earlier this year at a dialogue at the Vatican hosted by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, where he advocated the repeal of “laws that criminalize adult consensual sexual conduct.”

The ruling Liberal-National Coalition government wants to make religious belief and activity a protected class, like race or sex. It also wants to ensure that groups which reject same-sex marriage are not stripped of their charitable status.

The bill would establish a religious freedom commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission; and amend existing laws regarding religious freedom, including marriage and charities law, and objection clauses in anti-discrimination law.

In its current version, the bill would not protect religious statements that are “malicious, would harass, vilify or incite hatred or violence against a person or group or which advocate for the commission of a serious criminal offense.”

Australia has seen debate over religious freedom in recent years with respect to the seal of the confessional, hiring decisions, and same-sex marriage.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney noted last year that “we cannot take the freedom to hold and practice our beliefs for granted, even here in Australia,” and that “powerful interests now seek to marginalize religious believers and beliefs, especially Christian ones, and exclude them from public life. They would end funding to faith-based schools, hospitals and welfare agencies, strip us of charitable status and protections.”

The Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference filed a submission on the draft bill, calling it “an important acknowledgement of the right to freedom of religion.” However, they warned that it falls short in several key areas. While the bill says that religious schools will not be considered illegally discriminatory if their actions “may reasonably be regarded as being in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of (their) religion,” the bishops said this provision should be expanded to other organizations with a religious mission and ethos too.

Catholic health groups, welfare agencies, and other entities should be able to employ staff members who will uphold the tenets of their faith, the bishops said. Religious-run publishing houses, retreat centers and other nonprofit entities should be protected.

The Christian legal think tank Freedom for Faith has echoed these criticisms of the bill, saying it has “a very limited scope for religious organizations to retain their ethos and identity, and conversely an expansive scope for suppression of free speech.”

According to the Catholic bishops, the law needs to recognize that some products and procedures will not be offered due to religious beliefs, and so Catholic medical facilities should be able to expect employees to provide care according to a Catholic ethos.

The Australian bishops stressed the importance of recognizing religious liberty not only as freedom of worship, but also as freedom to live out one’s faith through charitable works, education, and public debate.

Kirby, writing to the Australian Law Journal, claimed that current discrimination law prevents harm, while the proposal to change it will give freedom to the religious who cause harm.

“If this move goes ahead, I predict that the result will be a rise in religious intolerance and also anti-religious hostility to replace the more relaxed (live and let live) tradition of modern Australia,” he said.

According to Kirby, apartheid in South Africa was justified by citing supposed religious condemnation of inter-racial marriage. He said “racial intolerance was based on the alleged inferiority of black people traced to contestable biblical texts.”

“Passages of scripture can be found for just about every prejudice known to mankind,” he added. “There is a need for considerable caution in elevating every religious opinion to an enshrined legal right to hurt and harm others.”

The Labor Party has declined to take a position on the bill, on the grounds that it is still in draft form.

Attorney General Christian Porter has said there will be some amendments to address religious institutions’ concerns that their institutions, like elder care homes, will be exempt from a prohibition on religious discrimination.

Anglican leaders have voiced similar concerns as the Catholic bishops. They cannot support the current draft of the proposal.

Arthur Moses, president of the Law Council of Australia, spoke out against the bill last month, opposing conscience protections for medical professionals who have religious objections to participating in abortion.

In the view of the Australian Industry Group, the proposal could make it difficult for employers to enforce codes of conduct, as employees could justify non-compliance by citing religious beliefs. This could expose other workers to harassment, the group argued in its submission on the legislation.

Bolivian bishops call for end to vandalism after Morales' resignation

La Paz, Bolivia, Nov 11, 2019 / 04:47 pm (CNA).- The Bolivian bishops have urged an end to the vandalism that has taken place following the resignation of president Evo Morales on Sunday.

Supporters of Morales have clashed with police in several cities.

In a Nov. 10 message, the bishops' conference, along with several civic groups, encouraged “Bolivians to peace and to not commit acts of vandalism or revenge or anything we could regret. We all have a grave obligation to defend the lives of all Bolivians.”

They also pointed out that “what's happening in Bolivia is not a coup d'état, we say it before all Bolivian citizens and the entire international community.”

“In the name of God we tell you: stop the violent acts and let us preserve life and the peace. Let us maintain the peaceful spirit that has reigned in the people in this time,” they said.

Morales resigned Nov. 10 after weeks of protest regarding a disputed Oct. 20 election. The socialist leader had been in power since 2006.

According to the electoral commision Morales won on the election's first round, but the opposition claimed fraud. The Organization of American States said Nov. 10 that there was “clear manipulation” in the election, and that it was statistically improbable that Morales had won by the margin needed to avoid a runoff.

Within hours of the OAS report, Morales resigned, after being encouraged to do so by the head of the Bolivian armed forces.

In both La Paz and El Alto, Morales' supporters have clashed with police, and more than 20 people have reportedly been injured.

The deputy head of the Senate, Jeanine Anez, has said she will serve as a caretaker president until elections are held.

Morales has been offered asylum by Mexico.

The Bolivian bishops and civil leaders said, “We call on the National Police and the Armed Forces of the nation to urgently fulfill their constitutional role in defense of property and people, preserving the lives and freedom of everyone.”

“We are all in agreement in proposing to the National Assembly of Bolivia a constitutional and peaceful solution in order to shortly have  constitutional president with the task of forming a new electoral tribunal and bringing us to new elections so that the entire people may express their opinion in freedom and peace,” they continued.

Luis Fernando Camacho, an opposition leader, reportedly placed a Bible on the Bolivian flag in the presidential residence after Morales resigned, saying, “Pachamama will never return to the Palace. Bolivia is Christ's.”

Bishop Krzysztof Bialasik Wawrowska of Oruro spoke with ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish language sister agency, saying that when the news of Morales' resignation came, “at that moment all the people gathered together to celebrate this fact, practically as a victory, because we were already living in a dictatorship and the people knew that they didn't want to become like Venezuela.”

“At this moment there's a big celebration in Oruro's main square and they just called me to go there and pray and thank God for this grace of freedom that he has given us,” Bishop Bialasik said.

The bishop said Bolivia must “form an electoral tribunal as soon as possible for the new elections. This could take about three months to find the people, the leaders that can lead the country over the next few years.”

With these leaders, the Bishop of Oruro concluded, Bolivia may have “more hope, and also the life and dignity of people … may also be respected.”

Cardinal O'Malley: Pope Francis will publish Vatican McCarrick report 'soon'

Baltimore, Md., Nov 11, 2019 / 03:41 pm (CNA).- The results of the Vatican’s investigation of Theodore McCarrick should be published by early 2020, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston told U.S. bishops on Monday.

“The intention is to publish the Holy See’s response soon, if not before Christmas, soon in the new year,” Cardinal O’Malley said on Monday afternoon

O’Malley presented a brief update on the status of the Vatican’s McCarrick investigation during the annual fall meeting of the U.S. bishops in Baltimore, Maryland, held from Nov. 11-13.

Earlier on Monday morning, Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing, Michigan, had requested that an update on the Vatican’s McCarrick investigation to be added to the agenda of the bishops’ meeting. Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, seconded the motion and the bishops approved it by a voice vote.

The Vatican announced that it would conduct a review of files on McCarrick in October 2018.

In March 2019, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, said the Vatican was still engaged in its investigation into McCarrick and that the Holy See would issue a declaration once it was finished.

On Monday, O’Malley provided the update on the Vatican’s investigation shortly after he and other bishops from New England arrived back in the U.S. from a visit with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

“We were not afraid to bring up the question of the report on Theodore McCarrick, and we insisted on the importance of publishing a response to the many serious questions of this case,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley sad the New England delegation made it clear to Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin that bishops, priests, religious and the lay faithful in the U.S. were all anxiously awaiting the results of the investigation, of how McCarrick “could become an archbishop and cardinal, who knew what and when.”

“The long wait has resulted in great frustration on the part of bishops and our people, and indeed a harsh and even cynical interpretation of the seeming silence,” O’Malley added Monday.

Cardinal Parolin “assured” the U.S. delegation of the Vatican’s original intent to publish its response to the investigation before the U.S. bishops’ November meeting in Baltimore, but the scope of the investigation and quantity of the information discovered in the process necessitated a later publishing date.

“There is a desire, a commitment, to be thorough and transparent so as to answer peoples’ questions and not simply to create more questions,” O’Malley said of the Vatican.

The cardinal said he shown a “hefty document” by the Vatican, which is being translated into Italian for a presentation to Pope Francis, with an intended publication by early 2020.

Reports of McCarrick’s history of sexual abuse were initially made public in June of 2018, when the Archdiocese of New York had announced that a sexual abuse allegation against then-retired Cardinal McCarrick was “credible and substantiated.”

Subsequent reports of sexual abuse or harassment of children and seminarians by McCarrick surfaced, and Pope Francis accepted his resignation from the College of Cardinals and assigned him to a life of prayer and penance, in July of 2018.

In August 2018, former apostolic nuncio to the U.S. Carlo Maria Vigano claimed that Pope Francis knew about existing sanctions on McCarrick but chose to repeal them.

At their November 2018 meeting, just months after settlements of the Archdioceses of New York and Newark of abuse cases involving McCarrick were made public, the bishops were set to vote on a number of measures to deal with the clergy sex abuse crisis including a call for the Vatican to release all documents about McCarrick in accord with canon and civil law.

However, after the Vatican requested shortly before the meeting that the bishops not take action on the abuse crisis until an international summit of bishops in Rome in early 2019, the bishops did not end up voting on the McCarrick measure because of fears they could be viewed at odds with Rome.

Pope Francis laicized McCarrick in February 2019, shortly before convening a summit of bishops from around the world on clergy sexual abuse. The Vatican’s accelerated investigation into McCarrick’s case was reportedly an “administrative penal process,” not a full juridical process but one used when the evidence in the case is overwhelming.

In June, the U.S. bishops’ National Advisory Council unanimously requested the bishops to urge the Holy See to “make public the results of diocesan and archdiocesan investigations of Theodore McCarrick.”

Archbishop Naumann: Know the pregnancy resources available in your community

Baltimore, Md., Nov 11, 2019 / 03:28 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas announced Monday at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ fall meeting an initiative meant to help parishes assist pregnant women in need at the local level.

Everyone needs to know what pregnancy resources there are available in the community, Naumann said Nov. 11, adding that he hopes Catholics can move from “partisan divide into pastoral unity” on the topic of abortion and the Church’s response.

Naumann, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, announced that from March 25, 2020 to March 25, 2021 the bishops will support an initiative called “Walking With Moms in Need: A Year of Service.”

The program, Naumann said, will include resources for parish use, tools for creating an inventory of resources available to help women in the community, prayers for building a culture of life, reflections on encyclicals related to life, homily help, pulpit announcements, communications and outreach suggestions, and more.

He said all the resources related to the initiative will be online in English and Spanish, along with a timeline for putting them out.

Naumann noted that March 25, 2020 is the 25th anniversary of the encyclical Evangelium vitae, in which St. John Paul II expanded on the term “culture of life,” which he first used in the encyclical Centesimus annus four years earlier.

In Evangelium vitae, Naumann noted, St. John Paul II asked the faithful to assess the efforts in assisting pregnant mothers in need, especially at the local level.

“Pregnant and parenting moms in need are in our parishes and neighborhoods,” Naumann said, noting that there are 17,000 parishes in the United States and each parish is best equipped to help women at the local level.

“We have done little to help women in difficult situations,” when abortion seems like a quick solution to their problems, Naumann lamented.

Our parishes need to be, in the words of Pope Francis, “islands of mercy in the midst of a sea of indifference.”

Bishops reject funding hike for USCCB, for now

Baltimore, Md., Nov 11, 2019 / 02:15 pm (CNA).- A proposed increase in diocesan payments to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has failed to attract sufficient support among the bishops on Monday, the first day of their annual general assembly in Baltimore.

Diocesan and eparchial bishops voted 111 to 55 on a measure that would have approve a requested three percent increase to the annual diocesan assessment that will be sent to the USCCB in 2021. The measure failed to receive the necessary two-thirds majority to pass, though its defeat is not yet definitive. 

The bishops, gathered for their four-day meeting Nov. 11-14, were told by conference treasurer Archbishop Dennis Schnurr that a number of economic factors in, and out of the Church had impacted the finances of the USCCB. Concerns over the cost of clergy sex abuse settlements in U.S. Catholic dioceses was particularly highlighted.

Although the proposed rate increase did not pass, the vote was declared inconclusive because 28 eligible bishops were not present on Monday. The conference hall was told that once their votes are counted, the final outcome will then be announced. The bishops from New York state are currently in Rome for their scheduled ad limina visit with Pope Francis but are reportedly following the proceedings in Baltimore and able to vote remotely.

“It caused me no surprise,” Schnurr of Cincinnati told CNA of the inconclusive vote. As a longtime staffer and member of the budget and finance committee, he said that “this is nothing new under the sun.”

The diocesan assessment goes to fund administrative, pastoral, and public policy programs at the USCCB, and a regular increase is necessary to maintain the reserves of the conference, Schnurr said.

The archbishop acknowledged the financial challenges of some dioceses facing a resurgence in clergy sex abuse claims from new openings in state statutes of limitations.

“There are a lot of dioceses in this country that are looking at bankruptcy,” Schnurr said.

The bishops voted on the first day their fall general assembly in Baltimore on Monday. In attendance were active and retired bishops from around the U.S. including Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C., whose resignation was accepted by Pope Francis late in 2018 after persistent questions were raised over the extent of Wuerl’s knowledge of his predecessor, Theodore McCarrick’s, history of sexual abuse of minors and adults.

The bishops will also consider a slate of other action items, including election of a new president and vice president of the conference, approval of a letter and short video presentation of the bishops’ document on voting, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” and presentations on gun violence and evangelization.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, the outgoing president of the conference, delivered his final presidential address to brother bishops on Monday morning, emphasizing the need to overcome deepening divisions and polarization in society, to promote a renewed evangelization, and to practice solidarity with migrants and immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Archbishop Schnurr addressed the bishops on the proposed 2020 budget for the conference as well as a proposed three percent increase in the annual diocesan assessment to the USCCB.

The three percent increase was last approved by the bishops in November of 2017, for the 2019 diocesan assessment. However, in November of 2018, no increase was approved for the 2020 assessment, largely due to the costs dioceses were facing from a surge of new clergy sex abuse lawsuits.

Schnurr noted other problems facing the national conference’s budget including stricter federal immigration and refugee policies that have reduced the number of cases handled by Catholic organizations, and the trade war between the U.S. and China which could affect the overall U.S. economy and thus the amount of donations coming in to the conference.

The archbishop said that it is not “sustainable” to withhold increases to the annual assessment to meet the conference’s estimated $25 million budget.

“We’re just kicking the can down the road,” he said. “The expenses are there.”

However, while the proposal fell 18 votes short of passage, Schnurr said, he expected the votes of absent bishops to push it over the finish line.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia stated his opposition to the assessment increase, saying that his archdiocese’s assessment amounts to $257,000 per year which, when paired with a matching donation to the Holy See, totals more than half a million dollars annually.

“I don’t have this kind of money to keep increasing it [the assessment],” Chaput said. “We have huge expenses because of the sexual abuse issue and related circumstances.”

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia had to pay more than $32 million in settlements to abuse victims, WHYY reported, after a window for new abuse claims closed on Sept. 30 in the wake of a Pennsylvania grand jury report on abuse that was released in August of 2018.

Chaput said that the USCCB also has more savings and investments in reserve than the archdiocese does.

“I don’t think that some of the work of the USCCB is essential to the mission of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia,” he said.

Cardinal Blase Cupich noted that a three percent increase for 2021 would arrive three years since the last increase to the assessment had been made. The requested increases would not even keep up with the rate of inflation, he said.

On Monday morning, the bishops also voted on “revised strategic priorities” for the conference’s Strategic Plan for the years 2021 through 2024. The priorities included evangelization to “form a joyful band of missionary disciples of Jesus Christ,” promoting “life and dignity of the human person,” working to “protect and heal God’s children,” and promoting vocations to marriage, priesthood and the religious life.

The priorities are all coequal, “much like bishops in the episcopal conference,” Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit, who gave the presentation on the priorities, said.

The bishops voted 214 to 4 to pass the revised strategic priorities, with two abstentions.

Decision imminent on fate of Cardinal Pell High Court appeal

Melbourne, Australia, Nov 11, 2019 / 01:12 pm (CNA).- Australia’s High Court will announce on Wednesday whether it will hear Cardinal George Pell’s appeal of his conviction on sexual abuse charges.

Two judges on the country’s highest court will announce whether the full court’s seven judges will hear their appeal, the Associated Press reports.

The court rejects about 90% of appeals.

In August, sources close to the cardinal told CNA that they thought Pell’s case would likely be accepted given the controversy triggered by the split decision of the Court of Appeals of Victoria, which rejected the cardinal’s appeal.

The cardinal, now 78, was convicted Dec. 11, 2018, on five charges that he sexually abused two 13-year-old choir boys after Sunday Mass while he was Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 and 1997.

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

The controversial case has drawn significant public attention, with Pell’s defenders arguing he could not have committed sexual abuse in the sacristy after Mass, which was always crowded with people, without anyone noticing.

Pell’s lawyers have argued that two state appeals court judges made two errors when they dismissed his appeal in August.

Pell was incorrectly required to prove that it was impossible he committed the offenses, rather than putting the burden of proof on prosecutors, the cardinal’s attorneys argued. They also said that the judges were wrong to find the jury’s verdicts reasonable. The attorneys have argued there was reasonable doubt about whether Pell had the opportunity to commit the crimes.

The prosecutors of Pell’s case have rejected these claims and said the courts made no errors, the Associated Press reports.

Pell’s previous appeal was presented on three grounds, two of which were procedural, and dismissed by all three appeal judges. The judges were divided on Pell’s primary ground of appeal, that the decision of the jury was “unreasonable” given the demonstration of clear “reasonable doubt” that he committed the crimes with which he was charged.

Last year CNA reported that his initial trial, bound by a gag order, ended in a mistrial. This fact was confirmed by one of the judges in the Aug. 21 proceeding.

The prosecution rested on the testimony of one of the alleged victims— the one reported to have suffered two instances of abuse by Pell. The other victim died in 2014 and was unable to testify, but in 2001 had denied to his mother that any abuse occurred while he was a member of the choir.

Before the Court of Appeals of Victoria, Chief Justice Anne Ferguson and Court President Chris Maxwell formed the majority in favor of rejecting Pell’s appeal that the jury verdict was unreasonable on the evidence presented.

In an extensive dissent from the majority finding, Justice Mark Weinberg noted that the entirety of the evidence against Pell consisted of the testimony of a single accuser, whereas more than 20 witnesses were produced to testify against his narrative.

“Even the ‘reasonable possibility’ that what the witnesses who testified to these matters may have been true must inevitably have led to an acquittal,” Weinberg wrote, concluding that Pell had, in effect, been improperly asked to establish the “impossibility” of his guilt and not merely reasonable doubt.

Pell has maintained his innocence, with his defense making central the argument that the alleged crimes would have been, under the circumstances, “simply impossible.”

Pell was convicted of exposing himself and forcing two choir boys to commit sex acts while fully vested in his Sunday Mass garb, almost immediately after Mass in the priests’ sacristy at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996. Pell was at that time Archbishop of Melbourne. He was also convicted of fondling one of the boys in a corridor in 1997.

Pell’s defenders have contended that the sacristy abuse allegations are not possible given the high traffic after Mass and the obstructing nature of the Mass vestments.

The cardinal is detained at the Melbourne Assessment Prison. As a convicted child sex offender, Pell has been held in solitary confinement for extra protection from other inmates. He is not permitted to celebrate Mass in prison. He has recently obtained a prison job weeding a courtyard.

Responding to the Court of Appeal decision in August, Matteo Bruni, Holy See press office director, said that “the Holy See acknowledges the court’s decision to dismiss Cardinal Pell’s appeal,” while reiterating its “respect for the Australian judicial system.”

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

French bishops vote to compensate abuse victims with Church fundsĀ 

Lourdes, France, Nov 11, 2019 / 12:09 pm (CNA).- The bishops of France on Saturday approved plans to offer financial compensation to victims of sexual abuse by clergy.

According to the Associated Press, any person recognized by their bishop as a victim will be eligible to receive money, and the Church in France will appeal for donations to cover the costs.

The French bishops also voted to allocate 5 million euros, or $5.5 million, to an independent commission examining Church sex abuse in France and to support prevention efforts, the AP reported.

The bishops made the decision at their biannual assembly in Lourdes. They plan to consider additional details of the plan, including compensation amounts for victims, at their next meeting in April 2020.

The AP reports that an independent commission examining sexual abuse in France announced at the assembly that 2,800 people have responded since June to a call for testimonies.

France last year extended the statute of limitations on sexual crimes against minors from 20 years to 30.

The continued revelations of sexual abuse and subsequent cover-up by some Church officials in France come alongside similar revelations in countries such as the United States, Ireland, Australia, Chile, Poland, Argentina and Germany.

Most prominently in France, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, Archbishop of Lyon, was found guilty in March of failing to report to authorities the alleged sexual abuse of a priest in his diocese and was given a six-month suspended prison sentence.

He was charged with failing to report facts of abuse to judicial authorities between July 2014 and June 2015, in a case involving Fr. Bernard Preynat, who has been accused of abusing dozens of minors in the 1980s and early '90s.

In 2017, the cardinal told Le Monde that he did not conceal allegations against Preynat, but that his response to the allegations had been “inadequate.” He said he opened an investigation against Preynat after becoming aware of the allegations against him.

French tribunal president Brigitte Vernay declared Barbarin guilty March 7 “of non-denunciation of ill-treatment” of a minor, according to AFP. Five other archdiocesan officials on trial with Barbarin were acquitted the same day.

The cardinal had announced that he would resign his diocesan position, but the Vatican announced later in March that Pope Francis has not accepted the cardinal's resignation, though Barbarin has stepped back from the day-to-day leadership of the diocese.

Barbarin appealed his six-month suspended sentence and a court in Lyon is expected to render a verdict Nov. 28.

Cardinal DiNardo notes search for justice in last USCCB presidential address

Baltimore, Md., Nov 11, 2019 / 11:35 am (CNA).- Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, outgoing president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, highlighted Monday his experience leading the conference and detailing his personal growth over the last three years as his presidential term comes to an end.

“My service as president has been a continual reminder that, indeed, ‘the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it,’” DiNardo said at the US bishops' autumn general assembly in Baltimore Nov. 11. While “our present culture can seem overtaken by various ideological or political divisions,” bishops and other followers of Christ need to be different, he affirmed.

“Follow a simple truth: ‘God is always courteous,’” said DiNardo. “Let us be courteous.”

DiNardo remarked that while his tenure was during the “difficult times within our own Church,” that the bishops must continue to seek justice and to work for “relationships that are ordered in the right way--that is, towards the salvation of souls, including our own.”

DiNardo presided over the USCCB after it came to light that former cardinal Theodore McCarrick sexually abused minors and seminarians on many occasions, as well as during the release of a grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania. Other states have since begun grand jury investigations.

Properly ordered relationships, said the cardinal, exclude any trace of clericalism. An ordained man cannot act “as if he is a lord and master” over others, he said.

“The privilege of a cleric is to be a humble servant to all,” he said. “Justice demands that those who are shepherds should lead from in front, as courage requires, and from behind, as humility requires, going to those who are lost.”

The cardinal said that his experience meeting with victims of sexual abuse as president of the conference was one that “forever changed” his life.

“When too many within the Church sought to keep them in the darkness, they refused to be relegated to the shadows,” said DiNardo. “Their witness brought help to countless fellow survivors. It fueled the resolve of my brother bishops to respond with pastoral support and prevention programs.”

Sexual abuse victims empowered the bishops “with the knowledge needed to respond,” said DiNardo.

“We must never stop striving for justice and working unceasingly to prevent any future abuse from happening,” he said. “The measures we approved last June are a beginning of this renewed striving, but they are only a beginning – more needs to and will be done.”

“Traveling on your behalf these past three years, it was a privilege to learn from so many people along the way,” said DiNardo.

He spoke about his time visiting the border detention centers, and witnessing the faith of the children who were detained and separated from their parents, as well as his experience with other bishops visiting refugees and volunteers at respite centers.

“I met dozens of children who called upon their Catholic faith and the firm knowledge that Christ and His Church would be present with them. Along with my brother bishops, we went because Jesus was already there. We followed our shepherd,” said DiNardo. He extended an invitation to all present to “share our journey of solidarity with migrants and refugees.”

DiNardo said that workers at respite centers, who provided medical care and other needs for people at the border, were “doing God’s work,” as were people who worked at pregnancy centers. He praised the work of pregnancy centers, as well as public policy advocates seeking to change the country’s healthcare system.

“The continued fight to defend unborn children is one of the most significant things we do,” said DiNardo. “And it will remain so as long as the most innocent lives are left unprotected.”

The cardinal's successor as USCCB president will be elected Nov. 12. The bishops are almost certain to choose Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, who is currently vice president of the conference.

US nuncio: Francis' 'pastoral thrust' must reach Americans

Baltimore, Md., Nov 11, 2019 / 10:03 am (CNA).- The apostolic nuncio to the United States told the nation’s bishops that their commitment to evangelization is the measure of their communion with Pope Francis.

Archbishop Christoph Pierre addressed the bishops during the opening session of the USCCB general assembly in Baltimore Monday morning.

Pierre told the bishops Nov. 11 that he would propose “some topics for reflection” which he hoped would inform the conference sessions. The central theme of his reflections was the commitment of the bishops to a state of constant missionary engagement.

“As often as we speak of the ‘new evangelization,’ serious reflection is necessary on the outcomes of our efforts,” Pierre said.

“Do you feel that we and our collaborators have been far-sighted and proactive in efforts at evangelization, anticipating cultural, philosophical, and political trends,” Pierre asked, “or do we find ourselves in the position of having been reactive?”

“Do pastoral priorities we have chosen truly touch the reality of the life of our people?”

The nuncio said that the extent to which the bishops themselves received and were able to transmit Pope Francis’ missionary and pastoral priorities, especially in the apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, was the barometer of their own communion with the pope.

Pierre said that adopting the missionary impulse of the pope’s own writings “and being in a permanent state of mission might represent tangible signs of communion with the Holy Father, for it would show the reception and implementation of his teaching.”

“The pope has emphasized certain themes: mercy, closeness to the people, discernment, accompaniment, a spirit of hospitality towards migrants, and dialogue with those of other cultures and religions,” Pierre said, while asking bishops to consider if these themes were reflected in their clergy and people.

“It is an interesting question to ask,” Pierre said, “because while there has been a strong emphasis on mercy by the Holy Father, at times – paradoxically – people are becoming more and more judgemental and less willing to forgive, as witnessed by the polarization gripping this nation.”

“The pastoral thrust of this pontificate must reach the American people,” the nuncio insisted, “especially as families continue to demand of dioceses and parishes the accompaniment envisioned by Amoris laetitia.”

Amoris laetitia, Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on love in the family, called for better pastoral provision and accompaniment for families and couples in irregular marriages. Whether the document can be interpreted as authorizing a change in Church teaching, or permitting the admittance of the divorced-and-civilly-remarried to Holy Communion, has been the subject of debate in dioceses and countries across the world.

The nuncio did point to some positive signs of life in American dioceses, specifically singling out the defense of human life and religious liberty and the generosity of Catholics in welcoming migrants to the country.

“The generosity and willingness of Catholics to sacrifice is witnessed in the charitable works during times of national disasters or through Catholic Relief Services,” he said, adding that signs of hope are present in the Church “even as many of us worry about the lasting impact of the sexual abuse crisis.”

The archbishop acknowledged that the Church in the U.S. faces “many challenges,” highlighting the demographic changes and the need to engage better with young people.

Pierre also highlighted a series of priorities and concerns about the welfare of the priesthood, acknowledging a shortage of clergy had led to strained circumstances in many dioceses. He urged to make “communion with the presbyterate” a key priority.

“Establishing communion within the presbyterate is becoming increasingly challenging, and not just because of differences in age, theology, or liturgical practices.” He noted the increasing numbers of priests from other countries serving in American dioceses.

“Although we are grateful for the sacramental and pastoral care provided by these priests, we must investigate how this has affected or is affecting the presbyterate within our respective dioceses.”

In answer to the shortage of clergy, Pierre said that there is “an urgent need the bishops to foster a “culture of vocation.”

“Building a culture of vocations also means providing adequate support for and accompaniment of families, where vocations are born and nurtured even at a young age.”

Pierre concluded by saying he hoped that the American bishops would find his “reflections” useful for the coming year.

“Knowing the richness of your spiritual and cultural heritage, as well as the depth of your faith and devotion and that of your people, I am confident that the Church in the United States will discover the right path for its spiritual renewal.”