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'They key is not to fight, but just to bear witness': How to preach Advent

Washington D.C., Dec 5, 2019 / 08:35 am (CNA).- The season of Advent, and the entire cycle of the liturgical year, is vital to remaining rooted in the true mission of the Church, Archbishop Joseph Augustine Di Noia, O.P., adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told CNA. 

Di Noia spoke to CNA Dec. 4 about his newly-released book, “Grace in Season: The Riches of the Gospel in Seventy Sermons” which was published Nov. 15 by Cluny Media. 

"The theme of the book is that the preacher should realize that the liturgical year is a unit that is repeated every single year, and it starts with Advent and finishes with Pentecost,” said Di Noia. The book, a collection of Di Noia's own sermons, is organized by the liturgical seasons. 

The combined readings--the prayers, the preface, and everything said at Mass-- form “a story that you fit into. The liturgy is the key, the entree to it,” he said. By repeating this liturgy in the liturgical year, “we become like Him,” said Di Noia. “That’s the unspoken premise of the book.” 

The liturgical year, he said, is support for the faith similar to a sacramental, and is the “fundamental pattern of Christian spirituality” that is configured to Christ. Preachers, he said, should look to the lectionary and the Sunday readings first and foremost when deciding what they will preach to their homilies. 

“And each season,” he said, “has a particular grace. So Advent is the grace to realize the complete gratuity of grace.”

In the middle of a secularized holiday season, the archbishop said it was important to remain rooted in the true meaning of the time. In the present culture, where the true meaning of Advent as a season of somber preparation is largely discarded, Di Noia said that the best approach to respecting the liturgical season is by hunkering down and living a Christian life in spite of everything. 

“We can’t change the culture,” said Di Noia. “You just have to maintain [a devotion to Advent]. It’s an effort and it requires a certain amount of discipline to concentrate on Advent.” 

"People say, 'Let's put Christ back into Christmas.' I say 'who took him out?' Who could take him out?"

Reflecting on the Advent practice of looking towards the second coming of Christ, Di Noia said that it is key to remember why exactly it was that Christ came to earth. 

"Christ did not come for the resolution to [societal] problems,” said Di Noia. “He came to confront the sin in the human heart, directly. He didn't try to do something superficially.”

Had Christ been born as the son of someone prominent, such as an emperor, that would have undermined his purpose and  “would have confirmed us in our belief that we can deal with sin [...] and that there are human ways we can dissolve it.” 

“In the end, without the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ, sin is intractable. It cannot be cured," he said. 

In his current role at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican department charged with guarding Church discipline in faith and morals, Di Noia is not ordinarily permitted to speak publicly on the nature of his work. But, he told CNA, his day job has not stopped him living out the Dominican charism of teaching and preaching.

The collection of sermons, said Di Noia, “is a way of evangelizing” which was suggested to him by a fellow Dominican friar in Rome.  

The majority of the 70 homilies picked for the book date from after his consecration as a bishop in 2009. Prior to this time, he said he did not typically write down sermons, and instead preferred to form a general idea and preach spontaneously from there. Once he began writing down sermons, he realized he could better craft his preaching and include quotes from the Church Fathers. 

“I’m preaching all the time,” he said, noting that he frequently lectures as well. His work in the CDF he categorized as “pastoral,” while noting the tragic reality that the CDF is now mostly known for dealing with cases of sexual abuse by clerics.

Di Noia is acutely aware of how the abuse crisis has shaken the Church and the faithful, and in particular how it has changed the wider perception of the Church and of Catholics in society. For struggling Catholics, Di Noia offered a reflection on how Christ himself was treated leading up to his crucifixion.

“The profound significance of what the Church experiences in the world is that the suffering is the power of Christ,” he said. Di Noia pointed to a passage from the Gospel of John, where it states “He came to his own and his own received him not.” 

"So that, in other words, the expectation that the message is not going to be palatable is the default position," he said with a laugh. 

“They key is not to fight, but just to bear witness. It’s very difficult,” he said. 

Pope Francis tells Jesuits he is shocked by anti-immigration narratives in Europe

Vatican City, Dec 5, 2019 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis decried the mistreatment of migrants and said that he is shocked by anti-immigration narratives within Europe during a conversation with Jesuits in Thailand published Thursday.

“I must admit that I am shocked by some of the narratives I hear in Europe about borders. Populism is gaining strength,” Pope Francis said in Thailand according to the Jesuit-run journal La Civilita Cattolica transcript published online Dec. 5.

“The Mediterranean has been turned into a cemetery. The notorious cruelty of some detention centers in Libya touches my heart … In other parts there are walls that even separate children from parents,” the pope is reported to have said in a meeting on Nov. 22.

The pope said that migration issues are compounded by a “defensive mindset” that creates a state of fear and makes people believe that “you can only defend yourself by strengthening borders.”

As a result, refugees are treated as “waste material” rather than human beings, he said.

“The phenomenon of refugees has always existed, but today it is better known because of social differences, hunger, political tensions and especially war. For these reasons, migratory movements are intensifying. What is the answer the world gives? The policy of waste. Refugees are waste material,” Pope Francis said.

Francis said that “Herod comes to mind” when he thinks of immigrant children separated from their parents. “Yet for drugs, there’s no wall to keep them out,” he added.

“The Christian tradition has a rich evangelical experience in dealing with the problem of refugees. We also remember the importance of welcoming the foreigner as the Old Testament teaches us,” Pope Francis said.

The pope commended the efforts of religious sisters who work to help victims of human trafficking and prostitution.

Pope Francis met with 48 Jesuits from Southeast Asia in Bangkok’s Shrine of Blessed Nicolas Bunkerd Kitbamrung during his apostolic trip to Thailand and Japan Nov. 19-26.

During papal trips Pope Francis often stops to meet with Jesuits in the region. In the 30-minute meeting in Thailand, the Jesuit priests and seminarians asked the pope about refugees, the environment, prudence, and divorced and remarried Catholics.

The pope encouraged the Jesuits to follow a "little path" of prayer, contemplation of reality, discernment, and action with commitment and courage.

Pope Francis recalled in the meeting a recent encounter with a French missionary who has served in Thailand for 40 years:

“He came to me with about 20 of his parishioners whom he himself had baptized. He also baptized the children of those he had previously baptized: people get married young there, and he was the first evangelizer in that area."

“I dream of a young Church, very close to the people, fresh," Pope Francis said.

Burkina Faso bishop: As violence continues, 'nobody is listening'

Ouahigouya, Burkina Faso, Dec 5, 2019 / 12:09 am (CNA).- Following the death of more than a dozen Christians in a church shooting over the weekend, a Burkina Faso bishop said Western governments have a responsibility to stop the flow of weapons to militants in the region.

“The Western powers should stop those who are committing these crimes, instead of selling them the weapons that they are using to kill the Christians,” Bishop Justin Kientega of Ouahigouya told Aid to the Church in Need.

On Sunday, gunmen in the eastern Burkina Faso town of Hantoukoura attacked a protestant church service, killing 14 people, including several children.

“I condemn the barbaric attack against the Protestant Church of Hantoukoura in the department of Foutouri, which left 14 dead and several wounded. I offer my deepest condolences to the bereaved families and wish a speedy recovery to the wounded,” President Roch Marc Kaboré tweeted late Sunday.

Bishop Kientega said the attack is part of an attempt by radical Islamists to “provoke a conflict between the religions in a country where Christians and Muslims have always lived peaceably side by side.”

According to the Washington Post, militants with connections to al-Qaeda and ISIS regularly attack soldiers and civilians in the region.

“No-one has claimed responsibility for the attack, just as no-one claimed responsibility for the previous ones. So we don't know whether it is one group or several groups that are involved,” Kientega said.

Escalating violence among armed militant groups in Burkina Faso has drawn international concern, with the United Nations warning earlier this year of an “unprecedented humanitarian emergency” in the country. Nearly half a million people have been forced to flee their homes in the last five years. More than 60 Christians have been murdered in the country this year, Aid to the Church in Need reports.

Last month, Pope Francis called for prayers and urged interreligous dialogue amid ongoing violence by jihadist groups.

Kientega argued that the Western world has been ignoring the plight of Christians in West Africa. He suggested some Western powers “have an interest in seeing the violence continue” in the region.

“There is an ongoing persecution of Christians. For months, we bishops have been denouncing what is happening in Burkina Faso, but nobody is listening to us,” he told Aid to the Church in Need. “Evidently, the West are more concerned with protecting their own interests.”

Sex abuse accusation against Tulsa priest 'unsubstantiated'

Tulsa, Okla., Dec 4, 2019 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- An accusation that a priest sexually abused a minor during an assignment nearly 30 years ago was “unsubstantiated” and the accused priest may return to ministry, the Diocese of Tulsa and Eastern Oklahoma has said after a third-party investigation was completed.

Bishop David Konderla of Tulsa thanked the accused priest, Father Joe Townsend, for “his cooperation and patience during this difficult ordeal.”

The accusation stemmed from his service as associate pastor from June 1988 to June 1991 at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Tulsa.

“After a thorough investigation that was both victim-centered and respectful of the rights of the accused, Bishop Konderla, in agreement with the third-party investigators and in consultation with the Diocesan Review Board, a board of primarily lay persons, has found the allegation against Fr. Townsend to be unsubstantiated,” Harrison Garlick, chancellor and in-house counsel of the Diocese of Tulsa, said in a Dec. 3 memorandum.

Townsend was put on administrative leave after the allegation in mid-2019. The diocese announced the accusation and asked anyone with possible knowledge to come forward.

The ruling means the priest is removed from administrative leave and may again exercise public ministry in the Tulsa diocese.

Garlick said the priest will enter “a season of healing and rest” and will not be considered for a pastoral assignment until summer 2020.

“The diocese has notified law enforcement of the findings of this investigation and remains committed to cooperating with civil authorities,” Garlick said. “Bishop Konderla extends his gratitude to all who participated in this investigation, everyone who came forward to share information, and those who generously kept all involved in their prayers.”

Open windows for reporting expected to trigger avalanche of new abuse cases

Washington D.C., Dec 4, 2019 / 06:18 pm (CNA).- Open windows for reporting incidents of child sexual abuse regardless of when they occurred could lead to a wave of thousands of new abuse cases against Catholic clergy and billions of dollars in lawsuits, a recent report from the Associated Press estimated.

“A trickle becomes a stream becomes a flood,” James Marsh, a New York lawyer who represents abuse victims, told the AP. “We’re sort of at the flood stage right now.”

In total, eight states have opened “look back” windows, which allow adult victims of sex abuse to come forward with allegations from their childhoods, even if they have passed the statute of limitations. Seven more states have significantly relaxed their statutes of limitations, allowing victims to come forward much later in life than previous laws had allowed.

In August of this year, New York opened up such a window for one year, as part of the Child Victims Act. Prior to this, victims had until the age of 23 to come forward with cases of childhood sexual abuse. After the open look back window closes, victims will now have until the age of 55 to come forward.

New Jersey opened a two-year window for victims Dec. 1. After that window closes, a new law extended the statute of limitations on reporting childhood abuse from 20 years of age to 55.

California’s three-year “look back” window will open Jan. 1, 2020, and victims will be awarded triple in damages if they can prove there was an attempt on the part of the Church to cover up the abuse. Once the window has closed, victims will be able to come forward with childhood abuse cases up until the age of 40, instead of the previous limit of 26 years of age.

According to AP interviews with lawyers and clergy abuse watchdog groups, the number of cases that will come from just those three states could lead to at least 5,000 additional cases of abuse, with lawsuit payouts that “could surpass the $4 billion paid out since the clergy sex abuse first came to light in the 1980s.”

The other states that have opened up look back windows are Arizona, Montana, Hawaii, Vermont, and North Carolina, along with the District of Columbia. Most states have temporary look back windows, though Vermont’s window will never expire, allowing anyone to come forward with an allegation of childhood sexual abuse at any time.

Seven other states have increased the age at which adults may come forward with cases of childhood abuse; in many cases, the increase was by more than a decade.

The relaxed or temporarily eliminated statutes of limitations have victims cheering, lawyers competing for sex abuse clients, and the Church preparing for another onslaught of cases.

“I was sitting in my living room and someone came on TV, ‘If you’ve been molested, act now,'” 57-year-old Ramon Mercado told the AP. “After so many years, I said, ‘Why not?’”

Mercado told the AP that he had been quiet about the abuse he had suffered as a child in the 1970s so as not to upset his mother, who recently died.

Many of the cases being brought forward include priests already on the public “credibly accused” lists that many dioceses have.

But some cases, like Mercado’s, name priests who are dead, and are not already on such lists, complicating the possibility of defense on the part of a diocese.

“Dead people can’t defend themselves,” Mark Chopko, former general counsel to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told the AP.

“There is also no one there to be interviewed. If a diocese gets a claim that Father Smith abused somebody in 1947, and there is nothing in Father Smith’s file and there is no one to ask whether there is merit or not, the diocese is stuck,” he added.

Steven Alter, a lawyer who has represented multiple sex abuse victims and is collecting more clients, insisted to the AP that “it’s not a cash grab.”

“They (victims) want to have a voice. They want to help other people and make sure it doesn’t happen again. I haven’t had one person ask me about the money yet,” he said.

The new wave of abuse cases comes after several years of sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Church in the United States, including the allegations against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick and the grand jury report from Pennsylvania detailing decades of abuse cases, which triggered an avalanche of victims to come forward and investigations of clergy sex abuse in dioceses across the country.

The newly relaxed or eliminated statutes of limitations in these 15 states will further strain diocesan finances, with dioceses looking to victim compensation funds or selling valuable real estate as ways to pay victims.

Victim compensation funds are currently being used in several dioceses, including the Archdiocese of New York, every diocese in the states of New Jersey and Colorado, and several dioceses in Pennsylvania and California.

These funds offer to settle with victims outside of court, which means that victims are compensated more quickly, but at a lower amount than what they might have won in court, according to the AP. Compensation funds are formed by donations taken up specifically for that purpose, and are not funded by donations made to Catholic schools, seminaries, or other ministries.

Since setting up its fund in 2016, the Archdiocese of New York has paid “more than $67 million to 338 alleged victims, an average $200,000 each,” the AP reported.

In a 2018 op-ed for the New York Daily News, Dolan said that the use of victim compensation funds “surpasses endless and costly litigation — which can further hurt the victim-survivors; it insures fair and reasonable compensation; and prevents the real possibility — as has happened elsewhere — of bankrupting both public and private organizations, including churches, that provide essential services in education, charity and health care.”

Still, bankruptcy may be in the future for some already financially strained dioceses, which also leads to less compensation for victims than if they were to win at a trial. A Penn State study cited by the AP of 16 dioceses and other religious organizations that had recently filed for bankruptcy were able to settle with sex abuse victims for an average of $288,168 per case.

Paul Mones, a Los Angeles lawyer who has successfully prosecuted millions of dollars worth of sex abuse cases against the Catholic Church, told the AP that if these newly-revealed cases are taken to trial, the amount that the Church will owe in victim compensation could be “astronomical.”

Cardinal Zen: 'Parolin is manipulating the Holy Father' on China deal

Hong Kong, China, Dec 4, 2019 / 04:56 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Joseph Zen, former bishop of Hong Kong, has renewed his criticism of the Vatican-China deal, warning that he thinks Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin is exercising undue influence in advising Pope Francis.

“I have a clear impression that Parolin is manipulating the Holy Father,” Zen told New Bloom Magazine in a recent interview.

Zen said Parolin’s motives are unclear, but suggested that he may be acting out of “vainglory” and a desire for “diplomatic success.”

“It’s a real mystery how a man of the Church, given all his knowledge of China, of the Communists, could do such a thing as he’s doing now,” he said.

For decades, the Church in China had been split between the “underground” Church, in full communion with Rome, and the state-run Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), which was not. The communist government appointed bishops for the CPCA.

In September 2018, news was released of a provisional agreement between Beijing and Vatican officials, intended to unify the underground Church and the CPCA. While the terms of the agreement have been kept confidential, it reportedly allows the CPCA to choose a slate of nominees for bishop, from which the pope would then select in making his appointment.

Zen has been an outspoken critic of the agreement, calling it an act of “shameless surrender” to the communist government.

The cardinal has criticized the deal’s secrecy, noting that as one of two Chinese cardinals, he has been unable to see the contents of the agreement, and that documents released from the Holy See have been vague, without any name or department attached to them, in a departure from the usual protocol.

Zen has also warned that the deal will put those who have remained loyal to Rome in the underground Church in danger, as pressure mounts to accept the authority of the CPCA.

Guidance from the Vatican recognizes the choice of those who feel that they cannot in good conscience register with the government and accept the communist policy of “sinicization,” to bring the Catholic Church more in-line with the communist understanding of Chinese culture, society, and politics. However, reports indicate that those who decline to register are facing harassment and persecution.

Last month, Bishop Vincenzo Guo Xijin, a leader in the Chinese underground Church, refused to register with the government. According to Asia News, he was placed under the supervision of two state security officials and visited daily in an attempt to force him to sign an act of registration with the state. He escaped a few days later and was reportedly in hiding.

Speaking with New Bloom, Cardinal Zen outlined his experience of a shift in the Vatican’s approach to China over recent decades.

In the 1980s, Cardinal Jozef Tomko, then-prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, invited Zen to take part in a series of quiet Vatican meetings about China.

These meetings, Zen said, allowed experts and bishops from different parts of China to offer a report on their situation to the Vatican Secretary of State and Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

Zen praised Tomko, saying that both his vast experience in the Vatican and his knowledge of life under communism in his home country of Czechoslovakia gave him a good perspective on the situation of China.

Advised by Tomko, he said, the Holy See legitimized several illegitimate bishops who asked for pardon, recognizing that they were “good people” who had been timid and were pressured by the government into accepting illegitimate ordination.

But when Tomko retired, Zen said, his successors moved the discussion around China in a different direction. He accused Vatican officials of manipulating the Chinese translation of a text written by Pope Benedict XVI to the Church in China, and rendering a commission established by Pope Benedict ineffective.

In particular, he named Ivan Dias, who served as prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, and Cardinal Parolin, then-Undersecretary of State, as driving figures in the new approach.

Zen said he no longer had a voice in the Vatican discussions, and felt that the pope was no longer hearing from those on the ground about their situation.

In 2010, he said, rumors began to arise that an agreement between the Vatican and China was in the works. But several years later, no agreement had surfaced.

“I have no evidence, but I believe that it was Pope Benedict who said no,” Zen said. “He could not sign that agreement. And I think the one agreement signed now [by Pope Francis] must be exactly that one, which Pope Benedict refused to sign.”

Then, in 2013, Pope Francis was elected.

“Now I’m sorry to say that I think you can agree that he has low respect for his predecessors. He is shutting down everything done by John Paul II and by Pope Benedict,” Zen said, adding that Vatican officials always describe these actions as being “in continuity” with previous popes, but he considers this description to be “an insult” and obviously false.

While Zen said his personal relationship with Pope Francis is “wonderful,” he added that the pope has not addressed the concerns he has repeatedly raised regarding the China Deal that was struck in 2018.

Earlier this year, Zen traveled to Rome, where he requested a meeting with Pope Francis. He said his first request went unanswered, and he sent a second request, which was met with the instruction to speak with Cardinal Parolin. Zen declined, and was subsequently invited to have dinner with both Parolin and Pope Francis.

“I went there to the supper. Very simple, the three of us. I thought supper is not a time to quarrel, so I had to be kind during supper,” Zen said. “So I talked all about Hong Kong, and Parolin didn’t say a word. So at the end, I said, ‘Holy Father, what about my objections to that document?’ He said, ‘Oh, oh, I’m going to look into the matter.’ He saw me off at the door.”

Zen said he was left with the distinct impression that Parolin is manipulating Pope Francis. He is concerned that the Pope is “legitimizing the schismatic church in China” and that those who have faced years of persecution as members of the underground Church are now left confused and unsure about what to do.

Priests are being asked to sign a document supporting the government-run church in order to minister openly, he warned.

The Communist Party will not tolerate the Catholic Church unless it feels that it can control the Church, Zen said.

“They need to control everything. Since they know that they cannot destroy, they want to control. Obviously. All the churches. They want to destroy from within.”
 

 

Chaldean archbishop: Iraq unrest signals rejection of post-2003 settlement

New York City, N.Y., Dec 4, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- The largest protests in Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein signal the rejection by most Iraqis of the country's post-2003 structure and government, the Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil told the UN Security Council Wednesday.

Since the beginning of October, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis has been protesting government corruption. They have also objected to Iran's influence over their country's internal affairs. More than 420 have been killed by security forces.

The protests are “a rejection of a sectarian-based Constitution, which has divided Iraq and prevented it from becoming a unified and functioning country. Instead of bringing hope and prosperity, the current government structure has brought continued corruption and despair, especially to the youth of Iraq,” Archbishop Bashar Warda said at a Security Council meeting on Iraq held in New York City Dec. 3.

He added that Iraqi youth “have made it clear that they want Iraq to be independent of foreign interference, and to be a place where all can live together as equal citizens in a country of legitimate pluralism and respect for all.”

Archbishop Warda noted that Christians and other minorities “have been welcomed into the protest movement by the Iraqi Muslims,” which “demonstrates real hope for positive changes in which a new government in Iraq … will be much more positive towards a genuinely multi-religious Iraq with full citizenship for all and an end to this sectarian disease which has so violently harmed and degraded us all.”

He also highlighted the non-violent nature of the protests, especially in the face of the crackdown by security forces.

“At stake is whether Iraq will finally emerge from the trauma of Saddam and the past 16 years to become a legitimate, independent and functioning country, or whether it will become a permanently lawless region, open to proxy wars between other countries and movements, and a servant to the sectarian demands of those outside Iraq,” the archbishop stated.

He said that if the protests lead to a new government with a new constitution “not based in Sharia but instead based upon the fundamental concepts of freedom for all … then a time of hope can still exist for the long suffering Iraqi people.”

“If the protest movement is not successful, if the international community stands by and allows the murder of innocents to continue, Iraq will likely soon fall into civil war, the result of which will send millions of young Iraqis, including most Christians and Yazidis, into the diaspora,” he added.

Archbishop Warda urged the international community not to support “false changes in leadership which do not really represent change.” He chared that “the ruling power groups do not intend to give up control, and that they will make every effort to fundamentally keep the existing power structures in place.”

He said Iraq's government has a a “broken nature,” with a “fundamental need for change and replacement.”

“The first step must be the initiation of early elections,” stated the archbishop. He call for freedom of the press before and during the elections, as well as UN monitoring and observation “by all major parties in Iraq so that the elections are legitimate, free and fair.”

For Archbishop Warda, “only in this way can a new government set a course for the future of an Iraq which is free of corruption and where there is full citizenship and opportunity for all.”

Marginalized Iraqis look to the international community for “action and support,” he added. “We hold you all accountable for this. Iraq, the country which has so often been harmed, now looks to you all for help. We believe we have a future, and we ask you not to turn away from us now.”

After his briefing of the Security Council, Archbishop Warda said that Christians and other minorities in Iraq stand with “Muslim protestors as together they seek a better life, based on equality regardless of religious belief. Either Iraq will develop as these protestors hope, moving away from political violence and the current sectarian power structure and taking its rightful place among nations who respect the rights of all regardless of their faith, or it will slide backwards, a fate previewed in the killing of protestors and most notably with the genocide and other carnage at the hands of ISIS. In this latter case, Iraqi sovereignty too will be undermined as its strong neighbors meddle in its internal affairs.”

Cardinal Louis Raphael I Sako, Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon, said his community will not have public Christmas celebrations, “out of respect for the dead and wounded among protesters and security forces, and in solidarity with the pains of their families,” The New Arab reported Dec. 3.

“There will be no decorated Christmas trees in the churches or streets, no celebrations and no reception at the patriarchate,” he stated.

The Iraq protests, which began Oct. 1, are largely in response to government corruption and a lack of economic growth and proper public services. Protesters are calling for electoral reform and for early elections.

Government forces have used tear gas and bullets against protesters. Some 17,000 protesters have been injured. According to the BBC, at least 12 security personnel have died amid the unrest.

Prime minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi announced Nov. 29 he would resign, though he will remain as interim PM until his successor is chosen. The announcement came shortly after Ali al-Sistani, the most influential Shia spiritual leaders in Iraq, called on parliament to withdraw its support from the government.

Iraq's constitution, adopted in 2005, establishes Islam as the state religion and the foundation of the country's laws, though freedom of religion is guaranteed. The constitution was largely backed by Shia Arabs and by Kurds (most of whom are Sunni), and opposed by Sunni Arabs.

This post-2003 settlement includes a quota system based on ethnicity and sect, which has fostered corruption and patronage.

In the Fund for Peace's Fragile States Index 2019, Iraq ranked 13th out of 178 countries, placing it in an alert category for state vulnerability and in the company of Haiti and Nigeria.

And Iraq was ranked 168 out of 180 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index 2018, in the company of Venezuela.

Senate confirms pro-life lawyer as federal judge

Washington D.C., Dec 4, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The Senate on Thursday confirmed Sarah Pitlyk, a Catholic lawyer and advocate for pro-life activist David Daleiden, as a judge for the Eastern District Court of Missouri.

Pitlyk, confirmed by a vote of 49 to 44, was a special counsel at the Thomas More Society, a legal firm that specializes in pro-life and religious freedom cases. She was nominated by President Trump to the district court in August.

In her favor were 49 Republicans, with 42 Democrats and one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), voting against her confirmation.

The new judge once clerked for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and studied as a Fulbright Scholar at Belgium’s Catholic University of Leuven. While at Yale Law School, she founded the group Yale Law Students for Life.

“Pitlyk is highly qualified with a world-class education and extensive legal expertise. She is principled and committed to fairness. Recent attacks on her record were clearly partisan, motivated in part by her success in litigating pro-life cases,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, stated on Tuesday before Pitlyk’s nomination.

Planned Parenthood, in a press release, called Pitlyk “extreme and unfit to judge.” They pointed to Pitlyk’s record defending pro-life measures, such as Iowa’s “heartbeat” bill, and her opposition to St. Louis’ city ordinance on abortion.  

The St. Louis ordinance, which was enacted in 2017 and overturned by a federal court in 2018, would have forced pro-life groups to take contradictory stances such as employing abortion proponents or renting space to abortion clinics.

The American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary unanimously said that Pitlyk was “not qualified” for the position because she lacked trial and litigation experience.  

“Ms. Pitlyk has never tried a case as lead or co-counsel, whether civil or criminal. She has never examined a witness. Though Ms. Pitlyk has argued one case in a court of appeals, she has not taken a deposition. She has not argued any motion in a state or federal trial court. She has never picked a jury. She has never participated at any stage of a criminal matter,” the ABA committee stated in a Sept. 24 letter to the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

In her time at the Thomas More Society, Pitlyk defended pro-life advocate David Daleiden who in 2015 first produced tapes of secretly-recorded conversations with officials at Planned Parenthood and fetal tissue procurement companies.

Daleiden meant to expose the fetal tissue trade between abortion clinics and tissue harvesters; a federal district court in San Francisco in November ruled that his Center for Medical Progress had caused Planned Parenthood “substantial harm” with the videos, and ordered the group to pay $870,000 in damages.

Pitlyk also submitted a brief on behalf of 67 Catholic theologians and ethicists in the case Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, against the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate.

“Catholic moral and theological principles, which are shared by many other Christian traditions, indicate that providing health insurance coverage for these objectionable services could cause objecting employers to become unacceptably complicit in actions forbidden by their religious faith,” the brief stated.

Dublin archdiocese to shift sacrament prep from schools to parishes, families

Dublin, Ireland, Dec 4, 2019 / 02:23 pm (CNA).- Catholic sacramental preparation must change to stress the primary role of families and to reach students who do not go to Catholic schools, said Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin this week. The archbishop announced a shift in sacrament prep from schools to parishes and families.

“We must remember too that more and more Catholic children today attend other than Catholic schools,” Archbishop Martin said Dec. 3. “The proposal is not something that will be accomplished overnight; it cannot however be put forever on the long finger. We must begin now.”

“It will take some time to put in place an effective development of parish capacity to implement this initiative,” the archbishop continued. “We need, however, to begin immediately with the preparation and training of voluntary lay catechists and the development of resource materials.”

The changes could mean more sacramental preparation for students outside school hours. Catholic schools are currently allowed to set aside up to 30 minutes a day for faith formation, the Irish Times reports.

In March 2019, an archdiocesan spokesperson suggested that Ireland is unique in its dependence on schools to prepare for and celebrate the sacraments.

In May, the archdiocese released the results of the online survey which drew responses from 1,800 religious, clergy, parents, parishioners, and teachers. The participants expressed a desire for a transition from the school-led sacrament preparation to more formation based in the family and church.

Respondents voiced dissatisfaction that the sacraments are “largely a school event” and schools “feel they are still working in a vacuum.”

Teachers and religious leaders expressed concern that sacramental preparation in schools currently treats the sacraments as more of a social event rather than something spiritually important.

“The sacraments are not conveyor belts. Sacraments are moments of faith, not just social occasions,” Martin said in a February video.

The archdiocese’s Council of Priests recently passed a resolution advocating the importance of sacramental preparation for Baptism, First Reconciliation, First Communion and Confirmation that focuses on supporting parents “in sharing faith with their children.” It said the parish should assume responsibility for sacramental preparation and celebration of these sacraments.

The council recommended that the archbishop set up an implementation group to develop a communications strategy, a planning strategy, guidelines for a consistent diocese-wide approach to baptism, and a proposal for the future practice of the Sacrament of Confirmation.

Preparations began in September 2018, when the archdiocese set up a sacraments review group to consult and make recommendations around the sacraments. The effort sought to reach many people, and special focus groups sought out young parents who were not regular churchgoers.

While the archbishop suggested that the bulk of sacrament prep would be moved from schools to parishes and families, his letter also called for a renewed relationship with Catholic schools to promote a “Catholic ethos” and to deliver a Catholic spiritual formation program for children attending the schools.
 

 

Rochester bishop requested Fulton Sheen beatification delay

Vatican City, Dec 4, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- The beatification of Archbishop Fulton Sheen was delayed at the request of Bishop Salvatore Matano of Rochester, an official in the Peoria diocese and other Church officials have confirmed.

“They did not agree with the fact the beatification date was set and announced and asked the further consideration be done,” Msgr. James Kruse, Director of Canonical Affairs in the Diocese of Peoria, told CNA Dec. 4.

Kruse is also a member of the Sheen Foundation, and has worked for years on Sheen's cause for canonization.

Several other sources close to the beatification also told CNA that Matano requested the beatification be delayed.

The bishop requested the delay due to concerns that Sheen could be cited in the final report covering an ongoing state attorney general’s investigation into New York’s bishops and dioceses.

In September, New York’s attorney general began an investigation into whether any of the state’s eight Roman Catholic dioceses had covered up acts or allegations of clerical sexual abuse. Sheen was Bishop of Rochester from 1966 to 1969.

The bishop, who was a prolific author and television personality, was set to be beatified on Dec. 21, the last step before a person can be declared a saint.

A “postponement” of the beatification was announced by the Peoria diocese, where Sheen is buried and would have been beatified, on Dec. 3.

The diocese said that “a few members of the Bishops’ Conference” had “requested a delay,” adding that “the Diocese of Peoria remains confident that Archbishop Sheen’s virtuous conduct will only be further demonstrated.”

A source close to the Vatican’s Secretariat of State told CNA that Matano contacted the apostolic nuncio after the beatification date was set, to express concerns that Sheen could be named in a report by the attorney general, or accused of insufficiently handling allegations of abuse during his tenure as Rochester’s bishop.

There was apparently specific concern that such an allegation against Sheen could be timed to coincide with the beatification on Dec. 21, sources told CNA.

“A beatification is a celebration,” an official close to the Secretariat of State told CNA about the decision to postpone. “The purpose is to help the faith of the people, not to be an occasion for scandal and problems, nothing is lost by waiting and maybe some things are avoided.”

“There has been a great deal of impatience in some parts about [Sheen’s beatification], but in the normal course of these things this all is happening very fast - look at [St. Cardinal John Henry] Newman and how long the wait was.”

Kruse told CNA that in July, Matano told him “the case is in the hands of Rome and we simply should wait for their determination and direction.”

“Last week, Peoria got direction from Rome, ‘Beatify him on Dec. 21,’” Kruse added, noting that Matano subsequently objected to the Holy See's initial decision on the matter.

Several senior U.S. archbishops were consulted on the matter before the final decision to delay was made by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State. The U.S. bishops consulted reportedly reached consensus that it would be “imprudent” to proceed with the beatification plans until after the attorney general’s report has been released and the matter resolved.

At issue, Kruse said, is Gerard Guli, a former Rochester priest.

The priest was ordained in 1956, and from 1963 to 1967 served in parishes in West Virginia. According to a document issued by the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, in 1963 the Diocese of Rochester received an allegation that in 1960 Guli committed abuse or misconduct against adults, not minors.

Kruse told CNA that the priest “returned from Wheeling to help his sick parents” in 1967.

Sheen became Rochester’s bishop in October 1966.

Some have claimed that Sheen gave Guli an assignment in the Diocese of Rochester, despite the 1963 allegation against him, Kruse said. The priest said that issue is what Matano is concerned the NY attorney general will identify.

“Guli is the issue,” he told CNA.

But Kruse said that Sheen never assigned Guli to ministry.

“We have studied extensively Sheen’s administrative decisions regarding Guli, and he never put children in harm’s way,” Kruse said.

“And in talking with Guli, assignments that some say Sheen gave him, Guli says ‘I never served there.’”

“And so this whole concept that Sheen appointed a pedophilic priest, that’s just not true,” Kruse added.

“The documents clearly show that Sheen’s successor, Bishop Hogan, appointed Guli, and it’s at that assignment that Guli offended again.”

“It’s [Bishop] Hogan who appointed Guli to the parishes in the towns of Campbell and Bradford where Guli offended, and it’s part of the reason that led to his ultimate removal and laicization, as well as other issues.”

Hogan was Sheen's successor.

In 1989, Guli was arrested for an incident of abuse involving an elderly woman. The priest was serving at Rochester’s Holy Rosary Parish at the time. He was subsequently laicized.

The Diocese of Rochester declined to respond to questions from CNA about Guli.

The Diocese of Peoria’s Dec. 3 statement said that “the life of Fulton Sheen has been thoroughly and meticulously investigated. At every stage, it has been demonstrated definitively that he was an exemplary model of Christian conduct and a model of leadership in the Church. At no time has his life of virtue ever been called into question.”

“Upon my scrutiny and extensive scrutiny of the information regarding Sheen’s administration, particularly in the case of Guli, that Sheen acted in no way to put children in harm’s way or danger, he in no way did cover-up, and I have spoken to Guli who has told me that the assignment that is being claimed was given to him by Sheen, Guli has told me he never served there,” Kruse told CNA.

“We have known about the Guli issue for quite a long time and all of that has been thoroughly examined…that all of the life and everything has been vetted, and in the end, Sheen is exonerated in things. And likewise, Rome has vetted all of that also,” he added.

Another official close to the beatification process told CNA that “the officials of the cause in Illinois looked very carefully at every part of his ministry as a bishop in New York. They did not find that he handled cases badly.”

Still, the official said, “now we will just have to wait and to see.”

In August, New York state law opened a window in the statute of limitations for vicitms of child sexual abuse to file civil or criminal complaints concerning historic offences. The one-year window was created through the Child Victims Act, which also altered New York’s statute of limitations for filing criminal claims and civil claims for survivors of child sexual abuse.

Over 400 lawsuits were filed on the first day of the window, include an allegation against a sitting bishop and a RICO suit against the Diocese of Buffalo and the Northeast Province of the Jesuits. Claims were also filed against laicized former archbishop and cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

In September, the Rochester diocese filed for bankruptcy protection, amid a flood of abuse lawsuits.

"This is a very difficult and painful decision, but after assessing all reasonable possibilities to satisfy the claims, reorganization is considered the best and fairest course of action for the victims and for the well-being of the diocese, its parishes, agencies and institutions," Bishop Matano wrote in a Sept. 12 letter.

"We believe this is the only way we can provide just compensation for all who suffered the egregious sin of sexual abuse while ensuring the continued commitment of the diocese to the mission of Christ."

The Diocese of Rochester declined Dec. 4 to answer questions from CNA, but did provide a statement.

“The decision to postpone the beatification of Archbishop Sheen was solely the decision of the Holy See. Respecting the competency of the Holy See in this matter, the Diocese will decline further comment.”

Kruse emphasized that, in his view, while the decision belong to the Holy See, it was the Diocese of Rochester that influenced it.

“I have seen the statement saying that they did,” he told CNA.

 

Ed. note: This story was updated at 5:00 pm MT.

Ed. note: This story initially mentioned reports claiming that Guli was laicized in 1967 and subsequently returned to ministry. Kruse clarified that was not the case, and the references have been removed.