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Report declares treatment of Christian minority women and girls a ‘human rights catastrophe’

A Coptic Orthodox church in Old Cairo, a historic area of the Egyptian capital. / Sun_Shine via Shutterstock.

London, England, Nov 24, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

A report issued on Wednesday declared the treatment of Christian minority women and girls in parts of Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia a “human rights catastrophe.”

The study, “Hear Her Cries,” published by the charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) on Nov. 24, said that, “at its most extreme,” forced conversions could amount to “genocide.”

The report, released on Red Wednesday, an annual commemoration raising awareness of anti-Christian persecution, highlighted cases in countries including Egypt and Pakistan.

It also focused on Nigeria, which was controversially removed from this year’s U.S. State Department watchlist of countries with the most egregious violations of religious freedom.

The study found numerous cases of forced kidnapping and exploitation in Egypt, that Christians account for 95% of women and girls seized by Islamists in Nigeria, and that 70% of those forcibly converted and married in Pakistan are Christians.

ACN described the report as “the first of its kind to focus on the phenomenon of young women who are seized, because both their sex and religion makes them vulnerable to abduction and assault.”

Michele Clark, a human rights advocate who has studied the plight of Coptic Christian women, told CNA on Nov. 24 that the report was significant because it revealed the scope of the problem.

“I think the report makes a very important contribution, because it expands the focus on these abductions, forced conversions, forced marriages, from just single country reports to a much broader, much more global perspective,” said Clark, a retired adjunct professor of international affairs at George Washington University, in a phone interview.

“We can pick this up and realize, ‘Wow, this is not just happening in one place.’ This is happening in many, many places around the world. It’s happening in the Middle East. It’s happening in Central Asia. It’s happening in Africa. And so shedding a light on the scope of the problems is a very important contribution.”

Aid to the Church in Need.
Aid to the Church in Need.

The report was compiled by ACN’s U.K. branch, which has launched a petition calling for action to stop the sexual enslavement of Christian women.

The text was presented at an online event chaired by the human rights campaigner Caroline Cox. Speakers included Michele Clark and Fiona Bruce, the British Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief.

The report, which includes case studies from Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Pakistan, said that “evidence suggests that the coronavirus pandemic has provided the perfect breeding ground for acts of sexual violence.”

“Research showed that vulnerable converts in lockdown with their families are at a greater risk of general abuse, especially in the Middle East and North Africa region,” it noted.

The report argued that “instances of systemic abduction, sexual violence, forced marriage and conversion of Christian women in countries such as Nigeria, Iraq and Syria can be categorized as genocidal by nature.”

It recalled that one element of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide is the existence of “measures intended to prevent births within the group.”

“There is thus a link between the girls and young women who are the focus of this study and the convention, which categorizes genocide as ‘acts committed with intent to destroy in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,’” the report said.

Clark told CNA that her own experience of documenting abuses committed against Coptic women in Egypt suggested that the problem was growing.

“There is definitely an increase in reported caseload,” she said. “There’s also an interesting increase in asylum applications outside of Egypt for young women who are fleeing for fear of abductions, and forced conversions, and forced marriages. And these asylum applications are being accepted in host countries because it’s a recognized phenomenon.”

“So I’m seeing that, very slowly, very gradually, there is a recognition that this is an issue that needs to be treated seriously, and that it needs to be addressed, because of the deep, deep personal tragedies that are represented in every single case.”

Around 10% of Egypt’s estimated 104 million population is Christian, with around 90% belonging to the Coptic Orthodox Church, which is part of the Oriental Orthodox communion and traces its roots to St. Mark the Evangelist.

The country’s Christians suffer various forms of discrimination. A report earlier this month said that teachers at a school in Minya Governorate, Upper Egypt, ordered Christian students not to wear crosses, while inflicting violence on the schoolchildren.

The ACN study said the Egyptian authorities were “highly dismissive” of cases of forced abduction and conversion of Christian women.

It quoted a former member of a kidnapping gang that targetted Coptic girls, who described how the abductions were “meticulously orchestrated” and led to the girls being passed to Salafist groups that forced them to convert.

“The former gang member also stated that kidnappers are paid handsomely by these groups, and that police officers have conspired to report these young women as missing rather than abducted,” said the report, which added that incidents were under-reported in the media.

Clark said she was hopeful that governments were beginning to take the problem seriously.

“The acknowledgment of other governments is absolutely essential. We can’t allow perpetrators to think that they can continue with impunity and that nobody really cares what they’re doing,” she said.

Asked how individual Christians could contribute to ending the exploitation of women and girls, she said: “The power of prayer, first, is so important in what we do. And then when you move beyond that, I would suggest that you become informed [about the situation].”

“I know that in the United States, we have Coptic women who have been asylees. These are families and young women which can benefit from friendship and support. Find out what is going on in your own particular community. Are there families that can benefit from a friend? This is a very important step in any kind of recovery process and feeling whole again.”

Congressman Smith: Nigeria's removal from U.S. watch list a 'retreat' from fight against religious persecution

Rep. Chris Smith. Public Domain. / null

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 24, 2021 / 11:45 am (CNA).

The decision to remove Nigeria from the list of “Countries of Particular Concern” was “totally unjustified,” and a backwards step in the fight against religious persecution, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith said in a speech Nov. 23.

“Despite the fact that Fulani militants are systematically targeting and slaughtering Christian farmers in Nigeria’s Middle Belt as well as attacking non-Fulanis throughout the country with the apparent complicity or at least indifference of Nigerian authorities — a record that landed Nigeria on the CPC list last year — the State Department no longer identifies Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), nor even places Nigeria on its Special Watch List,” Smith said.

The New Jersey Republican, the author of several bills related to religious freedom including the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, called the Biden administration’s decision “a retreat from the noble and necessary fight to protect victims of religious persecution.” 

Each year, the U.S. Department of State releases a list of countries with egregious religious liberty violations. In its most recent report, released Nov. 15, Nigeria was not included

The decision to exclude Nigeria from this list has angered religious freedom advocates. 

Two days after the release of the report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released a statement saying that it was “appalled” at the State Department’s “unexplainable” decision to treat Nigeria as a country with no severe religious freedom violations. 

The USCIRF, which also publishes an annual report on religious freedom, found that Nigerian citizens are at risk of violence by militant Islamists, as well as discrimination, arbitrary detentions, and capital blasphemy sentences by state-sanctioned Sharia courts.

Smith noted that the removal of Nigeria from the list of CPCs “coincided with Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Nigeria — when he should have been confronting President [Muhammadu] Buhari on his record.” 

This removal, he said, is “appalling,” and could serve to worsen the situation in the country.  

“The failure to hold Buhari to account—indeed to reward him by withdrawing the CPC designation—will only embolden Fulani militants,” he said. “The Nigerian government has also failed to protect Nigerians from other extremists such as Boko Haram, Ansaru and Islamic State West Africa.”  

Smith, who has led multiple hearings concerning the situation in Nigeria, said he “couldn’t be more disappointed in Secretary Blinken.” 

“You can’t give President Buhari a passing grade when he has utterly failed to protect religious freedom, including and especially that of Christians,” he said. “A core principle of any robust democracy is respect for human rights, including religious freedom.”  

Synod on Synodality organizers want local stage to focus on one fundamental question

Cardinal Mario Grech, General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops. / Diocese of Gozo via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Rome, Italy, Nov 24, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

Cardinal Mario Grech warned Italian bishops on Tuesday against the temptation to use the Synod on Synodality to further objectives other than the goal of listening to the People of God.

The General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops said Nov. 23 that there is a “risk — or perhaps the temptation — of wanting to overload the synodal process with other meanings and objectives, of wanting to add things to be done to achieve further results, beyond the shared experience of listening to the People of God about synodality and the synodal Church.”

“This risk especially concerns those who thought of a synodal path before the proposal formulated by the General Secretariat of the Synod,” he added.

The cardinal spoke at the Italian bishops’ 75th Extraordinary General Assembly, taking place in Rome on Nov. 22-25.

The Italian bishops’ conference launched its own four-year national synodal process before the Vatican announced last spring that the Synod of Bishops on synodality would take place with a two-year consultative preparatory phase involving all Catholic dioceses worldwide.

In Germany, a “Synodal Way” has also been taking place since 2019. The process was recently extended until 2023 after its plenary session ended abruptly in October following votes in favor of a text endorsing same-sex blessings and a discussion of whether the priesthood is necessary.

Grech thanked the more than 200 Italian bishops gathered in the Ergife Palace Hotel and Conference Center in Rome for “harmonizing” their synodal process with the worldwide synod in light of the “annoying” overlapping of times.

“The virtuous realization of the synodal process by the Churches that are in Italy will be an example to the other Churches and to the other episcopates. On the other hand, everyone knows with what insistence the Holy Father requested that a Synod of the Italian Church be held,” he noted.

Pope Francis opened the first phase of the two-year consultative process leading to the Synod of Bishops on synodality last month. The diocesan phase will last until Aug. 15, 2022.

A second, continental phase will take place from September 2022 to March 2023 ahead of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican in October 2023.

In his speech, Grech highlighted that there was no questionnaire included with the Synod on Synodality preparatory documents released last September, “to avoid any misunderstanding about the consultation, which cannot and will never be a poll.”

The cardinal underlined that there is only “a single fundamental question” to guide the consultative process: “A synodal Church, in announcing the Gospel, ‘journeys together.’ How is this ‘journeying together’ happening today in your particular Church? What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our ‘journeying together’?”

Grech said that the other questions listed at the end of the handbook were only “thematic points to be explored.”

“These are not 10 questions — then we would be back to the questionnaire — but aspects of the one fundamental question,” he said.

“I repeat: it is better that the People of God in our Churches confront themselves with the fundamental question, rather than talking about anything, without foundation and above all without direction,” Grech added.

“What matters is to mature a true synodal mentality; to understand that truly ‘the Church is constitutively synodal,’ that is, that the People of God walk together, not only because they walk, but because they walk knowing where they are going — toward the fulfillment of the Kingdom — and therefore it questions itself about the road to travel, listening to what the Holy Spirit is telling the Church.”

Pope Francis: Digital revolution forces us to rethink what it means to be human

Pope Francis takes a selfie with pilgrims at the April 1, 2015 general audience in St. Peter’s Square. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Nov 24, 2021 / 05:10 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has said that technological innovations have created the need for a renewed reflection on essential questions about what it means to be human, based on Scripture, the classical tradition, and wisdom from non-European cultures.

In a video message sent on Nov. 23 to the Pontifical Council for Culture, the pope said that “the new changes brought about by the digital revolution and the incredible developments in the sciences … force us to rethink what it is to be human.”

“Today, a revolution is underway — yes, a revolution — that is touching the essential nodes of human existence and requires a creative effort of thought and action. Both of them. There is a structural change in the way we understand generation, birth, and death,” Pope Francis said in the video.

“The specificity of the human being in the whole of creation, our uniqueness vis-à-vis other animals, and even our relationship with machines are being questioned.”

Pope Francis highlighted what he called the “fluidity of the contemporary cultural vision.”

“It is the age of liquidity,” he said.

He suggested that the current “fluidity” is a marked difference from the time of the Second Vatican Council, when a secular, immanentist, materialist humanism at least shared a common basis with Christian humanism “on some radical questions related to human nature.”

“However, the conciliar Constitution Gaudium et spes is still relevant in this respect. It reminds us, in fact, that the Church still has much to give to the world, and it obliges us to acknowledge and evaluate, with confidence and courage, the intellectual, spiritual, and material achievements that have emerged since then in various fields of human knowledge,” the pope commented.

The Pontifical Council for Culture held its plenary assembly this week with the theme “Rethinking Anthropology — Toward a New Humanism.” The council holds the assemblies every two or three years to reflect on major issues and cultural realities in contemporary societies.

In his video message, the pope said that questions about human identity are being posed in a decisive manner in the 21st century.

“What does it mean today to be a man or a woman as complementary persons called to relate to one another? What do the words ‘fatherhood’ and ‘motherhood’ mean?” he asked.

“And again, what is the specific condition of the human being, which makes us unique and unrepeatable compared to machines and even other animal species? What is our transcendent vocation? Where does our call to build social relationships with others come from?”

Pope Francis pointed out that the Bible offers “the essential coordinates to outline an anthropology of the human person in relation to God, in the complexity of the relations between men and women, and in the nexus with the time and the space in which we live.”

“Biblical humanism, in fruitful dialogue with the values of classical Greek and Latin thought, gave rise to a lofty vision of the human person, our origin and ultimate destiny, our way of living on this earth,” he said.

The pope added that, while this fusion of ancient and biblical wisdom remains “a fertile paradigm,” a new creative synthesis is also needed with “the contemporary humanistic tradition and that of other cultures.”

“I am thinking, for example, of the holistic vision of Asian cultures, in a search for inner harmony and harmony with creation. Or the solidarity of African cultures, to overcome the excessive individualism typical of Western culture. The anthropology of Latin American peoples is also important, with its lively sense of family and celebration; and also the cultures of Indigenous peoples all over the planet,” Francis said.

“In these different cultures, there are forms of humanism which, integrated into the European humanism inherited from Greco-Roman civilization and transformed by the Christian vision, are today the best means of addressing the disturbing questions about the future of humanity.”

Pope John Paul II founded the Pontifical Council of Culture in 1982 as a way of fostering dialogue between the Church and contemporary cultures. In 1993, he combined the council together with the Pontifical Council for Dialogue with Non-believers.

Today, the council is dedicated to creating a space for Catholic dialogue with the sciences, humanities, economics, digital culture and artificial intelligence, sports, cultural heritage, the arts, and music.

“Now more than ever the world needs to rediscover the meaning and value of the human being in relation to the challenges we face,” Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis: St. Joseph is protecting the Catholic Church

Pope Francis’ general audience in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican, Nov. 24, 2021. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Vatican City, Nov 24, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).

St. Joseph continues to protect the Catholic Church today, just like he protected the Virgin Mary and Child Jesus, Pope Francis said at his general audience on Wednesday.

“In the Gospel of Luke, Joseph appears as the guardian of Jesus and of Mary. And for this reason, he is also ‘the Guardian of the Church,’” the pope said Nov. 24 at the live-streamed gathering in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall.

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Quoting Patris corde, his 2020 apostolic letter on St. Joseph, he added: “If [Joseph] was the custodian of Jesus and Mary, now that he is in heaven, he works and continues to be the custodian, in this case, of the Church; ‘For the Church is the continuation of the Body of Christ in history, even as Mary’s motherhood is reflected in the motherhood of the Church. In his continued protection of the Church’ — please do not forget this: today Joseph protects the Church — ‘he continues to protect the child and his mother.’”

This was Pope Francis’ second week in a catechetical series on St. Joseph. He said that “although apparently marginal, discreet, and in the background,” the saint “is in fact a central element in the history of salvation.”

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

The pope’s message focused on the genealogy of Jesus as recounted in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and what this can teach us about St. Joseph.

“Both Evangelists present Joseph not as the biological father, but, however, as fully the father of Jesus,” he said. “Through him, Jesus fulfills the history of the covenant and salvation between God and man.”

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

As seen in St. Luke’s genealogy, Joseph is a link between Adam, the first man, and Jesus, the pope said, showing Christians the importance of their own roots.

Referencing the Polish philosopher and sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, Francis explained that a “liquid” society has no consistency.

“I will correct that philosopher who coined this definition and say, more than liquid — gaseous, a properly gaseous society,” he added. “This liquid, gaseous society finds in the story of Joseph a clear indication of the importance of human bonds.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Indeed, the Gospel tells us the genealogy of Jesus not only for a theological reason, but also to remind each one of us that our lives are made up of bonds that precede and accompany us,” he said. “The Son of God chose to come into the world by way of such bonds.”

Pope Francis noted that for those who struggle to find meaningful human bonds in their life, who feel alone, or lack strength or courage, St. Joseph is “an ally, a friend, and a support.”

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

He concluded his audience with a prayer to St. Joseph to help anyone who is feeling this way:

“St. Joseph,
you who guarded the bond with Mary and Jesus,
help us to care for the relationships in our lives.
May no one experience the sense of abandonment
that comes from loneliness.
Let each of us be reconciled with our own history,
with those who have gone before,
and recognize even in the mistakes committed
a way through which Providence has made a path,
and evil did not have the last word.
Show yourself to be a friend to those who struggle the most,
and as you supported Mary and Jesus in difficult times,
support us too on our journey. Amen.”

Hannah Brockhaus/CNA.
Hannah Brockhaus/CNA.

During the pope’s greetings at the end of the catechesis, a group of pilgrims from the United States sang the Apostles’ Creed while holding a banner with the words “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church.” The background of the banner depicted the U.S. flag, a metal fence, and an icon of the Virgin Mary.

A group from Neocatechumenal communities in the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, had sung the Apostles’ Creed at the pope’s Nov. 10 audience. They held a banner that read: “Peter confirm our faith.”

As not everyone who wished to attend the audience could fit inside the Paul VI Hall on Nov. 24, Pope Francis went first to St. Peter’s Basilica to greet three large pilgrim groups: The John Paul II Association of Bisceglie, southern Italy; members of the Vincentian Family; and the Italian Association of Victims of Violence.

Hannah Brockhaus/CNA.
Hannah Brockhaus/CNA.

He thanked the association helping victims of violence for their support for the mistreated. “With your important activity, you contribute to building a more just and solidary society,” he said.

The pope encouraged the John Paul II group to imitate the example of the Polish pope, “and strive to understand and welcome the love of God, source and reason for our true joy.”

He thanked the Italian pilgrims from the Vincentian Family for bringing hope and God’s mercy to many people during the pandemic.

“You have given testimony to the way of the ‘Church which goes out,’ which reaches everyone, starting from the excluded and marginalized,” he said. “Continue on this road and open yourselves always more to the action of the Holy Spirit, who instills the strength to boldly announce the newness of the Gospel.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

After stopping briefly to pray in front of a statue of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Pope Francis took time to personally greet people in the crowd before moving to the Paul VI Hall.

Former priest files new sexual abuse lawsuit against Theodore McCarrick

Theodore McCarrick outside Dedham District Court, Friday, Sept. 4, 2021. / Joe Bukuras/CNA

Denver Newsroom, Nov 23, 2021 / 18:35 pm (CNA).

A former Catholic priest who has previously alleged that ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick sexually abused him when he was a seminarian has filed a lawsuit against McCarrick and the Newark archdiocese.

“I’m only doing the lawsuit mainly because three years ago when I did that, I also wrote a letter to Cardinal (Joseph) Tobin, and the Archdiocese of Newark and I never heard anything back,” plaintiff Michael Reading said in a video message posted to his attorneys’ website. “The whole thing is disappointing, but I’m just very disappointed that I never heard anything and got no response from the Church.”

When he sees media coverage of McCarrick’s court appearances, he said, “it all comes back again.”

“Today is actually the anniversary of the day I was ordained by him, 35 years ago today,” he said in the Nov. 22 video, adding that he “felt like telling my story could be helpful.”

Reading, who now lives near Seattle, is represented by Jeff Anderson of the Minnesota-based firm Jeff Anderson & Associates.

“When he was in formation, in preparation for becoming a priest, in the Archdiocese of Newark, it was then-Archbishop Ted McCarrick who was mentoring him and ultimately had the power over him to become a priest,” Anderson said at a Nov. 23 press conference. “McCarrick used his position as the archbishop, over him, to assault and coerce and exploit him.”

McCarrick’s civil attorney, Barry Coburn of the Washington, D.C. firm Coburn & Greenbaum, declined to comment to CNA. For its part, the Newark archdiocese said it takes all allegations seriously and has programs in place to prevent abuse and work with survivors.

“Although we are limited in what information we can share given pending litigation, it is important to note that the Archdiocese of Newark takes seriously all allegations of abuse,” Maria Margiotta, communications director for the Newark archdiocese, told CNA Nov. 23.

“We remain fully committed to our comprehensive programs and protocols to protect the faithful and to working with survivors of abuse, their legal representatives and law enforcement authorities in an ongoing effort to resolve allegations of past abuse,” she said.

At the Tuesday press conference with Anderson’s law firm, Reading said he initially wanted to remain anonymous because he was worried about others’ perceptions. However, he decided to use his real name to encourage other victims in New Jersey to come forward.

“I feel a sense of relief, and of a burden being lifted,” he said. “It’s a long way to go with that, but it’s a start.”

The New Jersey legislature created a special window for victims who suffered sex abuse as adults or children to file lawsuits, but this legal window closes on Nov. 30.

Reading’s lawsuit is the eighth lawsuit that Anderson’s law firm has filed against McCarrick.

Anderson has filed abuse lawsuits against the Catholic Church for decades. While some say he has been an advocate for victims, critics characterize him as a self-promoter who has sensationalized and embellished claims in order to attract media attention to litigation.

In statements about other lawsuits he has claimed papal power is to blame for abuse, and has blamed Pope Francis himself. He has cited unproven claims by the controversial Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano about the Holy See's response to McCarrick.

Anderson’s lawsuit on behalf of Reading also cites the Vatican’s 2020 report on its investigation into what church officials knew about McCarrick.

Reading, known as Doe 308 in the lawsuit, was ordained a priest on Nov. 22, 1986. He served as a priest for only seven years.

The lawsuit accuses McCarrick of committing “harmful and offensive bodily sexual contact” on Reading. The former priest has told his story elsewhere, including in a Sept. 12, 2018 Washington Post story.

Reading told the Washington Post that in 1986 he was invited to a barbeque and overnight stay for seminarians at McCarrick’s beach house in Sea Girt, N.J. According to Reading, McCarrick lingered in the bedroom when the twentysomething seminarian was changing into a swimsuit. McCarrick later approached the seminarian after the barbeque and put his hand down his swimsuit.

The seminarian was shocked by the incident and didn’t report it or tell family members until allegations against McCarrick became public in 2018.

He said that the incident affected him throughout the rest of his time as a priest.

“I feel like the priesthood was taken away from me,” he told the Washington Post. “And I loved what I did.”

The lawsuit also alleges that Father Edward J. Eilert engaged in “unpermitted sexual contact” with Reading in 1978. At the time, the plaintiff was a parishioner at St. John the Apostle Church in Linden, N.J., a city on the state border across from the New York City borough of Staten Island.

Eilert is on the Newark archdiocese’s February 2019 list of credibly accused clergy for “multiple” allegations. He is listed as permanently removed from ministry. The website of Anderson’s law firm lists him at a retirement home for priests as early as 2005.

In 2002 Eilert was among three priests accused of sexually abusing a teenage girl in the 1980s. Though the Union County Prosecutor’s Office said the accusations were credible, charges were not allowed under the statute of limitations, NJ.com reported in 2013.

Anderson’s law firm has recently filed three separate actions against other priests who allegedly committed abuse, including one priest who is still active in ministry.

In September, McCarrick pleaded “not guilty” to several charges of sexual assault in Massachusetts regarding incidents which allegedly took place in the 1970s.

McCarrick was once a high-ranking and influential U.S. prelate with an impressive international resume. He resigned from the College of Cardinals in July 2018 following a past allegation of sex abuse against a teenager that the New York archdiocese deemed credible. In February 2019, Pope Francis laicized McCarrick after a canonical investigation found him guilty of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.”

The exposure of McCarrick prompted many questions about how he rose in the Church despite long-rumored claims of corruption. Various individuals came forward saying they had sought to report his misconduct.

In 2018, Cardinal Joseph Tobin told a journalist that shortly after his 2017 arrival as head of the Newark archdiocese, he had heard rumors about McCarrick’s sexual misconduct. He said he did not investigate those rumors because he found them unbelievable.

The Archdiocese of Newark and the Diocese of Metuchen in June 2018 acknowledged that they had reached legal settlements with some alleged victims of McCarrick in 2005 and 2007. Tobin said he did not learn about those settlements until June 2018, shortly before they were publicly announced.

Brisbane archbishop gives priests until Dec. 15 to be fully vaccinated

Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane speaks at a Vatican press conference, Oct. 19, 2015. / Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 23, 2021 / 17:12 pm (CNA).

The Australian Archdiocese of Brisbane has announced that all archdiocesan employees, including clergy, contractors and some volunteers, must be fully vaccinated by Dec. 15 in accord with the state’s mandate unless they have a medical exemption. 

“As we view the situation in Australia and internationally, it is clear that vaccination is the most effective way to lessen the risk of exposure or the risk of passing the virus on to others within our community,” Archbishop Mark Coleridge said a Nov. 16 statement on the archdiocese’s website says. 

“Therefore,” the statement continued, “the Archdiocese of Brisbane has made the decision that employees, contractors and certain volunteers will need to have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccination by 15 December unless they have an official medical exemption.”

Coleridge said that clergy who are not fully vaccinated are putting the faithful at “risk.”

“A pastor or assistant pastor in parish ministry is to know the faithful, visit families, care for the faithful strengthening them in the Lord and refresh the faithful with the sacraments,” he wrote in the letter.

“That means that clergy engaged in parish ministry must be close to people. In the circumstances of the pandemic, clergy engaged in pastoral ministry who are not doubly vaccinated put the faithful of the parish at risk. They present a risk to the faithful to whom they minister, as well as to their families,” he added.

Priests and deacons who are not “doubly vaccinated are failing in their duty of care for the faithful,” Coleridge wrote.

An official medical exemption is the only type of exemption Archbishop Mark Coleridge will be accepting, according to a letter that the archbishop sent to deacons and priests seen by The Australian, Sky News reported.

According to the archdiocese’s website, the medical exemption certificate must certify “that the person is unable to receive the COVID-19 vaccination because they have a recognised medical contraindication; and indicating whether the medical contraindication will permanently or temporarily prevent COVID-19 vaccination; and if the medical contraindication only temporarily prevents a COVID19 vaccination, specifying when the person may be able to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.”

“A medical contraindication against one COVID-19 vaccination does not necessarily translate to a contraindication against all vaccines,” he said.

“I will not consider conscientious objection to receiving the vaccination as a valid exception to the provisions set out here,” Coleridge wrote.

“I fully respect the right of conscience, especially when properly formed in the Catholic understanding," he stated. “But I too have a conscience, and it is not just legal obligation but consciences which has led to my decision."

The statement on the archdiocese’s website notes that Queensland, the state that encompasses the archdiocese, will reopen their borders in the coming weeks causing an increased risk of COVID-19 infection.

Queensland has implemented strict guidelines on travel in and out of the state. Reaching 70% vaccination in November, Queensland has laid out a plan to ease restrictions, mostly for fully vaccinated travelers across state borders, as vaccination rates go up.

When Queensland reaches 80% vaccination, estimated to be on Dec. 17, unvaccinated people will be unable to visit “vulnerable settings” like nursing homes, hospitals, prisons and others.

Unvaccinated individuals also will not be able to attend “hospitality venues” such as hotels and pubs, and others. They will not be able to attend indoor or outdoor entertainment venues, festivals, or attend Queensland government-owned galleries, museums or libraries. 

A full list of restrictions can be seen on the website

The Archdiocese of Brisbane has 98 Parishes, 144 schools and 109 Centacare early EdCare, aged care, disability and family and relationships service locations, according to their website. Almost 22,000 jobs are provided for by the archdiocese.

City of Philadelphia to pay $2 million to Catholic foster care agency in settlement

Sharonell Fulton has fostered more than 40 children through Catholic Social Services. / Photo courtesy of Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Philadelphia, Pa., Nov 23, 2021 / 16:08 pm (CNA).

The city of Philadelphia will pay Catholic Social Services a $2 million settlement and reinstate their foster care contract after the Supreme Court unanimously found in June that the city had discriminated against the group due to their religious beliefs. 

Most of the money will be used to pay Catholic Social Services’ [CSS] legal fees, and CSS will receive $56,000. 

As part of the settlement, CSS will be exempt from Philadelphia’s nondiscrimination ordinance, and will receive a contract for $350,000 for foster care. Additionally, CSS will have to state on its website that, while it does not work with same-sex couples, it will refer them to an organization that will. 

Ken Gavin, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, said the archdiocese was “grateful that our ministries can continue serving those who count on us, especially foster children in need of a loving home.” 

The Supreme Court ruled in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia that the city discriminated in ending its contract with Catholic Social Services. The suit was sent back to the appellate court, and the city did not pursue additional legal action. Their settlement agreement was approved by the U.S. District Court on Oct. 1. 

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the city backed down due to fears of additional constitutional changes. 

“Certainly, this was not the outcome we wanted,” Deputy Mayor Cynthia Figueroa told the Inquirer. “But it was clear if we took this further down the road, we could actually open it up for radically changing other existing constitutional law.”

Two foster mothers who worked with CSS, Sharonell Fulton and Toni Simms-Busch, filed suit against the city in 2018 after the contract was canceled.

That year, Philadelphia abruptly ended CSS’s contract for its foster-care program, since CSS would not certify same-sex couples as foster parents on religious grounds. No same-sex couple ever approached CSS seeking certification as a foster parent. 

Part of the settlement reached requires that Philadelphia work with Fulton and Simms-Busch under the new contract. 

In the majority ruling, the high court found that “The refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS for the provision of foster care services unless CSS agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.”

“CSS seeks only an accommodation that will allow it to continue serving the children of Philadelphia in a manner consistent with its religious beliefs; it does not seek to impose those beliefs on anyone else,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. 

In March 2018, the city of Philadelphia announced that it was experiencing a shortage of foster families, in part due to the opioid crisis, and put out a call for 300 new families to help accept children.

A few days later, the city announced that it would no longer refer foster children to agencies that would not place them with same-sex couples, including CSS. Prior to that announcement, CSS served about 120 foster children in approximately 100 homes at any given time. 

In recent years, faith-based child welfare providers in multiple states including in Massachusetts, Illinois, California, and the District of Columbia, have also been forced to shut down their adoption and foster care services due to their beliefs that children should be placed with a married mother and father.

Legal group joins outcry over removal of Nigeria from religious freedom watch list

The flag of Nigeria on a military uniform. / Bumble Dee/Shutterstock.

Denver Newsroom, Nov 23, 2021 / 15:14 pm (CNA).

An international legal group has joined the outcry over the U.S. State Department’s decision to remove Nigeria from this year’s watchlist of countries with the most egregious violations of religious freedom. 

“Persecution against Christians and other religious minorities around the world must end,” wrote Sean Nelson, legal counsel for global religious freedom for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International, in a Nov. 22 statement. “For too long, governments and non-state actors have abused people of faith, including in countries like Nigeria, India, Afghanistan, and Vietnam.” 

“The United States has been a leader on International Religious Freedom for decades, and we are deeply concerned that the State Department found no need to designate these countries as Countries of Particular Concern or to add them to the Special Watch List.”

The State Department released its annual designations Nov. 15. Nigeria was included in a list of “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC) in 2020, but the country was not included in the 2021 list. 

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) had been recommending the designation of Nigeria as a CPC since 2009. ADF International and dozens of other human rights organizations joined USCIRF in calling for the State Department to re-designate Nigeria as a CPC again this year. 

It remains unclear why the State Department removed Nigeria from the list. 

“Outcry over the State Department’s removal of CPC status for Nigeria’s religious freedom violations is entirely warranted,” Nelson wrote. “No explanations have been given that could justify this decision. If anything, the situation in Nigeria has grown worse over the last year.”

“Removing CPC status for Nigeria will only embolden the increasingly authoritarian government there. We call on the U.S. government to rectify this inexplicable decision, and instead continue America’s long tradition of standing up for those who are persecuted worldwide.”

In its own annual religious freedom report, USCIRF found that Nigerian citizens faced violence by militant Islamists, as well as discrimination, arbitrary detentions, and capital blasphemy sentences by state-sanctioned Shariah courts.

Kidnappers in Nigeria targeted Christians for abduction and execution, at least 11 churches were attacked in the country’s Middle Belt, and the local chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria in Adamawa State was beheaded by Boko Haram fighters in 2020, according to the report.

A recent study by a Nigerian legal group found that at least 17 Christians were killed every day in the first half of 2021 alone.

In its Nov. 22 statement, ADF applauded the State Department’s inclusion of Russia as a CPC, and addition of Algeria to a “Special Watch List” (SWL). 

“We urge the State Department to prioritize advocacy in every country facing grave religious freedom conditions, and to ensure that the United States remains a global leader for religious freedom advocacy,” Nelson wrote.

Austria coronavirus lockdown: Catholic bishops tighten guidelines on church celebrations

The high altar of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, Austria. Credit: Bwag via Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 4.0). / null

Rome Newsroom, Nov 23, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Austria’s Catholic bishops’ conference has tightened rules for attending Mass and other celebrations as the country went into full national lockdown on Monday.

The country’s bishops have said that they will not exclude anyone from Mass, but they will follow the government’s restrictions, which order those who are unvaccinated against COVID-19 to remain in their homes except to get food or medicine, or for “basic religious needs.”

Officials ordered the whole country into lockdown starting Nov. 22, a week after they had implemented a lockdown only for unvaccinated residents. The lockdown followed other partial restrictions that targeted only the unvaccinated, barring them from restaurants and most cultural or social areas.

The current measures go through Dec. 13, though authorities said they will be reassessed in the middle of next week and may end sooner. Restrictions on the unvaccinated are expected to continue even after the national lockdown ends.

The country has also said that COVID-19 vaccinations will be mandatory starting Feb. 1.

The bishops’ “framework regulations” for church celebrations say that attendees are required to wear FFP2 (“filtering facepiece”) masks at indoor or outdoor Masses and all religious rites and services

The priest celebrant or other liturgical ministers will be required to show proof of vaccination, recovery from COVID-19, or a negative test result. Choirs will not be permitted, but up to four cantors can sing at the Mass only with proof of vaccination or recovery from the coronavirus.

Austria’s bishops have also encouraged Catholics to postpone reception of the sacraments of baptism, First Communion, confirmation, and marriage, during the lockdown.

Bishop Anton Leichtfried, the conference’s liturgy chair, said: “These celebrations are now to be postponed as much as possible in the interest of fellow celebrants.”

Protests against COVID-19 regulations and lockdowns took place over the weekend in Austria and other European countries, including Belgium, the Netherlands, and Italy.

Some Catholics have also expressed opposition to Austria’s restrictions, saying that they impinge on religious practice.

The bishops of Austria announced on Nov. 23 that they have again postponed their ad limina meetings with Pope Francis.

The Austrian bishops received the Vatican’s approval to delay their ad limina meetings, scheduled to begin on Sunday, until sometime in 2022, a spokesman for the bishops’ conference confirmed on Nov. 23 to CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

This is the second time that the meetings have been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, after they were originally planned for February.