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  • Clericalism, abuse of power, at heart of sex abuse crisis, cardinal says

    IMAGE: CNS photo/Evandro Inetti, pool

    By Junno Arocho Esteves

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The abuse crisis in the Catholic Church is a call for bishops to unmask the deep-seated clericalism that placed protection of the institution of the church above the sufferings of victims, said the head of the council of Latin American bishops.

    Addressing Pope Francis and nearly 190 representatives of the world's bishops and religious orders Feb. 21, Colombian Cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomez of Bogota, president of the council known as CELAM, said that bishops must recognize that "serious errors" in the exercise of authority have "increased the severity of the crisis."

    "A brief analysis of what has happened shows us that it is not only a matter of sexual deviations or pathologies in the abusers, but that there is a deeper root too," Cardinal Salazar said. "This is the distortion of the meaning of ministry, which converts it into a means to impose force, to violate the conscience and the bodies of the weakest. This has a name: clericalism."

    Delivering the third and final presentation of the first day of the Feb. 21-24 Vatican meeting on the protection of minors in the church, Cardinal Salazar spoke about the crisis in the church and the responsibility of bishops to face "conflicts and tensions" and instead act decisively.

    The cardinal said that when faced with cases of abuse, a clerical mentality within the church has led bishops to act like salaried workers who "upon seeing the wolf coming, flee and leave the flock unprotected."

    "And we flee in many ways," he explained. By "trying to deny the dimension of the denunciations presented to us; not listening to the victims; ignoring the damage caused to the victims of abuse; transferring the accused to other places where they continue to abuse; or trying to reach monetary settlements to buy silence."

    To understand the full depth of the crisis, he continued, bishops must stop looking at outsiders as the cause of the damage within the church and recognize that "the first enemies are within us, among us bishops and priests and consecrated persons who have not lived up to our vocation."

    Bishops, he added, must also stop minimizing the crisis by asserting that "abuses occur on a larger scale in other institutions," because the existence of abuse outside the church "can never justify the occurrence of abuses in the church."

    "There is no possible justification for not denouncing, not unmasking, not courageously and forcefully confronting any abuse that presents itself within our church," Cardinal Salazar said.

    Bishops also have a responsibility to guide priests and consecrated men and women their diocese toward holiness and establish a close relationship with them, beginning during the time of their formation.

    However, when it comes to clergy and religious people who have abused, bishops must adhere to the protocols established by their bishops' conference that respect both civil and canon law and help "to distinguish between sin subject to divine mercy, ecclesial crime subject to canonical legislation, and civil crime subject to the corresponding civil legislation," Cardinal Salazar said.

    Today, he said, "it is clear to us that any negligence on our part can lead to canonical penalties, including removal from ministry, and civil penalties that can even lead to imprisonment for concealment or complicity."

    Finally, Cardinal Salazar told the bishops that they have a responsibility to be close to the people of God and a duty to listen to them, especially those who have suffered abuse.

    "One of the first sins committed at the beginning of the crisis was precisely not having listened with open hearts to those who charged that they had been abused by clerics," he said.

    Among the most egregious ways that some bishops have acted toward victims was by "minimizing the pain and damage" of the abuse by thinking that the only motive for survivors to report abuse was "to seek financial compensation."

    "'The only thing they are looking for is money' was the recurrent phrase," the cardinal said. "There is no doubt that accusations are sometimes orchestrated. There is also no doubt that on many occasions attempts have been made to reduce the redress to the victims in terms of monetary compensation without taking into account the true scope of that reparation."

    Nevertheless, while money "can never repair the damage caused," the church has a responsibility to offer compensation so that victims can afford psychological treatment and to provide economic support to those who cannot work due to the trauma of their abuse.

    "The responsibility of the bishop," he said, "is very broad and covers many fields, but it is always inescapable."

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    Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju


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  • Knights of Columbus novena underway to pray for success of Vatican summit

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Supreme Knight Carl Anderson and Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, supreme chaplain, are calling on their brother Knights and their families to set aside time over a nine-day period to say a "Novena for Repentance, Renewal and Rebuilding" and pray for the success of the Vatican's Feb. 21-24 summit on child protection and the clerical sexual abuse crisis. Pope Francis and almost 190 church leaders from around the world have gathered for the summit. A guide to the full novena, which began Feb. 20 and will end Feb. 28, can be found on the Knights website at "We must stand in solidarity with our priests and bishops, and join them and lay Catholics in forging a path of renewal and fraternity that puts Christ at the center. Only then can actions be taken to end this scourge," Anderson and Archbishop Lori said in a letter to Knights announcing the novena. "This effort must start with prayer," they continued. "Prayer must guide and inform the bishops' meeting in Rome and the urgent renewal needed in dioceses and parishes around the world."

    Experts say Blessed Newman's vision for education was binding faith, reason

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- If you attended college, you probably remember the Newman Center as a place of barbecues, Bible studies and fun-loving priests trying zealously to minister to what is typically a religiously disengaged demographic. Little known to many is that Blessed John Henry Newman, namesake of all those ministries and one of the most recent sainthood candidates to have his cause advanced by the Vatican, actually had a sweeping vision for how campuses as a whole should be run -- one rooted in the underlying truth that binds faith and reason together. On Feb. 13, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis has signed a decree recognizing a miracle attributed to the intercession of the English cardinal, clearing the way for his canonization. Blessed Newman, who helped found two universities in his day, suggested in his most famous writing "The Idea of a University" that students ought to be exposed to a unified model of liberal education -- one that begins by letting students develop their basic intellectual faculties through the study of medieval subjects such as logic or grammar, and then progress to more specialized forms of knowledge once a unifying foundation has been firmly established.

    Monk's tonsure at Wisconsin monastery seen as hopeful sign for vocations

    ST. NAZIANZ, Wis. (CNS) -- A Divine Liturgy brought together four jurisdictions of Eastern-rite Catholic communities, as well as the local Latin-rite Catholic community, at St. Gregory Catholic Church in St. Nazianz. The Feb. 16 liturgy celebrated the life tonsure of Father Paiisi into the monastic brotherhood of Holy Resurrection Monastery. Catholics worldwide number around 1 billion, with the vast majority belonging to the Latin-rite Catholic Church. About 20 million belong to 22 Eastern-rite Catholic churches, which trace their roots to five ritual families. The largest of these are churches of the Byzantine tradition, to which the monks at Holy Resurrection belong. Father Paiisi, whose birth name is Patrick Firman, is a member of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. In honor of his faith background, Bishop Benedict Aleksiychuk, of St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy in Chicago, joined Abbot Nicholas Zachariadis, leader of the Holy Resurrection monastic community, for the tonsure ceremony, which is equivalent to a solemn profession in the Latin-rite Catholic Church. "Holy Resurrection Monastery belongs canonically to the Romanian Greek-Catholic jurisdiction and is now the largest of these Greek-Catholic monasteries," Abbot Zachariadis said. "It has always seen its mission as extending to all jurisdictions." The tonsure ceremony was a prime example of this collaboration. The abbot explained that in the Byzantine Catholic Church, there are "basically two vocations or charisms of the Christian life: marriage and monastic life. Even priests and deacons are either married or monks." Eastern Catholic priests are not allowed to marry after ordination.

    Cardinal Tobin: New 'Nostra Aetate' moment needed from abuse summit

    NEWARK, N.J. (CNS) -- When asked what he hopes for from the Vatican's summit on clergy sex abuse, " the answer for me is unmistakable," Cardinal Joseph L. Tobin of Newark said. "What the church needs really needs is another 'Nostra Aetate' moment." "From that would come increased dialogue and synodality within the church, and greater lay participation, Cardinal Tobin added in a reflection, "The Power of Listening to the Peripheries," posted Feb. 20 on the archdiocesan website, "Nostra Aetate" is the Second Vatican Council's 1965 Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions. The cardinal described the backdrop against which this document was developed. "As bishops from around the globe gather with Pope Francis, they do so against a backdrop of soul trauma for the body of Christ," Cardinal Tobin said about the Feb. 21-24 summit. "And while this moment is in many ways unprecedented in the life of the church, we can still learn from echoes of the past." At the opening of Vatican II in 1962, he said, "the bishops in the room all had one thing in common: They all had, in some way or another, survived World War II." In the aftermath of the war and the devastation it wrought, including the Holocaust, the church "needed to proclaim prophetically and apply more urgently what the Gospel offers," he explained.

    French bishops urge mobilization against increasing anti-Semitism

    PARIS (CNS) -- The French bishops' conference has condemned rising anti-Semitism in the country, as official data showed a massive increase of attacks, prompting new government measures. The conference president, Archbishop Georges Pontier of Marseille, wrote France's chief rabbi, Haim Korsia, Feb. 20. "Attacks from seemingly religious motives on our fellow citizens are unacceptable; we stand beside you in struggling against every manifestation of hatred," Archbishop Pontier said in his letter. "Our society cannot find peace unless it supports a constructive dialogue among all its members. May we never resign ourselves to the growth of intolerance and rejection," he said. In Paris Feb. 19, some 20,000 people rallied against anti-Semitism, prompting President Emmanuel Macron to announce new measures against extremism. Msgr. Olivier Dumas, conference secretary-general, called on all political parties and faith groups to "show solidarity with Jews" and condemn attacks on religious targets.

    Clericalism, abuse of power, at heart of sex abuse crisis, cardinal says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The abuse crisis in the Catholic Church is a call for bishops to unmask the deep-seated clericalism that placed protection of the institution of the church above the sufferings of victims, said the head of the council of Latin American bishops. Addressing Pope Francis and nearly 190 representatives of the world's bishops and religious orders Feb. 21, Colombian Cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomez of Bogota, president of the council known as CELAM, said that bishops must recognize that "serious errors" in the exercise of authority have "increased the severity of the crisis. A brief analysis of what has happened shows us that it is not only a matter of sexual deviations or pathologies in the abusers, but that there is a deeper root too," Cardinal Salazar said. "This is the distortion of the meaning of ministry, which converts it into a means to impose force, to violate the conscience and the bodies of the weakest. This has a name: clericalism." Delivering the third and final presentation of the first day of the Feb. 21-24 Vatican meeting on the protection of minors in the church, Cardinal Salazar spoke about the crisis in the church and the responsibility of bishops to face "conflicts and tensions" and instead act decisively. The cardinal said that when faced with cases of abuse, a clerical mentality within the church has led bishops to act like salaried workers who "upon seeing the wolf coming, flee and leave the flock unprotected."

    Bishops at summit consider 21 action items to handle, prevent abuse

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Immediately after asking bishops and religious superiors to be concrete in confronting the clerical sexual abuse crisis and the need to protect children in the church, Pope Francis handed them a list of 21 action items to consider. From publicizing the contact information for reporting cases of abuse to cooperating with local law enforcement, the action items were drawn from suggestions made by bishops from around the world, the pope said, and should "assist in our reflection." The 21 items are "a simple point of departure," he said, and "are not meant to detract from the creativity needed in this meeting." Several survivors of abuse, however, expressed surprise about and unhappiness with the list. The first item on the list is "to prepare a practical handbook indicating the steps to be taken by authorities at key moments when a case emerges." Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna of Malta, who deals with abuse cases for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, later told reporters that his office is preparing such a handbook -- in a simple question-and-answer format -- and it should be ready for publication within a few months. The archbishop said the 21 items "govern practically all the aspects of getting it right," but they must be discussed by summit participants. "These are not decisions taken, otherwise we could go home today."

    Dog-sledding party celebrates 'beauty of God's nature' and raises money

    DERBY LINE, Vt. (CNS) -- On Pio, on Kateri, on Michael and Nicholas! Musher Nathan Gratton could have called out the saint names of some of his dogs as they pulled him and the blanket-covered riders in his sled over the freshly packed snow around and through the park next to St. Edward Church in Derby Line. Instead, he called the commands the two lead dogs know well: "Gee" for right and "Haw" for left. Gratton, a member of Mater Dei Parish, which includes St. Edward Church, provided sled-dog rides as a fundraiser Feb. 16 to raise money for roof repairs at St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in Newport, another church in Mater Dei Parish. His brother, Father Scott Gratton, parochial vicar of St. Francis Xavier Church in Winooski, served as dog handler. "You have to know which dogs get along on the line (pulling the sled) and which ones don't," he said, adding with a smile, "It's like human beings." It's also up to the handler to harness the dogs and clean up after them. Father Gratton and his brother are not new to the sled-dog world: They worked together in Alaska during the summers of 2008 and 2009, before he entered the seminary. Nathan was there for 10 summers after finding passion in the sport in 2003 while a student at Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont. Now a lathe operator, he sometimes races his dogs: They are preparing for a 100-mile race in Maine in March.

    After crisis, church will grow anew, says former head of Dominicans

    QUEBEC CITY (CNS) -- The Catholic Church should not be afraid of crisis; through crisis, it will grow and spring new life, said Dominican Father Timothy Radcliffe. "If you look at human beings, we grow up through crisis," said the 73-year-old English theologian. "It's our way. And so we believe, I believe, it's the fate of the church ... we do not have to be afraid of crisis." The former head of the Order of Preachers spoke about hope at conferences in Montreal and Quebec City in mid-February. He cited the sex abuse crisis, but also the crisis of authority, as Pope Francis has had to face much opposition within the church. In addressing these issues, Father Radcliffe pointed toward the "biggest crisis," the Last Supper. The apostles "had abandoned Jesus. Judas had sold him. Peter was about to betray him. There was no future. And then in that darkest moment, Jesus did this extraordinary thing. He said, 'This is my body, and I give it to you.' So, I think that when there are moments of crisis in the church, we should not be afraid. We should ask what new thing will come to be," Father Radcliffe said.

    Cesareo urges greater role for laity in church's response to abuse

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Laypeople must be involved in a "more meaningful and influential role" to help Catholic bishops create "an environment of safety within the church," the chairman of the National Review Board said in an opinion piece published by The Boston Globe. Writing Feb. 19, two days before Pope Francis convened an unprecedented four-day gathering of bishops from around the world to discuss the protection of minors in the church, Francesco Cesareo said the heightened role of laity would assist bishops in their response to clergy sex abuse. Citing signals from "Rome itself that expectations for outcomes (from the meeting) should not be high," Cesareo cautioned that "it is difficult to imagine that concrete universal norms will emerge from this gathering, given the diversity of cultures and perspectives" that will be present. Cesareo, chairman of the National Review Board since 2013, then made the case for a greater role for laity as the bishops work to rebuild trust in the church hierarchy. He wrote that "at this time in the church's history, it is necessary to acknowledge the co-responsibility of the laity for the church by increasing their role in assisting the bishops and the clergy who do not have experience in preventing and responding to allegations of abuse."

    Update: At summit, survivors expose 'cancer' of clergy sex abuse

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- "Every time I refused to have sex with him, he would beat me," an abuse survivor from Africa told Pope Francis and bishops attending the Vatican summit on child protection and the abuse crisis. The meeting began Feb. 21 with the harrowing stories of survivors of sexual abuse, cover-up and rejection by church officials. The pre-recorded testimonies of five survivors were broadcast in the synod hall; the Vatican did not disclose their names, but only whether they were male or female and their country of origin. In the first testimony, a man from Chile expressed the pain he felt when, after reporting his abuse to the church, he was treated "as a liar" and told that "I and others were enemies of the church." "You are physicians of the soul and yet, with rare exceptions, you have been transformed -- in some cases -- into murderers of the soul, into murderers of the faith," he said. Comparing the abuse crisis to a cancer in the church, the survivor said that "it is not enough to remove the tumor and that's it," but there must be measures to "treat the whole cancer."

    Bishops must protect their flock from abuse at all costs, archbishop says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Catholics need to know that their leaders "mean business" when it comes to protecting minors from abuse, the Vatican's top abuse investigator told representatives of the world's bishops and religious orders. "They should come to know us as friends of their safety and that of their children and youth. We will engage them with candor and humility. We will protect them at all cost. We will lay down our lives for the flocks entrusted to us," said Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna of Malta. The archbishop, who is adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and a member of the organizing committee for the Feb. 21-24 Vatican meeting on the protection of minors in the church, spoke on the first day of the proceedings about "taking responsibility for processing cases" of alleged abuse and for preventing abuse. In the presence of Pope Francis, the archbishop told the almost 190 church leaders that "one of the fundamental tests of our stewardship and, indeed, of our fidelity," is the way in which bishops and religious superiors exercise their ministry at the service of justice. "It is our sacred duty to protect our people and to ensure justice when they have been abused," he said.

    Vatican summit opens with acknowledgment of evil committed

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Opening the Vatican summit on child protection and the clerical sexual abuse crisis, Pope Francis said, "The holy people of God are watching and are awaiting from us not simple, predictable condemnations, but concrete and effective measures" to stop abuse. The summit meeting Feb. 21-24 brought together almost 190 church leaders: the presidents of national bishops' conferences, the heads of the Eastern Catholic churches, superiors of some men's and women's religious orders and top Vatican officials. In his brief opening remarks, the pope prayed that with "docility" to the Holy Spirit, the bishops at the summit would "listen to the cry of the little ones who ask for justice." The pope's main address to the assembly was scheduled for Feb. 24 after the discussions, a penitential liturgy and a concluding Mass. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines, gave the first formal talk of the gathering, acknowledging how church leaders for so long ignored the suffering of the victims of clerical sexual abuse and covered up the evil crimes of the priest-perpetrators.

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  • Colorado dioceses, attorney general launch initiatives to address abuse

    DENVER (CNS) -- Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, on behalf of the bishops of Colorado's three Catholic dioceses, joined Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser at a news conference Feb. 19 to announce several measures to address child sex abuse, including an independent review of records on abuse claims from the three dioceses. The three dioceses also will fund an independent, voluntary program that will compensate victims of abuse, regardless of when the abuse occurred. A separate victims' support service will be created to assist victims/survivors with the reparations program and connect them with resources for future care. "The damage inflicted upon young people and their families by sexual abuse, especially when it's committed by a trusted person like a priest, is profound," Archbishop Aquila said. "While this process will certainly include painful moments and cannot ever fully restore what was lost, we pray that it will at least begin the healing process." He added: "We also acknowledge that the bright light of transparency needs to shine on the church's history related to the sexual abuse of minors.With humility and repentance, we hope the programs announced today offer a path to healing for survivors and their families." The independent review will be conducted by Robert Troyer, former U.S. attorney for Colorado, with the full voluntary cooperation of: the Denver Archdiocese, which encompasses Northern Colorado and is headed by Archbishop Aquila; the Colorado Springs Diocese, headed by Bishop Michael J. Sheridan; and the Pueblo Diocese, headed by Bishop Stephen J. Berg.

    Kentucky bishops voice approval for bill that protects pregnant women

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- As legislators in multiple states push hard to expand access to abortion, claiming that doing so will give women the control they need over their lives, some Kentucky lawmakers are taking a different tack. News website Insider Louisville reported Feb. 18 that a state Senate bill that consists of multiple protections for pregnant women in the workplace is progressing steadily through the Kentucky Senate's committees, having cleared the Judiciary Committee Feb. 14 and now bound for the Rules Committee. Among supporters of the measure, known as S.B. 18, are the Catholic bishops of Kentucky, who agree the policy solidifies women's rights in Kentucky's economy without treading on the rights of unborn children. The legislation is sponsored by Republican Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr alongside eight other senators, as well as being endorsed by Greater Louisville Inc., the Louisville area's chamber of commerce. The bill's provisions expand "reasonable accommodations" for pregnant women in the workplace to include "frequent or longer breaks, time off to recover from childbirth, acquisition or modification of equipment" and "less strenuous or less hazardous work," according to an impact statement made by the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission.

    Supreme Court throws out inmate's death sentence due to mental disability

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- For the second time in his case, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed an inmate's death penalty sentence because of his intellectual disability. The court's 6-3 decision Feb. 19 did not return the case to the lower courts as it did two years ago but instead tossed out the lower court's decision to execute Bobby James Moore, saying the inmate's mental disability prevents him from being put to death. Sister Helen Prejean, a Sister of St. Joseph of Medaille, and a longtime opponent of the death penalty, explained the court's decision in a few tweets Feb. 19 where she said: "Texas courts failed to properly consider clear evidence of intellectual disability," and that the Supreme Court's opinion was "particularly notable" because it is "a flat-out ruling that Bobby James Moore cannot be executed." In its 2017 ruling in Moore's case, the Supreme Court said the state of Texas was using outdated standards to determine a person's intellectual disability, particularly in determining capital punishment. The court sent the case back to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, but that court refused to change its original ruling, thus bringing Moore's case back to the nation's high court. Moore, 59, was sentenced to death nearly 40 years ago after being convicted of killing a clerk during a grocery-store robbery in April 1980. In 2014, a Texas court determined under current medical standards that Moore was intellectually disabled due to his low IQ scores and his inability to tell time or days of the week.

    Update: N.J. priest at Vatican, removed in 2018, was accused of abuse in 2003

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- U.S. Msgr. Joseph R. Punderson, a senior official of the Vatican's highest court, was instructed by his bishop to resign his Vatican post late in 2018 and then was removed from ministry 15 years after he was found to be credibly accused of the sexual abuse of a minor. The abuse was reported to the Vatican, and Msgr. Punderson offered to resign in 2004, but the Vatican allowed him to continue working. Msgr. Punderson's named was included on a list of credibly accused clergy published by the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey, Feb. 13. Bishop David M. O'Connell heads the diocese. Rayanne Bennett, director of communications for the Trenton Diocese, said in a statement Feb. 20 that diocesan records indicated Msgr. Punderson "was credibly accused in 2003 of the sexual abuse of a minor 26 years earlier. The allegation, the first and only claim against Msgr. Punderson, was promptly reported to the appropriate prosecutor, who declined to pursue criminal charges," Bennett said. "The allegation was also reported to the Holy See, and Msgr. Punderson submitted his resignation in 2004," Bennett said. "The Holy See, however, permitted him to continue in office but under specific restrictions regarding public acts of ministry initially imposed by the Diocese of Trenton in 2003."

    Pipeline struggle reveals value of community to religious congregation

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- For the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, the U.S. Supreme Court's decision not to hear the order's religious freedom claims in a legal challenge to a natural gas pipeline through their land in Pennsylvania came as no real surprise. "But we needed to see it through and that's what we did," said Sister Janet McCann, a member of the Adorers' leadership team in St. Louis. Without comment, the Supreme Court announced Feb. 19 that it had declined the congregation's petition for a hearing. The Adorers' argument centered on their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA. They maintained that allowing construction of the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline and its use would be contrary to their 2005 Land Ethic, which holds that all of creation is sacred and that it must be protected from desecration. Sister McCann said despite the court's decision her congregation realized the 19-month ordeal had given it ample opportunity for "continuing to educate ourselves and educating other people and heightening the awareness of what is happening with our earth. Also we learned the process of how to stand up and speak out to big, powerful multibillion-dollar corporations," she told Catholic News Service Feb. 20. "We're hoping that our willingness to kind of stumble through all of this will give some encouragement to other individuals, other communities or other entities to do the same."

    Georgetown University rescinds honorary degree from McCarrick

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Georgetown University in Washington is the latest institution to announce it is rescinding an honorary degree it gave to former U.S. Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick in 2004. The Feb. 19 announcement comes days after the Vatican said Feb. 16 it had found the former prelate guilty of abuses against minors and adults, stripping him of his clerical status. In a letter addressing the Georgetown community, John J. DeGioia, the institution's president, said it is the first time an honorary degree given by the Jesuit-run university has been revoked. "After troubling allegations about his conduct became public in the summer of 2018, I shared a message with our community, reflecting on the responsibilities of our university in this moment and our role, as a Catholic and Jesuit institution, in promoting 'a culture of safeguarding vulnerable people,'" DeGioia writes in the letter, explaining the decision taken in conjunction with the school's board of directors. Last summer, abuse accusations against the retired cardinal surfaced in U.S. newspapers from accusers who said he had exposed himself and sexually molested at least two boys in his early years as a priest -- accusations that spanned almost five decades and were too old to legally prosecute. McCarrick, 88, denied the accusations but stepped down from the College of Cardinals in June. Other accusations that he had abused young seminarians at a beach house in New Jersey later surfaced. The Archdiocese of New York, where some of the early incidents allegedly took place, said it had found that the accusations against the prelate were "credible."

    Covington Catholic student sues Washington Post for $250 million

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Catholic high school student at the center of an encounter with a Native American tribal leader in Washington filed a $250 million defamation lawsuit Feb. 19 against The Washington Post claiming the newspaper's coverage of the incident was biased. The 38-page suit claims there were "no less than six false and defamatory articles" in the newspaper about the Jan. 18 encounter at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, which went viral almost immediately. It also claims the newspaper "ignored basic journalist standards because it wanted to advance its well-known and easily documented, biased agenda against President Donald J. Trump by impugning individuals perceived to be supporters of the president. The Post proved itself to be a loud and aggressive bully with a bully pulpit," the lawsuit says. Nick Sandmann, a junior at Kentucky's Covington Catholic High School, is known now for wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat while smiling just inches away from the Native American leader, Nathan Phillips, who faced him as he chanted and beat a drum. The teen is represented by Todd McMurtry of the Covington-based law firm Hemmer Defrank Wessels and by L. Lin Wood, an Atlanta attorney involved in high-profile defamation suits.

    Tolton sainthood cause advances; next step would be 'venerable' decree

    CHICAGO (CNS) -- The canonization cause for Father Augustus Tolton is just one step away from going to Pope Francis for the priest to be declared "venerable." On Feb. 5, the feast of St. Agatha, a nine-member Vatican theological commission unanimously voted that Father Tolton's cause be moved forward to the cardinals and archbishops in the Congregation for Saints' Causes for a final vote to send a decree of the priest's "heroic virtues" to Pope Francis for his approval. Upon the promulgation of that decree, Father Tolton would receive the title "venerable," which indicates he lived the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity and the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance at a heroic level. The next steps would be beatification and canonization. In general, one miracle attributed to the sainthood candidate's intercession is needed for beatification, and a second such miracle is needed for canonization. Father Tolton, the first African-American to be ordained a Catholic priest for the United States, was born into slavery, ordained in 1886 in Rome because no U.S. seminary would take him and died serving in Chicago in 1897.

    Update: Ahead of abuse summit, survivor says church is on borrowed time

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- On the eve of a major summit on the abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, survivors said concrete action, not words, must be made to restore the trust of those who have suffered at the hands of members of the clergy. Speaking to journalists outside the Vatican Feb. 20, Juan Carlos Cruz, a Chilean survivor of abuse, said he hoped the summit meeting on the protection of minors would bring about "radical change" in to how the church handles cases of abuse of children and vulnerable adults. "It's important that things change; it's important that no bishop should say, 'Well, I didn't have the elements to deal with this situation.' No, raping a child -- a little boy or a little girl -- was wrong in the Middle Ages, in the first century, now, and it will be wrong in the future. So, there is no excuse," he said. "We need to do this now," Cruz said. "The church is on borrowed time." Twelve representatives of survivors' groups from around the world, including Cruz, met Feb. 20 with the organizing committee of the Feb. 21-24 summit, which was to bring together almost 190 church leaders: the presidents of national bishops' conferences, the heads of the Eastern Catholic churches, superiors of religious orders of men and women, Roman Curia officials and invited experts and guest speakers.

    New book claims homosexuality, hypocrisy rampant in Vatican

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A new book accused the Vatican of hypocrisy, claiming that the majority of prelates working within its walls live active homosexual lifestyles. The book, titled "In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy," by French author and journalist Frederic Martel, was scheduled for publication in eight languages Feb. 21, the same day leaders of the world's bishops' conference convened in Rome to reflect on the abuse crisis that has rocked the Catholic Church. The author, who is openly gay, said he spent four years of "authoritative research" interviewing current and former Vatican officials, including priests, bishops and cardinals. He also claimed that Pope Francis' homilies on those in the church who lead "double lives" refer to "the dizzying hypocrisy of those who advocate a rigid morality while at the same time having a companion, affairs and sometimes escorts." Martel claimed that Pope Francis is currently engaged "in a ruthless battle against all those who use sexual morality" to conceal their own "double lives" and that "these secret homosexuals are in the majority, powerful and influential."

    Speaker: Only way forward is to allow Christ 'to come in, encounter us'

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- If pastoral leaders want to be "prophetic disciples" who call others into a closer relationship with Christ, they must first experience Christ's presence in their own lives, Sister Miriam James Heidland told more than 1,000 attendees of the Mid-Atlantic Congress Feb. 15 in Baltimore. That means thinking deeply about where they have been, where they are going and where they are now, said the missionary, who is a member of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity. Speaking in a keynote address, Sister Miriam challenged listeners to reflect not only on the joyful moments of their life stories, but also on the sorrowful ones they may keep hidden. "If we have secrets in our life that haven't been told -- addictions in our life that are happening right now, areas of life that we can't even bear to look at -- those things don't just go away," she said. "What we do is transmit that suffering onto our spouses. We transmit that suffering onto the people we work with, to the people that we serve." The only way forward as Christians, she said, is "to allow Christ to come in and encounter us." Sister Miriam knows the power of encounter. A former student-athlete who played volleyball on a scholarship at the University of Nevada-Reno, the popular Catholic podcaster described her 21-year-old self as a "hot train wreck of a mess."

    Irish archbishop warns against abuse becoming 'political football'

    DUBLIN (CNS) -- Ahead of a major Vatican summit on the protection of minors, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, Northern Ireland, has criticized Catholics who use the issue of clerical abuse to score points against people they disagree with in the church. He also rejected the idea that abuse scandals can be blamed on priests who are gay. However, in an interview with The Irish Catholic newspaper, Archbishop Martin also insisted that the church has to do a lot more research on the impact of an unhealthy approach to celibacy by some priests and religious. Archbishop Martin -- who as president of the Irish bishops' conference was to attend the Feb. 21-24 summit at the Vatican -- expressed the view that the "danger is that the issue, the horrendous chapter of abuse in the church, becomes some sort of ecclesiastical political football, which is batted about between different wings within the church." Abuse, he said, "is like a virus that destroys and infects everything that it touches." On the issue of homosexuality in the priesthood, Archbishop Martin warned against looking for simplistic answers or scapegoating. "Let's be cautious about thinking that we can explain away the horrendous breach of trust and breach of vocation that is abuse by a priest, or a religious. By all means, with the help of proper expert research, let's look at all the issues," he said.

    Point out church's errors with love, pope tells pilgrims

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Catholics should speak up when things go wrong in the church, but theirs must be constructive criticism delivered with love, Pope Francis said, otherwise the devil is at work. "One must point out the defects in order to correct them, but when one reports the defects, denounces them, one must love the church. Without love, it's the devil at work," the pope said Feb. 20 during a meeting in St. Peter's Basilica with pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Benevento, Italy. Pope Francis visited the archdiocese last year to highlight St. Padre Pio, who was born and ministered in the southern Italy region. The pope told the pilgrims the saintly Capuchin friar was an exemplary model of faith in God, hope in eternal life, dedication to people and fidelity to the church. "Let me pause on this point," the pope told the pilgrims. "He loved the church -- with all the problems the church has, with its many adversities and many sinners. The church is holy; it is the bride of Christ," he said. "But we, sons and daughters of the church, are all sinners -- some big ones -- but he (Padre Pio) loved the church as it was and did not destroy it with his tongue as is the fashion today."

    Update: Blaming homosexuality for abuse of minors is distraction, victims say

    ROME (CNS) -- People must stop using homosexuals as scapegoats for the sexual abuse of children, two male survivors of abuse by priests told reporters. "To make this link between homosexuality and pedophilia is absolutely immoral, it is unconscionable and has to stop," said Peter Isely, a survivor and founding member of the survivor's group SNAP. Speaking to reporters outside the Vatican press office Feb. 18, he said: "No matter what your sexual orientation is, if you've committed a criminal act against a child, you're a criminal. That's the designation that counts. Period." Isely and other survivors were in Rome to speak with the media ahead of a Vatican summit Feb. 21-24 on child protection in the Catholic Church. Phil Saviano, who founded SNAP's New England chapter and is a board member of, told reporters Feb. 19 that he felt "there has been a lot of scapegoating of homosexual men as being child predators." To lay the blame for the abuse of children on homosexuality "tells me that they really don't understand" the problem and have made a claim "that is not based on any source of reality."

    To know God is to know love, pope says at audience

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When speaking to God as a father, Christians experience a love that goes beyond human love and affection, which can be unpredictable and mired by selfishness, Pope Francis said. While often compared to the love of parents, the love of God is greater; "there is a God in heaven who loves us like no one on this earth has ever done and can ever do," the pope said Feb. 20 during his weekly general audience. "God's love is that of the father 'who is in heaven,' according to the expression that Jesus invites us to use. It is the total love that we in this life can savor only in an imperfect way," he said. Continuing his series of talks on the Our Father, the pope reflected on the first verse of the Lord's Prayer. Praying to God in heaven, he said, is the first step of every Christian prayer to enter the "mystery of God's fatherhood." While God's paternal love is a reminder of the love humans experience, the pope said that there can be no comparison between the two since human love is "capable of blossoming" in one moment and "withering and dying" in the next.

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  • Court rejects abortion provider's effort to get bishops' internal documents

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. Supreme Court Feb. 19 rejected hearing an appeal from Whole Woman's Health, a Texas-based abortion facility chain, which aimed to get the Texas Catholic bishops' internal communications about abortion. In December 2016, Whole Woman's Health sued over a Texas law that requires abortion facilities to bury or cremate aborted human remains. The Texas Catholic bishops offered to provide burials to all unborn children who were aborted, which led to the abortion chain subpoenaing decades of internal religious deliberations among the bishops regarding abortion, even though they were not part of the lawsuit. "Thank goodness the Supreme Court saw this appeal for what it was: a nasty attempt to intimidate the bishops and force them to withdraw their offer to bury every child aborted in Texas," said Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, a nonprofit, public-interest law firm, which represented the Texas Catholic Conference, which represents the bishops on public policy matters. "Abortion groups may think the bishops 'troublesome,' but it is wrong to weaponize the law to stop the bishops from standing up for their beliefs," said Rassbach in a statement.

    Pioneering Navy pilot recalled for her humility, love of faith and family

    KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) -- Rosemary Mariner was full of firsts. To the world, Capt. Mariner was an aviation pioneer who broke through the ranks of the all-male military aviator corps to become the U.S. Navy's first female attack-jet pilot. To those close to her, Rosemary was a down-to-earth wife, mother and Bible study leader who was as humble as she was faithful. Capt. Mariner, who in retirement taught military history at the University of Tennessee and led a Scripture study group at a rural parish in the Diocese of Knoxville, is being remembered for a number of firsts she achieved during a stellar military career. She died Jan. 24 at age 65 after a five-year battle with ovarian cancer. She is survived by her husband of 39 years, retired Navy Cmdr. Tommy Mariner, and a daughter, Emmalee. "She was very much a pioneer," Cmdr. Mariner said about his wife. The Navy honored the life and legacy of Capt. Mariner by conducting its first all-female flyover during her burial service Feb. 2 at a picturesque cemetery in Hickory Valley among the hills of East Tennessee. She was laid to rest with full military honors. Seven Navy aviators, all women, flew their F/A-18E/F Super Hornet attack jets in the "missing man flyover" formation to recognize a fallen comrade -- the one who first opened the cockpit for them. The aviators were from Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where Capt. Mariner had served early in her Navy career.

    Oakland bishop: Publishing priest-abusers list an 'act of contrition'

    OAKLAND, Calif. (CNS) -- The Diocese of Oakland, which serves two California counties in the East Bay area, published Feb. 18 a list of priests, deacons and religious brothers who have worked in the diocese and been credibly accused of abuse, dating back to the diocese's founding in 1962. Bishop Michael C. Barber of Oakland, in releasing the list, said its publication was an "act of contrition" and an attempt to bring comfort to survivors of clergy abuse. "I hope this will help bring healing to those who have suffered. I renew our offer of counseling, therapy, support and outreach to survivors," he said in a Feb. 18 statement. Bishop Barber said he issued the list with "a heavy heart," but added that it is a "living list" and would be updated as needed. His intention is not "to reopen the wounds of survivors, but to declare, 'We have nothing to hide,'" he said. The list totals 45 priests, brothers and deacons. "The only acceptable number is 'zero,'" he added. "However, there are right now more than 120 faithful, active and dedicated priests serving our 500,000 Catholics in our two-county diocese. We are on duty daily to serve you. There has been no credible incident of abuse of a minor by a priest or deacon of the Diocese of Oakland since 1988."

    Following unrest in Haiti, CRS weighs how best to ramp up services

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic Relief Services operations began returning to normal following more than a week of unrest by Haitians frustrated by government corruption and high inflation. "Today we started on time," Christopher Bessey, CRS country representative in Haiti, told Catholic News Service Feb. 19 from his office in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. "It was a really good sign. I thought that all indicators were that this was going to be the case for some time to come." All but four of the agency's non-Haitian staff left the Caribbean nation following onset of violent protests Feb. 7, Bessey said. He was unsure when they would be able to return. "Our focus will be in looking how to bring back staff who left the country as soon as feasible and as soon as we're somewhat certain that they will be able to come back without having to leave again," Bessey said. CRS also employs about 250 Haitians in three offices throughout the country. They were assessing the situation in various locales to determine how soon they could resume full operations. "We're making sure it's safe to get out to the field," he said.

    Supreme Court to hear oral arguments on 2020 citizenship census question

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear oral arguments in April about the Trump administration's push to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census and its decision will come just in the nick of time, since the Census Bureau needs to begin printing forms for the every-10 years-questionnaire this summer. The court agreed Feb. 15 to take on this case -- Department of Commerce v. New York -- without following the normal procedure and waiting for action from the federal appeals court. In January, a federal trial judge blocked the Commerce Department from adding the citizenship question to the census saying the process that led to adding it was deeply flawed. U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has maintained the citizenship question is in response to a request from the Justice Department, which said the information would help it enforce the Voting Rights Act. U.S. District Court Judge Jesse Furman in New York did not buy this reasoning and criticized Ross for ignoring reports of both government statisticians and demographers who had warned that adding this type of question was a mistake. Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco urged the Supreme Court to review Furman's decision, saying the judge had exceeded his authority. He also said citizenship questions have been asked of sample groups of the population in previous census forms and that they are also used by other countries.

    Brooklyn's list covers diocese's 166 years, has 108 credible abuse claims

    BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CNS) -- The Diocese of Brooklyn Feb. 15 released a list of clergy credibly accused of sexually abusing a minor, saying that the 108 names on the list represent less than 5 percent of clergy who have served in the diocese in its 166-year history. The diocese said in a news release that about two-thirds of the accused priests are deceased and that the "vast majority" of the case involved priests who were ordained between 1930 and 1979. "As Scripture says, there is nothing hidden that will not become visible, nothing secret that will not be known and come to light," said Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio in a video message accompanying the list's release. "We know this list will generate many emotions for victims who have suffered terribly. For their suffering, I am truly sorry," he said. "I have met with many victims who have told me that more than anything, they want an acknowledgment of what was done to them. "This list gives that recognition and I hope it will add another layer of healing for them on their journey toward wholeness," he said, "and help our church in its mission to restore the faith of all those who have been profoundly impacted by sexual abuse."

    Illinois doctor: Newman miracle depositions were 'spiritual experiences'

    CHICAGO (CNS) -- When the Vatican announced Feb. 15 that Pope Francis had signed a decree recognizing a miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed John Henry Newman, clearing the way for his canonization, there was rejoicing in Chicago. The proposed miracle that God worked through the intercession of Newman in 2013 involved a local mother who faced life-threatening complications during her pregnancy but suddenly recovered when she prayed to the English cardinal for help. The woman, who declined to comment at this time but said she will share her story with the Chicago Catholic, archdiocesan newspaper, at a later date, lives in the Diocese of Joliet, but, given the resources available in the Archdiocese of Chicago, her case was transferred to the tribunal here for investigation. Dr. Gerald Casey, the lead medical expert in the local process, said he has been forever changed by the experience. "It was the most enriching experience of my spiritual life," said Casey, who lives in Wilmette and attends Sts. Faith, Hope and Charity Parish in Winnetka. Church law has a process, much like a trial, that it follows when investigating miracles. The woman, her husband, her physician and her spiritual director all were interviewed, or deposed, during the process.

    Dolan: Church loves, welcomes pregnant women, is 'honored' to serve them

    NEW YORK (CNS) -- In a robust demonstration that actions speak louder than words, New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan Feb. 18 introduced representatives of six church-related organizations that help pregnant women in need. Standing in the modest living room of a convent that Sisters of Life share with expectant and new mothers and their children, the cardinal reaffirmed the commitment first made in 1984 by his predecessor, Cardinal John J. O'Connor. "Any pregnant woman can come to the Archdiocese of New York, to its parishes and facilities, and we will do all in our power to assist you, so that you never feel that you have no alternative except an abortion," Cardinal Dolan said. "It does not matter what your marital status, your religion, or your immigration status might be. None of that matters, folks." Cardinal Dolan acknowledged that the timing of his reaffirmation of the church's outreach coincided with the attention given to the Reproductive Health Act of 2019, which effectively removed restrictions on abortion in New York, and the current "almost pro-abortion atmosphere out there." New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the measure into law Jan. 22, the anniversary of U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v Wade ruling legalizing abortion nationwide. "Every once in a while we need to trumpet and put a spotlight on the good work that we do," the cardinal said. "Most of us bristle when the church is criticized for speaking all the time but not offering action. Nothing could be further from the truth."

    West Virginia Catholic high school removes bishop's name from gym

    WHEELING, W.Va. (CNS) -- Former Wheeling-Charleston Bishop Michael J. Bransfield's name has been removed from the gymnasium at Central Catholic High School in Wheeling. School officials said the school board voted unanimously at its January meeting to recommend to the diocese, for its approval, that the name be removed to coincide with the recommendation that all buildings and facilities be named for saints. Bryan Minor, delegate for administrative affairs for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, said that the diocese's apostolic administrator, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, accepted the board's decision. "Central Catholic High School approached the diocese and asked if it was possible to discuss changing the name of its gymnasium facility in Wheeling, which was named after Bishop Bransfield last spring," Minor said. "The archbishop responded by asking the CCHS school board to consider their options and provide a recommendation. The school president reported the decision of the school board to remove the name of Bishop Bransfield." A written copy of the board's recommendation was submitted to Archbishop Lori for consideration. "He approved the name change and accepted their recommendation," Minor said.

    Update: Paris-based Ukrainian Catholic bishop to head U.S. archeparchy

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has appointed Bishop Borys Gudziak of the Paris-based Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of St. Volodymyr the Great, to be the seventh metropolitan-archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia. Bishop Andriy Rabiy, an auxiliary bishop of the archeparchy, has been apostolic administrator since April 16, 2018. The pope named him to the post following the resignation of Archbishop Stefan Soroka, now 67, for medical reasons. Archbishop Gudziak, 58, is a native of Syracuse, New York, and was ordained a bishop in France Aug. 26, 2012. His appointment was announced Feb. 18 in Washington by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States. His installation will take place June 4 at Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Philadelphia. "This is great and awesome news!" Bishop Rabiy said in a statement. Archbishop Gudziak said he was grateful to Pope Francis, the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Archbishop Soroka and to the Synod of Ukrainian Catholic Bishops "for their confidence and blessing." Auxiliary Bishop John Bura also serves the archeparchy. The pope also named Ohio-native Bishop Hlib Lonchyna as apostolic administrator of the Paris-based eparchy. Bishop Lonchyna heads the Eparchy of the Holy Family of London, which is for Ukrainian Catholics in Great Britain.

    Philippine bishop: Duterte's drug war is 'illegal, immoral and anti-poor'

    KALOOKAN, Philippines (CNS) -- A Catholic bishop in the Philippines said his government's controversial war on drugs is really a war against the country's poor. "There is no war against illegal drugs, because the supply is not being stopped. If they are really after illegal drugs, they would go after the big people, the manufacturers, the smugglers, the suppliers. But instead, they go after the victims of these people. So, I have come to the conclusion that this war on illegal drugs is illegal, immoral and anti-poor," said Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan. The Philippines has suffered for years from widespread drug abuse, principally shabu, a cheaply produced form of methamphetamine. President Rodrigo Duterte ran for office promising a crackdown on drug use, and since he took office in 2016, rights groups say more than 20,000 people have been killed in extrajudicial killings, mostly carried out by the country's police. Church leaders have grown increasingly critical of the violence. The country's Catholic bishops conference acknowledged in a Jan. 28 pastoral message that they had been slow in responding as a "culture of violence has gradually prevailed in our land." The bishops spoke "of mostly poor people being brutally murdered on mere suspicion of being small-time drug users and peddlers, while the big-time smugglers and drug lords went scot-free." While they said they had "no intention of interfering in the conduct of state affairs," they said they had "a solemn duty to defend our flock, especially when they are attacked by wolves." Duterte has repeatedly slammed the church in response to its criticism, and Bishop David, who also serves as vice president of the bishops' conference, has become the principal target of Duterte's angry outbursts at the church.

    Religious superiors admit denial, slowness to act against abuse

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Twisted ideas of power and authority in the Catholic Church have contributed to the clerical sexual abuse crisis, leaders of religious orders said, but sometimes the positive "sense of family" in their own communities also made them slow to act. "Pope Francis rightly attacks the culture of clericalism which has hindered our fight against abuse and indeed is one of the root causes," said a statement Feb. 19 from the women's International Union of Superiors General and the men's Union of Superiors General. But, they said, "the strong sense of family in our orders and congregations -- something usually so positive -- can make it harder to condemn and expose abuse. It resulted in a misplaced loyalty, errors in judgment, slowness to act, denial and at times, cover-up." The superiors, who represent a combined total of almost 850,000 women and men religious, stated, "We still need conversion and we want to change." The two groups were to send 22 superiors general to the Vatican's summit Feb. 21-24 on child protection and the abuse crisis.

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  • Pope lifts suspension imposed on Nicaraguan priest 34 years ago

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has lifted the canonical penalties imposed 34 years ago on Father Ernesto Cardenal, 94, the Nicaraguan poet and former member of the Sandinista government. In a statement Feb. 18, Archbishop Waldemar Sommertag, the Vatican nuncio in Nicaragua, said Pope Francis had "granted with benevolence the absolution of all canonical censures" imposed on the ailing priest after he had made the request through the nunciature. St. John Paul II had suspended Father Cardenal and several other priests from active ministry in 1985 for joining the Marxist-influenced Sandinista government. Father Cardenal resigned from the Sandinista Front in 1994. Archbishop Sommertag did not say exactly when Father Cardenal's suspension was lifted. But Auxiliary Bishop Silvio Jose Baez of Managua signaled that the action had been taken when he tweeted a photo of himself at Father Cardenal's hospital bedside Feb. 15. Bishop Baez tweeted, "Today I visited in the hospital my priest friend, Fr. Ernesto Cardenal, with whom I spoke for a few minutes. After praying for him, I knelt down beside his bed and asked for his blessing as a priest of the Catholic Church, to which he agreed joyfully." When St. John Paul visited Nicaragua in 1983, Father Cardenal greeted him by dropping to one knee and attempting to kiss his ring. But the pope pulled his hand back and shook his finger at the priest in one of the best-remembered images of the Sandinista years.

    Vatican summit: Silence, denial are unacceptable, archbishop says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When presented with an accusation that a priest has sexually abused a child, "whether it's criminal or malicious complicity and a code of silence or whether it is denial" on a very human level, such reactions are no longer tolerable, said the Vatican's top investigator of abuse cases. Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, who handles abuse cases as adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was part of a panel of speakers at a news conference Feb. 18 to outline the Vatican's plans and hopes for the summit meeting on the protection of minors in the church. The meeting Feb. 21-24 was to bring together almost 190 church leaders: the presidents of national bishops' conferences, the heads of the Eastern Catholic churches, superiors of religious orders of men and women, Roman Curia officials and invited experts and guest speakers. After reciting the Angelus Feb. 17, Pope Francis publicly asked Catholics around the world to pray for the summit, and he repeated the request Feb. 18 in a tweet, saying he wanted the meeting to be "a powerful gesture of pastoral responsibility in the face of an urgent challenge." At the news conference Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago told reporters, "The Holy Father wants to make very clear to the bishops around the world, not only those participating, that each one of them has to claim responsibility and ownership for this problem and that there is going to be every effort to close whatever loopholes there are."

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  • Update: In the U.S., a sobering mood after news of McCarrick's laicization

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The accusations surrounding former U.S. Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick have been hanging over U.S. bishops and faith communities in the dioceses and archdioceses where he served -- New York, Metuchen and Newark in New Jersey, and Washington -- since last year. Even though the Vatican stripping McCarrick of his clerical status Feb. 16 was expected, the news cast a somber mood over those faith communities already grappling with what had happened while he was among them in the past and whether the Vatican's decision can help the church in the U.S. move forward. In announcing its decision, the Vatican said McCarrick was found 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." "It is profoundly disheartening and disturbing to know that a church leader, who served and led our Archdiocese of Newark for 14 years, acted in a way that is contrary to the Christian way of life as well as his vocation as a priest of Jesus Christ," said Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark in a statement following the announcement. The Washington Archdiocese said: "Our hope and prayer is that this decision serves to help the healing process for survivors of abuse, as well as those who have experienced disappointment or disillusionment because of what former Archbishop McCarrick has done." The University of Notre Dame almost immediately announced it was rescinding the honorary degree it conferred on McCarrick in 2008, which the school had said it would do once the Vatican made its decision on his status.

    Mid-Atlantic Congress offers attendees ongoing formation, fellowship

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Spending the weekend in Baltimore was just what Elizabeth Butler needed to reinvigorate adult catechesis at her Washington parish. Butler, a parishioner of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian on Capitol Hill, called the Mid-Atlantic Congress "a good kick in the pants." She's also administrator of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program at her parish. Nearly a decade old, the congress allows leaders in Catholic ministry a regional opportunity for formation and fellowship. Co-sponsored by the Association of Catholic Publishers and the Archdiocese of Baltimore's Department of Evangelization, this year's congress was Feb. 14-16. This year's congress had more than 1,300 registrants and included a track for Hispanic ministry. In addition to Deacon Oney, featured speakers included Sister Miriam Heidland, a member of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, who is a former college athlete and can be heard on her "Abiding Together" podcast, and Father Mike Schmitz, director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota. Topics ranged from "Building Intercultural Competence for Ministry," the disaffiliation of young Catholics from the church and working on a pastoral team to sacramental preparation and prison ministry.

    DiNardo: Action on McCarrick 'clear signal' church will not tolerate abuse

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Vatican's removal from the priesthood of Theodore E. McCarrick "is a clear signal that abuse will not be tolerated," said the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Feb. 16. "No bishop, no matter how influential, is above the law of the church," said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston. "For all those McCarrick abused, I pray this judgment will be one small step, among many, toward healing." "For us bishops, it strengthens our resolve to hold ourselves accountable to the Gospel of Jesus Christ," the cardinal said. "I am grateful to Pope Francis for the determined way he has led the church's response." Cardinal DiNardo's statement followed the Vatican's early morning announcement that Pope Francis has confirmed the removal from the priesthood of McCarrick, the 88-year-old former cardinal and archbishop of Washington. The Vatican said he was found 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." A panel of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith found him guilty Jan. 11, the Vatican said. McCarrick appealed the decision, but the appeal was rejected Feb. 13 by the congregation itself. McCarrick was informed of the decision Feb. 15 and Pope Francis "recognized the definitive nature of this decision made in accord with law," making a further appeal impossible.

    McCarrick removed from the priesthood after being found guilty of abuse

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has confirmed the removal from the priesthood of Theodore E. McCarrick, the 88-year-old former cardinal and archbishop of Washington. The Vatican announced the decision Feb. 16, saying he was found 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." A panel of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith found him guilty Jan. 11, the Vatican said. McCarrick appealed the decision, but the appeal was rejected Feb. 13 by the congregation itself. McCarrick was informed of the decision Feb. 15 and Pope Francis "recognized the definitive nature of this decision made in accord with law," making a further appeal impossible. By ordering McCarrick's "dismissal from the clerical state," the decision means that McCarrick loses all rights and duties associated with being a priest, cannot present himself as a priest and is forbidden to celebrate the sacraments, except to grant absolution for sins to a person in imminent danger of death. The only church penalty that is more severe is excommunication, which would have banned him from receiving the sacraments. The other possible punishment was to sentence him to a "life of prayer and penance," a penalty often imposed on elderly clerics; the penalty is similar to house arrest and usually includes banning the person from public ministry, limiting his interactions with others and restricting his ability to leave the place he is assigned to live. McCarrick's punishment is the toughest meted out to a cardinal by the Vatican in modern times. He currently lives in a Capuchin friary in rural Kansas.

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  • U.S. pilgrims still feeling joy, renewal from attending World Youth Day

    NEW YORK (CNS) -- Pilgrims from the New York Archdiocese who attended the world-class retreat led by Pope Francis that was World Youth Day in Panama felt renewed in their faith journey and are still cherishing the moment as a joyful turning point they will always remember. "These are some really special young people. I know they won't leave what they encountered and learned behind in Panama, but will bring it with them to the Archdiocese of New York," said Mary Elise Zellmer, assistant director of the archdiocesan Office of Young Adult Outreach. She made the comments in an email to Catholic New York, the archdiocesan newspaper, after World Youth Day ended. Among the 44 young adult pilgrims and nine coordinators from the archdiocese who were in Panama for the Jan 22-27 gathering. "Honestly, it was amazing. I can now hear the voice of God a lot clearer than I could before," said Josue Rosario Cruz, 24, who took part in the Way of the Cross led by Pope Francis the evening of Jan. 25. Members of a delegation that went to Panama from the Archdiocese of Louisville, Kentucky, likewise pointed to a renewal of their faith from the experience as well as an openness to answer the Lord's call. The pilgrimage was marked by moments of "joy, excitement and peace," Anna Metzger, a Spanish teacher at Mercy Academy, told The Record, Louisville's archdiocesan newspaper.

    Update: Catholic bishops, groups oppose Trump's call for national emergency

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic bishops near the U.S.-Mexico border, joined by other U.S. prelates, voiced opposition just after President Donald Trump's Feb. 15 declaration of a national emergency so he can order construction of a barrier along parts of the border between the two countries. "In our view, a border wall is first and foremost a symbol of division and animosity between two friendly countries. Furthermore, the wall would be an ineffective use of resources at a time of financial austerity; it would also would destroy parts of the environment, disrupt the livelihoods of ranchers and farmers, weaken cooperation and commerce between border communities, and, at least in one instance, undermine the right to the freedom of worship," said the statement released just after Trump, in a news conference, said he was going to sign a national emergency declaration to stave off a flow of drugs, human trafficking, gang members and illegal immigration coming across the southern border. The president later sign a spending bill that provides $1.375 billion for fencing and other measures along the border -- a fraction of the $5.7 billion he had been asking from Congress for construction of the structure -- he announced the national emergency that could grant him up to $8 billion for his project. In a separate bishops' statement following Trump's announcement, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, said they were "deeply concerned about the president's action to fund the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, which circumvents the clear intent of Congress to limit funding of a wall."

    Dingell, longest serving member in Congress, recalled at funeral as 'doer'

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- At a funeral Mass in Washington for former U.S. Rep. John Dingell, former President Bill Clinton said the Democratic congressman should be remembered as "a world-class doer." "John Dingell was just about the best doer in the history of American public life," Clinton said in eulogizing the man who represented Michigan's 12th Congressional District for more than 59 years, making him the longest serving member of Congress in U.S. history. Dingell died Feb. 7 at his home in Dearborn, Michigan, at age 92. He retired in 2014 and last year was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which had metastasized. He chose to forgo treatment, and entered hospice care. A memorial service for Dingell was held Feb. 12 in Dearborn, then his body was flown to Washington for the funeral Mass at Holy Trinity Catholic Church. On Feb. 15, he was interred at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia outside Washington. Dingell had had a role in many landmark laws and was a leading supporter of organized labor, social welfare, civil rights and health care for all. The U.S. bishops have been outspoken in their support on many of the issues for which Dingell, a Catholic, advocated. However, he was a supporter of legal abortion, which the Catholic Church opposes, teaching that life is sacred from the moment of conception to natural death.

    'Faith' at core of growth of law firm that helps immigrants, says founder

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew that the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed: It begins as "the smallest of all seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches." When Sister Ann Durst started a pro bono law firm for immigrants in the '90s, it was probably the smallest of all law offices in San Diego: She ran it out of a condo and had an operating budget of only $75,000 a year. Now, Casa Cornelia sits in a well-appointed office on San Diego's Fifth Avenue, represents hundreds of unaccompanied children, asylum applicants and victims of trafficking every year, enlists the volunteer services of countless private attorneys, and last year had an operating budget of over $2 million. It is the largest pro bono immigration law firm in San Diego County. So what allowed Casa Cornelia to blossom into the wellspring of hope it has become? Sister Durst has one answer: Faith. "We are blessed that the people supported us" through the many changes the firm has gone through over the years, she said, chalking up its continued success to prayer and generosity. In a phone interview with Catholic News Service Feb. 12, Sister Durst revealed that her passion for helping immigrants began while she was studying to become a lawyer, saying: "I went to Georgetown law school and took an immigration course. ... It was interesting because of the human dimension."

    Religious rights group deplores 'anti-Christian hostility' in France

    WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- A church-backed religious rights organization has warned of growing "anti-Christian hostility" in France, identifying a spate of assaults on churches and Christian monuments. "France is of particular concern now -- while anti-Christian attacks are better documented here than in other European countries, the media pays little attention to them," said Ellen Fantini, executive director of the Vienna-based Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe, which is linked to the Council of Bishops' Conferences of Europe. "While the government recognizes Christians and Christian sites are being targeted, they don't seem high on the agenda when it comes to the political will to provide protection," Fantini said. In a Feb. 14 report, the observatory said it had documented numerous incidents in the first 10 days of February, including arson and vandalism against a Catholic cathedral in Lavaur, and attacks on three parish churches in France's western Vendee region, during which sacred figures were profaned and windows smashed. The report said St. Nicolas de Houilles Church in Yvelines had been desecrated three times, destroying statues of Jesus and Mary, while a tabernacle had been thrown to the ground at the nearby church of St. Nicolas de Maisons-Lafitte. "We join local officials and churches in condemning these senseless and disturbing acts. It is our sincere hope the perpetrators are brought to justice and that awareness of increasing anti-Christian hostility in France reaches the public square," the report said.

    Welcome Christ present in migrants and refugees, pope urges

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Even if Christians struggle to recognize him with his "torn clothes (and) dirty feet," Jesus is present in the migrants and refugees who seek safety and a dignified life in a new land, Pope Francis said. If Jesus' words, "Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me," are true, the pope said, then "we must begin to thank those who give us the opportunity for this encounter, namely, the 'others' who knock on our doors, giving us the possibility to overcome our fears in order to encounter, welcome and assist Jesus in person." Pope Francis spoke about overcoming fear and welcoming others during a Mass he celebrated Feb. 15 at a church-run retreat and conference center in Sacrofano, about 15 miles north of Rome. The Mass was part of a conference titled, "Welcoming Communities: Free of Fear," which was sponsored by the Italian bishops' office for migration, Caritas Italy and Jesuit Refugee Service's Centro Astalli. The 500 participants included representatives of parishes, religious orders and Catholic-run agencies assisting migrants and refugees, as well as individual families who host newcomers.

    Catholic Charities expects healthy housing to ease chronic homelessness

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic Charities USA is partnering with five diocesan Catholic Charities agencies, local hospitals, housing developers and funders in a plan aiming to reduce chronic homelessness 20 percent by 2024. Called the Healthy Housing Initiative, the effort involves placing homeless people into stable housing and providing essential supportive services to reduce hospital readmissions while ensuring that basic needs are met. Collaboration is underway with diocesan Catholic Charities operations in Detroit; St. Louis; Las Vegas; Portland, Oregon; and Spokane, Washington, where such programs exist. "This is basically co-locating the services with the housing. We're taking a look at not only partnering with Catholic health associations but taking advantage of access to property that most of (Catholic Charities) members have," said Curtis Johnson, vice president of affordable housing at Catholic Charities USA. In some communities, structures being eyed include vacant buildings on parish land such as schools and convents that can be redeveloped into housing, Johnson told Catholic News Service. In other dioceses, apartments already have been developed in which key social services, mental health counseling and case management are offered.

    French police investigate sexual assault claim against Vatican nuncio

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Italian Archbishop Luigi Ventura, 74, a Vatican diplomat who once served in Canada, Chile and western Africa, is under investigation by police in Paris for allegedly sexually assaulting a city official. The Vatican learned from news reports that the investigation had been launched and it was "waiting for the results of the investigation" by city prosecutors, said Alessandro Gisotti, interim director of the Vatican press office, in response to reporters' queries. A French judicial official confirmed to the Associated Press Feb. 15 that the prosecutor's office in Paris had opened an investigation into an allegation of "sexual aggression." The French newspaper, Le Monde, reported that the diplomat was suspected of having sexually molested a young male employee at the Paris city hall Jan. 17, the day the mayor was giving her New Year's address to diplomats and other leading figures. Archbishop Ventura has been serving as apostolic nuncio to France since 2009. Prior to that posting, he was the Vatican's representative in Canada between 2001 and 2009, helping with preparations for St. John Paul II's visit to Toronto for World Youth Day in 2002.

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  • Texas locality orders popular Catholic center for migrants to vacate

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A group of city commissioners in the border city of McAllen, Texas, voted in mid-February to remove from a building a popular Catholic-administered center run by Sister Norma Pimentel, who has been praised by Pope Francis for her work with migrants. McAllen city commissioners voted Feb. 11 to vacate within 90 days the building that Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley uses to provide temporary shelter for immigrants who cross from Mexico into the United States but who have been released by federal authorities. Sister Pimentel, who has won national and international praise for the type of work that takes place at the center, is the executive director for the charitable agency that runs the temporary shelter, which provides food, clothes, a shower and other necessities for migrant children and adults passing through the city in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Residents were complaining to city commissioners about activity in their neighborhood that they said was coming from what's known as the "respite center," which began occupying the space in December, said a Feb. 11 story by the local newspaper, The Monitor. But Sister Pimentel, according to the report, said during a meeting to discuss the issue that the families the shelter helps are receiving services inside the building. "They don't go wandering around," she said, according to the newspaper story.

    Update: Bishop urges families to form deeper relationship with Christ

    PHOENIX (CNS) -- Fathers and mothers have the ability and responsibility to lead their families to holiness, wrote Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted in an apostolic exhortation. The title of the document, "Complete My Joy," is taken from St. Paul's Letter to the Philippians when the Apostle challenges the reader to "make my joy complete." "Over these past 50 years, countless faithful Catholics have surely attained the goal of their lives -- eternal salvation," Bishop Olmsted wrote in his introduction. "Credit here is due to the rich mercy of God, to the dedicated priests and religious who have served our diocese so well, and to you and the many faithful families who have lived -- and continue to live -- your vocations with generosity and even, at times, heroism," he said. The bishop promulgated the apostolic exhortation as part of the Diocese of Phoenix's 50th anniversary Jubilee Year of the Family. The special year began Dec. 2 -- in 1969 on that date the diocese was established. The family -- husband, wife and any children they may have -- is an image of the Holy Trinity, Bishop Olmsted wrote. By its very nature, the family is a communion of love and life. "The Christian family is also the littlest living cell of the church -- the domestic church," he wrote in the document dated Dec. 30, the feast of the Holy Family. The text (in English and Spanish) and an accompanying video can be found, respectively, at, and

    Virginia's two dioceses release lists of clergy credibly accused of abuse

    ARLINGTON, Va. (CNS) -- Virginia's two Catholic bishops, Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge and Richmond Bishop Barry C. Knestout, released lists Feb. 13 of the clergy credibly accused of child sex abuse in their respective dioceses. In Arlington, Bishop Burbidge said releasing the list fulfills a commitment he made to publish these names "in the hope that providing such a list might help some victims and survivors of clergy sexual abuse to find further healing and consolation. The publishing of this list will bring a range of emotions for all of us," he said in a letter to Catholics of the diocese that accompanied the list. "Embarrassment, frustration, anger and hurt are all natural emotions to experience in a time such as this. I share those emotions." The complete list of 16 names can be found on the diocesan website, The list of priests credibly accused dates back to when the diocese was established in 1974. In an open letter published with the Richmond diocesan list, Bishop Knestout said: "To the victims and to all affected by the pain of sexual abuse, our response will always be about what we are doing, not simply what we have done. We will seek not just to be healed but will always be seeking healing. We will seek not just to be reconciled but will always be seeking reconciliation." The diocese names 42 priests who have "a credible and substantiated allegation of sexual abuse against a minor." The list and a question-and-answer sheet is available on the diocesan website,

    Update: Catholics, Muslims bond over weekly lunch at Indianapolis deli

    INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- The openness to people of other faiths that Pope Francis modeled during his Feb. 3-5 visit to the United Arab Emirates has been embraced for more than 20 years at a weekly lunch shared by Muslims, Catholics and other Christians at Shapiro's Delicatessen in Indianapolis. John Welch, a longtime member of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis, helped start the lunch meetings in 1997. "It's the presence of Jesus in our midst," Welch told The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Over the years, Welch and those sharing lunch and their lives together at Shapiro's have included members of the Italy-based Catholic lay movement Focolare, members of the Nur-Allah Islamic Center in Indianapolis, as well as Protestant clergy in the city. Welch, 84, was honored at a recent lunch by those in attendance as he prepared to move with his wife, Mary, to Chicago to live closer to family. He was inspired to reach out to Muslims in the Indianapolis community through his involvement in Focolare, which emphasizes building unity among people based on sharing the love of God with them. Welch said that the members of Focolare, who are known as "Focolarini," are called to embody in their daily lives Jesus' teaching to love others as he loved them.

    Prominent nun says Polish priests must stop abusing women religious

    WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- One of Poland's most senior nuns said priests must stop sexually molesting religious women, in line with efforts to improve treatment of women in the traditionally Catholic country. "Sexual abuse of nuns by clergy has long been a problem in Poland -- and it's a very painful matter," Ursuline Sister Jolanta Olech, secretary-general of the Warsaw-based Conference of Higher Superiors of Female Religious Orders, told Poland's Catholic Information Agency, KAI. Sister Olech told KAI Feb. 14 that no data had been collected on the abuse of nuns in her country. However, she added that she had been informed of "very painful" cases during 12 years as conference president and secretary-general, and she welcomed Pope Francis' Feb. 5 call for action against offending clergy. "This isn't the first time the issue has been raised, and we don't know if it will change much -- but it should show some people at least that the time for concealing this problem is over," she said. "The cases I dealt with were reported to the superiors of the priests and monks concerned. But I don't know what the results were, and the cases were never made public." She said one young nun had been forced to leave her order after becoming pregnant, while the priest who fathered her child had remained in his post without "any serious consequences for his behavior."

    Florida Catholic school's prayer service marks school shooting anniversary

    PARKLAND, Fla. (CNS) -- One day before the anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, neighboring Mary Help of Christians School held a prayer service to pay tribute to the victims. The event was attended by teachers, staff, students, parents and invited guests, including Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky and the parents, family members and friends of Gina Montalto, a Mary Help of Christians parishioner killed in the shooting. The student-led event featured the school choir and student council members paying special tribute to the 14 students and three staff members killed on the high school campus last Feb. 14. The students made heart-shaped wreaths and angel crosses for each victim and one for the Parkland community. Msgr. Terence Hogan, Mary Help of Christians' pastor, reminded the participants that the parish is a strong faith community that unites and sustains each other, especially during difficult times. At the end of the service, teachers, staff, students and parents placed a pink carnation in a vase by a statue of Mary. The response of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students' response to the shooting on their campus started the movement #NeverAgain and thrust many of the survivors into the national spotlight when they organized the national "March for Our Lives" and lead rallies around the country calling for stronger gun control legislation.

    Update: Territory is life, life is territory: what indigenous want church to know

    LETICIA, Colombia (CNS) -- Rafael Noteno Capinoa, a Kichwa Indian, worries about what could happen to the forest around his village on Peru's Napo River if an oil company begins drilling in the area. "The forest is where we are born, we grow up, we live, we die and are buried," he said. "During our lifetime, we use what we find there." For the Kichwa and other Amazonian peoples, every plant and animal has a spirit, and humans live in harmony with them, he said. "But if people behave badly, nature may abandon them." A year ago, during a visit to Peru, Pope Francis asked an audience of native people of the Amazon basin to help bishops and religious to understand their relationship with the natural world. Since then, church leaders have held more than 40 meetings in the nine Amazonian countries to listen to local people, in preparation for the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon to be held at the Vatican in October. The meetings have been coordinated by the Pan-Amazonian Church Network, or REPAM. Noteno was among about 70 indigenous people who gathered at a Ticuna and Huitoto village outside this Amazonian town Feb. 2-4 to talk about what they would like the church to understand. "The Catholic Church is increasingly aware of the many ways in which the Amazon is being destroyed," said Columban Father Peter Hughes, an adviser to the synod planning committee.

    College students discuss hopes, concerns after Puerto Rico mission

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- They say that home is where the heart is. Fourteen students from Anna Maria College in Paxton, Massachusetts, understood this adage all too well and sacrificed a significant portion of their winter break in January to help rebuild the ravaged houses of families who had seen their hearts and lives broken by the widespread damage caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017. During a weeklong service trip that took place while other students were reveling in their new Christmas gifts or stressing over their schedules for the upcoming semester, the Anna Maria students were taking on "a variety of home construction assignments at three different homes in San Juan, Puerto Rico," which included "installing/gluing floor tile, caulking, painting, installing window trims, grouting tile and dry walling," according to a news release from the university. Melissa LaNeve, director of campus ministry at the small Catholic liberal arts college, also made the trip. She told Catholic News Service in a phone interview that she was impressed with the initiative taken by the students and hoped the college's integration of service into its mission would serve as a model to other institutions. She was most impressed by "their determination," as many of the volunteering students "had not done service work" prior to this trip. Some students had gone from hesitant to "completely determined to get the project done" over the course of the week, said LaNeve. LaNeve hopes that other colleges will "see the value in offering these kinds of opportunities to students' because it helps get them "out of their college bubble." She sees no reason other colleges shouldn't put service directly into their missions, because "it can only benefit someone to do service and integrate it" into their long-term career goals.

    Texas bishop receives Spirit of Francis Award from Catholic Extension

    HOUSTON (CNS) -- Catholic Extension honored Bishop Curtis J. Guillory of Beaumont with its third annual Spirit of Francis Award for his "faith, hope, vision, great compassion and love," his leadership, and his commitment to the Catholic Church and the diverse faith community of southeast Texas. He received the award at a Feb. 9 dinner in Houston. The event drew more than 200 people, including Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, honorary chairman, as well as several elected officials, Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word and other church leaders. Bishop Guillory was the first African-American bishop to head a diocese in Texas and the first to receive the award, inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis and Father Francis Clement Kelley, who founded Catholic Extension in 1905. These three are "known for embracing and helping the poor," said an Extension news release. In presenting the award to Bishop Guillory, Father Jack Wall, Catholic Extension president, called him "a man of faith, hope, vision, great compassion and love who throughout his life has given witness to the power of the Gospel -- the power to transform lives. We've been given a great gift in having a leader that has touched our lives in such a genuine, warm, compassionate, life-giving, beautiful way," he said.

    Need to change hearts, not just books, to improve liturgy, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The sacred liturgy is meant to help the people of God conform their heart, mind and actions more closely to Christ, Pope Francis said. "We know that it is not enough to change liturgical books to improve the quality of the liturgy. To just do this would be a deception," he said. "For life to truly be a prayer that is pleasing to God, a change of heart is in fact necessary," he said Feb. 14 during an audience with members of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments. The pope encouraged the congregation to continue helping the church and noted how the Vatican and individual bishops' conferences are meant to work together through dialogue, cooperation and synodality. "The Holy See, in fact, does not stand in for the bishops, but rather collaborates with them in order to serve the prayerful vocation of the church in the world in its wealth of various languages and cultures." The path to pursue, he said, is one of ecclesial communion "in which unity and variety find harmony. It's a question of harmony."

    Pope calls on world leaders to eradicate poverty, hunger

    ROME (CNS) -- Sustainable development in rural areas is key to making poverty and hunger a thing of the past, Pope Francis said. In an address to members of the International Fund for Agricultural Development's governing council Feb. 14, the pope said that while achieving such a goal "has been talked about for a long time," there has not been enough concrete action. "It is paradoxical that a good portion of the more than 820 million people who suffer hunger and malnutrition in the world live in rural areas, are dedicated to food production and are farmers," he said at the council's opening session at the Rome headquarters of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. The two-day meeting of the organization, commonly known as IFAD, was devoted to the theme: "Rural innovation and entrepreneurship." Before addressing the gathering, the pope presented a gift to the organization: a sculpture by Argentine artist Norma D'Ippolito, titled "Ecce Homo" ("Behold the Man") depicting the hands of Christ bound with ropes. In his speech, the pope said he came to bring the "longings and needs of many of our brothers and sisters who suffer in the world."

    Pope names Dallas' former bishop to serve as chamberlain

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has named Cardinal Kevin J. Farrell, 71, the prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, to serve as the camerlengo or chamberlain of the Holy Roman Church. Cardinal Farrell, born in Ireland, was incardinated in the Archdiocese of Washington and served as bishop of Dallas from 2007 to 2016; as camerlengo, he fills the post left vacant by the death in July of French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran. While the pope is alive, the job is basically just a title. But when a pope dies or resigns, the chamberlain is charged with sealing the papal apartments, chairing consultations about the papal funeral, making the practical preparations for the conclave to elect the next pope, and chairing a committee of cardinals taking care of the ordinary affairs of the church until a new pope is elected. The Vatican announced the appointment Feb. 14 along with the appointment of Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as a member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

    Pope meets head of Microsoft to discuss ethics in technology, AI

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The president of Microsoft, Brad Smith, told Pope Francis that a "human voice" was needed to speak up in the world of technology today. "A human voice like that of the church" with its values and authority, he said, telling the pope, "We appreciate your voice. We really feel this is a critical moment in time." Smith and a delegation from the U.S.-based technology company met with the pope Feb. 13 to discuss the centrality of the human person and the need for ethics in artificial intelligence. During the 30-minute meeting in the lobby of the pope's residence, Smith "discussed the topic of artificial intelligence at the service of the common good and activities aimed at bridging the digital divide that still persists at the global level," Alessandro Gisotti, interim director of the Vatican press office, told reporters in a communique.

    Pope reflects on changed attitudes toward liberation theology

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Time, experience and reflection have "purified" liberation theology and its attempts to make clear what the Gospel says about social injustice, Pope Francis said. "Today, we old people laugh about how worried we were about liberation theology," the pope told 30 Jesuits from Central America when he met them Jan. 26 in Panama during World Youth Day. "Let me tell you a funny story," he told the Jesuits. "The one most persecuted, (Dominican Father) Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian, concelebrated Mass with me and the then-prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal (Gerhard) Muller. And it happened because Muller himself brought him to me as his friend." "If anybody had said back then that the prefect of the CDF would have brought Gutierrez to concelebrate with the pope, they would have taken him for a drunk," the pope told the Jesuits. A transcript of the pope's question-and-answer session with his Jesuit confreres in Panama was published Feb. 14 by La Civilta Cattolica. The Rome-based Jesuit journal generally publishes the transcripts of Pope Francis' meetings with Jesuits after the pope has had a chance to review them.

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  • New Jersey dioceses publish list of priests 'credibly accused' of abuse

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Dioceses in the state of New Jersey made public Feb. 13 the names of priests whom they said had been "credibly accused" of sexual abuse of minors, and one of the names is former U.S. Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick. The former U.S. cardinal's name appears in the list from the Archdiocese of Newark with a footnote that says Archbishop McCarrick "has been included on the list based on the findings of the Archdiocese of New York that allegations of abuse of a minor against then Father McCarrick were credible and substantiated." The longest list is from the Archdiocese of Newark, which lists 63 priests among the total of 188, which includes clergy from the dioceses of Trenton, Paterson, Camden and Metuchen. The Diocese of Metuchen also notes in its disclosure that its first bishop, then-Bishop McCarrick, is "currently involved in a church trial by the Holy See for the abuse of a minor when he was a priest of the Archdiocese of New York." "The revelations of clergy sexual abuse of minors throughout this past year have provoked feelings of shock, anger, shame, and deep sorrow throughout our Catholic community," Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark said in a news release accompanying the list from his archdiocese. "Victims, their families, and the faithful are rightfully outraged over the abuses perpetrated against minors. Additionally, the failure of church leadership to immediately remove suspected abusers from ministry is particularly reprehensible," he said.

    Independent investigator issues report on abuse in Louisville Archdiocese

    LOUISVILLE, Ky. (CNS) -- A report by an independent investigator into the Archdiocese of Louisville's handling of clergy sexual abuse in the course of 80-plus years begins as a story of failure followed by what the report calls "a sea change" in the past 17 years. Attorney Mark Miller penned the report -- that includes a list of 34 credibly accused priests of the Archdiocese of Louisville -- after spending three months poring over 400 files and thousands of pages of documents. He described his process and findings during a news conference Feb. 8 at the Archdiocese of Louisville Pastoral Center, formally presenting his report to the media and John Laun, chair of the archdiocese's Sexual Abuse Review Board. The board had requested the third-party investigation last fall, according to Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville. Miller is a former U.S. attorney, former commissioner of the Kentucky State Police and retired judge advocate general. During the news conference, Archbishop Kurtz repeatedly indicated that the report is meant to be preliminary -- a beginning, not an end, of a larger effort to bring healing to victims and transparency to the archdiocese's handling of sexual abuse by clergy.

    Couple's program for newlyweds helps them build community, tackle issues

    ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) -- A decade ago, David Busacker was a high school sophomore looking for a way to fit in, and he decided to give drama a try. Had he made a different choice, he might not have married Bridget Scott in 2016. The two found themselves on the set of "Little Women" in 2009 at their public high school, St. Anthony High School in St. Anthony. She played Jo March; he played her father. Near the end of the performance, he made his entrance and spun her on the stage. "That's when I fell in love with her," he said. It took her longer to feel the same, but eventually they started dating while both were attending the University of Minnesota. During that time, David became a Catholic, and the couple got engaged in June 2015. They eagerly dove into marriage preparation at St. Charles Borromeo in St. Anthony, Bridget's childhood parish. They absorbed everything they could during their meetings with the priest and mentor couples in the parish. But they couldn't get enough. "The prep was good at St. Charles, but we were looking for even more," said Bridget, 26. "I think we were, in some ways, a little overzealous trying to prepare so much, but I think we also just wanted to make sure we were tapping into all the resources."

    Report finds no evidence of racist statements from Covington students

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- An independent investigation into the much-discussed encounter that went viral between Catholic high school students, a Native American tribal leader and members of another protest group on the Lincoln Memorial grounds in Washington in January found no evidence that the students of Kentucky's Covington Catholic High School issued "offensive or racist statements." A report on the investigation was released by the Covington Diocese Feb. 13. Two days before releasing the report's findings, Covington Bishop Roger J. Foys wrote to parents of the high school students telling them he was pleased to let them know that his hope that an inquiry into the events of Jan. 18 would "exonerate our students so that they can move forward with their lives has been realized." The investigation, conducted by Greater Cincinnati Investigation Inc., which has no connection with the high school or diocese, "demonstrated that our students did not instigate the incident that occurred at the Lincoln Memorial," the bishop said. The four-page report signed Feb. 11 said that four investigators spent 240 hours looking into the events of Jan. 18 when the Covington Catholic High School students -- in Washington for the annual March for Life -- met up with other groups while waiting for their buses to pick them up. The investigators spoke with 43 students, 13 chaperones and a number of third-party witnesses. They also reviewed about 50 hours of internet footage or comments focused on the groups' exchange.

    Lenten staple prompts a grammar debate: Are they fish 'fries' or 'frys'?

    NEW ORLEANS (CNS) -- Lent is coming. So is the salvation of many a harried Catholic couple with three or four mouths to feed on a seafood-only Friday night -- the parish fish fry. The fish fry has become a savory staple of parish fellowship. All in good fun, and in the advancement of culinary civilization, many parishes in the Archdiocese of New Orleans have embarked on a seafood arms race that would require drones with infrared cameras to monitor properly. What used to be fairly simple fare -- one piece of fried catfish, a couple of scoops of potato salad and a dinner roll -- has evolved into delights more suited for silver-platter covers than for Styrofoam. Seeking repeat business and word-of-mouth promotion, some parishes vary their menus each Friday of Lent, providing alternating options such as shrimp and okra, blackened catfish, shrimp and grits, shrimp pasta Alfredo, crab and corn bisque, and, for the healthy eater, even grilled redfish. The fish fry also brings to mind an esoteric grammar lesson -- really, a pitched battle where semicolons, ampersands and the Oxford comma are flung into the sky like arrows - regarding the proper usage of the plural of fish "fry." Inquiring minds - especially Catholic newspaper editors during Lent -- need to know: Should the headline of their calendar-of-events listings be fish "fries" or fish "frys"?

    Filmmaker's new movie 'Across' tells story of Father Augustus Tolton

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) -- Father Augustus Tolton, the first African-American priest ordained for a diocese in the United States, was born into slavery and endured myriad obstacles, both inside the Catholic Church and out, as he relentlessly followed his call from God. Nashville filmmaker Chris Foley, inspired by the story of Father Tolton's life, has written and directed a short film, "Across," about the Tolton family's escape from slavery. "I spent about three years developing and writing the film, beginning with a short article I read about Father Tolton, then I attended a talk on him in Chicago given by Bishop Joseph Perry in 2015," Foley told the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville. Bishop Perry, a Chicago auxiliary bishop, who has family from Nashville, is postulator for Father Tolton's sainthood cause, which was opened in 2010 by Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George, giving the priest the title "servant of God. It was at the talk that I first mentioned my goal of making a film about 'Gus' -- as I now call him -- to Bishop Perry, but I don't think he took me seriously," recalled Foley. Serious he certainly was because, said Foley, "this is a man who became a role model for priests -- black and otherwise -- in this country."

    Bishop downplays idea that Amazon synod will criticize Brazil's policies

    SAO PAULO (CNS) -- Responding to news reports that the Brazilian intelligence agency was monitoring the Catholic Church, the secretary-general of the bishops' conference downplayed the idea that prelates would use the October Synod of Bishops on the Amazon to criticize their government's policies. The synod is a celebration "of the church and for the church," Bishop Leonardo Ulrich Steiner said Feb. 11 in a video released to reporters. He said Pope Francis wanted the bishops to find new paths for evangelization for the Amazon, which includes territory belonging to nine countries in South America. On Feb. 10, one of Brazil's largest national newspapers, O Estado de S. Paulo, reported the government's intelligence agency was monitoring the church and its "progressive bishops," concerned that, during the synod, they would criticize President Jair Bolsonaro's policies, especially those related to the environment and the indigenous populations. The Brazilian government denied any monitoring by the intelligence agency, but admitted concern that the issues to be addressed during the synod may lead to pressure by the international community on how Brazil should deal with the region. Sixty percent of the Amazon rainforest is in Brazil.

    Sainthood causes of Blessed Newman, Cardinal Mindszenty advance

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has signed a decree recognizing a miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed John Henry Newman, the English cardinal, clearing the way for his canonization. The Vatican announced Feb. 13 that Pope Francis had signed the decree the day before. Also Feb. 12, he formally recognized that the late Hungarian Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty, jailed and exiled by the communists, had lived the Christian virtues in a heroic way; the recognition is an early step in the sainthood process. In the sainthood cause of Blessed Newman, Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth had reported in November that the proposed miracle involved a young law graduate from the Archdiocese of Chicago who faced life-threatening complications during her pregnancy but suddenly recovered when she prayed to the English cardinal for help. Blessed Newman was born in London in 1801 and was ordained an Anglican priest in 1925. He was a leader in the Oxford Movement in the 1830s, which emphasized the Catholic roots of Anglicanism.

    Thirst for profit threatens humanity, Vatican official says

    ROME (CNS) -- Left unchecked, unbridled greed and a thirst for profit leads down a slippery slope that endangers the earth and all who live on it, especially indigenous populations, a Vatican official said. Msgr. Fernando Chica Arellano, the Vatican's permanent observer to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the World Food Program, called on world leaders to make human beings, and not material gain, as their primary concern. "If this priority is not clear, we will leave withered lands, depleted seas, polluted air, wastelands where beautiful orchards used to flourish as an inheritance to future generations," Msgr. Chica said Feb. 13 at the Fourth Global Meeting of the Indigenous Peoples' Forum. The theme of the Feb. 12-13 conference, held at the International Fund for Agricultural Development's headquarters in Rome, focused on "promoting indigenous people's knowledge and innovations for climate resilience and sustainable development." In his address, Msgr. Chica said that the world must not view indigenous people as minorities but rather as "authentic interlocutors" who correctly instruct humanity about the "harmonious and fruitful relationship between human beings and nature, reminding us that man does not have absolute power over creation."

    When it comes to prayer, there is no room for individualism, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Prayer is not just a private and intimate dialogue between a person and God, but rather an opportunity for Christians to bring the needs of others before the Lord, Pope Francis said. "There is no room for individualism in the dialogue with God," the pope said Feb. 13 during his weekly general audience. "There is no display of one's own problems as if we were the only ones in the world who suffer. There is no prayer raised to God that is not the prayer of a community of brothers and sisters." Arriving at the Paul VI audience hall, the pope was welcomed by the sound of a children's choir singing a song based on his own teaching of the three words that are important for family life: "please," "thank you" and "sorry." Walking down the center aisle of the hall, the pope greeted the joyful pilgrims who held out their hands to greet him, have their religious objects blessed or their babies kissed. Continuing his series of talks on the "Our Father," the pope focused his reflection on Jesus' instructions on how to pray, which he said was a secret act that is "visible only to God."

    Mexican bishops confirm 152 priests removed for abusing minors

    MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- The Mexican bishops' conference has confirmed 152 priests have been removed from ministry for sexually abusing minors. In a Feb. 12 statement, the conference published the preliminary figure, while promising, "We will continue with the effort to have a complete diagnosis of cases of child sexual abuse in Mexico." The statement followed comments from Archbishop Rogelio Cabrera Lopez of Monterrey, conference president, who told reporters Feb. 10, "152 priests have been removed from ministry. Some, for the size of their crime, have had to go to prison." The bishops' conference promised "zero tolerance" on the issue of child sexual abuse by clergy and said it released the figures in the interest of transparency. Past cases of sexual abuse committed by clergy have scandalized Mexico, but also brought accusations of covering up crimes and an unwillingness to acknowledge to the problem.

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  • Palms to ashes: A few things to know about Ash Wednesday

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Ash Wednesday is March 6 this year. Here are some things to know about Ash Wednesday and the kickoff to Lent: In the Table of Liturgical Days, which ranks the different liturgical celebrations and seasons, Ash Wednesday ties for second in ranking -- along with Christmas, Epiphany, Ascension, Pentecost, Sundays of Advent, Lent and Easter, and a few others. But Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation, though it is a day of prayer, abstinence, fasting and repentance. Ash Wednesday begins the liturgical season of Lent. There are hymns that speak to the length of the season -- one of them is "Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days" -- but the span between March 6 and Easter Sunday, which is April 21, is 46 days. So what gives? "It might be more accurate to say that there is the '40-day fast within Lent,'" said Father Randy Stice, associate director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat of Divine Worship. The ashes used for Ash Wednesday are made from the burned and blessed palms of the previous year's Palm Sunday. "The palms are burned in a metal vessel and then broken down into a powder," Father Stice said. Almost half of adult Catholics, 45 percent, typically receive ashes at Ash Wednesday services, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

    Symposium among events marking Mission San Diego's 250th anniversary

    SAN DIEGO (CNS) -- Mission San Diego de Alcala marks the 250th year of its founding this year, and as part of a yearlong commemoration, the grounds of California's oldest church will be the site of a Scholars' Symposium in March. The March 22-24 event will feature an assortment of professors, archaeologists, researchers and other experts who will provide an expansive look at the colorful history of the first of the 21 California missions. Father Peter Escalante, pastor of Mission San Diego, said one of the parish's goals for its jubilee year was to offer a "menu of activities" that would appeal to a broad cross section of the community and of all the events, the symposium "ranks up there near the top" in terms of its significance. Acknowledging that many people know only "sketches" of mission history, he said he hopes the symposium will provide an opportunity for attendees to deepen their understanding while also setting an example for the other California missions as they commemorate their own 250th anniversaries, beginning with Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo next year. Janet Bartel, a longtime parishioner who started Mission San Diego's docent program in 1984 and served for more than a decade on two statewide boards of California mission historians, has been involved in the planning of the Scholars' Symposium for almost two years.

    New Mexico close to passing 'most extreme bill in nation' on abortion

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Since the end of January, the legislatures of New York, Virginia and other states have made headlines by approving or introducing policies that relax abortion restrictions, even in the third trimester and during labor. Now New Mexico is one step closer to passing a similar bill that loosens the state's already liberal abortion laws and would erase virtually all abortion restrictions in the event that the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade is overturned. The "Decriminalize Abortion Bill," or H.B. 51, has now made its way through the New Mexico House of Representatives, receiving the body's overall approval in a 40-29 floor vote Feb. 6 after being confirmed by several committees. It is now headed for the Senate, where it will be the subject of further debate and another vote. According to the Santa Fe New Mexican daily newspaper, there are three main parts of New Mexico's pre-Roe abortion law that would be invalidated by the act: a prohibition that makes abortion a felony; language that permits abortions in some circumstances as determined by a physician, such as rape or threat to a mother's life; and an opt-out provision for hospitals or providers that register moral or religious objections to performing the procedure. Most of these were invalidated already by Roe v. Wade or the New Mexico Court of Appeals, giving New Mexico some of the laxest abortion policy in the country.

    German theologians say church restrictions threaten their credibility

    OXFORD, England (CNS) -- Catholic theology faculties in Germany have accused the church of restricting their freedom and warned that theology's "scientific credibility" could be damaged by reinforced rules and procedures. Germany's assembly of Catholic Theology Faculties said in a statement that theology's credibility depended on promoting "Gospel interaction with contemporary issues" in dialogue with other philosophies, as well as on scientific freedom, which "should not be perceived as a danger." The theologians said they felt Pope Francis had encouraged them in the foreword to the January 2018 apostolic constitution "Veritatis Gaudium," which took effect in the 2018-2019 academic year, updating previous 1979 guidelines. They said a six-point foreword to the 23,000-word text reaffirmed the importance of ecclesiastical faculties and universities in "these demanding and exciting times," and called for "ways of presenting the Christian religion capable of a profound engagement with different cultural systems." The foreword was followed by 94 articles of general and special norms for theology, and 70 further norms for applying "Veritatis Gaudium" in practice, and the theologians said they found these restrictive. "These norms present the outdated picture of a lawful, strictly controlled theology, based solely on a culture of obedience through a close-knit approach of rules and regulations," the theologians said.

    This year's Lent could be just what struggling church needs

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- When Lent begins March 6, U.S. Catholics will likely be more than ready for it. This set-aside time for prayer and reflection -- after all the church has been through in recent months -- could provide both a healing balm and a needed boost forward, some say. Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, is typically a big Catholic draw, filling churches with nearly Easter- or Christmas-size Mass crowds even through it is not a holy day of obligation. Conventual Franciscan Father Jude DeAngelo, director of campus ministry at The Catholic University of America in Washington, hopes this year is no exception. "We in the American Catholic Church have been through a year of tremendous suffering and tremendous upheaval and frustration" he told Catholic News Service, referring to the past months of allegations of sexual misconduct and cover-up by church leaders. The priest said some Catholics stopped going to church, "scandalized by the actions of a few" but that he hopes and prays they come back on Ash Wednesday, a day he described as a strong "reminder that God is never finished with us."

    Arkansas diocese updates clergy abuse report after independent review

    LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (CNS) -- Bishop Anthony B. Taylor released an updated list of people who had assignments in Arkansas and against whom credible allegations of sexual abuse of a minor were filed. The bishop's addition of one priest and a religious brother to the list Feb. 8 followed an extensive review of more than 1,350 files of priests and religious who have served in Arkansas during the past 70 years. In September, Bishop Taylor released the first list following an internal review of diocesan files. The original list included the name of one former priest who was previously identified and 11 formers priests who were identified for the first time. The Diocese of Little Rock hired the Kinsale Management Consulting to conduct an independent review of diocesan clergy files after the September release. Kinsale has conducted similar reviews in dioceses across the country. In addition, the diocese made public the names of seven priests of other dioceses or religious orders who served in Arkansas and against whom credible allegations of sexual abuse outside the state were confirmed by other dioceses or religious orders. The full list is contained on the diocese's website,

    In video, Bridgeport bishop calls sex abuse by clerics crime and sin

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a video posted Feb. 11 on YouTube, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, offered support for the "many sisters and brothers who have been wounded, violated, hurt and abused at the hands of priests and deacons" and whose sexual abuse in their youth "changed their lives forever. The crime and sin of sexual abuse in our midst is a deep evil that has created a deep wound," said Bishop Caggiano, who has been one of the most outspoken U.S. bishops on the topic of sex abuse by clergy. Getting rid of the "evil" is not enough, he said, calling on others to offer support for those who have been victimized, "those whose lives sometimes have been completely shattered. We stand with them because we love them, because they're part of our family and even though some members of our family have betrayed them, you and I will not," he said. "We stand with them because in the name of Jesus, his love invites them and us to heal, for we are all in need of healing."

    Opposition delegation says Vatican supports new elections in Venezuela

    ROME (CNS) -- Although it has publicly taken a neutral stance in the current political crisis in Venezuela, the Vatican has expressed its support for new elections in the country within the year, said a member of a delegation representing opposition leader Juan Guaido. Rodrigo Diamanti, head of the human rights organization "Un Mundo sin Mordaza" (A World Without Censorship) told journalists that Venezuelan Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra, Vatican substitute secretary for general affairs, conveyed the Vatican's support during a Feb. 11 meeting at the Vatican. Archbishop Pena said the Vatican "is willing to help and do everything possible so that this year we may have free elections in Venezuela," Diamanti said Feb. 12 during a briefing with journalists at the Italian Foreign Press Association in Rome. The delegation was in Rome to solicit the support of the Italian government in recognizing Guaido as interim president of Venezuela.

    Caritas reps from Latin America look for ways to build on 'Laudato Si''

    VALLE DE ANGELES, Honduras (CNS) -- Catholic representatives from Latin America and the Caribbean, defining work for the next four years, looked for ways to build on the foundations of Pope Francis' encyclical "Laudato Si'" so it is taken into account by all nations. The representatives of Caritas, the umbrella organization of the church's charitable agencies, also discussed how the church can recover and transfer the wisdom of indigenous peoples to other societies. "Laudato Si'" was "the maturation of (Caritas') experiences" in working toward integral human development, Heydi Campos, executive secretary of Caritas Bolivia, told Catholic News Service. Campos was one of the participants at the 19th congress of Caritas in Latin America and the Caribbean in early February. The leaders met in Valle de Angeles, Honduras. Participants exchanged ideas on how to achieve Pope Francis' vision of the common good and integral ecology and included discussions on gender equality, forced migration, corruption, violence and new economies. Participants also expressed solidarity with the peoples of Venezuela and Nicaragua, whose countries are embedded in a political, social and economic crisis.

    Actor Gary Sinise describes his road to the Catholic Church

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Gary Sinise, the actor perhaps best known for playing Lieutenant Dan in the 1994 movie "Forrest Gump," followed a rather unusual path to becoming a Catholic. In a Feb. 4 telephone interview with Catholic News Service from Los Angeles, Sinise recalled how in the '90s his wife, Moira, made the decision to become a Catholic while she was doing a play. "She was playing a woman in a tavern. She had just gone through sobriety, and she was new to her sobriety as she was playing this woman defending her life in a tavern," Sinise said. "At one point, she went to a Catholic church looking for an AA meeting. This little French woman, she asked her, 'Where's the AA meeting?' She looked at her (Moira) and said, 'You should become a Catholic,'" he added. A short time later Moira announced to her husband: "I'm going to become a Catholic." She enrolled in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. "We started going to Mass," Sinise said. "My wife was confirmed in Easter 2000. ... The following year that little church became a sanctuary, a place of great comfort" following the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001. They enrolled their children in the parish school. Sinise joined the church himself in 2010. He has a new book titled "Grateful American."

    Churches at Colombian border work to help desperate Venezuelans

    CUCUTA, Colombia (CNS) -- Lunch started early at the Divine Providence House, a church-run soup kitchen located just a few hundred feet away from the Venezuelan border. By 10:30 a.m., hundreds of Venezuelan migrants and refugees were seated under a white tarp to receive a basic meal, while hundreds more stood outside and waited in line under the punishing tropical sun. The crowds of hungry Venezuelans seeking a free meal become bigger each month, as thousands of people flee food shortages, hyperinflation and crime in the South American country, with almost no savings to start their new life abroad. Organizers worry that the situation could get worse if Venezuela's president does not let humanitarian aid into the country. "We can give the ones who have moved here a hand," said Natalia Ruiz, the soup kitchen's deputy manager and a member of Yeshua, a Colombian biblical school. "But what about the people who are still in Venezuela? There is little food and medicine there and a lot of despair." For the past few years, church groups have been calling on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to let humanitarian aid into the country, in order to relieve the suffering of millions of vulnerable Venezuelans. But the socialist leader has long rejected help from abroad, arguing that it will be used to meddle in the country's affairs.

    Update: Cardinal warns against being silent, in error about Catholic faith

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- To keep silent about the truths of the Catholic faith or to teach the contrary is a form of religious deception that comes from the anti-Christ, said Cardinal Gerhard Muller. The purpose of the church and its members, he said, is to lead people to Jesus, so all Catholics, but especially priests and bishops, "have a responsibility to recall these fundamental truths" and to strengthen the faith "by confessing the truth which is Jesus Christ himself." The German theologian, who was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 2012-2017, wrote what he called a "Manifesto of Faith." Subtitled with a verse from John 14:1, "Do not let your hearts be troubled," the five-page manifesto was released to several Catholic news sites Feb. 8. "In the face of growing confusion about the doctrine of the faith, many bishops, priests, religious and laypeople of the Catholic Church have requested that I make a public testimony about the truth of revelation," he wrote.

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  • Kurtz: 'Gift of religious freedom' at risk of 'being taken for granted'

    PHOENIX (CNS) -- Despite its prominence in the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights, "the gift of religious freedom" runs "the risk of being taken for granted, the head of the U.S. bishops' religious liberty committee told members of Arizona's legal profession and state legislators. "First, we promote and defend religious freedom because we believe truth, not power, undergirds a rightly ordered politics," said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky. "Second, because our faith convictions or dictates of conscience call us to inspire a culture. "And finally, because religious freedom gives us the space to serve with integrity of faith and conscience," the archbishop said. He made the comments in his homily at the Diocese of Phoenix's annual recent Red Mass, celebrated recently at St. Mary's Basilica. The Mass is sponsored by the St. Thomas More Society. Among those attending were judges, lawyers, government attorneys, lawmakers and law students. Archbishop Kurtz, who chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee for Religious Liberty, said preserving and upholding religious freedom is intertwined with the Catholic faith and the church's stand on the issue. He noted that America's experience contributed heavily to the 1965 deliberations of the Second Vatican Council during which "Dignitatis Humanae," the Declaration on Religious Freedom.

    Cassin's support of Catholic education earns Drexel Award from FADICA

    SANTA MONICA, Calif. (CNS) -- Business leader B.J. Cassin, a key early supporter of the nationwide Cristo Rey network of Catholic high schools for students from low-income families, is the 2019 recipient of the St. Katharine Drexel Award from Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities. He received the award during FADICA's annual meeting Feb. 8 in Santa Monica. Cassin is the second recipient of the award, which was created in 2017. Cassin established and chaired the Cassin Educational Initiative Foundation in 2000 to help support private college preparatory middle and high schools in low-income communities throughout the United States. The foundation was a prime provider of startup funds for 18 Cristo Rey high schools and 37 Nativity Miguel middle schools. In addition, Cassin recently co-founded The Drexel Fund to contribute startup funding and advisory support for financially sustainable faith-based and private schools. "B.J. carries St. Katharine Drexel's philanthropic spirit and legacy forward in our time," Alexia Kelley, FADICA's president and CEO, said in a statement. "B.J. invited multiple partners, including corporate employers, to participate in Cristo Rey's innovative model, all to help students reach their potential. He invested in the network early and brought the model to scale across the country, spreading its effectiveness and impact."

    U.S. bishops condemn court's denial of imam's presence at execution

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Supreme Court's refusal to allow an imam to be present at a Muslim man's execution Feb. 7 was "unjust treatment" that is "disturbing to people of all faiths," said two U.S bishops. "People deserve to be accompanied in death by someone who shares their faith. It is especially important that we respect this right for religious minorities," said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, and Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, in a Feb. 8 statement. They are the chairmen, respectively, of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee for Religious Liberty and the USCCB's Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. In a 5-4 vote Feb. 7, the Supreme Court allowed the execution of Alabama death-row inmate Domineque Ray to proceed without an imam present as Ray had requested. He had been told that only prison employees, which included a Christian chaplain, could be at his execution for safety reasons. Just days before the Supreme Court weighed in, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit had stopped the execution and ordered an expedited briefing in the case. The Supreme Court's decision on the emergency stay was not a typical ruling following oral arguments so the court did not have to explain its decision. It only said the inmate had waited too long to object to the prison's decision.

    Update: Mexican shelters strain with arrival of asylum-seekers at U.S. border

    PIEDRAS NEGRAS, Mexico (CNS) -- Gangs in Honduras first threatened Denia Garcia's husband six months ago, telling him to join with them or die. Her husband, a police officer, fled to the United States, arriving successfully. In his absence, the gangs threatened Garcia, sending her on the migrant path with her children, ages 2 and 5. Garcia, who recently arrived in this city across the U.S.-Mexico border from Eagle Pass, Texas, wants to apply for asylum in the United States, but it's a slow process. U.S. officials process only a small fraction of the migrants seeking asylum on a daily basis, forcing them to stay in Mexico until their names are called from long waiting lists. Some asylum-seekers also now are being returned to Mexico -- under a plan known as Remain in Mexico -- as their claims are adjudicated. As she waits for her name to be called, Garcia said she had hoped to stay in the diocesan-run Dignified Border shelter in Piedras Negras, but found it unable to accommodate long stays. "We don't know if we can stay here because supposedly it's only (a few days) here and we were hoping for more," she said at the shelter. "We don't have anywhere to sleep after that." Asylum-seekers like Garcia arrive at legal ports of entries the length of the U.S.-Mexico border, but increasingly face long waits to lodge their petitions with U.S. officials, forcing them to spend weeks or months in unsafe Mexican border cities.

    Portland archbishop's pastoral letter calls for more chant in liturgy

    PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS) -- Portland Archbishop Alexander K. Sample in a new pastoral letter said that only sacred music that is characterized by sanctity, beauty and universality "is worthy of the holy Mass." He explained that ancient or modern music can qualify, but that Gregorian chant is the preferred music for Catholic worship. His 21-page pastoral titled "Sing to the Lord a New Song" seeks more chant at Masses and urges all parishes in the western Oregon archdiocese to get a pipe organ. The Jan. 25 letter emerged while Archbishop Sample was leading a pilgrimage in Panama for World Youth Day. Among the activities was the celebration of Mass in the extraordinary form, known as the Tridentine rite, at which the archbishop preached. He said the ancient rite can "speak very powerfully" to young people. "The beauty, dignity and prayerfulness of the Mass depend to a large extent on the music that accompanies the liturgical action," the archbishop wrote. He cited many popes, including Pope Francis, who once warned of "mediocrity, superficiality and banality" in liturgy. When it comes to choosing music for Mass, Archbishop Sample said, there are objective principles, not simply a surrender to taste. Sacred music's purpose is the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful, he said, adding that sanctity, beauty, and universality are the essential qualities that flow from that dual purpose.

    English cardinal says people rely on modern slavery for cheap goods

    BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (CNS) -- An English cardinal said people have become unwittingly reliant on modern slavery for cheap goods and illicit pleasures. Warning of a return to slave-driven economies, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster said slavery was again becoming "one of the most profitable criminal activities in the world." He said that although it was an evil comparable in enormity to child abuse, ordinary people often failed to realize how they were sometimes "part of the chain of supply and demand" that has led to an estimated 40 million people -- a third of whom are believed to be children -- trapped in slavery around the world. "Their fate is not distant from us," the cardinal said in a Feb. 8 homily at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Buenos Aires on the feast of St Josephine Bakhita, patron saint of the victims of human trafficking. "We have to recognize how we, too, are part of the dynamics of life which lead to their captivity," said Cardinal Nichols, president of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. "In one way or another, we are part of the chain of supply and demand that results in their enslavement," he continued.

    World needs to be healed, not condemned, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Taking their cue from Christ, moral theologians can see that people need to be liberated and healed, not condemned, Pope Francis said. But the earth -- humanity's common home -- is also in great need of care, he added, asking that moral theology expand to include an "ecological dimension." The pope held an audience at the Vatican Feb. 9 with professors and students of the Alphonsian Academy in Rome, a graduate school specializing in moral theology. The school was founded by the Redemptorists 70 years ago, inspired by the teachings of St. Alphonsus Liguori. The pope said St. Alphonsus knew what was needed was not defending oneself from the world or condemning it, but working "to heal and liberate, in imitation of Christ's action." The church must give attention to people who are subjected to the many "forms of the power of sin that continue to condemn them to insecurity, poverty and marginalization," he said. Moral theologians also should be inspired to face with "great willingness the new, serious challenges stemming from the speed with which our society evolves" and which in turn fosters attitudes of competition, the law of "survival of the fittest" and the "throwaway culture."

    Indiana parish opens 'Blessing Box' as a gift to people in need

    INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- Father Doug Marcotte believes "there's no better way to change a community than one small act of kindness at a time." So the pastor of Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Jeffersonville embraced a plan from one of the parishioners to help individuals and families in the community when they don't have enough food for their next meal. The parishioner's idea involved making a "Blessing Box" -- a small, stand-alone structure that would be filled with nonperishable food items and toiletries that anyone in need could access at any time of day. The plan also would include placing the "Blessing Box" in a discreet setting on the parish grounds so no one would feel uncomfortable taking items from it. "Everyone thought it was a great idea," said Father Marcotte about the parish council's approval of the plan. "It is an easy way to do one of the corporal works of mercy -- to feed the hungry. "One of the things that's a reality is that there are always people who slip through the cracks. We're not trying to be a food pantry. We're hoping to provide for people who need a meal for their family today. It's a need we regularly experience."

    Pope updates role, authority of auditor's office as part of reform

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As part of ongoing financial reform efforts, Pope Francis updated the role and authority of the auditor general's office, calling it the Vatican's "anti-corruption authority." The Vatican announced Feb. 9 that the new statutes go into effect Feb. 16 and replace those first promulgated on an experimental basis by the pope in 2015. The work of the auditor general's office remains largely the same: to perform a financial and compliance audit "with full autonomy and independence" of all offices of the Roman Curia, institutions connected to the Holy See and all offices of Vatican City State. It will continue to perform specific audits when requested or deemed necessary, as well as receive and investigate reports on anomalous or irregular activities concerning budgets, allocation of resources, financial records, procurement services, transactions of assets or acts of corruption, embezzlement and fraud, according to the statutes. It will continue to protect the identity of those who report anomalous activities, but it specified it would not consider anonymous complaints.

    Generous service brings abundant blessings, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- God accomplishes great things when Christians cast aside doubt and generously place themselves in his service, Pope Francis said. Speaking to pilgrims in St. Peter's Square Feb. 10 for his Sunday Angelus address, the pope said that Jesus invites all men and women who are discouraged to trust in him, so he can fulfill "a greater plan" just as he did with his disciples. Jesus' "invitation to go out in the open sea of today's humanity to be witnesses of goodness and mercy gives new meaning to our existence, which often risks collapsing in on itself," he said. After praying the Angelus prayer, the pope commemorated the World Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking, which is celebrated Feb. 8 -- the feast day of St. Josephine Bakhita, who was kidnapped as a child and sold into slavery in Sudan and Italy. He also appealed to world leaders "to tackle the causes of this scourge decisively and to protect the victims" before leading pilgrims in praying to the patron saint of Sudan.

    Pope to visit school for imams, Muslim preachers in Morocco in March

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis' trip to Morocco March 30-31 will include a visit to a school training an international group of Muslim prayer leaders and preachers, including women. He also will visit to a Caritas center assisting migrants, many of whom ended up in the North African country with hopes of eventually making it to Europe. Returning to Rome from the United Arab Emirates Feb. 5, Pope Francis told journalists he had hoped to go to Marrakech, Morocco, in December for the signing of the U.N. Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, but protocol dictated that he make a full visit to the country and there was not time in December. The trip in March will include a full slate of formal events, including a meeting with King Mohammed VI and a visit to the mausoleum of King Mohammed V, who negotiated the country's independence from France and ruled until his death in 1961. The visit to Morocco, where more than 99 percent of the population is Muslim, will give Pope Francis an opportunity to continue the reflections on Christian-Muslim relations he began in Abu Dhabi in February. As he did in the United Arab Emirates, he is expected to highlight 2019 as the 800th anniversary of the encounter of St. Francis of Assisi and Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil of Egypt.

    French order, acknowledging abuse by founder, clarifies pope's remarks

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The leaders of three branches of the French religious Community of St. John insist their order has enacted strong protections against clerical sexual abuse, including the abuse of its nuns by its priests and brothers. Leaders of the men's community and the active and contemplative groups of women issued a statement Feb. 7 after Pope Francis spoke of a new religious order dissolved by then-Pope Benedict XVI "because the slavery of women, including sexual slavery, had become part of it." The pope made his remarks Feb. 5 to reporters flying back to Rome with him from the United Arab Emirates. Alessandro Gisotti, interim director of the Vatican press office, identified the order as the French Community of St. John. He also later issued a statement clarifying that the pope was not talking about actual "sexual slavery," but "'manipulation,' a form of abuse of power that is reflected also in sexual abuse."

    'Cardinal virtue' of justice must be protected, pope tells judges

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Justice, along with prudence, fortitude and temperance, is a virtue that must be defended for the good of society, Pope Francis told a group of Italian judges. A world without justice risks weakening the very fabric of society and can transform it into "a breeding ground for illegality," the pope said Feb. 9 during a meeting with the Italian National Association of Judges. "Without justice, all social life remains jammed, like a door that can no longer open or ends up screeching and creaking in a cumbersome movement," he said. According to its website, the association, which was founded in 1909, is comprised of more than 8,300 Italian judges and is dedicated to protecting "the constitutional values, independence and autonomy of the judiciary." Francesco Minisci, president of the association, praised the pope for his defense of "justice, solidarity, the fight against corruption, the mission and the exercise of mercy."

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