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  • Pennsylvania grand jury says church was interested in hiding abuse

    IMAGE: CNS photo/Tim Shaffer, Reuters

    By Rhina Guidos

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A Pennsylvania grand jury report issued Aug. 14 paints a picture of a Catholic Church in six of the state's dioceses that for decades handled claims of sex abuse of minors under its care by hiding the allegations and its victims.

    More than 300 priests were linked to abuse claims and over 1,000 victims were identified, said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro in a news conference following the report's release.

    "The main thing was not to help children but to avoid 'scandal,'" says a biting sentence about the behavior of church leaders and officials in the report, detailing a months-long investigation of clergy sex abuse claims in the dioceses of Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Allentown, Scranton, Greensburg and Erie.

    The report covers a period of 70 years, looking at the past and including information from the early 2000s, a time when news of the clerical sex abuse scandal erupted in the U.S. Before its release, some urged that the report be read keeping in mind that a lot has changed in the church since then, and also that not all of the report's claims are substantiated.

    In the Diocese of Pittsburgh, for example, a few priests named in the report are still working there, Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik told local reporters in an Aug. 10 news conference, because, he said, church officials could not substantiate claims of abuse made against them.

    The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper reported that Bishop Zubik said: "There is no priest or deacon in an assignment today against whom there was a substantiated allegation of child sexual abuse." He said he would explain the process of parishioners following the report's release.

    But there are many painful claims.

    In the news conference, Shapiro described allegations of a priest who physically molested a group of children by telling them he was doing a "cancer check," one who he said "impregnated" a girl, and others who had boys strike a religious pose naked to take pictures of them. He spoke of a "systematic cover-up" by church officials who took information to the Vatican, who also did nothing to help victims, Shapiro said. He also spoke of priests who "weaponized faith" and had the victims go to confession for the sins, even as they were being victimized.

    "I read the grand jury report on child sexual abuse with great sadness, for once again we read that innocent children were the victims of horrific acts committed against them," said Harrisburg Bishop Ronald. W. Gainer shortly after the document's release. "I am saddened because I know that behind every story is a child precious in God's sight; a child who has been wounded by the sins of those who should have known better."

    The grand jury said it found in its investigation that those who claimed sexual abuse of their children by Catholic clergy or other church workers were "brushed aside," and officials became more concerned with protecting the abusers because they wanted to protect the image of the church, the report says.

    Some of those named in the report had their names redacted, or blacked out, after challenging the inclusion of their identities in it without having the legal opportunity to defend themselves. They are scheduled to have a hearing with the court in September.

    Some of the dioceses involved said they would release the names of those facing "credible allegations" in the report when the document was made public and some of them did so, following the news conference.  

    Some, such as the Diocese of Harrisburg, made its list public Aug. 1, updating it on Aug. 6, adding the name of an accused priest to it after receiving "additional information." Its list included 72 names.

    "We again emphasize that this is a list of accusations; we did not make assessments of credibility or guilt in creating this list," a statement from the diocese said.

    Not all who are accused of sexual abuse or of covering it up in the report are priests. Some on the lists released by dioceses are deacons, some are seminarians, teachers or other church workers, and some are no longer alive. Some are accused of being in possession of child pornography, others of inappropriate touching, kissing, soliciting a child for sex, but most are listed as "sexually abusing a child."

    The development comes as the Catholic Church in the United States finds itself grappling with the late July resignation from the College of Cardinals of a beloved and respected retired prelate, now-Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, 88, a former cardinal and former archbishop of Washington, following decades-old allegations that he sexually abused seminarians and at least two minors. He has been removed from public ministry, as of June 20, and is awaiting a Vatican trial.


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  • Wuerl: In Pittsburgh, he 'established strong policies' on abuse claims

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl said Aug. 14 that during his tenure as bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006, he "established strong policies that addressed the needs of abuse survivors, removed priests from ministry and protected the most vulnerable in the community." He said he also "traveled to Rome to challenge successfully a Vatican decision to reinstate a (Pittsburgh) priest removed from ministry as a result of substantiated child abuse claims." Cardinal Wuerl made the comments in response to the Pennsylvania attorney general's release the same day of a grand jury report on a months-long investigation of abuse claims in the Pittsburgh Diocese and five other dioceses in the state -- Harrisburg, Greensburg, Erie, Scranton and Allentown. The report covers a span of over 70 years and many of the claims are decades old. "There have been other reports about child sex abuse within the Catholic Church," the report says. "But never on this scale." In his statement, Cardinal Wuerl said that while he understands the report "may be critical of some of my actions, I believe the report confirms that I acted with diligence, with concern for the victims and to prevent future acts of abuse."

    Pennsylvania grand jury says church was interested in hiding abuse

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A Pennsylvania grand jury report issued Aug. 14 paints a picture of a Catholic Church in six of the state's dioceses that for decades handled claims of sex abuse of minors under its care by hiding the allegations and its victims. More than 300 priests were linked to abuse claims and over 1,000 victims were identified, said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro in a news conference following the report's release. "The main thing was not to help children but to avoid 'scandal,'" says a biting sentence about the behavior of church leaders and officials in the report, detailing a months-long investigation of clergy sex abuse claims in the dioceses of Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Allentown, Scranton, Greensburg and Erie. The report covers a period of 70 years, looking at the past and including information from the early 2000s, a time when news of the clerical sex abuse scandal erupted in the U.S. Before its release, some urged that the report be read keeping in mind that a lot has changed in the church since then, and also that not all of the report's claims are substantiated. In the Diocese of Pittsburgh, for example, a few priests named in the report are still working there, Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik told local reporters in an Aug. 10 news conference, because, he said, church officials could not substantiate claims of abuse made against them. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper reported that Bishop Zubik said: "There is no priest or deacon in an assignment today against whom there was a substantiated allegation of child sexual abuse." He said he would explain the process of parishioners following the report's release.

    Moncton archbishop: Seeking justice for abuse victims is key to a brighter future

    QUEBEC CITY (CNS) -- As many Canadians mark National Acadian Day Aug. 15, the biggest Acadian diocese in the world is going through the greatest crisis in its history. Archbishop Valery Vienneau of Moncton, New Brunswick, said for the church to continue, it must seek justice for the many victims of clergy sexual abuse. Archbishop Vienneau, former chaplain at the French-speaking University of Moncton, was bishop of the Diocese of Bathurst, New Brunswick, from 2002 to 2012. It was there that he was first confronted with the reality of sexual abuse in the church, when many victims began asking compensation for what they endured at the hands of some priests. Archbishop Vienneau was named archbishop of Moncton in 2012. The previous year, revelations of abuse committed by Father Camille Leger in the coastal village of Cap-Pele, sparked a wave of indignation. "When I arrived in Moncton in 2012, I knew that I was coming into something like that because it had started in 2011. But I did not know the extent of the issue," said Archbishop Vienneau. "What I found most difficult is that I am a native of Cap-Pele. It means that the victims are my age or younger," said the archbishop, who was 10 when Father Leger came to his village.

    Bishops 'shamed' by 'sins, omissions' of priests, bishops leading to abuse

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. bishops as "are shamed by and sorry for the sins and omissions by Catholic priests and Catholic bishops" that have led to sexual abuse and caused great harm to many, said an Aug. 14 statement from the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the chairman of its child protection committee. "We are committed to work in determined ways so that such abuse cannot happen," said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, the president, and Bishop Timothy L. Doherty of Lafayette, Indiana, chairman of the Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People. They pledged "to maintain transparency" and provide for "the permanent removal of offenders from ministry and to maintain safe environments for everyone." Cardinal DiNardo also said he is hosting a series of meetings during the week to respond to "the broader issue of safe environments within the church," and will provide an update when the meetings are concluded. The prelates' joint statement was issued in response to the release the same day of a grand jury report based on a months-long investigation by the state's attorney general into sexual abuse claims in six Pennsylvania dioceses -- Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Allentown, Scranton, Erie and Greensburg.

    After Rwanda closes churches, bishops urge protection of religious rights

    OXFORD, England (CNS) -- The Rwandan Catholic bishops' conference urged the government of President Paul Kagame to preserve religious rights after government officials closed thousands of churches and mosques. The buildings remained locked because of what the government said were health and safety issues, including lack of toilets, plastered walls and paved access roads. "Most Catholics are shocked and disappointed; they don't understand what's happening and why there's been no explanation," said Father Martin Nizeyimana, the Kigali-based bishops' conference secretary-general. "If measures are taken to protect the safety of people, this is good, but they should be explained, so people don't just arrive and find their church closed," he said. "It was all very badly handled," he told Catholic News Service Aug. 14. He said the sudden closures had "deeply affected" Rwanda's Catholic Church, especially in rural areas, forcing the suspension of Masses and priestly ordinations. He added that Catholics had continued to pray in the open air for good church-state relations, while church representatives negotiated with government officials to "bring the situation under control."

    LCWR assembly reaffirms commitment to addressing 'the sin of racism'

    ST. LOUIS (CNS) -- Drums punctuated a silent march by almost 800 Catholic women religious leaders Aug. 10 as they processed two blocks from a hotel ballroom to the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis, the site of the first two trials of the historic Dred Scott case. This call to action at the general assembly for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious emphasized the conference's recommitment to a 2016 resolution that recognized "racism as a systemic, structural cause underlying and contributing to the multiple situations of injustice identified in the LCWR Call." "In the presence of constant and painful reminders of the deep roots of racism in our country," reads the 2018 statement of recommitment, which echoes the wording of the 2016 resolution, LCWR pledges "to go deeper into the critical work of creating communion, examining the root causes of injustice and our own complicity, and purging ourselves, our communities, and our country of the sin of racism and its destructive effects." The conference unanimously affirmed the recommitment just before marching to the courthouse, which was blocks away from the hotel where the sisters convened Aug. 8-10 for the LCWR annual assembly.

    South Sudanese refugees in dire need of aid in northern Uganda

    NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- Hundreds of refugees from the South Sudan still are seeking asylum in neighboring Uganda despite a peace accord signed by opposing factions in their homeland. At least one Catholic bishop and two Catholic humanitarian organizations expressed concern that the refugees' needs outstrip the ability of the agencies to respond. Bishop Sabino Odoki of Arua in northern Uganda expressed hope that the peace agreement signed in June by President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar would bring much-needed peace to long-troubled South Sudan. "This way the refugees we are currently sheltering here in Arua will effectively return home and equally prevent others from fleeing the country," the bishop told Catholic News Service by telephone. He said the refugees sheltered in Arua are in dire need of basic items as well as pastoral care. "We have already appealed for the pastoral workers to serve among the refugees as well as for their physical needs, food, shelter and medicine," Bishop Odoki explained. The bishop has called on the international community to step up to aid the South Sudanese refugees. "My hope is that this will bear the most expected results," he said.

    Court approves house arrest for Australian archbishop

    ADELAIDE, Australia (CNS) -- An Australian judge approved home detention for Archbishop Philip Wilson, the retired archbishop of Adelaide who was found guilty of failing to report child sexual abuse allegations in the 1970s. The archbishop's lawyer said Aug. 14 that the archbishop will appeal his conviction but would begin serving his sentence immediately. He was sentenced July 3 to one year's detention, but with the possibility of parole after six months. The Newcastle Magistrates Court ruled that he could serve the sentence at a relative's house; Australian media reported that it would be the home of his sister. He will be required to wear a location monitor. When Archbishop Wilson was convicted in May, he stepped aside from his duties in the Adelaide Archdiocese while remaining the archbishop. In late July, however, he offered his resignation to Pope Francis, explaining in a statement that "there is just too much pain and distress being caused by my maintaining the office of archbishop of Adelaide, especially to the victims of Father (James) Fletcher." Pope Francis accepted the resignation July 30. Earlier, the pope had named Bishop Gregory O'Kelly of Port Pirie apostolic administrator of the archdiocese.

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  • Abuse letter to Cardinal O'Malley was second priest sent officials

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a June 2015 letter to Boston's Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley obtained by Catholic News Service, a New York priest tells the prelate about "sexual abuse/harassment/intimidation" allegations he had heard concerning then-Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick and asks that if the matter doesn't fall under his purview, to forward it to the "proper agency in the Vatican." The letter "has taken me years to write and send," writes Father Boniface Ramsey, pastor of St. Joseph's Church Yorkville in New York City, who made the letter available to CNS in early August. But it was the second time he had attempted to tell church officials in writing. In it, he describes for Cardinal O'Malley conversations with the rector of a seminary in New Jersey about trips then-Archbishop McCarrick, as head of the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, would take with seminarians to a beach house. "Some of these stories were not presented to me as mere rumors but were told me by persons directly involved," he wrote. In an Aug. 13 phone interview with CNS, Father Ramsey said he didn't know any sexual acts were taking place, "but I thought his (McCarrick's) behavior was extremely inappropriate at the least."

    Bishop discusses renewed efforts on addressing abuse claims, transparency

    LINCOLN, Neb. (CNS) -- Claims of "priest wrongdoing" have prompted the Diocese of Lincoln to make a "thorough review" of its policies and procedures for responding to abuse allegations made against its priests, said Lincoln Bishop James D. Conley. He made the comments Aug. 10 at a listening session he was invited to attend at St. Wenceslaus Church in Wahoo. Some days earlier, in a letter read Aug. 5 at all Masses, he apologized for failing to be more transparent about a pastor being removed from ministry and sent to treatment last year because the priest had developed "an emotionally inappropriate, nonsexual relationship with a 19-year-old male which involved alcohol." He sent Father Charles Townsend, pastor of St. Peter Parish in Lincoln, to the Shalom Center in Houston for treatment. Bishop Conley said there was no cover-up, as was claimed by some, but there was "the lack of transparency with the people of God about this incident." At the Wahoo church, he reported that he "celebrated and preached" at all weekend Masses at St. Peter's Parish the Aug. 5-6, and on Aug. 6 also held a listening session with 500 people at St. Peter's. "The topic was Father Townsend's behavior. Their message to me was clear and honest: They desire transparency and objectivity, and that is my promise to you and all the faithful in the diocese as I move forward," Bishop Conley said.

    Spanish Jesuit murdered in Peru held up as 'exemplary'

    LIMA, Peru (CNS) -- A Spanish Jesuit priest who was found murdered in the boarding school where he lived was buried Aug. 12 in Chiriaco, in the Apostolic Vicariate of Jaen in Peru's northern Amazon region. Mourners carried Father Carlos Riudavets' coffin through the streets of Chiriaco and jammed the small community's simple church for the funeral Mass. A cook found Father Riudavets' body Aug. 10 at the Jesuit residence on the grounds of Valentin Salegui School, part of the Jesuits' Faith and Joy school network. The 73-year-old priest had been bound and the body showed signs of violence, according to a statement from Peru's Jesuit community. Father Riudavets, a native of San Lucar de Guadiana in Spain's Huelva province, had worked in Peru's Amazon region since 1980, serving as a teacher and later principal of the school. Although retired, he continued to live and assist there. The school, in the community of Yamakai-entsa, serves about 270 Awajun and Wampis indigenous students from villages along five rivers in the region. No students were there at the time of the murder because the school was closed for mid-year vacation.

    'Mountaintop Mass' celebrated to honor Father McGivney draws 1,000

    WATERBURY, Conn. (CNS) -- More than 1,000 people gathered in the rain on top of Holy Land USA as Archbishop Leonard P. Blair of Hartford celebrated Mass to honor Father Michael McGivney, a candidate for sainthood, founder of the Knights of Columbus and a native of Waterbury. The faithful came from across the state for the "Mountaintop Mass" on Pine Hill at the former religious theme park, known for its 60-foot illuminated cross, which can be seen for miles from the highway. The hilltop offers a view of the places where Father McGivney was born, baptized and educated, and was buried for 92 years until his remains were moved to the Church of St. Mary in New Haven, where he began the Knights of Columbus. In the early afternoon, people began gathering on the hilltop, many of them shuttled to the top in golf carts on the repaved roads. They sat under tents and umbrellas in the area of the large cross that looks out over the city. They prayed the rosary and listened to praise and worship music. Although rain fell throughout the day, it didn't dampen their spirits. Archbishop Blair concelebrated the Mass with 13 priests and three deacons on a covered stage that had a large banner proclaiming, "Welcome to Holy Land USA," while above them, swallows swooped through the air in joyful flight.

    Filipinos welcome U.S. vow to return historic Catholic church bells

    TACLOBAN, Philippines (CNS) -- Filipinos welcomed an announcement by the United States that it planned to soon return church bells seized by American troops as trophies during the Philippine-American War more than a century ago. In a statement Aug. 11, the U.S. embassy in Manila said Congress already has been informed about plans to return the "bells of Balangiga" to the Philippines, reported. American soldiers took the church bells from the town of Balangiga in the central Philippines following the massacre of its residents in response to the death of 48 U.S. troops at the hands of rebels in 1901. "We've received assurances that the bells will be returned to the Catholic Church and treated with the respect and honor they deserve," U.S. embassy spokeswoman Trude Raizen said. "We are aware that the bells of Balangiga have deep significance for a number of people, both in the United States and in the Philippines," she added. The news came as the town of Balangiga celebrated the feast day of its patron saint, St. Lawrence the Martyr, Aug. 10.

    Discalced Carmelites use time-honored skills to construct new monastery

    FAIRFIELD, Pa. (CNS) -- The grinding sounds of an excavation and construction site yielded to the intonation of a solemn pontifical Mass and prayers for the future on a vista in Fairfield July 25, where construction is underway for a second monastery for the Discalced Carmelite nuns in the Harrisburg Diocese. A little more than two years ago -- on June 13, 2016 -- Mother Stella-Marie, prioress, stood at this same site gazing at the grassy and tree-lined farmland overlooking southern Adams County, and expressed her trust in the Lord that "one day we will see here a beautiful monastery that is dedicated to the glory of God." While the building materials for the cloistered monastery are still being prepared for construction -- namely, the excavation of stone from the land on which it will stand -- the early development of its farmstead can already be seen. True to Carmelite tradition and architecture in the footsteps of their foundress, St. Teresa of Avila, the nuns are creating a type of settlement that will include a chapel, a novitiate, a building for the professed, an infirmary, a guest cottage chaplain's quarters, walkways, gardens and a small farm. Harrisburg Bishop Ronald W. Gainer celebrated the July 25 Mass in the carmel's newly constructed barn that will serve as a temporary chapel until the permanent stone chapel is built. The new barn also includes a kitchen, refectory, choir, an area where people can leave prayer requests, donations and food, and a speak room that allows the nuns to receive limited visits from behind a grille.

    Myanmar cardinal backs pope's opposition to death penalty

    MANDALAY, Myanmar (CNS) -- Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, Myanmar, hailed Pope Francis' admonition that imposing the death penalty is always inadmissible. The Catholic Church should never compromise its fundamental belief in the right to life, including on the issue of capital punishment, Cardinal Bo said in a statement released Aug. 10, reported. "Even those who committed heinous crimes do have a right to life," he said. The cardinal said Pope Francis' announcement Aug. 2 on the issue was an affirmation of the church adopting a moral stance. The pope announced a change in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which previously accepted the death penalty as a "last recourse." The new text acknowledges that the "dignity of a person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes." Pope Francis maintains the death penalty is fundamentally against the teachings of Jesus because it excludes the possibility of redemption, does not give justice to victims and feeds a mentality of vengeance.

    Chaldean Catholic synod offers thanks for return of displaced Christians

    DAHUK, Iraq (CNS) -- The Chaldean Catholic Church concluded a weeklong synod in Baghdad offering thanks to God for the return of numerous displaced Christians to their hometowns in the Ninevah Plain and for pastoral achievements in their dioceses. The synod, held Aug. 7-13 at the invitation of Cardinal Louis Raphael I Sako, the Chaldean Catholic patriarch, brought together church leaders and participants from Iraq, the United States, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Canada, Australia and Europe to discuss issues vital for the church's future both in Iraq and among its diaspora. Patriarchs and other leaders proposed potential candidates for election as new bishops because several Iraqi clergy are nearing retirement age. Chaldean Archbishop Yousif Thomas Mirkis of Kirkuk, Iraq, told Catholic News Service that no names would be made public until approved by the Holy See. The final statement said a key discussion point focused on the need for "a larger number of well-qualified priests, monks and nuns" to work in Chaldean Catholic churches to "preserve the Eastern identity and culture of each country and its traditions."

    British Columbia residents 'broken' as wildfire destroys homes, church

    VANCOUVER, British Columbia (CNS) -- Catholics in the Diocese of Whitehorse, Yukon, sought assistance after a devastating wildfire in Telegraph Creek, British Columbia, destroyed a mission church, rectory and homes. "Many people are in complete distress and broken because they are finding themselves with nothing," said Bishop Hector Vila of Whitehorse in a letter to Canadian bishops Aug. 8. The diocese includes communities in northern British Columbia. Lightning sparked a wildfire northwest of Telegraph Creek in the northern part of the province Aug. 1, and a local state of emergency was declared three days later. All 300 residents of Telegraph Creek were told to evacuate Aug. 5, and they fled to Dease Lake and nearby communities. Bishop Vila said all residents were evacuated safely, but many structures, including buildings at St. Theresa Mission, were destroyed in the blaze. The church rectory was the home of pastoral workers Joshua and Denise Grimard and their children. "At the moment, the impact of the wildfire and the future of the community of Telegraph Creek is still unknown," the bishop said. He asked for prayers for residents who lost the homes and belongings, as well as for firefighters, first responders and volunteers.

    Sexual abuse by monks covered up at schools in England, inquiry finds

    MANCHESTER, England (CNS) -- The "appalling sexual abuse" of children as young as 7 was covered up in two leading Benedictine-run schools in England to protect the reputations of predatory monks, a government-backed investigation concluded. The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse said in a report published Aug. 9 that for decades there was a "culture of acceptance of abuse behavior" at Ampleforth Abbey, near York, and at Downside Abbey, near Bristol. The report said the monasteries remained reluctant to report crimes to the police even after stringent child protection procedures were implemented in the Catholic Church in England and Wales following a series of high-profile clerical abuse scandals. "Instead, monks in both institutions were very often secretive, evasive and suspicious of anyone outside the English Benedictine Congregation," Alexis Jay, who chaired the inquiry, said in a statement posted on the inquiry's website. "Safeguarding children was less important than the reputation of the church and the well-being of the abusive monks," she continued. "Even after new procedures were introduced in 2001, when monks gave the appearance of co-operation and trust, their approach could be summarized as a 'tell them nothing' attitude." The report revealed that 10 monks from both communities have been prosecuted for child abuse or for viewing child pornography.

    Do good to fight indifference, apathy, pope tells young people

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Being a Christian isn't just about not doing evil, but it is a daily exercise in loving others through good works and deeds, Pope Francis said. Many times, Christians can be tempted to "think they are saints" and justify themselves by saying, "I don't harm anyone," the pope told thousands of Italian young adults Aug. 12. "How many people do not do evil, but also do not do good, and their lives flow into indifference, apathy and tepidity! This attitude is contrary to the Gospel and is also contrary to the character of you young people who, by your very nature, are dynamic, passionate and courageous," he said. According to the Vatican, an estimated 90,000 people were in St. Peter's Square for the pope's address and Angelus prayer after an outdoor Mass celebrated by Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti of Perugia-Citta della Pieve, president of the Italian bishops' conference.

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  • Fight scandal by giving witness to the Gospel, pope tells young people

    ROME (CNS) -- Members of the Catholic Church sin and give scandal, it's true, Pope Francis said, but it is up to each Catholic to live the faith as authentically as possible and witness to the world the love of Jesus. "The best way to respond is with witness," the pope said Aug. 11 in response to a young man who said, "The useless pomp and frequent scandals have made the church barely credible in our eyes." Pope Francis spoke about witness, dreams and true love during an evening meeting with some 70,000 young adults, aged 16 to 30, gathered at Rome's Circus Maximus at the end of a pilgrimage. Most of them had walked at least 50 miles over the previous three or four days. Representatives came from 195 of Italy's 226 dioceses, and 150 bishops walked at least part of the way with groups from their dioceses. The young people began congregating at the dusty site of the ancient Roman stadium early in the afternoon when temperatures were already in the 90s. They gathered together on the shady slopes of the field, under the loudspeaker towers and even set up their pup tents seeking relief from the bright sun. Five young people were chosen to share their stories with the crowd and ask Pope Francis questions.

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  • Catholic bishops urge Florida governor to spare death-row inmate

    TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- The Catholic bishops of Florida urged to Gov. Rick Scott to commute the death sentence of Jose Antonio Jimenez to a life sentence without parole. Jimenez is scheduled to be executed Aug. 14 at 6 p.m. local time for the 1992 murder of Phyllis Minas. "Both victims of crime and offenders are children of God and members of the same human family," said an Aug. 10 letter to Scott on behalf of the bishops by Michael B. Sheedy , executive director of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops in Tallahassee. "We appreciate your difficult task as governor and still must ask you to commute this death sentence, and all death sentences, to life without the possibility of parole," he said. Sheedy cited Pope Francis' announcement Aug. 2 that he had ordered a change in the Catechism of the Catholic Church declaring that the death penalty is inadmissible in all cases. "This reflects the growing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of great crimes and that more effective forms of detention have been developed to ensure the due protection of citizens without definitively depriving the guilty of the possibility of redemption," said Sheedy.

    Virginia bishops ask for peace as Charlottesville anniversary approaches

    ARLINGTON, Va. (CNS) -- Two bishops in the state of Virginia asked Catholics and others to offer prayers for peace on the first anniversary of a deadly rally in Charlottesville. "I call upon all Catholics and people of good will to pray for peace in our nation, and for an end to the division that is caused by racism and prejudice," Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge said Aug. 10. "We must shine a light on injustice, be advocates for those who are victims of discrimination, and continue to affirm the dignity of every human person as we are all created in the image and likeness of God." He said he joined in solidarity with a similar message from Bishop Barry C. Knestout of Richmond, who said that "the church cannot be silent about racism." "Prayer -- individually and as a faith community -- is a start in our addressing racism," Bishop Knestout said July 30. "It cannot be an occasional act; we should pray about it in our daily lives and in faith community gatherings." The statements came as the state of Virginia, and the rest of the nation, recalled the riots and violence that erupted during what was called the "Unite the Right" rally Aug. 11 and 12, 2017. The event brought together white supremacists in Charlottesville, who clashed with protesters, resulting in injuries, damage to the city, and the death of a protester, killed as one of the rally participants rammed his car into a crowd.

    World must not forget suffering of Ukraine and its people, says prelate

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Since 2014 Ukraine "has been a victim of relentless military aggression" and suffered countless human tragedies, but now the media's attention has shifted away from the country to other conflict zones, the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church said in an address in Baltimore. "We plead with the international community not to neglect Ukraine and that we not be left alone with a much bigger and more powerful aggressor," said Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, Ukraine. He delivered the keynote address at the Knights of Columbus' States Dinner during its 136th annual national Supreme Convention at the Baltimore Convention Center Aug. 7-9. Major Archbishop Shevchuk, the leader of more than 5 million Ukrainian Catholics around the globe, relayed the current situation in his country and also thanked Supreme Knight Carl Anderson and all the Knights for their support and taking "a risk" to help establish the Knights of Columbus in Ukraine. "Our brother Knights demonstrated courage and charity by joining hundreds of thousands of other men and women who wanted to defend their right to live in a just society where human dignity would be respected," the major archbishop said.

    Cardinal O'Malley calls for investigation at Boston seminary

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Archbishop of Boston said in an Aug. 10 statement that he has asked the rector of its main archdiocesan St. John Seminary to go on sabbatical leave immediately and is asking for an investigation of allegations made on social media about activities there "directly contrary to the moral standards and requirements of formation for the Catholic priesthood." "At this time, I am not able to verify or disprove these allegations," said Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley in a statement sent to media via email. He does not say in the statement what the allegations are about. However, a post on the community section of a Facebook page for the Archdiocese of Boston has a comment by someone named Andrew Solkshinitz? with a link to a blog post that describes seminarians at "conservative seminary" drinking heavily, "cuddling" after a drunken party, and being involved in sexual behaviors and acts. Solkshinitz says on Facebook that the seminary not identified in the blog post is St. John. "As a former Boston seminarian for 3 years I am calling upon the church to seriously examine the seminary located on Lake street," Solkshinitz writes in the post he made on the page. "The church has not learned her lesson and maybe if the stories are once again made public then things will finally change." Boston was the epicenter of the abuse scandal that erupted in the church in 2002.

    Bishops, faith leaders condemn Tennessee's first execution in nine years

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) -- The execution of Billy Ray Irick the night of Aug. 9 "was unnecessary" and "served no useful purpose," Bishop J. Mark Spalding of Nashville and Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville said in a statement after Irick was executed at Riverbend Maximum Security Institute in Nashville. "In this time of sadness, that began many years ago with the tragic and brutal death of Paula Dyer and continues with another death tonight, we believe that only Jesus Christ can bring consolation and peace," the bishops said. "We continue to pray for Paula and for her family. And we also pray for Billy Ray Irick, that his final human thoughts were of remorse and sorrow for we believe that only Christ can serve justice." They also said they prayed that the people of Tennessee "may all come to cherish the dignity that his love instills in every person -- at every stage of life." Irick, 59, died at 7:48 p.m. CDT after Tennessee prison officials administered a lethal combination of chemicals. According to press reports, before he died Irick was coughing, choking and gasping for air and his face turned dark purple as the lethal drugs took effect. He was the first person executed in Tennessee since 2009 and the first person executed in the U.S. since Pope Francis said Aug. 2 that he had ordered a change in the Catechism of the Catholic Church declaring the death penalty inadmissible in all cases.

    'Take clear action,' young Catholics urge U.S. bishops in open letter

    NEW YORK (CNS) -- A group of young Catholics has urged the U.S. bishops to "take clear action" by conducting an independent investigation of who knew what and when about actions by Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, who has been accused of sexual abuse. They also stressed that the bishops should engage in "formal acts of public penance and reparation" for what has happened. "An Open Letter from Young Catholics" was published online Aug. 8 on the website of First Things, a journal of the Institute on Religion and Public Life, which is a research and education center based in New York. The journal is printed 10 times a year. The letter, addressed to "Dear Fathers in Christ," had 43 signatures. The group includes authors, writers and editors; the heads of Catholic and other organizations; and professors, assistant professors, doctoral candidates and research scholars in various disciplines at Catholic and secular universities in the U.S. and elsewhere. "You are the shepherds of the church. If you do not act, evil will go unchecked," the letter said. It asked the bishops to "agree to a thorough, independent investigation into claims of abuse by Archbishop McCarrick, both of minors and of adults."

    St. Thomas More gave witness to strong marriage, family, home, says priest

    STEUBENVILLE, Ohio (CNS) -- St. Thomas More is often heralded as a champion of religious freedom, but supporting that effort was his unshakable faith and evangelical joy in the truth about marriage. "We should remember Thomas More for his domestic witness, the witness of his own marriage, family, and home," Father Paul Scalia said at a conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville. "His defense of marriage wasn't purely intellectual. He knew marriage and the family from the inside. He knew the joy in the virtue that was being threatened by its undoing." Father Scalia, episcopal vicar for clergy for the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, is the son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Commenting on his father's influence, Father Scalia said, "I saw him striving to be a good Catholic man. I also saw him failing, but I saw him trying, and that's what's important." The title of his talk was "More Witnesses Needed: St. Thomas More and the Eternal Significance of Marriage." He spoke July 28 at the Defending the Faith Conference, held each year during the last weekend in July at Franciscan University. This year over 1,400 people from across the U.S. attended the conference.

    Judge blocks deportation underway for asylum seekers

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A federal judge Aug. 9 ordered Aug. 9 the immediate return to the U.S. of two Salvadoran asylum seekers, a mother and her daughter, who were unexpectedly deported from Texas to their native country. The ruling came as the court considered their case challenging a Trump administration policy that blocks foreign nationals expressing fear of gang violence or domestic abuse from seeking asylum. U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan threatened U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions with contempt of court if the mother and daughter, whom the government had already put on a plane, were not returned. Though the flight they were on touched down in El Salvador, "in compliance with the court's order, upon arrival in El Salvador, the plaintiffs did not disembark and were promptly returned to the United States," the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said late Aug. 9. The woman and her daughter are part of about a dozen plaintiffs represented by the American Civil Liberties Union challenging what they say is the "gutting of asylum protections for immigrants fleeing domestic violence and gang brutality."

    Magazine, Twitter prove sources to report alleged seminarian abuse

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Magazines and newspapers have long been sources to break big news stories. Now, too, social media is taking its turn. In a series of tweets, a onetime seminarian who goes by the handle "inflammateomnia" -- Latin for "Go set the world on fire," a quote ascribed to St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits -- detailed on Twitter sexually abusive behavior he said was directed at him and which he witnessed, as well as the lack of urgency given his complaints by one seminary official. Inflammateomnia, who does not reveal his name on Twitter, describes himself as a Boston-based graduate student in theology, "seeking the true, good and beautiful." "Guess this is my Catholic #MeToo moment," he began, echoing the Twitter hashtag women have used since last fall to reveal their own tales of abuse and harassment. Even in the expanded Twitterverse of 280 characters per tweet, it took inflammateomnia more than 20 tweets to tell his story. Due to his anonymity, and his not naming the seminary and the people involved, his story cannot be independently verified. Inflammateomnia credited the spiritual director he has had since 2011 for pushing "me to get psychological help via therapy," he said. "This stuff is real, people. And it hurts."

    Scouting for faith: Young Italians seek God, vocations on pilgrimage

    CAMPELLO ALTO, Italy (CNS) -- As several Italian cities were issuing Code Red heat-wave advisories in early August, a group of young Italian scouts rented three donkeys and set off walking on a 65-mile pilgrimage across the country's mountainous center. The Rome-based troop's itinerary led them from St. Benedict's birthplace in Norcia to St. Francis' birthplace in Assisi via a network of medieval trails. Passing through farms and olive groves, scaling mountains and crossing valleys, the seven-day hike was designed to help the 15 young men and women reconnect with nature and grow closer to God. The scouts set off to "discover these two great giants of Christian spirituality -- Benedict and Francis -- and unite that to an interesting journey with donkeys accompanying us," said Giuseppe Malafronte, leader of the group from Sacred Heart in the Fields Parish near the Vatican. According to Malafronte, strenuous outdoor experiences help instill Christian virtues in the 16- to 21-year-old scouts in his troop. "One of the most beautiful things we learn, the centerpiece of being a scout, is to be a servant, a citizen and a pilgrim," Malafronte said.

    Caritas project seeks to end hunger in South Asia

    NEW DELHI, India (CNS) -- The Catholic Church agency Caritas has launched a project that aims to end hunger across South Asia by 2030. Caritas India introduced the program in collaboration with its international partners to help farmers adapt methods to cope with erratic climate conditions, reported. "Climate change is a global challenge and affects agricultural production and human well-being. It hits hardest where people directly depend on agriculture for food and livelihoods," said Sunil Simon, project director in India. The Smallholder Adaptive Farming and Biodiversity Network was launched in June during Caritas Asia's regional conference in Bangkok. "The unique program aims to address our common goal of ending hunger by 2030," said Christoph Schweifer, secretary general of Caritas Austria, a partner in the project. Caritas organizations in Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan will implement the program with the support of Caritas Austria and Caritas Switzerland. The effort aims to fight hunger and malnutrition by promoting local food through small-scale farming in selected areas of South Asia in response to climate change, Simon said.

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  • Metuchen bishop 'saddened and ashamed' by Archbishop McCarrick case

    METUCHEN, N.J. (CNS) -- Metuchen Bishop James F. Checchio told Catholics in his diocese Aug. 7 he continues "to be saddened and ashamed" by reports of "the abhorrent events we have been learning about in regard to Archbishop McCarrick -- and I know you must be, too." He was referring to allegations of abuse and sexual misconduct lodged at Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, a former cardinal and retired archbishop of Washington, who was named the first bishop of the newly created Metuchen Diocese in 1981. Bishop Checchio, who has been Metuchen's bishop for just over two years, made the comments in an open letter posted on his diocese's website. "Our efforts to evangelize, and spread the good news of Christ, have been hobbled by these atrocities," he said. "I am praying for all those who have been hurt and praying that God's mercy will bring healing and consolation. My heart also breaks for our faithful people, and the clergy and religious of our diocese, as we face another tragic situation within the church that we love." He said he was grateful "that the processes the church has in place regarding child sexual abuse have been shown to work." Bishop Checchio added that he has begun "to bring together a senior team of advisers to examine reporting processes" in the diocese.

    Peace activists' prayer service marks Nagasaki, Hiroshima anniversary

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- About 30 people from various Catholic organizations came together outside the White House for a prayer service of repentance Aug. 9 for the use of nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. At the rally, which lasted about an hour, they called for the United States to apologize and repent of its use of nuclear weapons in the Second World War and for total nuclear disarmament. The atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki Aug. 9, 1945, and three days before that Hiroshima was bombed. The peace activists held a similar prayer service of repentance at the Pentagon Aug. 6 in a protest area designated by police. The Aug. 9 event opened with a speech explaining that those there stood with other anti-nuclear movements around the world, including the Kings Bay Plowshares group, which trespassed at a naval submarine base to protest nuclear weapons. The rally featured several pictures of the damage caused by nuclear weapons, both to people and to the buildings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. People present were members of the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker, Pax Christi Metro-DC, Pax Christi USA, the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, the Sisters of Mercy-Institute Justice Team, Jonah House, the Assisi Community, and the Franciscan Action Network.

    Greensburg Diocese apologizes in document ahead of grand jury report

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Diocese of Greensburg unveiled Aug. 9 a document about safeguards and procedures in place to protect children, as the state of Pennsylvania gets ready to release a grand jury report about past claims of sexual abuse of children involving hundreds of priests and other church workers at six of the state's eight dioceses. In the document the diocese also apologizes to those it failed. "Admittedly, there have been occasions where the church and the Diocese of Greensburg have faltered in their protection of children, young people and vulnerable adults, and for those, the Diocese of Greensburg apologizes to the survivors and their families and continually offers assistance to help them heal," the document says. "Survivors need our help, and we stand ready to assist them with counseling, spiritual guidance, love and our sincere apologies for any past failures on the part of our diocese." The document says the diocese "is not proud" of its past when it comes to protecting children but says it has done much to put in place safeguards to prevent abuse from happening. Those accused face investigation by the diocese and law enforcement authorities, said the document, titled "2018 Progress Update on Protection of Children: Higher Standards of Today's Catholic Church." It is available at

    God's 'persistent' voice spurs Knights Family of the Year to serve others

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- A little more than two decades after they met at an ice cream social on the second day of class at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, Ryan and Elizabeth Young head the Knights of Columbus International Family of the Year. With five of their seven children in tow, the parishioners of St. Martin de Porres Parish in Poughkeepsie, New York, accepted the honor Aug. 8, day two of the Knights 136th annual national Supreme Convention at the Baltimore Convention Center. The theme of the Aug. 7-9 convention was "Knights of Charity." It was the second straight week in which the Youngs had their minds on Maryland. They're the founders of Camp Veritas, a summer camp for Catholic high school students that began in 2008 in New York, spread to locations in Ireland and Florida, and spent the week of July. 29-Aug. 4 at Summit Lake Camp in Emmitsburg. "We had 305 souls in Emmitsburg last week, including 70 staff," Ryan Young told the Catholic Review, the news outlet of the Baltimore Archdiocese. Like his wife, who is an assistant professor at Marist College, Young is a physician's assistant. They are the parents of Christopher, 17; Trinity, 15; Grace, 12; Mary, 9; Justice, 8; Faith, 2; and Xavier, 5 months.

    Archbishop Gregory: Weary of 'cloud of shame' shrouding church leaders

    ATLANTA (CNS) -- Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory issued a print and video statement Aug. 9 on the website of The Georgia Bulletin, archdiocesan newspaper, expressing his "profound anger, sadness and distress concerning sexual abuse by church leaders of children, young people and those over whom they exercised authority." "My anger and disappointment, shared by Catholics and others, are only heightened by the reality that leaders who have engaged in or neglected to protect others from such damaging and deviant behavior have for many years failed to be held accountable -- and have even risen in leadership positions," he said. "We must do better -- for the sake of all victims and survivors of sexual abuse and for the sake of everyone whom we serve." Archbishop Gregory said Catholics everywhere, including him, "are stunned and justifiably angry at shameful, unrelenting recent revelations of bishops accused of abuse or mishandling allegations of abuse -- behavior that offends and scandalizes the people of God entrusted to our care." He said Catholics are specifically "enraged" about allegations of abuse by Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick. Archbishop Gregory also said he is "personally disheartened" because in 2002, as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, he made assurances that this crisis was over and would not be repeated. His statement and video message can be found at

    Argentina Senate votes down abortion decriminalization bill

    MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- The Argentine Senate voted against a bill that would have decriminalized abortion during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. Senators voted 38-31 against the measure early Aug. 9 following a 15-hour debate. The measure had been approved in June by the lower house of Congress. The Argentine bishops' conference hailed the vote, saying the debate in the country opened an opportunity for dialogue and a chance to focus more on social ministry. The Senate debate revealed deep divisions in Argentina, where support for decriminalizing abortion drew stronger support in Buenos Aires, the capital, than in the more conservative provinces. The vote came as a movement of women and supporters of the measure -- wearing green handkerchiefs -- filled the streets outside the Congress as voting occurred. Catholics, meanwhile, celebrated the Eucharist. "Everyone has time to express their viewpoints and be heard by legislators in a healthy democratic exercise. But the only ones that didn't have an opportunity de make themselves heard are the human beings that struggled to be born," Cardinal Mario Poli, Pope Francis' successor in Buenos Aires, said Aug. 8 in his homily at a what organizers called a "Mass for Life." In a statement after the vote, the bishops' conference said it was time to address the "new divisions developing between us ... through a renewed exercise of dialogue."

    Filipino Catholic media urged to confront 'fake news'

    DAVAO CITY, Philippines (CNS) -- Filipinos working in the church's social communication ministry need a lot of prayer and a "sense of mission" to be able "to combat fake news" and work for peace, a gathering in Davao City was told this week. The head of the Philippine bishops' Commission on Social Communications urged the gathering of Catholic media groups to be "journalists of peace," reported. "As Catholic media practitioners ... we must be men and women of prayer," said Bishop Mylo Hubert Vergara of Pasig, commission chairman told delegates at the annual National Catholic Media Convention that ended Aug. 9. "Being exposed to Jesus ... we clearly realize the font and source of what we proclaim." About 150 priests, women religious and lay people attended the four-day gathering to discuss "fake news" and the role of journalists in the country's peace process. Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao, president of the bishops' conference, quoted Pope Francis saying that the "best antidotes to falsehoods are not strategies, but people (who) listen, people who make the effort to engage in sincere dialogue so the truth can emerge." At a press briefing Aug. 8, Bishop Valles stressed the urgency in addressing the spread of so-called fake news, especially on social media. He said people can end "fake news" if journalists "have pure hearts."

    Underground priests removed in China for holding summer youth camp

    GANSU, China (CNS) -- Two underground parish priests in China's Gansu province have been removed after being accused of holding a summer camp for a youth group at their church. Father Wang Yiqin of Hui county and Father Li Shidong of Leling in Shandong province were serving Maijiqu Ganquan Catholic Church in Tianshui Diocese, reported. The Tianshui Municipal Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee sent a letter asking the local branch of the state-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association to send personnel to replace the priests, who were accused of holding the camp for the Bosco Youth Group. They were sent back to their hometowns. On July 21, the committee issued a letter stating that no association personnel were involved with the church, which had become a base for underground clergy. It asked the association to appoint personnel "to strengthen the management of religious affairs in accordance with the law and according to the regulations on religious affairs." Father Zhao Jianzhang of Tianshui's open church is deputy director and secretary-general of the Gansu Catholic Patriotic Association and Catholic Administration Commission. He told that he had been informed of the incident and the parish office had received a letter, but he was out of town and would handle the incident when he returned. Maijiqu Ganquan Catholic Church is one of only two underground churches in Tianshui Diocese.

    After 100 years, Marian shrine in Alberta still draws thousands

    SKARO, Alberta (CNS) -- It's easy to drive by the stone grotto at the Skaro shrine for those who don't know its history. Tucked in a corner between two rural highways, 50 miles northeast of Edmonton, vehicles whiz by. The drivers tend to overlook the small church and semi-circular stone grotto beside it. Yet, thousands of pilgrims flock to Skaro every year to honor Mary Aug. 14-15 as they have done for 100 years on the grounds of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish. Vespers are sung in Polish and Mass is concelebrated in English. At this year's centennial pilgrimage, a new rosary garden was to be blessed by Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton. Sonia Mackay, a pilgrimage organizer and a descendant of the pioneers who built the grotto, said there is always "a steady stream of visitors ... from everywhere in the world." What passing drivers are missing is a story of hardscrabble immigrants who came to the Skaro district and, in 1919, used shovels and horse-drawn plows to build the grotto. A century later, the stone wall that encircles a small altar stands as a testament to the faith and determination of the pioneers, who were mostly from Poland. "It brings people together," said Helen Wilchak, 89, whose father helped build the grotto. People from all faiths visit "because it is such a beautiful place."

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  • Officials hold release of report on clergy sex abuse in Pennsylvania

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A last-minute round of legal maneuvering to keep some names from appearing in a grand jury report detailing a months-long investigation of clergy sex abuse claims in six Pennsylvania dioceses may have kept the document from being made public Aug. 8 -- the earliest date given for its possible release. On Aug. 8, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper reported that confidential sources said "more than one" person filed a challenge under court seal. Some of those named in the report had been given until Aug. 7 to file a challenge, objecting to their inclusion in the report because they have not had the legal opportunity to defend themselves. They are scheduled to have a hearing with the court in September. Pennsylvania has until Aug. 14 to release the report, which is said to detail some seven decades of claims of sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy and a reported cover-up by officials in the dioceses of Harrisburg, Allentown, Scranton, Pittsburgh, Greensburg and Erie, according to the Pennsylvania's Office of the Attorney General. In July, the state's Supreme Court said the grand jury investigation led by Pennsylvania's Attorney General Josh Shapiro had identified over 300 "predator priests." Most of the claims go back decades.

    Update: Church leaders urge inquiry into abuse claims against archbishop

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- U.S. Catholic church leaders have been calling for an internal investigation into the handling of allegations of abuse and sexual misconduct against Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick and urging such an inquiry be spearheaded by laypeople. "I think we have reached a point where bishops alone investigating bishops is not the answer. To have credibility, a panel would have to be separated from any source of power whose trustworthiness might potentially be compromised," said Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany, New York. In an Aug. 6 statement, the bishop said he was "heartened by my brother bishops proposing ways for our church to take action in light of recent revelations" and he agreed "a national panel should be commissioned, duly approved by the Holy See." But he emphasized the laity have a crucial role to play in this work. Similarly, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago, former head of the U.S. bishops' committee on child and youth protection, told America magazine that he supports an investigation into the handling of allegations of abuse and sexual misconduct against the archbishop that includes laypeople. Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl told the National Catholic Reporter Aug. 5 the U.S. bishops' conference should create a new panel to receive and evaluate any allegations or rumors of sexual misconduct by a member bishop, adding that the Vatican could designate one of its offices to act on the proposed panel's findings.

    Family and friends praise centenarian's endless legacy of love, faith

    COLUMBIA, S.C. (CNS) -- Vashti Jackson Woodson does not hesitate when asked how she feels about her 100 years of life. "I'm happy about everything!" she said. "My life has always been happy from the beginning up until the present. I've had a wonderful life!" Her words are accompanied by a radiant smile that lights up her entire face. It is the kind of smile that also lights up a room and brightens the day of anyone who sees it. That kind of positive outlook, along with a strong faith in God, has carried Woodson through the years to the upcoming celebration of her milestone centennial birthday Aug. 25. Woodson is being honored by her large family, friends and her church family at St. Martin de Porres Church, where she has been a devoted member for more than 75 years. She and her late husband, David, had six children, four daughters and two sons, all of whom went on to successful careers. Woodson has 12 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. Through the years, the church has been one of the beloved constants of Woodson's life. She said the secret to living a long life can be summed up in one word: love. "Be happy every day, love the Lord and love your neighbor!" she said.

    Bishop, other cyclists revel in spiritual component of annual Iowa ride

    IOWA CITY, Iowa (CNS) -- Davenport Bishop Thomas R. Zinkula made a confession during the final "RAGBRAI Mass" at St. Mary Catholic Church in Iowa City: "I have a love-hate relationship with RAGBRAI." Many of the 250 at the evening Mass July 27 could relate. They had bicycled 360 miles of the weeklong Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa and were anticipating the final 68.9-mile leg July 28. This year on RAGBRAI, "it's been mostly love," the bishop said, referring to the sunny days, moderate temperatures, low humidity and favorable wind conditions. "It's like the rich soil we heard about in the Gospel reading," he added. This spiritual component of RAGBRAI resonated with the bicyclists, including Bishop Zinkula's Pedaling to the Peripheries team of 20 people. The bishop, an enthusiastic bicyclist, viewed RAGBRAI as an opportunity to follow Pope Francis' call to go to the peripheries, to be in the midst of the sheep, to have the smell of the sheep, to be in touch with the world outside church walls. Bishop Zinkula also considers the RAGBRAI experience as preparing the soil for Vision 20/20, a diocesan journey of revitalization of faith and a renewal of grace in the spirit of Pentecost still in its formative stages.

    One-time East Timor rebel renews faith, finds calling in teaching

    DILI, East Timor (CNS) -- At 24 in late 2006, Egidio Lay Carvalho, a ragged and disgraced ex-soldier lay, miserable in Becora Prison and began to take stock of his life. Like most of his countrymen, Carvalho was nominally a Catholic because of centuries of Portuguese occupation; Dominican friars had established a mission on the island by 1556. But, he said, "back then, when I came to prison, I was not a religious man." Carvalho had joined the army in 2004 on his return from a stint in the Malaysian construction sector. However, more than two years later he was imprisoned for his part in an attempted coup in the then-fledgling country. Gradually, behind bars, Carvalho began finding comfort in talking with two Jesuit priests during their visits. The meetings would change his life. "The priests ... opened my mind to the world," he said. "I still regret joining the army, but I appreciated my years spent in the prison as that brought me to my conversion." Today he works as a part-time teacher at the Jesuit-run St. Ignatius Loyola College on the outskirts of Dili, East Timor's capital, where he's shaping future leaders. In Carvalho's view, the school "opens the minds of the students to think of life beyond themselves, not to think only about themselves but to think of how they can help people."

    Baltimore history, culture have a place at Knights of Columbus convention

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- The chalice on the center of the altar was given by the pope to the third archbishop of Baltimore nearly two centuries ago. The local welcome crew wore vests that included the outline of a Chesapeake blue crab. Visitors to the 136th annual Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus got both boisterous and subtle reminders of their location the morning of Aug. 7, when Archbishop William E. Lori, their supreme chaplain, was the principal celebrant for the gathering's opening Mass. Held in a ballroom at the Baltimore Convention Center more accustomed to boat shows, the liturgy was offered against a backdrop that incorporated an image of the dome of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. America's first cathedral is a little more than a half-mile to the north of the convention center. In his homily, Archbishop Lori mentioned those who came to Southern Maryland from England in 1634 seeking freedom from religious persecution, and the Knights' founder, Father Michael J. McGivney, who was ordained at the Baltimore basilica in 1877. "Just as the Holy Spirit guided those who went before us in faith," Archbishop Lori said, "so now the same spirit of truth and love accompanies us who seek to follow Christ as members of an order that is built on charity."

    Cardinal shares message of 'Laudato Si'' at Ghana World Youth Day event

    ACCRA, Ghana (CNS) -- A top Vatican official urged young people at a local World Youth Day gathering to protect the planet and actively live the teachings of Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment. Expressing concern for the accelerating degradation of Earth, Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, told 3,000 Ghanaians Aug. 5 to learn, know and spread the message of the 2015 papal teaching. The cardinal returned to his native Ghana for the country's fourth local observance of World Youth Day. The event allowed young people unable to travel to the Catholic Church's global World Youth Day in January in Panama to gather in their homeland for a celebration. Emphasizing that Earth is like a mother, Cardinal Turkson called for deeper respect and more concrete steps to protect the planet during the event's closing ceremony. He also appealed for greater attention to the needs of poor and disadvantaged people. The cardinal also addressed the importance of the need to change lifestyles to reduce environmental abuse. He noted that Pope Francis acknowledges that environmental awareness is growing as the world better understands the impact of the damage being done to all life on the planet. The pope, he said, remains hopeful about the possibility of reversing environmental abuse as people adopt the encyclical's teachings.

    Fear, uncertainty lead to a 'do-it-yourself' religion, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Like the ancient Israelites, Christians today also can fall into the temptation of creating their own idols when difficulties and uncertainties arise, Pope Francis said. "To escape precariousness human nature looks for a 'do-it-yourself' religion. If God does not show himself, we create a tailor-made god," the pope said Aug. 8 during his weekly general audience. Continuing his series of audience talks about the Ten Commandments, the pope said he wanted to return to the theme of idolatry. He reflected on the reading from the book of Exodus in which the Israelites ask Aaron to build a golden calf to worship while Moses was receiving the commandments. Moses' absence triggered anxieties, leading people to create an idol that embodied "the desires that give the illusion of freedom but instead enslave," he explained. The calf had a double meaning in the ancient East, representing fruitfulness and abundance and also energy and strength, he said. "But above all, it was made of gold because it is a symbol of wealth. Success, power and money. These are the temptations of all time," the pope said. Idolatry, he continued, stems from the inability to trust in God and in the absence of trust, Christians lack the strength to resist succumbing to doubt in times of uncertainty. Without God, he added, it "is easy to fall into idolatry and be content with meager reassurances."

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  • Embezzlement trial postponed until next year for Michigan priest

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A judge has postponed a mid-August trial for a priest accused of embezzling more than $5 million from a parish in Okemos, in central Michigan, part of the Diocese of Lansing. Father Jonathan Wehrle was facing an Aug. 13 trial but his attorney in the criminal case told the Lansing State Journal he was withdrawing, prompting the judge in early August to push the trial to January 2019 to give new defense attorneys time to prepare, the newspaper said. According to the newspaper, the announcement from Father Wehrle's attorney came after Michigan State Police said in a news release that investigators from its Special Investigation Section discovered more than $63,000 in cash stashed above the ceiling tiles of the basement of the priest's home during a July 17 search. A July 18 news release from Michigan State Police says officers found the words "For deposit only -- St. Martha Parish and School," the name of the parish where he served from 1988 until June 2017, on the cash bundles. The priest faces six felony counts of embezzlement of $100,000 or more.

    Knights' donations, volunteer hours and members keep growing, CEO says

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- In an opening address Aug. 7 at the 136th annual Knights of Columbus Supreme Convention, the organizations' CEO, Carl Anderson, spoke of the charitable works of the Knights, their ongoing pro-life commitment and pledge to support persecuted Christians in Iraq and Syria. Anderson pointed out that the Aug. 7-9 convention in Baltimore was in the birthplace of the Catholic Church in the United States. "It was colonial America's first diocese and the home of our first American bishop, John Carroll, whose family lived at the intersection of faith and liberty in the new nation." "The Catholicism first nourished here in Baltimore contributed to the American experience through other commitments as well -- commitments that could be summarized in this simple, but powerful Gospel insight: The person in need that we encounter is not a stranger but a brother or a sister," he said. The Knights today hold the same view in their charitable giving and volunteering. Anderson said it's "safe to say that we've never had a fraternal year quite like this one." He said the Knights gave more than $185 million dollars to charity last year, an $8 million increase from the previous year and one of the largest yearly increases in the organization's history. The Knights also donated more than 75.6 million volunteer hours.

    HHS urged to reissue rules to enforce required notice on abortion coverage

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services must issue new regulations to enforce a requirement that consumers be notified if a subsidized health plan offered under the Affordable Care Act covers elective abortion and informed they must pay an extra amount for the plan's abortion coverage. That's the view of 102 members of Congress who have signed an open letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar asking for the new regulations. "Obamacare's abortion surcharge is practically invisible to consumers," said Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, who signed the Aug. 6 letter. "Consumers have a right to know." The letter said that Section 1303 of the Affordable Care Act requires that, when federal subsidies are used to pay for a plan that includes coverage of elective abortion, the subsidies cannot be used to pay for the abortions. Instead, separate payments must be collected and deposited into a fund used solely to pay for abortions. It also said that, during the Obama administration, lax regulations undermined the requirement to separate the funds for abortions. For example, the issuer of the insurance policy is not required to separately identify the abortion surcharge, and it also can be collected in a single transaction.

    Nuns in East Timor help take difficulties out of learning

    DILI, East Timor (CNS) -- It was a feeling of utter despair that engulfed Jose de Araujo and his wife when they learned 15 years ago that one of their two daughters had Down syndrome. She was 3 then and they wondered why their daughter was not like other children the same age. As she became older the family still was feeding, bathing and dressing her. They also had difficulty finding a school that would accept her. De Araujo said he even took her to Bali in Indonesia for therapy in 2013, but, there was no noticeable improvement. "I gave up and brought her back to Timor-Leste," he told However, early in 2018 he stumbled upon Yayasan Bhakti Luhur, a center run by the Association of the Institute for Lay Missionaries, the ALMA Sisters, for people with disabilities and orphans. Today De Araujo has found that his daughter has made significant progress. "I'm really happy. She is physically more healthy, can converse better and can feed and shower herself," he said. Sister Bergita Nganus, who heads the center, said the sisters care for 53 children, 38 of whom have autism or other development disorders. The sisters are able to provide the children with much more attention than an ordinary school can, so what is taught can be at a pace that best suits their needs, she said.

    Kids of Armenian descent experience summertime beacon of hope in Beirut

    BEIRUT (CNS) -- In the sweltering, crowded Bourj Hammoud district of Beirut, a group of children from poor Christian families have discovered a summertime oasis of joy. The 390 children, ages 3 to 13, are participants in the Howard Karagheusian Commemorative Corporation's day camp, funded in part by the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, a pontifical aid agency. Held in a school, the seven-week day camp combines sports, games, art and activities such as cooking, music and dance with a mix of instruction in nutrition, hygiene, math, English and Bible study. The children also go on weekly outings to places their families normally are not able to afford. The camp gives children an opportunity "to have new friends, to enjoy their childhood, to have these moments of fun and lovely memories within their miseries," said Serop Ohanian, the corporation's Lebanon field director. Half of the camp participants are Lebanese Armenians and half are Syrian Armenian refugees. All are Christian. The children are guided by 34 volunteers, most of whom are university students specially trained by the corporation. "We want to spread a beacon of hope within the community, within these neighborhoods and tell the children to dream big dreams, to get out from their difficulties and give them the opportunity to be a productive member within this community," Ohanian said.

    Celibate gay Catholics score 'clerical cover-up culture,' fear backlash

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In the wake of allegations of sexual abuse and harassment lodged earlier this summer against Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, two celibate gay Catholics fear a backlash against gay priests faithful to their vows, and voiced skepticism over the church's ability to put its own house in order. "There are plenty of gay priests who have kept their vows. Making this a gay issue is distraction, mostly, an attempt to place blame mostly (away from) from the clerical cover-up culture," said Eve Tushnet of Washington, who has written two books on Catholic life. "It does a major disservice to women who were abused by the church and also a major disservice to gay priests." Tushnet recalled being in church the weekend a statement from the Archdiocese of Washington was read from the pulpit regarding Archbishop McCarrick, who served as archbishop of Washington for five years and was elevated to the College of Cardinals; he resigned that post July 28. He has been retired as Washington's archbishop since 2006. Ron Belgau, who lives in the suburbs of Seattle, is founder of the Spiritual Friendship movement for gay Christians and has been a Catholic since 1999. He, too, suspects a backlash against celibate gay priests as a result of the unfolding scandal. "I think that homosexuality is only part of the issue. I think the hierarchy's unwillingness to disciplining any of its own is a much bigger problem," he said.

    Catholic hospitals help Indonesia quake victims in Lombok, Bali

    JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNS) -- Catholic hospitals in Indonesia have sent medical teams to treat hundreds of people injured by a magnitude 6.9 earthquake that struck the tourist island of Lombok near Bali Aug. 5. The death toll stood at 105 by mid-afternoon Aug. 7 with 236 injured, reported. Officials expected the death toll to rise as Muslims were yet to be pulled from a mosque that collapsed while they were praying inside. Officials said most of the casualties were caused by falling rubble as buildings collapsed. There were no reported foreigners among the dead, but some media reports claimed several fatalities in the neighboring Gili Islands. "Medical workers are really needed right now to treat the victims," said Sister Paulina, a member of the Congregation of Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit and spokeswoman St. Anthony Catholic Hospital in the provincial capital of Mataram. She said the hospital had treated more than a dozen victims. "We placed them in the hospital's parking area as the situation was unpredictable, aftershocks continued to happen," Sister Paulina said. "This morning we took them to the hospital's treatment rooms." More than 176 aftershocks were recorded following the quake. The Aug. 5 temblor was the second major earthquake to shake Lombok in a week. A July 29 quake caused 14 deaths and dozens of injuries.

    Encore: Social justice is built into the Catholic school curriculum

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- At many Catholic schools, social justice might not be an assigned class, but it is part of the fabric of what they do throughout the school year from helping those in need to speaking up on social issues. And in the past few years during various protests around the country, Catholic school students have raised their voices or called attention to issues of racism, gun violence, care for refugees or the unborn. This past year was no exception. After the school shooting Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, several Catholic schools across the country sponsored awareness programs for students or provided time for prayer, reflection and action to curb gun violence during the nationwide student-sponsored event called National School Walkout. And weeks after that, Catholic school students also participated in the March for Our Lives events protesting gun violence in Washington and other locations. Mercy High School in San Francisco observed 17 minutes of silence a month after the Florida school shooting and the student body president, Mogan Hildula, said she was confident her generation could make a difference to stop the violence.

    Encore: Preserving Catholic school's charism 'has to be intentional'

    OLDENBURG, Ind. (CNS) -- Although women religious -- once synonymous with Catholic education -- have been disappearing from U.S. classrooms in recent decades, many Catholic schools are taking extra steps to make sure that even as these sisters age or their numbers decrease, the charisms that infused the schools they founded will not be lost. This was the challenge faced by the Oldenburg Academy of the Immaculate Conception in Oldenburg, Indiana. The school, founded by the Sisters of St. Francis of Oldenburg in 1852, came under laity supervision in 1994 and no longer has any women religious on staff. Yet their spirit still lives within the walls they established 166 years ago. "The Franciscan values have helped me to understand my role in this world," said outgoing senior Rachel Stoll, one of the 200 plus students at the academy. She readily reeled off three of the values held dear to the Oldenburg Franciscans: care of creation, prayer and dignity of the human person. "One of the unique values that the religious men and women brought to their Catholic schools was a distinct charism in addition to their catechetical formation," said John Schoenig, senior director of teacher formation and education policy for the University of Notre Dame's Alliance for Catholic Education.

    Encore: Catholic schools get creative in how they use, fund technology

    PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS) -- When Rosali Patterson picks up the blue, plastic prosthetic hand that she and some fellow students made at St. John Fisher Catholic School in Portland, the rising eighth-grader marvels at what this object will mean for some underprivileged child one day. "Some kid is going to use this to pick something up," Patterson said as she gazed at the outstretched fingers of the prosthetic. "This could really change someone's life. It's a hand they didn't have before." Patterson and her classmates joined an after-school program at the school last year where they used a 3-D printer to create prosthetics for children whose families cannot afford to provide them with an artificial limb. The school's librarian, Sundi Pierce, and principal, Merrit Holub, joined forces with E-NABLE, a global network of volunteers who use their 3-D printers and design skills to create free prosthetic hands for people in need. The students use a computer program to design the hands and then print out the parts using the school's 3-D printer, Pierce told Catholic News Service. Then, they painstakingly assemble the hands, making them fully functional for someone's use, Pierce said. "I guess you could say we are using technology to help provide our students with important lessons in Catholic social teaching."

    Encore: Keeping Catholic school tuition affordable requires creativity

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Making Catholic education accessible to everyone has been a mission of the church in the U.S. for centuries, but keeping it affordable in modern times has required innovative methods. Religious orders and parish schools labored in the 19th century to bring education to everyone, which meant keeping it inexpensive. This could be done more easily when the majority of faculty and staff were priests or women religious and some schools were subsidized by tithing parishioners. By the end of the 20th century, however, funding sources became scarce, the cost of education escalated, schools were staffed by the laity and tuition became almost out of reach for middle and lower-income families. To make Catholic schools more affordable, dioceses, religious orders and individual schools are taking new steps. Last winter, the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina, took part in its first "Day of Giving," an annual event sponsored by the National Catholic Educational Association. The diocese raised more than $56,000 during a 24-hour period Jan. 30-31 for all Catholic schools within the diocese. More than $752,000 was raised nationally from 6,957 donations to 539 schools, three dioceses and the NCEA during the 2018 Day of Giving for Catholic schools. In total, more than $752,000 was raised nationally from 6,957 donations to 539 schools, three dioceses and the NCEA during the 2018 Day of Giving, an annual collection for Catholic schools.

    Encore: Schools look ahead with innovation but also focus on tradition

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- If anyone could rest on their laurels, it's Catholic schools for all they have accomplished in their U.S. history, educating in the faith and teaching children of all backgrounds in cities and rural areas across the country. Acknowledging these past achievements alone might not be enough to propel these schools into the future, but it's an important first step because it recognizes the need to tap into -- and promote and market -- the spirit of the early Catholic schools and their founders and to adapt that creativity and innovation to today's world. "The future of Catholic education: It's bright. It's bright as long as our Catholic educators, our church, our leaders, have an open mind" and make sure what they do, how they teach and interact with young people is relevant, said Barbara McGraw Edmondson, chief leadership and program officer at the National Catholic Educational Association. She said it's also crucial for Catholic schools' future that educators and church leaders understand and not shy away from the culture young people live in today. "We need to step right in ' and show them the way to navigate a very complex world," she added. Edmondson said school leaders want Catholic schools to be what Pope Francis has asked of the church: to be "disciple-making places."

    Catholic Church offers to mediate Zimbabwe election dispute

    CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) -- The church in Zimbabwe said it is prepared to mediate between government and opposition leaders after six people were killed in violence that followed a disputed presidential election. "We have offered to mediate any election disputes as well as broader concerns," Father Frederick Chiromba, secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference, told Catholic News Service Aug. 6. With their parish and other structures, Zimbabwe's churches would be well positioned to lead the activities of the national peace and reconciliation process that began early this year, he said. Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared the winner after voting July 30, but opposition leader Nelson Chamisa has disputed the result and said he will challenge it in court. Mnangagwa succeeded Robert Mugabe, who had led Zimbabwe since its independence from Britain in 1980, after a military takeover in November. "We condemn the killing of the demonstrators and all the ruthless force used" by the army and police, the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe said after security forces in Harare shot at protesters who accused the government of vote-rigging. Noting that the use of live ammunition to restrain unarmed civilians was "too extreme" and violated basic rights, the commission also criticized the protesters for violence. It urged the security forces to apologize, particularly to the bereaved families.

    Pope thanks Chilean bishops for steps taken to address abuse scandal

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- After the bishops of Chile issued a formal apology for failing to listen to clerical abuse victims and drew up national guidelines for responding to abuse allegations, Pope Francis sent them a handwritten letter of thanks. "I am struck by the work of reflection, discernment and the decisions you have made," the pope wrote in the letter dated Aug. 3 and posted on the website of the Chilean bishops' conference. Addressed to Bishop Santiago Silva Retamales, the military ordinary and conference president, the pope's letter praised the decisions as "realistic and concrete." The bishops, who have been accused of interfering with the pursuit of justice by alleged victims, promised to draw up a formal agreement with the national prosecutor's office to share information; vowed to release information on investigations carried out within their dioceses and urged the superiors of religious orders to do the same; expanded the competencies of their national review board and appointed a laywoman lawyer to lead it; and appointed another laywoman to direct the new Department for the Prevention of Abuse within the bishops' conference. Pope Francis told the bishops that what "struck me most" about the decisions made after a five-day meeting in early August was "the example of an episcopal community united in guiding the holy, faithful people of God. Thank you for this edifying example."

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  • U.S. men and women religious superiors favor women deacons, study says

    WASHINGTON (CNS) - A new study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University surveyed men and women religious superiors in the United States about the possibility of ordaining women to the diaconate and found that the majority were in favor of the idea. The survey was taken in response to a papal commission organized by Pope Francis to study the question of ordaining women to the permanent diaconate. Seventy-six percent of religious superiors were aware of the commission, and 69 percent knew that it had formed and met. On the question of ordaining women to the diaconate, 73 percent of religious superiors believed it was theoretically possible and 72 percent thought that the Catholic Church should ordain women to the diaconate. However, they were less confident that it would happen. Only 45 percent believed that the church would authorize female deacons, and, if it were authorized, 58 percent believe that their bishop would implement it. Sixty-four percent of the superiors were at least "somewhat" aware of a history of women being ordained as deacons and 84 percent believed that doing so would create a greater call for women to be ordained to the priesthood. The full report on the survey can be found at

    Federal judge in Washington orders Trump administration to restore DACA

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A federal judge in Washington Aug. 3 ordered the Trump administration to restore a program that helped young adults brought into the country illegally as minors, saying reasons calling for its demise were not justified. The latest order says the program must be made whole again and that includes taking new applications. U.S. District Judge John Bates said the administration must fully restore the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, often referred to as DACA. In September 2017, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the administration was ending the program through executive action. While the program does not provide legal status for the young adults, DACA provides a work permit, reprieve from deportation and other temporary relief to those who quality. During his 2017 announcement, Sessions said DACA was "an unconstitutional exercise of authority." But ever since Sessions' call to rescind it, the decision to end DACA has itself faced a number of legal challenges. The latest order from Bates, who previously gave the administration time "to better explain its view that DACA is unlawful," said government officials failed to adequately explain the rationale for ending the program.

    Franciscan sisters run emergency lifeline for needy in West Virginia

    KERMIT, W.Va. (CNS) -- On a rainy July afternoon in Kermit, a local woman sifted through a table of donated apparel at Christian Help Inc.'s free clothing store. The outreach center was full that day and she was among many seeking help. "The economy is so poor here it's hard for people to even clothe their children and grandchildren. There's no work, there's really no recreation here, there's nothing," she said as the blaring horn of a passing train outside muffled her words. She wished to remain anonymous but wanted to express how bad things are in the town located in Mingo County. "Without this place we would be lost," she told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. "A lot of kids would not have what they need, people would not have the food they need." For almost 25 years, Christian Help has provided the free clothing store as well as a food pantry, furniture and household items and, when possible, financial assistance to help with utilities, rent, medication, gasoline, propane and kerosene. Christian Help is a nondenominational, donation and grant-supported outreach center for low- to no-income residents. To send a check or a box of donations, the regular U.S. Postal Service address is: Christian Help, Inc., PO Box 1257, Kermit, WV 25674.

    Brazil church leaders speak against decriminalization of abortion

    SAO PAULO, Brazil (CNS) -- Representatives of the Brazilian bishops' conference argued in front of the country's Supreme Court against the decriminalization of abortion. Reiterating Aug. 6 the Catholic Church's teaching "in the defense of life from its conception until its natural death," Bishop Ricardo Hoerpes of Rio Grande, Brazil, said that the issue was not for the court to decide. "How will the Supreme Court explain a capital punishment sentence of an innocent, defenseless human being to justify our incapacity in producing adequate public policies when it comes to women's reproductive rights?" the bishop asked the court, which was preparing whether to decide decriminalizing abortion. A fetus cannot be addressed as another human body part, he said. "It looks like we're talking about a gallbladder, a kidney, or an appendix that we need to extirpate, which is causing women to die. The focus is wrong," Bishop Hoerpes said to a room full spectators. The bishop also stressed that the question focus on the existence of the baby. "The right to life is the most fundamental of rights and, therefore, more than any other, must be protected. It is a right intrinsic to the human condition and not a concession of the state. The powers of the republic have an obligation to guarantee and defend it," he said.

    Bishop says no cover-up in priest's case but admits lack of transparency

    LINCOLN, Neb. (CNS) -- Lincoln Bishop James D. Conley apologized Aug. 4 for failing to be more transparent about a pastor removed from ministry and sent to treatment last year because the priest had developed "an emotionally inappropriate, non-sexual relationship with a 19-year-old male which involved alcohol." He sent Father Charles Townsend, pastor of St. Peter Parish in Lincoln, to the Shalom Center in Houston for treatment. "My failure at the time was the lack of transparency with the people of God about this incident," Bishop Conley said in an open letter to Catholics of the diocese. "Despite reports to the contrary, I did not oblige anyone to keep silent about this matter. Our priests and the parishioners of St. Peter's were told that he went away for health reasons. I made no effort to 'cover up' any element of this situation, and I tried to address it with integrity," he wrote. "However, I did not encourage transparency. I did not encourage an open discussion about this situation with our priests, with parishioners, or with those involved," he continued. "Even though we were not legally obligated to report the incident, it would have been the prudent thing to do."

    Indonesia's Lombok hit by another powerful quake; pope sends prayers

    JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNS) -- At least 91 people have been confirmed dead after a magnitude 7 earthquake struck Indonesia's Lombok Island on Aug. 5 a week after another powerful quake killed more than a dozen people. The country's National Disaster Mitigation Agency said more than 200 people were injured in the latest quake, which also jolted the neighboring tourist island of Bali, damaged thousands of buildings and forced thousands of people to flee their homes, reported. Pope Francis sent words of condolences and solidarity to Indonesia authorities Aug. 6 through Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state. Cardinal Parolin said the pope was praying "especially for the repose of the deceased, the healing of the injured and the consolation of all who grieve the loss of their loved ones." Among the damaged buildings was St. Mary Immaculate Church in the West Nusa Tenggara provincial capital of Mataram. "The quake was stronger than before. The church ceiling fell down, but the church's walls remain intact," Father Laurensius Maryono, a priest at the parish, said. "There were no casualties as there was no religious activities going on in the church when the quake occurred." A disaster mitigation agency representative said the victims urgently need medical supplies, clean water, food, blankets, mattress and tents.

    Cardinal Cupich: Death penalty can't 'rebalance the scales of justice'

    CHICAGO (CNS) -- Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, speaking during an Aug. 2 panel discussion, described how Catholic teaching on the death penalty has developed and stressed that putting people to death -- even criminals who are certainly guilty of terrible acts -- makes it seem that the God-given right to life is conditional. He made the comments the same day Pope Francis revised the Catechism of the Catholic Church to say the death penalty is "inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person." The Chicago event was titled "Has the Death Penalty Become an Anachronism? A Discussion of Changing Laws, Practices and Religion on Our Standard of Decency" and hosted by the American Bar Association's Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice. Others panelists were Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center; Meredith Martin Rountree, senior lecturer at Northwestern University's Pritzker School of Law; and Karen Gottlieb, co-director of the Florida Center for Capital Representation at Florida International University. The other speakers discussed the development of capital punishment, circumstances where the death penalty can be applied constitutionally, if at all, and the many ways it has been applied unfairly and arbitrarily.

    Pittsburgh bishop says report will be 'sad, tragic description' of events

    PITTSBURGH (CNS) -- Once it is released, a grand jury report on a months-long investigation into abuse claims in six Pennsylvania dioceses covering a 70-year span "will be a sad and tragic description of events that occurred within the church," Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik said Aug. 4. "Permit me the opportunity to prepare you for the public release of this report and also to put it into some context," he said in a letter to Catholics in the diocese. "I want you to know that our diocese has cooperated with the Attorney General's Office and the grand jury. We have not attempted to block the report." Nearly 90 percent of all reported incidents of abuse in the Pittsburgh Diocese covered by the report occurred before 1990, Bishop Zubik said, but he added: "Every act of child sexual abuse is horrific, no matter how long ago it occurred." In the diocese today, he said, "I can assure you that there is no priest or deacon in public ministry against whom a substantiated allegation of child sexual abuse has been made." "For over 30 years, the Diocese of Pittsburgh has had policies in place to respond quickly and compassionately when victims of abuse have come forward," he said. "We respond to allegations today very differently than decades ago."

    U.S. Catholic physician a reluctant hero in Sudan's Nuba Mountains

    NUBA MOUNTAINS, Sudan (CNS) -- A U.S. physician who has won accolades for his service in a war-torn corner of Sudan said he has just done what any missionary is called to do. "I'm a lay missionary. We're supposed to show the face of Christ to people, but how can you do that if you take off when the going gets tough?" asked Dr. Tom Catena, a 54-year old physician from Amsterdam, New York, sent by the Catholic Medical Mission Board to run the Mother of Mercy Hospital in Gidel, a village in the isolated Nuba Mountains. In 2011, fighting between rebel Nuba forces and the central government in Khartoum grew particularly fierce. The area around the church-run hospital began to experience intense bombing by the Sudanese Armed Forces. Bishop Macram Max Gassis, then the bishop of El Obeid, which includes the Nuba region, ordered all foreign church workers, including Catena, to leave. Catena was among a handful who said no. As an American working in the area he has received much attention, something he finds disconcerting because, he said, staff from throughout African and Sudan are working to deliver care just as diligently. "If I can be the one to get the message out," he said, "to show another face of the church and the good it's doing in the world, then let me give it a shot."

    Pope prays Blessed Paul VI will intercede for 'church he loved so much'

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- On the 40th anniversary of the death of Blessed Paul VI, Pope Francis went into the grotto under St. Peter's Basilica to pray at his predecessor's simple tomb. The pope who oversaw the last sessions of the Second Vatican Council and began implementing its teachings died Aug. 6, 1978, at Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence outside of Rome. He was buried six days later in the basilica's grotto. Unlike most of popes buried there, his tomb is in the earth -- rather than elevated -- and is covered with a simple travertine marble slab. Reciting the Angelus prayer Aug. 5 with visitors in St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis reminded them of the anniversary and of the fact that he plans to canonize his predecessor Oct. 14. "From heaven may he intercede for the church he loved so much and for peace in the world," Pope Francis said. He called asked the people in the square to join him in a round of applause for "this great pope of modernity."

    Use internet to promote tourism that respects environment, Vatican says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- With more and more people planning their vacations online and sharing their experiences digitally, the tourism industry and tourists themselves should pay more attention to using online forums to encourage respect for the locales visited and for the communities that live there, the Vatican said. In a message for the Sept. 27 celebration of World Tourism Day, Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, said the "digital transformation" of tourism has the potential for promoting happier and healthier vacations that do more to protect the natural environment and promote authentic encounters between people. The cardinal's message was released by the Vatican Aug. 4. For the 2018 celebration of the day, the World Tourism Organization is focusing on the industry's digital transformation. The cardinal's message noted how digital technology is "dramatically changing the way we live periods of rest, vacation, mobility and tourism in all its forms." Digital innovation, he wrote, should have the aim of "promoting inclusiveness, increasing the engagement of people and local communities and achieving an intelligent and equitable management of resources." The Vatican's hope, he added, is that "tourism will contribute to glorifying God, and to increasingly validating human dignity, mutual knowledge, spiritual brotherhood, refreshment of body and soul."

    Faith is a relationship, not a set of rules, pope says at Angelus

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Doing God's will means believing in Jesus and allowing love for him to translate into love for one's neighbors, Pope Francis said before reciting the Angelus prayer Aug. 5. The Gospel story of the multiplication of loaves demonstrates the concern Jesus showed for people's daily physical needs, the pope said, but the passages that follow show how "it is even more important to cultivate our relationship with him, reinforcing our faith in him who is the 'bread of life' come to satisfy our hunger for truth, our hunger for justice, our hunger for love." Before prayer with visitors in St. Peter's Square, the pope offered a commentary on the day's Gospel reading, John 6:24-35, which tells of the crowds fed by Jesus following him and asking him what it means to do "the works of God." Jesus answers, "This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent." With his reply, the pope said, Jesus wants the crowd to take a further step in faith and "ask themselves the meaning of the miracle (of the multiplication of the loaves) and not just profit from it." Further, the pope said, Jesus "wants to satisfy not only their bodies but also their souls, giving them the spiritual food that can satisfy their deeper hungers."

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