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Discalced Carmelites use time-honored skills to construct new monastery

Mon, 08/13/2018 - 2:30pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness

By Jen Reed

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.

Nine Discalced Carmelites, including Mother Stella-Marie, moved from the at-capacity Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Elysburg to the Fairfield site July 20. They will sleep in their individual cells in a temporary mobile home until the monastery is built.

This community of Discalced Carmelites first came to the Diocese of Harrisburg from Lincoln, Nebraska, in 2009, due to their growing numbers. Initially 11 arrived at the Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Elysburg, after the previous Carmelites moved to their current location in Danville.

Since their arrival in Elysburg, their numbers have more than doubled, with the monastery there filling to capacity with 28 nuns. Among them was Sister Mary Magdalene of the Divine Heart (formerly Channing Dale of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Lancaster), who entered in 2013, and is currently enclosed in the Discalced Carmelite community in Philadelphia.

The Carmelites continue to attract young women to the congregation, and so the available farmland in Fairfield -- owned by the parents of Mother Therese -- offered an opportunity for expansion from Elysburg.

Like St. Teresa of Avila and St. Therese of Lisieux, the Discalced Carmelites practice the traditional aspects of Carmelite and monastic life -- prayer, fasting, enclosure and union with God.

Entering the cloister from locations throughout the world -- including Australia and Ghana -- they dedicate their lives to prayer and sacrifice to give themselves totally to God for the world. 

Enclosed in the monastery, and leaving behind family and friends, they spend their days in scheduled times of silent prayer, the Divine Office, holy Mass, recitation of the rosary and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. They also have time for work in making clothes, baking bread, and tending to the garden and farm; and recreational time for sewing, artwork and storytelling.

"I think young women are drawn to what is authentic," Mother Stella-Marie said of the growing number of vocations to the community. "They are looking to live in our day and age exactly as St. Teresa of Avila did. They want to be enclosed because they want to give everything. Most of the women tell us that if they are going to dedicate their life to God, they want to go all the way and give absolutely everything to him."

For this reason, it is critical that the new monastery in Fairfield be built in the Carmelite tradition, said Mother Therese.

Watching as excavators wrenched stone from the land for construction, she told The Catholic Witness, Harrisburg's diocesan newspaper, earlier this summer, "People expect us to be real nuns, all the way through. They don't want to see a nice veneer on the outside, but then something different inside.

"We have a lot of young vocations coming. We need to be able to teach them not just one or two hours a day about tradition. They need to learn 24/7 from these stone walls, which are authentic all the way through," she said.

The blueprints for the monastery farmstead illustrate buildings designed to stand the test of time: a chapel, a refectory, a novitiate, a building for the professed, a caretaker's home, chaplain's quarters and a guest cottage.

Their construction requires authentic materials and craftsmanship as the Carmelites build for future generations of their congregation.

Throughout the project's development, the nuns have continued to be the beneficiaries of generous donors and volunteers who have offered their time, talent and treasure.

They include stonemasons and timber framers, among them a mason from Scotland who instructed local volunteers in the craft, notably a "dry build" of the all-stone woodshed.

Benefactors have donated barn wood and stone that will be used to construct the buildings. Volunteers have spent time deep-cleaning the donated wooden beams. Others have been providing meals for the workers. Still others have helped with the build, including men of the local Amish community.

"It has been a beautiful way for us to evangelize and to connect with people we otherwise would not have contact with," said Mother Therese. "We are hoping to continue to build on these connections and find ways to channel them into lasting relationships."

As Mother Stella-Marie and Mother Therese walked the new grounds in Fairfield, they also spoke of long-fostered relationships with family and within the community, and how they change with time.

The nuns are experiencing a degree of separation in their community as this new chapter begins. Nine of the total 28 from the monastery in Elysburg are now forging a new foundation in Fairfield, and parted ways from their counterparts who remain enclosed some two hours to the north.

"It is a sacrifice to break away from each other, but it is a sacrifice that we make for the future of the congregation," said Mother Stella-Marie. "We will stay united. Even though we won't see each other any longer, we will remain close in prayer."

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Editor's Note: Information about the Discalced Carmelite nuns, the progress of the monastery in Fairfield and volunteer efforts can be found at

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Reed is the managing editor of The Catholic Witness, newspaper of the Diocese of Harrisburg.

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

Sat, 08/11/2018 - 4:09pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

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. They asked his advice about keeping their dreams alive when the future seems so uncertain, how to prepare to marry and start a family and how to get church leaders to listen to them rather than preach at them.

"He put his finger in the wound," the pope said in reference to the last question, which was posed by Dario, a 27-year-old hospice nurse. He told the pope, "For young people, commands from on high are no longer enough, we need signs and the sincere witness of a church that accompanies us and listens to the doubts our generation raises each day."

Dario's judgment of the church's pastors is "strong," the pope said, and it is true that "sometimes we are the ones who betray the Gospel."

But Pope Francis also told the young people they need to recognize that they, too, are part of the church. Thinking only religious, priests and bishops are the church is "clericalism" and "clericalism is a perversion of the church," he said.

The best way to respond to a stuffy, lifeless church or to church scandals, the pope told them, "is with witness. If there is no witness, there is no Holy Spirit. The church without witness is just smoke."

Letizia, 23, told the pope she wanted to be an art historian, but was advised to study economy because it would pay better. Lucamatteo, 20, told the pope dreaming big dreams is frightening, and Martina, 24, said she wants to start preparing for marriage and a family, but everyone seems to think it's more important to have a career first.

"Dreams are important," the pope told them. "And the dreams of the young are the most important of all; they are the brightest stars, those that indicate a different path for humanity."

Of course, he said, dreams must grow, be put to the test and purified. Those worth pursuing -- those the Bible would call "great dreams" -- always are those that will help others and make the world a better place. "Great dreams include, involve others, reach out, share and generate new life."

One of the greatest dreams of all, he said, is the dream of finding true love, pledging oneself to another for life and creating a family. It is so important and so holy, he said, that it should never take second place to one's career.

True love is not simply infatuation, the pope told the young people. It involves giving all of oneself to another; "you have to put all the meat on the grill, as we say in Argentina."

"To choose, to be able to decide for oneself seems to be the highest expression of freedom," he said. "And in a certain sense, it is. But the idea of choice we breathe today is that of a freedom without bonds -- pay attention to this -- without bonds, without commitment and always with some kind of escape route."

But true joy and happiness come from finding what is most precious, what "is worth saying 'yes' to and giving your life to," the pope said.

The evening ended with a prayer service and the reading of the Gospel story of the apostles running to Jesus' tomb after Mary Magdalene told them Jesus was no longer there. John arrived first, but waited for Peter before going in, the pope noted in his homily.

Young people should run with the same passion for Jesus, Pope Francis said. "The church needs your enthusiasm, your intuitions, your faith. And when you arrive where we have not yet been, have the patience to wait for us like John waited for Peter before the empty tomb."

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Cardinal O'Malley calls for investigation at Boston seminary

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 5:27pm

By Rhina Guidos

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 Boston 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."

In a statement released by the archdiocese, Cardinal O'Malley said that Father Stephen E. Salocks, professor of sacred Scripture, will serve as interim rector at St. John Seminary as Msgr. James P. Moroney, its rector, goes on sabbatical leave for the fall semester, "in order that there can be a fully independent inquiry regarding these matters," he wrote.  

Cardinal O'Malley said he also has appointed a group "to oversee an inquiry into the allegations made this week, the culture of the seminary regarding the personal standards expected and required of candidates for the priesthood, and any seminary issues of sexual harassment or other forms of intimidation or discrimination."

He said he has asked the group to submit its findings as soon as possible.

"The allegations made this week are a source of serious concern to me as archbishop of Boston," he wrote. "The ministry of the Catholic priesthood requires a foundation of trust with the people of the church and the wider community in which our priests serve. I am determined that all our seminaries meet that standard of trust and provide the formation necessary for priests to live a demanding vocation of service in our contemporary society. "

Cardinal O'Malley is one of Pope Francis' chief advisers on clerical sexual abuse and heads the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Boston was the epicenter of the abuse scandal that erupted in the church in 2002. The Boston Archdiocese was then headed by Cardinal Bernard F. Law.

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

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 5:00pm

By Theresa Laurence

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) -- Two Tennessee Catholic bishops called the execution of Billy Ray Irick Aug. 9 "unnecessary."

"Tonight's execution of Billy Ray Irick was unnecessary. It 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 United States since Pope Francis announced 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.

Irick was convicted in 1986 for the murder and rape of 7-year-old Paula Dyer of Knoxville and had been on death row ever since.

Attorneys for Irick had filed a last-minute appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court seeking a stay of his execution until their lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Tennessee's lethal injection protocol could be heard by the state Court of Appeals.

Five hours before the execution, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal, with a dissent filed by Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

"In refusing to grant Irick a stay, the court today turns a blind eye to a proven likelihood that the state of Tennessee is on the verge of inflicting several minutes of torturous pain on an inmate in its custody, while shrouding his suffering behind a veneer of paralysis," Sotomayor wrote in her dissent.

On a humid night at sunset, spiritual leaders led prayers and read Scripture to the group. Others who knew Irick from visiting him on death row shared memories about him.

"Being in that physical proximity, knowing that behind all the concrete walls and barbed wire a killing is going on is a very sobering thing," said Deacon James Booth, director of prison ministry for the Diocese of Nashville, who stood outside the prison with a group of about 20 fellow anti-death penalty activists as Irick was executed.

Before the execution, Deacon Booth was planning how he would minister to death-row inmates in the coming days. "I will let them speak," he said, to say whatever they want in order to process the emotions and the grief they might feel, akin to losing a family member.

While the men on death row are guilty of horrific crimes including rape and murder, Deacon Booth believes, and the Catholic Church teaches, that they still retain their human dignity and capacity for forgiveness and redemption.

Tennessee's bishops, in the weeks before the execution, issued two statements calling for the end of the death penalty and condemning Irick's execution.

Bishops Spalding, Stika and Martin D. Holley of Memphis also wrote a letter to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam in July, urging him to halt Irick's execution and the three other executions scheduled before the end of the year.

Irick's execution had been stayed twice before, in 2010 and 2014, as attorneys argued the state's lethal injection protocol constituted "cruel and unusual punishment" and that Irick's history of severe mental illness was not taken into adequate consideration during his sentencing or throughout the lengthy appeals process.

The timing of the execution, just one week after Pope Francis announced that he was officially changing the Catechism to oppose capital punishment in all instances, is disheartening to Deacon Booth.

"When the head of the largest Christian denomination in the world speaks out forcefully against the death penalty ' that should be kind of a force that should stay the hand of revenge, and it's hard to see this as anything but revenge," Deacon Booth said of Irick's execution. 

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Laurence is a staff writer for the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.

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Canon lawyers explain how Vatican abuse trials function

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 1:37pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Any member of the clergy accused of the sexual abuse of a minor is tried according to procedures outlined in the Code of Canon Law and specific norms spelled out in "Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela" ("Safeguarding the Sanctity of the Sacraments").

Normally those trials take place in the diocese where the crime occurred, but under the direction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. However, when the accused is a bishop, it is up to the pope to determine the way to proceed.

When the Vatican press office announced July 28 that Pope Francis had accepted Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick's resignation from the College of Cardinals, it also said the pope "ordered his suspension from the exercise of any public ministry, together with the obligation to remain in a house yet to be indicated to him, for a life of prayer and penance until the accusations made against him are examined in a regular canonical trial."

The "regular canonical trial" for an accused bishop, canon law experts said, usually would be a trial conducted by the apostolic tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. However, the phrase in the original Italian announcement referred to the "regolare processo canonico," which could be translated as "regular canonical process."

The regular process described in "Safeguarding the Sanctity of the Sacraments" includes the option of an "extrajudicial decree," an administrative process by which the accused is presented with the evidence and given an opportunity for self-defense, but there is no trial and no witnesses are called.

Two canon lawyers experienced with how the apostolic tribunals of the doctrinal congregation work spoke with Catholic News Service in Rome in early August, but requested their names not be used because they are not congregation staff members and cannot speak for the congregation.

Both lawyers said canon law also would view as a crime the sexual abuse or harassment of an adult by his superior, for example, in the case of a bishop abusing adult seminarians. The crime could be prosecuted as an "abuse of office" or as a "delict against the Sixth Commandment," which says, "You shall not commit adultery." The phrase in church law, one of them said, may sound vague, but it leaves room for prosecuting a variety of sexual crimes. And the punishment prescribed is to be commensurate with the offense.

A canonical trial at the Vatican differs in many ways from criminal trials in the United States, for example.

An apostolic tribunal of the doctrinal congregation has at least three and as many as five judges. In the past, accusations against bishops have been tried before a five-judge panel with all of the judges being bishops.

In canon law, there is a basic presumption of innocence but not to the extent seen in U.S. or British law. The accused has the right to defend himself and the right to counsel. But the promoter of justice, a role similar to prosecutor, does not have to prove motive, means or criminal intent.

Also unlike U.S. trials, the prosecutor and defense counsel do not question the witnesses. That is the task of the judges.

Both the prosecutor and the defense counsel propose a list of witnesses, but the judges must approve them. The judges have access to the report of the preliminary, diocesan investigation and are likely to use that to determine which witnesses are essential.

The accused can testify and can refuse to answer questions that might incriminate him. Also, in accordance with canon 1728.2, no oath is administered to the accused. One of the canon lawyers told CNS that the oath is so sacred to the church that it would not risk putting a person in the position of violating it with perjury.

The promoter of justice and the defense counsel are given copies of all the testimony, and it is their duty to summarize it and present the summary to the judges. Each lawyer sees the other's summary and comments on it, pointing out where they see weaknesses or inconsistencies in the testimony. The comment process can go back and forth several times, but when the promoter of justice says he is finished, the defense counsel is given the last word.

The judges deliberate in private, usually at the Vatican. Three verdicts are possible: guilty, not guilty or not proven. The last indicates that while there is no condemnation or penalty, the accusations raised enough questions that church officials should be cautious in the future about assigning the accused to unsupervised ministries with minors or vulnerable adults.

In a canonical trial, everything is covered by confidentiality, usually referred to as "pontifical secret." The phrase does not indicate a refusal on the church's part to report a crime to the police -- in accordance with local laws, such reporting already should have occurred when the crime was first reported to the diocese before the allegations were forwarded to Rome, one of the canonists told CNS.

If there is a guilty verdict and the penalty involves the accused being removed from ministry or from office or having limits placed on ministry, it is announced publicly because it impacts the Catholic community.

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

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 1:50pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller


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 and find "any pastoral negligence in protecting our people is similarly grievous."

"We are weary of this cloud of shame that continues to shroud church leadership and compromise our mission," he said, adding that 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.

"I sincerely believed that the unprecedented steps we took at that time would help to heal this wound in the body of Christ. And so they have, " he added, "though obviously not completely or even sufficiently."

The archbishop said he was saddened because many good priests are again "seen as suspect not because they have done anything wrong" and he was hurt that his respect and fraternal esteem for Archbishop McCarrick "were clearly misplaced."

He said he never personally worked with Archbishop McCarrick in any pastoral context and said he also "never knew or suspected the hidden side of a man whose admired public persona concealed that of a violator of foundational Christian morality and of young people who trusted him."

"Like any individual who discovers far too late that a friend has a history of moral misconduct, I now stand dumbfounded that I was so unaware and naive," he said, adding that he knows many other bishops feel the same way.

"People are angry, as well they should be, that our church is once again viewed as a haven for criminal deviant behavior," he said, adding that priests also are hurt and Catholics are disappointed with bishops in general "who seemingly cannot or will not act decisively to heal this festering wound."

Catholics are "perplexed and sickened," he said, "that the Holy See may well have dismissed multiple warning signs" that should have stopped Archbishop McCarrick and others earlier in their careers. He also said Catholics are disheartened that situations here and in other countries continue to "call into question everything the church has done to safeguard children and adults from manipulation and violation."

Archbishop Gregory said he recently met with archdiocesan seminarians and told them directly "that if any person in any context made advances or exhibited behavior that made them feel uncomfortable or threatened, they are to notify the director of vocations, one of the auxiliary bishops or me personally so that we may take swift and appropriate action -- pastoral and legal.

"Their parents and family members should know that these young men are in safe and respectful environments and that, as their archbishop, I will not tolerate any activity that threatens to harm or intimidate them."

He said that while the USCCB's current leadership considers its next steps, he strongly urges these leaders to "engage the laity in reviewing and recommending courses of action that will assure the faithful that we are serious in curing this blight from our church and from episcopal governance once and for all."

He pointed out that when the USCCB established a national lay review board in 2002, there was some pushback because some people felt they were "improperly ceding control of the ministry of bishops" but given the current situation, he said, oversight by laity "may well provide the only credible assurance that real and decisive actions are being taken."

"Our trustworthiness as bishops has been so seriously compromised that acting alone -- even with the best of intentions and the highest principles, policies and plans --may not move the hearts of the faithful to believe," he added.

The archbishop said he prays that this moment and the days, weeks, and months ahead will be an opportunity for light to break through the darkness; for victims and survivors of sexual abuse to come forward and receive the help, support and healing they need; and for church leadership to be renewed and have the courage to take the necessary next steps.

"Like so many of you I am angry, but I am not overcome by despair. I hope and I pray that the Holy Spirit will cleanse and strengthen the church," Archbishop Gregory said. "My anger has not led me to hopelessness; I pray yours has not either. I am grateful for your witness of faith and hope, even in difficult times."

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Editor's Note: Archbishop Gregory's print and video statement can be found at

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Argentina Senate votes down abortion decriminalization bill

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 12:46pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Agustin Marcarian

By David Agren

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. Observers attributed that difference to the bill being voted down in the Senate, which includes more representation from outlying areas.

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 an acknowledgment that the church could be doing more to work with women, Cardinal Poli said, "We have done little to accompany the women when find themselves in tough situations, particularly when the (pregnancy) has is the result of rape or situations of extreme poverty."

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."

"We are facing great pastoral challenges to speak more clearly on the value of life," the bishops said.

More than 75 percent of Argentines still consider themselves Catholic, but the opposition to the abortion bill also came from Protestant and evangelical congregations, prompting the bishops' conference to acknowledge that "ecumenical dialogue and inter-religious dialogue has grown at this time of joining forces to protect life."

Analysts in Argentina say church opposition to the abortion bill started somewhat quietly as the measure was not expected to pass the lower house. Pope Francis, a native of Argentina, also largely stayed on the sidelines, except for a strong denunciation of abortion in June. At the time he said, "Last century, the whole world was scandalized by what the Nazis did to purify the race. Today, we do the same thing but with white gloves."

"When the lower house result occurred, (the hierarchy) started to understand something similar could happen with the senators so the Argentine church and various movements and associations became frontally against the bill," said Jose Maria Poirier, publisher of the Catholic magazine Criterio.

"It's created tension" in the Argentine church "that the pope has not intervened directly," he added.

Argentine President Mauricio Macri had promised to sign the bill into law had it been approved. Observers said the relationship between the Catholic Church and Macri had deteriorated somewhat as the pope's statements on economic matters were not well received as president tried to implement difficult economic reforms in recent months.

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Abuse expert: Crisis is call to new vision of priesthood, accountability

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 8:39am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A Jesuit priest who has been on the frontline of advocating for survivors of clerical sexual abuse and developing detailed programs to prevent abuse said the crisis unfolding, again, in the United States is a summons to a new way of envisioning the church and taking responsibility for it.

"I am not surprised" by the new reports of abuse, "I do not think it will stop soon and, at the same time, I think it is necessary and should be seen in the framework of evolving a more consistent practice of accountability," said Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, a professor of psychology and president of the Center for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

"I know that people are deeply angry and they are losing their trust -- this is understandable. That is normal, humanly speaking," he told Catholic News Service Aug. 7 as newspapers were filled with information and commentary about the case of retired Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, misconduct in a Nebraska seminary and the pending release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report on clergy sexual abuse.

The courage of survivors to speak out, the investigative work of both police and church bodies, the implementation of child protection measures and improved screening of potential seminarians, church workers and volunteers mean that children and vulnerable adults are safer today.

But, as Father Zollner has been saying for years, that does not mean accusations of past abuse will stop coming out, and it does not guarantee there will never again be a case of abuse or sexual misconduct.

Dealing with the reality of potential abuse and the history of clerical sexual abuse in the church is a process, he said. "We see that people were first speaking out about the misbehavior of priests and now it's bishops, so there is a development there. I am not surprised, and I do not think it will stop soon."

After Archbishop McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals and was ordered to live a life of prayer and penance pending a church trial, many U.S. bishops began speaking publicly of devising a process to review accusations made against bishops.

Father Zollner agreed that is a good idea, but he believes it must be part of "a new way of coming together as the people of God" and taking responsibility for the church.

To make that happen, he said, "we need to honestly look at what we can learn from the way society and companies function in terms of accountability, transparency and compliance."

"A church body investigating allegations needs to have as much independence as possible," Father Zollner said. "When dealing with accusations against a bishop, there should be at least a mixed board -- meaning some bishops and some independent lay persons. If it is not possible to have a fully complete investigation by independent lay persons, there should be as many as possible and as experienced as possible. Our canon lawyers are trained in legal procedures; they are not trained in investigation."

But the response must go far beyond setting up another new structure, he said.

"Since God is the Lord of history, I understand all this as a call to a deeper understanding of what is the church about, what is priesthood about and what is the Christian life," he told CNS.

"From my point of view, the temptation can be to return to a very strict, closed-fortress idea of church, controlling everything," he said, but "that will not work anymore. We need a new model of accountability and responsibility and a new way of educating the whole people of God in Christian ideals."

The dominant understanding of priesthood and power -- described as clericalism -- is one key ingredient and was highlighted as a major contributing factor to abuse and a reluctance to report it in the December report of Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

In an essay published in January by Civilta Cattolica, the Jesuit journal, Father Zollner said, "Whoever in infancy or youth or as a candidate for priesthood learned that a priest is always blameless can easily develop the mindset that he does not need to justify himself to anyone. Anyone endowed with sacred powers can take anything he wants for himself. That kind of mentality can explain, at least in part, why some priests who have abused children or young people deny doing so or believe that they themselves were victims or merely accomplices ('he seduced me,' 'he liked it'), often making them blind to the suffering they have caused."

In addition to a renewed understanding of priesthood, Father Zollner told CNS, Catholics must reflect more fully on and articulate more clearly "what an integrated sexual life for married people, single people and clergy would look like. There is a lot to be done in that area."

Responding to comments that the clerical sexual abuse crisis is a result of the sexual revolution and the loss of sexual morals, Father Zollner urged caution and an objective study of the facts.

"The statistics from the Royal Commission report in Australia indicate that the abuse had its peak in Australia in the '50s and early '60s, which was way before the sexual revolution took place, so this goes against that argument," he said. Studies from the United States, Ireland and Germany also show that most abusers did their seminary training and were ordained before the sexual revolution.

"Among the clergy, the number of new allegations from the last 20 and especially the last 10 years has dropped almost to nil," he said.

At the same time, Father Zollner urged a renewed vigilance because of "the whole area of the internet and the availability of pornographic material and all kinds of sexual exploitation that are facilitated by that; it brings a new dimension to this and to society at large."

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 12:37pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Kevin J. Parks, Catholic Review

By Paul McMullen

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.

It was a familiar sight to those Knights and their families, primarily from across North America but from far away as the Philippines, who might have already visited America's first cathedral, a little more than a half-mile to the north.

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.

According to the Mass program, during that ordination Cardinal James Gibbons "likely" used the aforementioned chalice, a gift from Pope Pius VII to Archbishop Ambrose Marechal in 1822, a year after the Baltimore basilica was dedicated.

"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."

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, in remarks given later that day, reported that the order's charitable contributions in fraternal year 2017-18 totaled a record $185 million.

That figure does not include a $1 million gift presented to the Archdiocese of Baltimore Aug. 4 to go toward a project that will give Baltimore City its first new Catholic school in nearly six decades.

"Knights of Charity" is the theme of the first supreme convention in Baltimore since 1989, when the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the first diocese in the U.S., celebrated its bicentennial.

The opening Mass included 100 bishops and 200 priests. Concelebrants included Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Boston Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley, who is president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Archbishop Lori alluded to the recent demotion of Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick from the College of Cardinals and a soon-to-be-released Pennsylvania grand jury report on a months-long investigation into abuse claims in six of the state's Catholic dioceses covering a 70-year span.

"In the difficult and challenging days that are before us," he said, "may I urge you to continue working to build up and strengthen the church, especially by putting into practice the principles of charity, unity and fraternity."

Prelates with ties to Baltimore included Cardinal Edwin F. O'Brien, who was Baltimore's archbishop 2007 to 2011, who is grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre; Bishop W. Francis Malooly of Wilmington, Delaware; Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of Springfield, Massachusetts; and Baltimore Auxiliary Bishops Adam J. Parker and Mark E. Brennan.

Priests of the Baltimore Archdiocese were among the concelebrants, including Conventual Franciscan Father Donald Grzymski, president of Archbishop Curley High School and past chaplain of the Knights' Maryland State Council.

Some of that council's members were visible for their custom red nylon vests, which included the outline of a crab on the back. In lieu of blue, its color scheme was the Maryland flag.

Stephen J. Bayliff, recognitions programs chairman for the Maryland State Council, did not need a conversation-starter. As Knights took an escalator down to Mass, Bayliff greeted each and every one by name and with a hearty handshake.

Bayliff is a member of Jesus the Divine Word Council 14775 in Huntingtown. In 2000 he moved from Midland, Texas, to Southern Maryland, and soon thereafter became a Knight.

"I was recruited by Larry Donnelly," Bayliff said, of a fellow Knight involved in a signature outreach for persons with developmental disabilities. "He was selling Tootsie Rolls outside the Walmart in Prince Frederick. We hit it off."

The approximately 2,200 Knights and their wives in attendance included first-time conventioneers Bret and Courtney Ladenburger of Casper, Wyoming. A Knight since 1994, when he turned 18, Ladenburger is the state secretary for Wyoming, where the March for Life is held in Cheyenne and the Winter Special Olympics in Jackson.

"I'm enjoying the fraternity," Ladenburger told the Catholic Review, Baltimore's archdiocesan news outlet. "I'm humbled when I talk to the guys."

Larry Lewandowski, past state deputy for North Dakota, is a convention regular. His first thought when he heard the 2018 convention would be in Baltimore was Johnny Unitas, the late Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback-- and Catholic, to boot.

Having spent 25 years in the U.S. Air Force, Lewandowski likens the Knights to a military outfit.

"There's a lot of brotherhood, and lot of discipline," said Lewandowski, a member of St. Mary's Parish in Grand Forks. "That allows us to do a great deal of the Lord's work."

Lewandowski described the fellowship he found at breakfast that morning.

"Cardinal Dolan was sitting at a table near mine," Lewandowski said, of New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan. "All I saw was his collar, and asked, 'Father, how are you doing?' Finally, I recognized him, and he just laughed. We had a great visit."

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McMullen is managing editor of the Catholic Review, the news website and magazine of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

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Catholic Church offers to mediate Zimbabwe election dispute

Tue, 08/07/2018 - 11:12am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mike Hutchings, Reuters

By Bronwen Dachs

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 in a telephone interview from Harare.

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 in 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 the capital, 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 including destruction of property.

It urged the security forces to apologize, particularly to the bereaved families.

"Saying 'sorry' would open doors for healing and rebuilding of good relationships between citizens and their defense forces," the commission said in an Aug. 2 statement signed by commission chairman Bishop Rudolf Nyandoro of Gokwe.

Zimbabwe's churches could mediate an "all-sides confidential dialogue," the commission said, noting that "an inclusive, objective, internally constructed process" is needed to resolve the electoral conflict.

The challenges Zimbabwe faces "are much deeper than the elections," Father Chiromba said. "There is still a lack of trust between the people and government" at all levels and the country's churches have "a big role to play in restoring that trust," he said.

"If we can manage to move forward as one people," much-needed development will follow, he said.

Most people in Zimbabwe, with a population of nearly 16 million, survive on $1 a day. They eke out a living in small-scale informal trade, mostly selling goods bought in South Africa.

"Investors were waiting for these elections. Now that they are over, we hope that Zimbabwe will be admitted into the community of nations, which will help in job creation," Father Chiromba said.

Mugabe's policies are widely blamed for the country's economic decline over the last two decades.

"There is now a conscious, sustained effort to restore the nation" and the economy "is in the early stages of recovery," Father Chiromba said.

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Pope thanks Chilean bishops for steps taken to address abuse scandal

Tue, 08/07/2018 - 10:50am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chilean bishops' conference

By Cindy Wooden

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. 5 and posted on the website of the Chilean bishops' conference.

Addressed to Bishop Santiago Silva Retamales, the military ordinary and conference president, Pope Francis' 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 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.".

The pope's letter, in tone and in its informality, was markedly different than one he sent them in April when he apologized to abuse survivors for making "serious mistakes in the assessment and perception of the situation, especially due to a lack of truthful and balanced information," presumably from the bishops.

He summoned the country's bishops to Rome for a three-day meeting in May. At the end of the meeting, most of the bishops offered the pope their resignations. By late June, he had accepted five of the resignations.

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

Mon, 08/06/2018 - 3:02pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Ahmad Subaidi, Antara Foto via Reuters


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."

"In offering encouragement to the civil authorities and those involved in the search and rescue efforts as they assist the victims of this disaster, His Holiness willingly invokes upon the people of Indonesia divine blessings of consolation and strength," the message said.

A disaster mitigation agency representative said the victims urgently need medical supplies, clean water, food, blankets, mattress and tents.

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, told Aug. 6.

"There were no casualties as there was no religious activities going on in the church when the quake occurred," Father Maryono said.

"Some parishioners are currently trying to clean up the church and get rid of the debris," he added.

The parish emergency response team was coordinating with one from the Diocese of Denpasar.

"They will go to the worst-hit areas of North Lombok and East Lombok districts to collect data. We will continue collect aid for victims, something we had started doing for victims of last week's quake," the priest said.

The disaster mitigation agency reported that last week's quake killed at least 16 people, left 355 people injured and forced more than 5,100 people to flee their homes.

Meanwhile, Holy Spirit Cathedral Parish in Denpasar, Bali province, reported only slight damage in the quake.

More than 130 aftershocks were recorded following the latest quake.

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Maryland parish helps Puerto Ricans still rebuilding from hurricane

Fri, 08/03/2018 - 5:07pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Alvin Baez, Reuters

By Wallice J. de la Vega

MAUNABO, Puerto Rico (CNS) -- Although Puerto Rico's post-hurricanes coverage has disappeared from the daily news cycles, Catholic workers have not forgotten the fact that thousands in this Caribbean island are still in dire need of a helping hand.

Eighteen volunteers from St. Francis Builds, a program based in St. Camillus Catholic Church in Silver Spring, Maryland, recently demonstrated its continued commitment in Latin America. Its initial mission was to Guatemala in 2006.

St. Francis Builds brought its volunteers to Maunabo July 22-29. It is one of several southeastern towns that received Hurricane Maria's head-on impact last Sept. 20. Municipal authorities estimate 90 percent of Maunabo's wooden structures were damaged, many of them destroyed, in this mostly rural town of just over 11,000 residents.

For this mission to Maunabo's Calzada sector, St. Francis Builds teamed once again with the Fuller Center for Housing, based in Americus, Georgia. The goal of the seven-day mission was to repair roofs, finish cleaning indoor dangerous levels of fungus remaining after hurricane flooding and paint houses.

Calzada is a rural, unplanned neighborhood of tightly built concrete and wooden houses on a steep mountain side. Residents were not evacuated prior to Hurricane Maria's landfall.

St. Francis Builds was started by Franciscan Father Michael Johnson 12 years ago. He served at St. Camillus for 15 years, including some time as pastor, before being assigned to Boston three years ago.

"I was a chaplain at a safe house in Bolivia for six years, Father Michael said in Spanish. "My heart is already Latino."

St. Camillus parishioners Beth Hood and Pat Zapor were team leaders on this mission to Maunabo. Both are longtime veterans of these kind of trips. Zapor's most recent mission was building roofs in Peru last summer.

"At first we did these all through Habitat (for Humanity) ... because they arranged housing, meals, transportation, everything," said Zapor. "As we have evolved over the years ... we have done this through other groups like Fuller; in Nicaragua we worked with Seeds of Learning, which builds schools and community centers."

St. Francis Builds has taken volunteers to serve in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Peru, Trinidad, Dominican Republic, Jordan and Mexico.

In the U.S., its missions have included projects in Houston, New Orleans, West Virginia and the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Groups also go on weekend missions to Philadelphia to work at a soup kitchen the Franciscans operate there.

Coordinating all aspects of the Calzada missions is Millie Lebron, an energized volunteer community leader who is a liaison between residents, government and visiting groups. She made the Fuller connection through the Rev. Pablo Rivera, a Puerto Rican ministering in Georgia.

"After the hurricane, he called me to inquire about my safety," said Lebron. "Having the information I gave him, he went to Fuller and asked about the possibilities of helping me rebuild my house." The organization agreed and sent Ryan Iafigliola, director of International Field Operations, to interview her and collect more data.

"So I got the idea to gather neighbors and explain what was going on and urged them to ask for Fuller's help," she continued. "Many didn't dare to do it, but 12 did, and so they were included!" she exclaimed. She was emotional but had a big smile.

Raul Cruz, 52, and his 98-year-old mother, Juana de Jesus, were among the beneficiaries of this St. Francis Builds mission. Although their house was built of solid concrete, its roof had been slightly leaking before Hurricane Maria came. At their home, volunteers were repairing concrete damage to the roof and applying liquid sealant.

"The roof cracked open," said Cruz. "The hurricane was too strong. If that door and windows hadn't been reinforced with bamboo, all of them would've blown away." De Jesus said the flood's muddy waters reached her while she was lying in her bed in the dark. Three Calzada residents died during the hurricane's passing and several others in the aftermath.

St. Francis Builds' volunteers were joined by some locals, like the Rev. Edgardo Soto, a Calzada native, who is pastor of a Disciples of Christ church and president of Fuller's Puerto Rico chapter.

"As president, the director and I identify homes that need urgent help, and who want it," the pastor said. "Many cannot afford to leave their homes in order (for them) to be repaired, because they don't have the resources (to go somewhere else)." His group, he said, "is ready to go anywhere in Puerto Rico, wherever the Spirit takes us."

Also, St. Camillus parishioners Rafael and Christine Quinones of Bowie, Maryland, have been bringing aid to Puerto Rico since flights became available after Hurricane Maria. Rafael is a native of nearby Yabucoa.

They have traveled with the nonprofit Global Solace of Beallsville, Maryland, and Solar Power for Puerto Rico, a Native American, crowd-funded solar project of Now!Solar company of Pasco, Washington. This work has focused on installing solar-powered phone and internet points in town squares up in the mountains and installing solar power systems in schools, libraries and nursing homes.

"When we go somewhere we want to teach people how to build (their own systems), to empower them," said Rafael. "And now we have two businesses doing it here."

As of late June, an estimated 11,000 homes were still without public electricity in Puerto Rico. The rest of the island has unstable service. Calzada received power to homes more than eight months after Hurricane Maria. Street lights remain out of order.

Fuller missions last up to three weeks. The center will sponsor 13 more missions to Maunabo between August and mid-March, with a two-month break for the peak of the hurricane season. The next one for St. Francis Builds is scheduled for Feb. 17-24.

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Editor's Note: More information about the Fuller Center is available at

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In Washington, former sacristan remembers life with Oscar Romero

Fri, 08/03/2018 - 2:40pm

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Marcelo Perdomo didn't think an earthly brush with holiness would take place in his native El Salvador next to the parish priest.

As a young man in the early 1960s, Perdomo worked in his native city of San Miguel, El Salvador, organizing the sacristy and decorating the altar among his duties as a sacristan at the local parish of El Rosario. That's where he worked with the meticulous "Father Romero," a detail-oriented priest who was particular about how things should be done and look, and Perdomo did everything he could to meet his standards.

Perdomo, now 71, soon will be decorating an altar to mark a milestone for his former priest, this time at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart, a predominantly Salvadoran parish in Washington, as the local community anticipates the last leg of Blessed Oscar Arnulfo Romero's official journey toward sainthood. The Salvadoran martyr, assassinated during the country's civil war in 1980, is set to become El Salvador's first saint Oct. 14.

Did Perdomo ever get the sense he was working with a saint back then?

"Never," he said in a July 26 interview with Catholic News Service in Washington. "Never. He was normal. It never occurred to me ... but he was a man of goodness."

Though their relationship was formal and never delved into the personal, Perdomo said that as a sacristan, working by his side, he witnessed Blessed Romero's immense kindness toward prisoners and the poor, and his deep life of prayer.

In Perdomo's native San Miguel, Blessed Romero began his pastoral life in 1944, a place where he would stay for more than two decades. Youth like Perdomo were greatly influenced by the pastor.

Perdomo was 12 or 13 when he first met the future saint and saw how he revived popular devotions to the country's patroness, Our Lady Queen of Peace, and the reconstruction of the cathedral in San Miguel that would ultimately become her home. When Perdomo fled El Salvador because of the civil war and went to live in Washington in 1981, he continued in his new U.S. parish the devotions to the Salvadoran Madonna that Romero had championed.

But in Washington, Perdomo came to hear falsehoods spread about Blessed Romero, including in church circles, about how he was aligned with the rebels, and other lies spread by the archbishop's enemies, painful calumnies that had traveled from his native country.

None of what was said matched the reality Perdomo had witnessed at the side of then-Father Romero, that of a man who always saw necessity, poverty, pain, and tried to alleviate it. When the pastor became archbishop of the country's Archdiocese of San Salvador, Perdomo began to think about the episcopal motto he chose: "sentir con la iglesia," to "feel with the church." Perdomo said he traveled from San Miguel when he could to the capital of San Salvador to hear Archbishop Romero's homilies in person at the country's main cathedral and kept track of what he was doing as archbishop.

"I saw him 'feel' with the poor," Perdomo said, "He 'felt' our poverty, that poverty that we the poor felt and lived. They were words chosen well and I continue to study them."

It naturally hurt to hear others in his new home in Washington call Blessed Romero a "guerillero," a rebel, when Perdomo had seen firsthand that he "lived a life of sanctity."

Perdomo said he still remembers the day Archbishop Romero was killed, and that profound sadness that fell on those who knew him in San Miguel.

"It was difficult to hear because he was a man of goodness, not a man who did bad things ... he didn't deserve it. Yes, he was hated by some, but he also was loved by many."

Those who loved him largely were the poor Blessed Romero defended -- a majority in El Salvador. But even the rich had no reason to hate him. He didn't align himself with one political group of another, but he was simply unwilling to watch the innocent be killed without peacefully defending them, Perdomo said. And in that sense, with his death, Blessed Romero, too, "felt" the lack of safety the poor felt during the war, which led to more than 70,000 civilian deaths.

Most folks from San Miguel couldn't go to Blessed Romero's funeral because it was far and because the local priest warned about the masses of people at the funeral who made it impossible to enter the cathedral, Perdomo said.

Instead, Perdomo and others in San Miguel watched it unfold via television, only to see the funeral Mass descend into chaos as a bomb went off inside the cathedral and shots were fired into the crowd outside.

Perdomo doesn't like to dwell on Blessed Romero's death, why and how he was killed, and also says miracles attributed to him to attain his canonization are not the proof he needed to know of his holiness.

"What I say is that he lived life in sanctity. ... The church says he's a saint because of a miracle (after his death) but his sainthood was rooted in the way he lived and my joy is in having watched that sanctity in life," he said.

These days, Perdomo looks at a larger-than-life-sized framed portrait that will be displayed during a Mass at Washington's Sacred Heart shrine to mark Blessed Romero's canonization. Though Perdomo plans to be at St. Peter's Basilica when he is proclaimed a saint, he plans to leave the altar decorated at his parish before leaving for Rome. He looks at the portrait of Blessed Romero that towers over him and says he plans to put a red cloth underneath to symbolize Blessed Romero's martyrdom.

"Since I arrived (to the United States), my goal was to keep his memory alive in the church," Perdomo said. "Not as a saint, but I wanted to keep his memory alive as someone who gave his life for us and for others."

Through the Washington-based Comite Catolico de El Salvador del Mundo, a group of Salvadoran Catholics that each year marks El Salvador's patron feast in Washington, the feast of the Transfiguration, with a Mass and cultural events, Perdomo found kindred spirits, including Father Moises Villalta, Sacred Heart's pastor, who began little by little also incorporating Romero into the feast. They hoped that children born to Salvadorans in the Washington area would come to know, not the falsehoods that were spread about Blessed Romero, but the reality of his good works and sacrifice.

Ultimately, the Vatican agreed with those like Perdomo, who said they had always known of Blessed Romero's holiness, and announced earlier this year that he would become an official saint. Even so, it's still daunting, Perdomo said, to think that the very "normal" human being he knew and respected will become an official saint of the Catholic Church.

"It's one of those things that is strange and I still don't understand it," Perdomo said.

Perdomo said only God knows whether he'll be able to be a witness to Blessed Romero's canonization, but if it happens, "it will be a dream," he said. In 2015, he had wanted to go to the slain archbishop's beatification, one of the last steps before sainthood, in El Salvador, but health problems prevented him from traveling.

But attending the ceremony is not what's important, he said.

"I feel happy to have a known in life a person who will now be on the highest of altars," he said. "I ask him (Blessed Romero) to please intercede for me, to take care of me. My joy is that I saw him live happily a life of sanctity and he enjoyed that life and in the eyes of God, he is a saint."

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Update: Pope revises catechism to say death penalty is 'inadmissible'

Thu, 08/02/2018 - 8:37am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Building on the development of Catholic Church teaching against capital punishment, Pope Francis has ordered a revision of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to assert "the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person" and to commit the church to working toward its abolition worldwide.

The catechism's paragraph on capital punishment, 2267, already had been updated by St. John Paul II in 1997 to strengthen its skepticism about the need to use the death penalty in the modern world and, particularly, to affirm the importance of protecting all human life.

Announcing the change Aug. 2, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said, "The new text, following in the footsteps of the teaching of John Paul II in 'Evangelium Vitae,' affirms that ending the life of a criminal as punishment for a crime is inadmissible because it attacks the dignity of the person, a dignity that is not lost even after having committed the most serious crimes."

"Evangelium Vitae" ("The Gospel of Life") was St. John Paul's 1995 encyclical on the dignity and sacredness of all human life. The encyclical led to an updating of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which he originally promulgated in 1992 and which recognized "the right and duty of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, not excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty."

At the same time, the original version of the catechism still urged the use of "bloodless means" when possible to punish criminals and protect citizens.

The catechism now will read: "Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

"Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption," the new section continues.

Pope Francis' change to the text concludes: "Consequently, the church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that 'the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,' and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide."

In his statement, Cardinal Ladaria noted how St. John Paul, retired Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis had all spoken out against capital punishment and appealed for clemency for death-row inmates on numerous occasions.

The development of church doctrine away from seeing the death penalty as a possibly legitimate punishment for the most serious crimes, the cardinal said, "centers principally on the clearer awareness of the church for the respect due to every human life. Along this line, John Paul II affirmed: 'Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, and God himself pledges to guarantee this.'"

Pope Francis specifically requested the change to the catechism in October during a speech at the Vatican commemorating the 25th anniversary of the text's promulgation.

The death penalty, no matter how it is carried out, he had said, "is, in itself, contrary to the Gospel, because a decision is voluntarily made to suppress a human life, which is always sacred in the eyes of the Creator and of whom, in the last analysis, only God can be the true judge and guarantor."

Cardinal Ladaria also noted that the popes were not the only Catholics to become increasingly aware of how the modern use of the death penalty conflicted with church teaching on the dignity of human life; the same position, he said, has been "expressed ever more widely in the teaching of pastors and in the sensibility of the people of God."

In particular, he said, Catholic opposition to the death penalty is based on an "understanding that the dignity of a person is not lost even after committing the most serious crimes," a deeper understanding that criminal penalties should aim at the rehabilitation of the criminal and a recognition that governments have the ability to detain criminals effectively, thereby protecting their citizens.

The cardinal's note also cited a letter Pope Francis wrote in 2015 to the International Commission Against the Death Penalty. In the letter, the pope called capital punishment "cruel, inhumane and degrading" and said it "does not bring justice to the victims, but only foments revenge."

Furthermore, in a modern "state of law, the death penalty represents a failure" because it obliges the state to kill in the name of justice, the pope had written. On the other hand, he said, it is a method frequently used by "totalitarian regimes and fanatical groups" to do away with "political dissidents, minorities" and any other person deemed a threat to their power and to their goals.

In addition, Pope Francis noted that "human justice is imperfect" and said the death penalty loses all legitimacy in penal systems where judicial error is possible.

"The new formulation of number 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church," Cardinal Ladaria said, "desires to give energy to a movement toward a decisive commitment to favor a mentality that recognizes the dignity of every human life and, in respectful dialogue with civil authorities, to encourage the creation of conditions that allow for the elimination of the death penalty where it is still in effect."

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Cardinal Wuerl: Next steps in wake of Archbishop McCarrick allegations

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 3:50pm


WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Catholic Standard, archdiocesan newspaper of Washington, published a question-and-answer interview July 31 with Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl about the next steps for the archdiocese in light of the sexual abuse allegations made against Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, a former cardinal and retired archbishop of Washington.

This story includes excerpts of that interview where the cardinal discussed his hope that all victims of abuse would come forward for healing and mentions his conversations with priests and seminarians in the archdiocese about the allegations.

"The news regarding Archbishop McCarrick was a great shock to our church in Washington. There is understandable anger, both on a personal level due to the charges, but also more broadly at the church," Cardinal Wuerl said.

He said Catholics have "lived through such scandals before and they are demanding accountability."

The cardinal said it was "understandable that some people hear this latest news and see it as confirmation of their lack of faith in the church, or their lack of trust in its leadership. People were rightfully angry over the child sex abuse scandals, which we continue to address. It means we must work harder."

He also said the action taken by Pope Francis, accepting then-Cardinal McCarrick's resignation from the College of Cardinals July 28, shows "an understanding that we must move swiftly to address claims of any form of abuse or serious breach of trust by ministers of the church, no matter who they may be or what position they may hold. Acknowledging such grave breaches of trust and seeking forgiveness open the doors for healing."

Cardinal Wuerl noted that as details have unfolded in this case, he has continually emphasized that the archdiocese's first concern "must always be with those who have suffered abuse. In this case, as with other cases, it is imperative that the leadership of the Catholic Church encourage survivors to step forward, address abuse claims, and focus its attention and care on the survivors of abuse."

He said the archdiocesan spiritual and pastoral ministries will "continue to console, heal and nurture those most in need. We will support them and their families and provide assistance to help them find peace and experience the healing power of God's grace."

News about Archbishop McCarrick, who was archbishop of Washington from 2001 to 2006, also impacted archdiocesan priests and seminarians and the cardinal said he has had frank discussions with them about it.

The priests, he said, "in particular feel the pain of the failure of a brother priest." They also told him that when there is a failure in the actions of one priest, they "all are somehow held accountable."

During the discussion with them, he said: "We all recognized the pain and sadness of the human condition, our need for God's grace every day to carry out our ministry and our need to support one another just as we struggle to support the faithful entrusted to our care."

"We discussed the media accounts of rumors involving Archbishop McCarrick and that until the New York allegation was made public, there really had been no substantiation of them, certainly not here in Washington. And I was asked whether I had any knowledge of the specific allegation in New York, which I had never heard before. So it was frank conversation."

Regarding his discussion with archdiocesan seminarians, the cardinal said his concern was that "they would not have their zeal and idealism in any way tarnished by the failure of any priest."

"One of the consoling things for me in that meeting, as I listened to their comments and observations, was the recognition that these young men are firmly grounded in their faith and their spiritual life is truly focused on Jesus, the Lord," he said.

He also said he was impressed with their maturity. "They are the heirs of the experience of social media and so are really not completely shocked by such tragic news. Disappointed yes, but sexual abuse in our culture and society is not news to them."

Cardinal Wuerl said that at every ordination and throughout the year when he talks with priests and seminarians about the priestly vocation, he reminds them of the "holy life to which we are called, and about the faithful love that is at the heart of priestly ministry."

"Remaining true to that call, trying to be icons of Christ in our community and our world, is needed today more than ever," he said.

In the wake of the allegations against the retired archbishop of Washington, the cardinal said he hopes Catholics in the archdiocese "would not lose sight of the larger vision of our church." Across the archdiocese, he noted, "we have many, many fine priests, deacons, and religious; we have lay staff and volunteers in parishes and Catholic Charities, who do amazing things for their neighbors every day."

He said for all of the "necessary attention we must give to the current crisis, I would hope that as part of the healing process we come to see the good we accomplish every day and that we continue to share God's love across our archdiocese."

The cardinal said the archdiocese continues to make every effort to address abuse, pointing to its enforced child protection policy and the Child Protection Advisory Board that meets regularly. He also said the annual audit by an outside professional audit team "has consistently affirmed the quality of our protection and education programs and our fidelity to the 'Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.'"

The attention currently being paid to make sure abuse doesn't happen "does not mitigate in any way the pain these alleged actions have brought on the survivors and their families, and on the members of the church," he said. "We are at a moment where, again, we must acknowledge such wrongdoing whenever it occurs. We must continue to press forward with what was started in the June 2002 meeting in Dallas to address, as a conference of bishops, the question of clergy abuse."

Cardinal Wuerl said the "starting point for our own healing is the recognition that God is with his church and that the church does not depend on any individual human being" because "God's grace is at work among us."

He urged Catholics to pray, saying it "helps us see beyond the failure of any person and helps us hold fast to the mystery of God's goodness at work in this world and in the church, the mystical body of Christ, and in the priesthood that is lived in so many good, effective, caring and faithful priests."

"We should pray for all who may have in any way been harmed by Archbishop McCarrick, and we should also pray for him," he said.

The cardinal said he has personally "drawn great consolation" from recognizing the church's divine and human aspects that the "church is the home of Christ's continuing presence in the sacraments" but it "all that is transmitted through human beings."

"In the long history of the church," he noted, "not all bishops, the successors to the apostles, have been perfect. That is a reality which we live with because we understand that we are all sinners in need of God's grace and mercy."

"In the meantime," he said: "Our task is to support one another and to help one another to be everything that Christ asks us to be, to stand for and live in his truth."

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Editor's Note: The text of the full interview is available at

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Nuba church 'a sign of hope' after staying through difficult times

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 3:04pm

IMAGE: Paul Jeffrey

By Paul Jeffrey

NUBA MOUNTAINS, Sudan (CNS) -- The Nuba Mountains region in southern Sudan is a land the world has largely forgotten, except for the Catholic Church, which for more than three decades has stood with the people as they endured hunger, bombing and neglect.

"There was nothing in the Nuba Mountains, no salt, no soap, no clothes. Then Bishop Macram started coming, bringing supplies, helping the people survive," said Father Thomas Tiscornia, a Maryknoll priest from Hoboken, New Jersey, referring to Bishop Macram Max Gassis of El Obeid, Sudan, who now is retired.

"Then he started bringing in books and began a primary school in Kauda. He dug wells so people would have clean water. After that came the hospital and the clinics. Bishop Macram brought dignity and life to the Nuba people," Father Tiscornia told Catholic News Service.

The priest has served three stints as ministering and teaching in the Nuba Mountains, a liberated region in Sudan that borders neighboring South Sudan. The rebels who control the territory have fought a decades-long struggle against the government in Khartoum.

Church workers in the region have shared the same risks as the people they serve.

"The whole ministry of the church has focused on being present, on saying to the people, 'You're important. You're loved.' We were there to be with the people and share their fate, even if it meant diving into foxholes when the Antonovs appeared overhead," Father Tiscornia said, referring to Russian-made planes the Sudanese Armed Forces has used to bomb civilian targets.

Father Daniel Tutu Kuku, a Nuba himself, is a priest in Heiban, where he survived years of bombing.

"The job of the priest is to stay with the people, to gather them, to pray with them, to encourage them. If we run away, what good are we? We have to die with our people, on the ground. Not to run away. We are not cowards," he told CNS.

Comboni Sister Angelina Nyakuru has served for a decade as head nurse at the Mother of Mercy Hospital in Gidel, where she learned to trust the instincts of children to stay safe.

"The children have better hearing, so they hear the planes first. I see them running and my body starts running as well. If they hear the bombs falling before I get to the foxhole, they yell at me, 'Sister, lay down,' and I hit the ground," she said.

Sister Nyakuru, a native of Uganda, said the children also convinced her to wear her gray habit rather than her white one during periods of bombing, claiming it makes her less of a target.

A partial cease-fire since early 2016 has stopped the bombing of Nuba communities.

John Ashworth, a former Mill Hill missionary priest who serves as an adviser to the Catholic bishops in Sudan and South Sudan, said the church is in a unique situation to help the Nuba people.

"The United Nations and most international agencies only go where it's safe and easy. Although they think they're working under terrible hardship conditions, when it gets dangerous, they declare level four and evacuate. If the government pressures them, they leave. We in the church don't work under those restraints, and we accept the risk that comes with maintaining our presence in difficult settings," said Ashworth, who ministered as a priest in the Nuba Mountains in the 1980s.

Push came to shove for church workers in the region in 2011, when Bishop Gassis ordered all foreigners working for the church to leave. That included priests, sisters, nurses, engineers and teachers. He sent three planes to clandestine airstrips to pluck them out. Not everyone obeyed.

Sister Nyakuru was one who refused, even though her Comboni provincial superior ordered her out. She went over her head and called the order's superior general on a satellite phone.

"I told her that if I had to leave, to not let me return because it would be bad to leave and then, once the situation got better, to come back," Sister Nyakuru said. "That means if there's trouble I run, and if not, I stay. I said I wouldn't do that."

Her appeal worked, and she remained at the hospital with Dr. Tom Catena, a U.S. lay missionary who also refused to leave. Several other priests and religious brothers also stayed despite the bishop's order.

Bishop Gassis said he was moved by the refusal of some to leave.

"I wanted to evacuate them because I was afraid for their lives. But they said to me, 'Bishop, do not take us out. We are with the people. If they take shelter in the caves, we will accompany them. We share their lives and their fate, so please don't take us out.' That was the biggest lesson I learned as a bishop," he said.

Sister Nyakuru said there was no hesitation among her religious colleagues.

"If we run away, what kind of shepherds are we? The whole team of priests and sisters, along with Dr. Tom, decided to stay. For the people it was a great sign of hope. They knew they weren't alone, that the church was with them," she said.

The evacuation of so many foreign specialists, however, left the hospital in particular short of qualified staff. The evacuation flights were kept secret ahead of time to keep Khartoum from attacking the planes, and on the morning of June 16, 2011, several inexperienced Nuba nursing aides came to work at the hospital. They were informed that, in the absence of the foreign staff, they had been promoted to heads of departments. As those wounded by the bombings started arriving in droves, Sister Nyakuru and Catena instructed them in basic nursing skills. No one slept much for months.

In the years since, many of those aides went on to study nursing at a school in South Sudan run by Solidarity with South Sudan, and they've come home to the Nuba to assume responsibility for running much of the hospital. Sister Nyakuru said she is slowly working herself out of a job.

"This is the strategy of Comboni, to save Africa with Africans, to save the Nuba Mountains with Nuba, to empower local people so that they can run the show and you can move on," she said. "We're not quite there yet, but we've made progress in fulfilling the dream of Comboni. The church has grown deep roots among the Nuba people, all because we insisted on staying with the people during their difficult moments."

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DiNardo: Church must address its leaders' 'moral failures of judgment'

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 2:20pm


WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick "will rightly face" a Vatican canonical process regarding sexual abuse allegations against him, but the U.S. Catholic Church must take steps to respond to church leaders' "moral failures of judgment," said the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The accusations against Archbishop McCarrick, a former cardinal and retired archbishop of Washington, "reveal a grievous moral failure within the church," said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston.

"They cause bishops anger, sadness, and shame; I know they do in me," he said in an Aug. 1 statement. "They compel bishops to ask, as I do, what more could have been done to protect the people of God. Both the abuses themselves, and the fact that they have remained undisclosed for decades, have caused great harm to people's lives and represent grave moral failures of judgment on the part of church leaders."

To determine a course of action for the USCCB to take, Cardinal DiNardo said he convened the bishops' Executive Committee.

"This meeting was the first of many among bishops that will extend into our Administrative Committee meeting in September and our general assembly in November," he explained. "All of these discussions will be oriented toward discerning the right course of action for the USCCB."

Such work will "take some time," but he laid out four points to be acted upon immediately:

-- He encouraged each bishop in their diocese "to respond with compassion and justice to anyone who has been sexually abused or harassed by anyone in the church. We should do whatever we can to accompany them."

-- He urged anyone who has experienced sexual assault or harassment by anyone in the church to come forward. "Where the incident may rise to the level of a crime, please also contact local law enforcement."

-- The USCCB "will pursue the many questions surrounding Archbishop McCarrick's conduct to the full extent of its authority; and where that authority finds its limits, the conference will advocate with those who do have the authority. One way or the other, we are determined to find the truth in this matter."

-- "Finally, we bishops recognize that a spiritual conversion is needed as we seek to restore the right relationship among us and with the Lord. Our church is suffering from a crisis of sexual morality. The way forward must involve learning from past sins."

Cardinal DiNardo said the failures of judgment by church leaders in the case of Archbishop McCarrick "raise serious questions."

"Why weren't these allegations of sins against chastity and human dignity disclosed when they were first brought to church officials?" he asked. "Why wasn't this egregious situation addressed decades sooner and with justice? What must our seminaries do to protect the freedom to discern a priestly vocation without being subject to misuse of power?"

In conclusion, he asked all to "pray for God's wisdom and strength for renewal as we follow St. Paul's instruction: 'Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.'"

On July 28, Pope Francis accepted the resignation from the College of Cardinals of then-Cardinal McCarrick and ordered him to maintain "a life of prayer and penance" until a canonical trial examines accusations that he sexually abused minors.

In late June, the 88-year-old prelate said he would no longer exercise any public ministry "in obedience" to the Vatican after an allegation he abused a teenager 47 years ago in the Archdiocese of New York was found credible. The cardinal has said he is innocent.

In the weeks that followed the announcement, another man came forward claiming he was abused as a child by Archbishop McCarrick, and several former seminarians have spoken out about being sexually harassed by the cardinal at a beach house he had. In other developments, two New Jersey dioceses where he served in the 1980s and 1990s said settlements had been reached some years before in a couple of cases of abuse claims made against him.

He was the founding bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey, in 1981, then headed the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, before being named to Washington in 2001.

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U.S. altar servers bring tradition, heritage to Rome

Tue, 07/31/2018 - 11:55am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Junno Arocho Esteves

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Among the thousands of young altar servers braving the sweltering Rome heat, a group from the United States sat patiently in the shade of the colonnade in St. Peter's Square waiting to take their seats.

"Rome is really cool, but it's really hot," Francis Tran, an 11-year-old altar server from the United States, told Catholic News Service July 31.

Tran was among the 85 boys, girls, young adults and parents who traveled from Mary, Queen of Vietnam parish in New Orleans for an international pilgrimage of altar servers with Pope Francis.

The annual gathering, which began as a meeting of German altar servers with the pope, has expanded worldwide and brought an estimated 60,000 young men and women from 19 countries to the Vatican.

Tran told CNS that he likes being an altar server "because you get to be close to God, and it's a good feeling."

But like many of his peers, he is also excited about seeing the pope for the first time. "I like that he's religious and that he has my name!" Tran said.

The idea of bringing the first U.S. group to the pilgrimage came when a couple presented it to Deacon Vinh Tran over a year ago.

"The parents were excited. And after talking to the kids, they were even more excited about going to Rome. So, we started fundraising as much as we could for the kids to be here," he told CNS.

As a former altar server himself, Deacon Tran said it was important for the new generation of altar servers to see that serving God is no small task. He also said the international meeting was an opportunity for them to interact with altar servers from around the world and learn more about their faith.

"Now as a deacon, I am still serving at the altar, serving God," the deacon said. "The kids told me that by being altar servers, the closer they are to the altar, the closer they feel to God. It makes them feel happier."

The group also prepared a liturgical dance performance for the event and several were chosen to carry the U.S. flag, read a Scripture passage and present a gift to the pope.

Honoring their Vietnamese heritage, the group was to perform a traditional fan-and-flower liturgical dance accompanied by a song titled, "The Greatest Love," a Vietnamese hymn inspired by the Gospel of St. John.

The song and liturgical dance, Deacon Tran explained, also are a tribute to the 117 Vietnamese martyrs who died for their faith in the 18th and 19th centuries and were canonized by St. John Paul II in 1988.

To give one's life is "the greatest love a person can give to somebody. This implies Jesus Christ who died for us. So, our ancestors died for their faith, they died for that greatest love," Deacon Tran said.

Gabrielle Nguyen, a 14-year-old altar server who is among the liturgical dance performers, told CNS that despite her joy, the chance to perform in front of the pope and thousands of young men and women is "very nerve-wracking."

"Back at home our parish is very small, so we're used to performing in front of 400 people," she said. "But going from 400 to over 50,000, it puts a lot of pressure."

Nevertheless, Nguyen said the international meeting meant a lot to her to and her fellow altar servers who "don't often have this opportunity to just come out to Rome and be here and experience the city."

"It's just a really special gathering of people who share the same passion. We love serving for the Lord. We've met many people and we've made many friends," Nguyen told CNS.  

"I hope to live this experience and deepen my faith in God. That's really it," she said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Bishop asks for prayers for peace, justice on Charlottesville anniversary

Mon, 07/30/2018 - 6:30pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters

By Brian T. Olszewski

RICHMOND, Va. (CNS) -- As the first anniversary of violence stemming from protests and counter-protests regarding the removal of Confederate monuments from Charlottesville approached, Bishop Barry C. Knestout of Richmond asked people to pray for justice, peace and an end to racism on the Aug. 12 anniversary.

"As the anniversary will draw much national and local attention, I am concerned it will be approached with provocative rhetoric rather than provide an opportunity for prayer and dialogue about racism, and the action needed to overcome it," the bishop wrote in his "Christ Our Hope" column in the July 30 issue of The Catholic Virginian, publication of the Richmond Diocese, in which Charlottesville is located.

Noting that racism is a sin, Bishop Knestout wrote, "The church cannot be silent about racism. Prayer -- individually and as a faith community -- is a start in our addressing racism. It cannot be an occasional act; we should pray about it in our daily lives and in faith community gatherings."

He invited Catholics to pray via teleconference the "Rosary for Racial Justice and Reconciliation," which has been hosted every first Friday over the past year by the Diocese of Richmond's Office for Black Catholics and Office of Social Ministries.

"As we speak and listen, we need to examine our individual and collective consciences about this sin," Bishop Knestout wrote. "Our prayer, dialogue and examination of conscience should lead to action -- individual and community action based upon Scripture, our commitment to social justice, and the dignity of the human person."

Once Catholics admit racism is a sin, the bishop noted, they have another obligation.

"Catholics are obliged to seek reconciliation with God and with the victims of racism," he wrote. "Our commitment to reconciliation involves a willingness to improve; it involves action."

Bishop Knestout said prayers could not be limited to Aug. 12.

"Do not confine your prayer to one day. Commit to praying, listening, learning, thinking and working for peace, justice and an end to racism," he wrote. "Our faith calls us to be witnesses of the Gospel. Be that witness in working to eliminate racism within our culture."

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Olszewski is the editor of The Catholic Virginian, newspaper of the Diocese of Richmond.

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