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Updated: 52 min 37 sec ago

'Game' over: the five stages of being a 'Thrones' fan

Wed, 05/22/2019 - 4:13pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Maxim Shemetov, Reuters

By Elizabeth Rackover Clancy

RICHMOND, Calif. (CNS) -- Eight years ago, "Game of Thrones" began on HBO and the worlds of water-cooler conversations, fire-breathing dragons and social media haven't been the same since. To say it's been a wild ride is the least of it.

Fans of the show have had to put up with crushing losses as multiple narratives careened as wildly as a dragon flying out of a sports coliseum riddled with javelins. A show this short on tender moments somehow still managed to make us care, sometimes desperately, about disparate characters so wild, unruly, crafty, sneaky, snaky, ruthless and cruel that we could not believe our own eyes as certain scenes unfolded (looking at you, Lord Walder Frey).

But why did we care so much? Why did people who drive cars, read books from glowing hand-held electronic tablets, heat their food in microwave ovens and express their every instant's thought in an Instagram or Twitter post, care about bastards, cripples, missing daughters, would-be queens -- lotta those -- your odd eunuch, incestuous twins, et al?

Because it was fantastic.

Not just as in fantasy, but as in above and beyond anything any of us will, hopefully, ever experience in real life. The exhilaration of the journeys, the battles, the blood feuds, the betrayals, the passion, the magic, all led us along the corridors of the narratives with so much assurance that it was easy to feel something deeply personal about these characters -- seething hatred, a respectful wariness, a motherly concern for the young'uns (Arya, learning how to handle her small sword, quickly dispelled the notion that she needed any mothering).

The roller coaster that these emotions took us on, then, as season after season wrapped us around its Littlefinger, left us breathless - until the eighth and final season brought us around -- with a nod to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross -- to the five stages of being a "Game of Thrones" fan.

Denial: No way they're going to kill (insert favorite character here). They would never do that. They need him/her. (Favorite character) might end up on the Iron Throne, even! And I'm going to draw in even non-watchers with this category: Cheers to the people on Twitter and Facebook who felt compelled to post "I have never watched a single episode of 'Game of Thrones' and I never intend to." Your resolve was duly noted. Nobody cared that you didn't care, but congratulations on having your say anyway.

Bargaining: I can spend countless afternoons re-watching the last seven seasons as long as I keep up on the laundry and take the dog out. Well, the dog can wait. Also, since I'm re-watching, I can fast-forward through all the gruesome Reek scenes.

Depression: See: Red Wedding; everything that happens to Sansa Stark; the scene where Jamie Lanister's hand is abruptly severed at the wrist.

Anger: In this instance, actually, anger and humor are intertwined. With so many voices on social media piling on about plot holes and raging over destinies in the final season, you really do just have to laugh. Here is a show with flying, fire-breathing dragons and not one but two men who come back to life -- one of them being a repeat offender -- and people are Stark raving mad that Jon or Arya or Sansa or Tyrion or Dany didn't end up on the Iron Throne. A little perspective comes in handy here. Quibbling with destinies and motivations is meaningless. This is just entertainment; we are cordially invited to be excessively diverted.

Which leads me to: Acceptance. I accept that there are problems with the final season. Yes, it felt rushed. A lot of characters' story lines fell apart. Dany's death was a letdown -- but the melting of the Iron Throne was cool, am I right? -- and the sudden unspoken tenet that "it doesn't matter that Jon is the rightful heir to the throne" was admittedly puzzling. But I accept that the finale brought the Stark family around full circle with each of them finding their bliss and their own acceptance.

Writing a show this good for so long could not have been easy.

We asked for perfection, and they gave us seven great seasons and The Long Night. Dayenu. It would have been enough.

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Elizabeth Rackover Clancy lives in the San Francisco area with her husband Tom, two cats, and a house full of books. She has two wonderful daughters and a grand-dog, who is a Very Good Boy.


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Pope prays for Spanish missionary murdered in Central African Republic

Wed, 05/22/2019 - 10:16am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis led thousands of pilgrims in prayer for a Spanish missionary sister killed in Central African Republic.

While greeting French pilgrims attending his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square May 22, the pope said he was saddened to hear of the brutal murder of Daughter of Jesus Sister Ines Nieves Sancho, a 77-year-old Spanish missionary who was killed May 20 outside her convent in Nola, Central African Republic.

Sister Nieves, the pope said, before bowing his head in silence, "was yet another woman who gave her life for Jesus in the service of the poor."

After several minutes of silent prayer, the pope led the faithful in praying a "Hail Mary" for the slain missionary.

According to L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, the Daughter of Jesus missionary sister had dedicated her life to teaching children, especially girls, to sew in order to learn a trade and make a better life for themselves.

Authorities believe the missionary was murdered and mutilated precisely in the room where she taught the children, the Vatican newspaper reported.

In an interview May 21 with COPE, the Spanish Catholic radio station, Spanish-born Bishop Juan Aguirre Munoz of Bangassou said that Sister Nieves was "dragged out of her bed and on Monday she was found almost decapitated. We don't know why."

Authorities currently have no suspects or motive for the brutal killing but suspect that it was possibly carried out by people involved in human trafficking or searching for diamonds in a sadistic ritual meant to bring good fortune.

However, Bishop Aguirre told COPE that the political situation in Central African Republic is tense not only for Christians but for the entire population.

"It is a country where 80 percent of its territory has been conquered by 14 warlords who have trampled it underfoot," the bishop told COPE. "It is a very delicate situation."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

Prayer not possible without Holy Spirit, pope says at audience

Wed, 05/22/2019 - 10:05am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Holy Spirit gives Christians the courage and the strength needed to engage in a loving dialogue with God that is like the dialogue of a child with his or her father, Pope Francis said.

"Do not forget this: The protagonist of all Christian prayer is the Holy Spirit. We can never pray without the strength of the Holy Spirit; it is he who moves us to pray well," the pope said May 22 during his weekly general audience.

Greeting an estimated 20,000 pilgrims as he toured St. Peter's Square in the popemobile, Pope Francis occasionally stopped to kiss children's foreheads and drink mate tea offered to him.

Alessandro Gisotti, interim Vatican spokesman, said in a tweet published after the audience that the pope also greeted Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 for his efforts to end the use of sexual violence against women in war and armed conflict.

In his main audience talk, the pope concluded his series of talks on the Lord's Prayer, meditating on the theme, "Wherever you are, invoke the Father."

Christian prayer, he said, "is born from the audacity of calling God by the name 'Father.'"

"This is the root of Christian prayer: to call God 'Father.' But this requires courage. It is not so much a formula as it is a filial intimacy into which we are introduced by grace," he said. "Jesus is the one who reveals the Father and gives us familiarity with him."

The "filial trust" that Jesus' exhibited toward God, especially in times of trial, is a call for Christians to embrace a "spirit of prayer" that "must be insistent and, above all, it must bear the memory of our brothers and sisters, especially when we have difficult relationships with them."

Recalling Christ's prayer of "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" as he was crucified on the cross, the pope said that even in that moment of abandonment, Jesus still remembered his heavenly Father.

"In that 'my God,' one can find the nucleus of the relationship with the Father, there the nucleus of faith and prayer can be found," Pope Francis said.

For this reason, he added, "a Christian can pray in every situation" for themselves and for others.

"Let us never cease to tell the Father about our brothers and sisters in humanity, so that none of them, especially the poor, may remain without a consolation and a portion of love," the pope said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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As migrants continue streaming into Mexico, donor fatigue sets in

Tue, 05/21/2019 - 3:53pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Andres Martinez Casares, Reuters

By David Agren

TAPACHULA, Mexico (CNS) -- Sister Bertha Lopez was buying 55-pound sacks of rice, when the cashier asked: "Where do they want the rice? For Guatemala or for whom?"

Sister Bertha informed the cashier, "We're buying it to feed our migrant brothers" who are stranded in this city near the Guatemala border. The cashier responded: "Why are you doing that? What you're doing isn't right."

Last fall, locals in southern Chiapas state welcomed the caravans of migrants crossing into Mexico from Guatemala and carrying on northward to the U.S. border. They offered everything from food and drink to clothing and shoes to the caravan travelers, who often included children.

Parishes throughout the Diocese of Tapachula mobilized to meet the needs of thousands of mostly Central American migrants -- many fleeing violence, poverty and drought. Sister Bertha's congregation, the Guadalajara-based Missionaries of the Resurrected Christ, tended to the wounds of weary migrants in a mobile medical clinic.

But many locals no longer welcome migrants in Chiapas. Municipal governments, meanwhile, have shunned them by blocking access to town squares, where members of caravans often slept and sought basic services. Local government officials complain of being forced to shoulder security, sanitation and cleanup costs.

Donor fatigue has set in here in Mexico's poorest state, where priests say people initially responded to images of impoverished migrants fleeing their countries, but became jaded as the caravans keep coming.

"People no longer respond to the immigration issue," said Father Cesar Canaveral Perez, diocesan director of migrant ministries in Tapachula. "(They) no longer help out. It's to the point that in parishes we no longer ask for assistance for migrants."

Sister Bertha described a "climate of apathy" and said of the situation: "If (people) see some migrants, they close their stores. This sadly started growing with the media providing negative news."

The apathy comes as Mexico cracks down on migrants moving through the country and President Donald Trump complains Mexico is "doing nothing" to stop migration -- even though it has detained and deported more Central Americans in recent years than the United States.

Mexico started issuing humanitarian visas, which allowed one-year stays in the country, but quickly backtracked as migrant flows surged.

"I had heard the president was going to give us visas. And with a visa, we thought we would cross all of Mexico without any problems," said David Solorzano, 23, a farmhand who fled El Salvador after receiving gang threats. He had hoped to travel north with his aunt.

But Solorzano opted for voluntary repatriation to El Salvador. He expressed weariness with the endless walking. He said immigration checkpoints dotted the highway through Chiapas. A caravan with which he was traveling was raided by the police -- forcing him to flee into the hills -- and he says he was punched in the mouth during a robbery attempt while riding atop the train.

"I'm scared of returning to my country," he said from a shelter in Ciudad Ixtepec, some 250 miles from the Guatemala border. "But there's nothing here for me."

Caravans are can no longer travel openly through Mexico, prompting some migrants like Solorzano to return to a risk ride north: the "Bestia" train -- so named for the way it maims the migrants falling under its wheels.

Migrants -- including many from Cuba, Haiti and African countries -- continue arriving, but cannot obtain safe passage documents, which previously were routinely issued.

Haitian migrant Pierre Saint Paul, 45, traveled north from Chile, where he had lived for two years, but he found it impossible to obtain the proper papers. He was hoping to make it to Mexico City or Tijuana, where he had relatives who had arrived earlier in the decade.

"I'd just like a better life for my life and son," said Saint Paul from a shanty in which he slept.

Tensions in Tapachula have simmered, with migrants storming immigration offices. At least six mass outbreaks have occurred at the local immigration detention center.

"There are people spending months there," Sister Bertha said. She warned of health problems such infections and diarrhea in children due to a lack of sanitation.

The Missionaries of the Resurrected Christ provide one meal a day of rice with eggs or potatoes or a vegetable and a pastry to 2,500 migrants outside the migrant detention center, though supplies some days have run short, and calls for help have gone unanswered.

Stories circulate in the media and on social media sites of migrants committing crimes and being gang members.

The April 2019 National Survey of Urban Public Security showed residents of Tapachula considering the city the least secure in the country, with perceptions worsening since the caravans started arriving in October.

Police in the town of Huixtla circulated the streets with a loudspeaker screeching, "a dangerous caravan" is about to arrive and warning people to stay inside.

Police later impeded migrants from entering the town center.

Migrants traveling in recent caravans say they sustained themselves on nothing more than mangos growing along the roadside and water offered by civil protection officials. State police ticketed truckers offering rides in empty trailers and on flatbeds.

Civil protection officials offered water as migrants walked under the scorching-hot sun, while the Federal Police provided an escort -- at least until April 23, when police officers and immigration officials stopped a caravan and detained nearly 400 migrants.

Locals in the towns heading north from Tapachula voice frustration with the steady arrival of caravans.

In the municipality of Mapastepec, Consuelo Santiago allowed caravan travelers to charge their phones for free at a small restaurant on the town square. But she expressed some displeasure with caravans occupying the space outside her business, and people donated so much food and clothing to the migrants that not all of it was consumed -- causing people to consider the travelers ingrates.

"People don't see the need to throw their money in the trash," she said. "The only ones helping are the church."

Signs of empathy still emerge in the region. In Mapastapec, parishioners at the St. Peter the Apostle church traditionally break bread on Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. But this year, they provided meals for 2,000 migrants passing through town instead.


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Dominican combines music, Scripture for unique parish mission experience

Tue, 05/21/2019 - 1:25pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Jacob Comello

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Upon hearing the word "mission," most Catholics visualize hospitals or schools run by nuns or other prelates in poor areas of the world, or small, tightknit parish communities in areas where Catholicism is still an alien or marginalized religion.

But Dominican Father Bill Garrott knows all too well that American Catholics have their own spiritual problems that deserve the healing power of a mission.

"Perhaps most Catholics are deprived of the word of God," Father Bill declared.

In a telephone interview with Catholic News Service in April, the priest described the distinctive mission style that he brings across the country in his van. He blends lucid scriptural analysis, heart-stirring music performed on his keyboard and guitar, and the grace of the sacrament of confession to bring Catholics from all walks of life face to face with a God who loves them. Since beginning this project in 1995, he has performed over 175 parish missions.

In his travels to countless parishes across the country from his home base of Washington, he has encountered a number of different spiritual ailments, the biggest of which he finds is Catholic ignorance of Scripture.

"They're distracted by technology," Father Bill said. "The primary focus of my mission is to get people to read Scripture. ... If you're depriving yourself of the word of God, then you're (leaving) yourself open to attack."

On top of spotty interaction with the Bible, Father Bill often finds that Catholics bear tremendous amounts of worry in their hearts over a friend or family member who has fallen away from the church -- and sometimes those who have lapsed are present at his mission.

"When people are asked if they're religious" in today's society, Father Bill remarked, "more and more people are checking the box 'none,' (but) their parents are still going to church."

According to him, people feel trapped in a sense that they can't turn the tide for someone they've worked their whole lives to lead down the right path: "One of the biggest burdens they experience is, 'What can I do to help my children and grandchildren find their way back?'"

But with his captivating preaching style, he hopes to wash away the doubt and despair left by disengagement for churchgoers or their loved ones and replace it with a bright message of hope.

He claims that music is often the catalyst for getting even the most skeptical to open themselves up to the message.

Said Father Bill: "I think music functions as a backdoor to the soul. ... During my Sunday homily, I always play a song, usually with my keyboard."

"If I haven't reached the people up to that point, song does ... and I know because people (have) told me, 'I wasn't open to your mission until you played that song,'" he continued.

He even remembers meeting lapsed Catholics who decided to go to church the one Sunday his mission rolled into their town.

They find that God has miraculously caught them off their guard: "Some people aren't going to Mass ... and they go to Mass this one time. And it's me, a visiting singing preacher. And they're hooked! God gets them!" he exclaimed.

Confession plays a huge role in the healing process for those who attend Father Bill's missions, and he is uniquely qualified to grant absolution to penitents.

"I'm one of Pope Francis' missionaries of mercy," he revealed, "During the jubilee Year of Mercy (2016) ... he delegated priests to absolve certain sins that are only reserved for the pope."

After preaching for around an hour, Father Bill said that he will hear confessions for often twice that period of time. Since he began this ministry, he has heard over 13,000 confessions.

When the time has come for Father Bill and parishioners to part, he gives them a useful acronym to keep spiritually "fit" after the mission is over: "FITT."

"'F' means fasting from technology, cutting it back a little bit. 'I' means intercede with someone; I encourage them to find a prayer partner. 'T' and 'T' together mean to trust in God's time, because we don't always (immediately) see the evidence of change in ourselves or in other people" Father Bill explained.

The life for Father Bill's kind of mission is not easy: He often does the parish missions with little to no help from other friars, and he is constantly on the road driving his own vehicle because of the instruments and sound equipment he must haul from site to site.

"I'm my own agent and my own roadie," Father Bill remarked with a chuckle. "Every now and then I do have another friar who joins me. That's always refreshing."

But the overwhelming hope he both experiences and delivers along his path makes everything worth it.

"You might call my ministry a ministry of encouragement," Father Bill explained. "I'm preaching the theological version of hope. ... God has a plan (and) God provides always."

"There's just a tremendous joy for people who have somehow mustered the courage through the Holy Spirit" to drop their lives for a moment and attend his mission, Father Bill said, noting that some of the people he's ministered to have been away from church for 40 or 50 years.

"(To see) the grace of the parish mission is active in their hearts and they are overjoyed to have that burden lifted. ... It really is one of the finest moments for a preacher to know that he is involved in setting people free" proclaimed Father Bill.

Kathryn Town, a woman who recently attended one of Father Bill's missions, claimed that she definitely felt lighter after being confessed by him.

"I'm just going to lose it all at the cross" is what she told Father Bill she would do after her sins were forgiven, referring to the anger and doubt she had been harboring towards family members and others going in.

And she recognized her failings were nothing that could distance her from the love of God: "It was a very nice mission" Town related, "(He told us), 'God loves me not because I'm good but because God is good.'"

Father Bill's mnemonic devices came in handy for Bix Goodwin, another mission participant. One in particular that Goodwin found helpful broke down the flawed way humans often react to stressful situations -- APES.

Goodwin said the letters stood for "anger, pouting or feeling sorry for oneself, escape through something unwholesome, and shame."

And Father Bill's strength in speaking only made his message more attractive to Goodwin.

"He was a very articulate speaker," Goodwin said, "and for that matter entertaining. ... He would always start the session off with a levity, a joke."

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

Officials say Vatican must continue to monitor financial activity

Tue, 05/21/2019 - 10:43am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Any time money changes hands, there is a potential for financial misconduct, but the leaders of the Vatican's Financial Information Authority said the Holy See has made enormous strides in reducing its risks.

Rene Brulhart and Tommaso Di Ruzza, respectively president and director of the office, released the FIA annual report May 21 at a Vatican news conference.

Vatican City State's unique status as an independent state and the headquarters of the Catholic Church -- with missions and religious orders around the world -- required the establishment of a "tailor-made system mainly to prevent illicit financial activities," Brulhart said.

The Holy See has "fewer worries" of financial misconduct than most nations, "but this doesn't mean we should not maintain preventive strategies, policies and measures," Di Ruzza said. "Given the peculiarity of the Holy See, there is a level of caution, especially on a moral scale, that must be maintained."

In 2018, the report said, the office received only 56 suspicious activity reports compared to 150 in 2017 and 207 in 2016. Eleven of the 56 reports were forwarded to the Vatican City court for further investigation and potential criminal charges.

The FIA now has a fully functioning "general risk assessment" tool for the prevention and countering of money laundering and financing terrorism. It deems the money-laundering risk as "low to medium," particularly because of the number of procurement and building contracts with entities outside the Vatican.

The financing of terrorism risk is defined as "low," and Brulhart and Di Ruzza said that in the eight years since FIA's establishment, no suspicious activity report and no inquiry from a foreign government's FIA office have involved suspected terrorism financing.

International agencies have complimented the Vatican for its new rules and structures to prevent money laundering and terrorism financing but have complained about the slow pace of follow up by the Vatican police and courts.

But in December 2018, for the first time, the Vatican court convicted someone of money laundering following an investigation based on an FIA report.

Angelo Proietti, an Italian contractor who is appealing his conviction, was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in jail for using a Vatican bank account for money laundering.

FIA also is increasingly cooperating with the similar agencies of dozens of countries in investigating financial impropriety, the report said.

Without mentioning specifics, the report spoke about a case in which the owners of an "alleged nonprofit organization" presented themselves as local affiliates of a Vatican-related institution and collected donations in its name. Thanks to information shared with the country, several people were arrested "on charges of criminal conspiracy and sums of money and valuables, including firearms, were seized."

The case mentioned in the report corresponds to the arrest in Spain in February 2018 of three Spaniards and a Colombian, who were allegedly operating a fake branch of the Vatican bank.


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El Salvador lays to rest another priest presumably assassinated by gangs

Mon, 05/20/2019 - 5:37pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy of Father Edwin Banos

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Thousands attended the May 20 funeral of a Salvadoran priest found by his parishioners in what some presume is a gang killing.

Parishioners found Father Cecilio Perez Cruz, a 35-year-old priest and pastor of San Jose La Majada parish in Juayua, shot dead in his residence May 18 with a note nearby that said he had not paid "rent," a euphemism for extortion money, according to preliminary reports from Salvadoran police.

"He was a well-loved son of the Virgin (Mary) ... a humble priest, simple, devoted to his people," said Father Edwin Banos of the Diocese of Santa Ana, El Salvador, in a video posted May 18 on Facebook.

"These have been difficult and sad moments since I found out," said Father Banos, who told Catholic News Service May 20 that he had studied with Father Perez and that they had been friends for 10 years.

"It hurts. It's a whole human life truncated," he told CNS via WhatsApp. "He is a brother and a priest-friend. From the first moment I found out, it's been tears and pain over his death."

Father Banos, communications director for Catholic radio and newspaper Radio Fe y Vida y Periodico Digital Nuestra Iglesia in Santa Ana, attended the funeral in Sonzacate, where the slain priest's parents live. Several bishops from throughout the country and Salvadoran Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez also attended.

"Today, we are suffering, and we ask the Lord and the Virgin Mary to give us peace, tranquility and serenity," Father Banos said in his video message. "For Cecilio, I offer my care, my appreciation, my love and my hope that he is rejoicing in the eternal life and that you intercede for us ... but I also want to manifest my message of conversion to these people who committed this abominable crime."

In a statement, Bishop Constantino Barrera Morales of Sonsonate, the diocese to which the priest belonged, called on the national police and the justice department to find those guilty of "such an abominable crime" and demanded that they be brought to justice.  

In recent months, Catholic organizations and leaders in El Salvador, to no avail, have denounced the lack of justice in the country, including the "impunity" in the death of another Salvadoran priest killed in 2018 during Holy Week.

Father Walter Vasquez Jimenez was traveling with parishioners March 29, 2018, to officiate a Holy Thursday Mass in San Miguel when their car was stopped by an armed group wearing masks. The masked men dragged the priest out of the car and his lifeless body was found later.

Authorities also blamed gangs in the killing but have not arrested anyone in the crime.

"In this moment of profound pain and indignation because of this tragic happening, I want to let all priests, faithful and the people in general know that I energetically condemn this sacrilegious killing of Father Cecilio, and I want us to remain united in prayer and redoubling our measures of security before the great insecurity that reigns in our bloodstained country," Bishop Barrera said in his statement. "The blood of our selfless pastor is now together with that of the thousands of Salvadorans that each year become victims of this terrible violence that remains for so many years out of control."

In a news conference May 19, the Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas of San Salvador once again called on national authorities to seek out criminals and asked the court system to carry out justice.

"We stand in solidarity with all the victims of violence, of any type of violence, and we ask the authorities to administer justice in all cases," he said. "It's not that we seek revenge, but justice is necessary for the good of the victims and for the good of the whole society, because violence will only be overcome if impunity is not allowed. It is truly worrisome the degree of violence that our country suffers. We must work and pray intensely for peace."

Father Banos said justice was one of the reasons Father Perez was killed, though he suggested that police look at various motives the killing, including the priest's denunciation of environmental problems in the area.

"He was a priest seeking justice, he was very fraternal and denounced injustice," he said in correspondence with CNS. "We believe that is the cause of his murder. He strongly denounced the cutting of trees in his area, and that touches the interests of high-ranking businesspeople."

In an audio Father Banos provided to CNS, Concepcion Perez, the slain priest's brother, said Father Perez was "a good person, a holy person until the last day." Concepcion Perez said although family members were in pain, they found comfort in knowing that "the Catholic Church is the one that provides saints," because of people who seek the light like his brother.


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Pope asks Italian bishops finally to implement tribunal reforms

Mon, 05/20/2019 - 2:34pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis told the bishops of Italy that he was disappointed that so many of their dioceses had yet to implement the reforms he ordered to make the marriage annulment process quicker, more pastoral and less expensive.

"I am saddened to note that the reform, after more than four years, remains far from being applied in most Italian dioceses," Pope Francis, the bishop of Rome, told other members of the Italian bishops' conference.

The bishops were holding their annual spring meeting May 20-23 at the Vatican, and Pope Francis opened the gathering. He gave a short speech focused on "synodality" and collegiality, marriage tribunals and the relationship of bishops to their priests.

He spent about 20 minutes reading his prepared text, then reporters were asked to leave and the livestream of the meeting was cut so that the pope and bishops could converse in private.

In September 2015 Pope Francis issued two documents -- "Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus" ("The Lord Jesus, the Gentle Judge") for the Latin-rite church and "Mitis et misericors Iesus," ("The Meek and Merciful Jesus") for the Eastern Catholic churches -- reforming sections of canon law dealing with requests for the declaration of the nullity of a marriage.

The reforms -- which do away with an automatic appeal of all decisions, charge diocesan bishops with responsibility for handling some cases and institute an abbreviated process for cases where the evidence is especially clear and uncontested -- were meant to streamline the process and help couples in need of healing, the pope said.

Pope Francis also insisted in the documents that the annulment process be free of charge or as close to free as possible.

"This procedural reform is based on proximity and gratuity," the pope told the bishops. "Proximity to wounded families means that the judgment, as far as possible, takes place within the diocesan church without delay and unnecessary extensions. And gratuity refers back to the Gospel mandate which says, 'Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.'"

Pope Francis said he hoped the reforms ordered in 2015 would find "their full and immediate application in all the dioceses" of the country.

The reforms, he said, aim to help dioceses demonstrate that "the church is mother and has at heart the good of her children, who in this case are wounded by a love that has been shattered."

On the matter on relations between bishops and priests, Pope Francis said that relationship is the "backbone" that supports all relationships within a diocese.

"Unfortunately, some bishops have difficulty establishing a relationship with their priests, thereby running the risk of ruining their mission and weakening the mission of the church," the pope said.

Pope Francis urged bishops to make sure that if one of their priests calls, he returns the call immediately or by the next day at the latest. "This way the priest will know he has a bishop who is a father."

A bishop has an obligation to be close to his priests "without discrimination and without preferences or favoritism," the pope said. "A true shepherd lives among his flock and knows how to listen to and welcome all without prejudice. We must not fall into the temptation of welcoming only priests who are nice or are flatterers."

A bishop also must take care not to give assignments only to the eager and the "climbers," ignoring those who are "introverts, meek, shy or problematic," he said.

Many times today, the pope said, priests are disrespected, made fun of or "even condemned because of the errors or crimes of some of their colleagues," so they need to be able to find support, encouragement and consolation from their bishop.

On the issue of "synodality and collegiality," Pope Francis insisted that the idea of everyone in the church walking together and working together to share the Gospel is the lifestyle God wants from people in the church.

Saying he had heard rumors of possible plans for a synod for Italy, Pope Francis said the first step would be to review the "medical records" of the Italian church to ensure that laypeople, priests and bishops all recognize they have a shared responsibility for the life of the church.


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Update: Washington's archbishop plans to get 'out in field' to meet people, listen

Mon, 05/20/2019 - 10:53am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard

By Julie Asher

HYATTSVILLE, Md. (CNS) -- Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory will have a lot of things on his plate when he becomes the newest leader of the influential archdiocese situated in the nation's capital: the sexual abuse roiling the Catholic Church, the tense political climate on the Hill and the challenges that come with learning about a new archdiocese.

The newest archbishop of Washington knows what his first priority will be however.

The "first and most important thing" is "getting out in the field and meeting the people," Archbishop Gregory told Catholic News Service in a May 17 interview.

He has six listening sessions scheduled with priests of the Washington Archdiocese, and "I'm trying to fill up my calendar right now with moments when I can be in the parishes with the people," he said. Like "a Sunday supply priest," he wants to visit local parishes to say Mass and afterward stand at the back of church and greet people.

Archbishop Gregory has "no fancy requirements" for such visits, nor would he expect any "fancy preparation." He just has "the real desire to be there as a listener," he said, adding that "it is that casual encounter with people that often proves to be the most fruitful."

"I've discovered the best approach to learning about a diocese is to listen to the diocese so you don't go in with all kinds of preprogrammed intentions that may or may not fit the experience of the people or their needs," said the 71-year-old prelate, who will be installed as Washington's seventh archbishop May 21 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

When Pope Francis appointed him to Washington April 5, he had been Atlanta's archbishop for 14 years. Before that, the Chicago native was bishop of Belleville, Illinois; he was a Chicago auxiliary bishop when he was named to head that diocese.

In Washington, he succeeds Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, who had headed the archdiocese for 12 years until his retirement last October.

In an interview with CNS at the Archdiocese Pastoral Center in Hyattesville, just outside the District of Columbia, Archbishop Gregory covered a wide range of topics.

He talked about bringing hope and healing to Catholics coping with the clergy abuse scandal; how his new duties include speaking for the church "to the powers that be" in the nation's capital when the times call for it; the significance of his appointment as the first African American archbishop to head an archdiocese with "a storied history of African American Catholics going back to pre-nationhood"; what he'll miss most about his former archdiocese; and a few of his side interests, like cooking and golfing.

Archbishop Gregory said the abuse scandal erupting again in the church over the last year is "chapter two" of what the church went through in 2002. He was bishop of Belleville at the time and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and was involved in the drafting and the implementation of the bishops' "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People."

"The dynamic then was the scandal that people were experiencing and voicing, that clergymen, priests, deacons, church officials had harmed their children," he said.

"Chapter two is the revelation that those in leadership too frequently did not address those issues appropriately and in a very few cases, some of the leaders themselves were engaged in that behavior," Archbishop Gregory said.

There is "anger at the failure of leadership," he said, "and from my perspective that's more problematic, because now you're looking at the very authorities that have been asked to guide and govern and teach and sanctify the church, and they themselves either did not handle those case well or even worse were a part of that."

"The two moments are related, but they are distinct," Archbishop Gregory said. "It seems to me that the task that lies before me is to both listen to the people -- to hear them, to hear the hurt, acknowledge it, recognize it, but then also to invite them to reach into their own spiritual treasuries and to say now we can't allow our history to determine our future and to invite them with me to chart a new direction and engage them."

Archbishop Gregory said he is hopeful the U.S. bishops, when they meet in June in Baltimore, will build on Pope Francis' "motu proprio" issued May 9 giving clear direction to the global Catholic Church about reporting abuse and holding church leaders accountable.

Last November, during the fail general assembly, the Vatican had asked the U.S. bishops to postpone a vote on to implementing new protocols to boost the accountability of bishops to laypeople and survivors of clergy sex abuse.

In June, the bishops can go forward with those protocols, he believes, putting "into place structures and procedures that will be a resolve and a direction for the future. Those procedures also have to include lay involvement, lay engagement in a similar way to what the charter did in establishing lay review boards."

"These steps will go a long way to bringing some healing" from the abuse crisis, Archbishop Gregory remarked. "But also I have to stand in the presence of these people of the archdiocese before God and ask their pardon."

He added, "There's a family I am still very close to from Belleville, and the wife, who knows me well, once said, 'You know Wilton, when a married man has made a terrible mistake he can never say, "I'm sorry enough,"' and I think that analogy is also appropriate to this moment."

The abuse crisis has "broken the hearts of many of our priests," Archbishop Gregory said, "because here they are in the trenches working hard and doing the best they can, trying to make 'bricks with no straw' and this is then dropped in their laps and that's hurt them."

In Washington, he said his listening sessions with the priests of the archdiocese will "lay the foundation of a relationship that I want to build" with them.

There will be times "when we're together to do business" but also "times when we're together to pray together, to relax together, to joke together. A friendship can't simply be established on doing business. It has to be established on opening hearts and engaging one another."

With regard to him being Washington's first African American archbishop, he said he knows that for many African American Catholics, his appointment "is a great source of pride, and I am honored those feelings are there."

"I look forward to encountering the African American Catholic community as one of their sons who has now become their shepherd," he added.

"I'm very much aware the Archdiocese of Washington has a storied history of African American Catholics going back to pre-nationhood. There's a sacred heritage that I hope to both recognize and to honor," he commented.

Archbishop Gregory also observed that our nation is at a moment "where the ugly presence of racism has come to the fore again -- and I say 'come to the fore' because some of the problems and some of the attitudes that have now gotten media attention obviously have been there latently and but now they have come to the surface again."

"I hope that in my ministry as an African American archbishop, I can invite people of all races and cultures and traditions (to) be church together," he said, adding that "we are best ... when we are together."

What he will miss most of all about the Archdiocese of Atlanta are the people -- priests, deacons, religious sisters and the laity. "Every church enjoys its greatest treasure in its people," he said.

The people there has been "so generous and gracious and loving to me -- they became family," he added.

As he makes the transition to the Archdiocese of Washington -- at least one thing will be different: He will not be able to drive himself anywhere. He must have a driver, he explained, because the archdiocese "is a corporation sole for legal protection."

This "is going to be a real challenge for me because I am an independent soul. ... That's limiting (but) we will get through."

He is a sports fan. In whatever spare time he may have, sports is one of the three things he watches on television, along with news and nature shows. And speaking of sports, he feels that as the bishop of the local church, "I've got to root for the local team," so when it comes to baseball, now he'll be rooting for the Washington Nationals.

He likes to play golf -- or "tries" to play golf, but spending time in the kitchen and making a meal, "that's relaxing for me."

"Part of the job" of a bishop is attending a lot of formal dinners and banquets, Archbishop Gregory said, "but when I'm home I like to put on casual clothes and go into the kitchen and bang the pots" and make a meal.

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Follow Asher on Twitter: @jlasher

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Throwing away food is like throwing away people, pope says

Mon, 05/20/2019 - 10:48am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mohamed Azakir, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis condemned food waste, saying throwing away food is like throwing away people.

"Waste reveals an indifference toward things and toward those who go without," he said May 18.

"To throw food away means to throw people away," he told members and volunteers of the European Federation of Food Banks, including the Food Bank of Italy, which was marking its 30th anniversary.

He thanked the organizations for all they do in providing food to those who are hungry while fighting against food waste.

"You take what is thrown into the vicious cycle of waste and insert it into the 'virtuous circle' of good use," he said, saying their work is like what trees do -- taking in pollution to give back oxygen to those in need.

"It is scandalous today not to notice how precious food is" and how much of it ends up wasted, he said.

"Wasting what is good is a nasty habit" that can creep in anywhere, even in charitable works, for example, when good intentions are blocked by bureaucracy or excessive administrative costs or when they "become forms of welfare that do not lead to authentic development."

Charity today "requires intelligence, the capacity for planning and continuity," and for people to care about each other, seeking to restore human dignity, the pope said.

He told those involved in food banks that their work shows -- with action and not words -- that progress "advances each time we walk with those who are left behind."

"The economy has a profound need of this," he said, lamenting how "the frenetic scramble for money is accompanied by an interior frailty," disorientation and a loss of meaning.

"What I care about is an economy that is more humane, that has a soul, and not a reckless machine that crushes human beings," Pope Francis said.

Too many people are left without work, dignity or hope "and still others are oppressed by inhuman demands of production" that have a negative impact on the family and personal relationships.

The pope said it pains him when he hears parents say they have little time in the day to play with their children because they go to work when the children are still asleep and get home when they are already in bed.

"This is inhuman: this vertigo of inhuman work."

"Instead of serving humanity," he said, the economy "enslaves us, subjugates us to monetary mechanisms" that are increasingly difficult to control.

"We need to encourage models of growth based on social equality, on the dignity of human persons, on families, on the future of young people, on respect for the environment," he said.

"Even if evil is at large in the world, with God's help and the good will of so many like yourselves, the world can be a better place," he said. 

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Immigration advocates express concerns about Trump immigration plan

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 12:05pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Lucy Nicholson, Reuters


WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic immigration advocates raised concerns about a proposal from President Donald Trump that would reshape U.S. immigration policy to incorporate a "merit-based" system that prioritizes high-skilled workers over those with family already in the country.

Advocates' concerns about the Trump plan, announced May 16 at the White House, focused on family unification, strengthening the asylum system and the importance of welcoming people of diverse economic backgrounds and skills.

Saying they appreciate Trump's willingness to address "problems in our immigration system," two U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops leaders said they opposed any plans that "seek to curtail family-based immigration and create a largely 'merit-based' immigration system."

"Families are the foundation of our faith, our society, our history and our immigration system," Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the bishop's Committee on Migration, said in a May 17 statement.

The leaders said they were troubled that the president's proposal failed to address young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, known as "Dreamers," as well as Temporary Protected Status holders from several troubled countries.

Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop Vasquez said they recognized the importance of ensuring secure borders and safety, but they cautioned the neither will be achieved "by heightening human misery and restricting access to lawful protection in an attempt to deter vulnerable asylum-seeking families and children."

They also called for the U.S. to address the causes of migration and to improve operation of immigration courts that hear asylum cases, expanding alternatives to detention and eliminating criminal networks.

Kevin Appleby, a longtime immigration advocate who formerly worked at the USCCB, told Catholic News Service that there was little in the president's plan "from a Catholic perspective to support."

"Substantively, it cuts against Catholic teaching. It weakens immigrant families by reducing family visas, and it removes asylum protection for unaccompanied children and families at the border," Appleby said.

"The administration could increase merit-based visas without sacrificing other parts of the legal immigration system," he said. "This is really also an attack on families. They want to remove the ability of family members moving forward."

Appleby suggested there may be a place for merit-based immigration, but "it has to be part of a broader system that includes other skill categories and keeps families together."

On social media, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network offered a brief comment, posting that "family reunification has historically been the principle goal -- and strength -- of U.S. immigration law and policy. It should continue to be the basis of any revision of immigration law."

Trump's plan would require broad changes in current law. Congressional observers expect it to see some revisions as it is discussed in Congress.

Details of the plan were circulating on Capitol Hill prior to Trump's announcement, leading Congress members of both parties to express skepticism about some provisions. The proposal is unlikely to pass the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives.

Calling current immigration law "senseless," Trump said the plan would not change the number of annually allocated green cards, which allow people to work permanently in the country -- about 1.1 million -- but calls instead for them to be issued to high-skilled workers. Applicants would be considered based on age, English-speaking ability, education and job offers, he said.

"Our proposal is pro-American, pro-immigrant and pro-worker," Trump said. "It's just common sense."

The president also said his plan would reform the current asylum system to focus on immigrants who file "legitimate" claims rather than those who are seeking to enter the U.S. for "frivolous" reasons.

Unaccompanied children seeking asylum would face immediate deportation to their home countries and the number of families seeking asylum would be cut, he said.

Trump told supporters during his 30-minute speech that the plan would keep U.S. communities safe and would ensure that the border with Mexico "will be finally fully and totally secure."

"If adopted, our plan will transform America's immigration system into the pride of our nation and the envy of the modern world," he said.

Notably, the plan does not address the situation of Dreamers, the young people who qualify to remain in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters May 16 that young immigrants were omitted from the plan because the issue was considered too divisive.


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Conservationists at Vatican conference call for protecting biodiversity

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 10:22am


By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- People's attitudes toward nature as well as their economic systems and consumption habits need to radically change in order to protect biodiversity on the planet and promote a more sustainable and caring world, said participants at a Vatican-sponsored conference.

"We can learn how to take care of the world. And we must use all our strength to find ways of making the world more human, giving people the possibility to live their lives so that we may share the richness and the resources given to us in a way that could never be possessed or owned by us," the participants said in their final statement May 15.

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences brought together heads of natural history museums, botanical gardens, zoos and aquariums along with experts in biodiversity and ecology for a conference May 13-14 on species protection.

The conference came after the independent Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services published results of a three-year study which found that 1 million -- that is, one in four -- animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction within decades. Land use, pollution, overfishing, deforestation and climate change are among the factors driving the unprecedented decline in biodiversity, said the May 6 report.

The concluding statement issued by the pontifical academy launched a call for action for conservationist leaders, experts, policy advisers and faith communities to help humanity build a new sustainable relationship with the natural world.

"We need to change our mindset, our mentality of exploitation that has driven us to the point where we are now. We seem to live in an immense and fantastic world, forgetting about what has been given to us," it said.

"The worldwide communities of natural history museums, zoological and botanic gardens are catalytic and significant allies in the global drive toward species protection and nature preservation," especially because of their expertise and ability to educate and impact so many people around the world, particularly young people, it said.

Creating "islands of protection," such as national parks, seed banks and so on, are not enough when it comes to preventing the threats of a global loss of species, the statement said.

"Fundamental societal change is needed," which includes people reducing their "ecological footprint" and changing patterns of consumption, particularly with fossil fuels, food waste and land use, it said.

"These patterns of social behavior need a course correction," it said, and "our economic systems need to be redesigned toward circular bio-based economic systems, in which humankind and nature are less in conflict.

"Science and innovation, sound governance, and incentives for industry and agriculture need to come together to achieve such a sustainable bioeconomy, adjusted to local circumstances."

Because all major world religions, in principle, "are committed to respecting and preserving nature," they, too, should agree on joint action for change.

"These communities are called upon to explore new synergies for enhanced impact on people's world views and new joint collective actions to address extinction problems," it said.


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Pope chooses theme for World Meeting of Families 2021

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 10:02am

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy John McElroy, World Meeting of Families


VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christian family life is a vocation and, when lived with fidelity, it is a path to holiness, said the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life.

The office May 17 announced the theme Pope Francis has chosen for the next World Meeting of Families, which will be in Rome June 23-27, 2021: "Family love: A vocation and a path to holiness."

The dicastery asked that in preparation for the meeting, families and pastoral workers read both Pope Francis' 2016 exhortation on the family, "Amoris Laetitia," and his 2018 exhortation on the universal call to holiness, "Gaudete et Exsultate."

"The aim is to emphasize family love as a vocation and a way to holiness and to understand and share the profound and redeeming significance of family relationships in daily life," the dicastery said.

The love of a husband and wife and the love found within families, it said, show "the precious gift of a life together where communion is nourished and a culture of individualism, consumption and waste is averted."

Married couples and families, the dicastery said, "demonstrate the great significance of human relationships in which joys and struggles are shared in the unfolding of daily life as people are led toward an encounter with God."

"When lived with fidelity and perseverance," marriage and family life "strengthens love and enables the vocation to holiness that is possessed by each individual person and expressed in conjugal and family relationships. In this sense, Christian family life is a vocation and a way to holiness, an expression of the 'most attractive face of the church.'"


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Shareholders push U.S. telecom firms to tackle online child sexual abuse

Thu, 05/16/2019 - 12:24pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mariana Bazo, Reuters

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Online child sexual abuse is a booming international business and religious congregations holding stocks in major telecom firms are stepping up their advocacy to thwart it.

Led by Christian Brothers Investment Services, the effort involves a widening campaign designed to push leading U.S. telecoms to take strong action to block explicit images from their growing communication networks and information platforms.

"These telecom companies are trying to attract these younger and younger audiences, but we believe they are not investing a commensurate amount of time in online safety," said Tracey Rembert, director of Catholic responsible investing at CBIS.

Verizon is among the high-profile companies being engaged. CBIS -- joined by the Maryknoll Sisters, the Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell, New Jersey, the Benedictine Sisters of Virginia and Proxy Impact -- gained a vote on a shareholder resolution addressing online risks faced by children during Verizon's annual meeting May 2 in Orlando, Florida.

Proxy Impact, based in Oakland, California, assists private shareholders in advocacy work to promote sustainable and responsible business practices.

The resolution -- calling for a report by March 2020 on the potential sexual exploitation of children through the company's products and services -- gained 33.7 percent approval from shareholders. While it was far from the majority needed for passage, such a high level of support for a first-time resolution is unusual in the corporate world.

Rembert was pleased, but not satisfied, with the result, especially given that she believes it's the first time that shareholders anywhere tried to force a telecom company into action to confront online abuse.

"I've tried to engage with (Verizon) for over a year and every time I spoke with someone I didn't have strong confidence in what they were saying, or I didn't have the right person who could give me the answer (about their practices)," she told Catholic News Service May 14.

Online child sexual abuse can take many forms including children being exposed to inappropriate content; the soliciting of kids to send inappropriate photos of themselves through social media, pornographic videos and live streaming; and the manipulation and distribution of normal family photos of children stolen from computers and cellphones.

The ease with which such images are distributed is what concerns Rembert, who has been trying to convince telecom firms to respond to investor concerns for two years. Perpetrators are using increasingly sophisticated means, including encryption, to avoid detection, she said.

Rembert undertook the campaign effort after a poll of other investors revealed that human trafficking and online child abuse were the two highest ranked concerns.

"(Society is) almost universally against child pornography and child sexual abuse," Rembert said. "There's a firm moral line that crosses all different stripes of society and because of that there is not a lot of gray area if a company is linked to child sexual abuse online."

While the moral concerns are the shareholders' greatest concern, there's also a financial reason for the effort. Rembert said that companies face high risks to their reputation and financial bottom line -- and thus the value of a shareholder's portfolio -- if it's determined that a telecom firm is not doing what's possible to protect children.

Online child sexual abuse is a global industry, fueled by the widening access by children to mobile devices and cellphones on every continent. No estimates are available on the size of the industry, but Interpol and other law enforcement agencies have been overwhelmed in trying to track the amount of material circulated through online platforms.

Social workers specializing in serving children suggested that as many as 1 million unique child abuse images existed, according to a 2017 report by the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria, Virginia, and the Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety in the United Kingdom. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has said up to 50,000 new images circulate annually.

In contrast, Interpol reported about 4,000 images globally in 1995.

Rembert, along with Cathy Rowan, corporate responsibility coordinator for the Maryknoll Sisters, and Sister Patricia Daly, corporate responsibility representative for the Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell, met with Verizon officials as recently as January and left dissatisfied with what they heard.

"They increased disclosure a bit, but we felt it was too vague and there is no way to assess how complete their response is," Rowan told CNS.

Rembert described the meeting as "good ... but we wanted a stronger commitment about what they are doing."

Other companies approached by the shareholders include Apple and Sprint. A resolution that recently had been filed with Apple was withdrawn when the company announced a commitment to address shareholder concerns.

Verizon said in a statement emailed May 15 that it "is proud of the leadership role we play in combating the proliferation of child sexual abuse material online."

The statement provided links to two sites outlining "our ongoing commitment to online child safety and the extensive resources we devote in the fight against online predators" and " educational tools and guidance to help parents and children navigate the digital world."

The links are and

A company spokesman declined to respond on the record about specific concerns raised by shareholders.

Maryknoll's involvement stems from the congregation's human trafficking prevention efforts around the world. Rowan said Maryknoll Sisters are educating people about necessary safety precautions as the internet becomes available in villages and outlying areas.

"At what point does the demand for these children reach into Zimbabwe and Cambodia?" she asked.

Sister Daly, who has spent more than 40 years in shareholder advocacy on dozens of issues from weapons manufacturing to human rights, said it's the responsibility of the telecom companies to set high standards in safeguarding children.

"This crosses classes. It's beyond any kind of racial issue. Every child is at risk, regardless of whether your parents are millionaires or not. Any child who has access to a phone will be at risk," Sister Daly said.

Rembert pledged to keep the pressure on Verizon and other firms until they agree to undertake what she and others consider to be adequate steps to block online perpetrators from pedaling their salacious products.

Ideally, she would like to see a type of industry-wide code of conduct developed in collaboration with investors, child protection groups, law enforcement agencies and governments.

"That," she said, "would be wonderful."

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Editor's Note: More information about Christian Brothers Investment Services is online at

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski


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Police conduct search at Dallas diocesan sites for files on alleged abusers

Wed, 05/15/2019 - 5:54pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By David Sedeno

DALLAS (CNS) -- Dallas police executed search warrants at three Diocese of Dallas sites May 15, saying that process was an extension of their ongoing investigation of sexual abuse allegations into six current or former priests, including one accused of sexually abusing three minors and who is believed to have fled the country to his native Philippines.

Maj. Max Geron, who heads the Dallas Police Department's special investigations division, said that detectives had been meeting with diocesan officials over the past several months and that execution of the search warrants at the pastoral center, an offsite warehouse where diocesan records and documents are kept and at St. Cecilia Catholic Church offices, the parish where one of the accused priests, Father Edmundo Paredes, was the pastor for nearly 20 years.

At a news conference at police headquarters and responding to a question of cooperation by diocesan officials with the police investigation, Geron said, "We have had a number of meetings with them, characterizing that in varying degrees of cooperation. We believe that the execution of the warrants was wholly appropriate for the furtherance of the investigation."

He declined to give specifics of the investigation, other than saying that "these investigations stem from additional allegations made after the case against Mr. Paredes became public."

Diocese spokeswoman Annette Gonzales Taylor said that the search warrants on the three sites were a surprise because church officials believed that they had been fully cooperating with investigators.

Dallas Bishop Edward J. Burns was scheduled to speak at a news conference later in the day.

Throughout the day, numerous plainclothes law enforcement officials were seen entering and exiting the main Pastoral Center building. Marked police cars and a cargo truck blocked entrances to the garage and main parking area. As of early afternoon, nothing had been brought out of the building.

The issuance of search warrants in Dallas is one of two so-called raids at large diocesan offices in Texas. Last November, law enforcement officials executed a search warrant at the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

The execution of the Dallas search warrants comes after months of reports from around the United States and the world about clergy sex abuse that have rocked the universal church and efforts to combat it locally and globally.

In August 2018, a grand jury report in Pennsylvania found that more than 300 priests and other church workers in six dioceses were linked to sex abuse claims by more than 1,000 victims over a 70-year period, and calls by numerous bishops and clergy across the country for due diligence and transparency.

Last summer in Dallas, shortly after the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report, Bishop Burns addressed parishioners at St. Cecilia Catholic Church in Oak Cliff to tell them that their former pastor, Father Edmundo Paredes, had been credibly accused of sexual abuse of three minors in years past and that he also was suspected of theft of funds from the church.

Law enforcement officials have been looking for Father Paredes, who was on the list, but officials believe he may have fled to his native Philippines.

Earlier this year, Bishop Burns announced the names of 31 priests who had been credibly accused of allegations of sexual abuse of minors between 1950 to the present day. The list was developed after former law enforcement officials combed through more than 2,424 files of priests over a period of several months and in consultation with a separate Diocesan Review Board comprised of law enforcement, clinical psychology, law, and medicine. The announcement coincided with the simultaneous release of similar lists by most of the other 14 Catholic dioceses in Texas.

The Texas announcements Jan. 31 preceded allegations of sexual abuse by now-defrocked Theodore E. McCarrick, former cardinal-archbishop of Washington, who was a popular prelate, a longtime confidant of popes and also served the church as bishop in New York and bishop and archbishop in New Jersey.

Adding to the controversy were questions as to when the Vatican, including Pope Francis, first knew about the allegations and whether Vatican officials ignored the claims.

The Pennsylvania grand jury report also showed a mixed record of how Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, the now-retired archbishop of Washington, handled some of abuse cases when he was bishop in Pittsburgh from 1988 until 2006.

In response to the report, the cardinal defended his actions as Pittsburgh's bishop and said he had "established strong policies that addressed the needs of abuse survivors, removed priests from ministry and protected the most vulnerable in the community."

In early May, Pope Francis released a document calling for new norms and protocols on how clergy abuse must be handled and reported globally. The document is the result of the conference that the pope called for in February with the heads of bishops' conferences worldwide.

Bishop Burns has encouraged any additional victims of abuse by clergy to report it to law enforcement or by calling the Texas Abuse Hotline at (800) 252-5400 and contacting Barbara Landregan, the diocesan victims assistance coordinator, at (214) 379-2812 or

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Sedeno is editor of The Texas Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Dallas.

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Update: Pro-life leaders applaud passage of abortion bill in Alabama

Wed, 05/15/2019 - 5:20pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn


MONTGOMERY, Ala. (CNS) -- By passing a bill to ban abortion in nearly all circumstances, the Alabama Legislature has recognized that abortion is "the extinguishing of a unique human life," said the president and CEO of Americans United for Life.

"From conception to natural death, every single human life deserves to be protected by law. The violence of abortion is never the answer to the violence of rape," said Catherine Glenn Foster in a May 15 statement. "Like other states that have passed laws concerning when life begins, Alabama has relied upon scientific and medical facts."

The state Senate passed the measure late May 14 in a 25-6 vote. It includes exceptions for when the life or health of the mother is seriously threatened and when the child has a fatal disease. It bans abortion in all other circumstances, including rape and incest, and would make performing an abortion at any stage of pregnancy a felony punishable by up to 99 years in prison.

It now heads to Republican Gov. Kay Ivey, who has not stated publicly if she will sign it. The state House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved it in early May.

If the bill becomes law, Alabama will have the most restrictive abortion law in the country. Legal challenges that are expected to be filed swiftly also could "become fodder for the swirling debate over if -- and when -- the Supreme Court might consider overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling," CNN reported.

Republican state Rep. Terri Collins said after the vote that bill was meant to challenge Roe v. Wade and protect the lives of the unborn, "because an unborn baby is a person who deserves love and protection."

In the debate leading up to the vote, Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, an opponent of the bill, called it "a sad day in Alabama. You just said to my daughter, you don't matter, you don't matter in the state of Alabama."

Afterward, he was quoted as saying the state and supporters of the measure "ought to be ashamed" Singleton added: "Women in this state didn't deserve this. This is all about political grandstanding." Other opponents called the bill cruel and a "war on women."

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a national pro-life group, called passage of the near-total ban on abortion "a landmark victory for the people of Alabama who, like most Americans, overwhelmingly reject the extreme status quo of abortion on demand imposed nationwide by Roe v. Wade."

"Across the nation there is growing momentum, informed by science and compassion, and spurred on in reaction to abortion extremism in New York and Virginia, to recognize the humanity of the unborn child in the law," she said.

"It is clearer than ever that Roe is far from being settled law in the eyes and hearts of the American people, and this is increasingly reflected in state legislatures," she added.

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Jesus is always ready to help free people from evil, pope says

Wed, 05/15/2019 - 10:05am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christians recognize life's great paradox that so much evil and temptation exist in the world, but that God is always present, too, ready to help and give people the strength to persevere, Pope Francis said.

Each person has been given life, "dreams of love and the good," but is then "continuously exposed to evil" aimed against himself and those around him, so much so that "we can be tempted to despair," the pope said during his weekly general audience May 15.

"In fact, Christian prayer does not close its eyes" to reality, he said. Christians know life can be very difficult, painful or unjust and they pray that God -- who is greater and stronger than any evil -- would offer strength to go on and would "deliver us from evil."

Continuing his catechesis on the Lord's Prayer, the pope reflected on the last invocation, "Deliver us from evil."

Jesus teaches people to always turn to God, especially when they can feel evil's "threatening presence," which St. Peter said was like an angry lion, always circling, ready to "devour us," the pope said.

The last lines of the Lord's Prayer that call on God to "not abandon us and to deliver us," he said, are petitions for all who find themselves in dire straits: in a situation of sin, persecution, desperation or even death.

The mysterious presence of evil is an "absolute certainty" in people's lives, the pope said, since the devil spares no one as he moves "silently like a serpent, carrying venom."
"Deliver us from evil," he said, is a cry against evil that can manifest itself in so many ways, such as slavery, innocent suffering, exploitation, mourning and "the cry of innocent children."

"Christians know how domineering the power of evil is and, at the same time, they experience how much Jesus, who never succumbed to its lure, is on our side and comes to our aid."

The "Our Father" reminds people that the best gift people have received from Jesus is his constant presence and peace, "which is stronger than every evil," the pope said.

"This is our hope, the strength that Jesus gives us is here, he is here, in our midst," giving people the strength to persevere, he said.

Addressing Polish-speaking pilgrims at the end of the audience, Pope Francis recalled the feast of Our Lady of Fatima May 13 and how that day coincided with the assassination attempt against St. John Paul II, who was shot in St. Peter's Square in 1981.

The pope reminded people how St. John Paul believed Our Lady saved his life and asked people pray for her protection, too.

"Let's also remember the words of Our Lady: 'I have come to warn humanity so that they change their life and not sadden God with grave sins. May people pray the rosary and do penance for their sins.' Let's listen to this admonishment, asking Mary for her maternal protection, the gift of conversion, the spirit of penance and peace for the whole world," he said.

When he first arrived in St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis invited eight young refugees to ride along with him in the popemobile.

Alessandro Gisotti, interim director of the Vatican press office, told reporters that the adolescent boys and girls from Syria, Nigeria, Congo and other countries had come to Italy from Libya through a humanitarian corridor initiative. They were living with their families at a welcoming center south of Rome, Gisotti added.


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New York religious leaders endorse bill to end solitary confinement

Tue, 05/14/2019 - 12:18pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Mike Matvey

ALBANY, N.Y. (CNS) -- The numbers are so staggering that it has been called "torture."

Solitary confinement is in widespread use in prisons across the United States and, in New York state alone, more than 3,000 inmates are isolated in 6-by-10 cells for over 23 hours a day.

The Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act, which has not yet made its way to the floor of the New York state House or Senate, is looking to change that.

"Long-term use of solitary confinement is a form of torture, yet it continues to be widely practiced nationally and in New York, despite some recent reforms in our state. Inmates don't surrender their basic human dignity when the prison doors close," said Dennis Poust, director of communications for the New York State Catholic Conference.

The Catholic conference, which is the public policy arm of New York's Catholic bishops, put out a memorandum in January in support of the measure, which is known as HALT.

"We can protect society, and protect those inside the prison without wide-scale use of confinement in special housing units, which leads to all sorts of mental health issues, including paranoia, depression and suicidal thoughts," Poust told The Evangelist, newspaper of the Diocese of Albany. "It creates a less stable inmate population and, ultimately, creates a less safe society when those inmates are subsequently released, sometimes directly from solitary confinement."

The New York State Catholic Conference, the state Council of Churches and the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State, as well as other Christian, Muslim and Jewish organizations all endorse the bill.

If the bill becomes law, it would limit the amount of time an inmate can spend in solitary confinement to 15 days, which is in accordance with the U.N. special rapporteur on torture, as well as offer alternatives to segregated housing units. The report said anything over 15 days is a form of torture.

The same sentiments were echoed by Pope Francis as far back as 2014. He said that "one form of torture is ... confinement in high security prisons. ... The lack of sensory stimuli, the total impossibility of communication and the lack of contact with other human beings induce mental and physical suffering such as paranoia, anxiety, depression, weight loss, and significantly increase the suicidal tendency."

And in a 2016 op-ed in the Albany Times Union, Albany Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger wrote: "Social science has affirmed that solitary confinement works against the purpose of rehabilitation and restorative justice. It also works against the purpose of improving public safety, both inside our prisons and jails and in our communities."

He added, "For all Americans committed to building a safer, healthier society, we cannot ignore the mental illness, debilitating trauma and recidivism that are the hallmarks of placing inmates in solitary confinement."

The website of the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement,, notes that in October 2015, the U.S. Congress endorsed the Mandela Rules, which prohibit any person from being held in solitary beyond 15 days. The United Nations adopted the rules in December 2015.

New York currently places no limit on the total time a person can spend in "isolated confinement."

On May 7, a group of faith leaders gathered at the state Capitol in Albany in support of the HALT bill. In 2016, after a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union led to a $62 million settlement, the state made reforms to limit the solitary confinement of pregnant women, youth and the disabled. This bill aims for even more reforms.

Critics say the use of solitary confinement disproportionately affects people of color. For example, African Americans make up 13% of the population of New York state, but represent 50% of the state's prison population and 60% of the people held in solitary confinement.

"More than 30 percent of all suicides in New York prisons from 2014 to 2016 took place in solitary, though only 6 to 8 percent of the prison population were in solitary," Poust said.

"As Catholics, we have a special obligation to be concerned with the plight of prisoners," he added. "After all, visiting the imprisoned was on Jesus' short list of actions in Matthew that when we do it, we do it for him."

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Matvey is a staff writer at The Evangelist, newspaper of the Diocese of Albany.

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Cardinal 'Fix It': Almoner's job is to model direct charity

Tue, 05/14/2019 - 11:20am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Cindy Wooden

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- During his visit to a center offering respite and food to refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski followed a sign that said, "Broken? Fix it here."

The sign led to a shack where several refugees were working together to fix a bicycle, and one was trying to construct what looked like a coal stove out of large cans.

The 55-year-old Polish cardinal holds the title of papal almoner, an ancient office devoted to mostly small, direct acts of almsgiving.

"Fix it" could be the motto on Cardinal Krajewski's coat of arms. (Instead, it is "Misericordia," mercy.)

Twenty-four hours after returning to Rome from Greece, the cardinal went to a government building occupied by some 450 people, including close to 100 children. The power company had cut electricity to the building because no one was paying the bill.

Cardinal Krajewski fixed it.

While he did not explicitly admit to climbing down a manhole to reconnect the power, he has taken full responsibility for overriding the electric company's decision to cut service to the building. And he knows it can have legal consequences.

The office of papal almoner has existed since early in the 13th century. While the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and Caritas Internationalis, along with its national partners, are responsible for large-scale development, relief and advocacy projects, the almoner's office is focused on person-to-person charity.

The direct contact with the poor is so important to the Catholic Church that the papal almoner is one of a handful of top Vatican positions that is not suspended when a pope dies. As a sign of the church's constant love for the poor, the almoner is to continue his work distributing charity "in accordance with the criteria employed during the pope's lifetime," say the rules governing the interregnum, or period between popes.

Pairing both small- and large-scale approaches to charity has been part of Catholic tradition for centuries.

As then-Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his 2005 encyclical letter, "Deus Caritas Est" ("God is Love"), "Following the example given in the parable of the Good Samaritan, Christian charity is first of all the simple response to immediate needs and specific situations: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for and healing the sick, visiting those in prison, etc."

While the church's charitable organizations must be professionally competent, he said, professionalism is not enough. "We are dealing with human beings, and human beings always need something more than technically proper care. They need humanity. They need heartfelt concern."

Cardinal Krajewski is not naive. He spent hours with government officials in Greece May 8-9 trying to promote humanitarian visas for some of the 70,000 asylum-seekers in the country.

But he spent more time in three camps on Lesbos and at three small, privately run centers that offer migrants and refugees a place to relax, to get new clothes, to drink tea or coffee with their friends, to watch a movie or borrow a book and to watch their children on a playground.

He gave little bags of candy to the children and rosaries to the adults, although the majority of them were Muslims. He also handed out small containers of dates and nuts, which the adults would eat when they broke their day's Ramadan fast that evening.

Pope Francis sent him to Lesbos with more than $100,000, mostly for Caritas Hellas, the Greek Catholic charity. But he had cash in his pockets, too, and he quietly made donations to the small charities assisting the refugees. One gift was met with stunned, open-mouthed gaping. Another elicited a spontaneous burst of tears.

Cardinal Krajewski did not ask for grant proposals or budget reports or a future accounting of how the cash was spent. He saw people helping people in need and, in Pope Francis' name, gave them resources to do more.

Justice for the asylum-seekers is a big, long-term project. Personally showing them someone outside the camps knows they are there and sees them as human beings, not case numbers, requires presence, which is Cardinal Krajewski's mission and is meant to be an example.

As Pope Francis said on the first World Day of the Poor in 2017: "Drawing near to the poor in our midst will touch our lives. It will remind us of what really counts: to love God and our neighbor. Only this lasts forever, everything else passes away. What we invest in love remains, the rest vanishes."

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden


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Parish near Colorado school shooting responds with prayer, counseling

Mon, 05/13/2019 - 4:28pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Joseph Ambuul, The Colorado Catholic Herald

By Veronica Ambuul

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (CNS) -- When news of a school shooting May 7 at STEM School Highlands Ranch reached St. Mark Parish, just two miles away, parish staff members immediately began calling the nine families from the parish known to have children at the school.

STEM School Highlands Ranch is a charter school that draws students from across southwest Denver, encompassing several parishes in both the Diocese of Colorado Springs and the Archdiocese of Denver. Fortunately for the St. Mark parish community, none of the children from the parish had been wounded in the attack.

"I've been in touch with all of the families and offered to meet with them," said Father Gregory Bierbaum, St. Mark's pastor. "There were about 11 children affected, and none were injured."

Once it was ascertained that all the children from the parish had escaped physical harm, the next step was to offer support to the middle- and high-school students who may have witnessed the traumatic event. The parish held all-day eucharistic adoration and a prayer vigil May 9, followed by an open-house where grief counselors were available.

"It's important that we come together in difficult times to help each other heal," Father Bierbaum said in a video invitation posted on Facebook. "It's our intent to assist in the beginning of healing. ... we implore Our Lord Jesus to shed light on such a tragedy."

"We were thinking of ways to let the students know that the church was place where they could come and talk about what happened," said Chloe Elder, assistant director of youth and parish catechesis at St. Mark Parish. "That was a big reason why we tried to contact so many counselors and asked them to come."

Although the open house did not attract a large crowd, Elder said she was not discouraged and that the parish will continue to look for ways to reach out to the students.

"It's still so fresh," she told The Colorado Catholic Herald May 13. "They were probably still in shock."

St. Mark will probably follow up with another event in a month or so, perhaps bringing in a counselor to speak about trauma, she said.

Meanwhile, Kendrick Castillo, the STEM School senior who died trying to overcome one of the gunmen, was hailed as a hero, with tributes pouring in from across the nation. A public memorial service for Castillo, who graduated from Notre Dame Parish School in Denver, will be May 15 at 1 p.m. at Cherry Hills Community church in Highlands Ranch. As of May 13, funeral plans were pending.

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Ambuul is editor-in-chief of the Colorado Catholic Herald, diocesan newspaper of Colorado Springs.


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