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Conservationists at Vatican conference call for protecting biodiversity

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

IMAGE: REUTERS

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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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. 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 cns@catholicnews.com.

Pope chooses theme for World Meeting of Families 2021

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

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

By

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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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. 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 cns@catholicnews.com.

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

Top Stories - 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 https://www.verizon.com/about/our-company/company-policies and https://www.verizon.com/about/responsibility/online-safety.

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 www.cbisonline.com.

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. 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 cns@catholicnews.com.

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

Top Stories - 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 blandregan@cathdal.org.

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

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. 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 cns@catholicnews.com.

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

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

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By

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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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. 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 cns@catholicnews.com.

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

Top Stories - 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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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. 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 cns@catholicnews.com.

New York religious leaders endorse bill to end solitary confinement

Top Stories - 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, nycaic.org, 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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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. 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 cns@catholicnews.com.

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

Top Stories - 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

Top Stories - 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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Alaska thrift shop raises $1 million for a Catholic school

Top Stories - Mon, 05/13/2019 - 4:03pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Ron Nicholl, Catholic Anchor

By Rashae Ophus Johnson

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (CNS) -- Of all the designer clothes, quirky conversation pieces and valuable antiques that have rotated through the thrift shop, Archangel Attic, maybe the greatest treasure to come from this modest Anchorage shop is the $1 million it has made for Lumen Christi High School in Anchorage.

Store manager Mary Manes initially was dubious last fall when her husband speculated that they'd probably raised over $1 million via the thrift shop, which along with the school is a ministry of St. Benedict Church in Anchorage.

"I said, 'Nah, no way!' So we looked into it and asked in the (parish) office, and realized how close we were to that goal," Manes said. "It's just amazing how much that little store generates."

"They projected that they would achieve $1 million in February, and they were right on target," said St. Benedict pastor Father Tom Lilly. "I was stunned. We get the cash bag each day with the proceeds of the day and lock it up to be deposited and that just quietly goes on without much notice."

Operated entirely by a cadre of devoted volunteers, including many retired grandmas, the nonprofit has no overhead except utilities and thus gives 100 percent of income to the school. Father Lilly recognized 30-some past and present volunteers at a special banquet in April to celebrate the $1 million milestone and extraordinary contribution to the parish school.

The small plain building belies the curiosities inside. It originated as St. Juliana Church in Spenard, which in the 1960s was transported to its current location, where it was renamed and served as St. Benedict Church until the parish outgrew it. When the new St. Benedict Church opened on the same property in 1979, the old church building was utilized for religious education and youth gatherings and eventually was converted to the Rummage Room, a thrift store that was eventually abandoned until the Manes looked into reviving it around 2006.

"Whatever was donated was put out for sale; you couldn't even move in there, it was so jam-packed," Manes said, adding that there were bins of clothes and dressers and baskets everywhere.

Manes, an experienced thrift store volunteer, disposed of damaged items, donated much of the clutter, acquired new flooring and shelving sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and started merchandising.

The former church's cry room is now the donation intake area; the old confessional is the business office; the sacristy stores out-of-season holiday items; and where the altar once stood is a display of assorted knickknacks. Customers occasionally point out the spot where they were married or their children were baptized.

For six years, Manes sustained Archangel Attic with limited volunteers and business hours, raising about $30,000 a year for the parish school.

Colleen Larson, then acting principal of Lumen Christi, said she could see the place was a gold mine, especially when the school's parents were constantly fundraising.

"I thought if I could just get in there and help out, what we could do with it," she said.

After filling in three years as Lumen Christi principal, Larson retired again and seized the opportunity to step up as Archangel Attic's volunteer coordinator and co-manager. With additional volunteers, they extended the hours to include more evenings and Saturdays. The annual proceeds surged accordingly, reaching over six figures in recent years.

"I really liked the parish, and it was something to do. I wanted to make money for the school and make some friends," she said. "It turned out to be a lot stronger mission."

Larson and Manes, like their core volunteer staff, are motivated to serve the marginalized of society whether to provide affordable clothing and household goods or lend a compassionate ear during trying times. For clothing, which always is in high demand, they offer an ongoing deal to fill an eight-gallon bag to the limit for $20. Specific needs are mysteriously fulfilled though a phenomenon the volunteers refer to as "declaring it" -- which is when customers say they are seeking a particular item that isn't in stock and it is inexplicably donated within about a week.

"Our volunteers just seem to have the spiritual side of this down," Larson reflected. "This ministry is like part of a divine plan; it always works out; it's just blessed."

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Johnson writes for the Catholic Anchor, archdiocesan newspaper of Anchorage.

 

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Cardinal turns on the lights and raises ire of Italian politician

Top Stories - Mon, 05/13/2019 - 10:45am

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) -- Back in Rome less than 24 hours after visiting refugees in camps in Greece, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski turned on some lights and found himself being threatened by Italy's deputy prime minister.

The cardinal, who distributes charity on behalf of Pope Francis, went at 10 p.m. May 11 to a state-owned building in Rome where more than 430 people -- including more than 100 children -- have set up housekeeping.

They have occupied the building since 2013, but on May 6 the electric company cut service, leaving the occupants without lights, without hot water and without functioning refrigerators.

Asked if it was true that he personally lifted a manhole cover and climbed down to reconnect the building to the power main, Cardinal Krajewski told the newspaper, Corriere della Sera, "It was a special situation. Desperate. I repeat I assume all the responsibility."

Matteo Salvini, deputy prime minister of Italy, told a crowd at a rally May 12 that the occupants of the building owed the electric company 300,000 euros (about $337,000) and he would be sending the cardinal the bill.

"I'll pay it. No problem," the cardinal told the newspaper. "And if one arrives, I'll pay a fine as well."

The Vatican, through Cardinal Krajewski's office, had been assisting the residents for some time, regularly sending food and medicine as well as doctors.

"The absurd thing is that we are in the heart of Rome," Cardinal Krajewski told the paper. "These are families who don't have anywhere to go, people who struggle to survive."

The question people should be asking, he said, is not who will pay the electric bill, but why there are more than 400 people, including small children, living like that.

 

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Pope discusses deaconesses, need for nuns to be servants not 'maids'

Top Stories - Fri, 05/10/2019 - 1:23pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media via Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis told the heads of women's religious orders from around the world they need to send sisters on assignments that truly serve the church and those in need, and not agree to requests for "maids."

"You did not become a religious in order to become the maid of a priest," he said to some 850 superiors general in Rome for their plenary assembly.

There are many needed forms of service, whether they be in administration or caring for and performing domestic tasks for those in need, he said May 10 in the Vatican's Paul VI audience hall.

But being "a maid, no," he said; "You must help here in this" because even if the church is trying to stop exploitation among its ranks, it is still the superior general who decides "yes" or "no" to these requests.

The pope's comments came during his meeting with those taking part in the May 6-10 plenary of the International Union of Superiors General, which represents more than 450,000 sisters in more than 100 countries. The gathering offered talks, workshops, reflections and discussion on a number of topics, including interreligious dialogue, cross-cultural experiences, caring for children and the planet, and the future of religious life.

The pope, who spoke off-the-cuff and answered people's questions, was seated behind a wooden table in the front of the hall next to Sister Carmen Sammut, superior general of the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa and the outgoing president of the UISG. Before reading her remarks, she joked that she never imagined she would ever be "sitting at the right hand of the father."

She thanked the pope for being a source of inspiration and helping the church fight the abuse of minors and vulnerable people.

"We are also grateful for your having faced the painful issue of abused religious," she said, noting that many forms of abuse occur worldwide, including cases of religious abusing their fellow sisters.

National conferences of religious orders "are facing this scourge with courage and determination," she said, listing a number of UISG initiatives to help congregations in raising awareness, training superiors and establishing protocols and codes of conduct.

The pope said he was very much aware of the abuse of religious, calling it "a serious and grave problem."

Some religious face not just sexual abuse, he said, but also the abuse of power and conscience.

"We have to fight against this," which must include the superiors general making sure they send their members where they will be in service, not servitude, the pope said.

Fighting abuse, he continued, has been a slow process, especially seeing how it is only now that people are understanding the problem with "lots of shame."

He said he understood some victims' groups were not satisfied with the outcome of a February summit at the Vatican on safeguarding children and vulnerable adults, "but if we had hung (to death) 100 priest abusers in St. Peter's Square, everyone would have been happy, but the problem would not have been solved."

Sister Sammut thanked the pope for having accepted UISG's request during its last plenary assembly in 2016 to establish an official commission to study the New Testament deaconesses and whether women could be admitted to the diaconate. The pope told reporters May 7 the commission did not reach a unanimous conclusion about whether deaconesses in the early church were "ordained" or formally "blessed."

The pontiff told the women religious that the commission, made up of men and women experts, could only agree up to a certain point, and that he was officially handing the report's unanimous findings on to Sister Sammut.

The pope said separate reports each commission member produced outlining their own different opinions and insights needed further study "because I cannot make a sacramental decree without a theological, historical foundation."

He further elaborated on the complex and difficult task of making sure developments and changes in the church remain faithful to God's will and revelation when he took questions from the audience.

"We cannot change revelation. It is true that revelation develops" because it is in "constant movement in order to make itself more clear," he said.

Human understanding of what is moral also changes and develops over time, he added. For example, the development of the Catholic Church teaching against capital punishment resulted in Pope Francis revising the Catechism of the Catholic Church to assert the death penalty was inadmissible and immoral.

That is not what the church taught 50 years ago, but does the new revision mean the church changed, he asked. "No. Moral awareness developed" and grew while the truth remains the same, he said.

That means whatever is proposed today -- whether in regard to moral teaching or women deacons -- it always has to be in harmony with revelation, he said.

"Regarding the diaconate, we have to see what was at the beginning of revelation. And if there was something, let it grow; if there was nothing, if the Lord did not want a sacramental ministry for women, it's not OK. That's why we turn to history," he said.

Dialogue and discernment are important parts of this process, he explained, because "we know what the truth is," but people need to discuss and decide how they are going to constantly grow in the truth in today's world.

"We need discernment," he said. "Nothing is black and white, not even gray. Everything is walking," moving over time and people need to walk along with it, but "on the right path" of revelation. "We cannot walk on any other path."

"We are Catholics. If someone wants to make another church, they're free to."

Before the hour-long meeting and question-and-answer session, the pope launched the latest campaign by Talitha Kum -- the UISG's worldwide network of consecrated persons fighting against human trafficking.

The campaign, "Nuns Healing Hearts," helps mark the 10th anniversary of the network's founding. It is one of more than a dozen networks that the superiors general have formed to educate and warn potential victims of trafficking, to work to combat the poverty that feeds the trade in human beings, and to rescue and provide shelter and rehabilitation for the victims.

 

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Cardinal visits refugees in Greek camps as political solutions falter

Top Stories - Fri, 05/10/2019 - 11:30am

IMAGE: CNS Photo/Vatican Media

By Cindy Wooden

MYTILENE, Greece (CNS) -- The Vatican and the Greek government agree on what should happen to the asylum-seekers in Greek camps: They should be welcomed by European communities and helped to build a new life on the continent.

Exactly how that should happen seems unclear, though.

Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, went to the Greek island of Lesbos May 8-9 to assure both refugees and residents that Pope Francis remembers them, to deliver financial donations to projects helping the refugees and to try to get something moving to help those currently in camps "live again, work and raise their families."

He met with the government official in charge of all the camps in Greece, the director of the Moria and Kara Tepe camps on Lesbos, the mayor of Lesbos and the commander of the Greek police for the North Aegean region, which includes Lesbos.

They all agree members of the European Union should be doing more to ease the burden on Greece and to alleviate the suffering of the 70,000 migrants and asylum-seekers still living in Greek camps. But, apparently, not much will happen before the European Parliament elections in late May.

The Greek government talks about "relocation schemes," which would transfer migrants and asylum-seekers to camps in other countries, but that would require EU negotiations and agreements that do not seem to be in the works.

Cardinal Krajewski, supported by the Migrants and Refugee Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and aided by the Community of Sant'Egidio, wants to see an immediate expansion of the "humanitarian corridors" project.

Sant'Egidio, a Catholic lay community in Rome, and the Italian federation of Protestant churches, launched the project in February 2016 after securing from the Italian government guarantees for the issuing of humanitarian visas. The migrants and refugees taken into Italy -- and now France, Belgium and Luxembourg -- are fully supported by the church communities.

Ioannis Balpakakis, director of the "hotspot" or official migrant and refugee camp at Moria on Lesbos, said the camp and the informal tent settlement next to it were hosting 4,752 people on the day the cardinal visited. Eighty-two percent of the total were people from Afghanistan, 3.5 percent were from Congo and 2.5 percent were from Syria.

The whiteboard in his office showed no new arrivals that day or the day before. So far in 2019, there had been 2,783 arrivals. Twenty people had been deported, 48 recognized refugees were resettled by the International Organization for Migration and 2,975 had transferred to the Greek mainland.

Mario Kaleas, director of the Greek government's asylum service, which determines which of the new arrivals will be allowed to stay and which will be deported, met Cardinal Krajewski in the camp and told him that none of the migrants and refugees planned on Lesbos or even Greece being their final destination.

"They crossed the sea with big dreams, mostly to reach Germany" where they hear there are jobs, Kaleas said. But EU regulations require them to stay in the first EU country then enter -- Greece, in this case.

Sixty percent of those applying for asylum receive it after their initial application, he said. Those who are denied can appeal, but most of them must stay in a camp while they wait, which means some people are there for much more than the average nine months.

Andreas Gougoulis, the Greek government's secretary-general for migrant reception, told the cardinal, "As long as Europe is closed, our only choice is to expand the camps." Greece is hosting 70,000 asylum-seekers, and more continue to arrive.

Cardinal Krajewski kept telling every government official he met that the Catholic Church is willing to help. With a big grin, he even went so far as to tell the director of the Kara Tepe hospitality center, "We'll take them all."

The center is home to 1,300 people, mostly large families or families with a child who has special needs.

The cardinal told Spiros Galinos, mayor of Lesbos: "As the Catholic Church, we are ready to welcome these people. Someone just must open the gates."

When the crisis began in 2015 -- and brought 1.2 million people to Lesbos in less than a year -- "no one was ready," the mayor said. "No one had any idea what was about to happen. Lesbos paid tribute to Europe by standing up and bearing the whole weight of the crisis alone."

At that point, he said, the extreme political right party, with its xenophobia and anti-immigrant positions, had no influence at all "or at least their words were seeds that fell on barren ground. But now they are finding fertile ground."

Europe must help, he said. "Think of a weightlifter; he can lift only a certain amount over his head. You can't just keep adding weights."

Cardinal Krajewski told the mayor he prayed the people of Lesbos would "continue to live according to the Gospel, because Jesus would have done the same thing the people of Lesbos did" when thousands of exhausted refugees began arriving by boat.

"We must share the burden," the mayor said. "If we do that, it will not be a burden too heavy for anyone."

 

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Days of covering up abuse allegations are over, says Vatican adviser

Top Stories - Thu, 05/09/2019 - 1:28pm

IMAGE: CNS Photo/Robert Duncan

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis' new norms on protecting minors and strengthening accountability are the latest steps in driving home the message that the days of keeping abuse allegations covered up or ignored are over, said the Vatican's top abuse investigator.

In the past, some people may have thought they were protecting the church by remaining silent, but that behavior was never acceptable, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told reporters.

"The good of the church requires condemnation" to the proper authorities when it comes to abuse of minors and abuses of power, he said.

The archbishop spoke to reporters about Pope Francis' latest apostolic letter, "Vos estis lux mundi" ("You are the light of the world") at a news conference at the Vatican May 9. The new document establishes and clarifies norms and procedures for holding bishops and religious superiors accountable when it comes to safeguarding minors as well as abuses carried out against adults with violence, threats or an abuse of authority.

The new norms are important, Archbishop Scicluna said, because they clearly tell people they have an obligation to report already existing crimes, negligence and inappropriate behavior to church authorities.

That obligation "has always been there, but experience shows us that either a closed-shop mentality or a misplaced interest in protecting the institution was hindering disclosure," he said.

The now universal law of mandating all clerics, as well as men and women religious, to report to the competent ecclesiastical authorities the abuses of which they become aware is important, he said, "because it makes disclosure the main policy of the church."

Procedures have already been in place when it comes to accusations of abuse of minors by priests, so the new norms address what to do when the accused is a bishop, cardinal, patriarch or religious superior and how accusations against leadership of abuse or misconduct must be reported.

For example, "if a priest uses force with an adult, it's the bishop who takes that case," he said. But "when a person in leadership is guilty of misconduct, the jurisdiction pertains to the Holy See," he said.

The new norms and clear procedures, particularly with their emphasis on having an impartial investigation of leaders, send the message that "no leadership is above the law."

"There is no immunity" from God's law and canon law, he added.

When asked if victims will be pleased with the new laws, the archbishop said, "Victims will be satisfied if the laws give rise to a new culture."

"I would never go to a person who has suffered, give them a piece of paper and say that we have fixed everything. People need concrete responses" and action, which is why "I am telling people, 'Help the pope so that his desire (to prevent abuse) becomes a reality in your dioceses.'"

The new norms will not fix everything, he added, but they do send "a very strong message that disclosure is the order of the day, and not silence."

It is also the first time "compliance with state laws" concerning the abuse of minors gets placed in the realm of the church's universal law, the archbishop said.

Even though the doctrinal congregation's circular letter in 2011 made it clear the church must obey civil laws regarding abuse and reporting, the new apostolic letter "ratifies in a universal law" that mandate to respect civil requirements.

"No form of loyalty to the church must keep citizens from obeying their nation," he said, "because in the past we have had very sad cases where people said, 'Let's not talk, we want to protect the church.'"

"This is a no-go," he said, "It is not acceptable" because the good of the church requires truth and transparency, which includes respecting civil law, he said, adding that he hoped people felt "empowered to go to the police" to denounce a crime.

Church and local authorities should be working together tirelessly to combat abuse against minors because it has always been a crime for society and the church, he said.

Another important part of the new law is it facilitates disclosure by mandating that all dioceses must establish within one year "stable and publicly accessible systems," which could include a specific office or "listening center," where people can report cases of sexual abuse or their cover-up.

National bishops' conferences should help dioceses figure out the best and most culturally appropriate ways to provide this form of outreach and service, if they have not done so already, he said.

The fact that there are still countries where the church does not provide a clear and permanent place or way to report abuse shows "this universal law was needed" and that having structures for disclosure is "no longer an option," it is a papally mandated law, Archbishop Scicluna said.

"If people have the right and the duty to denounce something illicit" in the case of abuse, "they also have the right to denounce if, after one year, nothing has been done" in regard to the new mandate, he said.

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Encore: Women religious find a place of honor on Mother's Day

Top Stories - Thu, 05/09/2019 - 11:42am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz Muth

By Chaz Muth

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- When the elderly men and women at the Jeanne Jugan Residence for senior care pray the rosary with Sister Constance Veit, they see her as more than one of the caregivers at the facility.

Though this nun with the Little Sisters of the Poor is many years their junior, these seniors think of her as their spiritual mother, a term often used by popes when they refer to women religious.

More than one of those residents said they were going to honor Sister Constance May 12, just like they would any other mother on Mother's Day.

Pope Francis has called on women religious to "be mothers, as a figure of Mary ... and of mother church. It is impossible to understand Mary without her motherhood; it is impossible to understand the church apart from her motherhood and you are icons of Mary and the church."

Sister Constance has answered the pope's call and embraced the role of spiritual mother.

"Our motherhood is exercised by loving those whom God puts in our path, those to whom he confides to us to care for," she told Catholic News Service in a March interview. "In my case, we care for the elderly. I look at myself as a spiritual mother to the elderly, because I try to nurture them, to protect them from harm and to educate them spiritually."

Though most of the elderly who reside at Washington's Jeanne Jugan Residence arrive with a strong spiritual core, Sister Constance says part of her role is to enrich and further their understanding and love of God.

"The recognition of spiritual motherhood is a recognition of a supernatural order alongside the natural one," said Dominican Sister Maria Veritas Marks, a member of the Religious in Residence program at The Catholic University of America in Washington. "In this order, it is also possible to give persons' life, supernatural life, to help them share the divine life of grace. Consecrated religious women are called to this motherhood in a particular way through the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience."

According to the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy's document "Eucharistic Adoration for the Sanctification of Priests and Spiritual Maternity," "the vocation to be a spiritual mother ... is largely unknown, scarcely understood and, consequently, rarely lived, notwithstanding its fundamental importance. It is a vocation that is frequently hidden, invisible to the naked eye, but meant to transmit spiritual life."

In his 1988 apostolic letter, "Mulieris Dignitatem" ("On the Dignity and Vocation of Women"), St. John Paul II said that for consecrated women who live according to the charism and rules of the various apostolic institutes, spiritual motherhood "can express itself as concern for people, especially the most needy: the sick, the handicapped, the abandoned, orphans, the elderly, children, young people, the imprisoned and, in general, people on the edges of society."

That apostolic letter continued by saying just as the motherhood of Mary extends to all, so is the spiritual motherhood of consecrated women characterized by "ongoing intercession, care and maternal solicitude for all souls."

Mary has been an inspiration to Sister Constance throughout her vocation as a Little Sister of the Poor, calling her the most beautiful ideal and model in motherhood.

"I've always appreciated the fact that Mother's Day occurs during the month of May, a month the church dedicates to Mary," she said. "I think it's a way of making a connection between our blessed mother and mothers, both physical mothers and spiritual mothers."

In her role as spiritual mother in a care facility for the elderly, Sister Constance believes her priority is to remind the seniors that they too continue to have a mission in this world and to help foster their purposefulness.

Another priority is to help them prepare for eternal life, Sister Constance said.

"For us, the ultimate of spiritual motherhood is being midwives of souls, as they prepare to leave this world," she said. "A physical mother brings children into the world at the beginning of their lives. We're there at the end of people's lives to help them to be born to eternal life with God forever. I think that's just a beautiful way of looking at it."

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Follow Muth on Twitter: @chazmaniandevyl

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Cardinal DiNardo welcomes new papal norms on preventing clergy abuse

Top Stories - Thu, 05/09/2019 - 10:45am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- New papal norms on preventing clergy sexual abuse are "a blessing that will empower the church everywhere to bring predators to justice, no matter what rank they hold in the church," said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The new juridical instrument "calls for the establishment of easily accessible reporting systems, clear standards for the pastoral support of victims and their families, timeliness and thoroughness of investigations, whistleblower protection for those making allegations, and active involvement of the laity," Cardinal DiNardo said May 9.

The new document, given "motu proprio," on the pope's own initiative, was titled "Vos estis lux mundi" ("You are the light of the world"). Cardinal DiNardo praised it for leaving latitude for national bishops' conferences, such as the USCCB, to specify still more to account for their local circumstances.

"It also permits the church the time and opportunity to bring spiritual healing," he said.

The document, which takes effect June 1, clarified norms and procedures for holding bishops and religious superiors accountable in protecting minors as well as in protecting members of religious orders and seminarians from abuse. It was meant to help bishops and religious leaders around the world clearly understand their duties and church law, underlining how they are ultimately responsible for proper governance and protecting those entrusted to their care. It establishes a clearer set of universal procedures for reporting suspected abuse, carrying out initial investigations and protecting victims and whistleblowers.

"Today, Pope Francis ordered a worldwide response to the evil of sexual abuse," Cardinal DiNardo said.

"The Holy Father said a 'continuous and profound conversion of hearts is needed, attested by concrete and effective actions that involve everyone in the church.' Pope Francis was clear that this responsibility 'falls, above all, on the successors of the apostles.' As part of this responsibility, bishops also will be held accountable under the authority of this 'motu proprio,' which covers sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable persons, sexual acts compelled through the abuse of authority, and any cover-up of such crimes."

The cardinal said Pope Francis "made clear that protection and healing must reach all of God's children. Following on the meeting just two months ago of all episcopal conference presidents, the 'motu proprio' shows Pope Francis expects swift and comprehensive progress. For the church in the United States, the task before us now is to establish whatever is necessary to ensure the effective implementation of the 'motu proprio.' Our committees have already begun the work of preparing implementation measures for deliberation at the USCCB plenary assembly in June."

He noted the United States already had in place "the excellent foundation of the USCCB's Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, the Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons, and the Statement of Episcopal Commitment, all of which date back to 2002."

"By embracing the painful experience of survivors and working on these new protections, let us pray we continue to grow into a stronger church," he said.

The U.S. bishops had planned to vote on their response to the clergy sex abuse crisis proposals during their November meeting but, at the urging of the Vatican, they did not.

Cardinal DiNardo told the bishops that the Vatican wanted them to delay votes -- on proposed standards of episcopal conduct and the formation of a special commission for review of complaints against bishops for violations of the standards -- until after a February meeting with the pope and presidents of the bishops' conferences around the world on addressing clergy abuse.

The Associated Press reported Jan. 1 it had obtained the letter written Nov. 11 by Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, to Cardinal DiNardo, asking that the votes be delayed.

"Considering the nature and scope of the documents being proposed by the (conference), I believe it would have been beneficial to have allowed for more time to consult with this and other congregations with competence over the ministry and discipline of bishops," Cardinal Ouellet wrote.

At the end of the February summit on protection of minors, the Vatican promised to take action, including how bishops and religious superiors should handle abuse allegations and how they should prepare the relevant documents for the doctrinal congregation when an accusation is found to be credible.

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Pope issues new norms on mandatory abuse reporting, bishop accountability

Top Stories - Thu, 05/09/2019 - 8:55am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has revised and clarified norms and procedures for holding bishops and religious superiors accountable in protecting minors as well as in protecting members of religious orders and seminarians from abuse.

The new juridical instrument is meant to help bishops and religious leaders around the world clearly understand their duties and church law, underlining how they are ultimately responsible for proper governance and protecting those entrusted to their care. For this reason, the new document establishes a clearer set of universal procedures for reporting suspected abuse, carrying out initial investigations and protecting victims and whistleblowers.

The new document, given "motu proprio," on the pope's own initiative, was titled "Vos estis lux mundi" ("You are the light of the world"), based on a verse from the Gospel of St. Matthew (5:14).

"The crimes of sexual abuse offend Our Lord, cause physical, psychological and spiritual damage to the victims and harm the community of the faithful," the pope said in the document, released by the Vatican May 9. The norms go into effect June 1.

In order to stop all forms of abuse from ever happening again, not only is "a continuous and profound conversion of hearts" necessary, there must be "concrete and effective actions that involve everyone in the church," he wrote.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, said the new norms ascribe a new role to heads of dioceses by making them responsible for alerting the proper Vatican authorities of all forms of suspected abuse, including the possession, distribution or creation of pornography involving a minor.

He told Vatican News May 9 that the norms respond to Pope Francis' continued insistence for concrete and effective measures to ensure bishops and religious superiors have a very clear understanding of what their obligations are and what they should and should not do when it comes to safeguarding.

It also requires all priests and religious to report suspected abuse or cover-ups and encourages any lay person to report through a now-mandated reporting "system" or office in each diocese.

How the office or "system" works will be up to each diocese, but "the idea is that anyone who has suffered abuse can have recourse to the local church, while being assured they will be well received, protected from retaliation, and that their reports will be treated with the utmost seriousness," Andrea Tornielli, editorial director of the Dicastery for Communication, told Vatican News.

The new norms now stipulate:

-- Procedures for the investigation of bishops, cardinals, patriarchs, religious superiors and all those who lead -- even temporarily -- a diocese or particular church, including personal prelatures and personal ordinariates.

-- Leaders will be held accountable not only with suspected cases of committing abuse themselves, but also accusations of having interfered with, covered up or failed to address abuse accusations they were aware of.
 
-- When the accused individual is a bishop, the metropolitan will receive a mandate from the Holy See to investigate or delegate a person in charge of the preliminary investigation. A status report must be sent to the Holy See every 30 days, and the investigation completed with 90 days with some exceptions. Vatican offices are also held to specific timeframes and prompt action.

-- By June 2020, every diocese in the world must create an office or "public, stable and easily accessible systems" for reporting suspected abuse against a minor or vulnerable person, failure of compliance of abuse guidelines by bishops or superiors, and cases of interference or cover-ups in either a civil or canonical investigation of suspected abuse.

-- All priests and religious that become aware of abuse or its cover-up must alert their bishop or religious superior promptly.

-- A minor is anyone under the age of 18 and a vulnerable person is "any person in a state of infirmity, physical or mental deficiency, or deprivation of personal liberty which, in fact, even occasionally, limits their ability to understand or to want to otherwise resist the offense."

-- The definition of child pornography as any representation of a minor, regardless of the media used, "involved in explicit sexual activities, whether real or simulated, and any representation of sexual organs of minors for primarily sexual purposes."

-- Bishops and religious superiors will be accountable not just for protecting minors against abuse but also for protecting seminarians, novices and members of religious orders from violence and sexual abuse stemming from an abuse of power. The norms apply to reports of "delicts against the sixth commandment" regarding clerics or members of religious orders and "forcing someone, by violence or threat or through abuse of authority, to perform or submit to sexual acts."

-- Those who report abuse cannot be subjected to pressure, retaliation and discrimination or told to keep silent. The seal of confession, however, remains inviolable and is not affected by the new norms.

-- Procedures for carrying out the preliminary investigation include the bishop immediately requesting from the Vatican that he or a delegate be assigned to begin the preliminary investigation. If he considers an accusation is unfounded, the papal nuncio is informed. The Vatican will have 30 days to respond to the request and the bishop sends a status report to the Vatican every 30 days.

-- When the investigation is complete, the bishop sends the results to the proper Vatican office, which then follows existing canon law.

-- The continued obligation to respect civil laws regarding mandatory reporting.

-- Those who reported suspected abuse or cover-up will be told of the outcome of the investigation if they request to be informed.

-- A fund can be set up by bishops' conferences, synods and church provinces to cover the costs of investigations.

The document is a follow-up to Pope Francis' 2016 document, "As a Loving Mother," on transparency and accountability of bishops and religious superiors.

The two documents together are meant to correct what had been a lack of or unclear procedures for investigating the way a bishop complies with already established norms against abuse and clearly expressing the consequences of noncompliance or cover-ups.

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. 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 cns@catholicnews.com.

Catholic officials call for prayer, action after Colorado shooting

Top Stories - Wed, 05/08/2019 - 3:02pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Trevor Hughes, USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic leaders are calling for prayer and action in response to the May 7 school shooting inside a charter school near Denver. One teenager died and eight other students were wounded.

"Action is needed to attempt to reduce the frequency of these heinous acts," said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In a May 8 statement he also called for prayers, urging Catholics around the country "to pray for the dead, injured and for the loved ones left behind and for healing in the community."

"This shooting reminds us yet again that something is fundamentally broken in our society when places of learning can become scenes of violence and disregard for human life," he said, adding that Americans should "deeply examine why these horrific occurrences of gun violence continue to take place in our communities."

The shooting took place at STEM School Highlands Ranch in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, a suburb of Denver located in the Diocese of Colorado Springs. The two shooters, teenagers who attend the K-12 school, are now in police custody.

Kendrick Castillo, an 18-year-old senior whose last day at school was to have been May 10, was killed in the classrom gunfire. His father, John Castillo, told reporters he son was a hero and he wants people to know about him.

A student who witnessed the shooting told NBC's "Today" show that Castillo "lunged" at one of the shooters to save others.

The public charter school -- which focuses on science, technology, engineering and math and has more than 1,850 students -- will be closed through May 10, and crisis counselors were scheduled to be available for students May 8 at nearby St. Andrew United Methodist Church.

Colorado Springs Bishop Michael J. Sheridan said in a May 8 statement that he was "deeply saddened and disturbed by the shootings that occurred" and said he echoed the reaction of Bishop Dewane.

He also urged Catholics to "pray and offer sacrifice for the students, teachers and families impacted by this tragedy, that through the Divine Mercy of Jesus Christ, they may find healing and consolation."

Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila said in a May 8 statement that his "heart goes out for the student that was killed and the eight others who were injured in the tragic shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch. Let us pray for them and their families in this time of sadness and grief."

"The heart of all Colorado is with the victims and their families," Gov. Jared Polis said in a May 7 statement.

The shooting took place a week after a gunman killed two students and wounded four others at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and nearly three weeks after the 20th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting in Littleton, Colorado, about seven miles from STEM School Highlands Ranch.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

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'Today God has answered their prayers': Pakistan releases Asia Bibi

Top Stories - Wed, 05/08/2019 - 11:13am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Asad Karim, Reuters

By Simon Caldwell

MANCHESTER, England (CNS) -- Pakistani authorities freed Asia Bibi, a Catholic woman acquitted of blasphemy, and she has flown to Canada to join her family at a secret address.

Her release was confirmed May 8 by Wilson Chowdhry of the British Pakistani Christian Association, who has been in almost daily contact with Ashiq Masih, Bibi's husband.

In a statement sent by email to Catholic News Service, Chowdhry, who is based in London, said a British diplomat confirmed early May 8 that Bibi had left her country.

"Ashiq has always remained hopeful of an imminent release from Pakistan, and we have both been shocked at how long it has taken," he said.

"Asia Bibi and Ashiq have remained resolute in their faith and have prayed daily for their release, and today God has answered their prayers," he added.

Chowdhry said Bibi was "unwell" after being held in isolation for nearly a decade.

"She must be treated with utmost care and receive appropriate medical care now she is free," he said.

"The Pakistani government must ensure Asia and her family are compensated for the loss to their freedom and the fragile safety they have had to suffer under their auspices," he continued. "Moreover, moves must be made to reform or abrogate the infamous blasphemy laws of Pakistan."

Bibi's release was subsequently confirmed by Saiful Malook, the lawyer who represented her in the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

"She was reunited with her family in Canada more than five hours ago," he told ucanews.com May 8.

Bibi, a mother of five, was sentenced to hang for allegedly insulting Muhammad, the founder of Islam, under Section 295C of the Penal Code.

A farmhand, she was accused of blasphemy in June 2009 following a dispute with Muslim co-workers, who objected to her drinking from a common water supply because she is a Christian. Bibi has always denied the allegation.

For her own safety, she had been held in solitary confinement since November 2010, when she was convicted, and while she was incarcerated she saw sunlight for just two hours a month.

Both before and after her acquittal, Islamic extremists have been vocal in demanding that she be hanged.

Extremists also murdered two senior politicians who championed her cause. Punjab Gov. Salmaan Taseer was assassinated in 2011 and Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic, was gunned down two months later.

Bibi failed in her 2016 appeal against conviction at Pakistan's High Court, but in October 2018, she was exonerated by the Supreme Court.

Her release was initially held up by a petition to the Supreme Court submitted by Tehreek-e-Labbaik, an extremist group linked to the Taliban.

The petition was dismissed in January, yet Bibi's family was forced to wait three months before authorities released her.

Reports in the British media blamed the delay on the reluctance of the Pakistani army to agree to the release, amid the fear that she would be publicly critical of her treatment.

Paul Coleman of ADF International, a faith-based legal advocacy organization that advocated at the U.N. for Bibi's release, said he was delighted that she was free.

"Sadly, Asia Bibi's case is not an isolated incident but testifies to the plight that many Christians and other religious minorities experience in Pakistan today," he said.

"While the right to religious freedom is protected by the Pakistani constitution, many face severe persecution and denial of their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and assembly," he said.

"Blasphemy laws directly violate international law," he added. "All people have the right to freely choose, and live out, their faith. We, therefore, urge all governments to uphold this right by ceasing enforcement and initiating repeal of their blasphemy laws."

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Coverage of international religious freedom issues by Catholic News Service is supported in part by Aid to the Church in Need-USA (www.acnusa.org).

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. 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 cns@catholicnews.com.

Catholic minorities can still change the world, pope says at audience

Top Stories - Wed, 05/08/2019 - 10:05am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Visiting the small Catholic communities in Bulgaria and North Macedonia offered an opportunity to encourage the faithful to remember God's miracle of being able to feed a multitude with just a few loaves and fishes, Pope Francis said.

He said the trip also gave him a chance to strengthen Christian unity with the Orthodox Church in Bulgaria and witness the extraordinary tenderness displayed by the Missionaries of Charity, the order founded by St. Teresa of Kolkata, who was born in Skopje, North Macedonia.

As is customary, Pope Francis reviewed his apostolic journey to the two southeast European nations May 5-7 during his first general audience after the trip.

Speaking to those gathered in St. Peter's Square May 8, the pope said he could feel "the strong spiritual presence of St. Mother Teresa" accompany him in North Macedonia.

"We see in this small yet strong woman," he said, "the image of the church in that land and in other peripheries of the world, a small community that, with the grace of Christ, becomes a welcoming home where many can find rest," he said.

The pope said he was struck by the way the sisters of the Missionary of Charity saw themselves as sisters and mothers of every person they ministered to with enormous tenderness.

"Many times, we Christians lose this dimension of tenderness," becoming too serious and "sour," he said.

An act of charity that lacks love and tenderness would be like tossing someone "a glass of vinegar. No. Charity is joyful, not sour," he said, and the missionaries are a beautiful example of how to welcome and serve others with tender love, he said.

He said he urged young people of all faiths to dream big and "get in the game" like their compatriot, St. Teresa.

He also praised the way the country welcomed and assisted so many migrants and refugees.

"Immigrants create problems for them, but they welcome them and love them, and the problems get resolved. This is a great thing about these people," who deserve an applause, he said.

The pope encouraged the nation's Catholic minority to never doubt the importance of their gifts before the big problems in the church and the world. They are like the tiny bit of yeast that can leaven so much bread because God's mystery and miracle is at work -- Jesus in the Eucharist is the "seed of new life for all of humanity."

Pope Francis said his visit to Bulgaria gave him great joy by taking one step further on the path of fraternity by meeting Bulgarian Orthodox Patriarch Neophyte and members of the Holy Synod.

"In fact, our vocation and mission as Christians is to be a sign and instrument of unity, and we can be that with the help of the Holy Spirit, putting what unites us before what divided or still divides us."

The pope mentioned his moment of prayer before an image of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, two brothers who knew how to use their culture with creativity in proclaiming the Gospel.

"Today we also need such passionate and creative evangelizers so that the Gospel may reach all those who still do not know it and can irrigate anew those lands where ancient Christian roots have withered."

 

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