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Sec. Pompeo speaks ahead of first ever Ministerial on religious freedom

Washington D.C., Jul 20, 2018 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- The U.S. State Department is set to host the largest and highest-level global meeting on religious liberty next week. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told EWTN he is prepared to talk with countries with whom the U.S. government has “deep disagreements.”

The Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom will be held on July 24-26 and include foreign ministers, religious leaders, and civil society representatives to discuss concrete ways to combat religious persecution in different parts of the world. A Ministerial is a high-level international gathering of senior-rank government officials and experts.

“It’s truly historic. It’s the first time the State Department has led such a discussion. We’ll have over 80 delegations from countries around the world, many, many religious organizations, NGOs,” Secretary Pompeo told Lauren Ashburn of EWTN News Nightly on Thursday.

During the three-day event, survivors of religious persecution will share their stories, senior U.S. government officials will provide an overview of religious freedom policy goals, and foreign delegations will announce new initiatives to promote freedom of religion.

The State Department announced earlier this week that U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will address attendees on the importance of international religious freedom on July 26.

Ahead of the ministerial, some have criticized Secretary Pompeo’s prior announcement that the event will be a meeting of “like-minded” countries.

“When I said like-minded, I meant those countries that are prepared to begin their walk towards the religious freedom that we have enshrined in our Constitution and that our nation so values and cherishes,” Pompeo told Ashburn.

“I’m sure there’ll be countries here that we have deep disagreements with,” said Pompeo.

Lebanon’s Foreign Minister, Gebran Bassil, is expected to attend the ministerial. On July 19, the American Mideast Coalition for Democracy wrote to the U.S. secretary of state urging him to confront Bassil over the arrest and interrogation of two Maronite Christians in Lebanon earlier this month. AMCD reports that the Maronite Christians were targeted for their contacts with Israeli Christians made at an American conference on reviving the Aramaic language and culture.

Pompeo, who met with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un earlier this year, has said repeatedly that he raises the issue of human rights when meeting with so-called bad actors, although sometimes privately.

“The State Department takes this issue of religious freedom very seriously. In conversations with countries that don’t live up to the standards of religious freedom that they ought to have, we raise that issue, sometimes privately if we think that’s the most effective way to achieve the change that we’re looking for, and sometimes publicly if we think that will accomplish our goal,” Pompeo told EWTN.

When asked about religious liberty issues within the U.S., Pompeo responded, “My faith teaches me that imperfection is all around us, and when it comes to government that’s certainly the case as well. I think the United States stands as an enormous beacon of religious freedom. I’m confident that we can always do better.”

“But we stand strong here in the United States for religious tolerance and freedom, and I think that’s an important demonstration to the world of how valuable that fundamental human right can be to a strong and successful nation,” he continued.

The State Department currently designates 10 “countries of particular concern” for religious freedom: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Since becoming Secretary of State in April, Pompeo has led major U.S. foreign policy shifts towards several of these countries, most notably North Korea and Iran.

A state department official has said that Pompeo plans to address the persecution of religious groups in Iran during a speech on Sunday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in southern California.

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the enactment of the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998 -- the passage of which created the position of ambassador-at-large for religious freedom and other government offices dedicated to the issue.

Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback will launch the week’s activities with a delegation of survivors of contemporary religious persecution in China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Sudan, and elsewhere at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Many other religious freedom events will be held in Washington throughout the week of the ministerial. The Religious Freedom Institute will host U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Callista Gingrich who will speak on a Vatican perspective on religious freedom on July 24, and the Pew Research center will present their data on global religious restrictions and nationalism in Europe.

“It should be a great gathering where we will make the point that religious freedom is a human right and that every individual ought to have their right to practice their particular religion, or if they have no faith, to not be punished for that either,” said Pompeo.
 

Canons of St John Cantius founder relocating to St Louis

Chicago, Ill., Jul 20, 2018 / 03:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Fr. C. Frank Phillips, former pastor of St. John Cantius Parish in Chicago, has been asked by his religious superior to move to St. Louis, the priest informed his supporters Wednesday.

Phillips, 68, has been accused of misconduct involving adult men. He was removed as pastor of St. John Cantius March 16, and prohibited from public ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago by Cardinal Blase Cupich.

In 1998, Phillips founded the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, with the approval of Cardinal Francis George of Chicago and of the Resurrectionists.

“From the founding of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, I have instructed the men how to live the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. One of those vows, obedience, may especially challenge Religious because it is difficult to submit your will to a superior,” Fr. Phillips wrote July 18 to Protect Our Priests, a group formed to support and assist him.

“As you know, the Canons are requested not to have contact with me, which is difficult for them and for me as their Founder. Also, I have been asked by my superior to relocate to St. Louis. I am requested to do this not under formal obedience but willingly in the virtue of obedience. Is this difficult? Yes, it is,” he wrote.

The saints “were always obedient to their superiors, and their examples help to sustain me now,” Fr. Phillips wrote. “We need only look to St. Padre Pio to see the extent of his lived obedience. If I could not or would not listen to my superior, how could I then expect the Canons, as their Founder, to be obedient to their superior?”

He said he is uncertain of what the future holds for him, and that “time will tell” what it holds for the Canons.

“I feel confident that they will be blessed with vocations for their dedication to the restoration of the sacred in obedience,” he added.

“I thank everyone who has supported the Protect Our Priests initiative with prayers, sacrifices, Masses, and contributions. May St. John Cantius, our heavenly patron, extend his blessing to all of you.”

The Archdiocese of Chicago forwarded unspecified allegations against Fr. Phillips to the Resurrectionists in March.

The allegations were investigated by an independent review board organized by the Resurrectionists, and by provincial leaders. The results of that investigation were forwarded to the Archdiocese of Chicago by Fr. Gene Szarek, superior of the USA province of the Resurrectionists, along with his own proposal for a resolution.

Szarek sent on May 21 a “votum”- an official opinion- to the Archdiocese of Chicago, in response to the findings of the review board.

Citing “a certain amount of ambiguity between the allegations of the accusers and the testimony of witnesses, including Fr. Phillips himself,” Szarek said he would instruct Fr. Phillips to undergo a psychological evaluation, “and possible sensitivity training in the very near future.”

Fr. Szarek said further that Fr. Phillips should not return to St. John Cantius Parish as its pastor, considering both his age “and out of respect for the Cardinal's own preference.”

The superior also wrote that it “seems fair and just to restore the canonical faculties of Fr. Phillips” because “no civil or ecclesiastical crime had been established.”

He noted that Fr. Phillips' accusers “thought that his removal from the parish was all that they desired.”

Fr. Szarek also wrote that since Fr. Phillips is founder of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, “the ideal would be his restoration as their superior general.”

The Canons Regular are incardinated in the Chicago archdiocese, and their assignments are made by the Archbishop of Chicago, Fr. Szarek noted, so “there is no fear that Fr. Phillips could possibly interfere in some way” with the archbishop's decisions.

“The historical reality of his being the Founder and his ongoing provision of spiritual leadership would be salutary for all,” Fr. Szarek stated, adding that Fr. Phillips “would obviously not reside” at St. John Cantius Parish.

“If the above recommendation is unfeasible, then at least he and the Canons should not be prevented from communication.” A prohibition on communication between Phillips and the Canons Regular had not previously been reported.

Despite Fr. Szarek's proposal, Cardinal Cupich declined to allow Fr. Phillips to minister publicly. Ordinarily, a priest prohibited from public ministry is able to celebrate Mass only in private, and is not able to hear confessions or celebrate other sacraments, unless a person is in immediate danger of death.

“We accept the Archdiocese's decision that Fr. Phillips' faculties for public ministry will remain withdrawn and that he not return as pastor of St John Cantius and as Superior of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius,” Fr. Szarek wrote in a June 24 letter to the parishioners of St. John Cantius parish.

Paula Waters, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Chicago, told the Chicago Tribune June 25 that though Fr. Phillips had not been found to have violated civil or canon law, there was other information that justified barring him from exercising public ministry.

“There are standards for behavior,” Waters told the Tribune.

Stating that the review board recommended that Fr. Phillips not return to St. John Cantius as pastor “and on other factors, the cardinal decided that his faculties to minister would remain withdrawn,” she said.

When asked about the removal of Fr. Phillips' faculties, a Chicago archdiocese spokeswoman told CNA June 26 only that “it was recommended that Fr. Phillips not return to ministry at St. John Cantius” in the Resurrectionists' investigation report.

In his letter informing the St. John Cantius community of Cardinal Cupich's decision, Fr. Szarek wrote: “While we know this news will disappoint some of Fr. Phillips' supporters, we hope everyone will come to understand that this process was conducted with prayerful deliberation and sincere compassion.”

In a June 29 statement Fr. Szarek said that reports “the Independent Review Board exonerated Fr. Phillips are without foundation.”

Fr. Szarek added that he has offered his support to those accusing Fr. Phillips of misconduct and has "assure[d] them of appropriate pastoral care." He said this "is surely a difficult time for those who have suffered in any way, and I entrust their care to your prayers."

Africa’s Catholic leadership group turns 50—and calls for Christian renewal

Kampala, Uganda, Jul 20, 2018 / 01:20 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The potential for Christian engagement and renewal will be a focus for the 50th anniversary commemoration of the leadership organization for Catholic bishops’ conferences in Africa.
 
The Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar’s Golden Jubilee celebration is intended “to celebrate in thanksgiving God’s wondrous deeds, His gift of baptism and of the Church; to reflect on the progress made so far, with the aim of deepening our faith, rooted in Christ, and to resolutely engage ourselves in the mission of proclaiming the gospel in words and actions.”
 
The five-day event, hosted by the Ugandan episcopal conference, will take place July 26-30 in the area of Uganda’s capital Kampala at Speke Resort Hotel and Conference Centre, Munyonyo, reported the Catholic News Agency for Africa [unrelated to CNA]. SECAM was launched in Uganda 50 years ago.
 
The golden jubilee’s working document invites every Christian in Africa and Madagascar to let the call to the Christian message “resonate in him or her and respond to it with zeal.”
 
When SECAM was established in 1969, the symposium said, “Pope Paul VI came and confirmed the Church in Africa in her faith, and declared: you Africans, you are now your own missionaries; you can and ought to have an African Christianity.”
 
The symposium grew out of the desires of the African bishops at the Second Vatican Council to speak with one voice. SECAM’s stated mission, according to its website, is to “to promote its role as a sign and instrument of salvation and to build the Church as a Family of God in Africa,” while also preserving and fostering communion and collaboration among its member episcopal conferences.
 
 The SECAM secretariat is headquartered in Accra, Ghana.
 
Planned activities for the jubilee launch in Uganda include prayer sessions, a series of workshops on the working document, a meeting of SECAM officials and general secretaries, an extraordinary meeting of the SECAM Standing Committee, and a meeting of SECAM staff and others.
 
The jubilee event will open with Sunday Mass July 29 at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Rubanga. Its theme is “Church-Family of God in Africa, Celebrate your Jubilee, Proclaim Jesus Christ your Savior.”
 
There will be Sunday evening prayers for attendees at the Uganda Martyrs’ Shrine at Namugongo.
 
Among the goals of the jubilee’s working document are efforts to give thanks for the Church as the family of God; for Christians’ identity as baptized people and their mission to witness to the gospel; the gift of the Eucharist; and the pastoral and social work of the Church for those in need.
 
The jubilee plans aim to identify various initiatives and activities of the Church in Africa at all levels from the personal to the continental and to consider their success, failures, joys and difficulties. Specifically, the working document asks Christians to consider how they acknowledge the progress of the Church, the family, and God. It asks what measures have been taken to promote justice, reconciliation, peace and development and to help internalize and testify the truth that Christians are the family of God. It asks how Christians offer mutual support and how they use their spiritual and material resources.
 
Also recommended are reflections on how to advance repentance and conversion, including awareness of “our shortcomings and negligence in acknowledging and developing the immense human and natural resources of Africa in favor of our populations.”
 
The document advocates renewed commitment to bearing witness in Christ. This includes “recognizing and promoting the roots and cultural values of Africa to meet the major challenges for her transformation.”
 
Among its recommendations for renewal are strengthening the sense of personal responsibility among laity, religious and clergy; organizing formation in Christ and the gospel; identifying socio-cultural and economic barriers to the Christian mission; and rethinking and promoting the involvement of Christians in public life.
 
The document recognizes the importance of institutions of Christian formation like universities, seminaries, novitiates and associations.
 
Pastoral care of the needy and for children and youth are also emphasized.

Is Church teaching changing on the death penalty?

Washington D.C., Jul 20, 2018 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The Church has consistently taught that the state has the authority to use the death penalty. But, in recent years, popes and bishops have become more vocal in calling for an end to its use. Many Catholics instinctively favor life over death, even after the worst crimes, and some are left wondering if the Church’s mind is changing.

Two recent cases highlighted an apparent tension between traditional teaching and modern circumstances.

On July 13, the bishops of Tennessee wrote to Governor Bill Haslam asking him to halt a slate of planned executions. In their letter, Bishops Mark Spalding of Nashville, Richard Stika of Knoxville, and Martin Holley of Memphis emphasized the value and dignity of every human life, even those who have committed the worst possible crimes.

One day earlier, on July 12, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo, expressed his “support” for the Sri Lankan government’s decision to introduce the death penalty for drug traffickers and organized crimes bosses.

“We will support [Sri Lankan] President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to subject those who organize crime while being in the prison to [the] death sentence,” he told local media. The cardinal went on to add that more needed to be done to prevent drug traffickers and crime bosses from operating with impunity while in jail.

The state’s authority to execute criminals is explicitly sanctioned in the Bible, including by St. Paul. Historically, the Church has recognized the use of the death penalty in a practical way: executions were carried out in the Papal States well into the nineteenth century, with the last official executioner retiring in 1865.

For much the twentieth century, attempted assassination of the pope was a capital crime in Vatican City; Pope Paul VI only removed the death penalty from the law in 1969.

Today, the Church still officially teaches that the death penalty is a legitimate option for states to employ.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches this: “Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.”

This formulation contains a heavy qualification. When exactly is the death penalty the only effective means of defending human life? That’s a thorny question.

St. John Paul II was outspoken in his opposition to the use of capital punishment. In an address in the United States, in 1999, he called for Christians to be “unconditionally pro-life” and said that “the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil.” He also spoke of his desire for a consensus to end the death penalty, which he called “cruel and unnecessary.”

That address, given in St. Louis, was credited with helping persuade to Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan to commute the death sentence of inmate Darrell Mease to life in prison.

More recently, Pope Francis has denounced capital punishment in even stronger terms. Speaking in October 2017, he called it “contrary to the Gospel” because “it is freely decided to suppress a human life that is always sacred in the eyes of the Creator, and of which, in the final analysis, God alone is the true judge and guarantor.” He has, however, stopped short of revising the official teaching contained in the Catechism.

There is a broad sentiment among American Catholics against the death penalty. It is a point of unusually strong consensus, even among those who normally disagree. In 2015, four Catholic publications with often-divergent viewpoints issued a joint editorial calling for an end to capital punishment.

But Catholic thinkers do not unanimously agree that a total renunciation of the death penalty is appropriate, or even possible.

Cardinal Joseph Bernadin, in his famous “Consistent Ethic of Life” speech delivered at Fordham University in 1983, explicitly recognized the legitimate authority of the state to resort to capital punishment. Cardinal Avery Dulles, writing in 2001, observed that “the Catholic magisterium does not, and never has, advocated unqualified abolition of the death penalty.”

While there is real scope for debate about when and how sparingly capital punishment should be used, Dulles concluded that “the death penalty is not in itself a violation of the right to life.”

His conclusion was informed by the constant teaching of the Church that judicial executions are licit, even if regrettable and to be avoided whenever possible.

In the City of God, St. Augustine wrote that the state administers justice under divine concession. “Since the agent of authority is but a sword in the hand, and is not responsible for the killing, it is in no way contrary to the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill”… for the representatives of the State’s authority to put criminals to death, according to law or the rule of rational justice.”

While the trend of recent papal statements has been towards a relegation of the death penalty to, at most, a theoretical possibility, scholars have urged caution about going too far.

Dr. Chad Pecknold, associate professor of systematic theology at the Catholic University of America, told CNA that it was important distinguish between changing circumstances and a change in what the Church has always taught.

“The Church has always held that the death penalty is a just option available to the state, even if we do not welcome its use. St. Augustine says that the death penalty is just, but the Church should plead for mercy.”

Pecknold stressed that relationship between mercy and justice is a live concern. In seeking mercy, he said, we must implicitly recognize the validity of justice.

“Mercy isn’t calling something that is just ‘unjust.’ Mercy relieves the punishment properly due to the guilty. As the Catechism recognizes, there can be circumstances in which the death penalty is a legitimate service to justice. This is qualified by a preferential option for other means, whenever they can serve the same ends.”

These alternative means have not been always and everywhere available. “The common and constant teaching of the Church can be applied to different circumstances. Alternatives available to us in modern western countries simply have not been present at other times, or may not be now in other places.”

There is a crucial difference between applying a consistent teaching to changed circumstances and appearing to suggest humanity has evolved beyond a previously valid doctrine, Pecknold said.

“The death penalty is not, and has never been a positive end in itself. It is a means towards serving justice. If we find we can now serve the same ends and express a preferential option for life, this is doubly good.”

“But we should not fall into a false understanding that what was once ‘good' is now ‘bad.’ The Church doesn’t evolve out of a true teaching, nor does humanity progress beyond natural law.”

“We should prize our increasing opportunities to serve mercy and justice together, but be wary of giving ourselves too much credit, we have not progressed to a new, higher level of justice."

Cardinal Dulles agreed. He considered the argument that Church sanctioning of capital punishment was an “outmoded” concession to past ages of “violence” and “barbarity,” one which could yield to “the signs of the times” and “a new recognition of the dignity and inalienable rights of the human person.” He dismissed this as “a tempting simplicity” which found “no echo” among Catholic theologians of the past.

The consensus against capital punishment in modern western nations, it must be observed, has grown in line with increased prosperity, political stability, and states’ ability to deploy credibly effective alternatives to execution.

In the recent Sri Lankan case, the government acted in response to the ineffectiveness of prison sentences, with drug traffickers and crime bosses seeming to continue operating with impunity, even behind bars. Following local complaints at his expression of support, Cardinal Ranjith issued a clarification, making clear his support for the government announcement was not a “carte blanche” advocacy for the death penalty, but noting that he could not “close my eyes and do nothing before this terrible phenomenon our country is faced with.”

“[The drug trade] causes death and violence in the streets and the destruction of the cream of our youth, who become drug addicts at an age as early as their adolescence, being exposed to drugs even in their schools. This is being done by drug cartels operated at times from the prisons,” he said.

For Ranjith, such a context seems to find a place within the Catechism’s criteria that capital punishment be reserved for the final defense of innocent life when other options fail.

In the West, conditions seem to be narrowing the scope for the death penalty’s use, and bishops are responding, which has led to a sense, especially after Pope Francis’ comments last year, that the Church might declare the death penalty absolutely unjust. Yet, as was recently seen in Sri Lanka and Tennessee, things are not yet the same everywhere.

That serves as a good reminder about the importance of understanding the Church’s global perspective, and the importance of distinguishing between teachings which supply criteria through which Catholics must make moral judgments, and teachings which declare that certain actions are, in fact, immoral everywhere and always.

The Church’s teaching on the death penalty expresses, essentially, a criteria by which state authorities should make judgments about the just use of the death penalty. While in the developed West, use of the death penalty may, in fact, be almost completely unnecessary, not all parts of the world are as developed.

The divergence of views from bishops around the world on this issue reflects the role that the circumstances of time and place can play in moral reasoning. That is instructive, and a reminder about the complex richness, and importance, of Catholic moral teaching.

What Kavanaugh’s judicial record might mean for ‘Roe v. Wade’

Washington D.C., Jul 20, 2018 / 11:27 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As Judge Brett Kavanaugh prepares for Senate confirmation hearings, the Supreme Court nominee’s record is being examined for indications of how he might handle a move to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Kavanaugh is widely considered to be a constitutional originalist and known to be a practicing Catholic, and how he might approach a hypothetical move to overturn the landmark abortion case is expected to dominate the confirmation process.

President Trump made numerous public commitments to appoint pro-life judges and justices as part of his presidential campaign but, as previous presidents have found, it can be hard to predict how a nominee might rule once on the court. Justices Sandra Day-O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy, whose resignation opened the seat for which Kavanaugh has been nominated, were appointed by Ronald Reagan but voted to uphold abortion rights while on the court.

During Senate confirmation hearings candidates traditionally underscore their commitment to existing precedent and their judicial impartiality, and steer clear of responding to hypothetical cases. As a result, Senators often focus questions on previous decisions reached by a nominee in lower courts. Ahead of Kavanaugh’s hearings, attention is now turning to his 12 years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Because of the unique circumstances and demographics of the District, challenges to local abortion laws are almost unheard of, so there are few direct examples look at. The most high-profile case Kavanaugh has heard on abortion came last year.

The case involved a 17-year-old unaccompanied minor detained while trying to enter the country. While in a government shelter, she sought access to an abortion. Government workers denied her request. In his hearing of the case on appeal, Judge Kavanaugh sided with the government, who argued that there was no “undue burden” placed on the girl by making her wait until she was either released to a sponsor, or returned to her home country.

The Court of Appeals eventually decided in favor of the abortion, but Kavanaugh issued a strong dissent, saying the decision was based on “a constitutional principle as novel as it is wrong.” He said that the decision created a new right for unlawful immigrant children to abortion on demand from the government.

The American Civil Liberties Union, who acted on behalf of the minor (given the name Jane Doe in the case) called Kavanaugh’s reasoning a “cause for concern when it was issued last year, [but] it’s taken on far more importance now.” 

Writing on the ACLU’s website July 18, Brigitte Amiri, who was in court on behalf of Jane Doe, said “Given that Judge Kavanaugh allowed the government to further obstruct Jane Doe’s access to abortion, we should all be gravely concerned about what his appointment means for the future of Roe.”

Kavanaugh has previously called Roe v. Wade “binding precedent” which he as a judge had to “faithfully follow.” But, as Amy Howe noted July 18 on scotusblog.com, precedent that was binding on him as an appeals court judge would be available for him to overturn on the Supreme Court.

Several cases involving state laws limiting access to abortion are expected to reach the Supreme Court in the coming term; a new consideration of the “right to abortion” is likely. An Indiana law banning abortion after a medical diagnosis for the unborn child was recently struck down by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, and many are expecting the state to appeal to the Supreme Court.
 
Numerous pro-life organizations have praised Kavanaugh’s nomination. The National Right to Life Committee called him “exceptionally well qualified” and predicted he would be the target of a “smear campaign.”

The Senate is expected to begin confirmation hearings in September.

 

Honduran auxiliary bishop accused of sexual misconduct resigns

Vatican City, Jul 20, 2018 / 06:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Juan José Pineda, auxiliary bishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, following a Vatican investigation into accusations of financial mismanagement and sexual misconduct against seminarians.

The bishop, 57, has long been the subject of accusations of financial misdealings, as well as rumors that he offered support to a male companion using archdiocesan funds. He serves under papal advisor and archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodriguez Maradiaga, who has also been accused of financial misconduct.

In March, the National Catholic Register reported that two former seminarians had also submitted personal testimonies to the Vatican accusing Pineda of serious sexual misconduct and of attempting unwanted sexual relations.

The July 20 announcement of Pineda’s resignation provided no explanation, stating only that it had been accepted by Pope Francis.

At the pope’s request, in May 2017, the Vatican carried out an investigation into the allegations of financial mismanagement within the archdiocese and the sexual misconduct allegations involving Bishop Pineda.

In an email interview with CNA in December 2017, Maradiaga confirmed there was an apostolic visit made to Pineda but defended the bishop, saying Pineda himself “asked the Holy Father for an apostolic visit, in order to clear his name.”

Maradiaga, who is head of the pope’s Council of Cardinals and one of Francis’ closest advisors, also denied any financial wrongdoing on his own part, calling a report by Italian weekly L’Espresso published Dec. 21, 2017, “defamatory” and “half-truths, that are in the end the worse lies.”

The L’Espresso article said Maradiaga was accused of receiving $600,000 from the University of Tegucigalpa in 2015, as a sort of “salary” for being the chancellor of the University - an unusual although not forbidden practice - and that the cardinal had lost nearly $1.2 million of Church funds through investments in some London financial companies.

The papal investigation was carried out by Argentine Bishop Alcides Jorge Pedro Casaretto, who, according to L’Espresso, interviewed staff of the archdiocese and university, as well as seminarians, priests and the cardinal’s driver and secretary.

Allegations against Pineda include the building of an apartment on the campus of the Catholic University of Honduras to house a male companion. According to the Register, the two seminarians who accused Pineda of unwanted sexual advances also claimed that he took punitive action against them after his advances were not accepted.

Pineda, who was auxiliary bishop of Tegucigalpa since 2005, had been overseeing the archdiocese since January, while Maradiaga is in the U.S. to receive treatment for prostate cancer.

Born in Tegucigalpa in 1960, Pineda is a member of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary religious order. He was ordained a priest in 1988.

Dublin archdiocese seeks 4,000 Eucharistic ministers for papal Mass

Dublin, Ireland, Jul 20, 2018 / 05:39 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With less than a month to go until Pope Francis visits Dublin for the World Meeting of Families, organizers are moving forward with spiritual preparations as well as the practical, and have called for some 4,000 Eucharistic ministers to serve at the event's closing Mass.

According to the Archdiocese of Dublin, around 500,000 people are expected for the closing Mass in Phoenix Park Aug. 26, which will be celebrated by Pope Francis, who will arrive in Dublin the previous day to close the week-long event.

To ensure all attendees have access to communion at Mass, the archdiocese sent an appeal July 17 for some 4,000 Eucharistic ministers – priests, religious, consecrated or laity – who have already been trained and assist with the distribution of communion in their home parishes.

According to the archdiocese, the ministers who sign up to volunteer at the Mass must be “trained and functioning ministers of Holy Communion,” and must also be “steady on your feet.”

Though plastic tarp will be laid out in several areas, most of the distribution for communion will take place on bumpy, grassy areas of the park, making it important that the ministers are able to stand their ground.

Even though ministers will have already been trained and approved by their parishes, they will also need to be vetted representatives of the World Meeting of Families.  

The archdiocese said it could not guarantee that ministers would be able to distribute in the section where their families are, but voiced hope that this would not stop people from “generously stepping up to help with this important task,” and promised to do their best to keep parish groups together.

So far the archdiocese has prepared some 4,500 ciboria - the gold dishes used to hold the consecrated hosts in the distribution of communion at Mass.

In addition, the archdiocese said they have already received more than 500,000 hosts for the Mass, thanks to the Redemptoristine Sisters of St Alphonsus Monastery in Dublin, and the Cistercian Sisters from Glencairn, County Waterford.

Pilgrims up front will receive communion from the main sanctuary area, and teams of nine will be assigned to each of the corrals set up in the park, which will hold roughly 1,400 people apiece.

Eight people divided in pairs of two will distribute communion in each corral, with the distribution point marked with a white umbrella. There will also be a separate minister placed in the middle and marked with a red umbrella for mass-goers who require low-gluten hosts.

Quoting the Gospel of Matthew, which recounts how the disciples “took up what was left over of the broken pieces” after Jesus multiplied the loaves of bread and fish, the archdiocese said they plan to donate any extra hosts to hospitals and nursing homes, “so that those who weren’t able to be present and who followed the Mass on television can receive from this tremendous event.”

The hospital on a hill: Padre Pio's earthly work

San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy, Jul 20, 2018 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On a hill overlooking the quiet, southern Italian town of San Giovanni Rotondo sits a state-of-the-art private hospital and research center built by one of the 20th century’s most beloved saints, Pio of Pietrelcina.

Known as “Padre Pio,” how did a poor Capuchin priest in ill health establish, on a rocky hilltop in rural Italy, one of today’s most efficient European hospitals – a project which he called his “earthly work”?

The beginning

Padre Pio understood physical suffering beginning from a young age, having been frequently ill. Even after he entered the Capuchins, making solemn vows at the age of 19, people doubted he would be well enough to finish studies for the priesthood or to live the strict rule of the Franciscans.

Despite this, three years later he was ordained a priest; and his experiences with illness led him to be close to the sick and suffering for the rest of his life. He would always say that Christ is present twice in the sick and the poor.

In 1918, the saint also received the visible stigmata – bleeding wounds corresponding to the five wounds Christ received at his crucifixion – while praying before a crucifix in the choir loft of the chapel of the Capuchin monastery in San Giovanni Rotondo.

He had settled permanently in the monastery of the small village, at the time comprised mainly of farms and shepherds, just six months before. From that time, he had the desire to create a hospital founded on the principle of caring for both the body and soul of the sick and suffering.

The first step toward fulfilling this dream began in 1925, with the conversion of an old, small convent into a clinic of just a few beds, reserved for those with extreme necessity.

Years passed, and at the end of 1939, Padre Pio again spoke of his desire to build a hospital, this time with several men who also believed in the project and who formed a group to support it.

The project unofficially began on Jan. 9, 1940, with the first collaborators each making a small donation toward the realization of the hospital. “I also want to give my offering,” the humble Padre Pio said, handing over a 10-cent franc he had received the same morning from a Swiss man.

The friar called the hospital the “Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza”, or “Home for the Relief of the Suffering”, because, as he said later, this “work” was “inspired and created to be a spiritual demonstration of God’s love through a call for charity.”

Construction commenced in 1947, though the roughly 20 workers hired at the start did not yet have an architectural plan for the building, and there were only 4 million Italian Lira (about $2,400 today) in the bank.

By this point many people had, from devotion or curiosity, been traveling to see Padre Pio in the poor village, and some thought the Capuchin friar and his group of supporters were crazy to be building a hospital in a village in southern Italy. But Padre Pio said: “The Work is not mine… but Providence’s.”

If he could, he said, he would build the hospital in gold, because whatever is done for the sick is done for Christ, and nothing can be too good for the Lord.

Inauguration

Eventually, it was completed, with the inauguration taking place May 5, 1956. The hospital, only receiving the designation of clinic at the time, had 250 beds. An out-patient clinic with additional departments and services was also a part of the Casa, with a round-the-clock emergency room, and a small chapel where Padre Pio would frequently pray.

At the inauguration ceremony, Padre Pio said, “a seed has been sown on the Earth that [God] will warm with the rays of his love… a place of prayer and science.” A year later, he noted that at the Casa “patients, doctors, priests shall be reserves of love and when it abounds in one, so it shall be passed to all.”

“The Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza has already opened its arms to many thousands of suffering bodies and spirits, offering to all, regardless of status, from the most wealthy to the less well-off, ministering to all, in generous measure,” he said.

From its start, the Casa was also helped by two nearby farms, which produce olive oil and all the dairy products used in the hospital.

Soon after its launch, the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza was given to the Holy See by Padre Pio, being one of just two hospitals under the jurisdiction of the pope.

Years before the hospital was completed, groups of people had begun to provide spiritual support for the project. Promoted by Padre Pio, the prayer groups were in response to a call from Ven. Pius XII for people to gather to pray together, especially in the face of World War II.

“Without prayer, our House for the Relief of Suffering is somewhat like a plant without air and sun,” Padre Pio said, calling the prayer groups the “frontline of this little City of charity.”

The Casa today

These prayer groups continue to flourish today. And the hospital grows, with just under 1,000 beds spread across at least 26 medical and surgical departments, and another 14 departments for diagnosis and other services, all run by nearly 3,000 staff members.

From its humble beginnings as a private clinic, the Casa is now classified as a private national research hospital, specializing in genetic and hereditary diseases, and includes a home for the elderly and housing for families with children receiving cancer treatment.

During the first expansion in 1967, a second, larger chapel was added to the interior of the hospital. In the two chapels a rosary is prayed every day, three or more Masses are celebrated, and staff and patients stop by for moments of personal prayer.

Additional support for hospital staff includes regular spiritual and ethical training courses taught by theologians.

At the hospital’s 10th anniversary in 1966, two years before his death, Padre Pio reflected on the “humble origins” of the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, and how, coming from nothing, “the miracle of faith and charity to which this Work bears witness before the eyes of the world becomes all the more important.”

Entrusting the success of his earthly work to prayer, he said, it is that which “unites all good souls and moves the world, that renews consciences, that sustains the Casa, that comforts the suffering, that cures the sick, that sanctifies their work, that elevates simple medical assistance, that gives moral strength and Christian resignation to human suffering, that becomes a smile and the blessing of God upon weakness and frailty.”

Papal aides say prosperity gospel is distorted take on the ‘American Dream’

Vatican City, Jul 20, 2018 / 12:00 am (CNA).- After publishing a highly controversial essay in July 2017 alleging the existence of an “ecumenism of hate” between Catholics and Evangelicals in the U.S., close papal confidantes Fr. Antonio Spadaro SJ and Marcelo Figueroa in a new article issue a scathing critique of the “prosperity gospel,” which they say is based on a reductionist view of the American Dream.

In the new essay, run July 18 in the Jesuit-run magazine “La Civilta Cattolica,” which is directed by Spadaro, the authors argue that the prosperity gospel, rooted in late 19th century America, is closely tied to the Protestant Evangelical movement in the U.S., and sees power, wealth and success as the result of one's faith, while poverty and misfortune are signs of a lack of faith.

“The risk of this form of religious anthropocentrism, which puts humans and their well-being at the center, is that it transforms God into a power at our service, the Church into a supermarket of faith, and religion into a utilitarian phenomenon that is eminently sensationalist and pragmatic,” they said.

Spadaro and Figueroa, a Protestant who heads the Argentine section of Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, said the prosperity gospel is “a reductive interpretation” of the American Dream.

Though historically this dream saw the United States as a heaven for economic migrants seeking better opportunities than were available in their homeland, Spadaro and Figueroa argue that this vision has turned into a distorted religious belief being put forward by big-name Evangelical televangelists.

The authors cited U.S. President Donald Trump's Jan. 30 State of the Union address, in which the president pointed to popular American motto “in God we trust” and spoke of importance of family and the military, a clear indication that they see Trump as an example of this “neo-Pentecostal” brand of theology.

Spadaro and Figueroa said the two main “pillars” of the prosperity gospel are health and economic success – a mentality they said stems from “a literalist exegesis of some biblical texts that are taken within a reductionist hermeneutic.”

Popular televangelist personalities such as Joel Osteen, Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson, Benny Hinn, Robert Tilton and Joyce Meyer, who are often considered to be key prosperity gospel figures in the United States, were dubbed by Spadaro and Figueroa as “evangelicals of the American Dream.”

“Their growth is exponential and directly proportional to the economic, physical and spiritual benefits they promise their followers,” the authors said, adding that “all these blessings are far removed from the life of conversion usually taught by the traditional evangelical movements.”

Spadaro and Figueroa argued that these preachers take scripture out of context, diffusing a message that God is at the service of humanity, and that one can obtain blessings and prosperity, whether physical or economic, simply through religious conviction.

There is a “lack of empathy and solidarity” on issues like migration from adherents to the prosperity gospel approach, they argued.

In this movement, “there can be no compassion for those who are not prosperous, for clearly they have not followed the rules and thus live in failure and are not loved by God,” Spadaro and Figueroa argued.

Biblical teachings such as “you reap what you sow” or that one will receive “a hundredfold” for their good works have been reduced to a “contract” in which the more one gives, the more they expect to get in return, the authors said.

Under this approach, God is made in the image of man, they said, and people believe that they can earn their own success through their actions, making the thought of poverty “unbearable,” because “first, the person thinks their faith is unable to move the providential hands of God; second, their miserable situation is a divine imposition, a relentless punishment to be accepted in submission.”

When it comes to the prosperity gospel and the American Dream, Spadaro and Figueroa said the problem is that the financial success of the United States has been seen as a direct result of America's faith in God.

“It leads to the conclusion that the United States has grown as a nation under the blessing of the providential God of the Evangelical movement,” they said. “Meanwhile, those who dwell south of the Rio Grande are sinking in poverty because the Catholic Church has a different, opposed vision exalting poverty.”

This view not only “exasperates individualism and knocks down the sense of solidarity,” they said, but it also “pushes people to adopt a miracle-centered outlook, because faith alone – not social or political commitment – can procure prosperity.”

And the risk in this is that “the poor who are fascinated by this pseudo-Gospel remain dazzled in a socio-political emptiness that easily allows other forces to shape their world, making them innocuous and defenseless,” Spadaro and Figueroa said, adding that “the prosperity gospel is not a cause of real change, a fundamental aspect of the vision that is innate to the social doctrine of the Church.”

The two closed their essay saying the prosperity gospel is product of two ancient heresies – Pelagianism and Gnosticism – which Pope Francis, who has consistently spoken out against the prosperity gospel mentality, warned of in his recent apostolic exhortation on holiness, Gaudete et Exsultate.

The prosperity gospel, they said, is “a far cry” from the original American Dream, which they described as a “positive and enlightening prophecy” that has inspired many, and which is embodied in civil rights defender Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's legendary “I Have a Dream” speech.

New Arizona law awards custody of frozen embryos in favor of birth

Phoenix, Ariz., Jul 19, 2018 / 05:20 pm (CNA).- A new Arizona law awards contested custody of frozen embryos to the parent seeking to “develop them to birth.” A Catholic bioethicist told CNA it was a “positive development” in an otherwise unusual ethical situation.

The law, which came into effect July 1, is first of its kind in the United States. It was partly inspired by a custody dispute over frozen embryos. Ruby Torres, a 37 year old woman from Arizona, and her ex-husband John Joseph Terrell created the embryos prior to Torres’ treatment for breast cancer, when she was told she was unlikely to conceive after radiation and chemotherapy. They married shortly thereafter, divorcing three years after she had finished cancer treatments.

Seven embryos were created and remain frozen in storage. Torres told the judge during divorce proceedings that she wanted the embryos,calling them her last chance of having a biological child. Terrell protested, saying he did not want to become a father or be responsible for supporting a child.

Last year, the judge ruled that the embryos should be donated, but not to Torres. She appealed this decision. The law does not apply retroactively to this case or other similar cases.

In other custody disputes, judges have ordered frozen embryos to be either destroyed, remain frozen until an agreement can be made, or donated for use in research purposes. Rarely have they been awarded to a person seeking to actually gestate a child.

Should an embryo be successfully carried tol birth, the Arizona law does not make the unwilling party liable for child support.

Critics of the law say that it “forces” people to become parents against their will. Dr. Ted Furton, director of publications at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, said that this argument is the result of a mentality that considers embryos to be property, not human life.

“As soon as you produce embryos, the man and wife are parents,” Furton told CNA in an interview. “Parenthood doesn't happen later, it happens at that moment.”

“So, they're already parents. What they don't realize when they say 'I don't want to be a parent'--it's too late.”

Furton said that he thought the law’s recognition of an embryo as a human life and not as a form of property was a “very positive development” and a “good sign,” and that he is hopeful these kinds of laws would help people “to better understand that these are indeed human lives, and like every human life, deserve protection.”