Browsing News Entries

Browsing News Entries

Pope Francis works from home for second day

Vatican City, Feb 28, 2020 / 08:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis postponed his official audiences for Friday, but maintained his private meeting schedule at his residence in Vatican City. The decision comes after the pope was reported to have a “slight” illness by a Vatican spokesman.

Holy See Press Office Director Matteo Bruni told journalists Feb. 28 that Pope Francis offered Mass in Santa Marta and “greeted participants at the end, as usual,” before deciding to cancel his audiences and remain in his residence.

It is the second day that the pope has canceled appearances. Pope Francis did not attend a scheduled liturgy for the priests of the Diocese of Rome in the Basilica of St. John Lateran on Thursday after feeling unwell.

“Due to a slight indisposition,” Pope Francis “preferred to remain in the rooms close to Santa Marta,” Bruni said Feb. 27.

Pope Francis, who is 83 years old, is generally healthy, though he suffers from sciatica and had eye surgery for cataracts last year. When he was young he had a portion of one lung removed because of an infection.

The pope was scheduled to meet Feb. 28 with executives from technology companies, including Microsoft and IBM, who are in Rome for a meeting organized by the Pontifical Academy of Life on ethics in artificial intelligence.

While the Vatican has postponed some events and conferences due to the coronavirus, the pontifical academy’s ethics of AI meetings took place as planned. Pope Francis’ prepared remarks to the conference were read by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

Italian authorities have reported 650 cases of the coronavirus in the country, with 17 deaths and 45 recoveries as of Feb. 28. Nearly all of the reported cases are in northern Italy. In response to the outbreak, Italian officials have also imposed quarantine restrictions on several towns in the Lombardy and Veneto regions, where most of the infections have occurred.

In Rome’s region of Lazio there have been just three confirmed cases: an Italian and two Chinese tourists, all of whom have recovered.

The Vatican has implemented special health measures in response to the coronavirus outbreak in Italy. Hand sanitizer dispensers have been installed in Vatican City offices, and there is a nurse and a doctor on call at a Vatican clinic to give immediate assistance, Holy See Press Office Director Matteo Bruni told Vatican News. 

As of Feb. 28, Pope Francis is still scheduled to give his Sunday Angelus address on March 1 before leaving for his Lenten retreat March 1-6.

Vatican launches task force to implement 'Vos estis' and 2011 abuse guidelines

Vatican City, Feb 28, 2020 / 06:36 am (CNA).- The Vatican has created a task force to help under-resourced bishops’ conferences enact guidelines on the protection of minors and the pope’s 2019 norms on abuse allegations against bishops.

The task force was one of the promised follow-ups to last year’s Vatican summit on child protection and sexual abuse in the Church.

According to a press release Feb. 28, the working group will assist bishops’ conferences and religious institutes and societies of apostolic life with implementing and updating child protection guidelines and putting in place the requirements of Pope Francis’ 2019 motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi.

Vos estis lux mundi, promulgated last May, enacted policy on the Church’s response to sexual abuse allegations made against bishops.

The world’s bishops’ conferences were first asked in 2011, in a letter sent by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to adopt stringent guidelines to fight sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.

Fr. Federico Lombardi told journalists Feb. 28 that there is “a minority” of bishops’ conferences which have not yet implemented child protection guidelines, calling the task force a “small step” in initiating “a process of help.”

Lombardi was the moderator of the February 2019 Vatican abuse summit. He said Friday, “there are very few exceptions that do not have [guidelines]” and they are typically in countries which have limited resources and which may be affected by war or poverty.

Lombardi guessed there are “around a dozen” bishops’ conferences in this situation but said he did not know the exact number.

The task force, which has a two-year commission starting this month, is made up of canon lawyers of different nationalities and has a fund, maintained by “benefactors” at its disposal, according to Friday’s press release.

The group is coordinated by Andrew Azzopardi, a social worker and abuse expert in charge of the safeguarding commission of the Church in Malta.

Azzopardi said Feb. 28 there are now on the task force about 10 or so members, mostly canon lawyers, but they would like to expand this to include other experts.

Azzopardi said members of the working group will primarily be sent to work on the ground in the local Churches and religious institutes, advising on the writing and enforcing of guidelines, keeping in mind the local culture and laws.

As coordinator, Azzopardi will report quarterly to the substitute for general affairs of the Secretariat of State, Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra, on the task force’s activity.

The activities of the task force will also be overseen by the 2019 abuse summit organizers: Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Cardinal Blase Cupich, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, and Fr. Hans Zollner, SJ.

The task force will, at the request of bishops’ conferences, “assist the local Church to make the Church safer for children and vulnerable adults and more accessible for victims and survivors,” Azzopardi said.

He said one of the challenges will be to make sure Vos estis lux mundi “is implemented, understood, and that it’s a real document and that we can build on that.”

“I think that is a challenge, not an insurmountable challenge.”

 

Bishops propose Arab World Youth Day for Middle East Catholics

Rome, Italy, Feb 28, 2020 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Bishops from the Middle East have proposed a regional youth gathering similar to World Youth Day for young Catholics from Syria to Somalia.

The proposed “World Day of Youth of the Arab Regions” would take place in Jordan as the first host country with the goal of encouraging “mass participation” from the region, according to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

Bishops representing Catholics in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Cyprus, Somalia, and countries of the Arabian Peninsula met in Rome Feb. 17-20 and discussed the proposed Arab World Youth Day gathering at the meeting of the Conference of Latin Bishops of the Arab Regions (CELRA).

During their plenary meeting in Rome, the 14 bishops met with Pope Francis following a daily Mass in Santa Marta, and attended meetings with several members of the curia.

Cardinal Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, spoke to the bishops about the “revolutionary character” of the “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” signed by Pope Francis and Muhammad Ahmad al-Tayyib, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, in Abu Dhabi last year.

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri gave a talk on “Synodality in the praxis of the Church,” encouraging the bishops to work collaboratively, and Cardinal Michael Czerny, undersecretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, led a discussion on the post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Querida Amazonia.”

The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem did not release more details on the proposed World Day of Youth of the Arab Regions, but said that the Conference of Latin Bishops of the Arab Regions will meet again in Lebanon in February 2021.

World Youth Day is a massive gathering of Catholic youth, which takes place every two or three years, with the goal of giving young people the chance to make a pilgrimage and encounter the worldwide Catholic community. Pope St. John Paul II first established World Youth Day in 1985.

Regional youth day celebrations have taken place since the late 1990s. The Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences organizes Asian Youth Day every three to five years. However, the 2021 Asian Youth Day was canceled earlier this year after bishops in India said they would be unable to host the Catholic youth gathering.

The Jesuit province of the Middle East has also organized smaller-scale “Regional Youth Days” since 2006. The last Regional Youth Days brought together 350 young Catholics in Jamhour, Lebanon in August 2019.

The next World Youth Day is scheduled to take place in Lisbon, Portugal in 2022 with the theme: “Mary arose and went with haste.”

Retired archbishop disciplined after calling Pope Francis a ‘heretic’

Wloclawek, Poland, Feb 27, 2020 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- A retired archbishop who accused Pope Francis of heresy has been ordered to cease celebrating Mass in public.

Archbishop Jan Paweł Lenga, the 69-year-old former Archbishop of Karaganda in Kazakhstan, has also been forbidden to preach at Masses or speak to the media.

The sanctions were imposed by the Diocese of Włocławek in central Poland, where the archbishop retired after serving in Kazakhstan.

Archbishop Lenga immediately defied the ruling by giving an interview to WRealu24.tv, in which he insisted that he would continue to speak out.

Fr Artur Niemira, chancellor of Włocławek diocese, told the Polish Catholic news agency KAI  that local Bishop Wiesław Mering had decided to impose the disciplinary measures in order to prevent the spread of scandal among the faithful.

KAI said the archbishop had refused to mention Pope Francis’s name when celebrating Masses. It added that the measures would remain in effect until the Holy See issues a judgment on the case.

The archbishop has repeatedly criticised Pope Francis. Last year the Polish journal Więź reported that he had called Francis a “usurper and heretic.”

Więź said the archbishop had given a book-length interview to the author Stanisław Krajski. The journal quoted the archbishop as saying: "Bergoglio preaches untruth, preaches sin, and does not preach a tradition that lasted so many years, 2,000 years... He proclaims the truth of this world and this is the truth of the devil."

In January, the archbishop appeared on the Polish television show Warto rozmawiać, prompting criticism from the Polish bishops’ conference. The bishops’ spokesman Fr. Paweł Rytel-Andrianik noted that the archbishop is not a member of the Polish bishops’ conference.

“Therefore the statements of Archbishop Lenga cannot be identified in any way with the Polish episcopal conference,” he said. “They cannot be treated as positions of Polish bishops.”

In June 2019, Archbishop Lenga was among of the signatories of the 40-point "Declaration of Truths."

The declaration claimed to address “the most common errors in the life of the Church of our time,” reaffirming Church teaching on topics such as the Eucharist, marriage and clerical celibacy.

Jan Paweł Lenga was born in present-day Ukraine in 1950. He was ordained secretly in 1980 due to Soviet persecution of the Catholic Church. A member of the Marian Fathers, he was appointed apostolic administrator of Kazakhstan in 1991, the year that Kazakhstan became the last Soviet republic to declare independence.

He was appointed to Karaganda in 1998, where he remained until 2011, when Pope Benedict XVI accepted his resignation under canon 401 § 2 of the Code of Canon Law, which states that diocesan bishops may resign “because of ill health or some other grave cause”.

Archbishop Lenga retired to a community of Marian Fathers in Licheń Stary, a village that is home to Poland's largest church, in the Diocese of Włocławek.

Fr Niemira, chancellor of Włocławek diocese, said the bishop had imposed the measures on Archbishop Lenga in accordance with canons 392 and 763 of the Code of Canon Law.

Canon 392 states that, in order to protect Church unity, “a bishop is bound to promote the common discipline of the whole Church and therefore to urge the observance of all ecclesiastical laws”. Canon 763 says that bishops have the right to preach everywhere unless forbidden to do so by a local bishop.
 

 

Archbishop Hebda warns priests against voting in Super Tuesday primary

St. Paul, Minn., Feb 27, 2020 / 05:20 pm (CNA).- Catholic priests in Minnesota have been advised not to vote in the state’s March 3 Super Tuesday presidential primary, because there is no guarantee their partisan ballot choice will be kept private, and because primary voting in the state requires voters to express support for a party’s principles.

Minnesota Catholic Conference staff have told the state’s bishops that clerical participation in the primary election is “imprudent.”
 
“As priests are, generally, discouraged from participating in partisan political activities, Minnesota Catholic Conference staff advised the bishops of Minnesota that, in light of the possibility that the information related to a priest’s participation and ballot selection could be made public, that it would be imprudent to for them to participate in this particular primary process,” Catholic conference executive director Jason Adkins said in a statement sent to CNA Feb. 27.
 
Guidance from bishops to their priests on this matter is “within their purview,” said Adkins, whose organization represents the bishops of Minnesota on public policy initiatives.
 
Only ballots for the Republican Party and the Democratic-Farmer Labor Party, the state party affiliated with the national Democratic Party, are available for primary voters to choose from.
 
While the candidate a voter chooses in a Minnesota primary is secret, political party chairs are able to know which primary individual voters chose to vote in during the presidential primary.

Archbishop Bernie Hebda of St. Paul-Minneapolis warned in an email to priests and deacons that because of the state’s policies, “nothing prevents party affiliation from being made public.”
 
Hebda emphasized that there is no tax-related ban on clergy voting in primaries and clergy can endorse candidates in their individual capacities.
 
“But the possibility that the data may become public should discourage clergy from participating,” said Hebda. “If the law were different and protected privacy, maybe the calculus would change.”
 
“it could be seen as ‘partisan’ political activity to align oneself with a party and to vote in its primary, which the Church generally discourages clergy from doing for evangelical reasons, more so than tax ones,” said Hebda.
 
According to Adkins, “most of the clergy to whom we’ve spoken about the matter were grateful for the archbishop’s guidance because it apprised them about something to which they’d not given thought and also helpfully laid out important information and considerations.”
 
Katherine Cross, communications director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, told CNA that the state’s presidential primary process “requires participants to attest to a party’s principles” as a condition for voting.
 
This limits participation to “those who are willing to publicly attest general agreement with the platform of one of the major parties here in Minnesota,” Adkins’ statement said. The change aimed to separate the primary from the party caucus process and to protect both events’ integrity as partisan events.
 
Adkins noted that legislators are considering whether to change the process to ensure that a voter’s primary ballot choice remains private.
 
DFL Rep. Ray Dehn of Minneapolis has proposed a bill to restrict party access to voter data. The bill proposes that political parties may not use the data for any purposes beyond certifying that the primary elections are free of widespread interference.
 
“It absolutely is a legitimate concern,” Dehn told ABC News television affiliate KSTP. “We've heard from not just tax-exempt groups and nonprofits but clergy don't want that information available.”
 
The bill passed the DFL-controlled House of Representatives late Wednesday night.
 
DFL Gov. Tim Walz has said there is time to act before data is shared after the election.
 
“There’s folks that work really hard in positions where they're non-partisan judges, clergy and others that don't want to be in this position and I am with them on that,” he told reporters Feb. 26.

It is not clear whether the Republican-controlled State Senate will pass a bill to change the law and Minnesota Republican Party chair Jennifer Carnahan has opposed changes because voting is already underway, KSTP reported.
 
On March 3, Minnesota joins thirteen other states and the U.S. territory of American Samoa in what is commonly called the Super Tuesday primary. Primary victories in the contested race for the Democratic presidential nomination will determine how candidates will split 1,357 party delegates, a key prize towards securing the majority of about 4,000 delegates needed to win the nomination.
 
The Minnesota primary for other elected offices will be held in August.
 
Adkins’ statement elaborated on concerns about partisan activity by priests.
 
“Counseling the avoidance of partisan political activity helps ensure that the priest retains an identity as a credible witness of the Gospel,” said Adkins.

“Especially in light of the political polarization and identity politics of today, the ability of a priest to form consciences for faithful citizenship in light of the appropriate principles depends, in part, on his ability to transcend the partisan divide and not have his catechesis tainted by the suspicion of partisanship.”
 
“Inevitably, addressing particular moral questions and public debates will strike some as partisan regardless of intent, but it remains important to cast the Church’s social teaching as principled, and never partisan,” said Adkins.
 
Minnesota Catholic Conference staff are also barred from participating in partisan political activity, Adkins said.
 
The 1983 Code of Canon Law bars Catholic clerics from assuming public offices which entail the exercise of civil power. It bars priests from “an active part in political parties and in governing labor unions” unless ecclesiastical authority judges it necessary to protect the rights of the Church or to promote the common good.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in the February 2020 digital edition of their document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” describes “complementary roles in public life” for clergy and lay people. Church leaders “avoid endorsing or opposing candidates” while fulfilling responsibilities to teach moral fundamentals, to help Catholics form their consciences, and to encourage the faithful to do their duties in political life.
 
“The Church is involved in the political process but is not partisan. The Church cannot champion any candidate or party. Our cause is the defense of human life and dignity and the protection of the weak and vulnerable,” the document said.
 
The U.S. bishops’ Office of General Counsel in August 2018 published guidelines for Catholic organizations on political activity and lobbying. The document runs to 45 pages.

Catholic parish hosts ecumenical Ash Wednesday service in N Ireland

Belfast, Northern Ireland, Feb 27, 2020 / 04:59 pm (CNA).- While Northern Ireland has long faced religious disputes, an ecumenical celebration of Ash Wednesday was held at a Catholic church in Belfast this year, in which Presbyterian, Anglican, and Methodist ministers participated.

Ken Newell, a former Presbyterian Moderator; Elizabeth Hanna, a retired Church of Ireland minister; and Robin Waugh, a Methodist minister, all received ashes at the Feb. 26 service at St. Mary's Church.

Fr. Tim Bartlett led the service. Afterwards, he said it was a “deeply moving” experience.

Fr. Martin Magill, pastor of St. John’s parish, helped to organize the event.

Ahead of time, he said that "In this inclusive service, people from all backgrounds will be offered the ashes, but no one will be pressured to take them.”

"In other parts of the world Christians come together every year to mark Ash Wednesday in this way, so in many other places what we are marking together tomorrow would be a common practice."

Hanna commented, "I thoroughly enjoyed being here, and history has been made. It was great being a part of it.”

Newell noted his joy in participating “in this special service” and emphasized the value of Lent.

He stressed the symbolic value of this event in bringing people together. He said it is also an opportunity to make “space for God,” according to the Belfast Telegraph.

"This will be a symbolic service of healing and reconciliation, of togetherness and not of division,” he said. "It is another opportunity for the churches to walk side by side, and to move on towards a better future for everyone.”

Religious disputes have long been part of the history of Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom and has been predominantly Protestant, while the majority-Catholic Republic of Ireland declared its independence in 1916.

The region has had ongoing religiously and politically based conflicts, most notably “the Troubles”, which included violent clashes that lasted from the late 1960s until 1998, when the Good Friday Agreement was struck.

Since 1998, there has been only sporadic sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, though there have been several incidents in recent years.

Friend of Jean Vanier ‘heartbroken’ for abuse victims, but hopeful for the future of L’Arche

Denver, Colo., Feb 27, 2020 / 04:35 pm (CNA).- On the news that Jean Vanier, Catholic founder of L’Arche International, has been credibly accused of serially sexually abusing women, Professor Stanley Hauerwas said he is “devastated.”

“That is the way anyone must feel on hearing the news of Jean Vanier’s sexual misconduct,” Hauerwas said in comments to CNA. “Vanier was supposed to be different and in many ways he was. But the difference makes his behavior all the more devastating. He should have known better,” he added.

Hauerwas, a world renowned theologian with joint appointments at Duke Divinity School and Duke Law School, was a personal friend of Vanier, who died at the age of 90 on May 7, 2019.

Vanier was the once-revered founder of L’Arche, an international community of people with intellectual disabilities and their supporters, and of Faith and Light, an ecumenical Christian association of prayer and friendship for those with intellectual disabilities and their families.

Last April, L’Arche commissioned GCPS, an independent U.K. consultancy specializing in the reporting of exploitation and abuse to investigate allegations related to Fr. Thomas Philippe, an abusive Dominican priest sanctioned by Church authorities in 1956, whom Vanier described as his “spiritual mentor.”

On Feb. 22, 2020, L’Arche International published the results of the investigation, detailing “credible and consistent” accounts of sexual misconduct by Vanier against six adult women without disabilities in the context of spiritual direction.

Hauerwas said he considered Vanier a friend and mentor, and is “heartbroken by this revelation of his terrible misconduct and utterly condemn it as an abuse of power.”

Hauerwas noted that Vanier seems to have convinced himself the abuse was consensual, which he said was “some desperate attempt to justify his actions. Which is but a reminder that self-deception often is the result of trying to make sense of our lives and why we all need accountability, especially those held in high esteem.” 

“One suspects his gentleness allowed him to get away with anything but his actions involving the women were anything but gentle,” he said.

Still, Hauerwas said he is “indebted” to Vanier for what he taught him about how to love and care for disabled people, and he hopes that the good of L’Arche’s work will not be lost along with the revelations of abuse.

“So much of (Vanier’s) life was morally exemplary. That is one of the problems. How can we continue to learn from his witness with his intellectually disabled friends without excusing his predatory sexual behavior? At this time when we are trying to receive this devastating news the only advice I have is not to be in a hurry to answer that question,” he said.

Rather than rush to decisions, Hauerwas urged those effected by the report to pray.

“We must pray first for the women he betrayed,” he said. “We must pray for the members of the L’Arche movement. We must pray for ourselves that God will help us to carry on the work of L’Arche because that work is, in and of itself, independent of the actions of its founder.”

He added that the international L'Arche community “are proving to be quite extraordinary in terms of how they're responding and how they have responded.”

L’Arche International has set up an additional centralized reporting procedure for any further information that people may wish to report. Any such information will be received by a task force composed of people outside of L’Arche.

“I continue to believe that in those homes the glory of God is manifest for all to see.”

Vatican City implements health measures over coronavirus

Vatican City, Feb 27, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The Vatican has implemented special health measures and canceled some events as more than 500 people have tested positive for coronavirus in Italy.

Hand sanitizer dispensers have been installed in Vatican City offices, and there is a nurse and a doctor on call at a Vatican clinic to give immediate assistance, Holy See Press Office Director Matteo Bruni told Vatican News. 

While there have been no diagnosed cases of the coronavirus in Vatican City, Bruni said Feb. 24 that Vatican health staff have worked with the Italian Ministry of Health on procedures which can be brought into action, and are in close contact with the regional authorities in Lazio.

“In compliance with the provisions of the Italian authorities, some events scheduled for the next few days in indoor places and with an important influx of public have been postponed," Bruni said.

With Pope Francis’ Lenten retreat scheduled for March 1-6, there are no papal audiences scheduled for next week, but conferences in Rome and other indoor events have been canceled. 

A conference schedule to take place March 5-6 at the Pontifical Gregorian University on the opening of Vatican archives of Pope Pius XII has been canceled, as has a March 2-7 communications workshop at the Pontifical Urbaniana University for global representatives of the Pontifical Missions Societies.

An event for a book on Cardinal Celso Costantini Feb. 25, at which Cardinals Pietro Parolin, Luis Antonio Tagle, and Fernando Filoni were expected to speak, was canceled due to coronavirus concerns.

As of Feb. 27, Pope Francis is still scheduled to give his Sunday Angelus address on March 1 before leaving for his Lenten retreat. 

Pope Francis did not cancel his Wednesday general audience Feb. 26, but he was later seen coughing during his Ash Wednesday Mass. 

The pope chose not to attend a scheduled liturgy with priests in Rome Feb. 27 “due to a slight indisposition,” according to the Holy See press office. However, the pope’s other appointments, such as Mass in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta, took place as usual.

Italian authorities reported 528 cases of the coronavirus Feb. 27 with 14 deaths. Nearly all of the reported cases are in northern Italy. In response to the outbreak, Italian officials have also imposed quarantine restrictions on several towns in the Lombardy and Veneto regions, where most of the infections have occurred.

The Archdiocese of Milan suspended Masses beginning on the evening Feb. 23 until further notice. The Patriarch of Venice, Archbishop Francesco Moraglia, suspended Masses and other liturgical celebrations, including baptisms and Stations of the Cross, until Sunday March 1.

In Rome’s region of Lazio there have been just three reported cases: an Italian, who has recovered, and two Chinese tourists, who are being treated in a hospital.

“I wish to express again my closeness to the coronavirus patients and the health workers who treat them, as well as to the civil authorities and all those who are working to assist the patients and stop the infection,” Pope Francis said Feb. 26.

US Religious Freedom Commission calls India riots 'brutal and unchecked violence'

Washington D.C., Feb 27, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has called on the Indian government to halt ongoing anti-Muslim violence in Delhi, home of India's capital. 

Approximately 27 people have been killed and more than 200 were injured in a series of riots in northeastern Delhi that began on Sunday. The riots started over a new citizenship law which forbids Muslim immigrants from obtaining Indian citizenship. The BBC reported that Hindu mobs targeted unarmed people, and both Hindus and Muslims have been killed in the ensuing violence. 

“The brutal and unchecked violence growing across Delhi cannot continue. The Indian government must take swift action to ensure the safety of all its citizens,” said USCIRF Commissioner Anurima Bhargava in a statement released Wednesday. 

Bhargava cited reports that police in Delhi have allowed riots to continue and said that the Indian government “is failing in its duty to protect its citizens.” 

“These incidents are even more concerning in the context of efforts within India to target and potentially disenfranchise Muslims across the country, in clear violation of international human rights standards.” 

About 14% of India’s population is Muslim. The country is approximately 80% Hindu. 

Tony Perkins, chairman of the USCIRF, echoed Bhargava’s concerns, and said that the “reported attacks against Muslims, their homes and ships, and their houses of worship are greatly disturbing.” 

Perkins said the Indian government was facing a test of the basic functions of responsible leadership. 

“One of the essential duties of any responsible government is to provide protection and physical security for its citizens, regardless of faith. We urge the Indian government to take serious efforts to protect Muslims and others targeted by mob violence,” he said Wednesday. 

President Donald Trump visited India this week. While in the country, he hosted a rally and met with the country’s prime minister, Narendra Modi. Modi, the leader of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, said in December, 2019, that the new citizenship bill was not anti-Muslim. 

In the USCIRF’s 2019 Annual Report, India was listed as a “Tier 2” country, designating it as a country with at least some “systemic, ongoing, egregious standard” of religious-based discrimination that would merit a country being labeled a “country of particular concern.” 

The commission’s report said India's “history of religious freedom has come under attack in recent years with the growth of exclusionary extremist narratives—including, at times, the government’s allowance and encouragement of mob violence against religious minorities—that have facilitated an egregious and ongoing campaign of violence, intimidation, and harassment against non-Hindu and lower-caste Hindu minorities. Both public and private actors have engaged in this campaign.”

‘Worship of initiatives’ is replacing faith, Pope Francis warns priests

Vatican City, Feb 27, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- In a message Thursday, Pope Francis criticized placing so much importance on Church programs that the essential teachings of the faith are lost. The pope also said a priest’s agreement with such initiatives should not be the measure of his ministry.  

“The worship of initiatives is replacing the essential: one faith, one baptism, one God the Father of all. Adherence to initiatives risks becoming the yardstick of communion,” the pope said, in a message read aloud to the priests of the Diocese of Rome Feb. 27.

Pope Francis was scheduled to deliver the speech in person at the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, but decided to remain close to the Vatican after feeling unwell, the Holy See spokesman, Matteo Bruni, said Thursday.

Instead, Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, vicar general of the Diocese of Rome, read the speech on the pope’s behalf.

In his speech, Francis outlined the different reasons why priests may become “embittered” in their ministry, noting that his observations came from many conversations with priests and are not only his opinion.

Today, he said, there seems to be a “general atmosphere” of “widespread mediocrity” – and not only in the priesthood.

“The fact remains that much bitterness in the life of a priest” is rooted in the omissions of his bishop, Francis said in a footnote of the speech.

Priests risk losing their ministry as pastors, their role as teachers of the faith, he said, as they become “suffocated” by management problems and personnel emergencies.

But, he added, “who is the catechist of that permanent disciple who is the priest? The bishop of course!”

Francis said it could be argued that priests do not usually want to be educated by bishops, but even if this is true, “it is not a good reason” for bishops to give up the “munus docendi.”

“The holy people of God have the right to have priests who teach them to believe; and deacons and priests have the right to have a bishop who teaches them in turn to believe and hope in the One Master, the Way, the Truth and the Life, who inflames their faith,” he said.

The pope also said that, as a priest, he would want his bishop to help him believe, not just make him happy, and lamented that often bishops end up only attending to their priests in times of crisis, and not making the time to listen to them outside of emergencies.

In his speech, Pope Francis also argued that another cause of bitterness in the priesthood is problems between priests.

He pointed to the financial and sexual scandals of recent years as having caused suspicion among priests and hindered meaningful bonds. “There is more ‘community,’ but less communion,” the pope said.

Francis also said that with these scandals, the devil tempts people to have a Donatist vision of the Church. Donatism is a heresy from the 4th to 6th centuries which argued that Catholic priests had to be without sin or fault for the sacraments they administer to be valid.

“We have false conceptions of the militant Church, in a sort of ecclesiological puritanism,” he said.

“The question we ask ourselves when we meet a new brother priest emerges silently: ‘Who do I really have before me? Can I trust him?’”

Prayer is important to combat this, he said.

The pope also warned priests against an “individualized conscience” – a feeling of being “more special, powerful, gifted” and therefore needing to start every new parish assignment with a “clean slate,” instead of building on the good already there from the previous pastor.

Cautioning against the risk of isolation, Francis advised priests to find an old and astute priest to be a spiritual father.