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New Jersey bishop opposes contraception bill removing religious exemption

Metuchen, N.J., Dec 13, 2019 / 08:40 pm (CNA).- A New Jersey bishop is calling on legislators to amend a bill that would force religious groups to fund contraceptive coverage for their employees, even if doing so violates their religious convictions.

“Legislation (S3804/A5508) is now being considered in the New Jersey legislature which eliminates the long-standing religious employers' exemption in the current law,” said Bishop James Checchio of Metuchen.

“Eliminating the religious employers' exemption would essentially force religious organizations to pay for medications, including abortion causing drugs, sterilizations and other procedures which violate our fundamental belief that all life, from conception to natural death, is sacred,” he said in a Dec. 10 statement.

The bill was introduced to the New Jersey Senate in May and the state’s House of Representatives in June. If passed, it would require full coverage for certain contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs in health care plans and remove exemptions for religious organizations.

“Contraception was named as one of the top 10 public health achievements of the 20th century by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” said bill sponsor Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, according to northjersey.com. “That was 20 years ago, whether or not insurance plans cover contraceptives shouldn’t be a question today.”

The bill must be addressed before the second week of January, when the current legislative session ends. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced his support for the bill in May.

Bishop Checchio stressed the importance of religious liberty as one of the “important building blocks of American society.”

He said the law would threaten the “basic human right” of religious freedom and would place religious organizations in an impossible position, negatively impacting their charitable work, including aid provided to immigrants and those in poverty.

“Passage of this measure would require our Catholic parishes, Catholic schools and agencies such as Catholic Charities to offer our employees comprehensive health benefits in violation of fundamental Catholic principles,” the bishop said.

“If this measure should pass many of our Catholic institutions and services will be seriously impacted. Assistance that we provide to the poor, the frail elderly, the sick and the dying, and to immigrants and their families could be at great risk.”

Edward Sita, a resident of St. Joseph’s Senior Home in Woodbridge, which is operated by the Little Servant Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, also spoke out against the bill.

“One of the principal reasons I am here is because we have a religious organization who wants to care for us,” he said of the senior home.

In a Dec. 12 statement, Sita said he is grateful in particular for the sisters’ attentive care for his wife, who has Alzheimers, as well as the for the opportunity for regular Mass, adoration, and other religious activities offered at the home.

“The folks here do so much and are completely giving of all that is possible to give, and that’s themselves. It’s hard to describe all the good things that are happening here.”

Sita said the proposed law would place the sisters in a “morally impossible situation.” He said he could not imagine life without the sisters’ help, if the home were forced to shut down.

“I couldn’t even imagine it and I pray and I hope that doesn’t happen,” he said.

Bishop Checchio encouraged Catholics to take action against the bill, pointing to a website where people may appeal to their local representatives.

“I urge all of the faithful to contact their state senators today and urge them to amend the proposed legislation, S3804/A5508 to retain the established religious employers' exemption which is contained in current law,” the bishop said.

 

For Gaza Christians, no Christmas travels to Bethlehem and Jerusalem

Jerusalem, Dec 13, 2019 / 06:30 pm (CNA).- Church leaders in Jerusalem are appealing to Israeli authorities to reverse a decision that prohibits the Christmastime travel permits that usually allow a few hundred Christians from the Gaza Strip to visit Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem.

Israeli officials, citing security concerns, have broken with their usual practice and declined to grant the permits, Reuters reports. Gaza Christians may travel abroad but not to Israel and the West Bank.

Wadie Abu Nassar, an adviser to local church leaders, criticized the policy.

“Other people around the world are allowed to travel to Bethlehem. We think Gaza’s Christians should have that right, too,” he told Reuters.

One Gaza woman lamented the decision.

“Every year I pray they will give me a permit so I can celebrate Christmas and see my family,” Randa El-Amash, 50, told Reuters. “It will be more joyful to celebrate in Bethlehem and in Jerusalem.”

The Gaza Strip is a 141 square mile area under Palestinian control in the west of Israel. It is home to about 2 million people. Since 2007, it has been ruled by the Islamist movement Hamas.

Since Hamas came to power in Gaza, Israel and Egypt have imposed an economic blockade to restrict travel and to restrict the flow of goods, citing the need to limit the flow of weapons and the rocket attacks on Israel launched from the territory.
 
Inhabitants of Gaza suffer high unemployment and face electricity blackouts and drinking water shortages.
 
There are now only about 1,000 Christians still in Gaza, mostly adherents of the Greek Orthodox Church. In 2012 Christians numbered about 4,500.
 
Some Christians who secure travel permits to visit holy sites on Easter and Christmas never return home, preferring to seek a better life elsewhere.
 
Israeli authorities in the past have justified restrictions on travel from Gaza because travelers illegally overstay their visit in the West Bank.
 
Gisha, an Israeli rights group, told Reuters the travel ban is “a deepening of Israel’s separation policy” for the two Palestinian-controlled regions, the West Bank and Gaza.
 
In 2018, Israel granted nearly 700 Gaza Christians travel permits allowing them to go to Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth and other sites of pilgrimage.
 
While Israel’s population is predominantly Jewish, about 20 percent of the country’s 8.5 million people are Arab. About two percent are Christians, though their numbers have sharply declined after decades of emigration.
 
CNA contacted the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.

Group of South Sudanese clerics, laity reject Juba archbishop appointment

Juba, South Sudan, Dec 13, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- A group of three priests and five laymen from the Archdiocese of Juba wrote Thursday to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples protesting the appointment of Stephen Ameyu Martin Mulla as archbishop.

In their Dec. 12 letter, obtained by CNA, the group say they are indigenous and represent “the majority of concerned people of the Archdiocese.”

That day the Vatican announced the resignation of Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro, 79, and the appointment of Ameyu as his successor.

Ameyu, 55, was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Torit in 1991, and had been appointed bishop of the same see earlier this year.

The concerned people of Juba gave three reasons for opposing the appointment, charging that government officials and some Juba priests had conspired to promote Ameyu as archbishop for personal interests, and had influenced a Vatican diplomat to that end; that a local priest could have been appointed; and alleging that Ameyu has fathered at least six children.

They wrote that Ameyu “will not be accepted to serve as Archbishop of Juba under any circumstance.”

The situation calls to mind that in the Diocese of Ahiara, where a December 2012 appointment of a bishop from a neighboring diocese was rejected by the people of Ahiara. The Mbaise ethic group whom the Ahiara diocese serves objected that the new bishop was not Mbaise. That episcopal installation was performed outside the Ahiara diocese because of protests, and while Pope Francis in 2017 demanded the acceptance of the appointment, the rejected bishop’s resignation was accepted early in 2018.

The letter from clerics and laymen of Juba indicated that they had written to the congregation Dec. 10 asking for “dialogue over the serious allegations raised against Bishop Stephen Ameyu.”

“Given the genuine concerns based on the legitimate issues cited in our memo, we had honestly expected the suspension of the announcement, until further investigation can be conducted on the matter,” they wrote.

“Now that the misled Vatican has arrogantly ignored our concerns by choosing the path of undue confrontation, we have no other option than to respond with proportional means.”

According to the letter-writers in Juba, Archbishop Hubertus van Megen, apostolic nuncio to South Sudan and Kenya, “has dismissed the allegations brought against Bishop Stephen Ameyu and put the whole blame on Archbishop Paolino Lukudu Loro.”

Detailing a “series of conspiracies and briberies by some determined interest groups and lobbyists both inside and outside Juba”, the group said they have “substantial evidence that the Nunciature in Juba was heavily compromised by some officials from the government of South Sudan from its inception up to date.”

The letter’s signatories said that Msgr. Mark Kadima, the Vatican's chargé d'affaires in South Sudan who was appointed last year, was given money and goods “to gain leverage over him,” and that they have evidence “some high profile politicians influenced the process by ruling out some of our candidates and worked to promote Bishop Stephen Ameyu.”

The group also wrote that they have evidence that some of the priests of Juba, “who are also polygamists, businessmen and senior government security personnel” worked to manipulate Msgr. Kadima to support Ameyu “who would … protect their personnel [sic] interests.”

These priests, the concerned clerics and laymen charged, divided several senior positions in the archdiocese, including vicar general, among themselves Dec. 8.

Secondly, the letter asks, “Who among our priests in Juba can be appointed bishop anywhere?”

It charges that priests from Juba were passed over for episcopal appointments in Yei in 1986, and recently in both Rumbek and Torit.

“Should we understand that the Vatican listens only when there are real violent threats attached,” they asked. “Otherwise, we still find it inexplicable why and how the local church of Juba, already blessed with over 30 local priests who have excelled in their pastoral, administrative and academic experience should be humiliated by getting a Bishop who has two concubines and six biological children. How can our mother Church go for this Bishop when some of our priests were disqualified on unfounded rumours of fathering only one child?”

Finally, the letter says that Ameyu's having fathered at least six children “is common knowledge and does not need much prove [sic].” They charge that he has a concubine in Gudele, located just outside Juba.

The concerned people of Juba wrote that they are “a generous and hospitable people … kind hearted and straightforward people who do not tolerate any form of humiliation. We take long to react but once the gloves come off, it becomes difficult to calm things later.”

They maintained that their opposition “should not be misinterpreted as tribalism,” saying they have “no objection in having a bishop from outside the Archdiocese,” noting that most of their bishops have not been indigenous.

“Therefore, it should be the question of being Bari or none [sic] Bari, but rather appointing a good priest with right qualifications,” they wrote.

The Bari an ethnic group who are centered in Juba.

The protesters added that they are “not questioning or interfering with the prerogative of the Holy Father to appoint bishops,” but are “only against the manipulation and the buying of the process by politicians and other interest groups.

“We are against a person brought from outside just to promote personal interests while maliciously leaving out the qualified sons of this land,” they wrote.

The letter says that Archbishop van Megen and Msgr. Kadima “have gone so low and naïve that they have irrevocably lost the good will of the people of Juba,” charging that they have given in “to worldly pleasures to the extent of misleading the Propaganda Fide” and the Holy Father, choosing “to serve individual government officials and some lobbyists instead of serving the local Church.”

According to the protesters, Ameyu's appointment had already been made while the consultation to find an Archbishop of Juba was being conducted.

They charge that the Juba archbishop “must be a visible sign of unity among all the faithful,” saying that this requires mastery of English and Arabic, as well as “ample knowledge of local language and the culture of the indigenous tribes of the Archdiocese of Juba: Bari, Nyangwara, Mundari, Pojulu, Lokoya and Lulubo.”

“Where does Bishop Stephen come close on these requirements,” they asked.

They charged that the nuncio, based in Nairobi, has dismissed their allegations against Ameyu as unsubstantiated, and believed those against local priests “without any investigation.”

“How can these men of God (Nuncio Bert and Msgr. Kadima) who are barely three years in our country pretend to know our priests more than us [sic] who live and work with them on daily basis,” they asked.

“We cannot overstress that there is absolutely no chance for Bishop Stephen Ameyu to serve as the Archbishop of Juba,” the priest and laymen wrote. They said that “there will be no cooperation by the clergy and faithful of the Archdiocese … he will be resisted tooth and nail on the ground to the point of abdicating the helm by himself. But he will eventually regret why he accepted the appointment as he will be spending the rest of his life in protecting himself rather than shepherding the people. We feel that the Vatican can still save the situation now instead of or having to eat its words the hard way later.”

They said the people of Juba are ready to close the doors of all churches in the archdiocese on the day of Ameyu's installation, saying that “the Nunciature will have to hire government troops to scatter the protesting youth, children, priests, religious, women and other people of Juba. It will be a traumatic situation for the people of Juba since the installation will be over some dead bodies.”

They added that Juba's indigenous people have said that “they will cancel all the contracts and withdraw all the lands they had given” to the archdiocese and the bishops' conference.

The group also said that Archbishop van Megen and Msgr. Kadima are unwelcome in the archdiocese, and “will no longer be safe in our roads, land, churches and towns. They will have to rely on the protection of the forces whose interests they serve and seek to advance.”

They said the Vatican diplomats should have known “that the era of 'Roma locuta est, causa finita est, is over and that is now time of 'vox populi vox dei'.”

“Why should the fate of the Church in Juba be left to the mercy of Nuncio Bert and Msgr. Kadima alone. Why would the local church not have a say in the appointment of its own shepherds? … How and why can Nuncio Bert and Msgr. Kadima not know that the Archdiocese of Juba is not their chocolate to divide and give it to whoever they life?”

They also asked what experience Ameyu gleaned in less than a year of being Bishop of Torit, to be appointed Archbishop of Juba.

Concluding, they reiterated a desire for “dialogue with the Vatican while the appointment is called off. We are left with no option than to say that if the Vatican adamantly insists to have its sole way; there will be no way in Juba. Do it your way and reap the consequences.”

The concerned group wrote that “given that this question is so existential to us, we now turn to the Holy Spirit to do His work in the Church.”

‘A Hidden Life’ brings story of Bl. Franz Jaggerstatter and his wife to the big screen

Rome, Italy, Dec 13, 2019 / 05:27 pm (CNA).- A new film opening this weekend tells the story of Blessed Franz Jagerstatter, whose refusal to fight for the Nazis in World War II led to his imprisonment and death.

Franz was beatified by the Catholic Church in Austria in 2007. His wife, Franziska, was present at the beatification. She died in 2013 at the age of 100.

The story of the couple, living as peasant farmers in St. Radegund in Upper Austria during World War II, is recounted in the film A Hidden Life. The movie is written and directed by Terrence Malick, which premiers in select U.S. theaters Dec. 13.

The narrative places a strong emphasis on the town and farm where Franz and his family live, showing in detail their daily lives and the work they do with their animals and in the fields and garden.

The strong love between the husband and wife, and in the family, are also closely shown, as they become criticized and ostracized by their neighbors for what is seen as a selfish choice to conscientiously object to fighting in Hitler’s war.

Valerie Pachner, the Austrian actress who plays Franziska in A Hidden Life, told CNA she enjoyed portraying a real person because of the depth it lends the role and because of the responsibility she felt toward the real-life Franziska.

“I identified so strongly with the character. And that was in a way both wonderful and beautiful but also very challenging,” she said.

It was inspiring for her, she explained, “to witness two people who know so well what is right in their hearts and follow that” even though it means putting their own needs and survival last.

“That was definitely something that impressed me a lot. And trying to get close to that through portraying that character really gave me a certain sense of strength and empowerment,” she said.

“I just felt it’s amazing what human beings are capable of and I found it very wonderful, this approach that they had to that decision. And it really gave me a lot of strength.”

A Hidden Life starts in St. Radegund in 1939 when Franz is already a strong Catholic. But the real-life man did not start his life with a strong faith.

Franz’s mother, Rosalia Huber, was unmarried when she gave birth to him in 1907. His biological father was killed in World War I. His mother later married the man who adopted him, Heinrich Jagerstatter, when he was 10 years old.

Franz was a womanizer as a young man and fathered a daughter out of wedlock. There were periods during which Franz stopped going to Mass.

He became a farmer and met Franziska, whom he wed on Holy Thursday 1936. They then traveled to Rome, where they received the blessing of Pope Pius XI.

Through Franziska’s influence, Franz became the sexton of the local church, taking care of the property and grounds and assisting at liturgies. He started attending daily Mass.

The husband and wife had three girls together and also remained close to Franz’s older daughter.

When Hitler invaded Austria in 1938, Franz was the only one in his village to vote against the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria by Germany.

In 1940, he was called up for military service. The mayor helped him to return home shortly after, but he was again called up for active service from October 1940 until April 1941, when the mayor was again able to intervene for his return home.

During the time he was away, Franz and Franziska exchanged letters. These and other letters between the husband and wife were published in English in 2009.

Pachner said reading those letters was the most important thing she did to prepare for the role. “There’s a lot in those letters. And you feel their love, their faith, their day-to-day life,” she said.

The letters also play a major part throughout the film as they are heard through narrated voice-overs.

Franz became convinced that it was wrong for him to fight and decided to refuse if he should be called up again, which happened in February 1943.

He offered to carry out other, non-violent military service in place of fighting. However, his request was refused, and he was taken into custody in Linz for two months, then transferred to the Berlin-Tegel prison. He was tried on July 6, 1943 and condemned to death for sedition. He was executed by beheading on Aug. 9, 1943.

A Hidden Life flashes between Franz in prison and his wife and family at home in St. Radegund, as she and her sister take on the full burden of caring for the family farm.

Pachner said she prepared physically for the role, learning how to scythe wheat, churn butter, milk a cow, and other aspects of farm work.

Another part of her preparation for playing Franziska was to watch the documentary The Widow of the Hero. “It’s very small and it’s very hard to find. I had to go to a bookstore in some kind of monastery or something to get it,” she said.

The documentary has an interview with Franziska when she was 96 years old.

Pachner said she “sort of expected [Franziska] to be broken, in a way, I don’t know. And then I saw it and she’s not. She’s this old fragile lady and she’s beaming.”

“And that was very important for me because it made me realize that even though she went through all that hardship, even after the war, for decades, that she did not lose trust in the good of life.”

Pachner was raised Catholic but said she is no longer practicing her faith. She said that if she were faced with the circumstances which Franziska underwent, she would likely respond differently.

“I would have been angry, I would have held a grudge against the neighbors, I would have left the village.”

Franziska “really has to have something [remarkable] that... she never turns bitter,” she noted.
 
 

Bishops condemn antisemitism after New Jersey shooting

Washington D.C., Dec 13, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The U.S. bishops’ conference on Friday condemned the antisemitic shooting at a kosher market in Jersey City earlier this week, reiterating the Church’s absolute condemnation of antisemitism.

“The recent attack on a kosher market in Jersey City, alongside many other recent hateful and at times violent actions, have highlighted the importance of, once again, publicly condemning any and all forms of antisemitism whether in thought, word or action,” said Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton, chair of the U.S. bishops’ ecumenical and interreligious affairs committee, on Friday.

“The past has taught us silence and passivity can result in the advancement of the worst crimes humanity can commit,” he said.

On Tuesday, two gunmen fatally shot a police detective in Bay View Cemetery in Jersey City, New Jersey, before entering the nearby Jersey City Kosher Supermarket and shooting four civilians inside, killing three.

After a shootout of several hours, police entered the market and found the two suspects dead;  a pipe bomb was discovered in the U-Haul truck of the shooters parked outside the market.

Bishop Bambera on Friday pledged the Church’s “irrevocable commitment to the Jewish community.”

“At the Second Vatican Council, in Nostra Aetate, the Catholic Church articulated, ‘Mindful of the inheritance she shares with the Jews, the Church decries hatreds, persecutions, and manifestations of antisemitism directed against Jews at any time and by anyone,’” the bishop stated.

“We offer our prayerful support for all victims of antisemitic violence and their families.”

The two suspects in the shooting reportedly expressed anti-Semitic views online and appeared sympathetic to the Black Hebrew Israelite group, recognized as a hate group. The shootings are reportedly being investigated as domestic terrorism with a hate-crime bent.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), co-chair of the Congressional Anti-Semitism Task Force, said on Friday the shooting is “yet another wake-up call like the anti-Semitic slaughter in Pittsburgh that demands we redouble efforts to combat anti-Semitism.” The October, 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh killed 11.

“Even though Jewish people comprise approximately 2 percent of the U.S. population, the disproportionate number of hate crimes against Jews is absolutely appalling,” Smith said, noting that anti-Jewish crimes made up more than 57% of hate crimes motivated by religious bias, in the 2018 FBI Hate Crimes Report.

‘No logical connection’ between celibacy and abuse, CDF official says

Vatican City, Dec 13, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A senior official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has defended clerical celibacy in the wake of the abuse crisis. 

In an essay published in a Spanish magazine, Fr. Jordi Bertomeu Farnós said that there is “no evidence” celibacy has any relation to instances of sexual abuse, and warned that priests have been unfairly branded a suspect class.

In the essay, published in Palabra Dec. 10, Fr. Farnós laid out the context of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, noting that the high-profile nature of the scandals has resulted in a number of mistaken presumptions about the causes of abuse.

“Although unfortunately, in all social classes, professions, ethnic groups and, of course, religions, there is the phenomenon of child abuse, Catholic priests are seen or even increasingly treated as ‘suspects’ of having committed this horrible crime.”

Speaking against attempts to link the discipline of celibacy to crimes of sexual abuse, Farnós said that “regardless of other circumstances and arguments that have emerged in the recent Synod for the Amazon,”  “this conclusion does not present any logical connection with the problem we are dealing with here: there is no scientific data that demonstrates that a married life would put an end to the deviant behavior of these few priests with this sexual disorder.”

“There is no evidence that priestly celibacy directly causes any deviant sexual addiction, as evidenced by those cases of men or women who, due to life's circumstances, must live as celibate.”

“In addition,” he added, “celibacy has never been considered as a relevant parameter to identify abusers. Rather, most abusers are married men. Priests, mostly celibate men are… usually characterized precisely for their psychological balance, for their availability and selfless delivery to all, not only to the Catholic faithful.”

Farnós went on to offer a strident defence of the discipline of celibacy which, he said, was often unintelligible to modern society.

“According to some, in a sexually uninhibited and eroticized society… with numerous cases of addiction to all kinds of pornography and sexual deviations or paraphilias, priestly celibacy would be a pernicious life option,” he said. 

According to this mindset, Farnós argued, celibacy is only recognized as “perpetual self-censorship of sexual desire,” and must lead to “psychological problems related to immaturity” that result in pedophilia.

“If the experience of celibacy has always been countercultural,” Farnós says, today it is “even more” so.

“Our society needs many young people to show everyone the goodness of living a true, chaste and free love. Living the consecration as ‘anointing’ and not simply ‘function’ encourages everyone, particularly those who have received the marriage vocation, to surrender without fainting despite daily difficulties,” he said.

“Priests are called, therefore, to surrender with a totalizing love to be ‘signs’ of a more real love than any utopia.”

Pointing to other examples of institutions rocked by abuse scandals, Fernós said that attempts to link celibacy to abuse lacked evidence. 

“The data offered by other Christian and non-Christian churches, without celibate sacred ministers, belies that claim,” he said, pointing to the example of the Unity Church of Australia, which has 240,000 members, no hierarchy, and which elects married male and female clergy, but has recently made headlines for 2,500 cases of child abuse. 

“Contrast such data with the Catholic Church, with 466,000 priests and 6,000 cases reported to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,” he said. 

In the essay, Farnós pointed out that while the vast majority of cases of sexual abuse occur in the family, no one draws the conclusion that family members are ipso facto prone to abuse.

“If 73% of sexual abuse of minors seems to occur in the family environment, it cannot be affirmed that ‘being a father or being a mother predisposes to abuse,’” he said.

Farnós said that media coverage of the scandals had rightly highlighted the seriousness of all cases, but given rise to “certain statements destined to provoke the social panic and discredit of the Church, unfairly stigmatizing the social group of the clergy.”

Noting that the CDF has received approximately 6,000 cases of abuse world-wide, “an excessive number that shames us as Christians and particularly as priests,” Farnós said that priest account for only 3% of abuse cases reported to civil authorities.

“In the last two decades, we have attended with pain, particularly in some regions of the Catholic world, to an unworthy, improper, inconsiderate and even vexatious treatment of priests for the mere fact of [their] being [priests],” he said, pointing to “irresponsible” coverage of clerical abuse by the media.

The CDF official did, however, acknowledge that the vast majority of sexual abuse cases in the Church, some 80%, involve men preying on boys or young men, but warned against drawing any causal link between homosexuality as an orientation and a disposition to abuse.

Despite what Farnós called “certain ultraconservative ideological positions,” the data available to the CDF showed that “there is no direct relationship between homosexuality and pedophilia or between the latter and a ‘progressive style’ of clergy.”

“Affirming the direct connection of homosexuality with pedophilia from the data […] not only involves the commission of a great injustice, but also the criminalization of a certain sexual identity,” Farnós said, while at the same time observing that cultures of active homosexuality were a contributing factor to sexual abuse.

“It is […] possible to affirm that a certain homosexual subculture typical of some clerical groups and present in certain seminars or novitiates, with the consequent tolerance towards active homosexual behaviors, can lead to pedophilia.” 

These, Fornós said, “deserve greater attention from pastors, who have the pastoral and disciplinary means to invite [clerics] by example, the word and even coercion to a chaste life that does not pose a danger or scandal for the priest himself and for the Church.”

Offering his own reflections on preventing future abuse, he said that bishops need to focus on the selection of candidates for the priesthood, moving away from “a superficial predisposition to welcome all,” and identifying men “capable of living loneliness as a moment of grace and maturation, integrating aggressiveness and maintaining healthy relationships with adult people for a long time.”

“We should insist on candidates for ministry [suitable for] their future public and social role,” he said.

“They will be moral reference points and, therefore, should be exercised from the first moment of their formation in great self-control, with the aim of never scandalizing or even moving anyone away from the faith, the great gift that sustains us.”

Bishop Conley announces medical leave of absence from Lincoln diocese

Lincoln, Neb., Dec 13, 2019 / 12:34 pm (CNA).- Bishop James Conley announced Friday that he is taking a medical leave of absence from his ministry as Bishop of Lincoln, Neb.

“I have been medically diagnosed with depression and anxiety, along with chronic insomnia and debilitating tinnitus, which is a constant ringing of the ears,” Conley wrote in a Dec. 13 letter to Catholics of the Lincoln diocese.

“My doctors have directed me to take a leave of absence for medical and psychological treatment, and to get some much-needed rest. After prayer, and seeking the counsel of my spiritual director, my brother bishops, and my family, I have accepted the medical necessity of a temporary leave of absence,” the bishop added.

Conley wrote that he was sharing information about his health “because I hope, in some small way, to help lift the stigma of mental health issues.”

The bishop explained his own changing perspective on mental health.

“It has been difficult to accept that my mental health problems are real health problems, and not just a defect of my character, especially during a year of difficulty for our diocese.”

“For months, I’ve tried to work through these issues on my own through spiritual direction, counseling, and prayer,” Conley wrote.

“But the truth is that depression and anxiety are real psychological problems, with medical causes, requiring medical treatment. For me, those problems have been coupled with physical symptoms,” the bishop added.

Conley wrote that he “will be at a diocesan retreat facility in the Diocese of Phoenix, thanks to the kind invitation of Bishop Thomas Olmsted, while I undergo the best psychological and medical treatment available to me.”

In a Dec. 13 press release, the Diocese of Lincoln said that Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha will be the temporary apostolic administrator of the diocese during Conley’s absence.

“I offer my full support to Bishop Conley as he steps away from the Diocese of Lincoln to focus on his personal health and well-being. As a brother bishop, I know the demands of being a diocesan pastor; as a friend, I want Bishop Conley to avail himself of the time and the setting that will help him to return to full health and strength. I look forward to welcoming him back when he is ready to return,” Lucas said Dec. 13.

The “difficult time” for the diocese to which Conley referred began in July 2018.

In that month, reports emerged that Msgr. Leonard Kalin, who served as vocations director in the Diocese of Lincoln from 1970 until the late 1990s, had engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior with seminarians and prospective seminarians.

Kalin, now deceased, reportedly made sexual advances toward seminarians, asked them to help him shower, and would invite seminarians on trips to Las Vegas or for late-night drinks.

Some reports accused Conley’s predecessors of failing to take seriously allegations against Kalin, although an August 2018 statement from the diocese said it had “addressed these allegations of misconduct directly with Msgr. Kalin during his time in priestly ministry.”

After the Kalin report emerged, Conley ordered reviews of diocesan policies regarding clerical conduct and accountability, made personnel changes in the diocesan curia, and help listening sessions in the diocese about clerical abuse or misconduct.

Several Lincoln priests were subsequently removed from ministry, and Conley apologized for the way he had handled a 2017 report that a priest had “developed an emotionally inappropriate, non-sexual relationship with a 19-year-old male which involved alcohol.”

The priest was removed from ministry and sent to a treatment center in Houston before allowing him to return to ministry.

Conley said that he attempted to act with integrity, telling the parishioners that the priest had gone away for health reasons. But while he said he did not cover up the situation or oblige anyone to keep silent about it, he said he regrets failing to act with more transparency.

“Even though we were not legally obligated to report the incident, it would have been the prudent thing to do. Because the young man had reached the age of majority, we did not tell his parents about the incident,” Conley said last August.

In September 2018, Nebraska’s attorney general initiated an investigation into whether the state’s three dioceses had mishandled or covered-up allegations of abuse or misconduct. A report on that investigation has not yet been issued.

The diocesan press release did not cover what role Lucas will play in addressing those matters, though Conley’s letter said he had worked with the archbishop “for a smooth transition, with the full support of my senior staff.”

Conley, 64, became Lincoln’s bishop in November 2012. He had been an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Denver since 2008 and had worked in the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops from 1996 until 2006.

The bishop’s announcement comes days after a report from the Associated Press chronicled the mental health challenges experienced by priests, and noted the propensity of ministry leaders toward depression and other difficulties.

Conley wrote that he is hopeful about his medical leave of absence.

“Jesus Christ is the Divine Physician, who offers us the grace of healing. I entrust myself to the healing power of Christ, and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” the bishop wrote.

“I am grateful to be your bishop, and I love the Diocese of Lincoln. It will be difficult to be away. Please pray for me, as I pray for you.”

 

US bishops in Rome ask Pope Francis about McCarrick report

Vatican City, Dec 13, 2019 / 09:56 am (CNA).- American bishops from the Midwest met with Pope Francis this week with questions about the outcome of the Vatican’s investigation of Theodore McCarrick.

“I did ask about the McCarrick situation. That was something that all of us were very interested in knowing where this was going. And very glad to hear that a report is coming, and not sure when it will be, probably after the beginning of the new year,” Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing told EWTN Dec. 13.

The seventeen bishops from Ohio and Michigan (Region VI of the US bishops) met with the pope for two hours Dec. 10 as a part of their ad limina visit to Rome, and had the opportunity to ask the pope questions.

Bishop Boyea said he asked Pope Francis about the promised McCarrick report, and that the pope described it for them. He said that the bishops also discussed the report with the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

Parolin is "a little more nervous about the reception of this in the public," Boyea added.

The Vatican announced that it would conduct a review of files on McCarrick in October 2018.

At the U.S. bishops' conference fall meeting in Baltimore Nov. 11-13, Boyea asked that an update on the Vatican’s McCarrick investigation be added to the agenda. Cardinal Sean O’Malley responded that the Holy See intended to publish the results of the investigation in the new year, “if not before Christmas.”

O’Malley said that the bishops of New England also discussed the McCarrick report during their ad limina meeting with Francis in early November before the U.S bishops meeting.

The cardinal said he was shown a “hefty document” by the Vatican, which is being translated into Italian for a presentation to Pope Francis, with an intended publication by early 2020.

Reports of McCarrick’s history of sexual abuse were initially made public in June 2018, when the Archdiocese of New York announced that a sexual abuse allegation against then-retired Cardinal McCarrick was “credible and substantiated.”

Subsequent reports of sexual abuse or harassment of children and seminarians by McCarrick surfaced, and Pope Francis accepted his resignation from the College of Cardinals and assigned him to a life of prayer and penance in July 2018.

In August 2018, former apostolic nuncio to the U.S. Carlo Maria Vigano claimed that Pope Francis had known about existing sanctions on McCarrick but chose to repeal them.

At their November 2018 meeting, just months after settlements of the Archdioceses of New York and Newark of abuse cases involving McCarrick were made public, the bishops were set to vote on a number of measures to deal with the clergy sex abuse crisis including a call for the Vatican to release all documents about McCarrick in accord with canon and civil law.

However, after the Vatican requested shortly before the meeting that the bishops not take action on the abuse crisis until an international summit of bishops in Rome in early 2019, the bishops did not end up voting on the McCarrick measure because of fears they could be viewed at odds with Rome.

Pope Francis dismissed McCarrick from the clerical state in February 2019, shortly before convening a summit of bishops from around the world on clergy sexual abuse. The Vatican’s accelerated investigation into McCarrick’s case was an “administrative penal process,” not a full juridical process, but one used when the evidence in the case is overwhelming.

Bishops Boyea said that he expects that the anticipated McCarrick report will “be like peeling a scab off” for the Church in the U.S. “It is going to be tough, we know that, but it is better to get that out and get that done with,” he said.

"This is ultimately for the good of the Church. The truth cannot hurt the Church," Boyea told EWTN.

Pope Francis celebrates 50th ordination anniversary by honoring his mentor

Vatican City, Dec 13, 2019 / 06:00 am (CNA).- Fifty years ago on Dec. 13, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was ordained a Jesuit priest in Argentina. As pope, he will celebrate his ordination anniversary Friday by honoring one of his early spiritual mentors, Fr. Miguel Angel Fiorito.

Fiorito, 1916-2005, was a Jesuit Argentine priest, professor, and spiritual writer who died when Cardinal Bergoglio was Archbishop of Buenos Aires.

In a preface to a five-volume collection of his writings to be launched Dec. 13, Pope Francis wrote that Fiorito had a “passion for the spiritual exercises,” and “taught many to pray and to discern the signs of the times.”

The future Pope Francis first met Fiorito as a seminarian, and Fiorito became Bergoglio's spiritual director as he prepared for priestly ordination.

As Jesuit provincial for Argentina, Bergoglio later went on to put Fiorito in charge of the last stage of Jesuit seminary formation.

As a professor of Jesuit spirituality, Fiorito understood that “the spiritual mercy is to teach to discern,” Pope Francis wrote in the preface to his spiritual writings which he will present at the General Curia of the Society of Jesus Dec. 13.

“He had a special nose to feel a bad spirit, he knew how to expose him for his bad fruits. He was a man of combat against a single enemy: the bad spirit, satan, the devil, the tempter, the accuser, the enemy of our human nature,” he said.

Pope Francis described Fiorito in the preface as both “a man of “dialogue and listening” and “lovable father, a patient master and a firm adversary.”

The pope discovered his own vocation to the priesthood as a chemistry student in Argentina after a making a confession with a priest who was dying from leukemia.

“At that moment I felt that I had to become a priest. And I didn’t have the slightest hesitation,” Bergoglio said in an Italian radio interview in 2013.

In 1958, he entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus. He received a philosophy degree in 1963, taught literature and psychology, and then studied theology. He was ordained a priest in 1969. He would go on to serve as Jesuit provincial for Argentina, a seminary rector, a pastor, a professor, and a spiritual director.

Fr. Bergoglio was consecrated an auxiliary bishop of the Buenos Aires archdiocese in In 1992. He became the archdiocese's coadjutor archbishop in 1997, and succeeded as archbishop the following year. St. John Paul II appointed Archbishop Bergoglio a cardinal in 2001.

Pope Francis began his 50th ordination anniversary with a private morning Mass in Casa Santa Marta with all of the cardinals present in Rome. In the evening, he will celebrate with the General Curia of the Society of Jesus as he presents Fiorito’s collected writings.

Fr. Fioriti “brought us the divine imprint that the Lord Jesus has impressed on his life: that of the passion for spiritual exercises, which are an instrument for knowing how to feel and taste the Lord's request to our soul and help to cleanse it of all ambiguities,” Pope Francis wrote.

Senior Victoria cops said Pell investigation could distract from major police scandal

Washington D.C., Dec 13, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Senior police officials in the Australian state of Victoria discussed by email the way that their 2014 investigation into Cardinal George Pell could deflect public scrutiny from an emerging corruption scandal in the force.

In a 2014 email exchange, then-Deputy Commissioner Graham Ashton and Charlie Morton, assistant director of media and corporate communications for the Victoria police department, discussed how to respond to a high-profile scandal which would hamper the credibility of Victoria police operations.

In an email dated April 1, 2014, Morton advised Ashton not to make a media appearance in response to the “Lawyer X” scandal, because forthcoming announcements about Cardinal Pell could distract media and public attention.

“The Pell stuff is coming tomorrow and will knock this way off the front page,” Morton wrote to Ashton.

“Unless there are some serious appeals from convicted [criminals] which might get up as a result of this, then I can't see this continuing with the same level of profile.”

The emails emerged this week as Ashton, now Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police, gave evidence at a Royal Commission inquiry into the use of police sources and the Lawyer X scandal, in which criminal defense lawyer Nicola Gobbo was recruited to work as an informant against members of the Calabrian mafia, while she was representing several of them as an attorney.

Gobbo has claimed that her work as an informant for Victoria police from 1995-2009, despite issues of professional ethics and client confidentiality, led to 386 convictions, many of which are now believed to be tainted, subject to appeal, and could be overturned.
 
The email exchange between Ashton and Morton came after a news radio host in Melbourne referred on air to the about-to-break story as one of the “biggest law and order scandals in [Victoria state] history” and predicting it could result in “killers walking free.”
 
A subsequent High Court injunction prevented publication of Gobbo’s name, or any media reporting of the case from 2014, part of a years’-long, $4.5 million legal effort by Victoria police to keep details of the case from becoming public.
 
The reference to news about Pell being used to deflect negative coverage came just two months after Pope Francis had appointed Pell to reform Vatican financial affairs, placing him in charge of the newly-created Prefecture for the Economy in February, 2014.
 
It is not clear what information the two police officials were anticipating would be released the next day, though the previous week Pell had given evidence before the Royal Commission investigation into child sexual abuse in Church institutions.
 
In 2013, Victoria Police opened Operation Tethering, an open-ended investigation into possible crimes by Cardinal Pell, although no victims had come forward against him and there had been no criminal complaints made against him at the time. Although they had found no victims or criminal accusations, in 2015 the program was expanded and put on a more formal footing.
 
In 2017, Pell was charged with sexually abusing two minors. He was convicted in 2018 on the evidence of a single victim-accuser, the second supposed victim died of a heroin overdose on Aril 8, 2014 – one week after the Victoria police email exchange. That second victim had denied on several occasions that he was sexually abused by Pell.

The cardinal’s conviction was upheld on appeal by the Victoria Supreme Court in August. The Australian High Court will hear Pell’s appeal of that decision in 2020.
 
Since the court gag order was lifted in 2019, the Lawyer X scandal has tainted successive chiefs of the Victoria police force, all of whom were aware of Gobbo’s role a mob informer and practicing criminal lawyer.
 
Much of Gobbo's work as a lawyer was with Australian members of the Ndrangheta, the Calabrian mafia organization, which has established a deep presence both in Victoria and across the country, with allegations of multi-million dollar bribes to judges and close connections to local Victorian politicians in both political parties.
 
The link between the Italian and Australian branches of the organization is known to be close and ongoing.

The Lawyer X scandal has tainted several former heads of the Victoria police, all of whom were aware of Gobbo’s role and allowed it to continue. Ashton was first told of her work in 2007 when he was serving as assistant director of the Office of Police Integrity, an anti-corruption body.

Ashton told the Royal Commission on Tuesday that he saw no reason to suspect “anything untoward was going on” when he learned the lawyer was acting as a police informant against her own clients.

Gobbo, who is the niece of a former Victoria Supreme Court judge, has since said she fears retribution by police because of the scandal, refusing to go into witness protection and claiming police have threatened to take her children into protective custody to compel her cooperation.

Earlier this week, she told Australian media that “It's not the first time that they [Victoria Police] threatened me in relation to toeing the line and doing things their way or they would take my children."

The Victoria police force has been the subject of numerous scandals over the years. In addition to the allegations concerning Gobbo, a 2017 report found that nearly half (46%) of Victoria Police employees believe they would suffer personal repercussions if they reported corruption, with almost one in five saying it would cost them their job.