Why we need a religious freedom move from Trump – and soon

February 15, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Washington D.C., Feb 15, 2017 / 06:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- President Donald Trump must sign an executive order with broad protections for religious freedom, or global consequences could soon follow, Catholic leaders insist.

To sign an executive order establishing broad religious freedom protections is “one of the most important things President Trump could do early in his administration,” said Dr. Jay Richards, a professor at the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America.

“This isn’t just a Christian issue,” he told CNA, but rather a “Constitutional issue.” Current threats to religious freedom could be “solidified” if no such executive order is signed soon.

President Trump recently announced that he would uphold a 2014 executive order from President Obama, barring federal contractors from engaging in practices deemed to be discriminatory against LGBT employees, with no religious exemptions attached for organizations that have religious objections to gay marriage or adoption.

Thus, religious groups might not be able to contract with the federal government if they publicly uphold traditional marriage, or if they refuse to hire someone who is openly in a same-sex relationship and does not abide by their code of conduct.

A coalition of religious leaders, including the then-president of Catholic Charities USA Fr. Larry Snyder, wrote President Obama in 2014, asking him for an exemption for religious organizations.

The order essentially elevated LGBT persons to a “protected class,” thus threatening employers who are religiously opposed to this lifestyle by withholding federal contracts or funding because of so-called “discrimination,” Richards explained.

Recently, a draft of another order which would establish broad conscience protections was leaked to the press, but that order has not been issued or signed. This draft was “just perfect,” Dr. Richards thought, because “it would undo a lot of the damage” wrought against religious freedom from the Obama administration.

That order wouldn’t just affect federal contractors, he explained, “but any entity that receives federal funding or is eligible for student loans.”

“So if something like this doesn’t happen, it would not be very long – in fact I would predict it would be probably within the year – that Christian and Catholic colleges would start being essentially coerced into accepting this kind of officially-mandated view on these transgender questions,” he said.

Obama-era regulations and rules would be enforced by government agencies. Schools and colleges could be “threatened with the revocation of student loan eligibility” if they religiously object to federal government mandates on marriage and sexuality.

Now, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is trying to gather signatures asking the president to sign a religious freedom executive order. They cite “unprecedented” threats to religious freedom to insist on the order’s importance.

“Religious freedom in America has suffered years of unprecedented erosion. President Trump can correct some of this within the executive branch,” a USCCB action alert stated.

Along with a religious exemption to the LGBT executive order for federal contractors, the petition asks for “relief” from the HHS contraception mandate for the Little Sisters of the Poor and for other employers that are suing the government over the mandate and its “accommodation.”

An order should also include protections for religious schools to publicly affirm their beliefs on marriage and keep their accreditation, the continuance of the tax-exempt status for religious organizations that support traditional marriage, and conscience protections for doctors and hospitals refusing to perform abortions, they said.

“Any Executive Order should make it clear that religious freedom entails more than the freedom to worship but also includes the ability to act on one’s beliefs. It should also protect individuals and families who run closely-held businesses in accordance with their faith to the greatest extent possible,” the bishops’ conference stated.

Regarding the freedom of Catholic charities to minister to undocumented immigrants without being threatened by federal authorities, Richards said “the language is not there explicitly” in the proposed order.

For grants to Catholic social services who serve refugees and immigrants, “it would shield Catholic entities doing that on religious grounds” and “would at least mean that Catholic ministries couldn’t be threatened with the revocation of their non-profit status or government grants, simply because they’re exercising their religious freedom.”

There are various threats to religious freedom today, Dr. Richards said, from mandates that public school students must have access to locker rooms and bathrooms of their self-identified gender identity to private business owners who face lawsuits and fines for declining to serve same-sex weddings out of conscience.

President Obama’s executive order “essentially federalized all these” threats to religious freedom, Richards said.

If nothing is done to protect religious freedom, any entity that receives federal funding could be cut off from it for failing to abide by certain government mandates. “I would expect these things to continue to happen,” he added.



This is the one thing Pope Francis says you can brag about

February 15, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Vatican City, Feb 15, 2017 / 04:59 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As children we are taught that bragging is bad, especially when we do it to people who have less than us, however, for Pope Francis, there is one thing we should never hesitate to flaunt to whoever we meet: our hope in Christ.

Speaking of bragging, the Pope said Feb. 15 that contrary to the typical effect boasting has, “the hope that we have been given (in Christ) does not separate us from others,” and nor does it lead us “to discredit or marginalize them.”

“Instead, it is an extraordinary gift for which we are called to become ‘channels,’ with humility and simplicity, for all.”

Continuing his catechesis on the theme of hope, Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims during the general audience in the Pope Paul VI hall, reflecting on St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans in which the saint speaks of boasting “in hope of the glory of God.”

“So our greatest pride is to have as a Father a God who has no favorites, who does not exclude anyone, but who opens his home to all human beings, beginning with the last and the distant, because as his children we learn to console and support each other,” he said.

In the passage from Romans, St. Paul tells us to boast about the abundance of grace we receive from Christ Jesus, Francis observed. “Paul wants us to understand that if we learn to read everything by the light of the Holy Spirit, we realize that all is grace! Everything is a gift!”

If we learn to pay attention to everything, both in history and in our own lives, we begin to notice how God is “above everything,” and how we can see his hand in everything, he said.

The Pope said we are all called to recognize this point, to accept it with gratitude and to turn it back to God “in praise, blessing and great joy.” This, he said, is what will help us to experience true peace and freedom.

“And then this peace extends to all areas and to all the relationships in our lives: we are at peace with ourselves, we are at peace in the family, in our community, at work and with the people we meet every day on our way,” he said.

St. Paul also encourages us to boast of our sufferings, he said, noting that this can at times seem to be at odds with the peace found in recognizing our blessings and the grace present in our lives.

However, boasting of our sufferings is what makes our praise “the most authentic, the most true,” he said.

“In fact,” the Pope added, the peace the Lord offers us “should not be understood as the absence of worries, disappointments, failures and the causes of suffering.”

If this were true, then our peace would be very short-lived, he said, adding that “the peace that comes from faith is instead a gift…it is the grace to experience that God loves us” and there is always a guarantee that “he does not leave us alone even for a moment of our lives.”

It is the knowledge of the security of God’s love for us that helps us to bear suffering patiently, even in the most difficult moments, because “the mercy and goodness of the Lord are the greatest of all things and nothing will tear us from his hands.”

Our boast is that “God loves me,” Pope Francis said, and had pilgrims repeat with him the prayer “God loves me. God loves me.”

“That’s why Christian hope is solid, why it does not disappoint,” he concluded. It isn’t based on what we do or on what we believe, but on “the love that God has for each of us.”

With this in mind, “now we understand why the Apostle Paul exhorts us to always boast about all this.”


The clock is ticking on repeal of DC assisted suicide bill

February 15, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Washington D.C., Feb 15, 2017 / 03:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A repeal of Washington, D.C.’s physician-assisted suicide law moved through the U.S. House on Monday, but is in a race against time to pass through Congress and be signed by President Trump by Friday.

Members of Congress “have the Constitutional responsibility to do this,” Gloria Purvis, host of the show “Morning Glory” on EWTN Global Catholic Radio, told CNA of the move to repeal D.C.’s “Death With Dignity Act.”

The city council did not “even seek the voice of their own people” through putting the issue to a referendum even though community leaders, disability rights groups and many African-American senior citizens opposed it, Purvis, who has also served on the National Black Catholic Congress’ Leadership Commission on Social Justice, noted.

The House Oversight Committee voted 22-14 on Monday to send a measure disapproving of Washington, D.C.’s assisted suicide law to the House floor for a vote, Jason Calvi of EWTN News Nightly reported.

Back in December, the D.C. city council had passed the Death With Dignity Act, joining five states that have statutes legalizing physician-assisted suicide and Montana, where it is currently legal due to a 2009 decision by the state’s supreme court.

Congress, however, has 30 legislative days to overturn laws passed by Washington, D.C. That time period will expire after Friday. A repeal measure must pass both houses of Congress and be signed into law by the President.

The act could be effectively nullified by the House refusing to fund the D.C. health department in its appropriations bill, Purvis said. Attorney General Jeff Sessions could also take action against the law, saying it conflicts with the Assisted Suicide Funding Restriction Act from 1997 which prohibits federal funding of the practice.

Nevertheless, the act “devalues life,” is “morally repugnant,” and is “not in the interest of the common good,” Purvis insisted. In the situations of terminal patients who are suffering, “the answer is to care for them,” she said, rather than serve “the radical ‘I’” mentality of a culture of autonomy.

Disability rights advocates are also pushing Congress to repeal the law, calling it “dangerous and harmful public policy.” At the same time they are urging Congress to leave in place the Affordable Care Act, saying that “any degradation in health care will drive increased demand for assisted suicide.”

Physician-assisted suicide enables serious ethical abuses to occur when someone has a terminal illness, the disability rights argued. The coalition includes the American Association of People With Disabilities, the Disability Rights Center, the National Council on Independent Living, and the group “Not Dead Yet.”

“Assisted suicide is a prescription for abuse: an heir or abusive caregiver can steer someone towards assisted suicide, witness the request, pick up the lethal dose, and in the end, even administer the drug – no witnesses are required at the death, so who would know? Many other pressures exist that can cause people with compromised health to hasten their death,” they stated.

The language of the bill could enable abuses like this, Purvis insisted, as it allows patients to “ingest” a lethal dose of drugs. A dose that is administered by a third party to an unconscious patient could technically be “ingested” by the patient and thus legal, she explained.

Patients with a terminal diagnosis can also suffer from treatable depression, a mental disorder that can affect their judgment to request a lethal prescription and which can be manipulated by others, the coalition added.

“When assisted suicide is legal, it’s the cheapest treatment available – an attractive option in our profit-driven healthcare system,” they argued.

Civic efforts to fight teen suicide are also undermined by the message of this bill, Purvis said, as it implies that some lives are not worth living.

Such legislation purports to bring greater empowerment and freedom to sick patients, but it’s an ethical “slippery slope,” Professor Charles Camosy of Fordham University argued in a recent opinion piece in the New York Daily News.

Although supporters will argue that assisted suicide helps terminal patients avoid intense suffering and pain, patients will “far more likely” choose it out of “not wanting to be a burden on others,” he wrote.

“On other issues, liberals rightly focus on how laws affect vulnerable populations,” he said, explaining that “liberals in Massachusetts” defeated the issue at the ballot box because they were “worried that older people, already thought to be a drain or burden in a culture which worships youth and capital production, might be pressured to consider assisted suicide.”

“Those of us with progressive philosophies must instead unequivocally affirm the goodness of the existence of the old and sick. Especially when our consumerist culture tells them they have no net value,” he said.


Is a Vatican-China agreement close? What could happen.

February 15, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Vatican City, Feb 15, 2017 / 12:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Hopes are on the rise for an agreement between the Vatican and China on the appointment of bishops, with Cardinal John Tong Hon, Archbishop of Hong Kong again making the case for a possible proposal.

He made his case in a Feb. 11 article for the Hong Kong’s Sunday Examiner newspaper, and follows up on his previous article from August 2016. His latest article is filled with a certain optimism.
Cardinal Tong wrote that a Vatican-China agreement on appointing bishops will be “the crux of the problem and a milestone in the process of normalizing the relationship between the two parties,” but it is “by no means the end of the issue.” It would be “unrealistic, if not impossible” to expect disagreements to be cleared up overnight.

To summarize, Cardinal Tong maintained that Chinese government will finally recognize the Pope as the supreme authority of the Church, and the Pope will be given the power to veto any candidate to the episcopacy he does not deem fit for the post. The cardinal also explained that the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, that is the state-controlled church, will turn into a voluntary body with which bishops can freely affiliate. He voiced optimism for the eventual reconciliation of the seven illicit bishops appointed without the Pope’s consent. The cardinal also hoped for the future recognition of the bishops of the “underground Church.”
Despite the general optimism seen in Cardinal Tong’s words, the final agreement is yet to come, a source with knowledge of the Vatican-China talks told CNA under condition of anonymity.
The source explained the agreement this way: “The Chinese government wants to keep control of the appointment of bishops, and Rome cannot diminish the supreme authority of the pontiff. So, we meet in the middle.”
One possible plan for agreement is that “the Holy See may accept the election of candidate for the episcopate, though it knows that these elections take place under state control and that bishops of China’s bishops’ conference all belong to the government-controlled patriotic association.”

On the other hand, the source added, the Chinese government would “accept that any ‘election’ needs to be approved by the Pope, even though no elections should take place to appoint a bishop.”
The source compared this situation of mutual agreement to a famous image of three monkeys: “I don’t see, I don’t hear, I don’t speak.” He added that “although the Holy See is conscious that elections are not free, they are fake,” Vatican negotiators prefer to “silently accept this, in order to have bishops faithful to Rome and in communion with the Pope since the beginning.”
Cardinal Tong, in his latest article, noted that Catholic doctrine places the Pope as “the last and highest authority in appointing bishops.” This means that “if the Pope has the final word about the worthiness and suitability of an episcopal candidate, the elections of local churches and the recommendations of the bishops’ conference of the Catholic Church in China will simply be a way to express recommendations.”
Cardinal Tong thus aimed to respond to the concerns of Cardinal Joseph Zen, his predecessor as Archbishop of Hong Kong. In speeches, letters and articles, Cardinal Zen took a strong position against the agreement, saying that it undermined the authority of the Holy See. Cardinal Zen asked the Holy See not to make any agreement before China guarantees full religious freedom.
According to Cardinal Tong, there are three issues at stake: how to tackle the issue of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association; how to deal with the seven illicitly ordained bishops, who are excommunicated latae sententiae for having violated canon law; and how to handle the issue of more than 30 bishops from the underground Church, whom the Chinese government does not recognize.
The cardinal said a relationship between the patriotic association’s concept of an “independent, autonomous and self-run Church” and the self-nominating and self-ordination of bishops is “a relationship between theory and practice.” Both practices “are in fact the product of a distinctive political environment and pressure.”

The Archbishop of Hong Kong said that under the possible agreement the Pope will “now play a role in the nomination and ordination of Chinese bishops” and that “Beijing will also recognize the Pope’s right of veto and that the Pope is the highest and final authority in deciding on candidates for bishop in China.”
According to Cardinal Tong, this way the Vatican-China agreement would turn the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association into “a patriotic association in its strict, literal sense,” that is: “a voluntary, non-profit, patriotic and Church-loving organization composed of clergy and faithful from all around the country.”
The situation is far more complex than this, since de facto every “official” bishop recognized by Beijing is required to be a member of the patriotic association. Critics of the possible agreement noted the case of Shanghai auxiliary Bishop Taddeus Ma Daqin, who dared to resign from the association at his ordination Mass in 2012 and was immediately placed under house arrest. Though he appeared to renounce his stand against the Catholic Patriotic Association in mid-2016, he is still living in isolation in Shanghai’s Sheshan seminary, with no episcopal dignity.
In addition to this situation, UCA News has reported that China’s State Administration of Religious Affairs on Jan. 26 posted a decision to “enhance government legal powers over religious work” through an amended regulation in order to “maintain accountability via the strict management of Communist Party members.”

The Chinese administration also stressed that the Chinese administration said it would “steadily push forward” to the Catholic Church “to elect and ordain bishops on its own.” This is a positive sign for Sino-Vatican relations, observers said.
If the problem of the appointment of bishops would finally find a solution, a solution would still be needed for the seven bishops who were illicitly ordained and thus de facto excommunicated.
Beyond the illicit ordination, some of these bishops are also accused of moral misconduct that needs to be assessed.

The difficulty, as Cardinal Tong says, is that given the unstable relationship between China and the Holy See, the Holy See cannot investigate directly. Thus the Chinese official institutions would need to investigate, a process that would take time.

The Pope is the only one who can lift such an excommunication. Participants in the illicit consecration can secure a papal pardon but they “need to show repentance,” the cardinal said. He added that all of the bishops illicitly ordained are willing to pay their obedience to the Pope.
According to CNA’s Vatican source, the Holy See is looking for a “midway point” for the election of bishops and an agreement between “the practice of choosing candidates by a diocesan patriotic commission” and finding candidates that “can be also appreciated and accepted by the underground community.”
The source also added that “it is undeniable that the agreement does not fulfill all the requirements, we are not satisfied with that.”

“Anytime there is an agreement, it means that you lose some freedom. That is a problem for us. But we do understand that at the moment we cannot do anything better,” the source said.
The agreement could be a solution that would allow the appointment of bishops in still-vacant dioceses. The Chinese administration abolished some dioceses, and the Holy See could dissolve some dioceses too to address the current situation.

“Once, some dioceses were entrusted to missionary congregations, and nowadays these congregations are no more, and there are no more foreign missionaries in continental China,” the source said.
The possibility of a “Vietnam solution” for the appointment of bishops was even put on the table.
The agreement will likely be based on Cardinal Pietro Parolin’s model implemented in Vietnam back in 1996: the Holy See proposes a set of three bishops to the Hanoi government, and Hanoi makes its choice.
However, CNA’s source maintained, “China always dismissed a Vietnam solution.” For him, the situation in Vietnam is “completely different.”
Despite the initial difficulties like Hanoi’s delayed responses that left dioceses vacant for a long period, the Vietnam situation has worked out decently and there is a relationship of significant trust between the parties.

The Holy See has appointed a non-resident envoy to Hanoi, a first step toward the possible establishment of diplomatic ties.
The Chinese situation is even more complex, and also implies the necessity that the Chinese administration will recognize the 30 underground bishops.
According to Cardinal Tong, this problem is “not deadlocked.” In his view, the underground Church results from a special political and historic period when “there was no mutual trust between the Holy See and Beijing, and this indirectly led to a lack of trust between the government and the unofficial community bishops.”
However, the cardinal notes, “should there be an agreement between the Holy See and China that will imply considerable mutual trust between the parties. The bishops of the unofficial community would no longer be regarded as the opposition for insisting on religious principles.”

This means the government’s view of them would improve.
Cardinal Tong also underscored several times that the underground bishops in China are in fact “examples of patriotic citizens.”

He said the government attitude towards these unofficial communities has “changed a lot in recent years.” As mutual trust develops between Rome and Beijing, so too will stability and strength.
The talks for an agreement do not include the establishment of diplomatic ties. That will come later, according to CNA’s source knowledgeable of the Sino-Vatican dialogue.
At the moment, the Holy See’s nunciature to China is established in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. The country is seen by the People’s Republic of China as no more than a rebel province.
The Holy See relationship with Taiwan is one of the biggest hurdles to the establishment of any diplomatic tie with China.
In recent decades, the nunciature has no longer been headed by a nuncio, but by a lower ranked diplomat, a chargé d’affairs. Msgr. Paul Fitzpatrick Russell, the most recent chargé d’affairs, was appointed apostolic nuncio to Turkey in March 2016, thus leaving a vacancy in the post.
It was thought that the vacancy was intended to ease relations between the Holy See and mainland China. The post in fact did not stay vacant. The new chargé d’affairs is Msgr. Sladan Cosic. The nomination was not publicly announced, and this has also a meaning.
According to CNA’s Vatican source, the Holy See would be ready to drop its diplomatic presence in Taiwan, but this would not harm relations there. The Holy See could even strengthen its presence on the Taiwanese territory, with a more specific focus on pastoral concerns.


Vatican’s top legal aide says divorced-and-remarried may receive Communion

February 15, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Vatican City, Feb 14, 2017 / 05:20 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The head of the Vatican office charged with interpreting Church law has said that divorced-and-remarried persons who want to change their situation but cannot, may be admitted to Communion without living in continence.

“The Church could admit to Penance and to the Eucharist faithful who find themselves in an illegitimate union when two essential conditions occur: they want to change the situation, but they are unable to fulfill their desire,” Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, 78, wrote in his booklet Chapter Eight of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhoration Amoris laetitia, published last week.

Cardinal Coccopalmerio is president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts. His booklet, published by the Vatican Publishing House and presented Feb. 14 at a Vatican press confence, offers his own interpretation of Amoris laetitia. He said it is aimed at “grasping the rich doctrinal and pastoral message” of Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation.

Part of the reason for writing it, he said, is because the exhortation’s eighth chapter has “been judged with either negativity or with a certain reservation.”

In the text, Cardinal Coccopalmerio extensively quotes Amoris laetitia, saying Chapter 8 illustrates both the clear doctrine of the Church on marriage, as well as the conditions in which, due to “serious” repercussions, couples living in irregular unions might be able to receive Communion.

He reaffirmed the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, and stressed that the Church must in no way “renounce to proposing the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its greatness.”

“Any form of relativism, or an excessive respect in the moment of proposing it, would be a lack of fidelity to the Gospel and also a lack of love of the Church,” he said.

However, he noted that, as said in Amoris laetitia, there are many complex factors contributing to why marriages fail and irregular unions are so common, such as abandonment by a spouse, cultural stigmas, or other “mitigating factors.”

The cardinal pointed to paragraph 301 of Amoris laetitia, which reads: “it is can no longer simply be said that all those in any ‘irregular’ situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace.”

By referring to “any irregular situation,” the exhortation, in his opinion, “intends to refer to all those who are married only civilly or only living in a de facto union or are bound by a previous canonical marriage,” the cardinal said.

Further quoting that paragraph, the cardinal said, “a subject may know full well the rule, yet have great difficulty in understanding ‘its inherent values,’ or be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin … factors may exist which limit the ability to make a decision.”

Offering an example of a situation in which a person might be fully aware of the irregularity of their situation yet faces great difficulty in changing it for fear of falling into greater sin, Cardinal Coccopalmerio pointed to couples in a new union who can’t separate due to “serious reasons” such as the education of their children.

He also used the example of a woman cohabiting with a man and his three children, after they had been abandoned by his first wife.

In the book, the cardinal said the woman had saved the man “from a state of deep despair, probably from the temptation of suicide.” The couple had been together for 10 years, adding another child to the mix, with the woman making considerable sacrifices to help raise the other three.

While the woman in the hypothetical situation “is fully aware of being in an irregular situation” and would “honestly like to change her life, but evidently, she can’t,” the cardinal said, explaining that if she left, “the man would turn back to the previous situation and the children would be left without a mother.”

To leave, then, would mean the woman would fail to carry out her duties toward innocent people, namely, the children. Because of this, Cardinal Coccopalmerio said, “it’s then evident that she couldn’t leave without new sin” occurring.

Speaking on the point of continence, the cardinal pointed to St. John Paul II’s 1981 apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio.

In the document, St. John Paul II taught that the divorced-and-remarried who for serious reasons cannot satisfy the obligation to separate may receive absolution which would open the way to Communion only if they take on the duty to live in complete continence – to live as brother and sister.

However, for Cardinal Coccopalmerio, while the couples who are able to do this should, for others the temptation of infidelity increases the longer a couple refrains from sexual intimacy, potentially causing greater harm to the children.

He referred to footnote 329 of Amoris laetitia. The footnote is a reference to the quoting of St. John Paul II’s words in Familiaris consortio acknowledging that some of the divorced-and-remarried cannot, for serious reasons, separate. The footnote applies the words of Gaudium et spes that “where the intimacy of married life is broken off, its faithfulness can sometimes be imperiled and its quality of fruitfulness ruined” – in its context, speaking about married couples – to “the divorced who have entered a new union.”

Cardinal Coccopalmerio stressed that while for him the desire to change one’s situation despite the inability to do so is enough to receive Communion, the conditions must be “carefully and authoritatively discerned” on the part of ecclesial authority, which would typically be the couple’s parish priest, who knows the couple “more directly” and can therefore offer adequate guidance.

For the cardinal, the only instance in which a couple in an irregular situation could be barred from Communion is when, “knowing they are in grave sin and being able to change, they have no sincere desire” to do so.

He also suggested that a diocesan office charged with advising on difficult marital situations could be “necessary, or at least useful.”

Cardinal Coccopalmerio was absent from his book presentation, and it was presented instead by Orazio La Rocca; Fr. Maurizio Gronchi; Fr. Giuseppe Costa, SDB; and Alfonso Cuateruccio.

Cardinal Coccopalmerio is the latest prelate to speak out on the question of Amoris laetitia and admission to Communion for the divorced-and-remarried. The exhortation has been met with a varied reception and intepretation within the Church.

Several bishops, including the bishops’ conferences of Germany and of Malta, have said the divorced-and-remarried may receive Communion.

Yet many have maintained the Church’s traditional discipline, including recently Bishop Vitus Huonder of Chur and Bishop Stephen Lopes of the Ordinariate of St. Peter.

And Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has on multiple occasions maintained that Amoris laetitia is in continuity with Church teaching.

In an interview with Il Timone earlier this month, he said that Amoris laetitia “must clearly be interpreted in the light of the whole doctrine of the Church.” He said that St. John Paul II’s teaching in Familiaris consortio “is not dispensable, because it is not only a positive law of John Paul II, but he expressed an essential element of Christian moral theology and the theology of the sacraments.”

Confusion on this point, he said, stems from a failure to accept St. John Paul II’s 1993 encyclical Veritatis splendor.

Cardinal Müller suggested that in order to quell the confusion generated by the differing interpretations of Amoris laetitia, everyone ought to study the Church’s doctrine, beginning with Scripture, “which is very clear on marriage.”

“All of us must understand and accept the doctrine of Christ and of his Church, and at the same time be ready to help others to understand it and put it into practice even in difficult situations,” he stated.

Observing the difference between the statements of Cardinal Müller and Cardinal Coccopalmerio, Dr. Edward Peters, a professor of canon law at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, wrote that “the Church’s arguably two highest-ranking cardinals in the areas of canonical interpretation and the protection of doctrine and morals are in public, plain, and diametric opposition with each other concerning a crucial canonico-sacramental practice. This division cannot stand.”


New Sodalit report details severe sexual, psychological abuse

February 14, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Lima, Peru, Feb 14, 2017 / 03:13 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A two-part report made public on Tuesday detail sexual, physical and psychological abuses committed by members of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, both those who have left the community and those who remain in it.

In addition to the movement’s founder, Luis Fernando Figari, four other Sodalits were reported to have sexually abused minors. The report named the other offenders, none of whom are still part of the community.

Seven of the Sodalits “who were identified as having physically or psychologically abused” another member or a person in formation are still in the community and performing external ministry. They have had administrative actions taken against them and are receiving training. The report did not give their names.

The Sodalitium Christianae Vitae is a society of apostolic life which was founded in 1971 in Peru, and granted pontifical recognition in 1997. CNA’s executive director, Alejandro Bermúdez, and its global director of operations, Ryan Thomas, are both members of the community.

The first report released Tuesday detailed the acts of sexual, physical, and psychological abuse reported to have been committed by Figari, as well as reported sexual abuse by four former Sodalits. No current members of the Sodalitium except for Figari, who has been barred from community life and contact with other members, have been reported to have committed sexual abuse of minors.

The second report discussed other kinds of abuse perpetrated by Sodalits, the harm done, the community’s responses to the allegations, accountability measures and its ongoing work to prevent future abuse. It also described some of the causes of the abuse, the difficulties in reporting it, and the past and present culture of the Sodalitium.

“We again ask forgiveness from each person that has been hurt by a member or a former member of the Sodalitium,” said Superior General Alessandro Moroni Llabres upon the release of the report. “We are committed to a process of self-examination and of change.”

The reports were authored by Kathleen McChesney of Kinsale Management Consulting; Monica Applewhite of Confianza, LLC; and Ian Elliott of Ian Elliott Safeguarding.

“It is the professional opinion of the reviewers that the incidents of abuse described in this report occurred,” the text noted. “However, this opinion does not represent an investigatory conclusion, nor does it constitute the findings of a legal or canonical proceeding.”

Figari’s abuses

Figari, in addition to being the founder and long-time superior general of the Sodalits, was also spiritual director to many of the members. According to the report, he “used his leadership status to have authoritarian direction and control of most Sodalits,” and he was able “to abuse some young members and aspirants of the SCV community.”

“It is clear that Figari sexually abused at least one minor male, sexually abused or sexually manipulated several other young men, and physically or psychologically abused dozens of others, including those he sexually abused,” the report stated, adding that he knew of three other Sodalits who sexually abused minors.

In addition to sexual abuse, Figari sexually manipulated several young men – he used his authority to cause the victims to act in a sexual manner, but in a way that did not rise to the level of sexual abuse.

Figari’s sexual abuse and manipulation at times “occurred under the auspices of Figari’s providing spiritual advice to the victims,” the report said, and he sometimes told the victims the acts “were part of his mystical powers.”

It began as early as 1975, when Figari molested a 15 year old boy, who “was afraid to report his abuse to the SCV or civil authorities because Figari, as the founder of the SCV, was the most powerful person in the SCV community.”

Figari also committed physical abuse; he has been widely described as “appearing to enjoy observing the younger aspirants and brothers experience pain, discomfort and fear.” He reportedly burned an individual with a candle, and menaced members with his dog, allowing it to bite them at times.

As superior general until 2010, Figari was also responsible for the formation of Sodalits, which was extremely physically demanding. “Numerous witnesses described the formation program that Figari developed as being modeled after military training techniques depicted in movies that he regularly watched,” read the report.

Formatees were thus “subjected to continuous, strenuous, unnecessary and, often, unrealistic physical requirements,” such as swimming in cold ocean waters for several hours at a time, running long distances in inclement weather, and performing difficult exercises for extended periods of time.

Physical abuse was also used as a disciplinary measure: those in formation were made to sleep on stairways for many nights at a time, to stay awake all night in chapel, or were denied food or water.

Furthermore, Figari committed psychological abuse, the report said – while some Sodalits regarded him as kind and paternal, he was also “frequently described by both former and current Sodalits as narcissistic, paranoid, demeaning, vulgar, vindictive, manipulative, racist, sexist, elitist, and obsessed with sexual issues” and sexual orientation.

He was also described “as an arrogant man who treated many of the Sodalits as his servants.” His closest aids “typically worked 12-14 hours each day,” and if they “did not anticipate or respond quickly to his requests, or if they made even the smallest mistake, Figari would criticize and berate them in front of each other.”

In addition to Figari, four other (now former) Sodalits committed reported sexual abuse of minors: Germán Doig Klinge, Virgilio Levaggi Vega, Jeffrey Daniels Valderrama, and Daniel Murguía Ward. This occurred between 1975 and 2007. Three of these offenders, including Figari, also sexually abused adults. No conspiracy among the alleged abusers was found.

Other types of abuse

The second report discussed abuse by Sodalits which was not sexual abuse of minors, but which victimized Sodalits, members of the Sodalitium family, and young people who participated in youth groups associated with the community.

“Physical and psychological abuse of aspirants and Sodalits was more prevalent than sexual abuse,” the report noted, and it occurred most often during “aspirance” or formation.

One testimony included in the report described an older Sodalit holding a small knife to a younger member’s throat, and forcing him to eat bowls of salt and ketchup until he became physically ill. Several others recalled members being instructed to hit one another.

Not every member experienced abuse, but many of those who did have suffered continuing psychological and spiritual harm, and some have suffered financially after leaving the community, failing to find steady employment because “their superiors prevented them from receiving a professional education.” Some even lost their belief in God.

The majority of Sodalits “were, and are, pious and of good, moral character, and attracted by the Gospel and the positive aspects of the SCV’s culture,” the report said, and “it was not the SCV’s culture that caused the offenders to commit acts of abuse,” although some authorities in the organization permitted or encouraged these abuses.  

But while the organization’s original goals were admirable, it said, many members “reported a significant measure of the organization’s focus and energies shifted from these goals to increasing its power and influence in the Catholic Church.”

This resulted in practices which “overemphasized vocations, cultivating relationships with influential members of the Catholic hierarchy and influential members of the communities they served, and protection of the SCV’s reputation.”

“Many former Sodalits felt pressured to join or stay in the SCV, not because they had a true vocation but, rather, to increase the size of the SCV and to impress the Catholic hierarchy in South America and the Holy See.”

The report described a culture of secrecy where “new members were directed to distance themselves from their families,” as well as promises of “total obedience,” by which “some Sodalits felt pressured to obey their superiors in all matters, even when they were directed to treat their brothers in ways that were destructive to their physical or mental well-being.”

In 1998, Figari demanded that formation become more rigorous, and a new superior installed at this time is the subject of most reports of severe physical and psychological abuse. Formators continued to make “unnecessary physical demands and put psychological pressures on the students” until 2010, according to the report.

The report attributed the lack of training and formal requirements for formators to be at the root of much of the physical and psychological abuse, noting that the superiors and formators “were mostly young, inexperienced and immature.”

Victims – often young adults – were afraid to come forward, the report said, “especially because their offenders were in more senior, powerful positions, or were their spiritual directors.”

“Until 2016, there was no formal, confidential, neutral process for addressing allegations and when victims did report abuse, the SCV’s lack of policies and protocols in these matters resulted in inconsistent responses from the authorities.”

It noted that “a few subordinates are still fearful of complaining to SCV authorities, even confidentially” and that there is currently “no formal complaint or conflict resolution process within the SCV to manage grievances and disagreements.”

“Until such a process is in place, personnel management problems are likely to disrupt some of the work of the SCV,” the report said.

In total, sexual abuse or manipulation against adults was committed by seven Sodalits, the report said: 14 men and three women were sexually abused, and 14 men were sexually manipulated. These acts occurred between 1975 and 2009. Only two remain in community life: one has been removed from all external ministry, and one performs restricted ministry.

Another Sodalit who has demonstrated inappropriate behavior with adults and minors is not allowed to have external ministry, is prohibited from being alone or working with minors, and is being monitored by persons of authority.

Physical and psychological abuse by Sodalits occurred between 1971 and 2010, the report said. At least 18 Sodalits and aspirants have reported they were physically and/or psychologically abused by 11 Sodalits – though this figure “does not include one brother who was reported to have verbally harassed several persons. This brother has acknowledged his anger issues and is being assisted and closely monitored by SCV authorities.”

Two of those who committed physical or psychological abuse have left the Sodalitium. Of the nine who remain in the community, four were superiors or formators but have been removed from those position; two of the nine do not currently perform external ministry.

Sodalit authorities “have taken administrative actions against them that are appropriate to their offenses with the goal of preventing future abuse and ensuring that the men are held responsible for their abusive behavior. Each offender has been, or will be provided with, specific training regarding the conduct expected of a Sodalit.”

While this abuse largely occurred in the 1980s and ’90s, “there are a few current members who feel that some senior Sodalits still do not treat them with respect or have anger management problems,” the report said. The community’s superiors are addressing these matters.  

The Sodalitium’s response

Figari’s sexual abuse was first reported to another Sodalit authority in 2002, and other victims first submitted formal complaints to ecclesial or civil authorities in 2011. The victim who reported his abuse in 2002 did not want to provide a written testimony or begin a formal canonical process against Figari, according to the report.

The allegation made in May 2011 was made to Lima’s interdiocesan tribunal, which forwarded it to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. Two other allegations were forwarded to the congregation by September 2011.

The then-superior general of the Sodalits, Eduardo Regal Villa, heard of allegations and became concerned about Figari’s behavior and actions. Regal directed Figari to withdraw from public life, but “the other members of the community did not know of these measures and thought that Figari retired because of health issues.”

Regal visited Rome to meet with the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life in November 2011 and October 2012 to discuss the canonical case against Figari, and also pursued the issue with the archdiocese and tribunal of Lima.

Much of the Sodalits’ handling of the allegations of Figari’s sexual abuse has occurred under the leadership of Moroni, who was elected superior general in December 2012.

In 2015, an apostolic visitor was appointed to the community, and an ethics commission was created to investigate and offer proposals surrounding the accusations of abuse against Figari. The following year, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark was appointed the Vatican’s delegate to oversee ongoing reform of the Sodalits. Tobin had been secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life from August 2010 until Oct 2012.

In January the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae announced that 66 persons can be considered victims of abuse of mistreatment by members of the community, and that it has set aside more than $2.8 million in reparations and assistance for victims. Figari was also barred from contacting members of the community.

The report found that the Sodalitium had sometimes offered an “ineffective or non-existent response” to allegations, which allowed abuses to continue. The community lacked procedures for responding to allegations until 2016. Some Sodalits “would try to convince the victims that what they had experienced was not abuse, or they would accuse the victims of lying,” the report said, noting that some members believed the community’s response to be driven by a desire to protect its own reputation.

Moving forward

In 2016, a review team made 35 recommendations to promote a safer environment in the Sodalitium, all of which have been accepted by the community. Several have already been completed.

Ongoing recommendations including providing Sodalit authorities with training to respond to abuse allegations; better records and reports; screening of new members; reviewing the formation process; offering abuse awareness and prevention training; determining the role that leaders who failed to respond to reports of abuse have in the future of the congregation; enhancing communication and transparency; and allowing external reviews.

Recommendations whose implementation are pending are the establishment of a review board to evaluate abuse allegations; establishing a policy regarding social media, texting, and other communications with minors, aspirants, and formatees; establishing and publishing a code of conduct for members and consequences for misconduct; developing guidelines for suitability for ministry; designating an ombudsman to assist members in dealing with grievances; establishing a policy to communicate with various audiences regarding abuse reporting.

The Sodalits’ Superior Council has also accepted the review team’s 14 recommendations for current members who have harmed others in the past. Consistent with best practices and canonical guidelines, recommendations regarding specific individuals are confidential, the report said.

Turning to the future of the Sodalitium, the report said that most victims interviewed “hope to see the community fundamentally changed for the better and recognize that some constructive changes have taken place in the discernment and formation process,” though some would prefer to see the institution “suppressed or disbanded … they continue to distrust the community and seriously doubt that it has the ability to change.”

According to the report, the Sodalitium’s culture “has evolved in positive ways in the past decade,” and that the militaristic emphasis and that on impressing the hierarchy “are no longer evident” in its daily works. Discernment is now a more free process. Candidates are encouraged to finish college before entering formation, and “today’s formators and superiors treat the students with respect and dignity.”



French court allows dating website to continue promoting affairs

February 14, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Paris, France, Feb 14, 2017 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).-  

A complaint brought by a Catholic group against a dating site that promotes extramarital affairs was thrown out by a French court last week.


The suit was dismissed after a Paris court determined that the National Confederation of Catholic Family Associations could not file the complaint, since infidelity complaints can only be filed within a private marital relationship, and because an affair does not always constitute a civil violation, according to reports from the AP.


The website, Gleeden, advertises itself as “The first extramarital dating site made by women,” with a logo featuring a half-eaten apple referencing the sin of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. Launched in 2009, the website claims to be a world leader in coordinating extramarital affairs, with a million users in France and 2.4 million throughout the world.


Catholic Family Associations first filed a legal complaint against the site’s U.S. based publisher, Black Divine, in a Paris court in February 2015. The group said the advertisements for the site were crude and immoral and constituted a breach of an article in French civil code.


While adultery was decriminalized in France in 1975, article 212 of the French Civil Code states, “Married partners owe each other the duty of respect, fidelity, help and assistance.” Many family lawyers believed the suit would succeed for this reason.


Despite France’s secularism and typical laissez faire attitude towards sexual mores, Gleeden scandalized many with the release of its public advertisements in 2015, highlighting a cultural divide within the country. Several towns and bus companies opted to remove the advertisements after receiving numerous complaints.


“There are plenty of other websites out there which promote sexual contact between individuals, but what makes Gleeden different is that its very business model is based on marital infidelity,” Jean-Marie Andres, president of the Association of Catholic Families, told the BBC in 2015.


“It states quite openly that its purpose is to offer married women opportunities to have sex outside the marriage,” she said.


“But here in France, people and parliament are all in agreement that marriage is a public commitment. It’s in the law. What we are trying to do with our suit is show that the civil code – the law – has meaning.”


Gleeden argued in the case that it was merely facilitating affairs, and that the demand for them already existed.


A spokesperson for Catholic Family Associations told the AP that the group had not yet decided whether it would appeal the decision.