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An Irish virtual calendar for an authentic advent

November 28, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Armagh, Northern Ireland, Nov 28, 2017 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, Northern Ireland, and Primate of All Ireland, has launched a 2017 virtual Advent calendar, saying that the online prayers and reflections will help parishioner… […]

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Why priests can’t break the seal of confession, despite UK lawyers’ recommendation

November 27, 2017 CNA Daily News 2

London, England, Nov 27, 2017 / 04:50 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Lawyers in the United Kingdom have recommended that mandatory reporting laws apply to priests in the confessional, in order to curb incidents of child sexual abuse.

The recommendation came during an investigation of Benedictine abbeys and their associated schools, after numerous victims came forward alleging clergy at the schools had committed acts of child sexual abuse.

Richard Scorer, a representative with the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), said during a hearing that mandatory reporting laws should apply even to information bound by the seal of confession.  

“A mandatory reporting law would have changed their behaviour,” Scorer said, according to The Guardian. “At Downside Abbey, abuse was discovered but not reported, and abusers were left to free to abuse again and great harm was done to victims.”

“The Catholic Church purports to be a moral beacon for others around it yet these clerical sex abuse cases profoundly undermine it … Why has the temptation to cover up abuse been particularly acute in organisations forming part of the Roman Catholic church?”

David Enright, a lawyer representing numerous victims in the investigation, echoed Scorer’s sentiments.

“Matters revealed in confession, including child abuse, cannot be used in governance,” Enright told The Guardian. “One can’t think of a more serious obstacle embedded in the law of the Catholic church to achieving child protection.”

The seal of confession often arises during cases of the abuse of minors in the Church.

According to Church law, a priest is under the gravest obligation not to reveal the contents of a confession, or even whether a confession took place. He cannot do so even under threat of imprisonment or civil penalty, and can incur a latae sententiae excommunication if he breaks the seal of confession.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1467, explains the Church’s view on the seal of confession:

“Given the delicacy and greatness of this ministry and the respect due to persons, the Church declares that every priest who hears confessions is bound under very severe penalties to keep absolute secrecy regarding the sins that his penitents have confessed to him. He can make no use of knowledge that confession gives him about penitents’ lives.”

The Church has long taught that allowing violations of the seal of confession would discourage the confession of sins, and prevent penitents from seeking forgiveness and rectifying their lives.

According to the Code of Canon Law, “a confessor who directly violates the sacramental seal incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; one who does so only indirectly is to be punished according to the gravity of the delict.”

In 2016, the Supreme Court of Louisiana heard a similar case, in which a priest was asked to reveal the contents of a confession of a minor, which he was alleged to have heard. The court upheld the priest’s right to the seal of confession. Louisiana’s law makes an exemption for priests as mandatory reporters in cases of abuse of minors  if he “under the discipline or tenets of the church, denomination, or organization has a duty to keep such communication confidential.”

Earlier this year, the bishops of Australia indicated that they would resist the Royal Commission’s proposal to criminally punish priests who do not break the seal of confession in cases involving the abuse of minors. The proposal was made in response to a widespread clerical sex abuse scandal that broke in the country in recent years.

While the Catholic Church upholds the seal of confession, it also recognizes clerical abuse of minors as criminal and gravely sinful.

In recent years, the Vatican has expanded its efforts to protect children from sexual abuse. In 2001, the Church issued norms strengthening its approach to prosecuting crimes committed against children, requiring that allegations of abuse be forwarded to civil authorities and to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).  

In March 2012, Pope Benedict XVI issued guidelines to prevent abuse of minors and to involve the faithful in abuse prevention.

Pope Francis has continued these efforts during his pontificate, creating a special group within the CDF to hear the cases of high-ranking clerics charged with the most serious crimes. He has also begun to study the possibility of introducing to canon law the crime of “abuse of office” for bishops who fail to fulfill their responsibilities to prosecute sex abuse.

In addition to disciplinary measures against abusers, the Church has also worked at the highest level to reach out to victims and provide them with counseling and support.



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The original Image of Divine Mercy: It’s not where you might think

November 26, 2017 CNA Daily News 2

Vilnius, Lithuania, Nov 26, 2017 / 04:33 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Among Catholic devotions, the Divine Mercy message is well-known: the iconic image of Christ, with rays of red and white pouring from his heart; St. Faustina, called the “Apostle of Divine Mercy;” and the Basilica of Divine Mercy in Krakow, Poland.

But what you might not know is that more than 450 miles north of Krakow, in the small town of Vilnius in Lithuania, there is another Sanctuary of Divine Mercy, one which houses the first image of the merciful Jesus created, and the only Image of Divine Mercy St. Faustina herself ever saw.

Archbishop Gintaras Grusas of Vilnius told CNA that the capital of Lithuania, often called the “City of Mercy,” is not only “a place of the Divine Mercy revelations, but also a place that is in need of mercy, throughout history, and a place that in the last couple decades has been a place where we need to show mercy.”

Since long before St. Faustina and the Divine Mercy revelations, the Mother of Mercy has been the patroness of Vilnius, Grusas said.

In fact, in the 1600s, a painting of Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn was created and placed in a niche above one of the prominent city gates. Many miracles are attributed to the image, which was canonically crowned Mother of Mercy by Pope Pius XI in 1927.

It was in this small chapel of the Mother of Mercy, above the gate, that the Image of Divine Mercy was first displayed. So Vilnius has had “mercy upon mercy,” Grusas noted.

The story of St. Faustina and Divine Mercy

St. Faustina Kowalska was a young Polish nun born at the beginning of the 20th century. Over the course of several years she had visions of Jesus, whereby she was directed to create an image and to share with the world revelations of Jesus’ love and mercy.

St. Faustina received her first revelation of the merciful Jesus in Plock, Poland in February 1931. At the time, she had made her first vows as one of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy.

In 1933, after she made her perpetual vows, her superior directed her to move to the convent house in Vilnius. She stayed there for three years and this is where she received many more visions of Jesus. Vilnius is also where she found a priest to be her spiritual director, the now-Bl. Michael Sopocko.

With the help of Fr. Sopocko, St. Faustina found a painter to fulfill the request Jesus had made to her in one of the visions – to “paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature: Jesus, I trust in You” – and in 1934 the painter Eugene Kazimierowski created the original Divine Mercy painting under St. Faustina’s direction.

In its creation, St. Faustina “was instrumental in making all the adjustments with the painter,” Archbishop Grusas said.

The image shows Christ with his right hand raised as if giving a blessing, and the left touching his chest. Two rays, one pale, one red – which Jesus said are to signify water and blood – are descending from his heart.

St. Faustina recorded all of her visions and conversations with Jesus in her diary, called Divine Mercy in My Soul. Here she wrote the words of Jesus about the graces that would pour out on anyone who prayed before the image:

“I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish. I also promise victory over [its] enemies already here on earth, especially at the hour of death. I Myself will defend [that soul] as My own glory.”

When the image was completed, it was first kept in the corridor of the convent of the Bernardine Sisters, which was beside the Church of St. Michael where Fr. Sopocko was rector.

In March 1936 St. Faustina became sick, with what is believed to have been tuberculosis, and was transferred back to Poland by her superiors. She died near Krakow in October 1938, at the age of 33.

“St. Faustina, because of her illness, was brought back to Krakow by her superiors. But she left the painting in Vilnius because it was the property of her spiritual director, who paid for the painting,” Grusas explained.

Jesus, in one of St. Faustina’s visions, had expressed his wish that the image be put in a place of honor, above the main altar of the church. And so, though St. Faustina had already returned to Poland, on the first Sunday after Easter in 1937, they hung the image of Merciful Jesus next to the main altar in the Church of St. Michael.

The history of the image

Archbishop Grusas explained that many people have only recently learned about the image because it was hidden for many years, and it was only rediscovered and restored within the last 15 years.

During World War II, Lithuania was under Soviet occupation and in 1948, the communist government closed the Church of St. Michael and abolished the convent. Many of the sacred objects and artworks were moved to another church to be saved from Soviet hands, but the Divine Mercy image was left undisturbed in St. Michael’s for several years.

In 1951, two women were able to pay the keeper of St. Michael’s church and save the image. Since it couldn’t be taken across the border to Poland, they gave it to the priest in charge of the Church of the Holy Spirit for safekeeping.

Five years later it was moved to a church in Belarus, where it remained for over a decade. In 1970 this church too was shut down by the government and looted, but miraculously, again the Image of Divine Mercy was untouched.

Eventually it was brought back to Lithuania in secret and again given to the Church of the Holy Spirit. In the early 2000s its significance was rediscovered and after a professional restoration it was rehung in the nearby Church of the Holy Trinity in 2005, which is now the Shrine of Divine Mercy.

So though it is a more recent arrival on the international scene, the painting “is also probably the most profound of the Divine Mercy paintings,” Grusas said. “It has a very deep theology, very closely tied with St. Faustina’s diary.”

The Shrine of Divine Mercy

Today in Vilnius the archdiocese has begun to set up a guide for pilgrims who come and wish to visit the holy sites, such as the place where St. Faustina lived, the room where the image was painted, and the several churches which all held the painting at different points.

The Shrine of Divine Mercy itself is not a large place, since it’s only a converted parish church, but its sacramental life “is really quite something,” said Justin Gough, an American seminarian studying in Rome who spent a summer working in the Archdiocese’s pilgrim office in Vilnius.

He said that “between Mass, the Divine Mercy chaplet every day in Lithuanian and Polish, adoration 24/7… vespers every Sunday night led by the youth of Vilnius,” the rosary and the sacrament of Confession, there is always some sort of prayer or sacrament taking place.

Of course the original Image of Divine Mercy is also there, he pointed out, and yet the shrine is not just about the image, but about connecting the image and what it represents to prayer and the reception of God’s mercy through the sacraments.

“I think it’s ironic in a certain sense that God teaches us about his mercy through a holy woman who died at the age of 33,” he said. “She lived a very devout life, endured great sufferings for the sake of Christ, and yet it’s through people like her that we’re taught, great sinners that we are, how to actually receive God’s mercy and to be merciful to others.”

In Vilnius, it’s a great blessing “to know a saint of the 20th century walked here, prayed here, and experienced Christ here, and that we can do that as well.”



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‘The good Lord has guided me well’: 113-year-old nun reflects on blessings

November 20, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Marseille, France, Nov 21, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- At age 113, Sister André is one of the oldest religious sisters in the world.

According to French newspaper Le Parisien, Sister André is the oldest person in France. She told the newspaper that this “very much surprised me because I never even thought about it.”

Sister André, who is blind, currently resides in the Sainte-Catherine-Labouré retirement home for religious in Toulon, a city in southeast France near the Mediterranean.

She was born Lucille Randon on Feb. 11, 1904 in the town of Alès , about 140 miles northwest of Toulon.

The nun told the French daily La Croix that she grew up in a poor Protestant family. Her paternal grandfather was “a pastor, very strict. The services lasted forever and you had to follow the entire sermon without budging or falling asleep! So my parents no longer practiced their religion. But that troubled me.”

When she was 27, she converted to Catholicism. “I gradually progressed, following my Catholic faith,” she said.

During her youth, she worked as a teacher and governess for various families including the Peugeots, who founded and owned the French car manufacturer.

At age 40, she joined the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul and took the name André in honor of her brother André, whom she said was like a parent to her.

After World War II began, the nun started working in a hospital in the town of Vichy in central France, taking care of the elderly and children.

“Some of them were orphans, some placed there by their parents because they were no longer able to feed them,” she recalled.

Sister André cared for children in that hospital for nearly 30 years, and said that “some of them have looked me up and still come to see me.”

In 2009, the nun moved into the Sainte-Catherine-Labouré retirement home in Toulon.

“I am really fortunate to be here, because I’m very well cared for here,” she said. “That’s very reassuring at my age.”

“When my brothers died when I was 70, I thought that it would be my turn soon,” she said. But several decades later, she is still alive, and grateful for all the blessings God has continued to send her.

Sister André told La Croix that she worked until she was 104 years old. What she misses now is that she can no longer “read, write, draw, embroider and knit.” However, she said that she still enjoys seeing the blue sky when the weather is nice.

“The good Lord has guided me well,” she reflected.


This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.


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Legion of Christ responds to ‘Paradise Papers’ claims of offshore accounts

November 18, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Rome, Italy, Nov 18, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Reports about the Legion of Christ’s offshore accounts date to the time of its disgraced founder and do not apply to the religious institute today, a spokesman has said.

“Today the Legion of Christ does not own offshore companies nor does it own resources in offshore companies,” Legionaries of Christ spokesman Father Aaron Smith told Vatican Insider.

“The companies, in Bermuda, Panama, Jersey and Virgin Islands, to which the articles refer, were created at the time when Father Marcial Maciel was general manager and then were closed,” he said.

According to Smith, the offshore companies were managed “in compliance with the law and were not shell companies used for illegal activities.”

Vatican analyst Andrea Tornielli, writing at Vatican Insider, summarized several reports on the topic

These reports drew on the Paradise Papers, a collection of 13.4 million documents on various entities’ offshore finances that were reputedly obtained in a computer hack of the offshore law firm Appleby. The collection covers six decades, through the year 2014.

The documents were leaked to a German newspaper and shared with a network of journalists, including the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The documents began to be released Nov. 5.

Based on these documents, the Italian television program Report and the weekly magazine L’Espresso had reported that the International Volunteer Services company had been set up in Bermuda to protect the millions in revenues from the Legion’s education institutes. The alleged $300 million in revenues were said to come from the fees of more than 160,000 students around the world.

The first offshore company created, The Society for Better Education, was reportedly founded in July 1992. L’Espresso claimed the money was “secretly moved abroad and managed by Father Maciel personally, who rigidly controlled his collaborators.” The offshore network’s Rome address was the headquarters of the Legion in Italy.

L’Espresso had said that the Caserta Children’s Village would have suffered a $33 million loss through money going abroad.

Smith, however, said it was false to claim that over $300 million had been channeled annually through the International Volunteer Services company.

His comments contradicted L’Espresso’s claim that the Legion’s offshore network had not been fully closed. It had claimed that some companies that opened in the 1980s in Panama are still registered, as are some in the British crown dependency of Jersey off the coast of France.

Smith cited a 2014 statement from the Commission for the Study and Review of the Economic Situation of the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ which said there was “no misappropriation of money or other irregularities in the annual audit.”

Legionaries-backed activities today “have societies that allow them to operate in compliance with the laws in force in those countries where they carry out their pastoral mission,” Smith said.

The educational institutions “have no relations” with offshore companies and work “transparently,” are audited, and “comply with the legal and tax provisions of the respective countries,” Smith said.

He denied any links between the Caserta Children’s Village and offshore companies.

The Legion of Christ was long the subject of critical reports and rumors before it was rocked by Vatican acknowledgment that its charismatic founder, Fr. Maciel, lived a double life, sexually abused seminarians, and fathered children.

In 2006 the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, with the approval of Benedict XVI, removed Maciel from public ministry and ordered him to spend the rest of his life in prayer and penance. The Vatican congregation decided not to subject him to a canonical process because of his advanced age.
From that point, Pope Benedict carried on a process of reform for the Legion of Christ, a process continued under Pope Francis.

As of 2016, the institute had 963 priests, 1,650 male religious, and 121 parishes. Its associated lay movement is Regnum Christi.


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The story of an underground Catholic priest in China

November 16, 2017 CNA Daily News 3

Madrid, Spain, Nov 17, 2017 / 12:15 am (ACI Prensa).- Fr. Joseph of Jesus is a Chinese priest, faithful to the Catholic Church. Life is not easy for Catholics in China. Those who adhere to Rome are persecuted by the Chinese government, which only grants freedom of worship to those belonging to the state-controlled Patriotic Church.

Fr. Joseph recently shared his story on the “In the Footsteps of the Nazarene” program by the EUK Mamie Foundation, run by the Home of the Mother of Youth congregation of religious sisters.

His back faces the camera in the interview, and the precise details of his life in China, as well as his precise location – he is currently in Europe – are withheld for security reasons.

Fr. Joseph described what it was like growing up in a Catholic family in China. He is the third of five children, despite the rigid one-child policy instituted by the Chinese government.

“From time to time when the police would come into town, my parents had to go into hiding, away from us,” he said. “My older brother took care of us, we also had to hide everything we had in the house, because if the government discovered there was more than one child, they could take everything away from us.”

“Because they had more than one child, some Catholic parents had their houses destroyed and they were left with nothing,” the priest said.

“It was a test of faith, because as a child you don’t understand why it is that because you’re Catholic you have to live on less food and be separated from your parents,” he said.

However, he still persevered in his faith. His brother is also a Catholic priest.

The Catholic faith was maintained through “the domestic Church,” with families praying Lauds or Vespers secretly, and especially the Rosary.

“The Rosary is what gave us the strength for years because we didn’t have the sacraments or priests; but the faithful prayed every day at least one Rosary in the early morning and another one at night,” and at the end they said a “prayer to Our Lady of Fatima who gave us the strength to live as true Christians,” he recounted.

At age 15, Fr. Joseph felt that he was being called to the priesthood.

“I was thinking that in China there are a lot of people who don’t know Christ and the Catholic Church because we Christians are a minority,” he said. “So I thought that when I finished my studies I would go to the seminary and become a priest. That moment changed my life because I saw what the Lord wanted for me.”

He was inspired in his decision by the local pastor in the area, a dedicated priest responsible for 60 villages, who would celebrate Mass in the five largest villages, traveling from one to the next by bicycle.

“He’s an example of faithfulness to Christ and the Church because he didn’t want to be part of the official Chinese church and consequently he had to spend some time in prison or under house arrest,” Fr. Joseph said.

However, the priest accepted the sufferings that came to him, Fr. Joseph said, adding that at more than 80 years of age, that priest still wakes up at 3:30 every morning to pray and celebrate Mass.

“His exemplary life was decisive for me in finding my vocation. He is a priest for everyone, with such exemplary dedication.”

For more than 60 years, Catholics have faced persecution in China. The government-endorsed church, known as the “Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association” is loyal to Chinese communist authorities, who claim the right to decide whom to appoint as bishops, an authority that the Catholic Church reserves to the Pope.

Catholics who choose to remain loyal to Rome, particularly to the Pope’s juridical authority to appoint bishops autonomously, make up the “underground Church,” with its own bishops, priests, and lay faithful.

“There are…30 bishops of the underground Church who are not recognized by the state and so they cannot freely exercise their ministry,” Fr. Joseph said. “They are under house arrest and under surveillance, there are people who monitor their visits, whom they meet and their topics of conversation. Priestly ordinations are done in secret with no else knowing about it.”

Being part of the Catholic Patriotic Association would make life easier – with public Masses, a regular schedule, and the right to worship freely. But Fr. Joseph chooses to remain loyal to Rome despite the hardships.

“Fundamentally it’s not the same because the Church is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic,” he said. “The Patriotic Church is independent from Rome and I can’t accept that, because of my faith.”

Challenges abound, but the life of underground Christians in China is a witness of faith, Fr. Joseph said.

He asked for prayers that Chinese Christians may remain faithful, because “they teach us that the faith is much more precious than life, and that in living the faith we encounter Christ. We have to bear witness to those around us so those who don’t know the faith can find it.”


This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.