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Gregorian University to ‘review’ bishop’s allegedly plagiarized dissertation

January 17, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Vatican City, Jan 17, 2020 / 11:11 am (CNA).- The Pontifical Gregorian University said Friday it will review the doctoral dissertation of Scotland’s Bishop Stephen Robson, which is alleged to contain several acts of plagiarism.

The institution’s “academic authorities have decided to proceed to a careful review of the dissertation in question, in accordance with what is established in the University’s Ethical Norms,” the university said in a Jan. 17 statement provided to CNA.

“The Pontifical Gregorian University considers plagiarism a very serious infringement of university ethics since the ‘attribution to itself of the intellectual property of the text or content of a work of others, in any part of it, is a lack of justice and truth,’” the statement added, quoting from the university’s plagiarism policy.

“A charge of plagiarism involving a doctoral dissertation necessarily implies special attention by the University,” the statement added.

The Gregorian’s announcement came days after Bishop Stephen Robson of Dunkeld told CNA that he never intentionally committed any act of plagiarism, but did not explain evidence that his 2003 dissertation contained verbatim, or nearly verbatim excerpts from published scholarship, without attribution.

“I can categorically state that there was absolutely never any intention to plagiarise any work,” Robson told CNA Jan. 14th.

Robson also told CNA that he would accept the judgment of his alma mater regarding his dissertation.

“I am happy for the Gregorian to nullify my text if they think fit,” the bishop said.

Robson completed his dissertation, “With the Spirit and Power of Elijah (Lk 1,17). The Prophetic-Reforming Spirituality of Bernard of Clairvaux as Evidenced Particularly in his Letters,” at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University in 2003.

The text was awarded the university’s 2004 Premio Bellarmino, the annual prize given to the best dissertation completed at the university.

A 2019 article in the scholarly journal Analecta Cisterciensia first alleged that Robson’s dissertation contained plagiarism. The article was written by the journal’s editor, Fr. Alkuin Schachenmayr, a Cistercian priest living in an Austrian monastery.

Schachenmayr wrote that “there seem to be dozens of passages in Robson’s dissertation which are apparently identical or remarkably similar to texts published by other scholars, yet the author does not attribute these sources.”

The article cited several passages in Robson’s dissertation that were identical or nearly identical to already published scholarship. Those passages give no indication of their source material.

Among the scholars from whom Robson apparently copied are Bruno Scott James, Jean Leclercq, Friedrich Kempf, and Robert Bartlett, according to Schachenmayr.

Some of those scholars were mentioned as sources in his dissertation, even while particular verbatim passages from them were reproduced without citation. In other cases, identical or nearly identical passages from published scholars who were never referenced as sources at all were included in the dissertation, Schachenmayr showed.

Regarding the prize given to Robson by the university, Schachenmayr wrote: “One must ask whether the jury responsible for awards of excellence at the Gregorian succeeded in identifying one of the institution’s best dissertations of 2003.”  

The Gregorian University told CNA it learned of the plagiarism charge against Robson Jan. 16, after the publication of a CNA article on the subject. It did not give indication of how long its planned review will take.

In addition to a doctorate in theology, Robson also earned a licentiate in canon law from the university.

The Pontifical Gregorian University, founded in 1551 by St. Ignatius of Loyola, is a Jesuit university, and offers degrees in theology, canon law, philosophy, Church history, among other subjects.

Robson was named a bishop in 2012 and was installed as Bishop of Dunkeld in 2014.

Hannah Brockhaus contributed to this report.

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‘No international right to abortion’ says HHS Secretary

January 17, 2020 CNA Daily News 1

Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2020 / 10:30 am (CNA).- There is no international right to abortion, the U.S. health secretary told officials from more than 30 countries on Thursday in Washington, D.C.

“I stated this fact at the United Nations this past September, and I’ll repeat it here: there is no international human right to abortion. On the other hand, there is an international human right to life,” Alex Azar, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, stated in remarks first reported by the Washington Times.

Azar addressed representatives from more than 30 other countries at the Blair House in Washington, D.C. on Thursday. Other U.S. and international officials addressed the audience, including Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, Hungary’s Minister of State for Family and Youth Affairs Katalin Novák, and the Deputy Chief of Mission Minister-Counselor Fernando Pimentel of Brazil.

Novak noted Azar’s remarks on abortion, on Twitter, and also said that Azar was the guest of the Hungarian Embassy to the U.S. on Wednesday, where he thanked Hungary and Poland for their cooperation on life and family issues.

In September, Azar also said “there is no international right to an abortion” at a meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

Azar read a joint statement of the U.S. and 18 other countries before a high-level meeting on universal health coverage, where he said that “ambiguous terms,” including “sexual and reproductive health and rights,” should be opposed in UN documents as they can be interpreted to undermine the family and push for abortion.

On Thursday, Azar encouraged the countries present to collaborate with the U.S. in fighting against abortion at upcoming international meetings including the World Health Organization’s board meeting in Geneva, the meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women at the UN headquarters in New York, the World Health Assembly in Geneva, and the UN General Assembly in New York.

“Thank you for taking a courageous stand with us for the unborn. Thank you for standing up for the idea that every life has value. And thank you for making clear that national sovereignty is not a vague or old fashioned concept, but the most important duty for each of us as leaders in our respective governments,” Azar said.

The venue for Thursday’s gathering, the Blair House, has a history of diplomacy, Azar said, as it hosted discussions between President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1941, at the outset of World War II, to produce the Atlantic Charter.

“The Atlantic Charter highlighted the need for greater cooperation and collaboration, and emphasized that each nation has a sovereign right to self-determination,” Azar said. “These same principles came to undergird the work of the institutions that play a role in our modern world, including the United Nations and affiliated agencies like the World Health Organization.”

“These organizations were founded to protect human rights, defend the vulnerable, and give voices to all nations,” he said. “So it is fitting that we are gathered here, in this historic diplomatic setting, to take the next steps in our work to make these organizations live up to their founding ideals.

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Vatican picks Hong Kong bishop, delays announcement

January 17, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Hong Kong, China, Jan 17, 2020 / 07:06 am (CNA).- The Holy See has delayed announcing its pick for the next bishop of Hong Kong, CNA has learned, amid concerns that local clergy and lay Catholics will see Rev. Peter Choy Wai-man as too sympathetic to the Chinese Communist government.

The Diocese of Hong Kong has been without permanent leadership since January 2019, when Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung died unexpectedly. Since Yeung died, the diocese has been led temporarily by Cardinal John Tong Hon, Yeung’s predecessor, who retired from the post in 2017.

Senior Church officials in Rome, Hong Kong, and mainland China have independently confirmed to CNA that a decision to appoint Fr. Choy as Hong Kong’s next bishop has received final approval in Rome. Choy is presently one of four vicars general in the Hong Kong diocese. CNA requested comment from Choy on his appointment, but no answer was received by time of posting.

Choy’s appointment has not been announced because his elevation could be perceived as a rebuke of the ongoing political protests on the island province, several Vatican and Hong Kong diocesan officials have told CNA.

Sources in Hong Kong and Rome have told CNA that Cardinal Tong himself has advised against announcing Choy’s appointment.

“The situation [in China and Hong Kong] is very delicate and no one wants to make things more difficult. It will be announced [when it can be] and that’s all there is,” a senior curial source in Rome told CNA about the appointment. CNA requested comment from Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Holy See Secretary of State, on the decision to appoint Fr. Choy, and the decision to delay public announcement, but no response was received by time of posting.

For much of 2019, Hong Kong has seen wide-scale protests against the Chinese and local governments. The demonstrations began after Communist-backed authorities attempted to impose a new law on the province, allowing for extradition to the mainland. That proposed law has since been abandoned, but the protests continue.

Choy is known to be close to Cardinal Tong, and is said to have a good working relationship with Chinese government authorities, both on the island and on the mainland. He was reported to have attended a meeting with the cardinal and Carrie Lamb, Hong Kong’s chief executive, during the height of the protests.

Fr. Choy was born in Hong Kong in 1959, and ordained a priest in 1986. Since Oct. 2017, he has served as one of four vicars general of the Diocese of Hong Kong, appointed with responsibility for the bishop’s office, the ongoing formation for both clergy and laity, and leading ecumenical and interreligious dialogue for the diocese. Choy also serves as the dean of Hong Kong’s seminary.

Choy was widely rumored to have been a leading candidate to head the diocese at the time of Bishop Yeung’s death. Several priests on the island told CNA that it seemed Yeung was preparing Choy for leadership before he died.  

“Fr. Peter was considered the inside candidate from the beginning,” a senior Hong Kong priest who was close to Bishop Yeung told CNA, who requested anonymity, citing concerns about ecclesiastical and government authorities. 

“He was a great friend of Bishop Michael [Yeung], and there’s no doubt he would have wanted him as his successor.”

“For some reason, his name was held up because of some vague accusations. They could never prove if they are true, or if this is just the way diocesan priests eat up other diocesan priests here.”

Concerns both on the island and in Rome about how Choy’s appointment could be received relate to his perceived closeness to the government, and his distance from the pro-democracy movement, which has sizeable lay Catholic involvement. 

Among Hong Kong Catholics, there have also been rumors about Choy’s private suitability for leadership.

“There’s a concern about a lack of gravitas,” a priest close to the Hong Kong chancery told CNA, saying that many would worry Choy would be unable to stand up for the Church locally.

Another senior local cleric offered a more unsparing assessment of Choy’s reputation in Hong Kong, describing him as a “pro-Beijing hawk,” and a “sworn enemy of [Cardinal] Zen.”

“His elevation is just further proof of how the Holy See is selling the faithful down the Yangtze, or in this case Pearl River,” the senior cleric told CNA.

Both predicted that the appointment would trigger an outspoken denunciation from Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, Tong’s predecessor as Bishop of Hong Kong, and an outspoken critic of the 2018 Vatican-China deal.

“When the announcement is finally made, [Cardinal Zen] will go crazy,” one told CNA. “One of the things he’s been fighting against is an appointment that could be seen as an appeasement [of the government], and that’s how this will be translated.”

Sharp divisions among the local clergy and faithful are heavily influenced by the political situation, especially following the attempted crackdown by the mainland government, and after the 2018 Vatican-China deal, which reportedly gave Communist authorities the right to propose and approve new episcopal appointments.

The other front-running candidate for the vacant Diocese of Hong Kong had been the current auxiliary bishop of the diocese, Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing, who is publicly associated with the protestors on the island, and has appeared at protests and demonstrations.

CNA was told by senior clerics in the diocese that before his death, Yeung had intended to ask that Choy he appointed as a second auxiliary bishop, to balance Ha’s more antagonistic posture to the mainland government.

“Bishop Yeung wanted to have two auxiliaries,” one Hong Kong chancery official explained to CNA. “They would have been like a ying-yang: one very tall and forceful [Ha], the other rather meek and withdrawn [Choy], but they were both very close friends of the bishop [Yeung].”

The same source explained that similar concerns, and factionalism among diocesan clergy, led Yeung to appoint four vicars general to serve at the same time – an unusual move.

“Yeung had these four vicars general instead of one, they each brought something different to the table and it was to appease all the different factions among the clergy. The clergy here are very divided on many different things: age, friendships from seminary, and on politics,” the priest said.

There are more than 300 priests in Hong Kong, most of them members of religious orders. They serve a diocese of more than 600,000 Catholics.

A senior source close to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in Rome told CNA that Bishop Ha was the Vatican’s first choice to succeed Yeung, and that Pope Francis had formally approved his appointment, only to have to reverse the decision before it was announced.

The Congregation for the Evangelization of People is responsible for recommending episcopal appointments in China, together with the Secretariat of State. 

“Months ago, Bishop Ha was already nominated – his name had gone into audience [with Pope Francis] and come out with approval. It wasn’t yet published when he was in the front lines of a major demonstration and [Cardinal Fernando] Filoni [then prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples] had to reverse the decision,” the Vatican official told CNA.

“What happened was that this would have flown in the face of the whole political attempt to stabilize the place of the Church in China. There was no option but to reverse the decision.”

While, for now, the announcement of Choy’s appointment is considered to be delayed, the Vatican could still reverse course if political circumstances don’t change, as it has once already for the same position.

“Yeung was always a pragmatist, he was a halfway point between [his predecessors] Zen and Tong: Tong, we used to say, thought nothing was wrong with the mainland, Zen thought nothing was right with the mainland,” a senior priest on the island told CNA.

“[Fr.] Peter will, I should probably still say ‘would,’ be more in the Tong line and Ha with Zen, but in the current climate you are bound to get one or the other.”

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Protesters interrupt installation Mass of new Chilean archbishop

January 16, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Santiago, Chile, Jan 16, 2020 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- During the Jan. 11 installation Mass of Celestino Aós as the new archbishop of Santiago, Chile, a small number of protesters opened backpacks near the front of the church and dumped tear gas canisters on the floor.

An Instagram post by portadasoñada, which describes itself as “an independent and self-managed media outlet” included a video of the incident, which it said was intended to “denounce in the face the highest Catholic authority in the country for his silence and complicity with the government.”

The United Nations has warned of evidence of numerous human rights violations committed by police and military personnel in Chile since October. These include excessive and unnecessary use of force, sometimes resulting in injury or death, as well as torture, rape, and arbitrary detention.

Demonstrations against the government began in mid-October in Santiago over a now-suspended increase in subway fares. Other regions joined in the protests, expanding their grievances to inequality and the cost of healthcare.

Several churches across Chile have been attacked, looted and even burned amid anti-government protests in the country.

The La Tercera newspaper in Chile reported that the rector of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, Ignacio Sánchez, was present at the installation Mass of Archbishop Aós.

“I saw a person spill out some jars on the ground that looked like they were tear gas canisters,” Sánchez said, adding, “it is lamentable that people don’t know that the freedom we have inside the church requires respect, requires basic, decent and ethical behavior.”

On Jan. 12, Kairos News published a letter from the coordinating committee of the Peace through Justice lay group in Valparaiso to their counterpart in Santiago which referenced the canister incident and citied the prophet Jeremiah, making a “fraternal appeal” to the bishops to speak up on “the grave violations of human rights occurring in our country.”

The bishops have, on several occasions, called on the security forces to respect human rights. In an Oct. 24, 2019 statement, shortly after the initial violence broke out, they stated, “United in the sorrow of the relatives of those who have lost their lives and of so many who have been injured, we call on all the people who are demonstrating and the competent agencies and authorities to ensure respect for fundamental rights and proper treatment of those detained.”

In a Nov. 8 statement, Aós – who was then serving as apostolic administrator of Santiago – said, “Let us not try to justify any violence, violence is always bad, it leads to more violence.” He also called for a new “Social Pact” and for structural, personal and constitutional changes to help remedy the crisis.

In his Jan. 11 homily, Archbishop Aós said that “we’re going through days of agitation, division and attacks,” and warned that “division, injustice, lies, and violence are contrary to our Christian condition, our baptismal commitment.”

 “No Christian can remain an onlooker. Much less a censor or a condemner; we all must ask ourselves, what is the will of God for me? Or the more familiar phrase, what would Christ do in my place?” he said.

 

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Assisted suicide foes ask Manx parliament not to legalize ‘despair’

January 16, 2020 CNA Daily News 1

Douglas, Isle of Man, Jan 16, 2020 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- A proposal to survey lawmakers’ support to legalize assisted suicide on the Isle of Man drew criticism from disability groups and other foes of the practice, who say it promotes “despair” rather than support for the vulnerable.

 
“There is no safe system of assisted suicide and disabled people want help to live, not to die,” said the disabled persons’ advocacy group Not Dead Yet UK. The group asked residents of the Isle of Man to write their legislators to voice their concern and to call for opposition to the motion set for a Jan. 21 vote.
 
The group said it is “very concerned” by the proposed motion to determine whether the parliament, known as the Tynwald, is “of the opinion that legislation to allow for voluntary assisted dying should be introduced.”
 
The Isle of Man, a self-governing crown dependency located between England and Northern Ireland, has about 84,000 people.
 
Efforts to legalize assisted suicide have repeatedly failed to pass the legislature on the Isle of Man. The last vote, held in 2015, failed by 17-5. 
 
Proponents of legalizing assisted suicide phrase it in terms of “assisted dying” or “aid in dying.”
 
One proponent, a Member of the House of Keys, the lower house of the Manx parliament, has proposed a motion to introduce legislation to legalize the practice. Dr. Alex Allinson said that if the initial reception of his motion is favorable he would introduce a private member’s bill and carry out a “full, public consultation,” the Manx news site IOM Today reports.
 
While a private member’s bill would not have support from any political party, he claimed to have the support of several backbencher legislators.
 
Allinson took a similar route when he sponsored the Abortion Reform Bill 2018, which resulted in one of the most permissive abortion laws in the British isles.
 
While the disability advocates of Not Dead Yet UK denied assisted suicide is ever safe, Allinson cited changes in the Australian states of Victoria and Western Australia, which in his view allowed assisted suicide with “protections against coercion.”
 
“An assessment of capacity is key to most medical procedures and policies and will need to be built into the consent process but there are clear examples around the world where this has been managed successfully,” he said.
 
While there have been previous reports and committee inquiries into assisted suicide on the isle, Allinson said there had been “a change in public attitudes towards supporting assisted dying,” BBC News reports.
 
“Such a debate is just the start of a potentially lengthy journey to achieve a change in our law,” he said.
 
“We know that people with terminal illness are taking their own lives on our island rather than suffer untreatable pain and anguish,” said Allinson. “This debate is not about the right to die, rather the right for those whose death is imminent to take control of how and where they die and to be able to plan with their families and loved ones to leave them with dignity at a time of their choice.”
 
The U.K. coalition Care Not Killing noted that the motion in favor of assisted suicide is listed below a Tynwald agenda item to receive a committee report on suicide and to approve 13 recommendations for suicide prevention and for psychological support of people experiencing “moderate to severe emotional reactions to illnesses.”
 
“These should serve as reminders that no group should be excluded from efforts to prevent suicide, including those influenced by serious illness,” the coalition said Jan. 13. Any proposal to legalize assisted suicide, it warned, tries to separate “those suicides which should be discouraged, and those which should be brought to fruition.”
 
“Members of Tynwald Court should focus on suicide prevention for all, and access to high quality palliative and social care for all, rather than settling for assisted suicide’s counsel of despair,” said Care Not Killing.
 
The group warned that there is no evidence that assisted suicide has become safer or easier to regulate, nor is there evidence that the Isle of Man’s provision of end-of-life care is so great “that no one could be driven to seek their own death for fear of being a care burden or financial drain.”
 
Care Not Killing is a coalition which includes both individuals and organizations like disability and human rights advocacy groups, healthcare providers, and faith-based groups. It opposes the weakening or repeal of laws against euthanasia and assisted suicide while promoting better palliative care.
 
Backers of legal assisted suicide include the group Isle of Man Freethinkers, which holds it a matter of personal autonomy “to make decisions about their life and death,” the group chairwoman Vicky Christian said, according to the BBC.
 
The Manx Catholic presence includes six parishes with seven churches. It is a pastoral area under the Archdiocese of Liverpool.
 
In 2015 both Catholic and Anglican leaders in England and Wales welcomed the British Parliament’s defeat of legal assisted suicide by a vote of 330-118.
 
Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark, speaking on behalf of the Catholic bishops, said the U.K. parliament recognized “the grave risks that this bill posed to the lives of our society’s most vulnerable people.”
 
If the Manx parliamentary motion passes and results in legislation, and the legislation is passed in the House of Keys, the proposal would then head to the Legislative Council, the upper house of the legislature.
 
The Anglican bishop of Sodor and Man, Peter Eagles, is an ex officio member of this body. However, the bishop previously voted for the final version of Allinson’s abortion legislation, after voting against initial versions.
 
Some British professional groups have weakened their stance on assisted suicide. In 2019 the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Nursing changed its stance to neutrality on assisted suicide, when the groups had previously opposed it. The British Medical Association and the Royal College of GPs are carrying out surveys on the topic, IOM Today reports.

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