What Pope Francis did when guards tried to stop these Chinese pilgrims

March 15, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Vatican City, Mar 15, 2017 / 03:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis greeted and blessed a group of pilgrims from China who broke protocol and approached him during the Wednesday general audience.

The group of faithful, some of whom approached the Holy Father on their knees, held Chinese flags and amid sobs, asked for him to bless a statue of Our Lady of Fatima they had carried into Saint Peter’s Square.

At first, some Swiss Guards tried to prevent the pilgrims from approaching the pontiff, but Francis quickly stopped them and shared a few moments with the pilgrims.

Among the pilgrims there were some children whom the Pope spent a few minutes with.

China only allows Catholic worship services for the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, which is subordinate to the Chinese Communist Party, and rejects the authority of the Vatican to appoint bishops or to govern them.

The Catholic Church faithful to the Pope is not completely clandestine, although it faces constant opposition.

Diplomatic relations between China and the Vatican were broken in 1951, two years after the communists came to power and expelled foreign clerics.

For some years the Holy See has been working on an accord for the reestablishment of  diplomatic relations with China, a rapprochement encouraged by Pope Francis.

In August 2014, while he was on his way  to South Korea, the Holy Father sent  a telegram to the President of China to express his best wishes when his plane was over Chinese airspace.

The fact that the Pope had received permission to fly over Chinese airspace was considered a small step forward. Pope John Paul II had to avoid the airspace of this country during his trips to Asia.

???? VIDEO | El amor de estos católicos chinos conmovió al #PapaFrancisco en la Plaza de San Pedro ???????????????? https://t.co/TrjnxhQgGK pic.twitter.com/T0bl6eEHVz

— ACI Prensa (@aciprensa) March 15, 2017

[…]

‘I had to flee for my life’ – The reality of being a Syrian refugee

March 15, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Washington D.C., Mar 15, 2017 / 02:27 pm (CNA).- Omar al-Muqdad wanted to help the Iraqi refugees who were displaced from their homes in 2004. He volunteered to help with refugee resettlement, aiding those who came in finding housing, clothing and schools in Syria, where he lived.

Little did he know that just a few years later, he himself would be a refugee fleeing civil war in his own country.

“I had to flee for my life,” Omar told CNA. Six years ago, the Syrian journalist ran away from security forces who were threatening him. His crime? Reporting on the early days of what would come to be the Syrian Civil War.

First, he found refuge in Turkey. Then, once his refugee claim was processed, he found permanent resettlement in the United States.

March 15 marks the sixth anniversary of the start of the Syrian Civil War. What began as peaceful demonstrations protesting ongoing human rights abuses and suppression of free speech erupted into a war that has killed hundreds of thousands and forced millions from their homes.

Today, six years later, an end to the violence is nowhere in sight. The majority of Syria’s population has been displaced. New threats that have grown out of the situation – most prominently ISIS – have only added to the chaos. Together with other conflicts and famines in Somalia, Afghanistan, the Central African Republic and elsewhere, the world is now facing the largest refugee crisis since World War II.

Syria back then was considered a safe country.

For refugees like Omar, leaving home wasn’t something they had wanted or were prepared for: it was a choice between life and death.

Now 37 years old, and a resident of the United States for five years, Omar hopes Americans can come to understand some of what he experienced.

“Refugees are not your enemy,” he said. “They don’t know they are coming to the US,” he added, explaining that often refugees have little choice in where they are sent once they flee home. Instead, he urged compassion and acceptance as “a human responsibility as Americans.”

Maggie Holmesheroan, program manager for Catholic Relief Services’ operations in Jordan, agreed. “These are normal people like you and me,” she said.

“They lived normal lives before the conflict. They are now in a position where they’ve lost everything. Frankly, they’ve displayed incredible resilience in the face of a terrible situation.”

“Sometimes the instinct is to feel that they’re very different from us,” she continued, “but we should definitely find our common humanity.”

The seeds of a crisis

Before March 2011, Syria and its people looked very different from the images of rubble and terrified citizens associated with the country today.

Holmesheroan told CNA that before the war, the Syrian people were very similar in many ways to Americans, in terms of education, industry and social class.  

“They had a very highly educated population – very diversified in terms of industry,” she said, noting that in her work, she regularly encounters refugees who were former government bureaucrats, blue collar workers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and nurses. “It’s really a representative range, just like we have here in the United States,” she said.

In fact, less than 15 years ago, some of the areas most damaged by airstrikes and bombing raids were the very places refugees from other conflicts were sent for safety and a new life.  

“Syria back then was considered a safe country,” explained Omar.

However, many people – including Omar – were unsatisfied with the ruling Assad family’s policies. The family and its Ba’ath party had held control of the country since 1971. Critics from a range of religious sects and ethnic backgrounds have protested against both former president Hafez al-Assad and his son and current president, Bashar al-Assad for their anti-democratic policies and denial of basic human rights like freedom of speech and assembly. In addition, the Assad family has drawn strong opposition from Islamist movements who objected to various aspects of the family’s rule.

I had to start over from nothing.

In his work as a journalist, particularly reporting on economic and human rights struggles in the south of Syria, Omar ran into opposition from the government. “The Syrian authorities don’t generally tolerate any form of criticism against the government and institutions,” he said. “They consider that an act of treason if you dare to say something against the government or you ask for reforms.”

For reporting on these issues, as well as starting up a private magazine not controlled by the State, Omar was apprehended by Syrian security forces. After questioning and a military trial, he was sentenced to three years in a military prison. “They did not like what I was writing there and they considered it an act of treason against the state,” he said.  

By March 2011, Omar had been released from prison and was working again as an undercover journalist, when protests began. Many of these demonstrations were initially focused on the government’s treatment of underage student protesters in the southern city of Daraa, and other political prisoners. Socioeconomic inequality, intense droughts and food shortages also heightened the tensions within Syria in the months leading up to the start of the conflict.

On March 15, 2011, protesters filled the streets of Damascus to demand the release of political prisoners and other human rights reforms. Within a few days, more and more demonstrators started gathering to demand broader democratic and human rights reforms. When the Syrian government cracked down in response to the initial protests, the demonstrations only grew stronger, bolstered by the success of pro-democracy movements elsewhere in the Middle East.

“The peaceful demonstration started taking over the streets, and people started demanding freedom,” Omar recalled. “I was covering this event.” But then he realized that he was once again being followed by Syrian security forces.

“I knew that if they could catch me, that would be the end.” Omar fled to Turkey.

Meanwhile, tensions continued to escalate in Syria and various opposition groups solidified against the Assad regime. Both government and opposition forces began to take up arms against one another as the conflict grew. By early 2017, it was estimated that at least 400,000 Syrians had been killed, at least 6.3 million displaced internally, and some 5 million had fled the country as refugees.

Close to home – yet far from it

When Omar fled to Turkey as a refugee, he registered immediately with the U.N. Human High Commissioner for Refugees. While his claim was being processed, he was able to work as a freelance journalist for CNN and other news outlets covering the war.

At the same time, other refugees from Syria started to leave, pouring into neighboring countries. More than 1 million refugees have fled to Jordan, and at least 2.2 million are now residing in Lebanon. This has placed considerable strain on the countries, which previously had populations of just 6 million and 4 million, respectively.

In some areas, refugees have moved into camps administered by various aid agencies. In other areas, like Jordan, the majority of refugees live in cities and urban areas. Still others take refuge in unofficial settlements.

Maggie Holmesheroan and her colleagues at Catholic Relief Services work with refugees who are trying to integrate in urban areas of Jordan. Refugees here face a number of challenges just getting by from day to day. “They’re trying to live life in a city, but basically, with no resources,” she said.

Many of the refugees fled violence at a moment’s notice with nothing but the clothes on their backs. In many cases, families were split up, and the men were often forced to stay behind. In most cases, documents, identification, birth certificates, diplomas, and bank cards were left behind.

When the refugees reach a safe place and apply for refugee status, they are generally not allowed to work, and must live off the allotment granted by the United Nations. Often, that is not enough to buy food and clothing, pay rent, cover medical expenses and send their children to school.

“You don’t have access to any of your resources, even if you were diligent and saved up money,” Holmesheroan said. “All those safety nets are gone for people. So they’re just surviving on whatever help they can get from a wide variety of organizations that are here.”

The majority of Syria’s population has been displaced.

In Jordan, CRS works with Caritas Jordan and Caritas Internationalis to provide refugees with aid in finding a livelihood, healthcare, non-food humanitarian support, psychological and social services, rent and cash subsidies to help make ends meet.

Recently, the situation in Jordan has improved slightly for some refugees, due to the country’s policy change allowing refugees to seek work permits in the garment manufacturing, agriculture, domestic work and construction industries. However the hundreds of thousands of refugees without those skills – for example, those who previously worked in the fields of teaching or medicine – still don’t have employment opportunities.

“They’re in limbo,” Holmesheroan said, with a very long wait ahead of them: the average refugee stays displaced for 17 years. Many of the refugees wish to return home, but there is no end in sight to the wars in Syria or Iraq.

“So, how do you handle the day-to-day stress of living in a situation where you’re in extreme poverty, you don’t have access to the resources that you need to do basic life, and then on top of that, you have no idea when anything might change?”

Until the conflict is resolved, the countries and agencies helping aid the millions of war refugees need adequate support and funding, Holmesheroan said. “We need to have a conversation about our fair share.”

She also stressed the importance of realizing that refugees are victims of violence. “The people who have run away from this war are running for their lives and are running away from extremism,” she said. “They are largely minorities and moderates who are running away from the violence. They don’t want to live in a country of extremists any more than we do.”

Permanent refuge

After a year of waiting in Turkey, Omar made it through the immigration process. Although the wait was long, he believes he “was one of the lucky ones” – the average waiting time for most refugees applying for resettlement is between 18 and 24 months. Omar added that he knows several people who have waited over three or even five years to be resettled.

In this time, Omar underwent interviews and waited for his status to be processed. Eventually his case was picked up by the International Catholic Migration Commission, which helped link his case with his new home country – the United States. Originally, Omar al-Muqdad expected to be sent to Canada or a different country for resettlement, so the news was a surprise. “I didn’t know I would be sent to the United States,” he said.

After he was referred to the United States, Omar underwent what he described as “extreme vetting,” consisting of interviews, health screenings and numerous background checks. In addition to the rigorous 20-step vetting process for those whose applications are initially accepted, Syrian refugees face further screening review from U.S. Immigration Services.

After passing all of these steps, Omar finally made it to the United States. “I was sent to Northwest Arkansas, to a small town called Fayetteville, where I started my life here.”

Ashley Feasley, director of policy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services, described to CNA the process of helping to resettle refugees in communities like Fayetteville around the country.

The bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services is one of nine private agencies that oversee all the resettlement of refugees in the United States. For the last five years, the agency has placed between a quarter and a third of all refugees who come to the U.S.

After refugees are placed with a community, the local office – typically run through Catholic Charities or another Catholic organization – is responsible for welcoming them and providing or linking them with basic services, such as housing, food, and medical care while they acclimate to the United States. Churches and other groups help them learn English, find employment, and integrate into their new community.

The average refugee stays displaced for 17 years.

This year, Trump’s executive order is expected to reduce the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. from 85,000 to at most 50,000. The administration’s 120-day freeze on all refugee admissions will also impact total refugee numbers, as well as the bishops’ ability to process and place them, due to a lack of reimbursements and personnel losses during the freeze.

Feasley objected to these policies. “There are so many vulnerable individuals who have been in the pipeline starting the process, who really are seeking refuge,” she told CNA. “This is obviously going to prevent them from doing that here in the United States.”

“In some cases, it really is going to prevent family reunification.”

Feasley also noted that in her experience, many refugees have been “benefits not only to their parishes, but to their communities.” She pointed to a number of former refugees who are now social workers in Catholic Charities and resettlement offices as an example.

Within the community of Syrian refugees specifically, she noted that the bishops have “seen great heartbreak but also great resiliency.” Most of them have fled extreme circumstances, and yet built stable lives here in the United States.

In this regard, she praised the Trump administration’s second executive order for removing the ban on Syrian refugees that was found in the initial order. “I think that it’s very important to welcome all nationalities,” she said.

Settling in

When he was first assigned to resettle in Arkansas, Omar said he was concerned because of stereotypes he had heard about the South being unwelcoming to newcomers. Fortunately, he learned that that was a misconception.
 
“My experience there was really incredible. People there were very warm,” Omar said, adding that in his first few weeks in Fayetteville, he was welcomed into the community, and even into one of the local family’s homes. “Back then there wasn’t ISIS…So, people were really open to helping refugees.”  

Surrounded by warmth and welcomed into the community, Omar said that he “didn’t really feel alone.” A key part of the friendly atmosphere were the parish and Church agencies who helped with his resettlement. “I’m still grateful for them,” he said.

Eventually, Omar moved to the Washington, D.C. area in order to resume his career as a journalist. That path has not been easy.

“I had to start over from nothing,” he said. Although he already had a college degree in political science from Damascus University, he left his diploma at home when he fled Syria. When he came to the U.S., he had to start college over again.

Starting from scratch in his 30s was difficult. Still, in between reporting for a variety of national newspapers, Omar is on track to complete his studies soon. He plans on pursuing a Master’s degree next.

The people who have run away from this war are running for their lives.

Obaida Omar, a community supervisor and health case manager at the Catholic Family House in Rochester, NY, described the challenges of leaving one’s entire life behind and trying to start over.

She herself fled as a refugee from Afghanistan 25 years ago. Later, she became a social worker. “I just love helping refugees,” she told CNA. “They’re really good people. They’re very strong.”

Today, she aids people from Syria as well as other countries. Obstacles abound. Few of her clients have family or friends in the area, and it can take time to settle into a new community. Interpreters are provided as refugees learn the language of their new home, but building trust with the interpreter takes time.

Her clients also face a range of medical issues from the violence they have experienced. Some have lost limbs in war. Others are wheelchair bound or suffer from PTSD and other mental health challenges. And still others have various levels of hearing loss, creating an extra layer of difficulties when trying to arrange for an interpreter.

CNA attempted to contact a number of dioceses, Catholic Charities offices and relief agencies to talk to other Middle Eastern refugees. Many refugee families – both in the United States and abroad – declined to be interviewed, fearing discrimination or negative repercussions of being identified in print as a refugee or a Middle Easterner.

Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan, located in the Archdiocese of Detroit, was one of several agencies that cited recent changes in government policy as causing personnel cuts, which meant that remaining staff were unable to contact families due to other increased responsibilities.

Resettling more than 700 refugees in 2016 alone, Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan is one of the largest resettlement projects in the United States. The area has a significant existing Middle Eastern population.

Between 2014 and late 2016, the overwhelming majority of the refugees directed to the area were Chaldean Catholics from Iraq – most of whom were fleeing persecution at the hands of ISIS. In late 2016, the office experienced a surge of Syrian refugees coming into the area.

However, the rapid decline in refugee admissions for 2017 has resulted in a budget shortfall of $131,000, the agency said. Bill Blaul, institutional advancement director, told CNA that the group was “hanging onto our absolute core in the hope that we can start relocating refugees here again.”

And other agencies around the country are facing similar budget constraints. Many staff members have been laid off. In some cases, vital programs will be able to continue for a few more months.

Omar al-Muqdad is one of the lucky ones. While other refugees are still waiting to hear if they will be accepted by a host country, he is ready to make his residence in the U.S. permanent.

“I just filed my citizenship application and America is my new home,” he said. He added that he felt he owed it to the Arkansas community who took him in “to pay the community back for the kindness that they showed to me when I first came here.”

“I’m trying, but it’s not easy,” he said of his journey so far. “I’m trying to do my best here.”

[…]

US exorcists: Demonic activity is on the rise

March 15, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Indianapolis, Ind., Mar 15, 2017 / 06:26 am (CNA).- There is an alarming increase in demonic activity being reported by those who work in exorcism ministry, said the exorcist for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Although steps are being taken to increa… […]

What does it actually mean for a priest to be ‘laicized’?

March 15, 2017 CNA Daily News 8

Rome, Italy, Mar 15, 2017 / 02:50 am (CNA/EWTN News).- When reports came out recently about Pope Francis’ decision to modify the penalties for several priests found guilty of abusing minors, the question arose as to whether the Pope was being too merciful in his decision.

Another concern was whether priests found guilty of abuse of minors would continue to be dismissed from the clerical state, or “laicized.”

To address these issues and clear up some of the grey area on this topic, CNA spoke with a canonist, Fr. Damián Astigueta, SJ.

A professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University with a specialty in criminal proceedings, Fr. Astigueta offered insights on what dismissal from the clerical state is, why the Church doesn’t always choose to dismiss from the clerical state priests who are guilty of abuse, what those condemned to a life of prayer and penance actually do, the role of bishops in abuse cases, the lessening of sentences, and more.

What is dismissal from the clerical state?

While frequently used in the media, the term “laicization” doesn’t really exist anymore among canonists, Fr. Astigueta said, and has been widely replaced by the term “loss of the clerical state.”

When a priest loses his clerical state, either because he requested it or because it was taken from him, he is “‘dismissed from the clerical state,’ because this is a juridical status,” Fr. Astigueta explained.

“He remains in a situation judicially as if they were a layperson. This is where the term ‘laicization’ comes from.”

He clarified that when this happens, it doesn’t mean that a priest is no longer a priest: “the sacrament of Holy Orders isn’t lost; it imprints an ontological sign on the being of the priest that can never be lost.”

What happens instead is that exercising the rights proper to the clerical state are prohibited, such as saying Mass, hearing confessions, and administering the sacraments; as are the obligations, such as that of reciting the Liturgy of the Hours and obedience to their bishop.

However, since a man dismissed from the clerical state remains a priest, there are times at which the Church continues to oblige him to act as a priest.

For example, if he finds someone in danger of death who asks for the sacraments, even though he is no longer in a clerical state, he “must hear (the person’s) confession because the most important thing is the salvation of that person.”

Fr. Astigueta also emphasized the importance of not misinterpreting the process to mean a “reduction to the lay state.” This phrase is not correct, he stressed, since it inaccurately treats laity “in a derogatory way, as if they were lesser.”

Why not all priests guilty of abuse lose the clerical state

For Fr. Astigueta, the answer to the question of why not all priests found guilty of abuse are dismissed from the clerical state has two primary components: not all acts of abuse are the same in terms of severity, and the situation of the priest himself varies.

“Why doesn’t the Church dismiss from the clerical state all abusers? Because not all abuses are the same entity,” he said. Even civil law recognizes a difference in severity between pedophilia – which involves prepubescent children – and ephebophilia – which involves mid-to-late adolescents. In other cases, there may be the appearance of consent with an older teen, he said, which can further complicate the matter. The penalty assessed to the priest takes these factors into account, he added.

When it comes to priests who are found guilty of abuse, there are different types of punishments, including dismissal from the clerical state, or a life of “prayer and penance,” depending on the situation.

“There are certain cases in which dismissal would be the just punishment,” Fr. Astigueta said.

But there are also cases – even with several instances of serious abuse that have caused a lot of damage – when the Church decides against this dismissal, he said, pointing to Legion of Christ founder Fr. Marcial Maciel as an example.

Fr. Maciel was a person “who was proven to have committed a series of very serious crimes, a person who when one knows what he did truly realizes they are in front of a very disturbed person,” the priest said. “Can a disturbed person be punished with the maximum penalty?”

At times the Church prefers to use a different system, prohibiting the person from ministry, particularly in public. Instead, the person is isolated at home, dedicated to prayer “and nothing more.” This means no visits from people, at times not even friends or their congregation.

In the case of Fr. Maciel, even his funeral, for which he had saved enormous funds, was closed to the public.

“Is it a gilded prison? In a certain way, yes,” Fr. Astigueta said. However, he said the Church at times chooses this punishment, which is less strong, because at a certain point, “when I give a person a sanction that destroys them, it’s not a sanction, but revenge.”

Fr. Astigueta also spoke of the importance of mercy in the process, particularly when it comes to elderly priests and the Church’s own responsibility toward her members.  

Even in a tragic case when a child has been abused, “the Church is still a mother, and mercy is used for the victims and the priest,” he said, noting that abusers often have serious psychological problems that require treatment.

If a priest chooses to renounce his clerical state, he is often inserted into society without a problem; but when it comes to those who have been dismissed, it can be a lot harder, Fr. Astigueta said, explaining that there is a canon (c. 1350 §2) establishing “that there exists a duty of charity toward them.”

This means “helping them and taking care of them in the measure that the person lets themselves be helped,” he said.

If an 80-year-old priest is dismissed from the clerical state, “where do we send him? Can he find work? He’ll end up living on the street as a homeless man. How long will he last? He won’t last anything,” he observed.

To put a man on the street in this circumstance, unless he has relatives ready to take him on, “is practically to kill him.”

Often, despite the harm done, something good in the person remains, he said, explaining that because of this, sometimes a more just penance is to let him “live with his conscience.” While a life of prayer and reflection might sound comfortable, Fr. Astigueta asked: “reflecting with whom? With your memories before God, with your regrets.”

He noted that in order to avoid pressure from the media in these cases, the Church “is obliged at times to punish, in my view, more seriously than it should.”

Offering help to victims and bringing about justice is always the Church’s top priority when it comes to clerical abuse, but concern must also be shown to the sinner, he said, explaining that if the Church were to immediately dismiss from the clerical state every abusive priest, it could cause more harm.

“Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that if these people are thrown out on the street, I am leaving a possible serial killer,” Fr. Astigueta said, referring to pedophiles. The Church, he said, must also take this into account.

Fr. Astigueta stressed that when it comes to mercy in abuse cases, it “never goes against justice,” and that the first act of mercy is “to tell the truth.”

Once the truth is known, the measure in which the offender can be sanctioned must be taken into account “in order to avoid that the penalty is a revenge,” because this helps no one.

“The pain of the victim is never cured with revenge; the only way to heal the victim’s pain is forgiveness offered freely,” he said, noting that “this can never be forced on anyone; but certainly neither can the spirit of revenge be forced.”

What a life of prayer and penance actually means

Many priests found guilty of abuse, instead of being dismissed from the clerical state, are instead sentenced to a life of “prayer and penance.”

But while the sentence is fairly common, among elderly priests in particular, what it actually involves is at times a bit obscure to the public eye, and it can seem like the priest is getting off easy despite committing heinous crimes.

Fr. Astigueta explained that on a practical level, “the person is isolated, sometimes more, sometimes less.”

Often “the person is isolated, possibly without having direct access to the telephone or the TV, and must dedicate himself to reading, praying and walking around inside the house.”

At times the person might even be barred from leaving the house without permission, under pain of incurring further punishments.

He pointed to the recent case of Luis Fernando Figari, a layman and founder of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, who was found guilty of an extreme, authoritarian style of leadership as well as several accounts of sexual, physical, and psychological abuse.

As a punishment, the Vatican didn’t expel Figari from the community, but ordered that he live alone, and barred him from any contact with the community’s members and from receiving people.

If a priest who receives this sentence doesn’t want to follow the rules, the Church in this case “can impose the full dismissal” from their clerical status, Fr. Astigueta said, noting that the majority of priests who choose to this life are people who “want to be helped and recognize that this penalty is a table of salvation for them.”
 
“It’s strong, yes, but at least I have something to eat and I can live my final years in peace,” Fr. Astigueta said, noting that in general it is elderly priests who end up in this situation, whereas younger ones with some sort of major mental health disorder are typically sent to a therapeutic communities.

At times they are able to celebrate Mass with others, but “always with the very clear ban that ‘from here, you cannot go away without permission.’”

The Church, Fr. Astigueta said, “is not a prison … it doesn’t have penitential system like a state, but someone must keep watch over those removed from ministry.”

And this implies “a very heavy duty for the Church, because who is the one that supervises? Who is responsible for him? It’s not so easy, it implies a lot of obligations.”

Fr. Astigueta also noted that there’s a different canonical process for lay founders such as Figari, versus priests who abuse.

“Technically speaking, the case of a layman doesn’t enter into the canon on abuses like the priests,” he said.

Clerics who commit sexual abuse are charged under a canon (c. 1395 §2) which criminalizes those offenses against the sixth commandment which are committed by force or threats or publicly or with a minor below the age of 16.

But when it comes to the laity specifically, “this lack in the code must be thought of,” because unfortunately “the times are those in which we can’t only think about priest founders, but of many laity who have a position in the Church … who can abuse minors,” such as school directors or professors.

In these cases, he said, the Church applies a canon (c. 1399) which covers the situation in which the criminal “goes against a divine or ecclesiastical law with harm or danger of grave scandal.”

Cases in which the victims are mentally disabled must also be taken into consideration, he said, as well as many other forms of abuse “that should be considered crimes,” and are in many states.

The role of the bishop in cases of abuse

When it comes to the responsibility of bishops in abuse cases, Fr. Astigueta said that while expectations might have been murky in the past, they are clear now, and require the bishop to act immediately.

“When the bishop is informed, when he receives the news that an abuse has been committed, he has the obligation, a serious obligation, to intervene.”

A bishop must first intervene on a judicial level, alerting civil authorities, but also on the pastoral level, he said, explaining that the process looks different for every nation.

On a pastoral level, bishops must from the start turn their immediate attention to the victims “in order to welcome them and to help them understand that we are not against them and we are looking for the truth,” he said.

After the initial investigation has begun, the bishop may, but is not obliged to, apply a “precautionary measure,” which is a type of disciplinary measure enforced in order to avoid “the process from being polluted.”

Giving a theoretical example, Fr. Astigueta said a priest might try to pressure a victim into retracting their statement, so the bishop could decide to “distance” the priest from the process. This choice might also be made in situations where there is risk of a serious scandal, he said.

Once a priest is found guilty, the bishop will have to carry out the sentence, and it may even be the bishop himself to enforce the decree of dismissal from the clerical state with the authority of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Fr. Astigueta explained.

Victims must be helped to live a “process of reconciliation, of accompaniment” and one in which they are made to feel that “they are part of the Church,” he said, but stressed that this is at a pastoral level, which must always remain separate from the judicial level.

Fr. Astigueta also spoke on cases of negligence on the part of a bishop, which Pope Francis in his 2016 motu proprio Come una madre amorevole established as grounds for removal from office.

The canon behind the rule (c. 1389 §2), the priest said, states that “A person who through culpable negligence illegitimately places or omits an act of ecclesiastical power, ministry, or function with harm to another is to be punished with a just penalty.”

The issue is also dealt with in a canon (c. 193 §1) which speaks of removal from office “for grave causes.” Removal from office, he explained, is “the act through which a person loses a series of rights which are part of an office.”

“So this person who was the bishop had rights and duties regarding the community. As he has not fulfilled them, this office is removed,” Fr. Astigueta said.

Removal in this sense can either be for disciplinary or penal reasons, Fr. Astigueta said, explaining that in the case of penal removal for negligence, the bishop is dismissed because “he didn’t act as he should have.”

While in the past bishops moved abusive priests around in part because they didn’t understand the severity of the problem, “today no one can say that they don’t know what abuse is and the magnitude of the problem.”

In cases of abuse, then, “it’s already so severe that there is no need for another cause, negligence is enough.” Part of this negligence, Fr. Astigueta explained, could be moving priests, not acting immediately, or letting time pass until more accusations arise: “Here we would have a case of negligence.”

Another instance, he said, would be failing to take precautionary measures against a priest accused of abuse, and it is later discovered that the priest had committed other abuses during that time. Other reasons for removal of office due to negligence could be that the bishop didn’t follow the protocol requested by the state.

He noted that there are a variety of situations, but “the Pope wanted to say that this negligence in itself so important because the damage to the other produced due to negligence, which is almost – even if it can’t be said in a clear way – an act of complicity due to negligence.”

Stronger punishment isn’t always the best way to prevent abuse

No matter the situation of the priest or the bishop, Fr. Astigueta stressed the importance of pursuing the just punishment given the particular situation, and warned against the temptation to immediately impose the maximum punishment – dismissal from the clerical state – on all cases.

To do so, he said, “would be an injustice, it would be a type of witch hunt, and this produces fugitives. If everyone is punished with the maximum, with this you resolve nothing.”

It’s a fact, he said, that all states which have attempted to toughen the penalties in order to prevent further crimes “have failed to do so.”

The only thing that actually makes the crimes diminish, he said, are preventative measures and “the consciousness of the people, the intervention of the people,” specifically through education.

“If the people within the Church were all to work so that there were a healthy environment, not one of suspicion, but healthy and prudent,” these delinquent act would diminish. “Not because the maximum penalty is applied.”

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New Mexico bishops admonish pro-choice Catholic legislators

March 14, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Santa Fe, NM, Mar 14, 2017 / 05:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- New Mexico Bishops released a statement last week discouraging public advocacy from Catholic legislators for abortions and assisted suicide on behalf of their Catholic faith.

“We are concerned by public statements by some legislators that seem to say that a faithful Catholic can support abortion or doctor-assisted suicide,” New Mexico’s bishops stated March 6.

“Support for abortion or doctor-assisted suicide is not in accord with the teachings of the Church. These represent the direct taking of human life, and are always wrong.”

State Representative Patricia Roybal Caballero invoked her Catholic faith earlier this month as a factor in her decision to oppose a bill that would have banned abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

And last month State Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino, also Catholic, introduced a bill which would force religious hospitals and individuals to act against their conscious and perform abortions.

The bishops wrote that “It is not appropriate for elected officials to publicly invoke their Catholic faith and to present their personal opinions as official Church teaching. This misrepresents Church teaching and creates a public scandal for the faithful.”

The bishops upheld Catholic teaching that “all human life is sacred, from the moment of conception to natural death, and must be protected,” and emphasized that “support for abortion or doctor-assisted suicide is not in accord with the teachings of the Church.”

“Even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in His own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect,” the bishops stated, repeating the words of Pope Francis.

“It is not morally permissible for a Catholic to support abortion or doctor-assisted suicide,” they emphasized.

Recognizing Catholic legislators who support laws directed at supporting immigrants and the impoverished, the message applauded “their work giving voice to the voiceless.”

Citing the damages done to the soul by receiving, performing, or supporting abortions, the bishops acknowledged that “God’s forgiveness is always available to us if we seek it, so that we may heal our soul and be reconciled with God, the Church and others.” They promoted the sacrament of confession and the Project Rachel ministry for men and women who are in need of support after participating in an abortion.

“We want to be clear,” the bishops concluded. “Individuals and groups do not speak for the Catholic Church. As bishops, we do.”

“We visit the New Mexico Legislature when it gathers and host a time when together the priorities of the Church are made known to the legislators. We take the Gospel to the public square in public meetings and hearings as well as in private meetings and conversations with elected officials.”

“We pray for all legislators and through the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops are here to aid in the formation of consciences,” they noted. “We will continue to collaborate with many others to uphold the dignity of the human person through a consistent ethic of life from conception to natural death.”

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Porn leaves men dissatisfied with real relationships, study finds

March 14, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Washington D.C., Mar 14, 2017 / 04:28 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A recent analysis of 50 studies found that pornography was negatively associated with sexual and relational satisfaction among men.

 

The paper, entitled Pornography Consumption and Satisfaction: A Meta-Analysis, concluded that “Pornography consumption was associated with lower interpersonal satisfaction outcomes in cross-sectional surveys, longitudinal surveys, and experiments.” Specifically, pornography was linked to significant “lower sexual and relational satisfaction” among male viewers.

 

The analysis included a combined 50,000 participants across 10 countries, and contradicts another recent study that claimed that pornography has a positive impact on its consumers.

 

“Pornography is sex-negative,” Dawn Hawkins, Executive Director of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), said in a statement about the new analysis.

 

According to their website, the NCOSE is a national organization dedicated to opposing pornography by highlighting the links to sex trafficking, violence against women, child abuse, and addiction.

 

“Pornography rewires an individual’s sexuality to pixels on a screen rather than to a real person, which is inherently inconsistent with healthy, organic relationships. A wide body of research is bringing attention to the various ways pornography negatively impacts both women and men, and this latest meta-analysis contributes important findings to that on-going dialogue.”

 

Hawkins noted that the analysis contradicted a recent study,  Porn Sex Versus Real Sex: How Sexually Explicit Material Shapes Our Understanding of Sexual Anatomy, Physiology, and Behaviour, which claimed that pornography positively affected relationships and sexuality after asking participants about the perceived impact pornography was having on their life.

 

“Those researchers asked survey participants questions about the effects of their pornography consumption using a faulty methodology which could only yield positive results, and then presented the results as unbiased and valid despite the skewed methodology,” Hawkins added.

 

Pornography has been receiving increasingly negative attention as more groups and individuals highlight its destructive effects on people’s well-being and relationships.

 

Last year, the GOP at the Republican National Convention declared pornography a public health crisis as part of their platform, a few months after the state of Utah declared the same.

 

British comedian Russel Brand, actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Rashida Jones, and former NFL player and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” actor Terry Crews are just some of the celebrities that have recently spoken out against pornography, its addictive properties and its harmful effects on relationships.

 

Smartphones and other technology have made pornography more accessible than ever before, increasing the prevalence of pornography addiction. However, in response, numerous online community groups, smartphone apps and educational videos – both secular and faith-based – have launched, with the goal of helping people quit porn.

 

Still, despite scientific evidence to the contrary, strong biases in favor of pornography as a healthy part of sexuality still exist.

 

“Pornography is so pervasive today that many individuals grew up watching it and therefore assume it is a normal and healthy part of sexuality,” Haley Halverson, director of communications for NCOSE, told CNA.

 

“Yet, like cigarettes in the 1950s, we know that just because a practice is popularly accepted doesn’t mean it is healthy or beneficial.”

 

There have also been recent arguments made that pornography simply needs to be produced more ethically. However, Halverson said, it is not possible to make an “inherently unethical” practice more ethical.

 

“Pornography inherently involves dehumanizing a person by reducing them to a mere collection of body parts for one’s own selfish sexual pleasure. This is an inherently unethical way to view or treat another person,” she said.

 

“Some people may try to make pornography ‘less’ unethical in different ways, but but such attempts can never change the fact that pornography objectifies human beings. Only a society that rejects pornography can fully respect the human dignity of each person.”

 

 
 

 
 

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How Pope Francis’ sincere humanity has shaped his pontificate

March 14, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Vatican City, Mar 14, 2017 / 04:05 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Rather than a weakness, Pope Francis’ humanity – and his acknowledgment of it – has been a source of strength and impact during the four years of his pontificate, said Vatican’s press office director.

“The Pope says something which is very impressive, which is: ‘I am a sinner,’” Greg Burke told EWTN News Nightly. “And I think he says that in every interview he does, that none of us is without fault. I think that’s been part of his strength: how human he is.”

“Yes, he is the Vicar of Christ and yet at the same time he’s a human being like the rest of us.”

Burke reflected on one small moment from Francis’ pontificate that stands out in particular as hugely impactful: which was “when the Pope got down on his knees to go to Confession himself, in front of the cameras.”

The way that Pope Francis leads by example “has done a great service to all of us,” Burke said.

Burke was appointed Director of the Vatican’s press office in July 2016, after just under six months as vice director. Formerly a Rome correspondent for Fox News Channel and Time Magazine, he has worked in the Vatican since June 2012 when he was appointed senior communications advisor to the Vatican’s Secretariat of State.

March is the month of anniversaries, with March 13 marking the fourth anniversary of Pope Francis’ election as pontiff, and March 19 the anniversary of the start of his pontificate.

Burke said that in these four years there have been many significant moments, but one that stands out to him is the Year of Mercy, “because it wasn’t just that year it was the whole spirit of mercy which I think the Pope has helped remind everyone of.”

“That God is waiting there to forgive us, something he said from the first week of his pontificate, and people knew perhaps, but it’s been a great reminder.”

A few of the trips Pope Francis has taken “where he wasn’t supposed to go” were also important moments, he pointed out. For example, when Typhoon Haiyan – the deadliest typhoon on record – hit the Philippines in November 2013, Francis “insisted on going,” saying “I’m not going to leave those people alone.”

“That was impressive,” Burke said.

The Pope also went to the war-torn Central African Republic, “despite the risks,” Burke noted, because he thought it was important that he go there, “so he did.”

In general, Burke said that he believes the Pope’s impact on the Church the last four years “has been huge.”

“The Pope has helped people rediscover the joy of what it means to believe. That despite anyone’s limitations, despite their sins, despite the crosses one might have to carry, there is an inherent joy in the Christian life.”

His impact on the world at large has been much the same, he said. “Much of what makes a Christian a better Christian also makes a human being a better human being. In terms of taking care of the poor, visiting the lonely or the sick.”

“And I think the Pope has been a huge wakeup call in that sense, for all faiths, of taking better care of their neighbors,” Burke noted.

Despite confusing or misleading headlines at times, Francis’ message has been consistent the last four years, Burke said: “the Pope’s main message is simple and that remains: God loves you, God forgives you, and you just have to be willing to ask for that forgiveness and share God’s love with others.”

A lot of people think that the pace of activities Francis keeps are what makes it a “break-neck papacy,” Burke said, but in reality, what has changed the most is communications.

“I think we keep up with it just like everybody else does. Though it’s not always easy,” he said.

Personally, Burke said that Pope Francis has impacted him in many ways over the last four years, one of which is in how he pays attention to the person right in front of him.

“He has somebody in front of him and for that moment it’s that person and that person is all that counts and I think there’s a lot to learn from that,” he said.

“Quite frankly, most of us are busy with a million things, we’re busy with our cellphones. We’re talking to people and yet at the same time we’re checking Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, and maybe that’s what saves the Pope – that he’s not there with his cellphone.”

Mary Shovlain contributed to this story.

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