Pontifical university offers new youth protection degree program

February 9, 2018 CNA Daily News 0

Rome, Italy, Feb 10, 2018 / 12:00 am (CNA).- Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University will begin offering a two-year licentiate course in protecting minors, a move Fr. Hans Zollner SJ, said is a sign of the progress the Church has made in terms of abuse-awareness and prevention.

“In most countries ten years ago, five years ago, there was no talk about safeguarding. Now you have degree programs, certificates, diplomas,” he told CNA in a Feb. 9 interview.

“Why has this developed? Because people realize it’s not only done by talking about it or by writing about it in articles or pointing the finger to this or that institution. What needs to be done is serious study.”

Fr. Zollner has been a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and heads the Center for Child Protection (CCP) at the Gregorian University, which is offering the new licentiate course.

The two-year course will launch in October 2018 as an interdisciplinary university degree. Classes will be taught in English, and those who enroll will also participate in an internship based on their respective academic backgrounds.

The first semester will be dedicated to exploring the work of safeguarding minors, while the second will dig deeper into more theoretical study of what ‘safeguarding’ fully means. In the third semester students will participate in internships, and the final semester will be dedicated to writing a thesis.

The new licentiate was announced Feb. 9 during the graduation ceremony for the university’s one-semester diploma course in safeguarding minors, which was launched by the CCP in 2016.

The objective of the diploma course is to form people who will eventually become child protection officers for dioceses, religious congregations, and similar organizations, as well as advisers and trainers in the field of safeguarding.

In his comments to CNA, Zollner said while other similar courses exist, the licentiate will be unique, because to his knowledge, it’s the “very first full time, two-year academic program that is multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary” while also taking into account Pope Francis’ new Apostolic Constitution “Veritatis Gaudium” on the nature and curriculum of ecclesiastical universities and institutions.

The licentiate, he said, is needed because although the diploma course gives a solid foundation child abuse prevention, “we also need people who are capable of adapting, inventing, creating new approaches to safeguarding in very different environments.”

While the diploma course allows students to gain the knowledge and experience needed in order to implement guidelines and policies when they go back to their countries and dioceses, the licentiate will take it a step further, he said.

“The scale of the problem and the breadth of the different issues that have to be tackled is enormous, and we Westerners don’t have very much understanding of what’s going on in some areas of the world,” Zollner said.

“We hope that we can get a real foot on the ground with people who are formed in-depth and know how to transmit a message that goes from head to heart. That’s for us a goal with this new licentiate.”

He said that from what he’s seen, the results of the diploma course have been largely positive, which is significant given the challenge of having people come together from various cultures with different attitudes in terms of talking about about child sexual abuse.

But despite the challenges, Zollner said “we have seen a transformation in a good number of them. I have been at the beginning and end of the semester with them and you see the difference not only in language, not only in how they use words, but in the whole attitude, how they talk about survivors of abuse.”

“It’s not anything threatening, anything disturbing, sort of difficult to talk about, it is, but now they have the capacity to really empathize, to be compassionate, to really do what they will be asked to do, which is to accompany victims and do whatever they need to do so that abuse is prevented.”

This year there were 18 graduates of the diploma course, which was coordinated by Prof. Dr. Karlijn Demasure, executive director of the CCP, and Dr. Katharina A. Fuchs. Diplomas were awarded by the Institute of Psychology of the Pontifical Gregorian University, which founded the CCP in 2012.

Students who received their diploma came from all over the world, including countries such as Czech Republic, Ghana, India, Japan, Lebanon, Mozambique, Nigeria, Slovakia, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand and the United States.

One of the graduates, Sr. Perpetua of the Congregation of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, who comes from the Bukoba diocese of Tanzania, told CNA that she signed up for the course “because there is a need to create awareness in my country because people are not aware about child sexual abuse.”

She said she feels “empowered” after taking the course, and that when she returns to her diocese, “I’ll create awareness by education, by educating the children at the school, at universities, parents and society at large.”

Similarly, Perla Freed, Director of the Safe Environment program for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, said “people don’t want to talk about child sexual abuse because it’s not a happy subject,” but she enrolled in the course because she wanted “more of an awareness of this problem and how to confront it.”

Not having background in topics such as theology or canon law, Freed said getting formation in these areas was “a very good model” to follow in studying the various aspects of abuse and prevention.

She said she is looking forward to returning to her diocese where she can implement what she’s learned, specifically in terms of prevention and victim assistance.

When it comes to abuse, “every case is heartbreaking and shouldn’t happen,” she said, but stressed that the Catholic Church “is making a lot of efforts to ensure that those people are taken care of.”

“I think the Catholic Church, in the U.S. and in other countries, is an example of what everybody should be doing on child safeguarding all over the world,” she said. “We have the programs for schools, we have the training for adults working with those children and young people, so we’re an example of what other public schools systems and other organizations working with youth should follow.”

In his comments to CNA, Zollner said the model of the course has been replicated by other entities throughout the world, including in Manila and in Mexico City, as well as in other institutions at the university.



USCCB praises disaster relief policy for churches

February 9, 2018 CNA Daily News 0

Washington D.C., Feb 9, 2018 / 03:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The USCCB issued a statement Friday praising the early morning passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act, which, in addition to preventing a government shutdown, also codified into law a new FEMA policy that would allow churches and other houses of worship to apply for disaster relief funds.

The policy was developed by FEMA in January, after three Texas churches damaged by hurricanes sued the government claiming discrimination.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>U.S. Bishops Chairmen Commend Provisions in Budget Act that Ensure Houses of Worship Can Apply for Federal Disaster Assistance <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/BudgetDeal?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#BudgetDeal</a> <a href=”https://t.co/Js5JOpRmIB”>pic.twitter.com/Js5JOpRmIB</a></p>&mdash; US Catholic Bishops (@USCCB) <a href=”https://twitter.com/USCCB/status/962020270662868992?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>February 9, 2018</a></blockquote>
<script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

As houses of worship–including churches, synagogues, and mosques–are often directly involved in the recovery effort after a natural disaster, it makes sense that they too are able to receive federal assistance with rebuilding, said a statement from  Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop Joseph C. Bambera, chairman of the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

“We applaud Congress for including provisions in the Budget Act that direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency to make disaster relief assistance available to houses of worship on the same terms as other nonprofit entities. These provisions ensure that houses of worship are treated fairly,” said the bishops.


Catholic skater Yuna Kim lights the Olympic torch

February 9, 2018 CNA Daily News 0

Seoul, South Korea, Feb 9, 2018 / 02:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic Olympic gold-medalist Yuna Kim lit the torch at the Opening Ceremony for the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea on Feb. 9.

The Korean skating sensation has long expressed a desire to use her public role to share the light of Christ by witnessing to her Catholic faith in international competitions and performances.

Kim was honored as the final torch bearer to light the Olympic cauldron for this year’s games, after two athletes from the inter-Korean women’s hockey team, one skater from North Korea and another from the South, passed the flame along.

After making the sign of the cross as she stepped onto the ice to win gold in the 2010 Vancouver Games with a record-breaking score, Kim teamed up with Korean bishops for a national rosary campaign. Kim was seen wearing a rosary ring, which her fans had previously mistaken for an engagement ring, during her silver-medal performance at the 2014 Sochi Games.

The Olympian converted to the Catholic faith alongside her mother in 2008 after they came in contact with local nuns and Catholic organizations through her personal physician – also a Catholic – who was treating her for knee injuries.

At her baptism, Kim took the name “Stella” after Mary, Star of the Sea, and told a diocesan paper that during the baptismal rite she “felt an enormous consolation in my heart” and promised God to continue to “pray always,” especially before competitions.  

Kim has also been active in using her position as an opportunity for charitable works, volunteering and donating funds to Catholic Hospitals, universities, and other charitable organizations, and working alongside the Catholic bishops in Korea as a spokeswoman for Catholic charities in Seoul.

In 2012, Kim donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Salesian of Don Bosco to help support the missionary brothers in South Sudan and to establish Catholic Schools throughout the war-torn country, meeting with Salesian brothers in Seoul to personally deliver the gift.

She told Korean press that while visiting Africa in 2011 she “felt the need to help out children there,” and wanted “to offer what little support I can” to those in Africa.

Kim is now retired from competitive skating, but the 27-year-old has served as an ambassador for the 2018 Winter Olympics in her home country of Korea. She delivered the original presentation to the International Olympic Committee seven years ago, pitching South Korea as a potential host country, and has been present at most of the official events leading up to the games. She delivered a speech to the United Nations in 2017 advocating for the “Olympic truce” resolution.

Pope Francis said earlier this week that he is praying for the people of the Korean Peninsula during the Olympic games, “The traditional Olympic truce this year becomes especially important: delegations from the two Koreas will march together under a single flag and compete as one team. This fact gives hope for a world in which conflicts can be resolved peacefully through dialogue and mutual respect.”



Notre Dame professor criticizes university’s provision of ‘simple contraceptives’

February 9, 2018 CNA Daily News 0

South Bend, Ind., Feb 9, 2018 / 02:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After the University of Notre Dame announced it would fund  “simple contraceptives” in its insurance plan, one Notre Dame professor has criticized the move, calling it “a giant leap into immorality.”

“Now the University [of Notre Dame] is to be sole funder and proprietor of a contraception giveaway,” wrote Notre Dame law professor Gerard V. Bradley in an essay published Thursday at Public Discourse.

“What is solemnly declared for years to be morally impossible is, suddenly, the substance of Notre Dame’s free choice,” Bradley wrote.

In a Feb. 7 statement, Notre Dame’s president Rev. John I. Jenkins, CSC, announced that while the insurance plan at the university will not provide abortifacients, the school will fund the use of “simple contraceptives,” which apparently include drugs that prevent conception.

In the statement, Jenkins noted that contraception is indeed “contrary to Catholic teaching,” while explaining that offering contraception to the school was a way to “respect” other religious traditions and conscientious decisions – particularly decisions made by those in the university’s community who rely on access to contraception through the insurance plan.

This step came as a surprise to many, since the university was one of the institutions which sued the United States over the 2012 Obamacare contraception mandate.

“In its lawsuit, Notre Dame cited chapter and verse of Church teaching,” Bradley recalled.

“The University said, basically, that, to remain faithful to its beliefs, it could not be involved in any way whatsoever with a process designed to provide contraceptives to its employees, its students, or their dependents,” he continued.  

Bradley noted that “Notre Dame’s practice until just a few years ago exhibited all the ‘respect’ possibly due to those who want to contracept.”

The university “rightly did nothing,” he said, to make contraception available or cheaper, while at the same time, it “did not discriminate in the workplace against those who chose to contracept.”

While Bradley said the allowance for contraception will cause incalculable harm to “so many persons’ minds, bodies and souls,” he also noted that “Fr. Jenkins supplied a primer about how Catholics should make all sorts of morally important decisions that is not only mistaken, but catastrophic for the moral life.”

“Our moral duty to respect others’ choices does not have anything to do with giving them the means to do evil,” Bradley said, adding that “one should not respect another’s specific immoral choice at all.”

“Everyone’s immoral choices should be regretted, and their repetition discouraged, and their occurrences criticized appropriately,” he continued.

Bradley said he believes that Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, the diocese where Notre Dame is located, will speak out against the decision, noting that he will “have no choice but to publicly do so” in order to “protect all the faithful in his care from this grave scandal.”

Bradley said that the rationalization behind Jenkin’s most recent allowance for contraception is a “crucial mistake” which violates the sexual and moral teachings of the Catholic Church, as delineated in Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, “Humanae Vitae.”

“God does not want us to weigh up pros and cons of adhering to the moral truth,” Bradley said.

“And the greatest respect we can show others is to bear faithful witness to the truth.”



How the Lord’s Prayer led this North Korean defector to freedom

February 9, 2018 CNA Daily News 0

Washington D.C., Feb 9, 2018 / 10:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- “Before his escape, when Seong-Ho was being tortured by North Korean officials, there was one thing that kept him from losing hope: over and over again he recited the Lord’s Prayer,” President Donald Trump said in his speech at the 2018 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. on Thursday.

Seong-Ho’s courage and faith were also highlighted by Trump during his State of the Union address in January.

Many North Korean defectors like Ji Seong-ho encounter Christianity through the missionaries who organize the underground railroad that makes it possible for them to escape to China, where they still face the constant risk of being repatriated back to North Korea.

The journey with the Christian missionaries often leads to conversion for defectors. Eighty to ninety percent of North Koreans who pass through the underground railroad identify as Christian after reaching South Korea, according to a 2015 study by Dr. Jin-Heon Jung entitled “Underground Railroads of Christian Conversion.”

One Catholic Church in Seoul baptized 60 North Korean defectors in one day in June 2016, after Father Raymond Lee Jong-nam catechized and assisted them with the transition to life in South Korea, according to UCA News.

“I thank Father Lee for showing us deep love like our father and I will live this new life to the full in this church,” one newly baptised North Korean told the Union of Catholic Asian News.

Ji Seong-ho, whose story gained national attention when he triumphantly raised up his crutches during the president’s State of the Union address last week, told EWTN that prayer sustained him during his escape.

“I offered so many prayers to my God…I started to pray save me, rescue me,” he said.

Ji escaped North Korea in 2006 by crossing the Tumen River into China, and then journeying 6,214 miles across China, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand to reach South Korea on crutches due to an earlier tragedy that left him an amputee.

Now that he has reached freedom, Ji Seong-ho said he feels called by God to rescue other North Korean refugees.

“God’s love needs to be conveyed to the people of North Korea and North Korean souls need God’s salvation. Under that conviction, I am doing what I am doing,” he said.

According to the Korean Ministry of Unification, more than 31,000 North Korean defectors have entered South Korea since 1998.

However, the annual number of North Koreans arriving in the South has declined since Chinese President Xi Jinping assumed power and cracked down on Christian missionaries.

Last year had the lowest figure for North Korean defections to South Korea since 2001, according to the Unification Ministry’s data.

For the more than 25 million people who remain within North Korea, human rights violations abound, according to the U.S. State Department.

“The DPRK regime detains more than 100,000 people, including children in political prison camps, where summary executions, torture, sexual violence, starvation, and other egregious abuses are committed under Kim Jong Un’s direction,” said State Department Spokesperson, Heather Nauert, on Feb. 6.

North Korea has consistently been ranked the worst country for persecution of Christians by Open Doors.

“The Catholic diocese of Pyongyang is vacant and the last bishop was appointed in March 1944. There are no native Catholic clerics in North Korea, but visiting priests occasionally say Mass. In 2008 Father Paul Kim Kwon-soon, a South Korean Franciscan, became the first priest to be granted a residency permit,” according to an Aid to the Church in Need UK report.

One French priest, Father Philippe Blot, has visited North Korea several times. He spoke to Parisians at Notre Dame Cathedral in April 2017 about his perspective on the country that singles out Christians for torture and execution.

“As a missionary and as a Catholic priest, I am speaking here on behalf of all those Koreans who for more than 60 years have been living the longest Way of the Cross in human history,” he said.

Father Philippe asked Catholics to pray “ardently every day for this crucified people.”



‘Surf’s up’ for these Argentine priests

February 8, 2018 CNA Daily News 0

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Feb 9, 2018 / 12:00 am (CNA).- Fr. Santiago Arriola is convinced that “our entire life, in all its expressions and dimensions, calls for evangelization and can be evangelized.”

 With Fr. Pablo Etchepareborda, he has begun a surfing ministry on the beaches of Mar del Plata, Argentina.

Although their endeavor is “a work in progress,”  without all the details worked out, there have been two experiences that have encouraged the priests to continue this ministry.

The first effort was in the summer of 2016 when Fr.  Pablo Etchepareborda blessed surf boards, the sea, and a gathering of surfers in Mar del Plata.

And the pair recently held an “Aloha Encounter,” on a local beach.

“Surfers often say the Hawaiian word ‘aloha’ to each other, which has a multiplicity of meanings referring to wishing someone well,” Fr. Arriola told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language sister agency.

For two days,  18 surfers, body surfers, and stand-up paddlers, body surfing gathered for times of prayer, personal reflection and group sharing, as well as recreational activities.

Those attending included catechists and members of the Schoenstatt Movement (a Catholic secular institute devoted to defending family life and to venerating Mary), together with “young people who’ve had a faith experience and are involved in the Church in some way and others who have drifted away from the Church somewhat, but are still wrestling with their faith,” Fr. Arrila said.

“For surfers, surfing has a vital meaning, a meaning that transcends the mere sport itself. For many, it’s a time to get reinvigorated, to relax and get away from the frantic pace of daily life, to be with nature and have a kind of religious experience. So it seemed to us a beautiful opportunity to make
this vital meaning of surfing more explicit, and to do it in a community setting,” he explained.

The priest said that they will do other activities as Argentina’s summer, which is during the winter months of the Northern Hemisphere, continues, since the Aloha Encounter “is without a doubt a very positive, worthwhile and enriching experience for all of us who participated and it left our hearts yearning for more.”

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


Bishop denies murdered Mexican priest had gang ties

February 8, 2018 CNA Daily News 0

Acapulco, Mexico, Feb 8, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- The Bishop of Chilpancingo-Chilapa, Mexico denied that Fr.  Germain Muñiz Garcia, who was murdered on a Mexican highway Feb. 5 along with Fr. Iván Añorve Jaimes, had any connection to organized crime, as the Guerrero State Prosecutor’s Office has recently claimed.

In a statement released Feb 7, Bishop Salvador Rangel Mendoza said that Fr.  Muñiz Garcia “was never connected to any criminal gang.”

However, he said that the deceased priest “had knowledge, by the very nature of his pastoral work, of  some gangs operating in that area, since being a pastor and a public person he had to travel through the area where those gangs were based in order to to serve the different communities.”

The Mexican bishop responded in his statement to the accusations lodged by the Guerrero State Prosecutor’s Office, which claimed that the murdered priest belonged to “a criminal gang, by reason of the photographs and notes that circulated on the priest’s social media,” posted months prior, where he is seen with a rifle alongside masked criminals.  

According to the authorities, both priests were traveling to the town of Taxco de Alarcón to attend a party. According to the State Prosecutor’s Office, “it is known that many people belonging to different criminal gangs went there from Guerrero State as well as Morelos and Mexico States.”

“At said party there was no municipal, state or federal security, since preventative security support for  the party was not requested from any authority by the organizers.”

According to the Prosecutor’s Office, a conflict during the party “triggered the armed attack” which ended the lives of the Mexican priests.

Four people who survived the attack were also traveling in the vehicle in which the priests died,  including Fr. Germain’s sister.

Bishop Rangel Mendoza noted there are serious inconsistencies with the Prosecutor’s Office’s version of what happened.

“The Prosecutor’s statement seems strange to us, in that in the same place, Juliantla, in Guerrero, ‘members of criminal gangs from Morelos, Mexico and Guerrero States would have gotten together,’ without any reports of any confrontations between them or participants in the event. We also note the absence of municipal or state law enforcement, knowing the presence of the stated gangs,” the prelate stated.

The neighboring Archdiocese of Acapulco also expressed their criticism of the Prosecutor’s Office in a statement.

“It seems strange to us that people belonging to different criminal gangs, carrying weapons, could have gotten along with each other at the dance, without any incident. This does not seem to be their ordinary conduct,” they said.

In addition, they pointed out, the four survivors of the attack maintained “that there was no conflict at where the dance was held.”

“These four survivors report that coming back to Taxco they passed the assailants’ car which went after them, caught up with them, blocked their way and shot them,” the Archdiocese of Acapulco stated.

Regarding the photograph of the priest carrying a firearm alongside criminals, Bishop Rangel Mendoza told the press that although “it was extremely imprudent,” of him, and that he reprimanded the priest at the time, Fr. Muñiz Garcia “had to pass through the drug traffickers’ territories,” and he had to “greet them, he had to dialogue with them, he had to do it, because he had to pass through their territory, how else was he going to get through?”

The bishop said the priests went to the party “to offer their music and see if they would let them sing a few songs.”

In his statement, the prelate asked that “the investigations be objective, truthful and adhering to the law and the truth of the facts,” and that if the Prosecutor’s Office claims that the priest belonged to some criminal gang, “(I) urge them to specifically determine to which criminal gang he belonged to and not to limit themselves to making simple accusations.”

In addition, he demanded from the Guerrero State Prosecutor’s Office “a complete and certified copy of the file on the investigation that supports the said statements, since as the Prosecutor has the obligation to determine what actually happened, supporting the findings with reliable and truthful evidence.”  

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