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Court evidence suggests abuse cover-up by high ranking Legionaries of Christ

February 17, 2020 CNA Daily News 3

Milan, Italy, Feb 18, 2020 / 12:01 am (CNA).- Evidence to be presented in an upcoming criminal trial suggests an elaborate cover-up of sexual abuse allegations against a former priest of the Legionaries of Christ whom an Italian court has convicted of sexual abuse of a minor.

The case, set to begin in March, names four Legion priests and a Legion lawyer who are accused of attempting to obstruct justice and extort the family of a sex abuse victim, according to reporting by the Associated Press.

The names of the priests and lawyer in question have not been released, and the Legion did not respond to CNA’s request for comment.

The Legion of Christ, a religious congregation consisting of fewer than 1,000 priests worldwide, was long the subject of critical reports and rumors before it was rocked by Vatican acknowledgment that its charismatic founder, Father Marcial Maciel, lived a double life, sexually abused seminarians, and fathered children. Maciel abused at least 60 minors.

In 2006 the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, with the approval of Benedict XVI, removed Maciel from public ministry and ordered him to spend the rest of his life in prayer and penance. The congregation decided not to subject him to a canonical process because of his advanced age, and he died in 2008.

Benedict XVI appointed Cardinal Valasio De Paolis, a highly respected canon lawyer, to lead the religious order in 2010.

De Paolis, who died in 2017, has faced criticism for leaving much of the leadership of the congregation from Maciel’s time in place and failing to investigate claims of cover-up.

The present case chiefly concerns Mexico native Vladimir Reséndiz Gutiérrez, who was ordained a priest in 2006 and immediately was sent to oversee young boys at the Gozzano youth seminary near Italy’s border with Switzerland, the AP reports.

The Legion has said it first recieved allegations of sexual abuse against Reséndiz during March 2011. An Austrain boy reported the allegation to a church ombudsman’s office in Austria that receives abuse complaints, according to the AP.

In addition, the son of Yolanda Martinez, a church employee in Milan, revealed in 2013 during sessions with his psychologist that Reséndiz had abused him at the Gozzano youth seminary in 2008.

In October 2013, the Legion offered a settlement of 15,000 euros to Martinez, but in return, her son would have to recant the testimony he gave to prosecutors that Reséndiz had repeatedly assaulted him, the AP reports.

Martinez called De Paolis to complain about the proposal. According to their wiretapped Jan. 7, 2014 conversation, De Paolis told Martinez not to sign the deal and to negotiate a different deal, without lawyers.

Authorities obtained the tape of the conversation, as well as numerous documents to be presented at the trial, during a 2014 raid of the Legion’s headquarters in Rome.

Documents obtained during the 2014 raid suggest that Reséndiz was known to the Legion as a risk to children even when he was a teenage seminarian in 1994, with his novice director writing that he believed Reséndiz to be “a boy with strong sexual impulses and low capacity to control them.”

A lawyer for the Legion is accused of recommending various schemes to Legion leaders aimed at covering up Reséndiz abuses.

The lawyer recommended in a March 2011 email that Father Gabriel Sotres, a Legion priest who was tasked with revising the congregation’s constitution a decade ago, go to Austria to convince the alleged victim not to tell their parents or the authorities.

Documents also suggest that Legion knew about another possible victim in Venezuela, where Reséndiz had been moved in 2008. The lawyer proposed a plan to report only Reséndiz’s name to Venezuelan police to comply with local reporting laws, leaving out that he was a priest, that he was accused of a sex crime against a child, and the name of the Legion, as well as noting that he no longer lived in Venezuela, the AP reported.

All of this would be done in order to mitigate the possible damage to the order.

That same month, Reséndiz was removed from priestly ministry after his religious superior questioned him, but documents suggest he hearing confessions in schools and celebrating Mass in Colombia while he was supposedly suspended, and later assigned to an administrative position.

Evidence to be presented at the trial suggests that although De Paolis opened a canonical investigation of Reséndiz within the congregation, he did not alert the police.

Authorities in Milan did not learn of the abuse allegations against Reséndiz until March 2013, when Martinez’s son’s psychologist reported them.

Reséndiz eventually confessed to his crimes in a letter to Cardinal Gerhard Mueller in 2012. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith dismissed Reséndiz from the clerical state during April 2013, the Legion says.

An Italian court convicted Reséndiz in absentia during March 2019, and during Jan. 2020 an appeals court confirmed the conviction. Reséndiz faces a sentence of six and a half years in jail. He is believed to be living in Mexico.

The Legion reported in December 2019 that since its founding in 1941, 33 priests of the Legionaries of Christ have been found to have committed sexual abuse of minors, victimizing 175 children, according to the 2019 report.

The preliminary hearing for the present criminal trial in Milan is scheduled for March 12.


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Vatican, Chinese diplomats discuss deal on bishop appointments

February 14, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Munich, Germany, Feb 14, 2020 / 04:13 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See, met Friday with Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, discussing their states’ 2018 agreement on episcopal appointments.

The Feb. 14 meeting took place in Munich on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.

“In the course of the colloquy, which took place in a cordial atmosphere, the contacts between the two parties were evoked, which have developed positively over time,” according to a Holy See press office communique.

“In particular, there was highlighted the importance of the Provisional Accord on the nomination of bishops, signed 22 September 2018, renewing the willingness to continue the institutional dialogue at the bilateral level to promote the life of the Catholic Church and the good of the Chinese people,” the Holy See press office wrote.

The press office also said that “appreciation was expressed for the efforts being made to eradicate the coronavirus epidemic as well as solidarity with the affected population.”

The Vatican has sent between 600,000 to 700,000 face masks to three provinces in China since Jan. 27 to help contain the spread of coronavirus, and Pope Francis prayed for those infected during his Jan. 26 Angelus prayer.

The press office communique closed saying that “a desire for greater international cooperation to end of promoting civil coexistence and peace in the world was called for, and considerations on intercultural dialogue and human rights were exchanged.”

The Church in mainland China has been divided for some 60 years between the underground Church, which is persecuted and whose episcopal appointments are frequently not acknowledged by Chinese authorities, and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, a government-sanctioned organization.

The September 2018 agreement between the Holy See and Beijing was intended to normalize the situation of China’s Catholics and unify the underground Church and the CPCA. The agreement has been roundly criticized by human rights groups and some Church leaders, including Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong.

Cardinal Zen told CNA Feb. 11 that “the situation is very bad” in China, and added that “the bad things come from [Parolin].”

Cardinal Pietro Parolin is Vatican Secretary of State, and Archbishop Gallagher is one of his top deputies.

According to Cardinal Zen, Cardinal Parolin is so optimistic about the so-called ‘Ostpolitik’, the compromise.”

But, the cardinal told CNA, “you cannot compromise” with the Chinese Communist Party, whom he called “persecutors” of the faith.

“They want complete surrender. That’s communism.”

“More and more, the Church [is] under persecution,” Cardinal Zen said, “both the official Church, and the underground.”

Guidance from the Vatican recognizes the choice of those who feel that they cannot in good conscience register with the government and accept sinicization. However, reports indicate that those who decline to register are facing harassment and persecution.

A report by the Congressional China Commission, issued in January, noted that human rights abuses intensified in China during the 2019 reporting year, and the persecution of Catholics worsened after the Vatican-China deal was reached.

“After the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs signed an agreement with the Holy See in September 2018 paving the way for unifying the state-sanctioned and underground Catholic communities, local Chinese authorities subjected Catholic believers in China to increasing persecution by demolishing churches, removing crosses, and continuing to detain underground clergy” the report read.

In December 2019 Bishop John Fang Xingyao of Linyi, president of the CPCA, said that “love for the homeland must be greater than the love for the Church and the law of the country is above canon law.” He was speaking at a Beijing meeting sponsored by the Chinese Communist Party.

New restrictions on religious groups in China went into effect Feb. 1. These include a mandate to implement socialst values, spread the principles of the Chinese Communist Party and support its leaders, and adhere to the path of Chinese socialism.

Religious freedom is officially guaranteed by the Chinese constitution, but religious groups must register with the government, and are overseen by the Chinese Communist Party. The Sinizication of religion has been pushed by President Xi Jinping, who took power in 2013 and who has strengthened government oversight of religious activities.

In 2017, Xi said that religions not sufficiently conformed to communist ideals pose a threat to the country’s government, and therefore must become more “Chinese-oriented.” Since he took power, crosses have been removed from an estimated 1,500 church buildings.

And a government official who oversees religious affairs said in April 2018 that government restrictions on bishop appointments are not a violation of religious freedom, as he emphasized that religions in China must “adapt to socialist society.” The official, Chen Zongrong, added that “I believe there is no religion in human society that transcends nations.”

Restrictions put in place in February 2018 made it illegal for anyone under age 18 to enter a church building.

Muslims, too, have come under pressure from the Chinese government. It is believed that as many as 1 million Uyghurs, a Muslim ethnoreligious group in China’s far west, are being detained in re-education camps where they are reportedly subjected to forced labor, torture, and political indoctrination.


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Francis ‘would be disappointed’ by focus on priestly ordination of married men

February 13, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Armagh, Northern Ireland, Feb 13, 2020 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- The Archbishop of Armagh said Thursday that the pope’s apostolic exhortation on the Amazon was foremost a call to preserve the region, and that a focus on its failure to address the priestly ordination of married men is undue.

“I understand there has been disappointment over the airwaves yesterday, and a lot of people feeling that perhaps this was a moment at which Pope Francis was going to express his views on the ordination of married men as priests,” Archbishop Eamon Martin said Feb. 13 to the Irish public broadcaster RTE.

“But I think Pope Francis would be disappointed if this is the issue that we’re all talking about today, because his exhortation is a huge cry from the Amazon and a cry from the heart to protect that region that is being cruelly destroyed by, I suppose, the exploitation of its resources, the destruction of its natural beauty and its life.”

“He says, ‘listen, the whole world has a responsiblity to try and preserve the equilibrum of the planet, which so much depends on the health of the Amazon and the ecosystems there’; so his whole exhortaion is really in line with his thinking from a few years ago, in his famous encyclical Laudato si’; it’s really a call for the protection of the earth.”

While Pope Francis was expected to focus in Querida Amazonia on a proposal to ordain married priests in the Amazon region, the pope instead emphasized the importance of collaboration in apostolic ministry by Catholics in various states of life.

Archbishop Martin noted that the Pope “chose not to mention” the priestly ordination of married men.

“It’s been said he refused this or refused that; he’s actually left the question. I think that he’s done so in order to encourage all of us to focus on much bigger questions about Church ministry, organization, the involvement of lay people in the Church, the involvement of women in the Church, and he calls on the local Church there to actually officially recognize these roles in a way which it hasn’t done until now,” the archbishop commented.

Pressed on the topic, Archbishop Martin said that a call to consider the priestly ordination of married men was made in one of the 120 paragraphs of the Amazon synod’s final document, “so it wasn’t even at the Amazon synod the main theme of the synod, it was on this other issue I’ve been speaking to you about, the corruption, exploitation of the Amazon, the destruction of the indigenous peoples there, their displacement, oppression. These are the issues that he bishops at the Amazonian synod in October were most passionate about.”

He emphasized that Francis is urging the Church “to step back and look at the bigger issues for mission. One of his key themes since he began his pontificate is that the Church needs to go out, and therefore he’s calling on all of us throughout the world to respond to this crisis for priests  in the Amazon.”

“I know we think we’re very short on priests, but a Church which loses its missionary spurt and its missionary zeal is a Church which is dying, and I think that’s what Pope Francis is saying to us: stay missionary, get out there, go out and help these people.”

Archbishop Martin said that “if we’re to respond to Pope Francis’ call here in Ireland then we too need to be looking at how are we recognizing the role of our lay faithful, how are we recognizing officially and presenting in our Church the role of women; and these aren’t simply about ordination to the priesthood, but a recognition of the richness and the charisms … that lay people, lay women and men, can bring to our Church in terms of organization, proclaiming the Word, leading prayer, administering parishes, making decisions at a local and diocesan level, even exercising the pastoral care which in the past priests would have done.”

“It’s when we have this worshipping, vibrant, and living Christian community, it’s then that we have new vocations,” he stated.

In a Feb. 12 statement on Querida Amazonia, Archbishop Martin said it “highlights the problems of poverty, economic and social injustice and the violation of human rights which are intertwined in the vicious cycle of ecological and human degradation.”

He added that “Despite the challenges we have here in Ireland with finding enough priests and religious to serve our parishes, we should not forget that Ireland has always been a country which has responded to the Church’s call to mission … It would be wonderful if some Irish priests, religious and lay missionaries today were to consider offering even a five year period of ministry to the Amazon.”

Pressed nevertheless on the topic of priestly ordination of married men by RTE, the archbishop said that “this question is still open, I’m open to this question, I’m open to this question in the universal Church. I think Pope Francis recognizes it’s a question where there’s a lot of divided thinking, and I think that we can recognize the joy and beauty of the gift of the priesthood where a man gives his life wholly and entirely dedicated to God, set apart for the service of Christ and his Church, a real gift to the Church. At the same time, we have to look at other roles, other ministries within the Church.”

He said that “I’m very much open to the idea” of the priestly ordination of married men, “and I think Pope Francis is too. He doesn’t shut the idea down, he leaves it open for further dicussion within the Church.”

The final document of the synod had proposed “that criteria and dispositions be established by the competent authority, within the framework of Lumen Gentium 26, to ordain as priests suitable and respected men of the community … who have had a fruitful permanent diaconate and receive an adequate formation for the priesthood, in order to sustain the life of the Christian community through the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the Sacraments in the most remote areas of the Amazon region.”

Andrea Tornielli, the Vatican’s editorial director, wrote Feb. 12 that “after praying and reflecting,” Pope Francis “has decided to respond not by foreseeing changes or further possibilities of exceptions from those already provided for by current ecclesiastical discipline, but by asking that the essentials be the starting point,” for discussions regarding priestly ministry in the Amazon.

The pope’s failure explicity to permit the priestly ordination of married men in the Amazon has not deterred some of those who are calling for the practice.

Bishop Augusto Martin Quijano Rodriguez, Vicar Apostolic of Pucallpa, told Reuters that “the door is still open,” and that “the pope is asking for reflection. This proposal is still ongoing.”

The Central Committee of German Catholics, an influential lay group which is jointly managing the so-called synodal process with the German bishops’ conference, accused Pope Francis of a “lack of courage for real reforms” in his Amazonian exhortation.

ZdK wrote that the pope “does not find the courage to implement real reforms on the issues of consecration of married men and the liturgical skills of women that have been discussed for 50 years.”


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Spain moves forward on euthanasia bill

February 12, 2020 CNA Daily News 2

Madrid, Spain, Feb 12, 2020 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- After Spain’s socialist party tried and failed twice last year to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide, the lower house of the country’s parliament has now voted to consider a bill that wou… […]

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Knights of Columbus celebrate 100 years of charity in Rome

February 11, 2020 CNA Daily News 2

Rome, Italy, Feb 11, 2020 / 10:05 am (CNA).- A group of the Knights of Columbus are on pilgrimage in Rome to celebrate 100 years of their charitable presence in the Eternal City.

The Knights of Columbus have been working in Rome through nine pontificates and a world war in which Italy and the United States were on opposing sides, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson highlighted in a news conference Feb. 11.

“Our motto was everybody welcome and everything free,” Anderson said.

The Knights of Columbus’ permanent presence in Rome began in 1920, in the aftermath of World War I, when Benedict XV invited the order to offer charitable aid in the city, particularly to youth who were victims of the war.

The Knights had run hospitality centers for American troops in Europe, including Italy, during World War I.

After the invitation of Benedict XV, the group’s first project in the Eternal City was the construction of playgrounds for young people, Anderson said, something the order continues today with five sports centers for Roman youth.

During World War II, many of these playgrounds also became distribution centers for aid.

These centers were followed by numerous other initiatives. At the Vatican, some notable contributions of the order were the donation of the land on which the Paul VI Hall was built, and the restoration of various Vatican landmarks and artworks, including the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica and the statues of St. Peter and St. Paul in the square.

The group was also instrumental in the history of Vatican Media, providing financial assistance for the transmissions of Vatican Radio in the 1960s and the funding of a television satellite for the broadcast of papal events and Masses.

The Knights continue to support these broadcasts, bringing the “sounds, words, and images of the pope” to people around the world, as well as other initiatives of the Dicastery of Communication, the department’s secretary, Msgr. Lucio Ruiz, said at the press conference.

Guzmán Carriquiry, vice president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, spoke about the Knights of Columbus’ contribution to the work of the commission and its participation in the 1999 synod on America.

The Knights of Columbus has also partnered with the Fabric of St. Peter, which is responsible for the care and restoration of St. Peter’s Basilica. Anderson said upcoming projects with the office include work in the Vatican excavations, where there is the tomb of St. Peter, and at the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls.

In 2020, “The Knights of Columbus, an Illustrated History,” was published. It was written by Knights’ vice president of communications Andrew Walther and his wife, Maureen.

Anderson and the supreme council of the Knights of Columbus met with Pope Francis in a private audience Feb. 10.

The pope praised the order’s “work of evangelical charity and fraternity in a variety of fields,” also recalling their “faithful witness to the sacredness and dignity of human life, evident at both the local and national levels.”

“In our world, marked by divisions and inequalities, the generous commitment of your Order to serve all in need offers, especially to young people, an important inspiration to overcome a globalization of indifference and build together a more just and inclusive society,” Pope Francis said.

The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal order, was founded in New Haven, Conn., in 1882 by Venerable Michael McGivney, a parish priest. It has 1.8 million members worldwide who perform volunteer service and advance the order’s key principles of charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism.


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Newman relic reported stolen from Birmingham Oratory

February 10, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Birmingham, England, Feb 10, 2020 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- A first-class relic of St. John Henry Newman was stolen from the Birmingham Oratory sometime in late January, the Oratory announced in its weekly newsletter.

“Sadly, the only piece of bone thought to have been St John Henry’s was stolen from its casket in the Newman Shrine. If anyone has seen any suspicious activity, please inform one of the Fathers or Brothers,” read a notice in the Oratory’s Feb. 2 newsletter.

The though reported at the beginning of the month, the most recent edition of the Oratory’s newsletter does not include any further mention of the theft, and the West Midlands Police told CNA that they were “unable to find a report of theft from Birmingham Oratory.”

The Birmingham Oratory did not respond to CNA’s request for comment. 

News of the theft was first reported on Saturday, Feb. 8, in The Catholic Herald.

The bone fragment is one of very few existing first-class relics of St. John Henry Newman, who was canonized last October. 

A first-class relic is part of the physical body of a saint. A second-class relic is an item that was owned or used by a saint, such as an article of clothing or a rosary bead, and third-class relics are things that have been put into contact with first- and second-class relics. The bone fragment belonging to St. John Henry Newman was discovered in 2008, when his gravesite was excavated as part of the canonization process.

Due to accelerated decomposition in the Birmingham graveyard where Newman was buried, and the nearly 120 years between his death and disinterment, very few relics were recovered from the site. 

“The oratory cemetery is extremely damp, on the side of the Lickey hills and with a stream running through it,” said Peter Jennings of the Archdiocese of Birmingham in 2008, when Newman’s cause was under examination. “The undertakers hadn’t been digging for long when they warned us that we’d be lucky to find any recognizable remains at all.”

Newman was a 19th century theologian, poet, Catholic priest and cardinal. Born in 1801, before his conversion he was a well-known and much-respected Oxford academic, Anglican preacher, and public intellectual.

His conversion to the Catholic faith in 1845 was controversial in England, and resulted in the loss of many friends, including his own sister, who never spoke to him again.

He became a priest in 1847 and founded the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in England. He was particularly dedicated to education, founding two schools for boys and the Catholic University of Ireland. His “Idea is a University” became a foundational text on Catholic higher education. He was a prolific author and letter writer. Newman died in Birmingham in 1890 at the age of 89.

At the time of his canonization last year, St. John Henry Newman became Britain’s first new saint since the canonization of St. John Ogilvie in 1976.