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What’s next for Cardinal McCarrick? How the Church addresses sex abuse allegations

Washington D.C., Jun 21, 2018 / 02:17 pm (CNA).- The allegation that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick sexually abused a teenager is a bombshell for the Catholic Church in America.

McCarrick has stepped down from active priestly ministry at the direction of the Holy See, after an initial investigation judged the allegation to be “credible and substantiated.”

What does that mean, and what might be next for McCarrick?

Any allegation of sexual abuse by a member of the clergy is a serious tragedy, but an allegation against a prominent cardinal, even a retired one, can be devastating for lay Catholics and clergy.

The allegation against the cardinal is that in 1971, then-Monsignor McCarrick fondled the genitals of a 16-year-old boy in the sacristy of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, while measuring the boy for a cassock. McCarrick is alleged to have fondled the same boy in a sacristy restroom the next year, according to the New York Times.

As emeritus Archbishop Washington, D.C., previously Bishop of Metuchen and Archbishop of Newark, McCarrick occupied a place of prominence in the US Church. It would be difficult to find any prominent East Coast cleric who has not been photographed next to a smiling McCarrick, who has been a visible presence in the Church even in his late 80s.  

Despite the public persona of an affable bishop, equally at home preaching before a packed cathedral or engaging a room full of donors, rumors have swirled around him privately for years.

Several American priests have spoken to CNA in recent days, noting the uncomfortable reputation McCarrick had for “snuggling,” and his insistent affection for seminarians. Priests in his orbit have recalled the nicknames used in some clerical circles, the oft-mentioned “Uncle Ted” and the uncomfortable moniker “Teddy Bear.”

Statements issued June 20 from the Archdiocese of Newark and the Diocese of Metuchen confirmed that McCarrick has faced previous allegations of sexual misconduct, albeit with adults, which ended in settlements. That fact seems to lean heavily against his defense in this case, despite his claim of innocence.

This dissonance between public persona and private reputation makes an especially difficult case for the Church to handle, in Rome and in the United States.

As Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal McCarrick was a leading participant in the development of 2002’s Dallas Charter, which established procedures for handling allegations of sexual abuse.

The reforms he helped to adopt have now become the measure by which he will be judged. In fact, the extent to which the full rigor of those norms is applied to his case could also become the measure against which their integrity is assessed.

Under canon law, it is the pope alone who has the right to judge cardinals (even retired ones) in matters of penal law. According to a June 20 statement from the Archdiocese of Washington, Pope Francis delegated Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York to conduct at least the initial stages of the investigation, which have now been concluded.

Whenever there is an allegation of clerical sexual abuse against a minor, canon law requires that the diocese concerned hold a “preliminary investigation.” That process is meant to establish if the accusation has “the semblance of truth,” or, in the language of the Charter, is “credible.”  

The standard of proof required at that phase of the process is very low- requiring only that the accusation not be found manifestly false or frivolous. But what that investigation discovers determines what happens next.

In the United States, following the Dallas Charter, an assessment of the investigation is usually conducted by a diocesan review board. Review boards are quasi-independent bodies made up of legal experts, clergy and independent advisors appointed by the bishop.

If the review board concludes the allegation has the semblance of truth, and the bishop agrees, the matter is ordinarily referred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Fatih in Rome. Since cases involving cardinals are reserved to the pope personally, the case of Cardinal McCarrick was likely forwarded directly to the pope, with some input from the CDF.

In cases involving priests or deacons, if the CDF finds the results of the preliminary investigation suggest further investigation, it has several options.

If the allegation seems well-substantiated, it can refer the matter back to the diocese, to be handled by a canonical trial, or by an expedited process ending in an extrajudicial decree. The CDF can also convene an extrajudicial process or a trial in Rome, handling the matter directly. This is the typical approach in cases which are not clear, or which, for some reason, are particularly contentious or high-profile.

Subsequent to that process, if the cleric is found guilty, the Church may impose the penalty of laicization, permanently removing the cleric from clerical life and ministry, or, taking into account factors including the cleric’s age and health, impose some other penalty. A cleric found to have committed the crime of sexual abuse can never be returned to ministry.

According to the Archdiocese of New York’s statement, following the preliminary investigation, the Archdiocesan Review Board found the allegation against Cardinal McCarrick to be both “credible” and “substantiated.” Taken at face value, this sounds very bad for Cardinal McCarrick’s case.

In fairness, it should be noted that the norms for diocesan review boards allow for significantly different processes and standards in different places, that the procedural and evidentiary norms required in a canonical trial are more stringent, and that the right of defense- an essential part of any legal process- is more robustly defined in a canonical trial.

What happens next will tell us much about how Rome views the credibility of the allegation against Cardinal McCarrick.

In the very rare instances in which archbishops (let alone cardinals) have been personally accused of sexual abuse, full canonical trials have been held at the Apostolic Tribunal of the CDF in Rome, essentially the highest judicial court the Church has. If Cardinal McCarrick’s case is handled by an extrajudicial process in New York, this would suggest overwhelming confidence by Rome in the credibility of the accusation.

It is important, as with any legal system, that the canonical process be allowed to run its course. It is also important that Cardinal McCarrick be given every proper chance and means to defend himself and assert his innocence as part of that process.

It is also possible that, at age 87, Cardinal McCarrick will not face a trial or an extrajudicial process.

In the meantime, the fact that the Archdiocese of Newark and the Diocese of Metuchen confirmed that there have been previous complaints and settlements because of McCarrick has already caused scandal.

An important question about his ecclesiastical career has also begun to be asked: how was McCarrick allowed to continue for so long in office, and then continue in public ministry after retirement, when Church authorities knew of these settlements?

McCarrick’s former dioceses have been swift to insist that they have never previously received any allegations of sexual abuse of minors. But, as now seems clear, they were aware of credible allegations of sexual misconduct against the cardinal. Some commentators have wondered if Church authorities presumed that so long as no children were involved, there was no obligation to curtail his ministry.

This is not a dry question of past failings by previous administrations: close personal associates of Cardinal McCarrick continue to hold leadership positions in American diocesan curias.

It might be asked whether individuals who could have known - indeed can be reasonably expected to have known - about McCarrick’s behavior, or at least the persistent rumors of it, remain in positions where they will be responsible for assessing and disciplining clergy following allegations of misconduct.

Questions will likely be raised about what these men knew, what they heard, what they did about it and when. Anything less will likely leave some Catholics wondering what else might lurk in the shadow of this scandal.

Hard questions may also soon asked of the other three cardinals in this story: Dolan, Tobin, and Wuerl. They are likely to be asked when they first learned of allegations against Cardinal McCarrick. Cardinals Tobin and Wuerl, especially, might be asked if it would serve the public interest to make clear when they discovered that their mutual predecessor (once removed, in Tobin’s case) had been the subject of sexual misconduct complaints serious enough to prompt legal settlements - and whether they raised questions about his continued public life and ministry during retirement.

While leaving all necessary space for the canonical process concerning the specific allegation involving a minor, the extent to which the cardinals are willing to engage publicly about what they know about the other complaints against Cardinal McCarrick, when they knew it, and what they did, or did not do, about it, could also bear heavily on the credibility of the American hierarchy.

For Pope Francis too, the McCarrick scandal is a serious test. Following allegations of sexual misconduct, the late Cardinal Keith O’Brien, formerly of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, died in disgrace and exile. While he was not formally stripped of his title, in March 2015, Francis accepted his resignation of the rights and privileges of a cardinal.

Having already suspended McCarrick from public ministry for the duration of the canonical process, the steps Pope Francis takes against him at the conclusion of the process - especially taking into account the previous accusations and settlements - will be closely analyzed.

Following on the heels of the much-criticized handling of the sexual abuse scandal in Chile, both the Holy See and the American bishops will be acutely aware that such a high-profile case needs to be handled very carefully. To stop the McCarrick scandal before it becomes a crisis, the margin for error is very slim.

World Health Organization no longers consider transgenderism a disorder

Geneva, Switzerland, Jun 21, 2018 / 01:47 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Monday, the World Health Organization reported it would no longer designate transgenderism as a mental health disorder in its updated classification of diseases.

“It was taken out from mental health disorders because we had [a] better understanding that this was not actually a mental health condition, and leaving it there was causing stigma,” said Dr. Lale Say, coordinator of WHO’s adolescents and at-risk populations team, according to the Huffington Post.

The WHO will now classify transgender identities as “gender incongruence,” in its updated section on sexual health conditions in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems. This definition, according to psychologist Dr. Geoffrey Reed, is expresses “a discrepancy between a person’s experienced gender identity and their body.”

The American Psychiatric Association made a similar shift in 2012 when it revised its manual of mental disorders to remove transgenderism as a mental disorder. Instead, the association classified individuals who experience emotional stress related to gender identity as a person with “gender dysphoria.”

However, one Catholic psychologist said mental health experts are still learning about the intricacies of transgenderism.

“I think the mental health profession hasn’t really had time to really thoroughly catch up on it, besides those in the field who kind of just flow with the current of whatever is popular in the moment,” Dr. Gregory Bottaro, a psychologist with the group CatholicPsych, told CNA last year.

Bottaro added that the biggest concern with transgenderism is its effect on children and their fragile psychological development.

“With kids, it’s really important to recognize that their sexual development is so fragile, and the influence of what’s popular in the culture needs to be really, strongly filtered and studied and understood,” he said.

“The Catholic response is a return to true anthropology – male and female he made them – to understand that our biology and our psychology are not separate things, and so to encourage the development of a curriculum of human nature that is consistent with a true anthropology,” he said.

A sudy titled “Sexuality and Gender: Findings from the Biological, Psychological, and Social Sciences,”  found that non-heterosexual individuals face a higher risk of adverse health and mental health outcomes. The study estimated they have a 1.5 times higher risk of anxiety and substance abuse, and face double the risk of depression and suicide.

The report additionally found that adults who undergo sex reassignment surgeries are at further risk for mental health problems, making them 5 times more likely to attempt suicide and 19 times more likely to die by suicide, compared to a control group.

There also remains vague findings on the mental health repercussions of sex reassignment surgery for transgender individuals.

A 2016 letter authored by 47 members of Congress noted experts remain ‘inconclusive’ on “whether gender reassignment surgery improves health incomes for Medicare beneficiaries with gender dysphoria, and that some studies have ‘reported harms.’”

The transgender population was recently estimated to make up around 0.6 percent of the total population.

Pope Francis: The Our Father is a spiritual roadmap

Geneva, Switzerland, Jun 21, 2018 / 11:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Lord’s Prayer is the prayer of the Church, confirming a person’s identity as a beloved child of God, and reminding Catholics of the responsibility owed toward their brothers and sisters in Christ, Pope Francis said Thursday.

“‘Our Father’: these two simple words offer us a roadmap for the spiritual life,” the pope said in a homily at Mass in Geneva June 21. The Mass took place at the end of a day-long trip to the Swiss city for the 70th anniversary of the World Council of Churches.

In his homily, the pope said the words “Our Father,” as taught by Jesus to his disciples in the day’s Gospel, reveal life’s meaning and a Christian’s identity: “we are God’s beloved sons and daughters.”

“Those words solve the problem of our isolation, our sense of being orphans,” he continued. “They show us what we have to do: love God, our Father, and others, our brothers and sisters. The ‘Our Father’ is the prayer of us, of the Church.”

Referring to how Christians call God “our Father,” he said in the face of offenses against God, Catholics are called to overcome indifference and to treat everyone as brothers and sisters: including the unborn, the elderly, the person who is difficult to forgive, the poor, and the outcast.

“This is what the Father asks us, indeed commands us, to do: to love one another from the heart, as sons and daughters in the midst of their brothers and sisters,” he said.

Catholics are reminded of God as Father also when they make the sign of the cross, he continued, noting that “where the Father is present, no one is excluded; fear and uncertainty cannot gain the upper hand.”

In his homily, Francis also reflected on the images of bread and forgiveness in the Lord’s prayer, stating that when Christians ask God for “our daily bread,” they are asking the Father to help them live a simpler life, focusing on what is most important, like “people over things so that personal, not virtual, relationships may flourish.”

The pope criticized the complication of today’s daily life, noting how many people rush “from dawn to dusk, between countless phone calls and texts,” filled with stress and preoccupied by change, with no time to see the faces of others.

He advised choosing a simpler lifestyle, one which “goes against the tide,” and pointed to St. Aloysius Gonzaga, whose feast day is celebrated June 21, as an example. Such lifestyle “would involve giving up all those things that fill our lives but empty our hearts,” he said.

Catholics must also not forget that Jesus himself is their “daily bread,” the pope said, criticizing the treatment of Jesus as a “side dish,” rather than as the center of the day and “the very air we breathe.”

Also reflecting on the element of forgiveness found in the Our Father, Francis stated that God frees the heart from all sin when he “forgives every last thing. Yet he asks only one thing of us: that we in turn never tire of forgiving.”

And if a person finds it hard to forgive someone, he should pray for that person and for that situation, asking God for strength, he advised.

“Let us ask for the grace not to be entrenched and hard of heart, constantly demanding things of others. Instead, let us take the first step, in prayer, in fraternal encounter, in concrete charity,” he concluded. “In this way, we will be more like the Father, who loves without counting the cost.”

 

Pope Francis meets with North, South Koreans in Geneva

Geneva, Switzerland, Jun 21, 2018 / 09:37 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a move aimed at bridging political as well as ecumenical divides, Pope Francis during a day-trip to Geneva met with representatives from both North and South Korea who are in Geneva for a gathering aimed at promoting unity among Christians.

The brief meeting, attended by four delegates each from both North and South Korea, took place before Pope Francis entered the main hall in the headquarters of the World Council of Churches (WCC) during his June 21 trip to Geneva to celebrate the organization's 70th anniversary.

For decades the WCC has been actively involved in promoting peace and unity on the Korean peninsula. The organization's president for Asia, Sang Chang, helped to organize the meeting with Koreans.

Chang is a minister with the Presbyterian Church in South Korea, and is widely known for her work in promoting peace and reconciliation on the Korean peninsula, as well as women's rights.

According to a communique from the WCC earlier this week, the North and South Korean delegations sang together June 17 as part of the organization's 70th anniversary celebrations, linking arms and joining their voices in singing a 600-year-old folk song called Arirang.

Thursday's meeting between Pope Francis and the Korean delegates came after several high-profile meetings among leaders from North Korea, South Korea, and the United States.

In April a historic step was taken when North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un crossed the military demarcation line within the Demilitarized Zone, which has divided the Korean peninsula since 1953, to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on southern soil.

During the summit, both leaders signed the Panmunjeom Declaration stating, among other things, that “there will be no more war on the Korean Peninsula and thus a new era of peace has begun.”

The leaders agreed to “the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula” and to actively pursue further meetings with the United States, and possibly China, to establish a more permanent peace.

It didn't take long for a meeting between leaders from North Korea and the U.S. to meet. Kim and President Donald Trump met for a historic summit earlier this month in Singapore, making commitments “to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.”

After the one-on-one with Kim, which focused largely on denuclearization, Trump attended an expanded bilateral meeting, which was attended by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Chief of Staff John Kelly, and National Security Advisor John Bolton.

As a result of the meetings, Kim and Trump signed a joint-statement with four specific parts to the agreement, including a commitment to establish new U.S.-North Korea ties; to work toward achieving peace on the Korean peninsula, with a promise from Trump to end military exercises with South Korea; a promise from Kim to work toward the total denuclearization of the Korean peninsula; and a commitment to recover and repatriate POW/MIA persons.

Pope Francis has long advocated for peace on the Korean peninsula, and in April praised Kim and Moon for their “courageous” step toward unity, saying he prays for “the positive success of the Inter-Korean summit...and the courageous commitment assumed by the leaders of the two parts to carry out a path of sincere dialogue for a Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons.”

The meeting between Korean delegates at the WCC in Geneva, then, was a further effort to advance reconciliation not only on a political level, but an ecumenical one.

The WCC was founded in 1948 and is a global fellowship of Churches and ecclesial communities whose goal is to promote unity among Christian confessions.

With some 348 members worldwide, the organization has long been a driving force for ecumenism in Europe. Members are present in 110 countries and represent more than 500 million Christians.

The Holy See is not a member of the WCC, but it is an observer, and collaborates with the organization in several areas.

Mission is a prerequisite to unity, Pope says in Geneva

Vatican City, Jun 21, 2018 / 08:29 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Speaking to ecumenical leaders Thursday, Pope Francis said Christian unity in many ways depends on a willingness to go out of oneself to meet the needs of others, and called for a “new evangelical outreach” among Christian communities.

In a June 21 speech, the pope voiced concern over what he said is a growing impression that ecumenism is divorced from missionary outreach, saying the mission aspect of Christianity “cannot be neglected nor emptied of its content.”

Missionary outreach, he said, “determines our very identity,” since preaching the Gospel is core to the Christian identity. And while the ways in which this mission is carried out might vary, we must always remind ourselves that Christ's Church grows by attraction.

To this end, Francis said a “new evangelical outreach” is needed among Christians of different confessions, who are called to be one people that “experiences and shares the joy of the Gospel, praises the Lord and serves our brothers and sisters.”

Francis voiced his conviction that “an increased missionary impulse” would spur Christians toward greater unity, leading to an “ecumenical spring” which, despite the “constant vacillations” among different denominational communities, would allow them to gather together around Jesus Christ.

The pope spoke during a June 21 ecumenical meeting in Geneva to mark the 70th anniversary of the World Council of Churches.

The WCC was founded in 1948 and is a global fellowship of Churches and ecclesial communities whose goal is to promote unity among Christian confessions.

The council has some 348 members worldwide. Members are present in 110 countries and represent over 500 million Christians, including Orthodox, Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran and Methodist denominations, as well as many Reformed, United and Independent communities.

The majority of the founding members initially came from Europe and North America, however, today the bulk of the WCC membership is in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, the Middle East and the Pacific. The Holy See is not a member of the WCC, but it is an observer, and collaborates with the organization in several areas.

Pope Francis visited the WCC headquarters during his June 21 daytrip to Geneva, which he made specifically for the 70th anniversary celebrations.

After his arrival, the pope met with the President of the Swedish Confederation, Alain Berset, and led an ecumenical prayer encounter, telling attendees that their love for Christ must overcome divisions rooted in party preferences and differences in belief.

Francis then lunched with ecumenical leaders from around the world before returning to the WCC headquarters for his ecumenical meeting. After the gathering, Pope Francis will celebrate Mass for Switzerland's Catholic population before returning to Rome.

In his address at the ecumenical meeting, Pope Francis pointed to the biblical significance of the number 70, noting how in the Gospel Jesus tells his disciples to forgive one another “not only seven times, but seventy times seven.”

That number, the pope said, is not a limit and nor does it quantify justice, but rather, it “opens up a vast horizon” and “serves as the measure of a charity capable of infinite forgiveness.”

After centuries of conflict among Christian communities, this charity “now allows us to come together as brothers and sisters, at peace and full of gratitude to God our Father,” he said, adding that the day's gathering is the fruit of the forgiveness and efforts toward unity of many who have come before them.

“Out of heartfelt love for Jesus, they did not allow themselves to be mired in disagreements, but instead looked courageously to the future, believing in unity and breaking down barriers of suspicion and of fear,” he said.  

Those working in the ecumenical field today are heirs “to the faith, charity and hope of all those who, by the nonviolent power of the Gospel, found the courage to change the course of history,” Francis said.

While in the past this history “had led us to mutual distrust and estrangement, and thus contributed to the infernal spiral of continual fragmentation,” the Holy Spirit has changed the route, “and a path both old and new has been irrevocably paved: the path of a reconciled communion aimed at the visible manifestation of the fraternity that even now unites believers.”

Pope Francis also noted that the number 70 reflects the number of disciples Jesus sent out two-by-two in the Gospel, which implies that in order to be a true disciple, one must “become an apostle, a missionary,” going beyond division to spread the Good News.

Pointing to the theme of the day's meeting, “Walking, Praying and Working Together,” the pope said walking is a two-fold movement which implies both going “in and out,” which means going in toward the center, which is Christ, and out toward “the existential peripheries” of the world.

Prayer is “the oxygen of ecumenism,” he said. “Without prayer, communion becomes stifling and makes no progress, because we prevent the wind of the Spirit from driving us forward.” The pope then urged attendes to ask themselves how often they pray for one another, and for unity.

On the point of walking together, Francis pointed to several ongoing initiatives in which the Holy See already collaborates with ecumenical leaders, including the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism, collaboration with the Office for Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation, and the joint preparation of texts for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, among others.

He also praised the WCC's Bossey Ecumenical Institute for their work in training both pastoral and academic leaders for different Christian churches throughout the world.

“The work of our Christian communities is rightly defined by the word 'diakonia,'” a Greek term meaning service to others, he said, adding that credibility of the Gospel “is put to the test by the way Christians respond to the cry of all those, in every part of the world, who suffer unjustly from the baleful spread of an exclusion that, by generating poverty, foments conflicts.”

With vulnerable populations becoming increasingly marginalized and the rich becoming more wealthy, and with Christian persecution increasing throughout the world, Christians themselves are called to draw near to those who suffer, remembering that unity is already established in the “ecumenism of blood,” he said.

Pope Francis closed his address urging attendees to encourage one another while avoiding the temptation “to absolutize certain cultural paradigms and get caught up in partisan interests.”

“Let us help men and women of good will to grow in concern for events and situations that affect a great part of humanity but seldom make it to the front page. We cannot look the other way,” he said, adding that “it is problematic when Christians appear indifferent towards those in need.”

More troubling still, he said, is the certainty shown by some, “who consider their own blessings clear signs of God’s predilection rather than a summons to responsible service of the human family and the protection of creation.”

Asking what each community can concretely do together, the pope urged participants not to hesitate in putting a plan together when ideas arise, so as to “experience a more intense fraternity in the exercise of concrete charity.”

Pope in Geneva: Real ecumenism puts Christ over division

Vatican City, Jun 21, 2018 / 03:28 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis landed in Geneva Thursday for a day-trip aimed at bolstering ecumenical relations, saying that division among Christians comes from worldliness, and Christ must be prioritized over any differences that might get in the way of unity.  

In his first official speech after touching down, the pope said Christians are called to walk together along the path of the Spirit, which means “rejecting worldliness” and “opting for a mindset of service and growing in forgiveness.”

“It means playing our part in history but in God’s good time, not letting ourselves be caught up in the whirlwind of corruption but advancing calmly on the way whose signpost is the one commandment: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”

“We are called, together, to walk along this path,” he said, noting that walking together requires perpetual conversion and “the renewal of our way of thinking, so that it can conform to that of the Holy Spirit.”

It could be said that to walk in this way is to “operate at a loss,” he said, “since it does not adequately protect the interests of individual communities, often closely linked to ethnic identity or split along party lines, whether 'conservative' or 'progressive.'”

The pope then pointed to St. Paul's letter to the Galatians, in which the apostle told the community that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

He also referred to the passage in St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, in which the apostle pointed to divisions in the Christian community of Corinth, saying “each of you says, 'I belong to Paul,' or 'I belong to Apollos,' or 'I belong to Cephas,' or 'I belong to Christ.' Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”

What modern Christians are asked to do, Francis said, is “to belong to Jesus before belonging to Apollos or Cephas; to belong to Christ before being 'Jew or Greek'; to belong to the Lord before identifying with right or left; to choose, in the name of the Gospel, our brother or our sister over ourselves.”

“In the eyes of the world, this often means operating at a loss,” he said of the ecumenical movement.

However, this loss “is evangelical,” he said, and quoted Jesus' words from the Gospel when he told his disciples that “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.”

“To save only what is ours is to walk according to the flesh; to lose everything in the footsteps of Jesus is to walk in the Spirit,” he said. “Only in this way does the Lord’s vineyard bear fruit.”

Pope Francis spoke to participants in an ecumenical prayer gathering during his June 21 visit to Geneva for the 70th anniversary of the World Council of Churches. The WCC was founded in 1948 and is a global fellowship of Churches and ecclesial communities whose goal is to promote unity among Christian confessions.

The council has some 348 members worldwide. Members are present in 110 countries and represent over 500 million Christians, including Orthodox, Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran and Methodist denominations, as well as many Reformed, United and Independent communities.

While the majority of the founding members came from Europe and North America, currently the bulk of the WCC membership is in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, the Middle East and the Pacific. The Holy See is not a member of the WCC, but it is an observer, and routinely sends representatives to the organization's meetings.

Francis' homily during the prayer gathering was the first official speech of his daytrip to Geneva. He spoke at the WCC headquarters after holding a private meeting with President of the Swiss Confederation, Alain Berset.

In his address, the pope said Christian divisions have historically arisen because “ a worldly mindset has seeped in” at their root.

What happened, he said, is that “self-concern took priority over concern for Christ,” and once this took place, devil “had no difficulty in separating us, because the direction we were taking was that of the flesh, not of the Spirit.”

Even certain attempts to end these divisions in the past have “failed miserably because they were chiefly inspired by a worldly way of thinking,” he said, noting that the ecumenical movement “came about as a grace of the Holy Spirit.”

“Ecumenism made us set out in accordance with Christ’s will, and it will be able to progress if, following the lead of the Spirit, it constantly refuses to withdraw into itself.”

Looking at relations between modern Christian churches and the slew of issues which often stand in the way of full unity, Francis said the current experience is akin to that of the early Christian communities in Galatia.

“How difficult it is to overcome hard feelings and to foster communion! How hard it is to leave behind centuries-old disagreements and mutual recriminations!” he said.

At times, it is “more formidable to withstand the subtle temptation to join others, to walk together, but for the sake of satisfying some partisan interest.” However, this is not the mindset of an apostle, but is the attitude of Judas, who walked alongside Jesus, “but for his own purposes.”

The 70th anniversary of the WCC, Pope Francis said, is a call to strengthen the steps toward ecumenism that have already been taken.

He said Christians should not cease their quest for unity when faced with continual differences, and nor should they be overcome by weariness or a “lack of enthusiasm.”

“Our differences must not be excuses. Even now we can walk in the Spirit: we can pray, evangelize and serve together,” he said. “This is possible and it is pleasing to God! Walking, praying and working together: this is the great path that we are called to follow.”

The aim of this path is unity, and the opposite is a path to division which leads to “conflict and breakup,” he said, stressing that the lack of unity among Christians is not only “openly contrary to the will of Christ,” but is also “a scandal to the world and harms the most holy of causes: the preaching of the Gospel to every creature.”

The Lord, he said, “asks us for unity; our world, torn by all too many divisions that affect the most vulnerable, begs for unity.”

And for Christians, to walk together is not merely a “ploy to strengthen our own positions,” but is rather an act of obedience to Jesus and his love for the world, Francis said, and closed by praying that God would help Christians to “walk together all the more resolutely in the ways of the Spirit.”

“May the Cross guide our steps, because there, in Jesus, the walls of separation have already been torn down and all enmity overcome.”

Bishops' video series encourages prayer, action for Religious Freedom Week

Washington D.C., Jun 21, 2018 / 12:33 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has posted a video series for Religious Freedom Week 2018, inviting Catholics to pray and act in support of religious liberty.

“We have a duty to treat all persons with charity and justice, we have a duty to seek common ground in public life whenever possible,” says Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia in one video.

“But we also need to work vigorously in law and politics to protect our faith and to form our culture in a Christian understanding of human dignity and the purpose of human freedom. To do that, we need to defend our religious liberty.”

An eight-video YouTube series offers reflections on the importance of religious liberty.

The videos feature members of and consultants for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ standing committee for religious liberty.

Each day, a different bishop challenges Catholics to reflect on how religious freedom is connected to elements of the public square, such as medicine, immigration, and education. Other topics discussed in the video series include Christian persecution in the Middle East, and the importance of publicly proclaiming one’s faith.

Religious Freedom Week, held by the U.S. bishops’ conference, is observed this year from June 22-29. The theme for this year is “Serving Others in God’s Love.”

The conference website includes a list of suggested reflections, prayers, and actions that may be followed by parishes, families, and individuals during the week.

In the second video of the series, Archbishop Chaput highlights the importance of truth in politics, saying “dishonest language leads to dishonest politics, and dishonest politics leads to bad public policy and bad law.” He urges Catholics defend truth in the public sphere.

“As Catholic citizens, we owe it to our country to speak and to act in a spirit of truth and to insist on the same behavior from other people, including our elected and appointed leaders.”

Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska says that Catholic education is a key part of the Church’s mission.

“But there are forces in our society and culture which would like to inhibit our freedoms…to be able to teach what we believe is the truth about the human person, about the dignity of life as well as God's plan for marriage between a man and a woman,” he says, emphasizing the need for religious freedom in education.

Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ committee on migration, notes the role that the Church plays in immigration and refugee resettlement.

“The Church has long sought to serve the unique needs of people on the move: from providing for basic needs, to assisting with resettlement, to offering legal services to help newcomers navigate the system of their host country.”

However, he warns, in recent years, Catholic entities have faced legal challenges because they will not facilitate abortions as part of their work with migrants.

“Those that try to force the Church to choose between unborn children and migrant children are undermining religious liberty,” Bishop Vasquez cautions.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, who chairs the religious freedom committee, concludes the video series by appealing to viewers “to pray that we might continue to take steps to make room within our culture for the exercise of religious freedom” and “to use that religious freedom in the public square well.”

Chilean bishops establish 'Listening Service' to accompany abuse victims

Santiago, Chile, Jun 20, 2018 / 05:17 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Chilean bishops' conference announced Tuesday the members of a “Listening Service” set up to welcome and guide victims of sexual abuse.

The list was published June 19 after Archbishop Scicluna of Malta and Msgr. Jordi Bertomeu, Pope Francis' envoys for the Pastoral Mission to Osorno confirmed the creation of this service in order to facilitate the process for victims.

The members of the Listening Service belong to the National Council for the Prevention of Abuse and Accompaniment of the Victims of the Chilean bishops' conference and will have as their mission “to welcome and guide” those people who could not meet with the papal envoys.

Appointed by Archbishop Scicluna, the members are Pilar Ramírez, the current coordinator of the council; Josefina Martínez; Sister Marcela Sáenz; Fr. Larry Yévenes; and Fr. David Albornoz.

“The members of the National Council who will perform this service will offer a point of contact victims can trust so they can feel supported in the process of the search for the truth with charity and justice,” the statement said.

Two local Churches in Chile also announced this week investigations into priests accused of sexual abuse.

The Diocese of Temuco made known in a June 18 statement the cases of three diocesan priests accused of the sexual abuse of minors.

Pablo Walter Isler Venegas was sanctioned October 20, 2015 for the sexual abuse of minors  and was prohibited from the public exercise of the priestly ministry and pastoral work with adolescents and young people.

He was also “definitively prohibited” from residing in that diocese or from visiting the parishes of Lautaro, Imperial, and Traiguén without the prior and express authorization  of the bishop.

The process began in 2011 when the first accusations were received.

Isler had left the Temuco diocese in 2003, “and was performing various pastoral works in the Prelature of Illapel.”

The diocese explained that  “at the express request of the victims who at the time asked for complete confidentiality, the case had not been made public.”

“From what we have learned over the years,  we realized that respect and protection for the victims in no case exempts us from the moral duty of informing the community of these grave crimes,” the statement says.

The second case involves Juan Carlos Mercado Elgueta who in 2013 submitted his resignation from the priestly ministry following a preliminary investigation for the sexual abuse of minors.

The third priest sanctioned is José Vicente Bastías Ñanco, who is facing a canonical trial for the sexual abuse of minors and who is “temporarily suspended from the public exercise of the ministry.”

The diocese's statement  reiterated the “firm disposition” of Bishop Héctor Eduardo Vargas Bastidas “to take up the challenges Pope Francis has called for, by ensuring the Church has healthy and safe environments people can trust, for boys, girls and youths.”

And the Vicariate Apostolic of Aysén stated June 18 that it had begun a canonical investigation into Fr. Porfirio Díaz Reyes, accused of the sexual abuse of a minor.

The accusation was made to the Council for Care and Hope of the vicariate June 17 and refers to incidents that took place in the parish in Puerto Aysén in 2002.

As a precautionary measure, the priest “is suspended from the public exercise of the priestly ministry while the investigation lasts,” a statement from the Aysén vicariate apostolic stated.

 

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

Tucson bishop elaborates on ‘canonical penalties’ for immigrant family separation

Tucson, Ariz., Jun 20, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- A bishop who suggested last week that the Church consider canonical penalties for Catholics involved in the separation of families at the United States’ southern border said Wednesday that penalties are not central to a discussion of immigration reform.

On immigration reform,  “the critical issue at hand isn’t canonical penalties, even if the concept has intrigued many. The real issue is children being used as pawns in a contorted effort at punishing their parents or deterring future asylum seekers,” Bishop Edward Weisenburger of Tucson wrote in a June 20 op-ed for the Arizona Daily Star.

At a meeting of the US bishops’ conference in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., June 13, Weisenburger asked if the bishops’ canonical affairs committee could offer “recommendations, at least to those of us who are border bishops, on the possibility of canonical penalties for Catholics who are involved in this.”

“For the salvation of these people’s souls,” he added, “maybe it’s time for us to look at canonical penalties.”

His remark drew national attention, though some canon lawyers questioned what exactly Weisenburger had in mind.

Weisenburger, himself a canon lawyer, did not mention specific canonical penalties; note what delicts, or canonical crimes, might be pertinent; or indicate whether he intended for penalties to apply to law enforcement officials, lawmakers, or others.

The bishop’s op-ed elaborated on his earlier remarks. Though it attempted to offer clarity, it did not specifically denote what penalties or processes the bishop had in mind.

In his op-ed, Weisenburger said he was not suggesting that Catholics involved in family separation be excommunicated. That penalty, he said, “can be imposed only at the end of a process seeking the conversion of the sinner and reconciliation for the community.”

Weisenburger suggested that canon law offers “lesser options preceding excommunication, such as prayer and penitential practices,” though he did not specify whether those options should also be understood as penalties, which, according to canon law, also must ordinarily be preceded by a legal process.

The bishop’s op-ed seemed to suggest that he intended that canonical penalties would apply to mostly to lawmakers, and not to law enforcement officers.

“As far as the question of canonical penalties for Catholics goes, again, the matter is quite complex. Canonical penalties are not ‘one size fits all.’ In a Christian ethic, legislators and political leaders who facilitate sinful actions have the greater share in responsibility for the resulting violence to human dignity,” he wrote.

The bishop lamented that family separation policies have caused “harm and anguish” for “good and faithful immigration workers.”

“Indeed, the average immigration officer — even if he or she recognizes the inherent evil in the action — might accurately conclude that he or she is able to be a force for good within his or her employment, aiding the situation more than contributing toward the harm of children. In such cases the immigration officer might be justified in his or her endeavors. And of course, immigration officers — like nurses ordered to participate in abortion — clearly deserve the option of conscientious objection,” he wrote.

Some canon lawyers have suggested to CNA that Weisenburger’s comments might have been intended to evoke canon 915, which prohibits Catholics “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin” from receiving the Eucharist. That prohibition is not technically a “penalty” in canon law, though it is sometimes referred to as one. However, Weisenburger’s op-ed said that he did not intend to suggest that the Church should “deny people the sacraments.”

Bishop Weisenburger declined to be interviewed for this story.
 
Weisenburger’s op-ed encouraged Catholics to think more carefully about the moral issues involved in immigration policy, rather than the canonical.

Encouraging Catholics to address the “ethical and moral quagmire” at the border, the bishop said that he prays daily “that we will awaken from our slumber and resume walking in the ways of justice, truth, and human rights, leaving the discussion of canonical penalties altogether unnecessary.”

 

US bishops ask that immigration reform protect families, Dreamers

Washington D.C., Jun 20, 2018 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The United States bishops have asked Congress to compromise on immigration reform to give legal protections for undocumented youth, known as “Dreamers,” and ensure respect for human dignity and families at U.S. borders.

A June 19 letter to the House of Representatives stated that the bishops cannot endorse changes to the immigration system that “detrimentally impact families and the vulnerable” as contained in new legislation brought before the House this week.

“We welcome the opportunity to dialogue with lawmakers and to discuss possible opportunities for further compromise,” wrote Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, chairman of the bishops’ committee on migration.

The letter stated immigration legislation should be “bipartisan, provide Dreamers with a path to citizenship, be pro-family, protect the vulnerable and be respectful of human dignity with regard to border security and enforcement.”

Vasquez also reminded House members that family separation at the border can be ended without legislation at the discretion of the administration.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order June 20 ending the policy of family separation, except when there is a risk to the child's welfare. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan indicated that the lower chamber will vote Thursday on an immigration bill.

H.R. 6136 on border security and immigration reform was introduced June 19 by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and includes a proposal of a framework for Dreamers potentially to receive permanent residence and later citizenship in the U.S.

The framework would include the same criteria outlined in the DACA program, initiated by President Obama in 2012, which postponed deportation of undocumented immigrants under the age of 30, who had been brought to the U.S. before the age of 16 and lived in the U.S. since June 2007.

The new bill would require applicants also to have no more than one non-traffic-related misdemeanor, including for immigration-related offences; and if not a student or primary caregiver, to demonstrate the ability to maintain an income of at least 125 percent of the poverty line.

The new bill is on the schedule to be considered by the House in the coming week, along with H.R. 4760, which was introduced Jan. 10.

Vasquez responded to immigration bill H.R. 4760 in a statement Jan. 10, calling for financially sound, effective, and safe measures to strengthen national security at the U.S. border, emphasizing that Dreamers and their families “deserve certainty, compassion, generosity, and justice.”

He also acknowledged the nation’s right to control its borders, but cautioned against the introduction of “unrelated, unnecessary, or controversial elements of immigration policy – especially those that jeopardize the sanctity of families or unaccompanied children – into the bipartisan search for a just and humane solution for the Dreamers.”