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Pope Francis welcomes V Encuentro as 'instrument of grace'

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 19:07

Dallas, Texas, Sep 21, 2018 / 05:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis welcomed thousands of representatives gathered in Texas this week for the Fifth Encuentro, a national meeting of Hispanic-background Catholics aimed at encounter and leadership.

National V Encuentro is “an instrument of grace that has led to the conversion of many people's hearts and above all to the pastoral conversion of situations and to the pastoral conversion of local Churches, parishes, schools, and of all kinds of ecclesial encounters,” he said in a video message to the gathering.

National V Encuentro is the culmination of four years of consultation and workshops from local to regional levels across the U.S. Delegates from 165 dioceses were selected for the event, and nearly 250,000 people participated in the local process over the past year.

Taking place in Grapevine, Texas, Sept. 20-23, the event is expecting as many as 3,000 Catholics of Hispanic background. This year’s theme is “Discípulos Misioneros: Testigos del amor de Dios” or “Missionary Disciples: Witnesses of the love of God.”

The meeting has five primary goals: to encounter the needs and aspirations of Catholics of Hispanic background; to promote leadership opportunities for them; to develop new ways to form and encourage them in their vocations; to invite all Catholics to accompany Catholics of Hispanic background; and to develop “initiatives that prepare Hispanic Catholics to share and celebrate the Good News of Jesus Christ and to become leaven for the Reign of God in society.”

The first National Encuentro in the United States was held in 1972, and it is a process that has continued at local, regional, and national levels ever since. The most recent Encuentro prior to the Grapevine meeting was held in 2000, with a related youth meeting held in 2006.

The preparatory discussions for National V Encuentro have explored topics such as the accompaniment of immigrants, access to higher education, community outreach, and the formation of lay leaders.

“I know that the experience of this Fifth Encuentro is a comfort to many immigrants living in situations of fear and uncertainty,” Pope Francis said in his welcome video message.

“The Fifth Encuentro has given them a greater sense of community, friendship, and support.”

Hispanics currently make up one of the largest contingents of the Catholic Church in the U.S., about 40 percent, and an even greater percentage of young adults in the Church.

Michigan announces investigation into seven Catholic dioceses

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 18:00

Lansing, Mich., Sep 21, 2018 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has opened an investigation into child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in the state.

The inquiry was confirmed 21 Sept. in a statement posted on the attorney general’s official website, and will include all seven of the dioceses in Michigan: Gaylord, Lansing, Marquette, Grand Rapids, Saginaw, Kalamazoo, and the Archdiocese of Detroit.

While the investigation was confirmed publicly on Friday, a spokesman for Schuette told local media that the process had been launched in August 2018.

"The Michigan Department of Attorney General has determined that a full and complete investigation of what happened within the Catholic Church is required," the statement from Schuette said.

"This investigation is and will continue to be independent, thorough, transparent, and prompt. My department and this investigation will find out who knew what, and when."

The department’s official website also gave details of how to contact investigators, saying they wanted to hear from anyone with “information about the Catholic Church that you think would help [the investigation].”

In a statement given to local media, Schuette’s office said that the investigation will cover accusations of "sexual abuse and assault of children and others by Catholic priests,” including priests from religious orders, in Michigan. The the investigation will cover a period of nearly 70 years, from 1950 until the present. 

It is unclear if the investigation will be limited only to allegations of abuse committed by priests, or if it will extend to all clergy and lay employees of the Church in Michigan. The attorney general’s office did not respond to requests for clarification on this point.

In addition to direct accusations of abuse, the attorney general will also examine “any allegations related to the cover-up of sexual abuse or assault” by Church authorities.

In response to the announcement, Catholic dioceses in the state both welcomed the investigation and pledged their full cooperation.

A statement released by the Archdiocese of Detroit, which serves nearly 1.5 million Catholics, said that they “looked forward” to working with state officials and said that the archdiocese would actively participate in the inquiry.

The Archdiocese of Detroit also stressed its “full confidence” in archdiocesan safe environment policies, which it said have been in place for 15 years. The statement called the investigation “the next phase of our commitment to transparency and healing."

The Diocese of Saginaw issued a similar statement which noted their own commitment to safeguarding procedures and welcomed “the opportunity to work with law enforcement authorities to determine if there is more it can do to protect children.”

The announcement of the investigation follows the conclusion of a similar inquiry led by the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office. A grand jury report into the sexual abuse of minors in six dioceses in that state was released in July. That report identified more than 300 alleged abusers and 1,000 victims.

The Michigan attorney general’s office is already conducting similar investigations into Michigan State University and the Flint water crisis.

In addition to serving as attorney general, Schuette is also the Republican candidate in the upcoming election for governor in Michigan. He is running against Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, a former prosecutor and state legislator.

A recent poll by Mitchell Research showed Schuette trailing his opponent by 10 points. Real Clear Politics puts Whitmer ahead by an average of 10.6 points and currently predicts a “likely Democrat” victory.

Schuette’s seven-year record as attorney general has attracted criticism during the campaign, with his opponents saying that the attorney's social conservatism is out of step with Michigan voters.

In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a statewide ban on gay marriage, a policy Schuette publicly supported. In 2016, he joined a lawsuit challenging federal school guidance on transgender students.

More recently, the attorney general issued an opinion in July challenging the Michigan Civil Rights Commission’s determination that existing state bans on sex based discrimination were also applicable to sexual orientation and “gender identity.”

Schuette said the Commission’s reasoning was “invalid” and in clear conflict with the “original intent” and “plain language” of the legislation.

On Sept. 19, the U.S. bishops’ conference announced a series of new policies in response to recent sexual abuse scandals. These included a new third-party reporting mechanism for making complaints of sexual misconduct against a bishop, with such complaints being forwarded to civil law enforcement when appropriate.

US nuncio to Encuentro: Missionaries must first know the joy of Christ

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 12:57

Fort Worth, Texas, Sep 21, 2018 / 10:57 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A missionary disciple is one who has encountered Christ personally and is then able to bring him to others, Archbishop Christophe Pierre said Thursday at the National V Encuentro.  

Pierre, the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, addressed approximately 3,000 Catholics of Hispanic and Latino background gathered for the summit in Grapevine, Texas, Sept. 20. The event is the culmination of four years of consultation and workshops at the parish, diocesan, and regional levels of the Church in the U.S.

This year, the National Encuentro’s theme is “Discípulos Misioneros: Testigos del amor de Dios” or “Missionary Disciples: Witnesses of the love of God.”

Pierre said he believes, as do Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, that one must first encounter the person of Christ before one can become a missionary.

“For (Pope Francis), the whole missionary endeavour begins with an encounter with Christ,” Pierre said.

“The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus,” Pierre said, quoting the beginning of Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium. “Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.”

Benedict also began his first encyclical reflecting on the personal encounter with Christ which every Christian must have, Pierre noted.

“Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction,” Pierre said, quoting Benedict’s 2005 encyclical Deus caritas est.

This joy of encountering Christ breathes life into the missionary, who is then able to go out and encounter God’s people, Pierre said.

A Church filled with “missionary impulse” is one that channels her “customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures...for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation,” Pierre noted, referencing Evangelii gaudium.

“Just as wind pushes against a sail and causes a boat to move upon the water, so too the Spirit of God pushes the whole Church to go forth into the world, attentive to the signs of the times and the needs of the people, jettisoning that which is obsolete,” Pierre said.

The missionary spirit which leads to a conversion of heart must be inspired by belief in the God and the Church, Pierre added.

“We have to believe in the Church, this is important today not to forget...believe in the Church who makes Christ incarnate in the culture and among the people,” he said.

This conversion of heart and a missionary spirit must happen within pastors and Church leaders as well, Pierre noted, as they listen to and learn from the different people whom they serve.

“People’s religious experiences, including those of the Latinos, are an authentic place of encounter with God,” he said. “Pastoral conversion means moving from mere conservation to a decidedly pastoral ministry. Pastoral and missionary conversion go hand in hand with a conversion of attitudes and a conversion of statues.”

A Church full of missionary spirit is one that accompanies people and remains united - in a word, a missionary Church has “synodality,” he said, something that can be seen incarnate in the mission of Encuentro.

“The Encuentro process has shown the effectiveness of synodality in the Church,” Pierre added. “Listening, speaking, participating by asking critical questions and discerning the path forward .if Communion is a sharing of the faithful in the mysteries of faith and mission of the church, synodality is a sign and fulfillment of communion.”

Another characteristic of a missionary Church is joy, Pierre said. It celebrates “even small victories in the work of evangelization” and is nourished by the Eucharist, the sacrament in which “Christ is among us, and the joy that he has won is preserved and shared.”

Finally, Pierre said, a missionary Church is one that is not afraid to go to the “peripheries”, both geographical and cultural, to encounter people and bring Christ to them.

“It is my sincere hope that as we gather for these days, we may be the church that Christ wants us to be,” Pierre concluded.

“With (Jesus) at the center of our lives, our conversations and our ministries, confident that with the Virgin of Guadalupe to accompany us and intercede for us, may we always move forward in hope, making known the joy of the Gospel.”

Blessed Stanley Rother shrine fundraising campaign surpasses initial goal

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 05:01

Oklahoma City, Okla., Sep 21, 2018 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City announced Tuesday that its capital campaign, one of the goals of which is the construction of a shrine for Blessed Stanley Rother, had surpassed its original $65 million goal.

“I have been grateful and humbled by the generosity of families across the archdiocese who have supported this historic campaign,” Archbishop Paul Coakley said Sept. 18. “We have been blessed to have the powerful witness of Blessed Stanley to help guide us as we build upon his legacy for future generations.”

In addition to the shine for the Oklahoma priest who was martyred in 1981 in Guatemala, the One Church, Many Disciples campaign will fund local parishes and schools, renovation of the cathedral, evangelization efforts, faith formation endowments, and retirement for elderly priests.

The Blessed Stanley Rother shrine will be built in Oklahoma City off of I-35, and will house the relics of the martyr. According to the Oklahoma City archdiocese, it will include a 2,000-seat church, a chapel, ministry and classroom buildings, a museum, and a pilgrim center.

One-third of parishes in the archdiocese have completed the capital campaign, 34 are in its midst, and 32 will begin in January 2019.

Given the success of the campaign, Archbishop Coakley has announced a challenge goal of $80 million.

Father Rother was beatified Sept. 23, 2017 in Oklahoma City.

Fr. Rother was born March 27, 1935 in Okarche, Okla., and entered seminary soon after graduating from Holy Trinity High School.

Despite a strong calling, Rother would struggle in the seminary, failing several classes and even out of one seminary before graduating from Mount St. Mary's in Maryland. He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Oklahoma City and Tulsa in 1963.

He served for five years in Oklahoma before joining the Oklahoma diocese's mission in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, a poor rural community of mostly indigenous persons where he would spend the next 13 years of his life.

The work ethic Fr. Rother learned on his family’s farm would serve him well in this new place. As a mission priest, he was called on not just to say Mass, but to fix the broken truck or work the fields. He built a farmers' co-op, a school, a hospital, and the first Catholic radio station.

Over the years, the violence of the Guatemalan civil war inched closer to the once-peaceful village.
Disappearances, killings, and danger soon became a part of daily life, but Fr. Rother remained steadfast and supportive of his people.

In 1980-1981, the violence escalated to an almost unbearable point; Fr. Rother was constantly seeing
friends and parishioners abducted or killed.

In January 1981, in immediate danger and his name on a death list, Fr. Rother did return to Oklahoma for a few months. But as Easter approached, he wanted to spend Holy Week with his people in Guatemala.

The morning of July 28, 1981, three Ladinos, the non-indigenous men who had been fighting the native people and rural poor of Guatemala since the 1960s, broke into Fr. Rother's rectory. They wished to disappear him, but he refused.

Not wanting to endanger the others at the parish mission, he struggled but did not call for help. Fifteen minutes and two gunshots later, Father Stanley was dead and the men fled the mission grounds.

Though his body was buried in Okarche, Fr. Rother's heart was enshrined in the church of Santiago Atitlan where he served.

Fr. Rother's cause for beatification was opened in 2007, and his martyrdom was recognized by the Vatican in December 2016, which cleared the way for his beatification.

His body was exhumed from the Okarche cemetery in May 2017, and re-interred at a chapel at Resurrection Cemetery in Oklahoma City.

Blessed Stanley Rother's feast is celebrated July 28 in the dioceses of Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and Little Rock.

Retired Green Bay auxiliary bishop failed to report abuse, withdraws from ministry

Thu, 09/20/2018 - 19:08

Green Bay, Wis., Sep 20, 2018 / 05:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Robert Morneau, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Green Bay, has withdrawn from public ministry saying he regrets having failed to report the abuse of a minor, WBAY reported Thursday.

“I failed to report to local authorities an incident of abuse of a minor by a priest in 1979 and, as a result, this priest was able to abuse again several years later,” Bishop Morneau wrote in a letter to Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay, which WBAY says was published in The Compass, the Green Bay diocesan paper.

“I intend to spend my time in prayer for all victims and survivors of sexual abuse and I will do corporal works of mercy in reparation for what I failed to do,” Bishop Morneau wrote.

Bishop Morneau, 80, was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Green Bay in 1966, and appointed auxiliary bishop of the diocese in 1978. He was consecrated a bishop Feb. 22, 1979. He remained auxiliary bishop until 2013, when he reached the age of 75.

WBAY reports that Bishop Morneau says he mishandled the case of former priest David Boyea, who was convicted of child sexual assaul in 1985.

“Looking back, I should have handled this situation differently than I did at the time. At the time, I was asked by the family of the victim to arrange an apology from the offending priest, which I did. I felt at the time I had done what was asked of me by helping the parties to reconcile,” the bishop wrote.

“The measures taken were ultimately insufficient to protect others from abuse from this same priest. I very much regret and apologize for this, especially to those victimized following my mistake in this regard.”

Bishop Ricken wrote in The Compass, according to WBAY, that “Bishop Morneau is a good and faithful man who did what he felt was right at the time, realizing now that he could have and should have done more to protect the innocent.”

Experts respond to new policies for handling allegations against bishops

Thu, 09/20/2018 - 17:45

Washington D.C., Sep 20, 2018 / 03:45 pm (CNA).- Following the announcement of new policies for bishops by the USCCB, experts in the fields of law and child protection have been considering their potential effectiveness. The measures were formulated by the U.S. bishops’ conference’s Administrative Committee in response to the recent scandal involving Archbishop Theodore McCarrick.

In a statement released Sept. 19, the bishops’ conference said that in addition to backing a full inquiry into the McCarrick scandal, they would establish a third-party mechanism for reporting allegations of misconduct against bishops.

A Code of Conduct for bishops, and a clear policy for handling “restricted” bishops who had resigned or been removed from office following accusations would also be produced.

Ed Mechmann, a civil lawyer and head of public policy and director of the Safe Environment Office for the Archdiocese of New York, welcomed the plans.

“The USCCB’s announcement is a good first step,” he told CNA. While hailing the measures as progress, Mechmann said that the Church needed to get better at ongoing reform.

“Adapting to changed circumstances is a hard thing. Some organizations are more nimble than others and the U.S. bishops are not by nature very nimble. I think we need to see, and will see, a better process of incremental change emerge.” 

Mechmann specifically singled out the proposed independent reporting system as an encouraging reform.

“The third-party reporting mechanism is a great idea. All Catholics, especially victims, need to be able to have faith that when they report something, action will be taken.”

Much of the criticism from the current scandal has focused on what actions bishops took - or did not take - in response to allegations made against one of their peers. Addressing what has been seen as an accountability gap for bishops has been a crucial priority for Church authorities.

While the Essential Norms adopted by the U.S. bishops’ conference in 2002 have contributed to a sharp downturn in the number of cases of abuse involving priests, those norms did not extend to bishops. Only the Holy See, as an exercise of papal authority, can impose disciplinary measures on bishops, and this has hampered efforts by the American hierarchy to self-police.

Mechmann suggested that the application of current standards and procedures to bishops as well as priests should be a priority.

“We do not know how many complaints against bishops, as bishops, are likely to be received. I would suggest that if the complaint concerns actions committed while he was a priest - as was the case with some of the McCarrick allegations - there shouldn’t be anything stopping the current Essential Norms and the Dallas Charter being applied, since both of those concern priestly ministry.”

But Mechmann acknowledged that extending the reach of existing norms would require Roman approval.

“In a sense all bishops are priests too, and ideally the norms and charter would already be applied to bishops, though this seems to need the approval of Rome. I think American Catholics as a group tend to be impatient with technicalities like this, they want to see progress and the USCCB’s plan is a solid beginning.”

Fr. Giovanni Capucci, a priest of the Archdiocese of Denver who teaches canon law at St. John Vianney Seminary, told CNA that the difficulty lay in the U.S. bishops’ conference having to deal with issues it was never intended to handle.

“The challenge facing the USCCB, or any bishops conference, is that they were not created to be legislative bodies. The areas in which they can make binding rules for all the bishops of a country is very narrowly limited and prescribed explicitly by the Holy See,” Capucci told CNA.

“Trying to arrive at new norms or processes, even in response to grave scandals, is simply not what they were created to do.”

He explained that while many Catholics would like to see swift, decisive action from the American bishops, as an institution, the USCCB is geared more towards being a communal forum than a deliberative body.

“From that perspective, the proposals are a commendable effort and a necessary one. But they probably also reflect the farthest they can go within the limits of their authority,” Capucci said.

Both Capucci and Mechmann agreed that further reforms were likely, noting that the statement of the Administrative Committee underscored that the announced measures were only a first step in a continuing process.

Capucci told CNA that “it is up to the Holy See to determine if the USCCB will be given more authority to act, and they seem to have been clear that they consider this a first step. Time will tell what else may be achieved.”

Ed Mechmann pointed out that, in the meantime, more could be done by U.S. dioceses themselves.

“Currently, the charter and norms are working, but the outcomes and applications are not uniform across all dioceses. Even the terms ‘sexual misconduct’ or ‘abuse’ don’t necessarily mean the same thing in all dioceses,” he said.

“What’s misconduct in New York needs to be misconduct across the river in Newark. I think working on a better process of incremental and ongoing reform will yield better results, near and long term, than becoming locked into a cycle of responding to major crises.”

Some Catholics, including members of the pope’s own Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, have advanced the idea of regional or national tribunals to handle sexual abuse  cases. The impetus for this is the known backlog of cases facing the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which has not - as yet - been given the resources and manpower required to process its caseload effectively.

More than that, Mechmann said, giving local authorities the power to try local abuse cases would demonstrate accountability.

“We want to get to a place where American problems are being handled locally, and the bishops here need to ask for and receive the authority to deal with our own issues,” Mechmann said.

Mechmann also told CNA that “people don’t want to hear that our issues are being palmed off on a handful of hard-working but clearly over-stretched priests in Rome. That looks like shifting responsibility for our own messes, and it extends the time it takes to deal with these matters. Justice delayed is justice denied.”

Fr. Capucci sounded a note of caution about the concept of regional or national tribunal, saying that the idea is “not entirely novel, and it’s not clear if this is necessarily the best way forward. The American experience of special norms for marriage tribunals, for example, was not a universally positive experience,” he told CNA.

“The important thing is that cases of abuse are dealt with, dealt with swiftly, and handled by qualified staff who can deliver an outcome people can have faith in - always keeping the needs of victims at the front of their work” Fr. Capucci said.

The extent to which individual bishops welcome and adopt the reforms willingly could prove crucial to their effectiveness. In response to the new policies, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles praised them as an effective point of departure for an ongoing process of reform.

“It is only the beginning of what needs to be done. But I believe it is a good, solid beginning,” he said in a statement released Sept. 20.

“This is a time for prayer and penance and purification for those of us who are bishops and priests. And as we work for the renewal and reform of the Church, we are asking humbly for your assistance and expertise — as mothers and fathers, and as faithful Catholics in all walks of life.”

'Leave no stone unturned,' Cardinal Dolan tells NY archdiocesan investigator

Thu, 09/20/2018 - 15:48

New York City, N.Y., Sep 20, 2018 / 01:48 pm (CNA).- The Archbishop of New York has announced the appointment of an archdiocesan special counsel, who will be tasked with an independent review of protocols for responding to allegations of sexual abuse.

At a press conference Sept. 20, Cardinal Timothy Dolan said that retired federal Judge Barbara Jones will undertake “an exhaustive study of our policies, procedures, and protocols on how we deal with any accusation that comes to us about an alleged abuse of a young person by a priest, deacon, or a bishop.”

“I have promised her complete access to our records, personnel, and to me personally,” Dolan said.

The cardinal said that in recent months clergy members, Catholics, and other community members have conveyed to him the importance of “accountability, transparency, and action.”

“I also hear them honestly say to me something that stings me very much: ‘Cardinal Dolan, we’ve been so let down that we’re beginning to lose trust in you bishops.’”

“If I lose the trust of my people and this community, I don’t have a lot left,” Dolan said.

Dolan said that Jones would “conduct an independent, scrupulous review to see if there are gaps, if there are things we should be doing and are not, and, hopefully, to affirm that we are doing our best to live up to the promises we bishops made to our people in 2002.”

Jones has also been asked to “enhance and strengthen our protocols for accusations of inappropriate behavior by anyone abusing his or her position of authority,” he added. She will also be tasked with reviewing policies and protocols related to workplace sexual abuse and harassment.

“Even our many critics do admit we’ve made a lot of progress in dealing with abuse of minors; now we need to be certain we are doing the same for responding to allegations of abuses of position and power.”

During the press conference, Jones told Dolan that she is “ready to help,” adding that “the cardinal has told me to leave no stone unturned.”

“My review will focus on the efficacy of [archdiocesan] programs, and whether the archdiocese has followed its existing protocols in addressing reports of abuse. Where I see deficiencies or gaps or non-compliance with current procedures, I will identify them to the cardinal for his review and remediation.”

In her work for the Archdiocese of New York, “I will also review the procedures followed in every new case of abuse to ensure that the Archdiocese has followed its protocols. I will make the results of those reviews available to the cardinal before he makes a final adjudication in each case,” Jones said.

Jones has a long record of investigating complex organizations. She began her legal career in the Organized Crime and Racketeering Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, serving as a part of the agency’s Manhattan Strike Force in the 1970s. She was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in New York from 1977 to 1987, leading an organized crime unit in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, before becoming a high-ranking prosecutor in the New York district attorney’s office.

In 1995 Jones was appointed to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. She retired from the court in 2013.

During her time on the bench, Jones presided over U.S. v. Windsor, a case that challenged the federal Defense of Marriage Act’s definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. In a 2012 decision upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, Jones found that definition violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

“I approach this importance assignment with an open mind and an understanding of the scope and scale of the issues that challenge the archdiocese. I have already begun an initial review of the archdiocese’s past efforts,” Jones said Thursday.

“Based upon this review I certainly see a robust infrastructure in place with the archdiocese but my job now will be to evaluate the effectiveness of the existing programs and policies in that infrastructure.”

Dolan told reporters that he has asked Jones to provide a public report on her findings at the conclusion of her work.

“The cardinal has asked me to be rigorous in my examination and to call out deficiencies as I see them. He has assured me that he will take appropriate action as expeditiously as possible, based upon my recommendations,” she added.

“I would not have taken this assignment without these assurances.”

 

Catholic Charities is collecting airline miles to reunite refugee families

Thu, 09/20/2018 - 13:14

Washington D.C., Sep 20, 2018 / 11:14 am (CNA).- Catholic Charities USA has announced a new initiative to help refugees and people seeking asylum to reunite with their family members through donated airline miles.

The national charity organization is partnering with Miles4Migrants, a volunteer-run nonprofit that works to reunite families separated by conflict and persecution through donations of both money and miles.

Catholic Charities agencies will work to help Miles4Migrants identify refugees and people seeking asylum who have received government approval for migration travel but are in need to airfare to be reunited with their loved ones.

Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities, emphasized that the organization’s work is focused on “caring for the most vulnerable among us.”

“It is in that spirit that we support our agencies’ efforts to assist immigrants and refugees who arrive in this country,” she said in a Sept. 20 statement. “We are excited for the increased opportunity this partnership provides to reunite families separated at our borders.”

Catholic Charities USA represents 166 diocesan Catholic Charities agencies, many of which work locally with immigrants and refugees, through resettlement asssitance, foster care and other services.  

Seth Stanton, CEO and co-founder of Miles4Migrants, said he is excited about the partnership with Catholic Charities.

“Our shared mission and values around keeping families together create a strong foundation, and we look forward to working together to reunite many refugee and asylum seeking family members in the years to come,” he said in a statement.

Miles4Migrants has recently expanded its domestic operations to aid families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Thousands of Hispanics expected in Texas for Encuentro summit

Thu, 09/20/2018 - 05:01

Fort Worth, Texas, Sep 20, 2018 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As many as 3,000 Catholics of Hispanic background are expected in Texas this week for the National V Encuentro, a culmination of four years of listening to and empowering Catholics of Hispanic background throughout the U.S.

“For the Church in the United States, not only did we see the leadership of our beautiful, diverse Hispanic community, but we see a leadership for the entire Church,” Bishop John Barres of Rockville Centre said in a video released ahead of the meeting.

The National V Encuentro (Fifth Encounter), to be held in Grapevine, Texas Sept. 20-23, is the culmination of four years of consultation and workshops at the parish, diocesan, and regional levels of the Church in the U.S.

This year’s theme is “Discípulos Misioneros: Testigos del amor de Dios” or “Missionary Disciples: Witnesses of the love of God”.

Delegates to the Encuentro were selected from the 165 dioceses and the nearly 250,000 people that participated in the local process over the past year. They will discuss topics already explored at the local levels that particularly pertain to Hispanics, such as the accompaniment of immigrants, access to higher education, lay leadership formation, and community outreach and evangelization.

The five main objectives of the meeting are: to encounter the needs and aspirations of Catholics of Hispanic background; to promote leadership opportunities for them; to develop new ways to form and encourage them in their vocations; to invite all Catholics to accompany Catholics of Hispanic background; and to develop “initiatives that prepare Hispanic Catholics to share and celebrate the Good News of Jesus Christ and to become leaven for the Reign of God in society.”

Speakers at the National V Encuentro include Auxiliary Bishop José Arturo Cepeda Escobedo of Detroit, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Sr. Ana María Pineda from Santa Clara University in Calif., Cardinal Joseph Tobin, C.Ss.R. of Newark, and Supreme Knight Carl Anderson of the Knights of Columbus.

The National V Encuentro also includes daily Mass, a daybreak rosary, a bishop and young adult dinner encounter, and regional, inter-regional, and ministerial small group sessions.

Parish and diocesan leaders are hopeful ahead of the meeting that it will continue to bear the good fruit they are already seeing at the parish and diocesan level.

“It inspired people who may have been not as active in the parish...they’re really taking the leadership position seriously, it’s the missionary discipleship that we’re all called to,” Thomas Lyons, a seminarian for the Archdiocese of San Antonio, said in a video about local Encuentros.

Local Encuentro participant Alejandra Mancilla from Pelican Rapids, Minn. said the local Encuentro helped her to understand her English-speaking brothers and sisters, and to see more opportunities to serve with them.

“Even though we were at the same parish, we didn’t have many joint activities,” she said in the video.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which held their diocesan Encuentro in January, reported that 3,000 people participated in the V Encuentro process at 65 parishes throughout the archdiocese.

In his reflection at the L.A. Encuentro, Archbishop Jose Gomez encouraged other Hispanics to see themselves as leaders and members of the Church, and not outliers.

“We are not new-comers or late-comers or outliers,” Gomez said. “The first Catholics in this country were Latinos! From Spain and from Mexico! Never forget that, my brothers and sisters!”

The National V Encuentro comes at a time when Hispanics make up one of the largest contingents of the Catholic Church in the country, representing about 40 percent of the Church in the United States in 2016.

The Hispanic population is particularly large among youth and young adults in the Church in the US: 50 percent of Catholics ages 14 to 29 are Hispanic, and 55 percent of Catholics under 14 are Hispanic. Though immigration rates from Hispanic countries have begun to slow in recent years, the percentage of Hispanics in the Church in the US is expected to continue growing during the next decade.

Hispanics have also contributed to religious renewal in the Bible Belt, where some Protestant churches are closing doors while some Catholic churches are bursting with new, mostly Hispanic, members.

The first National Encuentro in the United States was held in 1972, and it is a process that has continued at local, regional, and national levels ever since. The most recent Encuentro prior to the Grapevine meeting was held in 2000, with a related youth meeting held in 2006.

According to a letter issued by the U.S. bishops’ conference, the V Encuentro is an opportunity “to listen with profound attention to the needs, challenges and aspirations that the growing Hispanic/Latino population faces in daily life. It especially prepares us as a Church to better recognize, embrace, and promote the many gifts and talents that the Hispanic community shares in the life and mission of the Church and in the society.”

“The main objective (of Encuentro) is to find new ways of responding to the Hispanic and Latino presence in the Church, and for Hispanics and Latinos to better respond as missionary disciples in service to the entire Church,” Alejandro Aguilera-Titus, Assistant Director of Hispanic affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a video message produced by the bishops’ conference.

In his 2016 message for the V Encuentro, Pope Francis said that it was a way for the Church to discern how to “best respond to the growing presence, gifts, and potential of the Hispanic community.”

“Mindful of the contributions that the Hispanic community makes to the life of the nation, I pray that the Encuentro will bear fruit for the renewal of the American society and for the Church´s apostolate in the United States.”

Commentary: Getting to forgiveness

Wed, 09/19/2018 - 19:00

Denver, Colo., Sep 19, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA).-
I have spent most of this summer angry with Christ’s Church.

When the first credible allegation against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick-my own former bishop- was announced, he was the focus of my anger. I marveled that a man of God could act with such cruelty toward children, seminarians, and priests.

As the weeks passed, my anger spread beyond McCarrick. First it spread to the bishops who were negligent or selfish enough to allow him to continue in ministry, and then to the institution itself- to a Church structure that seems often to reward mediocrity and punish holiness, a system that allows the sacraments of God to be tied up with hubris and the callow self-interest of twisted men.

If I’m being honest, I have also spent most of this summer deeply wounded. Disappointed that men I know-bishops I love, and admire, and respect- failed to intervene in ways that might have prevented harm to children, to priests, to souls, and to the Church. I’m hurt by indecision, incompetence, and indecency, and I’m angry at those who have hurt me.

The apologies from bishops have sounded self-serving, bureaucratic, and mechanical. Their pledges to change ring hollow. The pope-the Vicar of Christ-has not yet given me a satisfying explanation, or a word of helpful consolation.

I’m angry about those things.

I’ve knelt down before Christ with that anger, that pain, with exasperation and a deep sense of disappointment. I’ve asked him to take it from me. He has not yet done so.

Summer is fading now, but my anger is not. These are not wounds which time will easily heal. But it has become apparent to me that I can’t continue to live this way.

Anger can be righteous, holy even, and the source of purifying fire and sanctifying justice. But anger can also be self-righteous- prideful and self-indulgent. Anger can fester and furrow into bitterness, seducing us into believing that we, not God, are fit to judge the souls of other men.

That kind of anger is destructive, not righteous. It leads to our damnation. And it can only be defeated by forgiveness.

In 1997, Pope St. John Paul II explained that neither souls nor communities can find peace “unless an attitude of sincere forgiveness takes root in human hearts. When such forgiveness is lacking, wounds continue to fester, fueling in the younger generation endless resentment, producing a desire for revenge and causing fresh destruction.”

“Offering and accepting forgiveness is the essential condition for making the journey towards authentic and lasting peace.”

God will call each one us to forgive his Church. To forgive the men who have wounded Christ’s body. To forgive those bishops who have been negligent, selfish, or evil. We won’t all forgive at the same time- it is far easier for me to talk about forgiveness than it is for the victims of abuse, or their families.  But I have allowed my own righteous anger to become something else.

For me, it’s time to forgive.

Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. It doesn’t even mean letting go of righteous anger. I am angry at sin, and at sinners, and among them are the bishops of our Church. I expect our bishops to act rightly, but I don’t yet trust that they will. We need accountability, and I intend to insist on it, in every way that I can. Justice demands that.

We also need a spiritual renewal in our Church, and among our leaders. We need bishops who want to be saints. We need bishops who take governance seriously, who take doctrine seriously, who take sacred worship seriously.

Forgiveness is not a capitulation to how things are, to the detriment of how they ought to be.

In one sense, forgiveness changes very little. But what forgiveness might change is me. Forgiveness means that I’ll try to help build up the Body of Christ. That I’ll try to assist the bishops in fulfilling the call God gave them. Forgiveness will mean that I’ll try to pray for our bishops, and that I’ll try very hard to mean it.  

None of that will be easy. But anger, resentment, and bitterness have become a poison to me. They’re not easy to live with either. And they have eternal consequences. To have eternal intimacy with God, I need the Church. I’m called to communion with her. And that’s what matters in the end. I’m still angry. But I’ll learn to forgive the Church, or I’ll be damned.

Bishop Cozzens: The light shines in the darkness

Wed, 09/19/2018 - 18:56

St. Paul, Minn., Sep 19, 2018 / 04:56 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a column in The Catholic Spirit last week, Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens of Saint Paul and Minneapolis reflected on the light being shone on sins committed by members of the Church, and God's ability to bring good out of evil.

“As the psalms teach us, we should not be afraid to acknowledge our deep feelings to God in prayer,” Bishop Cozzens wrote Sept. 13. “Acknowledging our feelings is the first step to bringing them into the light of God, so we can begin to see with his eyes. As we keep praying, we will begin to see how God is bringing good. We will receive from God his way of seeing.”

The bishop prefaced his column with St. Paul's exhortation to a virtuous life from his epistle to the Ephesians, and he then said that “All of us have felt the pain of the “works of darkness” which have once again come to light in our Church.”

The Saint Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese's bankruptcy is coming to an end, he wrote, as the Pennsylvania grand jury report was released and “we were horrified by … the widespread corruption that seems to surround the life of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.”

“Now the accusations of cover-up have enveloped the Holy Father himself. I know many of you, like me, have felt shaken and overwhelmed.”

While anger, hurt, and discouragement “are justified and need to be acknowledged, we also need to remember how God works,” Bishop Cozzens wrote.

“God always brings good out of evil. The truth is that the clouds always seem darkest when the light shines on them, and the only way the healing of this cancer of sexual immorality in our Church can ever come is through the light shining on it.”

The shame of sexual abuse can now be carried by everyone in the Church, he said. “I willingly stand in the darkness of this shame because I want the healing of victims and the purification of the Church. I believe that this shame coming into the light is a great good, because I want the Church to face her own darkness so that she can heal.”

Bishop Cozzens wrote of the need for practical reform in the Church, including accountability structures for bishops, and reiterating his belief “that there needs to be independent lay-led means developed to investigate these issues and review them.”

“But we also need holiness, which always comes through repentance and spiritual purification. Only when we repent for our sins, and do the penance necessary to heal the wounds, can new life come.”

The wisdom of the cross is instructive in this time, he said, writing: “The cross was a great evil. When the Son of God came to earth to reveal the love of the Eternal Father, we human beings hung him up on a tree to die. Yet he turned this great act of evil into the greatest gift for us. Through the suffering love of Christ, through his self-gift, the cross became a source of love and redemption for us. The cross teaches us that God’s greatest power is the ability to bring good out of evil. If we learn to receive God’s love in our darkness, even darkness can become a source of life.”

“All things,” even “our own sins,” even “the sins of bishops” “work for good for those who love God,” he wrote, quoting St. Paul.

“This is the profound truth Jesus teaches us through his death and resurrection: There is nothing so evil that it cannot be taken up by God and turned into a potential good,” Bishop Cozzens wrote.

“All evil brought into the light of the merciful love of God can become a good. This is the truth of healing, healing for victims/survivors, healing for our Church. The healing begins to happen when we are not afraid to bring the shadows into the light and try to see with God’s merciful eyes.”

Bishop Cozzens noted the good of the 90 men whom he is serving as interim rector of St. Paul Seminary. They are pursuing priesthood “in the face of this shadow over the Church because they desire to live holiness and give an authentic witness to the truth of Christ’s love. They inspire me to do the same. I see this same inspiration in the holy lives of many of our lay people.”

“If there are more shadows to be exposed, may they be exposed,” the bishop concluded. “I would rather live in a Church that is humbled and purified than one that is happy and numb.”

U.S. bishops announce new abuse-prevention measures and call for McCarrick investigation

Wed, 09/19/2018 - 16:30

Washington D.C., Sep 19, 2018 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- The U.S. bishops’ conference has announced new accountability measures in response to recent clerical sex-abuse scandals. The reforms include the establishment of an independent reporting mechanism to receive complaints against bishops, and the development of a Code of Conduct for bishops.

A statement released Sept. 19 by the USCCB’s Administrative Committee said that the new steps being taken to combat abuse are “only the beginning,” and that consultations were underway with laity, clergy, and religious on how better to “repair the scandal and restore justice.”

The Administrative Committee’s statement announced four key policies.

The first is the creation of a confidential, third-party reporting mechanism to handle “complaints of sexual abuse of minors by a bishop and sexual harassment of or sexual misconduct with adults by a bishop.” This system, the statement said, will direct those complaints to the appropriate civil and ecclesiastical authorities.

The statement also said that the USCCB’s Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance had been instructed to develop proposals for policies to address restrictions on bishops who have either resigned or been removed following “allegations of sexual abuse of minors or sexual harassment of or misconduct with adults, including seminarians and priests.”

The Administrative Committee also announced it has begun a process for developing a Code of Conduct for bishops regarding the “sexual abuse of a minor; sexual harassment of or sexual misconduct with an adult; or negligence in the exercise of his office related to such cases.”

Finally, the statement said, the committee supported a full investigation into the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, including the allegations made against him concerning the sexual assault of minors, adults, seminarians, and priests, and the Church’s response to those allegations.

“Such an investigation should rely upon lay experts in relevant fields, such as law enforcement and social services,” the statement said.

Recognizing the widespread criticism of Church authorities in the wake of recent scandals, the committee said they “welcome and are grateful for the assistance of the whole people of God in holding us accountable.”

“This is a time of deep examination of conscience for each bishop. We cannot content ourselves that our response to sexual assault within the Church has been sufficient.”

The bishops also urged any victims of abuse to come forward, either to Church authorities or to civil law enforcement.

“To anyone who has been abused, never hesitate to also contact local law enforcement.  If you don’t feel comfortable for any reason with the Church providing help, your diocese can connect you with appropriate community services. With compassion and without judgement, the bishops of the United States pledge to heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us.”

According to the statement, the committee met to discuss the proposals last week. The announcement also follows a Sept. 13 meeting between Pope Francis and senior U.S. bishops, led by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the bishops’ conference.

“Some bishops, by their actions or their failures to act, have caused great harm to both individuals and the Church as a whole. They have used their authority and power to manipulate and sexually abuse others. They have allowed the fear of scandal to replace genuine concern and care for those who have been victimized by abusers. For this, we again ask forgiveness from both the Lord and those who have been harmed. Turning to the Lord for strength, we must and will do better,” the statement said.

Ballot initiative could end legal brothels in one Nevada county

Wed, 09/19/2018 - 16:07

Mound House, Nevada, Sep 19, 2018 / 02:07 pm (CNA).- Lyon County is one of the 10 counties in Nevada that allow for legal prostitution. But this November, Lyon County voters will have an opportunity to end the practice.  

The initiative is a project of the End Trafficking and Prostitution Political Action Committee. Brenda Simpson, who works with the committee, told the BBC that prostitution is a type of slavery.

A recent petition has gained enough signatures from Lyon County residents to introduce a ballot initiative to close the four brothers in the rural county. If the initiative is successful, the political action committee hopes to imitate it in other counties as well. Similar efforts are already underway in Nye County.

Brothels have been legal in some of Nevada’s counties since 1971. Advocates argue that legalized prostitution ensures safety measures are followed and benefits both owners and women. Opponents, however, argue that prostitution preys on vulnerable women who are usually not making a truly free choice.

Melissa Holland, executive director of the nonprofit Awaken, which fights to end sex trafficking, cited a two-year research study which found that legalized prostitution improves the lives of brothel owners rather than the women who work in them.

The 2007 study found violations against women – including sexual violence and drug abuse – in the legal brothels of Nevada, she told the BBC.

Holland also said many women in both legal and illegal prostitution were exploited when they were young, and were raised to look at themselves as objects.

“They turn 18, and they’ve grown up in a state that says, ‘Hey, this is a viable option for you, so let’s legally continue the exploitation,’” she said, according to the Washington Post.

“That’s not choice. These women were not raised to actually look at themselves and choose this. They have been told this is what you’re good for, and Nevada has said let’s make that a viable option.”

Editor's note: This story previously stated that 16 Nevada counties permit prostitution. 10 counties permit prostitution. The story has been corrected.

Brooklyn diocese reaches $27.5m settlement over abuse by lay volunteer

Wed, 09/19/2018 - 12:53

Brooklyn, N.Y., Sep 19, 2018 / 10:53 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Diocese of Brooklyn and an after-school program reached a $27.5 million settlement Tuesday with four men who were sexually abused as minors by a layman who volunteered at a parish in the New York City borough.

The men were abused between 2003 and 2009 by Angelo Serrano, 67, who taught catechism and helped to organized religious education at St. Lucy – St. Patrick's parish in Brooklyn. Serrano abused the boys, who were between the ages of 8 and 12, at the church, in his apartment, and at the after-school program. Serrano received a stipend from the church, and had a desk there.

“The diocese and another defendant have settled these lawsuits brought by the four claimants who were sexually abused by Angelo Serrano at his private apartment many years ago,” the Brooklyn diocese said in a Sept. 18 statement, the New York Times reported. “Mr. Serrano was a volunteer worker at a local parish; he was not clergy or an employee of the diocese or parish.”

A portion of the settlement is being paid by the Dorothy Bennett Mercy Center, an after-school program located next to the parish.

Serrano was arrested in 2009, and is now serving a 15-year sentence.

A suit against the diocese was set to go to trial next year, had the diocese not settled.

The victims' suit listed the then-pastors of St. Lucy – St. Patrick's, Fr. Stephen P. Lynch and Fr. Frank Shannon, as co-defendants.

According to the New York Times, a judge wrote that “The record is clear that Lynch and Shannon had knowledge that for years Serrano often had several boys, including plaintiff, sleep over at his apartment … In fact, both Lynch and Shannon testified that they visited Serrano on numerous occasions when young boys were present.”

Fr. Lynch testified, the Times reported, that he saw Serrano “kiss an 8- or 9-year-old boy on the mouth and inappropriately embrace the boy.”

A secretary at the parish, Beatrice Ponnelle, also testified about Serrano's behavior with minors.

Earlier this month, the New York attorney general issued subpoenas to the state's dioceses asking for documents related to sexual abuse allegations and the Church’s response to them.

Attorney General Barbara Underwood announced a civil investigation into Church entities and said the office’s criminal division is willing to partner with local district attorneys “to investigate and, if warranted, prosecute any individuals who have committed criminal offenses that fall within the applicable statutes of limitations.”

 

As Florence subsides, Catholic Charities in NC ready to offer assistance

Wed, 09/19/2018 - 05:01

Raleigh, N.C., Sep 19, 2018 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- While Hurricane Florence has decreased to a tropical depression, it is still churning up tornadoes and bringing record flooding throughout the affected areas.

Many volunteers and donations will be needed to help with clean-up and rebuilding efforts, so Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina has already set up a website where information about disaster relief assistance, volunteer efforts, and donation links can be found.

“A disaster can be one of the most traumatic things a family can experience,” Daniel Altenau, Director of Disaster Services for Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina, told CNA.

“During this vulnerable time, our staff compassionately work with families to help them recover and persevere through this troubling time.”

Hurricane Florence rolled through North and South Carolina and the surrounding areas over the weekend, dumping rain that brought one of the most deadly parts of the storm - historic flooding that is expected to last for days. As many as 32 deaths have been linked to the storm thus far, but officials have said the danger is far from over.

“Flood waters continue to rise in some of the impacted areas and may not crest until Monday or Tuesday,” Altenau said.

“It won’t be until after the flood waters recede that we are fully able to understand the damage of the storm. There are projections that some rivers may rise to higher levels than were experienced in Hurricane Matthew two years ago,” he added.

Catholic Charities staff are prepared to help families by providing groceries, diapers, food gift cards and clean-up supplies, as well as assistance with finding housing, Altenau said. Because Hurricane Florence swept through smaller towns which have fewer available apartments, finding housing after the storm could prove difficult for the displaced, of whom there are thousands.

As for volunteer opportunities, a primary need at the moment is for box truck drivers who can take supplies from a warehouse in Raleigh to impacted areas in eastern North Carolina, including Fayetteville and Wilmington.

Other volunteer opportunities can also be found at the Raleigh Catholic Charities website, as well as a link to provide donations for disaster relief.

“Monetary donations are helpful because disasters are constantly changing events and cash donations can be adapted to meet the varying needs of families impacted by Hurricane Florence,” Altenau said.

“Catholic Charities is working with local partner agencies to address the immediate needs of families across central and eastern North Carolina,” he added.

“Our staff are present in the community before an event, during an event, and long after the event to assist families.”

Indiana diocese releases names of credibly accused clerics

Tue, 09/18/2018 - 17:22

Fort Wayne, Ind., Sep 18, 2018 / 03:22 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend published Tuesday the names of the 18 priests and deacons who have served in the diocese and have been credibly accused of at least one act of sexual abuse of a minor.

“It is my hope that by releasing these names, the innocent victims of these horrific and heartbreaking crimes can finally begin the process of healing,” Bishop Kevin Rhoades said ahead of the Sept. 18 release.

“We must be vigilant in our efforts to protect our youth. With the Lord’s guidance and love, we will do so.”

The list of those credibly accused as developed with the help of the Diocesan Review Board, which is largely composed of laity.

A credible accusation, a statement from the diocese said, is one that “after a thorough investigation and review of available information, appears more likely true than not in the judgement of the Diocesan Review Board, and is accepted as credible by the Bishop.”

The diocese added that Bishop Rhoades “followed the recommendations of the Diocesan Review Board” in determining credibility, and that the credibility of accusations against religious were made “by the accused priest’s religious congregation.”

It added that it “stands firm in its commitment to investigate any allegation of sexual abuse by a member of the clergy and to listen to and support anyone who has been abused,” and provided contact information for the diocese's victim assistance coordinator and its vicar general.

The credibly accused clerics who have served in the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese are: James Blume, Michael Buescher, Brian Carsten, William Ehrman, William Gieranowski, John Gillig, Gabriel Hernandez, Edward Krason, Paul LeBrun, CSC, Thomas Lombardi, Robert Mahoney, Eldon Miller, Edward O. Paquette, Cornelius Ryan, CSC, James Seculoff, Richard Stieglitz, Richard Thompson and James Trepanier, CSC.

Of these, seven have died. Of those who are alive, eight have been dismissed from the clerical state, two are Holy Cross Fathers whose faculties for ministry in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend have been removed, and one has been removed from public ministry.

One was ordained in the 1920s, one in the 1940s, five in the 1950s, three in the 1960s, five in the 1970s, two in the 1980s, and one in the 2000s.

Priest faces trial after alleged assault of San Diego seminarian

Tue, 09/18/2018 - 15:58

San Diego, Calif., Sep 18, 2018 / 01:58 pm (CNA).- A California priest has been charged with sexual battery, after he is alleged to have sexually assaulted a San Diego seminarian.

The priest, Fr. Juan Garcia Castillo, is a member of the Congregation of Jesus and Mary, a religious community of priests also known as the Eudists. On May 14, Castillo was charged with one count of misdemeanor sexual battery by the San Diego County District Attorney’s office. A preliminary hearing in his case will take place Sept. 21.

Castillo is alleged to have forcibly groped and made sexual advances toward a seminarian after a parish event in early February. The assault was reported to police and diocesan authorities almost immediately, sources say.

Kevin Eckery, a spokesman for the Diocese of San Diego, confirmed that the diocese had received a report that Castillo engaged in misconduct with an adult. He also told CNA that Castillo no longer has priestly faculties in the diocese.

Eckery said he would not confirm or deny whether the adult was a seminarian.

Castillo, 35, was listed as associate pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Carlsbad, California until late March, six weeks after the assault was allegedly reported to the diocese.
 
Although Castillo was the subject of a criminal investigation at the time he was removed from the parish, the diocese did not disclose the circumstances of his departure to parishioners, or make any statement at the time Castillo was charged with sexual battery.

Eckery told CNA that the diocese did not disclose to Castillo’s parish the allegation of sexual assault because “it would be wrong for us to influence the case.”

“We need to see what happens to the criminal case because the issue of consent is so important and if it’s not clear, we wait for that to get made clear,” he added.

The diocese would not explain the priest’s removal from ministry to the parish where he served, Eckery told CNA, without trying first to determine if an act of sexual misconduct took place, and whether any sexual act was “non-consensual.”

“We’re in a holding pattern,” Eckery said.

In an Aug. 27 statement on the crisis of sex abuse in the Church, San Diego’s Bishop Robert McElroy wrote that “This is a moment when the bishops of our nation, in union with the Holy Father, should be focused solely on comprehensively revealing the truth about the patterns of the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults by clergy in our Church, so that deep reform can be enacted.”

“We as bishops cannot allow the pathway of partisanship to divide us or to divert us from the searing mission that Christ calls us to at this moment. We must make public our sinful past. We must engage and help heal the survivors of abuse. We must develop new, lay-governed instruments of oversight and investigation in every element of how we confront sexual abuse by clergy at all levels in the life of the Church. And we must reject all attempts to subordinate these goals to ideological or personal projects. For if we do not, we will have betrayed the victims of abuse once again,” McElroy added.

Castillo was born in Honduras, and in 2011 was ordained a priest at St. Patrick’s Parish by Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa.

The website of the Congregation of Jesus and Mary’s U.S. region lists Castillo, as of Sept. 17, as “Local Superior of the San Diego Community of the CJM.” He is said to be “working with Eudist seminarians on a family-formation program for the Spanish speaking community.”

Castillo has recently inquired into the possibility of ministry in at least one other U.S. diocese, multiple sources have told CNA.

The Eudists serve at parishes in the Diocese of San Diego and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, as well as in France, Canada, the Philippines, and several South and Latin American countries. As of 2016, there were 560 members of the congregation in 76 houses worldwide. The Eudist community of San Diego occupies two houses in Carlsbad and two houses in nearby Solana Beach.

California’s penal code establishes that “any person who touches an intimate part of another person while that person is unlawfully restrained by the accused or an accomplice, and if the touching is against the will of the person touched and is for the purpose of sexual arousal, sexual gratification, or sexual abuse, is guilty of sexual battery.”

According to a spokesman for the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, a protective order forbids Castillo from contact with the victim.

A jury trial is scheduled for Oct. 22. If convicted, Castillo could face up to six months of incarceration, and be listed for life on California’s sex offender registry, the spokesman told CNA.

Eckery said that the Diocese of San Diego does not yet know whether Castillo will face any ecclesiastical disciplinary process after his criminal trial. “We’ll be waiting to see the outcome of the criminal case. At the point, we’ll be informed and we’ll know what the next steps are,” he said.

The Congregation of Jesus and Mary did not respond to requests for comment from CNA.

Historic low on US refugee cap lamented as 'deeply disturbing'

Tue, 09/18/2018 - 15:18

Washington D.C., Sep 18, 2018 / 01:18 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic leaders have criticized an announcement that the United States will be reducing its refugee cap to historic lows, while global rates of refugees and forcibly displaced persons are at an all-time high.

“To cut off protection for many who are fleeing persecution, at a time of unprecedented global humanitarian need, contradicts who we are as a nation,” said Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, Texas, chair of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee.

He said the lowered refugee limit “is deeply disturbing and leaves many human lives in danger.”

On Sept. 17, the Trump administration announced its intention to cap U.S. refugee resettlement at 30,000 next year, the lowest cap since the nation’s refugee program began in 1980.

The announcement comes as the world continues to witness its highest recorded number of forcibly displaced persons – more than 65 million across the globe, according to the United Nations. The number of refugees is also at its highest recorded level at over 22 million, more than half of whom are under age 18.

The lowering of the refugee cap for the 2019 Fiscal Year comes after the Trump administration previously lowered the cap to 45,000 for 2018, although fewer than half that many refugees have been resettled as the fiscal year comes to a close. In the final year of the Obama administration, the U.S. settled nearly 85,000 refugees.

In announcing the change, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cited the importance of screening for national security, and emphasized that refugee admissions are only one part of the United States’ global humanitarian assistance efforts, which will also include processing a back-logged system of asylum-seekers and providing foreign aid to refugees overseas.

Responding in a Sept. 18 statement, Bishop Vásquez stressed that the United States is a nation built upon a commitment to welcoming those fleeing violence and persecution, and has the resources to continue doing so.

“In the coming days, we pray that Congress will have the opportunity to engage in the formal consultation process with the Administration that is required by law,” the bishop said. “Congress should strongly urge the Administration to return to a refugee admission level that reflects the local community response and support of refugees, global refugee protection needs, and our long history of compassionately welcoming refugees.”

Jesuit Refugee Service / USA, an organization that works with and advocates for refugees, also criticized the announcement.

“With the world’s refugee population at its highest in recorded history, now is not the time to abandon the U.S. resettlement program,” said Giulia McPherson, director of advocacy and operations for Jesuit Refugee Service / USA.

The organization said in a Sept. 18 statement that “lowering the level of admissions to the U.S. will not only have a detrimental effect on thousands of individuals and families, but will also continue to weaken the leadership role that the U.S. has maintained in meeting the needs of suffering people around the world.” 

It called on Congress and the Trump administration to work toward a new goal of at least 75,000 in the coming Fiscal Year.

 

Religious priest named auxiliary bishop of Hartford

Tue, 09/18/2018 - 13:07

Hartford, Conn., Sep 18, 2018 / 11:07 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Father Juan Miguel Betancourt Torres, a member of the Institute of the Servants of the Holy Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin Mary, was appointed auxiliary bishop of Hartford on Tuesday.

“I am honored and grateful to be entrusted with this mission of service in the Lord’s Church,” Fr. Betancourt, 48, said Sept. 18. “My prayers are for my seminary family, for my parish family, and for my new family in the Archdiocese of Hartford.”

Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford said that “the appointment of Father Betancourt is a cause of rejoicing not only for me personally, but for all our clergy, religious and laity. For me and for our clergy it means the welcome arrival of a dedicated co-worker in the Lord’s vineyard who brings a variety of talents and of experience to our shared ministry.”

“For the laity of the archdiocese in all its present-day diversity, Fr. Betancourt’s Hispanic/Latino heritage will only enhance the pastoral care that he will exercise for the good of everyone of every race and ethnicity,” he said.

“For those in religious life, Fr. Betancourt’s membership in the Society of the Servants of the Eucharist and Mary only serves to underscore the value and contribution that consecrated religious men and women make to the good of the Church.”

Fr. Betancourt was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico in 1970.

He entered the Institute of the Servants of the Eucharist and the Virgin Mary, a contemplative community which is part of the Schoenstatt Movement and which was founded in Puerto Rico, as a postulant in 1992. He professed vows as a religious in 1994, studied at the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, and made perpetual vows in 2000.

He was ordained a priest of the religious institute in 2001, and received a licentiate in scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in 2005.

After receiving his licentiate Fr. Betancourt taught scripture at the Pontifical University of Puerto Rico and Regina Cleri Major Seminary, before beginning work in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis in 2006.

Since then, he has been a professor of sacred scripture at the Seminary of Saint Paul and the University of St. Thomas, local superior at the Casa de San José, and pastor of St. James and St. Francis de Sales parish.

Fr. Betancourt currently serves as vice rector and associate academic dean at St. Paul Seminary, in addition to teaching. He is also vicar general of the Society of the Servants of the Eucharist and Mary.

He has served on the Saint Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese's presbyteral council, and is a board member of the National Conference for Seminarians in Hispanic Ministry.

Bishop Andrew Cozzens, auxiliary bishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis and interim rector of St. Paul Seminary, said: “I have known Father Juan Miguel Betancourt for almost 15 years to be a man of deep prayer and a joyful servant in everything he does. His love for the study of sacred Scripture and his gifts for teaching will be a great blessing for his new episcopal ministry. He is a man who desires to be a servant in all he does, as is reflected in the name of his religious community the Servants of the Eucharist and Mary. We will miss the dedication, his wisdom in formation of men, and his joyful Puerto Rican spirit!”

Archbishop Bernard Hebda of Saint Paul and Minneapolis said that Fr. Betancourt's “sharp intellect, pastoral heart and joyful spirit suggest that the Lord has long been preparing him for this new ministry as a successor to the apostles. While he will be sorely missed at St. Francis de Sales parish and at the St. Paul Seminary, where he has served with distinction, I rejoice with the Church of Hartford at this appointment.”

Fr. Betancourt will be consecrated a bishop Oct. 18 at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford.

Director of Courage releases letter on Penn. abuse report

Mon, 09/17/2018 - 20:02

Washington D.C., Sep 17, 2018 / 06:02 pm (CNA).- Courage International, an apostolate to support people with same sex-attraction in leading chaste lives, has issued a statement on three priests mentioned as credibly accused of sexual abuse in the Pennsylvania grand jury report.

Released last month, the report found more than 1,000 allegations of abuse at the hands of some 300 clergy members in six dioceses in the state. It also found a pattern of cover up by senior Church officials.

“The horror of these crimes of sexual abuse and harassment is amplified by the failure of some bishops and diocesan officials to take corrective action against the offenders, and to communicate honestly with the faithful about what has happened and how they are responding,” said Father Philip Bochanski, executive director of Courage, in a Sept. 15 statement.

“I am writing to you to share some information regarding connections between the Grand Jury Report and Courage International, as well as to discuss some other issues related to the apostolate and how we handle allegations of sexual abuse.”

Father Bochanski said no reports of sexual abuse of minors had been made to him or his staff during his time in the Courage Office.

However, he noted three priests named in the Grand Jury report who have connections to the apostolate.

Fr. Michael Lawrence was assigned by the Diocese of Allentown as a Courage chaplain for two years before his 2002 retirement. Lawrence had been accused of an incident of abuse in 1982, was reported to the diocese, sent for treatment and returned to ministry. In 2009, another accusation was made against him, with the time of alleged abuse being unspecified in the report. Lawrence died in 2015.

Fr. Martin Boylan of Scranton was among 24 priests recommended in 1989 by the Scranton vicar general to meet with Courage founder Fr. John Harvey about establishing a diocesan chapter of the apostolate. Bochanski said it is not clear whether such a meeting ever took place and noted that no further connection between Boylan and Courage has been documented. Boylan was later accused of several incidents of sexual misconduct.

Fr. David Soderlund of Allentown admitted in 1980 to sexually abusing three minor boys. According to the grand jury report, he was placed under the spiritual care of Fr. Harvey.

Bochanski said Harvey was “well-known for providing pastoral care and spiritual direction to priests and religious brothers who experienced same sex attractions and were striving to live chaste celibate lives,” and that this included some ministry to priests who had been sent to treatment after being credibly accused of sexual misconduct.

Harvey worked within the psychology of the time, Bochanski said that Harvey was "a keen student of moral theology and psychology, and by all accounts his pastoral care was consistent with the advice given by professionals at the time."

"Clearly, thanks to major advances in their understanding of the nature of pedophilia and ephebophilia in the last two decades, psychiatrists and psychologists today make much different assessments of, and propose much different treatment for, sexual abusers than those working 30 or 40 years ago. Given Father Harvey’s evident interest in staying up-to-date with advances in psychology, as well as his faithful, loving concern for the good of the Church, I am confident to say that, were he working today, he would take the advice of these professionals very seriously and shape his pastoral approach accordingly."

No other sexual abuse or misconduct allegations involving Courage chaplains have been made in recent years, Bochanski said, however there has been one instance of inappropriate behavior involving a priest who is not a Courage chaplain in an online Facebook group.

The priest had made sexual remarks and sent inappropriate photos in a private Facebook Messenger account to a lay man whom he had met in a “Courage on Call” Facebook group, which is not officially run or monitored by Courage International, Bochanski said.

The lay man informed Bochanski of the interaction, and Bochanski contacted the priest’s diocese. The priest was subsequently removed from ministry.

Reiterating a commitment to transparency, Bochanski urged Catholics to not withhold any information about admitted or suspected sexual abuse.

“If you suspect or become aware that anyone has abused or is abusing a minor or a vulnerable person, I urge you to report it to law enforcement and child protection authorities immediately.  If the abuser is a member of the clergy, you should also report it to his diocese or archdiocese.”

The director said this abuse has understandably provoked anger and sadness among the members of the Church. He said his letter may especially stir up painful feelings for abuse victims and encouraged concerned individuals to bring their questions to Courage International.

“Should you have questions or concerns about this letter, or should it cause hurt that I can help to heal, please do not hesitate to contact me,” he said.

“I intend to continue to communicate with you, through the Courage and EnCourage Newsletter and in other forums, about the crisis the Church is facing and how we, as individuals and as an apostolate, can respond with charity in a spirit of service and witness.”

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