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No sex abuse charges for former Wyoming bishop, but successor praises 'courageous' victims

Fri, 06/12/2020 - 20:15

CNA Staff, Jun 12, 2020 / 06:15 pm (CNA).- While Wyoming prosecutors have declined to press criminal sexual abuse charges against Bishop emeritus Joseph Hart, Bishop Steven Biegler of Cheyenne has repeated that the diocese considers allegations against Hart to be credible. He commended alleged victims who have come forward, emphasizing the need for justice.
 
“This decision not to pursue a criminal case does not mean that the victims are not credible. Once again, I commend the victims who have spoken courageously about their abuse,” Bishop Biegler said in a June 11 statement. “I also stand behind the determination made by the Diocese of Cheyenne that allegations of sexual abuse against former Bishop Hart are credible.”
 
The Natrona County District Attorney’s Office has told an alleged victim that there was “insufficient evidence” to support a charge against Hart. The allegation concerned sexual abuse in the 1970s, the Casper Star-Tribune reported June 9.
 
The alleged victim described his reaction: “On one hand there was disbelief, but on the other hand was just like, ‘Well, yeah.’”
 
“In the back of my mind, that was always an outcome. I never thought it was a slam dunk. But there’s a certain bitter resignation that comes with saying, ‘OK, there it goes, that’s just how it is.’ I can’t believe it,” he told the Star-Tribune.
 
Bishop Biegler said that the diocese hopes the district attorney’s office will offer an adequate account of its decision not to seek criminal charges.
 
“The Diocese of Cheyenne has fully cooperated with law enforcement during the past two years that they have been investigating this case,” Biegler said. “The diocese understands and appreciates that the decision to pursue a criminal case rests solely with the district attorney’s office. Proving the charges beyond a reasonable doubt is a high standard of proof. The diocese also understands that a criminal case requires a unanimous jury verdict in order to convict.”
 
More than 12 men have accused Hart of sexual abuse, with the first accusers coming forward in 1989. The alleged abuse took place from when he was a priest in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph through his time as a bishop. Wyoming has no statute of limitations on criminal charges for sexual abuse.
 
Hart, 88, denies any misconduct.
 
Bishop Hart was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Kansas City in 1956, where he served until he was named an auxiliary bishop in Cheyenne in 1976. He was appointed to lead the diocese two years later. He served as Bishop of Cheyenne until his resignation in 2001 at the age of 70.
 
“The Diocese of Cheyenne is adamant in a sincere quest for justice for everyone,” Bishop Biegler said. “A just resolution is essential for the victims and their family members, but also for the clergy and laity in the Diocese of Cheyenne and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph’s.”
 
He added that a Church investigation is still pending.
 
“It is important to differentiate between criminal charges and the canonical crimes being investigated by Church authorities,” the bishop added. “That process continues under the oversight of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith at the Vatican, and the Diocese of Cheyenne has not received new information on the status of the case.”
 
The victim in the developing case came forward in 2002 when a Natrona County prosecutor closed a two-month investigation due to a lack of evidence. The victim has said he stopped participating in that inquiry because he felt attacked and cross-examined by a Cheyenne police lieutenant.
 
In July 2018, the Cheyenne diocese questioned the conclusion of the prosecutor in closing the case.
 
The Cheyenne Police Department investigated and recommended charges in August 2019.
 
When the case was referred to prosecutors, Laramie County District Attorney Leigh Ann Manlove recused herself and sent the case to Natrona County District Attorney Dan Itzen to serve as special prosecutor.
 
The victim told the Star-Tribune he was not contacted by anyone in Itzen’s office until the night of Friday June 5 when a victim’s advocate left a voicemail. The advocate told him the following Monday that no charges were being filed.
 
The victim objected that the special prosecutor should have contacted him. He said he participated in the latest investigation only because Bishop Biegler flew out to meet him, apologized, and told him he believed his story.
 
“I’m trying to get the people like Bishop Biegler empowered and supported and recognized that these are the guys who are future of the church, if the church is to have a future, which I personally don’t care about,” the victim told the Star-Tribune. “I don’t care if the church has a future. But what I care about is making sure that this institution ceases to protect like it has.”
 
In 2010, then-Bishop of Cheyenne Paul Etienne asked for a Vatican investigation into Hart, though the outcome of that investigation is unclear. In 2015, before moving to a different diocese, Etienne restricted Hart’s ability to say Mass.
 
Hart was previously investigated by Wyoming prosecutors and not charged regarding a different allegation.
 
In December 2017, Bishop Biegler retained an outside investigator who obtained “substantial new evidence” and who concluded the district attorney’s 2002 investigation was flawed. The investigator concluded that Bishop Hart had sexually abused two boys in Wyoming.
 
The victim has said that he wants Hart dismissed from the clerical state so he will not have funeral honors for a bishop or priest. He also wants him removed from diocesan housing.
 
“Me and all the other boys who were abused were ashamed our whole lives about it,” the victim said. “Now he needs to be ashamed.”

Detroit archdiocese criticizes ‘racist and derogatory language’ from Church Militant

Fri, 06/12/2020 - 19:50

CNA Staff, Jun 12, 2020 / 05:50 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Detroit responded Thursday to a video produced by a website operating in the Detroit archdiocese, which it said used “racist and derogatory language” to describe the African-American Archbishop of Washington D.C.

The Church Militant website, which produces Catholic-themed articles and opinion videos, released a video June 11 entitled “AFRICAN QUEEN BUSTED LYING.”

The video consists of commentary from Church Militant founder Michael Voris about recent events concerning, in his words, the “accused homosexual, Marxist bishop” of Washington D.C., Wilton Gregory.

In the video, Voris characterized Gregory as a “liar” and repeated a claim Church Militant has made in other videos, articles, and on social media, that Gregory is an “active homosexual” and has promoted active homosexual clergy to a “gay cabal” in the dioceses he has led.

On June 11, the archdiocese released a statement in response.

“The Archdiocese of Detroit has been made aware that an organization located in southeast Michigan has published racist and derogatory language in reference to Archbishop of Washington D.C. Wilton D. Gregory. The organization in question is not affiliated with or endorsed by the Archdiocese of Detroit,” the statement said.

“Racist and derogatory speech wrongfully diminishes the God-given dignity of others. It is not in accord with the teachings of Christ,” Archbishop Allen Vigneron added to that statement.

“As our nation continues its important conversation on racism, it is my hope that the faithful will turn from this and all other acts or attitudes which deny the inherent dignity shared by all people."

In remarks to CNA, an archdiocesan spokesperson issued a warning about the group.

The archdiocese “unequivocally condemns the offensive language used in reference to Archbishop Gregory and advises the faithful that Church Militant is not affiliated with, endorsed, or recommended by the Archdiocese of Detroit,” archdiocesan communications director Holly Fornier told CNA June 12.

Fornier declined to comment on whether Vigneron has any further recourse to ecclesiastical penalties against Church Militant in light of the June 11 video, and whether he was considering taking any further action beyond the archdiocesan statement.

Archbishop Gregory has faced questions in recent days about his denunciation of President Donald Trump’s June 2 visit to the John Paul II Shrine, which Gregory described as “baffling and reprehensible” given the current climate of political protest.

CNA reported June 8 that Gregory had, the week prior to the visit, declined an invitation to the president's event at the shrine.

Voris characterized Gregory as a “liar” for speaking out on the day of Trump’s visit rather than on the day he declined the invitation.

He also claimed that “various priests who have been in his presence for more than three seconds” call Gregory “African Queen.”

Church Militant did not respond to CNA’s request for comment.

Christine Niles, senior producer at Church Militant, in a June 12 tweet repeated Voris’ claim that the nickname is used by clergy and seminarians— none of whom Church Militant has named— behind Gregory’s back.

“‘African’ is his race. ‘Queen’ is a common term used by homosexuals to refer to other homosexuals. Thus, ‘African Queen.’ It's the name bandied about by clergy and seminarians about Abp. Gregory for years,” Niles wrote.

In another tweet, she claimed “famed sex abuse expert and former priest Richard Sipe said [Gregory] is indeed homosexual.”

Church Militant had on June 5 published a report claiming that Sipe had deemed Gregory an “active homosexual.” This appears to be a reference to a 2006 document from Sipe in which he presented “A Preliminary Review of Sexual Orientation of Some American Bishops,” and in which he noted that the list implied “no accusation of sexual activity on the part of anyone named.”

Separately, Niles on June 12 defended the moniker “African Queen” as a “movie reference” to the 1951 film “The African Queen.”

She dismissed myriad calls online from fellow Catholics to remove the video, many of whom urged Voris and the rest of the Church Militant staff to “go to confession.”

“We're Catholics in good standing,” Niles tweeted June 12.

In the same tweet, Niles said the archdiocese “has a habit of lying, and accused it of falsifying an allegation of rape against a priest, adding that “we don't really care what their opinion is about us. It's irrelevant,” Niles said.

The priest in question is Father Eduard Perrone, who the archdiocese temporarily removed from ministry in July 2019 and brought under a canonical investigation for an allegation of groping a former altar boy. The priest denies the allegations.

Church Militant has frequently accused the archdiocese of fabricating a rape charge against Perrone. The Archdiocese of Detroit has not responded directly to those allegations. Several staff members of Church Militant, including Voris, have said or posted online that they attend the parish Perrone led.

The conflict is not the first clash the group has had with American bishops.

In 2011, the Archdiocese of Detroit said that Church Militant, which was founded as “RealCatholicTV,” should not use the word “Catholic” from its name. The group made a name change, while maintaining that the archdiocese did not have authority to require it, because the site was owned and headquartered elsewhere.

In 2015, then-Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said Church Militant “sow division wherever they tread,” while the Philadelphia archdiocese said the “sole desire” of Church Militant “is to create division, confusion, and conflict within the Church. Actions of that nature run contrary to Christian tradition. Their reports are not to be taken seriously.”

 

 

Austin to fund secret abortions for minors, despite Texas law

Fri, 06/12/2020 - 19:20

CNA Staff, Jun 12, 2020 / 05:20 pm (CNA).- The Austin City Council on Thursday voted to provide funding to an abortion organization that helps minors procure abortion without their parents’ consent.

The city council chose unanimously June 11 to provide up to $150,000 in funding to Jane’s Due Process.

Texas Values, a pro-life group, testified against the measure.

“Today, the Austin City Council engaged in political posturing to see how far they can go before violating SB 22,” said Mary Elizabeth Castle, Policy Advisor for Texas Values.

In 2019 Texas adopted SB 22, banning local governments from financially supporting abortion providers. The state law was in reaction to Austin's decision to lease a building to Planned Parenthood for $1 a year.

Castle stated that “the City of Austin should not be spending taxpayer dollars to help end the lives of unborn children.”

The Austin city council also voted in September 2019 to provide $150,000 for transportation, childcare, or lodging for Austin residents who are seeking an abortion. Councilman Don Zimmerman has challenged the council's decision in court.

“I am saddened by the recent news that members of the Austin City Council are working on a proposal to increase financial support for access to abortion in the community,” Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin had said Aug. 21, 2019.

“I, along with the Catholic Church, continue to affirm the intrinsic value of human life and the dignity of every person in a way that transforms culture,” he stated.

In January, the Trump administration approved a Texas women’s health program that bars funding for health care providers that perform abortions. The Department of Health and Human Services approved the Medicaid waiver for the Healthy Texas Women program, which helps provide health care and family planning services to tens of thousands of women.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott welcomed the waiver, saying, “The Lone Star State is once again in partnership with the federal government to provide meaningful family planning and health services while fostering a culture of life.”

“This collaboration is a symbol of our commitment to championing the lives of Texas women. I am grateful to President Trump and his administration for approving this waiver, and for his commitment to protecting the unborn while providing much-needed health resources to Texas women,” Abbott said Jan. 22.

HHS protects doctors who object to abortion, transgender surgery

Fri, 06/12/2020 - 18:30

Washington D.C., Jun 12, 2020 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- On Friday, the Trump administration finalized a new rule to protect doctors’ right to object to abortion and “gender reassignment” operations. The rule clarifies that bans on sex-based discrimination do not include gender identity or abortion.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said that its final rule eliminates portions of a 2016 regulation that had inappropriately expanded the definition of sex discrimination. The department said certain language in the 2016 rule “exceeded the scope of the authority delegated by Congress.”

“HHS will enforce Section 1557 by returning to the government’s interpretation of sex discrimination according to the plain meaning of the word ‘sex’ as male or female and as determined by biology,” the announcement said.

Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act forbids federally funded healthcare programs from discrimination on the basis of sex. Under guidelines issued under President Barack Obama in May 2016, “sex” was defined as including “gender identity,” meaning that doctors who refuse to recognize sex-change operations as appropriate medical care could face prosecution for sex discrimination. The rules were also interpreted to include protections for abortion.

In May 2019, the Trump administration announced it was considering changing regulations related to section 1557, removing the expansive definition of “sex” and requiring that non-discrimination protections be interpreted in line with First Amendment freedoms.

At the time of the announcement, the USCCB pro-life committee, led by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, issued a statement “applauding” the proposed changes and saying the bishops were “grateful” the administration was taking the “important step.”

“These modifications follow the legislative intent of the Affordable Care Act to ensure nondiscrimination on the basis of sex in health care,” the statement said.

“The proposed regulations would help restore the rights of health care providers – as well as insurers and employers – who decline to perform or cover abortions or ‘gender transition’ procedures due to ethical or professional objections. Catholic health care providers serve everyone who comes to them, regardless of characteristics or background. However, there are ethical considerations when it comes to procedures.”

Eight states and multiple healthcare providers challenged the Obama-era regulations in federal district court in the case Franciscan Alliance v Burwell, filed in December 2016. That case resulted in Judge Reed O’Connor issuing a nationwide preliminary injunction against the enforcement of the regulations, finding that the expanded definition of sex discrimination likely encroached on religious freedom. The federal government did not appeal the injunction.

The USCCB’s Office of the General Counsel submitted its own comments in August 2019, calling the Obama-era interpretation of section 1557 “erroneous” and arguing that it violated key civil liberty protections, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“Commendably—and appropriately, given the nationwide injunction and the government’s confession of error—the proposed regulations correct this earlier misinterpretation,” the general counsel wrote on behalf of the bishops.

Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, policy advisor for The Catholic Association, applauded the June 12 rule change.

“Preventing ‘discrimination on the basis of sex’ was intended to ensure that women are treated on a par with men,” she said in a statement.

“Changing the definition of sex to mean ‘gender identity’ and to include unfettered access to abortion would not have protected the vulnerable,” she said. Rather, it would have hindered doctors from declining to perform procedures they objected to for ethical or medical reasons, such as late-term abortions and operations on minors with gender dysphoria, she warned.

“Getting the government out of the business of social engineering, and out of the way of sound medical ethics and patient care is a step forward,” she said.

NH lawmaker says education choice is only for 'well-educated' parents

Fri, 06/12/2020 - 17:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 12, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A state senator in New Hampshire has drawn criticism for saying that working-class parents should not have the same freedom to make educational choices for their children as college-educated parents. 

“This idea of parental choice, that’s great if the parent is well-educated. There are some families that’s perfect for. But to make it available to everyone? No. I think you’re asking for a huge amount of trouble,” said Sen. Jeanne Dietsch (D-Peterborough) on Tuesday, June 9. Her comments were reported by InsideSources

Dietsch was speaking at an education committee hearing in favor of a bill that would repeal a statewide alternative schooling program, called Learn Everywhere. 

Learn Everywhere is a program that permits students to earn course credit “through hands-on, real-world experience” including jobs and apprenticeships outside of a classroom. 

The bill SB 514, which is sponsored by Dietsch, would require the state’s board of education “to establish a process for the approval of vendors offering alternative, extended learning, and work-based programs which may be accepted for credit by a local school board.”

Dietsch explained that as her father had not graduated from high school, it was important to him that she attend college, and that he would not have been helpful in picking out coursework. 

‘When it gets into the details, would my father have known what courses I should be taking? I don’t think so,” she said. 

Dietsch explained that she did not think some parents were qualified to make decisions for their children that extended beyond their own level of attainment. 

“If the dad’s a carpenter, and you want to become a carpenter,” she said “then yes — listen to your dad.”

“In a democracy, and particularly in the United States, public education has been the means for people to move up to greater opportunities, for each generation to be able to succeed more than their parents have,” said Dietsch. 

George D’Orazio, a senior board member of Catholics United For Home Education-New Hampshire, told CNA that the educational status of a parent does not factor when making medical or financial decisions for a child, and it should not matter in educational decisions either.

“CUHE utterly rejects the concept that only certain parents should have choice in education,” said D’Orazio. 

D’Orazio said that he believed Dietsch’s party affiliation shaped her comments on Tuesday, and that New Hampshire as a whole has typically been very friendly to homeschooling and alternative schooling choices.

“The current governor, who is a Republican, has worked hard to try to increase educational choices available to parents,” he said. “The current education commissioner (in the state of New Hampshire) has worked very hard to increase parental choice in education,” he said. 

“And they’re being criticized, thoroughly criticized (...) by the leaders of the Democratic Party for this.” 

Other experts and commentators in favor of school choice and parental rights were similarly critical of the senator’s comments. 

“Parents have the right, and duty, to make decisions about their child's education - simply because they are parents,” Mary Rice Hasson, director of the Catholic Women’s Forum, told CNA. 

“The Church teaches that parents are the primary educators of their children-- regardless of the parents' education level. There's no asterisk that says a college degree or PhD is required. Parents fulfill this responsibility out of love, with an eye towards the deepest needs of the child, spiritual as well as intellectual formation,” she added. 

“Opposition to educational freedom is often rooted in the paternalistic belief that disadvantaged families aren’t capable of making good choices for their own children,” Corey DeAngelis, the director of school choice at Reason Foundation, told CNA. 

“But that’s wrong--families are more likely to know what’s best for their own children than bureaucrats,” he added. 

Dietsch’s chosen example of carpenters as professionals unable to make informed choices for their children’s education also drew a backlash from local business owners. 

“With all due respect to the senator, I am a carpenter, and the idea that she, or any other government official, knows what’s best for me or any member of my family is preposterous,” Tim Hawes, owner of Perfection In Restoration in Candia, New Hampshire told NHJournal. 

“I may not have a degree, but I can guarantee that when it comes to decisions regarding my family’s interest I am far more educated and capable than any government official will ever be,” Hawes said.

Judge rejects Catholic dioceses' suit to access coronavirus relief

Fri, 06/12/2020 - 16:00

CNA Staff, Jun 12, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A federal judge on Wednesday denied attempts by the Catholic dioceses of Buffalo and Rochester to obtain emergency small business loans.

In April, the dioceses had sued the Small Business Administration (SBA) after they were blocked from emergency small business loans under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) because of their bankruptcy debtor status.

Congress had initially allocated $349 billion in short-term relief for small businesses and eligible non-profits in March, to help them keep employees on payroll during the pandemic.

As part of the conditions for loan applications, entities could not be undergoing the bankruptcy process. The Diocese of Rochester filed for bankruptcy in September of 2019 and the Buffalo diocese followed suit in February. Each diocese had been named in hundreds of clergy sex abuse lawsuits following the openning of a window in the statute of limitations in the state in cases of sexual abuse.

In their lawsuit, the dioceses claimed they were unlawfully denied access to the PPP loans because of their bankruptcy status.

They asked the court to block the SBA from denying them a PPP loan, and from denying them more than $2.8 million total that they requested in their applications.

On Wednesday, however, Judge Elizabeth Wolford of the Western District Court of New York said that the SBA did not act outside the bounds of the law with the bankruptcy exclusion.

While the dioceses of Buffalo and Rochester sued the government to get access to the PPP loans, other bankrupt Catholic dioceses took different approaches.

The Diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota, had not started the bankruptcy process before applying for a PPP loan. The Diocese of Winona-Rochester did not apply because of their bankruptcy status. The Diocese of Harrisburg did not itself apply for a loan, but parishes, schools, and charities applied for and received PPP loans as separate entities from the diocese.

Both the Buffalo and Rochester dioceses faced hundreds of lawsuits after a one-year window began in August, 2019, for old clergy abuse lawsuits to be filed. The one-year window applies to abuse cases where the state’s statute of limitations had expired.

In their initial complaint in court, the dioceses said they “will be forced to lay off or furlough essential employees” without a PPP loan, which could also affect their bankruptcy estates.

In April, as part of its bankruptcy proceedings the Diocese of Buffalo announced it would cut off its financial support and health benefits for almost two dozen priests who had been removed from ministry because of “substantiated allegations of sexual abuse.” The diocese told CNA that it was aware of “certain canonical obligations to ensure that these individuals are not left destitute and is addressing this.”

Scranton diocese: ‘No credible evidence’ against Msgr. Walter Rossi

Fri, 06/12/2020 - 14:36

Washington D.C., Jun 12, 2020 / 12:36 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Scranton released a statement Friday regarding Msgr. Walter Rossi, rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The statement said that after an exhaustive investigation, investigators found no credible evidence to support allegations of misconduct against Rossi.

“The investigation of allegations of personal misconduct was led by outside counsel assisted by a retired FBI agent with over thirty years of investigative experience. The investigation included interviews with numerous witnesses who have known Monsignor Rossi throughout his years in ministry,” the statement, released June 12, said.

“These witnesses included current and former Basilica employees, former CUA students, and current and former members of the clergy who were assigned to the Basilica or who worked with Monsignor Rossi.”

The statement said that “several witnesses were critical of Monsignor Rossi, including his managerial style at the Basilica, but none were aware of or could provide first-hand knowledge of sexual impropriety.”

The diocese also said that some of the witnesses “merely re-stated unsupported and unsubstantiated  rumors that  previously appeared in certain publications.” 

“The investigator attempted unsuccessfully to interview many additional witnesses and searched diligently for witnesses who could possibly support the rumors against Monsignor Rossi, but found none. The investigator also tried to locate the unnamed ‘sources’ for the critical articles, but could not.”

“The purpose of the Diocese’s investigation was to seek out credible  evidence of sexual impropriety and, if found, to determine an appropriate response,” said the statement. “At the conclusion of its comprehensive investigation, the Diocese of Scranton found no such credible evidence.”

The investigation into Rossi began nearly nine months ago.

Rossi had been variously accused of directing young men to a priest friend who was accused of harassing them by phone and text message, and, in accusations made by former apostolic nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, of sexual contact with male students at the nearby Catholic University of America.

The priest's financial administration of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception was also investigated, amid suspicion of mismanagement.

A second statement, released Friday Archbishop Wilton Gregory, chairman of the national shrine's board, said that an investigation into shrine finances “found no improprieties and confirmed sound fiscal management of the Basilica.”

“During the course of investigation, numerous individuals were interviewed, including those responsible for fiscal administration at the Basilica. Additionally, the accounting experts performed an in-depth review of expenditures, general ledgers, credit card statements, receipts, invoices, capital budgets, bank and investment account statements as well as certain investment account reconciliations and other financial worksheets,” the shrine said.

That investigation “found no unreasonable or inappropriate expenditures or significant issues in the financial administration of the Basilica. The investigations did assist in suggesting certain improvements in management and policy enhancements that will benefit the Basilica and will be implemented.”

Rossi was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1987, and remains incarnated in that diocese. He has lived in Washington since 1997, where he served first as the national shrine’s associate rector and director of pilgrimages, before being promoted to rector of the basilica and made a monsignor in 2005.

The investigation was opened in August 2019, after concerns were raised about Rossi to Archbishop Wilton Gregory Aug. 13, during a question-and-answer session at a Theology on Tap, held at the Public Bar Live in the Dupont area of Washington.

A participant at the August event told Gregory that Rossi has been accused of directing young men to Fr. Matthew Reidlinger, a priest friend of Rossi’s who is alleged to have sexually harassed them in phone calls and text messages. That accusation was first made in 2013.

Gregory said he was unfamiliar with that allegation and called for an independent, forensic investigation. The following day, on Aug. 14, Rossi’s home diocese of Scranton told CNA that Bishop Joseph Bambera had “commenced the process of launching a full forensic investigation” and that it would work “jointly and cooperatively” with the Archdiocese of Washington on a “comprehensive investigation.”

Beyond the allegations mentioned at the Aug. 13 Theology on Tap, additional accusations had also been leveled against Rossi.

In an interview in June 2019, Archbishop Vigano alleged that the nunciature in Washington had received “documentation that states that Msgr. Rossi had sexually molested male students at the Catholic University of America.”

Vigano also said that both the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and former Washington archbishop Cardinal Donald Wuerl were “well aware of the situation,” and that Rossi had previously been proposed for promotion to bishop and been blocked.

In September 2019, The Catholic University of America announced that Rossi had taken a leave of absence from the university’s board of trustees, of which he was a member by virtue of his role at the basilica.

 


 

Churches have the same rights as protests, DOJ tells Maryland county

Fri, 06/12/2020 - 13:00

CNA Staff, Jun 12, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- The Justice Department (DOJ) praised a Maryland county council on Wednesday for protecting the First Amendment rights of protesters and said it now expects them to extend the same protections to religious gatherings.

In a June 10 letter to the Montgomery County Council, Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division praised the county’s permitting of public anti-racism protests in spite of its current restrictions on public gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic. He added that the county should give religious gatherings the same recognition.

“Your support for peaceful assembly and speech follows the best of our nation’s traditions,” Dreiband told Montgomery County, which borders Washington, D.C.  

Protesters took to the streets in recent weeks in the Washington suburbs of Germantown, Bethesda, Gaithersburg, and other parts of the county, despite public health orders against “social, community, recreational, leisure, and sporting gatherings and events of more than 10 people.” 

“Of no less importance, of course, is the First Amendment’s protection for religious exercise,” Dreiband said of the protests. He added that “we anticipate” that the council would amend the executive order to allow for religious gatherings as part of “the full range of rights protected by the First Amendment.”

The county council issued a public statement of support for the protests against racism on June 1, the same day that a county executive order continued restrictions on in-person religious gatherings because of the threat of their spreading the pandemic.

Montgomery County is still restricting religious services to just drive-in or remote services, according to the June 1 Executive Order No. 070-20.

Churches in the county will be allowed to have indoor and outdoor services with more than 10 people starting in “Phase 2” of the county’s reopening plan; in that scenario, one congregant or family would be allowed for every 200 square feet of service space.

The county says it will likely move to phase 2 of reopening next week “if data trends continue,” county executive Marc Elrich said on Wednesday as reported by WUSA 9. "We expect to allow modified indoor retail shopping and indoor religious services, lap swimming, and more,” he said.

In its letter, the DOJ also cited a June 2 protest that reportedly took place inside Bethesda Library to argue that indoor religious services should be allowed as a constitutional requirement.

“We understand that protests are typically held outdoors—where the risk of COVID-19 transmission is lower—and that religious services are typically held indoors,” Dreiband’s letter said. Yet with the library protest attended by hundreds of people inside, he said, “to deny similar gatherings for religious exercise would raise grave concerns under the Constitution.”

However, according to video of the June 2 Bethesda Library protest, participants gathered outside the library. Bethesda Magazine also reported that the protest that day at the library was outdoors, not indoors. The Huffington Post reported on Thursday that the DOJ’s assertion was based upon a news report that had since been updated.

Requests to the county for comment on the DOJ letter were not answered by press time.

In its June 1 statement of support for the protests, the council noted “the hurt, anger, and fear” of community leaders and protesters “about the decades of institutional and structural racism throughout the United States once again made evident by the murder of a black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis.”

Starting on Monday, houses of worship in neighboring Prince George’s County, Maryland, can hold religious services indoors at 25% capacity or outdoors with 250 people or less, who are practicing social distancing.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C. houses of worship can only host gatherings with 10 or fewer people. 

The archdiocese also includes several Maryland counties, and beginning on May 25 it allowed for public Masses to be offered in jurisdictions where local authorities had begun lifting public health restrictions. For Catholic parishes in Prince George’s County, they will be able to offer public Masses once again on Monday at 25% capacity.

Other public officials have drawn criticism for their support of mass outdoor protests while restricting religious gatherings.

For justice and healing: Catholics explain why they marched

Fri, 06/12/2020 - 08:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 12, 2020 / 06:00 am (CNA).- As thousands of protesters prepared to march against racism in Washington, D.C. last Saturday, Louis Brown helped organize a rosary procession on Capitol Hill.

Lay Catholics joined Dominican friars, nuns, and priests of the Washington archdiocese in prayer for justice and healing. As tens of thousands of Americans have been actively protesting racism and police brutality, Brown, who is an African-American and Catholic, told CNA he chose to focus on prayer.

The present moment demands both prayer and action against injustice, he told CNA. “It’s a both-and.”

“Ultimately this is a problem of the heart,” Brown said. “Our country desperately needs God and the love of God to heal these wounds.”

“We are not the ultimate protagonists of the story,” he added. “Jesus Christ is the ultimate protagonist.”

Brown spoke of acute pain within the African-American community, caused by the recent deaths of young African-Americans at the hands of police or fellow citizens—most notably George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor— which, he said, are just the latest in a centuries-long history.

“As an African-American, the pain of going back into that history is so painful, and is so gut-wrenching, and it’s so hard to deal with,” he said.

“Part of it is just the fear,” he said, of being pulled over in a “routine traffic stop” that could end in a tragedy—“or something could get pinned on me.”

“It’s an anger, it’s an anxiety, and it’s also a fear of it happening again, and a pain of seeing what others have gone through,” he said.

Video of George Floyd’s May 25 arrest in Minneapolis showed him calling out “I can’t breathe” and “mama” as police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck. Floyd later died at a hospital, and Chauvin has since been fired and charged with second-degree murder in Floyd’s death.

“Whether you’re black or white, you can’t help but see that person as our brother and as a child of God,” Brown said of Floyd crying out.

Yet protests against injustice, he emphasized, must be rooted in “the right to life” for all and not be “hijacked” by the culture of death.

“The rioting, the looting, is only making it more likely that a black man like me will be a victim of police misconduct, or a victim of bias and stereotypes,” Brown said.

Other Catholics around the country told CNA that they attended recent protests against racism and police brutality in cities, suburbs, and towns—in California, New York City, Chicago, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., Nebraska, West Virginia, and Tennessee.

Most who talked to CNA of their experiences were lay men and women, although both a priest and a religious sister—Fr. Brent Shelton of the diocese of Knoxville, and Sister Mumbi Kigutha CPPS, of the Sisters of the Precious Blood—said they too attended local protests against racism.

Some Catholics said it was their first protest; others said they had attended a pro-life march before, but now felt the need to march against racism. Some marched with fellow Catholics and Christians, others attended larger marches by themselves.

All involved all had one thing in common—they felt that they had to do something to stand against injustice.

“To me it's simple. People need help and we help them. That's all,” said Jenne O’Neill of Wahoo, Nebraska.

And many of those who talked to CNA said they prayed at the rallies and protests.

Peter Nixon, a parishioner at Saint Bonaventure Church in the Diocese of Oakland, said his pastor led a Eucharistic procession at the tail end of a march in Clayton, California.

“The presence of the Blessed Sacrament had a powerful impact on many at the demonstration,” Nixon said. “Some police and firefighters crossed themselves as we passed. Others genuflected when passing in front of the monstrance.”

On June 1, the evening before President Donald Trump visited Washington, D.C.’s St. John Paul II Shrine, the president stood outside St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. holding a Bible in front of cameras. The Washington Post reported that federal police shot gas canisters and grenades with rubber pellets to dispel protesters in the area shortly before the president arrived outside the church.

Protesting in Lafayette Square that night was Anna Fitzmaurice, a 2019 graduate of the Catholic University of America. Fitzmaurice prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet in the square, but left shortly before police dispersed the protesters. She attended a protest of the president’s visit to the shrine on the morning of June 2.

“As he [Trump] was going to visit my church, I felt a moral responsibility to tell him what we believe in terms of the dignity of the suffering and the oppressed. Instructing the ignorant and admonishing the sinner are both spiritual works of mercy,” she said.

Jenn Morson, a writer and parishioner at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton church in Crofton, Maryland, said she prayed the rosary to herself “in between chants initiated by the organizer” at a local march with around 350 people.

Not all Catholics who talked to CNA marched in protests. Some have been conducting outreach in their communities, or trying to foster constructive conversations about race.

Kathy Redmond, of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Castle Rock, Colorado, told CNA that she has organized around 450 people in her local “very white, affluent community” involved in community outreach.

Redmond said she saw injustice first-hand when a black family moved in four houses down from her and their cars were tagged immediately. “It was very unnerving for me,” she said. “It was in my face at that point.”

“As people of faith—as people of a Christian faith—we should be front and center on this,” Redmond said.

Catherine Perry, of Atlanta, Georgia, founder of the InwardBound Center for Non-Profit Leadership, has organized workshops of cross-race conversations on “Racism in America: What is Mine to Do?”

Her workshops are not shaming sessions, she said, but rather help participants to reflect, dialogue, and reconcile with each other, ending with them making a “uniquely personal to-do list” such as prayer, listening to voices they may not agree with, or talking to a boss about subtle discrimination in the workplace. A new workshop will be offered online beginning on June 25.

As Catholics, she said, “one of the great things about our institution is we talk about difficult things” such as abortion and the death penalty. “We understand this is mysterious stuff, and it’s emotional work, and it’s not easy sometimes,” she said.

“Well let’s take on race. Why not?” she asked. “We’ve been silent on race too long.”

‘God chose to call us’: The story of two brothers ordained Catholic priests on the same day

Fri, 06/12/2020 - 02:02

Denver Newsroom, Jun 12, 2020 / 12:02 am (CNA).- Peyton and Connor Plessala are brothers from Mobile, Alabama. They’re 18 months— one school grade— apart.

Despite the occasional competitiveness and squabbles that many brothers experience growing up, they’ve always been best buds.

“We're closer than best friends,” Connor, 25, told CNA.

As young men— in grade school, high school, college— much of their lives centered around the things you might expect: academics, excurriculars, friends, girlfriends, and sports.

There are many paths the two young men could have chosen for their lives, but ultimately, last month, they arrived at the same place— lying face down in front of the altar, giving their lives over in service to God and the Catholic Church.

The brothers were both ordained to the priesthood May 30 at Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Mobile— in a private Mass, because of the pandemic.

“For whatever reason, God chose to call us and he did. And we were just fortunate enough to have had the foundations from both our parents and our education to hear it and then to say yes,” Peyton told CNA.

Peyton, 27, says he is most excited to begin helping out with Catholic schools and education, and also to begin hearing confessions.

“You spend so much time in seminary preparing to be effective one day. You spend so much time in seminary talking about plans and dreams and hopes and stuff that you'll do one day in this hypothetical future...now it's here. And so I can't wait to begin.”

‘Natural virtues’

In Southern Louisiana, where the Plessala brothers’ parents grew up, you're Catholic unless you declare otherwise, Peyton said.

Both Plessala parents are medical doctors. The family moved to Alabama when Connor and Peyton were very young.

Though the family was always Catholic - and raised Peyton, Connor, and their younger sister and brother in the faith - the brothers said they weren’t ever a “pray the rosary around the kitchen table” kind of family.

Apart from taking the family to Mass every Sunday, the Plessalas taught their children what Peyton calls “natural virtues”— how to be good, decent people; the importance of choosing their friends wisely; and the value of education.

The brothers’ consistent involvement in team sports, encouraged by their parents, also helped to school them in those natural virtues.

Playing soccer, basketball, football, and baseball over the years taught them the values of hard work, camaraderie, and setting an example for others.

“They taught us to remember that when you go and play sports, and you have the Plessala name on the back of your jersey, that represents a whole family,” Peyton said.

‘I could do this’

Peyton told CNA that despite going to Catholic schools and getting the “vocation talk” every year, neither of them had ever really considered the priesthood as an option for their lives.

That is, until early in 2011, when the brothers took a trip with their classmates to Washington, D.C. for the March for Life, the nation’s largest annual pro-life gathering in the U.S.

The chaperone for their group from McGill-Toolen Catholic High School was a new priest, fresh out of seminary, whose enthusiasm and joy made an impression on the brothers.

The witness of their chaperone, and of other priests they encountered on that trip, moved Connor to begin considering entering the seminary straight out of high school.

In the fall of 2012, Connor started his studies at St. Joseph Seminary College in Covington, Louisiana.

Peyton also felt the call to the priesthood on that trip, thanks to the example of their chaperone— but his path to the seminary was not quite as direct as his younger brother’s.

“I realized for the first time: ‘Man, I could do this. [This priest] is so at peace with himself and so joyful and having so much fun. I could do this. This is a life that I could actually do,’” he said.

Despite a tug toward the seminary, Peyton decided he would pursue his original plan to study pre-med at Louisiana State University. He would go on to spend three years there in total, dating a girl he met at LSU for two of those years.

His junior year of college, Peyton returned to his high school to chaperone that year’s trip to the March for Life— the same trip that had started the tug toward the priesthood several years earlier.

At one point in the trip, during adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Peyton perceived God’s voice: “Do you really want to be a doctor?”

The answer, as it turned out, was no.

“And the moment I heard that, my heart felt more at peace than it had in... Maybe ever in my life. I just knew. In that moment, I was like, ‘I'm going to go to seminary,’” Peyton said.

“For a moment, I had a life's purpose. I had a direction and a goal. I just knew who I was.”

This newfound clarity came at a price, however— Peyton knew he would have to break up with his girlfriend. Which he did.

Connor remembers the phone call from Peyton, telling him he had decided to come to seminary.

“I was shocked. I was excited. I was extremely excited because we were going to be back together again,” Connor said.

In the fall of 2014, Peyton joined his younger brother at St. Joseph Seminary.

‘We can rely on each other’

Though Connor and Peyton had always been friends, their relationship changed— for the better— when Peyton joined Connor at the seminary.

For most of their life, Peyton had blazed a trail for Connor, encouraging him and giving him advice when he got to high school, after Peyton had been learning the ropes there for a year.

Now, for the first time, Connor felt in some ways like the “older brother”— being more experienced in seminary life.

At the same time, although the brothers were now pursuing the same path, they still approached seminary life in their own way, with their own ideas, and approaching challenges in different ways, he said.

The experience of taking on the challenge of becoming priests helped their relationship to mature.

“Peyton's always done his own thing because he was the first. He was the oldest. And so, he didn't have an example to go follow then, whereas I did,” Connor said.

“And so, the idea of breaking from: ‘We're going to be the same,’ was tougher for me, I think...But I think in that, in the growing pains of that, we were able to grow and really realize each other's gifts and each other's weaknesses and then rely on each other more...now I know Peyton's gifts a lot better, and he knows my gifts, and so we can rely on each other.”

Because of the way his college credits transferred from LSU, Connor and Peyton ended up in the same ordination class, despite Connor’s two year “head start.”

‘Getting out of the way of the Holy Spirit’

Now that they’re ordained, Peyton said their parents are constantly bombarded with the question: "What did y'all do to have half of your children enter the priesthood?"

For Peyton, there were two key factors in their upbringing that helped him and his siblings grow up as committed Catholics.

First, he said, he and his siblings attended Catholic schools— schools with a strong faith identity.

But there was something within the Plessala’s family life that, for Peyton, was even more important.

“We ate dinner every single night as a family, regardless of the logistics required to make that work,” he said.

“Whether we had to eat at 4 p.m. because one of us had a game that night that we were all going to go, to or whether we had to eat at 9:30 p.m., because I was getting home from soccer practice late in high school, whatever it was. We always made it an effort to eat together, and we would pray before that meal.”

The experience of gathering every night as a family, praying and spending time together, helped the family cohere and support each member’s endeavors, the brothers said.

When the brothers told their parents that they were entering the seminary, their parents were extremely supportive— even if the brothers suspected their mother might be sad that she would likely end up having fewer grandchildren.

One thing Connor has heard his mother say several times when people ask what the parents did right is that she “got out of the way of the Holy Spirit.”

The brothers said they are extremely grateful that their parents always supported their vocations. Peyton said he and Connor occasionally encountered men at the seminary who ended up leaving because their parents did not support their decision to enter.

“Yeah, parents know best, but when it comes to your children's vocations, God's the one who knows, because God's the one calling,” Connor commented.

‘If you want to find an answer, you have to ask the question’

Neither Connor nor Peyton ever expected to become priests. Neither, they said, did their parents or siblings expect or predict that they might be called that way.

In their words, they were just “normal guys” who practiced their faith, dated throughout high school, and had a lot of varied interests.

Peyton said the fact that they both felt an initial tug to the priesthood is not all that surprising.

“I think every young guy who really practices their faith has probably thought about it at least once, just because they've known a priest and the priest probably said, ‘Hey, you should think about this,’” he said.

Many of Peyton’s devout Catholic friends are married now, and he’s asked them if they ever considered the priesthood at some point before discerning marriage. Almost all, he said, told him yes; they thought about it for a week or two, but it never stuck.

What was different for him and Connor was that the idea of the priesthood didn’t go away.

“It stuck with me and then it stayed with me for three years. And then finally God was like, ‘It's time, man. It's time to do it,’” he said.

“I would just encourage guys, if it really has been a while and it just sticks with you, the only way you'll ever figure that out is to actually go to seminary.”

Meeting and getting to know priests, and seeing how they lived and why, was helpful to both Peyton and Connor.

“The lives of priests are the most helpful things in getting other men to consider priesthood," Peyton said.

Connor agreed. For him, taking the plunge and going to seminary when he was still discerning was the best way for him to decide whether God was really calling him to be a priest.

“If you want to find an answer, you have to ask the question. And the only way to ask and answer that question of priesthood is to go to the seminary,” he said.

“Go to the seminary. You will not be worse off for it. I mean, you're starting to live a life of dedicating prayer, of formation, diving into yourself, learning who you are, learning your strengths and weaknesses, learning more about the faith. All those are good things.”

The seminary is not a permanent commitment. If a young man goes to seminary and realizes the priesthood is not for him, he won’t be worse off, Connor said.

“You've been formed into a better man, a better version of yourself, you've prayed a whole lot more than you would have if you were not in seminary.”

Like many people their age, Peyton and Connor’s paths to their ultimate vocation was a winding one.

“The great pain of millennials is sitting there and trying to think of what you want to do with your life for so long that your life just passes you by,” Peyton said.

“And so, one of the things I like to encourage young people to do if you're discerning, do something about it.”

 

 

Would-be Satanists again fail to make case against Missouri abortion law

Thu, 06/11/2020 - 21:00

CNA Staff, Jun 11, 2020 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- A federal appellate court has dismissed a second lawsuit filed by a member of the Satanic Temple against Missouri’s informed consent abortion law, rejecting the argument that the law established Catholic religious belief by stating that life begins at conception.
 
“Any theory of when life begins necessarily aligns with some religious beliefs and not others,” said U.S. Circuit Judge David R. Stras in a June 9 decision from the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. Under the plaintiff’s theory, the decision said, “Missouri’s only option would be to avoid legislating in this area altogether.”
 
State law requires abortion providers to distribute a booklet from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services which includes the statement: “The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”
 
A woman going by the pseudonym Judy Doe filed suit against the law, claiming it violated her religious freedom as a member of the Satanic Temple. The group does not believe in a literal Satan. Its philosophical and religious beliefs are somewhat flexible, but it tends to reject supernatural belief and to promote rationalism, individual liberty, secularism and “Enlightenment values.” It claims to oppose tyranny and to identify with Satan’s putative outsider role.
 
Doe’s lawsuit also claimed that Missouri law violated her Satanist beliefs by requiring her to certify that she had received the informed consent booklet and that she had a chance to view an ultrasound at least 24 hours before the abortion. Her beliefs forbid her to comply with a law “serves no medical purpose or purports to protect the interests of her human tissue.” The plaintiff cited the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which bars excessive burdens on religious beliefs.
 
The appellate court said the lawsuit made no argument that the informed consent law is “anything other than ‘neutral’ and ‘generally applicable’.” The law in question must only pass a “rational-basis review,” with a defense showing it rationally related to a legitimate government interest.

The decision cited the generally pro-abortion rights Supreme Court decision Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which itself said that informed consent laws represent “the legitimate purpose of reducing the risk that a woman may elect an abortion, only to discover later, with devastating psychological consequences, that her decision was not fully informed.”
 
Doe’s own description of the Satanic Temple said its membership includes both “politically aware Satanists” and “secularists and advocates for individual liberty.”
 
“Arguably, her own description raises the possibility that her beliefs about abortion may be political, not religious,” the court’s decision said. “Nevertheless, we assume, but do not decide, that she has done enough by alleging that her beliefs are ‘religious’ and that she is a member of an organization that includes ‘Satanists’.”
 
W. James MacNaughton, a New Jersey lawyer, represented Doe. He told Courthouse News Service the ruling was not a surprise, claiming the appellate court panel was “very conservative” and “ignored the issue as others have done.”
 
MacNaughton repeated claims that Catholicism influenced the law.
 
“It violates the establishment clause because it adopts the Catholic dogma that life begins at conception,” he said.
 
According to the Pew Forum Religious Landscape Survey of 2014, 77% of Missouri residents identify as Christian, but only 16% are Catholic. Evangelical Protestants make up 36% of the Missouri populace.
 
“The state has no business telling people what to believe,” the attorney continued. “The state has no business telling us that life begins at conception. We can decide that for ourselves.”
 
Dennis Hudecki, a philosophy professor at Brescia University College in London, Ontario, told Courthouse News Service that there are “big arguments about when life begins,” and some can argue for the belief that life begins from conception without a religious basis.
 
“They go back all the way to Aristotle and that the essence of a human doesn’t change once it's formed from the beginning. It just gets older, but its essence doesn’t change,” said Hudecki, whose expertise includes abortion ethics. “I think the state’s view that life begins at conception is on a rational basis and while there is rational disagreement, just because there’s rational disagreement doesn’t mean each side isn’t being rational.”
 
MacNaughton could appeal for an en banc hearing before the full court, and has 14 days from Tuesday to do so.
 
Judy Doe’s lawsuit was rejected by a federal district judge last year.
 
A different self-professed Satanic Temple adherent in Missouri, who went by the name Mary Doe, had challenged the provisions under state law, including the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

MacNaughton also argued her case.
 
She cited Satanic Temple tenets professing a belief that a woman’s body is “inviolable and subject to her will alone” and a belief that health decisions are made “based on the best scientific understanding of the world, even if the science does not comport with the religious or political beliefs of others.” The complaint said a pregnancy is “human tissue” and “part of her body and not a separate, unique, living human being.”
 
While the Missouri Court of Appeals thought the Mary Doe case raised “real and substantial constitutional claims,” the Missouri Supreme Court rejected the lawsuit in a 2019 decision.
 
Chief Justice Zell M. Fischer, writing in a concurring opinion, said that the U.S. Supreme Court “has made it clear that state speech is not religious speech solely because it ‘happens to coincide’ with a religious tenet.”
 
Controversy over the Satanic Temple has been ongoing for years, with critics arguing it is a political-cultural stunt. Temple founders have repeatedly asserted that it is a religion and not merely a hoax or performance, but the group’s history sometimes contradicts their claims.
 
The group held a January 2013 demonstration at the Florida state capitol appearing to support Republican Gov. Rick Scott from a Satanist position. Legislation backed by the then-governor would allow school districts to have policies allowing students to read “inspirational messages” of their choice at school assemblies and sports events.
 
The demonstration featured an actor in the role of a satanic high priest. Several would-be minions and spokesman Lucien Greaves were also at the rally, saying the law would allow students to distribute Satanic messages. In the same month, Greaves was the contact listed on a casting call for an apparent mockumentary “about the nicest Satanic Cult in the world.”
 
In a 2013 interview with Vice, Lucien Greaves revealed himself to be a man named Doug Mesner. He said a friend had conceived the Satanic Temple as “a ‘poison pill’ in the Church-State debate” to help expand the idea of religious agendas in public life.

Mesner has said the group planned to leverage the Supreme Court’s 2014 Hobby Lobby religious freedom decision, which cited the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, to advance “a women’s rights initiative.”

While the group now backs pro-abortion rights causes under its latest public tenets about bodily inviolability, previous statements of belief lacked that tenet. According to a March 2013 cache of the Satanic Temple website, hosted at the Internet Archive, it previously claimed “all life is precious in the eyes of Satan” and “the Circle of Compassion should extend to all species, not just humans.”
 
It later crowdfunded expenses to help pay for a Missouri woman’s abortion. It has also crowdfunded its “reproductive rights” campaign, gathering over $45,000 by July 2015.
 
The group has collaborated with other Satanic and occultist groups, though some early collaborators have distanced themselves from the group and accused it of exploiting Satanism.
 
The Satanic Temple was behind a reputed attempt to hold a black mass on the campus of Harvard University in May 2014, but the event was moved and then cancelled after intense outcry from Catholics and others who saw it as a grave sin against God, deliberate provocation of Catholics, or a violation of basic norms of civility and respect.
 
The event was reported to be held under the aegis of the Cultural Studies Club of the Harvard Extension School. A spokesperson for the Satanic Temple initially told media outlets that a consecrated Host would be used, although the temple and the Cultural Studies Club both later denied this, insisting that only a plain piece of bread would be used.
 
An October 2017 story at Vox portrayed the Satanic Temple as “equal parts performance art group, leftist activist organization, and anti-religion religious movement.” It claimed that though it began as “internet trolling going mainstream,” the organization is becoming “more serious” and “more complicated” to outline.
 
In April 2019, the group said it received recognition as a church from the Internal Revenue Service.

 

Archbishop Gomez names four new members of National Review Board

Thu, 06/11/2020 - 20:01

CNA Staff, Jun 11, 2020 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- The president of the United States’ Conference of Catholic Bishops has appointed four new members of the National Review Board, a lay advisory body to the bishops on the protection of minors.

The new members are Vivian Akel, James Bogner, Steven Jubera, and Thomas Mengler. A June 10 statement from the conference said they are experts in social work, law enforcement, Catholic education, and legal counsel.

Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the USCCB, announced the new members who will help advise the bishops’ Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People.

“The National Review Board plays a vital role as a consultative body assisting the bishops in ensuring the complete implementation and accountability of the Charter for Protection of Children and Young People,” said Gomez.

Akel has spent 21 years as a social worker for the New York City Department of Education. Having received her master’s degree in Social Work from Hunter College School, she began outpatient psychotherapy to individual patients and families at the Community Mental Health Center in Brooklyn. She is a facilitator for pre-Cana consultation and volunteers as the Safe Environment Coordinator for the Maronite Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn.

Bogner is a retired Senior Executive Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He has more than 35 years of law enforcement experience. He graduated from the FBI’s National Executive Institute and has a master’s degree in Administration of Justice. Bogner has also served as president of his parish council, providing data analysis and strategic planning. He currently serves as a member of the Archdiocese of Omaha’s Advisory Review and Ministerial Misconduct Boards.

Jubera, a former Marine, is an Assistant District Attorney for Mississippi's 17th Judicial District. He earned his law degree from the University of Mississippi. He has been involved with Healing Hearts Child Advocacy Center in Southaven and has spoken for child safety at One Loud Voice conference in Mississippi. He also serves on the Diocese of Jackson’s review board.

Mengler, president of St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, is a board member of the Board of Directors of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, and he served as association’s chair from 2018-2020. He has also served as a Co-Chair of the Lay Commission on Clergy Sexual Abuse of Minors in the Archdiocese of San Antonio.

The National Review Board is composed of 13 laymen and women. The review board was organized after allegations of clergy sexual abuse and subsequent cover-up by bishops and Church officials surfaced nationwide in 2002.

The bishops passed the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People shortly after the allegations of abuse arose in 2002. It was set up as a process for bishops to deal with abuse allegations against priests.

India denies visa to US religious freedom investigators

Thu, 06/11/2020 - 18:50

CNA Staff, Jun 11, 2020 / 04:50 pm (CNA).- India has barred U.S. representatives from investigating the county’s reported violations of religious freedom, continuing what critics call a trend of Hindu nationalism that threatens religious minorities in India.

The investigation, called for by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), followed reports of the abuse of Chistians, Muslims, and other religious minorities in India. The reports prompted USCIRF to delegate India a “country of particular concern” (CPC) in its 2020 annual report. India joined a list of 13 other CPCs in the report, including North Korea and China.

“We see no locus standi for a 'foreign entity/government' to pronounce on the state of our citizens' constitutionally protected rights,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said, according to a report by IndiaToday. He said India is a “pluralistic society with a longstanding commitment to tolerance and inclusion.”

Although India’s constitution protects the freedom of religion, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has manipulated the constitutional stipulation that religious freedom is “subject to public order,” using the clause to promote Hindu nationalism, according to the USCIRF report.

One such instance of Hindu nationalism is a new policy that would fast-track the citizenship of non-Muslim migrants by treating them as refugees fleeing religious persecution. The same status would not be conferred on 100 million other migrants, potentially making them illegal residents of India.

This policy incited violent riots in northeastern Delhi in February, killing 27 and injuring over 200, according to a CNA report. The riots saw Hindu mobs attacking unarmed people and especially targeting Muslims.

Reports indicate that Indian Hindus, who make up nearly 80% of India’s population, have systematically targeted Muslims in lynch mobs for slaughtering or eating beef– a practice that Hindus consider to be a religious offense. Since the BJP came to power in 2014, there have been over 100 lynch mob attacks in India, which often originate on social media. The law enforcement is known to arrest the victims, rather than the perpetrators, of these attacks.

Religious discrimination and violence has also been directed toward Christians in recent years.

In January, Hindu groups attempted to prevent the building of a huge statue of Jesus in Bangalore. They claimed a Hindu god lives on the hill where the local Catholic archdiocese was planning to erect the statue.

In 2008, Hindu nationalists organized attacks on Christian homes, schools, and churches in Karnataka, physically beating hundreds of Christians. The Saldhana Report, an independent report on the attacks released in 2011, revealed that the attacks were backed by India’s highest government authorities.

Dozens of Catholics in the same region were attacked in 2019 while conducting a Marian pilgrimage, resulting in the arrest of six Hindu Nationalists.

The USCIRF’s delegation of India as a CPC, which precipitated the investigation, was not unanimous. Gary Bauer, the president of American Values who serves as a USCIRF commissioner, dissented from the majority opinion, along with two other USCIRF commissioners.

“The trend line on religious freedom in India is not reassuring. But India is not the equivalent of communist China, which wages war on all faiths; nor of North Korea, a prison masquerading as a country; nor of Iran, whose Islamic extremist leaders regularly threaten to unleash a second Holocaust,” said Bauer. “I am confident that India will reject any authoritarian temptation and stand with the United States and other free nations in defense of liberty, including religious liberty.”

'The death of George Floyd will not be in vain', says Democrats for Life coordinator

Thu, 06/11/2020 - 18:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 11, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The Georgia state coordinator for Democrats for Life of America has called for renewed solidarity in the pro-life cause, following the death of George Floyd.

Rev. Harriet Bradley said Wednesday that national and international protests over Floyd’s death in recent weeks have the power to effect global change.

In video footage of Floyd’s May 25 arrest, an officer with the Minneapolis Police Department can be seen kneeling on his neck for several minutes after he was taken into custody. Floyd could be heard saying “I can’t breathe” several times. He died soon after. The arresting officers have now been charged over Floyd’s killing, which sparked mass demonstrations against racism and police brutality in cities in the U.S. and abroad. 

Bradley, an African-American woman and a minister with the Progressive Christian Alliance who lives in Gwinnet County, Georgia, said that watching the footage of Floyd’s death “really shook me to my core,” as she too had suffered through instances of racial profiling.

“But I am still living,” Bradley said in a statement released through Democrats for Life of America, a group that works for the inclusion of a range of pro-life issues into the Democratic Party’s platform. And, Bradley said, the work of honoring the memory of Floyd has already begun.

“I believe the death of George Floyd will not be in vain. I have never [before] seen people display peaceful protest not only in the United States, but all over the world. The senseless murder of George Floyd has brought a change to the entire world,” she said. 

Bradley also said she wants to help achieve is solidarity among pro-life causes and voices, including in her own political party.

“Democrats for Life of American stands in solidarity to see the lives of black men and women not be profiled simply for their color,” said Bradley. “But we also continue to fight for the life of the unborn, because their life matters and deserves the opportunity to be born safely!” 

On Wednesday, Bradley told CNA that she wants to see her party become a voice for all human lives, and that she is familiar with the hard work of championing that cause.

“I make my voice known,” she said, mentioning that during Georgia’s efforts to pass a bill banning abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, she encountered fierce resistance among her party collegues. 

“I got up and made a statement talking about how we care about both lives [the child and mother],” she told CNA, and how respect for all life should be at the core of political debate.

Bradley’s statement linking the fight against racism to a broader pro-life agenda follows similar calls from other black pro-life leaders.

Louisiana state Senator Katrina Jackson told CNA last week that racial justice is a pro-life issue and it is “not enough” for pro-lifers to only oppose abortion. Racism, and the deaths of young black men, have been “plaguing our nation for years,” Jackson said.

“It has to stop, because it goes directly against the pro-life stance that every life has value.”

“Right now, the pro-life movement could be holding very diverse online townhall meetings to discuss this issue,” Jackson said, to “talk about life being important at every stage of life.”

On Wednesday, Bradley told CNA that she wants to see a fuller conversation about life in the Democratic party, saying that many voters who otherwise back of the party’s platform have been driven away by its entrenched support for abortion. 

“They need to include us in the platform, because they have lost a lot of elections because of [shutting pro-life voters out],” she said. “There are people [for whom] the abortion issue was so important to them that they had left the party and gone to the Republican Party over one issue.” 

She told CNA she calls this the “Trump effect,” and that President Donald Trump’s placing of pro-life issues at the forefront of his campaign had produced results. 

Bradley said she would like to see a national election in which pro-life voices, including against abortion, can be heard clearly on both sides of the party divide, and that she remains committed to trying to make her party a home for pro-life voters. 

“I definitely have wanted to get to the party leaders and say, you know, ‘you have to include us if you want to win, you have to be able to bring more balance on the abortion issue.’”

Buffalo bishop ‘honors witness’ of Catholic man injured in protest

Thu, 06/11/2020 - 11:30

CNA Staff, Jun 11, 2020 / 09:30 am (CNA).- The interim bishop of Buffalo paid tribute to a Catholic peace activist who was hospitalized after an encounter with police last week.

“We stand with all who demonstrate peacefully and speak out against abuse of power and injustice of every kind,” Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, apostolic administrator of the diocese of Buffalo, said on Wednesday evening regarding the case of Martin Gugino, a 75 year-old man who friends say is a peace activist in the Catholic Worker Movement founded by Servant of God Dorothy Day.

“We honor Mr. Gugino’s witness and service to the Catholic Worker Movement,” Scharfenberger said in a statement provided to CNA.

Three of the officers moved towards Gugino and two of them—one with a baton—pushed Gugino away. He fell backwards and hit his head on the concrete, and immediately started bleeding from his ear. One of the officers appeared to stop to look over Gugino, but was promptly moved along by another officer.

According to the initial description of the encounter by Buffalo Police, Gugino “tripped and fell.”

Video provided by WBFO, however, showed the officer shoving Gugino, who fell backwards and then hit his head and lay motionless.

Two officers involved in the incident have since been suspended from the police force and charged with second-degree assault. After the officers were suspended last week, all 57 officers of the department’s Emergency Response Team resigned from that assignment, but not from the police force, in protest of the suspensions.

On Tuesday, President Trump implied that Gugino could be a member of the group Antifa, an anti-fascist protest movement which he has said he plans to declare a terrorist organization.

Trump had tweeted that Gugino “could be an ANTIFA provocateur” and that he could have used his phone “to scan police communications in order to black out the equipment.”

“@OANN I watched, he fell harder than was pushed. Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?” the president tweeted.

In addition to his reported involvement in Catholic groups, the Washington Post reported that Gugino was a member of the group PUSH Buffalo, which advocates for affordable housing.

In his statement on Wednesday, Bishop Scharfenberger said that Christians must “work towards bringing about truth, justice, and peace.”

“Our prayers are with Martin Gugino for his full recovery, and also for his family who have had to confront this terrible ordeal with him,” the bishop said.

 

 

How to foster a happy marriage? Catholic online summit to promote community

Thu, 06/11/2020 - 11:16

Denver, Colo., Jun 11, 2020 / 09:16 am (CNA).- A Catholic marriage ministry will host a virtual retreat this month to help couples experience joy in their marriage, especially during the current coronavirus pandemic.

Damon and Melanie Owens, founders of Joyful Ever After, have organized the 2020 Catholic Marriage Summit, a virtual encounter taking place June 11-13. More than 20,000 people have already registered for the digital event.

The summit will include over 65 presenters, including Chris Stefanick, host of EWTN’s Real Life Catholic; Franciscan University of Steubenville professor Dr. Scott Hahn; and Catholic author Matt Fradd. The presenters will be speaking alongside their spouses.

Damon Owens said the witness of these couples is profoundly moving and beautiful. He said the testimonies will offer a variety of perspectives - from newly married couples to those who have been together for 50 years, and some couples who have been separated and come back together.

“We've got over 65 presenter couples who will be sharing a witness about their marriage, and it's easier said than done. So it's a really beautiful, transparent invitation that these presenter couples are offering the attendees,” Owens told CNA.

Registration is free for the event, which runs Thursday at 3 p.m. through the end of Saturday. Videos will be laid out on the website by different topics of interest, including prayer, intimacy, communication, children, finances, and suffering loss.

For $49 per couple, the ministry is also offering an all-access pass, which will allow couples to view more content and engage more with speakers. It will also include a number of giveaways such as masterclasses, books, and additional talks.

“All access really allows the individual speakers to share more about what they do. We have live events throughout the weekend that are part of this all-access pass. My wife Melanie and I will be interviewing some of the speakers to dive a little bit deeper [and] answer live questions over zoom and Facebook live,” Owens said.

He said the idea for the summit began in March as the couple analyzed the ups and downs of their own marriage. Even the best of marriages can tend toward times of isolation, where one spouse is trying to live the marriage alone, he said.

“We looked at our own marriage, Melanie and I, what were the times where we really flourished?...There was always at least one other couple, often two or three couples, that we were really in deep friendship with,” he said. “So Joyful Ever After is founded on this idea that we need to begin to do the hard work, but the joyful work of building trusted friendships to journey in our marriages.”

“The Catholic parish summit is our first real engagement to bring couples into the broader and direct community to see their marriages, not in isolation, but as a sacramental community.”

Owens hopes that the summit will raise the bar for marriage and particularly help couples who are struggling during the quarantine.

“We've seen in some of the news reports, where couples are spending so much time together now that it’s bringing to the surface marriage issues, parenting issues, school issues,” he said. With family members spending less time at work and school - and more time together at home - many are realizing that they struggle to live together joyfully.

The summit is for couples who want to live their marriage with joy, but also for those preparing for sacramental marriage, or those discerning marriage. Owens said it is important to show all the good, bad, and ugly experiences of marriages to help individuals prepare for the sacrament.

During the initial planning phases of the retreat, he said, engaged couples showed a great interest in a community that shared their marital experiences.

“So that just confirmed for us that gathering this wisdom is a great gift for anyone, whether you're repairing, discerning, or even thinking about marriage, to get a real glimpse about what it takes to live God's plan for joyful marriage,” he said.

 

Trump tweet latest twist in Archbishop Vigano saga

Thu, 06/11/2020 - 09:28

Denver Newsroom, Jun 11, 2020 / 07:28 am (CNA).-  

President Trump on Wednesday tweeted that he was honored by a letter written to him by former apostolic nuncio Archbishop Carlo Vigano, which warned the president against secular and ecclesiastical agents of an atheistic globalist new world order.

The president's tweet is the latest in a series of events that have kept the archbishop in the headlines for much of the last two years, a period in which he has become a polarizing figure in the Catholic Church, and morphed in the public eye from a whistleblowing diplomat to a prognosticator of impending doom amid a spiritual and political battle for world domination.

“So honored by Archbishop Viganò’s incredible letter to me. I hope everyone, religious or not, reads it,” Trump tweeted June 10, linking to Vigano’s recent open letter addressed to the president.

 

So honored by Archbishop Viganò’s incredible letter to me. I hope everyone, religious or not, reads it! https://t.co/fVhkCz89g5

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 10, 2020  

Vigano’s missive to Trump is one of several open letters and interviews the archbishop has published in recent weeks, which make apocalyptic claims about a looming spiritual battle and a globalist conspiracy pursuing a one-world government, alongside a denunciation of the Second Vatican Council, claims about the third secret of Our Lady of Fatima, the charge that some bishops are “false shepherds,” and encouragement that at least some Catholics disobey their bishop.

The June 6 letter said “it appears that the children of darkness – whom we may easily identify with the deep state which you wisely oppose and which is fiercely waging war against you in these days – have decided to show their cards, so to speak, by now revealing their plans.”

“They seem to be so certain of already having everything under control that they have laid aside that circumspection that until now had at least partially concealed their true intentions,” Vigano wrote.

“The investigations already under way will reveal the true responsibility of those who managed the Covid emergency not only in the area of health care but also in politics, the economy, and the media. We will probably find that in this colossal operation of social engineering there are people who have decided the fate of humanity, arrogating to themselves the right to act against the will of citizens and their representatives in the governments of nations,” he added.

Vigano claimed that “just as there is a deep state, there is also a deep church that betrays its duties and forswears its proper commitments before God.”

Vigano praised Trump, claiming that “both of us are on the same side in this battle, albeit with different weapons,” and adding that criticism of Trump’s June 2 visit to the National Shrine of St. John Paul II is part of an “orchestrated media narrative” against the president.

Vigano added that some bishops, including Washington’s Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who criticized Trump, are “subservient to the deep state, to globalism, to aligned thought, to the New World Order which they invoke ever more frequently in the name of a universal brotherhood which has nothing Christian about it, but which evokes the Masonic ideals of those want to dominate the world by driving God out of the courts, out of schools, out of families, and perhaps even out of churches.”

The archbishop did not offer proof to support the claims in his letter.

Nor has Vigano offered proof to support the claims of his recent letter on the coronavirus pandemic.

On May 7, Vigano published an open letter written principally by himself but signed by several Church leaders, which said the coronavirus pandemic had been exaggerated to foster widespread social panic and undercut freedom, as a willful preparation for the establishment of a one-world government.

That letter lamented social distancing and stay-at-home orders issued to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, suggesting they were contrived mechanisms of social control, with a nefarious purpose.

“We have reason to believe, on the basis of official data on the incidence of the epidemic as related to the number of deaths, that there are powers interested in creating panic among the world’s population with the sole aim of permanently imposing unacceptable forms of restriction on freedoms, of controlling people and of tracking their movements,” the letter said.

“The imposition of these illiberal measures is a disturbing prelude to the realization of a world government beyond all control,” it added. (bold original)

The letter did not identify the “powers” in question, or the source of Vigano's information.

Among the letters signatories were three cardinals and one sitting U.S. diocesan bishop, as well as Fr. Curzio Nitoglia, a priest of the Society of St. Pius X, a traditionalist group in “irregular communion” with the Church. Nitoglia is the author of “The Magisterium of Vatican II,” a 1994 article that claims that “the church of Vatican II is therefore not the Apostolic and Roman Catholic Church instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of a Vatican dicastery, was originally listed as a signatory to the letter, but distanced himself from the letter after it was published. 

CNA asked Bishop Joseph Strickland, the U.S. bishop who signed the letter, to explain its claims, but the bishop declined to do so.

CNA asked Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Strickland’s metropolitan archbishop, whether he had concerns about the bishop’s endorsement of the claim that the coronavirus pandemic was a pretext to “allow centuries of Christian civilization to be erased under the pretext of a virus, and an odious technological tyranny to be established, in which nameless and faceless people can decide the fate of the world by confining us to a virtual reality.”

The cardinal did not respond.

Weeks before that letter, in April, Vigano gave an interview in which he declared that the Vatican has been for decades concealing the third secret of Fatima, despite the publication in 2000 of the third part of Mary’s message from the apparition at Fatima, by order of Pope St. John Paul II, and despite an accompanying theological commentary written by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI.

Speculation that Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI lied about releasing the message of Fatima is a common topic among Catholic sedevacantists and other conspiracy theorists.

Kevin Symonds, author of a book on the third part of the Fatima message, wrote subsequently that Vigano’s “grasp of the details is not very precise,” and, under scrutiny, “quickly breaks down.”

“Archbishop Viganò’s remarks indicate a lack of knowledge on the history of the third part of the secret of Fátima. The archbishop faces a grave danger: uninformed statements undermining his credibility,” Symonds added.

Having discussed both Fatima and the coronavirus pandemic already, in June Vigano penned his missive on Trump, and a letter on the Second Vatican Council.

That letter criticized ecumenical and interreligious efforts of Pope St. John Paul, claiming that pope’s Assisi prayer gatherings “initiated a deviant succession of pantheons that were more or less official, even to the point of seeing Bishops carrying the unclean idol of the pachamama on their shoulders, sacrilegiously concealed under the pretext of being a representation of sacred motherhood.”

The archbishop also criticized specific documents of the Council, calling them “root causes” of contemporary issues.

“If the pachamama could be adored in a church, we owe it to Dignitatis Humanae [Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Freedom]…. If the Abu Dhabi Declaration was signed, we owe it to Nostra Aetate [Vatican II’s Declaration on non-Christian religions].”

Listing his concerns about Church in the modern world, including  “the democratization of the Church,” “the demolition of the ministerial priesthood,” “the demythologization of the Papacy,” and “the progressive legitimization of all that is politically correct: gender theory, sodomy, homosexual marriage, Malthusian doctrines, ecologism, immigrationism,” Vigano attributed each of them to the documents of the Second Vatican Council.

“If we do not recognize that the roots of these deviations are found in the principles laid down by the Council, it will be impossible to find a cure: if our diagnosis persists, against all the evidence, in excluding the initial pathology, we cannot prescribe a suitable therapy.”  

Most significantly, Vigano suggested that the Second Vatican Council catalyzed a massive, but unseen, schism in the Church, ushering in a false Church alongside the true Church.

“It is undeniable that from Vatican II onwards a parallel church was built, superimposed over and diametrically opposed to the true Church of Christ. This parallel church progressively obscured the divine institution founded by Our Lord in order to replace it with a spurious entity.”

The claim that there can be distinguished a pure form of the Church distinct from the Catholic communion of sacraments, magisterial teaching, and hierarchical governance is described by some theologians as a kind of donatism, a heresy addressed by St. Augustine in the 5th century.

Vatican II, Vigano claimed, has led to a “serious apostasy to which the highest levels of the Hierarchy are exposed.”

The archbishop did not specify those Church leaders whom he believes are “exposed” to apostasy, which is the total repudiation of the Catholic faith.

In a June 3 letter, however, Vigano singled out Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who the day before had criticized Trump. Gregory’s Archdiocese of Washington, Vigano wrote, “has been and continues to be deeply afflicted and wounded by false shepherds whose way of life is full of lies, deceits, lust and corruption. Wherever they have been, they were a cause of serious scandal for various local Churches, for your entire country and for the whole Church.”

Vigano also urged Washington, DC Catholics to disobey Gregory.

“Do not follow them, as they lead you to perdition. They are mercenaries. They teach and practice falsehoods and corruption,” Vigano wrote, without offering additional or specific information.

No U.S. bishops have yet spoken publicly about Vigano’s recent letters, a fact that some critics have attributed to an aspect of clerical culture in which bishops are reluctant to criticize one another in public.

Vigano, however, has not been reticent to criticize fellow bishops in recent years.

The archbishop made international headlines in August 2018, when he published an 11-page “testament” accusing several senior bishops of complicity in covering up the sexual abuse of McCarrick, claiming that Pope Francis knew about sanctions imposed on McCarrick by Pope Benedict XVI, but chose to repeal them.

In the months that followed, some aspects of Vigano’s claims were vindicated, though in some cases it became clear that Vigano’s language was imprecise or exaggerated. Other aspects of his claims are likely to be unverifiable unless the Vatican addresses them in its comprehensive report on McCarrick, whose release has been anticipated for months.

But Vigano’s original missive also called for the resignation of Pope Francis, and made allegations about the sexual orientation and activities of numerous church leaders, suggesting a homosexual “current” or network of bishops who assured mutual promotion and protection of one another.

When his first letter was published, numerous bishops, including leaders of the U.S. bishops’ conference, called for investigation into the claims made by Vigano about McCarrick. Several U.S. bishops vouched for the archbishop’s integrity, while others called aspects of his letter into question.

Vigano subsequently went into “hiding,” apparently in response to threats against his life. The archbishop is believed by some to be living with family members in the United States. He makes himself available only to selected media outlets, and, apart from additional open letters and selected interviews, does not usually respond to questions about his claims.

The archbishop released a second letter the month after his first, criticizing the pope’s response to his initial letter, and suggesting that certain Church leaders, including Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, had information that would corroborate his claims.

After exchanging additional public and polemical correspondence with Ouellet, Vigano began releasing letters on varied topics, including the conclave that elected Pope Francis, 2019’s pan-Amazonian synod, and other issues. While the archbishop continued to write, his letters did not continue to attract the level of attention that his initial correspondence had, and took on increasingly apocalyptic tones.

Cardinal Gerhard Muller, former prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has criticized Vigano’s letters, noting that “attacks” like Vigano’s letter “end up questioning the credibility of the Church and her mission.” “No one has the right to indict the pope or ask him to resign!” Muller added.

Vigano's letters were initially met with a great deal of public support among lay and clerical U.S. Catholics, sparking even a line of coffee mugs and t-shirts which declared their owners part of “Team Vigano.”

By late 2019, however, Vigano’s new letters attracted attention mostly among traditionalist Catholic websites or supporters of his call for the resignation of Pope Francis. He did again not garner considerable mainstream Catholic attention again until controversy surrounding a disagreement with Cardinal Sarah over his coronavirus letter, and his subsequently released letters, including the one addressed to Trump.

Vigano, 79, is retired from any official ecclesiastical position. A longtime member of the Vatican’s diplomatic corps, he worked in positions in the government of the Vatican City State before, in 2011, he became apostolic nuncio, or papal representative, to the U.S. He held that position until 2016.

Vigano is accused, during his time as nuncio, of mishandling an investigation into former St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt, although Vigano denied charges that he ordered the investigation closed prematurely, and Bishop Andrew Cozzens, an auxiliary bishop in the Twin Cities, said in 2018 those charges were a misunderstanding.

Before he went to the U.S., Vigano was embroiled in controversy surrounding allegations of corruption in the Vatican City State, and was also involved in a family legal battle with his brother, also a priest, over the management of their father’s estate. Vigano was charged with withholding portions of a family inheritance from his brother, although family members have offered conflicting reports of Vigano’s role in the affair.

For his part, Trump has faced criticism himself from some Catholics in recent weeks.

The president was criticized June 9 after he suggested on Twitter that Martin Gugino, a 75-year-old activist who was hospitalized after being pushed to the ground by Buffalo police officers, might have been an “ANTIFA provocateur.” Gugino is active in the Catholic Worker Movement founded by Servant of God Dorothy Day.

On June 2, Trump made a visit to the St. John Paul II National Shrine amid controversy over his response to George Floyd protests Archbishop Gregory roundly condemned the visit, which in turn prompted Vigano’s denunciation of Gregory.

At the same time, the president's June 2 signing of an executive order on international religious liberty has drawn praise from bishops and religious freedom advocates in some parts of the world.

Vigano’s letter to Trump has attracted attention in the QAnon community, a social media based group of conspiracy theorists who believe that Trump is under attack by the “deep state” in an apocalyptic war of good against evil, in which Trump is using the presidency to wage a secret war against a global ring of Satanic pedophiles.

Since Trump’s tweet about Vigano, some figures in the QAnon community have characterized Vigano’s letter as a confirmation of the group’s theories.

No U.S. bishops have yet responded to Trump’s tweet of Vigano’s letter, or to the letter itself.
 

 

Sin City: NYC has rules for pandemic sex but no Mass

Wed, 06/10/2020 - 19:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 10, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- As public Masses remain suspended in New York City, per public health orders, the city health department has issued advice to residents on how to have “safe sex” with strangers during the coronavirus pandemic.

While the city remains in the first phase of the state’s reopening plan, Catholic churches in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island, are open only for private prayer and the sacrament of confession. In the first stage of New York state reopening regulations, religious gatherings are limited to 10 people who must wear masks and observe strict social distancing.

But while public gatherings in churches are considered a health risk, the city simultaneously is advising residents on how to have “safe sex”—even in a crowd.

Guidance from the New York City health department, issued June 8, states that “during this extended public health emergency, people will and should have sex,” and offers a range of advice on limiting transmission of coronavirus while engaging in “hook ups” and group encounters.

While the guidance advises that the safest sexual partners are “someone you live with,” and people should interact with “only a small circle of people,” the guidance offers precautions for those who “decide to find a crowd,” including that they pick “larger, more open, and well-ventilated spaces” for their encounters.

The city’s health department also recommends for and against specific sexual acts, in light of their probability of passing the virus, and suggests that people “be creative” and use “physical barriers, like walls, that allow sexual contact while preventing close face to face contact” as a health precaution.

City authorities have come under scrutiny for applying different priorities and standards to the regulation of people gathering following the outbreak of COVID-19.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has said that ongoing protests in the merit exceptions to coronavirus regulations, while religious services do not.

“When you see a nation, an entire nation simultaneously grappling with an extraordinary crisis seeded in 400 years of American racism, I’m sorry, that is not the same question as the understandably aggrieved store owner or the devout religious person who wants to go back to services,” he said at a June 2 press conference.

The mayor’s remarks have drawn criticism from New York’s archdiocese

Archdiocesan director of public policy Ed Mechmann wrote in response that the protests are important, as are public Masses. 

“We have once again been given proof that religious liberty is a second-class right,” he wrote June 3.

“It is clear that in the eyes of our government officials, the politically preferred viewpoint of anti-racism is favored and allowed, while the unpopular one of religious worship is belittled and denigrated,” Mechmann added.

In late March, De Blasio called out houses of worship that were defying public stay-at-home orders, saying he would shut them down permanently if they persisted in trying to hold clandestine services.

He also said that the gathering of thousands to mourn at the funeral of a Hasidic rabbi in Brooklyn was “absolutely unacceptable,” and threatened other religious gatherings with mass arrests.

Most of the state of New York has moved to the second phase of reopening during the new coronavirus pandemic, with churches allowed to host religious gatherings but at 25% capacity with social distancing.

This territory includes Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Orange, Sullivan, Ulster, and Dutchess counties, and churches in the Archdiocese of New York within these counties have begun offering public Masses this week, a spokesman for the archdiocese confirmed with CNA on Wednesday.

These parishes are also able to offer funerals, weddings, and baptisms, the spokesman said, with parishes in the city boroughs remaining closed until the city enters the next phase of reopening.

Alleged Theodore McCarrick victim says he is helping fact-check abuse dossier

Wed, 06/10/2020 - 17:30

CNA Staff, Jun 10, 2020 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- An anonymous alleged sexual abuse victim of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick says he and other alleged victims have been working with the Vatican to fact-check the comprehensive dossier on McCarrick’s misdeeds.

The alleged victim, writing under the name Nathan Doe, says he was one of several minors that McCarrick abused, and that he had previously collaborated with Church authorities to provide evidence during the canonical penal administrative process which resulted in McCarrick’s 2019 laicization.

He says early in 2020, “persons tasked by the Holy See with investigating McCarrick’s career” reached out to him and several other alleged victims to ask if they would be willing to provide facts and information to ensure the report’s accuracy.

“Time will tell, but nothing in my experience thus far indicates any type of cover-up or attempt to minimize anything by anyone involved in the Holy See’s investigation,” Doe writes in a June 5 blog post.

“In fact, my experience has been quite the opposite. The questions that I have been asked have been detailed, searching, and seemingly intent on uncovering truth. There has been a lot of fact-checking and cross-referencing of information. I was actually surprised by the level of due diligence I witnessed.”

In October 2018, just months after sexual abuse allegations against McCarrick first emerged, the Vatican said that Pope Francis had commissioned a study of McCarrick’s career.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston told the U.S. bishops’ conference during Nov. 2019 that the Vatican intended to publish the report “soon, if not before Christmas, soon in the new year.”

The report— still, to date, not yet released— has “taken longer than anyone expected,” Doe wrote.

“I don’t believe any of those Cardinals were trying to mislead anyone. I just think they believed that what they were saying was true,” Doe wrote.

Doe says he initially was skeptical and uncomfortable reliving his abuse for a second time, having already submitted to lengthy interviews about his experience for the canonical process.

However, he expressed hope that the fact-checking process would ultimately produce a truthful, comprehensive report.

“Based on what I have seen with my own eyes, the Holy See’s investigation looks to me like a genuine search for the truth. In my opinion, if the purpose of the investigation was to whitewash or cover-up any facts, they would not be asking the questions that they have been asking,” Doe wrote.

“I will continue to wait, patiently and faithfully, for that difficult but cathartic moment when the report is finally issued because I know that, ultimately, the Universal Catholic Church will be better for it,” he concluded.

Doe first spoke out late last year in an essay published online.

In the original Oct. 2019 essay, he said that in addition to widely reported seminary-related allegations against the former Cardinal, McCarrick had also abused a group of at least seven boys under the age of 16 as a priest of the Archdiocese of New York.

“Collectively, we were able to provide law enforcement with names, dates, times, locations, who was present, supporting evidence, and related documentation covering hundreds of Church-related or fundraising-related overnight trips between the years 1970 and 1990 that, as fate would have it, all resulted in McCarrick sharing a bed with a young Catholic boy.”

A source with knowledge of the Vatican investigation into McCarrick told CNA last year that the former cardinal is alleged to have regularly invited high school boys to accompany him on trips between 1971-1977, when he served as secretary to Cardinal Terrence Cooke, then-Archbishop of New York.

During that same period, McCarrick already had a well-established reputation among seminarians as a predator, CNA’s reporting has found.

Some senior Church officials have told CNA that McCarrick was under consideration for an influential Vatican post in 1999; concerns about the former cardinal’s lifestyle are rumored to have played a role in scuttling that plan. McCarrick was nevertheless appointed Washington’s archbishop in 2000, where he continued to serve until his retirement in 2006.

The legal situation in some of McCarrick’s former dioceses suggests that some bishops might have reasons to consider asking the Vatican, privately, that the release of the McCarrick report be postponed.

New York is in the midst of a “window” that allows lawsuits related to sexual abuse that fall beyond the normal statute of limitations, which is set to close in August 2020.

New Jersey is also in a statute of limitations window, set to end in 2021. McCarrick served as a bishop in both New York and New Jersey, during the period in which he committed acts of sexual abuse and coercion.

 

'Gone with the Wind' rights were gift to Atlanta archdiocese

Wed, 06/10/2020 - 16:42

CNA Staff, Jun 10, 2020 / 02:42 pm (CNA).- Ongoing American conversation on race and history focused on cinema Wednesday, when streaming service HBO Max announced it would pull “Gone with the Wind” from its rotation of movies, adding information on its historical context and a denunciation of its racially charged aspects before returning the film to its collection.

The 1939 movie, adapted from Margaret Mitchell’s bestselling Civil War novel, is the first film in which an African-American performer, Hattie McDaniel, won an Oscar. But critics say the movie perpetuates harmful stereotypes about African-Americans, and glorifies slave ownership in the antebellum South.

While the film will likely be the subject of ongoing debate, few outside Georgia know about the Catholic Church’s connection to the enduring place of “Gone with the Wind” in American life.

In 2011, the estate of a nephew of Mitchell donated half the trademark and literary rights to the “Gone with the Wind” novel to the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

Joseph Mitchell, the son of Margaret’s brother Stephens, died in October 2011 at 76. The novel rights were given alongside a bequest of $15-20 million in other assets, and were expected to realize an annual dividend to the archdiocese.

“The Archdiocese of Atlanta has been blessed with a generous gift through the kindness of Joe Mitchell,” Archbishop Wilton Gregory, then of Atlanta said Aug. 16, 2012.

“This gift is a reservoir of the funds earned through the genius of Margaret Mitchell and her depiction of the harsh struggles of Southern life during and after the Civil War.

“The Mitchell family has a proud Catholic legacy, and this gift will allow that legacy and that pride to be shared with many others in the archdiocese.”

“Gone With the Wind,” published in 1936, sold two million copies by 1939 and continues to sell thousands of copies a year in the U.S. The movie rights were sold in 1939.

Joseph Mitchell was the last living close relative of Margaret. He and his brother Eugene inherited a trust that gave each man a half share in the rights to their aunt’s famous novel.

Mitchell was a member of the Cathedral of Christ the King Parish, the archdiocese said. He asked that part of his donation help the cathedral.

In 2012, Gregory designated $7.5 million of the bequest to the cathedral’s building fund. He assigned $1.5 million to Catholic Charities Atlanta for immediate use, and another $2 million was set to create an endowment fund for the long-term needs of the agency.

Joseph Krygiel, then CEO of Catholic Charities, said the agency was “extremely grateful” for the gift. He said the donation would allow Catholic Charities to expand services to new communities throughout North Georgia.

Funds were also expected to help modernize the agency’s database system, and replace its aging trucks and vans for its refugee program.

“We’ll be in a position to purchase some equipment we desperately need for the last few years,” Krygiel said.

Over $1 million of the Mitchell bequest was designated for an endowment fund, which was expected to provide $10,000 gifts to parishes, mission and Catholic school of the archdiocese through the Catholic Foundation of North Georgia.

Another $150,000 was to be designated to the archdiocesan Deacons’ Assistance Fund.

Mitchell also gave to the archdiocese a collection of autographed “Gone with the Wind” first editions published in various languages, and an unpublished history of the Mitchell family, handwritten by Margaret’s father, Eugene Muse Mitchell.

Deacon Steve Swope managed the transition of the bequest on behalf of Archbishop Gregory.

“It is a magnificent gift,” he said at the time.

He said the archdiocese wanted to continue to make the book available to “the widest possible audience” in a way that is “respectful and dignified.”

Archbishop Gregory said at the time that each parish and school of the archdiocese will share the benefits of the gift.

“We should all give thanks for Joe’s kindness and remember all of the Mitchell family in our prayers,” he said in 2012.

 

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