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US:    Analysis: One year after McCarrick, what's next for the Church?

Washington D.C., Jun 19, 2019 / 04:20 pm (CNA).- Exactly one year after revelations about the sexual abuse of then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick were made public, the Church in the U.S. remains in a state of serious scandal, and Catholics remain angry and discouraged. But what’s next for the Church - what happens after McCarrick - depends as much on the decisions of ordinary Catholics as it does on the policy decisions of the U.S. bishops.

In 2002, McCarrick told the Washington Post in 2002 that to address the scourge of clerical sexual abuse that had been uncovered that year, “everybody has to have a plan, everybody has to have a procedure, everybody has to have a policy."

His fellow bishops needed to begin "really tackling this in a more comprehensive way,” McCarrick told reporters.

It was April 2002 when McCarrick made those remarks. In the months that followed, he would become an architect, and a tireless promoter, of the U.S. bishops’ plans and policies to address clerical sexual abuse.

“I think we have to somehow make sure that our people know what we're doing, that the people know that the bishops are taking this seriously.”

People did not, in fact, know what McCarrick had been doing. By April 2002, Theodore McCarrick had serially sexually abused at least two minors, and sexually coerced dozens of young priests and seminarians.

Knowing now what he knew then, it seems incredible that McCarrick was celebrated in the Post as a “national leader” on clerical sexual abuse.

But he was.

In 2002, a scholar from Notre Dame told the Washington Post that McCarrick “understands the depth of the problem and the need to address it transparently...If his style of leadership were emulated, I think the church would be in better shape."

One year ago, one June 20, 2018, the Church learned far more than about McCarrick’s “style of leadership” than was expected. And the revelations about his decades of sexual abuse and coercion gave the Church a new look at the “depth of the problem.”

Since June 20, 2018, the Church in the U.S. has reeled from the Pennsylvania grand jury report, allegations of startling misconduct, neglect, or outright cover-up from many trusted or influential bishops, from the August letter of Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, international reports concerning Bishops Gustavo Zanchetta, Jose Pineda, and Franco Mulakkal, from revelations concerning large cash gifts proffered by a bishop abuser, and from a USCCB and Vatican response to these disclosures that, in the judgment of many observers and commentators, has been tepid, at best.

It seems likely, even now, that more scandals, especially regarding finances, will be soon to emerge.

One year after McCarrick, what’s next? What will the Church face, and how will she face it?

It should be noted that the U.S. bishops’ conference has, despite multiple serious setbacks, passed some norms and policies intended to respond to this crisis. Those policies, are, in the view of many experts, a good start to policy reform in the Church, though only in the limited spheres they deign to address.

Those reforms have been panned by some critics as insufficient, merely reactionary, and totally inadequate to addressing an apparently complex constellation of problems, which includes immoral sexual activity, some of it coercive, by some priests and bishops, an apparent reluctance to stridently address those matters when they arise, a clerical culture that sometimes includes self-interest and self-protection, financial malfeasance, and a lack of accountability regarding those matters.

McCarrick called for policies in 2002, and in 2019, the bishops now have policies to address McCarrick.

But just as 2002's policies did not stop the McCarrick or Bransfield scandals, the USCCB’s measures are insufficient to resolutely address the scandal’s cluster of problems.

The bishops would be wise to recognize more publicly and directly the limited impact of policies and procedures, and the importance of personal integrity, virtue, accountability, and personal holiness.

But many Catholics say that while they have heard some bishops articulate that sentiment, they remain skeptical about even the just implementation of the bishops’ own reform policies. And their discouragement over those norms reflects a broader shift.

In fact, the most striking effect of the Church’s year of scandal is the degree to which faithful and practicing Catholics - among them priests, religious, and lay ecclesial staffers - have become discouraged, demoralized, and hesitant to trust.

And it has become clear that the U.S. bishops are unlikely to regain that trust in one fell swoop - through one grand or dramatic gesture of transparency, accountability, contrition, or condemnation. They had an opportunity for such a gesture at their November 2018 meeting, when they considered a resolution calling for the Vatican to release all available material on McCarrick. But that resolution failed.

It is clear that reform, and holding malfeasant bishops to account, will be a long-term project of limited success. Catholics will continue to call for greater accountability, transparency, and for basic answers to basic questions, but it remains to be seen whether their calls will be answered. If they are not, the scandal will be prolonged, and Catholics will likely grow even more demoralized.

In the meantime, the Church will suffer the loss of some Catholics, who have or will become less engaged in the practice of the faith in the wake of this scandal.

Of course, it is not only bishops who are responsible for preserving the bonds of ecclesial communion.

The Church has before faced crises occasioned by the sinfulness of its leaders. In each of those crises, believers have had to decide whether or not to remain in the communion of the Church, and to work themselves for reform and renewal. This case, is no different.

No policies or procedures can overcome the reality of fallen humanity. Each Catholic must ask himself, in the wake of the McCarrick scandal, what it is reasonable and just to expect of a Church predicated on the premise that each of its members is a sinner in need of redemption.

This exercise should not make excuses for malfeasance and ineptitude, but it should be an honest assessment of the limits of all human endeavors for reform.

One year after the initial disappointment, and then the compounding disappointments of cover-ups, denials, and missed opportunities, Catholics must begin to ask themselves whether they will still commit to communion with a Church of woeful sinners, and whether they will commit to its mission.

And, in this moment, each Catholic must ask himself whether his righteous indignation has become self-righteous hubris. After the initial shock of the last year has worn off, a protracted hermeneutic of suspicion or reactive anticlericalism is not likely to contribute to a renewal of the Church in the United States. But those things are a temptation.

Also a temptation is endless bureaucratic tinkering, empty promises, or covering-up for a culture of cover-up. Bishops must ask themselves how radically committed they are to their promises of reform.

In short, saints will move the Church forward, and each Catholic must ask himself whether he wishes to actually become a saint.

The project of the new evangelization is that of reproclaming in the Gospel in once Christian cultures. As the influence of the Church wanes - even on the moral and spiritual lives of Catholics - the secularity of American culture is, for many Catholics, laid clearly bare.

The McCarrick scandal could be the moment in which the Church steps back, to ask more fundamental questions about why so few people baptized as Catholics practice the faith into adulthood, and what can be done about it. Some bishops seem to have seriously taken up those questions in recent years, and others have not. Some bishops will see in this scandal the bigger picture, and others will not.

But nothing precludes laity, religious, and clerics aggrieved and angry about scandal to ask that question, and to look for answers that will bear more fruit than perduring fulmination against the failures of bishops.

Answers will be diverse. They should include ongoing and serious efforts for reform, but they should not be limited to those efforts.

Doubtless, some Catholics will say that a renewal of the Church will come from a resurgence of more traditional liturgical forms. Others will make mention of ecclesial movements like the NeoCatechumenal Way or Communion and Liberation. Still others will suggest evangelical initiatives like Focus or Word on Fire. That diversity - a motley flurry of evangelical activity - is likely the key to real renewal in the life of the Church in the U.S.

The history of the Church proves that there is not one methodology or program that has the corner on evangelization - that instead various spiritualities and movements can be fruitful, if they are rooted in the person of Jesus Christ.

That focus - which points toward a renewal far beyond hurried policy documents - is the key to a fruitful and living Church after the McCarrick scandal. Some bishops may lead on those fronts, while others disappoint, or seem to miss the mark. Some scandals will be addressed, while others may long go unresolved, and new ones will emerge. The life of the Church will be often messy, often disappointing, often frustrating, and always in need of renewal, reform, and conversion. Catholics, bishops included, will face the choice of working towards those ends, or not.

But a serious commitment to apostolic and evangelic activity- to the proclamation of the Gospel - is also the best prospect for reform. A holier Church, dedicated more zealously to mission, will also be a more just and less corrupt Church.

A great deal has changed in the aftermath of the McCarrick scandal. But sin, corruption, betrayal, and failure are not new to the Church. Nor is Jesus Christ, the source of grace, justice, and renewal, who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  
 

 


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US:    One year since the McCarrick allegations: A CNA timeline

Washington D.C., Jun 19, 2019 / 04:18 pm (CNA).- June 20 marks one year since the announcement that credible allegations of sexual abuse had been raised against then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. In the months that followed, a major crisis of abuse and cover up within the Church in the U.S. was revealed, and Church officials have responded with new policies and pledges of transparency. Here is a timeline of major events in the last year:


June 20
The Archdiocese of New York announces that an allegation of sexual abuse by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has been found to be “credible and substantiated.” In the following months, additional allegations will be raised against McCarrick, including claims that McCarrick had a widely-known reputation for sexual advances toward seminarians.

July 3
The Diocese of Cheyenne says Emeritus Bishop Joseph Hart has been credibly accused of sexually assaulting two boys after he became bishop of the diocese in 1976. A third credible allegation is confirmed a few weeks later.

July 28
Pope Francis accepts the resignation of McCarrick from the College of Cardinals and suspends him from the exercise of any public ministry. He directs McCarrick to observe a life of prayer and penance, pending the canonical process against him.

August 14
A grand jury report in Pennsylvania details allegations against some 300 priests, from more than 1,000 victims in six of the state’s Catholic dioceses over a 70-year period. The report was met with national outcry and prompted more than a dozen other states to follow suit.

August 16
The U.S. bishops’ conference calls for a Vatican-led investigation into the allegations of sexual abuse and cover-up surrounding McCarrick.

August 25
Former apostolic nuncio to the U.S. Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano releases a “testament” claiming that Pope Francis knew about sanctions imposed on McCarrick by Benedict XVI but chose to repeal them.

August 26
Asked during an in-flight interview about Vigano’s letter, Pope Francis says he “will not say a single word” on the subject and instructs journalists to use their “journalistic capacity to draw your own conclusions.”

September 12
Pope Francis calls for all the presidents of the Catholic bishops’ conferences of the world to meet at the Vatican Feb. 21-24 to address the protection of minors.

September 19
The administrative committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announces new accountability measures, including a code of conduct for bishops and the creation of an independent reporting mechanism for complaints against bishops. The committee also calls for a full investigation into the allegations against McCarrick and the Church’s response to these allegations.

October 6
The Vatican announces that Pope Francis has ordered a review of all Holy See files pertaining to allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of McCarrick. The results of that review have not, to date, been released.

November 12
U.S. bishops gather for an annual fall meeting in Baltimore; the Vatican instructs them to delay until after the February meeting a vote on two proposals intended to be the foundation of the U.S. Church’s response to the abuse crisis.

November 14
The U.S. bishops fail to pass a resolution that would have “encouraged” the Holy See to release all documents on the allegations of misconduct against McCarrick.

January 2-8
At the suggestion of Pope Francis, the U.S. bishops hold a retreat to consider how to respond to the still ongoing sexual abuse crises facing the Church.

January 11
McCarrick is laicized. Also known as dismissal from the clerical state, he no longer has the right to exercise sacred ministry in the Church, except in the extreme situation of encountering someone who is in immediate danger of death. In addition, he no longer has the canonical right to be financially supported by the Church. A statement from the Vatican announcing the laicization is released Feb. 16.

February 21 - 24
The Vatican holds a sex abuse summit with the heads of bishops’ conference from countries around the world. The summit’s stated purpose is to educate the world’s bishops on their responsibility for protecting minors from abuse within the Church.

April 4
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith upholds a 2018 verdict finding Archbishop Anthony Apuron of Agana, Guam, guilty of several abuse related charges. Apuron is deprived of his office as archbishop and forbidden to use the insignia of a bishop or live within the jurisdiction of the archdiocese. He is not removed from ministry or the clerical state, and is not instructed to live in prayer and penance.

May 9
Pope Francis issues new experimental norms for the handling of some sex abuse allegations. The norms place seminarians and religious coerced into sexual activity through the abuse of authority in the same criminal category as abuse of minors and vulnerable adults. They also establish obligatory reporting for clerics and religious, require that every diocese has a mechanism for reporting abuse, and put the metropolitan archbishop in charge of investigations of accusations of abuse or negligence against suffragan bishops.

June 4
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, is accused of mishandling an allegation of sexual coercion made against his former vicar general by permitting the priest to transfer to another diocese and continue in ministry. The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston disputes the claim, saying the priest underwent a rehabilitation process, and was recommended to be returned to ministry by the professionals who assessed him.

June 5
An investigation finds credible allegations of sexual harassment and coercion of adults by former Bishop Michael Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston, as well as the fostering of “a culture of fear of retaliation and retribution” that prevented his conduct from being discovered or reported. Pope Francis had accepted Bransfield’s resignation the previous September when he turned 75.

June 12-13
At their annual spring meeting, the U.S. bishops approve the creation of a national third-party reporting mechanism, directives to apply the pope’s new norms, protocol for a diocesan bishop to restrict the ministry his predecessor when needed, and a set of non-binding moral commitments pledging to hold themselves to the same standards applied to priests.


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US:    House Democrats pass appropriations bill with Hyde Amendment intact

Washington D.C., Jun 19, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The House of Representatives passed a combination appropriations bill on Wednesday afternoon that renews the Hyde Amendment, preventing federal Medicaid funds from being used for abortions.

The bill passed by a vote of 226-203 on June 19 and contains funding for four separate spending areas, including the Department of Health and Human Services and the provisions of the Hyde Amendment.

The vote was cast almost entirely along party lines. All but seven Democrats voted for the spending bill, and no Republicans voted for it. A last-ditch bill amendment effort by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) to remove the Hyde Amendment from the bill was rejected as a violation of the House procedural rules.

Democratic presidential candidates have expressed an increasing consensus in favor of overturning the Hyde Amendment, and scrapping the policy was part of the Democratic Party platform in 2016.

Former vice president Joe Biden, who currently leads the field of candidates for the Deomcratic nomination for president, recently announced a reversal of his position on the Hyde Amendment and now backs its repeal after over four decades of supporting the measure.

Despite widespread opposition to the policy within the Democratic Party, the Hyde Amendment was included in this year’s spending bill in recognition of the need for approval in the Republican-controlled Senate and be signed by President Donald Trump.

Senate Republicans have indicated that they would not vote for an appropriations bill without the Hyde Amendment, and it is considered unlikely that President Trump would sign such a bill.

The Hyde Amendment was first passed in 1977, and prohibited the use of federal money for abortions, except in cases where the woman’s life is at risk. The amendment was slightly modified in 1994, when exceptions were added for pregnancies resulting from rape and incest.

The Hyde Amendment applying only to federal funds, individual states are free to use their own Medicaid funds for abortions.


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Americas:    Venezuelan bishops concerned by risk of emigrant trafficking

Caracas, Venezuela, Jun 19, 2019 / 02:32 pm (CNA).- The Venezuelan bishops have expressed their concern for the risks to which Venezuelan emigrants, especially women, are exposed. More than 4 million Venezuelans have emigrated since 2015.

Under the socialist administration of Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela has been marred by violence and social upheaval, with severe shortages and hyperinflation.

“The Justice and Peace Commission and Caritas urge the authorities in all branches of government to investigate, pursue, prosecute and sentence those responsible for human trafficking crimes,” the bishops said.

They also called for “guaranteeing the relatives of victims direct access and without any kind of obstacles to law enforcement and the justice system so they can present their cases.”

They also asked the authorities to provide the victims with “timely justice without any delay, as established by the Constitution and the different international agreements for the protection of human rights than have been signed and ratified by the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.”

The commission warned that the vulnerable position of migrants fleeing from destitution could cause them to become victims of human trafficking.

“Migrants can be enslaved by 'the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs,'” they noted, citing a UN resolution.

In their statement, the bishops said that they met with relatives of the 28 people who disappeared in Güiria following the shipwreck of a boat that left April 3 heading for Trinidad and Tobago.

The relatives indicated that although the bodies of the victims have not been found, “the agencies in charge of carrying out the investigation have not given a timely response.”

“The Commission observes with concern the increase of this type of incident, not just in the eastern part of the country but also in the border areas of Falcón, Brazil and Colombia,” the bishops emphasized.

Another boat carrying 32 Venezuelan emigrants sank on its way to Curaçao earlier this month. Each had paid $400 for the crossing.

The bishops' commission warned that in the border areas there operate “criminal gangs that put in danger the life and physical integrity and dignity of women, especially youths and minors.”

This situation produces “enormous anxiety and despair” in the families, affecting the children who are left abandoned, they said.

They expressed their commitment to those affected, to whom they will continue to provide support in following up their cases, in order to obtain justice, timely information, and a determination of facts.

“Let us combat the sale of children, women and men as slaves for the purposes of begging, prostitution or forced labor,” they urged.

Some 1.3 Venezuelan emigrants are being hosted by Colombia, and some 800,000 are in Peru.

In a move to restrict the flow of immigrants, Peru mandated June 15 that Venezuelans have a passport and visa to enter the country; previously, only a national ID card was needed.


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US:    'Transgender' track rules violate Title IX, ADF says

Washington D.C., Jun 19, 2019 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The governing body for high school sports in Connecticut is facing a federal complaint after allowing male students to compete in female events.

Three female students, supported by Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit group advocating for the defence of religious liberty, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights after male students were allowed to compete in the 2018 female outdoor track season.

The complaint alleges that the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC), which is a governing body for high school sports in Connecticut, is violating federal Title IX norms by allowing male athletes who identify themselves as females to compete in sports against female athletes.

CIAC member schools include many of the state’s Catholic high schools.

The two male students, who identify themselves as female, were allowed to compete during the track season and placed well ahead of their female competitors.

Since 2017, the CIAC allows athletes to compete in leagues consistent with “preferred gender identity.”

In the spring 2018 outdoor track season, a sophomore runner who had already competed in the 2018 indoor track season on the boys’ team changed his gender identification and was permitted to compete as a female.

In the 2018-2019 seasons, he, along with another female-identifying male runner, have consistently placed as the top-two finishers in their events against female runners. One of the males now holds 10 state records in female track events. Previously, these records were held by 10 different runners.

ADF is requesting that the Office for Civil Rights investigate alleged Title IX violations, and compel the CIAC to change its athlete policy.

Title IX of the 1972 Educational Ammendments Act states that "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."

ADF asserts that allowing male athletes to compete in female events is discriminatory against female athletes.

Additionally, the ADF has requested that the CIAC retroactively recognize runners who would otherwise have won or qualified for events had they not been competing against males.

One of the three girls represented by the ADF complaint is Selina Soule, a 16-year-old from Glastonbury High School in Connecticut. Soule, who runs track, missed qualifying for the state finals in the 55-meter dash by one place. The top two finishers in the event were both males identifying themselves as female.

The other two complainants, who also run track, have chosen to remain anonymous.

“Girls deserve to compete on a level playing field. Forcing female athletes to compete against boys is grossly unfair and destroys their athletic opportunities,” said ADF Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb in a statement posted on the organization’s website.

“Title IX was designed to eliminate discrimination against women in education and athletics, and women fought long and hard to earn the equal athletic opportunities that Title IX provides. Allowing boys to compete in girls’ sports reverses nearly 50 years of advances for women under this law.”

Speaking on Fox News, Soule said that she has received “nothing but support” from her teammates and from other athletes, but she has “experienced some retaliation from school officials and coaches.”

In a 2018 interview after the state championships, Soule said that she had “no problem with [the male athletes] wanting to be a girl,” but that she did not think it was right that she had to race males.

“I think it’s unfair to the girls who work really hard to do well and qualify for Opens and New Englands,” she said in 2018. The New England championships serve as a scouting venue for many college-level coaches.

Earlier this month, the Congregation for Catholic Education issued a document laying out principles for Catholic engagement with so-called gender theory, which posits that biological sex and gender are intrinsically mutable and seperable.

The document, titled “Male and Female He Created Them,” called gender theory an effort “chiefly to create a cultural and ideological revolution driven by relativism, and secondarily a juridical revolution, since such beliefs claim specific rights for the individual and across society.”

“There is a need to reaffirm the metaphysical roots of sexual difference, as an anthropological refutation of attempts to negate the male-female duality of human nature, from which the family is generated,” said the document.

“The denial of this duality not only erases the vision of human beings as the fruit of an act of creation but creates the idea of the human person as a sort of abstraction who ‘chooses for himself what his nature is to be.’”


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Europe:    Pentecost pilgrimages in France, Middle East link Catholics in prayer

Paris, France, Jun 19, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Catholics walked through Syria’s Wadi al-Nasara, or “Valley of the Christians,” this Pentecost, praying the rosary, alternating between the Arabic and French prayers for each decade.

Their two-day pilgrimage, inspired by the annual Notre Dame-Chartres walk in France, coincided with Pentecost pilgrimages in Iraq, Lebanon, and Egypt organized by the French humanitarian organization SOS Chretiens d’Orient as a gesture of prayer and solidarity.

“These few intense days of hiking and prayers will remain engraved in hearts as precious moments when Syrians and French were united by the same Spirit,” Madeleine, a French volunteer for SOS Chretiens d’Orient in Aleppo, Syria wrote on their blog.

“The pride of having traveled the kilometers with bravery, the long discussions shared, the services rendered together have been a reflection of the love that binds our two countries by the grace of God,” she said. “We were in communion with the pilgrimage of Notre Dame de Chretiente in Chartres.”

The Syrian pilgrims and volunteers came from Damascus, Homs, and Aleppo to walk the path along Mediterranean Sea toward the sanctuary of Saint Charbel in the village of Daher Safra.

Athar, a Syrian participant, reflected, “We shared with each other our life with the good times and the bad times. We prayed together. We walked together. It was great because we learned how to accept each other, how to help each other.”

In Iraq, the Pentecost pilgrimage through the Nineveh Plains led to the Rabban Hormizd Monastery in Alqosh, a Chaldean Catholic church founded in the 7th century.

Sistine, a French SOS Chretiens d’Orient volunteer in Iraq, described the experience:

“Arriving at the foot of the monastery, as night begins to fall, our songs to Mary resound magnificently in this calm and wild place. The whole group climbs the remaining few hundred steps in a final burst of energy to reach the small chapel. Finally, after so much effort, prayers, sweat and empty water bottles, we gather here to put all our intentions in Mary's arms.”

We “gather together to express our prayer intentions, entrusting our lives, vocations, Christians of the East and Iraq to our Heavenly Mother,” she said.

The Notre Dame-Chartres walk, which inspired the pilgrimages in the Middle East, drew more than 14,000 participants this year.

Benjamin Blanchard, director of SOS Chretiens d’Orient, told CNA that each of the pilgrimages in the Middle East used the same book of prayers and hymns used in the Notre Dame-Chartres walk.

Blanchard has led a group of volunteers and staff from the Middle East in the French pilgrimage to Chartres for the past four years.

“We are here to pray and to work with all of the pilgrimage, but we especially pray for the Christians of the Middle East, for all of the volunteers and donors of the organization,” he said.

Johnny Dagaly, a Chaldean Catholic from Iraq, told CNA that walking the pilgrimage in France with 14,000 other Catholics gave him a strong sense of the “Body of Christ” that is the Church.

“It has been a very good experience to be here, and when I come back to Iraq, I will share that with all of my friends, my family, with everyone,” Dagaly said.

“I am praying for peace, for peace in all the world and in my country, in Iraq, because we have not had peace from 40 years ago until now,” he said, adding, “I also prayed for my mom.”

Majd Kassouha, a 26 year-old Syrian Melkite Catholic, told CNA that he walked the 62-mile French pilgrimage with prayers for his country to rebuild, not just the infrastructure lost in the war, but also the hearts of the Syrian people.

“The suffering in the heart and the mind is much more painful than the ... physical suffering,”  Kassouha said. He and his family remained in Aleppo throughout the country’s civil war and said he witnessed the death of many of his friends and family.

“When we were attacked and I saw my friends dead … I started to think that without Jesus I can't continue, so I prayed to Jesus to encourage me, to give me the force to continue,” he told CNA.

“Our country, a beautiful country, deserves a condition better than now. Rebuilding the people because we are all destroyed in our hearts. Everyone has lost a lot of dear people,” he said.

“I hope that Syrian people find peace in their hearts and in the country in general,” he said. “I hope to go back to my home and to see it in peace.”


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Europe:    Efforts to ease tensions over Orange walks in Glasgow

Glasgow, Scotland, Jun 19, 2019 / 11:16 am (CNA).- Some figures in the Catholic Church and Protestant loyalist groups in Scotland are seeking to reach a compromise regarding Protestant marches passing by Catholic churches.

Opposition to Orange walks have increased since last July, when a priest, Canon Tom White, was spat at and verbally abused while greeting parishioners after Mass while an Orange march approached his Glaswegian parish, St. Alphonsus.

Orange marches are organized by the Orange Order, largely in Northern Ireland and Scotland, to commemorate the defeat of James II by William of Orange at the July 1, 1690 Battle of the Boyne. James had been deposed as king of England, Ireland, and Scotland in a 1688 revolution by the Parliament of England after he had expanded toleration of Catholics and Protestant nonconformists in the officially Protestant kingdoms.

In the past year, Orange walks have been rerouted by Glasgow city council to keep them from passing in front of Catholic churches. Organizers have cancelled some of the walks in response to their rerouting.

When Glasgow city council rerouted an Orange march in September, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Glasgow said, “We are grateful that common sense has prevailed. The re-routing of the march will bring relief to the people of St Alphonsus parish and the surrounding area, who viewed with anxiety and fear the prospect of another march past the church so soon after the disgraceful scenes earlier this summer.”

Archbishop Leo Cushley of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh recently told STV that “objectively,” Orange walks passing by Catholic churches “shouldn't be a problem. If it is done respectfully, I don't see where the problem is.”

“If it is done to taunt your neighbour that's a different question but it is difficult for me to look into the hearts of everyone who is going past a church,” the bishop, whose see is located 50 miles east of Glasgow, commented.

In response to Archbishop Cushley, a spokesman for the Grange Orange Lodge of Scotland said that “Roman Catholics, Protestants, and people from many other faiths and none, all live harmoniously in communities right across Scotland,” The Herald, a Glasgow daily, reported June 18.

The spokesman added: “This should mean that we can all share the same roads and streets as we each celebrate our own heritage and culture. We will certainly play our part in ensuring that our parades are respectful when passing any place of worship … it is our hope that we find a shared solution that demonstrates that it is perfectly ok to have different religious views and opinions, without the need for religious divisions and divides.”

Dave Scott of Nil by Mouth, an anti-sectarian charity based in Glasgow, commented that “Archbishop Cushley is providing clear-eyed and thoughtful analysis of the situation and the statement in response from the Orange Order would suggest they recognise this and the need for genuine dialogue moving forward.”

Call It Out, a campaign against anti-Catholic bigotry and anti-Irish racism in Scotland, said on Twitter that “We intend no disrespect whatsoever to [Archbishop Cushley] but we very much doubt he has had much experience of anti-Catholic marches or has consulted the Catholic community across Scotland of their own experiences of these parades.”

Scotland has experienced significant sectarian division since the Scottish Reformation of the 16th century, which led to the formation of the Church of Scotland, an ecclesial community in the Calvinist and Presbyterian tradition which is the country's largest religious community.

Sectarianism and crimes motivated by anti-Catholicism have been on the rise in Scotland in recent years.

An April 2018 poll of Catholics in Scotland found that 20 percent reported personally experiencing abuse of prejudice toward their faith; and a government report on religiously-motivated crime in 2016 and 2017 found a concentration of incidents in Glasgow.

Call It Out has indicated it will organize counter-protests of any Orange walk passing by a Catholic parish, while some Orange groups have said they won't accept rerouting, according to The Herald.

In April the Protestant fraternal society the Apprentice Boys of Derry cancelled an an Easter walk after the Glasgow city council insisted that it not pass in front of St. Alphonsus.

Police Scotland have indicated that public disorder is likely if Orange walks take place in front of some Catholic churches in Glasgow, requiring a disproportionate number of officers to keep the peace.


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US:    California bishops call Catholics to 'ecological spirituality'

Sacramento, Calif., Jun 19, 2019 / 10:26 am (CNA).- On the fourth anniversary of Laudato Si’, the bishops of California challenged the community to grow in an “ecological conversion” that respects God, man, and creation.

The California Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a June 18 pastoral statement reflecting on Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Si’: On care for our common home.”

The bishops reflected on the call to stewardship of the environment and how concrete actions are necessary to exercise this stewardship in preserving the natural beauty of California.

“The astonishing diversity of landscapes across California - formed by the dynamic interplay of diverse natural forces - moves us to recognize God’s artistry in creation,” the bishops said.

“We propose a practical application of the Laudato Si’ message of ecological spirituality - that the ecological well-being of California is meant to be deeply embedded in a spirituality that unites all creatures and all creation in praising God.”

Man is responsible for caring for creation, the bishops said in their message. They encouraged people to find ways to prevent waste and ensure sustainability. They suggested Catholics invest in energy efficient appliances, residences, and vehicles. In two examples, the bishops said families may consider adding solar panels to their homes, and businesses may reflect on the environmental impact of the products they produce.

In addition, the bishops highlighted the importance of dialogue about environmental issues and the development of educational materials to further awareness on the topic. They called for works of art that reflect the beauty of creation in order to “inspire a culture of ecological and human care in the light of the moral applications of the Pope’s encyclical.”

The California bishops said climate change harms both the environment and people, especially the most vulnerable. They noted that Pope Francis has included the issue in his admonitions of a “throwaway culture,” which also includes consumeristic excess, abortion, and euthanasia.

“The disruption of the earth’s climate is one of the principal challenges facing humanity today, with grave implications for the poor, many of whom live in areas particularly affected by environmental degradation and who also subsist largely on access to natural resources for housing, food, and income,” they said.

It is the responsibility of the local community to work together to overcome climate change, the bishops stressed, calling particularly on young people, businesses, and public officials to be involved.

“Subsidiarity presents an opportunity for all of us to act locally, but with an eye to broader social transformation to advance sustainability and climate protection,” they said.

In recent years, California has faced significant drought, as well as the largest fire in state history, which took place last year, when more than 400,000 acres were burned in and around Mendocino County. The state’s four hottest years on record occurred from 2014-2018.

To respond to these climate crises, the bishops said, it is important to ensure that people have access to clean, affordable water and to provide proper fire education and prevention measures.

They also called for efforts to strengthen aqueducts and water ways to withstand drought, as well as greater investment in attempts to better understand the effects of climate change on water systems.

“The Laudato Si’ call to live integral ecology means listening to creation and observing what is happening in it,” the bishops said. “To live out a spirituality of the common good, we must recommit ourselves to fostering greater harmony in our relationship with the earth.”

The state bishops promised to work with pastoral leaders to spread the message of Laudato Si’. They challenged parishioners and communities to undergo a spiritual conversion and grow in virtues which will positively affect the environment.

“At the heart of all spirituality is conversion. We all need to change for the better. Conversion is not just turning back to God, but always embraces new thinking and new decisions - a new way of life as we move into the future,” they said.

“Ecological conversion challenges us to advance in culture, to grow spiritually, and to be better educated about the world entrusted by God to our care. The heavens and the earth belong to God, but we have been called to be good stewards.”

 


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US:    Families are a radical witness to hope in modern society, Archbishop Gomez says

South Bend, Ind., Jun 19, 2019 / 07:30 am (CNA).- The Christian family must become a “radical” sign against a climate of despair and isolation Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles said Tuesday.

Gomez, who serves as the vice president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, delivered the speech June 18 as part of a four-day conference on Liturgy and the Domestic Church at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend.

“Our society has rejected what twenty centuries of Christian civilization considered a basic fact of nature — that most men and women will find their life’s purpose in forming loving marriages, working together, sharing their lives, and raising children,” Gomez said.

The archbishop explained that in previous decades preserving and promoting the family involved a cluster of issues, including divorce, cohabitation, contraception and abortion, same-sex relationships, and the sexual confusion of society. Now, he argued, the basic human imperative to marry and have children is being abandoned.

“Many young people are debating whether it is ‘ethical’ to have kids in an age of global warming. There is an even larger conversation going on among millennials about the ‘value’ of starting a family,” Gomez said.

Just Google that simple question: ‘Should I have kids?’ It is sad, the results that come back. Not only that. It is sad how many people are asking these kinds of questions.”

“The truth is this: for whatever reasons, people have already stopped having children.”

Gomez said that the decline of birth rates, and the rejection of the concept and worth of family, is a sign of more than just selfishness: it is an indication of despair. Without minimizing the importance of climate change, Gomez said, a cultural narrative of coming dystopia has emerged, in which children are considered to be better off having never been born.

“These same kinds of bleak scenarios are being spun out daily in newspapers and magazines, in books, in the media, in classrooms,” Gomez said, and it is the mission of the Church, expressed through the witness of the Christian family, to respond.

“The question for us is: how are we going to live as Christians in this culture, and how are we going to raise our children and evangelize this culture? In these times, what case can we make for marriage, for the family, for children?”

In the Los Angeles archdiocese, he said, a community of more than five million Catholics was baptizing 50,000 infants every year. “These are not just numbers,” Gomez said, “these are souls, entrusted by God to our care. As a pastor, I do not want a single one to be lost.”

It is vital, he said, to discover and promoted the “Domestic Church” of the family, rooted in a parish able to sustain and support them.

“In my opinion, forming small faith communities is crucial,” Gomez said, while insisting that continuous sacramental and faith formation was essential to the life and mission of the Church.

“When we marry a couple or baptize a child — we need to see that as the beginning of a relationship. We need to find ways to nurture that relationship, to support that child and that couple, to help them grow in their love of Jesus and their commitment to living the Gospel in their families.”

Formation of families in the faith is, Gomez said, central to the Church’s mission at a time when the Gospel message is once more seen as antithetical to the culture.

“We need to rediscover the radical ‘newness’ of the Christian message about the family,” he said.

“Before Christianity, no one had ever spoken about marriage in terms of a love that lasts a lifetime, or as a calling from God, or as a path that can lead to holiness and salvation. It was a new and thrilling idea to speak of man and woman becoming ‘one flesh’ and participating in God’s own act of creating new life.”

The simplicity of the family, mirroring the hidden life of Christ in the Holy Family of Nazareth, offers the opportunity to evangelize by a witness to hope and to authentic human happiness – something which society is losing along with the will to have children.

“The first Christians evangelized by the way they lived. And the way they lived was to be in this world but not of this world. They lived the same lives as their neighbors, but in a different way,” Gomez said.

“They rejected birth control and abortion and welcomed children in joy as a gift from God and treated them as precious persons to be loved and nurtured and brought up in the ways of the Lord.”

“The first Christian families changed the world — simply by living the teachings of Jesus and his Church. And my friends, we can change the world again, by following the same path.”


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Vatican:    Pope Francis: The Holy Spirit unites the Church, despite sin and scandal

Vatican City, Jun 19, 2019 / 03:15 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Wednesday that the Holy Spirit unites and grows the Church despite human limitations, sins and scandal.

“The Holy Spirit is the creator of communion, the artist of reconciliation … He builds the community of believers by harmonizing the unity of the body and the multiplicity of its members,” Pope Francis said June 19 in St. Peter’s Square.

The Holy Spirit “makes the Church grow by helping it to go beyond human limits, sins and any scandal,” he said.

Dedicating his Wednesday catechesis to the Acts of the Apostles’ account of the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Pope Francis reflected on how the Holy Spirit transformed and strengthened St. Peter.

“On the feast of Pentecost, it is Peter who speaks, the rock on which Christ chose to build his Church,” he said. “His word, weak and even capable of denying the Lord, when crossed by the fire of the Spirit gains strength and becomes capable of piercing hearts and moving to conversion.”

“God in fact chooses what is weak in the world to confound the strong,” Pope Francis said, quoting St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.

“The Church is thus born of the fire of love -- of a ‘fire’ that flares up at Pentecost, which manifests the strength of the Word of the Risen One imbued with the Holy Spirit,” he said.

Pope Francis explained that this fire symbolically expresses God’s work of warming, illuminating, and testing hearts, and His care in purifying and revitalizing human works.

“The Spirit of God moves hearts to welcome the salvation that passes through a person, Jesus Christ, the One whom men nailed to the wood of the cross and whom God raised from the dead,” the pope said.

“As Benedict XVI said, ‘This is Pentecost: Jesus, and through Him, God himself, comes to us and draws us into himself,” he added.

“Let us ask the Lord to let us experience a new Pentecost, which expands our hearts and tunes our feelings with those of Christ, so that we proudly proclaim His transforming word and bear witness to the power of love that calls to life all that it encounters,” Pope Francis said.


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Americas:    Mexican bishops: The violence must end

Mexico City, Mexico, Jun 19, 2019 / 12:06 am (CNA).- Catholic leaders in Mexico have spoken out against continuing violence in the country and called on governmental authorities to focus on ending the bloodshed and establishing stability and peace.

“In recent times, we have experienced situations of great violence, which have been a true Calvary for citizens and many families in various parts of the country, to which we see no end,” said Auxiliary Bishop Alfonso Miranda Guardiola of Monterrey, secretary general of the Mexican Bishops' Conference in a June 13 statement.

On behalf of the Mexican bishops, he lamented the atmosphere of violence and fear, saying, “we are once again calling on the competent authorities to address this wave of insecurity which has been growing in our country.”

“To our faithful and society in general, we ask you to not be indifferent in face of the pain of others, and let us continue to build peace,” he added. “As a Church we pray and work incessantly for the reconstruction of the social fabric.”

In the past week, two university students have been killed in Mexico City, adding to the growing violence of recent months.

Official figures indicate that the first three months of 2019 were the most violent on record in Mexico. Of the 50 most dangerous cities in the world, 15 are located in Mexico, according to the Citizen Council on Public Safety and Criminal Justice.

The Catholic Multimedia Center, an organization that has been internationally recognized for its investigations into the violence against and murders of priests, lamented the continued bloodshed in the country.

“The cold statistics that swell the numbers of the fallen make us brutally face the reality that indicates to us that here it no longer matters who dies. That here it no longer matters why they die. That here it matters even less who the murderers are,” the center said in a recent post online.

The group criticized the Mexican authorities for their “ineptitude,” saying, “Thousands continue to die under the incompetent watch of those who swore to eradicate this pandemonium of grief and despair.”

If government officials are unable to restore peace in Mexico, they should resign, the Catholic Multimedia Center said.

“They should resign because they have allowed impunity to continue to feed hundreds of criminals who kill for a few coins, knowing that little will be done to capture them.”

The group pledged to “be the voice of the thousands who have fallen victim to this inhumane and irrational violence, to no longer ask but to demand the authorities stop the violence and the pain; that impunity and corruption be stopped, in short, that they get to work and if they can't, they should resign.”

Bishop Miranda voiced prayers for all those affected by the ongoing violence.

“May Our Lady of Guadalupe, our mother, shelter us under her mantle, protect us from the darkness, guide our steps on the path of peace and help us to recognize each other as brothers,” he said.
 


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Americas:    Quebecois bishops: prohibition on religious garb will 'fuel fear and intolerance'

Quebec City, Canada, Jun 18, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- The Canadian province of Quebec passed a law Sunday prohibiting future government employees “in positions of authority” from expressing their beliefs through religious symbols during office hours.

The law passed June 16, previously known as Bill 21, does not mention any religion in particular, and would include, for example, hijabs for Muslim women and crosses for Christians. It covers covers judges, police officers, teachers, and other public figures, the BBC reports.

“We believe that Bill 21, as it stands now, will fuel fear and intolerance, rather than contributing to social peace. We therefore call on members of the government and all Quebecers to promote important amendments to this project, in order to seek more to welcome than to exclude, to understand that to reject,” Quebec’s Catholic bishops wrote in a statement issued in French June 14.

Existing employees are exempt from the new legislation. Some critics of the law claimed it particularly targets Muslim women, but Jewish organizations have also spoken out against it.

Quebec has previously sought to assert the secularity of the state and ban religious symbols. The province issued a ban in 2017 on religious full-face coverings, but it is was suspended by a judge last June.

The bishops of Quebec expressed concern about the law, especially as it relates to teachers.

“The measures affecting teachers reveal a lack of knowledge about religious life in society, as well as its cultural connotation. This lack of knowledge seems to us fueled by prejudices and fear. Rather than defuse them, these measures exacerbate them.”

“On a daily basis, [religious] people build a better society through their benevolent acceptance of others, their active solidarity with excluded and poor people, their hope for the future and their concern for peace,” the bishops noted.

The bishops pointed out that the clothing and symbols of certain religious traditions are often misunderstood as being a “tool of propaganda,” and that the new law will only encourage “unjustified mistrust.” They also expressed worry that representatives of a secular state will now be the ones to determine what is and isn’t a “religious sign.”

“Certain traditions incite or force the faithful to put on particular clothes or symbols, generally as a sign of humility. This phenomenon seems to be misunderstood, especially when we automatically consider any religious sign worn by a person as a tool of propaganda whose function is to convert those who see it,” the bishops wrote.

“Mistrust inspired by certain dress practices related to a particular religious identity may be exacerbated by the discretion of some other religious groups to use explicit signs. For example, Christianity, which remains the declared religious affiliation of the vast majority of the population in Quebec, does not require its faithful to wear specific clothing or symbols.”

The Archdiocese of Montreal had issued a statement in April saying that the crucifix represents the Christian roots of the country and does not need to be removed in a religiously pluralistic society.

“As a sign revered by Christians, the crucifix remains a living symbol. It symbolizes openness and respect toward all peoples, including toward other faith communities and religious traditions, which rightfully adhere to their own signs and symbols,” said Archbishop Christian Lépine.

Europe, too, has also seen debate over religious symbols in recent years. In 2017, the Court of Justice of the European Union upheld a ban on religious symbols in the work place. The court ruled that it is not directly discriminatory for a workplace to ban “any political, philosophical or religious sign” if the ban is based on internal company rules requiring neutral dress.

A ban on teachers wearing religious headscarves was ruled unconstitutional in a German court in 2015. In Austria and the German state of Bavaria, full-face veils are banned in public. France banned religious symbols and veils in schools in 2004.

In 2013, four Christian British Airways employees won a legal case in the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled their employer engaged in illegal discrimination for telling them they could not wear their crosses.


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Europe:    Church in Scotland urged to update sex abuse reporting and prevention protocols

Glasgow, Scotland, Jun 18, 2019 / 04:11 pm (CNA).- A Scottish Catholic organization set up to prevent, report and audit allegations of sexual abuse within the Church can do even more to “rebuild trust” following the sex abuse scandals, an independent review board has found.

The review, conducted by the Independent Review Group (IRG), was a follow-up to a major review undergone by the Church in Scotland in 2014 and 2015, led by Andrew McLellan. That review concluded with the publication of the “McLellan report”, which included a set of recommendations on how to make the Church "a safe place for all,” according to the BBC.

The recently-conducted review by the IRG examined how well the Church had implemented the recommendations of the McLellan report, and where there was still room for improvement.

Baroness Helen Liddell, who headed the IRG review, said that the Church had made "a good start” in addressing and safeguarding against sex abuse, but that more could be done, the BBC reported.

The group recommended that the Church review and strengthen its current safe environment service, the Scottish Catholic Safeguarding Service (SCSS), as well as provide more accessible, robust support for survivors of abuse.  

The SCSS provides training to diocesan and religious leaders on sex abuse prevention standards in accordance with the bishop’s standards as well as national standards, and facilitates an annual audit of compliancy with national sex abuse prevention standards, according to their website.

The site also contains several downloadable resources, information on upcoming training sessions, and an audit from the bishops of Scotland on abuse allegations that occurred between 1943 to 2005. The IRG recommended the SCSS become more independently sourced, and that any audits conducted by the group be independently reviewed, according to The Press and Journal.

It also recommended that each of the eight dioceses in Scotland have a clear plan and public statement on what resources and support are available for survivors of abuse, as well as an independent person to which survivors can be referred for support and counsel. The IRG also recommended including survivors in groups that make decisions about sex abuse reporting and prevention.

The IRG statement from the review noted that the bishops need to be open to learning from the information that is gathered in abuse audits if they are to move forward in making the Church a safer place for children and vulnerable groups.

“Improvement in policy and openness to learning from the audit process will start to shift culture,” the group stated.

“Commitment to create a dedicated, independent safeguarding service which supports the development needs of the eight dioceses; drives consistency; is empowered to independently investigate concerns or complaints and can act without bias in all its affairs is critical to rebuilding trust with congregations and the general public,” the IRG added.

Liddell said that the problem of sexual abuse in the Church will only be solved through a “change in culture” and with the “vigour” necessary to implement this change.

“There needs to be a change in culture, in capacity, in capability and that needs training, learning, reflection, the utmost transparency, and it needs leadership,” she said, according to The Press and Journal.

“We have found a willingness to adopt that change, but true progress can only come about as a result of deep analysis of strengths and weaknesses,” she added.

Bishop Joseph Toal, who leads the SCSS, said he was grateful for the IRG’s work and that he would give it “serious consideration,” The Press and Journal reported.

“We are determined to apply what we learn, both from the steps we have already taken and from the IRG’s report, and to ensure that the highest standards of safeguarding practice are met throughout the Church in Scotland.”

 


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US:    US Supreme Court will soon decide 'Peace Cross' First Amendment case

Washington D.C., Jun 18, 2019 / 04:10 pm (CNA).- Before the month is out, the US Supreme Court is expected to issue its decision in an establishment clause case with the potential to create a new standard for dealing with problems related to religious liberty, religious symbols, and the relationship between religion and public life.

The case, The American Legion v. American Humanist Association, hinges on the legality of the Bladensburg Peace Cross--a 40-foot stone cross that was erected in 1925 in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

The cross honors those from the area who were killed in World War I. The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission has performed regular maintenance around the monument since 1961, as it is located on a median in the middle of a public road. This, the American Humanist Association has argued, is entangling government unnecessarily with religion.

Joe Davis, legal counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told CNA that things appeared to be positive during oral arguments, and that “at least five” of the justices indicated that they felt as though the cross monument was legal. Oral arguments do not, however, always reflect what the justices decide months later.

If the Supreme Court does indeed rule in favor of keeping the peace cross, it is increasingly likely that they would have to use a new sort of legal test to justify how the cross is constitutional. Since 1971, the Supreme Court has used the “Lemon test” to decide these cases, something Davis described as “wildly inconsistent.” The application of the Lemon test has led to some religious symbols being found constitutional, and others not.

“(The Lemon test) has been heavily criticized over the decades," explained Davis.

It is a threefold standard, which examines if the action in question has a secular purpose, a primarily religious or secular effect, and if the action “entangles the government with religion” excessively.

The “test” was established in the Court's 1971 decision in Lemon v. Kurtzman, which struck down a Pennsylvania law allowing the reimbursement of private school teacher's salaries from public funds.

In The American Legion v. American Humanist Association, those arguing in favor of the Peace Cross proposed alternative tests for the court to consider instead of Lemon.

"The parties defending the cross argued that (the Lemon test) should be replaced by a coercion test, when you ask if the government action is coercing some religious exercise,” said Davis. “And if it's not, it's not an establishment clause violation."

The governmental party defending the Peace Cross put forward an “independent, secular meaning test,” said Davis, which would be similar to parts of the Lemon test.

The Becket lawyers argued what Davis termed a “historical approach,” which would put the action in the context of what the founders of the United States intended when they created the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

“The idea would be, you take the government action and you say ‘Does this look like what establishment of religion looks like at the founding? Is this the kind of thing that the founders were concerned about when they ratified the establishment clause?’” said Davis.

This historical approach would work, said Davis, “because you can just compare whatever the current case is about to the historical data, and see whether it matches up.”

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case in February. The court’s term ends at the end of the month, meaning that the decision will be released shortly.


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Middle East - Africa:    Eritrean Catholic Church denounces government seizure of health clinics

Asmara, Eritrea, Jun 18, 2019 / 02:26 pm (CNA).- The Eritrean Catholic Church has criticized the government of the one-party state for seizing and closing its 22 health clinics throughout the country last week.

“The government can say it doesn't want the services of the Church, but asking for the property is not right,” read a letter from the Church to the Eritrean health ministry, the BBC reported June 17.

The Church added that its social services cannot be characterized as opposition to the government.

In seizing the clinics, patients were told to return to their homes, and military are guarding the buildings.

Of the 22 Catholic clinics in Eritrea, eight are in the Eritrean Eparchy of Keren alone, where they serve an estimated 40,000 patients annually.

According to the BBC, analysts believe the seizures were retaliatory, after the Church in April called for reforms to reduce emigration. The bishops had also called for national reconciliation.

Government seizure of Church property is not new, however.

A 1995 decree restricting social and welfare projects to the state has been used intermittently since then to seize or close ecclesial services.

In July 2018, an Eritrean Catholic priest helping immigrants and refugees in Italy told EWTN that authorities had recently shut down eight free Catholic-run medical clinics. He said authorities claimed the clinics were unnecessary because of the presence of state clinics.

Christian and Muslim schools have also been closed under the 1995 decree, according to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom's 2019 annual report.

Eritrea's human rights record has frequently been deplored, and the nation has been designated a Country of Particular Concern for its religious freedom abuses by the US Department of State since 2004.

Many Eritreans, especially youth, emigrate, due to a military conscription, and a lack of opportunities, freedom, education, and health care.

A July 2018 peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which ended a conflict over their mutual border, led to an open border which has allowed for easier emigration.


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