Browsing News Entries

Appeals court protects Texas bishops' communications in abortion case

Austin, Texas, Aug 17, 2018 / 10:30 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The privacy and religious freedom of Texas bishops and other religious groups was upheld by the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, after the bishops’ internal communications were subpoenaed by an abortion group.

In the 2016 case Whole Woman’s Health v. Smith, an abortion group sued the state of Texas, challenging a law that would require abortion facilities to bury or cremate aborted fetal remains.

As of now, remains can be disposed of through incineration or disinfection and then discharged into a landfill, disposed of into sewer systems, or any other “approved alternate treatment process, provided that the process renders the item as unrecognizable, followed by deposition in a sanitary landfill.”  

The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops (TCCB) voiced their support for the state of Texas and offered free burials for the remains of aborted babies. Whole Woman’s Health responded by subpoenaing the bishops - although they had not been named in the lawsuit - and demanded access to all internal communications regarding abortion, including any theological and doctrinal debates on the issue.

The bishops released more than 4,000 pages of abortion-related communications with outside individuals, but did not turn over private, internal communications between bishops on the matter, and appealed for emergency protection of these communications.  

In June, a three-judge panel of a federal appeals court protected the bishops’ emails and communications, after which Woman’s Health appealed for a full court hearing.

The bishops’ right to protect their internal communications from government interference or opposition groups was again upheld by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans yesterday.  

“It turns out that suing the Good Samaritan was a bad idea,” Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said in a statement. Becket has represented the bishops in court.

“The Church should not have been dragged into this lawsuit solely because it offered free burials for babies. We’re glad the full Fifth Circuit recognized that.”

A final decision on the original lawsuit will come from Federal District Judge David Ezra at a yet unspecified date.

New allegations surface regarding Archbishop McCarrick and Newark priests

Newark, N.J., Aug 17, 2018 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Recent allegations against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick include reports that he made sexual advances toward seminarians during his tenure as Bishop of Metuchen and Archbishop of Newark.

CNA recently spoke to six priests of the Archdiocese of Newark, and one priest member of a religious order who was a seminarian in New York in the early 1970s, while McCarrick was a priest of the Archdiocese of New York.

Citing archdiocesan policy and concerns about ecclesiastical repercussions for their candor, the priests agreed to speak to CNA only under the condition of anonymity. The priests spoke individually to CNA, and their accounts were compared for confirmation.  

The religious priest who spoke to CNA said when he studied in a seminary in New York, McCarrick, who was then an aide to Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York, would sometimes visit the seminary. The priest said that McCarrick’s reputation was already well established by this time.  

“The dean of our theology school was a classmate at CUA with McCarrick, and he knew about the rumors,” the priest told CNA, “he spoke about them with the other faculty and theologians very openly.”  

So well-known was McCarrick’s reputation, the priest said, that when McCarrick would accompany Cooke to visit the seminary there was a standing joke that they had to "hide the handsome ones" before he arrived.  

The same reputation reportedly followed the archbishop years later, when he served from 1986-2000 as Archbishop of Newark. One priest of the Archdiocese of Newark told CNA it was an uncomfortable experience when McCarrick came to visit the seminary.  

The priest said that McCarrick would often place his hand on seminarians while talking with them, or on their thighs while seated near them.  

“It was really unnerving. On the one hand you knew – knew – what was going on but you couldn’t believe it.”  

Several other priests from Newark spoke to CNA about similar experiences.

One priest worked in close proximity to the archbishop in the archdiocesan chancery for a number of years. “There were the ‘nephews,’ for sure,” he said. “He had a type: tall, slim, intelligent  - but no smokers.”  

The priest told CNA that, in addition to trips to a house on the shore, McCarrick would invite young men to stay the night in the cathedral rectory in central Newark.  

“Priests would tell me ‘he’s sleeping with them’ all the time, but I couldn’t believe it – they seemed like perfectly normal guys,” the priest said.  

Another priest, a former priest secretary to McCarrick, told CNA that McCarrick frequently ordained classes of priests among the largest in the country, and that the archbishop prided himself on recruiting young men from the diocese to enter the seminary.

But many in the archdiocese say that the high numbers of ordinations came at a cost. One priest said that some graduating classes from the middle 1990s have seen nearly half of their members leave ministry, and concerns have been raised about the behavior of some of those who remain in ministry.  

Fr. Desmond Rossi was a seminarian in Newark in the late 1980s. He has publicly alleged that, in 1988, two transitional deacons sexually abused him.

According to Rossi, he told archdiocesan authorities about the assault and went before a review board. He said that his story was “found credible, but nothing happened.” Instead, he claims the archdiocese turned against him for bringing the allegation forward.

“They tried to turn it on me," Rossi said.  

Rossi eventually left the archdiocese and now serves as a priest in the Diocese of Albany. In 2004, the Archdiocese of Newark agreed to an out-of-court settlement of approximately $35,000 with Rossi in response to his accusations. At least one of the alleged abusers is still in active ministry in the Archdiocese of Newark, Rossi said.  

Rossi’s allegations have resurfaced in the wake of the current scandals and on August 2, Cardinal Joseph Tobin, current Archbishop of Newark, announced that he would reexamine the matter, and that he had referred it to his Office for Canonical Affairs.  

While the Archdiocese of Newark declined to confirm the name of the accused priest remaining in active ministry, several priests in the archdiocese identified him as Fr. James Weiner, and told CNA that he has a reputation among the clergy, dating back to his time in the seminary, for active homosexuality.  

In recent years, several priests said, Weiner is known for hosting cocktail parties in his rectory, which other homosexual priests of the archdiocese are known to attend.

Three Newark priests independently gave CNA nearly identical accounts of being invited to these parties when they were newly ordained.  

One recalled that he attended a cocktail party, thinking he had been invited to a simple priests’ dinner. “I was led into the room to a chorus of wolf-whistles,” he said. “It was clear right away I was ‘on display.’”

Another priest told CNA that he was also invited to a party hosted by the priest. “They were all carrying big mixed drinks, pink ones, it was like something out of Sex in City.”

He recalled that after asking for a beer, he was told by his host, “you need to try something more girly tonight.”  

All recounted overtly sexual conversation at the cocktail parties.   “I was fresh meat and they were trying me out,” one priest said.

All three said they left quickly upon realizing what was going on. “Everyone was getting loaded and getting closer on the couches, I wanted out of there,” a priest told CNA.  

“Everyone kept calling me a ‘looker’ and saying they had to ‘keep me around’ from now on,” a third Newark priest told CNA.

The archdiocese declined to answer questions related to those parties.

All three priests told CNA that while the experience was deeply unpleasant, they had seen similar behavior in Newark’s seminary.

Seminarians and priests from ordination classes spanning 30 years, during the terms of McCarrick and Myers, reported to CNA that they had observed an active homosexual subculture of priest and seminarians within Newark’s Immaculate Conception Seminary.  

One priest ordained in the early years of McCarrick’s term in Newark said that “a lot of people lost their innocence in the seminary.”

He told CNA that there were two distinct groups of students. “You had the men who were there because they had a deep love of the Lord and a vocation to serve his Church,” he said, adding that those men were the majority of seminarians.

“But there was a subculture, with its own group of men, that was openly homosexual and petty and vindictive with everyone else,” he explained.  

The same priest said that before he entered the seminary he was warned he would “see things that weren’t right.” He said he was counseled by an older priest to “just remember who you are and why you are there.”  

Several Newark priests told CNA that the same atmosphere existed under Archbishop John Myers, who led the archdiocese from 2001-2016.

One priest who studied during that period recalled being told, as a newly arrived seminarian, to lock his bedroom door at night to avoid “visitors.”

“I thought they were kidding – they really weren’t,” he said.  

Another priest told CNA that, as a senior seminarian and transitional deacon, young seminarians would come to him in tears.

“They were just so scandalized by what they saw, these upperclassmen flagrantly carrying on with each other in gay relationships.”  

A third priest says that these seminarians were frequently visited by other priests of the diocese, some of whom he later saw at the rectory cocktail parties.

“There was definitely a group of, well I guess we’re calling them ‘uncles’ now. They would come by to visit with the effeminate crowd, bring them stuff and take them out,” he said.  

One priest told CNA that, in his judgment, many of Newark’s priests felt resigned to that culture, even after McCarrick left.

“It is so horrible, so repulsive, no one wants to look straight at it,” one priest said. “You don’t want to see it and at the same time you can’t miss it.”

Another told CNA that among diocesan authorities “there is a huge culture of toleration.”

“It is generational at this point. In seminary you’re told to mind your own business, keep your head down and not start trouble - they are over there doing whatever and you leave them to it. And then you’re ordained and it is the same story - you don’t win prizes for picking fights.”

Nevertheless, some cases still have the power to shock.

One Newark priest told CNA that he had direct knowledge that Fr. Mark O’Malley was in 2014 removed as rector of St. Andrew’s Hall, the archdiocesan college seminary, after an allegation that he hid a camera in the bedroom of a young priest at the seminary. Two additional Newark priests independently reported to CNA they had been informed in 2014 that O’Malley had been removed for that reason.

Additional sources close to the archdiocese confirmed that they had heard this allegation, with one characterizing it as a kind of open secret among Newark’s priests.

The Archdiocese of Newark announced in 2014 that O’Malley was seeking a ”medical leave of absence.” He has since returned to ministry, albeit not in a parish setting.

The archdiocese declined to comment on that allegation.

All three priests who relayed the story said incidents like that embittered them.

“It isn’t that a guy did a bad thing - that happens. It’s that it’s just not acknowledged. Everybody talks about it, everybody knows, but nobody looks right at it,” one of the priests said.

All six Newark priests CNA spoke to expressed hope that the sexual abuse scandals now embroiling the Church will lead to change. Several stressed that reforms of the seminary had already begun by the end of Myers’ term in office, and that a recent succession of diocesan vocations directors had imposed newly rigorous standards on prospective seminary candidates.  

“When I was sent for graduate studies I heard the jokes from guys from other dioceses - ‘what the world disdains, Newark ordains’ they’d say. Those days are over and that’s a real comfort to me,” one priest said.

As for the problems with priests already in ministry, the priests agreed it was demoralizing, for priests and lay Catholics alike.

One said that priests living unfaithful lives are a scandal playing out “with the mute button on.”

“Our people aren’t stupid. They know who their pastors are, for good and bad. They know who drinks too much, they know if their priest is celibate or not. But they see nothing is done about it and they understand that the Church doesn’t mean what it says, or even care.”

Another told CNA, “nobody is fooled by the medical leave thing anymore. I’m terrified I might actually get sick, my parishioners would probably think I’d done something terrible.”

One priest said that expectations of change were raised during the brief tenure of Archbishop Bernard Hebda, appointed in 2013 to be Myers’ coadjutor archbishop, his successor-in-waiting.

Hebda chose to live in a dormitory at Seton Hall University and was a frequent sight around the archdiocesan seminaries. He was also reported to make unannounced visits to parishes, suddenly knocking at the back doors of rectories or sliding in to a back pew at Sunday Mass.

In 2015, before Hebda could become Newark’s archbishop, he was asked to serve as apostolic administrator of Minneapolis- St. Paul, in the wake of Archbishop John Nienstedt’s resignation. Hebda was appointed Nienstedt’s permanent replacement in 2016.

“He wasn’t kidding around. You could tell he wanted to know everything, who was who and what was what - and who was into what,” one pastor who received a surprise visit from Hebda told CNA.

Newark priests told CNA that they are still waiting to see what changes Cardinal Joseph Tobin, who became Archbishop of Newark in 2017, will bring to the archdiocese. Sources in the Newark chancery describe the cardinal as reserved, eager to listen to suggestions and proposals, but unwilling to be drawn into making decisions quickly.

Meanwhile, in parishes the priests of Newark wait to see, wondering if the current crises might bring about change.

“You hope that at some point the cardinal will act, that there will be nothing left to lose by acting, but we will see.”

Update:

On Aug. 17, after the publication of this story, a representative of the Archdiocese of Newark provided this statement to Catholic News Agency:

“The priest who had worked at St. Andrew’s College was going through a personal crisis and received therapy after the incident at the seminary. Although he is not serving as a pastor, he has been deemed fit for priestly ministry and hopes to serve as a hospital chaplain.

“No one – including the anonymous ‘sources’ cited in the article – has ever spoken to Cardinal Tobin about a “gay sub-culture” in the Archdiocese of Newark.”

               

 

Does the Pa. grand jury report mean changes for statutes of limitations?

Pittsburgh, Pa., Aug 17, 2018 / 03:23 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Following a major grand jury report on past sexual abuse in six Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania, discussions continue over whether and how to change the state’s legal limits on prosecution and civil lawsuits for sex abuse.

“We are devastated and outraged by the revelations of terrible sexual abuse crimes committed in the Catholic Church,” Amy B. Hill, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, told CNA Aug. 16.

“The time to discuss legislation will come later,” she said. “Our focus now is on improving ways that survivors and their families can recover as they continue through a difficult healing process.”

The report, released Aug. 14, claims to have identified more than 1,000 victims of 300 credibly accused priests from 1947 to 2017 across six Pennsylvania dioceses. It presents a devastating portrait of efforts by Church authorities to ignore, obscure, or cover up allegations--either to protect accused priests or to spare the Church scandal.

Approximately two-thirds of the accused priests have died. The youngest offender named in the report was born in the 1990s. Due to laws regarding the statute of limitations, nearly every abuse allegation cannot be criminally prosecuted, although two indictments have been filed. One priest named in the report has been convicted of sexually assaulting a student in the early 1990s.

The grand jury report recommended creating a retroactive two-year legal window allowing victims of child sex abuse to sue even if the statute of limitations has expired.

The Pennsylvania legislature’s S.B. 261 would eliminate the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution of child sex crimes. It would raise the age limit of underage victims seeking to file civil lawsuits from age 30 to age 50. The bill passed by a 48-0 vote in February 2017 and the House of Representatives could consider it during its next session, which begins in September.

State Reps. Aaron Bernstine and Chris Sainato are among the backers of the bill.

Bernstine said the incidents reported by the grand jury are “beyond troubling.”

“The greatest concern that I have is that our most vulnerable citizens of Pennsylvania and across the country remain safe,” he said, according to the Lawrence County news site New Castle News. “There is no place in our society for those who harm children.”

The legislation would provide additional tools to law enforcement “to hold criminals responsible for their actions,” he said.

Bernstine said he had been working closely with the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the state’s Catholic bishops “to implement policies that ensure this never happens again.”

“I am thankful for the steps that they have taken, and encourage them to take additional action to ensure that the aggressors within their organization are held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.

Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh, in Aug. 14 remarks responding to the release of the grand jury report, backed changes to the statutes of limitations laws.

“Absolutely we would support the elimination of the criminal statute of limitations,” he said, according to New Castle News. “That is an important piece that should move forward with legislators. We support any sort of penalties for people who fail to report child abuse to public authorities.”

In states considering such bills, the local Catholic conference and other groups often voice concerns about whether abuse victims would have the equal ability to sue public institutions, which are often protected under a legal concept known as sovereign immunity, and whether a legal window for retroactive lawsuits will be allowed.

Others have argued that statutes of limitations are important, because claims from long ago cannot be investigated in-depth, or seriously defended against, meaning they are more likely to result in settlements, even when facts are limited.

In an April 7, 2017 message about a potential amendments to S.B. 261, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference said some amendments to the bill help “further equalize the opportunities for survivors of sexual abuse in public institutions to access recovery of damages through the civil courts.”

It voiced concern about any amendment to allow retroactive changes to the statute of limitations.

“This proposal would, in effect, force the people who make up an organization like the Catholic Church today defend themselves against a crime that was committed in their parish, school, or charitable program years ago,” the Catholic Conference said in 2017. “Last year, the Senate held hearings and determined that changing the law retroactively would be unconstitutional in Pennsylvania.”

“Regardless, it is definitely unfair to individual Catholics today whose parishes and schools would be the targets of decades-old lawsuits.”

Pennsylvania State Rep. Mark Rozzi, 47, is backing an amendment that would also allow a two-year window for past alleged victims of sex abuse to file civil lawsuits.

The legislator says he was raped by a priest at age 13. The priest, Rev. Edward Graff, is alleged to have raped “scores of children,” the grand jury report says. The priest died in 2002 in a Texas jail while awaiting trial on charges he sexually abused a boy.

Rozzi told CNN that allowing the retroactive window “is the only avenue for these victims who are in the grand jury report” to get justice.

In 2002, the Pennsylvania legislature voted to raise the age limit for reporting criminal sex abuse charges from 23 to 30, then raised it to age 50 in 2007.

Fourteen states are considering bills about statutes of limitations on sex abuse. About 41 states have eliminated statutes of limitations for criminal prosecution of sex abuse, Reuters reports.

Since July 2013, costs related to sex abuse cases have cost the Catholic Church in the U.S. nearly $600 million, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ May report said. A U.S. bishops’ conference report in 2012 said that reporting dioceses and eparchies had paid $2.1 billion in abuse-related costs since 2004.

Hill said the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference encourages anyone who has been abused to “report the abuse and seek help immediately by calling the toll-free Pennsylvania ChildLine number at 800-932-0313 or their local law enforcement.”

 

Beloved Texas priest asks for prayers after ALS diagnosis

Fort Worth, Texas, Aug 17, 2018 / 12:05 am (CNA).- Fr. Stephen Jasso said he knew something was wrong this past February, about two months after retiring as the pastor of All Saints Parish in Fort Worth, Texas.

On June 29, the 85-year-old Franciscan priest learned what exactly was wrong with him: he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. Jasso is now asking for prayers as he nears the end of his life.

“This has become a new challenge,” he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I am asking people to pray with me all the way until the end.”

ALS is a disease that progressively weakens the muscles throughout the body. Most people diagnosed with ALS die within three to five years of their diagnosis. Jasso said he had no idea what ALS even was before he was diagnosed.

Since February, Jasso has lost the use of his left arm and left side, and uses a wheelchair.

While Jasso does not currently celebrate Mass as he is unable to stand, he still hears confessions each day and meets with parishioners to provide spiritual counseling. He also assists with writing references to help recent immigrants with gaining permanent status for themselves or for family members. He said he hopes he will one day be able to celebrate Mass from his wheelchair.

Despite these physical challenges, Jasso has remained steadfast in his faith and in his dedication for the Fort Worth community, telling a reporter that his “love for God and for people is stronger than ever.”

“I’m carrying the cross because I feel — this illness — for some reason, God has permitted it,” he told the Star-Telegram. He has embraced the suffering that comes with his disease, saying that he will “carry it as the Lord carried his cross for me.”

Beloved in his community, parishioners described Jasso to the North Texas Catholic at the time of his retirement as “always present” and “always on call.”

“He’s been an outstanding priest and pastor. He’s helped a lot of people,” one usher for All Saints said. “He’s been a good friend to my family and many others.”

There has been an outpouring of support from the community since the news of his diagnosis. Mayor Betsy Price proclaimed August 7 as “Father Jasso Day” by the City of Fort Worth. Faith leaders from varying religions and denominations were present at a ceremony. In a Facebook post, Price said that the city was “truly blessed to have a servant leader” like Jasso.

Jasso made a name for himself shortly after his arrival in Fort Worth in 1985. At the time, the city was a hotbed of teenage gang violence. Jasso was quick to integrate himself with young people in his parish, and worked alongside the mayor, police chief, and school superintendent to promote peace and education.

Throughout his priesthood, Jasso would continue to place a key emphasis on education.

“Leadership is not just something that happens. It's something you get ready for,” he told NBC’s local Dallas-Fort Worth affiliate last year.

In 2013, Jasso received the University of Notre Dame Sorin Award for Service to Catholic Schools.

Also an outspoken advocates for immigrants, he met with then-President George W. Bush in 2002 as part of a Hispanic Leadership Summit.

Jasso, one of 15 children, has been a priest for 53 years. Prior to Fort Worth, he was a priest in Peru and Mexico City. He survived the deadly Mexico earthquakes of both 1985 and 2017, telling the North Texas Catholic that despite the existence of natural disasters, “God has not created the world to destroy it, but to bring it to a state of perfection.”

Cardinal Burke: We face a grave crisis, touching the heart of the Church

Washington D.C., Aug 16, 2018 / 06:31 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Raymond Burke said Thursday that the Catholic Church is facing “a very grave crisis” due to the “grievous failure” on the part of certain bishops and that “a serious loss of confidence in our shepherds” needs to be restored after sexual abuse scandals in the United States.

“We are in the face of a very grave crisis, which is touching at the very heart of the Church because Our Lord acts on behalf of the flock through those shepherds who are ordained to act in His person, teaching, celebrating the sacraments, and governing the Church,” said Burke in an interview on Raymond Arroyo’s “World Over” Aug. 16.

Cardinal Burke, 70, is prefect emeritus of the Apostolic Signatura. He recently returned to Rome from an almost month-long visit to the United States, said that he had “never heard so much anger, so much disappointment, so much frustration from good, Catholic faithful” than during this visit to the U.S.

“We are dealing here with the gravest of sins … We have to focus our attention on that, and do what is just with regard to all parties involved.”

“For the bishop who has failed grievously in this area, the Church’s penal remedies are expiatory remedies for his good also. They address principally the good of the flock because a bishop is a bishop for the care of the flock.”

“For the bishop to prey upon the flock, committing mortal sins, this is simply unacceptable and it has to stop,” said Burke.

The only way this trust will be restored “is to get to the bottom of this whole matter and make sure for the future that this does not happen,” and this falls under the responsibility of the Holy Father, said Burke.

It is the pope’s responsibility to receive accusations against a bishop and investigate them, he stressed. “This is not a part of the responsibility of the conference of bishops,” he said, referring to the U.S. bishops’ Aug. 16 statement on investigation and reporting procedures for bishops’ misconduct.

“As far as developing new procedures, the procedures have been in the law of the Church for centuries. They simply, especially in recent times, have not been known and have not been followed,” he continued.

“The Catholic Church in the United States is undergoing possibly one of the worst crises that it has ever experienced,” said Burke. “It has to be recognized and it has to be dealt with in a thorough manner that is faithful to the Church’s moral law, to the Church herself, and to the office of the bishops.”

Burke said that the Pennsylvania grand jury investigation needs to be studied very carefully. “It is simply a matter that needs to be approached with reason and with truth. Where we discover that the appropriate action has not been taken, then that bishop has to be corrected. If the bishop had failed very grievously, then he would simply have to be removed.”


“What we are seeing right now in the Church, to the grave harm of so many souls and really also to the scandal of the world in general, is that the Church, which should be a beacon of light, is involved in such a crisis.”

“I think we have to recognize … an apostasy from the faith. I believe that there has been a practical apostasy from the faith with regards to all of the questions involving human sexuality; principally, it starts with the idea that there can be legitimate sexual activity outside of marriage, which of course is false, completely false.”

“I do believe in this present time, not only with regard to this crisis which we are speaking, but with regard to a number of other situations in the Church that the devil is very active,” said Cardinal Burke.

He emphasized that “we have to conduct all of the reasonable activity to get to the truth of the matters and try to restore justice in the Church, but at the same time all of us need to pray ever more fervently for the Church and to fast and undertake other sacrifices for the good of the Church. We really need to have some serious acts of reparation for the suffering that has been inflicted upon members of the faithful, upon the flock of our Lord, and that is our responsibility.”

“I can only urge everyone to draw closer to Our Lord who leads us and guides us. He will never abandon us.”

Caritas India offers assistance to victims of monsoon floods in Kerala

Thiruvananthapuram, India, Aug 16, 2018 / 04:24 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After at least 73 people were killed in floods caused by monsoon rains in India's Kerala state, Caritas India and local Catholic groups are assisting victims of the torrent with relief materials.

More than 85,000 people in the southern Indian state have been displaced by the flooding since Aug. 9, which has also caused landslides.

“The Catholic Church is already out in the field through … Caritas India,” read an Aug. 15 statement from the Indian bishops' conference.

“Our local Bishops, Clergy, Religious Sisters and lay volunteers are also involved in relief and succour operations. In different dioceses, Church authorities have opened church schools and other institutions to the displaced people, and are distributing food, clothes and other relief materials. Many parishes, schools and other Church institutions have become the centres of aid and assistance to people in need.”

Caritas India is also providing blankets, mosquito nets, and hygiene kits. It has set up health camps to treat those affected and to prevent the outbreak of disease.

The Indian bishops stated, “We share the anguish of the people affected by this huge natural disaster and we wish to express our closeness to them.”

They expressed appreciation for the quick and efficient relief work undertaken by the local and State Government authorities. We also appreciate the strong and immediate support being provided by the Union government in the relief operations.”

“The solidarity manifested and the help being provided cutting across political divides and religious or class belongingness is exemplary … The Catholic Church condoles the death of our brothers and sisters who were caught unaware as nature’s fury took hold of large parts of Kerala. We express our solidarity with the injured and the suffering.”

The bishops also indicated their “ardent desire to work with the Government and all like-minded agencies to provide relief and help in all possible ways to the suffering people.”

They then stated that after the flood waters have resided, “it would be desirable to analyse the causes of the floods, and take urgent steps to preserve our environment and prevent further ecological damage to our Common Home, Mother Earth, destruction often brought about by our human actions.”

“We pray for all those affected and also for all who are actively or through contributions helping the people in dire distress.”

'Shame and sorrow' – Holy See responds to Pennsylvania report

Vatican City, Aug 16, 2018 / 02:33 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Holy See on Thursday denounced sexual abuse and called for accountability for both perpetrators and leaders who covered up their crimes, following the release of a report detailing alleged clerical abuse in Pennsylvania.

“The abuses described in the report are criminal and morally reprehensible,” said the statement, released Aug. 16.

“Those acts were betrayals of trust that robbed survivors of their dignity and their faith. The Church must learn hard lessons from its past, and there should be accountability for both abusers and those who permitted abuse to occur.”

The statement responded to a grand jury report in Pennsylvania that was released earlier this week following an 18-month investigation into alleged instances of abuse spanning several decades. The report detailed allegations against some 300 priests, from more than 1,000 victims, in the dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Scranton.

Pope Francis takes the subject of abuse seriously, the statement said, stressing that “The Holy See condemns unequivocally the sexual abuse of minors.”

“The Holy Father understands well how much these crimes can shake the faith and the spirit of believers and reiterates the call to make every effort to create a safe environment for minors and vulnerable adults in the Church and in all of society,” it said.

“Victims should know that the Pope is on their side. Those who have suffered are his priority, and the Church wants to listen to them to root out this tragic horror that destroys the lives of the innocent.”

The Holy See noted that most allegations mentioned in the report are from before the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, adopted by the US bishops in 2002 to prevent clerical abuse.

“By finding almost no cases after 2002, the Grand Jury’s conclusions are consistent with previous studies showing that Catholic Church reforms in the United States drastically reduced the incidence of clergy child abuse,” the Holy See said.

The statement encouraged “continued reform and vigilance at all levels of the Catholic Church, to help ensure the protection of minors and vulnerable adults from harm.” It also emphasized the importance of adhering to civil law, including abuse reporting requirements.

 

Irish bishop: Papal visit a chance to recognize sin, work to repair the Church

Limerick, Ireland, Aug 16, 2018 / 01:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Pope’s visit to Ireland is a time for the Church to reflect on her past failings and consider how to repair the Church for future generations, an Irish bishop has said.

Pope Francis will visit Ireland Aug. 25-26 as part of the World Meeting of Families, an international gathering of Catholic families that takes place about every three years. The last World Meeting of Families was held in Philadelphia in 2015.

In his homily for the feast of the Assumption, Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick said that the Pope’s visit is a chance for the Church to acknowledge “the dark aspects of our Church’s history that have come to light especially in recent decades.”

He then named several of the Church’s past failings and sins, including “a clericalism that ended up confusing power and ministry, the sexual abuse of minors by clergy and religious that did untold life-long damage to victims, the violent and repressive treatment by church representatives of young people sent to the State’s reformatory institutions, the dark experience of vulnerable women in places meant to be residences of refuge,” according to the Irish Times.

“Sadly, as has been highlighted, cover-up, willful or otherwise, and mismanagement compounded the damage, adding to our shame,” he noted Aug. 15.

The bishop celebrated the feast day Mass at Mass Rock in Kileedy, a symbolic gesture, he said, because the Catholic Church must be brought out into the open. Mass rocks are stones, sometimes pieces of old churches, in isolated outdoor locations throughout Ireland where Catholics would secretly celebrate Mass during the 17th century, a time of Catholic persecution.

There are many good things and good people to acknowledge and be grateful for in the Church, Leahy noted, but gratitude for the good “can never eclipse recognition of sin, criminality and evil. In some way, everyone in the church bears the shame of these darks aspects of our history. Few of us can throw stones as if we ourselves were not somehow associated.”

This year, the World Meeting of Families lands just after widespread revelations of scandal and clerical sex abuse in the Church in the United States, including accusations of sexual abuse and misconduct against former-cardinal Theodore McCarrick, as well as the release of a report detailing abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses which included more than 300 priests and 1,000 victims.

The Catholic Church in Ireland was rocked by its own sex abuse crisis, beginning in the 1990s and culminating in the release of several in-depth reports detailing decades of abuse and cover-up released in the late 2000s.

There has since been a significant drop in weekly Mass attendance as well as active priests in Ireland.  Current projections also predict that by 2030, there will only be 111 priests in the country, a decrease of about 70 percent. One report found that between 2008 and 2014, weekly Mass attendance in Dublin dropped by 3.7 per cent per year.

Bishop Leahy noted that while the Church in Ireland has since implemented many procedures and practices to prevent and report instances of abuse, it cannot grow complacent.

“As well as needing to pray for those who have been wounded we need to keep listening and to learn from them how to clarify and repair our church,” he said.

He also encouraged young people to be open to what the Church might have to offer them, and to voice their ideas about new ways to connect young people to the Church.

“Might this visit of Pope Francis be a moment when young people might look again at what the Church really has to offer? We need you because you are part of our access to what God is saying to the Church today. We need you to help us find the ways towards the future that God has marked out for us all.”

Muslim woman who declined handshake wins labor case in Sweden

Stockholm, Sweden, Aug 16, 2018 / 12:17 pm (CNA).- A labor court in Sweden has sided with a Muslim woman whose job interview was cut short when she refused a handshake for religious reasons.

The court, in a 3-2 vote, ordered the company to pay the woman 40,000 kronor – or $4,350 – on the grounds of discrimination against her, the BBC reports.

Farah Alhajeh was applying for a job with an interpreting company in Uppsala. During the interview, she would not shake her male interviewer’s hand. Instead, she placed her hand over her heart, later saying she was trying to avoid offending the interviewer.

The 24-year-old says her Muslim faith prohibits her from physical contact with members of the opposite sex, outside of her family.

The company argued that Alhejah’s refusal to shake hands could hamper her effectiveness as an interpreter. However, the court disagreed. According to The Local, Alhajeh was applying for a job doing video and phone interpretation, where she would not have to interact in-person with clients.

Company policy and anti-discrimination laws prohibit treating people differently because of sex, the employer said. It said it could not have staff members refusing a handshake because they are women. The company does allow staff members to decline handshakes due to germophobia and autism.

The Swedish labor court said the company could rightly demand equal treatment for men and women, but not by insisting upon a handshake. Doing so, it said, is discrimination against Muslims.

The court said that the European Convention on Human Rights protects the refusal to shake hands on religious grounds.

Sweden's discrimination ombudsman's office, which represented Alhajeh in the case, applauded the ruling, saying that it had balanced “the employer's interests, the individual's right to bodily integrity, and the importance of the state to maintain protection for religious freedom.”

“I believe in God, which is very rare in Sweden... and I should be able to do that and be accepted as long as I'm not hurting anyone,” Alhajah told the BBC.

Handshakes, a traditional greeting in some parts of Europe, have been the center of other controversies in recent years as well.

In both France and Switzerland, Muslim individuals who refused to shake hands with opposite-sex officials had their citizenship processes suspended or denied.

Catholic institutions in CAR shelter displaced Muslims from threat of attack

Bangassou, Central African Republic, Aug 16, 2018 / 12:16 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In the Central African Republic's Diocese of Bangassou, several Catholic institutions have taken in displaced Muslims who face violence at the hand of Christian militias.

The CAR has suffered violence since December 2012, when several bands of mainly Muslim rebel groups formed an alliance, taking the name Seleka, and seized power.

In reaction to the Seleka's attacks, some Central Africans formed self-defense groups called anti-balaka. Some of these groups, mainly composed of Christians, began attacking Muslims out of revenge, and the conflict took on a sectarian character.

Anti-balaka killed more than 100 Muslims in Bangassou in May 2017 before United Nations peacekeepers intervened, and since then the city's Petit Seminaire Saint Louis has been home to about 1,600 displaced Muslims.

Another 2,000 Muslims have taken refuge at St. Peter Claver Cathedral in Bangassou.

While there is “a climate of mistrust” between the communities, “some activities paralysed because of this crisis have resumed,” Bishop Juan-Jose Aguirre Munoz of Bangassou told Al Jazeera.

“For example, the central market is open every day. All political, civil, military and religious leaders are working for the return of peace and social cohesion, living together and returning displaced people to their homes,” he said.

But in the violence of 2017, the homes and businesses of many Muslims in the city were destoyed, and their goods looted.

And if they leave the compounds, Muslims continue to face the threat of violence.

Fr. Yovane Cox, of the Bangassou diocese, said that “There are armed men here waiting for Muslims to emerge out of the camp so that they can kill them. We need to help them as soon as possible to avoid confrontation and bloodbath.”

At the parish in Zemio, about 180 miles east of Bangassou, hundreds more Muslims have taken refuge.

A priest in the town, Fr. Jean-Alain Zembi, said that “They call us traitors. They will kill you if they discover you are protecting Muslims.”

Bishop Aguirre has said his clerics have been attacked, and his own car has been damaged by Christians, for their providing shelter to Muslims.

Last month, a group calling itself the League of Defense of the Church issued a statement saying it would defend the Church and avenge killed priests, charging that both the government and the Church hierarchy have failed to protect Christians.

The country's bishops responded that “the projects that this league claims to achieve are at odds with the gospel, the aspirations of the church and its mission in the Central African Republic.”

The CAR held a general election in 2015-16 which installed a new government, but militant groups continue to terrorize local populations. Thousands of people have been killed in the violence, and at least a million have been displaced. At least half of Central Africans depend on humanitarian aid, the U.N. reports.

Pope Francis visited the CAR during his trip to Africa in 2015, and urged the country’s leaders to work for peace and reconciliation.

Three priests have keen killed in the CAR this year.