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President of Vatican's financial watchdog authority ends term

Vatican City, Nov 18, 2019 / 04:48 am (CNA).- The Vatican announced Monday that René Brüelhart, president of the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority (AIF) has ended a five-year term and Pope Francis has chosen his successor.

Brüelhart told Reuters Nov. 18, that he resigned from the position, which has no official term limits.

According to the statement from the Holy See press office Nov. 18, Brüelhart’s successor will be announced after the conclusion of Pope Francis’ trip to Thailand and Japan Nov. 20-26.

The delay in the nomination is “necessary for the respect of previous official commitments of the person concerned and the resolution of some internal procedures of the Holy See,” Holy See press office director, Matteo Bruni, said in a separate statement.

The AIF was established by Benedict XVI in 2010 to oversee suspicious financial transactions; it is charged with ensuring that Vatican banking policies comply with international financial standards.

Brüelhart, 47, is a Swiss lawyer. Pope Francis named him the first lay president of the board of directors of the AIF on Nov. 19, 2014. He had served as director of the AIF since 2012.

The person designated by Pope Francis to be the next president of AIF is “a figure of high professional profile and accredited competence at an international level,” the Vatican statement reports.

“In this way the continuity of the institutional action of the AIF is ensured in this moment of particular commitments at an internal and international level,” it continued.

The AIF works alongside other financial entities in the Vatican, including the Secretariat for the Economy and the Council for the Economy, both of which were established by Pope Francis as part of his ongoing reform of the Roman Curia.

The authority’s 2019 report, released May 21, stated that they continue to catch cases of fraud involving the Vatican City State’s financial institutions, including a case of money laundering.

The report showed that there were 56 Suspicious Activity Reports filed with the AIF in 2018, down from 150 in 2017. SARs filed over the last three years have led the AIF to investigate cases of money laundering and financial fraud within Vatican financial entities.

The AIF’s director, Tomasso Di Ruzza, was cleared of any wrongdoing and reinstated to his position Oct. 23, after he had been among five Vatican employees suspended after an Oct. 1 raid of offices within the Vatican’s Secretariat of State and AIF.

The Vatican’s Secretary of State is currently at the center of a financial scandal involving a Vatican bank, the U.S.-based Papal Foundation, and millions of euros from misallocated government grants.

 

This story was updated at 5:30am MST.

Alasdair MacIntyre: True friendships are rare, but possible

South Bend, Ind., Nov 17, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- For Aristotle, the definition of perfect friendship was so narrow that precious few could achieve it.

In order to have a perfect friendship between two people, Aristotle said that both must be models of goodness and virtue, willing the good of the other and loving each other for their own sake.

He also thought these levels of virtue and goodness could only be achieved by a narrow slice of the population: namely, the Greek male elite. Women, non-Greeks, productive workers, and slaves were, in Aristotle’s mind, unable to achieve the levels of virtue and goodness necessary for such friendships.

Such people could have other kinds of friendships, Aristotle said – friendships of utility or pleasure – but they could never have perfect friendship.

It was this view of friendship with which moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre took issue in his Nov. 8 address at the di Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture’s 20th annual conference, which this year had the theme of friendship.

“For (perfect) friendships, so Aristotle tells us, we have to be good in ways and to a degree that...if we’re honest, many of us know that we’re not,” MacIntyre said.

“Aristotle allows that...we can, without being good, participate in friendships of mutual utility or of shared pleasure, but even this should be depressing for many of us,” he added, “for what we need on the most important occasions when we need friendship...are friendships sustained by a good deal more than the possibility of mutual utility or of shared pleasure.”

MacIntyre pointed to other still unsatisfactory definitions of friendship, such as that from Dale Carnegie, who wrote the 1936 book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

But what Carnegie suggests will not help one have real friends, MacIntyre said, but will manufacture “a certain kind of superficial sociability, a sociability which no one of integrity could confuse with friendship.” Such friendships, he added, might be compared to someone who is a Facebook friend and nothing more.

Friedrich Nietzsche, on the other hand, concludes that “yes there are friends, but it’s error and deception regarding yourself that led them to you, and they must have learned how to keep silent in order to remain your friend.”

With these different definitions and ideas of friendship, what then does it mean to truly be a friend? While hoping to broaden the scope of friendship beyond that which is available to the Greek male elite, MacIntyre said there are still many types of relationships that, while friendly, are not true friendships.

Such relationships include, for example, those between coworkers, where a certain amount of friendliness is helpful in achieving common goals and completing tasks together, or relationships between parents and children, between siblings, or between members of groups such as rock climbers, people in a choir, or members of a surgical team, MacIntyre said.

Those in such relationships “only care for each other because they are collaborators in some particular role. They do not care for each other as she or he is in themselves, apart from whatever role they happen to be playing at any particular time. This alone is sufficient to distinguish such relationships from friendships,” he added.

With such relationships being so prolific in our lives, MacIntyre said some may be tempted to wonder what the use is of another kind of friendship after all.

In his response to this question, MacIntyre said that because human beings are dependent rational animals who need to be able to make good judgements about themselves and the world in order to flourish, a key element of true friendship then is the ability to tell one another the truth.

“Insofar as our minds are not so informed, we’re liable to go astray in a variety of ways, to be victims of ignorance, arrogance, deception and self-deception. We become unable to flourish and we become unable to recognize that we are unable to flourish. We make bad decisions, for we can hope to avoid bad decision making only by deliberating in the company of a certain kind of other,” he said.

This other - a true friend - must not only be a “perceptive inquirer” and “scrupulously truthful,” they must “care enough about us and about our flourishing as human agents to insist on us, too, being truthful, so with their help, we may become able to correct our mistakes and to free ourselves from our illusions.”

True friendships must also be uncalculating of the costs and benefits of the relationship, and must be relationships in which “each friend genuinely cares both for the other and for the good of the other and finds in this caring a sufficient reason for acting as she or he does,” MacIntyre added.

St. Thomas Aquinas, MacIntyre noted, was also able to “correct” some of Aristotle's deficiencies in his definition of friendship by recognizing that people possess various virtues in varying degrees, and that grace and charity can account for some of the ways baptized persons act that go beyond either their natural inclinations towards virtue or their moral education in the virtues, which allows for a broader understanding of friendship.

“So a more recognizable portrait of humanity emerges - and one sometimes wonders how many people Aristotle had actually met,” MacIntyre said.

This more recognizable view of humanity is “one in which moral education has become the work of a lifetime, and moral failure in this or that respect is a recurrent and characteristic feature of our lives. It matters, of course, that Aquinas writes as a Christian theologian and therefore is someone for whom their sinfulness is one of the key facts about human beings,” he added.

This more flexible view of humanity also allows that good friendships can be schools of virtue, rather than just something that occurs between two people who have already achieved perfect virtue, because these friendships are “a means to self-knowledge. Friendships survive and flourish...only if each friend can rely on the other's truthfulness. And without the self-knowledge that is one result of such truthfulness we're all of us apt to become victims of our own self-indulgent fantasies,” he said.

An additional key element of a true friendship is that it is a gift, MacIntyre said. A gift is freely given, and must be received. This means that one must be open to the possibility of friendship with others, and recognize the opportunity of friendship when it occurs.

This requires a responsiveness to others, as well as a willingness to be surprised or disappointed along the way, he noted. It means letting go of pride, or of greed or an unnecessary competitiveness with others, he added.

“Yet what above all else stands in the way of openness to friendship is insincerity,” MacIntyre said. An insincere person is an actor of sorts, he noted. An insincere person is not necessarily a liar, but they have convinced others and sometimes themselves that they are something or someone that they are not.

“An insincere person invites others to respond not to their reality, but the sometimes impressive fiction that they have constructed. So the other is put at a disadvantage and when the invitation extended to the other is or includes an offer a friendship, what is offered cannot, in fact, be friendship. For one is being invited to care for a fiction, not for a real human being,” he said.

A final characteristic of a true friend is that they care not only for their friend, but for all that their friend cares about, MacIntyre said, quoting Aquinas: "When the man has friendship for someone for his sake, he loves all belonging to it, whether children, servants or related to him in any way."

“Indeed, so much do we love our friends, but for their sake we love all who belonged to them,” MacIntyre said.

And so with these defining characteristics of a good friendship, they still may be difficult to find in today’s world, MacIntyre said, but they are possible and necessary for human flourishing.

“Each of us needs such others if we are able to deliberate well and to make good choices. Each of us needs such others if we are to achieve the self-knowledge without which we can’t flourish.”

Pope Francis: The poor, unborn, and elderly are neglected in the frenzy of modern life

Vatican City, Nov 17, 2019 / 04:30 am (CNA).- On the World Day of the Poor, Pope Francis said that the poor and most vulnerable can be left behind in the frenetic haste and self-centeredness of the modern world.

“How beautiful it would be if the poor could occupy in our hearts the place they have in the heart of God,” Pope Francis said in his homily Nov. 17.

“In the frenzy of running, of achieving everything right now, anyone left behind is viewed as a nuisance. And considered disposable. How many elderly, unborn, disabled and poor persons are considered useless,” he said in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Pope Francis celebrated Mass for the 3rd annual World Day of the Poor with the theme “the hope of the poor will never be disappointed.”

“Amid so many penultimate and passing realities, the Lord wants to remind us today of what is ultimate, what will remain forever. It is love, for ‘God is love,’” he said.

Pope Francis warned that there is a great temptation in today’s world to try to know and to do everything “right now” that can cause one to lose sight of what is most important: “We no longer find time for God or for our brother and sister living next door.”

“How often do we let ourselves be seduced by a frantic desire to know everything right now, by the itch of curiosity, by the latest sensational or scandalous news, by lurid stories, by the screaming those who shout loudest and angriest, by those who tell us it is ‘now or never,’” Pope Francis said.

“To us, these are front page news, but the Lord puts them on the second page,” he said. “That which will never pass away remains on the front page: the living God, infinitely greater than any temple we build for him, and the human person, our neighbor, who is worth more than all the news reports of the world.”

The pope explained that the antidote to frantic haste is the Christian virtue of perseverance.

“Perseverance entails moving forward each day with our eyes fixed on what does not pass away: the Lord and our neighbor,” he said. “Let us ask that each of us, and all of us as Church, may persevere in the good and not lose sight of what really counts.”

Following the Mass and Angelus prayer, Pope Francis will share a free lunch with nearly 1,500 poor people invited to dine in the Paul VI Hall and nearby colleges. A medical clinic set up in St. Peter’s Square also offered free medical services to those in need in the week preceding the World Day of the Poor.

Pope Francis made a surprise visit to the medical clinic Nov. 15 and announced the creation of a new 4-story homeless shelter right off the St. Peter’s Square colonnade, which he called “the Palace of the Poor.”

The homeless shelter, staffed by the Sant'Egidio community, will have two floors of dormitories that can sleep 50 men and women, a kitchen to provide breakfast and dinner, and a recreation area for fellowship, educational programs, and psychological counseling.

“The poor person who begs for my love leads me straight to God,” Pope Francis said.

In his Angelus address, the pope thanked Catholics in dioceses and parishes around the world for their work in solidarity with the poor, which he said gives hope to the most disadvantaged.

“The Lord calls us to collaborate in the construction of history, becoming, together with Him, peacemakers and witnesses of hope in a future of salvation and resurrection,” he said.

Pope Francis established  the World Day of the Poor at the end of the Jubilee Year of Mercy in 2016. It is celebrated each year on the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, one week before the Feast of Christ the King.

“The poor facilitate our access to heaven: this is why the sense of the faith of God’s People has viewed them as the gatekeepers of heaven,” Pope Francis said in his homily.

“Even now, they are our treasure, the treasure of the Church,” he said. “For the poor reveal to us the riches that never grow old, that unite heaven and earth, the riches for which life is truly worth living: the riches of love.”

Development of prison catechesis program draws strong support

Houston, Texas, Nov 17, 2019 / 03:05 am (CNA).- It took a Catholic evangelist just three days to raise the funds online for an apologetics and faith formation curriculum to distribute to prisons— a place where he says Biblical apologetics are sorely needed.

Michael Gormley, host of the podcast “Catching Foxes” and adult faith formation director for St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in the Houston area, told CNA that the goal of the curriculum is to weave the Gospel message with apologetics and catechesis.

“There's such a need for Biblical apologetics [in prison],” he said.

“The majority of people are leaving the Catholic faith either for an anti-Catholic fundamentalist Christian faith, or for Islam. Islam is mostly big in the jails...and we have almost zero presence in jails. And it's shocking, it's just shocking.”

Gormley said the goal is to adapt a faith formation series that he originally created for Ascension Press.

He said he hopes to adapt the series to be more relevant to men and women in prison, offering instruction for those who want to learn more about Catholicism about how to frame their lives around Christian discipleship. He said he hopes to reach inmates who have already been inspired by prison ministry volunteers to say, “I’m interested in this Catholic thing, what’s next?”

“My hope is to be able to pull out a coherent curriculum from beginning to end, chopping the videos up and maybe adding new things into the mix as we go,” he said.

Gormley said the opportunity recently came “out of nowhere” to buy the rights to the series from Ascension, so he launched a GoFundMe page to raise the $10,000 necessary— and it took him only three days to reach the initial goal.

In fact, it only took one minute of the fundraiser being live for one donor to offer $5,000— half the funds needed.

Gormley stressed that although the campaign had reached its initial funding goal, the GoFundMe is still accepting donations because more is still needed to allow the project to continue.

Any additional funds beyond those used to buy the rights to the series, he said, will go directly to printing DVDs— Internet-based videos aren’t an option for prisons— as well as for workbooks and other production costs.

“On top of your donation dollars to all your different nonprofits, and churches, and charities, really keep an eye to prison ministries,” he said.

He said there are around 110 prison units in Texas, but only one full-time Catholic chaplain.

Gormley said he goes with a group to a prison every Monday, offering a few hours of instruction and catechesis as well as a Communion service for the Catholic inmates. He said working with inmates has changed the way that he, an educator in the faith and an evangelist, goes about sharing his faith.

“It totally changed how I do everything in my life. From being a dad, to teaching my faith, living as a witness, evangelization, it turbocharged everything, because you see grace working right in front of your eyes.”

Gormley told CNA last month that the first time he went on a retreat at a prison, through a group called Kolbe Prison Ministries, he went to a maximum security unit in Texas.

The Jim Ferguson Unit, located in Midway, Texas, has a maximum capacity of 2,100 men and mainly houses violent and gang-affiliated prisoners.

Gormley said he remembers showing up for his first retreat at 5:00 in the morning, and he and his fellow participants prayed the prayer to St. Michael before going inside because they had heard that a group of “Satanist” inmates were cursing them and their ministry.

“When you walk into these prisons, you realize you're going in to serve, at least in my case, violent offenders, many of whom are of the population where there's a high recidivism rate,” he said.

“The beautiful thing about prison ministry, at least from my limited experience, is that 2 hours into the actual retreat, I was shocked at how mundane everything was,” he continued.

“There were guys that were super talkative, guys that were disengaged, guys who were listening and quiet, guys that were dominating the conversation, and everything in between, just like a normal men's retreat. And it was that...the men quickly became very normal in my eyes from the labels that they were beforehand.”

The vast majority of the inmates participating in the retreats, he said, are non-Catholic, and he said a significant majority of those non-Catholics are “fiercely anti-Catholic.”

A large number of Latino inmates that Gormley has encountered, who may have grown up Catholic, are now “extremely anti-Catholic,” he said.

The retreats are based on testimonies that are tied to larger themes, he said. In his role as a table facilitator at the retreats, Gormley leads discussions and often fields questions and challenges from inmates about aspects of the Catholic faith.

“Every single story is insane, amazing, sad, heartrending,” he commented.

Every single man he met in the unit, with one exception, had inadequate fathers, whether by neglect, abandonment, abuse, or a combination. Almost every one of the men joined gangs, because “if they didn't have fathers, they needed brothers.” Most of the men were abandoned by the gangs they joined, too, he said.

Gormley related the story of a man in the Ferguson Unit who had joined a white supremacist gang before being locked up.

At one of the prison retreats, the inmate stood up and told the other men at the prison that he was sorry for getting into fights with his black and Latino prison mates, because he realized on a prison retreat a year ago that he didn't hate people of different races— he hated his father, who had abandoned him years earlier.

He said he forgave his father a year ago, and then asked the other prisoners to forgive him. An African-American inmate then stood up and gave the man a hug, amid tears and applause from the other inmates.

“The whole rest of the retreat was like that, stories like that,” Gormley said.

 

As Pope Francis calls for a 'synodal' Church, some US dioceses are holding synods

Baltimore, Md., Nov 16, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- As some U.S. dioceses convene local synods to discuss topics ranging from the family to evangelization, bishops are preaching the need to discover a true sense of synodality.

Pope Francis has called in recent months for a more synodal Church, suggesting that “synods,” or gatherings intended for discussion and discernment of the Church’s direction, are an important aspect of an engaged and missionary Church.

At the annual fall meeting of the U.S. bishops in Baltimore, Maryland, CNA spoke with bishops who have recently held synods or are preparing to hold them, asking them to explain what “synodality”is and  how the Holy Spirit was present at their gatherings.

Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit told CNA that a synod, to be an authentic exercise of discernment, has to begin with prayer, and interior conversion on the part of attendees.

A synod is not a democratic assembly to draw up a five-year plan, he said, but something much greater—a “vehicle” for the Holy Spirit to renew the church, if participants engage prayerfully to discern the will of God.

In November 2016, the Archdiocese of Detroit held a synod for the first time in almost 30 years.

Hundreds of people from around the archdiocese gathered to share thoughts on how the archdiocese could proclaim the Gospel better than it already was.

Several months afterward, Vigneron published his letter “Unleash the Gospel” as a result of the synod, outlining a pastoral plan for evangelization. Some critiques of the church he included in his letter were “a worldly notion of the church,” “fear,” and “spiritual lethargy,” while prescriptions included “docility to the Spirit,” “confidence in God,” and “apostolic boldness.”

Ultimately, the synod concluded that evangelization needs to become the very “form” of the Church in coming years, Vigneron said.

The archbishop added that the reason the archdiocesan synod was so successful was because of prayer and docility to the Holy Spirit.
 
“A synod in the history of the Church has been a privileged vehicle for the working of the Holy Spirit,” Vigneron told CNA.

Two years before the Detroit synod even took place, prayer groups were formed at the parish level to pray and fast for the upcoming gathering, asking the Holy Spirit to be present at the synod.

“We had some very extended periods of prayer and formation for anyone who was going to be a participant in the synod,” Vigneron said. “To come into the synod, a person has to undergo a conversion.”

The very “template” of a synod, he said, “is the Holy Trinity,” not a “democratic assembly.” In a synod, the bishop acts in the role of God the Father as the “leader,” allowing the lay faithful to act as a “communion of persons” while not hindering “his own setting of a direction,” he said.
 
As a result of the Detroit synod’s docility to the Holy Spirit, there has been an abundance of spiritual fruit in the archdiocese, Vigneron said.
 
“It was of inestimable worth for us to have a synod,” he told CNA on Tuesday, nearly three full years after the gathering. It “galvanized the diocese from bottom to top,” he said.
 
Meanwhile, in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, the church is preparing for a synod in 2021, through prayerful discernment, Archbishop Bernard Hebda told CNA.

In recent years, the archdiocese has dealt with the resignation of its archbishop, bankruptcy, and fallout from a serious sexual abuse crisis in the region.

Several years ago, in 2015, then-Archbishop John Nienstedt resigned after the archdiocese was charged with mishandling sexual abuse cases.

The years-long efforts to deal with the pressing clergy sex abuse crisis put other important priorities such as evangelization on the “back burner,” Archbishop Bernard Hebda said in a June letter announcing the synod.
 
Now the church needs to turn toward these priorities without abandoning its work of rebuilding from the abuse crisis, he said.
 
“Without losing sight of either the critical importance of our Catholic schools or the urgency of creating safe environments and engaging in outreach to those who have in any way been harmed by the Church, we now need to be deliberate in moving forward on other fronts,” Hebda wrote.
 
A diocesan synod, Hebda said, draws from the 1983 revised Code of Canon Law and can be “a tool for the bishop to engage the People of God (laity, clergy, consecrated men and women, and bishops all walking together) in exercising the responsibility that flows from our common baptism, always in the hope of strengthening the communion that is the Church.”
 
In preparation for the synod, 20 listening and prayer events have been scheduled, seven of which have already taken place, Hebda told CNA. He plans to attend each session, with auxiliary bishop Andrew Cozzens attending most of them.
 
Each gathering lasts around three hours, he said, the first half of which is spent in guided prayer followed by small group discussions for the second half. Discussions feature participants sharing their view of God’s blessings and challenges in their lives, and where God is leading the church.
 
Attendance at the sessions has been greater than expected, Hebda said, and the results of the meetings will be collated for discussion at the parish level next fall.
 
Some of the main points of discussion have been concern for baptized Catholics who have drifted away from the faith—especially among youth and young adults—as well as “connecting catechesis and evangelization” and “the importance of liturgy as a means of drawing people to the truth of the faith,” Hebda said.
 
He emphasized trying to help the lay faithful listen to the Holy Spirit and to discover the “gifts” God is bestowing upon the lay faithful, and “seeing that as a possibility for really hearing what it is that the Lord wants us to know and to do.”
 
Healing from the abuse crisis has also been a point of discussion at the meetings, Hebda said, as at most events attendees hear from a “victim survivor of abuse.”