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  • Abuse victims say they felt hurt by ordinary Catholics' lack of compassion

    IMAGE: CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters

    By Zita Ballinger Fletcher

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Sexual assault victims say they were hurt not only by individual priests, but by church officials and ordinary Catholics who treated them with intolerance and indifference.

    Four survivors of sexual assaults by priests shared their stories with Catholic News Service. They are: Jim VanSickle and Mike McDonnell of Pennsylvania, Michael Norris of Houston and Judy Larson of Utah.

    Many of them have not been to a Catholic church in years. They say the atmosphere of their former parishes created breeding grounds for abuse due to the hardhearted attitudes of diocesan officials, staff and ordinary churchgoers.

    "Being raised Catholic, I remember -- you don't speak out against your own church," said VanSickle. "Nobody's going to listen to you."

    Most of them belonged to extremely traditional parishes and were attacked as vulnerable children. Their view of Catholicism changed when fellow believers showed them no compassion and acted to protect selfish interests.

    "I've known others that came forward. They were ridiculed and ostracized -- even by their own family members," said VanSickle, 55. He stood next to Attorney General Josh Shapiro when grand jury findings were released to the public Aug. 14. He had suffered silently for 37 years after being sexually abused by a priest at age 16.

    "We lived in a neighborhood where most of the people in the subdivision were Catholic. Everything in our lives revolved around the church," said Larson, who is now retired and in her 70s. "To be in that kind of environment and try to say something horrible happened to you, by a person everybody thinks is a god on earth, you're all alone."

    The abuses these survivors suffered at the hands of priests were not crimes of passion, they said, but cold exploitations of control. Most victims were not aware that their attackers were serial abusers. Each felt alone when he or she was victimized.

    "I think it's opportunistic," said VanSickle. "I feel like I was targeted."

    "It's a lifelong impact. I deal with it every single day," said Norris, a chemical engineer. He said he was abused by a priest in Louisville, Kentucky, at age 10. After many years of struggle, he revealed the truth to his devout parents at a point when he "couldn't take it anymore."

    When he acted to report the abuse, he and his family members were mistreated by fellow Catholics in the archdiocese.

    "They discredited me," he said. "Probably the biggest disappointment in my life was how the church responded to my accusations. Maybe I was naive, but I expected them to believe my story and take action. When they didn't do what I saw as morally right, I became more disillusioned with their teachings."

    Survivors also faced a stigma caused by sexual assault. The victims were molested at an age when they did not know about sex. Confused, they realized what happened when they grew up. Feeling disgust, anger and shame, they feared hostile reactions from their traditional communities.

    "When I was growing up, we were told, 'It would be better for you to die than lose your virtue.' This was told to me in fourth grade," said Larson. "I didn't know what 'lose your virtue' meant."

    She was raped by a priest one year later at age 10. After realizing the truth as an adult, she did not tell her parents. She knew they would not listen, since it was taboo to speak ill of a priest or nun in their presence.

    Some Catholics viewed sex as scandalous and treated victims as if they were contaminated.

    "People say, 'You're a bad person,' or 'You must have wanted it,'" said VanSickle. "It's amazing that they attack their own people. They attack their own faithful."

    The survivors are disillusioned with the way church officials handle abuse cases. This disillusionment has affected their personal beliefs.

    Norris is no longer Christian. "I personally can't set foot in another church because of what's happened and the way I was treated," he said.

    Larson hasn't been inside a church in over 50 years. "For a lot of us, going to church is a triggering experience. It's re-traumatizing to victims," she said.

    VanSickle said he has strong belief in Jesus and has become a Christian. His family members are Catholic. He welcomes interactions with Catholics and wishes to be reconciled with the church, but wants the institution to change first.

    "To be away from the Eucharist in my life is a hard thing to deal with because of my belief as a Catholic," he said. "But I can't reconcile myself with the church until I see change."

    They feel sorry for Catholics who are struggling with their beliefs in light of the recent grand jury report. Norris and VanSickle say they do not wish for Catholics to lose their faith.

    Despite the pain caused by recent revelations, they hope change will result.

    "It reopens a wound from the past for me as a survivor. But I'm also extremely happy that this information is coming to light," said McDonnell, a specialist at a drug and alcohol treatment facility in Philadelphia, regarding the recent grand jury report. "It is vindication and validation for many survivors and victims."

    He believes the church needs to stop withholding information about abuse and be honest with the public. "It will invite people back to the Catholic Church once they see that the church is not just publicly making a statement that 'we're sorry,'" he said.

    As the church hierarchy considers change, Catholics can make simple changes in their homes and parishes. According to Larson, the average age for a clergy sexual abuse victim to come forward is 42. As child victims grow into adults, they begin to realize what happened to them -- and fall silent due to religious and social pressures. Ordinary Catholics can solve this problem, she said, by treating others around them with openheartedness instead of moral superiority.

    "Be compassionate," said Larson, sharing her advice to families coping with revelations of abuse. "Believe your family member. They're in pain. And they've held this terrible secret for many, many years because of their fear of your reaction when they tell you."

    One of the hardest things McDonnell experienced in his life was the shattering effect of the abuse on his parents. They did not find out about it until they were much older. One of the last things his father expressed on his deathbed was sorrow for what happened.

    VanSickle said a family's first responsibility is to love and believe a child who speaks out about sexual abuse by clergy.

    "They need to wrap their arms around that kid and make them feel safe. That never happened for me," he said. "You need to hug and protect your child first. Deal with the church after."

    McDonnell said victims recover with support from others, including fellow survivors.

    "Part of the healing process is coming forward. I'm only as sick as my secrets," he added. "Talk to somebody."

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    Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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  • Abuse victims say they felt hurt by ordinary Catholics' lack of compassion

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Sexual assault victims say they were hurt not only by individual priests, but by church officials and ordinary Catholics who treated them with intolerance and indifference. Four survivors of sexual assaults by priests shared their stories with Catholic News Service. They are: Jim VanSickle and Mike McDonnell of Pennsylvania, Michael Norris of Houston and Judy Larson of Utah. Many of them have not been to a Catholic church in years. They say the atmosphere of their former parishes created breeding grounds for abuse due to the hardhearted attitudes of diocesan officials, staff and ordinary churchgoers. "Being raised Catholic, I remember -- you don't speak out against your own church," said VanSickle. "Nobody's going to listen to you." Most of them belonged to extremely traditional parishes and were attacked as vulnerable children. Their view of Catholicism changed when fellow believers showed them no compassion and acted to protect selfish interests.

    'We didn't have food,' say Venezuelan families at Colombian shelter

    BOGOTA, Colombia (CNS) -- Asiangelis Guevara sat at the dining room table at a shelter for migrants, sipping hot chocolate, holding her year-old son and encouraging him to eat a piece of bread. He gripped the food, but just stared back at her while her two daughters, ages 3 and 5, sat at a child-size table nearby, devouring their snacks and giggling at a visitor. Tiny, curly haired Ruben Dario is the reason Guevara, 21, and her husband, Ruben Dario Cazar, 28, left their home in Venezuela, with three children and only the bags they could carry, in hopes of starting over in Colombia. "The situation was terrible," Cazar said. "The children were malnourished. We didn't have food." That was a common refrain among the steady stream of Venezuelans who arrived at a shelter run by Scalabrinian sisters July 23, the same day as Cazar and his family. Most had been traveling for several days on foot, in trucks and by bus, sometimes sleeping under bridges. At the Bogota bus terminal, the migrant ministry staffs a small office that offers assistance and sometimes referrals to the shelter, where people can stay for a few days while they look for housing or make arrangements to continue traveling to another city or country. All are fleeing a situation that is growing increasingly desperate, said Scalabrinian Sister Teresinha Monteiro, who welcomes new arrivals at the shelter with basics such as towels and soap. Venezuela's spiraling economic and political crisis has left shelves bare in stores, including supermarkets and pharmacies. Sister Monteiro has heard stories about fistfights over food scraps in garbage piles in Venezuelan cities.

    Changing the world requires action, not dreaming, cardinal says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christians must do more than dream of a better world; they must take an active role in changing it, a Vatican official wrote on behalf of Pope Francis. In a message sent Aug. 19 to the Meeting in Rimini, an annual event sponsored by the Communion and Liberation movement, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said men and women must ask themselves how to bring about change in light of the "current situation in the West. We are once again building walls instead of building bridges. We tend to be closed instead of open to others different from us. Indifference grows rather than the desire to take the initiative for change. A sense of fear prevails over trust in the future," he said. "And we ask ourselves if, in this half century, the world has become more habitable." To address the problem head-on, he said, Christians must first overcome the fear of change. "No, it isn't about retiring from the world to not risk making a mistake and to preserve the faith in a sort of uncontaminated purity, because an authentic faith always implies a profound desire to change the world, to move history," he said.

    Nuncio says U.S. bishops committed to addressing abuse scandal

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The U.S. bishops are "deeply committed" to facing the reality of clerical sexual abuse and the history of covering it up, said the Vatican nuncio to the United States. "All of us bishops, priests and members of the church must find a real response to the problem. Just a juridical or organizational response will not be enough to avoid evil," said the nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre. The archbishop made the comments at a news conference Aug. 19 in Rimini, Italy, before giving the opening address at the annual weeklong conference of the Communion and Liberation movement. Responding to reporters, Archbishop Pierre said he would have to be "very discreet" in talking about the crisis that began unfolding in June with the news that a church investigation found credible allegations that now-Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick abused a minor. That was followed by a series of revelations about sexual harassment and misconduct in some seminaries and, especially, with the release in August of a Pennsylvania grand jury report about decades of abuse and cover-ups in six dioceses. In his formal talk to the "Rimini Meeting," the archbishop focused on the human search for happiness and how every Christian has an obligation to be a credible witness to the truth that happiness is found in experiencing God's love and striving to live according to God's will.

    Eucharist is a taste of heaven on earth, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- By receiving the Eucharist at Mass, Christians are given Christ's same spirit and a taste of eternal life, Pope Francis said. "Every time that we participate in the Holy Mass, we hasten heaven on earth in a certain sense because from the eucharistic food -- the body and blood of Christ -- we learn what eternal life is," the pope said Aug. 19 during his Angelus address. After praying the Angelus prayer with pilgrims in St. Peter's Square, the pope led them in praying for the victims of massive flooding caused by monsoon rains in the Indian state of Kerala. According to the BBC, more than 350 people have died while thousands more are still trapped and awaiting rescue. "I am close to the church in Kerala, which is in the front lines to bring aid to the population. We are all close to the church in Kerala and let us pray together for those who have lost their lives and for those people who are tried by this great calamity," the pope said.

    Update: Pope: Abuse victims' outcry more powerful than efforts to silence them

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- "No effort must be spared" to prevent future cases of clerical sexual abuse and "to prevent the possibility of their being covered up," Pope Francis said in a letter addressed "to the people of God. I acknowledge once more the suffering endured by many minors due to sexual abuse, the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience perpetrated by a significant number of clerics and consecrated persons," the pope wrote in the letter dated and released Aug. 20. The letter was published less than a week after the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report on decades of clerical sexual abuse and coverups in six dioceses. The report spoke of credible allegations against 301 priests in cases involving more than 1,000 children. "The heart-wrenching pain of these victims, which cries out to heaven, was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced," Pope Francis said. "But their outcry was more powerful than all the measures meant to silence them. The pain of the victims and their families is also our pain," he said, "and so it is urgent that we once more reaffirm our commitment to ensure the protection of minors and of vulnerable adults."

    - - -

    Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

  • Indiana bishop announces he'll release list of accused abusers in diocese

    SOUTH BEND, Ind. (CNS) -- At an Aug. 17 news conference, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, said that in response to the release of the grand jury report on abuse claims in six Pennsylvania dioceses over a 70- year period, he will collect and release a list of the names of priests in the diocese he currently heads who committed similar offenses. Bishop Rhoades called the details of the grand jury "equally appalling and heartbreaking." He expressed sympathy and support to the victims and their families, adding, "The church failed you. For that, I apologize." Emphasizing that during his tenure as bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend he has released the name of every priest removed from ministry as a result of a credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor. He said he has learned, as a result of the grand jury, that it also important to victims to see the names of their abusers made public "for all to see. For everyone to know the pain caused by these priests. It is my hope," he said, "that by releasing these names, the innocent victims of these horrific and heartbreaking crimes can finally begin the process of healing." The list will be compiled beginning immediately.

    Philadelphia archdiocese said to be looking at sexual harassment claims

    PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- The Philadelphia Inquirer daily newspaper reported Aug. 16 that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is investigating allegations of sexual harassment from a former student at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. The paper reported that a letter with claims that a former student at St. Charles sexually harassed a freshman during the 2010-11 school year was sent to priests and deacons Aug. 14. The claims are related to a blog post that also implicated a St. John's Seminary in Boston, which the Archdiocese of Boston also is investigating. Like the Boston case, the claims originated on social media, and is linked to a blog post that describes seminarians at "conservative seminary" drinking heavily, "cuddling" after a drunken party, and being involved in sexual behaviors and acts. The person who wrote the blog says he experienced sexual harassment at the Philadelphia seminary and later witnessed the other behavior in the Boston seminary. The story says that the writer of the blog was 17 when the alleged abuse in Philadelphia occurred, which is described as "sexually inappropriate advances by a fellow student" in a dorm room.

    Cardinal says 'sorrow, disgust, rage' are 'righteous' reactions to abuse

    CHICAGO (CNS) -- "Sorrow, disgust, outrage -- these are righteous feelings" for all to have in reaction to the latest abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich said in an Aug. 17 statement. These are "the stirrings of the conscience of a people scandalized by the terrible reality that too many of the men who promised to protect their children, and strengthen their faith, have been responsible for wounding both," he said. His comments came in reaction to the Pennsylvania attorney general's Aug. 14 release of a grand jury report detailing seven decades of child sex abuse claims in six Pennsylvania dioceses. Some weeks before that were the allegations against Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick that he abused a minor more than 47 years ago and was sexually inappropriate with seminarians. "Anger, shock, grief, shame," said Cardinal Cupich, who was chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People 2008 to 2011 when he was bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota. "What other words can we summon to describe the experience of learning about the devastating revelations of sexual abuse -- and the failures of bishops to safeguard the children entrusted to their care." He described the grand jury report as a "catalog of horrors" that came on "the heels of news accounts of deeply disturbing sexual abuse and harassment allegations" against McCarrick.

    Priests' group says it's 'sad, angry, frustrated' by abuse scandals

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Association of U.S. Catholic Priests said its members are "sad ... angry ... frustrated" over continued reports involving fellow priests and a lack of accountability by bishops. "At every level, our church is in pain," the 1,200-member organization said Aug. 17. The organization cited concerns over a Pennsylvania grand jury report that recounts seven decades of child sex abuse claims throughout six Catholic dioceses in the state, the recent resignation of Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick from the College of Cardinals over allegations he is an abuser, an investigation into alleged improper activities at a Boston seminary, and clergy abuse in Australia and Chile. Father Bob Bonnot, chairman of the association's leadership team, told Catholic News Service that repeated revelations about improper clergy behavior are "something that has flared up more frequently than any of us wish to remember. We suffer with the Catholic people. While all of us priests and the Catholic people are not suffering nearly as much as the families and the individuals who have been abused, we need to let them know we're suffering too," said the retired priest of the Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio. "People need recognition and encouragement that they're not alone in their feelings," Father Bonnot added.

    Pennsylvania prelate says bishops who hid abuse should resign

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In an Aug. 16 interview with Eternal Word Television Network, Erie Bishop Lawrence T. Persico said the only way to regain the trust of the laity after decades-long claims of sexual abuse by priests and others at six Pennsylvania dioceses is by deeds and one of those deeds may mean getting rid of bishops who hid abusers. During a report on EWTN's evening show, reporter Jason Calvi asks him: "Should bishops who knew about or covered up abuse resign?" "I think they should," Bishop Persico answered. "I think we need complete transparency if we're going to get the trust of the people back. We have to be able to demonstrate it." Bishop Persico was the only bishop who met in person with members of a grand jury investigating decades-long claims of abuse at six Pennsylvania dioceses. In an explosive report, the grand jury said it identified more than 1,000 who said they were victimized as children by priests and other church workers in the state. "I've been saying, we can talk about transparency and truth, but much is going to depend upon our deeds, how do we carry that transparency out and how do we act moving forward?" he said during the TV interview. "That's going to be key to all of this and we have to show that we mean what we're saying."

    New assignments, but same joyful service for identical twin Dominicans

    GAITHERSBURG, Md. (CNS) -- As identical twin sisters, Sister Judith and Sister Maristella Maldonado not only look exactly alike, but as members of the Dominican Sisters of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima, they dress alike, wearing that order's white habit and black veil with white trim. And they also have the same outlook on life and approach to their faith, embodying what Pope Francis calls "the joy of the Gospel" in their ever-present smiles and happy demeanor. "Being a witness of Christ, you cannot be sad!" said Sister Judith. That witness, she added, "is telling people there is hope. No matter what, if you have God in your life, you can be happy." Sister Maristella noted, "We were always like this, since we were small. ... We have enough people sad in our society. ... Thank God we had a mother who gave us inspiration to always be joyful." That spirit helped draw them to become Dominicans after their parents moved the family back to their native Puerto Rico, and the Maldonado twins were inspired by the faith, service to families, pride in Puerto Rican culture and sense of fun shown by those women religious. "They were a happy community, always smiling," said Sister Judith. But the twin Dominican sisters did shed some tears recently, at an Aug. 5 farewell party at St. Martin of Tours Parish in Gaithersburg to honor them and Sister Cruz Vega, another member of their religious order. The sisters have received new assignments in Puerto Rico.

    Franciscan brother goes on hunger strike to decry conditions in Brazil

    SAO PAULO (CNS) -- Since the end of July, six Brazilians, including Franciscan Brother Sergio Gorgen, have been on a hunger strike to denounce the deteriorating conditions of many Brazilians due to increased violence, unemployment and hunger. "From the neck up, I'm great," Brother Gorgen told Catholic News. "From the neck down, I'm a bit debilitated," added the 62-year-old religious, who entered the 18th day of the hunger strike Aug. 17. The hunger strikers are denouncing the social policies adopted by the current administration and the country's court system, which they say is not obeying the Brazilian Constitution. "The STF (Federal Supreme Court) has a duty to apply the constitution; it has the responsibility of making sure that the constitution is observed and, right now, in certain cases, it is not," said Brother Gorgen. "It is an extreme action because we today are facing an extreme situation," he added. The group met with Carmen Lucia Rocha, Brazil's Supreme Court chief justice, in mid-August and asked her to free former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and allow him to run in the October presidential race.

    A.W. Richard Sipe, researcher, expert on clergy sex abuse, dies at 85

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A. W. Richard Sipe, a psychotherapist and former Benedictine priest who became one of the country's foremost experts on clergy sexual abuse, died Aug. 8 at his home in La Jolla, California. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported the cause of death of the 85-year-old Sipe as multiple organ failure. Sipe's research into celibacy and priestly sexual behavior helped guide the work of church leaders and others studying, investigating and responding to the clergy sexual abuse crisis that emerged in 2002. Born Walter Richard Sipe Dec. 22, 1932, he added the name Aquinas, after St. Thomas Aquinas, as a Benedictine monk in Collegeville, Minnesota. Sipe's research into priestly celibacy emerged after his Benedictine superiors asked him to train for and research the mental health problems and stresses of priests. His interest in the topic rose upon hearing from abusive priests and their victims as a psychotherapist. His research led to the publication in 1990 of "A Secret World: Sexuality and the Search for Celibacy," a 25-year study (1960-1985) of the sexual behavior of Catholic clergy. Based on his findings, Sipe concluded that about 50 percent of U.S. priests practiced celibacy at any one time and that about 6 percent -- a figure he later raised to 9 percent -- had sexually abused children.

    Religious groups to fight physical, sexual violence against kids in Peru

    LIMA, Peru (CNS) -- Catholic and other Christian and non-Christian religious groups launched an effort Aug. 16 to combat violence, especially sexual violence, against children in Peru. They join interfaith groups in 12 other Latin American and Caribbean countries as part of the Global Network of Religions for Children, working to reduce violence through education in values, prayer and efforts to reduce poverty. "Every day there is news in the media" about cases of physical and sexual abuse of children, "and there are still unheard stories that have not been addressed," said Maryknoll Sister Esperanza Principio, a native of the Philippines who now works in Villa El Salvador, a sprawling, low-income district on the south side of Peru's capital city. Sister Principio participated in the global network in Panama, where she worked from 2005 to 2012. When she moved to Villa El Salvador last year, she realized that many women, including mothers and grandmothers, were still traumatized by sexual abuse they had suffered as children, often at the hands of relatives. "They carry it with them all their lives," she told Catholic News Service.

    Summer internship at parish gives seminarian a glimpse of pastor's life

    LAKELAND, La. (CNS) -- On a hot Friday afternoon in July, the grounds outside of Immaculate Conception Church in Lakeland were quiet and vacant of cars and people. It was a serene setting but in less than 24 hours, the church would be busy with the hustle and bustle of a vibrant parish life. In the air-conditioned church office, located across the street from Immaculate Conception, seminarian Taylor Sanford, a second-year theology student at Notre Dame Seminary of New Orleans, was wrapping up his final days of his eight-week summer placement program through the vocations office of the Diocese of Baton Rouge. "I'm kind of like an intern, so anything they don't want to waste their time doing, I'll do that," said Sanford with a chuckle. "It's kind of a mentorship program, so I'm living with Father Todd (Lloyd) at the rectory and I come in to the office and go to Mass when he celebrates Mass, and so I'm getting a feel for the rhythm of a parish priest's life, the day-to-day stuff, which helps with discernment and I get a taste of what's in store for the future." The summer assignments for seminary students can range from church parishes to hospital ministry to further educational studies. Father Matt Lorrain, Baton Rouge's diocesan director of seminarians, said the goal is to use the students' down time, when they are not busy with classes and studying, to educate them in real-world ways. "Each summer, it could be something similar or something different, depending on (the students') studies," Father Lorrain told The Catholic Commentator, Baton Rouge's diocesan newspaper.

    Vatican wants accountability for abusers, those who protected them

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In the wake of a grand jury report on clergy sexual abuse in six dioceses in Pennsylvania, a Vatican spokesman called the abuses described in the report as being "criminal and morally reprehensible. 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," said Greg Burke, head of the Vatican press office, in a written statement 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," he wrote. "The Holy See condemns unequivocally the sexual abuse of minors," Burke wrote and, as such, "the Holy See encourages continued reform and vigilance at all levels of the Catholic Church, to help ensure the protection of minors and vulnerable adults from harm. The Holy See also wants to underscore the need to comply with the civil law, including mandatory child abuse reporting requirements," he added.

    Latin American church leaders mark 50 years of 'option for the poor'

    CARACAS, Venezuela (CNS) -- Latin American church leaders will meet in Medellin Aug. 23-26 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a landmark regional bishops' meeting that took place in the same city in 1968. The event will bring together hundreds of Catholic laypeople and religious from the region to reflect on the landmark bishops' conference that shifted the church's emphasis to the "preferential option for the poor." "Celebrating 50 years is not just an important event for CELAM (Latin American bishops' council), but for the whole church of Latin America and the Caribbean," said Auxiliary Bishop Juan Espinoza Jimenez, CELAM secretary-general and a member of the central commission charged with planning the event. Other groups involved in the organization are the Confederation of Religious in Latin America and the Caribbean (CLAR), Caritas Latin America and the Archdiocese of Medellin. Father Rigoberto Perez Garrido, CELAM's executive press secretary, said organizers expect up to 300 people to attend the congress. "This took months of planning, together with several institutional teams from the various organizations," he said.

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    Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

  • Americans surveyed on views on ethics of genetically engineering animals

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A Pew Research Center report released Aug. 16 found that Americans' view of genetically engineering animals varies widely based on the intended purpose of the modifications. Despite the wide differences in approval of various uses of genetic engineering, men, those with high science knowledge (based on science-related questions Pew asked) and those low in religiosity were more likely to approve of any given use of genetic engineering than their counterparts. The survey also found that people opposed to using animals in research were about 10 to 20 percent more likely to be opposed to genetically modifying them than those who favor the use of animals in research. Of the five ideas Pew proposed, genetically modifying mosquitoes to limit their reproduction and so halt the spread of disease was viewed favorably by 70 percent of respondents. The 29 percent who viewed it unfavorably tended to cite concerns about "messing with nature/God's plan" or concerns about the effects it could have on the environment. A smaller portion also expressed a general concern about unintended consequences. Fifty-seven percent of respondents viewed using animals to grow organs and tissues for humans as a legitimate use of technology.

    Bishops around U.S. respond with 'sorrow' to abuse report, vow to act

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a tweet, a U.S. bishop said he had spent the night reading a grand jury report detailing seven decades of child sex abuse claims in six Pennsylvania dioceses and "it was like reading a horror book." Unfortunately, it was not a fictional account, wrote Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville early Aug. 15, a day after the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General published the mammoth document of more than 1,300 pages detailing accounts of the rape of children, secrecy by church officials and some law enforcement failures over 70 years. "It is real and lives were destroyed and faith shattered," Bishop Stika tweeted. He joined at least a dozen or so prelates outside of Pennsylvania who, via Twitter, TV or in person, at Masses for the feast of the Assumption, took time to express the same sorrow and pain that lay Catholics have been feeling and expressing. But many bishops also spoke about the added layer of what to do about the pain of a shattered trust between shepherds and their angry and pain-stricken flock that many say they now must fix. "This is extraordinarily painful, it is humiliating, it is nauseating," said New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan during an interview with local CBS station WLNY in New York City. "This is a kick in the gut. I really worry about a loss of credibility, a loss of trust. There's no use denying it. We can't sugarcoat this. This is disastrous."

    Kentucky school example of embracing the different, loving one's neighbor

    HENDERSON, Ky. (CNS) -- When it comes to sizable Hispanic populations, Henderson isn't Los Angeles or New York City. Nestled in the western part of the Bluegrass State, the Ohio River faithfully meanders by smooth fields of corn, soybean and patches of woods. Its most famous resident is naturalist and artist John James Audubon. "Coming to Henderson, that's where I learned I was Latino!" Abraham Brown, director of Latino ministry for Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church, jokingly said about moving from the Lone Star State. "Because down there in Texas everybody looked just like me, spoke just like me. So, coming here was a challenge at the beginning." Brown moved to Henderson 15 years ago to work for a denim company. But when it closed, the Catholic parish, which is part of the Diocese of Owensboro, asked him to help with the growing Latino community. Now he works with Latinos from 13 countries, and has seen the Spanish Mass turnout increase from 20 to 30 per week to 100 to 150, he said. "We do have a very proactive approach for integration," Brown told Catholic News Service. "Not just assimilating but actually sharing of their own values and culture (through dance, food and worship) with our community."

    Maryland parish helps sister parishes in Nicaragua amid increasing unrest

    PRINCE FREDERICK, Md. (CNS) -- For many parishioners of St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Prince Frederick, the violence happening in Nicaragua is more than just headlines flashing across the screen. "The parish here is impacted by it a lot," said Father Dan Carson, the parish's pastor. "People (are) constantly asking about it." For 10 years, the parish has been working with sister parishes in San Juan de Limay and more recently in Esteli to build homes for the poorest of the poor in Nicaragua. The parishioners of St. John Vianney raise money to build simple brick and mud houses, which cost about $2,600 each, and then send the funds to their sister parish. Since there is so much unemployment in Nicaragua, Don Mueller, the parishioner who leads the project, said the group does not go down to build the houses themselves, but instead pays a foreman and two workers to do the building, assisted by the volunteer labor of the people receiving the house. Each house is 20-by-20 feet, which is roughly the size of a master bedroom in the United States, and has no electricity, indoor plumbing or running water. Nevertheless, Father Carson and Mueller both recalled how the people receiving the house say it is like a mansion to them, since they have often been living in three sided shelters made out of things like sticks and plastic bags. Since St. John Vianney began this work in 2008, they have built about 450 houses.

    Update: Cardinal explains plan to address 'moral catastrophe' of abuse

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Aug. 16 announced three key goals and a comprehensive plan to address the "moral catastrophe" of the new abuse scandal hitting the U.S. church. The plan "will involve the laity, lay experts, the clergy and the Vatican," Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said. This plan will be presented to the full body of bishops at their general assembly meeting in Baltimore in November. He said the "substantial involvement of the laity" from law enforcement, psychology and other disciplines will be essential to this process. He also said that right now, it is clear that "one root cause" of this catastrophe "is the failure of episcopal leadership." In a lengthy letter addressed to all Catholics, Cardinal DiNardo laid out three goals just established by the bishops' Executive Committee in a series of meetings held early the week of Aug. 13. The goals are,he said, investigating questions surrounding Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick; opening "new and confidential channels for reporting complaints against bishops; and advocacy for more effective resolution of future complaints. He said these goals will be pursued using three criteria: "proper independence, sufficient authority, and substantial leadership by laity."

    Pittsburgh bishop apologizes to abuse victims, reviews abuse response

    PITTSBURGH (CNS) -- Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh expressed sorrow and apologized to young victims of clergy sexual abuse, while explaining his diocese's 30-year record of working to remove offenders, assist victims and prevent further abuse. "Ever since I first met victims of clergy child sexual abuse in 1988, I have seen the immense pain that this crime causes to its victims, to their loved ones and to the heart of Jesus," Bishop Zubik said Aug. 14 during a news conference at the diocese's pastoral center. His comments followed the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report that detail a two-year investigation of more than seven decades of clergy sex abuse claims. "I have cried with them and for them over the damage done to them and their families by men whose lives should have been committed to protecting their souls from harm," he said. "I dedicate myself to helping them and to doing everything possible to prevent such abuse from happening again." At least 90 percent of all reported child sexual abuse by clergy in the diocese occurred prior to 1990, he said. "The Diocese of Pittsburgh today is not the church that is described in the grand jury report. It has not been for a long time," the bishop said.

    Lori: 'More than prayers, promises' needed to address anger over abuse

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore acknowledged the renewed pain and anger caused by clergy sexual abuse following the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report that details some of the actions taken by Cardinal William H. Keeler when he was a bishop in Pennsylvania. "At this difficult time in the life of the church, we in the Archdiocese of Baltimore are especially saddened and troubled by the news of the late Cardinal William H. Keeler's failures while serving as Bishop of Harrisburg, one of six dioceses cited in the grand jury report," Archbishop Lori said in a statement Aug. 14. Cardinal Keeler was auxiliary bishop of Harrisburg from 1979 to 1983, when he became bishop of the diocese until his appointment to Baltimore in 1989. "The cardinal's 2002 letter to the faithful of Baltimore which accompanied his disclosure of credibly accused priests included words that are even more revealing in light of today's report: 'The simple, painful truth is that the church did not go far enough to protect children from sexual abuse,' the cardinal wrote. 'I humbly ask forgiveness for my mistakes. Please pray for me so that I may better serve,'" Archbishop Lori said. In light of the "painful revelations about the cardinal's failures to protect children while serving as bishop of Harrisburg, it is no longer the plan of the archdiocese to name the proposed new Catholic school in Baltimore after Cardinal Keeler," the archbishop said.

    Update: Network of homes provides love, hope, help for pregnant women

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- When Chris Bell was working in Times Square in the late 1970s, he was shocked to repeatedly see young mothers entering crisis shelters with their children, and he decided that he had to do something. With the help of Father Benedict Groeschel, a member of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, and his spiritual director at the time, Bell founded Good Counsel, a network of pro-life maternity homes. Currently, Good Counsel operates seven homes -- four in New York state, one in New Jersey, one in Alabama and one in Connecticut -- and works with other homes all over the country. It also is looking to both grow and expand its network. "Good Counsel is one of the founding members of the National Maternity Housing Coalition," Bell told Catholic News Service. "Most of the homes are small and limited in what they can do, but we can help find a place for any pregnant woman in the country." Bell said that any pregnant women can enter the maternity homes for free, and the homes will help provide them with opportunities to go back to school and find jobs. Good Counsel will even assist pregnant women with drug addictions or mental illnesses and help find suitable places for them. They also can help plan adoptions.

    Indian church joins relief efforts as floods wreak havoc in Kerala

    COCHIN, India (CNS) -- The Catholic Church has joined relief efforts as unprecedented floods and landslides continue to wreak havoc in India's Kerala state, killing 75 people within a week. Ucanews.com reported that all 41 Catholic dioceses in the southern state have opened schools and other institutions to accommodate flood victims and are cooperating to send food, clothes and other relief materials to affected areas. Thousands have fled their homes to reach safer places after incessant rain since Aug. 13 filled reservoirs of Kerala's 33 dams to the brim, forcing authorities to open sluices. This caused all 44 rivers to overflow and inundate homes, farms and roads and railways as floodwater gushed to the Arabian Sea on the state's western border. "It is an extremely worrying situation," Pinarayi Vijayan, Kerala's chief minister, told media Aug. 15, noting that heavy rain was forecast for another two days. Ucanews.com reported the heaviest rain and floods since 1924 left about 75,000 people in relief camps and caused damage worth $1.2 million to crops and properties. Water levels continue to increase in the plains amid threats of landslides in hilly districts. Road and rail lines remain flooded in several parts and the state's main Kochi International Airport has halted operations following the inundation of runways.

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  • Nebraska Catholic bishops invited all to pause to pray during execution

    OMAHA, Neb. (CNS) -- The state of Nebraska Aug. 14 executed its first death-row prisoner in 21 years, convicted murderer Cary Dean Moore, who was pronounced dead at 10:47 a.m. (CDT) at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln. Omaha Archbishop George J. Lucas and Bishops James D. Conley of Lincoln and Joseph G. Hanefeldt of Grand Island invited Catholics of the state and all people of goodwill to join them in silent prayer by pausing in their homes, schools and workplaces at 10 a.m. as the execution got underway. Having expressed their opposition to the death penalty, the three Catholic bishops spent silent time in prayer for Moore's victims, Moore himself and an end to capital punishment in Nebraska. The Omaha World-Herald daily newspaper reported that Moore, 60, had said he was ready to die. He was convicted of shooting and killing cab drivers Reuel Van Ness and Maynard Helgeland in the summer of 1979. He was sentenced to death in 1980. The state executed him with a four-drug cocktail: diazepam, a tranquilizer; fentanyl citrate, a powerful synthetic opioid that can block breathing and knock out consciousness; cisatracurium besylate, a muscle relaxant; and potassium chloride, which stops the heart.

    Bishop Grahmann dies at 87; headed Dallas Diocese from 1990 to 2007

    DALLAS (CNS) -- Retired Bishop Charles V. Grahmann of Dallas died Aug. 14 at St. Luke Baptist Hospital in San Antonio during surgery. He was 87. As bishop of Dallas, he built parishes and schools and embraced the burgeoning Catholic Hispanic growth in the Southwest, but his tenure from 1990 until his retirement in 2007 was marred by a clergy abuse scandal whose emotional and financial aftermath also divided the diocese. A visitation and vigil were scheduled for Aug. 17 at Santa Clara of Assisi Catholic Church, with the funeral Mass to follow at the church Aug. 18. Other services also were scheduled in the Archdiocese of San Antonio and the Diocese of Victoria. The announcement of Bishop Grahmann's death was made in Dallas the evening of Aug. 14 when Dallas Bishop Edward J. Burns addressed a news conference to discuss a grand jury report in Pennsylvania that detailed thousands of cases of sexual abuse by 300 clergy in six dioceses over a seven-decade period.

    Church that remains in nearly condemned town a gift from God, says pastor

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Four bishops will lead a Marian pilgrimage to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church in Centralia, Pennsylvania, Aug. 26. The church sits on a hill to the north of the town, which has been almost entirely condemned as a result of underground mine fires that have undermined the stability of the ground. "We are, quite simply, hoping to manifest and make real the major archbishop's vision of providing a place for prayer," said Father Michael Hutsko, an archpriest who is pastor of the church. Father Hutsko said that the presence of the church itself is a gift from God. "Logic says that there's no reason for the church to be there. But the spirit of prayer and the presence of God manifest themselves there," he said in a phone interview with Catholic News Service. He also said that being the pastor at such a church is a unique experience. "The people's attendance is a visible manifestation of their support."

    Cardinal to miss World Meeting of Families to tend to seminary matters

    BOSTON (CNS) -- The Archdiocese of Boston announced Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley will not attend the World Meeting of Families in Dublin Aug. 21-26. "Important matters pertaining to the pastoral care of St. John's Seminary in the Archdiocese of Boston and the seminarians enrolled in the formation program there require the cardinal's personal attention and presence," said an Aug. 15 statement. Cardinal O'Malley has asked the rector of the seminary, Msgr. James Moroney, to step down while an inquiry takes place into allegations made on social media about activities there that are "directly contrary to the moral standards and requirements of formation for the Catholic priesthood." Someone named Andrew Solkshinitz linked to a blog post in the community section of the Archdiocese of Boston's Facebook page that describes seminarians at a "conservative seminary" drinking heavily, cuddling and engaging in sexual acts. "As a former Boston seminarian for three years, I am calling upon the church to seriously examine the seminary located on Lake Street (St. John's)," Solkshinitz wrote in the post on the page.

    Catholics express despair, disbelief, anger at new abuse revelations

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- After the first allegations of abuse against Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick were publicized in mid-June, employees at the U.S. bishops' conference headquarters in Washington were bracing for calls from Catholics confused, outraged or anything in between regarding the emerging scandal. The big surprise: More Catholics were calling in -- and kept calling -- to ask how they could be foster parents to immigrant children who had been separated from their parents by the U.S. government at the U.S.-Mexico border. That didn't last long, though. The foster-parent calls receded and the abuse-related phone calls picked up in volume and intensity, according to Deacon Bernie Nojadera, executive director of the Secretariat for the Protection of Children and Young People at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Deacon Nojadera said he doesn't know exactly why people call his office. He suggested it may be that callers expect that the office can issue reprimands to any suspected cleric: "What are you going to do about it?" But that's not the case, he told Catholic News Service in an Aug. 13 interview. Priests accused of abuse are subject to the discipline of their diocesan bishop or religious superior; if found guilty of misconduct, priests may be laicized by the Vatican. Accused bishops, though, are subject first to the Vatican. Parents who call sound worried, the deacon added: "How do I know my child's going to be safe if he's in formation or if he's in seminary?"

    Update: Report details rape of children, culture of secrecy that fanned it

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The report begins dramatically, imploring its readers: "We, the members of this grand jury, need you to hear this." Plain and simple, at least 1,000 children identified in the investigation were raped in Catholic places of worship, in schools, and in diocesan owned vehicles, and were "groomed" through diocesan programs and retreats so they could be molested, wrote members of a 23-person grand jury who heard those accounts over a period of almost two years of an investigation of clergy sex abuse said to have taken place in six dioceses in the state of Pennsylvania over 70 years. Their findings were unveiled Aug. 14. In almost 1,400 pages, they describe graphic accounts of the abuse they say happened in the Catholic dioceses of Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Allentown, Scranton, Greensburg and Erie. What is depicted comes from internal documents made available by dioceses, from testimony of those who offered it, "and, on over a dozen occasions, the priests themselves appeared before us. Most of them admitted what they had done," the report says. Most of the crimes are too old to be prosecuted, but "for many of the victims, this report is justice," said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro in an Aug. 14 news conference. "We're going to shine a light," he added. "We can tell our citizens what happened." The report says that it recognizes that "much has changed over the last 15 years."

    Pope names Venezuelan prelate to top position in Secretariat of State

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has named a Venezuelan veteran of the Vatican diplomatic corps to be the third-ranking official in the Vatican Secretariat of State. Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra, current nuncio to Mozambique, will take up his new position as "substitute secretary for general affairs" Oct. 15, the Vatican announced Aug. 15. The position is similar to a president's chief of staff, placing him in charge of the Vatican's day-to-day operations. Archbishop Pena, 58, succeeds Italian Cardinal Giovanni Becciu, the new prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes. Born in Maracaibo, Venezuela, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1985. After earning a degree in canon law, he entered the Vatican diplomatic corps in 1993, serving at Vatican missions in Kenya, Yugoslavia, at the United Nations in Geneva, in South Africa, Honduras and Mexico. Retired Pope Benedict XVI named him an archbishop in 2011 and sent him to Pakistan as apostolic nuncio there. Pope Francis named him nuncio to Mozambique in 2015.

    On Assumption feast, pope asks consolation for all who suffer

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Mary's assumption into heaven was a special sign of God's favor, but it also indicates God's desire to save all people, body and soul, Pope Francis said. Reciting the Angelus prayer on the feast of the Assumption Aug. 15, Pope Francis also asked the crowd in St. Peter's Square to join him in praying for the 38 people who died Aug. 14 when a large span of a highway bridge collapsed in Genoa, Italy. But he also prayed for all people who are suffering around the world. "To Mary, consoler of the afflicted, who we contemplate today in the glory of heaven, I want to entrust the anguish and torment of those who, in many parts of the world, suffer in body and spirit. Let us pray that Mary, with her maternal intercession, will help us live our daily journey in the sure hope of joining her one day with all the saints and our loved ones in heaven," the pope said. The assumption of Mary, body and soul, into heaven was a "divine privilege" given to her because of her close union with Jesus from the very beginning, the pope said. "It was a corporal and spiritual union that began at the Annunciation and matured throughout Mary's life," leading finally to the foot of the cross.

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  • Update: Pennsylvania grand jury says church was interested in hiding abuse

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A Pennsylvania grand jury report issued Aug. 14 paints a picture of a Catholic Church in six of the state's dioceses that for decades handled claims of sex abuse of minors under its care by hiding the allegations and its victims. More than 300 priests were linked to abuse claims and over 1,000 victims were identified, said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro in a news conference following the report's release. "The main thing was not to help children but to avoid 'scandal,'" says a biting sentence about the behavior of church leaders and officials in the report, detailing a months-long investigation of clergy sex abuse claims in the dioceses of Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Allentown, Scranton, Greensburg and Erie. The report covers a period of 70 years, looking at the past and including information from the early 2000s, a time when news of the clerical sex abuse scandal erupted in the U.S. Before its release, some urged that the report be read keeping in mind that a lot has changed in the church since then, and also that not all of the report's claims are substantiated. Some of those who testified before the grand jury were present for the release of the report. Reporter Brandie Kessler, of The York Daily Record, tweeted: "Victims and family members are being led in. I'm seeing a few people starting to cry."

    Wuerl: In Pittsburgh, he 'established strong policies' on abuse claims

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl said Aug. 14 that during his tenure as bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006, he "established strong policies that addressed the needs of abuse survivors, removed priests from ministry and protected the most vulnerable in the community." He said he also "traveled to Rome to challenge successfully a Vatican decision to reinstate a (Pittsburgh) priest removed from ministry as a result of substantiated child abuse claims." Cardinal Wuerl made the comments in response to the Pennsylvania attorney general's release the same day of a grand jury report on a months-long investigation of abuse claims in the Pittsburgh Diocese and five other dioceses in the state -- Harrisburg, Greensburg, Erie, Scranton and Allentown. The report covers a span of over 70 years and many of the claims are decades old. "There have been other reports about child sex abuse within the Catholic Church," the report says. "But never on this scale." In his statement, Cardinal Wuerl said that while he understands the report "may be critical of some of my actions, I believe the report confirms that I acted with diligence, with concern for the victims and to prevent future acts of abuse."

    Moncton archbishop: Seeking justice for abuse victims is key to a brighter future

    QUEBEC CITY (CNS) -- As many Canadians mark National Acadian Day Aug. 15, the biggest Acadian diocese in the world is going through the greatest crisis in its history. Archbishop Valery Vienneau of Moncton, New Brunswick, said for the church to continue, it must seek justice for the many victims of clergy sexual abuse. Archbishop Vienneau, former chaplain at the French-speaking University of Moncton, was bishop of the Diocese of Bathurst, New Brunswick, from 2002 to 2012. It was there that he was first confronted with the reality of sexual abuse in the church, when many victims began asking compensation for what they endured at the hands of some priests. Archbishop Vienneau was named archbishop of Moncton in 2012. The previous year, revelations of abuse committed by Father Camille Leger in the coastal village of Cap-Pele, sparked a wave of indignation. "When I arrived in Moncton in 2012, I knew that I was coming into something like that because it had started in 2011. But I did not know the extent of the issue," said Archbishop Vienneau. "What I found most difficult is that I am a native of Cap-Pele. It means that the victims are my age or younger," said the archbishop, who was 10 when Father Leger came to his village.

    Bishops 'shamed' by 'sins, omissions' of priests, bishops leading to abuse

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. bishops "are shamed by and sorry for the sins and omissions by Catholic priests and Catholic bishops" that have led to sexual abuse and caused great harm to many, said an Aug. 14 statement from the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the chairman of its child protection committee. "We are committed to work in determined ways so that such abuse cannot happen," said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, the president, and Bishop Timothy L. Doherty of Lafayette, Indiana, chairman of the Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People. They pledged "to maintain transparency" and provide for "the permanent removal of offenders from ministry and to maintain safe environments for everyone." Cardinal DiNardo also said he is hosting a series of meetings during the week to respond to "the broader issue of safe environments within the church," and will provide an update when the meetings are concluded. The prelates' joint statement was issued in response to the release the same day of a grand jury report based on a months-long investigation by the state's attorney general into sexual abuse claims in six Pennsylvania dioceses -- Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Allentown, Scranton, Erie and Greensburg.

    After Rwanda closes churches, bishops urge protection of religious rights

    OXFORD, England (CNS) -- The Rwandan Catholic bishops' conference urged the government of President Paul Kagame to preserve religious rights after government officials closed thousands of churches and mosques. The buildings remained locked because of what the government said were health and safety issues, including lack of toilets, plastered walls and paved access roads. "Most Catholics are shocked and disappointed; they don't understand what's happening and why there's been no explanation," said Father Martin Nizeyimana, the Kigali-based bishops' conference secretary-general. "If measures are taken to protect the safety of people, this is good, but they should be explained, so people don't just arrive and find their church closed," he said. "It was all very badly handled," he told Catholic News Service Aug. 14. He said the sudden closures had "deeply affected" Rwanda's Catholic Church, especially in rural areas, forcing the suspension of Masses and priestly ordinations. He added that Catholics had continued to pray in the open air for good church-state relations, while church representatives negotiated with government officials to "bring the situation under control."

    LCWR assembly reaffirms commitment to addressing 'the sin of racism'

    ST. LOUIS (CNS) -- Drums punctuated a silent march by almost 800 Catholic women religious leaders Aug. 10 as they processed two blocks from a hotel ballroom to the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis, the site of the first two trials of the historic Dred Scott case. This call to action at the general assembly for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious emphasized the conference's recommitment to a 2016 resolution that recognized "racism as a systemic, structural cause underlying and contributing to the multiple situations of injustice identified in the LCWR Call." "In the presence of constant and painful reminders of the deep roots of racism in our country," reads the 2018 statement of recommitment, which echoes the wording of the 2016 resolution, LCWR pledges "to go deeper into the critical work of creating communion, examining the root causes of injustice and our own complicity, and purging ourselves, our communities, and our country of the sin of racism and its destructive effects." The conference unanimously affirmed the recommitment just before marching to the courthouse, which was blocks away from the hotel where the sisters convened Aug. 8-10 for the LCWR annual assembly.

    South Sudanese refugees in dire need of aid in northern Uganda

    NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- Hundreds of refugees from the South Sudan still are seeking asylum in neighboring Uganda despite a peace accord signed by opposing factions in their homeland. At least one Catholic bishop and two Catholic humanitarian organizations expressed concern that the refugees' needs outstrip the ability of the agencies to respond. Bishop Sabino Odoki of Arua in northern Uganda expressed hope that the peace agreement signed in June by President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar would bring much-needed peace to long-troubled South Sudan. "This way the refugees we are currently sheltering here in Arua will effectively return home and equally prevent others from fleeing the country," the bishop told Catholic News Service by telephone. He said the refugees sheltered in Arua are in dire need of basic items as well as pastoral care. "We have already appealed for the pastoral workers to serve among the refugees as well as for their physical needs, food, shelter and medicine," Bishop Odoki explained. The bishop has called on the international community to step up to aid the South Sudanese refugees. "My hope is that this will bear the most expected results," he said.

    Court approves house arrest for Australian archbishop

    ADELAIDE, Australia (CNS) -- An Australian judge approved home detention for Archbishop Philip Wilson, the retired archbishop of Adelaide who was found guilty of failing to report child sexual abuse allegations in the 1970s. The archbishop's lawyer said Aug. 14 that the archbishop will appeal his conviction but would begin serving his sentence immediately. He was sentenced July 3 to one year's detention, but with the possibility of parole after six months. The Newcastle Magistrates Court ruled that he could serve the sentence at a relative's house; Australian media reported that it would be the home of his sister. He will be required to wear a location monitor. When Archbishop Wilson was convicted in May, he stepped aside from his duties in the Adelaide Archdiocese while remaining the archbishop. In late July, however, he offered his resignation to Pope Francis, explaining in a statement that "there is just too much pain and distress being caused by my maintaining the office of archbishop of Adelaide, especially to the victims of Father (James) Fletcher." Pope Francis accepted the resignation July 30. Earlier, the pope had named Bishop Gregory O'Kelly of Port Pirie apostolic administrator of the archdiocese.

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  • Abuse letter to Cardinal O'Malley was second priest sent officials

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a June 2015 letter to Boston's Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley obtained by Catholic News Service, a New York priest tells the prelate about "sexual abuse/harassment/intimidation" allegations he had heard concerning then-Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick and asks that if the matter doesn't fall under his purview, to forward it to the "proper agency in the Vatican." The letter "has taken me years to write and send," writes Father Boniface Ramsey, pastor of St. Joseph's Church Yorkville in New York City, who made the letter available to CNS in early August. But it was the second time he had attempted to tell church officials in writing. In it, he describes for Cardinal O'Malley conversations with the rector of a seminary in New Jersey about trips then-Archbishop McCarrick, as head of the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, would take with seminarians to a beach house. "Some of these stories were not presented to me as mere rumors but were told me by persons directly involved," he wrote. In an Aug. 13 phone interview with CNS, Father Ramsey said he didn't know any sexual acts were taking place, "but I thought his (McCarrick's) behavior was extremely inappropriate at the least."

    Bishop discusses renewed efforts on addressing abuse claims, transparency

    LINCOLN, Neb. (CNS) -- Claims of "priest wrongdoing" have prompted the Diocese of Lincoln to make a "thorough review" of its policies and procedures for responding to abuse allegations made against its priests, said Lincoln Bishop James D. Conley. He made the comments Aug. 10 at a listening session he was invited to attend at St. Wenceslaus Church in Wahoo. Some days earlier, in a letter read Aug. 5 at all Masses, he apologized for failing to be more transparent about a pastor being removed from ministry and sent to treatment last year because the priest had developed "an emotionally inappropriate, nonsexual relationship with a 19-year-old male which involved alcohol." He sent Father Charles Townsend, pastor of St. Peter Parish in Lincoln, to the Shalom Center in Houston for treatment. Bishop Conley said there was no cover-up, as was claimed by some, but there was "the lack of transparency with the people of God about this incident." At the Wahoo church, he reported that he "celebrated and preached" at all weekend Masses at St. Peter's Parish the Aug. 5-6, and on Aug. 6 also held a listening session with 500 people at St. Peter's. "The topic was Father Townsend's behavior. Their message to me was clear and honest: They desire transparency and objectivity, and that is my promise to you and all the faithful in the diocese as I move forward," Bishop Conley said.

    Spanish Jesuit murdered in Peru held up as 'exemplary'

    LIMA, Peru (CNS) -- A Spanish Jesuit priest who was found murdered in the boarding school where he lived was buried Aug. 12 in Chiriaco, in the Apostolic Vicariate of Jaen in Peru's northern Amazon region. Mourners carried Father Carlos Riudavets' coffin through the streets of Chiriaco and jammed the small community's simple church for the funeral Mass. A cook found Father Riudavets' body Aug. 10 at the Jesuit residence on the grounds of Valentin Salegui School, part of the Jesuits' Faith and Joy school network. The 73-year-old priest had been bound and the body showed signs of violence, according to a statement from Peru's Jesuit community. Father Riudavets, a native of San Lucar de Guadiana in Spain's Huelva province, had worked in Peru's Amazon region since 1980, serving as a teacher and later principal of the school. Although retired, he continued to live and assist there. The school, in the community of Yamakai-entsa, serves about 270 Awajun and Wampis indigenous students from villages along five rivers in the region. No students were there at the time of the murder because the school was closed for mid-year vacation.

    'Mountaintop Mass' celebrated to honor Father McGivney draws 1,000

    WATERBURY, Conn. (CNS) -- More than 1,000 people gathered in the rain on top of Holy Land USA as Archbishop Leonard P. Blair of Hartford celebrated Mass to honor Father Michael McGivney, a candidate for sainthood, founder of the Knights of Columbus and a native of Waterbury. The faithful came from across the state for the "Mountaintop Mass" on Pine Hill at the former religious theme park, known for its 60-foot illuminated cross, which can be seen for miles from the highway. The hilltop offers a view of the places where Father McGivney was born, baptized and educated, and was buried for 92 years until his remains were moved to the Church of St. Mary in New Haven, where he began the Knights of Columbus. In the early afternoon, people began gathering on the hilltop, many of them shuttled to the top in golf carts on the repaved roads. They sat under tents and umbrellas in the area of the large cross that looks out over the city. They prayed the rosary and listened to praise and worship music. Although rain fell throughout the day, it didn't dampen their spirits. Archbishop Blair concelebrated the Mass with 13 priests and three deacons on a covered stage that had a large banner proclaiming, "Welcome to Holy Land USA," while above them, swallows swooped through the air in joyful flight.

    Filipinos welcome U.S. vow to return historic Catholic church bells

    TACLOBAN, Philippines (CNS) -- Filipinos welcomed an announcement by the United States that it planned to soon return church bells seized by American troops as trophies during the Philippine-American War more than a century ago. In a statement Aug. 11, the U.S. embassy in Manila said Congress already has been informed about plans to return the "bells of Balangiga" to the Philippines, ucanews.com reported. American soldiers took the church bells from the town of Balangiga in the central Philippines following the massacre of its residents in response to the death of 48 U.S. troops at the hands of rebels in 1901. "We've received assurances that the bells will be returned to the Catholic Church and treated with the respect and honor they deserve," U.S. embassy spokeswoman Trude Raizen said. "We are aware that the bells of Balangiga have deep significance for a number of people, both in the United States and in the Philippines," she added. The news came as the town of Balangiga celebrated the feast day of its patron saint, St. Lawrence the Martyr, Aug. 10.

    Discalced Carmelites use time-honored skills to construct new monastery

    FAIRFIELD, Pa. (CNS) -- The grinding sounds of an excavation and construction site yielded to the intonation of a solemn pontifical Mass and prayers for the future on a vista in Fairfield July 25, where construction is underway for a second monastery for the Discalced Carmelite nuns in the Harrisburg Diocese. A little more than two years ago -- on June 13, 2016 -- Mother Stella-Marie, prioress, stood at this same site gazing at the grassy and tree-lined farmland overlooking southern Adams County, and expressed her trust in the Lord that "one day we will see here a beautiful monastery that is dedicated to the glory of God." While the building materials for the cloistered monastery are still being prepared for construction -- namely, the excavation of stone from the land on which it will stand -- the early development of its farmstead can already be seen. True to Carmelite tradition and architecture in the footsteps of their foundress, St. Teresa of Avila, the nuns are creating a type of settlement that will include a chapel, a novitiate, a building for the professed, an infirmary, a guest cottage chaplain's quarters, walkways, gardens and a small farm. Harrisburg Bishop Ronald W. Gainer celebrated the July 25 Mass in the carmel's newly constructed barn that will serve as a temporary chapel until the permanent stone chapel is built. The new barn also includes a kitchen, refectory, choir, an area where people can leave prayer requests, donations and food, and a speak room that allows the nuns to receive limited visits from behind a grille.

    Myanmar cardinal backs pope's opposition to death penalty

    MANDALAY, Myanmar (CNS) -- Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, Myanmar, hailed Pope Francis' admonition that imposing the death penalty is always inadmissible. The Catholic Church should never compromise its fundamental belief in the right to life, including on the issue of capital punishment, Cardinal Bo said in a statement released Aug. 10, ucanews.com reported. "Even those who committed heinous crimes do have a right to life," he said. The cardinal said Pope Francis' announcement Aug. 2 on the issue was an affirmation of the church adopting a moral stance. The pope announced a change in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which previously accepted the death penalty as a "last recourse." The new text acknowledges that the "dignity of a person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes." Pope Francis maintains the death penalty is fundamentally against the teachings of Jesus because it excludes the possibility of redemption, does not give justice to victims and feeds a mentality of vengeance.

    Chaldean Catholic synod offers thanks for return of displaced Christians

    DAHUK, Iraq (CNS) -- The Chaldean Catholic Church concluded a weeklong synod in Baghdad offering thanks to God for the return of numerous displaced Christians to their hometowns in the Ninevah Plain and for pastoral achievements in their dioceses. The synod, held Aug. 7-13 at the invitation of Cardinal Louis Raphael I Sako, the Chaldean Catholic patriarch, brought together church leaders and participants from Iraq, the United States, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Canada, Australia and Europe to discuss issues vital for the church's future both in Iraq and among its diaspora. Patriarchs and other leaders proposed potential candidates for election as new bishops because several Iraqi clergy are nearing retirement age. Chaldean Archbishop Yousif Thomas Mirkis of Kirkuk, Iraq, told Catholic News Service that no names would be made public until approved by the Holy See. The final statement said a key discussion point focused on the need for "a larger number of well-qualified priests, monks and nuns" to work in Chaldean Catholic churches to "preserve the Eastern identity and culture of each country and its traditions."

    British Columbia residents 'broken' as wildfire destroys homes, church

    VANCOUVER, British Columbia (CNS) -- Catholics in the Diocese of Whitehorse, Yukon, sought assistance after a devastating wildfire in Telegraph Creek, British Columbia, destroyed a mission church, rectory and homes. "Many people are in complete distress and broken because they are finding themselves with nothing," said Bishop Hector Vila of Whitehorse in a letter to Canadian bishops Aug. 8. The diocese includes communities in northern British Columbia. Lightning sparked a wildfire northwest of Telegraph Creek in the northern part of the province Aug. 1, and a local state of emergency was declared three days later. All 300 residents of Telegraph Creek were told to evacuate Aug. 5, and they fled to Dease Lake and nearby communities. Bishop Vila said all residents were evacuated safely, but many structures, including buildings at St. Theresa Mission, were destroyed in the blaze. The church rectory was the home of pastoral workers Joshua and Denise Grimard and their children. "At the moment, the impact of the wildfire and the future of the community of Telegraph Creek is still unknown," the bishop said. He asked for prayers for residents who lost the homes and belongings, as well as for firefighters, first responders and volunteers.

    Sexual abuse by monks covered up at schools in England, inquiry finds

    MANCHESTER, England (CNS) -- The "appalling sexual abuse" of children as young as 7 was covered up in two leading Benedictine-run schools in England to protect the reputations of predatory monks, a government-backed investigation concluded. The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse said in a report published Aug. 9 that for decades there was a "culture of acceptance of abuse behavior" at Ampleforth Abbey, near York, and at Downside Abbey, near Bristol. The report said the monasteries remained reluctant to report crimes to the police even after stringent child protection procedures were implemented in the Catholic Church in England and Wales following a series of high-profile clerical abuse scandals. "Instead, monks in both institutions were very often secretive, evasive and suspicious of anyone outside the English Benedictine Congregation," Alexis Jay, who chaired the inquiry, said in a statement posted on the inquiry's website. "Safeguarding children was less important than the reputation of the church and the well-being of the abusive monks," she continued. "Even after new procedures were introduced in 2001, when monks gave the appearance of co-operation and trust, their approach could be summarized as a 'tell them nothing' attitude." The report revealed that 10 monks from both communities have been prosecuted for child abuse or for viewing child pornography.

    Do good to fight indifference, apathy, pope tells young people

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Being a Christian isn't just about not doing evil, but it is a daily exercise in loving others through good works and deeds, Pope Francis said. Many times, Christians can be tempted to "think they are saints" and justify themselves by saying, "I don't harm anyone," the pope told thousands of Italian young adults Aug. 12. "How many people do not do evil, but also do not do good, and their lives flow into indifference, apathy and tepidity! This attitude is contrary to the Gospel and is also contrary to the character of you young people who, by your very nature, are dynamic, passionate and courageous," he said. According to the Vatican, an estimated 90,000 people were in St. Peter's Square for the pope's address and Angelus prayer after an outdoor Mass celebrated by Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti of Perugia-Citta della Pieve, president of the Italian bishops' conference.

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  • Fight scandal by giving witness to the Gospel, pope tells young people

    ROME (CNS) -- Members of the Catholic Church sin and give scandal, it's true, Pope Francis said, but it is up to each Catholic to live the faith as authentically as possible and witness to the world the love of Jesus. "The best way to respond is with witness," the pope said Aug. 11 in response to a young man who said, "The useless pomp and frequent scandals have made the church barely credible in our eyes." Pope Francis spoke about witness, dreams and true love during an evening meeting with some 70,000 young adults, aged 16 to 30, gathered at Rome's Circus Maximus at the end of a pilgrimage. Most of them had walked at least 50 miles over the previous three or four days. Representatives came from 195 of Italy's 226 dioceses, and 150 bishops walked at least part of the way with groups from their dioceses. The young people began congregating at the dusty site of the ancient Roman stadium early in the afternoon when temperatures were already in the 90s. They gathered together on the shady slopes of the field, under the loudspeaker towers and even set up their pup tents seeking relief from the bright sun. Five young people were chosen to share their stories with the crowd and ask Pope Francis questions.

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    Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

  • Catholic bishops urge Florida governor to spare death-row inmate

    TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- The Catholic bishops of Florida urged to Gov. Rick Scott to commute the death sentence of Jose Antonio Jimenez to a life sentence without parole. Jimenez is scheduled to be executed Aug. 14 at 6 p.m. local time for the 1992 murder of Phyllis Minas. "Both victims of crime and offenders are children of God and members of the same human family," said an Aug. 10 letter to Scott on behalf of the bishops by Michael B. Sheedy , executive director of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops in Tallahassee. "We appreciate your difficult task as governor and still must ask you to commute this death sentence, and all death sentences, to life without the possibility of parole," he said. Sheedy cited Pope Francis' announcement Aug. 2 that he had ordered a change in the Catechism of the Catholic Church declaring that the death penalty is inadmissible in all cases. "This reflects the growing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of great crimes and that more effective forms of detention have been developed to ensure the due protection of citizens without definitively depriving the guilty of the possibility of redemption," said Sheedy.

    Virginia bishops ask for peace as Charlottesville anniversary approaches

    ARLINGTON, Va. (CNS) -- Two bishops in the state of Virginia asked Catholics and others to offer prayers for peace on the first anniversary of a deadly rally in Charlottesville. "I call upon all Catholics and people of good will to pray for peace in our nation, and for an end to the division that is caused by racism and prejudice," Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge said Aug. 10. "We must shine a light on injustice, be advocates for those who are victims of discrimination, and continue to affirm the dignity of every human person as we are all created in the image and likeness of God." He said he joined in solidarity with a similar message from Bishop Barry C. Knestout of Richmond, who said that "the church cannot be silent about racism." "Prayer -- individually and as a faith community -- is a start in our addressing racism," Bishop Knestout said July 30. "It cannot be an occasional act; we should pray about it in our daily lives and in faith community gatherings." The statements came as the state of Virginia, and the rest of the nation, recalled the riots and violence that erupted during what was called the "Unite the Right" rally Aug. 11 and 12, 2017. The event brought together white supremacists in Charlottesville, who clashed with protesters, resulting in injuries, damage to the city, and the death of a protester, killed as one of the rally participants rammed his car into a crowd.

    World must not forget suffering of Ukraine and its people, says prelate

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Since 2014 Ukraine "has been a victim of relentless military aggression" and suffered countless human tragedies, but now the media's attention has shifted away from the country to other conflict zones, the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church said in an address in Baltimore. "We plead with the international community not to neglect Ukraine and that we not be left alone with a much bigger and more powerful aggressor," said Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, Ukraine. He delivered the keynote address at the Knights of Columbus' States Dinner during its 136th annual national Supreme Convention at the Baltimore Convention Center Aug. 7-9. Major Archbishop Shevchuk, the leader of more than 5 million Ukrainian Catholics around the globe, relayed the current situation in his country and also thanked Supreme Knight Carl Anderson and all the Knights for their support and taking "a risk" to help establish the Knights of Columbus in Ukraine. "Our brother Knights demonstrated courage and charity by joining hundreds of thousands of other men and women who wanted to defend their right to live in a just society where human dignity would be respected," the major archbishop said.

    Cardinal O'Malley calls for investigation at Boston seminary

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Archbishop of Boston said in an Aug. 10 statement that he has asked the rector of its main archdiocesan St. John Seminary to go on sabbatical leave immediately and is asking for an investigation of allegations made on social media about activities there "directly contrary to the moral standards and requirements of formation for the Catholic priesthood." "At this time, I am not able to verify or disprove these allegations," said Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley in a statement sent to media via email. He does not say in the statement what the allegations are about. However, a post on the community section of a Facebook page for the Archdiocese of Boston has a comment by someone named Andrew Solkshinitz? with a link to a blog post that describes seminarians at "conservative seminary" drinking heavily, "cuddling" after a drunken party, and being involved in sexual behaviors and acts. Solkshinitz says on Facebook that the seminary not identified in the blog post is St. John. "As a former Boston seminarian for 3 years I am calling upon the church to seriously examine the seminary located on Lake street," Solkshinitz writes in the post he made on the page. "The church has not learned her lesson and maybe if the stories are once again made public then things will finally change." Boston was the epicenter of the abuse scandal that erupted in the church in 2002.

    Bishops, faith leaders condemn Tennessee's first execution in nine years

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) -- The execution of Billy Ray Irick the night of Aug. 9 "was unnecessary" and "served no useful purpose," Bishop J. Mark Spalding of Nashville and Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville said in a statement after Irick was executed at Riverbend Maximum Security Institute in Nashville. "In this time of sadness, that began many years ago with the tragic and brutal death of Paula Dyer and continues with another death tonight, we believe that only Jesus Christ can bring consolation and peace," the bishops said. "We continue to pray for Paula and for her family. And we also pray for Billy Ray Irick, that his final human thoughts were of remorse and sorrow for we believe that only Christ can serve justice." They also said they prayed that the people of Tennessee "may all come to cherish the dignity that his love instills in every person -- at every stage of life." Irick, 59, died at 7:48 p.m. CDT after Tennessee prison officials administered a lethal combination of chemicals. According to press reports, before he died Irick was coughing, choking and gasping for air and his face turned dark purple as the lethal drugs took effect. He was the first person executed in Tennessee since 2009 and the first person executed in the U.S. since Pope Francis said Aug. 2 that he had ordered a change in the Catechism of the Catholic Church declaring the death penalty inadmissible in all cases.

    'Take clear action,' young Catholics urge U.S. bishops in open letter

    NEW YORK (CNS) -- A group of young Catholics has urged the U.S. bishops to "take clear action" by conducting an independent investigation of who knew what and when about actions by Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, who has been accused of sexual abuse. They also stressed that the bishops should engage in "formal acts of public penance and reparation" for what has happened. "An Open Letter from Young Catholics" was published online Aug. 8 on the website of First Things, a journal of the Institute on Religion and Public Life, which is a research and education center based in New York. The journal is printed 10 times a year. The letter, addressed to "Dear Fathers in Christ," had 43 signatures. The group includes authors, writers and editors; the heads of Catholic and other organizations; and professors, assistant professors, doctoral candidates and research scholars in various disciplines at Catholic and secular universities in the U.S. and elsewhere. "You are the shepherds of the church. If you do not act, evil will go unchecked," the letter said. It asked the bishops to "agree to a thorough, independent investigation into claims of abuse by Archbishop McCarrick, both of minors and of adults."

    St. Thomas More gave witness to strong marriage, family, home, says priest

    STEUBENVILLE, Ohio (CNS) -- St. Thomas More is often heralded as a champion of religious freedom, but supporting that effort was his unshakable faith and evangelical joy in the truth about marriage. "We should remember Thomas More for his domestic witness, the witness of his own marriage, family, and home," Father Paul Scalia said at a conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville. "His defense of marriage wasn't purely intellectual. He knew marriage and the family from the inside. He knew the joy in the virtue that was being threatened by its undoing." Father Scalia, episcopal vicar for clergy for the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, is the son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Commenting on his father's influence, Father Scalia said, "I saw him striving to be a good Catholic man. I also saw him failing, but I saw him trying, and that's what's important." The title of his talk was "More Witnesses Needed: St. Thomas More and the Eternal Significance of Marriage." He spoke July 28 at the Defending the Faith Conference, held each year during the last weekend in July at Franciscan University. This year over 1,400 people from across the U.S. attended the conference.

    Judge blocks deportation underway for asylum seekers

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A federal judge Aug. 9 ordered Aug. 9 the immediate return to the U.S. of two Salvadoran asylum seekers, a mother and her daughter, who were unexpectedly deported from Texas to their native country. The ruling came as the court considered their case challenging a Trump administration policy that blocks foreign nationals expressing fear of gang violence or domestic abuse from seeking asylum. U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan threatened U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions with contempt of court if the mother and daughter, whom the government had already put on a plane, were not returned. Though the flight they were on touched down in El Salvador, "in compliance with the court's order, upon arrival in El Salvador, the plaintiffs did not disembark and were promptly returned to the United States," the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said late Aug. 9. The woman and her daughter are part of about a dozen plaintiffs represented by the American Civil Liberties Union challenging what they say is the "gutting of asylum protections for immigrants fleeing domestic violence and gang brutality."

    Magazine, Twitter prove sources to report alleged seminarian abuse

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Magazines and newspapers have long been sources to break big news stories. Now, too, social media is taking its turn. In a series of tweets, a onetime seminarian who goes by the handle "inflammateomnia" -- Latin for "Go set the world on fire," a quote ascribed to St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits -- detailed on Twitter sexually abusive behavior he said was directed at him and which he witnessed, as well as the lack of urgency given his complaints by one seminary official. Inflammateomnia, who does not reveal his name on Twitter, describes himself as a Boston-based graduate student in theology, "seeking the true, good and beautiful." "Guess this is my Catholic #MeToo moment," he began, echoing the Twitter hashtag women have used since last fall to reveal their own tales of abuse and harassment. Even in the expanded Twitterverse of 280 characters per tweet, it took inflammateomnia more than 20 tweets to tell his story. Due to his anonymity, and his not naming the seminary and the people involved, his story cannot be independently verified. Inflammateomnia credited the spiritual director he has had since 2011 for pushing "me to get psychological help via therapy," he said. "This stuff is real, people. And it hurts."

    Scouting for faith: Young Italians seek God, vocations on pilgrimage

    CAMPELLO ALTO, Italy (CNS) -- As several Italian cities were issuing Code Red heat-wave advisories in early August, a group of young Italian scouts rented three donkeys and set off walking on a 65-mile pilgrimage across the country's mountainous center. The Rome-based troop's itinerary led them from St. Benedict's birthplace in Norcia to St. Francis' birthplace in Assisi via a network of medieval trails. Passing through farms and olive groves, scaling mountains and crossing valleys, the seven-day hike was designed to help the 15 young men and women reconnect with nature and grow closer to God. The scouts set off to "discover these two great giants of Christian spirituality -- Benedict and Francis -- and unite that to an interesting journey with donkeys accompanying us," said Giuseppe Malafronte, leader of the group from Sacred Heart in the Fields Parish near the Vatican. According to Malafronte, strenuous outdoor experiences help instill Christian virtues in the 16- to 21-year-old scouts in his troop. "One of the most beautiful things we learn, the centerpiece of being a scout, is to be a servant, a citizen and a pilgrim," Malafronte said.

    Caritas project seeks to end hunger in South Asia

    NEW DELHI, India (CNS) -- The Catholic Church agency Caritas has launched a project that aims to end hunger across South Asia by 2030. Caritas India introduced the program in collaboration with its international partners to help farmers adapt methods to cope with erratic climate conditions, ucanews.com reported. "Climate change is a global challenge and affects agricultural production and human well-being. It hits hardest where people directly depend on agriculture for food and livelihoods," said Sunil Simon, project director in India. The Smallholder Adaptive Farming and Biodiversity Network was launched in June during Caritas Asia's regional conference in Bangkok. "The unique program aims to address our common goal of ending hunger by 2030," said Christoph Schweifer, secretary general of Caritas Austria, a partner in the project. Caritas organizations in Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan will implement the program with the support of Caritas Austria and Caritas Switzerland. The effort aims to fight hunger and malnutrition by promoting local food through small-scale farming in selected areas of South Asia in response to climate change, Simon said.

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