Browsing News Entries

Cardinal O’Malley at safeguarding summit: ‘The wrongs done to God’s people must be corrected’

Cardinal Seán O’Malley celebrates Mass during a safeguarding summit in Warsaw, Poland, Sept. 20, 2021. / episkopat.pl

Warsaw, Poland, Sep 22, 2021 / 05:30 am (CNA).

Cardinal Seán O’Malley told a safeguarding summit this week that “the wrongs done to God’s people must be corrected.”

Preaching at Mass on Sept. 20 at a conference in Warsaw, Poland, the archbishop of Boston called for an end to clerical abuse and cover-ups.

“We are gathered here because so many of our brothers and sisters have suffered at the hands of abusive clergy who have perpetrated evil acts by using their office to abuse others or to cover up such abuse. And many times, those who have suffered have been rejected in their suffering when they spoke out,” he said.

“This cannot be what Jesus wants of his Church; this cannot be the Church of a loving and reconciling God. Abuse and its cover up must stop and the wrongs done to God’s people must be corrected.”

O’Malley, the president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, was speaking during a four-day meeting, “Our Common Mission of Safeguarding God’s Children,” supported by the pontifical commission and the Bishops’ Conferences of Central and Eastern Europe.

episkopat.pl
episkopat.pl

The 77-year-old Capuchin cardinal praised the “courage and witness” of abuse survivors, linking them to martyrs such as the Korean saint Andrew Kim Taegon, whose feast fell on Sept. 20, and Polish priest Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko.

“The courage and witness of so many survivors and their families and their deep concern that others are not harmed in a similar way should be recognized and welcomed. We give thanks to God for their witness and their presence among us,” he said.

“In some unexpected way, they are writing the next chapter in the history of those who suffer for the faith. They take their place among the courageous witnesses of the faith, of Andrew Kim and companions, of Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko and so many others whose sufferings in the name of truth are known to God alone.”

episkopat.pl
episkopat.pl

The Warsaw meeting opened with an address by Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, president of the Polish bishops’ conference, who said that the volume of incidents from Central and Eastern Europe “astonishes” the Vatican’s doctrinal office, which oversees clerical abuse cases.

“New tragedies are being uncovered, and the number of cases coming from our region in recent years to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith astonishes this experienced institution,” he said.

He described the steps that the Polish Church had taken in response to a series of abuse scandals, highlighting the bishops’ appointment of Archbishop Wojciech Polak as their delegate for the protection of children and youth, and the creation of the St. Joseph Foundation supporting abuse survivors.

episkopat.pl
episkopat.pl

Gądecki also noted that the Church had established the role of a “guardian” for accused and convicted clergy.

“We also recognize that clergy accused of sexual abuse -- also when convicted -- fall into a loneliness that creates a frustration that is dangerous to the accused or convicted priest, as well as to his potential victims,” he explained.

“That is why we have created the role of the guardian of accused or convicted clergy to supervise these individuals, to require them to comply with all restrictions imposed, and to support them in moments of depression or despair.”

He added that lay people had created an organization called Wounded in the Church providing a hotline for victims and access to therapists and lawyers.

episkopat.pl
episkopat.pl

“I mention these people and institutions to show the magnitude of the effort made by the Church in Poland, and also to thank those who have done much good in this area over the years,” he said.

“We take to heart the call of the Holy Father Francis not to care first of all about the image of the institution, about the ‘external side of the cup and bowl,’ but first of all about the good of the victims.”

But he added: “There is also the danger that all these actions will lull our sense of responsibility into the belief that, after all, we are already doing so much for this cause.”

“However, coming into contact with the tragedy of so many people who have been wronged, as I was able to experience personally when listening to a number of people before the Vatican summit in 2019, reveals that in the face of the enormity of the wounds, many efforts remain insufficient.”

Pope Francis sent a video message to participants in the Warsaw meeting in which he urged leaders to put the welfare of victims ahead of the Church’s reputation.

“Our expressions of sorrow must be converted into concrete pathways of reform to both prevent further abuse and to give confidence to others that our efforts will bring about real and reliable change,” he said.

“I encourage you to listen to the cry of the victims and to dedicate yourselves, with each other and with society in a broader sense, in these important discussions because they truly touch the future of the Church in Central and Eastern Europe -- not only the Church’s future, but the hearts of Christians as well. This is our responsibility.”

Speaking on Sept. 20, the Czech philosopher and theologian Msgr. Tomáš Halík said that clerical abuse was one aspect of a profound crisis in the Church today. He pointed to several root causes in the post-communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe, including clericalism, triumphalism, and the abuse of power. Only thoroughgoing reform can overcome the crisis, he said.

Canon law professor Myriam Wijlens stressed the need for bishops to take a responsible approach to abuse cases. She noted that in the past some focused more on the Church’s reputation than victims’ welfare, causing a crisis of trust and a loss of moral authority.

episkopat.pl
episkopat.pl

Sept. 21 was dedicated to the theological implications of the abuse crisis. Polish priest Fr. Grzegorz Strzelczyk said that theological reflection was an essential element of the Church’s response, alongside legal, psychological, and spiritual approaches.

He underlined that the Church can only be credible if, in the face of great evil, it is capable of repentance leading to an authentic and profound change in people.

He also called for a renewed theology of ecclesiastical governance, so that the Church does not behave like a corporation preoccupied with its image.

On the final day, Archbishop Wojciech Polak, the Primate of Poland, addressed the conference, calling for a comprehensive response to abuse, involving psychologists, therapists, psychiatrists, and theologians.

He said during a closing briefing that “without real cooperation, we will continue to struggle with a clerical situation in which we run the risk that some will remain silent about these issues and not feel that this is a matter for the whole Church.”

Concluding his homily on Sept. 20, Cardinal O’Malley said: “So, we pray to God so that, in God’s own wise ways, these sufferings may be the seeds of a more resilient, a more loving and a more faithful Church, humbly recognizing its faults and steadfastly committed to seeking justice and reconciliation with those who have been harmed.”

“It is only by working courageously to bring justice and healing to the victims that we ourselves can be healed.”

Pope Francis: Christian faith in Europe is being ‘diluted by consumerism’

Pope Francis’ general audience in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican, Sept. 22, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Sep 22, 2021 / 04:30 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said Wednesday that the Christian faith in Europe is being diluted by consumerism and ideologies, making prayer and the witness of humble love especially needed today.

“Pray, because this is what the People of God are called to above all: to worship, to pray, to journey, to wander, to do penance, and in this to feel the peace and the joy that the Lord gives us,” the pope said in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall on Sept. 22.

“And this is of particular importance on the European continent, where the presence of God ... is being diluted by consumerism and in the ‘vapors’ of a unitary way of thinking ... that is the fruit of the mixture of old and new ideologies,” he said.

The pope dedicated this week’s live-streamed general audience to a reflection on his recent trip to Hungary and Slovakia, which he called “a pilgrimage of prayer in the heart of Europe.”

Pope Francis said that his apostolic journey on Sept. 12-15 began in Budapest with adoration of the Eucharist and ended with “popular piety” in Slovakia as he celebrated the country’s national feast of Our Lady of Sorrows at the Shrine of the Virgin of Seven Sorrows in Šaštín.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Pope Francis said that the answer to Europe’s watered-down faith was the “healing that comes from prayer, witness, and humble love.”

“This is what I saw in the encounter with the holy people of God. What did I see? A faithful people that has suffered atheist persecution. I also saw it in the faces of our Jewish brothers and sisters, with whom we remembered the Holocaust. Because there is no prayer without remembrance,” he said.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The pope met with Jewish communities in Hungary and Slovakia. He recalled their suffering during the Second World War and deplored contemporary anti-Semitism.

“There is no prayer without memory. Prayer, the memory of one’s own life, of the life of one’s people, of one’s own history: making memories and remembering. This is good and helps to pray,” he said at the general audience.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Pope Francis said that in his meetings with Catholic bishops in Budapest and Bratislava, he encountered directly the grateful remembrance of the deep roots of the Christian faith in Central Europe.

“Many times I have insisted that these roots are always alive, full of the lifeblood that is the Holy Spirit, and must be preserved as such: not like museum exhibits, not ideologized and exploited for the sake of prestige and power, to consolidate a closed identity,” Francis said.

“No. This would mean betraying them and making them barren,” he added.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Pope Francis’ European trip began with a seven-hour visit to Budapest, where he met with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

The pope told journalists during a press conference on his return flight that he had discussed ecology and his concerns about a “demographic winter” in Europe with Orbán, but did not touch on immigration, a topic on which they diverge sharply.

“During this journey to the heart of Europe, I often thought of the fathers of the European Union, as they imagined it, not as an agency for distributing fashionable ideological colonizations … Understood and experienced in this way, the roots are a guarantee of the future: from them, thriving branches of hope can grow,” the pope said at his general audience.

“You can grow to the extent that you are united to the roots: strength comes to you from there. If you cut off the roots with everything new, new ideologies, this will get you nowhere. It will not make you grow. You will end up badly,” he said.

A group of refugees assisted by the Centro Mondo Migliore (Better World Center) was present at the pope’s weekly audience. They could be seen cheering and throwing their hats into the air as the pope gave them a special greeting and assured them of his prayers.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

In his address, Pope Francis said that Sts. Cyril and Methodius, co-patrons of Europe, were not “figures to commemorate, but rather models to imitate.”

He described the ninth-century saints who spread the Gospel in Eastern Europe as “masters from whom we can always learn the spirit and method of evangelization, as well as civil commitment.”

In Budapest, Pope Francis became the first pope to visit the International Eucharistic Congress since the year 2000.

The pope noted that there was “great participation” in the concluding Mass of the week-long congress, which drew an estimated 100,000 people, according to local authorities.

“The holy people of God, on the Lord’s Day, gathered before the mystery of the Eucharist, by which they are continually generated and regenerated,” the pope said.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“They were embraced by the Cross that stood above the altar, showing the same direction indicated by the Eucharist, namely the path of humble and selfless love, of generous and respectful love towards all, of faith that purifies from worldliness and leads to simplicity.”

Pope Francis said: “Let us take up this idea again: that to be a Christian is to serve.”

Diocese, former orphanage residents in Vermont differ in views of recovery process

null / Manfred Antranias Zimmer via Pixabay (public domain)

Burlington, Vt., Sep 21, 2021 / 17:05 pm (CNA).

Some former residents of a long-closed Catholic orphanage in Vermont say they are dissatisfied with the local diocese’s response to their complaints of abuse, while the Diocese of Burlington maintains it has been transparent and helpful. 

St. Joseph's Orphanage in Burlington was founded in the mid-1800s. It was operated by the Sisters of Providence, and overseen by Vermont Catholic Charities. It closed in 1974.

The Vermont attorney general’s office launched an investigation into allegations of abuses at Catholic institutions after an August 2018 article in BuzzFeed News described allegations of murder and sexual abuse at the orphanage.

The investigation concluded in December 2020, and “sufficient evidence to support a murder charge was not found.”

Alleged abuses at St. Joseph's Orphanage were the subject of lawsuits brought by former residents in the 1990s. Some of the cases were dismissed, and some reached settlements.

Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington announced in September 2018 that the diocese was waiving nondisclosure agreements for abuse victims, and that the diocese had not required nondisclosure agreements on the part of victims since 2002.

"It is my hope that this past action as well as the present one will allow the truth of what happened to survivors and their families to be heard," Bishop Coyne wrote. "I pledge to you, as the bishop of Burlington, that I will do everything that I can to make sure this never happens again and to work for healing and reconciliation with those who were so badly abused by clergy."

A group of former St. Joseph’s residents, the Voices of St. Joseph’s Orphanage, is involved in efforts to find restitution.

“We want to be known as working for change and justice for children, and to never let anybody that's in a foster home group just be thrown in there and forgotten.” Brenda Hannon, a spokesperson for VSJO, told CNA Sept. 20.

Some of their initiatives include letter writing campaigns to the pope, creating an anthology of their experiences, working to build a memorial, and working to remove statutes of limitations. 

Hannon told CNA one of VSJO’s successes was the passage in May of a law repealing the statute of limitations for civil actions based on childhood physical abuse.

One of their requests has been for the diocese to pay for their therapy bills. 

They say their requests to the diocese have been dealt with unsatisfactorily.

The Burlington diocese said in a statement last week that Bishop Coyne, Vermont Catholic Charities, and diocesan representatives “have been meeting with former residents of St. Joseph’s Orphanage one-on-one as they have requested and will continue to do so.” 

“Each meeting is unique, each person’s story is unique, and the help we offer each former resident is specific to them,” they added. “If the person feels they would be helped through counseling, we will work with them as needed.”

Hannon told CNA that “most of us feel that he [Bishop Coyne] is offering this and the one-on-one stance so that he can control the meeting and the situation.”

She said the members harbor these concerns because Bishop Coyne is “refusing” to meet with the VSJO as a group, the meetings are not recorded, and there is “some type of a counselor person evaluating you as you’re talking.”

She also said that going to the diocese to meet with Bishop Coyne is a “hard trigger” for many of the members.

Hannon said that “if this person that sits in the meetings determines that this person needs counseling, it will be with [diocesan] counselors of their choosing and not with the members current counselor that they have been seeing and paying for years.”

She added that Bishop Coyne has affirmed that he would help members of the group, but said nothing has come to fruition.

Hannon also said that Catholic Charities of Vermont will not release orphanage records to the members. She said that members are only allowed to see their records, which contain redacted information, while they are sitting in a room with a staff member of Catholic Charities. 

The diocese told CNA Sept. 21 that “Bishop Coyne has offered one-on-one meetings to former residents which includes a support person of their choice.” 

“Bishop Coyne has offered to invite the Vermont Catholic Charities’ victim assistance coordinator to the meeting with consent, if the former resident has chosen not to bring a support person,” the statement says.

“An initial screening is completed by the victim assistance coordinator to verify basic information prior to moving forward with a therapy request,” the diocese said. “Thus far, Bishop Coyne has never denied a request for additional therapy.”

Hannon told CNA that “not one person” has chosen to move forward with the process offered by the diocese.

The diocese told CNA that “there is a process for requesting records on the Vermont Catholic Charities website” noting that “Vermont Catholic Charities adheres to all Vermont Adoption laws outlined here.”

Abortion doctor sued under Texas abortion law

Pro-life advocates at the 45th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., Jan. 19, 2018. / Jonah McKeown/CNA

Austin, Texas, Sep 21, 2021 / 15:01 pm (CNA).

A Texas abortion doctor who said he performed an abortion in violation of a new state law was sued Monday by two non-Texas residents, in what appears to be the first legal action taken since the law took effect this month. 

A Texas pro-life group has criticized the lawsuits, however, calling them “imprudent” and “self-serving.” 

Dr. Alan Braid, a San Antonio abortion doctor, took to the opinion page of The Washington Post on Sunday to announce that he had violated Texas’ new law Sept. 6 by performing an abortion on a woman whose unborn baby had a heartbeat, and did so because of “a duty of care to this patient...and because she has a fundamental right to receive this care.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights is reportedly representing Braid. 

Texas’ law, which is designed to be enforced through private lawsuits, prohibits abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, around six weeks gestation, except in medical emergencies. The law took effect Sept. 1. 

The law allows for at least $10,000 in damages in successful lawsuits, which can be filed by residents or non-Texas residents against anyone who “aids and abets” an illegal abortion; women seeking abortions cannot be sued under the law. 

In early September the Supreme Court ruled that the abortion providers challenging the law had not made a sufficient case for relief from it, and declined to block the law in a 5-4 decision. The U.S. Department of Justice, at the direction of President Joe Biden, filed a legal complaint in a federal district court Sept. 9, arguing that Texas acted “in open defiance of the Constitution” in restricting “most pre-viability abortions.” 

Despite the law’s intentions, neither of the two men filing lawsuits against Braid appear to have done so because of anti-abortion convictions. 

One of the lawsuits was brought by Oscar Stilley, an Arkansas man and self-described “disbarred and disgraced” lawyer currently serving a 15-year house arrest sentence for tax evasion. Stilley told the New York Times that he is “not pro-life” and filed the lawsuit in an attempt both to “vindicate” the Texas law and to collect the up to $10,000 he could be awarded if he wins the suit. 

The second lawsuit was filed by an Illinois man, Felipe Gomez, who in the complaint described himself as “pro-choice” and opined that the Texas law is “illegal.” He said if he is awarded money, he would likely donate it to an “abortion rights group” or to the patients of the doctor he sued, NPR reported. 

Texas Right to Life criticized the two lawsuits as “self-serving legal stunts.”

“Neither of these lawsuits are valid attempts to save innocent human lives,” John Seago, legislative director for Texas Right to Life, told the New York Times. 

Braid claimed the law had “shut down about 80 percent of the abortion services we provide.” 

“I fully understood that there could be legal consequences — but I wanted to make sure that Texas didn’t get away with its bid to prevent this blatantly unconstitutional law from being tested,” he wrote. 

Catholic bishops around the country reacted with praise to the law, and noted that women experiencing a crisis pregnancy have resources available, instead of abortion.

The bishops of Texas have said that opponents of the law, who have described a fetal heartbeat as “electrically induced flickering of embryonic tissue” or “embryonic cardiac activity,” are making a “disturbing” effort to “dehumanize the unborn.”

“Abortion is a human rights issue; the most fundamental human right is the right to life,” said the Texas bishops Sept. 3. “Abortion is not healthcare. Abortion is not freedom. Abortion does not help women. Abortion is never the answer. It is always the violent taking of innocent human life.”

Pro-life leaders pointed out that the state legislature recently increased public benefits for low-income mothers, expanding Medicaid coverage for new mothers and funding the Alternatives to Abortion program.

“Texas is further leading in compassion for women and families with its $100 million Alternatives to Abortion state program and ten times as many pro-life pregnancy centers as abortion facilities,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List. 

Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Tuesday signed into law a ban on the use of abortion-inducing drugs in the state seven weeks into a pregnancy. The measure is set to take effect in December.

Diocesan administrator: Spanish bishop's resignation 'perplexing', but his person must be respected

Bishop Xavier Novell Gomà, Bishop Emeritus of Solsona. / Conferencia Episcopal Española via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Solsona, Spain, Sep 21, 2021 / 14:10 pm (CNA).

The apostolic administrator of Solsona, Bishop Romà Casanova i Casanova of Vic, has addressed in his weekly letter the “anomalous” situation following the resignation of Bishop Xavier Novell Gomà as Bishop of Solsona.

Bishop Casanova said that "perplexity invaded our hearts" upon learning of the resignation of Bishop Novell. 

“To our pain over the loss of the one who courageously and with apostolic zeal led the diocese of Solsona for ten years, was added the avalanche of information” that indicated that “the personal reasons underlying the resignation were romantic. And that made the loss even more painful, because feelings of intense sorrow arose in our hearts,” Bishop Casanova said.

Bishop Casanova said some of the feelings people were experiencing were of "truncated fidelity," "abandoned fatherhood" and "shaken fraternity", because a bishop’s relationship with his diocese is "much more than the cold reality of a captain who makes things go as best as possible."

However, he stressed that "neither the perplexity nor the pain as a result of this resignation and his reasons cannot make us lose respect for his person, who, like everyone else, has his inalienable dignity."

The administrator said that the "media circus" surrounding Bishop Novell’s resignation "turned into a trash heap of information lacking respect for people’s privacy and personal history and that produces suffering in the closest circles, such as the family, and the diocese itself."

Bishop Casanova called for respect and asked the faithful "to flee from vain speculation," and said that “now is the hour of faith and trust in Him. The Lord never abandons his people. To come out of this we have to live out the communion that leads us to fraternity and trusting prayer. We need to hear the voice of the Lord and experience the strength of his hand that does not allow us to perish.”

Bishop Novell, 52, resigned Aug. 23 citing “strictly personal reasons.” The diocese announced that the decision was made freely and in accord with a canon which asks that a bishop “who has become less able to fulfill his office because of ill health or some other grave cause … present his resignation from office.”

Various media broke the news Sept. 5 that Bishop Novell moved to Manresa to live with Silvia Caballol, 38, a psychologist and author of erotic novels with satanic overtones, some of them restricted to those 18 or older. 

Caballol is separated from her husband, and the mother of two. 

Bishop Novell was born in 1969 in Spain’s Lérida province.

He earned a degree in agricultural technical engineering from the University of Lleida, a bachelor's in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in 1997, and a doctorate in 2004.

He was ordained a priest of the Solsona diocese in 1997, and in 2010 he was consecrated a bishop and appointed ordinary of the same diocese.

As Biden looks to raise refugee cap, Catholics argue he can do more

President-elect Joe Biden addresses a virtual 40th anniversary celebration of Jesuit Refugee Services on Nov. 12, 2020. / Jesuit Refugee Services/Vimeo

Washington D.C., Sep 21, 2021 / 13:01 pm (CNA).

Catholic refugee advocates on Tuesday praised President Joe Biden for pushing to raise the refugee cap in the coming fiscal year, and urged even more refugee admissions.

On Monday, President Biden recommended that the United States double its limit on refugee resettlement in the coming fiscal year, to 125,000 refugees from 62,500. The U.S. bishops’ conference has also pushed for an increase in the refugee cap to 125,000.

"The number announced today is a step in the right direction and signals the President's commitment to return to our nation's moral leadership and track record of welcoming refugees,” said Joan Rosenhauer, executive director of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA in a statement on Tuesday.

"However, we would have hoped that this number was higher,” Rosenhauer said, pointing to the recent refugee crisis in Afghanistan and arguing for a total cap of 200,000. Saying the United States “has a moral and legal duty” to help refugees, she noted that “[t]he Afghan refugee crisis only made the need to increase this number more pressing.”

Bill O’Keefe, executive vice president for mission and mobilization at Catholic Relief Services (CRS), told CNA on Tuesday that he welcomed Biden's announcement.

“It is very good to see the United States increase its welcoming of these very vulnerable people fleeing conflict, and CRS sees in so many parts of the world – Afghanistan is top of mind – how innocent people get caught in situations of violence, and need to flee for safety,” O'Keefe said.

“The Church calls us to welcome the stranger, and this year, more than in recent years I can remember, we need to do that."

Each year, the President makes a report to Congress recommending a limit on the number of refugees the United States will accept in the coming fiscal year.

While outgoing President Obama had set the refugee cap at 110,000 for the 2017 fiscal year, President Donald Trump several months later lowered it to 50,000 for that year; the United States still resettled more than 53,000 refugees during that fiscal year. Trump progressively lowered the refugee cap during his presidency, setting it at just 15,000 refugees for the 2021 fiscal year.

Biden in May acted to raise the refugee admissions cap for the 2021 fiscal year to 62,500. However, he admitted that the goal of 62,500 admissions would not be achievable by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

The United States has only resettled a fraction of that number, as of Aug. 31; only 7,637 refugees had been admitted at that point in the 2021 fiscal year, according to U.S. State Department data.

“We’re in a moment of history when displaced people need our help more than ever. More than 80 million people have been forced to flee their homes, the highest levels in recent history,” Rosenhauer said on Monday. “Far less than 1% have successfully resettled in the United States so far this fiscal year.”

“Raising the number to 200,000 would have allowed for the accommodation of a significantly higher total number of refugees from Afghanistan and around the world,” she said.

As the last U.S. military forces left Afghanistan in August, thousands of Afghan civilians were still reportedly seeking to evacuate as the Taliban took control of the country.  

The Biden administration says it will prioritize resettlement of certain classes of refugees, including those from Central America, those identifying as LGBTQI+, “at-risk Uyghurs,” Hong Kong refugees, and Burmese dissidents and Rohingyas. In addition, the administration says it will expand access to the refugee admissions program “for Afghans at risk due to their affiliation with the United States.”

The chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) also praised Biden’s announcement on Tuesday.

USCIRF vice chair Nury Turkel called on the administration “to expand its P-2 designation granting access to the refugee program for certain Afghan nationals to include members of religious groups at extreme risk of persecution by the Taliban."

In November 2020, Biden had promised to increase the refugee cap to 125,000 for the 2022 fiscal year, in remarks to the 40th anniversary celebration of Jesuit Refugee Services. However, several months into his administration, he had not taken executive action to do so for the 2021 fiscal year.

In April, the White House said that the refugee cap would remain at 15,000, before reversing that stance on the same day that it was widely reported. The executive director of the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB) migration committee had told CNA on April 14 that he was “absolutely” disappointed with refugee admissions, which had at that point “effectively been halted."

This article was updated on Sept. 21 with comment from Catholic Relief Services.

Fire damages historic Catholic church in Ukraine

Fire damage at the Church of St. Nicholas in Kyiv, Ukraine. / Courtesy photo.

Kyiv, Ukraine, Sep 21, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

A fire has severely damaged a historic Catholic church in Ukraine’s capital city, Kyiv.

The fire broke out at the Gothic-style Church of St. Nicholas during an organ music rehearsal on Sept. 3, destroying the organ, charring the interior, and sending a chandelier crashing to the ground.

Courtesy photo.
Courtesy photo.

St. Nicholas is the second-oldest Latin Rite Catholic church in Kyiv (also known as Kiev) after the Co-Cathedral of St. Alexander.

Consecrated in 1909, the church served members of the local Polish Catholic community before communist officials closed it in 1938.

Soviet authorities removed the altar, installing a large organ and converting the church into a concert hall.

Courtesy photo.
Courtesy photo.

Ukraine is a country of 44 million people bordering Belarus, Russia, Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland.

Around two-thirds of the population are Orthodox Christians. The second-largest Christian community is the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the biggest of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with Rome. Latin Rite Catholics constitute a small minority.

Ukraine declared independence in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Ever since, the local Catholic community has campaigned for the return of the church, which is overseen by the local municipality’s culture department.

Courtesy photo.
Courtesy photo.

The authorities argued that the church could not be returned as the organ was too large and could not be placed elsewhere.

Catholics were permitted to celebrate Mass in the church, but it remained a concert hall and the community was obliged to rent the building.

According to the parish’s website, Pope John Paul II visited the church on June 25, 2001, during his pastoral visit to Ukraine.

The Kyiv Post reported on Sept. 4 that police were still investigating the cause of the fire.

Following the organ’s destruction in the fire, Catholics say there is no reason for the church not to be returned. But they report that the government and Ministry of Culture have so far ignored their renewed entreaties.

The authorities are believed to want to restore St. Nicholas as a concert hall.

Priests are continuing to celebrate daily Masses for the parish community. But they are offered in the open air and the weather is getting colder following the end of summer.

Courtesy photo.
Courtesy photo.

The Masses are celebrated by Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

Local superior Fr. Pavlo Vyshkovkyy, O.M.I., told CNA: “We appeal to Catholics around the world to support us in prayer and to make our situation known to others who might be of help in returning God’s house to the faithful of Kyiv.”

Mexican Supreme Court invalidates medical conscientious objection law

null / Syda Productions via www.shutterstock.com.

Mexico City, Mexico, Sep 21, 2021 / 11:25 am (CNA).

Mexico's Supreme Court on Monday invalidated an article of the General Health Law that broadly provided for medical personnel's conscientious objection to participating in treatments, such as abortion.

“The law did not establish the guidelines and limits necessary for conscientious objection to be exercised without jeopardizing the human rights of other persons, especially the right to health,” the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation announced Sept. 20.

The law, adopted in 2018, did not allow medical professionals to invoke conscientious objection "when the life of the patient is put at risk or it is a medical emergency."

Marcial Padilla, director of the prolife platform ConParticipación, commented that “instead of adopting conscientious objection in its entirety,” in its ruling the Supreme Court "puts it in suspense, saying that it does not like how it is formulated, because it prevents the realization of abortion, according to the terms that they wish."

The court is expected to discuss Sept. 21 clear guidelines for the exercise of conscientious objection and whether they will exhort or order the Congress of the Union to use a specific text in legislating on the topic.

Discussion of conscientious objection at the Supreme Court began Sept. 13. It recognized a right to conscientious objection, while adding that this does not restrict the right to health.

In recent weeks the Supreme Court has also invalidated several articles that protected life from conception in the penal code of the state of Coahuila, and parts of the Sinaloa state constitution protecting life from conception. The rulings are expected to have wide-ranging effects throughout Mexico.

Elective abortion has been legal up to 12 weeks of pregnancy in Mexico City and the states of Hidalgo, Oaxaca, and Veracruz. In general, abortion is illegal in the rest of the country, but in most cases there are exceptions for rape and the life of the mother. The penalties and scope of the laws vary from state to state.

A group of 30 medical associations in Mexico had on Sept. 15 defended conscientious objection. Their statement expressed “rejection of legislative resolutions and their consequential actions from now on that could violate our human rights in the practice of our professions."

"For healthcare professionals, the long established freedom, with a scientific basis and adherence to the ethical codes that govern good practices, should always be an absolute and unlimited right in its exercise," they stated.

Therefore, “conscientious objection may be required when there is a disagreement between scientific, legal and ethical principles to perform professional procedures and activities, which would allow them to excuse themselves from directly practicing or participating in any program, activity, treatment or research that contravenes their personal convictions, principles, values or their religious beliefs.”

In their statement on conscientious objection, the various medical groups affirm that making use of this right “is a legitimate action in the face of serious and fundamental issues, since it defends their dignity and freedom as long as the reasons given are serious, sincere, well-founded and do not endanger people’s life or physical well being.”

"The State must guarantee to physicians as persons that they are, the protection of their fundamental rights, in a manner analogous to the protection of the rights that patients deserve due to gender, orientation or sexual preference" they stressed.

"Today the associations of medical professionals have become a vulnerable group with the effort to restrict their freedom and autonomous decision-making through unilateral criteria, by trying to eliminate their right to conscientious objection," they warned.

The professional organizations noted that this occurs "only because of social pressure or demands every time that other adequate options are ignored to resolve these disagreements, through the adoption of other adequate, viable and satisfactory options for the exercise of the fundamental rights of both parties."

The Mexican medical associations also emphasized that conscientious objection is a fundamental human right recognized in various national and international documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"The doctor is a professional of science and conscience, who cannot be reduced to a mere instrument of the will of the patient, since like the patient, he is a free and responsible person, with a unique collection of values that regulate his life,” they pointed out.

They also lamented that "the unawareness of society and the authorities of the rights of doctors negatively and disproportionately affects their fundamental rights."

For the medical associations, “considering the right to conscientious objection in matters of health to be unconstitutional is disproportionate and erroneous since the State omits its responsibility to guarantee to doctors as an essential component of society, the human right to the protection of their mental and emotional health, preventing the highest possible enjoyment of physical and especially mental health.”

“From the well grounded reasons laid out above, it is clear that it is our right to demand respect from the authorities for professional autonomy in decision-making, an absolute guarantee in the exercise of freedom, reason and conscience so that the human rights of all parties involved are protected” they said.”

Finally, they stated that “the federations, associations and boards of medicine as the sole and legitimate representatives of the medical profession, will always continue to be vigilant over the good practice of medicine, so that it is carried out, without external pressure, meeting even the least significant of the requirements of quality and ethics.”

Justice Department asks Supreme Court to uphold legal abortion  

null / Claudette Jerez/CNA

Washington D.C., Sep 21, 2021 / 10:15 am (CNA).

The Justice Department on Monday asked the Supreme Court to uphold Roe v. Wade, the court’s 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

The court on Monday had announced that oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a major abortion case, will be held on Dec. 1. The case involves a challenge to Mississippi’s restrictions on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The state of Mississippi, in defending its law, has asked the Supreme Court to reconsider its Roe ruling altogether.

In an amicus brief filed at the Supreme Court on Monday, the Justice Department argued that the state is seeking to overturn nearly 50 years of court rulings that upheld legal abortion, and asked the court to maintain its previous abortion rulings.  

“Petitioners insist that a woman’s decision whether to carry a pregnancy to term—perhaps the most intensely personal and life-altering choice a person can make—should enjoy no more protection than workaday social and economic matters that trigger rational-basis review,” the Justice Department stated in its brief.

“If the Court considers that new argument, it should decline to disturb Roe’s central holding—just as it did a generation ago,” the brief stated.

Mississippi’s law, the Gestational Age Act, restricts abortions after 15 weeks but includes exceptions for when the mother’s life or “major bodily function” is at stake, or if the unborn child has a condition “incompatible with life outside the womb.”

Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the state’s only abortion clinic, sued over the law, and is represented in court by the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The Supreme Court in May agreed to take up the case, after lower courts ruled against the law and the state of Mississippi appealed. The court is considering only one legal question in the case, “Whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortion are unconstitutional.”

The court’s decision to take up the case was seen as significant, as it had previously refused to consider appeals in favor of other state pro-life laws restricting abortions after 20 weeks, 12 weeks, and as early as six weeks.

On Sept. 1, the court also declined a challenge to Texas’ law restricting most abortions after detection of a fetal heartbeat. By rejecting the legal challenge, the court allowed the law – which is enforced by private civil lawsuits and not by the state – to remain effective. In response, President Joe Biden promised a “whole-of-government” effort to maintain abortion in Texas.

In its Supreme Court brief on Monday, the Justice Department invoked the legal principle of stare decisis to urge the court to respect and uphold its previous abortion rulings. The court’s 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey upheld Roe, the brief noted.

“And the passage of another three decades means that every American woman of reproductive age has grown up against the backdrop of the right secured by Roe and Casey, which has become even more deeply woven into the Nation’s social fabric,” the Justice Department argued.

“Roe and Casey were and are correct. They recognize that forcing a woman to continue a pregnancy against her will is a profound intrusion on her autonomy, her bodily integrity, and her equal standing in society,” the brief stated.

Although the Supreme Court upheld its Roe ruling in the Casey decision, the state of Mississippi has argued that the court should reconsider those two rulings altogether.

Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch in July argued that those decisions established “a special-rules regime for abortion jurisprudence that has left these cases out of step with other Court decisions and neutral principles of law applied by the Court.”

“As a result, state legislatures, and the people they represent, have lacked clarity in passing laws to protect legitimate public interests, and artificial guideposts have stunted important public debate on how we, as a society, care for the dignity of women and their children,” Fitch said in the state’s brief at the court.

“It is time for the Court to set this right and return this political debate to the political branches of government,” she wrote. 

Pope Francis to Slovakian Jesuits: ‘Some people wanted me to die’ amid health problems

Pope Francis addresses an ecumenical meeting at the apostolic nunciature in Bratislava, Slovakia, Sept. 12, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Sep 21, 2021 / 05:20 am (CNA).

In a private meeting with Jesuits in Slovakia on Sept. 12, Pope Francis said that there were people who wanted him to die after he underwent colon surgery in July.

During the encounter, a Jesuit priest asked the pope how he was doing, to which he replied: “Still alive, even though some people wanted me to die.”

“I know there were even meetings between prelates who thought the pope’s condition was more serious than the official version. They were preparing for the conclave,” he added. “Patience! Thank God, I’m all right.”

Pope Francis answered questions from fellow Jesuits at a closed-door meeting in Slovakia’s capital city, Bratislava, during his Sept. 12-15 visit to the country.

The trip was his first since being hospitalized on July 4 for an operation to relieve severe stricture of the colon caused by diverticulitis. The three-hour surgery included a left hemicolectomy, the removal of one side of the colon.

After the operation, false rumors began to circulate on social media and in online posts that Pope Francis might soon resign, based in part on other unsubstantiated claims that the pope was possibly suffering from a “degenerative” and “chronic” disease.

The text of the pope’s private Sept. 12 meeting with Jesuits in Slovakia was published by the Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica on Sept. 21.

During the encounter, one priest spoke with Pope Francis about tension in the Catholic Church in Slovakia, saying that some people saw Francis as “heterodox,” while others “idealize you.”

“We Jesuits try to overcome this division,” he said, asking: “How do you deal with people who look at you with suspicion?”

Pope Francis noted that “there is, for example, a large Catholic television channel that has no hesitation in continually speaking ill of the pope.”

“I personally deserve attacks and insults because I am a sinner, but the Church does not deserve them. They are the work of the devil,” he said.

The pope added that there were also clerics who had made “nasty comments about me.”

“I sometimes lose patience, especially when they make judgments without entering into a real dialogue. I can’t do anything there. However, I go on without entering their world of ideas and fantasies. I don’t want to enter it and that’s why I prefer to preach, preach...” he said.

“Some people accuse me of not talking about holiness," he continued. “They say I always talk about social issues and that I’m a communist. Yet I wrote an entire apostolic exhortation on holiness, Gaudete et exsultate.”

The pope went on to address his recent restrictions on the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass, which were made in the July 16 motu proprio Traditionis custodes.

“Now I hope that with the decision to stop the automatism of the ancient rite we can return to the true intentions of Benedict XVI and John Paul II,” he said. “From now on, those who want to celebrate with the Vetus Ordo [Traditional Latin Mass] must ask permission from Rome as is done with biritualism.”

Biritualism is the temporary or permanent privilege of a priest to celebrate the liturgy and administer the sacraments in more than one rite, such as the Latin Rite and one of the Eastern rites.

Pope Francis described reports that some young priests had asked for permission to offer the Traditional Latin Mass from their bishop a month after ordination as “a phenomenon that indicates that we are going backward.”

In an earlier part of the meeting, Francis had lamented an “ideology of going backward,” which he said was not a universal problem in the Church, but affected some countries.

“The temptation to go backward. We are suffering this today in the Church,” he said.

Francis recounted an anecdote told to him by a cardinal about two of his newly ordained priests who asked for permission to study Latin to be able to celebrate the Mass well.

According to the pope, the cardinal responded “with a sense of humor,” telling the priests: “But there are many Hispanics in the diocese! Study Spanish to be able to preach. Then, when you have studied Spanish, come back to me and I’ll tell you how many Vietnamese there are in the diocese, and I’ll ask you to study Vietnamese. Then, when you have learned Vietnamese, I will give you permission to study Latin.”

The cardinal made the priests “‘land,’ he made them return to earth,” the pope commented.

“I go ahead, not because I want to start a revolution,” Pope Francis said. “I do what I feel I must do. It takes a lot of patience, prayer and a lot of charity.”

This report was updated at 5:45 a.m. MDT to include the pope’s comments on the Traditional Latin Mass.