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‘This thing’s going to blow up on us’: The religious extremism fueling violence in Nigeria

Funeral Mass in Nigeria / Aid to the Church in Need

Washington D.C., May 14, 2021 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

Escalating bloodshed in Nigeria is fueled in part by religious extremism – and the United States must recognize this in order to achieve peace, says the former U.S. religious freedom ambassador.

“This thing’s going to blow up on us, as we would say, ‘bigger than Dallas,’ if we don’t get into there and really start taking this seriously at this point,” Sam Brownback, former Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, told CNA on Wednesday of violence in Nigeria.

Due to the scope of violence against civilians in Nigeria, the State Department in December designated Nigeria a “country of particular concern (CPC)” for the first time ever—a listing reserved for the countries with the worst records on religious freedom, such as China, Iran, and North Korea.

In addition, the agency’s annual religious freedom report published on Wednesday cited numerous terror attacks on civilians in Nigeria in the past year in the country’s northeast, including attacks on churches and mosques.

“Terrorist groups including Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa (ISIS-WA) attacked population centers and religious targets,” the report noted, targeting “the local civilian population, including churches and mosques.”

In the country’s north central region, a long-standing conflict “between predominantly Muslim Fulani herdsmen and predominantly Christian farmers” continued in 2020, the State Department said.

The report cited “[s]ome religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)” who said “this conflict had religious undertones.”

“Some domestic and international Christian groups stated that Muslim Fulani herdsman were targeting Christian farmers because of their religion. Local Muslim and herder organizations said unaffiliated Fulani were the targets of Christian revenge killings,” the report said.

Brownback said the references to the religious nature of the terror attacks and killings is a positive sign that the U.S. diplomatic corps is beginning to acknowledge the role of religion in Nigeria.

“Radical terrorist Muslim groups” such as Boko Haram and ISIS-WA are moving into the Sahel region in an attempt to create an Islamic caliphate, he said. They are calling on local Muslims to kill their Christian neighbors, “and they are saying this from a theological basis,” Brownback said.

He disputed characterizations of violence as primarily disputes over land or water, or ethnic or “rural-urban” conflicts.

U.S. diplomats have long called the conflicts “[a]nything but ‘Muslim-Christian’,” Brownback said. Religion, he added, “is not the only issue, but it’s a key issue.”

Members of the Islamic State “are winning the hearts and minds of the villagers that are killing people,” he said of terrorists using religion to promote civilian violence. “We’re being attacked theologically, and we don’t respond there.”

“But that’s the most powerful thing in most peoples’ lives in the world, is what they believe. And we won’t respond there. And we’re getting killed by a force that we should be able to subdue,” he said.

The United States, he said, must work with faith leaders in the region to promote peace through religious leaders.

“We need to do something that we are nervous about doing, but that we have to do,” he said. “We need to go to Muslim leaders and Christian leaders who are for peace, and say ‘we’ve got to have you out at the front of the discussion saying that our faith does not support the use of religion to kill other people as a way of proselytizing.”

The country was rocked by violence in 2020. The Bishop of Gboko, in the center of Nigeria, told a U.S. congressional commission in December that “[t]he mass slaughter of Christians in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, by every standard, meets the criteria for a calculated genocide from the definition of the Genocide Convention.”

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, noted that Fulanis have been driven into the country’s Middle Belt by desertification caused by climate change; they have also been targeted for counter-reprisals, he said.

Nevertheless, “[t]he largest, dominant driver of conflict in the Middle Belt region is committed by Fulani extremists, who appear driven in large part by ethno-religious chauvinism, against mostly Christian farmers – though I do note that elsewhere Shia Muslims are also victims, and that intra-Sunni conflicts also exist within the Muslim community as well,” Smith said.

Nigerian Catholic clergy and seminarians have been targeted for kidnappings and attacks this year.

In February of 2020, an 18 year-old Nigerian seminarian was kidnapped and killed by gunmen. One year later, the local Bishop of Sokoto lamented that the spate of kidnappings had gotten “progressively worse.”

“The harvest of death has gotten richer, more and more people are dying,” Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto said in February.

In March, gunmen attacking a church in Benue State killed a priest and at least six others. Just days before, another Nigerian priest in the diocese of Warri was released after a week-long kidnapping by gunmen.

In February, Pope Francis prayed for 317 schoolgirls who were abducted from their school in Jangebe.

After decades, Northern Ireland inquest recognizes victims of Ballymurphy Massacre

Relatives of those killed during the Ballymurphy massacre demonstrate in Dublin, Ireland, Jan. 30, 2014. Credit: Sinn Féin via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Belfast, Northern Ireland, May 14, 2021 / 16:01 pm (CNA).

A Catholic priest, a mother of eight, and at least seven other civilians were wrongly killed by British soldiers in Northern Ireland in a three-day 1971 incident known as the Ballymurphy Massacre, a new inquiry has ruled. The official finding places the incident as a possible forerunner to Bloody Sunday, another massacre of Catholic demonstrators by British paratroopers.


“All of the deceased were entirely innocent of any wrongdoing on the day in question,” said Judge Siobhan Keegan, a Northern Irish high court judge who is the presiding coroner investigating the case, Reuters reports.


Brandon Lewis, the British government’s minister for Northern Ireland, acknowledged the victims’ innocence and said he would carefully consider the findings. The victims’ grief has been “compounded by the long and difficult process of waiting for answers for so many years,” he said.


The Aug. 9-11, 1971 deaths came in the Ballymurphy neighborhood of west Belfast during The Troubles. There was unrest and disorder in the streets of the Catholic neighborhood after the introduction of internment without trial of hundreds of people from Catholic and nationalist backgrounds who were allegedly members of the Irish Republican Army. The internment was introduced by the unionist Northern Ireland government and drew criticism for many reasons, including its reliance on false intelligence about those interned.


In the first fatal incident, soldiers shot and killed Father Mullan at the age of 38. He was waving a white object as a truce sign while helping another man, 19-year-old Francis Quinn, who also died. The inquiry found the priest was shot twice in the back in a “clearly disproportionate” use of force.


“Our brother was killed by the British Army and then they lied about it to cover up their injustice,” the priest’s brother Patsy Mullan said at a news conference. “After 50 years the truth we always knew has finally been told.”


Joan Connolly, 44, was the only woman killed. The coroner’s report could not answer whether a delay in giving her medical treatment contributed to her death. After her death, soldiers claimed she had been an IRA gunman.


“Her name has been cleared. We have got justice after 50 years. My daddy died a broken man,” one of Connolly’s daughters, also named Joan, told The Guardian.


Other victims were Daniel Teggart, 44, Noel Phillips, 19, Joseph Murphy, 41, Edward Doherty, 31, Joseph Corr, 43, and John Laverty, 20.


John Teggart, one victim’s son, objected that there has never been a criminal investigation. “No one should be above the law,” he said.


Lawyers for the accused British soldiers said the troops perceived themselves to be under threat. The British army had claimed the soldiers of the Parachute Regiment had been shooting at terrorists. They claimed in their defense that the dead were either gunmen or civilians caught in the crossfire, the Irish Times reports.


Keegan, the coroner, said the soldiers faced a difficult environment and had come under fire from gunmen during some incidents, but still faulted their response.


“Even if there were gunmen in that area, the use of force was clearly disproportionate given the number of civilians around, the fact that Father Mullan was waving a white item and the fact that soldiers were in a protected position, shooting from long range,” the report said, acknowledging that gunmen in the area also “clearly put civilians at risk of danger and potential death.”


In the case of one the alleged victims, John James McKerr, there was not enough evidence to prove that the army was responsible for his death. Keegan said it was “shocking” that there was no proper investigation into his killing.


Keegan’s inquest began in November 2018 after decades of advocacy from victims’ families and their supporters. It was a fact-finding effort and not a criminal trial. There are questions about the identity of the soldiers who shot many of the victims, and no one has been charged or convicted in the killings.


Witnesses for the inquest included ballistics experts and over 60 soldiers including former British Army head and chief of the general staff Gen. Sir Mike Jackson. Another witness was former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, who is from Ballymurphy. Adams told the inquest that two masked IRA members were in the area during the violence.


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson sent a letter to the families of the victims “to express personally how sorry I am for the terrible hurt that has been caused to you and all of the other families who lost loved ones in Ballymurphy in August 1971,” the Irish Times reports.


However, some family members objected that no mention was made of a massacre or of the Parachute Regiment specifically.


A U.K. government briefing said that the government aimed to “introduce a legacy package that delivers better outcomes for victims, survivors and veterans, focuses on information recovery and reconciliation, and ends the cycle of investigations.”


Lewis apologized for the way in which “investigations after these terrible events were handled, and for the additional pain that the families have had to endure in their fight to clear the names of their loved ones since they began their campaign almost five decades ago.”


He also noted the U.K. government’s efforts for a statute of limitations on Troubles-era prosecutions, saying the past could be addressed by seeking information and providing answers.


“With each passing year, the integrity of evidence and the prospects of prosecution do diminish,” he said.


Mary Kate Quinn, a niece of one of the victims, said the statement from Lewis was an “insult” and “more concerned about laying the groundwork for amnesty legislation.”


“He spoke of answers and reconciliation, but not accountability or justice,” she said, the Irish Times reports.


Lewis’ statements were challenged by various MPs and by leaders in the Irish government.


Simon Coveney, the Republic of Ireland’s foreign minister, said, “Every family bereaved in the conflict must have access to an effective investigation and to a process of justice regardless of the perpetrator.”


On Tuesday Britain announced plans for legislation to strengthen legal protections for former soldiers who served in Northern Ireland—plans opposed by the Irish government.


Prime Minister Micheál Martin told the Irish parliament that the “deep wound” of crimes in Northern Ireland should be addressed under the 2014 Stormont House Agreement and its independent Historical Investigations Unit. The agreement was reached between the British and Irish governments and the major parties of Northern Ireland, according to Reuters.


Tensions over Brexit and claims that pro-British actors in Northern Ireland are being unfairly targeted by law enforcement helped drive Loyalist riots in the region in recent weeks. Demonstrations in support of British soldiers have taken place elsewhere in the U.K.


The Bloody Sunday killings in Derry in 1972 became notorious. In that incident, 28 civilians protesting internment were shot by soldiers of the Parachute Regiment, 13 of them fatally. While an initial government report exonerated the soldiers, a 2010 report rejected the soldiers’ claims they had fired in response to attacks by firebombs or stone throwing. Many of the soldiers lied about their actions, the report found.


The Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish-American Catholic group, has long supported families of the Ballymurphy victims.


Ancient Order of Hibernians national president Daniel O’Connell suggested that a just response to Ballymurphy could have helped limit the extent of the Troubles.


“To the families of the Ballymurphy victims, we salute your strength, faithfulness, and resilience as you fought a fight for justice for your relatives, a justice that should have been theirs as a birthright without the need of a half-century campaign,” said O’Connell, who also questioned plans for an amnesty.


“Morally, the United States cannot ignore human rights violations and the creation of a class above the law by Britain when similar acts have brought condemnation and sanction when perpetrated by an African or Asian state,” he added.


During the internment operation of the 1970s, thousands of people were displaced from their homes. Many fled across the border with Ireland, where the Irish government set up five camps for refugees and their families. Backlash against internment helped strengthen nationalism and the Irish Republican Army. Some 2,000 people would be interned, including about 100 loyalists.  


European Court on Human Rights initially ruled that 14 of the internees were subject to interrogation methods that amounted to torture, a decision it modified on appeal to say the internees faced inhuman and degrading treatment.


In the 1960s, Catholics in Northern Ireland began to push strongly for civil rights, voting rights, police reform, and an end to discrimination. Tensions turned violent in 1968 and lasted through the 1998 Good Friday agreement.


Some 3,600 people died in the conflict known as The Troubles, with combatants including Irish nationalist militants, pro-British unionist paramilitaries and the British military. The nationalist-unionist divide was largely along religious lines, with the nationalists overwhelmingly Catholic and the unionists heavily Protestant.

Ahead of general election, Nicaraguan archdiocese urges that abortion not be an election issue

Nicaragua flag. / railway fx / Shutterstock.

Managua, Nicaragua, May 14, 2021 / 15:19 pm (CNA).

The Justice and Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Managua stated Thursday that the "abominable crime" of abortion should not be on the agenda for November’s Nicaraguan general election.

“Abortion is an abominable crime that builds the culture of death … Let us remember that abortion should not be an election issue because human life is not negotiable, but rather should be defended and promoted,” the commission said May 13.

In Nicaragua, abortion of any kind is not allowed since the National Assembly reformed the Penal Code in 2006 and penalized so-called therapeutic abortion, which had been permitted since 1891 in cases of risk to the life of the mother, irreversible harms to the child, or when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.

Elections in Nicaragua for president and members of the National Assembly, as well as members of the Central American Parliament, will be held Nov. 7. 

According to a May 13  EFE news agency report, a presidential candidate for the opposition, George Henríquez Cayasso, said the opposition in Nicaragua is divided on such issues  as “abortion, sexual diversity, feminism, gay marriage or the Christian faith” which “makes a broad coalition for the elections difficult.”

The Justice and Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Managua made it clear that “in the face of current trends in support of abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, it is  appropriate to remember that the right to life is the first of human rights , and that from the moment of conception there is a child, a human being who has the right to live.”

The commission also explained that "human rights are not ‘religious matters,’ but rights inherent to human nature, which is not a concession or gift given by the state."

"These rights begin with the right to life, therefore, induced abortion is a crime and violation of the fundamental right to life on which all other rights are based," the commission stressed.

As for the position that Christians should take, the commission reminded that “we must be faithful to the sacred commandments of God who tells us clearly and unequivocally 'you shall not kill.’”

“We are called to defend the lives of all, especially the weakest, the first of whom are unborn children who exist as persons in their mother's womb.”

Finally, the Justice and Peace Commission prayed that in Nicaragua "the mother’s womb would be the safest place for unborn children, and the family would also be the safest place for those whose life is diminished or weakened."

"United to the intentions of the Holy Father, we pray through the intercession of the Virgin Mary for the end of the pandemic," the commission concluded.

Protests against President Daniel Ortega in recent years have led to tensions between some Catholics and supporters of the president, who previously led the country for over a decade after the Sandinistas’ 1979 ouster of the Somoza dictatorship. Ortega has again been president of Nicaragua since 2007, and oversaw the abolition of presidential term limits in 2014. Ortega’s wife, First Lady Rosario Murillo, is also vice president.

Ortega’s government has accused many bishops and priests of siding with the opposition.

Backers of Ortega have led actions against some churches.

The protests are part of a crisis which began in April 2018 after Ortega announced social security and pension reforms. The changes were soon abandoned in the face of widespread, vocal opposition, but protests only intensified after more than 40 protesters were killed by security forces.

Security forces have killed at least 320 protesters, with hundreds more arrested.

Phoenix bishop defends speaking out on Communion: ‘The care of souls is our first concern’

Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix celebrates Mass at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome on Feb. 12, 2020 / CNA

Washington D.C., May 14, 2021 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

The Bishop of Phoenix said on Thursday that he is protecting the Eucharist, not “politicizing” it, by teaching that Catholic politicians cannot support abortion and receive Communion.

In an interview by EWTN Pro-Life Weekly that aired on Thursday, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix was asked to respond to claims that speaking out about pro-abortion Catholic politicians was “politicizing” the Eucharist.

“That’s not my intention at all. The Eucharist is the great treasure of the Church. And if it’s not being respected – if people don’t appreciate what this great treasure is – we need to help them understand that,” Bishop Olmsted told EWTN Pro-Life Weekly.

“The Second Vatican Council said that abortion is an unspeakable evil. If that’s true, how could someone who supports that, who requires others to pay for abortions – how could that not be a very serious sin and an obstacle for being ready to receive Christ appropriately in Holy Communion?” he asked.

Bishop Olmsted said it is his “duty” as a bishop to speak out on the matter.

“I think we bishops have a duty to speak as pastors. We’re not politicians, we’re pastors,” he said. “And that means the care of souls is our first concern, both the good of souls and anything that could be a scandal to them or could mislead them about what’s true and good and beautiful.”

Communion for pro-abortion politicians is once again a topic of discussion, as both President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are Catholics who support taxpayer-funded abortion. The Code of Canon Law 915 states that Catholics “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

The U.S. bishops conference was expected to discuss “Eucharistic coherence” this year, covering the matter of Communion for pro-abortion Catholic politicians but framing the discussion within the broader context of general worthiness to receive Communion among Catholics.

Bishop Olmsted issued a statement on May 6 on Catholic politicians who support permissive legislation on abortion.

Olmsted was supporting a pastoral letter by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, which clarified that Catholics cooperating with abortion should not receive Communion. Archbishop Cordileone begged Catholic politicians in particular to not support laws making abortion more available, as they would be formally cooperating in the evil of abortion.

“Woe to us bishops if we do not speak clearly about the grave evil of abortion, and the consequences of any Catholic who participates in the act or publicly supports it by word or action,” Bishop Olmsted stated on May 6.

On Thursday, he said that all Catholics, not just politicians, should “rediscover” the “gift” of the Eucharist, including by receiving it worthily and not being conscious of having committed a serious sin since their last confession.

Olmsted says this teaching applies to all Catholics – not just public figures who cooperate in the evil of abortion by supporting permissive abortion laws.

“We don’t want to single out any one group,” he said. “Especially as we come out of this time of COVID, we need to rediscover and have a much deeper awe and wonder at the mystery of the Real Presence of Christ with us.”

Last week, the prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, sent a letter to Archbishop Jose Gomez on the matter of Communion and Catholic politicians who support permissive legislation on grave evils.

Cardinal Ladaria instructed the U.S. bishops, before issuing any “national policy” on Communion, to first have a “serene” dialogue among themselves and ensure unity on the Church’s teachings against pro-abortion laws.

Then the bishops should dialogue with Catholic politicians who support policies contrary to Church teaching. After that, the Vatican said, bishops could determine the next course of action to teach on the Eucharist – while respecting the rights of local ordinaries, framing the discussion within the larger context of general worthiness to receive Communion, and avoiding the appearance of narrowing the Church’s focus to only one or two issues such as abortion.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a Catholic who is pro-abortion, said on Thursday she was “pleased” at the document which she claimed “basically said ‘don’t be divisive on the subject’.”

Bishop Olmsted refuted notions that the Vatican document instructed the bishops to not speak out on Catholic politicians supporting pro-abortion policies.

“As I read the statement, it doesn’t say that at all,” he said. “It encourages us, as we certainly desire to do, to be listening to one another as bishops and conversing with one another, and also listening and being in conversation with those who are not following the Church’s teaching.”

“That’s part of how fraternal correction, or correction from a bishop to one of the laity, should take place, I think,” he said.

Abortion is of “preeminent” concern to the U.S. bishops’ conference, he said. “And it’s something that’s also stated very clearly by Pope Francis, when we visited him in Rome,” he added.

Public figures are in a position to protect innocent lives, including the unborn, he emphasized.

“And the least, the most vulnerable, the most innocent, is the unborn child,” he said.

Pope Francis to discuss climate change with John Kerry at Vatican

U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry. / Public domain.

Vatican City, May 14, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis will meet Saturday with U.S. climate envoy John Kerry, who is also a keynote speaker at a Vatican conference on financial solidarity and climate change.

Kerry, who currently serves as the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, is in Europe to meet with government officials and business leaders ahead of the Nov. 1-12 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, the State Department said.

Pope Francis is reportedly considering a visit to Glasgow for the climate conference, and local authorities are said to be preparing for the possibility.

Ahead of his meeting with the pope, Kerry was due to deliver a keynote speech at the “Dreaming of a Better Restart” conference, a closed-door meeting in Vatican City on May 14.

The conference, hosted by the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences, has panel discussions on debt relief for developing countries and climate action to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit).

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Raj Shah, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, both spoke at the Vatican event via video link.

Economists Jeffrey Sachs and Joseph Stiglitz came to the Vatican to take part in the one-day event, as did economic ministers from Mexico, Argentina, Spain, France, and Germany.

Kristalina Georgieva, the managing director of the IMF, and Félix Tshisekedi, head of the African Union, were also featured speakers.

Kerry, a baptized Catholic, previously met Pope Francis at the Vatican in 2014 and 2016, when he served as the U.S. Secretary of State during the Obama administration.

He also met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States, during his last visit.

The 77-year-old diplomat visited St. Peter’s Basilica on the morning of May 14, where he was shown Michelangelo’s Pietà up close.

After meeting with Italian and Vatican officials in Rome, the climate envoy will travel to London to meet with U.K. government representatives hosting the COP26 summit and then to Berlin to meet with German officials.

Pope Francis urges scouts to ‘spread light and hope’

Pope Francis meets with members of the Scouts Unitaires de France at the Vatican, May 14, 2021. / Vatican Media.

CNA Staff, May 14, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis urged scouts Friday to “spread light and hope” wherever they go.

Addressing members of the Scouts Unitaires de France, a Catholic scouting movement founded in 1971, the pope appealed to young people not to become apathetic when confronted with “the selfishness of the world.”

/ Vatican Media.
/ Vatican Media.

He said: “Never lose sight of the fact that the Lord is calling you all to fearlessly carry the missionary message wherever you are, especially among young people, in your neighborhoods, in sports, when you go out with friends, in voluntary work, and at work.”

“Always and everywhere share the joy of the Gospel that makes you live! The Lord wants you to be his disciples and to spread light and hope because he counts on your boldness, courage, and enthusiasm.”

The pope granted the audience to the group as it celebrates its 50th anniversary.

The worldwide scout movement was founded in 1907 by the retired British Army officer Robert Baden-Powell. Scouting was introduced to the French Catholic milieu by the Jesuit priest Jacques Sevin, who established the Scouts de France in 1920.

According to its website, the Scouts Unitaires de France began with 500 members in 1971 and has almost 30,000 today.

/ Vatican Media.
/ Vatican Media.

The pope said that the group was “a sign of encouragement to young people” amid the pandemic and the decline of social ties.

He praised its method of linking younger children with older ones “who protect and accompany the younger ones, patiently helping them to discover and bring to fruition the talents received from the Lord.”

He said: “The scout, with his willingness to serve his neighbor, is also called to work for a more ‘outgoing’ Church and for a more human world.”

/ Vatican Media.
/ Vatican Media.

“To this end, you have the noble mission to witness wherever you are that, with your faith and your commitment, you can enhance the richness of human relationships and make them a common good that helps social renewal. Therefore, I urge you to be both dynamic Christians and faithful scouts!”

He praised the scouts for combining respect for others with care of the environment.

The pope also thanked couples who support the scouts, saying that they offered a witness to the beauty of marriage.

/ Vatican Media.
/ Vatican Media.

Concluding his address, he said: “I entrust the Scouts Unitaires de France to the maternal protection of the Virgin Mary. May she turn her merciful gaze upon each one of you and lead you to be faithful disciples of her Son.”

“I bless you all, your families, and the people who accompany you with their spiritual and material support. And I ask you, please, do not forget to pray for me.”

Calls mount for Chicago-area religious orders to publish lists of members credibly accused of abuse

Credit: Unsplash.

Chicago, Ill., May 14, 2021 / 10:29 am (CNA).

Recent reporting from the Chicago Sun-Times has highlighted several religious orders active in Chicago that have not yet released lists of members credibly accused of sexual abuse, despite the archbishop’s request that they do so.

Two of those religious orders told CNA that they are in the process of compiling lists, and are considering how to make them public in a manner that respects both victims and clerics who have died.

Blase Cardinal Cupich of Chicago in 2018 requested that religious orders active in his local Church release lists of members credibly accused of sexual abuse.

While a religious order needs permission from a local bishop to engage in public ministry, an order’s members are governed by its religious superior. Nevertheless, the Sun-Times notes that the adjacent dioceses of Joliet and Rockford list on their websites religious clerics who are credibly accused of abuse and who are or were active in those dioceses.

In February, a Chicago archdiocesan spokesman told WTTW News: “We have been in discussions with religious orders about how their members, under their jurisdiction and control, who are credibly accused, are to be publicly listed,” adding that they anticipate the matter will be resolved “soon.”

Some orders active in the Chicago archdiocese, such as the Carmelites, have made lists of members credibly accused of abuse public. Others active in the archdiocese, such as the Augustinians and the Passionists, have not.

Father Donald Goergen, OP, Provincial Vicar for the Dominican Province of St. Albert the Great, told CNA that while the province has not yet published a list of members who have been credibly accused, “we have never made a decision not to publish such a list.”

“We have been working for some time on the process in order that we might make the best decisions possible,” Fr. Goergen said in an email to CNA.

Father Anthony Pizzo, Prior Provincial of the Augustinian Province of Our Mother of Good Counsel, told CNA in a statement that the province is “undergoing a process to ascertain whether to publish a public list.”

“The process to yield the public names must be reliable and fair to all involved, including those Augustinians who may now be dead and to those survivors of abuse who seek to maintain their peace,” Father Pizzo said.

“What must be made clear is that all living Augustinians with established allegations of abuse are not in public ministry and are subject to rigorous safety plans.”

The Missionaries of the Divine Word, which is based in Chicago, say they are in the process of compiling a list, while the Passionists told the Sun-Times they are “considering” publishing a list. The Passionists did not respond to CNA’s requests for further information.

The Archdiocese of Chicago also did not respond to CNA’s requests for information on this matter.

Texas passes ‘heartbeat’ abortion ban

Texas state capitol building / f11photo/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 14, 2021 / 09:15 am (CNA).

States continued a nationwide trend of enacting pro-life laws in 2021, with the Texas legislature passing a “heartbeat” bill this week, and Montana enacting funding restrictions on abortion providers.

The Texas state Senate on Thursday passed a ban on abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, which can occur as early as six weeks into pregnancy. The measure now heads to Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) desk, where he is expected to sign it.

SB 8, introduced by state senators Bryan Hughes and Paul Bettencourt, passed the state senate by a vote of 18-12 on Thursday. The bill includes an exception for a medical emergency, but not for cases of rape and incest, according to the Texas Tribune. It would be enforced through private lawsuits and not government action.

The Texas Catholic Conference supported the legislation. A May 3 message from executive director Jennifer Allmon encouraged Catholics in the state to contact their legislators in support of the bill.

While other states, such as South Carolina, have passed similar “heartbeat” abortion bans, pro-abortion groups have challenged the laws in courts. A federal district court judge in March blocked South Carolina’s law from going into effect.

State legislatures around the country have introduced or enacted a slew of pro-life legislation in 2021. According to an April 30 report of the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, 536 pro-life bills had been introduced in 46 states by the end of April, with 61 new pro-life laws.

Montana’s governor Greg Gianforte (R) on Thursday signed a pro-life funding bill introduced by state Rep. Amy Regier. The measure prioritizes public health care funding for clinics that do not provide abortions; it also clarifies that taxpayer dollars cannot fund abortion-related services.

Under the federal Title X family planning program, federal grants cannot fund elective abortions. However, the Biden administration is seeking to loosen regulations of funding abortion providers, with the aim of once again directing Title X funding to clinics that refer for abortions or are co-located with abortion clinics.

“Taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to subsidize the dangerous work of abortionists,” Denise Burke, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, stated on Thursday on Montana’s bill.

The legislation ensures “that Title X family planning funding and other healthcare funding streams are kept ‘separate and distinct from abortion-related activities,’” she said.

Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, withdrew from the federal Title X program in 2019 over the Trump administration’s Protect Life Rule; the organization received an estimated $60 million in annual funding under the program.

The 2019 rule sought to separate Title X funding from abortion-related services, by prohibiting funding of clinics referring for abortions or clinics that also provide abortions. Once the Biden administration rolls back these restrictions as expected, Planned Parenthood is expected to benefit from Title X funding once again.

Court upholds German municipality’s pro-life prayer vigil ban

Pavica Vojnović, leader of the pro-life prayer vigils in Pforzheim, Germany. / ADF International.

CNA Staff, May 14, 2021 / 08:00 am (CNA).

A German court dismissed on Friday a challenge to a municipality’s ban on a prayer vigil in front of a pre-abortion advisory center.

CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported that the Karlsruhe Administrative Court handed down the judgment on May 14.

The challenge was spearheaded by Pavica Vojnović, who led the prayer vigils outside the Pro Familia advice center in Pforzheim, southwest Germany, organized by the group 40 Days for Life.

Pro Familia is a member association of the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

Reacting to the court’s decision, Vojnović said: “Every life is precious and deserves protection. I am saddened that we are prevented from supporting vulnerable women and their unborn children in prayer.”

“It saddens me that the court has dismissed our lawsuit, thus indirectly approving the ban on our silent prayer vigils near the abortion counseling center.”

In 2019, the local municipality in Pforzheim, in the federal state of Baden-Württemberg, denied the prayer group permission to hold vigils near the center.

Twice a year, around 20 people had gathered to pray for 40 days for women facing abortion and their unborn children. Vigil participants did not prevent anybody from entering the building or block the pavement in the surrounding area.

Pavica Vojnović takes part in a 40 Days for Life event in Pforzheim, Germany. Credit: ADF International.
Pavica Vojnović takes part in a 40 Days for Life event in Pforzheim, Germany. Credit: ADF International.

When the advisory center asked police to monitor the activists, they found no violations. But the center’s management asked that the vigil be moved some distance away or banned altogether.

The organization 40 Days for Life was founded by David Bereit in 2004 as a local pro-life advocacy group in Bryan-College Station, Texas. The group has grown into an international organization, holding Christian campaigns of prayer and activism to end abortion.

Felix Böllmann, legal counsel for ADF International, a Christian legal group that supported Vojnović’s legal challenge, said: “We regret the court’s decision, which restricts freedom of expression, assembly, and religion.”

“We are still awaiting the reasons for the verdict, but the dismissal of the case obviously fails to recognize that freedom of expression is the foundation of any free and fair democracy. What kind of society denies prayer to women and children in need?”

Pavica Vojnović, who had led pro-life vigils in Pforzheim, southwest Germany. / ADF International.
Pavica Vojnović, who had led pro-life vigils in Pforzheim, southwest Germany. / ADF International.

He continued: “The fact that the Pforzheim authorities had banned even silent prayer near the abortion counseling center is not proportionate. Having a belief is a fundamental right, as is the right to express that belief through peaceful assembly or to pray silently in public.”

“Regardless of whether one shares their views in substance or not, there should be agreement that the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, religion, and assembly enjoy the protection of the Basic Law.”

Vojnović added: “Our society needs to provide better support to mothers in difficult situations. This issue touches me deeply because I have accompanied many women through this pain.”

“This is about more than our group in Pforzheim, namely also about whether prayer-free zones are allowed to exist, or whether one is allowed to hold different opinions in public space. That’s why we want to continue.”

German Catholic bishops’ leader: ecumenical event ‘not about intercommunion’

Bishop Georg Bätzing, president of the German bishops’ conference. Courtesy: Diocese of Limburg

CNA Staff, May 14, 2021 / 07:00 am (CNA).

The head of the German Catholic bishops has said that a major ecumenical event on Saturday is “not about intercommunion.”

Bishop Georg Bätzing, chairman of the German bishops’ conference, insisted that church services attended by both Catholics and Protestants on the evening of May 15 would be “ecumenically sensitive.”

He made the comments in a May 11 interview with the German Catholic news agency KNA ahead of the third Ecumenical Church Congress in Frankfurt on May 13-16.

The event has provoked anxiety at the Vatican over concerns that the congress might promote a controversial proposal for a “Eucharistic meal fellowship” between Catholics and Protestants.

Bätzing, the bishop of Limburg, noted that he would celebrate Mass in Frankfurt Cathedral on Saturday, the day on which German Catholics and Protestants are invited to attend services in one another’s churches.

Bätzing said: “Just to once again confirm: The form of celebration proposed is not about intercommunion in the sense of a general reciprocal invitation to participate in the Eucharist and Lord’s Supper, but about the question of how we deal with the personal decisions of conscience of individual Catholic or Protestant Christians.”

“For me, I respect such a decision and give Communion when someone asks to receive [the Body of Christ] who believes what we Catholics believe and wants to faithfully receive the Body of the Lord in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ.”

He continued: “It is not about inviting non-Catholic Christians to Communion in general, because there is still no full communion between the separate churches.”

“Catholic canon law also recognizes the possibility that non-Catholics can receive Holy Communion under certain conditions. There is no doubt, however, that we must continue the theological dialogue on the meaning of the Eucharist and the Lord’s Supper and their meaning for church communion.”

CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported that Bätzing added that the German Catholic Church’s contentious “Synodal Way” would have an impact on ecumenical ties, though it is primarily about “an internal reform of the Catholic Church in our country.”

Bätzing wrote a letter to clergy in his Diocese of Limburg in March, advising them to give Holy Communion to non-Catholic individuals only if they requested it after examining their consciences.

In the four-page letter issued in light of the Ecumenical Church Congress, he told priests that there could be “no general, inter-denominational reception of the Eucharist” or “new forms of Eucharistic celebration.”

He wrote: “The prerequisite for a worthy reception of the Eucharistic gifts, for both Catholics and non-Catholics, is the examination of one’s conscience.”

“As pastors, we respect the decision of conscience when someone receives Holy Communion after serious examination and in accordance with the Catholic faith.”

He issued the letter amid debate over the proposed “Eucharistic meal fellowship” between Catholics and Protestants in Germany.

The proposal was made by the Ecumenical Study Group of Protestant and Catholic Theologians (known by its German initials, ÖAK) in a 2019 document entitled “Together at the Lord’s Table.”

The ÖAK adopted the text under the co-chairmanship of Bätzing and the retired Lutheran Bishop Martin Hein.

The study group, founded in 1946, is independent of both the German Catholic bishops’ conference and the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), an organization representing 20 Protestant groups. But the ÖAK informs both bodies about its deliberations.

The ÖAK document raised alarm at the Vatican, prompting an intervention by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in September 2020.

In a four-page critique and a letter to Bätzing, the doctrinal congregation emphasized that significant differences in understanding of the Eucharist and ministry remain between Protestants and Catholics.

“The doctrinal differences are still so important that they currently rule out reciprocal participation in the Lord’s Supper and the Eucharist,” it said.

“The document cannot, therefore, serve as a guide for an individual decision of conscience about approaching the Eucharist.”

The CDF cautioned against any steps towards intercommunion between Catholics and members of the EKD.

Following the Vatican intervention, Bätzing has repeatedly ruled out general intercommunion, while saying that he respects the “personal decision of conscience” of individual Protestants to receive Communion in Catholic churches.

The 60-year-old bishop told ACI Stampa, CNA’s Italian-language news partner, in a May 6 interview that the current debate was not about a general invitation to Protestants to receive Communion, but rather about the Church’s approach to individual non-Catholic Christians who wish to receive the Eucharist.

He said: “It is not a question of generically extending the invitation to Communion to all non-Catholic Christians.”

He also noted that canon law permits non-Catholics to receive Communion on certain occasions.

Canon 844, § 4, of the Code of Canon Law says: “If the danger of death is present or if, in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops, some other grave necessity urges it, Catholic ministers administer these same sacraments licitly also to other Christians not having full communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who seek such on their own accord, provided that they manifest Catholic faith in respect to these sacraments and are properly disposed.”

Bätzing told ACI Stampa: “We must undoubtedly continue the theological dialogue on the importance of the Eucharist and the Lord’s Supper. And fortunately, there are already clear convergences in recent years.”