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UK government considering sanctions for religious freedom violators

London, England, Jul 18, 2019 / 10:03 am (CNA).- UK Ambassador to the Holy See Sally Axworthy said this week that the UK government will consider a recommendation to impose sanctions on foreign governments that violate religious freedom.

“The Foreign Secretary …  has said that we will look at imposing sanctions on people who commit violations of freedom of religion and belief, as we do impose sanctions on people who commit other kinds of crimes,” Axworthy told EWTN News Nightly July 15.

The ambassador’s comments came after the publication of an independent review to assess the response of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to the global problem of Christian persecution.

The report concluded that the UK government’s opportunities for independent action on the global stage have been under-utilized, and that the UK’s changing relationship with the European Union provides an opportunity for the Foreign Office to do more to preserve the rights of persecuted Christians, who make up 80 percent of those affected by global religious persecution.

Among the report’s recommendations to the Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, the Anglican Bishop of Truro Philip Mounstephen, who oversaw the report, recommended that the UK government be prepared to impose sanctions against perpetrators of “freedom of religion or belief” abuses.

“The Foreign Secretary has said that we are going to accept all of the recommendations in the report, and of course now we study how we do that,” Ambassador Axworthy said.

The results of the report were shared at an event at Rome’s Basilica of St. Bartholomew on Tiber Island July 15.

“The plight of Christians suffering torture and death is particularly distressing for those of us who also share with them a deep spiritual bond,” Mons. Antoine Camilleri, the Vatican Under-Secretary for Relations with States, said at the report launch in Rome.

“Governments must ask themselves to what extent are they really committed to defending religious freedom and to combating persecution based on religion and belief,” Camillieri said.

“How many refrain from condoning such acts, or even condemn them, yet still ‘collaborate’ politically, economically, commercially, militarily or otherwise, or simply by turning a blind eye, with some of the most egregious violators of this fundamental freedom?”

The Vatican Under-Secretary for Relations with States underlined that the “growing tendency, even in established democracies, to criminalize or penalize religious leaders for presenting the basic tenets of their faith, especially regarding the areas of life, marriage and the family” is also a concern.

“The right to religious freedom is rooted in the very dignity of the human person, and it is not only an achievement of a sound political and juridical culture but also a condition for the pursuit of truth that does not impose itself by force,” Camilleri said.

 

University spiritual life dean appointed Des Moines bishop

Vatican City, Jul 18, 2019 / 04:10 am (CNA).- Pope Francis appointed Fr. William Joensen, a priest of the Archdiocese of Dubuque and philosophy professor at a local college, as Bishop of Des Moines Thursday.

Joensen, 59, was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Dubuque in 1989, and received a Ph.D. in philosophy from the Catholic University of America in 2001.

Fr. Joensen has served as dean of campus spiritual life at Loras College, a Catholic liberal arts institution in Dubuque, since 2010. As such, he promotes the college's Catholic mission and identity, and serves as a spiritual director on the campus and at St. Pius X Seminary.

As an associate professor of philosophy at Loras, Joensen has taught courses in metaphysics, epistemology, philosophical anthropology, and history of philosophy. He also teaches the college’s Catholic Identity mission courses.

Fr. Joensen is a faculty member at the Tertio Millennio Seminar on the Free Society, a seminar on Catholic social teaching held annually in Krakow, Poland. He also serves on the medical-moral commission of the Dubuque archdiocese and is a regular contributor of spiritual reflections to Magnificat.

He will succeed Bishop Richard Pates, who retired Thursday at the age of 76.

“The Holy Father, Pope Francis, is sending a bishop with a pastoral heart to the Diocese of Des Moines,” Bishop Pates said.

“Through Bishop-elect Joensen’s stellar personal gifts, the diocese will be well served in the years ahead. Heartfelt thanks are extended to Pope Francis for his solicitous care," he said.

Pope Francis names new director of Holy See press office

Vatican City, Jul 18, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis Thursday appointed Matteo Bruni director of the Holy See Press Office, effective July 22. No vice director was named.

Bruni replaces Alessandro Gisotti, who has been serving as director ad interim after the resignations of Greg Burke and Paloma Garcia Ovejero at the end of 2018.

Bruni, 43, an Italian born in Great Britain, has worked for the Holy See press office since 2009, including as chief press handler, and most recently, as the lead on organization of papal trips.

In 2016, he became coordinator of the Media Operations section; in which he handled the accreditation of journalists for events during the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Though not a journalist, Bruni's background includes time working with the Sant'Egidio Community, a lay Catholic movement, for which he traveled around the world coordinating charity initiatives.

Bruni speaks fluent English and has an academic background in foreign languages. He also speaks Italian, Spanish, and French.

Gisotti, who has taken part in five papal trips during his six and a half months as interim director, has been given the role of vice editorial director of the Dicastery for Communication, serving under editorial director Andrea Tornielli (named to the position in early December 2018) and Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Dicastery for Communication since July 2018.

Sergio Centofanti, a journalist for Vatican News, was also named a vice director of editorial direction for Vatican communications.

The editorial director and his new deputies will direct all of the content of the Vatican Media platform, coordinate the editorial line of Vatican communications, and oversee the integration of traditional media and digital media with attention to the universal dimension of the Holy See’s communications.

Gisotti and Centofanti’s appointment to the editorial office of Vatican Media strengthens that department and likely marks a shift toward putting Vatican Media at the center of Vatican communications, rather than the press office.

The appointment of a permanent director fills the Holy See press office roster (minus a vice director) and completes the restructuring announced in January, which created the positions of senior advisor, two assistants to the director, and office manager.

These positions, which will remain stable, are currently filled by Romilda Ferrauto as senior advisor; Sr. Bernadette Reis and Raul Cabrera Perez as assistants to the director; and Thaddeus M. Jones as office manager.

Gisotti said July 18 it had been a privilege to be the pope's spokesman "during such an intense period of his Pontificate" and that he is grateful for Francis' "fatherly support."

"I am sure that Matteo Bruni will know how to manage the extraordinary team here at the Press Office in the best way possible," he said. "I offer him my best wishes for success, as well as my availability to collaborate."

In an interview with Vatican News July 18 Bruni said the nomination is an honor, adding that his professional relationship with the media "has always been rather intense."

"Even though behind the scenes, I tried to make my work contribute to correct information, trying to convey some of the main themes of the pontificate," he said. "I am aware that now a different kind of commitment is beginning and I hope that mutual trust remains unchanged."

Reform of Vatican communications was launched in June 2015 with Pope Francis' creation of the Secretariat for Communications, which consolidated nine communications offices under one authority and prioritized an increase in the use of digital media.

In March 2018 Msgr. Dario Edoardo Vigano stepped down as the secretariat's first prefect, in the wake of a fake news scandal concerning a letter from Pope emeritus Benedict XVI. Vigano continues to work in the department as a consultor.

Three months later, in June 2018, the Secretariat was renamed to "dicastery," the general word used for the Vatican's various offices and departments, which was seen by some as a downgrade.

New appointments rounded out 2018, which ended with the surprise double resignation of Burke and Ovejero as the papal spokespersons.


CNA's Andrea Gagliarducci contributed to this report. The report was updated at 6 am MDT.

A 'wealth' of resources available to St Louis women with unexpected pregnancies

St. Louis, Mo., Jul 18, 2019 / 03:01 am (CNA).- With a law banning abortions after roughly eight weeks of pregnancy and one remaining abortion clinic whose licensure is being debated in court, Missouri has been described as a state “hostile” to abortion.

“The state makes it extremely hostile for an abortion facility to remain open,” Ushma Upadhyay, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California San Francisco, told Vox for a story on the last abortion clinic in the state.

While the state may be increasingly restricting abortions, it has numerous programs that provide a wealth of resources and support to thousands of women in need each year who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant, pro-life advocates told CNA.

“Our aim is for those moms who want to give life to their baby, we provide them with all sorts of alternatives (to abortion),” Michael Meehan, Executive Director of Good Shepherd Children and Family Services in St. Louis, told CNA.

Good Shepherd is one of eight agencies operated through Catholic Charities in St. Louis that are available to pregnant women in need, and provide them with a variety of resources and support, including housing, education classes and scholarships, counseling, and substance abuse recovery.

Good Shepherd itself has a maternity shelter and transitional living program for teen and young adult moms, who may otherwise be homeless, that can accommodate 14 mom and 20 babies, for just a few days or up to a year or longer, depending on the needs of the moms and children, Meehan said.

Besides group and individual counseling, on-staff nurses, and classes on life skills, parenting, and child development, completing a high school education is a requirement for moms in the program, Meehan told CNA.

“That’s a mandatory part of being here is re-engaging in your education. It opens and closes the single biggest bunch of doors for independence,” Meehan said. Thus, Good Shepherd has a full-time education advocate who is a certified teacher, and helps any mom who has not yet completed high school or gotten her GED.

There is also a home visitation program for women who have housing but need other kinds of support throughout their pregnancy, Meehan said. Good Shepherd provides those women with case management, crisis management for problems such as domestic violence, connection to good health care, and referrals to additional needed resources.

And because abuse and neglect prevention is a core part of Good Shepherd’s program, they can continue providing support through home visits until the youngest child in the home is three years old, he added.

“We want to ensure that moms and babies get the best possible start in life,” Meehan said.

They also have foster care and adoption services for women who feel that they are unable to parent their child but still want to provide a better life for them, Meehan said.

“We’re hopeful that we can get the word out that adoption is an option for women who might otherwise consider abortion,” he said.

When asked if he had noticed an increase in women seeking services from Good Shepherd in light of there being one remaining abortion clinic in the state, Meehan said that they have noticed an increase, but that they are unsure whether it is directly connected to the closing abortion clinics.

According to data from 2005 from the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice organization, the top three reasons that women seek abortions are: having a child would interfere with education, work or ability to care for dependents (74%); that she could not afford a baby now (73%); and that she did not want to be a single mother or was having relationship problems (48%).

Knowing these statistics, Meehand said that it is Good Shepherd’s goal to help women remove as many of these obstacles as possible so that they can keep their babies.

“We are about removing perceived obstacles,” he said, “which typically isn’t a baby. It’s a violent relationship, it’s pending homelessness, it’s deep and desperate poverty, it’s a perception that this is impossible, I’m just not going to be able to do it, the baby would be better off not being brought into the world.”

In recent years, Meehan said, Good Shepherd has done even more work to “get the word out” about their services so that women know what resources are available to them.

“The message is that the Church wants to control women, the Church doesn’t care about women, the Church only cares about women until they’re born and then couldn’t care less,” Meehan said. Those messages are easily proved false, he said, “if anybody bothered to look a smidge more deeply.”

And it’s not just the Catholic Church, or even religious organizations, that are providing life-affirming help to women and children in the St. Louis area.

Birthright of St. Louis is a secular non-profit that does not accept state or federal government funding. The goal of the agency is to provide women with the care and support that they need to be able to handle unexpected pregnancies, and to offer life-affirming alternatives to abortion.

“We just focus on the woman one-on-one,” Maureen Zink, the executive director of Birthright in St. Louis, told CNA.

“Our focus is that you have to be a quiet place where women can come where they don't feel like you have an agenda and just talk about why this pregnancy is so hard for them,” she said.

Birthright provides a variety of services to women free of charge, Zink said, including professional counseling, pregnancy testing, and financial aid and scholarships for women who are still in school.

They also have a program called Melissa Smiles, which supports mothers whose children are disabled and connects them to the resources that they need, she said.

“Pretty much anything a woman needs, we'll work with her,” Zink said. “We love to be able to take care of the women, so that they can take care of their babies. The goal is that they'll be able to provide a loving, safe, and nurturing healthy home for their babies.”

Every service provided by Birthright is free, Zink said, but women do not necessarily have to demonstrate a financial need to seek out help from the agency.

“There's college women that find out that they're pregnant and they're overwhelmed and they need help sorting it out,” Zink said.

Zink said that she has not noticed an uptick in women seeking services from Birthright in light of the closure of all but one abortion clinic; things have remained “pretty steady.”

“I think our services will always be needed no matter what the laws are,” she added.

Mary Varni, program manager with the Respect Life Apostolate of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, sent CNA a list of resources, both Catholic and secular, that they use to help connect women facing unexpected pregnancies with the resources that they need.

Varni noted that while many women in crisis pregnancies are poor, financial stability is often not the only thing they need.

“Based on our experience, if a woman is pregnant and concerned about her financial situation, she may also be concerned about the safety of the residence or neighborhood in which the child will grow up, the education the child will be able to receive, the child’s health care, or even basic needs like food and shelter,” she said.

“There is help to address all of these concerns, and by sharing the resources we know can help with the women we serve, we hope they will see that life is the right choice.”

Besides Good Shepherd, Catholic Charities in St. Louis also operates three additional shelters, Varni said: the Queen of Peace Center, which offers family-centered behavioral health care for women (and their children) who are overcoming substance use disorders; the St. Patrick Center, which helps people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless; and Marygrove, which offers an independent housing program that provides shelter and services to pregnant teens and young adults.

Furthermore, the Respect Life Apostolate offers the Blessed Theresa of Calcutta fund, which offers financial aid to expectant or recent parents within the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

There is also Our Lady’s Inn, which shelters and supports homeless women and their babies, and Thrive St. Louis, a women’s clinic that provides pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, parenting and life-skills classes, and referrals for housing, medical care, counseling, utility assistance, food and more.

The Society of St Vincent DePaul in St. Louis also provides food and financial resources, such as assistance with housing and transportation, to those in need, Varni said. They are also currently considering a closer partnership with Good Shepherd to more directly assist pregnant women and families in need.

Varni said that when a woman comes to the apostolate or the archdiocese for help, their first job is to listen to what those women are struggling with.

“We let them know they are not alone in their struggles, which is why there are so many resources available to assist with their needs, and alternatives to abortion that can help support a healthy life for their baby,” she said.

“We remind them that their pregnancy is a gift from God, and that He chose them to carry their baby for a reason He knows better than all of us—and that because He loves them, there is always hope. They will be able to overcome the challenges they are facing.”

The licensure of Missouri’s last operating abortion clinic, a Planned Parenthood in St. Louis, is still being debated in court. The next hearing over the clinic’s license is not until October, and a judge has ruled that the clinic can still offer abortions through that hearing.

But despite some of the hand-wringing over what could be the closure of the last abortion clinic in the state, Meehan said it would be a good thing - and that women will still get the help that they need, through the many services available in the state.

“People lose track of the fact that...we’re talking about well over 600,000 babies dying every year (from abortion),” he said. “That’s a lot.”

“If Planned Parenthood disappeared today, the need of our population could be met, that’s not an issue. They’re not nearly as indispensable as they would have us believe.”

New campaign to bring food, medicine to Syrian Christians

Rome, Italy, Jul 18, 2019 / 12:23 am (CNA).- The pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need has launched a new fundraising campaign to aid Syrian Christians, whose lives continue to be devastated by violence and poverty.

“The war in Syria has still not ended, terrorism has yet to be defeated and our brothers have more need of our aid than ever,” said Alessandro Monteduro, the director of Aid to the Church in Need in Italy.

Much of the region is still reeling from the destruction left behind by the Islamic State, while the ongoing Syrian civil war – now in its ninth year – continues to bring fresh devastation.

The city of Aleppo, once the most populous city Syria and its main economic and industrial center, was reduced to ruins during a bloody siege from 2012 to 2016.

The number of Christians in Aleppo has fallen dramatically, from 180,000 before the civil war to 32,000 in early 2019.

Facing high inflation, corruption, and a sluggish economy, the people of the city are struggling to rebuild.

In addition, the violence has not been completely eradicated from the city. Local priest Fr. Ibrahim Alsabagh, told TV 2000 this week that on the previous day, “several missiles fell in different parts of the city of Aleppo and this has many people quite worried again.”

Aid to the Church in Need will focus one of its new projects on obtaining food to distribute to the poorest Christian families in Aleppo, as well as access to cooking gas and fuel for electrical generators.

The second project will be carried out in Damascus, focusing on purchasing medicine, much of it very expensive, for sick Christians. This project is a personal request of the Greek Melkite Patriarch Youssef Absu, who indicated that without this aid, many sick Christians will be left without help.

Since the beginning of the civil war in 2011 until 2018, Aid to the Church in Need has donated around 30.4 million euros ($34.12 million) to the local Churches in Syria. Among other initiatives, this money has helped begin the process of reconstruction of homes and churches for Christians families in areas that are more stable.

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

 

DC priest: celibacy allows a priest to give himself for others

Denver, Colo., Jul 17, 2019 / 05:20 pm (CNA).- Commentators and critics, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, have in recent months called for an end to the discipline of priestly celibacy, especially in the wake of revelations of widespread historical sexual abuse in the United States, and in response to a perceived dearth of priests in some parts of the world. 

“We cannot bring about real reform of the Roman Catholic priesthood unless we do away with mandatory celibacy for diocesan priests in the Latin rite,” Washington D.C. priest Peter Daly wrote in a July 15 op-ed for the National Catholic Reporter.

Father Carter Griffin of the Archdiocese of Washington, author of “Why Celibacy? Reclaiming the Fatherhood of the Priest,” told CNA in an interview that celibacy has been intrinsically linked to the Catholic priesthood from the very beginning, when Jesus, who was himself celibate, ordained the apostles as the first priests.

Christ enjoined celibacy on some of his disciples, Griffin said, and others who were already married practiced marital continence— abstaining within marriage— after becoming priests.

“Celibacy allows for a certain openness of heart, kind of wideness of heart, which facilitates a man's capacity to live his priesthood, and to give himself to others,’ Griffin said. 

“[Jesus] really had to be available to everyone...if his heart had a privileged share [of love] going to his wife or children, he simply couldn't do what he intended to do. And I think that sense of being ordered to love as a priest, priestly love, and really spiritual fatherhood...is in my opinion one of the main reasons, if not the main reason, for celibacy.”

Celibacy also points to the existence of God and supernatural realities, Griffin said, by reminding others that “our highest goods are not earthly pleasures, but in fact even greater and higher.”

Daly argued in his op-ed that priests who are allowed to marry and have children will better understand their role as spiritual fathers.

“With real parents in the priesthood, it would make us more aware of the vulnerability of children and more outraged at their abuse,” Daly wrote.

Griffin admitted there could be some truth to that claim, and said that a seminarian’s natural father has an important and often overlooked factor in the formation of new priests. But the benefits of understanding different forms of fatherhood also could work in the other direction, he said.

“There are many things I've learned as a spiritual father that have proven to be very helpful to the many natural and biological fathers that I am close to and get to know,” he said.

“The question comes, at what cost?” he cautioned, however.

“There is going to be this sort of challenge of living these two vocations [marriage and the priesthood] in the way that they're really both demand to be lived.”

Daly also argued that celibacy restricts the pool of eligible candidates for priesthood and “diminishes its quality,” while fostering “a culture of mendacity and secrecy, which contributes to sexual cover-ups,” as well as being physically unhealthy for men.

Responding to the objection that allowing married priests would cause an uptick in vocations, Griffin said this could be true— at first— but presented some major caveats.

“There are plenty of mainstream denominations which just have not married clergy, but women clergy, and all these other restrictions lowered, and they still can't find enough,” he pointed out.

“So the idea of this being some kind of magical cure, 'just let them get married and suddenly the seminaries will burgeoning and everyone will be back to 1955,’ is a little bit false.”

In addition, Griffin said that in his opinion the vocations crisis would not be solved by lowering the requirements of the priesthood, because although the numbers may tick up slightly, the overall quality and holiness of the priests will likely not improve.

“If the right thing for us is celibate priests, then let's figure out how to build the Catholic culture as it's been done every time that this question has come up from century after century...I think we need to change what is causing the dearth in vocations, rather than simply change the standards for entering seminary,” he said.

On the question of whether a celibate life leads to dangerous sexual repression, which in turn leads to abuse, Griffin pointed out the many healthy and well-adjusted celibate people— both Catholic and non-Catholic— who throughout the centuries have sacrificed sexual relations for some sort of a higher good.

“An objection like that could only be made in a culture that is suffering from the aftershock of the ‘Sexual Revolution,’ which has tried to convince us that we really cannot control ourselves sexually, that the sexual urge is something that simply has to be indulged, and any restrictions on it are necessarily unhealthy,” he commented.

“All of us know people who are not married who are wonderfully balanced and good people. And the vast majority of priests are happy in their vocation and are doing good work and faithful. So to take some examples from the headlines and to draw universal conclusions from them seems to be not the right move.”

Griffin pointed out that being married does not abolish the possibility of a person abusing children, any more than it abolishes the possibility of a person committing adultery against their spouse.

“It's precisely not living marriage well that is adultery. It's precisely not living celibacy well that is any kind of infidelity. And yes, there are unfaithful celibate priests, and the problem is that they're unfaithful. The problem is not that they're celibate,” he explained. 

“I think here the problem is a lack of priestly zeal, or a lack of justice, or a lack of a sense of the purpose of the priesthood. Because the purpose of the priest is not to garner power for himself, in this kind of clerical mindset, but it's to pour himself out for others. His whole purpose in life is to serve...and so if we're not doing that, if we're not setting an example, or we're not pouring ourselves out in that way, let's focus on that problem, instead of saying 'it's a boy's club' or something like that.”

Specifically on the “boy’s club” objection, that a married priesthood would foster greater respect for women among a mostly male culture in places like seminaries, Griffin said an attitude of “clerical arrogance” does exist in some places, but not a majority.

“I think in good formation and good seminary culture, I don't see any of that,” he said. 

“I see brothers growing together and really thriving and striving for holiness in their Christian lives and encouraging each other, and that kind of building of a fraternal and paternal bond among these men I think will bear tremendous fruit.”

In terms of helping to build a Catholic culture in which priestly celibacy can truly work, Griffin said it’s important for young men to see celibacy, and chastity in general, modeled for them in a joyful way, whether they plan to enter the priesthood or not. He also mentioned the importance of fostering a family culture where vocational discernment is taught and valued.

Finally, he said an emphasis on chastity, especially in a hyper-sexualized culture, should help to counterbalance the deadening and dulling effects of such things as internet pornography, which he said make “seeing the beauty of chastity, let alone the beauty if celibacy, more difficult.”

“I think having parents who really take seriously the healthy and integral formation of their children to really grow up to become holy men and women, really authentically Christian, living chaste, holy, purity...I think the vocations crisis would frankly disappear, if we really could redouble our efforts as Catholic families in those three ways.”

Griffin concluded by relating his own experience as a celibate priest.

“My experience has been similar to many other priests, which is that celibacy has in fact been a gift,” he said.

“I planned to get married, I would have loved to have gotten married and had a family in many respects, but the Lord has used those desires and kind of transformed them, and I'm the happiest guy alive. And I think that a lot of priests would say the same thing. I hope that people are able to, in sorting through all the stuff being thrown at them, are able to still see that— that many priests are joyfully and beautifully living out their vocations.”

 

Facing dire financial situation, Pittsburgh diocese looks to make changes

Pittsburgh, Pa., Jul 17, 2019 / 03:53 pm (CNA).- The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh is evaluating options to respond to severe financial strains, exacerbated in the last year by the sex abuse crisis, a diocesan official said Wednesday.

“The challenges that we’re facing are similar to that of many other churches, I think, throughout the country,” said Msgr. Ronald Lengwin, Vicar for Church Relations for the diocese.

He told CNA that already-existing financial struggles had been greatly compounded by the sex abuse crisis that broke last summer.

In August 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury report was released, identifying more than 1,000 allegations of abuse at the hands of some 300 clergy members in six dioceses in the state, including 99 from Pittsburgh. It also found a pattern of efforts by Church authorities to ignore, obscure, or cover up allegations – either to protect accused priests or to spare the Church scandal.

Since that report was released, Mass attendance has dropped 9% and offertory donations have declined 11%, CBS Pittsburgh reported.

Lengwin told CNA that the decline in Mass attendance and collection money had been going on before the sex abuse scandal was unveiled. Ten years ago, he said, some 187,000 people attended Mass in the diocese each Sunday. By 2018, that number had dropped to about 120,000 – a decline of more than 30%.

The abuse scandal has intensified problems that were already present for the local Church, including parishes that had been borrowing from the diocese to pay insurance premiums, creating an unstable financial situation.

When the diocese set up a survivors’ compensation program to aid the healing of abuse victims, it expected to receive about 250 claims, based on the number of allegations that had already been received, and estimates constructed from talking to other dioceses.

“But now we’re looking at 350-400 claims,” Lengwin said. “We don’t know what that final number will be, but we have reason to believe it will be significant.”

The decline in offertory money, combined with the unexpectedly high number of victims’ compensation filings, means that the diocese could be millions of dollars short in addressing survivors’ claims and other diocesan expenses.

With limited resources, Catholic leaders are looking for solutions. Thirty-two employee positions have been eliminated. Bishop David Zubik has emphasized that responding to abuse victims remains a top priority.

“We’re trying to identify additional money that exists,” Lengwin said. The diocese has sold most of its parcels of property already, and a small building that previously served as a headquarters for the local Catholic newspaper is expected to be sold soon.

In addition, a court hearing will be held in coming weeks, as the diocese seeks permission to use money from an already-established foundation to fund payments of abuse claims.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh is working toward consolidating and merging a number of parishes, a process that was already underway before last summer.

CBS Pittsburgh reported that Bishop Zubik has also warned that “more than a few” diocesan schools could close, saying that each school must prove its financial stability in order to stay open.

“Even before abuse crisis last summer, we had engaged in a program to consolidate our schools,” Lengwin said. “Now it’s clear that won’t be enough.”

Embattled Crookston diocese reaches $5m abuse settlements, will release depositions and files

Crookston, Minn., Jul 17, 2019 / 02:55 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Crookston, Minnesota announced Wednesday that a $5 million settlement has been reached in 15 sexual abuse lawsuits filed against it. The diocese says it will be the only one in Minnesota to avoid filing for bankruptcy protection. Crookston's bishop, however, is still accused personally of covering-up abuse.

“To all victims and survivors of sexual abuse by clergy, as the Bishop of Crookston I apologize for the harm done to you by those entrusted with your spiritual care. Although you can never be fully compensated for your suffering, we are thankful this litigation has now come to a good end and are hopeful this settlement offers you justice and will be helpful for healing,” Crookston’s Bishop Michael Hoeppner said in a July 17 statement.

“To you, the faithful of this local Church, I say thank you for your continued prayer: for victims of sexual abuse; for a fair resolve to these cases. Let us all now, humbly, offer prayers of thanksgiving.”

The statement said that insurance carriers will cover most of the settlement amount, while the diocese will be responsible for $1,550,000 in payments. The diocese said that money would come from the sale of a camp and a Newman Center, and from estate gifts. Hoeppner said that some funds would also come from diocesan cash reserves. He emphasized that no funds from the annual diocesan appeal would be used.

The settled lawsuits were filed in 2016 and 2017, during a three-year “window” that allowed alleged victims of clerical sexual abuse to file civil suits even after the state’s statute of limitations for abuse litigation had expired. The diocese said its settlement agreement had been reached “after years of negotiation and mediation.”

“Because of this settlement, the Diocese of Crookston can avoid filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection,” Hoeppner said.

“All other dioceses in Minnesota have filed or announced their intent to file for financial reorganization. We will not have to lay off staff. We can joyfully and steadfastly continue our mission of bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to this time and place. We pledge our continued efforts to rid the Church and world of sexual abuse and provide a safe environment for all.”

In addition to funds, the settlement will require the diocese to make public the names and files of priests accused of sexually abusing children, and depositions from clergy sex abuse lawsuits in the diocese will also be made public.

While the settlement resolves abuse litigation against the diocese, it is likely not the end of difficulties for Hoeppner. The bishop has been accused of pressuring a diaconal candidate in the diocese, the father of a diocesan priest, into recanting his own allegation of abuse against a Crookston priest.

Several sources have told CNA that Hoeppner is likely to face a canonical investigation of those charges by Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul-Minneapolis, through a process devised by Pope Francis in May, which came into effect June 1.

It is expected that the soon-to-be released depositions could factor heavily into any investigation into the allegations against Hoeppner. If the bishop is found to have interfered with a legal or canonical investigation into a claim of sexual abuse, he could be removed from his office in the diocese.

 

Parents petition UK court to move comatose daughter to Italy

London, England, Jul 17, 2019 / 12:52 pm (CNA).- Parents of a comatose five-year-old are attempting to move their child to Italy from a London hospital after doctors in the United Kingdom declared any further medical treatment to be futile and ordered the removal of “life-sustaining treatment.” 

Tafida Raqeeb has been in a coma since February 9, after she suffered from a brain arteriovenous malformation (AVM), which resulted in a burst blood vessel in her brain. Her parents said she was “completely healthy” prior to the injury.

On July 16, her parents asked the High Court in London to allow her to leave the country. 

AVM is a rare condition that can occur anywhere in the body, and consists of tangled blood vessels and arteries. Its cause is unknown, and the malformed blood vessels are thought to have been present since birth. 

The AVM triggered cardiac and respiratory arrest, as well as a traumatic brain injury. Doctors at the Royal London Hospital say there is no chance she will recover from her coma. 

According to the Barts Health NHS Trust, which administers the Royal London Hospital, doctors have determined that “further invasive medical treatment is futile.” Two doctors from the Gaslini Children’s Hospital in Genoa, Italy, however, disagree. They were able to examine Tafida via a video link on Friday, and they agreed to care for her in Italy. They said they did not believe her to be brain dead.

“Brain death” is usually defined as the irreversible loss of all functions of the brain, including the brainstem, and is marked by a coma, lack of reflexes, and the inability to breathe without mechanical assistance. Once a person has been declared brain dead, they have no chance of recovery and are clinically considered deceased. 

An online petition supported by the family requesting that Royal London Hospital allow Tafida to be transferred to Gaslini Children’s Hospital, insists that the child does not meet the clinical conditions of brain death and should remain on life support. 

“Following extensive brain surgery at King’s College hospital, doctors informed her parents that she was brain dead and to consider making preparations for her funeral,” reads the petition.

“A brain stem test indicated that Tafida did not meet the qualification of ‘brain death’ as she made gasping movements and therefore could not be removed from the ventilator.” 

Since then, Tafida has remained on a ventilator at Royal London Hospital. According to the family, a neurologist has declared her to be in a “deep coma,” from which she is beginning to emerge. Her parents say she is able to open her eyes and move her limbs, as well as being able to swallow and react to pain. 

Tafida’s mother, Shelina Bergum, has said that doctors initially proposed giving Tafida a tracheostomy and allowing her to return home, to continue recovery. 

“The medical team have now changed their mind and want to withdraw ventilation to end her life,” Bergum wrote as part of a separate online petition organized by the family. 

Tafida's case follows similar campaigns by parents in the cases of Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans, who were both terminally ill children in NHS care. In 2017, doctors sought to remove Charlie Gard from his ventilator, despite his parents’ wishes to transfer him to a hospital in New York City. He ultimately passed away in hospice at the age of 11 months, after life support was removed. 

Less than a year later, the parents of Alfie Evans also objected to NHS attempts to remove his ventilator, saying they wished to move him to a hospital in Italy. Alfie’s life support was eventually removed, and he survived for five days breathing on his own before passing away shortly before his second birthday.

French lawmakers pass bill on Notre-Dame; new report says cathedral nearly collapsed during fire

Paris, France, Jul 17, 2019 / 12:45 pm (CNA).- France’s Parliament on Tuesday passed a bill on the rebuilding of Notre-Dame Cathedral— three months after a fire destroyed the church’s roof— even amid disagreement on the best way to proceed with the restoration.

The April 15 fire destroyed the wooden roof of the cathedral as well as a spire that was added to the 800-year-old church during a 19th century renovation.

The bill establishes a legal framework for the distribution of funds donated for the cathedral's renovation.

The French Senate first approved the bill May 27, which at the time mandated that the rebuilding be faithful to Notre-Dame's “last known visual state.”

Yesterday’s bill passed the National Assembly by a 99-8-33 vote. The architectural form of the reconstruction is not directly addressed in the text of the new law, AFP reports.

The government of President Emmanuel Macron had previously initiated an architectural competition to submit a variety of suggestions for the restoration; Macron has also called for “an inventive reconstruction” of the cathedral with a more contemporary design. 

Macron has said that he intends the restoration to take five years. Critics in parliament reportedly complained that the project was being rushed in order to have the construction finished in time for Paris’ 2024 hosting of the Olympic Games.

"The hardest thing is now ahead of us. We need to strengthen the cathedral for ever and then restore it," Culture Minister Franck Riester said as the bill was passed, as reported by AFP.

The bill also aims to organize the nearly $1 billion in donations that poured in from throughout the world to rebuild the cathedral. French luxury goods rivals, the billionaires Bernard Arnault and Francois-Henri Pinault, pledged 200 and 100 million euros apiece, AFP says.

Officials had been in the process of a massive fundraising effort to renovate the cathedral against centuries of decay, pollution, and an inundation of visitors. French conservationists and the archdiocese announced in 2017 that the renovations needed for the building’s structural integrity could cost as much as $112 million to complete.

A recent New York Times analysis has also suggested that the cathedral came very close to completely collapsing, and that the brave actions of Paris’ fire department likely saved the building from further damage. The arched stone vault is still at particular risk of collapse, and tourists are not yet allowed inside.

The Times report also detailed a miscommunication between a security guard and an employee monitoring the building’s fire alarm, which meant the fire was not discovered until it had already been burning for 30 minutes.

The area around Notre-Dame still contains higher than normal amounts of lead, due to the collapse of the lead and oak spire, a source of concern for Paris authorities. Workers are currently working to clear debris from the site and have not started renovations.

Due to France’s laws regarding secularization, the French government owns all churches built before 1905, including Notre-Dame. The government lets the Archdiocese of Paris use the building for free, and will continue to do so in perpetuity. The Archdiocese of Paris is responsible for the upkeep of the church, as well as for paying employees.

During Mass on June 15 in a side chapel, the cathedral's first since the fire, Archbishop Michel Aupetit emphasized that the church is no mere cultural heritage of France, but is meant for the worship of God.

About 30 people assisted in the Mass, including canons of the cathedral and other priests, wearing hard hats for safety. The Mass was said in Notre-Dame des Sept Douleurs, a side chapel that housed the crown of thorns, a relic which a fireman rescued from the blaze along with the Blessed Sacrament.