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Bishops voice concern over treatment of religion in Irish reopening plan

CNA Staff, Mar 4, 2021 / 05:30 pm (CNA).- As Ireland marks the first anniversary of the novel coronavirus arriving, local Catholic bishops are calling for the government to ease its restrictions on in-person worship services.

A pastoral message was released March 3 by the bishops of six dioceses in the country’s western Tuam Province - Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam, Bishop John Fleming  of Killala, Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin, Bishop Brendan Kelly of Galway, Bishop Michael Duignan of Clonfert, and Bishop Paul Dempsey of Achonry

The bishops compared the current situation to arriving at a false summit while hiking, and realizing there is more progress to be made.  

“Sometimes the last bit can be the hardest of all. We understand the experience of disappointment and frustration that many people feel, at the news of an indefinite extension of lockdown,” they said. 

COVID-19 cases in Ireland have declined steadily following a sharp spike in late December and early January. However, authorities are still urging caution. 

The bishops analyzed the five-state reopening plan for the country, published by the government last week. Under Level 5 restrictions, which will be in place at least until April, traveling more than 5 km from one’s home is prohibited, as is mingling with people from other households. Retail stores, bars, gyms and other businesses deemed non-essential must remain closed.

The bishops acknowledged the need for caution, saying, “we accept absolutely that now is not the time for a major reopening of society.”

However, they argued, funerals are limited to only 10 people at Level 5 of the reopening plan, while a 25-person limit would still allow for safe services and would “bring much consolation to grieving families.”

The bishops also objected to the fact that public worship is banned even at Level 3 of the plan to reopen Ireland. 

“[This] ignores the important contribution of communal worship to the mental and spiritual well-being of people of faith. The fundamental importance of Holy Week and Easter for all Christians makes the prohibition of public worship particularly painful,” they said.

“While, as Christians, we are obliged to obey these regulations, we believe that it is our responsibility as Church leaders to make the case for change. We will continue to make fair and reasonable representation and we encourage you to do likewise.”

The bishops also asked the government to provide clarification on when the public may return to sacramental life - particularly to the celebration of First Communion and Confirmation, normally held at the end of the school year. Without this clarification, they said, dioceses have decided to postpone the 2021 Confirmation class until fall, and parishes are encouraged to adopt a similar schedule for First Communion. 

“Should the circumstances change for the better, this decision can be revisited in each diocese.  In the meantime, we encourage young people and their parents to continue with their preparation. We have provided online resources to support what is being done through the Religious Education programme with the teachers in the schools.”

In their message, the bishops also challenged priests to do all they can to provide pastoral and sacramental care, especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation and sacramental care of the sick.

They expressed gratitude that children will return to in-person schooling, and emphasized the need to share the burden with those still struggling under the lockdown. 

“All of us appreciate the efforts and the sacrifices of those in our community who provide essential services,” they said. “For many people, however, the continued high level of restriction poses practical and emotional challenges. We want to say very clearly that, in the Christian vision of things, every person is essential and no person is more important or necessary than any other.”

“When we pray the Stations of the Cross, we celebrate people like Veronica, who wiped the face of Jesus and Simon of Cyrene who shared with Him the burden of the cross. None of us can say ‘I’m ok’ until we are all ‘ok,’” they said.  

Number of Spaniards contributing to Church through tax system increased in 2020

Madrid, Spain, Mar 4, 2021 / 04:18 pm (CNA).- During the 2020 Income Declaration Campaign in Spain, 7,297,646 taxpayers chose to allocate 0.7% of their taxes to the needs of the Church, 106,259 more than the previous year.

An agreement between the Church and the Spanish state allows taxpayers freely to decide whether to allocate that percentage of their taxes to the Church or for other purposes, an option popularly known as “checking the box for the Church” when filing income taxes.

This option does not affect the taxpayer, since contributing to the Church doesn’t mean that more tax is paid or there is less of a refund.

However, for the Church checking that box is very important, since through the contributions of the taxpayers, “the immense work of the Church is sustained. To continue helping in this pandemic crisis, the Church needs everyone’s collaboration more than ever,” the Spanish Bishops’ Conference said in a statement.

In the past year, the Church received 301.07 million euros ($360.3m) thanks to contributions from more than 7 million taxpayers, who represent 32% of all Spanish taxpayers.

The bishops’ conference pointed out, “the Income Declaration Campaign took place coinciding with the hardest months of the first wave of the pandemic, during which time the Church multiplied its efforts and presence to aid the most affected groups.”

At the same time, "the figures do not yet show the economic consequences of the pandemic in Spain since the first third of 2020”.

The 106,259 new taxpayers contributing to the Church “shows the social and personal support for the work carried out by the Church at this time, and is a fourfold increase in those checking the box for the Church from the previous year,” the conference said.

The Church reiterated its commitment to transparency and therefore "gives an account of how all the money it has received from taxpayers is spent, which is provided in detail in the Report on Church Activities,” through the conference’s Transparency Office and its portal, the bishops explained.

Catholic bishops express ‘pain and sadness’ at Poland's ‘rainbow halo’ verdict

CNA Staff, Mar 4, 2021 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Catholic bishops in the Polish Diocese of Płock expressed “pain and sadness” on Wednesday at the verdict in Poland’s “rainbow halo” trial.

In a March 3 statement, the three bishops said they did not agree with a court ruling that three activists who distributed images depicting the revered Black Madonna icon with a rainbow halo were not guilty of offending religious feelings.

“It is with pain and sadness that we have accepted the verdict of the District Court in Płock, dated March 2, 2021, in the case concerning the profanation of the image of Our Lady of Częstochowa in our city, in April 2019,” they said.

“We note that the actions involved in the court proceedings clearly violated the social order and -- in their essence -- contradict the idea of tolerance claimed by the perpetrators.”

The statement was signed by Bishop Piotr Libera of Płock, auxiliary Bishop Mirosław Milewski, and retired auxiliary Bishop Roman Marcinkowski.

Three women -- Elżbieta Podleśna, Anna Prus, and Joanna Gzyra-Iskandar -- went on trial in Płock, central Poland, on Jan. 13 accused of offending religious feelings, a crime punishable by up to two years in prison.

The Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza reported on March 2 that the judge concluded that the activists did not intend to offend religious sensibilities or to insult the venerated image of the Virgin Mary, housed at the Jasna Góra Monastery in Częstochowa.

The judge reportedly added that their actions were aimed at protecting people facing discrimination.

The case concerned an incident in April 2019, when the three women placed posters of the icon with rainbow halos on Mary and the Child Jesus in locations around Płock.

The activists said that they attached the posters to walls and around a church in the city in response to a display inside the church which listed “LGBT” and “gender” -- the Polish term for gender ideology -- as sins. 

Elżbieta Podleśna, a psychotherapist and activist, told the court on Jan. 13 that she regarded the display as “homophobic” and believed it could encourage the stigmatization of “people of non-heteronormative sexual orientation and gender identity.”

She was arrested in May 2019 at her home in Warsaw and taken to Płock for questioning. A court later determined that her detention was unjustified and awarded her damages of around $2,000.

The three women faced trial under Article 196 of the country’s penal code, which says that “Whoever offends the religious feelings of other persons by publicly insulting an object of religious worship, or a place designated for public religious ceremonies, is liable to pay a fine, have his or her liberty limited, or be deprived of his or her liberty for a period of up to two years.”

Speaking after her acquittal, Podleśna said that the prosecutor’s office was likely to appeal against the verdict.

Catholic Action in the Diocese of Płock expressed its “utmost concern” at the ruling.

In a March 4 statement, it said that its members “cannot come to terms with the sentence of the court, which can be interpreted as consent to openly and publicly offend the feelings of believers and to profanation of the Jasna Góra image of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”

The Płock bishops commented: “We do not agree with the verdict, which has already been described by many as the state’s open consent to actions against the Catholic religion, the honor of the Mother of God and objects of devotion associated with her, as well as the feelings of Catholics.”

“We express our deep hope that the court of second instance, in accordance with the law, will speak out against this profanation, restoring the disturbed sense of justice.”

Pope Francis entrusts Iraq trip to Virgin Mary’s protection

Rome Newsroom, Mar 4, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- On the eve of his departure for a three-day trip to Iraq, Pope Francis visited a Rome basilica to ask for the Virgin Mary’s intercession and protection on his travels.

According to the Holy See press office, Pope Francis went to the Basilica of St. Mary Major March 4 “for a moment of prayer” before the Byzantine icon of Salus Populi Romani, Mary, Protection of the Roman People.

It has been Pope Francis’ custom to visit the icon before his international trips to ask for the Virgin Mary’s protection.

He also typically visits the icon upon returning to Rome and before re-entering the Vatican.

Pope Francis is visiting Iraq on March 5-8 in a trip intended to strengthen the hope of the country’s persecuted Christian minority and to foster fraternity and interreligious dialogue.

In just over three days, Francis is scheduled to travel 900 miles within Iraq, meeting with political leaders, prominent Muslim clerics, and Christian communities. He will be the first pope in history to visit the Middle Eastern country.

This afternoon, on the eve of his departure for #Iraq, #PopeFrancis went to the Basilica of St Mary Major for a moment of prayer before the icon of the Virgin Salus Populi Romani, entrusting his coming apostolic journey to her protection.

— Holy See Press Office (@HolySeePress) March 4, 2021  

The icon of Salus Populi Romani has been revered by the people of Rome for centuries and is considered a symbol of the city and its people.

In March 2020, Pope Francis visited the icon as part of a short walking prayer pilgrimage he made during Italy’s coronavirus lockdown.

At the end of his general audience on March 3, Pope Francis asked people to accompany him with their prayers during his trip to Iraq, “so that it may unfold in the best possible way and bear the hoped-for fruits.” 

“The Iraqi people are waiting for us; they awaited St. John Paul II, who was not permitted to go. One cannot disappoint a people for the second time. Let us pray that this journey will be a good one,” he said.

Custos Fr. Francesco Patton, O.F.M., wrote March 4 to the Franciscan friars of the Custody of the Holy Land, asking them to accompany the pope’s trip to Iraq with “a special and intense prayer.”

He included a schedule of specific ways to pray each day of the pope’s trip, including fasting and meditation on the Stations of the Cross on Friday, March 5, and praying a rosary and reading chapter eight of the encyclicalFratelli tutti” on Saturday. 

Patton said that the community’s Mass at Calvary on Sunday, March 7, would be offered for the eternal repose of the victims of the war in Iraq and the gift of peace in the entire Middle East.

On the day of the pope’s return, Monday, March 8, he invited the friars to offer their personal prayers.

“Let’s live this moment with faith, in union with the Holy Father and with our brothers in Iraq,” he said.

Cardinal Grech to Irish bishops: ‘A synodal process promises an ecclesial springtime’

CNA Staff, Mar 4, 2021 / 08:30 am (CNA).- Cardinal Mario Grech told Irish bishops that embarking on a “synodal process” could lead to an “ecclesial springtime.”

In an address published on the Irish bishops’ conference website on March 4, the Secretary General of Synod of Bishops said that it was “more than understandable” that the bishops might worry about whether embarking on a “synodal process” was “the right decision.”

He said: “But keep in mind the assurance given to us by the Holy Father: ‘it is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church of the third millennium.’ A synodal process promises an ecclesial springtime -- a rebirth of an authentic Church.” 

The Maltese cardinal gave the address -- entitled “Towards a Synodal Irish Church” -- on Feb. 3. Sr. Nathalie Becquart, one of two new under-secretaries of the Synod of Bishops, also took part in the meeting.

The Tablet, a British Catholic weekly, reported on March 1 that a committee of six Irish bishops had begun working on plans for a national synod and received advice from Grech.

An Irish national synod would add to a growing number of similar initiatives.

The Catholic Church in Germany embarked in December 2019 on a “Synodal Path”: a process bringing together lay people and bishops to discuss four major topics: the way power is exercised in the Church; sexual morality; the priesthood; and the role of women.

In January, Pope Francis encouraged the Italian Church to hold its own national synod. 

The Australian Church, meanwhile, is planning to hold the first plenary council since 1937 in October.

In his speech, Grech said that the Irish bishops were “gearing up to take on a missionary attitude and help the Church in Ireland to go out and reach the fringes of humanity.”

“Some may get startled when they learn that the bishops in Ireland are in a missionary mood because traditionally your nation was one of the world’s most deeply and most stable Catholic countries,” the 64-year-old cardinal observed. 

“But as the Holy Father acknowledges, ‘Christendom no longer exists.’”

Grech said it was clear that “a new evangelization or a re-evangelization” was necessary throughout the Western world.

The cardinal recalled that Bishop Paul Dempsey, who was appointed bishop of Achonry in January 2020, had asked at a previous meeting how Catholicism could thrive in Ireland “considering that the Church’s reputation has been shattered by scandals, and that the majority of interlocutors, although baptized, fall outside the Catholic mainstream model -- divorced remarried, non-practicing Catholics etc.”

He said that “the synodal way” was one answer to the challenges facing the Church. 

“If the church wants to become a missionary church, then it has to be a synodal Church, for synodality is not just a methodological choice, but the mode of being of a church which wants to go out in mission,” he said. 

“Indeed, synodality is not only a ‘methodos’ but an ‘odos,’ not only a method but a way towards a re-thinking of the Church’s role in contemporary society. Indeed, synodality is at the way towards a Church which is in a permanent state of a mission.”

He outlined the characteristics of “synodality” -- the topic of the next assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Rome in October 2022 -- saying that while the Synod is “essentially an episcopal body,” it should also strive to “give voice to the entire People of God.”

“Now, if this process of wide participation is fundamental for the Synod of Bishops, a fortiori it is an indispensable element for other synodal processes which go beyond the strict synodal structure,” he said.

He suggested that this would require “an ecclesiological conversion.”

“To be implemented at all levels of the Church, synodality needs ‘leaders’ capable of leading and accompanying synodal processes. Synodality cannot be fostered and implemented without the service of those who exercise authority,” he said.

“But this requires this new style of leadership inspired by Pope Francis’s primacy of ‘listening,’ which can be characterized as collaborative leadership; no longer vertical and clerical but more horizontal and cooperative. A servant leadership that is a way of exercising authority conceived as a service of freedom.”

Addressing the bishops’ potential reservations about launching a “synodal process,” Grech commented: “The moment we embark on a synodal process, we will open the way for Jesus to visit us. It is a Kairos. The fact that the people of God (and here I am referring to all the baptized, bishops and clergy included) are still not spiritually and theologically equipped to engage in a synodal process should not dishearten you.” 

He concluded his address by assuring the bishops of his willingness “to help and accompany you in this timely synodal experience.”

He said: “If in your esteemed judgment you surmise that at any stage of this journey my humble presence as Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops will offer you a beam of comfort, I will do every effort to comply.”

Shroud of Turin to go on virtual display for Holy Saturday

Rome Newsroom, Mar 4, 2021 / 03:00 am (CNA).- For the second time, the Shroud of Turin will be exposed for veneration on social media and websites on Holy Saturday, the archbishop of Turin has announced.

The Shroud, which bears the image of a crucified man and has been venerated for centuries as Christ’s burial cloth, will be displayed via live stream on April 3.

“The Shroud is a reality that concerns everyone. The Shroud image that Turin has preserved for almost five centuries testifies to pain and death, but also to resurrection and eternal life,” Turin’s Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia said in his March 3 announcement.

“In front of the Shroud we can exclaim with our hearts turned to the Lord: ‘your love is forever.’”

Nosiglia will also preside over a liturgy on Holy Saturday, which will be live-streamed from the chapel of the Turin cathedral, where the Shroud is kept in a climate-controlled vault. Young adults from Turin will present reflections on the theme of hope.

It will be the second time that the Shroud of Turin has been exhibited over the internet after it was displayed amid the coronavirus pandemic and Italy’s national lockdown on Holy Saturday 2020.

But this time will be different, according to Nosiglia. “It is not the simple repetition of the one celebrated in 2020,” he said, because at the time the pandemic was still new and not yet understood, while today we are “aware of the difficulties to be faced and the commitments that we can take.”

A public display of the Shroud was supposed to take place from Dec. 28, 2020, to Jan. 1, 2021, during the 43rd international meeting of the Taizé Community, but both events had to be postponed due to the coronavirus restrictions.

“The exposition of the Shroud was proposed by the Turin Church to all young people, and we hope to be able to conduct it because the path is an opportunity to show [we are] ‘fratelli tutti’ [all brothers],” Nosiglia said.

The Shroud has gone on public display four times since the year 2000. 

The last time it was presented to the public was in 2015. Pope Francis prayed before the relic during a visit to Turin on June 21 that year. Afterward, he described it as an icon of Christ’s love. 

“The Shroud,” the pope said, “attracts people to the face and tortured body of Jesus and, at the same time, urges us on toward every person who is suffering and unjustly persecuted.” 

Leading German Catholic bishop cautions priests against intercommunion

CNA Staff, Mar 3, 2021 / 08:30 am (CNA).- A leading German Catholic bishop has cautioned priests against intercommunion with Protestants during an ecumenical event in May. 

Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg said in a March 1 letter to clergy that they should only give Holy Communion to non-Catholic individuals if they requested it after examining their consciences.

CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported that Bätzing issued the letter ahead of the third Ecumenical Church Congress in Frankfurt on May 13-16.

In the four-page letter, the president of the German bishops’ conference 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 a controversial proposal for a “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 concerns 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 remained 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 reaffirmed his view that intercommunion with Protestants should be possible.

The 59-year-old bishop, who succeeded Cardinal Reinhard Marx as president of the German bishops’ conference on March 3, 2020, discussed his stance on the issue with journalists last week.

Asked how he would respond if a Protestant came to him seeking the Eucharist, he told reporters: “I have no problems with it and I see myself in line with papal documents.”

He added that this was already a “practice” in Germany “every Sunday” and that priests in his Diocese of Limburg would not face negative consequences if a case were reported to him.

He underlined that one should not “simply invite everyone.” But while a general invitation to receive the Eucharist was not permitted, he said it was important to show “respect for the personal decision of conscience of the individual” seeking Communion.

“I do not deny Holy Communion to a Protestant if he asks for it,” he said.

In the letter to his priests, Bätzing said that the ÖAK text represented a “valuable opening” that he did not want “to endanger under any circumstances.”

“Therefore, I strongly expect and emphasize that what I have said above will be observed in the Eucharistic celebrations,” he wrote.

Investigator: There could be 10,000 abuse victims in French Catholic Church since 1950

Rome Newsroom, Mar 3, 2021 / 07:30 am (CNA).- The head of an independent commission said on Tuesday that there could be at least 10,000 victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in France since 1950.

Jean-Marc Sauvé, president of the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE), said that the body’s previous suggestion in June 2020 of 3,000 victims was an underestimate.

“It’s possible that the figure is at least 10,000,” he said at a press conference on March 2.

CIASE, set up by the Catholic Church in France in 2018, said its investigation has so far received 6,500 testimonies concerning at least 3,000 individual victims.

Its final report is due to be released in early fall 2021.

The French bishops’ conference is funding the commission’s investigation, but members are not paid and their work is not directed by the bishops.

In the press conference, Sauvé said that the investigation is intended to answer several questions, including: “What is the order of magnitude? The number of victims and perpetrators? What percentage of priests are perpetrators of attacks? What do the abuses committed in the Church represent for society?”

The commission received testimonies from June 2019 through October 2020, during which time it identified approximately 3,000 victims, but Sauvé said this “certainly does not take account of the totality.”

Given the voluntary nature of the commission’s request for reports, Sauvé said “the big question which arises for us: what percentage of victims did it touch? Is it 25%? 10%, 5% or less?”

Sauvé said that most of the events reported to CIASE took place in the 1950s and 1960s, and the abuse primarily happened in schools, followed by catechism classes, and youth movements or summer camps.

Thirty percent of the victims who contacted the commission are over 70 years old and 50% are between 50 and 69 years old.

CIASE is looking not only at clerical sexual abuse of minors but also clerical abuse of vulnerable adults. Of the abuse accounts received, however, 87% were committed against minors.

Among young adult victims, 33% were members of religious communities or seminarians at the time of the attack, Sauvé said.

Sauvé added that “we can say with a high degree of certainty that within the Catholic Church, the abuses mainly concerned men and not women, unlike society.”

French bishops took part in an extraordinary plenary assembly on Feb. 22-24 reflecting on abuse within the Church. 

A press statement on Feb. 24 said that the meeting, held via video conference, would help the bishops to prepare for their spring plenary assembly, on March 23-26, “whose goal will be to commit the Church in France for several years to a viable mechanism to lead it out of the crisis of sexual assault and abuse of power.”

In March 2019, Pope Francis issued a set of canonical norms to strengthen existing laws on sexual abuse for the Vatican City State and Roman Curia.

Among these norms, the pope expanded the Church’s definition of a “vulnerable adult” from someone who “habitually lacks the use of reason,” to include anyone “in an infirm state, of physical or mental deficiency, or deprivation of personal freedom, that in fact, even occasionally, limits their capacity to intend or to want or in any way to resist the offense.” 

Sauvé declined to provide an update on the last figures that an estimated 1,500 clergy and Church officials are believed to have perpetrated the abuse.

The independent commission was announced by French bishops in November 2018, as they held their plenary assembly in Lourdes.

Pope Francis sent a message to the bishops during their meeting. According to Vatican News, Francis urged the bishops to continue to have “zero tolerance” against clerical sexual abuse while not forgetting “to recognize and support the humble fidelity lived in daily life, with the grace of God, by so many priests, men and women religious, consecrated and lay faithful.”

The pope also asked them to listen to victims and their stories.

Pope Francis: World could face a new ‘great flood’

CNA Staff, Mar 2, 2021 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis said in a new book released on Tuesday that the world could face a catastrophe like the Great Flood if human beings fail to address climate change.

The pope made the remark in a new book-length interview with the Italian priest Fr. Marco Pozza published on March 2.

In “Of Vices and Virtues” (“Dei vizi e delle virtù”), published in Italian by Rizzoli, the two men discussed the account of the Great Flood in the Book of Genesis. 

According to an excerpt from the book in the newspaper Corriere delle Sera, the pope said: “A great flood, perhaps due to a rise in temperature and the melting of glaciers: that is what will happen if we continue on the same path.”

In the book, the priest and the pope reflect on the seven virtues and vices, inspired by the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. The chapel contains 14 monochrome images by the 14th-century artist Giotto which personify the virtues and vices. 

On the north wall are the vices: foolishness, inconstancy, wrath, injustice, infidelity, envy, and desperation. On the south wall are the virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, fortitude, faith, charity, and hope.

The pope’s comments about the flood came during a discussion of God’s wrath, which he said was directed against evil emanating from satan.

“The wrath of God seeks to bring justice and to ‘cleanse.’ The Flood is the result of God’s wrath, according to the Bible,” he said.

He noted that experts regarded the flood as a mythical story. He stressed that he did not wish to be misquoted as saying that the Bible is a myth, but suggested that myth was a form of knowledge.

“The flood is a historical account, archaeologists say, because they found evidence of a flood in their excavations,” he said.

After referring to a possible new great flood, he said: “God unleashed his wrath, but he saw a righteous man, took him and saved him.” 

“The story of Noah shows that the wrath of God is also a saving one.”

Pozza, a chaplain at a prison in the northern Italian city of Padua, has conducted three previous interviews with Pope Francis, dedicated to the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Creed, which were aired on Italian television and published as books.

The 41-year-old priest, who often appears casually dressed, is considered a rising star in the Italian media. Early in his priestly life, he gained the nickname “Fr. Spritz,” after a popular Italian wine-based cocktail, because of his custom of holding discussions with young people in bars over drinks.

Pozza first came to the pope’s attention in 2016, when he brought a group of inmates to visit Francis at his residence, the Casa Santa Marta, on the Jubilee of Prisoners in the Year of Mercy. 

He helped to compile the meditations for last year’s papal Stations of the Cross, held in a deserted St. Peter’s Square on Good Friday.

In the new book, the pope also discussed the relationship between faith and doubt. He argued that although the devil sowed doubts, an honest reckoning with doubt could lead to spiritual growth.

According to Vatican News, he said: “The thought of being abandoned by God is an experience of faith which many saints have experienced, along with many people today who feel abandoned by God, but do not lose faith. They take care to watch over the gift: ‘Right now I feel nothing, but I guard the gift of faith.’” 

“The Christian who has never gone through these states of mind lacks something, because it means that they have settled for less. Crises of faith are not failures against faith. On the contrary, they reveal the need and desire to enter more fully into the depths of the mystery of God. A faith without these trials leads me to doubt that it is true faith.”

Activists found not guilty of offending religious feelings in Poland’s ‘rainbow halo’ trial

CNA Staff, Mar 2, 2021 / 08:00 am (CNA).- A judge on Tuesday found three activists who distributed images depicting Poland’s Black Madonna icon with a rainbow halo not guilty of offending religious feelings.

Three women -- Elżbieta Podleśna, Anna Prus, and Joanna Gzyra-Iskandar -- went on trial in Płock, central Poland, on Jan. 13 accused of offending religious feelings, a crime punishable by up to two years in prison.

The Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza reported on March 2 that the judge concluded that the activists did not intend to offend religious sensibilities or to insult the venerated image of the Virgin Mary.

The judge reportedly added that their actions were aimed at protecting people facing discrimination.

During the first hearing in January, a crowd of mainly young people gathered outside the courtroom, chanting slogans such as “A secular, not Catholic Poland” and “The rainbow does not offend.” 

Local media said that at one point the chanting was so loud that it was difficult for the hearing to proceed. Following testimonies from the first witnesses, the trial was adjourned.

The case concerned an incident in April 2019, when the three women placed posters and stickers of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa with rainbow halos on Mary and the Child Jesus on locations around Płock.

The activists said that they attached the images to walls and around the city’s St. Dominic’s Church in response to a display inside the church which listed “LGBT” and “gender” -- the Polish term for gender ideology -- as sins. 

Elżbieta Podleśna, a psychotherapist and activist, told the court on Jan. 13 that she regarded the display as “homophobic” and believed it could encourage the stigmatization of “people of non-heteronormative sexual orientation and gender identity.”

She was arrested in May 2019 at her home in Warsaw and taken to Płock for questioning. A court later determined that her detention was unjustified and awarded her damages of around $2,000.

The three women faced trial under Article 196 of the country’s penal code, which says that “Whoever offends the religious feelings of other persons by publicly insulting an object of religious worship, or a place designated for public religious ceremonies, is liable to pay a fine, have his or her liberty limited, or be deprived of his or her liberty for a period of up to two years.”

Karolina Pawłowska, director of the Ordo Iuris International Law Center in Warsaw, told CNA in January that she was confident that the trial had a sound basis in Polish law. 

“The image that is the subject of this case -- which depicts the Mother of God and Baby Jesus with the halos replaced with colors that are commonly associated with LGBT movements -- I think it’s one of the cases that fulfills all premises of profanation, which is defined in the Polish criminal code in Article 196,” she said.

Pawłowska pointed out that the “Rainbow Madonna” image was recently displayed during mass protests after the country’s constitutional court ruled that a law permitting abortion for fetal abnormalities was unconstitutional.

“Right now in Poland, we can see that this image is quite popular, especially among, for example, protesters that were using it during protests against the judgment of the Polish constitutional tribunal which banned eugenic abortion,” she said.

“And I think this image is very, very offensive to many, many people. And this is why it should not be promoted.” quoted Podleśna as saying that the prosecutor’s office was likely to appeal against the verdict.