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Pope Francis' Lent advice: Put down phone, pick up Bible

Vatican City, Feb 26, 2020 / 02:55 am (CNA).- Pope Francis urged Catholics Wednesday to use the season of Lent to spend less time immersed in the chatter and noise of the world through television and their phones, and to spend more time in silence and in conversation with God.

“Lent is the right time to make room for the Word of God. It is the time to turn off the television and open the Bible. It is the time to disconnect from your cell phone and connect to the Gospel,” the pope said Feb. 26.

This penitential period, he continued, is also the time to work on giving up gossip, rumors, and useless chatter, focusing instead on giving yourself to the Lord, who spent 40 days in the desert in fasting and prayer.

During Lent, Jesus is “calling us into the desert,” Francis explained. Jesus “invites us to listen to what matters. To the devil who tempted him, he replied: ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

“Like bread, more than bread we need the Word of God, we need to speak with God: we need to pray,” he urged.

In his weekly general audience, which fell on Ash Wednesday, Pope Francis reflected on the “desert” of Lent and how countercultural it is to spend time in silence, away from the noisiness of modern life.

“We live in an environment polluted by too much verbal violence, by many offensive and harmful words, which the internet amplifies,” he explained.

“We are inundated with empty words, with advertisements, with subtle messages. We have become used to hearing everything about everyone and we risk slipping into a worldliness that atrophies our hearts.”

In this noise, “we struggle to distinguish the voice of the Lord who speaks to us, the voice of conscience, of good,” the pope said.

According to Francis, the ‘desert’ of Lent, where we can be in conversation with the Lord, becomes a life-giving place.

He acknowledged that it is not easy to make space for silence in one’s heart, but invited everyone to imagine themselves in the desert, surrounded by a great silence, with “no noises, apart from the wind and our breath.”

“It is the absence of words to make room for another Word, the Word of God,” he said.

Pointing again to the image of the desert, Pope Francis said it recalls what is essential, and how often in life people become surrounded by many useless things.

“We chase a thousand things that seem necessary and in reality are not. How good it would be for us to get rid of so many superfluous realities, to rediscover what matters, to find the faces of those around us!” he urged.

“Prayer, fasting, works of mercy: here is the road into the Lenten desert.”

The solitude of the desert also reminds us of the people around us who are lonely and abandoned, he said, saying the “path in the Lenten desert is a path of charity towards the weaker.”

He also said fasting is a way of seeking a simpler life by giving up superfluous, vain things. But, he warned, it is not about “slimming down.”

“In the desert one finds intimacy with God, the love of the Lord,” he stated. “The road that leads us from death to life opens up in the desert. We enter the desert with Jesus, we will go out savoring Easter…”

“Have courage.”

Catholics must reject social media anti-Semitism, Indiana bishop says

Fort Wayne, Ind., Feb 25, 2020 / 08:00 pm (CNA).- The Catholic Church has “firmly condemned” anti-Semitism, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana said Feb. 19, warning against theological errors and “false and hateful” rhetoric against Jews on social media.

“Unfortunately, there has been a rise in recent years of anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic rhetoric in our society,” the bishop said in a statement published in the diocesan newspaper Today's Catholic. “Further, there have been incidents of violence incited by hateful speech about Jews. The Church has firmly condemned such rhetoric and violence. Those who speak of Jews as our enemies are mistaken.”

“Pope St. Paul VI, Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis have consistently referred to our Jewish brothers and sisters as 'friends' whom we love and esteem, not as enemies or adversaries whom we reject,” he said. “Language matters. Language that incites animosity is harmful.”

Bishop Rhoades did not mention specific incidents or personalities.

In October 2018, a gunman attacked the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh during morning Shabbat services. Shouting anti-Semitic slogans, the attacker killed eight men and three women. He also injured six others, including four policemen. He was wounded and surrendered to police. He had previously posted anti-Semitic comments and criticized Jewish aid for migrants, whom he denigrated as “invaders.”

In Poway, California in April 2019, a shooter attacked Chabad of Poway Synagogue on the last day of Passover. The attacker killed one woman and injured three people, including the rabbi. The attacker had published an anti-Semitic manifesto before the attack, and also claimed responsibility for an arson attack on a California mosque.

In December 2019 in Jersey City, New Jersey two gunmen shot and killed four people, including two Orthodox Jews, at a cemetery and kosher supermarket. Local authorities said preliminary evidence indicated the suspects held views that reflected hatred against Jews.

Bishop Rhoades' comments warned of errors and hateful rhetoric about Jews.

“Some writers today do not present Jews or Judaism in a respectful or theologically correct manner,” he said. “In this age of social media, people read or listen to all kinds of opinions expressed about Judaism and the Jewish people on internet blogs, websites, and the like. Some are filled with false and hateful rhetoric, opposed to the very spirit of Christianity. As Catholics, we must reject any that express, or can lead to, contempt for Jews.”

To this, Rhoades added “the Catholic Church offers no shelter to anti-Jewish bias, regardless of its content or expression. This applies to racist statements against Jews, to anti-Semitism, or to any religious opinion that denigrates Jews or Judaism.”

Rhoades acknowledged disagreement between Christians and Jews on matters of faith, “but such disagreements need not imply hostility,” he said.

“The only truly Christian attitude towards the Jewish people is an attitude of respect, esteem, and love,” Rhoades continued. “As members of God’s family, we are bound to one another in His plan of salvation.”

He described a November 2019 gathering at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Fort Wayne, where over 1,000 Jews and Christians gathered for the “Violins of Hope” event. The event's musical instruments included violins used by Jewish prisoners in Nazi concentration camps and both Jewish and Catholic choirs sang. The audience prayed the Psalms together.

This event, said Rhoades, “brought us tears of both sadness and joy — sadness at the horrors of the Holocaust, and joy at the love we share as brothers and sisters, drawn together by a common spiritual patrimony.”

The bishop also delivered a theological and historical reflection.

“We recognize that the anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism of past centuries contributed to the rise of the Nazi project to exterminate Jews,” he said. He cited the Second Vatican Council's document Nostra Aetate, which condemned “all hatreds, persecutions, displays of antisemitism leveled at any time or from any source against the Jews.” The document urged careful catechesis and preaching about Jews.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches “The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God’s revelation in the Old Testament,” the bishop said.

“We must never forget that Judaism was the religion of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the apostles, and of the early disciples who spread the good news of Christ to the world,” said Rhoades. “The four gospels were written by Jews, about a Jew and originally for a Jewish readership. The Jewish people, then, are Jesus’ own family.”

“Though many Jews did not accept the Gospel or opposed its spreading, they were not thereby rejected by God,” said the bishop, who emphasized the Second Vatican Council's rejection of the claim that all Jews were “Christ-killers”

“Even though the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ (cf. John 19:6), neither all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during his passion,” Nostra Aetate said.

Rhoades noted that the Catholic Catechism teaches that all human beings are responsible for the death of Jesus.

“The Jews are not our enemies. We are bound together with them in friendship as brothers and sisters in the family of God,” said Rhoades.

He invoked the example of Pope Francis' 2016 visit to the synagogue of Rome. The pope's remarks stressed as fundamental to inter-religious dialogue the Christian and Jew's encounter of each other “as brothers and sisters before our Creator,” their praise for God, and their mutual respect, appreciation, and attempts at cooperation.

“This is especially important as the Church and the Jewish communities continue to address religious and ethical questions that both face in a world intent upon challenging religious freedom,” Rhoades said. “Jews and Christians can impact society profoundly when they stand together on key issues such as the sanctity of human life, immigration reform, health care, human trafficking and world peace.”

“Even as we Catholics profess our belief in Christ as the Messiah, the Son of God, and Savior of the world, we also recognize God’s unfailing, steadfast love for His chosen people, Israel,” the bishop said. In our mission of preaching Christ to the world, we do not dismiss or reject the spiritual treasures of the Jewish people.”

“Let us give thanks to God for the growth in trust and friendship established between Catholics and Jews since the Second Vatican Council,” the bishop's statement concluded. “May the Lord accompany us on our journey of friendship and bless us with His peace!”


US Supreme Court rules in favor of border patrol agent in cross-border shooting

Washington D.C., Feb 25, 2020 / 07:19 pm (CNA).- The US Supreme Court has issued a ruling in the case of a border patrol agent who shot and killed a Mexican boy across the border a decade ago. The court ruled 5-4 in favor of the agent, finding that court precedent allowing lawsuits against federal officers do not apply to cross-border shootings.

At the U.S.-Mexico border in 2010, three Mexican boys were playing a game of “chicken” by seeing who would run the closest to the border. Fifteen-year-old Sergio Hernandez crossed the border, and border patrol agent Jesus Mesa Jr. noticed him.

As Hernandez ran back into a culvert between the walls on either side of the border, the agent fired two shots, one of which struck Hernandez in the face and killed him.

Mesa claimed the boys were engaged in an illegal border-crossing attempt, and also that they were throwing rocks at him.

The Justice Department conducted an investigation of the incident and found that, while expressing regret over the boy’s death, Mesa had not violated policy or training, and the DOJ declined to bring charges against him.

Mexico requested that Mesa be extradited for the killing, but the Obama administration refused. Hernandez’s family sued for damages, claiming that the Fourth Amendment protects against such use of force on the border.

The Supreme Court had begun hearing oral arguments in the case during February 2017, and at that time declined to rule on the case. Oral arguments began again during November 2019.

The Fourth Circuit had dismissed the case, saying, “the plaintiffs fail to allege a violation of the Fourth Amendment, and that the Fifth Amendment right asserted by the plaintiffs was not clearly established at the time of the complained-of incident.” That court also ruled that as a Mexican citizen on Mexican soil, Hernandez was not entitled to Fourth Amendment protection.

In the 1971 opinion Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, the Supreme Court held that a person claiming to be the victim of an unlawful arrest and search could bring a Fourth Amendment claim for damages against the responsible agents even though no federal statute authorized such a claim.

However, the Supreme Court declined to extend that precedent to the current case for several reasons, one of which was the potential effect on foreign relations.

A “cross-border shooting is by definition an international incident,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the court’s opinion, adding that the executive and legislative branches, rather than the judicial branch, ought to be entrusted with matters related to foreign relations.

He also wrote that “since regulating the conduct of agents at the border unquestionably has national security implications, the risk of undermining border security provides reason to hesitate before extending Bivens into this field.”

Justice Clarence Thomas noted in a concurring opinion that the Bivens case may have been wrongly decided in the first place.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented, writing that the parents’ lawsuit does not endanger border security or U.S. foreign policy, and opining that the majority rejected the family’s Fourth and Fifth Amendment claims only because Hernandez happened to be on the Mexican side when he died.

The Border Patrol drastically changed its use of force policies in the years after the shooting, following several complaints of excessive force, the Associated Press reports.

S. Dakota dioceses focus on healing, after statute of limitations bill fails

Pierre, S.D., Feb 25, 2020 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- The South Dakota legislature has killed a bill that would have opened a two-year window for childhood victims of sexual abuse of all ages to sue the organizations in which their abuse took place.

The bill would have been an expansion of current South Dakota law on the statute of limitations for abuse cases, which allows victims of childhood abuse up to the age of 40 to sue organizations, such as Catholic dioceses.

According to the AP, the legislature heard testimony in favor of the bill from some of the surviving members of a group of nine biological sisters who allege that they were sexually abused by priests and nuns at an Indian mission school.

The Charbonneau sisters have been unsuccessfully lobbying to expand the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse in South Dakota for nearly 10 years, the AP reported. The sisters allege they were the victims of rape and abuse by clergy and nuns at St. Paul’s Indian Mission School on the Yankton Reservation in South Dakota while they attended during the 1950s and 1960s.

In the past year, following a new wave of Church sex abuse scandals in the United States and throughout the world, multiple states and countries have repealed or extended their statutes of limitations in order to allow more time for victims of childhood abuse to come forward.

Officials with the dioceses of Sioux Falls and Rapid City told CNA that regardless of the civil law, the dioceses were prepared to offer help to victims in the form of counseling and spiritual accompaniment.

“The Church recognizes God's law as superior to all other laws. And for that reason, if there's going to be any person coming forward that feels they've been harmed at the hand of the minister of the Church, out of her moral obligation we will respond and do all that we can to assist that person, regardless of what the statutes and civil law says,” Matt Althoff, chancellor of the Diocese of Sioux Falls, told CNA.

Althoff said that sexual abuse creates a “woundedness” in people’s souls, and that the diocese offers psychological counseling as well as spiritual direction in order to help victims heal. He said anyone who has been wounded by the Church is welcome to seek out those services regardless of when the abuse took place.

Father Michel Mulloy, administrator of the Diocese of Rapid City, told CNA he also hoped for “reconciliation and healing for anyone who has experienced any wrong. I believe that the one who can give that reconciliation and healing is Jesus Christ.”

“All I attempt to do in my ministry is to bring people to the cross of Jesus Christ and to accompany them in seeking and receiving the reconciliation and healing that Jesus can and, I believe, does want to give.”

Detroit Catholics say archdiocese fabricated rape charge against pastor

Detroit, Mich., Feb 25, 2020 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- A group of Detroit Catholics has filed a lawsuit claiming that the Archdiocese of Detroit fabricated an allegation of rape against their pastor in order to avoid media criticism about its handling of abuse allegations, and has mishandled the canonical case against him. 

The Archdiocese of Detroit said it can not speak on the specifics of the case, but that it takes allegations of clerical abuse very seriously.

The lawsuit alleges that an archdiocesan official “twisted...allegations and fabricated a rape charge against Fr. Perrone in order to force the AOD to remove Fr. Perrone, and, thereby, shield the AOD and [Msgr. Michael] Bugarin from a negative AP story.”

“Like Fr. Perrone, Plaintiffs are devout, traditional Roman Catholics. They were severely shocked, shamed, embarrassed, and humiliated by the accusations against their priest and friend, Fr. Perrone.”

In July 2019, Fr. Eduard Perrone was temporarily removed from ministry as pastor of Assumption Grotto Parish in Detroit, amid an allegation that he had groped a former altar boy. The priest denied the allegation.

After a preliminary investigation, the archdiocesan review board “found that there was a semblance of truth to the allegation,” Monsignor Mike Bugarin of the Detroit archdiocese told CNA July 9.

According to the Archdiocese of Detroit, “If the Review Board finds a complaint credible, it sends notice to Archbishop Vigneron, who forwards the case to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), which reviews and renders judgments in all cases involving the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults by clergy.”

In Perrone’s case, a July 7 statement from the archdiocese announced that the review board had deemed an allegation against him to be credible, and that “further determination on the matter now falls to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”

But Brien Dux, the lead plaintiff in the case, told CNA Feb. 17 that he believes Perrone’s case “has not been sent to the Vatican.”

“Our complaint is not with the Vatican process,” Dux told CNA. “If the case was sent to the Vatican as we were told it would be, we probably would not be filing this lawsuit.”

A CDF official told CNA that the congregation already has an open file on the case. But Perrone’s attorney, Christopher Kolmjec, said that while aspects of the case might have been sent to the CDF, he believes that Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit has not yet sent to the Vatican his vota, an essential aspect of the case file that ordinarily is required before the CDF makes a decision about how the case should be handled.

For its part, the Archdiocese of Detroit declined repeatedly to comment on whether all or part of the case has been sent to the Vatican, citing confidentiality.

The Archdiocese of Detroit did tell CNA in July that the complaint which led to Perrone’s removal from ministry concerned the priest’s “earlier years of ministry,” and was the first received against the priest.

After receiving the complaint in 2018, Bugarin said the archdiocese “turned it over not only to the local prosecutor, but also to the Michigan Attorney General’s office.”

Initially, per an agreement between the archdiocese and the six county prosecutors covering the Archdiocese of Detroit’s territory, the complaint was given only to local law enforcement, who began to investigate the claim.

“They in turn continued to do the investigation, until the Michigan Attorney General came in and announced an investigation of the seven dioceses of the state of in the Michigan on the handling of clergy sex abuse crisis,” said Bugarin.

The lawsuit claims that in 2018, the wife of the former altar boy called an archdiocesan hotline to report that her husband had been abused by the priest in the late 1970s.

The alleged victim said that the priest had groped him during swim parties at a family lake house, the Detroit Free Press reported, served minors wine, and hosted boys on rectory and camping overnights.

According to the Detroit Free Press, the alleged victim initially claimed to have been raped, but later changed his story and said he was groped and fondled only. Police reports suggest that allegations changed because the accuser was struggling to tell a painful story, the Detroit Free Press reported.

The lawsuit, on the other hand, claims the alleged victim denied to police that he had ever been sexually abused by Perrone.

The parishioners say the accuser eventually conceded to make any allegation of misconduct only because he was manipulated by Church officials, especially Bugarin, who was allegedly determined to remove Perrone from his ministry.

The suit claims Bugarin “brow beat” the accuser “in an effort to force him to say that he was raped by Fr. Perrone.” When that was unsuccessful, the suit alleges, “Bugarin just fabricated a rape allegation out of desparation and wishful thinking.”

The parishioners claim that Bugarin is the accuser’s “spiritual advisor” and should not have been entrusted with investigating the allegation.

For that reason, and others he declined to enumerate, Kolomjec told CNA that Bugarin has acted unethically in investigating and overseeing the case, and that Perrone’s legal team has “filed an ethics complaint against Msgr. Bugarin and a formal request for his removal as Delegate and investigator from the investigation with the archbishop.”

Parishioners say that Bugarin’s alleged efforts to force an allegation of rape against Perrone “caused Plaintiffs to experience severe emotional distress.”

“Bugarin is not a traditional Catholic and is opposed to many of the Plaintiffs’ views and efforts to reform the Catholic Church. Bugarin knew that Plaintiffs would be especially harmed by the public repudiation of Fr. Perrone. Bugarin and the AOD’s conduct in creating false child-rape allegations against Plaintiffs’ long-time pastor and priest is the type of extreme and outrageous conduct Michigan law recognizes gives rise to a claim in tort,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit also alleges that Perrone “was not provided an opportunity to answer or refute these allegations before the AOD summarily removed him” and announced publicly that it had found a “semblance of truth” to the allegation.

The Archdiocese of Detroit declined to comment on that charge.

After Perrone was removed from ministry, a second accuser came forward to claim that the priest had in 1981 sexually fondled him while the two were riding in a car. Perrone denied that allegation.

The lawsuit claims that the the second accuser “told his story several times but never in the same way, often confusing and contradicting the key facts.” The allegation “was not credible on its face,” the lawsuit says.

The plaintiffs are seeking “damages in excess of $20,000,” Dux told CNA.

Dux said the plaintiffs based their lawsuit upon a lawsuit Perrone himself had filed in Dec. 2019 against a county investigator, who, he claims, defamed him in the course of the investigation.

He added that “the process being followed by Monsignor Bugarin and the Archbishop which is not transparent to us. They stated initially the reason Fr. Perrone was removed was due to a rape allegation, but have since changed their reason to ‘boundary violations.’"

“With Fr. Perrone so close to retirement, and with the duration of the Vatican process, this extensive delay and changing story from the Archdiocese has us concerned there will not be justice,” Dux said.

For his part, Perrone told the Detroit Free Press that he believes the matter is ideological.

“This is an attempt to get me out," the priest said.

Perrone counts among his supporters conservative internet figure Michael Voris, who leads the "Church Militant" website.

In a series of videos released by the site in July, Voris can be seen with Grotto parishioners asking questions of Bugarin. Voris told CNA that he is not now a parishioner at the parish; he said that “when I saw this issue developing into a Story that it was apparent I would have the lead on, I spoke with my associate pastor and officially withdrew from parish membership.”

In the first video, a parishioner asks what Catholics can do to support Perrone. Voris says, “you can’t do anything, that’s the point.”

After accusing the archdiocese of mishandling the announcement of Perrone’s removal, and attempting to engage Bugarin on several points, Voris can be seen walking away from Bugarin in frustration.

In the second video, in response to a remark by Bugarin about the process of investigating cases of clerical misconduct, Voris says that “the process was set up by Theodore McCarrick.”

“The process was set up by a homosexual predator cardinal,” Voris adds.

Asked whether he believes Perrone is being treated fairly, Bugarin says “yes.”

Voris told CNA by email Feb. 19 that he is a supporter of Perrone, both “in general,” and “with SPECIFIC regard to this SPECIFIC case because before it became public, we had done our due diligence and heavily suspected something was not ‘right’ about what we had been told about the ‘accusations.’”

“We KNOW what’s in the file, because we know the background of the case and have spoken with those ‘close’  to John Doe. In short - we know the entire story. The File that Vigneron Has desperately tried to keep hidden - even to the point of being potentially charged with contempt of court over Thanksgiving Day weekend - provides the AoDs own documentation that they know they are lying and this whole case is fraudulent,” Voris added.

“It is correct for these people to not trust the AoD - whatsoever. For example - seven months later, no case has yet been filed with the CDF at all,” Voris said. He told CNA he knows this through “sources in Rome AND AoD.”

Voris added that “IF such a case were to be filed, God knows what pack of lies it would contain. So it’s not really a question of ‘trusting the CDF per se,’ but rather, it depends on what they would believe in good faith is presented to them.”

The July 7 statement of the Detroit archdiocese does not specify the exact nature of the charge against Perrone, calling it “a credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor.”

The archdiocese declined to comment on the charges made by the lawsuit. But a statement provided to CNA said that “unlike legal cases in civil or criminal law, Church Law does not have or require degrees of sexual misconduct...thus, ‘any sexual abuse of a minor or vulnerable person’ of ‘any nature or degree’ must – under Church Law – proceed through this process.”

“In this process, the Church respects the privacy and personal safety of all involved – those bringing the complaint forward and the accused priest or deacon. Other than public notification that the priest or deacon is currently restricted in his ministry because allegation(s) deemed neither manifestly false nor frivolous are under review, a (arch)diocese is not permitted to discuss any further details of the case.”

“The only process that can resolve a question about an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor or vulnerable person by a priest or deacon in accord with Church Law is a Church Law process, not the civil courts,” the archdiocese added.

Perrone is a co-founder of Opus Bono Sacerdotii, a Michigan charity that in 2018 faced charges that it had misused donations. Two of the group’s founders were forced out of the group in response to the attorney general’s investigation. One was prohibited from ever again operating a non-profit in Michigan.

At the time, Perrone said that he never viewed himself as a director and had no knowledge of Opus Bono’s organizational structure; he considered himself a spiritual adviser to the group.

The group was founded to support priests accused of sexual misconduct and other disciplinary problems in the Church.


Canadian bishops lament Vanier's misconduct, while affirming value of L'Arche

Ottawa, Canada, Feb 25, 2020 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- The Canadian bishops' conference decried Monday the sexual misconduct of Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche International.

“It is with a heavy heart that the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) learned over the weekend of the shocking results of an independent inquiry, undertaken at the initiative of L'Arche International, to investigate allegations of abuse by its founder Jean Vanier,” the bishops said Feb. 24.

The investigation detailed sexual misconduct by Vanier with six women without disabilities in the context of spiritual direction.

L'Arche is a community of individuals with intellectual disabilities and their supporters. Vanier also founded Faith and Light, an ecumenical association of prayer and friendship for those with intellectual disabilities and their families.

The news of Vanier's abuse “is all the more difficult and incomprehensible given that Mr. Vanier had a profound influence on the way people with mental and physical disabilities are perceived and treated today, and his writings have had a positive influence on people's lives within many different cultures and languages,” the bishops reflected. “Nonetheless, any harm that was done cannot be excused.”

“Victims of abuse suffer unspeakable harm and long-term consequences. The message of the Bishops of Canada to all victims-survivors is that abuse is an appalling manipulation of trust and is always to be condemned. In any form, it is unacceptable,” the bishops said.

“The Bishops commend the courage of and pray for all victims-survivors who come forward with such painful experiences in order to seek justice and healing. Similarly, they laud the bold steps of L'Arche's leadership in initiating an independent inquiry into this question in an effort to seek greater clarity.”

While Vanier’s abuse has sowed seeds of distrust, the bishops said, it is important to pray for the victims, those involved with the communities, and for the organization moving forward.

The bishops said it will take time for healing to take place but stressed the value of this organization that is “devoted to helping the intellectually disabled and their families based on the principles of love, friendship, community, and the dignity of the person.”

“The Bishops of Canada pray for the success of the important task that now lies before the leadership of L'Arche to rebuild trust through their rigourous safeguarding policies and practices in order that the organization's mission to the disabled may continue in Canada and abroad,” the bishops said.

“As sins and injustices are denounced, there is also an urgent duty to remember and acknowledge the life-giving, selfless and compassionate ministry which the members, volunteers and leadership of the organization have brought to the lives of so many and for decades.”

L’Arche commissioned GCPS, an independent U.K. consultancy specializing in the reporting of exploitation and abuse last April to investigate Vanier’s link to Fr. Thomas Philippe, an abusive Dominican priest sanctioned by Church authorities in 1956, whom Vanier described as his “spiritual mentor.”

The inquiry received “credible and consistent testimonies” from six adult women without disabilities that Vanier initiated sexual behaviors with them often “in the context of spiritual accompaniment” over the period of more than 30 years from 1970 to 2005, according to the L’Arche summary report of the investigation’s findings.

This behavior follows the pattern of sexually inappropriate behavior demonstrated by Fr. Philippe, the report finds. The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith confirmed and completed in December 2019 elements in the inquiry relating to the trial of Fr. Philippe, who died in 1993, and Vanier’s knowledge of the misconduct.

According to archived letters studied in the report, the CDF directed in 1956 that Vanier be informed of the Church’s condemnation of Philippe’s conduct and “mystical doctrine.”

Vanier denied in 2015 and 2016 that he had any knowledge of Fr. Philippe’s abusive behavior.

Tina Bovermann, the executive director of L’Arche USA, said the independent inquiry has been a source of “pain and resolve.”

“Pain, because of the suffering of innocent lives. Pain, because of the hurt that it might create in you, members and friends. Resolve, because truth matters. Resolve, because the value of every person matters. Always. Unconditionally. Particularly when marginalized and silenced for many years,” Bovermann said in a statement.

Until the late 1990s, Vanier oversaw the entire L’Arche organization, which grew into 154 communities and more than 10,000 members. He was a member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

Vanier died in May 2019 at the age of 90.

Senate fails to pass two pro-life bills on same day

Washington D.C., Feb 25, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The Senate on Tuesday failed to pass two pro-life bills to protect unborn babies who can feel pain, and babies who survive abortion attempts.

The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) would ban abortions after 20 weeks gestation, around the time babies in utero can feel pain.

Sen. Ben Sasse’s (R-Neb.) Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act would require that babies surviving a botched abortion be given the same standard of care as other infants born of the same gestational age.

With votes of 53-44 and 56-41 on Tuesday, the respective bills failed to receive the 60 votes necessary for consideration on the Senate Floor. “Pain-capable” bills that had previously passed the House similarly failed in the Senate in 2015 and 2017, and Graham’s legislation failed in 2018, nine votes short of the 60-vote mark needed to overcome a filibuster and force a final vote on the bill.

Graham’s bill is also named “Micah’s Law,” after seven year-old Micah Pickering who was born prematurely at 22 weeks.

“It gives a face to a name. ‘Micah’s Law’ is not just [about] Micah, but is every little baby that could ever be born,” said Danielle Pickering, Micah’s mother, in an interview with CNA outside the Senate Gallery before the vote.

To the senators voting against the bill, “I would just like to tell them to really think about their grandkids,” she said, “and every little baby that they see out there.”

“For everyone that’s out there, there’s multiple that are just gone, but they’re not forgotten,” Pickering said. “Every single baby has the ability to someday be a person that’s just here like them.”

Sasse’s bill, S. 311, received the support of only three Democrats: Sens. Bob Casey (Pa.), Doug Jones (Ala.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.).

"If the Senate says that it’s ok to ignore born-alive babies what we're really saying is we are okay with a society where some people count more than other people," said Sasse during the debate Tuesday.

"We’d be saying we want a society where some people can be pushed aside if other people decide those folks are inconvenient. A society where we can dispose of you, if you happened to come into the world a certain way."

“Even if you are unwilling to defend unborn babies, I hope that my colleagues would at least consider joining with us in voting to protect babies that have already been born,” Sasse said.

In a statement to CNA on Tuesday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said that “protecting the life of a newborn who survived a botched abortion should not be a partisan issue, yet it speaks volumes about how extremism has become mainstream in today’s Democratic Party.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), between 2003 and 2014 there were 143 infant deaths in the U.S. that occurred following a botched abortion. The CDC noted that “it is possible” the actual number is higher.

While the 2002 Born-Alive Infants Protection Act—passed into law with bipartisan support—legally defined babies who survive abortions as persons, Sasse’s 2020 legislation provides enforcement mechanisms against abortionists who fail to provide necessary care to abortion survivors.

The 2002 bill was just a “definitions bill” without penalties, Jill Stanek, national campaign chair of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, explained to CNA.

While notorious Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell was convicted in 2013 on three counts of first-degree murder for cutting the spines of infants, federal law is currently a “gray area” for abortionists who passively allow abortion survivors to die by providing them no care, Stanek said.

The legislation that failed in the Senate on Tuesday provides an enforcement mechanism and is really the “bookend” to the original bill, she said.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement in reaction to the Senate votes, calling the nation’s abortion laws a “license to kill” and noting that the Born Alive bill offered to do nothing more than “prohibit infanticide.”

Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said that the Senate “failed to advance two critical human rights reforms that most Americans strongly support.” 

“The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act would ban abortions after 20 weeks post-fertilization when a child can certainly feel pain and has a reasonable chance of survival. And the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act helps ensure that Roe v. Wade’s license to kill unborn children does not extend to killing the newborn babies who survive abortion,” Naumann said. 

“It is appalling that even one senator, let alone more than 40, voted to continue the brutal dismemberment of nearly full-grown infants, and voted against protecting babies who survive abortion. Our nation is better than this, and the majority of Americans who support these bills must make their voices heard.”

Canadian bill to allow medical suicide even if death not 'reasonably foreseeable'

Ottawa, Canada, Feb 25, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A bill has been introduced by the Canadian government that would further liberalize the country’s “Medical Assistance in Dying” (MAiD) laws and allow those without terminal illnesses to end their lives. Doctors have raised concerns that the psychological needs of MAiD patients are being ignored. 

The bill, introduced on Monday, Feb. 23, would “remove the requirement for a person’s natural death to be reasonably foreseeable in order to be eligible for medical assistance in dying,” and would “introduce a two-track approach to procedural safeguards” depending on if a person’s natural death is “reasonably foreseeable.” 

The changes will introduce “new and modified safeguards” for people who are deemed eligible for euthanasia but who are not predicted to die in the immediate future. For persons who were previously eligible for MAiD prior to the new law, such as those with cancer or a neurodegenerative disease, “existing safeguards will be maintained and certain ones will be eased.” 

The bill also creates advance directives for persons with a reasonably foreseeable death “who may lose capacity to consent before MAiD can be provided,” as in the case of someone diagnosed with dementia. 

Those with mental illness as their only underlying condition will not be permitted to access an assisted death under the new bill. 

The bill was written in response to the September 2019 decision by the Supreme Court of Quebec that found that the previous regulations regarding a “reasonably foreseeable death” was in violation of the provisions in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that guarantee all Canadians rights to life, liberty, and security of the person. 

That case concerned two Canadians who were stricken with incurable, but not terminal, illnesses that caused debilitating pain. They had both been denied euthanasia. 

The Canadian federal government announced that the decision would not be appealed, and new laws will take effect in Quebec in April.

During the leadup to the introduction of the new federal bill on Monday, a survey was posted online for Canadians to weigh in on the updated legislation. This survey concept was criticized by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, who said in a letter that while they “agree in principle with consulting Canadians,” they found the questionnaire to be flawed on multiple levels. 

It is “inappropriate and superficial to use a survey to address grave moral questions concerning life and death,” wrote Archbishop Richard Gagnon of Winnipeg, president of the conference. He added that he believed that the two-week for responses was “entirely insufficient” to study the issue of euthanasia.

Members of the Canadian government praised the new bill and the potential expansion of euthanasia in the country. 

“We are proud to announce proposed changes that have been informed by [Canadians’] views as well as by Canada’s experiences to date in implementing the 2016 medical assistance in dying regime,” said Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti in a statement published by the government.

A 2019 CBC profile of Lametti upon his appointment as Minister of Justice described him as someone who was driven by his Catholic faith.

“He has a deep faith, but not the kind that goes out there and proselytizes, but it motivates him,” said Richard Gold, a colleague of Lametti’s. Gold characterized Lametti’s faith as what made him “want to do good in the world.” 

While parliament considers the new bill, a psychiatrist and a lawyer who works with palliative care are raising the alarm that the overwhelming majority of MAiD patients are not given a psychiatric examination prior to their deaths, even though 96% of MAiD patients say they have “psychological suffering.” 

According to a study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, only 6.2% of MAiD cases were given a psychiatric consultation, and only 15% of adults who died in Ontario from 2016-2017 received palliative care. 

In an article published in the Ottawa Citizen, Dr. Timothy Lau, a psychiatrist, and Dylan McGuinty, a lawyer and the director of a Catholic healthcare provider which provides palliative care, pointed out that studies have shown that palliative care is provided relatively late in the dying process—and that people are not being seen early enough. 

A 2018 study in Quebec found that “in 32 per cent of cases, palliative care consults came less than seven days prior to the request for MAiD, and in another 25 per cent of cases palliative care consults occurred the day of or after assisted death was requested,” said Lau and McGuinty.

“If we believe in choice, then we are not offering true choice when palliative care consults are offered so late in the journey towards death,” they added.

The Quebec study found that the earlier a person has access to palliative care, they experience fewer depressive side effects and have a higher quality of life, Lau and McGuinty wrote. They suggested that increased access to palliative care services could reduce the need for assisted deaths. 

“Instead of helping people die, is the answer not rather to accompany the dying compassionately on the journey towards death — with an early intervention of the full complement of palliative care services,” which include treatments for the patients emotional, spiritual, and psychological needs, in addition to treatment for physical ailments. 

Lau and McGuinty worry that assisted suicide is becoming a “treatment” for depression, rather than a “tragic consequence” of the condition. 

“Therefore, we invite Canadians to join us in demanding timely, complete and universal palliative care and mental health services, especially for those crying for help through requests for MAiD,” they said.

Woman with Down syndrome aims to change UK abortion laws

London, England, Feb 25, 2020 / 02:20 pm (CNA).- A 24-year-old British woman with Down syndrome has launched a lawsuit against the UK government, seeking to change British laws that allow for babies with Down syndrome to be aborted up until birth.

“At the moment in the UK, babies can be aborted right up to birth if they are considered to be “seriously handicapped.” They include me in that definition of being seriously handicapped - just because I have an extra chromosome,” Heidi Crowter told journalists this week.

“What it says to me is that my life just isn’t as valuable as others, and I don’t think that’s right. I think it’s downright discrimination.”

Crowter, along with Cheryl Bilsborrow, the mother of a two-year-old with Down syndrome, have sent a letter to the British secretary of state and are hoping to raise the £20,000 necessary to litigate the case.

Bilsborrow said she was strongly encouraged to have an abortion after doctors performed the screening test on her unborn child.

“The nurse reminded me I could have a termination right up to 40 weeks if the baby had Down’s,” Bilsborrow told the Catholic Herald.

“I just said to her: ‘I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that,’ but it did make me feel very anxious.”

Abortions are legal in the UK for any reason up until 24 weeks, and most of the country’s 200,000 or so annual abortions take place before 13 weeks.

Abortions after 24 weeks are legal only if a woman's life is in danger, there is a fetal abnormality classified as “severe”, or the woman is at risk of grave physical and mental injury, the BBC reports.

If the baby has a disability, including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot, abortion is legal up to birth. About nine in ten women have abortions after being given a diagnosis of Down syndrome, the Daily Mail reports.

The “Don’t Screen Us Out” campaign in the United Kingdom has, for the past four years, been drawing awareness to and seeking to change the UK’s abortion laws, seeking to amend Abortion Act of 1967 so that abortions for non-fatal disabilities are outlawed in the third trimester, which starts around 28 weeks of pregnancy.

Lynn Murray, a spokesperson for the group, told CNA in an interview that the campaign began in response to the government’s proposal of a new screening test for Down syndrome that, according to the government, would find an additional 102 cases of Down syndrome a year.

Given the high rate of termination for babies in the UK found to have Down syndrome, the campaign formed in order to try to get the government to assess the impact that the non-invasive prenatal testing technique, called ‘cell-free DNA’ or cfDNA, would have on the Down syndrome community. The campaign attracted attention among Britons with similar concerns, she said.

The group is backing Crowter and Bilsborrow in their lawsuit against the government.

“Launching this case gets people talking about it,” she said, adding that most people don’t even realize abortion is available up until birth in the UK.

"We are keen for people with Down syndrome to advocate for themselves. And this is what Heidi has decided to do...she feels that abortion after 24 weeks suggests that the lives of people like her don't have the same value as everyone else."

The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has consistently criticised countries which provide for abortion on the basis of disability, the group says. In some countries, such as Denmark and Iceland, the abortion rate for babies found to have Down syndrom is close to 100%.

In the United States, there have been numerous attempts at the state level to ban abortions based on a diagnosis of Down syndrome.

Missouri lawmakers passed a law during 2019 that, in addition to banning all abortions after eight weeks, prohibits “selective" abortions following a medical diagnosis or disability such as Down syndrome, or on the basis of the race or sex of the baby. The law is currently blocked in the courts amid a legal challenge.

Ohio lawmakers attempted in 2017 to pass a ban on Down syndrome abortions, but a federal judge in 2019 blocked the legislation from taking effect.

Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, North Dakota, and Utah have all considered or passed similar bans.

At the federal level, the Down Syndrome Discrimination by Abortion Prohibition Act has been introduced in Congress, but has not yet been debated. The proposed law would ban doctors from “knowingly perform[ing] an abortion being sought because the baby has or may have Down syndrome.”


What do Catholics believe about the Church, the devil, and faith? A new poll sheds light

Washington D.C., Feb 25, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A poll released Monday provides new insight into the religious practices, beliefs, and other demographic trends of U.S. Catholics.

Only a small majority of Catholics in the U.S., 56%, say they accept “all” or “most” of what the Church teaches, according to the poll, released Feb. 24 by RealClear Opinion Research. Only 18% say they accept all the Church’s teachings and try to live them out, with another 38% saying they “generally accept most of the Church’s teachings” and try to put them into practice.

A slight majority of Catholics, 51%, believe that religion is “very important” in their own lives, while another 35% deem it to be “somewhat important.”

The research, conducted by polling firm RealClear in partnership with EWTN News, surveyed more than 1,500 Catholics in the U.S. from January 28 through February 4. The poll gathered information on the religious beliefs of Catholics, their political party affiliation, and their frequency of prayer and Mass attendance.

The poll reveals a divide in Catholic acceptance of particular Church teachings.

While more than seven-in-ten Catholics, 72%, believe that certain actions are “intrinsically evil,” a majority do not think that abortion, euthanasia, and physician-assisted suicide are intrinsically evil acts.

The vast majority of Catholics, 81%, however, believe in the existence of Hell, and 78% believe that Satan exists.

A substantial majority of Catholics also do not attend Mass on a weekly basis—although the Church holds that Catholics are required to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation.

35% attend Mass at least once a week—less than one percent attend Mass daily, 5% more than go once a week, and 29% once a week.

Fourteen percent say they attend “once or twice a month,” and 25% “a few times a year,” and 3% “once a year.” Another 15% say they attend Mass less than once a year, and 8% said they never attend Mass. Divides on religious practice and political beliefs were clearly visible between Catholics who say they accept everything the Church teaches, and those who say they only accept “most” or “some” of Church teaching, or who do not think religion to be very important in their lives.

Eighteen percent of U.S. Catholics say they accept all the Church’s teachings, “and that is reflected in how I live my life.”

Within this group, respondents were far more likely than other Catholics to attend Mass weekly or more, 72%. Nearly one-in-three, 31%, of these Catholics pray the rosary daily, and 71% pray daily.

More Catholics who say they accept all of the Church’s doctrine received an undergraduate degree from a religious college or university (49%) than a secular one (43%).

Such Catholics are far more likely than Catholics overall, 63% to 36%, to be aware of the Church’s teaching on the death penalty and Pope Francis’ declaration that it is “inadmissible.” Even so, 61% of Catholics who say they accept all the Church’s teachings support the death penalty, compared to 57% of all Catholics.

On religious freedom issues, Catholics who say they accept all of the Church’s teaching are more likely than Catholics overall, 57% to 45%, to support the rights of religious business owners not to serve a same-sex wedding. They are also more likely, 50% to 41%, to support the freedom of adoption agencies not to match children with same-sex couples.

Demographically, the vast majority of Catholics surveyed hail either from urban, 33%, or suburban, 50% communities, with just 7% from small towns and 10% from rural America.

Just over half, 51%, are married, while 26% have never been married. One in ten Catholics report they are living with a partner, 9% are divorced, and 4% are separated.